A Month (or More) in Prayer Journaling

I’ve posted about this on my personal Facebook as well as the Just Hold Fast page and it was something that had been on my mind and heart. I don’t pray enough, or didn’t. I don’t know the barometer of what is ‘enough’ because the Bible tells us to never cease praying (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). What I do know is it lingered there, in the back of my mind and I had not considered how to fight it with tools like journaling. I do all the expected praying, I talk to God when I first wake up, at meals, during bed times and if someone asks me to, I pray for them. I do not understand the practice of telling someone you will pray for them and then not doing it. You’re basically lying, even if well meaning and you forget because life has gotten you distracted.

We know prayer is a powerful thing that God wants us to do. How often do we forget to? Journaling can help and God saw that specific need in my life. Like the good Father he is, he provided a way for me to get what I needed to deepen my relationship with him and I want to share that with you.

Consider this, where do you think that distraction has come from? The enemy. He doesn’t want you to pray for anyone. In fact, he will throw up all kinds of roadblocks to prevent you from doing so. I’m guilty of being distracted, that is the reason why I am writing this and the purpose is to give you an idea of what consciously focusing on praying has done for me and my relationship with God. TL;DR, it’s way better than it was!

How it all Started

I’m going to blame this one on Tara over at Story of My Heart for giving me the thing I didn’t know I needed. Lots of folks have heard or seen the movie War Room which shows just how transformational prayer can be. The movie depicts the Jordan family who from the outside have this wonderful marriage but the reality is that at home their marriage is in shambles, it is a war zone. All seems lost and yet, God provides the wife with help from an older and wiser woman who leads the wife to the power of constant prayer and journaling it to show the good it can do. Things change, the family becomes closer and it is all because of God and the practice of talking to him.

I tell you all of this to say Tara gave me a copy of ‘The Battle Plan‘ which is a small book that goes along with the movies concept. The book itself is pretty diminutive in size but what it represents is something so much greater. I am late to the game with this book and the concept itself is not new. What the movie has done is re-envision the prayer journaling is and communicate its purpose. It has been re-envisioned in such a way that it helps Christians who are struggling to keep that prayerful connection.

For me, it has worked. What does around 3 months in prayer look like? It will be different for everyone, I’ve prayed daily and logged prayer requests that have both been asked for and simply me finding out about some event that someone would need prayer about. I was not perfect in this endeavor because I would often forget my journal after a week of work and I would try to rememeber who and what I prayed for so that on Monday I could fill it out. So what does that look like?

Prayer Journaling
Prayer Journaling

Why Journaling Matters

The whole purpose of journaling is not to give you ammo to feel like you are praying more than others, it is not there to make you boastful. I would argue instead that it does more important things like reminding you how powerful prayer can be. James 4:2 tells us that, “You do not have because you do not ask.” and when we turn away from Gods’ invitation to communicate with him directly we neglect the fact that this whole spinning ball and all that it entails exists because He simply spoke it in to being.

Journaling serves other purposes as well. When you journal and you see how God responds to your constant prayer it humbles you to see how much of an impact your work for His good will be in peoples lives. Journaling serves as a reminder to pray until it becomes a habit and then it keeps you on track.

Even with all of that I think that journaling about your prayer and connection to God does something infinitely more important, it dispels doubt. Christians and non-Christians alike doubt God. I struggle with that in times of high stress when I see no way out on my own and that is the key thing for me. I know that intuitively it is just doubt that is strangling me but my desire to operate on my own, outside of the influence of God. Journaling has helped center me and remove that issue from my life. It had tempered my need to control and allowed me to prayerfully serve others, regardless of their knowledge that someone out there, even a stranger, prayed for them.

Conclusion

I did not write this to boast or brag about my relationship with God. Instead I want to encourage you, with all of my heart, to pray more. Let me pray for you. Regardless of the circumstance and our desired outcome, God has a plan and when we embrace that, commune with him and serve others great things will happen. It is not something you do in the hopes of gaining ground with God because that is not how it works. We do not act and follow Jesus with the hope of Heaven as a reward. We follow his simple invitation to live as he has so that we live the way God intended us to. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus there is no Christianity. Jesus prayed constantly to God and he is perfect. We, flawed humans need a little help and I believe journaling is one of the most effective ways that we can continue to pray and keep a strong relationship with God.

