Articles written by PurposeCity about Prayer

Prayer Beads

Prayer Beads

In talking with many Christians regarding their spiritual disciplines, the issue I find that comes up the most is prayer.  Contemporary Evangelical Christianity, a stream to which many belong today, seems to have pushed so far away from orthodox Christian practices concerning prayer that many find it difficult knowing how and/or what to pray.

I, myself, am no stranger to this.  Having been a Christian most of my life, brought up in non-denominational expressions of following Jesus, I had great difficulty with the discipline of prayer.  In my younger days the best I could come up with for prayer times seemed little more than talking to myself about various things in no certain pattern or structure.  It was only after college when I decided to do something about this. In my times spent conversing with God I found prayer beads could be a helpful tool, especially in times when I find it difficult to talk with God regarding a certain matter.

My first encounter with prayer beads was not Christian, but Muslim.  The college where my wife and I attended had a considerable international student contingent and I made intentional efforts to build as many cross-cultural relationships as I could.  One year on my birthday, friends of mine from Saudi Arabia gave me a simple Misbaha, the Muslim version of prayer beads.  I asked them to explain their usefulness and what they mean.  Though I couldn’t affirm their use, myself being a Christian, I became curious about the background, and even if they could be of possible help to Evangelical Christianity.

Etymologically, our English word “bead”can be traced back to its Old English root bede which actually meant “prayer” (for some, the spelling of bede may look familiar as it is also the name of the 7th century English monk who was known for his works on early English Christian history).  As a tool for prayer, beads have been used almost since the beginning of the Christian Church itself.  Desert Fathers would pray using knotted ropes as a way of repeating the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”). The tradition continued through the centuries, most notably today in Roman Catholicism with their use of the rosary is meant to call to mind 59 prayers, creeds, and events in Jesus’s life through which they pray regularly. This does not mean however that simple beads are solely a Catholic practice and are thereby a tool Christians are prohibited from using. If we applied this logic, which often happens, our spiritual lives would be deeply impacted as there are many things we use as tools that cross religious boundaries and do not inherit the other’s religion in and of themselves.

Some outside of liturgical expressions of the Christian faith argue that this practice is too formulaic and inauthentic for the life of a follower of Jesus, preferring more extemporaneous forms of conversational prayer times. I certainly do enjoy talking with God in unstructured ways as well, but often I need something to get the ball rolling and the simple set of prayer beads I made for myself help me to do that.

My prayer beads (pictured) consist only of 17 beads, each representing unique sets of prayer concerns.  The largest bead reminds me to pray the Lord’s Prayer (found in Matthew 6:9-13). The nine round beads remind me to pray that God would cultivate in my life the Prayer Beadsnine fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (found in Galatians 5:22-23). You will notice that one of the nine beads is a different color – this calls to mind the statement in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that “the greatest of these is love.” The seven remaining beads lead me to pray that God would keep me from, and forgive me of, the seven deadly sins: hate, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony (see Proverbs 6:16-19 and Galatians 5:19-21).

Looking to scripture, after Jonah refused to do as God had commanded and was swallowed by a giant fish, Jonah prayed from inside the fish, and you can find his prayer in Jonah chapter 2.  What’s interesting is that even in this seemingly helpless situation, one of extreme crisis, Jonah’s prayer consisted not of improvised “words from the heart,” but of direct quotations from the Psalms, ancient Israel’s prayer book. In our darkest moments when words don’t flow as easily as we would like, we need to be able to cry out to God for His help and guidance, and having a tool like prayer beads certainly can assist us.

What helps you with your prayer life?  Please comment below.  If this idea appeals to you, please feel free to use it and even copy the design if you wish.  Blessings on your increased conversations with God.

