WDJD: Prayer (According to Mark)

Jesus prayingCloverton

Although I know some of you couldn’t make it because it was on a school night, the Lord really blessed many (and will bless many more) thanks to the Cloverton concert this past Tuesday to benefit the CARES Food Bank of Strasburg.

Right Deb and Michelle? 🙂

There were three churches involved. We sponsored it with the Strasburg Community Church and Mountain View Fellowship co-sponsoring. I cannot thank their ministers, Steve and Donn respectively, enough for all the help they and their congregations provided. From a place for the band to sleep to food to being insta-roadies…it was an incredible coming together of brothers and sisters in Christ to help feed the hungry.

And some awesome music praising the Lord!

I’d also like to mention a neat thing that happened to Steve, Donn, the Strasburg Community Youth Pastor Steve, and me. Show time was 7:00 PM…and we went down to the green room at quarter of to confirm some logistics around introductions/etc. When we got to the bottom of the stairs and just outside the green room’s door we had to stop.

Do you know why?

So we wouldn’t interrupt the earnest, lengthy prayer of the band.

And that’s when we 100% knew we made the right decision bringing those godly young men to Strasburg!


And that prayer convinced me to add another entry to the series I began with when I started preaching in the Church of Christ. Back in Antrim, NH I first spoke once a month…and the first three sermons were based on WDJD, “What did Jesus do?” The very first was February 22, 2009…”WDJD: Scripture.”

Continue reading WDJD: Prayer (According to Mark)

Elders, Praying, and Anointing

Man being anointedExpository Preaching

I believe I have noted before that I am a topical preacher…meaning I choose a topic and create a biblically-based sermon around it. Many other preachers are expository…meaning they go through books of the Bible verse-by-verse. Which is better?

Depends who you ask. 🙂

I’ve seen expository ministers act like it is the only legitimate way to preach…which is a bit crazy since they (like me) are committed to Scripture…and the Bible does not clearly say one way or another.

James 5:13-18

Even though I am a topical preacher, today’s sermon is going to be an expository one about some verses in James. Let’s hop right in and read Jame’s 5:13-18:

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

We are only really going to touch on verses 14 and 15…partially because I’ve been meaning to keep my summer sermons short and have failed miserably…and partially because two verses are especially germane to an anointing we are going to do right after I am done. This sermon is basically an introduction to that.

So, let’s reread verses 14 and 15:

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15).

Although those verses seem pretty straightforward, there is some disagreement about what “sick” means in them…so we will focus on three things:

  • Is this ceremony for illness?
  • How should the ceremony be performed?
  • What does it mean if the person isn’t healed?

I know you could come up with many more items to touch on, but if we unpacked all that is in verses 14 and 15, we could be here a couple hours. 🙂

Is this Ceremony for Illness?

Generally, I recommend people start interpretation with a “natural reading” of a book, chapter, or verse. What I mean is that, normally, what a passage naturally means when you read it is probably what actually means. For instance, if you read the creation narrative in Genesis, its natural reading is that God created the world in seven literal days…so God probably… Continue reading Elders, Praying, and Anointing

And When You Pray… (Part 2)

Praying angel statue

Quick Review

Last week we spent a good amount of time looking at two principles and sub-principles when it comes to prayer:

  • Do not pray like Jesus said not to
    • Do not pray selfishly
    • Do not pray for show
    • Do no pray thinking you can control God with your prayer
  • Pray like Jesus said to
    • Pray constantly
    • Don’t lose heart
    • Remember who you are praying to
    • Pray that others will recognize who God is too
    • Pray for God’s will versus what you want
    • Look to God for your needs
    • Ask God for forgiveness
    • Ask God to protect you from temptation

We all still in agreement that those are good principles? No second thoughts after a week to reconsider? 🙂

Emulating Jesus

As promised, this week we are going to discuss the third principle…along with its sub principles.

Pray like Jesus did.

When I first started preaching in Churches of Christ, I began with a series based on “What did Jesus do?”: WDJD. We all probably have heard people say in situations we should ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”: WWJD…but Ray Comfort’s Living Water’s ministry rightly pointed out that it may be better to ask, “What did Jesus do?” Scripture tells us what that is, whereas people can argue until the cows come home about what Jesus would do. Continue reading And When You Pray… (Part 2)

And When You Pray… (Part 1)

Praying angel statueBecoming Mormon

Some of you may already be aware of where my “formal” spiritual journeys began. Neither of my parents were religious while I grew up. My dad was, theoretically, Catholic…and my mom was just as theoretically Lutheran.

