1Thessalonians 4:1 - Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.
On the Tip of My Tongue
For fifteen years or so I had a concept on the tip of my tongue that I never felt I was communicating adequately. I knew what I meant, but getting others to fully grasp what I was trying to say was a different story.
That concept had to do with what Oswald Chambers referred to as, “unconscious holiness.” I immediately resonated with it from the first time I read about it. But expressing it clearly seemed to elude me.
Stages of Spiritual Growth
In trying to teach classes about this idea, I would usually describe spiritual growth as follows:
There’s a spectrum of spiritual growth. Some folks, before they come to know Christ, sin up a storm, but because they don’t know God or his Word, their sin is not that big of a deal to them.
The next group is made up of those whom God’s Spirit begins to awaken. Perhaps they have just come to know Christ as Lord. Bit by bit the puzzle pieces of faith begin to fit together and they realize their thinking, speaking, and living is not glorifying God. They realize that because they’re now in Christ, they can’t live the way they used to, even if they don’t quite understand all the ramifications of that epiphany.
And, because they’re in Christ and his Spirit is in them, they no longer want to live according to their old ways. And yet, they struggle to the point of frustration because it seems to them they’re just not making significant headway in their spiritual lives. The Apostle Paul’s struggle in Romans 7 comes to mind here.
As time goes by and these folks are seeking to walk faithfully with the Lord, they begin to experience more and more growth in their lives as followers of Christ. They catch themselves before they fall into temptation. Or, they repent immediately after sinning because it grieves their hearts and they don’t want any outstanding obstacles to stand between them and their precious communion with God. While they aren’t batting 1,000, they’re making great strides in what’s called, “progressive sanctification.” That is, they’re steadily and increasingly conforming to the likeness of Christ.
The last stage – the goal of every Christian – is to live a holy and righteous life by default. In other words, Christ becomes so much a part of you that you’re live faithfully for him and with him, almost unconsciously. You are so in step with the Spirit that holiness just seems to come by default.
It may not be theologically accurate to divide this spectrum into stages since the different parts of our lives flow together like a river and you’re never really aware of the moment you’re “moving from stage one to another.” That last “stage” is where I want to be. I want holiness and obedience to be so delightful to me that I automatically seek it, and in fact, it doesn’t occur to me to choose otherwise. Perhaps that’s what it will look like to be fully conformed to the image of Christ.
Think About It This Way
About five or six years ago I was given a precious gift by one of the folks in my Sunday school class who had a business background. Unbeknownst to her, she did a much better job communicating this idea than I had over the years.
She said that as I was sharing with her my idea of unconscious holiness, she remembered a business concept that she had learned.
She said that first of all there’s what’s called, “Unconscious Incompetence.” That means you’re not competent at something, but you don’t know it. Stage two is, “Conscious Incompetence,” which means you become a little more self-aware of your ignorance and inabilities.
The third stage is called, “Conscious Competence.” The idea here is that you become pretty good at something, and you know it, because you’re constantly working on it. It occupies your attention and your time. You’re intentional about improving and growing in that area. You’re also aware of the good results your hard work is producing.
The last stage is, “Unconscious Competence.” This is marked by being good at something – bearing some really good fruit – without really being intentional about it. That’s certainly not to say you aren’t trying to do a good job, but instead, it means that excellent work is so much a part of who you are, it appears effortless.
The goal is to be so competent at what you do, that you reflexively perform well. It is the “default” way you do it because you’re so “in tune” with what you do.
See the Connection?
Our goal is to be unconsciously holy. That is, we want to get to a place in our walk with Christ where our holiness reflexively flows in and through us because we’re so filled with God’s Spirit and “in tune” with his Word.
An Important Caveat
Even if we were to obtain unconscious holiness in this life, we are still called to intentionally pursue it. We want to deliberately please and glorify God. The larger point is that because we’re becoming more conformed to the likeness of Christ in our progressive sanctification, we become more loving, faithful, obedient, etc., in the daily living of our lives. It becomes our default setting. We become who God redeemed us to be.
That’s what I’m shooting for in my life. That’s what I’m trying to pass on to others. Where are you?
