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Do you feel uncomfortable praying out loud? In front of people? I know many people who do. Fear of public speaking is one thing, but when the public speaking is a prayer, isn’t that even harder? Some people will do all that they can to avoid it, but when you have been asked directly to do so, it seems a little awkward, and unspiritual, to say no. Once you start praying, feeling self-conscious will only make it harder to find the right words, thus making you feel more inadequate. It’s a vicious cycle.

The truth is, we often have similar problems even when we are praying quietly by ourselves. We know that we should pray, but we’re not quite sure just how, nor about what specifically. We still have trouble finding the words. If we have just been diagnosed with a serious illness, or we are having financial or relationship difficulties, or if any of those things are happening to a loved one, what do we ask God for? Do we ask for healing or resolutions? Do we ask that we would become more like Christ through the trial? Do we ask that God’s will would be done? As humans, we don’t get to see the big picture. We don’t know all the details of what God’s plan entails. We don’t know the end from the beginning. We don’t always know what’s best for us. We only know that we want help right now.

The good news is that God understands how we feel. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He has promised us that when we don’t know what to say, what to ask for, the Holy Spirit is here to help. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that the Spirit not only steps in to help us communicate with God in a way that is beyond our understanding, but also that it is always in accordance with God’s will. Since the Spirit and the Father are one, the Spirit always knows the right thing to ask for.

But we don’t get off the hook completely. Verse 26 says that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. It doesn’t say that the Spirit sees that we can’t do it, or don’t want to do it, so He steps up and takes over. No, the word translated as helps is used only in one other place in the New Testament, and that is in Luke 10:40 when Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Martha wasn’t planning to quit and make Mary take over the meal preparation; she just wanted a little assistance. The Holy Spirit is not going to do our praying for us either. We need to start. We need to try. We need to express our prayerful thoughts the best way we know how. But, whether we are praying alone or in front of others, we can ask the Spirit to help us, and He will.

The phrase, “where two or three are gathered” is one that is often used in Christian circles, and therefore probably qualifies as Christianese. What is usually said is something like: where two or three are gathered, God will answer their prayer. Sometimes it is actually quoted as it appears in one version or another of Matthew 18:19-20, but it is almost always used out of context. The context is found in the paragraphs that surround it. These verses appear between the two passages that I have discussed in the last two weeks.

On October 16, 2013 I discussed the issue of church discipline, and the steps to restoring a fellow believer who has sinned in a way that is serious enough to adversely affect someone’s relationship with God. On October 23, 2013, I talked about forgiveness, and how often we need to forgive others who have sinned against us. These two passages seem to follow each other quite logically, but then there are these two verses in the middle that for some reason are thought to mean that God will give us whatever we ask for in prayer, as long as someone agrees with us.

The context of Matthew 18:19-20 is how to respond to the issue of church discipline. Matthew 18:18 links these two verses with Matthew 18:15-17. Jesus is saying that if we follow the guidelines that He has set out, if we are in communion with Him through prayer, and through reading His Word, and if we agree with others in the church (no matter how many that is), we will make decisions that are in keeping with His will. He was preparing His disciples, and that includes us, to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) on Earth, to represent Him after He returned to heaven.

To be clear, we do not need to have someone agree with us in prayer for God to hear our requests. Jesus often prayed alone. Were His prayers ineffective because no one was with there to agree with Him? As a matter of fact His disciples could not even stay awake while He prayed. (Matthew 26:40) He invites us to come boldly before the throne of grace to receive mercy in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16) He does not stipulate that we must bring a friend or two when we approach the throne, so that our prayers will be heard. Jesus also suggests that we should not make a show of our prayers, but that we should pray alone in our closets (Matthew 6:6, May 1, 2013). Would He say that if He knew those prayers would be ineffectual? No; Jesus welcomes our prayers, any time, anywhere and with anyone.


After Jesus counsels His disciples not to make a big show of their prayers (Matthew 6:5-6) and not to babble on endlessly without actually saying anything new, (Matthew 6:7-8) He gave them an example to follow. Most of us know this example as “The Lord’s Prayer”, but it would be more accurately called “The Disciples’ Prayer” or “The Model Prayer”. It was not something that Jesus would have prayed, not completely anyway, since He had no need to ask forgiveness, and He didn’t seem too concerned about being able to find food. (Matthew 16:5-12) The prayer is an example for us to follow, so that our focus is in the right place—on God, and not only on ourselves.

