No Muck, no Miracle

I grew up two blocks from the famous “Grand Strand” of the South Carolina beaches, and just across our street stretched a long finger of marsh from the tides toward the inland highway. Its where we hunted for small bait (we called them fiddler crabs, since they “fiddled” their way sideways across the sand). I remember stepping into the mushy, wet sands and sinking down past my ankles. I can still hear the sucking sounds as I dislodged my feet from the muck! (My brothers, always encouraging, informed me there were hidden stretches of quicksand nearby waiting to gobble little boys whole.)

The psalmist writes that he found himself in “the slimy pit” and waited patiently for God’s clear path toward a firm footing (and everyone knows from the movies never to struggle in quicksand since it makes for a speedier demise.) He was stuck in the “mud and the mire” with no footing below and no way forward. And he did what any of us would do – he cried out, “help!”

We love the promises! When God gives a promise in the Bible, it nearly always is in the context of dire circumstances. Try a search on Top 10 promises and read them in context. God promises he will be near, that he never changes, he will strengthen us, uphold us, bless the work we do, save us, pour out his grace, and give us wisdom. The promises are truth, yes, but they are delivered in the quicksand of loneliness, pain, threats, fear, sin, hopelessness, and grief.

Today, and all week, my prayers have turned to a family I knew, worshiped with, and served alongside back in the states. The godly couple stood strong as an example of servanthood, leadership, and self-sacrifice. And they were lost to a careless driver’s bad choices this week. And there are kids, friends, church family, and more left behind.

In our hurt and in our prayers, we ask God to hear the cries that arise from the slow murkiness of grief. We ask him to provide a moment of firm footing in the midst of the swirl of questions. We ask Jesus to stretch out his hand and pull His kids back up onto the Rock.

It’s interesting what happens when the psalmist finds his footing in the Lord. Not only does he stand firm, but he breaks into song. Not a song from the canon of worship already learned and enjoyed. But, one that brings new comprehension of how much God cares and how near he is. It’s a new song, fresh from the experience of God’s provision and presence. And, through it all, as we wait, as we cry out, and we reach out for his presence, the psalmist says “many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”

On solid rock.

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Now that I’m 60 – what am I committed to:

There is something about entering a “new decade of years” that calls me to reconcile my experience with my values. As a reminder to myself more than anyone else, I am committed more than ever…

…to worshiping and serving Christ Jesus increasingly with my gifts, skills, time, and resources.

…to loving and honoring my wife till death separates us.

…to encouraging and influencing my son and daughters (and grandkids, when they show up for God’s purposes) toward loving and serving God with their lives.

…to loving what God says He is in love with: the lost, the broken, the lonely, the refugee, the hurting, the confused, the poor, the homeless, the enslaved, the imprisoned.

… to loving and lifting up the church local and global through my prayer, encouragement, time, presence and resources.

…to doing life with a small group of men and women for mutual encouragement, personal growth, and lifestyle ministry.

…to meeting with 2-3 men for discipleship on a regular basis to stay pure, live on target with my promises, and encourage each other toward a fruitful Christian life.

…to living a richer and riskier life in my finishing years by saying yes to each opportunity to give myself away, pour into others, explore new relationships, and influence my world toward Christ.

Five weeks and counting…waiting on Italy.

Hello All!

Each time I write, I hope I can do so from Italy. We are five weeks to the day past the day the Italian Consulate received our visa applications (along with our passports). We saw the 7-10 days timeframe on the Consulate website. We even have a friend who received her visa in three days.

For now, Susan and I are in training, learning that waiting is the most spiritual thing we can do.

The Psalmist makes it sound easy:

“Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.” (27:14)

Believe me, we want to see God’s answer in the form of visas in hand and our flight to our new place to serve in Padova. There is an element to waiting on God that I don’t do very well. Standing firmly, quietly, at the ready while God gets me ready.

