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Monday, June 28, 2010

John 16:23-28 - Prayer in the Name of Jesus

“In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.

“These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.”
--John 16:23-28 NASB

Jesus taught the importance that we pray in His name. We cannot hope to approach God in ourselves. Jesus has to come between God and us. The Apostle Paul explained that Jesus Christ must be the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). When we pray to God, Jesus acts as our “advocate” and our “High Priest” (1 John 2:1; Hebrews 2:17-18). Jesus performs these roles when we pray to God in Jesus’ name.

The act of doing something in another’s name usually means to do something by their authority (Acts 4:7), but our prayer in Jesus’ name is more than this. Also, it is incorrect to think of prayer “in the name of Jesus” as merely good prayer etiquette, as just a necessary element in a “prayer formula” (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17).

In verse 23 Jesus used the phrase “In that day,” meaning after His death and resurrection (John 16:19-22). At His resurrection Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4). To ask in Jesus’ name means to acknowledge Jesus’ authority and power as the resurrected Son of God, the High Priest, the advocate, and the one mediator between God and man.

God does expect us to be faithful (1 John 3:22). Even so, our lives and our prayers would be meaningless without the sacrifice and the intervention of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:12).

Father, I praise You as Creator and Ruler of all. I thank You for loving me so much that You sent Your Son, Jesus, to live and to die in my place so that, if I accept Your free gift, I may approach Your throne boldly, I may commune with You, and I may bring to You the greatest and the least of my requests. This I pray in the name of Your Son, Jesus, amen.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Romans 12:2 - Prayer Changes Us

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
--Romans 12:2 NASB

In this passage the Apostle Paul reminds us that as followers of Christ, we should no longer be as the world is, but as God wants us to be--we must be changed.

The Greek word used here is transliterated as “metamorphoó,” meaning to literally change from one form into another--to transform. Our transformation should come through the renewing of our mind. The word used for our mind is the Greek word “nous,” which means our mind, our understanding, our reason.

But how do we renew our mind? We do so through the study of God's Word—the Bible—and through prayer.

God not only invites us to pray, but commands that we pray. As we are consistent in this duty, we are going to be changed. A life of prayer is a life of obedience to God.

Our prayer life should be one of supplication with a proper balance of adoration, confession and thanksgiving. As we are consistent in our adoration and our giving of thanks, we become more aware of God’s work in our lives and we grow in our sense of gratitude toward God. As we are consistent in confessing our sins to God, we begin to maintain a focus on the holiness of God and the importance of quickly bringing any new sins to Him for our clensing.

Prayer influences our attitudes and our actions. At its heart, prayer is not praying for what we want, but for what we should want—for what God desires for us. As we regularly ask for God’s will to be done, we begin to seek God’s will in our lives and in the situations we come across. God’s desires become our desires. And our comfort in the knowledge of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, encourages us to act out God’s will in our lives. We become the hands and feet of Jesus that we are intended to be.

Father, I thank You that I can always come to You with everything--the good and the bad. I praise You for all that You are and all that You do for me. Thanks for the amazing changes that You bring about in me as I spend time in Your presence. In Jesus' name, amen.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Matthew 6:7-8 - Pray What We Mean

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” --Matthew 6:7-8 NASB

Do our prayers have meaningless repetition? Do we babble to God?

Reflecting on these words of Jesus may cause us to think of the Old Testament “sacrifice showdown” on Mount Carmel between the prophet Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal, in which Elijah challenged the prophets to prove that Baal was the true god (1 Kings 18:20-40). All morning the prophets of Baal prayed and danced, calling out for Baal, again and again, to consume the sacrifice they had prepared for him. When that didn’t work they prayed louder, they danced wilder, and they ritually cut themselves, but still nothing happened. Finally, when it was Elijah’s turn, he looked heavenward and addressed God simply and confidently. So that the surrounding crowd could hear, Elijah reminded God aloud that He, not Elijah, was the one who had ordered this challenge so that God’s power would be demonstrated to the people. Elijah then asked God to consume the sacrifice that was prepared on the altar. Immediately, God sent fire from heaven. And though Elijah had completely soaked the sacrifice and the altar with water, and had filled the surrounding trench with water, both were completely consumed and the water in the trench was vaporized. This is indeed a glorious story. But while it does remind us of the meaningless repetition that pagan worshipers can use, there is more in Jesus’ words than this.

