“How and why to pray the prayer of penthos”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 40

Is there a place for tears in prayer? Is crying a sign of indisciplined emotions? Or is it a sign of spiritual health?
 
I bring you a fifth look at the book by Richard Foster, “Prayer: finding the heart’s true home”. In the most recent chapter I’ve been reading, Richard talks about the significance of the “Prayer of tears”, or, ‘Penthos’.
 
 
Last week we look to biblical examples of penthos. Old Testament characters, Jesus, and the apostle Paul. All found the ‘prayer of tears’ to be spiritually beneficial. This week we will explore the spiritual benefits of Penthos.
 

1. A source of joy

It might sound unlikely. Certainly, it is paradoxical. But, tears lead to joy. The Psalmist understood this: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” (Psalms 126:5 NIV11) Some years ago the church I loved was virtually destroyed by a combination of our own sin, and the disciplining hand of God. I was not the only one who cried at the state of the church. And I was not the only one who despaired for a positive future. 

However, I took some time to go away, climb a Welsh mountain, and open my heart to God. I confessed my sins. I confessed our sins. I admitted my fears about the future. My heart broke and I wept. After some time, I felt a deep sense of assurance. I realised that my heart was in sync with the heart of God. I knew for a certainty that he felt as I did. And, joy of joys, it dawned on me that he had not given up on me or the church. Therefore, there was hope. This hope burst upon me with deep joy. 

I went up the mountain heavy laden. I came down the mountain with a light heart.

2. A source of inner growth

Parts of who I am remain hidden to me. The undergrowth of my soul is too thick for ordinary prayers to penetrate. Developing the emotional side of my relationship with God reveals more of who I am. As Foster says in his book,
 
“..unless the emotive centre of our lives is touched, it is as if a fuse remains unlit.”
 
In the prayer of penthos we allow God, we invite God to part the tall grass and reveal what is beyond our sight. Sometimes what comes into view are aspects of our character. At other times it is our sinfulness. How do we discover the truth? Let me lay out the steps suggested by Foster:
 
  • Ask: Request that God help you to have a soft heart. Trust what David knew, that God will not despise, “a broken and contrite heart.” (Psalms 51:17 NIV11)
  • Confess: Open up to God about the sin of which you are clear. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.’
  • Receive: Trust that God, “will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NIV11) Do not give in to the Devil’s lie that you are unworthy. Of course you are unworthy! That’s why Jesus went to the cross. But now, because of his victory, and your adoption, you are made worthy.
  • Obey: Where it is within your power, do right to the people you have wronged. Change your behaviour in areas where you have damaged your relationship with God.
Developing the emotional side of my relationship with God reveals more of who I am Click To Tweet

Conclusion

The prayer of penthos may not come naturally to you. That’s OK. We have a lifetime to develop all these different aspects of our relationship with God. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. God is.
 

Question

Why not try the four-step process above? If you do, let me know how it goes. Do you feel any hesitation in asking God to help you with the prayer of penthos? Can you identify what it is that is holding you back?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

 
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“The place of penthos in prayer”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 39

Is there a place for tears in prayer? Is crying a sign of indisciplined emotions? Or is it a sign of spiritual health? 

I bring you a fourth look at the book by Richard Foster, “Prayer: finding the heart’s true home”. Richard talks about the significance of the “Prayer of tears”, or, ‘Penthos’.

What is ‘penthos’?

According to the Mounce’s Expository Dictionary, it means,

“to mourn, grieve, bewail. This word is used in contexts of mourning over disasters or grieving the loss of someone. Mourning is often associated with weeping. While in classical Greek usage, penthos was a passion that a wise person must intentionally avoid, in the NT mourning is encouraged in contexts of sorrow over grievous sin and is acceptable and appropriate in cases of overwhelming disasters.” Mounce, William D., D. Matthew Smith, and Miles V. Van Pelt, eds. MED. Accordance electronic edition, version 1.3. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Not being the most emotionally demonstrative person, I question the appropriateness of tears in prayer. We will take a couple of weeks looking at this, but today let’s survey some biblical examples.

1. Old Testament

Some classic Old Testament crying personalities include Isaiah, “I drench you with my tears O Heshbon and Elealeh.” Isaiah 16:9. Jeremiah, of course, is often called the “weeping prophet” – “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” Jeremiah 9:1.

