Posts Tagged ‘prayer life’

1 Samuel 2:12-25 (Part 3 of 6)
Eli’s Wicked Sons

“…And the Lord gave Hannah three sons and two daughters…” The Lord blessed Hannah far beyond what should could have imagined those years back when she cried out to the Lord in anguish at the altar at the Tabernacle. She cried out in such anguish that Eli, the high priest, thought she was drunk. Now, look at her, she’s got five kids at home at one kid that serves the Lord full-time at the Tabernacle. She got her blessing in full from the Lord. She asked for one child and promised that she would give him to the Lord and then God gave her that plus five other kids. Wow! How God blesses us sometimes. However, it is in His timing and not ours. He blesses those who are faithful and obedient to Him.

We sometimes pray to the Lord and expect immediate results. We treat God like a vending machine. We push the button for the product that we desire and then it is served up to us immediately. I know I have been like that here lately with what’s going on with my calling to full-time ministry. I am pushing the button on the vending machine and nothing is happening. Sometimes the worst thing with a vending machine is when you can see the snack that you want. You push “D4” or some combination thereof. The slot that contains you selection starts moving but right before machinery drops the package to the bottom where you can reach in and grab, it get hung up. Kind of dangling there. You would think a small snack like that would be easily shaken loose. But nooooo! You beat on the vending machine glass. You shake the entire vending machine. Nothing the package is just stuck there. You spent good money on it and you’re left empty. After we bang on the machine. Shake it. And repeat that process several times. We walk away angry and we swear we will never buy anything out of that vending machine again. Sometimes, too, we push the button that we think is what we want and then for some reason a different slot than what we ordered begins spinning and drops something other than what we thought we ordered. But I ordered Welch’s Fruit Snacks! But the machine gave me Peanut M&M’s! Arrrrrghhhh!

Is it not that way with our prayer life over the things in life that we desire – even the God-ordained things. I know that God has called me to the ministry. I know that he has given me great passion for His Word. I know that He has given me passion to teach believers about His Word. I know that He has given me a shepherd’s heart when it comes to caring for the people in the flock. I love to watch people grow in the faith and maybe have just a little tiny hand in that growth. I love to see the light bulb come on in a person’s mind when it comes to financial stewardship. I love to help people understand the beauty of salvation especially after we have been a Christian for awhile (sometimes we forget the wondrous joy of grace). However, I am still at the altar praying like Hannah. I get angry at times because God has not dispensed my desired product out of His vending machine. Every time a rejection letter comes from a executive pastor position search committee, I kick the vending machine. The product is there dangling but just won’t fall. Why is the vending machine not vending!!! I can see what I want but nothing’s happening.

That’s the thing that struck me this morning as I read this passage again – how God rewards those who are faithful and obedient and how sometimes that is the hardest thing to do in the world. With that in mind, let us read 1 Samuel 2:12-26 for the third of six reads of this loaded passage today:

12 Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord 13 or for their duties as priests. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, Eli’s sons would send over a servant with a three-pronged fork. While the meat of the sacrificed animal was still boiling, 14 the servant would stick the fork into the pot and demand that whatever it brought up be given to Eli’s sons. All the Israelites who came to worship at Shiloh were treated this way. 15 Sometimes the servant would come even before the animal’s fat had been burned on the altar. He would demand raw meat before it had been boiled so that it could be used for roasting.

16 The man offering the sacrifice might reply, “Take as much as you want, but the fat must be burned first.” Then the servant would demand, “No, give it to me now, or I’ll take it by force.” 17 So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt.

18 But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. He wore a linen garment like that of a priest.[a] 19 Each year his mother made a small coat for him and brought it to him when she came with her husband for the sacrifice. 20 Before they returned home, Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the Lord give you other children to take the place of this one she gave to the Lord.[b]” 21 And the Lord blessed Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

22 Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[c] 23 Eli said to them, “I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning? 24 You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. 25 If someone sins against another person, God[d] can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?” But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death.

26 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.

In this passage, we see that God honored the desires of faithful Hannah. We never hear about Peninnah or her children again, but Samuel was used mightily by God. God also gave Hannah five other children in addition to Samuel. God often blesses us in ways we do not expect. Hannah never expected to have a child at her age, much less six of them! We must learn not to resent God’s timing. His blessings might not be immediate but they will come if we are faithful and obedient to what God teaches us in His Word.

