Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Prayer (page 1 of 5)

A Preacher’s Prayer

Father,

guard my mouth, set watch over the door of my lips

guard my mind, set watch over the door of my thoughts

guard my heart, set watch over the door of my loves

Father, please

fill my mouth with your words

fill my mind with your thoughts and

fill my heart with your love

Then, Father, use me as you please

In Jesus’ Name, amen

The Agony of Prayer

As we march toward the remembrance of Jesus on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, consider again the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane.

See Him there, prayerfully wrestling with the suffering that lay before Him and the eternal realities that depended upon Him. Having called His Disciples to watch and pray, He stumbled forward, “fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’” (Matt. 26:39). He rises. He finds the Disciples sleeping. He calls them again to watchful vigilance. Again He withdrew, crying out, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (v.42). Once again, He rises. Again, He finds the Disciples sleeping. Yet again, He withdrew and “prayed for the third time, saying the same words again” (v.44).

Clearly Jesus was wrestling with what the will of His Father required of Him. It made Him “very sorrowful.” So deep was His grief that He thought it might be the death of Him just trying to pray through it all (v.38). Jesus clearly wished for the Disciples to join Him in His struggle that would soon become their struggle. He wanted them to be prepared.

Almost immediately Judas and the arresting mob arrived in the Garden (vv.46-47). The betrayal by kiss (vv.47-50a). The brief, bloody skirmish (vv.50b-51). The rebuke by Jesus of His Disciples (v.52).

Consider then Jesus’ response both to the Disciples for their impetuous fighting and to the arresting mob in their blind arresting. Jesus reminded the Disciples that He could have called on His Father for a host of angel-warriors and been delivered from this entire affair (v.53). His next breath is telling: “But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (v.54).

No long later Jesus similarly rebuked the arresting authorities with a question about the timing and circumstances of their actions (v.55). Then He said, “But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (v.56).

Jesus’ response to both the Disciples and the arresting party was the same – there was no other way for Him (and them) to fulfill what the Scriptures revealed as the Father’s will. As Jesus struggled with the Father’s will, it was against what He knew the Father had described as His will in the Scriptures.

Picture it! Jesus, if you will, was struggling in prayer over an open Bible as it held before Him the difficult nature of His Father’s will.

It makes me wonder, will I so pray through what the Scriptures require of me as a disciple of Jesus Christ? Will I come to the same place of submission to the Father’s will?

When God’s Word is open before me, holding forth what God requires of me, am I bowed to its authority over me? Am I bowed over that open Bible, praying through what it holds before me, where necessary, weeping and wrestling with my own will and self-preservation? Do I come to the same conclusion as Jesus? Do I say, as Jesus did, “Rise, let us be going” and take the next step of obedience my Father, through his written Word, holds before me?

As difficult as that next step in your discipleship with Jesus may be, He understands—from experience—just what you are going through (Heb. 2:18; 4:15). He too uttered “loud cries and tears” in this struggle (Heb. 5:7). But “for the joy that was set before him” He took the next painful step of obedience (Heb. 12:2). And because He did, so can you, by His Spirit dwelling within you.

Forgiveness Prayer

I recently wrote the following prayer for a professing believer who, despite much study, Scripture memorization and overall maturity in the faith, still struggles emotionally with whether his own sins are actually forgiven by God. He has a clear testimony of faith, is well studied in the theology, is not walking in willful sin. But he struggles. So I wrote this prayer and challenged him to begin each day by standing up, planting his feet and praying this prayer slowly, thoughtfully aloud to God. I offer it in case it may be helpful to you as well.

Heavenly Father, I confess that I struggle to believe you have forgiven me of my sins. Please help me in this.

In view of this struggle, I confess to you all my sins—known and unknown. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24).

Father, I ask you to cleanse me from hidden failures and sins—known not to me, but certainly known by you. Keep me from presumptuous sins; do not let them rule over me (Psalm 19:13-14).

