Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday slowdown

I have been blessed by these two weeks focused on prayer. I hope that it's been meaningful for you, too. We should remember as we pray, to seek His will first and foremost. There will be times when He will have another plan, different from what we've asked . . .

Thursday, September 29, 2016

David's prayers

Isn't it amazing that some people think prayers must be very long, and very drawn out? Perhaps we have all been in a church service or prayer meeting, when someone has prayed for a very, very long time.
If it's sincere and from the heart, great! If it's just to prove what a good pray-er or how spiritual someone is, not so much.

A great example of this is King David, the man "after God's own heart."
He kept it short and sweet. (grin)
Let's pause for a moment and check out the twenty-third chapter of I Samuel:
When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” he inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”The Lord answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.”But David’s men said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!”Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand. So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah. (Now Abiathar son of Ahimelek had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah.)Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah, and he said, “God has delivered him into my hands, for David has imprisoned himself by entering a town with gates and bars.” And Saul called up all his forces for battle, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men.When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod. 10 David said, “Lord, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. 11 Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.”And the Lord said, “He will.”12 Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?”And the Lord said, “They will.”13 So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there.14 David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.

What a relief! (Can't you imagine David saying that?)
David and his men were being hunted by Saul and his troops - they were in danger of losing their lives. But David puts aside his own fear and tries to help his neighbors. The people in the city of Keilah had been attacked by the Philistines, and they were plundering their threshing floors. Without threshed and winnowed grain, and without the threshing floors that were being destroyed, the people might surely starve.
So, David inquires of the Lord -- should he go and attack the Philistines? Wow. Very short, and very direct, no? And the Lord replied in just that way -- yes, go and attack them. Notice that He didn't assure David that he would win the battle?
That's why when David's men said they were afraid, David inquired again, and asked if he would be the victor. God gave David assurance that they would be victorious.

David went, with God's answers, and fought the Philistines, and delivered the city of Keilah. Now, the people of the city were not very nice....
Saul heard that David and his men were in Keilah, and began to plot to catch him there. When David discovered the plot, he must have had at least some thought that the people would be loyal to him. After all, he had just tossed the Philistines out of their city!
David must have had some misgivings, though, since he prayed and asked God if Saul was going to come after him, and also asked if the people were going to hand him over to Saul?

Again, a very direct prayer. A bold prayer. And short.
God answered his prayer. He told him that Saul was definitely coming, and that the men of Keilah were planning to hand him over. With that answer, David left Keilah, and even though Saul searched for him day after day, he didn't find him.

These past two weeks, we have focused on the importance of prayer in our spiritual lives. We've zeroed in on intercessory prayer, and the need to keep on praying even when people turn on us or provoke us. We've seen that God listens to, and answers prayer. And we've seen that we don't have to go on and on . . . . short prayers are just fine, too.

When we are close to God, when we are familiar with Him, our relationship will grow more sweet, and closer, by our spending time in prayer.

Let's be determined to spend more time with Him!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Moses' prayers

We've been studying these two weeks about intercessory prayer . . . praying for others, and lifting them up to the Lord for help that only He can provide. I thought we'd spend one day looking at Moses and his prayers for others.
Moses was truly changed by prayer; his mission was created by the cries of the Hebrew children in Egypt. As they prayed to Yahweh for deliverance, their leader was being shaped and prepared in the wilderness. His excuses were overcome by God's words, ensuring His assistance. Even when we look at Moses striding down from the mountain, after spending time with God and receiving the Law, we see he's been changed again: his face shown with dazzling brightness.

Moses' prayers were first found to relieve the terrible weight of God's wrath -- Pharaoh pleaded with him on four separate occasions to pray for him to receive relief from God's plagues. Apparently the wicked ruler was happy to have the scourge lifted, but not impressed enough to let the people go, until the final plague. We can learn from Moses that God is influenced by prayer, and that He hears and answers even when it means that an outcome or situation may change. Surely this points to his promise: "Call upon me and I will answer you."

