Sunday, April 28, 2013

Changing the Paradigm of Prayer, Part I - April 28, 2013

I Thessalonians 5:17 - Pray without ceasing.

Throughout my Christian life, I have given myself to prayer and what many would consider the prayer movement, attending numerous prayer meetings as the result. As God has given me more responsibility around this vital ministry, people have asked me over the years how to become a more effective prayer warrior. My answer has generally been very simply to pray, and then pray some more, and then ... pray more. However, this is often more easily said than done. Distractions and complacency can be huge detractors that can easily lead us away from the place of prayer. In our minds, we know the prayer closet is truly the place of power in the Christian's life. However, we deny the power because we often do not understand the dynamics of what it means to pray effectively. Paul told the church in Thessalonica to "pray without ceasing." While this may seem like an impossibility to us today, I believe that Paul modeled this in such a way as to make it not only feasible but also practical.

Recently I was counseling a gentleman at the rescue mission where I chaplain. A few months earlier, this man had wrecked havoc in his marriage and with his children. He had said some things and acted in ways that made him feel extremely guilty. He was allowing these feelings to overwhelm him constantly. He asked me what he could do about these feelings. I told him instead of allowing these thoughts to continue to haunt him, that he should instead pray for those he had offended. His eyes glazed over a bit. I could tell he thought this was a canned answer. However, I next explained what I meant in context with Paul's admonition to the Thessalonians. The mind, I told him, is the controlling influence in our lives. This is command central for a human being and whatever we decide in our minds is eventually what will become embedded in our desires, and ultimately, our heart. I explained to this brother in the Lord how turning our thinking to praying is critical when learning how to master our emotions.

Not too long ago, the Lord shared a very simple statement with me in this regard. He said, "Stop thinking and start praying." Like this counselee, we can too often allow the flesh and the devil to pulverize us with negative thoughts about ourselves and others. However, the aforementioned evils can also tactically lead us into useless, mindless thinking that is not necessarily good or bad. We might be thinking about how the guy down the street seems to always have a lush green lawn. How does he do it? While this is not bad in and of itself, maybe God has led us in our thoughts to the "guy down the street" for another reason. Maybe He would have us to pray for his soul rather than to covet his lawn? If we will open our minds to the things of God, He will show us how much of our thinking power is wasted when it could be praying power.

I am convinced that Paul was consumed with being wholly given for the purposes of God. That is why he tells us in Colossians 3:1-2 not to set our minds on the things of earth, but on the things above where Christ is seated at the right-hand of God. Paul was all about kingdom building. He knew that nothing else mattered. That is why he understand first the mechanics and then the dynamics of how to pray without ceasing. If Paul was counseling others today, he might very well tell them what he told the Philippian church regarding divine forgetfulness. He might tell them the paramount importance of forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13). Paul understood how the mind can torture someone regarding their past. The imperative was to not give the flesh or the devil the power by merely trying to quit thinking about our former sinful lives. Instead, it was critical to turn the conversation toward God in prayer. When we attempt to have a conversation with our past, we will always lose. For when we do, the flesh and the devil are always there to reinforce our impotence to do anything about it. However, when we change the conversation and instead converse with God, a most remarkable thing begins to happen.

See next week's Bare Soul, "Changing the Paradigm of Prayer - Part II" for the conclusion.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



The Bare Soul Archive

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Clouded Prayer - April 21, 2013

Lamentations 3:44 - You have covered Yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through.

Drive or hike mountain roads or trails and eventually a person will encounter clouds. Interestingly, clouds often look thicker and more impenetrable from a distance. Once the cloud envelopes us on an alpine highway or a mountain path, we can often see our immediate surroundings regardless of how thick the cloud appears. Our relative proximity does matter regarding our perspective. However, how good is our visibility in actuality? For instance, a large blanket of clouds will often make the ground impossible to see from an airline window. Nonetheless, the ground is still there and the descent through the clouds soon makes that apparent.

Throughout God's word, the Lord identifies Himself with clouds. As our lead scripture states, He wraps Himself in a cloud in a covert manner, disallowing prayer to come before Him. Similarly, Job tells us how God uses clouds as a place of refuge, so that he creates a separation between sinful man and Himself (Job 22:14). David confirms this in Psalm 18:11 stating, "He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies." However, there will be that day when He is no longer using clouds for a covering but will use them as a means to herald His coming. Revelation 1:7 tells us "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen." In the meantime, God gives us clouds as reminders. We must understand the significance of clouds, both physically and spiritually.

