Start Prayer with Praise

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One of the three actions that pastors teach every Christian when they become a follower of Christ is to read your Bible, pray, and attend a Bible believing church. But nobody picks up their Bible and is an instant scholar. You learn how to study your Bible along the way.

The same is true with prayer. No one is a pro at praying the first time. We grow in our ability to seek God’s face. Jesus fulfills our need to mature in prayer when he teaches us how to pray. He lets us know the way into God’s heart when we communicate with him.

"We grow in our ability to seek God's face." – Jonathan Srock Click To Tweet

There are different prayer models for different reasons and seasons, but we begin with the Lord’s Prayer, the model we have been talking about for the last two blogs. We first discussed how not to pray and then models of prayer.

Now I want to examine this prayer model Jesus teaches us. There’s a method to what we pray. As we use each line of the prayer as a starting point, we can personalize it for our own situations. Jesus designed this prayer model to guide us into an intimate relationship with God.

Even an advanced prayer warrior can use this model in effective prayer. When I began learning how to pray, I spent most of my time telling got a laundry list of needs I had. But the way Jesus taught us how to pray does not start with our needs. It starts with recognizing the greatness of our God over our situations.

Praying for Praise (Matthew 6:9)

The first principle of powerful prayer is praise. When we open with praising God, we are reminding ourselves that we are speaking with the Lord of the Universe. No matter what our troubles or needs, God can do anything! 

We place confidence that God answers our prayers. He holds the power of the universe in the palm of His hand! This gives us faith to trust in Him to do what we need. We often make mountains out of our trials. But God is bigger than any mountain we face.

When we praise God and talk about his greatness, our troubles sink into the background. God knows everything about us. He saw this coming, and it doesn’t surprise him. He will work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).

Through our praise of this mighty God we rest in our Refuge. He is our Protector and we need not fear anything. God’s got this. In his arms are safety and peace. Praising God gives us the ultimate perspective and puts him in the proper place above our trials.

"Praising God gives us the ultimate perspective and puts him in the proper place above our trials." – Jonathan Srock Click To Tweet

There’s even more insight as we look at every word by itself. Jesus starts out, “Our Father.” There are two great truths smacking us in the face as we say the words. First, we address the God of the universe as Father. He wants to have an intimate relationship with us.

As our Father he is our protector. He’s on our side and anything coming after us has to go through him first. He lays all our fears to rest We don’t have to fight our own battles because God comes to our aid. He walks before us and has already prepared for our victory.

But he is also our provider. Everything we need comes from God. And he only gives good gifts (James 1:17). God doesn’t give us junk. He lavishes his rich blessings upon us. We don’t get table scraps. He gives us the steak.

Finally, as Father, he moves heaven and earth to direct us in his providence. God’s providence means that he orders our steps. We walk in confidence because he makes everything work for us. There’s no need to get fussy about a situation. And we walk in his blessing.

Next, we put the two words together, “Our Father.” Our culture has no shortage of absent and abusive fathers. They are not good representatives of our heavenly Father. He has no desire to harm us. In fact, he has plans for our future to prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11).

He’s the perfect father. And he’s not someone else’s dad. He’s ours. He’s all for us. He aims his infinite power and resources at our situation. God has infinite knowledge of us and works his will in our lives. He is not absent or abusive. He’s just what we need.

The next phrase reminds us of God’s position. He is “in heaven.” This doesn’t mean he’s far away and unreachable. We cry out to him because he is the friend who sticks closer than a brother. But he has all power and perspective from heaven.

God’s perspective is perfect. He can see everything in our future and past. He knows us better than we know ourselves. We judge things based on our finite perspective. But God sees an infinite perspective in heaven. He is not in the middle of our trial as we are.

He sees the road ahead better than us. We have to look back to gain perspective of past trials. At the moment, we lack maturity to see ahead. And even when we do, it is not the infinite perspective of an Almighty God. His perspective is higher than ours.

For these reasons alone we can praise him for hours. The word “hallowed” is a rare word in the New Testament. It speaks of the holiness, the consecration, the sacred reverence, and the “otherness” of God.

We worship the Father because he deserves all of our praise. He is nothing like anything in his creation. He is separate and unique. There is no one like our God. No one is as powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere like him.

When archaeologists find a piece of pottery that tells them about the civilization they study, they hold it in their hands. It is precious and dear to them. We hold gems and jewels in the same way. And here we have the unique being of the universe. He is more precious than anything we find in his creation because everything we find precious originated with him.

But his name is holy. He holds a unique name among all names. In the Bible, names tell us about a person’s character. The Israelites refused to even speak God’s name because they didn’t want to profane it. To this day there are arguments among scholars about how to pronounce YHWH.

The closest we can understand is that it resembles breathing out and means, “I am that I am.” God’s existence defines his character. No one can grasp his complete greatness because he is outside of creation.

The best part about the Lord’s Prayer is that I’m just getting warmed up. This material can open praise for a while. There are so many reasons to praise God. We don’t have a care in the world when God is on our side. Nothing can stand against him. Our cares float away when we sit at the Master’s feet.

"Our cares float away when we sit at the Master’s feet." – Jonathan Srock Click To Tweet

When you begin your prayers, speak of God’s greatness. Use Scriptures that affirm God’s character and attributes. Set your mind on the understanding that God is all-powerful. This puts us in the proper frame of reference to bring our requests before him. And who cares about that list when we list his attributes?

Let the truth of who God is and His capabilities seep into your heart and permeate your understanding. Realize God’s greatness through praising Him for His power! When this is the opening volley of our prayers, he will surely answer them.

How do you begin your prayers? What are some new ways you can find to glorify God? Leave a comment and describe how you pray before the Lord.

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2 Separation Principles

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When I was in high school, many of my fellow students looked to me as the perfect Christian. I was the Bible Club president for two years. Many of my lunch periods ended up as theological conversations and Bible question and answer time.

Aside from being legally blind and incredibly short, the other thing that separated me from everyone was my Christianity. I wasn’t persecuted by most but many were uneasy around me. Even though I wasn’t a judgmental person they felt like they had to be a certain way around me.

