04/21/13

Gift of Renewed Thirst

A prayer by Scotty Smith based on Psalm 63:1-5, from his book Everyday Prayers.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, (Psalm 63:1-5, ESV)

Dear Jesus, we come before you today asking for the gift of thirst. Renew and intensify our thirst for you. Make us so faint that unless you hydrate our hearts with the gospel, we will surely perish.

It’s a perilous thing to no longer deeply crave fellowship with you, Jesus. It’s a deceptive thing to enjoy, but no longer actually need you. It’s a deceitful thing to be satisfied with correct theology about you, without experiencing rich communion with you. It’s a demonic thing to find our ultimate satisfaction in anyone or anything else but you.

Only your steadfast love is better than life, Jesus—only your contra-conditional, irrepressible affection for us. Nothing else will do. You have created a gospel-shaped vacuum in our hearts—a screaming empty place that fits only you. Forgive us when we try to cram human love, creature comforts, or anything else into that place. Don’t let us be so easily satisfied. Give us redemptive discontent until our hearts rest again in you.

Jesus, we’re not just asking this for ourselves as individuals, but for our churches as well. Forgive us when we get so organized, creative and “right” that we no longer miss your presence. Is it really you we are worshipping, or are we just worshipping worship? Is it really you we are serving, or are we just serving ourselves as religious consumers?

If you actually “left the house,” how long would it take before we knew the difference? In all honesty, Jesus, how much of what we do in our churches doesn’t require the Holy Spirit at all? Show us, convict us, forgive us, and change us.

Let us see and experience your power and glory in fresh ways, Jesus. We want to lift our hearts, voices, hands and whole lives to you, as a sacrifice of praise. May the truth and grace of the gospel satisfy us as fat and rich food. So very Amen, we pray, with longing hearts.



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02/22/10

A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Embracing Discipline and Planning

3113550632 b9a83919a4 A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Embracing Discipline and Planning

This past week, I came to an important realization about my prayer life that changed everything going forward. The main thing missing from my prayer life was…prayer. Not knowledge about prayer, but prayer itself. I’ve been hit and miss with time spent in prayer, a pattern that resembles the schedule a distracted four-year-old might keep for feeding his pet goldfish.

Our erratic prayer life is discouraging. We try on solutions like hats. We sit in the same rut wondering why we’re not progressing beyond mediocre. And we’re avoiding the real problem.


Why Increased Knowledge Isn’t Helping Our Prayer Life

We assume we’ve missed out on some secret to a vibrant prayer life and our ignorance is holding us back. So we hunt for a new technique…that won’t work. If we’re honest, the “secret” we’ve been missing is the only secret we don’t want to hear about. It doesn’t come in a neat package, it isn’t free, and it isn’t natural.


We’ve Been Avoiding Discipline

We avoid admitting the need for discipline. We trip over the need for it every now and then, then run along in denial. Discipline, like doctrine, sounds like a killjoy when in fact it is just the opposite. Let me give you a quick example.

Who has more joy and feels more free, the novice picking up a violin for the first time, or a world-class composer of the score for blockbuster films? Discipline makes possible the joy and freedom of playing a violin as if it was second nature. The value of discipline is clear. Let me give you a brief warning though.


Warning: Discipline is Not an End

Discipline itself has no value. But it is a Spirit-generated gift necessary for fuller delight in Christ. This discipline (self-control) is a fruit of the Spirit and a facet of Christian character that we lack only so long as we refuse to pay its price. Because discipline is a gift of God available to every believer, we can develop it. It is in reach because the Father has reached down to give it to us by the Spirit through His Son.

Also know that I am not making a case against spontaneous prayer. But I wouldn’t rely on spontaneous prayer because it fades in the absence of discipline. It becomes a feeble visitor, not a persistent companion. We won’t pray without ceasing when busyness leaves spontaneity sidelined. The only way to continue in prayer is have discipline and a plan.


Application: Plan a Time and Place For Daily Prayer

Action gives feet to desire, and planning gives those feet a path to run on. If you desire to pray, then plan to pray. A wartime mentality demands intentional planning. There is a lot to learn about prayer, but it is useless if we are not getting on our knees. Our prayer should be planned – intentional, specific, and motivated by duty and delight.


