Category Archives: Spiritual Formation

Legitimacy

The following is an excerpt from Scott Fowler, Contending for the Habit of Daily Prayer. New York: Issachar Imprints. 2016.

There are two things we need to be comfortable with if we are to successfully cultivate a meaningful, dynamic prayer life. The first is ourselves—being comfortable in “our own skin” as they say. It may not make sense to everyone, but we have to allow ourselves legitimacy in prayer. True, we are imperfect and can point out all the ways in which we are inadequate and disqualified for prayer. But we have not been invited into the Secret Place because of our adequacy or qualifications! On the contrary, it is through the blood of Jesus and His utter qualification that we are allowed—No, invited! No, compelled to enter into the Most Holy Place!0578178761-smaller

Therefore, brothers, 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 in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22, NIV).

This means for us that, when we cry out to God we mustn’t shrink from the sound of our own voice because we are aware of our unworthiness, but instead allow ourselves to begin to say about ourselves what God says about us: that we are considered righteous through faith:

However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:5, NIV).

Second, it may be difficult for some to cultivate a meaningful, dynamic prayer life because their families are not prepared to lend them legitimacy in prayer. Our families have witnessed our shortcomings and failures and may take the lower road of judging us for what they have seen in us rather than for what God and His Word says is possible in us. For this reason, we should never present ourselves as being superior because we are pursuing prayer, but rather we should humbly acknowledge our inadequacies and hide completely behind God’s mercy and love. In the end, we must pursue God in the Secret Place regardless of others’ opinion of us!

Dr. Scott Fowler is the Pastor of Assimilation and Discipleship at Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle on Long Island.
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The Mind, the Soul, and a Clear Path to Victory

head-shot-3Good morning SGT family! I hope you will hear from the Lord today.

Today I will be sharing a message entitled,  The Mind, the Soul, and a Clear Path to Victory (just click the link and you will have my notes).

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Answers on the Left, Waiting on the Right

"Praying Hands" (study for an Apostl...

“Praying Hands” (study for an Apostle figure of the “Heller” altar) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something encouraging occurred to me some time ago concerning prayer.

There were two or three things I was intensely praying about, needing an answer. I watched as the Lord supplied all but one of those needs. Because the need that went “unmet” was so intense, it got nearly all of my focus and I began to struggle with why God had not answered. That led to questions. Guilt. The sense that I had perhaps done something wrong. I wasn’t focusing on what God had done, but what He had not done. Then an encouraging word occurred to my heart: How can I imagine that God is distant from me when I consider the unmet need, but near to me because of the prayers He did answer? God is not divided. He is not loving and kind on my left as He answers prayer, and then angry and rejecting on my right. If He has been near to me and answered prayer on my left, then I must allow that He is loving and attentive on my right as well, even though He has not yet answered those prayers or met those needs. If God is loving me on the left, He’s also loving me on the right!

So, live in the grace of God as you wait for answers, and as you wait, allow yourself to be encouraged when you remember what God has done. Look for the blessings He is showering on you right now and understand that His heart for you is the same whether He is pouring out blessings in some areas or asking you to wait in others.

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The Two Questions . . .

The Passage of Time

The Passage of Time (Photo credit: ToniVC)

(The following questions are put forth as concisely worded reminders to help you be accountable to the all-important privilege and opportunity for daily prayer. The key, if your answers are negative, is not to become discouraged, guilty, or to find a way to justify yourself, but rather to consider the questions honestly and on a regular (daily) basis so that the Holy Spirit can carve out a place for prayer in your thinking and in your life.)

Question 1: Did you set aside quality time in a location where you would not be disturbed or disturb others for the intentional purpose of being alone with God in the secret place?

Anyone who has a relationship with Jesus understands the need to pray every day. But because we are frequently pressed for time we may try to turn our commute time into our secret place time. Don’t get me wrong: we should pray everywhere and at all times! But there is no replacement for time alone with God in a place where no one can see or hear you. Why? Well, first of all, it says something about our commitment to our love relationship with Jesus that we spend uninterrupted time with Him. It also allows for us to respond fully. As a Pentecostal believer, there are times in my prayer time when I need to cry, or shout, or clap my hands. I may feel the leading to lay prostrate before the Lord in surrender. I may even feel compelled to dance before the Lord. I’m less likely to feel the freedom to do that when I know others can see or hear me. Finally, if others are able to observe my secret place time they may be inclined to criticize, judge, or otherwise hinder my freedom in the Lord.

