What does the Cross mean to Me?

 

What does the Cross mean to Me?

A time for reflection

The week before Easter is designated as Holy Week.  We join Jesus as He journeys to the Cross.  We experience His “human nature”, up close and personal.  The Gospel writers invite us to listen in on the conversations and vicariously join the activities that will ultimately end on Good Friday on a cross.

Hopefully this week, we will engage in activities that expand our understanding of the sacrifice and suffering that Jesus experienced (Is. 53:5).  It is also a time in which we can examine our obedience in following God’s will. Are we willing to sacrifice our life on the cross that lay before us?  What does the Cross mean to me?

The Cross and I

What does the Cross mean to me?  Is it an object on which Christ was crucified? Or is it a piece of jewelry that you wear? Our view of the Cross is critical in that it establishes the basis of our Christian belief and personal walk of faith.

In the routine of daily living, we often forget Christ’s work of grace on the Cross.  Unfortunately, some believers are only superficially drawn to the Cross.  We give attention to it only during the sacrament of communion or at Easter.  It is critical that we clearly define the Cross’ significance so that we might re-engage its purpose and power in our life.

At the Cross

Christian doctrine is founded on “the Cross.”  Our belief about sin and salvation begin and end at the Cross (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).  Our identity as children and heirs of God are established by our knowledge of what Christ accomplished on the Cross (Eph. 1:7; Rom. 8:17).

To Jesus Christ, the Cross signified lordship and commitment to Him.  He told those who would follow Him that unless they were willing to bear His cross, they could not be His disciple (Luke 14:27). Christ has not altered His requirement for discipleship in the twenty-first century. The Cross demands commitment. 

To Paul and other New Testament writers, the Cross represented the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ.  This gospel was to be clearly articulated to those identified in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).  Jesus Christ died for sin, He rose from the dead, and “whosoever believeth in Him” shall have everlasting life.  The gospel message remains the same in the twenty-first century.  The Cross is salvation.     

To Christians, the Cross recounts God’s extraordinary act of love.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  George Matherson penned in his hymn these words:

O Love that will not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

God’s plan of salvation did not come as an “after thought” but was formed in eternity (Eph. 1:4-7).  Before the Fall, God set in motion His plan of salvation to return beloved man to Himself.   

Return to the Cross

Jesus was the decided Victor on Resurrection Sunday.  He disarmed and shamed Satan by His victory over death and over sin (Heb. 2:14-17).  Knowledge of this strengthens our faith and confidence in Him.

As believers in Christ, let us reverence the Cross, not as a material object seen in isolation, but as the instrument of Christ’s triumph and love (Col. 2:13-15).

Return to the Cross and Christ’s life-transforming love.  Re-discover its power that will never pass away.

Jesus, keep me near the cross

There’s a precious fountain

Free to all a healing stream

Flows from Calvary’s mountain

In the Cross,

In the Cross,

Be my glory ever,

‘Til my raptured soul shall find

Rest beyond the river.

Have a blessed Easter.  Hallelujah, He is Risen!

Obedience and the Journey to the Cross

Obedience and the Journey to the Cross

Obedience and the Journey

We continue our Lenten season journey to the Cross.  In this study, we discussed the meaning of obedience to God.  Obedience is discerning what God wants and choosing to seek that outcome.  Our response of obedience flows from a heart that hears God’s voice and feels God’s love.  It is a matter of choosing and turning to Him versus the lusts of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life (1 John 2:16).

The hallmark of obedience is modeled by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ especially as He journeyed to the Cross.  Jesus demonstrated for us “perfected” obedience by His humility, His faithfulness, and His submission to God’s will.

We decided that obedience was both the outcome of our faith walk and the means by which spiritual maturity is accomplished.  We “perfect” (bring to fruition) our obedience through the Holy Spirit and practicing spiritual disciplines that conform us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).  We daily accept the “obedience challenge” by exercising our freedom in Christ rather than being disobedient slaves to sin.

Let go of the ego!

As we perfect our obedience, probably the most difficult part of our journey is our willingness to “let go.”  Letting go requires releasing those things that cause us to be independent of God and operate outside the will of God.

