This verse has always burdened me, as I do not know how to pray without ceasing. Sure, there are “popcorn prayers” – quick two or three second prayers you offer up while at red lights or in traffic or on elevators. “Lord, please help” or “Lord, I need you.” And those are great! Any prayer you offer up, no matter how short or befuddled it may be – is an offering of incense to God: “When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8).
Even though I offered up popcorn prayers and, of course, had focused, quiet time with God daily in prayer for longer than my knees would like, I still was not sure I was living out this verse.
Then, this morning, it came to me that in the Old Testament times, there was the Temple. This was the physical, designated place to worship and pray to God. If you wanted to be close to God, you went to the Temple. This could mean several days’ trip for some, depending on where they lived in proximity to the Temple. In fact, there were so many people trekking to the Temple that there were entire songs written for their journeys (see Psalms 120–134). But the key in the Old Testament is that God had a designated physical place for worship and prayer.
The concept of the Holy Spirit indwelling in human beings was not yet pervasive. Note that David mentions it in Psalm 51:11, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” However, in this verse, we see the concern he has of losing the Spirit like Saul did – a passage I covered several months ago in my “Why did God let me down?” post.
With the Old Testament context in mind, we now return to 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” Praying without ceasing no longer seems so difficult to achieve because we do not have to journey to a physical place, He is always with us. The Holy Spirit indwelling in us has made us the Temple, so we can pray literally wherever we are, whenever we want, and there is no required physical place. Praying without ceasing also helps us to walk in the Spirit versus the flesh.
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:5-8
The more we are plugging into the Holy Spirit through prayer, the more likely we are to live in a way that pleases God. When we remember that we are the Temple, we have the Holy Spirit, that makes it much easier to “pray without ceasing.”
Pray whenever, pray wherever – there is no long trek to take. You are already there.
We lift up everyone who has come across this page for any reason and reads these words. If they already know Your Son, Jesus, may they feel the power of the Holy Spirit within them and pray without ceasing. If they do not yet know Jesus, then make today the day, Lord.
“Jesus responded, ‘Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.”
from Matthew 8:26
I feel like I am in the boat alone on rough waters. Health, job, marriage, finances, family, future and so on. Everything is unstable and has been for months. And, of course, the global pandemic and, as of late, riots all over the country I live in.
I was asking Jesus, “Where are You?” As I focused on that question, I thought about the disciples in the boat during the storm. They thought they were going to die.
“The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!'” Matthew 8:25
With all that is going on right now, it is not so far fetched to feel that death is a possibility. If we go back a few verses to Matthew 8:22, “Jesus told him, ‘Follow me now.'” He was addressing a disciple that asked to go bury his father before committing to following Jesus. Most Bibles label this set of verses “The Cost of Following Jesus.”
The very next verse, 8:23, “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.” We move from Jesus telling us the cost to follow Him to getting into the boat with Him.
There are two things to highlight. One, He just told us there is a cost to following Him, so why are we surprised when storms arrive?
Two, Jesus is IN the boat with us. He’s right here – do not feel the need to ask, “Where are You, Lord?” He is right here in the boat with us.
“Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.”
from Matthew 14:22-23
Jesus “insisted” the disciples get in the boat while He went by Himself to pray. Keep in mind this encounter with the boat is not too long after the verses above that we just read in Matthew 8. The disciples had recently witnessed Jesus calm the storm when He was IN the boat.
While Jesus was praying by Himself, a storm came up, and “the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves” (from Matthew 14:24). The disciples cried out and Jesus came to where they were on the water.
In verse 27, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid! Take courage. I am here!” Jesus was not physically in the boat with them this time, but He was there. He knew where they were and how to get to them and, of course, had the power to once again calm the storm.
Jesus said to Peter in verse 31, “You have so little faith, why did you doubt me?” In Matthew 8:26, Jesus had said, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!”
This is a message for us today. Jesus asks why are we afraid, why do we doubt Him? We must have faith. He has saved us every single time throughout our lives, for you and I have not drowned yet.
We cannot doubt Jesus is with us. He is right here – in the boat in the storm. He is stretching our faith.
The first time, He was in the boat, right there. The second time, we cannot see Him in the boat. So, we have to use our faith and not our sight. Ride out the storms knowing He is right there. Hand over everything to Him – your faith, your life, your today, and your tomorrow.
