Saturday Week 4

Yesterday we asked whether our prayers really change anything, and we saw that the answer is “yes”: God really does act powerfully and make things happen in response to the requests of his children.

But there is a second way in which prayer changes things. Prayer not only changes the world; it also changes us!

Prayer is not for God’s benefit. It is for ours. We do not pray to inform God of the things that have slipped his notice. He knows much better than we do what things we should ask, and what things we would ask if only we had his wisdom! That is why his Spirit improves our requests and makes them better than we know. Paul says:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Rom. 8:26-27)

Throughout this course, we have been saying that there are two aspects of prayer. It is not only about depending on God; it is also our most intimate way of delighting in God himself—learning to love him, revere him, and enjoy his love which is bigger than we can ever imagine (Eph. 3:19).

And as we spend time in the presence of our Father—both delighting in him and depending on him—he draws us closer to himself, purifies our thoughts and our motives, reminds us of who we are and what is most important, and strengthens us to live for him.

For all these reasons, our prayers fill God with delight as well (Rev. 5:8)!

In your prayer time today, look up any Psalm in your Bible, reflect on it, and think about anything that might fuel your Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, or Supplication. Use the two questions from yesterday:

  • What things in the Psalm can I relate to from my experience?
  • Is there anything in the Psalm that reminds me of Jesus or reminds me of what God has done through Jesus?

Alternatively, use this “Trinitarian Prayer” which John Stott used to say every morning as soon as he woke up:

Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.

–John Stott, quoted in Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott

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Friday Week 4

Over our final two days, we will consider the issue of why we bother praying at all. Some Christians wrestle with the question: Why do we ask God to do things, when he already knows everything, and will act whether or not we ask him? Do our prayers change anything?

The answer is a very definite “yes”! James says:

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

And if you trust in Jesus and have given your life to him, you are a “righteous person,” so your prayers do bring about powerful changes.

But we need to understand why. The reason is not because there is something magical about prayer itself. It is not a spiritual “force.” The reason the prayer of a Christian is powerful and effective is simply because God delights in making it powerful and effective. That is, God delights in acting in response to the requests of his beloved children, rather than acting without their involvement.

When my children were small, I loved reading them stories. I would often read stories to them even if they didn’t want me to. I would make them sit and listen. But what I loved much, much more was reading a story because one of them said, “Dad, would you read me a story?”

Similarly, God will still carry out his plan if we don’t ask him to—though the result may well look very different if we ask him. But his delight is to do things because we asked him to! Maxie Dunnam says:

It appears that God has so ordered life and the world that our praying is a vital part of the redemptive plan for individuals and the entire universe. (Workbook of Living Prayer, p. 109)

With that assurance, turn to your time of prayer now. On Tuesday we thought about Paul’s prayers as a model for our own. The Psalms are also a rich resource to help us pray. When you read any Psalm, two helpful questions you can ask yourself as you read are:

  • What things in the Psalm can I relate to from my experience?
  • Is there anything in the Psalm that reminds me of Jesus or reminds me of what God has done through Jesus?

For your time of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication today, read Psalm 25:1-10 and reflect on the phrases which get your attention. Use them in your own prayers.

1 In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.
2 I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
3 No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.
4 Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.
8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. (Psalm 25:1-10)

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Thursday Week 4

Today we turn to one of the most difficult commands in the Bible, and it relates to one type of intercessory prayer. Jesus said:

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:44-45)