Question 2: If your answer to Question 1 was yes, was the balance of your time in the secret place spent pursuing your love relationship with Jesus or did you spend most of the time asking God for His help with needs?

We are exhorted to let our requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6). But prayer is first and foremost about our relationship with God! What would any of our other important relationships be like if all we did was ask for things? No! All of our petitions before the Lord must flow out of our close relationship to Him and be led by Him. Sometimes we convince ourselves that because we are praying for ministries that we should spend all of our time interceding for ministries. But that says to God that the mission is more important than He is! If we will delight ourselves in the Lord He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4)!

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In Plain English . . .

At a certain, specific moment in time, the Second Person of the Godhead, came down to earth and took on a human form and identity in order to reach the human race that had been lost due to sin. He did not “heist” a human body, but rather was born just like everyone else with at least one colossal exception: He had an earthly mother but no earthly father, since His Father was God.

At birth, He was given the name Jesus.  After living a sinless life, during which He performed many mighty miracles—the accounts of which, if written down, the world would not be able to contain according to John 21:25—He was crucified on a cross.  His death was planned and prophesied:  the ransom necessary to redeem all of mankind.

After being in the tomb for three days, His body took on life again and resurrected.  After spending another forty days on the earth, during which time He taught His disciples and appeared to as many as five hundred at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:6), He ascended into Heaven in plain sight of His disciples just ten days before the Day of Pentecost. He is alive and sitting at the right hand of God the Father. He hears our prayers and He prays for us.

We expect to see Him for ourselves someday.  Of course, in death we expect to immediately leave this body and be in His presence, but, we also expect to see Him return in the air to rapture, or catch away, His church, and again to bring about judgment upon the earth at which time He will insert Himself into history again—the term “insert” used here only to help us grasp the concept since history is actually “His-story” and something He has always been a part of and actively involved in— this time to remain.

Ultimately, all creatures that have ever existed will acknowledge Him as Lord and will bow down before Him (Philippians 2:9-11)!  It is estimated that 107 billion people have thus far existed on the earth1—several billion less than that if you throw out evolutionary hallucinations— and Christians believe that none of them will go to heaven unless they have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord.

 

Notes

1 http://www.prb.org/Articles/2002/HowManyPeopleHaveEverLivedon Earth.aspx

 

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You Can’t Be Defensive And Humble At The Same Time

Matthew 11

 25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

 Matthew 18

  2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Regardless of places in Scripture where we might think we see Jesus being harsh with the Pharisees and the religious leaders of the time, the passages above show us the heart of Jesus for “little children.” While Jesus certainly loved actual little children, He used their unassuming innocence and humility as examples of what all people in the kingdom of God should be like spiritually; emotionally.

Jesus delights in the fact that the Father has chosen to reveal important spiritual truths, not to those who are wise with the world’s brand of knowledge, but to people who are little children in the ways of the world; who look to Him for knowledge and meaning instead of worldly systems.

He uses the little child called into their midst as a way of describing for the disciples what greatness looks like in heaven. He says, “Unless you change and become like little children.” Then He refers specifically to humility. We could ask if He was saying that we have to humble ourselves like a little child humbles himself or herself or was He saying that in order to be like a little child we would have to humble ourselves? Either way, the end result will be the same. The little children are as you find them. Awkward, still believing, still trusting, shy, not wanting the focus on themselves, teachable, quick to forgive, quick to forget, aware of his or her smallness and weakness, untainted by the cynicism and disillusionment of disappointment.

As I have pondered my own life–what I am like now and what kind of childhood I had, etc.—I am aware of a defensiveness and an anger in me, deeply seated, that goes back to a time when I was just a little child. In many ways I did not have a typical childhood. There were things that I was exposed to too soon. Wrongs done to me that were unfair but that went unnoticed by anyone who could have helped. I don’t harbor ill-will to anyone for those things but I am aware of their impact.

