5 steps to developing a praise journal

Presentation1The 136th Psalm provides an excellent pattern for developing your personal praise journal. Read the Psalm, purchase a blank journal or notepad and get started.

Step 1: Start with the God’s attributes. Psalm 136:1 declares “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.”  Even if you believe your Thanksgiving list might be short, you can begin a praise journal by listing the attributes of God. Develop your own definitions of these attributes from the Scriptures.

Step 2: List God’s creative works. The Psalmist focuses on the creative work of God for six verses. The Bible says, “the heavens declare the glory of God.” Giving God thanks for his creative work can prime the pump for  more praise.

Step 3: Reflect upon God’s protection and provision. The Psalmist remembers how God protected and provided for the Israelites. Make two columns. Title one  God’s protection and the other God’s provision. List the ways that God has worked in your past. Be specific. The events listed in Psalm 136 actually happened at a time in history so include the dates if you remember them.

Step 4: Tie it all to God’s mercy. The phrase “his mercy endures forever” is repeated 25 times in this Psalm. Tie your blessings and difficulties to God’s gracious hand. See Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Step 5: Review the goodness of God. The Psalms served as the ancient Hebrew’s songbook. The words would gain familiarity as the Israelites sang them in worship. Return to your praise journal regularly; not just to add to it, but to review, in order that you too can remember.

Learning to pray like Jesus

Perhaps you’ve seen the picture of Jesus kneeling by a rock in the garden; hands folded, eyes turned upward, the perfect picture of serenity. The gospel writers paint a different picture; it doesn’t include serenity. Mark records that he “fell to the ground” in distress. Luke describes a dangerous condition known as hematidrosis in which, under extreme anguish or physical pain, the capillaries beneath the skin dilate and burst, mixing blood with perspiration. Luke also records that an angel came to strengthen him. Matthew tells us that Jesus pleaded three times that the “cup pass from me” – an Old Testament reference to drinking the “wrath of God.” While Jesus didn’t fear the crucifixion or death, he did fear—and for good reason—the judgment of his Father’s righteous anger against our sin that he was about to embrace.

There is nothing peaceful about this scene. The only one praying was sweating blood, physically exhausted, and emotionally drained, but still clinging to prayer in spite of heaven’s silent answer. In his greatest hour of need, Jesus found prayer to be a sustaining resource, enabling him to do the will of his Father. Having prayed, he knew that his Father knew and that was enough.

Sadly, if you could have joined the prayer meeting in the garden that night, you would have heard more snoring than praying. While the disciples had been taught how to pray, they had not faithfully practiced the truths they had learned. Only Jesus had grown and progressed in his prayer life to the point where he could pray with clear focus in spite of his deep distress.

Taken from Just Like Jesus:biblical stratgies for growing well by Phil Moser, pages 19-20. Available through www.biblicalstrategies.com

Prayer and decision-making

Jesus spent time in prayer before he made major decisions. Two occasions bear this out. In the opening days of ministry Jesus was shifting ministry locations (Mark 1:35, 38). If you’ve ever made a move, you know there’s a lot involved in that decision. Jesus had previously moved his ministry operations to Capernaum (Matt. 4:13). Now he would extend his ministry into the hills surrounding Galilee. To do so, he would be leaving some tremendous ministry opportunities behind (Mark 1:37). When Peter points this out, notice Jesus’ answer:  “Let us go to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38).

How did Jesus make this decision?  Three verses earlier we discover the answer. Jesus was praying “early in the morning” (Mark 1:35). It seems reasonable that Jesus discovered his next steps through prayer.

Selecting the twelve apostles was an important decision. The fact that Jesus didn’t choose perfect people is evident in the transparency of the gospel record. Thomas doubted him. Peter denied him. Judas betrayed him. All twelve argued over who would be the greatest. Yet, prior to their selection, Jesus spent the night in prayer. Luke records,

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles . . . (Luke 6:12-13).

Jesus not only prayed about this selection, he literally continued in prayer throughout the night without interruption. 1  When you face a major decision, do you pray like Jesus? Do you spend more time talking to God or talking to others?

There is another truth easily missed in a cursory reading. We may assume that Jesus’ unique relationship with his Father spilled over into his prayer life, yet we don’t see the Father speaking back to Jesus during his time of prayer; we just read that Jesus prayed all night long.  It’s not that the Father couldn’t audibly speak back; on three other occasions he spoke in an audible voice so Jesus could hear. 2 Rather, the Father speaking back seems to be the exception rather than the standard.

