HOW TO FIND TIME TO PRAY

You’ve already decided prayer is a priority. But life is busy. Crazy, even. You make resolutions about consistency. You have a good streak. But something trips you up. Inconsistency is the only consistency. What can you do? You don’t want to give up or feel guilty. Well, I have good news. You can find what Michael Hyatt would call the ‘margin’ for prayer.

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Personal Seasons

In different seasons of my life, I’ve found different ways to create ‘margin’ for prayer. When younger, I prayed while cycling to work. Later, I prayed in my car. While working on a farm one summer, lunchtimes were a prayer-window – sitting on hay bales. Middle-of-the-night prayers were common during the teething phases of our children’s childhood. In some seasons I’ve found the way to pray. In others, I’ve given in to prayerlessness.

Busy Jesus

No one in history had more on their plate than Jesus. Quite apart from the disciples, his enemies and the crowds, he had huge responsibilities and challenges. To name but a few: remaining sinless; hunger; thirst; tiredness; anticipation of his arrest, mistreatment, crucifixion and death; the salvation of humankind. And the rest.

Still, he made time to prayer. He inconvenienced people in order to pray. He prayed when he could have been healing or teaching. He prayed, somehow, no matter what.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”” Mark 1.35-37

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16 NIV11)

Time Exists

Time for healthy, satisfying prayer exists. We can find it, uncover it, release it. How? Let’s look at seven ways from people in Scripture. Which one will help you?

Time to Pray

1. In the morning – Jesus

We’ve already mentioned Mark 1.35 above. Praying in the morning is no obligation, but it has good effects. Psalm 88:13, “But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.” “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Ps 5.3 Can you find 5 minutes to pray in the morning – at home, walking to the bus stop, getting from your car to the office?

2. In the moment – Nehemiah

“Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.” Neh 1.11 Nehemiah had only a moment to pause and pray before talking to the King. Sometimes we’ve only a second or two for prayer. Breath and pray before answering the phone or speaking to your boss.

3. In the fish – Jonah

“From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.” Jonah 2.1 Rebellion against God got Jonah into the fish, but once there he did the right thing. He prayed. Our sin takes us into foul-smelling places. The next time you wake up to the aroma of fish, decide to pray.

4. In the cave – David

“A maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A prayer. “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.””, Psalm 142:1. Persecution knocks us off balance. Saul chased David over rocks and deserts until his home was a cave. Even in the cave, David prayed. Are you facing opposition? Pray for your enemies (Matt 5.44). Do it before (instead of) answering with words you cannot take back, or sending a tweet you’ll regret.

5. In the open – Daniel

He prayed with the windows open (Daniel 6.10). Hannah prayed close to Eli. Her mouth opened, but no sound came out (that’s one way to pray in public). “Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.””, 1 Samuel 1.13-14. She didn’t care what he thought. Can you find time to pray by praying in public?

6. In the fellowship – disciples

“Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”” (Luke 9:18 NIV11) It looks like Jesus was praying with his disciples. Next time you’re with a fellow-disciple, pray together. My friend Ben never lets me go without us praying together. We’ve prayed on skype, on the phone, in person, in my car. He’d ask me to pray anywhere.

7. In the home – Peter

“Peter went up on the roof to pray.” Acts 10.9 Strictly speaking, Peter was praying on his roof, not in his home. But you get the point. We don’t only pray at ‘church’, but home too. Find time to pray with your children, your spouse, your housemates, or on your own – at home. Do it instead of watching TV, doing a meaningless chore or moaning to your spouse about the boss.

[callout]Time for healthy, satisfying prayer exists. We can find it, uncover it, release it. @mccx[/callout]

Conclusion

Which of the seven examples above could you imitate this week? This day? I know we’re all pressed for prayer-time, but, even if you don’t have a spare hour, I bet you’ve got a spare minute. Make the most of those minutes because they add up to hours.

Question

What have I missed? Are there more opportunities to pray that you’ve tried? How do you fit prayer into your life? Leave a comment so that we can all learn and grow.

God bless,

Malcolm

The Sunday Sample, 23 July 2017

Date: Sunday 23rd July

Location: Watford & Lower Earley

Special Occasion: Outdoor ‘Bandstand’ Service in Watford’s Cassiobury Park

Speakers

II spoke in Watford. Johnson spoke in Lower Earley. I really enjoyed listening to him speak, and his wife Cicily sharing. It was good to hear about how God has moved in India.

