Expert Status…

I have heard that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert. That is a lot of hours. To put it into perspective if you wanted to become an expert at guitar or piano and played for 4 hours every day it would take 2,500 days to be an expert. That is almost 7 years to reach expert status. That is no breaks, no sick days, and no vacations. 4 hours every day for almost 7 years. That also does not take into account everything you need to learn to practice the new stuff. Things like reading up on new chords, scales, or whatever. Obviously, I am not an expert (I cannot even play). But I think we get the picture. Expert status takes a drive, dedication, determination, and time. It does not happen overnight. But why am I talking about becoming an expert at playing an instrument? I am not, I just wanted to put the idea in perspective.

I do want to talk about becoming expert Christians. More specifically what it means for you to be an expert in your walk with Christ. I say your walk because each one of us should be striving for expert status in our walk with Christ. We should be the foremost leading expert (besides God Himself) on all things pertaining to our walk with Christ. If we use the 10,000-hour rule as a guide we can add in the things we are actually doing to practice our walk and see when we can expect to reach expert status.

My initial thought was “I always have the Holy Spirit in me so subtract sleep and divide.” WOW, that was simple – 588 days or 1.6 years. But then I found a problem. I don’t remember being an expert in my walk with Christ all those years ago. In fact, I am still learning things.

The Bible is not silent on this 2 Corinthians 8:7, for example, says that we should “excel in everything—faith, speech, knowledge.” So it seems clear that we cannot become an expert just by existing as Christians. That would be nice but it does not seem to actually work. Well, maybe it makes a good hypocrite but that’s another story…

Instead, I want to offer three categories that I think we need to practice to help reach expert status. Also, I am going to keep the bad/good news for the end.

First up is obedience because I think a lot of the things we are supposed to practice fall into the obedience category. Giving, for example, is about obedience. Serving is another item that deals with obedience. Come to think of it the Bible is so insistent on obedience that it says that obedience is better than sacrifice. It also Jesus was obedient to the point of death. Obedience is like John says “walking as He (Jesus) walked.” That means obedience is pretty high up on the list of things to practice. So how much obedience do we need to do to reach our 10,000 hours? My guess is roughly 10,000 hours. Yeah, I don’t think we can split this one up. Sorry, it is a one for one ratio on obedience. So let’s make the math simple and say that overall each obedient act counts as one hour because some are longer and some much shorter. We only need 10,000 acts of obedience. That’s really not too bad. If we do one obedient act a day we can become experts in 27 years. But there is a problem.

The problem is it is not just about obedience. There are two other major categories and the next one is discipleship. I thought about maybe putting this one with obedience but Jesus was pretty insistent on this one thing before He ascended back to heaven so I think it should get its own practice hours. Mind you this is not evangelism. You cannot just say well I told 10,000 people so I met my hours. Sorry, wrong answer. Discipleship is taking time to invest in the spiritual formation and maturity of other believers. Discipleship is about being involved in other peoples lives and allowing them to be involved in yours. It is a process and as such, it takes time to complete these hours. So the question – what’s the ratio. Come on Mike how many hours of discipleship do I need to complete to reach expert status? Well, let’s keep this train rolling and say it’s one-to-one. So 10,000 hours or one hour a day or 27 years of discipling others and you have your hours. Again that is no breaks, vacations, or time off. But still, it’s a number.

Lastly, we come to prayer. Prayer is time between you and God. Paul says we should be praying always so there is a good reason to pray. The Bible is full of commands to pray, examples about prayer, stories of God hearing prayers. Jesus even taught the 12 to pray. I would suggest that not only is prayer a big deal it is a progressive act. The more we pray the more we need to pray. The more focused and disciplined our prayers become the more focus and discipline they need to be for us. One of my favorite passages on prayer is when Jesus says that we should keep asking, keep knocking, and keep seeking. I find that very confusing and very exciting. We have to continue to pray. In the beginning, only praying I want prayers is OK. Nothing wrong with that. It is like learning to walk and holding onto the couch or learning to ride a bike with training wheels. It is perfectly OK. But at some point, our prayers need to shift into something deeper. Something more intimate. Our prayer life reflects our spiritual maturity. So can you guess what the ratio is? Go ahead guess… That’s right it’s one-to-one. You might be thinking that this is an easy one right but the problem is the more you pray the more God delights in you and the more He refines you. The more you pray and grow in prayer the deeper your intimacy with Him becomes. The number might as well be 6 billon because the more you pray the more you become dependent on God. Besides, do you feel you have given 10,000 hours of prayer?

