Tag: prayer

9 unintended benefits of small group life

We all have an opinion on small group life. Some of us lean towards “small groups are amazing.” Some of lean towards “small groups are just plain difficult. And awkward.” Rarely is someone neutral when it comes to intentionally building spiritually-formative relationships with others.

I’ve been a part of life-giving small groups that I long to gather with week in and week out. Ones where I leave with more of Jesus than when I came. I’ve also been a part of groups that seem to suck the life right out of me. Ones where I give, but get nothing in return. (I think that has to do most prominently with small group dominators, but that’s another post for another day)

iStockPhoto, user: Noriko Cooper

iStockPhoto, user: Noriko Cooper

Healthy small groups teach us more than they often set out to teach. We are molded and changed in so many ways, because God uses others in mighty ways to make us more like Jesus. In fact, you can’t be like Jesus without others. It’s impossible. You can’t serve others, love others, be generous with one another, or accomplish any of the “one another” commands in Scripture by yourself.

9 unintended benefits of small group life

1. Not everybody thinks like you do, and that’s ok. (Tweet that)

Sometimes, our pride needs a swift body check. We need to run after a fly ball in center field and crash into the wall. We think we’re the only ones with a corner on the “right” answers, and we need subtle, and not-so-subtle, reminders that there are other ways to think.

2. Not everybody thinks like you do, and you can still love them them. 

Loving those who can, and will, love us back is barely love. Loving those who think and act differently than we do is more challenging, and takes more faith. It’s more risky and more difficult. Just because someone thinks differently doesn’t mean you can’t go out of your way to love them. Hanging around people that think like you do is more dangerous than living life with different people that stretch you.

3. Jesus followers can have fun. (Tweet that)

Maybe this post was written just so you’d read this benefit. If you’re a Jesus follower, please don’t check your humor and love of laughter, fun, and general frivolity at the door. After all, a cheerful heart is good medicine. (Proverbs 17:22)

4. People desperately need you.

You have gifts. You have a story. You have experiences. You have a living, breathing, active relationship with Jesus. And other people need you. God has created us to work interdependently, and though you may not have been valued for your contribution to the Church in the past, small group highlights the value you bring to the table. (1 Corinthians 4:12-31)

5. You desperately need people.

You may have gifts, but you don’t have them all. It becomes quickly and readily apparent in group life that others are wired and strengthened differently than you. Which is beautiful! No longer do you have to be all things to all people. You can be the you God created you to be, and lean in on others as they’re being who God created them to be.

6. Prayer works

Don’t believe me? Try it. Try asking for prayer. Try praying for someone else. God uses the prayers of the righteous to accomplish His work. (James 5:16)

7. The bible is living and active.

As you’re discussing the Scriptures week in and week out, you’ll find God speaking right into your story, as if the Bible were written just for you, where you’re at in life. He’ll speak through others in your group, using the Scriptures as the Truth you need to think, and live, differently. (Hebrews 4:12)

8. Confession brings healing. (Tweet that)

The more comfortable you grow with your group, the more you’ll be willing to be open and honest with your faults. As you confess, you’ll find healing. (James 5:16)

9. Dirty hands clean your heart. (Tweet that)

The more you love people, the dirtier your hands get. The more deeply you love others, the more likely it is you’ll get burned. Serving people well necessitates getting messy. Because people are messy. And the more you love, serve, and give generously of yourself, the more you begin to look like Jesus.

Are you in a group? Any other unintended benefits you’ve found?

 

Open-door decision making

When people are talking about what next step they should take, whether they should take a new job, buy a new house, or start a new relationship, they often talk about ‘open’ or ‘closed’ doors.

“I was going to get married to _____, but God closed that door.”

“I didn’t know what school I was going to go to, but God just kept opening doors to _____, so I just kept walking through them.”

Ever heard a statement like that?

image credit: Creative Commons user Documentarist

If the door is metaphorically closed, it’s like trying to get into Ft. Knox. Or like trying to get your cable guy to shrink the time frame of when he’ll show up to fix your problem. Forget it. You’re not getting through.

If the door is metaphorically open, it’s like a magical door opened with the help of magical elves. And if you walk through it, everything smells like a fresh rainbow.

There’s a problem that exists with the swinging door. And I’d like to propose a better way to know what your next step should be.

Here’s the problem: you’re depending on something that could just as easily be the work of the Devil himself as the work of God.

An open door doesn’t always mean you need to walk through it. Likewise, a closed door doesn’t always mean you need to stop. If the apostle Paul used this theory, he would’ve given up on the Galatians. And he would’ve never gone to Spain.

If Jesus would’ve relied on the “open door” to follow God’s will, he wouldn’t have gone to the cross. He walked through a “closed door” with confidence. (Luke 22:42-44)

Don’t depend on swinging doors in trying to determine your next step.

