Make Prayer A Priority

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‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ Acts 6:4 NKJV

In Disciplines of a Godly Man, pastor and author R. Kent Hughes says: ‘Jay Sidlow Baxter once shared a page from his own personal diary with a group of pastors who had inquired about the discipline of prayer. He began telling how… he entered the ministry determined he would be a real man of prayer. However, it wasn’t long before his increasing responsibilities, administrative duties, and the subtle subterfuges of pastoral life began to crowd prayer out. Moreover, he began to get used to it, making excuses for himself. Then one morning it all came to a head as he stood over his work-strewn desk and looked at his watch. The voice of the Spirit was calling him to pray. At the same time another velvety voice was telling him to be practical and get his letters answered, and that he ought to face the fact that he wasn’t one of the “spiritual sort”—only a few people could be like that. “That last remark,” says Baxter, “hurt like a dagger blade. I couldn’t bear to think it was true.” He was horrified by his ability to rationalize away the very ground of his ministerial vitality and power.’ Understand this: minutes invested in prayer will give you a greater return than hours spent in ceaseless activity. The New Testament apostles understood that. As the church grew bigger and they became busier, they made a life-changing decision: ‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ As a result, the church grew and multiplied. So, make prayer a priority!

Give God Your Best

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‘I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.’ 2 Samuel 24:24 NLT

Instead of trusting God for victory over his enemies, David decided of his own volition to count the number of troops in his army to see how strong he was. God considered it ‘a slap in the face’, and a plague hit Israel that wiped out seventy thousand people. In order to stop the plague, David was told: ‘Build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’ (2 Samuel 24:18 NLT) When Araunah realized what was happening, he offered his threshing floor and oxen to David free of charge. But David said: ‘“No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.” So, David paid him fifty pieces of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen. David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord answered his prayer… and the plague on Israel was stopped.’(2 Samuel 24:24–25 NLT) The old Anglo-Saxon word for worship is worth-ship, which is the act of ascribing worth or value to a person or object. What’s the point? It’s this: when it comes to serving God, if it doesn’t cost—it doesn’t count! God knows we can’t all give the same amount. But what He’s asking for isn’t equal giving, but equal sacrifice! The Bible says, ‘Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything.’(Proverbs 3:9 NLT) So, whether you’re worshipping, serving, or giving, make sure you’re giving God your best.

Take Better Care Of Your Body

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‘Honour God with your body.’ 1 Corinthians 6:20 NLT

To get the most out of the time God has given you on earth, you may need to get into better shape physically. The Bible says, ‘Honour God with your body.’

How do you do that?

(1) Change your diet. Many of us eat for the wrong reasons—like stress, boredom, fatigue, anger, depression, and low self-esteem. Try to get to the root of your problem. Insufficient fruit, vegetables, and fiber, and too much fast food can wreak havoc with your health. Practice self-control. ‘Those who belong to Christ… have given up their old selfish feelings and the evil things they wanted to do.’ (Galatians 5:24 NCV)

(2) Start exercising. The secret is to start slowly. Take the stairs instead of the lift, park your car and walk, play ball with your kids instead of watching TV. God designed your body to move, and that doesn’t mean strolling from your car to your desk every morning. Exercising three times a week for thirty minutes will reduce your blood pressure and stress, and boost your sense of well-being. Come on, get with it!

(3) Go to bed earlier. Pastor Tony Jenkins consulted his doctor about his wife’s snoring. ‘Does it really bother you that much?’ the doctor asked. ‘It’s not just me,’ Jenkins replied. ‘It’s bothering the whole congregation!’ Seriously, you require eight hours of shut-eye. You can probably get by on less, but do you want to just ‘get by’? The psalmist said, ‘It is no use for you to get up early and stay up late… The Lord gives sleep to those He loves.’(Psalm 127:2 NCV) So, turn off the TV and the computer and turn in at a reasonable hour. The word for you today is: take better care of your body!

Doodlebugs and Gossips

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‘The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles.’ Proverbs 18:8 NKJV

The doodlebug lives at the bottom of a little cone-shaped hole that he burrows in the sand. He gets down as low as possible so he’s always looking up at everything else. When the ant comes around and gets on the side of this carefully prepared cone, the doodlebug feels a few grains of sand slide down, which signals to him that ‘food’ is up there. At that point he begins to throw dirt on his victim. What he’s trying to do is drag the ant down to his level. And that’s what we do when we gossip. We throw dirt on others, hoping to bring them down to our level. It’s why Solomon warned: ‘The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body.’

