What Do You Want Me to Sacrifice?

Lately I have been going through some very difficult situations in prison. Interpersonal conflicts form a massive proportion of them, in addition to heretical doctrines trying to subvert the people I care for here (not little issues either – things like the deity of Christ). I am struggling desperately to understand how I ought to respond to them, especially since everything I know and am used to doing in situations like this only exacerbate the problems. I do right, and seek to do right, and I am attacked and slandered for it. In situations like this, my life becomes a burden. I cannot find rest or escape from the issues. I cannot simply go an easier path. There is no other path.

In turning to Christ to cast my burdens on Him and seek wisdom in how to handle these problems how He wants me to, I have come to several realizations.

One is that life is not easy. You would think I would know this by now, but it is incredible how hard the flesh struggles against accepting that fact. My flesh longs for an easy life – to cuddle in a cocoon of non-conflict and simply wait out my days here, happily blessing everyone I come in contact with, growing in the knowledge of God without sacrifice. It doesn’t work that way. Life is a war, and I am being savagely attacked on almost every front right now. I need to face that.

The next among many was incredibly eye-opening and challenging. I was reading an anthology of theological articles edited by John Piper, which included a piece by Francis Chan (the title of the book, if I recall aright, is ‘Thinking, Loving, Doing’ and it is very good). A certain thing he said struck me and I heard God point out my fallacy. I had been seeking Him and asking Him to help me survive and bear up under the pressure and frustration and persecution, for Him to give me peace and to solve my problems. Those aren’t always bad things to ask for. But I suddenly saw the mind of God in this situation, and realized the prayer I should be praying. “Father God, what do you want me to sacrifice of myself in order to gain more of you in this situation?”

As my father would say, this is an investment opportunity for me. This suffering is my share in the sufferings of Christ, and for that suffering I will receive recompense from His life. On earth and in heaven. But He is asking me in this to sacrifice myself. To humble myself and bow, not to my persecutors, but to Him. It is in effect a theological version of the old exercise maxim: “No pain; no gain.”

And so I ask for your passionate intercessory prayer on my behalf. Yes, for me to find peace and accord with those around me; yes, for me to be enabled to teach and reveal God’s glory to those who have ears to hear; yes, for me to bear up under the pain and insults and mockery and persecution and humiliation; yes, for me to have protection physically from attacks; yes, for me to have rest and respite from my trials. But also, for me to find the humility, contrition, and crazy love that God desires me to have; for me to have the courage and faith to sacrifice myself on the altar of service to my God; for me to have the Holy Spirit’s living insight into myself to recognize my own errors and sin that hinder me; for me to be able to eradicate those sins.

In Jesus name and in the power of the Holy Spirit, let us pray these.

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Ask, Seek, Knock [from the Archives]

Bible

Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr

Sometimes the old things come back to teach us again. This is a message I really think I need to share again with you all. It is a repost from 2009, in my early blog days. Enjoy. 🙂

Greetings,

Matthew 7:7-8 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Devotions are important: crucially important. I am ashamed of how often and how much I have neglected to realize just how important they are. Oh yes, I would do them, but they would be more ‘me-time’ than ‘devoted-to-God’ time. Doing devotions right and getting stuff out of them is just as important as doing them in the first place. Time and focus is a major part of our treasure: ask any businessman. But where are we investing our time, and how are we investing it? Are we truly setting aside time out of our schedules and our hearts for God? I was assuredly not very devoted in my devotions before, and it affected every area of my life.

But what good is it to spend two hours in prayer and two hours in Bible reading every day if you get no fresh, new insights, strength or hope from them? Some people would say that it does not matter: read it anyway. But how many of us have considered that it might be that we are reading the Scriptures the wrong way? Practice only makes perfect if you are practicing right: practicing playing baseball holding the bat from the wrong end will not help you much (it actually might for all I know, I know practically nothing about sports, but I needed an example). The Pharisees were experts in the Scriptures if reading it was all it took: they had all of it memorized, with the commentaries. We ought to do more.

1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them,] because they are spiritually discerned.

So how ought we to pray and read our Bibles? Well, it is evident from Scripture that the unsaved cannot understand the Scriptures, for their minds are corrupted and earthly, and cannot understand heavenly things. When we are saved, we are given the Holy Spirit, which opens up to us the mysteries of God. Without the Holy Spirit we are helpless. But that means that if we do not rely upon the Holy Spirit, then we are just as helpless as the lost in reading God’s Word, which is a very sad condition.

So we see that we must needs rely on God, and not on ourselves in our devotions. And this is where the title of my article and my text verse comes in. I have learned that we can have utter faith that after every devotion time, we can come away with a new, fresh, empowering truth for the day. But this can only happen by faith and prayer. But it can happen every time: it is a promise from God. To expect anything else is belittling and dishonoring to God. So how do we do this? We ask, seek, and then knock!

