How to Change: Pray!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Conclusion and Recap

We started the week with a memory verse: 2 Corinthians 5:17. I’ve been trying to show why this verse, to me, is so closely tied with prayer. So let’s go over everything from earlier this week and try to tie it all together.

2 Corinthians 5-17

We started by talking about why we need to pray. The main reason I pointed out is that Jesus explicitly commands it. According to our verse in 2 Corinthians, if we are doing what Jesus said to do, then we will become a new creation, leaving our old selves behind.

 

Then we moved on to talking about what we should do with our bodies when we pray. This was a little different because the Bible doesn’t tell us how we should or shouldn’t pray, although it does give us some examples. Jesus would pray alone, some people prayed in front of others, some prayed in their hearts and some others prayed kneeling. Find the way that you can have the most productive prayer time and follow through with it.

 

On a similar note, we talked about what things we should pray for and what our words should sound like. Our prayers should consist of praises (things we love about God), petitions (things we want and need from God) and Repentance (asking for forgiveness and pledging to turn from our error filled ways). It’s important to hit all three categories and not exclude one because this is how Jesus himself taught us how to pray. We also need to be sure to pray, not to be heard (like the hypocrites who babble) because God already knows all of your prayers, but rather to make these prayers known to yourself.

 

Making the prayers known to yourself is what I claimed the entire purpose of prayer is. When we prayer, it’s not like God thinks “Oh, so that’s what Nathaniel needs from me!” No. He already knows what I need. We pray to remind ourselves of the greatness of God, to change ourselves and also to be able to turn from our sin. This is how the change comes about; it is how we become a new creation.

 

And finally, I tried to tackle a very big, very difficult question: Why do some prayers go unanswered? My thoughts on this are that the way God set up the world to work many years ago was to be able to function without his direct influence. He created humans with the capacity to learn and to love and he created a universe that makes sense and follows logical rules. I believe that he very rarely chooses to intervene and grant miracles to those who pray for them. Instead, he gave us, his servants, the tools to carry out his will. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail.

 

All of this together wraps up my thoughts on prayers. Maybe you have additional thoughts or even different opinions. That’s great! Just keep studying and looking to Jesus, because when we are in him, we are a new creation.

-Nathaniel Johnson

 

(Editor’s Note: We apologize for the picture that was included on Sunday.  It gave an incorrect reference for the verse.  Today’s is accurate.  Thank you for reading!)

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Praise

Psalm 145-150

aaron-photo

Friday, January 20

A few years ago my wife and I went on a driving tour of Ireland.  We had the opportunity to see beautiful and wonderful things, many of them being the untouched creation of God.  Each morning we would leave our bed and breakfast early, then ride around and visit as many sites as we could fit in between dusk and dawn, making sure to get to our next bed and breakfast before the sun went down. Why? It was near impossible to navigate the streets and backroads of the smaller towns of Ireland in the evening.

 

It was the fourth or fifth night into our journey, and we were having an exceptionally hard time finding our resting place for the evening.  We were driving (unknowingly) in the wrong direction, as the sun was starting to set.  There was a faint mist in the air and mountains ahead.  I watched as the sky and mountains turned from shades of gray to the most vivid reds, purples, yellows, oranges, and more.  It is not hyperbole to say that it was the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen in my life.  I was focused on how beautiful the sunset was, and I kept on oohing, awing, and driving in the wrong direction; however, my wife was focused on getting us safely to our destination, pouring through papers and maps.  I begged her to look up and take at look at the wondrous sight, but she wouldn’t have it; she told me to turn around (in the opposite direction of the sunset!) because we had made a wrong turn.  I turned around to avoid a fight (or more of one), but stopped when I saw a decent pull off.  I said, “You have to look at how beautiful the sunset is!”  We both got out of the car.  We oohed and awed together.  We snapped a photo or two that did not do the scene justice, and we drove off with a memory.

 

In that moment, I saw something that I wanted to give praise to.  I was amazed and astounded.  I thanked God, but that did not do it justice.  I had to share it.  I had to tell someone (now several someones) about it.  In fact, it was hard to think or speak of anything else.  C.S. Lewis says in Reflection on the Psalms ,

 

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation….It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with… Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

 

God has called us to enjoy His many wonderful attributes throughout the Psalms.  He is patient, kind, caring, merciful, just, faithful, and unrelenting.  While He is exalted in the highest heavens with knowledge too lofty to attain, He is a personal, close, and specific Father who gives us every opportunity to allow Him to work and act in our lives.  The highest of praise goes to an infinite God who has loved us so much! BUT, praise is far beyond acknowledgement.  Praise is an immersive experience. It may be great to see something praiseworthy, but to fully experience praise, we must share it.  Praise is not only see to see the sunset, it is to let others know and share in the moment.  When we experience His blessing, His healing, His power, His comfort, or His love, we cannot be silent or accept; we cannot let it go under the radar. We must let others know.  In this, we have then offered praise.

