Tag Archives: prayer

The Value of Worship

Last week, we explored the history behind our fractured Christianity. This week, we’ll take a brief look at the ‘Big-T’ non-negotiable practices of shared faith and contrast them against ‘little-t’ subjective truths of how we engage in religion, how we worship. But first, let’s define the term.

It is a 16th-century compound word that combines ‘worth’ and ‘ship.’ Basically, the word is action-oriented and represents how we assign worth to what we value. In the Bible, worship was actionable: bowing down, singing, praying, giving, sexual purity, kindness, etc. Jesus’ related point was that we tend to put our resources (worth) into what we value (Matthew 6:21). Let’s go back to the first century to contrast Christian mandates with today’s religious practices.

Two thousand years ago, Christians were charged with honoring their heavenly Father with all they were and had and to treat each other with the love of Christ (Matthew 22:34-40). They were to make disciples and baptize new converts into the faith (e.g., Matthew 28:18-21); those faithful newbies received the Spirit of God in return for regeneration (e.g., Acts 5:32 & Titus 3:5). Simple devotion, baptism, charity, and disciple-making while walking by the Spirit of God in the Christian community were essential Christian activities. Being a community, Christ-followers enjoyed table fellowship that brought the remembrance of what Jesus did for humankind and why, initially on Saturday evenings during corporate worship (prayer, teaching, singing, etc. (see Colossians 3:16 for a foundation)). No mystery or magic; no strict religious focus or a one-to-many format – well, not yet anyway.

By the fourth century, candles, chants, and rituals turned baptism into a solemn religious experience, although the primary intent remained: devote to God and renounce sin. Similarly, simple table fellowship and a communal remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice and the covenant it enabled became a formalized and mystical experience that not everyone could administer or enjoy. Corporate prayer where members in a Christian assembly participated has ceased to be a shared, communal experience. Collaborative teaching and the sharing of spiritual gifts have given way to preaching and a strict format that leaves little if any room for in-depth and applicable biblical teaching or movements by the Spirit of God.

“But, Ron – does how we sing, teach, pray, baptize, or take Communion in a worship service matter?” The answer depends on whether biblical teaching in disciple-making, heartfelt prayer, faith-fueled baptism, intimate sharing in covenantal remembrance or corporate singing and exercising spiritual gifts occur in true worship while involved in religious activities. We may practice our faith differently depending on religious culture. But, we must never forsake Communion’s intimate sharing, the devotion of baptism, communal prayer and singing, or the maturity found in discipleship.

Oh – I mentioned the phrase “Christian love.” Please join me next week to look at the different ways we do, and should, love!

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Soul Food, Anyone?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!” resonates with those of us who understand the value of caring for what we value from home and car maintenance to finances. Care of the ‘soul’ should get no less attention and upkeep; spiritual formation points us in the right direction and can help us remain healthy in body, soul, and mind.

Because I understand the soul represents what the spirit doesn’t (e.g. body, mind, intent, etc.,) spiritual formation (soul-care) makes perfect sense to me as the ounce of prevention needed to be faithful, obedient, and healthy. The lack of attention to relative formation elements introduces the risk of stress, anxiety, poor physical and mental/emotional health, and limited or non-existent faith – all of which can become roadblocks to spiritual effectiveness!

Here are a few standard disciplines related to spiritual formation and the reduction of the risks I just mentioned:

  • Bible Study & Prayer. The Bible makes clear that our faith (belief/confidence) is formed largely through exposure to the Scriptures (e.g. Romans 10:17; 2Timothy 3:16-17). The learning provides boundaries and guidance, builds our ability to follow, and reduces the chances of deception (cf. Colossians 2:7-8). Most Christians (more than 98%, statistically) don’t read the Bible regularly. And, although prayer is our communication with God through the Spirit, we don’t do that regularly or effectively either. Setting aside at least one period each day (ideally at the same time) for prayer and Bible study will allow us to ‘renew our minds’, avoid deceptions (g., equip to train others, and petition or thank our God.
  • Physical Exercise. Physical exercise reduces stress and illness. And, the better we feel, the more efficient we’ll likely be in our walk as Jesus’ followers. A regiment of at least 30 minutes or so several times a week in some cardio and physical exercise would be an excellent start.
  • Mental Exercise. The brain needs stimulus too. Engaging in educational pursuits, intelligent conversations or debates, reading, etc. will help keep you mentally healthy and productive in your work, play, and witness.
  • Financial Stewardship. Financial problems provide much stress and distraction from important and healthy pursuits. Stress over financial trouble strains relationships and physical health alike. God calls us to be good financial stewards as shown by the Bible throughout the Old and New Testaments (e.g. Psalms 37:21; Proverbs 22:7 & 26; Matthew 25:27; Luke 20:20-25; Romans 13:8). Following biblical advice will aid greatly in keeping us healthy and financially stable.
  • Relationship Maintenance. Finally, we’re social creatures and must maintain our relationships to reduce stress and loneliness. Relationships are also critical to our ability to evangelize and disciple others. Therefore, we should make time to maintain our connections to family and friends.

In conclusion, my challenge to all followers of our Christ is that we continually engage in spiritual formation – ‘soul care’ – to ensure we’re active participants in our covenant with God.

