“I have never prayed fervently for 40 days and not seen some earth-shattering, window-rattling, life-altering God event and I want that for you. God will show us so clearly that He is at work, when we’re faithful to seek him–that’s what breakthrough prayer is all about.”
– James MacDonald
Sooner or later, life brings all of us to a new level of need that inspires a new level of prayer. Today, God is inviting you to pray powerfully with the confident expectation that He will answer. Yet many times our prayers fall flat because we are afraid God won’t.It’s not that praying fails… it’s that we fail to pray. God promises that if you meet the biblical requirements of prayer, you can be 100% certain He will answer you.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy (Matthew 2:10, esv).
Have you ever noticed how Christmas can sometimes feel disappointing? After all the buildup, after all the weeks of investment and preparation and growing excitement, it’s usually not quite as picturesque and ideal as you’d envisioned it being.
The wise men may have found themselves feeling a little that way.
We don’t actually know a lot about the wise men. We don’t know, for instance, how many there were. We tend to think three, but that’s only because of the three gifts they brought. We don’t know exactly where they came from, except that they came from “the east” (Matthew 2:1) and that they were looking for a king—“he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). We also don’t know the mode of travel they used in heading toward Jerusalem, or what they wore, how they looked, or how long this journey took them.
But we do know they ended up at a house, most likely just a common bungalow—which wasn’t where you’d expect a king to be living. They also found this “king of the Jews” to be no more than a child, which you’d think would have surprised them because of the majesty of the star that had led them to Him.
Having traveled probably thousands of miles, having put so much of themselves into this major pursuit, it had brought them not to a castle but to a modest little home. Not to a strong, full-grown ruler, but to just a little baby.
Wouldn’t that have been a bit of a letdown? A disappointment?
Instead they found it cause for rejoicing. “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”
Joy is something inside of you that doesn’t depend on what’s around you. Joy is unrelated to what is happening in your life. Joy is not waiting for all your plans to come together perfectly before it’s able to kick in. You can experience it and possess it no matter what your circumstances have turned out to be.
And when you do—when real joy is in your heart—it can’t help but come out as rejoicing. Rejoicing is the verbal expression of joy. It’s not something you can do if joy is not what you’ve put inside, but if you’ve chosen joy independent of what’s outside, not only are you able to rejoice, but you can do it “exceedingly with great joy.”
So this Christmas, you can be guaranteed not to be disappointed. You can be the one in your home and among your family who leads the way in rejoicing. You may be tired, like the wise men were tired. You may end up with a result that doesn’t exactly resemble what you had in mind.
But just as the wise men approached that house with joy, and there discovered the unique privilege of worshiping at the little feet of Baby Jesus—you, too, will be able to take what this Christmas gives you and rejoice your way through every moment, “exceedingly with great joy.”
Lord God, thank You for creating us with a capacity for joy. Thank You for making us able to experience a supernatural delight in You, in Your personhood, in Your purposes, and in Your people. You are working in me at this time of the year, at this time in my life, in ways that are good, because You are good. Help me then rejoice over them as opportunities to learn of You and become more like You, in Jesus’ name, amen.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1–2, esv).
They say it was Halley’s Comet.
Or they say it was the convergence of Saturn and Jupiter, sparkling with unusual brightness because of their planetary alignment in the nighttime sky.
They say it might even have occurred within the constellation Pisces—the zodiac sign of the fish—as if this part of the hypothesis should make Christians feel adequately patronized, if we insist on reading a mystical meaning into the “star” of Matthew 2. They say it was for sure uncanny, though not unheard of.
What they don’t say—what they will never say—is what it truly was: A MIRACLE!
But wouldn’t “miracle” actually make a lot more sense? Doesn’t all of creation shout “Creator”? Doesn’t the galactic choreography of the heavens declare that Someone did this? Is there really a more plausible explanation for the universe than what the Bible simply comes out and says—that God spoke the whole thing into existence?
And if He’d already made more stars than could ever be counted, how hard would it have been for Him to make another one—and then to move it around, to put it exactly where He wanted, exactly when He wanted it to be there?
We at least know the wise men considered this star worth investigating. It obviously went beyond their understanding of astronomy. Maybe they knew of some of the Old Testament prophecies, like this one which had been spoken centuries before: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). They knew enough to be amazed.
So they would never have bought the notion that nothing miraculous was taking place, or that this star didn’t make reference to a king to be worshiped—any more than they bought Herod’s lunatic line about, “When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him” (Matthew 2:8). These wise men weren’t fools enough to believe his lies or explain it all away.
Neither should we be. May God forgive us the arrogance of translating our postage stamp’s worth of total knowledge into rational explanations for everything we see. The greatest rationality of all is the recognition that rationality itself is incomplete as a way of knowing. There is a supernatural part that outweighs and outsmarts us. There is a God far more powerful than the theories of any high school science teacher or university professor.
I don’t know how a star of such significance appeared in the eastern sky. I don’t know how it “came to rest over the place where the child was” (Matthew 2:9)—not over a city, not over a block, not over a street, but over a house. We’re not really told, so we apparently don’t need to know.
Except that it was a MIRACLE. Something miraculous happened. And the proper response is not skepticism or rational explaining but adoring worship.
Father, I believe in Your miracles. I believe You can do exceedingly beyond whatever my mind can understand and process. I’m thankful for the knowledge You’ve revealed, but I realize it leaves me drastically incomplete in grasping how You’ve made everything to operate. Nothing is known that You do not know. And I choose to worship You rather than question You, because You have given me faith to believe, in Jesus’ name, amen.
To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12, esv).
