Powerful Praying

Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! James 5:17

The goal of effective prayer is to align our wills with God’s. But sometimes we treat prayer as though it was a spiritual checklist, and once we’ve gone down the list, we are free to resume our normal lives. The Bible doesn’t present prayer that way. Even the idea of a “prayer list” can be misleading if we view communication with God as a duty. Praying down a list is fine, but don’t stop there. After we have complained, begged, repented, claimed and exhausted our list of demands, God is just getting started. Some Christians call this “praying through.”

“Praying through” means we’ve come to the end of our ability to pray, and we let the Holy Spirit take over (Rom. 8:26). The real passions of God’s heart are usually revealed at the end of our prayer list. He longs for us to join Him in His work on earth. He is not indifferent to our wants and needs; He simply has a bigger agenda in mind. Prayer is like a parent who takes a child to the doctor for vaccinations. The child may beg not to go, but a wise parent does not allow a child’s desires to supersede the bigger plan. Our prayers are often attempts to supersede God’s bigger plan. When we “pray through,” we come to know the heart of God in a deeper way so that our prayers, like Elijah’s, bring about uncommon results.

Have you approached prayer as a checklist to be completed? Try praying through, and God will join you.

Love the Haters

 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”  Luke 6:32

Westboro. ISIS. Those names represent everything we hate: Bigotry. Extremism. Self-righteousness. We feel justified in hating them; it’s hard not to. But they give us a great opportunity to practice what Jesus taught about loving our enemies. Compared to them, even the most annoying people in our lives seem loveable. Love does not mean we condone their actions. But it means that we desire God’s best in their lives, and are willing to help that happen. Uncommon love means we love people who don’t deserve it, who may never love us back. Jesus wants us to love Westboro. ISIS. Political opposites. Even ex-spouses. 

So why does Jesus require such a difficult thing? The answer is simple: because we can’t do it alone. No way can we love a black-hooded executioner beheading a missionary. It’s not in us, and that’s what Jesus wants us to recognize. It is supernatural to love people like that; our human love won’t stretch that far. We don’t even want it to. But when Jesus’ followers show that kind of love, the world takes notice. It’s unnatural. It’s unearned. It’s uncommon.

 Anyone can love the lovers, but who loves the haters? We do.

What is Real Freedom?

 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

The shout of the twenty-somethings was so loud that it muffled the rattle of chains against the prison bars. “We’re free! Nobody’s gonna hold us back from doing what we wanna do! We can be anything we want: whatever gender, whatever sexual preference, whatever lifestyle we want! You can bow down to an invisible God if you want to, but we’re our own gods!” A burst of expletives echoed from the cell walls, drowning out the groans of the addicts retching on the floor.

The ministry team from a local church listened quietly, and then the leader tried again. He held out a Bible. “No my friends, you only think you’re free. Don’t you see the chains? The bars? The very sins you cling to have enslaved you, while you insist that you are free. Jesus offers real life, abundant life, uncommon life. Won’t you take it?” Hysterical laughter met his words. “You think you know what living is, preacher?” asked a man in the last stages of AIDS. “You guys with your monogamy, sobriety, and churchy junk.” Chains clattered as another prisoner shook his track-marked arm at the group outside. “You don’t know what you’re missing!” The pastor lowered the Bible. “Yeah, we know what we’re missing. That’s why we’re grateful for Jesus.”

The world defines “life” as the freedom to do anything you want. While it is true that we can choose our lifestyle, we cannot choose the consequences. Are you in prison while declaring that you are free? 

The Substitute

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

The courtroom falls silent as the judge repeats the jury’s verdict: Guilty. Death penalty. Everyone knows you are guilty; you’d even admitted robbing your neighbor’s house and torching it. Your friends had been laughing, urging you on. Drunk with rage, you hadn’t cared that the neighbor’s son was asleep upstairs. You hated those neighbors. Millionaires, building hospitals and soup kitchens. Thought they were so perfect. They deserved to have their do-good world rocked a little. But now the fun is over. You’re rethinking your choices, but it’s too late. The deed was done and the law must be satisfied. Justice requires your death.

As the uniforms lead you away, the courtroom doors fling open. A well-dressed man races down the aisle. “Stop!” he shouts. Everyone gasps. It’s your neighbor. Tears flowing down his face, he approaches the judge’s bench. “Your Honor, please. Let me take the punishment. There’s so much life ahead for this one, and he’s not ready to die. I’ll take his place.” In horror you watch the bailiff unlock your handcuffs and place them on the town benefactor. As they lead him away, you turn to the judge. “No! That’s not right. He didn’t do anything, I did. I should pay my own way!” The judge bangs the gavel once more. “You’re free to go. The law has been satisfied. The one you wronged has taken your punishment.”

That is what God did for us. While we still hated Him, He took our punishment. You’ve been given a second chance at life. How are you using such a gift?  

The Annointing

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”  Luke 4:18

The overly-tanned speaker in the silk leisure suit flashes a set of perfectly capped teeth and adjusts His face in what he assumes is a pious expression. “Naaaw, breth-ren!” he shouts. “I fe-e-el th’ anointin’ comin upon me!” He then proceeds to fleece the flock and sell $99 chances to receive the same “anointing” he claims to have. Unfortunately, people are falling all over each other to “sow” their hard-earned money into this “ministry.” What he calls “th’ anointin’” is indeed found in scripture, but not in the way he thinks. Second Peter 2 gives a scathing review of charlatans like this.

