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A gospel-filled life: Part 9

Devotional development  

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

A slight sadness seeps into my psyche every autumn. For some reason, I can’t help looking ahead and grieving the loss of the magnificent scenery and pleasant temperatures. While I should be content with evening walks requiring only a light jacket, my mind automatically begins to wander. Soon it will be cold. Soon after, it will grow colder still. Stormy and unpredictable seasons loom in the distance. Almost an entire year will pass before comfortable conditions make another migration, making the outdoors hospitable again.  

Some healthy habits develop over years of hard work and attention. We fall into some negative attitudes, on the other hand, without any intentional efforts. 

Dispelling negative tendencies 

In his short letter giving simple instructions on prayer to his friend Peter the Barber, Martin Luther acknowledged there were times when his life became “cool and joyless.” On those occasions he grabbed his book of Psalms or recalled familiar sections of Scripture and spent quiet time alone in meditation and prayer. Negative tendencies didn’t evaporate on their own. God’s powerful Word was required to address and combat doubts and disillusionment.  

Work turns monotonous. Family members fling constant conflict and crisis our way. Hobbies and leisure lose their satisfaction. Religious routines feel robotic in their repetitions. Life’s less-than-perfect circumstances make life less joyful. Plans of future greatness get grounded in ordinary turbulence. Things of this life won’t provide the sense of contentment we think they should. They can’t. They aren’t designed to do what only God can do.  

Augustine was an early Christian theologian who had a profound influence on Martin Luther. In prayer Augustine acknowledged the soul’s need for the peace that only God can give: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you” (Confessions 1.1.1). Augustine’s insight suggests that we might develop habits that reflect the necessity of our resting in God himself.  

Try reading through Psalms 111118 regularly. Praise in these Psalms can profoundly impact believers. Praise to God isn’t just based on emotions welling up inside believers but primarily flows from a reflection of God’s acts of rescue for his people. Praise doesn’t just depend on what we think about God but expresses our joy in God’s grace at work in our lives 

Developing healthy habits 

Let’s see how this could benefit believers. Martin Luther advocated devotional habits that turned to God’s Word regularly and let “prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night” (A Simple Way to Pray). When we turn to God soon after waking, we can begin our day remembering we are baptized children of God. Before we face stresses and responsibilities, we can find peace in God’s work claiming us as his own. As we retire for the night, we can unburden the fear of our failures with confidence in his grace. We can rest recognizing his blessings to us throughout the day.  

It takes time and effort to develop healthy habits. Following natural instincts in our physical lives is rarely the best policy. God’s people have a more refreshing motivation to develop routines revolving around God’s Word than the return of autumnal glories. With each morsel of God’s Word, God grows in us a dawning awareness of the greatness of our Savior. By Scripture and thankful response in prayer the Holy Spirit develops in us an awe for God’s grace at work in our lives.  


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico. 


This is the ninth article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life.


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 8

Cross-centered life and thought 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Her first restaurant job was nothing like cooking at home. Personal safety videos. Rigorous sanitation rules. Strict food handling standards. Weeks into the job, she had no chance of forgetting them. Multiple signs made safety an ever-present issue. Other cooks didn’t tolerate shortcuts. Managers kept constant vigilance.  

Likewise, Christians benefit from keeping the basics of the faith in focus at all times. That means that the cross is an essential part of our lives of faith. The cross of Christ and what it means for us is not something we can move beyond and leave behind. Martin Luther adopted a motto to encapsulate his Reformation rediscoveries: “The cross alone is our theology” (Crux sola est nostra theologia) 

Seeing life through the cross 

Christians see everything in our lives through the prism of Jesus’ cross. From a purely human perspective, the cross of Christ is a crashing defeat for his ministry. Yet far from a failure, the cross of Jesus meant he accomplished the rescue of humanity just as he set out to do. So, his cross enables us to see everything in life through the perspective of what we have from Jesus.  

Why is the cross such a crucial and constant element to our faith? Just think back to your default reactions when you experience painful suffering or injustices. Do your prayers accuse God of being unfair? You might never actually say it in these exact words, but when you are faithfully studying God’s Word and spending time in prayer, do you expect favorable treatment from God? 

