Sunday, August 25, 2019

Ten Ways to Have a More Successful, Effective Prayer Life

The other day as I was poring through some papers that belonged to my dear Mom, I came across an article she used to refer to often.  It was written by someone in China many years ago, and it gave a description of how things would be right before Jesus comes back.  I found the words as sobering as they used to be when Mom would read them to me or speak of them through the years.  One of the main subjects the author spoke about was how increasingly difficult it would be to pray as we approach Jesus' 2nd coming.

As I read the words again, I was amazed at the accuracy of this "prophecy" written so long ago.

Does anyone else have as difficult a time entering into intercessory prayer as I do?

It is not that I don't love to pray.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I DO love to pray.  I cannot begin to express how much I love immersing in a time of deep communion and conversation with my Heavenly Father.  Those moments with Him are my favorite moments of all, and without that time of keeping our communication open and fresh, I could not, by any means, maintain the spiritual Christian walk that He enables me to walk day by day.

I have lived for Jesus long enough and neglected my prayer life enough times to come to a full realization that prayer is absolutely essential and imperative to my success in living a Christian life.  I cannot do without it for it is in Him that I live and move and have my being.  (Acts 17:28)  

I have no ability to know which path to take, without consistently engaging in conversation with my Lord.  "O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."  Jeremiah 10:23  

"The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in His way."  Psalm 37:23 

I desperately need to continually hear His voice instructing me which way to go, and it is crucial that I do whatever is necessary to draw daily strength and grace from Him to overcome the onslaught of evil that we all have to contend with in daily life.  

"Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Matthew 26:41

"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing."  John 15:51

I know I need to pray, and I know the consequences that ensue when I don't pray as I should, so I determined to try to identify the main opponents to my prayer life.  

Hosea 4:6 says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."
What exactly is it that makes praying so difficult in these last days?

Once I identified my biggest prayer hindrances, it was easier to come up with ammunition to combat those deterrents and win!  I hope you will also find these tips helpful as you pursue a more effective prayer life for truly there is no substitute for the amazing power of consistent, effectual prayer in the life of a Christian.

 "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
James 5:16

1.  Pray first.  
Let it begin as soon as you awaken in the morning.  Just get it done!  
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."  Matthew 6:33
On days that I don't pray first, not only does it seem the day falls apart, I also walk around with a continual nagging sense of not having done what I should.  It sets an out-of-sorts tone for the whole day.  Spending those first moments of the day with God in prayer gives a sense of having done my duty and arms me with what I will need to face the unfamiliar challenges of a new day.  As I get older and don't sleep as soundly as I used to, I find that I am doing a lot of praying during the night, too.  There is nothing more comforting to do when you are tossing and turning than to turn your heart Heavenward and talk it all over with Him.  It is soothing to the soul and gives a sense of refreshed peace when you wake up later.

"My mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips: when I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches.  Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice."  Psalm 63:5-7

"Yet the LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life."  Psalm 42:8

"My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on Your promises."
Psalm 119:148

Most importantly, Jesus, our example, prayed all night long.

"And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God."  Luke 6:12

The Bible mentions Jesus' prayer life enough times to reveal His prayer patterns to us, and we would all do well to pay careful attention to those details.  If He needed to pray so often and for such long, extended periods of time, do we really think we can run a successful Christian race doing less?  

"The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees."
 EM Bounds

2.  If you can't pray first, pray faithfully.
If praying during the first part of the day doesn't work for you, the main thing is to be intentional about specifying a block of daily time for prayer regardless of the time of day, and then committing to it daily and making it a habit —just like a daily important appointment.  It is actually the most important of all.

3. Establish a designated place to pray.
  Though we can obviously pray from anywhere, it helps to have a particular place to pray. Having a designated prayer spot will associate prayer to that location and become a place that draws and reminds you to pray.  Over time, as you experience God's anointing in that place, you will begin to regard and cherish it as holy ground.  

