Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 23

- 23 -
Prayer and The Cheerful Giver
God desires to answer our prayers far more than we desire to pray them.
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

"Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?" (Matthew 7:7-11).
Our spiritual enemies would have us view our Heavenly Father as distant, dispassionate and reluctant to respond to our requests. Conversely, the Bible provides a completely different perspective, declaring that God loves our prayers, loves to answer our prayers, and is ever ready to hear and respond. Indeed,
"God loveth a cheerful giver" because He is Himself the most joyous and generous of benefactors (II Corinthians 9:7).
Think of it. The Apostle Paul said that "He giveth to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25). The Lord Jesus amplified the point, proclaiming that God makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall not only on the just, but on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). And our very existence requires God's ongoing gift - "by Him all things consist" (Colossians 1:17). By any measure, that's generosity, that's readiness to answer, and that's a cheerful giver!
Of course, we're not silly about the matter. We recognize - gladly - that God answers prayer according to His perfect wisdom, and in His time and way. We also understand that we can "ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your own lusts" (James 4:3). We take prayer seriously, viewing it as a sacred trust that we would never want to violate by fleshly frivolity or greed.
Nevertheless, we maintain the Biblical perspective that looks into our Lord's heart and sees a willingness to answer prayer that transcends our most fervent desire to pray. We also rejoice in the truth that we cannot even attain to asking or thinking the "exceeding, abundantly above" measure of generosity that motivates God's giving (Ephesians 3:20). Yes, our Heavenly Father is the cheerful Giver, and He would have us know Him thusly in order that we might be His cheerful recipients. Because the heart that continually asks and receives of God becomes the heart changed into His likeness of self sacrificial generosity and abundant willingness to joyously give and give and give.
"God... giveth us richly all things to enjoy."
(I Timothy 6:17)

Friday, October 28, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 28

- 22 -
Prayer and Remembering
My first best friend, a young man from my childhood named Bruce, was born 55 years ago today.
For some reason, Bruce's birthday has remained etched in my mind despite the fact that I haven't seen him in well over 40 years, and have no idea where he is or what's he's doing. So, each year on October 28th, I pray for him that God will bless his life with the Lord Jesus Christ, be it in salvation, or in growth in the grace and knowledge of a salvation already received.
The spanning of space and time offers one of the greatest aspects of the gift of prayer. We can "touch" people, or more accurately, we can ask God to reveal Himself, His truth and His working in the lives of people across the globe or the calendar. Prayer, of course, draws us near to God. But it also somehow draws us near to the ones for whom we pray, at least in spiritual terms. We give a gift to people by our intercession on their behalf, and we ourselves are blessed by the uttering of names, the remembrance of faces, and the opportunity to remain involved in the hearts and lives of those once near, but now long removed from our presence.
Happy Birthday, Bruce, wherever you are. May the Lord Jesus be known to you in this day and always, and may He be trusted in your heart, whether in the new birth, or in ongoing growth from a birth already received and experienced. And thank you, Lord, for the amazing gift of prayer whereby those once dear to us remain so because they are so dear to You.
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering..."
(I Thessalonians 1:2-3)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 21

- 21 -
"Has It Come to That?!"
You've likely heard the resigned comment of the man recounting his troubles to a friend. "I tried this, I tried that, I tried this and that" said the troubled man. "But finally, well, finally, I just had to pray about it!" The other gentleman, realizing with alarm the severity of his friend's plight, mournfully shook his head and responded with a sympathetic sigh, "Ohhh, has it come to that?!"
The story always gives me a brief chuckle. Then, alas, the realization sets in that I have so often been both parties in the matter concerning issues of my own life. Indeed, how easy it is to act as if prayer is a last resort rather than a first response. As much as I think about prayer, preach about prayer, write about prayer, and, well, hopefully actually pray a bit, I still too often begin dealing with matters by emphasizing the human rather than the Divine.
By this I don't mean that we must specifically pray about everything we do before we do it. Life comes at us fast and furious, and there are plenty of times when we must actively respond to matters in the moment. Such occasions are likely covered by those prayers we've recently prayed for the Lord's leading and enabling, perhaps at the beginning of the day.
Of such supplication, the Psalmist said, "My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up. For Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with Thee" (Psalm 5:3-4). In other words, David lets us know that we do well to begin our days with prayer, lest wickedness and evil overtake us because of our neglect to early access the guidance and power of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course, prayer is more than a beginning of the day matter, which returns us to our consideration that many matters come to us that allow for seeking God as we begin to respond to them. No better way exists than beginning with the One declared "is the Beginning" (Colossians 1:18). If you'll allow another quick anecdote, a lady named Rosie Ruiz once finished first in the women's division of the Boston Marathon. She was disqualified, however, because it turned out that Rosie had not run the entire 26.2 mile race. She jumped onto the course about a half mile from the finish line, breaking the tape first, but also breaking the rules. Rosie didn't start on start, she didn't begin at the beginning, and thus was disqualified at best, and has become a symbol of cheating at worst.
We must begin at the Beginning, both by initiating our days with prayer, and by availing ourselves of the opportunity to pray about matters when we have opportunity. Great wisdom, guidance, enabling, and the joyful living of life, the very life of Christ, awaits us as the Originator of our lives is consciously known as the fountainhead from which all streams must flow. In such assurance likely familiar to us, we close with Solomon's beautifully declared promise of Divine guidance, based upon human supplication...
"Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 29

- 20 -
Prayer and... Cookie Dough?

