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Friday, November 20, 2009

Rest For Your Soul

"Come to me ... and I will give you rest." Matt 11:28

I have very much needed rest over the past month. One particular yoke I have been bearing has felt especially heavy and the question arises, is this a burden Jesus has placed upon me or have I chosen it for myself?

Rest For The Soul
One of the characteristics of the yoke of Jesus is that it gives rest for the soul, that is for the mind, the will and the emotions.

Jesus doesn't promise physical rest in our labours for Him during our natural lifetime, but we should not suffer the stresses of confusion or emotional turmoil. If what we are doing for Him leaves us feeling stressed and anxious, it's time to take stock and reconsider whether the calling we first had still stands.

Of course it may simply be that we have stopped relying on the Lord and are doing things in our own strength.

A Two Stage Process
Finding peace in our labours is a two stage process.First Jesus says, "come to me." There is, as my mother used to say, "no rest for the wicked," (cf Is 48:22). The only way to find peace is to be reconciled to God through the sacrificial death of Christ.

But our searching for peace does not end at salvation for Jesus doesn't simply say, "come to me," but also, "take my yoke upon you and learn from me." He invites us into a discipleship relationship in which we work alongside Him, according to His plan. It is in this work that we find rest and peace.

Prayer College Assignment
There is joy in salvation. There is also joy in working for the Lord. Is there something in your labour for Him which has lost its joy, which now leaves you feeling stressed? Ask God to show you whether the yoke you are bearing is His and be prepared to lay it down if He shows you it is not.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Praying Big Prayers

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. Luke 8:24

A worldwide call to prayer went out yesterday. Today that prayer was answered.

Amidst all the chaos of tsunamis and earthquakes in Samoa and Indonesia, a violent storm threatening hundreds of thousands of people was heading towards the Philippines.

Call To Prayer
I received my "call to prayer" from an organisation called Breaking Christian News who have also been reporting on how local Christians in Samoa have been giving practical aid to the victims of the tsunami.

We were asked to pray that the storm heading for the Philippines would change direction and dissipate over the ocean. This morning it was reported by the BBC that the storm had indeed changed direction and that it now posed no threat to human life.

Prayer works.

At least, God responds to our prayers.

Questions
But this raises some very difficult questions. Why didn't God prevent the earthquakes and tsunami that have caused such devastation elsewhere? Does He value the lives of Filipinos above those of Samoans or Indonesians? We can choose to believe one of two things. Either God is capricious and acts on whims without care for the consequences for human lives, or He is as the Bible describes Him with thoughts and ways beyond our understanding, with purposes beyond our comprehension (Isaiah 55:8). A God who can be understood is, after all, really no God at all.

Prayer College Assignment
We should dare to pray big prayers because sometimes God says "yes" in dramatic ways. Pray some big prayers this week.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pray Like Daniel

Now Daniel ... went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Daniel 6:10

It was drawn to my attention today that Daniel is one of the few characters in the Bible about whom nothing negative is said. Indeed, it was the fact that no-one could find any fault with Daniel that led to this very situation. There were people who wanted rid of Daniel and they manipulated circumstances to their own ends.

The decree had come down from King Darius that only he should be worshipped during the next 30 days.

Daniel's Prayer Life
The key to Daniel's life was that it was centred on prayer.

Firstly, he set aside time for prayer not just once, or even twice, but three times a day. Even though he was a busy, high ranking government official his life was saturated with prayer. Men and women of God such as John Wesley, Desmond Tutu and Madam Guyon have all attested to the importance of spending significant quantities of time in prayer when life and ministry become busy.

Secondly, Daniel had a "sacred space" where he went to pray. Deprived of Jerusalem and the Temple he made his upper room a sanctuary where he met with God. It is invaluable to have a particular place to pray because it is easier to settle, to take our focus off the world and place it firmly on God.

Thirdly, Daniel knelt to pray. He humbled himself physically, an outward act which reflected the attitude of his heart. This wasn't just because of the current desperate circumstances. Some people only pray humbly when they are in need but this was Daniel's daily practice.

Fourthly, he gave thanks to God. One might consider that in this dire situation he would skip over that bit of prayer and move straight into the, "HELP ME" prayer. After all, he had been thanking God every day and this was now a matter of urgency. But no, Daniel stuck to his usual pattern. He gave thanks. Amazing. His life is under threat, the lions are waiting, and Daniel gives thanks.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we can see that Daniel had established a consistent prayer life over an extended period of time. He had learned intimate communion with God. This wasn't a single act of defiance. It was a simple decision to keep doing what he'd always done. It appears not to have occurred to him to do anything differently.

Prayer College Assignment
Is there consistency in your prayer life? Have you come to the point in your walk with God that prayer comes naturally and it would be unthinkable to go a day without prayer? Ask God to help you become more consistent in your praying.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Apart From Me

"Apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5

This week I have been struck by the continuity there is, throughout the centuries, of the practice of prayer. I have downloaded to my Blackberry several versions of the Bible and also some of the great classics on prayer. These have included Madam Guyon's A Short and Easy Method of Prayer and Andrew Murray's, The True Vine


Both writers emphasise our dependence on God, apart from the Lord we can do nothing.

Dependence For Salvation
It is a simple thing to understand grace when we first turn to Christ. We acknowledge we cannot save ourselves and are totally dependent on His loving sacrifice. All we can do is accept and be thankful.

In the early days of our Christian life we want to be with other believers, we want to read the Bible and we want to pray. But as time goes by things change. We start to think we should be doing things the way other people do them and we begin the Galatian slide into works and are worthy of the criticism Paul heaps on them (Gal 3:1-3). We slip from grace to works and the light of Christ begins to dim, our Christian lives becoming a chore.

Dependence In Prayer
This is evidenced in our loss of desire for prayer. Whereas once we were aware of God's loving presence whenever we prayed, now "the heavens seem as brass."

What has happened? We have made prayer a ritual, something we perform, something we do because we should, something that is our responsibility, instead of a loving conversation between the Father and His child or the Bridegroom and His beloved.

