Monday, January 15, 2018

Keeping Your Resolution to Pray

Part 2 of What's Your Resolution?

Text: 1 John 5:13-15




And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 John 5:14-15). 


Don't Ditch Your Resolution!

This is the time of year when people are trying to keep New Year’s resolutions. Two of the most common Christian resolutions are to read the Bible daily and to pray daily.

Did you know that January 17 has been named Ditch Your Resolutions Day? Why? Probably be-cause it only takes about two months into a new year to feel like ditching our resolution. Resolutions are hard to keep: 50% of people make New Year’s resolutions, but 88% of those resolutions ultimately fail. How can we keep our resolution to pray daily?


Direct Access to God

When you call to make an appointment with your doctor, you don’t speak to your doctor. You speak to your doctor’s receptionist. And you almost never get to see your doctor immediately. You have to make an appointment to see your doctor on a future day. Then when that day finally arrives and you go to your doctor’s office, you have to sit in a waiting room and wait.

It’s very different when we want to meet with God. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Ps. 34:15). We have direct access to God!


Keeping Our Resolution

If we are to keep our resolution to pray daily, we should remember five things. First, when we pray, we should remember that it’s normal to be frustrated with prayer. There are many biblical examples of people who were frustrated with prayer. One of these people was the prophet Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet complaining to God about unanswered prayer: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab. 1:2). Sometimes it’s encouraging to discover that other people struggle like us. (We’re not happy about the struggles of others, but we are happy to know we’re not abnormal.)

Second, when we pray, we should remember that we’re approaching a Father who loves us. Throughout 1 John, John emphasizes that believers are God’s children (“born of God”). In 3:1, he writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” God is a Father who loves his children more than we can imagine. Because we know God loves us, we can have “confidence” (v. 14) when we pray.

Third, when we pray, we should remember that prayer really does work. But prayer is not a waste of time. It’s possible that when we pray we can “have the requests that we have asked of him” (v. 15). Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can make God do things he doesn’t want to do.

Fourth, when we pray, we should remember that prayer isn’t all about us. Prayer is about getting God’s will done, not ours (“if we ask anything according to his will,” v. 14). We should also pray for the needs of others, not just our own needs (see v. 16).

Fifth, before we pray, we should have a plan. Instead of saying to ourselves, “I want to pray daily,” we should make a specific plan. An ideal plan would be to combine Bible reading and prayer. Here’s one possible plan: (1) set aside 20 minutes; (2) pick a quiet time and place; (3) read a portion of Scripture; (4) meditate upon the words you have read; (5) ask God to speak to you through those words; (6) pray.


An Appointment with God

I’m sure most of us have a few appointments on our calendars for this month: an appointment to see your doctor, an appointment to get your car repaired, an appointment to have coffee with a friend. We do our best not to miss our appointments.

We have an each day appointment to meet with God—to hear his voice through his word and speak to him through prayer. But many of us miss that appointment. This is nothing new. Martin Luther—who lived 500 years ago—wrote a letter to his barber about how to pray. In the letter he said this:
It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day. [1]
Think about the incredible privilege it is to meet with God each day. And what’s most amazing is that he is “always more ready to hear than we [are] to pray.” [2]

If you struggle with taking time to pray, my purpose is not to make you feel guilty about your lack of prayer. My purpose is to encourage you—starting today—to make sure you keep your daily appointment with God.

____________________

[1] Martin Luther, A Simple Way to Pray.
[2] Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Keeping Your Resolution to Read the Bible

Part 1 of What's Your Resolution?

Text: 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14-17




All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).


New Year's Resolutions

This is the time of year when people make New Year’s resolutions. A common New Year’s resolution for Christians is to read the Bible more regularly. Unfortunately, most people don’t keep their resolutions: 50% of people make New Year’s resolutions, but 88% of those resolutions ultimately fail. Those numbers are discouraging, but I still think that resolutions are worth making. How can we be more successful in keeping our resolution to read the Bible daily?


Keeping Our Resolution to Daily Read the Bible

If we are to keep our resolution to daily read the Bible, we must do two things. First, we must believe that the Bible is worth reading. In other words, we must have a high view of the Bible. We must believe that the words of the Bible are the words of God. Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (3:16). The Greek word for “breathed out by God” (“inspired,” NASB) is theopneustos. The word does not occur in any other Greek text (biblical or secular) prior to 2 Timothy. Some people think that Paul might have invented the word.

The apostle Peter states, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Peter 1:21). The Bible is both a divine book and a human book. It was written by humans but breathed out by God. God used each author’s unique style and experiences, but, at the same time, they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Second Timothy 3:16 and 1 Peter 1:21 actually refer to the OT. What about the NT? Peter implies that Paul’s writings are Scripture: “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). And Paul quotes the words of Jesus in Luke 10:7 as Scripture: “The Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”

The psalmist says, “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:16). The Hebrew word for “forget” (shakach) means to lay aside, to forget, to take for granted, to neglect. If we believe that the words of the Bible are the words of God, we shouldn’t neglect to read the Bible’s words. As Paul writes, the words of the Bible are “profitable” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:8; Titus 3:8).

Second, we must have a plan. Paul tells Timothy, “Do your best [be zealous] to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handing the word of truth” (2:15). Paul compares a Christian to a “worker” (i.e., a laborer). To work effectively, a worker needs a plan. Of course, with a plan we also need to have dedication.

Blogger Tim Challies recently wrote an article entitled “How to Make a New Year’s Resolution That Sticks.” Here are some tips from that article.

  1. Make resolutions, not wishes. Wishing upon a star might work in Disney movies, but not in real life. Merely making a resolution won’t somehow magically make things change. 
  2. Make just one resolution. Make it specific and realistic—big enough to be meaningful, but small and defined enough to be attainable. 
  3. Convert your resolutions to habits. Challies says, “Willpower is enough to get you started, but you will need habit to sustain it.” [reward system] 
  4. Make a plan. It’s often said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” If you are resolving to read the Bible regularly, you need a plan. David Murray has some tips for Bible reading in his article entitled “Re-ignite Bible Reading That’s Become Boring.” A few of the tips: ban the cellphone, read a different version, use a devotional first, and use a study Bible. 
  5. Share your resolution. Tell a friend about your resolution so that they can keep you accountable. 
  6. Pray. 

Why We Read the Bible

But we must not read the Bible just to read it—to merely get it done. Reading the Bible is important, but being changed by the Bible is much more important. As James writes, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

Do you believe the words of the Bible are the words of God? Do you believe there is value in reading the Bible? If you do, you need to have a plan to regularly read the Bible—a wise plan you can stick to. And as you read it each day, seek to understand it and obey it.