Prayer Makeover: Part II

Last week I spent some time going over the rules or conditions of prayer. These five rules were not my own, they were found explicitly in the Word of God. If you remember, I used quite a few different books of the Bible to demonstrate God’s instructions about prayer.

This week, for Part II of our Prayer Makeover, I want to go into the process of prayer, and we will only be looking at one book of the Bible. So, (clears throat) please turn your books to Matthew 6, verses 5 to 8. You can go ahead and bookmark the page, because we’re going to be here for a bit…

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Here Jesus tells us a few things about how we should pray…. Well, first, He actually tells us how not to pray. We can’t be doing it out in the open for all to see. Now, does this mean we can’t pray out loud before a meal with our family? Does this mean that we shouldn’t pray in our small groups and group bible studies and prayer meetings with friends? Not necessarily.

See, the hypocrites that Jesus is talking about used to get all dressed up to go out on the street corner and shout out prayers that they could have just said at home in their pajamas. But they didn’t do it to talk (much less listen) to God. They did it so that other people would look at them and think, “Oh, look at that holy person! How faithful they are! They are so righteous! I love they way they pray!”

This is why Jesus says that these people have already received their reward. They get credit for their prayers from the people that hear them (the people that the prayers are actually for). These prayers are not for God, so God does not give them a reward in heaven for their windy, wordy, empty prayers.

Jesus warns us to not be like those people, who keep babbling, thinking that they will be heard because they keep on talking and talking and talking. When they do this, Jesus, implies, their words loose meaning, but they also insult God in the process; they are treating Him as if He doesn’t already know what they need! Our God knows everything! He knows what each and every one of us needs better than even we do! 

Now, back then, as I said, these people would go out to the town square to shout prayers to the Lord. Today’s equivalent might be praising the Lord in a Facebook status, or tweeting Bible verses. It all depends on the intent. If the intent is that you really truly think God is checking his newsfeed on “the Book of Faces” (as my husband so cleverly calls it), and so you want to let him know you’re a “fan” of His, then fine! But most of the time we post and tweet those things to make sure other people see them, not to make sure God sees them …. and honestly, I’m guilty of this too… so let’s all work on this one!

I remember being in a college prayer group when I first got saved. Each time we got together, we would talk about the Word and how it was working in our lives, then we would ask for prayer requests. After that, we would do what I like to call “Popcorn-Prayer” (this is the teacher side of me coming out!). One person would start praying, then after they had finished, another person with pick it up and pray as well, and then, after some silence, another person would pray… and so on and so forth until the last person prayed and we all would say, “In Jesus’ Name, Amen!”.

I would sit there with my eyes shut, not really listening to the others, but instead I would be rehearsing my prayer! I would think about what things to say and how to phrase things, and I would review the prayer request.

Now, to be honest, I don’t think I did this in order to be praised on Earth for my holiness or beautiful prayers. I think I was actually nervous about praying in front of other people because I was a new Christian, and I really didn’t know how to pray! 

Luckily Jesus actually tells us how to do that too…

He tells us to go to our room, close the door, fall to our knees, and pray in secret. This way, our prayers are only for Him and Him alone. We are not doing it for show and our reward will be saved for us in heaven rather than being wasted here on Earth with compliments from others.

So, now we have some general guidelines about how to pray, and we have Jesus’ direct words about how not to pray. What do we do now?

Practice!

  • Take instruction from Jesus and go in your room and talk to God, listen to Him too!
  • Keep a prayer journal that you can revisit throughout the day. Write about what you’re thankful for. Write about what you’re sorry for. Write about what you need or what you know others really need. Write about how incredible God is. Write about the questions you have for God.
  • Read the Word and speak the Word. God loves to hear His Word repeated back to Him, that’s why Jesus always quotes scripture. Read the Word, memorize verses, and speak them aloud in your private prayers. God will surely speak to you through them to give them new meaning and application to your own life.
  • Work to see God everywhere! When you are constantly aware of God’s presence, it’s much easier to speak to Him and listen to Him throughout the day. You won’t have to routinely rattle off a prayer during your lunch break at work just to fit your prayer time in if you are constantly communicating with God, whether silently or aloud. And remember, communication is a two-way street!

