Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What Does Prayer Look Like?


This past Sunday, I was in the middle of worship service. But my mind and my thoughts were far from Him. As I sat still to simply pray, as I waged war against my own thoughts and emotions, I began to see an illustration in my mind, a vision, of the veil that was torn as Jesus died on the cross. Behind the now torn veil was the thrown of God on an exceedingly high mountain, from which came unapproachable light. But I noticed that the steps leading to the throne, the path to the Holy of Holies, was paved in the Blood of the Lamb.

Prayer - For me nothing is harder. I am not referring to casual prayers filled with our requests; how we desire God to cater to our fleeting whims and selfish, ever-changing desires. In my seemingly ever present weakness and struggle I am very competent in praying this way.  Are we told to cast our cares upon the Lord? Absolutely. ALL of them, because he cares for us -1 Peter 5:7. Additionally, we are commanded to pray without ceasing - 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
However, this casual attempt at prayer, as if God exists for us and not we for Him, is not how I see prayer defined in Scripture. I do see prayer defined in Scripture - what it is and what it is not - by Jesus Himself.
The entirety of God’s Word expels the falsity that He, the
Ancient of Days, exists for our good pleasure. Rather, it is God who works in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure - Philippians 2:13. Does Scripture, and much more so the prayer life of Jesus Himself with His Father, shape or effect our prayer life with our Creator and Savior? I believe it should be the defining cornerstone upon which it rests.

The Lord’s Prayer - Matthew 6:9-13.
How do we pray? Merely for ourselves? Our selfish desires?  Jesus gave His disciples, and those who would believe in Him through their word, the model of The Lord’s Prayer.  Not for needless repetition - Matthew 6:7 -  but as a model for our hearts.
- Enter into prayer with praise and thanksgiving
- Pray for His will before we do our own
- When we do submit our requests, it should be primarily for our "daily bread", trusting God to give us all that we need for today, not worrying about tomorrow
- Continually repent and pray for conviction, being careful that we are quick to forgive those who have wronged us
- Pray for victory over sin
- Close as we once again lift up His name in praise

The Prayer Jesus Prayed John 17:1-26
Lord Jesus’ Prayer – the prayer He prayed to the Father at truly His final hour before being arrested and taken to be crucified.
He entered into prayer with His heart in complete submission to the Will of the Father; already having decided that He would drink the cup of the Father1; the will of the Father above His own.  He prays for His disciples, those who He called His friends6-19.  He Prayed for the Father to keep them through His name11, for their unity with one another11 and that they might have His joy13.
What He doesn’t pray for is just as profound.  He does not pray for them to be taken out of the world, but that they would be kept from the evil one15; that they would be sanctified by the Word of Truth17Then He prays for US! For oneness20-21, and that where He, Jesus, is we may be also24.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector Luke 18:9-14
Prayer is no place for self-righteousness or for us to exalt ourselves11-12. Prayer is surrender. Surrender is worship. The position of worship is not just kneeled, but falling down before the Lord. So should our hearts be contrite, humbled, and prostrate before the Lord in prayer.
The Pharisee missed it. He left his place of prayer unforgiven
14, he was never truly praying. The tax collector who beat his chest, who pleaded for mercy from a repentant heart, was heard by God and forgiven14.

The Prayer Life of Jesus
What did Jesus do?  What emphasis did Emanuel place on intimate and constant communication with His Father?  What did Jesus pray for?
Jesus pursued the Father. Continually. Intentionally. He removed Himself from the crowds and from His disciples to be in the presence of His Father.
Jesus prayed for the will of the Father above His own -
Luke 22:42. He prayed for the unity and oneness of His disciples after He was to ascend into Heaven – John 17:6-19. He pleaded with the Father to forgive the very ones who had crucified Him – Luke 23:34.
I am convinced of no greater thing than this: if the Son of Man pursued the Father in prayer as He did, how much more desperately must I abide in the True Vine through prayer and the Word? He is the great and mighty I AM.
  I am the IM NOT. He is the ANCIENT OF DAYS; by whom, for whom, and through whom all creation was made and is held in existence. I am sinful man.
This past Sunday, I was in the middle of worship service. But my mind and my thoughts were far from Him. As I sat still to simply pray, as I waged war against my own thoughts and distractions, I began to see an illustration in my mind, a vision, of the veil that was torn as Jesus died on the cross. Behind the now torn veil was the thrown of God on an exceedingly high mountain, from which came unapproachable light. But I noticed that the steps leading to the throne, the path to the Holy of Holies, was paved in the Blood of the Lamb. Now seated at the right hand of the Father, Jesus had gone where I could not, He had atoned and approached the throne in my place, that in Him I too may approach the Holy of Holies in prayer, that I might host the Holy Spirit in this temple. Though I am a new creation
2 Corinthians 5:17 -  Scripture clearly tells us that we do not know how to pray as we ought – Romans 8:26-27 – but that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us at the Throne of God with groans that can’t be uttered, and Jesus Himself intercedes for us at the right hand of God – Romans 8:34.

If that is the reality of the avenue I have in prayer to the Father, if that was the price Jesus paid for my ransom, I believe that should define and give life to how I pray. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Road Less Traveled By

 Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 – Robert Frost

I dreamed of deer hunting.  Period.
“Why don’t you try bow-hunting?” my dad asked.  In the eyes of a father, bow-hunting sounded like a safer avenue of hunting as opposed to toting a high-powered rifle.  I was 12 and hadn’t hunted very much.  I had yet to kill a deer.  Some kids dream of throwing/catching the winning 4th quarter touch-down pass in the Super Bowl, or of hitting a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th inning in the 7th game of the world series…  I dreamed of deer hunting.  Period.