Hannah was human. She wailed and cried at the altar. She was having a hard time with God’s timing. She may have even wondered if God was ever going to grant her a child. She probably had some dry times in her prayer life. She may have even questioned why she was praying at all. However, even if she had times of doubt, she never lost her faith in God. Sometimes, during dry seasons, that’s when it is hardest to keep the faith – when there is absolutely no evidence that God is hearing your prayers (at least as far as we can see on this side of eternity). That’s real faith – when you keep on believing God to do a miracle but it has not happened yet and it seems to everyone around you that God is not going to answer. That’s when it gets down to real faith. Hebrews 11:1 tell us, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” Sometimes, we have to just keep on keeping on and believe fully that God will answer our prayers. What about those stories of mothers who pray for 20 something years for the salvation of her children. What about Joseph in prison in Egypt for 12 years. What about those who survived the Holocaust in death camps in World War II under Nazi domination. These are stories of people who kept their faith in God despite all evidence to the contrary. Sometimes, we may have to wait a while by our standards for God to answer our prayers. Sometimes, we must trust that God is preparing us for what He has prepared for us. Sometimes, He may wait to see how faithful we will be when there is no “push the button, out pops the product” response. We must learn to trust God and love Him for just being God rather than loving Him to get what we want and desire. Do you love God for granting your heart’s desire or do you just love God and as a result He has blessed you?

Let us be a people that simply loves God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Let us simply love Him as our heavenly Father. Let us live lives to please Him first and ourselves second. Let us trust Him with our wishes and desires and how He sees fit to meet our needs and wishes. Let us love our Father because He is our Father. Sometimes with our own children, we wonder whether they love us or they just love us for what we can do for them. I am sure that God feels that way about us at times. Let us be His children that simply love Him because He is our Daddy, our Abba Father.

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 7:1-15 (Part 2 of 4)

Ai Defeats the Israelites

Have you ever felt like that your prayer life was disconnected? Have you ever felt like that your prayer life is not what it is supposed to be? Do you feel like your prayer life is pale in comparison to those of others that you hear pray? Do you feel like you are rambling all over the charts when we you pray publicly yourself?

 

The answer is a resounding yes to all those questions, for me. I feel like these days and have felt for a long time that my prayer life is empty. I don’t feel as though that I am praying to anything when I pray these days. When I pray I feel no close connection to God. Not like it is supposed to be. I just feel as though, when I actually do pray, I am going through the motions. Just saying what needs to be said. A public prayer, I just touch on the points that need touching and not really feeling connected. I just feel as though I am occupying time when I pray at times. It’s been a while since my soul was stirred by my own prayers. It’s been a while since I felt the Holy Spirit settle over me and lift my soul to the presence of God. My prayers in this place that I am right now just feel like the kid at the chalkboard writing repeatedly “I will talk in class unless given permission by my teacher” 100 times on the board as punishment for being disruptive in class. After the first two or three times of writing that sentence on the chalkboard (and, yes, I have had to do this as late as my high school 11th grade history class), you just robotically write the words with no connection to what is being written. You are just getting through a task from the 4th time to the 100th time you write the sentence on the chalkboard. That’s how I feel about my prayer life right now. I am just going through the motions to get the task done.

 

Then, I feel even worse about my own prayer life when I hear others pray publicly or talk about their own prayer lives. It does not bother me so much that my prayer life may not be as good as, say, the elder/pastors at my church. They are full-time ministers. They get asked to pray constantly over their careers and they have gotten pretty darn good at it. And, add to that, they are probably light years more spiritually mature than I am. But what strikes despair in my soul is not them but rather the prayers of everyday people at our church. They look at me, since I am on staff at the church, and think that I am some spiritual giant but I feel inadequate when it comes to prayer – the thing that is, to me, the most critical part of being a Christ follower. I hear other people pray and they seem to have all the right words to say and it seems so genuine. They move the spirit of other people when they pray. Their prayers are like getting on one of those old fashioned theme rides where you get in a boat on water and you are transported through this 3-D animatronic world as you float through. You are taken away to another place. I have friends who pray in such a way that you are taken through illustrative words to a spiritual place that is a whole other world and you thank God for having listened and for having been transported to this wonderful spiritual place that they have taken you. I hear people pray with great emotion and come to tears as they pray. I just love hearing these kinds of prayers – the ones that take you away to a place, transported by their flowery, spiritual words and those that just touch your heart. Why is my prayer life not this way? Why?

 

Then, when I do get the opportunity to pray, I feel as though I am rambling and making no sense at all. I may pray down a road of thought and then forget how to land the plane, as the saying goes. I fumble and ramble. I repeat thoughts. I forget what I had prayed previously. I get jammed up. I don’t use all the fancy prayer buzz words that are common to Christianese. Shortly put, I feel as though my public prayers are travesties of justice. That’s why here lately, I have shied away from publicly praying because I feel so inadequate compared to other prayer warriors. I just feel ashamed over my prayer life and my ability to pray effective prayers in public. Just being completely honest here.

 

That idea of feeling inadequate in prayer is what I thought of this morning as I read through Joshua 7:1-15 for the second of four times that we will read through it. Let’s read it together, now:

 

7 But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things[a]; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri,[b] the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.

 

2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.

 

3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.

 

6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”

 

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

 

13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.