Moses lived near God, and had the freest and most unhindered and boldest access to God, but this, instead of abating the necessity of prayer, made it more necessary, obvious and powerful. Familiarity and closeness to God gives relish, frequency, point and potency to prayer. Those who know God the best are the richest and most powerful in prayer. Little acquaintance with God, and strangeness and coldness to Him, make prayer a rare and feeble thing.  (Prayer and Praying Men, by Edward M. Bounds)
Over and over again, when God's wrath was kindled by a sinful and forgetful people, Moses interceded for them. He didn't upbraid them and remind them of "just last month, y'all forgot all about God's blessings, and I had to go and ask Him to forgive. Now y'all are doing it again..."  He didn't show irritation, but concern. He went to God and pleaded for these people that he was responsible for.
What a testimony for us to consider! What an example for us to follow!

I'd like to encourage all of us to study Psalm 90. It's widely thought that this is a prayer of Moses, and if you look carefully, you will even see that it follows the acronym that we mentioned recently. I hope it's a blessing to you as you read and study it.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.
We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
    Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.
17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Verses that inspire

Have you come across a verse or two that has inspired you recently?

This meant a great deal to me this past week:
But our citizenship is in heaven.And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21) 
In junior high school, our class would often sing:

"This world is not my home, I'm just a-traveling through.
If heaven's not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me, from heaven's open door, and
I can't feel at home in this world any more!"

Of course, most junior high students have no clue what they are really singing about. Not really. You don't get that kind of wisdom and life-knowledge until you have lived a little longer!

Having dealt with death in our family this year, these verses and songs mean even more to me. Isn't this a precious promise?
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (I Corinthians 15:51-52)
I'm reminded of a quote from one of my favorite authors:
“Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”  ~ C.S. Lewis
Has a verse inspired you recently, and will you share it with all of us?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Powerful prayers, Part IV

We're lingering in the passages about our buddy Samuel, the man of prayer, for there is still more for us here! We'll get back to our "women of the Bible" series soon, don't worry!

Last week we saw that Samuel was quite provoked when the people slighted him, Remember that? He made the rounds all year long, going from place to place to do justice for them, and had never even looked at a bribe. No fees, no rewards. He had kept the land in peace, but he was getting on in years, and his sons were not following in the grand old man's footsteps -- they were definitely not chips off the old block, as my grandma used to say. So, the people seized on this excuse and demanded a king. God listened as he poured out his heart, and consoled the old man with the knowledge that they were not rejecting Samuel himself, but God. He tells Samuel to warn the people of what having a monarch will be like.
And he does.
And they still want one.
He doesn't grow irritated. He doesn't get peevish. He goes back to God the Father and then anoints them a king.
Here's our practical life lesson from this: when we are tempted to stop praying for persons that we have been lifting up to God, we must not give in. If they have ridiculed our prayers, no matter. If they have said they don't want them, never mind. At that point, we try to show even greater love, by continuing to pray for them!  If our friend persists in a sinful habit, if our child resists our loving guidance, if our neighbor hurls one more insult -- yes, even then, we keep on lifting them up to Jesus!

Samuel set us an example there . . . remember when Saul went astray?
 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” (I Samuel 15:11a)
What was Samuel's response? He cried out to the Lord all night for Saul.

Shall I get that box of bandaids?
How many of us have stayed in prayer all night -- and for someone else?

How often are our prayers like this: Lord-I'm-sorry-for-my-sins-and-I'll-try-to-do-better-tomorrow-if-You'll-help-me-oh-and-please-bless-the pastor-and-the-mission-team-and-oh-dear-I-can't-recall-the-name-of-that-lady-that-Judith-mentioned-but-God-you-know-her-she-has-cancer-and-isn't-saved.....the sound of gentle breathing says that we've now fallen asleep.
Amen. I've been there, too.

