What do you pray for?
Are you getting what you pray for?
I found a key to effective praying tucked into the middle of the book of Daniel. In chapter 9, Daniel confessed his sins and the sins of Israel. He pleaded with God to restore the people as a nation and to restore Jerusalem as a city. Nebuchadnezzar had razed the city and exiled the people a generation earlier.
We don't know how long he prayed but we know that he put all his energy into it. This wasn't a wimpy little prayer spoken hastily as Daniel was hurrying to get to something else. He was spent.
The angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that God had answered his prayer at the moment Daniel had begun to pray. But God allowed Daniel to keep praying. He allowed Daniel to spend all his energy making the confession and requests.
Here are three keys to prayer that we all need to put into practice. First, pray earnestly. Daniel put his whole being into the prayer. We have lots of room for improvement in this area. Our prayers are quick. Our prayers are shallow. Our heart just isn't in it very much.
Second, pray believing God will answer. We all are familiar with a song Garth Brooks sang that says he thanks God for unanswered prayers. I understand the sentiment but disagree with the theology. God always answers prayers. He either says YES, NO, or WAIT. We just don't like the last two options and blame God of not answering. We ought to pray believing God is going to answer. And then embrace the answer he gives even when it's not what we asked for or expected.
Third, pray trusting God's answer. God is all-powerful so he can do anything he wants to do. God is all-knowing so he knows what the right thing to do is. God is all-loving so he cares so much about us that he wants to do what is best for us. Put that all together and we must conclude that what God does is best. If anything was better he would know about it, want to do, and be able to do it. So trust that what he does is best.
In the financial world, EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer. Sounds like a good illustration of prayer to me. Except in prayer the EBT stands for earnest, believing, and trusting.
The outside of the building looks the same...like any other Hampton Inn. But inside...Wow! We found out that the hotel was remodeled about three years ago at the cost of almost $3M. I have no idea what it looked like four years ago, but the difference between our first visit and this visit is unbelievable. Time and money can fix just about anything.
Your life may need a makeover...the kind time and money can't bring. Let me guess, you've spent lots of time and lots of money and nothing is better. And it won't get better.
But there is a resource I can suggest that will make all the difference in the world. I've found Jesus Christ to be a life-changer. And all he really wants from you is for you to give up control of your life and let him take over. Too costly, you say? Not really. Think of what it's been costing you to maintain control? And to fix things when life gets out of control?
Here's what you get. First, you receive unconditional love. God loves you so much that he gave his son Jesus to take the punishment for your sins. The greatest act of love is dying for a friend and Jesus did exactly that for you, friend.
Second,you get forgiveness for your sins. That's why Jesus died. He had to because we are all sinners and sin separates us from God. But in his death, Jesus took care of our sins and you can be forgiven. The guilt will be gone.
Third, you will be redeemed. Redemption is the act of being restored to a right relationship with God. Your sin breaks the relationship. Nothing you do can fix it. But what Jesus did by dying on the cross can fix it. Sinners are redeemed by the blood of Jesus.
Time and money won't remake your life. Only Jesus.
Seems like I learned at one point that an inch of rain is equivalent to seven inches of snow in total precipitation. If that's true, we would have at least seven inches of snow today, maybe a foot. And I would be thrilled!
So the form of the precipitation makes a difference.
Does the form of a church's ministry or outreach make a difference? Is one kind of ministry just as effective as another? Does one type of outreach impact lostness as much as another?
I think form makes a difference. The popular defense of new methods is that the message cannot change but the methods must. I agree. But not change just for the sake of change. Form or method must change as is necessary to reach people for Christ.
So much has changed just in the 30 years that I've been involved in ministry.Technology today is the stuff of science fiction in the early '80s. Changing almost as rapidly is our culture. People don't view themselves, the world, and God like we did just a generation ago. Some of what has worked will still work. The task of church leadership is to discern what still works and implement new strategies to complement the other. And then to motivate everyone to get involved.
I am praying that I can discern God's will, learn the forms and methods we should employ, and motivate others to get onboard.
On second thought, they'll put them down and pick up another toy any minute. The attention span of 10 year old boys is...wait, what was I talking about?
Have you ever noticed how short the average Christian's attention span is when it comes to really focusing on Jesus? We really get focused for about a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas then again for a week or so around leading up to Easter. Other than that you may well get a "Jesus who?" response from a lot of people when you ask them about their Savior.