If our sins are forgiven by Christ and we can’t earn our way to heaven, then what’s the point of trying to become more like Christ in the first place? In what ways are you intentionally pursuing the holiness to which God calls you? How can you tell if you’re growing in Christlikeness? Is there ever a point in this life where you’re done growing?
Grace and Truth,
Hit with a Blunt Object
Have you ever met a person who believed they were given the spiritual gift of bludgeoning people over the head with their “honesty?” Are you such a person?
Such people are only tuned in to what they “think” their intention is, which is, they’re “just being honest.” They wield their “honesty” like a “Get out of jail free card” to say what they want, when and how they want to say it. They seem to think they can be as offensive as they want, as long as they follow their remarks with, “Hey, I’m just being honest.” Or, put another way, "I'm just keeping it real." Upon invoking this magical incantation, in their mind, they should be absolved from all they've just said, regardless of how hurtful or insulting it may have been.
Three Helpful Questions
Perhaps you have heard the following questions before, but I wanted to share them because I have found them quite helpful. These are questions I ask myself before I decide to share my own unsolicited “honesty” with others.
1.) Is it true? Obviously, if you’re going to pass on your thoughts to someone else, you should be communicating the truth. Whether it’s objective truth or even the truth of your opinion, it should be true. The ninth question and answer of The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way:
Question: What is required in the ninth commandment?
Answer: I must not give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard. Rather, I must avoid all lying and deceit as the devil’s own works, under penalty of God’s heavy wrath. In court and everywhere else, I must love the truth, speak and confess it honestly, and do what I can to defend and promote my neighbor’s honor and reputation.
While this is certainly helpful for us in thinking through our communication with others, this ought not be all there is to it. There’s more for us to consider.
2.) Is it kind? Are your remarks bearing the fruit of Christian kindness? Are they words that will be a blessing and encouragement to the other person? Even if hard words must be spoken, we can still say them in such a way that it will be clear to the person to whom we’re speaking that we have their best interest at heart and not our personal agenda.
3.) Is it necessary? Does the person you are “being honest” with need to know you don’t like what they’re wearing, or how they’re raising their children, or how they decorate their house for Christmas? We may desperately want to share our opinions on all those questions and more, but that’s not the same thing as their needing to know it.
As a Christian, truth and honesty should be paramount, but not for the sake of building ourselves up, but for the sake of the other person. If God is not glorified in the transaction of honesty and truth, and if the purpose of the exchange is not the genuine benefit of the other person, then we’re not doing much more than sharing our opinions for the sake of lifting up ourselves.
Do you struggle with the desire to share your opinion with others (“just being honest), regardless of how it makes the other person feel? What do you think the real cause of such a practice is? Which of the three questions is most convicting to you? Why? What other questions would be helpful to you in deciding whether or not you need to be pass along your opinion to another person?
Grace and Truth,
John 8:23-24, 31-32 - But [Jesus] continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
To the Point
Jesus rarely, if ever, beat around the bush. Time was precious to him, so he usually cut straight to the chase. He knew how to get the attention of his hearers. In our Scripture, Jesus shares with those to whom he is speaking several important facts about them and the world in which they lived.
We Have to Show Our Pearly Whites
True, biblical, and God-glorifying faith in Christ has teeth to it. It’s got a practicality that demands to be noticed. It’s unlikely the early church was so heavily persecuted and martyred simply because they intellectually accepted particular truth-claims about Jesus and then told others they needed to do the same to go to heaven.
Instead, because they believed Jesus was who he claimed to be and thus loved and followed him, they therefore obeyed him. Put another way: They put their faith into practice.
As their faith in Christ permeated every sphere of their lives they began to be noticed by the worldlings around them. It was this authentic non-conformity to the world around them that led to their persecution. They refused to be “squeezed into the mold” of this world.
The Shape of Discipleship
If we would be people of the truth, we must be Christ’s disciples. If we would be his disciples, we must believe in him, trust him, and obey him. Nothing less is worthy of the One who is the true Lord and King of the universe, which includes this world.
The “Pretenders to the Throne” notwithstanding, (their reign, after all, is temporary), our allegiance must be to Christ alone. And that allegiance has a shape to it. It is not mere intellectual ascent of a few doctrinal propositions (though it includes that). It is not simply a warm-fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. It is far more. Allegiance to Christ is incarnational. It has skin on it. It has teeth to it. If we would be his, we must submit to his Lordship – his absolute authority – by obeying him in every sphere of our lives. Only then can we rightly claim to be his disciples.
