February 5, 2012

Practice of Faith

We’re more than half way through our study of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 and Philippians 4:4-9. (downloadable here) Paul’s advice to those two churches is just as apt for us today. He advises us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks because then we will discover that God and the peace of God is with us-no matter what the outward circumstances.

Paul has another piece of advice for us today. At first glance the two citations may seem to be talking about different things, but really he is saying we should practice our faith. He says, “Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything” (1 Thes. 5:20-21) and tells the Thessalonians “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me -- put it into practice.” (Philippians 4:9a) Paul says we should ‘test everything’ we hear, even from prophets,-sound advice in this world when everyone has a different opinion and take on everything from what to wear to politics. On the other hand he says that the church members should practice everything they have observed in Paul.

Paul and other giants of faith are good to emulate. Reading their words can inspire us to work on our spiritual life. Calvin, famous Reformation preacher, said “The stability of the world depends on the rejoicing in God’s works…. If on earth, such praise of God does not come to pass… then the whole order of nature will be thrown into confusion…”

We saw over the past month that rejoicing and prayer and thanksgiving lead to finding God’s peace. Calvin insists that rejoicing is necessary. However, we cannot expect to be perfect at prayer, rejoicing, and thanksgiving without practice. As the Contented Little Pussy Cat (Jan. 8) told his friends “Nothing good is ever learned without practicing.”

Another, modern, theologian and musician (John Michael Talbot) posted a Facebook comment in which he said,. “The more you retire into solitude, for prayer the more the power of the Spirit is stirred, and people seek you out for active ministry. The more time you spend in silence, the more powerful your words become in the Word…All mystics of every religion realize it, but do we who claim to follow the compliment and completion of all faiths practice it?”

These three diverse ‘prophets’ might give us food for thought. Talbot reminds us that prayer stirs up the Spirit of God for “active ministry” and makes us “powerful…in the Word.” We must ‘test the words of the prophets’ by discerning if what they say fits with the Truth found in God’s word. Then we can imitate those who are worthy of imitation, whether in prayer, practice, or in rejoicing in the Lord. But how do we discern who is on the right track. Reading the Bible and prayer are certainly two guideposts that can assist our search.

There are stacks of books and studies to help us pray more efficiently, to give thanks more fully, and even to rejoice in all things. It can become overwhelming to find the ‘right’ guide. OR It can be as simple as the ACTS style outline of prayer, which encompasses Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Another blogger suggests the SHELTER method:

Say Short Prayers
Have Helps to prayer like devotionals or studies
Establish a place to pray
List your prayers, both thanksgivings and requests
Take Time to pray Together with others
Establish a time for prayer
Reminders help focus our prayer (like a cross or icon or Bible)

An online search will turn up other prayer aids you might want to try. Click here for a compilation of some of them. You won’t want to use them all, but pick and chose the ones that seem helpful. Consider taking on one new prayer practice this week-just for fun. Practicing your faith can be fun.

Next week we’ll look at “what is good”-the fruits we obtain when we practice a discipline of prayer, rejoicing and thanksgiving that invites the Spirit to live in our lives.

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