The Prayers of Jesus

That Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees, why not make him tremble? Why not storm the very gates of hell? Nothing could please God more. In the conflict that is upon us, certainly we can ill afford to neglect one weapon Satan does not have in his arsenal and the one he fears the most—prayer.[i]  —Ralph Herring

Prayer. We all say we believe in it. We sometimes practice it. But do we pray believing? How can we grow in prayer?

I’m convinced the place to start with prayer is with our Lord and his example. While the following is not exhaustive, here are some ways Jesus serves as our model in prayer. Let these truths encourage your prayer today.

First, he spent time in personal prayer. Mark 1:35 and other passages observe his penchant for private prayer. How is your private prayer currently?

Second, he prayed at important events (Matt 26:36-44; Luke 6:12). “Of course, we should do that,” you say. Important events call for prayer. But he prayed all night before calling the 12. When have you spent all night in prayer because of a vital matter? I admit, I’ve only been a part of two all-night prayer meetings. But most believers have never done so, or anything remotely related to this. Is prayer your first choice when facing an important decision?

Third, he taught the importance of prayer (Matt 6). The only thing the Gospels tell us the 12 specifically asked Jesus to teach them was to pray (Luke 11). The Lord’s Prayer, as we call it, offers a model of how to pray. Jesus always teaches his followers those things most vital to his heart. What are you learning just now about prayer?

Fourth, he prioritized seasons and places of prayer (Luke 5:16). On this occasion in Luke we read how our Lord often withdrew to a certain place. In this hyper-driven world of ours we need both a place and times of personal sabbath and retreat. Do you have a special place to seek the Father?

Fifth, he prayed when facing temptation and when suffering (Matthew 4:1-2). Both when facing the temptation of satan and during the agony of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed. As my colleague Chuck Lawless points out, prayer is vital in the real spiritual warfare we face as Christians. In addition, three of his statements on the cross were prayers. Suffering and temptation should drive us to our knees rather than driving a wedge between us and the Father. Do you turn immediately to God in prayer in times of temptation, or when facing suffering?

Sixth, he gave thanks (Luke 10:21). He gave thanks before miraculously feeding the five thousand, for instance. Are you a grateful person, and is your gratitude aimed at the good God who gives good things?

Seventh, he modeled prayer (John 17). John 17 reminds us Jesus prayed for his disciples then and for us even now. Do you see prayer as a means to be more like Jesus?

Eighth, he calls on us to pray for harvesters (Matthew 9:36-38). Jesus calls his disciples to pray for harvesters. When we share our faith, we are answers to that call to prayer! Will you be an answer to this prayer by sharing Jesus this week?

Finally, Jesus continues to intercede for us now! Hebrews 7:25 reminds us he always lives to intercede for us. Will you live confidently, knowing this fact?

[i] R. Herring, The Cycle of Prayer (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1966), 62–63.

Sharing Jesus Book Training Video 2

One day last week I heard the following:

–A church in Virginia has 400 members going through the Sharing Jesus Book

–A church in Missouri has one-third of their congregation signed up to work through the book over 8 weeks (the biggest group signed up for any training in the church’s history)

–A nurse told one of my students how she has been helped so much by this book she is reading. She had no idea who the guy is who wrote it she said, but it’s called Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out. My student told her, “I know him, I’m reading the same book for his class.” Small world.

Here is the second training video from the landing page. In this one we look at the glorious, amazing gospel. Don’t believe it when people tell you the gospel is of no interest to the unchurched, or sharing the gospel doesn’t matter to believers. The way we “package” the gospel and approach believers definitely causes some to step back. But, the gospel is still the power of God to salvation, and so many who love Jesus want to share him, and not freak out or overcomplicate it.

May this video encourage you today.