I confess, sometimes when I’ve prayed over a decision I’ve thought: I just wish God would tell me what to do. Perhaps you have too. Not so with Jesus. He seems to have discovered his answer through the process of prayer, not because the Father gave a quick and easy answer. He labored in prayer, and so should we. 

1 Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

2 God the Father spoke to, or on behalf of the son, from heaven in an audible voice three times: At his baptism (Matt. 3:17), when he was transfigured (Mark 9:7), and the final week of his life when his soul is troubled (John 12:28). This is significant. The Father’s response to Jesus’ prayer time does not appear to be all that different from when you and I pray.

The hour that changes the world

I was introduced to Dick Eastman’s book, The Hour that Changes the World, during my seminary days.  Eastman suggests that you divide one hour into 12 periods of five minutes each. Once you’ve spent 5 minutes in any one area of prayer, move to the next. Before you know it, you will have prayed for an hour. For those desiring to pray, this is a tremendous tool. It may be the most important hour of the day, hence, the hour that changes the world.
(1) Praise: Recognize God’s Nature  (Ps. 63:3).
Giving God praise by remembering his character is a great way to start your prayer.

(2) Waiting: Silent Soul Surrender (Ps. 46:10)
To be complete, prayer benefits from an early, significant dose of spiritual silence.

(3) Confession: Temple Cleansing Time (Ps. 139:23)
A time of confession allows you to verbalize your spiritual shortcomings and admit where you’ve sinned.

(4) Scripture Praying: Word Enriched Prayer (Jer. 23:29)
Quoting the Scripture and reflecting upon it during our prayer time  is sure to increase our faith.

(5)Watching: Develop Holy Alertness (Col. 4:2)
Jesus commanded us to watch and pray. We ought to be vigilant in our holy alertness.

(6)Intercession: Remember the World  (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
By intercession we remember to pray for others. We plead to God for their needs.

(7)Petition: Share Personal Needs (Matt. 7:7)
Petition reminds us that God is often waiting to give until we ask of him.

(8)Thanksgiving: Confess my Blessings (1 Thes. 5:18)
God has richly blessed us, recalling them we give God thanks.

(9)Singing: Worship in Song (Ps. 100:2)
Using our voice in worship is something God desires. Why limit it to Sundays only?

(10)Meditation: Ponder Spiritual Themes (Josh 1:8)
Meditating  upon key Biblical ideas unites our heart with his, and prepares us to listen.

(11)Listening: Receive Spiritual Instruction (Ecc. 5:2)
This time of quiet reflection in prayer reminds us to not do all the talking.

(12)Praise: Recognize God’s Nature (Ps. 52:9)
Prayer should begin and end with praise for the Lord.

Note: For more information on The Hour that Changes the World I recommend you order the book. With over 500,000 copies in print many have benefited from this tool to both deepen and lengthen their prayer experience.

A Puritan prayer for victory by looking to the cross

Great was your goodness
    in undertaking my redemption,
    in consenting to be made sin for me,
    in conquering all my foes;

Great was your strength
    in enduring the extremities of divine wrath,
    in taking away the load of my iniquities;

Great was your love
    in manifesting yourself alive,
    in showing your sacred wounds
    that every fear might vanish,
    and every doubt be removed.

Great was your mercy
    in ascending to heaven
    in being crowned and enthroned
        there to intercede for me
        there to assist me in temptation,
        there to open the eternal book
        there to receive me finally to yourself;

Great was your wisdom
    in devising this means of salvation;
Wash my soul in rich consolations
    of your resurrection life;

Great was your grace
    in commanding me to come hand in hand
        with you to the Father,
        to be united to him eternally,
        to discover in him my rest,
        to find in him my peace,
        to behold his glory,
        honour him who alone is worthy;
    in giving me the Spirit as teacher, guide, power,
        that I might live repenting of sin,
        conquer Satan,
        find victory in life.
When you are absent all sorrows are here,
When you are present all blessings are mine.

Taken from The Valley of Vision–A Puritan Book of Prayers

The answered prayer for which I never asked

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;

I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things;

I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy;

I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;

I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;

I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing I asked for but everything I hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among men, most richly blessed.

At the end of the civil war, this prayer was found folded in the pocket of a Confederate soldier.

