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Prayer and Testing

In my last post, I talked about the way Jesus taught, by example, how to pray in times of distress.  How well did the disciples learn this lesson?

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.  “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep?  Could you not keep watch for one hour?  Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  They did not know what to say to him.
Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?  Enough!  The hour has come.  Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Mark 14:37-41

Unfortunately, this prayer session was a little past the disciples’ bedtime.  They didn’t last very long before they dropped off to sleep.

The fact that Mark records some of what Jesus prayed shows that they were awake for a little while.  The Lord probably knew what they could take and prayed accordingly.  I personally believe that He spent most of the time praying in the spirit.

In this whole incident, there’s a statement that Christ makes that should really speak to us.  He said to His disciples, watch and pray so that you will not enter temptation.  This is an important truth.

First of all, we must understand what temptation is.  It’s a test of whether or not our faith is genuine.  This same Greek word is translated by both temptation and testing throughout the New Testament.  The translators use one or the other word based upon the context of the verse.  It’s this testing that proves if we really believe the Word.

Jesus tells us that some testing can be avoided by prayer.  I only wish that all testing could be avoided.  But that’s just not the case.

If anyone could have avoided all testing, it would have been the Lord.  Yet, even He was tempted while He was fasting in the wilderness.

From my study of the Scriptures, I believe that there are at least 4 different kinds of testing.  The first is the trials that are common to all humans.  These cannot be stopped.  They’re used by God to show His power working in us.

Next are the ones that come as a result of what we desire.  These desires are not necessarily bad things.  Paul talks about those who desire monetary wealth having more tests than the normal person (1Timothy 6:9-10).  That’s because wealth comes with a trap, such that if your character isn’t strong enough, it could destroy you.

Another kind of testing comes from the sinful desires of our flesh.  When we allow ourselves to focus on them, we are pulled down the road of temptation.  Through watching and praying, this is one type of testing we can avoid.  As we renew our minds, it protects us from falling into these traps.

The fourth kind is the tests that we blindly walk into because we’re not being watchful.  Again, through prayer and having a listening ear to the voice of the Holy Spirit, these tests can be sidestepped.  Sometimes we find ourselves in the same test again and again because we don’t learn the lessons that only come through time spent with the Lord.

That’s why a deep prayer life is so important to the believer.  While it can’t stop all testing, it will give you a straighter and clearer path into the place God has called you to be.

Question: When have you found that prayer helped you to avoid a problem in your life?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

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Prayer Under Pressure

How do you pray when you’re facing a severe trial?  Is it any different than when everything seems to be going your way?  If you’re like most people, those two prayers are vastly different.

In my last post, I talked about the fact that Jesus only took His three closest disciples with Him into the garden of prayer.  It was only hours before His trial, and He wanted them to watch how He prayed.  The Lord wanted them to see a prayer under deep emotional distress.

We know that Jesus felt the same pressure that we do while being tested.  The difference is that He knew how to walk in victory over these trials.  It was His goal to train His disciples to walk the same way.

He started by explaining what He was going through.

He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them.  “Stay here and keep watch.”
Mark 14:33-34

Jesus was deeply distressed because he was about to face something that he never experienced before.  He has existed since eternity past, but the Lord had never been touched by sin or death.  Now it was all going to come upon Him.

He told His disciples that His soul felt like it was totally surrounded by grief because of what He was about to face.  He knew that His humanity had to be dealt with.

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.  “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Mark 14:35-36

This passage causes many people to question whether or not Jesus wanted to go to the cross.  It sounds like, just before the end, the Lord was trying to get out of it.  That’s not what’s happening here.

We know from Jesus’ conversations with His disciples that He was focused on what He needed to do on the cross.

Remember what Jesus said when James and John asked to sit on His right and left hand in the kingdom.

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them.  “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
Matthew 20:22a

There was no question in the Lord’s mind that He was going to drink the cup of death for us.  And there are many more places in the Gospels where He confirmed this thought.  Then why did He pray for the Father to remove this cup?

