Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Week Twenty - Praying Through

Beside the Well
            One of the most beautiful ways I have found to pray is to slowly and deliberately pray through each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer and meditate the meaning.  For example,
            “Our Father” – He is my father.  A perfect Father.  A good, good Father.  A Father full of love and understanding.  A protector.  A guide.  And, he is your Father, too.
            “Which art in Heaven” – He makes the heavens His dwelling place.  He is high and lifted up.  Heaven seems a long, long way away, but His name, Immanuel, means God with us.  He is in Heaven, but also with me.  He can do that because He is God.
            “Hallowed be thy name” – Not my name.  Not me, but Him.  He is hallowed.  He is holy.  It is all about Him.  His name is to be praised.
            I love to pray that way through Scripture.
            I was reading John Wesley’s writings when he addressed the phrase found just before the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:8 saying; “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before you ask him”—we do not pray to inform God of our wants.  Omniscient as He is, He cannot be informed of any thing which He did not know before…The chief thing lacking is a proper disposition on our part to receive His grace and blessing.  Consequently, one great function of prayer is to produce such a disposition in us: to exercise our dependence on God; to increase our desire of the things we ask for; to make us so sensible of our needs that we may never cease wrestling till we have prevailed for the blessing.”
            Prevailing for a blessing?  Praying through?  That is an old thing I heard my grandparents talk about.  I don’t hear it spoken about today. Praying through is the sense of having been heard by God as well as a sense of being finished with that particular prayer.  There are many examples in Scripture.  One is Paul’s prayer about his thorn in the flesh.  He prayed three times that it might depart.  That might not mean a simple matter of three prayers, but a matter of three seasons of prayer.  He held on in prayer and God answered, “No.”
            Imagine that!  We think if we pray and pray we will get what we want.  Like a child in the grocery store begging for candy, we think we will prevail.  But God’s answer does not come because we beg and cry.  It comes for our benefit.  God knew for Paul’s benefit, the thorn was necessary.  Hence, we read Paul’s accepting reply, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
            Moses prayed through and God changed his mind. (Numbers 14:11-20).  Elijah prayed several times for rain and it finally came. (I Kings 18:41-44)   The woman in Matthew 15 kept on calling to Jesus until she was given the crumbs from the Master’s table and her daughter was healed.  The man in Luke 11 persisted until his friend gave him bread.  In Luke 18 the judge finally listened to the persistent widow’s plea.  It is called importune praying, which by definition is to bother someone insistently.
            The secret to importune praying is to be willing to accept God’s answer, but to also hold out long for it.  His answer will not come the first time, or the second, or the third.  Sometimes it may take many times at the throne before you know you have the answer.  But, once you have it, you can go away knowing God will be as good as His word.
            Like the centurion who was certain Jesus’ word would be done, he went away confident he had been heard and his request granted.  “But speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed”(Matthew 8:8).  This man’s prayer was short, but his answer was certain.

            And here is the thing I find about praying through; I go away with such joy knowing God heard my prayer and has given me His word of promise to my request.  It gives me hope and faith to wait.  Psalm 130:5 “I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.”
            I have a few prayers that are like that.  Some for lost souls, who I am still waiting to see saved.  Some for personal needs that only God knows, but I am sure He has told me to leave the solution with Him.  And that is enough.  Once I have His answer, there is no more need for importune prayer, just the need to rest confidently in His word and, like the centurion, by faith, watch for the blessing of His promise.

Psalm 119:49-50

“Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope.  This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.”