In the end, at best we can become experts at what it means for us to be a Christian in 27 years if we practice every single day. No breaks, no vacations, no sick days. This is nearly impossible. Nearly. The joyful thing is that the journey is part of the process. Learning what it means to be obedient, helping others in their walk with Christ, praying and leaning into the Father is the Christian life. That is what it is about. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians that was written towards the end of his life that he had not reached the goal of being fully mature or an expert but that he is pushing forward towards the goal. We keep moving forward and driving towards the end goal of maturity in Christ.

Just a thought,

Mike

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Old Prayer are not obsolete

One way to help remember the truth of God is to recite old prayers. Some of these prayers have been around for hundreds of years and some for much longer. Some of these prayers are calls to remember, some are confessions of faith, and some are theological statements designed to conform our mental wills to God.

By reciting and praying them we are doing a few things. First, we are joining with millions of other Christians throughout the years who have called on God. We are intentionally giving ourselves over to something bigger than us and connecting ourselves to that thing. We are saying we stand with believers we will never know but confessing that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. Have you ever quoted a movie you love and watched someone get the reference? Instantly there is a connection because the two of you share an affinity with something beyond your individual selves.

Second, we are conforming our minds to truths that have been passed down for years. We are making prayer statements and sometimes taking the guesswork out what to say when we pray. Sometimes it is hard to be bold in prayer so by joining in and making these statements you are boldly approaching the throne of grace. We give ourselves over to statements and make them our own. We give God room to inhabit the prayer of His people.

All of this is designed to help us remember that God is in us and that He has revealed Himself to us. In praying old prayers and standing with other Christians and we can conform ourselves to that truth. We can be reminded that God is in us working to achieve in us something amazing.

 

Lords Prayer:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen

Prayer of St Columba:
Be a bright flame before me, O God
a guiding star above me.
Be a smooth path below me,
a kindly shepherd behind me
today, tonight, and forever.
Alone with none but you, my God
I journey on my way;
what need I fear when you are near,
O Lord of night and day?
More secure am I within your hand
than if a multitude did round me stand.
Amen.

Doxology:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

Posture and Prayer

So, what do posture and prayer have in common and why am I talking about them? First, I am not talking about the posture during prayer even though that might be a fun conversation. Instead, I was thinking about how posture and prayer are similar. I should probably explain…

I have horrible posture. It probably comes from sitting at a desk for years. I find that no matter where I am sitting I try to find ways to prop myself up. I put my elbows on my knees or I lean against something. I honestly have to constantly remind myself to stop slouching, sit up straight, get my elbows off the table, and so on. I am actively working on this, but it is a process. Even as I sit here and type this I am noticing more and more that my posture is horrid.

Now I am not a doctor, but I think good posture helps with all sorts of things from digestion and maybe even better abs. I honestly have no idea, but I do know that it does not feel right to slouch all the time and I am sure that because it is so hard to stop slouching I should probably stop. Besides people say things like “stop slouching, stand up straight.” Maybe if I stop slouching and using other things to support myself my back might start feeling better too.

This morning as I was hunched over the bed drinking a cup of coffee I was thinking about prayer. I was thinking about how my prayer life is weak right now. Don’t get me wrong I pray but it is usually for stuff or for help. My real prayer time though, the time I spend with God just wanting to connect with Him is lacking. My time to just sit at His feet and hear from Him or feel His love. My time to reconnect with my Lord and Savior where I can find refreshment for my soul is lacking in a big way. Because of this, I find other ways to support myself. Usually, it is trying in my own strength to hold myself up. I try to control my schedule or use my own might and power to accomplish everything. I would not say that I am being led by the Spirit right now. Wow, that hurts to say.

In Deuteronomy chapter 6 we read the Shema. If you are not familiar with it the Shema is usually summed up “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” It is called the Shema because the first word is Shema and it is usually translated “hear” but Hebrew words usually carry a lot of meaning. The meaning in shema is hear but it is also listen and obey. It is a call to attentive and active hearing that leads to obedience. In prayer we hear, listen, and obey God. A weak posture is like a weak shema in that it leads to using other things to prop you up.

