Archive for March 2014

Prayer in Gethsemane

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” 

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” 

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. 

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:36-46, NIV) 

As Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples, we sensed His burden. Now it seems to be almost crushing Him. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (v.38). Physically, He is facing extended torture and an excruciating death. Emotionally, He is already under tremendous pressure, and soon complete isolation and humiliation will be added. Spiritually, He is about to experience a sense of separation from the Father Who has been His constant companion and strength.

It is Jesus’ final hour or hours before his arrest. How does He spend them? He prays. His life has been filled with prayer. He has seemed in almost constant communication with His Father. He came to Gethsemane to pray so regularly that Judas knew where to find Him, even though he had left during the meal.

What can we learn about Jesus from His prayer in Gethsemane?

  • When burdened or pressured, pray. Jesus didn’t resort to recreation or diversion or bodily rest. He prayed.
  • He was honest with God about His feelings. “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (v.39).
  • It’s OK to struggle, IF we keep our eyes on the Father and continue to trust Him and stay committed to Him.
  • You may have heard people say that we’re supposed to give our concerns to God in prayer, then leave them there; don’t ever go back to them. But here Jesus kept coming back, repeating the same prayer. Some burdens are so heavy that we can’t just pray about them once and forget them. They keep pressing on our minds and emotions. Jesus’ example teaches us to keep bringing our concerns to God whenever they come to mind. That’s not doubt. It’s faith. Jesus didn’t have anything new to communicate, but He kept bringing His burden to His Father.
  • “Your will be done” in v.42 is the exact same Greek phrase used in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:10. Jesus modeled and lived out the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer isn’t just words. It is an attitude toward God, a relationship with Him, a lifestyle. If you want to understand its meaning for life, look at the example of Jesus.
  • “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (v.41). When Jesus’ hour of great trial came, He was ready. The disciples, who had spent the time sleeping, crumbled. They scattered in fear. Watch and pray.
  • When every fiber of Jesus’ being was screaming to run the other way, He submitted because He remained focused on the Father and continued to trust Him, step by step. We can too.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: A Garden in the Night
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Expand Your Expectations

This is the ninth in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

Wherever you are in your current use of hymns, look beyond. Hymns can do more in our spiritual lives than we are allowing them to do. Expand your expectations. Consider new possibilities.

Are you primarily using short, repetitive hymns? Hymns can effectively express more complex ideas. Give them a chance to do so. Gradually expand to include hymns with more substantial texts.

Are you using lots of “heavy” hymns, with many words? Don’t forget to occasionally mix in shorter hymns. When the context is right, give yourself and your people the chance to reflect on fewer words and fewer thoughts. You’ll find such hymns in a wide variety of styles to suit your situation.

Look at the themes of the hymns you use in worship. Do most of them tell God how great He is? That is so important. All true worship is God-focused, and looking to Him should always be central. But remember, worship encompasses every response to God in faith. Prayer, holy living, loving others, Christian responsibility, perseverance in trial, resisting temptation–all are worship. All are responses of faith, and all are vital to our ongoing relationship with God.

These responses involve many different moods–sometimes joyful praise, sometimes reflective worship, sometimes thoughtful challenge or deep consecration, sometimes brokenness, repentance, and humble prayer. We need all these in our worship, and hymns can help provide them.

God’s beautiful truth for us comes in many different emphases, styles, forms, and flavors. Sing His truth, and sing a full range of responses to His truth.  Remember God’s promise:

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11, NIV)

God’s Word is powerful and always accomplishes His purpose. Embrace the fullness of His Word in your life and ministry. Embrace that fullness in your hymns.

Money

I suppose my wife and I hope for the same benefits from our money that most people want: comfort; security; the freedom to do what we’d like.

We’ve been blessed with relative financial stability during our marriage. Our income has never been high, and finances are tight at times. But we’ve never been in dire need. We’ve faced no major catastrophes.

But as with many people, our finances do seem to go in cycles. We experience waves of extra bills, then, on occasion, periods of extra income. Having survived a number of these waves, I can look back and have some perspective on them. No matter how many extra bills have come in, we’ve always been able to pay them somehow, and in a reasonable amount of time.

