Helping People Pray

Let me guess. You have some people in your group who just will not pray out loud. Am I right?

Well, I have some too. Our young adult group is a mix of new and growing Christians and several people just don’t yet feel comfortable praying out loud. Left unchecked, I may end up with a group where there are only one or two who pray each week. In the end, it can lead to awkward and frustrating moments of silence in your prayer time and even quash the praying spirit of those who will pray!

What can you do?

Thanks be to God that when I was tidying my office this week I found a great article by Carmelina Read on praying out loud in small groups. You will find it here.

The article first provides five reasons why praying out loud is good. It then provides lots of tips on how to help cultivate a praying growth group.

We read it as a group tonight. It was excellent. I would recommend that everyone read the article and perhaps read it with your groups and discuss what would work.

I have two ideas I am going to implement for next week!

I’d love to hear about how you have cultivated prayerfulness in your small group. Please comment below.

Pray well!

Romans 15:1-13 – Having the mind of Christ

CONTEXT

Romans 14 challenges us to not quarrel with one another over matters that don’t matter. We are to accept one another and not let disputable matters get between us. It’s knowing Christ that matters. God has accepted all who come to Christ. This doesn’t leave us with a hippy church where everything is acceptable – but that we are all to judge for ourselves what is right and live by faith and live at peace. We are to be serious about not destroying people’s faith but building it up in love. Trust God and seek his kingdom – a church filled with people like that would be an awesome church.

Romans 15 continues close to this same theme but gives us two sources of input for our thinking – the teaching of God and the mind of Christ.

OBSERVATION

Look at the paragraph breakdown of the NIV (1-4, 5-6, 7-12, 13) What do you think of this breakdown? What is good about it and what is unsatisfactory?
It seems like a great division but it hides the continuity of verses 1-6.

15:1 – this is a great summary of chapter 14! Bearing with others is close to the idea of being merciful. We can begin to see that the way we are instructed to behave toward others is the same way that God bears with us. God doesn’t wipe us out with every fault that we have but he extends his mercy to us and reaches his hand out to us in love and grace. We, as a church, are to live out the gospel to others.

15:2 – Paul seems to extend our relationship from the sphere of the church family to the greater world by using the term ‘neighbour.’ The church are made up of brothers and sisters but the greater world is our neighbour – all who we interact with in our week. We are told here to do good to our neighbour with the expectation that they will be built up. It may not be clear at this stage that Paul is looking outside the church but as the passage proceeds, we’ll see that he has in mind the expansion of the gospel to all the world. How does somebody become part of the church – it may well begin with the good relationship that they experience with someone inside the church body.

15:3 – ‘..even Christ did not please himself…’ the link between verse 3 and 2 is that Jesus displays for us what it looks like to love your neighbour even when your neighbour is impossible to relate to. The quote in this verse is from Psalm 69:9. The whole Psalm is of an Old Testament Jew who trusts in God desires to serve God even when everyone around him is treating him harshly. Paul seems to be able to take this quote and apply it to Jesus as if it were always talking about Jesus. Jesus was willing to receive the insults that ultimately were aimed at God.

15:4 – I have this verse underlined in my bible. I don’t know when or where I did that but I like that it is. In Paul’s day, the Scriptures were, by and large, the Old Testament. The New Testament was still under construction and being written by Paul and Peter and a few others. To say that the Old Testament was written to teach us so that we might have hope – that’s amazing. Paul writes this to New Testament believers like us! 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all Scripture is breathed out by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Christians are fully equipped by the Scriptures. What does it do? It teaches us endurance and gives us encouragement. We see in the Scriptures how much time God used to fulfill his promises. We see in the Scriptures how much pain and conflict the people of God went through in service to the Almighty. We see in the Scriptures how consistant God is with his message and with the faulty and weak people who he called to be his own.

15:5 – First we are told that the Scriptures teach us endurance and encouragement and now we are told that it is God who gives them. Well, which is it? Does God magically impart perseverance and courage? Or is it the bible that teaches us these things? Well, isn’t it both? God gives these things to us and it is the word of God that he uses to impart them to us. Lookup 2 Timothy 3:15-17 again. The bible is sufficient and effective. Anyone who goes looking elsewhere for God to speak to them is treating the Scriptures as less valuable than it is. Paul had a perfect opportunity toward the end of Romans to explain how we can connect best with the Almighty and to receive clear direction in our life. Well, he had the opportunity to tell us and he did! It is through the word of God – the bible. This is where we get to know the mind of God – how he acts and what he loves. The other source of wisdom about God is to know Christ Jesus and understand his mind on things. He demonstrates for us (also through reading the gospels in the bible) how to love our neighbour.

