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Expressions from the Heart

Desert Prayers

Desert Prayers by Julie McAllen

Today is the national day of prayer. I don’t really recognize this day by doing anything different, it’s just another day of prayer as usual for me. I follow a prayer schedule for the most part and the day I pray for the nation’s leaders is Wednesday, sorry fellas, missed it by a day.

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This morning, I was praying through my Thursday list.

Recently I asked a friend to pray for me because I was experiencing a dry season. Have you ever had one of those? A sense of disconnect with God? Duty and no intimacy? I’ve had ’em  before, and I’m sure I’ll have ’em again. This is known as “the desert.”

When this happens, my first reaction is to assume it’s me. And I ask God if I’ve sinned somewhere or if  something is out of line with us. I guess that’s a good thing to ask as David even prayed “search me” to discern if there be any wicked way in him.
(Psalm 139:23-24)

I’ve come to discover that a relationship with God can be compared with other relationships. Two people can be committed to one another in marriage and have done nothing wrong, yet just get stale as any routine can. When that happens, they usually try something different. Maybe go on a trip? I make prayer pretty much a daily habit, but still find there’s no harm in shaking up the routine so that it doesn’t become just that… mere routine.

Today, on May 2, which also happens to be the national day of prayer, I have been “dutiful” but not feeling very intimate with God. I’ve even been asking Him why and if today He could “please show up and touch me.”

I had a nice, undistracted morning of prayer, and I did sense His presence and peace with me. But later, as I was reading one of my devotionals , I was blessed to know desert prayers are honored by God. I was reading from “A Year with C.S. Lewis, daily readings from his classic works.” Today’s selection was from the Screwtape Letters and it really blessed me right where I’m at. If you’re not familiar with this book, Screwtape is a demon giving advice to a fellow demon, Wormwood, so the “enemy” being spoken of is God and the “creatures” are Christians.

May 2
…And Still Obeys
Screwtape elaborates on the Enemy’s intentions:
Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most
mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish.
He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the
creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or
assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the
beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which,
though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest
over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner
or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience,
all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own
legs — to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It
is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it
is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers
offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best…. He cannot ‘tempt’
to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore
take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased
even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more
in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our
Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to
have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
The Screwtape Letters

I really feel good about praying every day, even if I don’t “feel” God sometimes.

Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie

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May 2, 2013 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Unanswered Prayer for the Glory of God

Unanswered Prayer for the Glory of God by Julie McAllen

So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. (John 11:3-6)

unanswered prayerAs I was studying the story of Lazarus, I took note of Jesus’ DELAY.

It was about a day’s journey for the message of Lazarus’ illness to get to Jesus. And as soon as he heard his friend was sick, what did Jesus do?

when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was (John 11:6)

Jesus stayed put for 2 more days. He was in no rush. After that 2 day wait, he and his disciples traveled to Bethany where his friend lay. That took another day. All together from the time the word went forth to tell Jesus about Lazarus to the time he arrived it was 4 days. Later, when Jesus called him out of the tomb, we learn that Lazarus had been dead for 4 days.

This got me thinking. Lazarus may have already been dead when Jesus got the message. Yet we learn later, true to Jesus’ word, that the illness would not end in death.

when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” (John 11:4)

Jesus loved Lazarus, but His focus was not on healing his friend, it was on THE GLORY OF GOD.

How does this change your perspective in prayer? The two sisters of Lazarus sent a message to Jesus like any one of us might pray to Jesus. When we call out in prayer concerning a sick friend, a need we have, etc. does he WAIT as he did in the case of Lazarus? Does he ALLOW the trial to take place? It’s plainly stated that Jesus made no rush to be there for Lazarus, yet He got the message. And in their frustration and grief, Martha and Mary both griped, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died!”  Likewise, our prayers may appear unanswered when Jesus does not rush to be there as requested, and we may gripe, “Jesus!! where are you?!!” and yet, he does get the message. Our Lord is Sovereign and at times chooses to wait. But why?

FOR THE GLORY OF GOD!!

Every prayer is heard, but we can see things only from our own perspective. The Holy Spirit, however, teaches us to persevere in prayer and it’s in that endurance that God can shift our perspective to align with His. We can trust the perfect timing of our Lord, and when the frustration of our waiting beckons us to cry out “Jesus, you should have been there!!” be assured that He knows our need and God is at work conforming us into the likeness of His Son who in perfect alignment with His heavenly Father said,  “Father, not my will but YOURS be done.”