Letting go necessitates that we pray often, wait expectantly, and trust unequivocally.   When we “let go and let God”, the results are always more than we can accomplish in our own power (1 Cor. 2:9).  Much of the difficulty in “letting go,” often times, lie in our inability to “let go of our ego.”

What’s with the ego?

Ego, in this case, is not an exaggerated sense of self-importance but the use of “fleshly” knowledge and “human” effort to accomplish God’s purpose. This is often the case when we endeavor to live righteous and holy lives in our own power.  Some of us attempt to do this by “works”:  we visit the sick, feed the hungry, and do all the things we think will please the Lord.

Some of us become “masters of spiritual disciplines”:  we read our Bible every day, fast and pray, and tithe ten percent.  Regardless of our approach, we “miss the mark” using fleshly methods to create spiritual outcomes.  In Philippians 3:4-5, the Apostle Paul, confesses his attempt to live holy by operating out of his flesh.

Even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 

Interestingly the pronoun “I”, in the passage above, in Greek is translated “ego.”  Paul’s failure was not due to lack of works or poor self-discipline; nor was it the result of a poor attitude or “stinking thinking.”   Paul attempted to do the work and will of God in his own strength.  What was the best solution for Paul’s dilemma?   He declared his faith and dependence on Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:7-9). Paul “let go his ego” and chose to obediently follow God.

Preparation for Holy Week

As we prepare for Holy Week, let us consider the journey through the lens of obedience.  To help us with this exercise, take time to meditate on Philippians 3:8 (NRSV).

I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. 

When we meditate, we “focus our thoughts” (versus daydreaming).  We invite the Holy Spirit to join us.  There can be no meditation without His presence.   Below are three (3) simple methods of meditation you can try.[1]

Meditation method #1:   Emphasize different words in the text.

Meditation method #2:   Rewrite the text in your own words.

Meditation method #3:   Formulate a principle from the text.  What does it teach?

Don’t rush this exercise.  Spend time re-reading and focusing on each word.  Give attention to the verse, each phrase, and words included in this scripture.  Remember, all Scripture is the inspired word from God (2 Tim. 3:16).  Take time to hear not only what God is saying to Paul but also, what is God saying to you.

Journal what you learn from your meditation—about God, the Gospel, your ego, and yourself.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show how you can practice obedience as you daily journey to the Cross.

[1] Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitley.

Obedience or Slavery?

 

Who are you obedient to?

Preparing for the Passion

Our Lenten season journey will soon close with remembrance of the Passion Week.  This week, prior to Easter, recounts the suffering and death of Jesus Christ as He journeyed to the Cross.  During that week, Jesus was intentional and direct as He prepared his disciples for the gruesome ending of His physical life.  His act represented, not only His extreme love for us but also, His unyielding obedience to the Father.

Jesus’ substitutional death was decreed by God before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).  A sacrifice for sin was needed (Lev. 17:11) and Jesus was that willing, obedient sacrifice.  Jesus was to die for our sins and receive the penalty we deserved.  From the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ focus was to release us from the bondage of sin (Matt. 1:21).

Jesus leads the way

Jesus announced His arrival as the promised Messiah in the synagogue at Nazareth.  He was the Anointed One who would “release the captives and let the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).

Jesus accomplished that purpose on Easter Sunday, when He rose from the dead, breaking the power and the penalty of sin in our lives (Col. 2:13-15).  This includes sins we have committed in the past, commit in the present, and will commit in the future.  When we reach heaven, we will finally be delivered from the presence of sin.

Jesus’ obedience led to our victory over sin and our freedom to grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18).  Why? So that we can obediently serve the Lord and further His kingdom.

So why are we still acting like slaves?

In Romans 6:16-18, the Apostle Paul challenges the young church at Rome to obediently follow Jesus and the Word (the Gospel) that had been delivered to them.  I guess you could call them “hokey-pokey” Christians.  They had “one foot in the Church and one foot in the world”.  Sound familiar?

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.  

This is the same “obedience challenge” we face daily while living in our earthly flesh.  Until we are delivered from the presence of sin, we must doggedly declare “ourselves dead to sin and alive to God” (Rom. 6:11).  We must exercise our freedom in Christ to leave behind sinful patterns and influences which move us away from God.  We must not take God’s glorious gift of grace for granted and continue in sin through our disobedience.