We need to return to an understanding that we ourselves cannot pray on our own - apart from Christ we can do nothing. In Romans 8:26 Paul says, "we do not know how to pray as we should," and then explains it is the role of the Holy Spirit to fill that gap.

Beginning Again
James says, "draw near to God and He will draw near to you," (James 4:8). The way to do that is through worship. Whether you read Madam Guyon, Andrew Murray, or any of the other great writers on prayer, they all say the same thing - worship, adoration is the way to approach God. This is how the Lord's Prayer begins, with a recognition of God's character and nature and a desire for Him to be glorified.

When we begin in this way we gain a correct perspective of His greatness and our own inability and inadequacy before Him. We see that He is ALL-mighty and that we can indeed to nothing without Him, that we are dependent on Him for our prayer lives and that it is all of grace.

Prayer College Assignment
In your prayer life do you recognise that apart from Jesus you can do nothing? Confess your failure to pray as you should and acknowledge your need of His enabling. Ask Him to take you in hand and teach you to pray.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rejoicing Through Grief

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 1 Peter 1:6

Last week I was informed of the sudden and unexpected death of my father's identical twin brother. It was a particular shock because, to me, it had almost felt as though I had a spare dad in the background in case anything happened to my own. It also brought home to me the mortality of my own father as my uncle had seemed to be the healthier of the two. And so I have been experiencing grief.

You Greatly Rejoice
Peter says that despite grief, the believers to whom he was writing were rejoicing. Even more, they were rejoicing greatly. It is hard to see how two such contrasting emotions can exist together. Yet these Christians had found a way, not to suppress their grief, but to balance it with joy.

When Paul commanded the Philippians to, "rejoice in the Lord always," (Phil 4:4) he wasn't asking them to pretend that everything was wonderful when it wasn't. Pretending to be happy when you're feeling broken hearted won't help you, it will just delay the grieving process.So how do we do this? How do we balance grief and joy, accepting both as valid emotions? In 1 Pet 1:3-5 we see what it is that Peter's audience were rejoicing in - their salvation. Peter himself explodes into praise for new birth, for Christ's resurrection, for our coming perfect inheritance and the powerful protection we have from God.

Let me ask, have we lost the wonder of what it means to be saved and all the blessings which accrue from that? When was the last time you felt excited about all God's done for you? When did you last "greatly rejoice," in your salvation?

Prayer College Assignment
Spend some time praising God for as many aspects of salvation as you can think of. If that's a struggle pray with David, "restore to me the joy of your salvation," (Ps 51:12).

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Do You Realise?

On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. John 14:20.

When we stop to think about it we have to accept that Christianity makes outrageous claims. It shouldn't surprise us that people of other faiths have difficulty understanding ours. Take this verse for example. Our God, Jesus, lives inside us. Jesus, the holy and perfect one has taken up residence in the lives of those who have submitted to Him.

A Great Mystery
Muslims, for example, cannot comprehend how God could "demean" Himself to live in the flesh of the great prophet Jesus, let alone the rest of us who claim to be Christians but who seem to live such unrighteous lives.

The Bible frequently uses the word mystery to describe what the Lord has done for us. It is truly incomprehensible the almighty God, El Shaddai, should choose to dwell in the hearts of His creatures. But that is precisely what He does.

On That Day
As with so many things in the Christian life, we seem to need a revelation before we truly grasp the wonder of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col 1:27). But it is a revelation that will be transforming. "On that day you will realise," said Jesus. Have you realised the implications of such closeness to, such intimacy with Jesus.

Himself
Priorities change when such realisation comes. Why worry about the gifts when you have the giver, why worry about healing when you have the healer Himself?

A dear friend gave me a little booklet by AB Simpson for holiday reading. It concludes with the following poem, entitled "Himself".

Once it was the blessing,
Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling,
Now it is His Word.
Once His gifts I wanted,
Now the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing,
Now Himself alone.

Once 'twas painful trying,
Now 'tis perfect trust;
Once a half salvation,
Now the uttermost.
Once 'twas ceaseless holding,
Now He holds me fast;
Once 'twas constant drifting,
Now my anchor's cast.

Once 'twas busy planning,
Now 'tis trustful prayer;
Once 'twas anxious caring,
Now He has the care.
Once 'twas what I wanted,
Now what Jesus says;
Once 'twas constant asking,
Now 'tis ceaseless praise.

Once it was my working,
His it hence shall be;
Once I tried to use Him,
Now He uses me.
Once the power I wanted,
Now the Mighty One;
Once for self I laboured,
Now for Him alone.

Once I hoped in Jesus,
Now I know He's mine;
Once my lamps were dying,
Now they brightly shine.
Once for death I waited,
Now His coming hail;
And my hopes are anchored
Safe within the veil.

AB Simpson (1843-1919)

Prayer College Assignment
Ask the Lord to reveal to you more of the mystery of "Christ in you."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Where Your Treasure Is

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.
Matthew 6:6

This verse always conjures up an image in my mind of a young man hiding in a wardrobe with shoes on the floor and clothes hanging all around him. It seems a very strange place to pray. It makes me wonder whether this was part of the inspiration for CS Lewis', The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

A Secret Place To Pray
In fact, the translator of the King James Version was trying to find an adequate word to translate the original and, perhaps, doing a little better then the modern versions have done with "room."

The original word had a very particular meaning for which we do not have an appropriate alternative. The "room" referred to was an inner store room where a family's most treasured possessions would be kept. A modern equivalent might be a vault though most of us don't have one of those at home.

The point that Jesus was making was not simply that we should pray in secret, though that is an important message. It was also that the secret place where we pray becomes a storehouse of treasure. We meet with God secretly, on our own, and this is where we are blessed beyond our wildest dreams. Not blessed with material wealth but with a spiritual wealth.

Heavenly Treasures or Worldly Pleasures
Those who haven't experienced the treasures of love, joy and peace to be found in the prayer closet may still hanker after earthly treasures. But these bring only transient pleasure. Later in Matthew 6 Jesus says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (v 19-21).

