Intercessory Prayer

The real business of your life as a saved soul is intercessory prayer.” – Oswald Chambers.  

Have you ever felt an unexplained burden on your heart to pray for those who are far from the heart of God in your community or the world at large? Praying that God will renew our spirits, renew our mind and transform our lives and renew our world as we read about in Isaiah 61:4: “They will rebuild the ancient ruins, repairing cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them, though they have been deserted for many generations.”   That is intercessory prayer. 

There are many ways to love our neighbor, but intercessory prayer—praying on behalf of other people—is surely one of the most powerful. The Bible is full of examples of intercessory prayers. The prophets prayed for the people of Israel. Jesus faithfully prayed for His disciples. He even intercede for those involved in His crucifixion, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The book of Hebrews indicates that Jesus will always intercede for us: “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.” (Hebrews 7:25).

Jesus often stopped what He was doing to help people whether it was convenient of not. He lived and ministered among the “people.” He did not shy away from interaction with people like tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers. When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, he wanted them to remember the needs of others, not just their own needs. So He used plural pronouns like  “Give us . . . forgive us . . . lead us . . .deliver us”  1 Timothy 2:1 says, “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.”

We are still recovering from Hurricane Michael in large portions of our community. When those around us are hurting or suffering, we offer to ”pray for them.” But then life gets busy and we honor our commitment to pray by offering a quick prayer before moving on.  

If we want to intercede to God for people, then we need to take the time to actually pray. Prayer is significant, vital, imperative, essential, critical, crucial… add your own word. But don’t stop there.  Ask God how you can take action to help this person in need. Maybe it is taking them grocery shopping, or cooking, or babysitting, or just picking up the phone and calling them.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you seen God work through your intercessory prayers? 
  2. Have you experienced blessing in your life as a result of someone interceding in prayer for you?  

Thankful For Others

“I will praise you forever, O God, for what you have done. I will trust in your good name in the presence of your faithful people.” – Psalm 52:9.  

If you were asked, I am thankful for my (blank), what would your answer be? Probably some big things like health, fame. fortune, wife, children, siblings, and vacations. And there would be some improbable things like: Google Maps, sorting laundry and finding no socks are missing, rainbows, and the seat next to you on a crowded flight is miraculously empty. Or finding cash in a pair of jeans you haven’t worn for a while. Or maybe, it would be a very special thank you to you. You know who you are. That special, unique, amazing person in my life who supports me, lifts me up, comforts me and brings joy to my life. I need you and you need me. That you.

Without exception, everyone I know has been positively influenced by other people. I have seen example after example of people who have succeeded collectively where their solo efforts failed. God desires Christians to live in community, bearing each other’s burdens, striving together, as Paul says in Colossians 1:28,29. We all want an abundant life full of love, joy, and peace. These are noble and worthwhile goals, but nearly impossible to pull off by ourselves. We need strength and wisdom from other believers to fully experience God. We need other people.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 talks about this subject: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Walking with God means community with others. Alone, I just won’t have the same experience or quality of life.

We all need people in our lives and we should be grateful for them. Consider how empty, purposeless, and meaningless our lives would be without relationships. Relationships have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. While it is easy to thank God for the things in our lives, we should remember to be equally thankful for the people God has placed in our lives as well. 

Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.” –A.W. Tozer

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Why is gratitude an important quality in the Christian life? In what ways do you struggle to be thankful?
  2. How often do we need to reset our gratitude meter? How easy is it to just thank God for things in your life? How easy is it to thank other for the role in your life?   

Regrets, I’ve Had A Few

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” – Philippians 3:13  

“My Way” is a song popularized in 1969 by Frank Sinatra. Its lyrics were written by Paul Anka. The lyrics include: Regrets, I’ve had a few…but then again, too few to mention…I did what I had to do. And saw it through without exemption. Regrets are part of life. There is no such thing as a life without any disappointment, so there is no such thing as a life without regrets. Maybe you have a lifetime of regret, or maybe you have only a few regrets.

Maybe you’re married and there is something that has caused regret. Maybe God is calling you to take a risk, but you didn’t and you have regret that you didn’t trust God. Maybe you’ve missed some key moments with your kids and you’re just realizing that you’ve spent years chase after that corner office rather than spending quality time with them. 

We don’t need more guilt. It holds a certain power over us. But it is not too late. Because of the Cross, we don’t have to minimize our regret or deny our regret. We bring all of our regrets to the foot of the Cross. We release them because our God is in the redemption business, and at the foot of the Cross, regret can turn into repentance and repentance can turn into redemption. If you’re carrying a weight of regret on your back that you can’t fix, it’s in the past – put it down and clean it out, because it’s time to make room for something new.

