Being with the Father

Why is it important that I relate to the Father?

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During the holiday season of 2018 the Lord impressed upon my heart that in 2019 I would learn what it is to “abide with the Father.”

As I considered this thought, I realized that I am actually not that familiar with the Father God. I have experienced Him, I have talked to Him, I have come to Him with needs; but I have not been with Him.

By abiding, I mean resting with awareness of His presence; like one would with a close friend on a road trip together. They may not speak or even look at each other the whole time, but simply delight in being together.

I have experience in abiding with Jesus; He is easy to relate to in my brokenness. He Himself is human, so He has a face that is easy to visualize in prayer. He is well acquainted with all my trials and temptations, and His compassion is clearly seen in His life on the earth.

I have experienced abiding with the Holy Spirit; His nearness is the most experiential aspect of my Christian journey. I have felt His presence through the highs and lows of my life. I have seen His power move through me in the lives of others with intercession, prophecy, and healing.

The Father, I discovered, is intimidating to me. To be honest, I don’t fully trust the Father. I know that He is faithful in my understanding (my mind), but my heart experiences another reality. A father figure, in my experience, is distant and easily upset. He has the authority to send me to my room without dinner or even kick me out of the house. This produces fear of punishment when relating to the Father.  

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As a prayer room in our region, we value the presence of God. It is because of our strong conviction that God is a good Father that we gladly devote our lives. In His presence is fullness of Joy. This is where peace abides and freedom reigns. David wrote in the Psalms that God’s presence fills the praises of His people. With this key revelation, we are inspiring the Church. This is our invitation to the body. “Come into His presence with praise!” This invitation is to all! God’s presence transcends our race, age, social status, etc. In the Father’s acceptance we cease from striving; we cease from bickering over theology. His love levels the playing field. We are all sons and daughters, loved by our Father for no other reason besides being His children.

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So I am learning to rest in the Father; I am learning to experience his love for me and his desire for me. It is from this space that I will move beyond my hesitations of how I related to my earthly father and powerfully experience my true self as a child of the good Father.

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Zack Roberts — zackroberts.blog
Operations Director of Ember



Breath Prayers :: The Classic Jesus Prayer

"Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me."

What God communicates to us through His servant Paul, " to pray without ceasing," is a daunting command to most. We already feel the challenge of staying focused on the Lord in a set aside time of focused prayer, and then God wants more; that we would be continually in prayer.

Famed author of contemplative works, Henri Nouwen, describes this command as continually resting in the awareness of God's presence. Prayer is Friendship with God.

In reflection on the simplicity of prayer being an awareness of God's presence, I wondered then; how are we to stay continually aware of His nearness? There are many great practices that are available to us through the works of fantastic saints and mystics throughout history. I will briefly expound upon one of these in this article.

"Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner"

Breath prayers have been a practice that has served the lives of christians for centuries. It is simply taking a verse from scripture, or perhaps a prayer inspired from scripture, though I personally recommend using a verse. It is helpful for it to be one sentence.

You relax your body; breath in the first phrase and breath out the second phrase. You can fix your mind on the scene of scripture that the phrase derives from, if that is helpful to engage with the words.

You can repeat this exercise throughout your day. Some have set timers on their phones, others try to do this at every hour. It is a great way to calm the mind when stressed or when laying down for sleep at night. You can use this when sitting down for prayer and don't know what to pray. Often times it is helpful to steady the mind when thoughts are racing.

The goal is not to achieve some great revelation or high emotion. In fact the work of God's word upon our hearts is internal and mysterious; it often takes time. God is not in a hurry. people have testified that, in time, they find their hearts tenderized and their thoughts more easily drawn to God.

It is also not necessary to be firm with saying the phrase over and over. Often times I am led by the spirit, from the phrase, into other prayers.

"Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy upon me."

A classic breath prayer is referred to as "The Jesus Prayer." It is my favorite.

It is first seen in Mark 10:47. Blind Bartmaeus stands by the roadside, crying out to Jesus, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." Though the crowd tries to silence him, he yells out in desperation all the more. Out of His darkness Jesus heard his cry; Jesus came to him and gave him sight.

This prayer has been used with many moderations. You may use what ever feels best for you. I just recommend using God's name in any variation. May simply just be "Jesus, Son of God." I use multiple variations throughout the day. Saying God's name draws my awareness near to Him. I have found comfort in saying His name, especially in times I feel stressed or alone.

In asking God for mercy, I have discovered, fits into any situation. I am always asking for the very thing that God delights in giving. In every moment I am in need of His mercy. Acknowledging this need, brings my heart into a posture of meekness.