15:6 – Now, God gives us perseverance and encouragement and he can also give us an attitude of mind that is modelled off Christ Jesus. The end result is that we will all together be united in glorifying God. What is the opposite of this? Isn’t it that we remain in conflict and divided over matters that don’t matter and miss the point that God desires to reconcile the world together in His Son? The end result is to glorify God as one voice instead of a noise of bickering.

15:7 – We are told to accept on another just as 14:1 told us to accept the weaker brother or sister. The difference here, though, is that we are to accept our neighbour too – those outside the faith – not because God has accepted them (14:3) but because Christ has accepted you! (15:7). If Christ only accepted those who were already righteous, then there would be nobody righteous except Jesus. For us to have the mind of Christ, we must accept everybody and seek to please them for their good. The result of this will come out of verse 9 and following but first, what did Jesus do?

15:8 – Let’s work backwards through this verse. God made promises to the ancient father’s of Israel – namely Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. See Genesis 12:1-3. All the nations would be blessed through them. That is, the whole world would benefit from the descentants of Abraham. Well, that might have looked truish in Solomon’s prime years but the rest of the Old Testament shows a weak and selfish nation – not much different from the rest of the world. What does verse 8 say next (backwards)? On behalf of God’s truth – or on behalf of God’s word and promises – Christ became a servant of the Jews. He did for them what they were unable to do – please God and become a blessing to the whole world.

15:9 – Not only were the Jews blessed because of Jesus but, true to the promise to Abraham – the whole world – the nations – the Gentiles – the non-Jews are now able to glorify God for mercy has been shown on them too!

15:9-12 – 2 Samuel 22:5 (also Psalm 18:49); Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1 and Isaiah 11:10 are all quoted with a similar message: that the Jewish writer, through the Holy Spirit, is calling on all the nations to praise God. Praise and rejoice in God – put your hope in Him and acknowledge God as the ruler of all. The gospel going out to all the world is not a New Testament theme absent from the Old. The God who created the whole earth (Genesis 1-11) is the one true God who promised to bless the whole earth (Genesis 12:1-3). The story of the Old Testament is the story of God teaching perseverance to wait on the promises to be fulfilled and giving encouragement to the reader to be sure and trust in the God of hope.

15:13 – I feel that this contains the truth of this whole passage. God is the God of hope. Hope – real and complete hope – can’t be found anywhere else. Trusting in God and putting you trust in him first, second and last provides a joy and peace that transcends our current situations. Jesus Christ trusted his Father completley and knew that suffering and betrayal and an increasing number of enemies would mark his life and death. True joy and peace comes from the one source of hope. This hope can overflow from your life into the life of others. Whether your neighbour will one day come to accept Christ or not is not the point – but your neighbour may receive unwarranted love and peace from you because your rock is The Saviour and your peace is found truly in Him.

MEANING

God has made promises, given his word and given us his Son to ensure that we will praise him and glorify the God of hope. We are to be like Christ to people in our path – they ought not to experience hostility and judgment but acceptance, patience, mercy and knowledge of the hope. So God gives and teaches mercy to us, let’s give and teach mercy to others.

APPLICATION

  • Christians need to work harder at not being hostile to others. Even when the temptation comes to judge a non-Christian’s behaviour as ‘wrong’ or something similar – God has not called us to judge the world we live in but to love our neighbour and do good to them. As we seek to follow Jesus’ example, we will seek to live at peace and do good to our neighbour regardless of how they treat us.
  • All Scripture is there to teach us and point us to the God of hope. Let’s use it! Open it up. Set a plan to read it every day. Think about what parts of the bible that you have never read before or have not read in a long time and go to those parts. Find a friend to read the bible with. Look at the pages in the bible and look out for words that help you to persevere in the faith and that give you encouragement to stay strong in the faith.
  • If Joy and peace is not a description of your experience, perhaps you have wandered back to saving yourself rather than putting your trust in God. Us sinners tend to do that.
  • Get your mind straight on where God’s plans are headed. They are to reconcile everything under Christ (Eph 1 – esp verses 9-10). Peace cannot be found outside of Christ. The result of God’s work is that people from all over the world who have turned to Christ will praise and glorify God our Father because of his promises, his mercy, his acceptance of sinners and the perfect work that he has done in Christ.
  • If you are finding life hard at the moment – share that with your group and ask for endurance and courage. Pray for healing, release, resolution and all other good outcomes but thank God for this time of hardship which produces good character and ignites hope within you. This hardship may be the best thing that could happen to you.