If your first thought is, “I could never do that!”, or if you are thinking of someone who you would never want to love, stop now, take a deep breath, and ask God to help you to really listen to him and learn his way.

~~~

The topic of loving and forgiving our enemies is much too big to cover in a short devotion. We would need to think about several things, such as:

  • Love as a commitment, not a feeling. Love is about genuinely seeking the best for the other person, even if you don’t have warm and positive feelings about them.
  • The difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Loving and forgiving someone who has threatened or harmed you does not necessarily mean you must restore your relationship with them.
  • God’s example of loving us through Jesus when we were his enemies (Rom. 5:8). He calls us to imitate him (Eph. 4:32).

For many Christians, loving their enemies can seem impossible. It may require many years of slow, painful growth and healing before it is possible. But in these verses, Jesus gives us a very practical way to start down that path of learning to love our enemies: Pray for them!

This is not a “quick fix” for instantly turning hate into love. You might struggle with a desire for revenge. But if you come before God each day and pray for them—if you ask the Father to be kind to them and to do what is very best for them—then bit by bit, your own heart may become softened and you may start to really want what is best for them. And the best things you can ask for them are that they would to turn to Jesus and be saved, or that God would make them more like Jesus.

As you wrestle with this very challenging word, remember that Jesus obeyed his own command. From the agony of the cross itself, he prayed:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk. 23:34)

To finish, spend time working through the ACTS prayer pattern. Pray out loud if it was helpful yesterday. In Adoration and Thanksgiving, focus on God’s unchanging kindness and his forgiveness of you in Jesus. Then in Supplication, think again of the person or people you struggle to love. Ask God to be merciful to them, and be honest with God about your struggle.

Verses for further prayer: 1 Peter 2:18-25.

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Wednesday Week 4

We all struggle sometimes to stop our minds from drifting when we pray. One useful practical tip is to pray out loud. This can keep your mind engaged, and it can also help you to be more “real” and honest. Saying things out loud to God somehow gives them more weight.

As we begin today, revise Isaiah 6:3, yesterday’s verse for Adoration. (It begins “Holy, …”) Then spend time in the first three steps of ACTS. Try speaking out loud to God, if it’s appropriate where you are.

~~~

Yesterday we thought about interceding in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters. But we can also intercede for our world and for those who have not turned to Jesus. And the Bible’s most urgent concern is that people hear about Jesus, believe, and are saved from the coming judgment.

There are several good reasons to work hard at praying for people who do not know Christ. The most obvious one is love for those who are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).

But there is one reason to pray for world mission which may surprise you. It’s that when the task is finished, Jesus will return! Jesus said:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matt. 24:14)

What a great motivation to pray for the gospel to reach all nations, and to pray regularly for the mission partners our church supports!

There are a number of specific ways the New Testament encourages us to pray for the salvation of the lost, both close to us and around the world. First, we should pray for those who are dedicated to preaching Christ:

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ. (Col. 4:3)

Secondly, Jesus tells us to ask God to raise and send more missionaries:

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matt. 9:37-38)

Thirdly, all of us need help with our own witness for Christ. Peter says:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Pet. 3:15)

Decide on two or three ways you will commit to pray regularly for those who don’t know Christ: for names of people who aren’t saved, or gospel workers, or your own witness. Add them to the system you have set up for daily prayer. (If you haven’t set it up yet, don’t put it off further!)

Finally, bring these people to your Father.

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Tuesday Week 4

Begin by spending time in the first three steps of the ACTS system. To help with Adoration, try to memorise the following verse:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isa. 6:3)

Continue with Confession and Thanksgiving.

~~~

When it comes to Supplication, the Bible shows us the richness of bringing other people’s needs to God, not just our own. We saw yesterday that Jesus intercedes for us; and God had given us the wonderful privilege of being able to intercede for others. And just as God loves to answer Jesus’s prayers, so he loves to answer our prayers for each other!

Paul’s prayers are a wonderful model of how to pray for other Christians. As he shares his prayer life with his readers, we see how the gospel of Jesus shaped his most important priorities for his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Think of a few people from your church family who you could pray for today. You might like to think of:

  • Someone with a particular need or difficulty
  • A newer person at church
  • Someone you are close to

First, spend a few moments praying for them in the way that you normally would. (Don’t worry about whether you are praying “correctly.” You are asking for good things! Ask, and God will answer in the wisest way.)

~~~

Now slowly read over Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9–11. Notice the things he asks God on behalf of the Philippian Christians. Then pray for the same people you just prayed for. But this time, for each one, take something from Paul’s prayer, and ask God to do the same for that person. You can use Paul’s words or adapt them to your own words.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9-11)

Verses for further prayer: Any of Paul’s prayers (listed below).

Ephesians 1:15–21: 15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Ephesians 3:14–21: 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
    20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Philippians 1:9–11: 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Colossians 1:9–14: 9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

1 Thessalonians 1:2–3: 2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 1:11–12: 11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Monday Week 4

Last week we worked on the ACTS system of daily prayer. This week we will focus on enriching the “Supplication” part by learning to ask God on behalf of other people. That is, we will learn the privilege of intercession.

