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|A Prayer for Our Nation|
“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.”… O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”—Nehemiah 1:4-7;11
This is the prayer of Nehemiah before he left Babylon to return to Jerusalem to help rebuild the walls of the destroyed city. The remnant of the Jews who had survived the siege of the city were dispirited and living in great trouble and shame. They were constantly subject to attack from invaders who looted the city and kept the Jews in humiliation. As far as they were concerned, no one cared about them and they lost their testimony and impact.
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|A Prayer That Our Hearts Be Open to God's Word|
“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”—Ezra 7:10
“For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law”—Nehemiah 8:9
Ezra was a scribe who set himself to study the Law of the Lord and to obey it. Later, we read that he instructed Israel, and thankfully, the people had ears to listen to what God was saying. This stands in contrast to a past generation of Israelites who refused to hear the words of the Lord through the prophets. They might have heard the words but they dismissed them out of hand. As the old saying goes, no one is as deaf as the person who does not want to hear.
What are the characteristics of those who are ready to hear God’s Word? They listen to His word with anticipation, wanting to be instructed. In fact, they love hearing the Word of God even when it rebukes them. They have an appetite for spiritual things and “like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk” so that they might grow in their walk with God. In other words, they’re eager to be both comforted and confronted by the Word. Second, they are willing to hear the Word despite the competition from other voices. Above the noise of this world, they pick out the voice of the True Shepherd and follow wherever He leads.
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|A Prayer for Faith in Desperate Circumstances|
“O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”—2 Chronicles 20:12
Imagine being responsible not only for your own fate, but also the fate of a nation. That’s the predicament Jehoshaphat found himself in when a great army was moving against the land of Judah. Filled with fear, he “set his face to seek the Lord” and called the people together to fast and pray for God’s mercy and protection. He prayed earnestly, confessing his sin and the sin of his people, reminding himself of God’s greatness and the covenant with His people. Jehoshaphat understood that he was no match for the overwhelming superiority of the invading armies. If there was to be deliverance, God would have to directly intervene.
This prayer of desperation was also accompanied with worship. “Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping the Lord.” (v.18). Next, Jehoshaphat turned military strategy on its head by sending a choir ahead of his own army! Should we be surprised when we read, “And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed” (v.22).
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Philosophers have often debated what causes people to develop over time. Are we who we are because of our nature? Or are we who we are because of how we were nurtured? There are plenty of arguments to support both claims. We could even say that it is a little bit of both. But if we, as Christians, desire to grow spiritually, we must determine where to begin.
A good place to start is with our own personal stories of where we have seen change take place in our lives.
I grew up with the perfect Christian surroundings. My father was a pastor of a conservative Church where I could be found three times a week. I was taught the Bible and memorized hundreds of verses. I knew more theology than the average adolescent and I started preaching when I was twelve years old. I was clearly nurtured in Christianity.
I had always known, from my earliest memory, that God is love. I remember at the age of six when it first dawned on me that God was also just and could not tolerate my sin. The Spirit of God went to work in my heart. I confessed that I was a sinner and placed my trust in Jesus Christ to save me. At that moment, I was changed. I was born again (John 3:3). I was given a new nature (Colossians 2:13).
Those last two paragraphs chronicle the two different variables of change in my life. Some could argue that I am a Christian because of how I was nurtured. Others would recognize that I only truly became a Christian when the Holy Spirit changed my nature. Both expressions have had positive influences on me, but only one of them had the power to give me eternal life (John 10:28).
Although I am thankful for the way my parents raised me, I had learned early on how to manipulate the system. I got better rewards when I acted spiritually, so I did what I thought was expected of me. I was living a self-centered, deceitful life. As is the nature of a lie, I began to believe my own false reality (James 1:22).
I remember a time in college, training for the ministry, when I was wrestling with my spiritual identity. I wrote in my journal that I felt empty inside, “I feel like every time I get a drop of water in my cup, I have to spoon it out and give it to someone else.” I continued, “If this is ministry, I don’t want any part of it.” A week later, a friend shared Hebrews 11:6 with me, “…(God) is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” I had memorized that verse as a child, but in that moment, my spirit resonated with the truth of Scripture and I realized where I had gone wrong. I had been trying to change my life from the outside in, while God had been working to change me from the inside out.
When we live for works we are living for the flesh and our works done in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 5:3-8). Sin begins in our heart and is manifested through our actions (Mark 7:21). Likewise, the work of the Spirit to change our inner person is manifested through our behavior (I Timothy 5:25). That is why James says that faith without works is dead (James 2:20). Not that works are a prerequisite for faith, but that faith naturally results in works.