In what areas of your life is it hardest to live faithfully as a Christian? Why do you think that is? What are three ways you can to equip yourself to more faithfully “hold to” Jesus’ teachings in every sphere of your life? What do you think such faithfulness looks like? Take a minute to pray right now and then share your ideas with a friend who will also pray for you and hold you accountable.
Grace and Truth,
Luke 10:41-42 – “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
One way to pray Scripture back to God is by turning a verse or two into a first person statement. I’ve done that with today’s Scripture.
May I not be worried and troubled about many things; only one thing is needed. Like Mary, may I choose the good part, which will not be taken away from me.
I have no difficulty seeing the relevance of this truth in my life. It’s living out this truth that’s the hard part.
Get Busy Doing
Martha was busy… busy cooking, cleaning, organizing, preparing, just plain busy. Her work was important. She was entertaining guests and someone, after all, had to act responsibly. She was busy “doing.”
Mary didn’t seem quite so busy. What was she doing? Chatting, listening, and seemingly lounging about. What distinguished Mary’s activity from Mary’s apparent laziness was who Mary was with – the Lord Jesus Christ. She wasn’t necessarily busy “doing.” Instead, she was being, being in relationship. She was basking in the presence of the Lord Jesus. He was an invited guest who would not always be with them. What else should she have done? Mary chose the one thing needed and was told it would not be taken from her.
In our world, many people look down on Mary’s kind. “Why, nothing would ever get done if Mary and her ilk had their way,” we might hear. But that’s not exactly true. It’s not like Mary was a habitually lazy person who lay around the house in her pajamas until noon on a regular basis. This was different. Much different. She was in relationship with her invited Guest.
Our Invited Guest
We need to take a closer look at the text. Jesus does not admonish Mary for spending time with him; he admonished Martha. Like the poor, so too our jobs, chores, errands, and all the rest, will always be with us. But what of Christ? Well, he promised to always be with us, but in a practical sense he must be our invited Guest each day. He must be the One with whom we can just “be” each day. Jesus said that is the one thing needed and it will not be taken from us when we pursue it.
Not only that, but “being” must precede “doing” or else “doing” will turn into drudgery, bitterness, and even pointlessness. This is the point of Jesus’ words in John 15 about the branches needing to be connected to the vine. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing. Without time to “just be” with our Lord, we will run out of gas. We’ll burn out. It will hinder us in persevering until the end. Our “doing” may shine brightly for a season, but it won’t last for the long haul because it will not have the fuel of Christ’s Spirit to sustain it. And that fuel comes only through the one thing necessary – pursuing and enjoying our ongoing relationship with the living God through his Son. And, we must not forget, knowing him in this way is eternal life (John 17:3).
Are you pursuing the one thing in life truly needful? There are many competitors vying for your time, energy, and attention. Some of those things are even good. But don’t let the good become the enemy of the best. Choose the best. Choose consecrated (set apart) time each day to spend with your Lord. He promises you it is the one thing needed and it will not be taken away from you.
Read the following quote by James Houston.
“This past century is possibly the first one in which action has been emphasized and valued more than contemplation. Today we think contemplation wastes time, produces nothing, and bumps awkwardly into our schedules. A devotional life is a questionable priority for most successful people today. But are we “successful” Christians if we are so busy organizing and propagating the Christian faith that we really do not know God personally and intimately?”
Have you ever felt lazy for spending time just “being” with the Lord instead of being busy “doing” something instead? Why do you think you felt that way? Why do you think our society more often errs on the side of activity than contemplation? What are some ways we can follow Mary’s model of being with the Lord in our daily lives? If you do not have this “set apart” time each day with the Lord, what are some ways you can build it into your schedule?
Grace and Truth,
Romans 1:21 - For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Much has been made over the last few years regarding the emergence of militant atheism’s evangelistic crusade to rid the world of ignorance. Specifically, these crusaders want to enlighten the minds of the masses who still believe God exists. For these spokesmen for atheism, belief in God is intellectually unsustainable and should by all means be abandoned. Not only that, these atheistic evangelists believe a person’s commitment to belief in God is actually harmful to children as well as to civilization as a whole.