Several Psalmists spent time crying, “Every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” Psalm 6:6. “Put my tears in your bottle. Are they not on your record?” Psalm 56:8. “My tears have been my food day and night.” Psalm 43:3

2. Jesus

Was Jesus a crying person? The writer to the Hebrews tells us he, “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears” Hebrews 5:7.

He wept at the tomb of Lazarus, John 11:35.

He taught, “blessed are those who mourn”, Matthew 5:4. He was kind to Mary when she washed his feet with her tears, Luke 7:36-50.

3. Paul

Paul a tough guy. Was he someone who cried? 

He came to Asia “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears”, Acts 20:19. He warned “everyone with tears” Acts 20:31, and when he wrote to the church in Corinth he did so, “out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears”. He rejoiced that they had godly sorrow which led to repentance, 2 Corinthians 7:7-11.

Conclusion

If the Old Testament Prophets and Psalmists, if Jesus and the Apostle Paul were all people who cried in a healthy way, who are we to resist it?

Next time we will go on to look at the potential spiritual benefits to us of praying this “prayer of tears”. 

Between now and then, why not have a look at some of the other examples of spiritual men and women shedding tears. What do you learn about their relationship with God? 

Questions

Do you shy away from crying in your prayers? If so, why might that be? What do you think could be a spiritual benefit to you being more in tune emotionally with your sin, the broken heart of God and the sins of this world?

Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.

I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.

God bless, Malcolm

 

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“The best blend for balanced prayer”

Quiet time coaching: Episode 36

A lack of balance is a problem. Just ask any would-be cyclist. But it can be learned – as my children discovered after falling off their bike for the umpteenth time. Balance was eventually achieved.
 
What makes for blessed balance? Not different components working independently – but blending. Eyes, hands, feet, muscles, nerves and the rest of what makes up a human being. All working together to bring a blended power to achieve balance.
 
Our spiritual life is rather like that. Prayer especially so.
 
I listened to an interview with Richard Foster on prayer (Renovare podcast).¹ He referenced three aspects of prayer from his book, “PRAYER: Finding the Heart’s True Home”. I bought the book and will share the basic thrust of the blend.

1. Moving Inward

“The movement inward comes first because without interior transformation the movement up into God’s glory would overwhelm us and the movement out into ministry would destroy us.” Foster, Richard. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (p. 5). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.
 
Prayer without an intention for that prayer to change us is shallow. Part of the purpose of prayer is to help us along the path of growing Christ-likeness.
 
Do you spend time in prayer examining your heart and actions in the light of the character of Jesus?

2. Moving Upward

“We are exiles and aliens until we can come into God, the heart’s true home. Pride and fear have kept us at a safe distance. But as the resistance within us is overcome by the operations of faith, hope and love, we begin moving upward into the divine intimacy. This, in turn, empowers us for ministry to others.” Foster, Richard. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (p. 83). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.
 
Prayer connects us with God. It is one of the channels which bring us into contact with God’s joy and parent-love.
 
Is there anything preventing you from drawing close to God in your times of prayer?
 

3. Moving Outward

“Transformation and intimacy both cry out for ministry. We are led through the furnace of God’s purity not just for our own sake but for the sake of others. We are drawn up into the bosom of God’s love not merely to experience acceptance, but also so we can give his love to others.” Foster, Richard. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (p. 177). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.
 
Prayer which ends with the inward and the upward dimensions is incomplete. If we are connected with God’s heart, and if we are growing in Christ-likeness, we will also be growing in concern and compassion for the world.
 
Are the needs of people around you featuring in your times of prayer?

Conclusion

In John chapter 17 Jesus prayed to the Father, for his disciples, and for the world which his disciples would transform. We see there a balanced blend of personal transformation/strengthening, intimacy with God and concern for the world.
 
Whatever your habitual balance, why not make this next few days of prayer a blend of the upward, inward and outward?
 

Question

What helps you to pray for inner transformation? What helps you to connect in loving intimacy with God? What helps you when praying for the world?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
¹ Famous for his book, “Celebration of discipline
 
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“A special prayer”

Quiet time coaching: episode 35

Do you have prayers that are particularly special for you? I have recorded one of mine that comes from the Celtic daily prayer book: inspirational prayers and readings from the Northumbria community.

Please leave a comment, or perhaps a link to one of your favourite prayers. Let me know how your special prayer has enriched your spiritual life.

Please pass on the link to this recording.

I hope you have a wonderful week of enriching quiet times.

