What makes prayer so hard. And why we keep praying.

In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know how to pray as we should.  But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  (Romans 8:26)

Recently, our country had a National Day of Prayer. That’s a good thing.  It keeps us focused on the importance of prayer, and probably dumps a load of guilt on all of us for not praying more or better.

Three aspects of prayer make it difficult, and probably even unreasonable.  And then, one overwhelming reality keeps us at it with the strong confidence that praying is the best thing we can ever do.

The three impossible aspects of prayer that befuddle us…

–One.  The Object of our prayers is unseen.

In prayer, we are addressing One we’ve never seen and can’t even prove exists.  And yet, we keep at it, drawing aside day after day, year after year, speaking to the Invisible, Unprovable Lord in the firm belief that He is there, that He hears, and cares and will answer.

Is this bizarre or not?!  Smile, please.

Continue reading

Why aren’t you praying?

You have not because you ask not. –James 4:2

The enemy does not want you praying.

He knows something you do not.  He knows the power of your praying.

He will do anything he can to stop your praying, to sabotage your prayers, to throw a monkey wrench in the works of your prayers.

And some of us are cooperating with him, so that his work is done before he gets star

Think of what we do…

One.  “My prayers don’t amount to much.”

Ever say that?  I’ll bet you have.  And I am here to tell you that is rank unbelief.  Because you have mistakenly thought your praying was all about yourself–your faith, your maturity, your understanding, your something.  But it’s not.  Our praying is about our obedience.

Continue reading

Is it possible to manipulate people into the kingdom?

“…and make disciples of all the nations….” (Matthew 28:18-20)

From where I sat as pastor, the deacon appeared to be brow-beating people into praying the sinner’s prayer with him, then accompanying him to church the following Sunday to make public this “commitment” and be baptized.  The whipped look on their faces told all one would ever need to know.

So, one Sunday I asked his most recent trophy, a sad-looking lady, “Do you really want to do this?  You know, you don’t have to be baptized if you don’t want to.”  She said quietly that this was her choice. So, we baptized her and never saw her again.

In time, we changed the way we received church members to make certain we were not simply baptizing someone’s converts but were actually making disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus did not send us to make converts or church members.  He did not command anyone to make decisions or pray a nice little prayer.  He did not commission us to talk people into walking an aisle or undergoing baptism or getting religious.

Continue reading

Why so many Christians are powerless

“God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of love, and of power, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).  “Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof….” (2 Timothy 3:5).

Former U.S. Senator John W. Warner used to tell of an experience during his term as Undersecretary of the U.S. Navy (1969-72).  During a visit to an unnamed foreign country, he was impressed by the majestic World War II cruiser on display in the harbor of the capital city.  This major component of the country’s defense system looked to be everything one would expect with its gleaming brass gun mounts, its sparkling paint, its bright signal flags.

When Mr. Warner asked for permission to come aboard and inspect the ship, a routine request almost always granted, he was surprised.

The captain nervously informed him that this would not be possible.

Later, an aide told Warner the reason he was not invited aboard.

The ship was a sham.

Continue reading

Why your good sermon was so boring

Pastor, if you are like the rest of us, you’ve had this happen….

You brought a sermon on an important scriptural passage which you knew beyond a doubt was from the Lord.  You had a great time studying and praying for this sermon, and you knew this was cutting edge stuff. So, why was the sermon itself so poorly received?  Halfway through, you could sense the congregation’s collective minds wandering.  How could this happen?

Clearly, the problem could be any of a thousand things. But let me share a strong conviction on a primary reason your excellent sermon may have been so poorly received: You failed to lay the foundation for it.

That is to say, you preached the event without setting the stage and placing the context for it before the congregation.  For instance….

Continue reading

Rescuing ourselves from bondage to our emotions

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”. ” (Galatians 5:16)

Brothers and sisters. If you would be spiritually mature and successful in the Christian life, you must rescue your spiritual life from bondage to your emotions. –J. Sidlow Baxter, speaking to Mississippi Baptists in the mid-1970s.