Wesley, John, The Essential Works of John Wesley, The Lords’ Prayer, Barbour Press, 2011

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Week Nineteen - Martha

Beside the Well

            Poor old Martha takes a lot of stick for her servant’s heart.  I see her bustling around the kitchen excited to be serving Jesus, her friend.  She prepares his favorite dishes in anticipation of a lovely meal with intimate conversation as she, Mary, and Lazarus gather to entertain the Lord.
            But her zeal is dampened when she begins to realize she is alone in the task.  Mary isn’t lifting a finger and Lazarus is nowhere to be seen.  Martha probably isn’t averse to doing the job herself, but preparing a meal in Bible times was more than shoving something in the oven or microwave.  Everything had to be prepared from scratch.  Bread had to be kneaded and given time to raise, meat had to be butchered and prepared, and herbs had to be collected, cleaned, crushed and mixed with oils.
            As she bustled around the kitchen her dander began to fly.  Faster and faster she went.  More and more agitated she became until she could stand it no longer.  As she called out for Mary’s help, she never expected to receive a rebuke.
            “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41), came the word from her guest.  Those words really stung.  In all of her preparation, she had overlooked the most important part of hospitality—the guest.
            Christ wanted to give Martha so much more than a pleasant evening.  He wanted to give her of himself—the Bread of Life—the one thing that was needful and would not be taken away.  He had not come to merely eat.  He came to feed. Martha’s meal could never compare to the food of the word Mary was enjoying as she sat at his feet receiving “that good part” (Luke 10:42). Martha had missed it.
            Her experience teaches me a few things about hospitality.  1) Most folks haven’t come to judge you by your meal; they have come to share time with you.  2) When my focus of hospitality is on what I can produce, I miss out on what my guest brings to the table, and 3) A simpler meal with more attention to actual hospitality tastes so much better.
            Applying Martha’s lesson to my life I learn, 1) Jesus isn’t there to judge me either.  He wants to share time with me.  2) Service has its place, but if my focus is on what I produce, I am missing out on the richness of the relationship found at His feet.  3) A life of simple faith, lived sincerely, is of greater value than accolades of earthly praise.
            It even applies to my quiet time.  1) Jesus awaits.  2) I must lay aside my activity and prioritize my guest. 3) He isn’t impressed with how many chapters I read, how much I learn, or how long I pray.  He is there to speak with me.  Question is:  Am I at His feet listening intently or fidgeting and anxious to move on with my day?


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Week Eighteen - The Bracelet

Beside the Well

            I have just finished reading The Greatest Thing in the World by Henry Drummond.  It is one of those books you simply must have read at least once in your life.  D.L. Moody used to require his college students to read it once a year while in college.  It is definitely a book that will remain in my library.
            As he discussed the will of God, he pointed out that Jesus’ single motivation was to be doing God’s will.  Scripture reveals that pattern.  At the age of twelve, as he sat among the educated men of the city, he answered his frantic mother; “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49).
            Early in his ministry he informed the disciples, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34).  Later he states, “I must work the works of him that sent me” (John 9:4) and even later He places more emphasis by saying, “how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50).
            Finally, on the cross he cries, “It is finished” (John 19:30).   He had completed what God had sent Him to do.  God’s will for Jesus was the cross.  Hebrews 12:2 reveals that, though the cross was a hard trial to endure, Jesus set the goal of pleasing His Father above the death of the cross.  He was obedient unto death—obedient to His Father’s will.
            So should it be with us.  It is to be a constant theme in our lives.  “To be truly valuable it must run through the whole life, be the thread on which everything else is strung, till it becomes the truest purpose of the heart that the Will of God be done.” (p 238). 
            That popped an image in my mind.  A Pandora bracelet is beautiful and well crafted.  The charms and beads are fascinating to look at, but what holds them all together is the bracelet or chain.  Without that, the beads will scatter and be lost.
            Our lives are only as beautiful and well crafted as the band that holds them together.  God’s will, and our doing of it, is the band.  All that is produced from there are the beads.
             So what is our allotted work? What is to be our core value and purpose? It is the same: to do God’s will.  God’s will may be service, it might be rest and waiting, and it could call for sacrifice and trials.  It can take many forms.  But our most solemn obligation is to obediently finish our work.  Rather, that He might finish the work He started in our life. (Phil. 1:6)  He alone knows what our work is and when our work is done.

            On that day when all our works are cast into the fire, only the true beads will remain and the thing that will link them all together is the band of obedience to the supremacy of His will.