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Loving and Leading – A Compassionate Leader – Faithful Father Series

Leading and Prayer

Leadership is a subjective skill because the base definition of it leaves it as an open-ended trait. Men can posses the ability to lead people in different ways. God has a way of raising up people to lead that others simply never expected. Every married man has a command from God to be leading his family spiritually. We must love them well and show them compassion. We are to be a vicar of Christ and we can see how the parent-child relationship is simply summed up in Ephesians 6:1-2.

To summarize it children honor their parents through obedience and fathers are called to rear their children in the Lord and to not provoke them to anger. Anger does not inspire obedience so the onus is on you, me, us to teach children how God wants us to live, to act and react to life and it’s trials.

Loving and leading means we should not set out to antagonize our children and frustrate them. I’ll be honest, sometimes I find this hard. These little humans find the best ways to get at our nerves and sometimes we retaliate in an ineffective and selfishly satisfying manner. Mimicking your child in a fussy type voice after they’ve done everything but what you asked of them serves no purpose but I’m fairly certain I did it on a whim a few nights ago with Ella. It is literally arguing with a smaller version of yourself.

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.

John Stott

Jesus did not do that with his disciples when they disobeyed. He reacted in love, chastised in patience and commanded them in kindness. Those three parts are what makes up a person that is leading their family in love.

Leading in Love

Let’s count the ways that Jesus could lead us out of anger, can you? I can’t. Humanity has done some terrible things from the disobedience in the garden, killing God’s son and the atrocities we see play out in history over things from skin color to a certain toy that our children want for Christmas. It is easy to forget that behavior like that is learned behavior. Anger, rage, hate and other negative emotions are all things we have learned and passed on to our children via our actions, the things they see and hear and how we respond to their questions about those things. Each time we allow that to continue we are saying that those emotions while unavoidable are completely okay to express in negative behavior.

Instead we should be teaching them that emotions are uncontrollable parts of ourselves but how we express those emotions we have complete control over. That starts with us controlling our own reactions and we should not look to a child for authentication that our parenting of behaviors is working if our own behavior does not emulate how we want them to react.

Chastise in Patience

Discipline is something that must be proportionate to an offense. Discipline out of anger is in fact not discipline at all but abuse. How that discipline occurs is completely up to the parents. Some parents spank their children among other methods of discipline and some do not. The Bible does not say it is required or that it is a sin. Please do not use Proverbs 13:24 as a reason to relentlessly wail on your children in the misguided attempt to say corporal punishment is okay. The ‘Rod’ referred to is discipline in general and a warning that without firm and decisive discipline a child will become accustom to getting their way. This can lead to behavior related issues that in common speech today equates to a child being referred to as a “spoiled brat.”

Consider Jesus’ reaction when Peter walked on water with him and faltered (Matthew 14:29). What was Jesus response? A rebuke made in love. Peter should have had faith in Christ and when the wind distracted him and he took his eye off of Jesus he began to waver. When he cried out for saving Jesus did so. He surely could have let Peter drown or angrily demanded his obedience and belittled him but he did not.

It is really easy to just retaliate in a physical manner when you have a stubborn child but there are non-corporal means of discipline. These non-physical methods take more time, more commitment and more patience than a swift whack on the rear end but they are effective. We should devote time to understanding which is best and when/if we should use one or the other. Jesus did not need save humanity. He did not need to be beaten and murdered and yet he offered himself up as a permanent sacrifice for our sinful nature. He bore ridicule with integrity and was leading his disciples in love. When they stumbled he chastised them in patience and when the time came his commands to spread the gospel were done in kindness.

Command in Kindness

Our children have natural feelings for us such as love and fear. They love us because of all the goodness we pour in to them and there is fear for the wrath they drum up when disobedient. That fear does not need to be paralyzing and in fact it shouldn’t. They are our children, even when they know they are in trouble we want them to have comfort in the fact that our commands, our discipline, or reactions are done out of love for them.

