Prayer: The Remedy for a Stale Bible Reading Time

My great nephews spent two nights with us this week, and, boy, are they fun! They rode horses and played trucks in the dirt and watched tractor videos on my i-pad. Brantley ate his weight in sausage, and Case put us outta business with sliced cheese.

One thing we didn’t do was read together. I used to love to read books to my boys when they were young. First of all, it was one of the only times I could get them to sit still. I also loved the way they’d memorize their favorite stories and “read” them to me even before they learned their alphabet. I miss those times. I need to get a library going here for my great nephews and nieces.

My boys loved to read the same stories again and again. They knew them backward and forward, and if I tried to skip a page or two to expedite bedtime, they’d always catch me!

Reading books with my boys reminds me of my Bible reading time with God. I crawl up in His lap and get comfortable as we crack open the pages of His Truth book. Some of the stories and passages are so familiar I can say them in my sleep, but God has a way of bringing out fresh new truths in the most familiar verses. Sometimes, God skips over pages, but it’s not to rush me through our time. He just wants me to receive just the nugget I need to get me through the day.

As much as my boys loved reading books with Momma, sometimes, they just weren’t into it. Some days, they reluctantly climbed in my lap but quickly wiggled down to return to their toys. Other times, they skipped me altogether.

I’m the same way with God. I try to spend time with Him daily, but some days, I just go through the motions. Other days, I ignore His beckoning and fill my day with lots of lesser things that somehow feel so urgent.

The best reading times with my boys or any kids is when they are actively engaged. I loved it when my boys would bellow out their favorite phrases and point out their favorite pictures. I loved it when we’d get the giggles over the funny parts and get goosebumps over the sweet parts.

God loves it when we are “all there” when we spend time in His Word. He’d rather us get fully fired up over a half a verse than absent-mindedly skim the passages of our “read the Bible in a year” plan.  He likes to see us turning His words over and over in our minds. That’s what meditation is.

One way to make sure my time with God is vibrant and alive is to pray through my scripture reading. Let me demonstrate with the passage I read today from Philippians.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain (Philippians 2:12-16 NIV).

Let me give a tad of background. Paul is in prison, and he’s writing to the Philippian Christians to encourage them in the faith by praising their faithfulness and by spurring them on to keep running the race no matter how hard things get.

When I read a passage such as this, I take it phrase-by-phrase and talk it through with him. A lot of times, I journal my prayers, but I love to write. If you hate to write, which I know many folks do, just talk to Him. It’s not so much about the exact words we use as it is the earnestness of our hearts to hear what God is saying to us through the verses.

Here is a prayer this passage pulls from my spirit.

Lord, thank you for all the Pauls You’ve placed in my life. Men and women who point me to You and nudge me to be as close to You as possible. I want my faith to encourage them and to inspire them to keep on investing in the people You place in their lives.

Help me listen to You and follow my specific, personalized path. Yes, salvation is the same for all of us at its core. Admitting our sinful state. Believing You paid the price. Confessing to the world that You are Lord.

But walking out the Christian life looks different for us all. I don’t want to follow someone else’s path. I want to follow mine. I want to say YES to You every time You nudge me to action. Every time You tell me to speak of You to strangers and loved ones. Every time You nudge me to give money to missionaries or that man on the street corner. Every time You tell me to apologize or advance toward my goals. Every time You ask me to fast from food or social media. Every time You warn me of Satan’s snares and my stubborn sins.

Keep on working in me “to will and to act in order to fulfill [Your] good purpose” in me.

It’s so easy to focus on the stickiness of life rather than the sweetness of Your presence. Forgive me, Lord, for those times I’ve been whiny and rebellious. Help me to follow You with an excellent attitude. Praising instead of grumbling. Collaborating instead of arguing.  I want to be be a “blameless and pure [child] of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” I don’t want to make this world worse. I want to make it better! I want to represent You well. I want to honor my spiritual influencers by my well-lived life.

Help me, Lord! In Jesus’ name, AMEN

Is your time with God growing stale, rote, or, even worse, non-existent? Bring it back to life by turning Your reflections into prayers. The prayers don’t have to be written with flowery phrases or written at all for that matter. Just talk it through with the Lord, phrase-by-phrase, word-by-word until the Spirit has the time to sink the truth deep in you.

What passage did you read today from God’s Word? 

 

 

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Sifted | Sermon Note Sundays

I’m back from kids camp, and, boy, am I pooped! But there’s no way I was going to miss Pastor Chuck’s third sermon in his series on demolishing strongholds. I’m plumb tired of lugging mine around.

Here’s a quick review just in case you missed the first two sermons in the series.

A spiritual stronghold is anything we have in our lives that has a hold on us and keeps us from being as close to God and as right with God as we can be. It’s that sin that, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to shake. It distracts us from being about the Father’s business and from sitting at His feet.