Spiritual clouds for a believer imply lack of vision and clarity. As the aforementioned example, we may be able to see "immediate surroundings" in the midst of a cloud, but we really don't have the complete scope of the reality around us. For example, we may believe we are praying correctly for someone or something, but are we in the midst of a cloud created from unresolved sin in our lives? If so, then we are the one who has created a separation from the Divine by our unrepented  transgressions. We have allowed sin to cloud our understanding where we cannot hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, many of our prayers go unanswered because we neither have the faith to pray through for an answer, and God is not inclined to grant us our plea on the basis of unbelief. Then, there are situations where we may be full of faith and walking uprightly before God. Yet, God has covered Himself in a cloud because of His divine wisdom and will not hear our prayers -- or at least the way we desire to be heard. God told the prophet Ezekiel that even if "Noah, Daniel and Job" were in the midst of wicked Jerusalem, they would not be able to stay His hand from destruction of the entire land of Judah (Ezekiel 14:20). No matter if Daniel had prayed for an open heaven against the demonic strongholds that held Jerusalem in their grip, the Lord would not intervene on His chosen's behalf before the appointed time. Sometimes justice is necessary to experience mercy. God had wrapped Himself in clouds of judgment. It would be seventy years before He parted the clouds and allowed Himself to show mercy once again by restoring their captivity. This became a reality through the prayers of the righteous such as the prophet Daniel.

There are generally two reasons why prayer remains unanswered. One is certainly demonic strongholds that block answered prayer. We see this when Daniel fought with principalities to secure an open heaven for answered prayer (Daniel 10:10-14). However, possibly the one we desire least to recognize is either individual or corporate (national and/or global) sin. Often, the demonic strongholds over a person, church, city, or region are in direct relation to sin and allowing these spirits to grow in power and influence. Heaven's door has been bolted shut and cannot hear revival prayer because of the spiritual wickedness that man has allowed to exist in the heavenlies. And, as stated, this is largely due to sin.

As previously mentioned, God always comes in clouds. However, if we are waiting for Jesus to appear on the clouds and bring retribution to the nations, we may first want to examine if He has covered Himself in a cloud because of our disobedience. As Isaiah states, our sin has made a separation between us and God so that He will not hear (Isaiah 59:2). We should all desire to be a man like righteous Elijah, a man not unlike us, who was effectual and fervent in prayer for an entire nation (James 5:16-18). However, Elijah was not hidden in a cloud nor did he deal with a God who hid Himself likewise. There was transparency and full, expressive communication with divine results. May we all take a lesson from those who have gone before us. Let us live with a clear conscience before God, knowing clouds are not meant to hide, but rather to ride in victory on that final day when Christ descends with the sound of the Last Trumpet.

Heavenly Father, help us to long for the clouds of Your return, but not to hide in the clouds of sin and collusion. Grant us hearts that despise wickedness and that give us clear vision regarding Your will and desire. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,
Rick



The Bare Soul Archives

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Despair Turned Inside Out - April 14, 2013

Psalm 42:11 - Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who is in severe depression. He has been sober for a while and is still experiencing great depths of despair for no apparent reason. His life, on the outside, is headed in all the right directions. However, he has seemed to strayed and lost the joy of his salvation. I shared with this brother that I understand how depression and despair can be debilitating. I can recall the first five years after I sobered up from alcohol and drugs how I fought thoughts of suicide. Gradually, as time went on, I learned the importance of speaking to my soul and not allowing despair to find a place in my mind or heart. While this may sound impossible to some who are going through depression, it is possible with the help of God to overcome feelings of colossal hopelessness.

I remember when I tried to hide from my despair by alcohol and drugs. Of course, this just exacerbated the problem and when I got over my drunk or high, I was even more depressed. Then, I would often sleep around the clock, trying to hide from the awful feeling within. However, when I awoke, nothing had changed. When things did begin to change for me---after I allowed the Lord to take control of my  life once again---was when I started to make different choices that allowed me to feel better about myself. Before, without God in my life, there was a lack of power to even make a decision of this sort. I remember crying out to God and wanting Him to miraculously heal me of my depression and fill me with His joy. In hindsight, I see the lack of reality in this type of thinking. God can do this sort of thing, but He usually asks for our participation. Once I asked for help, and then began to make changes with His help and power, then I started to see things change. However, this would only happen through a change of conversation.
 
There is always a conversation happening within us all throughout our day. This conversation will inevitably determine the choices we make or do not make in regard to who we become. For years, I would say, "yes, but," to God. I would read from His word that "I was more than a conqueror" (Romans 8:37) but then I would disqualify this statement by thinking to myself, "Well, that is for those who have experienced God's miraculous change! I am still waiting for God's miracle!" Beloved, if I would have continued to wait for God's burning bush revelation in this area I might be dead by now, having been overwhelmed in my own self-pity and lack of faith. However, when I started moving toward this truth in God's word and began speaking to my soul that God is not a liar and I am what He said, then things started to change. I began to make choices that were commiserate with the expected change I desired. And you know what? Things began to change. I no longer had thoughts of self-destruction, but I began wanting God's presence and joy in my life by moving toward Him in faith. Through the promise of drawing near to God and Him drawing near to me (James 4:8), I overcame depression and started living in the victory He intended.