Slaves of righteousness

During this season of Lent, many of us are practicing the discipline of fasting.  We have given up some habit, practice, or vice and have replaced it with new activities that draw us closer to Jesus.  This includes more time in prayer, studying the Word, or solitude.

Lent is a period of denying our “flesh” and of self-reflection, hopefully leading us to greater spiritual maturity and obedience.  But let’s be honest, aren’t there some things we should stop doing beyond Lenten season?  Some sin(s) that are keeping us enslaved to the world and Satan? (Heb. 12:1)

Are we choosing to remain “shackled” by sin when Christ has set us free from sin’s power and penalty?

You are slaves of the one you obey.”  Question for today:  Who are you obedient to?

Perfected Obedience

Perfected Obedience

So, what have we learned about obedience?

According to Webster, obedience is defined as submission to authority.  Operating with that definition, our natural response is to challenge, resist, and even disavow.

On the other hand, obedience from a Christian worldview is more than just following the letter of the law.  It is discerning what God wants and choosing to seek that outcome.  In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for obey means to hear.

It is described as an attitude and faith-rooted disposition (2 Cor. 2:9; Phil. 2:12).  It is the outward response of the heart that hears God and turns to Him.

Where does obedience come from?

Obedience is evidence of a personal relationship with God.  It is not motivated by guilt or shame but by love (John 14:15).  We agreed last week that mature obedience is both the outcome of our faith walk AND how we can achieve spiritual maturity.  Each time we make a decision or choose a direction, or reply to an action, we are challenged to “response with a heart that hears God”.

Jesus our example

The writer of Hebrews offers us another perspective on obedience—perfected obedience.    

Though He [Jesus] was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.  Hebrew 5:8-9 (NKJV)

Our text gives us a clue into how our obedience becomes “perfected”.  It begins and ends with a clear understanding of Jesus and His walk of perfected obedience.

Firstly, Jesus never sinned. Jesus had no need to become perfect for His work of salvation.  Jesus was perfect in His nature (1 Pet. 2:22; Heb. 4:15).  Imagine that! Even as a rambunctious child, a growing teenager, and a vibrant young man—Jesus never sinned.  No defiance, no hiding behind excuses.  To fulfill God’s requirement for a “blameless sacrifice for sin” (1 Pet. 1:19), Jesus suffered and was obedient unto death (Phil. 2:8).

Secondly, Jesus learned.  What did He learn?  Jesus learned what it meant to be human by experiencing all the emotions and sensations that we as frail humans feel.  Why?  So that He could identify with our depravity and brokenness.

Jesus willingly experienced the full range of emotions He had placed in us at Creation (Heb. 4:25).  Jesus was moved with compassion (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34); He cried (Luke 19:41, John 11:35); He withdrew (Matt. 14:13); Jesus condemned (Matt. 23:1-12).

But it is in Jesus’ passion that we see the greatest evidence of humanity.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, He was in excruciating agony, sweating drops of blood (Luke 22:42; Mark 14:36).  Ultimately, Jesus bore the full weight of our sins by hanging on a Cross and dying.  (Matt. 27:50)

Jesus was perfected

Finally, Jesus was perfected. The literal translation of perfected is “to bring to an end a proposed goal”.   Jesus accomplished the purpose crafted by God before the foundation of the world—to bring redemption, restoration, and reconciliation to all mankind.  Jesus became the “all and everything” that was needed to bring salvation to fallen man.

Jesus learned about humanity and why His sacrificial death was the only solution for the sin problem.  He became “the author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9), the “firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29), and the “first-begotten from the dead” (Rev. 1:5).

Jesus’ perfecting was accomplished through His obedience.  Jesus’ submission to and love for God resulted in the greatest gift we as believers will ever receive—freedom from sin and eternal life.  To put into words the enormity of God’s plan of salvation is impossible.

Perfected obedience—a new level of love and gratitude

I close with these words from F.B. Meyer on “The Perfecting of Christ”.  May his words move your spirit to new levels of obedience.  