In Luke 22. Peter himself went through a tremendous amount of regret. All of us know that on the night in which Jesus Christ was betrayed, Peter boasted too much, he prayed too little, he followed too far, and he remembered too late. Mark says that when he began to realize what he had done, he wept. What hope is there when we blow it? What hope is there when we deny that which we know to be true and live contrary to what we exactly believe to be the case? Our hope is Jesus.

Jesus reached out and touched Peter in a very special way. Mark 16 tells us that after Jesus was raised, there was an angel that was sitting there at the tomb. And the angel talks to the people that come, and then the angel says this: “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” (vs. 7) Just to make sure that he is not overlooked, the angel says, “and Peter.” There is hope in spite of our regrets.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Are you busier letting go of the regret or rescuing it?
  2. What lingering regrets do you have? What can you do today to reconcile them? 

You, Them And The Gospel

If we have got the true love of God shed abroad in our hearts, we will show it in our lives. We will not have to go up and down the earth proclaiming it. We will show it in everything we say or do.” –  Dwight L. Moody

Love is a universal concept with no singular or simple definition. It is word bandied about when it is difficult to truly grasp its meaning. There are no lack of experts and no lack of expert’s interpretations of love. Go to the library and there are almost limitless choices of books on love.   

Jesus emphatically proclaimed love as the most important command to obey. “Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12: 29-31)

Jesus calls Christians to love one another. Half of Jesus’ summary of the law was to love your neighbor as yourself. While we accept that statement as truth, it is not an easy thing to do. Loving your neighbor as yourself regardless if they have wronged you, no matter how unpopular they are, or the fact that very thing they do or say is annoying. It is difficult to do. It is hard because sin complicates things. Our sinful nature makes us unloving and our neighbors seem unlovely.  Sin makes me unloving and unlovely and other’s sin makes them unloving and unlovely.

It becomes easier if we first remember who we are. If you are a follower of Christ, then you have the ability to tap into the ultimate power source. God empowers us to love not from our own resources, but with love from above. Walking by the Spirit is the way to love and serve one another. Then remember who they are: yes they can be difficult. But when we look closer we find they are very much like us: people who need the love, grace, and the mercy of the risen savior. Jesus came to save them just as He came to save us.  When you look at them that way, it is easier to love the unlovely. 

Finally, what is the gospel telling us to do? 1 John 4:19 sums it up: “We love each other because he loved us first.” That is it. The gospel of love bids Christians to love. Remember that this is so much more than liking them. Loving gets to the core of the person. The gospel bids us to love because we have been loved. The gospel does not make it easy to love others, but it makes it possible.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How do we go about remembering who we are, who they are and what the gospel is telling us to do? 

Love Your Enemies

“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” – Luke 6:27-28. 

Mathew 5:44 says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Sounds unreasonable doesn’t it. Perhaps this is among Jesus’ most revolutionary statements — and certainly most humanly counterintuitive. We already were struggling to “love our neighbor,” and then He throws this at us. What about the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, or the person who has gossiped about you most? Do you mean those people Jesus? Our enemies? The answer is yes. Jesus still tells us to “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:27-28). 

Jesus had His share of  enemies. The people Jesus was talking to in Luke and Matthew lived under Roman rule. The Romans employed torture and murder to keep people in line. Everyone listening to Jesus talk about this idea of “loving your enemies” certainly had reason to hate the Roman soldiers and their leaders with a passion.  

Do we have a legitimate reason, or maybe a good excuse to not love our enemies? When we read passages of scripture that command us to love our enemies we may not blurt it out but we think that if we are not loved by someone why are we required to love them. That perception could not be further from the truth. We simply don’t have an excuse, because any level of love that God calls us to display to another human being, has already been extended to us by God.

Our culture teaches us the opposite. We are taught to hate those who hate us. As Christians, loving our enemies, serves as one of the most powerful witnessing tools. God calls us to be salt and light, to stand out in the crowd. What better way to do so then to do something so utterly unheard-of and counter-cultural like loving our enemies? Displaying this Christ-like love in today’s hate-filled world will force people to take notice and wonder who or what could compel us to love our enemies.

It’s not easy.  But the next time you’re faced with the choice to love your enemy, ask yourself what you would say or do if that person was your best friend in the whole world and do it. Even though every fiber of your being tells you to hate your enemy, if you respond to them like you would respond to someone you love, amazing transformation can take place.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What are the risks of trying to love our enemies?
  2. What are the benefits of loving our enemies?

The Rest Of The Story

“For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.” – Hebrews 6:10.  