See if this verse helps make my point clearer:

“We look to the LORD our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.” (Psalm 123:2)

So, as we wait on Italy to approve our visas, Susan and I stand at attention, our eyes on our Master, content to be near Him, recalibrating our ears to His voice, and staying open to serve Him where we are…as we wait.

 

Thank you for praying for Susan and me as we wait on our visas and wait on our God.

Rick

G.R.O.W. Assessment GIFTS Module – Spiritual Gifts Defined:

When you receive your Spiritual Gifts module results, you’ll notice a percentage score beside each gift. Some will be lower while others will land in the middle. This doesn’t mean you are deficient in anything or that God can’t use you in each of these gifts. In fact, God takes pleasure in using us in ways in which we think we are weaker. By all means, ask God to use you in all ways through any of His Spiritual Gifts. He’s in charge and gives good gifts to His kids!

Notice especially the gifts that are highest as these are the gifts that, at least according to this assessment, you will likely use most frequently in the Kingdom. Your top three are your best Spiritual tools! (In the event of a tie, make it the top four!)

Here are helpful definitions for each gift with a verse or two that describes each (by no means exhaustive in these definitions). This is what a person will likely do based on the Biblical definitions and church experiences and will help you with a basic understanding of your top Gifts. Further study, practice, and conversations with your friends and church leaders will help expand your understanding.

Here is a PDF of this list. g-r-o-w-gifts-defined

GIFTS (The “G” in the G.R.O.W. Assessment):

Artisan/Craftmanship (Exodus 31:1-5) –

  • Creates art that reflects God’s glory and unveils His character
  • Shows ability in one or more medium of creative art so as to connect the unbeliever with the Creator through that art

Celibacy/Volunteer (I Corinthians 7:7) –

  • Remains single through God’s provision in order to serve with greater intensity

Discernment/Distinguishing Spirits (1 John 4:1-6, 1 Corinthians 12:10) –

  • Perceives the intent and origination of spiritual matters
  • Recognizes whether a message is from the Holy Spirit or not
  • Distinguishes right from wrong, truth from error in a situation

Encouragement/Exhortation (Acts 14:22, Romans 12:8) –

  • Urges others toward action, faithfulness, and courage
  • Motivates others to have courage in difficult times or when faith wavers
  • Brings out the best in others and challenges them to meet their potential

Faith (Romans 4:18-21, 1 Corinthians 12:9) –

  • Sees what God is doing and believe Him for results
  • Trusts God to act on His promise in the face of great odds
  • Stands firm until God answers and/or the miracle happens

Giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-7, Romans 12:8) –

  • Gives much proportionately with pure motives
  • Invests resources generously beyond the tithe
  • Earns, invests, and give with Spirit-led success resources in order to support ministry

Guidance/Administration (1 Corinthians 14:40) –

  • Manages details to support to free other leaders to focus on their work
  • Sees gifts in other and connect them to ministry
  • Organizes resources, time, teams, and people for greater Kingdom impact
  • Coordinates multiple details and levels and accomplishes the goals of a project

Healing (James 5:14-16, 1 Corinthians 12:9) –

  • Prays in faith for others with the result that they are healed
  • Senses the prompts of God to pray for healing

Hospitality (1 Peter 4:9) –

  • Finds pleasure in housing or feeding others in home or through the church
  • Makes others feel welcome and significant

Intercession/Supplication (Ephesians 6:18-20) –

  • Prays faithfully until the answer comes
  • Steps into the place of a person, church, people group, or geographical area and prays consistently for the needs

Knowledge/Words (1 Corinthians 12:8, Acts 16:28) –

  • Speaks timely, Spirit-given knowledge that applies to a person’s situation
  • Comprehends and conveys spiritually revealed knowledge that helps a person with a specific need

Leadership (Hebrews 13:7, 17, Romans 12:8) –

  • Influences a group to accomplish it’s purpose or goal
  • Communicates purpose, direction, and vision to the group, team or church
  • Motivates others to work together to accomplish a ministry goal

Mercy/Grace (Luke 10:30-37, Romans 12:8) –

  • Empathizes with those in need and extend encouragement
  • Senses hurts and provide cheerful support to those pain, distress, or crisis

