Sharpening The Saw

Screenshot (1474)

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.  (Mark 1:35, NIV 1984).

My Musings – The above verse is just one among many where Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to commune with the Father.  Why was this so important?  “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” (Abraham Lincoln).  So what’s so important about having a sharp saw?

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.  “What are you doing?” you ask. “Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”  “You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”  “Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”  “Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”  “I’m too busy sawing!” (Dr. Stephen R. Covey, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”).

Sometimes we get so busy going about the work we have to do, that we neglect the things that would make those things so much easier.  Jesus understood this about His ministry.  For example, one of the times He withdrew by Himself to pray was immediately before He chose the twelve disciples.

My Advice – Time spent in prayer and in the Word is crucial in as we journey through this life.  How about you?  Does your saw need sharpening?

What’s Your Bedrock?

Screenshot (1440)Caption:  A typical family, as they “shelter in place,” worshiping in spirit and in truth via FBC of Sycamore livestream on Sunday, March 22 @ 10:30am.  FBC Sycamore Livestream

The magistrates ordered [Paul and Silas] to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  (Acts 16:22–25, NIV 1984).

My Musings –  Greetings from northern Illinois (the “s” is silent), where we are sheltering in place.  Yesterday Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order telling all Illinois residents to shelter in place until at least April 7. “My bedrock has been to rely upon science,” Pritzker said of his decision.

I don’t mean to disparage science (after all God created the science behind His creation) but our bedrock is, and always has been to rely upon God.  Whether we acknowledge Him or not.  Whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in.  Even when we “shelter in place.”  Maybe it will be an inconvenience.  But we have not been “stripped and beaten.”  We have not been “severely flogged.”  While some may feel like it, we have not been “thrown into prison.”  Under such extreme circumstances, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.”  We can do the same.

A final musing: “the other prisoners were listening to them.”  During these scary times, the world around us is listening to and watching us.  What are they hearing? Are they hearing griping, complaining and wailing, or are they hearing positive, reassuring words of encouragement and hope about the God we trust?  What are they seeing?  Do they see the same kind of fear that is gripping the world around us, or do they see calm, peace and assurance?

My Advice – Our circumstances have changed.  Our attitude, behavior and outlook need not change. Our bedrock is on “Christ the solid rock.”  Be like Daniel. “Now when Daniel learned that the decree [executive order] had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.”  (Daniel 6:10–11, NIV 1984).  In Illinois, for a season, we cannot come together in person to worship, as is our custom.  But we can still gather together “virtually” to worship in Spirit and in truth “just as [we] had done before.”  And that’s what really matters.  And as you do, remember, people are listening and watching what the Christians do during “such a time as this.

God bless, and have a “yabba, dabba do time,” and draw closer to God and your family  whether you are required to shelter in place or not.

 

Name Dropper

Screenshot (1700)

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”  (John 16:24, NIV 1984).

My Musings – We generally tend to focus on the phrase “ask and you will receive,” and grow disenchanted when we do not receive what we ask for.  James, in his epistle, states that “when [we] ask, [we] do not receive, because [we] ask with wrong motives [our own pleasures].”  (James 4:3, NIV 1984).  If, as John states above, we truly ask in Jesus’ name, our motives will be pure.  I say truly, because merely tacking this phrase at the end of a prayer, without really focusing on what His will might be, is merely lip service.

My Advice – Purify your motives in prayer, before attaching Christ’s name to it.

___________________________

Want to become a Christian? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.”
Want a closer walk with Christ? See my blog series “Got Spiritual Milk?”

Confident In Prayer

Screenshot (1477)

My Musings – God answers all the prayers of His children, they just may not be what we expected.  To me it seems that His answers fall into four broad categories:

No – God is not arbitrary, capricious nor vindictive. After all, do we give our children everything that they ask for?  If not, isn’t there usually very good reasons?  When the answer to our prayers appears to be no, we can be sure there is a good reason. Instead of questioning His good intentions we should search our motives and our heart to make sure they are in line with God’s will.

Wait – Sometimes, we conclude that the answer is no because it does not come when we want it or expect it. It could be that God has determined that the answer is yes, but the timing is not right.  His timing is always best.

Yes – When we ask, when our motives are pure, when the timing is right and it is in line with God’s will, we have the assurance that the answer will be yes.

Better – Sometimes God has something even better to answer our prayers with.  After all, He is able to do abundantly more than we can think or imagine.  In these cases, if His answer was simply yes, we would miss out on even greater blessings.

My Advice – Make sure your motives are pure and that what you request is not in obvious conflict with God’s will.  Then trust Him to do what is best, even if you cannot see it right away.

High Anxiety

Screenshot (1449)

My Musings – Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness or worry about something that is happening or that might (or might not) happen.  Anxiety can rob us of happiness, because happiness is usually dependent on circumstances. When difficulties arise, happiness fades away.  But these difficulties need not rob us of joy, because joy often happens despite circumstances.  If that joy is in the Lord, we need not be anxious about anything.  In everything (all circumstances), we can petition God to drive out the anxiety and replace it with peace. When this happens, it surpasses understanding because having peace and joy in the midst of all kinds of adversity (in everything) is incomprehensible.