Do we pray without meaning? Are we truly focused when we pray? How often have we asked the Lord to “be with” us or someone else during a time of crisis? If we feel especially moved, we might even ask the Lord to “be with” someone “in a special way,” as if that is more specific and powerful than just “being with” someone.

We should remember that God is always with us. Matthew 28:20 tells us that Jesus is with us always. Deuteronomy 31:6 (and Hebrews 13:5) tells us that God will never leave us or forget us. John 14:18 tells us that Jesus will not leave us as orphans, but that He will come to us. In Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 8:8 we read that one of the names for the child who would be born—the child being Jesus--is Emmanuel, which means "God with us." If we are members of God's family, God is always with us. We don’t need to ask for his presence, but perhaps we should pray for God to make us more aware of Him.

In this one example we see how we can, without thinking, trade meaning for meaningless repetition and clichés. The Creator of the Universe desires a relationship with us, but when He has our attention we seem no better than the prophets of Baal. In our own way we dance around and mindlessly babble in the presence of God, not really communing with Him or sharing what is what is important to us. Of course, God knows. But He wants a relationship with us in which we are comfortable enough to actually tell Him.

Let us talk to God simply and clearly, not using someone else’s words, but our own. And let us pray with meaning.

Father, I praise you as the Creator of all and I thank You for wanting to be a part of my life. Forgive me when I don’t value our time together as much as You do. Forgive me when I distract myself with other things or use mindless clichés. I want to be genuine with You. Help me to cut through the pretentiousness and just be me. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Acts 12:11 - When God Answers Our Prayer

When Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting."
--Acts 12:11 NASB

When we pray, we do so with the faith that, whatever our request, God will answer our prayers. But why do we sometimes react with disbelief when God actually answers our prayers?

The Scripture passage in Acts 12:1-19 tells an amazing story of disbelief when God answered prayer. King Herod decided to go after the church at Jerusalem during the week of Passover. One of his first major acts was to execute the Apostle James, the brother of John. When Herod noticed how much his popularity increased among the Jews, he was inspired to arrest and imprison the Apostle Peter, surrounding him with four squads of four soldiers. Herod planned a very public execution Peter after Passover.

From the moment that Peter was arrested, the members of the church prayed intensely for his release. Whether Peter lived or died, Peter remained confident in the Lord. And as the time approached for his execution, Peter slept soundly, shackled between the soldiers.

Suddenly, Peter was shaken awake, not by the soldiers, but by an angel. Wondering whether he was still dreaming, Peter followed the angel’s commands. He dressed quickly and followed the angel passed all of the soldiers and out of the prison. When the angel left him in the dark city street, Peter finally realized that God had answered his prayers and that he was really free.

Peter made his way to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, which was packed inside and out with believers who were praying to God for Peter’s release. It actually took a few moments before those in the house believed that Peter was free and standing outside, beating on the door.

When they finally opened the door and saw that it was Peter, all within the house cheered and praised God for answering their prayer. They then helped to quietly transport Peter out of Jerusalem before Herod and the soldiers knew what had happened.

Perhaps Peter and this bothers and sisters in Christ were amazed at the way in which God had answered their prayer. Perhaps they expected that God would have Herod order Peter to be released, or maybe that God would cause an earthquake that would break open the prison and allow Peter to escape during the confusion. But to free Peter in such a way that it left not doubt as to who was responsible? How could they not have seen that coming? We should be careful not to limit God in our prayers. After all, He is God.

Father, I thank You for answering my prayers. Forgive me when I put limits on how I expect Your answers to come. And remind me that all ways are Your ways. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Psalm 100:4 - Adoration in Our Prayer

Enter His gates with thanksgiving
      And His courts with praise
      Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
--Psalm 100:4 NASB

The model for prayer given to us by Jesus (also called the Lord's Prayer and the Our Father) begins with adoration (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2). We should enter God's presence with praise (Psalm 100:4).

We should praise God for several reasons. First, God worthy of our praise. Second, praise sets the proper tone for our prayer. Third, praise reminds us of who God is and His inclination toward us. And fourth, praise purges us of other concerns and softens our hearts for prayer.