This breath prayer can be used as devotional or even for intercession. If you know not what to pray for a friend, you can always pray for mercy.

It has been most popular in Monasteries of the Eastern Church. In modern times, it has become more widely known through a manuscript written by an unknown Russian, "The Way of the Pilgrim." The author gives testimony of devoting himself to this prayer and experiencing transformation in his heart and mind. Throughout all of his activities he would say this prayer.

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This prayer practice is not like a "magic word." It seems that our culture is constantly looking for a quick fix to our problems and often times reaching for a fantasy of magic; like Harry Potter waving a wand. Breath prayer is simply a practice that helps us in our weakness to become aware of God. It is also not an instant fix to our weakness; rather it helps us to draw near the one who makes us whole.

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Zack Roberts — zackroberts.blog
Operations Director of Ember

God's invitation to Partnership in an Urgent Hour

The following is a repost from last year. I feel that this remains a timely word and expresses a strong conviction I have in the work that we do at Ember. Hosea 6 has been on heart this past month. Either before or after you read the article, I want to invite you to take some time, sitting with the Lord in the passage. Read it over a few times and let the Lord speak to your heart. Do any words or phrases stand out to you? Is there any place in your life that comes to mind? How would the Lord want you to respond in this moment?

Come, and let us return to the Lord;
For He has torn, but He will heal us;
He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
After two days He will revive us;
On the third day He will raise us up,
That we may live in His sight.
Let us know,
Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord.
His going forth is established as the morning;
He will come to us like the rain,
Like the latter and former rain to the earth.

God's invitation to Partnership in an Urgent Hour

The Lord is extending His hand of mercy to America; I feel His invitation for my city (and the cities across the earth) to turn to Him in repentance, through fasting, weeping, and mourning (Joel 2:12.) He is calling for more than an event, but a change of lifestyle in the lives of individuals and the gathered people of God. It is a call to walk in freedom of the Spirit and the power of Christ’s resurrection. I believe that He is awakening His Church and moving in unpresidented ways across the Globe. We are on the edge of both the greatest revival in history and the greatest shaking. The Lord is inviting the church in cities across the earth to come into alignment with His heart. As the wheat and the tares(righteousness and wickedness) mature together these cities will provide refuge and be epicenters of provision and power. How we respond as individuals in this season will dynamically impact the culture that our children are brought up into.

The Lord’s original design for man was to govern the created order on the earth through fellowship with Him. It is His nature to give the honor of reigning with Him; God has no insecurities or fear of losing power. In Revelation 4 we see that God surrounds Himself with 24 other thrones. He does not need the council of another, but He loves to open His heart and give. At the core of our authority is the indwelling Spirit of God; the very spirit of Christ abiding within our weak frame. The Lord alone gives life and sustains all things; while anything done outside of God brings death because it is disconnected from the source of life. Every day we have the choice to walk in the authority of Christ or walk apart from Him. When I am driving to work and someone cuts me off, I feel anger. In that moment I am given the choice to curse this person in anger or submit to the spirit within me and bless this person. The first is apart from christ which leads to death, while the other is with Christ which brings life. Both choices significantly impacts my heart, the environment around me, and that person. We have been given authority over the earth in spirit and and in the natural; this is why creation groans for the sons of God to be revealed. We were created to walk out authority in fellowship with God, but man has turned from God. Oh praise the Lord that He has come to restore all things in the person of Jesus Christ! He has given Himself to us; now He is accessible to every person, but it is a decision unto choice after choice to walk in obedience and fellowship with Him.

Understanding the desire in God’s heart for partnership with man shapes how we live and how we respond to the world around us. Many in the church have been responding to negative events with accusation and judgment. Though many things pointed out in society are a part of the problem and should be addressed, there is a much more deep rooted issue. I have heard few voices of humility, ownership of sin committed within the family of God, and repentance. We have turned from the ways of God. We have been given authority in christ, but have not submitted fully to Him. The church is full of compromise and sin. The Church in America is blinded by religion. Jesus said of the pharisees that because they say that they see, their sin remains (John 9:40). Predominately we think that if we are doing A,B, & C then we are okay. We feel little need or urgency to stay connected with Jesus daily. We are building economic empires that are driven by money, power, and fame. We have sold our authority to demonic principalities for comfort and momentary pleasure. Jesus’ blood has purchased men for God and Has won the victory; Yet we have a choice. We are stewards of God’s house and we have let the enemy in and have given him our swords rather than resisting and fighting back (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-18).

