The least prayed (most answered) prayer

Although few daily pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” God daily answers this prayer.  He answers by graciously providing suitable and sufficient food for our bodies, for our minds, for our emotions, and for our souls. Just think for a few moments on how God provides for our bodies.

The variety of God’s provision
He made so many different tastes and textures for so many palettes and preferences. There’s something for everyone. Out of the abundant variety we can all find something to our taste.

And think about how God made different foods to meet the varied needs of our bodies. Look at food wrapping and see how even the simplest foods have a complex mixture of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, fat, water, salt, etc.

The suitability of God’s provision

We often think of our food when we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” However, all that food would be in vain if we did not have a functioning digestive system to process our food. God answers this prayer, therefore, not just by providing the food but also the machinery of our bodies to make the most of the food. When God made our food on creation days 1-5, He did so with a view to perfectly suiting it to the bodies He would make on day 6.

Most of us think daily about our food, but few of us ever give a thought to the incredibly complex digestive system that He daily sustains and directs. Think about it for a moment:

  • As soon as our eyes see and our nose smells food, the digestive system cranks into operation with saliva glands pumping out its lubricating oil.
  • Chemicals in our saliva (enzymes) immediately start changing carbs into sugar.
  • Our teeth and tongue start working in unison to grind it down and the tongue pushes the result to the back of the throat through a trapdoor and into our gullet (30 secs).
  • The muscles in our gullet begin to act like a toothpaste tube, squeezing the lump of food down towards the stomach, where another trapdoor automatically opens to let in the food (3 secs).
  • Acid rains down on the food to break it up (and kill any bacteria we may have ingested), while a thin layer of liquid (mucous) protects the stomach walls from being eroded (3-4 hours).
  • Once it is been dissolved into small enough bits, another valve opens and slowly lets it out into approx 20 feet of small intestine (3 hours).
  • Our liver, gall-bladder, and pancreas then squirts more chemicals to further break down the food and start separating the good from the bad. Lots of little sponges absorb the nutrients from the food and absorb them into the bloodstream.
  • The nutrient rich blood goes to the liver for processing, which filters out anything harmful and decides how many nutrients to let go to the body and how much to store.
  • What’s left then goes into the wider and drier large intestine where water is extracted and recycled back into our bodies. Microbes, bacteria continue to work on the residue which is now down to about a third of its original size..
  • The whole 25 foot journey takes about 18 hours, and 50 tons of food will pass through our digestive system in an average lifespan.

We’ve never had to think about that, have we? Most of us have never thought about this for even a moment. And yet it’s a large part of God’s daily answer to this prayer. He provides suitable food for our bodies and suitable bodies for our food. They fit so well.

The sufficiency of God’s provision
As God has promised (Ps. 145:16), there is enough food in the world for everybody. God has not come up short. He has not miscalculated. So why are there starving people? Oxfam reports that “Half the world’s food is lost as waste, and a billion people – one in every six of the world’s poorest – cannot access enough of the other half and so go hungry every day.”

“Give us this day our daily bread” is a plural, a group request. It reminds us of our responsibility to our fellow men and women. We cannot pray this prayer in the plural unless we are prepared to take action to even out the injustices of the world’s food supply. If we are not willing to do so, then lets just be honest and pray it in the singular, “Give me this day, my daily bread!”

CK2:17: Counseling one another

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This week’s guest on The Connected Kingdom is Paul Tautges. Paul is a pastor, author, counselor and father of ten(!). He has recently begun a new blog called Counseling One Another. In this podcast, the last one we’ll be recording until after the summer, Tim and I speak to Paul about the importance of setting counseling within the context of Christian discipleship (which in turn takes it out of the exclusive hands of the experts).

If you want to give us feedback or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You will always be able to find the most recent episode here on the blog. If you would like to subscribe via iTunes, you can do that here or if you want to subscribe with another audio player, you can try this RSS link.

The benefits of holy habits

We’ve been trying to build holy habits the past couple of days (here and here). But why? Let me give you four reasons to develop the holy habits of prayer, Bible reading, and meditation.

1. They become hard not to do
What was once hard to do can become hard not to do. Once you get into a habit of daily prayer and Bible reading, it becomes hard to break the habit, no matter how many things call us away from it. Look at Daniel; there was so much pressure on him not to pray. But it had become so customary for him that rather than being hard to do in these circumstances, it was hard not to do.

You can now put your socks on without thinking. But it was not always like that. Initially it was impossible. But as you practiced, the weak neural connections got bigger and stronger and eventually created such a strong pattern that you can now put your socks on without falling over.