Many Scripture passages in the Bible remind us of the importance of praise. For example, we are called to praise God, in recognition of what God has done for us (1 John 3:1; 1 Peter 2:9-10; 1 John 5:14). Through our praise we show our respect and fear--reverential awe--for God (Psalm 34:11). By our praise we focus the attention of others onto God (Psalm 45:17). Our praise brings us closer to God (Psalm 45:18). We praise because of God's lovingkindness and faithfulness are endless (Psalm 36:5). Even the lonely and destitute are to praise (1 Timothy 5:5). It is important that we cease our daily busyness and exalt God (Psalm 46:10). Waiting on God lifts us up and renews us (Psalm 40:1-3; Psalm 90:13-17; Isaiah 40:27-31). We are to continually offer praise to God (Hebrews 13:15).

To help us in our times of praise we may play recorded music, such as favorite hymns or praise and worship songs. We may also read Scripture passages to God, whether silently or aloud, as part of our time of adoration. Here are just some of the possible Scripture passages we might employ: Psalms 8, 19, 23, 46, 95, 98, 84, 100, 103, 145, 148, 150; Isaiah 40; Matthew 22:32-33; Luke 1:46-55, 67-79; Revelation 4:8; 5:12-14, 9-10.

Father, You are holy. I praise You as the Creator of all. And though I am not worthy, You love me and have made me Your child. Words fail me. My heart overflows. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! In Jesus' name, amen.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Luke 5:16 - The Priority of Prayer

But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray.
--Luke 5:16 NASB

Jesus knew the importance of prayer during His earthly ministry. He began His days with prayer (Mark 1:35). He used every spare moment to pray (Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16; Luke 22:39). Jesus would pray all night before making significant decisions, such as the choosing of His twelve disciples (Luke 6:12). Jesus prayed in times of great stress, such as prior to His betrayal by Judas (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46; John 17). It was following long periods of prayer that Jesus demonstrated most greatly His authority over the elements (Mark 6:45-52) and over demons (Mark 9:14-29).

His disciples were so convinced of the power in Jesus' prayer that they asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). And yet, His disciples found it difficult to place the same importance on prayer that Jesus did (Matthew 26:40, 43, 45; Mark 14:37, 40, 42; Luke 22:45).

Like the disciples, we also seem to find it difficult to place the proper importance on prayer. But if Jesus considered prayer to be the basis for everything He said and did, how much more so should we?

Father, I thank You for allowing me to come into Your presence. Forgive me for not taking full advantage of all that You can give me through prayer. Help me to rely on You first, last and always. In Jesus' name, amen.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Matthew 6:11 - Supplication in Our Prayer

"Give us this day our daily bread"
--Matthew 6:11 NASB

The English word "pray" is a verb that means to implore, to beseech, to ask. And while there is more to prayer than asking, it is the asking that most people associate with prayer. In the process of asking, also called supplication, we humbly ask God to supply the needs of ourselves and of others. Because we ask God to step into situations and change them, this kind of prayer is also known as intercessory prayer or intercession. But what should we ask?

We should pray for sustenance (Matthew 6:11). And we should pray for wisdom (James 1:5).

We should ask others to pray for us (1 Samuel 13:19; Ephesians 6:19-20) and we can and should pray for others (1 Samuel 13:23; Hebrews 10:19-25).

We should pray for those in authority over us, for their sakes and for ours (1 Timothy 2:1-4). And we should pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

We should pray for the salvation of others (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 9:38; Revelation 1:4-6). And we should pray for those who minister to others (Acts 12:5; Colossians 4:3-4; Romans 10:1).

We should be specific in our asking (Matthew 21:22). And we should not give up when God does not answer our prayers immediately (Luke 11:5-10; Luke 18:1-8). In short, we should pray all the time and for everything (Colossians 4:2; Philippians 4:6).

Father, I praise You for greatness and I thank You for Your love. Though You give me all things, remind me that in all things You still want me to ask. In Jesus' name, amen.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Exodus 17:8-13 - The Results of Prayer

Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, "Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand." Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
--Exodus 17:8-13 NASB

It has been suggested that this passage, more than any other in the Bible, demonstrates that prayer has significant results. The people of Israel were camped at a desert place known as Rephidim. While there, the army of Amalek--the Amalekites--came near to Israel's camp and communicated its intent to wipe out Israel.

