A View to Restoration:

How the church can cultivate an atmosphere of forgiveness and unity

What follows is a lenten message I presented at my local church. The message draws from the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), which you can read here. I pray God speaks through the message shared below.

I. The Father Vs. The Younger Son

This evening, as we reflect on the parable of the lost son, I want to emphasize how the father’s attitude differs from that of his two sons.

First we compare the father and the younger son—the son who demanded his inheritance and set off from home. The son who was “lost” to his family, and perhaps considered (by them) as good as dead.

We could spend some time talking about how this son’s attitude changed over the course of his journey from home and back, but I especially want to focus on his return: When he finally returns home, what is the father’s perspective, and how does it compare to this young man’s point of view?

For the father, however he may have felt when his son took the inheritance and left home, his son’s return doesn’t provoke the reaction of punishment (or rejection) we might have expected. Instead, the father looks at his long lost son with a view to restoration.

In the father’s actions, we clearly discern his generous intentions toward his returning son. Actions which suggest that—even from the moment this son went astray and left home—it was always the father’s hope and intention to have him completely restored. Not to his former state, but to his former position.

You see, his former state was one of independence and rebellion, with an attitude that said, “I don’t want to live under your authority, dad. I want to do my own thing, to live for myself, to make a name for myself, to be free of your influence.”

The father didn’t want to return his younger son to that state—to the state of a son who acted like an orphan with an inheritance. Rather, the Father wanted a relationship—wanted to impart his wisdom—wanted to love his son and show him a better way. Truly, if the father had anything to say about it, this young man would live as his son once more. He had in mind his son’s complete restoration.

But what of this young man’s perspective? We see that he returned, but not with full restoration in mind. Upon his return, he confessed (rightly), “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” And he was planning to plead, “make me like one of your hired servants.” His plan wasn’t restoration but subjugation—forever living under the weight and shadow of his former sins.

But this is not the Father’s will. After confession and repentance—for this son, a literal turning from his former lifestyle—the father approaches with absolution and restoration in mind.

II. The Father Vs. The Older Son

Now—to compare the Father with his older son—we consider the state of the Father’s heart. He didn’t ONLY look at his younger son’s return with a view to restoration, but also, when he saw his son approaching, he had compassion on him.

Compassion in The Complete Word Study Bible comes from a Greek word for “bowels” and means “To feel deeply or viscerally, to yearn, have compassion, pity.” The synonyms listed include words meaning “to suffer with another; … to have mercy, to alleviate the consequences of sin or suffering in the lives of others;” and “…to moderate one’s anger, treat with mildness, [and] gentleness.”

By way of contrast, the antonyms include words that mean “to render stubborn…; …to petrify, harden; [and] to show little regard for.”

While the father’s heart was soft with compassion, the older son’s heart was hard as flint. Not just toward his brother, but toward his father, as well. Rather than showing compassion, the older son fixated on his brother’s sin and took it as a personal offense that his father would welcome his brother back with gifts that he himself felt he’d been denied.

He heard his father’s voice inviting him in to celebrate the restoration of his younger brother, but, instead of going in, he turned away from his father with a hardened heart.

The Danger of a Hardened Heart

Hebrews 3 says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” And “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

The lesson here is that we—each one of us—can be hardened by the personal sins we allow in our lives. And not only that, but we can also be hardened by another person’s sin as well. It happens when a sin outside us provokes a sinful response within. A sinful response…like that of the older son.

We find this hardhearted persona pronounced in many of the Pharisees of Jesus’s day. These men considered their outward adherence to the law proof of their justification before God—and completely missed the point of the law, which was always meant to show us our sins and to reveal our deep need for a Savior (Romans 3:20). More than that, in their sense of self-righteousness, these men condemned others—something even Jesus (who truly was righteous) didn’t come to do (John 3:17).

I think of the story in the gospel of John about the woman caught in the act of adultery. The Pharisees and teachers of the law dragged this woman before a crowd to present her to Jesus. And they tried to trap Him with a question: “In the Law,” they said, “Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” The crowd picked up their stones, ready to hurl them at the woman.

