Time to Pray

by Bruce Okkema

But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:15-16

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” Luke 6:12

When I examine my life as to whether I am spending enough time in prayer, I have yet to be able to say that I am. Even when I devote a lot of time to this, it seems I can always do more. Is this true for you as well?

Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer everyday as we read in many accounts throughout the gospels. As a faithful Jewish man, he would have prayed the full Shema1 twice every day, as well as the “Amidah” or “18 Benedictions”2 at the very least. If you try this yourself, you might be surprised at how long it takes, but you will begin to realize why this was done.

Perhaps you do want to pray more, but you just can’t think of any new ways to make your prayer life deeper. You are not alone, there are many people who feel this way and as long as you make a commitment to do something about it, you can be encouraged that there are many places to turn for help.

The best place to start, is to pray specifically for God’s help in improving your prayer life. It is almost certain you will get a positive answer; can you imagine that the Lord would not help you in this? You can also begin using scripture as a guide for your prayers. Study some of the great prayers of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, Peter … praying them for yourself. Also, look at any Christian bookstore and you will find many books on prayer with good ideas about where to start and suggestions on methods to use.

Of course the difference is not made by the quantity of time you spend in prayer or about a particular method you use, but rather your sincerity in doing it. Try to follow Jesus’ example of praying often and praying long. You will find that that more time you spend in prayer, the more time you will want to spend in prayer.

(1) See the English Translation of the text of the full Shema
(2) ”The Amidah Prayer: A New Translation” by David Bivin

Salvation with Fear

by Lois Tverberg

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13

The sentence above from Paul’s letter catches many Christians off guard. It appears to say that we should be in perpetual worry about our salvation, and that salvation is something to be earned. Yet, we are taught throughout scripture that salvation comes through faith in God. Two Hebraic concepts that Paul might have had in mind may shed some light on this verse:

First, in Hebraic understanding, salvation begins during our lives, it is not just something after death. Someone who is not saved is estranged from the family of God — wandering from the flock — “lost.” Salvation comes through restoring a relationship with God the Father by believing in the atoning work of his Son; it is to be rescued from a life separated from God.

Reverent FigureIt is true that there are many places where the scriptures speak of salvation in the future, in terms of being saved from judgment. But it began the moment we repented and believed in Christ. As Paul says, “By grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:5, 8), using the past tense, not the future tense. In that sense, our salvation has already happened, and we are new creatures!

The second concept in the background of Paul’s saying is the concept of “the fear of the Lord” (yir’at adonai). This is an often-used phrase of the scriptures which means an awe and reverence of God that causes us to want to do his will. It does mean to respect God, who will discipline those whom he loves (Revelation 3:19). But the emphasis is on a positive, respectful relationship with God, not in terms of being terrified by him.

If having a “fear” of the Lord causes us to live with integrity and wisdom about God’s ways, it will ultimately transform us. Paul was using the word “fear” in this sense — having awe and respect for the Lord. He is exhorting us to live new (eternal) lives in obedient relationship with God, so that we can see him working out his plans to redeem every aspect of our lives. We may be looking forward to a future in heaven, but we should be enjoying the richness of our relationship with the Lord on this earth as well.

See also the Director’s Article, “Does God Want Us to Fear Him?”. Also useful is Listening to the Language of the Bible, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004, pp. 7-8. The book contains many other word & culture study articles like this one.

Photo: United States Coast Guard

Wisdom for Good Years

by Lois Tverberg

Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land. Let Pharaoh exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance. Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine.
– Genesis 41:29-30, 34, 36

When God told Pharaoh through his dreams that there would be seven years of record crops followed by seven years of famine, he was giving him an enormous gift of insight into the future. With that warning, he was able to save the lives of his countrymen, as well as those in the surrounding region.

Wisdom in good YearsIn the past few years, many of us wished that God would have given us Pharoah’s dreams of warning about the future. In the late 1990’s the U.S. experienced a business boom and record stock highs, but since 2001, especially after September 11, we have experienced a severe recession that still is with us. Many of us lost retirement savings in the stock market, or lost a job or had a businesses fail. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if God would have warned us ahead of time? We can see the great wisdom that Joseph gave Pharoah about saving from the coming abundance for times of hardship. In these past years, many of us have re-learned this lesson, and now make our decisions with money based on an assumption that times may change for the worse.

Wisdom for good yearsWhile most know the truth of this economically, we should also think about this idea of “storing up a harvest” in times of abundance in other ways. We also should consider our relationships and our faith in God. Do we realize that our children will grow up and leave home, our friends may move away, and our parents will die someday? Do we know that it is almost inevitable that we will go through times of discouragement and a struggle for faith?

When we think ahead toward these potential hard times, it reminds us not to neglect to “store up” what we will need to be sustained when the need doesn’t seem so pressing. We need to grow relationships in our family and friends that can weather both good times and bad. And we need to grow our roots of faith in God deep enough so that they can sustain us in dry times too. Soon or later the dry times will come, and it is only what we have stored up that will sustain us then.

Photo: Pushkarv and Stephen Morrison/AusAID