The name Amalek is transliterated from Hebrew as "Amaleq." This was a descendant of Esau, the brother of Jacob, whom God had renamed Israel. Though Esau had made peace with his brother during their lifetimes, the descendants of the brothers had become bitter enemies. The Amalekites became the first to oppose the nation of Israel following its Exodus from Egypt (Numbers 24:20).

Moses called Joshua to lead Israel in battle against the Amalekites. He then reviewed with Joshua their battle strategy: While Joshua and the army fought, Moses would be positioned on the hill overlooking the battle, holding the rod of Aaron. Though the text does not elaborate, it is thought that Moses' placement was more than a symbolic gesture. Specifically, it is thought that from this location Moses could pray to God during the battle, asking Him pour out courage, valor, coordination and supernatural protection on their soldiers.

As Moses prayed to God, Joshua's troupes prevailed in battle, fighting with a divine intensity that drove back the enemy. But when Moses grew weary, he dropped his arms and focused his attention on the battle, not on God. At those times Moses saw, to his horror, that the enemy gained the advantage. When Moses again appealed to God, the momentum of the battle shifted to Joshua's army.

Moses soon realized that he must continue in prayer if he wanted God's intervention. He was able to do so with the literal support of his brother Aaron and his friend Hur, and the army of Israel won the day.

Like Moses, we can learn two lessons from these events. First, if we are willing to involve God in our daily challenges, we, too, will experience God's prevailing power. By focusing on God and not our battles, God will be the victor and God will be glorified.

Second, if we are to be successful in prayer, we must rely on others to encourage and support us in our task. Likewise, if we want others to be successful, we must encourage and support them.

Father, forgive me when I take my eyes off You during my daily struggles. Remind me that it is through You that I am able to win my battles. Help me to support the battles of other believers through my encouragement and my prayers. In Jesus' name, amen.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Psalm 103:1-5 - Thanks in Our Prayers

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
    And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
    And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
    Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
    Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
    So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
--Psalm 103:1-5 NASB

In verses 1 and 2 the Hebrew word used is transliterated "barak," meaning to kneel or to bless. In the case of our conferring of blessing on God, it means to praise or glorify God. Verse 2 tells us to remember the things that God does for us. The Hebrew word here is "gemul," meaning a dealing, a recompense, or a reward.

Scripture tells us that we should always remember what God has done for us and that we should thank God each time we enter into His presence (Psalm 100:4-6; Psalm 103:1-5; Psalm 107:15; Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6-7; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

But what has God done for us? In short, He has done everything. God created the Universe, containing all that we know or can know. God loves us in spite of our sin and forgave us through the death of His Son, Jesus. God gives us family, friends, food, shelter, safety, jobs, health, and healing. God leads us, sustains us and disciplines us. God opens doors of opportunity and closes them, both done in love. God permits us to serve Him and He is faithful to us. Considering all that God has done for us, how can we not thank Him?

Father, I recognize You as the Creator of all that has been and all that shall be. I thank You and I praise You for all that You have done and all that You will do. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

1 John 1:5-10 - Confession in Our Prayers

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
--1 John 1:5-10 NASB

Simply put, sin separates us from God. Before we accept that Jesus Christ, God's Son, died in our place, the barrier is an eternal one. Once we are following Christ, any unconfessed sin prevents a deeper relationship with God and hinders our prayers. These Scripture passages (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:1-2; Proverbs 28:13) tell us that our relationship with God is impaired by the presence of sin.

When we pray we should spend time confessing and repenting of (turning away from) specific sins and accept God's forgiveness and cleansing. God knows our sins before we confess them. But our confession demonstrates that we are aware of them and that we desire to remove those barriers to our relationship with Him.

Our confession does not have to be elaborate, but truthful and to the point. We should ask God to search our heart and show us the areas that displease Him (Psalm 139:23-24). We should then repent of those sins, ask God to forgive us and allow God to cleanse us (Psalm 51:10-13).