It’s all for the glory of God, my friends, and He is worthy to be praised.

Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie

January 30, 2013 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Unanswered Prayer for the Glory of God

Your Faith Has Made You Well

Your Faith Has Made You Well by Julie McAllen

When two persons of different faiths collide, it usually leads to a promotion of their own religion as being the one having the true God.

In fact, a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman had that conversation thousands of years ago. When she brought up the question of which tradition was correct, he responded as we might expect. He blatantly promoted his own religious tradition by saying, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22)

I doubt that surprised her. She was familiar with Jewish men and her own forefathers split from Judaism. However, what came next out of this man’s mouth did not give any indication that he was about to proselytize her into his Jewish tradition.

He said, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” (John 4:23)

He said the Father was still seeking worshipers. Though he pointed out that the Jews were worshipping what they knew, he included others now by saying God Himself was looking for true seekers to worship in him in spirit regardless of their location or heritage.

Being familiar with the Pentateuch (5 Books of Moses) as the written Word of God, the woman drew from her understanding of the coming prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15 and said to the Jewish man at the well, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” (John 4:25)

She took the information she had and expressed faith in the one we now call Jesus Christ and it was he that she had encountered.

Later, Jesus came upon a lame man and healed him. The Jews took up a cause against that man for carrying his cot on the Sabbath and when it was discovered that it was Jesus who performed this healing, they accused him also of breaking the Sabbath law. The response Jesus gave to them lead into a revelation of what they missed in the Pentateuch that a Samaritan woman did not.

Jesus made the claim that their God had already made testimony about him as being the promised Messiah.

There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true. (John 5:32)

And to add to it, Jesus highlights the testimony of John the Baptist and also the works he has performed. But unlike the Samaritan woman who had faith in the writings of Moses by expecting the Messiah, Jesus claims the word of God did not abide in these religious Jews even though they diligently studied the content.

38 You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life…Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:38-47)

They had information but no faith that lead to eternal life.

In these two accounts it was about the acceptance of the promised Messiah based on faith in the promises of God recorded in the Old Testament. The Samaritan woman and the Jews both had knowledge of Moses’ writings about Jesus, but only the woman was blessed to know him as the Messiah. The Jewish leaders denied and later killed him.

But what about us who have accepted Jesus Christ for who he is? I wonder how many times we have everything we need to know but lack faith and thereby miss really knowing our Messiah.

The disciples who knew and loved their Lord, also acknowledged how difficult it is to forgive someone over and over as their Lord commanded, so they rightly asked for more faith. But it’s not more faith any of us need, it’s applying the mustard seed we have according to Jesus’ reply.

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you. (Luke 17:5-6)

Application indicates obedience. As James 2:26 says, “faith without works is dead.” These Jewish disciples of Jesus were used to rules and regulations to be followed, but Jesus had already demonstrated miracles so perhaps they expected him to just grant them the power to forgive by saying “give us more faith.” Isn’t it interesting that rather than pouring out miraculous gifts magically transforming them into ready forgivers, Jesus turns the subject to obedience saying not to seek a reward but to just do what is expected of them?

7 “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? 8 But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? 9 He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? 10 So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17:7-10)

Obedience without reward. That’s what these Jews were used to isn’t it? How is this a lesson on faith then?

Jesus makes a sly introduction to grace in the next verses. In Luke 17:11-19, ten lepers ask for mercy, and there was no sudden on the spot healing from Jesus. Instead he tells them to go show themselves to the priests. And they don’t argue with him, they obey. But while they’re obediently traveling, all ten of them are healed. A miracle! However, what is the response? Only one returns to Jesus to glorify God, the true source of healing. Did the others think God could only be encountered through the priests? Did they think their healing was coincidence? Did they just take the gift without regard to the Giver? Or did they credit it to their own obedience and glorify themselves? They all obeyed Jesus’ command to show themselves to the priests and they all got healed, so it might appear the reward for obedience was their healing. But I think only one was rewarded. He was the one who returned to glorify God and encountered Jesus’ confirmation toward him by saying, “your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19) He did not say it was the man’s obedience, but his faith that healed him. The others obeyed a religious rule they were already familiar with, but only one man sought out Jesus with thanksgiving. That man received an eternal reward on which to keep building. The rest just got a temporary, earthly cure. We don’t know whether or not they put faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah. God gives grace to the righteous and the unrighteous, the deserving and the undeserving, the grateful and ungrateful, but the reward was poured out abundantly on the one enabled to worship Jesus for who he is.

