21 Days of Prayer to Start 2020

Happy New Year!
Tomorrow brings the year 2020, and with it, the 21 Days of Prayer. To help you connect with Christ during the first twenty-one days of 2020, we encourage you to:

1. Fast from something

For the past month, we have been encouraging you to ask God to show you something in your life you have allowed to come before Him and to fast from it for the 21 Days. So if you haven’t made a plan yet for what to fast, take a moment today to decide what to cut out for the next three weeks. Perhaps it should be sugar, TV, social media, the news, or even feed for one day each week.
If you’ve already made a decision from what to fast, plan to begin tomorrow. And share with at least one person, whether your spouse or someone from your Growth Group, from what you have chosen to fast.

2. Use the Daily Devotionals

Every day during this 21-day spiritual journey, we will send you a devotional to your inbox. If you already get our weekly News & Notes email, you’re all set! If not, sign up here. Each email will have thoughts from Pastor Erin, a Scripture passage (usually a chapter of the Bible) to read, and a suggested prayer that is designed to simply start your own prayers with God.

If you’d rather receive the devotionals in podcast form (to listen while you drive to work or get ready for your day), add this URL into your favorite podcasting app:

https://weareriverwood.org/category/21-days-podcast/feed

3. Come to the Sunday Worship Gathering

Lastly, because this is a church-wide spiritual journey, do everything you can to make it to our Worship Gatherings at Droste Hall at 10:00 am each Sunday. We will be studying the Lord’s Prayer and the context around it each Sunday in our Teach Us To Pray series. I really think it is going to help your prayer life as we go through these twenty-one days together.

Two Other Notes:

#1. If you have a friend who is not part of the Riverwood family, but would have interest in being part of the 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting with us, send them this link.
#2. We will be taking a break from the blog during these 21 Days. We are pouring our time in creating content into the daily devotionals, Growth Group guides, and our Sunday Worship Gatherings. We’ll resume posting on the blog on Jan 23.

Reducing Spiritual Amnesia

Reducing Spiritual Amnesia

Happy Reformation Day, everyone!

Erin here. I am SO excited about the new email-only series we are starting today called “What I Am Learning.” This four-week series will feature a different member each week of our Riverwood family sharing with you what he or she is currently learning from God.

Matt & CassyFirst up is Matt Townsley. Many of you know, Matt is the husband of Cassy and father to Caleb, Tyler, Nathan, and Keely. Matt was just commissioned this past Sunday as the newest elder of the Riverwood family, so it seems very appropriate to let Matt have the stage first to shine the light on what God has been teaching him.

Enjoy!


by Matt Townsley

When Moses went up the mountain for forty days in Exodus 32, God’s people were getting antsy, and started to build idols. Exodus 32:8a summarizes this sad turn of events:

“They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them.”

How could the ancient Israelites forget God’s goodness in such a short amount of time? They had just seen God miraculously bring them out of Egypt, yet just a few short weeks later, they had “turned aside.” It was a classic case of spiritual amnesia.

As it turns out, I often suffer from this disease as well.

My Own Spiritual Amnesia

In the past three years, my family has experienced a tremendous amount of change: adopting two kids, having another child of our own, moving to a new city, and (for me) starting a new job. Thankfully, through each change, God has provided His consistent goodness and provision.

However, like the Israelites, I have experienced doses of spiritual amnesia. Following each answered prayer through each of these life-changes in the past three years, I found myself starting from ground zero again, wondering how, when and even if, God would provide again “this time.”

For those of you who do not know, Cassy and I adopted two of our boys from Florida in a six-month time period in 2016-17. Agency fees, attorney bills, and travel expenses were a heavy financial burden. Cassy will be the first to tell you we almost did not adopt, because I, the math-minded-money-manager, didn’t see how it could possibly add up. However, through gracious donations, a foundation focused on helping adoptive families, and some government tax credits, all of our costs were covered. God provided in a BIG way! Yet I still found myself doubting if God would look after my family’s daily bread in the ensuing months.

Fast forward to Spring 2018 when I accepted a job at the University of Northern Iowa, which meant we needed to sell our house in Mt. Vernon and find a house in Waverly. When our house in Mt. Vernon sold quickly, we were thrilled. Yet I still found myself doubting if God would provide in such a tight market. In fact, the first house we bid on in Waverly fell through due to the seller taking the house off the market. All I could think was, “God, why?” Nearly one week later, God provided in a BIG way, through a quick sale of the house we currently reside.