But before we think about how to intercede for others, today we will simply reflect on one of the most wonderful truths of the Bible: Jesus is interceding for you right now. The writer of Hebrew tells us:

Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Heb. 7:24-25)

Think of that: The risen Lord Jesus prays constantly for those who trust in him! What does Jesus pray for us? First, his prayers guarantee that you are constantly forgiven and justified before God:

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Rom. 8:33-34)

John 17 gives an even deeper insight into Jesus’s prayers for us. As the hour of his death approaches, Jesus pours out his heart to his Father. Take a moment now to focus your mind on Jesus, seated in glory at God’s right hand, interceding for you. Then slowly read these verses from his prayer in John 17. Pause over each request Jesus makes. Think about what Jesus prays for you, enjoy the comfort it brings, and thank him.

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. … I pray for them. …  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. … I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. … Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” (taken from John 17:6-24)

~~~

Finish with a time of prayer using ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). In “Supplication,” take some of Jesus’s words above and pray them for your brothers and sisters at church. Through the day, remember 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, and seek to live prayerfully.

Verses for further prayer: All of John 17.

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Sunday Week 4

On Sundays, we will spend time praying for our common church prayer points rather than thinking about prayer itself. Read through each prayer point before you pray. Then instead of just repeating those words, find the things that you would most like to say to God based on what you read.

1. Give thanks for Ellen Prior as she begins working as the new VET Manager for VBC. Pray that she would settle in quickly to her role and for their family to settle well in Sydney after moving recently from Melbourne. Pray for Niddrie Community Church as they begin Vocational Bible College in Edinburgh, Scotland this month.

2. Give thanks for our ministry staff Stephen, James, Gus, Vincent and Anh, and for God’s work in their lives helping them to grow more like Christ. Pray that God would give them wisdom, faithfulness to his word, strong friendships, spiritual encouragement and perseverance as they lead and shepherd God’s people here in Fairfield and Bossley Park.

3. Pray for the country of Iran (predominantly Muslim) which remains closed to official mission work, and contains some of the largest unreached people groups in the world. Pray for a relaxing of harsh religious freedom laws, peace, and an opening to gospel work. Pray for Christians in Iran to have perseverance and hope despite the persecution they face.

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Saturday Week 3

Once again, begin today with the elements we have already covered:

  • Adoration: Reflect on who God is and what he is like.
  • Confession: Especially identifying sins from the past day.
  • Thanksgiving: For spiritual blessings as well as material ones.

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The final ingredient in the ACTS pattern of prayer is “Supplication,” which simply means asking God to supply what we need. We saw from the Lord’s Prayer that God loves us to ask him all for our needs, but we must also learn to ask for the most important things.

The ACTS system has already helped us to put confession and asking God for forgiveness as our top priority. As well as forgiveness, we could summarise our other greatest needs under two headings:

  1. Faith—not just initially trusting in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, but trusting him in our day-to-day difficulties, and persevering in faith until we reach our eternal heavenly inheritance.
  2. Growth in godliness—growing in the fruit of the Spirit, fighting against sin, becoming more like Jesus.

Both of these can seem impossible. Our faith is so weak, and our growth so slow. But as we bring these things before God, we can rest on his faithfulness, goodness, and power. You, like Paul, can be confident that:

… he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6)

To finish your prayer meal today, meditate on the following verses, and use them to ask God for help in trusting him, and in growing in godliness.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:1-2)

~~~

Now that we have built a pattern of daily prayer, think about what you can do to organise your prayer life. You could keep a notebook, or a folder with cards or sheets of paper, where you write prayer points and Bible verses under each heading of ACTS. You could use the PrayerMate app on your phone. Whatever you decide to try, it is well worth spending a little time setting up something basic. Write a few things down, or set up a few short lists of points in PrayerMate. You can always improve it later, but something is better than nothing. Decide now what method you will use, and if you can, set it up now. (If you can’t now, set a time to do it.)

