Tips to Improve Your Prayer Life

prayer20on20rock20silhouetteWe see throughout Scripture the importance of prayer. It is called for and modeled by Old Testament saints and prophets alike. Likewise, Jesus not only calls us to prayer, He also teaches us to pray and models for us a life of prayer. The early church was filled with praying believers.

So, with that said, let’s take a moment to look at some simple steps that can help strengthen our prayer lives.

Establish a time and place so you can get alone and eliminate distractions. It’s best if we can carve out some time each day to spend alone with God free from distractions. So, find the time that works best for you. People are seen praying throughout the Bible at different times and in different postures. God is more concerned that we spend time in prayer than what time we pray and He’s more concerned with the posture of our hearts than our bodies. Whatever hour might work best in your life, set it aside and make it a priority. Turn off the television and put your phone away. Try to eliminate as many distractions as possible so you can spend some time connecting with our Heavenly Father.

Remember that prayer is communication. It’s a conversation with God. For many of us, we try to find a balance between conversation and reverence/respect. Because we do, we tend to drift into “prayerspeak.” Through the years I’ve heard many people talk one way and then pray another. It’s like they’re speaking an entirely different language. Try to avoid this.

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original carton can be found here and is from the site Adam4d.com

As you pray, spend some time in silence. Allow God to stir in the stillness of the moment. It’s often in our quiet moments of reflection that God brings things to our mind to challenge and comfort us.

Speak openly and honestly with God. Don’t try to impress Him. He knows our feelings and emotions. He knows if we’re afraid or anxious. He knows if we’re angry. Acknowledge to Him and ask Him to help you move through those feelings. When we read the Psalms, we see the struggles of the psalmists. We also see the struggles of the prophets as they confessed they didn’t understand what was going on around them. Let’s strive to avoid the dangers of pretentious praying (Matthew 6:5-8). As we do this, it is helpful to remember that the Spirit prays with us and for us (Romans 8:26).

If we’re honest, we know that sometimes our prayer life becomes stale. We run out of things to say or we just repeat the same things over and over. Here are a few suggestions that can help us move beyond this.

  • Use the ACTS acronym – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication
  • Follow the pattern Jesus puts forth in The Model Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15)
  • Pray Scripture, particularly Psalms – Donald Whitney has written a marvelous book on this entitled Praying the Bible (as a matter fact, anything by Donald Whitney is worth reading).
  • Perhaps it might help you to write our your prayers or to record them in a journal. You can do this in a hard copy or digitally. Day One, Evernote, OneNote, or any word processor (Word, Pages, Google Docs) can be a great tool for this.
  • Learn to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Take advantage of the moments here and there and pray whenever something…or someone comes to mind.
  • Pray through your calendar.
  • Prayer walking. Walk through your neighborhood praying as you go. This is a great way to pray for the people around you. Pray 4 Every Home is a great resource you can use in this endeavor.

Whatever method or plan, time or posture, tool or resource, the important thing is to pray. So, spend some time today connecting with God through prayer.

How to Study the Bible

We all want to grow in one way or another. And, many of us look at the new year as an opportunity to make a some changes in our lives. So, with that said, it seems like a good time offer a few suggestions to help us grow in our spiritual walks.

A great place to start deepening our relationship with God is by spending time in His Word. We know that the Scripture provides what we need for spiritual growth (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In the pages of the Bible, we learn about Jesus and the plan of redemption (Luke 24:27). We learn how we need to live and move forward in life (Psalm 119). We grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:17-18). We learn to distinguish truth from error and we see more clearly the areas of our lives that need changing (Hebrews 4:12).

First thing to do is to get a Bible. By that, I mean get a Bible you will use. Get one with print big enough you can see. Get one you can understand. There are a number of really good translations available. I usually recommend the English Standard Version (ESV) or the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). In addition there are a number of digital options that are good as well. Olive Tree, YouVersion, and the ESV app are all great tools you can use on your phone or tablet. Furthermore, you may find a study Bible a helpful resource and once again the ESV Study Bible or the HCSB Study Bible are hard to beat.

Second, get a plan. You can find a number of reading plans tailored to your goals. You can read the Bible through in a year or over the course of two years. You can read the New Testament through in a month or two. There are no limits to the suggestions. A month or so ago, Justin Taylor wrote about a number of great options on the Gospel Coalition Blog.