How to Reduce Spiritual Amnesia

As I ponder about these past moments, I notice a recurring theme: I would utter an “after-the-fact prayer” filled with thanksgiving (which sounded like “Dear God, you are better to us that we deserve…”) followed a week later by an idol-building, self-dependent, doubting-God attitude. With a healthy dose of spiritual amnesia in tact, it has been consistently easier to thank God retroactively rather than have proactive faith in His goodness.

As such, I have learned several things about trusting God as a means of reducing spiritual amnesia:

1. God knows best.

In his book, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, Jerry Bridges says, “God in His love always wills what is best for us. In His wisdom He always knows what is best, and in His sovereignty He has the power to bring it about.” Nearly every time I wonder why God closed one door, He later revealed a new door that honors His will for our family.

2. Trusting God is a marathon, not a sprint.

James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Other translations substitute “perseverance” for steadfastness. I am admittedly a slow learner in many areas of life, but slowly learning yields spiritual benefits. So keep trusting God even when you are unsure of what the future holds.

3. The more I know about God, the easier it is to trust Him.

I don’t know about you, but the more time I spend with family, friends and co-workers, the easier I find it is to trust them. Psalm 37:4-6 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” Reading God’s word reduces the temptation to depend upon myself and increases opportunities to learn about His desires for my heart.

I hope and pray you will be a quicker student than I by trusting God and remembering His goodness, so you will not suffer the same doses of spiritual amnesia that has plagued me in recent years.

Praying Scripture

Praying Scripture

By Erin Bird

Before we get to this week’s content, I just need to take a moment and share that I’m really excited about the new series we are starting next Thursday here in the News & Notes. I’m calling the series “What I’m Learning.”

What has me so excited about this series is that you will NOT be hearing from me. Rather, you will be hearing from some of our own Riverwood family! And their job is simple: to share what God is teaching them during this season in their lives.

My hope is that by hearing how God is working in different individuals in our church family, it will encourage you in your own spiritual walk. So be sure to open up next week’s email as our new elder, Matt Townsley, kicks the series off.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

The End of Bible Study
Okay, I admit. That’s a misleading subtitle. Of course I do not want to see you come to the end of studying the Bible. (If I did, I wouldn’t have bothered doing a 7-week series on the topic!) But this week IS the end of our series on various Bible Study methods.

And if I’m being truly honest with you and with myself, this week’s topic isn’t exactly a Bible study method. It won’t help you understand the context, or  go deep with a word, or even help you become more familiar with the Bible through repetition. But it will help you go deeper in your faith through the Scripture. And as you most likely already know because of the image above and the title of this week’s article, what I am talking about is using the Bible to guide your prayers.

Letting God’s Words Guide Your Words
I don’t know about you, but every once in a while, I have a desire to pray, but I don’t quite know what to say or how to say it. So why not let God’s eternal words guide your words in the moment? In other words, let the Scripture give you the words to pray.

For instance, last Sunday I taught from Hebrews chapters 3 and 4. Let’s take very last portion of that passage (4:14-16) to see what “praying the Scripture” might look like. First, here’s the passage:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

And here’s what you might pray:

“Heavenly Father, I thank you for Jesus, Your Son and my great high priest, who passed through the heavens and the cross for me. Help me, Father, to hold fast to my confession of the gospel. I confess my need for Jesus at all times. And Jesus, I thank you for becoming human so that I would know you are able to sympathize with my weaknesses, knowing what I face and go through each day. And yet, even though you knew what it was like to be tempted like I am tempted, you went through this life without sin. And so because you are so great, and also so loving, help me to draw near your throne of grace with confidence – confidence that I will receive mercy. Confidence I will receive grace. Confidence you will be with me in my time of need. And confidence that you will answer my prayers perfectly.”

Prayer Tips
praying hands on Bible1. Let the Scripture guide.
Don’t feel like you have to force anything or get flowery in your speech. If you don’t quite know what to say next, let the next verse or phrase lead you.

2. Don’t force the Scriptures to be a script.
Praying Scripture does not mean ONLY reciting back the words of the Bible to God. Rather, it is about allowing the Scriptures to guide your heart and mind to know what to say to God and connect with Him.

3. Use a good Bible translation.
While I use the ESV (English Standard Version), for both preaching and personal reading, some people find the slightly-more-theological language of the ESV a bit harder to read than others. So use a version of the Bible that is reliable, yet readable. The versions I tend to recommend to people (other than the ESV) are:
Praying Scripture

By Erin Bird

Before we get to this week’s content, I just need to take a moment and share that I’m really excited about the new series we are starting next Thursday here in the News & Notes. I’m calling the series “What I’m Learning.”

