Prayer For Dummies Like Me

I am pretty horrible at praying.

This is something I’ve written about on my blog many times before.

I’m just not good at it.

I love to study Scripture and teach Scripture (applying Scripture to my life? Not so much. That hurts. That’s hard.). I read commentaries for fun on Saturdays when I’m stuck at home. I think one reason I love to study and teach Scripture is because I see very tangible results. I grow in knowledge. Books I finish go on my ‘finished’ book shelf in my office. Sermons I’ve preached and Bible studies I’ve taught are saved in my Logos Bible software. I can go back to them again and again.

Tangible results.

Prayer? That’s 99% of the time for me something not tangible.

Yeah, sure, the popcorn prayers throughout my day normally get ‘answered’. Like today I ran three miles and regularly panted out “God, don’t let me die”. And alas, die I did not.

But, when it comes to the deeper prayers of my heart, I don’t get to see tangible results.

“God, work in the lives of our students. Grow our youth ministry in depth.”

“God, work in the lives of my family members. Draw us all collectively closer to You.”

“God, grow Your joy and peace in me.”

Those things are 99% not quantifiable. Rarely if ever have I gotten a call or text from a student who just wants to tell me about their walk with God (Although I once got a call from a student who excitedly shared with me their Fortnite experience from the night before). Family members don’t just message out of the blue how they’re growing spiritually. Joy and peace in my heart? No idea if that’s growing or not.

Prayer doesn’t lead me to tangible results.

Yet, prayer is an unavoidable habit to be pursued as a follower of Jesus. It’s not something where I can say “I’m not good at it” and then never engage in it. That’s not how it works.

So, if you’re like me, a dummy when it comes to prayer, I want to share with you some encouragement. These are not tips and tricks for a vibrant prayer life (maybe I should have named this blog “Seven steps to mountain-moving, life-changing, Spirit-empowered prayer”). These are Biblically-based truths about prayer.

Since these are Biblically-based, lets read the passage that got me thinking about all this in the first place!

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, – Ephesians 1:15-17

This passage moves on to some beautiful truths about who Jesus is, what He has done, and who we are in light of that. And we’ll get there in the next two blogs.

But what I want to focus on is how Paul prays.

Pray for Others

Paul prayed for others. A lot. Like most of the time. I’m not doubting that Paul ever prayed for his own wants and needs, but he sure doesn’t talk about it nearly as much as he talks about praying for others. Most of the time I suck at prayer because I’m just repeating my same ol’ wants again and again and again. That gets boring, not gonna lie. And I run out of things to pray about seven minutes in.

I’m always absolutely amazed by those who are constantly in prayer for others. There are a few people in our community here in Vernon who have wowed me with their ability to do this. Tammy Chapman. Ronnie Gibbs. Jimmie Parmer. Dr. Darrell Monday (I may have spelled his name wrong).

These are just a few people who have put this on my heart. They regularly follow-up with those they’re praying for. They’re always encouraging.

Paul didn’t cease to pray for others.

Neither should we.

Pray Christian Prayers

What about the content of our prayers though?

A whole lot of the time, we pray for things that non-Christians could pray too. We pray for health, recovery, blessings.

But do we pray for spiritual things for our friends, families, fellow Christians?

Look at what Paul prayed for in that passage above! He prayed that they would gain wisdom and knowledge of God!

That’s a prayer that is distinctly Christian.

Pray for the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in others. Pray for spiritual disciplines. Pray for a deeper understanding of Jesus! Pray for the Spirit’s power! Pray for Christian things.

Pray the Bible

This has served to help me sooooooooo much in prayer. Instead of praying lists, pray the Bible. Pray passages. This is actually extremely easy. Paul prayed that the church in Ephesus would gain knowledge of God. We have the complete revelation of God in the Bible. So pick a passage and pray.

The Psalms is the easiest place to do this. I read a verse and then pray all that comes to mind in light of that verse, and then I move on. Passages like Ephesians 1 are super easy because you can literally just pray the prayers of Paul.

Use the Bible!

Pray Alone

These last two don’t flow out of Ephesians 1. But they do flow out of the story of Scripture. Jesus prayed alone frequently and unashamedly.

I’ve realized that this is important for me. I will get anxious, angry, afraid, and my wife will encourage me to go to my closet. I sit on top of the seven feet of dirty clothes, close the door, and pray with God. And man it works wonders. I don’t magically open the door to a changed circumstance. But I 99% of the time open the door to a changed perspective.