Do you see a pattern? The Samaritan woman and the legalistic Jews were both given enough information, but only one expressed faith and encountered Jesus for who he is. Ten lepers were all healed, but only one received confirmation from Jesus that his faith was true. The disciples admitted their weakness to forgive and asked for more faith, but Jesus confirmed they were already given enough. All were given enough. Prepared, he now turns their attention to parables on prayer.

Luke 18 opens with the story of the widow who keeps demanding legal protection from a judge. She pesters him until he concedes. Jesus uses this story to illustrate how God will bring about justice for his elect “who cry to Him day and night.” (Luke 18:7) He is asking them to obediently continue in diligent prayer. However, in the next story, he cautions not to turn prayer into self glorification by mere obedience devoid of faith in God.

9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

What do you suppose this all conveyed to the disciples when their initial question was about having enough faith to forgive? Jesus reminded them that they do have enough faith, they just need to apply it. He gives them instructions about obedience for obedience’s sake without expectation of a reward. The lesson being we must forgive because he’s asked us to, not because we’ll get a reward. Jesus himself demonstrated his free gift of healing to the ungrateful lepers who never rewarded him with a thank you. We can not earn the Lord’s grace by doing what is expected of us because he’s already given us all we need. Our mustard seed of faith ought to lead us to obey, but not to glory in our own righteousness as the Pharisee praying in the temple but to glorify him in recognizing our own need of forgiveness.

From the widow and the unrighteous judge, to the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple, the lesson revolves around a connection between faith, obedience and prayer. What is God seeking? Those who simply obey him or those who have faith in the one he sent? A telltale sign is the key question set within the middle of this context: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

What is this faith?

Perhaps you have been rewarded by a merciful gift of healing as all 10 lepers were given, the resource of Scriptural knowledge as the Jews and Samaritans had, or the privilege of being in the temple of prayer as the Pharisee and the tax collector, but have you glorifed God by seeking the one he sent and heard him confirm, “your faith has made you well?”

Even when no more healings can be sought and death comes, when the memory fades and gifts of knowledge can no longer be employed, when age prevents the utterance of an eloquent prayer, we can look forward to the final reward of “well done” not based solely on the obedience we showed, but more importantly when he confirms the faith he graciously put in us.

And that faith has already made us well.

Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie

 

 

October 25, 2012 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Who Lights the Incense?

WHO LIGHTS THE INCENSE? By Julie McAllen

INSTRUCTIONS: Remove incense sticks from box. Place stick firmly in a suitable and secure heat and flame resistant holder (not provided). Light tip of stick then blow out flame so tip glows.

I’ve never actually read the instructions on a box of incense before writing them down here; I can usually figure it out on my own just fine thank you very much. I trust that is the case with those who will read this article too.

There are a lot of things we use every day which require no need to consult the manufacturer. And because we take for granted the ease with which it comes to us, we assume others know also and therefore feel no need to explain to them what, how, or why we do what we do.

For example: I burn incense because it smells good, so I light up a stick and position it near me for my pleasure.

Well duh.

I’ve taken the act of burning incense for granted so long that it never occurred to me to read the instructions or write about it. So why am I bothering to do so now? Because I wonder if that is also the case with prayer. After all, no one needs instructions on how to pray, even atheists in foxholes figure that one out without reading any manual. Yet recently I was led to investigate the instructions in the Bible about prayer and how it relates to incense. For the believer who prays regularly, this article may seem…..well…kind of like the idiot instructions on a box of incense. Yet most of us do question at times whether or not God really hears us or how and if He already knows our needs before we bring them to Him why does He ask us to pray? So, it can be to our benefit to read the instructions in the manual and learn more about the mechanics of prayer to increase our confidence in continuing in it.

The essence of prayer is to meet with God. In addressing the topic of prayer, the apostle Paul wrote that he prayed with his mind as well as his spirit (1 Cor 14:14-15). So there is an engagement of both mind and spirit in the act of prayer. The things our minds wrestle with bring us to Him with questions and concerns and in the process He unveils our hearts. The connection to our Creator happens when the intellect is stripped and gives way to the spirit’s prayer. We may leave the prayer closet with unanswered questions but gain the peace of God that surpasses all knowledge (Phil 4:7).