So they had me baptized as a Methodist as a toddler.

A few years later…maybe when I was six?…they gave my me a choice of whether I wanted to continue to attend Sunday school at Canaan United Methodist Church (although I don’t know if “United” was in its title back then).

How do think a six year-old kid with no true spiritual life at home decided?

Zoom forward to fifteen year-old Alan. Although I think I may have said a simple prayer every night and definitely believed there was a God, I was far from saved. Then my parents had Mormon missionaries over…and what they taught seemed to make a lot of sense.

However, fifteen year-old Alan did not “get religion.”

Now shift ahead to maybe 20 year-old Alan…for 52 year-old Alan the timing of the past gets foggier and foggier… 🙂

At that point I decided (a) that if there was truth in the physical world there is truth in the spiritual world and (b) that I wanted to know it. I was, and hopefully remain, a very logical person…and wanted the truth about God.

And based on my short spiritual history, guess who I went to to start that search? Continue reading And When You Pray… (Part 1)

Imprecatory Prayers Make Me Cringe

Voodoo dollOkay, I’ll admit it. As much as they are biblical, imprecatory prayers make me cringe. I ran into this one today as I continue to read through all 66 in one year:

Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders (Nehemiah 4:4-5, English Standard Versions.

Just not seeing the “love your neighbors” or “turn the other cheek” stuff going on here.

Your thoughts? Considering the persecution of Christians around the world right now, is it okay if we ask God to give them “what they deserve”?

Lord, Why Have You Forsaken Us?

Hurt's The Crux (image from Amazon.com)


After last week's sermon I got two bits of implicit advice, one right after service, one late in the work week. First, get into the meat of the talk more quickly. Second, keep it shorter.

So, let's jump right in with some questions:

  • Did God create the heavens and the earth and everything that is in them?
  • Is God sovereign over all His creation?
  • Is God omnipresent—that is, everywhere?
  • Is God love?
  • Is God in control?
  • Is God omnipotent—that is, all powerful?
  • Does God hear prayer?
  • Does God answer prayer?

If you are a true Christian you are likely to answer yes to all those questions. As such, please try to answer one additional question in these words spoken during Hurt's song, "Adonai":

If God is here
And God is love
Was he there when I got touched?
While I was calling out his name?

The answer to his query, "Was God there?" is another simple yes. However, that's not really the question being asked, is it?

Continue reading Lord, Why Have You Forsaken Us?

You Prayed for What?!

Have you ever seen a football game where the guy gets the ball and promptly runs to the wrong end zone? Or a basketball game where a player gets disoriented and sinks one in the opposition's basket? Although in some ways it's funny (as long as it wasn't an athlete on your team that made the faux pas) isn't it really more painful to watch than humorous? Well, assuming you aren't a really cruel person. 🙂

Oddly enough, this situation came to mind when I read a Scripture quoted in Hank Hanegraaff's book, Christianity in Crisis: The 21st Century. He used a different translation and didn't include the first verse and a half, but for the purposes of this article:

Two things I ask of you;
   deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
   give me neither poverty nor riches;
   feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
   and say, "Who is the Lord?"
or lest I be poor and steal
   and profane the name of my God (Proverbs 30:7-9, English Standard Version).

Now, I don't know about you…but when I pray for God's blessings I generally am a bit more ambitious than that…and Agur son of Jakeh's words seemed to be those of someone praying against himself. Sure, he didn't petition to be poor, but praying against riches? Seems like someone scoring for the other side…for his enemies who don't want him to be successful. Continue reading You Prayed for What?!

Reacting to the News (Colossians 1:3-14)

History Lesson

Before we continue in Colossians…we got a whole 2 verses done last week :-)…I wanted to share a quick history lesson.

As I wrote those words I could just imagine some of the boys in the front row looking less than enthused at the idea. 🙂 You probably think you get tortured enough with history at school, eh?

Well, the good news is that there is no quiz afterward, it'll be pretty short, and it's going to be interesting because it is about us, not some dead king from centuries ago..who you'll have to memorize what the number after his name was.

"Was that George the III or George the IV?"

Although that kind of history can be quite interesting too if it is allowed to be.

Our Church's Founding

So, have you ever wondered why you are sitting here today?

