Prayers for the Church: Courage

The Church needs courage!

This is another prayer in a series of prayers I’m writing for the Church, each focused on a different area. I’ve lifted up a number of areas, so far (see list and links below).

I often find myself asking God for courage. It’s a requirement for both discipleship (following Jesus ) and leadership (serving God).

I’ve always been struck by how many times God told Joshua, Moses’ successor in the wilderness, to be strong and courageous in Joshua 1.

Be strong and courageous … Be strong and very courageous. … This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. … So be strong and courageous!

It seems that God wanted Joshua to be strong and courageous. I believe God wants us to be strong and courageous, too!

O God, thank you for always being with us. Because you are always with us, we can be strong and courageous, even when we walk through dark valleys!

Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to come alongside of us to be our Companion and Helper. We are never alone!

You send us, your Church, in the same way you sent Jesus into the world. For such a mission, we need courage!

Give us courage to follow you even when it’s hard. Help us to do what must be done, not just what is easy or comfortable or for our own benefit. And when you call us to take a step of faith, give us the courage to take that first step, which is often the hardest!

I pray especially for the persecuted Church. Give them courage to serve you faithfully. Please bless and honor their courage!

Make all the leaders in your Church strong and courageous. Help us to say what you want us to say, to lead where you want us to lead, and do what you want us to do!

Thankfully, Lord, you “didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled” (2 Timothy 1.7, CEB). Help us to be faithful to you. May we honor you by being strong and courageous. Amen.

(Previous prayers included: awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, compassion, action, unity, power, favor, endurance, trust, and discipline.)

The Prayer-Driven Church

The Church can be driven by many different things. A quick Google search reveals a number of terms, including: Purpose-Driven Church, Gospel-Driven Church, Christ-Driven Church, Mission-Driven Church, Disciple-Driven Church, Kingdom-Driven Church, Passion-Driven Church, etc.

None of these are bad; in fact, they’re all good. I certainly want to help the church be driven by purpose and mission, by passion and the kingdom of God. But these things are results from having an intimate connection to God through prayer. When the church is driven by prayer, it will be missional and focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ (which includes both the growing of current disciples and the reaching of new disciples).

I’ve written before about my struggle to describe this kind of church. A few years ago, I chose prayer as a focus for my ordination project. At the time, I wrote …

I’ve wrestled with a number of terms — praying congregation, prayer-centered church, prayer-based church. Prayer-saturated, which comes from a book title, is my favorite. More than being a “praying church” (prayer can be self-focused) I want to communicate the idea of prayer as foundation for mission and ministry.

It’s not that the church prays simply for the sake of praying. Rather it bathes everything it does in prayer. And before it takes a step, it seeks God for direction. It is a church based on, saturated with, and driven by prayer!

Again, I want the church I lead to be purpose-driven, mission-driven, Spirit-driven, kingdom-driven, etc. I just think the best way to achieve that is by being a church driven by prayer!

What do you think? I welcome your comments below!

Seasons of Adversity

When we encounter adversity, we naturally want to get through it as quickly as possible. When we get knocked down, we want to get back up and get on with it as quickly as possible!

But, often, it simply takes time, sometimes a long time, to get through seasons of adversity!

It’s easy to lose the sense of time in the stories of the Bible. In stories, adversity lasted days, years, or even generations!

Noah is a good example. It took Noah as many as 120 years to build the ark. Once the torrential rains came, I’m sure those 40 days and nights on a huge boat with thousands of frightened and restless animals couldn’t come to an end soon enough (not to mention the time it took waiting for the floods to recede)!

Later, the Israelites lived as slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Moses got involved but ended up spending 40 years as a fugitive. After his encounter with God at a burning bush, it took quite some time for Pharoah to be convinced to let God’s people go. The ten plagues didn’t all happen overnight. It was a lengthy ordeal!