Simply put; this prayer was a teaching time for the disciples.  There were many times that Jesus prayed for the benefit of those who were listening.  This happened when He raised Lazarus from the dead.

So they took away the stone.  Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
John 11:41-42

What Jesus prayed in that garden was for the disciples’ benefit.  He wanted them to know how to pray when they felt overwhelmed.

Sometimes the pressure on us is so great that we lose sight of where God is bringing us to.  In those times it is very appropriate to ask God to bring an end to our trial.  But, we must always remember to finish the prayer by confirming our desire for God’s will to be done and not ours.

Question: When was a time that you had to pray while under great pressure?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2018 in Encouragement, Prayer, Spiritual Walk

 

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The Calling to Pray

As believers, we’re all called to pray.  However, the question often arises; are we all called to a warfare or intercessory type of ministry?

It’s clear from Scripture that we need to be a praying people.  We should be praying daily for ourselves and our family.  Also, we need to pray for others in the body of Christ.  Then, we should be praying for our friends, neighbors, community, and nation.

In order to fulfill this, Jesus gave His disciples a teaching on prayer.  As a part of this lesson, the Lord showed them an outline of what a prayer to God should include.  (Mark 6:9-13)  We call this the Lord’s Prayer.

We all should be praying – that’s beyond question.  But there’s a deeper level of prayer that needs to be addressed.  This is a powerful type of prayer that involves our whole being – body, soul, and spirit.  It could express itself in warfare, intercession, or a combination of both.

I believe that this is the kind of prayer that Jesus entered into, while in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Look at how the Gospel of Mark describes it.

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
Mark 14:32

I think it’s interesting that this place of prayer Jesus chose was called Gethsemane.  That was an Aramaic word that meant olive-press.  It was going to be a place of great pressure for Christ.

What I want you to notice is that most of the disciples simply got the instruction to sit here.  Jesus told them that He was going to pray.  But He didn’t ask them to do anything in particular during that time.

There were, however, three disciples who got a different set of instructions.

He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them.  “Stay here and keep watch.”
Mark 14:33-34

Peter, James, and John – the three leaders of the group – were told to go with the Lord.  As they approached the place, Jesus began to be overwhelmed by the weight of what He was about to endure.  He expressed this to the three and told them to remain with Him and watch.

The Lord obviously wanted these particular disciples to watch and learn from what was happening in that garden of prayer.  They needed to learn the deeper issues of intense, Spirit-led prayer.

Most of the disciples would have had no understanding of what was going on in that garden.  It was these three that had a grasp of some of the things that take place in the spiritual realm.  After all, they were with Him when the Lord raised a dead girl back to life (Mark 5:37-43) and they witnessed His transfiguration (Mark 9:2).

We need to see that intense, intercessory prayer is not for everyone.  It’s only for those who have obtained to a mature level of spiritual understanding.  Even then, this kind of prayer is only learned by watching those who are already walking in it.

Are you called to this type of prayer?  The only way of knowing is for you to continue to pursue Christ.  Make it your goal to walk in everything that the Lord has for you.

Question: Why is intercessory prayer so important in the body of Christ?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Faith, Prayer, and Forgiveness

In my last post, we saw that true faith is based upon a Word from God, with God as the object of that faith.  As the Lord was explaining this to His disciples, He makes a very interesting statement.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Mark 11:25

This statement confuses a lot of people.  They don’t know what this has to do with believing and receiving from God.  It also causes some people to ask, “If I don’t forgive someone, does that mean that I’ll not be saved?”

There’s a big reason for all this confusion.  It stems from our modern concept of the word, forgive.  Our generation has no idea what the scriptural word means.

When we say that you need to forgive someone, it’s a watered down version.  We mean that you need to tell the person that you’re not mad at them anymore.  Everything’s okay now and our relationship can move on from whatever caused the problem.

The biblical word for forgive has nothing to do with the above.  It literally means to pick up and throw away.  It’s like what you do with your trash.  You throw it out to the curb.  Then it’s removed, never to be seen again…ever.