Throughout the bible we see God calling out to man to turn to Him in humility and repentance. He is always right there, full of mercy and grace, longing to show compassion towards all who turn to Him. The Lord wants to come alongside and help each one of us walk out of compromise and sin that are in our lives. He has promised that if we walk in His ways, His love and power will be expressed through us to the world around us. (2 Chronicles 7:14; Isaiah 30:15,18-19; Luke 18:7, 9-14; Revelation 2:5-7,16-17, 20-29)

In the book of Joel, Israel was in a critical time. Their choices were culminating to a devastating crisis. The Lord was extending an invitation to turn to Him in repentance and they would see the Lord’s deliverance and historic revival. He was calling for more than an event, He was calling for a change of lifestyle. The events in Joel’s day were a foreshadowing of the timeframe that Jesus will return. The Lord was wanting to equip His church to be victorious in partnership with Him as He overturns the antichrist system and establishes His kingdom on the earth. I’m not sure how close we are to that time, but it is evident that events, both good and bad, are escalating rapidly across the earth. And whether it’s my generation or the next, we are in a critical hour for our nation.

Fasting positions our hearts to receive love from God. It is voluntary weakness, removing momentary comforts, enabling us to more clearly feel our need for God. Jesus said that there are demonic strongholds that can only be overcome through prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21). I don’t believe He was saying that when you are confronted by a demon then you go fast for a while. I believe He was communicating to His church that it will be necessary to walk out a lifestyle of fasting to bring deliverance to our cities.

Weeping and Mourning is not a call to depression. Paul says that worldly sorrow brings death, but Godly sorrow produces repentance unto life (2Corinthians 7:10). In Matthew 5:1-10 Jesus teaches us that we need to walk in a continual awareness of our poverty of Spirit. Every day we need to be like the branch staying connected with the vine (John 15). We are a new creation, yet we are still in this current body that is dying. We are still tempted every day and need to be connected with His heart (Matthew 26:41). Only the hungry will cry out for food and only those who recognize their need for God will cry out to God. We mourn because we see the fullness of the promise in the age to come and nothing else will satisfy besides the fullness of God’s will on the earth. When we know how good and beautiful Jesus truly is, we are filled with longing to see Him face to face (Matthew 9:15). And when we know God, we perceive that He sees the suffering on the earth and it hurts His heart, this should grip our hearts too. Though we weep and mourn, we are filled with hope and rejoice.

I am excited for what is to come! The Lord is faithful and He is awakening His church in this city, region, nation, and nations of the earth. His word has promised that He will never leave us and that the church will be unified in full agreement with Him. He is a good leader who is our victorious Bridegroom King. Through the darkest hour of human history we will be victorious; walking in unprecedented love (Isaiah 60:1-2; Matthew 13:24-30; Ephesians 4:12-16; Revelation 19:7-8)

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Zack Roberts — zackroberts.blog
Operations Director of Ember

Praying for "We" the Church

In the Ember Prayer Room, we rotate through a different apostolic prayer every week. The apostolic prayers are what we see the early church praying. It is helpful to note that most of the prayers we see in the New Testament are Directed to God, positive, and primarily for the Church.

Ephesians 1:17-19Ephesians 3:16-19Philippians 1:9-11Colossians 1:9-11Romans 15:5-6, 131 Corinthians 1:4-81 Thessalonians 3:10-132 Thessalonians 1:11-122 Thessalonians 3:1-5Acts 4: 29-31Acts 2:17-21

Every time we pray them, I feel like I am prophesying the church's destiny. The early church was not asking God for some whimsical idea. They had understanding of the end of the story; Jesus, the bridegroom, will be receiving a victorious bride.

6 And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! 7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” 8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.-Rev. 19:6-8

And indeed Paul expresses what we are working towards as the body of Christ.

13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;-Ephesians 4:13

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Even recently, I can honestly say (if i can be honest) that I find myself discouraged with how we the church are relating to the poor and the broken, the marginalized. As I wrestle through this I love that I am weekly in a prayer room, accountable to this small company of people, praying for the church. There are so many moments that I am frustrated, but when we start singing phrases from passages like, "that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ," I experience affection for Christ's bride. Singing the scripture brings my awareness into the reality of this being my story. This story is one of God transforming a harlot into a queen through the fires of His love. It is a process that my own personal story is caught up in; continually receiving grace and forgiveness in the midst of my mess. This is the journey of the church. This is how I get to grow through partnership with Christ; in forgiveness and extending mercy to a people in process. 

We are in this together. When we pray for the Church, we use language like "we" and "us" rather than "them." In the same way we see the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit as three distinct persons in one; God sees us in the same reality. "that they all may be one, asYou, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us," -John 17:21. When I visualize the Church of the City of Norman, I am intentional to not visualize denominations or organizations, I see a people with multiple expressions of His heart. 