On the other hand, the “extra” income is almost never extra. It is usually gobbled up rather quickly by more bills–either new purchases or maintenance on past purchases: house, appliances, car, or whatever. On rare occasions, we can add modest amounts to our savings, but not enough to bring any real security.

With all the concern we lavish on our finances, I’ve come to view money as empty threats, empty promises. The bills have turned out to be less of a threat than we feared at times. And the extra income, on which we tend to focus so much hope, hasn’t performed as anticipated. Empty threats, empty promises.

We want comfort, security, and freedom. But life’s needs and insecurities run deeper than money could ever handle. Family relationships, a good attitude, health, and most of all, our relationship with God—these are far more critical than money.

As to freedom, God seems to bring us life opportunities that are neither initiated nor limited by finances.

In other words, I’m discovering several basic truths about money. If I want comfort, security, and freedom:

1.       Bills aren’t the real enemy: anxiety about money is. That anxiety can flourish whether bills are high or income is high. It destroys the sense of comfort, security, and freedom we seek.

2.       Extra income isn’t my real need: trusting God is. He really can deliver comfort, security, and freedom…and much, much more.

I still catch myself wishing for more income. But what I really want is to keep our finances in His hands, whether the bills or the income seem to be running ahead at the moment. Having our finances in His hands brings satisfaction that income can’t give and bills can’t take away.

Wind, Breath, and Spirit

In the Bible’s original languages,
“wind,” “breath,” and “spirit” are all the same word.
God’s Spirit is the wind of His power and
the breath of His love.
God’s Spirit is His life in motion.

The Spirit that brooded over the waters at creation (Genesis 1:2),
the Breath that brought to life the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-10), and
the rushing, mighty Wind on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4)
are the same mysterious, creative, all-powerful Spirit of God.

Jesus came to immerse us in this Spirit.
This Spirit works around us,
through us,
in us, and
among us
as we trust in Christ.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Ezekiel’s Vision
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Unworthy

This is the eighth in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

Lord, as I come to You and think toward singing,
I hesitate.
I sense that my songs are unworthy of You.
They are, Lord.
All our songs,
all our understandings,
all our expressions are unworthy of You.

But You want my praise, Lord.
You ask for it.
And I remember that praise doesn’t come from my song.
It comes from me.
Trust doesn’t come from my words,
but from my heart.
True worship and submission don’t come from my singing,
but from my doing.

Holy Father, Son, and Spirit,
fill me with yourself.
Cleanse my thoughts.
Purify this temple completely, Lord.
Sanctify me to Your use.

Then make me a vessel of Your praise.
Make my entire life an instrument of worship,
giving glory to You throughout all the ages,
forever and ever.
Amen, Lord. Amen.

Love One Another

John 13:34-35

What would you most want to say to your loved ones
as you prepared to leave them in this world?
Compare your list to what Jesus says to His disciples in John chapters 13 through 16.

One of the things I would say is this:
My loved ones, I ask you, I beg you,
love each other—
deeply, actively, totally, more and more every day!
Never forget it!
Never grow lax in it!
Never let anything take its place!
Your love can express a portion of the love I have for each of you,
the love I would show you if I were there.
In my absence, friends, I ask you with all my heart:
love each other!

That is one of the first things Jesus tells His disciples
to prepare them for His departure.
Love one another,
even as I have loved you. (John 13:34, NASB)
Later He comes back and says it all again.

We are Christ’s presence in this world.
He longs for us to deeply, daily, totally, actively
express His love for those that are so dear to Him.
Do you love Jesus Christ?
Do you care what matters to Him?
Then love one another.

The Light of Truth

You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light
(for the fruit of light consists in all
goodness, righteousness and truth)
and find out what pleases the Lord.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.
(Ephesians 5:8-11a, NIV)

Jesus, You came to us as the Truth.
You came to live the Truth,
to speak the Truth, and
to be the Truth.

Jesus, be the Truth in me.
Shine through
every attitude,
every action, and
every word.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: God Is Light
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Sing to Nurture a Relationship with God

This is the seventh in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

I believe that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the key to joy, satisfaction, fruitfulness, and meaning, now, every moment, and forever.

