Reflections on Prayer – September

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Matthew 6:13 “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  By Lisa Espinoza Lord, please don’t let one more double fudge brownie pass through my lips. God, help me not to cheat on my taxes…again. Please help me keep my thoughts in check when that cute new co-worker walks by. At first glance, it seems simple enough. We just figure out what “no-no”s trip us up and ask God to keep us from falling prey to them. Right? Not so much. This passage speaks not to a set of vices but rather to the real heart of the matter. Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart says, “This is the basic idea back of all temptation: God is presented as depriving us by His commands of what is good, so we think we must take matters into our own hands and act contrary to what He has said.” This month we ask God to reveal the specific areas in which we doubt His plan for us and instead are chasing after fulfillment our own way. Week 1 Read Matthew 4:1-11 Every temptation we face can be described in one word—detour. Satan’s goal in tempting us is that we would choose an alternate route for fulfilling of our needs and desires than that which God has planned for us. When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, Jesus refused to take the “detour” to power, sustenance and ego fulfillment. He chose to trust that God’s way was best, and he remained obedient to the Father’s plan to glorify his Son through the pain of the cross. Write out Hebrews 4:15, 16 and keep it with you this week. Each time you feel tempted to take a detour, read this passage and allow God’s strength to help you stay on the right path. Week 2 The face of temptation is most often not grotesque and evil, announcing its intention upon first encounter. Instead it is a “girl next door” sort of appeal that draws us innocently into an idea…a plan…a choice. It’s the desire for financial security that results in unscrupulous business practices or the need for love that results in inappropriate relationships. How is the face of temptation disguising itself to you? This week spend some time quietly reflecting and journaling about this question. Week 3 Often our greatest temptations emanate from our deep need for unconditional love. We search for that kind of love, and when we fail to  find it, we begin substituting other things—food, money, relationships, accomplishments, busyness. In his powerful book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen writes, “I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?” This week carve out an hour away from work, family, and other responsibilities. This is your time to meet with the Father. Pour out your heart to Him. Tell Him all the ways you’ve been searching for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Come home to the Father. Week 4 Step One in the life-changing 12-Step recovery program basically says, “We admitted we were powerless…” When we pray, “Don’t lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,” we are admitting our own powerlessness against temptation and acknowledging that only God has the power to keep us from being overcome by temptation and falling into sin. When we truly fall into the sufficiency of God, we find life-giving freedom. Pull out your journal and finish this sentence: God, I admit that I am powerless against the temptation to … Each time this week you face this temptation, picture yourself falling into the arms of God and saying, “Father, I’m powerless, but your are powerful.”

Reflections on Prayer – August

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Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” By Lisa Espinoza Last month we acknowledged our deep need for God’s forgiveness. This month we come face to face with the inconvenient truth at the end of verse 12.  Jesus instructs us to accept the grace He’s poured out on us and extend it to those we least want to bless—those who have wronged us…our “debtors.” I don’t know about you, but it’s a bit irritating to me that Jesus would ask me to do such a thing. Why didn’t he at least make it optional? Because Jesus knew that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. The choice to forgive doesn’t mean forgiveness is deserved or that the wrong never occurred. It means we are making an effort to follow the example of Christ who looked at the very ones who hung him on a cross to die and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It means we recognize that we are the ones who suffer most when we refuse to forgive. This month we ask God by His grace to help us do the hard work of forgiveness. Week 1 Often the last person we are willing to forgive is ourselves. In a sense, we are saying, “God, I know you’ve forgiven me, but I’m going to continue to beat myself up because I deserve it.” We redefine grace so that we can wrap our minds around it rather than letting it be the truly mysterious, amazing, freeing force that it is. Read Colossians 2:13, 14. Draw a simple cross from top to bottom of your journal page. On that cross, write down every sin from the past that haunts you. As you write, imagine each sin being nailed to the cross of Christ. Begin every day this week with this prayer, “Thank you, God, for the grace to forgive myself as you’ve forgiven me.” Week 2 Each day this week, read the parable of the servant who was forgiven of his debts (Matthew 18:21-35). Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal something new about this story each time you read it. Week 3 Read Mark 11:25. Think back to last week’s daily reading about the unforgiving servant. Now close your eyes and put yourself in the story. From whom are you demanding payment for a debt that Christ is asking you to forgive? Write it down. It could be a person or a group of people, an organization or even a church.  Whatever or whomever, pray for them each day this week, that God would bless them in whatever ways He sees fit. Week 4 Forgiveness for most of us is a process. We say, “I forgive,” but the thought or mention of that person who wronged us produces a knot in our stomach, and we experience all the feelings we felt before we said those two magic words.  That’s because they’re not magic at all. The act that hurt us doesn’t cease to exist—an act that violated, humiliated, left us feeling irrelevant or cost us something precious. Forgiveness is not a feeling or an excusing or forgetting of the wrong done to us. We choose to forgive precisely because we acknowledge the wrong and say, “No more. You will not have power over me any more.” We may have to pray many times over a period of years, “God, I choose to forgive ________ for ________.” If you struggle with extending forgiveness, I encourage you to read Forgive and Forget—Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve by Lewis Smedes.