Time

“There Just Isn’t Enough Time”

“As a Christian there is stuff I know we should be doing, and really want to be doing, but in our lives right now there just isn’t enough time.” Does that sound like something you have said? If you haven’t said it, is it at least how you have felt? Maybe you never dared speak those words out loud for fear that doing so would somehow force you to deal with the reality of what your own ears heard your mouth say.  In a recent conversation a friend relayed just those words to me. They had been speaking to someone who has a longing, a deep yearning, to do something more, something significant for the kingdom of God. They even have a sense of what that would be. But they just don’t have the time. Now we are not talking about starting a ministry that will end world hunger in forty days, or bring the Gospel to every person on the planet in their own language by next year. We are talking about things like, “I need to be in community with other followers of Christ in a way that we really do life together”. It is about the yearning “To live in such a way that I know my neighbors better and am serving them as Jesus serves”. It’s about “having a more devoted time of prayer and reading God’s Word so that it shapes me into who Jesus wants me to be”. It is about stuff that every follower of Christ can and should do, but so often says, “I just don’t have time”.

Think about this for a moment. There is stuff you know you should be doing and even want to be doing, but there is just not enough time. How is that possible? How can you not have time to do something you know God wants you to do and you have a desire to do? Is God playing some kind of cosmic joke on you? He gives you a desire and longing to do something and then makes the days too short for it to be possible? He gives you a desire and a command to spend more time with your children, but at the end of the day He arranges your priorities so it is impossible. As a result you are left feeling frustrated, disappointed, and guilty. All because you haven’t done what you are sure God wants you to do? All the while, deep in the recesses of your soul is this feeling that God is just not being fair. He asks something of you then seems to make it impossible to accomplish. It sounds like an episode out of the Twilight Zone, where some unseen entity is running experiments on a person to see how long it takes for them to go nuts when faced with a crucial task that just can’t be completed, no matter how hard they try.

What makes this especially surreal is the explosion of modern time-saving devices. Devices that were supposed to free us up for all kinds of noble pursuits have completely failed. It took my grandmother a couple of hours everyday just to make dinner. Now we can pop it in the microwave or order take out and save hundreds of hours a year. It used to take the better part of an afternoon to cut and rake the yard with a rotary, manual push mower and a rake. Now the whole thing gets done in 30 minutes with a direct drive mower and bag attachment. We don’t even need to waste the 5 minutes it takes to make a hard-boiled egg. You can buy them from the grocery store by the half-dozen. And they are already peeled for crying out loud! So what is the deal?

The deal is, we have allowed a picture of a suburban American lifestyle and the upward push of economic advancement to compete with the good that God has for us. At worst I have seen this drive for the nicer house, newer car, advancement of the career and social status, literally rip families apart. At best it has people living a life with a veneer of respectability, rushing to soccer games, participating in church events, attending social functions, but underneath, no one is happy. The parents are at odds over money, time, and other priorities, and the kids have a nagging sense of insecurity because there never seems to be any sense of contentment or peace or tranquility. There is a constant striving for something more and an underlying angst that if we get that “something more” we will still be left feeling unsatisfied.

Some may think that the problem is in our yearning, our appetite for things. It is because we want so much stuff so strongly that we are left hungering for more of the respectable, comfortable, suburban dream. I was reminded recently that C. S. Lewis maintained that the problem we have is not that our appetites are too strong, but that they are too weak. Our appetites for things like comfort, respectability, social standing, and the like, are actually very small appetites. They are but unfulfilling morsels that have the allure of greatness but the substance of vapor. Yet we are made for much more. We have placed within us a longing and yearning for the eternal, the holy, the majestic. We have a hunger for true meaning and significance. We have been created by God to be His image bearers in the world, to be vice-regents over creation, to reflect the glory of a holy, eternal, all-powerful, gracious, loving God. Our hearts ache to fulfill our created purpose. Stupidly we think we will fulfill that purpose by filling our lives with middle-class morality, respectability, and comfort.