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Friday Week 3

First, spend a few minutes coming before God in prayer using the first two elements of the ACTS pattern of prayer: Adoration and Confession.

~~~

Today we move on to the third ingredient: Thanksgiving. As we saw, adoration focuses on who God is, whereas thanksgiving focuses on what God has done for us.

The most basic and universal sin of human beings, according to Romans 1:21, is not glorifying God and not giving him thanks. Being thankless is sinful; but through faith in Jesus, God enables us to begin to learn how to live with thankful hearts. Once again, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (can you remember it?) tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

But as with any area of godliness, we must make a determined decision to develop thankfulness to God. Your daily prayer time is a good way to start to learn. As you become better at finding ways in which God has been good to you, you will more easily recognise his loving hand in daily life.

Spend time thinking and identifying ways in which God has been kind to you in the following areas. Don’t worry if you can’t think of something for each point, but for each blessing you identify, thank your loving Father.

  • Spiritual blessings in Jesus: forgiveness, adoption, etc. (Eph. 1:3-7)
  • God’s help in specific moments during the past day or week
  • An answer to prayer that you have received, or that one of your brothers or sisters in Christ has received recently
  • People in your life
  • Any tiny “gifts of love” you received over the past day: daily bread, the beauty of a sunset, a kind word from a stranger

~~~

Now memorise the following verse from the Psalms. Say it to yourself over and over during the day, and be on the lookout for those countless small “gifts of love” so that you can thank God for them.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever. (Ps. 136:1)

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Thursday Week 3

Today we will move on to the second ingredient in our daily prayer diet: Confession. However, first spend a few moments in the first ingredient: Adoration. Clear your mind of distractions, focus on who God is and what he is like, and present your thoughts to him.

~~~

Confession is the most important way to express our dependence on God, because our greatest need is our need for our sin to be forgiveness. A healthy prayer life should include daily confession.

But can we really be sure that God accepts our prayers of confession? Perhaps you sometimes struggle with that doubt. After all, our prayers are so weak and shallow. We don’t pray nearly enough, and when we do, we get easily distracted. Our prayers seem half-hearted and we feel like hypocrites. So we can easily doubt whether our prayer is good enough.

But Paul Miller points out that prayer works exactly the same way as the gospel itself. Of course your prayer isn’t good enough! But God doesn’t accept our prayers because they are good enough; he accepts them joyfully and completely, because Jesus is perfect. Miller says:

We look at the inadequacy of our praying and give up, thinking something is wrong with us. God looks at the adequacy of his Son and delights in our sloppy, meandering prayers. (A Praying Life, p. 55)

Being weighed down by our own sin and weakness can make us think we have to get things together before we come to God in prayer. But the gospel says: “Come as you are!” Or as Paul Miller says again:

Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy. (A Praying Life, p. 32)

Daily confession should be a conscious time of remembering and naming the ways in which you ignored and disobeyed God during the previous day, not hiding it, but being honest with the one who sees our inmost thoughts (Ps. 32:5; 139:1-2). But as you prepare to do that today, put out of your mind the idea that God might not hear or accept your prayer. Listen again to the wonderful, simple promise of the gospel:

If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn 1:9)

Now think about the past day (or week or year). Bring your sins to God. Come messy, and ask for forgiveness in Jesus’s name. Then ask God for his help in saying “no” to those sins today. If you want an even deeper sense of comfort in the gospel, read Hebrews 10:19-23.

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Wednesday Week 3

As we saw on Monday from 1 Thessalonians 5, growing in closeness to God involves learning to live prayerfully, delighting in God and depending on God throughout the day in every situation.

Aside: Can you still remember 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18? Revise it now. It begins, “Rejoice always…”

~~~

However, as we seek to develop the daily habit of a dedicated prayer time, we should aim to include a range of different kinds of delighting and depending, guided by Scripture.

There are many systems people use. We will build on one of the most popular ones, based on the word “ACTS.” It uses four steps, which are all ways of either delighting in God or depending on him:

  • A: Adoration (= worship and love)  —  delighting
  • C: Confession  —  depending
  • T: Thanksgiving  —  delighting
  • S: Supplication (= asking)  —  depending

Over the coming days, we will work to build each of these into your daily prayer time, as an ingredient in your “prayer breakfast”. If you already have a prayer system, adapt these notes to what you are already doing.

The first step is Adoration. Whereas thanksgiving is praising God for what he has done for us, adoration is praising him simply for who he is. It is allowing our minds to fill with the unchanging truths of God’s nature and character, so that our hearts fill with wonder, awe, and love for him.

And because we are aware of God’s presence when we pray, adoration is telling all these things to God—telling him what we know he is like, and expressing our wonder and love (Ps. 92:1-2).

