Lord, Teach us to Pray

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. He said to them, When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:1-4)

By Emily Armstrong

I think that we can all agree that Jesus was a pretty excellent teacher.  After all, he always had hundreds or thousands of people following him, hanging on his every word.  He told lots of good stories and lived out exactly what he taught.  This teacher was also a prayer warrior, and I think it was wise of the disciples to ask the best teacher ever to teach them how to pray (v. 1). Can you imagine getting lessons in prayer from Jesus?!?  Prayer is simply an act of talking to God, and Jesus couldn’t get enough of it.

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Why is it so hard for us to pray?  I think it’s because we still think there is only one way to do it – locking yourself in your dark closet and pouring your heart out to God for at least an hour every day.  At this point in my life, I don’t even have an hour to sit down and eat lunch, let alone lock myself in a dark closet.  I’ve found that having short times of prayer with God throughout the day has helped me remain consistent in my prayer life.  Almost every day I have one main time of prayer, when I journal my thoughts, dreams, hopes, requests.  This is my really focused time of prayer, and I’ve found that sitting down with my journal and pen really helps me block out the other distractions around me.  BUT, I don’t just leave my prayer life once the journal is closed.  All throughout the day, if I think about something that I need to pray about, I’ll stop and pray a 30 second prayer.  Keeping prayer as a constant staple at all hours has helped me to keep focused on God throughout the day.

If you need to establish a better prayer life, the best thing to do is start small.  Give God a few minutes every day and pretty soon you’ll start to realize that you can’t get enough of it – just like Jesus.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  The series will continue in the next 4 entries.

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From Stranger to Lord

By Scott Armstrong

I was a squirrelly little seventh-grader when they broke me the news: the new youth pastor was going to be at church this Wednesday.  Some guy named Ed Belzer.  I had heard he was nice, funny, and really loved teens.  But I wanted to see for myself.

That Wednesday I was talking with a friend in the lobby when somebody comes up behind me and wraps me in a suffocating bear hug.  Who was it? What were they going to do? My defenses were up.  I couldn’t move my arms so I quickly and forcefully swung my foot back and kicked the offender as hard as I could.  He exhaled a loud groan and released his death grip on me.  I wheeled around to see our new youth pastor doubled over on the ground. “Hi.  I’m Ed,” he grimaced as he offered me his hand.

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I quickly got to know this new guy through the next months and years.  This stranger I had initiated so brutally soon became my pastor and the guy in charge.  Before I knew it, this leader became my best listener while I was going through my hardest times.  Now, after years of sharing and praying together, I count him as one of my closest friends.

I think that in part explains what is happening in our passage.  Did you notice how the blind man refers to Jesus? In John 9:11, he tells the crowd basically that “some guy named Jesus” healed him (“He replied, ‘The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.’”).  Later, he decides that Jesus is a prophet (v.17). As he receives threats and is forced to wrestle with what has happened to him, he boldly tells his critics that this Jesus is without a doubt from God (v.33 “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”).  Later, this same Jesus seeks out the man he healed and the entire encounter produces a remarkable transformation: “Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him” (v.38).  Wow! In one day, a man born blind was saved from his physical AND spiritual darkness!  This stranger named Jesus had become his Lord!

Where are you on this journey of discovering who God is? Keep seeking him, because your relationship with him will grow more and more with each passing day!

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

Cause and Effect

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” (John 9:1-3)

By Scott Armstrong

I am not a scientist, but I do remember a few things from my physics class in high school.  I recall that the Law of Cause and Effect is very important.  In chemistry, when I mixed chemical A with chemical B (cause), there was a small explosion (effect).  Cool! When we are sick, we take medicine (cause) so that we will feel better (effect).  The Law of Cause and Effect is all around us, and it helps our crazy world make sense.