Many of them saw—in this woman—sin personified, but that’s not what Jesus saw. Instead, He saw a sinful person in need of restoration. Toward this woman, the crowd spoke the truth and acted in hate, whereas Jesus spoke the truth in love. Both hated the sin, but only Jesus loved the woman caught in it.

That’s the danger we face in staring too long at the sins of others, forgetting that we ourselves are capable of being caught in sin. Maybe the Pharisees in this story would never think of committing adultery, but they certainly weren’t immune from judgment, hatred, and pride.

This is a caution for us all—for all of us will continue our struggle with sin as long as we remain this side of heaven. And the caution is this: Judgment is a trap. In Luke 6:37, Jesus says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

The apostle Paul models a healthy view of judgment in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, where he says this: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”

I hope this passage restores a healthy measure of godly fear to everyone who hears it. None of us sees perfectly. We don’t see others well enough to render accurate judgment, nor do we see ourselves well enough. That’s why I pray frequently for God to search me “and know my heart; [to] test me and know my anxious thoughts. [To see] if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). And I ask Him to convict me quickly when I sin, so I can also be quick to confess, repent, and be restored to Him again.

After all, my responsibility before God is not to convict others of their sins, but to look to God, to repent of my own sins, and to look at those caught in sin with a heart of compassion and a view to their restoration. We can do this by practicing the wisdom of Colossians 3:12-14: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Father God, help us each to do just that. In Jesus’s name. Amen.


Depending on God Bible Study, Part 3

In this study, we reflect on: (1) the independence of God, (2) the dependability of God, (3) how mankind remains dependent on God, (4) impediments to our total dependence on God, (5) how God heightens awareness of our helplessness apart from depending on Him, (6) Jesus’ example: dependence on Father God, and (7) the mystery of Immanuel: Jesus as “the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.” Part 1 of this study covered the first 3 points. The last four points began in Part 2 and conclude in Part 3 below.

Part 3 Slides:

Part 3 Notes (Slides modified):

Part 3 Handout:

Look at the second page of the handout from Part 2.

Depending on God Bible Study, Part 2

In this study, we reflect on: (1) the independence of God, (2) the dependability of God, (3) how mankind remains dependent on God, (4) impediments to our total dependence on God, (5) how God heightens awareness of our helplessness apart from depending on Him, (6) Jesus’ example: dependence on Father God, and (7) the mystery of Immanuel: Jesus as “the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.” Part 1 of this study covered the first 3 points. The last four points begin in the documents below and finish in Part 3 of this study.

Part 2 Slides:

Part 2 & 3 Handout:

Part 2 Notes:

(including some older notes for Part 3):

Depending on God Bible Study, Part 1

In this study, we reflect on: (1) the independence of God, (2) the dependability of God, (3) how mankind remains dependent on God, (4) impediments to our total dependence on God, (5) how God heightens awareness of our helplessness apart from depending on Him, (6) Jesus’ example: dependence on Father God, and (7) the mystery of Immanuel: Jesus as “the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.” Part 1 of this study covers the first 3 points. The last four points can be found in the posts for Part 2 and Part 3.

Part 1 Slides:

Part 1 Handout:

Part 1 Notes:

The Bulk of the Iceberg

Friends, have you ever had something burning within you that desperately needed an outlet? I’m talking about the kind of outlet that shoots sparks even when nothing is plugged in. I think maybe I feel a bit like Jeremiah did when he penned chapter 20 verse 9: “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”

A message is burning in my heart. And I know the theme of the message with absolutely certainty: Prayer. I’m praying more because the need for prayer is burning inside me—but it’s not enough. I see or read about struggles within the church locally and at large, and I keep coming to the same conclusion: Individual prayer is important. Corporate prayer is critical. 

The Importance of Prayer

Consider the huge difference between Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:4-5. In the first Scripture, Jesus’s command to His discipline was to “go.” In the second, His command was to “wait.” Acts 1:14 describes how they waited: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

How often did they pray? Constantly. Who were they with when they prayed? All.

So why does Jesus tell them to go but then to wait? As a church, the great commission is our calling. We should be going, right? Yes—but not in our own wisdom or strength. The calling Jesus gave us as the church is so beyond us that it can only succeed when we are vessels through which the Holy Spirit works. 