I believe such a relationship is available to every human creature. Personality doesn’t matter. Intellect and education don’t matter. Culture doesn’t matter. Age doesn’t matter. Financial and social status don’t matter. Every person can have a satisfying and meaningful life through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Further, God is always, everywhere calling everyone into this relationship with Himself. What’s more, He gives us the privilege of participating in His call to others.

That’s why I believe so passionately in hymns. A personal relationship with Christ is the key to life for every person, and hymns can nurture that relationship.

Some worship leaders focus on creating “an experience” for their worshipers or trying to “make a moment” for them. Experiences with God can be important and formative, but only as they contribute to an ongoing relationship with God. That relationship is the key.

I suggest that our hymns and worship services focus on nurturing our ongoing relationship with God rather than on creating a temporary “experience” with God. Our services last one hour or so. What about the other 167 hours? Sundays should focus on the week, not the moment. Their purpose should be to prepare people for daily living. When that is the emphasis, substance becomes far more important than style.

As many suggest, it is vital that our worship services remind people of the reality of God’s presence. But remember, God is always with us, not just on Sunday morning, and we realize His presence, not by emotion, but by faith.

For example, consider how Christ mentored His disciples. Was it by leading them into a big emotional worship experience? Perhaps once, on the mount of transfiguration, with only three disciples, immediately before His death. But His focus was on nourishing their faith and a constant relationship with the Father. Jesus’ strength was fed, not by emotional pit-stops, but by a life of prayer and by constant trust in His Father. That’s what He wanted for His disciples as well.

That should be our deepest desire, both for ourselves and for those to whom we minister. Refocus your worship on nurturing a relationship with the Living God, a relationship of faith, for that relationship is life’s greatest treasure, now and forever.

Father, Glorify Yourself

John 11:41-42

Why were Jesus’ prayers so powerful?
Because He trusted His Father completely.
He always wanted only
to please His Father and
to glorify Him.
He only wanted what His Father wanted.

That is the key to prayer for us as well.
The focus of prayer should not be changing His will to ours
but reshaping our will to His.

The next time some problem stirs up your anxieties, pray this way:
Father, glorify Yourself through this need.
Bring your concern to Him, simply and honestly,
but make His glory the focus of your prayer.
When God is glorified—
that is, when people see how loving and wonderful He is—
the greatest good is always the result.

The Way He Speaks

One of the things that intrigues me about Jesus is the way He talked to people, especially individuals, one on one. He talked with lawyers and criminals, religious leaders and prostitutes, fishermen, tax collectors, soldiers, and children.  He spoke with women, even when it was against the social conventions of His day.

He always spoke to these people with personal respect–respect for the independence and dignity of the individual.

He never pushed or steam-rolled anybody. He spoke with understanding, consideration, and patience. He took time. He provided reason. And He always spoke face-to-face, not looking over their shoulders or talking over their heads. He didn’t “hammer” or “preach at” individuals. He was never harsh or condemning…at least not with the humble.

He was not repulsed by the unrespectable people of His day. He was attracted to them, genuinely drawn to them…not to a class of people, but to individual persons. He had an almost organic attraction to them.

He loved them just where they were, as they were, but He cared too much to abandon them there. He drew them on, drew them in, toward the simple truth and toward a life-giving trust in himself.

That’s what He did for me. I remember when I first trusted Him–not just mentally believed in Him, but genuinely, personally trusted Him from my heart. I was not drawn in so much by what He was saying to me. What gripped me was His reality–the reality of His person. I knew He was there in front of me. I felt He was looking right into my eyes, into my heart. And though He was holy God and I was a very unholy sinner, the look was love–nothing but love.

That’s what got me. I trusted Him. I bowed to Him and confessed my sin, and life has not been the same since.

I’m not talking about religion. I’m not talking about church, or beliefs, or cultural preference, or emotional experiences. I’m talking about Jesus Christ. I’m talking about knowing Him on a personal basis and trusting Him as God.

Don’t take my word for it. You can know Him yourself. If you want to know Him, or know Him better, He will reveal Himself to You. He will come to You personally, one-on-one.

When He comes, when He speaks to you, listen. Whatever He says, His voice is always only love.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: When Jesus Speaks
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

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