When Jesus says, “Pray like this…”(as recorded in Matthew 6:9-13), He’s not just giving us instruction on how to pray, He’s giving us insight into the way He – God the Son – talked to God the Father. WOW… We can actually talk to God the same way Jesus did?
So…we don’t need to be afraid to pray out loud. We don’t need to feel like we don’t know how to pray. It is only the enemy of our souls who wants to convince us that our prayers aren’t good enough. Jesus – God with us – has told us exactly how to talk to God.
The model He gives us in Matthew 6 is one we can use every time we pray. In his book, Building a Discipling Culture, pastor and author, Mike Breen, developed a visual that can help us better understand and remember the model of the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a shape – of all things. 🙂
Our prayers can be as simple as one sentence for each of these different parts of prayer. As we continue to pray this way, we will likely find that there is one particular area of prayer that we want to linger in – depending on the day. The important thing is to just start doing it…whether or not we feel like we have time for it, whether or not we feel inadequate, and even if we feel like we don’t know what to say. We can use Jesus’ words until He puts different words in our hearts.
God is not limited by our weakness or feelings of inadequacy about prayer. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. He loves the humble and simple prayer of honesty and repentance. It is only we who are bound to our own limited strength, love and wisdom when we allow the enemy to convince us not to pray.
We live in an era when it is common for churches to promote the “benefits” of being a follower of Jesus. Certainly there are benefits! I am concerned that we teach and preach the whole truth rather than simply acting like salesmen to get people to buy a product. The reality is that we are not in a competition with other ideas or philosophies. We are not trying to out-sell others by touting the highlights of a relationship with Jesus.
There are many blessings that come from being in a relationship with Jesus. There is the practical nature of the wisdom of the Bible that can lead to a more productive and enjoyable life for anyone.
There are also the blessings that Jesus said that apply just to his children. He told his followers not to be anxious about anything because his Father would take care of their needs (Matthew 6:25-34). He promises peace and security that is unavailable elsewhere (John 14:27). He promises to answer our prayers (Matthew 7:7-11). We have these promises highlighted in our Bibles, don’t we?
When he walked the earth his power and care was demonstrated multiple times. He healed the sick and raised the dead. When the crowds grew into the thousands and they were hungry, Jesus fed them all with equivalent of a child’s lunch box of food. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of following a man like this?
Not only that, his message of love resounds with the modern audience. He was a friend of the outcast, the foreigner, the sexually immoral, and the handicapped. They were drawn to his love like a moth to the flame. This type of inclusiveness is in-step with our times.
It’s no wonder that churches, in an attempt to be successful, hold up this all-embracing love and the wonderful benefits of following him. Churches that preach this “you can be successful” message grow. Their ministries are trumpeted across the land and around the world.
But something is wrong. These things were not the whole message of Jesus.
Jesus said radical things as well. He wasn’t interested in saying the things that would bring in the greatest number of people. He wasn’t interested in having the most followers on Instagram. He said things that made people unfriend him on Facebook. (I know, I know, those things weren’t around then).
Consider these three potential followers and his response to them:
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
This person volunteered to follow Jesus wherever he went. This sounds like someone ready to be led in the sinner’s prayer! Jesus did not respond enthusiastically, instead he throws cold water on him. Instead of assuring him that all of his needs will be taken care of and that he will experience one blessing after another, he warns him that he has nowhere to sleep. Jesus made it clear that being a follower was not going to be a guaranteed life of ease. Jesus was a homeless man. Those who follow him must understand that.
To another Jesus said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
This one said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus tells him to let the dead bury their own dead. Scholars have debated the exact meaning of this phrase. Some say that the man’s father wasn’t dead and he wanted to take care of him until he died. Others argue that the man’s father was dead, but had not been buried yet. Still others think that Jesus was referring to the spiritually dead. Whichever is correct, Jesus is pointing to the priority of following him over every other priority. Notice that the man was willing to be a follower, but said, “Let me first…”. Such a attitude shows that one is not in full submission to Christ.
Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”(Luke 9:57-62 ESV)
This man wants to simply say goodbye to his family. Jesus tells him that if he sees that as important, he isn’t fit to be a follower. What kind of leader wouldn’t let his follower run home to say goodbye? But he said even stronger things than that about the priority of family for those who would follow him.
Listen to what he said to the great crowds that followed him:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33 ESV)
Those who follow him must be completely in love with him and completely satisfied by him. Family, position, wealth, and comfort must be left behind. Read that last sentence again. Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. The word “renounce” means to forsake, to say goodbye to, or to separate yourself from something. Jesus is telling the crowds that they need to leave everything behind to follow him.
It’s the same thing that he said to the rich man who wanted to have eternal life. He told him to sell everything he owned. All of his possessions needed to be sacrificed. This wasn’t a fundraising appeal by Jesus. He wasn’t looking for the rich man to transfer the ownership of his possessions to the ministry. Jesus told the rich man to give it to the poor. Once he had renounced all that he had, he was free to become a disciple. When the man went away sad, Jesus didn’t run after him to soften the requirement. Instead, he said to his disciples, “How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mark 10:17-27).
These radical crowd-dispersing sayings don’t make sense, unless we understand that Jesus is God Incarnate and that he is offering us something a million times better than anything the world has to offer us. He is offering us himself. He is offering us the relationship that we were created to experience forever. This is the greatest thing that we could ever hope to receive.
This is the central message of the gospel and must be at the core of our lives and ministries. Jesus Christ is God Incarnate. He died for our sins and was raised to life. He offers himself to all who will follow him. At the core of following him is understanding who he is. This is what led Paul to write, “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 might gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
The message of the Scriptures is not things like “Five Steps to a Happy Marriage” or “Keys to Financial Freedom” or “Have a Peaceful Center in Troubled Times”. Let’s say a person has a happy marriage, is financially secure, leads a relatively calm life, and is nice to their neighbors. Is that person a Christian? Maybe. Maybe not. There are plenty of atheists, Muslims, and Hindus that live “good” lives. What if we add attending church regularly to the mix? Does that make them a Christian? No.
Can you look your successful Muslim neighbor in the eye and tell him that following Jesus is better than the success that he has enjoyed? Can you tell him that even if it means losing his family? What about your scientist friend who fears rejection by his peers if he becomes a follower of Christ? Remember, the early Christians were not financially secure. They were persecuted and often fled for their lives. Even though they were considered the scum of the earth, they rejoiced in what they had found in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).
John Piper has said it well: “Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It's a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don't want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel.”
Jesus isn’t against having a nice house or a good job. He is against people having idols. And an idol is anything else that we turn to for satisfaction and security. It could be our money or our career. It could be family or a car. It could be our tools or our talents. All of these things have the potential to be soul-destroying idols. We are to love him with all that we are because he is worthy of being loved.
Our message must be one of exalting Christ above all things. He is worthy of our complete love and devotion. He died on the cross so that we might be forgiven of not giving him priority in our lives. We can be freed from the guilt of this sin and all the behaviors that flow from it. This is the message of the Bible and it must be the central message of our lives and of our church.
After the disciples had walked with, listened to, observed, and learned from Jesus, one of the specific things they asked Him to teach them was how to pray. As I look at my own life - listening to, learning from and following Jesus, I find that I need to start with something even more basic. I need him to teach me to WANT to pray.
Why is that, do you suppose? The God of all love, all wisdom, and all power wantsus to ask Him for what we need. The Creator of the ends of the earth wants us to be still and know Him. The Everlasting God wants us to rest in His ability to do all things and use all things for our good. But far too often, we cannot “stay awake” for even one hour to spend time with Him.
Several years ago, I attended the International Council for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in California, and I came away with one over-riding conviction. As Christ-followers, we will spend time in prayer because of the incredible love God has given us for Himself and for the world. OR we will spend time in prayer because we are convicted of our lack of lovefor God and the world. (And our prayers will be focused on asking Him to change us.) If we are notspending time in prayer, can we honestly say that we love the Lord our God with ALL our heart, ALL our mind, ALL our soul and ALL our strength?
