Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Movement of Life

Life is forever unfolding, full of ups and downs. It does not and it cannot remain constant. Oh, if only we were able to freeze time then we could take the perfect moment in our lives and hold time there forever and live and die in expected happiness and we might be satisfied, but we know that is just not the way that it is.

God set our life in motion but he does not determine the choices that we make.

It is true with faith as well. God sent Christ into the world; he has given you the opportunity to follow him and to live a Christ-like life, but God does not open the door for you and reveal to you how your life will be different with the presence of Christ in your heart. God does not allow us to peer into the future. Oh, how I wish he did, or would do, so that I could do what was necessary to direct the future of my life and of your life.  But God has not granted me that power and personal authority to my great dismay.

If one looks out on the years and considers life’s possibilities, Christ says let be a part of your life. Let me be your friend, your confident, your guide, and yes, let me even be your master, for I will lead you with faithfulness.[i]

But instead of opening the door to Christ we often choose to open different doors and allow acces to other things to guide our lives.  My seminary professor, Dr. Ben Campbell Johnson, who was head of the doctoral program in Christian Spirituality at Columbia Presbyterian Seminary said:

Where the True God is not known, persons turn to substitute gods, to idols.  Devotion to gods of success, pleasure, intellectualism, politics - even religion, good though it is - is nevertheless idolatry.  A young man graduates from the univeristy full of vision for his future.  He gives himself to his job, imagining that it will fulfill the cry of his soul for meaning.  It does, briefly.  But one he has achieved its goal, the old haunting cry returns.  The idol of success does not satisfy permanently.[ii] 

We must seek the guidance of the Lord and submit to his will.  By doing so, we will choose the right doors to open.

Follow me on Twitter where I will regularly be offering spiritual reflections: aaronnagelnj

[i] This understanding of a knock at the door was illustrated in Halford E. Luccock’s sermon A Knock at the Door, Minister’s Manuel for 1994, edited by Cox, 173. Instead of ‘delivery man’ Luccock used the term ‘milkman’.
[ii] Ben Campbell Johnson was head of the Spirituality Program as Columbia Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Praying in Difficult Times

In difficult times, we are faced with several choices. How should we respond? We can choose to retreat in life and live in a state of solitude and insecurity, allowing discouragement to overwhelm us in our present situation. Or, we can struggle to find a way through difficult times.

There exists a wide variety of personal and professional resources available to assist us. We can choose to engage a professional counselor or rely on family and colleagues. But what do we do when such individuals are not available or present? How do we approach God in the in-between times?  

God is faithful. God made a covenant with us and offers us grace.

When you concentrate on and developed your prayer life, you can release many of your personal and professional frustrations and you can be in communion with God. Thus, prayer is a powerful and highly beneficial coping strategy that can help you in times of joy and sorrow, happiness and anguish.

Prayer offers a means of addressing deeper elements of your life. Through conversation with the Almighty, you can find Spiritual Rest.

How should we approach God?

Pray Regularly

Noted author Bill Hybels in Too Busy Not to Pray proposed the following questions

If you could ask God for one miracle in your life, knowing that God would grant your request, would you ask God

            to put your marriage back together?
            to change something about your job?
            to bring home a straying son or daughter?
            to heal your body?
            to straighten out your finances?
            to bring a loved one to Christ?

Whatever your request might be, do you regularly and diligently, every single day, bring it to God in prayer, trusting that God will intervene in your situation? If not, why not?[i] 

Another question often asked is when I should I pray? We learn to pray by praying regularly. Prayer is the method by which our relationship with God is sustained. Prayer is a necessary, intimate communication with God. In order to have a relationship with the Almighty, a person needs to pray.

Ralph Townsend contends in Faith, Prayer and Devotion that prayer indicates three things.[ii] First, it is recognition that you cannot do everything by yourself. Second, prayer signifies that we have a relationship with others; it is an expression of concern. Third, prayer identifies a relationship with God.

God is always available and we can hand things over to God when we have done all that we can.[iii]

The more we pray, the more we feel God is really interested in us and what we have to say. It makes us realize that God cares about us, and we need this realization daily. The Lord Jesus prayed give us this day our daily bread. In times of happiness and discouragement, people need to be spiritually filled through the breath of the Spirit daily.

People of faith are called upon to come before God, and Christ has prepared the way for us to approach God in times of joy and sorrow. Prayer is a method of communicating with God.

The letter to the Hebrews proclaims, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Pray Emotionally

Even if you get up the nerve to pray, how should you approach God in prayer? Prayer is difficult for many people. We don’t know what to say.

