Unity


Moravian Church, Crest and moto, “Our Lamb Has Conquered, Let Us Follow Him”

I recently took up the spiritual practice of the Moravian Watchwords.

The Moravian Church is one of the oldest protestant denominations in the world, dating back to the Bohemian Reformation of the 15th century.  They fled Bohemia (western Czech Republic) to Saxony (southeastern Germany) in 1722 to escape religious persecution and settled near the town of Herrnhut.  From there Moravians have spread across the world.  Today the Moravian Church counts approximately 1.2 million members throughout Europe, North America, Africa, The Caribbean and Latin America.

Every year, for the past 290 years, the Moravian’s have published a devotional text known as The Watchwords.  A daily set of two verses, one from the old testament and one from the new testament, paired to provide a framework for meditation and prayer.  For three centuries millions of people have relied on the watchwords as their introduction to the scriptures and as a guide to prayer.  I started using them this summer after I finished my reading of the Psalms and when I heard that one my spiritual heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, credited them with keeping him grounded while in prison for opposing Nazi rule.

Today’s watchwords where from Isaiah 53:5 and John 11:51,52.

“By his bruises we are healed” and “Not for the nation only but to gather all children into one”.

It has become increasingly necessary for Christians all over the world to recognize that we are united by grace.  We gather, from all economic realities, all walks of life, all countries, and all political affiliations, at the foot of the cross to be washed in the blood of Jesus our hearts sustained by the water of life that gushes from his side and sent forth into the world as one humanity.  He took our punishment upon himself and healed us.  Caiaphas thought that by killing Jesus he could save the Jewish nation, (John 11:50) but he did not realize that Jesus’ death would save, not just the Jews, but all nations and make them one.

My childhood church used two hymn books.  One a traditional, red hard cover tome filled with all the old classic hymns from yesteryear.  The other a small, green paperback full of more modern folk songs and spirituals called the “Sing and Rejoice”, songbook.

One of the songs that I remember from “Sing and Rejoice” was called “Unity” by Gerald Derstine.  Derstine was a charismatic Mennonite pastor active from the 1950s to the 1990s who was well known in certain Mennonite circles for his evangelical teaching style and spiritual song writing.  He wasn’t a particularly prolific songwriter however but with a bit of digging I managed to find this version of Unity on YouTube as performed by the Mennonite Covenant Choral.  Close your eyes and let the words wash over you.

In these polarized times, Jesus, help us live in unity.

Da L-Dawg Show!


I started a YouTube Channel to supplement my blogging.

I figured it would be a good way to get quick thoughts out without a lot of writing, editing and thinking.  After playing with the format a bit I discovered that it is easy to produce and upload a 5-minute video in about half the time it takes for me to write and edit a 500-word blog post.

I’m not going to stop writing but the video format will allow me to get quick thoughts and ideas out in a more timely manner.  Moving forward, I hope to post at least one or two videos per week along with one longer written post here.

Here are the first two episodes of Da L-Dawg Show! for your viewing pleasure.  Hit subscribe at the end so that you are notified when I upload the next episode.  Enjoy!

How Monsanto and other Corporate Interests Killed the Baby Jesus…


A Pre-Christmas Reflection

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 

Leviticus 19:9
Food, Inc. Movie Poster – Magnolia Pictures, 2008

Back in 2008 documentary film maker Robert Kenner went on a journey throughout America to document the ways in which massive corporate interests had taken control of the agriculture industry and control nearly all aspects of the food chain from family farms, to grocery stores, restaurants and everything in between.  The resulting film, “Food, Inc.”  made $4.6 million at the box office (a huge success for a documentary) and was nominated for Best Documentary Film at the 2009 Academy Awards.

One segment of the film told how the production of grains had been transformed into a biochemical science dominated by the massive chemical technology firm Monsanto.  Beginning in the 1970s, Monsanto developed genetically engineered strains of plants that could resist drought and produce higher crop yields.  They also developed pesticides and fertilizers.  Monsanto is perhaps best known as the maker of the weed killer RoundUp which basically kills every green plant it touches and was recently proven to cause Cancer in humans who handled large quantities of it.  They were also one of the manufacturers of Agent Orange, the chemical the U.S. Military weaponized to defoliate the jungle during the Vietnam war. 