As we worked through the Lord’s Prayer, we saw truths about God which you can use to meditate and adore him. The God we pray to is our Father; he is holy; he is the king; he is wise and good; and he cares about us.

The Bible is also full of expressions of God’s faithful, unchanging love and mercy, which he poured out in the cross of Jesus:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Ps. 103:8)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

Spend a few minutes remembering who God is and what he is like, and praising and blessing him for it. You can use the truths above to help, or look up one of the passages below. Don’t worry about whether or not you feel enough “wonder, awe, and love.” Simply focus on God himself.

Verses for further prayer: Psalms 8 and 103.

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Tuesday Week 3

Yesterday we thought about the idea of living prayerfully. However, our main topic this week will be developing the habit of regular, meaningful times of focused prayer. Even for Jesus himself, dedicated times of prayer were crucial, to be apart from the crowds and alone with his Father.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

And he taught us his disciples to do the same:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. (Matt. 6:6a)

For most people, the best time for this time alone with God is first thing in the morning. Even if you’re not a “morning person,” this is probably the best pattern—to turn to God, seek to delight in him, and commit yourself to depend on him before each day’s worries crowd your mind.

If you have never really committed to a regular time of prayer, or you have slipped out of the habit, make a conscious, serious commitment to begin and to persevere. Think carefully about the following questions:

  • When in the day will you set aside time (e.g. before breakfast)?
  • How will you make sure to remember (e.g. an alarm, a note)?
  • What is most likely to distract you or prevent you, and what can you do to guard against this? (e.g. your phone, kids)
  • Where will you do it? (Lying in bed is not the best option!)
  • How long will you aim to spend in prayer?

With the last question, be realistic. Most of us won’t be able to pray for hours on end! But we should be able to commit to at least 15 minutes—even if some days you might manage less than that. (In fact, by the end of this month, you may find yourself praying for longer than you expected.)

Take time to look over those questions. Talk to God about them and tell him any struggles you are feeling. Then make a concrete decision about when and how you are going to pray each day.

~~~

Over the coming days, we will work on what things to include in your pattern of regular prayer—the ingredients of your “prayer breakfast” (or lunch or dinner). For now, commit your decision to God. Ask him to help you learn the discipline and joy of regular prayer, and to help you not give up when you find it difficult or slip out of the habit.

Verses for further prayer: Daniel 6:1-11; Romans 12:11-12; Colossians 4:2.

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Monday Week 3

This week, our goal is to work on developing the habit and discipline of a full and regular prayer life. An important part of this is learning to begin the day with a focused and thoughtful time with God. However, the habit of prayer is not just about doing a “quiet time” each morning (or each evening). Paul says:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

Paul urges us to talk to God in all kinds of different ways: rejoicing, asking, giving thanks. But he doesn’t have in mind a structured prayer time. This is about seeking and striving to develop a life of constant communion with him. God’s will for you is to live prayerfully.

Living prayerfully does not mean saying long, complicated prayers as you buy your groceries. There are many prayers of just a few words in Scripture: “Lord, help me!” (Matt. 15:25), “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Lk. 18:13), and “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

Spend a few moments reading and reflecting on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Think about what your day will hold today (or tomorrow): the people you will be with, the situations you will encounter. With each one, imagine yourself rejoicing to God; or asking God for yourself or for the other person; or thanking God. Imagine a day of living prayerfully.

~~~

To finish today, take some time to memorise 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

During the day, keep saying 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to yourself, and look for things to rejoice about, ask for, and thank God for. You might also like to choose a favourite Christian song to sing to yourself during the day.

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Sunday Week 3

On Sundays, we will spend time praying for our common church prayer points rather than thinking about prayer itself.

1. Give thanks for a good conclusion to the first ever Christianity Explored course at Watsons Bay Anglican Church. Pray for those who came, and for the non-Christians at church who have been hearing Mark’s gospel this term, that they would come to believe. Pray for the future of Watsons Bay Anglican Church, that Scott Newling and Caitlin Orr would lead the church well through the changes needed to promote growth in the coming months.

2. Pray for our SRE teachers to have wisdom and enthusiasm as they plan their lessons, and for God to raise up more SRE teachers so that we are able to teach classes in more primary schools in our parish. Pray for the children who attend SRE classes, that they would know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and learn more about him through SRE classes.

