DISCOURAGED PEOPLE SAY DUMB THINGS!

I’ve done it. You probably have too! So did two powerful men. Elijah had just cleaned house on 450 prophets of Baal in one evening. Then he called for rain and it came–after a three-year drought. Good work, Elijah! 

But then a contract on his life changed his tune. He headed south and “ran for his life” (I Kings 19:3). He said what I would not expect coming from the man who called down fire from heaven. He moaned, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (4). “And he lay down and slept under a broom tree” (5). Doesn’t sound or look like the mighty prophet. His courage got dissed by the wicked witch and fear overtook faith.

He sounds more like a victim than a victor when God talks to him at Mount Horeb, two hundred miles south of where he should have been. God asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (9). He was in the wrong place doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. His answer: “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to take it away” (10). He is a totally different man than the Elijah we knew a few days ago, and he was off on his arithmetic by 6,999. God told him there were 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. He was forgetting what he had just done to turn the tables on the enemy after one sinister threat. Surprising. Discouragement makes people say and do stupid things. It took God talking to him two times from heaven and giving him an assignment to raise up a disciple for him to shake off the discouragement.

Strange–it also happened to John the Baptist. No one had a clearer vision of Jesus. The first time he saw his cousin he announced with boldness and stunning revelation, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He staged the most successful revival campaign that any prophet in Israel had ever seen. Jesus compared him to Elijah and called him the greatest person of the old covenant. He had spent long hours daily in prayer and meditation, most likely for more than ten years. He is now thirty and he has taken the country by storm. No revival in the history of Israel surpassed what he did–and his pulpit was in the desert. Who wants to listen to a strange man who smells like a camel and eats locusts for breakfast? But they did. 

Until he was thrown in prison. Then things changed. Not for Paul. He used it to his advantage until the whole imperial guard had heard about Jesus. Different for John. It was dark in prison and dark in his soul. We can’t imagine him saying this: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” I have urged pastor friends, my children, close associates to never yield to discouragement. It is a decision. We don’t have to be discouraged, and we are commanded not to. John was in a bad place.  Dear/Sister/Brother, do not give in to discouragement. It will wreck your day!

YOU NEED GRACE FOR YOUR RACE (part 2)

The writer of Hebrews gives us four truths in running our race. 1 Remember those who finished (like the list in Hebrews 11 or parents or close friends). 2 Remove the weights. They slow us down.

3 RUN THE RACE.

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1b). The writer says two things about this race. First, it requires endurance. It is not a sprint. I was once watching the Olympic track events. The hundred meter race was next. I stepped outside momentarily, and when I returned, I had missed the race. You don’t miss a marathon. It just keeps going. You need endurance more than explosive speed. It is more about how you finish than how you start.

Many that got a decent start in their marriage or ministry are now calling it quits. Sad! They needed endurance. The Christian life is tougher than I thought it was going to be. The family is under terrible attack. Couples, fathers and mothers, Christians–all need endurance.

The second thing the writer says about the race is that God gives a race to each of us. I cannot successfully run another person’s race. He has grace for his race–I for mine. Grace runs out when I try to do what God has given someone else to do. I don’t compare myself with others and I don’t compete with them. Grace is personal and non-transferable. God gives a measure of grace and faith to each individual. 

4 FOCUS ON JESUS.

“…looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). You don’t sit until you have finished your race. Jesus finished–then he sat down. Now he is helping us finish ours, praying, granting us grace to complete our course. 

Nothing hinders our race more than fixing our eyes on the wrong thing. Jesus warned us against placing a focus on material things, as if our assignment is to get rich, or find pleasure, or seek happiness, Jesus did not enjoy the cross–he endured it. We need endurance for what we do not enjoy but are called to endure. “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:3). The hardest part of the race is simply to keep on keeping on. As the pioneer and perfecter, he will help each of us to finish.

As he ran his race, he thought about what it was going to be like to finish (“the joy set before him”). Nothing brings more joy in a marathon than seeing the finish line. Your legs are screaming at you to quit. At the finish line you are overtaken by joy. And you say, “It was worth it.” I would hate to be filled with regrets at the end of my lifelong race. I asked my dad two weeks before he hit the tape, “Any unfinished business?” He answered, “No, I did what I was supposed to do.” What a way to finish.

