“The Prayer of Jesus”

As the year 2017 is drawing to a close, I am finishing up the daily devotional book that I have been using.  Each morning I have begun the day with a reading from One Year with Jesus, “365 daily devotions based on the chronological life of Christ.”  This book is published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc,, in Wheaton, Illinois.  The reading each day comes from The New Living Translation, followed by a Life Application note (adapted from Tyndale’s Life Application Bible), with an additional “information” note.  As with all daily devotions, some days are better than others; but over the whole year I have really enjoyed my mornings with this volume.

This morning, I want to share with you the devotional thoughts from today’s thoughts.  I believe that they were really good.  It began with the reading from John 17:22-26:

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!
“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”
This is the “life application” that followed from that:
“Jesus’ great desire for his disciples was that they would become one.  He wanted them unified as a powerful witness to the the reality of God’s love.  Christian unity provides an environment for the gospel message to make its greatest impact; lack of unity among Christians frequently drives people away.  Are you helping to unify the body of Christ, the church?  You can pray for other Christians, avoid gossip, build others up, work together in humility, give your time and money, exalt Christ, and refuse to get sidetracked arguing over divisive matters.
Then there is this “information” note:
“Jesus asked that the Father’s love would be in believers and that he himself (Jesus) would be in them.  This expresses the Father’s desire, and because it is his desire, he will make sure it is accomplished.”
I want to focus my thoughts on the “life application”, for just a for a few thoughts.  First, I think that every Christian ought to examine the sentence that I have underlined, and ask themselves if they are living that out in their local church.  If we cannot practice that in our local churches, how in the world can we expect for it to happen in “Christendom” at large.  Secondly, the American Restoration movement, or the Stone-Campbell movement (which ever one you prefer), began as a unity movement.  Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and a host of others had a desire to unite all those that were following Jesus into a “Back to the Bible” movement.  Sadly, not only could that not be accomplished, but their “disciples” could not even agree with each other.  The last 125 years of the history of those that trace back to that “movement,” is one that is marked bitterness, arguments, and divisiveness.  It is really a sad moment, when it dawns on you that such a beautiful dream degenerated to what it is now.  Finally, I still believe in a “Back to the Bible” mentality.  I no longer look at the religious world through “rose-colored” glasses believing that we can all be united in this approach.  As long as Satan has power in the world (I John 5:19, NASB), people will value their own thoughts as being more important than the thoughts of other people — even, as they are approaching the Scripture.
I am convinced that the Christian world will never be united, like Jesus prayed that it would be.  I am convinced that what I need to do is pray for the unity of ALL believers, study/teach/preach Scripture the very best that I can, consider others as more important than me, love the brotherhood, and practice the spirit of unity in the local church where I am.  If I can’t do it where I am, is there any reason to believe that it could happen all over the world?  Peace.
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“Lord, Please Give Me Wisdom”

Southerland Springs is an unincorporated community, in Wilson county, Texas, with an estimated population of about 400.  It is about 20 miles east of San Antonio,on Highway 87; and is a community that most Americans had never heard of before yesterday.  52 people were in services at the First Baptist Church, when a man walked in with an automatic assault rifle and started firing.  When he was through, 26 were dead and 24 were wounded; and, evidently, he died later from a self-inflicted gunshot.  Our hearts are breaking with that church, and that community.  As our hearts break, we cry “How long,  O Lord, how long?”  Every time we hear of incidents like the AME church in Charleston, S. C.; the church of Christ in Antioch, TN.; or this Baptist church in Texas — our mind is soaked in despair at the condition of our world.  Evil, through these manifestations of sin, is running rampant in our country, and our world.

Those of us who preach, and those that lead congregations, are being faced with decisions that we would have never believed that we would have to make (and some church leaders have already been through this process).  Should our churches encourage individuals with “concealed carry” permits, to bring their weapons to services, offering some protection to those that attend services in our buildings?  As someone that has never owned a gun; and can probably count on one hand, the number of times that I have fired a gun as an adult — that is a decision that I never thought I would have to consider!  Personally, I believe that it is one that every church is going to have to consider; and if the last 3 years are any indication, smaller churches need to be thinking about it sooner, rather than later.