3 Things to Depend on in Decision-Making

Depend on God’s Word.

This is the one thing that we can depend on every time. If the Bible clearly instructs us on something, we should follow its teachings. If you’re trying to decide whether to murder someone or not, I’d say not…Exodus 20:13. If you’re trying to decide whether to take a job that will keep you from your family, think again. The Bible instructs us to make a priority out of our home. If the Bible has clearly instructed, you’ve found your first answer. Sometimes the Bible guides by specific directives…other times it’s by principles. But it’s always to be trusted.

Depend on prayer.

I’ve never prayed and, as a result, seen the heavens open up and drop me a note with the answer I was looking for. But I often get much clarity through prayer. That’s a great gift God gives through the Spirit when we depend on Him. When you depend on God, He honors that. And not necessarily in giving you the answer you want to hear. Often, His answer is, “Keep trusting me. I’ll reveal the next step you should take.” Depending on prayer is important, too, because we see that the heart of God is moved when we pray. Last time I checked, that was a big deal. (Exodus 32:11-14)

Depend on people who know and love you.

Don’t make decisions by yourself. Ultimately, the decision may be yours to make and yours to deal with the consequences, but it’s foolish to operate alone. You may have your best interest at heart, but it’s hard to see the best course of action to take because you’re zoomed in too closely to your own situation. Find a group of people (I believe these people are often found in small groups) who have your back, have your best interest at heart, and will encourage you to seek God’s best.

Don’t depend on your circumstances, though they inform. Don’t depend on past decisions, though they also inform. Don’t depend on open or closed doors, though they may help sway.

There are 3 things you should depend on: The Bible. Prayer. And people who love you.

Question:

Ever heard people use “open doors” as the primary way they decide what course of action to take?

 

 

Prayer Hijacking

Ever heard someone start praying and all of a sudden they’re talking about something that wasn’t requested and you’re thinking, ‘what does that have to do with anything?’

photo credit: creation swap user Stacey Lewis

If you have, you’ve been a part of a prayer hijack.

If you’ve ever been in a small group, you’ve seen this in action. Allow me to illustrate.

Bob volunteers to pray for Mike and Sally because they’ve got a busy week ahead. Here’s how his prayer goes, starting with minute *0:00*:

00:00-1:00 – Opening intro to God

1:00-1:24 – Prayer for Mike and Sally

1:25-3:00 – Reciting random Scripture references

3:00-4:00 – Short exegesis on those Scripture references

4:00-5:00 – completely unrelated prayer of thanksgiving

5:00-7:00 – 5 point sermon on prayer, each pointing starting with the letter Y.

If you’ve ever used an outline for your prayers like that, or if you’ve ever heard someone use that outline and thought, “Oh, please Lord, let me never, ever pray like that out loud…” then make sure you refer to these 5 prayer reminders below.

5 Prayer reminders to Prevent Hijacking

1. Don’t preach a mini sermon. People aren’t bowing their heads and closing their eyes to hear your 5 alliterated points from Romans 8. If your prayer has points and subpoints, you’ve got a mini-sermon on your hands. Remember: you’ve been asked to pray. Not preach. They both start with the letter “p” but they are much different, oh mighty pray-er.

2. Don’t pray longer than 5 minutes. If you do, there’s no possible way you can stay on track. And there’s no way that anyone else is thinking anything positive about you after minute 1.5. If it takes you longer than 1.5 minutes to pray out loud in a group setting, ask them if you can be slated for the devotional next time.

3. Keep it focused. Remember the request you’re praying for. Stay on track, prayer warrior. I know your mind is running to all kinds of different prayers, sub prayers, and sub sub prayers…but keep your mind on the task at hand. Mike and Sally need you right now.

4. Long prayers intimidate others. Praying out loud is a great fear for people. And the longer your prayers are, the more people feel like they need to pray at least as long as you. Want to encourage people to pray? Then bring your stopwatch with you to small group.

5. This isn’t about you. Build your platform somewhere else. Impress your small group later. For now, bring someone’s request before God, and let the group move on. By trying to impress, you depress. And nobody wants a depressor in their small group. Nobody. Not even you.

Feel free to print these out on index cards and give them to everyone in your small group. Don’t just give them to that guy. If you do, it’ll just make things more awkward. And by “awkward,” I mean that his 7 minute prayer will blossom into a 12 minute prayer before the night is up.

Ever been a part of a prayer hijacking?

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. – Matthew 6:5

* photo credit: Stacey Lewis, creation Swap 

 

The most commonly used prayer phrase

Growing up in the church, I’ve heard many, many different public prayers.

image via iStock Photo

Small group prayers are the best. They’re personal, genuine, and heart-felt. What’s better than requesting prayer, then having someone pray for you right there on the spot?!?  My most intense times of prayer, when I’ve felt closest to God, have been in the context of healthy community.