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So we should not be surprised when we want to boil everything spiritual down to simple cause and effect.  You’ve heard it before: if you trust in God, he will make you rich with houses and cars and lots of money.  On the other side, if a Christian develops cancer (effect), there has to be some spiritual cause, right? She lacks faith.  Or maybe she has been secretly sinning (gasp!)!

In Jesus’ day, people took this law even further. In John 9, Jesus and his disciples pass a blind man on the road.  He obviously was blind because of his own sin—or even his parents’ sin, correct (v.2)? That makes more sense—if people only suffer or experience difficulties in life because of the stupid things they do, that fits our idea of what is just and right.  He or his family has sinned (cause).  Therefore, this man is blind (effect).

Jesus blows that theory out of the water.  Neither he nor his parents have done anything wrong. This man was born blind so that people could see God work in his life (v.3)!  There was a divine purpose even in this man’s inability to see.

I wonder if we view the hardships in our life the same way. Sure, many times we bring bad things upon ourselves as a result of our stupid decisions or because of sin in our lives.  But sometimes bad things happen to good people simply so that God’s work may be displayed in their lives.  We do not always understand it.  In fact, sometimes those around us will react with disbelief or shock (see the rest of chapter 9).  But God has a plan.  I don’t know about you, but that makes the darkness of the moment seem a whole lot more manageable. He will be with us and work in us until his purpose is displayed in our life. 

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  The series will continue in the next 6 entries.

Being Like Them

By Freya Galindo Guevara

“ . . . I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22

When the message of salvation has changed our lives, we become passionate about sharing it.  That implies that we must find better ways to share it, both energetically and effectively. The Apostle Paul had an intense desire to share the Word of God and his own testimony with other people.  He realized something important.  Even though he wanted to share with everyone, when he traveled to different cities and towns he found that each one was different. They looked, thought and behaved in different ways.  Is it possible to share the same message with people who are so very different from one another?

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He gives us the answer to this important question: the answer is yes. Paul mentions that he voluntarily chose to act as a servant and, by doing so, win the most people possible.  The principles don’t change, and neither does his identity rooted in Christ, but he tries to enter the distinct environment of each group of people. His only purpose is to share the message of the gospel, not only with words, but also by living among them. Paul is not toying with his Christian behavior, but he does try to understand the perspective of different groups, not from afar but rather up close, even becoming like them.

We are all surrounded by people who are different but share something in common.  They all need God.  Maybe they don’t look or speak much differently, but they assuredly think differently from us. Are we trying to understand their perspective?  From a safe distance, do we try to share the only message that can change their lives? Or do we make an effort to draw close to those who are in need?

The urgency and importance of speaking the gospel compels us to get close to people.  We must choose voluntarily, without losing our Christian identity, to become like them so that they can hear the salvation of God and also see it through our testimony.

*Freya Galindo serves as a missionary with the Church of the Nazarene and is Global Missions Coordinator in the Central Field: Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Tear Down Every Barrier!

By Luz Jimenez Avendaño

“In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  When they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” Acts 13:1-3 

The Christian church was mature enough to make the biggest of decisions.  They agreed, after deliberation, to take the message of the gospel to the entire world. It was a decision they made under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The men of the early church did not follow their own will, but rather the will of God.

In Acts 13:1-3, the scripture talks about prophets and teachers. These two groups served different functions. The prophets did not belong to a single congregation.  They were itinerant preachers who gave their lives to hear the Word of God and share it with their brothers in the faith. The teachers belonged to an individual local church and their job was to instruct those who had accepted the Christian faith.

This list of prophets symbolizes the universal call of the gospel. Barnabus was a Jew from Cyprus, and Lucius was from Cyrene in North Africa. Simeon was also a Jew, but the passage gives a second name: Niger. Niger is a Roman name meaning black, which indicates that he would have moved in Roman circles. Manean was a man with connections to the aristocracy and at court. Paul himself was a Jewish rabbi from Tarsus in Cilicia. This group is an example of the unifying influence of Christianity.  Men from different lands and with different backgrounds had all discovered the secret of serving together. They discovered unity in Christ.