Seven Core Convictions about Evangelism

In I Thessalonians 1:5 Paul says several things about how the gospel came to the Thessalonians: it came not only in word (it came in word, but more); in power, with the Holy Spirit, and with CONVICTION. Paul completed his thought by noting how these Thessalonians saw how they lived among them. But I want to focus on the word “conviction.” Paul had undeniable convictions. What are your convictions regarding evangelism? Here are seven of mine:

1.  Men and women are without hope until they receive salvation through Jesus. Therefore, we must evangelize urgently. People apart from Christ are lost (Luke 15), dead in sins (Eph. 2:1), under sin (Rom. 3:9), and under condemnation (John 3:18). Immanuel Kant once declared that David Hume, the skeptic, awoke him from his dogmatic slumber. Surely a skeptical world, living in fear, often without hope, should awaken us from our apathy!

2. Many people are ready to respond to the gospel. Therefore, we must evangelize regularly. Paul told Timothy to preach the word in season and out of season—or when we feel like it and when we don’t! In 1995, I had the privilege of joining the faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to that I taught at Houston Baptist University. Before leaving the university, I made an appointment with several students, including some whom I felt needed to hear the gospel. One was a young lady named Audra. I shared Christ with her. This was new to her, although she had gone to church services a few times. I gave her a gospel booklet, asking her to read it again.The first week after beginning my work at Southeastern, I got a letter from Audra. She wrote, “On August 9, I opened my heart to Christ. . . . A big thanks goes to you.” She even photo­copied the tract to give it to another person who needed Christ. This point is that Audra needed someone to tell her how to be saved. The reason many people aren’t Christians is that no one has told them how to be saved.

3. Believers are commanded by the Bible to evangelize. Therefore, we must evangelize obediently. Billy Graham has said the number one reason we should witness is because God says we should. There are certainly other motives for our witness, but we should not ignore this simple truth. Obedience matters to God. In this day of “consumer Christianity” which focuses on meeting our needs, obedience has become low on the priority list of many believers.

4. Most believers want to witness but do not. Therefore, we must evangelize purposefully. I have been in a couple thousand churches over the past decades. I am amazed at the number of believers who want to witness, who want to make a difference, who long for their lives to matter. They are afraid, or do not know how, or have been too busy doing good things to participate in the best thing—winning people to Christ.

5. The gospel is the greatest message we could ever tell. Therefore, we must evangelize confidently. As a university student, I was discipled by a man named Curtis. One day he asked me a simple question that changed my life.

“Alvin,” he said, “what is the best thing that ever happened to you?”

“The day I was saved,” I heartily replied, with my Sunday school smile.

“Then, Alvin,” he continued, “what is the best thing you can do for someone else?”

The answer was obvious. Yet I was immediately embarrassed at it because I knew my life did not reflect the joy of introducing others to the Jesus whom I knew so well.

6. We must rethink the way we understand and practice evangelism. Therefore we must evangelize missionally. We have to see America as the mission field it is and share Christ from the posture of a missionary in a land that does not know Christ. That’s a large reason I wrote the Sharing Jesus book.

7. We must understand the spirit of the times. Therefore, we must evangelize holistically. Evangelism is less a technique and more a lifestyle, less a method and more a movement. The Western Church has been in decline for longer than we would like to admit. The notion that we should simply do what we have been doing, only better or with more passion, must be rejected. The idea that the key to the future is a new method that meets the times misses the point. Separating evangelism from the life of the believer in a compartmentalizing manner must not happen. Einstein was right when he said insanity is doing the same thing over and over only to expect different results. We must take the timeless message and communicate it in a timely manner. Do you really believe the greatest thing you can tell another person is the good news about Jesus? Then tell someone!

Want to Be More Disciplined? Start with Your Daily Routines

Do you ever have conversations in your head with yourself? We all do. Imagine for a minute you are having that conversation: the one where you failed at discipline and you are scolding yourself for once again not keeping that commitment/avoiding that temptation/meeting that challenge/whatever the topic is at the moment. It’s ok, we all have those at times, don’t we?