Miracles (Mark 11:23-24, 1 Corinthians 12:10) –

  • Prays in faith for God’s specific intervention in impossible situations and sees answers
  • Sees situations where God wants to move miraculously and prays for supernatural intervention

Missionary/Apostle (Romans 15:20-21,1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Acts 13:1-4) –

  • Shares with a God-given urgency the Gospel to others from vastly different backgrounds
  • Begins a fresh work of God in places that have no Gospel witness
  • Adapts readily to different cultures in order to serve in that culture
  • Seeks through the leadership and provision of the Holy Spirit to know about needs of other people groups and rallies resources to meet the needs
  • Compelled to communicate the Gospel through serving and speaking to others in a different culture than their own

Music (1 Chronicles 16:4) –

  • Plays an instrument or sings in a way that draws others to worship Christ Jesus
  • Creates worship through musical skills that presents the character of God and declares the Good News

Pastor/Shepherding (1 Peter 5:2-4, Hebrews 13:17) –

  • Exercises concern, care, and protection for a group or church that encourages growth spiritual health
  • Equips believers in Biblical world view and understanding of who Jesus is and how each can serve effectively
  • Models spiritual growth and service to members of group or church

Prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:10, 14:3, Acts 11:28) –

  • Delivers with persuasion God’s message
  • Discerns a current situation or potential future occurrence and delivers this message effectively
  • Understands the “big picture” of God’s redemptive and prophetic stream and relates it to the current church situation and direction

Serving/Helps (1 Peter 4:11) –

  • Sees needs easily and finds ways to practically meet those needs
  • Serves others personally and in church without need of recognition
  • Manages time and resources to solve individual or church needs

Teaching (Ephesians 4:12-13, Romans 12:7) –

  • Understands and explains Biblical truth in ways that believers comprehend and apply
  • Learns and is able to take others “with him/her” in learning

Tongues – Interpreting (1 Corinthians 12:10, 14:13) –

  • Understands words spoken in tongues and communicates it clearly to others
  • Interprets a message in a heavenly language or unknown tongue to those present

Tongues – Speaking (1 Corinthians 12:10, 14:2, 14-15, Acts 2:4-8) –

  • Prays in a language understood only by God
  • Speaks in an unlearned language or tongue to, along with interpreting, communicate God’s truth and give God worship

Wisdom/Word (1 Corinthians 2:1, 6-16, 12:7-8) –

  • Understands God’s perspective on practical life situations and conveys it in simple ways
  • Knows what to do, how to do it, and helps others do the same
  • Receives and conveys Spirit-given wisdom and application to a person or group

G.R.O.W. Volunteer Assessment – RELATE Profile

The G.R.O.W. RELATE Profile is derived from the Kirk Test, a profile developed by missional leader, Chip Kirk. This brief 20-question profile identifies your dominant personality type so you and the team you volunteer with can see how you work with others. Sometimes, there is one very dominant type out of the four. More frequently, there are two nearly equally dominant types. Occasionally, the types are spread equally across the four.The four types are like tendencies or impulses through which you tend to act and serve. All four can have strengths and weaknesses and will be a blessing to their respective teams. And all four can pursue the “good works God has prepared for (each) to accomplish.” (Ephesians 2:10.)

kirk-test-descriptions-web2

 

Bicycles and Turks

Our church has a process that helps Christ-followers build friendships, grow, and get involved. Our V301 is the “how do I see God in my life” track. Session Seven is when we learn about Prayer as a Gift to others, and I always start by asking God to show us who we should pray for (I’m thinking someone in the course will want prayer for something – safe bet!)

Each time, God answers this prayer and we have seen refreshing and healing for someone before the study ends.

This week was a fresh surprise.

Near the end of the evening, a young man walked by the front door pushing his bike. My first response was to send the biggest guy in the group to check it out and lock the door if needed.

He invited him in instead.

