Total Pageviews

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Person Who Prays - Fervency (part 6)


Introduction

In the earlier lessons on prayer and the person who prays, we learned several key things from the Bible. We learned prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening. We learned how to approach God with our heart, mind, and soul by recognizing key things about God. Besides these, the Bible teaches us how to pray – petitioning for self, others, and enemies, adoring and thanking God, and confession and repentance. Added to this, we learned about some of the attributes, attitudes, and actions of an effective person of prayer. The first five taught:
·         The person has a righteousness which comes from God.
·         The person has a belief God has the power to do what is necessary to change things and answer prayers.
·         The person meets God in solitude so he or she is not distracted and does not seek acclaim for his or her piety from other people. God hears in secret and rewards in secret.
·         The person of prayer is watchful and alert.
·         The person of effective prayer prays without ceasing.
In this week’s lesson from the Bible, we will learn another attribute, attitude, or action of the person of effective prayer. That person will pray with fervency and enthusiasm.

Fervency and Enthusiasm

Along with ceaseless praying, the Bible instructs people of prayer to approach the Lord in prayer with what is on his or her heart. When a person does this, the person is fervent, passionate, and intensely enthusiastic about that for which he or she prays be it a petition, confession and repentance, or adoration and thanks. The word “fervent” comes from the Greek word ektenos and means earnestly, fervently, and intensely. When a person genuinely approaches God in prayer, the person speaks with enthusiasm (fervency) and not with meaningless repetition. The fervency in prayer is the side effect of a person’s vital and growing relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Let us now consider what Luke, Jesus, and James teach and model about fervent prayer through in four passages.

Acts 12:5

In Acts 12, Luke recorded Herod’s men arrested Peter and imprisoned him. Herod left four squads of soldiers to guard him until after Passover when he would bring him out before the Jews to please them. No earthly powers would intervene for Peter. The followers of Jesus knew God’s power could provide release for him. In verse five of this chapter, Luke recorded, “So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.” We see the believers’ belief in action through prayer. They fervently prayed to God. They recognized Peter’s only source of rescue could be God. The people of the church requested Peter’s release by Him. They did more than ask, they prayed with fervency.

Remember, prayer is focusing on God, not self. It recognizes and realizes all blessings and helps come from Him through His power. The Jerusalem Christians’ fervency – intense earnestness – showed they believed God would listen to their request and could do what they asked. Jesus made this form of prayer known to them. Jesus taught and modeled fervent prayer. The church had a close relationship with God through Jesus, believed in His power to effect change, came before Him with righteousness, prayed ceaselessly, and had been alert knowing when to intercede for others, particularly Peter at that time.

In verses six through nineteen. An angel of the Lord removed the chains from Peter’s hands and opened the iron gate that led into the city. When the people who had prayed for Peter saw him released, their joy abounded and a report of his release went to the other believers. The church’s faith in God and their relationship with Him along with their fervent prayers affected God and He provided release for Peter.

Luke 22:44

Christ’s followers of Acts 12 learned how to pray before the time of Peter’s imprisonment. Jesus modeled fervent praying. When believers today think of Jesus’ prayers, one most often considered showing fervency is His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

After the Passover meal, Luke recorded Jesus’ time in the garden. The disciples followed Him there, and He told them to pray so they would not enter into temptation. After that Jesus went about a stone’s throw away and asked God, if He was willing, to remove the cup of bitterness, (the death He would soon die as sacrifice for humankind’s sin) from Him. He asked the Father’s will be done, not His own (Luke 12:42). God helped Jesus by sending an angel to strengthen Him. Luke recorded the following in verse forty-four. “And being in agony He was praying fervently and His sweat became like drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” With intense earnestness, Jesus prayed to be strong through the next ordeal of His life – the one of betrayal and intense pain. His fervency was so great, Luke recorded that His sweat was like drops of blood on the ground. The writer of Hebrews, too, recorded the tears of Christ as He prayed to the One able to save Him from death (Hebrew 5:7). Jesus being wholly man and wholly God experienced the same fear of betrayal and pain any human feels. As part of the Godhead, He knew His betrayal and crucifixion was the only way to bring people into a right relationship with God. His fervent prayers came from man and beseeched God. They, too, were the communing of the Son to the Father asking for strength and courage.