God bless, Malcolm

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.” Psalm 100:1

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 30

We continue our exploration of Psalm 100. I am planning a very special worship service based on the Psalm on 6 May for the Thames Valley churches of Christ. To make sure that it’s focused in the right way, I’m devoting a good deal of time and energy to studying, praying through and meditating on Psalm 100. I’m writing these blogs to help me with this, but also to get your feedback and thoughts.
 
 
Last time we took a birds-eye view of the Psalm looking at its major themes. Today we will begin breaking the Psalm down verse by verse.
 
Psalm 100:1  “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.”
 
The best known hymn based on this Psalm is, “All people that on earth do dwell”. But there is another by that famous hymn writer Isaac Watts. The first two verses connect with the global call to praise:
 
1.
Sing to the Lord with joyful voice,
Let every land his name adore;
The British isles shall send the noise
Across the ocean to the shore.
 
2.
Nations, attend before his throne
With solemn fear, with sacred joy;
Know that the Lord is God alone;
He can create and he destroy.
 
Let’s break this down into the three primary phrases of Psalm 100 v1.
 

1. Shout for joy

The Hebrew word translated “shout for joy” is ‘rua’. It means to raise a battle cry, sound a trumpet blast, or shout in triumph. We are not offering a moderate expression of joy. We are expressing an almost uncontained and definitely unconstrained exclamation.
 
Because there is joy, there is a shout.
 
Is energy missing in our prayers because life is tough? Or is it because we have misplaced the source of our joy?
 
Is there less volume in our corporate worship because we don’t like the songs? Or have we lost connection with the one about whom the songs are written?
 
When our joy goes missing, it’s time to reconnect with the Lord.
 

2. To the Lord

Is the Lord our primary source of joy? Is he the one on whom our hopes rest?
 
My broadband gives me faster download speeds than upload speeds. This causes me frustration when I upload large files. But it makes sense because I am even more frustrated when trying to watch something online and the dreaded buffering fills my screen.
I do well to be more concerned about what I’m ‘downloading’ from God, rather than what I am ‘uploading’ to him. If I’m downloading the right stuff then I will have what I need to upload.
 
The shout of joy is offered to the Lord. There is a big difference between praying to hear my own words as opposed to praying to the Lord.
 

3. All the earth

What does, “all the earth” mean? Is the Psalmist hoping that all people will shout to the Lord? Or is it an even bigger vision than this? Is it that all of creation will praise Yahweh? The Psalm immediately before this one gives us some ideas.
 
In Psalm 99 the nations “tremble” (v1) because the Lord reigns. The Lord is “exalted above all the nations” (v2).
 
The vision of Psalm 100 is that the nations who tremble will recognise the exalted nature of the Lord. And they will come to worship him with gladness.
 
Do we have the same vision in our prayers? Do our times of corporate worship contain a strong sense of vision that the good news is not only for us? Is it not also for all around us and all who inhabit this globe?
 
Let us pray for our family, friends, neighbours and nations who are far from God.
 

Conclusion

Today, and this week, why not explore shouting to the Lord because of the joy he has given you. Pray not only that you can enjoy this joy, but that the whole earth will share in your ability to rejoice. Focus your prayers on the Lord more than on yourself.
We will continue to explore the Psalm between now and 6 May. Pray over it, meditate on it. Let it sink into the mind and the heart.
 

Question

What gets in the way of shouting for joy to the Lord? What helps you to be exuberant in your praise of God?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
 
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“How to yield to God with joy”, Psalm 100

Quiet Time Coaching" Episode 29

Have you ever seen two drivers coming at a junction from a different direction and each refusing to yield to the other? Perhaps you have been one of those drivers. I’m sure I have! Not a pretty sight. And no one gets anywhere.

Yielding does not have a good image in contemporary society. It is associated with helplessly surrendering one’s liberty, possessions and even one’s life. But is there a more positive way to view yielding, especially when it pertains to our relationship with God?

Psalm 100

The concept of yielding in a healthy way is on my mind because I am studying Psalm 100. The purpose of this study is preparation for a special worship service I am planning for May 6. More on that as we approach the date.

Here is the Psalm in its entirety:

“A psalm. For giving grateful praise.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
(Psalms 100:0–5 NIV11)

It is not a long psalm, but it is powerful. It has been called the “Jubilate”, and is often quoted in church services. The famous old hymn, “All people that on earth do dwell” is based on this Psalm. Well worth praying through. The lyrics are below.