Once the Israelites were set free from captivity in Egypt, they certainly didn’t enter the Promised Land overnight. Instead, they spent about 40 years wandering, and complaining, in the wilderness before finally entering the Promised Land!

Nearly the entire book of Job is a story of waiting for a resolution.

Recently, while reading through the prophets, I noticed that on multiple occasions, God gave the prophets a message for the people but withheld the explanation until some time later. Once, God asked Isaiah to go naked and barefoot for three years (Isaiah 20.3). Another time, Ezekiel spent a number of days lay on his left side to make a point. These were not quick, bite-sized messages!

This also struck me again recently in the book of Acts. Paul’s imprisonments must have been long, drawn out affairs. In Acts 24, Paul stands trial before Felix. The passage begins with the phrase, “Five days later” (Acts 24.1). It continues, “After several days, Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and summoned Paul. He listened to him talk about faith in Christ Jesus” (Acts 24.24). Felix sent Paul away, saying, “Go away for now! When I have time, I’ll send for you” (Acts 24.25).

The story continues, “When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. Since Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison” (Acts 24.27). Paul was forced to wait. “After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea to welcome Festus.” (Acts 25.13). This was not a speedy trial!

Finally, Paul was on his way to stand trial in Rome. But even the trip was a drawn out affair. Acts 27.7 says, “After many days of slow and difficult sailing, we arrived off the coast of Cnidus.”

The ship eventually wrecked and the story includes many references to time …

  • “Much time had been lost”
  • “On the third day”
  • “When neither the sun nor the moon appeared for many days”
  • “For a long time no one had eaten”
  • “On the fourteenth night, we were being carried across the Adriatic Sea”
  • “This is the fourteenth day you’ve lived in suspense”

After the shipwreck, the passengers were forced to wait before continuing their journey. Finally, Acts 28.11 says, “After three months we put out to sea.”

It often takes time to get through the valleys!

We must remember that our sense of time is far different from God’s. Peter reminds us “that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day” (2 Peter 3.8).

People of faith are often left to ask, “How long?” Psalm 13 asks that very question four times in the first two verses …

How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I be left to my own wits, agony filling my heart? Daily? How long will my enemy keep defeating me? (Psalm 13.1-2, CEB)

It takes time and patience to get through the seasons of adversity!

Prayers for the Church: Discipline

The Church needs discipline!

I’ve been writing a series of prayers for the Church, each focused on a different area over the last several weeks. I’ve lifted up a number of areas already (see list and links below).

Discipline isn’t always thought of in a positive light, but it’s necessary for the Church. Discipline was certainly a big word for early Methodists. To this day, the United Methodist Church’s official guidebook is called “The Book of Discipline.”

Our love/hate relationship with the word discipline comes from knowing that discipline is good for us; it’s just hard to practice. And, sometimes it’s painful. In the Church, disciples need discipline to learn, grow, and follow Jesus!

O God, thank you for the love, commitment, devotion, and discipline of all those who’ve gone before us that have brought the Church to where it is today. Thank you for those who’ve sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears for the sake of Jesus Christ!

Help us to be inspired by those who’ve modeled a life of discipline and devotion to you. Help us to be disciplined ourselves so that our character may grow strong and be a model for others.

Give us personal discipline so that each of us may become more and more like Jesus in every way. Give us discipline as a community so that we may be faithful to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and to the leading of the Holy Spirit!

Help us, O God, to have the discipline and fortitude to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow you! May Jesus be honored in our lives! Amen.

(Previous prayers included: awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, compassion, action, unity, power, favor, endurance, and trust.)

The Lost Blanket

Well, you’ve heard the stories of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep, and the Lost Son (see Luke 15). On Saturday, we experienced the story of the Lost Blanket!

Last week, our family went to annual conference, a gathering of pastors and lay members from each church or charge in the conference. We arrived Wednesday evening and the conference began Thursday morning. While Joleen and I were in conference sessions, the kids spent morning, afternoon, and evening sessions in child care. We picked up the kids for meals and at the conclusion of each day.

