prayer-bible“There is a mighty lot of difference between saying prayers and praying,” declared a 20th Century preacher. So how can we be sure we’re not just saying prayers, but praying?

In the previous two posts we’ve considered having a morning ritual of meeting with God in the quiet. We’ve surveyed the six musts of how to prepare and spend time with the Lord. In this post, let’s consider praying, and not just praying prayers. The greatest way is praying Scripture.

Why is praying God’s word a wonderful means of prayer? God promises that He is watching over His word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12). God declares His word will not return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11). As we pray God’s word, God’s word penetrates us more deeply (Hebrews 4:12). To pray God’s word is to pray God’s will. Praying God’s word moves us to pray timely truths and promises that we may otherwise overlook. Praying God’s word assures that we are not mindlessly saying prayers, but praying.

Many years ago, Pastor Harry Walls of Shades Mountain Independent Church, Birmingham, AL, taught me a beautiful way of praying Scripture. This is a summary of his teaching that I share with you.

Approach the Scripture with the below questions and statements to direct you. We’ll use Psalm 23 as our text for this post.

* What is God saying about God?
Per Psalm 23, God is Shepherd, Satisfier, Leader, Rest-giver, Restorer, Promise-keeper, Comforter, Conqueror, Protector, Victor, Pursuer. He provides resources for courage, confidence, and security. He is intimate, good, righteous, and merciful. He is home.

* What is God saying about me?
According to Psalm 23, deep down I am unsatisfied, needy, lost, confused, weary, fractured, lonely, afraid. I lack courage and confidence. I have enemies (spiritual and otherwise) who want to do me harm. I am exposed and unable to see things as they really are. On my own, I have no protection. Yet God loves me. God protects me. God pursues me with his goodness and mercy every single day of my life. God wants me.

* Talk to God about God.
Now take all that God has revealed about Himself and praise Him for it! Which apply most to your life right now? Now, hush. :-) And just “be” before Him. Allow who God is to be the warm blanket to your soul. Open yourself to what He wants you to know most about Him in the moment.

* Talk to God about me.
Take all that God has revealed about you and admit it to Him. Which most apply to your current situation(s)? Confess it fully before Him. Allow what He’s revealed about you to be covered and redeemed by what He’s revealed about Himself.

* What must I do (regarding what God said about God and about me)?
You can never leave an intimate time with God the same. Ever. Where must you repent? What promise can you claim? What truth helps your unbelief? Who must you apologize to? Forgive? What people do you need to stop fearing? And on and on.

The popular “A.C.T.S.” (Adoration. Confession. Thanksgiving. Supplication.) is also a great way to pray Scripture. Whatever you do, guard against approaching God with a prayer formula. Only let it be your guide to intimate communion with Him.

Is this helpful? Do you pray Scripture? Do you follow “A.C.T.S.”? What is your approach? How do you guard against prayer becoming formulaic?

I love you more….

November 5, 2014 — 26 Comments

FullSizeRenderA couple of months ago, within a span of two hours, Jubilee had a freakish three seizures. Christie and I were in separate cars when she experienced her second. I turned the corner onto the on-ramp to get on the highway. Christie had the van over on the curb with Marni frantically waving me down. Christie was in the grass on the other side of the guard rail and holding Jubilee in her arms as Jubilee seized. I fought fear. I held back tears. Finally, we got home. After getting direction from a doctor, we laid her down to rest. Unbelievably she seized again as I was walking out the door to preach our weekend services. I quickly hurried to get Jubilee the emergency rectal-shot of Valium to curb the seizure. Thank God it worked. Thank God. And thank God she recovered and has been doing well.IMG_2261

During the above, I asked myself out loud, “Did Christie and I sign up for this?” Yes. Yes. And yes. Not only did we sign up for it. We chose it. We chose our girls. We sacrificed for our girls. We wanted our girls. With all of the past trauma their little lives have experienced and the baggage it brings, they are our daughters… till death do we part. I love them. My God, how I love them. As I have told Marni before, I would cross the ocean again ten thousand times to make her and Jubilee mine. Every single night I tuck Marni and Jubilee into bed, I whisper “I am so glad I get to be your daddy. I love you,” Marni always smiles, pulls my hand close to her chest and whispers back, “Oh, Dada… I love you more.FullSizeRender-3

It’s adoption month. And I can’t help thinking how the world is one big orphanage. We are all orphans. And we are orphans with serious issues–regrets, pain, sin, and for some, seizures. Yet God crosses the oceans of space and time to come to us. Imperfect US! Broken US! Yet He signed up for this. More so, He chose this. He chose us. He sacrificed for us. He actually wanted us! This is what makes His adoption of us, and the adoption of our girls, so glorious. We feel the pleasure of God. We see the goodness of God. Adoption is the gospel.

