God and Governance

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Timothy 2:1-7 (NLT)

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For,

There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.


In these highly politicized times, Paul’s words to a young pastor will make some of us squirm.

Obviously, we are polarized as a nation. We’ve seen the left and right run toward their extreme edges, leaving a void in the middle. Far behind us are the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill sitting down in a room and hashing out a way to govern despite their political differences.

So, let me ask you the tough questions the Apostle Paul has raised for us. For the last four years, have you been praying for our president? Regardless of what you may think of him?

Will you pray for our next president, regardless?

I suspect some of us are blanching at the idea. Me, pray for him? Me, lift that guy up to God for support and sustenance?

Our situation could be worse, much worse. Just in case you’re thinking, “How could Paul suggest we do such a thing,” let’s take a moment to consider the context of his words.

The worldly leader of leaders in Paul’s day was the Emperor Nero. Yes, that Nero. The Nero who persecuted the Christians, having them dipped in tar and turned into human torches, or letting them be torn apart by wild animals for sport. The insane Nero, the evil Nero, the guy likely assigned the code number “666” by the author of Revelation.

Paul was telling Timothy to pray for the worst leader you could imagine, and for all of his flunkies. And frankly, as strange as Paul’s request sounds, there is some incredibly powerful Christian logic here, a logic rooted in Old Testament teachings.

Proverbs 21:1 makes clear God can control the will of any leader. The prophet Jeremiah exhorted the Jews in exile to pray for their captors, knowing that if their captors were at peace and blessed, the Jews would be at peace and blessed, too.

We pray assuming God can change anyone so he or she is inclined to do God’s will. It is of course a good thing when our leaders follow God’s will, even if they have not done so in the past. Paul is essentially saying, “If they begin to listen to and follow God, things will be better for all of us.”

He goes on to emphasize there is but one path, one God and one mediator, Jesus, who is the Christ. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, regardless of whether we sit in a palace or sift through a dung heap for a living.

In a way, Paul’s (and Timothy’s, we must presume) prayers do seem to have borne fruit, although not in time to save Paul from martyrdom. Nero’s empire eventually passed into the hands of other emperors, until one day it finally belonged to Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion.

Some people debate whether it was really a good thing for countercultural Christianity to suddenly be acceptable in the halls of power, but one thing is for sure—the alignment of the empire’s leaders with the faith sped the spread of Christianity.

So, if you’re one of the many folks who lie awake at night worrying about this nation’s future, quit worrying and start praying. Certainly, pray for the leaders you like. But also pray fervently and regularly for the leaders you feel are not aligned with God.

Pray for all the people who might lead us soon. God may do great things in their hearts, working through them to awaken this nation to its role in Christ’s kingdom.

Lord, bless all of our civic leaders with a deep sense of your presence and guidance. Amen.

Under Water

Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 107:28-30 (NRSV)
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out from their distress;
he made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
    and he brought them to their desired haven.

In yesterday’s devotional, I explored how to breathe during prayer, particularly when we find ourselves anxious. Today, I’m going to teach you a particular visualization technique to enhance your connection with God.

Put the two techniques together, and you have a kind of meditative prayer, something a lot of people in our culture don’t practice regularly. Our other, more familiar ways of praying—where we speak our praises, thanks and petitions to God, perhaps focusing on Scripture or a devotional as part of the process—remain critically important to our prayer lives. You may find, however, that meditative prayer techniques are particularly helpful in developing a sense of God’s constant presence.

There are uncountable ways to enter a state of meditative prayer. This is just one I like. I do not remember where I first learned it.

Imagine yourself sitting (or standing or lying, depending on your preferred posture) at the bottom of a deep, clear pool of water. Here’s the good news: God has granted you the ability to breathe comfortably and freely while there. Remember to breathe as discussed yesterday.

If this were a class in Zen meditation, someone might tell you to empty your mind. We’re doing the opposite. We want to be filled with God, and only with God.