First, as we prepare for our devotions, before we approach God in prayer or in His Word, we ask Him in faith to guide us by His Holy Spirit, and to open our eyes, that we may behold the wondrous things that He has for us in His Word. Then, instead of just sitting there and waiting for a voice like a trumpet or a still small voice to speak out of the blue and say: “Pray about ***, then go to Philippians 1:7-9 and see the note that I put in there for you,” we go and seek. Go looking for God’s insights in His Word or start praying about your day or whatever is on your list that you need to pray about. But when something seems to stick out off the page, or if you do not understand something: stop, for you might very well have found it. Then knock, asking God to open it up to you. Sometimes He will use one thing to get you to somewhere completely different, but He always will show you something. And it will be what He knows you need.

This is a Biblical pattern, and the promises are true and faithful, but I will not be so prideful as to say that this is the only way to do your devotions. I am only stating that it has transformed my devotions in the past two days. If you have any other tips, mindsets, Scriptures, experiences, or insights, please feel free to comment (comments are better because others get to see what you say as well) to let me know. This is something that we can all grow in, and I am finding that I need to grow in it especially.

With joy and peace in Christ,
Jay Lauser

May the Blogosphere Shake in our Exuberance!

An infant

Image via Wikipedia

Greetings and exuberant blessings be upon you!

I have news to share with you all, news which should cause a Great Shout of Rejoicing to tremble the foundations of the cyberworld.

Mama Lauser is having another little Lauser!

Let us all dance in joy and happiness, and then bow in prayer for the safekeeping of this new life that God has blessed us with. Mama has had two miscarriages since the twins were born seven years ago, and we are praying hard for the safety of this one.

Feel free to ask questions and in general celebrate. 😀

And before anyone asks, this is the eighth, and she is due in May.

Prayer Vs. Bible Reading: Which is Better?

Prayer is a beautiful, amazing, powerful thing.

Prayer

Image by Chris Yarzab via Flickr

God’s Word is an even more beautiful, amazing, powerful thing.

Or is it the other way around?

Or… does it make any sense either way? I don’t think it does. I often hear people extolling one or other of these glorious things over the other one, and although I get where they are coming from, it still annoys me. Sometimes a person is particularly gifted with the blessing of being able to walk very closely with God in prayer. The same thing happens with the Bible: some people have the grace to glean volumes from Scripture in a way that is positively miraculous and incredible beyond the ‘norm.’ Sometimes both are given to the same person, but not always.

And so when someone has a gift like that, they are generally excited and grateful with boundless joy over it, and because of the glory of what they are experiencing, they strongly encourage and exhort their friends to strive for the same thing. And they won’t exhort as strongly from experience for the other, because they simply don’t have that experience. And so you end up with a natural division… with one group of people dedicating absolutely everything to prayer, and the other group of people dedicating themselves absolutely to Bible meditation and study.

There are extremes, and there are gradients all across the board, but that’s the tendency I see happening.

Is this good?

Well, you can’t deny that focusing on one is better than focusing on none. But why does this disparity occur? Why are some people gifted with an aptitude for one, and not the other?

God gives different gifts in different ways for different reasons.

Some gifts He gives equally to everyone, barring extenuating circumstances, such as rain. The rain falls on the just and on the unjust, unless there’s a drought in judgment from God, and the sun rises on the evil and the good, unless an audaciously faithful commander tells it not to in the name of God.

Some gifts He gives for seemingly no reason (in our earthly wisdom) out of His own plan and grace, such as the talents, challenges, and things that you are born with.

Some gifts He gives in fulfillment of an absolute promise, such as salvation. He promises that if you turn to Him and believe on His name, you will be saved, period, full-stop, no other option. If you seek, you find, if you knock, it will be opened, etc.

Some gifts He wants to give us, but won’t until we ask. Some of them He won’t give us until we sacrifice for it and work for it. Some He won’t give until we beg. Is that because He doesn’t want to give them to us? No, He just knows that we can do without them, and that we will be more blessed from them if we dedicate ourselves to seeking for them. He also wants to strengthen us through making us wait sometimes. Patience is a hard learned lesson.

I think it is the latter which plays most into whether or not we are blessed in prayer or the Word. Various things will make a person want to improve their walk with God in one or the other, and they will work at it and seek God in it with tenacious pleading and seeking, and God will give it to them. Sometimes God will give it for less trouble, other times for more. Sometimes He gives it for seemingly very little, perhaps because He knows you’ll need it for something. We never know.

But in any case, we do have a choice in the matter when it comes to where we are now. If one is lacking, believe you this: it will hamper the other. And you need to get it sorted.

Prayer and Bible reading are not really individual acts, or they shouldn’t be. They work in unison. In fact, the closest way I can see of looking at them is as two sides of a coin, or as breathing.