Now that I’ve been a pastor people tiptoe around me as soon as they find out. I try not to tell anyone when I meet them because I don’t want to overwhelm them. It’s not that I live a perfect life or that I’ve attained holiness yet. But people are afraid to be themselves around me sometimes.

The world senses the higher standard of Jesus upon our lives. All they have to do is label us as Christians and things change suddenly. They’re very careful around us because they care what we think. There seems to be a natural separation between Christians and unbelievers.

The Bible addresses the struggle we have as we live in this world. Even though it is not our home, we must find a way to live in it and work for Jesus. We are his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). But we’re also separate from the world.

In 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, Paul addresses this separation with a command found in the Old Testament. This is one of the main focuses of holiness. God calls us to come out from among the rest of the world and be separate from it.

But this raises questions for us. Should we isolate ourselves from the world? What does it mean to be separate? Do we segregate ourselves or look down on others who aren’t Christians? The list of questions can go on and on.

Paul introduces a couple of holiness principles in this passage. The first is not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). But this doesn’t mean we can’t have unbelieving friends. I hope that every Christian knows at least one unbeliever. And that’s not just to evangelize them.

A yoke refers to a wooden object placed on top of the necks of two oxen. When they worked in the fields, it insured that one would not work harder than the other so that they would work together.

When we are unequally yoked with unbelievers, we partner with them in some venture. We try to work together but with different values, worldviews, and goals, it becomes very hard to be productive. We are like two people headed in opposite directions.

One of the major differences Paul points out is that Christians’ bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in us from the moment we are saved into his kingdom. When we follow Christ, his Holy Spirit teaches us how to live for him.

Unbelievers do not have the presence of the Holy Spirit within them. They do not listen to or obey his instruction. Paul teaches elsewhere that the person without the Spirit working in them cannot even understand the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The Holy Spirit is by name “holy.” This holiness separates us from those around us. But it doesn’t mean that we need to isolate ourselves or segregate ourselves. We should never look down on anyone else. One of the hallmarks of a Christian is humility, with Jesus as our example (Philippians 2:1-11).

Separation is not something we do. It is natural to be separate from unbelievers because of the differences I have pointed out. Our relationship with God separates us from unbelievers who don’t have that relationship (2 Corinthians 6:18).

A holy God cannot dwell with an unholy people. Because the Holy Spirit resides in our hearts, we are by nature different from others. We don’t want to do the same things the world does. Coming out from among the world and being separate has the Old Testament background of Isaiah 52:11 and Ezekiel Ezekiel 20:34.

The Israelites were given God’s law through Moses so that they would be different from the countries around them. We who serve Christ and follow his teachings are separate from the world the moment we are obedient to him.

But if we want to have a relationship with God, we must be holy. It is the only way that God can be with us. So as we follow a separate set of standards, God’s high standards, we will stop doing the things our friends were used to seeing us do.

This passage also singles out anyone who wants to ride both sides of the fence. You cannot be a Christian and do what the world doesn’t the same time. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t serve two masters (Luke 16:13).

This is a gut-check for Christians. As much as we want to be accepted and friendly with the world, we cannot do what the world does. We don’t think, speak, or act like the world. We are on a separate path.

If we are living like the world, we don’t feel that natural separation, and we may not be living up to God’s standards. One of the things we can do is evaluate our lifestyle and make sure it pleases God rather than people (Galatians 1:10).

While we are not part of the world, we gain the fellowship of believers and God (1 John 1:7). We belong to God (Leviticus 20:26). We walk with him and our desire is only to please him. But how do we relate to the world?

Isolation from the world creates a barrier that cannot be reversed. People know you don’t want to be around them and they will take it personally. Jesus never taught us to abandon the world and make our own society.

He taught us to interact with the world with one major difference. Instead of accepting everything the world does and stands for, we become the influencers. We are the salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). We bring godly flavor to conversations and decisions. We shine a light of revelation in the darkness.

This is the challenge: to live separate from the world but influence it from the inside out. We are holy rebels for the Lord. We go behind enemy lines and rescue people living in darkness. We introduce them to Jesus, our Savior, Lord, and friend.

How do you deal with being separate from the world? Leave a comment and describe your thoughts about this holiness principle.

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Models for Prayer

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It isn’t easy to pray for long periods of time. I get distracted by the slightest sound or change. My mind wanders as I try to think of the next thing to pray. Forget about praying for a solid hour. I can reach the limit of my prayer contents in five minutes.

I enjoyed the three internships from my college and seminary years. All of them gave great benefit to a budding minister because of them I learned many practical ministry pointers, such as water baptism and becoming a people person. My most anticipated internship with my current mentor

But from my current mentor, I learned how to pray without ceasing. He challenged me the first day of my internship to pray for one hour every day to prepare for ministry. A minister must be ready for every issue that can arise on our watch. Only through prayer and the power of the Spirit can we be adequate to serve the Lord.

So my first try at focused prayer for an hour fell well short. I couldn’t think of anything else to talk to the Lord about after 10 minutes. I sat in a seat in the sanctuary and read a bit of Scripture, hoping that would get the juices flowing again.

I had some success in the Psalms because I knew they contained many of the prayers in Scripture. Then I remembered Paul’s prayers and prayers in the New Testament. But I realized this would turn into a devotion and study session instead of prayer. I didn’t know where to turn.

And I’m not the only one. I’m sure you’ve been there. Even the disciples could not stay awake in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus needed them the most (Matthew 26:40-41, 43, 45; Luke 22:45-46). I learned that distraction doesn’t have to derail your prayers. At least, I haven’t fallen asleep yet.

The keys to an intimate prayer life and enjoying the Lord’s presence come for my mentor. He taught me several prayer models from the Scriptures. This was not praying the Scriptures verbatim. It was using them as a guide or prompt for my own prayers.

Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-15; Luke 11:2-4). I prefer to call it, “The Model Prayer.” Jesus was not telling his disciples the exact words to use in their prayers. He gave them a template for their own prayers.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with praying this or any prayer in the Bible verbatim. These prayers are there for a reason. But it helps to use them as a starting point or as an outline or guide for our own prayers.

Praying Scripture is a similar practice in which you meditate on the words of Scripture and pray them to God as though they are your own. Passages like Psalm 23 bring peace to the soul when spoken and prayed. And there are many more examples.