But there’s one thing I’ve noticed. And I don’t think I’m the only one who’s heard this. In fact, I think it’s the most commonly used prayer phrase. And when it’s used, it stands out like that one final nail that you still haven’t hammered in on the pergola in your backyard.  All you hear is this phrase.   It usually comes after a brief, awkward, I-don’t-know-what-to-say-now pause.  Maybe you’ve heard it.  It goes like this:

…and that situation…

“Lord, please be with Sally and Vick this week, and help them out…and that situation.”

“God, you know better than I do all of the difficulties John is facing in life…and that situation.”

“Lord, you love Gary, and I ask you help him out with his house…and that situation.”

“And that situation” becomes the way to close the deal. Hang up the phone with God. It sounds irreverent to say, “Later, God…” and so the question is, “How do I tell God, and the small group, that I’m done with that request?”

Enter “and that situation.”

It’s a fantastic catch-all, really. Because when you say it, everyone in the room goes, “Ohhh…that situation. Yeah, that’s bad. That situation.”

Here are 5 other times when “and that situation” fits beautifully.

5 Times for the “And That Situation”

1. When you’ve not listened closely enough to the request to remember the details, just drop a “and that situation.”

No reason to listen closely anymore when people share their prayer requests.  You’ve got a perfect fall-back, catch-all, I-love-each-and-every-person-in-my-group phrase.  Repeat after me: And. That. Situation.

2. When your group isn’t close enough to share the details of life, and you honestly don’t know the details of “that situation.”

Don’t press in to know people. That’s too difficult and too “honest.”  Let it ride.  “And that situation.”

3. When you have no idea what else to say, slip in a “and that situation.”

If it doesn’t naturally fit, it’s okay.  God will fist-bump you for hanging up the phone with class.

4. When you don’t know the person you’re praying for very well.

“Would they be comfortable with me repeating details before God?  Would God even want me to do that?”  Don’t make things too awkward.  Don’t try to get to know them later on so that next time you pray you won’t question things.  “And that situation” that thing and move right on.

5. When you don’t have the words to adequately express your heart, push things back on God.

The Holy Spirit intercedes for us, right? I bet his “groans” sound something like a holy “and that situation.” (see Romans 8:26)

Question:

Have you ever heard little phrases creep in to your prayers?

Have you ever heard “and that situation?”

 

 

 

10 Personal Observations I learned through preaching

I had the chance to preach at Grace this Sunday.  It was a great experience communicating with my church family.

image via Flickr’s NotAshamed

And I learned a few things about myself through the preparation and delivery of this sermon as I reflected on it.  Things that seemed more tangible than other time I’d preached.  See if there are some here you’ve experienced if you’ve ever preached.

10 Personal Observations I learned through preaching

 

1. Preaching causes me to pray more.

I was on my knees more this past week than I have been in a long time.  I needed a fresh word from God, fresh insights, and a message that was True.

2. Preaching causes me to study more.

I can’t just pull a message out of thin air.  I have to study the Scriptures a lot in order to prepare a message.  It was a rich time for me.

3. Preaching humbles me.

a) Knowing I’m preaching the Scriptures and people are learning them through that preaching…that’s both humbling and intimidating.

b) Knowing I’m being prayed for…that’s humbling, too.  I can’t tell you how many people I heard from directly offering an encouraging word of prayer.  It was powerful.

4. Preaching causes me to worship more deeply.

I felt a deeper dependence on God than on normal weeks, and I consequently felt a deeper level of worship.

5. Preaching causes me to be more aware of God’s presence

As I was working to craft my message, I was processing it throughout my days.  As I went about my normal activities, I felt more aware of God’s presence as I was consistently ruminating over deep truths.

6. Preaching stretches me.

I’m used to writing blogs and articles.  A blog is typically less than a page of typed notes.  An article is 2-3.  I had 10 pages of single-spaced, typed notes, for my 30 minute sermon.

7. Preaching refines my thoughts.

I’m an external thinker.  Which means that, in order for me to make sense of my thoughts, I need to express them externally.  Typically, that clarity for me comes through writing.  Preaching is another way that I externalize, and refine, my thoughts.

8. Preaching gets me fired up.

The more I meditate on the Scriptures, and what I’ll be communicating, the more I get fired up about sharing the Truth.  I was pumped, not nervous, when I came out on stage.

9. Preaching reminds me that pastors can be lonely people.

The role of a pastor can be lonely.  I studied by myself, prepared the message by myself, and delivered the message by myself, alone on stage.  Afterwards, I criticized myself for things I should’ve done differently.  A pastor may be in the spotlight, but there has been a lot of alone time leading up to that sermon.