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God calls all believers to proclaim his word around the world. We are all called to share the good news of salvation. There is much to tell. Nevertheless, our prejudice towards a culture different than our own, along with customs, traditions, legalism and vain excuses, creates a problem.  Anything that inhibits the call of the Lord serves as a barrier to us obeying His command to “go.”

The truth is that we are believers, and in response to a heavenly call, we must share the marvelous love of God so that others can know him. These men accepted the call of the Lord. They were from different cultures, but they joined together in a single team to accomplish a single goal: to preach the message to those who were dead in their sins and needed to be saved.

Now is the time to break down every barrier and preach the good news!

*Luz Jimenez has served for five years as a volunteer missionary.  She is currently serving as the Global Missions and Genesis Coordinator in the Mesoamerica North Central Field, which includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Beauty in Diversity

By Freya Galindo Guevara

There is a type of joke that starts more or less like this: “There was a Chinese guy, an American, a Mexican and a Spaniard…“  The point of these jokes is to exaggerate the differences between different nationalities and exploit the impressions and clichés associated with the people from those countries.

In truth, thanks to the phenomenon of globalization, we meet people from distant and different places of the world living even in our own cities and neighborhoods.  A person can guess that someone is a foreigner because of physical appearance or different clothing, or perhaps based on their language or accent.  It is easy to notice the obvious differences between one person and another, primarily because they are from a country different from our own.

In many cases the world emphasizes the differences between races, cultures and nationalities in order to divide, discriminate and ridicule. As always, God shows us that his Kingdom is not like that. He finds beauty in diversity.  Can you imagine if we were all the same? How boring!

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There will come a day when all the diverse groups that have ever existed on earth—all the nationalities, races, languages and people groups—will be together doing one thing.  “…standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-10)

While we wait for that day, we must learn to appreciate the diversity that God has created, because that has been his plan since the beginning. We recognize that we are different, but that does not separate us. On the contrary, that unites us when we seek to worship the same God.

*Freya Galindo serves as a missionary with the Church of the Nazarene and is Global Missions Coordinator in the Central Field: Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

To Cross the Barrier

By Freya Galindo Guevara

“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

We can define culture as the combination of knowledge, ideas, traditions and customs that characterize a people group, social class, age, etc. Culture does not only refer to superficial, visible aspects.  Culture goes deeper.  It is inside of people. It is part of us.

Cultural factors can at any given moment, directly or indirectly, negatively or positively, affect the interaction between people of different cultures.  Crossing cultural barriers is not easy, but if we look to the Bible and specifically Jesus as our greatest example, we will realize that it is possible.

Jesus became flesh.  He became a man.  He became one of us.  He even lived among us! Jesus immersed himself in our culture.  He did not only share a message from a pulpit or a microphone. He truly lived among us as a human being. He identified himself with our bodies and our weaknesses.  And the incredible thing is that he invites us to do the same!  It is not enough to immerse ourselves solely in our own culture, ideas, values or customs. 

“Immerse ourselves.” An interesting phrase, right?

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In a swimming pool, if someone really gets in, they will end up completely wet because they are totally immersed.  Jesus wants the same from us, but not only in our own culture but also in the cultures of others.  What is the point of being immersed in our own culture?  It is something we already know and with which we are familiar.  It is where we feel comfortable and unchallenged.  God wants something more from each one of us.

Our God is multicultural.  He sent us to love all other people, including those who seem different from us.  What I am trying to say is this: we are called to love those who look different from us. In the end, when we do not share the same customs, ideas, or language, we must still understand that we are human and have the same need for God’s salvation and forgiveness.  That is where we truly demonstrate our love for our neighbor.

Jesus became flesh.  He became human and lived with us.  He invites us to cross the barriers that make us different and to make bridges that allow us to see us all as equals in our need for Him.

*Freya Galindo serves as a missionary with the Church of the Nazarene and is Global Missions Coordinator in the Central Field: Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.