Make Time To Be Still

woman standing in front of body of water during dawn

I want to encourage you to focus on a spiritual principle that is true all year long, but that is especially necessary during this holiday season.  The Christmas season is a joyful time for many, a heavy emotional time for others, and a very busy time for just about everybody.  Our normal life and work responsibilities continue, and yet we add more events, gatherings, shopping responsibilities and so much more to our schedules.  The opportunities for us to serve others are tremendous, and yet, if we are not careful, they can lead to such exhaustion, stress, and frustration that the spiritual meaning and purpose of this season no longer affects our heart.  The reason for the season may be on our lips and in our songs, but we are too overwhelmed to allow it to move our hearts.

That is why I want to give you (and myself) a reminder to make time to be still.  To be still physically, and to be still spiritually before the Lord.  It might be harder than ever to make time for this during the Christmas season, but it is more necessary than ever.

There were many times in which God’s people faced an enemy and God told them (as a nation or army) to be still, to stand still, and to see God fight for them and deliver the enemy into their hands.  But this principle of being still, in our heart, soul and body, is also a very personal one, that we tend to neglect, and it always has a detrimental effect in our life, our relationships, and our walk with the Lord.

Take a moment to read these passages that talk about being still, about quietness, and about internal rest.  Each gives us an important principle about being still.

 

Being still reminds us of who is in control

Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

 

Being still is about connecting with God

Psalm 4:4 Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.

 

Being still allows us to hear the voice of God

1 Kings 19:12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

 

Being still is what leads to spiritual strength

Isaiah 30:7 For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still.

Isaiah 30:15 For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; in returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.

 

Being still is a personal choice

Psalm 131:2 Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: My soul is even as a weaned child.

 

Being still is a priceless blessing

Proverbs 17:1 Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.

 

Being still leads to spiritual rest

Exodus 33:14 And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.

Psalm 37:7 Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.

Matthew 11:28-29 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

 

At different moments in the ministry of Jesus, with the crowds around Him, and the constant movement, we read that Jesus “stood still” (Matthew 20:32; Mark 10:49) and interacted personally with specific individuals and their need.  Even Jesus made it a priority to be still, to be quiet and wait before the Father, often rising long before daylight.

This is also why the principle of the sabbath is so necessary for us as human beings, and for our spiritual walk with God.  We must be intentional about making time to be still, to rest and to be at rest.  Otherwise, we begin to pay for it in many different ways.  And if that is true all year long, how much more during one of the most busy and stressful times of the year.

So, let me encourage you to make time to be still.  How?  You may need to get up earlier than others in your house.  You may need to remove certain apps from your phone, turn off your notifications throughout the day, and keep your phone far away when you are spending time with the Lord.  You may need to block off a day, or even half a day, with no outside agenda, maybe to sleep a little longer, or even nap.  You may need to turn off the music or radio in the car and give your heart and mind the gift of silence, to listen to the Lord, as you commute.  You may need to go for a walk and seek to quiet your heart from the constant list of tasks and to-do’s.  Whatever you need to do, make time to be still, to slow down, to commune with the Lord.  Allow the Word of God and the Spirit of God to do a work of renewal, refreshment and rest in your soul this Christmas.

What are some practical ways in which you have learned how to be still before the Lord?  Share them in the comment section below.

Praying for our Missionaries

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Every time missionaries step foot in our churches, they ask us to pray for them.  Every time a missionary sends a letter, he or she mentions some specific prayer requests.  Yet, since it can be difficult to track all of the individual needs of each missionary that we support, we tend to pray something like this, “God, bless our missionaries!”  Am I right?

A few months ago I ran across some words written by the original pioneer, church-planting missionary, the Apostle Paul.  In his letter to the Christians in Rome, he asked for prayer in some specific areas:

Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed. (Romans 15:30-32)

I believe that we could have a powerful impact in the lives of our missionaries if we were to specifically intercede for them and ask God to grant them:

  1. Deliverance. Paul was under genuine threat from the unbelieving Jews in the Jerusalem area.  He also faced dangers and threats elsewhere in his travels.  The same is true for all of our missionaries.  Some live in areas of political and social unrest.  All of them live a lifestyle of constant travel, which poses its own risks.  We all face spiritual assault from our enemy.  We must pray that our missionaries be delivered from danger.
  2. Acceptance. Paul was involved in a commendable effort to bless the saints in Jerusalem.  Churches across the first-century world had partnered together (through Faith Promise!) to bless the suffering believers in Israel.  And yet, even though these ministry intentions were good, it did not guarantee that it would be well-received.  Missionaries give of their heart, time, and resources to bless the people they are ministering to around the world.  They travel the country sharing their burden and the cause of world missions with pastors and churches.  These efforts and intentions are amazing, and yet, it does not guarantee that they will be well-received.  We must pray that our missionaries’ efforts and service be accepted.
  3. Joy. We would like to assume that Paul was always filled with joy as he traveled and served the LORD.  But if you have been involved in ministry for long, you know that there are countless circumstances and experiences that drain or steal our joy.  And when we aren’t serving with joy, it can become miserable!  Missionaries (as anyone else) need God to be their Source of joy, and to lift them up as they press on in carrying out the will of God.  We must pray that our missionaries be filled with joy as they serve.
  4. Refreshment. Serving God in any ministry, and in any location, can be exhausting physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  That reality is exponentially greater when a missionary is far removed from his family, home church, and native culture.  The isolation can be brutal at times.  Even when missionaries return for “furlough,” it is often far from a time of rest and renewal, as they need to report to their supporters, which involves constant travel.  We must pray that our missionaries intentionally seek times of personal, marital, and family refreshment while they are on the field, and especially while they are on furlough, and we must be their greatest cheerleaders as they do so.

Yes, we want God to “bless our missionaries.”  But I invite you to take Paul’s prayer requests, and make them a regular part of your prayer for missionaries.  The impact will be greater than you can imagine.

The Key to a Powerful Prayer Life

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I believe in the power of prayer.  I believe that you believe in the power of prayer, or you probably wouldn’t invest the time to go to a prayer meeting, or to spend personal time in prayer.  I imagine that you could tell stories of answered prayers in your life, and you can probably quote some verses that refer to the power of prayer.  But let me challenge you to dig into a verse that gives one of the keys to a powerful prayer life.

In the last chapter of his epistle in the New Testament, James pens an entire passage that illustrates the power of prayer, when we are going through trials, when we are sick, or when we have sinned.  He even gives an example of a powerful prayer warrior named Elijah.  But all of these thoughts culminate in the phrase at the end of vs 16: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  Let’s dig into those words, and try to discover the key to a powerful prayer life.

Digging Into The Text

An important part of studying a text is to define the words, not so much in the secondary language (English), but in the words originally used by the author, and inspired by God Himself.

  • Effectual fervent – In English these are two words, but they are translated for a single word in Greek.  These two words appear in the KJV in other places, but are not always the same original word. James uses the word energeo, which means to work, function, produce, be in action.  In other parts of the KJV New Testament energeo has been translated “accomplish,” “brought about,” “effective,” ” effectually worked,” “performs … work,” and “works.”  The idea is pretty clear.  James is referring to prayer that actually accomplishes things, that gets things done in the spiritual realm.
  • Availeth – The word James used is ischyo, which means to be strong, powerful, mighty; to be capable of, to be healthy.  In other New Testament places it is translated into English as “able,” “strong enough,” can do,” “healthy,” “overpowered.”  That power and potential is intensified by the word “much,” (Gk poly: many, much).  In other words, prayer can reach a place of great power, tremendous might, incredible strength.
  • Righteous man – These two words also come from a single Greek word: dikaios.  It speaks of a person who is righteous, just, and upright before God.  It speaks of someone’s personal relationship with God.  The other phrases in this verse revolve around this one, point back to this one.

So, as we bring these words and definitions together, we see that prayer has unbelievable power and potential to accomplish great things, to perform unbelievable works, to be incredibly effective in someone’s life and in the Kingdom of God.  But here is the key: it all revolves around a person’s relationship and standing with God.  They key to a powerful prayer life is your own walk with God.

God Promises to Bless the Righteous

All throughout the Scriptures you read of promise after promise, blessing after blessing, that are directed at the righteous, the just, those who are upright before God.

  • Psalm 5:12 For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.
  • Psalm 34:15, 17, 19 The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. …The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. … Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.
  • Psalm 37:25 I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
  • Proverbs 11:28, 30 He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch. …The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.
  • Proverbs 15:6, 29 In the house of the righteous is much treasure: but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble. …The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.
  • Proverbs 21:21 He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour.

There are so many more passages we could read, but you get the point.  There is a direct link between the righteous (those who pursue righteousness and godliness in their life) and the promises and blessings from God.  And those promises include your prayer life.

The term righteous does not speak of people who are perfect or sinless, but of those who have humbled themselves before God in repentance, and have been clothed by the righteousness of Jesus.  Righteousness always comes through repentance and faith, not just to be saved, but also to walk uprightly as a Christian.  These promises are for believers who walk in submission, obedience, and humility before the Lord Jesus Christ.

