ARE YOU FOCUSED..

In Philippians 3:13, Paul says,

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.

The phrase I want to direct you to today is Paul’s statement, One thing I do.  These are echoes of words King David spoke when he said, “One thing I desire,” and Jesus, who said to the rich young ruler, “There is one thing you lack.”

Then there is the blind man, who had been blind from birth, whom Jesus healed.  When he was questioned, he said, “There is one thing I know:  I was blind, now I see.”  One thing I do; one thing I desire; one thing you lack; one thing I know.

Each of these statements points to a vital thing needed if you are to grow in your spiritual life:  FOCUS.

The problem with many people is they are far too scattered.  They are trying to do everything and be everything.  They try to be a jack-of-all-trades and end up being a master of none.

If that describes you today, let me ask you a question:  What is the one main thing that should be the focus of your life?

I have a very gifted friend who drives me crazy.  We can spend an hour in the car; and, in that hour, he has shared 21 new ideas with me.  He is trying to be so many things and do so many things that he is not as effective as he could be at anything! 

My question to you is this:  If you died and stood before God today, what is the one thing He is going to ask you about?  Paul said, “One thing I do.”  What is that one thing for you?

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ARE YOU STILL GROWING SPIRITUALLY…

In Philippians 3:12, Paul says,

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

Paul’s challenge in this verse is for you and me to press on, to keep growing.  I believe one of the greatest assets in life that you and I have is the capacity to grow and change.  We have the capacity to press on.

One of the first steps in pressing on is to realize that you have not yet arrived.  Even the apostle Paul acknowledged and recognized that he had not yet arrived.  He said, Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected.

Paul understood that he had a lot of room for growth.  And if he did, so do we.

If you have grown stagnant in your spiritual life, you need to ask the question, “Why?”  Why is your spiritual life stunted?  Why are you not growing?  Why are you stymied in your spiritual progress?  What are your barriers to growth?

I believe that if we are willing to admit that we need to grow, then identify the barriers that are keeping a lid on our spiritual lives, and finally, by the grace of God, deal with those barriers and remove them, we will begin to press on and grow.

If you were to take a catfish and put it in a small fish tank, that fish would only grow to be 12 inches long and it might weigh a quarter of a pound.  But if you took that identical catfish and placed it into a lake, it might grow to be three feet long and weigh 60 pounds.

What was the barrier to its growth?  The tank kept it contained.  It grew to the limit that the environment allowed.

Remove the barriers to your spiritual growth and press on!

THE PRAYER SUMMARY…

 Psalms 37:4  provides us the “Y” in the acronym P-R-A-Y, the four elements to effective prayer we have been discussing over the last few devotionals. 

Here is what Psalm 37:4 says,

Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Now the Hebrew word for delight in this verse literally means to become soft or pliable.  This means that “delighting” in the Lord is assuming a yielded posture before God. 

So the “Y” in P-R-A-Y stands for yield.  The question is:  How do you practice yielding to God when you pray?  Yielding is when you stop talking, and  you wait, listen, and seek to hear from God. 

In my own practice of prayer, I will often bow before God and ask Him, “God, is there anything You want to say to me?  Do You have any instructions for me?  Is there anything You want me to change?”

Then I silently wait for Him to speak to me.

As you assume this posture of being yielded and waiting quietly before Him, you will be surprised at some of the things that come to your attention: “You need to spend more time with your daughter,” “Take your wife out on a date,” “Bake your neighbor a pie and build a bridge over which the gospel can travel,” “Spend more time praising Me,” “Show your gratitude and appreciation for those who have been helping you in your life.”

You will indeed hear from God if you ask Him to speak into your heart, and wait silently before Him.  

That is the last element of effective prayer:  praise, repent, ask, yield.  Your prayers can indeed be effective if you commit to these four principles.  That is how to  P-R-A-Y.

THE JOY OF PRAYER..

Yesterday we talked about the “A” in the acronym P-R-A-Y, which is our way of understanding the steps in effective prayer.  That “A” stands for ask, and I have come to believe that too many Christians don’t believe that God wants them to ask.

God wants you to ask.  He really does.  But there are some conditions He gives in order to answer your requests.  In John chapters 14-16 we find a number of these conditions.