The segment focused mostly on Monsanto’s development of hybrid seed technology and their efforts to protect their patents by forcing farmers to purchase only their seed every spring.  Why is that important?  Because by doing so Monsanto was attempting to eliminate the ancient agricultural practice of seed drying.

A farmer spreads seed on a tarp to dry for later use.

Seed drying is as old as agriculture itself.  Also known as using heirloom seeds, it is the act of taking a portion of the harvest, drying and storing it over the winter to plant again the next season.  These heirloom seeds create generations of the same strain of plants again and again in an endless sustainable cycle.  Over several generations these plants create local characteristics that are unique to their environment sometimes creating flavors and strains of plants not found anywhere else.  But Monsanto, and other massive corporations view this as a threat to their brand.  They believe that by drying and replanting seeds from plants originally purchased from Monsanto farmers are stealing their intellectual property and have attempted to sue farmers who practice seed drying for trademark and copyright infringement. 

What made this story even more absurd was the fact that Monsanto successfully sued one farmer and forced him to shut down his seed drying operation even though he had never purchased a single seed from Monsanto.  The judge in the case ruled that since neighboring farms did purchase Monsanto seed there was no way for the farmer to prove that any of the seed from those neighboring farms hadn’t inadvertently blown into his field.  The fact that there was no way Monsanto to prove that it had happened notwithstanding.

The case illustrates two very important points.  First, that corporate interests have taken such complete control of our daily lives that there is simply no going back.  Even if you think you are being counter cultural and non-conformist, the corporations have so completely infiltrated our lives that we simply cannot escape them even if we try.  Case in point Amazon’s 2017 purchase of Whole Foods Market.  Second, it is becoming increasingly difficult and even illegal to follow God’s law.  Now to be fair I am not a legalist when it comes to taking on a Christian walk but when God says in Leviticus to leave a portion of your harvest behind, he means us to do so to take care of the poor and landless.  It’s through this act of charity that Ruth, the great-grandmother of Jesus, was able to remain alive.  By lobbying to outlaw seed drying Monsanto has effectively killed the Baby Jesus. 

Hyperbole?  Maybe, that’s for you to decide – Merry Christmas.

Becoming


I’m a member of the Be In Christ Church of Canada.

We used to be called the Brethren In Christ but a few years ago some people got concerned that the name was a bit sexists and dated.  What is a brethren anyway?  We don’t use words like that anymore and no one quite knew what to do with it.

I looked it up – Dictionary.com defines brethren this way:

 

archaic plural form of brother.

fellow Christians or members of a male religious order.

 

Yah – dated and sexist, not exactly how you would expect a modern church to want to present itself.

Unfortunately, no one could agree on a suitable new name at first so for a time we resorted to being known simply as the BIC.  That satisfied some people but not everyone and so we continued to work through different options, finally someone suggested that we could just let the B stand for the word Be and we could use it convey the message that we are BE-loved, BE-long, and BE-coming.  Check out the video on our name here – http://www.canadianbic.ca/

It’s that last word – Becoming – that has captured my imagination lately.

What, or more accurately who, am I becoming?

Have you ever just sat and watched a fish in a tank?  Your Goldfish, or whatever you choose to keep in your tank, can’t ever stay in one place for very long or he’ll die.

We all know that a fish breathes by extracting oxygen from water.  In order to do that water has to pass through his gills and in order for that to happen poor old Nemo must keep moving.

In a way, we’re all kind of like fish.

Think of time as our water.  As we move through time we breathe and grow.  We are constantly becoming the people we will be tomorrow, next month or next year.  But we can’t stop.  If we stop, we stagnate and a little piece of us dies.

Life is a process of becoming.  But becoming what, or who?

