John 4:50 - Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
If The Royal Official Could
The royal official didn’t first wait for a miracle before he believed. He didn’t wait for Jesus to first “prove himself” worthy of trust. He took Jesus at his word. He believed Jesus. Jesus told the man his dying son would live. That was all the official needed from the Lord.
How I wish this verse described me more. To take that step of faith, without prior confirmation of the desired result, can be frightening. Yet I sometimes find myself still wanting that confirmation in advance. Sometimes the Lord is pleased to throw me a bone, in spite of my small faith. But he would rather have me remember the hundreds upon hundreds of ways he proved himself capable and faithful to me and my loved ones in my own life, not to mention the millions upon millions of times he was to the rest of his people throughout redemptive history.
A Work in Progress
And yet I am encouraged. Despite my shortcomings the Lord is still drawing me closer to himself and conforming me more and more to the image of his Son. Slowly (so very slowly) I am maturing in my faith. The trust I long for comes more often than when I first began my pilgrimage. Is that your story too? Can you relate to that?
How precious it is to believe, and then have the eyes to see the blessing and the hands to receive it. The royal official believed first, then experienced the miracle.
Prayer and Scripture must undergird our growth in Christ. Reading God’s Word, reminding ourselves daily of his goodness and greatness, and then praying and meditating upon it builds us up with encouragement and confidence for both present and future faith. And this is needed. With such confidence in God, many throughout Scripture were able to face impossible odds and come out victorious on the other side. So will all who take the Lord at his Word.
What’s the hardest part for you about trusting God? In what situations do you find yourself wanting that “prior confirmation” before stepping out in faith and trust? Why do you think that is? What are some things you can put in place today to help you grow in your ability to take the Lord at his Word in your daily life? Tell a fellow Christian your plan and begin praying together for your faithfulness to grow.
Grace and Truth,
Hebrews 13:7-8 - Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
No Expiration Date
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is unchangeable. What blessed consolation there is in these words. What challenge there is in these words.
If our Lord is the same today as he was yesterday, then that means what he said 2,000 years ago about himself and his work is still true. He has overcome the world. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. He is living water. He is the bread of life. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the door. He is the gate. He came to bring life. He came to save sinners. He came to bear witness to the truth. His words of exhortation to believe and receive all these truths about himself (and more) are just as true, binding, and life-transforming for us today as when they were first spoken. And they will continue to be so 2,000 years from now, should our Lord wait that long to return. His promises are trustworthy because he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
A Larger Perspective Needed
When I consider the saints who have gone before us and read their words about our Lord, I am moved by the fact that, regardless of the century in which their words were written, there is a vital and familiar thread that runs throughout. It’s not simply because those who wrote were merely using the same vocabulary to describe Christ. It’s much more intimate than that. Instead, they were describing someone they knew – someone who does not change with the tides of time and place. Span the centuries and you will find the Lord Jesus being written about, adored, and worshipped in striking continuity and intimacy.
We would do well to imitate those faithful saints who traveled the way of Christ before us. Our vision of our Lord, when confined to our time and place alone, can become myopic and limited. It’s easy for us to grow accustomed to his face. Instead, we need to step outside our surroundings and see a bigger, more beautiful Jesus. We need to cross the generations to discover what others have said about our Lord and learn how their thoughts and lives were transformed and renewed because of him.
I love to read the works of the saints who lived, served, and died over the last 500 years (though, admittedly, that too can be limiting). I want to learn from those giants of the faith, whose lives, ministries, and teachings have stood the test of time. They have much to teach me today in my narrow little place in history.
I encourage you to do the same. Aside from time in God’s Word, there are few better ways to occupy your life of study and mediation than to read Christian biography. The lives of those who traveled with our Lord in the past can serve you as you travel with him in the future.
What are some of the ways you are comforted and encouraged by the unchangeable nature of Jesus? What are some ways that truth convicts you? Do you have a favorite person you enjoy learning about from Christian history? What is it about that person that inspires and encourages you? There are many fine mini-biographies available to introduce you to some of the great saints of Christian history. If you would like some suggestions about who to read and learn about, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Grace and Truth,
2 Samuel 15:21 - But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”
Who was Ittai? He was a foreigner. He was an exile. He had barely even been with David. And so David, right before the going got tough, told Ittai to leave while he could; this wasn’t his fight. David even sent Ittai and his countrymen off with a blessing.