When I returned home after one of my races, one of my daughters said, “Did you win?” I responded, “Yes, I finished.” At the end of Christ’s race, he said, “It is finished!” And because he did, you and I can run a good race, looking to him!

YOU NEED GRACE FOR THE RACE (PART 1)

Is the Christian life ever described as a picnic? How about a party? Scripture gives us pictures of what it is like so we are not fooled or disappointed.  Paul described the Christian life as a wrestling match. “We wrestle not with flesh and blood,” but we wrestle. We are contending with the powers of darkness. Wrestling is grueling. Paul also called the Christian life an endurance run. A sprint is over in ten or twenty seconds. A marathon takes hours. I ran three of them. The second one I was not in good shape. I sat down after eighteen miles, just for a moment of rest. Bad idea. I thought of ten other things I would rather be doing. I finished the last eight miles, but I didn’t run a good race.

The author of Hebrews is writing to help us run a good race. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1-3). He gives us four words to help us in our race. 

1 REMEMBER THOSE WHO FINISHED.

If you think you are having a tough time, think of Noah, who with his family were the only righteous people on the planet. Imagine the ridicule he received as he constructed a massive boat on dry land for close to a hundred years. When the rains came, his mockers must have tried to get in the ark. Noah ran a good race!

Besides those in Hebrews 11, many of us have friends or family who by God’s grace finished their race and are before the throne. I have pictures of two of them in my study to encourage me in my race–my father and my mentor Larry Christenson, two men who ran really well. 

2 REMOVE THE WEIGHTS.

The writer distinguishes between sins and weights. Some things are not sin in themselves, but they can keep us from running well. A life encumbered, a schedule overcommitted or a cause out of balance can slow us down. But sin will certainly cause us to run a poor race. Love for the world took Demas, a partner with Paul, completely out of the race. Sad. Dear Christian, do not allow secret or “small” sins you do not deal with to compromise your ability to run a good race. Paul said at the end of his life, “I have fought a good fight,” (an allusion to wrestling or boxing), I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Paul feared lest he be disqualified. In recent years, we have seen many spiritual leaders who have lost big through moral failure. Paul warned, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12. Part 2 coming).

5 TRUTHS ABOUT TESTS!

WE EMBRACE TESTS WITH JOY.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). That is not our normal response. We either want to avoid trials or, if they come, get through them quickly. If we learn to come with a positive spirit, it will change the process AND the outcome.That’s why we respond with joy when we face them, not finish them. Tests reveal the attitude of our heart.  You know me in pain better than in pleasure. A response of joy indicates that we are believing in God more than our circumstances. We are expressing confidence that trials serve His purpose, not the devil’s. Joy says that the trial won’t take us under; God will take us higher. Joy says that we are expecting a good outcome out of a potentially bad situation.

“Whenever”—not “if ever”. We are all going to have tests. (I Peter 5:9; I Cor. 10:13)). “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you” (I Peter 4:12). It’s not strange; it is common. Face it with joy!

TESTS ARE OF MANY KINDS.

Why? “…that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (4) We do different exercises for different muscles. Why? To be fully developed. Same with tests.

TESTS DEVELOP CHARACTER.

“You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (3). It is what we know that enables us to embrace tests instead of trying to avoid them. Paul agrees with James: “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character…” (Rom. 5:3). The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. People who have developed perseverance live with hope, with eternity in view. They hit the tape running, knowing that the end is not the end. 

TESTS CAN CONFUSE. ASK FOR WISDOM.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (5).  “…so that no one would be unsettled by these trials” (I Thess. 3:3). Here are some distorted but common messages that we sometimes hear in testing:

God is angry with me. God isn’t listening. God did this to teach me some kind of lesson, but I don’t know what. God is getting even with me for something I did years ago. God is not as good as I thought He was. God causes everything (He doesn’t), and everything is given for a purpose.

