So over the past year or so, I’ve attempted to write a book that would concisely explain the values of my church, Western Meadows. My primary audience is my fellow church members and any who are considering becoming a member; however, I pray that these words will be of benefit to all who read them.
With all prayer and supplication.
Ephesians 6:18 ESV
Paul’s next ALL statement is that we should pray with all prayer and supplication. Since supplication is a particular type of prayer, I believe that Paul means to use various kinds of prayer whenever we pray, with a special focus on supplication. Fortunately, throughout the Scripture, the authors display and model for us the multifaceted nature of prayer. Nowhere is this better seen than in the Psalms, which are themselves God-breathed song-prayers. Thus, I will briefly touch upon a few of the main types of prayer and then provide a list of Psalms that incorporate that type of prayer.
Adoration isn’t used much outside of saying that kittens are adorable, but biblically adoration is a great word to describe our worship of God. Adoration simply means to deeply love and respect someone or something in a worshipful way.
We worship and adore God by loving Him deeply, but in order to do this, we must first know who God is.
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how to pray, Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a model for them to use. In this prayer, He taught His disciples to begin praying by focusing upon God.
Here are a few characteristics of God that can be seen within the Lord’s Prayer:
- God is our Father, which means like a father, He loves us, wants what is best for us, and is willing to discipline us as needed.
- God is heavenly, which means He is not physical nor living on earth.
- God’s name is holy. Holiness means unique, set apart, distinct, or other. This means that God’s name is completely unlike any other name in all of creation.
- God has a kingdom that is coming; therefore, God is also a king.
- God’s will is done in heaven, and it will also be done on earth, which means that God is sovereign and in control.
- We can ask God to provide for our needs, like having food to eat, which means that He loves us and cares for us.
- We can ask God for forgiveness, which means that He is ready and willing to forgive us.
- We can ask God to keep us from evil and temptation, which means that He is able to help us overcome our sins.
Notice that Jesus spends the first half of the Lord’s Prayer describing God and praying for His will to be done. Jesus worshiped God before He asked God for anything.
Jesus knew that prayer is not about our desires but about submitting ourselves to His will. God is not a genie, granting us our wishes. He is the Creator of everything who will do whatever He wills.
The best way to adore God in prayer and know His character is by reading the Bible, which is how God has revealed Himself to us. The Psalms in particular are filled with prayers of adoration, and there are dozens of small ones in the New Testament called doxologies.
Psalms of Adoration
Psalm 8, 19, 33, 34, 103, 109, 145
New Testament doxologies: Romans 8:38-39; 11:33, 36; 15:5-6; 15:13; Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15-16; Hebrews 13:20-21; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 24-25; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:12-13; 7:12; 22:20-21
Because confession is the pleading guilty to our sins before God, confession cannot be properly understood without first knowing what sin is.
The Bible gives a clear definition of sin in 1 John 3:4, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”
Of course, John is not merely referring to city, state, or country laws; rather, he is talking about God’s laws, which are summed up nicely in the Ten Commandments.
But the problem does not end with simply being guilty of sin. In Isaiah 59:2, the prophet describes how our sins separate us from God: “But your iniquities [sins] have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
Notice how frightening is that last part: our sin stops God from listening to us!
We broke God’s laws, so we rightfully deserve His punishment and to be cut off from any relationship we might have had with Him.
But by the grace of God, even though sin earns us eternal separation from God and left us incapable of doing enough good works to fix it, Jesus Christ came to offer eternal life with God as a free gift instead.
Of course, believing the good news that Jesus came to save us from our sins does not mean that we stop sinning.
We continue to break God’s laws on a daily basis, and the gospel is not a get-out-of-hell-free card that we believe in once, continue to live in sin, and still go to heaven when we die.
The Bible calls us to continually kill the sin in our lives and to admit the sins we commit to God in prayer. This is called repentance.
When we repent, we confess our disobedience to God and strive to obey Him from now on.
Confessing our sins in repentance to God is so important that John uses it as a test to see if we are truly Christians: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)
Followers of Christ confess and repent of their sins to God, knowing that He will graciously forgive them because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.
Psalms of Confession
Psalms 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, & 143
Most Christians probably agree that we should give thanks to God in our prayers, but why is that? By journeying through a few texts of Scripture, we should be able to get a brief look at what thanksgiving is and isn’t, and why it’s important.
The story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19 is one of the most popular in the Gospels because of its lesson on thanksgiving.