In contrast, the genuine anointing by the Holy Spirit is described in Luke 4. Jesus stood in the temple and read from the scroll of Isaiah, concluding with the startling announcement that He was the fulfillment of that prophecy. He then spent three years demonstrating what true anointing looked like: loving the unlovely, healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and proclaiming salvation and forgiveness to all who believed in Him. His anointing led him straight to the cross—not to a gold-plated mansion financed by the sick and the desperate. He gave everything and took nothing. His anointing empowered Him to carry out the plan of God, because His reward was not limited to this material world. He offers that anointing to anyone who will receive it.

For what purpose has God anointed you? Have you received it? 

Welcoming Temptation

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee… Luke 4:14

Temptation had been fierce. Every option that the devil offered to Jesus was appealing. For forty days and forty nights, the Son of God had been attacked mercilessly by Satan. Jesus’ human side cried out to be satisfied. Satan’s suggestions were not necessarily sinful actions; they were merely deviations from the will of God. But Jesus stayed true to the plan of God, and the result of His steadfast obedience was new power and authority. He had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism, but His faithful obedience put that anointing into practice. It was that anointing that empowered Him to walk in victory, speak with authority, and perform miraculous deeds that fulfilled the prophecies about Him. In conquering temptation, He showed us how to conquer it as well.

Our temptations do not always involve overtly sinful action. A temptation is an opportunity to direct one’s own path and veer away from the plan of God. Even Spirit-filled people struggle with temptation. The temptation itself is not sin; what we do about can be. Spiritual empowerment starts with crucifying our flesh (Rom. 6:6). When the Bible talks about our “flesh,” it means our old sin nature that refuses to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. To walk “in the power of the Spirit” like Jesus did means that our flesh no longer gets a vote on our life choices. Instead, we obey God, even while temptation rages. We can even thank God for temptation, because it is an opportunity to say to Jesus, “I love you more.”

 Have you viewed temptation as an opportunity to demonstrate your love for Jesus?


Chosen for Greatness

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers… 1 Samuel 16:13

David. We know him as the king of Israel, the kid who killed Goliath, and the author of many of the Psalms. But that day, standing in his father’s house, surrounded by astonished brothers, he was just David the shepherd boy. David the kid. The harp player. David the common. Ten minutes before Samuel’s appearance, David was merely another cute teenager, dusty from chasing sheep all day. Even his father did not consider him important enough to be invited to the family meeting. But when Samuel anointed the baby of the family as Israel’s next king, David became uncommon. The reason? God chose him.

We don’t have much information about why God chose David to be the iconic king of Israel, but God doesn’t owe us explanations. He sees the whole universe at a glance while still seeing the inner recesses of our hearts. He knows us thoroughly—flaws and all—as He knew David. God did not choose David because he was perfect; there would be times David would fail Him. The Lord anointed David that day because He had designed him for this role (Psalm 139). God designs each of us just the way He wants us to fulfill His purposes on earth. We become “uncommon” when we cooperate with that purpose.
 God designed you to play an important part in His plan. Are you cooperating with Him? 

To (Not) Do List

Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you…” Matt 28:20

Beth had been out of work for a year. Desperation was setting in. Then she got a call. The owner of a Fortune 500 company offered her a dream job at six figures, with a car, a signing bonus, and an awesome retirement. Overjoyed, she accepted and immediately called all her friends to share the good news. On the first day of work, the owner welcomed her with a smile and hearty handshake. After thanking him for the opportunity, she pulled a paper from her pocket. “I’ve made a list of things I will do and those I won’t do,” she said. “I know what the job description says, but I didn’t like some of it, so I won’t be doing that. I’m sure you’ll understand. You’re just glad to have me here, right?” How long do you think Beth kept that job?

When Jesus said we were to teach new converts to obey all His commands, He was not making a suggestion. He never offers compromise either. He’s the Boss. Yet, many times we think we can come to Christ, accept His pardon, forgiveness, and eternal life while pulling a list out of our pockets. If an earthly boss would not put up with that, why do we think our new Lord will? The church impacts the world for good when every member is committed to obeying all the commands Jesus gave us.

Have you tried to accept God’s offer of new life, while pulling a list out of your pocket?


  The stone that the builders rejected 
has now become the cornerstone.”  
1 Peter 2:7  

Reject—to dismiss as inadequate. Rejected stones would never become part of an important structure. They remained gravel on the ground, useful for others to walk on but nothing more. Builders rejected stones for a variety of reasons: not big enough, strong enough, or smooth enough. Not flat, pretty, or the right color. In order to fit into a project, a stone had to be just right. The rest were rejected because they were just not enough.

Sometimes we’re rejected for the same reasons. We’re often told that we are not enough: not smart enough, tall enough, handsome enough. Not the right pedigree, race, or gender. Sometimes we assume that since we weren't enough for family, a spouse, or a boss, then we're probably not enough for God either. But He wants us to know that Jesus was also rejected as “not enough.” Jesus did not fit the image the Jews had created for their Messiah. He was not aggressive enough, holy enough, religious enough, or of the right pedigree. But He was exactly the way God wanted Him. Simply because those who didn’t know any better rejected Him did not mean that He was not enough. He became the cornerstone for His church.

In what ways have you felt that you were not enough? 
What if you let Jesus use your rejection for His glory?