Sunday, 20 January 2008

Spiritual Formation - Prayer

From a saint who has travelled before us.

Now let us return to our beautiful and delightful castle and see how we can enter it. I seem rather to be talking nonsense, for, if this castle is the soul, there can clearly be no question of our entering it. For we ourselves are the castle: and it would be absurd to tell someone to enter a room when he was in it already! But you must understand that there are many ways of "being" in a place. Many souls remain in the outer court of the castle, which is the place occupied by the guards; they are not interested in entering it, and have no idea what there is in that wonderful place, or who dwells in it, or even how many rooms it has. You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself: and that is exactly what this means.
A short time ago I was told by a very learned man that souls without prayer are like people whose bodies or limbs are paralysed: they possess feet and hands but they cannot control them. In the same way, there are souls so infirm and so accustomed to busying themselves with outside affairs that nothing can be done for them, and it seems as though they are incapable of entering within themselves at all. So accustomed have they grown to living all the time with the reptiles and other creatures to be found in the outer court of the castle that they have almost become like them; and although by nature they are so richly endowed as to have the power of holding converse with none other than God Himself, there is nothing that can be done for them. Unless they strive to realize their miserable condition and to remedy it, they will be turned into pillars of salt for not looking within themselves, just as Lot's wife was because she looked back.

St. Teresa of Avila, The First Mansion

Opening a room
Today we continued with grace paths (spiritual disciplines) looking at how we meet God through prayer. If we are honest we find it difficult finding time to pray and when we do it's hard trying to begin.

"In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom-in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes."

You close the door and wonder what to say where to begin and we end up going through the same steps and feeling no great connection. The prophet Daniel is reading the Scriptures which fuels his prayer. Use the Scriptures as the fuel, as the inspiration for your prayers. Start off, instead of beginning with prayer, begin with reading the scriptures. What I have been discovering recently as I start to read I write out my prayers and often they begin with Holy frustration especially as I come to terms with gap from the Scriptures to my living.

I hope you managed to get a notebook today at our celebration, I'd love you this week as you do your daily reading to write out your prayer as you engage the scriptures. You will find your focused and liberated in your prayer life, try it and let me know how it goes. On Jan 10th I was reading Mt 8 and felt the gap of seeing the Kingdom come and pushing back the darkness through the sick being healed. My prayer was God let your Kingdom be demonstrated in my community. Father I will continue to pray for the sick and seek to see your Kingdom rule and reign come.

I don't mean you just use the words of the scriptures and turn them into prayer. I mean as you are meditating on the scripture, and you see the distance between what it says there and what you are living like, that is what you pray over, that gap.

"O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us." V. 18, "…We do not make these requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy."

Daniel wasn't confessing the sins of Nebuchadnezzar or the sins of King Xerxes or King Darius. He was confessing the sins of his people, Israel. See, nowhere in the Bible do we ever read of any of God's people confessing the sins of the nation where they happen to be. So often we get carried away confessing all the sins of Ireland and the wrong doings of all those things done by those people who are outside the Kingdom. You see, the prayer of confession/repentance is not just an individual prayer. It is not just confession/repentance for our sins alone, but it is confession/repentance for the sins of the church of Jesus Christ, the sins of the body of Christ. So we pray for Ireland . But we identify and repent for the sins of God's people and I gotta start with the Vineyard.

Devotional for the week (kindly given by our friends in Cincinnati Vineyard)
Day 1
Zeal for Your House Will Consume Me

John 2:13-22
Jesus was a radical; he favored returning to the root of what the temple was built for--a house of prayer. He'd been brought to the temple since childhood, so I am sure that he had seen the moneychangers before, but now He had begun His public ministry and He could no longer keep quiet.

Why did He upset the moneychanger’s tables? Outside of the temple, the doves needed for the sacrifice cost the equivalent of just a few pennies, but inside, the Priests and religious leaders were charging 30 times as much, and not accepting sacrifices bought outside the Temple. The poor pilgrims were finding it difficult even to afford to sacrifice a dove, let alone the much more expensive lamb. The focus on devotion to God was being lost and being replaced by a superficial show to line the pockets of the religious leaders.

The Zeal of God rose up within Jesus, and He was moved to action. He could not stand passively by while the worshippers of God were being treated so unfairly. Verse 17 talks of Jesus being consumed by Zeal for the House of God. Those are strong words!

What’s it like to be consumed with Passion for God’s Glory?