I think maybe we’d like to think this happens automatically upon conversion, or once for all time, but that’s not what Scripture suggests. Not when Paul admits that he’s always fighting to do the right thing (Romans 7:14-25)—when he speaks of the lifelong progression of resisting worldly ways while renewing our minds so that we can know God’s will (Romans 12:2)—when he reminds us of our constant need to say “no” to the passions and desires of the flesh and to crucify them in order for us to keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:24-25).

As individuals, our journey of faithfulness with God is moment by moment, step by step—prayer by prayer? It’s the same for the church, too—except our prayers can’t remain only ever in private. To see God work in the church, we need to pray as a church.

Consider the simplicity with which the early church gathered (as described in Acts 2:42): “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

We need to meet God in our prayer closets, but we also need to meet Him in prayer together. When the problems we face are interpersonal and church-wide, we especially need to pray interpersonally—as a church. 

A Picture of Prayer

I believe God gave me a picture the other day—a picture of an iceberg. Maybe you already know that a greater volume of ice floats beneath the water’s surface than above it. I’ll let the reader look up the exact statistics on that, but the point is this: in order for a certain volume of visible church activity to be successful, it needs to be supported by a greater volume of prayer.

More prayer for greater productivity—not less. 

It seems counterproductive when there’s so much work to be done. But consider what Chuck Lawless wrote in his book, The Potential and Power of Prayer: How to Unleash the Praying Church: “When Jesus went away to pray, there were still people who wanted to hear his teachings. Sick people still needed healing. Demoniacs were still under Satan’s control. Nonbelievers were still destined for hell. His disciples surely still needed teaching. With so much yet to do, Jesus nevertheless walked away from all the busyness to rest, be quiet, and pray.”

There’s an incredible amount of work to be done… But whose work is it anyway? “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Do you understand? The kind of work we can do apart from Him amounts to nothing.

In Mark Batterson’s 40-day “Draw the Circle” prayer challenge book, he writes this: “You don’t need to seek opportunity. All you have to do is seek God. And if you seek God, opportunity will seek you.”

Chuck’s book also says this: “When prayer becomes part of the DNA of a church, God’s power is released.” Let’s think about that. DNA is integral to our identity as individuals. Physically, we are nothing without our DNA. It tells our cells how to reproduce. Our DNA holds the blueprint that tells our body how to work together for the common good.

Does that sound like prayer to you? God’s blueprint for how our diverse Christian body can reproduce and work together for the common good?

What it Means to be a Praying Church

To be sure, the Church today faces many challenges. So what do we do? We can hire consultants, form committees, and host meetings to discuss—even argue—about what should be done, but we can’t neglect the greater portion: sitting at Jesus’s feet and seeking His will for our unique congregations. 

I think for most of us, however, that’s not our first instinct. “In my years as a church consultant,” Chuck Lawless writes, “I’ve been surprised by the number of churches seeking outside assistance who have not made it a priority to pray about their needs.”

Most of us do pray, of course. But do we pray as a church? Do we prioritize prayer as absolutely essential to success in ministry? To me, having prayer in our church’s DNA doesn’t mean we simply pray at the beginning of each business meeting. It means our primary business is prayer: devoting ourselves to God, seeking His will for everything, and asking Him to do what only He can do, both in us and through us. 

God’s good plan for the church is that we behave as a body, each part doing its work, no part irrelevant or disconnected. This kind of unity is hard—without God, it’s impossible.

However, one thing is certain: We will almost never find unity in business meetings—in discussing opinions and plans made through human reasoning—because we don’t all think the same way. Yet the same group of people—in spite of their great diversity of thought, if they genuinely love God—can always come together and find agreement in prayer. 

Why? Because we all want what God wants. 