A recent experience in prayer reminded me of this and is the inspiration for this article.

I know God is not a squirrel…. but….

There are days I look very forward to prayer and there are days when I admit, it’s more out of duty or obligation in a rush to get through the list. Other tasks weigh on my mind.

It seems the past few days have had interruptions and distractions keeping me from hearing God’s voice, but I knew today would be quiet so last night I went to bed looking forward to a morning of prayer.

I’m blessed to live on the river with beautiful views surrounding my home. Downstairs I have a favorite spot known as “the prayer chair.” It’s positioned near an east facing window making it a perfect spot to receive the morning sun. Upstairs I have an office with another comfortable chair and floor pillows for kneeling, but since it’s on the west side of the house, it’s not as welcoming in the morning. But this morning beckoned me to the tall east facing windows behind my kitchen table. I tossed the pillows on the floor, peered through the pines and absorbed the creation by watching the sun sparkle on the river below. It’s not hard to begin intercessions when He makes it so easy to come in with thanksgiving and praise.

As the Spirit opened, I found myself receiving a lesson on the struggle between intellect and love, the mind and the heart. I received a wonderful word on incense which I wrote down for another time. As I prayed for others on my list, He relieved my intellect and gave in its place wordless groans (Romans 8:26). I trusted the Spirit’s prayer more than my own and I let it flow. Then the hunger increased, I asked to know Him more intimately, to know He was near. I asked for a touch, a vision, anything.

Just then, I opened my eyes face-to-face with a gray squirrel staring at me through the window. Only a sheet of glass stood between the two feet of space that separated us. I watched him nervously jitter from one end of the window to the other cautiously checking my eyes to see if they followed him. Finally, he was gone, off to gather his provisions. And once again, with humor God reminded me that yes, He was very near. I was allowed this understanding only by remaining still and silent on my knees where I’d be able to meet with Him face-to-face.

I didn’t begin my prayers on January 10, 2012 asking to understand incense. I was actually just going through my usual Tuesday morning list. I came in with my mind and it’s petitions toward God and as I was still before Him, my mind gave way to praying in the Spirit. When it did, I heard a question.

“Who lights the incense?”

And a flood of understanding filled me. Whenever this happens, I scramble for a notebook. This is what I managed to capture.

Prayer is like incense: January 10, 2012

The light from heaven comes. We receive the fire and prayers escape our lips. They ascend to heaven in the smoke of sweet incense. Do not release this until you’re lit with the fire from Him. For He is the one delighting in the aroma of your prayer.

If I want to delight in the smell of a stick of incense, I must first go to it and light it. Then I may enjoy the fragrance it brings to my nostrils.

How pleasant to be assured that what I pray to God has first been given His attention. He walked over to me and lit me. I am praying…..

Prayer is like incense. I’d read verses about that before but they never touched my heart as much as they do now.

May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering. (Psalm 141:2)

As I read the verse now, it connects with my experience and a blessed understanding comes to me, ‘my prayers are pleasing to God.’

In Exodus chapter 30, God’s people are given detailed instruction about the altar of incense. The priests of the old covenant ensured that incense was burned before the Lord morning and night. The altar on which this incense was burned was before the curtain that separated the holy place from the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies in which the mercy seat of God was positioned above the ark of the testimony. The blessing in this arrangement includes “this is where I will meet with you.”

6You shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you. 7 Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; he shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps. 8 When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. (Exodus 30:6-8)

This is a shadow of the new covenant privilege we have in prayer. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament reminds Christians of those first covenant arrangements in chapter 9 where the construction of the earthly tabernacle is considered. He describes how the holy place and the Holy of Holies are separated by a veil. Priests were continually entering the outer tabernacle in their worship, but it was only the high priest who could enter the Holy of Holies. He entered with blood offered for himself and the sins of the people. (Heb 9:1-7)

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; (Heb 9:11)

When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are recognizing his role as our High Priest and the right given to us as kings and priests under the new covenant arrangement to participate in intercessory prayer.

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19—22)

By the blood of Christ, we enter the holy place. But how is it that we can meet with God who is in the Holy of Holies?

The instructions for the altar of incense in Exodus 30 included placing that incense in front of the curtain separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies. The sacred items of the ark of the covenant and mercy seat of God are in the Holy of Holies as described in Exodus 25:10-22.

What I found interesting in that account were the cherubim at the two ends of the mercy seat.

17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. 22 There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel. (Exodus 25:17-22).