As you begin, it helps to think of a word representing what you seek in that holy relationship. I’ve heard people make all sorts of choices: “peace,” “love,” “forgiveness” or “discernment,” for example. I’ve even heard people choose “Jesus” as their word, apparently as they tried to better fathom what it means to be in a personal relationship with God through Christ.

Go ahead and accept that worries and random thoughts will intrude on this time. We’re not going to fight them. Instead, take hold of them, examine them for a brief moment, and then release them, allowing them to float to the surface, far above you. Say your chosen word as part of the next exhale, and settle back into experiencing God.

That’s the technique. Simple, huh?

By the way, the more you do this, the longer you will spend in this state before deciding to surface. In just a few tries, you may have a meditative prayer session where you are surprised at how long you’ve been “under”—half an hour or even an hour might feel like 15 or 20 minutes.

What’s important is that you find yourself deeply aware of God’s presence.

Lord, thank you for the way you meet us in the midst of storms and in quiet places. Amen.

Life and Breath

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

The Bible has a lot to say about the not-so-simple act of breathing. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, words for “breath,” “wind” and “spirit” overlap.

Genesis 2:7: Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Ezekiel 37:9: Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

John 20:21-23: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Acts 2:2-4: And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

It’s pretty obvious that in Scripture, the source of life is God’s breath, which we also might think of as the movement of the Holy Spirit. This ethereal lesson can be lived out in very practical ways, however, particularly in times of stress.

When I’ve taught people under tremendous stress how to pray in a meditative way, the “how to breathe” part of the lesson has been critical. First, you have to position your body so you can breathe. If seated, your back and neck need to be straight, your shoulders squared and hanging from your collarbones as if on coathangers.

From here, “breath prayer” begins to line up with core techniques I’ve learned from decades of martial arts practice, principles recently confirmed in books I’ve read about how soldiers and police survive and control violent, high-stress situations. Breathing is normally automatic, but it can get out of control when the world becomes overwhelming. At such times, we have to take charge of our breathing.

Inhale through your nose deeply, slowly, expanding your lower stomach. Hold at the end of the inhale for a count equal to your time spent inhaling. Exhale through your mouth at the same rate, shrinking and pushing in your lower stomach. At the bottom of the exhale, hold for the same amount of time. Some people who teach this talk about using a “four count” at each stage.

I should warn you, if your heart is racing, if your blood pressure is up, your lungs will fight you at first, particularly as you hold at the bottom of your exhale. But if you’re feeling panicked or anxious, repeating this type of breathing will calm you, center you, and allow you to turn to God.

Biblically, it makes sense. Made in the image of God and granted the Holy Spirit through our belief in Jesus Christ, we have access to the source of life.

Think of deliberate, God-focused breathing as an unspoken prayer request: “God, renew in me what you have poured into the world.”

Peace be with you. Tomorrow, I will try to help you embed this breathing in prayerful Christian meditation.

Lord, we thank you for the life you have breathed into us. May we use our lives to glorify you and to the benefit of your dawning kingdom on earth.

Snakes, Stones and the Answer Is No

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 7:7-11 (NLT)

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”


If we’ve ever asked God for something and not received what we wanted, we might struggle a little with Jesus’ words. But we have to ask ourselves—do we always know what’s good for us?

Something cannot be good if it is not aligned with God’s will. It would be ridiculous for us to expect God to fulfill requests that go against his larger plan. If we accept that as true, suddenly the “no” we receive in prayer is as valuable as any “yes.” The “no” gives us a clearer understanding of God’s will, which I think is one of the major purposes of prayer.

If God were to grant a bad request, I would be very concerned for the recipient. It would mean God has finally tired of prayers raised in a “My will be done” manner, rather than the recommended “Thy will be done.” It can never be a good thing for God to say, “Fine. Your will be done.”

Hey, that might be the basis for how hell works.

The bread/stone-fish/snake example makes clear how Jesus’ “keep on asking” recommendation is rooted in the concept of goodness. The children in the example are asking correctly, and the parents, flawed as they are, respond correctly.