In prayer, we come before the Lord and express our emotions to God. We call upon God to be present in the midst of joy and sadness, in times of hope and despair. Charles Spurgeon said, “He who prays without fervency does not pray at all. We cannot commune with God, who is a consuming fire, if there is no fire in our prayers”[iv] 

In prayer, you need to pour out your soul to the God of mercy and grace. In doing so, you can find yourself in communion with God and experience personal growth and sustenance from the Lord.

During prayer, we share our lives with God, all the joy, happiness, brokenness, hurt, pain, and even anger directed toward God and others. It can be a freeing experience to express a wide range of both positive and negative emotions to the Lord.

Emotions are a part of our common humanity. Like all people, people of faith experience a wide range of emotions from excitement and elation to sorrow, frustration and rejection.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon writes there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate. (Eccl. 3:4) In prayer, we speak to God from the depth and anguish of our hearts, and we share with God the variety of emotions we are experiencing.

Pray Specifically

We need to recognize how comfortable or uncomfortable we are with prayer. Prayer is simple conversation with God; therefore, we should pray in Simple Speech.

Talk to God as you would your father, mother, brother, sister, or dearest friend. Unfortunately, most Christians are accustomed to offering prayers for others instead of for themselves. In private prayer, we need to share with God the times we feel loved and unloved by the Lord. Feel free to pray to God about your deepest needs and desires.

We believe in an omnipotent God. We want God to come to our aid, to fill our hearts with joy, to care for us in times of grief. Unfortunately, we are so often filled with doubt.

Will God really intervene? Does God really care? And yet, in prayer we rely on faith, and faith is essential for effective prayer.

Praying specifically requires faith, the belief that God is actually listening and is concerned about your present condition. It can be freeing to finally tell God your true feelings, to release your fears and frustrations, and to ask God for guidance and direction. God has the ability to produce change in you.

God has the power to make shy Moses a leader (Ex. 3-4), to soften cruel Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 11:1-8), to keep discouraged Elijah from quitting (1 Kings 19:15), to turn the fanatical persecutor Saul into a globe-trotting apostle (Acts 9:1-31). . . . God is able–the Bible repeats the words over and over. Able to save three of his followers from a fiery furnace (Daniel 3:17). Able to give a child to ninety-year-old Sarah (Romans 4:18-21). Able to give [God’s] followers all that they need (2 Corinthians 9:8). Able to save completely those who come to God through Jesus (Hebrews 7:25). ‘Able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine’(Ephesians 3:20 NIV).[v]

 In prayer, we are looking for divine activity of the sovereign God.

“Prayer is a form of human communication that differs from other languages just because it is addressed to God.”[vi] In times of frustration and sorrow, we are seeking God’s sustaining grace.[vii] Confidence is placed not in oneself but in the power and love of the Almighty. Our trust in God is based not on our circumstances but on God’s character. We trust in the divine providence of God.[viii]

For what should you pray? Before succumbing to cancer, noted pastor James Montgomery Boice spoke these words of trust to his congregation:

A relevant question, when you pray is, pray for what? Should you pray for a miracle [from your present situation]? Well you are free to do that, of course. My general impression is that God who is able to do miracles–and God certainly can – is also able to keep you from getting in the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they are rare by definition. A miracle has to be an unusual thing. Above all I would say pray for the glory of God.[ix]

Pray that God will intervene and strengthen; that God would be praised in your life. We pray to a God of mystery, a personal God, an approachable God, but a mysterious God. Again, prayer is the primary means of communication with God.

Pray Trustingly

I have also seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live. –Ecclesiastes 3:10-14

Why do we pray? Through daily prayer, we have the ability to place our ultimate trust in God. God is the God yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We worship Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

When faced with burdens, we often feel the need to let God take control, and we trust that God knows what God is doing. And yet, we have difficulty letting God be in control of our lives.

We should remember the words of scripture. It is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (1 Cor. 2:9-13)

Sometimes, you may wonder and question God’s roll in your life and in your faith. As questions arise as to whether or not you are fulfilling your personal calling, or whether you should throw in the towel, you need to reconnect with the Almighty.

In prayer, as you place your utmost trust in God, you can experience confidence and hope, a renewed sense of commitment to the Lord, and once again serve the Lord Jesus Christ in your church and in the world.

