Prayer Changes You

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all.
Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might;
in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. – 1 Chronicles 29:11-12

While reading through the life of David is 1 Chronicles recently, I found myself intrigued by his prayer in Chapter 29. Starting at verse 10, I noticed how David uses the words “You” or “Yours” in prayer.

The King has been forbidden by God to build a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant, but he is allowed to begin acumination of building materials for the project. After the King and the people of the nation donated an enormous amount of gold, silver, bronze and iron, David offers a prayer. Rejoicing in wiling and loyal heart of the people, David “blessed the LORD before all the congregation of the people.”

The focus of his prayer was not surrounding himself or the project they were beginning to embark upon. The focus of his prayer was God Himself. This was a God-centered prayer. From verse 10 through 19 no less than 27 times, David refers to God in his prayer. “You” and “Yours” dominates these verses. The King of Israel, is offering a God-centered prayer as opposed to a self-centered or problem centered prayer.

Our prayers can be quite revealing. Prayer reveals what or who we are focused upon. It is easy to allow ourselves to come before God with a list of things we want Him to do for us. Listing out in great detail our problems and how we’d like him to arrange things. But that is a self-centered or problem centered position. God needs to be the focus of prayer.

This is harder to do than one may initially believe. We are so prone to think of ourselves first. We seem to enjoy informing Him of our needs and expecting a divine submission to our demands. We even tend to measure the faith of people by how successful they are in receiving what they prayed for. But it seems to me from this passage – and plenty others – faith is the ability to pray in a God-centered manner; making God the object of prayer and not ourselves.

I have often heard the phrase “Prayer changes things.” As a general rule I agree prayer does change things but most often I have found prayer changes me. My outlook on my situation becomes different. I take on an attitude of trust and humility when I become focused on Him. A God-centered prayer highlights His glory, His power, His sovereignty and concentrates on His will.

A God-entered prayer still can include petition for His intervention in a situation. God-entered prayer can ask for healing, protection or provision, but a God-centered prayer is not demanding or arrogant. It is focused on trust, humility, thankfulness and submission.   

Yes prayer changes things, but God-centered prayer changes you.

Effective Faith

I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints,that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. – Philemon 4-6

The brief letter of Paul to Philemon is an often overlooked passage of Scripture. In all my years of attending church and being in Christian media, I doubt I have heard a message from Philemon more than a handful of times. Unfortunately, its brevity may be associated with its importance to modern believers. Yet, I have found this epistle written from a prison in Rome, to an individual in a church hundreds of miles away, to be one which speaks to us about the practical application of our faith.

The church of Colossae met in the home of Philemon (vs 2) as it seems Philemon and his wife Apphia opened up their place for the saints to gather there to worship. They must have been wonderful hosts as in verse 7, Paul tells them “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you.”

Paul speaks of the “effective” faith on the part of Philemon, yet there is no indication Philemon was the leader. He and his wife served as the hosts of the church. They were faithful in doing the role God had for them. They were effective or productive in serving Him.

Too often people think it is only the person who have the title of “pastor” are serving God. Pastors or ministers of a church are put on a pedestal and thought of as being the only ones capable of serving. They are the only people who are devoted to Jesus in full-time ministry. Yet, Paul is indicating in this passage how Philemon (and his wife) are serving Jesus, by their service to others. They are so diligent at it, Paul describes their efforts as being “effective” faith.

The term used here, most often translated as “effective” means productive or energetic. There is considerable activity being generated and it is being put to good use. Philemon isn’t just making noise or wasting time, but he is serving God because “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you.” His faith is effective.

The challenge to me – and I think to all of us – let’s make sure our service to God is like Philemon’s. make sure we are effective or productive. We don’t all have to host a church in our home, but we all have some part to play. All of us have something to do. We all are to be effective, productive, full of positive activity as we serve Him and others.

What has He called you to do? Where is your faith effective?

Something About Worship

Worship is a term used to describe an event, or a segment of a church service, usually corporate singing. We’ll make comments how the “worship was very good today” or maybe it’s a negative remark, “I didn’t enjoy the worship music.” Few issues have caused such disagreements in churches as worship. We even throw around a term, “The Worship Wars” when describing the issue. But is this how “worship” is supposed to be? Is it just a performance we attend featuring our preferred music?

In reading the first 9 verses of Mark, I find this story of a woman (we know her name was Mary from the John account of the same event) who worshiped Jesus. There are a few quick thoughts I have on this passage covering this concept of worship. I’ll call them the 3 “C’s” of Worship.

And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. – Mark 14:3

Worship comes with a Cost – The woman anoints Jesus using perfume made from the “oil of nard.” This was a very costly oil made from the stem of a plant found in India. The oil was worth a year’s salary for the common laborer. The oil was kept in a special flask, called an alabaster, which had a sealed lid. She breaks the lid and pours the perfume on the LORD.