But, since we helped 50 or so international students with transportation through our All Nations Cafe outreach, he wanted to turn in or sell his bike, since he was flying out the next morning.

The amazing God-story unfolded. One man bought his bike, then gave him a ride home. Another gave him a preview of what we were studying. One of the ladies asked him to pull up a chair. (Remember: Turk. Islam. Not typically looking for a Bible circle to join.)

By the end of the evening, we knew about our study and why we meet. He moved from stand-offish and into the circle. We told him how God was going to use him in his nation and within his family to be a blessing. We prayed for him that Isa (that’s Jesus in Arabic) would reveal himself and cause him to long for and know Him. And we sent him back to Turkey to be a blessing to his nation.

Afterwards, on the ride back to his hotel, the report is that he was amazed at what we were doing. It was memorable.

And he sold his bike. But the bike isn’t what we really knew he came for. He was an answer to prayer. And our faith soared for him and his wonderful nation!

 

 

 

Choosing to be a church that says … the Kingdom of Heaven is like…

A new book on how to write your “vision statement” is born every three seconds.

I’m exaggerating. But, there are a lot of plans on how to “cast the vision” as business leaders and church leaders and NPO execs.

Here’s my take (this came out of the rich environment for thought that our pastoral staff meetings are!)

How about this. We are a church (or non-profit, or business) that does things that say to our culture “the Kingdom of Heaven is like…”

Here’s an example:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a plate of lasagna around which an international student who doesn’t have the vocabulary to relate to God sees the love of Jesus in the eyes of those who serve her and listen to her story. For she is readying her heart for the new birth.

Or, the Kingdom of Heaven is like the brew of freshly ground coffee that has the aroma of friendship and a safe place to explore what it means to follow Jesus. For his search for God draws near.

Or, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a living room couch where seekers of Truth can rest, let God speak through Scripture and friends, and find healing.

Or my favorite, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a well-run soundboard that causes the voices and instruments to blend in beautiful worship in order to confront with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit those whose lives are in disharmony.

Today, I changed my personal vision statement.

Rick

 

S.H.A.P.E. Profile Spiritual Gifts Assessment – Spiritual Gifts Defined:

When you receive your Spiritual Gifts assessment, you’ll notice a percentage score beside each gift. Some will be lower while others will land in the middle. This doesn’t mean you are deficient in anything or that God can’t use you in each of these gifts. In fact, God takes pleasure in using us in ways in which we think we are weaker. By all means, ask God to use you in all ways through any of His Spiritual Gifts. He’s in charge and gives good gifts to His kids!

Notice especially the gifts that are highest as these are the gifts that, at least according to this assessment, you will likely use most frequently in the Kingdom. Your top three are your best Spiritual tools! (In the event of a tie, make it the top four!)

Here are helpful definitions for each gift with a verse or two that describes each (by no means exhaustive in these definitions). This is what a person will likely do based on the Biblical definitions and church experiences and will help you with a basic understanding of your top Gifts. Further study, practice, and conversations with your friends and church leaders will help expand your understanding.

Attached is a PDF of this list – Spiritual Gifts List

Spiritual Gifts (The “S” in the S.H.A.P.E. Profile):