But now, can we get serious about our prayers? Can we look back at Samuel's words and repeat them, God forbid if we cease to pray for him, and her, and them, and, and .....

Here's where the rubber meets the road, y'all. Even if it's a gravel road, like I live on.
We have to practice.
Shouldn't it come naturally?
To some extent, yes.
But think about this; if a woman wants to sew a lovely quilt, she practices. If a boy wants to learn to cast a fishing lure, he practices. If a man wants to play ball with his kids, they will get out together and practice.

I know you have probably seen this acronym before, or some iteration of it. It's not a bad way to look at prayer, and practice:

P -- Praise Him for all of our blessings
R -- Repent of our sins, even the secret sins that we might not realize we did
A -- Ask Him our requests, especially those of interceding for someone else
Y -- Yield to His will
E -- Expect Him to act on our behalf, or for the one we're praying for
R -- Rejoice in the blessings yet to come!

There is truly power in prayer. If we can't do much financially, or if we don't have a gift for public speaking, then we can still do a great deal for His kingdom. We can do it on our knees, in prayer.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Powerful prayers, part III

Powerful prayers, for sure!
This grand old man of prayer cried out to God, and the thunder rolled and rolled. The enemy was so confused and scared that they were ultimately subdued by Israel for a good while.

Now let's look at how God listens and helps his children when we are provoked . . .we mentioned before that the people at one point began to turn against Samuel. It was not because of him, for they confirmed to him that he had always walked in integrity. It was because of his sons:
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders.The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (I Samuel 8:1-5)
Of course, this would have grieved Samuel's heart. Parents always hope that their children are going to be fine folks, and when they go astray, it hurts! It's only natural. But instead of getting in a "huff," or scolding the people, or defending his indefensible sons, what does he do?

Samuel prayed to the Lord. He told the Father all about what was happening. Here is His reply:
And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. (I Samuel 8:7)
God tells him not to take it personally, in today's language. (Grin) This snub, this slight was a rejection of God, not of Samuel. God didn't want Samuel to take their ingratitude personally. So, we read in the rest of the chapter that after he protested, he told the people all about how they would suffer from a king. The king was going to tax them and oppress them, and then take their sons to be soldiers and their daughters to work in his palace. Not only those things, but the king would also take their fields and vineyards, too.

Did this change their minds?
They still said they wanted a king. I like the way the KJV details this: "Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord."

Just think if we were wise enough to do that when people provoke us? If we didn't get angry. If we didn't pout. If we didn't tell others how we'd been mistreated. If we didn't just brood on it and have a pity party.
If we went straight to our quiet place, our prayer closet, and told them to our Lord.
What a difference that would make in our lives and our attitudes!
When the people of Israel left Samuel and followed after their newly-minted king, the old prophet continued to pray for them.
What can we take away from this?
We've seen that God listens and helps us when we are provoked, just as He did Samuel. If we will "rehearse" it in His ears, He will comfort and answer:
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (I John 5:15-15)
We are not judges. We are not all pastors, or teachers. We are not all parents. But we nevertheless have folks with whom we come in contact; we have people within our sphere of influence. We must be frequent in our prayers. We must be caring and compassionate; we must pray for them. If they are not yet part of the family of God, then we need to pray for their salvation. If they are believers, but have strayed, it's our privilege to ask the Spirit to call them back. If they are believers facing difficulties of any kind, it's again an honor to name them to the Father and ask His blessings upon them.

To pray for others should become a habit that we do not stop, even if that person or those people provoke us somehow. As Samuel said, "God forbid that I should cease to pray for you." Oh, let's be prayer warriors like him!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Powerful prayers, continued

We're studying several chapters in I Samuel, and learning more about this grand old man of God. He was a man of prayer, and we can learn a lot from him!