There is nothing inherently wrong with running the kids to soccer games, having a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and working at a job that demands much but pays well. What is wrong is when those things become our means to fulfillment, when they become badges of our right relationship with God. We are fooling ourselves when we think so. At that point they are merely idols we worship – and all idols over promise and under deliver. And we are still left unfulfilled, frustrated, and yearning for something more. It is only when we take the radical and provocative step of laying down those idols and looking to find our fulfillment in a full on, sold out relationship with Jesus that we find our purpose. Do you want to be in real community with others but have no time? Then dump an idol and replace it with opening your home in hospitality to others. Do you want to make an impact in the life of someone in need? Then forget about your gym membership and spend the time tutoring an inner city child. Do you want to leave a lasting legacy of God’s grace and mercy, then bag your vacation and spend two weeks every summer for the next ten years serving orphans in Haiti or Africa. You see, there is time to fulfill those yearnings God has placed within you. The question is, are you willing to break out of the suburban twilight zone and lay down your idols?

Prayer

Focused Prayer in a Group Setting

Recently I have been reflecting on a passage in Matthew,

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (6:5)

The reason the passage stuck with me comes from an internal debate I have been having about publicly praying with groups of people. You see, some people expect me to pray at every gathering and personally, I began feeling like I should edit my prayers to serve the whole because I am the one leading the group. I began feeling very disconnected and my focus was on my choice of words rather than being attentive to what God put on my heart to pray. I started then listening to others as we prayed and found that often we used the same words or statements, just in different phrasing.

I began to ask myself, how do we engage collectively in prayer while recognizing that it is what is on our hearts that needs to be focused on – not what we think we ‘should’ be saying. I knew I needed to shift my train of thought to listening to others and affirming what is on their hearts – not simply being politically correct.

As you consider your prayer time with other people, I’d encourage you to think on what some of those that came before us had to say – ultimately, these short quotes played a big role in my process of understanding,

“Our Lord did not say it was wrong to pray in the corners of the street, but He did say it was wrong to have the motive to be seen of men.” Oswald Chambers

“Prayer is not getting things from God, that is the most initial stage; prayer is getting into perfect communion with God; I tell Him what I know He knows in order that I may get to know it as He does.” Oswald Chambers

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Søren Kierkegaard

Here are some suggestions for the next time you pray in a group:

  • Focus your times of prayer on first listening to God, not just speaking.
  • See what is stirring everyone’s hearts and how those things are shared within the larger group.
  • See what is burdening the collective, often times God will place a specific burden on groups of people.
  • Pray together and affirm the things that shared by others in the group.
  • Ask the group how, when praying together, everyone can change and better grasp the character of the One (God) to whom we are praying.

I believe if you start to focus on some of the core elements, it will greatly transform your collective prayer life. I know it has ours.

Holy Spirit

Partnering with the Holy Spirit

I am a big football fan, and by football I mean soccer. I love the game as a sport, but even more so I love the culture that is connected to the game. No other sport carries with it the same magnitude of cultural impact as soccer does across the globe.

One of the teams I support is the Celtic Football Club in Scotland. In fact, I once visited Celtic Park while in Glasgow and begged my way in to the park and onto the field. I was then lucky enough to be toured around the dugout and into the team’s board room. Throughout the tour I was captured by the way they showed the richness of their history. In fact, the fan base has a particular song they chant to reaffirm the players during the match. It is called, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,”

When you walk through a storm,
Hold your head up high,
And don’t be afraid of the dark,
At the end of a storm,
there’s a golden sky,
And the sweet silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown…
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart,
And you’ll never walk alone,
You’ll never walk alone…
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart,
And you’ll never walk alone,
You’ll never walk alone…

I believe that this earthly example can serve to help us in connecting the understanding of God’s character and the work of the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew 28:20, the last verse in the book of Matthew, Jesus states,

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I have personally always found reassurance knowing that God that is with us each and every moment. When Jesus was asked about His leaving the earth in a human form He explained that He would ask the Father to send a comforter to be with us. This invisible comforter, the Holy Spirit, means we never walk alone. The pain we feel and the hurts we carry are not solely ours, but the Bible teaches us that the work of the Spirit is present in each moment.