As Christians our goal should be to become more and more like Jesus.  Jesus taught us intimately how we should live.  He showed us with his life and taught us through direct instruction and storytelling.

The apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi prayed that the process of becoming more like Jesus would one day be complete.

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [Philippians 1:4-6]

But the process is never complete.  The gap between who you are and who you will one day be may be getting narrower, but it will never fully close.  Dissatisfaction with the person you are and the person you wish to be is what keeps us moving forward.

That’s the nature of becoming.

Who are you becoming?

Let’s chat about it in the comments below – I read and reply to every comment…

 

Whom Do We Follow?


I think most people can agree that in 2018 we’re living in unique and uncharted history.

That might sound silly, all history is unique and uncharted while we are living it, but that’s not the point.

The point is that in 2018 things are very different than they have ever been before and the choices we make today can and will have lasting effects on our future.  It’s as if we are standing at a crossroads of history.  Fifty or a hundred years from now people may look back on these moments and say that the era in which we are now living was a major turning point.

History is a funny thing.  It turns all the time.  But this time somehow feels different to me and as I look back over some of the major sociopolitical events of my lifetime I see an accelerating trend that appears irreversible and that is scaring the hell out of me.

Sociologist and historians have begun to refer to our current cultural moment as the turning point from Christendom, in which most people identified, at least nominally, as members of the Christian religion to a new “Post-Christian” period.  For the first time in over 1500 years polls are showing that people who identify as Christian have fallen to less than 50% in most western countries.  And those who identify as having no religion all are the fastest growing segment of society.

What this means for our society is not yet known.  For clues we can look back to the pre-Christian period, that time before the Church became the dominant sociopolitical force but that will only give us a few clues, looking backwards can’t accurately predict the future.

In the pre-Christian period for example the sanctity of life was not a given.  As a result, unwanted babies were simply thrown in the trash, people were bought and sold as nothing more than units of labor, conscripted into armies and treated like “canon fodder” to advance the ambitions of a despotic leader.  Human rights were practically non-existent.

Over the last 1500 years however the Church has played a big role in the slow progression away from these attitudes.  The Church wasn’t perfect but Christian monasteries were the first to take in unwanted children giving them a chance at life, William Wilborforce, a devoted Christian politician, championed the abolishment of human slavery and the Red Cross was founded to help and protect wounded soldiers left to die on the battlefield.

One only needs to look to societies where Christianity has failed to penetrate to see what our future could be.  Abortion, human trafficking and even the failure to adequately care for war veterans were once the exclusive purview of nations heavily influenced by Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim theology.  But as the influence of Christianity wanes these debates are becoming more and more mainstream.

The abortion debate is alive and well as are discussions of Euthanasia and welfare programs.  The poorest members of society continue be victimized by those with wealth and power.  Human trafficking resulting in sexual slavery and indentured servitude is happening right under our noses in every city and province of Canada while arguments regarding how best to educate our children about things like sexuality and the funding for social programs to assist the poorest among us continue to be hijacked by far-right discussions of personal responsibility.  All of this results in the restriction rather than expansion of human rights.

What is the true Jesus follower to do?

First, we must remember that Jesus was no friend of the ruling class.  When Christians align with political power the result is almost always an ugly, misshapen form of oppression.

Jesus was called a friend of sinners, relentlessly pursuing the downtrodden.  What an irony that today his followers are seen in the opposite light!  How can people love God, whom they can’t see if those of us who claim to represent him don’t respond to outsiders with love? David Kinnaman; unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters

It sickens me that Christians can in one breath proclaim the love of Christ and salvation for everyone while voting in politicians who gut social programs, close boarders and deny access to health care on the basis of some misaligned morality and “traditional” values.  There is a huge disconnect and when people really study the teachings of Jesus the untruth of what many of His followers teach becomes glaringly obvious.  The sad fact is that most self-proclaimed Christians refuse to see it or try to explain it away by saying that Jesus didn’t really mean that to apply to us, just to his first century followers.  That quite frankly is heresy.