One of the real joys of Christmas is being able to give gifts to children. The adults on your giving list may be politely appreciative. They may show genuine thanks for your thoughtfulness. But there may not be a more visible expression of excitement than that of a little kid opening up the Christmas present you’ve picked out for them.
But think of this: When you give something to a child, you don’t try to make it complicated. You want to make it simple. And God does the same thing. In making His gifts known to us, He can hardly be any more basic.
All we have to do is bow to Him.
When you get down to it, that’s what life is really all about. Every person is given the opportunity to examine the evidence that points to God as Creator—King over all He’s created—and to Jesus Christ, our Savior from sin. Having studied these things and reflected on them, we’re able to arrive at the life-changing conclusion that He is everything He declares Himself to be.
And we bow—willingly. It’s that simple.
Now the Bible uses a number of words for it. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9). “Receive him,” as the Word says in John 1:12, and you can “become children of God.”
But the various terms all generally communicate the same thing. They’re different ways of describing how you bow to the Lord—“with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Life at its essence hinges on one straightforward question: Have you bowed your knee to Jesus Christ? The Baby, who became a Man, a Savior, and a King, offers the free, uncomplicated gift of eternal life to everyone who will believe, receive . . . and bow.
The time will eventually come, of course, when “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” when “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11, nasb). Every knee will be forced to the ground in acknowledgment of His sovereignty and authority. And there won’t be a second chance.
But how awesome that He has given us this window of a human lifetime in which to willingly bow. It’s not that hard. It’s certainly not that complicated. And yet in accepting it, we become like a kid on Christmas morning, opening the one simple gift that’s better than all the rest.
Lord, I choose to bow to You again today. Though nothing could be more foolishly arrogant than ignoring or resisting Your rule over me, I’ve chosen at times to feel entitled to my independence. But thank You for not letting me stand there. Thank You for not letting me hold to that position. Thank You for giving me the simple alternative, in any situation, to accept the reality of who I am and who You are. I do it now, at Jesus’ feet, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray . . . ” (Luke 11:1–2, esv).
Roughly 60 percent of Americans claim they pray daily. Another nearly 20 percent claim to pray weekly. Those statistics suggest that all kinds of praying is going on, yet there also seems to be evidence that what we call “prayer” doesn’t really fit God’s definition or expectations. If we dig under people’s reports about praying a lot, we would discover that many are going through the motions, treating prayer the same way they approach rolling dice. Many feel frustrated about prayer even as they try to practice it. They often mention prayer without actually addressing God. When they do voice their prayers, they are talking to someone they don’t even know. To them, God is the complete stranger on the street they might ask for help if things get bad enough. How sad and empty prayer must feel for many of them—for many of us.
As we develop the core disciplines of a sincere faith, we must include work on prayer. Even those of us who have grown up around praying people need instruction. And who better to talk to us about prayer than Jesus Christ?
The twelve disciples spent three years hanging out with Jesus. They watched Him, traveled with Him, and listened to Him. There is no record they ever asked Him, “Lord, teach us to teach,” even though He was a master teacher. Not once did they say, “Lord, teach us how to do miracles,” though we know He worked awesome wonders. As far as we know, the disciples’ only request like this was, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
With a front row seat to the life of Jesus Christ, what truly captured the disciples’ attention was His prayer life. Jesus had a habit of retreating from the demanding crowds and spending time alone with His Father in conversation, as seen in Mark 1:35. “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Exposed to Jesus 24/7, the disciples concluded, “The thing we’ve got to figure out is the prayer thing. Jesus has that going on!”
Really it’s not so surprising that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, eternally in perfect communion with the Father, prioritized prayer. Jesus responded to the disciples’ request by introducing what we now call the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2–4, see also the longer version recorded in Matthew 6:9–13).
Let’s camp today on the disciples’ request. They not only went to the right instructor, but they also went with the right intent. This was more than a plain “how-to” request; it was a “give-us-the-desire-to-pray” petition. After noting a pattern of prayer in Jesus’ life, they longed to see it replicated in their own lives. They saw Jesus slip out of the house to pray in the early morning while they rolled over for a little more sleep. They watched Jesus stop to thank His Father at various times, drawing attention to the bigger picture (see Jesus’ conversation with His Father outside Lazarus’s tomb, John 11:41–42).
Yes, they wanted direction from Jesus regarding prayer, but they also wanted motivation. Before He even gave them the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer, He graciously encouraged them with the words, “When you pray.” Not “if you pray,” but “when you pray”—because Jesus knew the disciples would pray. Driven by circumstances or as a spiritual discipline, the disciples would be talking to the Father in prayer.
They needed that expectation as much as we do. Our failure to pray rarely rises from lack of technique or subject matter. We often fail at prayer because we don’t keep at it. We try prayer but quickly give up. Yet prayer is the breathing of our spiritual life. Just as we can’t afford to stop pulling air into our lungs, so we also can’t survive spiritually without the healthy respirations of prayer.
When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,” that simple request was in and of itself a prayer. Make that your persistent prayer for a few days. Ask Him out loud. If a specific direction or thought doesn’t come to mind, then read and reflect on the Lord’s Prayer. Spin off from certain lines of Jesus’ prayer, and expound with your own words. By giving us a model, Jesus wasn’t inviting rote repetition; He was offering a healthy pattern. Just as He taught His disciples to pray, so He is willing to teach us all things (John 14:26)—including how to pray.
Lord, teach me to pray. When I open my eyes in the morning, teach me to pray. When my head rests on the pillow at night, teach me to pray. When troubles, successes, sadness, and joy come my way, teach me to pray. When I fear, teach me to pray. When I am calm and resolved, teach me to pray. When I plan and when I fail, teach me to pray. And when I consider how very little time I have left on this earth, O Lord, teach me to pray. In Jesus’ name always, amen.