Certainly God is far more willing to answer our prayers than we are to ask them. His glory and the fulfillment of His will and eternal purpose in Christ are at stake in the faithful keeping of His promises regarding prayer than permeate the Bible. Thus, we may approach the throne of grace as we make our requests in the confidence that our Heavenly Father loves the fact that we have come - "the prayer of the upright is His delight" - and He loves to answer - "call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not" (Proverbs 15:8; Jeremiah 33:8).

This being said, we also recognize that our practice and application of prayer are presently imperfect. We do not always ask in accordance with the will of God, and we may even at times ask for things that seem fine to our spotty understanding, but which are viewed by our Lord's perfect vision as gravely perilous.

When I was a child, my mother occasionally bought a tube of cookie dough, the kind you simply open, cut up, and bake. The product was new at the time, but it didn't take long for me to discover what is now a fairly open secret. Namely, the cookies are fine when cooked. But the raw dough is utterly sublime uncooked! I discovered this early on - I have a skilled nose for the culinary arts! - and subsequently began to raid the refrigerator whenever a tube of cookie dough was on hand. My mother didn't care for the practice, and thus didn't buy the product very often.

Now had it been up to me, and had I believed my mother to be willing, I'd have asked her to buy the cookie dough every time she went to the store. Hey, while you're at it, Mom, get two! Alas, my mother knew quite well that raw cookie dough, eaten in the mass quantities I'd have consumed, would not have been good for me. So even had I made the request, it would have doubtless gone unheeded by the mother who loved me.

It's a simple illustration, but you get the point. Far, far more than my mother, our Heavenly Father loves us too dearly to respond to requests based on our limited understanding and misdirected fleshly lusts. As much as He desires to answer our prayers, and as often as He does, His affection and devotion to us prevent fulfilling requests based on mere sentimentality. He is committed to our well being, both in time and eternity, and He "works all things together for good to them that love God," including and especially His answers to our prayers (Romans 8:28).

Thus we seek to pray in accordance with the will of God, and with the best understanding we can muster of His glory, along with the best interests of ourselves and those for whom we pray. We "come boldly to the throne of grace," but we also come humbly in the understanding of our limitations (Hebrews 4:16). Thank God that the One to whom we pray delights in our prayers, delights in answering our prayers, and delights in only responding in a manner that meets our truest and deepest need. We wouldn't want it any other way, so thank You Lord, and oh yes, thanks, Mom, for doing the same and taking care of me and my belly!

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon Me, and ye shall go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you."
(Jeremiah 29:11-12)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 19

- 19 -
"Exceeding, Abundantly Above"

"Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding, abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20).

"The power that worketh in us" is, of course, the indwelling Holy Spirit given to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Holy Spirit dwelleth in you" (I Corinthians 3:16).

The accessing of such mighty enabling involves the gift of prayer, also freely given to all who believe, as led and enabled by the Holy Spirit. Our Heavenly Father calls us to decisively and consciously trust Him by communicating with Him. "Call unto Me and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not" (Jeremiah 33:3).

I recently heard a former player of the late football coach of the University of Alabama, Paul (Bear) Bryant, say that Coach Bryant was always willing to help former players who had worked hard for him and done their best. "But you had to ask" said the player. "Unless you were in a situation or condition where you couldn't, you had to humble yourself and ask."

Our Heavenly Father does many things for us that do not require our asking. "He giveth to all life and breath" (Acts 17:25). Conversely, much that He desires to bestow upon us of "great and mighty things" and things "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" do require our prayerful seeking. "Ye have not because ye ask not" (James 4:2). It's hard to imagine a greater tragedy than to have access to "the unsearchable riches of Christ," but to fail to avail ourselves of their abundant provision (Ephesians 3:8). Such neglect characterizes every believer to one extent or another, and we must honestly confess our inexcusable ignorance and/or unbelief. However, we must also begin from where we are in seeking to grow in our access of supply that God desires us to have more than we desire to have it. Whether we have been consistent or inconsistent in asking and receiving, today should be better than today, and tomorrow better than today. We must "grow in grace," that is, in the awareness of God's riches in Christ, and our accessing thereof (II Peter 3:18).