For the long and steep ascent of life, our Father has given us a Companion, a Captain of the march, a Brother, even Jesus our Lord, who passed through the suffering of death, and is now crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9-11). He has passed along our pathway, and climbed our steep ascents, that He might become our merciful and faithful Friend and Helper.  In this sense He was perfected, and became unto all them that obey Him the Author of eternal salvation.  But if we are to walk with Him, and realize His eternal salvation, we must learn to obey.

Understanding perfected obedience is captured in the life and love of Jesus the Christ.  Jesus is our model and the example we daily strive to emulate.  Let us endeavor, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be conformed to His image and ultimately transformed into all that God has purposed us to be (Eph. 2:10).

Mature Obedience

 

Mature Obedience

Faith outcome and spiritual maturity

Last week we opened with this question:  Is obedience the outcome of our faith walk or is it the means by which spiritual maturity is accomplished?   The answer we discovered is that obedience is BOTH.

During our faith walk (which will continue until this life ends), our choice to either obey or disobey God will result in “life lessons” that will make us stronger instruments of God.  Through these lessons we “grow” or mature spiritually.

Oswald Chambers shared this thought on obedience and spiritual maturity.

Spiritual maturity is not reached by the passing of the years, but by obedience to the will of God. Some people mature into an understanding of God’s will more quickly than others because they obey more readily; they more readily sacrifice the life of nature to the will of God.

A lesson in obedience

Let me detail the correlation between obedience and spiritual maturity with the following illustration.

A toddler, immature physically and mentally, has one basic desire—to satisfy their immediate needs.   They will do just about anything to have their way, disregarding safety, or well-being along the way.  This includes climbing up on high counters or grabbing objects that are dangerous to their health, i.e., laundry pods.

Toddlers show little concern for their own safety or well-being if the result is physical satisfaction. They are best served and protected by their guardian who will provide for and protect them.  Toddlers must be taught to obey the direction of their guardian who will help them to gain a healthy fear of the world they live in.

Is obedience only for children?

Spiritually, the toddler illustration can also be true for believers.  Oftentimes, we live in the moment—desiring what will immediately satisfy our needs.  In that moment perhaps the Holy Spirit is directing us to “pray and wait” or to seek godly counsel through others or the Bible.

Many times, we will even fain obedience (fake it) by responding “I’m praying about it” when we already know what God has directed us to do.  Ours is just to obey. Such was the case with Jonah.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah saying, “Go at once to Nineveh and cry out against it.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:1-3)

Reluctant obedience = disobedience

Jonah was reluctant to bring God’s message to Nineveh, the capital of Israel’s hated enemy, Assyria.  Foolishly, he thought he fled from the presence of the Lord (Psalm 139:7-10).

God was very clear in His instruction to Jonah.  “Go at once” and “Cry out against Nineveh”.  He was without excuse, yet he chose to be disobedient. The Lord did not allow him to escape.

Jonah eventually acquiesced.  God’s purpose was accomplished. Nineveh repented (Jonah 3:10).    But unfortunately, Jonah failed to mature spiritually (Jonah 4:3-4).  He was unsuccessful in understanding the nature of God and His mercy (Exod. 33:19).

Practicing mature obedience

Like Jonah, do we often find ourselves running from the presence of the Lord?  Is God asking us to respond to a divine directive we prefer not to do?  This is a great place to begin practicing mature obedience.

We practice mature obedience by first seeking God’s will through reading and meditating on His Word.  This will then move us naturally into prayer based on what we have read.  We have the assurance of the Holy Spirit to “guide us in all truth and to glorify God” (John 16:13, 14).

Finally, we must quickly respond to what God has instructed us to do. We must obey.  Hesitation is often the result of doubt, which soon leads to disobedience. Mature obedience can be practiced every day.  It begins with a willing heart that is swift to say, “Yes, Lord.”

The Character of Obedience

The Character of Obedience

The nature of obedience

As we defined last week, obedience is submission to authority.  Is obedience an outcome of our faith walk or is it the means by which our spiritual maturity is accomplished?

Conversation about obedience seems especially appropriate as we enter the Lenten season.  As believers, we have committed to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ.  How well are we doing?   Lenten season presents a “space in time” in which we can answer that question.  It is also a time to identify those things that keep us from our obedience to God.