When people live life the way Jesus intended the result is undeniably counter cultural.

There is nothing more powerful than the Christian life lived out in obedience; there is nothing worse than a flat, self-righteous form of faith that parades around in Christian clothes. David Kinnaman; unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters

Christians who endeavor to embrace Jesus stand out.  They are perpetrators and ambassadors of an entirely new way of living.  The way of Jesus is not the way of politics or religion but the way of discipleship on a completely different plain.

Jesus declares not that he has come to reform religion but that he’s here to END religion and to replace it with himself. – Timothy Keller; King’s Cross

Followers of Jesus are not perfect.  We get it wrong a lot, probably more often than we care to admit.  But our heart is aligned with Jesus, completely and totally.  No pretence, no caveats and no compromise.  We work together in community to study the scriptures and learn from one another to bet better versions of ourselves and better followers of Him each day.

We are not followers of a book, or a set of rules, we are followers of a person.

If your religion does not look like Jesus, it’s heresy, plain and simple.

 

 

Temptation


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Chapter 7:  Temptation

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. [Matthew 6:13]

By this point in our prayer we are just about ready to wrap it up.  We have already prayed for blessing, praised God’s sovereignty, asked for guidance and offered our assistance in bringing about God’s will and purpose in the world, made requests for our personal needs, asked for and offered forgiveness of our sins.  But before we sign off there is one more thing we need to address; that is the spiritual warfare that is going on all around us trying to get us to backslide, causing harm to both ourselves and others and negatively damaging God’s reputation in the world.

Now is the time for us to pray for God’s help in battling temptation and protecting us from everything that can harm us moving forward.

In December 2017 Pope Francis gave an interview to TV2000, an Italian Catholic TV channel in which he stated that the phrase “lead us not into temptation” was a poor translation of the 4th century Latin that most modern day biblical translations are based on.  Noting that the Latin is itself a translation of ancient Greek, which is also a translation from the Aramaic that Jesus and his original followers would have spoken, Francis suggested that God as our loving father does not test his children by throwing us into temptation as the traditional translation would lead us to believe.  Rather, according to the Pope, a better translation would be to say, “let us not fall into temptation”, which suggests that God can and will protect us from it.

Although I agree with Pope Francis on this point I was taught the prayer in the traditional way and just as I personally preferred to say trespasses instead of debts or sin in Chapter 6, I prefer to say “lead us not” here.  It is nothing more than a personal preference of phraseology, the intended meaning is the same.  I firmly believe, along with Pope Francis that God is not the one leading us to be tempted, rather he is protecting us from our temptations.

It has also been my experience that many people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the presence of evil in the world.  Or rather, if they do it is something that is to be bemoaned and lamented about but not much resisted.  “It is what it is”, or “what can you do?” are the phrases most often heard in the face of unexplained hurt, pain and destruction.  We are quick to praise God for our good fortune but no one, it seems is willing to blame the demonic forces of evil for what is clearly their doing.  It is as if we all live in the fictional world of Harry Potter where Satan is the cosmic Lord Voldemort, he who must not be named, because to acknowledge his name is to give him legitimacy and power.   Or more to the point to acknowledge evil is to admit it exists and to somehow reduce the sovereignty of God to the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  We live in a fallen world.  The presence of evil in the world is our doing, we invited it in and let it have dominion over us [Genesis 3].  Jesus refers to Satan as “the prince of this world” [John 12:31] and says that he has come to “seek and save the lost” [Luke 19:10].  Jesus’ main purpose in coming into the world was to save us from Satan.  And that is what we are requesting when we pray for him to “deliver us from evil.”  The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is in one sense a motivational speech given to soldiers as they ready themselves for battle.  But the battle they are preparing for is not a traditional assault on a physical enemy but one against spiritual forces of doubt, sin and psychological destruction.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. [Ephesians 6:12]

So, as we get ready to wrap up our prayer now is the time to pause yet again and pray specifically for God’s help in avoiding the many pitfalls that Satan will place in our path.  Pray that God will help us steer clear of the things we know we are weak to defend against as well as anything new he can cook up.  If we are prone to watching pornography when we are lonely, pray that God will bring people into our lives at just the right moment to distract us from our loneliness.  If we are prone to making bad decisions with money pray that God will give us wisdom to discern between our spending options. And finally pray that God will protect us from the effects of evil in the world over which we have little or no control.  Protect us from the Gang Bangers who frequent the crack den down the street or the tyrannical boss who wields his power like a megalomaniac.