I look at the cross and behold the truth that God would cross space and time ten thousand times to make us His own. In Christ, I hear Him whisper, “I’m so glad I get to be your Daddy. I love you.” Oh, Dada… I love you more.FullSizeRender

8“A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t,”stated an anonymous someone. I love that quote. And it ties nicely into this post.

In a previous post (go HERE), my hope was that you would commit to a daily morning ritual of making your heart happy in God. But what does it look like in your morning ritual to meet with God and make your heart happy in Him? Here are six musts:

* Commit the time. Let’s don’t be legalistic about this thing. Your devotional time can vary according to your commute and work hours, if you have young children, and the like. I argued for the morning in the previous post. But if you’re an evening person, it can apply the same. The important thing is you choose, plan, and commit to the time–whether 5:00am, noon, or 9:00pm. View it as a non-negotiable date, meeting, conversation with the Lord. You wouldn’t stand up your best friend, your spouse, or your dad, would you?

* Declare the place. Visualize right now where you will meet with the Lord. What room? What chair? In other words, declare a place as the place where you will daily meet with God in prayer and His Word. Jesus often chose a mountain side, a garden, and so forth. So there’s something to spending time with the Lord in nature. Ultimately, the point isn’t where you meet or when you meet, but that you meet with the Lord personally and alone in an isolated place (Mark 1:35). That place needs to be comfortable and serene readying you to meet with your God. When you read Scripture, you never read alone. God, the Holy Spirit, meets with you to converse, unveil, awaken, enlighten, convict, and encourage your soul.

* Choose your food. Have you ever felt starved and gone to the fridge or cabinets to scan the jars, boxes, and cans trying to figure out what to eat? It’s frustrating. So don’t approach Scripture like that. Don’t wait until your devotional time to scan the pages and decide what Scriptures you will feast on. Be prepared the day or night before. Even better, have a plan already in place. Right now, I am reading through the gospel of Matthew, one chapter a day. If I have time, I will also read a Psalm and Proverb that correlates with the day of the month (i.e., October 29 means I am reading Psalm 29 and/or Proverbs 29 that morning). Upon finishing the gospel of Matthew, I’ll switch to an Old Testament book.

* Ready your tools. Get the coffee cup out the night before and set it by the Keurig. Have the water vat filled to the rim and your k-cup ready to go. Have your journal, pen, and Bible ready and waiting for you in your chosen place of solitude. In the winter, if you’re big on making a fire as I am, have the newspaper, kenneling, and wood placed in the fireplace and ready to go with the strike of a match. In other words, remove every obstacle and time-stealer you can between you and the precious time of meeting with the Lord Jesus. And surely it goes without saying, but here’s a friendly reminder to turn your phone and laptop off.

* Savor don’t Surf.The most dangerous thing you can do leaving your solitude with the Lord is mark “Bible-reading and prayer” off your check-list with no sense of eternal perspective, no deeper wonder in God, and especially no take-away to apply to your life. You will get none of the above if you are simply trying to get your chapter read and prayer prayed so you can get to your email. Don’t surf Scripture. Savor it. As Tim Keller says, sometimes you’ll need to savor Scripture like hard candy. It’s weighty, so you can’t chew and swallow it too quickly. Other times the Scripture can be like a good chocolate. It’s soothing to the soul. So don’t gulp it down, enjoy it. Practially speaking, if you are on verse four in your planned reading of a chapter, and the verse grabs you, by all means STOP! God is speaking! Turn the verse and its truth over and again, like spiritual hard candy or sweet chocolate, to get all that you can from it. If that takes all your devotional time, so be it.

* Share your fruit. Share what you’ve learned with your spouse, kids, parent(s), best friend, small group, or believing co-workers. God is passionate about community. In community you should share what God is teaching you and revealing to you. With all the social media at your finger tips (that should not replace community, by the way), post a tweet or Facebook post, or send to an email group, what God is showing you and teaching you. This sears the truth into your heart, mind, and life.

What I didn’t cover in the above is prayer. That’s a given. But let’s take it a step further—praying Scripture. How do you do that, exactly? That’s the next post! Stay tuned.

Do you practice a daily ritual of meeting with God–morning or evening? Do share! And share how you approach your “devotional time” with God–where, when, how, and the like! I would love to learn more, as I’m sure the readers would. Share in my site’s comments section on this post. Thanks!

TombI just finished listening to the audiobook, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes (Say it with me, “Wub. Truuuue Wub.”) In the book, Elwes mentions that William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride novel, once said: “The thing they’ll end up writing on my tombstone is ‘Nobody knows anything.'”

The quick thought I had today was this: What would God declare written on my tombstone? What about yours? For mine, I hope it wouldn’t be “pastor,” or “preacher,” or “loving family man,” and especially not “R.I.P.”, but “Faithful.