  1. Administration/Guidance (1 Corinthians 14:40) –
  • Manages details to support to free other leaders to focus on their work
  • Sees gifts in other and connect them to ministry
  • Organizes resources, time, teams, and people for greater Kingdom impact
  • Coordinates multiple details and levels and accomplishes the goals of a project
  1. Apostle (Romans 15:20-21,1 Corinthians 9:19-23) –
  • Shares with a God-given urgency the Gospel to others from vastly different backgrounds
  • Begins a fresh work of God in places that have no Gospel witness
  1. Celibacy (I Corinthians 7:7) –
  • Remains single through God’s provision in order to serve with greater intensity
  1. Craftsmanship/Artisan (Exodus 31:1-5) –
  • Creates art that reflects God’s glory and unveils His character
  • Shows ability in one or more medium of creative art so as to connect the unbeliever with the Creator through that art
  1. Discernment/Distinguishing Spirits (1 John 4:1-6, 1 Corinthians 12:10) –
  • Perceives the intent and origination of spiritual matters
  • Recognizes whether a message is from the Holy Spirit or not
  • Distinguishes right from wrong, truth from error in a situation
  1. Encouragement (Acts 14:22, Romans 12:8) –
  • Urges others toward action, faithfulness, and courage
  • Motivates others to have courage in difficult times or when faith wavers
  • Brings out the best in others and challenges them to meet their potential
  1. Evangelism (Acts 8:26-40) –
  • Challenges others with a God-given zeal and compassion to believe in and follow Christ
  • Focuses on the pre-Christian stage of disciple-making
  • Senses readiness in others to trust Christ
  • Shares the Good News in non-threatening compassionate ways with frequent success
  1. Exhortation (Acts 13:15) –
  • Understands and communicates Biblical truth in ways that encourage others to apply it
  • Persuades others to obey Biblical truth
  1. Faith (Romans 4:18-21, 1 Corinthians 12:9) –
  • Sees what God is doing and believe Him for results
  • Trusts God to act on His promise in the face of great odds
  • Stands firm until God answers and/or the miracle happens
  1. Giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-7, Romans 12:8) –
  • Gives much proportionately with pure motives
  • Invests resources generously beyond the tithe
  • Earns, invests, and give with Spirit-led success resources in order to support ministry
  1. Healing (James 5:14-16, 1 Corinthians 12:9) –
  • Prays in faith for others with the result that they are healed
  • Senses the prompts of God to pray for healing
  1. Helps/Service (1 Peter 4:11) –
  • Sees needs easily and finds ways to practically meet those needs
  • Serves others personally and in church without need of recognition
  • Manages time and resources to solve individual or church needs
  1. Hospitality (1 Peter 4:9) –
  • Finds pleasure in housing or feeding others in home or through the church
  • Makes others feel welcome and significant
  1. Prayer/Intercession (Ephesians 6:18-20) –
  • Prays faithfully until the answer comes
  • Steps into the place of a person, church, people group, or geographical area and prays consistently for the needs
  1. Knowledge – Words (1 Corinthians 12:8, Acts 16:28) –
  • Speaks timely, Spirit-given knowledge that applies to a person’s situation
  • Comprehends and conveys spiritually revealed knowledge that helps a person with a specific need
  1. Leadership (Hebrews 13:7, 17, Romans 12:8) –
  • Influences a group to accomplish it’s purpose or goal
  • Communicates purpose, direction, and vision to the group, team or church
  • Motivates others to work together to accomplish a ministry goal
  1. Mercy/Compassion (Luke 10:30-37, Romans 12:8) –
  • Empathizes with those in need and extend encouragement
  • Senses hurts and provide cheerful support to those pain, distress, or crisis
  1. Miracles (Mark 11:23-24, 1 Corinthians 12:10) –
  • Prays in faith for God’s specific intervention in impossible situations and sees answers
  • Sees situations where God wants to move miraculously and prays for supernatural intervention
  1. Missionary (Romans 10:14, Acts 13:1-4) –
  • Adapts readily to different cultures in order to serve in that culture
  • Seeks through the leadership and provision of the Holy Spirit to know about needs of other people groups and rallies resources to meet the needs
  • Compelled to communicate the Gospel through serving and speaking to others in a different culture than their own
  1. Music (1 Chronicles 16:4) –
  • Plays an instrument or sings in a way that draws others to worship Christ Jesus
  • Creates worship through musical skills that presents the character of God and declares the Good News
  1. Pastor/Shepherd (1 Peter 5:2-4, Hebrews 13:17) –
  • Exercises concern, care, and protection for a group or church that encourages growth spiritual health
  • Equips believers in Biblical world view and understanding of who Jesus is and how each can serve effectively
  • Models spiritual growth and service to members of group or church
  1. Poverty – voluntary (Luke 12:22-31, Philippians 4:11-13)
  • Cultivates contentment in whatever material or financial condition
  • Chooses to live simply so as to give generously to Kingdom causes
  • Trusts God with little in order to provide more to impact the world with the Gospel
  1. Prophesy (1 Corinthians 12:10, 14:3, Acts 11:28) –
  • Delivers with persuasion God’s message
  • Discerns a current situation or potential future occurrence and delivers this message effectively
  • Understands the “big picture” of God’s redemptive and prophetic stream and relates it to the current church situation and direction
  1. Teaching (Ephesians 4:12-13, Romans 12:7) –
  • Understands and explains Biblical truth in ways that believers comprehend and apply
  • Learns and is able to take others “with him/her” in learning
  1. Tongues – Interpreting (1 Corinthians 12:10, 14:13) –
  • Understands words spoken in tongues and communicates it clearly to others
  • Interprets a message in a heavenly language or unknown tongue to those present
  1. Tongues – Speaking (1 Corinthians 12:10, 14:2, 14-15, Acts 2:4-8) –
  • Prays in a language understood only by God
  • Speaks in an unlearned language or tongue to, along with interpreting, communicate God’s truth and give God worship
  1. Wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1, 6-16, 12:7-8) –
  • Understands God’s perspective on practical life situations and conveys it in simple ways
  • Knows what to do, how to do it, and helps others do the same
  • Receives and conveys Spirit-given wisdom and application to a person or group
  1. Writing (1 Peter 5:12) –
  • Writes clearly so that others comprehend and apply God’s truth
  • Creates with words in order to attract others to God and His Good News