Obedience actualized

Accounts of the apostles and other great propagators of the faith give evidence that obedience plays a major role in our faith walk.

Obedience is a constant theme in the writings of the Apostle Paul. He speaks of many relationships in which we are asked to offer our obedience.  These includes obedience exercised within a family (Eph. 6:1; 1 Cor. 14:34,35), between a master and their servant (Eph. 6:5), or to civil government (Titus 1:1, 3:1).

In his letter to Christians living in the first century, the Apostle John teaches on identifying genuine faith in Christ.  The test is linked to obedience.

“Now by this we know that we know Him if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.”  (1 John 2:3-5)

The great 17th century English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon had this to say about obedience:

  • Love is the chief jewel in the bracelet of obedience.
  • That obedience which is not voluntary is disobedience, for the Lord looketh at the heart, and if He seeth that we serve Him from force, and not because we love Him, He will reject our offering.
  • You and I must be willing to do what God tells us, as God tells us, when God tells us, because God tells us, but only strong faith will be equal to such complete obedience.

Though these views come at varying times in biblical and church history, their message is still the same.  Obedience is an expectation for all believers.  It is not an option.

Jesus the Model of Obedience

The hallmark of obedience is modeled by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ especially as He journeyed to the Cross.  Jesus modeled obedience by His humility, in His faithfulness, and in His submission to God’s will.

Jesus humbled Himself as Deity by shedding His blood for our sins.

Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Phil. 2:5-8

Jesus’ faithfulness is seen in His unflinching commitment to the Cross.

“(Jesus) who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”  Heb. 5:7-8

Jesus submitted to the will of God.

“Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:18-19

Let us hear

The Greek word for obedience is hupakoe which means “attentive harkening, compliance or submission”.  It usually refers to obedience to God’s will in a “special sense”—of willing subjection.  Unlike the animals used in previous sacrifices, Christ came willingly to the Cross.  He expressed His submission to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane as He repeated “not My will but Your will be done” (Matt. 26:39, 42; Mark 14:32-36).

Acceptance of the Gospel requires acceptance of Christ as not only Savior but also as Lord of our lives.  We no longer live for ourselves but for Him (Gal. 2:20; 1 Peter 4:2).  Through obedience, we learn to have the “same mind of Christ”—obedience in our faithfulness, our humility, and our submission to God’s will.

While the world encourages defiance and applauds noncompliance, Christ offers a different model for living.  Through Christ’s obedience two-thousand years earlier, He changed the “eternal outcome” to “all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9).  Once destined to an eternity in hell, we now are partakers of eternal life (John 3:16).  That’s worth our love, our devotion, and our obedience.

Remember our opening question: “Is obedience an outcome of our faith walk or is it the means by which our spiritual maturity is accomplished?”  The answer is, “it’s both”!

Obedience: An Invitation to Hear

Obedience: An Invitation to Hear

The Believer’s Struggle

In his book, “Think Like Jesus,” pollster George Barna tackles a formidable topic, “How do Christians develop a “biblical worldview” in a fallen world?  But more than that, why is it important to do so?  How is it possible to be “in this world but not of this world”?  (John 17:14-15)

Our struggle with this dilemma is demonstrated by the world’s inability to see believers as being different from them.  The world labels Christian beliefs as intolerant and antiquated.  Because of that, we believers are often silent about our faith.  The result?  It is easier to “go along to get along.” The salt is no longer salty.  The light has grown dim (Matt. 5:13-16).

Obedience and the Christian’s worldview

Barna offers several scriptural principles to guide us as we create a biblical worldview for our life.  One of these principles is the importance of obedience to God.  “Obedience is more than just following the letter of the law.  It is discerning what God wants and choosing to seek that outcome.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season.  It is a time when we can focus on self-examination and self-denial.  It is also a great time to study this topic of obedience and answer the following questions:

What is obedience?

Why is it important in my faith walk?

How does obedience affect my “worldview”?

WIFM (What’s in it for me)?

What is obedience?

When you read or hear the word obedience, what comes to mind?  If you are like me, you may instantly think of its opposite—disobedience.  According to Webster, obedience is defined as submission to authority.