The kids already have lots of experience at annual conference. This was Ethan’s sixth annual conference (he turned 6 a week ago), and Sarah’s fourth! This was the easiest year we’ve ever experienced with the kids in child care!

But, the story of the Lost Blanket begins at the conclusion of the final session Saturday afternoon. As we were leaving, I asked Ethan if he had his blanket (the one he’s had as long as we’ve had Ethan). We looked through our stuff. The childcare workers looked through their stuff and there was no sign of the blanket!

Joleen went to look in the main building to check to see if anything was “lost and found.” Amazingly enough, someone who was loading a box truck, transporting equipment back to their respective locations, remembered seeing a blue blanket in one of the boxes of childcare items that goes to storage.

But there was a problem. The box with the blanket was at the front of the truck. So, we went to the Conference Center and waited for stuff to be unloaded. After awhile, the lost blanket was found. There was much rejoicing (even though it delayed our trip home a couple of hours)!

Jesus says …

In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives. (Luke 15.7, CEB).

Sing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs!

One of the things I’ve discovered over the years that stirs my passion for God is listening to praise and worship music!

In Ephesians 5.18-19, the Apostle Paul wrote …

Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead, be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts … (CEB)

On a similar note, Paul wrote in Colossians 3.16 …

The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (CEB)

The Psalms often urge followers to sing praises to God and to sing new songs, including …

  • “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise for our God.” (Psalm 40.3)
  • “Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth!” (Psalm 96.1)
  • “Sing to the Lord a new song because he has done wonderful things!” (Psalm 98.1)

In the past, I’ve written about music, including: Songs for Leaders, “Songs for My Sons”, You Write the Words, Ordination Playlist, and Songs for the Valley.

Ever since Ethan was 2 years old (he just turned 6), I’ve had a playlist on my iPod with our favorite worship music. I’ve always tried to include songs the kids will like. Some of the kids’ latest favorites are “God’s Not Dead” (Newsboys) and “10,000 Reasons” (Matt Redman). The oldest songs on the list are “Trading My Sorrows” (Darrell Evans), “You Never Let Go” (Matt Redman), and “My Savior Lives” (New Life Worship) (one of my favorite memories occurred three years ago at a hotel playroom with another family in the room; Ethan was belting out the words of “My Savior Lives”: “Jesus you are the only way, my Savior, my Savior lives!”).

The newest songs on the list come from the latest (live) recording by Darlene Zschech, “Revealing Jesus.” So far, our favorite is “Victor’s Crown.” (I’ve always loved the worship music by Darlene Zschech and Hillsong.)

Looking back on my own journey with God, there seems to be a connection between the level of my passion for God and the practice of listening to praise and worship music. Knowing this, you’d think I’d be more consistent, but I go through stages where I neglect the practice. Sometimes I need reminded about the importance of listening to praise and worship music!

What songs stir your passion for God? Post a comment below with your favorite songs!

A Makeover for Your Mind

Have you ever gotten a makeover? Makeovers aren’t just for your face and hair or even for your house. They are also for your mind!

The dictionary definition of transform is …

to make someone or something completely different, usually in a way that makes them more attractive, easier to use, etc.

When I think of transformations, I think of something that looks different in appearance. But appearances can deceive. For transformation, one has to go much deeper!

One of the most powerful transformations comes through the renewing of the mind. Change the way you think and that can change everything. The greatest transformation comes with God’s salvation. God’s ongoing work in us (i.e., sanctification) continues to transform our hearts, minds, emotions–our whole being. We are instructed in God’s Word to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.16). And Romans 12.2 says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Each of us has an audio player running in our heads that constantly plays messages about ourselves and the world around us. If it keeps playing, “I am a loser,” you won’t feel good about yourself and what you have to offer. If it keeps telling you, “I am fat,” you can’t begin to lose those unwanted pounds. Rick Warren said in a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, don’t fight against temptation, but rather, change the recording, renew your thinking. Don’t obsess over the fact you should quit smoking, replace the thought with something positive (eat an apple!).