Of the ten, only one returned to thank Jesus, which Christ equates with giving praise to God. Because they did not give thanks, they failed to praise God for healing them.
Some people have wondered how the other nine lepers could be so ungrateful, but I imagine that they were indeed very grateful.
Because it is a highly contagious skin disease, people with leprosy were exiled from normal society and forced to live in groups with other lepers. They were completely cut off from their friends and family, forced to die a slow death alone.
How could they not be grateful for being cured!
But Jesus did not fault them for being ungrateful; He faulted them for not giving thanks.
Ultimately, gratitude is feeling and giving thanks is an action.
Jesus never questioned how grateful the other nine felt. He only remarked that they did not give praise to God through giving thanks.
We, therefore, must understand first of all that thanksgiving is not the feeling of gratitude. If thanksgiving is not spoken, then we have not truly given thanks.
If Jesus equated giving thanks to praising God, why should we give thanks to God?
James gives us a pretty great answer to this question: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17-18)
Notice James’ wording: EVERY GOOD GIFT comes from the Father.
All of the good things in this world come from God.
As the Creator, He has given us the ground we stand on, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Rain and sunshine, friends and family, meat and fruit, dogs and cats, everything comes from Him.
As our Savior, God declared His love for us by dying on a cross for our sins, allowing us to be called the sons and daughters of God.
This is why Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Notice that Paul views thanksgiving as so important that he calls it the will of God for us.
God’s will for your life is for you to give thanks in all circumstances.
Because God has given us countless good gifts, we ALWAYS have something to give thanks for. There is no circumstance in life where we cannot thank God for something He has done for us.
Psalms of Thanksgiving
Psalm 27, 37, 42, 56, 100, 117, 136, 139, 145
Supplication isn’t exactly the kind of word that comes up in everyday conversation, but even though it’s an uncommon word, supplication is probably the most common type of prayers that we pray.
Supplication simply means to make a request or petition, so praying a prayer of supplication is asking God to meet our needs or wants.
It can be tempting to feel uneasy about making requests to God after having discussed confessing our sins to Him, adoring Him in worship, and thanking Him everything. We might wonder why we should bother God with our small needs.
Fortunately, bringing our requests to God isn’t only something we are invited to do, we are commanded to do it: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
Paul commanded the Philippians not to be anxious but to bring their request to God instead.
Let’s think through this verse together for a bit.
What does it mean to be anxious, and why does Paul command us to pray instead?
Anxiety is excessive worry about something.
The Bible repeatedly tells us to trust God by taking our needs to Him instead of being anxious.
What kind of requests does Paul urge us to bring to God?
The answer is all of them. Paul commands us to bring all of our needs to Him in prayer. God as our Father invites us to bring everything to Him, no matter how small.
Before you get too crazy about bringing God your requests, it is important to remember that God is not a genie. He does not exist to grant our wishes, and He makes no promises about giving us everything we want.
Remember the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13. Before Jesus taught His disciples to pray for their needs, He told them to pray for God’s will to be done.
God’s will often doesn’t match our own, which can lead to God not answering our prayer (or really just telling us no). This is ultimately for the best because God’s will is better than our will. God may deny our requests because what we want would actually be bad for us.
Can you think of anything that you wanted in the past but now know that it was best not to have?
We think we know what we need, but God actually knows what we need. It’s important for us to trust that He knows best when we bring our requests to God.
Psalms of Supplication
Psalm 4, 5, 25, 28, 54, 56, 77, 106, 130, 141
If you noticed, I just described a popular acronym for prayer, ACTS. While adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication are certainly biblically mandated types of prayer, we must take care to understand that they do not encompass every form of prayer. In fact, there is one more type of prayer that often gets neglected, but it highly prevalent throughout the Scriptures: lamentations.
Praying a lamentation, or lamenting, is a form of bringing our trouble, sorrow, or suffering before the Lord. Too often, we feel uncomfortable about praying our sorrows or complaints to God for fear of being disrespectful. While fear of disrespecting God is healthy, God is also big enough to handle our questioning, and He is loving us to listen to our pain and confusion. As with all prayer, lamentations are best guided by Scripture, which help prevent us from praying unbiblical prayers.
Psalms of Lamentation
Psalm 12, 13, 44, 74, 85, 90, 137
Also, there is a book of the Bible called Lamentations that is composed of five prayers of lament.