My Advice – When faced with oppressive anxiety, pray.  When faced with oppressive anxiety, rejoice (count your blessings) in the Lord.  When faced with anxiety, focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV 1984).  Put this “into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, NIV 1984).

Today’s musing was inspired by Pastor Kevin Rutledge’s sermon on November 17, 2019. Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons. If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you.

 

 

Occasional Prayer, or Pray on All Occasions?

Screenshot (1316)

My Musings – Wise men (and women) still seek Him, even after they have found Him. Because being born again is not the end of seeking. It is merely the beginning. We become children of the Father and have access to Him 24/7. Regrettably, many only seek this access (through prayer) when in times of need. Then we pray in earnest, often wondering why the answers are not immediate. At other times, prayer may be nothing more than something we mumble before meals, or words we recite from memory without thinking before we retire for the evening.

Prayer is, or at least it should be, much more than any of these. It should be a continual state of mind. It should be more than a list of urgent requests or dry recitations. It should be an intimate two-way communication between a loving Father and devoted child. He, the Father, should be more than someone that we take for granted will be there when we need Him and standing by just in case when we do not need Him (or think we do not need Him).

The truth is, we would never dream of imposing upon someone with stature, such as the President of the United States, with urgent personal requests or patronizing platitudes that do little more than burn up oxygen and squander his or her valuable time, even if we did have a personal relationship with them. Yet much too often this is all that our prayer life consists of. We are passionate when the communication is important to us (urgent requests) and passionless when it is not (dry recitations). What kind of relationship is it when it is one-way?

But, how does it become an intimate two-way communication between a loving Father and devoted child? What is it about our relationship with God that can make our prayer life more (or should make it more) than selfish urgent requests (demands) fired off in frantic desperation or lifeless dry recitations rattled off as if they were an obligatory inconvenience (annoyance)? Like most parents, what He really wants from us is our time. He wants to know that we are listening to Him just as much as we want Him to listen to us when we make those urgent requests. Although He does not speak to us audibly, He impresses things on our heart, pricks our conscience, gives us insight into His Word just when we need it and brings other believers alongside us to affirm what He has “said” to us by these other means.

In its most basic form, prayer is an address by God’s people, in a spirit of humility and repentance (when needed), in an effort to seek God’s will. Sometimes it is difficult for us to express in words what is on our hearts. So the Holy Spirit, knowing what we mean, expresses to the Father what we cannot. What allows our prayers access to God’s “ear’ is our relationship with His Son Jesus. Because of His relationship with the Father, He is able to intercede on our behalf. In this world, we typically need someone to make an introduction for us if we want or need to approach a person with stature beyond ours. The person making the introduction for us can do so because we have a relationship with them and they have a relationship with the person of stature. In spiritual terms, we established a relationship with Christ when we accepted Him as our Savior. Before this, we could never dream of approaching God’s throne, nor would we have been able to. Now His eyes are on us and his ears are attentive to us.

Developing an intimate two way communication does not come naturally for everyone. Like those in Jesus’ day we need to be taught how to pray. Jesus’ response was to give an example, which became known as the Lord’s Prayer. It was then and is now a model (not a formula) that can launch us into effective communication with God.

As we continue to grow, (desiring what God desires, developing a Christ-like attitude, allowing the Spirit to lead us, serving Christ as we serve others, being guided by the Word) we move from pure Spiritual milk to solid food. As we do, prayer becomes more and more natural and spontaneous for us. All of these disciplines are working together in perfect harmony to develop and deepen our relationship with the One we are praying to.

As we mentioned, the Lord’s Prayer is not a formula or a recipe. There are, however, some definite characteristics in this model prayer that we can use as an initial guide in how we ought to pray. These characteristics are:

Understand the relationship
Focus on His holiness
Heavenly mindedness
Submission, petition, confession
Forgiveness (of others)
Seek guidance and deliverance
Praise and belief

In the beginning prayer may be uncomfortable for us and our efforts at it may seem awkward. But as already noted we have the Holy Spirit to eloquently interpret what our heart is saying so passionately, but that our thoughts and words are saying so clumsily. In addition, we have the Son to intercede for us. He knows both our hearts and the Father’s and is able to bring the two together.

Understand The Relationship (Our Father in heaven) – He is the parent, we are the child. He loves and cares for us. We need to love and respect Him.  “How great is the love of the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1, NIV 1978).

Focus On His Holiness (Hallowed be Your name) – It is a privilege to be able to “boldly” approach the throne of Him who alone is absolute in His holiness. It is a privilege we should not take lightly or for granted.  “Who can stand in the in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” (1 Samuel 6:20, NIV 1978).

