Archives For Prayer

The Paradox of Prayer

Chris —  July 9, 2015 — Leave a comment

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Matthew 6:7

When we read Jesus’ admonition to not “heap up empty phrases” we feel a tension with other texts in Scripture that tell us to “pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)” and with persistence (Luke 18:1-8). Frederick Dale Bruner, as is so often the case, offers profound insights:

When Jesus discourages quantity in prayer is he not discouraging prayer itself? Here, too, however, in a spherical world, the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line. The paradox of prayer is that only when it is relieved of the necessity of much prayer will people experience the freedom for much, they will surprisingly, desire to pray more. (The Christbook, 289).

Allie High School GraduationEvery May, since I became a pastor over 20 years ago, I review what I want to say to graduating students on one page. I prayerfully refine it every year. This year I have consolidated points that were previously separate and I have added points #5 and #6. I welcome your interaction . . . you may talk me into changing what I say before I pass this out to graduating seniors in May.*   

Dear Graduate:

Congratulations on your accomplishment! We are so thankful for you.

For over 20 years I have thought about what I would tell graduates on one page.  Each year it is my goal to prayerfully refine this letter even as I refine our philosophy of youth ministry. Here is the 2015 version.

  1. Know that following Christ is both right and best. Believing in Jesus is right because Jesus is the One true God. He deserves all glory. Putting our faith and trust in Jesus is best because Jesus came that we might have life more abundantly (John 10:9-10). If you have not done so already, give your life to the King. On the Cross, he paid the penalty for His people so that we could spend eternity together on the New Earth in his presence. This is the Gospel (or the Good News of Christ) and it should shape every area of life. The alternative to believing in Jesus is unthinkable (John 3:36).
  2. Be warned and be sure. First, be warned: the way of the sinner is hard. As someone has said, “choose to sin, choose to suffer.” Don’t buy the lie that you can make wrong choices and not reap the consequences (Galatians 6:7-8). Do not choose to suffer by dating unbelievers! Hate, hate, hate pornography and other potentially addictive behaviors. Second, be sure. Be sure you really are a Christian (2 Cor 13:5, James 2:17). Many think they are Christians and they are not. The worst words that will ever be heard will be when many stand before Christ thinking they are Christians and find out that they will spend eternity in hell (Matt 7:21-23). The thought that some in our flock may be in that group is what scares me most as a pastor. Talk to someone soon if you have any questions!
  3. Remember that God makes bricks with a building in mind. The Apostle Peter compared individual Christians to living stones so that he could make the point that Christians should be mortared together in local churches (1 Peter 2:5). Gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve together, local churches are called to be salt –subtly seasoning and preserving every bit of our communities – – and light – – boldly proclaiming the truth to light the darkness. Be baptized and join. You need a church as much as Noah needed the ark. Don’t put church on hold for the next few years. During that time, you will make decisions that affect the trajectory of your life. Be aimed in the right direction. If you move, or go to college, make it your first priority to find a church and Christian fellowship. This is especially critical the first three weeks of college.
  4. Sharpen your wisdom saw with the Word (Philippians 1:9-11, Romans 12:1-2). Wisdom is skill for living.  It is the saw we use to cut our way through life. We need a sharp saw to make quality decisions. We sharpen our wisdom saws by memorizing and reading the Word and by hearing it preached. Be Word-centered! Rinse in Scripture. It is more precious than gold and sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:7-11).
  5. Envision a beautiful bride walking down the aisle in a Christ-centered wedding. Most of you will marry. God’s plan for sex and marriage is breathtakingly beautiful. All of us, even those who remain single, must remember that the Church is the bride of Christ. Marriage and the gospel explain one another (Ephesians 5:29-32). We cannot allow unbelieving culture to corrupt our vision for Christ-centered weddings and homes. Both marriage and the gospel are at stake.
  6. Think deeply about true answers. Don’t stumble through life as an unconscious zombie. Too many in our day never think about life’s big questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Why do we love? Why is there pain? How can we know God? Don’t be a zombie! Insist on answers (1 Peter 3:15). Let’s welcome discussion about what we believe so that we can point others to our King.
  7. Be assured: the people of the Red Brick Church love you. Love didn’t evolve. Love wasn’t invented. Love is eternal because our triune God is eternally love: ever giving and self-giving. He loves us and tells us to love one another. And we do. We love you. When we get to the Heavenly City, we want to know you will be at our meeting spot: 5th tree, right side of the river, facing the throne. We will be there soon. In the mean time, I am a pastoral resource available to you!