Thankfully, their charges have been more than sufficiently answered at every turn by faithful Christian apologists. The atheists are getting all the press, but their arguments are unable to stand up to the Light of Truth.
A More Dangerous Breed of Atheism
Yet there is a more prevalent form of atheism that lurks in our land. Indeed, it can even be found in the church. It is what Cornelius Van Til called, “practical atheism.” A practical atheist is a person who professes to believe in God, and yet the God whose existence is professed does not seem to make any meaningful difference in that person’s daily life. Their beliefs, values, morals, and actions are not prioritized by their supposed belief in God’s existence. Put another way: If this person was to wake up one day and decide they no longer believed in the existence of God, their life would change very little. This is practical atheism.
In Romans 1:21, Paul describes the person who has suppressed the truth they know about God. Paul says that, in truth, all people know God exists. In fact, they even know things about his power and majesty. Yet, in order to maintain a certain way of living, they alter their belief system to accommodate their lifestyle. Like the hard atheist who formally declares there is no God, practical atheists deny God by the way in which they lead their lives. Paul teaches us that “although they know God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…”
God at the Center
We glorify God when we seek to live purposefully and intentionally for him each day. We glorify God when we live to please, honor, obey, love, represent, bear witness to, and seek to be like him. That’s what a God-glorifying, God-informed life looks like. It’s also a life that is grateful to God for his goodness. This is more than tossing out a “thank you” every now and then at the beginning of a meal. Instead, it’s more of an all-encompassing attitude of gratitude. It becomes pervasive in one’s personality. This attitude glorifies God because it exalts God as the One who is worthy of such affection and appreciation.
How are you doing with this? Are you seeking to glorify God and be thankful to him in all things? Of course, none of us is perfect at this. We can all get fairly self-absorbed and self-centered in the goings on of our lives. We all, from time to time, become too preoccupied with lesser interests.
Yet the One who should be our greatest interest has told us we are to have no other gods before him. We are called to seek him first and foremost. We are instructed and encouraged to be holy because God is holy. His existence, in other words, should play a profound role in the lives of those who profess to believe in and follow him. He should be our ultimate Influence and his influence should saturate every sphere of our lives, for his glory and our good.
What are some of the ways you have observed people “suppressing the truth they know about God.” Why do you think they do so? Have you found yourself living throughout the day, making decisions and behaving with little or no reference to God? What are some ways you can more intentionally live for God each day? Talk to a trusted Christian friend about this devotion and brainstorm together, and then hold one another accountable.
Grace and Truth,
Matthew 13:44-46 - “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Football Games, Concerts, and the Kingdom of God
Why aren’t people lined up at the doors of the church each and every Sunday morning? Why is only a fraction of the membership of the average church involved in the life of its ministries? People stand in line for hours to purchase concert or football tickets. They tell anyone who will listen about the experience afterward. Why is there not the same passion for God and his Kingdom?
Jesus knew the answer to that question. Perhaps that’s why he finished so many of the parables with words such as, “Let him who has ears to hear, hear.” Humanly speaking, not everyone who hears the gospel of the Kingdom of God “gets it.” Light bulbs go off for some while others remain in the dark.
We Need the Light of Grace
The Kingdom of heaven is in direct antithesis with the values, morals, and thought-patterns of our fallen world. It just doesn’t make sense to those “of the world” (“worldlings”). They don’t see what the big deal is.
But when the light of grace breaks through and shines in the heart of such a worldling, something truly miraculous happens. (I know, for I was one.) Life appears where before there had been only a frozen and lifeless corpse. Spiritual synapses start firing. Blood starts flowing. The bulb comes on.
Suddenly, the treasure that is the Kingdom of God is discovered and seen for what it is. Joy saturates the soul. Whatever cost there is for this treasure is gladly paid in order to have it. No price is too high.
But I guess that’s the rub. For the price is your own life. It’s your pride, dependence upon yourself, love of self, commitment to gratify sinful desires, love for the world and its way of thinking and living, and a thousand other things besides. But at the end of the day, the cost of the Kingdom is your life – your very self. That has to die with Christ. And it hurts. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis, Eustace, who had turned into a dragon because of his love of the world, discovered his many scaly skins had to be peeled away by Aslan’s powerful and sharp claws. There was no other way.
