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Friday, February 29, 2008

Building a Foundation For Answered Prayer - Part I

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)

There is a reason why Prayer College has primarily focused on our personal intimacy with God rather than on intercession. It's not because praying for our world and its people is unimportant. On the contrary, as a Royal Priesthood we have an obligation to the stand in the gap on behalf of those who need the Lord's intervention in their lives. However, ability to intercede successfully is dependant on the quality of our personal relationship with Jesus.

Conditions For Answered Prayer
Whilst, as God's children we have every right to approach Him boldly, we can't expect to rush into the Throne Room, make our demands and rush out again. 2 Chron 7:14 begins with "if" - a very small but vitally important word. It implies there are conditions we must adhere to in order to have effective prayer lives. Of course, the Lord is very gracious and sometimes answers prayer despite our failure to comply with His ways. But if we want ongoing significant and powerful answers to prayer we need to take heed of His instructions.

My People Who Are Called By My Name
This may seem blindingly obvious but it is worth some consideration. God was originally talking to Solomon about the people of Israel, the people He had chosen from amongst the nations to be His treasured possession and to be a light to the world to reveal what He is like. The privilege of having prayers heard and answered by God is dependent on us being His people and being known as such.

This isn't just about being saved, but recognising, as I heard Paul Miller say last week, that the Lord has paid the price to own us. We no longer have the right to authority over our own lives. We are to become the living sacrifices that Paul urges us to be in Rom 12:1. If our prayers are to have power then all the forces in the heavenly realms (both good and evil) need to know that we have accepted our place under the authority of our Father.

Will Humble Themselves
Humility is NOT part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). On the contrary, it is something we are expected to work on for ourselves. James 4:10 says, "humble yourselves before the Lord." It takes an act of the will to humble yourself before God. But it is what is required and it's much more comfortable to humble yourself than to wait for God to bring you to humility against your will.

Humility is really no more than recognising our own poverty before Almighty God. That is what worship is about. We cannot truly worship without being humble before God. As we declare His great and awesome power and might, His holiness, perfection and beauty, His wisdom, justice and understanding, His compassion and tender care, we cannot help but recognise the vast difference between the Creator and us, His creatures.

Prayer College Assignment
In order to be effective intercessors we need to accept God's authority over our lives and humble ourselves before Him. Who is in charge of your life, you or your Saviour? Whose will matters most to you, yours or the Lord's? Consider whether your prayer life springs from a desire to receive what you want or to bring His plans to fulfilment.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Personality and Prayer

And God said, "let the water's teem with living creatures."
Gen 1:20

We only have to look at the natural world to see that God loves diversity.

Variety
I used to keep tropical fish until the thermostat in the tank failed and cooked them all! But it was wonderful to me to see the variety of shapes, colours and behaviour of different fish even when they originated from the same environment. Some were timid creatures, usually hiding at the back of the tank amongst the wood and vegetation. Others were less fearful and would rush to the glass to see if someone was coming to feed them every time the room lights went on. But I enjoyed them all.

Christians have different personalities too. God doesn't want us all to be the same because that would be boring, not just for us, but for Him as well. This has been brought home to me in a powerful way over the last few days as I gathered with hundreds of other believers at the World Prayer Centre conference in Swanwick, UK, to listen to God's heart and to pray for our world.

I am, by nature, an introvert - not one for shouting and jumping up and down. I like to talk to God in a quiet voice and find it easier to fellowship with Him without cluttering my mind with words. But there were a lot of extroverts at this conference who wanted to pray loudly, enthusiastically and with many words. I've heard a definition of an extrovert as someone who can't process a thought without it first passing through their mouth. That is not intended as a derogatory statement. I recognise that it's just a part of how they have been fearfully and wonderfully made.

Feeling Safe
We have a tendency to stick with people who are like ourselves. Introverts feel more comfortable praying with other introverts and extroverts enjoy praying with other more expressive pray-ers. But it is vitally important that we don't get so stuck in our own little clique that we start to think of others who pray differently as being odd or quirky. It's all too easy to judge. We are all deeply and passionately loved by the Lord Jesus whatever our style of prayer.

From the Heart
On Thursday night we were privileged to pray for and bless a group of young men whose lives had been transformed by the Holy Spirit. These were former drug addicts who'd had a healing encounter with God and were now walking with Him. It was thrilling to see them jumping up and down, arms raised in praise, worshipping the Lord. It didn't matter to me that I could not relate at all to the style of music. I was rejoicing in my spirit that here were people, that Jesus had snatched from the jaws of death and destruction, who were now giving glory to the Father and showing the devil that he is defeated.

Prayer College Assignment
Do you sometimes find yourself being critical of the way other people pray or worship God? Ask the Lord to show you His heart for these people.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Good Morning, Lord

In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice. Ps 5:3

I wonder what your first thought is on waking. As I once heard someone comment, do you find yourself saying, "good morning, Lord," or is it more a case of, "good Lord! Morning." Are you fumbling for the alarm clock wishing you'd gone to bed an hour earlier the night before? Do you have an immediate sinking feeling as you realise the challenges that are ahead of you? Or are you one of those people who's excited by the prospect of a new day and can't wait to leap out of bed and get going? How long is it before the Lord enters your thoughts?

When Does Jesus Come Into It?
We're all different - fearfully and wonderfully made, to use the psalmist's words. We're at our most alert at different times of the day and if possible we should give our best time to the Lord for our personal devotions. The early part of the day suits many people but others find they cannot concentrate sufficiently until later.

Either way though, if we are aiming to live for and walk with the Lord Jesus throughout the day, the sooner He enters our thoughts, the better. A friend of mine commented to his Sunday School class that it is a good practice to say, "good morning, Lord" right at the beginning of the day. But how do you do that? How do you train your mind so that your very first thought is of God?