In my following blog posts on The Lord’s Prayer I will walk you through this model or template for personal prayer. But it is not the only example we can use as a template for our prayers. Once you see the method of model prayers, you can apply many prayers in the Bible to your situation and use them as templates for your own thoughts.

Some well used examples of model prayers include:

  • The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew: 9-15; Luke 11:2-4)
  • The Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20)
  • David’s Prayer of Confession (Psalm 51)
  • Many of the Psalms
  • The Ten Commandments Coupled with the Sermon on the Mount
  • Paul’s Prayers

Model prayers vary depending on the situations of our lives. For instance, if I sin against the Lord, I turn to Psalm 51 and follow David’s lead as I pray. I replace his sin with my own and ask for God’s grace as he did.

Praying through the Ten Commandments and asking God to cover you and keep you from all sin will get you started. What about Commandments you haven’t broken, such as murder or adultery? Remember Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about murder coming from anger and adultery coming from lust.

These outlines and models for prayer help me connect with God. They help me address needs I may not have thought of without their promptings. Praying the model prayers of Paul show me that my spiritual needs outweigh my physical ones.

These prayer models also center us on God, his will, and his mission. Pray them for a while and he will order your needs according to God’s desires. The best part about using scriptural prayer models is that we see our situations and people through God’s eyes.

They teach us the proper rhythm of prayer. For instance, in The Lord’s Prayer Jesus begins with praising the Father, our God is greater than our situation. Then he asks God to bring his will and Kingman in heaven to earth, aligning us with God’s desires.

Only then do we bring our physical and spiritual needs before God. Then we pray for his guidance and leading in our lives. These are the steps we work through as we spend time in God’s presence.

It’s not a quick prayer about our immediate needs and nothing else. It doesn’t put our needs above God’s power. It shows us that God directs our steps. And it teaches us to commune with God before we dump all of our problems on him.

None of us would enjoy a relationship like that and I doubt he does either. There’s nothing wrong with quick prayers in sudden trials but we must mature in the time we spend with God.

It also teaches us to hold a normal conversation with a God who fears and speaks. So many times we think of it as a one-way communication. I have even heard psychologists say that prayer is beneficial “internal speak” for us. Prayer should be a two-way communication where we speak and listen.

But prayer is not a psychological crutch. It is a moment between God and us in his presence. Does it have physical benefits? I’m sure it does. When I hear from God about issues in my life it gives me peace, perspective, and direction.

Have you ever used model prayers? What benefits do you receive from this approach? Leave a comment and tell me about your experiences.

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You Can Be Holy

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Within Christian circles I have heard people debate about the possibility of living a holy life. They suggest that it is impossible to stop sinning for a long period of time. Even if we manage to not commit sin in our bodies, we are still thinking sinful thoughts.

They bring up battling with the flesh and evil desires every day. They talk about constantly not falling into sin through temptation. They spend their prayer time begging God to free them from the temptations surrounding them.

But the Bible talks about living a victorious life as in overcomer. Jesus was able to live a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15). Of course, he was God in the flesh. But he relied on the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14). Jesus wants us to live in that same power.

We can debate all day long about holiness in the Christian life. People go back and forth, even mentally committing to the idea of living a holy life but not practicing it. We don’t have to spend our days struggling with temptation and sin.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross to make us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and write his laws on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:34) for nothing. He made us part of the new covenant and his kingdom. We have much more important work to do than continue to return to the issue of temptation and sin.

Jesus died so that we could be free (Galatians 5:1). The struggle with sin is over the moment we begin to serve Christ. We are dead to sin (Romans 6:1-4; Ephesians 2:1-4). Christians need to focus on the other part of being dead to sin. We are alive to God.

Our spirits have been regenerated, living for God alone. My contention with holiness is that the chief battle remains in the mind of the believer. If only we realize what it truly means to be saved. We focus on the wrong things. We focus on sin and temptation rather than how to please God.

Christians don’t realize their identity and authority in Christ. Don’t rehash a struggle that has already been won. We are already free from these things. They have no power over us unless we give them power.

I hear Christians say, “I’m a sinner saved by grace.” But this has already happened. We were sinners saved by grace. I would rather say, “I’m a saint living in God’s grace.” It’s time to commit to holy living and obey the Holy Spirit always in everything.

Settle this truth in your mind. Don’t give temptation the time of day. Don’t think about it or dwell on it. Don’t let it have any power. Even though Jesus has freed us from sin, we can choose to sin. We can cheapen the power of his death and resurrection.

Nobody lost their free will when they were saved. We can still choose to go back to the former ways. But when everyone understands what it means to be dead to sin and to live only for God’s pleasure, they will never return to that old lifestyle.

Every Christian can live a holy life that pleases God. Every Christian can walk in victory over temptation, sinful desires, and sin. Every Christian can focus on pleasing God instead of the battle in the trenches.

If we couldn’t live a sinless life that pleases God, why did God command us to be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:16)? Scripture bears witness in both the Old Testament and the New Testament that God has commanded us to live a holy life.

What an honor it is to be commanded to take on this attribute of God in our lives. We can’t do it on our own. Everyone needs the power of the Holy Spirit and the commitment to obey every command that comes from him.

So the steps to living a sinless life are:

  1. Understand in your mind that you are a new creature, created to please God and set free from sin. You are dead to sin and it has no hold or control over you.
  2. Commit to obeying the Holy Spirit and everything at all times. Don’t even consider any other path. Use your free will to focus on pleasing God rather than entertaining temptation and sin.
  3. Seek ways to please God (Philippians 4:8). It all starts with thinking about it and then doing it.

You can live in the power of the Holy Spirit. You can lock in victory over sin on a regular basis. As new creatures in Christ, we are designed to walk with Christ. Sin is a rare occurrence. As C.S. Lewis said, Christianity is a path less tried. I would add that holiness is the path even less tried by Christians. Why do we give up so easily?

What have you been taught considering the possibility of not sinning against God on a regular basis? Leave a comment and tell me what you think about walking in victory.

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5 Powerful Prayer Principles

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Many Christians and churches focus on prayer at the beginning of the year. I want to talk about the Lord’s Prayer in this “Praying God’s Way” miniseries. Even though it’s called, “The Lord’s Prayer,” it is the model prayer the Lord gave to us. It has the keys for powerful and effective prayer all through it.