But just as we die with Christ, we are also raised anew with Christ. We share in new life through his resurrection. Behold, he makes everything new.
The Beauty of a New Life
Everything new looks different. Colors are vibrant. Scents smell fresher than ever before and remind you of a home you have never visited – your real home. Sounds are clear and beautiful. The veil has been lifted and you see life as it was intended – life in the Kingdom – life of the Kingdom.
What a treasure! What a pearl of great price! And it only costs you your life. A small price to pay if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Do you remember when you first discovered the “treasure hidden in the field” or “pearl of great price?” What did you feel at the time? How did you describe it to people? After a long period of time, our enthusiasm, even about something as wonderful as this treasure, can wane. Why do you think that is? Write down the names of three people you want to share your discovery with and how it impacted your life. Begin to ask God to give you opportunities to share your good news with them.
Grace and Truth,
James 1:8 – he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
How’s Your Integrity?
Let me ask you a few questions that relate to this issue of being double-minded.
Those are some pretty tough questions. And while none of us probably moves from sphere to sphere – from group to group – with perfect consistency, we still need to ask the question: How wide are the gaps?
Whole, Entire, Undiminished
Part, maybe even most, of that consistency will come from how “integrated” our lives are regarding our relationship with God. The words “integrated” and “integrity” come from the same root word. One of the dictionary’s definitions for integrity is,
“the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.”
The double-minded person, however, is not known for their integrity, but their duplicity. Duplicity means,
“deceitfulness in speech or conduct; speaking or acting in two different ways concerning the same matter with intent to deceive.”
Duplicitous people do not have integrity. They are not whole, entire, or undiminished. They have no unifying factor that keeps them whole.
The Unifying Factor
But the Christian, the man or woman of God, does have such a unifying factor. The question is: Do they make use of it? Are they related or connected to it? This unifying factor isn’t an “it” at all. It’s God. We’re called to be God-centered men and women who are living God-centered lives. Such a person will not speak, think, and act differently and deceptively with different people and in different settings.
Why? Because the person of God will be vitally connected to the same God in every sphere of their life. God doesn’t change. Because the godly person’s life will have God as their unifying center, neither will they change, from place to place, from circumstance to circumstance. God-centeredness makes and keeps us whole instead of fragmented and compartmentalized.
Loving and Glorifying God
Think for a minute about what the Great Commandment says. Jesus says in Mark 12:30, we are commanded to,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
That’s all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. In other words, with all that we are. Our whole being. Every aspect of our lives.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31,
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
You’re not glorifying God in the big or small details of your life if you’re double-minded.
By the way, a good way to check yourself out on this is by asking:
A couple of Old Testament texts that really hit home are,
God expects us to walk with integrity before him and others.
How Are You Doing?
How are you doing in the various spheres of your life? I don’t know about you but I want to be the same person in every sphere of my life: In private, at home with my family, work, church, or with my friends. I want to be the same person regardless of who I’m with or where I am. How about you?
Let’s pray God will form and shape us into the God-centered men and women of integrity he’s called us to be.
Take a look at the list below and ask yourself how you’re doing in those areas. Are you living a consistently God-centered life in each? If not, why not? What can you do today to become more consistent in the following areas?
Grace and Truth,
I Don’t Know How to Pray
Over the years of my ministry I’ve come up with a Top Ten List of most often asked questions or issues folks struggle with the most. And without question, the area I get most often asked about is prayer. It’s not so much the philosophical, “If God already knows what we’re going to say or what we need… then why pray?” I sometimes hear that. It’s much more on a practical level: I don’t know how to pray.
Many Reasons to Pray
There are many kinds of prayers. My 16 year old son just got his driver’s license. Thus, my wife and I have spent much time with the Lord on that topic. Trust me. There are many circumstantial reasons that drive us to prayer.
Maybe you’re trying to get a loan, a new job, trying to make a team, or about to take final exams. Or maybe someone you dearly love is very ill. Those sorts of things will certainly direct your attention to prayer. But we don’t restrict those prayers to an “official prayer time.” We pray about them whenever we think of them. And we should.
What I’m focusing on here is that set apart prayer time when it’s just you and God. We sometimes call this our “quiet time.”