Remember - it’s the simple, honest prayer of a repentant and humble soul that He desires… “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”…from the privacy of our room, our closet or wherever we can find a quiet place. He will teach us how to go deeper in our prayers as we spend time in His presence.
Lord, teach us to want to pray…
A Year-long Journey through the Psalms.
I (Pastor Nick) made one resolution for 2019. I resolved to read the book of Psalms every month.
All 150 chapters each month for the whole year, so basically five chapters of Psalms a day. I am happy to say January and February were a success.
But why am I doing it?
The obvious reason is to be in the Scriptures every day with a goal. However, if you spend enough time with me you will know that I think that checking the required boxes and hitting a measurable and attainable goal in following Jesus is more like the starter in an engine or the feather sticks that can help get the campfire going.
At some point, the Spirit moves to change our desires and thinking so that following Jesus becomes natural, logical, and enjoyable. Then the engine runs and the logs in the campfire burn. Though, it is not natural, logical, and enjoyable because you are hitting goals. Rather, it is natural, logical, and enjoyable because we experience and recognize His presence to greater degrees and want more if it. Sure, you’ll hit all the required boxes, but you’ll do it without even thinking about it or being motivated by the empty, unchecked boxes.
A different reason is to grow in knowledge of the Psalms. For a guy like me that loves learning, this reason fills that bucket. It is a big book of the Bible. There is a lot in there. There are countless ways that the Psalms connect with other passages in both the Old and New Testament. It is almost as if all verses lead to Psalms and vice versa.
It is also a notoriously difficult book of the Bible from multiple different disciplines. Is it difficult to translate? Yep. Trying to translate 10th century BC Hebrew poetry, with all its metaphors, unique vocabulary, innuendos, syntax, and mechanics, into 21st century English is a chore. Is it difficult to interpret? Yep. Beside the losses in translation, there are layers of meaning and fulfillment while also being a piece of art. Growing in my knowledge with the Psalms should help ease these difficulties to an extent.
The deeper reasons why I want to do this are more in line with the Spirit being at work in my life.
One side of that coin is that I want to have the Spirit work in me so that I appropriate the Psalms into my life. I am not saying that I want to apply the Psalms to situations in my life and come up with a to-do list. My reason here is different. I want the Psalms to become my Psalms. I want the realities discussed in the Psalms to become my reality. I want the worldview in the Psalms to become my worldview. I want the truth found in the Psalms to become my truth. I want the Psalms to trigger in my mind as I go about life to help me define life. I want the language of the Psalms to fill my vocabulary in both prayer and even simple conversations.
As an example, take a look at Acts 4:23-26. After Peter and John were released from the Council that had told them not to speak or teach in Jesus’ name, they went to their friends and reported what had happened. Then that group of believers prayed for boldness. In their prayer they quote Psalm 2:1-2. They had appropriated the truth in that passage and it filled their vocabulary. They saw for themselves how people will gather together against the God the Father and Jesus, the Anointed One.
The other side of that coin is to have the Spirit work in me so the Psalms appropriate me. I want the Psalms as the Word of God to go beyond me. I want to see how the Psalms go beyond me, but take me into its words and put me in my place. The Psalms talk about grander realities than I can sense with my bodily senses. The Psalms talk about greater experiences of God than I have ever had. It will give greater meaning to everything it touches. The Psalms will make you feel small but still connect you to it.
As an example, take a look at Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:14-36, specifically verses 25-36. Peter quotes Psalm 16 and 110 and shows how, though David wrote them, those Psalms are talking about Christ. Then Peter shows how the Psalms connect himself and his listeners to the overarching narrative of redemption history displayed in those verses. The Psalms appropriated them. It did a good job too. Here is the next verse.
"Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Then about 3000 people were baptized.
If this language of appropriation is a bit odd, stay tuned; I will be fleshing it out over the next few months. Overall, I want the Spirit to work through the Psalms.
There is also a bonus reason I am fulfilling my resolution of reading the Psalms every month. I realized it after I made the resolution to read the Psalms every month. That bonus reason is hearing the Spirit nudging me to keep going and fulfill my vow. GULP. Apparently, the Almighty likes where He is taking me with this. He brings up verses like...