Don’t be someone to whom Jesus would say, “You have so little faith!” When fear creeps in, take it captive by praising Him. If doubt enters, pray. If loneliness clouds your mind, read Matthew chapters 8 and 14. Let the Word of God remind you that you are never alone. And there is a cost to following Him – complete and total faith.
With thanks to Dr. B., whose wise words inspired today’s post.
When people ask the question “Why?” to God, whether it is, “Why is there evil?” “Why didn’t You answer this prayer?” “Why did You allow this?” or “Why did they die?” an approach might reference we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8), His thoughts are higher (Isaiah 55:9), and God’s response to Job (Job 41:11). That is certainly one method to understanding the questions we have of God.
Another approach says to look to God’s character. Of course, we read the Word to understand who He is and what His patterns are – His character. No matter how much we question Him, He is Love, He is Truth, and He is Light.
I want to highlight one such pattern – how each time someone in the Bible lost something, there was a gain. We could look at Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43) or Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15) – they lost a life or lost an illness (were healed). I want to focus on Lazarus.
“A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, ‘Lord, your dear friend is very sick.’ But when Jesus heard about it he said, ‘Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.’ So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days.” John 11:1-6
Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, yet, when there was a cry for Him to come because Lazarus was sick, He did not answer that cry. He did not come. At least it appeared He did not answer, because the people making the cry wanted Jesus to answer, “I am coming now.”
We offer up many prayers, daily, about all kinds of things. I do believe that we have hopes of how He will answer our prayers or we might think we already have the best answers: “I have put a lot of thought into the matter, Lord. I saved You the trouble – here is the answer to my prayer.”
Even the Son of God prayed, “Thy will be done” (Matthew 26:42). So, if the Almighty Son of God submitted to the Father when He prayed, how much more shall we?
I am not suggesting it is wrong to ask for specific things, but, rather, that whatever we pray, before we say “In Jesus’ name, we pray,” add in “Thy will be done” and work hard to mean it.
The sisters of Lazarus wanted Jesus to come right away. They thought He could heal him, like He had so many others. However, He failed to answer the way they wanted and expected. Instead, He let two days pass before making the journey.
“Then [Jesus] said, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.’ The disciples said, ‘Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!’ They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. So he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.'” John 11:11-15
Jesus had a reason, He always has a reason. And if we claim to believe in all of Scripture, then we believe all the verses that talk about how much He loves us and how all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).
We also would claim to believe Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”
Out of a loss, God brings a gain. We may not see it right away or even this side of Heaven, but trust His character, trust who He is.
“‘Where have you put him?’ [Jesus] asked them. They told him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But some said, ‘This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?’ Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. ‘Roll the stone aside,’ Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, ‘Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.’ Jesus responded, ‘Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?'” John 11:34-40
Jesus shows up after Lazarus has been dead for days. The sisters, who earlier had been so eager for Jesus to heal their brother, now discouraged Him – Lord, the smell.
Jesus was undaunted by a stench, He had bigger things in mind – that the glory of God Almighty would be shown. No smell was going to stop Him from glorifying God.
As we go through life, there will be stenches we must endure in seasons where God is waiting for the right time for Him to receive the glory. Your time of stench in the tomb may be four days, it may be four years. However, trust in these things:.
Jesus knows exactly where you are. He has not forgotten about you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
Sometimes, you need to be still and ask Him to help you deal with the stench while He is waiting on the right time. (Psalm 46:10)
Know that He is at work while you are working through the stench. (Isaiah 43:15-19)
Know that when He is ready to release you, there will be an incredible gain. (John 10:10)
Never take your eyes off Jesus, never stop believing in Him, never stop trusting Him – through loss of freedom due to a quarantine or loss of a job or loss of your retirement because of the stock market – never stop trusting Him.
When you waiver, read the Bible. See His character, His heart, and His patterns – when there is a loss, He provides a gain.
“So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.’ Then Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, ‘Unwrap him and let him go!’ Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.” John 11:41-45
Everyone thought Lazarus was dead – they buried the man. He began to stink. Then, Jesus showed up, and the loss became a gain – a life was restored better than before and most important, God was glorified. People came to know God’s character through Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ miracle of bringing life to where death reigned. That is His pattern. Cling to who He is, not what is going on around you.
During these chaotic times, when I feel overwhelmed with bad news, I listen to “It Is Well (With My Soul).” Because you know what, brothers and sisters, it is well. Jesus Christ holds our very souls, so it is well.