Obstacles to Prayer
Many folks have come to me over the years and said something along these lines: “I thank God for the day. I ask God for his blessings for the day. I ask God to bless my family. Maybe heal a sick loved one. And then I’m done. I run out of things to say.”
Can you relate to that?
Or maybe you have another issue: distraction.
When my wife has the opportunity to share how her prayer-life sometimes looks, she humorously points out that she begins with the best intentions. Perhaps she focuses on the day ahead, when suddenly she remembers one of our children’s doctor’s appointments. She then begins thinking about the appointment when she realizes the gas tank in her van is sitting on empty. Before she knows it, she’s putting together a grocery list, “miles away” from where she was when she started out in prayer.
Can you relate to that?
Many of us need help in our prayer lives. Our prayer lives are one dimensional, and if we’re honest, pretty self-centered.
I want to begin by briefly answering the question: Why pray? Then, I want to give you a model of prayer that you may already be familiar with. Whether you are or not, my hope is that it will encourage and guide you as you revive your prayer life.
One of my favorite writers is C.S. Lewis. He wrote, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Mere Christianity,” and Screwtape Letters,” just to name a few.
A little over 20 years ago, a movie called “Shadowlands” came out about his life. The movie focused on Lewis and his wife, Joy, and how they dealt with her approaching death, due to her cancer. One scene that really stood out to me took place right after Lewis learned his wife’s cancer had gone into remission.
His friend, who was a priest, walked up to Lewis after learning the good news and said,
“I know how hard you’ve been praying, and now God is answering your prayer.”
Lewis responded in very memorable way. He said,
“That’s not why I pray Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because… I pray because the need flows out of me all the time… waking and sleeping.”
I love that imagery. Lewis paints a picture of being inwardly compelled to pray. Desire and dependence compelled him be a man of prayer. And from the biographies I’ve read about Lewis, he was a man of great prayer.
What motivated Lewis to pray as he did, ought to drive us to do the same.
In verse 1, Jesus taught that when we pray, we should address God as, “Father.” Jesus uses “Father” eight times in the parallel passage in Matthew 6. We’re instructed and encouraged to enter into a relationship with One who loves and cares for us more than any other person in the entire universe – Our Heavenly Father.
He’s not the god of the deists who wound up the universe like a giant watch and then left town, unconcerned about his creation. No! He’s the loving Father of the prodigal son who came running to greet and hug his returning son, restoring him and throwing him a party.
In prayer, we’re invited to commune with our loving Father. We’re encouraged to speak to him, listen to him, and bask in his presence.
We listen to God through his Word and reflect on it in meditative silence, but our struggle usually is, what to say to God.
I want to share an Acronym, ACTS, that you may already know about, but again, hopefully it will encourage you to revive your prayer life if it needs reviving.
A - Adoration
Adoration is simply a time to praise God for who he is. Jesus begins the Lord’s Prayer with “hallowed be your name.” Jesus is teaching us we should pray that God’s name be exalted as holy throughout all the world. Again, Jesus isn’t being comprehensive here, he’s giving us a model.
The first thing he wants us to know is we’re praying to the One who loves us as our Father. Second, we ought to praise, honor, and esteem God for who he is.
What does that look like? It’s as simple as offering a brief word of praise to God for one or more of his attributes. Praise God for his love and holiness. Praise him for his grace and righteousness. Praise him for his mercy and strength.
Ken Boa’s Handbook to Prayer has provided me a great help in doing this. Boa’s book takes Scriptural references and turns them into first person prayers to God.
Here’s an example from Psalm 86:12-13,
“I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me,
And you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave.”
Then Boa has a prayer prompt below the Scripture that says, “Pause to express your thoughts of praise and worship.” This is your time to “camp out” with the particular Scripture and “pray back” to God the Scriptural references. In this case, praise God for his great name and love.
There’s no formula here. Let these things be a servant to you to help and encourage you in your prayer life, but don’t let them be a master over you. This is not a magical formula.
C - Confession
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus says, “and forgive us our sins.”
To confess your sin is to recognize the sin in your life and admit it to God. This shows we take seriously our sins and shortcomings.