In Him,

 

Pastor Chris Brauns

www.chrisbrauns.com , @chrisbrauns

*This is a working document so I am revising it over time. I have already revised point #5 after an excellent comment. More revisions are probably coming. Proverbs 27:17

At the Red Brick Church we are striving to live out Jesus's encouragement that we ought always to pray and not give up (Luke 18:1)And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1 . . .

If nothing else, just pray with the song given at the end of this post . . .

Life aches over the long haul, not just for a second or two. If life was a 50-yard dash, then we could endure the pain through sheer force of will. But life isn’t a sprint. It’s a cross-country marathon that hurts each step of the race. Soon enough we find ourselves singing with Jackson Browne that we’re “running on empty.” We lose heart and can barely put one foot in front of the other.

So the question becomes, “How can we go on when we’re running on empty?” Where can we find the strength to make it through so many aching years? The general answer is, of course, the LORD. Scripture promises that those who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:28-31).

But the general answer, “the LORD will give us strength,” doesn’t suggest any particular course of action. How is it that we are going to see God get us through life? Jesus answered the question of how we can be renewed in Luke 18. He taught his disciples a parable for the purpose of showing that the antidote to wearing out in life is to always pray. Notice Luke 18:1 at the top of this page. Christ gave this parable so that they always pray and not lose heart.

The parable that Christ gave in Luke 18:1-8 is a curious picture. The LORD told the story of a widow persistently petitioning an unjust judge. The judge eventually grants the widow’s request because she has worn him out. Christ reasoned that if even an unjust judge eventually gave in, we can be sure that God will hear the persistent prayers of his own who call out in prayer.

Do notice the emphasis on persistent prayer. The key to always praying so that we don’t lose heart is recognizing that prayer should be a long, steady pull – – – not a quick jerk here and there. For those areas of life where we hurt, we should find ourselves on our knees day after day after day. Over and over again, we should approach God with the bright anticipation of children who ask a loving present for a gift.

When we find ourselves wearing out, then we should respond by getting on our knees each day to bringing our requests to our heavenly Father, “We should ask God with anticipation, “Is it today that you will grant my request? Lord will you hear my prayer?”

Forget Jackson Browne and the lament that we’re running on empty. Instead, let’s sing the old chorus, “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord, / Standin’ in the need of prayer. / It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord, / Standin’ in the need of prayer.” Or, “Pass me not o gentle savior, hear my humble cry. / While on others thou art calling, / do not pass me by.

As you pray persistently, do not forget to ask God for those areas of vision that we are targeting as a church. We are striving to be a church that features: (1) Word centered Worship (2) A passion for outreach locally and around the world. (3) A passion for raising up a new generation of Christians who continue in the faith after High School. (4) A current constitution and a strong-evangelical doctrinal statement (5) A shared vision for giving sacrificially of our time, talents, and treasure. (6) Meaningful membership and maintained rolls (7) A name that reflects our identity – (8) A staff to lead and feed our church: (9) Facilities where we can minister and share life together. Persistently pray!

See also on prayer:

Specific Family Prayers Provide Particular Encouragement

Jesus Example of Prayer in the Gospel of Luke

Pray Like a Drunk

2013_12_06_10_41_45Family prayer journals can be used to encourage those for whom we are praying in special ways. Click on the pictures and enlarge them to see how we prayed and what we wrote down. My children write like their father. You may or may not be able to read their handwriting.

Recently a young father in our church learned that he has cancer. Like most churches, we are quick to promise prayer in that kind of situation. Within a few days, our leaders met together with the family in their home to pray over them.