How many times in our lives do we struggle with prayer or see unanswered prayer? Since I was young, I would go to the altar with my parents. Sunday night services were about praying at the altar for anything.

That’s what prayer should be like. It should not be a laundry list of needs or a show of our spirituality. It’s about talking to God in his presence. Have you ever prayed through the Lord’s Prayer? I mean taking each line and expounding on it and applying it to your life? That’s what this miniseries is all about.

The Lord’s Prayer can be found in Matthew 6:9-15. But I want to start with the context where Jesus teaches about prayer. We find this teaching on prayer in the midst of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Right before our reading is a teaching on giving to the needy. After this teaching, Jesus talks about fasting. Giving to the needy, prayer and fasting are all central disciplines of the Christian life.

Jesus expects us to do these things, and offers us a God-pleasing method for doing them better. When I was interning at my mentor’s church, he challenged me to pray an hour every day in preparation for ministry. My first question was, “What happens when I run out of things to pray about?”

That’s when he taught me how to use model prayers throughout the Bible in my prayer time. There are a lot of books about praying the Scriptures. This is not praying the words of Scriptures verbatim. It is using the Scriptures as a model for prayer.

Before we look at the individual lines of the Lord’s Prayer, let’s take a look at Jesus’ teaching about how to pray before we enter his presence. Jesus outlines the best practices before we begin our prayers in Matthew 6:5-8.

He describes private prayer. This is prayer that highlights our relationship with him. He’s not giving us a tutorial on how to pray in public.

Prayer Principle #1: Jesus expects us to pray.

In Matthew 6:3, Jesus does not say, “And IF you pray…” He says, “And WHEN you pray…” Every Christian is expected to pray. Prayer is not optional. It is essential to our walk with him. It is how we meet with him, enjoy his presence, and communicate with him.

Prayer Principle #2: Prayer is for God, not others or us.

Jesus talks about hypocrites, people who are “two-faced.” They pray in their personal lives but they do it in public. They do it to be seen by others. When they do it this way, people think, “Wow, what a spiritual person.” It’s to impress others rather than talk to God.

They take that 15 minutes of fame (and I have actually listened to people drone on in “prayer” for 15 minutes during services) to showcase themselves and their spirituality. It is selfish prayer that does them no good.

He says that they have received their reward. Their purpose was to be seen by others. That’s all they accomplish. They don’t touch the heart or throne of God. He doesn’t have two-way communication with them. But they think they look good in front of others. They get their reward.

But the intimacy and the presence of God is not in those prayers. They lack the personal touch of someone reaching out to God. They lack the intimacy between a believer and the Almighty God of the universe.

Prayer isn’t about us. It’s not about our spirituality or our level of maturity. It’s about meeting with God. It’s about communing in his presence and connecting with him. Even when I’m in public, when I pray, I shut out the world so I can listen to the Spirit.

Prayer Principle #3: Prayer focuses on God.

Our prayer closet is not necessarily literal. Some people have a place they pray every day. Having a prayer routine is a great idea. We are creatures of habit and if we include prayer in that routine we won’t forget to meet with the Lord regularly.

The prayer closet contains the idea that everything else falls away. Our priority becomes our relationship with God. Relationships take time, and we can honor God through prayer. Whatever you have to do to get time alone with God, that is your prayer closet.

Prayer Principle #4: Rewarding prayer happens in secret.

Jesus also conveys a sense of secrecy to our prayers. He talks about the Father who is in secret (Matthew 6:6). The Old Testament talks about God’s secrecy. He hides himself from his people to see who is desperate enough to seek him even in the silence.

Putting in the time and effort to desperately seek the Lord doesn’t go unnoticed. Even when “the heavens are brass” God is still watching us. In these quiet times alone with God we grow in him. As we seek him, it shows we don’t want anything else. He promises to meet us when we seek him (Jeremiah 29:13).

With all of the hustle and bustle of life, our relationship with God can be pushed to the background. We excuse ourselves by saying, “God is number one, but this other task must be done by this deadline.” We don’t want to push God aside but it happens practically, if not mentally.

When we get in that place of quiet and silence before the Lord, we seek him until we find him. We don’t think about anything else or give up. God is always there and sometimes it’s more about us realizing his presence than about him showing up.

The reward we receive from the Father is his presence. When we cry out to God and desperately wait for his answer, he comes to us. God answers the prayers of the persistent (Luke 18:1-8). We have no one else to turn to for answers. We just want to hear his thoughts and to know him in that secret place.

Prayer Principle #5: Powerful prayer isn’t wordy, but direct and genuine.

In Matthew 6:7, Jesus teaches us to not pray wordy prayers. This doesn’t mean you look for the shortest words to pray and count your words. It means that you are genuine, that you be yourself before the Lord. He already knows you. He knows when you are trying too hard with lots of words.

Jesus clarifies that God knows our needs already (Matthew 6:7). He’s not saying that we shouldn’t pray about our needs. God loves to hear from us. It’s more about connecting with God than the word count or list of needs.

I know a lot of people who do not like public speaking or praying in public. They are not used to trying to communicate with God and sound good at the same time. But the thing is, the secret to a great public prayer is the same as private prayer. Be yourself before the Lord.

Talk to him as you would in your prayer closet. And in that prayer closet, prayer is a spirit to spirit transfer. God speaks to us in ways we can’t explain to others. He speaks to people in many ways. If you talk a little more than others, that’s okay. If you are a person of few words, that’s what God wants.

The problem Jesus addresses in his day with the Gentiles is that they had prayers that had certain words to get certain reactions from the gods. They prayed to get what they wanted or to make the gods happy enough to grant their requests.

But our Father is nothing like those false gods. We don’t need to impress him. All we need to do is be genuine and real before God. He can sense when we are fake. He knows when we are trying to impress him. But he is already impressed with us.

We can interact in whatever prayer we pray. If it is a prayer for our needs, we can simply ask him without pomp and circumstance. If it is a prayer to thank him for his blessings, glorify him and bring up every blessing you received.

God isn’t interested in the perfect sounding prayer. He doesn’t care about the “money words” that impress others. He is impressed when we come to him, seek him, and be ourselves in his midst.

