The Lord’s passion for prayer is something he wants us to have as well. In one of his parables Jesus taught that we “should always pray and not give up” (see Luke 18:1). Prayer was obviously a high priority for the apostle Paul, who wrote the letter to the Colossians. Some of the most beautiful prayers ever written are found in his letters. Paul’s prayers are magnificent, not only because of their content but also because he was so diligent in prayer. He prayed “continually” for others and always thanked God for them. Perhaps this leads you to consider how important prayer is in your life. Sometimes we think prayer is a gift that some believers have more than others. Sometimes people who become known for having a passion for prayer are even called “prayer warriors.” It’s true that some people are simply more interested in prayer than others. But God wants prayer to be a top priority in everyone’s life. God wants us to experience prayer as a delight, not a duty.
Questions for further thought:
1. What keeps you from praying?
2. Have you ever tried praying through Scripture?
Challenge: Perhaps one of the things we should pray about most is prayer itself. If you ask God to help make prayer more of a priority in your life, how do you think he will respond? Of course he will say yes!
When you face hardship, what do you do? Text your spouse, complain to your friend, or call your mom? When you’re happy, what do you do? Treat yourself to a new outfit, go out with your family for a celebratory dinner, or call your mom? And when you’re sick, what do you do? Go to the doctor, microwave a bowl of chicken noodle soup, or call your mom? Joyful hope and patience in affliction go against the grain of our own natures. Despair and self-pity come much more easily. In times like that, it’s important to turn to God in prayer. We pray for many reasons: to thank God for blessings, to praise God, to confess sins, to seek God’s guidance. In addition, we pray to ask God for help. Asking God for help may be the most natural prayer of all. Sometimes God answers our requests for help exactly as we ask, but sometimes not. Whether we’re hurting or celebrating, there’s plenty of outlets in this world, and if we’re being real, calling our mom is like a lifeline for all things. But James directs God’s people to go to Him first. Truth be told, He alone is greater and stronger, but we sometimes think we are—so we try to fix the problem ourselves, make plans for a better outcome, and research advice from experts who must know how to turn things around. But whether we are suffering, joyful, or sick, God is the only true Source of comfort and help. He wants to come to our aid when we face hardship, He wants to sing along with us when we are happy, and He wants to heal the iniquities of our soul. However, the only way to experience this power is by praying and making it your first priority. The Bible calls us to be faithful in prayer. Prayer—thanking, praising, confessing, asking for help—connects us with God. Prayer builds relationship. Prayer strengthens the bond between God and us. When you have a good relationship with someone, hopefulness and patience become a little easier, especially when that Someone is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Questions for further thought:
1. What is your most natural outlet—the person or place you turn to when you’re struggling, happy, or sick?
2. Reflect on James 5:16 today: “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”
Challenge: Pray in all circumstances, at all times, for all things. Prayer is powerful. Do not ignore prayer. Do not neglect prayer.
When we pray, we really are talking to God. It should sound like a real conversation, because it IS a real conversation. That’s the way our prayers are supposed to be: real, natural, meaningful. That means the words we use, the way we begin and end, and the posture we’re in. These things shouldn’t be automatic or rote. They should be filled with meaning, with conscious significance. Do you ever feel self-conscious about how to pray? Do you wonder if you should close your eyes or say “Amen” at the end of your prayer? Remember there’s nothing wrong with that, but when we do, let’s do it for a reason and with meaning, not just on auto-pilot. We pray not to impress people, but to talk to God. And the words and actions of our prayers should be meaningful, not routine. Jesus has given us a model, a template, for prayer. It’s very well known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Millions of people know it by heart. Many recite this prayer as a paragraph of empty words, almost without any personal meaning at all. Many don’t even understand it. For some, the Lord’s Prayer is a punishment instead of a prayer, as in, “For your penance, say 30 ‘Our Fathers’.” I imagine that the original intention of that kind of assignment was to get people to meditate on the truths expressed in the Lord’s Prayer. But I think more often people get just about as much out of that as Bart Simpson gets out of writing sentences on the chalkboard. Jesus intended it to be so much more. He didn’t give it to us as a script of what we should pray, but rather as an example of how we should pray. It is a great reminder that God wants us to present our needs to him. Although God already knows of them, presenting our needs verbally to Him brings us to a point of greater vulnerability and dependence. Here are three very practical implications:
1. We should pray persistently. Persistent prayer has a way of showing God we’re serious, increases our desperation for God, and even purifies our prayer life.
2. We should pray specifically. Specific prayers enable us to connect the dots between our prayers and God’s activity in ways that overly broad and vague prayers cannot.
3. We should pray expectantly. Praying expectantly reminds us that our loving Father ultimately has our best interests in mind even when He does not respond the way we want him to.
Questions for further thought:
1. What are some specific needs that you could persistently and expectantly present to God?
Challenge: Try hanging your prayers off this prayer, praying one line of the prayer and then praying for other things that fit under that idea.
We are to pray not only for ourselves, but for others and our concerns for them. All members of God’s family should encourage one other and pray for one other. If you've ever wondered how to pray for your loved ones, this passage provides a wonderful model. Praying through Scripture passages can help us integrate our time in God's Word with our conversation with Him. As the Lord brings people to mind during your prayer time today, pray through this passage for each one. One of the remarkable things about Paul’s prayers is how he focused on the spiritual well-being and blessing of those for whom he prayed, not necessarily trying to “fix” specific problems in their lives. One of the best gifts we can give those we love is to pray for them. One of the most important prayers we can pray for other believers is the one Paul prays here. We can pray for those we love to be strengthened by God's Spirit! Not only can we pray this prayer for them, but we can also let them know that we are praying this prayer for them. Why not copy Paul's prayer and send it to a believing friend or family member and let them know that you have prayed this prayer for them today?