10. Preaching drains me.

Preaching takes a lot of energy, because not only are you spending extra time during the week preparing, you’re also pouring your heart and soul into speaking.  I put a lot of emotion…not banging the pulpit though, mind you…into my preaching.  I was exhausted last night.

Have you ever preached?

Do any of these observations resonate with your experience?

 

 

 

Concrete, alignment series

We at Grace Community Church launched a series called Concrete yesterday.  We’re doing it as an alignment with our small groups, launching new groups whose goal is to engage people in authentic community for the 5 weeks of this series.

We’ve produced a DVD and small group study guide for our groups to track along with our Sunday sermons.

We do these alignments during series where you would feel comfortable inviting your friends and neighbors. And we construct our small group discussion guide so that if you have people you’ve invited who are far from God come into your home to do this study with you, they’re able to track along with the discussion, add in their own personal experience, and take a step of faith…whatever that looks like for them.

Who are small groups for?

Our small groups aren’t just for the mature.  But they’re also not just for those new to faith.

They’re for everyone. Because we feel that everyone needs the opportunity to discuss the Scriptures, process life, and build relationships…in an environment that’s safe to explore faith.

For this alignment study, we’ve chosen topics that are accessible and challenging to people wherever they are in their spiritual journey.  We’ll be exploring foundational issues, challenging people to take a step towards God in their prayer life, commitment to the local church, giving, reading their Bible, and sharing their faith.

If you care to join us, we’d love to have you!  Click HERE for access to the podcast and small group study guide from week 1.

The rest of the study guide (link to weeks 1-5) can be found online HERE.

Click HERE for a pdf version of our study guide from week 1.

If you’re joining us, please leave a comment and let us know!

 

The wandering, praying mind


Have you ever been praying, and start to think of your to-do list for the day?

Suddenly, things pop into your mind out of nowhere that take you off to another place, and your mind is adrift at sea.

I’ve been told that those things are a distraction.  That I just need to concentrate harder and seek God more, and that when my mind wanders, I need to have more discipline to stop thinking about ______, or ______.  I’ve been told that my wandering mind is a sign of weakness.

But I’m not sure that what I’ve been told is right. I’m not convinced that a wandering mind is a weak, undisciplined mind. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not so much a sign of weakness, but a sign of

  • what I’m valuing at the moment. This is both a heart-check (what’s really important to me?) and a “Wow, I’ve really been thinking about that a lot…maybe I should pray about it.”  Our mouths speak (or, in this instance, “our minds think”) what our hearts are full of. (Luke 6:45)
  • God helping me remember things that I need to do. Is it not God that is the creator of the mind?  Does He not know all things, including what we need to be in the business of doing?  Does He not hold all things together? (Colossians 1:17)  We are commanded to ask God for wisdom…don’t be shocked when He gives it. (James 1:5)
  • God reminding me people and situations I need to pray for. Ever have someone or something, seemingly random, pop into your head when you’re praying?  I do. And I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

I know that prayer is not all about me and my situation and my relationships and my life. I realize that connecting with God through prayer is essential for simply building my relationship with my Creator.

But I’m going to be easier on myself when my mind starts to wander.  I’m taking every thought captive. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Do you think that God speaks in this way?

Does your mind wander when you pray?

 

Prayer Request for Rex, my son

I obviously believe in the value of community (my work at Grace centers on community groups).  In fact, I think it’s absolutely essential to living life.  We were created to be dependent on each other, and when we aren’t, there’s something that’s missing.  God lives life in community (that whole Trinity thing), and expects that the community that we have with Him we would also have with others.  We were never created to live life alone.  Which is why I am writing you this blog today.

We need you all right now.  Rex, our 11-week old son, is having surgery tomorrow (Tuesday, January 13th).  It’s ‘routine,’ so we’re told, but nothing is really routine when it comes to sending your child in for surgery.  He has an inguinal hernia that has to be repaired.  It’s only on one side, but they’ll scope the other side to make sure it’s not about to do the same thing.   We’re also told that it’s ‘normal’ (though that word doesn’t offer a lot of consolation right now).  It’s more common in boys than in girls, on the left side than the right, and is more common in premature babies (Rex was born 4 weeks early).  We would greatly appreciate your thoughts and prayers, because even though this is ‘normal’ and ‘routine’ it’s still stressful.  The main cause for concern with the doctors is the anesthesia.  Babies who were born prematurely are at an increased risk of apnea, which is why they’re keeping us one extra day.

We trust deeply in the sovereignty of God.  We know that Rex’s life is in His hands, and I don’t mean that in a trite kind of way.  We trust that Christ upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:3) and that, in Him, all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).  Please pray that we would find hope, comfort, and rest in our Savior, that we would remain steadfast in our faith, as He has remained steadfast to us, and that we might see His mighty hand woven throughout this whole process.

Thank you in advance for your prayers of support.

 

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