Cherubim are first mentioned in Genesis 3:22-24 where we learn that their chief role is to guard God’s holiness. Cherubim are also upon the mercy seat of God which is in the Holy of Holies where sin can not enter. What does it mean?

When we enter prayer cleansed by the blood of Jesus, we are standing in a holy place where our prayers are offered to God. Just as Aaron kept the incense burning day and night in the old covenant arrangement, we as new covenant priests having washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb are seen before the throne of God serving Him day and night in His temple (Rev 7:14-15). The revelation continues with a scene in heaven of an angel holding a golden censer, or container, standing at the altar where incense is given to him “so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne.” Picture that scene: we offer prayers, but wait on heaven to release angels bringing incense to mix with our prayers, “and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up to God out of the angel’s hand.” (Rev 8:3-4)

Angels are ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who inherit salvation (Heb 1:14) Angels were sent even to minister to Jesus (Matt 4:11). They continue to play a vital role in our lives bringing us close to God where we can “meet with Him” as we enter the temple.

That morning I was praying like a priest showing up for duty as I interceded by mindfully going through my list. It was like I was waiting not only for a stick of incense, but the fire to light it as well. As I continued in prayer, a hunger increased to draw near to God. You might say I became aware of the veil separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies. I noticed the transition of praying from my mind to praying in the Spirit. I felt the Presence of God as I gave into it. That is when He asked me, “who lights the incense?”

Jacob had a dream in which he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder set on the earth reaching into heaven. The experience was so powerful that he exclaimed, “surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Gen 28:10-16) He had met with God through the intercession of angels. I like to think of them now coming down the ladder with empty bowls to fill with my prayers. They take them back up to heaven where God mixes His favorite incense with them.

But why does God need this mixture of prayer and incense? Aren’t my prayers enough? I found an answer to those questions in a book which is rich with the details of God’s holiness and requirements for fellowship with Him.

Sacrificial offerings are the major theme of the book of Leviticus. The grain offering reminded the people of God’s provision of life: daily bread. And they were given instruction as to what kind of bread to offer.

 11 ‘No grain offering, which you bring to the LORD, shall be made with leaven, for you shall not offer up in smoke any leaven or any honey as an offering by fire to the LORD. (Lev 2:11)

Leaven, is often a symbol for sin or the spread of evil according to the writers of the new testament (Matt 16:6, 1 Cor 5:6, Gal 5:9)

Leaven and honey were excluded because they both ferment; however, there was allowance for leavened bread in the offering of firstfruits at Leviticus 23:17. The church, like leavened bread, is composed of sinners. As we begin our prayers, certainly we want to pray in the will of God. But the truth of the matter is, we do not always know if we are. Our sincerity may in fact be tainted with leaven even when we are offering up our petitions and praise in the name of Jesus who is the sinless bread of heaven. Certainly we want our prayers to be pleasing to God, and as sinners we are welcomed to come before the altar even if leaven is present in our prayers, yet can these ascend into the Holy of Holies as the soothing aroma He desires? What can we learn from the shadow set forth in the old covenant?

12 As an offering of first fruits you shall bring them to the LORD, but they shall not ascend for a soothing aroma on the altar. (Lev 2:12)

So the question arises; how did God’s people present their grain offerings to become a soothing aroma to the Lord?

 14 ‘Also if you bring a grain offering of early ripened things to the LORD, you shall bring fresh heads of grain roasted in the fire, grits of new growth, for the grain offering of your early ripened things. 15 You shall then put oil on it and lay incense on it; it is a grain offering. 16 The priest shall offer up in smoke its memorial portion, part of its grits and its oil with all its incense as an offering by fire to the LORD. (Lev 2:14-16)

The offering with oil and frankincense became a soothing aroma to the Lord (Lev 2:1-2).

Throughout the Bible, oil is associated with the anointing of Holy Spirit and symbolizes the very presence of God (Ps 23:5, Acts 10:38, 1 John 2:20) Perhaps praying in the Spirit could be understood as a “leavened” prayer anointed with oil. It’s interesting to note that when James describes a spiritually sick member of the church, he is not instructed to pray himself but rather to call the elders to pray over him. They anoint the sick one with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14-16). When weak, we need the help of oil, or Holy Spirit, to pray.

God desires to hear back from the Spirit which He sent to us. Notice how James addresses this,

3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:3-5)

God jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us. And so, we are encouraged to pray in the Spirit.

