Teachable Moments

What Is Prayer?

Very few topics in the Christian Faith elicit more controversy than the topic of prayer, often because of the big “what if I don’t” questions.

  • What if I don’t pray the right words?
  • What if I don’t pray enough?
  • What if I don’t approach God with the correct mindset or posture?
  • What if I don’t……? 

Sadly, we often treat God like we do a formula for good leadership development.  We want a “to do” list that we can check off and when we get all those tiny boxes marked, we know success is right around the corner.  If I can do it “right”, then God will answer all my prayers in ways that bring me emotional comfort or physical prosperity – I’ll get that job; bills will get paid; the sick will be healed on earth; my worries will disappear.  

The problem with this thinking toward prayer is that it is not Christianly; we are making bargains with God, setting up a contract, rather than furthering our relationship with Him.  It does not take into account what God Himself wants when we pray. 

What does God want when we pray?  Jesus tells us what He doesn’t want. “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).  I love that God can hear our prayers without a single word from us.  “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26).

It is in this understanding – that it is not our words that God desires, but us (ourselves) – that we are reminded that prayer is communion within the Trinity where 

  • God the Father already sees and knows all about what we feel, what we think, and what we’re going through.  
  • Jesus the Son has made the way for us to stay in constant communion with God through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection and He Himself makes constant intercession for us before the throne (“He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” Hebrews 7:25 ).  Jesus never stops praying for us.
  • The Holy Spirit fills and works within us, to intercede through us and on our behalf before the presence of God Almighty. 

God brings His whole self into prayer and He wants nothing less from us.

Prayer is the privilege of being a child of the King, knowing we can fling ourselves into the throne room at any time.  Much as a young child who has a loving father knows that they can interrupt their Dad at any time for any reason, we can be assured there is no small problem which exists in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.  Big or small requests, big or small praises, big or small confessions, He desires we bring all of ourselves to all of Him.

What does God want out of prayer?  Us! When we come and talk with Him, we show Him we trust Him, we affirm that He is able, and we are comforted, corrected, and consoled by God Himself.  Our relationship with God is strengthened and our minds are turned toward eternity. Because of prayer, we are now ready to resist the enemy, survive the storms, and walk in a peace that passes any human’s understanding (“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:7).

Dear Reader, will you pray constantly as scripture commands today (‘Pray continually” 1 Thessalonians 5:17)?  Because prayer is not a “to do” list but instead a “turn to” relationship with God, then you are praying continually as you consistently bring God to mind throughout the day, talking with Him in a perpetual conversation, praising His provision, asking for His accommodations, and confessing your faults.  Forgiveness, peace, and joy are readily available to all who abide in Christ, in the presence of the Father and are filled with His Spirit. In this relationship, we find prayer.

May God bless you richly today as you allow the One who loves you more than anything else He has created, be your biggest blessing and answer to your prayers.

In Him, For Him, and Through Him, yours fondly – Elizabeth

BONUS:

A parents’ prayer before the throne of God is a powerful tool in their child’s life.  The well-quoted preacher from the 1800’s, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had a mother who prayed for him tirelessly and counseled him wisely, seeking God’s work of chastisement and repentance in the life of her sons.  We may consider her as a godly example for how we may intercede on behalf of our children. Spurgeon said this of his mother, “I cannot tell how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother.”  Spurgeon’s brother said of their mother, “She was the starting point of all the greatness and goodness any of us, by the grace of God, have ever enjoyed.

May we as parents seek God and His kingdom first so we are filled with His goodness and wisdom as we speak to and pray for our children; it is God’s heart that takes precedence in our work of prayer on their behalf.

Teachable Moments

Love as You Learn

Love!  Everyone’s favorite topic.  For over 30 years, as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, I have had hundreds of conversations with young couples and families about love.  Most often the questions are not “what is love”, but instead…

  • How can I make my spouse fall (more) in love with me?
  • How can I make my child love their siblings?
  • How can we, as parents, help our children love Jesus?

Where do we find the answers to these questions?  First, let’s realize that what we know about love and how to motivate others toward it is new.  There have been all sorts of ideas and advice through the years. In 1946, soul singer, Deon Jackson, recorded a song entitled, “Love Makes The World Go Round” (he also made a black-and-white music video of it, one of the first).  Before that, songs by such bards as Shakespeare in 1559 in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act 1, Scene 2) told us what to expect when it comes to love, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”   

Volumes are written on love but none truer than that written by Jesus’ best friend, the apostle John.  In 1 John 4, John both contrasts and explains the relationship between God’s love and ours. It is key to know and embrace these truths about love so that we are thinking biblically.  If we do not pursue a right thinking about love, we will end up understanding love through the lens of a Hollywood Screenwriter and, if you have watched a fair number of Hollywood love stories, you know not to expect any kind of a realistic happy ending.