We often associate this passage with how we use our money as that's the next topic Jesus goes on to talk about. But His listeners would surely have made the connection with His comments about the treasure house earlier.

No-one can steal from us the treasure we find in the prayer closet. We may suffer the material consequences of an economic recession, but when we pray we can find lasting treasure which will not only bless us now, but will also be a blessing to us in eternity.

Prayer College Assignment
Store up some treasure for yourself this week by spending "much time in secret with Jesus alone."

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Are You Willing?

If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.
Isaiah 1:19-20

When I ask for help from my children there are two possible reactions. The first is that they respond enthusiastically and can't wait to get on with what I've asked of them. The second, and far more common reaction is a reluctance so powerful that it requires something akin to dynamite to get them moving.

The Willing Child
We can behave like this with God. We read His word and we discover that there is some way in which we fail to live up to His standard. Gossiping might be an example. Now the willing child, discovering her heavenly Father does not want her to gossip will make every effort to conform to His will. But the rebellious child will find all sorts of excuses for not complying, after all, it isn't really gossip if I'm sharing the information for prayer, is it?

The willing child is teachable. He listens to sermons with the expectation that God will speak directly to his heart about his own life. The rebellious child will challenge even the words of Scripture. I remember a conversation with one person in which I referred to Romans 8:1 saying, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, to which they replied, there is when it comes to ... We stand on very dangerous ground when we set ourselves against the direct teaching of scripture.

Willing Sacrifice
The willing child doesn't wait to be asked, but looks for opportunities to do the right thing. The rebellious child will not even do what is asked of them. Romans 12:1 tells us to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. It's not a popular concept these days, this idea of willing sacrifice. You can go into any Christian book shop and see titles such as 7 Steps For Answered Prayer, How To Be A Happy Christian, or The Financial Benefits Of Tithing. But where are the books about living sacrificially for Jesus, where is the one called Ultimate Obedience? We forget that we are not our own, we were bought with a price and a very dear one indeed.

Are You Willing?
The word of God through Isaiah offers blessings for willingness and obedience and severe consequences for rebellion. The question is, how willing are you? Are you prepared to be obedient to the call to live sacrificially for Jesus, or are you placing limits on what you're willing to give?

Prayer College Assignment
In an attitude of prayer, ask the Lord to show you if there are any areas of your life that you are unwilling to sacrifice to Him. Is your time your own, or does it belong to Jesus? What about your material resources, your money? Are you fully committed to your brothers and sisters in Christ or will you look the other way when they're in need? Is there any aspect where you say, thus far and no further? Wrestle with these things until they are submitted to Jesus.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Change of Heart

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9)

Over the last few weeks I have been confronted head on by my own sinfulness. Looking into my heart I had not seen the anger there until someone started "pressing my buttons." He very successfully, though not deliberately, brought to the surface a rage I didn't think myself capable of. My own heart had deceitfully hidden this from me and I had thought more highly of myself than I ought.

Grace Makers
We can respond in one of two ways when faced with unexpected negative emotions. The easy thing to do is to blame the other person. They shouldn't have such ridiculous opinions, they are uneducated, they are stupid, they are naive, they are arrogant. It's all their fault.

Or we can acknowledge that the fault actually lies with us. Why did I get so angry? Why do this person's opinions trouble me so much? It's because I have a sinful nature. It's because I have not yet permitted the Holy Spirit full access to my soul to allow His fruit to grow there.

If I take this attitude I won't have to wish that person, who so quickly winds me up, would leave the church, I won't want to tell them they're an inadequate Christian and need to repent. Instead, remarkably, I can see them as a "grace maker," someone the Lord has allowed into my life to show me the truth about myself and to knock off some hard, sharp edges.

Self Control
Of course, there's a place for righteous anger as Jesus demonstrated when He cleared the Temple. But anger that is uncontrolled is a dangerous thing. Even if it doesn't turn to physical violence, the words we say when we're angry can to great harm.

Trying to change on our own won't be enough. Of course there is a need for confession and repentance. But we should also ask God to so fill us with His Holy Spirit that the fruit of self control develops in our life.

Prayer College Assignment
Next time you find yourself justifying behaviour in you which you would find unacceptable in another, ask the Lord what He wants you to learn from the situation. Be grateful for the difficult people in your life because they reveal the truth of what is in your heart.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Be Prepared

"If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." John 15:20

This week I've been reading A Time to Speak
by David Waite. It includes many accounts of how Christians in Britain have suffered for their faith. I can't say any of them surprised me as they reflect stories I've heard elsewhere. What is concerning is that over the past decade the number of such stories have been increasing year by year, but the church still seems to be holding on to the naive idea that such things are rare.

Preparation
In recent years my preaching has focused on the need for each individual Christian to develop and strengthen their own personal spiritual lives. We gain strength and comfort from being part of a worshipping community, but that is not enough. If we are depending on our pastors, our daily reading notes, or Christian television to feed us, we will be very vulnerable when we experience our own persecution.

Note that I say when, not if. The Bible is clear that if we follow Jesus we will experience persecution. When that happens the only person we can guarantee will be at our side is Jesus. His may be the only words of comfort we hear. We need to have firmly established our relationship with Him before we reach that point.

Starting Now
That means we need to work on it now. When you're in that challenging situation you won't be wishing you'd spent more time in front of the TV, but you might be wishing you'd spent more time learning verses from the Bible. You won't be thinking you should have spent more time at work, you might be thinking you're time could have been better spent listening to the voice of God.

Rewards
The rewards of spending "much time in secret with Jesus alone," to use the words of the old hymn, will not only be seen in the testing times. Paul talked about "the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ," in comparison with which everything else is rubbish (Phil 3:8).

Imagine how that would be, to feel as though anything other than knowing Jesus is an utter waste of time & energy, that the only reason for doing anything is to please Him. Imagine preferring to spend time in prayer than go to see the latest film, or spending money on building His kingdom rather than buying yourself new clothes.

