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Archive for May, 2013

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(This is part of an ongoing series of blogs on prayer in Whole Life Worship that began on May 15, 2013)

Last week I received this comment from one of our Whole Life Worship blog readers, Janice Garrison. Some of you know that Janice has an excellent devotional blog called “Gathering Rubies,” where she gives wonderful real life applications from God’s Word (gatheringrubies.com). This comment, although originally a response to my blog on “The Jesus Prayer” (5/15), ties in with yesterday’s blog on “Our Father.”

Doug, Thank you so much for sharing your article on “Jesus Prayer” I relate to this way of praying completely. I used to beat myself up for my over my prayer life. I never felt like it was what God wanted and felt like “I never got prayer right.”

 Several years ago I read “The Shack”. It was so different from anything I had read before. One thing that touched me was how his wife referred to God as ‘Papa’.  To me that represented such a loving, trusting and honest relationship. I grew up being abused by my father and had such difficulty approaching God as ‘Father’. For a long while I prayed to God as Papa, it felt so good and so safe. Eventually (perhaps Satan was whispering in my ear) I began to fear I wasn’t showing enough respect by calling him Papa. Now I just call him ‘God’ or Abba’. As I reflect, I doubt he would mind ‘Papa’ because he knows my heart, and that’s what he wants from us; our heart, our humility and our desire to do His will.

Side note—-My father passed away in 1978, sadly I had not matured enough spiritually before his death to forgive him, but was able to a few years later. I can honestly say I completely forgave him. That in itself was life changing for me, but I digress.

While out walking each morning I spend most of the 40-45 minutes just talking to God. It’s such an amazing time. Like you, I believe that prayer is part of our “whole life worship”. As you wrote, it’s “being present with God.” I too converse with God in the same language I speak with my friends. Just me being me and letting God be God.  It’s where I always feel the safest and where I can slip away to, any time, any place.

Thank you, Janice!

Many of us struggle in addressing God as Father (much less as “Abba,” “Papa,” or “Daddy”) because of our earthly dads were either abusive, absent or distant. But Janice’s testimony reminds us of how the greatness of God’s love can overcome and heal the hurts and pains that enslave our hearts and minds. I’m thankful for the ways God’s Spirit moves people to imagine and create ways for us to connect with the Father’s love (like “The Shack”). It affirms the nature of God’s amazing “Father” love, which goes even further than we can describe or imagine. It is a love that transforms us and the way we can love others – even those who have done what seems like the “unforgiveable” to us. It then opens the way of freedom in relationship with God, which gives depth of understanding of both God and ourselves.

How has the love of “Papa” transformed the way you look at God and others?

Are there barriers that the enemy has constructed to separate you from the Father’s love?

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Our Father

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(This is an ongoing series, which began on May 15th, on prayer as it relates to Whole Life Worship)

Over the next few days I want to look specifically how we can use the “Lord’s Prayer” as a model for prayer. Each line of this prayer is a concept of prayer in and of itself. As we use the Lord’s Prayer as several prayer concepts, our prayer life and our relationship with God is deepened and expanded.

My friend and colleague, Rev. Clyde Hodson (President of PrayerMentor), first introduced me to looking at the Lord’s Prayer as a model. At the time, my prayer life was inconsistent and lacked vitality. After understanding this model, my prayer life came alive and my understanding of who God is in relation to life grew exponentially (as did our church, by the way, which doubled in size during the year Clyde and I prayed together three times a week using this model).

The first line of the Lord’s Prayer is:

Our Father, who art in heaven.

We take for granted that Jesus taught us to address God as our heavenly Father. But this was a radical concept during Jesus’ day. Faithful Jews saw God as holy, powerful, the Provider, the Righteous Judge, and the Lord of the angel armies (“hosts”). But the idea of God as Father was almost sacrilegious. God was considered too holy and too far above the human realm to be seriously considered as a “Father.” And no faithful Jew would ever consider themselves as a son or daughter of God. That was a position reserved for someone on the “Messiah” level.

But Jesus taught us to call on God as our Father. Most likely, when Jesus taught this prayer in the Aramaic language (which was the language he used in teaching and conversation) he used the word, “Abba” (meaning “Daddy” or “Papa” – a child’s way of addressing their father).