It is possible for children to ask incorrectly, of course. Had the children asked for a stone or a snake to eat, good parents would have automatically said no, even if the children were certain they needed stones or snakes for dinner. (If this is getting too far afield from reality, or simply unappetizing, think about jawbreakers and gummy worms, instead.) And once the children grew up a little, they likely would be grateful their parents were so wise.

I think these verses become easier to understand as we age. It helps to be able to look back on our lives, remember what we wanted decades ago, and then give thanks to God we did not receive all the stones and snakes we thought were attractive.

Lord, as we pray, attune us more closely to your desire for our lives. And thanks for watching over us even when we’re a little stupid. Amen.

Evening Prayer

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor
Psalm 17:1-7. A Prayer of David.

O Lord, hear my plea for justice.
    Listen to my cry for help.
Pay attention to my prayer,
    for it comes from honest lips.
Declare me innocent,
    for you see those who do right.

You have tested my thoughts and examined my heart in the night.
    You have scrutinized me and found nothing wrong.
    I am determined not to sin in what I say.
I have followed your commands,
    which keep me from following cruel and evil people.
My steps have stayed on your path;
    I have not wavered from following you.

I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God.
    Bend down and listen as I pray.
Show me your unfailing love in wonderful ways.
    By your mighty power you rescue
    those who seek refuge from their enemies.

At first glance, I find this prayerful psalm puzzling—perhaps even frustrating. It seems to have been prayed by one who believes himself to be without sin, making the prayer irrelevant to me.

Stranger still, it’s clearly marked as a “prayer of David,” certainly a man loved by God, but also a known sinner. David’s recorded story pulls no punches about his failures, the worst of them being adultery with Bathsheba and the arranged betrayal and murder of her husband Uriah.

A deeper reading, however, reveals the particular context for this prayer. David may have been imperfect—what human isn’t—but it seems he was in a situation where he was not at fault, and he sought vindication and protection from his enemies.

Now this prayer is starting to make sense. Perhaps it is even useful!

David asked to be tested. Such a request can come only after much introspection. Specifically, David had sought and apparently continued to seek that his words and actions be tested in the night, knowing his faults from the prior day would be revealed to him in the morning.

Sleep does reveal much. For people who actively seek God’s will, the night can either be filled with regretful tossing or peaceful rest. At this point in his life, David apparently rested well, receiving assurance God was with him.

Living in a different time than David, we know more clearly than he how God has rescued us from our ultimate enemies, the evil and death that result from sin. Jesus Christ has broken the power of both, and through our belief in his work on the cross, we are saved.

What remains is to align ourselves with our holy God more closely each day. We can begin by living in the light—living as people who know they will make it their evening prayer that they be examined through the night.

Lord, may we be conscious of your will not only day by day, but moment by moment. Amen.

Small Groups, Day 4

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

James 5:16-20 (NLT)

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.


No guts, no glory.

That’s what I tell myself as I contemplate the most difficult part of being in a small group, the mutual Christian accountability that should develop over time. As Christians grow in love and trust for each other, they also find themselves better equipped to talk about really important, personal stuff, sins included.

When it happens, it happens in a fairly natural way. No one has to force this new level of spiritual intimacy. Someone in the group is in pain, and finds she or he loves and trusts the others enough to courageously speak about the details of the ongoing struggle.

The other group members, in turn, hear this beloved individual’s words without judgment, offering to do what they can to draw God’s healing, forgiving grace into the situation.

Once the group becomes comfortable with such moments happening, it also is time to take more seriously what has formally driven accountability in small groups for centuries, the asking of agreed-upon questions. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, provided recommended lists of questions throughout his ministry. There were 22 accountability questions in the “Holy Club” he and his brother Charles established in 1729.

These questions remain useful, and modern lists abound, too. One of my favorite accountability questions is at the end of Chuck Swindoll’s list of seven for male clergy: “Have you just lied to me?” Apparently pastors might hedge or lie in answering the first six, but surrender on the seventh.