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
So why am I sharing this with you?
I want to help your treks through Scripture, your personal meditation, and encourage your interaction with the Spirit as you read. Maybe some of my reasons and the ideas behind them will resonate with you and give some clarity to movements of the Spirit in you.
I also want to challenge you a bit with this. Not in a confrontational way, though it may do that, but more in a physical training way. I want to challenge you with more weight. I want to challenge you to go deeper and further.
So taking the truth of Psalm 1 and keeping with the topics discussed, I want to give you fuel for your meditation and delight in the Word with this post. For that, the best I can give you is questions. Not answers. Not pragmatic practices of application. But simple questions that can help as you and the Spirit explore the Scripture and your own heart.
Do I believe the passage I just read is still living and active today? Is it still sharp? What do I believe in my heart that goes against the truth of this passage? What do I believe in my heart that goes with this passage? As a child of God, how does this passage express the history or the circumstance of His children? These questions will hopefully help you see where you are in appropriating the Scriptures into your life.
How does this passage go beyond me? And where does it place me in its grandeur? How does this passage refine me and my mind/internal life? These questions will help you see where the Scripture is appropriating you into God’s reality, His work, and His history with humanity.
Where else is this passage referenced? Where else does this passage connect? Cross-references are some of the most fruitful exploratory tools in reading Scripture. Don’t miss them!
Prayer rooms are interesting places. The Lord has a way of sneaking up on you while you are in them. Just today I was spending some time praying through the requests from the people in our church. They filled a basket. There were dozens of requests for healing. Cancer, MS, back problems, and heart issues were mentioned multiple times. Then there were the requests for marriage problems. And requests for the breaking of addictions. And requests for the salvation of so many friends and family members.
I’ve prayed through many such requests before. But today was different. The requests began to feel like an overwhelming weight. The more prayer cards I looked at, the heavier they seemed. Its weight was oppressive, almost crushing. And strangely familiar.
Suddenly, I had a flashback to the Saddam Hussein Museum in Kurdish Iraq. Friends had taken me there. It was a converted jail and what was displayed were the unspeakable horrors that the regime’s prisoners suffered at the hands of the brutal jailers. The scene in my mind changed again and I was on a mountaintop not far from Strasbourg. It is an idyllic place, except for what happened there: Nazi medical “experiments” on interned Jews. Few survived the barbaric procedures. The images in my head shifted again and I was at the Dachau concentration camp. Do I even need to recount the things that happened there? All three places had the same nefarious spirit.
Such was the heaviness that I felt as I leafed through the prayer requests this morning. It was the feeling of the grinding agony of the hopeless captive. And I was feeling just the pain of a handful of requests for deliverance from suffering from the people known by this church. Pain, broken relationships, and addictions were painful shackles on so many people, and this was just a fraction of the people in my city.
Then I remembered walking away from the ovens at Dachau with tears in my eyes and anger in my soul. I looked at my son and said with gritted teeth, “If ever there was a reason for war, stopping this would be it.”
Sitting in the prayer room this morning I realized something. The weight I felt and the anger I felt were exactly the things that the Lord felt as he looked at a world held captive by sin. People were tortured and deceived by Satan and faced eternal suffering. The prisoners had no hope and no possibility of escape from their bondage, unless God did something.
The cost would be enormous. It would be a battle unlike any other. He would send his only Son to fight for the release of the captives. His Son would freely give himself to be tortured and executed. During his execution, he would not only suffer physical agony but he would have the guilt of every sin placed upon him. It would crush him.
He did it to set the captives free. He did it to put an end to suffering. There is hope. There is a way out of the suffering, a path to freedom from addiction, and release from the prison of sin.
I began to pray with new fervency. The situations on the prayer cards in my hand were not hopeless. The battle had been waged on Calvary and victory declared at the tomb. The wounded can be healed. The broken can be mended. The captives can be set free. There is a way out of the prison.
Jesus reigns victorious. Satan has been defeated. Hallelujah!