When Paul says the cross is “is the power of God” for believers (1 Corinthians 1:18), he wants us to know the practical, ongoing value of the cross for our daily lives. Christ crucified is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24) for us when we experience struggles that induce doubt, confusion, and uncertainty in our faith. The cross is the key to trusting in God when things in life seem incomprehensible. Luther commends the believer who “comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross” (The Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis #20). 

The cross means Jesus fulfilled every condition laid down for the salvation of every sinner. The cross of Christ means we get to enjoy God’s unconditional love because of what Jesus did for us. The cross helps us see our ultimate problem in life isn’t self-improvement, but ingrained and pervasive sin in our hearts. The cross gives us a constant reminder to find meaning in life from the sacrifice Jesus made and the victory he secured for us.  

Living life by the cross 

As we study Scripture, we gain a deeper understanding of who God is. As we meditate on his gospel promises, we are drawn into a great appreciation of his gifts. As our hearts are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, our prayers are shaped by the cross of Christ. Every aspect of our lives flows out of God’s riches to us in Jesus.  

The message of the cross is something we need to preach to ourselves. The cross of Jesus is the dual destroyer of both our pride and despair. Infinite riches are ours through the grace of God poured out on the cross. So, the finished work of Jesus provides certainty in the middle of our confusion and a solid foundation for faith in a chaotic world. The cross is something we never outgrow. 


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico. 


This is the eighth article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life.


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 7

Heart transformation

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Fall sports seasons are preparing to reboot. The starting quarterback reports to camp in excellent shape. Over the summer he has been training vigorously. Intense workouts got his body ready for peak performance. Hundreds of times each day he repeated the same movements to improve arm strength and accuracy. He’s ready.  

But the first time he goes under center and delivers a pass to an open receiver, the coach immediately halts practice. Something is amiss. The long, hard hours the quarterback spent over the summer getting into better shape and improving his skills were flawed. Improper mechanics had been repeated over and over. Poor form had been ingrained. The coach has no choice. He has to strip down the entire throwing process and start all over.  

Going back to the basics 

Christians know God’s Word is good for us. We spend time in prayer, Bible study, and meditation with the best of intentions. We know God will bring us personal benefits. Occasionally though, it’s good to take a step back and remember our natural need for the work God does through his Word.  

Galatians 5:17 tells us about a real and persistent conflict competing for dominance in our hearts: The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.” God points his people to the heart transformation worked by the Holy Spirit when we take advantage of time in his Word.  

As we embark on our journeys into God’s Word, Luther’s first of the Ninety-five Theses gives a good reminder: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matthew 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” As we pray in Jesus’ name, we recall the benefits of his life and work. As we grow to know God better, we have confidence in the forgiveness he freely offers. Repeated repentance becomes a crucial component to our spiritual growth. 

Devotions for Christians aren’t just about developing habits or gathering information. Even as we grow in the Christian faith, we still need to strip it down to the basics. Repentance and forgiveness are key to seeing the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. 

Reaping the harvest 

As we watch athletes appear on fields and take their places on courts, we are reminded of another seasonal reality. Soon summer heat will transition to fall chills in many parts of our country. Minor weather alterations remind us harvesttime is near. In my state, freshly picked chiles roasting outside grocery stores will send pungent aromas into the air. Trucks filled with Colorado peaches will soon rumble into town, loaded down with their sweet goodness.  

God’s people can expect a different kind of harvest from the Word planted in our hearts. The Holy Spirit plants the seed of faith in our hearts and causes it to grow. Repeated use of God’s Word pushes out the weeds of anger, anxiety, discouragement, and relational strife. His rays of sunlight warm what he has planted until sprouts of kindness, goodness, and faithfulness break into view. Faith flowers into joy, love, and peace in the soil of believing hearts. God benefits our lives and the lives of those around us with a harvest of gentleness, forbearance, and self-control.  

Our prayers, Bible study, and meditation take various forms. But through that focus on God’s Word, we reap a necessary harvest. God breaks it down to basics and transforms human hearts by the power of his Holy Spirit. 


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico. 


This is the seventh article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life.


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 6

Meditating on God’s Word  

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

I’m a list person. I have to write things down or else I’ll completely forget about them. So I make check lists. Whatever has to get done goes on the list. And then there’s a sense of satisfaction in accomplishing important things.  

