11/25/09

Ambush-Style Encouragement

Surprise Gift001 300x199 Ambush Style Encouragement

When I encourage someone, I want it to be more of an ambush than an appointment.

Uncalled For, Unexpected

It can be a short handwritten note, an out of the blue lunch invitation, a sincere compliment, a phone call, an act of service, or a small gift.

Whatever your preferred method of delivery, let the encouragement be completely uncalled for and unexpected.

There is a Downside to Birthday Cards

Birthday cards, Christmas gifts, anniversary roses, etc. are necessary and can’t be overlooked (unless the people around you have different expectations than those around me). But they don’t achieve the meaning I’m looking for. Even at their best, they struggle to carry the full potential of encouragement. There’s an inevitable hint of “I know I had to do this anyway, but I really do mean it.”

No Smear of Obligation Dimming the Glow

The loving ambushes are more effective expressions of encouragement, care, affection, and support than other popular alternatives to out-of-the-blue displays of Christian love. They carry the message, “I did not have to do this, but I really do care about you.” There is no smear of obligation dimming their glow.

How do you encourage people? What’s your favored approach?



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11/23/09

Worry is a Symptom, Not a Sickness

Worrying 300x226 Worry is a Symptom, Not a Sickness

The profit of worry does not increase with the size and significance of the trouble. A weighty trouble is no more worthy of worry than a petty one. Worry itself is never of any profit.

If anything, worry is increasingly destructive when the load is large, for then the yoke is even more cruel on our fractured backs.

Worry is a Symptom of a Heart Condition

Worry signals that we bought into the lie of self-sufficiency during easier times, and then trouble awakened us to our own limitations without causing us to reflect upon God’s perfect power and good grace toward those who are weak and desperate. We do not worry, however, when trouble awakens us to our limitations but drives us to God, who has no such limitations.

Worry is a symptom of the sickness of unbelief. It shows that we are becoming increasingly aware of our weakness, but still lack knowledge of and faith in God’s character. This leads us to respond wrongly to trouble by trying to push farther in our weakness to do the things we know we cannot do in our own power.

In order to cease worrying without ceasing to care, we must know who God is and believe.

Trouble’s Value: Weakness Clarifies Our Need to Go Before God in Prayer

The trouble has value only inasmuch as it drives us to our knees in prayer to look to God our Strong Tower, bringing us to desire His good will and to thoughtfully dwell on perfect strength above our own.

“Whatever it is that presses thee, go tell the Father; put the whole matter over into His hand, and so shalt thou be freed from that dividing, perplexing care that the world is full of. When thou art either to do or suffer anything, when thou art about any purpose or business, go tell God of it, and acquaint Him with it; yes, burden Him with it, and thou hast done for matter of caring; no more care, but quiet, sweet, diligence in thy duty, and dependence on Him for the carriage of thy matters. Roll thy cares, and thyself with them, as one burden, all on thy God.” –R. Leighton



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11/10/09

15 Rock-Solid Reasons to Meditate on God’s Word

Prayer and Meditation on the Word 300x199 15 Rock Solid Reasons to Meditate on God’s WordI’ve noticed a pattern.

There is a direct correlation between understanding of scripture and time spent meditating on scripture.

More time in meditation generally leads to deeper understanding.

The fact itself is not a surprise, but the magnitude of its effects is.

“Continued meditation brings great profit to the soul. Passant and transient thoughts are more pleasant, but not so profitable. Deliberate meditation is of most use because it secures the return of the thoughts.” —Thomas Manton

But the benefit of deeper understanding is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It, no doubt, is an aid to continual communion with God.

Fifteen reasons why you should foster intentional meditation:

1. It engages an otherwise slothful, shallow-skimming mind to probe for deeper truth

2. It fills you with mind-renewing, life-transforming truth (Romans 12:2, John 17:17)

3. It fills the heart with life-giving words to flow from the mouth (Luke 6:45)

4. It contributes to a life of obedience  (Joshua 1:8)

5. It is a sign of the tree planted by water (Psalm 1:2-3)

6. It feeds the soul (Psalm 63:5-6)

7. It fuels heartfelt praise (Psalm 63:5-6, Psalm 145:4-7)

8. It fixes your eyes on the ways of God (Psalm 119:15)

9. It keeps you from meditating on circumstances (Psalm 119:23)

10. It’s the secret to standing and speaking before kings unashamed (Psalm 119:46-48)

11. It prevents useless replaying of wrongs committed against you (Psalm 119:78)

12. It gives you more understanding than your teachers (Psalm 119:99)

13. It’s better than counting sheep late at night (Psalm 63:6, Psalm 119:148)

14. It leads to wise speech (Psalm 49:3-4)

15. It pleases the Lord (Psalm 104:34, Psalm 19:14)

Why do you meditate on the Word?