I know that secular statistics say that money and communication are the causes for divorce. I propose another root cause that is based in Scripture. The failure of marriages can be traced back to the parties failing to fulfill their Biblical roles.
In this piece, I am going to step on toes. But, Snow and I have committed to be unfiltered here, no matter how controversial what we say may be. The goal is to challenge your perspective. Perspective is everything, but that is an entirely different post.
In the Bible:
“For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body. As the Scriptures say, ‘A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:22-33
When either of the parties disobeys or chooses not to fulfill his or her Biblical role or is ignorant of it, the enemy reigns. These roles also apply to non-believers because God created marriage, so it is only by His playbook that a marriage will be in line with its design. While unsaved people can still have great marriages, anytime you do not follow the instruction manual, things will not be optimized.
What about if only one of the people is fulfilling his or her Biblical role in marriage? That is where we run the risk of stepping outside of God’s design. For example, if the wife respects her husband as he disobeys Scriptures, is she endorsing non-Biblical behavior?
We are called to obey God above everyone else.
What if the husband loves the wife, but she does not respect him? I suggest that it goes back to whether the husband is obedient to God. If he loves her, but disobeys Scriptures, I would offer that is human love, not Biblical love. As defined by the verses above, Biblical love is “as Jesus loves the church.”
So, when a husband loves his wife, but is disobedient to Scriptures, he is failing in his Biblical responsibilities.
It is mighty difficult to respect someone who claims to know Jesus as his Lord, yet refuses to obey most, if not all, of the Scriptures.
But what about those husbands who love their wives, but are disobedient occasionally (as we all are)? Then, as wives, we need to pray for our spouses and fast for them; wives are the “helpmates” (Genesis 2:18).
As wives, we are commanded to respect our husbands, not love them. There are a lot of thoughts that can be said about why that is, but the point of this post is the root cause of the failure of marriage. Wives are to respect and submit to their husbands as the husbands obey Scriptures. Notice how we go back to the obedience of the husband. Wives are not commanded to submit to a husband who is disobedient to God.
If there are issues in your marriage, it is certainly worth praying over these verses to see where is the breakdown. Is the husband obedient? If he is, is the wife respecting him? If not, the enemy is using your marriage as a playground.
As mentioned yesterday, I’m going to be writing daily posts for the next couple of weeks. I usually won’t decide the content in advance – though I do have a few ideas I’ve been tossing around for some time now that may show up.
Today, I want to take a look at an excerpt from one of my favorite books of the Bible, James.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” James 1:2-8
I love the outlook on life this passage promotes. We are not promised easy lives, and some seasons will be harder than others. When we hit obstacles, though, James says we should learn from them in order to build our characters.
However, what if you don’t know what to do? The answer is simple: Ask God.
This is one of the reasons it is so important to pray and read the Bible daily. When a crisis comes up in your life, you will already be used to speaking with Him and hearing His Word. If you do not already read and pray daily, I encourage you to do so. Start with a few minutes a day and see where it goes. In our fast-paced world, taking time to speak to Him as well as read scripture is a wonderful way to relax and relieve stress.
Before I was saved, I very much believed in God. I prayed to Him mostly for “big things.” I remember in high school, for instance, praying over and over in my head, “Please don’t let my mom die” during a surgery she had where there were serious complications and she lost a lot of blood. I did come close to losing her that day, but God indeed saved her, and I was blessed that she lived nearly another 30 years – brightening so much of my life.
One of the things I failed to do before JC led me to Jesus, though, was pray to God daily in order to establish a personal relationship with Him. I sure was missing out. Connecting with Him in this way brings so much joy and peace. I can feel Him in a way I never could before.
In addition, while I had attempted to read the Bible once or twice as a kid, I only made it as far as Leviticus in the Old Testament. I do remember reading some of the New Testament, though – as I found the red ink for the words of Jesus fascinating.
Once I was saved back in June 2018, reading the Bible became part of my daily life, just as much as praying. This quiet time makes all the difference. I have read the full Bible three times since then, with two more read-throughs in progress on various plans. I do not claim to be an expert, far from it. However, I feel it is important that we all read and absorb the Word for ourselves.
Before I was saved, my priorities were all wrong. I loved God, sure, but He was that powerful figure I went to when I needed something. As far as my day-to-day life, I didn’t see how He fit in. I was serving the wrong masters – trying to fill holes in my heart and in my soul with stuff, food, and other destructive habits. I am sure He wanted to help me. In fact, I know He did, but I was too disconnected. Until Jesus.