Suffering can paralyze us or turn us into victims. Attitude is 90% of the struggle. What if Satan tries to wear you down as he did Job?  In all things resist the devil and submit to God. Anchor yourself in His goodness. Tests tempt us to change our picture of God (James 1:13-18). It is not so much what we experience but how we interpret what we experience. Joseph said to unkind brothers,  “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

TESTS PASSED BRING A REWARD. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Crowns speak of victory and authority, an upgrade and a new revelation of God. Pass a test in finances and know better the God of provision.  Am I saying to rejoice when trials come? No. God is!! It works. Have at it!

THE CHRISTIAN & GOVERNMENT (part 1)

How should Christians interface with the government?

1  WE PRAY FOR GOVERNMENT.

A converted Saul, now Paul, wrote powerfully, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone–for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (I Timothy 2:1-3). As people who carry two passports, we show our allegiance to our earthly state through prayer.  Before Paul instructed Timothy on matters of worship, leadership, eldership, widows, and finances, he exhorted him concerning the priority of prayer. Must be important. We pray for civil leaders so the gospel can go forth. Peace enabled free movement in the Roman Empire. He used his citizenship when he needed protection from religious leaders (Acts 22:28). Paul puts prayer at the top of the list on how we connect with civil government. If Christians do their part (prayer), the government is better able to do its part (protect). The best way to impact government is not through lobbies or rallies or debates or criticism or political parties–it is through prayer. If we feel a responsibility to vote, we should feel a stronger responsibility to pray, because that is commanded and voting is not. God likes peace and order, so He directs His children to pray for it. Must make God sad to see so few churches and individuals praying. 

2  WE SUPPORT GOVERNMENT WITH TAXES.

Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” to Pharisees who hated the Romans. Wasn’t the answer they wanted to hear. Simon the Zealot didn’t think that way either until Jesus got a hold on him. Government was the enemy. Jesus legitimized the authority of the godless government of Caesar to require taxes to do their work. We pay taxes so the government can govern. It takes people and it takes pesos. 

3  WE SUBMIT TO GOVERNMENT

In Paul’s longest doctrinal letter, he addressed the issue of the state. His opening line: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1). How do we function as citizens? By submitting, a word Paul used often when talking about relationships–elders to congregation, husband to wife, parents to children, employer to employee. God exercises His authority in the earth through human authority, and that includes government. Paul saw himself in a place of submission to the government that was serving the purpose of God. This is strong language for one who was mistreated by the government. But he was also protected by it. He used his citizenship to his advantage. To resist legitimate government is to resist God. Out-of-control protesters don’t get this.

God is concerned for the proper ordering of society, not just the church. The function of the government and the church are radically different. The government is commissioned by God to provide safety for its citizens. They bear the sword and execute God’s wrath on wrongdoers (Romans 13:4). Don’t expect the government to support the church, but neither should it attack the church. They should do what they are called to do (keep the peace and punish the rowdies), so that the church can do what it is called to do. We need to pray for good government in these difficult days and submit appropriately to its authority.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

No, I am not crazy (usually). Saturday September 18 to sundown on the 19th is the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashanah, literally “head of the year.”  It is called the Feast of Trumpets in the Bible, the first of three festivals to take place in the fall of the year. Feasts in Israel were often connected with the agricultural year. This time was close to the harvest, a season of rest and reflection leading up to an important ingathering. 

The blowing of the trumpets (or shofar) signaled (and still announces) the beginning of “Ten Days of Repentance,” leading to the Day of Atonement. It is a serious day in Israel and for devout Jews throughout the world, a time of reflection and repentance, not unlike our New Year, when many people review their lives and make commitments to change. It’s a season for a new start, a fresh beginning. Israel is seven hours ahead of us in Minnesota, so they are concluding their Rosh (“rosh” means head or top) Hashanah celebration. If you want to wish people a Happy New Year, you could say “Shanah Tova” or “Good Year!”

All of the Jewish feasts in the Bible pointed to an aspect of the ministry of Christ. Joel 2:1 predicted, “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near.” And St. Paul wrote, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (I Corinthians 15:51,52). And he told the Thessalonians saints that “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (I Thess. 4:16). 

