Whose side are you on?

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Joshua 5:13-15

Are you on our side or our enemies?

We all have the tendency to think that we are on the right side of any argument. “I’m right, you’re wrong!” We see ourselves on the winning team, because we know that we are. It is easy to picture ourselves as the good guys. It’s easy to say “we are the one God chooses to bless, God is on our side!” That is our perception, it’s our understanding. It makes us feel better and at times it helps us to justify our behaviour. But are we right? Is God really on our side?

Joshua, the leader of God’s chosen people, stood with the walls of the city Jericho in the background. This fortified city, in the land he had been instructed to go and conquer, was a big challenge. But there was nothing to worry about, God was on Joshua’s side, right? Or was he? Our natural reaction is to say “Yes! of course God was on Joshua’s side!” Joshua was the leader of the Israelites, he was the apprentice of Moses. But when we look at the Bible and the encounter Joshua had with the commander of the Lord’s army, we get a slightly different picture.

Joshua encounters this commander of the Lord’s army, who could well be the pre-incarnate Jesus himself. But this commander does not identify himself with either side in the growing conflict. He is neither for those in Jericho nor does he say he’s on the side of the nation of Israel. The Lord does not “take sides” in this conflict.

Instead, the Lord stands above the conflict. He is righteous, He is true and just. The Lord is Sovereign and thus acts for His good will and purpose. In this case, it was for Joshua and the Israelites. But at other times the Lord would let Israel’s enemies have the upper hand.

So the Lord works his purposes out. The Lord is on His own side. After all, he created the people on both sides of this situation. His love is present for his creation, but where sin has separated the people from him, the consequences of judgement will come. When Israel disobeys the Lord and Akin keeps some of the plunder from Jericho for himself, Akin’s sin becomes a problem for the whole community. The Lord withdraws his hand from Israel leading to the defeat at Ai. Akin eventually receives the consequences for his sin.

Our world is full of division, whether it is political, religious, or social division. Yet in the midst of this division everyone seems to claim that God is on their side of the argument. However much we may want God on our side, we need to remember that God is on His side. His side is one of holiness, righteousness and truth. The Lord is looking for people to be on his side. He is looking for people who will seek to walk in righteousness and holiness. After all, the Lord tells us “Be Holy because I am Holy”.

In the battle at Jericho, God did not take sides, but he did work with Joshua. He guided, empowered and brought the walls of Jericho down. He did it to further his greater sovereign purposes for the chosen nation of Israel. God’s will was done.

So before we presume that God is on our side in a conflict we need to pause and ask ourselves whose side are we on? When Joshua met with the commander of the Lord’s army he was given the following instructions…

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:15)

That is perhaps the best attitude we can have, to humble ourselves, remove our shoes and recognize we stand on Holy Ground. Seek the Lord’s direction and understanding rather than our own. So whose side are you on?

A prayer of Praise…

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Lord God, king of the universe, you are worthy of all praise and glory. You have created all things and I marvel at the beauty and complexity of your creation, from grand mountain peak to the simple structure of an amoeba. I am amazed at the complexity of the human body and glorify you that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. May you be glorified in the earth today! In Jesus name, Amen. 

#wp #livingbyprayer #myprayer #god #glory #creation

Our Father…

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When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer has become a model for Christian prayer ever since. It can be prayed directly in faith, to cover all of the needs we have each day. Or it can be used as a model, a framework, from which an extended time of prayer can emerge.

The prayer begins with “Our father”, two words, but with profound meaning.

The first word “our” makes it clear that this is not individual prayer. Even though we may pray it individually, it is a corporate prayer. We live in a culture and society which places great value on the individual, “my rights,” “my choice” etc. We are continually challenged to be the best we can be as individuals. Immersed in this culture we have naturally applied an individualistic worldview mentality to our relationship with God. The church reinforces this when evangelists ask us: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”

It is right that they ask questions like this, each of us need to personally respond to the drawing and calling of the Holy Spirit, leading us into faith in Jesus. But while our decision to respond to the person of Jesus is personal we are born again into community, not as isolated individuals. Yes, faith is personal, but it’s not private. We are part of a community. We are members of the body of Christ, the Church.

This should be no surprise to us, as it is consistent with how God has chosen to work in the past. He has chosen to work with families, Adam and Eve, the family of Abraham, the children of Israel. God chose to work through a Covenant relationship with the Nation of Israel beginning with the Exodus from Egypt and continuing through to the present day.

When Jesus instructs us to pray “Our” Father, he is reminding us that we pray as part of a community, not as mere individuals. The prayer is not about us as individuals. It is not about getting what we want as individuals. It is not about God just meeting my needs. It is a prayer set in the context of community. It’s a reminder, that when we pray, even if it as an individual, that we are part of the larger community. We pray as the body of Christ and not as an isolated individual.

Why is this Important?

It’s important because God chooses to work through groups of people rather than individuals. Sometimes the leader is the only one who is seen, but there is always a group of people together. No one person has all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. God has designed us to need each other. As we work together using the gifts, talents and resources the Lord has given to us, we see his kingdom expanded.