The iceberg and the titanic

Let’s go back to that picture of the iceberg. In many congregations around the country, perhaps even the world, that tip of the iceberg is sinking—even shrinking. Churches are sinking, and they’ll keep on sinking as long as the prayer root to support them isn’t there. So, I pray…

Lord, please ignite within Your church a greater desire to pray as You would have us pray. Show us what You can do with a congregation who leads on their knees in the knowledge that their power comes from You. Empower Your church to be exactly what You designed it to be. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Final Thoughts

I want to finish with a few thoughts. Why is private prayer not enough? I think because the enemy wants to divide and conquer. He wants us to pray selfish prayers with wrong motives, or to bring debilitating discouragement that dries up our private prayers. Together however, we gain new perspective from one another, and the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ grow our faith, which encourages us and reinvigorates our private prayer life. Public prayer also carries the power of agreement, which in turn—over time—can heal even longtime divisions in the church. 

A few practical thoughts: In my own church we’ve had corporate prayer meetings from time to time. These are great, but there’s a limit to how often we can sustain this practice as a church. We’ve also held 24-hour prayer vigils in which different members would sign up for a different hour-long slot around the clock. Also wonderful—but not sustainable long term. A Christian mentor of mine recently suggested the idea of small group prayer. What if many small groups in every church around the country were to meet at least once a month to seek God’s presence, His power, His provision, and His purpose for each of their unique congregations? Can you imagine the impact that might have? 

I don’t know about you, but I’m not just planning on imagining. I’m praying right now that God would awaken in His people a burning desire to seek Him in prayer like never before.

Humble and Gentle

It’s easy to focus on other people and what they’re doing wrong or what they should be doing that they’re not. The other day, I found myself fixated on someone else’s oversight—on something they should’ve done that they didn’t. And I was right—you know? They should’ve. But in my outwardly-focused they-should, God gently reminded me of an inward I-ought that He’d recently been highlighting:

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

I can’t tell you the exact number of times I’ve encountered this verse lately (or verses like it). Only that I’m sure I’ve reached my triplet quotient. That is, that I’ve seen the idea three or more times. Which is significant for me, because God often speaks to me in triplets, grabbing my attention through repetition.

In one instant, God flipped the outward-facing spotlight and pointed it inward, centered on my heart. And in that moment of reversal, from an others-focused to a self-focused critique, this is what God spoke to my heart: “Be completely humble and gentle…” Humble and gentle in your thoughts, in your attitudes, in your words.

In speaking to me, God was gentle—even after my words to this other person were not especially gentle. In His attitude, God was humble—even after my attitude toward this other person was not especially humble. From Him, I didn’t receive any self-condemning thoughts—or even a sense of His displeasure. He simply peeled back the film from my eyes and helped me to see His perspective with clarity.

Have you been there? Can you remember a time from your past that might look different through His lens than it looked through yours?

In moments of clarity, I think we can all admit there are times we’ve hyperfocused on others’ sins while brushing our own sins aside. It’s easy to critique others in what they do or fail to do, but in our negative reaction to them do we recognize the gunk in our own souls that their shortcomings dredged up? Do we recognize the purpose their error served in shining a light into our very hearts, exposing our own entrenched errors? Our negative reaction to them—coupled with the word of God—serves as a mirror, showing how far along we are in our lifelong journey toward Christian maturity. If you find yourself frustrated with someone else’s failings, try asking God what it reveals about where you are in your journey.

A prayer you can pray:

Heavenly Father, please help me not to deceive myself by only listening to Your word and failing to put it into practice. In my quiet times with You, when I’m most at peace, it’s so easy to agree with Your word in my heart—only to forget it in the heat of the moment. I’m truly grateful for the mirror You’ve given me as a means to measure the areas in which I most need to grow. Please continue to shine a light on the dark places in my life—on the behaviors, attitudes, thoughts, and words in my heart that fail to bring You glory. I really want to do Your will. Please help me to continue in Your word—and especially to cling to the verses You’ve highlighted as important for me right now in my walk with You. Don’t let me forget them. Rather, I ask that you would plant them in my heart and engrave them on my mind. Set them in front of my eyes again as a reminder whenever I’m heading off track. Keep working in me to will and to act according to Your good purpose, until it becomes second nature for me to “Be completely humble and gentle; [and to] be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). All this I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Related blog posts: | Chain Reaction Poem | 2020 Vision | His Yoke: personal reflections on Christian growth |

Matthew 6:13 Bible Study

Rather than providing this information as a typical blog post, I decided to provide links to the raw materials I used to facilitate this study at my local church. Scroll below to find the Bible study notes (blog or pdf) as well as the presentation slides (pdf) and the in-class handouts for part 1 (on temptation) and part 2 (on evil + final thoughts).