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11/9/09

Our Hope for Humility

stumble warning 275x300 Our Hope for HumilityOur Lord Humbled Himself so that We Could Humbly Call Him Lord

If pride precedes the fall
We’ve further down to go
Unless we’re saved by Christ’s humility
Who for our sake was brought low
So that we may be set free
From the pride that preceded Adam’s fall

(Philippians 2:5-11 & Romans 5:12-21)

It’s just a rhythmic run-on sentence with one point:

The only reason we are able to humble ourselves and call him Lord is because our Lord humbled himself to bring our salvation.

Christ’s humility is the only hope for our own.

We find humility not by trying to make ourselves less proud, but turning our focus to Christ and the work He has done so that we may live the gospel.



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11/6/09

Weekend Resource: Customize PDF Verse Cards for Your Bible Memory

VCM 300x243 Weekend Resource: Customize PDF Verse Cards for Your Bible MemoryHere’s a simple tool for creating printable verse card for Bible memory.

The Verse Card Maker was created by Michael Scott, who graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in Computer and Information Sciences, but is now in seminary pursuing a Masters of Divinity. He’s offering you a free tool that is one of the fruits of his labor.

It’s as easy as 1-2-3, without the 2
Unless the defaults don’t suit you, there are only two steps.

Type in the references and then click “Make Cards.”

From the website:

“The Verse Card Maker is a simple and efficient way to create customized verse cards for scripture memory. The only thing required of the user is a list of references, and then the Verse Card Maker does the rest by fetching the text and returning a fully formatted PDF ready for front and back printing.”



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11/4/09

5 Tough Quotes on Prayerless Christians

CharlesSpurgeon 5 Tough Quotes on Prayerless ChristiansCan a Christian Be Prayerless?
Is it possible to find a authentic Christian walk that is not marked by prayer?

That’s a good question. Let’s hear five giants of the Christian faith weigh in on the issue.

1. C.H. Spurgeon: All true Christians are marked by prayer

“You are no Christian if you do not pray. A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. You have no inheritance among the people of God if you have never struggled with that Covenant Angel and come off the conqueror. Prayer is the indispensable mark of the true child of God.”

“The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be slothfulness in prayer.”

2. J.C. Ryle: Not praying is a clear proof that a man is not yet a true Christian

“We want to know whether you are actually acquainted with the throne of grace, and whether you can speak to God as well as speak about God. Do you wish to find out whether you are a true Christian? Then rest assured that my question is of the very first importance – Do you pray?”

“This I do say, that not praying is a clear proof that a man is not yet a true Christian.  He cannot really feel his sins.  He cannot love God.  He cannot feel himself a debtor to Christ.  He cannot long after holiness.  He cannot desire heaven.  He has yet to be born again.  He has yet to be made a new creature.  He may boast confidently of election, grace, faith, hope, and knowledge, and deceive ignorant people.  But you may rest assured it is all vain talk if he does not pray.”

“What is the reason that some believers are so much brighter and holier than others? I believe the difference, in nineteen cases out of twenty, arises from different habits about private prayer. I believe that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy pray much.”

3. John Calvin: Claims of belief are worthless if prayer if of no account to us

“If prayer is of no account to us, that is a sure sign that we are unbelievers, however much we claim to believe the gospel.”

4. Martin Luther: Prayer is the necessary breath of a Christian

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

5. Andrew Murray: Your Church is Powerless Because It is Prayerless

“What is the reason that many thousands of Christian workers in the world have not a greater influence? Nothing save this—the prayerlessness of their service. In the midst of all their zeal in the study and in the work of the Church, of all their faithfulness in preaching and conversation with the people, they lack that ceaseless prayer which has attached to it the sure promise of the Spirit and the power from on high. It is nothing but the sin of prayerlessness which is the cause of the lack of a powerful spiritual life!”


Black and White With No Qualifiers
Those five men chose blunt words. I would have been tempted to add qualifiers that make the claims easier to swallow.

That’s because my view of prayer’s importance is dwarfed by that of the Five Giants.

How did the Five Giants get such an unclouded understanding of the necessity of prayer?
Because their understanding of truth was battle-tested.