I often wonder if we miss something with worship. I think it needs to cost us something. Worship when we give something of value to Him. It can be financial, but it’s service, time, humility etc. Too often, I expect worship to be a simple event I attend. I stand and participate or read a passage of scripture, but miss this vital point. Worship is costly. To worship Him, I offer Him something of value to me.

But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply.- Mark 14: 4-5

Worship Will Often Draw Criticism – The people in the house who witnessed this event could worship and rejoice with her. Instead they spoke harshly about her. The term indignant is used here, meaning they were pretty upset about this.

Sometimes, our worship can upset people. Because others see no value in what we are doing (they ascribe no “cost” to our activity) and find it a waste of time or resources.

I can remember this was the topic of discussion in a small group I attend and we realized we must always be careful when we look upon another church or organization and find their worship so different than ours, we become “indignant” about how other believers worship.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. – Mark 14:6

Worship is Commended By Jesus – Jesus sees this woman’s act as worship and commends her for it. He defends her and accepts her worship.

When one comes before the LORD with proper motives, with an understanding of serving and/or giving honor to Him, it’s worship. It’s not a pre-set list of activities or singing in 4 part harmony. It’s not a manner of dress or speaking in King James English, but it is a heart issue. It’s pleasing to the LORD and He appreciates it.

Remember the 3 C’s of worship. It’s not about you or even the 30 minutes of music on Sunday. It’s about Him.

The True Standard

Therefore, all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right. I hate every false way. – Psalm 119:128

You are near, O LORD, and all Your commandments are truth. Concerning Your testimonies, I have known of old that You have founded them forever. – Psalm 119:151-152

While God has plainly said “All I have said is true,” yet many people attending our churches struggle taking these verses at face value. They look for loop holes or ways around the obvious meaning of a passage.

You can take great comfort in the fact that His Word is not changing. What was true in His Word two years or 2000 years ago, is still true today.  It is our great measuring rod. We can take any philosophy, ideology, teaching, or opinion from all time periods, and compare it to God’s Word, knowing His Word is the standard. His Word is the standard against which everything else is measured.

This is an important concept because it determines authority. If there was debate about the exact length of an inch or a foot, there would be no way to determine between individuals the length of anything. Distance would be subjective, capacities would be irrelevant, and confusion would reign. There would be no voice of authority for measurements. It is the same when discussing truth. His Word is defined, unchanged, and remains authoritative.  It is the measuring stick we use to line everything else up against. God’s Word is where we must turn for truth.

Therefore it is not surprising to see the chaos and confusion in the modern church. When the Bible is no longer preached as being true, when it is no longer the standard by which we determine morality, our anchor our source of authority is gone. Opinions and feelings become the authority for morality and individuals, churches and society is awash in evil, thinking it is good.

But Psalm 119 tells us how the Scriptures are the source of authority. Morality is not to be based on opinions or feelings or even laws of society, but on God’s principles as defined by His Word.

Bend & Turn

NOTE: Early this month I encouraged you to read Psalm 119. Not just to check it off a reading list but to let the text sink deep into your soul. This psalm reveals the depth of commitment the author has with God’s Word. If we want to know what Jesus, Paul, James or any other member of the early church thought about the Bible, we need to read Psalm 119. Here are more truths from Psalm 119 and our need for His Word in our life.

Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to covetousness. Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way. – Psalm 119:36-37

We don’t seem to have a natural “bent” toward His Word. This is why Bible study is so important and hard to do. People struggle with Scripture, because it is not our natural bent. 

The psalmist has this simple prayer, “Incline (or bend) my heart to Your Word.” That needs to be our request. It is through His Word that I can strengthen myself to be more grateful for what I have and to resist our natural bent toward covetousness.

When we covet or desire something that is not ours, we are showing our ingratitude with the provision the LORD has given us and are looking to what others possess as a replacement. As a general rule, I believe when we are struggling with coveting something, there is a good chance we haven’t been faithful about being in His Word. And there is a significant possibility we have allowed ourselves to consumed with “worthless things “as the psalmist indicates in verse 37.

How many “worthless things “do we allow our eyes to take in? 

I’m not a legalist who claims we can never partake in recreation or enjoy a movie, or hobby that doesn’t involve anything overtly Christian. However, those benign activities can become a problem when they push us to temptation and sin. The prayer isn’t to have those things removed from us, but rather that God “turns” our eyes away. 

How does this happen?  Quite simply, it is when you are reading something and you feel that pricking of the Holy Spirit telling you this isn’t good for you. Or it’s when you are watching a movie or TV show and suddenly there is a twinge of conviction upon you because of “that scene.” At those times you are experiencing this prayer in action.

