From Discipline to Delight, Prayer and Fasting

From Discipline to Delight, Prayer and Fasting

From discipline to delight in prayer and fasting, Matthew 6:5-18.

Today I’m sharing my first spontaneous drawing completed using my tablet. I drew this using Autodesk Sketchbook and Photoshop.

I invite you to absorb today’s verses and then allow the art to speak to you as it chooses.

God wants you affection, not your duty. One’s proximity to God is not measured by visible devotion but by their proximity to their neighbor’s need.

Discouragement

 

Haters, naysayers, pessimists, and doomsday prophets are all driven by the same attribute, vision. Be it their own or extinguishing another’s, these are the people who will either make or break you.

Our enemy will discourage you from without

and discourage you from within.

Conquer your oppressor through prayer, recalling the source of your vision and revising your plan of attack.

Keep your focus.

Prayer

 

Wrapping up our series ‘How To Pray’, today’s image sums up all we’ve learned in the last two weeks. The image for the day will speak to each viewer where they are at, so I will limit my interference by keeping this post short.

The yellow on the left is life and all the dirt that comes with it. The words circumstance, worry, and fear are all buried inside this color. ‘Fear’ is positioned so that the ‘r’ hooks the back of the blue figure’s head, attempting to pull it down.

You are the dark blue figure. You and everything else that comes with you. Flowing inside the body are the words doubt (strategically placed), weakness, failure, inadequacy, and surrender.

The light blue on the right represents the Holy Spirit, the one who intercedes for us and communicates through our prayers. When we pray, God offers us grace, forgiveness, strength, vision, and His will.

The key to powerful prayer is total surrender. By surrendering our will, we are free to follow His.

The last thing I want you to notice is the movement in the image. As ‘fear’ pulls the figures head down, the Holy Spirit reaches under its chin, lifting the head back up.

This is prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer

The model for praying described by Jesus in what is known as the Lord’s Prayer lays out a three-phase process for communicating with the Creator. Let’s break down these directions from Matthew 6:9-13

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

As we begin to pray, we should first declare God’s greatness.  By first recognizing God’s position we cannot avoid realizing ours as relative to Him. Last week posed the question, what if the point of prayer is not to get God to do stuff? Establishing your’s and God’s places by declaring His immeasurable greatness makes your wish list of requests vanish in a shadow of humility.

I am representing the start of prayer by the outer edge of this digital image. Light yellow with a white lining brings a sense of awe and a feeling of greatness.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

After realizing God’s magnificence, the next natural step is surrendering your will to Him. This is often easier said than done. Who has any natural desire to give up what they want? No one, that is why we pray for the ability to let go. In this stage of prayer we surrender all of ourselves to God. Here lies the most important part of prayer, because it is in surrender that life-change occurs. Nearly every testimony of how God turned someone’s life or situation around will be preceded by “I laid it all down and gave it to God.” Surrender is the door to growth.

To symbolize surrender, the middle circle is a soft blue-grey. This hue of blue inspires relaxation, de-stressing, and letting go.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Finally, acknowledge your dependency on God. Now you get back to your wish list, likely much shorter now than when you began to pray. In making your requests, you are inherently acknowledging your dependence on God to fill those requests. Tied with that is acknowledging your own inadequacy to accomplish those desires on your own. After declaring God’s greatness and surrendering your own will, submitting requests to God feels more like asking for petty favors than dispatching a super-natural force of productivity.

The central circle is a deep blue, the darkness representing the shame that often comes with acknowledging our inadequacies and claiming our dependency.

My choice of colors in today’s drawing is significant for each aspect of prayer, but also work together in the overall image. If you’ve taken any art classes that studied color, you will recall dark colors recess and light colors project. The center circle is darkest and the colors grow lighter as they move out, drawing your eye in and pulling your mind through the image. The decreasing size of the circles symbolizes an increased humility as the prayer progresses.

One final word closes the prayer; amen. Amen is a word that dates back to early religious texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The word is a declaration of affirmation that literally means, ‘so be it’ or ‘let it be so’. We close prayers with ‘amen’ as a declaration to let the outcomes of the conversation we just had with the Creator be fulfilled, it is our commitment of surrender to God’s will and promise of action to come. A simple star at the very center of the page is amen.

Go into your room, pray this way in private, praying as long as it takes.

In the Storeroom

Prayer is the spiritual life-blood of a Christian. Direct, intimate, honest conversation with the Creator is critical to maintaining proper balance in life. So how does this whole prayer thing work? Are there certain buzz-words I can use to guarantee positive results? How many times do ‘God’ or ‘Lord’ need to be used so that my prayer is acceptable? Questions like these are not only common, but they haunt the subconscious of even the most devoted Christians. The sad thing is, using questions like these to gauge the effectiveness of your prayer life are a lead weight around its neck. This is why we are starting a new series today aimed directly at weeding through the over- (and under-) spiritualized mess our opinions created. The next few weeks will interpret a series titled, ‘How To Pray’.

Jesus knew, better than anyone possibly could, the confusion that surrounded the mechanics of praying as he walked the dirt. So much that he found it necessary to include specific instructions during one of his most famous lectures, the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:5-9

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues or on street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go in to your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father sees what is done in secret and will reward you.

