I hope you haven’t been victimized by a misconception about prayer. We could all use a refresher on the subject since it is vital to a living soul. So, let me point you to someone who lived an unusual life of prayer.

First, may I disabuse you of the notion that prayer consists of telling God what you want? The problem is if the genie in the sky doesn’t cooperate, you conclude something’s wrong with you, or him. Prayer, according to the Bible, is far more serious and profound than that.

We would have enjoyed knowing Nicolas Herman (1614-1691). After years as a soldier, he entered a monastery in Paris. His job? The kitchen. He is known today as Brother Lawrence, and something of his life is captured in the book, The Practice of the Presence of God. His peaceful and joyful demeanor derived from a certain intimacy with God which attracted people.

His life reflected this verse: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes. 5:16-18). To him, prayer was not a bowed head, a quiet time, or religious words. He could pray without ceasing because he cultivated an awareness of God’s presence in every moment. Even in the kitchen, taking care of business.

It seems that the Brother didn’t really see the need for scheduled devotional times in the monastery. He said, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees.”

This nudges us toward a relational frame of mind. “In Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28). “The Spirit of God dwells in you” (1 Cor. 3:16). Lawrence said, “How can we pray to Him without being with Him? How can we be with Him but in thinking of Him often? And how can we often think of Him but by a holy habit which we should form of it?” When he had to focus on work, he would pray, “O my God since thou art with me, and I must now in obedience to Thy commands apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy presence.”

His conclusion? “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God.” Said another way, a lifestyle of abiding in Jesus inspires prayer. “He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As you abide, so you’ll pray.

Pilgrim’s Progress

“There is nothing new under the sun,” Ecclesiastes says. That’s because we humans have always been on the same journey.  John Bunyan wrote his classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, about 350 years ago, yet what he describes is as modern as high speed internet.

Bunyan became a Christian as an adult and began to preach. But preaching outside the Church of England was illegal (religious freedom is a fragile thing).  He spent 12 years in jail because he refused to conform.  While incarcerated he wrote the famous manuscript, a book now translated into over 200 languages.

Pilgrim leaves the City of Destruction carrying a heavy burden. Evangelist urged him to follow the light to the narrow wicket gate.  Worldly Wiseman re-directed him to the village of Morality to seek a man named Legality.  This diversion worsened his misery.  Evangelist found him again and explained that Wiseman “favors only the doctrine of this world (therefore he always goes to the town of Morality to church) and partly because he loves that doctrine best, for it saves him from the cross.  This Legality is not able to set you free from your burden.”

Pilgrim finally passed through the gate and found the way. “He ran thus til he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below in the bottom, a sepulcher.  His burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble til it came to the mouth of the sepulcher where it fell in.”  The pilgrim, called Christian, gave three leaps of joy, saying, “Blest cross!  Blest sepulcher! Blest rather be, the Man that there was put to shame for me.”

Legalism and moralism are no substitute for God’s saving grace. If living by a code or turning over a new leaf could suffice, no cross and no Savior are needed.  Relying on one’s own truth or effort to achieve spirituality is as modern as it is ancient.  The Bible says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16).

Bunyan offers an invitation. “This book will make a traveler of thee; if by its counsel though wilt ruled be.  It will direct thee to the Holy Land, if thou wilt its directions understand.”  Jesus gave us pilgrims this travel guide: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12).  Are you making progress that way?

Truth and Deception

Deceptions abound.  We were well aware that mass media news outlets abuse and omit truth long before someone uttered the term “fake news.”  We know Hollywood sends subtle messages to moviegoers who just want a momentary distraction, not a lecture on political correctness.  But don’t point a finger at those bogeymen because we are perfectly capable of deceiving ourselves.

Daniel Kahneman received a Nobel Prize in Economics as a psychologist.  He summarized much of his life’s work in Thinking Fast and Slow.  In this book, he describes the human mind as System 1 (involuntary) and System 2 (focused).  He writes, “When System 2 is otherwise engaged, we will believe almost anything.  System 1 is gullible and biased to believe, System 2 is in charge of doubting and unbelieving, but System 2 is sometimes busy, and often lazy.”  The result is that often we believe what we want to, despite facts that would lead to a different conclusion, if we bother to consider them.

That human weakness has always been exploited.  In the Garden of Eden, the crafty serpent tempted Eve by questioning what God said, then offered a different viewpoint mixed with just enough truth to make it seem palatable (Gen. 3:1-7).  Who was that deceiver?  “The serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9).  The greatest deception questions who God is, and persists to this day masquerading as wisdom.  “Though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21-22).  If you are deceived about God, you are deceived about yourself.