Prayer College Assignment
Take some time to reflect on your priorities. Be honest with yourself, where does the Lord Jesus come on your list, what are the things you'd resist sacrificing for His sake? Are there changes which need to be made? Don't try to make them in your own strength. Ask Him to change your heart so that His desires become yours.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Be Silent

"Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him," Ps 37:7

At our home group this week we were asked to read this psalm and pick out verses which we felt spoke to us as individuals. This was the verse I chose, but I was surprised by the almost universal comments that being silent before God was something people found difficult.

A Discipline To Be Learned
Being silent before God is not an optional extra in our prayer lives. We are instructed several times in Scripture to do this, to "be still and know that I am God," (Psalm 46:10).

For many of us it is not something which comes naturally, it is a skill which has to be learned through practice. It takes time, which we all know is at a premium. But most of us do have the time to devote to this if we choose:

We can turn off the TV for an hour;
We can go to bed earlier and get up earlier;
We can use our lunch break.

We find time for the things we really want to do, we can find time to learn to be still before God.

The Benefits
We should be willing to be still before God simply because it is what He asks of us. But there are benefits to us.

Firstly, we get to know the Lord in a more deeply personal way. People falling in love tend to spend an inordinate amount of time gazing into one another's eyes. They do not consider this as wasted time. It is part of the bonding process. In the same way, being still and gazing upon the Lord brings us closer to Him.

Secondly, we learn the sound of His voice as He whispers into our soul. His is a still, small voice (1 Kng 19:12) and we cannot hope to hear it if our own voice is clamouring in our ears. One of the mistakes people make in seeking guidance is that they look for signs (fine in so far as it goes - Matt 12:39) but neglect to listen to the voice of God.

Thirdly, it is the most refreshing and restorative experience we can have. Being still before God allows Him to touch and heal the hurting places in our hearts and minds. When we are still before Him and He "unveils Himself," to quote from Andrew Murray, we see Him as He is - almighty God, king of creation, the One against whom no-one can stand - and ourselves as we are, His beloved children. All the stresses and strains of our lives are put into perspective as we recognise His authority in our lives.

Prayer College Assignment
Take a few moments every day this week to be still, fix your eyes on Jesus, and tell Him you love Him.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A Small World

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." 1 Tim 2:5

Six Degrees of Separation
I watched a fascinating programme this week about the new branch of mathematics known as Network Theory. It was conceived on the back of the famous notion that it only requires a chain of 6 people to link each of us to anyone else in the world.

On this TV programme they tested this concept of 6 degrees of separation by giving people around the world packages to send to a Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts. They could only pass the package on to someone with whom they were on a first name basis, who would then pass it on to someone they knew, and so on, until it reached its destination.

Some packages made it, others didn't. But for those that did, the average number of steps was indeed 6. The conclusion is that the human race is far more connected than we realise.

Connected For The Gospel
This has implications for evangelism and mission because it means that it is far easier to spread the gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth than we might imagine. When we factor in the possibilities of modern communications we can understand that we truly do live in a generation when everyone has the chance to hear the gospel. And that means the return of Jesus could be imminent.

One Degree of Separation
But what is really exciting is that this principle only applies to us in part. Firstly, the Christian community is smaller and more closely knit than society in general. That means it probably wouldn't require so many steps to pass information from one Christian to another.

But the second, and most important aspect of our Christian networking is that we don't have to go through half-a-dozen other people in order to be able to communicate with God. There are not five, six, or seven mediators between us and Him. There is just the One, the man Christ Jesus.

Connecting With God
What a privilege to have direct access to Almighty God. We do not have to pass messages via a member of His court. We can enter His throne room at any time for an audience. But the question which occurs to me is this. How often do we disconnect ourselves from God by asking someone else to pray for us but neglecting to ask Him for ourselves?

James said, "you do not have because you do not ask," (James 4:2). Are we guilty sometimes of saying to a friend, "please will you pray for me about this situation," but failing to ask for ourselves as though it's somehow not polite to do so? Is the reason our prayers are not being answered simply because everyone else is praying but we're not?

Prayer College Assignment
When you ask someone else for prayer stop and think, "have I prayed about this?" That shouldn't stop you asking but it should prompt you to go direct to the Lord rather than entrusting your needs to someone else. They may have the best intentions but they may forget to pray, or they may think they've done their bit by passing on your request to someone else who may, in turn, forget to pray. Pray for yourself.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Joy In Heaven

"There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents ." Lk 15:7

There was joy in heaven when you committed your life to Christ. Your return to Him brought rejoicing to the Father's heart and He delights in you following Him day by day. It's a wonderful thing to be able to be able to bring joy to the heart of Almighty God.

A Permanent Party
There must be a permanent party going on in heaven as, moment by moment, more people come into the Kingdom of God and of His Son.

I was introduced to www.godrev.com this week. In conjunction with Google they have a map showing conversions to Christ in real time. As people around the world explore their websites and click the button to save they've prayed the prayer of commitment, a flag comes up on the map indicating approximately where they are. I sat spellbound watching as flags came up in France, Russia, Spain, Azerbaijan, Iran ...

Wherever the Internet can penetrate there is the opportunity for people to hear about Jesus and respond to Him. National borders are no longer a barrier to people hearing about Christ.

Yet statistics show that the vast majority Christian websites are focused solely on Christians and have no evangelistic content. The church is slowly waking up to the potential this medium has to reach the "uttermost ends of the earth" but we are far from maximising our opportunities.

Internet Evangelism Day
Sunday 26th April has been designated Internet Evangelism Day. My prayer is that there will be enough publicity of this day to get more Christian organisations and individuals with websites to think about what they're there for.

Prayer College Assignment
Visit www.godrev.com to be inspired by the power of Internet evangelism. Pray for the people who are committing themselves to Christ. Get onto discussion boards where you can share your faith with seekers. If you are a member of a church with a website ask the webmaster if they can include some evangelistic material. Above all, pray that those who want to know God will find their way to the evangelistic websites already out there, and play your part in causing yet more rejoicing in heaven.