As you prepare to enter God’s presence and prayer, remember these principles:

  1. Jesus expects us to pray.
  2. Prayer is for God, not others or us.
  3. Prayer focuses on God.
  4. Rewarding prayer happens in secret.
  5. Powerful prayer isn’t wordy, but direct and genuine.

Leave a comment and tell me what you see in these quick three versus on Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

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A Holy God

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We’ve been talking about holiness for a while now. But before we can practice it ourselves, we need to know that it is one of God’s attributes. This makes it even harder for us to comprehend and practice it. How can we practice in ourselves one of God’s characteristics?

It all starts with understanding the holiness of God. The word for holy in the Bible conveys several ideas. The first is one separation. In this example, God is separate from his creation. He is wholly other. He is unlike anything in creation because he is above it.

While we cannot take on this characteristic as God does, for we are by nature his creations, we can be separate in a lesser sense. With God’s help, we can embrace the attribute of uniqueness and separation in our lives as Christians. As we will discuss further, God calls us to be separate from our world.

Holiness also conveys purity. Purity means that nothing is mixed with that substance. God stands alone as the only one like himself. He is not mixed with any part of creation. This is one reason idolatry through images is such a heinous crime against God’s character.

God is pure because he doesn’t mingle with his creation. Unlike the countless gods of other religions past and present God is not part creation and part divine. He is wholly divine. He existed before his creation.

We can practice purity after a fashion. Although it is not on a grand scale as it is with God, every believer must be pure like God. We must not mix with this sinful world. We must not allow sin to be part of our lives.

My best way of illustrating this principle is to take one of those five gallon drinking jugs for water coolers and fill it half full with water. Then I take about a quart of motor oil and pour it into the mix. After putting the cap on, I shake the mixture over and over. But as many know, oil and water do not mix. The oil stays on top of the water no matter how much you try to mix them.

We become separated from God when Jesus makes us his followers and disciples. God calls us to come out from the world and live a separate lifestyle. We think, act, and speak differently than the world. We must not mix with this world system because we don’t belong.

But God has always surprised us because he is so different from us. The Bible says, “Who can know the mind of God” (Romans 11:34)? God has had experiences we could only dream of. He asks Job where he was when God created the universe (Job 38:4).

God contains characteristics and attributes we could only imagine. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present. Not one human being can do any of these. He is unlike anyone else we will ever know.

We encapsulate his unique person in theological understandings like the Trinity. We can’t even understand how he can be three persons with the same substance. We can’t understand how Jesus could come to earth and be a human being but also be God at the same time.

We can’t comprehend the awesome power of this King of the universe. He who created all of creation with words baffles us. If his words alone have this power, we will never understand his full power.

Not one of us can exist in multiple locations at one time. But God is everywhere all the time. He sees all because he is everywhere. Nothing else in creation exists in time and space in multiple locations. But God is beyond them both!

God is separate from his creation. There is no equivalent for our God. He is unlike anything we will ever know except that we know him. And this is what it means when we talk about the holiness of God.

God created the universe with such flair that everything is unique. Every single thing of its kind stands alone compared to it. Not one human being is like another, even twins.

Every snowflake is unlike any other. God’s incredible mind shows his uniqueness every day.. And he refuses comparison with any part of his creation. His purity is unlike any other in all of creation.

And that brings us to understand what it means to be holy versus common, or profane. To be profane is to take this holy God and compare him with anything else. He deserves his own category. He deserves supremacy over all of creation. Anytime we take him, his things, or his name and use them with other things we know, we are profaning a holy God.

I know this study of God’s holiness bars on worship, but that’s what God deserves. When we realize what the holiness of God means, we have no recourse other than to praise, worship, and serve him all of our days.

Leave a comment and tell me what you think about God’s holiness and what amazes you most about him.

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20/20 Foresight

It seems this year has gone by so fast. As another year fades into the background, most Americans focus on the future. We want to know what’s coming next so we can prepare for it. Our national culture “bakes in” the reluctance to visit the past.

But it keeps us from enjoying the moments of our lives. We’re too busy to enjoy the beauty and simplicity in every moment. We ignore the present for the future on our overloaded calendars. If only we were fully present in every moment. Every New Year’s approach forces many of us to live in the past regrets or push to the future to ignore the present.

One of our cultural phrases states, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Truly seeing ourselves is easier looking into the past from the future than living it in the present. We see mistakes, victories, missed opportunities, and relive the past year.

Looking back causes heartache at the losses and pleasure in the gains. We use this retrospection to assess ourselves and it becomes the foundation for the changes we wish to make this coming year. This isn’t the most accurate and healthy evaluation of ourselves.

Many rely on their emotions as a gauge of progress. The good and bad of the last year rule our focus as we weigh ourselves on a moral scale. Our brains are wired to dwell on the negative and remember it more than the positive.

We fixate on past failures. No matter how many New Year’s resolutions we make year after year our character doesn’t improve. Other priorities swallow up family time we set aside.

So reset the same goals and resolutions as last year because we gave up by the end of January. Humans are creatures of habit and it takes massive willpower to change ourselves. And it never lasts.

Enter the New Year’s resolution, the tradition that helps us change who we are after all the negative press we give ourselves. We focus on everything from weight loss to time management. How many self-help books will it take for us to transform our lives?

The underlying issue is that almost no one likes themselves. The world influences our thoughts, desired appearances, tastes and fashions, and values. And even Christians are prone to listen to this propaganda. Sounds pretty negative doesn’t it? But I know I’m speaking the truth, at least for me.

This tradition is fraught with pitfalls for followers of Jesus. It blinds us to the positive things God has done and is doing in our lives and character. It doesn’t make us megalomaniacs to note the great changes Jesus made when we committed our lives to him. He’s doing good things, conforming us to him and making this like him.

When people tell me I did a good job, I hang my head and mutter, “Thank you.” It’s hard to figure out how to acknowledge improvement without becoming conceited. But false humility isn’t the way either.

The Bible doesn’t speak about New Year’s resolutions. Believers in Jesus must reevaluate their identity in Christ! Don’t get sucked in by the world. Perceiving ourselves in this way ignores God’s supernatural work in us. How can we live in victory when we focus on every negative thing we don’t like about ourselves?

