Is it Taking Away Your Love for Prayer?

If ever you are so much engrossed with any enjoyment here that it takes away your love for prayer, or for your Bible, or that it would frighten you to hear the cry, Behold the Bridegroom cometh—then your heart is “overcharged”. You are abusing this world.

R. Murray M’Cheyne, Watching Unto Prayer

This is an old clip from a prayer conference I attended in February. But after doing a funeral this past week I was struck with the reality of eternity again. What really matters when it's all said and done? Let's listen to God this week and "set [our minds] on things above" (Col. 3:2).

Seeing God's Face Before Anyone Else's

Whether you're a morning person or a night person, there's something to be said about giving your eyes the habit of looking upward from the minute you wake up. As John Piper said, "it's not about legalism, it's about desperation!" Here's one snippet of his message on Robert Murry McCheyne:

McCheyne's scheduled disciplines aimed at fixing the habit in his heart of living in constant communion with Christ. He had formed the habit of rising early to read the Scriptures and pray, and he tried to maintain this to the end of his life. He loved to meet Jesus early. He journaled, "Rose early to seek God and found him whom my soul loveth. Who would not rise early to meet such company?" He wrote to a student, "Never see the face of man till you have seen his face who is our life, our all." Or in another place, he said, "I cannot begin my work for I have not seen the face of God."

How do you develop a life of prayer?

This week I hope to post some of the highlights from last week's DG Conference on prayer. After reading Paul Miller's book, A Praying Life, I was excited to hear him speak on this topic in person. His approach to prayer is so freeing! Here are some notes from his message:

How do you begin to develop a life of prayer? The feeling of helplessness is necessary. Feeling that you are completely unable to do life on your own, to do life without Jesus. God needs to be active in all of the details of your life. I think that is a big reason why Jesus tells us to be like little children. Here are some passage regarding this call: Mark 10:13-16Mark 9:33-37Matthew 7:7-11Luke 10:21Matthew 21:14-17John 5:19Matthew 6:9-13, andMark 14:36.

What does it mean to come like a child in your prayer time? You get out of bed and start praying. It is not long until your mind begins to wander to the problems that you have. You think there is something wrong with you, and there is! You need Jesus. Being a child in prayer means to just come. Children are not tied up in all the details when they come to their parents. They just come.

Jesus says those are weary and heavy laden are to come to him. He doesn’t call the organized and fixed up but the broken. Why do we forget that when it comes to prayer? The dirty, muddy you is the real you. Don’t try to put on the spiritual façade in prayer. You can talk to God about whatever is on your heart, so just come as you are. Be weak and open in prayer before God. It is the same as the gospel. I’m just applying the gospel to your prayer life. We need to learn helplessness. That is what a child reflects.

You can watch/listen to his entire message here.

Francis Chan's Humble Confession

One of the most encouraging parts of the DG conference for me happened during the Q&A time with all the speakers. The panel was asked the following question: Should we be having a daily quiet time or prayer time with our wives? Here's Francis Chan's humble response:

FC: I’m learning a lot from this conference and especially from Joel’s talk last night (on Family Worship). I want to build up and so I don’t want you to follow my example. My wife and I don’t pray regularly together. When needs arise, we pray. I don’t have a regular family worship time. I spend a lot of time with children one-on-one. I’m thinking of Ephesians 4:29—I don’t want to say anything that won’t build you up, but I want to be honest with you. I look at what Joel was saying and I want that. I have issues in my life. But I almost feel weird sometimes talking about spiritual things with my family. Maybe it has something to do with my upbringing. When I do pray with my wife, it is awesome. I just have this weird block with praying with my wife.

Later he added this:

FC: We prayed a lot when we were dating. When we got married, she told me honestly that she thought we would pray and read more together. I was concerned for her walk and that everything was through me. I told her if I saw her praying and reading on her own more often, then it would be easier for me to do that with her. I have some great examples here and I’m going to go home and start trying this daily thing.