As we encounter challenges in our lives, we must seek Him out. Find Him in the situation. Take a moment. Take a breath. Listen. He is there. And when we encounter similar circumstances again down the road, we can say, “I’ve seen this before. I’ve got this,” and face the situation with more confidence. Because, after all, Jesus has you.
“When they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
from Luke 23:33-34
The above is a powerful statement. Jesus has been beaten, flogged, nailed to a cross, and tortured in various other ways as well. However, He asks God to forgive His tormentors. While He is suffering, dying for all of our sins, Jesus thinks not of Himself but of those who are killing Him. He thinks not of vengeance but of mercy.
This sets Jesus apart from any other would-be deities – at least the ones that I’ve ever heard about, anyway. Looking at Greek mythology, for example, would Apollo have asked his father, Zeus, to forgive humans who were torturing him? No. The lightning bolts simply would have started raining down. End of problem.
Not Jesus. He asks His Father to forgive His tormentors. Stop and think about that action. The beauty of it. It is the inverse Kingdom come to life. What an incredible example Jesus sets. He lives up to His own words, for during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated:
“Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”
from Matthew 5:44-45
Do you want to break the chains ensnaring you with your enemies? Love them. Though it is difficult to achieve, if you love your enemies, they no longer have any control over you. They want you to react, to stray from your values, from your God. Instead, you love them, and in so doing, you rise above and declaw them.
Paul explains in a much more eloquent fashion than I can:
“Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. […] Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord. Instead, ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.’ Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” Romans 12:14,17-21
It is only natural to want revenge in certain situations, but you are misplacing your energy. Do you really think any revenge you come up with is going to be superior to what God can deliver in His righteous anger? “I will take revenge,” He says. Let Him handle it. Trust Him.
I try not to label people as “enemies” in my life, for even that gives them energy, but there are certainly some individuals that come to mind who have, from my perspective, either hurt or attempted to hurt me or loved ones over the years. Inspired by the words of Jesus in Luke 23:34, I have started praying for them. No matter what they did or attempted to do, none of them have committed atrocities like the tormentors of Jesus, so surely I can be as forgiving as He was?
Easier said than done, though, and I struggle each time. My Bible Study Partner suggests one approach is to pray to see them as God does. How can we see them through the eyes of God, rather than our human eyes? Doing so can lead to a new perspective and a different heart when dealing with them. You may find pity or sadness for them, rather than responsive hurt or anger.
Even if I am able to accomplish the above, I must admit, however, that I doubt I could have the presence of mind to be as gracious while in the midst of undergoing torture like Jesus did. “Jesus is perfect, so of course He responds perfectly” I think to myself, looking to excuse what I suspect my own failings would be in such a situation.
Then, another Biblical example flashes to mind (thanks, Holy Spirit). In the early days of the church, in the aftermath of Jesus’s death and resurrection, Stephen is persecuted for being a follower of Jesus. While in the process of being stoned to death and becoming the first Christian to die for his faith, Stephen – as imperfectly human as you or I – follows the example of Christ:
Jesus and Stephen have set a high standard for us. As with many of the ideals of the Bible, loving your “enemy” is best achieved by starting small and working at it each day. Think of someone who “torments” you in some way. Begin praying for that individual today. Feel how it changes your perspective of him or her. Feel how it changes you.
“Love” has become an overused word. Oh we love everything these days. Movies and phones and snacks, whatever. You name it, there’s someone out there who loves it.
Has “love,” then, lost all meaning? I experience such deep feelings for my true love that the word has seemed inadequate. For months, I searched in vain for a new, more descriptive word to express my feelings for her.
As always, scripture held the answer:
“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” 1 John 4:16
God is love. Love is God. Though we might apply it incorrectly to inanimate objects, there is no better word to be found than “love” to describe the intense emotion that binds one heart to another – no matter if it is love for Jesus, your mom, your kids, your true love, or your best friend.
A love rooted in Jesus is pure and strong. And why wouldn’t it be? For He is not only the source of love, He is love. He also showed us how to love. For who could love more than the One who sacrificed Himself so that our sins would be forgiven and we could live with Him for eternity?
Please bless those reading these words and show them examples of Your love in their lives. May they love You and others as intensely as You love us. If they do not already know You, may You lead them to salvation.