God chooses to work this way because God is a person who loves community. In fact, God is community. He is the triune God, three persons yet one. The trinity is this mysterious expression of community, which through the Holy Spirit, we are invited to participate in. God reflects his very nature in the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples to pray. So as we recite this prayer in faith, or use it as a framework for an extended time of prayer we begin with the reminder that it is a prayer of community.

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Father God, thank you that you place us in community together and that you draw us into deeper community through the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Lord, when we struggle with that community aspect give us grace to be faithful and love to enable us to grow. As we pray remind us again and again that we do so not on our own, but that we join together with brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ to pray to our Heavenly Father, who has loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die in our place. Thank you for uniting us together in Jesus. In Jesus name, who unites us together as brothers and sisters, we pray. Amen.

Elements of Prayer: JOURNALLING

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Journaling is a great way to maintain focus during prayer. It also gives a record of our prayers, which can be looked back upon. Distraction is big issues when it comes to prayer. It’s so easy to let our minds wander and find ourselves making a mental “to do” list for the day or thinking about a whole range of things which have nothing to do with prayer. The discipline of sitting down with pen and paper, or keyboard and screen can help to focus our minds and avoid, or certainly minimize the distractions. When we become physically occupied, it can help us to focus.

A Journal is also a place where we can return to see how God has answered our prayers. When we have a record of what we have prayed it’s easy to see how God has answered, especially when we begin to realize that God does not always answer us in ways we would expect. A journal can become a valuable resource for times of thanksgiving and praise.

There is no right or wrong way to journal. We bring our own personality and style to any journal. For some people writing out a whole prayer works best for them. For others, they may write as if writing a letter to a close friend or relative. Writing out a passage of Scripture can be a great way to journal. As you write you are forced to slow down and think about the words, which in turn can draw one deeper into the scripture and deeper into prayer. Some people even find doodling or colouring a great way to pray and journal. As they colour or doodle around a name or a situation they spend time praying.

It’s good to try different styles of journaling to find what works the best for you. Some styles and ideas will work better than others. Some methods will just not fit our personality but eventually our own journal style will emerge. Christian poet Luci Shaw describes journaling as “the catching and holding of joyful, crucial, exciting, significant moments in life”.  It becomes “a record of your spiritual travelling, your personal edging towards God.”

Take some time to sit down, reflect, pray and journal with the Lord.

Elements of Prayer: SINGING

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Singing may not fit with a “hands together, eyes closed” style of praying. But song can be a very powerful element in our prayer lives.

Saint Augustine is quoted as saying “when one sings one prays twice.” It has been repeatedly shown that music and song connects with us on a deeper level, a fact I witnessed a few weeks ago when I was in a room of people dealing with various levels of dementia, but who all responded to a singalong video when it began to be played. We connect emotionally not just cognitively with God through singing.

The Old Testament Psalms, Israel’s prayer book, are filled with the directions to sing. Forty-one times in the book we are instructed to “sing praises.” Singing can become a powerful way to pray. It was as Paul and Silas prayed and sang that the earth shook and their prison doors were opened. Paul and Silas were released and the Philippian jailer came to faith in the Lord (Acts 16). King Jehoshaphat “appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise him” (2 Chronicles 20:21) and as they sang the Lord defeated the Ammonites and the Moabites. There is power in singing the praises of God.

Practically, singing in prayer can be as simple as singing a favourite hymn or worship song, either on your own or singing along to a CD or iPod. Or we can choose to sing a song which comes from our own heart. We don’t have to have perfect words or even a wonderful voice, for it is to God that we sing, and to our heavenly father there is no sweeter sound, than the sound of his child singing to him.

So, as the psalmist instructs us, let us…

“worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs” Psalm 100:2
and” let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” Psalm 150:6

Elements of Prayer: INTERCESSION

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If petition involves praying for our own needs, then intercession involves praying for the needs of other people. This is true but at the same time the scope of intercession is far bigger than just the needs of other people. Evangelist Ed Silvoso defines an intercessor as “a person who stands before God, pleading for his will to be done on earth while actively resisting the devil in the heavenly places until he flees.”

In intercession, we stand in the gap. In Ezekiel 22 we see God looking for intercessors… “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one ” (Ezekiel 22:30). Sadly, no intercessors could be found. When it came to the city of Sodom, however, God did find someone to stand in the gap. Abraham stood before God and pleaded for Sodom, with the result that Lot and his children were saved. Moses was continually drawn into the place of intercession as he stood in the gap for the Nation of Israel. We see that he regularly was called into the gap to plead with God not to destroy the stiff-necked Israelites. God listened and responded to Moses and on more than one occasion the complete destruction of Israel was avoided.

God may call us to stand in the gap of intercession for a nation, but often it is for family members or for situations which are close to us. A sick aunt, or a cousin in a difficult life situation may become the focus for our intercessory prayers. The needs do not always have to be big. They can be quite simple. Whether the need is big or small, intercession becomes an expression and extension of our love. John Calvin expressed it this way…

“To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them” John Calvin.

In love, we step into the place of intercession, not just to pray for someone else but to engage in the battle with them. As we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in that prayer we can be confident that our prayers are in line with God’s will and we can have confidence that as we pray God’s Kingdom is advanced.
Who is God calling you to stand in the gap for?