30 Days Without Television

TV-shutterstock_23301313I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating  peanuts.

Orson Welles

About a month ago in prayer, God challenged me. He challenged me to live without television for 30 days. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but that challenge destroyed me. I’m not sure I would have been more devastated if God had asked me to go without food for a week. Honestly. It was that big of a deal to me. When I heard the Spirit say, “No TV,” my stomach dropped. I felt sick. I thought, “God, that’s impossible.” For the next ten minutes or so, my prayers consisted of things like, “Well, God, you’re going to have to give me the strength, ’cause I can’t do this!” Eventually, though, I resigned, saying, “I am not my own, my life is yours. Who am I to say ‘No’ to you, God?” And so I committed to this task. And by God’s grace, in 4 days, it will have been 30 days without television.

Let me give you a few more details. As I went on with this challenge, I felt God further defining it, and further challenging me. I wasn’t watching any TV, but I’d enjoy a YouTube video now and then. “No YouTube,” God said. Yes, Lord. Then, one day I watched one of those “Vines” posted by a friend on Facebook. I felt conviction. “Okay God,” I said, “I get it.” Then another week or so went by, and I felt compelled to stay away from Facebook. Basically, God was stripping away all ENTERTAINMENT from my life. I know, I know. This seems extreme to our American sensibilities, over-saturated with Entertainment as we are. But there it is. This is how God dealt with me.

I can hear some of you saying, “Well, what did you do then? No TV, no YouTube, no Facebook, no entertainment at all?! What did you do with all that time??” I played with my son. I had conversations with my wife. I found time to pray more, now that I wasn’t so busy in front of the TV. Once, my wife and I even went on a drive – for an hour and a half – with my son asleep in the carseat – and we talked about all that God was doing in our lives, and all we hoped He would do. My wife said it felt like a date night!

Let’s admit it to ourselves – we’re addicted to entertainment. We need, nearly every hour of the day, to be entertained, amused, distracted, mesmerized by…something. Life isn’t enough anymore. Reality isn’t enough anymore. We’re always looking for an escape. And what’s worse, we seem to spend HOURS of our lives in search of that elusive experience. We flip through the channels 50 times before admitting that there’s nothing on. Then we either do it again, or settle for some boring show that we don’t really want to watch, but for some reason we’ve determined that we MUST watch TV right now.

But the Word of God says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). Are you ‘looking carefully’ to how you live? Are you making wise choices? Are you making the best use of your time? I’m not saying that you need to never watch TV again, or even that you should follow my example and take a month off (though I think it would be good to take even a day or two off).

The reality is that as Christians, we ought to be different from the world. We ought to do stuff that seems weird and freakish to the world. We ought to be willing to give up anything for the sake of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave up everything for us. So ask God about this area of your life. Let Him deal with you. I’m sure He will deal with you differently than He did with me. He knows what you need far more than I do, and He will “lead you gently.” Trust Him, and submit to Him. Amen.

Teach Us to Pray

“Lord teach us to pray.” – Luke 11:1

It occurs to me that the disciples did not say, “Lord teach us to preach.” Nor did they say, “Lord teach us how to perform miracles.” I would think the Disciples would have been impressed most by the miracles, or by Jesus’ incredible wisdom and teaching. But apparently, the thing that impressed them most, was when Jesus bowed His head, or got on His knees to talk to God.

I remember once receiving prayer from a couple – Bubba and Linda, I believe their names were. They were, as you might have guessed, good ‘ol country folks. Simple. Uncomplicated. They were probably the most hospitable people I had ever met. I remember traveling with a Pastor and friend, and we stayed in their house as we passed through. On our way out, after lunch, we all bowed our heads and Bubba and Linda prayed. I don’t specifically remember what they prayed, but I remember how they prayed. Their prayers, like themselves, were uncomplicated, and not littered with lots of flowery speech. They didn’t raise their voices, nor feel the need to get “worked up” before they prayed. But when they prayed, I knew that they knew, that God was listening. I don’t know how else to describe it. They talked to God as if He were standing two feet away, and I’m sure they believed as much! I remember being so impressed by their prayers that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for hours.

I have a hunch that this was something like what the Disciples experienced when they heard Jesus pray. I think they maybe sensed the awesomeness of God’s presence when Jesus prayed. Not the goose-bumpy stuff, but the heavy weight of God’s glory–the kind of thing that makes you want to hold your breath and not speak, or to tip-toe around so as not to disturb the holiness of the moment.