When you discipline do you take the time to tell them why it was wrong? Do you explain better was of going about things? These talks are important because they allow our children to know that they are loved and being cared for. It allows them to understand that a goal can be accomplished in many ways and very likely within the confines of what is acceptable. When you take the time to show them these things you are leading them in a positive way without fear but with kindness.

The greatest leaders are the most humble. You can get things done through sheer will and brute force but we have to consider the effects of those kind of actions. You have to consider the legacy you leave. Will your children think that dad was a hard man or will they think that even though I did lots of stuff he was patient and loved me and supported me. I fall somewhere in the middle, we are a work in progress as long as we want to be. What I want is my children to know that I love them, I expect them to behave in a manner consistent with the Bible and that my dreams are that their dreams become a reality.

Integrity Required

All of the stuff we have talked about today cannot happen unless we are men of integrity. Integrity is the living of your internal life and external life in parity with one another. It is easy to put on a Christian front and pretend you are leading a righteous family for God. Living that life at home, away from the eyes of the public is the harder of the two. If you can manage to do that you can lead your family in love, you will be capable of chastising your children in patience and commanding your family in kindness. Stay focused on God, what He is and the work Christ commanded of you. The moment you do not your leadership falters like Peter on the water. Hold fast the confessions of your faith and make disciples through that faith.

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Men to Know: John Mark

Mark

For the most part when I look at who I want to highlight in the Bible I look for uncommon men who provide an uncommon lesson that just makes sense when it clicks. Sometimes, like today I look at the life of a well known man from the Bible. In fact, how about someone who wrote Bible? How amazing is that?! The life of John Mark or as we refer to him, Mark was much like our own. He was young at one time, thought he knew best and…well let’s dive in to see how that worked out for him.

Roots

John Marks beginnings start in Luke’s book Acts 12:12 where we find that he is the son of a woman named Mary. His mother was prominent in the Jerusalem church and it was not uncommon that their home was a meeting place for some of the congregation. We also know from Colossians that he was the cousin to Barnabas, a traveling companion of Paul. So here we have John Mark (JM), the son of a committed family to the church and cousin to the traveling companion of Paul who made it his life’s mission to bring God’s word to the gentiles. He was in some pretty amazing spiritual company you know?

John Mark’s Departure

We find that John Mark was the helper to Barnabas and Paul’s very first journey to spread the message Christ gave them (Acts 13:5). This great journey for JM was not all ups with no downs. Instead, after their visit in Cyprus he left Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:4-13).  The Bible doesn’t say why or what caused this departure but it was a cleaving point in Paul’s mind. He and Barnabas continued their journey to Antioch, Iconium and to Lystra where Paul was stoned and thought dead but rose when the disciples around him were to pray. The next day and went to Derbe to speak God’s word. This dude’s work ethic puts us all to shame!

A Second Chance

Barnabas is called the “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36) and he did just that when Paul and he were planning their next mission trip from Jerusalem. He made a case for JM to come along again but Paul was having none of it. They had a “sharp disagreement” and parted ways. Paul took Silas and headed towards Syria. Barnabas took JM and headed across the sea to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-41). We don’t hear much about John Mark after this which leaves us to wonder if God had given him a chance at redeeming himself or if he was a lost cause. Does Paul continue to hold him at arms length after his desertion in Cyprus?

Fifteen Years

God is really good. We step away from Him purposefully and knowingly and yet He is always there for us. What of John Mark? Does he deserve that unchanging grace? Of course he does and if we look at Paul’s letters later in his life, around fifteen years from the sharp disagreement he had with Barnabas, we see a softening of heart in Paul. In Colossians 4:10-11 we see Paul tell the church in Colossae to welcome John Mark and that John Mark has been a comfort to him.

Paul continues to place JM close to his heart as he describes him as a fellow worker in Philemon 1:23-24. His final note to Timothy is one showing his adoration for John Mark as he tells Timothy to “Get Mark…because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11).