What distracts so many Christians away from Jesus? You'd probably get a lot of different answers if you passed through the church pews on any given Sunday. Job. Family. School. Money. Relationship. Uncertainty. Complacency. Indifference.
It's a shame that Christmastime gets all the attention because Jesus really wants to your Lord all year long. And he can do some amazing things in addition to the virgin birth and resurrection.
Christmas is this weekend. Then New Years is here. Would you resolve to keep Jesus in the center of your life all year long? Will you choose to focus upon him rather than the circumstances around you that have been a distraction? Jesus is good for any season. Start with this one and keep it going all...wait, what was I talking about?
I'll admit it: I work to get paid, too. Most of us are that way. A few people don't need the money. I do.
The question I ask today is not whether a person should be paid or not. Every worker should be paid and should earn that pay. Professional sports stars generate more revenue for their teams than most of us do for our employers. That's why they get paid so much more than I do. Is Albert Pujols more valuable to the Angels than I am to Cross Road? Please don't answer that! But you get my point, don't you?
This afternoon, Arkansas State University will introduce Gus Malzahn as head coach of their football program. Coach Malzahn is coming from Auburn University where he helped the team win the NCAA National Championship last year as the offensive coordinator. He has won Arkansas high school football championships on two levels. He's been successful everywhere he's been. Up until today he has always taken a pretty big pay increase when he's moved from school to school.
But not today. I've read that he will take as much as a $500K cut to come to ASU. That's not a commentary on AU or ASU but it say a lot about Gus Malzahn. There could be more to the story, maybe much more, but based on what I know now I will say that Malzahn cares more about being the head coach of his own program than a highly paid coordinator somewhere else.
I'll guess that within five years he will make another move that will pay him the big bucks. I'm OK with that. I wish him well.
Malzahn is a committed Christian. I hope he is able to impact the lives of the students and athletes in Jonesboro. His predecessor Hugh Freeze did. A consistent Christian witness will do more for the futures of the young men and women at ASU than a winning football program will. What excites me is that they will get both.
Since Christmas is celebrating God coming to earth and since Sunday is the day of the week set aside for corporate worship, it just makes sense that we'll worship together on December 25. Every other day of the week is OK for Christmas, but Sunday is best.
So we are having services on Christmas morning. One service at 10:30. I jokingly told the congregation we'd be done by 1:30! We will but they let me know we better be done WAY before 1:30! I understand.
Why the backlash against having church on Christmas day? Christians gripe when businesses try to say, "Happy Holidays!" in order to not offend anyone. Christians fuss when someone abbreviates the holiday Xmas. To quote a conservative radio talk show host, "That's just symbolism over substance."
People who call themselves "Christian" rail against taking Christ out of the holiday but many refuse to allow Christ prominence in their lives. They want to be called "Christian" but don't really want to be Christ-like.
Which is more important - calling the holiday "Christmas" or having the public call you "Christian" as the people of Antioch did the believers there?
Which is more important - celebrating a secularized version of the December holiday or worshiping with your faith family on the day we celebrate our Savior's birth?
Now, don't think I'm being dogmatic or pushing a point too far. I would like to see Christians gather for a time of corporate worship every Christmas, no matter what day of the week it is. Worshiping with my faith family on Christmas day just makes a lot of sense to me. Christmas is a holy day before it is any other kind of day.
I pastor a church with about 150 resident members, about 60 active members, and a budget of about $90,000. Some people would say we are a small church. In fact, I've heard people in our church say we are just a small church. I may have said it myself. Shame on us!
And shame on anyone who would choose to classify a church based on numbers in attendance or the size of the budget.
If a church should not be judged as large or small based on numbers and money, what is an acceptable way to measure the size of a church? I think vision is a good way to determine if a church is large or small. No vision or small vision and the church is a small church. Good vision and the church is big. I'm not saying that vision translates into numbers and dollars. I'm saying that a church no vision is not much of a church and a church with vision is exactly what God intends them to be.
Our church and yours are probably not alike. In some ways, yes. In all ways, no. But one thing we must have to make big impact is big vision. It's the impact a church makes upon lostness in its community and around the world that is important. And a church like ours can make a big impact if our vision is big.
If you pay a lot of attention to numbers and dollars you need a culture shift. We do. Rather than seeing ourselves as a small church, we need to see ourselves as a global missions outpost that trains and sends missionaries into the world. I want every member of Cross Road Baptist Church to be on mission. Some will go far. Some will stay close. But everyone can and should see themselves as missionaries to their community and to the world.
That's big no matter how you look at it.