So if you want to follow the Jewish calendar as prescribed in the Torah (Leviticus 23:24; Nu. 29:1-6), use these days to ask yourself important questions about the direction of your life. Is my way of living pleasing to the Lord? Do I need to make any serious changes in the way I think, speak or act? If the Lord were to come today, would I be ready to greet him? Am I living in such a way that I will finish strong, or do I need to make adjustments? Are my priorities in order? My relationships? My personal life in God? Where do I need to repent?

It is not a time for self-condemnation. That doesn’t help us change. Regret and repentance are miles apart. Regret is a stale emotion with no power to change us. Repentance helps us to shake off the past and walk with hope into our future. It opens us up to receive the grace of God that brings power for transformation on the inside. Happy New Year!!

HOW TO FINISH WELL (part 2)

WHO FINISHED WELL?

Samson. He is listed in the “Faith Hall of Fame.” That surprised me. I think he is mentioned because he was a failure who recovered. He got back in the race and closed out his life with a major victory over the troublesome Philistines. That could happen to Bill Hybels if he is vulnerable and trusts in God’s mercy.

Stephen. He did not live a long life, but it was an influential one. He didn’t hold back from speaking the truth that would bring about his death. In a vision he saw Jesus standing. We know Jesus is “sitting at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3). He stood to receive his brother! Powerful!

Billy Graham. A nation paused like perhaps never before to honor a godly hero who lived well and finished strong. His life illustrates something that Pastor Craig Groeschel said: “We overestimate what we can do in the short term, and underestimate what God can do with a lifetime of faithfulness.” 

Paul. Three powerful statements on how he finished well (2 Timothy 4:7). 

I have fought the good fight. I appreciate this, because I have been tempted to get involved in petty skirmishes that do not impact kingdom living. I fought a few battles I wish I had never entered, like attempting to stop the merger of the ELCA. We need to ask, “Is this worth fighting? Is it taking me from the good fight, the fight of faith, to believe that God is in control when you are not, to believe when you are suffering and feel like throwing in the towel but persevere, to believe for people when they cannot believe for themselves? The Greek word for fight is “agon,” from which we get the word “agony.” The fight certainly wasn’t easy for Paul. Life is more difficult than I had expected it to be. 

I have finished the race. A friend decided after a few weeks of training to run the marathon. His legs didn’t have 26 miles in them, and he quit early on. In a marathon, it’s not how you start but how you finish. Hebrews says that we are to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (12:1). You don’t need endurance for a sprint–you need explosive speed.  But for a marathon you need endurance–to not give up.  God gives you endurance to heal relationships, to forgive those who have hurt you, to get healed from the things that could hold you back from running a good race. You don’t want regrets at the end of the race. Regret is a paralyzing emotion. Repentance works better.

You can run twenty-five good miles, but if you don’t finish the race, those miles don’t mean much. When I came home after a marathon, my kids would ask me if I won. I answered, “Yes; I finished.” Paul said, “I have finished. I hope you can say close to the end, “I finished.”

I have kept the faith. Paul says nothing about retirement. He uses three powerful verbs in the perfect tense. To keep is to hold onto. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). Hope brings cope. Peter tells us, “Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13). We live with the end in view. With hope for the future we have a hold on time.

HOW TO FINISH WELL (part 1)

Do you think you will? What will people be saying at your funeral? What would you like them to say?  Paul wrote his own obituary. He wasn’t going to have a funeral. No one would be lining up to pay tribute to the former Pharisee. But they will in heaven. He said to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). He spoke as if he had already hit the tape. Not a bad idea–live with the end in view. Will you be repenting, regretting, or rejoicing when drawing your last breath? Does anything need to change now to seal the deal? Paul was lonely, cold, deserted, abandoned like a no-good criminal, and hoping for Timothy to come. Yet he sounded forth a testimony of triumph.

Jesus knew his end was near when he prayed to his Father in the Upper Room. He, too, proclaimed a strong finish. And he, too, would not have a funeral. He almost didn’t have a burial. Two recently converted leaders from the Sanhedrin made it happen. Jesus said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). He said that in faith with his most important assignment before him. Had he healed a thousand more people but not done what he came to do, he would not have finished well. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). When he said, “It is finished,” he was done.

My father finished well. I asked him days before his departure, “Dad, do you have any unfinished business?” He answered, “No, I did what I was supposed to do.” He came out of retirement to plant a church in Lake Elsinore at age seventy-five and died not long after. He lived well and finished strong. And he did have a funeral.