Father, I praise You for who You are. I bring to You my sins, which separate us. I now turn away from those sins. Forgive me and help me not to do them again. I thank You for Your forgiveness. In Jesus' name, amen.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

James 1:2-8 - The Working of Faith and Wisdom

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
--James 1:2-8 NASB

Have you ever felt that God was messing with you? Have you thought that God was “pushing your buttons?” Maybe a conversation takes an unexpected turn. Perhaps events do not go the way that you expect or hope. If so, it may be that God is testing you in order to see how you respond. In verse 2 the Greek word is transliterated as “peirasmos,” meaning an experiment, a trial, or a temptation.

And what is our response to these trials? Well, for most of us the response is probably a negative one, expressed in anger, sadness, frustration, or in other ways. What should our response be? According to this passage, we are to rejoice. Each challenge that we face should be a joy; a delight (the Greek “chara”).

We should allow God’s testing or proofing (the Greek “dokimion”) of our faith to produce endurance. The Greek word is “hupomoné,” meaning one who is patient and remains after others have given up and moved on.

We are the clay on God’s spinning pottery wheel. And the repeated cycle of God’s trial and our endurance is what completes us (the Greek “holokléros”) and perfects us (the Greek “teleios”).

Even so, we may at times find ourselves lacking—the Greek word “leipó,” meaning lacking, destitute, or in need. We may be in need of wisdom—the Greek “sophia,” meaning skill or wisdom.

Verse 5 tells us that if we ask for wisdom, God will give to us generously (the Greek “haplós”). But the key to our receiving is that we not doubt what God gives to us. In verse 6, the Greek word is “diakrinó,” meaning to distinguish or judge or contend. When we try to over analyze or second guess the wisdom that God gives us, we loose the child-like faith that God wants us to have. Imagine if a pottery vessel that was being formed by the potter was to question everything that the potter did. The result would be that the potter would never be able to create the specific vessel that he needed. By not accepting how God shapes us and what God tells us, we become useless as His instruments. Not only are we useless to God, but we are useless to ourselves. Our ship of life becomes unanchored, we are driven by the winds (the Greek “anemizó”) and every wave tosses us about (the Greek “rhipizó”).

In the end, we are far better off to work with God than to work against Him. His design and a purpose for us is far better than anything that we could come up with on our own.

Father, help me to rejoice when things do not go the way I expect. Remind me that You are always working to perfect and complete me. Help me to yield to Your touch and to endure Your work. And when I need wisdom, help me to accept it with child-like faith. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Isaiah 56:7 - Prayer is Our Sacrifice

Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples."
--Isaiah 56:7 NASB

This passage in Isaiah 56:3-8 is foretelling of a time, during the Messiah's millennial reign on earth, when God will be openly worshipped by believers from all nations. All will offer to God continual thanksgiving, worship and praise, described here simply as "prayer" (the Hebrew "tephillah"). These will be the "sacrifice" (the Hebrew "zebach") and the "burnt offering" (the Hebrew "olah"). These will be placed on God's "altar" (the Hebrew "mizbeach").

No longer literal sacrifice, but spiritual sacrifice will be offered that is genuine and sincere (Psalm 141:2; 51:17; Malachi 1:11). Jesus quoted from this passage of Isaiah as He cleared the temple of merchants and money changers (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46). While Jesus knew what people were like inside (John 3:24-25), He was probably struck to witness in person just how far they were from God's ideal of sincere worship.

Thanks to the love of God, the only things that separate all of us from the Creator of the Universe are our willful sin and our unbelief. Our thanksgiving, our praise and our worship are the very least that we can give in return. Isn't it amazing that these are the very things that God requires of us?

Father, I worship You as Creator of all. I praise You for Your lo me. And I Thank You for all You have done for me. Forgive me when I come to You only for my needs, not acknowledging who You are. Remind me that I am required to offer You my sacrifice in my prayer. In Jesus' name, amen.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Luke 6:27-28 - Love and Pray for Your Enemies

"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."
--Luke 6:27-28 NASB

Jesus' audience was quite familiar with the concept of enemies. The children of Israel had suffered many generations in Egypt under the rule of the pharaohs. After Moses led them out of Egypt, Joshuah led them in fighting to possess the land promised by God. And then God's appointed Judges and Kings led them in keeping it. Even though their lack of faithfulness caused the people to be defeated and led into captivity on more than one occasion, God preserved a remnant of the faithful, yet always having them surrounded by enemies. And as Jesus spoke, the people suffered under the iron rule of Rome.

