Jesus, I Admire You

I love Jesus. I worship God. I depend on the Holy Spirit. Still, I’m sometimes tongue-tied in corporate prayer times when the leader asks us to “just express your praise to God.” Even in private prayer sometimes I find it hard to find words for worship.

I think I have a hang up about sounding forced. When I express love to a family member or friend, I want it to be spontaneous and real. I wouldn’t want them to feel that I was saying something affirming just because it was expected of me. And I feel the same way about God. I don’t want to say nice things about Him just for the sake of saying nice things about Him—I want my adoration to be authentic, not something I muster up because I’m supposed to.

I’m not saying my approach is right. I’d rather be like some people I know who are fountains of praise for God. His attributes flow joyfully from their mouths in ways that seem very natural to me. I’m just saying that I’m not like that.

But I’ve been asking God to help me be a better worshiper, and He is answering. One thing He showed me a few months ago was that I do very genuinely admire Jesus. When I read the gospels, I often pause and say something like, “Wow, Jesus, that’s really cool! I really admire how You did that!” And I mean it. My admiration for Him could not be more real. Here are some examples:

  • One of the things I admire most about Jesus is the way He perfectly balanced grace and truth, truth and love. He never erred on one side or the other. He was always perfect grace, perfect truth. I really admire that about You Jesus!
  • I think it’s amazing how smart Jesus is! The Pharisees were forever trying to trap Him in His words, but He was always a step ahead of them. He always gave the perfect answer. Jesus, I admire how incredibly smart You are!
  • I love it how Jesus always noticed the person standing on the sidelines. Whether they were hiding in the crowd, being rebuked by the crowds, being turned away by the disciples, or straining to see Jesus from the branches of a tree they’d climbed, Jesus saw them. Nobody is “on the fringe” in Your eyes, Jesus. You see us all and You really care. I admire that about You!
  • I think it is really cool how Jesus knew and understood what people were thinking, and told them so. You know what I’m thinking, too, Jesus, and I admire that about You.
  • Jesus is always such an encourager. He calls out the best from people. He helps us do things we never would be able to do without Him. Jesus, I love that about You, too!

Do you see what I mean? When I observe Jesus, either in the pages of the Bible, or in the way He works in my life, I can’t help but admire Him. So one way I can worship Him is by simply telling Him all the reasons I admire Him.

What are some of the things you admire most about Jesus?

 

Don’t Be Stupid

What’s the secret to effective shepherding? I’m not talking about shepherding sheep, I’m talking about shepherding people. If you’ve walked with the Lord for very long, it’s likely that He has put certain people into your life to shepherd. People who need care, guidance, nurture, protection, and occasional redirection. It’s part of being in the Good Shepherd’s flock—He calls us to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. To watch over one another with loving care, protecting and keeping each other on course.

But shepherding isn’t easy. Sheep have minds of their own. They wander off. They run away when you try to help them. They get tangled in messes that could have been avoided. How do I know all this? Well, for one thing, I’m one of them. I know personally what it means to go astray and turn to my own way (Isaiah 53:6).

For another, God has called me to shepherd different people, sometimes formally, sometimes informally. Either way, I feel responsible to “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to [me]” (1 Peter 5:2).

There is one little flock in particular that I’ve been fretting about recently. I haven’t felt very effective as a shepherd, and that frustrates me. I’ve talked about it with others who shepherd similar kinds of sheep. We’ve tried lots of different things, but nothing much helps. It seems like we all share the concern and feel kind of helpless about it.

But the Lord gave me a gentle reprimand and a lot of hope through one little verse buried in Jeremiah. It says, “For the shepherds are stupid [senseless, foolish in other translations] and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered” (10:21).

It’s not that I don’t inquire of the Lord about my flock—I do pray for them. But through that scripture, the Lord helped me to see that faithful, fervent prayer is the primary way this herd of cats (that’s what it feels like sometimes!) is going to be reached. It isn’t going to be leadership techniques or clever gimmicks—it’s going to be His power and love as the “great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20) that ultimately puts them on course and leads them into the safety of His sheep pen.

This strong and timely reminder from the Lord has re-energized my prayers for this little flock. God released me from some of the pressure I’d been feeling. It’s His flock, ultimately. My job is to love them and pray for them and to reach out to them however He leads me to. But it’s His job, ultimately, to refresh their souls, guide them along right paths, and protect them from enemies (Psalm 23:3, 5). If I get those things backwards, then I have to admit with Jeremiah, that I’m just being stupid.  

For God’s Sake

I need to be honest. It’s not that hard for me to pray comfy prayers for myself and those I love. I want our lives to run smoothly, painlessly, without bumps in the road or obstacles on the path. I would never actually dare to say “Do this for our glory, Lord” – and yet, what exactly do you call it if my prayers revolve mainly around the contentment and ease of me and mine?

I’ve been studying Daniel recently. In chapter 9, I notice that Daniel brought a very different attitude to prayer. His people were in exile. They were banished from their home and away from God’s temple. In Babylon, they had endured a series of pagan, sometimes brutal kings. They were surrounded by a culture that did not honor God and did not like His people.

What would I pray in a situation like that? What would you pray? Am I right in guessing that you would pray kind of like I do? “Get us out of this godless place, Lord! See our suffering and rescue us! Take us back home, please, and please do it quickly!”

Want to know what Daniel prayed? I’m glad you asked. Daniel prayed for God’s glory. He recognized that Israel was in this predicament because of their own sin. So he confessed the ways they had rebelled against God. He acknowledged clearly that they deserved suffering they were experiencing—God had warned them to repent, but they had ignored His warnings.

And then he did something surprising, I thought. He turned the focus entirely onto God.

Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name (9:17-19, emphasis added).