When the disciples were told to wait until the Holy Spirit was sent, they obediently returned to Jerusalem and waited. How? They were “continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:49-53)

Exciting things happen when we wait while praising God.

2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Acts 2:2-4)

When our prayers are anointed with the oil of Holy Spirit and mixed with the incense of heaven, they become the smoke of the incense that pleases God because what pleases God is that we pray in His will. Though we may enter prayer with our own ideas, God desires His own will to be done and that is why He sends out angels to light the incense and bring our utterances back to Him as holy prayers. So incense is given into the angels censer and once mixed with our prayers, it’s filled with the fire of the altar and thrown to the earth where effects are seen (Rev. 8:3-5)! These become the prayers offered in God’s will.

14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  (1 John 5:14).

Heaven is moved whenever or however we pray, but when we stand in the holy place not knowing what to pray or dutifully go through a list, we may miss the intimacy of meeting with God if we’re not still and wait long enough to be “lit,” because it’s the smoke of the incense that reaches past the curtain to please our Father and send angels into action.

Prayer is an invitation. God beckons us there to instruct us what He has in store, not the other way around. We have absolutely no idea what God intends to do, how can we know the mind of God? How can our lists of prayers instruct Him what to do?

9but just as it is written,

   “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”

10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:9-16)

We don’t know God’s will, and yet, we need a reason to come. So we show up with our lists hoping that He will answer these petitions as we envision them fulfilled, but “hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Ro 8:24-25) There it is again, we wait. As we wait, the oil is poured out and the angels come to light the incense, “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Ro 8:26-27)

Can we pray without knowing all these details? Of course we can, but I realize now what has been occurring all this time: God enjoys incense, not just prayers. Though He is pleased that I’ve showed up with my first fruits as I start to relate to Him the things on my mind with it’s own words, He says, “she is weak and doesn’t know how to pray about this” and the Spirit begins to intercede. I’ve come in the holy place by the blood of Jesus, I’m positioned before the curtain, He is in the Holy of Holies with cherubim on the seat of mercy. Will He direct their attention toward me? Will “tongues of angels” be given to mix with incense so that my intellect no longer has cause to assert it’s own will over the perfect will of God? Angels descend from heaven with incense and then ascend back to heaven with my prayers and the smoke of this is pleasing to God and I sense my prayers becoming holy enough to go beyond the veil and into the Holy of Holies where I may meet Him there.

If you are no longer satisfied with prayers based on things seen and long for depth and intimacy with God, be assured He is delighted when we kindle the flames of our spiritual gifts and seek never to quench it’s fire. (2 Tim 1:6; 1 Thess 5:19-20)

The intimacy in prayer is as two lovers interlocked in a kiss. Solomon expressed the love between a Shulamite and the king with these words, “Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into his chambers.” (SS 1:4) When she speaks of his kisses they are described as “the kisses of his mouth.” The most satisfying prayers to God are those uttered in the name of Jesus whose words are planted on our lips. The lovers become one as they run together. The prayer of the perfect Son of God is a fragrant prayer, and it affects those around us even as the king’s scented oil caused the maidens to love him (SS 1:3).

Likewise, in relationship to our King Jesus, we take on the fragrance of Christ and are not only pleasing to God but also among those with whom we come into contact (2 Cor 2:15-16-17).

The fact is that if we have been saved by grace, we’ve also been raised up with Christ and are seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). How often do we push beyond the first heaven to meet with Him there? The Lord is seated in heavenly places where a man the apostle Paul describes was “caught up” where he heard “inexpressible words” (2 Cor 12:24). This doesn’t happen in a prayer life comprised only of 10 seconds of grace before your meal or exclamations of “help me Jesus” on an icy road, it happens, oddly enough, when we set prayer as a discipline, even entering it as a mindful and dutiful obligation or habit. An hour set aside for prayer is not to be confused with an act of legalism as if to prove to God our worth based on a record of time spent there. But when we are still before the Lord and wait, it’s a bit like those instructions on a box of incense as we’re “taken out of the box to be lit.”

May we never look at our prayers–or a box of incense–as unimportant again. Make it a habit to be still long enough to wait on the incense from heaven to be mixed as a pleasant fragrance to the One who is on the throne.

And so beloved, “build yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,” and of course….

Keep yourself in God’s love, (Jude 20-21)

Julie

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January 23, 2012 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions, Prayer Requests | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Who Lights the Incense?