There is much to say about this Psalm. Future blog articles will expand on its themes. For today, we will focus on the overall tone of the Psalm. I am guided in this by some comments in the book, “The Psalms and the life of faith” by Walter Breuggemann. He makes the observation that both yielding and covenant are strong themes. Let’s have a look at those.

1. Nothing but yielding

The feel of the Psalm is one of surrender. As Brueggemann says, “In Psalm 100, the summons to praise are utterly yielding to God…There is nothing here but yielding.” p51

The whole earth is to make a joyful noise. We are to serve (worship), come to him, enter his gates, thank him, praise him, bless him.

The scope of the yielding is global. The extent of the yielding is total. The focus of the worship in this Psalm is God, not the worshipper.

Yet it is not a cringing, miserable yielding.

2. Covenant confidence

There is more to say about this Psalm than solely yielding. It is that, within the yielding, there is a relationship. A healthy relationship. The covenant relationship is in view. As is the character of God.

Brueggemann notes: “These invitations [to yield], however, are grounded in a sense of our position vis-à-vis God:…even in this supreme act of yielding, the language of hesed [steadfast love] and emet [faithfulness] is present because Israel knows no other way to sing or to pray.” p52

What is God like? He made us, calls us his own, and gives us what we need (V3). He is good (v5) and will love us for ever (v5). His faithfulness to us will never end (V5).

Conclusion

In this Psalm we see surrender and joy coexisting. A tremendous example from the old Testament are what we see in the relationship between Jesus and the father. We are able to yield to God and enjoy God. This Psalm shows us how.

Why not spend some time meditating on praising and worshipping God in a yielded way and the motivation for doing so.

Question

What helps you to yield to God? What helps you to enjoy that yielding? Which characteristics of God help you to yield?

Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best, when we learn in community.

I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.

God bless, Malcolm

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“All people that on earth do dwell”

By: William Kethe, c. 1594; Thomas Ken, 1637–1711 Tune: Old 100th

All people that on earth do dwell,

Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;

Him serve with fear, His praise forthtell;

Come ye before Him and rejoice.

 

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed,

Without our aid He did us make;

We are His folk, He doth us feed,

And for His sheep He doth us take.

 

O enter then His gates with praise,

Approach with joy His courts unto;

Praise, laud, and bless His name always;

For it is seemly so to do.

 

For why? the Lord our God is good,

His mercy is forever sure:

His truth at all times firmly stood,

And shall from age to age endure.

 

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

“The Spiritual Benefits of Slow Singing”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 28

Try singing, “Happy birthday to you…” really slowly. Feels weird, doesn’t it? Most songs have a narrow range of speeds within which they can be sung and still make sense. But is there a case for singing ridiculously slowly?
 
 
I’ve made it a habitual practice to sing hymns or choruses as part of my daily quiet time. Not every day. But frequently. By the time you’ve been a Christian as long as I have, you’ve sung them so often at least a few have become lodged in the memory banks! Most of the time I sing them at normal speed. Occasionally, I slow them right down. Why? Let’s think about that.
 

Slow Speed, Deep Dive

We dive deeper when singing slower. Each phrase, each word, even each syllable becomes more significant when it is pronounced slowly, sung slowly, thought upon slowly.
 
If you’ve ever tried eating and chewing at a deliberately leisurely speed, you will know that the textures and flavours come out much more strongly. The same is true of the spiritual sense of songs when they are sung more slowly. This is not to say slow songs are better than fast songs. Not at all. Zealous energy in song is part of what makes praise powerful. It’s just that there are times to slow songs down.
This is easier done in personal devotional times than with a congregation. Why not try it in your next quiet time. Below, I offer two further thoughts on effective slow singing.

1. Lyrical Richness

Some songs are wordier than others. The strength of these hymns is their descriptive power. They use many words to create a beautiful picture of God’s nature or similar. The challenge is that we sing all these words without having the brain space to absorb their meaning.
 
Slow these songs down and you receive a rich deposit of God’s truth and love into your heart and mind. A good example would be the old hymn, “Crown him with many crowns”, or the more modern, “In Christ alone”.
 

2. Lyrical Repetitiveness

Songs with very few lyrics and repeated words do not have the lyrical depth of the songs I’ve been talking about in the earlier point. However, they have their own richness if we truly meditate on the repeated words. Perhaps the best example of this in the Bible is Psalm 150:
“Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.” (Psalms 150:1–6 NIV11)
 
You could try, “Those who hope in the Lord” by David Casswell, or “God is so good”.
 

