Translate

Friday, November 30, 2007

Shout!

"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth" (Ps 98:4, Ps 100:1)

I can't say there are many times when I've shouted for joy to the Lord, but this week I've found that raising my voice has been extremely beneficial.

Raise a Battle Cry
The Hebrew word translated as "shout" in these verses is "rua" which literally means, "to raise a battle cry". Battle cries have two main functions. The first is to instill courage and passion in those going into the fight. The second is to put fear into the heart of the enemy.

When we're facing the storms of life, the temptation can be to emulate the disciples and cower in the bottom of the boat while we wait for the trouble to go away or for Jesus to rescue us. Whilst it is true that we must turn to the Lord in difficult times, that doesn't mean that we run away from the challenges. Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who has triumphed (Rev 5:5) and we are "more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Rom 8:37).

Our enemy wants us all to feel overwhelmed, inadequate and vulnerable so that we are of no use to the Lord. We must raise a battle cry that will strengthen our spirits and enable us to stand and take the fight to him.

Raise God Up
Ps 47:5 says that God has ascended amidst shouts of joy. When we make our battle cry we exalt the Lord and bring glory to Him. In difficult times we may not feel like being joyful but scripture tells us to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil 4:4) because when we do our focus is on El Shaddai, the almighty God who is big enough to lead us into victory in all the circumstances of our lives.

Prayer College Assignment
There are all sorts of ways to raise a battle cry that will help us to stand up under the struggles we face and win the victory. One is simply to "shout for joy to the Lord". Yes, actually raise your voice and shout out praises to God. If that is just a bit too "off the wall" for you, you might try playing some praise CDs loud enough that you can join in and let rip with everything you've got. I've found that the car is an excellent place to do this as it doesn't disturb too many people, though the family hasn't always agreed with me! Whatever you do, give it your all. Just the fact of filling your lungs with enough air to belt out a good praise song will make you feel better and confessing the truth about our awesome God will build you up spiritually.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

When You Can't Pray

"The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." (Rom 8:26)

Feeling Overwhelmed
This week we received the sad news of the sudden and untimely death of a friend. He was a towering figure in the church which he had faithfully served for many years and, together with his family, a whole congregation is left feeling bereft.

We all experience phases in our walk with God when we cannot make sense of what is going on. Loved ones pass away, illness dominates our lives or we are beset by severe financial difficulties. Tragedy is an all too common part of human existence and it almost seems sometimes as though even God has lost his mind. At such times it can become impossible to pray.

In Our Weakness
Paul tells us that, in our weakness, when we do not know how to pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us. He also tells us that Jesus Himself prays for us (Rom 8:34). No wonder he also says, "when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:10). God's power is made perfect in weakness because we have nowhere else to go. We have to cast ourselves on the Lord and trust ourselves to His compassion and His prayers for us.

My Intercessor, My Friend
Job said,

"my intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend" (Job 16:20-21).

We know the grief we feel when beloved friends are struggling with trials and tribulations. We long to be able to relieve them of their burden but cannot. We plead with God for His grace and mercy. Our dearest Friend, the Lord Jesus, feels our pain and comes to our heavenly Father and pleads with Him on our behalf with an intensity we cannot match in our most passionate prayers.

Prayer College Assignment
Whether you are experiencing personal pain or watching loved ones go through difficult times there is no fault in being unable to pray. But you can be assured that Jesus is praying and the Holy Spirit is interceding and the God of all comfort, whose name is Love, will pour out His compassion. When no other words will come, the name of Jesus on your lips is all the prayer that is needed.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pray For Me

"Pray for me." (Eph 6:19)

Paul repeatedly asked those to whom he was writing to pray for him and for those working alongside him (Col 4:3, 1 Thes 5:25, 2 Thes 3:1).

Why is it then that we sometimes find it so difficult to ask for prayer for ourselves or even for our loved ones?

Self-Sufficiency
Perhaps we want to deal with the situation in which we find ourselves without seeking extra support. Either we think we should be strong enough in ourselves and not require divine intervention at all or, if we do need some help from God, we want to believe that our own prayers are sufficient and we don't need the prayers of others. There is a word for this - pride. "I can do all things," but only through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13). It is our brothers and sisters who are the body of Christ and strength comes when we ask them to join in prayer with us for our needs. It is foolishness to think we can do it all on our own.

If the great apostle to the Gentiles, the writer of more than a quarter of the New Testament, a man who had experienced indescribable visions of glory could ask for prayer from those he had preached the gospel to, then surely we can humble ourselves to ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us in our need.

Fear
Another factor is fear. We are sometimes afraid to make ourselves vulnerable to one another because we don't want to be hurt or rejected. It is desperately sad that within the family of believers we sometimes have to be cautious about how much we share and with whom because not everyone is as trustworthy as they should be. If we have been honest with another Christian about a struggle we have faced and sought support and prayer only to be told how weak we are or to be gossiped about, it becomes so much harder to take the risk to be vulnerable again.

