Ten Tidbits from Maranatha

My recent vacation was rejuvenating on many levels from quiet walks on the beach, to lazy afternoons, to majestic sunsets like the one pictured above. Of course the biggest takeaway is the teaching itself. After coming home, I love to follow up and review the biblical truth that was shared. The first week I spent at Maranatha, five years ago, I sent out a summary to a few close friends and family. I think it was something like ten pages long. I know, kind of embarrassing. So I won’t give you ten pages, but I will share ten highlights. The parenthetical indicates who shared the tidbit.

  1. God cares more about “them” than you think He does. (David Rudd, Calvary Church, Fruitport, Michigan). This was a lesson taken from Jonah who was too self-absorbed and too judgmental to see that God actually loved and cared about the people of Nineveh. We all encounter some “thems” in life — try picturing the most hateful, mean-spirited person you know, or maybe just the most irritating — a major lesson from Jonah is that God loves them just as much as He loves you and me.
  2. Relationally-driven people are stubbornly committed to building lasting and loving relationships. (Bill Rudd, Calvary Church, Fruitport, Michigan). When was the last time this stubborn commitment was manifested in your life? As for me, oh my. I need to be a lot more stubborn.
  3. Sin spoils relationship. (Bill Rudd, Calvary Church, Fruitport, Michigan). This is true in the horizontal relationships that we have on this earth, and it is true of the vertical relationship we have with our Heavenly Father. There are many reasons we need to take sin seriously, but this is one we don’t often consider. Healthy relationships and sin just don’t go together. As an aside, here are three ideas for recognizing sin in your own life: (1) Pray and ask God to show you where you are out of His good, pleasing and perfect will; (2) Read through the Ten Commandments; and (3) Review the seven deadly sins (There were seven Spur posts last year about them starting here).
  4. Truth-oriented people constantly adjust their lives to align with the teaching of the Bible. (Bill Rudd, Calvary Church, Fruitport, Michigan). This is an endeavor we will not complete on this earth, but one we best be working at everyday. C.S. Lewis said something like each person is always becoming more like heaven or more like hell. One thing is certain, we are never stagnant in our journey. We are making progress all the time, positive or negative.
  5. Good things often multiply at the expense of best things. (Bill Rudd, Calvary Church, Fruitport, Michigan). This statement is a heartbreaker for me, because I worry that some of the good things in my life are pushing out best things. I need to pray that God will help me discern what’s truly best each day. (James 1:5).
  6. In the storms of life, focus not on the storm but on Jesus, and remember that the Lord is bigger than our biggest storm. (David Gudgel, Bethany Bible Church, Phoenix, Arizona). One of my favorite hymns is “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” because I love the melody and because that is the answer. We try to make things so complicated, but no matter how insurmountable, painful, or dire your struggle, the most important thing to do is to turn your eyes on Jesus.
  7. Many of us do not take the great commission seriously. In heaven, Jesus may even ask, “what part of ‘go’ did you not understand?” (Doug Van Bronkhorst Interserve International). Convicting, because sometimes we want to define “going” as going to some foreign mission field. But that’s pretty self-serving because we all go somewhere everyday.
  8. Preach the gospel to yourself everyday. (Colin Smith, The Orchard Evangelical Free Church, Arlington Heights, Illinois). I don’t know who first said this, but it’s brilliant advice. Our spiritual amnesia is truly chronic. We have to feed ourselves a steady diet of truth, otherwise the lies of this world creep in.
  9. Ultimately what will happen is the exact opposite of what Satan intended. He aimed to detract from God’s glory, but what happened will result in God’s greater glorification. God knew what he was doing. (Colin Smith, The Orchard Evangelical Free Church, Arlington Heights, Illinois). So glad that this isn’t Plan B, that my God wasn’t caught off guard. Plus this reminds me of Lewis who said, “For God is not merely mending, not simply restoring a status quo. Redeemed humanity is to be something more glorious than unfallen humanity.”
  10. The greatest sorrow that you can do to God is to disbelieve His love for you. (paraphrase of Puritan John Owen) (Colin Smith, The Orchard Evangelical Free Church, Arlington Heights, Illinois). Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t it heartbreaking? May we not disbelieve His love this week!

Purposeful Prayer, Part 4

I’ve just returned from spending two weeks at Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference which sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. I was privileged to take long walks on the beach pictured above without encountering another soul. The whole vacation, which is intentionally free of TV and video games and endless outings, is akin to stepping out of this world for a bit. Each year while I am there I am wholly uninformed about what is going on in the world, and there’s something really healthy about that. It is easier to commune with God when we take a break from the informational bombardment that so characterizes life in the 21st century. Most of what flows into our brains in day-to-day life is less than helpful. In fact, much of it only serves to distract us from what is truly important. On vacation, it was refreshing for me to have time to think, to walk without my iPod, enjoy God’s creation, pray and contemplate His plans for me.