Get alone with God.

Pray Together

But don’t forsake praying with others! I am bad at praying with my wife every night, but when I do it does wonders.

One of my closest friends lives in Phoenix and he recently (months ago) called me and we didn’t say a word except to pray out loud together, via Scripture, for over thirty minutes. I’ve never felt so strengthened in my faith.

And y’all, church doesn’t count. Too often prayer is used at church as guardrails for the start and end of activities, or for delays between moments when stuff is happening on stage.

Call up a friend.

Pray.

I’m a dummy when it comes to prayer.

But you don’t have to be.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

He Dwells In Us, Not Our Sanctuaries

“There’s nothing magical about these steps. But we can come up here and take the humble posture of prayer by kneeling.”

I got into the habit during the invitation component of my sermons of saying something like this. I point to the altar in our sanctuary and downplay its significance. The posture of prayer is significant, but not the carpeted steps leading up to our stage. There’s nothing significant about them, in terms of holiness.

We are living in unprecedented times. Unprecedented times that are affecting the way that we gather together as the church.

I do not envy one bit those who have had to prayerfully make decisions for the coming weeks for their churches.

I don’t know what the right answer is.

Our church leadership has chosen to gather together over the radio or over livestreaming as opposed to in person. We believe this is what is best for the time being.

So right now, our sanctuary will be empty for the foreseeable future.

There has been a proliferation of posts that fit the following mantra: “the church isn’t the building. we are.”

And as much as this language makes me cringe a tiny bit, it’s true.

But I want to talk about it from a slightly different perspective.

I want to talk about where God dwells.

God doesn’t dwell in the sanctuary at First Baptist Church of Vernon, Texas. He dwells with His people. Somewhere along the way (and I’ve studied zero minutes about this) we began to believe that God dwelled in a building like the temple that Solomon built for Him. So we started making sanctuaries these holy places where God dwelled with man. And yet God doesn’t dwell there.

He dwells in us.

I’ve been studying the book of Ephesians (my last two blogs have been out of this marvelous book of the Bible) and I’m reminded again and again that the message of the entire scope of Scripture is not God coming to dwell in a building, but rather God coming to dwell with a people.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. - Ephesians 2:19-22

I mean, come on y’all.

The second chapter of Ephesians details the amazing work of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It tells us how utterly broken we were in our sin, in the kingdom of darkness. Then we see the work of God. We see how we were SAVED BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. The implications of this wonderful news continues on into this passage.

We are fellow citizens with one another.

We are saints and fellow members of the family of God.

Even those who go to other churches in town.

The implications and applications of that reality alone is far-reaching.

But look at the conclusion. We have been brought together, built up into a dwelling place for the Lord.

Let that sink in.

It’s always been about the people.

In Genesis, we see the framework of this, as God promises to bless all the nations through the line of Abraham.

In Revelation, we see the culmination of this, as every tribe and tongue and nation bows before King Jesus.

All throughout the way, in tabernacles, temples, and Jesus, God has dwelled with His people. Paul tells explicitly in Acts 17 that God doesn’t dwell in buildings made by human hands.

So what does that mean for today?

It means that maybe, just maybe, we come to know this truth of Scripture like never before.

Maybe, just maybe, we will remember that we have always been called to primarily live in the world, not in judgment, but in hopes of bringing the good news of the gospel to bear on the lives of our friends neighbors (just read 1 Corinthians 5, 8, and 9).

Maybe, just maybe, we can live out the fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives (joy and kindness) when we interact with others (Had to repent just today for some judgmental responses to others. This isn’t easy).

Maybe, just maybe, families will wake up and realize that the job of the church is to merely supplement their discipleship practices at home, not the other way around.

Yes, church community is going to look different for a while. I absolutely dread how awkward it is going to be for me to teach to an empty room this Sunday. But the community has never been about the building in the first place.

Y’all. This gets me pumped. When my church family gathers on Sunday mornings, it should be an opportunity to celebrate what God is doing in our community as well as to remind ourselves of the task ahead.

We should be doing far more outside the walls of our sanctuaries than we do in them. More people should be encountering Jesus outside than inside. We should be studying Scripture together far more outside than inside. We should be singing praise to God far more outside than inside.

Y’all.

God has chosen us as His people to dwell with. Every single believer who follows Jesus as Lord is part of this.