How do we engage with this in our daily lives? Have you developed rhythms in your life that is designed to focus on the daily work of the Holy Spirit? How does this help us engage people in a deeper understanding of God’s loving character?

My wife Karin and I have developed patterns, or spiritual rhythms, that we go by on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis which are designed to focus on God’s work in our lives and how we can respond to His loving character. Gary Thomas, in his work on “Exploring Your Spiritual Pathway,” lists nine ways we encounter God. Personally, I am a Caregiver and an Activist, which mean I encounter God while loving other people and through confrontation (you can take the test yourself here). I must keep that in mind and stay attune to how the Spirit may be working if I am to partner with God in His work here on earth.

I encourage you to both find the way in which you encounter God and then to find a spiritual rhythm which can help you consider how you are partnering with the Holy Spirit on your walk each and every day – because in the end, we are sure that He is with us always and we need only be aware if we are to work alongside God Himself.

 

Jesus

A Love Affair With Jesus

As Christians, I believe we need a new love affair with Jesus. Often times, the longer we have been labeled as a Christian, perhaps maybe even like those of us who have been married a long time, the more our extraordinary love becomes comfortable. In fact, just look at a young person falling in love, they constantly are posting about their significant other in status updates online and not a day goes by where that person isn’t mentioned, thought about, or discussed with others. Why? Because love is contagious and love is all consuming. However, our love relationship with God might be lacking this all-important fervor. Sure, we sing about it in Church and deep down we know it to be true, but we fail to allow the power of our words, our unique story, to reach others.

Recall with me for a moment, when was the last time you told someone about Christ? Perhaps it was yesterday at the grocery store or a month ago at the gym…or maybe it’s been much much longer. Now, notice, I didn’t ask when was the last time someone received Christ, I simply asked about a conversation between you and another person where Christ was introduced as the object of your affection.

Our testimony (words, experiences, stories) are the gateway to the power that we possess in Christ. No one can argue with what God has done for you. People can question theology and who God is on a surface level, but when you share something personal, it can take root in their heart and leave them tasting a bit of the character of God. Revelation 12:11 says,

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…”

The enemy doesn’t want this truth to be recognized because people can fall in love with Jesus and the enemy can be defeated by these two things:

1. The power of the revelation of Jesus death’ and their need for salvation through it.

2. The power of your story.

In Acts 22, Paul, the Father of ‘How to Share Your Testimony,’ gives us a great example that we can use when speaking with others. Here’s a little background information: Paul was taken into custody by Roman soldiers because many people were upset that he was sharing his faith with the Gentiles (Gentiles were people that the Jews did not believe could receive the one true God). Yet, as a Roman citizen, Paul, by the grace of God, is able to secure permission from the commander to address the people. As Paul motions to the crowd, a hush falls, and he begins speaking to them in the holy language, that is, Hebrew. Paul has the awesome moment to take the stage and share his love affair with Jesus. The very thing the apostle Paul has been longing for, is being granted. He gets the opportunity to share his testimony in the very heart of Jerusalem.  He could have used many ‘strategies’ to ‘win people over,’ but he used his story because he knew the power of a testimony.

Let’s listen to Paul amazing speech:

“My dear brothers and fathers, listen carefully to what I have to say before you jump to conclusions about me.” When they heard him speaking Hebrew, they grew even quieter. No one wanted to miss a word of this.  He continued, “I am a good Jew, born in Tarsus in the province of Cilicia, but educated here in Jerusalem under the exacting eye of Rabbi Gamaliel, thoroughly instructed in our religious traditions. And I’ve always been passionately on God’s side, just as you are right now.I went after anyone connected with this ‘Way,’ went at them hammer and tongs, ready to kill for God. I rounded up men and women right and left and had them thrown in prison. You can ask the Chief Priest or anyone in the High Council to verify this; they all knew me well. Then I went off to our brothers in Damascus, armed with official documents authorizing me to hunt down the followers of Jesus there, arrest them, and bring them back to Jerusalem for sentencing. As I arrived on the outskirts of Damascus about noon, a blinding light blazed out of the skies and I fell to the ground, dazed. I heard a voice: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?’

