Praying through Scripture

(Day 13 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

One of the best patterns for spiritual warfare that we can follow is Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. He demonstrates the adept use of Scripture as a shield for His own heart, reminding himself of the truth. This same well-aimed truth is what tears through the tempting words of Satan, revealing them to be lies and deceit. We need to have a good grasp on the truths in Scripture in order to use them against the attacks of the enemy. Just as we would equip ourselves from an armory for a physical battle, for a spiritual battle we must equip ourselves with knowledge of the Word.

One great way to do this is to pray through the Psalms. David and others wrote many Psalms about the deliverance and provision of God, how He is there to protect us from our enemy and sustain us through our battles. Praying through scripture will remind us of God’s character, faithfulness, and can bind us to the faith of believers past, knowing that these words are timeless and true. As we consider God’s ability to rescue us, let’s pray through Psalm 46, which reminds us to find our shelter in Him.

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.

Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple

into the depths of the seas, though its water roars and foams and the mountains quake with its turmoil. Selah

There is a river—its streams delight the city of God, the holy dwelling place of the Most High.

God is within her; she will not be toppled. God will help her when the morning dawns.

Nations rage, kingdoms topple; the earth melts when he lifts his voice.

The Lord of Armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah

Come, see the works of the Lord, who brings devastation on the earth.

He makes wars cease throughout the earth. He shatters bows and cuts spears to pieces; he sets wagons ablaze.

“Stop your fighting, and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.”

The Lord of Armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah 

By Kyle Reilly

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Offensive Praying: Frequent and Natural

(Day 12 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

Studies show that the key to any good relationship is healthy communication. If you ask a couple who have been married for 50 years what the key to marital success is, you will likely find out that communication is near the top of the list.

As relational beings made in the image of God, we all recognize this vital aspect of intimate relationships. J. Oswald Sanders said: “It is impossible for a believer, no matter what his experience, to keep right with God if he will not take the trouble to spend time with God. Spend plenty of time with him; let other things go, but don’t neglect Him.”

Offensive praying: Just like conversations in a healthy marital relationship or a quality friendship, prayer should be frequent and natural.

First, how frequent should we pray?

1 Thess. 5:16-18 says:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

We understand this to mean that we should always be in the attitude of prayer. We should always have the lines of communication open with God. If I only spoke to my wife on a single occasion during the week or only when I need something it would strain the relationship. If I only call my friend when I need him to help me I probably shouldn’t expect to keep him as a valued friend for long. However, if I take the time and effort to be purposeful about engaging with my wife or friend I will soon discover that the relationship grows closer. God wants a relationship with us. He wants that relationship to grow and build. Pray without ceasing.

Second, how do we make prayer a natural part of our life and not a mundane task?

It didn’t take me long as a Christian to learn that if I did not set aside a daily time to pray, the busyness of life would take over and get in the way. To not prioritize prayer is to prioritize something else. At the same time, I also learned that when I emphasize a set time to pray, I have the tendency to begin treating it like just another item on my to-do list. I can fall into the trap of checking God off and forgetting Him. A task oriented approach to prayer can lead to neglecting the Lord throughout the day. Don’t give up though! Ask God for help. Like communication in a healthy marriage, by God’s grace, a healthy prayer life develops over time. Stick with it, always.

“Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work. Yet we think of prayer as some commonsense exercise of our higher powers that simply prepares us for God’s work. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, prayer is the working of the miracle of redemption in me, which produces the miracle of redemption in others, through the power of God.”  – Oswald Chambers

By Doug Hull

 

Pray First

(Day 11 of a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

“You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” (S. D. Gordon)

Does it really matter what the order is in spiritual disciplines for the Christian? I believe it does – not because of what some man said, but because Jesus himself emphasized that prayer is of first importance.

A soldier does not go into battle without proper equipment and preparation. Yet we as believers sometimes feel that we can engage the enemy on our own, without prayer. Jesus reminded Peter that self-sufficiency would not result in success. He warned him,

“Simon, Simon, look out. Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Upon entering the Garden of Gethsemane, the Lord told his disciples,

“Pray that you may not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:40)

In Matthew 26:36 and in Mark 14:32, his additional word to them was to sit there while he prayed. Upon taking Peter, James, and John farther, he told them,

“Remain here and stay awake with me.” (Matthew 26:38)

Notice that he did not say that they should get up and take action right then. They were to sit, or remain, until after prayer. Jesus knew the battle that he, and they, were facing, and how desperately they needed to pray and wait. He also knows exactly the trials and temptations that come to us. Yet, how often have we decided that we must act immediately, rather than remain and pray first?

Even the very Son of God realized that his own struggles required prayer and dependence on his Father. He knew that he faced horrible persecution and death. Consequently, he asked His Father to remove his cup of suffering if there could be another way for our forgiveness. Then in submission, he prayed, “

…nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Not only must we pray in times of temptation, but also when facing trials. I recall that once in the wee hours of the night, I realized that morning would bring an event with which I totally disagreed, but over which I had no control. I was in dire need of the strength my heavenly Father would provide as I prayed. It happened just as I had feared, but the Lord gave me strength. Likewise, he provided for all my needs in the days to come, as the trial continued. Then in his perfect timing, he brought about the best solution.