Faithful, because Jesus has my heart. Faithful, because when I blow it, by God’s grace, I am repentant. In the song, “Back to the Beginning Again”, Jon Foreman of Switchfoot, wails, “And my heart is yours; And what a broken place it’s in; But You’re what I’m running for; And I want to feel the wind at back again; Back to the beginning again…”

Truth be told, I’m not okay, but I refuse to stay there. So in the big and trivial of life, I want to be faithful. And where I’m not, I hope to repent. Repentance is proof of being faithful. Repentance takes you and me back to the beginning again and to where the wind is at our backs again. Goldman says “Nobody knows anything.” But God knows everything. So upon looking at your heart and life, what might God declare written on your tombstone right now?

Here’s the thing. You can already know what God would say. Contrary to Goldman, somebody knows something. So what word(s) would your spouse, your kids, your parents, your boss, your colleagues, your friends, and even your enemies, use to sum up your life? If you so dare, ask them. And you’ll find evidence of what God would say.

If you cringe or get nauseous at thoughts of what people in your life know and what they’d say about you, know this: No matter how old you are, no matter how far gone you feel, and no matter what you are doing or have done, let me point you back to the word in which I believe Jesus spoke with arms open and smiling ear to ear: “Repent.” Repentance will take you back to the beginning again.

Can you say that no matter what broken place your heart is in, that Jesus has your heart? Is He the One you’re running for? Let us be faithful to gift Jesus our broken hearts and pursue Him with repentant lives.

image1I still can’t wait to get my pants on in the morning, says three-time Pulitzer Prize winning American Journalist, Thomas Friedman. Does this describe you? Or are you the person that wishes morning happened at noon? Been there!

Perhaps you are more like American writer, Nicholas Baker, who stated in an interview with Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work: “The mind is newly cleansed but it’s also befuddled and you’re still just plain sleepy.” But Baker didn’t let the sleepiness stop him. He continued, “I found that I wrote differently then.” Currey continues to describe Baker liking “sleepy writing” so much that Baker developed a strategy to squeeze two mornings out of one day: “He will get up around 4 or 4:30 a.m. and write for an hour and a half—but then he goes back to sleep until 8:30 and gets up again, this time turning his attention to ‘daylight kind of work,’ like transcribing an interview or editing what he wrote during the first morning session.” That’s one way to become a morning person!

I am not on a mission to make (or guilt) people into becoming morning people. But I do hope to inspire you not to just become a morning person, but a person with a morning ritual. A morning ritual prepares you emotionally and mentally for whatever comes that day. Since my twenties I have been a morning person (although admittedly, many days not by choice). I grew to love morning. In the pre-dawn hours, before the pressures and episodes of the day take their toll, there’s the steam of my coffee, the feel of my Bible, the smell of ink and notebook paper, the sound of a big wall-clock ticking away (that at times makes me ultra-drowsy), and most of all peace and quiet within and without. Magical.

Not only does an early morning ritual prepare you for the day, but provides space and calm for your soul to meet with God. That’s my motive here. I hope you don’t have just any morning ritual, but a morning “ritual” to meet with God.

God promises His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24).** That means we don’t have to live on yesterday’s mercies, or strength, or resources. Don’t you want to taste those mercies and truths not as leftovers at the end of the day, but when God provides them fresh for the tasting and strengthening—in the morning? As an aside, do you know that throughout Scripture key encounters with God and direction from God seem to always happen in the “early morning”? (Genesis 20:8; Genesis 22:3; Exodus 9:13; Joshua 6:12; 1 Samuel 17:20; Mark 1:35; Psalm 5:3). That’s something to think about.

How can you become more of a morning person? Change your dread of it. See it as a time to steal away with God to taste His new mercies and have your cup filled with cosmic joy. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love that we may sing for joy to the end of our lives” (Psalm 94:6 NLT).

Lay your mornings before the Lord as a sacrifice of praise and worship dedicated to Him. Then whether sleepy or restless, meet with Him. Try 30 days straight. Commit 10 minutes the first week; then 15 minutes the second week, 20 minutes the third week; then 25 minutes the fourth week. Make this a priority (like eating). For 30 days give up the late night sitcom(s), surfing the Internet, or whatever it is keeping you up so late. Get to bed early enough that you can get between 7 – 8 hours of sleep. Set your alarm, disalarm your snooze, and get those pants on!

What might the early morning ritual for you to meet with God look like? Stay tuned. In the meantime, take heart that God is after your joy. He wants to satisfy you with His steadfast love so that no matter what the day brings you’ll sing for joy. Consider that the best time to put yourself under His fountain of love, joy, and new mercies is first thing in the morning.

* Go HERE for “Six Musts for a Daily Devotional Time”

**Download and listen to Nichole Nordeman‘s amazing song, “Mercies New,” from Itunes.