Should We Plan to Pray?


Shouldn’t I have a prayer plan also? This is a question my eleven year old daughter asked. If I have a plan  on how I want to read my Bible, shouldn’t I have a plan on how I am going to pray also?  If we were going to meet with an important person, an influential political leader, or our boss about an important project,  we would have an outline or a plan on what we wanted to talk to them about. How we wanted to approach both them and the subject matter. It would make sense that we would treat our communications with God with the same well thought out care.

Often, we think of prayer only in a reactionary manner.  Prayer is a result of something outside of us causing a response. It is something to be discovered after an automobile accident or an unsuccessful trip to the hospital.  Yes, prayer in such situations is very important. God wants us to come to Him in these times of need, but it should not be the only time we pray.

Another way that we pray in a reactionary mode is when we are pushed, usually gently, into prayer. We may offer an obligatory prayer at the end of a church service, at a small group meeting, or before a meal. These prayers can sometimes not be done out of a true desire to communicate with God, but to please other people. God even goes as far as to say some obligatory and insincere communication with Him is an offense to Him. 

A significant reason we need a plan to pray is that often prayer is something that we intend to do but don’t. We slip into an irrational thought pattern that says, “It’s only God. He can get along without us.”  We have other more urgent things to do at the moment.  Yes, God can get along without us. But we can not get along without Him. And He does not want us too. Our God reveals himself to us as our Father.  What Father, except an irresponsible and cruel one, which God is not, does not like and rejoice in hearing and communicating with his children. He actually says he wants to hear from us constantly.

But how do we pray consistently and proactively? We make it a priority, and we plan ahead of time. Pastor Chip Ingram says that if we don’t already plan the right thing to do beforehand, ninety five percent  of the time we will do the opposite. My eleven year old daughter is correct. We need to have a plan to pray. We should not leave communicating with our loving Father God to only times of emergency and fear or public pressure. 

Here is the joy and the challenge: God gives us a lot direction about the content of our prayer. But He also gives us liberty in many areas when it comes to prayer. There is no “only one” way to organize and conduct regular prayer. We can rejoice in the freedom of this, or we can cower from it. We should not be perplexed when millions pray systematically and rotely to false god’s across the world. Ritual prayer is easier in the sense that it does not require creativity or real communication like we see in the Psalms of David. The great leader David pours out his heart to God literally seeming to hold nothing back to God or from us. That is one of the reason David was called by God a man after God’s heart.

Actually, keeping records of what we say to God like David did in the Psalms is a great way to pray to Him. This can be done in journaling or even by making simple note cards. But there are lots of other ways to plan to pray. Determine everyday before you work out, read the newspaper, or even before you read your Bible that you will pray to God first. As a practical reality for most people, mornings tend to be better. But maybe, it would be better for you to pray before you went to sleep at night. This way taking our concerns, hopes, and joys to God before we go to sleep can prevent us from meditating on items of worry as we lay in bed. It is good to keep track of what you are doing in some manner. Even a simple check mark on the calendar can help make us more accountable to doing what we desire to do. Plan to pray or most likely, you won’t. 



John Calvin on Prayer?


St. Pierre Cathedral- Geneva

One of the key aspects of John Calvin’s life was his devotion to prayer. Calvin was a key leader in the Reformation. The Reformation was a revival of an accurate assessment of what Jesus actually said and what the Bible truly taught. The church of the 1500’s had distorted the Bible in order to secure control culturally, politically, and profit financially. Many of these Reformers were killed by the church for their efforts. Much of what we think of as Western Civilization today was based on the works of these Reformers.

Calvin wrote, “To prayer are we indebted for penetrating those riches that are treasured up for us with our heavenly Father.”  Calvin claimed that no words can express the utility of this “exercise” of prayer. These words are from a man known more today for his intellectualism rather than the raising of his hands in prayer. (Yes, John Calvin was a hand raiser.) He wrote that “The ceremony of lifting up our hands in prayer is designed to remind us that we are far removed from God, unless our thoughts rise upward.” 