We understand always that our Lord answers prayer according to His glory, will and eternal purpose in the Lord Jesus. Thus, at times His answers come in packaging strange to us, even as Israel failed to recognize her very Messiah. His answers come nevertheless as we pray in humility, faith and accordance with the Word of God. "If we ask anything according to His will, we know that He heareth us" (I John 5:14). Of course, sometimes we don't know what to ask for. We don't know what His will is, or even what we need or desire. In such times, we simply ask the Lord to do or provides as He sees fit. Whatever the case, we ask. We pray. We seek. And we trust that our Heavenly Father loves to "give good things to them that ask Him" (Matthew 7:11). Again, the infinitely generous God of Heaven is far more willing to give than we are to ask. Yes, He is exceeding, abundantly above willing.

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."
(Matthew 7:7-8)

Monday, October 24, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 18

- 18 -
Answered Prayers, Floating From the Sky

I'll never forget the day we saw millions of answered prayers, floating from the sky.

Many years ago in our Sunday evening fellowship, my daughter Emmie and her friend Lila began to regularly request prayer that it would snow. We prayed accordingly, telling the girls that if God determined it to be in accordance with His glory and our best interests, He would gladly answer.

Several years passed with no snow, so one of the girls decided that we needed more specificity in our praying. "I want to pray that it will snow in Mobile, Alabama (our hometown)." Once again, we asked the Lord for snow, this time more pointedly and directed toward a place He rarely sees fit to whiten in the winter.

Still no snow, but the Lila and Emmie doggedly followed the Biblical principle of perseverance and importunity in prayer. We prayed weekly, per their request, for snow in Mobile, Alabama. And then, on a Sunday evening I'll never forget, one of the young ladies upped the ante, as it were, and in a major way. I think it was Lila. "I want to pray," she said, "that it will snow in Mobile, Alabama - on Christmas Day."

I recall my response. Shifting slightly uncomfortably in my chair, I cleared my throat, pausing to find the right words to say regarding so tall an order of prayer. "Uh... uh yes, Lila. We can certainly pray that it will snow in Mobile, Alabama on Christmas Day."

Now you have to understand the meteorological context of this matter to realize the magnitude of Lila's request. Again, Mobilians rarely see snow during any winter. Maybe once every 5-7 years, the weatherman will tell us that we have a chance, a small chance, for snowfall. Most of us get pretty excited when that happens, and then feel pretty disappointed when almost invariably snow fails to materialize. And the thought of snow in Mobile, Alabama on Christmas Day? Well, let me just say with Bing, we all dream of a white Christmas.

In the best pastoral tone and intention I could muster, I explained, as I had in the past, that we could surely honor the girls' request, but with the caveat of all prayer. "We all understand that God's glory and will must be our first reason for praying about anything, and also that He always looks to our best interests in answering our prayers. So, we will indeed pray that it will snow in Mobile, Alabama on Christmas Day, if the Lord wills."

Every Sunday thereafter, for a number of years, we prayed accordingly. In those days, Lila's family and ours gathered together on Christmas Day for dinner and the sharing of the holiday together. On one of those occasions, about 5 or 6 years ago, the day dawned very cold (always a nice blessing in Mobile, where it can be 70 degrees on Christmas day). As the day progressed, it began to be overcast, and the weather reports indicated a chance of rain late in the afternoon. We had our dinner together, opened some presents, and began a game that our family traditionally played each year.

At some point, several of the young people stepped outside. They're weren't out there long, however, because the door flew open as one of them burst into the house. "Hey, you won't believe this! Come outside! It's sno..." Well, you know, don't you?

Yes, it was snowing. In Mobile, Alabama. On Christmas Day. I never think, speak or write those words without tears welling up in my eyes, and falling down my cheeks (it's happening right now). It was snowing. In Mobile, Alabama. On Christmas Day. Or perhaps better expressed, it was snowing millions of answers to prayer in Mobile, Alabama on Christmas Day. We all ran outside and let the unfamiliar feeling of snowflakes bless us with the wonder of frozen white beauty, but even more, of the Psalmist's supplication, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us" (Psalm 90:17).

The snow didn't accumulate that day. Emmie and Lila forgot to pray about that specific matter. I've always been kind of glad about that because I suspect that had they done so, Mobile might still be digging out from the blizzard that would have descended upon us! But what they asked for, they received because in our wonderful Heavenly Father's purposes, it did honor the Lord Jesus Christ, and it was in our best interests.