Can you imagine the shock in the disciples’ faces when Jesus told them to call on the Almighty as “Daddy”?!

What Jesus knew that His disciples didn’t (and that we take for granted) was that God’s truest desire for us is to call Him “Daddy.” God’s deepest desire was not for us to just be His creatures or His servants or even His chosen people, but that we would become His children! This was the whole reason why Jesus came and gave His life for us on the cross, which is why the Apostle John declares, with amazement:

Behold, what manner of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called the “sons” and “daughters” of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

So when I pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” I am stating God’s greatest desire fulfilled: that I am now His precious child through the work of His only begotten, Jesus Christ. I use this part of the prayer to thank Abba/Daddy/Papa for loving me, for adopting me, for making me his child. I spend time reveling in the fact that I belong to Him. I think about how deeply and intensely I love my boys, and transfer that emotion to how God feels about me (and so much more because He is the Good Father). I bask in the safety and protection of my Daddy, who is also Sovereign of the Universe and the Almighty One.

Do you catch my drift?

This is more than a 6 word opening line to a short prayer. This is a portal to inexpressible joy, my friends! God is my Father! God is your Father! God is our Father – who art in heaven.

One last word: Jesus taught us to begin our prayers with “Our Father,” not “My Father.” This means that His deepest desire is not just for me, but for others. He so loves my brothers and sisters in Christ. He so loves those who have yet to discover Him. And so, I, as His child, should love people as my Daddy loves them. Sons and daughters of God need to learn to love as Daddy loves – as Jesus demonstrated to us. (And, boy, do I have a ways to go!)

So when we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” I hope we have a greater sense of what we’re actually saying and what it means to Abba/Papa/Daddy when we pray it from our hearts. It’s the great, noble starting place for our Whole Life Worship.

#lordsprayer #abba #prayermentor #wholelifeworship

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(This is an ongoing series, which began on May 15th, on prayer as it relates to Whole Life Worship)

In Luke 11:1, Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray. This seems like an unusual request, since they all were taught how to pray as faithful Jews. But they knew Jesus was quite different than the rabbis they grew up with. Jesus had this sense of credibility, wisdom, and power that made his prayers and life different than the rest. They knew that if they asked Jesus how to pray, they would get something that would actually tap them into truth, grace, and relationship with God.

Jesus’ response (in Luke 11:2-4) is the essence of what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” The form we use (which is slightly expanded) is found in Matthew’s narrative (6:9-13).

This is the most famous prayer in the world, and deservedly so. In this short prayer, Jesus sums the essence of worship, alignment, purpose, petition, and protection. However, because this prayer is so familiar we often lose sight of its richness and meaning. Also, we’ve seen abuse and misuse of this prayer, like when it is treated as a “lucky charm” or as a way (attempt) to manipulate God to do our personal bidding.

But this prayer has ushered me into deep experiences and connection in my relationship with God. So, I want to share some of those experiences and insights from the Lord’s Prayer with you. Many, many times the Lord’s Prayer has kept me strong on the path of Whole Life Worship.

There are basically two ways I pray the Lord’s Prayer: as a model of prayer (where each part of the prayer represents a concept of prayer) and as a prayer that anchors my focus on God. I’ll cover the model of the Lord’s Prayer in the next several days. Today I want to focus on the latter application.

Like the Jesus Prayer and the “Help My Unbelief” prayer, the Lord’s Prayer is easy to recall; it is short and to the point. Most of us memorized it when we grew up as children and youth. I enjoy praying it with the church (which we need to do more often – my bad, as the Worship Pastor). But I particularly have found it to be powerful as I pray it during my Personal Worship Times and at various moments of the day.

As I mentioned, the Lord’s Prayer is like an “anchor” for me. When my heart and mind are going too fast for me to get my bearings (which is all too often), praying the Lord’s Prayer aloud stills my inmost being. It reminds me who God is, who I am, and what I am supposed to be doing.