For more information on Psalm 119, pick up my book, Our Most Valuable Treasure. The book explains the concepts or “keys” of understanding the balance of the Bible , based off Psalm 119. Our Most Valuable Treasure is available thru Amazon.

Before You Open Your Bible……

Open my eyes, that I might see, wondrous things from Your Law. – Psalm 119:18

This simple prayer needs to precede our personal time in the Scriptures. Before we invest ourselves in His book, ask Him to help you.

The psalmist asks God to open the Scripture to him in a way in which he might gain insight.  When you pray this verse, you are asking God to help you be attentive to what you are reading in His Word. There are so many things which distract us from His Word, but by asking Him to “Open your eyes” you are seeking His help to remove those distractions.

Next he says “that I might see.”  The psalmist is moving beyond having his eyes opened to now “seeing” or applying things. We might say it is moving from head knowledge to heart knowledge. Not only are we to know (have our eyes opened) His Word, but we need to apply it (see it) to ourselves.

This was such a great revelation to me when many years ago, I began to understand the Bible was not meant to be a mystery to me. God wanted me to understand it – and He wants you to understand it.

You don’t need to understand everything in his Word, but by praying this you are asking Him to help you understand what you need to know. This is where a high degree of trust comes to play. God will reveal things about His Word to me which I need to know for today. Weeks, months or years from now, He will reveal further things to me. Therefore, I am not bothered or perplexed about why I don’t understand everything in the Bible. I don’t need to – right now! I am however, praying and expecting God to help me understand what I need for today’s current battle.

Finally he says “wondrous things” or some versions use the word “marvelous” things. If I go into Bible reading/study with little expectation, there is a good chance I will not see anything beyond a record of history or a cute story with a moral lesson. But God has “wondrous” or “marvelous” things in His Word and He wants to show them to us! 

Too often I hear people discount or give up on reading their Bible because they claim they don’t understand it. Or they approach the Bible as if its’ some magical code they need to figure out. God’s Word is different than all other books – God wants you to understand it and apply it to your life! Come to Him with this prayer that He open your eyes, and you will find the Word will speak to you in a way you had never previously experienced.

For more information on Psalm 119, pick up my book, Our Most Valuable Treasure. The book explains the concepts or “keys” of understanding the balance of the Bible , based off Psalm 119. Our Most Valuable Treasure is available thru Amazon.

Growing As A Believer

Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word. – Psalm 119:17

I won’t say this verse is any more important than another one but it does offer us great insight on how important God’s Word is to be in our daily life. This verse – like nearly all of Psalm 119 – is a prayer. The psalmists asks God a specific thing which will manifest itself in his daily life. He wants to grow in his relationship with God.

It starts out with the opening phrase “deal bountifully” which in Hebrew is just one word. It’s an interesting term loosely meaning “maturing” and it’s used a few different ways.

Often, it is a term of growth, maturing and celebrating.  This same Hebrew word is used in 1 Samuel 1:24 to describe when Hannah dedicated her son Samuel to serving Eli, the High Priest.   It’s also used in Genesis 21:8 to describe when Abraham’s son Isaac was weaned.  In ancient cultures many children perished in infancy.  It’s a great milestone when a child has survived from needing his mother’s milk to now being able to take solid food.  When a child is weaned, that’s a good thing, the child is maturing, and it is something to celebrate.

But “wean” alone doesn’t give you a complete understanding of the term.  In Numbers 17:8 the word is used in reference to the process of almonds being available to harvest after blossoming. In Isaiah 18:5 the same word is used in reference to grapes ripening. 

Grape vines need to be periodically cut back to allow the vine to put nutrients into the grape instead of the vine.  In fact, left to its own, a grape vine will grow in a ragged fashion and while it still produces some grapes, they won’t be as plentiful or easy to harvest due to the excessive vine and branch growth.  To have an effective and high producing vine, it needs pruned.

Our growth, our maturing, is no different. We too need pruning. If we wish to be effective and productive as Christians, we need to go through periodic pruning. We may be tempted to limit our understanding of pruning to hard times or going through adversity. That is one element of the process but I don’t think pruning needs to be thought of as just a negative event.  

When God leads us to people that we may not have encountered on our own volition, it might be an occasion of God’s pruning. When He speaks to us in a worship service or while sitting under a particularly poignant Bible lesson, that may be God’s way of pruning.  

Sometimes He points out areas in our life which need attention or He may put us in situations where we may feel uncomfortable. Serving people in those situations may be one of those ways God prunes us.

Interestingly, the psalmist is asking for this maturing, this growth process, this pruning. When he says, “Deal bountifully…” he is asking God to move in his situation to grow or mature him. To move him out of his known comfort zone into something greater.

For more information on Psalm 119, pick up my book, Our Most Valuable Treasure. The book explains the concepts or “keys” of understanding the balance of the Bible , based off Psalm 119. Our Most Valuable Treasure is available thru Amazon.