We need to remember that these are Jesus’ last hours with the disciples; and He wants them to understand how prayer really works.  Over and over He emphasizes the need to ask, but His answers will be based on three conditions.

First, in John 14:13, Jesus says your request must glorify God,

“And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”

Second, in John 15:7, He says your request must be consistent and in harmony with His Word,

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

And finally, in John 16:23-24, Jesus sets the condition that your request bring you joy,

“And in that day you will ask Me nothing.  Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.  Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

Over and over, Jesus commands you to ask.  But when you ask, make sure your request will glorify God, that it is consistent with His Word, and that it will bring you joy.

HOW WE SHOULD ASK IN PRAYER..

So far we have discovered that praise and repentance are the first two steps to effective prayer.  Today I want to show you the very important third step of asking.

Yesterday we talked about how repentance is searching your own heart and asking God to put the spotlight on it, and then repenting of anything that He shows you.  When your heart is clean, you can have confidence before God when you ask.  As 1 John 3:21-22 says,

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.  And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.

In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus tells us,

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

Pretty clear, isn’t it?  God loves you and wants the very best for you.  Be careful not to water down the words of Jesus, or somehow try and explain them away or complicate them.  He meant just what He said.

But there are some conditions.  And tomorrow we will look at those conditions for receiving what you ask God for.

HOW WE SHOULD ASK IN PRAYER..

So far we have discovered that praise and repentance are the first two steps to effective prayer.  Today I want to show you the very important third step of asking.

Yesterday we talked about how repentance is searching your own heart and asking God to put the spotlight on it, and then repenting of anything that He shows you.  When your heart is clean, you can have confidence before God when you ask.  As 1 John 3:21-22 says,

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.  And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.

In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus tells us,

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

Pretty clear, isn’t it?  God loves you and wants the very best for you.  Be careful not to water down the words of Jesus, or somehow try and explain them away or complicate them.  He meant just what He said.

But there are some conditions.  And tomorrow we will look at those conditions for receiving what you ask God for.

MAKE REPENTANCE A HABIT..

Yesterday we began to look at what makes for effective prayer by using the acronym P-R-A-Y.  The first step is praise.  Today, I want to focus on the second letter of our acronym, “R”, which stands for repent.

By repentance in prayer, I mean taking the time before God to search your heart and repent of anything that has come between you and Him.  Psalm 19:12-13 expresses it well,

Who can understand his errors?  Cleanse me from secret faults.  Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me.  Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression.

Verse 12 begins with the question, “Who can understand his errors?”  The psalmist is telling us, “You will not always know when you do something wrong.  You will not always know when you get into an area that is not right.”

What David is pointing to are the secret faults and presumptuous sins which can still have dominion over you—even though you may not be aware that what you did was wrong.

For example, sometimes we can allow attitudes to get into our hearts that we don’t realize are inconsistent with God’s character.  Or sometimes we can do and say things that are detrimental, not only to us, but to others, and not really understand the damage we have done.

How do you deal with these sins?  You come before God and say, “God, put the spotlight on anything in my life that has raised a barrier between You and me, and I will repent of it.” 

So when you pray, ask God to reveal any sin in your life you may be overlooking.  God will honor your heart of repentance.

WE MUST PRAISE HIM FIRST…

Praying consistently will change your life.  In fact, many of the blessings God wants you to enjoy will never be realized unless you pray.

I think all Christians know they are supposed to pray, and all Christians want to pray.  But many of God’s people, if they are completely frank and transparent about the issue, would have to admit their prayer life is somewhere between mediocre and non-existent.

Over the next few devotionals, I want to share with you four simple points which I have put into an acronym: P-R-A-Y.  If you can spell the word pray, hopefully you will be able to remember how to make your prayer life more effective, and you will be inspired to pray more consistently.

Psalm 100 helps us understand the first letter, “P”, in the word P-R-A-Y, which stands for praise.  Psalm 100:1-4 states it well,

Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands!  Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with singing.  Know that the LORD, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.  Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

Verse 2 tells us, Come before His presence with singing.  And in verse 4 notice the words “enter into.”  In other words, praise is how you are to enter God’s presence.  It is the best way to begin your prayer.

When you want to come to God, you start with thanksgiving.  You start with singing.  You start with praise.  Or, as The Message says, Enter with the password:  “Thank you!

Today, and every day, make praise the starting point of every conversation with God!