I think one of the problems with praying the Lord’s Prayer is praying it too fast; without much thought or reflection. So when I pray it, I pray the prayer slowly: one phrase at a time, followed by a pause. This helps me to be “present” in the prayer.
“Our Father who art in heaven” – I soak into the meaning of what it means to address God as my heavenly Father. “Hallowed be Thy name – I reflect on some of the many names of God (Holy God Almighty, the Lord who Provides, the Alpha and the Omega, etc.) “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – I remember that I (as well as all Creation) was created for His will and purposes, and aligning myself to that. And so it goes.

When I pray the Lord’s Prayer in this manner, my perspective of life changes dramatically. I am at a place of steadfastness, of surety. My heart has begun the process of being stilled and quieted (which leads me to another prayer – Silent Prayer – which I’ll share about later). My soul adopts a posture of waiting and anticipation to what and where God will lead. My mind is more ready to engage with the words God’s Spirit shares with me through Scripture and reflection.

How do you view the Lord’s Prayer?
Do you pray the Lord’s Prayer? If so, how?
How have you seen the benefit/challenges of this prayer?

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(This is an ongoing series about prayer in Whole Life Worship)

One of the most profound prayers in the Bible is found in Mark 9. A father watches helplessly as his son is being tormented by demonic powers. Jesus’ disciples cannot cast it out. Jesus comes onto the scene, having just been transfigured in glory on the Mount. But instead of casting out the demon, Jesus engages in a casual conversation with the father. The demon tosses the boy like a rag doll by now, and Jesus makes what appears to be an “unconcerned” comment to the father, “Everything is possible for one who believes” (v. 24). To which the father cries out to Jesus in desperation,

“I believe. Help my unbelief!”

In this prayer we see several things. First Jesus is neither casual nor unconcerned in this story. His actions are intentional. He is trying to draw out the father’s desperation. By waiting, the man becomes more and more aware of his son’s condition. He finally reaches a point of desperation. Desperation unlocks the power of faith.

Second, the prayer is steeped in humility. Not a false humility, but a humility based on reality. The father is helpless without God’s help. He cannot change his son’s condition. There is no contingency plan. There are no theological loopholes. The father realizes he has no merit that would warrant help. Either Christ helps him or his son is lost.

Third, the prayer is not focused on the problem, but on the Person. The father does not ask Jesus to heal his son. Rather, he asks Jesus for more faith (“help my unbelief”). Too often, my prayers are all about my situations, my predicaments, and my need. The focus on prayer should always be on God – yes, the One who answers prayer; but, more importantly, the One in whom we need to trust in a greater way than our predicament.

In praying this prayer, the father also took responsibility for his faith. He also said, “I believe,” meaning that he knew that his part was an active belief and trust in God. This was extremely important. While the answer to the prayer came from Christ’s power, the man had to essentially “let go and let God.” A greater faith would be given if he surrendered his trust to God.

I’ve seen this prayer be so powerful and effective in my own life. My victory over addictive habits in my life came as I prayed a similar prayer, “Lord, I choose to overcome this addiction, help my lack of overcoming power!” Or when I knew I needed to forgive someone who deeply offended me, “Lord, I forgive, help my unforgiving heart!” Or when I lacked love for person who seemed unlovable, “Lord, I choose to love this person, help my lack of compassion!”

This is the foundational prayer that leads to transformation. It is the humble realization that we are not yet at a place that we need to be – but can only get there by the grace of God. So we ask Him:

“Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”

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GodAnswersPrayers

One of my spiritual friends shared with me his desire to glorify God by controlling his eating habits. We had been praying that God would help him to do this. My friend shared later that week he had not been able to eat very much because he had some gastro-intestinal problems. We looked at each other and said at the same time, “Was that an answer to prayer?”

This question struck a chord with me because one of the problems we have with prayer is our expectation. More often than not, our prayers are given with the expectation that God will answer our prayer in a comfortable way. When we ask God for help with our eating habits, we expect that He would somehow make our appetite disappear – in a comfortable way. When we ask God for provision, we expect He would do it in a way where we would not have to work too hard (like a check in the mail or win the lottery).

As I read Scripture, I see that “comfort” is not one of the priorities of how God answers prayer. Verses like “Count it all joy when you encounter trials of many kinds” (James 1:2) and “God disciplines us for our good” (Hebrews 12:10) and “Endure hardship like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3) point to the fact that God is more concerned about our character than our comfort.