God the father wants nothing more than to be our protector, our ever-present help in times of trouble [Psalm 46].  But like the prodigal father he will never impose his protection on us, we need to remember to ask for it.  Take a minute now and ask for his protection.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. [Matthew 6:13]

Confession and Forgiveness


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Chapter 6 – Confession and Forgiveness

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. [Matthew 6:12]

Depending on your translation this verse could read either, debts, sins or trespasses.  I originally learned it as trespasses and still say it that way today, but the sentiment is the same no matter how you say it.

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Sin separates us from God’s glory. It’s been that way since the very beginning.  Ever since the original sin God and mankind have been separated.  At times God has broken down the barriers and come to his people but mankind has had to create elaborate rituals designed to cleanse sinfulness from himself before he can approach God.  The entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament was designed to provide this cleansing and remind mankind of his sin and unworthiness to approach God.

Jesus, as the final sacrifice blows that whole system up but not before giving us a hint of how we can maintain our intimacy with God long after he is gone here in his prayer.  Forgiveness of our sins is available to all of us, all we have to do is be willing to give forgiveness as freely as we have receive it.

But you can’t receive forgiveness if you don’t first confess.  And you can’t offer forgiveness if you don’t first examine the motives behind the wrong act.

This is very hard.

As we go through the list of wrongs that we have both committed and endured we must think about the people we have hurt and those who have hurt us.  While we don’t have to forgive their actions, we must be willing to look beyond the act itself and see the person behind it.  In the case of our own forgiveness we must examine our motives and resolve to find better ways to express our needs and desires without causing harm to anyone else.  And in the case of the wrongs committed against us we need to look deeper at the motivations of the perpetrator before we can forgive the person.

We can still hold people accountable for their choices, as we will likely be held accountable for our own.  We can expect to be asked to pay some form of restitution before we can fully restore a relationship so asking for restitution in return is generally acceptable but that cannot prevent us from freely forgiving the person who committed the act.

Forgiveness is not tied to restitution.  Even between us and God, when we ask for forgiveness God may still require us to do something before we are fully welcomed back into community and that’s okay.  We are still freely forgiven simply by confessing our sin and offering the same kind of forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

At this point in the prayer we break it down into it’s two component phrases and pause while we list off both our sins for which we need forgiveness and the wrongs which have been perpetrated against us.  If you find it too difficult to forgive the act that was done to you, focus instead on the person who committed it.  We may never be able to excuse some of the wrongs we have endured but we also can’t carry a grudge against a fellow image bearer of the divine.  God’s loving nature demands that we see the humanity in everyone, even those who commit unspeakable crimes.

It’s been said “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  When we start by examining the person forgiveness gets a little easier.  It’s also been said “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  When we start by examining the person, we sometimes start to see ourselves in a different light.

This is perhaps the hardest part of the entire prayer.  Confession and forgiveness requires a level of self-examination beyond anything we’ve done so far.  Don’t skimp on this aspect of prayer.  We are all sinners in need of a relationship with the savior.  The more honest we are with ourselves at this stage, the deeper that relationship will be.

 

 

 

If God is For Us…


Pacifist Lamentations Volume 4

It’s been a while since I wrote a Pacifist Lament.  This one has been on my mind for a few weeks.  I stems from some bad preaching I heard recently on Romans 8:31.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Taken out of context, as this verse often is, it could seem that Paul is saying that with God on our side we are invincible.  And while that may be true, it leads to a violent interpretation of what we are capable of when God is “for” us.  Sadly, Romans 8:31 has been mis-quoted in this way from the barricades of revolution and war for hundreds of years.