Reflections on Prayer – July

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Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts…”  By Lisa Espinoza A while back there was a country song about a guy who cheats on his wife—imagine that, a country song about cheating. He’s asking her to forgive him and she replies, “Forgive…that’s a mighty big word for such a small man.” Touché.  Take that, cheater. Yet in my smugness, it occurs to me that God could say the same thing when I go to Him and ask forgiveness yet again, maybe for the same thing I’ve asked a hundred times before. He doesn’t have to grant forgiveness to anyone for anything. By His grace, however, He has chosen to make a promise to us. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (I John 1:9) This month we focus on our utter lack of resource to “pay off” our debt to God—our spiritual poverty—and His ever-present grace in the face of our need. Week 1 Brennan Manning writes, “If we only pretend to be sinners, we can only pretend to be forgiven.” It’s easy to think if we haven’t committed some egregious wrong that we’re in the black on the spiritual ledger. Or that if we have all our ducks in a row, so to speak, that must mean we’ve moved ourselves from spiritual poverty to spiritual Bill Gates-ness. This week ask God to give you a glimpse into your own spiritual poverty—your desperate need of God’s forgiving grace. At the end of each day this week, write down any sin that you become aware of that needs to be confessed or anything God teaches you about your moment-by-moment need for grace. Week 2 Last week we asked God to reveal to us the nature of our spiritual poverty. Open your journal and reflect on what you wrote. Now imagine God’s grace pouring over the page, covering up and saturating every word on the page.   On the bottom of your page write,   “Forgiven. Debt paid in full.” Write a note that says PIF (paid in full) and put it in a prominent place so that each time you see it, you will rejoice in the Lord’s abundant provision for your need. Week 3 To ask forgiveness is one thing. To live in it can prove quite another. You can be confident that the enemy of our souls will seize every opportunity to throw our failures at us and try to make us doubt the reality of our forgiveness in Christ. When this happens (when, not if), we must promptly shut him down.   How do we do that? By imitating Jesus’ strategy in the desert when He was tempted by Satan. We combat the lie with the truth. This week memorize I John 1:9 to use as a powerful weapon each time Satan tries to tempt you to doubt Christ’s power of forgiveness in your life. Week 4 Read Colossians 2:13, 14. Each day this week, sit for a few minutes with these words. Write out the passage; say it aloud; pen your own paraphrase. Let it’s truth sink into your soul, infusing life and hope into every part of your being.

