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Monday, April 25, 2016

PRAYER: What is Prayer and How do We approach God?

Introduction

If you are a Christian - a follower of Jesus - then ministers and teachers undoubtedly taught you about prayer. Many people have written books and study guides to teach other people what prayer is, how to pray, of what prayer is comprised, and whose prayers are heard. This Bible study is an earnest seeking of everything the Bible says on prayer and praying - noun and verb. There are over 130 verses in the Bible regarding prayer, praying, calling out, supplicating, asking, petitioning, and requesting.

In this Bible study, I researched and found 132 verses in the New American Standard Bible that speak on this topic. Of the 132 verses studied, sixty-four related to four of the fifty-nine areas of prayer denoted within the verses. That means of the fifty-nine areas related to prayer, the Bible spoke of four areas in over half the verses. That is statistically significant.

Before getting to that discussion, let us understand what this study will show us. By studying the Bible, we find answers to the following questions concerning prayer and praying.

·         What is prayer?
·         How do we approach God?
·         How do we/are we supposed to pray?
·         What is expected of the pray-er?
·         When should we pray?
·         Should we expect God to answer prayer?
·         What happens when we pray?
            The study of God’s Word - the Bible - is a discipline every Christian should follow. A person cannot grow in his or her relationship with God without knowing more of Him and striving to become more Christlike. The Bible teaches both these things. The people in the Bible understood what prayer is. Jesus Christ taught His disciples how to pray and modeled it regularly for them. If for no other reason, these should compel us to pray, too. Join with me in the first of part of this Bible study series on prayer as we learn what the Bible teaches on prayer and the person who prays – the pray-er.


What is Prayer?

The word “prayer,” according to 2 Samuel 7:27 (the first place in the New American Standard Bible to use the word “prayer”), comes from the Hebrew word tephillah (noun) and means prayer, to pray a prayer, hear prayer, and house of prayer. To pray (verb) comes from the Hebrew word ‘athar  and means to entreat, supplicate, plead, or prayer. In 2 Samuel 7:27, David talked with God regarding building His temple. God promised him his royal line would not vanish. Notice prayer is listening and speaking. Notice David acknowledged he heard God tell him He would establish his kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:13). God spoke first to David in this chapter and then David spoke to God. Their communication was two-way – hearing and listening. Prayer, true communion with God, requires speaking and listening to Him.

For a relationship to exist and grow, communication must occur. People of every era have known having a relationship Yahweh, the One true God, requires praying to Him. For Abraham and his descendants - blood descendants (the Israelites) and faith descendants (Christians) - praying was/is being in conversation and communing with the One and only God, Yahweh/Abba/Jehovah.

Most people learn for communication to occur, each person involved in the conversation must listen and speak. If one side does all the talking, no true communication or growth of relationship occurs. The verbose person uses the other person as a sounding board only. With that in mind, for true communication to happen between a person/people and God, the person/people must listen to God and speak to Him.

From this understanding of communication, we know prayer is a person or group of people listening to and speaking with God – communicating and communing with Him. Before David’s prayer in 2 Samuel 7:27, other people spoke to God. Consider Moses at the burning bush or on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandment tablets from God. Besides this, consider Abraham when God spoke to him concerning being the father of many nations, and Samuel hearing and speaking to the LORD when he was a small boy working with Eli. These men spoke to God and He spoke to them though the writers of these parts of the Bible did not use the word “prayer.” At other times in the Old Testament, the writers used specific words that describe how or what the person or people prayed – crying out, petitioning, thanking, etc. Other places in the Bible that refer to people speaking to God through prayer are:

*      1 Kings 8:28 – “Yet have regard to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which Your servant prays before You today.”
*       Job 16:17 – “Although there is no violence in my hands, and my prayer (tephillah) is pure.”
*      Job 22:25-27 – “Then the Almighty will be your gold and choice silver to you. For then you will delight in the Almighty and lift up your face to God. You will pray (‘athar) to Him and He will hear you, and you will pay your vows.”
*      Psalm 18:6 – “In my distress I called upon the Lord and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.”
*      Psalm 19:14 – “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”
*      Jeremiah 7:16 – “As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you.”
*      Daniel 9:20 – “Now while I was speaking and praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God…”
*      Luke 3:21 – “Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven opened…”
*      Acts 10:2 – “A devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually…”
*      Acts 10:9 - “On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.”
*      Acts 20:36 – “When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.”
*      Ephesians 6:18 – “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints...”
*      1 Timothy 2:8. – “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting holy hands without wrath and dissension.”