Each of us has encountered many and various trials, just as the Book of James tells us to expect. Times of suffering, disappointment, failure, illness, death, financial problems, family situations, and tough decisions will come. Our assurance is that our Father knows them ahead of time. He will provide wisdom, comfort, peace, and even joy, in the midst of these, when we trust him and take them to him in prayer.

“Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Joseph Scriven – “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

By Pat Browning

Jesus’ Offensive Prayer

(Day 10 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold. Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.” – John 17:9-20

This is a section of the prayer Jesus prays in John 17. It is the longest recorded prayer in the Bible, and Jesus spends it praying for us.

A few of the things Jesus prays over us in this chapter are that we would be protected, united as believers, filled with joy, safe from the evil one, and holy.

When it comes to offensive praying, I think this is among the best examples to follow in our lives. We can pray for the same things as Jesus did here! This can be a guide when we are confused, or do not know what to pray for.

Each one of us greatly need all these things Jesus prayed over us to get through every day. I particularly like how Jesus prayed that we would be safe from the evil one. We need to pray that over each other now as much as ever.

We live in a world filled with so much darkness, and people who have become victims of the evil one. We see far too many people struggling with depression, suicide, violence, drugs, and overall hopelessness.

We should pray that we and the people around us would be safe from satan and his attacks that want to lead us down these evil paths. If anyone is struggling with any of these things, you are not a bad person or a bad Christian.

But I believe that praying for the things Jesus prayed for can allow you to fight against the attacks of the evil one and become victorious over them because of the power of Christ alone!

By Frank Welch

Offensive Praying

(Day 9 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13)

How easy is it to be caught up in our amoral culture of constant stimulation and instant gratification? When we visit a local restaurant where large screen televisions in every corner are projecting bigger than life images of supermodels, sports heroes, the latest electronics gadgets and medicines, how can we focus on the person sitting across the table from us? On a trip down the interstate, the billboards have become graphic, scrolling, electronic, multi-media message boards touting the newest liposuction or a happening nightspot. We don’t have to go to the movies to see the exotic imagery. We don’t even have to turn on our television anymore. We don’t need to open an evening newspaper. Our once innocuous cell phones have become a prime marketing tool and daily we are bombarded by text messages, advertisements, unwanted email, social feeds, videos and more stimuli than we can possibly sort through in 10 lifetimes. Movies, television, Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon… the deluge never ends.

Peter warned us that our enemy prowls about like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). This has become a horrifying reality in our day. Now more than ever, we need to put on the full armor of God and pray the offensive prayer as Jesus instructed us. “Lead us not into temptation that surrounds us and cries to us with every chirp of the phone and Facebook ad. Deliver us from the clutches of the evil one who has his trap set out for us.” We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, remain vigilant in our quest for purity and ask God daily for protection as we pursue the Kingdom adventures.

As we pray our offensive prayer, we can take courage in the fact that Jesus also prayed for our deliverance from the enemy. He told His Father,

“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

I cannot imagine that we will ever return to the simpler times before the daily deluge of Internet marketing, phishing scams, instant pornography and the vile onslaught of immorality. Our alternative is to squirrel ourselves away from media devices and make time for quiet communion with our Lord where we ask Him to put a hedge of protection around our hearts and minds and deliver us from this rampant evil of our time.

Dear Father, lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one.

By Lisa Fulghum

The Difference Maker

(Day 8 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

It’s Spring.

For a sports fan, it’s mad. Basketball, hockey, golf, and, in my opinion the most enjoyable sport, baseball are all in full swing (see what I did there?)

During halftime of March Madness’s game between Michigan State and Duke, one of the commentators said this: ”The difference between an average player, a good player, and a great player is their ability to make decisions.”

Our ability to make decisions is impacted by our choice to bring them to God in prayer. And one of the most important life arenas in which to do that is our weaknesses, the places we know we are vulnerable and tempted to be drawn away from God’s best, God’s victory.

Samson’s story in Judges 13-16 portrays this arena well. If you do a quick look at those chapters, you see that Samson is recorded praying two times-once asking for his thirst to be quenched and once asking for strength to take vengeance on his enemies. He’s not recorded praying about his choices or his temptations. His story leaves the reader asking many what if questions.

  • What if Samson had chosen to pray more often?
  • What if Samson had chosen to marry within his tribe?
  • What if Samson had chosen to admit his weaknesses to God?
  • What if Samson had chosen to prepare himself to walk away when facing temptation?
  • What if Samson had chosen to look for God’s way out rather than to go it alone?

It seems that, like any great team member, one of the best decisions you can make is to not go it alone, especially in the arena of temptation. As a believer, why would you risk losing to temptation by going it alone when your victory has already been won in the person of Jesus? The choice you could make is to ask for his empowering to do something that you cannot do on your own. That prayer could make the difference between you living an average Christian life or a great Christian life, between others asking, “What if?” or proclaiming, “Well done!”