Conclusion

In the video and podcast version of this blog, I give a demonstration of what this looks like when I do it. I pick one of my favourite hymns, “When I survey the Wondrous Cross”. Oh, and I also sing it to my preferred tune – “Rockingham”. You can hear and see this at the foot of the blog.
 
Have a go in your next quiet time at singing a song you know well – ridiculously slowly.
 

Question

Have you tried singing a hymn slowly? What benefit did you find it bringing to your devotional time? Can you suggest hymns that work well with this kind of treatment?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

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“How To Be Humble, Hungry and Smart – Part 3”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 27

These last two weeks we’ve been looking at which might be the most essential spiritual qualities for a disciple. My suggestions are these: humble, hungry and smart.
 
The reason these are on my mind is because of this book, “The ideal team player: how to recognise and cultivate the three essential virtues” by Patrick Lencioni. The focus of the book is how these qualities affect teams in secular situations. However, the spiritual applications include both how we relate to other people, and how we relate to God.
 
We tackled humility and hunger in the previous two blogs. Today we will look at the third and final of these qualities.
 

Smart

What does it mean to be spiritually ‘smart’? And how does it affect our prayer-life? The book mentioned above defines smart people in this way:
 
“…smart simply refers to a person’s common sense about people. It has everything to do with the ability to be interpersonally appropriate and aware. Smart people tend to … ask good questions, listen to what others are saying, and stay engaged in conversations intently.”
 
Lencioni, Patrick M.. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues (p. 160). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
Let’s apply these ideas to our relationship with God.
 

1. Ask questions

We ask questions because something doesn’t make sense. Many things God does make little sense to me. God never penalised someone in the Bible for asking a question. It was only if they asked with the wrong attitude that they got in trouble. Compare and contrast Zechariah with Mary in Luke 1.
 
The word ‘why’ appears in English translations of the Psalms in 22 verses. Psalm 10 is a typical example:
 
“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (NIV11)
 
Honesty characterises the ‘smart’ relationship with God. If you don’t understand what God is doing, ask him a question. Just do it with respect.
 

2. Listen

Listening with curiosity is very different from listening whilst preparing your counter-attack. If you’ve ever been in a conversation with a counter-attacker you’ll know that experience of speaking but knowing they are not listening. Very frustrating. And ultimately, distancing.
 
Curiosity is another characteristic of the ‘smart’ relationship with God. When trying to understand God, give him space to make his case. Stay curious. Search the Scriptures for insight. Pray with a listening attitude. In one way or another, he will speak.
 
“If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways,
how quickly I would subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! (Psalm 81.13-14 NIV11)

3. Stay engaged

Trying to have a conversation with someone whose eyes are wandering all over the room behind you is a humiliating experience. When we speak to God, he is fully engaged. Is it the same the other way around? Does our attention wander when listening to God? I know mine does from time to time.
 
Reading Psalm 141, we can sense how strongly David wants to maintain his connection with God:
“…my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers, from the snares they have laid for me.” (Psalm 141.8-9 NIV11)
Exclusivity of focus during prayer is characteristic of people with a ‘smart’ relationship with God.
 
Make it your goal to maintain a focused meditative connection with God for as long as you can. Try memorising and praying over a Scripture or a favourite hymn. For some people focusing on something physical like a candle or a plant can be helpful.
 

Conclusion

Somebody said, “I like humanity. People are tricky.” The same could be said of God. Loving him is easy. Understanding him is tricky.
 
If you would like a stronger connection with God in your quiet times, consider these three aspects of being ‘smart’. Ask God to help you ask good questions. Ask God to help you listen. Ask God to help you focus on him to the exclusion of all other concerns. God likes answering such prayers. He likes answering.
 
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1.5 NIV11)
 

Question

What do you think is the best way to develop ‘smarts’ in your relationship with God?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
Get coached on Coach.me

 

“How To Be Humble, Hungry and Smart – Part 1”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 25

What are the most essential spiritual qualities for a disciple? How about these three: humble, hungry and smart?
 
 
Written as a fable, it tells the story of Jeff and his baptism of fire in becoming a CEO. The story is well written, short and illuminating.
 
The conclusion? The qualities of being humble, hungry and smart are critical to performing well in a team, and the team performing well. True enough. But what of the application?
 
Am I humble, hungry and smart? What would other people say? I can bring to mind recent events when I have been deficient on at least one of these areas.
 
We’ll start a three-part study of these three qualities and how they influence our relationship with God and others.
 