But Ittai’s loyalty ran deep. We don’t know why, and I’m not sure it even matters. Ittai responded to David with these words,
“As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”
David clearly recognized and appreciated this loyalty and so honored Ittai by permitting Ittai, including his men and their families, to stay on.
This kind of loyalty seems rare today. Whenever I see such displays in a movie or book, they virtually jump off the screen or page at me, demanding to be noticed and honored.
Loyalty to Christ
I wonder how many followers of Christ would follow their Lord wherever he may go and to whatever end. What makes this so difficult is our Lord goes everywhere. He goes into our families, homes, workplaces, thought-lives, churches, TV rooms, cars, grocery-store checkout lines, cultural battles, conversations, and on and on and on. Not only does he go to those places but he claims Lordship over them. And his claim is not an empty one. He has been given authority in those places. Ephesians 1:22 says,
“And God placed all things under [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church…”
Christ is the King over all things, the Lord over every sphere of life. That’s simply a fact about reality. And yet there is a sense in which, in this present age, he is still seeking to extend his Kingdom into every sphere of life. It’s part of the “already and not yet” nature of his Kingdom. What is so astonishing is that he calls those of us who are his followers to be the very ones who extend his Kingdom. Through us! Truly amazing!
You Will Have to Die
The question is, will we be loyal and faithful to our Lord as Ittai was to King David? Will we follow our Lord to whatever end? We don’t have to guess as to whether or not there will be death. There will be. That’s an up-front promise by our Lord himself.
First and foremost there will be death to self. For there to be fruit a seed must die. For Christ’s followers to bear fruit for our King, we must die - to ourselves, our sin, agendas, self-centeredness, egos, idols, and so forth. Make no mistake about it, this is death and it can be quite painful.
And yet there is also the promise of life - real life, everlasting life, fullness of life. And this promised life is just as guaranteed as our death. For just as we die with Christ so too are we raised with him, to be and become as he now is.
The beauty of all that has been said is found in the truth that our King has already been where he calls us to go. Furthermore, he has promised to travel with us to encourage, strengthen, and guide us along the way, the narrow way. That’s a comforting thought indeed.
Will you be loyal to your Lord and King? Will you follow him to whatever end?
What’s your favorite example of loyalty from the movies or literature? Why is that your favorite example? What makes loyalty to Christ so hard in our world? What are three ways you can grow in your loyalty to Christ? What would such loyalty look like in your everyday life? Share your answers to these questions with a friend.
Grace and Truth,
Luke 14:26-27 – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33 – In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
You Better Think About It First
It wasn’t the approach most wanted to take today back then nor is it so today. Jesus wasn’t very seeker-friendly, at least here. His message wasn’t a bait-and-switch tactic to get folks in the door. Instead, it was truth in advertising. The issue? That following Jesus requires everything, including one’s very life, so you better count the cost before signing on the dotted line.
In Matthew 7:13-14, after three challenging chapters, our Lord taught his disciples, and would-be disciples, that the gate by which they must enter, if they would follow him, is a narrow one only a few find. Furthermore, that gate opens onto a hard road. Nothing Pollyanna about this discipleship program. This way was not for those who were looking for something easy and non-committal.
However, there is a road to accommodate those who have such desires. It’s the only other option available and many find and travel it. But its destination is the City of Destruction. The narrow gate, however, which leads to the hard road is the only way that leads to life.
Standards of the Way
Disciples of this way must live a radically countercultural lifestyle. They are poor in spirit, mourn over sin (their own and the world’s), are meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, show mercy, are pure in heart, make peace and willingly accept persecution as the price for such convictions.
They are the salt of the earth and light of the world. They obey the commands of the Lord of the Narrow Way. In fact, their righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Not only must they not actually murder anyone, but they must not be unrighteously angry with another. These followers of the King must not commit adultery and, moreover, must not even look at another person lustfully, which would be to commit adultery in their hearts. Faithfulness in marriage is expected and required. Truth-telling in all situations is the norm of this Kingdom. Humble submission characterizes those who would enter this gate and walk this road.
Love for both one’s neighbor and one’s enemy is a sign that one follows this way.
Followers of the Hard and Narrow Way give to those in need, do not pray to impress people, and fast in secret. They invest in eternity by storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth. Their trust in God enables them to avoid worrying about their circumstances in this life. Instead, they seek first the Kingdom of God and the righteousness that attends it, and they count on God to provide what is needed for living in this world.