I got the opportunity to meet Chan after the conference, and I let him know how much I appreciated his honesty and vulnerability. I told him that we (as young leaders) need to see models of broken, humble leaders like himself. He said that he already called his wife and prayed with her on the phone. Wow. I am convinced that Chan's confession will have a ripple effect on hundreds-perhaps thousands-of men who struggle to pray with their wives.

I'll end with Piper's challenge to the pastors (and all of us men!):

JP: Try this: go home, and if you never regularly pray with your wife, tell her you are going to try some new things. When you wake, roll over, take her hand, and say a short prayer before getting out of bed. Start there. Praying together is an awesome barometer of how things are going. If you can’t talk to God together, you can’t talk to each other. This is important for Francis and me and you to start doing this. Just take thirty seconds when you go to bed and commend both of you to the Lord. “Lest your prayers be hindered” should start at home. This is the most intimate relationship you have on the planet. Jesus is the most intimate vertically. If those don’t connect, there is something wrong.

Robert Murray M'Cheyne Quotes

As I get ready to leave for the Desiring God Pastor's Conference on Prayer, I'll leave you with these quotes by Robert Murray M'Cheyne. John Piper will do a biographical message on his life on Tuesday afternoon. Should be good. Thanks again for your prayers. I'll be back on Wednesday. "A man is what he is on his knees before God, and nothing more."

"For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ."

"The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness."

"Live near to God, and all things will appear little to you in comparison with eternal realities."

Going to DG Prayer Conference

On Monday morning I'm heading up north (I know, I'm crazy) to Minnesota for the Desiring God Pastor's Conference on Prayer. I'm really looking forward to it - not just to hear the great line-up of speakers, but to hear from God and grow in what it means to be a man of prayer. I long to know God more deeply, and as a husband, father and pastor, "devote myself to prayer and the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4).

Would you pray for me this Mon - Wed? And if you're going to the conference, let me know!

It took me 17 years to realize I couldn't parent on my own ...

Paul Miller:

It took me seventeen years to realize I couldn’t parent on my own. It was not a great spiritual insight, just a realistic observation. If I didn’t pray deliberately and reflectively for members of my family by name every morning, they’d kill one another. I was incapable of getting inside their hearts. I was desperate. But even more, I couldn’t change my self-confident heart. My prayer journal reflects both my inability to change my kids and my inability to change my self-confidence. That’s why I need grace even to pray…

It didn’t take me long to realize that I did my best parenting by prayer, I began to speak less to the kids and more to God. It was actually quite relaxing.”

–Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2009), 59-60.

What good does it do to pray?

Desiring God recently interviewed Paul Miller, author of A Praying Life, and asked him to describe the problem of cynicism in prayer, and what is his advice to those who are struggling with it?

Cynicism is my biggest struggle in prayer. It is a quiet, cold rationalism that dulls the soul and just kills your walk with God. It is hard to even identify or name our cynicism because it just feels like being realistic. It says things like, “What good does it [prayer] do?” or “It [the answer to prayer] would have happened anyway.”

I think we are particularly susceptible to cynicism in the Reformed world because we are an intellectual world. We are rightly concerned about our ideas being correct, but we don’t always pay attention to our heart being correct.

I think without a doubt that the principal cure for cynicism is to become a little child and learn to cry out for help—to realize that I am a lost coin, a lost sheep, and a lost son.

One other cure for cynicism is purity of life. Any time there is a miss between how we present ourselves as Christians and what we are really like when no one is watching, that opens up a door for cynicism. So a lifestyle of repentance and confession goes a long way to cure cynicism.

Our Weakness = Door to Grace

A Praying Life by Paul Miller is without question the best book I've ever read on prayer.  It affected me deeply.  Recently, Desiring God interviewed Miller asking him about the impact his father made on his life in regards to prayer.  Among other things he said,

"[It] was his emphasis on the gospel as something that Christians need to believe, that our weakness is the door to grace. I simply took that insight and applied that to my prayer life."