Strasbourg, France. The stunned gasp from the congregation was totally unexpected. I racked my brain trying to figure out what had happened. I had been preaching and used a big theological word and suddenly realized that many of the non-native English speakers in the room might not know the word. So, I had stopped and asked if someone could define the word for the benefit of everyone. A young American university student raised his hand and I called on him.
His definition of the term was correct, but contained several equally difficult theological terms. I rolled my eyes and said, “Thanks, that was SO helpful. It REALLY cleared things up.” He, and a few others in the room laughed, but their laughter was drowned out by the loud gasp of many others in the room. What could the problem be?
I suddenly realized that I was the cause of the gasp. Rather than understanding my remark as light-hearted teasing, many thought that I had ridiculed a young man’s attempt to be helpful. He had been bold enough to answer my question, and I had made fun of him in front of everyone.
The awkwardness was a common problem in France. The humor of one culture doesn’t translate well into other cultures. On the Iron Range of northern Minnesota, where I had spent 14 years, the teasing among friends was almost constant. But in France, I would think of some quick retort only to find it falling flat and the people around me looking confused or sometimes hurt. I found myself constantly find myself biting my tongue to keep from saying things that people wouldn’t think were funny.
One of the things that I noticed was that American humor (along with British humor) tends to be filled with sarcasm. It is the quick jibe or clever put-down that gets the laugh. The late Don Rickles was a master at it. Living in Strasbourg, I learned to restrain myself. There were also difficult conversations trying to explain that if Americans said something that seemed mean to you, it probably meant that they actually like you. It reminded me of a pastor I knew who was devastated when he woke up and saw toilet paper hanging from all the trees in his yard. He assumed that someone in the church hated him and had a hard time understanding that the youth group had done it because they loved him!
Now that I am back in the United States, I find my tongue is looser. But I don’t like what is coming out. The light-hearted put-down which so rapidly comes to my mind tastes sour, even though my intent is to build relationships! The sarcastic quip doesn’t feel “right” anymore. But why? Is it one of those things that is just a normal part of culture and requires some “translation” to understand (like toilet papering someone’s house), or is there something else going on?
Since I observed that much of American humor is sarcasm, I decided to look up the word in the Bible. While there are examples of sarcasm in the Bible, the word itself isn’t found there. Interestingly, the word sarcasm comes from a Greek word meaning “to strip or cut the flesh”. The dictionary goes on to define the English word to mean “the use of remarks that clearly mean the opposite of what they say, made in order to hurt someone's feelings or to criticize something in a humorous way.” So, we use the excuse of humor to say things that can wound or injure others. After all, we were only joking!
I did some more searching online about sarcasm and came across several interesting sites that were devoted to fiction writing. They said that sarcasm in dialogue can be used to show that a character in a story is cynical, bitter, and usually arrogant. Sarcastic characters are typically impatient and do not respect the person at whom the sarcastic comment is made. Those character traits didn’t seem to fit with the fruit of the Spirit. Things like love, joy, peace, and patience hardly produce snarky sarcastic comments.
Then I ran across a quote from Ellen DeGeneres (of all people). Here’s what she said, “Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at someone else’s expense. And I find that’s just a form of bullying in a major way.” That made me pause and think about the quick-witted jest that tears at someone’s flesh just to get a laugh. It is not really much different than the brute who pushes the little kid into the mud puddle because it is funny.
This way of joking is a far cry from Ephesians 4:29. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only that which is useful for building others up according to their needs so that it will benefit those who listen.”
What is the driving force of the sarcastic quip? Perhaps it is a desire to fit in with a group of people that loves put-downs. We all feel the desire to be accepted by others, but you would think that we would have overcome succumbing to peer pressure when we left our teen years behind. Perhaps there is bitterness or arrogance inside of us. Perhaps we are cynical and have become deeply pessimistic. Perhaps we harbor a secret desire to tear others down to make ourselves feel better or to look good. These things poison the well from which our speech flows. They cause us to excuse hurtful speech in the name of humor.
As followers of Christ, we are called to live lives of radical love. When our hearts are full of his love, our mouths will be filled with a sweetness that will build others up according to their needs. Our desire to encourage others should far outweigh our need to fit in with a group that loves to tear one another down. And so, I am setting a guard over my mouth these days. But even more, I am paying attention to the words I speak and asking the Lord to reveal what is behind what I am saying. I want my words to be full of grace and seasoned with salt so that it will benefit all who hear them. To do that I need to be willing to look at the source from which my words flow.