What do you think about the Church? What picture do you see the Apostolic Prayers painting? Would love to hear from you.

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Zack Roberts — zackroberts.blog
Operations Director of Ember

Simple Adoration and the Great Commission

The story of Mary anointing Jesus at Bethany is well known. She poured out a costly perfume, anointing Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The fragrance of the perfume filled the room with its pleasing aroma. She was judged and criticized for being wasteful, but Jesus speaks in her defense. And this is why this story is so well known. Jesus honors Mary and her sacrificial devotion; He says that this will be told with the gospel as it spreads across the earth throughout history. What Mary did is worth our consideration; for this was pleasing to Jesus and is linked with the Gospel being preached throughout the nations.

 Mary is not remembered and honored for doing great exploits; we have no record of her leading someone to the Lord or working any kind of miracle. I am sure she did, but this is not what the Lord wanted to communicate through her story. It was her love, her sacrificial devotion that Jesus praised and has been recorded. What sort of response does Jesus desire of us? This was my question for several years after the Lord called me into the kingdom. The Father gave up His only son, Jesus gave all of Himself, and the Holy came to dwell within the human frame. The triune God Who is transcendent and beautiful in holiness, gave all of Himself for me. Like Mary, I yearned to give Him what He desired, to give Him everything. She knew that He was about to die, that He was about to be broken. She came to Him with all that she had, her future inheritance, and broke it open as a fragrant offering of adoration. She came to Him in Her brokenness because He made Himself accessible to the broken through His humility of becoming a man and dying on the cross. This is what Jesus desires of us; this is what pleases Him. Anybody can come with their brokenness and give all; rich or poor, young or old, educated or uneducated. We can all move His heart. It is adoring Jesus in the quiet and adoring Him in our obedience that releases a pleasing fragrance; It is the fragrance of Christ released through weak and broken people. The nature of Jesus is diffused through the aroma of meekness. 

I believe the Lord is calling a busy church back to the stillness of sitting at His feet. He is calling us into our destiny; for all of eternity adoring Jesus will be our indescribable joy. He is breaking our pride with His humility. It is through gazing upon beauty that we experience deep transformation. It is simple, but takes time and focus. A lifestyle of worship will cost you everything, but you will lack nothing; for God Himself is your inheritance. As we see an acceleration of the Gospel reaching the nations with impact, we are also seeing an unprecedented rise of houses of prayer and worship across the nations. Simple adoration of Jesus shifts the atmosphere and prepares the way for the word of God to pierce hearts. The fragrance of a worship expels the stench of the enemy. There is a spiritual battle over the sons of men.The enemy blinds the hearts and minds of men like a fog of confusion; we need the Holy Spirit to move like the wind, so the people could receive the Word of God. Persuasive words and good strategy alone can not breakthrough the fog. Through adoring Jesus we prepare the way for God to move and shift the atmosphere. If we yield to the spirit, we will witness an unprecedented movement of effective laborers thrusted into the harvest. 

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Zack Roberts — zackroberts.blog
Operations Director of Ember

Prayer is Friendship with God

What comes to mind when you think of prayer?...... Do you see scheduled times of the day, lists, or perhaps you see an activity like falling on your knees? Do you see the person of Jesus, eager to talk with you?

Be honest with yourself as you consider these questions. Most of us know the "right answers," yet many of us walk away from this subject either discouraged because we think that we could be doing, or maybe feeling really good because we are doing all our scheduled times and engaged most of the time.

I think that we have over complicated the subject of prayer. Henri Nouwen, a respected author in the contemplative life, reflected on Paul's exhortation to pray without ceasing. He points out that the initial language of this verse gives this impression of "resting in His Presence." This idea totally impacted my approach to a life of prayer. We often think that the goal is to be consciously focused on God non stop. This sounds great, but is realistically impossible. Rather this language is simply an awareness of Immanuel "God with us."

This makes me think of my closest friendships. For me there is a comfort in having someone around, especially someone I enjoy. We have many moments of very focused intentional time, but if that was all we did, I would be exhausted. There is a lot of time that I spend with people close to me while doing different activities. I will be working on one thing while they are doing something else. We don't have to strive for a connection in our friendship, we simply find enjoyment in being together.

Prayer is a relationship with a real person who wants friendship. Jesus wants to talk with us, He wants to laugh at youtube videos with us, to cry with us watching the lion king, and to do the most mundane tasks with us. The vision of prayer is simply a continual awareness of Immanuel (God with us).