Blessings,

rb

The “A-B-C’s” of Prayer

Payer is definitely one of the most powerful, but misused, tools in a Christian’s arsenal. For most, it’s a one-way request for stuff or a spontaneous cry for help. We like talking to God when we want something. We like thinking that God is just hanging out waiting for our requests despite the condition of our heart, practice of sin, or lack of faithfulness in the covenant we are supposed to be in with Him through the Christ.

What is prayer . . . really? How should it be used? It’s necessary for us to communicate our thanks, desires, needs, and requests on others’ behalf to our Father of Spirits (God the Father). We do this by the Holy Spirit and through our Christ who intercedes with God on our behalf.

Toward that end, we’re taught how to pray by Jesus who gave a model – a template – for prayer (what we call the Lord’s Prayer) (Matthew 6:9-13).

That model teaches us what to pray (ACTS): Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. It also shows us how to pray.

  • Trust and don’t be anxious (Ephesians 3:20; Philippians 4:6).
  • Ask with the right motives (i.e. to fulfill God’s desires and plans) and keep asking (1John 5:14; Luke 18:1-7).
  • Be specific! The effort shows intent and helps to see God at work.
  • No rote, repetitive prayers; pray in private (to ensure it’s from the heart and without pride) (Matthew 6:5-8).

So, what is the role of the Spirit and our Christ in this prayer/connection? Communicator, helper, and intercessor (Romans 8:26-27).

Let’s look at a few things that will enable our prayers as we exercise faith and obedience:

  • Ask with the right motives.
  • Keep asking and don’t lose heart.
  • Living right and be obedient (1John 3:21-22; John 15:7).
  • Walking by the Spirit.

Contrary to unbiblical thinking and teaching that proposes God is waiting with bated breath to hear and answer every prayer despite our lack of participation in covenant, there are certainly things that can keep our prayers from being ‘heard’ or answered. The following list can basically be summed up under a heading of, “The lack of a right heart/intent”:

  • Impure motives (James 4:3).
  • Bad relationships (1Peter 3:7).
  • Lack of repentance and reconciliation (Psalms 66:18; Matthew 5:23-24).
  • Disobedience (lack of the obedience shown in scriptures above).

Summary: Jesus gave us a template to pray by in our Adoration of God, Confession of anything we do in opposition to His ways, in Thanksgiving for His mercies, and in Supplication. Ask with the right motives and keep asking. Wait. Trust. Be righteous and holy to enable, and not inhibit, prayer. And, always remember that we should want what God wants; it has always been, and always will be, about Him!

Keep an eye out for “Finding Answers to Stuff Churches Don’t Discuss!” scheduled for a mid-2015 publication. There, you’ll find roughly 60 topics related to daily life (such as sex, religion, finances, tattooing, and everything in between!) along with practical application of God’s guidance for navigating those difficult waters!

And, for a very comprehensive and detailed study of the very important topic of God’s judgment to come and being rescued from it, feel free to read my 2011 guide titled, “Finding the End of the World” available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from www.ronbraley.com in paper and e-book formats. In the guide, you’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on Scripture and history!

Apocalyptic Misquotes . . . Part VI

“In Jesus’ Name”

Misquote: Using “In Jesus’ Name” to justify a ‘name it and claim it’ way of thinking or believing it’s a necessary closure to prayer. Here’s the misused reference:

Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” —John 14:13-14.

Let’s tackle the easy one first. We have a lot of habits that aren’t necessarily harmful but come about as a result of tradition or conditioning.  For instance, we feel strangely compelled to say “God bless you!” when someone sneezes even though there’s no good reason to say it. The irresistible urge is born of conditioning. Although the source is believed to have been from the middle ages and related to the outbreak of plague in Europe, the truth is that it serves no useful purpose. It’s just habit.

The same holds true for closing our prayers with, “In Jesus’ Name.” The prayer of a righteous person said with the right motives needs no opening or closure as if it were a properly formatted letter crafted for God.

Taken completely and in context, the Bible teaches us these things about effective prayer:

–           We must ask with the right motives (Luke 18:1-7; James 4:3)

–           We must primarily seek the kingdom of heaven and the will of God (the reconciliation of Him with His creation) (Matthew 6:33; 1John 5:14)

–           We must be actively involved in our covenant with our Christ, obedient, and, again, asking for the right things for the right reasons (1John 3:21-22 – we receive what we ask for because we’re obedient); John 15:7 (if you abide in me and me in you, you’ll receive . . .)

So why bring it up as a misquote? Education, really. Its use is nothing more than a harmless misunderstanding in this particular case. After all, a righteous prayer will be effective regardless of its formatting (i.e. James 5:16).

However, there’s a more serious abuse of this reference!

Before I go on, it might be good to explain what Jesus meant when He said, “. . . in My name.”  Name, here, is defined by Strong’s as ‘authority’ or ‘character’. So, what Jesus said could well have been interpreted like, “Whatever you ask for on my authority – that will I do . . .” Our prayers should, therefore, represent the desires of our God and Christ.

In fact, the rest of John 14:13 reminds us that what we’re asking for, and what our Christ is giving us, is for the glorification of God and accomplishment of His will – desire – not ours! So, the abuse of this text to support a selfish name-it-and-claim-it doctrine is a travesty and a complete departure from Jesus’ intended message.

To sum up this misquote, our prayers don’t need any particular wording, format, or closure. They’re either righteous prayers . . . or not. And, a righteous prayer consists of components focused on our God and Christ and the pursuit of God’s will – not ours.

May our God richly bless you and answer your effective prayers because you seek Him first and are obedient out of your faith.