If you don’t understand the level of trust and love that develops in a healthy small group, questions and accountability probably sound terrifying. Just remember, you won’t be drawn into mutual accountability until the group is ready and willing, and when that happens, the moment will be a joy, not a burden.

As I mentioned in Day 2 of this series, the level of closeness that develops, improperly understood, can cause a group to stop drawing new people in. Properly understood, these bonds should be the great motivator for reaching out to others.

God’s healing, forgiving love, transmitted via the Holy Spirit within the group, is the great gift we are called to share!

Lord, give us deep Christian relationships, the kind where we can grow into the people you would have us be. Amen.


Note: It has come to my attention that some people don’t fully understand how links work within an online article. You can click on places where the text changes color, and another window will open, giving you more details.

Small Groups, Day 3

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Peter 2:2-3 (NLT): “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.”


I’m going to say what you probably expect a pastor to say about core practices in a small group: We need to read our Bibles and pray for each other.

I hope I can also clearly communicate how prayer and Scripture take on new life in the context of a small group. If you find prayer difficult, or if you find sustained time in God’s word unrewarding, it may be that you’re not cut out for the life of the lone-wolf Christian. (Few are.) You need a pack.

A successful small group usually has a specific mission-within-a-mission, the overarching mission being to make and grow disciples of Jesus Christ. With that broader goal always in mind, a group might exist to focus on outreach to a particular segment of the community, or to bring people together who have the same set of skills or interests. A general exploration of the Bible and a mutual agreement to pray for each other would still be important for the education and spiritual bonding of the group, however. The Bible and prayer keep us on mission.

I can testify as to how much fun it is to explore the Bible in a small group, and how incredibly sustaining it is to know others are praying for you each day.

It’s also exciting to figure out as a group how to make that exploration. I’ve been in groups where we’ve tried various techniques. Once, a group used a book focused on the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We would read a portion during the week and discuss our questions about what we had read at our weekly meeting. It was great!

So great, in fact, that we got another book by the same author. It stunk! About four weeks in, we gave up on it, but then we tried something different, something that might sound boring to the uninitiated. We started direct study of individual books of the Bible, buying journals that contained Scripture on one page and an empty ruled space on the opposite page.

When we came together each week, we shared what we had circled, underlined, questioned and commented on. Those ruled pages were sometimes surprisingly full. And we learned a lot together. Perhaps more than anything, we learned to take Scripture very seriously—we experienced God working through the Bible to shape our attitudes and actions.

By the way, I was the only clergy in that all-male group, and the lay people had a variety of education levels. Some had been Christians for decades, others for only a short time. It was a great mix, and everyone contributed. New Christians have a particular knack for asking the difficult questions.

Yes, “read your Bible” and “say your prayers” amount to very basic advice. But they are basic for a reason, and I’m convinced we best understand why in a small group.

Tomorrow, I want to focus on what is both frightening and rewarding about small groups: achieving mutual accountability.

Lord, open your holy word to us in new, dynamic ways, and when we pray together, may we be one with your Spirit. Amen.

Means of Grace, Day 3

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”—Jesus, speaking in Matthew 6:16-8 (NLT).

I mentioned yesterday that Scripture and prayer work together in the life of the serious Christian. The same can be said of fasting. From a spiritual perspective, fasting is meaningless if not combined with Scripture and prayer.

Think of fasting as a catalyst. Spiritual disciplines performed while fasting should be more focused and effective.

Fasting is not a popular topic in a culture where Taco Bell once advertised, “Welcome to Fourth Meal.” As Americans, we tend to have easy access to what we want when we want it, be it food or other needs and wants. When we discover people among us going hungry, particularly children, we rightly see their plight as a travesty in a nation of relative abundance.

It perhaps is a little easier to talk about fasting now because so many people fast for nonspiritual reasons, to lose weight or improve blood work. Variations on the “intermittent fast” abound. At least the idea is now less-foreign in what can be a gluttonous culture.