There are many Bible stories that we can honestly say we have heard over and over on Sunday in small groups or in personal Bible study. There are a handful of stories in the Bible that are so familiar that we don’t think about it much anymore. Yes, we know it by heart, but have we stopped using it to impact our hearts? One of those stories is the famous story of the Good Samaritan. 

We are told that a lawyer stood up to test Jesus, asking Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. This man was not remotely interested in hearing the real answer, but in tripping up Jesus with some minor point of the Law. You know the story: A traveler is beaten up and robbed, and left for dead along the road. A priest comes by but deliberately avoids the man. A lawyer also comes by but he too avoids the injured man. Finally, a Samaritan comes by, and he helps the injured man, in an act of mercy and compassion. The term Good Samaritan has become synonymous with helping others.

The story is pretty cut and dry, or so it seems. But is it? God doesn’t want His people to simply follow a list of rules; He’s after the heart, and He wants His followers to love others as He does. We are to respond to others as God would respond to them, just as the Samaritan responded to the half-dead man on the side of the road, which is basically the way God responded to us when we were dead in our sins and in need of radical grace. It is more than if this happens, then I need to do this. 

When we love others as Jesus loves us, we will do things that seem hard to understand. We will forgive those that seem unforgivable. We will go out of our way to help those who may not deserve our help.  We may sacrifice everything for people who would not sacrifice for us.  

One of the best parts of the story is one that we don’t tend to think about: You have a man lying in the road that didn’t have to earn anything to receive mercy and grace. In the same vein is a man who died on a cross for the people who abused and hated Him; He rose again so that He could extend salvation and grace to those same people. So we are lying on the side of the road, basically dead in our sins and the Son of God extends His hand with free, radical grace—something that we could never earn or repay. All we have to do is accept it and Him. And because we received this grace, will we go and love others likewise; will we do great things because something great has been done for us? 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What lessons did you learn from Sunday’s sermon? 
  2. How can we all express more compassion and care for one another?  Does loving your neighbor as yourself help explain how Jesus loved? 

Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.  

In Matthew 22:36-39, a lawyer challenges Jesus asking him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” ”Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

The first verse Jesus quotes is from Deuteronomy 6:5, but the second is from Leviticus. For Jesus, to love your neighbor as yourself meant Leviticus 19: 9–18: “When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God. Do not steal. Do not deceive or cheat one another.D o not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the Lord. “Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay. Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the Lord. Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly. Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people. Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord. Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

For Jesus, speaking to Jews shaped by the Torah, this is what loving your neighbor looked like. Throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, there is a continuity, consistency, and concern for the poor, the marginalized, and love for one another. One theme we see throughout the Old Testament is a command to love your neighbor as yourself that is still relevant to our world today. Can you imagine what our city, state, country and world would be like if people loved each other this way?

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you think it is possible to live out the Leviticus 19: 9–18 passage? Why or why not?
  2. What’s one change you can make in your life to put more love into action?  

When Two Pray As One

“If you believe in prayer at all, expect God to hear you. If you do not expect, you will not have. God will not hear you unless you believe He will hear you; but if you believe He will, He will be as good as your faith.” – Charles Spurgeon.  

Have you ever heard somebody talk about “the power of prayer?” It is a phrase that is often used by Christians, but not everyone fully understands the meaning and impact of it. Prayer allows us to commune with the Heavenly Father. Prayer has the ability to strengthen marriages in multiple ways. It is like a triangle with God at the peak; as we draw closer to God through prayer, we draw closer to each other.

Praying together in today’s hectic world is hard to practice. Yes, we prayed for our meals together and with the kids when it is bedtime. And yes, we prayed together with the people in our small group when they had prayer requests, but we seldom prayed as husband and wife for our marriage.   

Couples who pray together say there is a definite connection between prayer time together and the quality of the relationship. For example, you get to hear what is on your spouse’s heart and what he or she is concerned about and they get to hear what you are concerned about. Prayer keeps you connected to each other and to God. They went on to say that during seasons when they were really busy and neglected prayer, they saw a significant difference in their interactions, and in their compassion for one another.  Praying together helps defuse anger and conflict. It is hard to stay mad and bitter when you are praying with and for each other daily. Prayer helps you cast your cares on the Lord and allows “my” calendar to become “our” calendar because you share the needs and burdens with each other.

Praying together every day creates a bond of understanding. It is a gift that we can give to our spouse and he or she gives to us, as we lift each other up in prayer. Praying together gives the couple a sense of unity and can put  an “opening statement” and a “closing paragraph” on God’s chapter for that day in our lives. It also makes it much easier to ignore or dispel the outside influences that can distract us from our purpose—to glorify God and reflect His glory through our marriage.