Being in relationship with God often requires fervency. When a person prays – communes with God – he or she should be earnest/fervent in knowing Him better and becoming more like Christ. Jesus modeled fervent prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

Matthew 6:7

Jesus taught His followers about fervent prayer. This occurred before Gethsemane and His arrest. Fervent prayer is speaking with meaning and depth. It speaks with intense earnestness. This means no frivolous words are wasted in conversation, but depth and conviction with passion.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the people not to practice their righteousness before men, but solely before God. He taught about solitary prayer and righteousness in the first six verses of Matthew 6. With verse 7, Jesus taught His followers to pray with intention, not meaningless words that sound good and impressive. He said, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” Jesus told them not to speak with frivolous words, but come before God communing with Him with intentionality. Draw near Him to know Him better, seek His will, and petition His help. Come to the point. Be honest in conversation with God.

 I think of children who want to ask a parent to buy them a toy. They talk in circles stating how they have done well at school, the cleaned their rooms and they behaved. The children try to convince the parent of their worthiness. The parent would rather the child genuinely talk and be transparent with him or her. A good parent will bless his or her child with gifts and necessities just as God the Father does. What is more wanted is genuine communion with the person. Instead of flowery words or lots of meaningless words, Jesus taught His followers to come before God with a genuine, earnest intent to commune with Him. He taught His followers in Matthew 6:7 to be genuine and pray with intention and fervency/earnestness.

James 5:17

James taught in this chapter about effective prayer. Before verse seventeen, he spoke of praying for the sick and praising God. With the second half of verse sixteen, we recall one of James’ most famous teachings. He said, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” From these verses people have learned much over the millennia. James gave an example of a righteous person who offered an effective prayer to God. He said in verse seventeen, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.”

Elijah was a man of God. He acquired this status because He believed in God and obeyed Him. He acted upon what God said and commanded even though it was unfathomable. Elijah’s prayer to God to keep the rains from falling from His storehouse was an earnest prayer. Elijah was a man who had no previous history in the Bible, but he came from Tishbe, went to King Ahab, declared the name and power of the LORD God of Israel, and proclaimed no rain would fall until he prayed again to God. King Ahab was the most evil king to reign over Israel. God wanted his attention, repentance, return, and obedience. Because the purpose to withhold rain was God’s means of getting Ahab’s attention and repentance, when Elijah prayed for no rain to fall for forty-two months, he joined with the will of God. Notice in the conversations with Ahab, Elijah was concise – did not use meaningless repetition – and earnest. His heart’s desire was to do the will of God.

What occurred in this story? Read 1 Kings 17-18. Ahab did not return to the Lord. Forty-two months later, Elijah confronted Ahab again to show him the power of God. Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal and Asherah. Their gods failed them at their altars to them and the Lord God prevailed at the altar Elijah built. After Elijah with the prophets of Baal and Asherah, he went to the mountain top and prayed with his head between his knees seven times for rain. On the seventh time his servant returned saying a fist-size cloud hovered over the sea. Elijah told his servant to tell Ahab to hurry and return to his palace because rain was coming. Before Ahab returned, the rain fell. Elijah was an earnest man. He was a man obedient to God. Elijah did not use fluff words, but spoke his mind and the mind of God. His prayers, because they were sincere and sought the will of God, were fervent prayers to God. God answered His prayers, Elijah grew in his relationship with God, the people of Israel saw the power of God, and they returned to worshipping Him.

Relevance and Conclusion

Earnestness/fervency comes from the heart. Praying with fervency does not mean praying a rote prayer. It is not a habitual child’s prayer. Fervent prayers do not come from repetition, but from a heart’s cry to the Lord almighty. Jesus stated the Gentiles prayed meaningless repetition to their gods, and those supposed gods remained silent. Their prayers went unanswered (Matthew 6:7). Instead, Jesus taught His believers should pray to God about what is on their hearts. Be earnest. He modeled fervent praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. The church in Jerusalem sought the Lord through fervent prayer for the release of Peter from Herod’s prison. An angel of the Lord released him. James used Elijah the prophet as an example of a righteous man who prayed fervently. Elijah prayed fervently to God, and the rain ceased for forty-two months.

Each of these people and groups sought God in truth. They strove genuinely to commune with Him. These people sought God’s will, asked believing in His power, received God’s righteousness for their sins, were alert to what was happening and prayed accordingly, and prayed with intense earnestness – fervency. They offered effective prayers to God seeking Him in a growing relationship and becoming more Christlike.

