"The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again."
James 5:17-18 MSG
For us, prayer isn't an afterthought or last resort. It's our fuel and first response. We believe prayer changes the world, changes others, and changes us. In fact, we like to say around here that -
When we pray, God moves, and when God moves, things move.
When we combine prayer with fasting, powerful things happen.
"THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT"
We don't have many traditions at X Church. One thing we do like to do is start each year off right with 21 days of prayer and fasting. It's a powerful way to give God the first of the year. To seek His Heart and let Him speak to ours. To posture our lives towards Him.
Maybe you're brand new to fasting. Don't be intimidated. It's simply foregoing something of comfort, usually food and distraction, in order to experience God in a deeper way.
John 15:5 NLT
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”
This is the last day of our 21 days of fasting and praying. Tomorrow you can eat the cookie, have a cup of coffee, eat the meal you have been fasting or whatever it is that you have been denying yourself. Today is day 21!
Today is also a good day to reflect back on the past 21 days. What have you learned about God? What have you learned about yourself? What scriptures have spoken to you? How have you been changed? How have you been challenged? And what is your next step on the path to God?
Tomorrow is day 22. The day after is day 23 and after that day 24 on and on and on. I think you get it.
The point is that these 21 days are not to be an isolated episode in your walk with Jesus, like, “21 days of fasting and praying? Done!!!”
No, this has been the first fruits of your year. The very beginning. There’s still another 344 days left, not to mention all the days ahead that you have until Jesus calls you home. The problem is that none of us know how many we have ahead of us.
That’s why how you choose to live day 22 and 23 and 24 and all the rest is important. We can choose toremain in Him – that means spending time talking and listening to him, reading Scripture and thinking about what we’ve read, growing in dependence on him, in other words, what we have been doing the past 21 days. When we do that, when we choose to walk with him that way we will produce much fruit.
Fruit like “…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” (Galatians 5:22 NLT)
Doesn’t that sound like Jesus? And isn’t that what we as Jesus followers are to be? More like Jesus?
So, let’s end with this prayer from Ephesians 3, starting with verse 16:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
The 21 days are over. And the rest of the path is before you. Keep walking. Keep praying. Stay connected with community. Cling to Jesus. And expect him to work in you and through you as you walk on the path to God.
Isaiah 55:11 NLT
“It is the same with my word. I send it out and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”
Promises are powerful.
I don’t know about you, but I always try to keep my promises. Yet sometimes I fail. I forget. I get distracted. I overcommit. I drop the ball. I don’t come through with what I promised and so I let people down, I disappoint them, or at the worst break their trust in me.
But God isn’t like that. And I am so glad.
He always keeps his promises, He never forgets us or gets distracted. When you pray he hears every word and his attention is focused on you. He is 100% committed to us, 100% faithful. And he never ever lets us down.
God’s promises to us are in the bible. Thousands of them, from Genesis to Revelation. And his promises help us get to know him and his character. Here’s a few to get you started:
“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
“For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’” Hebrews 13:5b
“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, You will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2
“He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds”. Psalm 147:3
“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’” Matthew 11:28
Today, look for God’s promises in his Word. Underline them. Pick one and memorize it. You can count on him to always come through with what he has promised.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
“Where will you go when you die?”
Maybe you’ve been asked this question before. I’m not saying it’s not an important question. After all, eternity is a long, long time. And there is no greater hope than to be with Jesus in paradise forever.
But here’s a thought – more important than where you go is who you know.
Life is all about relationships. And at the top of that is the relationship we were created for from the beginning. The source of life itself. The oxygen our souls were made to consume. I’m talking about a rich, life-giving friendship with God.
Jesus never said eternal life was about heaven. Here’s what He actually said in John 17:3 –
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Eternal life is being intimately connected to God in friendship and daily life. And the beauty of that means true, eternal life can start now, not some day when I die.
If your soul feels dry today, return to the source of life. Get close with God. Talk to him all day. Embrace the exciting promise of James 4:8 –
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
“He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Be honest. Have you ever just not liked someone, but weren’t sure why?
One time in my life there was a girl that rubbed me the wrong way with almost everything she did. I couldn’t figure out what it was. And then one day, it hit me – I wasn’t really crazy about her because deep down I could tell she wasn’t too crazy about me.
I’ve often wondered if sometimes we struggle with a desire to pray for the exact same reason. Sure, we know deep down that God technically “loves” us – as in a general, “he has to because he loves the whole world” kind of way. But does he actually like me?
I think until we truly understand the character of God and His affection for us, prayer will remain a drudgery instead of a delight. But when it clicks, really clicks, that the Creator of the Universe is crazy about us – it will be hard to make ourselves stop praying!
Maybe that’s why Paul prayed for his friends at the church in Ephesus this way –
“And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself.” (Ephesians 3:17-19 TLB)
I want to encourage you to read that verse again, but this time personalize it. Every time it says anything like “you” or “your” change it to “I,” “me,” “my” or “mine.”
Now, consider these others verses about God in relation to you and let them sink down deep:
“He found him in a desert land,
And in the howling waste of a wilderness;
He encircled him, He cared for him,
He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.” (Deuteronomy 32:10)
“He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us… as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” (Psalm 103)
Hear it deep in your spirit today – God really, really loves you. And He really, really likes you. He made you and He likes your smile and your personality and all the weird, quirky things that make you you. And He loved you enough to come and die for you and to desire intimacy with you.
Maybe that thought alone could drive us into more frequent conversation and friendship with God.