We are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), but this is only after God has already begun the work in us (Philippians 2:13). At the moment of our conversion the Spirit of God begins to change our entire person (I Thessalonians 5:23). Christ began the work by taking our spirit, which was dead, and bringing it to life (Colossians 2:13). Even though our body is decaying, our inner man is being changed (II Corinthians 4:16). This new nature then begins to transform us as we are renewed in the spirit of our mind (Ephesians 4:22-24). Once we have been saved we are called to bring our body into subjection so that we can preach the gospel without hypocrisy (I Corinthians 9:24-27). The same power that brought our spirit to life and saves our soul will give us a glorified body after the resurrection (Philippians 3:21). In the end, Christ will be with us until the work He has started in us is completed (Philippians 1:6).
This is how spiritual change takes place. So where do we get off track?
We are prone to put the cart before the horse. When we talk about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), it is easier to emphasize the need to be more loving, kind, or patient. We like having practical steps to work on, benchmarks that show our spiritual progress, but we cannot forget that these are the fruit of the Spirit. Instead of mastering behaviors, we ought to examine ourselves to determine if we are listening to the Spirit of God.
Another way we get off track is when we start to promote our values over the principles of the gospel. I see this most commonly whenever we get a group of Christians together. We are vocal about the sort of behaviors we like to see in others and this naturally results in people striving to impress those around them (Matthew 6:1). This causes us to be hypocritical, pharisaical, and prideful (Matthew 23:5). Those are not the fruit of the Spirit.
We fail to change biblically when we are focused on protecting our culture and way of life. Instead of preaching the whole counsel of God, we preach against the actions we do not like and we promote the kind of behavior that we want. We do not see any spiritual change because the sermons are always directed at someone else and not our own hearts. We will not be able to change our world unless we are changed ourselves.
We fail to see the need to change because we are are prone to think too highly of ourselves (Romans 12:3). I’ve often visited churches who preach the gospel of grace, but act as though they have earned their own righteousness. They look down on sinners as if they could help themselves out and clean up their own act. We have to remember where we came from (I Corinthians 6:11). We are debtors of grace (Romans 8:12) and ministers of reconciliation (II Corinthians 4:18).
So how do we affect the change and results for which we are looking? We are, as I mentioned before, practical human beings looking for something tangible to do. What are the things we can work on that will make a difference?
We need to stick to the Word of God (II Timothy 4:2). There are plenty of Christian ministries out there that offer various steps to a better spiritual life, but only the Word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two edged sword, and able to pierce our most inner being (Hebrews 4:12). We need to get into the Bible, and not just for a therapeutic verse to start out our day. We need to read the Word of God to discover what needs to change in our life, and then we need to change it (James 1:22-24)
We have to examine ourselves. We need to be humble in prayer and ask God to create a pure heart in us (Psalm 51:10). We need to confess our sins and accept the forgiveness God offers (I John 1:9). We need to preach the gospel to ourselves on a regular basis. The gospel is the power of God to change lives (Romans 1:16).
We need to surround ourselves with a gospel centered, Bible teaching, Spirit filled community. One of the greatest impediments to our spiritual growth is when we isolate ourselves (Hebrews 10:25). We are not perfect, we are not complete, but we are not alone (Romans 12:3-8). We have to be in the Body of Christ if we want to be transformed into His image (Romans 12:2).
As we start to implement these steps we will begin to see change taking place in our lives. As we change it will serve us well to take note of when and how we have grown. This is not to give ourselves credit for our success, but to keep fresh examples of Christ’s continued work in our lives so that the gospel will be a constant reminder of how we change. John DeBrine always asks, “What in your life is only explainable by God?” The more we see God change in us, the more we will be encouraged by his continued work in transforming us into the image of His Son, and the stronger our testimony will be of what God can actually do with a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Romans 8:12-14 NKJV
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|A Prayer for the Discernment to Make Wise Choices|
“Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”—1 Kings 3:9
At the beginning of his long reign, God gave Solomon an invitation to ask for whatever he wanted. “Ask what I shall give you,” the Lord told him. Solomon prayed for the gift of wisdom—the gift of discernment or the ability to make the best choice when confronted with a number of options. God commended Solomon for not asking for a long life, nor riches, nor for the life of his enemies, but rather for requesting an understanding heart. God was very pleased and promised that Solomon would get what he asked for. Today, we still benefit from Solomon’s wisdom when we read the book of Proverbs, most of which was written by him.
Cleary, God takes delight in giving us wisdom when confronted with difficult choices. I’ve discovered that even in situations such as when I’m talking on the phone, I have silently claimed the promise, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5). And when we ask in faith, God gives us the wisdom we need at that particular moment.
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