The church lady said to me. “If I don’t feel like doing something, my heart would not be in it, and the Lord said we are to serve Him with all our heart. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

I said, “So, if you don’t feel like reading your Bible or going to church or apologizing to a neighbor, you don’t do it. Right?”

She: “Right. It would be hypocritical.”

Me: “Well. May I ask you, do you ever wake up on Monday morning and not feel like going to work? Or, when you were a teen, were there early mornings when you did not feel like getting up and going to school?”

She: “That’s different.”

Continue reading

The three mysteries of divine intercession

“…seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). 

We hear it all the time and we preachers are not shy about proclaiming divine intercession.  One member of the Trinity interceding with the other Two, or even two members of the Trinity interceding with the Third.  If I sound unsure about this subject, it’s because there is much that eludes me.

One.  The mystery of divine intercession: What does it look like?  What’s going on in Heaven when it happens?

This would be a good time for me to describe what I think goes on at the Throne when intercession is taking place.  I’ll pass, thank you.  This is far beyond my poor powers to imagine.

Continue reading

Those blessed frustrations: How God matures us!

I don’t handle frustrations well. A story or two to make that point…

When we lived in the New Orleans area, a few blocks from my house was a diner which had received rave reviews from the Times-Picayune. The owner, a master chef from some New Orleans restaurant, knows his business, we read. So,  when a pastor friend suggested we meet for lunch, we decided on that cafe.  When he had to cancel at the last minute, I went alone.

I entered, saw the place was fairly crowded, and took a stool at the counter. After maybe two or three minutes, I hailed a woman busing tables and asked for a soft drink. She brought it, I studied the menu, and I waited for a waiter or waitress. Ten minutes later, I dropped a couple of bucks on the counter and walked out. With service like that–okay, a lack of service–they’ll not be in business long. If that is indeed indicative of how things are there.

As Yogi Berra said of a certain restaurant, “Nobody goes there any more; it’s too crowded.”

So….

Continue reading

They had the greatest message ever, but needed one thing more. So do we.

I told a friend once that if I have gone to seed on anything in Christian theology, it’s the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m about to qualify that. As essential an element in the Christian faith as it is, the resurrection of our Lord did not end the fears, settle the nerves, conquer the phobias, or break the chains with which the early disciples were bound. It took one thing more.

To be sure, when the Lord Jesus Christ walked out of that garden tomb on the first Easter Sunday morning, it settled a lot of issues. His identity was forever established. His claims were solidly substantiated. His promises had just received the guarantee of Heaven.

When Jesus arose victorious from the grave, His enemies were routed. His opponents were silenced (or should have been, had they possessed a smidgen of integrity). His executioners were shamed. A bamboozled Satan and his imps were beside themselves with rage.

The resurrection of Jesus answers our questions, excites our hopes, and escalates our anticipation. It draws us back to the Scripture, back to the Church, and back to a new reality.

No wonder the disciples’ later preaching centered on the single key ingredient of belief in Jesus’ return from the grave as an essential element of saving faith. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus Christ as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Settle that–that Jesus actually died on that cross, that He lay in that grave from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, then walked out whole and healthy–and so many things fall into place.

Everything, that is, except one. And we see it in the Lord’s disciples, as recorded in John 20.

Continue reading

They’ve asked you to speak in church. Here’s what you need to know.

This is about what laypeople need to know about speaking in “big church.”  You’ll understand that by big church, I mean you’re addressing a large group in the sanctuary.  And laypeople means non-preachers.

Many non-clergy are outstanding (pun intended) on their feet in front of large groups. Schoolteachers and other educators come to mind.  But the typical church member, even one who teaches a Sunday School class, is out of his,her element when suddenly thrust in front of the whole church.

They walk onto the platform (let’s not call it  a “stage”) and stand at the pulpit, then look around.  Wow.  Things sure look different up here, they think. They open their mouth and begin to speak.

Anything can happen.

Continue reading