Now here’s the really painful part: Be specific. A casual, “And God, forgive me for my sins” may show you’re not taking your sin seriously. When you name your sin before God, it can hurt. It’s hard to be proud when you’re confessing specific sins to God. But when we confess our sins before God, we’re also asking to be forgiven for them. And God tells us we are forgiven.
Read this comforting promise from 1 John,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Confession of our sin leads us to affirm the good news of the Gospel.
T - Thanksgiving
This is simply the act of expressed appreciation. I highlight the word, “expressed” because, so often, we may be grateful, but don’t express it. Have you ever prayed and prayed for something, got what you prayed for, but then forgot to thank God. I have. Of course, that sends me back to confession. Ugh.
I think thanksgiving naturally flows out of spending time adoring and praising God for who he is, and the great work he’s done in your life. It also flows out of knowing you’re forgiven for the sin you just confessed to God. Our relationship with God is deepened when we thank him.
If you remember the story of the 10 Lepers, you know Jesus cleansed 10 men from their awful leprosy. Besides the horrible disease, which was bad enough by itself, this disease and deformity also made the person an extreme social outcast. If you saw the movie, Ben Hur, you remember the Lepers had to leave their homes and live in faraway places with other lepers. It was a terrible disease in many ways.
The day Jesus healed the 10 Lepers, he approached them, which people didn’t do. He treated them with love and dignity. He even touched them. And he healed them.
There’s little doubt they were all grateful. They were no longer diseased. They could return to their families once again. You know they were grateful. But what happened? Only one of the men stayed to express his thanks for what Jesus had done.
We also need to express our thanksgiving to God for our many blessings.
S - Supplication
The Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:5-6,
The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Supplication is when we bring not only our needs, fears, concerns, and desires to God, but those of others as well.
We naturally gravitate to this, so I won’t spend a lot of time here. But I do want to say this: God may already know our needs, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend time with him, in his presence. Just as children do with their parents, we need to bring our needs, fears, concerns, and desires to our loving Father. There’s comfort and encouragement in the relationship. In being with him. Listening to him. Getting things off our chests. And I would add that there’s no greater ministry than interceding in prayer on behalf of others.
So there you have it:
A – Adoration
C – Confession
T – Thanksgiving
S – Supplication
Let this acronym serve you in your prayer life to help it grow and flourish. But don’t become so focused on the order and form that you forget the main part of prayer, which is to spend time with your heavenly Father.
What does your prayer life ordinarily look like? What sorts of things do you usually focus on the most? Can you see how using the ACTS model can enhance your prayer life? Beginning today, start using it with a journal. Write down things in advance that you would like to pray for, using ACTS as a guide. It may feel awkward at first, but the more you pray this way, the more natural it will become.
Psalm 19:7 – The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
God’s Treasure Trove
Psalm 19 is a treasure trove of wisdom for the person who is pursuing godliness. Similar to Psalm 119, words used throughout this psalm, such as law, statutes, precepts, commands, ordinances, fear, etc., describe the same thing, the revealed Word of God. This is not just any word, but a word revealed for the purpose of reviving our souls, making us wise, giving our hearts joy and our eyes light.
Furthermore, God reminds us in Psalm 19 that his Word endures forever, is perfect, trustworthy, radiant, pure, sure, and righteous.
(As a side note, it’s interesting that the first six verses of Psalm 19 reveal another book of God that declares his glory… the book of his creation.)
God also teaches us in Psalm 19 that it is through his word that the godly person can discern his or her errors (cf. 119:9-11). James tells us his in epistle that God’s Word is like a mirror that reveals to us our true reflection.
How loving and merciful our God is to give us such light in a dark world. How gracious and compassionate he is to reveal himself to us with such clarity that we may reach out to him and know him, which is eternal life (John 17:3).
God’s Good Provision
For the purpose of this devotion, I want to focus in on verse 7 of Psalm 19. In this verse we are humbled by our Lord’s goodness. His law (his Word) is perfect, just as he is in his very essence. Such knowledge of God and his perfect Word is overwhelming to us. And yet, it revives our soul. It gives life where there is none. It strengthens the soul that is weak. It rejuvenates the soul that is weary. O Lord, who are we that you are mindful of us? To God alone be the glory!