Checking it off the list 

Christians understand the value of God’s Word. If there is one to-do most of us have in common, it’s to spend more time in God’s Word.  

Here’s the problem with putting personal Bible study and prayer on a list. It develops into something I am supposed to do, but might not. Something I should do, but probably won’t. It can even become something I feel like I have to do.  

And what happens once I’ve checked off my devotion time? Move on to the next task? Progress to the next project?  

That’s a very different sense than what’s expressed in Psalm 1. Instead of obligation to be in God’s Word, we hear eagerness. Instead of getting through God’s Word and then moving on, the psalmist encourages us to spend time in God’s Word. To savor it. To enjoy it.  

So much depends on our attitude toward the things we do every day. Your morning cup of coffee can be something you slug down to fuel your day. Or it can be something you sip and savor as you take time out from the chaos of your day. Your favorite novel or TV show can be something you consume and blast through to get to the end. Or you can relax and enjoy your escape as a good story transports you to a different time and place. You can wolf down that last slice of chocolate cake to make sure it doesn’t disappear. Or you can relish every bite, making sure not a crumb gets wasted.  

Savoring every word 

God gives you his Word to enjoy. The psalmist describes this attitude“Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night” (Psalm 1:2 Christian Standard Bible). Every bite-sized verse. Every chapter-length slice. 

You can savor it by asking yourself a series of questions from a section of Scripture just like you would when breaking news gets broadcast across your screen. What does it say? What does it mean? How does it affect me? What difference does it make in my world? How can I celebrate this good news? You can relish it by holding onto a simple verse or phrase from Scripture as you would a carefully crafted piece of art. You can turn it around and gaze at its beauty. You can enjoy it as you repeat the section of Scripture, rephrase it in your own words, or commit it to memory the way you would a catchy new song.  

Psalm 1 tells us God’s Word benefits our faith. God’s Word provides spiritual nutrients for souls withering and wilting under doubts and confusion. It changes us. God’s Word gives life when feelings of inadequacy crush us. It gives the refreshment of forgiveness when past sins resurface to torment us. God’s Word takes us back to the hope we have in Jesus. 

Before you check off devotion time, take time to enjoy your time in God’s Word and prayer. Let your mind marinate in God’s truth. Let it flavor and add seasoning to your life. Give opportunity for the Holy Spirit to get it into your heart so it affects how you feel about yourself, your relationships, and your world. Get into God’s Word and get satisfaction from the blessings God is giving you and the fruit he brings into your life. 


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico. 


This is the sixth article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life.


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 5

Pray to know God better 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Someone was bound to invent an easy button. One office supply company has already used an easy button to advertise solutions to office headaches. But we could use simple solutions for all kinds of issues. 

Enter prayer. It’s a tremendous comfort to know that God wants us to come to him (Matthew 11:28). When we are faced with problems outside of our ability to handle, it’s a relief to entrust them to the One who has limitless ability to effect real change in our chaotic world (Philippians 4:6). God wants to know what’s on our hearts and has the power to handle the burdens we are facing in life (1 Peter 5:7).  

Not just an easy button 

Yet it is healthy for us to pause and consider why we are praying. What are we hoping to get out of prayer? Our reasons for turning to God in prayer might be different than some of God’s reasons for inviting us to pray. Essentially, are we asking God to be our easy button for every problem area in life? While God invites us to come to him in prayer, God may desire something more personally beneficial and durable from prayer for his children than what we’re after.  

Consider Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even as our Savior engaged in prayer, he expressed his own personal desires. He unloaded the deepest concerns troubling his heart. Yet in childlike humility, Jesus resolved to submit to his Father’s will (Matthew 26:39,42). Scripture was clear: It was the LORDs will to crush him and cause him to suffer and finally make his life an offering for sin. The same Scripture promised the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand (Isaiah 53:10). Jesus accepted his cup of suffering and turned to the promise of his Father for strength. 

That pattern reflects the way Paul often prays for fellow believers. He repeatedly prays that they grow to know God better (Ephesians 1:15-21; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12; Philemon 6). Didn’t they have serious doctrinal issues in need of correction? Of course, they did. Weren’t there precarious situations around them threatening their spiritual and physical safety? Undeniably so. Weren’t there pressing practical matters to be resolved among fellow Christians? Absolutely. Could he have gotten right to the point of the urgent needs they faced? Certainly.  