The sanctuary may be empty, but His presence is in us.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Evan Hansen, Calvinism, and Holiness

I love musicals.

I love how musical themes that are present in songs at the beginning of musicals come to a head again and again throughout the entirety of the show (the Bible is much the same way. If you study Biblical theology you will see themes that repeat over and over in the one big story of Scripture). I love how powerfully you can tell a story via music.

I get hooked on a musical and listen to it lots.

On my way to an orthodontist appointment this week in Dallas, I discovered Dear Evan Hansen (now, there is a bit of language. So hearers discretion advised).

Dear Evan Hansen is a powerfully provocative dark comedy about teenage loneliness, suicide, broken families and the desire to be loved.

Evan Hansen is a loner, struggling to find community, wrestling with the lack of a father in his life. Another student named Connor takes his own life, and Evan finds himself propagating a big lie, that he and Connor were best friends. He back-logs e-mails, continuing to lie to Connor’s family for quite some time before the truth comes to the forefront. (That is a really poor synopsis, but oh well).

I found myself driving down 287 with tears filling my eyes. As a Family Discipleship pastor I see the pain and brokenness that teens are facing. I know how real this story the musical is telling is. There is great loneliness. There is pain. I see it. I counsel it. I cry over it. I pray over it.

All of these emotions came pouring out as soon as I got home. Jamie was my unsuspecting target. I half-yelled via excitement through the entire plot of the musical. I found it so powerful and so stirring that I didn’t even stop to take a breath when I shared it all with Jamie.

We tend to rant about things that excite us, that stir up emotions in is.

The apostle Paul was much the same way. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, he is so stirred by the beauty of the gospel story that he doesn’t even stop to properly punctuate his sentence.

Ephesians 1:3-14 is in fact just one long sentence in the original Greek.

Paul is so pumped and stoked about the beauty of our salvation in Christ that he just lets it all out in what comma-infused rant that any modern English teacher would be frustrated by.

I’ve been giving this passage some thought.

Recently I’ve been absolutely blown away by the reality that our sanctification, not just our salvation, is brought about by God’s work in us (See Philippians 3:9 for instance. Or if you’re interested in books on the topic read Possessed by God or Rethinking Holiness or How Does Sanctification Work? – if you’re a Vernonite come to my office at the church). God does the work in us. We are passive participants in the work of the Spirit. We rely on Him wholly and completely for our growth in godliness.

The start of this long run-on by Paul is yet another example of this fact.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. - Ephesians 1:3-4a

Now, most people can’t read this passage (or the rest of it for that matter) without their first thought being about the ol’ classic Calvinism or Arminianism debate. Let me give you my two cents on that matter. This might be the first time I’ve blogged about this.

  1. God is higher than us. Romans 11 and 1 Corinthians 2 make this abundantly apparent. As finite humans, we can never fully comprehend God. Does that mean we don’t even try to comprehend Him or His Word? Absolutely not. I mean, you’re reading a blog from a guy who reads commentaries for fun at night. But we will never fully understand the acts of God. So I think it’s foolish of me to think that I can fully understand how God chooses to save. And I think we’re missing the point when we bicker over this matter. Do I believe that God is sovereign over every thing in the universe? Yes. Do I believe that God has given man free will? Also yes. Does that make sense? No. But maybe that’s where faith comes in. This is likely an unsatisfactory answer for many people, but it’s all I know for sure. The Christian faith is absolutely full of paradoxes that make no logical sense. I read a ton of reformed theology that touts the sovereignty of God but what I consider myself doesn’t fit the two-sided debate:
  2. Three point Roachist. Back when I was in college, the debate around Calvinism was raging. I was told by some that I wasn’t reading the Bible well if I wasn’t a Calvinist. I was told by others that Calvinists were arrogant jerks. I got so tired of all the needless debate that I said “I’m a three point Roachist. I love Jesus. I love pizza. I want to get married one day. That’s all I know for sure.” That always brought laughter and the end of arguments, even if people were annoyed with my answer. After years of reading and studying I still don’t have firm beliefs in every single secondary or tertiary matter.
  3. Missing the Heart for the Head. Lastly, I believe that maybe, just maybe, when we take this passage and rip it into theological debates about salvation, we’re drastically missing the point. Paul is pumped. Excited. Overflowing with joy and praise. Why? Because of all the spiritual blessings that we’ve received in Christ. If our response to this passage (or any passage in Scripture for that matter) is merely to get ready to defend our beliefs, we’ve missed the point. This passage should cause us to worship.

