Pray For The World

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. 

If I asked you who you pray for most of the time the answer would be yourself.  Our prayers are full of our individual worries, problems, needs, and desires. If we are praying for ourselves, we aren’t praying for others. In the book Radical by David Platt, the author challenges the reader to do five things, one of which is to pray for the world. There are more than 1 billion people without Christ that are in need of our prayers.

Jesus called us to pray for the world and those lost in the world. In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” God wants believers to pray for everyone on earth together because He desires all people to be saved. How can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we do not even pray for them? Prayer is one of the simplest ways we love our neighbors near and far.

And it just so happens that today’s technology extends our memory, expands our reach, and unites our efforts so that we can intentionally do this for everyone on earth. What will God do as we pray for people we’ve never prayed for before? What will happen as we pray regularly for the world? It will be exciting to find out. 

In the book Radical, David Platt talks about a book entitled Operation World, by Patrick Johnstone.  Platt says this book revolutionized his prayer life more than any other book outside of the Bible. This book contains detailed information on every nation in the world, including statistics on the religious makeup of every country, updates on gospel work in every country, and prayer requests for every country. It also includes a prayer guide that you can follow, over the course of a year. That information enables you to pray specifically and intentionally for every nation in the world. You don’t have to buy the book. The information in the book is available free online (www.operationworld.org).

Prayer can lead to effects far beyond what we can imagine. What can your prayer do, as it is empowered by God? Just imagine. So the first facet of the radical experiment from the book Radical is to pray for the entire world in one year. Pray intentionally, specifically, and audaciously that God’s purpose to be accomplished around the world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think praying for the world will make a difference? Why or why not? 
  2. Which countries would you be willing to pray for? 

The Story Of George Müller

“I believe God has heard my prayers. He will make it manifest in His own good time that He has heard me. I have recorded my petitions that when God has answered them, His name will be glorified.” ― George Muller, The Autobiography of George Muller“

George Müller…most people have never heard that name. Certainly his name is not as familiar to Christians as D. L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, and Hudson Taylor. George Müller (1805–98) pastored a church in Bristol, England, for more than sixty years, but he was best known for the orphan ministry he began. During his life he cared for more than ten thousand orphans. The defining feature of George Müller’s life was his unshakable confidence and faith in God.  

In the 1800’s, England was driven by social classes, which meant that poor people did not fare very well, including children. Many children in poverty ended up on the streets, either abandoned or orphaned. George made these children his primary ministry. The Müllers’ took in their first group of girls in 1836, and their orphanage soon housed over a hundred. It’s expensive to feed even a small family. Imagine the cost of feeding hundreds at a time. But George never worried about money and never asked for donations. He believed that God would answer his prayers to provide their needs. George raised each and every penny for this ministry on his knees, through unceasing, persistent, thankful prayer and an unwavering faith in God. Remarkably, and intentionally, he never asked for money or other resources to provide for these orphans. Instead he simply prayed and trusted God to provide.

One example: The orphanage had run out of milk. Upon hearing the news, George rose from his desk and reached for his wife’s hand. “Mary,” he said, “let us pray.” Two orphanage employees joined them, and together they made their humble yet necessary request to God. Someone knocked on the door. Mary hurried to answer, returning to the study a moment later. She handed her husband an envelope. “It’s a letter, George. Hurry up and open it.” Enclosed was a sum of money, more than enough for the milk. Within minutes, two more letters arrived with money and pledges of support.

The power of prayer should not be underestimated. James 5:16-18 declares, “…The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.” God most definitely listens to prayers, answers prayers, and moves in response to prayers. 

There is no magic formula to prayer. There is no eloquence requirement. We don’t have to use certain words or phrases. Prayer is communicating with God. All you have to do is ask God for His help as George Müller did so many times in his life. Psalm 107:28-30 reminds us, “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbor.” There is power in prayer!