Sometimes I wonder what the effect of this will be in Lila and Emmie's hearts. They have already grown into two sweet, wonderful, beautiful and fine young ladies. They bear a shared legacy of giving those of us who for so long heard their requests the blessing of seeing God's loving faithfulness in a particularly special way. I have to believe the wonder of it all will with them for a lifetime, and for an eternity. Yes, it snowed in Mobile, Alabama on Christmas Day, in response to the prayers of two children who exemplified the faith to which we are called, and even more, the faithfulness of the God who calls us.

It's not often you get to see millions of answers to prayer, floating from the sky. I wish you could have been there, both for the hearing of hundreds of Sunday evening requests, and then for that day, that blessed day, when Lila and Emmie's Father doubtless took great pleasure in blessing their hearts, and ours. And hopefully now, yours.

"For He saith to the snow, Be thou upon the earth."
(Job 37:6)
"Thy mercy, o Lord, is in the heavens, faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds."
(Psalm 36:5)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 17

17 -
Prayer and the Healer of Hearts
We often return in these devotionals to the Apostle Paul's teaching, most pointedly expressed in his second epistle to the Corinthians, that our sorrows and losses are meant to be the basis from which we minister God's comfort to others.
    "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" (II Corinthians 1:3-4).
    The Christian faith itself began in such loving determination, as the sufferings and death of the Lord Jesus Christ birthed for us our very hope of salvation and eternal life.  "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit" (I Peter 3:18).  This same wondrous Savior now lives in us, and Scripture calls us to "walk even as He walked" (I John 2:6).  Thus are born again believers granted the amazing privilege of viewing our sorrows as God's redeeming means by which others experience His comfort as they trust the Christ we minister to them.
    Our prayers are a primary means by which we distribute this balm born of buffeting, as it were.  When we hurt, an altar of prayer lies before us, an altar whereby the Holy Spirit would lead us to pray for others experiencing the same challenges and difficulties.  Job's sufferings ended when the Lord brought him to such a sacred and holy place: "And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends" (Job 42:10).  Our own sorrows may not "end" in the sense that we no longer hurt when we join our brother of old in such ministry.  They do, however, become a very different thing in our hearts and minds as our Heavenly Father turns our focus upward and away from self-centeredness by leading us to use our sufferings to bring comfort to others.
     Somewhere, someone else always hurts as we hurt.  Someone has lost, as we have lost.  Someone mourns as we mourn, and cries as we cry.  And somewhere, the heart of someone else lies shattered on the ground, seemingly beyond hope and repair.  It is not, of course, because the Lord Jesus can redeem and heal any broken heart brought to Him in faith.  Our prayers, prayed for others from our own sorrows, can be a sacred means by which the Holy Spirit shines a bright and illuminating ray of hope upon the face of the Healer of hearts.  This is the holy way paved for us by such a glorious One, and it is now our way as He dwells and walks in us.  May God grant much grace of remembrance, leading us to visit the altar of "comforting them, which are in any comfort, by the comfort which we ourselves are comforted."
"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.  For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you."
(II Corinthians 4:8-12)

Friday, October 21, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 16

(Thanks to Larry and Jane for inspiration on this one)
16 -
 Prayer, the First Thing and the Main Thing
    "Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name... for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, Amen" (Matthew 6:9; 13).
    The model prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ begins and ends with focus on the glory and will of God, the primary motivation that must guide our prayers.  Our own needs and desires, while important to both our Lord and to us, must be subservient to the greater emphasis that, as some good friends often say, "keeps the first thing the first thing, and the main thing the main thing."
    This comprises a great challenge to our flesh, which views prayer as a means of getting God to serve as a cosmic bellhop, as it were.  "Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3).  This runs counter to the spiritual constitution of the born again Christian, who by definition devotes himself not to himself, but to the Lord who bought him with a price (I Corinthians 6:20).  We must therefore keep the issue of motivation at the forefront of our thinking about prayer, and our practice thereof.  Indeed, God often meets our needs and fulfills our desires as we make our requests known to Him.  However, answered prayer does not imply that He serves us, but rather that we rightly serve Him by praying in accordance with His glory and will.  "This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us" (I John 5:14).
     "According to His will" - A simple way to keep our hearts and prayers in tune with our Lord involves this affirmation in both attitude and word.  We pray according to our understanding and desire.  In the committed believer, this often accords with God's understanding and desire as He works in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  However, we also pray with the caveat that acknowledges our limited knowledge and the possibility that fleshly desire may rather taint our motivation.  Such understanding of our limitations keeps us in the place of trusting humility that serves the Lord Jesus, rather than seeking to have Him serve us.  The believer who walks accordingly can expect much answered prayer as life unfolds in the blessedness of the glory and will of our God.
"Whatsoever ye do... do all to the glory of God."
(I Corinthians 10:31)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 15