Matthew 6:13 Bible Study Notes:

Bible Study Notes in a Blog Post (Scripture web links included)

Downloadable Bible Study Notes in a pdf (no Scripture web links):

Matthew 6:13 Slides:

Matthew 6:13 Handouts

Handout 1: Lead us not into temptation:
Diagram 1: flesh Vs. Spirit (w/ key Scriptures)
Handout 2: But deliver us from evil:

White Chocolate Blueberry Cookies 

Cookie dough:
  • 1 pouch of Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie mixmade as directed (with added butter and egg)
  • 4 oz dried sweetened blueberries (I got mine here) – NOTE: This particular brand has a strong flavor, but it seems to balance out within the cookie as a whole. If you prefer, the sweetened dried blueberries could be omitted and only the blueberry drizzle used or vice versa (see below).
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips

>>> Prepare the cookie mix as directed. Add the blueberries and white chocolate chips. Mix thoroughly and bake as indicated on the cookie mix pouch.

Blueberry drizzle:
  • 2 oz freeze dried blueberries, pulverized (in a blender, coffee grinder, etc—I used a dry vita-mix) 
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice + 2 Tbsp water – 4 Tbsp of liquids total with the amount of lemon juice:water ratio adjusted to taste
  • 3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar – Since the cookies are sweet, 3/4 cup powered sugar proved adequate for our tastes—a nice tartness to balance with the sweet—but feel free to add more sugar or less lemon juice to fit your tastes.

>>> Pulverize the freeze dried blueberries in a blender or coffee grinder and transfer to a small (2-cup capacity) bowl. Add the liquids to the blueberry powder and stir to combine. Add in the powdered sugar until you reach the desired taste and/or consistency. Add more water as needed. Drizzle over the warm cookies and enjoy.

The Mystery of Christian Growth

Lately, I’ve been contemplating this question: What is the starting point for growing deeper in Christ—and growing to be more like Him? Some will say, “The Bible of course. Spend time in His Word. It points to Christ, it’s powerful, and it can’t help but change you” (Hebrews 4:12, Romans 12:2). It’s true… and also not true. For haven’t we all experienced those times when the Bible fell flat and we couldn’t seem to find a verse that ushered us deeper or worked in us any tangible change?

Another will say, “Still the Bible. You just have to believe what you’re reading, and trust that it’s working even when it feels flat” (Hebrews 10:19-23, Hebrews 6:12). It’s true… and also not true. For many have strived to believe the words they read, and to take the road of legalistic endurance, in which our faith—if it’s even genuine and not self-manufactured—is in the power of routine and, subtly, not in Him and His working.

Finally, one might say, “But of course you must begin with prayer for it is God who works in us to will and to act according to His good pleasure—and without Him, we can do nothing” (Philippians 2:13, John 15:5). It’s true… but His Word also says to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), to remain in Him, and to plant His words in us (John 15:7, Psalm 119:11, James 1:21).

So we see, He has a role and we have a role, the untangling of which is a mystery. Not only that, but our role is not a simple step-by-step addition of spiritual disciplines in a pre-specified order. The path to maturity, I daresay, is beyond human understanding, an idea confirmed in Scripture: Proverbs 20:24 says, “A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?” Likewise, Jesus says in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Invite God to guide your thoughts as you consider the diagram below:

A tangled web indeed. Confusing, perhaps. And you may be thinking, “What’s your point?” Just this: We mislead ourselves when we think we can understand our paths—and turn the Christian walk into some kind of guaranteed formula. If there is a formula for shortening our path to maturity, I suppose it might be this:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Scripture References Expounded

The diagram above includes Scripture references in support of each statement proposed: (1) Prayer requires faith, (2) Faith requires prayer, (3) Understanding God’s Word requires prayer, (4) His words, in us, enhance prayer, (5) God’s Word inbirths faith, (6) We appropriate God’s Word through faith, (7) God works our sanctification through various means, and (8) the Holy Spirit’s role. Click one of the links above, continue reading below, or jump to the Final Thoughts.