Third, set a time where you can minimize distractions and invest your time in reading. Find the best time for you whether it’s morning, evening or late night. To start, the length of time is not as important as the consistency.

Fourth, pray to seek the Lord’s help in understanding and applying what you read. The Holy Spirit is our helper as we spend time in the Word (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:12).

Fifth, read. As you read, interact with the text. Ask questions like who, what, when, where, why, and how as you move through the text. Underline things and take notes. Jot down your questions, observations and insights. Converse with others about your readings, including your questions and insights. Get their input and seek their prayers about what God has laid on your heart.

Finally, live out what you learn. Reading the Bible is not primarily an intellectual exercise. By God’s grace, we are to apply the things we’re reading to our lives every day.

 

Church is Messy

If you spent any time in church as a child, you probably learned this rhyme: “Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Open the doors. Here’s all the people.” It was usually accompanied by hands held together (the church) with index fingers pointed heavenward (the steeple) and thumbs forming the doors. The rest of the fingers interlocked on the inside to form the people. It was kind of like Sunday School gang signs or something.

When we look at the Bible, we understand that the church is not a building or a steeple. It’s people. People who are indeed interlocked together in Christ. And, because the church is people, church can often be messy. It’s never as neat and as ideal as we’d like it to be. We’d like things to run in perfect harmony, but they seldom do. Despite the clear teaching of Scripture and the empowering work of the Holy Spirit, church is sometimes…often times less than ideal. As fallen people, we say and do things that often hurt instead of help. We become embittered, angry, and unforgiving. Feelings get bruised, egos get hurt, and by the time we’re done we’re left with one big mess. And then, we look around for someone to blame.

Sadly, we learn that Satan relishes these messy times (sometimes, he may even be the instigator behind them). The evil one has a way of making our messes even bigger. He pokes and prods and stirs things up in the lives of people…in the life of the church until our little messes are big, and our big messes are enormous. We understand that as believers, we are far too prone to give in to the old nature and sin on our own. We don’t always need any pushing or goading. We usually do a fine job of sinning by ourselves. So, understand that this isn’t a treatise simply saying that the “devil made me do it.” He didn’t. He does, however, have a way of working when we are the most vulnerable. He may be at his most aggressive after a great victory in our lives or during a season of great struggle. Regardless of the context, we can all attest to the fact that Satan has a way of cashing in on his opportunities.

Paul reminds us that our struggle is not with flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). While the struggles we face may have names and faces and personalities, there is often a spiritual dimension involved that we do not see. Satan is indeed working within the walls and behind the doors of the church to break up those interlocking people. He desires to break them apart and thus weaken the testimony and the ministry of the church. Simply stated, he works to derail and distract the people of God from being the church.

So, what are we to do in the midst of our mess? For one, we must look to God in prayer (Ephesians 6:18). We cannot overcome a spiritual struggle with physical strength. Prayer is essential in times like these. We must also strive clean things up as quickly as we can. Gossip doesn’t help. Nor does speculation. Taking sides just makes things worse. In the messes we make, there are no real winners and losers. Instead, by God’s grace, we love and we forgive our way through these things. We confess and ask God to help us clean up and move forward the best that we can. We hold to the truth of Scripture and work diligently to live it out daily. Finally, we affirm our unity. We’re together in this thing called church…even when’s it’s messy. Especially when it’s messy. We’re interlocked. We’re together. We’re one.

At the end of the day, the church (building) and the steeple and the doors don’t matter. The people…the real church does. We’re the ones redeemed by the grace of God to live lives that bear witness to Him. And they can, even in the messes we make.