The ear craves gossip like a hungry stomach craves food. Solomon goes on to give this warning: ‘He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips.’(Proverbs 20:19 NKJV) So, if you have gossipy lips or greedy ears, God says, ‘Don’t do it!’ Here’s something you may not have considered: while you can never be known and judged by what others say about you, you can be known and judged by what you say about them. In most cases it’s illegal to steal or receive stolen goods. That’s why the apostle Paul admonished, ‘Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.’ (1 Timothy 5:19 NKJV) And one more thought: a gossip must always have an accomplice to commit the crime. So, the word for you today is: don’t receive or repeat gossip.

Secrets of Self-Control (7)

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‘Let the Spirit direct your lives.’ Galatians 5:16 GNT

Depend on Christ’s power to help you. ‘Let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature.’ The sequence in this Scripture is very important. ‘Let the Spirit direct your life’—that’s the first part—‘and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature.’ Notice, it doesn’t say you won’t have those desires. Spirit-filled people still experience the desires of the flesh, it’s just that they won’t satisfy them. We usually get the sequence backward. We say, ‘I’m not good enough to have God’s Spirit in my life. Once I get my act together, then I’m going to let the Holy Spirit control my life.’

God doesn’t say, ‘Get your act together and then I will help you.’ He says, ‘Let my Holy Spirit control you while you are still struggling with the problem. I will help you change.’ The sequence makes all the difference. You wouldn’t say, ‘I’m going to get well first, then I’m going to go see the doctor.’ That’s absurd! You need Christ in your life now! He has the power to help you change. You say, ‘But I enjoy doing what I do.’ That’s because there are ‘pleasures of sin for a season.’ (Hebrews 11:25 KJV) None of us would sin if it immediately made us miserable. Don’t look for God to nullify the appeal of sin; ask Him for the power to overcome its appeal. ‘For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey Him, and then helping you do what He wants.’ (Philippians 2:13 TLB) You’ll receive the desire and the power to do what’s right.

Secrets of Self-Control (6)

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‘Don’t give the devil a chance.’ Ephesians 4:27 GNT

Avoid the things that tempt you. Stay away from situations that weaken your self-control. If you do not want to be stung, stay away from bees. Plan in advance to avoid situations that you know are going to cause temptation in your life. Don’t keep chocolate in the cupboard if you are trying to diet. Don’t acquire credit cards if you are an impulse spender. Get rid of your access to pornography if you are struggling with it. If you are a teenager, the time to begin thinking about self-control is not when you’re in the back seat of a car with someone who turns you on.

Question: what do you need to avoid? Or get rid of? Magazines? Books? DVDs? A relationship? The Bible says, ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV) Avoid people and situations that tempt you. You may need to change your job because a relationship there is wrong and harmful to you. That’s a drastic measure, but you may need to do something that drastic in order to avoid whatever is tempting you at this particular time. If you have lived through years of repeated failure, then it’s time to get honest. And humble. It’s time to pray: ‘Lord, I’m not strong enough to resist this temptation by myself. Help me!’ And He will! ‘I patiently waited, Lord, for You to hear my prayer. You listened and pulled me from a lonely pit full of mud and mire. You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm… Many will see this, and they will honor and trust You, the Lord God.’ (Psalm 40:1–3 CEV)

Secrets of self-control (5)

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‘Share each other’s burdens.’ Galatians 6:2 NLT

Make yourself accountable to someone. Alcoholics Anonymous has a ‘buddy system’ in which you are encouraged to call someone whenever you feel the pressure building to return to an old, destructive pattern. And it’s Scriptural: ‘Share each other’s troubles.’ (Galatians 6:2 TLB) You may not like this step, but if you are fighting a losing battle you need it. Find someone who will check up on you, pray with you, and encourage you in areas where you want more self-control. ‘Two people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone.’ (Ecclesiastes 4:12 GNT) Every church needs ‘buddy’ relationships in which people are accountable to each other; relationships in which people encourage one another in the Lord. Having someone hold you accountable is tough, but it works. What should you look for in a ‘buddy’?

First, they should be the same gender as you. You don’t need to place another temptation in your path by sharing personal problems with someone of the opposite sex.

