Step By Step

“Step by step, inch by inch…” this phrase from an old Three Stooges movie reminds me of how some people approach faith. There is nothing wrong with a methodical process, says the Methodist minister! The blessing of pursuing incremental progress toward a goal ensures that you continue to move forward, and that’s always a good thing.

In his book based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Because of This, I Rejoice,” writer Max Vincent leads us to find joy in our Lenten disciplines as we participate in the serious work of moving step by step, inch by inch toward Easter.

In discussing Paul’s approach to prayer in his letters, Vincent neatly breaks it down into four discernible steps. See if you can spot some of them in this passage:

Philippians 1:1-11 (Common English Bible)

I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel. God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. 10 I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. 

11 I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.

Paul used a four-step method, starting with THANKSGIVING. This is key, as it focuses us on God’s activity in our lives and in the lives of the people for whom we pray. When we concentrate on thanking God for the blessings he has poured out first, it helps us focus on God’s POWER before we even begin with our list of wants and needs. Giving thanks at the beginning of each prayer puts us into a spirit of praise, joy, gratitude, and humility. By starting our prayers with words of thanksgiving for all of our blessings, we remind ourselves of how good God is.

The second step is INTERCESSION, where we petition God for the needs of others and ourselves. We ask God to intervene in our lives and our situations to bring healing, mercy, comfort, and grace. We are reminded here that we exist in fellowship and connection with others. By putting the needs of others even before our own, we again focus on the power of God, and practice the type of humility Jesus taught from the cross.

The third step is CONFESSION, a necessary part of every prayer. We confess our distance from the righteousness to which we are called. We confess our willfulness. We confess our sins. We confess it all in the sure and certain knowledge that God hears our confessions and cleanses us of our sins.

And then we finish our confession with the doxology, or a word of PRAISE. God is worthy of our praise every day, and it’s important to let him know that! We praise God, from whom all blessings flow, and that moment reminds us that we are not self-reliant, but indeed we rely on God for everything that we have and need.

Try this pattern in your prayer time this week. Remember that God ALWAYS answers our prayers, so be persistent. Prayer changes things…mostly it changes US.

Step by Step by Kathy Schumacher

Singular Vision

Can you name a time in your life when you were part of a group that had a single purpose or goal? Even in the most highly trained sports team, the most gifted singing group, or the greatest work division the company ever put together, it is hard to find a group that doesn’t have some element of individualism, ego need, or competitiveness that ruins the unity.

Such it is with life.

The disunity that plagues the church in this season comes after many such moments in its history. Issues over slavery, racism, property rights, women’s rights (including ordination), ecclesial structure, hierarchy, and issues surrounding human sexuality have been present in most denominations since the first day they were formed. In my denomination these disputes have caused schisms, mergers, closures, and the re-writing of our Book of Discipline every four years. And there is more to come.

What does scripture say about unity in the body of believers?

Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi in anticipation of a visit there. But in the meantime, he had words of instruction for the people:

Philippians 1 (The Message)

27-30 Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance.

Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition.

Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.

We would do well to heed Paul’s words. The issues that divide us cannot be stronger than the message that unites us. We are called to make a witness to the world and contend for their TRUST in the message we are sent to deliver. It is a message of hope. It is a message of the good news of the resurrection. It is a message of peace. It is a message of God’s singular vision for the world…that all who believe in Jesus shall not perish, but have everlasting life. That is our singular vision.

It is worth setting aside our individual goals, ego needs, and competitiveness so that we might win the world for Christ. It will take our courage and our unity. Most of all it will take humility.

We are suffering right now, but if we focus on the singular vision of winning the world to Jesus, we can gain the trust of the people as we put our trust in God.

Meanwhile, live your life in such a way that you will be a credit to the cause of Christ. The world is watching.

Focused by Sharon Tinucci

Snap Judgement

In Malcolm Gladwell’s marvelous book Blink, he shares a story of a statue sold to the Getty Museum for ten million dollars. The museum spent fourteen months authenticating the statue. It met every standard of a sixth century BC kourous, a Greek statue of a nude boy standing with his left foot forward and his hands to his side. Less than 200 kouroi exist today, and most are in very poor condition.

The statue went on display and a group of museum experts from around the world were invited to the opening. Suddenly, there was a problem. It didn’t “look right” to some of the guests. An Italian art historian who served on the Getty’s board of trustees, a foremost expert on Greek sculpture, and the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York all agreed that something was “off” with the sculpture.

It was sent to Athens for further authentication, and immediately experts there had the same reaction. George Despinis, the head of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, said that he thought it was a fake because when he first saw it, he felt an “intuitive repulsion.”

Further testing was done…it turned out that the statue was a fake.

Gladwell calls the ability to make a snap judgement “adaptive unconscious.” He points out that our intuitive response to things, and how we come to a conclusion with little information in the first seconds of seeing something, is a gift we have but don’t use. I bet you’ve been in a situation where a truth is finally revealed and your first thought was, “I KNEW something was wrong!” Yet for some reason, you diverted your mind away from seeing the reality in front of you. Adaptive unconscious is a God-given ability that we somehow don’t trust.

As God reminded Job, the gift of insight comes from God alone:

Job 38:35-38 Living Bible (TLB)

36 “Who gives intuition and instinct? 37-38 Who is wise enough to number all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven, when everything is dust and clods?”

And Paul encourages us to seek God’s gift of spiritual knowledge and insight:

Philippians 1 Living Bible (TLB)

9 My prayer for you is that you will overflow more and more with love for others, and at the same time keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight, 10 for I want you always to see clearly the difference between right and wrong, and to be inwardly clean, no one being able to criticize you from now until our Lord returns.

I think we see, and then don’t want to see, so we look away. I have done this. I saw signs and symptoms of a problem that didn’t immediately add up. My gut told me one thing, but I couldn’t see what I was seeing. I was manipulated into a state of unbelief until the truth was revealed, and I realized, “I KNEW something was wrong.” I wish I had trusted my adaptive unconscious response and allowed God to show me the truth sooner. It might have averted some genuine pain later.

I think God calls us to a higher knowledge. I think God equips us with a Holy Spirit-informed insight. I think we look away because it’s too painful to see what is right in front of us.

What is staring you in the face right now that you are refusing to see? Where is God sending you signals and signs of warning? What is the truth you refuse to acknowledge?

Allowing God to speak truth by the power of the Holy Spirit through your insight will enable you to clearly see the difference between right and wrong, and to be inwardly clean. So open your eyes. Open your mind. Keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight. And don’t blink.

Fall Moon by Mary Anne Mong Cramer.