15 -
Forgotten Prayers
Unless we write them all down, which most of us don't, many of the prayers we pray during our Christian lifetime will be forgotten, at least by we ourselves.
   None, however, will be forgotten by the One to whom we pray.  Think of it, prayers we prayed twenty years ago about things and people long since faded into our mind's oblivion may still be the focus of God's ongoing attention.  A prime example involves the nation of Israel.  For centuries, God's chosen earthly people prayed for their promised Messiah.
    "Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine" (Psalm 80:14).
    The Lord answered that request, prayed in one form or another by thousands throughout the Jewish ages.  The Lord Jesus Christ came in fulfillment of God's promises, and in answer to His people's prayers.  Sadly, they largely rejected Him, as He knew they would, but the Lord heard the echoes of Israel's cries ringing through the ages and answered prayers long forgotten, by people themselves long forgotten.
    Perhaps when we get to Heaven, our Heavenly Father will say to us, "Remember that prayer you prayed when you were still very young in the faith?  You know, the one about..."  Our response may well be, "Uh, Lord, I can't say that I do."  "Oh yes," He'll acknowledge with a smile, "of course you don't."  The Lord will then conclude, "Well, I did, my child.  I remembered.  And I just want you to know that it took many, many years and much ongoing and detailed action on My part.  But I answered it, and it brought much glory to My Son."  Surely God is working to answer such prayers, prayers we don't remember praying.  His faithfulness shines forth from such blessed truth, along with the amazing gift that prayer is to the trusting heart.
    We do well to give thanks for the ongoing goodness of the Father who answers forgotten prayers.  They are as fresh to His memory as they may be lost to ours, and in the glory of His answers we will one day sing with the Psalmist...
"Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds."
(Psalm 36:5)
"He abideth faithful."
(II Timothy 2:13)
"Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications: in Thy faithfulness answer me, and in Thy righteousness."
(Psalm 143:1)   

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 14

14 -
Prayer and Personal Responsibility
Prayer does not preclude personal responsibility and action on our part.  In fact, it enhances our determination to do those things that our own hands can fulfill.
     I am currently painting the outside of our house, little by little (an hour a day most days).  Yesterday, after finishing a session, I cleaned up and put up my brushes, tools and paint.  I forgot, however, that I had left our ladder leaning against the back side of the house.  As were leaving the house last evening, I remembered my omission.  While we live in a pretty safe neighborhood, and the ladder was in the backyard and pretty much obscured, I was still concerned that a squirrel or some other varmint might look at it with a lustful eye and make away with it! (not sure how many squirrels it would take to haul off a twelve foot ladder!  But it'd be interesting to see...).  
    I really didn't feel like putting the ladder up, and was already getting in the car to leave.  My first thought, therefore, was a prayer.  "Father, I trust You to protect the ladder and keep someone from taking it."  Instantaneously, a discomfiting feeling descended upon me.  Immediately following was the realization that I was asking the Lord to honor my intention to lazily neglect my personal responsibility.  I knew what I had to do, and told Frances, "I left the ladder in the backyard and have to put it up before we leave."  I did so, and with much joy and thanksgiving for another experience in which our Heavenly Father reveals His faithfulness by motivating and empowering our own.
    The interesting thing is that putting the ladder up actually was an answer to prayer.  Yesterday morning, I had prayed, as most believers do.  "Lord, lead and enable me to do Your will in this day, for Your glory."  I have no doubt that putting that ladder up was the will of God, and I have no doubt that doing so was a specific and direct answer to my earlier request.  Furthermore, the incident gave me an opportunity to share our Lord's glory with you by recounting my temptation to irresponsibility, and God's faithful working on my behalf.
    Sorry, squirrels.  You'll have to do without the ladder.  And thank You, Father, that little by little and day by day, You tirelessly confirm the ancient promise of your loving devotion and determination...
"He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."
(Philippians 1:6)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 13

13 -
Prayer and Privacy
Being asked to pray publicly is one of the most frightening things that can happen to a new believer.  Furthermore, many people who have been Christians for years do not desire to pray aloud, and shudder to think of being asked.  For this reason, I never call on someone to pray if I am not sure they are comfortable with the practice.
    Interestingly, the Bible never pointedly addresses the issue, except to strongly emphasize that prayer and privacy are spiritual companions.
    "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (Matthew 6:6).
    "Beware of the scribes, which... for a pretense make long prayers" (Mark 12:38; 40).
    As a preacher, I often pray in public settings.  I don't mind doing so, as it is the accepted norm in Christendom for ministers to lead in vocal prayers.  I also conduct prayer meetings in which many people openly express themselves to God.  This is fine, and Scripture certainly records public prayers on a number of occasions.  However, implicit in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ quoted above is the emphasis on prayer being first and foremost a matter of the closet, that is, of intimate privacy between the believer and God.  Furthermore, our Lord severely chastens those who profane the holy gift of prayer by pretentiously using it as a means to impress others.
    We each have a relationship with God that He purposes to be intensely personal, even as we are all also part of something bigger than ourselves.  In the same way most of us don't care to have our conversations with loved ones witnessed by others (notwithstanding the advent of, ugh! Facebook), so God would have our praying relationship with Him to be largely between He and ourselves.  Prayer is challenging enough without having spectators who may tempt us to communicate with God in a manner diluted by the awareness that an audience witnesses our praying.
    So, for all of you who don't care to pray aloud in public, relax.  You're on good Biblical ground in maintaining your spiritual privacy.  For those who do pray in public, beware.  Temptation awaits us as we approach God outside the personal closet mandated by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Certainly we may do so, but let us always remember how easy it is to profane the sacred by praying for reasons other than those of the love, holiness, devotion and authentic communication with God set forth by Scripture.
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it."
(Revelation 2:17)