As I stated, as one that has never owned a gun, and has some “pacifist” leanings, I don’t believe that stricter gun ownership regulations will stop shootings like this.  I don’t even know if it will slow them down,  If a person is consumed with the desire to do evil, and that seems to be happened in Charleston and Antioch; they will find the weapon they want.  The shootings do not appear to be by someone that just woke up one morning; decided to go purchase a weapon, and start shooting churchgoers that day.  But, all of that will have to be figured out by people that are smarter than I am.

My concern this morning is more of a “faith” question.  Every preacher that has been doing this very long, has been faced with situations where the tragedy is overwhelming.  It might have been a murder, tornadoes, car accidents, industrial accidents, or suicides (and those are just the ones that I remember from my life in ministry).  That doesn’t even include the tragic passing of young and old from sickness and disease.  How we, and our brothers and sisters in the Lord, respond to these situations concerns us.  This morning, I want to share some thoughts with you from a passage that I have been spending a lot of time with lately:

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 lack 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 ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all ways.  (James 1:2-8, NASB)

What I want to do is just list a couple of things that I see from those verses.

#1 — James does not say that the trials of life are joyous.  He says that we are to approach them with the inner strength and satisfaction of knowing what they can do for our faith.  It is the struggle of life, working in conjunction with our faith that will produce endurance.  Endurance is what will move our faith through to the stages of perfect and complete.

Let me be really transparent here, it would be real tough to go to a home in Southerland Springs, and talk to a grieving family and tell them about considering the trials of life with all joy.  The use of the word encounter, makes it seem to me, that this has to be something that you have to be prepared to do; after it happens is to late to start.  You approach life with the thought, I will not allow the events and tragedies of this life, to corrupt the faith I have in the One who created this life.

#2 — If I don’t think that I can do that, I need to be asking God for the wisdom to help me do it.  Then, if I do that, when the trials and struggles of life approach; not only will I have the confidence that God has given me the wisdom to face them (remember, I asked without doubting that He would give it), but I will know that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are walking through this with me!  Don’t you think that we have a greater opportunity to consider the trials of life with all joy, knowing that God is there with us and is enabling us to conquer them.

Lord, let me live this day with the confidence that You can and will give me the wisdom I need to meet the trials and struggles of life.  Father, please give me the faith to ask this without one doubt in my mind.  Father, I know that You are with me every step of the way, and the wisdom and strength you provide can help me to come out on the other side — victorious!  With a faith that has more endurance, and is stronger.  It is through Jesus that I ask.

Peace.

 

 

“David and his Prayers”

Many of you, that are reading this devotional this morning, have sat in my Bible classes.  If so, you probably have heard me say as we looked at a letter written by the apostle Paul — I sure would like to have seen his prayer list.  It seems as if in every letter Paul lists a number of people that he is praying for, and the things that he asks for that particular church.  Studying the prayers of Paul, and the lists of people that he is praying for, is a fascinating study.

One of the most enlightening aspects of reading the Psalms, is to be able to read the prayers of the people, particularly David.  The whole spectrum of human emotion can be found in the prayers of David — praising an awesome God, pleading for direction in his life, lamenting his present condition, anger at the enemies trying to kill him, impatience with God for leaving him in the situation, asking for forgiveness for his stupid mistakes, expressing confidence in God to get him through the difficulties he faces, and everything else in between.  Eugene Petersen once said, Everything that a person can possibly feel, experience, and say is brought into expression before God in the Psalms.  Amen?

David was not perfect, but he was “seeking” the heart of God for his life.  His journey in trying to get there, getting there, and staying there; serve as a powerful learning experience for Me.

This morning’s reading, Psalm 25 jumped off the page at me.  The whole chapter appears to be a prayer from David, as he seeks direction and assistance from the Father.

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.  (Psalm 25:1-2, NIV)

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.  (Psalm 25:4-5, NIV)
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.  Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.  Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.  (Psalm 25:16-18, NIV)
Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.  May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you.  (Psalm 25:20-21, NIV)
Peace.
(This was first posted on Facebook, May 30, 2016.  It has been revised and adapted for use as one of our “Psalms on Saturday.”  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing to you.  Bill)

“I’m Supposed to do What?”