Next post, we will still be in Matthew 6, so keep that bookmark in your Bible or internet browser! We will take our prayer time to the next level with the “model prayer”

See you soon Saints!

Why I’m not reading Fifty Shades of Grey

I am not reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

Recently there have been explosions of women and men(–totally weird, I know), who have become obsessed with the new novel by EL James, and, to put it bluntly, I refuse to be one of them. At the risk of sounding perfectly closed-minded, I would like to explain to you why I’m not considering reading Fifty Shades of Grey and why I think you shouldn’t either.

Reason #1: Simple. Fifty Shades of Grey is sinful. This book is classified as erotic fiction,which, along with pornography, is defined a genre which has “no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire.” That right there is enough for me to say “no thanks, I’d rather just sleep with my husband”. (Excuse my honesty)

Now i’s all very well for me to give you my opinion, but let’s look at what the Big Man says; God tells us that there is only one who should stimulate sexual desire us: our spouse.

Since God’s plan for my sexual desire involves only my own husband, then anything else that adds to my arousal is sin.

Jesus said it this way: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The same is true of a woman looking at (or reading about) a man.

Reason #2: This book may rob of your desire for real sex. The Bible confirms that lust is hurtful and harmful. And guess what? So do modern biopsychologists. Research shows that over time your body becomes conditioned to self-stimulation and gratification. Lust can cut a literal pathway in your brain tissue. At first a little bit of erotica might give you the desire to be with your spouse, but overtime that self-stimulation and your own imagination (or porn) is not only enough to satisfy you, you actually prefer it to real sexual intercourse.

…I’m not just making this up. Check out this article in The New  Yorker  for more information.

Reason #3: This book will make it difficult for women to fully respect their husbands.

Okay, let’s be honest, women. Sadly, a few of our men have looked at porn. I mean, most guys over the age of 12 have. If you’re like me, you find this extremely sad.

You may feel like you can never compare to the perfection created by lights, camera, and Photoshop that is presented in some porn. Or maybe you just feel like you have to compete for your husband’s sexual attention.

Well, he may likewise feel like he can’t compare to the fantasized interpretation of manhood depicted in this particular book, and he may feel like he has to compete with a fictional character. Which would suck right?

If you don’t want your guy to look at other naked women, don’t read about naked men. I personally want to have more respect for my husband than that. How about you?

Reason #4: This book directly contradicts what God created sex to be. It is meant to be a union that is fuled by love and service, not pain or humiliation. Fifty Shades of Grey deals a lot with BDSM: Bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism. And if you recognize what any of those words are, you can get an idea about why this book is so damaging.

It’s not just that Fifty Shades of Grey misuses sex; it redefines it into something evil and transgressive. The lead character uses dominance in a hurtful way.  In our emasculating culture, there is indeed a hunger for strong men, but this book takes the role of headship to a new level- a sinful one.

A man is supposed to lovingly and sacraficially serve his wife and lead her in the Christ-like direction. This does not involve dominating her or holding her in sexual submission. 

A woman is supposed to respect her husband and support him in his leadership. This does not involve becoming a sexual slave to him. Nor does it involve reading trashy novels about men who abuse their sexual partners just to get an arousal.

…Also. Vanilla is an ice cream flavor, not a type of sex. Ew.

 

I will never read this book. And many of you might be up in arms with me about this post because I am (for lack of a better term) ripping this book apart before even opening it. Judge away. In a way, I’m judging the book by it’s gossip.

I’m going to quote another blogger here to explain my point: “There are many things in this world I need not partake in to discern that they are going to be harmful to me. God has given me more than fifty shades of truth in His Word and when just one of them is in conflict with my entertainment choices, I choose to pass”!

I love my marriage, my God, and myself. Why put those things in jeopardy for a quick read?

If you find yourself seeing my side of the story, please take a moment today to post these words on Facebook or twitter: “I’m not reading Fifty Shades of Grey.”

If you have friends who need help understanding why, send them to my blog. I’d be happy to explain!