People throughout time prayed to God. They sometimes queried whether God listened to them when they prayed. God spoke of hearing the prayers of His people in Jeremiah 29:12. This verse is part of a covenant - a promise - He gave to His children, Israel, and to His adopted children through faith. Second Samuel 7:27 records David’s recognition that God heard his prayer relating to his desire to build His temple. Along with this verse, Daniel 2:23 and 9:20, and Acts 9:11 speak of God answering Daniel’s prayers and speaking to Ananias. Daniel requested God’s will concerning his circumstances. He gave him an answer. In the second reference, Daniel prayed to God and God sent His messenger, Gabriel, to help him. Ananias received word from God through a vision telling him to go to a blind Saul and restore his sight. Each of these show positive conversations from God. God often told His servants/prophets not to pray to Him for Israel (negative conversations) because He would not listen nor answer the prayers. Jeremiah 7:16 and 11:14 record these types of conversations.

*      2 Samuel 7:13 – “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (David heard God speak.)
*      Jeremiah 7:16 – as above
*      Jeremiah 11:14 – “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, for I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster.” (Jeremiah heard God.)
*      Daniel 2:23 – “To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for You have given me wisdom and power; even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, for You have made known to us the king’s matter.” (Daniel recognized God spoke to him)
*      Daniel 9:20 – as above
*      Acts 9:11 – “And the Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the streeth called Straight and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.’” (Ananias heard God speak to him.)
One other point must be made regarding being in a vital relationship with God, a relationship where two-way communication occurs. God desires to be in a relationship with every person. This desire requires a person be cleansed from his or her sin by the blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The relationship with God is so precious to Him that John recorded in Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 that the prayers of the saints (believers) are incense to Him, a sweet and pleasant fragrance to Him. Our relationship with God is sweet and pleasing to Him and blesses us. Prayer is not only important as a sounding board for us, but for developing a pleasant, harmonious, and blessed relationship with Yahweh, too.


How Do We Approach God?

Prayer is life-giving – vital - for our relationship with God. When we pray, we recognize God for Who He is – Creator, LORD, Provider, and Lover of our souls. He gave His own Son to die in our place so we could be saved and live forever with Him in heaven. When we relate to God in a positive way, we realize God is greater than anything we can perceive and all we know. With that in mind, we understand why the Bible shows us how to relate to God and approach Him in prayer. We must recognize seven things relating to God and respond to Him with reverence so we do not abuse/misuse our relationship with Him. He is God and we are just part of His creation.

David expressed in six of his psalms and in 2 Samuel who God is. His writings teach us today how to approach God in prayer. To approach God in prayer, we must recognize these things regarding God.
Ø  Recognize God is to be Revered – 2 Samuel 7:27
Ø  Recognize God’s Mercy – Psalm 4:1
Ø  Recognize God Exists – Psalm 65:2
Ø  Recognize God’s Power – Psalm 65:2
Ø  Recognize God’s Faithfulness – Psalm 143:1
Ø  Recognize God’s Righteousness – Psalm 143:1.
Other Bible writers such as Luke, Paul, and Job recognized some of these same things in relation to God and approaching Him in prayer. Consider the following verses –

Ø  Recognize God is to be Revered - Acts 10:2, 1 Corinthians 11:4
Ø  Recognize God’s Power - Job 22:25-27
Besides remembering these six aspects of God when approaching Him in prayer, Solomon, Nehemiah, Daniel, Luke, and James spoke of another thing to recognize about God or do when praying to God. They said to recognize God lives in heaven, so pray towards heaven. Recognize God is greater than themselves - is eternal and all-powerful - so keep focused heavenward – keep focused on God.

