What is prayer?

“Pray without ceasing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:7 (KJV)

Lots of definitions have been given to the activity of prayer. Some people see it as only a time of making requests to God for favours. Others, wiser in my estimation, see it as much more.

Prayer, as recorded in Scripture, is a rich mosaic of things that come together in a harmonious blend of thanksgiving, worship, confession and request.

Prayer at its most basic level may be defined as communication with our Creator.

Most of the prayers in the Bible consist of several—and often all—of these four elements. So prayer can be an emergency communication with God in a desperate time of need. This form of prayer is made up of requests specifically. It is certainly an appropriate form of prayer and many of my readers have been active in this very type of approach to God.

Sometimes we pray because a sudden load of care has descended upon us. Then it may be a simple three word cry such as, “God help me.” There is no need to seek eloquence in prayer any more than when speaking to a good friend.

Other times we are more calm and reflective and think of God’s goodness to us. This propels us into a time of thanksgiving for the good things God has given to us. We might even use a hymn book and sing a song of thanksgiving to God.

Thanksgiving to God usually leads to worship. We recognize the sovereignty of God in all things and seek to describe Him in words. We may thank Him for His attentive eye on us, for His consistency in dealing with us, for His artistry in creation, and for a multitude of other things that declare the wonder and majesty of our God.

The last focus of prayer is confession of our sins and calling on God to forgive us for Jesus’ sake. Some people seek to do this first in a time of prayer—in order to be right with God.

The order of these elements in prayer is not prescribed in the Bible nor need we include all of them every time we pray.

Sometimes we may wish to think about the prayer before offering it. We may wish to find teaching in Scripture on the topic we desire to address in prayer. It is good to use the Bible as a flashlight to shine on the matter and give us some light on the subject.

The point is that there need be no subject we should hesitate to bring before our Creator, there is no request too small for God’s attention.

The One to whom we pray notices the bird falling from the branch of a tree. He observes all things. Are you not worth much more than a mere bird?

Of course you are very precious to the God who made you. Come to Him in prayer for any and all of your needs. He loves to be gracious and give good things to those who ask. Bring that special need to Him today and come now.

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Does prayer matter?

“Pray without ceasing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (KJV)

All of us have offered prayers to God that seem to have been lost in the shuffle. We ask and nothing happens.

A person who is suffering asks for relief from the burden and it remains. A person out of work prays for a job and is still unemployed.

So the question comes to us, “Does prayer matter?”

Will the laws God put into motion at the beginning of creation go on unimpeded by our prayers? Will God never intervene and cause things to change for the better? Is God like the watchmaker who creates the watch and then forgets it as it moves on to be sold?

Actually, the Bible is full of persuasive statements that bring hope to our prayers. We read of so many promises that we can feel overwhelmed. Which ones to bring to God in prayer becomes the issue.

Our verse today simply calls on us to be prayerful all the time. It is so important that we invite our Creator into every aspect of our lives to guide and direct us. If we involve ourselves in any activity that we would be ashamed to ask God’s blessing on—then we have strayed from the will of God.

Perhaps this matter of sin in our lives is the most influential factor in not having our prayers answered. Isaiah 59:2 (NIV) says,

“…your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.” 

Prayer dies on the altar of a disobedient heart. You cannot have your sin and the ear of God at the same time.

I well recall many years ago—as a child—that my parents agreed to let the three of us go to see the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We were told that it would be a reward for doing our work around the house. Well, I typically failed to do as requested by my parents and the axe fell. I was not allowed to attend the movie with my brother and sister.

God brings us up short at times when we fail to walk in His way. In Jeremiah 5:25 (NIV) it says,

“…your sins have deprived you of good.”

Those who are given the privilege of coming into God’s presence with petitions are exactly those who come with sins forgiven through Jesus.

The Psalmist says in Psalm 66:18 (NIV),

“If I had cherished sin in my heart
the Lord would not have listened.”

It is so important that we rid ourselves of favourite sins in order to have God pay attention to our prayers.

If you have given up on prayer perhaps this is where you need to kick start your prayer life. Consider what you secretly harbour in your heart that you know is wrong in God’s sight. Tell God you wish to rid yourself of this thing. A prayer of confession is always heard by God if it is done in Jesus’ name. Restart your prayer life right here and do it today.

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Eternal Bliss

“…the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard…no more.”
Isaiah 65:19 (NIV)

There are so many things that cause weeping in our world today. News of famine, earthquakes, crime, serious illness and death all surround us and make living a difficult thing at times. If tragedy has not touched us yet it has afflicted a loved one or a neighbour.

For serious minded people this life can be seen as a shadowland—or a vale of tears. There is a longing in the heart for something infinitely better. Many of us find within ourselves a great desire for a world that is free from the curse we seem to labour under each day. We may possess many of life’s pleasures—but something is still missing. Marie Antoinette said “Nothing tastes”.

People who win it all will usually testify that arriving at the pinnacle of success does not make one happy and satisfied or content. Jack Higgins, internationally famous novelist, was asked what he would like to have known when he was younger. He replied, “That when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.”

Some people seek refuge from the pain of living in parties, acquiring more material goods, gaining recognition from our peers, in liquor and a myriad of other “escapes” to dull the pain that returns when the “high” wears off. Despair abounds and solutions for it seem scarce or non existent.

Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest British philosophers and mathematicians, once said, “only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s salvation henceforth be safely built. …”. His brilliant mind scanned the horizon of life and sank into the depths of darkness at what he surveyed.