Discussion Questions:

  1. The early church was described as being “devoted” in prayer. Would you say that you are devoted to prayer? 
  2. Read Ephesians 3:14-19. Imagine this prayer becoming reality in your life. How would things be different?

Is Communication With God Too Difficult?

“I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God. Bend down and listen as I pray.” – Psalm 17:6 

If I asked you if prayer is important you would probably say “most definitely.”  If I were to ask you if you pray as much as you know you should your answer may be “no.” You would not be alone. It is interesting that we all know that we should pray, but we do not pray enough.  We hear sermons on the right and wrong ways to pray. Sometimes we even hear sermons on how we should pray. We know that prayer is important and that the Bible has much to say about it, but we do not always feel as if we are doing it effectively. It is natural to pray regularly and repetitively about certain matters—our personal relationship with God, family members, our church families, our unsaved neighbors and relatives, financial care and provision, health and safety, and so on. We become concerned that we are saying the same old things about the same old things. As a result, our communication with God has become too repetitive or stale. 

When God met Moses at the burning bush, it became a time of communication. God gave Moses his calling and Moses rebutted with his excuses as to why he was inadequate. Every time Moses gave an excuse, God gave an answer. God already knew everything about Moses, but Moses needed to get involved with God. Moses needed to communicate with God and become accustomed to talking with Him. As a result, Moses became a changed man. God then used him to change his world. God wants to get involved in everything we do. Prayer is how we involve Him.  

By spending time daily in prayer and worship, we invite God into our lives. God wants to hear from us, and get involved with us. Prayer is an opportunity that we should take to invite God to become involved in our lives. At Gethsemane, Jesus prayed “I want your will to be done, not mine.” In Matthew 6:10 (CEV) Jesus taught His disciples to pray “Come and set up your kingdom, so that everyone on earth will obey you, as you are obeyed in heaven.” It is important that we tell God what it is we think we need. It is also important to let God know our wants and our will. But, we need to listen to God and find out what He thinks and what He knows we need. We must remember that God’s will is more important and much better for us than our own. We can tell God our wants and needs, but we need to tell Him, “your will be done.”  

We desperately need God. God is not made complete in us, but we are made complete in Him. Prayer is the key to being made complete in Christ Jesus. In the book of Acts, whenever the church came together in unity and prayed, God moved miraculously. We need God to move miraculously in our lives, and this can only happen through prayer. This is why we pray, not to inform God, not to change him to our way of thinking, not to get our will done, not because He needs us, but because we need Him, love Him, and long to worship Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe your daily conversations with God. What types of things do you regularly pray for?
  2. There are people who think “life is a prayer.” Agree or disagree and why? 

How Well Do You Know Your Bible?

“Oh, the joys of those who do not  follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” –  Psalm 1:1-3. 

Christianity is not a religion. It is a personal relationship with the living God. But effective relationships do not run on autopilot. It’s easy to have an exciting relationship when you first fall in love, but it takes deliberate effort to keep your marriage close and growing as the years go on. The same is true in your relationship with the Lord. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, it’s all-new, fresh and exciting. But if we don’t put in the effort, that relationship can become routine or even stagnant. That is where the Bible comes in. The Bible has all the information we need to build and even strengthen our relationship with God. It is God’s guidebook for life. So, you need to pray with Paul, “asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.” (Ephesians 1:17).

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) says, “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.” Paul is telling us that God’s Word is good for us; it is profitable. Profitable means that there is a great gain on an investment. It teaches – helps us understand and brings clarity to life. It reproves – shows us how we have sinned. It corrects – points us to the truth when we are in error. It trains – shows us how to obey. God left us His word not simply to increase our knowledge, but to influence our character and conduct. God’s Word is sufficient to prepare us for everything the Bible commands us to do.

Jesus made perhaps the clearest statement describing the ultimate importance of Scripture when, as Satan tempted Him in the wilderness, He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3: “…The Scriptures say,‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4). 

