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Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Jewel of Prayer

What does one say in the 100th post on a blog about prayer? What could there possibly be left to say? Week by week I have prayed about what I should write and each time a slightly different thought has come to mind - 99 different aspects of the prayer life.

Many Facets
Prayer is indeed like a many faceted jewel, there are so many different ways to pray, so much that can be learned only through praying. Yet I have this feeling that we have mostly looked at it from one perspective and haven't yet discovered the myriad of delights which can be perceived from other angles.

The focus of Prayer College has primarily been on personal prayer and building our own relationships with the Lord Jesus Christ. The reason is because I believe that without a firm foundation in our life with Him, we cannot truly pray with any degree of faith or any confidence that we are praying according to His will. The same Lord who said, "remain in me and I in you," also said, in the same discourse, "apart from me you can do nothing," (Jn 15:1-5). That includes effective prayer.

Primary Focus
The first purpose of prayer is to develop our relationship with God, to set down our roots in a life with Him. In prayer we see the awful contrast between His perfect holiness and our sin. In prayer we recognise our weakness and His almighty strength. In prayer we discover the lavishness of His love compared with the poverty of our own. In short, in prayer we gain a correct perspective of our creatureliness before our Creator.

Before we encounter God in prayer we may think we want a better paying job, a bigger car, more worldly recognition. But when we shut ourselves away in the secret place and meet with Jesus we begin to learn there is nothing more sweet than the sound of His voice, nothing more beautiful than being permitted to worship Him.

Secondary Facet
And when these things start to get a grip on our soul, our intercession for others who need His touch is no longer a duty, but a privilege we grasp with joy. To be able to come to the Father through Jesus and ask Him to mend broken relationships, to heal the sick and suffering, to reveal Himself to those who have not yet met Him, becomes the desire of our heart. We don't intercede because we can't think of any other way of helping (all I can do is pray) but because we know our heavenly Father loves those about whom we are concerned and wants to touch their lives.

So, I make no apology for my emphasis to date on developing intimacy with God, but perhaps the time has come to start to move beyond that to consider other aspects of prayer.

Prayer College Assignment
It has been said that the main thing is to keep the main thing as the main thing. In other words, never forget the original purpose. God's original purpose was fellowship with man and to win a bride for His Son. We need to continue to maintain our personal devotions as precisely that, expressions of devotion to the Lord. But if that does not develop into a vigorous intercessory life we will become bloated and our growth will be stunted. As we come to the beginning of a new year, ask the Lord to develop your prayer life so that you become increasingly effective for Him in the next 12 months.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Truth About Christmas

"I am the way, the truth and the life." Jn 14:6

On today's news I heard a report about a survey into people's belief in the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus. It was disturbing to hear that a quarter of those who profess to be Christians don't believe the Bible narratives to be true.

Skeptics
Alongside this, I have been debating online with someone who professes to be a Christian but is upset by the "My King" video which they describe as "frenzied, hysterical ranting," making comparisons with the Nuremberg rallies. In our discussions it has become clear that this person's concept of scriptural truth is very different from mine.

What is Truth?
Pilate posed the great fundamental and philosophical question, "what is truth?" The answer is that the Lord Jesus is the Truth. Humanity has always wanted to work out the truth for itself, it was our great downfall in Eden. But we have finite minds, incapable of comprehending the infinite mind of God. We cannot possibly know truth without having it revealed to us.

Jesus The Truth
When Jesus claimed, "I am the truth," He preceded that statement with, "I am the way." Until we bow to His authority and accept that His way is the only way, we will not be able to comprehend the truth. As long as we go our own way, any truth we discover will be distorted. Indeed it will be something less than truth.

Jesus is, "the way, the truth and the life." That life is abundant life, a life which we desire to live to the glory of God and in praise of who He is. There is nothing more satisfying to the human soul than to experience God in worship.

Christmas Truth
We are in danger this Christmas, as at every other Christmas time, of forgetting what it's really all about. It is not simply the biggest birthday party in the world. It is the revelation of the greatest truth ever told: that the Creator is so passionate about His creatures, He will become one of them in order to restore intimate relationship with them.

Human reasoning without revelation will always conclude that there are no such things as angels, that a virgin birth is impossible and that Jesus was simply a remarkable man around whom many myths and legends grew. It is just too uncomfortable to admit that there is a God big enough to do miracles because if we do it demands something of us. We would rather believe something less that a miracle and allow ourselves to live comfortable, rather than abundant, lives.

Prayer College Assignment
Re-read the gospel narratives of the nativity away from all the context of a carol service & all the Christmas trimmings. Let all the dazzle of the festivities slip away and place yourself as an observer in the scene. What to you hear? What do you see? What impact does it have on you? What is the truth about Christmas?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We Would See Jesus

"Let's go and see ..." Lk 2:15

Like everyone else, and despite all my best intentions, I've become caught up in, even consumed by the preparations for Christmas. Out of my thoughts go the manger, shepherds and wise men. In come Christmas tree, turkey and where to hide the children's presents so they don't find them before Christmas day. Consequently the weekend had passed and I still haven't written PrayerCollege.