Schedules and lists are very helpful. There truly is a necessity of rhythms of focused time with God; just as it is necessary to regularly have intentional conversations with friends, in order to stay engaged in each other's lives.

I want to encourage you not to grade your prayer life. The Lord does not have a checklist with you. He already enjoys you and calls you friend. Know that, like a friend, He really does enjoy hearing from you and about you. He is always present and experiencing life with us; desiring us to be present and experiencing Him.

Try inviting the Holy Spirit to show you what friendship looks like.

I would love to hear any thoughts you have on what it looks like to walk in friendship with God. zack@emberhq.com

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Zack Roberts — zackroberts.blog
Prayer Director of Ember

My 3 Rhythms for Personal Retreat | Phil Rice

My [Phil Rice] Rhythms of Retreat

I had a conversation with a friend recently that led me to write out my own personal rhythms of retreat. This being the beginning of a new year, I thought this would afford us the opportunity for meaningful conversation.

I categorize my rhythms of retreat into 3 parts — daily, weekly, yearly. These rhythms have been crafted over a number of years and are always changing to meet the needs of a given season of time. I’ve also included some assessment tools that I gleaned from Tim Ferriss [found in The 4 Hour Workweek] that I have found exceedingly helpful.

Why are Rhythms of Retreat important to Practical Spirituality?

This is probably no shocker to anyone who has journeyed with me for any length of time. But I believe that our personal rhythms of rest and recovery [retreat] directly impact practical spirituality and the overarching momentum we bring to our life — mentally, physically, and of course… spiritually.

So here we go!

 

Rhythms of Retreat — Individual Assessment

Daily Rhythms – What daily rhythm(s) will brings me joy [renewal] in this season?

  • Must bring energy/inspiration/encouragement/clarity
  • Must be easily added to schedule
  • Examples: early morning with coffee, morning run, reading poetry, meditation, morning/evening walk
  • Current [Phil Rice] Rhythms include — morning rhythm of hot lemon water, Wendell Berry poetry, and some silent space to commune with God

Weekly Rhythms – What weekly rhythm will bring me joy [renewal] in this season?

  • Must bring energy/inspiration/encouragement/clarity
  • Must be consistent
  • Examples: extra early time [or extra late time] for self care – extended reading, doing a project, working in the garage, extended drive, extended time of meditation, extended time alone with God – if you’re an extrovert, just add a few people to these experiences 
  • Current [Phil Rice] Rhythms include — Monday evening yoga class with friends

Quarterly [Yearly] Rhythms – How should I retreat in this season?

  • Create quarterly [yearly] rhythms of retreat.
  • These can be just a single day at the coffee shop or a 3-4 day trip to more beautiful scenery [or even at a local airbnb].
  • Fill this space with that which things that bring you joy[renewal], along with time to plan for the coming quarter.
  • Current [Phil Rice] Rhythms include — a couple day retreat filled with reading [like, major kindle binge reading… stack em up!], access to a hot tub [if at all possible], yoga, extended quiet space for God to bring impression to my heart for the coming season
  • Note: Becky and I both try to get 1-2 of these in a year [alone… meaning… without spouse or kids]. Even if you can only swing 1x per year for each of you… totally worth it. Becky always comes back from these feeling refreshed and envisioned for not only herself, but also for our family. This rhythm for families is a total game changer. Dudes [men], it’s totally worth it. Give your wife a weekend to herself [at least] and watch it impact your family culture. You’re welcome.

 

Inventory for Quarterly [Yearly] Retreat

Observation

  1. Joy/Delight | What 20% of my responsibilities cause 80% of my overall level of joy/delight?
  2. Anxiety/Stress | What 20% of my responsibilities cause 80% of my overall level of anxiety/stress?

Practical Steps

  1. What practical ways over the next quarter [year] can I can increase my amount of joy/delight based on my answer to question 1? (activities, rhythms)
  1. What practical ways over the next quarter [year] can I mitigate the amount of stress based on my answer to question 2?
  1. Write a list over the course of your retreat of the craziest ideas [personal goals, life-giving thoughts, refreshing activities, wildest dreams] that come to mind. Toward the end of your retreat, or when you are back to normal life, take some time to determine which ideas [or some version of an idea] are plausible and exciting to think about executing in this coming season or over the coming year. Take these ideas add them to your calendar with actionable steps.

 

Thoughts?

Any of this resonate? I’d love to continue the conversation and hear your thoughts.

Thanks for journeying alongside,
Phil Rice

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Phil Rice — philrice.blog
Executive Director of Ember