All of those issues were important. And their prayers were no doubt filled with requests for solutions. But Paul had told the new believers they would have many hardships (Acts 14:22). Yet he prays that God would send them the Spirit “so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17).  

A way to know God 

Knowing God better isn’t simply about gaining information so you are the champion of Bible trivia. It’s about gaining a personal appreciation for who your Savior is and what he has done and still does for his children. Above all else, God desires the salvation of sinners (1 Timothy 2:4). Internal uncertainty swirls around our hearts. He has given us great promises that stand as monuments to divine truth (e.gRomans 8:28).  

The Spirit works through God’s promises. Knowing God through his revealed Word produces growth in faith. Prayer produced as a byproduct of Scripture study might not immediately change your circumstances or eliminate obstacles in your life. All your problems might not be resolved instantaneously by means of some divine easy button. Rediscovering God’s truth and realigning yourself to God’s will will fill you with the joy of the hope you have in Christ. Knowing God will allow you to become more confident in God’s actions being carried out in our world. Knowing God better will build appreciation of the blessings you already have in Christ.  


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico. 


This is the fifth article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life.


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 4

Prayer comes from the heart 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Once preschoolers have acquired the ability to talk, their words just pour out. What tumbles out of their mouths can be a source of great entertainment. What might be slightly embarrassing for parents is mildly amusing to grandparents. Nonstop chatter around exhausted stay-at-home moms converts into a delightfully endearing experience at the infrequent visits with grandparents. They can’t get enough. They soak up every word. They cherish every moment they get to spend with these wide-eyed explorers. While grandparents appreciate the childishness of grandchildren, they still cheer for their growth and work to develop their maturity.  

Prattling our childish prayers 

Christians can appreciate our relationship with our God in the same way. Our Father loves to hear from his children. He is always available. He invites us to come to him whenever with whatever is on our minds. He cherishes our time with him.  

Yet our sinner-saint status distorts even our devotional life. Our natural, default mode for prayer is to approach God to get things we want in life. We blurt our verbal vomit, foaming up out of our feelings about what we think we need. Hearts filled with pain overflow to express our suffering before God. Anxious, wondering minds prattle incomprehensibly. Awestruck shock at life’s unexpected plot twists leaves us open-mouthed and speechless before our Creator. Unexpected joy runs over in blathering ecstasy, unleashing giddy ramblings to our all-knowing God.  

Through it all, God delights to hear from his children. Yet our childishness in prayer reveals more about our own hearts than it does about God. We assume we know what is best for God to give us without first consulting God himself. We struggle to find the right words but know exactly what we expect in return. 

Developing a childlike faith 

Skim through the book of Job. After repeated examples of venting frustration at God’s silence (Job 7:11), Job gets a dose of humility. When God finally answers (Job 38 & 39), Job becomes aware of the childishness behind his arrogance. God-granted humility strips him of his assumed certainties. Job was made to stand dumbstruck in silence before the awe-inducing omniscience of the Lord (Job 40:4,5). He matured. Childlike trust developed where there had been childish demands to God.  

Reexamine some of your most cherished psalms. King David and other psalmists express themselves to God, pouring out their souls, exposing the raw emotions of their hearts (e.g. Psalm 4:1; 5:1; 12:1,2; 13:1,2; 60:1-12; 70:1,2). Yet as we work our way through their poetic outpourings, they take us on a journey of faith development. God directs the psalmists back to his promises. They come to understand that God is not removed from the pain of his children. He’s not standing aloof from our concerns just because he isn’t granting our every request. Neither, though, is God our personal assistant scurrying after our every whim, hoping his frantic positive responses will bring us the satisfaction we seek.  

Prayers come from the heart. But devotional life centered on God’s promises transforms our hearts. God’s promises show us a Father who gave us his best when he gave up his Son for us. God’s promises guarantee God’s unconditional love for us through everything life throws at us. God’s promises direct us away from the mess of our own hearts to see him as the true source of our joy and hope. As children of God, we come to our Father with childish prattle, looking for repeated assurances of his love. God gives us that assurance in his Word. That reorders our hearts. Prayer then becomes a response of faith to God’s gracious words of promise.  


