Posts Tagged ‘seeking God’s will in prayer’

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

Ai Defeats the Israelites

How often do we rely on our own strength and not seek God’s will for our lives? We think we got this. We only seek God when we are in trouble. Joshua just reminds me so much of myself in this passage. I thought it kind of reassuring as well that maybe there is hope for me yet.

 

I almost chuckled, ok well I did actually chuckle, when I read Joshua’s words, “Oh Sovereign Lord, why you bring us across the Jordan River if you going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side!” How many times do we whine to God like this? His reaction was funny to me. Joshua is supposed to be this mighty, mighty man of God and here he is just a little whiny baby. How many times. We do not seek His will but then when things go wrong, we want to whine to God about why He let this happen to us. It’s kind of like the college kid whose in his apartment bathroom after a day of tailgating in the hot September sun and a full day of drinking and is now making offerings to the porcelain god and praying to God to take it away. When we follow our own desires without seeking God and things go wrong we often cry out to God as to why it happened.

 

When we drive off headlong into what we want to do without consulting God in prayer as to what we should do, there are often consequences of our prideful ways. Ask anyone who has ever chosen the path of adultery and the path of divorce that results and we wonder why there is so much trouble in our lives. We wonder why our ex-spouse attacks us at every turn. We wonder why our children have issues growing up. We wonder why all this stuff is happening. Ask anyone who has chosen to seek revenge against someone who has hurt them. Revenge can consume and destroy you and have consequences on the people that care about you. Ask anyone who has plowed off on the consul of people who are not seeking God themselves. Oh I would show him! Oh, I would do this! Oh, I would do that! How many bad mistakes have been made by people who listened to others who have not prayed about the advice they are about to give.

 

Today is my oldest daughter’s 8th wedding anniversary. If she had listened to me, the prideful father, she would not be celebrating that anniversary today. A few years back, Curtis had done some things to hurt my daughter deeply. He had his reasons. Maybe, Meghan was in school getting her master’s degree and he felt left behind. Maybe, he was getting enough attention from her. Maybe she was too consumed by her career and school. But nonetheless, it happened. If Meghan had listened to me and many of her friends and family, she would be divorced right now. She did separate from her husband for a while, but she eventually got back together with her husband. She was given advice by many including myself that she was just caving in to insecurity and to the unknown world of being single. However, to my daughter’s credit, she believed that God hates divorce. She believed that there was something there to be saved. She sought God’s will in the situation and did not seek to divorce just because of a momentary attack on her pride. Equally enough, Curtis was humbled by seeking his own desires and not those of God and sought forgiveness. They are still together today because they put their pride aside and sought God’s will for their marriage. We now have a beautiful granddaughter who is the most amazingly cute thing I have ever seen. Even at 10 ½ months old, she has the most amazingly expressive personality – those facial expressions are priceless. That laugh is infectious. She is a happy baby to the core. Where would all that be if Meghan and Curtis had not sought God’s will and worked to save their marriage. They would be just another statistic like me with my two divorces. We must seek God’s will for our marriages and for anything else that we do. I thank my own daughter for her example of seeking God’s will before and above any advice of well-meaning but prideful and often jaded friends and family. We should seek God’s will in the big things like marriage, big life decisions, etc. but we should seek His will for us daily through prayer. No matter what we are to encounter we should be seeking His will.

 

Too often we leave God out of the little decisions and it sets a pattern of not including God in any of our decision making processes. Then, the pattern causes us to leave Him out of big decisions too. Seeking God’s advice through prayer is like a last resort to us when our plans don’t work. How often do we do that?

 

That idea of not seeking God’s will and its consequences are what I thought of this morning as I read through Joshua 7:1-15 for the first 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!’”

 

The first thing that I noticed in that his passage was the fact that nowhere in the lead-up to the attack on Ai did Joshua consult with God through prayer. He relied on his own instincts and the strength of his army to defeat the little city of Ai. Only after Israel loses the battle do the elders of Israel seek the Lord and ask what happened.  This passage reveals to us that, too often, we rely on our own skills and strength, especially when the task before us seems easy. We go to God only when the obstacles seem to great. However, only God knows what lies ahead. Consulting Him through prayer, even when things are going good and we are on a winning streak, may save us from grave mistakes or misjudgments.