We each should examine ourselves to determine first if we pray genuinely seeking a relationship with God and His will. If we are merely throwing out words with little meaning or heartfelt belief in God, then we pray in vain. If we are seeking God in prayer genuinely seeking to be with Him – communing with Him by speaking, listening, and obeying, then God will hear and answer our prayers. Being in a vital, growing relationship with God through Jesus Christ is what gives us life and gives our prayers to God life.

How is your prayer life?
Now is the time to stop and consider your relationship with God and the effectiveness of your prayers.




Monday, June 13, 2016

The Person Who Prays - Unceasing Prayer (part 5)


Introduction

In the earlier lessons on prayer and the person who prays, we learned several key things from the Bible. We learned prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening. We learned how to approach God without our heart, mind, and soul by recognizing key things about God. Besides these, the Bible teaches us how to pray – petitioning for self, others, and enemies, adoring and thanking God, and confession and repentance. Added to this, we learned about some of the attributes, attitudes, and actions of an effective person of prayer. The first four are:
·         The person has a righteousness which comes from God
·         The person has a belief God has the power to do what is necessary to change things and answer prayers.
·         The person meets God in solitude so he or she is not distracted and does not seek acclaim for his or her piety from other people. God hears in secret and rewards in secret.
·         The person of prayer is watchful and alert
In this week’s lesson from the Bible, we will learn another attribute, attitude, or action of the person of effective prayer. That person will pray ceaselessly. This lesson comes from what Jesus and Paul taught. Ceaseless prayer does more than just activate God’s working for the thing about which a person prays. It changes and grows the person who prays. Ceaseless prayer prepares the person who prays. Finally, it aids in the progress of the Gospel.

Ceaseless Prayer

A person who seeks God in prayer should pray ceaselessly. Jesus taught ceaseless prayer to His disciples and others who followed Him in Luke 18. Paul taught it to the Ephesians, Thessalonians, and Colossians. What did these mean say that taught Christians through the ages to persevere in prayer and pray at all times?

Luke 18:1-8.

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus instructed His disciples to pray always and not give up. Luke said in this passage Jesus taught that “at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.” We understand from these words that prayers can and should be made to God any time. People do not have to pray just at meals, bedtime, or in church. That seems easy enough to learn from this passage; yet a deeper message is found here. Luke used a Greek word that translates into English as “ought.” “Ought” comes from the word dei meaning is necessary because it God decreed and established it; and is needed. Jesus taught this in Luke 11:5-10 when He taught His disciples to pray. He told them ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, and knock and keep on knocking. Jesus taught and commanded His disciples to pray in these passages. Prayer is not an option for Christians. That is the first point in Luke’s passages. The second point is we should pray persistently like the widow woman going incessantly to the judge and like the neighbor going to his neighbor asking for bread. God will answer the prayers of His children who pray with right motives. The Judge will mete out justice and the Provider will give everything needed for life. Pray and pray ceaselessly to the Father.
Jesus ended this passage with a question. He asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” When Jesus Christ returns at the end of the ages to take His followers home to live with Him and the Father eternally, will He find the faith of His followers stayed strong during the calm and the crises? Will the followers have shared the Gospel so faith in Jesus exists when He returns? Prayer is a command. It comes with a promise. Being a child of God means more than getting what we ask from God. It means loving by obeying God in all things. That includes going into the whole world making disciples. Prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening. Listening includes obedience. Are you praying? Are you praying ceaselessly? Are you obeying God so Jesus will find faith on the earth when He returns?
He asked, “Would the returned Christ find faith like this on earth when He returns?” Will people who call themselves believers have continual faith in crisis and calm and still follow Him?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Paul taught on ceaseless prayer, too. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul wrote to encourage the new converts to Christianity. Most of these converts would have come out of a gentile background though some could have been Jews since a synagogue existed there. In 1Thessalonians 5:12-22, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about church life. He taught on living in peace, admonishing the unruly, etc.  In verses 16-18, Paul told them, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” He taught them to pray, thank, and rejoice always and ceaselessly. “Without ceasing” comes from the Greek word adialeiptos and means without intermission, incessantly, without ceasing. With no pause for anything – trials, meals, work, etc. – Paul taught Christians to pray always. Notice, too, he did not tell them to pray if they felt like it. Paul commanded the Christians at Thessalonica to pray. As Jesus did in Luke 11 and 18, he told these new Christians prayer is commanded by God. It permits God’s Spirit to work in a believer, and through and for a believer. Paul mentioned that in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 when he said, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Prayer is commanded by God to grow you more Christlike, to grow your relationship with God, to bring God’s will to pass in and through you, to glorify God, and to praise and thank God. Prayer is commanded so God’s children can commune with Him and His “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is speaking and listening to God and then acting upon what God told His child as a love offering of obedience to Him. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul said. God commands it. He will listen to the selfless prayers of the righteous person.