I loved doing the outdoor service in Watford. The preteens got involved in my sermon in a similar way to the outdoor service at Wellington country park. It helped their attention and provided a compelling illustration for the adults present. An improvement on my lesson in Wellington was the addition of concluding illustration about a missing lottery ticket. I was struck by how much a powerful illustration at the end of the lesson made a difference to people’s reception of the point. Might be good to do something similar more often.

Video of Johnson’s lesson is here. Audio available at the Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcast. My audio is findable on the Watford church podcast.

Note to self: put effort into illustrations. Don’t view them as a bonus, but essential.

Music Worship

The song services went well in both locations. In particular, the variety of songs old and new, more and less familiar, traditional and more modern in Lower Earley helped bring a freshness to the singing. One song we sang, which I wrote, needed more work. It was not helped by the fact that we do not mike up the women. Their part was important because it was only a two-part song. Next time we need microphones for the women.

I have discovered a hidden guitarist in Lower Earley – François. Good news! I shall send him chords for a song this week, and let’s see if he can take part next Sunday.

Note to self: consider whether the men’s and women’s parts need to be heard by the congregation

Other Thoughts

The projector at Lower Earley is not powerful enough. We need to buy a new one. I shall look into that this week. The text is fine on screen, but images are terrible. So much of communication is about images now. It is worth the investment to make sure the pictures are clear.

Last week I said:

  1. Agree in advance who is leading which song at Lower Earley – done, but not perfectly executed!
  2. Use the Psalm 100 devotional for all participating in the service in Watford this week – did not happen.

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Involve Francois in the musical accompaniment
  2. Use the Psalm 100 devotional for all participating in the service in Watford this week – carried over

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you? Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

HOW TO PRAY WITH CONFIDENCE – HEBREWS 10.19-22

Would you like to pray with confidence? God wants us near him – otherwise why send Jesus? Yet, even so, why is it we lack confidence in approaching him? Or, when in the act of praying, suffer from debilitating doubt? Today we’ll look at Hebrews 10.19-22 and discover three tips to help us pray with confidence.
 

King Cantona

We lived in Manchester in the ’90s. Man Utd were supreme, and Eric Cantona was the King. I was in awe of him, occasionally praying for him and wondering if I or another member of our church might have a chance to invite him to a service.
 
My daughter was learning the piano. We needed a metronome. My son and I went to a music store to buy one. We wandered upstairs and, to my surprise, there was Cantona with two of his friends. He was trying out some trumpets (or possibly bugles). We bought the metronome and went outside.
 
I waited for what seemed like hours (it was a few minutes) until he came out. Almost choked with nerves I managed to stammer “Hello”. He, and his rather large minders, turned towards me. I felt like a worm in the presence of a hungry hawk. Stammering, I gave him a church card and invited him to join us at a church service. He looked at me and said, “Non”.
 
He was polite in his tone, but there was not a glimmer of interest or engagement. I left the scene exhilarated to have met him, but emotionally exhausted!
 

Bridge Building

Certain people scare us. They leave us dry-mouthed, and tongue-tied. With some it is an overwhelming respect, with others it is downright fear. Neither soberness regarding our sin, nor recognition of God’s utter righteousness are meant to be barriers. In fact, the gulf between us and God is something he bridged in Jesus.
 
What does this mean for our times of prayer? According to Hebrews 10.19-22 we have an answer to this challenge. The passage reads thus:
 
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19–22 NIV11)

Complete Confidence

Our confidence in prayer is built on what God has done in Jesus. It depends on God, and not on us. The word ‘confidence’ is important in Hebrews (see Heb 3:6; Heb 4:16; Heb 10:35 as well as this passage). We need never lack confidence for at least three reasons.
 

Three Thoughts

  1. The price of entry was the body of Christ. Therefore we adore, worship and offer thanksgiving. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Ephesians 3:12 NIV11). If God is willing to pay that high a price for our company, you can be sure he wants you near him.
  2. The barrier no longer exists. “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:38 NIV11) If the ultimate barrier is torn to shreds, we have nothing standing between us and our loving father.
  3. One baptism is enough. Old covenant priests were subject to frequent washings. But, because of what Jesus has done, one immersion is enough. The bodily cleansing here is initiatory (in the Greek perfect tense) and therefore refers to baptism. Perhaps some of the Jewish Christians still had an idea that more washings were needed to stay clean. If you’ve been baptised, you don’t need anything extra.
 