I affirm by faith that, having confessed my sins, you forgive me all of them and that you cleanse me from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

I affirm by faith that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses me from all my sin. I choose now to consciously rest in the declaration of your forgiveness. I rest in the righteousness of Christ provided to me by your decree of justification. I affirm that you have chosen to gift me with the standing of Jesus’ own righteousness and that you now view me not as a sinner, but as your child and son—loved, adopted, embraced, affirmed, made to stand in the grace you have provided to me through Jesus Christ.

By faith I stand against Satan, the accuser of the children of God, and all his demons and forces. I stand against their lies and intimidations. I bring the blood of Christ against them and declare their accusations invalid and powerless.

Lord, I declare that you have cast my sins behind your back (Isa. 38:17).

I declare that you have blotted out all my sins (Isa. 43:25).

I declare that you have chosen not to remember my sins against me ever again (Jer. 31:34).

I declare that you have tread my iniquities under your feet (Micah 7:19).

I declare that you have cast my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).

I declare that you have clothed me in robes of righteousness (Isa. 61:10; Rev. 21:14).

I declare, Lord, that you have cleansed me from all sin.

I declare that you have forgiven me all my sins.

I declare that there is no condemnation for me as I stand in faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:1).

I declare, Lord, that you have removed my sins from me as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

I declare that you have pardoned me from all my sin and its judgment (Jer. 50:20).

I declare that you have reconciled me to yourself and I am loved, embraced, cherished, protected and kept by you.

I declare that you have sealed me to the day of redemption by your Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30).

I declare that you have canceled the record of my sin debt, having set it aside by nailing it to Jesus’ cross (Col. 2:14).

I declare that you have taken upon yourself, Lord Jesus, the shame of my sin and replaced it with the favor and honor of salvation as a child of God (Heb. 12:2).

I declare that far from being shut out from your salvation, O God, you have made me an heir and a co-heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17).

I affirm that “you … God [are] ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and [have] not forsake[n me] (Neh. 9:17).

I rest in your redeeming, saving, accepting, blessing, enfolding, inclusive love, O God! Convince me in the deepest parts of who I am of your love for me.

By your Spirit, O God, witness to my spirit, that I am a child of God (Rom. 8:16). Fill me with your Holy Spirit and release Him to spread abroad in my heart your great love, O Lord (Rom. 5:5).

In the Name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Prayer and Faith

“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” (John 4:50b)

We are all in the school of prayer. Anyone who prays is still enrolled and Jesus intends to keep us growing. We have in John 4:46-54 an account that helps me understand one way Jesus continues to school me in prayer. Perhaps you’ll see a reflection of the lessons He is teaching you as well.

Jesus was petitioned by a man to “come down and heal his son” (v.47). The matter was urgent because the son was near death (v.49b). We can plainly see that the man wanted Jesus not merely to heal his son, but to be present physically with the son when He did so (vv.47, 49).

Jesus told the man, “Go; your son will live” (v.50a).

In so responding to the desperate father’s request, Jesus refused part of the man’s request (to come down with him to visit his son) and granted the other part of his request (to heal his son). The one was unnecessary (though the man may not have perceived it as such that at the time); the other was essential. Jesus gave the man that which was essential. But He did so in a way that tested the man’s faith by telling him the essential would be granted (the healing) while the unnecessary (the going) would not.

How did the desperate father respond?

“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke” and proved it when he “went on his way” without Jesus in tow (v.50b).

When I pray and ask Jesus to act, it is likely that my requests, like the father’s, are a mingling of the essential and non-essential. It all likely feels essential to me, but my faith needs refining—as did the father’s. Jesus may separate the wheat from the chaff in my praying by granting me one thing, while denying me another that I have also asked for.

What do I do after Jesus responds to my prayers, granting some and denying others? Do I ask Him to reveal His heart to me in these things? To teach me wisdom? Do I draw nearer to Him in prayer, asking for more understanding? Or do I back away, confused and upset? Or do I, like the father, believe the word of Jesus and prove it by my faith-filled actions?

Our prayers are the footprints that tell the tale of our discipleship, our journey after Jesus as our Master and Teacher. What tale is being told by my praying?

Those Inner Conversations

More than once Moses warned the new generation poised to enter the Promised Land: “Do not say in your heart …” (Deuteronomy 9:4a).