Prayer Requires Faith
  • James 1:5-8: “…when you ask, you must believe and not doubt…” It goes on to say that the one who doubts “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
  • James 5:15: “…the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well…”
  • See also Matthew 17:14-20, which recounts an instance in which the disciples couldn’t heal because they had so little faith.
  • Scripture References
Faith Requires Prayer

The following are examples of prayers for faith in Scripture (a man for himself, the disciples for themselves, and Jesus for Simon Peter):

  • Mark 9:23-24: After Jesus’s suggestion that faith was the key ingredient needed to heal a man’s demon-possessed son, he exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
  • Luke 17:5: In this verse, the cry of the apostles to Jesus was, “Increase our faith!”
  • Luke 22:32: Jesus prayed for Simon Peter’s faith before his imminent testing.
  • Scripture References
Understanding God’s Word Requires Prayer
  • Psalm 119:18: The psalmist offers this prayer to God: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”
  • Scripture also makes clear the reality that our understanding isn’t automatic.
    • Consider Luke 24:45 and Acts 8:30-31. In the first case, Jesus opened the minds of His disciples to understand the Scriptures. In the second, Philip was guided by the Holy Spirit to a man who was reading Scriptures he couldn’t understand on his own.
    • To grasp the importance of understanding Scripture, compare and contrast Matthew 13:19 and 23: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart… But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”)
    • Scripture References
His Words, in Us, Enhance Prayer
  • John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
  • Praying God’s Word—often equivalent to praying His will—gives us assurance that our prayers will be answered, as described in 1 John 5:14-15.
  • Scripture References
God’s Word Inbirths Faith
  • Romans 10:17 says that faith comes from hearing God’s Word.
  • Genesis 15:5-6 is an example of God’s spoken word to Abraham resulting in faith in God’s promise.
  • Scripture References
We Appropriate God’s Word Through Faith
  • Hebrews 4:2 suggests that God’s Word is of no value to those who don’t “combine it with faith” (or who don’t “share the faith of those who” obey it.)
  • In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, the members of the church in Thessalonica are commended for receiving Paul’s message to them “not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”
  • Scripture References
God Works Our Sanctification Through Various Means
    • In John 17:17, Jesus prays for our sanctification, indicating the sanctifying power of the truth, which is GOD’S WORD.
    • In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul prays for the believers sanctification.
  • FAITH: In Acts 26:18, speaking to Paul, Jesus indicates that we are sanctified by faith in Him.
    • John 17:17 (see above)
    • Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
  • Scripture References
The Holy Spirit’s Role

Consider how the Holy Spirit plays a role in all these things, working faith in our hearts, helping us to pray and more:

  • FAITH: Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 2:8-9 (Faith is a fruit of the Spirit and a gift.)
  • PRAYER: Romans 8:26 (He intercedes for us and helps us pray.)
    • John 16:12-14 (He reminds us of Jesus’s words and guides us into all truth.)
    • 1 Corinthians 2:14 (God’s words and ways are foolishness to those without the Spirit.)
    • 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (Regarding our sanctification, He is faithful and He will do it!)
    • Philippians 2:13 (God works in us to will and act according to His good purpose.)
  • Scripture References

Final Thoughts

The path to maturity in Christ isn’t found in formulas or rituals. It isn’t prayer first, then Scripture, then faith—or some other combination thereof. Rather, it involves trusting Him, taking steps—sometimes in uncertainty, with the tiniest seed of faith. Of the many takeaways you might derive from this post, I hope it’s this:

Pray—and obey His word—with the faith you now have; and ask for more faith. Learn from His word, and walk it out with the understanding you now have; and ask for greater understanding. Invite the Holy Spirit to be a part of everything you do, whether in faith, in study, in action, or in prayer, never taking for granted the reality of your utter dependence upon Him. Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways submit to Him. Help us, LORD! Direct our paths and make them straight. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

Cultivating a Life of Prayer: Thoughts from a Christian Mentor

Prayer… At times, it’s one of those things that encamps on our “to do” list. Encamps—without ever getting done. Or maybe we do pray, but our inspiration is slim, our requests vague, and so our motivation plummets. Prayer is one of those spiritual disciplines that seems like it ought to be easy—yet often feels so hard.