Taking Christ Out of Christmas
As Christians we are as prone to get off track at this time of year as everyone else. we are not helped by "Christmas Specials" on TV or the fact that this year's stamps have pantomime characters on them, unless you specifically ask for "religious" stamps. Then the counter clerk will go to the back of the post office and rummage around for the sheet of stamps reserved for those of us who are determined to fight back against the secularisation of Christmas (provided we're not so fraught by all the Christmas stress that we remember to ask). Will the Royal mail be producing Ede or Diwali stamps next year?

Religion in Christmas
There may be little of Christ left in most people's Christmas but there is in fact a lot of religion. There's the religious attitude that says you have to send cards to everyone you work with, to people with whom you've had no contact since the last card. There's the insistence on spending way too much money on more food than any reasonable person could possibly consume over the holiday. There's the installation of massive displays of lights outside people's homes which, with fuel prices as they are, probably require the owner to remortgage their home. The school nativity play must have a donkey, an innkeeper and 3 kings despite the fact that none of these are mentioned in the Bible. There may of course also be Father Christmas, reindeer, snowmen and even penguins in one production I saw a few years ago.

Jesus in Christmas
Christmas is full of religion and tradition but has little to do with what happened in Bethlehem in 6BC. Then the concern of those who believed something had happened which was worth celebrating was to get to see this baby. The Shepherds' response the herald angels was, let's go and SEE. The Magi travelled hundreds of miles because they wanted to SEE. Anna and Simeon in the temple were overjoyed to SEE.

The problem with Christmas is we no longer take the time to gaze in awe and wonder at this astounding miracle which is God coming to us as a baby. I don't know about you, but I can't comprehend that. I believe it by faith and in the church services I attend around Christmas I want the opportunity to be still and to reflect upon this great mystery of history with worship and adoration.

But somehow it all gets lost in mince pies and wrapping paper. The manger has been cluttered up with so much junk that even the devoted find it hard to see Jesus, let alone those who don't know enough to look for Him.

If the world can't see Jesus in Christmas then we must ensure that they can see Him in us. There has to be a bigger difference than just including a nativity scene in our decorations. It is essential that if Jesus is not at the centre of Christmas, He is at least at the centre of our hearts.

Jesus In Christians
How can people see Jesus in Us? This is only possible as we take time personally to gaze upon Him in awe and wonder. Then we will reflect His glory (2 Cor 3:18). Perhaps we might even dare to admit that the secularisation of Christmas is our fault because we have failed to truly see Jesus ourselves and consequently the world has not been able to see Him. He must be born in our hearts before the world can see Him born in Bethlehem.

Prayer College Assignment
Being a Christian is not about what we do or how we celebrate Christmas, but about how much we have seen of Jesus. When we live in intimate fellowship with Him and take time each day simply to gaze on Him, we will make more of an impact on the world than we will with all our self-righteous pronouncements about this season of festivity. Make an extra special effort to take time alone to fix your eyes on Jesus. Make that your gift to Him this Christmas.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Together

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. (Luke 1:39-40)

My husband's definition of fellowship is a group of Christians all together in the same boat.

Fellowship
We all need fellowship. We all want to have the comfort of feeling that there's someone else who has an understanding of what we're going through. Mary sought out the company of her relative Elizabeth when she discovered what lay in store for her. Quite possibly it was an expedient trip to silence the wagging tongues of judgemental neighbours gossiping about how such a "nice family" could end up with a daughter who'd been sleeping around and got herself pregnant. But the visit also enabled two women, both with an unexpected pregnancy, both with the touch of God on their lives, to share their experiences and to draw strength and comfort from one another.

Jesus, too, had a desire for sympathetic company. We see that most starkly in Gethsemane when He asked the disciples why they couldn't even watch with Him for an hour. But we see also His relationship with Lazarus and his sisters, with the twelve, with Peter and James, and especially with John. There were times when Jesus craved to be alone to spend time with God, and other times when He wanted His friends around Him.

Drawn Together
Mary in her crisis, for despite her humble willingness to be the mother of the Saviour she faced huge challenges, sought out someone she knew who would understand and support her. Age difference didn't matter because they both loved God and recognised they were drawn together by circumstances He had ordained. When they met their fellowship in the Lord was sweet. Elizabeth prophesied and blessed Mary who produced a psalm on a par with those of her ancestor David.

Mary stayed for 3 months and it must have been a joy for these two women to share fellowship and pray together. They would have had so much to pray about - Elizabeth's health as an older mother-to-be and strength to cope with the demands of a new-born; the pain of Mary's tarnished reputation.

Praying Friends
And if Jesus too needed friends, even praying friends (Matt 26:38), how much more do we. I am firmly convinced that every believer needs a praying friend, someone who will love and accept without judgement, who will take your needs to the throne of grace and who can be trusted to keep their mouth shut with everyone else. We need someone in our lives who understands us, who has shared similar spiritual experiences, who can be a guide or fellow travelling companion on our spiritual journey.

I have benefited hugely from such friends. Sometimes circumstances deprive us of each other's company. Often the things we do together or the conversations we have are very ordinary. But there are precious times when these praying friends help us to win battles against temptation, encourage us to stand firm through trials, or simply love us with the love of Jesus. The best of these friends will hear our confessions, keep our secrets and encourage us to press on to our goal of becoming more Christlike.

Prayer College Assignment
Are you a praying friend? If not, look for opportunities to become one. Such friendships cannot be manufactured, they are God given but you can open yourself up to Him working through you in this way by praying for your brothers and sisters in Christ.