 

On my daughter’s wedding anniversary today, I am thankful that she is a child of God. I am thankful that she truly does have an active prayer life that guides her decision-making process. Sure, they don’t have a perfect marriage – no one does. However, I do not that because of what they have been through early in their marriage and the fact that they humbled themselves before the Lord and made their marriage more important than their pride that Meghan and Curtis are going to make it. As long as they continue to put God first in their marriage, they will make it. As long as they seek God’s will for their marriage, they are going to make it. As long as they pray daily for God to guide their decisions in their marriage, they will make it.

 

So often we just get pissed off by things and go our own way and do our own thing. So often we do not care about including God in our decision making processes. So often we do it our own way and then we end up whining to the Lord as to why we are where we are. I know I have done that more often than I can count. God if you will just get me out of this mess! The mess that I made for myself because I did not seek His will through prayer.

 

Amen and Amen.

Luke 18:1-8 — Today, we look at what has come to be known as the Parable of the Persistent Widow. In this parable, I am reminded of when my kids were little. Kids can be amazingly persistent when they want something. If you have ever been shopping with a child, the cries of “Can I have it?” are persistent. Can I have it? Can I have it? Can I have it? Eventually, and sometimes it is simply to get them to shut up, we parents sometimes give in to our kids. This parable is similar to that constant pressure of a child asking his parent for something. In this parable, the persistence of the widow is rewarded eventually. Jesus then uses the illustration to demonstrate our prayers are a reflection of our faith. In prayer we must seek God’s will and we must be persistent in our faith.

There was a song back in the day by Garth Brooks in which the lyrics said, “Sometimes, God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” The song was about how sometimes we pray for things that we think are the answers to our problems but yet God knows what better for us. I think it is important in this parable to note that the widow was persistent with the judge because she was seeking justice. She was not seeking some kind of self-gratification. Since Jesus was relating this parable to prayer, we must remember that we must always be seeking God’s will when we pray. Even when a loved one is lying on their death bed, we must seek God’s will in prayer. Our natural tendency in those situations, because we love someone, is to selfishly ask God to prevent death from coming. Even that most desperate of situations, we must ask God to reveal His will to us. We must seek God’s will even when we do not understand why He is doing what He is doing. Sometimes, seeking God’s will in prayer, is completely opposite of our nature. But, we do have an example in Jesus. When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, we see Jesus asking, in his humanness for The Father to take the cup away from Him if it was possible. Jesus knew the human suffering that He was going to endure and the wrath of the Father that He was going to endure. It was going to be horrendous for Jesus. However, Jesus says to the Father that, basically, although I would love to avoid all this, I want your will Father to be done not mine. Our prayers must seek God’s will. We must humble our desires, what we want from God to what God has in store. We must seek understanding of His will.

Janis Joplin asked for a Mercedes Benz and a color TV in her 1960’s song on this subject. We may laugh at the pure selfishness of this satirical song, but in satire there is truth. Many of us pray as if God were a vending machine. Push a button. Get what we want. Many of get angry at God like do at vending machines when we push the Dr. Pepper button and a Seven-Up comes out. Seek the Kingdom of God first, Matthew 6:33 says, and all other things will added unto to you. When we seek God’s will does that mean we never get what we want? Not sure if that would be the right thing to say here, but we must remember that our Father in heaven is a loving Father. Just as we seek to do what is best for our children as earthly parents, our Father in heaven is never going to give us something that is bad for us. He will only provide for us what is good for us. That is why sometimes His greatest gift to us is unanswered prayers. We often pray for our selfish desires rather than God’s will. Just as sometimes kids as for things that they do not see the end result of what granting them the gift would bring, but we as parents see it and refuse to give the gift desired. God is the same way when it comes to our prayers. Therefore, when we pray to our all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God, let us pray for His will to be revealed to us rather than praying for what we desire.