Psalm 46:10a NLT
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Silence can be uncomfortable. An awkward lull in conversation makes us feel like we need to say something, anything, to fill the silence. Being given the “silent treatment” – that’s uncomfortable, too. Our environments are noisy. We listen to music, podcasts, we have the TV on for background noise, etc. We create “atmosphere” with music. We even use white noise to get to sleep!
Why is silence uncomfortable? Is it because we feel pressured to always be doing or saying something and silence means no activity?
Silence. Just being. Just breathing. When we shut down all the noise we really begin to hear. To hear our breath, our heart beat, the tiny ambient noises that get covered up. A bird singing outside, the wind.
Jesus had a lot of noise in his environment, too. The crowd calling out to get his attention, the marketplace full of noisy vendors, the questions from the disciples. Noise. Lots of it.
So he sought out silence and solitude:
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16
He needed silence, alone time with his Father. It was a priority for him.
We need that, too. Silence and alone time with our Father.
Today pray in silence. No worship music. Just silence. It might feel uncomfortable. That’s OK. Sit in that silence and listen. Your Father is always speaking but he doesn’t shout at us. His voice can be heard in the silence.
2 Corinthians 13:14
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
The reality of the Trinity – one God existing in Three – is a really big concept. Mysterious. Confusing. Ice-cream-headache inducing. Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised that as finite beings we can’t fully comprehend the infinite. After all, if we could explain God, we’d be God.
The reason this matters is we often miss out on some of the incredible benefits of friendship with God when we fail to embrace a part of who He is. When we let painful father-wounds get in the way of our view with God as Father, we view Him as harsh or absent or annoyed with us and we don’t enjoy the loving embrace and security of being God’s kids. When we don’t fully onboard Jesus as human but also Savior, we miss the comfort that He can relate to all our temptations and struggles, but that He also has power to forgive us, change us, save us.
And then, interestingly, when Jesus was about to leave the earth, he made a profound statement. He said, “it is better for you that I go away. If I don’t, the Comforter won’t come.” (John 16:7)
Jesus told His disciples that even better than Him walking physically with you, is when He’s able to send the Person of the Holy Spirit to live in you. The person of the Holy Spirit who can guide us, teach us, help us, fill us.
I love the way Paul ended his second letter to his friends at Corinth. He said –
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
Paul desired for the complete force of God’s friendship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – be with them in full power and enjoyment.
Maybe you’ve never considered that even the Spirit of God desires close companionship with you. He does. Talk to Him today. Ask Him to reveal Jesus to in you in richer ways. Ask Him to make Scripture come alive as you read it. Ask Him to help you. Ask Him to fill you.
Matthew 6:6 MSG
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”
There is so much to unpack in these words of Jesus about prayer.
The first thing I notice is to pray away.
Away from distractions. Your phone. Your laptop. Netflix. AWAY.
Why is that important? Prayer is not something you can multi-task. Actually, none of us can truly multi-task as we only end up splitting our attention so to try to do something else and pray is not giving God your full attention. We want his full attention (and He is ready to give it to us!) so let’s give him ours.
He also wants us to pray aware. Aware of our tendency to not be real. Our tendency to want to put a spin on our anger, our unforgiveness, our jealousy. Our tendency to try to hide from Him our pain, disappointment, our questions, our doubt.
Here’s the result when we pray away and remain aware; we will be praying above. Above our circumstances, above our doubt and anger and every struggle we will begin to see our Father who is above it all. Bigger than it all. Faithful through it all. And loving us above what we deserve, lavishing grace upon grace.
Today find your place, your time to pray.
Away. Aware. Above.
He is eager to hear your voice.
John 15:1-2 NIV
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
I once lived in a house that had Concord grape vines growing along a fence in the back yard. The first year I picked the grapes, made some jelly, a few jars worth. It seemed that I had a lot of vine but not that many grapes. So, I looked up how to grow grapes and the first thing I learned was that grape vines need to be pruned. And not just a trim. You cut out the dead wood and then you really cut back the branches that were producing grapes. To be honest, I thought I had killed the vines after I did what I was instructed to do. But, sure enough, the next season the vines came back and grew and produced more and bigger grape clusters. There were so many jars of jelly that year! I was amazed! It really worked!
And then I remembered this scripture, now all the more real because of the object lesson of my grape vines. (more…)
Before Jesus died, He had one last dinner with His friends. His followers. At this last meal, so many subtle but powerful things happened and were said. Perhaps most striking was when Jesus, Son of God, got up and began to wash their filthy-from-miles-of-daily-walking-in-sandals feet.
John 13 records:
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
In that culture, to wash someone’s feet was the ultimate act of humility and servitude. Yet Jesus leveraged the height of His power to do good and serve those around him. This is our example as well. But let’s pay attention to the first person He chose to initiate this act with. Stubborn, impulsive, prideful Peter – (more…)
2 Corinthians 9:6 NIV
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
What we sow we will reap. That’s kind of obvious, right? If a farmer doesn’t sow wheat seed, he will never have a wheat harvest. And if he only sows a few wheat seeds he will only harvest a small crop. But lots of seed produce a huge harvest. Sometimes when I’ve read this verse I’ve only thought about financial giving/sowing. That’s a good application but I think that’s only a small part of what God wants us to see.
We sow in many ways every day. We sow our attitudes, we sow how we care for others, how we love, how we listen. And people sow into us. When someone encourages you or is caring, then you feel more encouraging and caring towards others. Or, when someone really listens to you, giving you feedback, asking questions, that inspires you to do better when you listen to others. (more…)