Isn't that sweet?  In essence he's saying that prayer is simply the point where our weakness meets God's grace ... like a little child calling out to his strong daddy for help.

Let that in today ... come weak ... and pray.

Before you Launch into Your New Year's Resolutions ...

As we launch into this new year I was reminded of a quote from a movie I watched awhile back called, "Faith Like Potatoes." This was the one line from the movie that stuck with me and challenged me greatly:

"We're not doing things and asking God to bless it. We're asking God what we should do, and then He provides. There is a difference."

I like that.  It reminds me to pray and live in a posture of complete surrender to an all sufficient, wise God.

Don't Overthink Prayer

Yesterday I took a spiritual retreat. I spent most of the day at a park walking outside just soaking in the glory of God's creation. At one point I stopped at a little pond and watched a turtle playing in the water. Later I walked through a shaded trail and just listened to the sounds of birds singing in the trees. All the while I prayed and just talked to God as if he were right there with me. It was a time of sweet communion. It made me think about prayer and how we make it so hard sometimes. Why do we overthink prayer and make it a discipline that's disconnected from our real lives? Why do we think so much about trying to get it right? Why can't we just slow down and remember that God is a person?

I love what Paul Miller writes in his book, A Praying Life.  He says,

"... prayer is all about relationship. It's intimate and hints at eternity. We don't think about communication or words but about who we are talking with. Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect with God ... Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God ... Prayer is not the center ... getting to know a person, God, is the center."

Isn't that freeing? Through Christ we can get to know God and have a real relationship with him, talking to him in prayer as if he's right there with us, because he is.

Helping Students Transition Into College

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The transition from high school to college is a difficult one for many students.  This is where the church can step in and play an important role in supporting and praying for these college-bound kids.  Walt Mueller, with Center for Parent Youth Understanding (CPYU) tells about the College Transition Initiative, a program to discover how you can learn more about helping these students in transition.  I posted the following articles on their website for further reading.

CPYU Articles

Mindy Meier: Sex on campus - Derek Melleby interviews author Minday Meier about Donna Freitas' bookSex & the Soul

Finding campus community - What can be done to help students make wise decisions in how they spend their time and who they spend their time with in college

Preparing high school students for the realities of college life - The CCO interviews Derek Melleby

Youth group gone wild - What you can do now to prepare kids for college

Life after high school - CPYU interview with author and professor Dr. Tim Clydesdale about his book The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School

Why students abandon their faith - Lessons from William Wilberforce

God in the gap year - More and more students are taking a year off before heading to college

The beginnings of vocation - Deciding on a major. Download this article as a .pdf handout.

Choosing a college - Questions students should ask as they seek a college that will positively nurture the entirety of their being, by Matthew J. Reitnour

Life after high school: A conversation with ministry veteran Steven Garber - How youth ministries can help students with the transition from high school to college

Affirming doubt - Helping students ask and answer tough questions

Keeping faith from fraying - The American Family Association interviews CPYU's Derek Melleby about the transition to college

College prep - Helping the teens you know transition to the university years

College Transition - A look at the transition from high school to college through the eyes of a high school guidance counselor and two college students

Navigating the college transition - CPYU's own Derek Melleby, along with Susan den Herder, wrote this article for Comment Magazine

The lion, the witch and the college campus - Key issues students face when transitioning from high school to college and the relevancy of C.S. Lewis for college students

Conversations for the college bound - What high school students heading to college should think about before making the transition

Prepare for college: Read the Bible - Students who desire to transition smoothly from high school to college should read and understand the Bible

Rest for Restless Parents

Parents, especially young parents, aren't you tired of trying to get it all right?  Aren't you tired of trying to discipline your kids by the book?  Aren't you tired of trying to match up with other families?  Aren't you tired of trying to do A + B and never getting C?  Let's admit it.  There's only so much we can do.  God must do the rest.  So let's be faithful in what we can do.  Let's sow the seed of the gospel.  Let's teach it.  Let's live it.  And let's pray it for our kids.  And when the day is done, let's rest.  Let's rest well.