It’s Good to Gather Together

Sir Isaac Newton tells us that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. When it comes to trends and fads in Christian circles, we might restate his law this way: “For every action, there’s an equal and opposite action…followed by an even bigger overreaction.” I’m fearful we see this when it comes to highlighting the importance of life together as a local body of believers. For years, gathering together to worship was a centerpiece of Christian expression. Then, it became so much a part of the culture that Christian worship sort of lost the Christian part. While genuine believers gathered to worship and encourage one another, many others just joined in because it was expected of them culturally. Today, we tend to see a revolt against such cultural Christianity…not only by the culture, but also by the church. The culture no longer feels compelled to worship. The social pressure to be a part of such gatherings is no longer there. And, that might be a good thing. But sadly, many believers have followed suit. Studies tell us that the leading cause of decreasing church attendance is the inconsistency of members. And more and more, I’m hearing believers encourage other believers to do something other than gather together for worship and encouragement. Some say it’s more meaningful to stay home and have devotions as a family. Some suggest that it’s more evangelistic to take a neighbor to breakfast or to a ball game on Sundays. Yet others say that it’s more mission minded to engage in a mission project instead of gathering to worship. Meaningful devotions, evangelism, and missions are all vital to to work of Christianity. It’s all kingdom business and it’s good stuff. But, it’s not wrong or inferior to gather together as a local assembly to worship, equip, and encourage one another. Granted, “going to church” cannot be the sum total of our Christian expression. If it is, there is a problem with our Christian expression. But, gathering together is a good and worthwhile thing to do. More than that, it is a biblical thing to do. Don’t over react to those who have too highly valued attending church by embracing the attitudes of those who value it too lowly.

Take Me Out to the Crowd

In 1908, Jack Norworth was riding on a train on his way to Manhattan, New York.  To pass the time, he tapped his Vaudevillian roots and began scribbling song lyrics onto a piece of paper.  He passed the lyrics onto Albert Von Tilzer, who in turn put the lyrics to music.  Within a year, the two men had a hit song and one of the most enduring songs in American history.  You probably have never heard any of the verses which speak of Katie Casey and her love for baseball.  But, I bet you have sung the chorus a time or two.  You see, when Katie’s beau shows up to take her to the show, she resists and instead pleads,

“Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd.  Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks.  I don’t care if I never come back.  Let me root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame.  For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the ol’ ball game.”

A baseball park is a wonderful place.  There’s really nothing quite like it.  The sights, sounds, and smells are all woven into the fabric of our nation and into the memories of generations of Americans.  And, as wonderful as it is to watch a game on television, there’s really nothing quite like being at the park.  It is one thing to see the game on my high definition television screen.  It’s something else to sit in the stands surrounded by other cheering fans, all root, root, rooting for the home team.

Last summer, my family and I traveled to Pittsburgh to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Pirates were mired in a twenty-plus season losing streak.  But, in 2013, they were pushing the Cardinals for first place late into the season.  The winner of these upcoming games would be in first headed into the late summer push for the pennant.  The crowd was electric.  It was awesome to experience being with all of the fans who were pushing and striving for the same thing (by the way, the Pirates won).  I probably could have watched the game by myself on television or caught the highlights on ESPN, but it was much more meaningful to be part of the crowd encouraging the team and celebrating with each other.

The experience reminds me of what the Bible has to say about the importance of believers gathering together.  The author of Hebrews writes:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.   And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV).”

He gives us three exhortations in this paragraph.  First, he says we should hold fast to the confession of our hope.  In other words, we must maintain our trust in Jesus.  Second, we need to find ways to continue to motivate and prompt one another to love, grow, and serve.  And third, we must continue to meet together to encourage one another.

In the busyness of contemporary life, it’s far too easy for us as believers to “neglect to meet together.”  So many things pull at our time.  And, most of those things aren’t bad or evil in and of themselves.  Nonetheless, as these things pull us from gathering together, they do stunt our growth in Christ.  We need to come together.  We need to be encouraged.  We need to encourage others.  That’s part of God’s design for believers.  We aren’t meant to wander around out there on our own.  We’re meant to part of a gathering.  We’re meant to be together.

For decades now, fans have sung “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the ballpark during the seventh inning stretch.  This little ditty written by Jack Norworth and put to music by Albert Von Tilzer has been a staple of American Pastime for over a century.  What’s funny is that Norworth and Von Tilzer had never been to a baseball game when they wrote the song.  As a matter of fact, Jack Norworth would see his first baseball game over thirty years after writing the classic (and it would be twenty years after the song’s writing for Von Tilzer).

It reminds me of the myriad of professing believers who claim to follow Christ yet never gather with His people.  They claim that one thing is important to them, but their priorities demonstrate something else.

Don’t let secondary things keep you from being a part of the gathering of God’s people.  They need you and you need them.  We’re pushing, striving, cheering and rooting for the same things.  We need each other.  So, plan on being a part of it this week.