No matter how we try, we can’t rid our lives of spiritual strongholds on our own. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV). We can’t fight with our fists or our faulty willpower. We must use spiritual weapons. The only way we can pick those bad boys up is if we throw down up our hands and surrender.

Lord, I surrender. I can’t do this myself. I need You! 

The next step to kicking those strongholds to the curb is to train our minds to think biblically. When those strongholds try to pull us in, we must replace those temptation thoughts with truth straight from the Word of God. The more we do it, the easier it will become to resist the pull of sin.

Lord, Your Word holds all the truth I need to combat the lies of Satan. Give me the strength and discipline to fill my mind and heart with Your word and to fight temptation with Your Word hidden in my heart.

To read my recaps of Pastor Chuck’s first two sermons, go here and here.

This week, Pastor Chuck didn’t exactly give another step to demolishing strongholds. He issued a warning.

Satan wants to take us down, and he will use any means necessary to make it happen.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV).

He’s not the cute and cunning cartoon character with the pitchfork and shifty eyes. He is a vicious and relentless foe we’d best not underestimate.

Pastor took us to the Gospels where Peter found out first-hand that Satan is more than a pesky fly at a picnic.

In Matthew 26, Jesus is sitting at the Passover table with His disciples trying to explain what is to come. He warns them that bad stuff is about to go down and that He already knows they will tuck tail and run.

Peter, in his macho way, says, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (26:33 NIV). Jesus lets him know that not only will he fall away like the rest of them, he will bold-faced deny Christ three times before it’s all over.

Luke adds an important statement to this Upper Room account. He records Jesus as saying, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31 NIV).

I love this Scripture for so many reasons.

Simon, Simon

Jesus had given Simon the new name, Peter, which means “rock.” I guess you could say Simon was his natural name and Peter was his supernatural name. When Jesus warned Peter of his upcoming failure, He called him Simon. He knew Simon’s fleshly fears would get the best of him. He knew he’d fall back to the natural when the going got tough.

Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.

You see that? Satan had to ask to mess with the disciples during this time of turmoil. This tells me that nothing is out of God’s control.

Now, for some, this might feel disturbing. God allows Satan to torment us? Why? How mean is that? He could keep Satan away from us if He wanted to, so why doesn’t He? I’ve asked those questions myself.

Nowadays, I choose to find comfort in the truth that God’s hand is ever on my life. If He allows me to be sifted, He will bring something good out of it. I also have to believe that there are times Satan wants to sift me and God says, “Nope. Not today.”

So what is this sifting that Satan desired to do to Peter and still desires to do to us?

John Piper, in his sermon, “The Sifting of Simon Peter,” explains.

What does “sifting like wheat” refer to in real life? The best clue comes in the next sentence where Jesus says, “But I prayed for you that your faith fail not.” Satan aims to sift Simon and the others like wheat. Jesus aims to keep Simon’s faith from failing. So probably “sifting like wheat” means doing something to make the disciples’ faith fail.

We can imagine a picture like this: Satan has a big sieve with jagged-edged wires forming a mesh with holes shaped like faithless men and women. What he aims to do is throw people into this sieve and shake them around over these jagged edges until they are so torn and weak and desperate that they let go of their faith and fall through the sieve as faithless people, right into Satan’s company. Faith cannot fall through the mesh. It’s the wrong shape. And so as long as the disciples hold to their faith, trusting the power and goodness of God for their hope, then they will not fall through the mesh into Satan’s hands.

Faith cannot fall through the mesh. The more our faith becomes part of us, the better we can hold up to Satan’s sifting.

But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.

This part does me in, people! Jesus, the very Jesus who bled and died for me, prays for me the same way He prayed for Peter! He bends the Father’s ear and whispers MY name. YOUR name. He whispered His dear Simon’s name.

“Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 NIV).

He’s praying that our faith will hold firm. He wants us to climb out of that sifter stronger for the sifting.

And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

Jesus didn’t say IF. He said WHEN. He knew Peter would screw everything up and even told him so, but He didn’t intend to leave Peter in his guilt and shame. After Christ was resurrected, he went to Peter, dusted him off, and set him back on the right path.

Our God is a God of restoration. Even when we crash and burn, He doesn’t leave us rubble.

“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me'” (Jeremiah 15:19 NIV).

Our past sins don’t disqualify us from future purpose. God went on to use Simon Peter to preach the truth of the Gospel boldly and to strengthen the fledgling church that still stands today.

The Prince of Darkness wants to stifle our light, friends. Are we going to let him win? If God sees fit to let Satan sift us as wheat, will our faith keep us from falling?

These are questions only you and God can answer. Sifting will come. Are you armed and ready?

Lord, Satan is a lying snake, and I refuse to take him lying down. You are my safe place, my strength, and my song. I choose You and Your ways. I can look back and remember times of sifting where I lost my faith and fell flat. And I remember other times when I barely hung on. I want to be so full of faith that I bounce right off that sifter and land on my feet. And then I can fall at Your feet and give You all the praise and glory. 

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