Humility

Today, we will examine the issue of humility. Of course, this is a huge topic. But we will look at the basics as they impact our prayer-life.
 
Here’s a quote from the book in the section defining humility:
“Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek attention for their own. They share credit, emphasize team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually.”
 
Lencioni, Patrick M.. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues (p. 157). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
 
I felt a combination of ‘ouch!’ and overwhelm at reading that. Before you and I run away screaming, “It’s impossible!”, let’s have a look at what the Bible tells us about humility.
 

1. People Prayer

Humility in prayer, or a lack of it, is revealed by the way in which we talk about other people.
 
“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11 NIV11)
 
Comparing ourselves to others in prayer reveals an insecurity with God. If we think we have to portray ourselves as better than others to God, we fundamentally misunderstand the nature of his love for humankind. He has no favourites. He loves all equally.
 

2. Submissive Prayer

Submission is a bit of a dirty word these days. But we’re not talking about forced submission. Biblical submission is always willing. Not that it’s easy. But a sign of prayerful humility is that we submit our requests according to God’s will.
 
This is what lies behind the famous phrase in the Lord’s prayer: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10 NIV11)
 
This attitude is best illustrated in Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42 NIV11)
 

3. Confident Prayer

A characteristic of humble prayer is confidence. Why? Because this demonstrates trust in God. As the writer to the Hebrews says:
 
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 NIV11
 
To approach God with trepidation, fear, uncertainty or hesitation indicates we believe our judgement about ourselves to be more valid than God’s judgement about us. That looks a lot like pride and not much like humility.
 

Conclusion

What does this mean for our daily prayers? Let me make three suggestions.
 
i. Pray for the good of others. Pray to see them as God sees them. Pray to see them as Jesus saw the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43).
ii. Pray to be willing for God’s will to be done in your life. Pray for the strength to trust him when his will is different from your own. Pray for the kind of joy that Jesus had even though he went to the cross (Hebrews 12:1-3).
iii. Pray with the assumption that God wants to hear your prayers, likes to hear them, and really loves you (Revelation 8:3).
 
We will look at hunger next time, and finish with the issue of being smart in the third article.
 

Question

What do you think is the best indicator of humility in prayer? How do you see it in action? What is the difference between confidence and pride? What is the difference between false humility and true humility? How does this affect your prayer life?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best, when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

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“How to be heard by God”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 23

It’s very frustrating to be ignored. When it’s a stranger it’s an inconvenience. When it’s your children it’s an annoyance. When it’s your spouse, it’s an emergency!
 
But what about when it’s God?
 
 
I took my usual prayer walk this morning in the park. I saw many dogs and their owners. I didn’t see many owners ignoring their dogs. But I saw lots of dogs ignoring their owners! One person in particular was trying to get their dog’s attention by shouting loudly and blowing on a whistle. I could see the two dogs halfway across the park having a great time, with clearly no intention of returning to their owner anytime soon. On one level it was quite funny. It certainly entertained me! But it wasn’t healthy.
 
What do we do when it doesn’t look like God is listening? We can’t answer every angle on this question today, but we will take a look at one verse in Hebrews which can help us.
 
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Hebrews 5.7 (NIV11)
 
What does this passage teach us about how to be heard in prayer? I suggest two things to ponder:
 

1. Peace Plant

The word translated ‘petitions’ is ‘hiketeria’. It is an olive branch held in the hands of someone who wants peace. They are not coming with a demand, but with a request. They are not being passive, but taking initiative.
 
If you want your prayers to be heard by God, come to him on his terms of peace. Approach him, with confidence (Hebrews 4.16), but with humility, understanding that peace is in his hands to give, not in yours to demand.
 

2. Wholehearted Heart

Jesus prayed with fervent cries and tears. A rabbinic saying goes like this:
 
“There are three kinds of prayers, each loftier than the preceding: prayer, crying, and tears. Prayer is made in silence: crying with raised voice; but tears overcome all things (‘there is no door through which tears do not pass’).”
 
It is not necessary to weep every time we pray, of course. But, ask yourself if you are praying like you mean it.

Conclusion

Jesus was not delivered from death. Does this mean he was not heard? Not at all. We know he would have preferred to live (Matt 26.36ff), but his greater preference was for God’s will to be done in his life. The evidence he was heard is that, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” Luke 22:43 (NIV11)
 

Question

What helps you to come to God with the confidence that you will be heard?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

 

 

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