May the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be pleasing in His sight (Psalm 19:14).
The disciples watched every move Jesus made, listened to every word He spoke, saw every miraculous work He did. As they watched Him in action, they learned from Him. As they listened to Him pray, they must have recognized something that was lacking in their own prayer life.
Has anyone ever taught you how to pray? Do you want to spend more time in prayer, but you just don’t know what to say – or like the disciples, do you get distracted or sleepy? (Matthew 26:40-41) Do you struggle with confidence when there’s a chance to pray out loud?
Perhaps we – as disciples of Jesus – also need to learn to pray the way Jesus did. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He said, “Pray like this…,”and he goes on to give them a model of how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). We are also disciples of Jesus, so it is our joyful duty to pay attention to His teaching. As we use Jesus’ teaching as a model for our time in prayer, we will find prayer to be an incredible gift from our Heavenly Father – one that we will cherish every day.
Each month, in this blog, we will unpack the different parts of the Lord’s Prayer as we learn to pray the way He did. As we seek to know Him more, He will counsel us with His eye upon us.(Psalm 32:8)
There are a lot of themes that run throughout Scripture. One theme that does not find its way into many conversations but has been coming up again and again for me as I read Scripture is Exile and the Return from Exile. (Also check out the Bible Project’s Series on Exile. It is crazy good.)
The start of a new year is always a time of rethinking our priorities. Even those who do not make formal resolutions spent at least a few moments thinking about what they want to do in the coming year. All of us should spend some time pondering what God’s priorities are for our lives. Often, we struggle trying to discern what the Lord wants us to do. As with many things, what seems complex can really be boiled down to something basic and easy to understand. So easy, in fact, it is tempting to dismiss it as unimportant. Often, we are like players on a basketball team that is enamored with fancy passes and crazy dribbling moves but has forgotten that the purpose is to put the ball in the hoop. It is the basic things that we take for granted that we forget and we do so at our own peril.
The Jewish leaders in the time of Jesus were passionate about obedience to God. They wanted to do God’s will and zealously searched the Scriptures looking for the things God wanted them to do. It helped them make decisions about simple and complex matters (John 5:39). They recognized 613 different commands in Bible. Some were positive actions to take and others were prohibitions. These commands guided everyday life.
When asked what the greatest or most important commandment was, Jesus answered that it was to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This is the number one priority of God for our lives: to love Him (Mark 12:28-34).
Strangely, when I talk to people about their goals for the coming year, loving the Lord never comes up, yet it is the Lord’s top priority for our lives. But what if we made loving Jesus our main goal for the coming year? What would that look like? What would it mean? How would we go about it?
A partially correct answer would be that we would obey him. After all, there are many passages that say that those who love him will obey him (John 14:15-24; 1 John 5:31). Those who say they “love God” but don’t do what he says are deceiving themselves. But I suspect that simple obedience falls far short of what the Lord intends. We all know that it is possible to obey rules on the outside while our hearts are filled with rebellion (Matthew 15:1-9).
Another tempting answer would be to make some promise of bold action to prove our devotion. Such an attempt is silly when we consider who God is. He is the Creator. He formed galaxies by simply issuing a command. What feat could we do that would possibly impress him? Build a cathedral? We’d be using the things he made. Go on a mission trip? Do you really think that will impress God?
We are called to be in love with the Lord. Our hearts are to be filled with affection for him. We are to be enthralled with his beauty and enamored with his fascinating personality. We are to be awestruck at his power and amazed by his majesty. This is far more than doing things out of duty or dreaming up grandiose projects. It is the greatest calling and what we were created to experience.
How do we grow in our affection for Jesus? There is much that could be said, but let me suggest three simple things.
Increase your knowledge of him.