Ephesians 6:18.

Paul continues to teach on prayer in Ephesians. In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul taught the believers they could have strength while going through spiritual conflict. In this section of his letter, he taught the Ephesian believers about the armor of God and its purposes. After going through the visible pieces of armor a Roman soldier wore at that time, Paul told them of the greatest part of the armor available to God’s children. He said in Ephesians 6:18, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” Paul makes multiple points in this verse. The first point is we must come toward the Lord with the intimacy we have with Him due to our relationship with Him and petition His help. “Prayer” comes from the Greek word proseuche which means toward or closeness/intimacy with God to pray. We are so intimate with God we commune with and ask from Him our need, give a vow, and thank or praise Him. In Ephesians 6: 10-20, Paul taught the believers to put on the armor of God and in the intimacy and closeness he or she has with God, ask Him to provide safety against spiritual assault.
The second point Paul made in this verse is he told them to petition God at all times, not just at day or night, or good or bad times, but at all times. He used the same words Jesus used in Luke 21:36 when He said, “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand firm before the Son of Man.” God will hear and answer the prayers of His children whenever we offer them to Him.
The third point Paul made was that the petitions to God must be made in the Spirit. When a person becomes a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior from the penalty of sin, Jesus gives His Holy Spirit to live in that person. The Spirit within the believer teaches, edifies, rebukes, and corrects. It intercedes for the believer when he or she does not know how to pray, how to put into words what needs to be said (Romans 8:26-27). The Spirit within the believer communes in prayer with God. The believer joins with the Father so the intimacy with God, of which Paul spoke, with the prayers prayed bring about from God the strength and power needed to safeguard the child of God from the attacks of Satan.
Other points in this passage state what we have learned in this Bible study and in the earlier ones. The child of God is to be alert and pray with perseverance. Christians must be alert to what is happening around them and others. They must learn by having spent time with God what is of God and what is of Satan so he or she knows how to pray to God. This prayer to God during spiritual warfare, Paul said, must persevere, be ceaseless, and be persistent. It must be a prayer like Jesus taught in the parable of the importunate widow or the neighbor knocking on his friend’s door late at night for bread to feed travelers. Until God answers, the believer must continue to pray for God’s intervention in the matter. We must petition God night and day every day until the battle is won and God answers, then rejoicing, thanking, and glorifying God must happen in our prayers, words, and actions. Prayer is commanded of God’s children. By it, believers commune with the Father. Through its ceaseless utterance, Christians draw near and develop an intimacy with God, acquire an alertness of what is happening be it evil or good, petition appropriately and through God’s Spirit, and with perseverance, God’s will prevails. God gives the victory, and His children grow in faith in Him. Pray. Pray ceaselessly. The growth in a believer’s life will astound.

Colossians 1:9.

In the final Bible passage of this lesson, Paul taught the Colossians about ceaseless prayer and what it effects in a person. Twice Paul said in this letter he prayed always and did not cease to pray for the Colossians. In verse three, he said they prayed always for them with thanks to God for giving them the truth and saving them from their sins. Prayers to God as we know include thanks. Praying always in thanks shows how we can rejoice always. More than this verse, though, we must look at verse nine. It shows us the depths of ceaseless prayer.
Paul, in Colossians 1:9 said, “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” He continued in later verses saying this will lead to spiritual growth, pleasing God, bearing fruit, being strengthened with God’s might, and giving joyous thanks to the Father for an inheritance in His eternal kingdom. Heresy within the community beset the church at Colossae. From Paul’s letter, the heresy appeared to be an extreme form of Judaism and an early form of Gnosticism. Gnosticism was a belief that sought mystical knowledge to gain salvation. Its adherents believed all matter is corrupt, but a spark of the “true” god’s spirit exists in each person.
By understanding these two heresies helps with understanding what Paul wrote in Colossians 1:9. The most important part of this verse for our current study, though, is Paul said they did not cease to pray for the church at Colossae. This word “pray” is the same word used in Ephesians 6:18. This praying is expressing a wish/desire/need toward God. The act of praying here focused on the person – God - toward whom Paul prayed not toward the person who prayed - Paul. Paul prayed ceaselessly to God, the only One who could bring truth into the situation, to fill the Colossian Christians with the knowledge of Him – His will, spiritual wisdom, and spiritual understanding. Ceaseless praying recognizes that only by God’s hand will the situation be fixed, the person be helped, and the spiritual battle be won. Recognizing the extent and magnitude of God’s power and help needed, instills in a person praying the absolute need for God’s power, might, and wisdom in the situation and each circumstance. This creates the awareness praying must always be ceaseless. Nothing a person says or does on his or her own can remedy any situation. When a believer realizes that, an understanding that ceaseless prayer is necessary for all things, days, and times occurs.
In this passage, Paul proclaimed he prayed to God for the Colossian believers. By his witness at the love and power of God, he taught the Christians there to pray for this and all things, too. Paul modeled the great extent to which prayer could go. He spoke of and taught by example about unending/ceaseless prayer, its necessity, and the depth of God’s love for His children. Paul taught prayer is a necessity for a Christian, not a “last resort” aid.