1. They understood what the Word clearly teaches on prayer.

2. They practiced what the Word clearly teaches on prayer.


The Takeaway

At best, a Christian is powerless when prayerless. At worst, he or she is no Christian at all.


Word of Caution

It would be easy to say, “If I really loved God, I’d pray.” And then try to, by force, try to pray more. Prayer is, no doubt, a spiritual discipline that is practiced and developed over time, and we are personally responsible to strive to master it.

At the same time, prayer that is not motivated by love is a hollow prayer.

We won’t ever enjoy prayer if we don’t ever do it, but we won’t ever do it out of an enjoyment of God unless God does a work in our hearts.

The Lord turns our hearts to love Him (2 Thes 3:5), and that is point #5 of what this blog is about: Love precedes obedience.



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11/2/09

The Need for Collective Prayer

Praying 300x160 The Need for Collective PrayerThere is a reason I’ve shunned collective prayer in the past, and it might be similar to yours.

Collective prayer always felt fake. Or at least I felt fake praying in a group when it became more performance than prayer.

But I had the nagging feeling that I was missing something.

I was.

After spending four weeks intentionally studying Biblical prayer and now reading a story of a pastor and church that were set on fire through prayer, I’m starting to get a glimpse of what I was missing (which justifies continuing the study on prayer. I’d like to move from a glimpse to a stare and then on to experience).

What I Mean by Collective Prayer
I am not referencing the recited prayers at a church service. I am talking about the prayer that happens when a small group of people get together on their knees and pour their hearts out to the Lord. Such collective prayer in small groups disinterested me…previously. Now I can’t get enough of it.

What was I missing?

3 Reasons Why We Need Collective Prayer [What I Was Missing]

1. Diverse Perspectives Enrich Prayer
About half way through the prayer session during my first visit to the men’s prayer breakfast, it slapped me in the face: my own perspective is inadequate.

The group of men brought more to the prayer than any one man ever could because each one sees the prayer request against a background of unique life experiences. God sovereignly prepares each one with a different perspective so that each may pray differently.

Private prayer is valuable, and I do not want to downplay that or lessen our use of it. But it is also arrogant to think that there is not much to be gained by praying together where the Body of Christ collectively pleads each case before the throne.

2. Gathering as a Body Stomps Individualism
A rusty nail piercing the left foot has a pronounced effect on the right foot. At the very least, the right foot will bear more weight and walk slower.

Yet we tend to live as if our life has no impact on the Body of Christ. The symptoms of individualism are undeniable:

We think personal sin doesn’t hurt the church.
We set our goals based on what we individually want most.
We may send someone a prayer request, but we rarely want them to pray over it with us.

Individualism drains the body of spiritual power, the very power we so desperately need. Collective prayer aids in bringing us back to living in context of the Body of Christ and stomping out power-leeching individualism.

Reminds me of the quote,

“Whatever you do, do more with others, and less alone.”

3. Group Confession is a Devastating Remedy for the Mask
Group prayer felt fake to me because I was fake. I wore a mask. My problem really had nothing to do with collective prayer, and it had everything to do with my approach.

Turns out, collective prayer offers a devastating remedy for the performer.

It is a prime time to move beyond giving shallow, vague prayer requests and instead openly confess weakness, inadequacy, failure, and needs. We take the mask of self-sufficiency off when we publicly admit a critical need and an utter inability to attain any solution.

Sure, we can pervert confession and turn it into another spiritual contest of staged humility. But if that be the case, then take that mask off too and commit it to prayer.

“Although you should be selective in your sharing, transparency is an in-your-face slam dunk against hypocrisy and superficiality in a group.” – Terry Powell

It’s OK to say, “I can’t even confess my sin without creating the need to confess more sin. Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Conclusion
A love for collective prayer cannot be forced. Proper delight in spiritual disciplines comes when the Lord opens our eyes to see things as they really are, beholding true value.

How does the Lord open our eyes to the value?

The Holy Spirit works when we look at the story of Daniel and watch how he gathered his friends together to pray (Daniel 2:17-19), when we read the biographies of men like D.L. Moody and George Müller, or when we step out and experience the spiritual disciplines in a new, refreshing way.

Then we see that the value of the discipline does not lie in the discipline itself, but it its usefulness as an aid to bring us to communion with God and fellowship with the Body.

What hang-ups have you experienced in collective prayer? What has God done to increase your delight in collective prayer?



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