Monday, October 17, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 12

12 -

The Quality of Prayer

If we pray better, we may well pray less.  This may seem counterintuitive, but in many things, particularly spiritual things, quality and quantity don't always coexist.

    I am convinced that our Heavenly Father is more concerned with how well we do things than how much we do them.  Prayer may be at the top of this list because the motivation to pray more strongly tempts us to pray just for the sake of praying.  Certainly the gift of communion with God is far too blessed and sacred for such a heartless and mindless application. 

    Early in my Christian life, good and well meaning teachers strongly encouraged me to pray more.  My attempts to do so led to clock-watching and the mouthing of empty words originating not from the true substance of devotion, but rather the vanity of a mere sense of obligation.  Doubtless there is responsibility concerning prayer - "Men ought always to pray" (Luke 18:1).  However, nothing in the Bible hints of a prayerfulness born out of a rote and ritualistic practice that lacks heart, relationship, and most of all, love.  As the Apostle Paul declared in I Corinthians 13, we can do many things that seem spiritual, holy and good.  But if love, the love of God, does not originate, perpetuate, and culminate our religious doing, we are "nothing" (I Corinthians 13:2).     

    In this day, and in all to come, let us ask our Heavenly Father to grace us with much the remembrance of how much He desires our conscious fellowship.  "The prayer of the upright is His delight" (Proverbs 15:8).  Let us also request the grace whereby our praying pleases Him because it issues forth from the reality of His Spirit's working in us, and the reality of our response to Him motivated by a genuineness of heart and mind.  Such awareness may well pare down the words of our prayers, even as it exponentially increases their genuineness and experience of God's living presence.  Nothing more would please His heart, and nothing more will fill our hearts.

"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."

(Proverbs 4:23)

"Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, and that seek Him with the whole heart."
(Psalm 119:2)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 11

11 -
Prayer and Reality
    Praying just to be praying has little to do with the matter, as defined by Scripture.  There must be reality in our prayers, that is, they must begin with our Lord moving within us to seek His face, and then we must seek to express ourselves with genuineness and sincerity.
    "Serve Him in sincerity and in truth" (Joshua 24:14).
    Few greater challenges face us in the living of a Christian life.  Rote and empty prayers are native to our flesh, which desires religious experience on its own terms rather than those of God.  Such exercise of heartless and mindless mouthing of words makes little difference to Him, and it should make little difference to us.  Just as human family and friends desire us to be real in relationship with them, so does the great Father and Friend of our hearts call us to reality in prayer.  "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (I John 3:18).
     In practical terms, this means we must first trust our Lord to motivate and enable a life of prayer that we ourselves can never produce.  True prayer is fruit, including the sincerity of real communication with God.  Unless our Heavenly Father works within our hearts and minds to nurture authentic relationship, no such blessedness will grace our lives.  Thus, we begin where all spiritual reality begins, namely, with God's giving and our receiving.  We acknowledge His working and provision.  We confess our weakness.  And then we trust that "My strength is made perfect in weakness" (II Corinthians 12:9).  The Divine and the human unite to reveal the very essence of why God calls us to pray, and why we pray.
    Upon this basis of grace received through faith, we then live in expectation of genuine prayer.  God is trustworthy beyond all imagining, and as we trust Him to enable the communication He so greatly desires with us, we shall not be disappointed.  "Faithful is He who calleth you, that also will do it" (I Thessalonians 5:24).  He will lead us, motivate us, enable us, remind us, and bless us with a quality of praying that Christ alone can reveal.  Prayer will become far more reality than ritual, and most importantly, the reality of God Himself will illuminate our hearts and minds with assurance.  Our Father could give us no greater gift, the gift of authenticity and of life, the gift of Himself...
"In Thy presences is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures forevermore."
(Psalm 16:11)