“God is on our side!  Therefore; let us go and slay our enemies!”

But taken in context of the entirety of Romans 8, we begin to form a very different picture of what it means to have God “for” us.

In the first half of Romans 8, Paul lays out a detailed analysis of what happens to us when we believe that Jesus dwells in us and is transforming us from the inside out. Put simply, we have become so deeply like Jesus that we have become children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus himself and co-heirs to the kingdom.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. [Romans 8:16-17]

Provided we suffer with him, not provided we go out and fight for him!  Paul goes on to talk about how all believers will be treated and “glorified” with Christ.  We will suffer in this world, but we can count it all as nothing in comparison to what awaits us.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [Romans 8:18-19]

And then we get to the big question that is so often taken out of context – If God is for us, who can be against us?

God for us is an expression of love.  Deepest, most profound and all-encompassing LOVE.

If God is for us.  If God, who in his very nature is love, expresses that love toward us.  If God has made us part of his family.  Who can do or say anything that will negate or make any negative impact on that?

No one can stand against that!

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39]

More than a conqueror!  This is not a violent image.  This is not about dominance.  This is about transcendence.

We can remain above and outside of violence!  Nothing that is done too us can have any impact on our salvation.  We therefore transcend violence and remain passive, continuing to love our enemies and work toward reconciliation even in the face of our own death.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  God is for us!

L C Sheil writes regularly about, spirituality, life and business coaching.  He is the founder and director of The Matthew 5:5 Society (formerly The Meekonomics Project) where he coaches ministry and business leaders to Live Life to the Fullest in Complete Submission to the Will of God. 

Mr. Sheil has authored two books and is available for public speaking and one on one coaching in the areas of work life balance,  finding and living your core values  and financial literacy.  Write to The Matthew 5:5 Society here for more information or follow L C Sheil on twitter and instagram.  

 

The Community


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.

Prayer School – Part Two

This then is how you should pray:

Our father in heaven, [Matthew 6:9a]

The opening line of the Lord’s Prayer makes it crystal clear that prayer is not to be done in a narcissistic manner.  The very first word of the prayer points to and acknowledges the fact that the spiritual life is not a life of isolation but a life that must be lived out in community.

When we pray to God as our father we are simultaneously acknowledging that He is my father, your father and the father of all who call upon His name.    It is at this point, after we have spent time in meditation preparing our hearts for prayer and getting close to God that we begin by recognizing His sovereignty over our lives, the lives of the people in our community and the lives of all those who call Him father.

When we begin our prayer this way there are three phases to these opening moments.

Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing me.

Around the beginning of this century, as the tech bubble burst, the phrase Ponzi Scheme hit mainstream media and was used to describe the world’s largest energy conglomerate and terrorists flew airplanes into two of the world’s tallest office towers, there was a movement within some religious circles to re-examine an obscure prayer from deep inside the genealogical records of Israel.  The prayer of Jabez, as it is known, appears in 1 Chronicles 4:10:

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

I first learned of this prayer and this movement at a particularly low point in my life.  By praying specifically for God to bless me, enlarge my territory, (which in modern terms would be to pray for prosperity), for protection and comfort, my mind was also drawn to instances when God was already doing this for me.

It’s okay to pray for your needs.   It’s even okay to pray for the desires of your heart.  God granted Jabez his request because he asked.  Some commentators have also suggested that the last line in the Hebrew suggests that not only will Jabez be free from experiencing pain but also from causing pain to anyone else.  Therefore; God granted his request because it contained some other centeredness.

Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing them.

The term intercessory prayer is used to describe a prayer meant to intercede in the lives of others.  When you say to someone in your community that you will pray for them what you are really saying is that you will leverage your time in conversation with God to intercede on their behalf.