Friday, April 10, 2009

In Memory

"Do this in remembrance of me." Luke 22:19

I have been reading Henri Nouwen's 'Life Of The Beloved' this week. I have found in it so many expressions of the experience of my own intimacy with Jesus. In one place he says, "Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply."

Communion
I was discussing with a friend this week the "specialness" of Communion and we were struggling to find words which express adequately the uniqueness of the experience of breaking the bread and drinking from the cup.

Words like sacred and sacrament help us but only take us so far. We share in the bread and wine as instructed by Jesus, we proclaim the Lord's death and remember the awful sacrifice He made to win us as His bride. And yet it seems to be so much more than an act of obedience and remembrance.

Stillness
Perhaps it is because we so seldom spend time in such stillness before the Lord. Maybe communion is the one place where, as the word itself means, we stop long enough and quietly enough to have fellowship with God and hear Him speak His love to our hearts. As Nouwen says, we then discover a desire to stay in that place, to let that love wash over us in all it's intimacy. It seems almost as though in those sacred moments we experience the consummation of our relationship with Jesus, and it is very sweet.

Indulgence
Nouwen goes on to say, "the real work of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me." Is that indulgent? Perhaps it is, but is it actually possible to "waste" time with Jesus any more than Mary's extravagance in anointing Jesus with expensive perfume was a waste? Surely we discover a wholeness in these times which then equips us to go into the world and pass on to others the love with which we have been loved, the comfort which we ourselves have received.

Prayer College Assignment
You will, no doubt, be taking communion over this Easter time. Think about how you can take the sacredness of those moments into your own times alone with the Lord. Can you cultivate a fresh stillness which enables you to hear Him speak His words of love direct to your heart? Can you, as Nouwen suggests, spend a whole hour listening to the voice that says, "I love you."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pray For Your Leaders

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers,intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone. 1 Tim 2:1

Charles Swindoll once said that leadership begins from the knees up. It's a clever remark that few would disagree with. We expect leaders to devote themselves to prayer for the ministry of the church and for its individual members.

Pray For Us
But leaders also need to be prayed for as Paul makes very clear. Being a minister, pastor, elder (or whatever term your church uses for it's overseers) is, without doubt, one of the most difficult responsibilities anyone can undertake.

It is not simply the workload of teaching and caring for people or endeavouring to move the church forward. Any leader who is making some sort of attempt to honour God in their ministry will find they face a spiritual onslaught like they've never faced before. The devil hates committed leadership and will do all he can to bring about its downfall.

It's vitally important, therefore, that the congregation pray for its leaders - for their spiritual well being; for the stability of their family relationships; for deliverance from temptation in the areas of sexual relationships, abuse of power and desire for money; and for all their needs to be met.

Be Proactive
Think about it. When did you last ask your leader about whether they had any particular needs for prayer? When did you last ask if they were finding time to take a Sabbath each week? When did you last enquire whether their material needs were being met?

If you want to the see the church, of which you are a part, thrive, if you want to be blessed by the ministry of your leaders, you need to do your part. The ministers need to be ministered too. They need prayer every bit as much as the needy members of your congregation. They need to be loved and cherished, not criticised at every turn.

Prayer College Assignment
This Sunday make a point of praying for your leaders. But also take the time to ask them if they have any specific prayer requests. And don't make this a one-off exercise, repeat it regularly!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Unity and Diversity

All the believers were together and had everything in common. (Acts 2:44)

In the early days of the Christian church there were no denominations. People were either believers or not. Most of the towns or cities where there were disciples of Jesus had single congregations. There was no picking and choosing which fellowship to belong to. Divisions first began to set in when the gospel reached the Gentiles and there was sometimes friction with the Jewish believers. But even where this was the case they were not divided into separate churches.

The Luxury of Diversity
Today in Britain we have a plethora of Christian denominations. You can visit just about any town or village and choose where to worship from a choice of congregations - Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Brethren, Pentecostal, Traditional Evangelical ... the list goes on and on. This means that people with a particular theological leaning or a desire to worship in a particular manner can congregate together.

This has its advantages. Where differences between people are minimised, harmony should be greater. For example, someone who practices speaking in tongues will not have to keep justifying their belief within a Pentecostal church but may have a lot of explaining to do within a Methodist congregation. Someone else who prefers a contemplative style of worship may feel at home in a Brethren assembly but completely out of place in a Charismatic fellowship.

So we have the luxury of finding a church we can feel comfortable in, where our theology is not questioned and our style of worship is considered acceptable. In some ways this is a positive thing because it fosters acceptance and unity.

Diversity in Unity
However, this also creates problems because it tends to lead towards imbalance. We are in danger of segregating different personality types in different Christian ghettos.

I wonder if Paul could have used his analogy of the body (1 Cor 12) in many of our modern churches for, it seems to me, that different parts of the body have ended up in different congregations. There are some churches full of exuberant teens-and-twenties, while others soldier on with an average age in the sixties.

Some churches are filled with people whose focus is on evangelism while others are concerned with social justice. Some encourage congregational participation while others limit ministry to a few. Some place Scripture and hearing God's word at the heart of their services while others consider the focus should be on ministering to God in worship.

So the extroverts go to the Pentecostal church, the introverts kneel quietly in the Church of England pews, the scholars pore over Scripture in the Brethren assembly and the artistic types feel liberated in Charismatic meetings.

Dismembered
The church body has been carved up into bits and strewn across the community. In many places there are attempts to get churches of different denominations working together. But they are rarely successful because there is not a complete understanding of one another. There is a natural distrust because we do not realise that apparent differences in emphasis or worship style are simply down to our God-given differences in personality and gifting.

The local church is supposed to contain all the different members of the body - those who are energised by lively worship and those who are refreshed through quiet contemplation, the vitality and enthusiasm of the young together with the wisdom and maturity that come with age, the iconoclasts and the traditionalists, the pastors and the evangelists, the strong and the weak, the babes in Christ and the fathers in the faith.