Friday, October 14, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 10

10 -
Tears As Prayers
    Sometimes tears are prayers.  Some seasons of loss, pain and grief leave us with no words, or even the capacity to utter words.  "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh" declared the Lord Jesus, but if the heart is broken, it may feel the deep anguish expressed by the Psalmist "I am so troubled that I cannot speak" (Psalm 77:4).  In such times, the heart may only be able to cry, and so it is that sometimes tears are prayers.
    Our Heavenly Father looks with great compassion upon the broken and bewildered heart that does not know the reasons for the things that have befallen it.  If it is also a trusting, submitted heart, the Holy Spirit works therein to form communication beyond understanding and words.
    "The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26).
    Our sorrows and tears, united with the Holy Spirit's pleas on our behalf, become perhaps the most eloquent prayers we will ever direct toward the throne of Heaven.   The Lord Jesus Christ alone receives all glory for such a work of sympathetic grace as He embraces and carries His lamb too wounded to do more than bleat. Perhaps most importantly, few prayers are more assured of answer than the those of our tears.  Just as the loving human parent - and infinitely more - the Father of Heaven responds to the crying of His children with devoted and concerned attention to our need.  In perfect wisdom, He knows how to comfort our hearts, how to deliver us in His time and way, and how to weave "all things together for good" - including especially those difficult but blessed times when our tears are prayers.
"The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping."
(Psalm 6:8)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 9

9 -
Prayer, the Answered Side (or, Kermit, the No Show)
   When I awoke this past Sunday morning, the ravages of a head and chest cold had descended upon me.  What little voice I had was raspy, and the prospect of preaching and singing seemed out of reach for the day.  Then it occurred to me that in the next 3 days, I was scheduled to preach and lead music in 8 services.  "No way," I thought to myself.  "It's just not going to be possible."
    My next thought was one of great disappointment.  Several times during the year, a week's worth of meetings will bunch together over a few days.  There's always a sense of being both daunted and thrilled when this happens, along with the sheer joy of being able to share the Lord Jesus Christ with so many different groups of people.  Without a voice, however, or with one more like Kermit the frog than my own, it didn't seem that singing and preaching in so many services would be possible.
   "With God, all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).
    As I pondered the situation, the realization hit me that I could ask the Lord for the grace and enabling to fulfill my responsibilities.  Now I know this seems obvious to you, but I usually take some time to find my way through the fog into God's bright sunlight.  "If the Lord wants me to do these meetings," I thought to myself, "well, He'll make a way and do something about Kermit!"  So I simply asked Him to clear my chest and voice, or to do whatever He deemed necessary to make preaching and singing possible.
    I write this on the other side of the meetings, and on the other side of prayer.  The answered side.  As I look back on the last few days, the realization hits me that Kermit did not show up for any of the services.  He was certainly with me at other times, and even now, I'm glad for a few days to rest my voice.  Most importantly, I know that I know that I know God provided grace - and a voice - as I needed it.  Things went so well that during the services I didn't even think about being sick and hoarse.  I just spoke and sang as usual - and then afterwards wondered how it had happened. 
   Of course, I knew, and you know.  In simple terms, God answers prayer.  Certainly we all know and believe this, but I'm also aware that we all have to be reminded often to "let your requests be made known unto God" (Philippians 4:6).  So this is written as a grateful remembrance and encouragement from our Lord to my heart and yours - Let us pray! (a note of appreciation also to Kermit for going wherever he went during the services! :)  ).  
"Men ought always to pray."
(Luke 18:1)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 8

8 -
Prayer and the Trinity
    Early in my Christian life, I was taught that the believer prays to our Heavenly Father, through the merits of the person and work of the Son, as led and enabled by the Holy Spirit.
    I still find this to be the most Biblically faithful pattern of communion with our triune God.
    "After this manner, therefore, pray ye, "Our Father, which art in Heaven..." (Matthew 6:9).
    "For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Ephesians 2:18).
    "Stand therefore... praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:14; 18).
    Establishing this Scriptural standard of prayer in our hearts and minds prepares us seek God in a manner satisfying to both Him and ourselves.  We always do well to follow the Word of God in its ways and tenets, especially in matters so important as communicating with our Lord.  "I will meditate in Thy precepts, and have respect unto Thy ways" (Psalm 119:15).  Furthermore, the Lord Jesus prayed to His Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we are called to "walk, even as He walked" (I John 2:6).  Directing our prayers to the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit therefore sets our spiritual footing on the solid ground of truth, and the fullness of the triune God who is completely involved in the Divine/human communication that comprises the very heart of Christianity.
    Knowing that God is fully involved in our prayers helps us to more completely devote ourselves to relationship with Him.  "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:18).  Since true prayer is fruit, better understanding of the Root that originates and empowers communion with God helps us to better experience the wonder of such a gift.  Again, to the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit - the fullness of God beckons us to more fully avail ourselves of so great a gift given by the One who loves us completely and forever.
"And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
(Matthew 3:16-17)