Reflections on Prayer – June

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Matthew 6:11 “Give us this day our daily bread.” By Lisa Espinoza This little verse packs quite a punch. At first glance, it appears Jesus is simply teaching us to ask each day for the food that will nourish and sustain our bodies. That’s just scratching the surface. This verse is about dependence. It’s about acknowledging that everything we need to sustain us—spiritually and physically— comes from the hand of God. “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” James 1:17 This month we focus on placing ourselves daily before our heavenly Father in a position of utter dependence. Begin each day with this statement, “Lord Jesus, I trust that everything I need today is in you.” Week 1 Read John 6:35 In a day when bread was considered a basic means of physical sustenance, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” He wanted them, and us, to see beyond the physical and to recognize our deeper need…the need for healing in our souls. Jesus has provided everything we need, not only to sustain our lives, but also to bring us abundant life—salvation, hope, grace, mercy, peace, strength, joy. What kind of bread do you need today? Each day this week, write a prayer beginning with, “Jesus, you are my bread of life. Please sustain me today with your ________________________.” Week 2 Read Matthew 6:26-29 Little did Jesus know His teaching, at least on some level, would resound in the modern anti-anxiety anthem, “Don’t worry…be happy.” Jesus basically says, “What good does worrying do you? Look at these birds and flowers—they’re completely dependent on me for what they need, and look at how well they’re doing.” This week let every bird and every flower you see be a cue to remember Jesus’ teaching on worry. Recognize any anxious thoughts that are trying to camp out in your head and picture yourself handing them over to God. Week 3 Read Philippians 4:6 Did you know that doctors often recommend keeping a “gratitude journal” for their patients struggling with anxiety? It’s difficult to dwell on your worries when you are counting your blessings. Each night this week, make a list of everything that day for which you are thankful. Recount even the smallest details with gratitude—the refreshing iced tea at lunch, the call from an old friend, or the pair of shoes you’ve been wanting—that went on CLEARANCE!  You will be amazed at how your “gratitude journal” opens your eyes to the many ways God meets you and provides for you throughout your week. Week 4 Jesus could have taught us to pray, “Give us everything we need for the next year.”  Instead, He has chosen this day, this moment, to pour His grace upon our lives. He wants us to live today, not waste our moments fretting about how we will live tomorrow. This week, practice being in the present moment. When you are having quiet time with the Lord, spending time with friends or family, or even sitting down to lunch alone, be there. Resist the temptation to rethink the past, plan the future, or worry about what you “should” be doing. Allow God to meet you right where you are—in the present moment.    

Reflections on Prayer – May

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Matthew 6:10 “On earth as it is in heaven…” By Lisa Espinoza What does planet earth look like to you? Not the whole thing…just your corner of it. Maybe your little plot of planetary is seeing some unexpected upheaval right about now. I remember one day while back enjoying the warm tile underfoot while washing dishes, until I discovered the cause of the warmth—a slab leak that led to a plethora of inconveniences including mold remediation and an absence of a kitchen and hot water. If this weren’t enough, in the middle of it all, my i-phone was stolen and the tile around our pool began falling off in chunks. I prayed, “God, what do you want to teach me in all this?”  I can’t pinpoint exact words, but the essence of His answer was, “Invest in the eternal.”  This month we ask the Lord to help us give ourselves to what’s real…to what will last and not be ruined by a slab leak. Week 1 Meditate on Matthew 6:19-21 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Ask God to show you this week what kind of investments you are making with your resources of time and money. Journal about your discoveries, but take it a step further and make adjustments in your life as you sense the Lord’s leading. Week 2 John 14:2, 3 Is there really a place called heaven? It’s hard to comprehend any other living quarters than the ones we’re in right now.  But heaven does exist, and it is more real than anything we’ve ever experienced. Jesus Himself said He is at work preparing this place for us so that we can be with Him there for eternity. When you experience setbacks or hardships this week, encourage yourself by meditating on Jesus’ words as recorded in John 14:2, 3. 2  “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Week 3 We know what earth is like—its contours, its aromas, its colors and sounds. But what is heaven like? Set aside a quiet time to thoughtfully read Revelation 21, or break it up into smaller sections throughout the week. Take time to dream about what heaven will be like. Picture every detail in vivid color. Each time this week you enjoy any of God’s limitless provisions—delicious food, the beauty of nature, the love of friends and family—remind yourself that this is just a preview of what’s to come…and breathe a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord. Week 4 Heaven is heaven because it is a place where God’s will is done. We get to partner with Him in the carrying out of His will on earth. In doing so, we bring a glimpse of heaven to earth. Think of someone you know who could use a glimpse of heaven this week. How does God want you to partner with Him in blessing this person? Don’t let this week end without responding to the nudge of the Holy Spirit.