With that understanding, now we can look at what Jesus is saying to His disciples.  Remember, the Lord is talking about standing in prayer.  This is about believing God for the desires that He’s placed in our hearts.

When you’re in that place of prayer, you’re having an intimate time with the Lord.  At this time, the Holy Spirit brings to your attention that you’ve placed a roadblock between you and another person.  It could be for any reason, but usually, it’s for a perceived hurt against us.

At that point, the Lord simply wants us to remove that wall that we’ve erected.  I realize that this is not an easy thing to do.

“Lord, I remove the issue that I have been holding against him or her right now.  From here on out, with your power, I’ll treat them like it never happened.”

This goes against our human nature.  That’s especially true because it has nothing to do with the other party’s desire (or lack of desire) for forgiveness.  It’s all on my part.

But understand, there’s a blessing that comes from this.  It paves the way for God to remove anything blocking His blessing from getting to me.

The word translated as sin, in the above verse, is the word side-step.  You’re on the right path following Christ.  But you made a misstep.  You haven’t lost your salvation.  You don’t have to “get saved” all over again.

However, there is something that could be keeping you from receiving all that God has for you.  In Christ, God dealt with all of your sin before you were ever born.  Now He’s asking you to do the same thing for a fellow human being.

If you’ll remove the thing that’s blocking you from blessing them, then He will remove the thing blocking your blessing.  I think that it’s well worth the trade.  Of course, in our flesh, we might not agree with that.

This is why we need the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.  It’s also why the Lord said that it needed to be done while we were standing in the place of prayer.

So, if there’s anything the Lord’s dealing with you about, take care of it quickly, and let the blessings flow freely again!

Question: How has God’s forgiveness changed your life?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
 

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Do You Know What You’re Asking?

So often we go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him for things.  Many times, in our asking, we don’t really think about what it will take for God to answer us.  There are even some times when we don’t want God to answer it in His way.

The people of Jerusalem are a good example of this.  They were very excited when Jesus entered their city in triumph the week before His crucifixion.

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.  Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.  Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
Mark 11:7-10

This is a perfect example of people coming to God in prayer with their own thoughts on how they should be answered.  How often do we come before God in this way?

It all sounds very holy and good.  Hosanna!  It’s a cry for help to God.  It literally means “Save us now!!!”

What they wanted to be saved from and God’s desire were worlds apart.

They wanted to be freed from the oppression of the Roman Empire.  God wanted to set them free from the power of sin.  They wanted God to change their environment while God wanted to change them.

Then there’s the word blessed.  That’s a real churchy word.  It means to be worthy of praise.  In our society, we use the word Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!!

In other words, they were saying, “Yaaaaay!  He’s coming in the name of the Lord!”  That should have been a clue to them.  Coming in the name of the Lord means that He’s not going to do what I want, but what God wants.

The next line shows us that they were expecting God to fulfill what they wanted to be done.  “Yaaaay!  The kingdom of David is coming!”  In their minds, it meant, “Down with Rome and up with Israel.”

They were not looking for the Messiah to change them the way God wanted to.  They were expecting Him to make their lives easier.  It’s sort of the same things that we like to pray.

“Lord, give me a better life without actually changing me.”

Of course, we would never use those exact words, but it’s what we mean sometimes.  Fortunately, the Lord knows what we need better than we do.

That last phrase they were chanting is the most telling.  Hosanna – save us now – in the highest.  What would it take for God to bring this about?  What were they really asking for?  They had no idea what would be needed for this to be accomplished.

In order for this salvation to take place, Christ had to go to the cross and shed His blood.  Then it had to be offered before God the Father.

For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.
Hebrews 9:24

I’m so glad that God doesn’t always give us what we ask for, but what we need.  That’s a great reason why we not only pray in our native language, but also in our heavenly language.  In that way, the deepest needs of our lives can be met.

