Ever Felt Like a Spiritual Charlie Brown?

Text: Daniel 9:1-27

“We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” —Daniel 9:18

When my wife and I were newlyweds, I tried to impress her with my baking skills—I use that word very loosely! Without going into all the details, let’s just say that my lemon cake was an epic fail. I learned that having all the ingredients doesn’t necessarily lead to success. My lemon cake, it turned out, looked nothing like what was billed on the box cover at the store.

Have you ever assessed your prayer life and thought: My results look nothing like those billed in the Bible?

I have to admit that when I read the Bible and study history, and see the effectual outcomes of men and women who prayed with such seeming power, I sometimes feel like my prayers are just producing botched lemon cake. Perhaps you can identify. Maybe your prayer life has felt like Charlie Brown trying to kick field goals. You always miss the uprights and end up on your back. We don’t have to settle for the Charlie Brown effect because one of God’s greatest promises to us is that even when we are feeble and feeling anemic with our prayers, Romans 8:26 assures us “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Oh how many times I have leaned into this grace!

In our devotional series through the book of Daniel, we would be remiss to not learn from Daniel’s effectual prayer life. In many ways, Daniel’s Prayer in Chapter 9 is a model of intercession for those longing to see God restore a wayward people. Daniel’s intensity, his fervor and sincerity, and the manner in which his prayer really got God’s attention, is striking. Think about it, while Daniel was still praying, the Lord interrupted him by sending Gabriel with a very important message—that famous prophecy about the seventy sevens and the prediction of the coming Messiah. The accuracy and precision in which Jesus Christ fulfilled this particular prophecy is indisputable evidence that the Holy Bible is not just man-made contrivance, but sacredly inspired by God, Who alone holds the future. Sir Isaac Newton once wrote a discourse on this topic, saying we could stake the truth of Christianity on that prophecy alone, which was made five centuries before Christ.

One of the aspects we can learn from Daniel’s prayer life is that he got into God’s Word and grabbed a hold of the promises of God. “Our prayers never exist in a vacuum,” says Ray Pritchard. “The prayer that touches God’s heart must be rooted in God’s Word. As Luther said, we ought to take God’s promises and fling them back in his face. ‘Lord, you said you would do this. You made a promise. Now, Lord, do what you said you would do.’ Spurgeon noted that, ‘God loves to be believed in.’ … The prayer that changes the world begins and builds on what God has already revealed.”

Because Daniel’s prayer life is rooted in God’s Word, Daniel has God’s agenda in mind and not his own. This is what Jesus modeled when he taught his disciples how to pray “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.” When we are not abiding in God’s word, we tend to pray self-serving prayers with the wrong motives. This is what James warned about in his epistle (James 4:3). Scores of people are praying today, but far fewer are praying God’s word, His agenda, and His kingdom come. What if our prayers became less about our desires and more about His glory?

It’s also important to recognize how Daniel approached the Lord. His confidence wasn’t on the eloquence of his words, the passion in his voice, or the repetition of his pleas. Daniel’s poise in the prayer chamber wasn’t found in his own character or his current hitting-streak; His boldness emanated solely on the basis of God’s character:

“For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

Notice the ingredients that shaped Daniel’s prayer life: Your great mercy… Your own sake… Your city… Your people… Your name…” We don’t find Daniel begging God for self-serving outcomes. He wasn’t focused on how the circumstances would affect him personally, but what it meant to God’s glory. We need to pray as Daniel did, not because God needs our prayers to accomplish his purposes, but because we need to submit ourselves to His plans. This is more evident today than conceivably ever in our lifetime. We need His kingdom agenda over our own plans! The world needs His agenda over our own plans. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, teach us to pray your kingdom come and your will be done. Help us to be so saturated in your word that our prayers are nothing less than your promises and your words. Guard our hearts from carnal prayers that leave us manipulative, anemic, and focused on self-preservation rather than your kingdom glory. If we pray rightly, boldness will come naturally as the words will flow from your character and not our own desires. Our confidence in your throne doesn’t come from our goodness, but from the righteousness of Christ alone. In His name we pray, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. If God would grant you one request, what would it be?
  2. What did Daniel come to understand in the first year of the reign of Darius (Daniel 9:1-2)? What did Daniel’s study of the Scripture lead him to do (Daniel 9:3)?      
  3. What was the nature of Daniel’s confession (Daniel 9:4-6)? What was the substance of Daniel’s petition (Daniel 9:15-19)? Why did Daniel receive such a prompt answer to his prayer (Daniel 9:23)?
  4. Why is confession of sin important? On what basis do you make requests of the Lord?
  5. In what specific ways do you need God’s grace and mercy in your life right now?

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This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

The Prayer of St. Francis: Make Me an Instrument

The following prayer, known as the Prayer of St Francis, is a fitting one to pray when you are seeking to live in peace and joy. As Christians, the Bible encourages us to “let our light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:6)

The prayer of St Francis reminds us just how we can do that! This is such an encouraging and uplifting prayer that teaches us how we can live like Jesus Christ and serve those around us, putting the needs of others first.

The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is dispair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we re born to eternal life.

Also known as the Peace Prayer, this text is a widely known and popular prayer among Christians. The prayer is often attributed to Francis Bernadone who was born in Assisi, Italy in 1181. After living a carefree childhood and young adulthood filled with wealthy entertainment and pleasure, Francis fell ill at the age of 20 and his thoughts began to focus on eternity and his relationship with God. Francis turned from his wealthy lifestyle and decided to give his life over to the church. He passed in 1226 after rekindling the love of God among thousands.

The actual text of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis originates from a small religious magazine named La Clochette that was published in France in 1912. The prayer was published anonymously but many believe the magazines founder, Father Esther Bouquerel, to be the author.

The Canadian Tenors Sing the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi’s Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace

Bible Verses on Peace

Psalm 29:11 – The Lord gives strength to his people, the Lord blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 119:165 – Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.

Isaiah 26:3 – You will keep in perfect peace those who minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Going 12 Heavyweight Rounds With God

A Heavyweight Prayer Warrior: The Persistent Widow

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told his disciples a story to teach them that they should pray and never give up.

It’s called the parable of the persistent widow. Here Jesus paints a picture of an unjust judge being worn out by the incessant pleading of the doggedly determined widow, for justice over her adversary.

The wording used to describe the widow’s importunity, “she is wearing me out,” is a boxing terminology. Literally, it expresses the nature of a boxer striking his opponent and rendering him bruised. For Luke, it seemed to be a fitting metaphor to bring imagery from the arena of sport to everyday common life, as did Paul (1 Corinthians 9:27).

We talk of fighters being hard hitters or throwing knockout punches. What is being described here is a continuous flurry of blows, each of which is short of a knockout blow, while their accumulative effect paints a picture of the man being so “bruised” that he is glad to give in to any request.

Praying hard is going twelve rounds with God, much like Jacob wrestling with the angel well into the night (Genesis 32:22-32). As Mark Batterson says, “A heavyweight prayer bout with God Almighty can be excruciating and exhausting, but that is how the greatest prayer victories are won.”

The judge in this story knew the woman would keep beating on his chambers until the day she died if she didn’t get justice, and it wore him out. Her unrelenting persistence was the only difference between justice and injustice.

It’s important to remember that the judge in this story isn’t a comparison to God, but a contrast. The judge is unjust, God is perfectly just. The judge is bothered by the woman’s continual coming, God craves our communion with Him. The judge could’ve cared less if the woman had deceased. Yet God is so intimately connected with us that He numbers the very hairs on our head (Luke 12:7). He longs for us to pray without growing weary. As a perfect Father, He longs to give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11).

The relevant question here is, how is your prayer stamina? How are you holding up in the prayer closet? Have you grown weary or are you sparring with God in consistent and healthy ways? Remember that prayer is not a means of manipulating God or coercing Him to do what we want. It is a wrestling process of recognizing God’s power and plan for our lives. God is the perfect sparring partner. As we lean into Him not only for the outcome of our requests, but for revelation into the process as well, we find the stamina to keep coming to the Lord in prayer, trusting in His all-sufficient grace and wisdom to care for us.

In regards to our energy and persistence in prayer, will God find faith? (Luke 18:8)

Question for Reflection:

  1. Take an honest assessment of your prayer life. What do you see?
  2. Have you become weary about praying over a specific issue in your life? Perhaps God wants you to spar with Him about trusting in His process.
  3. How can you become more consistent and persistent in prayer without trying to dictate how God should answer?
  4. Is God finding faith in your life? If not, what needs to happen for it to be reborn?

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Alphabet Prayers

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A little girl was kneeling by her bedside and began to pray. Yet all she did was recite the alphabet over and over again. Her mother walked in the room and after hearing the child repeat her ABC’s again and again, interrupted and asked what she was doing. “Well I’m praying,” said the little girl. The mother said, “But it sounds like you are just repeating the alphabet over and over.” The girl explained, “I don’t know any real prayers, Mama, I just give God the whole alphabet and trust that He can put it all together in a way that He sees fit.”

There are many people in the world today who never learn to commune with God intimately because they feel they aren’t spiritual enough or eloquent enough to pray meaningful prayers. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is not impressed by eloquence of speech, lofty rhetoric, or intellectual phrases. He doesn’t hear us more if we use certain theological buzzwords, but rather He listens to us based on the posture of our heart. The Psalmist said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

We must remember that we are children in our Father’s eyes, regardless of our age, our theological pedigree, or our spiritual depth. God sees us as His children. On more than one occasion, Jesus tells his disciples to become like little children (Mark 10:14-15, Mark 9:33-37, Matthew 18:3). Apparently, little children, even in the adult form, are important to Jesus.

God isn’t interested in long, drawn out, pretentious prayers. And He certainly doesn’t want us to try to be something we are not. Adults are always thinking about ways to fix things. In contrast, children just come as they are regardless of how messy and unpolished that might look like. Jesus didn’t say, “Come to me, all you who have learned how to fix things, whose minds are logical and whose words are articulate, and I will give you rest.” No, Jesus opens up his loving arms to the needy and says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

In prayer, you don’t need to worry about getting the words right, just tell God where you are and what’s on your mind. That’s what little children do. They come as they are, runny noses and all. Much like those first disciples who were rough around the edges, they just say what’s on their minds.

The only way to come to God is by taking off our spiritual masks. The real you must encounter the real God. Be honest about your struggles, your worries, your fears, your insecurities, your vulnerabilities, your pain, and even your anger. He already knows, and He can take it—God’s got a big chest! He simply longs to hear your heart touch His. He is a loving and merciful God; a good, good Father (Matthew 7:11), Who desires to be in communion with you daily (Isaiah 26:9).

Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

I hope you are encouraged by today’s Word, and that, like a little child, you will learn to abide in Him daily.

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Are You Going to Have a Big Ask New Year?

I’m Going to Have a BIG ASK New Year!

I’ve always been one for setting goals. I love the feel of the New Year and applying necessary practices to embolden my vision for the future. The last couple of years, along with my goals, I usually have a simple statement, phrase, or a word that sums up the theme or focus for the next season of life. Last year it was a question.

This year it is one word: ASK.

Are you ready for a big ask New Year?

Nancy D. Solomon loves to tell people:

“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”

God’s Word is chock full of promises and examples of asking.

Jacob wrestled all night with God and wouldn’t let go until he received a blessing (Genesis 32). Israel was instructed to ask God for His mercy and intervention when they had fallen into hard times for disobedience (Deuteronomy 4:32). Elisha boldly asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

In Gibeon, the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night and said, “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon didn’t respond selfishly. He asked for wisdom to know how to govern God’s people rightly, to know the difference between good and bad. As a result of his unselfish asking and pure motives, God not only granted him what he asked for (wisdom), but He also added to the mix what Solomon didn’t ask for: wealth, honor, and long life to go with it (1 Kings 3).

This is an awesome snapshot of the heart of God, our heavenly Father. Ephesians 3:20 promises us that He is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to His power at work within us.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Othniel appears as the first judge of Israel after the death of Joshua (Judges 3:9). His wife Achsah was the daughter of Caleb (Joshua 15:16, 17; Judges 1:13). He gained her hand as a reward for his bravery in leading a successful expedition against Debir. In the very next verse (1:14), before the honeymoon is even over, Achsah urges her new husband to “ask” her father for a field. What made her so quick to petition her father immediately for a blessing (v.15)? She already knew her father’s heart and how he would respond!

Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). When we are abiding in God’s Word, we know the Father’s heartbeat. We see His character more clearly. His desires become our desires; His passion becomes our passion. When our hearts are rightly aligned with His affinities, there is much incentive to ask.

The more we know the Father’s heart, the more we are going to ask boldly that which is in line with His desire and His will.

If we are not abiding in His Word then our asking will become selfish: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:3).” That’s why God’s Word is so important in our understanding of His character and our own selfish ambitions. We need humility to know the difference. But when we ask according to His will, we know He hears us and we are confident that our asking will be rewarded (1 John 5:14-15).

Remember, asking is God’s idea to begin with.

  • Psalm 2:8 – Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
  • Mark 11:24 – Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
  • John 14:13-14 – Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
  • Matthew 21:22 – And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.
  • John 16:24 – Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Are you ready for a big ask New Year?

What if your New Year became defined by what you had the courage to ask for?

Get into God’s Word daily—and ask boldly.

“ASK” is my word for the New Year.

The Prayer God Will Answer Immediately

“Too many people want the fruit of Paul’s ministry without paying the price that Paul paid. He died. He died to everything. He died daily He was crucified with Christ … I challenge you to pray this prayer: ‘Lord, be ruthless with me in revealing my selfish ambition and my lack of willingness to die to myself.’ I guarantee that He will answer your prayer – and quickly.” – Floyd McClung

Are You Getting Tired of Pushing?

This is a repost, originally from an email a friend sent me a while back. I still love it!

A man was sleeping one night in his cabin when the presence of the Lord suddenly awakened him. The Lord told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might.

So this the man did day after day. For many years he toiled from sunup to sundown, his shoulders set squarely against the cold massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might. Continue reading “Are You Getting Tired of Pushing?”