Let’s take a closer look. (Matthew 6:9-13)

  • First notice that the pronouns are in the first person plural form—our, us, we—indicating that this is a model for all of us to follow.
  • The prayer starts by acknowledging God as our Father. (Matthew 6:9) The term that is used was much more intimate than the Jews would have commonly used before Jesus came. It establishes a loving relationship, but by adding “in heaven” it also acknowledges God’s sovereignty and majesty.
  • After addressing God, the prayer gives honour to Him. (Matthew 6:9) “Honour” is the very word used in the NET version; most other versions use the word “hallowed”, which has been carried over since the time of King James. “Hallowed” means honoured as holy, revered or respected.
  • Then the prayer welcomes God’s kingdom to reign on earth, so that His will would be done. In this way, we acknowledge that His ways are better than our ways, and we will put our trust in Him. (Matthew 6:10)
  • We are halfway through this model prayer before we get to any petitions to meet our own needs. But God is willing to listen to our requests, and Jesus invites us to make them. Notice though, that asking for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11) focuses on our short term needs rather than on long-term provisions and desires that would tend to give us a false security in worldly possessions.
  • The word “debts” (Matthew 6:12) refers to our sins against God. Yes, Jesus has already paid the price for our sins, and we accept the gift of forgiveness at the time of salvation, but to continue to ask forgiveness keeps us in a right relationship with God. It is understood that we will have already forgiven those who have sinned against us, before we ask God’s forgiveness of ours. The reason why is clarified in Matthew 6:14-15.
  • We know that God does not tempt us, (James 1:13) but He knows that Satan will. Matthew 6:13 is a request for protection from the evil one. God has promised that He will provide a way out when we face trials. (I Corinthians 10:13) It would be wise for us to ask God to help us see it.
  • The closing of the prayer, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” is only included in a few versions. It is almost certainly not a part of the original text of Matthew, but one shouldn’t worry about including it in a worshipful repetition of the prayer. To seek to give God the power and the glory is a worthy goal.

Considering that only two verses before this passage, Jesus told His disciples not to use vain repetitions (Matthew 6:7-8), I am sure that Jesus did not intend for us to thoughtlessly recite this model prayer by rote. Not discounting the value of repeating it as an act of thoughtful worship, I believe Jesus wanted us to use this prayer as a pattern. Follow the principles it teaches by example, but use your own words. Express your own heart. Jesus wants our worship of God our Father to be sincere, not forced. Put Him first, attempt through your life to bring Him glory, and feel confident that you can also bring Him your requests. As a holy God, He is worthy of our worship. As a loving Father, He wants to be our provider. This prayer shows us that He is both.


Do you ever wonder if your prayers are too short? If you don’t pray enough? Do you especially wonder that when you are asked to pray out loud? Do you try to add some extra words, or particular words, so you sound more righteous or more devoted? Last week we talked about praying in solitude, but also that God is not against public prayer. There are times when it is necessary and beneficial. But the good motives we need for praying in solitude should not change when we are called on to pray in public. We should still be focused on God, and not on how good we sound to our audience. We should think of God as our audience even if many others can hear us.

The verses immediately following last week’s passage (Matthew 6:7-8) tell us not to babble repetitiously. Some have taken this to mean that we should only pray for something once, but that would contradict other scripture such as the parable of the persistent widow. (Luke 18:1-8) Others wonder why we should pray at all. Doesn’t God know everything we need before we need it? Yes, but it is important to understand the purpose of prayer. Prayer gives God permission to act in our lives. Choosing to follow God is a matter of our free will; He will not force Himself on us. By praying, we acknowledge that He is all-powerful and that we are placing our trust in Him, rather than depending on our own strength. God does not mind if we do that more than once. I Thessalonians 5:17 suggests that we should do it constantly.