The recording in our minds has been shaped by parents, teachers, and other influential adults as we grew up. Messages continue to be recorded as they are received through the media and by those we hang out with. If you don’t like what your recorder is playing, change the recording. Renew your mind through Jesus Christ!

One day I came home and I was not in a good mood. I could feel it wanting to bubble up and spill over my family. I asked Randy to play some worship music on the iPod while I was preparing a meal. A little while later, Sarah asked if I was feeling better, and after some brief refection, I said yes. I was glad for her checking in with me and calling my attention to the transformation.

Philippians 4.8 says …

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Choose to put positive, renewing, Christ-centered messages on your recorder!

The 2013 School Year in Review

Today was a busy day, and it marked the end of a busy year!

This year, Sarah completed her first year of preschool (see Sarah Goes to Preschool!), and Ethan completed Kindergarten (see Ethan Goes to Kindergarten!). The year also included extracurricular activities–soccer for both Ethan and Sarah and dance for Sarah. Sarah’s year of dance lessons culminated in a dance recital on May 8!

In the fall, Ethan had his fourth and final season of pee wee soccer, the same season in which Sarah had her first. They played on the same team, which proved to be a real distraction for both! In the spring, Sarah played her second season of pee wee soccer while Ethan moved up to U-8 (under 8).

Yesterday, Ethan completed Kindergarten. His class celebrated his birthday, which is today. Before celebrating Ethan’s birthday today, we began the day with a U-8 soccer tournament. Ethan played in soccer games at 9:00, 10:00, 11:30, and 1:00. Ethan’s team finished the season 2-5 but drew a weak schedule in the tournament. After tying the first game, his team won the next two and earned a playoff spot. While they played a stronger team in the playoffs, they played well and hung with them. In fact, Ethan played goalkeeper for the final three quarters of the game. He only allowed one goal during that time, but the team lost 2-0. It was a fun day, and the first of its kind for our family!

We came home and celebrated Ethan’s birthday. Ethan had requested a John Deere theme, so the table, including the birthday cake, as well as birthday gifts, were all duly decorated. Ethan loves tractors, cranes, snowplows, etc. He enjoys watching YouTube videos of all kinds of tractors and heavy equipment!

The school year went by quickly. We are grateful for God’s blessings and for the gift of each day, as well as each milestone. We’re also grateful for all of the teachers, instructors, coaches, and others, who are helping to shape our kids’ lives in positive ways!

Prayers for the Church: Trust

The Church needs to trust God!

I have been writing a series of prayers for the Church, offering a prayer with a different focus each week. It’s been a few months since my last prayer in this series, and I have a few more I want to write. So far, I’ve prayed for awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, compassion, action, unity, power, favor, and endurance.

Trust in God is the foundation of our relationship and walk with God. Scripture challenges us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3.5).

O God, thank you for your ongoing work in your Church. As always, thank you for inviting us to participate in what you are doing in the world!

You are trustworthy, O Lord; we can trust you with all of our hearts. Help us put our whole trust in you!

We trust you to cause all things to work together for the good of those who love you, those who are called according to your purpose. We trust you to lead us and guide us in living and serving in ways that honor Jesus Christ!

And we trust you for the future of your Church. Because we trust you with all of our hearts, we pray (as Mark Batterson suggests in The Circle Maker), Lord, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable! We ask that with a little apprehension because we don’t really know what that means or how it will play out, but we trust that it will be good for the Church and ultimately for the world which we are called to reach with the good news of Jesus Christ!

As a sign of our trust in you, O God, we say yes to wherever you lead us and to whatever you call us to do. Give us courage to trust you more so that we may bring more and more honor to our Savior Jesus Christ! Amen.