Relevance and Conclusion

These verses remind us prayer is about being in relationship with the Father, not making prayer just an emergency lifeline. Prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening, listening which brings about obedience to God’s will. Prayer should happen at all times - day and night, good and bad times. Prayer at all times shows persistence like the widow who kept begging the judge for justice; it grows the faith of the person. When God answers prayer, a person’s faith grows. Praying allows the Holy Spirit to work in the believer. From praying, a person can be filled with God’s will in spiritual wisdom and understanding. That person can be made alert and know when something is from God and when not. From the Greek word, we learn to pray focuses on God and not on one’s self. It shifts the focus from one’s wants and needs to the Provider of all things who is greater than the person praying/petitioning God. Prayer for one’s self and experiencing God’s blessing because of it grows a person and fills him or her with the Spirit. That teaches the person to pray for all the saints to grow in the wisdom and understanding of God.
Each of these lessons from the four passages studied teaches us the necessity of ceaseless prayer. It is commanded by God. Ceaseless prayer focuses our sight on Him (develops our communion with Him). It calls Him to work to take care of our needs, Ceaseless prayer changes and grows us and our faith. It prepares us for what will come, and aids in the progress of the Gospel. We realize our focus should not be on our problems and what we need, but upon God who opens His storehouses to give all we need for life now and life eternal. Ceaseless prayer makes us wise to know when we are battling the forces of Satan and should focus more on God and asking Him to make us stand to strong with and for Him. Mostly, we should pray ceaselessly because Jesus commanded and taught it. He said ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking for if we do these, we shall receive, find, and have the door to God open to us.
What keeps you from praying to God? Do you not believe He is real? Do you not trust He is able to help you? Do you not believe He loves you and wants you to be His child? If you answered yes to the last three questions, you are listening to lies of Satan.
Believe in God.
Even the demons believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and tremble (James 2:19).
Believe in God’s power.
God who made heaven and earth in its intricacies, who forms a baby from a sperm and egg, who made the first man and woman out of dirt, and who took Jesus Christ up to heaven after His resurrection, can help you. He wants to help you with anything you need because He loves you.
Believe God loves you.
God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die your death penalty and then rise from the dead to life again so you and all people will not suffer eternal death, but could have eternal life with Him in His kingdom (John 3:16).
God loves you.
Prayer is communing with God. You can commune with God when you confess and repent of your sins. Accept Jesus Christ as you Savior. Believe He is the Son of God. You can commune with God and He commands it. He wants to be in an intimate relationship with you. Pray without ceasing. Praying toward/focusing on God makes your relationship with Him vital and growing.
Receive the righteousness of God. Repent.
Believe in the power of God to effect change.
Pray in solitude. God will hear you.
Be Alert and pray.
Pray to God without ceasing.



Monday, June 6, 2016

The Person Who Prays - Alert and Watchful (part 4)

Introduction

In the earlier lessons on prayer and the person who prays, we learned several key things from the Bible. We learned prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening. We learned how to approach God with our heart, mind, and soul by recognizing:

·         God is to be revered
·         God’s mercy
·         God exists
·         God’s power
·         God’s faithfulness
·         God’s righteousness
·         God is eternal and omnipotent so keep focused on Him.
·         Our prayers should give testimony to God.