So what does Jesus mean when he tells His disciples, and by extension us, not to babble repetitiously? I think that the word to focus on here is “babble” rather than “repetitiously”. Babble is onomatopoeic. Onomatiopoeia is the use of words that sound like what they mean. Babble is repetitive sounds that are incomprehensible; they have very little, if any, meaning. The King James Version says, “use not vain repetitions”. Purposeful repetitions are a different matter. Repetitions that focus on God, His glory and power, rather than whether we sound righteous and devoted, will not be objectionable. God invites us to come boldly when we need grace or mercy. (Hebrews 4:16) Speak to Him honestly and forthrightly, and do not be afraid to do so often.


Do you “say grace”? Ask the blessing? Give thanks for your food before you eat? Do you do it when you go out to eat in restaurants? What is your reason for doing so? Do you feel pressured by the people with whom you are dining? Do you feel like you are denying Christ if you do not pray before you eat in a public place? Even if the server is waiting to set down your plate while your bowed head is in the way? In Matthew 6:5, Jesus warns His disciples not to be like the hypocrites who like to make a big show of their prayers.

In Matthew 6:6, He tells them that they should pray in a private place. The King James Version uses the term closet, and there are still people who talk about praying in their prayer closet. The word in the original language referred to a room that was separated or partitioned off from the living quarters. The people who were listening to Jesus would have probably thought storeroom. Some people today make themselves a prayer closet that is set aside for that purpose only, which may actually defeat the purpose of Jesus’ instruction if others know where it is and when you are in it. The point is to pray when it is just you and God involved in the conversation. Christ went to a mountain, (Mark 6:46) to the wilderness, (Luke 5:16) as well as to a quiet place in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36) when He wanted to speak to His Father. The reason He recommends this solitude is so that you won’t be distracted by others, you won’t be trying to impress others, and you won’t be inhibited about talking to God frankly and honestly. If you take the time to talk to God as your Father, rather than as a performance for other church folk, or unchurched folk, your prayers will be more sincere.

That is not to say that God is against public prayer. Other passages in the New Testament clearly show that it was accepted practice in the gatherings of Christ’s followers. (Acts 2:42, Acts 12:12, Acts 13:3, Acts 14:23, Acts 20:36) Christ Himself gave thanks for food in front of thousands of people. (John 6:11) What concerned Jesus in Matthew 6:5-6 was the condition of His disciples’ hearts. He didn’t want them to be influenced by the religious leaders whose actions may seem pious, but whose motives were less pure. Because they were the teachers of the law, the ones who were supposed to have the answers, people were apt to trust them and follow them, but their hearts were focused on the wrong things. That can just as easily happen today. I used to teach in a Christian school where the rules and dress code were strict. The students spent so much time pushing the rules to the very limit, that they completely missed the point of them. So much time was spent focusing on the external that the internal was neglected. God wants us to spend time with Him alone, so that we can know Him and learn to depend on Him, and so that we can become holy from the inside out.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? This is a question that I happened to see on a Facebook page recently. The three most popular answers seemed to be:
1. Make coffee
2. Check my phone
3. Pray
Your need for coffee aside, which would you do? Are you more likely to check your phone for messages from friends, colleagues, clients and possibly strangers? Or do you take a few minutes to go to God first? A healthy relationship requires regular and honest communication; without it, the relationship suffers. We spend our time on the relationships that mean the most to us.

David, the psalmist, didn’t have the benefit (distraction?) of a smartphone, so perhaps his choice was easier: he went to God first. David made a habit of going to God regularly, not just when he wanted to extend a desperate plea for help. And although he often asked for help and protection from his enemies, he also praised God for His goodness and faithfulness. The pattern of his psalms often goes from complaint to praise.

Psalm 5 is one of David’s morning prayers. In this Psalm, he starts by asking God to hear and consider his prayer. He doesn’t tell God what to do, but presents his case and waits expectantly for God to answer. (Psalm 5:3) We can see that David is confident that God will not only hear his prayer, but also answer it according to His character. David knows that God is a God of love and mercy, but He is also a God of justice, and David appeals to God to protect him from his enemies. (Psalm 5:4-6, Psalm 5:10) David asks for God’s guidance through whatever obstacles he must face, (Psalm 5:8) and he also asks for God’s blessing. (Psalm 5:11-12) Even though David is asking for God’s favour toward him, so that his life will be safer and better, David approaches God with reverence and praise—honest, but respectful communication.