3. Thank God for his provision for Moore Theological College over the last 162 years, and for the countless men and women who have been equipped to teach God's word by their theological studies. Pray that Moore College staff and students will hold fast to the truth of the gospel, grow in love and knowledge of God, and have a passionate concern for the lost around the world

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Saturday Week 2

Today we will look at the final request in the Lord’s Prayer. But first, take a moment to remember the structure of Jesus’s model prayer:

1. His Reputation: “Hallowed be your name”
2. His Reign: “Your kingdom come”
3. His Rule: “Your will be done”
4. Our Provision: “Give us today our daily bread”
5. Our Pardon: “Forgive us our debts”
6. Our Protection: “Lead us not … but deliver us from the evil one”

The final request expresses our dependence in the area of spiritual battle:

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matt. 6:13)

It is very foolish to forget our dependence on God in our struggle against temptation and the evil one’s strategies, because “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). He knows how to make destructive things seem delightful and filthy things look fun. And when we fall, he tries to make us believe that God has taken away his love and Christ’s blood is not enough to cover your sin.

The Bible has two pieces of very good news. The first—in the famous “armour of God” passage in Ephesians 6:10-20—is that God has already given you the protection you need to stand against the devil’s schemes. This protection is the gospel message itself! As Paul creatively describes the six items of Roman armour, he is simply summarising the core truths of the gospel. Four of them will protect you from the devil’s tempting lies:

Belt: You have learned the truth about Jesus, the Saviour and Lord
Breastplate: Through Jesus, you have the gift of righteousness
Shield: By faith, you have been reconciled with God through Jesus
Helmet: Your salvation is secure because of Jesus

But in our spiritual battle, we aren’t only called to defend. As we speak the gospel, we storm Satan’s stronghold and rescue people from his power:

Footwear: The gospel which brings peace with God
Sword: The word of God, which is living and active

So how do you put on this “armour of God”? By reminding yourself constantly of the good news of Jesus (vv. 13-17), and by depending on God constantly in prayer (v. 18). Our good Father is our defence!

The second piece of good news that is the final glorious victory is coming:

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Rom. 16:20a)

To finish, think again of the sins you named and confessed yesterday. Can you see how Satan worked to deceive you? Perhaps it was by making the ugliness of sin seem attractive; or by filling you with shame to take away the comfort of the gospel; or by trying to stop you from turning away from your sin and back to God. Talk to God about Satan’s schemes, ask him to protect you by filling your mind with the wonderful truths of the gospel, and express your trust that he will hold on to you until Jesus returns.

Try to memorise these verses, and remember them throughout the day:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

Verses for further prayer: Romans 8:31-38.

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Friday Week 2

Yesterday we saw that the fundamental attitude we should have in prayer is one of dependence on God. We applied that to our material needs. But as we grow to know God and know ourselves better, we realise that there are many areas of life where we need to recognise that we depend on him.

O. Hallesby describes this as having an attitude of helplessness. He says:

Prayer therefore simply consists in telling God day by day in what ways we feel that we are helpless. We are moved to pray every time the Spirit of God, which is the spirit of prayer, emphasizes to us anew our helplessness, and we realize how impotent we are by nature to believe, to love, to hope, to serve, to sacrifice, to suffer, to read the Bible, to pray, and to struggle against our sinful desires.