Diversity in Prayer
All of these things impact the way we pray, whether it be posture, language or emotional content. Prayer should not be affected in this way but it is. I feel comfortable kneeling in an Anglican church, but not in my own fellowship where I've never seen anyone else kneel. In a Charismatic service I may sing in tongues when other people do, but would feel uncomfortable doing the same in a Brethren assembly. I am happy reciting the beautiful words of some liturgical prayers which express my heart, but would only use extempore prayers in my church.

Perhaps all this simply reflects my own weakness and my lack of integrity before God in my worship, but I'm not so sure. I think all these expressions of prayer have their value and their place. Though if we spend our Christian lives in one congregation or denomination chances are that we will only experience the blessings of some of these modes of prayer and miss out on others.

Prayer College Assignment
If you get the opportunity to visit a church from a different tradition to your own or to meet to pray with believers of other denominations, why not take the risk and step out of your comfort zone. You can start to knit the body back together and, while you gain a deeper understanding of other brothers and sisters, you might even discover new ways of praying which bring you closer to God.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Cry From The Heart

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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land. (2 Chron 7:14)

We've talked about this verse in some detail before, but it has been at the forefront of my mind again, particularly in light of a BBC survey published this week.

The Survey
Whilst the survey made headlines on Radio 4 early in the morning, reference to it disappeared very rapidly. There was no mention of it later in the day, nor on BBC television news. On the BBC's own website it was well hidden and took me several attempts with its usually excellent Search facility to find the article.

Why? Perhaps because it was potentially damaging material for the multi-faith supporters who want to devalue the role of Christianity in our society. But legally a survey must be published so people can read its findings and the BBC had, rightly, made available the raw statistics as well as an article. They made fascinating reading.

Results
You can find the text of the article here but, to summarise, the poll showed that a significant majority of people in Britain believe that our laws and public life should respect and be influenced by the UK's traditional religious values ie Christianity. Even more striking was the fact that, as most Christians who have contacts with Sikh or Muslim people suspect, the vast majority of those from other faiths are even more keen to see Christian values upheld than the professing Christians are.

Young People Have Their Say
Much heartening stuff here, but what encouraged me the most was hidden in the raw statistics and not even mentioned in the article. A whopping 77% of 18 to 24 year olds agreed that religion has an important role to play in public life, a higher number than any of the other age groups including the over 65's. Are they tiring of the materialism and secularisation imposed on them by those who currently appear to have the influence in our society? Are they angered even more than the rest of us by the so-called libertarianism which causes Christians to be persecuted?

At the same session on the computer I came across an article from Christians Today, an online newspaper, with the headline, "Christians pray for God's glory to come to the UK." It was reporting a night of prayer at Westminster Chapel on 13th February (a few days before the BBC conducted its survey) in preparation for the global day of prayer at Pentecost. Greg Haslam, the vicar, said, "we want to pray for the foundations to be recovered & what needs to be done to save our nation."

At another prayer meeting that night, Christian Today reports that Simon Hughes MP said, "we're here to pray that with every day, good overcomes evil & people will turn their lives round."

Join The Revolution
There is a revolution going on in our nation at the moment - a revolution of prayer. The church is finally beginning to wake up and see what our apathy has led to. Prayer is becoming heartfelt rather than just a duty. People are beginning to feel a passion for something more real in their faith and this is most obvious amongst Christian young people. They want more reality in worship, they want to see God in action on the streets, in the schools, colleges and universities where they are, they want to get together to pray for one another and support one another. They are the ones who are most exemplifying Acts 2:42-47 Christianity.

Prayer College Assignment
If you are part of a Church that is beginning to understand the importance of prayer for revival in our generation, do all you can to join in that prayer. If not, seek out other opportunities to pray for our nation and commit yourself to praying for revival within your own fellowship.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Limited Sacrifice

When you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matt 6:7)

There are few more irritating things to a parent than the constant nagging of a child, especially when what they have asked for has been promised them and all they have to do is wait.

Sacrifices and Offerings
In Leviticus clear laws are laid down about the worship in the Tabernacle. Sacrifices were to be made for various reasons - as thanksgiving to God or for forgiveness of sin, for example. For each of these sacrifices the particular animals or birds required are specified. Sometimes the size of the sacrifice was according to the means of the worshiper, as in the sin offering. On other occasions the sacrifice made was to be the same for everyone, as in the guilt offering. But God never said that a greater offering would bring a greater blessing.

So it is with our prayers. If we keep babbling on as the pagans do, reciting endless words, it does not improve our chances of receiving an answer. God would just as soon hear a simple, "please will you help me," than a lengthy list of all the reasons why He should help.

There are times when intercession for something involves lengthy times of prayer and persistence, occasions when our wrestling in prayer is really about us finding the faith or the strength to accept God's will (the prime example being Jesus in Gethsemane). But with our simple daily needs, He already knows (Matt 6:8) and vain repetition is pointless.

Sin and Confession
Perhaps the times we are most tempted to go beyond what is necessary is when we have sinned and feel we have let the Lord down. He has made a simple provision for us - if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9). But how often do we find ourselves returning to God time after time because we still feel guilty, we still want to make restitution. We can be down on ourselves for hours, days or even weeks if we've failed particularly spectacularly.

But God only requires us to confess and repent once. He forgives us and He expects us to take hold of that forgiveness and move on. The devil wants to keep us bowed down by our sin and feeling guilty for as long as possible because he knows we're no use to God in that state.

Prayer College Assignment
Don't compound your sins by continually dwelling on them. Confess, repent, accept the forgiveness Jesus died to purchase for you. Then move on.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What's Your Motive?

