Heartfelt prayer

Matthew 6:7 NLT

Here’s what Jesus taught about prayer: “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.” Then He gave us two specific instructions. First: “Shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private” (v. 6 NLT). Second: “Your Father knows exactly what you need…before you ask him” (v. 8 NLT). Heartfelt prayer isn’t meant for human ears. In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way: “Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play.” In heartfelt prayer the Holy Spirit brings to the surface things you’ve carefully hidden from others, and even yourself. Like a mirror, He confronts you with the truth and demands that you confess “the hidden things of dishonesty” (2 Corinthians 4:2). Once you’ve done that you can leave God’s presence cleansed, corrected, confident, and clear as to His will. Nothing fuels heartfelt prayer like real need. It causes both the prominent and obscure to acknowledge, “Lord, without you I can do nothing. Indeed anything I could accomplish without you would mean nothing!” This is the place of naked prayer. Hannah was there when she cried to God for a child. She was so passionate that Eli the high priest thought she was drunk (See 1 Samuel 1:13). But God heard her cry. That day, Samuel was conceived in her heart, and shortly thereafter he was conceived in her womb. So don’t leave the place of prayer until you conceive, until the embryo of God’s purpose for your life starts to take form within you, and your vision is born.

Soul food: Eph 4:17-6:24; John 1:14-28; Ps 29; Prov 22:26-29

Listen carefully

Exodus 3:4 NLT

When we pray, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of listing off all our requests, problems, and ideas of what we want God to do, and then finishing up and moving on. It’s not bad to tell God what’s on our hearts; in fact He encourages us to share our concerns with Him (take a look at 1 Peter 5:7). But He also wants to share what’s on His heart. He wants to tell us things. So we need to be making the time and space to purely listen to His voice. Sometimes it can be tricky to figure out whether we are hearing His voice or not. If we don’t practise hearing His voice, we can mistake the voice of the enemy, our own voice, or the voice of those around us, for His. And that’s when we start believing lies about ourselves rather than resting in His truth. When He speaks into our lives, He brings life. His voice sustains us, guides us, restores us, and refreshes us. When we are struggling, a word from God can bring hope back to us. When God created the world, He spoke it into existence (take a look at Genesis 1). That shows us just how powerful His voice is, and how He can create new things every time He speaks. When God spoke to Moses through the burning bush, He gave him purpose. He knew Moses by name, and had a calling just for him. He wanted to speak with Moses personally. ‘God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” “Here I am!” Moses replied’ (Exodus 3:4 NLT). He wants to speak to us personally too. And once we have heard what He wants to tell us, our lives will never be the same.

Eph 1:1-4:16; John 1:1-13; Ps 92; Prov 22:24-25

Support your church leaders

2 Corinthians 11:28 NIV

Ever found yourself criticising the talk at church? Or expecting more from your pastor? We can be quick to criticise, and slow to support and encourage our church leaders. While Paul was not a pastor of one particular church, he said: ‘I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.’ Leading a church can be a pressurised job. We expect to be spiritually fed, guided, and supported by our church leaders. And some of our churches have a lot of people. Leaders have to deal with many people’s burdens, while trying to live their own lives too. This can be exhausting, stressful, and can lead to people burning out, or even leaving the ministry. Our church leaders are working on the front-line of the kingdom. The enemy will be trying to stop them from spreading God’s Word. They will face struggles and temptations just like the rest of us. So what can we do? Firstly, we can pray for our pastors. We can ask God to give them the strength to keep going, inspiration and insight into His Word, and protection from the enemy. We can also avoid criticising them to others. Let’s stop complaining that we didn’t get anything out of the talk at church. Instead let’s remember that God may have been speaking to someone else, that we might not have been open to hearing what God was trying to say to us, and that actually it’s not all about us. Finally, we can openly encourage our pastors. We could tell them when something they’ve said or done has really encouraged us, we can share stories of how God’s working in our lives, or even support them practically by offering our gifts and skills in the church.

1 Sam 18:1-20:29; Matt 27:45-56; Ps 68:19-35; Prov 22:6

Sold out to God

Philippians 3:8-9 MSG

Before you discover your God-given purpose in life, you’ll often experience a series of adversities that cause you to relinquish what’s temporal and grasp what’s eternal. For Paul it meant the loss of every earthly possession. For others it can mean the heat of battle in a divorce court. When the person you thought was “everything” walks away, suddenly you’re stripped down to what you had before. Look at Job; his home was a shambles, his marriage seemed a joke, and his children were dead. That’s when he discovered you can be stripped of the temporal, but not the eternal; stripped of your wealth, friends, and fame, but not of your character and your faith in God – those things survive the strippings of life. The Bible says, “Then Job…fell down upon the ground, and worshipped” (Job 1:20). True worship is born in the fire of sacrifice. When you can lay upon the altar something you thought you had to have because you realize it was God’s all along – that’s worship. Look at Abraham’s altar. God didn’t want the slain body of Isaac; He wanted to know if there was anything Abraham loved more than Him. That’s it – reaching the place where you can pray: “Lord, here are my grudges and unforgiveness, my need to impress, my time, talent and treasure, anything I’m wrapped up in that hinders me from being completely Yours. You’ll never have to take these things from me, for I gladly give You all it takes to be what You want me to be.” Can you pray that prayer today? It’s not easy, but it’ll change your life.

Soul food: 1 Sam 16-17; Matt 27:32-44; Ps 68:1-18; Prov 22:1-5

Problem-solving (4)

Proverbs 14:15 NIV

The next thing we need to do is evaluate the problem carefully and prayerfully. When we are facing a tough problem or situation, it can be easy to react out of our current emotions and thoughts. We can make decisions we may regret in the future, just because of the strength of the emotions we are feeling in the moment. Here’s what King Solomon said about reacting impulsively instead of taking time to get all the facts. ‘The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.’ ‘To answer before listening – that is folly and shame’ (Proverbs 18:13 NIV). We need to be asking ourselves, ‘Who or what caused this problem? Are we making a mountain out of a molehill? Has it the potential to do real damage, or will we have forgotten about it this time next week?’ Not all problems can be solved instantly. Some require us to think about them carefully, to allow our emotions to calm so that we can think rationally and with perspective, and to pray and seek God’s guidance. He’s got the wisdom we need. The Bible says: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you’ (James 1:5 NIV). By not reacting immediately to our problems, we have the time to get into God’s presence and ask for His wisdom. When we bring our problems to Him, He exchanges our worry and stress for His perfect peace. In Philippians it says: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (4:6-7 NIV).

Gen 6:9-8:4; Matt 24:37-51