When you start praying and reading your Bible or meditating it feels really hard and you think, I can’t do this for a week, never mind a lifetime. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. 

2. They improve our feelings

You may say, “I don’t feel like praying or reading my Bible.” Do you think Daniel did? Especially that day? But actual doing, reading, praying, lifts our feelings.

Although I disagree with Jay Adams, the pioneer Biblical Counselor, on some important matters, I do agree with him that habits can regulate feelings, or at least actions can.

He often quotes the example of ironing. He says that so many women say to him, “I’m so unhappy because all the ironing is just piling up and yet I just don’t feel like doing it.” He argues that just picking a shirt and ironing it, will change the feelings and even give a sense of joy in accomplishment. And that surge of feelings motivates further ironing, thus building a virtuous cycle.

So, instead of “habitual” Bible reading or prayer emptying the joy and freedom from these spiritual activities, exactly the opposite occurs. 

3. They shape character

Just as one bad habit tends to breed more bad habits, so good habits tend to breed other good habits. Sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.

Just like Daniel, those who establish these holy habits tend to have holy characters and standout from the crowd.

“Dare to be a Daniel” was not the result of some one-off, macho, spiritual weightlifting. His courage was not some rare supreme effort that he managed to work up. Rather it was the final product of years and years of character-shaping holy habits.

4. They reveal Christ to the soul
As we go on in the book of Daniel, we see Daniel being given increasing insight into the Scriptures and the person and work of Christ. In fact the pre-incarnate Son of God comes to him at least twice and shows Himself to Daniel in overwhelming ways. 

What a blessing holy habits are. Yes, at times they may become rather mechanistic and ritualistic, no matter how hard we fight this. I’m sure Daniel had days like this too. But if we prayerfully persevere in them, as Daniel did, we will be made wise unto salvation and know Christ in deeper and deeper ways.

I feel sorry for psychologists

I often feel sorry for psychologists. They seem to be worse than the antichrist to many Christians, who often write off their whole profession without any qualification whatsoever.

Although psychologists have often wrongly trespassed on to the Christian pastor’s territory, and many have also promoted dangerous and damaging anti-christian philosophy, their discipline is not essentially and necessarily anti-Christian.

Some of their work with autistic children and brain-damaged adults is beautiful and inspiring. Their work on diet and brain formation, and also on food and mood is already producing beneficial results. And many of their observations about human nature and behavior are true and can even be helpful for the Christian.

For example, I was recently looking into how habits develop and gathered the following ten principles of habit formation from various psychology resources. Can anyone argue that these are helpful principles that can be applied to the formation of holy habits?

1. Set a goal
It is much easier to form a habit if we have a goal. Many habits are the result of past goal pursuit. For example, someone who is in the habit of running every morning probably started running to take part in a marathon or something like that.

If you set a goal of “I will read through the whole Bible in a year,” you are more likely to develop a habit of daily Bible reading that will stick with you even after that year. If you set a goal of memorizing a verse a day, you are more likely to develop a habit of meditating on Scripture.

2. Have a small-step plan
As I said, having a big overall goal helps form a habit. However, the best way to achieve such a goal, and form a habit in the process is to break it up into small steps that are as specific and realistic as possible. Mini-plans bridge the gap between wanting to get something done and getting it done.

So, if you want to read the Bible in a year, break it up into so many chapters a day, a week, etc.

3. Work on one habit at a time
If someone tries to change too much at one time in their lives, then they will almost certainly fail. Change is much more likely when there is a focus on one problem at a time.

Instead of trying to read more of your Bible, and pray longer, and meditate more, work on one of these fronts at a time. 

4. Associate a place and time with an activity

A habit will form much quicker and stronger if the behavior is associated with a specific time and place.

Some pastors I know have a special chair in which they read the Scriptures and pray for their own souls. They don’t do these things at their desk because they want this to be a special time for their own personal devotions. Eventually, when they sit in that chair at their regular time the holy habits are triggered.

5. Make it a priority
The first thing we do each day is much more likely to form a habit than the last thing we do each night.

If we want to strengthen the holy habits of Bible reading, prayer, and meditation, then make sure they are the first thing you do in the day (before email, Facebook, etc).

6. Early focus boosts success
Missing the odd day of an activity does not matter too much, unless it is in the early stages of habit formation. But unbroken daily repetition in the early stages produces the strongest automaticity, or the best prospects of a long-term habit.

Make sure you don’t miss a day in the first couple of weeks of forming a holy habit. Missing the odd day when the habit has had sufficient time to form is not so critical.

7. Identify potential obstacles
It is important to anticipate obstacles and hindrances before they come along. A runner may look at the weather forecast to make sure he will be dressed so as to enjoy his morning run.

