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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Prayer Is Not Enough

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chron 7:14)

Not Enough To Pray
At Prayer College we emphasis the fundamental importance of prayer in the Christian life, but it is good to remind ourselves that prayer alone does not fulfill God's requirements for our needs to be met. We must never fall into the "vending machine" mentality where we simply offer our prayer and wait for the answer to be dispensed.

This verse in Chronicles presents us with a process by which we are transformed into the kind of people that can receive answers to prayer.

Humility
Firstly, we are to humble ourselves. It is no good even beginning to pray if we have not first acknowledged the difference between ourselves and God. It is not simply that He is a superior being, that His power & understanding are beyond ours, but that He is the Creator and we are His creatures. We owe our very existence to Him and we should remember that as our Creator He has the absolute right to deal with us in any way He chooses.

Prayer
Secondly, we should pray. This should be obvious, but I often catch myself wishing, hoping or trying to solve a problem on my own instead of turning to God and asking Him for the answer. It seems to be part of the human condition for James had to remind his readers, "you do not have because you do not ask," (Jms 4:2). Part of the Problem is undoubtedly pride and our belief that we can do things on our own without the help of the Lord. Addressing the issue of humility before God will go a long way towards alleviating this problem.

Seeking
Thirdly, we must seek God's face. There is an important and significant difference between seeking God's face and seeking His blessing. Often when we pray we are asking the Lord to intervene in our lives or in the lives of others. This is not seeking God's face. At other times we may be seeking to experience fellowship with the Lord. Neither is this seeking God's face. To seek God's face is to lay aside our own desires and simply come to Him in worship. We are to be passionate about God but, as I once heard Christine Caine (Hillsong) say, we must not make the mistake of lusting after God. If we have had an encounter with God where we have experienced His love, comfort or power, we may be tempted to seek Him again simply for that experience. But He calls us to seek His face, not the experience.

Repentance
Finally, we are instructed to turn from our wicked ways. As Isaiah discovered (Is 6:1-5) when our seeking leads to an encounter with God we cannot help but become conscious of our sin. Anyone who claims to be a Christian but is not being transformed "from one degree of glory to another" is not regularly meeting with God. Of course we are fallible human beings who often make progress only to slip back again but, if we are consistently seeking God's face and being convicted of our sin, we will see long term progression towards holiness.

The wonder of Your presence, Lord,
And Your overwhelming grace,
And the mercy of Your mighty hand
Are mine
As I gaze into Your face.

This process described in 2 Chron 7:14 is not a linear one. We do not start at humility, work through prayer & seeking God's face, ending at repentance. The recognition of sin & subsequent repentance will bring us to a place of deeper humility. A cycle develops which leads us to deeper and more intimate communion with God so that our prayers conform more closely to His will and are consequently answered in increasing fullness.

Prayer College AssignmentTake time this week to meditate on the awesomeness of the God who is the creator of the entire universe but who also made & knows you in all your intricate detail. Consider how vast is the difference between you & El Shaddai, Almighty God, and consciously take this awareness into your times of prayer. Determine to seek Him for who He is, not just for what He can give you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Have You Seen?

It was my birthday this week and the children gave me the Matt Redman album, Facedown One of the lines on the track, "Seeing You" is,

"No one can sing of things they have not seen."

For me this defines worship. In order to fully engage in worship we have to have had an encounter with God, otherwise there is no understanding of the words we say or sing. When we do come face to face with Him the only possible response is worship.

Seeing The Unseen
We see this time and again in Scripture and we have talked before about the worship of heaven, where God is seen in all His glory, being a model for our own worship. But in this last comment before Christmas it seems appropriate to consider the worship of God in the manger. The birth of Jesus was heralded by heavenly choirs and an angel whose appearance caused shepherds to quake with fear. Yet there was nothing visibly different about the newborn child those shepherds went to Bethlehem to find.

The gospels show us that throughout His life there were those who recognised the Lord Jesus for who He was while others were completely oblivious to the fact that God walked among them. They could not see and so they could not worship. Simeon and Anna, when Jesus was presented at the Temple, saw more than a baby and worshiped. But hundreds of other passersby saw just another young couple with a child, fulfilling their religious obligations.

Revelation
What makes the difference between those who see the truth and bow in worship and those who cannot? It is a matter of revelation. When Peter recognised the truth of who Jesus is he was told "this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven" (Matt 16:17). Jesus also said that He revealed the Father to His disciples (Jn 17:6). It is only when the Lord opens our spiritual eyes that we are able to comprehend and respond in worship.