You want to have a powerful prayer life like Elijah?  A prayer life that gets amazing things done?  The most important thing you can do is examine your heart before God (Psalm 139:23-24).  So, how is your walk with God?  Perhaps before asking God to do anything for you, the best place to begin is by asking God to look inside you.  “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Getting To Know Our Shepherd Through Prayer – Part 1

Getting to Know our Shepherd - title

Psalm 23

One of the beautiful things about prayer is that it allows us to get to know the LORD. Maybe not when our prayers are just long “wish lists” or special orders that we place in God’s inbox. But when you and I spend time with our Father, our Abba, our Daddy, opening our heart, expressing praise and thanksgiving, seeking forgiveness, wisdom, direction, encouragement, and so much more, we come to experience our Heavenly Father in a personal way.

I believe King David experienced the LORD like this. He spent hours and days, from his boyhood years, out in the fields with the sheep, probably talking to the LORD, singing to the LORD, crying out to the LORD. And through all those daily, personal experiences in prayer, David got to know the LORD, not just as God, Creator, and King, but in a role that he understood well: the role of “shepherd.” In the most famous psalm in all the Bible (the one Spurgeon called “the pearl of the psalms”), David helps us also to get to know our Shepherd through prayer.

When I became the pastor of Vandalia Baptist Temple, I inherited the Shepherd Staff from my predecessor, Troy Todd.  It is a large, wooden staff that symbolizes my role in serving this local church.  The Bible uses the word shepherd to describe the role of a pastor. But on a much higher level, the Bible compares the LORD to a shepherd, and even describes Jesus as the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), far higher than any earthly shepherds or pastors.

Over the next few posts I want us to look briefly at this beautiful psalm, which helps us to get to know our Shepherd a bit better, and reminds us of how we can experience Him personally through prayer, just like David. David begins this psalm with two phrases that set the stage for everything else:

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

David expresses that:

Our Shepherd is a personal shepherd (vs 1a)
David uses the holy name of God: Yahweh (translated “LORD” with all caps in the KJV; at times, “Jehovah”). There was no doubt who he was referring to. In fact, the name Yahweh, Jehovah, LORD is understood by many to be an Old Testament reference to Jesus Christ, God the Son, the Creator Himself. So the New Testament references to Jesus as the Good Shepherd, or the Chief Shepherd, are no coincidence (John 10:11, 14-16; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 5:4). He is the same Shepherd that David got to know in a personal way.

The LORD wants to be a personal shepherd to you. David said, “The LORD is my shepherd. I am a shepherd, but the LORD is my shepherd.” He says so with confidence (not “if” or “I hope”). He speaks in present tense (“is”). David was looking out for his father’s sheep, and caring for them in so many ways, but David knew that there was Someone who was looking out for him, who was caring for him in countless ways. That was the inspiration of this psalm. God wants to have a personal relationship with you, as your Shepherd. Not just as your Savior, but as One who is an intricate part of your daily life. Someone whom you spend time with every, single day. This is not a chore or a burden; it is a priceless blessing. The LORD is a personal shepherd, and you can experience that through prayer. Prayer makes this more than theory; prayer makes it a reality.

Our Shepherd takes care of our needs (vs 1b)
The fact that the LORD is our personal Shepherd means that He is there to meet the needs that we face. “I shall not want.” The word want refers to being needy or destitute (Merriam-Webster). David uses the Hebrew yiqtol, which refers to being devoid of, having too little of, or being deprived of something. A shepherd takes care of the needs of his sheep. And having the LORD as our Shepherd is an implied promise that He will not allow us to be deprived and destitute of life’s essentials.

While you and I struggle to distinguish between wants and true needs, God repeatedly promises to meet the needs of His people (Matthew 6:31-33). Jesus reminds us that our part is to seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, but His part is to take care of life’s essentials (Philippians 4:19). Our seeking the LORD, seeking the Shepherd, is done through our personal prayer life (Matthew 7:7-11). When we seek the LORD in prayer, we have no legitimate reason to worry. He is our Shepherd; we shall not want.

You and I can get to know our Shepherd through prayer. We will get to experience the LORD in a very personal way (“my” shepherd), and experience Him meet the needs in our life, family, home, church (“I shall not want”). Are you praying – really praying? Are you getting to know the Shepherd, or are you just going through the motions? Let me encourage you to give yourself to prayer; not just to give God a “wish list,” but to know Him and experience Him as your Shepherd.

In what ways have you gotten to know the Shepherd through prayer?

Remember Where The True Battle Is

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Ephesians 6:12

As you and I face the trials and adversities of life, it is very challenging to keep the right perspective. We live, move, work, serve, and struggle in the physical, material world, so that is how we tend to look at things. But the Apostle Paul reminds us that the true battle, true warfare, true struggle is not physical at all: it is spiritual. And this kind of battle is fought on our knees.

The Human Perspective

We wrestle not against flesh and blood.” This statement seems to contradict everything we face. Our conflicts and challenges are often with other “flesh and blood” human beings! Our health struggles are with our “flesh and blood” bodies. The financial needs and hardships we face are in the “flesh and blood” material world. Even as Christians going through life and ministry, the natural human perspective is that we are facing “flesh and blood” adversaries or opposition. And that affects our attitudes, and even our prayer life. But Paul is trying to get us to see another perspective.