Prayer is our connection to God. It is among other things an exchange of our will for His. If we are not praying, we cannot hear. If we cannot hear we cannot listen. If we cannot listen, we cannot obey. If we cannot obey we become the lord of our own lives. That will not do. We must like proper posture find ways to stand strong in the right things even though it is hard. Even if we must sacrifice other things to stand properly. It is something that is a must.

I am convinced that my lack of quality prayer time leads to my time anxiety among other things. Because it is so hard to find time to pray and spend time hearing, listening, and obeying God I am sure that means I must. What about you. Do you shema?

Just a thought,

Mike

Will We Listen

If you read through the Bible you find that when God speaks things happen. Starting in Genesis we read that God spoke and the world was created. We read that God would flood the earth and He did. We read that God would confuse the language and He did. We read that God said Abraham and Sarah would have a child and they did. We read that the children of Israel would live in Egypt in slavery for 400 years and they did. We read that the older (Jacob and Esau) would serve the younger and he did. All of this and not only is this just the first book but this does not even cover it all.

It happens time and time again in the Bible that God speaks and things happen. Now we can get all excited and jump up and down about when God speaks for what we want to happen and we can call on God to speak in our favor but that is not the only type of speaking God does. We know how to handle that kind of speaking because we want that kind of speaking but can we be as excited and obedient when God speaks in other ways?

Sometimes God speaks and says no. Sometimes God speaks and tells us what we do not want to hear. David wanted to build a temple and God said no. That was still God speaking and it still happened the way God wanted. God spoke to Moses and told him he would not enter the promised land and that is how it happened. Both men obeyed and thankfully the outcome was good. But there are examples of God speaking and saying no to something but people not listening. Honestly, about half the Old Testament is the prophets telling Israel no or recounting the stories of their failures. God was still speaking in those situations.

Other times God speaks and says not now. He delays promise fulfillments and says there will be a delay because He is God. These are still examples of God speaking and the outcome is still as God says.

The truth is that God speaks and things happen but He is not always saying yes. In Isaiah 55:11 God says through Isaiah that His word does not return void but accomplishes what He sent it to do. We have to be as willing to receive the no and not yet as we are the yes.

It is the same as when God speaks about what will happen or answers prayer, He gives direction and calls us to something. In the Gospels, we read that Jesus called the disciples and they followed. We read that Jesus called Saul who was a persecutor of the church and he followed. We read that Paul (formerly Saul) had a thorn in the flesh and when he prayed for it to be removed God said no. That was still God speaking and Paul chose to listen.

My question to you and to me is do we listen we God says no or not yet. Are we willing to listen even when the answer is not what we want? One of my favorite biblical examples of this is Jerimiah 42 and 43. In chapter 42 the people come to Jerimiah and say ask God what we should do and we will do it. In chapter 43 they reject what Jerimiah says. They said they wanted to hear from God but what they wanted was to hear what they wanted. It is a dangerous game asking for God to speak because He might not tell us what we want to hear. The question is this: Are we willing to listen and obey?

Mike in a Box

I have an aversion to religious rituals in my life. This aversion is so strong I even call it ritualism. Anytime I think something might become a ritual I avoid it at all cost. I struggle with a consistent morning devotional because I am afraid I might just start going through the motions. I am afraid of losing the spiritual connection to the action so often times I avoid beginning it in the first place. I think to myself instead: Michael you have the Holy Spirit, you can pray and fellowship with God anytime. This is true I can pray and fellowship with God anytime I like, but do I?

Before I continue I want to let you know that I plan on using a few analogies and to remind you that analogies eventually break down. Some analogies are better than others and some hold up longer than others but that is their nature. An analogy can only go so far because they only have partial similarities and so it is with the ones I will use.

My aversion to rituals is, by and large, only affected by spiritual things. I brush my teeth every morning, I go to the gym most mornings, I wash my beard two times a week, and so on. Now you might be thinking that these things are not rituals but routines and you would be right they are routines. A routine as defined by Google – a sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program. Every morning I have the same routine: I wake up, get my robe, drink my coffee, read my emails, check the verse of the day, check Facebook, re-read the verse of the day because I forgot already, and so on. Same thing every morning. There are slight variations depending on the day but you get the picture. If I was the star of a TV show my morning routine could be the opening credits because it does not change.

Another routine I have is I go to the gym four days a week. I do different exercises each day but there is still a routine in there. I have thoughts about not going to the gym because I don’t feel like it, especially on Fridays, but I know it is good for me so I go. I am usually glad I did. So why if I can see the value of routines in my daily physical life am I so hesitant to put spiritual routines in place? Why do I call routines rituals in my my spiritual life? The answer is…I have no idea.