God is sovereign in deciding who to reveal Himself too and when, often favouring the simple above the educated (Matt 11:25). In the account of Samuel we read that, "Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him" (1 Sam 3:7). Does this mean that we simply have to wait and hope that God will grant us an encounter with Him? Are we left to simply wonder why some people seem to have a more intimate relationship with the Lord?

Seek Him
God makes it clear in His word that we have our part to play. Hebrews 11:6 says that "He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him" (Amplified Bible). The veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom when Jesus gave up His life for us on the cross, indicating that God has become wholly accessible to man. But we still have to decide to make the journey from the breadth of the outer courts to the small but sacred space of the Holy of Holies - we have to seek after God if we want that revelation from Him.

As Hebrews 11:6 indicates, it's not enough to have a vague idea that we'd like to be closer to God. Our desire for a revelation of His presence has to become our passion, it has to be the most important thing in our lives. We have to be earnest, seeking with all our hearts, and diligent, persisting in our pursuit of the Lord until He unveils Himself to us. As a teenager who believed in God, it took 5 years of passionate pursuit of Him, daily reading my Bible and endeavouring to pray, before He revealed Himself to me and brought me into His kingdom. When that happened my immediate instinct was to get down on my knees and worship Him.

Prayer College Assignment
Another line in that Matt Redman song says, "worship starts with seeing you". At this Christmas time determine you are going to do what the Magi did and seek after Jesus until He reveals Himself to you in a way you have not known before, until your worship of Him grows beyond what you are currently capable of.

Friday, December 14, 2007

When The Heavens Are As Brass

"The Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to Him." (Deut 4:7)

We've all had those times when we feel as though God is distant and our prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling returning to us with a dull thud as they drop lifeless to the floor. We want them to reach the Throne Room, to be included in the golden bowls of incense described in Rev 5:8. Instead we have this nagging sense that our time of prayer has been completely wasted.

Closer Than You Think
The Scripture says that God was near to His people under the Old Covenant whenever they prayed. It doesn't say that they had to be ritually clean or without sin. It doesn't say that they had to pray with faith or with right motives. It just says that whenever they prayed God was near.

If that was true under the Old Covenant, how much more so under the New. No matter how we feel when we pray, the Lord is close. Sometimes we forget just how close He is.

As Little Children
I remember working for a while with YWAM and overhearing a conversation between an evangelist and a young woman with severe learning difficulties. He asked her if she knew where Jesus lived. She replied that He lived in heaven. When asked if she knew where else He lived she said, "He lives in my heart". On another occasion one of my children came to me when he was about 5 years old and said, "Mummy, there's something special, Jesus lives in my heart".

Sometimes we make things more complicated than they are. Both of these individuals understood by experience what Scripture teaches, that Jesus by His Spirit takes up residence not just with us, but within us (Jn 17:22-23, Rom 8:9-11). When we pray we are not simply talking to the God who dwells in heaven, but the One who has come to live at the centre of our being and is nearer to us than our own breath.

Prayer College Assignment
When you feel the distance between you and God is too great for your prayers to bridge, remember that He is within you. Instead of trying to reach heaven with your prayers, simply let them settle in your heart. Then you will begin to experience how intimately close the Lord is whenever you pray.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Overwhelmed

"We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it" (2 Cor 1:8)

I have never known a time when so many of my friends and family have felt under such pressure. It can be almost overwhelming at times.

Paul Struggled Too
It should be some comfort to us that even the great apostle Paul found himself in extremis at times. But we take greater comfort from the fact that we have fellowship with "the God of all comfort" (2 Cor 1:3).

It has been said by someone far wiser than me that we only realise that God is all we need when we find that He is all we have. Paul says, "we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God" (v9). He and his companions learned that the Lord was faithful and trustworthy, that he did rescue them from their difficult circumstances. Through these experiences their faith and confidence in God grew.

When All You Can Do Is Pray
Sometimes we look at the challenges faced by our loved ones and feel impotent. We may even say, "I don't know what else to do but pray". But Paul recognised the utmost importance of prayer. "You are helping us by praying for us," he says (v11). We should never undervalue the power of prayer.

It may be that our simple prayer is the key to resolving the problems faced by those we care about. For reasons best known to Himself God chooses to act in response to prayer. We can pray that those who are struggling experience the comfort of the felt presence of Jesus, or that they have the strength to stand firm in their troubles. We can pray that the Lord will stir the hearts of those who can help in practical ways, or that he will give wisdom, insight and understanding so that problems can be solved.

Prayer College Assignment
When you find yourself wondering how on earth you can support someone you love who is going through difficult times, don't think of prayer as a last resort. Use it as a starting point for helping others. It may even be that as you pray the Lord will prompt or inspire you with ideas that are just what is required to make a difference.