Truth is precious and valuable, so much so that the word appears around 200 times in the Bible.  The Christian worldview sees Jesus not just as a lens to perceive truth, but as the embodiment of Truth.  He came full of grace and truth.  John the Baptist testified to that truth.  The Hebrew Scriptures point to truth.  “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Then His big reveal:  “I am the truth.” (John 1:14, 5:33, 5:39, 8:32, 14:6)  Vince Vitale in Jesus Among Secular Gods writes, “Only a Christian can be a lover of truth, in the deepest sense of love, because only Christianity is an invitation to a personal loving relationship with the truth.”

What are you really looking for, the American right to pursue happiness?  It’s a deception to believe that you can find true happiness in anything this world has to offer.  Look for Truth, and when you find Him, you’ll have transcendent joy that no deceiver can spoil.

Finish Strong

A statesman from Georgia and a Civil War general from Virginia shared something in common even though their time on this earth was separated by six decades. They finished strong.

Robert E. Lee said “I would rather die a thousand deaths” than meet with Ulysses S. Grant to surrender his army. Yet he did, and arguably preserved the lives of thousands in doing so.  During the five years he lived after Appomattox, he rejected calls for former Confederates to press an insurgency against the Union.  He signed an oath of allegiance to the U.S., and became president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia.  He wrote, “I think it is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony.”

I read Charles Flood’s book, “Lee the Last Years,” while Zell Miller was Georgia’s U.S. Senator. Like Lee, in his final years he put statesmanship above previous allegiances for the good of his fellow citizens.  In his iron-fisted speech at a political convention in 2004, he excoriated his own party’s candidate for weakening our country’s defenses.  After listing votes against various weapons, he thundered, “This is the man who wants to be commander in Chief of our U.S. Armed Forces?  Forces armed with what?  Spitballs?”  Fearless!

After Mr. Miller retired (again) I wrote to thank him for his service and mention my observation. He responded, “General Lee is one of my greatest heroes and to be even mentioned in the same letter is overwhelming.”  I’m honored that he took the time.

The Christian faith has something to say about finishing strong. You may not be a general or a senator, but God has prepared something for you to do (Eph. 2:10).  In Christ, God gives you a purpose for a lifetime.  “There is nothing better for (people) than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor – it is the gift of God.” (Ecc. 3:12-13).

To hear and understand God’s Word is to plant a seed in fruitful soil protected from the pathogens of affliction, worry, or wealth (Matt. 13). This truth has no expiration date: “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).  It is authentic faith that embraces Christ’s work on the cross in the past, His work in you today, and His plans for your future.

Paul wrote in his last letter, “The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:6-7).  A lifetime of serving others, living purposefully, and trusting God is the life that finishes strong.



On that flap between Joy Behar and Vice President Pence…when she implied he could be mentally ill because God speaks to him. After all she is a comedienne, but this attempt at shock humor bombed.  She did apologize later to her credit.

The reason the joke didn’t work is because Christians actually do expect people to hear from God. But what we experience is nothing like Behar’s implication that we hear delusional voices.

Henry Blackaby wrote, “When God speaks, it is to reveal something about Himself, His purposes, or His ways. God’s revelations are designed to bring you into a love relationship with Him.”  Christianity is a relationship with God, and communicating is normal in a relationship.  Jesus said, “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:47).

Years ago, I experienced some folks confused on hearing God speak. During a Bible study, several older Christians agreed that they had never heard God speak to them.  As their pastor I was incredulous, since they each had heard thousands of sermons, experienced the wonders of nature, read their Bibles regularly, and prayed routinely.  But they had not considered ways they hear God other than an audible voice.

So if not by audible voices in your head, how do you hear from God? Suppose you read in the Bible, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mat. 22:39).  You realize you have neglected a needy neighbor or mistreated someone, and your conscience prompts you to act or apologize.  You just heard from God.  God speaks through His Word.

He also speaks through creation. “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Rom. 1:20).  The Creator speaks through the beauty of the world and the complexities of life.

Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to his followers. “He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak…He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:13-14).  How do you recognize the Holy Spirit?  It’s surely Him if it moves you to understand and act on His written Word, love people, and reject sin.  On other matters, consider what Jesus said.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

God can speak to you through the Bible, creation, the Holy Spirit, and also through prayer, circumstances, and other believers. The point is not so much how He speaks, but that He does.  That raises our expectations and demands our response.  There’s no question God has spoken to you.  The question is if you are listening.