 “‘Who are you, Master?’ I asked.

“He said, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the One you’re hunting down.’ My companions saw the light, but they didn’t hear the conversation.

 “Then I said, ‘What do I do now, Master?’

“He said, ‘Get to your feet and enter Damascus. There you’ll be told everything that’s been set out for you to do.’

Now, fortunately, this seems like everything is going well. Paul has given his background information about who he is, where he is from, and has proceeded to tell about his encounter with God. Yet, the Scriptures go on to tell us that Paul was hated for what he was saying to the people and even tortured for the outrage that broke out. This is not exactly the response he was going for, I’m sure! Yet, so much can be learned by Paul’s testimony here and I encourage you to read all of Acts chapter 22. Here are some truths I found interesting:

Paul’s approach: Paul addresses the people as ‘brethren’ and ‘fathers.’ Additionally, he spoke to them in their native tongue, thus capturing their attention.

What we can learn: When we share our faith, look for the common ground. This is the perfect way to build trust and establish our own humanity, instead of trying to act superior to the person in which we are speaking to.

Paul’s approach: Paul wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable by sharing his pains and sins. In verses 4-5, he explains, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons…”

What we can learn: Our life doesn’t need to appear perfect….ever! Both before and after Christ, we are still living the same life – we have to let the  good, bad and ugly be seen. When we speak to others we can be open with them about the areas we struggle in and the pain we have experienced.

Paul’s approach: Paul painted a vivid picture of how he met Christ. He didn’t ramble on forever, and he didn’t spend hours boring the people, but he did get to all the important facts of his journey in a concise yet powerful way.

What we can learn: Often times we skip over important moments leading up to our decision to follow Christ. Paul did not. People need to ‘feel’ not just ‘hear’ the emotion of how Jesus captured you. It would be like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind person. Details are important.

Paul’s approach: Discipleship is key to becoming a mature Christian. Paul didn’t forget to mention how people influenced his walk with God. Paul speaks of the disciple Ananias coming to him with a message from the Lord. The apostle says that Ananias was, “a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well-spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.”

What we can learn: Discipleship is how people go from hearing, to actively doing God’s work on earth. Don’t forget to share with others the people in your life whom have helped you along the way because most of us fell in love with God through the example we first saw in someone else.

Paul’s approach: Paul was not afraid to speak out. Much like a person madly in love, his words were passionate. He held nothing back because he knew everything was at stake.

What we can learn: Not everyone (just like Paul’s experience) will be happy with what you have to say but be bold in the truth you know. Don’t be condescending or judgmental, but use your journey to light the way for someone who is searching.

Lastly, please remember that you cannot share without prayer. Why? Because it is not your own strength that will ultimately pursue the person, but God. An active sharer of the Gospel once said, “Talk to God about people before you talk to people about God.” Paul tells us in the Bible many times that he was a huge prayer warrior and the way in which he could stand before those who wanted him dead and share his faith was because he had prepared with prayer in advance! Ask the Lord who he might be leading you to through prayer every day. He knows your story and He knows who needs to hear it.  So, share your story with others by: finding common ground, sharing your pains, painting a vivid picture, and including others who discipled you along the way. There is power in your testimony.

 

How To Worship

How to Worship: Becoming a True Worshiper of God

In my two part series titled, “What is True Worship?” I dug into Scripture to explore the meaning of true worship. But how do you actually become a true worshiper of God? Why isn’t there a basic “how to worship” guide for dummies? What kind of people is God seeking to worship Him, like it states in John 4:23?