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico.  


This is the fourth article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life. 


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 2

Prayer in Jesus’ name 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Slumps affect all the greats. Last year’s baseball batting title winner might go through the first week of spring training without a hit. A sure-bet firstround NBA draft pick might go cold from behind the three-point line just as his team enters the conference tournament.  

Prayer slumps 

Christians can grow weary and tired in their devotional lives tooFor some Christians growing weary is just getting forgetful. They become so busy with daily trials and joys that their Christian faith weakens and they no longer have the strength to turn to God in prayer. Prayer feels more and more like an overbearing obligation than a gift from God. 

For other Christians, frustrations in their prayer life often come because of unrealistic, even unbiblical, expectations. Sometimes they pray and pray. They beg urgently and plead repeatedly. Then they wait, but they still don’t get the answer they are after. So they try harder. They convince themselves that if only they were following a better system, they would be more successful.  

But what is success in prayer? How do we define it?  

Is success in prayer defined by getting the results we are after? If we measure prayer by what we get from God, we reduce our heavenly Father to a coach. As if we followed the advice of a coach we would be able to sink every free throw. As if taking to heart the hints and habits of a hitting coach would enable us to hit one out of the park every time at bat.  

Successful prayer 

When Jesus teaches us how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13; Luke 11:1-13)he encourages us to approach “our Father.” He urges us to be like little children as they come and ask their loving parents for whatever is on their minds. It’s a natural part of their relationship.  

Jesus created that relationship with our Father in heaven. Through Jesus, we know our Father loves us. Through his cross, he removed our sins so we can approach God as little children. He wants us to come to him with what troubles us and with what brings us joy and pleasure—like children do.  

Prayer is not an obligation we owe to God. Instead he has given us the privilege to pray, the gift of coming to our loving Father as his dear children. Prayer is simply a part of our relationship with God through the saving grace of Jesus. Prayer flows from the recognition that through faith in Jesus we are children of God.  

Our slumps in prayer life come to us at times when we forget that our Father loves us and wants what is best for us at all times. Sometimes we take him for granted as we are distracted by all of life’s daily schedules and experiences. At other times we are frustrated that our Father does not answer our prayers quickly or exactly as we want. So we give up. Our prayers seem unsuccessful and of little value. 

Our parents did not give us everything we asked for when we were children. Instead, they thought more about what we needed than what we wanted. Their goal was to see us grow and mature until we were ready for some of the things we wanted. Our heavenly Father thinks the same way, only he sees our future and our lives much better. With perfect love, he promises to give us what is best for us.  

The way out of our prayer slumps is to remember our Father loves us, listens to us, and can even turn our difficulties into good (Romans 8:28). And then simply pray.  

 


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico.  



This is the second article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life. 



SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 3

Revelation vs. speculation  

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Getting and staying healthy is a major concern for millions of people. In recent years you may have heard a confusing array of advice on how to achieve your health goals. The growing number of health experts making unconventional recommendations may surprise you 

The Mayo Clinic, a leading voice in the health arena, advocates the benefits of meditation. Authors suggest practicing meditation may reduce stress. Improved emotional health, they claim, may assist in alleviating some symptoms of physical ailments.   

Looking inside our hearts 

Christians might be happy to learn that medical experts consider prayer as one possible way to practice meditation. We might even wonder if there is much of a difference between what Jesus invites us to do and what counselors, doctors, and mental health professionals are advocating. Sounds like a win-win to us: Follow God’s encouragement to pray, and additional health benefits get thrown in as a bonus.  

We can leave it to the medical community to continue researching the potential health benefits of prayer. But Christians want to be aware that there can be vast differences between what most people consider meditation and the way the Bible teaches us to pray. Unfortunately, even some resources encouraging Christian spirituality are just as confusing. Some suggest finding inner quietude or emptying our minds of all thoughts and worries. Then we should turn our attention to the voices inside us.  

But when Christians pray “in Jesus’ name,” we do it calling to mind the person and work of Jesus. His life and his sacrifice give us the personal relationship of faith to approach our Father. Looking inside our hearts for spiritual peace and direction might actually be counter-productive to healthy spiritual habits. After all, Jesus warns us: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Prayers flowing from the natural impulses of our hearts could by default be very self-centered.  