Are you a “stalker”?

So, you’re an online blog-reader.

Annnnnd….I know from my stats that most of you get to this blog via facebook.

Have you ever heard someone start a sentence using these words: “so I was facebook stalking the other day…”?

Not you. Oh no, I know you would never partake in such a degrading and time-sucking practice as “facebook stalking”… NEVER!

The truth is, we all have been guilty of clicking through someone’s profile pictures, or following the chain of people who commented on so-and-so’s recent status update, then ended up looking at pictures of a stranger’s baby or dog or….something else equally invasive and downright creepy.

The truth is, we can know a lot about a random person that we are facebook ‘friends’ with. We can know that they like to ride their bike to work or that they are obsessed with One Direction. We can even know who they are dating, when they stopped working at the Dairy Queen, and (if they are as detailed with their status updates as some people I know) how often they go work out at the gym or what they’re making for dinner on Sunday night.

You could know all these random things about complete strangers!

And you’d be considered a genuine stalker in most people’s books.

…Although, social networking and people’s openness about sharing their lives with the world wide web has made this pretty much typical and even expected.

What I’ve found to ring so true for me is this: Often times, we are what I like to call Jesus Stalkers.

We know our Bible verses and our Be-attitudes and we wear our WWJD bracletts (are those even a thing anymore?)– fine. We wear our “Jesus is my Homeboy” tee shirts, and we go to church, and we know about what Jesus said and what he did and who he cured and how he died and how he rose and all of that good stuff.

And that’s good, right?

See, the weird part is that most Jesus Stalkers look like devout Christians who are highly informed about Jesus.

But again, the truth is, you can be highly informed about the dude who sits next to you in Philosophy Lecture hall simply because you’re BFF is ‘friends’ with him on facebook and follows him on twitter.

Knowing a lot of information about someone does not mean you know them. I mean like truly know them. On a personal level.

But see, Jesus wants us to know him personally, intimately, and deeply. He doesn’t want to be stalked. He wants to be walked with, talked with, listened to, and he wants our time.

If you google “stalker definition”, you get this:

stalk·er/ˈstôkər/

Noun:
  1. A person who stealthily hunts or pursues an animal or another person.
  2. A person who harasses or persecutes someone with unwanted and obsessive attention.
 Jesus had a few stalkers back in his day too. They were called the Pharisees. They knew everything he was teaching, what he was claiming, and what he was doing. They harassed and persecuted him because they were obsessed with the Law, which Jesus came to demolish, then rebuild in an even better way.
We are not called to be stalkers of Jesus, we are called to be Disciples.

dis·ci·ple/diˈsīpəl/

Noun: A personal follower of Jesus during his life, esp. one of the twelve Apostles.

Verb: Guide (someone) in becoming a follower of Jesus or another leader.

Synonyms: follower – pupil – adherent – learner – apprentice

This is what we want to be. A follower, a pupil, a learner.

The system of apprenticeship first developed in the Middle Ages. A master craftsman was entitled to employ a young person as an inexpensive form of labor in exchange for providing food, lodging and formal training in the craft. Apprentices lived and worked with the master for years and years until they had successfully mastered the craft completely. The idea of “one teacher per student” was adopted by many Zen teachers in practicing their art as well.

If we want to be true followers of Christ, we have to live and work with Him. We have to be one-on-one with Him. And because his craft is utter perfection, we will never master it completely, so we’ll have to keep learning from him every day, no matter how much we feel we know or how “good” we get at being “good”.

 So how about you? How long have you been a Jesus Stalker? 
What does it mean to know Jesus on a personal level?
What does your relationship with Jesus look like? Are you a true disciple?

online neighbors

So I was listening to WBEZ the other day (I’m currently addicted, so much so that I go online to listen to them when I’m not driving around Chicago-land), and they did this whole special on Chicago neighborhoods. A lot of interesting topics were brought up that I won’t go way into, but I did want to blog about it today. 

I noticed a lot of people bashing the online world as a key destroyer of human connection.

“Kids now-a-days don’t know how to have an actual conversation that doesn’t include texting or tweeting.”