Operating with that definition, people immediately view obedience as harsh and demanding.  Their response is understandably, resistance.  Resistance is anchored in our human desire to control our destiny.  For the unbeliever (and believer, too) this desire includes living independent of God’s rule in their life.  This response, unfortunately, misses the true intent of godly obedience.  That is why we need a biblical view of obedience.

In the Old Testament, obey is interpreted as to hear.  It stresses not only hearing but also understanding. As God spoke through His revelation (His ways and works), His people were able to hear and understand His desire for them. (Jer. 29:11).

In the New Testament, obey is not only connected with hearing but also means to convince or to persuade.  Obedience is described as an attitude (2 Cor. 2:9) and a faith-rooted disposition (Phil. 2:12).

We hear, we are persuaded, and in an attitude of faith, we obey.  When we hear God speak to us (through His Spirit), our response should be to obey His instruction.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

Obedience flows from the heart

The obedience of Jesus is held as the ultimate example for believers.  Jesus heard God’s instruction and “humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8) His obedience flowed out of His personal relationship with God—He heard and knew the Father.  More  importantly, Jesus’ obedience was connected to and motivated by love.

Obedience is the outward response of a heart that loves God.  God’s call for obedience is a loving invitation to experience His best. Man’s response to God’s invitation is a heart that hears and turns to Him (Ps. 14:2).

Obedience, properly understood, is never a cold or impersonal command that arouses resentment. Our response of obedience should flow from a heart that hears God’s voice, feels God’s love, and turns to Him.  

Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.

Before I was afflicted, I went astray,

but now I obey your word.

Psalm 119:66-67 (NIV)

Listening Prayer: Engaging in a Prayer-filled Life

Listening Prayer: Engagaing in a Prayer-Filled Life

The Needful Thing

Last week, we discussed the prayer-filled, contemplative life.  The contemplative life acknowledges the importance of a personal relationship with God and the intimacy gained through focused attention on Him.  Fulfillment of this life involves both love for God and the desire to be in His presence continually.

For many believers, such a pursuit necessitates a return to our First Love (Rev. 2:4) and the desire for “the needful thing” (Luke 10:42).  Both can only be found in fellowship with Infinite God.  So today we will spend time looking at a key practice in the prayer-filled life—listening prayer.

Listening Prayer

Listening prayer is about joining with God at the “heart”.   By heart, I’m not speaking about the emotions only, but that “intuitive part” which instructs the mind and the will.  It is a place of union with God.

In listening prayer, we exchange our “intermittent” requests for “continuous” dialogue with the all wise, all-powerful God. Through the eyes and the ears of the heart we see and “hear” God—who He is and how He operates.

Listening prayer was a new experience for me.  I admit my prayer life was one-sided—asking, seeking, and knocking (Matt. 7:7).  I invested much time in learning what I thought was the “right way” to pray.  I followed the PAPA prayer formula.  I prayed the Scriptures.  I employed the ACTS model (adoration-confession-thanksgiving-supplications).  While I wanted to better communicate with God, I failed to realize what God wanted.  God was not concerned with “correct communications” but God did desire “attentive conversation” with me.

Barriers to Listening Prayer

Hindrances to listening prayer are generally found in two areas:  the desire for an “experience” versus the “presence” of God and the modern split between “head and heart” knowledge of God.

In our society, we are accustomed to being “stimulated” by what we are doing. Unfortunately, that is how we judge whether something has really happened.  We expect to hear God speak in a loud, audible voice.  That is not necessarily how God may choose to communicate.  Remember Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12).

Most Christians today suffer to one extent or another from “post-enlightenment” mindset—the split between thought and experience.  This split in most Christians is characterized by an acceptance of their conceptual knowledge about God as reality while they simultaneously deny the primary ways of knowing, loving, and walking with God. This is more intuitive than rational. As a result of this split, even committed Christians, do not believe in Christ’s real presence with and within them.[1]

We must be careful to guard against these hinderances to true intimacy with God.

Where to begin?

How do we begin to incorporate listening prayer into our life?