That is the point I hit about three weeks ago. I was dumbfounded at why one was seen as good and the other as bad. Yes setting aside specific prayer times could become dull and robotic but the same could happen at the gym. True my reading could turn into a “must” instead of a “want” but that can happen in any area. The reason it doesn’t is because of self-control and desire. I desire to get stronger or to learn an instrument. The desire trumps the problem of dullness. Then at times when the desire is not as strong self-control takes over and keeps me on track. Things do not become ritualistic because you choose to not allow that to happen. So I made a choice.

Three weeks ago I set three timers on my phone that simply say prayer time. When these timers go off I stop what I am doing (if I can) and take a couple of minutes to read something and pray. I am happy to say that most days I hit all three times. There are days when due to my schedule I simply cannot do it and that is OK. I still do my bigger readings and bigger prayer times but these three times are about stopping to refocus my attention on Christ. It is not about doing a Bible study or getting a breakthrough in an area of my life. It is simply about stopping to spend a few minutes with Jesus.

I was so afraid of putting God in a box that I did not realize something very important. While God does not belong in a box but I might. We are always told to think outside of the box, to be free with our worship, to live in the moment, and to listen to the Spirit. That is great and I try to be like that but what about self-control. What if you find yourself wanting to be like that but not having the time every day to do that. Am I always spontaneous with my wife? What about with my kids? No, because there are times when you need to make time for them. Times when you are busy. You want to spend time with your loved ones but your schedule does not allow for you to do something in the moment. In those times you have to be intentional about it. Our walk with Jesus is similar, we need to be intentional about it. Sometimes we need to put ourselves in a box so that we can do the thing we want to do.

So I have put myself in a box and I have to say it is more comfortable in here than I thought.

Just a thought,

Mike

Problems and Prayer (2 Cor 1:10-11 )

He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and He will deliver us. We have put our hope in Him that He will deliver us again while you join in helping us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many.
In 2 Cor 1:10-11 Paul gives us a biblical flow for how to handle a situation. First, acknowledge the situation. A lot of times we want to be super Christians about it and ignore the situation but truth be told ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Ignoring it does not make you a super Christian, it makes you a dummy. Don’t be a dummy. There is nothing wrong with admitting you are not strong enough on your own to tackle everything that comes your way. God does not expect us to handle it all that is why Jesus is always making intercession for us.
Second, we ask for prayer. Whether because of pride, fear, thinking no one will, or any other reason, sometimes we have a problem asking for prayer. I know I struggle here and, to be honest, I think my issue is a mix of pride and not sure if anyone will pray but to resolve this I have started to take my prayer life for others, that is committing to praying for others, much more seriously and have been more aggressive with my follow through. We need to ask others for prayer and we need to follow through and pray for people when they ask us. Your prayers go straight to God. You might not know what to say. If you don’t then simply say what you do know. It is not a competition. You cannot earn a gold medal in praying so just pray from your heart.
Finally, rejoice when God comes through. A major part of sharing needs and praying for others is that we all get to be in on the rejoicing. There is something amazing about knowing that God came through for someone regarding something you have been praying about. It also strengthens your own personal faith. We are a family and when the family gathers the family gets to rejoice.
So in short, share your needs, pray for others, and rejoice when God comes through.
Just a thought,
Mike

Prayer

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In Mark 11:24 Jesus says “Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them” and to be honest I struggle with this. It is not that I struggle to believe that God will hear my prayers, although sometimes this is the case, it is more of do I believe this is my prayer? Do I actually believe that this is the request I want to make to the God of heaven and earth?

I am approaching the God who sustains the universe, took on human flesh, died and rose again to save my soul, sits in glory surrounded by the praises of His angels, and I am asking for this. I am stunned by my selfishness, aware of my pride, and confused by my own self-interest. When I come before the King of glory I sometimes find myself understanding Isaiah who said: “woe is me for I am undone.” How can I ask for things, because as I stand in His presence all I can do is think “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

The amazing thing to me is I stand there before Him in awe of His beauty and majesty He asks what I request. The only answer I can find is that I desire to sit at your feet and worship you. Oh, how I wish this to be my daily encounter. Instead, I often allow my fears, confusions, and selfishness dictates prayers that I do not even believe.