With all of this national memory of mistreatment, Jesus tells them, and us, of a new way to respond to those who are hostile (the Greek "echthros"), those who hate (the Greek "miseó"), those who revile or mistreat (the Greek "epéreazó"), and those who curse (the Greek "kataraomai").

Jesus says that outwardly we are to love them (the Greek "agapaó") and speak well of them or praise them (the Greek "eulogeó") and do well or honorably to them (the Greek " kalós"). And inwardly we are to pray for them (the Greek "proseuchomai").

It is interesting to note that Jesus' command to love our enemies is not superficial. We are not to just act as though we love our enemies, but to truly love them. Jesus knows that our prayer life is part of who we are. If we are genuine, what we demonstrate in our outward life should be reflected in our inward life.

These commands of Jesus are hard to do in ourselves and God knows this. That is why we are to rely on God, through His Holy Spirit. After all, we are no longer our own, but God's. We are His instruments, to be used to spread His good news and to bring others to Him.

Father, forgive me when I respond in kind to my enemies. I understand that You love them, too, and that You so want them for Your own. Help me to love them, to speak well of them, to do good to them, and to pray for them. In Jesus' name, amen.

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Mark 11:25 - Forgive and Be Persistent in Prayer

"Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions."
--Mark 11:25 NASB

Jesus is talking about standing to pray for forgiveness. Scholars suggest that Jesus is referring to the practice of praying before the altar at the temple in Jerusalem. We presume this is when the priest is sacrificing and burning an offering in order for God to forgive the sins of the praying one who brought the offering.

For the Christian, their is no longer the need of a recurring sacrifice because Jesus, God's Son, became our sacrifice, dying once for the sins of all. We have only to claim what Jesus has done for us in order to become a child of God and have eternal life with Him. And yet, being human, we will continue to sin, and these new sins must also be recognized and given to God so that we may daily enjoy a relationship with our Heavenly Father that is unhindered by sin.

In this passage the reference to sin is the Greek word transliterated as "paraptóma," meaning a false step, a trespass, a transgression, or an offense. In this sense, our sins can be thought of as the things we do, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that go against the laws of God; that offend God. With regard to forgiveness, the passage uses the Greek word "aphiémi," meaning to send away, to leave alone, to permit or allow. Since God is God, He cannot forget any sin that we commit, but He can acknowledge that Jesus has paid for the sins that we bring to him, and He can then choose to not hold those sins against us.

But in this passage Jesus warns us that God's forgiveness of sins involves more than just giving our sins to God. We must also acknowledge and forgive the wrongs done to us by others. God knows that the grudges that we create can be as bad for us as the sins we commit ourselves. We must forgive not only to obey God, but also for our own spiritual benefit.

Finally, with regard to the practice of standing to pray, there are other references to this in Scripture (Zechariah 3:1 Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:11 Revelation 11:4). The Greek word used is "stékó." This word can
mean to stand, but it also can mean to stand firm or to persevere.

While we should not read into Scripture any meaning that may not be intended, this reference gives us a wonderful opportunity to recognize that prayer does require a measure of persistence on our part. It is a
valid argument to say that the intensity of our desires is often reflected in the energy and persistence we invest in order to fulfill them. It is, therefore, only natural for us to expect that our prayer life reflect this same energy, persistence and determination as we bring our concerns before our Lord.

Father, I praise You and thank You for Your forgiveness of my sin. In obedience to You and for my own good, help me to forgive as You forgive and to pray with persistance. In Jesus' name, amen.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Matthew 6:5-6 – Go Into Your Closet to Pray


"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

-Matthew 6:5-6 NASB


Jesus is describing the practice of the religious leaders of the day to pray very openly and loudly in public places. Jesus calls these people hypocrites. The Greek word is transliterated as "hupokrités," meaning one who acts, or who performs a role. These people are not being themselves, but are playing a character. Jesus knows that they are not sincere in their prayers. Their public display might be better described as a form of religious street entertainment, only rather than receiving payment in money, they receive the admiration and respect of those who watch them. The Greek word is "misthos," meaning a reward or payment for services rendered. That is all they truly want from their spectacle, and Jesus tells us that is all they receive.