Look over this list, and ask yourself: In which of these areas do I need to recognise my helplessness? Turn that area of your life over to God.

~~~

In the next request in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus focuses on a particularly important area of helplessness and dependence: our own sin.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matt. 6:12)

Luke’s version of the prayer uses the word “sins” instead of “debts”. Both words help us understand why we rely completely on God’s forgiveness. “Sins” reminds us that we have broken God’s law and committed wicked acts which deserve his anger. “Debts” reminds us that we can never repay God or make up for what we have done. Our debt is bigger than we can possibly imagine. But the good news of the gospel is that, through Jesus, God freely forgives and cancels our impossibly big debt (Matt. 18:23-27).

When faced with our sin, depending on God means asking him to forgive us. But as we ask him, we can also know that even before the words are out of our mouth, he has already forgiven us completely and joyfully!

God’s forgiveness does not just cancel our sin, it also transforms us. It brings the fruit of repentance—not just feeling sorry, but seeking to make right the wrongs we have done to others, and striving to throw off “the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1). And God’s forgiveness also enables us to begin to learn how to forgive others (Eph. 4:32).

Today, spend time being real with God about your sin. Be specific—name the ways you have dishonoured him. Be brutally honest—don’t minimise your sin or give it a less offensive name. And as you ask God to forgive you, rest in the comfort of knowing that you are already forgiven, because Jesus took your guilt and shame on himself. If there is something you have not confessed to anybody else, or know you need extra help with, call or message your minister or a close Christian friend right now.

During the day, simply remember and enjoy God’s forgiveness!

Verses for further prayer: Psalm 32:1-5; Romans 8:1; 1 John 1:8-2:2.

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Thursday Week 2

In the first three requests of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to ask our Father for his concerns first: his reputation, his reign and his rule in our world. The remaining three requests turn to our needs. It is not selfish to ask God to provide everything you need. But we must let Jesus teach us what our real needs are. (Hint: a Porsche is not one of them!)

The first is a request for provision of our material needs:

Give us today our daily bread. (Matt. 6:11)

If you or I were writing a “theological” prayer, perhaps we would have begun with something which sounds more profound. But by beginning with such a simple, down-to-earth request, Jesus shows us the most important and basic attitude we need to have in prayer: an attitude of dependence on God in everything.

There is so much we need to learn and remember daily from this one short request! Our opinion of what we “need” often shows how shallow our faith is. In our society, people try to accumulate enough so that they will have security in their possessions, and will not need to depend on God or anybody else! We must struggle against this mindset. There is a place for responsible saving, with godly aims for how we will use and share the resources God entrusts to us (Prov. 6:6-11; 2 Cor. 9:10-11). But greed is a terrifying danger, because it erodes our sense of depending on God.

In Jesus’s world, the average worker was only able to buy food for the next day. But his biggest concern for them was not that they build up a savings buffer. It was that they trust completely in God for each day’s bread.

But there is an even more important lesson we need to learn from this request. It’s that the God we pray to cares deeply for you. He cares about every aspect of your life, and he is generous and good! Jesus said:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Lk. 12:6-7)

Spend some time thinking about the material needs you are worrying about at the moment. Some may be valid and important. Others may be quite worldly. Whatever they are, talk to your Father about them. It may help to read and meditate on Jesus’s teaching in the verses below.

Throughout the day, notice and thank God for the things you need which he provides. And perhaps he will use you to supply “daily bread” for somebody else! Be on the lookout for an opportunity.

Verses for further prayer: Matthew 6:19-21, 25-34.

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Wednesday Week 2

Today we will pause in our reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, to touch on the issue of unanswered prayer. We have looked at some wonderful promises which give us confidence to ask God boldly and to make big requests. But what about when God apparently doesn’t say “Yes”?

Before continuing, remember a time when you wondered why God didn’t answer your prayer. Perhaps it is something you have been praying for in recent months, and you are feeling troubled or confused. How did this issue affect your faith? How did it affect your attitude in your prayers?

To think about unanswered prayer, we will consider another aspect of who God is. We have seen that God is Father, Holy, and King. As well as these things, the God we pray to is wise (Job 12:13). He sees, understands, and governs over every event in the universe. This means that only he sees the big picture and truly knows his purpose in each situation.

But God’s wisdom is not just knowledge. It is his knowledge and goodness. And he asks us to trust that his wisdom is for our good. Paul says:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

God doesn’t often show us exactly why we he didn’t give us what we asked for. But knowing that God is wise and good tells us one reason: Because he is busy giving us something much, much better!

Often the “good gifts” God is giving us take much longer to produce than our short-term requests—and because God loves us, he is much more patient than we are (2 Pet. 3:9). Moreover, we often focus on asking God to change our circumstances. But God is much more interested in changing us through our circumstances, so that we learn to trust him more deeply. The fruit of the Spirit takes a long time to grow!

Even the Apostle Paul had to learn this lesson. Though he begged God to remove the “thorn in his flesh”, God did not, to humble him and to help him to learn one thing: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:7-9).

All of these truths should encourage us to ask God even more boldly when we don’t see the answers we expect. The following paragraph from Tim Keller’s book on prayer helps us to see why. As you read it, keep in mind the unanswered prayer you thought of earlier. Then talk to your Father about it again. You may also like to read some of the Bible passages below.

“Ask and you shall receive” (Matt 7:7-8)—Ask with confidence and hope. Don’t be afraid that you will ask for the wrong thing. Of course you will! God “tempers the outcome” [i.e. he improves it] with his incomprehensible wisdom. Cry, ask, and appeal—you will get many answers. Finally, where you do not get an answer, or where the answer is not what you want, use prayer to enable you to rest in his will.

Verses for further prayer: Job 28:20-28; Isaiah 40:27-31; Matthew 7:7-11.

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Tuesday Week 2

So often our prayers begin with requests for our own needs—and they continue and finish in the same way!

Jesus’s model prayer is also a list of requests. There is nothing wrong with asking God for things—he wants us to. However, the first three requests in the Lord’s Prayer are not for ourselves, they are for God’s concerns. They not only show that we depend on God; they also lead our minds to delight in God. Beginning our prayers in this way guards us from selfish asking.

Today, read and reflect on the second and third requests:

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:10)

Yesterday we saw that God is both Father and Holy. This verse reminds us that the God we pray to is the King. He rules over all, and he has set the conditions for us to live in harmony and happiness, under his good rule.

However, at present we live in a world in rebellion against God. Even in our own lives, we often ignore or blatantly disobey God’s will.

When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” we are longing for the end point of God’s plan to arrive:

… to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Eph. 1:10b)

We are asking for Jesus to return, for evil to be destroyed, for Christ’s people to be made perfect and raised in glory in God’s eternal kingdom.

And yet, God’s kingdom is already beginning (Luke 17:20-21). It grows as people turn to Jesus, find new life and hope in him, and commit to living under God’s rule. His kingdom grows in us as we seek to live for Jesus.

Spend a few minutes asking God to bring his rule into every area of your life; to bring his rule to parts of our world where Jesus is not known; and to bring his final, glorious kingdom in Jesus. Come, Lord Jesus!