Discipline matters. In fact, discipline and disciple come from the same root. A person can be extremely disciplined — like an Olympic athlete — and yet not be a disciple of Jesus. But can one really be a disciple of Jesus and not embrace discipline?  I’m not talking about guilt-ridden, legalistic discipline, nor am I talking about discipline motivated by comparison with others. Discipline for the believer flows out of grace, not guilt. Our motivation for grace comes from the wonder, the gratitude, and the joy of living for our Lord with all our hearts because of the gospel. It was Paul, who teaches us so much about grace, who set the example of disciplining himself like an athlete (I Corinthians 9:27). Dallas Willard sets this up well when he reminds us that “grace is opposed to earning; it is not opposed to effort.”

This discipline applies first and foremost to our spiritual lives, as Paul reminded Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness (I Tim. 4:7). But even as the gospel applies to all our life–spiritual, emotional, vocational, relational, financial, and physical–it’s hard to be disciplined in our spiritual lives and let ourselves go totally in other areas. Is there not a fundamental problem when a person seems disciplined in his daily devotions and yet is wildly irresponsible with spending money?

A question for me all my life regards growing in discipline. In recent days I’ve found a very helpful way of thinking about discipline from a different perspective. I came across a book by a Pulitzer Prize winning author named Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit. Then I watched a TED talk on the book from a new habit I’ve started–riding my exercise bike 10-20 minutes when I finish my daily devotions while watching a TED talk or other video.

Duhigg talks about the HABIT LOOP:

It seems researchers have found a consistent pattern in people who practice both good and bad habits. Something cues us to a particular routine, followed by some kind of reward. One researcher found about 40% of our daily lives are controlled by habits. It’s why you can get in your car and drive to work, arrive, and ask yourself whether you closed the garage door, or can’t seem to remember much about the drive. It’s such a habit you don’t track every second.

What if you replaced one bad habit with a good one? What if instead of treating yourself to a cookie or other unhealthy snack in the afternoon, which you probably only eat out of habit, you began to bring to work your most favorite piece of fruit to enjoy then? Let’s say you are a young man who as a habit comes home and plays video games for an hour. First, WHY? Okay, sorry, it could be watching Sports Center or the Weather Channel, or wasting an hour on social media, or grabbing a bag of chips. What if you put a cue that reminded you first to do something productive, like homework, or going for a jog, or reading for 30 minutes. Then, reward yourself with a focused, shortened time watching a screen, and eating something that’s not processed to the nines.

Let’s say you want to start exercising. Before going to bed, place your workout clothes where you can’t miss them. That’s a cue. Planning ahead with a new cue is a start. Have your water bottle filled up and in the fridge. And then exercise. Find (ahead of time!) a youtube video with bodyweight exercises and get after right there in the living room. Duhigg even mentions giving yourself a reward that seems counterintuitive, like a small piece of chocolate. Studies show over time your mind will start cueing you that candy is not the reward, but long term health is.

Most of us have habits that are good for us. We brush our teeth (I hope!) without so much as a thought. But we also have bad habits. You don’t really abolish a bad habit; you replace it with a good one. Duhigg and others argue to make the change, you keep the cue and a reward, but change the routine.

Personal testimony: here are two I’ve done for my own health long term. One is the biking with a TED video, which I started again today because I’ve had some health stuff keeping me on the sidelines for a week. But it’s already become such a habit I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike this AM. A second is eating 5-7 (7 is the goal) servings of healthy fruits and vegetables a day. Don’t judge me, low carb people. Each of us is unique, and after a lot of experimenting this seems to be both more effective for me at controlling weight, staying satiated, and lets me not hate what I eat (which is not sustainable). And I feel good!

My 96.00 bike from Walmart. 

I encourage you to watch the TED talk (below), and if you can, get the book. The video below ties together rats, Starbucks, and marshmellows in an interesting way. But what I really want to ask you to do is to find one annoying habit that keeps you from growing in an area you care about, and replace it with a habit that moves you forward as a follower of Jesus.