Spending time daily in Scripture is an essential component of spiritual growth. The power of understanding what the Scriptures say is not for knowledge only but because they tell us of Jesus. The more we know about the Bible the more we can intimately abide in our relationship with Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why should we study God’s Word? Do we need a different learning style when studying the Bible? 

What Pleases God?

So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” – 2 Corinthians 5:9-10.

The Bible tells us that our main goal should be to please God. There are many Christians out there that try their hardest to do just tha. They have a quiet time every morning. They pray often. They memorize Scripture. And they lead a small group each week. But they never feel like they are doing enough and inevitably they ask the question that Christians have asked themselves for millennia: “Am I doing enough to please God?”

The answer can be found in Ephesians 2:8-9 that says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” The bottom line is that God’s acceptance of us is not based on our ability to do the right things. Because even on our best day, when we seem to be doing everything right, we’re still sinners. We can’t keep God’s commands perfectly. That’s why we need God’s grace in the first place.

God is pleased with us, not because of what we do but because of who we are—His child. Through his grace, we are “hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3). That means when God looks at us, He doesn’t see our sin, He sees the perfection of His Son. In Genesis, we read about Abraham’s “friendship” with God.  His relationship with God shows us what it takes to please God and to be accepted by God.  Abraham’s relationship pleased God not because of what he did, but what he believed. He believed God.  “Now you see how Abraham’s faith and deeds worked together. He proved that his faith was real by what he did. This is what the Scriptures mean by saying, “Abraham had faith in God, and God was pleased with him.” That’s how Abraham became God’s friend. You can now see that we please God by what we do and not only by what we believe.” (James 2:22-24 CEV)  

In the gospel, God reveals the depth of our need for Him. He shows us that there is absolutely nothing we can do to come to Him. We can’t manufacture salvation. We can’t program it. We can’t produce it. We can’t even initiate it. God has to open our eyes, set us free, overcome our evil, and appease His wrath. We are radically dependent on God to do something in our life that you could never do.

As followers of Jesus we must learn to accept His acceptance.  Receive, by faith, His forgiveness made possible by what He did for us, not by what you can do for Him. Thank Him for loving us.  Rejoice in the fact that God accepts each of us by faith.  Through Christ, we are pleasing to God!

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is more important, trying to get to God or acknowledging our desperate need for Christ?
  2. How can we change our way of thinking so we will focus on winning God’s approval, not other people’s approval?

What is repentance?

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” – Psalm 51: 7-12. 

I Can Only Imagine is a film with a powerful message of hope, redemption, and forgiveness. “My dad was a monster. And I saw God transform him.” There, in the words of Bart Millard to Amy Grant is the theme of the movie. It is the story of God’s amazing grace, of the redemption of a lost and broken soul, and of the power of forgiveness to change both a father and a son. It is a story of true repentance. 

The importance of repentance is hard to overstate. After all, Jesus’s first public exhortation was “Repent!” (Mark 1:15)—and if repentance was high on Jesus’s list, we probably should pay attention too. In fact, all throughout the Bible, we see people being called to repentance. Repentance is not just believing in God, but turning from our old ways. We begin to live as new creations and let the old life pass away: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17) 

Repentance is often confused with remorse, but there is a significant difference between the two. Repentance produces change, whereas remorse merely produces sorrow. Repentance is where a sinner is inwardly humbled and outwardly reformed. Essential to the idea of repentance is that it is both internal and external. When Jesus calls us to repent, he is not calling us to beat up on ourselves or merely to work on cleaning up our lives. Instead, He is calling us to a radical change of heart. 

In David’s psalm of repentance (Psalm 51), he reminds us that God does not delight so much in the outward signs of repentance which included making a sacrifice, He wants a change of heart. “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:17). David knew he could not fix the problem of his heart. He did not draw a line in the sand and make bold promises about what he could do for God. He threw himself on God’s mercy and grace. He prayed in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” because he realized he could not make his own heart pure. In verse 12, he prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Not the “joy of my salvation. Repenting brings us to the end of ourselves and back to God’s grace.