“No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

He Is My Guide

(Day 7 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

We have entered a season of Trial and Tribulations. The Trials consist of the decisions we made in our lives. The Tribulations that have occurred in this season have made us stronger than before. We start to wonder, “Am I being tested?”

I have to remind myself, “I know who is before, and I know who stands behind me.” I’ve been dealing with loyalty, trust issues, bad habits, back stabbing, identity, loneliness, and losing myself in Christ. I have to decide whether I want to be “The World’s Sheep” or “Jesus’ Sheep.”

I noticed God started to give me what I wanted. He took away my distractions. He took away the people who caused me pain. He calmed my anxiety, mixed with stress and depression. He’s showing me salvation and redemption. I want to receive it.

Do you feel as though God is silent towards you? You need to pray and talk to him. He wants a conversation out of you. Do you feel as though you are being tested? Pray. God will show you the right way. You should not rush, for God knows what you need and when you need it. God might not come when YOU want him, but God is ALWAYS on time! Do you trust God? You should ALWAYS trust God, because we know he is a Good, Good Father!

Trust in God when things don’t look good. He will be your guide. 2 Kings 18-19

By Shanti M. Washington

His Word, His Way

(Day 6 of a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

Nebuchadnezzar asked them, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, is it true that you don’t serve my gods or worship the gold statue I have set up? Now if you’re ready, when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, drum, and every kind of music, fall down and worship the statue I made. But if you don’t worship it, you will immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire—and who is the god who can rescue you from my power?” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” Daniel 3:14-18 (CSB)

In this passage, the young men Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego display an exemplary level of faith. They tell the king in no uncertain terms that they trust God to be able to rescue them from the current threat and any other that the king could give. They know that He is powerful enough to save them from the furnace, and they believe that He will because He is a good God. But they go further than that.

These three were no longer children; they had grown up during exile from their homeland. They were surrounded by a culture that was contrary to their faith, but they did not waiver. They were willing to throw themselves into the Father’s arms regardless of the outcome.

They declare to the king that they would not stop following God even if they knew that He would not save them from the furnace. They believe that God is good regardless of their own circumstances or outcomes. They believe that following the one true God is more important than their own safety, because His word is true, and His ways are right. Just like a young child, these young men trust God entirely.

As adults we know that life is hard, and trials come. Even so, our prayers should reflect our belief that we can trust Him no matter what. We can throw ourselves headlong into His care, knowing that whatever happens, He will be glorified, and we are already saved. As we pray, we know that we can trust him, because His word is true, and His ways are right.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blessed assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed his own blood for my soul.

“It Is Well with My Soul”

By Kyle Reilly

Childlike Simplicity

(Day 5 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

In many cases, prayer is a subject that comes easy to new believers. Just like a child to his/her Father, we realize how small we are compared to the greatness of the God of the universe. Because of this, we are quick and willing to go the Lord in prayer, laying all of our burdens before Him. After all, He cares for us. 

…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Something begins to happen to that childlike simplicity as we mature as a Christian. When we begin to grasp the nature of God and the fact that He is all knowing (John 16:30), that knowledge begins to affect the way we pray. Why should we pray if God already knows our need? Why should we share our heart with God if He already knows the contents of it (Matthew 6:8)? Greater still, why should we pray if God is ultimately going to work all things together according to the council of His own will?

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will… (Ephesians 1:11).

It is at this point that we need to have our mindset reshaped as far as how we think about prayer. Prayer is less about how we get things from God and more about our relationship with God. Bluntly framed, God is not in need of our prayers. He is not frantically waiting to act until we ask Him to intervene in our lives. He is not “shook” nor can He be shaken. God is the sovereign creator and King of the universe. He is, of His own self, independent and self reliant. More specifically though, He is our God. He entered into covenant relationship with us through faith in the work of His son. This makes us His children. Childlike praying offers us an opportunity to know Him better, trust Him more, and understand deeper the vastness of His love for us. 

It has been said that communication is the key to any relationship and it is never more true than with our relationship to our Heavenly Father. God uses this communication not so much to change a specific circumstance in our lives but more to change us as faith followers. Simply put, prayer is a means of grace that God uses to shape us into the image of Christ.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

This causes me to think the way Paul thought…that in every situation, my immediate circumstances are less important compared to the “surpassing value” of gaining 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 3:8).

By Doug Hull

God Noticed

I had a moment today. And someone noticed.

It was during a coaching call. When I normally would have been “Johnny on the spot,” my mind was divided, torn, maybe even a little paralyzed. My client said, “Well, this isn’t normal.” My only response was, “I’m distracted.”

Been there? You’re in the middle of something that has to march on, but your mind is not there? Depending on the circumstances, we have various responses to take. The one I chose to take was to dive in even though I didn’t have much confidence in how the rest of the call was going to go. 

But then I made a second choice. I said a simple prayer. “God, I’m distracted. My client needs my full attention. So I need you to calm my mind.”

Guess what…the next thought I shared was “the one question that broke it open for me,” said my client at the end of the call.

He’s not looking for flowery, “Child, I don’t even know who you are” prayers. He’s looking for honest, “God I need you” prayers.

I had a moment today. And God noticed.