Love Your Enemies

Love Your Enemies by Julie McAllen

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Lk 6:27-36)

It’s tough. Really tough. To be mocked, ignored, shunned, taken advantage of, the object of scorn? Suffering for thine enemies takes on many faces. Is the enemy the disease attacking your body from which you seek relief? When the pain is real, is it enough to know that Jesus “carried our sicknesses?” (Is 53:4) When the enemy is one who opposes your faith at work, home or even at church, is it enough to know that Jesus is familiar with suffering, despised and rejected by men? (Is 53:3) We hope in the resurrection, but when the enemy death steals those we love, we still suffer grief. It’s tough to love your enemies. Misery loves company, but misery also seeks immediate relief. We agree, “yes Lord, love my enemies, but get me out of this!”

Regardless of who or what that enemy proves to be, are we given any instruction from God in how we can cope with this perplexing and difficult command to “love your enemies?”

It’s easy to become a Christian. Get saved, go to church, wait for heaven. It’s easy, until you actually attempt to walk in the Spirit, fulfilling the words of Spirit that wage war against your flesh.

Love my enemy? Pray for those who persecute me!!? Who of us has not wanted to skip highlighting that one in our Bibles? We love to get our yellow markers out for the verses that tell us how loved WE are by God, but these ones are harder to accept, let alone apply. It makes little sense to our eyes of flesh when we see these words, but coming from Jesus, we know they are not mere red letters on a page, they are words of Spirit and life (John 6:63).

And so, we need his Spirit to accept them.

The apostle Paul, a saved and deeply spiritual man, outlined for our benefit the battle with sin he endured. Through it, he came to understand that within his flesh, or sin nature, nothing good resided there. (Ro 7:18) Paul did not stay in the infancy stage of his Christian life enjoying the bliss of salvation, he pressed on to maturity to know the suffering of Christ. He learned this through the battle of flesh and Spirit. Through this, Paul concluded it was impossible to please God or have fellowship with him in the flesh (Ro 8:8). What a wretched condition to love God and seek to please him, but fail time after time. Love your enemies? Try it in the flesh and you will know how far from God you really are.

Paul was humbled through his battle with the flesh and thereby could write with authority the truth of his own condition and ours. The truth? We’re hopeless, defeated and enslaved to the sin in us. Who will rescue us from this body of death? (Ro 7:24)

An authentic Christian life is not easy. It is the very real struggle of flesh and Spirit battling it out in our members. Proverbs 3:5 admonishes us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Yes, obey –even when it makes no sense to your flesh. Loving our enemies is such a daunting task. Our flesh resists it, our Spirit knows we are to obey. A battle ensues. What makes sense to the flesh is in opposition to God. And so, in Paul’s raw exposure of the battle, he offers the solution of how to win the war.

Life by the Spirit

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Ga 5:16-18)

What does this mean to “walk by the Spirit?” Is it to be continually in a love fest with the Lord overflowing with bliss? Oh that it were! But notice what Paul shares about this after he outlines the struggle of flesh and Spirit for us.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Ro 8:12-17)

We have an obligation. It is to put to death the misdeeds of our flesh. One of which is a sinful inclination to withhold love from our enemies. Our flesh is opposed to giving them anything good. It is impossible to do this without God’s help. And so, how do we love them? How do we pray for them? Oh Jesus, help!

Our High Priest

The letter to the Hebrews outlines the priestly role of Jesus Christ who has entered the Most Holy Place with his own blood, in fact, the blood of God (Heb 9:12, Acts 20:28). And by this blood, we were invited into the New Covenant of which he is our mediator. The righteous blood of Jesus purified us to stand before the throne of God with confidence (Heb 10:19-22) And it is there, in that confidence that we trust the promise Jesus made at John 15:16 that what we ask in his name it will be given. To utter a prayer simply adding “in Jesus’ name” is not a magic formula however. It is the assured expectation from the prayer of intercession in which we become aware that we are not the ones praying. For in his position as High Priest, Hebrews 7:25 states that he is always alive and interceding for us. When he became the mediator of the New Covenant, we were invited to pray in his will and not our own.