I had been struggling in my own prayer life when a group of people from our church began The Red Letter Being Challenge—in which one of the highlighted “keystone habits” is committing to prayer—which prompted me to reach out to someone from my church who excels in this discipline: my dear friend Judy. Here are her thoughts on cultivating a life of prayer:

1. Meditate on John 15. Without Him, we can do nothing…

2. Slowly and prayerfully work your way through Andrew Murray’s 31-day devotion “The True Vine.”

3. Pray for God to reveal the specific prayer focus He has for you. Is it the nation, families, Israel, youth? We’re not able to pray for everything and everyone, so we need to seek His direction.

4. Meditate on any Bible verses He quickens (e.g., promises to stand on in prayer), and record them in a journal along with any dreams and/or visions He gives so you can refer back to them over time. The revelation God brings in all these matters is often progressive. We will learn more about our specific prayer call and the meaning of His revelations over time as we meditate on the verses, dreams, and visions He provides.

5. Keep a notebook of key prayer requests with the date and any answers received.

6. Worship and prayer are a package, so make use of worship music that ushers you into prayer (e.g., Terry MacAlmon‘s “Visit Us” album or whatever works for you). This kind of worshipful listening makes for great intercession!

7. Prayer partners in different arenas can make our prayer lives more fruitful by encouraging us to pray more.

8. We all have prayer needs. Don’t neglect yourself. Seek prayer from others as God leads.

9. Persistence is key. Don’t quit praying (for a person or an issue) until God says it’s time to stop (Luke 18:1-8).

10. Occasional fasting is appropriate, especially a sacrifice of time in which we fast from other activities in order to be with Him.

11. It’s important to remember that your prayer life will be unique. Reading books on prayer and gleaning tips from others can help to a certain extent, but we should always take the advice to God and let Him have the final say. Similarly, it’s not wrong to observe and learn from the prayer lives of others, but we want to aim for God’s best for us—not His best for someone else. This helps us avoid condemnation for not being ‘as good as’ another.

12. Love is the basis of all prayer. Our prayers should be motivated by love, but even when we struggle to love someone, we can—and should—still pray for them (as God leads) because we know He loves them; and we love Him. Mean-spirited ‘prayers’ should be avoided. Pursue love (1 Corinthians 14:1)!

13. We shouldn’t assume we know how to pray in every situation. Our desired outcome for a person’s life—or a particular situation—won’t always align with God’s plans (Proverbs 3:3-7). When unsure how to proceed, we can request ‘His highest good’ for the subject of our prayers, whether an individual, a people group, set of circumstances, etc. Other times, it might be appropriate to wait on the Lord’s direction for how to pray.

14. Prayerfully consider the root underlying each prayer request. Often, we pray for ‘leaves on the tree’ when we need to be praying for roots—that is, being rooted in Christ. It’s not wrong to pray someone into church, for a better job, a better mood, better friends, or restoration to us. However, if the root is addressed, the other issues will eventually resolve (Matthew 6:33). But if faulty roots remain unchanged, there will be no lasting fruit.

15. Be prepared for Sauls—those who begin as enemies of God—to become Pauls. Don’t rule anyone out!

16. Praying for distressing situations involving those we most love presents an extra challenge. In such cases—when we find ourselves desperate for resolution—the very act of persisting in prayer can further our fears and worries, even to the point of distress and anguish, by keeping our minds and emotions fixated on the problem. So, instead of verbal prayers, consider worshipping on behalf of the person whose situation is weighing on your heart. Worship is better than worry-filled prayers because, in worship, we are strengthened, and God can use our praise as He sees fit (e.g., Psalm 149:6-9). Worship also shifts our focus from our troubling situation to God (His power, love, etc).

17. Sometimes, in other troubling situations, there are no words. Some situations are so awful we may weep or groan. We can prostrate ourselves before the Lord—without words. He hears our cries and saves our tears.

I hope, like me, everyone who reads this post will find something in this list that moves them toward a life of greater prayer. Dear reader, that is my prayer for you.