Looking inside God’s Word 

Do you see the disconnect from the way Christians have taught prayer throughout the ages? Prayer is a response to what God tells us. Prayer begins with God’s revelation to us through his Word.  

That’s why it might be a little shocking to hear Martin Luther instructing us to do something we might hear from mental health literature. When he offered advice about personal devotions to his friend Peter, he advised: “If in the midst of such thoughts the Holy Spirit begins to preach in your heart with rich, enlightening thoughts, honor him . . . be still and listen to him who can do better than you can” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 43, p. 201–202). 

But do you notice the difference between Luther and the advocates of contemporary meditationLuther told his friend he should start his devotions by meditating on familiar portions from God’s Word like the Ten Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer. Devotions and meditation begin with God’s Word. Luther was telling Peter that devotions don’t have to focus on obscure or difficult parts of the Bible. Keep it simple, but start with God’s Word 

In fact, this is a major point of emphasis for the Reformer throughout his career: “Therefore, we must constantly maintain this point: God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments” (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Art. VIII:10). So Christian meditation or prayer always finds its starting point in what God is saying to us, not from the voices inside us 

Meditating on God’s Word is definitely good for our souls. Prayer based on Scripture flows from a heart filled with God’s blessings. We can’t promise it will lower our blood pressure, but we know God’s revelation is always good for us.

 


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico.  


This is the third article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life. 


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 1

simple way to pray  

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Learning to swim can be traumatic enough. But in the captivating memoir The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls tells of her father’s no-nonsense way of getting her to swim. He simply tossed her in the pool. If the desire to live was strong enough, he figured, she’d figure out a way to keep her head above water and eventually learn to swim.   

Devotional encouragement 

God’s people sometimes feel similar sensations after repeated encouragements to read the Bible and do devotions. At times we just want to tiptoe around the edge of the pool. We stare apprehensively into the water and stay perched safely on the outside. 

Thankfully, God promises to work through his Word: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10,11). 

We also have practical encouragement to jump into our devotions on God’s Word.  Five hundred years ago, Peter the Barber was an average Christian who took seriously the encouragement to make devotional practices an essential part of his daily routines. A personal friend to Martin Luther, he was frustrated by attempts to engage in this unfamiliar task, and so he appealed to Luther for guidance. Luther wrote the little booklet A Simple Way to Pray to help his friend.  

Devotional instructions 

Unsurprisingly, Luther encouraged devotional habits that make prayer a priority. He instructed his friend to make devotions his first activity every day. He also suggested that finding a private, quiet place would be beneficial. 

But what should one do during that study? Start with something simple and familiar such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, any part of the catechism, or even any part of Scripture as a basis for your devotions.  

Luther’s suggestions came from his own personal experiences. He suggested that you fashion “a garland of four strands” based on your topic for the day. Those four strands mean you think of the Scripture passage or portion of the catechism in four ways: 

  1. Consider what your reading teaches you.
  2. Discover what in your reading makes you thankful.
  3. Think what leads you to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. 
  4. Respond to the Lord with a prayer on what you have learned.

This is the time of year when lots of children start to feel cooped up. Parents look for appropriate ways to allow them to burn off some energy without risking their health and safety. Swimming lessons provide a great opportunity to play and learn at the same time. Toddlers can jump into the shallow end with certified swim instructors within arm’s reach. More advanced swimmers can work out to improve their skills.  

Devotions don’t have to be complicated or intimidating. Jump in. Start with Scripture. It can be something simple and familiar. Using Luther’s four strands can help you get going:  

  1. See what God is teaching you in Scripture.  
  2. Respond to God in thanksgiving. 
  3. Confess your shortcomings. 
  4. Offer requests to God based on Scripture.

Whether we tiptoe into the shallow end or dive into the deep end, God promises to work powerfully in the lives of his children through his Word. 


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico.  


This is the first article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life.


Want to read Martin Luther’s booklet, A Simple Way to Pray? It’s available at Northwestern Publishing House, nph.net; 1-800-662-6022. 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Print Friendly, PDF & Email