Similarly, if you find yourself too sleepy for devotions in the morning, then go to bed earlier. If you find it difficult to concentrate on prayer without speaking out loud, find a place you can do this.

8. Be prepared for setbacks
The harder the action, the harder to form a habit. Although some habits form in as little as 18 days, the hardest habits take up to 254 days to form. Drinking a daily glass of water became a habit quite quickly. But doing 50 press-ups before breakfast was much harder.

As there are few things harder than prayer, Bible reading and prayer, we are going to encounter setbacks and disappointments in trying to form these habits. Thankfully we can take these failings to the Lord for forgiveness and grace to start afresh.

9. Know yourself
Research shows some while some people can form habits very quickly, others may be more habit-resistant. Some people are just more naturally disciplined and regimented than others.

If you are not “the organized type” or if you are a more laid-back personality then you will find it harder and have more setbacks. Also remember that although the world, the flesh, and the devil work together to build unholy habits in our lives, they also ally together to fight the formation of holy habits.

10. Be patient
How long do you think it takes to form a new habit?  A week? A month? A year? Well it varies depending on a few factors but the average is 66 days or 2 months. In other words, you will not lay down deep habits of Bible reading, prayer, etc, without persisting for at least two months.

Finally, what you won’t learn in any psychology textbook. You are going to need the Holy Spirit to help you to do all these things and to keep it from becoming a mere habit, a mere formality. And you are going to need the blood of Christ to cover stumbles and falls. What greater motivation can there be than the enabling power of the Holy Spirit and the cleansing power of Christ’s blood.

Tomorrow, I’ll suggest four benefits of holy habit formation.

Holy Habits

I’m speaking today at a youth camp on “Holy Habits.” It’s one of a series of addresses that various speakers are giving on the book of Daniel. I was asked to speak on Daniel’s holy habits of prayer, Bible reading, and meditation.

What is a habit?
I started studying for this address by asking: “What is a habit?” A habit is a behavior that through regular repetition becomes almost an involuntary and instinctive part of our lives.

A habit is a behavior: We all have many habits. Some are amoral (neither good nor bad) –  sleeping on your back, eating with a fork in your left hand, hitting the snooze button when the alarm goes off, etc. Some are immoral (bad) – swearing, looking at porn, procrastination, etc. Some are harmful – nail-biting, thumb-sucking, etc. Others are moral (good/beneficial) – a mother runs to help when she hears her child cry.

That through regular repetition: If repeated in the same place there is a strengthening of the link between the place and the action.

Becomes an almost involuntary and instinctive part of our lives: We hardly need to think about it. The habit is controlled by our subconscious. It becomes more and more automatic; so automatic that we hardly need to think about it. 

What are holy habits?
With that definition in mind, what are holy habits? Or, what habits help make us holy? Answer: personal prayer, Bible reading, and meditation. Through regular repetition, these behaviors should become an instinctive part of our lives.

I want to be careful here to distinguish between what should be habitual about these behaviors. Setting apart a time and place for these activities should be a daily habit that becomes so instinctive that we hardly need to think about doing them. But the actual exercise – the praying, the Bible reading, the meditation should engage our whole hearts, minds, souls, strength.

Daniel’s holy habits
When we look at the book of Daniel, we find someone who had holy habits. Prayer, Bible reading and meditation (Dan. 6, 9), had become such a regular feature of his life, that he hardly needed to think about doing them. However, as we know, his praying, etc., was not thoughtless and mechanistic. It engaged the whole man.

But Daniel was so habitual in these spiritual disciplines that when his enemies wanted to bring him down, they realized that the most sure-fire way of securing his death was to devise a law that would condemn him for praying to God (Dan. 6:4,5). So regular and predictable was Daniel’s prayer life that when these men got the law against praying, they knew that they had gotten Daniel too.

In Daniel 6v10, we read that although Daniel knew when the prayer-forbidding law had been signed by the king, “he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” or “as he had done previously.”

In Daniel 9, some years later, we find Daniel studying the Old Testament, specifically the prophecy of Jeremiah. And, as he meditates upon it, God reveals His plan to deliver Israel at the end of 70 years in Babylon. And what does Daniel instinctively do? He starts praying for this promise to be fulfilled (Dan. 9:2-3).

Daniel was a man of holy habits, the holy habits of prayer, Bible reading, and meditation. These were behaviors that through regular repetition became almost an involuntary and instinctive part of his life.

Well, I’m sure all of us would like to have such holy habits. But how do we get and develop them? I’ll try to answer that tomorrow.