Also taught to us in this parable is that we should be persistent in our prayers. I think that this is so necessary. We often pray briefly for something and when we do not see the result we want we give up. We live in a microwave, cell phone, internet world where everything is now instantaneous. We think our prayer life should be the same. Push a button. Get what we want instantly. I think the most profound thing that I have ever said in this regard and I would credit the person who wrote it or said it if I could remember but I can’t remember. But what was said is that prayer is not for changing God, it is for changing us. In being persistent in prayer of a subject, we become changed not God. In persistence in prayer, we come to seek God’s will. In persistence in prayer, we come to see God’s will. In persistence in prayer, we come to align ourselves with God’s will. In persistence in prayer, we humble ourselves to God’s will. It is like the child who gives up on football because the practices are long and hard. The child then never learns the value of putting in hard work. The child never learns to put the team’s needs ahead of his own. He never learns the lessons of life that football often teaches. The child will be better off in the long run by submitting himself to the grueling practices day to day that are a part of football, but if he gives up on it, he remains focused on himself. Prayer is the same way. The practice we put in. The day to day practice we put in reveals to us things that will make us better off in the long run. If we give up on prayer, we remain selfish. If we give up on prayer, we do not learn the things that God wants us to learn. We do not change God in prayer. We become changed. We find His will in persistence in prayer.

Father, help me to improve my prayer life. Help me to seek you daily. Help me to exercise my prayer muscles daily. Help me to put in the practice daily. Help me to seek your will in my prayers not my selfish desires. Help me to visit with you intimately on a daily basis so that I can learn and understand your will and align my will with yours. Amen.

Luke 6:12-16 — Have you ever had a major confrontation with someone and after it’s complete, you have to go off by yourself and just gather your wits? Do you remember playing schoolyard kickball and having to make the best picks of who needed to be on your team? These are the things that I think of when I read this passage. Although we are talking about the Son of God here and by no means am I equating myself with Him, but these thoughts kind of help me understand what the meaning of this passage is. It helps me relate to Jesus as His ministry begins to ramp up here in this passage.

The thing that jumps out here to me is prayer. Jesus and prayer seem to be intertwined. Here, Jesus withdraws to pray. This prayer seems to be integral as the completion of one scene in Luke’s gospel and the beginning of another. That He withdrew at this point is significant not just as a literary transition but rather as something that Jesus teaches us that is useful to our daily lives. Here, in this literary transition, Jesus goes off by Himself to pray. What do we learn? Prayer is necessary after we have faced major confrontations. We also learn that prayer is necessary before making major decisions or taking major actions.

In this passage, Jesus has just completed one scene in Luke’s gospel and is about to embark on the next. What is the first thing He does at the conclusion of the previous passages at the Matthean where He has a confrontation with the Pharisees? He prays. I think the first part of this prayer is thanksgiving for the Father having seen the Son through this confrontation. In this confrontation, He clearly puts the Pharisees on notice that God is Lord and not the Pharisees and that He is God in the flesh. The Pharisees as you and I know will continue to reject Jesus and His message throughout Jesus’ ministry. They were the thorn in Jesus’ side. In Jesus’ humanity, we know that He had to be irritated with the fact that they were just plain wrong but yet they were so persistent. They were always after Jesus and it became a personal vendetta for them to attempt to discredit and destroy Jesus’ ministry. Have you ever had a person in your life that forced you into confrontations with them? Have you ever had a person in your life that seems like it is their intent and purpose in life to make your life miserable? Ultimately, just as with Jesus and the Pharisees, there comes a point where you have to have confrontations with them on moral principle. There are times where you have to stand up to this person or those people. Sometimes, you simply have to stand up for what is right. Sometimes, conflict is unavoidable. After these inevitable conflicts that you sometimes wish to avoid, you are shaken and spent. You just have to withdraw and sit down and stop shaking. Though Jesus is not like us, this is how I relate personally to Jesus withdrawing. When I have these types of conflicts, after it I fall apart. I need decompression time to quit shaking because I loathe conflict. It makes me literally shake with nervous energy after I have had one of these conflicts.