The Bible teaches us how to pray – petitioning for self, others, and enemies, adoring and thanking God, and confession/repentance. Besides this, we learned about some of the attributes, attitudes, and actions of an effective person of prayer. The first three are:

·         Righteousness, which comes from God,
·         Belief God has the power to do what is necessary to change things and answer prayers,
·         Meeting God in solitude so the person who prays is not distracted and so that person does not seek the acclaim for being pious by other people who see him or her praying. God hears in secret and rewards in secret. The person who seeks to be seen in prayer, Jesus said, has already received his or her reward and God will not hear or answer him or her.
Through this week’s lesson, we learn the person of prayer must be watchful and alert. The disciples recorded Jesus teaching this to His followers in three of the four Gospels. Paul, Peter, and John teach it in their writings, too. Alertness comes from a close relationship with God that develops Christlikeness and a faith in God that leads to obedience and strength to stand in the face of trials and tribulations. Besides the five verses that relate prayer to alertness or watchfulness, there are other verses that help us understand what alertness and watchfulness is and why we should be alert and watchful. Let us look now at what the Bible says regarding watchfulness and alertness and as it regards the person of prayer.

Watchfulness and Alertness

In the five verses that teach a person of prayer (a pray-er) should be alert or watchful, the writers of those verses used two Greek words watchfulness and alertness – gregoreuo and agrupneo. Both these words mean to stay awake to avoid the snares and deceptions of Satan. Besides these five verses, the New Testament writers used these two Greek words ten other times to teach Christians.

Agrupneo

Agrupneo is an alertness in a believer’s character that keeps laziness and forgetfulness from becoming part of at person, which would allow temptations to overtake him or her. It derives from the word used to speak of a shepherd abstaining from sleep to watch for the safety of the sheep. Agrupneo speaks of an active watchfulness and alertness. It describes being spiritually awake and alert as opposed to being spiritually indifferent. The writer uses “alert” as a command/imperative. Agrupneo is an action a believer does or should do based on his or her character. A Christian shows this characteristic because of growing more like Christ. If a person is truly a believer, then he or she will be alert for the tricks and snares of the devil. By being faithful to God, reading His Word, and obeying Him, a person becomes a growing Christian whose character is changed and who knows automatically when something is not of God. The character is of being a Christian, which should impel an active watchfulness. He or she will be aware Satan tries to trick and deceive people. This awareness should make him or her alert. Luke and Paul used agrupneo for the English word “alert” in Luke 21:36 and Ephesians 6:18. They link it to prayer in these verses.

In Luke 21:36 (and in Mark 13:33), Luke spoke of Jesus’ teaching of the end times and what will occur. Jesus told of when He will return to earth. He said the seas will roar and men will faint from fear and expectation of the things coming. Jesus continued by saying the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then everyone will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and glory. When the believers see these things happening, they are to stand tall and strong because their redemption is drawing near. Before this happens though, life will occur – people will live and die, and drink and eat. Jesus commanded His hearers in verse thirty-six, “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.” This “alert” is the Greek word agrupneo explained above. Keep awake and watchful. Be attentive and ready. Be prepared within yourself, Jesus said. Hard times - calamities - are coming. Be so grounded in Christ that you are not caught off-guard, but are a growing Christian who is strong in the Lord and who remains unshaken by the troublesome and difficult things that occur. Be considered worthy to escape these things that shall happen at Christ’s return. Watch and pray, Jesus said. Prayer must go with watchfulness in character. Without prayer - communion with God and growth into Christlikeness - a believer will not be strong enough to withstand hard times and keep his or her faith. Without prayer and growing more Christlike, a believer will not know how to handle the trials and calamities of life and may be shaken by them. Some of these calamities will come before Christi’s return and the non-growing Christian will not know they are tied to His return. He or she will be fearful like non-believers. Watchfulness and prayer go hand in hand. Prayer and being a Christian go hand in hand.
Paul wrote of a believer’s alertness (agrupneo) in Ephesians 6:18. He used this word in context of putting on the whole armor of God. In verse 18, he said, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” Just as Jesus did in Luke 21:36, Paul taught alertness and prayer go together. He told Christians to pray at all times in the Spirit and be alert continually even though you may experience persecution. Persist despite difficulties and always be alert. Remember, agrupneo is alertness in a believer’s character that keeps laziness and forgetfulness from becoming part of the person, which would allow temptations to overtake him or her. As a soldier of the Lord, alertness and prayer will prepare the Christian to stand strong during trials. The soldier’s faith is strong due to an intimate relationship with God and a growing Christlikeness. Prayers and alertness develop the character of the believer so he or she is dressed with the armor of God at all times and prepared/alert for the trials and troubles coming. The believer knows in he or she will face difficulties from the world and Satan, and knows to be ever alert. This Christlikeness and alertness, because of the depth of the person’s faith, is a part of the believer’s character. His or her standing strong and alert comes from preparation through intimacy with God via prayer and Bible study.
The writer of Hebrews spoke of this alertness, too, in Hebrews 13:15-19. He said the leaders of God’s people are to keep watch over the souls of their people. God will require an accounting for the care of His people. Even the leaders of God’s people have to be alert, not just for themselves, but for their sheep. Agrupneo is alertness and watchfulness that comes from training and the building of the character of a believer due to his or her relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This alertness is not caught off-guard, but is prepared.  Agrupneo is a spiritual awareness and alertness. It requires spiritual preparation, which requires a deep relationship with God.