Ø 1 Kings 8:28
Ø Nehemiah 1:6
Ø Daniel 9:20
Ø Acts 8:22 J
Ø James 5:16

The final thing spoken concerning what we do when we pray comes from Acts 20:36 and Colossians 4:3. Luke and Paul taught our prayers are to give testimony of God. This testimony comes from the previous seven things listed here and from what God has done for you. If your prayer is not a testimony of who God is and what He has done for you, then your prayers are just a laundry list of “gimmes,” like a child’s Christmas wish list. If a “gimme” list describes your prayers, then your prayers - your supposed two-way conversation with God - are not effective. Your relationship with Him is not vibrant and growing.

How should we pray then? Next week’s lesson will teach us what the leaders of God’s people in the Bible - men and women of God - did and taught about how to pray.




Thursday, April 14, 2016

Offering Total Surrender: A Psalm 51:18-19 Devotional


With verses eighteen and nineteen, David concludes his psalm to God that people call “The Sinner’s Prayer.” In the prior five devotionals written on other verses of Psalm 51, we learned David recognized his sin and understood God as loving, kind, compassionate, and omnipotent. He realized he sinned against God and only God could cleanse him from his sin and guilt. David pled with God and asked Him to purify him ceremonially and wash him spiritually. He asked for his joy and gladness to be restored to him. David asked God to create a clean heart and renewed spirit within him. He realized his unworthiness to live in God’s presence or have His Spirit live in him. David asked God not to cast him away from Him or remove His Spirit. He knew he did not deserve God’s forgiveness. David understood with God’s cleansing, re-creating his heart, and renewing his spirit, he was God’s child and would live forever with Him. He had a basic understanding of the Messianic hope the New Testament reveals to and for humanity. David recognized God’s greatness and salvation as opposed to his sinfulness and finiteness. He realized he had nothing worthy to give to God in gratitude and love that was sufficient for what God did in his life except to give his greatest possession – his life.


With these words, David continued to speak to God in this Psalm. He said in Psalm 51:18-19, “By Your favor do good to Zion: build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.” With these two verses, David showed he understood his sins affect other people. The decisions he made, whether good or bad, affected the people immediately around him and the people he led – Israel. Have you ever considered the decisions you make affect people and the surrounding environment? More often than not, when we are most determined to have our own way, we do not think consider how the decision will affect other people or the environment. David understood this.

David asked God to show His favor and do good to Zion. What did he mean in this sentence? Notice David used the proper noun, Zion, in this part of verse eighteen, but used “Jerusalem” in the second half of the verse. Was he repeating himself for emphasis? Did David mean the people of Jerusalem both times? Zion is the mountain upon which David built his palace. It is the highest mountain in Jerusalem. Zion basically means “fortification.” Zion and the City of David are the same place – where David conquered the Jebusites and established as his fortification, his palace. The people in David’s fortification were his soldiers, servants, wives, and children - the people closest to him for whom for whom David was imminently responsible. David asked God not to punish Zion – the people for which he was imminently responsible – for his own personal sins. With this understanding of Zion, we can understand the favor of which David spoke. He requested God give His delight and pleasure to the people of Zion instead of discipline for which only he deserved. David realized his sins affected other people and asked God not to hold them against innocent people.

When David spoke of Jerusalem in the second half of this verse, he referred to the capital of the united nation – all Israelites. He asked God to establish Israel and cause them to continue, not to discipline them for his sins and cause their destruction.  David realized, as the leader of the nation, his sins affected himself, those closest to him, and the nation. He knew God’s righteousness and justice required discipline for sin and did not want every Israelite punished for the wrong he did. This verse shows David’s heart. He had the care of the nation in his mind and prayed for them to God. He was not a selfish leader, but one who sought the best for the people of God’s nation. Do national leaders today consider their actions and decisions as affecting the people they lead and, so choose not to do them if they do not help the nation? Many national leaders do not consider the welfare of their people, only of themselves. This same principle applies to leaders of organizations and businesses, too. Are leaders concerned for the welfare of their people primarily and of self secondarily? Do they realize negative consequences will befall their people and themselves for selfish decisions they make? Each of us is a leader in one way or another and we each must consider this before we act or speak.