Such traditions remind us of our old selves, those bygone creatures we used to be. You aren’t like that anymore. Paul talks about the new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and being dead to sin (Romans 6:1-4; Ephesians 2:1-3). If we stumble into momentary sin in our walk with Jesus, we ask for forgiveness and get right back on the path (1 John 1:9).

Resolutions promise that we can remake ourselves based on our ego rather than God’s continuing work. It places willpower above the Holy Spirit’s power. We don’t remake ourselves. God changes us into the holy people he wants us to be.

When we look back we should focus on the miraculous event of Jesus making us new. We attribute every positive change to Christ. It’s not because of our willpower we are different. Jesus changed us from the inside out and continues our sanctification.

The Holy Spirit guides us into God’s truth and holiness, and only when we obey him do we resemble Christ. We must take the long view of eternal values rather than the temporal values of this world.

Instead of committing to sinning less, eating less, shopping less, and all the other “lesses” we want for ourselves, we must pray and seek God for what he wants to do in us in the coming year. What character traits does he want to address? What does he think of us? Nothing else matters.

Jacob wrestled with an angel before he realized what God wanted to change in him. God gave him a new name to show his new nature, no longer a deceiver. Isaiah met Jesus, the Lord of Glory (Isaiah 6). God changed him so he could speak for God and to minister to a wayward Israel.

If we could change ourselves by our own willpower, what was the point of Jesus coming to the earth and suffering on the cross to take away our sins? Why do we need the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit?

Let none of us forget that God does all the work in our salvation. We obey the Holy Spirit as he changes our character and lives. We haven’t arrived yet. Only God can change the human heart. I would rather trust my Creator to mold me into what he wants me to be.

If we must set resolutions, may they be more like these:

  • Strive to obey the Holy Spirit even more.
  • Listen to God and spend more time in prayer and his presence.
  • Focus more on Jesus and the sinful environment around us.
  • Bask in God’s view of who we are and our identity in Christ.
  • Trust God for his plan in our lives and follow his plan.
  • Seek God in desperation each day.
  • Surrender ourselves to God and let him take control.

I want the One with ultimate 20/20 vision to rule my life. He knows better than I do. Leave a comment and tell me the things you want God to do in your life in the coming year.

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Road Rules

Everyone wants to live life successfully. One of the hottest topics in self-help circles is learning life hacks to make everything easier and simpler. There are general and specific hacks we can apply for an edge. But we seek God’s expectations to make us holy.

Christians and non-Christians use many of the same words. When the world describes success, it means getting ahead of everyone else, having money, power, everything you want. But that’s not what success means to God.

Christians define success as pleasing God and godly living. But how do we get there? The Bible describes heavenly and earthly wisdom (James 3:13-18). God’s operations are the opposite of the world’s ways.

God’s wisdom and standards are different. They have a different set of goals and a different purpose. Everything God does is to make us holy. If we don’t become like him, we cannot dwell with him in heaven. A holy God cannot dwell with unholy people.

People who obey the Holy Spirit and follow his lead grow in holiness. Holiness requires sacrifice, surrender, and service to God. There are no shortcuts.

It requires the Holy Spirit’s guidance. God’s standards are very high. They stand out compared to the world’s standards. The world compares one person to another. But God knows the heart and the inside of a person. He knows our strengths and weaknesses.

God compares us to how close we conform to Jesus. Doing good misses the mark. We must know Jesus. God’s standards are the highest, but he helps us reach them. God expects great things from us because he knows we can achieve them through the power and help of the Holy Spirit.

If I am lost in the woods, I need a map or guide familiar with the terrain. I may get out, but the journey would be long and hard. This is the path of worldly wisdom.

Earthly wisdom falls short every time. No one in the world knows how to achieve God’s standards. In fact, the world has no intention of following God’s rules, living by his standards, or having the same goals.

Earthly and heavenly wisdom are the only two options. Either we do our own thing and follow the world and reach its destination select or we follow God’s standards, goals, and destination. These are the two roads before us. Each one of us decides one of these paths, even if we don’t make a choice.

You could blindly grope around in the darkness and hope to find something worthwhile. But it’s better to talk to the one who designed the whole universe.

Evolutionists and naturalists claim the world came together by chance without a design. We live in a world that doesn’t acknowledge its Designer and Creator. Why follow a lost world? They will only lead us into more trouble. Instead, we can know what the Creator intended for us.

When we follow God’s standards we are doing what he designed this world to do. Reading and listening to Scripture shows us God’s heart. He outlines his expectations and the goals he has for each of us. We live the way he designed life to be.

Many people balk at God’s commandments and laws in the Bible. They don’t want someone else to tell them what to do. But when we submit to God’s laws we are living his way and getting the best out of life.

I have tried to put together furniture from those DIY kits. My favorite part is reading the time they tell you it’ll take to put it together. The box says three hours, but it’s still not together six hours later. Every piece fits one way and they never give you enough extra pieces. I start the project over several times. The instructions are in eight different languages, and English as last.

The Bible clearly gives God’s expectations and standards for us. The Holy Spirit dwells inside of us, helping us to understand and apply God’s standards to our lives. We had everything we need to live the way he wants us to live.

Our pluralistic society claims many ways to get to God. But we can’t mix stop and match the two roads. We can’t use earthly wisdom when we think it will work better and then godly wisdom when we get into a jam. We need to follow God’s wisdom alone.

It will take us a lifetime to learn how to obey the Holy Spirit in everything. We don’t always listen even though his way is best. And sometimes we may think his way is too difficult for us.

But as long as we listen to and obey him we will reach our destination of holiness. It’s a good thing God wrote everything we can’t remember and don’t do on our own. And we have one another to keep us accountable and on the right road.

The two options before us are heavenly and earthly wisdom. We can try to wander around on our own and hope we end up where God designed us to go. Or we can make it easier on ourselves and trust God to get us there.

What’s your take on these standards? What has God taught you about listening to his commands, his Word, and his Spirit? Leave a comment below and share how God’s wisdom has saved you frustrations.