This is not to say that public prayer is bad. But whether done publicly or privately, our prayer should be genuine and without ulterior motives. When praying on the public stage, it is tempting to forget our intent and to take for ourselves the glory that is intended for God. One way to ensure that our motives are sincere is to pray in secret. The Greek word is "kruptos," meaning something that is hidden, inward, or secret.

To help us, Jesus advises that we go into a hidden place. The Greek word is "tameion," meaning an inner room or a storeroom, and a root of the word "tamieion," which means treasury. Jesus wants us to go to that place, whether physically or spiritually, which is not seen by others. This is the place where we pray. Here we worship, here we lift our requests, and here we receive God's blessing and comfort. Indeed, this should be a treasured place for us, our special time with God.

Jesus goes on to tell us that for what we do in secret, God, not man, will reward. The Greek word is "apodidómi," meaning to give up, to give back, to return, or to restore. When we pray as we should, God not only hears and answers our prayers, but he also refreshes and enriches us. Those having a rich prayer life may appear to others as energized. They seem to have something special that others lack, as indeed they do.

Father, I praise You for loving me. Forgive me when I forget that You are the focus of my prayer, not me. As I go about my busy day, help me to hear above the noise Your call for me to come to the secret place for our special time together. In Jesus' name, amen.



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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

James 4:3 - Sometimes Our Prayers are Wrong

You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
--James 4:3 NASB
 
The Letter of James appears to be written for general circulation among the various communities of Jews that became followers of Jesus Christ. There is some discussion as to the author of the letter. Some attribute it to a follower named James who lived perhaps a century or more after Jesus' earthly ministry. Others attribute the letter to the Apostle James, brother of John and son of Zebedee. And still others attribute the letter to the Apostle James, the son of Alphaeus. Finally, the letter is also attributed to James, a half-brother of Jesus.
 
Jesus' half-brothers and half-sisters are mentioned in several Bible verses. Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21, and Mark 3:31-35 say that Jesus' mother and brothers came to see Him. Matthew 13:55 tells us that Jesus had four brothers: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. Matthew 13:56 mentions sisters, but does not name or number them. In John 7:1-10, His brothers go on to the festival while Jesus stays behind. In Acts 1:14, His brothers and mother are described as praying with the disciples. Galatians 1:19 mentions that James was Jesus' brother. James was one those siblings that was critical of Jesus during His earthly ministry, but then became a follower after Jesus' resurrection.
 
In verse 3 the writer is answering the question of why our prayers may not be answered. First, the writer says that we do not receive because we ask wrongly, or our motivations are wrong. The Greek transliteration is "kakós," meaning physically badly or morally badly. This does not necessarily mean that we ask for sinful things. We may be asking for something that seems good to us, but may not be the best thing from God's perspective. God knows our fickle hearts. Even if we do ask rightly and we do receive, God knows that we may wrongly interpret the meaning of His blessing, or that we may use His blessing in a way other than what we intended when we prayed.
 
Second, the writer says that we sometimes ask for things out of lust. The Greek work used is "hédoné," which means to enjoy one's self, or to have personal pleasure in something. In short, this would be something that makes us feel good. The word is often translated in the Bible as "pleasure" or "lust."
 
While all potential writers of this letter would have a good understanding of these concepts of wrong motivations and personal pleasures, the half-brother of Jesus would have had a very unique perspective. As a younger brother in the household of Mary and Joseph, he would have expected that the oldest son would take on the role of provider for his family when their father died. And since we do not read anything of Joseph by the time that Jesus began His earthly ministry at the age of thirty, we can infer that Joseph had died by that time. James probably have been one of those sibling that gathered with their mother outside the house where Jesus was teaching (Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 8:19-21; Mark 3:31-35). James would have been one of those asking to speak with Jesus so they could tell him to "do the right thing," as they would have seen it from the Jewish tradition.
 
When we pray, we should ask God what He wants regarding our concern. And when we pray, we should acknowledge that we still might not have it right and that the will of God should ultimately prevail. Finally, whatever comes of our prayer, we should give God the glory.
 
Father, I thank You for allowing me to bring my every care to You. Forgive me when I ask wrongly. Help me to see as You do. And whatever comes, help me to give You the glory. In Jesus' name, amen.
 