Big Idea

John Mark’s life is proof that the early hiccups you have in life are not a death sentence to separate you from the glory of God. He is righteous and forgiving. We are so easy to look at our stumbles and become crestfallen over them that we don’t see the work God has prepared for us.

John Mark did two great things and he may have only been aware of one of them. He wrote Bible and that is the easiest one for us to see and discern. Yet if we look back we can see that the separation of Paul and Barnabas did great work because now there were two strong teams out spreading the word to the gentiles.

We know God’s long game, He has put it directly into writing for us. We should be focusing on what is right in front of us because our faith in the work of Christ has cemented our salvation by God’s decree. There is no refund on that glory, there is no loss of that redemption. Instead dust yourself off and do what John Mark did. He seized that chance in life and set the world on fire for God.

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Men to Know: Diotrephes

Good Host Diotrephes

Diotrephes, that is not a name that rings a bell. It didn’t for me anyway. I’m not a learned scholar of God’s word but I do the best I can to learn more so when I read about Diotrephes I just kind of had a “huh, interesting” moment. You can read about Diotrephes in 3 John 1:9-11, yep just two verses.

Context

The whole idea behind the third epistle is to shed light on two very distinct ways that churches were being towards guests. That one is welcoming (Gaius) while the other is not a gracious host. The guests that the epistle speaks about in 3 John 1:5 are believers. The word for “brother and sisters
used in Greek is adelphoi which refers to brethren in God’s family.

Diotrephes

Diotrephes loved being first. So much so that he would not welcome any one as guests to the church he tended. Those outsiders would bring influence and that would challenge his authority in the church. Not only did he turn away guests but he did his best to spread dissension among his flock about people wanting to visit. If those people tried to help those outsiders he would throw them out of the church. He loved power and put it above Christ. It’s easy to say, “He shouldn’t do that.” because we know that putting anything above Christ is wrong. There is more to Diotrephes that we can learn than just he usurped Christ in his heart with power.

Servant Leadership

This was the non-obvious thing that Diotrephes was missing. He was not applying the words Christ spoke (Matthew 20:26-28) that He emulated throughout his life on earth, Diotrephes was not being a serving leader. Even businesses today understand the benefits of this type of leadership and it was not being applied in the most important place,  God’s house. The Son of Man left his place in heaven, lived among us and even washed our feet. That wasn’t enough, He chose to then die for us (Mark 10:45). None of which we deserved and yet he chose to serve us so that he could lead us back to God.

Conclusion

The third epistle of John compares Gaius to Diotrephes and urges deperately for Gaius to follow good examples. God’s given us the very best role model we could ever have. He’s a perfect one, His Son. We must be gracious and discerning hosts. As men we must lead our family, our church by serving them. This is why we are called to love our wives as Christ loves the church. Christ has no bottom floor to how far he would go to cement the church under God’s authority. He leads the church with every intention of elevating it to God’s glory. By shunning others Diotrephes was trying to get in the way of Gods’ desires. There is no record of whether Diotrephes ever turned from those destructive ways but in the here and now, if we can aim to live like Paul tells us in Romans 12:9-13 we can fulfill our duties as hosts to our adelphoi and to the unbeliever we can show them what Christ was really all about.

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Serve Each Other In Love

Serve

Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him. – 1 John 3:18-19

We talk about love around here. You could say we got a whole lotta’ lovin’ even. It’s significant to us as Christians. It’s something as men we need to embrace because we are responsible for our households. Not just in money or chores but in the deepest way we know, our spirit. Men are responsible for the spiritual wholesomeness of their homes. One way we can teach this is how we shove love to others through service to them. We’ve talked about serving one another before, let’s go deeper and talk about the difference in serving to serve and to serve in love.

Serve in Love

Anyone can provide a service to one another. It can be great customer friendly service that will make the person come back for help when they need it again. That’s great but is it in love? Maybe love of the profession but love for the customer is what I am inquiring about. Love for your service done with Christ at the forefront. If we do service so that others may see that we are doing service then we defeat the purpose of what it means to serve (Matthew 6:1). Do deeds for the sake of being a Christian and not because someone may think well of you. That’s the easiest way to serve in love. Letting go of our pride and saying, “Hey, they need help.” then thoughtlessly doing it.