Tough Crowd

Preachers and worship leaders can read a room, so I’m informed. We stand before the crowd and can tell if they are tracking with us, indifferent, or just don’t like us (not that the third option ever happens in church!) Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s house (read Luke 14) and the place was filled with an audience not-so-favorable toward him or the message of the Kingdom. My guess would be to not expect much from a dinner party crowd like this (maybe like going to a Hillary rally wearing a Feel the Bern tee.)

Jesus turned the Sunday dinner soiree into a masterful time of teaching – about not living for crowd approval (he was experienced with this,) about humility and the urge to seek honor from others (don’t take the box seat unless it’s offered), and about lifting up those who can’t improve one’s status or power (toss to pre-approved invitation list and bring in the hurting, blind and invisible.)

And, he healed a man with a visible case of renal failure (his arms and legs were swollen with fluid.) Jesus noted the man’s illness and asked the crowd if he should heal him, even though it was the Sabbath. (I’m sure the host was asking, “who let this guy in? Next time, screen for dropsy!)

Of course, the crowd of Pharisees refused to answer – and of course, Jesus healed him.

But the next exchange is what grabs me. Jesus addresses the room and  asked, “Who here doesn’t do some kind of work on Sunday? Fix a tire? Empty the trash? Rescue a cow? Really?”  Silence from the room. (Cue the crickets.) And they couldn’t answer.

Not “refused” or “chose not” to answer. They couldn’t. Their world view simply would not give space for a reasonable answer. They were so entitled to their Sabbath day, that they couldn’t answer. The rules that governed their Sabbath ruled out their ability to speak aloud what was true and made sense. That God desired healing on their holy-day couldn’t penetrate their dogma … or their faith.

What we’ve experienced, good and bad, and what we’ve clung to that seems culturally acceptable might be exactly what stops us from believing … and being healed.

Comedians can read an audience, too. I read that some entertainers choose to beg off shows at colleges – they say it’s too dangerous. What they say is always under scrutiny. And being recorded.

What a shame that dogma might stop the laughter. And everyone needs a good laugh.

 

Vineyard 201 – Power of God, Power of Prayer

This week’s article by John Wimber, one of the key pastors who helped launch the “Vineyard Movement” links two important spiritual topics: the power of God and the Christ-follower’s prayer life. God wants to display His power through our lives – no question about his (the whole “same works and even greater” promise still wrecks my experiential grid!) But, what is our responsibility through prayer? And more importantly, how does prayer display God’s Kingdom and Power? Wimber would say, it’s all about intimacy!