 

14 “‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. 15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’”

 

In this passage, for this morning, we see that Joshua and the elders tore their clothing and through dust on their heads, an ancient Israelite custom that demonstrates deep mourning before God. They were confused by their defeat at Ai after their spectacular victory at Jericho. They went before God in deep humility and sorrow to receive His instructions. Imagine praying this way before God. This prayer was not some formulated church prayer. It is a prayer of a man who is afraid and confused by what is happening around him. Joshua poured out his heart and his real, gutty thoughts to God. Hiding our needs from God is to ignore the only one who can really help. God welcomes honest prayer and wants us to express our true feelings to Him. From this passage, we can learn that it is OK to be honest with God in our prayers and that He is not going to zap us or smite us from revealing our true feelings to Him. It is only through such honesty that we grow more intimate with our Maker.

 

It was that honesty and that heartfelt emotion that I admired of Joshua here this morning when reading through this passage a second time. I made fun of his whining about the defeat at Ai in my blog yesterday and, yes, Joshua deserved it. He failed to consult God in prayer before the battle. But I do admire his reaction as the passage goes on. I think he realized that He should have consulted the Lord in prayer and goes all out in prayer. He humbles himself before the Lord and pours out his heart to the Lord. He is honest with God. He lets it all hang out.

 

Maybe that’s the lesson that I need to learn today if I am ever to get my prayer life back on track or let’s be honest – to get it on track. I don’t think I have ever really been good about prayer. That say that in order to get good at something, you have to practice. Instead of having these formula prayers that I sometimes pray. Or praying what I think God wants to hear and ignoring what is really on my mind. Maybe, I need to be like Joshua and just let it all hang out. Just be totally open and honest with the Lord. Not be afraid to reveal to the Lord what I am really thinking. He already knows what I am really thinking anyway. It is just a matter of me being honest about it. God wants, I think, for me to throw my garbage out on the table and help me examine it from His perspective. God wants me to be honest about it when I am angry at Him about something (even with it being unfounded). He wants me to be real with Him and just say what needs to be said. It’s like the transition from dating your wife to being married with your wife. When you are dating you show her the best of you. When you are married, you show her all of you. That’s what makes marriage last is the honesty and real-ness between a man and a woman as they progress through their lives together. Should we not be that way with God.

 

We should be married to God when it comes to prayer not just dating Him. We should reveal all our raw-ness, all our emotion, all our angers and frustrations, all our sorrows as well as all of our joys. He wants all of us. The depths of emotion not just the intellectual ascent to His existence. He wants us to be real with Him. He wants no formulas. He wants the real you and the real me. He wants us to be married to Him in prayer where we reveal everything by choice and knowing that we are safe doing so. He wants us to quit dating Him in prayer and saying just what we think He wants to hear. He wants us to be married to Him in prayer so that we can reach a level of intimacy that comes only in the honesty and no-holes-barred way that marriage is.

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 5:13-16
Salt & Light
Sometimes, we pray or listen to other pray, we find out about the boldness of their faith. Last night was an example of how sometimes my faith is not what it should be. At the small group at which I am the leader, we had one of the newest members of our group as for prayer for about a CT scan that she was going to have the next day (today, this morning). Two members of our life group, one of which was my wife, prayed for healing boldly. When it was my turn, I simply prayed for God’s will to be done in the situation no matter what that might look like. I prayed that even if the outcome the CT scan was to show a problem, then, let our small group member be an example of how a Christ follower deals with adversity. Although my prayer was theologically appropriate in that we should pray for God’s will when we pray and not our own selfish desires and it was theologically appropriate to pray that a person will demonstrate to the world their dependence on God, it was not a bold prayer. My wife and my friend showed greater faith in their prayers. As we laid hands on this member of our small group, they prayed bold prayers. They prayed prayers of faith in a God who can perform miracles. How big is the God we believe in? Do we believe boldly in our Lord to ask Him bold prayers? Or do we offer up ineffectual prayers that have no confidence in the Lord to be able to change the course of this fallen world that includes now disease and death? Do you believe in a God that can heal? Do we believe in a God that is still in the miracle business? Why do I bring this illustration up when we are talking about salt and light? I think this comes to mind because our prayer life is often an indication of the status of our walk with the Lord. I think it is an indication of how deep is our faith. When our faith is deep it is bold in prayer, but it is also bold in action. In reading through the previous passage called the Beatitudes, we learned that being a Christ follower is not a call to sit still. It is a call to be bold. It is a call to change the world. It is a call to us to examine how much we trust God. It is a call to us to demonstrate our faith. Prayer is a demonstration of the depth of our faith. Our daily lives, our daily walk is a demonstration of the depth our faith. Having said all that, let’s now look at what has become known as the “Salt & Light” passage.