~~~

Finally, as we reflect on God as King, the Bible has some wonderful news. For everyone who trusts in Jesus, God is not just sovereign; he is sovereign for us! He rules by working powerfully in us, for our good. He rules by saying “Yes!” to our requests in Jesus’s name, and acting far more powerfully and abundantly than we expect or realise. Paul says:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)

Finish by meditating on these verses and turning them into prayer. Use them to praise and thank the King, and also find comfort and assurance.

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Monday Week 2

Last week, we saw what Christian prayer is, and why we can pray with trust and confidence when we pray to our heavenly Father in Jesus’s name. This week, we will focus on learning to pray according to God’s will. Consider this promise:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

Praying “according to his will” is not about trying to guess what God’s specific plan might be. God does not usually reveal the details of what he is going to do. He asks us to trust him with those details.

But God has revealed a great deal about his will in the Scriptures. We can pray about anything, but there are some things which always please God when we bring them to him, and the Bible guides us in this.

This week’s reflections focus on the Lord’s Prayer, which is Jesus’s model for how to pray according to God’s will. Carefully read the first line:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (Matt. 6:9b)

To “hallow” God’s name means to honour God as holy. God’s holiness is his glory, greatness and majesty; and it is also his moral perfection.

In this first line, Jesus reminds us that the God we pray to is our Father, but he is also the Holy One. Because of this, when we pray, as Tim Keller says, our hearts should be “engaged in loving awe”. We pray with hearts full of love for God, but also with reverent awe, because we are in the presence of the One whose glory outshines the whole universe. Read slowly over the following verses. Remember that your Father’s presence fills the entire universe, focus on his glory, greatness, goodness, and love, and allow your mind to fill with “loving awe” for him.

The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble;
he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.
Great is the LORD in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them praise your great and awesome name—he is holy. (Ps. 99:1-3)

~~~

The first line in the Lord’s Prayer is not just a reminder that God is holy. It shows us what our greatest longing should be: that God be honoured as holy. This should be our desire for all people everywhere. But God is also honoured as holy when my life brings him praise and honour.

What really is your greatest desire—for the world, but also for yourself? If this question is difficult, talk to God and present your struggle to him.

Finally, the first line of the Lord’s Prayer is a request. We are asking God to break into our world and into our lives so that he is honoured as holy. Meditate again on this line, allow God to mould the deepest desires of your heart, and ask him to strengthen you to live for his praise.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (Matt. 6:9b)

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