After all, that's the wonder of the gospel!  As John MacArthur says, "you sow the seed, you go to sleep, and it grows" (Mark 4:27).

Learning to Let Go

I'm sure you've been there as a parent.  You've told your child what to do and she won't budge.  She wants control.  She wants what she wants and won't let go.  I was in that place last night.  We were at a stand still.  Just me and my oldest daughter.  But instead of getting angry and demanding that she obey me, I realized that I needed to help her see what was going on in her heart.  After talking to her about it for awhile, she didn't seem to understand.  In fact, she told me that I was the one who didn't understand her -- which was probably true!  By the grace of God, I stayed calm as she grew more and more emotional.  Finally, I thought it was best to leave her on her bed as I went to pray and ask God for wisdom. 

Of all things, he led me to pick up a ball laying on the carpet right outside her bedroom door.  I looked at it and I thought, "God, would you help me and my daughter to understand what's going on here?  I don't know what to do."  Then, I just opened the door with the ball in my hand believing that he would come through as I sat next to my girl on her bed.  I showed her the ball and said, "Emie, this ball represents what Emie wants."  And so I gave it to her and told her to hold it close to her chest.  I explained to her that there are many things that she wants, but she can't always have what she wants.  She needs to let go and let her daddy help her with these choices.  I looked at her and said, "Emie, this is hard, isn't it?  It's hard to let go of the control.  It's hard to let go of the ball.  We want to hold onto it, don't we?"  Then I told her that I'm the same way.  I want what I want and I don't want anybody taking that away. 

At this point she seemed confused and asked a great question.  But Daddy, "You always get what you want.  You always have the ball.  How come I don't get to do what I want, like you do?"  I paused for a moment then looked at her and said, "Emie, God gave you a Daddy who loves you and wants to help you understand what it is you really want.  And as you keep growing up you will be able to make more choices on your own.  But I want to tell you something.  If you keep holding onto what you want you will end up sad and frustrated.  But if you are willing to let go and trust Daddy you will be happy.  You know why?  Because as you willingly give me the ball, we'll meet in the middle (I put the ball between us) and you'll see that what I want for you is really what you want too.  Do you know why?  Because we're actually both taking what we want and lifting it up to God and asking him what He wants.  (We lifted up the ball together).  You see, Emie, we're giving up control and letting him have the ball." 

Emie smiled.  By God's grace I think it clicked.  We hugged and asked God to help us let go and give up our control.  Emie loved the little activity and asked if she could write about it in her journal.  This is part of what she wrote (she gave me permission!) in her own words:

Emie's Journal Entry -- March 15, 2010

Ball repersents: What I want

If I kept holding on to what Emie wants I would get sad but if I say here you go Daddy and give him what Emie wants then it's like we stick together with what Emie wants and we be happy and God is happy too.

2nd Grade, page 26.

Well said, Emie.  Little did you know that you're the one teaching me to let go and trust God.

Join God's Work in Japan

Michael Oh spoke at the 2009 Desiring God Conference for Pastors about his vision to reach Japan for Jesus.  Some of you know my twin brother, Mark Wolter, and his family are missionaries in Kyoto, Japan.  Please pray for them and consider joining God's work in Japan.  As mentioned in the video, the Protestant population of Japan is about .2%, with a total population of around 186 million. Japan needs Jesus, and needs your prayers.

LBC members: Mark and his family will be coming to speak our church, Lord willing, on August 15th.  He appreciates all of your prayers and support and would love to see you all this summer.

  • Read an interview I had with Mark awhile back. (Part 1) and (Part 2)

My Part/God's Part in the Psalms

As I look at the Psalms, I'm amazed at how little we do and how much He does.  For example:  Psalm 23:1-3

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me besides still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Psalm 40:1-3

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and [he] heard my cry He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and [he] set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.

Psalm 55:22

Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 91:14-16

Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and [I will] honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and [I will] show him my salvation.

In summary, all I need to do is come poor and needy because He comes to me rich in mercy. Hallelujah!