Prayers for the Church: Hope

The church needs hope!

Each week, I’m posting a prayer for the Church. So far, I’ve prayed for awakening, transformational leaders, and urgency.

The Church also needs hope.

We have hope through Jesus Christ. We have the hope of being rescued from sin and spending eternity with Christ.

The Church is the messenger of hope. We have the unique and awesome task of engaging the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Bill Hybels often says, “The local church is the hope of the world.” As people who have received hope through Jesus Christ, we are a voice of hope in the world. Once we are rescued, we become part of God’s rescue mission to save the world!

O God, thank you for the hope we have in Jesus Christ, our Savior. Our hope is in You, God, who alone builds and sustains the Church!

Thank you for entrusting us with the message of hope, and for making us a voice of hope in the world. Help us to be good stewards of this hope.

Fill every follower of Jesus with hope. Help us to know our best days are ahead, that our labor is never in vain, and that you are using us to bear much fruit for your kingdom!

When we wander through barren lands, help us to be patient so we never lose hope. And, help us to be persistent as we engage in the ongoing, and often slow going, work of transformation and revitalization.

Thank you, Lord, for rescuing us. Now, please use us to rescue others. You are our hope, O God, and you alone are the hope of the world!

Amen.

New Spiritual Practices for a New Year

We are starting two new spiritual practices in 2013.

First, we’re adding a practice to our evening family devotion routine. We’ve always read Scripture or a Bible story and prayed together as a family just before putting the kids to bed. Recently, we became more intentional about memorizing Scripture.

This year, we’re adding a little to it. Each month, we’re going to focus on a meaningful word. We will also work on memorizing and internalizing a verse of Scripture that reinforces the word.

The words and verses we choose will be concepts that deepen our discipleship.

We are starting with the word LOVE.

For the next month, we will emphasize love and have as many conversations about love as we can. We’ll talk about love in the context of our relationship with God, our family relationships, as well as relationships with others.

We will memorize and internalize Luke 10.27 …

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Second, Joleen and I are going to continue our devotional time together afterward by reading a daily devotional reading from Jesus Today. Then, we will pray together.

In the last few years, at least, our family devotion time has replaced our couple’s devotion time. But both are necessary (see Couples Who Pray Together Stay Together). This will help us be more intentional about praying together.

We expect these practices to strengthen our discipleship and deepen our walks with God. They will also help nurture our relationships with one another!

How do you cultivate your relationship with God in your family?

Prayers for the Church: Urgency

The church needs a sense of urgency!

Each week, I’m posting a prayer for the Church. So far, I’ve prayed for awakening and transformational leaders. The Church also needs a sense of urgency (I wrote about urgency yesterday in Eschatological Urgency).

O God, we are your hands and feet in the world. Thank you for inviting us to participate in what you are doing in the world!

Thank you for entrusting us with the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ. Let your message and your truth be like a fire in our bones.

Forgive us for our apathy, for taking you and your mission for granted. Help us make the most of every day and every opportunity. Help us to be committed, devoted, disciplined, and intentional.

Help us to be in tune with you so we can follow the leading of your Spirit. Give us wisdom and courage. Help us to engage the world in risk-taking mission and service.

Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, O God, our consuming fire! Empower us to be your witnesses—your hands and feet, and a voice of hope—in the world!

As we actively, obediently engage in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, give us fruit, fruit that will last! And may it all be done for your glory and your glory alone. Amen.

Prayers for the Church: Transformational Leaders

The Church needs transformational leaders!

Last week, I began a series of posts praying for the Church. The church certainly needs awakening. It also needs transformational leaders.

Joleen and I have always endeavored to be transformational leaders. Transformational leaders seek to help the churches they lead experience new life and to become more active in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

A few years ago, I wrote a prayer for transformational leaders, which I posted last year. As I noted then, I wrote this prayer in my journal at the beginning of our second year in Clearfield, and I continue to come back to this prayer again and again.

I also mentioned this prayer earlier in connection with the Matthew 28 Initiative. Matthew 28 was simply a catalyst, a process to help a church accomplish a lot in a short period of time. With or without the Matthew 28 Initiative, and certainly beyond it, we will continue to endeavor to be transformational leaders. It’s what God calls us to be!

Well, this prayer continues to evolve over time. Here’s the latest version …

O God, give us clean hands and pure hearts, hearts like yours, and break them for what breaks yours!