Gregoreuo

The second word used for alert and watchful, gregoreuo, has its emphasis on the action of being watchful, not the character of the person. Gregoreuo means actively watching, giving strict attention to, and being cautious so laziness to ensure calamity does not overtake a person or people. In its original usage it referred to being careful as one stepped on moss-covered stones and this carried over to being careful as a follower of God. Gregoreuo as an action and agrupneo – spiritual preparation - should be part of the character of a believer. Over time, the usage of both came to mean the same thing – being watchful and alert. Gregoreuo is used in Matthew 24:42, 43; 25:13; 26:38, 40, 41; Mark 13:34, 35, 37; 14:34, 37, 38; Luke 12:37; Acts 20:31; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Colossians 4:2; 1Thessalonians 5:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 3:2, 3; 16:15. 
Jesus taught in Matthew 24:42-43 and Mark 13:34-37 about being alert because a person does not know when Christ will return, but always expect Him.  Stay alert and watchful for His return. Matthew 25:13 speaks of being watchful for Christ’s return with the parable of the ten virgins and their oil lamps waiting for the bridegroom at the wedding. Matthew 26:38-41 and Mark 14:34-38 tell the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane praying while His three disciples slept instead of watched and prayed. When the disciples fell asleep, Jesus told them they must keep awake and watch and pray so they would not come into temptation. Watching and praying are again tied together as that which grows a person’s alertness and character towards Christlikeness. Luke 12:37 is a similar retelling of being watchful because you do not know when the master will return. 
This attitude and action of watchfulness continues through the other passages. Paul told pastors and elders to be watchful over their congregations so wolves would not snatch some of the sheep away (Acts 20:31). He told the Corinthians to be alert and stand firm in their faith (1 Corinthians 16:13). Paul told the Colossian believers to devote themselves to prayer and keep alert with an attitude of thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2). Once again, alertness is tied with prayer, which leads to growth in Christlikeness and in one’s relationship with God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:6, Paul told the Thessalonians since they were the sons of Light, not to sleep, but to stay alert and sober, and put on the armor of God because they received the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ to live eternally with God. Because they were Christians, they must be alert and aware, not lazy. Paul tied alertness to preparation and wearing God’s armor, which represented closeness and faith in God. Peter told believers to stay alert because Satan prowls around to see whom he can destroy. Those who are not alert and prepared with the strength of God and in a close relationship with Him are most easily tempted to fall into one of Satan’s snares. Finally, in John’s book of Revelation, in chapter 3, the angel of God told the church of Sardis to keep awake and strengthen themselves – grow their faith – because he had found nothing they had done that met the requirements of God. The angel urged them to remember the lessons they heard, take them to heart, and obey them. Keep awake and alert/watch lest Jesus come like a thief and find they are found not to be Christians. 
As noted, most passages using gregoreuo speak of being faithful and ready for Christ’s return by putting into action what the believers learned against the snares and temptations of Satan and the world. They speak of growing in faith - having a continual close relationship with God - and becoming more Christlike each day. 