First, we must believe that God desires to communicate with us (Gen. 35:13).  God is not some distant deity disinterested in His children.  We cry “Abba Father” (Gal. 4:6) knowing He hears our every word.  `

Secondly, we must know that God wishes to be in relationship with you (James 4:8a).  By instituting His plan of salvation, He created the means to restore that which was loss in the Garden of Eden—fellowship with mankind.

Thirdly, we must declare our intentions and ask to hear His voice. Hearing God is not natural (remember we loss that in the Garden), so we must be intentional (Matt. 11:15).  Initially, we may need to set aside time, to listen for His voice, perhaps during our morning or evening devotional time.

Finally, we must invite God into time with us and expect to hear (1 John 5:14).  We may receive a fleeting impression, an image, even a scripture or a song.  Don’t ignore it!  Write it down, then ask God to explain what we experienced.  This is where our journal comes in handy.

Time to begin!

Listening prayer is not a method, but a walk with God where we intentionally listen for His voice.  It’s more than “doing”, it is about “being” aware of His presence.   Listening prayer is about inviting God into the daily rhythm of our life knowing that He speaks to us continuously.  It is an exciting time of fellowship and discovery.  It is what God has always wanted.

[1] Listening Prayer:  Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal, Leanne Payne

 

 

Desperately Seeking God: A Prayer-filled Life

 

Desperately Seeking God

“Desperately seeking God”

What would we think if we saw this request in the personal column of our local paper?  Desperately seeking God for ___.   We can fill in the blank with those things that reflect the needs of the human heart—financial security or emotional wholeness, food and lodging or creature comforts, our daily bread or deliverance from evil.

All these qualify as valid requests we can make known to God (Phil. 4:6).  Today, however, we are invited to move from our “needs-based” method of prayer to a more robust and satisfying “prayer-filled life” that will lead to greater intimacy with God (James 4:8).  What exactly is the prayer-filled life?

The Contemplative Tradition and the Prayer-filled Life

In Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster, the prayer-filled life is called the Contemplative Tradition.  Foster describes it as “a life of loving attention to God.”  Imagine, “loving attention to God.”

It includes not only the activity of prayer but also periods of solitude and meditation in which the presence and fellowship with the Lord is nurtured.

It can be likened to the Lord’s encouragement to His disciples to “abide” in Him (John 15: 4, 8).  Jesus describes His intimacy with the Father through the image of the “vine and the husbandman”.  It was through Jesus’ union with His Father that He was able to do all things (John 5:30).  Jesus desperately sought God.

Practicing the Presence and the Prayer-filled Life

Father Lawrence described the prayer-filled life in Practicing the Presence of God.  “Practicing” is the recognition of God intimately present with us and addressing ourselves to Him every moment.

Prayer is considered “divine conversation” that occurs throughout the day—not exercised as an isolated activity or relegated to a specific place.  Prayer is continuous and never ceases (1 Thess. 5:17).   Father Lawrence desperately sought God.

David and the Prayer-filled Life

David serves as our biblical example of one who sought the prayer-filled life.  Throughout the Psalms we can experience the passion and appreciation David had for his private time with the God of Creation (Psalm 19).

As a shepherd boy, he experienced extended periods of solitude and fellowship with the Great Shepherd (Psalm 23).  In the wilderness of Judah, David’s soul “thirsted” for the Lord and longed for the time he could return to the Temple to reunite with Him (Psalm 63).   David desperately sought God.

Which description is right?

Descriptions of the prayer-filled life differ in method and experience.  “Loving attention to God”. “Divine Conversation”. “The soul’s thirst for the Lord”.

However, what these descriptions do have in common is the results—greater intimacy with the Lord.  This is the offer of a prayer-filled life; one that is more relational and less transactional.

Unfortunately, the distractions of this life, our weakened flesh, and the deceitfulness of Satan continually draw us away from a prayer-filled life.  Left unchanged, we will continue our intermittent prayer routine while Jesus invites us to return to our First Love (Rev. 2:4).

Psalm 42:1-3a offers an excellent illustration of what the prayer-filled life looks like.

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night.” 

Let us learn from the deer and seek God. It is in pursuing and lingering in God’s presence that the prayer-filled life is experienced. It is in Him, that our desperate seeking ends.