When you breathe (Go ahead, try it. Okay now stop. Just kidding! 😀 ), you breathe in… and you breathe out.

Doing just one and only that one kills you.

Doing one more than the other damages your health.

Praying and Bible study is like that. It’s a conversation.

Praying is talking things out to God: laying your burdens on Him; confessing your faults; praising Him for His goodness; thanking Him for His blessings; interceding on the behalf of others, and etcetera.

When you meditate on God’s Word, you are filling yourself with His Truth, washing yourself in His ways and testimonies, learning and being challenged, seeking exhortation and rebuke, finding answers and being guided, encouraged, equipped, and refreshed.

Do you see the pattern?

One is a form of expression – the other is a form of intake. If you do only one, you get messed up.

So try this experiment, as a kind of illustration. It isn’t the only way to pray or study your Bible, and it isn’t the best way, but it can really help improve both, I’ve found.

Open a passage of Scripture.

Start inhaling as you read.

When you come to the top of your breath, start exhaling as you begin to pray over what you just read or over something that was laid on your heart while you read.

At the bottom of your exhale, start inhaling again and switch to reading again.

(Oh, don’t try and inhale or exhale as much as you possibly can, just breathe normally.)

This isn’t Eastern mysticism or “empty your mind” meditation. It is simply a way of learning the synergistic and symbiotic relationship of praying and Bible reading. And it works.

I’ve seen many very neat blessings come out of this in my own devotions, and I’d like to see what you think when you try it. So don’t forget to come back and comment. 🙂

Mastering the Art of Singletasking

Pomodoro Timer

Image via Wikipedia

Multitasking is a common buzzword right now. And it is both decried as having a viciant and virulent effect on our capability to function with facility, and as being the prime panacea of production. Which is right?

Well, honestly, I don’t think either are right. I think multitasking has its place, and I think it has a great amount of value. But I don’t think it is always the most efficient way to do things, and do think there are many things which require something else: singletasking.

Now, I honestly haven’t really heard anyone talking about singletasking by that term… people generally use words like ‘focus’ and ‘dedication’ and whatnot. Singletasking involves those, but I prefer the term ‘singletask’ because it emphasizes the precisely unique and advantageous nature of itself: it is doing a single task, and nothing else.

And it is quite a bit harder to do, and far more productive, than most people in our multitasking generation realizes.

Being a person who routinely listens to music (sometimes multiple tracks simultaneously), while chatting with upwards of 3-4 people, while reading streams on the internet, while writing up blog posts and emails, I can testify to the possibility of effectively accomplishing much in a short amount of time via multitasking, and to the amount of effort it takes to actually do it instead of fragmenting and spewing inanity across a dozen tasks at once (not the kind of multitasking you are wanting, I’m sure).

And so to someone of my multitasking prowess, it might come as a natural axiom that the fewer things you do, the easier it is to do them. I mean, adding more makes it harder, so taking some away would make it easier, right?

Not quite.

The effort it takes to focus on one thing, and one thing only, for any period of time, is mentally exhausting if one is not used to it. And getting used to it takes a great deal of training.

But is it worth it?

Absolutely.

Just as worth it as learning to multitask. They are two skills, both of which one must be comfortable in to be a master in dealing with tasks (hmm… a taskmaster?) — into diligence. There are other skills which go into it, but these two form a large part of the foundation. I’ll talk more later about the other things I think go into it.

So how do you master this art? Here are a few things I’ve learned which have helped me learn.

1. Pray for two minutes doing absolutely nothing but praising God. Thank Him, praise Him, glorify Him. Write it out, say it out loud, or pray it in your head, but just keep going until it’s done (a timer helps, though if you’re on a roll, by all means, keep going!). Focus. Be still. If something else comes into your head, acknowledge it, and then think of another thing to glorify God about. Don’t fight thoughts… it puts focus on them and that’s not praising God. Just praise. Let go, and praise. This is one of the best exercises I know of for learning singletasking, because not only is it tremendously effective, but it also can radically transform your prayer life and deepen your relationship with God. And which is more important? Right. Best multitasking ever. 😉

2. Use a Pomodoro timer. Pomodoro timers are an idea created by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, and I’ve been using them to good effect recently. You can learn more about them on Wikipedia, but the principle is simple: set a timer for a specific length of time (25 minutes is traditional) and then focus on doing one thing during that whole 25 minutes. Don’t stop until the timer dings (again, if you’re on a roll, keep going if you want to). And then set it for 5 minutes (or something else that works good for you: it’s your rhythm) and do something else, relax, multitask, check your email, whatever. Then do the whole thing again. It really helps you get down to business and get a lot accomplished.