Praying at all times in the Spirit…
Ephesians 6:18 ESV
Paul begins his discussion on prayer in verse 18, and within this verse, we find four all statements made about prayer. So we will divide our study and view prayer through the lens of these four declarations on prayer.
The apostle first tells us to pray at all times in the Spirit.
It is worth noting that there is never an inappropriate time to pray. That may be incredibly obvious, but even so, I think it is still worth saying. Prayer is always appropriate.
After all, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing.
Wait a minute.
If ceasing means to stop, does this mean that we are supposed to pray continuously throughout the day? If so, how often does Paul intend? Every hour? Every minute? Every second?
How are we supposed to pray without ceasing?
Here is my suggestion at what Paul means: our entire day should be prayerful, though not always with words. Remember for a second what prayer is: communion, or communication, with God. Though we may not always use words, living our lives in fellowship and communion with God is living prayerfully.
The Bible frequently calls our lives with Christ a walk with Jesus, so perhaps walking is a helpful metaphor to use here as well. When I am walking somewhere with my wife, our conversations tend to be numerous but not necessarily constant. Even if there is a moment of silence, we are still together; we haven’t left one another’s presence.
I think Paul desires for us to have this kind of attitude of prayer throughout each day. Praying at all times means living our lives in constant fellowship and communion with God, and like walk with a friend, verbal communication will be frequent but not necessarily constant.
How then do we live prayerful lives?
Praying in the morning tends to be immensely helpful, as it sets the pattern for the rest of the day. Morning prayer is not a requirement, but it is a wise discipline. It doesn’t have to be anything lengthy or formal, just begin the day with prayer. Is there really a better way of beginning our day than by immediately coming to our loving Father in prayer?
We also need to address the final three words of our present phrase: in the Spirit.
To your disappoint or relief, please note that Paul is NOT describing the need to speak in tongues here.
In Romans 8, Paul describes the Holy Spirit’s role in prayer as being the One who enables us to call God our Father (8:15). The Holy Spirit guarantees us that we are children of God, and it is only by His strength that our prayers are able to reach the throne room of God.
This means that we could very much call prayer an act of the Trinity. We pray to the Father. The Spirit lifts our prayers into the presence of God. And the Father hears them as the prayers of His children only through the mediation of Jesus Christ.
In this way, true Christian prayer cannot be made outside of the Holy Spirit. We cannot come to God as our Father without the continuous power of the Spirit. If we do not pray with the Spirit at all times, it is only because we do not have the Spirit. Prayer in the Spirit is the regular, but powerful, prayer of a Christian.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12 ESV
In his book, Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper dedicates the second chapter to discussing the role of prayer in missions. He opens up the chapter like this:
Life is war. That’s not all it is. But it always that. Our weakness in prayer is owing largely to our neglect of this truth. Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den. God has given us prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie so that we can call headquarters for everything we need as the kingdom of Christ advances in the world. Prayer gives us the significance of frontline forces and gives God the glory of a limitless Provider. The one who gives the power gets the glory. Thus, prayer safeguards the supremacy of God in missions while linking us with endless grace for every need.
Verses 10-17 give us the necessary context for verse 18, so it is important that we spend at least a moment discussing them. In a nutshell, Ephesians is primarily about how individual Christians come together to glorify God as the Church, and throughout the letter, we find how the Church ought to pray, how we ought to worship, and various other things. Within these verses, Paul teaches us how to fight, how to wage spiritual warfare.
In discussing spiritual warfare, we must be careful to avoid two equally damaging extremes.
On one end, we have (typically) charismatic Christians who can often make spiritual warfare a de facto primary doctrine. They can become obsessed with defeating Satan in Jesus’ name, and often even speak to Satan directly in order to rebuke him.
But you also have less charismatic denominations that err to the opposite extreme of rarely, if ever, mentioning spiritual warfare. We talk about of sin and struggles, but we don’t talk about Satan. We let God deal with him. Both extremes are harmful. Neglecting and making it the centerpiece of our walk with Christ are equally damaging practices.
This passage calls us, as followers of Christ, to war. We cannot neglect this truth. We are in the midst of a battle with stakes that are higher than any earthly war ever waged. Although all war is serious and devastating, World War II stands apart from others. The Nazis, armed with heinous ideals and brutal death camps, are difficult to rival when imagining the epitome of evil in the world. Thus, in many ways, World War II was a fight for the world’s soul. In that battle against evil, millions of soldiers lost limbs and millions more lost their lives.