What has me so excited about this series is that you will NOT be hearing from me. Rather, you will be hearing from some of our own Riverwood family! And their job is simple: to share what God is teaching them during this season in their lives.

My hope is that by hearing how God is working in different individuals in our church family, it will encourage you in your own spiritual walk. So be sure to open up next week’s email as our new elder, Matt Townsley, kicks the series off.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

The End of Bible Study
Okay, I admit. That’s a misleading subtitle. Of course I do not want to see you come to the end of studying the Bible. (If I did, I wouldn’t have bothered doing a 7-week series on the topic!) But this week IS the end of our series on various Bible Study methods.

And if I’m being truly honest with you and with myself, this week’s topic isn’t exactly a Bible study method. It won’t help you understand the context, or  go deep with a word, or even help you become more familiar with the Bible through repetition. But it will help you go deeper in your faith through the Scripture. And as you most likely already know because of the image above and the title of this week’s article, what I am talking about is using the Bible to guide your prayers.

Letting God’s Words Guide Your Words
I don’t know about you, but every once in a while, I have a desire to pray, but I don’t quite know what to say or how to say it. So why not let God’s eternal words guide your words in the moment? In other words, let the Scripture give you the words to pray.

For instance, last Sunday I taught from Hebrews chapters 3 and 4. Let’s take very last portion of that passage (4:14-16) to see what “praying the Scripture” might look like. First, here’s the passage:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

And here’s what you might pray:

“Heavenly Father, I thank you for Jesus, Your Son and my great high priest, who passed through the heavens and the cross for me. Help me, Father, to hold fast to my confession of the gospel. I confess my need for Jesus at all times. And Jesus, I thank you for becoming human so that I would know you are able to sympathize with my weaknesses, knowing what I face and go through each day. And yet, even though you knew what it was like to be tempted like I am tempted, you went through this life without sin. And so because you are so great, and also so loving, help me to draw near your throne of grace with confidence – confidence that I will receive mercy. Confidence I will receive grace. Confidence you will be with me in my time of need. And confidence that you will answer my prayers perfectly.”

Prayer Tips
praying hands on Bible1. Let the Scripture guide.
Don’t feel like you have to force anything or get flowery in your speech. If you don’t quite know what to say next, let the next verse or phrase lead you.

2. Don’t force the Scriptures to be a script.
Praying Scripture does not mean ONLY reciting back the words of the Bible to God. Rather, it is about allowing the Scriptures to guide your heart and mind to know what to say to God and connect with Him.

3. Use a good Bible translation.
While I use the ESV (English Standard Version), for both preaching and personal reading, some people find the slightly-more-theological language of the ESV a bit harder to read than others. So use a version of the Bible that is reliable, yet readable. The versions I tend to recommend to people (other than the ESV) are:

4. Use most of the Bible.
Lastly, there are quite a few passages throughout the Bible that can guide you in prayer, but realize  passages like genealogy (such as Genesis 5) or heavily historical sections (such as the rest of Genesis) will be difficult as prayer guides. Instead,

  • let the Psalms be your prayers (since many of them are prayers!).
  • Allow the Epistle’s (the letters in the New Testament) to guide you to pray through the Gospel.
  • Make Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount your heart-searching prayers.

Don’t  just open to a random spot and start praying. Otherwise you might get frustrated trying to pray through Matthew’s begats.

In Conclusion
I hope you’ll take some time this week to pray through the Scriptures, letting them guide your words to our Heavenly Father. Occasionally, when I pray through the Bible, I find it very refreshing, and every once in a while I see something in the Scripture I haven’t noticed before.

Also, I hope that of the handful of Bible study methods we have looked at these past 7 weeks, at least one of them has (or will) help you go deeper in your faith through a study of God’s word. After all…

“All scripture is breathed out of God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

May you find great joy in Jesus through studying God’s Word!

God’s Presence Brings True Joy

by Erin Bird

Well, it’s here – the last gasp before the school year begins. Teachers reported back to the classroom this past Monday here in the Waverly-Shell Rock district and students show up tomorrow. Surrounding districts are starting around this same time as well. If you are a Jesus-follower, would you just take a moment to pray for the students, teachers, staff, and administrators of your local school system?

Also, Wartburg students are starting to show up. Many fall athletes are already on campus, freshmen and transfer students show up next week with returning students not far behind. Their classes begin on Wednesday, Sept 4. Would you join me in praying for the students, staff, and faculty? Also, pray God would give Riverwood the joy of loving on and investing in some Wartburg students this year.