True repentance—a heart change and the determination to no longer follow after the flesh but rather turn toward Jesus. Christ. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you know if repentance is real? What is the result of genuine repentance?
  2. Is there one person in your life that you think truly understands what it means to repent? What kinds of things characterize their life?

Forgive And Forget

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”– Matthew 6:14-15 (MSG). 

The idea of forgiveness tends to make people squirm a little. It doesn’t matter if you are a new Christian or one that has walked with the Lord for many years, it is a struggle to get over past hurts. Showing mercy and love to those who have injured us does not come naturally. Once you are a Christian you would think it would be easier to love others, but forgiving someone who has deeply hurt us is one of the most difficult tasks we are faced with as Christians. That is because we want affirmation that the pain inflicted upon us was unfair and cruel. We want someone to pay for their actions. It is at times like these when we need to remember we serve a God who shows more forgiveness to us in a day then we will ever have the opportunity to show someone else in a lifetime.

The movie I Can Only Imagine, shows the reality of forgiveness in a way that so many will relate to. This movie is not only an example of God’s never-ending, all-consuming, redeeming love, but also an example of a man who chose to look to Him as an example of forgiveness when he was faced with two choices: to forgive or to reject. Bart Millard’s father consistently crushed his dreams and physically and emotionally abused him. It was when Millard returned home to find his father a changed man, passionate about loving Christ and asking for his forgiveness that he was faced with the task of truly trusting and forgiving like Christ. The story that unfolds is one that he would never have imagined—a true testament to the love and forgiveness he showed a man who by all accounts, didn’t deserve it.

There are real lessons to be learned from this movie. For example, no one is too broken for forgiveness from God, which means they shouldn’t be too broken for forgiveness from us. Second, if a perfect and all-knowing God can forgive, who are we to withhold the forgiveness that is so selflessly given to us? Forgiveness is not about getting even. In fact, sometimes, the scales will be left unbalanced. Forgiveness is a gift that is genuinely given to someone who has wronged us. And finally, forgiveness opens doors to reconciliation opportunities instead of going through life with anger. Bart and his father were able to mend and develop a relationship that changed both of their lives. Had he chosen not to forgive, the pain of their broken relationship would have followed him for the rest of his life. The redemptive story of his father’s journey to Christ is what inspired the song, “I Can Only Imagine.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What characteristics in your life might indicate that you haven’t fully forgiven past hurts, even if you know in your head what you need to do?
  2. Who do you need to forgive this week? 

I Can Only Imagine

“Isn’t it interesting how some life-changing devastations are actually like the crossover switches on train tracks that take you in a totally new direction, often forcing you onto the path you were supposed to be on all along?” ― Bart Millard, I Can Only Imagine: A Memoir.

I Can Only Imagine is a good movie. It doesn’t try to cram too many themes and sub-plots into a 2 hour movie. Nor is this movie preachy.This is a movie that shares the story of God’s redemption and grace in an inspirational but simple way.  

The vehicle for the story is the best-selling Christian song, “I Can Only Imagine”, by Bart Millard, lead singer of the band MercyMe. Millard wrote the song for his father, who represents overbearing and abusive fathers everywhere. There were plenty of confrontations between father and son. Few people would describe the process of confrontation as a joyful one, but the reconciliation aspect is truly one that inspires rejoicing. The story of Jacob and Esau is a story of reconciliation. 

If anyone had good reason to hold a grudge, it would be Jacob’s brother, Esau. Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright and his blessing; then he fled because Esau planned to kill him as soon as their father, Isaac, died. Years later, after they both had wives and children, they met again, but Jacob was still terrified that Esau still wanted to kill him. He sent messengers and lavish gifts ahead of him, hoping to appease his brother. But he need not have worried. As Jacob bowed before his ­brother, “Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. And they both wept.” (Genesis 33:4) Jacob responded, “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.” (Genesis 33:11 NIV) 

If we have also read the previous chapter, Jacob’s response may remind us that Jacob had just had an experience of seeing God face to face. Now Jacob saw a reflection of God in Esau through their reconciliation.