And kids, I'm not talking about "Because my parents made me"…or adults, "Because I'd feel guilty if I played hooky to rest." 🙂

Instead, why is there even an Antrim Church of Christ? This area has, and has had, plenty of church-going alternatives. Why are we here?

Now…I'm sure I'll get parts of this wrong…for which I'll immediately blame Winslow. 🙂

No, I'll blame taking notes about it at an airport while being tired from a long week with too much travel…and from what is referred to as the telephone game, where every generation of sharing information messes it up a bit.

As I understand it…our humble little congregation started with the Crams and Deans meeting in each other's homes. Their faith was rewarded with others joining their gatherings, including Dick & Evelyn Davis and their kids.

Then someone had a bright idea…maybe they should get a preacher!

Continue reading Reacting to the News (Colossians 1:3-14)

The Prayer of a Child

Michelle, Augie, and I were returning from Bible Study yesterday, and (as is quite often true) I had my iPod playing on shuffle through the car's stereo. I believe were were enjoying a song by Christina Anu when Augie made a simple request. (If you are not familiar with Anu, she's an Australian singer whose largest hit was, "My Island Home.")

What was Augie's entreaty?

From the back seat he said, "Augie's church music?"

Christina Anu shouldn't be insulted at the little guy's request for a change of genre—Augie knows that I have quite a few of his songs in my library, and it's good that kids like hearing other kids sing. What was surprising was that just after he asked…within a couple seconds…VeggieTales came on.

A little blonde curly-haired boy petitioned, and the Lord delivered. God blessed our music-loving munchkin. Continue reading The Prayer of a Child

Prayin’ Like a Pagan (Part 2)

Quick Review

Before we jump into "Prayin' Like a Pagan (Part 2)" (otherwise known as "Winslow's Sermon on the Lord's Prayer (Part 2)"), let's quickly review the highlights of part 1. Although we are reviewing eleven verses (Matthew 6:5-15), we only made it through three of them two weeks ago when I last preached. I suppose at that rate I should do another three weeks :-)…but we'll go ahead and try to wrap it up today.

Other than everyone learning that if you compliment me there is a ka-ching in heaven as money is removed from my celestial bank account (just kidding!), the easiest way to summarize what we learned in verses 5 through 7 is by listing the people we should not pray like.

Verses 5 and 6 taught us not to pray like hypocrites whose words were selfish and for show. There is no heavenly reward for that kind of supplication.

An by looking at 10 different translations of verse 7, we generated a much longer list of people we should not mimic in prayer:

  • Don't pray like Gentiles
  • Don't pray like pagans
  • Don't pray like heathen
  • Don't pray like idolaters
  • Don't pray like people of other religious
  • Don't pray like ungodly people
  • Don't pray like people who don't know God

And…turning "don'ts" around to a "do"…

Ultimately we are to pray like people who know God.

Continue reading Prayin’ Like a Pagan (Part 2)

Prayin’ Like a Pagan (Part 1)

A.K.A. Winslow’s Sermon on Prayer (Part 1)

I have asked folks to let me know if there is anything they’d like me to preach on, and a few weeks back Winslow delivered by requesting a sermon on the Lord’s Prayer. I postponed doing it because it’s far less simple than it sounds…and although I still feel like I am not going to do the Prayer justice, here is my first attempt at that important task. I say "first attempt" because, as uncomplicated as the Lord’s Prayer seems on the surface, it actually provides plenty of material to do many sermons.

So, if I fail miserably on this one I know I’ll have ample opportunity to do another. 🙂

Dive Right In

Let’s dive right in by reading the entire section we’ll be going over today and two weeks from now (Rick is preaching next week since I’ll be in California). The only thing I’ll add before that is a reminder this is part of the magnificent Sermon on the Mount. It is fitting that within all the other golden words of advice directly from Jesus lips He would include guidance on praying. Without further ado, let’s look at Matthew 6:5-15:

Continue reading Prayin’ Like a Pagan (Part 1)

“For Those Who Will Believe”

Expository preaching

Last week I said that I was preaching my first…and perhaps last…expository sermon. As anyone who has listened to me know, I am more of a topical speaker…although one who attempts to make sure it is Scripture that is speaking about the subject, not me.

As fate would have it, however, this sermon will be expository too. Winslow asked me to preach on the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13…and I need a bit more time before I do that…but I figured it would be good to instead discuss one of my favorite prayers in the Bible…as recorded in John chapter 17.