One of the most heart-breaking things on television the last few days, was the letters SOS painted on the streets in Puerto Rico.  Underneath the large block letters, were the words “we need food and water.”  It is impossible for me to imagine how dire this situation really is, and very little that I can say from the comfort of my office in Prairie Grove, Arkansas to make the people in Puerto Rico feel better.  It is going to take boots on the ground, and lots of dollars to help the people recover from two major hurricanes within a 2 week period.  It is a tragedy that is only to get worse over the coming weeks, and even months.  The really heart-breaking story is how this going to affect the children of the island.

Puerto Rico may be the worst situation right now: but the people of South Florida, those along the Gulf Coast of Texas, many that dealt with the fires along the Columbia River in Oregon, and the tragedy of the earthquakes in Mexico City, might have a hard time understanding how it could be worse than what they face.  I read on Yahoo this morning, that there is a volcano about to erupt in Bali — that has the locals being evacuated, and travel warnings from most major countries in regard to traveling there.  Even in our own area in the last few years, we have seen the devastation of tornadoes in Oklahoma City, Joplin, Tuscaloosa, and Vilonia.  The power of nature, at its worst, may make you want to throw up your hands and scream “God, WHY?”

You may wonder, what made me take off on this rant?  This morning, I was reading in James; when these words stopped me in my tracks:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, (James 1:2, NASB).

When I read that, and then thought about all that has been going on in our world recently, I just shook my head and thought, “There is nothing to be joyous about in the middle of all this!”  In the midst of all the loss, destruction, and death; HOW CAN ANYONE FIND JOY?

Then it dawned on me, it does not say that there is any joy to be found!  In fact, it implies just the opposite!  There is nothing joyous about the things that James is talking about, IF they have to be “considered” joy.  In fact, I think he would tell us that they are anything but joyous.  But, when we are set upon by trials (or sickness, or disease, or persecution, etc.), and we meet them with an unwavering faith in God; if we are blessed to come through, we will be stronger and have more endurance.  THEN, we can look at that trial, that period of suffering, knowing that we are stronger (because we have more endurance), and that moves us closer to where we want to go in our walk with the Lord.  James did not say that it would be easy to do, and I have no desire to endure trials and suffering like that, just so that I can say that I know.

I do believe that James tells us that it is possible, and I think that the very next verse in James is there for a reason.  It says:

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.  (James 1:5, NASB).

Wintley Phipps, on one of the Bill Gaither Homecoming shows, said that an old black woman told him, “If the mountain were smooth, you couldn’t climb it.”  As he said, she probably had more sense by accident, than the rest of us have on purpose.”  What I have to remember is that God never said that it would be easy, or that the sailing would always be smooth; because life is just difficult.  What I have to learn is to face the rough times with faith; and on the other side, see the blessing and joy that came from enduring.  Peace.

“What Went Wrong”

Over the years, we have all seen it happen.  We have all seen that preacher, author, project, ministry, church, or most anything that is similar begin with an explosion on the horizon, taking off with great expectations; and then just fizzle to nothing, or, even worse, crash and burn.  If you are like me, you wonder “why” it happened?  It may have even been an individual, who began the Christian life on “fire” for the Lord; and gradually the flame just died.  What is the reason(s) behind such collapses and failures?  What went wrong?

I was surprised to find “an” answer, probably not “the” answer, in the book of Nehemiah.  The reason I say it is not “the” answer, is I know that not every situation is the same; so there is not one answer that will fit all situations.  Nehemiah, the man, is such a remarkable man; and the book (which reads like a journal that he kept) which bears his name, is just extraordinary for the lessons that we can learn.  But, to be perfectly honest, this is not the lesson that I expected to find when I read through the book.

You recall the story, Nehemiah had gone back to his homeland to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem.  He did this with the blessings of King Artaxerxes, and his material and financial support.  The job that Nehemiah did in leading the people through this monumental task was outstanding, and has provided many lessons on leadership through the generations.  The wall was completed in an amazingly short period of time, in spite of all the opposition.  Read what Nehemiah has to say about the completion:

The wall was completed in fifty-two days, on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul. When all our enemies heard this, all the surrounding nations were intimidated and lost their confidence, for they realized that this task had been accomplished by our God.  (Nehemiah 6:15-16, CSB)

When the wall was completed, the people settled in their own homes and towns.  But on the first day of the 7th month, they gathered for a reading of the Law.