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

It also occurs to me that they did not say, “Lord, teach us how to get our prayers answered.” No, they realized that Jesus’ prayers were not so much about “getting” as they were about “being.” Sure, Jesus prayed for stuff. I don’t think it is a coincidence when the Bible tells us that Jesus spent all night in prayer before He chose the Twelve Disciples. He had some important decisions, and He needed direction. We hear Him praying in Gethsemane, when He was facing the greatest trial of His life. Yet, those specific “needs” were all merely subcategories of Jesus’ greatest need – God Himself. And so, I think His prayers were primarily a means of communion with His Father. There’s no real “answer” to those kinds of prayers, except that God Himself shows up.

Let’s face it, we can go before God and lay out all our petitions, all our “needs” in about 15 minutes. How then did Jesus spend ALL NIGHT in prayer? How did the great men and women of God in ages past (and I’m sure in ours too) manage to spend an hour or two or three or more in prayer DAILY, if all they were doing was begging God for stuff?

“Lord, teach us to pray!”

I’ve been experiencing a prayer-revival lately. God, in the past 3 or 4 months has challenged me in this area. It started with a simple commitment: “God, I will pray every day.” I began with 15-20 prayers every day. Soon, God challenged me again to pray for an hour every day. I obeyed. After some time, I felt yet another challenged, and God instructed me to pray an hour right after I wake up in the morning, and an hour just before going to bed. So, I now start and end every day with prayer.

I would love to tell you that it has been all rapture and joy and spiritual experiences. The truth is, it has been mostly a struggle. I have had some glorious times in the presence of God, yes, but many times I felt left alone, crying out to God for His presence, for something.  “Lord, teach me to pray!

The process has had an interesting effect, and I believe I am just now, after many months, starting to “get” prayer. Don’t get me wrong, I still have almost no idea what I’m doing in prayer, but I do it, and I know that’s a good start. Prayer is, I think, first of all, a means of us realizing that we are simply powerless to do anything on our own. I know that offends our American sensibilities, but Jesus couldn’t have been clearer: “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Prayer forces us to look at ourselves and God simultaneously. Next to God, we’re not all that impressive. Next to God, when truly in His presence, when we’re able to push past all the garbage in our minds and begin to see things as they really are, we can’t help but be humbled. And once this humbling process has begun, we’ve just reached square one with God.

It’s almost embarrassing that it has taken me so many hours of prayer to get to this simple revelation – I need God. It’s an easy phrase to say, but it can be hard to feel, yet we must feel it. Until we are able to bow before God in true humility, true desperation, with a true sense of our utter weakness and hopelessness without God, it is then that God has something to work with, and not before.

“Lord, teach us to pray!”

I have so much to say on this subject – God has taught me so much in such a little time, but I’ll leave it here. Go spend some time with God today.

A Little Rant About “Little Faith”

…So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:29-31)

I’ve been thinking lately about a certain category of Christian. It’s a peculiar category, and a group I honestly have a hard time understanding. This group of Christians are those who constantly fluctuating in their faith and experience of Jesus – one day they’re up, the next day they’re down. One day, they are in love with God, everything’s great, life is wonderful and they’re excited to be a part of the Kingdom, the next day, they’re sick of Church, sick of praying, sick of reading their bibles.

If someone says the wrong thing to them, or if some bad news comes their way, or if they bounce a check, or stub their toe, or any of a million of life’s little nuisances, it literally ruins their day or sends them into a depression, and ultimately causes them to shake their fists at God saying, “Why did you let this happen?” These people always seem to be just a hair’s breadth away from turning their backs on God and giving on their faith (even though they always seem to eventually come back to their senses).

These people are also often easily offended. It takes very little to hurt their feelings, to make them feel rejected, or used, or wronged. These people are constantly on the defence, always playing the role of victim, believing everyone is against them.

To be fair, I’ve had my moments to. I’ve made mountains out of mole hills. I’ve allowed the stresses of life to dictate my attitude. I’ve been offended for no good reason. But these, for me, are occasional slip ups, not a way of life.