3. Meditate on Scripture. This isn’t really a timed one like the above two challenges, but it can be if you like working that way. Basically, start working on a piece of Scripture, and using the tactics described in the praying challenge above, keep working on it. Focus, muse, think, study, meditate. Look up other passages related to it, look at the context, read the whole book around it, write notes, pray over it, learn from it, apply it to your life. But mainly, get interested in it. The Bible is absolutely fascinating… and powerful. No other book is like it. And again… this one is really a sneaky way to multitask, because while you’re learning to singletask, you are also drawing closer to God and learning more of Him. Which is just awesome.

I am still learning a lot about this subject, and integrating it into my life. And learning to singletask is certainly one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in this journey. So I’d be more than grateful for input and things you’ve learned which have helped you to singletask in your own lives.

So use the comments section liberally, and check back for replies! I reply to every comment, and I love it when dialogues get started. 😉

Pray Without Ceasing… Really?

1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray(4336) without ceasing(89).

[Is this saying that we ought to be praying every moment, or that we ought never to stop praying regularly and consistently?]

Strongs Greek 4336
proseuchomai — pros-yoo’-khom-ahee — from 4314 and 2172; to pray to God, i.e. supplicate, worship: — pray (X earnestly, for), make prayer.

Matthew 6:9-13 After this manner therefore pray(4336) ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as [it is] in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

[First of all, this is a broad sense of the word ‘prayer.’ It includes both supplication and worship. Thus, it would be possible to ‘pray’ in a sense by your every action that is dedicated to God. However, it is never used in this sense, and, when you can tell, it always seems to refer to an actual speaking to God.]

Strongs Greek 89
adialeiptos — ad-ee-al-ipe’-toce — adverb from 88; uninteruptedly, i.e. without omission (on an appropriate occasion): — without ceasing.

[Notice the phrase ‘without omission.’ The explanatory parenthesis also gives the impression that this is talking about consistent meeting with God, and not every-moment-of-every-day.]

Strongs Greek 88
adialeiptos — ad-ee-al’-ipe-tos — from 1 (as a negative particle) and a derivative of a compound of 1223 and 3007; unintermitted, i.e. permanent: — without ceasing, continual.

[Intermittent (by Webster’s 1828) means to ‘utterly cease at intervals’ (paraphrased). Therefore, this still maintains the possibility that we ought to be regular and continually consistent in our prayers, but not necessarily every moment. One can go farther, and the etymology bears this out, but going too far back puts you on shaky ground in hermeneutics.]

Romans 1:9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing(89) I make mention of you always in my prayers;

1 Thessalonians 1:3 Remembering without ceasing(89) your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;

1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing(89), because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

[Notice that all these passages point to a consistent remembering to do something, not doing it every moment. Paul is saying that he has not given up these things.]

CEASE, v.i.
1. To stop moving, acting or speaking; to leave of; to give over; followed by from before a noun.
It is an honor for a man to cease from strife. Prov 20.
2. To fail; to be wanting.
The poor shall never cease out of the land. Deu 15.
3. To stop; to be at an end; as, the wonder ceases; the storm has ceased.
4. To be forgotten.
I would make the remembrance of them to cease. Deu 32.
5. To abstain; as, cease from anger. Psa 37.
To cease from labor, is to rest; to cease from strife, is to be quiet; but in such phrases, the sense of cease is not varied.
CEASE, v.t. To put a stop to; to put an end to. Cease this impious rage. [But in this use the phrase is generally elliptical,]
CEASE, n. Extinction.

[Webster’s 1828 dictionary clearly defines ‘ceasing’ to be a complete cessation, not a pausing.]

Realize that I am not going back on my avowed extremism. Many people (including myself, before I did this study) hold to the idea that we ought to be praying every moment of every day. They hold to this, not because there is lexicological support for that view, but because it seems more godly and devout. This is not to say that they are wrong to want to be godly and devout: it is very good to be godly and devout. We just need to do it God’s way, and not our way. We need to be extremely diligent and consistent in our prayers: they are a vital part of our life line. We need to dedicate each and every action and thought to God (‘bringing into captivity every thought’ 2 Cor. 10:5).

But then, there is the question of how often are we to pray? To me, the question is academic: in practical life we simply pray as much as we can, as well as we can. There is a lot to pray for, and little time to do it in. We can pray as we read our Bibles, we can pray as we walk down the street (we need to do that), we can pray when we wake at night. David prayed seven times a day. From what I can tell, he did it when he arose, when he ate each of his three meals, at midday, at evening, and at midnight (but that is just speculation on my part). Seven.

But remember: prayer is talking to God, and the way we get an answer is by reading His Word. We need to allow God to speak to us too, so read, study, and meditate on the Bible as much as you can. These two things are our food and our drink. We do not dare to let our spirit starve.

What are your thoughts on this Bible study? How often do you pray? How often would you like to?