By the Word of God incarnate and the Word of God inscripturated, (which bears witness to him), we may come to know God and learn how to love and follow him more faithfully in every sphere of our lives. The godly person must realize that without God’s Word, we are left wandering aimlessly and perilously in the world. We can expect no growth as men and women of God without the rich nutrients given in and through his Word (John 15). That is why it must dwell richly in us (Col. 3:16). There’s no meaningful growth without such scripture-saturation. That’s the revival of the soul I desire. How about you?
Take God’s Word For It
We can trust God’s Word. We need not doubt it as Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3. We are constantly being tempted to doubt what God has revealed to us. Such is the temptation from our adversary and we are foolish to give in to it. Yet God has told us he has revealed himself to us in and through his Word – his character, works, love, commands, and promises. He encourages us to understand that the purpose of his self-disclosure is to make us wise. Wisdom, the Bible tells us, means “skill for living.” God wants us to skillfully grow in the likeness of Christ and faithfully live as godly people in this world.
In his book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Donald Whitney asks his reader if they are “being governed increasingly by the Word of God.” Well, how about it? Does that describe you? I want to encourage you pursue this “governance” more and more in your lives. Scripture is God’s gift to you. Let me know how I can help you in this pursuit.
Are you “being governed increasingly by the Word of God?” Why or why not? With a friend or two, discuss what your daily and weekly Bible reading/study plan looks like. What are obstacles in your schedule that tempt you from spending regular time in Scripture? How can you resist giving in to those temptations and make time spent with God a priority?
Grace and Truth
Among the characteristics we could cite, our forbearers in the faith had at least two qualities about them that enabled them to stand against great odds. These loved ones of the covenant had faith and courage.
There’s a lack in our day of both. More often than I care to think about, doubt and fear have won the day and left God’s saints in a puddle of impotence and despair. I know this has been true of my own life. But this should never be the case for God’s people. Scripture offers us some encouraging examples of those who trusted God and were able to face seemingly insurmountable odds.
Example 1: Caleb
When Moses sent an expedition to Canaan to explore what awaited God’s children in the land of promise, the report confirmed all God had promised – it was lush and flowed with milk and honey, as advertised. But there was a catch. There was also a huge obstacle before them. In the land there were “giants” who made the Israelites seem like hobbits in a land of orcs. The report from the expedition team was, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33).
But this wasn’t a unanimous report. For in Numbers 13:30 we read,
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
Caleb had faith in God and his covenant promises, and therefore, could be as courageous as Frodo and Sam in Mordor.
Example 2: David
David faced similar circumstances later on in redemptive history, with a similar response. As the Israelites shook in their sandals before the great Goliath and the Philistine horde, the young shepherd boy looked on in bewilderment. In what seemed like arrogance at worst and naiveté at best, this “king-to-be” couldn’t understand why his people had not already taken the uncircumcised behemoth apart – especially in light of Goliath’s jeering and insolence before the living God. David queried,
“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)
And so, like Caleb before him, David volunteered to take Goliath on. So what if he seemed like a grasshopper before this giant of a man, all nine feet of him. David drew courage from his faith in the One who had never failed him before.
Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:36-37)
The Foundation for Faith and Courage
With faith and courage David faced the giant, and the rest, as we say, is history. What was the foundation for such faith and courage in the lives of Caleb and David? We are told in Jeremiah 1:8 and 19.
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
Caleb and David knew in their day what God told Jeremiah in his. That is, God’s people will be opposed. That’s a given. We will seem like grasshoppers in comparison. The “apparent” odds will be overwhelmingly against us. But God calls the weak, poor, small, seemingly insignificant hobbits of this world to serve as his subjects, his knights, to advance his Kingdom, even in the face of the enemy (perhaps especially so).
Where Are Your Giants?
What are the obstacles you are facing? Is anything greater than the covenant-making, covenant-keeping Lord of Glory? It is this very God who promised never to forsake us. That alone is grounds for faith and courage in the midst of insurmountable odds.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. (1 Cor. 16:13)
Who (or what) are the giants in your life? What is it about them that causes you to fear and turn the other way? What is a strategy you could start using today to help you face your giants with faith and courage? Of course, you should never travel alone. Who are two or three people you could ask to pray for you, offer you wisdom, and hold you accountable? Ask them to join you today.
Grace and Truth,
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