The amazing thing about speaking to ourselves the truths of God is how the Holy Spirit will partner with us, granting us more strength, power, and revelation to do more in faith. Unfortunately, if we are not allowing the Spirit of God to speak to our souls, then we are allowing the flesh and the devil to do so. Revelation will come from soaking in God's word and understanding His promises. Then, we must make a choice to act on the truth of God's word. When we know we have help in the Lord, then we are able to speak by the Holy Spirit with faith to our hearts. There is nothing more the enemy desires is to exclude God from the conversation. He desires to do all the talking and have us do all the listening. What we hear with our hearts is inevitably what we will end up doing with our lives.

The help of God's presence only comes through faith, and faith by the word of God (Romans 10:17). What are we listening to today? This will be the great determiner in what we do, beloved of God. Will we see the situation as hopeless, or will we praise God for the help of His presence as we allow God to speak life to our souls?

Heavenly Father, grant us insight regarding what it means to talk to our souls. Help those suffering great loss to experience great hope by learning to partner with the Holy Spirit and speak life to their souls. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



The Bare Soul Archives

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Proper Education - April 7, 2013

Galatians 3:24 - Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.

Elementary school years were, for the most part, good years for me. I got along well with my teachers and fellow students and generally brought home good grades. My fifth grade teacher is the one who stands out as the one who had the most influence over my early education. This educator was a kind soul, yet had a firm hand. She loved teaching, it was clear. When I was in her class she was in the twilight of her life and had taught many years. There was a special affection that grew between Mrs. Spearman and I throughout that year. She knew that I loved her grandmotherly ways, and she returned my respect with special care of her own. I remember once I had written a poem about winter and sledding and she read it to the class with great emphasis and a smile that was evident when she read each line. She asked the class who they thought wrote the poem. Some said this one or that one. At the time, I was very shy and had not given any indication of my desire to write. They never guessed it was me until she told them so with affection in her voice. I was so proud of that moment, that this kind teacher would honor me in such a small way. Nearly fifty years later, I still remember that day and will always remember her with great love and admiration for taking the time and effort to validate me amongst my peers.

We may have someone in our past who made all the difference shaping our young lives. It may have been a teacher, a relative, or a close friend. Regardless, we are all tutored and shaped by those things around us. That is, what we allow to shape us. Whether we realize it or not, our upbringings, traditions, mores, and a myriad of other influences are why we are the person we have become today, at this very moment in time. For most of us, our parents and what they dictated became the major catalyst in building the character we possess. These were likely more than suggestions but they were the law for most of us. They were "you darn well better do it if you know what's good for you" commandments that, if we transgressed, meant some type of punishment that usually was not pleasant. I tried to avoid my parents displeasure along these lines as much as possible in my formative years. However, as previously implied, my educational disciplines fell off in conjunction with my rebellious attitudes at home. In my early teens, no longer did I care about listening to teachers, parents, or any type of authority. For many years after, I would suffer the consequences of this foolish behavior. However, even as our lead verse states, "the Law" was having its desired effect on me. The commandments of society, my parents, and most importantly God, were leading me to an end of myself and my eventual surrender to Christ. For without the Law showing me how far I had spiraled downward out of control, I would have never seen my great need for Jesus Christ. He is our benchmark regarding how far as lost sinners we have all fallen from grace.

Initial surrender to Jesus Christ is imperative to once again be restored to that grace that only He can give. However, surrender is not a one time event. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:31 that he surrendered to Christ daily, insisting on dying daily for His Lord. In this regard, I would pose this question: How teachable are we? Do we allow God's law to bring us to a place of understanding and surrender regarding our inability to save ourselves? The law will produce various responses. Three relevant to our lead verse are as follows:
(1) We are doing pretty good compared to most people
(2) We just need to try harder and do better, and
(3) There is no way I can fulfill what God wants ... Lord, help me!
Of course, the most sensible response is number three. To the point where pride is alive in our old sin nature is the degree where we will deny we need God's help. As the Lord stated through Jeremiah, "they have turned their backs to me instead of their faces" (Jeremiah 32:33).

Education should be a life-long endeavor. I thank God for memories such as my fifth grade teacher and the loving tutor she will always be in my life. Through her kindness and love, I was able to see how learning is something to be embraced, not shunned. We all have earthly teachers that instruct us throughout our lives regarding life's lessons. However, there are some teachings that cannot be ignored, and these are God's commandments through His word. The psalmist tells us how the Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul (Psalm 19:7). We can either run from this great instructor, or embrace it and allow it to transfigure our lives. Beloved of the Lord, the only way we can receive proper education from God is to allow His "tutor" to instruct us. The gaze of the soul toward God's Law will only happen when we turn our face towards His and surrender to His direction.

Fairest Lord Jesus, thank you for sending Your great Law to tutor us. Thank you for showing us our great need regarding how far we have fallen from You. Allow us to embrace and love Your Law, for it truly does restore our souls and causes us to delight in the transformation of our beings into Your likeness. In Your precious Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



The Bare Soul Archives