On the first day of the seventh month, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. While he was facing the square in front of the Water Gate, he read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the book of the law.  (Nehemiah 8:2-3, CSB)

This was followed by the 7 day “Festival of Booths,” and another day when the people listened to another reading of the law, confessed their sin, and worshiped.  Nehemiah 9 contains a long song of praise of what God has done, confession of wrong; and, closes with a plea for God’s help because of the distress that they are in.  How could anything be better than this?  How could anything go wrong, with such a remarkable story in the background?  Especially, when what happens next takes place:

In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement in writing on a sealed document containing the names of our leaders, Levites, and priests.  (Nehemiah 9:38, CSB)

This “binding agreement” is laid out and explained in Nehemiah 10:30-39, and it seems to be an agreement among the people to do everything they were supposed to.  After the listing of the leaders who had their seals on the document, this remarkable statement is found:

The rest of the people — the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, and temple servants, along with their wives, sons, and daughters, everyone who is able to understand and who has separated themselves from the surrounding peoples to obey the law of God —  join with their noble brothers and commit themselves with a sworn oath to follow the law of God given through God’s servant Moses and to obey carefully all the commands, ordinances, and statutes of the Lord our Lord. (Nehemiah 10:28-29, CSB)

Don’t you know that there was much rejoicing and celebration taking place among the people that night.  They were back on the right path, God would be blessing them over and over again — what could go wrong?

But something did go wrong!  Terribly wrong!  Nehemiah 13 details that Nehemiah returned to Susa and the service of King Artaxerxes; and when he left, the people had begun to break every one of the things that they had agreed on.  They were not back where there forefathers were before, completely; but they were headed that way in a hurry.  When Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem, he got things straightened out (by whatever means were necessary to accomplish the  task).  But we are still left with the question, “what went wrong”, when everything seemed to be going so well?

Let me make three observations:

#1. Satan is strong, and sin is seductive.  The text does not say that, but we know that from other Biblical stories, and our own experiences.

#2. Their agreement was based on their ability to keep the commands.  This is the same mistake that the previous generations made.  They committed themselves to do all the right things, but never got right on the inside.  So many of the prophets chastised the people because of this failure, and the people in Jerusalem during the days of Nehemiah made the same mistake.

#3. They failed to pray about it.  This was the one that surprised me, because Nehemiah is often cited as a great example of leadership, because of his prayer life.  I tried to read Nehemiah very carefully, and found 13 references to the prayers of Nehemiah.  From what I saw, there is a break in the prayers of Nehemiah from Nehemiah 6:14 to Nehemiah 13:14.  You would think that as important as this “binding agreement” could have, and should have, been — it would have almost demanded prayer.  That shows how easy it is for us to get caught up in the excitement of a moment and forget to bring God into our plans and actions.

When we attempt great things, or even small things, let’s remember to not make the mistakes others have made.  Let’s examine what went wrong, even with the Biblical stories, and determine not to repeat their failures.  Peace.

“The Problem with Egypt”

June 18, 1969 — I was loaded onto a bus in Springdale, Arkansas to begin my journey to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.  When I graduated from high school, the Vietnam War was raging, and you had three choices:  go to college, get married, or go in the service (enlist or be drafted).  Well, I was not ready for college or marriage, and I did not want to be drafted — so I enlisted.  About 7 weeks later, I was back in Springdale, preparing to leave for York, Nebraska, to enroll in York College.  The second asthma attack of my life, during a “dust storm” in San Antonio; had convinced the Air Force that I was unfit for “worldwide service”, and they sent me home.

I don’t have a lot of stories about my military experiences, obviously.  In fact, on the flight home, I sat beside a grizzled Army veteran; who told me that had more days of hospital time, than I had of active duty.  But even my few weeks left some indelible impressions, and experiences, that I have never forgotten.

One of the more interesting things I remember, is that right before my asthma attack, they started preparing us for our first “leave”, or free time in San Antonio.  They told us that they had certain expectations for us, and the way that we conducted ourselves.  In order for us to be able to meet those expectations, they gave each recruit a list of places that were “off limits”.  My only experience in San Antonio, were bus rides back and forth to the airport from the Air Force base.  But, I would expect that there were recruits that went to some of those places, just because they were told they couldn’t.

Has there ever been a place, or even a type of place, in your life, that you knew that you needed to stay away from?  A place that you knew, made it difficult for you to make good decisions?  Then it seems that the more you thought about staying away, the more often you were drawn to that very place.   Often the resolve vanished, as we walked into that place, that ought to have been “forbidden.”