“We are an isolated society that finds fulfillment in meaningless connections over the internet instead of face to face interaction that used to be so valued.”

“Once upon a time, when someone on the sidewalk flashed you a grin, it was considered a friendly gesture…now, it feels more like a confirmation of crazy. People, it seems, tend to be fearless online but increasingly terrified of face-to-face interactions.”

Being a blogger, and (I’ll admit) a constant pinterest, facebook, and twitter user, I can’t say that I whole-heartedly agree.

Chances are, since you are currently online reading my blog instead of hanging out with your neighbors, you probably also consider the world wide web as a community of sorts. It is a place to connect with people, have conversations, find out about other people or news, share ideas, and get new ideas. With how many million people follow me on pinterest alone (slight exaggeration there), I know that these online tools and social networks are highly used by many members of American society and even the world society at large. To say that all connection on these sites is meaningless is a bit absurd.

However, I do understand where some people are coming from when they blame social networking on the decline of neighborliness. People probably know their “friends” on facebook better than they do the person who lives across the street from them, and kids are getting better and better at finding ways to pass the time by sitting in front of a computer instead of playing outside with the kids down the block. Also, I have come to find that pinterest provides a false sense of productivity when people are “pinning” cool crafts and recopies instead of making them in real life. It’s even possible to feel a false sense of church community by all of the sermons and Christian blogs available with the click of a mouse, and I know that this can cause some major issues when it comes so socializing and community.

However, even before we all had laptops can could listen to John Piper on our iphones rather than attend Sunday service, there were issues with “genuine connection” and true “neighborliness”.

Some suggest that the specific decline in neighbors knowing one another had more to do with architecture than anything else. Houses and apartments were built with back porches rather than front porches, and yards were fenced in rather than open. This made people more seclusive…. or was it the other way around? Did people gradually get more successive and then all the sudden start building their houses to reflect that?

Also, air conditioning and cable tv. We sit inside to entertain ourselves and stay cool rather than sit out on our front stoop to see people walking by and getting to know our community.

Then of course, there is always the issue of race. Many people began to break off and away from certain neighborhoods because of different ethnicities moving in. Ever heard of “white flight“?

One of my theories is this:  People have become self-reliant and have placed a seriously high value on their own individuality.

While I think its great that so many people have so much self-esteem and are so confident in their abilities, I don’t know if this ideology is justified by Christ, or by our genuine human need for community.

Our culture has convinced many of us that serving ourselves is the most important thing and it teaches us that independence is a quality we should admire and aspire for. But this distorts the truth about Christ’s selfless sacrifice and his emphasis on communion with others.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we all should take time to be alone and to seek our God alone to become refreshed and renewed in his Truth, but what I won’t buy into is the lie that loving others and creating community requires my own self-confidence and self-reliance to be supremely fed.

Jesus had friends that he hung out with (reject friends at that!). Jesus knew people and talked to people, and they were usually the ones that no one else wanted to be seen around. He ate and drank with people (and actually was persecuted in part because of this fact) and wherever he traveled, he loved the people there and gave them his time. He did not come to be served, he came to serve. He did not build up his walls so he could worship God all alone and rely on himself, but he humbled himself. He had the woman at the well, who no one would talk to, give him water. He asked John, his cooky cousin, to baptize him. He asked his disciples to prepare the passover meal and get him a donkey. He was not self-reliant, and he totally could have been because, well, he’s God.

Now I know I’ve gone off on a little tangent here, but mainly, the point I wish to make is this:

Community is important, but there a many different kinds of communities. Jesus had his apostles, friends, his family, his church, and then his followers who were spread about the land. We have our friends, our friends, our family, our church, our facebook profile, our blogring… whatever. It’s clear that we need people. We need connection. We need others to be with us and in communication with us.

God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” I think he was dead on….well, he is dead on about everything really, but this part is no exception.

How about you? What do you think of online communities? How can we make our social networking connections meaningful and Christlike? If you have any insights, ideas, or revelations, please let us know by posting a comment. I’d love to hear your input, as always!