The spiritual idea behind such self-denial is to remind ourselves of our fragility, and therefore, our dependence on God. As a Christian, it is important to be sure those hungry moments are filled with something other than food. In the right frame of mind, Scripture should leap to life and the prayer experience should become more vivid as we fast.

As Jesus said, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about. … My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” (John 4:32-24.) As followers of Christ, we similarly should focus during our fasting on aligning ourselves with the will of God and doing the work of the kingdom.

Fasting for spiritual reasons looks externally like fasting for physical reasons. The only real difference is intent. The first time I read about one version of intermittent fasting, where a person doesn’t eat after dinner until about mid-afternoon the next day, I thought to myself, “That’s just John Wesley’s 18th-century way of fasting.”

Some people have physical reasons they cannot fast from food. In such cases, it’s perfectly appropriate to abstain from other activities so as to spend more time in prayer or the Bible. Deliberately leaving the television off for an extended time would be one example.

What’s important is that we learn to put aside distractions and live in the Kingdom of God. As we fast or abstain, the contrast between this hungering world and the eternal abundance of where we are headed can be remarkable.

Lord, give us the courage to try spiritual practices that may be new to us, and please speak to us clearly as we attempt them. Amen.

Means of Grace, Day 2

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

Philippians 4:6 (NLT): Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Like Scripture, prayer is an extremely broad subject. Again, we are talking about a many-layered discipline, one with more depth to it than we can hope to explore in a lifetime.

Prayer takes time, and that causes us to shy away from a deep commitment to it. And yet, prayer also seems to interact with time in mysterious ways, making other moments more fruitful.

In one of his great sermons, “Degrees of Power Attending the Gospel,” C.H. Spurgeon spoke in 1865  of how important the “spirit of prayerfulness” was in his church, Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

“Let me entreat you never to lose it,” he said. Later in the sermon, Spurgeon exhorted his congregation this way: “Let us increase our praying as we increase our doing. I like that of Martin Luther, when he says, ‘I have so much business to do today, that I shall not be able to get through it with less than three hours’ prayer.’ Now most people would say, ‘I have so much business to do today, that I must only have three minutes’ prayer—I cannot afford the time.’ But Luther thought that the more he had to do the more he must pray, or else he could not get through it. That is a blessed kind of logic—may we understand it!”

Like so many spiritual activities, the only way we can understand prayer is to actually pray. If we over-intellectualize the process, seeking to understand everything before we begin, we will never give this work of piety the time it deserves.

Prayer is very much about submitting ourselves to the will of God. Too often, we see prayer as our effort to get God to do what we want, when instead we first need to be sure we are aligned with what God wants. For me, anyway, it has been important to get to a place where I’m allowing the Spirit to enter.

I am far from being an expert on prayer. All I can do is offer what has helped me as a person who has struggled with sustained prayer through the years. I certainly make sure to praise God in prayer and lift up petitions, but I have become more comfortable with prayer as I’ve combined it with Christian meditation, a deliberate effort to set my shallow desires aside so God can shape me.

I will not go into great detail about this meditative aspect of prayer—your details may differ from mine. I will say that location, posture and breathing are important. The place of prayer must be quiet and feel connected to God. The posture needs to be reverent and submissive, but also comfortable enough to not be distracting. The breathing needs to be slow, deep and deliberate.

If you feel the need to be led through prayer, there are all sorts of guides, ancient and modern, and many of them build in time for meditation or reflection. “A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God,” by Norman Shawchuck and Rueben P. Job, is one of my favorites. Combining prayer with Scripture, which go together like ice cream and hot fudge, this particular guide keeps me in the flow of the lectionary, used in particular by some preachers as they work their way through the church season.

As you commit to a deeper prayer life, promise me this: Expect something big to happen. You may find yourself shaken into a bold new life—for an example, see Acts 4:23-31.

That’s the kind of prayer experience that changes not just us, but the world around us.

Lord, bless us with a deep desire to pray, and bless us continually as we pray. Amen.