I always begin this portion of pray by thanking God for bringing certain people into my life and for the blessing that they have been to me.  I then ask specifically for the fulfillment of whatever needs they have, those that they have brought to my attention and those that they have kept private.

Jesus modeled this for us in John 17:6-26 when he prayed for his disciples.  He begins by thanking the father for them.

Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. [John 17:6]

He then goes on to describe the troubles they will experience because of him and requests that God give them protection and strength.

Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. [John 17:11b]

By turning my focus outward, to my community I become both thankful for the intimacy of my interpersonal relationships and aware of my role in the lives of others.  I am now ready for the last phase of the opening of my prayer time.

Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing us.

The world-wide community of believers is a family.  God is our spiritual father and through our relationship to Him are all connected.  It is through this familial connection that I can thank God for the blessings in your life and intercede on your behalf, even when I don’t know you personally or have any knowledge of your specific needs.

Jesus modeled this too in John 17 when he prayed:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, [John 17:20-21a]

This also sets us up for a deeper prayer for God’s heavenly kingdom which comes later.  For now I simply pray thankfully for the world-wide community of believers and ask for blessing and intercession into the lives of my brothers and sisters whom I may never meet.  I pray for their safety, their health, their prosperity and the impact of their ministries on their local communities.

**************************************************************************

So here in the opening phrase of The Lord’s Prayer we have thanked God for all that he has already given us, requested blessing and provision in our lives, thanked God for the people he has brought into our circle and interceded for their needs and thanked God for the world-wide family of believers and interceded for the needs of those half a world away whom we my never meet but with whom we share a connection few outside the faith will ever comprehend.

 

Preparing Our Hearts for Prayer


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School"  For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.

Prayer School – Part One

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; [Psalm 46:10a]

God can do anything and the way in which he speaks to us, and hears us, is no exception.  But I have found, in my years of faithfully listening and speaking to God is that he operates best in the quiet and stillness of our minds.  Therefore, it is fitting that at the beginning of our discussion of prayer we begin by calming and quieting our minds.

All throughout scripture we see examples of people encountering God when they are alone with only their thoughts.  Moses was alone on the mountain when he encountered God in a burning bush.  Elijah heard the “still small voice” of God after a loud and violent storm had passed by.  David wrote most of his Psalms while alone and running from his enemies.  And who could forget the example of Jesus himself both at the beginning of his ministry, spending forty days alone in the wilderness, and on the night that he was arrested walking alone through the garden of gethsemane.

Prayer happens best when we are quiet and alone. Jesus even went so far as to command that we pray privately.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:6]

In recent years spiritual teachers, self-help gurus and psychologists have popularized the concept of “mindfulness”.  According to Wikipedia, mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment and can be honed through a period of meditation.  “Living in the moment” is then the process of taking that focused period of mediation and expanding it into the way we live our daily lives.

Mindfulness has been proven to be an effective form of therapy for those recovering from addictions, anxiety and trauma.  In my own experience, mindfulness has been very helpful as a form of therapy in dealing with my own life history but is not prayer.

Preparing our hearts for prayer is a bit like mindfulness meditation but instead of focusing our minds on the present moment we focus our minds on God.  As Paul wrote to the church in Colosse;

 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [Colossians 3:2]

So, how do we prepare our hearts for prayer?

I like to start with a bible verse in mind that helps me to focus on God.  A couple of my favorites have already been mentioned, Psalm 46:10, Colossians 3:2 but here are a few others that work just as well and you may have others that work for you. Exodus 20:2-3, Isaiah 41:13, Isaiah 43:3, Psalm 23:1, Matthew 16:15-16.

It’s helpful if the verse can be broken into a couple of phrases.  Speak, or think, the first phrase as you inhale and the second phrase as you exhale.  Repeat this process as many times as it takes to calm your mind and focus on God.  For me it seems that the optimal number is four but if I am feeling extra stress or am otherwise  distracted it can take a bit longer.

Once you have calmed your mind and focused your attention on God you’re ready to pray and open I dialogue with him.  Speak to him as you would a wise friend and listening to what he says.