But this is precisely what the devil wants. He wants us to be isolated from one another, to feel that we are alone in our problems, that no-one else struggles with the same failures and sins that beset us. He knows the power of prayer and he doesn't want us to have access to the divine power which is made available through prayer. Jesus said that if we agree with one another in prayer, whatever we ask for will be done (Matt 18:19).

Prayer College Assignment
How reluctant are you to request prayer for yourself? If it is something you rarely do, try to find an opportunity to ask someone to pray for you. If you're not aware of any specific needs, simply ask them to pray one of Paul's prayers for you - that you will be filled with joy and peace (Rom 15:13). If you have a particular struggle at the moment, ask the Lord to guide you to the right person who can support you and stand with you in prayer. A mature believer will consider it a great privilege to be asked to pray for you in this way.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thy Will Be Done

It struck me with renewed force this week how easy it is for us to delude ourselves about our true desires. I wanted a particular outcome to a problem but when it was resolved I was actually disappointed. What I thought I wanted was completely different to what I found in my heart when the whole episode was over.

We've talked before about the Lord giving us the desires of our hearts and how He works with us to transform our desires so that they conform to His will. But that is only part of the story. Sometimes we simply have to make an active decision to submit our wills to the will of God.

The concept, "thy will be done," occurs in more than one place in scripture and the circumstances are quite different.

The Prayer That Jesus Taught
It appears as a line in the Lord's prayer where Jesus instructs as to pray, "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt 6:10). Though we shouldn't treat this prayer as a ritual, it is intended as a guide for us of the bases we should cover in our personal devotions.

In this context, "your will be done," indicates an ongoing attitude of heart. We are to pray continually that God's sovereign will should be fulfilled in our own lives and the lives of the people around us. To pray this prayer is to put ourselves in a place of submission to God for it says, "Lord, reign in me and in my world, day by day."

We sometimes use this little phrase when we pray because we don't know whether what we're asking for is, in fact, the will of God. We have to be careful about what we mean when we say it. If we mean, "this is what I would really like but if it's not what's best for me, please don't let me have it," then that is a mature approach to prayer. But if we mean, "it would be nice to have this but I don't really expect you will give it to me," then we are being childish and not praying in faith.

The Prayer That Jesus Prayed
Having taught this little prayer to the disciples Jesus Himself makes use of it in Gethsemane where he is battling to submit His will to that of the Father in a very specific set of circumstances, "yet not my will, but yours be done," (Lk 22:42). None of us will ever understand what it cost the Lord Jesus. But He was able to make that one-off act of submission and say, "your will be done," precisely because He had been practicing living in the will of God all His life.

If we are to take the difficult situations in our lives and submit to the will of God ourselves, we will have to develop a lifestyle of submission in the details of daily life. If we don't do that, when the crisis hits us, our instinct will be to rebel and we will have a really hard time getting our flesh to do the right thing.

It's all about learning to trust God (Prov 3:5). My experience this week has shown me my need to trust that God does work all things together for our good (Rom 8:28). I don't even know my own heart so how can I possibly know what is best for me? That's why God reveals Himself to us as our Heavenly Father. It really is a case of, "Daddy knows best."

Prayer College Assignment
We sometimes struggle to know what God's will is and consequently, how we should pray. But living in submission to Him should be our main priority. That may be hard to do but it is not complicated, "what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Mic 6:8). Determine that you are going to develop a submissive lifestyle so that when the real challenges come you will be able to pray, "thy will be done".

Friday, November 09, 2007

Feeding on Jesus

"I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again." (John 6:35, NLT)

Jesus goes on to talk about those who eat the bread of life having eternal life but we should not make the assumption that He is simply talking about our need to "feed" on Him for salvation. That is only part of the message.

Spiritually Hungry
The crowds that flocked to Jesus had been physically hungry and He fed 5,000 of them with just a few loaves and fish (v1-15). They had experienced a miracle which had satisfied their bodies, but they were not satisfied spiritually. They thought they needed another miracle (v30). Instead Jesus taught them that He is the bread from heaven and that feeding on Him is the source of eternal life (v57-58). Eternal life is not just our ultimate destiny, it is our present experience - "this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3, NIV). To feed on Jesus is to have eternal life which means to have experiential knowledge of Him today.

We all have spiritual hunger though we sometimes try to satisfy it in the wrong way. We seek the company of friends, we look for sources of entertainment, we work for wealth, possessions or status. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, but if they are a substitute for feeding on Jesus, our spiritual hunger will never be satisfied.

How Much Food Do You Need?
I have found it is essential to my well being and my ability to cope with the day that I spend a substantial amount of time fellowshipping with the Lord before I do anything else. Actually, I don't even get out of bed until I've taken time to nourish my spirit with worship and Bible reading. If I fail to do that I struggle with the day and my family suffers because I become very short-tempered rather quickly.