And when you are praying, do no use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

Pray then this way;

Jesus goes on to create what we now know as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, but that’s far enough for today’s message.

Let’s start from the top, verse 5. Do not be a hypocrite (well, duh)……standing and praying in the synagogues and on street corners so they can be seen (huh?). The religious élite of the day earned their ranks being the loudest or the most animated; ultimately the most popular. Their popularity among their peers is their reward, the obvious achievement of their goal. Once again, the critical importance of motive arises. Man is concerned with what you do, God wants to know why. Praying loudly, even praying publicly is certainly acceptable, provided your motives are externally driven.

We now know how not to go about praying, so what are we supposed to do instead? Go into your inner room and shut the door. Okay, so I need to shut myself into the central-most room in my residence as if the National Weather Service just issued a tornado warning? Well, sort of. The original Greek word being used here for ‘room’ is directly translated ‘storeroom’. Residential architecture in this time period was obviously more primitive than modern architecture; no central air, the whole dwelling essentially a mud room. Doors and windows were simply openings, providing easy access to rooms, but also constant ventilation to the house. Only one room in the dwelling included a working door, the storeroom. The purpose of a storeroom in residential architecture is exactly what it sounds like, to store household valuables, including food storage. Jesus communicated importance of intimate, private conversation with God by equating it to the contents of the most guarded room in every home. Pretty heavy stuff.

Last, to the nuts and bolts of a prayer, the actual words to use. Don’t be like the Gentiles who believe the wordier the better for effectiveness. God already knows what you need, He’s just waiting to hear your acknowledgement. I once attended a church where one of the pastor’s popular picks for closing services was a guy who opened and closed every phrase with ‘God’, ‘Lord’, or an occasional combination of both (I suppose to mix things up). EVERY PHRASE. Despite being some of the longest public prayers I’ve endured, it was slightly entertaining to tally how many times ‘God’ or ‘Lord’ could be mentioned in a single prayer. This guy is in undisputed ‘God, Lord’ champion. Be real, that’s all God asks. The language we use as we pray shouldn’t be any different from when we talk to our best friend. God knows everything you’re thinking as you pray, your words don’t need further explanation (for better or worse).

I’ve interpreted today’s message in a literal drawing. The figure is closed in a room, obvious by the closed door in the background. The darkness implies solitude, the figure is closed in the room alone. As the figure kneels, it throws its head heavenward and grasps its chest in Superman fashion, opening its soul. Further inspection of the image reveals the figure is tearing its own heart open. The bright rays of light explode from the figure’s core in a vulnerable surrender of its total being.

Honest, intimate, private communication with God, in your storeroom. This is sustenance to a devoted life.

Speak

We’re between series this week at North Ridge. Last week finished up Man School, next week we begin The Bible: It’s Not About You. Today we took a step back to revisit the series that launched 2012, My One Word. To recap, My One Word is our New Year initiative to pick a single word to emulate throughout 2012 instead of making a list of resolutions to achieve.Today we revisited the words we picked and were encouraged to continue striving towards adopting the word as part of our character.

Romans 12:1-2

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The word I chose back in January was bold. To be honest, I felt like selecting that word was a cop-out. For one, simply ‘bold’ is a vague characteristic. Bold about what? There’s a fine line between being bold and flat-out rude! Second, My One Word led into a series titled Bold; picking the same focus for myself that we were studying as a church seemed quite “convenient”. Nevertheless, I could not get away from that word so I have stuck with it. Over the last seven months, that word has evolved, honing in how this boldness will manifest. Just in the last few days, this re-focusing on my word has inspired the word to change. My new word for the year is ‘speak’.

Speaking is where I have chosen to focus my boldness because it is the area in which I am weakest. Call it a lack of confidence, a passive nature, or a fear of rejection; but my goal is putting forth a conscious effort to speak my mind and voice my opinions at every opportunity. Doing this requires a certain level of compassion, I do not want to mistake arrogance for boldness in my words. I found the inspiration for my word in 2 Timothy 1:7: For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.

Selecting my new word is the first avenue of inspiration for today’s drawing. Realizing where I wanted to focus my boldness felt like release in my spirit, symbolized by the figure breaking through the water’s surface. The expression on the figure’s face shows relief, despite the shadowy figures circling around him. The shadows represent the situations that arise to test our commitment to bettering ourselves, temptations to abandon our goals, and the premature pride from thinking minor victories means we’ve arrived. Deciding to make positive changes in your life with God’s help does not mean the task will be easy, in fact it means the opposite. God will teach you the characteristic selected with My One Word by placing you in situations that require using that quality. It can really be quite frustrating! Are you wanting to  be more patient? Expect to face situations that will test your patience. Is your goal to be more honest? Expect hard questions and to give hard answers with increased frequency. My word brought opportunities to take on new risks by stepping out on my own. With my new focus, I am expecting more instances to share my ideas, though it’s not always the most popular. (I had to choose this during an election year….DOH!) God is not looking to make things easy, He is pushing us to become more like Him.