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Unto Us… Immanuel

Image by Vickie McCarty from Pixabay

Water crawled through the small stream, giggling and swishing as the king sat on a log, thinking of the hard decisions ahead. The kingdom looked good on the outside, but the dangers that lie ahead could destroy what everyone knew and loved about Israel. Ahaz knew there were only a couple of ways to save the nation. But nowhere in his heart did he want to hear the prophet yelling at him from the other side of the brook. There Isaiah stood trying to speak hope into the defeated king. Israel found out about the northern alliance bent on taking their land, and the people’s courage took a vacation.

But Isaiah stood with his son, whose name signified both the greatest fear of the people and the greatest message of hope from God. The boy’s name is translated “A remnant will return,” signifying their defeat and capture, but also the Lord’s plans for restoration. As the prophet pleaded with the king to place trust in God instead of Egypt for help, the king refused to hear of God’s message. He would not even ask God for a sign. But through Isaiah, God gave one anyway. A virgin, or young maiden, would bear a son called Immanuel, meaning, “God with us.” That was the hope, but the king did not listen, and the nation was overrun.

***

Cold darkness surrounded the shepherds as they laid in the opening of the cavern to keep the sheep from danger. Long and hard were the days for men of this caliber. Most of them were treated rudely by everyone, having the lowest of low jobs, the job no one else wants. But they were strong and courageous like Joshua, mighty warriors like David, and gentle enough to care for the sheep that didn’t know better. Suddenly, the warm light of the celestial beings filled the sky and warmed their hearts as these humble men heard the proclamation of a son born to them, a shepherd and a king. The hope of a nation. The hope of the world!

During Christmas, it’s easy to meditate on the incarnation of Jesus. Despite the secularization of Christmas I think more about how and why Jesus came to us. Isaiah 7 and 9 are special chapters in God’s revelation plan for all of us.

The New Testament passages we read every Christmas (Luke 2:10-12; Matthew 1:23) directly reference Isaiah 7:10-17 and Isaiah 9:1-7. And Matthew describes Mary, the virgin, the young maiden, God used to bring his son to us. The angel announced Jesus’ birth to shepherds in the fields. This angel used words like “unto us” and “joy and peace” along with David’s city. The whole event shows the complete fulfillment of predictive prophecies about the Messiah.

Many scholars balk against predictive prophecy and stages of fulfillment. Let me show you another example of a predictive prophecy with an immediate and progressive fulfillment. Daniel prophesied about the abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:24-27). It was time-specific. He mentioned 70 weeks as a sign, or confirmation of the prophecy.

In times shortly before Jesus, a Gentile roller named Antiochus Epiphanes IV sacked the city of Jerusalem, walked into the temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar, a grave abomination to Mosaic Law. This was a partial fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy about the abomination of desolation.

Jesus taught on the end times and referred to this abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15-28; Mark 13:14-23). He said that a ruler, the antichrist, will come and desolate the temple by an impure or improper sacrifice or violation of God’s temple laws and ordinances. This is one of the signs of the antichrist.

Paul also referenced this abomination (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). This is the complete fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. We don’t know what the prophet saw in his vision written down for us. It could have been any or all of these images. The point is that through predictive prophecy God called his shots into the future.

Isaiah also spoke predictive prophetic words that would be completely fulfilled in Jesus. In his time God gave a sign within 65 years the northern alliance would be destroyed. They threatened Israel in his present but God will take care of them. The sign given was of an alma (Hebrew for a virgin, young maiden, betrothed woman). This was most likely a woman that Ahaz somehow personally knew. The first sign was for him.

When this woman he knew bore a son, they would see it as Immanuel, God with us. The child’s name would say that God was working the prophecy into action. It was the partial fulfillment of the sign. Later God would be with us in a completely different way, literally fulfilling the sign with a virgin and Immanuel, “God with us.” This is the sign we celebrate at Christmas.

Mary was both betrothed and a virgin. Matthew, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, quotes from this prophecy about her and Jesus. It is the most literal and complete fulfillment of the sign and prophecy. The God-Man Jesus, whose name means “The Lord Saves” is literally God and came among us. God called his shots 700 years earlier through the prophet Isaiah.

Jesus further fulfills all four names Isaiah mentioned in his other prophecy (Isaiah 9:1-7). From his birth to his resurrection and his second coming, he fulfills every one of them. His resurrection proves that he is the Everlasting Father, the Beginning and the End.

The government on his shoulder is the Kingdom of God. But I believe this part of his prophecy is yet to be completely fulfilled. It may refer to his millennial reign as well. That’s when we see a king who rules with peace and the character written into the names Isaiah gives. Christmas doesn’t only remind us of the time passed when Jesus came unto us as God’s son but also when he will return as the King of all Kings and the Lord of all Lords.

In Luke 2:10-12, the angels hinted at Isaiah 9:1-7. Even the light that lit up the sky’s for the shepherds visually represented the prophecy. Matthew quotes later at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry about people in darkness seeing a great light (Matthew 4:16).

Jesus confirms these names in his Person and character. He is God in the flesh, the Mighty God. He is the Wonderful Counselor offering the most sage counsel in all of history. And he will reign forever and ever both on the earth through the Millennial Reign and throughout eternity.

These prophecies get me more excited as I celebrate Jesus’ incarnation. He came to us as a baby in a manger 2,000 years ago and he is coming to us as a conquering King soon! He saved us from our sins then and he will save us into heaven and eternity soon.

This holiday is about much more than shopping, decorations, overplayed Christmas music, and even eggnog and snow. Let us hope for the prophecy, what was, what is, and what will be in Jesus. May your Christmas season be filled with thoughts of the King past, present, and future.

Let that sacred night fill your heart with meditations of Jesus as we look to another coming, this soon return of our Lord! What do you think about Isaiah’s prophecies? Leave a comment and tell me what you meditate upon during the Christmas and Advent seasons.

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7 Power Moves Against Temptation

Image by Carlos Lincoln from Pixabay

It’s one of the hottest topics in Christian circles. Preachers are always talking about temptation, desires, and sins. You get all types of teaching on the subject. On the conservative side, preachers and teachers are almost apocalyptic, telling you it’s the end of the world if you succumbed to anything.

But on the other side people tell you it’s okay because God has grace if you sin. So what are we expected to do? What does the Bible say about these three dangerous sidesteps in our walk with Jesus?