With verse nineteen, David explained God’s accepting of the people of Zion and Jerusalem meant they were righteous and not guilty of his sin. They could offer righteous and acceptable sacrifices to Him. These sacrifices David spoke of were burnt and whole burnt offerings of young bulls on His altar. The sacrifices David mentioned are important. Moses taught about burnt sacrifices offered to God in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Burnt sacrifices were the highest level of sacrifice in the Old Testament. The word “burnt” comes from the Hebrew word ‘olah. It means “ascent,” literally going up in smoke. Smoke from the burnt sacrifice rose as a soothing aroma to Him (Exodus 29:18). The parts that made the most aroma were where the fat of the animal was. The burnt offering was the complete burning of every part of the animal except the skin, which the priests kept. Burnt sacrifices were for festal (Numbers 28:11-29:39), daily (Exodus 29:38-42 & Numbers 38:3-8), Sabbath (Numbers 28:9-10), occasional, and voluntary offerings (Numbers 7 & 1 Kings 8:64). Of most of these sacrifices, the priest apportioned the meat between God and the people who offered the sacrifice to Him. They offered it to renew their relationship with God (Leviticus 1:9 & 6:8-13). These offerings were a social feast and a giving back to God. David meant the people of Zion and Jerusalem could offer righteous burnt offerings in keeping covenant with God. Do we need to go before God with offerings to celebrate and renew our relationship with Him? How long has it been since you spent time with and honored Him with your self and your offering?

Besides the “burnt offerings” David first mentioned in verse nineteen, he stated God would accept their “whole burnt offerings” because their righteousness was untainted by his sin. These “whole burnt offerings” were different because people were to give the whole offering solely for God’s pleasure. No part of the offering would be eaten by the people offering it. Only four other offerings mentioned in the Old Testament were exclusively for God – the vegetable and cereal offerings, and the offerings of a bull by a priest for himself or for the people for sins, the latter of which burned outside the camp/city. The whole burnt offering, other than the four just mentioned, was not for atonement and sacrament, but communion with and devotion to Yahweh God. The people received no part of the sacrifice. This offering was a voluntary honorific sacrifice of the best and most costly possession the person had – a bull. The person who gave a bull gave voluntarily from that which God blessed him. The bull was the most costly sacrifice as compared to other animals God said were acceptable for other offerings like a ram, dove, or lamb. By doing this, the person/people offered complete surrender to God’s service. This whole burnt offering, too, foreshadowed the Messiah’s offering of Himself for the salvation of humankind. Would you give your most valued possession as an offering to God to be totally surrendered for His purposes as a promise to commit yourself completely to Him? A whole burnt offering in David’s time implied this.


What are you willing to give today to honor God in total surrender to Him?


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Is Deuteronomy Relevant in the 21st Century?

Why did God choose a people group to become His people?
How does His choosing Israel affect us today?
Ever wonder why we should read Deuteronomy since it was written over 3000 years ago?

This comprehensive series of Bible studies on Deuteronomy will answer these questions and will help you realize the book's relevance to today? 

Join many thousands of people who have studied with me through this series. 
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* Understand why God chose and made the Israelites a nation for Himself.
* Realize God gave His laws to point people to Him.
* Understand how Deuteronomy points all people to the promised Messiah of the New   Testament.
* Come to the realization voluntary obedience to God is loving God. Love of God       
   creates willing, ungrudging obedience.

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For the next four days, beginning April 8, 2016, this new and in depth study of Deuteronomy will be available at promotional prices

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Living Sacrificially: A Psalm 51:14-17 Devotional

Psalm 51:14-17
14Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
15O Lord, open my lips
that my mouth may declare Your praise.
16For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it.
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.


David recognized he was a sinner. He understood God as loving, kind, merciful, great of compassion, and omnipotent. David realized he sinned against God and only He could cleanse him from sin and guilt. He pled with God and asked for Him to purify him ceremonially and wash him spiritually. David asked for his joy and gladness be restored to him. He asked God to create a clean heart and renewed spirit within him. In the last devotional (vs. 11-13), David realized he was unworthy to live in God’s presence or to have His Spirit live in him. He asked God not to cast him away from Him and not to remove His Spirit. Besides asking for a re-created heart and renewed spirit, David pled to God to restore the joy of his salvation. He wanted to live his life knowing he did not deserve God’s forgiveness, but could know and have hope he was God’s child and would forever be with Him.


What came next, in verse thirteen, begins a multi-verse reaction to God’s forgiveness, re-creation, restoring, and renewing of David. David, out of love for God, stated what he would do. He would teach others who rebelled against God about Him and His ways so they would be converted – turn back to God from their rebellion against Him.


With verses fourteen through sixteen David told God he would show his love to Him through specific actions. Because of God’s delivering him - rescuing him and snatching him  – from bloodguiltiness - from sin and its death penalty, he would joyfully sing of God’s righteousness, declare His praise, and offer his humble and broken being for God’s plans and purposes. David said he would sing and tell everyone about God and His righteous being, justice, and forgiveness. He would declare his own salvation from sin, guilt, and death by God (vs. 14). We read David did this in Psalm 35:28 and 71:15. In both these verses he declared God’s righteousness and salvation, both of which he was unable to fathom the depth. Do we show our love of God? Is it a visible testimony so others can know God, too?


Next David continued to state what he would do because of God’s righteousness, justice, and forgiveness (vs. 15). He asked God to open his lips to declare His praise. David wanted to express what God did for him and who God is. This speaks of the literal interpretation. Metaphorically, “lips” refers to the shore or edge of rivers and seas and “mouth” refers to a river, sea, or well. From this, we realize David’s praise and declaration of God would have no end. What he said would be just the beginning and did not encompass the entirety of Who God truly is. God is boundless; David loved Him and could spend each of his days praising and telling about Him and still would never finish speaking of God. In Psalm 71:15, he could not know the sum of God. Do we run out of things to say about God? Can we talk about God every day and never get to the end of who God is? Are we willing to spend our days praising Him?


With verse sixteen, David recognized no ritual animal sacrifice was acceptable to God for providing permanent salvation from sins. God does not delight in the death and sacrifice of animals, otherwise David would have given it. What we own - our possessions - will not testify to our realization of our smallness and unworthiness of righteous, forgiving, and saving God. To make an adamant point, David repeated this and said, “You are not pleased with burnt offerings.” Do we today try to offer something physical and fleeting to God hoping it is enough to show our gratefulness to Him?

David recognized nothing he could give God would be enough. He realized only by giving himself – his whole being created and restored by God – to God could his gratitude, love, and devotion be most shown to Him. This requires recognition of God worthiness and our unworthiness. It compels us to give that which is most dear to us – our lives, that which is eternal because of God’s forgiveness and salvation given to us. David acknowledged this in verse seventeen when he said, “The sacrifices acceptable to God are a broken spirit; a broken spirit and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” “Broken spirit and contrite heart” speak of David’s sorrow for sin and humble and thoroughly penitent approach to God. This broken spirit is a person’s crushed will, that which a person uses to decide, one’s temperament, and one’s choices - right or wrong. The person realizes what he or she has done or thought is crushed because of recognizing God and His ways. That person renders him or herself crumbled by his or her sin in the presence of almighty God. The contrite heart speaks of a broken or crushed inner man because of recognition of sin and unworthiness. Both these phrases refer to a person who is broken with sorrow for sin and humble and thorough penitence before God. This person recognizes God’s greatness and salvation as opposed to his or her sinfulness and finiteness. The person realizes he or she has nothing worthy to give to God in gratitude and love that is sufficient for what God did in his or her life except to give back his or her greatest possession – his or her life.


The sacrifices we give to God, all we own, came from God. They are fleeting and nothing more than possessions. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and everything in the created world. Our God-made saved and eternal selves are greater than anything we have to give back to God in thanks and praise. David said this; his life was the greatest sacrifice he could offer, and he chose to give it back to God as a living testimony of word and action.

Have you come to the place where you realize there is nothing you can give God that is adequate to free you from sin, guilt, and death? Sin requires justice. Penitential confession recognizes God, His greatness, and His power to forgive and save forever. Our response to Him should be love for Him. David shows us love for God should lead us to live out in word and action praise and worship of God and obedience to His ways. How has your walk with God been today? Did your words and actions speak of God so others would note it and learn more about and praise Him, too? True love for God should be evident in our obedience to Him.

What do your words and actions say about God today? It may be time for you to return to God and let Him re-create your heart and renew your spirit.

What will you choose to do? Will you live sacrificially today?