How vital is prayer to our spiritual development as a follower of Jesus? Is it a regular practice in your life? I love these thoughts about prayer:
“Prayer is God saturating our minds, or our thoughts, with His influence. Prayer will control your emotions and permit His truth to bring down the negative forces of darkness that are speaking lies to our minds and trying to corrupt our thoughts.” – Jim Maxim
I believe our commitment to and practice of prayer is a clear indication of where our relationship with Jesus is. It’s hard to maintain a relationship without communication. And the most influential relationship in our life should be steeped in consistent communication.
Take some time and pray today. Invest in the most important relationship, Jesus.
You are patient, Father.
You welcome me back with grace when I don’t deserve it. When I have trampled and made a mockery of Your Name, You still embrace me with love when I run back to You.
I serve a gracious God. He is always faithful, meeting every need I have at the most perfect time.
And yet, I still have days I struggle to trust. There are still days fear and doubt creep into my mind and effect my perception of who God really is.
Following Jesus doesn’t mean I have it all figured out, that I have somehow arrived at perfection while I still walk this earth. It’s also not an excuse, a crutch to live a life emboldened by sin where I wave my “get out of jail free” card when the flames of Hell get too hot.
Following Jesus means He is above everything else in my life. My pursuit in life is His pleasure, and from that everything else finds its rightful place.
Following Jesus means I yearn and strive to reflect Him in everything I do. From the little to the big, the 90’s phrase-question “What would Jesus Do” causes me to reflect on my approach and decision I make.
Following Jesus means I serve, and I serve because I love what matters to Him. What Jesus values, I value. I pour myself into meeting the needs of those around me, because He set the example of the perfect servant when He deserved glory and honor.
I serve a loving and gracious God. A Father who loved me so much He gave His most prized possession to rescue me from the grip of Hell. Jesus, on a cross in my place. A physical display of ultimate sacrifice, that won the eternal battle for my soul.
I follow Jesus not out of guilt, or fear. I follow Jesus out of gratitude. Because He willingly took a place meant for me, so that I could stand with Him before the Father. He wanted me, because He loves me. And He wants you for the same reason.
The sacrifice He made for me, He did for you too. The joy He gives me, He wants you to have also. Following Jesus isn’t about getting it right all the time, or never struggling again.
Following Jesus is about recognizing the gift laid before us, the sacrifice that was made on our behalf because our Creator saw it right to restore us to Himself. It’s about finding peace that I often times can’t wrap my head around, but it helps me walk through the storms with confidence that I am not alone.
It doesn’t matter what your past looks like, what kind of baggage you are hanging onto, Jesus wants you. He wants you to let go, to fall into Him and trust that He will hold you.
He wants you.
It’s easy in life to be overwhelmed. Life’s situations can come from all directions and all at once, quickly taking you from a sense of being on top of the world to looking for the nearest rock to hide under. When fears and doubts creep up, they can quickly tear us down and make us question every decision we make and thought we have.
Strength is a term that seems to have different meanings for different people. Yet, we often use the word in the same contexts. I tell my little boy all the time he is so strong when he is pushing open a door. I tell my wife she is a strong mom as she actively works to raise our children together in a Godly home. We use the word strong, but we apply its meaning based on the current context we are in. Mental, physical, emotional; all areas we each need strength in.
But what about the spiritual?
See, what I have learned in my short life so far is that my physical, emotional and mental strength will never be adequate apart from deep rooted spiritual strength in Jesus Christ. I can spend my days working out (and if you know me, that’s not my jam), reading and studying till I fall asleep at the desk, or going through exercises to gain better control over my emotions. But that time, while it might seem fruitful on the outside, will be spent in vain if I am in spiritual decay. If my faith in Jesus is weak, all other aspects of my life will be too.
I recently got back from some traveling in the South, and while I was there I took some pictures of the popular Live Oak trees that populate the region I was in. I found myself fascinated by their size. The ones I photographed are estimated to be 250-500 years old! Their trunks are over 25 feet around, and while not very tall they are spread out over 100 feet. These trees are massive!
They are also incredibly strong.
Their root systems are immense, going deep and wide to support themselves. They provide shade and shelter from the hot southern sun. But more impressive than what they do is what they have been through.
Storms. Hurricanes. Intense heat. Floods.
These trees over the last several hundred years have been battered and abused by the elements of nature, and yet they have stood strong and secure in their place. Each one started as a small seed, something we might consider insignificant. But with time, they grew deep, developing in strength under the earth with an incredible root system. See, their outward appearance is impressive, but it wouldn’t be possible if what you can’t see below the ground didn’t exist.
Our spiritual health as a Believer is more important than any other aspect of our life. The majesty of the Live Oak brought that home for me.
When we neglect our spiritual development in Jesus Christ, everything else we do is in vain. While the world may give it value, in the eyes of God it has none. Our physical, emotional and mental strength can only sustain us so long. They do not provide the longevity, they do not posses the stamina we require to truly weather the storms we face in life.
Paul’s words to the church in Philippi encourage me to put priority to my spiritual development, to place the growth and wellbeing of my faith in Jesus Christ above all other areas of my life.
“Therefore my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”Philippians 4:1
Paul has just finished writing to them about joining him in the ultimate pursuit: living a holy life, striving to imitate their Savior Jesus Christ. Paul knew that his fellow Believers would face hardship, and that what would ultimately be tested was not their intellect or physical strength. It would be their heart. Like deep roots of an old Live Oak tree support the immense weight and size above the ground, Paul is encouraging Believers to stand firm in Jesus Christ by way of a deep rooted faith in Jesus Christ. So when the storms of life come, the hurricane and destructive forces of nature roll into your life, you can stand firm and weather the storm.