 

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; This splendor is above the earth and the heavens. And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart” Psalm 148:13-14.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.” 150:6

-Aaron Winner

(Photo credit: Aaron Winner – most beautiful sunset)

Few Words

Psalm 116 – 118

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Sunday, January 15

Every Tuesday that school meets, I get the opportunity to musically accompany a student who leads a song for our school’s Fellowship of Christian Students.  This takes some minor coordination, as a student sends me an email at some point during the week to make sure that I am familiar with the song he/she wants to sing, and he/she might arrange a quick practice if need be.  There is really nothing special about these emails.  More times than not, all the information is in the subject line, and there is no actual message.  One such email came not long ago:

 

Subject: Singing good good father on Tuesday

Message:<none>

At first glance this is far from spectacular.  In fact, it is an English teacher’s nightmare.  Lack of punctuation, capitalization, or salutation, yet this may have been the most powerful prose that has ever been written by one of my students.  These six words have a concealed connotation that are revealed with a reflection on the text.

 

To say it mildly, this school year had been a bumpy one for the sender of this email.  Along with the many other complications that come from being in middle school, this student had faced many a giant outside the school walls.  Two months prior, she had suddenly lost a very close grandmother to an unexpected illness.  Then, it was only a month later when her grandfather decided he could no longer deal with the tremendous vacancy left by his wife; he took his own life.  This left the student floundering, dealing with depression and her own darkening desires, all while trying to do drama-and-hormone-filled middle school as a typical preteen.

 

I was moved, because out of all the songs she could have picked….this one.  Not a song asking God to give her comfort.  Not a song asking God to give her strength.  Not a song asking God to give her peace, joy, lift the burden, make it go away, overcome, change, deliver, or go before her.  Not a song asking God to give her anything she did not already have.  Only the reflection upon a few simple words about who he is, and his undeniable, unfaltering, unconcealed relationship with us, that will, in turn, bring all of those things and more.

 

“You’re a Good, Good Father, it’s who You are

And I’m loved by You, it’s who I am”

“You are perfect in all of your ways to us”

 

In today’s reading we experience an equally brief but equally powerful message.  Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter of the Bible.  Depending upon your translation, it is simply twenty words or so.

Upon glancing over it, you have undoubtedly read similar words in other Psalms, and it would be easy to breeze by and never notice its power-packed message:

 

“Praise the Lord, all you nations,

Praise Him, all you people of the earth.

For his unfailing love for us is powerful

The Lord’s faithfulness endures forever.

Praise the Lord!”

 

These words were written well before the act of Jesus Christ became our propitiation, yet we are promised partakers in his love and faithfulness.  A love and faithfulness that has been and is working for ALL (not Israel, or even Christians)  but ALL people of ALL nations at ALL times.  Only reflecting upon a few words dramatically affects the reading of this passage. These words, which possibly  sound repetitive, general, or generic after reading through the Psalms, are chosen specifically to show that He is and has been working specifically, powerfully, and faithfully in your life much longer than we could have ever expected or known.

-Aaron Winner

“You’re a Good, Good Father”, “Praise the Lord”

(Photo credit: https://dailyverses.net/psalms/116/1-2/kjv)

Praying through the Ups and Downs

Psalms 25-30: Praying through the Ups and Downs

As an English major, I have come to be a voracious reader, and one of my favorite past-times is cuddling up with a good novel and a cup of coffee. In all my reading, I’ve come to see patterns in books.  I am now able to discern what I will like to read and what I won’t. A common thread through all the books I like is how they display a wide range of emotions of humanity, not just the good aspects. Instead of painting a glossy, rose-tinted picture, the novelists try to capture how broken the world is, and by doing so, show something much deeper, a common humanity.

I love novels and reading, but I will be the first to say that I do not look to these things for my hope and salvation. When I want to look to something that speaks to my life now, I look to the Bible. As I read through the Psalms, I recognize in scriptures the same thing I love in literature through these prayers and praises. The Psalms we read for today, Psalms 25-30, were all written by David. In these Psalms, David pleads to God for vindication and deliverance and praises God when he does so. These wonderful prayers model for us how we can come to God in all our pain as well as our joy. In both of these places, God longs to hear from us.

Like novels and books help the author to communicate to us, Psalms shows us how we can communicate with God and the many ways that God can communicate back, through His word, nature, and more. These prayers show us how to come to God in a way that is pleasing to Him and open up our hearts to what He wants from our lives.