This morning I was reading about the life of Abraham, and read about the first time one of God’s people fled to Egypt in a difficult time.  Like Abraham, most of the time when they went, it didn’t work out for good.  Examine what the text says:

Now there was a famine in the land.  So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.  (Genesis 12:10, ESV)

You may be familiar with the story, God had called Abram out of the Ur of the Chaldees; and led him to the land of Canaan — the land that God promised to give him.  In the text, it appears that Abram has not been there long, when difficulty arises, and he runs to Egypt to get away from it.  It also appears that he did not appeal to God about what he should do, he just went.  When he got there, he decided to lie about his relationship with Sarai, and although it profited him financially — it put his wife in a difficult situation.  It seems to be that it damaged his reputation with Pharoah.  At a prompting from God, Pharoah rebuked Abram; and sent him and Sarai on there way.

Now, I can’t tell you that if Abram had asked God what to do, that God would not have told him to go to Egypt.  But since God is the one that led him to Egypt, I believe that he should have asked.  But Egypt looked better, making life easier, and Abram went — without any indication from the Bible of conferring with God.

The lesson I need to learn is to be dependent on God for guidance about where I go, and what I do.  It is usually when I do what I want, that I get in trouble.  It seems that the “Father of the Faithful” got in to trouble, when he did that.  Peace.

“Open Our Eyes”

Both of my sons are readers, but the younger one really LOVES to read.  Gatlin either had a book in his hands, or a game controller, most of his waking hours; UNTIL he got married and had a son.  I’m sure that he still does plenty of both, but now he has more pressing items on his agenda.

Of course, he had the dreaded Hooten curse — he only likes to read those things that he likes to read.  School books, and those kind of reading assignments, were not really a part of his reading program.  His interests were always completely different than mine, and at times, a little out of this world for my taste.  But his reading habits were always interesting!  I can remember when the Harry Potter books were coming out.  Before the second book came out, he read the first one again; before the third one came out, he read the first two again; before the fourth one came out, he read the first three again; and so on.  When they started making the movies — he would read the books again, up to the one that they were making the new movie about.  I would ask, “Why do you do that?”  His answer was, that he would read something that would help him better understand the new book or the new movie.

I wish that many would take that approach to the study of the Bible — that we never learn it all!  David Lipscomb once made the statement that he had read the Bible nearly every day for 50 years, and he learned something new every time that he read it.  The reading of the Bible is like walking into the small end of a megaphone.  the further in you get, the bigger it gets.  We also need to be reminded of those truths that we learned from the very beginning — over and over again.

In that great psalm about the law, the psalmist says:

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.  (Psalm 119:18, NIV)

What a wonderful thought!  There are things that ARE there, that I will miss unless God opens my eyes.

When Abraham and Sarah made the mistake of deciding to help God out, with His promise of a child, and Ishmael was born to Hagar; there came a time that the mother and child had to leave.  As they left and went into the wilderness, their water ran out, and the boy began to cry.  Hagar put the boy down, then she went off a little way and began to sob in despair.  An angel of God comforted her, and said that God had heard the boy crying.

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. … (Genesis 21:19, NIV).

That sounds to me like the well was always there, God just had to open her eyes where she could see it.

When you sit down to read God’s Word, pray that He will open your eyes — that the commands, promises, and blessings may be obvious as you read.  Paul prayed in Ephesians 1 …that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened … (verse 18, NIV), and may that be true for all of us.  May God bless the reading, understanding, accepting, and obeying of His Word.  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook, May 19, 2016.  It  has been revised, and rewritten, to be used as one of our Psalms on Saturday.  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing to you.  Bill)

“Attitude of Gratitude”

One thing that was stressed repeatedly in the Hooten house, was that the children would be respectful of adults.  Mom and Dad made sure that Christye and I, always said, “Yes Sir”; “No Sir“; “Please“; and “Thank you.”  It has become so ingrained into my thought process, that I can’t help myself — it is just of my nature.

Over the last 25 years, I have worked in offices where there have been secretaries that were anywhere from 10 to 30 years younger than me.  Quite often I was told, “You don’t have to say ‘Yes Ma’m,’ or ‘No Ma’am’ to me.”  I would tell them, that I HAD to — because that was the way that my mother taught me.  Being courteous, respectful, and grateful was expected of us — and, personally, I am glad that it was.