The Natural, Unplanned Flow of Spiritual Life Sinks to the Lowest Ebb of Vitality

John Piper highlights the need for planned prayer in his book, Desiring God [download and read for free]:

“Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to. If you want to take a four-week vacation, you don’t just get up one summer morning and say, ‘Hey, let’s go today!’ You won’t have anything ready. You won’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned.

“But that is how many of us treat prayer. We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing’s ever ready. We don’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned. No time. No place. No procedure. And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut. If you don’t plan a vacation, you will probably stay home and watch TV. The natural, unplanned flow of spiritual life sinks to the lowest ebb of vitality. There is a race to be run and a fight to be fought. If you want renewal in your life of prayer, you must plan to see it.

“Therefore, my simple exhortation is this: Let us take time this very day to rethink our priorities and how prayer fits in. Make some new resolve. Try some new venture with God. Set a time. Set a place. Choose a portion of Scripture to guide you. Don’t be tyrannized by the press of busy days. We all need midcourse corrections. Make this a day of turning to prayer—for the glory of God and for the fullness of your joy.

Take these things to heart.



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02/17/10

A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: A Wartime Mentality

485984140 e0d7a28b29 A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: A Wartime Mentality

There is a reason we lack urgency in responding in prayer to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is because we ignore or forget the reality of war.

Once awakened to this reality, we either crumble in inadequacy, or turn to God in desperate prayer.

It comes down to this: Without an understanding of the spiritual war we are in, prayer itself becomes a novelty. It is a mere ornament and easily shelved. We will understand the privilege of prayer in theory and then turn and neglect it because we lack urgency in putting it to use.

Catch a glimpse of the war, though, and reality will demand of us constant prayer. Prayer, then, is a statement about our eyesight. If we a lacking in prayer, we are certainly lacking a clear perception of the reality of war.

Concerning the need for a wartime attitude when praying, John Piper writes in Let the Nations Be Glad,

“So the truth is reaffirmed: God has given us prayer because Jesus has given us a mission. We are on this earth to press back the forces of darkness, and we are given access to headquarters by prayer to advance this cause. When we try to turn it into a civilian intercom to increase our conveniences, it stops working, and our faith begins to falter. We have so domesticated prayer that for many of us it is no longer what it was designed to be-a wartime walkie-talkie for the accomplishment of Christ’s mission.

“We simply must seek for ourselves and for our people a wartime mentality. Otherwise the biblical teaching about the urgency of prayer and the vigilance of prayer and the watching in prayer and the perseverance of prayer and the danger of abandoning prayer will make no sense and find no resonance in our hearts. Until we feel the desperation of a bombing raid or the thrill of a new strategic offensive for the gospel, we will not pray in the spirit of Jesus.

“The crying need of the hour is to put the churches on a wartime footing. Mission leaders are crying out, “Where is the church’s concept of militancy, of a mighty army willing to suffer, moving ahead with exultant determination to take the world by storm? Where is the risk-taking, the launching out on God alone?” The answer is that it has been swallowed up in a peacetime mentality.”



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02/15/10

A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Responding to the Holy Spirit

480639799 9031570da0 A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Responding to the Holy SpiritUnceasing prayer appears out of reach, if not outright impractical. But learning to pray like that isn’t as impossible as we might think, and here’s why.

We have an undeniable inner urge for prayer as a consequence of our new birth, for no true Christian is prayerless. What follows is a simple step toward unceasing prayer: learning to respond to the urging of the Holy Spirit to pray.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in Preaching and Preachers, instructs us:

“Always respond to every impulse to pray. The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you are battling with a text. I would make an absolute law of this – always obey such an impulse.

“Where does it come from? It is the work of the Holy Spirit; it is a part of the meaning of ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Phil 2:12-13).

“This often leads to some of the most remarkable experiences in the life of the minister. So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy. Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect…

Such a call to prayer must never be regarded as a distraction; always respond to it immediately, and thank God if it happens to you frequently.”

If the Holy Spirit is an aid to those who seek to pray without ceasing, then there is hope. It can be done. This hope necessarily lies outside of ourselves and is only found for those in Christ.