Confidence Restored

If you know and have accepted what Jesus has done for you, if you trust that the veil no longer exists, if you have participated in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2.36-42; Romans 6.1-10), then you have nothing to fear. Go to God in prayer. He’s waiting, and he’s interested.
 

Question: What helps you to pray with confidence?

Please share your ideas. We need each other’s advice. Leave a comment below so we can all learn and grow.
 
God bless,
 
Malcolm

The Sunday Sample, 16th July 2017

Ben & Cherie May

Date: Sunday 16th July

Location: Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

No service in Watford this week. The Bracknell Service of the Thames Valley churches of Christ went ahead as usual. The service was a bit of a test as to how some of our less experienced speakers would do and how far we’ve come. I was able to focus more on leading the worship in Bracknell as a result.

Speakers

Ben May spoke in Bracknell. It was his first sermon at the larger service. Such an encouragement. The congregation were very attentive, and Ben shared with good insight and applicability. His experience in investment banking brought a different perspective to the passages on which he spoke. It was a good reminder of the value of having many different people speak. Everyone has an unique angle on God’s word. We need to hear as many voices as possible.

The other speakers all acquitted themselves well. Very heartening to see relatively inexperienced people speaking so well and with such conviction.

Video of Ben’s lesson is here. Audio available at the Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcast.

Note to self: continue to involve people from a variety of walks of life.

Music Worship

The preparatory devotional was helpful (see my posts on Psalm 100). The team did well, but I lacked spiritual peace during some of the songs. Simpler music selections would enable us all to relax into the songs and the worship more.

Note to self: consider whether the level of complexity is appropriate to the context

Other Thoughts

Last week I said:

  1. Agree in advance who is leading which song at Bracknell – done (with last-minute changes forced on us by illness)
  2. Have a longer devotional for all participating in the service at Bracknell this week – done. Focussed on Ps 100.

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Agree in advance who is leading which song at Lower Earley
  2. Use the Psalm 100 devotional for all participating in the service in Watford this week

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you? Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

ARE YOUR PRAYERS A FENCE OR A GATE?

Do your prayers fence God in, or release the power of his Spirit?  Consider these verses: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name…….” (John 14:13) “…ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (John 15:7 NIV)

The rodeo bull is frustrated waiting for the gate to open but all explosive energy once let loose. I wonder sometimes whether my prayers are more fence than gate. Granted, the metaphor is limited. I’m not suggesting God is a bull, nor that you are his rodeo rider. But, can we consider the gate and fence images for a moment?

Prayer Gaps

I use a prayer app to record my prayers. They are categorised by topic. Recently I reviewed the list. The majority are for people I know to be converted. Some are for the healing of friends. Not many are about world events. None were for politicians. Where are your gaps? Are they the fences that keep God penned in?

God’s Vision

Our vision is limited. But God’s vision for answering our prayers is bigger than ours: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3 NIV11)  If God can see further than us, it makes sense to pray for things that are beyond what we can see, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV11)

Clearly, our prayers must line up with God’s vision. He will not answer prayers that are contrary to His will. But, do we use that possibility as an excuse to avoid praying for the ‘impossible’?

Everyone and Everything

Prayer is for everyone, and for everything that is in our hearts and minds. No matter how ridiculous or impossible an answer may appear to be. It’s the only way to make sense of what Jesus said about prayer. Are we fencing God in by only praying for a few things in a few areas, instead of everything? God can do more that we think.

In this letter to the Ephesians, Paul finishes his thoughts with a sentence that sounds like a prayer to me:  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21 NIV11)

Our prayers open the gate to the action of God’s Spirit when they are about him, his power, his glory. We fence him in when our prayers are about our weakness, our sins, our limitations, our fears. Of course, it is right and good to bring those to him, but we do not have to end there. Instead, could your prayers move on to focus on the abilities of God?

Relevance

The Apostle Paul saw everything as relevant: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV11) Nothing is off-limits where prayer is concerned.