In the first chapter of I Samuel, we see the story of Hannah, who prayed to God for the blessing of a son -- so sorrowful was she that her silent prayers were mistaken by Eli for her being drunk. Only her lips were moving as she bowed in prayer, promising Yahweh that if she had a son, she would turn him over to God, to minister in the temple. We know that Hannah did conceive, and that the boy Samuel was in the temple of God from a young age.

We also see in I Samuel, that after the deaths of Eli's wicked sons, and of Eli himself, that Samuel became a judge over the people. The Bible describes his work as that of a "circuit" judge, traveling from city to city to judge the people. "Back in the day," the authority of judges was just slightly short of kings; they could declare peace and war, they could decide cases with unchallenged authority, but they couldn't make new laws, or impose new burdens on the people. They were tasked with protecting the law, defending religion, and deciding on crimes. But wait! They didn't have a salary, and had no gilded splendor, no guards or "fans" to admire them . . . they truly had to know that God had called them to take on these responsibilities!

The people's judges also had to rely on God for their strength and their wisdom. Not hard for this grand old man  . . . for Samuel was born of prayer! Hannah, in her sorrow and pleading, received him from God, and joyfully exclaimed, "For this child I prayed." She named him Samuel -- "asked of God" is the meaning. He was nurtured by Hannah, a woman of prayer, and when she took him to the temple, it was for him to live in the house of prayer all of his days.

We all seem to remember Samuel as that small figure, the child at prayer. The child who said, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears." But as he grew into the man of God that judged the people, he persevered in prayer for others. He was so known for his intercessory prayers that he is one of the men mentioned in the ninety-ninth Psalm:
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,    Samuel was among those who called on his name;they called on the Lord    and he answered them. (Psalm 99:6)
Samuel was so immersed in this habit of prayer for the people that he said in chapter 12:
As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. (I Samuel 12:23)
I like how the King James presents it, too:
 Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way: (I Samuel 12:23)
He has become so rooted in the habit of praying for the people that he seemed to be startled at the thought of stopping his prayers! I think that the people who came to him at the time must have been measuring him by themselves -- they may even have thought that he would be irritated by them, and deny them his prayers. Look at verse 19:
And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto theLord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king. (v 19)
Earlier, they had chafed under his godly leadership, and asked him to anoint a king. You may recall that Samuel took it personally at first, but God told him, in essence, that they were not rejected Samuel, but rejecting God. I think at this point, many of the people had realized their sins and valued Samuel's prayers. They were pleading for him to intercede, but stopping his prayers seems to almost horrify him. He says "God forbid" or "far be it from me" to stop praying for them.

It's no wonder that they put great stock in his prayers -- they were successful! Not only did they result in thunder and weather changes, but the outcome of battles depended on Samuel's intercession.
Look at the seventh chapter of I Samuel when you have a chance . . . the Philistines were oppressing Israel, and Samuel called the people together. He told them that they must turn from their idolatry and worship the true God. He promised them his prayers, and he offered a sacrifice as he cried to the Lord.

What a grand event happened next! God heard his cry, and as the Israelites marched into battle, Jehovah went before them, in answer to the prophet's prayer. The sound of marching must have fairly shaken the earth, and the spears glittered and shields shone in the sun. Watch what happened:
While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panicthat they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar. ....So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. (I Samuel 7:10-11,13)
The Philistines were subdued . . . the prayer of Samuel was the catalyst for the conquering of that people. Philistia was forced to crouch beneath the power of that prayer. That grand old man of God, and the God he served, had prevailed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Prayer requests

It's so appropriate that this is our week for prayer requests! Truly the Spirit moves in marvelous ways, since we are studying prayer this week.

We know that there are some who are dealing with financial stresses; others are struggling with health issues; still others are burdened for others that they are praying for . . .

Let us have the privilege of praying with you. If something is too personal to detail in a comment, just tell us that we can pray for an "unspoken" request that is on your heart.

If you can give us some specifics, by all means, let us know so that we can pray that person or that situation "up to" the Lord.