God is concerned over the self-talk of His people. It is what we “say in [our] heart” that is of consequence.

It is worth pointing out the obvious—God knows we talk to ourselves! These inner conversations are of constant occurrence. In fact, they can’t be turned off, only redirected. And that only by the grace of God. We see this warning repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. There are a number of ways to go wrong in talking to yourself.

1) The danger of self-congratulation.Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.” (Deuteronomy 9:4; cf. 8:17)

The Israelites faced a danger from the seductions of the peoples of the land. Of this God constantly warned them (see, for example, the disaster at Peor, Numb. 25:1-9). But the ideas of others, as dangerous as they were, were not the only or even primary danger facing the Israelites. It was the conversations going on within their own hearts that made them especially vulnerable.

It is when we begin talking to ourselves about ourselves and our circumstances that we are in the most danger of going astray.

We all have this kind of self-talk going on within our hearts all the time. We see and experience and try to understand—but are prone to interpret and talk to ourselves in self-affirming ways (“because of my righteousness”). This stream of thought forms a jet stream that powerfully circles planet self, threatening to pull everything else into its flow.

What we fail to see is that God sometimes blesses one (in this case, Israel) because he is disciplining another (here, the Canaanites). We must talk and walk humbly. The reasons “why” our lives are as they are is much bigger than our performance before God.

2) We may err in our inner conversations by self-exaltation. We may not elevate others or our accomplishments over God, but we may elevate our very selves: “Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children’ (Isaiah 47:8). “I am” – that name has already been taken (Exodus 3:14); its Owner says He’s not sharing (Isaiah 42:8).

Self-exaltation was literally the problem of the Edomites. They dwelt in the physically lofty heights of a God-given land. They thought their elevated position made them untouchable. Thus they were warned: “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’” (Obadiah 1:3).

God did with the Edomites what he does with all who exalt themselves within their own hearts: “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51).

3) We go astray when we engage in self-dependence. The self-talk can also lead us stray in the opposite direction: “If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?’” (Deuteronomy 7:17). Instead of elevating ourselves and denigrating others, we may overly exalt them in our eyes—making them even bigger than God. And with God out of the picture all we have left to depend upon is ourselves. That leads to fear, paralysis and despair.

4) We err when we talk ourselves into self-justification. The people of Jeremiah’s day denied their hardships arose from their responsibility: “And if you say in your heart, ‘Why have these things come upon me?’ it is for the greatness of your iniquity that your skirts are lifted up and you suffer violence” (Jeremiah 13:22). Ultimately, denial of responsibility is a denial of hope.

But not all self-talk is bad-talk. The Bible depicts the power of telling yourself the truth.

Take, for example, David as he prays Psalm 62. He begins his prayer so positively and confidently: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation” (v.1).

But, as so often is the case, things get difficult. Our confidence wanes. Our faith wavers. Our prayers change. By the middle of the psalm David is still praying. In fact he is still on the same theme with which he opened, but he has transitioned from talking to God, to coaching himself: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (v.5).

This telling-yourself-the-truth kind of self-talk is the application of faith to a wavering, struggling heart. We talk to ourselves this way because deep down we believe Jesus was right: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31b-32a).

We talk to ourselves as a hold out for Jesus’ rescue, Jesus’ deliverance, Jesus’ promised freedom.

When we keep this up God’s blessings of freedom become increasingly real in our lives. Perhaps we even come to the place, as Isaiah predicted the people of Israel would, where we have to start talking to ourselves about the compounding, stockpiling grace He is pouring into our lives: “The children of your bereavement will yet say in your ears: ‘The place is too narrow for me; make room for me to dwell in.’ Then you will say in your heart: ‘Who has borne me these? I was bereaved and barren, exiled and put away, but who has brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; from where have these come?’” (Isaiah 49:20).

Don’t stop talking to yourself. Just start telling yourself the truth. And then keep it up. Those with ears to hear might hear the sound of heaven’s applause. Those with eyes to see might detect life, freedom and grace standing just off in the distance, rising with a smile on their faces as the conversation begins.

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