"I will not yield My glory to another." Isaiah 48:11

Yesterday a friend told me about his experience in praying for his butcher who was not a Christian. The man was suffering severe problems with his back, so much so that it prevented him from walking. My friend prayed for this butcher and immediately he was able to walk. However, the next time my friend visited the shop the pain had returned and the man could no longer walk. My friend prayed again with the same result as before. The next time he returned the situation was the same - the butcher was in pain and unable to walk. My friend felt prompted to ask if the man was seeking help from elsewhere as well as asking for prayer. He was seeing an osteopath.

God was miraculously healing the butcher each time he was prayed for, but he didn't believe he'd received a miracle and was still putting his trust in the doctor. God could not allow the man to keep his healing in such circumstances because he was not giving the glory to the Lord but giving the osteopath the opportunity to take credit for the miracle.

God Will Not Share His Glory
I believe that God does healing miracles in response to our prayers. I also believe He has given us the skills of the medical profession and will use them to bring us healing too. When I need healing I will ask for prayer but I will also visit the doctor. Whichever method the Lord chooses to use to heal me I will accept with thanksgiving to Him for His graciousness to me.

However, if the Lord chooses to do a miracle in my life and I subsequently attribute my healing to the work of doctors, I am on dangerous ground. The butcher was not a believer and did not want to give God the credit, the glory, due to Him.

Motives in Prayer
It's not just the person being prayed for who needs to be careful to give glory where it's due. Those praying can fall into the trap of wanting to make a name for themselves as having power in prayer. If I pray for someone and my prayer is answered, I must be very clear that it is the power of God and not my proficiency in prayer which has made the difference.

When I pray aloud in the company of others I have to be careful to remember that I am coming as a simple child to my heavenly Father. I don't need to impress Him with clever words, my knowledge of Scripture or a "holy" tone of voice. I must be careful not to pray to impress others. My motive must be to touch the heart of God, not those around me, otherwise I am trying to gain glory for myself and I should not expect that God will deign to share His glory with me by allowing others to think that the way I pray makes a difference.

Prayer College Assignment
Think about the way you pray in public. Do you try to impress people with your vocabulary or the length of your prayers? Do you feel pride when the Lord answers your prayers? When prayers are answered do you always give the glory to God are do you allow credit to pass to others? Our God is a jealous God. If we don't give Him the glory He's due, the power that is available to us in prayer will be diluted.

Friday, February 06, 2009

I Will Come To You

"Wherever I cause my name to be honoured, I will come to you and bless you." Ex 20:24

We have talked before on PrayerCollege about "sacred spaces." Here is God's promise that He will create them for us.

Lincoln Cathedral
I remember many years ago visiting Lincoln Cathedral with some friends. It was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I've ever had. Cathedrals these days are usually full of wooden chair where the congregation can sit. Cathedrals were not designed this way. They were built as huge open spaces to reflect the glory and majesty of God.

On this particular day Lincoln Cathedral was bare. Instead of being confined to artificial corridors around the edge of the building we were free to stand in the middle of the vast impressive open space. The altar was clearly visible at the east end of the church and as I walked through the door at the west end all my instincts told me to run straight to that altar and fall on my knees in worship. I restrained myself but the awareness of the presence of God was awesome.

Sacred Space
The atmosphere in Lincoln Cathedral was alive with the sense that the Lord was there because it has been used for hundreds of years to seek and to worship God. His name has been honoured there by dozens of generations praying, worshipping and declaring His word. So God has blessed the place and the people who congregate there. It has become a truly sacred space.

We all need a sacred space, a physical place where we regularly give our time and our devotion to the Lord. It could be anywhere: a room set aside for prayer; a shed in the garden; an armchair; a seat at the kitchen table; kneeling beside your bed; or even a cupboard under the stairs.

In such a place, where we regularly honour God, He promises to bless us. Perhaps it will be with an awareness of His presence, answered prayer or insights into Scripture.

Prayer College Assignment
Thank God for His promise to bless you where you honour Him and ask Him for more of that blessing.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Prayer Lists

Jesus told his disciples this parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. Lk 18:1

I am reading an excellent book at the moment by Pete Greig called God on Mute
As the title suggests, it's about how we deal with life when the Lord seems to be silent.

Persistence
Greig cites the example of DL Moody who is said to have had a list of 100 non-Christians for whom he prayed throughout his life. Imagine doing that. Imagine daily bringing the same string of names before God. But Moody's perseverance in prayer was rewarded. As each person was saved he crossed them off the list. 96 of those names had been crossed out before Moody died. The remaining 4 were converted at his funeral.

Commitment
Moody had made a time consuming commitment to intercessory prayer. The thought of daily praying for so many people is daunting to me. Being in a pastoral role I'm committed to praying regularly and consistently for those in my care. I try to keep up to date with what's going on in their lives so that I am praying informed prayers. Sometimes those prayers are answered quickly, or even suddenly. More often than not they are answered in stages over a period of time. Frequently it's tempting to think the prayers will never be answered.

Keep a Record
I don't know if Moody ever doubted God would answer his prayers for each individual on his list. What did he think about the ones he had to keep praying for when others on the list had turned to Christ? Personally, I think it was probably faith building for Moody to keep that list with the names crossed off. He could have made a new list each time a prayer was answered and someone saved. But having the original list with all those names with lines through them surely increased his faith that even the most hard hearted souls he was praying for would come to find faith in Christ. Surely it was easier to have faith for the last 10 than the first 10.

Keeping a prayer list, together with a record of the answers when they come is an invaluable tool for prayer. It helps us to remember who to pray for. It also helps us to remember the answers God has given.

Prayer College Assignment
If you don't keep a prayer list, start one today. It doesn't have to have 100 names on it, and it doesn't have to consist solely of unsaved people. Think of a few friends or family members with specific needs and begin your list with them. Then as other needs come to your attention they can be added.

If you already keep a prayer list, encourage yourself by looking back over it and reminding yourself of all the answers to prayer you've seen.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Praying For Our Nation

"I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you." Neh 1:6

It is impossible to look at the current world economic system today and not consider the possibility that Babylon, the great world power of mammon, is falling (Rev 14:8). Unlike previous recessions and depressions, there seems to be no nation untouched by the crisis. It would appear that the world is under judgement for elevating love of money above love of God.