In the Beatitudes in the previous passage, Jesus has stated how a true disciple should fashion his lifestyle and attitudes toward others. He indicates that a professed disciple who does not live according to those standards has a lifestyle that is of the same value as tasteless salt or of a hidden light when he says in Matthew 5:13-16, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The salt and light sequence is as easy to understand as any of the imagery used by Jesus in his teachings. There is no need some 21 centuries later to have assistance of scholars to understand this. We still use salt today for many of the same purposes as the counterparts of Jesus “back in the day”. We still, of course, understand the properties of light as well. As well as there being two images used here by Jesus, there are two points that he is trying to make.

The first point Jesus is trying to make here is through the imagery of salt. Just as tasteless salt lacks value to the person who uses it, so is a so-called disciple that lacks the genuine commitment to live out the Beatitudes in their daily lives. This, to me, smacks us directly in the face here in 21st Century America. You and I can see the searing indictment to us as Americans coming here. Jesus speaks to us through then centuries as we sit in our pew or seat on Sunday morning and profess to be Christian. However, if we allow not getting out of our comfort zone and allow our excuses for not stepping out and doing what God ask of us, then we are no better than the blind who sat beside the Bethesda pool waiting on his miracle but using every excuse in the world for not getting in the pool as noted in John 5: 1-8. If we do not live the life got wants us to lead, we become like tasteless salt – worthless to the kingdom of God. We must bold dependence on God to be our shield and portion. If we are bold in our belief in God, we will speak when it is easier to blend in and be quiet. We will stand out when it is easier to go along with the crowd. We will stand up for Jesus when it easier to deny Him. We will explain the source of our joy rather than keep it quiet. Just as salt causes reactions and changes the food that it seasons, so should we be bold in our faith. Just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden, so should we be bold lights that illumine the darkness around us. How big is your God? How much faith do you have in Him to step outside your comfort zone? How big is your God? Is He big enough for you to believe that He will provide for you when He calls for you to step out of a life of meaninglessness and boldly be His disciple? We are worthless to the kingdom if we believe in a wimpy God that we think cannot do anything for us. We cannot be light and salt if we do not boldly believe in the power of God.

Also, Jesus uses the image of light to show us what faith without demonstrating means. An unnamed source for a commentary from Bible Gateway.com says, “A disciple whose life reveals none of the Father’s works is like invisible light for vision: useless. Jesus reinforces his point with various images. A disciple should be as obvious as a city set on a hill, and a light in a home should be no easier to hide than a torchlit city at night. Jesus depicts his disciples’ mission in stark biblical terms for the mission of Israel. God called his people to be lights to the nations – that is, the whole world. Christians are light because-contrary to some psychoanalytic theories-their destiny, more than their past must define them.”

Thus, Jesus is telling his direct disciplines some 2,000 years ago and to us today in this age that professing belief in him is only part of the process. Was it not said in James 2: 14-16, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?’”

Dr. Richard J. Krejcir says, in one of his daily devotionals at http://www.intothyword.com that “Real, impacting, effectual faith will have results. It will be lived out! Faith is received alone, but it does not just stand alone; it is to be shown. Faith will be backed up by the proof that it is present in a person. If there is no proof, there is a good chance that the vessel is empty of faith.” He continues later, “…real faith will result in an outcome that backs it up. Faith will be lived out in the believer’s life, thinking, words, and actions. Faith will create initiative from the realization of who we are in Christ, and then we will live out our lives in Him, through His power and because of our convictions.”

Thus, this section of Scripture (and others like such as James 2: 14-16) teaches us that if we have truly accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, the Beatitudes will be the code of conduct that we willingly live by. However, if the process stops there then we have done little more than accept a good moral code of conduct. But, being a true believer of Jesus Christ, should result in much more than that. We should shed ourselves of excuses, be willing to leave our comfort zone and follow where God leads us. We should be willing to get into the pool and immerse ourselves in where God is leading us rather than sit beside the pool and complain and make excuses for why we can’t do what God wants us to do. We should have no excuses for not “being a light to the nations”. Our thinking, our words, our actions should reflect the faith we profess. If we do not have the faith to step out and be the light like a city on a hill that others look to and want what we have, then do we really have faith…do we really believe in Jesus Christ? How big is your God? How deep is your faith? How bold are your prayers? Should we not believe the sky is the limit…no I mean the sky is no limit…when we are a true disciple of the Lord who raised Lazarus from the dead, who raised Himself from the dead? Be bold. Be different. Stand out. We believe in a God who created the entire universe with the words from His mouth! We believe in a mighty and powerful God. Be bold. Live out loud! Live a life of demonstrable faith! Pray big prayers! Depend wholly on the power of God to provide and guide and protect and heal and…there is no limit to what God can do when we are fully in the game. When we are all-in, full of faith in Him, we can be salt that changes the flavor of the world. We can be light that shines brightly in the darkness.