Enjoy the article below and learn about the empowering nature of intimacy with God:

PRAYER: INTIMACY WITH GOD

Only in an intimate relationship with God can we hear his voice, know his will,

and understand his heart.

By John Wimber

If most Christians could listen to recordings of their prayers over a week’s time, we would discover we pray the same things, using the same words and sentence structures, over and over again. But, I suspect, what would disturb us most is the cold, mechanical, removed feeling of the prayers. We would become more aware of something we already know but can hardly acknowledge: our relationship with God is distant and impersonal – and because of this we are unhappy and unfulfilled.

Now think of the quality of Jesus’ prayer life. Picture in your mind the freedom and openness he always experienced with his heavenly Father. He spoke to his Father in terms of endearment, referring to him as “Daddy.” Jesus took every problem, every concern, and every decision to him moment by moment. And he did it with ease and joy! It was an intimate relationship, an openness in which he freely shared his most essential, private, and personal thoughts and emotions.

The quality of relationship with his Father also was a key to answered prayer. By knowing his Father’s will, he knew how, what, and whom to pray for. “The world must learn that I love the Father,” Jesus said, “and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). How did the world know Jesus loved the Father? Because he did what the Father told him to do, and he was able to do that because he had an intimate relationship with him.

I believe Jesus’ prayer life is something that we should aspire to, that intimacy with God in prayer is a primary goal of the Christian life.

Obedience

Why is our goal intimacy with God? Because only there do we experience forgiveness, renewal, and power for righteous living. Only in an intimate relationship with God can we hear his voice, know his will, and understand his heart.

Some of us, though, think of intimacy as merely a warm emotion—something akin to spiritual goose bumps. But this isn’t what I mean by intimacy with God. By intimacy I mean four things:

  • First, intimacy is self-disclosure. This is our ability to talk with God about who we really are, to say what we need and want, all the time knowing that he hears us and cares about these things. This touches on the formation of such character traits as honesty, integrity, and confidence.
  • Second, intimacy is being known by God. God doesn’t need our cooperation to know everything about us (Matthew 10:30). But for him to work in us and through us, we must cooperate with him, joyfully receiving his fatherly love.
  • Third, intimacy is continual obedience to God. This means knowing God in the deepest part of our beings, hearing his voice, experiencing his grace and then doing what he says to do. There is nothing fancy or mysterious about obedience. The rewards are great: A greater knowledge of God’s holiness and a clear conscience.

Scripture

  • Fourth, intimacy is knowing God. By knowing God I mean having relationship with him and knowing about him. The latter point contains a Catch 22, because a proper understanding of God’s nature is both a goal and prerequisite of intimacy. In other words, what we believe about God determines how we pray, and the quality of our prayer life powerfully affects what we believe about God!

A defective understanding of our heavenly Father’s nature (usually a result of some failure in our earthly father) is one of the greatest obstacles to an intimate prayer life. Do you think of God as quite distant from creation, disinterested in ordinary people’s daily struggles? If so your prayer life is probably an infrequent exercise in paying homage to the Creator, but in no way is it a life-changing relationship. Do you think of God as an angry old man, depriving you of life’s pleasures and joys? If so, your prayer life likely is a loathsome event, full of fear and anger.

God has provided means for overcoming our misconceptions about his nature: Scripture. In the Bible, God reveals his nature to us, but most of us require healing in some area of our lives so we can receive the truth of Scripture. Hurtful memories of our earthly fathers may hold us back from receiving our heavenly Father. Prayer for overcoming the effects of past hurts and immersion in God’s Word are the pathway to knowing God.

Models

Another obstacle to attaining intimacy with God in prayer is the dearth of mature prayer models, men and women who inspire and instruct us through prayer and deed.

