In the past week I’ve been to Niagara Falls and downtown Philadelphia. The reasons for why I was in those places is another story, but both, needless to say, are very public places with thousands of people walking around. Whenever I’m in places like that, it’s always fun to do a little people watching. Between the camera-happy tourists and the usual out of control child, there’s always something that’s a little entertaining about it all. One of the things that I’ve noticed while watching many people is that there aren’t many walking around today with joy. In fact, when’s the last time you asked someone how they were doing and they said, “I’m joyful today!” We don’t use that word often because I believe we really don’t have a lot of it…and I’m talking about Christians. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think that one of the biggest ones is that we are always waiting on someone else to give us the thing that we think will bring us joy. These expectations usually fall on the person directly responsible over us. If our job is terrible, it’s easiest to blame our boss. If our marriage is a disappointment, it’s my spouses fault. If our spiritual walk is dry and distant, the church has failed at helping us get to that next level. We even sometimes project these disappointments to God himself, blaming Him for the things that seem to be wrong.
I’ve come to the realization though that I have, on many occasions, robbed God from the joyful worship that He has won for me. If something is not right in my walk with Jesus, or if something is off in my family relationships, or if my job is the never-ending weight on my soul, I end up choosing to focus on all the things that will never bring me joy, instead of choosing to live under the joy that Christ has accomplished for me. The Bible teaches us that Christ has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), so if I lack joy, I’m failing at letting Christ and his gospel rule my heart and mind. I’m sharing this with all of you because, I believe we always need to be testing our hearts and evaluating where we are in our walk with Jesus. One of the best ways to evaluate yourself is by asking questions. Just recently God has led me to 8 questions that I’m continually asking myself and our other elders at Providence as we try to lead our church. These 8 questions have challenged me and the other elders to evaluate and act differently as we pursue God’s will for our church, but I believe that we can also ask these 8 questions as individuals. So over the next few posts, I want to share them with you. I hope and pray that by asking these questions, you’ll be challenged to look at yourself and what you are doing and why you are doing it and grow in ways that you haven’t in the past.
So here’s the first question:
1. How often do I pray?
If you are stagnant in your Christian walk or if you feel dry and distant from Jesus, than there’s a good chance that you are not praying like you should. Prayer is the blood in the veins of our new spiritual life in Christ. I don’t want to use guilt here, because most people love to say a lot of things to make people feel guilty about their prayer life. But let me be blunt here for a moment. Time is not the problem, love is. Prayer is not a chore if we love the one we are talking to. Now I will say this, that prayer is probably the hardest thing I do all day. It’s labor. It’s also difficult because we have limited prayer to simply asking God for things, instead of really communing with Him. Communion and intimacy doesn’t come automatically. The gospel has accomplished incredible things for us. We have access now to the Father. We are justified or made right with God. We have the righteous account of Jesus placed on our sinful account now. God has done all these with a host of other things as well, but intimacy and communion with God is a grace-driven and worship-driven process that we must actively live out, and that’s done most effectively through prayer. Prayer changes us in ways that we cannot explain. It conforms our will to God’s. It leads us to the throne of God and gives us perspective on everything that is going on in our lives.
Over the last few months I’ve asked our church to pray continually for 5 things:
1. For God’s favor and blessing on our church as we seek His glory.
2. For one another in our burdens
3. For more people to enter into salvation through Jesus.
4. For God to provide financially for our needs – church plant and orphan care.
5. For God to expose and deal with sin in our midst.
I believe that these are 5 things that God wants to answer. When we pray, we are going to have the power and presence of God in our midst that we haven’t experienced before. God uses prayer to accomplish His will, therefore we must pray.
I never get to the point where I can answer this question and feel satisfied. In fact, I don’t think anyone ever thinks that they pray enough. This question drives us though to evaluate the most important thing – our personal worship time with God. Our family just got back from vacation last night and I had to ask myself this question. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. There’s something about vacation or traveling that makes prayer so difficult. I’m not making excuses, but I had to evaluate myself honestly and make the adjustments I needed this morning. I hope that you’ll do the same today.
Maybe in light of answering that question, you commit to waking up earlier in the morning or turning off the TV and computer earlier in the evening. Maybe it means turning off the smart phone for an hour. Whatever you decide to do to pray more, make sure it’s driven by love and worship. If it’s driven by duty, it won’t last. Reflecting constantly on the gospel of Jesus will drive us to commune more with our Savior.