Now…that’s a fairly long prayer…so we won’t be dissecting it quite verse-by-verse…but I will be attempted to "expound" on some major points it contains.

So here is Alan’s expository sermon #2…although I am not longer convinced future ones are unlikely…some scriptures beg for special focus. 🙂


The Night Before

Although I was in the Navy for a few years…I did not face combat…I never even handled a weapon.

Even so I can imagine a little how it must feel the night before a major battle. For instance, visualize being with the rest of your platoon the night before D-day. What would you be doing? What you would be talking about?

There is a saying that there are no atheists in a fox hole…so…

Continue reading “For Those Who Will Believe”

Bargaining with the Gods

Boy praying

Why a sermon on prayer?

At the end of Bible study on Wednesday I asked what folks might like to hear a sermon on…and Winslow suggested prayer since it is the theme of this month.

“But prayer is one of my greatest shortcomings!” I protested.

“All the more reason to do a sermon on prayer,” everyone countered.

Perhaps not the exact wording…but that really is the genesis of this talk.

Anybody else here feel the pang of guilt every time they hear of how some pillar of the faith spent hours a day praying, got up early every morning to spend time with God, etcetera?  [ Wait for answers. ]

Then this sermon is for us…for those who know their prayer life isn’t what it should be.

Now…I really, really don’t feel competent to talk about prayer because I am so lousy at its practice…luckily God hasn’t called me up here to preach my own wisdom, but instead His from the Bible–and the Bible has plenty to say about prayer!


Pagan prayer

Before we turn to Scripture to learn God’s guidance on prayer, let’s talk about how those in other religions pray.  In his book, “Every Prayer in the Bible,” Larry Richards had a section, “Prayer and Our View of God,” in which he summarized three major historic views of prayer:

  • Prayer in Roman religion: a legal transaction
  • Prayer in Sumerian religion: bargaining with the gods
  • Prayer in Egyptian religion: manipulation of the gods

He summarized those three in a section he titled, “The Impact of the Concept of God in Pagan Religions”:

The above descriptions of the prayers of pagans are not exhaustive. The literature of each culture mentioned contains poems praising the gods that the people worshiped. Yet the prayers quoted above reveal much about the basic assumptions of the Romans, the Sumerians and other Mesopotamian peoples, and the Egyptians concerning the nature of their gods and humankind’s relationship with them.

The Romans maintained a respectful attitude toward their gods, yet they assumed that something like a legal contract could be negotiated with them. By presenting something of value to the gods, the Romans expected the gods to behave appropriately, returning an equivalent benefit. The gods and human beings were viewed as parties who entered into formal contracts to the benefit of each.

The Sumerians and other Mesopotamian peoples assumed that the gods were in some sense dependent on human beings. The gods fed on the sacrifices offered by humankind, and they were pleased by gifts such as the gold cup which Zimri-Lim offered to Ida, the river god.

While the Romans tended to assume a quasi-legal mutual obligation might exist between men and the gods, the Mesopotamian peoples hoped that by appeasing their gods the gods might favor them. The fact that the gods wanted what human beings could provide offered some prospect of bargaining successfully, although the gods of the ancient Near East were capricious and could not be counted on.

The attitude of the Egyptians, as expressed in their prayer-spells, was far more cynical. The gods were real, but they could be manipulated by magic. In some sense, human beings could gain power over the gods and force them to do man’s will. Even access to heaven depended on having at hand the right magic spells by which to pass various tests imposed by the guardian deities of the otherworld.

While manipulation of the gods by means of magic spells was also an element in most other pagan religions, this approach to prayer was most fully expressed in Egyptian religion.

[ Richards, L. (1998). Every prayer in the Bible (12–13). Nashville: T. Nelson. ]

What do you prayers say about your picture of God?  Are you trying to legally obligate God to answer?  Are you bargaining with Him?  Do you think if you just choose the right combination of words you’ll get your way?

Have you, like me, been guilty of all three at some point in your life?

More importantly, what does the way you pray say about your picture of God?


Jesus’ advice about prayer

The sure cure for our unhealthy–perhaps anemic–prayers is a dose of biblical advice, so let’s go there.

Jesus’ prayer habit

First, does everyone understand just how much Jesus depended on prayer?