Give us strength. Be our rock, our firm foundation. Provide us with the spiritual grounding we need for the life ahead. As we build our lives on Christ, the solid rock, develop your character in us!

Give us favor with the people you call us to reach and the people you call us to be in ministry with, especially the leaders and influencers in our churches.

Give us wisdom to lead well, and discernment to sift through all of the distractions in order to focus on those things you call us to be about.

As we navigate the journey ahead, give us patience and persistence to stay the course in the midst of the challenges and obstacles that will arise during the slow-going work of transformation and revitalization.

Give us courage. Help us to follow you, even when it’s hard!

And as we serve you faithfully, give us fruit for our labor!

Through your leadership in our lives, expressed and lived out in the places we serve, create communities of faith that will be engaged in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

Lord, raise, equip, and empower transformational leaders for the work of your Church. Amen.

5 Benefits of Journaling

I was a 19 year-old college student when I sensed God calling me into full-time ministry. Shortly afterward, I transferred to a different college and changed my major, and my life focus, from engineering to ministry.

While I was finishing up my last two years of college, working on a Bachelor’s degree in ministry, I spent time in the library reading about great preachers from the past. There were two things that struck me about them: 1) they spent a lot of time in prayer, and 2) they tended to journal. I’ve always tried to emulate these two practices in my own life.

Of course, John Wesley was a meticulous journaler. W. Lee Spottswood, one of the preachers who preceded us in this area (and in this conference) 150 years ago, whom I’ve written about here and here, journaled. Currently, I’m reading through Francis Asbury’s journal (I blogged here and here).

On September 27, 1989, I started a journal and I’ve been journaling ever since. For the first several years, I journaled pretty intensively. In 1994, I switched from writing in a three-ring binder to typing on a computer. Amazingly, in the 23 years I’ve been journaling, I’ve written nearly two million words!

While I’ve continued to journal, it has been sporadic at times. However, I recommitted to the practice of journaling after hitting the wall six months ago (I wrote as many words this year as the last five years, combined) Incidentally, I switched from journaling on a laptop to an iPad. Journaling has been a helpful practice over the last six months.

Here are five benefits I’ve experienced from journaling …

  1. Journaling helps me process stuff.
    A journal is a safe place to write out what I’m thinking and feeling.

  2. Journaling gives me a place to write out prayers.
    I’m not sure I do this enough, but I am trying to write out more of my prayers nowadays. A journal is a good place to write out what I’m saying to God.

  3. Journaling helps develop writing and communication skills.
    This was a big deal early on. In high school and college, I really didn’t like English, so I’ve always felt like I had to come from behind in writing and communication. Journaling helped.

  4. Journaling provides a record of experiences.
    Our memories are not perfect, so recording events along the journey is important. Writing it down means I can remember it later. That said, I’ve never been very good at reviewing my journal. But, at least, it gives me the opportunity to do so.

  5. Journaling helps me grow as a follower of Jesus.
    As a practice that helps me process stuff, pray, and reflect on life experiences, journaling is an important part of my discipleship strategy.

If you journal, what benefits have you discovered?

Prayers for the Church: Awakening

I am beginning a series of posts, praying for the Church. Once a week, for a while, I plan to offer a prayer for the Church, each focused on a specific area. First up is awakening.

O God, thank you for your Church, your hands and feet. Thank you for inviting us to participate in what you are doing in the world!

Thank you for entrusting your Church with the good news of Jesus Christ. Help us to be good stewards by embracing and embodying the gospel in the world!

It’s imperative, Lord, that your Church be fully alive. So, please awaken your Church. Help us to be more devoted to you, and give us a sense of urgency for the mission you’ve entrusted us with.

Where your Church is thriving, let its life, energy, and passion be contagious for the rest of the Church. Where your Church is persecuted, give courage and stamina. Where your Church is apathetic, light a fire. Where your Church has lost its way, restore it. Where your Church is obstinate and disobedient, do whatever it takes to reclaim it.

When your Church experiences awakening, we will worship you with all of our hearts. We will love people, especially the least, the lost, and the lonely. We will take risks, embrace change, and do whatever it takes to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

Awaken your Church, Lord! Amen.

Fruit Comes From Staying Connected to God

The sooner we settle the issue of how desperately we need God, the better!