If You want to know more about John Calvin and prayer there is a free downloaded copy of Calvin on prayer at the Chapel Library.


Here is some of key items addressed by John Calvin.

What prayer is? Prayer is an “intercourse” or communication between God and men by which we appeal to his promises.

Why we pray? We do not pray for God’s sake but for ours. That we may exercise our faith and upon receiving by His providence what we ask that we understand our weakness and long more earnestly for his favor.

What rules should be observed? We should be reverent and have our hearts and minds prepared to talk with God, but we do not need to be free of all worries or concerns when approaching God.

Just how should we pray? We should not be distracted mixing the sacred with the profane. We should pray for only things that God would permit and not things for our “depraved affections.” We should also long for the aid of the Spirit. God gave us the Spirit to help us see what God would want us to pray for and regulate our affections.

Why we should always pray? There are times when we desire to pray more than others. But our zeal for the Kingdom of God and our dissatisfaction with the current condition should always drive us on to pray.

What is the most important part of prayer? We cannot hope to attain anything from God until we are reconciled to him through confession of guilt and are found dependent on God’s free mercy.  We must have a repentant and expectant heart. Calvin states that “no heart will ever rise to genuine prayer that does not at the same time long for holiness.”


Wall of Reformers- Geneva


What Should We Expect When We Pray?

Pray Work

What should we expect when we pray? Some of us have observed, or maybe experienced for ourselves, great blessings from prayer. Yes, prayer “works”! We may also have known Godly people who have experienced great sufferings and had situations in our lives when prayers did not seem to have been answered. We then say that no prayer does not “work”.

Some Pagan-Christian based philosophies would have us believe that those whose prayers have been answered were righteous, and those whose prayers who were not must have done something to deserve it.  The Bible itself does seem to describe some success or failure in prayer as faith (Mark 9:19), but also does not automatically grant wealth, health, healing and riches automatically and obligatorily to faithfulness. (Witness the Jeremiah and Paul among many.)

So what should we expect when we pray? Though this is not an all-inclusive list, these are some things we will most certainly see.

We can expect to increase our faith. God tells us that if we have faith as a mustard seed he will answer our prayers in marvelous ways. (Matthew 17:20) If we are praying, we are taking a step of faith in God and his Word.

We know that we will be closer to God. We see Jesus himself leaving the crowds and seeking his Father in prayer numerous times in the Bible records.

We know that when we pray we are in God’s will. God tells us to continue steadfastly in Prayer. (Colossians 4:2). And when we pray with his motives we will receive his will. (James 4:3)

We know that if we pray according to God’s Word it will have an impact. (Isaiah 55:11)

When we pray, we can expect great things to happen. Those things will always be up to God on his timing, in cohesion with his Word, and for his purposes. But he has allowed us to be part of his great story of love and redemption through prayer. But when it doesn’t happen in the way we perceive it should, and during those heartbreaking times when God does seem distant, we can still remember that “God is Love.” (1 John 4:16). He has endured a tortuous death on the cross for our sake and has promised that he will wipe away every tear for those who believe on him. Faith sometimes is not so much in believing there is a God, but it is believing he knows the way out of the darkness, following that way, and not trying to enter in by some “other door” (John 10:1). Prayer is for the faithful. 



How to Get Rid of Worry

Don't WorryWorry is living in the worst case scenario that usually never happens.  A recent article in Prevention Magazine indicates worry affects digestion, skin, and memory among others. Famed author Dale Carnegie of How To Win Friends and Influence People wrote a book entirely dedicated to overcoming worry, and its debilitating effects because he saw it as such a common problem among the businessmen he was working with. One estimate is that worry leading to unnecessary stress costs business 300 billion a year in employee production and health issues.  

Worry is not a concept unknown to God.  When talking about prayer, Paul, in his treaty to the Philippians, starts out with don’t worry (NLT). Jesus tells us directly in his famous and challenging Sermon on the Mount not to worry about the stuff in our lives.

 Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25 NKJV)

But if it was really that easy to get rid of worry, why is it still such a problem? How can we overcome something akin to the human condition? Is the Bible setting up an impossible standard? Yes, that could be just the case.  God is good at setting up impossible standards that we can’t meet. Just a few sections before telling us not to worry, God told us to be perfect. I doubt any of us can do that. It shouldn’t surprise us then when we worry, but it should cause all of us to realize that we need some help. If you are like me, you don’t like to ask for it. How do we quit waking up at 3:00 AM and worrying about…you name it?

We do it just like we do all our other impossible tasks, we show up broken at the feet of Jesus realizing we can’t do it on our own. It is the only way I know of to really start eliminating worry. As much as I admire Dale Carnegie, and even recognize, and try to follow the value of practical steps from the self-help gurus, the only way to do the impossible is with Jesus. One of the greatest examples in the Bible of not worrying is the apostle Peter. I just love it. He is about to be executed like his fellow disciple James. (Most self help books aren’t much help for those chained in prison awaiting execution.) He is chained in prison but is so sound asleep that when the angels wake him he literally thinks he is in a dream.  I have two suspicions why: One, people are praying for him. And two, he has seen the resurrected Christ and is firmly convinced of its reality. He knows his destiny and even in this extreme situation he is not worried.

Let’s take a look at another prison scene. Paul and Silas are chained up in the high security section of the prison after saving the soul of a diviner and ruining the economy of her slave masters. But we don’t find them sleeping while locked up in prison.  We find them singing and praising God. Worship is a way to overcome worry in directing our focus away from the problem and on God trusting him even when we have no idea how we will be able to provide a solution.

When it is boiled down, worry is fear. But is fear a bad thing? Not necessarily. God tells us to fear him. Maybe a good way of looking at worry is that worry is fear in the wrong place.   To fear God, is not the same as fearing man or fearing misfortune. Man is random and unpredictable as is misfortune. When we fear God, we have an active trust and deep reverence for the person who created not only us, but the universe in which we live, and whom we eventually dwell with in eternity.


Five Big Mistakes We Tend to Make

MistakesMost likely, like me, you aren’t a spiritual superstar. The Bible tells us “not to think too highly of ourselves.”  We all have all “fallen short of the glory of God.” That is why we need someone outside of ourselves to save us.  That someone, of course, is Jesus Christ. But even after we have been saved, we are still a work in progress.  This is called sanctification. As the pastor in our church here in the northwest says, what is important is “not perfection but direction.” What are a few of the common mistakes we make in our relationship direction with God?

  • We don’t know what God is talking about. Studies show that only one in every five people who claim to be Christians in the United States read their Bible. I recently had a chance to go on a cruise sponsored by the theologian RC Sproul. What did he say his number one regret was? It was not knowing the Bible better. If this is the regret of one of America’s most dedicated and respected theologians, what should we think about knowing our Bible. (Check out some of our ideas on flexible Bible study.)
  • We believe that we have to do it ourselves and forget that it is the body of Christ engaged in the battle. It was not one person who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-day. It was over 150,000 people. Despite a huge tactical advantage, the dug in forces of the Axis powers were beaten back. God designed his church to work as a body to do his will and the fight against principalities of evil. When the Christian next to you gets shot up, help rescue him and realize that figurative bullet could just as well hit you.
  • We think we are “extra” special.  A lot of us our convinced that following statement given to us by God in his word is absolutely not true. That statement is, “There is no partiality in God.”  We are doing our best to get him to do our will and not learning his will for us and the joy that he has for us. There are many who claim we are living today with a Narcissism epidemic. 
  • We think the Devil is original while in fact he keeps running the same three plays over and over again. The lust for things, the lust of flesh, and pride of life. We know what’s coming next. We are not going to find ourselves in a situation that no one else has ever faced. God has even told us that he will provide a way out of temptation. Let’s not be surprised that temptation is tempting. 
  • We don’t even try to connect with God. We think somehow God isn’t really interested in us. And we allow mockery, disinterest, and the culture to prevent us from seeking after and connecting to God through prayer. One publisher when giving advice to authors said that the number one way to make sure your book is not published is simply to never to submit it. Go ahead and submit your prayers to God. He is interested. (Check out the prayer guides)