Instead of telling God how oppressed and scared everybody was, he asked God to bring glory to Himself. He showed concern for God’s name. He reminded God that answering this prayer was for His sake. God’s reputation was at stake. God had promised to watch out for His people and to forgive them if they repented. He had told them that they were His special treasure, chosen out of all the other nations to bless Him and to be a blessing. If God abandoned His people, His own reputation would suffer. If God’s temple continued to be desolate, His own name would be tarnished. In the truest sense, God’s punishment of His people was hurting Him even more than it hurt them.

So I’ve experimented with this idea as I’ve been praying these past few days. How can God receive glory through His answer to the prayers I typically pray?

For example, I pray for a number of young people. How can God get glory from the requests I make for them? How can His reputation advance? It’s not just about them doing well on tests or making friends, although it’s fine to pray about those things. It’s about the plans God has for these young people. What path does He have them on? Will doing well academically or enjoying close relationships help them to be more the people He has designed them to be?

I also pray for people who have physical needs. How will relief from symptoms renewed health help to make a name for God? WIll His care for them cause others to see His goodness? Does their patience in suffering gladden God’s heart because He sees their trust in Him?

Sometimes I pray about work situations. I can ask God, “What are You doing in this stalled objective? What are Your purposes for me, for us, for the project?” I don’t always get an immediate answer—but just asking the questions, being willing to submit my momentary stress to the greater goal of His glory, has been good for me. It grows my faith, and helps me to depend on Him. And that, I realize, brings honor to His name.

Ultimately, every prayer God answers, He answers with Himself. He is the ultimate answer to my every need. So, when I start putting my prayer requests through the grid of, “How can God answer this for His sake, how might this bring Him glory?” my focus changes from me to Him—which is a very good thing indeed!

 

 

 

 

Call to Prayer

I’m something of a rebel, technologically speaking. My phone isn’t “smart” like other people’s. I learned to text on my basic phone long after my friends had moved on to third-generation iPhones and androids. I don’t have an iPad or tablet. I don’t know how to tweet, and I recently had to ask a 20-something what it means to “hash tag.”

That said, I am learning that technology can be helpful for many things—including prayer. Recently I asked a friend to pray about something for me. She asked me how many days I wanted her to pray about it. Her reason? She was going to use Google Calendar to have my prayer request sent to her at a certain time each day. That way she would not forget.

Fascinated, I looked into it for myself. Remember, I’m no technical wizard. I can barely use my VCR’s remote control. However, I went to the website (https://www.google.com/calendar/render), played around with it for just a couple of minutes, and before I knew it, my phone (my dumb phone, that is) was alerting me to a text message. It reminded me to pray about the request I’d entered.

Isn’t that cool? If one of the teen girls in my Bible study has a test at a certain time on a certain day, I can plug that into my Google calendar, and I’ll get a text reminding me to pray for her. If a friend is traveling or having a medical procedure, I can plug the date and time in—even weeks ahead—and I won’t forget to pray because Google and Verizon will team up to remind me. If I want to pray for my pastor every week, I can arrange for a text to remind me to do that.

For centuries Benedictine religious orders have rung bells at set times throughout the day to call the monks to prayer. I find that concept appealing. But, I live in a city neighborhood, not a monastic asylum. So I’m glad I have a cell phone that can call me to prayer.

 

 

 

 

Words for When You Cannot Pray

I’m a morning person. I would probably annoy some of you who are night owls. But I genuinely enjoy the pre-dawn hours. I look forward to meeting with God, and I generally meet the new day with optimism and a good measure of “We can do this, God!”

However, I woke up discouraged the other day. So discouraged, in fact, that it was hard to pray. I knew that in times like that I need God more than ever—but at times like that, it also can be really hard for me to make my way to Him. (Can anyone say, “Spiritual warfare”?)

So I procrastinated. Instead of opening my Bible, I opened my email. Among my emails, providentially, was an email with Bob Hostetler’s Prayer Blog. I don’t always read them, I admit (sorry Bob!) but this time I did. And what I found was simply a link—a link to a song. The song was a prayer, and it was exactly the prayer I needed. Here are the words:

Holy Spirit, living Breath of God,
Breathe new life into my willing soul.
Bring the presence of the risen Lord
To renew my heart and make me whole.
Cause Your Word to come alive in me;
Give me faith for what I cannot see;
Give me passion for Your purity.
Holy Spirit, breathe new life in me.

Holy Spirit, come abide within;
May Your joy be seen in all I do—
Love enough to cover ev’ry sin
In each thought and deed and attitude,
Kindness to the greatest and the least,
Gentleness that sows the path of peace.
Turn my striving into works of grace.
Breath of God, show Christ in all I do.

Holy Spirit, from creation’s birth,
Giving life to all that God has made,
Show Your power once again on earth;
Cause Your church to hunger for Your ways.
Let the fragrance of our prayers arise.
Lead us on the road of sacrifice
That in unity the face of Christ
Will be clear for all the world to see.

—Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God, Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend,

© 2006 Thankyou Music

And here is the link, if you want to listen to it: http://bobhostetler.blogspot.com/2013/09/holy-spirit-living-breath-of-god.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BobHostetlersPrayerBlog+%28Bob+Hostetler%27s+Prayer+Blog%29

As the words to the song flowed over me, I prayed them back to God, grateful for His timely and incredibly personal intervention. In His mercy and kindness, He had done for me what Romans 8 promises. He had helped me in my weakness. I didn’t know what to pray, but He interceded for me—through that song, through that timely blog post—according to the will of God (verses 26-27).

Bob’s post inspired me to create my own play list of prayer songs. I’m just getting started. Do you readers out there have any favorite song-prayers to share with me? There may come another morning when I will need them again. Sometimes a song provides what I need to pray when I can’t find words of my own.