We've looked before at the issue of how long we should spend in prayer and I'm still an advocate of Dick Eastman's method described in his book The Hour That Changes the World: A Practical Plan for Personal PrayerIt provides an excellent outline for developing a balanced prayer life, but for many people spending an hour in prayer is not possible.

I've come to the conclusion that the right amount of time for me to spend in feeding on Jesus is however long it takes for me to feel full. There comes a point when I know my spirit has received the nourishment it needs. To finish my prayer time before that leaves me spiritually weak for the rest of the day. To go beyond the point of feeling well fed is fruitless. I gain nothing extra from spending more time trying to pray. If I feel spiritually well fed after 30 minutes there's no point carrying on for another half-an-hour just so I can tick a box that says I prayed an hour today.

Where Intercession Fits
The "feeding on Jesus" that I've described here is simply a personal devotional time. Dick Eastman includes intercession in his hour of prayer but I found very early in my Christian experience that trying to include praying for others in the same slot as praying for myself didn't work.

I would be enjoying the Lord's company and then start to feel guilty because I wasn't mentioning the needs of others. Or I would be praying for friends, family and Christian workers but feel frustrated because I was neglecting feeding on Jesus.

What I have found most beneficial is to have two separate prayer times, one for just me and the Lord at the beginning of the day and a second period later in the day which I devote solely to praying for others. That way I feel I am giving my best to both my personal relationship with the Lord and to my intercession for others.

Prayer College Assignment
Do you feel spiritually well fed when you leave your devotional times? If not, ask the Lord to satisfy your hunger for Him each time you turn to Him in prayer.

Friday, November 02, 2007

When God Says, "No."

"You don't have what you want because you don't ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don't get it because your motives are all wrong - you want only what will give you pleasure" (Jms 4:2-3 NLT).

There are all sorts of reasons why our prayers are not answered in the way we would like them to be. The first is that we often don't actually pray for what we want and I've addressed that problem in April (check out the link on the side bar). Today I want to focus on what we can learn and how we can grow through unanswered prayer.

Ask God Why
I've often heard it said that it is not helpful to ask God the "why" question and that we should simply trust Him to work in our lives in His way and in His time. Many times that is true. We all go through phases of our lives when apparently inexplicable things happen to us and it seems that the Lord has failed to respond to our cry of desperation in our darkest hour. Our faith in a loving heavenly Father is stretched and we can either grow or crumble.

However, if we are not getting answers to our prayers we need to know if there is some fault on our part, a failure in us that we can rectify in order to get us to a place where our prayers will be answered. I learned this lesson 21 years ago whilst praying for friends who desperately wanted a child but were failing to conceive.

As I prayed with Karen I felt prompted to ask the Lord to show us if there was anything hindering the answer to our prayers. The Lord gently spoke to her heart through the story of the birth of Samuel. He revealed to her that she was seeking to fulfill her own maternal desires while God wanted to give her child she could dedicate to Him. Karen responded to the Lord and within a year her own son was born and she appropriately named him Samuel. It wasn't long before she had a daughter too.

The key to Karen's prayer for a child was in her willingness to hear the Lord explain why there had not yet been an answer.

Some Reasons
There are innumerable reasons why we might be the hindrance to our own prayers, or even to the prayers other people are praying for us. We need to be open to whatever the Holy Spirit wants to communicate to our hearts about our personal walk with Him. But there are some basic problems which, it seems to me, keep recurring.

The first and perhaps most obvious is unconfessed sin. Jesus responded to the paralysed man's need for healing by saying, "your sins are forgiven" (Matt 9:1-8) and James also relates forgiveness and healing when he talks about the elders anointing the sick (Jms 5:13-16).

That is not to say that sin is always the reason for unanswered prayers in relation to sickness. In my personal experience it is sometimes a case of enforced rest. The Lord allows us to be "set aside" for a while because we need physical or spiritual refreshment and we're too wilful to take the time out without Him imposing it upon us. I've seen this happen in the lives of others too. It's as though the Lord has said, "sit down and shut up for a minute and let me talk to you." Isn't this more or less what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19).

The final thing I want to mention is that sometimes the Lord doesn't answer our prayers because we haven't yet learned all we need to learn in the situation in which we find ourselves. Perhaps we're not seeing a breakthrough in our finances because we haven't yet learned the lessons God wants to teach us about living a simple life, sacrificial giving, or trusting Him to supply all our needs. Perhaps there are problems in our marriage because we haven't learned to live out the roles defined in Scripture, our love for our partner is greater than that we have for the Lord, or we haven't truly learned to forgive.

The reasons for unanswered prayer will be uniquely personal to our individual circumstances and our walk with the Lord. But if we are prepared to ask the Lord why He hasn't responded in the way we have asked, and are willing to be humble enough to hear His voice and respond, unanswered prayer can be the key to significant spiritual growth.

Prayer College Assignment
Are you experiencing the frustration of unanswered prayer? Try praying, "Lord, is there something in me that needs to change before you will say yes?" Make sure you listen for the answer and respond when it comes.