I need help praying.

I want to commune with my Heavenly Father consistently and meaningfully.  I spend time first thing in the morning reading the Word nearly every day.  Then I begin to praise God and make requests to Him in prayer.  And my mind races.  Some of the thoughts that fill my mind are related to praying, but many are not – they are distractions.  I start thinking about all kinds of things that are totally unrelated to what I am thanking God for and asking of my Heavenly Father.  After some time I realize – I’m no longer praying, I’m thinking about something or someone else.

A couple of months ago the speaker at our church men’s retreat stated that the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2-4) is the model for how we should pray.  I started opening my Bible to it and using what Jesus said to prompt and guide my own prayers.  And then I realized something very helpful.  When I find myself distracted by unrelated thoughts racing through my mind, I can easily turn my attention back to the words of the prayer in front of my face and get my thoughts and heart back on track.  It really helped!

So I decided to try something.  There are other prayers in Scripture.  Some are in Old Testament narratives, many are in the Psalms, there’s of course the Lord’s Prayer, and there are several in the Apostles’ writings, especially Paul’s letters.  One morning I turned to Colossians 1:9-12 and wrote it out in my journal.  Then I held the open journal in my lap and used Paul’s requests to guide my own.  And it worked. When I realized my mind was far afield, I glanced back at the page and picked up where I had left off.  And I knew that what I was praying followed a biblical pattern.  I used this scriptural prayer for a few days, then I wrote out another one, Ephesians 1:15-21.

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In recent weeks I have also used 2 Timothy 2:25, Psalm 23, and the first and last sentences from Deborah and Barak’s song in Judges 5, which I paraphrased as, Help me to lead, and the people to willingly offer themselves, and we will bless the Lord.  Let those who love you be like the sun when it comes out in full strength. These prayers have helped me know how to pray, to keep from being distracted, and when I do find my mind elsewhere, to bring my thoughts back to my communion with the Lord. Because I have them in my journal, I can go back to them whenever I want, and can continually add new ones as I come across them or search them out in Scripture.

I experience other hindrances to prayer, but distraction is a big one, and this simple practice has helped. Maybe it will benefit you too.  We all need help praying.

10 Reasons to Move Out of the Country

Paul traveled to foreign cities, telling the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners everywhere he went.  He supported himself by making tents (Acts 18:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 2:9).  This model for self-supporting Gospel work has become known as “tentmaking.”  I encourage you to consider it, whether you are called to vocational mission work or you are a Christian who has a job, career, or profession that might allow you to work out of the country.  (I am primarily addressing US citizens, but the concept applies to others as well).

In a recent message, I presented 10 reasons why Christians should consider moving out of the country to a gospel-starved area, working to support themselves while having Gospel impact on the people around them.  The globalization of business, education, and medicine, and the possibility of working from anywhere with a high-speed Internet connection has greatly increased the opportunities for this.  If you haven’t heard the message, please listen to it here.  The main points are reproduced below without comment.  I have borrowed from various sources, including Worldwide Tentmakers and Globalopps.org.

Here are 10 reasons to consider the tentmaking model:

  1. Build relationships with people who are far from God.
  2. Establish the credibility of Christianity.
  3. Give people opportunity to see and know a Christian firsthand.
  4. Conserve missions funds for those who can’t go without support.
  5. Make Christ known in places where mission work is restricted.
  6. Overcome resistance with love.
  7. Maximize the portability of your occupation or profession.
  8. Help existing Gospel work.
  9. Use your skills for a Kingdom purpose.
  10. Experience the ultimate in adventure and fulfillment.

Butterflies Aren’t In the Bible. Wait . . .

They aren’t named in the Bible. I wonder why. They’re so beautiful and graceful.  It seems like Jesus would have pointed during one of His outdoor teaching sessions and said, “Behold, the butterfly . . .” and used it to illustrate some profound truth.  But butterflies aren’t in the Bible.

But wait!  Think with me for a minute. Consider the Monarch butterfly.  A tiny, cream-colored egg the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen is attached to the underside of a milkweed leaf.  After a few days, an unbelievably small yellow, black, and white striped caterpillar emerges from the egg.

It eats the milkweed leaves and grows to about two inches long.  Then it hangs from a stem or branch by its hindmost feet, head downward, and firmly attaches itself with thread.  The skin splits and falls off, and the pale green naked blob soon hardens into a porcelain-like case with black and gold jewels circling the edge.

A couple of weeks later, the case (“chrysalis”) cracks open and a wet droopy form pushes its way out, an unsightly mass of black and orange crumpled wings and groping, gangly legs.  Soon the wings become velvety smooth, looking freshly painted in dusky orange and deep black with little white accents, its body perfectly designed for a new way of life.

Monarch on our Butterfly Bush  10.5.14
Monarch on our Butterfly Bush 10.5.14

The unsightly caterpillar, its range of movement restricted to a few square feet, becomes a Monarch butterfly that will spend the rest of its life as a living miracle, flying above the earth, venturing as far as Mexico on its migratory path.

The name for this radical change is metamorphosis.  This creature’s life cycle is a picture of the biblical concept of transformation.  In fact, the Greek word metamorphoo (-phoo is pronounced fa-o) is used twice in the Bible.  In these two verses, it is translated with the word, “transformed.”

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  (Romans 12:2)

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.       (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Both these verses are talking about the change that takes place in us when we believe in Jesus Christ and grow to be like Him.

An immediate transformation happens when we are saved.  This is the new birth (John 3:1-17) when we become new creatures in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).  A full and final transformation will occur when believers are raised from the dead and God gives us the capacity to experience and enjoy His presence forever (1 Corinthians 15:51-54; Philippians 3:20-21).

But Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18, the ones that use the word metamorphoo, are talking about ongoing transformation, the growth and change we experience in this life after we are saved and before we go to heaven.  If you are a Christian, you have the capacity to be an entirely new person at every level, including your deepest motivations and passions, your thoughts, your attitudes, and your behavior.

The caterpillar, or “pupa” as it is called at that stage, spends about two weeks in the chrysalis.  During that time the cells from the homely, earthbound caterpillar are being reformulated to produce the body, legs, wings, antennae, and other components of the butterfly.

In the same way, you spend the years of your life after you are saved being “transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).  God is at work in you, changing you into a reflection of His own image, something glorious.  It happens over time, through circumstances, as you respond to His Word and His work in you.

Paul says in Romans 12:2 to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  This means you have a part in this process, by allowing your thoughts and motives and attitudes to be shaped by an outside force, that force being God’s Spirit speaking through His Word rather than the world around you.

And one day the process will be finished, the waiting will be over, and you will leave the dark, confining, yet in some ways beautiful, chrysalis of this life, and you will be fully and finally transformed.

You will have “a body like His glorious body”(Philippians 3:21) and you will “know just as (you are) known” (1 Corinthians 15:12) and “there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying . . . no more pain, for the former things have passed away” because the One who sits on the throne “makes all things new” (Revelation 21:4-5) and you “will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

I’ve searched, and I can’t find any butterflies in the Bible.  But I’ve found transformation in the Bible!  You can too.