God longs for us to pursue Him with prayer, and the New Testament focuses on this heavily. Jesus gives us an example of prayer in Luke 11 with the Lord’s prayer. Paul says in Ephesians 6:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray constantly. These examples and admonitions about prayer point to the same thing that David’s psalms do: we should communicate with God all the time. James says it best in his letter, chapter 5 verse 13, “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises.”

As we can see in the Psalms and through the life of Jesus, prayer is the backbone of our faith. To know and pursue God we need to communicate with Him, and prayer is where that communication, that relationship, begins. We don’t have to gloss over our problems or focus on them solely. God longs for our whole humanity, and we, like David, can bring it to Him.

-Cayce Ballard

books

Our Boundary Lines

boundarylinesWhen the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land after wandering for forty years, they had a big job to do. After taking possession of the land, they had to divide the land between the twelve tribes. Joshua was given this job, and you can find the boundary lines of each tribe in Joshua 16-21. These boundary lines were designed by God so that each tribe would have access to enough good land to survive. They were a provision from God as the Israelites settled into their new home.

Hundreds of years later, David talks about boundary lines in Psalm 16. He says,

“LORD, you are my portion

and my cup of blessing;

You hold my future.

The boundary lines

have fallen for me

In pleasant places;

Indeed, I have

A beautiful inheritance.” –vv. 5-6

The boundary lines David was talking about were not only boundary markers on the ground dictating the land he would inherit. These boundary lines concerned something far more important. These boundaries established a spiritual inheritance that we also receive, the Kingdom of God.

Hebrews 9:15 says, “Therefore, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Jesus is our mediator, so that we can receive our promised inheritance. The portion that we receive, our future and our inheritance, is the Kingdom of God. Indeed, our boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places!

Like many of David’s psalms, his celebration of God does not end with a praise. David always includes action. If we continue to read through the rest of Psalm 16, we see the reflection of a heart change in David’s life. He praises God, because God counsels Him- through his meditation on God’s word, he reflects on how he can better live for God. Through David’s purposeful study of God’s word, he walks on the path of life, which leads to the Kingdom.

Often, we think about boundaries as hemming and restricting us. David rejoices because, though the law does give him restrictions on how to live, he sees that life with the law is pleasant. Our boundary lines are great not only in the future to come, but also this world now.

Let’s rejoice in our inheritance and follow David’s example of walking and reveling in God’s word and presence.

-Cayce Ballard

 

Photo Credit: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B8CzfQUIcAAi1yT.jpg

Look to the Cross

Psalm 8-14

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“When I observe Your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You set into place,
what is man that you remember him,
the son of man that you look after him?” -Ps. 8:3-4

A few years ago on the UP Project, me and several other groggy kids were woken up at 5am to travel up into the heart of the South Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains.  Our destination was Pretty Place, an open chapel in a camp ground. From the chapel, the view of the ridges of the mountains are held in stunning display as they roll towards Greenville. The view can easily take your breath away. But, this chapel never held the view above the object that was placed directly before it.

In the middle of this lookout is a cross, and sitting in the pews, you can’t look at the view without first looking at the cross.

Psalm 8 describes our wonderful God and creator, who made the heavens majestic and us the caretakers of this world. Like David, there have been many times that I have called out, “Who am I, Lord? Who am I that you should remember me?” Travelling through this country and others, the magnificence of God is always in my mind, the way that he formed so many different places for us to inhabit. But, again I think, who are we to be the partakers of this beauty? My thoughts turn back to that image of the cross, held in stark relief to the blue hills below.

Today is Christmas, a day where we celebrate the birth of the heir to David’s throne, Jesus Christ! During this advent season, I remember that my Savior, God’s son, was born for me, and there are many times when I echo David’s question of ‘who is man that you remember him?’ When I think about the great love that God has for us, that he would send his son to die for us, my breath is taken away, similar to, but much greater than, the feeling I had as I gazed out over the mountains. God gave us this great gift, even while we were still sinners. Even on, especially on, this quiet (or perhaps rather hectic) Christmas morning, we should dwell on the Savior that was born for me and you.

Through Jesus’ birth and, like that cross symbolizes, his death, the great divide between God and man was overcome. The position of the cross at Pretty Place should mirror the position of the cross in our lives. The beauty of this world and its comforts are all secondary to the gift we have from God. Without Jesus’ death, we are nothing, but with the death of Jesus, we become God’s adopted children. Praise God for this wonderful gift we have been given!

-Cayce Ballard

Cayce is a Senior this year at the University of South Carolina, studying Secondary English Education. She plans to continue her education next year in the M.T. program at USC. She loves traveling, reading, and playing with her new puppy, Finnegan. Cayce leads a Young Adult Bible Study based on the Grow reading plan.  She would like to thank everyone for contributing to these devotions.

Photo Credit: http://m0.i.pbase.com/u15/jrandyh/upload/20105330.pplacec01.jpg