WHO DIDN’T FINISH WELL?

Hezekiah.  A good king in multiple ways, including the re-inclusion of the Passover Feast. But he acted foolishly by showing his treasure to Babylonian envoys and finished poorly.His last days were not good. 

The one-talent man.  He wasn’t ready to meet his Master. Instead of investing funds, he buried them, and the Master called wicked and lazy, two words I would not have used in the same sentence. Not a good finish.

Demas. He was running a good race. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings” (4:14). He was close enough to Paul to be mentioned with Luke, his partner in ministry. He is again identified with Luke in Paul’s letter to Philemon. Not an upstart, he was part of Paul’s apostolic band and teamed up with the veteran missionary. His third reference tells a different story: “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:9,10). That came only two verses after Paul’s declaration about finishing his race. Demas left his. We don’t know if he ever returned. He started well but developed a different lover, a deep sorrow to Paul at the end of his life. 

Bill Hybels. When we think Willow Creek, we think Bill Hybels. Sadly, those are now disconnected. What will his obituary sound like? I hope he can recover and finish strong. He was running so well. The lust of the flesh pulls many good runners out. Will you finish your race well? (Part Two next).

WILL I VOTE FOR DONALD TRUMP AGAIN?

In 2016 I did not vote for Trump; I voted against Hillary Clinton. This time I am voting for President Trump. Here’s not why: He has a bad personality. He says things he shouldn’t. Someone tell him to stop tweeting or meet before a tweet. He creates division when he could bring unity. Ronald Reagan should have mentored him. He could be more conciliatory. He was immoral with women in his past. I don’t condone that for a moment and understand why women would react. It appears now that he has a good marriage and has changed. Here’s why I will vote for him:

1 I favor the Republican platform and I oppose much of the Democrat platform.  We are insane not to consider abortion murder, especially late term abortion. Read the Democratic platform if you plan to vote Democrat and tell me why you support its agenda. You really want more government?

2 I favor the appointment of conservative judges over progressive ones. I saw serious damage done to the state of California where I lived for 47 years, in part through liberal politicians and judges who have made terrible decisions favoring “victims” and the “underprivileged”. California has become a mecca for illegal aliens. I won’t move back–I couldn’t afford it! The house I sold for $278,000 would now sell for $850,000. Fiscal irresponsibility. Most Christian ministries have left the state because it was too expensive.

3 I favor the protection of our borders. Am I afraid of immigrants? Yes, if they come in uncontrolled masses through unprotected borders, get on welfare, and drain the system further. I favor bringing them in at a rate that we are able to handle them and treat them like a citizen, not a victim. 

4 I favor care for sub-groups. Black employment was at an all-time high before the virus hit. It happened more with Trump than with Obama, because the whole economy functions better. 

5 I favor the restraint of terror–in our country and in our world. Cuba’s former president was a terror to good and needed to be restrained. Sanders calls him a friend. Wrong!

6 I favor a president who is not afraid to pray publicly, to use God’s name with honor, who is seeking to bring prayer back into our schools where it was from the beginning, who doesn’t put the Christian faith on the defensive as it has often been in the last two decades.

7 I favor a president who strongly supports Israel. What other president did anything for Israel? Trump was bold to bring the embassy to Jerusalem. Israel is surrounded by multiple enemies who have said publicly that they want to remove Israel from the map. She needs friends more than critics, and our president is her friend. Bravo!

8 I favor a president who is not naive about the invasion of Islamic ideals. I have the Koran in my library and know what it says many times about infidels–”kill them.” I know where hard-core Muslim faith leads. European countries are being overrun by liberal politics soft on immigrants who threaten the existence of their nation. Recently a politician in France said that the next step for them is civil war. I am offended when I go to our Minnesota State capitol and see a room full of Muslims all over the walls in one of the rooms. Naive. I love Muslims and hate the Muslim faith. So should Muslims!