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”

Some might say that God is looking for good people, people of high moral character, or people who live “perfect” lives. If that were the case, we might feel hopeless. But as we read Scripture, are those the kinds of people the Bible says God has called in the past? Not particularly.

Throughout the history of the Bible, God has called people of all kinds to be true worshipers and to be used by Him for great things.

Some were weak, some were strong. Some were young, some were old. Some were humble, some were proud. Some were shepherds, others were kings. One shepherd was even called to be a king. Some maintained steadfast belief in God, some wavered and doubted. But what they all had in common is that they loved God, and they allowed themselves to be used by God.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

Jesus is recorded in the Gospels as saying that the greatest commandment is to love God. But have you ever wondered exactly what that means? Or whether you actually love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?”

Look at your life outside of Sunday morning. How do you spend your time? What consumes your thoughts and your energy? What are you passionate about? What are you most focused on in life? Your answers to those questions are a great indicator of your love for God. Would you rather pursue money, a career, and material things? Or would you rather pursue God above all else?

It’s also important to understand how God views love. In this Scripture, from the Gospel of Matthew, the Greek word for love that’s being used is agape, which William Barclay beautifully defined in his book New Testament Words:

“Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live.”

Agape is describing a kind of love where we totally commit ourselves to, and surrender our lives to, God. It means no longer living for ourselves. It means our hearts are totally engaged in worshiping God, as feelings and affections come alive within us as we sing His praises. It means loving God with all our soul by devoting ourselves to Him with the way we live, the choices we make, and the behaviors we adopt. It means deliberately living a life in obedience to God’s Word. It means living a life of true worship.

It’s not a stretch then to say that we express our love for God by living a life of true worship. And just as Barclay noted that agape love has to do with the mind, not simply emotions, the same is true of our worship. Worshiping God with our minds is crucial, because true worship is a response to true knowledge of God through His Word. When we struggle with the meaning of a passage of Scripture, or with a teaching that appears to be contradicted elsewhere in the Bible, God doesn’t want us to simply ignore them – He wants us to stretch our minds and strive to know Him better.

That doesn’t mean that if you’re not a Bible scholar, or if you don’t have a master’s degree in theology, or if you never went to Bible school, that you can’t be a true worshiper of God. There are no prerequisites you need to take before graduating to “true worshiper” status. The twelve disciples had little more than their personal testimonies and the Old Testament Scriptures at their disposal, but that’s all they needed to follow Jesus, spread the Gospel, and change the course of history.

But there’s a reason why Jesus doesn’t stop after saying “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” You also need to love God with all your mind, because how can you love someone that you don’t know?

If you’re married, imagine if someone asked you to describe your wife, and you started to tell them of how she cooks all your meals, does your laundry, and cleans the house. Or imagine if someone asked you to describe your husband, and you told of how he takes out the trash, changes the oil in your car, and mows the lawn. Would that person have an accurate understanding of who your spouse is, and why you love them? Or would they just know about some of the things your spouse does for you?

It’s the same with God. If we only know about the things God has done for us, but we don’t know anything about God’s character, His nature, and the standard by which He asks us to live our lives, we aren’t loving God with our minds – and we can’t love a God we don’t know.

God doesn’t want us to just love the things He’s done for us. He wants us to love Him.

Just like we come to love our spouses by getting to know them better and spending time with them, the same is true of our relationship with God. We get to know God better by spending time with Him in His Word. And through spending that time with Him, natural affections for Him will begin to grow. So if we’re to be true worshipers of God, we not only need to have a foundational knowledge and understanding of who God is, but we need to fuse that knowledge of God with the feelings and affections we have for Him in our hearts. Both are critical to Biblical worship.

The more we understand God through the study of His Word, and the greater our love for Him grows in our hearts, the more genuine our worship of Him will become. Then, we will become true worshipers.