Be Heavenly Minded (Your Kingdom come) – Think about how much more pure, powerful and effective our prayers would be if we started every prayer from a heavenly perspective rather than from a worldly one. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15, NIV 1978).

Submit To God’s Will (Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven) – All too often we come to God in prayer with a pre-determined self-will of what we want, why we want it and when we want it. Is it any wonder that our prayers are sometimes not answered?  “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1 John 5:14, NIV 1978).

Petition God (Give us this day our daily bread) – We often have the “formula” backwards. In our greed we ask for immeasurably more than we need and we get less than we expected or hoped for. Yet when we ask only out of our needs, not out of our wants, we are often surprised at how much more we receive than what we asked for. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” (Galatians 3:20, NIV 1978).

Confess To God (Forgive us our debts) – Unconfessed sin against God and others is a major hindrance to our prayers. We need to search our hearts as we seek God’s.  “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18, NIV 1978).

Forgive Others (As we also have forgiven our debtors) – We really do not have a legitimate right to ask God to grant us what we are so unwilling to grant others.  “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14, 15, NIV 1978).

Seek God’s Guidance (And lead us not into temptation) – All too often we wait until we are tempted to seek God’s deliverance. Many times that is too late. We know what our weaknesses are and we should continually be asking God to help us. He is in a unique position to help, since when He was on earth in the person of His Son, He endured every temptation.  “Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrew 2:18, NIV 1978).

Seek God’s Deliverance (But deliver us from the evil one) – We think that our circumstances are unique, but they are not. We think that we cannot escape, but we can. God will provide the way and the strength for us to be delivered.  “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV 1978).

Give God Praise (For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever) – Prayer is not just about us. In fact, with the proper focus, it should be more about Him. We need to praise and thank Him.  “Praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.” (Daniel 4:37, NIV 1978).

Believe (Amen) – If we truly ask in His name, we will not be asking for anything that is not in accordance with His will. If then it is His will, we can surely believe He will answer. “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:13, NIV 1978).

My Advice – When you ask are you being given? When you seek are you finding? When you knock is the door opened? If not, why not? Did Jesus misrepresent (lie about) God’s response to our prayers? Of course not! To find the answer to these questions, we must look within ourselves. Are we asking, seeking, or knocking with impure or selfish motives? Are we seeking or asking for things that may not be within God’s will? Are we knocking on the wrong door? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then there should be no mystery as to why our prayers are unanswered. If our motives are pure and what we are asking for, seeking or wanting opened is within God’s will, then we can be assured that the timing is just not right. We need to be patient and wait on the Lord.

As we grow in Christ we will find that our motives become purer and less self-centered. We will find that that our faith has become more patient in waiting on God’s. We will find ourselves praying more in line with God’s will. We will find whether the answer to our prayer is, yes, no or not now, we can still boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence that God’s has our best interests in mind.

So how is your prayer life? When you pray are your motives pure? Are your prayers in line with God’s will? Are you patiently waiting on God to answer in His time?

Carried On To Completion

Screenshot (756)

My Musings – “I thank my God every time I remember you.”  Really?  Well, family  certainly.  Friends, possibly.  Partners in the Gospel?  Well, maybe not every time.  But you see they don’t always share equally in the partnership.

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.”  With joy?  All, all, always?  Well maybe not all my  prayers.  Maybe not all of them.  Maybe not always with joy.  But you, know, some times they disappoint me.

Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”  Confident?  But you don’t know them like I do.  They’ve wandered.  They’re inconsistent. They’re far from complete.

Always Thankful – We have the family, friends and partners in the Gospel that God put in our lives.  And He put us in theirs.  If we are not thanking God every time we remember them, maybe it is us who are not sharing equally?

Always Pray With Joy – In all our prayers, if we don’t pray for them with joy, maybe we aren’t as thankful as we should be.  If we were, wouldn’t we always be joyful when we prayed for them?

Confident of Completion – If God did begin the good work, He will bring it to completion.  If we lack confidence in this we are focusing too much on the wandering and inconsistency and not enough on the “author and perfecter of our faith.

My Advice – Always thank God when you remember the people in your life.  They are a gift to you and you are a gift to them.  Pray with joy in all your prayers for all the people in your life.  They may not always make you happy.  Don’t let those periodic lapses and disappointments rob you of your joy because of them.  Place your confidence in God. That He will complete what He started in their lives.  Don’t let their temporary detours cause you to lose confidence in their ultimate destination.  Be encouraged.

Read the text again.  Wouldn’t you like to have people in your life that are like Paul?  Then why not “do unto others what you would have them do unto you?”  What would our family, friends and Gospel partnership relationships be like if we did?  Talk about thankfulness. Talk about joyfulness.  Talk about confidence.  All wrapped up in a passion for Christlikeness.

Today’s musing was inspired by Pastor Kevin Rutledge’s sermon “Fueled Relationships” on September 8, 2019.  Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons.  If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m.  We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you too.