Only if we lay everything before God in prayer will He be able to enact the promises of John 14:12 & 14.  The phrase, “If you ask … I will do”, appears 6 times in John chapters 14-17.  Jesus is trying to get something fundamental but new across to his disciples. Have we ‘got it’?

Divine Action

In his book, “Don’t just stand there… Pray something!”, Ronald Dunn writes this:

“…prayer is set forth as the primary human factor in the accomplishment of God’s programme on earth .. Divine action .. is conditioned upon believing prayer. This prayer is set forth as the chief task of the believer.  It is his responsibility to ask.  It is God’s responsibility to accomplish.”  p29

Consider this saying of Jesus: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:13 NIV).  Why do we not pray to God about everything?

Question

What do you pray about most and what do you leave out?  What helps you pray for the impossible?

Please leave a comment here and post your ideas. We’ll all learn better when we share our thoughts.

If you have answered prayers, tell the story here. We’d be grateful for the inspiration.

God bless,

Malcolm

If you’d like some coaching for your prayer life or any of the spiritual disciplines, please contact me via the button below. I’d be honoured to assist your walk with God.

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The Sunday Sample, 9th July 2017

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Date
: Sunday 9th July

Locations: Watford and Lower Earley

Special Occasion: none

The services in Lower Earley and Watford were fairly standard – at least in structure. Nothing is entirely predictable when we gather, mind you!

Speakers

I spoke in Watford and Ben Dannatt in Lower Earley. The notable aspect of the lessons was the engagement of the teens and preteens. In my case it was accidental. I used 13 mugs to illustrate the receptacles at the Temple treasury (in connection with Luke 21.1-4). A visiting teenager remarked on these to my wife afterwards. The visual props helped her attention. Ben spoke directly to the preteens – having them stand on their chairs and cheer! They looked delighted to be acknowledged. More on that in my Tuesday Teaching Tips video and podcast.

Video of Ben’s lesson is here. Audio available at the Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcast.

Note to self: consider ways to engage the younger people

 

Music Worship

The singing in both services went well. The song leaders in Lower Early knew which song they were leading well in advance which helped their confidence. The debrief afterwards was remarkable for its lack of a significant improvement point!

Feedback from the congregation indicated that the drumming in Watford was too loud – we’ll adjust that for next time. It’s really helpful to receive a perspective from the church.

Note to self: allocate leaders of the songs in advance

 

Other Thoughts

Last week I said:

  1. Agree in advance who is leading which song at Lower Earley – done
  2. Set myself the goal of a sub-25 minute sermon in Watford – not achieved

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Agree in advance who is leading which song at Bracknell
  2. Have a longer devotional for all participating in the service at Bracknell this week

 

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you? Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

Is it Selfish to Pray for Yourself?

Is it good to pray for yourself? Is it spiritually healthy to talk to God about your own needs? Have you ever wondered if you were doing a selfish thing by praying for yourself? If it is a positive practice, what is the healthy balance between praying for ourselves, and other aspects of prayer? I saw a question on Quora that made me think it through. Let me know your views in the comments section below.

Selfish Prayers?

Do you ever get the same feeling of disquiet as I do sometimes when I pray for myself? It doesn’t come all the time, but now and then I wonder if I’m becoming self-absorbed. You know the feeling. I’ll be walking in the woods, starting by talking to God, but then, after a while, realise that I’ve been praying about my needs, my agenda, my wants – and I wonder if I’m just badgering God, rather than talking to him as a friend. Is it wrong to pray about what we want and need?

What Kind of God?

What kind of God would we be praying to who did not take an interest in us? And if he takes an interest, would he not also want to hear about our personal needs? He took an interest in our spiritual state and sent his son to die for us. With that kind of commitment to our spiritual well-being it only makes sense that he wants us to talk to him about what’s on our minds. I’d go so far as to say that praying for ourselves is not only permissible – it is vital to an authentic relationship with God.


I’d go so far as to say that praying for ourselves is not only permissible – it is vital to an authentic relationship with God.


Three + Three

Jesus prayed for himself (Matt 26.39). He taught his followers to do the same (Luke 11.1-11, see below). David told God what he wanted (Psalm 25.2). The list goes on. What kind of prayer was this?  What can we do to pray personally, but not selfishly?