As the body of Christ here on earth, we became the temple in which his Spirit dwells. The Spirit is always alive and interceding through us. If you’ve ever had the experience of being awakened in the middle of the night to pray and yet not know why or for whom, you understand the meaning of an aspect of walking in the Spirit.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Ro 8:26-27)

To groan and search in intercession under a burden not even knowing why is not the pleasant experience we seek in prayer, but it comes upon us like an unexpected wind. Our obedience is simply to remain in prayer waiting for a breakthrough. When we are not given the why or the who but only the burden, it comes out as “the groans that words can not express” for if we knew what to pray, we’d just say it wouldn’t we? But the Spirit-led prayer is the way in which Jesus intercedes on behalf of the saints. Without even realizing it, sometimes we pray for our enemies or those opposing other believers. When we faithfully avail ourselves to his work, relief comes when we become aware of the power flowing through us and out of us knowing that something or someone is being loosed in heaven (Matt 18:18). It’s a wonderful shared blessing when the Spirit reveals who it is we’ve been interceding for as we wait to see how he carries it out in this realm. When that person tells you how recently some “coincidence” occurred that solved a problem they’d been dealing with, our expressions of “praise God!” are most sincere. It’s no longer a praise for their “good fortune” in the happy coincidence, it is in the very real understanding that God had it planned for them and heard the cries of their heart in advance, but before he would pour out the blessing, he invited someone here on earth to speak it into existence through prayer. For everything that is good is created from his word, not our own. He invites us to intercession, he invites us into his divine nature and purpose.

So we see that the Spirit is capable of praying blessings through us. As our flesh resists loving our enemies, do you see how it is that we could pray for them? The obligation is not so much “pray for your enemies” as it is not to obey our sinful nature and live according to it. (Ro 8:12) We obey the Spirit’s lead.

When faced with the very real and very difficult task of loving those whom your flesh resists, we are not obligated to listen to the desires of that flesh–we are under command to live in the Spirit. Too often the concept of being “Spirit-filled” has been reduced to the pleasantries of worship. While prayers of adoration and corporate communion with the saints is ordained by God and necessary for our joy and refreshment, the suffering and burden that comes with the alignment of our wills to God’s is also part of the Spirit-filled life.

So God asks us to “love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who abuse us.” Is he asking us to be doormats? What is God’s goal in this? It remains as in all things, “to conform us into the likeness of his son.” This is why we were called in the first place (Ro 8:29).

Jesus, the firstborn among many brothers, walked perfectly by conforming his flesh to that of the Spirit. Paul also “pummeled his body and led it as a slave.” (1 Co 9:27) Yes, we DO have an obligation. It’s painfully stated as our assignment to put to death the misdeeds of our own sinful nature.

 Our adoption

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (Jn 1:12)

It is bliss to have the revelation that we belong to Christ having been adopted as children of God. Our spirit testifies with his and we cry out “Abba Father!” It is good to belong! But what kind of Spirit did we receive?

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Ro 8:15)

The same Spirit of adoption is not a spirit of fear! Fear makes us retreat from an enemy. Fear makes us protect our own.

Look now at your High Priest. He knows your fears, your situations and your sufferings. You have taken comfort in that understanding. But the pain is still there, causing your flesh to cry out for relief to be removed from this enemy.

Now look again at Jesus. He was enthroned in the heavens before coming to our earth. He looked down from that vantage point knowing that he was about to enter a hostile environment as a helpless baby, dependent upon sinful humans. He knew so well the suffering he would endure at the cross that he sweat drops of blood asking the cup of his affliction to pass if there were any other way. There was no other way. So, FEARLESSLY he came to earth. FEARLESSLY he presented himself to those he knew would one day spit in his face and nail his hands. He didn’t retreat. He faced the greatest enemy of those he loved. He faced death for all of us. He was moved by love, not fear. Perfect love had cast out fear. (1 John 4:18) And this is the same Spirit we received. And this is the Spirit praying for our enemies.

We do suffer. Maybe not at a literal cross, but by putting to death our own sinful nature. The nature that fears the enemy, the nature that retreats, the nature that refuses to bless, love or pray for those who oppose us. Our Lord died for us while we were yet his enemies (Ro 5:8-10), he asks us now to do the same. Oh God, help us!

And so, given his Spirit, we are commanded to love our enemies. We come before him, acknowledging our sin—the reluctance of our flesh to love and to bless. And we ask for a Helper. God has given us his Spirit, not so we can separate ourselves from our enemies, but to enable us to love them and thereby reflect his glory.

and if (we are) children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Ro 8:17-18)

Keep yourselves in God’s love, Julie

August 9, 2011 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions, Prayer Requests | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Love Your Enemies

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