Beginning With Singing
I have stumbled over one way of doing this. It may not suit everyone but it works for me. I have found that when I listen to music my mind tends to carry on playing it even when I stop listening. If I have a worship CD on in the car when I go shopping, the same song that was playing on the stereo when I get out of the car is playing in my head when I return and switch it on again. In fact, if I pay attention, that song has been buzzing round my head all the time I was in the supermarket.

If I listen to enough music during the day there is always a worship song playing in the back of my mind. I've even found that sleep doesn't switch off my internal stereo. If I've been listening to Christian music or singing towards the end of the day, there is often a hymn of praise already playing in my head when I wake up. As I emerge from sleep my soul is already singing to the Lord.

Prayer College Assignment
Our minds need to be disciplined to set themselves on God - we have to be careful to give them the right kind of input. I've used the example of worship songs, but I believe that taking time every day to focus on Scripture or on prayer can be equally effective. The key is to decide not to allow your mind to become idle, but to use as much of its spare capacity as possible to focus on the Lord. Is 26:3 and 2 Cor 10:5 show us how important it is that our minds are kept under control. A disciplined mind will be focused enough to be set on God from the moment we wake in the mornings. Determine that you are going to love the Lord with all your mind (Mk 12:30) including those first conscious moments of the day.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Praying With Faith

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matt 21:22)

One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is your faith. I'm not talking about evangelism, but praying with faith.

Oh Me Of Little Faith
There have been times recently when I have lost hope in a particular situation. I have been unable to believe that God would do the miracle I so desperately needed. I believed God could, but I wasn't sure He would. I couldn't pray with the kind of faith & belief the Lord Jesus was talking about in this passage from Matthew.

I did not have the faith, but a dear friend did. She continued to pray after I had given up. She also kept telling me that she believed God would do the miracle. I remained skeptical despite her continued encouragement. I cannot tell you how grateful I was to her as well as to the Lord when the answer came & the miracle happened.

Believing For Others
It's often easier for us to have faith for someone else than for ourselves. While I struggled to believe for my miracle, I am having no difficulty believing for a miracle for another friend with a desperate problem. On the surface the situation looks a mess but as I pray for her I am seeing small but significant changes which tell me that God is at work.

We need one another, not simply for fellowship, but to stand beside us in prayer when we're struggling to hold up our shield of faith. In the famous spiritual armour passage in Eph 6:10-20, Paul tells us four times to stand - take your stand, stand your ground, stand, stand firm. Sometimes all we are capable of is standing. But we can say with David, "He is my defence, I shall not be moved," (Ps 62:6 KJV). At such times we need the faith-filled prayers of our brothers & sisters.

Prayer College Assignment
Is someone you know finding it hard to believe for a positive outcome in a needy situation? Don't judge them for their lack of faith. Instead, review last week's blog about burden-bearing prayer & pray with all the faith you can muster that they will receive their miracle.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Burden Bearing

Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. Gal 6:2

I have seen some remarkable answers to prayer this week, one within just 5 minutes of praying. These answers have all come in response to interceding for others. I'm very conscious that much of Prayer College has been devoted to our personal relationship with the Lord and we haven't given much consideration to prayer for others. Intercession has to be founded on a strong walk with Jesus in order to be really effective. But if all we're doing is glorying in the wonder of His presence and not working with Him to meet the needs of others we aren't loving Him with all our heart.

Bear Your Brother's Burden
It is a command of Scripture that we bear one another's burdens. There is a saying that a trouble shared is a trouble halved, but that is not the message of Gal 6:2. The implication in Paul's instruction is that we take responsibility for the whole load. Whilst we may not always be able to do this in practical terms, it is something we can do in prayer. When someone shares a need with us we can take full responsibility for praying about it. In fact, we should pray as though the only thing that will be effective in the situation is our prayer. We should pray as though there is no-one else to pray. We should pray as though the only solution is a miracle from God.

Cast Your Care
The very word "burden" implies something which is difficult to carry alone. That means that it is not an easy thing to get alongside someone and take their load upon ourselves. It may well seem heavy to us too. When interceding for others we have to be careful we don't simply become anxious on their behalf.

Particularly when praying for loved ones, it is all too easy to become consumed with concern for them in their difficulties. But we are told, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you," (1 Pet 5:7). This applies to our own concerns, but also to the burdens of others which we have taken up in prayer. Their cares become ours and as we pray we give them to the Lord and leave them with Him. Since we are fulfilling the law of Christ, described in Gal 6:2, we are taking His yoke upon us which we should find light and easy to bear (Matt 11:28-30). If the burden seems heavy we should ask ourselves whether we're really praying or just worrying.

A Cord of Three Strands
There is a belief in some circles that being able to battle on alone without sharing our burdens with others is somehow a badge of greater spirituality. This is not scriptural. Even the great apostle Paul humbled himself to ask for prayer from others (eg Eph 6:19-20). The much neglected book of Ecclesiastes has something extremely valuable to teach us about the importance of sharing with one another. "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken," (Ecc 4:12). We know that our enemy the devil is looking for opportunities to pick us off (1 Pet 5:8). If we stand together with someone else we are stronger. But we become potentially undefeatable when we stand together in prayer because we involve the Lord as the third strand.

Prayer College Assignment
Ask yourself how willing you are to share your burdens with others. If this is something you have been reluctant to do, try to find one thing, no matter how trivial, that you can ask a Christian friend to pray about this week.

If someone asks you to pray for them make sure you do two things. Firstly, actually pray. It is all too easy to say you will pray and then forget! Secondly, let them know periodically that you're continuing to do so. From my own experience it is a great encouragement when someone tells me they're still praying for a situation that isn't yet resolved.