4.  Be comfortable.
This may sound like an odd prayer strategy, but if you are in an uncomfortable position, you probably won't want to stay there long.  Again, as I get older, I find that being on my knees isn't the most comfortable position, and when I start out praying that way, I usually end up moving to my recliner to finish.  It may be just my opinion, but I don't believe God is nearly as concerned about bodily position while praying as He is in fervency, earnestness, and the condition of the heart.  I will never forget how much it impressed me to read about how Charles Stanley arms himself with the whole armor of God before his feet touch the floor each morning.  This lends support to the point of praying first and gives another reason that it is a good idea.  Praying in bed first thing in the morning brings us into the presence of God and insures that He is the first one we face and talk to.  We never leave an encounter with Him unchanged, and after being with Him, we will find ourselves prepared for every other intersection and interaction that will happen throughout the day.

5.  Keep paper and pen near your prayer spot.
One of my main inhibitors during prayer time is becoming so distracted by the onslaught of meddlesome thoughts that continually stream through my mind as I am trying to pray.  I start thinking of phone calls I need to make, emails I need to write, people I need to reach out to and connect with, chores I need to accomplish, what I will cook for my family, and upcoming occasions for which I need to prepare.  So, to beat the enemy at his distractions game, I started keeping a pad of paper and pen close by.  Now, when those distracting thoughts start invading, I start jotting short little note reminders.  This transfers the task from my mind to paper, and I can let it go to be revisited later in the day.  It's a winning strategy that works perfectly and enables me to keep right on praying until I am finished!

6.  Allow for listening.  
The fact that a conversation is two-way also applies to prayer, but an often overlooked part of prayer is allowing space for God to speak.  We want to do all the talking and asking and petitioning, but we rush away from prayer after pouring out what we want to say, and we fail to linger long enough to give Him an opportunity to deal with our hearts and reveal His thoughts.  There is much that He will relay to us if we will make the effort to be still before Him.  Reduce noise, and pray in solitude.  Jesus did.  

"And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone."  Matthew 14:23

"And when He had sent them away, He departed into a mountain to pray."  Mark 6:46

"And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed."  Mark 1:35

"But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer."  Luke 5:16

7.  Pray on.
Though you have an allocated prayer spot and time, it is important to also remember to stay in a spirit of prayer after you finish and as you continue throughout the entirety of your day.  I Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to "Pray without ceasing."  We obviously cannot stay in our designated prayer spot and preferred prayer position 24/7, but we can continually call on the Lord and pray unceasingly as we go about our day and perform our duties, keeping our minds in a continual state of communion with Jesus.  He is always there with us, as close as the slightest whisper, and every time we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.  "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you."  James 4:8  I have found that my daily duties, i.e., homeschooling, cleaning, cooking, laundry, and even errands have become springboards from which prayer wells up, and things that would otherwise be mundane and laborious are transformed into opportunities for deep conversation with my Lord.

8.  Shed toxic influences.
Shed people who continually hinder and dampen the audaciousness of your faith.  Stop listening to those who quench your inspiration.  When Jesus was on the earth, and He was faced with an impossibility to pray through, He sent all doubters away and dispelled hindering spirits from the atmosphere.  They were not allowed access into His inner circle.  In fact, in particular situations and circumstances, Jesus ONLY permitted a select three of His twelve disciples to go with Him.
In the case of raising Jairus' daughter from the dead, He allowed only Peter, James, John, and the girl's parents to stay in the room as He performed the miracle.  (Luke 8:50-55)
When Jesus was going to the mountain to be miraculously transfigured, (Matthew 17:1-2), He only took Peter, James, and John.  When He entered the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His crucifixion, He only invited Peter, James, and John to go farthest into the garden with Him to pray.
There was no place for doubt, fear, or unbelief in Jesus' realm.  When opposing spirits were present, He removed them.  Why?  Because fear, doubt, and unbelief can hinder the miracle from manifesting.  It can also deeply influence and injure the faith of others who DO believe God is going to answer prayer.  If you are praying with someone who does not believe for what you are asking, that spirit of unbelief can absolutely hinder the answer from coming through and can start to cause you to start doubting God's ability to do what you are asking Him to.  Doubt is toxic to faith.  Get rid of it, and shed those who inject it into your prayer life.  It may sound cruel and heartless, but it is just that necessary.