That’s the big thing, you have God’s love in you. There is no effort to help others and be there for them. You’ll find happier people are surrounding you when you can cast away that need to get something out of it for yourself. If we can put this in to our household and show love to others in practical ways we are doing the work we are commanded to do. Help and support out of love and not just to get it over with.  I’ve done it, I want to do something but I keep getting asked to do this or that and get frustrated but if I take a moment and address the situation as this. The woman I love, who I am called upon to protect and serve in love, is asking me to do just that. I don’t want to fail my commitment to her. That is bitterness (Hebrews 12:14-15) and it is a weed that can grow quick and deeply. Better to stamp it out before it takes hold. Love. Serve. Love to Serve. Most importantly, Serve in Love.

Serve The Lord

Serve The Lord

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. – Ephesians 4:1

Being a prisoner for the Lord. It’s a powerful idea. It’s also terrifying. We like to control things, it’s easily one of the things I personally struggle with. I am getting better at it but at one time it was almost impossible for me to just lift my hands and say, “Yep, God, You take this, I know you have the control.” I thought I needed to do it all, I needed to set my destiny. Paul on the other hand is the epitome of what a prisoner for the Lord meant. His words can be taken as a double entendre because at the time he wrote this epistle he was a prisoner of Rome because of serving Christ and on the other hand when you accept Jesus’ Lordship you accept Him as master. You serve under His will.

Serving others is a life worthy of the calling we receive. For some of us that is missionary work. Others it is front-line ministry. Yet again it may be the friendly face at the doors of the church welcoming regular attendees and then newcomers. It doesn’t matter what path God sets on your heart, what matters is that you are serving Him by being willing to serve others. Jesus specifically told us that the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve others (Mark 10:45) and He went farther than just serving in the sense of washing feet or getting food. The last half of that verse shows how He served humanity, His life ransomed for many. That’s you, that’s me. I’m not saying run out and serve someone by finding death through risking your life for them although in the heat of the moment is a different thing altogether.

Serve Like Christ

Jesus who gave up all of the powers of Godhood humbled himself to wash the feet of the disciples, to sit with sinners and to die for all of us. He calls us to serve others, that’s it. That is why our burden is so much lighter than the one He had to carry. He died for all of us, not just one person but everyone.

To serve like Jesus did is to show love and compassion for others. Help the widow with carrying groceries or the Veteran that is homeless. Those times when you’re interacting with them one on one is a chance to share your testimony with them by acting in kindness. That one gesture may be what God uses to pull their brokenness to Him and begin piecing things together for their salvation. What if a week later that Veteran comes up and asks why you were so kind and you tell them because Jesus; then you get them to come to church once, no pressure. They keep coming and then they accept Christ as Savior and Lord.

You just did the work Christ commissioned us to do and all you did was be kind. You didn’t go to some far flung land and become a missionary. Missionary work is not for everyone, it’s a heroic effort in all the good ways to me. But being kind doesn’t take heroic effort normally. It takes more to be unkind than to follow the directions Christ gave us.

Not every person you help is going to want to hear your testimony and it’s likely the majority won’t. The example I gave just illustrates how God can use you and it takes no effort on your part aside from showing someone how kind you are. It would be great if it always worked that way but dispel thoughts of grandeur and settle in reality that you do it for the potential of glorifying God.

Final Thoughts

The best way to serve the Lord is to do what he has commanded of us. As a prisoner of Christ we should be eager to reach out and share our experiences as we have went from our lowest lows to the highest highs that only God can provide. It takes more thought and energy to be cruel than it does to simply react and help someone. Jesus helped the world knowing that His reward would be that humanity would slay Him. You know what helping others does for us? We serve the Lord in that capacity and have the chance to glorify Him. If we are doing it for any other reason aside from a genuine desire to help someone then we aren’t following the commandments of our Master. He delights in our joy of Him.

Serve selflessly because Jesus gave it all. He deserves nothing less than all of what we can give Him.

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