As such, my last thought was of willfully setting down my Browning in order to make things harder on myself to realize that dream.  At the time, I was content to take the road frequently traveled by.  Nevertheless, my dad prodded me further.  Finally, I found out that, in Tennessee, bow season opened nearly a month and a half before gun season. 

Bow-hunting = more hunting.  Sign me up.. 
And at that we went down to our local outdoor store which also happened to have an archery pro-shop in the back room.  I didn’t care about the brand, what camo pattern it wore, or how fast it shot.  At that time, in my mind bow-hunting = more hunting.  It wasn’t and didn’t need to be any more than that.  Sign me up..

Of all the gifts I have ever received from my dad, his time is what I cherish most.  If he was willing to pay for my time with his time, I must have been valued.  At 12 years old my mind didn’t comprehend that level of sacrifice.  At 26, words fail me to fully thank my dad for that sacrifice.  I walked out of Wiley’s Outdoor Sports that day with a PSE Nova, set at a mighty 40# with a draw of 26 inches.  Neither of us I realized what happened that day, but my dad had just given me the gift of bow-hunting.

At the very first shot something broke loose… Not on the bow, but in me.  I have found no better explanation than that of Ted Nugent, referring to it as “the mystical flight of the arrow.”
So I shot, and I shot, and I practiced, and I practiced.  It was the first activity in my life that no-one had to force me to do.  No external motivational input required. 

I had been given something I didn’t deserve.  And I knew it.
Within a few months I had outgrown the limitations of a youth bow.  On a random trip back to Wiley’s, the pro-shop manager Ronnie Kimbrough, handed a cardboard box to my dad with “HOYT” printed on it.  Inside was a Hoyt Razortec.  My dad handed it to me.  “It’s yours.”  It could have been a brand new truck and I wouldn’t have been more excited.  I had been given something I didn’t deserve.  And I knew it.

Amos Taylor, a staffer at the Pro-Shop offered shooting lessons.  For the price of a cheap burger, my mom took me to Wiley’s for weekly 1-hour shooting lessons.  Did he teach me how to shoot – form, technique, follow through, etc..?  Yes.

However, He shared something far more valuable.  He shared his passion for bow-hunting.  His hunting stories occupied more time than his shooting lessons.  I had none to share.  So I sat and I listened.  It was contagious.  He was contagious.  I am forever grateful for his lessons, but all-the-more, for his time.
What followed was a summer of hundreds and hundreds more arrows – thousands. Trips through the house and up the stairs to shoot off of our back deck to simulate shooting out of a tree stand -Amos’ idea- only to trek back through the house and down the stairs to retrieve my arrows – over and over. 

Spring turned to summer, and among the endless flight of arrows my dad and I fumbled through our first attempt at hanging a tree-stand at the back of our property.  To this day we lease it to a local farmer, and that season it was planted in soybeans.  As summer turned to fall I watched and patterned the deer that fed through our property – what, how, where, when, and why.  Every preparation made.  I was as ready as a 13-year-old could be.

Early season yielded close calls but no success - no arrow flights from the tree stand.

On October 18th, a Monday night, I was a little late on heading to my tree.  A lesson learned.  As I approached I noticed several deer, including a nice 7 pt. - a trophy to me at the time - were directly under my stand. 

My frustration and genuine despair only had to last a day.
The following afternoon, I came home from school, took a mandatory Scent-A-Way shower, and made it to my stand far earlier than the day prior.  At 4:30 on the nose, I watched as nearly a dozen deer entered the field, soon surrounding the tree in which I was sitting. 
There were several smaller bucks in this early season group, but I had quickly made my mind that the only deer I was concerned about was the one that gave me a shot. 

As I maneuvered in my stand to prepare for the opportunity I hoped would arrive, several deer spooked… all but one…  I don’t remember checking my yardage, I don’t remember making sure I had a good anchor point as Amos had taught me, I don’t remember settling my pin behind his shoulder, I don’t even remember having the conscious thought to ‘squeeeeze’ the trigger on my release… 
My only awareness then or memory now is of being at full draw, the flight of the arrow, and the emotions of a 13-year-old boy who had just realized his greatest dream…
I watched as the large-bodied 4pt. wheeled and spun off, and headed toward the creek, only to stop and turn back.  I watched as the deer tipped over, and piled up, a mere 20 yards from my stand…

-in those woods…
In the 13 seasons that have followed I have seen countless sunrises and sunsets in those woods.  Many more deer have fallen to the ‘mystical flight of the arrow’ in those woods.  I learned how to hunt and even something about the man I was becoming, became, and desire to be, in those woods.  For me it is sacred ground.

I often think back about how I got started in bow-hunting.  My dad took the time.  My mom took the time.  Ronnie Kimbrough took the time.  Amos Taylor took the time…  Countless others sense have taken the time.

-following Christ, not myself
For me, the yellow wood in Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ was hunting as well as life.  The two roads diverging weren’t merely bow-vs-gun-hunting, but about challenging myself.  Intentionally setting forth difficult goals with the foreknowledge that those goals would entail a prolonged season of planting before the season of harvest.  About following Christ, not myself. 
For me, I chose the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference...

If you have read this far, my name is Jake McNeal.  This is Harvest Season Outdoor Media.  Slowly but surely, this is yet another dream coming to fruition.  As I have been faithful to follow, Christ has been faithful to lead.  In the future, Harvest Season will continue to mature into the reality of His will and not mine. 
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