The more we know about the Lord, the more excited we will be about him. The fullness of God is found in Jesus. His glory was veiled in human flesh, but the Incarnate One displayed what he is like. So, spend time reading the gospels with the goal of learning more about what Jesus is like and what his kingdom is all about. Ask him to teach you more and more about him. Ask him to reveal his heart to you. Take time to express back to him your praise and adoration for who he is.
Increase your capacity to worship him.
We struggle to find the vocabulary to express our love for the Lord. One of the best ways to become more fluent in worship is through the language of the psalms. Take a psalm and use it to express your adoration of who he is. Read through the psalm slowly. Then go back and read it again, pausing to affirm the qualities that you see there and express them back to the Lord. This habit may lead you to repentance or praise, and it will cause you to grow more intensely in love with him.
For example, take Psalm 46. After reading it through once, go over it a second time, paraphrase and praying according to what it says.
"God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way,
Though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains tremble at its swelling…"
Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV)
Lord, I praise you because you are a refuge and strength and a help in times of trouble. You are a place where I can hide safe from the storms and battles of life. How awesome you are! You formed the ground I walk on and know the names of distant galaxies. How much bigger and stronger you are than the things that trouble me. But you are a very present help in times of trouble. Right now. Right here. You are present. There is nothing that I need to fear. Though all around me might fall apart today, I rest secure in your arms. You will never fail me. Oh, how I love you!
A steady diet of praying this way will increase your passion for who he is and treble your ability to express your love for him in ways that will fill your heart, and his, with joy.
Read books by those who have a deep and a white-hot love for the Lord.
Read A.W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy.
This little book is a gold mine of bite-sized nuggets about the Lord by a man who loved him with a depth that few have matched. When my spiritual fire is ebbing, Tozer is one author I frequently turn to in order rekindle it. While all his writings are good, this particular book is a series of mediations on different aspects of the character and nature of God. Don’t read it quickly. Read it slowly and methodically pondering the truths Tozer lays before you. Then turn to prayer. Express verbally (either out loud or written) your love for the Lord because of the insights Tozer writes about.
Here’s a taste:
“The familiar picture of God as often torn between His justice and His mercy is altogether false to the facts. To think of God as inclining first toward one and then toward another of His attributes is to imagine a God who is unsure of Himself, frustrated and emotionally unstable, which of course is to say that the one of whom we are thinking is not the true God at all but a weak, mental reflection of Him badly out of focus.” (Kindle location 1301)
“God needs no one, but when faith is present, He works through anyone. Two statements are in this sentence and a healthy spiritual life requires that we accept both.” (Kindle location 640)
Read Mike Bickle’s Passion for Jesus.
Mike Bickle has been leading a prayer ministry for years. In fact, he started a prayer room that has had live worship going non-stop for twenty years! It is fueled by a people who are madly in love with Jesus and enjoy spending time declaring his worth. The ideas in Bickle’s book will draw you closer into a relationship with Jesus.
Here are some quotes:
“A life characterized by affection-based obedience is a life in which you are so loved, and so love God, that obedience is the only reasonable response to anything He wishes. For the sake of love, you are willing to give everything and find no sacrifice too great.” (Kindle location 524).
“The accumulation of information about the Scriptures and the mental discipline of hours of Bible study will never thoroughly cleanse the inner man in the way that devotional, worshipful meditation upon God's Word will. In Bible study alone, we store up important scriptural facts and concepts. But when our Bible study leads into personal dialogue with Jesus as we meditate upon His cleansing Word, we also experience growth in spiritual hunger, sensitivity, and nearness to Him. Active intimacy with His presence washes our spirits.” (Kindle location 1604).
Why is making loving God an important priority?
The Lord is interested in our hearts. He wants us to be in love with him. Obedience, by itself, can be done by people whose hearts are far away from the Lord. That isn’t what Jesus wants. He wants us to love Him for who he is and what he has done. Love for Jesus will cause us to have what has been called a “long obedience in the same direction”. It won’t be drudgery. It will be the life of one madly in love with their Creator, Savior, and Lord. It is what we were made for. Anything else is settling for far less.
So, plan now to cultivate your love relationship with the Lord. Make It your goal to love Jesus more passionately in December 2019 than you do today. May it be your greatest priority in 2019!