Monday, October 10, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 7

7 -
 Prayer and Delight
    We all have people with whom we enjoy spending time, people whose presence and voices are sweet to us.
     Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ know that God Himself should be the person with whom we most desire to commune.
     "In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).
    Only in God is "fullness of joy."  Only in His presence are "pleasures forevermore."  This we believe, although our response to the truth does not always match our conviction.  At times we may seem distracted, neglectful, or even unaware of the true joy and pleasure of our hearts.  "I watch, and as a sparrow alone upon the housetop" (Psalm 102:7).
    How can our response grow in acknowledgement of our Lord, along with the devotion, faith and awareness of the singular place He occupies in our hearts?  First, bemoaning our fickle response does little to effectively motivate and empower us.  Directing our attention away from ourselves and unto the Lord actually has far greater effect in turning our hearts toward their true Home.
    "The prayer of the upright is His delight" (Proverbs 15:8).
    Rather than our joy and pleasure motivating more consistent fellowship with Him, attention to His "delight" most empowers our own delight in Him.  As the Apostle John wrote, "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19).  This spiritual dynamic of His love for us fostering our love for Him continues, and will continue, throughout a lifetime and eternity.  Thus, knowing that our Heavenly Father enjoys time with us, as it were, floods our hearts with overwhelming gratitude and the desire to respond in kind.
    How an infinite God, perfectly fulfilled in Himself and without need, could find joy and pleasure in creatures such as ourselves, we will never completely understand.  We just know that He does because His Word assures us that "the Lord taketh pleasure in His people" (Psalm 149:4).  Each of us occupies a place in God's heart wherein the potential exists for causing Him delight.  Amazing, truly and wonderfully amazing!  I can think of no more sublime thought.  Nor can I imagine any understanding that more causes desire deep in our spirits to approach our Heavenly Father in loving devotion and communication.  Indeed, His is a heart that has known much grief and sorrow from the human race, including ourselves.  If, therefore, we can bring Him pleasure, then let us do so!  Let us come to our Father in the remembrance that our hearts and voices so bless Him that He gave His beloved Son to a cross of terrible agony in order to make possible our access to His presence.  Therein we will find fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore, first in God, and then in ourselves.
"When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek."
(Psalm 27:8)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer" Part 6

6 -
The Proximity of Prayer
    Many believers, including myself, have times when we seem to come to our senses in the realization that we've gone a while without praying.

    Certainly there are times when this results from the Holy Spirit's conviction regarding prayerlessness.  Failure to pray can itself be a sin, or it can be the result of sin (I Samuel 12:23).  In such cases, we do well to humbly and contritely acknowledge our neglect, trusting the Lord for His forgiveness, and for His working in us to keep communication with Him as a primary aspect of our lives.

    At other times, however, the fact that we haven't actively prayed may not indicate actual unbelief or disobedience.  The Bible's command that we "pray without ceasing" clearly does not mean that Christians must be consciously communicating with God in every second (I Thessalonians 5:17).  We couldn't fulfill the responsibilities of life if such were the case.  Indeed, I would not want to ascend to the upper floors of a tall building designed by an architect who attempted to pray while he created a blueprint for the structure.  Nor must we pray in every moment of our leisure time.  Good and genuine relationship does not require such constant communication.  As I write this, for example, Frances sits across a table from me, no less than 3 feet away.  We have spoken occasionally while sitting together at this time, but not continually.  Nevertheless, we are together, and a communication of sorts exists simply because we are close in proximity.

   In similar manner, the believer and God dwell together in a spiritual proximity, as it were.  "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit" (I Corinthians 6:17).  We are always together, and as we respond to the Holy Spirit's moving within us, conscious prayer often results.  This may elicit a word, or many words, and it always causes the thoughts that lead us to pray.  At other times, we may say nothing directly to God, but an "atmosphere" of prayer nevertheless exists wherein at any time and in any place, active prayer may happen.  This constitutes communication with God in its most genuine and fulfilling effect, as real rather than rote relationship ensues through the loving presence of Christ.

    Our Heavenly Father would surely have us strongly committed to a life of prayer, as enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  He would, however, not have us condemned about the matter.  As you consider these thoughts, you may realize that a very real prayerlessness presently characterizes your walk with God.  If so, He is more than willing to forgive, cleanse and restore.  "He delighteth in mercy" (Micah 7:18).  Conversely, it may be that you are walking with Him, quietly in the present moment, but always ready to avail yourself of communicating with God at any time.  Whether verbally or quietly, herein lies prayer in its most authentic grace in our lives, leading to the vibrant experience of fulfillment proclaimed by the Psalmist...

"In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures forevermore."
(Psalm 16:11)