Slow Down, Write It Down

Slow Down, Write it Down 1 (2)

Do you want to stare down the monster of busyness in the face, and according to a study published in psychological science improve your brain? Pull out your journal each morning and write stuff down by hand. Better yet, write down your concerns, prayers, and blessings. Keep it simple or even go as far as to say write it down in pencil, doodle, erase, and write it down again until you get it just as it should be.

Could this even help you connect more with God? The answer is yes… and no. Of course, God doesn’t need us to, or particularly care if we keep a hand written journal, use a keyboard, or even if you don’t do a quiet time every morning. He is not manipulated by our routines. He wants our hearts. But we need structure to keep God first and foremost in our hearts and minds. I have trouble focusing given the high information age we have been born into. Perhaps, you might also. And there are some techniques that correspond with how God made us that help us focus, and writing things down by hand is one of them.

One of the the Devil’s tricks is to get us off the course given to us by God. It is almost as if we stroll through life as fish with a thousand pieces of bait being reeled out in front of our faces each day waiting for us to bite.  Each one designed to get us just a little bit off course until we have nibbled, been yanked, and swam for our lives enough that when we finally get our bearings, we are way off the course we started on. By slowing down, usually in the morning, to write what we appreciate, write our petitions, go back and read what we have said, and be thankful is good way to track our direction. (See Writing a Book that Matters) 

One of the Devil’s other tricks is getting us to think we don’t have time. It can be done tomorrow. Yes, there are times we need to act right now. And in a rush world we sometimes need to jump on things. But we often have no idea what to jump onto. We leap for a Shetland pony going to the petting zoo when what we really wanted was a stallion going to the rodeo. It may be worth waiting a little while to go to the rodeo. But when we slow down and write it down it makes us stop, focus, and just enjoy being with God. We can trust him. It is in the journey despite what cynics may say. We grow in sanctification on the journey. We grow in appreciation on the journey. We grow in love on the journey. It is good to pause and remember this.

The single focused apostle Paul, who did more than any other person save Jesus Christ, to change the world for good told us to be patient in tribulation, rejoicing daily in God, and continuing unwavering in prayer. Slowing down and writing down is a great tool that helps us do just that.


Five Things We Should Never Get Unstuck From

unstuck 3 (3)The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians 2000 years ago living in the capital city of the Roman Empire said, Cling to that which is good. The ancient Greek word used here for cling is Kollao which at its root means glue. We are to literally glue ourselves to what is good in the confusion of this world. What are these good things we should never be unstuck from?

We glue ourselves to the wonder of nature. The dynamic King David says in his Psalms (19:1) “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Every time we see the afterglow in the mountains, the complex beauty of  flowers and trees, or hear the sound of the ocean we know that our lives are not an accident, there is a creator.

We glue ourselves to the loveliness of music. In Colossians 3:16, it says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” God gave a special and unique gift to man. Harmonic music is to encourage and uplift each other. At its best, it connects us to God. It breaks us out of complacency and brings in wonder and shows order in the often seemingly randomness of life.

We glue ourselves to the law of God. We have been given a law, a way to live, that if followed leads to peace. There is a right and orderly way to live and God shows us this way in the Bible. The way of life is actually not a mystery.  Psalms 19:7-8 says,

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;”

We glue ourselves to the Trinity. We have the wonderful blessing that through repentance and calling out on the name of our Lord Jesus we are filled with the Holy Spirit and have communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We exercise this communion through Prayer and Bible Study. There is never a time when the love of God with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father, and the sacrifice and compassion of Jesus can be taken away from us. All believers can never become unstuck from our trinitarian God.