9.  Surround yourself with Godly influencers of faith.
  Surround yourself with those who unfailingly believe that God is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.
"But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."  Hebrews 11:6
Ask the Lord to send earnest, relentless prayer partners into your life.  Seek out those who speak life into the situations you are praying about.  Abraham had faith in "Him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.'  Romans 4:17
THAT is the God we serve.  He has not lost one bit of His power, and "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever."  Hebrews 13:8
Just as Jesus chose those whom He knew believed with all their hearts and placed them in His inmost inner circle, we have the free will to choose the people we allow in ours.  None of us want to hurt another, but when it comes to running a successful Christian race, and knowing the main tool to make that happen is the maintaining of a strong, faith-filled prayer life, it is imperative that the people we permit access to our closest companionship are those who possess a resolute, unshakable faith in God.  It took me a long time to realize the depth of wisdom in expending the necessary effort it took to develop an encirclement of stalwart faith-filled prayer warriors around me.  When a need arises, I want to know that the people I ask to pray will fervently pray and that they will do so with zero doubt in the God they are praying to.
Don't you?

10.  Keep prayer commitments. 
Just as you want to know you and your prayer requests are being faithfully prayed for, be careful to pray for those for whom you have promised to pray.  If you tell someone you will pray for them, honor your word and be committed to keeping your promise to carry their needs to the Father.  I find it is very helpful to keep a prayer book where I record the names of those I have made a commitment to pray for.  Life is busy and full of care, and it is easy for me to become so absorbed in all that is going on in my own life and completely forget to keep my promise to pray for others.  I have also learned to drop what I am doing and pray instantly with/for those who ask for prayer, if at all possible.

As always, if anyone who reads this needs prayer, please always feel free to email me through this site.  When I tell you I will be praying for you, by God's grace, I will keep my word!

God bless you as you pursue an ever-deepening prayer life, and may He send people into your life who will reinforce your faith, support your determination, and powerfully enhance the strength of your prayers.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Letting Go, Burning the Ships, & Walking Away

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:13-14

I find it so interesting that two of the most powerful (in my opinion, but then again, it is ALL powerful!) messages conveyed in the Word of God consist of a total of a mere five words and are tied for being the first and second shortest verses in the whole Bible.

"Jesus wept."  John 11:35
"Remember Lot's wife."  Luke 17:32

(Any ideas on what the two-word and three-word verses are that they are tied with?  In case you don't know, I'll reveal the answer at the very end of this post. 😉)

Knowing Jesus felt such deep compassion for His friends when He saw them weeping that He was actually moved to tears speaks untold volumes about His character.  Knowing "Jesus wept" profoundly reveals the true character of God because "God is love," (I John 4:16) and Jesus is God.

I absolutely love the two-word verse, "Jesus wept," but today I want to focus on the three-word verse, "Remember Lot's wife" because God has so often brought it to mind lately.  It seems to stay in my mind nearly all the time, as my family and I continue to minimize, downsize, simplify, and shed toxins from our lives.  SO often over the course of our minimizing journey that began in 2015 and continues to this day, I have been tempted to "look back," and the Lord has reminded me to stop and remember Lot's wife.  

We all know the story about how God called Lot and his wife and two daughters out of Sodom and Gomorrah right before He sent fire and brimstone from Heaven to destroy both cities.  The angels could not execute the plan of eradication until after Lot and his family were safe.  They were to flee quickly, and they were plainly instructed to NOT look back.  

Maybe I am looking at it all wrong, and God please forgive me if I am, but I have always felt sorry for Lot's wife.  Sadly, I think I can relate to her need to look back more than I should be able to.  I have a very strong tendency to look back.  Even in the smaller things, like when Kevin, Zach, and I have enjoyed a meal in a restaurant, I always feel this need to look back and stare longingly for just a moment at the now-empty booth where we made such happy memories only a few moments before.  I think it is some sort of hang-up and probably has a clinical name, but it is what it is. 😏

Having moved approximately 47 times (no joke) while growing up, I have more than likely done more than my fair share of looking back.  Wishing for the places we used to live, wanting things to stay the same, dealing with my innate strong aversion to change, and being overly sentimental in nature, looking back is a constant temptation for me.  