I want to clarify the issues surrounding desire, temptation, and sin. Each of us must know how to combat these things that will destroy our walk with God. But each one of them leads to the other. According to Scripture, desire comes first, and then temptation, and then sin.

James tells us that our own desires start the process toward sin (James 1:14). He begins talking about the trial of temptation but tells us in this verse that our own desires open the door toward temptation. This means the first trench we must make in the battle for holiness starts with our desires.

The Bible talks about desires in mostly negative terms. Only when our desire is for God, the things of God, and God’s will in our lives is the Bible positive about desire. Most of the time, it talks about “the flesh” and our passions.

These usually refer to our desire toward sinful habits and acts. At the moment of salvation, Jesus gives us a new heart with new desires toward God. But we live in a world that is constantly harping on the desires of our former life.

If we do not combat these openings for our desires to overtake us, we will fall prey to temptation. So it all starts with fortifying the areas of our lives where our old, sinful desires could be reactivated as we live in a sinful environment.

These desires are the weaknesses that bring temptation. James talks about trials and temptation a lot in his letter. But it’s hard for the English reader to see one of the words that makes a difference in context. The word for temptation, testing, and trial is the same word in the original language.

This changes the way we think of temptation. It is one of the various trials (James 1:2) that we experience as Christians. Every trial we face strengthens our faith and relationship with God when we turn to him.

Instead, most of us blame someone or something else for falling into sin through temptation. That’s why James tells us that we can’t blame God. He isn’t tempted by evil and doesn’t tempt anyone (James 1:13). That’s not how God operates.

He doesn’t tempt us to see what we will do. He doesn’t use evil to strengthen us. We encounter evil in the world and have the choice to allow temptation to lead us into sin or to turn away from temptations.

James describes the perfect storm where our desires open the door to temptation. Then temptation takes us from desires into sin. Temptation is not sin. Being tempted by our desires, the world, and the devil is not a sin.

But temptation is the vehicle that takes us to sin if we give into it. James completes his point by contrasting the fact that God doesn’t use evil and temptation against us with his good gifts that he always gives to us (James 1:16-17). We don’t receive evil from God. We only received good from him.

So it comes down to dealing with our desires and the temptations that follow these open doors and weaknesses we leave in our armor. Our mindset as believers must be to live dead to sin. We must not have any openings for temptation to enter. How do we sure up each of our weaknesses so that temptation will not entice us?

There are two ways temptation attacks the believer. The first is through systematic knocking on the door of our weaknesses. There is always the temptation toward alcoholism, adultery, lust, and the like. We live in a fallen world and sin is all around us.

We must have a plan in place to avoid these temptations. Don’t put yourself in a place where you can be tempted easily. Set your lifestyle to do the opposite of your old desires and passions. The Holy Spirit inside us strengthens us through his power (1 John 4:4).

The second way temptation attacks believers is through surprises. There are times when the game plan we have to avoid sin is ineffective. Temptation comes suddenly and we must quickly react. You’re in the checkout line at the store and you see a beautiful woman or handsome man on one of the magazine racks.

You must react quickly. You didn’t foresee running into this temptation because you’re just going to the store. But there it is. My mentor used to say that God gave us two great natural weapons against sudden temptation, our eyelids and our necks. When temptation sneaks up on you, close your eyes and turn your neck.

Here are some practical ways we can handle our desires and the temptations that follow:

  1. Understand your identity in Christ. Many Christians don’t realize their identity in Christ. They don’t have the mindset of being dead to sin and alive in Christ. They allow desire to linger from the old life. We must turn over every desire to Jesus. Our desire should be for God rather than sin. The things that we want to do should be godly now that we know Christ.
  2. Commit your mind and will to turning temptation down. Job made a covenant with his eyes to not look on a woman with lust (Job 31:1-4). He was intentional and fortified against the possibility of temptation in this area. He didn’t allow the weakness of lust to touch his integrity. He guarded it furiously. We must make the choice every day beforehand to guard ourselves in every area of our lives.
  3. Continue to bear your cross and live the “dead to sin” lifestyle. We must remember Jesus’ victory over sin at the cross. We must walk in that same victory. We are dead to sin and alive in Christ (Romans 6:1-4; Ephesians 2:1-3). He has freed us from the clutches of temptation and sin. We choose to walk in his freedom (Galatians 5:1).
  4. Have a game plan in place to face temptations. We must have a plan for all temptation scenarios. Temptation lays traps for our old desires. But if we are prepared for every trap and have a way out of it (1 Corinthians 10:13), it has no power over our desires. If you are weak in an area like alcoholism, stay away from bars. Don’t have alcohol in the house to tempt you.
  5. Have an accountability partner to monitor your fight. We don’t walk this path alone. As much as we’re surrounded by a sinful world, we are also surrounded by a cloud of witnesses of the victorious life. Find a saint who doesn’t struggle with the same weaknesses and hold regular meetings with him or her to evaluate your progress in living the victorious life. Choose a saint of the same gender as you. Through encouragement and wise godly counsel you can avoid the pitfalls of temptation and sin. Sin exposed is powerless to rule us.
  6. Think of how much sin and rebellion hurt God’s heart. Joseph had God’s heart on his mind when temptation knocked on his door (Genesis 39:9). Potiphar’s wife wanted him to commit fornication with her but he refused because he didn’t want to hurt God’s heart with his sin.
  7. Set your thoughts on the things of God. Philippians 4:8 instructs us to think about godly things instead of worldly things. When our minds are pure, our hearts are also pure. Even when a moment of temptation arrives, we are thinking of something completely different.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can live the victorious life over desires, temptation, and the sin of this world. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, the world falls away into the background. When we are so in love with Jesus, we consider nothing else.

Focus on Jesus and the battle of temptation and sin will be won easily. Allow the changed desires of your heart to rule your life. Spend more time prioritizing your relationship with God, the things he has for you to do, and temptation will find no openings or weaknesses.

We can live the victorious life in Christ together. Instead of waking up every day worried about the open doors of sin in this wicked world, wake up glorifying God and seeking the Holy Spirit to give you your mission for the day.

What do you think about this battle many Christians are entrenched in with desire, temptation, and sin? Leave a comment and tell me how you deal with desires and temptations.

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