As people committed to Whole Life Worship and being transformed into holiness by God’s power, we should not be surprised when God answers prayers in an “uncomfortable” way. Neither should we be resentful. Rather we should be thankful, for God is doing something better in us through an uncomfortable response than He could if He gave us what we want in the way we wanted it.

In each of the above verses, God uses trials, hardships and discipline in our lives to produce a mature faith, fruit of righteousness, and a victor’s crown. And our suffering is only temporary. I don’t know about you, but I would rather suffer a little bit and win, than be a comfortable loser.

I want to point this out to you so that we can be aware of how God answers prayer. Many times we think that God has not answered our prayer because He did not answer it the way we wanted Him to. I believe that God answers all of our prayers; we just need to become more aware of how He answers them.

Here is an axiom that has helped me to see new ways on how God answers prayer:

“If the request is wrong, God will say NO. If the request is right but the timing is wrong, God will say SLOW. If the request is right but my character is wrong, God will say GROW. But if the request, timing and my character is right, God will say GO.”

The fact that God answers our prayers should excite us. He is so actively involved in our lives. Even when His answers to prayer seem a bit uncomfortable and, perhaps, unorthodox, we should stand in wonder of His love for us and His supreme wisdom. We can give thanks to Him in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18) because He works all things together for the good to those who love Him (Rom. 8:28) as He answers our prayers in His way.

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The Jesus Prayer

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(This is part of an ongoing series about prayer in Whole Life Worship)

I love to pray. And fortunately for me, prayer is essential for Whole Life Worship, as the concept is predicated on the foundation of being in a relationship with God. One cannot be in a relationship with God without prayer.

To me, prayer is more than conversation or communication; prayer is “communion with God.” This certainly involves talking and listening to God, but it is more than that. It is being present with God. And in the process of being present with God, we also discover our own souls. In the next several blogs, I’ll be sharing about the ways I commune with God in prayer.

As a Western, evangelical, non-liturgical Christian, the method of prayer I was taught (and prefer) involves using words that are spontaneous, free-flowing and conversational. Whether I pray with people or by myself, I talk to God like I would talk with a human being. I don’t use flowery language or histrionics. Since I’m talking with God there’s no use in trying to impress or pretend. Prayer always originates from my heart and translated, as best as I can, into human language. I liken this style of prayer to the way Tevye from the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof” prays; open, free, two-way, and honest.

However, there are times when I find that words to my prayers are elusive. Maybe it’s because I can’t quite “name” what I want to express to God. Sometimes I find myself in a “quandary of the soul” that I can’t even begin to describe with words (have you ever experienced that?) I do have a prayer language that I use on occasion during private moments; and sometimes that helps. But recently I’ve re-discovered some simple prayers, based on Scripture and practiced by Christians throughout the centuries, that have helped me commune with God when my spontaneous prayers of conversation and spiritual language fail me.

One of them is called the “Jesus Prayer.” It is an amalgam of two simple prayers: 1) a poignant request made by a blind man named Bartimeus to Jesus on the road to Jericho (Mark 10:47-48) and 2) an equally poignant petition of a repentant tax collector in one of Jesus’ parables (Luke 18:13). Blind Bart shouted to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The tax collector cried out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Over the years, the church combined these two prayers: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is a prayer recited primarily by those in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions.

Without delving too deeply into Church history (and controversies), I have found this very simple prayer to be helpful for me. First of all, it is short and to the point: I need help and I’m asking Jesus to help me. Secondly, it puts everything in its proper place: Jesus is Lord, Christ and God’s Son, while I am an undeserving sinner in desperate need. Oh, there is so much freedom in this humble realization! Thirdly, it is easy to memorize, which makes it easy to access during those times when I can’t even think straight.

I don’t use the prayer as a magical formula or incantation. I don’t use it as a way to earn some sort of merit from God or to get what I want. God cannot be manipulated. Rather, it is a way to state a very honest and crucial truth of who I am, who Jesus is, and my most fundamental need for mercy.

I also want to make clear that identifying myself as a “sinner” does not deny the fact that God’s grace through Christ has made me a redeemed child of God who has already been forgiven of all my sins. Rather, it defines my struggle and predicament as one who is “limited” and has no hope, in my own, power to overcome sin’s affects on me. It rightly places the onus of the power over sin on my King who responds – in His mercy – to my cry.