In addition, our family has learned that one of the best ways for us to pray is to do so together and to make journal entries about our prayers. 2013_12_06_10_41_46We pray together as a family after our evening meal and then someone writes a brief note about how we prayed.

If you read the journal entries, you will notice that we usually write down what it was we ate. Our point is not that matters whether or not we are kosher (we ate pork chops one night). But we know that specificity adds credibility . . .when they read this they can know that our family really did take time after dinner to pray for them.

It is one thing to say generally, “We’re praying.” It is even more encouraging when we show with specificity that we prayed together as a group at a particular time and place.

Answered prayer on FacebookOf course, you can imagine how thankful we were to hear the day before Thanksgiving how God has answered prayer.

Paul’s words should challenge us to pray for the Church in Syria and for one another. What would happen with the cause of Christ if more of us took seriously Paul’s admonition to pray (2 Cor 1:11).

Doubtless, many persecuted Christians in Syria and around the world are so persecuted that they are despairing of life itself.

The Apostle Paul could relate. In 2 Cor 1, Paul bares his heart by sharing that in Asia he and his coworkers thought they had reached the end:

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.  (2 Cor 1:8-9).

Still, Paul knew there was a purpose for his suffering.

But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Cor 1:9-10).

If Paul knew that his only hope was through Christ, he also understood that God works through the instrumentality of prayer. God’s faithfulness in seeing his people through difficulties is in and through God’s people praying. So Paul adds:

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:11.

Surely, if Syrian Christians had our email addresses, and they didn’t think that we would mark them as spam, they would echo the Apostle Paul’s words to us today, “You must help us by prayer . . .”

The Stillman Valley Post Office where the crime took placeAt the time, I didn’t realize the Postmistress was bound and gagged in the back of the Stillman Valley Post Office. It was only later, over a sub, that I was able to piece this together. Besides me, she, talking about the post office lady, was the other victim in the crime, though my wife and our church administrative assistant also suffered. And Stacy at Shear Madness was inconvenienced, though Stacy was pleasant throughout. My wife, Jamie, and Jana, our church admin, were less pleasant.

So far as I can tell, Pearl was the only one who benefited, though I was blessed to see her. I should point out that Pearl is from southern Iowa and deserves to be blessed.

I digress. Near the end of the day I was looking for my car keys at church. My keys were nowhere to be found. This was a logical impossibility since I drove to church and had not left the entire day. Indeed, I worked through lunch. Strictly speaking, I wasn’t exactly fasting, but if I hadn’t bragged about it now I might have been in line for some sort of reward (Matthew 6:1). Though polishing off the Nutter Butters when I got home might also have disqualified me from what could be called a biblical fast.

Back to my missing car keys. Given that I had drive to church, and not left the premises, there were only two possibilities. Either:

1. I locked them in my car.

2. Or, Jana (our church admin) misplaced my keys.

I like to give Jana the benefit of the doubt, as it is  my practice to extend grace, so I asked Jamie, who was picking Allie up from the Stillman Valley library, to stop by with an extra car key so we could search my immaculate Camry.

Jamie did stop by. She could not find my keys in the car.

In the mean time, I found a set of Jana’s keys at church and immediately realized what had happened.

1. I set my keys down on the counter adjacent to Jana’s.

2. Jana, who has been a bit frazzled as of late, took my keys with no malice aforethought.

I know this is possible because I once inadvertently took a guy’s keys from a public library in Grand Rapids, MI.

I speed-dialed Jana who, inconveniently for me, was shopping. She denied taking the keys but agreed to quit shopping to look in her vehicle for my keys.

I waited patiently (Isaiah 40:28-31) for Jana to confirm that she had my keys and contemplated the logistics of getting them back, as Jana lives a full 4 tenths of a mile from me, and now that junior tackle football has started, High Road traffic has picked up.

Jana insisted on that she did not have the keys. When I pointed out that I had not left church the entire day, she reminded me that I had gotten a haircut.

Yet, again, humility required that I consider the possibility that I had been absent minded with my keys. I went down to Shear Madness and asked Stacy to return my keys. She also denied having them, and pointed out that she had seen me drive away after getting a haircut which necessitated I had my keys when I left. It all came back to me. Stacy and I had been discussing precious metal prices with enough intensity that I almost forgot to pay her.