Yet as grisly as that war’s spectacle was, it pales in comparison to the stakes of this war. In this war, people lose not merely their lives but their eternity. Victims of this war will spend an eternity cast out of God’s presence and under the outpouring of His wrath.
Christ came to bring His kingdom to earth. Historically, kingdoms often find themselves warring against other kingdoms, and Jesus’ kingdom is no different. All of creation falls under the realm of one of two kingdoms: the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness. There is no neutral ground. We are either soldiers for God or for the enemy.
This means that making disciples is spiritual warfare. If we are each a member of either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness, then expanding God’s kingdom means bringing people out of darkness into light. Making disciples, the mission of each Christian and church, is also God’s strategy for waging war.
It is upon this thought that Paul launches into the subject of prayer. The full armor of God is necessary, but prayer is the force that makes the armor usable.
Without prayer, faith is not our shield.
Without prayer, the readiness of the gospel does not gird our feet like shoes.
Without prayer, we cannot properly wield the Word of God as a sword.
If we strip prayer out of its warfare context, we risk turning it into something that is biblically unrecognizable.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
John 5:39-40 ESV
It is safe to assume that few people have much experience in reading ancient documents like the Bible; therefore, in concluding this series, I hope to provide some advice on how to read the Bible.
First, it is important to understand that the entire Bible has one great theme: Jesus Christ. Even though He is never mentioned by name in the Old Testament, Jesus is the center and purpose of all Scripture. In fact, He said so Himself: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life (John 5:39-40).” In that context, only the Old Testament had been written; therefore, Christ explicitly stated that the Old Testament is entirely about Him.
Second, consider the genre. Though the Bible is a united book, it is also a library of books. Books like Genesis, Samuel, Matthew, and Acts are narratives. They tell history and should be read as such. Psalms and Proverbs are collections of poems and wisdom respectively, so they are unique from the other books of the Bible. Ecclesiastes is a philosophical treatise. Song of Solomon is an epic love poem. Romans and Hebrews are letters systematically explaining the gospel to western and eastern mindsets respectively.
Third, love it, memorize it, and meditate on it. If anything could be said about reading the Bible, fill your life with it. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible, and it is dedicated to declaring the excellence of the Scriptures. As you read, pray that God would give you delight in His Word. Make an effort to store it in your heart by memorizing it. Do not read for a few minutes and go on with your day. After memorizing, meditate upon the Word. Roll its words around in your mind, thinking deeply upon God’s thoughts.
Because the Bible is God’s Word to humanity, we should strive to know and understand it more and more. From a human perspective, the Bible is gigantic, so it can be quite intimidating to begin reading the Bible. Here are some suggestions for how to begin your journey in the Scriptures.
First, resolve to read the Bible every day. Even if you find yourself not understanding much, continue to read it. The more time you spend with the Bible, the more you will learn.
Second, begin with the New Testament. The entire Bible is crucial for us as God’s people, but some books are easier to read than others. Start with the New Testament, reading the life of Jesus, the history of the church, and the letters of the apostles.
Third, ask questions about what you’ve read. Paul’s list of the profitability of Scripture from 2 Timothy 2:2 is a good guide. If the Bible helps us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness, ask those types of questions. What does this text teach me (about God, humanity, sin, etc.)? Does this passage reveal any sin or faults in my thinking? How might God use this text to correct me? How might He use it to train me toward righteousness?
Fourth, buy a good study Bible. There are many good study Bibles in book stores, but the best currently is the ESV Study Bible. Study Bibles provide comments, notes, articles, and other resources side-by-side the Bible to help you better understand what you are reading. Other study Bibles worth considering are: the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, the John MacArthur Study Bible, and the Reformation Heritage Study Bible.
Fifth, and most important, pray for God to help you understand His Word. This literally cannot be overemphasized. There is no commentary, study Bible, or sermon that will ever replace the heart transformation of prayerfully reading God’s Word for yourself.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2 Timothy 4:1-4 ESV
I’m not always a big fan of chapter divisions in the Bible.
Yes, they are helpful for finding passages quickly, but they can sometimes hinder our proper understanding of the Word by causing us to subconsciously separate connected thoughts. The first four verses of 2 Timothy chapter four is one of those cases. Paul did not originally write this letter to Timothy with chapter divisions or verse numbers. He just wrote a letter, and if we read it like a letter, we will quickly realize that he is applying the truths that he stated in verses sixteen and seventeen of the last chapter.