One topic that I thought about a lot at Maranatha was purposeful prayer, and it occurred to me that Spur best be moving on to another topic. After all, many volumes have been written by great and inspired saints; I could hardly touch all that’s been said if I only blogged about prayer. So instead I’d like to close out this glance at how we communicate with God — how we go about communing with Him and making His will ours — with a few thoughts and a few book recommendations. And I’d love to know your favorite books on prayer as well.
I don’t believe purposeful prayer is formulaic, but I think we should regularly include certain elements in our prayers. A helpful little acronym is ACTS. A for adoration, which is really the kind of worshipful prayer I described in my last post. Many of the psalms are prayers of adoration, and we can easily adopt these prayers as our own. C is for confession. Obviously we need to confess our sins before a holy God and we should aim to be specific. The higher call is really for repentance, not confession. And since repentance requires turning away from our sin, not just laying it out there, we must know what we are turning away from. T is for thanksgiving. If you’ve ever tried to innumerate the blessings in your life, I’m sure you’ve quickly realized that it is an impossible task. But a heart of gratitude is a heart that God speaks to so spending some time recognizing how God has been faithful to us personally is essential. Finally, the S is for supplication. This is our list of action items, where we want God to intervene, to change our circumstances or the circumstances of others (click here to listen to a great sermon about how and when God intervenes in our lives which was recorded on 8/16/09). Many times our tendency is to skip right to supplication, telling God what we want and need, but if we let requests dominate we will miss the ultimate purpose of prayer, communing with God and making His will ours. Psalm 19 comes to mind, which reminds us that the goal is to have the words of our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to God.
As for books, one entitled Prayer Power Unlimited by J. Oswald Sanders is a good overview of prayer and is written in a very accessible style. Ken Boa’s Handbook to Renewal is a useful aid when you find it difficult to pray. And although it might seem rather surprising I have found inspiration in two very different autobiographies. George Muller’s is an amazing testimony of dependent prayer, and Chuck Colson’s, Born Again, beautifully recounts the life-changing power of corporate prayer. I highly recommend both of these transformative books.
May we spur one another on to love, good deeds and purposeful prayer.

Purposeful Prayer, Part 3

The last few weeks I’ve been blogging about prayer. It started when my almost six-year-old was ill. He was coughing his darling little head off but he didn’t want me to pray about it because he said, and I quote, “it won’t work!” This thought-provoking and heartbreaking statement keeps coming to mind, and my last two posts have been spurred by Nate’s fear of unanswered prayer.

This week I’d like to focus our discussion a bit and begin looking at the purpose of prayer. Take a minute to think about why you pray. Many people, whether they are Christ-followers or not, pray in times of crises. Others pray because they seek peace; others seek relationship. Some pray to change their circumstances, others to change their hearts. Some seek forgiveness, others direction. It is good to think about why and what we pray, but I believe the ultimate purpose of prayer is to align our will with the will of our Heavenly Father. The Lord’s Prayer illustrates this submission (“thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”) and the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is radically submissive. (My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26: 39).

I don’t know how often this alignment of wills is the driving force behind my prayers, but certainly not often enough. Yet as we walk with God, as we are sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our pleas and our desires should more and more reflect this vision of unity: “Heavenly Father, let my will be yours.”

But how do we get there? We don’t wake up one day and simply decide that our self-centered ways are over, that His good, pleasing and perfect will is now ours. There is no victory in mere human effort. No, this is a work of God. Yet we are also somehow partners in the endeavor—our spirit needs to be willing to embrace and live according to His Spirit. We cannot expect our will to reflect His without dedication and discipline in pursuing Him.

A smaller, more manageable step, we can take in pursuing His will for our lives, is to worship our Heavenly Father in prayer. A cursory glance at any section of the Bible reveals God’s desire to be first in our lives. It is the first and greatest commandment and is a constant theme throughout God’s Word. J. Oswald Sanders noted that we “should worship God in gratitude for what He has done for us, but our worship reaches a higher level when we adore Him simply for what He is, for the perfection and excellence of His own being.” (Prayer Power Unlimited).

And because God is always giving us the tools we need to accomplish His will, He has given us the Psalms. Sanders, and other great saints, recommend reading the Psalms and turning them into our own personal prayers.

I do this on occasion, but not as often as I should. My favorite Psalm to pray is 103 because He has indeed redeemed my life from a pit and crowned me with love and compassion.

This week may we worship our God (our loving Father, our devoted Savior and our omnipresent Counselor) through purposeful prayer.