There are times when my heart gets overwhelmed with anxiety over a situation. Or I am preoccupied with whether something will get done. Or I feel paralyzed over what I should do next. Or I get discombobulated by a relationship that is going south quick. So I pray the Jesus prayer (usually several times so that the meaning of it sinks in: “Lord”, “Christ,” “mercy”, “me, a sinner”, etc.) Saying the prayer is almost like taking deep breaths in an oxygen mask. The mercy of Jesus comes as I “cocoon” myself in His presence. In my helplessness, He holds me in His strong arms. I also relinquish control, self-concern, fear, and responsibility into His care. He becomes greater than whatever issue I face, for I know in my heart that He is Lord – and I’ve asked Him to step in that role for me.

I also find that when I get a little too prideful or too much in control or get too “big for my britches” (which happens all too frequently in the world of ministry), the Spirit reminds me to pray the Jesus Prayer: I’m just a sinner who needs mercy, whether I realize it or not. And Jesus is One who is Lord and King! It helps me to dethrone myself and put the right One back on the throne of my heart.

This little prayer has become so important to me that I use it all the time. It actually becomes the prayer that opens the door for other prayers. The Jesus Prayer helps me land firmly on the “rock of reality,” of what really is and how things really operate. It is one of those prayers that creates a solid starting point whereby I can commune with God.

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the-thinker

Some of you astute and devout readers (wow, thank you!) have noticed that I’ve re-blogged a couple of  entries in the last week. These were blogs from the beginning days of wholelifeworship.com. I realize that I probably should have said something about it. I’m kind of new at this blogging thing, so I appreciate your patience with me. From now on I will put a notification at the beginning of the blog if I do a re-blog.

There were several reasons why I re-blogged those articles: I’ve had a little bit of writer’s block (or is it called “blogger’s block”?), also some unexpected scheduling issues that took much of my discretionary time, as well as some fatigue, and – admittedly – some lack of discipline. But there was one pretty legitimate reason why I re-blogged those particular articles:

We’ve had a significant amount of new readers join us in recent days and I wanted them to understand the foundational concepts of Whole Life Worship.

Many of the initial blog articles in January and February explain the “Whole Life Worship concept.” This concept, which asserts that Biblical Worship (Romans 12:1-2) has less to do with music and worship services and more to do with our daily life choices in the grace of God, is the essential building block of a truly transformed life. In fact, all of the devotional articles that discuss how to apply spiritual principles to real life situations assume a certain understanding of the Whole Life Worship concept. I want to affirm that every time we turn to God in an everyday ordinary situation, we are actually worshiping Him – in the way that He loves to be worshiped!

I realize that some people don’t have the time or the technical know-how on how to refer back to the archived blog articles. So from time to time, I will re-blog those essential articles on the Whole Life Worship concept. As well, I may re-blog some of the more popular articles (ok, I am a little on the lazy side at times!) But they will be far and few between, and I’ll let you know right up front that it’s a re-blog.

And for those of you who want visit my archives on wholelifeworship.com and get the essentials of Whole Life Worship right now, here are the past blog articles that I recommend:

Jan 18, 21, 23, 31

Feb 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

But the bottom line is that I need to keep writing new blogs on Whole Life Worship. It’s a pretty wide open topic (I mean, “life” is a pretty big topic, as is “worship”) and I want to develop better writing skills. And someday I’m going to make a book out of all of it (ok, so there is a little hidden agenda!) But the main reason is that Whole Life Worship needs to be written about, by me, by others, and by you! God deserves our whole lives and we are so much better for it – as is our world!

So, as an act of holding myself accountable to you, I will be writing on the topic of “prayer” (as it pertains to Whole Life Worship) over the next few weeks.

I appreciate the affirmation that I’ve received through comments that some of you have posted on the blog or have sent to me via email (wholelifeworship@gmail.com).  It motivates me to think deeper and write more on this topic. Please keep me in prayer; that the Lord would continue to inspire and develop me. And feel free to pass this on to others who might need the encouragement and transformation that comes from living our lives in worshipful response to God in Christ.

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