The Bible instructs us to live in harmony with other people, but we won’t always succeed. We will hurt others, even if we do so unintentionally. And others will hurt us. We will have misunderstandings. We will anger others and be angry at others. When we reconcile with another person after being at odds, we see God’s face, because God is a God of reconciliation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you feel about doing something or going somewhere that might take you out of your comfort zone in order to reconcile with someone? 
  2. Is there a person that we need to reconcile with? 

Grace Is Still Amazing

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ..  – John 1:16-17 (ESV).   

One way Jesus demonstrates His love is through pouring out “grace upon grace.” This means literally that He pours out His grace to us again and again and again, in ways we never expected or anticipated.  

Think about that for a second. God is a holy and righteous God, completely void of sin. He is perfect in all his ways. Nevertheless, when his children sin and grieve His Spirit, He calls us to repentance with open and loving arms saying, “Come home, child.” His knowledge of who we really are will never undermine His love for us. God’s grace is simply overwhelming. Every time I think of this reality, I’m brought to tears because I serve a God whose love and grace floors me over and over again.

Throughout the Scriptures, the message of this grace is proclaimed. “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin…” (Exodus 34:6–7). God doesn’t give me grace because I’ve earned it.  He gives me grace because He is gracious. God’s grace has absolutely nothing to do with me earning it.  “Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Maybe you’ve heard sermons about grace. Or even read books about grace. But my hope is that you will look at grace in a completely different way from now on. Grace is one of the those topics that can be discussed at great length, but is best understood through real life experiences. Otherwise, it really won’t have as much effect. I have heard multiple sermons, podcast and read countless articles on grace. I’ve memorized Bible verses that describe grace. But at the end of the day, what has taught me the most about grace is my experiences and the stories of others who have experienced grace.

It’s my prayer you will powerfully experience the grace effect in your life — and no matter what you have done, no matter what has been done to you, you will personally experience the truth that grace is greater.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can grace be summarized?
  2. What is it easy to believe we can earn God’s grace? 

How Can I Be Perfect?

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48. 

The crowd listening to the Sermon on the Mount did not expect what they got. The audience came away surprised, and you can understand why. The Sermon on the Mount is full of radical teachings like loving and praying for our enemies. But to sum it all up, Jesus concludes with one line: “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” Perfect? Me? Certainly not a simple, or realistic command.

Perfection is just impossible. Even the best of us fall far short of that goal. Christians included. We can strive to be a perfectly good, moral rule-abiding person, but we quickly stub our toe or fail miserably. No matter how much effort we invest, or how good our intentions are, our sin nature will eventually surface and sabotage our quest for perfection.

God created life, He alone gets to define it. So we need to find out what exactly Jesus meant by “perfection.” The perfection Jesus prescribes for us is somewhat of a paradox; in that, it is already complete and yet still developing. Complete in Him; still at work in us. Colossians 2:10 says, “So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” Isaiah 64:8 adds, “And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.” We are still a work in progress.

Perfection is referring to spiritual maturity.  Jesus doesn’t care so much if you have a big house, or a nice car or straight teeth. He’s interested in our spiritual maturity. As John writes in 1 John 3:18-20, “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.”

In other words, Jesus focuses not on us being perfect, but on loving. And even though apart from Jesus, no one is capable of living a morally perfect life – our focus is to be fully, completely, and perfectly devoted to a relationship with God. God’s love should overflow into our interactions with others. And that includes our enemies who wrong us. 

We should not be discouraged when we fall short of perfection. Our goal should be to love God as He loves us – not to live perfect lives. And as we walk with God in relationship, we will see God begin to transform our lives, and love other in a Christlike way.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Consider Matthew 5:48 as an ultimate challenge. Being “perfect” means to be mature or complete in Christ. What would it take for a person to meet that ultimate challenge? 
  2. What kinds of behaviors do you demonstrate to other people to let them know that you love them?