Here are three signs of praying for yourself unhealthily, followed by three guidelines for praying for yourself which are biblical and healthy. The unhealthy signs are all taken from this passage in Luke 18:


“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. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” (Luke 18:11–12 NIV11)


  1. Comparisons.  Comparing ourselves to other more or less ‘righteous’ people is unhealthy. God is not interested in how we are measuring up against some other sinner. He is interested in our love for Him. He wants to connect with us in our prayer time. How can we really know whether we are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than someone else anyway? Only God knows the heart (1 Samuel 16.7).
  2. Boasts. We in a bad place when our prayer is a recollection of all the things good about ourselves and our behaviour. That’s not to say we are wrong to celebrate what God has done in us and through us. It’s just that our rejoicing should be that “your names are written in heaven.”” (Luke 10:20 NIV11)
  3. Balance. God gets one mention. “I” gets four (five in the Greek). When our prayer is mostly about ourselves it’s unlikely to be healthy. Make sure God gets more than a passing mention in your prayers. He is the one who gave you the ability to pray, after all.

Here are three guidelines for healthy prayer about yourself – all taken from Luke 11:


“When you pray, say: “ ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. ’ ”” (Luke 11:2–4 NIV11)


  1. Begin with God. The address, “Father”, the acknowledgement of his status, “hallowed”, and the primacy of his agenda, “your kingdom come”, place us before God as one who has come to talk to him, as one who wants to know him, love him and serve him.
  2. Beg for bread. We need only today’s bread. We need not worry about tomorrow. The request is for bread, not a 6-course banquet. If God gives us a feast, who are we to refuse? But we are healthier when we pray for what we need, not what we’d like. I see no sin in telling God what you’d like to see happen, but we just need to be careful to be focused on the need, more than the want.
  3. Confess your sins. When we confess our sins by talking about them to God in prayer we are talking about ourselves. But not so that we wallow in a mud pit of self-loathing. Instead, we are bringing them to God with a confidence in his forgiveness that will lead us back to his service.

Conclusion

There you have it. Three signs of selfish prayer, and three actions to assist unselfish but still personal prayer. Pray for yourself, by all means – just don’t make yourself the focus of the prayer.

Question

Do you pray for yourself? If so, do you feel guilty, or do you sense God’s pleasure in those prayers? What do you pray for when you pray for yourself? How do you avoid the danger of self-focus? Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn to pray with authenticity and humility.

God bless,

Malcolm

The Sunday Sample – 2 July 2017, “Sweltering at Wellington”

Date: Sunday 2nd July

Location: Wellington Country Park

Special Occasion: outdoor service for the Thames Valley Church

After last week’s adventure in Dunstable for the Watford church, it was the turn of the Thames Valley church to go outdoors this week. We took everybody to Wellington country park for our annual outdoor service and barbeque.  Personally, I was relieved to see the sunshine. The last two years it’s rained on me!

Speakers

The speakers all injected the energy required to communicate in an open space. I was especially pleased to see the zeal and joy exhibited by the youngest speakers, Ben & Emily. Not to mention the excellent reading of scripture by our teen, Bryana. The younger members continue to give me cause to be confident of the future. CJ used a prop for his communion – very helpful. My own sermon was well received (feedback welcome, please). Positive comments included its brevity, applicability to visitors, clarity of the single point, the inclusion of children, and interactivity. My own reflection is that I hit all the main things I wanted to achieve, but at times could have spoken slower for greater clarity. Video is up here.

Note to self: I remembered to instruct all speakers on the need for energy and extra clarity – it made a difference. Thus must to remember to give guidance when circumstances vary from the norm.

 

Music Worship

The singing was good – perhaps the best of the last 3 years. The chairs were nearer the musicians, and this helped us feel we were worshipping together. All the songs worked well bar one – “Indescribable“. A super song, but a trickier tune than some, and not upbeat enough for the pre-sermon slot. An adjustment we can easily make for next time.

Note to self: next year keep the chairs close

 

Other Thoughts

Last week I said:

  1. I will emphasise to all speakers the significance of being ready to move up front to do their part – done. Made a significant difference to the flow.
  2. I will not be at the Watford service this week, but I will ask the speakers and song leader (Danny) if there is any way I can support them in my absence – done

Focus for next Sunday:

  1. Agree in advance who is leading which song at Lower Earley
  2. Set myself the goal of a sub-25 minute sermon in Watford

 

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you? Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm