The First Thing You Should Ask When Approaching God

The first petition in the prayer is “Hallowed by your name.” This is not in the language of a statement, but a request. Everyone knows that we pass around petitions when we want folks to sign their name to something that we will be presented to a governing body. It can be a petition to remove the coke machine from the cafeteria lobby or it can be a petition for congress to address an issue. The idea is the same. It is a request. After the introduction the model prayer becomes a list of six petitions. These are the sorts of things that should be at the top of our prayer list. These are the sorts of things that we should ask from God.

The first thing Jesus lists has to do with the name of God. The word “hallowed” simply means holy, set apart, special, revered, honored. Perhaps the best synonym for this word is “glorified.” You could read this petition as, “May your name be glorified.” The implication of this are profound. The very first thing that we are to ask God for is more glory for his name!

I don’t think you can utter this with sincerity without first looking inward and asking, “do I glorify God?” Do my actions point to Him? Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has already told those in attendance:

Matthew 5:16 ESV In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

There is a contrast here between the deeds of a disciple and the deeds of a hypocrite. Hypocrites perform their works in the hopes that you will give THEM praise. Those who follow Jesus recognize that all Glory, all honor, belong to GOD ALONE!

We should honor God with all that we do in His name. There has been much done in his name that does not bring Glory and Honor to him. Folks have picketed funerals, held up signs that “God hates fags.” Armies have waged wars in the name of God. We should be careful what we say and do in the name of God. Just because we use his name, it doesn’t guarantee that God is with us. Many people who have done things in his name will find themselves kicked out of the kingdom because they never really knew the king (Matthew 7:21)

One of my favorite phrases is, “I don’t have the answers, but I know who does.” This simple response to a friend in crisis has a way of pointing them back to the truth. This was what Joseph said to Pharaoh when he had a dream that needed an interpretation. This is what Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar when he had a vision that needed interpreted. Both men put the glory back on the father and said, “We are powerless, but we know the one who has the power.” This was a way of bringing both kings to glorify God.

By the way, there is something in our hearts that rebels against this notion. Apart from the wonderful work of Jesus in our lives we are very self-centered individuals. We want the glory. Often we make ourselves the center of prayer. The first petition out of our mouth is for something we want. It’s not even for something we need. We beg God for a raise, a promotion, peace to cover over the anxiety in our hearts, we come upset over how we’ve sinned against him again. We offer prayers to him like he is a genie and he has to grant us wishes. I think a large part of our population miss God because they have this preconceived notion that God is like a generous grandpa who is supposed to give us what we wish for without asking too many questions. And so those kind of prayers go unanswered they give up and assume God isn’t real because he didn’t clean up the mess they made. It’s not a prayer aimed at Heaven, it’s not a prayer centered on God’s glory rather it’s focused and motivated on an exchange. “I pray, you give.” It’s how a consumer mindset hijacks prayer. It’s also arrogant because we assume that this is how God operates. We don’t consult him. We don’t go to his book. We don’t seek him out. We simply make demands. We’re like children accusing our parents of unusual cruelty because we’ve been ordered to eat our green beans or even worse we’ve taken a gun and blown a hole in our leg and complain to the surgeon that it’s his fault that we are in so much pain.

Isaiah lived in a society that had experienced decent economic growth for its time. Then when the king died he saw a vision of God in the temple and all he could utter in his presence was:

Isaiah 6:5 ESV “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

The first thing he could utter from his mouth wasn’t, “Man this is awesome!” but a very real prophet of God all he could think was that his mouth had not done justice to the holiness, the glory, the worthiness of God. I wonder if we were to truly grasp the glory of God if we would not have the same utterance. It’s not like Isaiah cussed. He was a prophet and he had treated the name of God casually and when we saw a very real manifestation of the presence of God he couldn’t help but utter a curse on his own head.

Does it surprise you that God cares so much about his name? I mean you care about your name right? I’m fortunate to have one of those simple names that almost anyone can say, but I remember this one time when my wife and I had started dating we went to go see her grandmother. And for the life of me, she could not get my name right. She kept calling me “Jeremy.” At this point a little back story is helpful. Jeremy was the name of one of her’s Ex-boyfriends. Every time this sweet lady said Jeremy part of me was very offended. I had to take a moment to calculate whether or not she was doing it on purpose or if she was truly a forgetful woman. (Now that I know her, there is a very good chance that she did it on purpose).

If you and I can get that way over our name being misrepresented, pronounced wrong, or forgotten, how do you suppose God ought to be over his name that is to be the most highly respected name in the whole universe? Do you think he’s glorified when we let his name slide like a curse word? Is he honored when we use his name to mock others? Especially the name of Jesus when the bible says that at His name every knee will bow and that there is no salvation in any other name.

One of the joys of my job is that I get to coach students on how to impact their campus with the gospel. I’m at three or four schools each week. One week I was at one of our local schools and a student was in the club and he was saying things like, “Oh my G___” and using Jesus’ name as a cuss word. We quickly jumped into a conversation about what it means to “Not use the Lord’s name in vain.” Which is also one of the ten commandments. This particular day was a leadership meeting and we were meeting to establish which students would lead in prayer, and the other various aspects of the club. This student wanted to pray. And we quickly got caught up on the Model Prayer. I said, “Man you can pray, but only if you are repent of how you use have used God’s name. When Jesus teaches us to pray the very first thing we are supposed to ask God for is that his name would be glorified and I don’t see how you can do that while using his name as a cuss word.”

Philippians 3:12-16 (Devotional Thought)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  (Philippians 3:12-16 ESV)

The Apostle Paul wanted the believers of this church to know that he was not perfect. He was still growing in his knowledge of Jesus and his relationship with the Lord. I imagine that there were still things that God called Paul to do, that Paul wasn’t comfortable with at first. He still had to get out of his “comfort zone” to grow. Sometimes we can think that one day it will all be easy. We’ll be older maybe wiser and we’ll just know what to do or we’ll be so used to doing the right thing that it has become easy for us. Paul reminds us that isn’t the case. In fact real maturity is the ability to press on to what God has next without stopping to stare at our belly button along the way. He says it with three distinct lines.

“Forgetting what Lies behind.” Don’t get caught up in the past he says. Some folks are content to hang out and remember what happened last year or ten years ago or whenever the last significant event in their life was. Paul reminds us, don’t sit back and dream of the good ole days. If you’re alive you not only have a past but you have a future. You can’t change where you come from or where you’ve been, but you can change where you are going.
“Straining forward to what lies ahead.” He reminds us to press on that God has great things in store for us. He didn’t just act in the past and forget about us. He’s still got great plans for us. No matter what our circumstance, no matter what our situation there is a way forward, when we trust in Jesus. We were not created to just talk about the things that have happened in the past. He’s also called us to be involved in good works of the future.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” There is a way to lose at life and think you’re winning. Imagine playing a video game where you get to battle trolls to fill your backpack with all kinds of useful items for a long journey. Ultimately the point of the game is to rescue a princess and that’s why you need the items, but what if you just went around battling trolls collecting items and you never took the journey to rescue the princess? You’d fail to meet the requirements to win the game! The Apostle Paul reminds us that life isn’t about stacking up possessions (who has the coolest MP3 player, video game system, etc.), social status, or takes the most trips to Disney Land… Ultimately life is about bringing glory to God.

Today as you pray, pray through this formula. You might say something like: “God help me not to be held back by my past, but help me to be excited for what you have in store for me. I don’t want anything to compete with my desire to worship you and tell others about you.”

Philippians 3:4-8 (Devotional Thought)

though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  (Philippians 3:4-8 ESV)

Yesterday we talked about how some people have replaced Jesus with a set of rules. To them, Christianity is all about how good you can be… they have forgotten that being a Christian is being a follower of JESUS. Paul knows what its like to live for rules. He used to be that way too! He used to think that God would be pleased with him because he had a great upbringing, he did everything right, and he really kept a lot of rules.

Then everything changed when he met JESUS on the road to Damascus. He realized that for all his “good works” he still weren’t good enough for God, not really. He was still a sinner and he had never really addressed the real problem of the sin in his heart.

Imagine that you wake up and you find yourself in your underwear (I don’t know how you sleep so this may be normal for you), but it’s about time for school to start and you realize that you need to put on some clothes. You have a real problem though, you are practically naked and you can’t find clothes anywhere. Finally in a desperation you run to the bathroom to see if maybe you left some dirty clothes there (after all dirty clothes are better than no clothes, maybe). It’s getting really close for time for school to start and you haven’t found any clothes yet, but in the bathroom you find a can of paint. So as you look in the mirror you begin to paint clothes on the mirror so as you stand just right it looks like you have on clothes. The only problem is that you are still practically naked. The mirror is covered, you are not.

Paul saw that all his good deeds, his up bringing, his rule keeping was just like painting on a mirror… it temporarily made him look good on the outside, but God looks at the heart. Like all of us he still had a sin issue. So he challenged the church at Philippi (and now us) through his own personal story to consider these things as secondary to what really matters… JESUS.

In fact, Paul says that these things were loss to him! He called them “rubbish.” The translators were being nice here, another word for rubbish is “Poo.” Yes, you read right. That stuff that you deal with, pull a magic lever and send on its way without a second thought. Paul says that everything he used to count on he now counts as nothing.

Does that mean we’re supposed to be bad… of course not! It means that we look to Jesus, not our deeds or anything else to make us acceptable to God. Since Jesus is the one who brings us to God, then we count him as supremely valuable, not what we have done.

Philippians 2:25-30 (Devotional Thought)

I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (Philippians 2:25-30 ESV)

Who are your heroes? What did they do to become your hero?

We look to all different kinds of people as heroes. We honor men and women for all kinds of different achievements. We give athletes awards like “most valuable player” and “rookie of the year” we give singers music awards, we give awards to actors and actresses, and we bury men and women who have served faithfully in our military with military honors.

While these awards and recognition are nice, Paul lifts us a different sort of hero to us. To the church at Philippi he held recommended a guy by the name of Epaphroditus. This guy traveled to Paul on behalf of the church at Philippi and he almost died. He got sick, but even when he was really sick, even to the point of death, he was concerned about everyone else. He was still thinking of Paul’s needs and church at Philippi. I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick, I’m not on my A game. I’m usually cranky or sleepy. My fuse can be shorter than normal… but Ephaphroditus was actually concerned that people back home will be worried about him.

So now that Epaphroditus is better, Paul is sending him back home and he reminds the church to honor this guy. We don’t really give out awards in Christian circles. As far as I know there aren’t any missionary honors at missionary funerals, your pastor isn’t secretly hoping for the “pastor of the year” award, and that dear sweet lady at church that is faithful to give above her tithe to missions each month isn’t doing it so she can get a “Widow’s Mite” award… but when we know of people in our midst who put the needs of others above their own, we should be thankful for their example, and we need to honor them.

How do you honor someone who puts the need of others above their own? I think it begins with joy in their presence. You rejoice to be with them. Count it a blessing when you come across someone who is proficient at true humility, you will learn a lot from them. I think you also thank them, especially if they have imparted some gift or words of wisdom along the way. Epaphroditus carried a gift from this church to the Apostle Paul. Obviously he was serving God, but at the same time he was serving those who had partnered together in the gospel at Philippi.

Who do you need to honor today?

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How to Have a Daily Worship Time

What is a Daily Worship Time (DWT)?

A daily worship time is a special time set aside for an individual to grow closer to God.  The DWT most often includes practical and consistent excercise of spiritual disciplines (bible study, prayer, silence, fasting,etc.).  This practice has various other names, such as a daily ‘”quiet time” or “personal devotions”, the name doesn’t matter as much as the concept of intentionally putting ourselves in a place where we are more likely to hear from God.

When Should I have a my Daily Worship Time?

Daily worship times really work best for me when scheduled in the morning before breakfast.  I personally like this time because it helps me start my day out right.  On days that I have missed my DWT, or done it later in the day, I can really tell a difference.  This may be hard for some people because it requires self-discipline.  This early morning time is somewhat important for me, but you haven’t blown it if you need to set up another time.  It is better to be consistent with your DWT than it is to be early and not consistent.  If you have never had a consistent DWT before, you may want to schedule a time with Jesus  (ex. before breakfast, when you get home from school, or 8PM every evening).  You may want to set an alarm clock to remind you or leave yourself notes.   Make it as important as if you were meeting one of your best friends (after all you are meeting with Jesus).

What do I do for a Daily Worship Time?

Many people do different things for their daily worship time.  The main thing is that the focus is on learning about and worshiping God.  Even though people do their DWT differently there are some elements that  should always be involved.

The first important element of a DWT is reading God’s Word. It is by reading what God has said about Himself that we learn about who God is.  When we read His word we are reminded of his unchanging character.  You can learn more about how to read God’s word here.

Another element essential to a DWT is  Prayer. Prayer is how we communicate with God and verbally submit our lives to him.  Through prayer we recognize His ability and our inability over people and circumstances.  There are many parts to prayer, but the main parts are:  recognizing who God is, recognizing our need for God, submitting our lives (and specifically each day) to God, asking God for direction, and asking God to move and work in the lives of other people. I will post more on prayer later.

Some people like to include a Journal as part of their DWT. This is a notebook where you can record your thoughts about who God is or how you need to respond to Him.  A journal can consist of just a few short notes or well thought out paragraphs.  When I was younger and had a hard time praying, I would write out my prayers to Jesus in a journal.  Since then it has been a blessing to look back at my journals and see who and what I was praying for and how God answered those prayers.

Many people like to sing as part of their DWT. They use music to proclaim their delight in God or to remind them of certain things about God like His love or His faithfulness.  We have a few  awesome worship teams at our church both on Sundays and Wednesday nights with our students who have introduced me to several great songs.  If I hear a song that really speaks to me, or reminds me of a particular truth about God, I will do a word search and get a copy of the music and memorize the song so I can sing it during this time. Some of you are very musically gifted and will write songs of praise based off of what you have learned about God in your DWT.

I strongly recommend that near the end of your DWT that you write out what your response to God should be. This allows you to apply God’s word to your life and how you live.  In my own DWT  I call these action steps.  Action steps are practical ways that you will apply the truth you learn each day to your life.  You can read more about action steps in the second half of this post.

The Danger of Missing it by a Mile

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
(Proverbs 14:12, 16:25 ESV)

Wrong Way

So I found some of my old writings on a zip disk leftover from my college days.  I took time to read them and took a quick trip down memory lane to see how I might have changed.   As I was reading I couldn’t help but notice a subtle but profound difference that has taken place.  Somewhere in my writing I transitioned from knowing about God to being a quest to know God.  As the son of a pastor and a student minister studying religion I was living in a world where everyday I was brought face to face with the Word of God and gleaning doctrine divorced from personal relationship.  I was a faithful student of God’s stats, but not his friend.  I could have told you the important nuances of a Bible passage and had a great grasp on how to use all the study tools, but it didn’t do me any good.  I didn’t grow closer to God, I loved his word, but I didn’t love Him. I look back and I thank God for his kindness toward me in leading me to repentance and real faith in Him.

Just knowing about God caused me to act in such away as if winning a theological argument with another religion student or science major was what it was all about.  I studied God’s word to bring me more personal glory.  I would risk relationships to show others how superior in Bible trivia I was.  Yet when I came to know God, I left it all, and fully embraced the embarrassment of confessing that I had known God’s stats, but missed out on knowing him.

I have seen several pastors hit grand slam sermons out of the pulpit and strike out at home with their own children because their children understood their dad was a phony.  I have seen kids walk away from their parents religion because dad and mom were more concerned about what people would think rather than what God thinks.  Pride is a dangerous thing.  It can keep you in church and out of heaven.

God, I thank you for your grace in reminding me that I need to offer my pride to you again today.  It is a dangerous thing to learn about you and not know you.  Thank you for interrupting my life with your grace so I wouldn’t be content to study your word without the hope of knowing you.  Give me strength to cast down any idol that would stand in the way of knowing you.

5 Growth Challenges

300819410_8dfff801d5_m Are you looking to grow deeper in your relationship with God?  The challenges below are a great place to start.

1. Proverbs Challenge… Read a chapter of Proverbs each day.  Read Proverbs chapter 7 on the 7th of the month; chapter 8 on the 8th of the month and so on.  Our pastor Chris Aiken does a daily blog commenting on one chapter of scripture and a daily take away from the book of Proverbs.

2. Journal Challenge… Take the Bible reading one step further and keep a journal that you can record your thoughts in.  I like to ask myself two questions after I have read and prayed thought the scripture: 1. What does this say about God? 2. How will I respond?

3. My Story Challenge… Write out the story of how you became a Christ follower in 100 words or less and let me review it. Try use every day language and avoid words that are church specific.  Highlight three things:

  1. Life before you met Christ.
  2. How you met Christ.
  3. How your life is different now.

You can see a version of mine in the “About Me” section of “Meet Jonathan.”  After it has been reviewed take the opportunity to tell others your story and get their input.  Post it on your facebook and myspace profiles.

4. Teach others challenge… I encourage our students to take notes on the Sunday Morning sermon and the Wednesday night message.  Study their notes and then either through intentional study (like an established Bible study) or in regular conversation (“guess what I learned this week”) share what they have learned in a way that teaches others.

5. Accountability Challenge… I challenge our kids to encourage one another with what they have been learning and doing in smaller groups.  I do this by sending out a mass text each asking for prayer requests from those who subscribe and sharing a verse that stuck out to me that day from my daily bible reading (usually from Proverbs since that is one of the challenges).