It is not difficult to weep at the suffering we experience and the heartache felt at some of life’s difficult alternatives. If we become followers of Jesus we are not guaranteed exemption from the common sorrows of humanity. We do not believe on Jesus to escape problems in this life.

Coming to Jesus should never be seen as a quick fix to our present pain. What is promised however, is that when we complete our journey in this world, the tears shall all be wiped away if we belong to the Lord. We shall have the eternal rest from all that spoils life here today.

Has life left you unsatisfied? Do your accomplishments seem empty? Are you still on a quest for something that retreats as you pursue it? God has placed within you a yearning for Himself that cannot be satisfied with anything less than Him. Answer the call of God today and seek Him while He can be found, call on Him while He is near. Only then will you be sure that your weeping shall be turned into joy, your sorrow to laughter.

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Being Honoured By God

“Rise in the presence of the aged;
show respect for the elderly
…I am the Lord”
Leviticus 19:32

I have mentioned before how I was taught the social graces as a child. Never would I dare address an adult by their given name—I let them speak first. I was to stand when an adult entered the room and if necessary offer them my seat. After they were seated I would sit down again. Even now, when a woman enters the room, I stand until she is seated.

Our world today knows little of such behaviour. This might cause some to miss the importance of our text and the actions of people recorded in Scripture. God taught His people that to honour someone you stand when they come into your presence.

It may seem a small thing to do, yet in some Scriptures it becomes a very significant action. For example, when we read of the first martyr in the early church, Stephen, it says in Acts 7:55 that Stephen saw Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand. Various times we are told that Jesus was seated at the Father’s right hand but this is the only place where He is standing at the Father’s right hand.

When Stephen is about to leave this world and enter heaven he sees Jesus standing to greet him. So we see Jesus honouring His child as he moves from one world to the next. Jesus wishes to make Stephen welcome and respected, so He stands to greet His servant.

If Jesus would rise to greet Stephen, would He not show similar honour to the rest of His people as they enter heaven?

This honour from Jesus is not something everyone values today. In His own day, Jesus said (John 12:43 NIV),

“…they loved praise from men more than praise from God” 

Some people are more concerned that their actions attract the attention of their friends and neighbours than that their behaviour meets with the approval of God.

Jesus spoke of these people in Matthew 6:5 (NIV) where it reads,

“…the hypocrites…love to pray standing in the synagogues
and on the street corners to be seen by men.
I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” 

The point Jesus makes here is that those who pray in order to be seen by people are indeed seen by people—and not God. They are only interested in impressing their peers—and not God. So God ignores them. However, it is a very dangerous thing to be ignored by God.

What is your motive for living as you do in this world? Do you care if people see you or not? Or do you seek approval from your Creator? The only way we can gain approval from God is to honour His Son. To honour Jesus is to accept His teaching that He is the only way to God and we need to come to our Maker through him. Do you honour Jesus this much? Does God honour you?

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Building People Or Empires?

“Barnabas wanted to take John…
Mark with them.”
Acts 15:37 (NIV)

Paul and Barnabas were discussing another great adventure as missionaries together. Paul had the notion of visiting the churches they had founded on their first missionary journey. Barnabas is excited and suggests they include John Mark who had started with them on the first journey but quit when the going got tough.

Paul had no time for a quitter such as John Mark who had left them in the lurch (Acts 13:13). He only wished for tough people who would be sure to endure. Barnabas, on the other hand, was the encourager who desired to give doubtful people another opportunity. After all it was Barnabas who got Paul into the Jerusalem Church when the leaders were doubtful of Paul (Acts 9:26-27).

Then it was Barnabas who, again, got Paul back into ministry when Paul was in the backwater of Tarsus, his home town (Acts 11:25-26). Barnabas saw the trees while Paul saw the whole forest. We need both types in the church, leaders who have a great vision for the world and other leaders who see individuals with promise.

All Barnabas desired to do for John Mark was what he had twice done for Paul, first in Jerusalem, and then in Antioch. This was the ministry of Barnabas, to give another opportunity for an unpopular person to prove himself. Paul forgot how he had risen to a leadership role at the hand of Barnabas and insisted that John Mark was not coming with them.

A division occurred between these two great missionary spirits of the early church and they parted never to work together again. As far as we know they never crossed paths again either. The worst of it was they parted in anger. Paul left the man to whom he owed everything, and Barnabas left the greatest missionary spirit of the ages.

When Paul comes to the end of his life and is facing execution the man he calls for is John Mark (2 Timothy 4:11) and the man he must thank for making John Mark into the kind of person you desire to see when dying is his own benefactor Barnabas.

Possibly you have been misjudged in your church life or have been rejected like John Mark over a failure you had when young in the faith. Possibly you have even caused a division between two church leaders like Paul and Barnabas. Take heart because this story in Scripture is for people who have fallen and need help getting up.

Look for a Barnabas near you. Seek out someone who wears their heart on their sleeve. Look for a person who has spoken encouraging words to you in the past. Draw alongside that person and ask for their guidance. Submit to their wise counsel recognizing you need help from a more mature person.

Whatever you do, do not give up. Do not think of yourself as a loser in life. You just might be a John Mark ready to be built up so that the very person who rejected you will come and ask for your help. The Lord delights in both empire builders and those who build people. There is a place for both in God’s work.

Today I seek to encourage those who need to look for a people builder to get back on track. The Lord has someone there for you if you look around. Find your Barnabas and get going for the Lord.

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