Some things to pray for: 

Pray for  growth and maturity in the marriage relationship.

Pray that God will heal any issues that are affecting the marriage.

Pray that God will teach you how to be the husband/wife he desires for you to be.

Pray that God will help you see His will.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you pray together as a couple? What is the biggest deterrence to the two of you praying together? What can help you remove the roadblock?
  2. What is the first step you need to take to start praying together?

Yes, I Really Do

Great marriages don’t happen by luck or by accident. They are the result of a consistent investment of time, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, affection, prayer, mutual respect, and a rock-solid commitment between a husband and a wife.” – Dave Willis

Over 200 years ago, George Washington wrote a letter to a friend saying: “I have always considered marriage as the most interesting event of one’s life, the foundation of happiness or misery.” The experience of every generation from that date to today has not changed at all. 

Marriage is no easier today than in George Washington’s time. It still involves blending two different personalities, with unique experiences, biases and visions for the future, into one unit. Marriage still requires the same kind of thoughtful attention, planning and deliberate investment that we give to our physical health and financial portfolios. It is all about commitment. It is all about a covenant.  

There was a popular song years ago called “The Motions.” This is how the chorus goes: I don’t wanna go through the motions…I don’t wanna go one more day…Without your all consuming passion inside of me…I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking…What if I had given everything…Instead of going through the motions.

There are many marriages today that are simply going through the motions. There is only a causal commitment so the success of the marriage is based on apathy and the feelings of the person on that particular day. That is the opposite of real commitment of a covenant between you and your spouse. The same thing can happen with our walk with God. We don’t feel God’s presence, or someone in the church wounds us or we are exhausted from herding the kids so I don’t feel like having a quiet time, or praying or going to church and small group. In the same vein, our commitment to marriage will be tested when the difficulties of life and the pull of responsibilities set in. The question is, where do we turn when that happens. We turn to the commitment, the covenant we made.   

It is the same in our commitment to Christ. When we are saved, we are on fire, ready to change the world. When the testing and trial set in (and they will come) it’s up to us to keep the flames burning.  Faith in the Lord involves commitment. The New Testament is quite clear that we are saved by our faith in Christ, not by ethical behavior or benevolent actions. Faith in Him, however, involves a commitment to follow His leadership—to do all we can to fulfill His expectations of us with no ifs, ands, or buts.  When we fail to keep a promise or commitment to others, we fail in our relationship with God. Our commitments to others are inseparably linked to our covenant with God.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. In what relationships do you find it most difficult to keep commitments? Why? How will this passage encourage you to approach your commitments differently?
  2. What does the way you treat others say about your relationship with God? What changes do you need to make?

The Gift Of Time

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” – Luke 6:38. 

When love is newly in the air, you want to spend every waking minute with the object of your affection. Even a few hours spent apart feels like an eternity, and you cannot wait for the anticipated reunion when you are once again in the company of your loved one. But strange things happen when you get married. That desire to spend all that one-on-one time together begins to dissipate. I believe that couples with strong relationships spend a couple hours a day in one-on-one, intentional time together. Yes, it can be a challenge to find that much time, but it is worth it.    

The reality is you will drift away from your spouse when you don’t make time to talk and interact with a specific purpose, rather than just idle chit chat. The same thing happens when we forget to pray and are so busy you don’t make time to meet with God. We begin to drift away. Just as we need to be intentional in our relationship with God to mature spiritually, we have to do the same in our marriages to grow closer to our spouse.

The obvious answer is to make time for each other. Maybe we need to move it up on our priority list. It may be that we stop doing some things, or maybe we need to learn to say no, or maybe we just need to get better at time management. You don’t get much credit for going through the motions or doing the bare minimum. Nothing is likely to improve if you spend a few minutes now and again just for show, so you can check that marriage requirement as being completed. Marriages, in fact all relationships, will not grow deeper or richer on minimal efforts and on tidbits and leftovers. Eventually, a successful marriage requires more. Spending time with your spouse reduces arguments, misunderstandings, miscommunication and will go a long way to reducing conflict. 

We should expect more as husband and wife. It’s too easy to give our best time and energy away to everyone and everything else, other than the one you vowed before God to “love, honor, and cherish.”  It is hard to see how we can be loving, honoring, and cherishing our spouse if we never spend any quality time with him or her.   

Once you start making it a routine for a couple of weeks, it will become more natural and normal to you. And, you and your spouse will have that personal time to talk about or talk through anything that you need to — life, work, each other, the kids, your spiritual walk with Christ.    

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Is there more “me” time or more “our” time in your marriage? 
  2. What can we do this week to make more time for our marriage/relationships?