I suppose the one thing that they insisted on most, was that we be appreciative of what people do; especially for what they do for us.  Gratitude was something that needed to be expressed often, and “thanks” ought to be one of the most common words in our vocabulary.  Lanny Bahlman is a good friend that lives in Winters, Texas; and I’m pretty sure that our parents taught us the same way.  When we talk on the phone, the conversation always ends with Lanny saying “Thanks, Bill.”  This attitude of gratitude is going out of style, as their is more of a sense of entitlement now — and it is a crying shame!

When we are taught to develop a sense of gratitude toward the people around us, to the point that it becomes a integral part of who we are; it is easier to be thankful for all that God has done, and continues to do.  Four times in Psalm 107, the psalmist repeats the same instruction to be grateful for what God has done.   Notice what he says (ESV), in verses 8, 15, 21, and 31:

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!

There have been people, in every congregation where I have preached, that have been an example to me, about being thankful to God in our public prayers.  There was one old brother, Tab Hatler, that stretched my ability to be thankful, when he expressed that he was “thankful for the great state of Texas“.  He stretched me, but I knew that he meant every word of it!  I am grateful for those that take the time in their prayers, like Ken Coffey and his sons, to thank God for the things that we often take for granted — the rain, the trees, the animals, the flowers, the sunshine, and the beauty of everything that we see.  Let’s not ever be in such a rush, that we neglect to be thankful.

I don’t know who said it first, but I am pretty sure that Malia is the one that brought it to my attention; and I want to leave this thought with you today.  “What if you woke up today, with only the things that you thanked God for yesterday?”  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook, May 17, 2016.  It has been adapted, and re-written, to be used as a part of our “Psalms on Saturday.”  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing to you.  Bill)

 

 

“Do You have a Prayer List”

How do you go about your personal prayer life?  Do you have a regular time of day, when you stop and spend time with the Father in prayer?  How long do you spend in prayer? What method do you use as a reminder of those that have requested prayer?  How do you remember those that are in need of prayer, that may not have talked about it publicly — but you know of their needs?  Do you have a number of churches, or preachers, or individuals; that you pray for on a regular basis?  After you are through praying, do you have an epiphany — and remember someone (or something) that you forgot to mention?  Do you take the time to list all the things that the Father has given to us, or blessed us with, during your prayers?  How often do you spend time just praising God for Who He is?

I have always struggled with having the kind of prayer life that I wanted?  I willingly confess, that there have been times that my prayer life has been better, and it has been worse.  Probably, I’m not the only one that can make that confession!    Over the years I have struggled, looking for the best method of practicing my prayer life.  I have trusted things to my memory (and that option gets worse all the time), and always struggled to always remember everything.  I have used a list, or lists, and prayed for everything that was on the list, which worked out pretty well (if you can remember to keep your list(s) updated.  What has always worked the best for me, is a combination of a list, and a worksheet — where I write out my prayers, and the people, things, and situations that I am to remember in prayer.

At this particular time in my life, I am struggling with finding the time to pray like I want to pray.  Most everyone knows, that I had “gastric bypass” surgery a little over two months ago.  Well, I am very much a person of routine, and the my mornings were pretty scheduled — and worked really well for me.  Now, I spend 45 minutes to an hour, walking early every morning, and am tired when I get back — and so my mornings are not going like I want.  This morning, as I was reading through Philippians, I was challenged, and encouraged, to redouble my efforts to find a schedule that works for me.  Observe what the text says:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  (Philippians 1:3-11, ESV)

It is always encouraging for me to read the prayers of Paul!  I don’t know what method that he used in his practice of prayer, but he prayed for everyone and everything!  I want my prayer life to be modeled after Paul’s.  If you notice in this prayer, his prayer is full of joy because of his friendship and partnership with the saints in Philippi, and for that he is extremely grateful (who in your life, in your spiritual family, causes your prayers to be filled with joy, when you think of them).  But not only is he grateful for that joy: he prays that their love may abound, that they will approve what is excellent, and be pure and blameless.  I want to be that kind of prayer warrior, for those that I know and love.

Just reading Paul’s prayer, and thinking about how he prayed, motivates me to do a better job!  How about you?  Peace.