Take Time to Pray

Take time to talk to God; do it regularly.  In prayer, you need to converse with the Almighty regularly. You should open yourselves up to the Lord and express the wide variety of emotions you have about yourself, others, and even God. You can call upon God to help you accept and cope with your present situation and provide much needed grace.

You need to share with God the specifics of your present circumstances along with your personal needs and desires. And then, you can trust that God is the God of grace. God will comfort and guide you. God will forgive and challenge you. God will minister to you, and you can receive a renewed sense of faith.

REST in the Lord.  Pray Regularly, Pray Emotionally, Pray Specifically, and Pray Trusting.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
Whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
Sending out its roots by the stream.

It shall not fear when heat comes,
And its leaves shall stay green;
In the year of drought it is not anxious,
And it does not cease to bear fruit.   
                                                            –Jeremiah 17:7-8

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and through the rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire
you shall not be burned,
and the flames shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
your Savior.                                                    
                                                            –Isaiah 43:2-3

Follow me on Twitter where I will regularly be offering spiritual reflections:
My twitter account is: aaronnagelnj

[i] Bill Hybels, Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to be with God, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 29.
[ii] Ralph Townsend, Faith, Prayer and Devotion (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983), 2.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Bill Gothard, The Power of Crying Out: When Prayer Becomes Mighty (Sisters: Multnomah, 2002), 75.
[v] Hybels, 35
[vi] Wayne R. Spear, Talking to God: The Theology of Prayer (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant, 2002), 29.
[vii] Bryan Chapell, Praying Backwards: Transform Your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus' Name (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 29.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] James Montgomery Boice, “Testimony” (sermon delivered to Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA, May 7, 2000), quoted by Bryan Chapell in Praying Backwards.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Handling Difficulties

Ever faced a difficult time in life?

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale said that the first step in handling tough times is to “Lift Your Spirits.”  Dr. Peale believed in the power of positive thinking.  In fact, in its day, it was one of the best-selling books.  He believed “that the most powerful force in this universe is a positive thought properly used.”  Nothing can be overcome in life until your thoughts are positive.

How do you do this?  His said, first, monitor your moods.

It doesn’t mean to become alarmed if your mood becomes low or high, but be aware if your mood goes down and stays down.  It is in recognizing these times that you can become aware that you need your spirit and your spiritual life lifted. 

Dr. Peale said, when you are feeling discouraged... get out into the sun, feel the warmth and remember what God has done for you in the past.

Then, work on clearing your mind of negative thoughts.  These are the thoughts that are hateful, apprehensive, fearful and evil.  In doing so, you will begin to feel your spirit lifted. 

Often we allow destructive attitudes to consume us.  We let those with destructive attitudes affect our own thinking and actions.  Remember, no matter what circumstance you are facing, nothing is ever permanent and the blessings of God can pour down on us like rain.

So I ask you.  How are your spirits today?  What is your present mood?  If it is not positive, how can you change it?  Take a break, step out into the sun, or think of the sun and the warmth of God’s presence, and then, clear your mind and begin again.  If your present mood is positive and great, reach out to someone in difficulty. 

Dr. Peale in his writings listed positive affirmations we can grasp hold of and remember.  In his call to lift your spirit he said, “Remember all the good God has done for you in the past.  Visualize all the good God will do for you in the future.”
excerpts taken from How to find ways to resolve your problems by Norman Vincent Peale.
Follow me on Twitter where I will regularly be offering spiritual reflections:
My twitter account is: aaronnagelnj

Monday, February 4, 2013

Looking At Our Schedules

It's Monday again. The Super Bowl is over.  Hopefully, you made it back into work on time this morning.

Do you find yourself struggling to get through the work week.  Some people do such a wonderful job planning out their work week: the calls they need to make, analyzing sales figures, scheduling meetings, and placing and receiving orders.  Lunch is often regularly planned as well.  Where we will eat?  Will it be a working lunch or just time with colleagues and friends, or perhaps some alone time?  Planning makes us productive.

But what about your spiritual growth; is that planned into your week as well?  If we want to grow spiritually, to be productive in faith, it needs to be.

We need to take time to intentionally plan to read scripture, pray, call a friend, follow-up on someone in need, check on a colleague who's having a personal difficulty, pause and meditate on God's creation, see the world around us, and evaluate how it is impacting us positively and negatively.

So, I ask you, did you plan your week well?  Did you forget a few things that need to be on your list?

We are people of schedules.  It really is OK to schedule time with the Lord.

Follow me on Twitter where I will regularly be offering spiritual reflections:
My twitter account is: aaronnagelnj