Second, you should look for someone you can depend on to follow through on this commitment—someone who is faithful.

Third, look for someone who will keep your problem confidential. Don’t choose someone who is known to talk too much.

Fourth, tell your buddy that he or she has permission to check up on you from time to time and ask, ‘How are you doing with your problem?’ Knowing that someone will be asking about your problem is an additional incentive not to give in to temptation. That may be the extra push you need to get you moving on the road to victory and self-control.

Secrets of Self-Control (4)

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‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ Philippians 4:13 NKJV

Start believing you can change. Your beliefs control your behavior. The way you think determines the way you feel. And when your feelings become strong enough, they determine the way you act. The person who says, ‘I can’t do it,’ and the person who says, ‘I can do it,’ are both right. Much of the time you set yourself up to be defeated by what you’re saying. Your words reinforce either your right or wrong belief system. Three times in the first epistle of Peter, God reminds us to be clear-minded and self-controlled. Why? Because a clear mind is essential to self-control. God gave us the power to change our habits when He gave us the power to choose our thoughts.

Does Romans 12:2 tell us to be transformed by working hard or by sheer willpower? No. What are we transformed by? The renewing of the mind. When your self-control is being tested, you need to fill your mind with the promises of God. Here’s one: ‘When you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.’ (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV) You must believe God when He says there’s ‘a way out’ for you. Paul writes, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ That means you can change, and you can be different. Stop setting yourself up for failure by constantly criticising yourself: ‘I’m no good. I simply have no control over my life.’ Nagging doesn’t work—on yourself or on anyone else! Instead say, ‘All things are possible to him who believes.’ (Mark 9:23 NAS) ‘And I believe.’

Secrets of Self-Control (3)

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‘The grace of God…offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness.’ Titus 2:11–12 NIV

Talk back to your feelings. We put far too much emphasis on our feelings. We think everything has to feel good or it’s not worthwhile. We say things like, ‘I don’t feel like studying… I don’t feel like working… I don’t feel like reading my Bible.’ Or, ‘I feel like having another drink… I feel like sleeping until noon.’ Don’t give your feelings so much authority. Feelings are highly unreliable; if you allow them, they will control and manipulate you.

God doesn’t want you to be controlled by your feelings. He wants you to master your moods. With Christ as the Master of your life, you can master your feelings. Talk back to them. God says He wants you to learn how to challenge your emotions. ‘The grace of God…teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.’ (Titus 2:11–12 NIV) God’s grace gives you the power to do what’s right. It gives you the ability to say no to that feeling, to that desire, to that impulse. Are you battling a weight problem? Before you ever walk into the kitchen and open the refrigerator door, you have already begun to talk to yourself about eating. If you are serious, you will have to challenge some of those subconscious attitudes about food. When you hear your mind saying, ‘I just have to have a snack or I’ll die,’ you have to say, ‘No, I’m not going to die. In fact, I will be healthier if I don’t have a snack.’ Bottom line: God’s supernatural power can help you to master your moods, thoughts, and desires.

Secrets of Self-Control (2)

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‘With the Lord’s help, they will stand.’ Romans 14:4 NLT

Put your past behind you. ‘One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal.’ (Philippians 3:13–14 NIV) This Scripture exposes a misconception that will keep you from gaining self-control: once a failure, always a failure! You may say, ‘Oh, I tried to quit my bad habit. In fact, I have tried over and over. I guess I’ll never be able to get control of this.’ That is a misconception. Paul says, ‘We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.’ (2 Corinthians 4:9 TLB)

Have you watched a baby learning to walk? They fall down a lot, but they don’t stay down. They keep on trying, and ultimately they succeed. How far do you think they’d get if they just gave up and said, ‘Some people were meant to be walkers, and some were not’? Failure in the past does not mean you’ll never be able to change. But focusing on past failures, however, does guarantee their repetition. It is like driving a car while looking in the rear-view mirror. You’re going to collide with what’s ahead of you. You have to put your past behind you. Few people had more failures than Thomas Edison, inventor of the electric light bulb. Most of us would have given up, but not him. He once said, ‘Don’t call it a failure, call it an education! Now I know what doesn’t work!’

When you realize sin doesn’t work, it’s a defining moment and your springboard to victory. A winner is simply someone who gets back up one more time than they fall down. So, the word for you today is: ‘With the Lord’s help, you will stand.’