Having my own children, I have been the recipient of tremendous blessings as I have interacted with them—loving them, receiving love from them, observing them at every innocent stage—and those experiences have gone a long way to mend my own heart and to bring healing to me where I have needed it. As I have protected and participated in their respective childhoods, I have had a chance to observe what little children are like and have been challenged to allow the Lord to create that heart in me again.

The thing I am stricken by is the realization that you cannot be defensive and humble at the same time. You cannot be angry and humble at the same time.  You have to leave the place of humility to engage in defensiveness and anger. If my desire is to live my life in the Presence of God, to perpetually cultivate and maintain a heart of worship, I have to put away anger and defensiveness. To respond to someone in anger I have to, in essence, leave the Presence of God, take up the anger or issue that triggers my defensiveness, act on it, and then find my way back into the Presence of God. And guess what? I have to do that even if I don’t respond externally. If I become defensive and angry in my heart it threatens to pulls me out of the Presence of God and extinguish my heart of worship.

So, I am imagining what life would be like if I did not defend myself. What would life be like if I did not allow displeasure with circumstances to arouse my anger? Is that possible? Won’t people run over me? What would happen if I simply waited on God in every situation?

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Between Real and Ideal

The existence of the ideal is evidence of its possibility.

Ever been inspired by a movie because of the values it portrayed? The story was challenging and beautiful, moving and uplifting. Then you come back to “reality” and realize that the players are just actors, the movie is based on a novel, and you realize that it is just a story. This self-inflicted “balance” between idealism and reality is aided by our own exposure to shattered dreams, burst bubbles, and unmet expectations. It’s what Rod Tidwell (from the movie Jerry Maguire) meant when, referring to single moms considering a new relationship, he said:

“They’ve been to the circus, you know what I’m saying? They’ve been to the puppet show and they’ve seen the strings.”

We face this type of exposure to reality all the time. In fact, it begins to seem that everything and everyone has a seamy underside;1 a corrupt core predisposed to dishonesty and fraud. We learn to protect ourselves from getting hurt again. We adjust our expectations of people when we hear that a pastor or a politician has committed adultery, a friend has been busted in an internet scam, or we observe every-day, garden variety hypocrisy in people we know. By the time we “grow up,” we have been conditioned to temper idealism with “reality.” We assume that anything that appears genuinely good or honorable must have “strings” somewhere. We begin to consider as true Dr. Greg House’s axiom: “Everybody lies!”2 But, I am not ready to be done with idealism.

Leave it to Beaver

The premise of the book, The Way We Never Were,3 is that nostalgic reminiscences of, say, the 1950s are unrealistic. There were no Leave it to Beaver households. It was all Hollywood hype. I wasn’t alive in the 50s so I don’t know what it was really like, but I want to argue the following point: If I can imagine a story with values in which all the characters operate with integrity and depth and idealism, isn’t that proof to some degree that such a thing is possible? The fact that you can be moved by the dramatization of such values is the evidence that you can be inspired to imitate such idealism. And isn’t it true that nestled within our protests against the atrocities of character seen in everyday life is actually the call to live the ideal?

God’s Ideal

Now, cut to Scripture as our example of idealistic living. The Bible is full of high ideals that God clearly expects us to pursue. I have met people who feel that even the call to live according to Scripture is unreasonable! To think this way is to completely miss the power of God’s grace and God’s Word. It is possible to do right. It is possible to think clean thoughts. It is possible to envision people who interact with integrity and honor. It is possible to be a person who interacts with others with integrity and honor.

Such living demands that we focus not on the evil inclinations that bombard us but on the example of Jesus “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2b).” That is, instead of focusing on the seamy underside of things and giving place to our own propensity to imagine evil, we instead pursue the right path. But how? This is the point of grace. We have been given the power to live differently; on a higher plane!

Paul said, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:24b-25a)!” We have been rescued from a worldly reality and called to higher things!

1 The word seamy is literally referring to the exposure of the rough seems of a garment turned inside out. So, in the context of idealism, it is a picture of being presented with something that appears perfect but upon inspection is proven to be imperfect.

2 Greg House is a fictional character on the television series House, M.D. which aired on Fox for eight seasons.

3 Stephanie Coontz, (Basic Books: 1992). A prequel to this book is The Way We Really Are upon which the front cover depicts a single parent families, a mixed race parented family, and a same-sex parented family.

 

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