The Spiritual Perspective

In these verses Paul is introducing the concept of the armor of God (vs 11, 13). He describes the Christian’s armor of defense and weapons of attack. Our life is held together by truth, just like a belt. Our heart is protected and kept pure by the righteousness of Jesus. Our feet are covered with the Gospel that we take everywhere we go. Our faith in God and His promises protect us like a shield from Satan’s flaming arrows. Our mind and thoughts are protected by the truths of salvation and who we are in Christ. Our offensive weapon is the mighty Word of God. All of this armor is then empowered by the Christian’s prayer life (vs 18).

You see, God’s perspective on life is that it is a spiritual battle, a spiritual war, that is raging against Satan and his demonic forces and strongholds. Our enemy is not our brother in Christ, our spouse, our boss, our co-worker, our neighbor. Our enemy is not our physical body, or the IRS, or electric company. Our enemy is the god of this world, and it is a battle for the glory of God to shine in our life and in the world. And it is a battle that is fought on our knees in prayer.

I don’t know the struggle you are confronting right now, but just remember where the true battle is. Remember that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood.” Let’s take our burdens to God, call upon Him for victory in every battle front, and invite His glory to shine and cast out the forces of darkness.

Remember Your Father’s Heart

Luke 11:5-13

Have you ever heard anyone ask, “Do you know who you’re talking to?” Or simply say, “Remember who you’re talking to.” Every once in a while we need people to remind us of who we are are talking to. Maybe we are talking to our parents, our boss, a police officer, or the President. Depending on who that person is, it will affect how we address them and speak to them.

Believe it or not, the same is true with prayer. When we open our heart before God, we are speaking to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the Almighty God who is holy, holy, holy, the King of Kings. He deserves our utmost respect, reverence, and godly fear. However, if we are born-again believers, God is also our Heavenly Father.

When Jesus was giving His disciples a lesson on prayer (Lk 11:1-13), He gave them a model prayer (as also recorded in the Sermon on the Mount). However, Jesus then closed by teaching His followers to remember their Heavenly Father’s heart (vs 5-13). When we pray, it is important to remember what our Heavenly Father is like, and what He is not like. You see, that affects how we approach Him when we pray. We need to remember that:

1. God is not bothered by our ongoing requests (vs 5-8).

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.

We all know what it’s like for someone to come to us at a bad time asking for a favor. We want to be kind and helpful, but sometimes it is just not a good time! Ever been there? But that is never the case with our Heavenly Father! He doesn’t see our prayers as a nuisance or irritation. You may feel like you are asking God for the same things over and over again, and that you are driving Him crazy. But that’s not true! It is never a bad time to pray. In fact Jesus reminds us that:

2. God invites us to make personal requests (vs 9-10).

And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Just like in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock, with specific, personal requests. James even wrote: “Ye have not, because ye ask not” (4:2). We could study the difference between these three commands, but the point is the same: God will answer! Jesus even says it is true for “every one.” You may think your request is too small, or maybe too big, but don’t keep it to yourself. Go to your Heavenly Father in prayer and ask Him! Seek His face about it! Knock at the door of God’s throne room! Don’t ever feel hesitant to make your requests known unto God (Php 4:6)! He invites you to, with a personal promise. Jesus then explains that:

3. God wants to give you what is best (vs 11-13).

If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

I find it strange that we often feel like God would do something to us that we would never dream of doing to our children. Some people believe that God is out to get them, or that He takes pleasure in making us suffer or do without. Jesus knew that some people have this misunderstanding of God, thinking that they could pray for bread, fish, and eggs, and God would answer by sending stones, snakes, and scorpions. That is not our Heavenly Father! If you and I want to give good things to our kids, God’s desires are infinitely greater. Our Heavenly Father puts every earthly father to shame! It may not always feel pleasant at the moment, but God will always do what is best for His children. We need to remember that.

Don’t believe the distorted views that many people have of God. When you spend time in prayer, you need to remember your Heavenly Father’s heart. He wants to hear from you. He invites you to come to Him. He delights in giving you His best.

An Answer To Prayer (video)

It was into one of the darkest moments of national history that God shone a bright light. He raised up a man who would be faithful in the midst of an ungodly world. He would lead God’s people spiritually, morally, politically, and see them transition toward becoming a nation led by a man after God’s own heart. The man whom God would raise up for this unusually dark moment of history was a man by the name of Samuel. It is his life and story that I begin to look at in this new message series entitled, “Samuel: Faithfulness In Ungodly Times.”  Listen to this message, and share any comments you have in the space below.

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