And we glue ourselves to the future. We of all people should be optimistic about the future and share that optimism. The Apostle Paul said, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Ultimately, our hope is not in this world, it is in spending eternity with Jesus in Heaven. Let us never forget that we can not get unstuck from such a future.


Standing with an Apple on your Head?

A Margo Dahl guest post for this Father’s Day!

If your house is anything like ours, Dad’s needs can fly below the radar. Consider yourself reminded that this Sunday is Father’s Day— time to give the dad in your life some encouragement and honor. Don’t underestimate the power of a family barbecue, a new tie, or coupons for back-rubs. Those little gestures of love and kindness can go a long way!  As we gear up to appreciate that special dad, I’d also like to pause for some thought on our heavenly Father.

I am in continual amazement how God has the uncanny way of reaching our hearts in the most unexpected ways.  My unexpected moment was this — I was reading the story of William Tell in the book the Apple and the Arrow by Mary & Conrad Bluff  to our 8, 5, & 3 year old children. (It’s a great read if you’ve never read it.) Picture a snowy mountainside in the Alps of Switzerland, the year 1307, a tyrant named Gessler enraged over a perceived breach of authority because William Tell would not bow down to him.  Gessler had placed his cap on top of a pole in the center of town and was forcing all townspeople to bow to it.  Tell refused, and the rest was history. Benjamin Franklin once wisely stated, “Rebellion to tyranny is obedience to God.”  Tell recognized that if he caved in to this tyrant, his country’s and his own liberties would be gone.  The famous scene was played out, an innocent boy was the target, and Tell had no choice but to take on the challenge of shooting an apple off of his own son’s head.  What if his arm flinched?  What if his boy moved?  What if the arrow was crooked?  One inch could prove disastrous.

I had trouble finishing the story through tears as it dawned on me what this boy had done. He had every reason to fear, or to cry, or just collapse, but he did not.  He stood strong having faith in his father’s ability.  He did not flinch but trusted with every fiber of his being, and he stood perfectly still in that critical moment, while a tyrant and all his men looked on.  He passed the test.  How will I do when put to a similar test by life’s circumstances?   How much more reason I have to trust in my heavenly Father who is trustworthy in the truest sense of the word.  The word ‘trust’ occurs 125 times in the Bible.  2 Samuel 22:31 says, “As for God, His way is perfect.  The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.”  I’d say that is an amazing promise, wouldn’t you?  

Do a search with one of the many Bible study tools out there (Blue Letter Bible is a good one) for the word ‘trust’ and pick a verse to write on a card and put in your pocket as a reminder. If your trust level isn’t so great, ask God to help you and take joy in knowing your heavenly Father is ever on your side. And if you have never put your trust in him, visit What is the Gospel Anyway.

How about you? Do you have any stories that have helped your trust? Leave a comment and let us know! 


Lazy, Busy, or Freedom in Purposefulness?

Cropped Lazy GreenThere was a recent humor article playing a bit on the cliché, “Let go and let God” where a fictitious rock climber got into a hard spot and decided to  “Let go and let God” and was recovering from his fall down the cliff. This may represent a danger in living a life with the goal of not being too busy or distracted for God in the wrong way. We could use our devotion to God as an excuse for laziness.  How can we tell the difference?  Are we lazy, busy, or working with purposefulness?

Laziness is not doing what we know we should be doing. The Bible in Proverbs 20:4 says, “The “atsel” (Hebrew for lazy) does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” The apostle Paul says bluntly in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 that if one man does not work he should not eat. If you are intentionally by design or negligent default not providing for yourself and your family it is time to repent and change.

Sometimes, we do this simply because we can get away with it.  And other times, we do it out of fear of failure and discouragement. Whatever the case, God does not want us to be here. We shouldn’t use God as an excuse for not doing. Waiting for God (the Holy Spirit, Jesus, the sunshine etc…)  to move  is not an excuse for not doing the basic things that we, and everyone else, knows we should be doing. Ultimately, even if our efforts to fix a problem, find needed resources, or work for our family because of circumstances beyond our personal control, we keep trying without guilt simply because God instructed us to as a matter of faithfulness.