And if you would like to share a praise, an answered prayer, leave a comment for that, as well. What an encouragement that can be for others!

I would like to share that even though we've had some rough bumps in the road recently, I'm praising God for continued progress in the lives of some for whom I pray. He is working, and I'm so grateful. And I'm keenly aware of the fact -- not a theory, but fact -- that He will sustain and provide for me.
The Lord is good,A stronghold in the day of trouble;And He knows those who trust in Him. (Nahum 1:7)
I hope that this gives hope to someone today.
He has promised.
He will be faithful!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Powerful prayers

I'd like to take a short break from our studies of "women of the Bible" -- here's why . . .
When we studied Hannah, the mother of Samuel, I also continued reading in I Samuel, and a couple of things really moved me. One was the image of Samuel, when the people of Israel came to him, asking for a king, and he prayed. The other was an image of Samuel, praying all night over Saul.

Samuel really was a grand old man. And he has much to teach us about prayer!
I would ask that if you have the opportunity, to re-read the passages in I Samuel . . . if time is short, at least refresh your memory of chapters one, eight, twelve, and fifteen.
Let's dive in!

I'm not sure how long we will dwell on this subject; I guess when the Spirit tells me to move on, that will be when we move on!! We've talked before about prayer, both for ourselves and for others. This week we'll focus on praying for others. Many of us have loved ones or friends that we routinely pray for. There may be needs in their lives; they may not know Jesus personally; there are oodles of reasons why we lift up people to Jesus in prayer.

It's an awesome privilege, this thing called prayer. We start by making certain that there is nothing in our lives that would separate us from God -- we ask for personal forgiveness of sins. When we are accepted by God, then we can intercede for others. It can be seen as a proof of our relationship with Him when we rise above the narrow focus of repentance for our own sins, to look into the broader focus of another's sins or dire situation. And when we see the answers to our intercessory prayers, we see others blessed and even saved, and we rejoice in the love of God, as He reaches into lives and changes them by His grace.

Here's another thing to think about -- when we intercede for others in our prayers, we are becoming more like Christ. He pleaded for all of us in His prayers here on earth.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one,Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
He has ascended to the right hand of God and continually intercedes for us there.
Who then is the one who condemns?No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)
So, when we pray for others, we are in closer communion with our Savior.
Also, when we intercede for others in prayer, we are giving them a gift -- one that is of so much value that it cannot be measured. How is that? Well, many of us can trace our own conversion to the prayers of godly people. Perhaps a mom, a grandmom, or a dad, or a pastor prayed for us and we came to know Jesus in a personal relationship when He saved us from our sins. We may know others who came to know Christ because of praying friends, teachers, or pastors. Homebound prayer warriors intercede and plead for others with God, and souls are saved. Missionaries in the field can point to dates and times that the presence of God came down in a mighty way because folks were praying for their welfare, their growth, or the success of their ministry. Jesus told us to "pray one for another" and surely this is a command that we can honor!

Prayer is a benefit to us, as well. Sometimes it's a better way of comfort than any other. Do you recall what happened when Job prayed for his friends? The Lord showed mercy and blessed him abundantly. Even if prayer doesn't accomplish quite what we might want, it has awesome results! Do we find it hard to pray for our enemies? We can look at what David said:
But as for me, when they were sick,My clothing was sackcloth;I humbled myself with fasting;And my prayer would return to my own heart. (Psalm 35:13)
He tells us that he prayed for his enemies; he interceded in prayer for those who truly would have rejoiced if he had died. He says that his prayer returned to his own heart. It may not have accomplished exactly what he had in mind, but it returned to him, and gave him a sense of peace in his own spirit. I don't guess there is anything more restful or peaceful to our hearts, than to pray for those who persecute us. How much better to turn it over to God, than to "stew" as my grandma used to say, and become more and more stressed about them? Prayers for others are certainly not a waste of our breath!
We'll study more on this next time.....