When the Lord calls us out of a situation that is detrimental to us, the enemy would like nothing better than to persuade us to be drawn right back in to the misery.  For proof, just think about the Israelites.  They were tormented beyond what they could withstand, and God graciously heard their cries and miraculously delivered them from extreme, debilitating bondage to Pharaoh and the Egyptians.  But, soon after the deliverance and at the first sign of adversity, they were tempted to go right back to the misery.  Somehow, in their minds, going back to the anguish was better because it was familiar.

It is very easy to forget the grief we have been liberated from when faced with fear of a new, unknown, unfamiliar challenge.  Looking backward seems like the easiest, most comfortable option.  But, the thing is, God never leads backward.  He is an ever forward-looking God who knows that if we look back, we will remain tethered to the past and will never walk forward into the things He has ahead for us.  

It is hard to let go of the past.  There are so many parts of it that possess the potential to hold us prisoner.  When God called Lot out of Sodom and Gomorrah and told him and his family not to look back, they were being asked to walk away from everything familiar and known to them.  Though the cities had become exceedingly wicked, still, it was home.  I can completely understand why Lot's wife felt the need to turn around and look back, but in doing so, she rendered herself incapable of ever taking another step forward.  She ended up losing her life and becoming immortalized in the form of a pillar of salt to serve as a sobering reminder to every one who would come after her, and the lesson was so profound, our Lord spoke of her all those years later.

We can't relive yesterday.  We can't go back and do anything over.  We are where we are, at this season of time and life, and nothing that has happened heretofore can be reversed.  To try to keep holding on to yesterday and all it contained is a complete waste of energy.  Looking back and wishing for what used to be or what might have been is counter-productive to enjoying life that is right in front of us.

Today, I had to walk away from some things that hurt so much, I cried.  I cried, but the tears didn't stop me from doing what I knew I had to do.  I've had many such moments over the past four years since God began dealing with us to begin our minimizing journey.  I have written a lot more about it over at our other blog, Biblical Minimalism.  You can read there about how God has led us to let go and walk away from so much that was dear to our hearts in pursuit of a higher call and a more intimate walk with Jesus.    

At first, our minimizing was mostly of a physical-possession nature, but as time has passed, God has steadily maximized our minimizing to encompass the entirety of our lives.  In a post called "The Whole-Person Pie," I talk about how Biblical Minimalism encompasses the whole person comprised of eight different parts.  

Each time God asks us to let go and breaks chains and releases us from bondage, it is a painful process.  It is not an easy task to let go of the familiar, but sometimes familiar is no longer a good place to be.  God sometimes has to allow things to reach a certain height of misery before we realize that a change needs to be made.  When we recognize that need, it takes courage to let go, burn the ship, walk away, and never look back.

After I began writing this post, Zach read the following story told by Luke Smallbone of "For King and Country" concerning the inspiration and story behind this, one of my new favorite songs.

"I read a story about an explorer going to a new land. When he arrived on the shore, he calls everybody off of the ships and said, 'Hey let's go explore this land and see what there is to be seen,'" Luke explains. "All the men were terrified of going into the unknown and he realized that even though those boats were grimy, stinky, and small, they wanted to stay on the boats because it was familiar. The next day he calls them out again and when all the sailors were on land, he gives the command to burn the ships because he said, 'We're not going to retreat. We're going to move forward in our lives."
Luke Smallbone - (read entire interview here)

When God has broken chains of addiction or delivered us out of a bondage situation or relationship, it is never His intention we ever return to such, and the reason it is important to "burn the ship" is because it removes not only the temptation, but the possibility, of ever trying to.

Hebrews 12:1,2 has become our life mission.  "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."