Spiritual self-examination is another mark of these followers. And while they are called to discern between good and bad fruit, right and wrong, that which pleases God and that which doesn’t, they first investigate their own souls and remove that which hinders their pursuit of Christlikeness. Then and only then may they humbly approach a brother or sister to serve them in fighting sin in their life.
There are false prophets on the prowl who, like ferocious wolves in disguise, would lead many down the broad and easy road to the City of Destruction. The fruit they bear is bad which is in marked contrast to the fruit the Lord of the Way requires.
Carrying Our Cross Along the Way
So that leads us back to our text. The gate is narrow and the way is hard, but it leads to life. Furthermore, the cost is great and must be considered before entering through the gate and upon the road. Hatred of the world – even of one’s own family (in comparison to one’s love, allegiance, and submission to Christ) is absolutely required. We must pick up our cross and follow Christ wherever he may go. Becoming a disciple, and living as one, can be fulfilled along no other path. Everything must be given up to be Christ’s disciple. Complete surrender to his lordship is expected. This is normal Christianity, not super spirituality.
It’s not an accident that Jesus closes this thought with these words: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Supernatural ears are a must to truly heed what our Lord is saying. Joyfully obedient self-denial is the norm of the Kingdom of the Hard Road and Narrow Way. There is no room for one’s desire for autonomous freedom (which is really slavery in disguise). The extra baggage, sinful and unbridled love for self and the world, must be discarded at the beginning of the journey, for it will not fit through the narrow gate.
Jesus Is the Gate. Jesus Is the Way.
If all of this seems impossible to you, then you’ve understood perfectly. Left to ourselves, in our fallen, sinful natures with the corrupt mindset and behavior that goes along with it, we cannot enter through such a gate, nor will we even want to. But the good news is that Jesus is the gate through which we enter and the way upon which we walk. To begin that journey we must first kneel before Jesus as our Lord, trust in him alone as our Savior, turn our backs to the wide and easy road we once traveled, and walk along his path in complete dependence upon his Spirit and grace. Then and only then will we be able to experience the abundant and eternal life he has promised those who follow him.
Read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). What’s your initial reaction to learning about the norms and expectations of the Kingdom found in Jesus’ words? In your own strength, do you think you could realistically expect to fulfill that standard? What “standards” have you heard from others regarding how we should live in this world? What is Christianity’s answer to our sinful condition, to our inability to meet the standard required by God? If you have never sought God’s forgiveness and placed your trust in the work of Christ alone, then humbly pray to the Lord and ask him to help you do just that. Talk to a trusted Christian friend and ask him or her to help you, if necessary.
Grace and Truth,
2 Corinthians 2:15-16 - For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?
Here’s An Odd Question
How do you smell today? That’s a strange thing to ask someone. There are times when I smell rather pleasant, if I say so myself, like when I’m out on a date with my wife, Suzanne. There are other times when I’m quite sure I have smelled pretty awful to anyone within a country-mile of me, like after working in the yard all day or after a long walk on a hot and humid Florida day.
But there is another smell that every true follower of Jesus Christ has. It is the aroma of Christ himself. Indeed, we are dressed in his garments and they give off his glorious fragrance. But sadly, this aroma doesn't smell the same to everyone.
The Fragrance of Life
To those who “have put on” Christ, as well as those who are making their way to him to be fitted with his robe of righteousness, we are the “fragrance of life.” Only in Christ is there life – real life – for he is the author and sustainer of life and it is he who makes all things new. Those who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and noses to smell know the difference between life and death, and they want life.
However, in the nostrils of others there is a rotten, filthy stench about us. To those who are perishing in their own pride, wisdom, and efforts, we smell like death, for our very odor bears testimony to the One whom they have rejected, the One from whom they have fled.
The fragrance of Christ smells repugnant to them. They have grown accustomed to the foul smell of sulfur that arises from beneath the very ground upon which they are standing. Paradoxically, life smells like death to them, and vice versa.
Love for Our Neighbors
We could sit in judgment of them, looking down our “noses” at them. Or, we could have compassion on them for their self-inflicted predicament. We should, of course, remember how terrible Christ once smelled to us, even if we didn’t know it and never would have said so.
I think the beauty of our own scent ought to bring forth humility, gratitude, and service on our part, for our scent is not our own, but Christ’s. Once we remember this we will know there is no time for judgmental hearts or mere pity. Instead, love for our neighbors should move us to awaken those who are running from (or simply oblivious to) the sweet smell of real life – life in Christ and his beautiful fragrance.