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01/22/10

A Christian Blogger’s Desire [How to Pray for Me]

4266114980 a0e376d7c1 A Christian Bloggers Desire [How to Pray for Me]I ran across a Puritan prayer I had arbitrarily used as a bookmark. The prayer is called, “A Minister’s Preaching,” taken from Valley of Vision.

I adapted the prayer for preachers into a prayer for writers so I could pray it for myself and a few blogger friends of mine, Demian Farnworth, Don Dudley, and Jonathan Woodward.

This prayer captures my heart’s desire when I write…or at least what it ought to be. It also expresses in Puritan language what I pray God accomplishes through my writing.

The Puritan prayer doesn’t directly cover some specifics though. For example, I’d like this blog to have a clearly defined and specifically targeted mission, and sometimes that’s lacking. I also hope one day this blog might be a means God uses to connect me with a full time job, a book writing deal, or some other opportunity to serve God with what He gives me just as I try to do where I am now.

That’s the stuff I pray for. And Don Duddley over at You See Dry Bones prays for similar things. And I would love to have you join with me in prayer. Would you bring these requests before your church, small group, family, or where ever else you gather to pray?

A Writer’s Prayer

My Master God,

I desire to write today,
but go weak and needy to my task;

Yet I long that people might be edified
with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne
for thee;

Give me assistance in writing and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.

Present to my view things pertinent to
my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I write,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.

Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over
my performance.

Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting
thy mercy.

Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and to set before them comforting considerations.

Attend with power the truth written,
and awaken the attention of slothful readers.

May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings
that men might be made holy.

I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;

Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter
in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy
a Redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death,
its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.

And keep me in tune with thee
as I do this work.



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01/13/10

A Prayer-Producing, Sin-Slaughtering Love for God

1645809780 3d2bdc77ef A Prayer Producing, Sin Slaughtering Love for God Do you have the wherewithal to repel the muscular attacks of the devil or the discipline to flee temptation like a bolt of greased lightening?

There’s a diagnostic test to see if that kind of power has been granted to you: Take a look at your prayer life.

“Now what is the cause of most backslidings? I believe, as a general rule, one of the chief causes is neglect of private prayer. You may be very sure men fall in private long before they fall in public. They are backsliders on their knees long before they backslide openly in the eyes of the world.” – J.C. Ryle

Prayer Does Not Keep Us From Sin

Prayer has no special power to keep us from sin. But both prayerlessness and sinfulness have the same cause: a lack of love for God. Thus our prayer reveals our heart, and the condition of our heart determines our ability to fight sin.

“Besides, this mind (speaking of the pious mind) restrains itself from sinning, not out of dread of punishment alone; but, because it loves and reveres God as Father, it worships and adores him as Lord. Even if there were no hell, it would still shudder at offending him alone.” – John Calvin

Prayer is a Barometer of the Heart

Prayer is a barometer of the heart. If our heart is filled with a robust love for God, our life will be filled with focused prayer and victory over sin. If our heart is not filled with love for God, it should not surprise us if we are both prayerless and addicted to sin. We must cling with hope to the message of the gospel, because it is God who grants to us a heart increasingly filled with prayer-producing, sin-slaughtering love for God.

After doing a guest post over at Fallen and Flawed on secret sin, I couldn’t help but see its connection to prayer.



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12/21/09

Developing Your Prayer Life: The Ongoing Series

Remembering Answered Prayer1 300x221 Developing Your Prayer Life: The Ongoing Series

It is time to [re]discover prayer, and this ongoing series is packed with key lessons on prayer.

Below is a list of what we’ve covered in this series. This page will serve as an index and I’ll update it periodically.

1. A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Responding to the Holy Spirit

2. A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: A Wartime Mentality

3. A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Discipline and Planning

4. A Prayer-Producing, Sin-Slaughtering Love for God

5. The Need for Collective Prayer

6. The Prayerless Church is a Powerless Church [Weekend Resource]

7. How to Develop a Desperate Prayer Life

8. Prayerfully Coming to Grips with Inadequacy Without Becoming Inactive

9. Driven to Prayer: Our Extremities are the Lord’s Opportunities

10. The Benefits of Reflecting on Answered Prayer

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

12. Five Tough Quotes on Prayerless Christians

13. Prayer: Laying Hold of God by His Promises [Weekend Resource]




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12/14/09

Prayerfully Coming to Grips with Inadequacy Without Becoming Inactive

Inadequate2 300x199 Prayerfully Coming to Grips with Inadequacy Without Becoming Inactive“Waiting on God” is not an excuse to be inactive.