Jesus once said …

I assure you that the Son can’t do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. … I can’t do anything by myself.” (John 5.19, 30)

Later, Jesus added …

I do nothing on my own, but I say just what the Father has taught me. (John 8.28)

Because of his dependence on God, Jesus stayed in close contact with God. In Luke 5.16, we’re given a key insight into the life and ministry of Jesus …

Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. (NLT)

Jesus is our model for a person who stays connected to God. If Jesus, the Son of God, clearly demonstrated dependence on God, how much more do we followers of Jesus!

It’s not simply that we can’t do anything without God. Rather, we can do nothing of eternal significance without God! To bear fruit that lasts, we must stay connected to God. The good news is, if we stay connected to God, we will produce “much fruit” (John 15.5).

I once wrote about a statement by Dr. Stephen Seamands that continues to guide my thinking about ministry, eight years after I first learned it …

I have entered into the ministry of Jesus, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, on behalf of the world.

This is a great reminder that it’s not about us. We participate in the ministry of Jesus, for God’s honor, and we do it in the power of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the world!

Have you declared your dependence on God?

Dreams Should Get Bigger As We Get Older

When I read The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson this past year (I wrote several posts; the last one was 5 Takeaways From “The Circle Maker”), one section that struck me was the idea that as we age, we typically follow one of two paths: we either move toward memory or imagination.

Batterson writes …

Neuroimaging has shown that as we age, the center of cognitive gravity tends to shift from the imaginative right brain to the logical left brain. And this neurological tendency presents a grave spiritual danger. At some point, most of us stop living out of imagination and start living out of memory. Instead of creating the future, we start repeating the past. Instead of living by faith, we live by logic. (32) … As we age, either imagination overtakes memory or memory overtakes imagination. Imagination is the road less taken … (33)

It’s often said that young people are naïve and idealistic, but as they grow older, they mature and move beyond their idealism. I can see this in my own life. As an early 20-something, I had some pretty big ministry-related dreams (I hope I still do).

It’s hard to believe looking back more than 17 years ago when Joleen and I completed seminary in Tennessee and moved to Pennsylvania (for Joleen, it was moving back to PA), that we drove to North East, PA in a 20-foot Ryder truck pulling a car carrier without a place to move into and unload our stuff when we arrived at our destination!

This loss of idealism as we “grow up” is usually viewed as a good thing, but in many ways, it’s a bad thing. We should certainly mature through experience, but we must also guard against living out of memory instead of imagination.

Batterson describes imagination as “the pathway of prayer” (33) …

Prayer and imagination are directly proportional: the more you pray the bigger your imagination becomes because the Holy Spirit super-sizes it with God-sized dreams. One litmus test of spiritual maturity is whether your dreams are getting bigger or smaller. The older you get, the more faith you should have because you’ve experienced more of God’s faithfulness. (33)

There’s certainly nothing wrong with memories, but when the pull of the past becomes stronger than the pull of the future, we’re in trouble!

Are your dreams getting bigger or smaller?

Post-Election Prayer

Now that the election has come and gone (thanks be to God!), we need to turn our attention to praying for the nation and the leaders that have been elected for the next term.

1 Timothy 2.1-2 says …

First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity.

Here are some things I’m asking God to give our leaders …

  • Wisdom
  • Integrity
  • Pure motives
  • Protection
  • Unity
  • Courage
  • And the ability to play well with others!

May God bless America!

God, Give Me a Heart Like Yours! 2.0

Recently, I’ve been writing about my need to manage stress more effectively (see 3 Steps I’m Taking to Manage Stress Better and God’s Crushings).

While journaling the other day, I reflected on a prayer I’ve been praying for at least the few months: “God, give me a heart like yours!”

The prayer is based on a line that repeats in a children’s book by Max Lucado, Hermie: A Common Caterpillar. In the story, God keeps assuring Hermie, and his friend, Wormie, the common caterpillars, that he’s giving them a heart like his. This phrase has made its way into our family’s prayers.

In the last couple of days, it struck me that, like most prayers really, this is a dangerous prayer. Asking God to do serious transformational work in our hearts, bringing our hearts and lives in line with his, is always a risky prayer. But it’s also a necessary prayer for faithful disciples of Jesus Christ!

But, I also thought about the full statement in the story. “Don’t worry, Hermie and Wormie. I’m not finished with you yet. I’m giving you a heart like mine.”

God’s work of giving us hearts like his can be difficult and challenging, but the good news is, God is faithful to continue his work in us, until the work is complete.

It reminds me of Paul’s encouragement in Philippians 1.6 …

I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. (CEB)

By all means, ask God to give you a heart like his. But hold on. And remember that God isn’t finished you yet!