  • He started His ministry started with prayer (Luke 3:21)
  • He went up mountains to pray alone (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46)
  • He rose up before sunrise to pray privately (Mark 1:35)
  • He prayed all night (Luke 6:12)
  • He ended His ministry praying (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:46)
  • And more…

Jesus practiced what He preached…so let’s now look at what he preached:

Matthew 6:5-15:

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

10 Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread,

12 and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

What can we learn from Jesus’ example prayer and advice around it?

  • That we should never do prayer for show
  • That we should have private prayer
  • That quantity or repetition of words does not increase prayer effectiveness
  • That when we pray we should picture God as our [ wait for responses ]…that we should picture God as our Father.
  • That we should “hallow” our heavenly Father (honor Him as holy…treat him with respect and honor)
  • That we should pray for His will
  • That we should look to Him to provide our daily needs
  • That we should ask Him to forgive us…but not before [ wait for answers ]…but not before we forgive others
  • That we should look to the Lord to help us fight our temptations

Quite a lot in one prayer, eh?!

But doesn’t this all make sense if our picture of God is that of a trustworthy, powerful, caring, and loving father?

Wasn’t Larry Richards wise in naming a section: “The Impact of the Concept of God in Pagan Religions”?

If our prayers come up short when compared to Jesus’ advice, what does it say about our picture of God?

The second time Scripture captures Jesus’ example prayer is in Luke 11:1-13…let’s see what else it adds:

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

3 Give us each day our daily bread,

4 and forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.”

5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The actual prayer shared by Luke is shorter, but he does include a couple more points we can learn from:

  • Be persistent (not for God’s sake, for our own).  Ask.  Ask.  Ask.  Don’t give up.
  • Trust your heavenly Father knows what you need, and will provide it

So…in just two scriptures about the sermon on the mount Jesus gives us 11 bits of advice.

Larry Richards ended up with a slightly different take–one that’s a bit more eloquent than mine:

1. True prayer is an expression of a human being’s personal relationship with God.

2. True prayer involves reliance on the fatherliness of God.

3. True prayer involves an expression by those who know God through Jesus of:

(a) respect for God as holy;

(b) submission to God’s sovereign right to rule;

(c) commitment to moral obedience and to fulfilling God’s purposes;

(d) daily dependence on God;

(e) determination to live as a forgiven and forgiving person; and

(f) reliance on God for strength to meet successfully any testing which He devises.

[ Richards, L. (1998). Every prayer in the Bible (143). Nashville: T. Nelson. ]


More advice

Obviously the Bible has much more advice on praying.  Whether it be Paul saying that we should pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17), James telling us not to doubt when praying (James 1:5-8), Jesus telling us to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), or John telling us to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are “committing a sin not leading to death” (1 John 5:16)…the Bible is full or guidance…both straight up and by sharing great examples.  (For instance, what was Daniel’s habit?  “He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God…” — Daniel 6:10.)

With all these great words of wisdom from Scripture…do you suddenly feel like a prayer warrior?

Not me…but a Puritan, William Gurnall, did say something that speaks to me:

Praying is the same to the new creature as crying is to the natural. The child is not learned by art or example to cry, but  instructed by nature; it comes into the world crying. Praying is not a lesson got by forms and rules of art, but flowing from principles of new life itself. [Thomas, I. (1996). The golden treasury of Puritan quotations (electronic ed.). Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation. ]

We don’t “learn” to pray like we pick up chemistry in high school…prayer is something we naturally grow into as God continues His work of regeneration in us.  It is from the heart, not the head.  I need…you need…to let God make prayer natural for us.

I’d like to wrap up with the thoughts of another Puritan, Thomas Brooks:

God looks not at the elegancy of your prayers, to see how neat they are; nor yet at the geometry of your prayers, to see how long they are; nor yet at the arithmetic of your prayers, to see how many they are; nor yet at the music of your prayers, nor yet at the sweetness of your voice, nor yet at the logic of your prayers; but at the sincerity of your prayers, how hearty they are. There is no prayer acknowledged, approved, accepted, recorded, or rewarded by God, but that wherein the heart is sincerely and wholly. The true mother would not have the child divided. God loves a broken and a contrite heart, so He loathes a divided heart. God neither loves halting nor halving. [ Thomas, I. (1996). The golden treasury of Puritan quotations (electronic ed.). Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation. ]

Nothing matters more in prayer than your heart…except…I would argue…the God you are praying to…