Jesus was moved by love for God and His Glory, but also for His people. He knew that ultimately this kind of activity in the Temple would result in alienation from God, as people were prohibited from worshipping together freely and instead would be sorted into the "haves" and "have- nots." God’s heart never excludes anyone from coming to Him.

I thank God for the fervent love I see here, a love that will ruthlessly remove anything that would get in the way of our relationship with Him. My prayer is that I would be motivated by this kind of powerful love--a love that would remove obstacles and clear the way for people to have a relationship with our powerful and loving God.

Day 2
God Must Be Crazy!

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” John 3:4

It seemed like a silly statement…crazy even. For Nicodemus--an educated member of the Jewish ruling council--it may have given some credence to the claims that Jesus was a “few loaves short of a bread basket.” If a man must be “born again,” as Jesus said, then how in the world can any of us survive?
However, Nicodemus unknowingly made the same mistake that many of us make every day. In his attempt to understand spiritual things, he ran them through his own “filter” of knowledge. He wasn’t the first to make this mistake. Many of Jesus’ disciples totally misunderstood Jesus as he talked about establishing his kingdom. While he was trying to prepare them spiritually, they were trying to figure out how many plasma screen TVs were going to be in the castle. As human beings, there are some things about God that we can’t and/or don’t fully comprehend.
When I was about 8 years old, one of my family members was interrogating my elderly great-aunt regarding her belief in the Bible. “Do you mean to say,” he said, “that you really believe that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, and lived in there for 3 days?” My aunt’s response was one that I will never forget. “Of course I do,” she said. “I’d believe it if the Bible said that Jonah was the one who swallowed the whale!” Sometimes, we are forced to remember that for God, anything is possible, and very often, misunderstood completely.

Today’s prayer:
Jesus, help me to better understand you and your ways, and even when those things don’t make any sense to me, help me to trust in your ability to do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING that you desire. I give you permission to introduce impossible scenarios into my life.

Day 3
An Overflow of Life

In today’s chapter of John, Jesus has an encounter with a woman who has gone to a well for water. It seems that everything separates them--social class, religion, even their respective understandings of what her greatest need is. She’s looking to fill her thermos and Jesus is looking to fill her heart.

In a moment, he tells her where she’s been in life--all the hurt and shame that she’d prefer not even share with a close friend, let alone this stranger. Then He tells her that He’s ready to change all that. Even though she’s spent years trying to get a life through all these sordid relationships, He’s ready to give her life that will not only satisfy her, but serve as a sort of oasis, offering the same life to those she encounters.

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13,14 NIV

People would walk great distances to get a drink of water in the desert. The woman knew that when Jesus spoke of an internal spring of eternal life that the gift was not hers alone. The very next thing she does is to go tell her friends, saying “He tells me everything that I ever did.” Her friends quickly believe for themselves, largely on the encouragement of the living water springing up in the heart of this woman.

Many people know what it means to receive from God. Their lives have been transformed by a relationship with Jesus. Fewer people understand that they’re not only to be personally changed, but they are to serve as a conduit for that love to reach those around them. Who will you meet today that could benefit from a cool drink of water?

Today’s prayer:
Jesus, thank you for what you are doing in my life. Help me to see those gathered around me who are as thirsty as I am, and help me give away what you have so freely given to me – grace.

Day 4
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
John 15:7-8 (NIV)

In his book, The Best Is Yet To Be, Henry Durbanville told the story of a little girl in London who won a prize at a flower show. Her entry was grown in an old cracked teapot placed in the rear attic window of a rundown tenement house. When asked how she managed to raise such a lovely flower in such an unlikely environment, she said she moved it around so it would always be in the sunlight.

In John 15, Jesus likens our relationship to him to that of a vine and its branches. Jesus promises that if we maintain a healthy connection to Him, the vine, the result will be that our lives will be very fruitful, regardless of our circumstances. Like the girl’s flower, a primary factor in the health of that connection is staying in the sunlight of His word. That is, as we stay in the light of God’s word, it will automatically result in fruitfulness. Notice the responsibility is not on us to bear the fruit, but rather to stay in the light of His word. The fruit simply is a natural byproduct. The fruit on a tree doesn’t strive to become a piece of fruit, it just stays connected to the tree!

In the remainder of the chapter, He further identifies what that fruit looks like: a sacrificial depth of love for others, joyfulness, friendship with the Father, and telling others about Him. However, He also warns us that this is likely to result in some persecution from others.

A further note on being a friend of the Father
Our English word friend comes from the same root as the word freedom. A genuine friend sets us free to be who and what we uniquely are. That’s what our friendship with the Father does for us. It’s not meant to conform us into something we’re not, or place restrictions on our lives that aren’t in our best interest. Rather, we can trust the light of His word to lead us into a friendship with Him that will be the most genuine and freeing that we could ever experience.