A personal look at a popular Psalm

Attending a funeral recently I was reminded how personal the 23rd Psalm is. Just notice the pronouns. To King David, God wasn’t someone else’s God, and he certainly wasn’t distant. He was near. And he was personally involved in King David’s life.

No wonder this is the Psalm that is read by the bedside of the suffering. But it isn’t just for funerals, it’s for any time that our soul needs to be reminded that we are not alone. Read it again, noticing the personal relationship available with God.

1    The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2    He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
         He leads me beside the still waters.
3    He restores my soul;
       He leads me in the paths of righteousness
         For His name’s sake.
4   Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
          I will fear no evil;
          For You are with me;
          Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
          You anoint my head with oil;
          My cup runs over.
6    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
          All the days of my life;
          And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
          Forever (Psalm 23:1-6)

Whatever you are facing today, remember you do not walk alone. Call out to your shepherd.
He will not leave you in your valley of despair, he will walk with you and bring comfort (23:4).
If your enemies are circling, God is preparing your provision and protection in that hour (23:5).
If you are unusually anxious, He will bring you to green pastures and still waters (23:2).
If your burden of guilt is greater than you can bear, God will provide mercy as you come to him (23:6)

Aren’t you glad you can say, “The Lord is my shepherd” and not simply yours, theirs, or someone elses?

The spiritual benefits of fasting

In our world of instant gratification and fast-food restaurants most of us assume that when we’re hungry that means we should eat. But what might happen if our stomach’s prompting was a reminder to pray, not simply to eat? Such is the purpose of fasting.

In his excellent article, Nine Reasons to Fast other than It’s Swimsuit Season Don Whitney references Biblical occurrences for fasting. Here they are as food for thought (sorry I couldn’t resist that one).

1-To Strengthen Prayer (Ezra 8:23; Neh. 1:4; Dan. 8:3; Joel 2:12; Acts 13:3)

There’s something about fasting that sharpens the edge of our intercessions and gives passion to our supplications.

2-To Seek God’s Guidance (Acts 14:23)

Fasting does not ensure the certainty of receiving clear guidance from God. Rightly practiced, however, it does make us more receptive to the One who loves to guide us.

3-To Express Grief (2 Sam. 1:11-12; 1 Sam. 20:34)

We may also fast because of grief over our sins. Although it’s not a spiritual self-flagellation, biblical confession does involve at least some degree of grief for the sin committed. And inasmuch as fasting can be an expression of grief, it can serve as a voluntary, heartfelt part of confession.

4-To Seek Deliverance or Protection (Esther 4:16; 2 Chron. 20:3, 4)

Fasting, rather than fleshly efforts, should be one of our first defenses against “persecution” from family, schoolmates, neighbors, or coworkers because of our faith. Typically, we’re tempted to strike back with anger, verbal abuse, counter accusations, or even legal action, instead of appealing to God with fasting for protection and deliverance.

5-To Express Repentance and a Return to God (1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12)

This is similar to fasting to express grief for sin. But as repentance is a change of mind resulting in a change of action, fasting can also signal a commitment to obedience and a new direction.

6-To Humble Oneself before God (Psalm 35:13; 1 Kings 21:27-29)

Fasting, when practiced with the right motives, is a physical expression of humility before God, just as kneeling or prostrating yourself in prayer can reflect humility before Him. . . Remember that fasting itself is not humility before God, but should be an expression of humility. There was no humility in the Pharisee of Luke 18:12, who bragged to God in prayer that he fasted twice a week.

7-To Express Concern for the Work of God (Neh. 1:3-4)

A Christian might feel compelled to fast and pray for the work of God in a place that has experienced tragedy, disappointment, or apparent defeat. This was the purpose for Nehemiah’s fast when he heard that despite the return of many Jewish exiles to Jerusalem, the city still had no wall to defend it. After his fast, Nehemiah then went to work to do something tangible and public to strengthen this work of God.

8-To Overcome Temptation and Dedicate Yourself to God (Matt. 4:1-11)

There are times we struggle with temptation, or we anticipate grappling with it, when we need extra spiritual strength to overcome it. Perhaps we are traveling (or our spouse is traveling) and temptations for mental and sensual unfaithfulness abound. At the start of school or a new job or ministry there may be new temptations, or it may seem appropriate to dedicate ourselves anew to the Lord. . . In times of exceptional temptation, exceptional measures are required. Fasting to overcome temptation and renew our dedication to God is a Christlike response.