When you get up tomorrow morning, who will you go to first? How do you suppose your choice will affect the remainder of your day?

In last week’s post I talked about the greatest love that one person can have for another, and that we are commanded to have that kind of love. Love can be commanded because it is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling, but an act of the will. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be easier with the warm, fuzzy feelings, but we are nevertheless commanded to love. How can we do it if we don’t feel it?

The answer is found in verses that precede last week’s passage, John 15:4-5. It is simple and complex all at the same time: abide. That is the word used in many translations. Many others, including the NET Bible (the version you see when you scroll over a reference in this blog) use the word remain. Remain is used 12 times within verses 4-16. (John 15:1-17) Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4) We cannot bear fruit unless we remain in Him. That does not mean that we are completely helpless. There are a lot of people in this world who do not acknowledge Jesus at all, but who still manage to function. Some are quite successful. But nothing we do will have lasting spiritual value, eternal value, if we do not abide in Him.

How do we abide, remain, in Jesus? John 15:7 gives us the clue: if His words remain in us. The best way for us to remain in Jesus is through scripture reading and prayer, prayer that includes taking time to listen and allowing the Lord to speak to our hearts. Any strong relationship requires time and attention, not just a quick hello (or call for help) now and then. It is by building this close connection that we will bear much fruit--accomplish deeds of eternal spiritual value--and bring honour to our Heavenly Father. (John 15:8)


How many of you had pancakes for supper yesterday? According to Facebook status updates, a lot of my friends did. They all seemed to enjoy eating the pancakes, and the annual societal permission to have breakfast for supper, but I’m not sure that all of them really understand the reason for Pancake Tuesday, nor the significance of Ash Wednesday which is today.

Neither Pancake Tuesday nor Ash Wednesday is mentioned in the Bible. Ash Wednesday begins the period of Lent, which is the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. Lent was originally a time of fasting for the purpose prayer, self-examination and repentance. It is representative of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. (Luke 4:1-13) Pancake Tuesday started for practical reasons. If parishioners had to give up certain things for 40 days including, butter, milk and eggs, they would see to it that they didn’t go to waste. The making of pancakes would use those things up. Somehow something is lost these days when you make your pancakes by adding water to the powder from a box.

On Ash Wednesday, penitents in some faiths have a cross drawn with ash placed on their foreheads by the priest. The ashes are created by burning the palms from Palm Sunday of the previous year. All very symbolic, and based on the way that people expressed repentance and grief in the Bible. (II Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 42:5-6, Matthew 11:21) But like a lot of traditions, sometimes the symbolism stays even though the reasons for it have been lost.

The true spirit of humility that is supposed to be represented by fasting in sackcloth and ashes is well demonstrated by Daniel. (Daniel 9:3) Daniel prayed on behalf of Jerusalem for forgiveness of sins he did not commit, and for mercy from God towards the city. (Daniel 9:4-19) Daniel knew that the restoration of the city of Jerusalem depended solely on God’s grace and mercy, and not on anything that the people could do. Putting ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday also symbolizes this humility, but it means nothing if that humility is not truly in your heart.


Today's post was written by Tim Challies, an author and pastor. You can visit his website here.

Acts 12 contains one of my favorite stories of the early church. It is a great little bit of writing—a short story in three acts. I was reflecting on that story recently and just had to tell you about it.

The chapter begins with a description of Herod’s persecution against the church. In order to please his Jewish subjects Herod has James arrested and killed. This makes his subjects so happy that he then goes after Peter, throwing him in prison as well. Knowing the popularity of these upstart Christians, Herod puts Peter under the care of four whole squads of soldiers. The first act ends with these words: “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” This earnest prayer is no incidental detail; it is a little fact, some narrative tension, that the author offers to foreshadow what will come.