The chapter preceding Hebrews 12 is referred to as "The Faith Chapter" or "The Hall of Faith."  It tells of flawed, but Godly people who became stalwart heroes of the faith like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites, Rahab, and many others who fought the good fight of faith without looking back, were valiant warriors for righteousness in their generation, and in the first verse of chapter 12, they are referred to as "a great cloud of witnesses."  I think of them often, and I realize that each one of them were called upon to let go of the familiar and to step out into an audacious, daring, untested realm of faith in order to accomplish God's call upon their lives.  They had to lay aside every weight, put everything they had on the line, and lighten their load to successfully run the race God laid out before them.  When God called Abraham to leave his comfort zone, he didn't even know where he was going.  He just knew he was being asked to go.  He had no predecessor to look back upon and see a victorious outcome.  He had to walk away and not look back with nothing to hold on to except the call of God.  Each one of the life stories mentioned is remarkable and worthy of deep study and consideration.  All glory to God, I not only have them as examples, but God has endowed me with a deep spiritual heritage of my own.  My dear Papaw, who others referred to as "the walking King James," my grandma "Mimmie," my own dear parents, and others have greatly influenced my life by the way they followed Jesus with their whole hearts.  Most of all, we can all look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  It is He who has called us to follow Him, and He is the one I most long to please.

As I wrestle with letting go, burning ships, and walking away from what is besetting me and weighing me down, I often hear His still, small voice.  After another favorite song below, I am sharing some of the things He has been teaching me and reminding me about HIS own earthly journey, in hopes they will help you, too, as you seek a closer walk with Him and struggle with letting go of all that holds you back.

Walking Away - Unspoken

1.  Jesus had to walk away from His old life.  At 30 years of age, He had to let go of whatever He owned or held dear to walk the lonely path of ministry, self-denial, giving and pouring His life into the lives of others, and three years later, walking the anguished steps of the Via Dolorosa that led Him to the cross.  Surely He owned things, He felt deep love and affection for people in His life, and He felt twinges of sadness over a yearning for home and what used to be.  How do I know this?  Because He was tested in every point that we are tested, (Hebrews 4:15), but He never disobeyed His Father's will, and no matter how difficult it was, He did the right thing always.  I don't even want to think about the hopelessness that would have enveloped mankind if Jesus had looked back!

2.  Jesus had to travel light.  He let go and walked away from every hindering element.  He laid aside every weight that would so easily beset Him and loved nothing more than He loved His Father.

3.  Jesus had to shed toxic relationships and move on to those who would accept Him.  When Jesus returned to His very own hometown, the people there verbally abused Him and thought He was crazy.  Their hatred for Him was so intense, they wanted to kill Him!  Talk about toxic!  They "rose up, and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong."  Luke 4:29  No wonder He said, "A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house."  (Mark 6:4) and "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household."  (Matthew 10:34-36)  He had to make the tough decision to shed relationships with those who would deter Him from His purpose and walk away from His past and move on to a people who would receive and accept Him and His word and who would recognize who He was, what His true gifts were, and who would appreciate and honor Him.  "But He passing through the midst of them went His way, and came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. And they were astonished at His doctrine: for His word was with power."  Luke 4:30-32

4.  Everything we lay down, let go of, and walk away from for His sake and the sake of the Gospel will bring hundredfold blessings - not only in Heaven, but in this life, also.  "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."  Mark 10:29-30

As you have read this post, has the Lord brought anything to your mind that you may need to let go of?  Any ships that need to be burned?  Any situation, possession, or relationship that you need to walk away from?

Today is a new day.  A fresh start.  A wonderful opportunity to purge what is toxic.  A chance to lay aside everything that is unlike Jesus and that keeps us from being like Him.

I pray you find the courage to follow Him with your whole, undivided heart.

Did you happen to think of those two verses I spoke about at the beginning?
The answer for the two-word verse is "Rejoice evermore."  I Thessalonians 5:16, and the answer for the three-word verse is "Pray without ceasing."  I Thessalonians 5:17.