As a new Christian, I was discipled by a man who embodied what it meant to be intimate with God. But even he wasn’t perfect, and when he moved away after only two years, I was forced to look elsewhere for a model of intimacy. So to whom can we look? Christ is available to all, our great example of intimacy with the Father. He is the one that we ultimately look to and pattern our lives after.

I began this article by contrasting our prayer life with Christ’s. In the remainder of the article, I will take a closer look at Christ’s relationship with his Father as found in what is commonly called the high priestly prayer of John 17.

The Upper Room

John 17 must be understood with its broader context, chapter 13 through17, the longest account of Jesus’ last night with his disciples in the upper room. Jesus speaks to his disciples in an intimate, after-dinner exchange. He discloses to them some of the most beautiful truths in the Bible. One prominent feature of his discourse is his use of the word love. It is used only six times in chapters 1-12 of John’s Gospel but 31 times in chapters 13-17.

Chapter 17 records Jesus’ conversation with his Father about himself, the apostles, and all believers. I am not as much interested here in what he prayed about as how he prayed, for his manner reveals much about his relationship with the Father.

Verse one says, “He looked toward heaven and prayed.” Did you know that the customary attitude of prayer for Jesus was to open his eyes and raise his head? His position on prayer was different from the practices of most Western Christians. Now, I believe there is nothing wrong in lowering our heads and closing our eyes (it communicates reverence toward God and helps us keep our concentration on God), but Jesus looked up and opened his eyes because his relationship with the Father was open, free, uninhibited.

He begins his prayer with the simple “Father,” the common address of a child to its parent. Jesus was using language common to everyday family life and transferring it to God. It reveals the close familiarity between Jesus and his Father.

Reinforce Truth

Jesus then goes on in verses two to five to pray for himself as within hours he would face the cross. But the tone of his prayer impresses me—informal, free, and heartfelt. These were the prayers of a friend of God. In reading many of Jesus’ prayers, I get the feeling that he is interrupting a private, unspoken conversation in order to speak aloud so the disciples can learn how to pray. In other words, his spoken words appear to be the overflow of a continuing dialogue with his Father.

In saying, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you,” Jesus revealed his one motivation in life was to glorify his Father. This meant that all his prayers were steeped with an attitude of obedience and sacrifice, a desire to submit his life to whatever his Father wanted. It is almost as though he is reviewing a fundamental principle of the Christian life: You glorify me, I glorify you. We too, should never hesitate to repeat the fundamental promises of Scripture to God in prayer; in doing so we reinforce his truth in us and faith grows. We need to regularly review our commitments, and what better place is there to do that than with God?

In verses 6 to 19 he prays for the disciples. He continues to focus on fulfilling God’s purpose: to redeem and raise up a people who know the Father. When we experience intimacy with our heavenly Father our hearts will naturally turn toward intercession. Why? Because we will take on his heart, his burden for men and women.

Jesus and the early Christians rarely prayed for the world. Instead, they prayed that the church would be bold in proclaiming the gospel to the unsaved! You don’t have to tell God your friends aren’t saved. He already knows. You need to tell them about Christ, and ask God for the boldness to speak the gospel in love.

Unity

In verses 20 to 26 he prays for all believers “that all may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21). This is the punch line of the high priestly prayer: We can have the same type of relationship with the Father that Jesus has.

I grew up as an only child with both parents who worked. From the ages of five to eighteen I devoted my life almost entirely to music, sitting alone for hours practicing different musical instruments. I didn’t develop very many social skills with a horn in my mouth. If it hadn’t been for my wife, I don’t know if I would have ever learned how to have deep, intimate friendships. I have found it difficult to know God as my “Daddy,” but as I grow in the knowledge of his nature and take risks with him, I’m learning he loves me and accepts me the way I am. I can enter into the same quality of relationship as Jesus has with the Father.

When we experience the intimacy of the Father and the Son, it will affect our relationship brothers and sisters in such a way that many pagans will believe that Jesus was sent by the Father to redeem the world (v.23). Christian unity, rooted in an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father, is the most powerful testimony of Christ’s lordship in the world today.

 

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