Romans 14 – Holidays and Holy Days

CONTEXT:

If our knowledge of Romans is restricted to ‘The Romans Road” (3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9; 8:1) then we will have a grasp on grace but only a tunnel vision of it. To look wider at the concept of grace, we need the whole book of Romans to chew on and meditate over. Grace doesn’t set us free to do whatever we want. “Whatever we want” is what got us all into trouble to begin with! (see Romans 2-3). Romans 6 and 7 taught us to follow God because of his great love for us and not simply because he sets the rules. Chapter 6 describes our salvation as ‘baptized into his death’. We don’t have a water ritual in mind here but the Spiritual baptism where we are overwhelmed and totally overcome by the gospel. We die with Christ so that we may live a new life.

This new life is one that pursues peace wherever it is possible (12:18). It is a life, not of commands but of love (12:9, 13:8-10).

Grace, therefore, does more than set us free from the penalty of sin, it shows us a better way. We will dress ourselves in the LORD Jesus Christ (13:14). He is our redeemer, He is our Commander and Chief, and He is our example.

OBSERVATIONS:

My first observation needs to be about the heading provided by the NIV (and most other translations): “The Weak and the Strong”. One way to study the bible is to constantly judge whether the titles given are good ones or not. Always assume that you can improve on them – not because they are always wrong but because we should never assume that they are right! Read through the passage a few more times and ask this simple question: is this chapter REALLY about weak and strong Christians? Could you do better than this? When it comes to the “Meaning” section of your study, see if you can improve on this very narrow view of the passage.

Here’s how I’ve divided up the chapter in my mind. What do you think of this structure?

  • 1-4 Accept the one whose faith is weak because God has accepted them.
  • 5-9 Whatever you do, do it for the Lord and give thanks to God.
  • 10-12 Each of us will stand before God’s judgement seat. It is God who will judge.
  • 13-21 Make peace, not war!  We are to pursue peace and building up one another.
  • 22-23 Have an audience of one: God is the only observer you need to be concerned with.

Verse 1: 

“Whose faith is weak.” Notice that the description of the weak and “strong” faith is a bit enigmatic. It seems that those who regard all days as the same and as all food as acceptable are the strong in faith but is it that straight forward? The passage does not persist in the language of ‘strong vs weak’ but in everyone to serve God as his servant or slave. All of us have the challenge before us to mature in our trust of God – not by what we do but by how we relate to the Judge of all. I’m sure that every reader will assume that they are the strong who need to take care of the weak – is that what you assumed?

“Disputable matters.” We sometimes refer to these matters as “grey areas”. They are areas of Christian faith that Christians may fall either side of the argument and still be called a brother or sister. God does not call us to disagree but to peace. Paul doesn’t tell us not to discuss them but not to quarrel over them. Examples of a disputable matter might be: alcohol in moderation, styles of church services, how Christ will return (pre-milleniulism, post-millenialism or a-millenialism), and which way the toilet roll goes. Then again, discussions on WHAT is a disputable matter could turn into quarreling about a disputable matter! Is infant baptism a disputable matter? Paul gives two examples: what one is allowed to eat and whether some days are special days to the Lord or not.

Paul shows in verse 14 where he stands on food matters. What matters to him, however, is not his personal conclusion on the matter but on whether it really matters to everyone! Is our salvation based on a decision or awareness of this? Paul is convinced for himself that what he eats, is not a salvation issue for him. But he is very concerned to make sure that what he eats isn’t something that will cause another Christian to trip over in their faith. See 1 Cor 8:9-12; 9:22.

Verse 3:

“For God has accepted them.” Paul began verse one with the command for us to accept one another who are of the faith – whether their faith is strong or weak. The strength of their faith does not make them righteous. It is God who makes righteous and he makes all righteous by faith.

“To their own master, servants stand or fall.” We all stand on the same side – no matter what minor issues we may be divided by – we are all servants of the one true God. He is our Master and we are his servants (slaves). A slave doesn’t judge over another slave because they are both slaves. The master is boss and decides who stands and falls. And it is the Lord who makes us stand (notice grace in that little phrase at the end of verse 4).

Verse 5:

“Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” On the one hand, this little phrase teaches us that we are free to decide what we are able to do and/or not do. This is often referred to as Christian freedom: being freed by God’s grace to live without the burden of the Law. On the other hand, we are being warned here not to just wander around doing whatever we feel like doing, but to be fully convinced that we are able to do or not do it. It’s the “fully convinced” bit that I suspect we need to pay more attention to. Christians ought to think things through properly. It doesn’t make any sense, actually, for a Christian not to be a thinker. After all, we are being “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (12:2). Christians, more than anybody else, ought to be making decisions according to their trust in God the Father rather than on what everybody else is doing. Divorce and remarriage, sexual morality, and the way we speak are just three areas that I see Christians being led by the way of this world rather than the wisdom of God. Christian freedom, I say again, is not about being free to serve yoursef – we are, after all, slaves to God. This is where the following verses take us…

Verse 6:

“…does so to the Lord…does so to the Lord…does so to the Lord…” Whatever conclusion you make in your own mind about the way to live, it must be in service to the Lord. The alternative is to do so in service to yourself (or somebody else!).