Praise God for choosing me. How? I don’t know. I just know it’s been done.

Praise God for making me blameless and holy. When He chose me, He made me blameless and holy. Did you see that? This passage doesn’t say that God chose me in Christ so that I could work hard to be holy and blameless. It says that God choosing me makes me holy and blameless.

How does that work?

Faith. Paradox. Belief.

I have sinned a lot today in thought, word, and deed. Yet God the Father sees me as holy and blameless because of my Lord Jesus Christ.

That’s worth worshipping about.

That’s worth sharing about.

Praise God.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Did God Change Saul’s Name?

When I was young, I played soccer in Wichita Falls. My coach began to call me “Nate the Great”, based off some popular detective books for children. That didn’t stick for very long, and I began to go by the name given on my birth certificate, Nathan.

All throughout my childhood, teenage, and college years, I went by Nathan (or in college, Papa Roach).

After I graduated and moved to Phoenix, I decided one day to start going by Nate. This was not a deeply thought out decision, it just kinda happened.

What that has now led to is the confusing reality that anyone who has met me in the last four years calls me Nate, but my family and wife still call me Nathan.

In the New Testament, we hear of a man named Saul (Acts 7:58). He was a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin, and he was persecuting the church. First he stood idly by while Stephen was stoned, then he began a systematic persecution of the church, traveling from town to town and taking all who belonged to ‘the Way (of Jesus)’ into custody.

In Acts 9 we see his insane conversion. We see him go from a persecutor of the church to a man who would be used by God to reach the Gentiles with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was reading this morning in Ephesians, and we see something interesting.

Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. - Ephesians 1:1-2

The man who approved of the stoning of Stephen is now writing letters to the churches in Ephesus to encourage them in the gospel.

But there’s something else there.

Did you see it?

He addresses himself as Paul.

Now, most people in church understand this. They understand that the Saul we read about in Acts and the Paul we read about (also in Acts starting at 13:19) are the same person. But here’s the reality. I believe that the majority of us have a complete misunderstanding about why this name change took place (including myself for a very long time).

God did not change Saul’s name to Paul.

There is a very popular misunderstanding of what took place with Saul. So many people believe that God changed his name to signify his new life in Christ.

This isn’t heretical by any means, but it’s not true.

If anything I think it’s not nearly as cool as what actually took place.

Now, let’s acknowledge together that God has done the name change thing before. He does it a lot as a matter of fact. We see Him in conversation change Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. We see Jesus do the same, changing Simon’s name to Peter. These things certainly happened in Scripture. That’s because in ancient cultures, names had a profound impact, significance, and meaning. Today, that’s not always the case (I’m looking at you North West).

But in the case of Saul/Paul, that’s not what happened at all (Dr. Seuss should’ve written books on Scripture).

Saul started referring to himself as Paul, in order to reach the Gentiles with his Roman name (Paul was a common surname and it may or may not have been in Paul’s family).

Do you grasp that?

God didn’t change his name.

Paul changed his name to better reach the people that he was on mission to reach.

He was by no means a perfect man. He was angry, discouraged, anxious, lonely. But he knew Christ, and that led him to give his life fully over to Christ (Philippians 1:21).

When Paul accepted the Christian faith and began his mission to the Gentiles, he identified with his listeners by using his Roman name. In all of his letters, Paul identified himself with his Roman name, linking himself with the Gentile believers to whom God had sent him with the gospel of Christ.

Life Application Bible Commentary: Ephesians

Saul’s name was a big deal. It harkened back to the days of the first king of Israel, also a dude named Saul. King Saul was a Benjaminite (of the tribe of Benjamin), just like the New Testament Saul. That means that New Testament Saul had a very significant, honorable, glorified name. And he gave it up for the people he was seeking to reach. He gave up that honorable name.

Paul is an example all throughout the book of Acts of a man who gave up his rights for others.

Like seriously, he was a Roman citizen. This means he was not supposed to get beat like he did all over the place. And yet, Paul only uses that right twice (once to avoid a flogging, once to appear before the Emperor to talk about Jesus).

In a culture like our own obsessed with rights, we can learn something from what Paul did.

To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to comfort.

To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to put your opinions about any number of things on Facebook.

To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to use your money for yourself.

Fill in the blanks for yourself.

Saul changed his name to reach others for Jesus.

What are you willing to do to reach others?

In His Name,

Nathan Roach