The second act tells how Peter is delivered by God through one his angels. Peter, half asleep, sees his chains fall off and quickly passes all the guards before waking up and realizing what is happening. He hurries quickly to the church, to the gathering of people who just happen to be praying for him at that very moment. There is a delightful bit of comedy injected into the text when Rhoda, the servant girl, so excited to hear Peter at the door, runs to tell everyone that he has arrived. But she forgets to let him in; he is left standing on the street, pounding at the door. With the prayer meeting coming to a prompt end, the people belittle Rhoda, refusing to believe that Peter has actually arrived. And yet, because of Peter’s persistent knocking, they soon come to realize that he really has been rescued. Peter quickly tells his story and then disappears, presumably opting to lay low for a little while.

In the third act we return to Herod. Herod has ordered the execution of the soldiers who allowed Peter to escape. And then we find him accepting worship as a god. His Creator is most displeased and strikes him down so “he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” Herod bookends this story, appearing as a cruel tyrant at the beginning and as a pathetic worm-eaten corpse at the end. He has gone from holding the power of life and death in his hand to being struck down by the Lord himself. It’s a pathetic end to a pathetic ruler.

Acts 12 contains a great little story, a little vignette of life in the early church. Despite the miraculous (Peter being rescued, Herod being struck down) there is such a human element to it. We see the church in prayer, undoubtedly begging God for the life of their friend and pastor. Yet when God answers their earnest prayers, they refuse to believe it. “You are out of your mind,” they tell Rhoda when she insists that God has answered them. Two thousand years later we laugh at them, wondering why they would bother to pray if they didn’t believe that God might actually answer. And then we realize that we do little better; we realize how much effort we put into pleading for God to act and how little effort we put into seeking answers to those prayers. I trust the lesson was not lost on the early church. I trust they learned from it that God’s miraculous rescue of Peter was not in any way separate from their prayers. Those prayers, even though they were offered with little expectation of an answer, were instrumental in God rescuing Peter from his imprisonment. God answers prayer, even when we ask with little faith.

It is also worth noticing that as soon as Peter arrived he was sure to share all that God had done. Peter, the object of all those prayers, wanted to ensure that the church knew that it was God who had acted with such power and in such an unusual way. “He described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Tell these things to James and to the brothers.’” He wanted this great act of God to encourage all of the believers.

The chapter closes with these familiar words: “the word of God increased and multiplied.” Have you ever noticed how often these words, or ones just like them, appear in Acts? Just a brief overview of the first chapters shows them in chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 12. In every case, Luke wants us to know that God continued to build his church. In times of joy and pain, times of peace and persecution, God built his church. All that God did was for his own glory and served his ultimate purpose of drawing a people to himself.

And this God, who acted so faithfully, so consistently, so powerfully, is the same God we serve today.


I’m a bit of an idealist, so I don’t like it when things go wrong, especially when bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it.  It’s one thing to deal with the consequences when you’ve made a mistake, but if you didn’t do anything wrong, it just seems so unfair.  Either way though, it is good to be able to call on God to rescue you.

Do you ever wonder if God really hears you when you pray?  Sometimes we feel like the pain, frustration and struggles will go on forever.  He says that He has a good plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11), but do you ever want to negotiate with Him?  Tell Him your side of the story?  Give Him your ideas for the plan?  I think that the Psalmist David must have felt that way when he wrote Psalm 13.  In the first two verses he asked “How long?” four times.  He felt ignored, anxious and threatened by his enemy.  We don’t know for sure, but he may have been running for his life at this point.  David didn’t end his psalm the same way he started it though.  He moved from complaint (Psalm 13:1-2) to prayer (Psalm 13:3-4) to praise (Psalm 13:5-6).

Philippians 4:6 tells us not to be anxious about anything, but with thankful hearts to present all of our requests to God.  This is what David did.  He asked the Lord to answer him, to revive him, and to save him, not only so that he would be saved, but so would the reputation of God’s name.

What caused David to turn from despair to praise?  Hope in God’s unfailing love and mercy.  David had faith that God was still God and would keep His covenant with him.  We must do the same when we face trials that have gone on so long that we think they will go on forever.  When we have lost our joy and our hope, we must cling to our faith.  We must remember that God is God and more importantly that we are not.  Even when we don’t understand what He is doing, we must believe that He does.  We know that He understands every trial that we go through (Hebrews 4:14-16), that He will not give us more trials than we are able to bear (I Corinthians 10:13) and that He longs to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11).  Think back on how God has brought you through trials before.  He will again.