9-To Express Love and Worship to God (Luke 2:37)

Fasting can be an expression of finding your greatest pleasure and enjoyment in God. Fasting honors God and is a means of worshiping Him as such. It means that your stomach isn’t your god as it is with some (see Phil. 3:19). Instead it is God’s servant, and fasting proves it because you’re willing to sublimate its desires to those of the Spirit. . . Another way of fasting to express love and worship to God is to spend your mealtime in praise and adoration of God. A variation is to delay eating a particular meal until you have had your daily time of Bible intake and prayer. Just remember that your fast is a privilege, not an obligation.

The above article was adapted from the book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Don Whitney (chap. 9, NavPress, 1991).

Give us this day our daily bread…

He was from Nigeria, but I met him in Hungary. I was teaching for five days, and he was one of fifty international students studying the Bible in an old communist castle. Over lunch one day, he asked me the question: “Is it right for me to marry an American woman, and expect her to return with me to Nigeria?” I countered, “Why not?” After all the man was tall, handsome, articulate, loved God, and loved his people enough to return to them upon concluding his Biblical studies. His eyes met mine, and he spoke again, “Because it would be a hard life for her there.” He paused. “Sometimes we might go 4-5 days without food. There is nothing available.”

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. When you first begin to travel outside of the United States, you meet poverty of a different kind. In many places it isn’t just the poor that don’t have food, it’s often everyone.

I spent 10 days teaching an apologetics course at a seminary right outside of Kiev, Ukraine. The pastors traveled 6-8 hours for these courses. They gathered once a month to complete their master degrees. But these men were not only hungry spiritually, they were also hungry physically. One of the pastors shared that while he enjoyed the classes, he really enjoyed the lunches. It was the most food he would have the entire month. I looked down at my bowl of soup, and wondered if I had ever really been hungry.

I had a similar wake-up call in Haiti in the fall of 2010. Following the earthquake a group of us were on a house-building mission. We completed two small block homes that were 10 feet by 20 feet. The average two car garage is twice that size. When I was praying with Jeordan, a single mother of six, she commented, “My friends say my house is a gift from God…after the earthquake I never thought I’d live inside again.”

There’s a good chance that you have never had to go five days without food, because there was none in the village. Though you might have wondered where the next house payment was coming from, you probably never considered the possibility of sleeping outside the rest of your earthly life.

Jesus reminds us that we should ask the Father for our daily bread (Matt. 6:11). Such a request adds a sense of dependence to our prayer. We don’t assume we will eat because there are leftovers in the fridge. We ask God to provide what we need that day.

What if this was our attitude of prayer in all things? What if, when we prayed, we had this 24-hour sense of urgency to our prayers.

What if we prayed that way for our kids? Truly believing that unless God intervened, they would not grow up to serve him.

What if we prayed that way for our church? Acknowledging our deep dependence on the Lord for the work of His Holy Spirit in our midst.

What if we prayed that way for ourselves? Fully realizing that without God we could accomplish nothing.

What if the purpose of prayer is that we might develop a dependence on the Lord, and grow in that daily?

The prayer guide of Jesus

Jesus gave us a guide to prayer. He tucked it right in the middle of his sermon on the mount (Matt. 5-7). We call it the Lord’s Prayer. It begins: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name (Matt. 6:9).  The word hallowed is closely connected with the word holy, and it means to be set apart. Another way to think about this is that “God is God, and we are not.” Because he is God we are to reverence him.

This is a great way to start your prayer (Matt. 6:9), and to end it (Matt. 6:13).

But how do we remember this truth daily? How can this idea of reverencing God become a natural part of our prayer time? Perhaps the answer is also found in that opening line of the prayer: “hallowed be your name” What if we recited and reflected upon the names of God in our prayer time? We could also include his attributes in this list. How might that shape and deepen our time of prayer? I’ve included a PDF listing of those names and attributes of God that I trust you’ll find helpful. It is not exhaustive, but a good start. The Hebrew names have been transliterated with a phrase giving their meaning.You may access the list here:  The names and attributes of God

My recommendation is that when you pray you take a few of these qualities and dwell upon them. Express your thankfulness to God that He possesses these attributes. Following Jesus’ pattern, give significant time to praising God before you move on to the rest of your prayer time. In this way your prayer, just like Jesus’, will begin with a time of reverence.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!  (Psalm 72:18-19)