POINT ONE – IT’S A NO BRAINER:  BELIEVERS ARE EXPECTED TO LOVE.

  • 1 John 4:7  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
    • Can you imagine a fire without light?  Without heat? NO – why? Because once you start a fire, fire comes with light and heat  – you can NOT separate them. Same thing with love. Once God’s Spirit resides in us, we will love. We won’t be able to help ourselves.

APPLICATION:  Do you not love from your heart and deed the way scripture describes?  Then you have a heart problem with God, not those around you.

POINT TWO – IT’S NOT ABOUT US:  LOVE SACRIFICES FOR OTHERS FIRST

  • 1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 
    • God’s love thinks of others and gives until it hurts.  God gave what was required no matter the cost. God’s love is in us?  We will be other-centered givers until it hurts. End of story.

APPLICATION:  Do you get tired of giving and watching your mouth so you don’t hurt others you love?  Do you say what you want to say because you think your truth is more important than their feelings?  The love you have is more a self-love than true love. Say “I’m sorry” to God and others and then live a changed person by following God’s example of true love.

POINT THREE – IT DOESN’T INCLUDE FEAR: LOVE PRODUCES TRUST NOT TERROR

  • 1 John 4: 17-18This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
    • While loving someone can hurt as we work out disagreements, love does not produce fear of rejection and retaliation from the other.   Relationships that are truly loving allow for authenticity in communication and vulnerability emotionally.

Check-Up!  How are you doing knowing and living out the 3 points?  Talk honestly about it within your family. Celebrate God’s great love for us that resides within us because we are His.  Don’t just read the above – do a heart check within yourself and your family.

Dear Reader, a Christian Disciple loves!  And if we are growing our children in Christ, we must make LOVE a priority.  We must model love and ensure that our obedience to God is because we love Him; obeying God is not because we “have to”, but because we “want to”.  

Blessings to you, friends.  May the Love of God bless you richly.  Fondly – Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

Midweek Meditation: Don’t Try Harder

The concept of not trying harder may seem foreign to us in a world that promotes being busy and striving to be successful at all costs. However, when we are seeking to set the Gospel pace in our life, we need to be more attuned to scripture’s dictates more so than that of the world. Colossians 3:2 tells us to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” We need to increase our reliance upon God and decrease our reliance on ourselves. 

How do we seek God above all else daily?  What does this practically look like?  I suggest a 4 step process will help us to live out Colossians 3:2 today (and every day):

  1. Model it – Practice setting our minds on things above in ways that our families can watch.
    I.E.:  Thank God for giving you patience in a trying time, acknowledge His presence while sitting at a Red Stop Light, or hearing a news report, quote Romans 13:1 and pray for the government (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” NIV)
  2. Pray it – Ask God to give you the mindset you need to rely upon him.
    I.E.:  Pray before a meal or bedtime or even in the car, asking God to help you think about Him and His word on a regular basis.  Let your children hear you ask God for His provision and presence and how you rely upon Him
  3. Meditate on it – Spend time dwelling on what it means to set our minds on things above.  
    I.E.:  Write Colossians 3:2 on a  3X5 card. Place it in places you can easily see throughout the day.  Stop every hour or so to read it, think about what is occupying your mind and returning to contemplating God – His person, His function or His purposes.  
  4. Rejoice – Praise the Lord that we don’t need to be caught up in the things of earth and can find peace in him. 
    I.E.:  Share your joy in how God met you today when you see your family. God says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7, NIV)  Let them know how God answered the promise of His presence when we ask Him.

When we rely on Him, we see His Word come to life in ours. Let us take time to meditate upon the things above today that we may come to rely ever more upon Him. 

Blessings to you, dear reader.  Fondly yours,  Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

Don’t Try Harder!

Do you want to really discourage yourself?  Then buy motivational prints that give really bad advice.  Here are some of my favorite ones to hate:

  • Second Place is being a First Place Loser (really, you couldn’t just let me lose – you had to make me feel even worse about it?)
  • It’s Not Over Until You Win (ridiculous – if you can’t enjoy the journey to your destination, then it seems a bit of a waste of life to me.)
  • Success means to Exceed Everyone’s Expectations Always (this is an outrageous goal – it’s a one way ticket to setting ourselves up for disappointing everyone we know)
  • Here’s how I’m going to beat you – I’m going to outwork you.  That’s all there is to winning. (Really?  Talent, planning, strategy and how about prayer?  None of these matter? Yeesh!)
  • If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete. (Well I wish I would have known about this in High School – I would have been able to sit out gym class.)