Life as a Sponge

My Curiosity

In What I Learned in 2021, I shared a quote from one of my favorite writers, F.B. Meyer, about the privilege of being one in Christ and the intimacy that comes with that relationship.  Meyers offered the comparison of that relationship in Christ as that of the life of a sponge.

We must be one with Christ:

we must be in Him as the sponge is in the ocean.”  

A sponge!  I must admit, I had failed to remember that a sponge at one time was a living being.  So with that reminder in hand, I decided to dig deeper. What I discovered and with the Spirit’s enlightenment is our WordBytes today.

Life as a sponge

There are two basic forms in the life cycle of a sponge. Most sponges live their lives attached to a reef. They don’t move around. There was a time in their lives when they were little larvae swimming around the water all by themselves.

Sponges have unspecialized cells.  Sponges do not have nervous, digestive, or circulatory systems. Instead, most rely on maintaining a constant water flow through their bodies to obtain food and oxygen and to remove wastes.

Interesting?  Yes, but where is the connection between our being in Christ and a sponge?

In John 15:1-8, Jesus uses the vine and the branch analogy to describe what an intimate relationship with Him would look like.  In Christ, we would abide in Him. The branch apart from the vine, the source of life and nutrients, could do nothing (v. 5).

So what’s with the sponge?

In Christ Recap

In Christ is the present experience of the risen Christ indwelling our heart by the Holy Spirit.  This results in incorporating the personality of Christ into our life.   It is more than an imitation of the life and teachings of Jesus.  It is our union with Christ as a result of the divine action of grace by God. The result of that action:  we are transformed into a new creation.

In Christ describes our identity with Christ and our position before God the Father. We (in position) can now begin the process of being conformed to the image of Christ (in practice)—righteous and holy. (Romans 12:2)

In Christ, God makes his superabundant blessings available to us by faith in Christ.  What Christ has is ours!  We are able to draw upon the wealth of Christ to accomplish God ‘s purpose and will.

Striving for Oneness

Meyer’s sponge analogy can be described even more accurately in the Apostle Paul’s statement to the Athenians: “For in him we live and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28)

It is this oneness with Christ that Meyer’s was describing.    Our oneness is not only our connection by faith alone (Gal. 3:26).  But it is also our life lived in singleness of thought.  And that thought is the glory of God—His will and His purpose.

What do I mean?  What does that look like?   The best example I can give is the relationship Jesus had with God the Father.[1]

John 14:10

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

John 17:21-23 

That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.

Like Jesus and the Father, our oneness in Christ recognizes both our dependency AND celebrates our interdependency.

Live like a Sponge

In our study of the sponge, there are similarities we may note as we strive for oneness in Christ.

The sponge relies on maintaining a constant water flow through its body to obtain food and oxygen and to remove wastes

The first is constancy.  Constancy is defined as the quality of being faithful and dependable.  The sponge attaches itself to the reef, a place that will supply the flowing water current needed to live.  As believers, we must seek out those places where we can “attach ourselves” and “grow in faith” (2 Pet. 3:18; Heb. 6:1).  Communities of faith strengthen our spiritual endurance and maturity, so that we can stand fast in the midst of trials and persecution.

The second is discernment. Water flows through the sponge’s simple systems.  It doesn’t hold on to everything but only keeps what is needed to continue its life cycle.  It removes waste.  In our spiritual life, everything we’re exposed to isn’t “necessary” (1 Cor. 6:12-15).  We must be diligent to carefully filter what flows into our eyes, ear, and mind.

As we seek oneness in Christ our constancy and discernment keep us focused on what really is important for living.  It recognizes our dependency and interdependency with both the Father and Jesus.

Like the sponge, we live life knowing “Christ is the center “of our existence and acknowledge that apart from Him we can do nothing.  Therefore, let us strive moment by moment to live the life of a sponge— “one with Him.” (John 14:20)

[1]  I encourage you to read these in your personal Bible study.  They are amazing spiritual “nuggets” for meditation and prayer.  Ask the Holy Spirit to “open your eyes to see” (Ps. 119:18) what God will share with you on pursuing oneness with Him.