Because all Scripture is inspired, profitable, and sufficient, Paul commands Timothy to preach the Word, but the command is not alone. The apostle prefaces his charge to his disciple by declaring that it is being made in the presence of God and Jesus Christ. He does this to emphasize the divine element of the command. It is not Paul’s idea for Timothy to preach the Word; it is God’s. Paul is simply the messenger.
Because God is driving the command to preach, we must not take preaching lightly. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort should immediately call to mind the profitability of Scripture. Though we can (and should) allow the Scriptures to teach, reprove, correct, and train us individually, the primarily vehicle for profiting from Scripture is through hearing it preached.
The regular, faithful preaching of the Scriptures should be a key focus of all followers of Christ. Since through preaching we are taught the sufficient, profitable, and inspired Bible, we are able to rightly call preaching the Word a means of communal discipleship. By hearing the Word preached, we learn more about the God who authored it, and we learn how to better follow Christ. Preaching makes disciples, and disciples of Christ should love to hear the Word preached.
Unfortunately, many people prefer to “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” turning away from the truth and chasing after myths. There are many false teachers who improperly use the Bible to tell people what they want to hear, and in many ways, they are judgment of God. We must be careful not to assign the blame entirely to false teachers. They only exist because people want to follow after lies. False teachers give the people what they want, and if we are not wary, we can become our own false teacher. Many claim the name of Christ, but never attend church because they believe that they can read the Bible and know God themselves. Though avoiding community does not guarantee false doctrine, it almost always leads to it. We are not meant to follow Christ alone, and we are not meant to interpret the Bible alone. When we read the Bible entirely apart from other believers, we risk avoiding what we do not want to hear. We, in essence, become our own false teacher. We need to hear the faithful, expository preaching of the Word. We need to be in a congregation with other believers, where we have elders who hold firm to the trustworthy Word, instructing sound doctrine and rebuking false doctrine. (Titus 1:9)
But the work of interpretation is not entirely upon the preacher, the congregation of believers must also hold the him accountable to sound doctrine. In Acts, Luke writes this about the Bereans in this way:
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)
Notice that Luke was not annoyed or offended that the Bereans fact-checked everything that him and Paul preached to them; instead, he commended them for doing so! A pastor whose heart is to see the congregation grow in their love of God and His Word will likewise rejoice to find the church daily searching the Scriptures to make sure that his preaching is correct.
For these reasons, regular attendance of the Sunday morning worship service is one of the primary expectations of a member at Western Meadows. Because we value the Scriptures as God’s Word and value making disciples as Jesus command to every believer, followers of Jesus Christ should desire to sit often under the proclamation of His Word.
SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clarmor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 ESV)
In the Western Meadows Values Series, we have been studying the primary values that we hold as a church. We began with the Great Commission, Jesus’ final command for His disciples to continue making disciples. The great purpose and mission of each Christian and church is, therefore, to make disciples, and we do so because by making more disciples of Jesus we continue to fill the earth with Christ’s image and glory.
Like the Christian walk, making disciples happens on two fronts: individually and corporately. As individuals, we live our lives as a witness for Christ, proclaim His gospel to nonbelievers, and teach other Christians to obey all that He has commanded us. Corporately, we make disciples by devoting ourselves to Scripture (by faithfully preaching and hearing them), prayer (specifically praying for boldness to proclaim the gospel), and community (by loving one another as Christ has loved us).
We now conclude our study of the church’s values by turning to Ephesians 4. In the first half of the chapter, Paul described how to become a healthy church by prioritizing unity and helping one another grow in maturity through our diverse gifts. The second half likewise describes being a healthy church member. Here Paul urges us to put away our previously sinful way of life and to live like Christ. He ends with a volley of quick commands that show practically how we are meant to live around each other in Christ.
Read verses 17-24 and discuss the following.
- Here Paul commands us to put off our old, sinful ways of living and to put on our new life in Christ. What aspects of your life before Christ have you put away? What aspects do you still wrestle with? How does this gospel provide us hope even in the midst of our sin?
Read verses 25-32 and discuss the following.
- Within these verses, Paul delivers a series of exhortations for how we should live as members of the body of Christ. Which verse is most convicting for you? Why? What practical steps might you take to walk in obedience?
Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.
- What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
- What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
- How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
- Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.