1. As you contemplate your prayer life, ask what gets more of your focus. Is it you or others?
2. Why is prayer for others important?
3. What should we pray for one another?
Challenge: Begin praying for others today and help to build up the body of Christ. It is a great way to grow spiritually, as it takes the focus off of you and onto others. One of the best ways to grow spiritually is to focus more on others than on ourselves.
Have you ever met someone who lives without hope in their life? They feel as though they will always have an addiction, never get out of a dead-beat relationship, have a low paying job, or everything in their life will go against them. That person might be you, a friend, a family member, or random person on the street begging for money. When the unexpected disillusions, it can be hard to pray in hope and to defiantly choose faith in the God who never fails. What a horrible way to live! As Christians, we have a greater hope than we could ever think of. That hope is Christ dwelling in us (Ephesians 3:17-19). The power of Christ that is working in us is able to do more than we could ever think of when it comes to our circumstances. Christians are not immune from hopelessness though. It can manifest itself in sins we are continually struggling with or the idea that we will never be able to have regular time with Jesus. The good news is that Christ is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” Paul tells the church in Ephesus that they can pray big prayers. God can do more than we can even ask or think. He also does it through us and it all brings glory to Jesus. You see, we can pray big prayers because they will point to Jesus and not ourselves. We won’t get the credit, but He will. Take a minute to think about this: What do you feel as though will never change in your walk with Jesus? Now imagine what it would look like if it changed to how it should be. Go ahead and read today’s verse again. God will provide even more than you could have imagined just now. There is no reason to live without hope in your Christian walk anymore. Christ wants to and will bring it beyond your wildest expectations! Ask God to help you step out of your comfort zone and to direct you to the big prayers he wants you to pray.
1. What "hopeless" things in your Christian walk do you need to give to Christ?
2. What are some of the lies Satan whispers to you that threaten to overwhelm the Spirit of Truth’s work in you?
3. Are your prayers too small?
Challenge: Be faithful in prayer. Keep praying. Even if you cannot see it right now, God, who is able to do abundantly more that you can ask or even imagine, is listening and moving on your behalf right now.
We’ve all fallen prey to the comparison game at some point in our lives, and we’ll likely fight the temptation at times in the future. Fortunately, the Bible provides spiritual medication to help us fight – even cure – cancerous comparison. It’s simple to say – rejoice, pray, give thanks – and more challenging to practice. But as God increasingly becomes the focus of our thoughts, inner conversation and praise, there is less time left for comparison with others.
1. What role do prayer, thanksgiving and a joyful spirit play in your daily life?
2. When you face the temptation to make unhealthy comparisons, what practice do you find most helpful in redirecting your thoughts?
Challenge: Positive affirmations are very popular these days. Try this one: I am a child of the King of the Universe. Say it everyday upon awaking and you will not be able but to begin your day with your focus on Jesus and how valuable you are to Him.
When we’re talking about the dangers of comparison, it’s important to point out the difference between unhealthy comparison and healthy aspiration. Comparison fuels feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, discouragement and anger. Aspiration, particularly when focused on our walk of faith, can help us develop greater discipline, a closer walk with God and a more productive life.
1. In which area(s) of your life do you most aspire to improve?
2. Conversely, which areas of your life provide you with the greatest temptation to slip into unhealthy comparison?
Challenge: Make a list of what things/talents/possessions you covet to possess. Confess this as sin and ask God to reveal His truth to you yet again- you are enough!
God put a great deal of effort and detail into creating each of us. Look around the next time you’re in church or at the office. Do you see a lot of people who look and act exactly like you do? Because each of us is unique, with our own set of gifts and life experiences, it doesn’t make much sense to compare ourselves to anyone else. Our goal is to focus on Christ, not on becoming more like a pastor, speaker, noted author – or neighbor.
1. As you’re striving to change or grow in certain areas of your life, what resources do you find valuable?
2. How can sound wisdom, either in spoken or written form, lead us toward unhealthy comparison?
Challenge: There are many books and videos on the market today that strive to increase our self-esteem so that we feel more worth and love. The Bible is full of statements of our worth and how much Jesus loves us. Find one verse that speaks truth to you about how Jesus cares for you as an individual. Write it out, memorize it. You are special!
We understand how the world pushes us to compare ourselves to one another. After all, if we were all content we wouldn’t buy enough stuff. But surely this wouldn’t be the case in the church? As we read, it is and has been from the beginning. We are just as likely to compare our vocal talents, prayer habits or speaking ability to someone else in the church as we are to compare our 2010 Honda to our neighbor’s 2019 Acura.
1. Have you found yourself feeling spiritually inadequate when you compare yourself to others in the church?
2. Do you believe that God views you the same way?
Challenge: Knowing our gifts and talents allows us to feel less competitive in all areas of our lives. Have you taken a survey or course like Strength Finders to discover your strengths that you can use in the church or community? If not, consider spending the time to check out this course.
As Paul speaks about the value of contentment in this passage, he also points out the “many foolish and harmful desires” that end in destruction. His primary focus here is on the love of money, but this could easily be expanded to the many temptations that can create personal dissatisfaction. Ours is increasingly a culture of comparison. Sure, we’re better off than 90% of the world, but how are we doing compared to our neighbor three doors down?
1. How would you define Biblical contentment?
2. On a scale from Very Contented to Almost Always Discontented, where would you place yourself?
Challenge: This week practice saying to yourself “What I have/am is enough.” Train your brain to accept this level of contentment.
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