Continuing Our Series

Last week, I began a new blog series based on a prayer found in the book Gospel by J.D. Greear. If you need a refresher, here is the prayer:

“Heavenly Father, in Christ, I know there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less. Help me realize Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy. Just as you have been to me, so I will be to others. And Heavenly Father, as I pray, help me measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”

Last week, we looked at the first phrase, which means this week I want to take a few moments to look at that second sentence: “Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.”

Finding Joy, Fading Joy

If you have ever been infatuated with a boyfriend or girlfriend, you know the joy you found just by being with that special person. You didn’t have to have big plans to go do something in order to have fun. Simply hanging out, eating food, and even watching stupid movies was enough to make you happy.

But even if you marry that special person, more times than not, the feeling fades. There’s a house that needs cleaned, bills that need paid, and careers that need attention. No longer is the simple presence of the other person enough. The joy you felt during the early days of dating has faded.

This leads many people to search for joy in other places. Some look for it in a hobby, others in a sports team, some through vacations, some through their career, and unfortunately some look for joy in the arms of another person.

This sad story parallels what happens in many spiritual lives. Some people, when they believe the gospel, find such joy just being in God’s presence. If you follow Jesus, perhaps that was your experience. Do you remember it? Singing to Jesus, talking to Him in prayer, even reading the Scripture were such effortless tasks because it was more about God’s presence than anything else.

But then life happened. You got asked to do nursery duty at church, or recruited to serve at the Food Bank, or your co-worker dumped their emotional burdens on you, or the kids got sick, or the bill collectors kept calling, or you got extremely tired of that one song being played over and over on the radio, and eventually the joy you felt in God’s presence waned.

For many people, when their joy in Jesus fades, they turn to other things: Netflix, shopping, dating relationships, work, substances… anything that might give them some spark of happiness. But as we all know, the joy of these “idols” wanes even more.

So what is Jesus-follower to do?

Keep Going with the Gospel

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Jesus-followers in Colassae, writes “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2:6)

Now, if you follow Jesus, re-read that verse, and as you do, ask yourself: How did you receive Jesus? The answer is “Through the Gospel!” So next ask: how are you to “walk in him” (i.e. follow Jesus)? Again, the answer is “Through the Gospel!”

In other words, as you keep peering into the Gospel, studying it, contemplating it, treasuring it, and thanking God for it, you realize the significant sacrifice Jesus made for you through the cross shows how much He loves you. And when you realize just how much He loves you, you find you WANT to be in His presence, for it alone gives you everlasting joy.

Getting Off the Approval Treadmill

But J.D.’s prayer doesn’t just say that God’s presence is all we need for everlasting joy. It says that God’s presence and approval are what we need.

You know, it’s funny: us humans spend so much time chasing joy in anything but God, yet we feel shackled by some sort of internal religiosity. We screw up – we drink too much, or blurt out Jesus’ name in vain, or think really evil thoughts against someone, or spread some unfounded gossip or watch some videos we know we shouldn’t view – so we try to make it up with God by going to church, or posting a Bible verse on social media, or spending some time reading the Bible, or even donating some money to the poor widow down the street. It makes us feel a little better about ourselves (which means God must be feeling a little better about us as well, right?). But then we screw up again, and the cycle continues.

It’s like we are caught on an approval treadmill – trying to get closer to God by earning His approval, but due to our sinful screw ups, we don’t seem to be making any progress.

If this is you, listen up: There is nothing you can do to earn more of God’s approval. God’s approval of you isn’t based on anything you do, rather it is based upon what Jesus has done. This is the scandal of grace.

Our spiritual enemy tries to whisper to us that God isn’t happy with us, and that we have to somehow re-earn His trust and affection. “If I am going to please God, I have to do more religious things,” we think to ourselves. But the doctrine of atonement corrects this lie by teaching us that when God looks at those who believe in Jesus, He doesn’t see their sin, He sees the righteousness of Christ. This is what the Apostle Paul expressed in Philippians 3:8-9:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

Paul knew his religious efforts to please God fell completely short of simply knowing Jesus. Instead, he needed to accept Christ’s death on the cross for him, and allow the righteousness of Jesus be counted as his righteousness. Because of what Christ did, Paul knew he had God’s approval, and so therefore he could experience full joy.

So if you are a Jesus-follower, may you this week pray to God, thanking Him that His presence and approval is all you need for everlasting joy!

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