Judgement
God's chosen people were under judgement. Word came to Nehemiah, in exile, that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, that the city gates had been destroyed by fire and that the people were in great distress. Nehemiah's response, as a godly man, is intriguing for he did not simply weep over the state of God's people which had brought about such catastrophe. He associated himself with the sin of the nation and it's people completely. He does not try to excuse himself or claim to be better that his fellow countrymen.

Recognising Where the Guilt Lies
How are we praying for our nation? Are we looking upon our compatriots as different from us? Do we see their materialistic lifestyle and judge their contribution to the present crisis? Are they at fault because they have borrowed more money than they can afford to pay? Have they been to liberal with their credit cards? Is it the fault of the banks, greedy business or incompetent government? Is it all somebody else's fault? Are we praying for them from outside the situation?

Nehemiah wasn't judgemental towards those who appeared most guilty and neither should we be. Nehemiah grieved over the state of his nation as we do but associated himself with the greed and corruption which had led to God's judgement. That added power to his prayer. He prayed as one of the guilty ones pleading for forgiveness and God both heard and used him.

We have a duty before God to pray for our nation and, as citizens, we are under the judgement that falls on our country. If we want our prayers for mercy and restoration to be heard we cannot deny our part in the nation's sin. We must recognise our own guilt, even if only by association, and plead with the Lord for mercy and restoration as Nehemiah did.

Revival
In 1959, Dr Martin Lloyd Jones wrote a book on revival in which he noted this nation was well overdue for a revival. 50 years on, in 2009, we are still waiting. As men and women see that nothing governments can do will deliver us from acts of terror or financial calamity, they will become more receptive to the gospel of the kingdom of God. Now is the time to identify with the lost and broken, to plead for God to be merciful on our nation and to pour out His Holy Spirit in revival power, being ready ourselves to be broken and revived.

Prayer College Assignment
Pray for revival, but do so by first identifying yourself with the rebels and pleading not solely for them but for yourself and your family.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Father Forgive

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Lk 23:34

I heard a father interviewed on the radio this week who had forgiven the man who had stabbed his son to death. He spoke of the shock and grief experienced by the whole family and the pride they felt when this son, husband and father was posthumously awarded a gallantry medal.

A Hard Prayer To Pray
We let the words of our Lord's prayer, "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us," so easily fall from our lips. "Father, forgive them," is perhaps not so hard to say when we feel the sin against us is minor. But what if, like Jesus, we have been misrepresented, lied about, our integrity called into question. What if, like the father of the murdered son, our whole life has been shattered by the act of another. How easy is it then to pray a prayer of forgiveness? Wouldn't we rather be angry, wouldn't we prefer to retaliate, if only with words? Wouldn't we like to malign the one who has maligned us?

No Victory
There is no benefit, no victory in allowing unforgiveness to fester in our hearts. We think, "how can I let them off the hook by forgiving them?" But forgiveness is as much for our benefit as that of the one who is guilty of offending against us. When we don't forgive we condemn ourselves to a life of bitterness and misery. The devil, who wants us off the battlefield, has won when we sit at home nursing our wounds. Where's the victory in that? The victory comes when we recognise who we really should be angry with - not the flesh and blood person before us, but the one who has manipulated the circumstances and infected the thinking of the perpetrator, who is as much the victim as we are (Eph 6:12).

Prayer College Assignment
Are you bearing a grudge or holding on to lack of forgiveness towards someone who has sinned against you? You may not yet feel able to pray, "Father, forgive them." But you can pray, "Father, bring me to the point where I can forgive them."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Walking The Walk

"I know the plans I have for you." Jer 25:9

This well known verse is often quoted as comfort for people going through difficult times. My reaction has sometimes been, "well, I wish He would tell me."

Job's Comforters
It's easy to trot out this passage and others like it when someone else is in the midst of confusion. "All things work together for good," we say to the friend who has had the proverbial rug pulled from under their feet.

All sorts of things crowd our minds when we face adversity - what should I do, why doesn't God do something, where did I go wrong? We think we've missed God's will somewhere along the line and our current experiences are the result of that.

I've been reading the book of Job this week and it strikes me that the way we "comfort" one another is often not dissimilar to the way his so-called friends treated him. Broadly speaking it amounted to, "you've brought this on yourself, repent and everything will be alright again."

Paralysed
Sometimes the fear of making a mistake, of stepping outside of the will of God and attracting the wrath of God causes us to become so paralysed we don't do anything. We believe the corollary of the words of Job's friends, that if we make a mistake God will punish us severely. So we don't step out in faith to try new things for God. We lay out "fleeces" and we wait for confirmations from outside sources.

It is true that our God is a jealous God who can be angry. But His anger is not with those trying to serve Him out of genuine love for Him. His anger is against those who set up idols in their lives or hearts and turn away from loving and worshipping Him. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to say, "if you turn to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, 'this is the way, walk in it.'" The message is clear. If you want to know the direction you should take then you have to be moving, trusting the Lord to speak up if you're headed in the wrong direction.

Character
We forget that God is far less concerned about whether we're in the right place geographically than He is in the state of our hearts. This is what the Lord requires of you, oh man, to act justly, to love mercy & to walk humbly with your God. Everything else is a side issue. The things we think are important to get right - which church we're in, what our ministry is to be, whether we are called to work with a particular group - all these things are meaningless if we are not walking humbly with our God.

I heard a missionary to Bhutan, sent out by our local church, talk about the awesome beauty of her adopted homeland. "But," she said, "it doesn't appear beautiful if your heart is not right with God."

Prayer College Assignment
When you pray for yourself are you seeking details of guidance or is your desire to have God work on your motives and your heart's attitude to Him? When you pray for others do you ask for their problems to be solved, questions answered, or do you pray that they will grow to become more like Jesus, walking humbly with God? Start praying regularly for someone you know, that God would teach them increasingly to love mercy, to act justly and to walk humbly with Him.