Take a look at Nehemiah 4:7-23 which records part of the story of the Jews rebuilding the walls. Remember, the opposition from angry neighbors was stiff enough that the Jewish guards slept with their clothes on, weapon in hand.

Nehemiah records a pertinent detail.

He wrote, “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (Nehemiah 4:9).

Nehemiah had an understanding of the power of prayer and the role of human effort. In response to the attackers, he and his men prayed AND set a guard.

Inadequate But Not Inactive
Setting a guard did not deny their inadequacy to meet the attackers. But it did keep them from being inactive.

J.R. Miller wrote a golden snippet on this subject of prayer and duty:

We are in danger of making prayer a substitute for duty; or of trying to roll over on God, the burden of caring for us and doing things for us–while we sit still and do nothing! When we pray to be delivered from temptation–we must keep out of the way of temptation, unless duty clearly calls us there. We must also guard against temptation, resist the Devil, and stand firm in obedience and faith. When we ask God for our daily bread, pleading the promise that we shall not lack–we must also labor to earn God’s bread, and thus make it ours honestly.

A lazy man came once and asked for money, saying that he could not find bread for his family. “Neither can I!” replied the industrious mechanic to whom he had applied. “I am obliged to work for it!”

While we pray for health–we must use the means to obtain it.

While we ask for wisdom–we must use our brains and think, searching for wisdom as for hidden treasure.

While we ask God to help us break off a bad habit–we must also strive to overcome the habit.

Prayer is not merely a device for saving people from toil, struggle and responsibility. When there is no human power adequate to the need–we may ask God to work without us, and in some way He will help us. But ordinarily we must do our part, asking God to work in and through us, and to bless us through faithful obedience.

Resources to Accompany Responsibility, Not to Replace It
This is not to lessen the importance of prayer, but to keep prayer in perspective.

As prayer increases in importance to us, we do not escape responsibility but instead run to the One who’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.

The prayer warrior has resources to accompany responsibility, not to replace responsibility.

“For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:29)



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12/9/09

The Benefits of Reflecting on Answered Prayer

Remembering Answered Prayer 300x221 The Benefits of Reflecting on Answered Prayer If prayer is the key to chest, then praise is the proper delight in the unlocked treasure.

The Answer is Not The Treasure
We are mistaken if we think the answered prayer is the main treasure. The answer is the treasure we seek.

The answer is but a click of the lock. And we’re so busy trying to figure out if the click sounded like a “yes” or a “no” answer, we forget to open the chest.

The Treasure is…
The treasure is what the answered prayer reveals about God after we have drawn near to Him intimately to behold His character displayed in His workings and gifts.

We’re Free to Take “no” As an Answer With This Mindset
We are free to take “no” for an answer if we know of this treasure, because we are primarily seeking to draw nearer to the Father and see His glory displayed. His glory is displayed when He works His will, not just when His will happens to match our requests and produce a “yes” answer.

Be Accustomed to Gratefully Observing Answered Prayer
If we are unaccustomed to gratefully observing answered prayer, we might listen to ten-thousand locks click open without ever opening a chest. We will neglect to praise Him if we never look to see how our prayers were answered.

3 Reasons to Reflect on Old Prayers and Answers
Just as a man would look more than once into a treasure chest, we must look more than once upon our answered prayers and praise God. There are three reasons why it is fitting to frequently look to God’s past answers to our prayers and turn to praise Him again.

First, God is worthy of continual praise, and the past of full of specific things to fuel such praise.

Second, it does our hearts good to be set straight by delighting again in God’s excellencies displayed in the past.

Third, we see each act of God with eyes limited by space and time. As the story unfolds yet further, we may see a fuller of view of God’s work, leading to richer praise.

Until we have praised God for who He has shown Himself to be, we have seen no treasure. We have only heard the lock click, then scurried on our way.



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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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