Do you remember what you were like when you embraced the world’s “scent” and despised the fragrance of Christ and his followers? Humanly speaking, what first drew you to Christ? Who do you know today that rejects Christ? What are three things you can start doing to reach out to them so they too can enjoy the real life found only in him?
Grace and Truth,
2 Corinthians 11:3-4 - But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
No, Not “That” Jesus
These words on discernment, (or the lack thereof) from the Apostle Paul are familiar. His letter to the Galatian church, for example, is almost completely devoted to this line of thought. Jesus himself had much to say on this topic as well. Therefore, we probably ought to pay attention here.
Without an intentional effort on our part to be discerning in this world, we can become easily deceived. False teachers endeavor to tempt and seduce us with “Jesus-shaped” words that, in reality, are only perversions of the genuine article.
If It Could Happen to Them
Interestingly, Paul is not addressing a lukewarm congregation or group of pagans here. He is writing to those he doesn’t want to see led astray from their “sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” This is frightening because it reminds us that if we are not on our guard, we too can be easily led astray by smooth-talkers who bring a “Jesus” who is no Jesus at all. The undiscerning can be mesmerized by pleas for tolerance, relevance, peace, unity, or many other paths that would take them off the straight and narrow.
The path to the City of Destruction is wide and comfortable and is well beaten by many who have gone before us. The road to the Celestial City is narrow and fraught with trials and temptations and few there are who walk it.
But God’s grace is sufficient. And his power is made perfect in and through our weakness. We don’t have to fall prey to deception. We can trust God uncompromisingly, even in the fiery furnace of this world. If we keep our eyes open to the glorious vision of our Lord and hear his voice calling to us, we would see he has already walked down the narrow path before us, and if it was wide enough for him, it will be wide enough for us.
What are some practical ways you can discern the true Jesus from the imposters? In your experience, how is the Bible’s view of Jesus distorted by those who would water it down? If you were sharing Christ with a friend, what three or four essentials would you share with them about the Person and Work of Christ?
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,
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,
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.
Hebrews 9:26b-28 - But now [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,  so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
A Once-for-All Sacrifice
At the end of the ages, our Lord Jesus Christ appeared once and for all to do away with sin by offering himself as a sacrifice – a lamb without blemish. In so doing he ushered in the beginning of the end – the eschaton – the last days. We foolishly think to ourselves that because it is now 2,000 years later, Christ’s day could not possibly have been part of the last days. But what’s a thousand years to an eternal God? Make no mistake about it, Christ ushered in the last days indeed!
And how did he do so? As a once-for-all sacrificial atonement for sin. No longer did a high priest have to offer animal sacrifices for the temporary appeasement of God. God’s own Son, our High Priest, settled the issue once and for all by offering himself in our stead.
Because of this, those who are in Christ no longer face condemnation. We all will die. We all will face God’s judgment. But for those who are in Christ, our sin has been covered and our punishment has been taken by Another. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Christ will come again. Even so, come Lord Jesus. This has been part of the liturgy of the Church for two millennia. At the end of all things, Christ will appear yet again, and with him will come a new heaven and earth for those who are new creatures in Christ. He will not return as a Lamb but a Lion. He will not come in humiliation but glory. He will come and claim the victory he won at the cross and gather those who have waited on him, are waiting on him, and will wait on him. And he knows each of them by name.
Past, Present, and Future Salvation
As followers of Christ and heirs of his covenant, there is a sense in which we have been saved and a sense in which we are daily being saved as we become increasingly conformed to his likeness. But when our Lord and King appears we will be saved in glory and will rule with him in his Kingdom that knows no end. Isn’t that incredible news more than enough to bring us to our knees in humble adoration, gratitude, and submission in the here and now? Where is our boasting? We boast only in our King.
Our Urgent Call
Finally, if Christ ushered in his Kingdom two thousand years ago, and the spoils of his victory belong to those who are in Christ, then doesn’t it make urgent sense that we who are his joint-heirs should labor, as long as we draw breath, to extend our Lord’s Kingdom into every sphere of life? We want those who do not presently know him, (and the goodness, truth, and beauty of his rule and reign), to have the opportunity to voluntarily bow before him and call him Lord.
Let us make great haste, for no man knows the time of our Lord’s appearing.
Who do you know who doesn’t know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? Write down their names and commit to praying for them daily. Pray also for God to provide opportunities for you to share with them the greatest news they will ever hear.
Grace and Truth,
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