This is the lesson that I take from Jesus’ withdrawal after confrontation. We go to the Lord in prayer after confrontation. We vent our frustrations to the Lord. We ask Him to help us forgive those who seem hell bent on our destruction. We go to Him in prayer to ask God to show us what we may have said that could have been said differently. We go to Him to ask Him to help us figure out how to resolve the conflict without further damage. We ask Him for ways to understand and connect with those who are persecuting us. Although Jesus, who was perfect, did not have to pray about what He could have done differently or to seek knowledge from the Father, the mere fact that He withdrew from the confrontation to pray sets a huge example for me. Prayer after conflict is important. In a lot of instances, when we have conflicts, we do not think to pray. We just want to stay mad. We want to pick over and analyze what the other person or persons said to us and simply let the conflict fester in our souls. For me, this withdrawal to pray teaches me that I need to go to the Lord in prayer and give the conflict over to the Lord and seek His guidance in the matter at hand. Rather than chewing on it and letting it consume me, I must give it to the Lord in prayer and seek His guidance in how to resolve it in a Christ-like manner.

In this passage too, I think Jesus when He finished praying about the conflict with the Pharisees, He began praying about the decision that He had to make. He sought the Father’s guidance in choosing His disciples, not broader term of his large throng of followers but His direct disciples, the ones in who He would invest His life for the next three years. Jesus already had what I would call day-to-day relationships with some of these men, but this decision to make them His disciples would take their relationships to whole nuttha level. Jesus was in prayer to the Father about this decision. Jesus, God in the flesh, prayed about a momentous decision, a decision that He would live with for the next three years. Does this set an example for us or what? Jesus, part of the Holy Trinity. Jesus, eternally with the Father in the Trinity. Jesus, through whom all things are made. This one and very same Jesus prayed to God before a momentous decision. What does that teach us? It’s quite obvious right here in this passage. We need to seek God’s direction and guidance when it comes to making big decisions, and even small ones for that matter. But, yeah, the big ones we really, really, really need to seek God’s guidance. Do you and I seek God’s guidance when making big decisions or do we plunge headlong into the decision simply based on what we want? Do we even think to seek God’s guidance? And I am not talking about talking to God as we go through our day but real, set aside time for prayer. Time where we withdraw to a quiet place and really pray. Do you have time where you actually do nothing but pray? No distractions? Purposeful Prayer, not just squeezed in prayers? I know that this is the standard that Jesus sets for us. I know that I fall woefully short in this area. Jesus did it. He sets my example. Why is that I don’t? If Jesus thought it was important, why do I not? I am certainly less in tune with the Father than Jesus was. Jesus was perfect and I am not. But, Jesus still set aside time to be alone with the Father. Here, it is before a big decision. I must learn from my great Teacher, Jesus. When I have big decisions to make I must cover them in prayer to my Father in Heaven. When I seek God’s guidance for big decisions, I end up making it more about glorifying the Father with the decision than about glorifying me. When I pray about big decisions, I make the decision about doing God’s will rather than my one. When I pray about big decisions, I give it to God. When I pray to God about big decisions, I make Him part of my thought process. I recognize His superior nature to mine and begin eliminating my selfish desires from a decision process. By seeking God’s guidance, we make the decision based on what reveals as is best for everyone not just ourselves, what is best for the kingdom of God and not just ourselves. Jesus prayed. Jesus really prayed. He withdrew from people to pray. He didn’t just fit it in between washing dishes and vacuuming as I walk to get the vacuum. He didn’t just pray while driving to work. He withdrew and prayed. Especially on the big momentous decisions, shouldn’t we imitate Christ?

Tomorrow, we will stay in this passage and talk about the disciples Jesus chose. We will look at how Luke wrote their names and his descriptions of them and what it says about them and what that means to us.

Father, in Heaven, help me to understand the importance of prayer. Help me to raise its importance in my life. Help to seek to have real prayer time with you. Not just at the dinner table. Not just when I doing other things, but real prayer time. I am so bad about not doing real set aside prayer time. Most of my prayers to you, as you well know, are work it in prayers or dinner table prayers. Help me to really have prayer time. To commune with you. To really really pray from my gut, from my soul. Amen.