9 I favor spending to build up our military to insure our safety as a nation. I do not favor defunding police forces. I favor lower taxes, deregulation, restrictions on labor unions, free market capitalism, and amendment protections like guns. (Okay, let me be honest. I have a gun in my attic, a 22 rifle. It could probably take out a raccoon). I am not simply voting for President Trump; I am voting for a process that favors sane leadership but not over-leadership, conservative values over liberal ones, a strong country rather than globalism. I do not favor a party that encourages progressivism rather than conservatism, like family values. President Trump knows the evils of socialism; Joe Biden does not. President Trump has godly counsel, has encouraged traditional family values and strongly resists Planned Parenthood. He is bold in speaking out for godly values, in making America secure (not a small issue), in reducing professional politics by not giving handouts once politicians are out of office.

I feel safer for myself, my children, my church, and my neighborhood under President Trump than I would under a progressive who may be as close to socialism as capitalism. Trump made promises and has kept more of them than former presidents as best I can tell. He has boosted the economy, repealed Obamacare, reversed Obama’s gun executive order, imposed the death penalty for cop killers, asked countries we protect to pay jointly for defense, declared China a currency manipulator, for a few. Yes, many promises are yet to be fulfilled. Let’s give him another four years to further improve his track record.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” I’m with Jesus. Ultimately, I am a-political, but I identify far more with Republican agendas than Democratic, and far more with Trump’s agenda than Biden’s. There you have it!

 

PRAY WITHOUT CEASING!

Impossible, right? Just like every other command. Try these: “Have no anxiety about anything.” “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Why are we given commands outside our reach? How about something more doable, like, “Rejoice in the Lord sometimes?” Because we could fulfill that without the Holy Spirit. We need to press on toward the goal, maturing in faith as we grow in obedience. By God’s good grace we are getting there–little by little.

Years ago I started using an acrostic to help me extend my prayer time and cover the bases. Before doing this I would often think, “Am I done praying? Have I covered what I needed to?” I don’t say that as much now with my agenda under the theme P-R-A-Y. I PRAISE the Lord (who He is, what He does, what He has done for me). I often focus on one quality that especially lights up. Then I REPENT. I have a list of fifty sins to help in my inventory. Again, I sometimes focus on one or two. My biggest section is ASKING. It includes self, family, friends, ministries, the sick, pastors, unsaved, missionaries, and a few other categories. I finish my prayer by YIELDING everything to God, and again I have a list of things I surrender, like my plans, future, family,  goals, problems. 

Having a solid time of prayer has helped me take a humble stab at praying without ceasing. I am far from fulfilling that command, but it is not as distant as it was when my prayer time was less organized. I now find that other kinds of time are more likely to include prayer, like working around the house or waiting for a flight.

Other things that help:

MUSIC. What a gift God has given us to aid us in worship. I am pulled into prayer by music.

LISTENING. It took me a long time to discover that I can really hear from God, that He speaks clearly, and that I can be confident that I am hearing Him for myself and for others. Part of my prayer time often includes listening. Karen and I also have times of listening as we pray for our children. We take seriously the things we hear and often share them with our kids or those we mentor. 

WORK. I often catch myself saying, “Why wasn’t I praying while pulling weeds or painting the garage door?”  Many work situations give us an opportunity to obey Paul’s example: “I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also” (I Corinthians 14:15). He follows that with, “I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also” (15b), reminding us again about  the power of music, whether singing in tongues or singing the worship song that we just learned.

REPETITION. Love is intense, and it makes use of repetition. Sometimes I find myself saying to God, “I love You, I love you, I love you,”  one good way to approach the goal of praying without ceasing.

MEALTIME. Hard to sing with food in your mouth, but we can share prayer requests and answers.

CONCERNS. They work their way into our minds, sometimes in the form of worry. Turning them into prayers lightens the load and brings a caring Father directly into the picture.

PRAYING IN THE SPIRIT. As has been mentioned, praying in tongues and singing in the Spirit is a huge asset for fulfilling the call to pray at all times.

USING TRAVEL TIME WELL. Lots of good prayer meetings have happened in the car!

DEPENDENCE. I read an article (I think by John Piper) that encouraged us to develop a sense of dependence. Children ask, adults don’t. Jesus used the word “ask” five times in five verses as he taught on prayer (Luke 11:1-3). Dependent people are praying people. Go ahead–”pray without ceasing!”