Simplicity

A few weeks back, I posted a few general observations concerning the Apple Store and some of the lessons we could learn from them.  One of those lessons was simplicity.  Technology shopping can be a bit overwhelming to people who aren’t technologically savvy.  Apple has a way of putting you at ease because of the simplicity of their products.  By and large, they offer a handful of products, all with a simple name.  For instance, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac, and MacBook are the basic products available through Apple.  Notice that there’s no serial numbering or insider language.  Just simply named, clearly focused products that help the consumer filter through to what they want (you can read more about this here).  Once the consumer finds what he wants, the product is simple to use.  Everything is elegant and advanced, but very, very simple.

In church life, we tend to complicate things.  We overburden our churches and our message with so many “products” that sometimes people can find what they really need because of all the clutter.  Our programming, our language, and even how we do church can really distract people from what’s really important.  We need to work hard to keep the gospel (that is the hope found in Jesus – who He is and what He’s done) at the center of all that we do.  That’s the one “product” people really need.

Believability

A few days ago, I shared an overview of my experiences at the Apple Store.  After a recent visit to our local store, I began thinking about how these stores did business, and what lessons they could teach us as believers in Jesus in regard to how we do church and in regard to how we live personally.  One of these lessons is believability.

When it comes to the Apple Store, it really seems that everyone working there enthusiastically embraces their products. They really believe in them. The associates don’t spend a lot of time tearing down other products. They just promote theirs (Apple’s television commercials do the same thing). The enthusiasm of the Apple employees is a little contagious. They’re believable in their presentation because they believe their presentation.

Contrast that with many professing Christians today. We worship…we serve…we believe…sort of. We don’t want to get too crazy about any of this stuff.   We’re content to be just ho-hum about Jesus. We believe who He is and trust in what He’s done, but we just don’t think He’s all that life-changing. We’d never admit that for fear of sounding unspiritual, but that’s where we are.

Sadly, however, even though we don’t admit it with our words, our hearts and lives shout our tepid belief loudly.  Our lethargy about gathering to worship and serving Jesus says volumes. The lack of love we have for one another reveals far more than we’d ever admit out loud. Is it any wonder then that no one wants any part of the Jesus we promote?  How can they believe what we have to say about Him when our lives don’t show that we even believe it ourselves?

The Bible tells us that even though Jesus is God, He willingly gave up the glory of Heaven to become a man in order to redeem us from our sin (Philippians 2:6-8).  The forgiveness Jesus offers impacts us both now and forever.  He makes it possible for us to have a relationship with the God who created us in His image.  He is a life-changing savior.  He gives us purpose, direction, comfort, and hope.  That’s a message…a savior in which we can believe. May we believe in Jesus in such a way that our presentation of Him, in both word and deed, is believable.

What I Learned from The Apple Store

http://ts1.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4709170893098728&pid=15.1I’m the first to admit that I’ve kind of caught the Apple bug. My son calls it “drinking the Apple juice.” It started innocently enough with an iPhone and then proceeded to the iPad and then to Apple TV. Now, I have visions of a MacBook running through my head. So, it was hardly an imposition when I had to go into the Apple store recently to replace my phone. Shortly afterwards, I had to return with my wife. It was really her first encounter with the store and she was amazed at how easy it was to take care of what she needed to do. All of this got me thinking about what the church can learn from such a place.

Clarity – When you walk in the store, you’re immediately greeted and guided to where you need to be.  There’s no wandering around aimlessly.   The associates see themselves as guides to get you from the door to the product or help you need.  How well do we do as believers helping people find what they need?

Believability – Everyone working at the Apple store enthusiastically embraces their products. They really believe in them. Thus, the associates don’t spend a lot of time tearing down other products. They just promote theirs (Apple’s television commercials do the same thing). Their enthusiasm is a little contagious. They’re believable in their presentation because they believe their presentation.  Are we believable when we share about Jesus?

Simplicity – Apple doesn’t overwhelm you with a variety of strangely named products.  They have  a handful of simply named, clearly focused products.  Not a lot of fluff or diversions.  They do a great job making the object of your search easy to find. How clear and focused is our programming when it comes to our mission?

Quality – While I know some may debate this, the thing that keeps people coming to Apple is that their stuff delivers.  It meets the need of the consumer and holds up over time.  Their products are well-designed, well-made, well-packaged, well-promoted, and well received. Do we put our best foot forward in our service and ministry?

As life changing as technology is, it is nowhere near as life changing as Jesus.  If phones, tablets, and computers can be handled in such a manner, shouldn’t our Savior? In the days ahead, we’ll look a little more closely at each of these areas and see how we can do a better job sharing someone who’s really life changing.