Question: What are the greatest needs of your life that God has provided for you?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Asking in God’s Will

As we continue to look at the Gospel of Mark, opposition to the ministry of Jesus is growing.  There are many who are trying to take His life.  But in spite of this, the Lord continues His mission.

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.  Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.  “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law.  They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him.  Three days later he will rise.”
Mark 10:32-34

The disciples still didn’t understand that the Lord was talking literally at this point.  But they did know that “rising” was a good thing.  They probably thought it meant that He was going to rise, as the King, to the throne of Israel.

This gave a few of them the incentive to move forward.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him.  “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
Mark 10:35-37

That’s an interesting thing to ask.  Even the way they asked it was specifically the way they were taught.

Jesus told them that He would do whatever they asked in prayer (John 14:13-14).  So now they were asking.

But that brings up an important point.  Some people think that just because they can quote a Bible verse in their prayer, it automatically qualifies them to receive whatever they ask God for.  But is that what the Word teaches?

Look at the Lord’s answer to them.

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said.  “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.  These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
Mark 10:38-40

The first problem was that they really didn’t understand what they were asking.  Of course, that’s why we need to pray in the spirit.  There are many areas that we don’t understand the scope of our need.

But even more than that, they had yet to understand God’s will for their lives.  Before I can pray effectively, I need to know God’s plan intimately.

The more time I spend in the Lord’s presence, the more I understand His will for my life.  Then, as I pray with this understanding, I see a greater amount of answered prayer.  John, himself, understood this later on in his ministry.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
1 John 5:14

John learned the lesson.  Prayer according to His will is answered positively.  Let the understanding of God’s will be your goal in His presence.

Question: What part of God’s plan have you understood recently?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Prayer and Fasting – A Foundation for Faith

Did you know that waiting for a problem to arise before you strengthen your faith is a bad idea?  Too many people only press into God and His Word when their back is against the wall.  Jesus teaches that the time to prepare is well before you need a breakthrough.

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9 and verses 14-29, we see what happened as Jesus and His three closest disciples were coming down from the mountain of transfiguration.  You may want to read that passage in the Bible before continuing in this post.

It seems that they walked into a storm of controversy.  A crowd had formed around the other disciples.  Bedlam had broken out.

There was a demon possessed boy whose father had brought him to them for deliverance.  They tried everything they knew, yet the demon would not leave.  Jesus’ response to all of this is important for us to see.

“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?  Bring the boy to me.”
Mark 9:19

The implication of what the Lord is saying here is, “How long will I have to be in this nation trying to turn you around?”  It sounds like Jesus is swimming against the flow, in a river of humanity.

The only way for Israel to get back on track is to trust in the Messiah.  Unfortunately, they want to continue in their unbelief.  Their “faith” is based on what they think is possible.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.  But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Mark 9:21-24

Mark makes it clear that the main issue is about faith and unbelief.  It’s not about spiritual authority or how loud you can yell at the demon.  How deeply you trust the Lord is at the heart of the matter.

The Gospel writer wants us to see, through this event in the life of Christ, how to grow in our faith.  The point of this story is to understand how to overcome my unbelief.  That’s where the disciples are headed as the Lord continues His work with them.

Immediately, the Lord rebukes the demon and commands it to leave the boy.  The young man was delivered and set free from the demon from that day forward.  It seemed to be no problem for Jesus.

But the disciples still had some questions.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”
Mark 9:28-29

Please understand that the demon doesn’t care whether or not you fast and pray.  Also, notice that Jesus didn’t tell the man, “Bring the boy to me in a week.  I need to fast and pray before I can deliver him.”

Jesus is answering the question of unbelief.  Fasting and prayer should be the lifestyle of a mature believer.  Fasting and prayer are what drives out the unbelief of our fleshly nature.  It opens us up to the manifestation of God’s supernatural power.

Follow the example of Jesus.  Walk before God by regularly setting times of fasting and prayer.  Then you’ll see your unbelief start to fade and a greater capacity for the miraculous.

Question: How have you seen the effects of fasting and prayer in your spiritual life?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
 

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