Prayer and Watchfulness

The important thing to remember regarding these passages is the call to be actively watchful/alert and pray. The quality of watchfulness in a believer comes through prayer. Five Bible passages speak specifically about being watchful and praying. They are Matthew 26:38-41, Mark 14:34-38, Luke 21:36, Ephesians 6:18, and Colossians 4:2. A person is prepared and most watchful and alert for the trials and tribulations of life and for the tricks and temptations of Satan when he or she is a growing Christian. A Christian grows when he or she communes with – speaks and listens to – God. Listening to God comes in several forms such as Bible reading and study, listening to sermons and Bible studies, hearing from God through other people, and  led by the Spirit based on His powerful speaking in your heart and mind.  As the person obeys God, he or she grows in his or her relationship with God. That person gains new understanding and wisdom. Understanding and wisdom makes him or her more alert and watchful for the snares of Satan in this world. The person is empowered and strengthened for living in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit given by Jesus.
Prayer is important in many ways for a believer.

·         An effective person of prayer will be watchful and alert. Satan will not trick him or her to follow his deceptions and skewed truth.
·         If a person is only alert and watchful, but not a growing Christian with an active prayer life, he or she will more easily succumb to the tricks of Satan because he or she has not received God’s wisdom and understanding or His strength to stand strong and not fall to deceit.
·         Being an effective person of prayer means growing in a dynamic relationship with God that causes the person to gain in understanding and wisdom, and in strength and power to face what comes each day, for which the person is always actively alert and watchful.
·         When a person is not a follower of Jesus Christ or walks away from God after seeking Him as Lord and Savior, the person is not righteous. His or her prayers are unanswered by God, and he or she does not have the wisdom, understanding, or strength to know when to be alert to Satan’s deceptions.
·         When a person genuinely seeks God, He promises He will hear and answer them. Sometimes those answers are for help to overcome temptation or for wisdom to know what to do in situations. Prayer and watchfulness/alertness affect each other.
An effective person of prayer is alert. An watchful/alert person of God is usually an effective person of prayer.

Conclusion

We each must take time now to assess our faith. Are you truly a believer in Jesus Christ? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior? Do you walk with Him each day by prayer and obedience to God’s word? Do you walk in His strength – the strength of the Holy Spirit in you – and put on the armor of God to withstand the fiery arrows of Satan? The armor of God allows a believer to stand up for God and go to battle against Satan’s evil forces. Are you watchful and alert waiting eagerly for Jesus’ return and being vigilant against the snares of Satan and the prowling of his wolves?
Now is the time for us to remember Jesus calls us to be alert/watchful and pray. Where are you today regarding this command? Are you a believer? Are you prepared each morning through prayer and with God’s Word to go out into the world to stand strong in your faith and not succumb to trials, temptations, and troubles? Go into all the world, Jesus said. He gave you a helper, His Holy Spirit. You can go into all the world in His strength with alertness/watchfulness and prayer. These show and lead to a growing relationship with God.




Thursday, June 2, 2016

Your Solitary Place


Five times in Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ disciples recorded He went to a solitary place to pray. He modeled taking time to be with the Father, communing with Him by speaking and listening. Often time Jesus was on the mountain or in the wilderness for 9-12 hours. These times of solitary prayer gave Him re-connection with the Father and rest for the body after a tiring bout of ministry and before the next round of ministry. Possibly Jesus slept during some of this time to allow His human body to recover and prepare. When Jesus took these times for solitary prayer, most often He went by Himself, but His disciples knew where He was and what He was doing. Two times Jesus took three disciples when He went to His lonely place. He modeled solitary prayer for them.

In Mark 6:30-32, Jesus did not just model solitary prayer, He led the disciples to do it. He told them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” Mark noted they were so busy they had little time to eat. When the disciples returned, they drew near to Jesus. After they communed with Him, He led them to rest. This is what “drawing near” in the Bible means – continually coming to be with God, speaking to, and receiving from Him. The secluded place of Mark 6:31 is a “lonely, desolate place.” Jesus’ times of solitary prayer were in the mountains and desert - secluded places. Jesus sent the disciples in a boat away from people – to rest. He led the disciples to solitariness so they could rest and rejuvenate.

Jesus taught about solitary prayer in Matthew 6:6. He modeled it in the Matthew 14:23 and Luke 5:16, 6:12, & 9:28. Jesus led the disciples and commanded them to get away to a lonely place in Mark 6:31. Solitary prayer is “drawing near” to God, communing with Him, and receiving rest.

Jesus was an excellent teacher. If He is our Lord, then we need to learn from Him, too. Have you taken time to get away, commune with the Father, and receive rest and rejuvenation for your body? Solitariness affects your whole being – body, mind, and spirit.


Jesus, lead us to take time each day to receive revival and rejuvenation from You, the source of our strength.