And I think out of all the bad advice about how to live can be summed up in this one quote you can buy online and hang it on your wall, 

“Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, you should try harder”

Here’s my advice – don’t take the above advice.  And definitely do not try harder!

Winning, competing, and trying harder all lead us to focus on ourselves and picture others as opposition.  We can end up being prideful of our abilities and talents; we trust our own efforts. We are on a slippery slope toward arrogance.  

While these quotes are “popular” and are intended to motivate, they accomplish the opposite of what a Christian Disciple should be motivated to become or to do.  Stay away from such poor guidance.

A Christian Disciple does not try harder, but rather they become less self-reliant and more Spirit reliant.  Scripture is clear that we are not to rely on our own efforts, but rather rest in the effort of God on our behalf.  Our faith is in Him alone.

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (Prov. 3:5)
  • It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)
  • Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
  • I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)

Next time you want to try harder to do the right thing such as fight temptation or grow in wisdom – stop.  Don’t try harder in what you are doing. Stop – tell God you trust Him, you need Him and you will rely on His Spirit.  Ask Him to fill you and give you the wisdom and strength you need to accomplish whatever it is you need to do.   

As our children grow in faith, how can we help them be reliant upon God?  First, they need to see it in us before they will ever try it for themselves.  Show them how to walk with God. Second, pray with them, asking God to fill you both and to give you His strength and wisdom.  Pray with reliance upon Him. Third, read God’s promises.  Meditate and memorize them.  Fourth, rejoice!  When we rely on Him, we see His Word come to life in ours.

Dear Reader, as you walk as a Christian Disciple, following God and as you do so, becoming transformed into His image, remember that your journey of faith must be Spirit-filled and Spirit-reliant.  His power is what we need, not our own.

May you be completely reliant on God this week – may you try less hard and find God more faithful.

Fondly yours always, Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

Follow the Leader

Contemporary Pastor and author, Francis Chan, wrote this about following Christ; “Following Christ isn’t something that can be done half heartedly or on the side. It is not a label we can display when it is useful. It must be central to everything we do and are.” (Crazy Love:  Overwhelmed by a Relentless God)  Following Christ then becomes less of an exercise of behavior and becomes instead, a transformation of the heart.

A Christian Disciple is a Christ-follower, a constant learner from and about their Master.  The Christian Disciple strives not only to know their God, but follow His lead and become like Him as they do.  How do we teach our children to be a Christ-follower?  

Easy – play a game!

Games teach us – intentionally.  When the best designers sit down to create a new game, whether a board game, digital, or interactive, they usually take one aspect of human experience and create an interesting balance of challenge and reward.  Games are intended to make us question our abilities and bring us to our limit. In this, games are some of the best teaching aids around.

Children’s games are no different than adult games in these key characteristics.  While Jeopardy challenges someone’s quick remembrance of trivia, Sword Drills in Sunday School or family devotions challenges how well a child remembers Bible verses.  Jeopardy and Sword Drills are all about memory and content. And while content games have their place, interactive physical play is hands-on learning at its best. Take for example, the game, Follow The Leader.

Follow the Leader requires a number of skills that translate directly into our spiritual walk with Christ.

  • Pay attention to the Leader
  • Watch carefully what the Leader is doing
  • Understand what the Leader is saying
  • Use the Leader as your example of what to do
  • The goal?  
    • To do exactly what the Leader does exactly how they do it and exactly when they do it.

Aren’t the above objectives the key elements of a faithful Christ Follower?

  • Pay attention to the Leader
    • Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He is gracious to us.  (Psalm 123:2, NIV)
  • Watch carefully what the Leader is doing
    • “Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes”! (1 Samuel 12:16, NIV)
  • Understand what the Leader is saying
    • “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Prov. 4:7, NIV)
  • Use the Leader as your example of what to do
    • For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,” (1 Peter 2:21, NIV)
  • The goal?  
    • To do exactly what the Leader does exactly how they do it and exactly when they do it.
      • “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:6)

Teaching children to be Christ-followers can be as easy as playing the game, Follow the Leader.  As you play this game, remember to have fun with your kids.  Get into the spirit of the game! And while you do so, reinforce the above objectives and then share with them how God’s Word tells us to “play” Follow the Leader with Him.

Dear Reader, if we but stop and think, we can teach a biblical worldview to our children through our everyday activities as play.  Let’s not waste a moment to challenge them and ourselves to Follow Christ Faithfully all the days of our lives.

In Him and For Him Alone!  Blessings to you – Elizabeth