Usually, I walk to get a haircut, but I had forgotten today that I had an appointment, so I drove there at the last minute, after taking Allie to the library, never exceeding the speed limit, you understand.

DSC_0022

Pearl is on the left

As I was leaving Shear Madness, I remembered that I had also left church to go to the post office so I hiked (so as to save fuel) the 25 yards to the post office and saw my keys on the post office counter in plain site.

At once, it became clear to me what had taken place. The post office person (who was not the regular) had pick-pocketed me. I know this sort of thing is possible since I recently watched the art of pick-pocketing.

Logic requires the crime. I surmise that the lady at the counter took them, after overpowering the normal post office lady.  When she saw that I had solved the crime, she resigned by putting my keys back on the counter, which was fortunate for her given the consequences of being convicted of grand theft auto.

On the way out of the post office, I saw Pearl, who told me that she has an important upcoming doctor’s appointment. I prayed with her and helped get her posted items to the window. Pearl and I were both blessed.

 

Children praying during a time of worship at Vacation Bible School in 2013.

Children praying during a time of worship at Vacation Bible School in 2013.

I previously posted that children are easily the most beautiful site in the world. Still, I was struck anew this year during Vacation Bible School of how thankful I am for the children of our church. This year, as I took pictures, I was careful to pray for them very intentionally.

I pray that our children would:

  1. Follow Christ and be clear about the Good News of how they can truly know Him (see this post).
  2. Know that the Lord Jesus Christ is our King (Acts 4:12).
  3. Understand and believe that we meet Jesus and centrally see His wonder and beauty in God’s Word (Psalm 19:7-11).
  4. Believe that God spoke all things into existence by His powerful Word. (Genesis 1, Psalm 8:1-9).
  5. Know and feel that their church family loves them (Acts 2:42).
  6. Experience our church as a place of joy and laughter and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of the love of Christ (Phil 4:4, Eph 3:14-21).
  7. Sense and know that our church is a place of solemn reverence (Colossians 1:15-20).
  8. Hear the call that Christians are to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

We are pryaing that our children would know that God spoke all things into existence.

Reasons Local Churches Dwindle Away

Chris —  February 11, 2013 — 3 Comments

Number three is the one that really got my attention. You will have to click through to read it. But I think #3 is absolutely a central reason why many churches dwindle away.

Chuck Lawless writes:

I love the local church. It’s God’s church, despite its flaws. For ten years, I’ve had the privilege of consulting with churches seeking to grow. Here are my reflections of those years – one reflection for each year.

If you’re a pastor in a struggling church, be sure to read to the end.  I think you’ll find hope there.

  1. Churches often wait too long to address decline. Some churches don’t do regular checkups, and thus they have no means of knowing they’re sick. Others recognize the symptoms but choose to ignore them. By the time they admit decline, the pattern is so entrenched that reversing the trend is not easy.
  2. Statistics really are helpful. I realize that numbers can become an idol—and that we must fight against—but numbers do tell us something. Most often, they tell us to ask more “why” questions. Why has the church declined in attendance for five years? Why did the church reach 50 people last year, but attendance grew by only fifteen? Why has worship attendance in the second service plateaued?

Read the rest here.

 

Kevin DeYoung:

Your pastors and elders need your help to live out the calling of Acts 6:4: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Because everything seems more important and seems more urgent than being in the word and prayer. Everything.

What happens if all the lights are burnt out and the heat doesn’t work and the pews are upside down and the sound is off? People will notice. People will say something. People will be upset.

But what if . . .

Read the rest here.

Each time I read the Gospel of Luke, I am struck by the Lord’s example in prayer. This list is not exhaustive. It does not include, for example, Jesus’s emphasis on prayer in his parables.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22

16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:16

12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. Luke 6:12

18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Luke 9:18

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. Luke 9:28-29

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1

39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46

 See also Julian Kinkaid’s, The Theme of Prayer in Luke. I don’t know this author, but I appreciated his summary.