“…give thanks to God…and gives thanks to God.” Someone who eats whatever they want is doing so to the Lord when they are giving thanks to God. Someone who abstains from eating certain things is doing it to the Lord when they give thanks to God. Otherwise, they are either living for themselves to indulge the sinful nature or they are being chained to the Law. Eating freely or obstaining both find their joy and pleasure in doing so to the Lord. Both are sinful if they are without regard for the grace of God.

Verse 8:

“whether we live or die”. Paul is using a metaphore here and not talking about whether to stay alive or not (that is taken up in Philippians 1:18-26). We have been buried with Christ. This is an image of death and describes the type of life we are to live – following Christ. Living might be describing the freedom of treating every day the same and of all food as good. Dying might be referring to the sacrifice of giving certain days to God and abstaining from certain foods (like bacon!). Whether we eat bacon or not, whatever life choices we make, be sure that it is for the LORD because we belong to Him.

Verses 10-12:

“For we will all stand before God’s judgement seat.” Receiving the grace of God that makes us righteous and justified in Christ does not mean that God is no longer our judge. Grace makes us clean from sin, not free from judgement. In Christ, we will be judged “not guilty” – but we will be judged.  God is our Master, and we belong to him. God is our Judge and we will all, whether we have turned to him or not, be judged by him. Sober living is needed (Romans 12: 3). See Matthew 12:36,  1 Peter 4:5; Hebrews 9:27.

Verse 13:

“Stop passing judgment on one another.” This is such a misused piece of scripture. “Don’t judge me!” is a modern comedic cry to let me be me. The truth of the verse is that God is judge and he is the only being we are to fearful of – judgement from others can’t be stopped, we can only train ourselves to treat others as fellow slaves. This isn’t telling us to cease discerning altogether. We make decisions all the time and often it is about how to act around other people. I won’t go on about this point except to say that we must always use scripture in it’s context.

Verse 15:

“You are no longer acting in love.” This is a key phrase here. The end game is for us to act in love as the previous section of Romans instructed.

“Do not … destroy someone for whom Christ died.” The pointy end of this passage is that we can, in the strength of our faith, destroy a brother or sister in Christ. It may be a strong faith, but it is not a mature one. See also verse 20-21.

Verse 17:

“…the kingdom of God is…of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” There are four elements here that describe the what the kindgom of God must be – this is not all of it, but these are four qualities of the kingdom. RIGHTEOUSNESS – what Romans 1-8 consists mostly of. How do we get right with God and stay there! Without righteousness, we can’t be a part of the kingdom. PEACE – God has called us to this. Peace with God and peace with our fellow man. The kingdom of God is not described as hostility, quarreling or harm. See verse 19. JOY – John Piper has taken this element of the kingdom of God and shown quite convincingly that JOY is what the kingdom of God is all about. Joy is about knowing God who is king of the kingdom. HOLY SPIRIT – the Spirit is the means by which we are able to enjoy and be part of the kingdom of God. Romans 8 is a beautiful chapter on the Trinity – without the Spirit, Christ would not have raised from the dead, we could never be raised from the dead, and Christ could not dwell within us.

Verse 18:

Living at peace not only serves Christ appropriately, but gets along with other people more likely. It’s a win-win.

Verse 21:

Don’t put things ahead of the kingdom of God. See Matthew 6:19-34.

Verse 22:

“everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Remember Romans 1:17 : ‘For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Someone has said, Christianity is about a faith that leads to faithfulness. We are saved by grace through faith (eph 2:8) – this faith is much more than turning to Christ in repentance, it is turning to God to rule in your life. If someone is persuaded by another slave to go their way and it appears to them to be against God – then they have not trusted in God but in their fellow slave. Let’s be clear who our master is and serve him only! What following him looks like is between you and God.

MEANING:

  • My Master is God and God alone. It is not me. It is not you. And my Master commands me to be your servant.
  • Martin Luther said: “For although I am free as all men, I have made myself a slave to all.”

APPLICATION:

  • Judge all areas of you life – your work, your home, your recreation, your worship – be certain of all the things that you do, that you are doing them for the Lord and giving thanks to God. Is there any areas of your life that you have not yet examined?
  • Be certain of who has the following titles in your life: Judge, Master, slave. Who are you serving?
  • Being “strong” in the faith can lead you to pride. Reflecting on the grace that God has shown to you in the Lord Jesus Christ will lead you to joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.
  • Practice being thankful for all the things that God gives us. Share them in your group…list as many things to be thankful for as possible.
  • Let’s learn how to live in peace with one another. What are practical ways to live at peace when others do or talk in ways you don’t approve of?