Today’s prayer:
Jesus help me to faithfully absorb your word into my life, knowing that the fruit will follow. I desire to trust in our growing friendship more than any other.

Day 5
A Safe Relationship

Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing. Psalm 16:1-2 (New International Version)

Tonight my son told me that a friend from high school is now serving in Iraq as a Marine. It seems like only yesterday that our yard was filled with neighborhood children playing, and our weekends were busy with soccer tournaments. As a father of two sons I appreciate the concern parents feel for the safety and well being of their children. In a world where our safety is questioned everyday and terrible tragedies are witnessed live on TV, we are all reminded of our need to pray to God for the safety of our family and other people all around the world.
English may be the common language of global business and is the language required to be used by the world’s air traffic control system, but in the Kingdom of God, prayer is the language between God and all the people of the world. Consider for just a moment that God speaks to each of us “while we were still sinners.” We respond in prayer because “He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
There were difficult times when those following Jesus decided to turn back and no longer follow. "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." John 6:67-69 (New International Version)
Jesus taught his followers to pray to God as if they were talking with their Father. A Father wants his children to be safe. A Father wants to provide good things for his children. In our relationship with God we discover more than safety from injury or risk. In our relationship with God we find a refuge--a place of safety or shelter. God pursues a loving relationship with us as He hears us and speaks to us in our prayers.

Today’s prayer:
Father in heaven, watch over and protect your children. Teach all people your ways and give each of us strength to follow you. Thank you for all the good things that come only from you.

Day 6
Jesus…The Source

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
John 17:37-38 (New International Version)

A stream touches places of which it’s source knows nothing, and Jesus says if we have received of His fullness, out of us will flow the streams that will bless the uttermost parts of the earth. We have nothing to do with the outflow, as this is the work of God that you believe will happen, and He rarely allows someone to see how great a blessing he is.

A stream is victoriously persistent, and it overcomes all barriers. For a while it goes steadily on it’s course, then it comes to an obstacle and for a while it is detained, but it soon makes a pathway around the obstacle. Or a stream will drop out of sight for miles, and then emerge again broader and grander than ever. You can see God using some lives, but into your life an obstacle has come and you do not seem to be of any use. Keep paying attention to the Source, and God will either take you around the obstacle or remove it.

The stream of the Spirit of God overcomes all obstacles. Never focus your eyes on the obstacle or on the difficulty. The obstacle is a matter of indifference to the stream, which will flow steadily through you if you remember to keep focused on the Source. Never allow anything to come between yourself and Jesus Christ…no emotion or experience. Nothing must keep you from the one great, sovereign Source!

Today’s Prayer:
Lord, You are my Source, my Rock, and my Redeemer! There is literally nothing that can be an obstacle in my life when I am focused on You, the Source. Thank you for letting me drink in You, and enabling the outflow of living water from my life to others, even if I cannot see how great a blessing I am.

Day 7
You’ve got Star Quality!

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. John 8:12b NIV.

While attending college in Nashville I had the opportunity to intern for a record label. People there would use terms like “star quality” or “presence” to describe the glow that certain celebrities projected. The few that I met definitely did seem to light up the room. This star quality is often credited to the celebrity’s ability to draw a fan base. Radical fans often go to great lengths just to have a brief encounter with their favorite celebrity.

Jesus was and is the ultimate celebrity. Throughout the accounts of his life we see multitudes of fans flocking to him just to be in his presence, hear him speak, or perchance even touch him. His light drew followers and foes alike. Even the Pharisees wanted him at their dinner parties. He would’ve definitely been on the cover of People Magazine’s list of most beautiful people.

Jesus didn’t come just to light up a room; He came to give light to the entire world; including you and me. I’ve been a fan of a few celebrities in my day. Although in my youth I thought meeting one of them would change my life, none of them ever offered to share their light with me. But Jesus promises that all who follow him will have his light -- “the light of life.” He wants to share it with us. As we come into his presence, his light enters us and replaces the darkness. The more encounters we have with him, the more we shine.

Stars rise and fall, looks fade, and hit records are forgotten. But Jesus shines on through you and me. Come into his presence and let him light your world. As we follow him, his light continues to shine into this world and eliminate darkness.

Today’s Prayer:
“Jesus, I am your fan. I come asking to be changed by you, to share in your light of life. Let your light shine through me today.”

Have a great week and pray over the gaps as you read the scriptures.

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