I’ve tried to understand why someone would have such a bipolar spiritual experience, or why someone would allow some minor circumstance or offence to constantly drive them from the presence of God. I’ve wondered if it was some sort of mental illness that they were battling, some emotional instability beyond what the majority of us experience, but this didn’t fit every case. I’ve wondered if it were simply an indication of someone being overly “sensitive,” or “emotional.” But again, this fell short to answer every instance I’d seen. The only answer I can come up with, though it fails the “warm-and-fuzzy” test, is that such people have “little faith.”

In the scripture above, Peter was rebuked for his “little faith.” Peter, who did what no other human being before or since has dared to do – walk on water – was rebuked for doubting because he started to sink. Peter’s initial faith resulted in a powerful experience I’m sure he never forgot – but his faith lasted only a moment, and then doubt set in. We can all identify with this passage, because we’ve all been there. We’ve all had the experience of feeling like we were riding above the storms of life, in love with God and filled with His Spirit – then something happens and we lose our focus. All of a sudden, the difficult circumstance, or rude comment, or unfulfilled expectation becomes our focus, and we begin to sink down into our circumstances instead of being held up by our faith in Christ.

Most of us feel like Peter got a bad rap – after all, he walked on water! We want to judge the situation based on his best moment, not his worst. Unfortunately, we have no record of Jesus commending him for his willingness to step out, only His rebuke for Peter’s lack of follow through. And here’s the real issue – the Church is sadly full of people who started out well, but never finished. Jesus is looking for some good finishers.

You see, those with little faith are constantly starting over. These are the people who are coming to church, part of the fellowship, and then all of a sudden they disappear for several months, only to return for a good cry at the altar and the whole process resets itself. These people don’t need more teaching or more prayer, they need more faith. They need begin to actually take God at His Word. They need to find their confidence, security and hope in the truth of who Jesus is, not in whether their life and circumstances are meeting some predefined expectation.

Little faith will cause you to sink under your circumstances, instead of rise above them (just like Peter in the water). Little faith will cause you to fear when the storms of life come upon you, instead of trusting in the One who promised to see you through (Matt. 8:23-27). Little faith will cause you to be anxious and fearful in life, and ultimately to miss out on God’s provision, because instead of running to Him when you are in need, you run to the world (Matt. 6:25-33). And little faith will ultimately hinder God – yes, God can be hindered – from working powerfully in your life. Remember that even Jesus, in His own hometown, “did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matt. 13:58).

Until Jesus is truly the center of your life, the foundation of all that you are and desire, and until your confidence is in Jesus alone and not in favorable circumstances, you have little faith. Until you are able to see God as faithful, even when life around you crumbles, you have little faith.

I encourage you, then, who are fainthearted, whose faith frequently wavers, to trust God! Put your full faith in Him who will never let you down. Remember that you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, both living and asleep, who have trusted God with their lives. Do the same. Follow their example. Believe.

Great Quote…

Think about how much time you are willing to spend researching the consumer reports for the new plasma flat screen TV?  How much time are you willing to spend researching for your next car?  How much time are you willing to spend researching hotels for your next vacation?  Why are we willing to spend so much time doing that research? It is because you do not want to make a mistake.

How much time are you willing to spend considering the things of God that have eternal consequences?

Fantastic post about the importance of knowing “the scriptures and the power of God.”

Check out A Devoted Life.

Prayer

prayingGod’s been doing some serious stuff in my life lately. God has spoken to me more often and more clearly in the past month than He has in several years. His dealings have been more direct, more pointed, more specific than maybe at any other time in my life. But it all started with a renewed commitment to prayer. Somewhere around the beginning of this year, I found myself determined to make prayer a daily discipline. I am certain that this one decision was the inevitable catalyst for all that has followed.

I started out praying for 10 to 15 minutes daily, and after about a month, heard God clearly tell me to commit one hour every day. It’s amazing how an hour of focused, fervent prayer can change pretty much everything. It’s only been a couple of weeks since I answered the call to “tarry one hour,” but already God has done so much. I feel greater strength against temptation and sin. I feel the presence of God more often and more easily than before. I can sense my spiritual judgment and discernment sharpening. Nearly every day I leave my time of prayer with new understanding of God and His Word, and with a renewed zeal and excitement for the things of God. I am certain that this is what Paul meant when he said, “Be filled with the Spirit.”