 

“I Want to be a Prayer Warrior”

There have been several “Mother’s Days” where I have used the words to a song called “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again” in the sermon.  It is more well known as a country song, that has been recorded by George Jones, Loretta Lynn, and Alabama; but the first time I ever saw it was in an old, old hymnal.  J. W. Bahlman, was an elder of the North Main church, in Winters, Texas; and had been leading singing since he was a young teenager.  He had attended a Stamps-Baxter singing school in Dallas very early in his life, and paid the school’s enrollment fee by cleaning the meeting place every night.  For several summers, probably around the ages of 12 to 14, he traveled with a preacher by the name of L. W. Hayhurst, leading the singing for gospel meetings.  You could not hardly name a song that J. W. could not lead, and he had a bunch of old paperback song books that he had collected over the years.  He found this song in one of those books, we printed copies of it, and he said that he could lead it.  Mother’s Day came, and he did get the song started, but I don’t know if anyone was singing by the time it was over.  Everyone, it seems, had tears in their eyes; and was really struggling to get the words out (including J. W.).  The prayers of a mother, are so indicative of the love that a mother has — that it touched the hearts of everyone.

Later in my life, I found out that when I was going through a period of rebellion in my life at York College, my mother was praying every night, “Lord, make him a preacher.”  Most people, were just hoping that I would be around at 30.  In my opinion, there is no greater evidence of love for another person, than to be praying for them.  We can all think of those people, that when we listened to them pray, you could just tell that it came from the depths of a heart-filled with love.  That prayer was not a religious duty to them, but it was their privilege and their joy to empty the feelings of their heart at the throne of the Father.  I am always blessed by following those people in prayer as they lead me.  May God bless us with more prayer warriors like this.

All of these thoughts came racing through my mind, as I was reading in Luke 11, this morning.  Notice what the text has to say:

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying.  As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus said, “This is how you should pray.”

“Father, may your name be kept holy.

  May your Kingdom come soon.

Give us each day the food we need,

and forgive us our sins,

     as we forgive those who sin against us.

And don’t let us yield to temptation.”  (Luke 11:1-4, NLT)

The first thing that jumped off the page at me, was that there must have been something about the way that Jesus prayed, that the disciples noticed.  It must have been something that they really wanted in their lives.  Something so important, that they asked Him to teach them to pray, so that they could have it in their lives.  It may have been the relationship with the One that He prayed to, it could have been the intensity of the words that He said, or it may have just been the calm and peace that was there as He spoke to the Father.  Whatever it was they saw, they wanted it!

I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with saying the words to this “model” prayer, but I really don’t think that Jesus was giving the disciples the exact words that He wanted them to repeat over and over.  He was sharing with them, the things that they needed to be concerned about.  His model prayer taught them to be adore our God, and praise Him for who and what He is.  He also taught them to be aware of the spiritual blessings that are available, and pray for their increase upon God’s creation.  The disciples were also instructed to be aware of the physical needs that they had, and, by implication, of the  needs of those around them.  They learned that they needed to be aware of the shortcomings and failures in their lives, and appeal to the Father for forgiveness.  As a part of that forgiveness, there were acts of obedience and trust that they should exhibit (as evidenced by the ability to forgive those that sin against us).  Finally, they were taught that living for Jesus was a struggle, and to appeal for help in the fight against the evil one.

It would really be a blessing, if I could tell you that my prayer life is all that I want it to be.  There have been times in my life, when it has been close to what I wanted; but it is my inconsistency that plagues me.  Oh, in the mornings, as I walk, I talk to the Father; but the time when I get alone with God and empty the feelings of my heart, about the sins of the world, my family, my church family, and my own struggles and failures — I am not where I want to be right now.  I want to be a prayer warrior!  For my God and His influence in this world; that His salvation, and the Spiritual blessings in Christ, may be more of a reality to people; that those who suffer pain, disease, and have to do without the physical necessities of this life can find comfort; for my sins that are constantly are with me, and the ability to demonstrate grace, trust, and love to everyone around me; and, finally, that we can keep the evil one on his backside, and defeated in the spiritual war that is going on around us.

Would you pray for me, and my desire to be a prayer warrior?  Would you join me in this effort, as we appeal to the Father to make a difference in this world?  Peace.