Busyness on the other hand is doing what everyone else wants us to do, or better yet what we think everyone else wants us to do. Busyness is the task the world assigns us that God doesn’t want us to be doing. These are the tasks that we do out selfishness. Philippians 2:3 says, “ Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.”  Busyness could even be going on a mission to Africa as we are on our self-assigned goal to save the world and show everyone what a good Christian we are.   Busyness never stops because it is driven out of fear of the shortcomings of mankind. Busyness knows that if it halts for a second someone will catch up and overtake it.

Purposefulness does the will of God. It is driven out of a result of study of the Word of God and prayer. That is one more reason why these things are important. It may or may not include a very full schedule. And it may be extremely tiring at times and for a long time. But except for periods of emergency, it will always include time for God both in study and prayer plus one more important item. The Biblical mandated blessing of Sabbath.  That means rest. In the Bible, we find a very important “work ethic” and a very important “rest ethic.” And we are even given a sort of formula. (Isn’t that what everyone wants — a formula for “success.”) It is six to one work to rest. Intentional work for God six days a week followed by purposeful rest one day a week.

Rest* can be a wide variety of good things that should include corporate fellowship with other believers if physically possible. In a world where timing can be everything, purposeful work trusting the Holy Spirit, using the skills God gives us, and trusting God for the results gives us freedom.  In purposefulness, the ultimate success is closer association with our wonderful God through loving God with all our heart and our neighbor as our self in the millions of forms that can take. Laziness and busyness are not opposites. They are tied together by selfishness. Purposefulness is their opposite, and it is tied together with God.

Check out Mark Buchanan’s, “The Rest of God” to learn more about true rest and Sabbath.


The courage not to be Busy

Busyness or Life


In the book of Revelation 21:8,  first on the list of those who won’t go to heaven are those who don’t have the attribute of courage. They have the opposite: cowardice or fearfulness. Scholars don’t believe this verse is about being afraid of heights or large tigers. Pastor Melvin Shelton states, “The fearful are those who care more about what man thinks of them than what God knows about them.”

A question to all of us in this day is do we have the courage to stand up against the unrelenting agenda of everyone else’s busyness pushed on us? A world that says if we don’t achieve X, participate in Y, don’t see those “wonderful 1000 places,” and eat and wear the latest, we are missing out on the human experience. And after all, it’s true you only live once! The tyranny of busyness always tries to push out God, and put prayer (our communion with God) down to the bottom of the list, because prayer can’t be easily quantified.

Here are a few things that we may want to ask God to help us have courage:

Let’s ask God that we would have the courage to trust him that he will fill in the missing parts of our lives, and we would not worry as we go about doing the good things he asks of us. Let us know God will not “leave us or forsake us.”

Let’s ask God that we would have the courage to forgive and leave the judgement of the world and the harvesting of the “tares and the wheat” up to him. That we would give over the energy that we have expended trying, thinking, and worrying about “getting even” and spend it on him. (Of course, this doesn’t mean giving up on doing our reasonable part in the civic government or God’s will in protecting the widows, orphans, the innocent etc…)

Let’s ask for the courage to love the person in front of us instead of always looking forward to the important person, the big deal, the friend or family member, or the person I know can return the favor.

Let’s ask for the courage to trust God for our desires. We often think that God is out to keep good things from our life. That is exactly what the Devil wants us to think; just as he convinced Eve that God did not have her best interest at heart and was lying to her when the truth was the opposite. (This deception is something that continues on and on today and will continue until Christ’s return).

Let’s have the courage to pray to get personal satisfaction from God. Let us spend our time focused more on God, serving those around us, and following his word. Let’s not worry that we could be missing out on all the world has to offer. The list of those ultimately disappointed in the world is too numerous to count. But that’s an article for another day.