You might be tired, maybe even a little bruised. But you will be standing firm and secure because your roots are deep.
Acts chapter 3 is often broken into two parts, and while this can make sense it is important to take them together. The first section, in which Peter and John interact with a lame beggar helps preface their following interaction in the Temple. Keep in mind this section we will now examine takes place soon after the new Church had just experienced an explosion of growth. Thousands of new Believers have experienced the life giving transformation of surrendering themselves to Jesus Christ, and have experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The young Church was alive and growing!
Word has spread throughout Jerusalem and has begun creeping into the surrounding areas of the country. The Jesus who was condemned, hung on a cross, and buried has risen from the dead and is alive! His followers are speaking boldly, and performing miracles and wonders before the people.
It’s with this backdrop that we find Peter and John on their way to the Temple, something they clearly continued to practice as Believing Jews. It was morning time, the 9th hour according the Scripture, when they encountered a lame bigger just outside the Temple at the Beautiful Gate.
A man lame from birth was being carried, whom they had laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.– Acts 3:2-3
It was not uncommon to find people in the same condition as this beggar at the temple gates, or the many pools of water within the city. They were busy public places, high foot traffic areas. In other words, the likelihood of receiving alms was increased for them by positioning themselves in these areas because of their increased exposure to people. Alms is not a word commonly used now, but its meaning is one we all understand. To give alms was to be charitable; the idea behind the word was to exercise compassion to someone in need. For the lame beggar to seek alms from others was to seek charitable compassion from those more fortunate and able than he.
In many ways, this lame beggar perfectly illustrates the condition of every man who doesn’t know Jesus. The Scripture tells us that this man was born lame, that he has spent his entire life existing unable to help himself, forever dependent on the abilities and care of others. Most of us grow out of being dependent on others as we age, but with respect to our spiritual condition our dependence never goes away. As this beggar was physically lame, we are spiritually lame without Jesus. Every person is born a sinner, unable to meet our own spiritual needs. There is nothing we can do to rectify this, no different than the lame beggar’s inability to walk on his own feet for himself. And just like a sinner apart from the saving grace of Jesus, he was stuck outside the fellowship, begging for someone to save him. Someone to have mercy and compassion, delivering hope that would satisfy him. Apart from knowing Jesus we have no hope. There is no grace to experience that can bring restoration between us and God. We are as crippled and helpless as the beggar laid at the temple gate each day.
But then something changed.
This time, the beggar asked for compassion from the right person. This time, he would have an encounter with Jesus through His Apostles. This time, he would receive what he sought in a way that would leave him needing no more.
And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.– Acts 3:4-7
I don’t know about you, but I get shivers down my spine when I read this! The idea of a man standing to his feet for the first time IN HIS LIFE! In an instant, life change takes place. This man was laid at the temple gate expecting to be gifted material things to meet his needs, but here we see Peter go beyond. Not only was this beggar’s physical needs met by the healing of his body, he experienced the life giving mercy and grace of Jesus through the miraculous act of compassion.
Have you experienced healing? Have you experienced restoration with Jesus? Maybe you are still the beggar waiting outside the temple gate, seeking something that you think will meet your needs and satisfy the emptiness in side you. Friend, we have all been there. The difference for me is that I’ve had an encounter with Jesus like the lame beggar. My needs have been met in a way that goes far beyond today. The eternal need of my soul being reconciled to God has been met. And it’s something you can experience to (ask me how!!).
Peter did a miracle by the power of the Holy Spirit, and it changed lives. It impacted not only the beggar, but the people around. What can you do today as a follower of Jesus to make a difference? Sure, you might not perform a physical miracle. But your words and actions might be the miracle someone needs to experience, that brings them into a right relationship with God through Jesus. You have a Peter moment with your name written on it, waiting for you to allow the Spirit of God to lead you. Speak new life, speak healing. Help someone find restoration today.
Stand up, and help others get on their feet too.
It’s easy when we find ourself in a questionable situation to blame everyone and everything but us. I’m convinced that accepting responsibility for our own mistakes and failures is one of the hardest things for a person to do. No one likes to be wrong.
There have been countless times I’ve found myself in situations I regret, because of my own selfish desires and passions. Thinking it’s ok, justifying my choices at the beginning. But when the unwanted consequences surface, I’m quick to shirk the blame.
See, in the moment it seems right. I think it’s good. There is something enticing about what I want. But when my heart is guided by selfish desires, I’ll want wrong things. Paul gave us a glimpse of this when he wrote Romans 7:15.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.– Romans 7:15
Paul understood well, that if we are not surrendered to the Spirit of God we will continually walk into sin. When we allow the desires of our flesh to dictate the posture of our heart, we will always turn away from God and find ourself in compromising situations. Pornography, drug and alcohol addiction, workaholics, physical and emotional abusers, infidelity, toxic relationships; unhealthy, sinful behavior and thinking is rooted in being separated from God and seeking the desires of ourself.
Paul understood there is a war within us. As followers of Jesus we are called to be holy, but our flesh is still sinful. Jesus died to eternally forgive our sins, to restore our fellowship with God, and it is by His Spirit dwelling in us we can find the strength in the face of temptation to turn away from the desires of our flesh.
It’s a constant battle we are engaged in. And we are often our worst enemy, failing to surrender to God and hold the ground. But there is hope, there is grace. That even when we find ourself in a compromising situation, rescue is always possible.
The question we have to answer is difficult in its simplicity.
Which desire within us is greater?
What I want, or what God wants for me?