Such a commitment is not without difficulty, however. There are days where I must fight the desires of my flesh, and my preference for ease and leisure. Prayer, at least the kind of prayer that changes things, is hard work. In fact, one of the things God spoke to me when He told me to pray one hour a day, is that my prayer ought to be “fervent.” That is, full of emotion, passion, zeal. In other words, my prayer must matter to me. I think this is the only kind of prayer that is really effective. We’ve turned prayer into an emotionless ritual, so often. No wonder our prayers are ineffective! But when there is passion in our words, when we care about the things we’re praying, when we’re willing to get serious with God, then God shows up. James says that it is the “fervent prayer of a righteous man” that is “powerful and effective.”

This time in my life has shown me how utterly indispensable prayer is in the life of a Christian. Jonathan Edwards said, “Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life.” So let me ask you – how’s your prayer life doing? When’s the last time you met with God? I mean really met with God? When’s the last time you found yourself in God’s glorious presence without the aid of a worship team onstage, or a worship song playing on the radio? When’s the last time God spoke to you, or challenged you in an area? When’s the last time you felt truly alive in God?

How to Witness

SJWFStep #1: Do it!

Seriously, this is the easiest step. This is also the hardest step. It’s the easiest step, because it’s a simple matter of choice. All you’ve got to do is move your feet and your lips. It is hardest step, because we’re afraid. We’re afraid they’ll reject us. We’re afraid we won’t be able to come up with the right words. We’re afraid we’ll sound stupid. We’re afraid they’ll ask us questions that we won’t know how to answer. We’re afraid they’ll get angry.

Maybe I can put you at ease right here – all of that stuff will happen. You’ll fumble over your words, you won’t know the answer to someone’s question, someone will get angry at you for even suggesting that they need God. Do it anyway. Jesus was direct, harsh even, with His disciples the first time He sent them out to preach:

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:16-22)

“Do it” is the first and most important step. Sitting in a classroom learning the Romans Road, and how to start a conversation, how to turn a conversation to spiritual things, and reviewing every possible objection someone might have will only take you so far (and may even make you a worse evangelist). The best way to grow in evangelism is to simply do it. Get out there and talk to people. Develop your own style, find out what works and what doesn’t, learn first hand the kinds of questions and objections that people come up with.

#2 – Pray for Boldness

Of course, in order to do it, it’s going to take some courage, some guts, some mettle. Those first century apostles needed boldness too, and they prayed for it, and asked others to pray for it for them.

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:29-30)

and [pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:19)

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:3-4)

Though some people may be more comfortable than others in this kind of communication, we all need more than comfort – we need boldness. I am of the belief that true spiritual boldness comes only from the Holy Spirit, therefore we must pray for it. Unless we receive it from Him, we simply won’t have it.

#3 – Be Direct

I have a tendency to ramble, to “beat around the bush.” Most of the time, I do this because I’m nervous and I’m trying to gather up the courage to really get to the point. I have found that in most cases, this makes for a weak “punch line” when you finally get to talking about Jesus. Just get to it already! As a courtesy, you should give people an opportunity, within the first 30 seconds, to say “No thank you,” to your message. This also allows you to move on quickly to someone else who may be more open to your message.

“Hi, my name’s Jeff, has anyone ever told you that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?” Or something like that…

Let’s just be honest for a second – the Gospel is ultimately confrontational. Yes, we’re giving people good news, but that good news requires that they acknowledge that they have a need for forgiveness, and that in order to receive that forgiveness, they need to change their minds about -well, basically everything. Most people aren’t terribly keen on having a stranger in the mall tell them that they are sinners. Most people are just minding their business and hoping you will mind yours. But that’s how the Gospel works. It invades our normal routine, disrupts our lives, shows us how desperately deceived and blind we are, and challenges us to embrace the truth of our deepest need.

Confrontation is not in itself a negative thing. Ultimately confrontation is simply telling someone something they might not want to hear. There’s always a degree of discomfort in those kinds of conversations, but love compels us to confront anyway.

In summary:

  1. Do it! Just get out there and start witnessing, there’s no better advice I can give than this.
  2. Pray for boldness. Our efforts at witnessing will almost inevitably fall flat unless we have some power and boldness from the Holy Spirit. Make sure to bathe your efforts in prayer.
  3. Be direct. Don’t beat around the bush, get to the point, let people know immediately why you’re talking to them.

More in a later post!