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Thursday, June 3, 2010

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 - Prayer is Hard Work

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
--1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB
 
In this passage the Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Thessalonica, then the capital and largest city of the Roman province of Macedonia. The establishment of the church by Paul and Silas is recorded in Acts 17:1-9. The church began under fire, being opposed by several unbelieving Greeks and Jews in positions of great influence, and causing Paul and Silas to flee by night with the assistance of new believers. Even so, it grew to be a strong church. Based upon Paul's recorded travels (Acts 17:10-18:11) and based upon what is written in the letter (1 Thessalonians 3:1-6), many suggest that this letter was written to the church soon after Paul's hasty departure, and may be the oldest of Paul's letters that we have available to us. In the letter, Paul seems to be following up on his first work, teaching the new believers those important things that he did not have time to convey in person.
 
Paul was quite familiar with opposition and persecution. Before his conversion to Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-19), Paul persecuted Christ's followers. In fact, we first meet Paul, then called Saul, when he played a supporting role in the persecution and stoning to death of the disciple Stephen. During the stoning, Saul watched the coats of those who did the dirty work. (Acts 7:54-60).
 
Now on the receiving end of the persecution, Paul made sure that fellow believers had everything they needed to see them through. He therefore charged them to always rejoice, to always pray and to always give thanks. These were not just Paul's recommendations to them. Paul reinforces his charge by explaining that God wants them to do these things.
 
On the surface, these commands seem quite obvious and proper. But as we put them in the perspective of day-to-day living, we realize that this is tough stuff; this is hard work. Consider this: In everything that happens to us, in everything we think about, for every moment of every day, we are to rejoice in it; we are to pray about it; we are to give thanks for it. Wow. That is really hard work. This could be thought of as a spiritual form of multitasking--a process that has become all too commonplace to us.
 
But how do we begin? Well, like any type of work, we just do it. We take what we know and we use it. As we do the work we learn how to do it better. We build confidence and we even learn to enjoy it to some extent, depending on the work. We learn from productive fellow workers by listening to their advice or by following their example. And as each new day comes we must begin our work again and again.
 
This work may come naturally to some believers, but not necessarily to all. There is no question that it is hard work to always rejoice, to always pray and to always give thanks. Maybe that is why God's Word reminds us to do it.
 
Father, I thank You for letting me make You a part of every moment of my day. Forgive me when I forget to do my work. Remind me to always rejoice, to always pray, and do always give thanks. In Jesus' name, amen.
 
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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

John 4:34 – We Must Hunger for God’s Food

Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.
--John 4:34 NASB

Jesus and His disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee and on their way they passed through Samaria. At mid-day they stopped in the Samaritan town of Sychar. Jesus sat down by Jacob's well and the disciples went in search of food. While waiting there, Jesus spoke with a woman who was little-respected in the town because of her past and current life. Through their conversation, Jesus demonstrated that He knew all about her. He also shared with her the good news of the coming of the Messiah and, through her, spread this good news to the entire town. Through these events we are reminded that God sometimes uses very weak and unlikely instruments to perform His work.

When the disciples returned with what food they could find, Jesus explained that He had already eaten and been satisfied. The poor disciples, often unable to think beyond the realm of the physical, wondered where Jesus had gotten His food. Jesus explained that His "food," or his satisfaction, was in completing the work of His Father. In verses 35 through 38 Jesus goes on to explain the significance of this much needed work.

Those that want to know Christ must diligently follow His example. Christ compares the work of God to harvesting. The harvest is an anticipated and expected result of the growing and cultivating process. The same is true for the gospel—the good news of Christ and the kingdom of God. Harvest is a very busy time and all hands are needed for the work. Harvest is also a short period of time and all of the work must be done then, or not at all. The time of the gospel is also a season. Once it is past, it cannot be reclaimed. All around us in our daily lives are crops of sorts--lives that are open to the gospel of Christ and potentially ripe for harvest. But if there is no one to "work the field," to encourage growth and reap the harvest, those crops--those lives--may be forever lost. If we truly want to know Christ, then the work of God should be our desire; our food.

Father, forgive me when I do not run with joy into the fields. Give me a constant hunger for Your food; to do the work of Your harvest. In Jesus' name, amen.

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