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Friday, May 25, 2007

Prayer As Warfare

You will have heard many sermons on the armour of God based in Eph 6. It is one of the more familiar passages of Scripture to most Christians. The emphasis is usually on the defensive aspects of the armour of God but I want to focus today on offense.

Sword of the Spirit
Paul says in v17 that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God and it is certainly true that when we find ourselves under spiritual attack we need to wield Scripture at the enemy. Favourite passages of mine when faced with temptation are:

"The Lion of the tribe of Judah ... has triumphed." (Rev 5:5)

combined with,

"He is my defence, I shall not be moved." (Ps 62:6)

But scripture can also be used offensively, particularly in declaring the word over people and reclaiming ground. For example, depriving God's people of sleep is one of the enemy's most basic tactics. But Prov 3:24 promises,"You can go to bed without fear; you will lie down and sleep soundly."

I'm not suggesting you go hunting wildly for verses to rip out of context in the hope that they will have some kind of supernatural effect on a situation. The Bible is not a book of spells. But it is living and active (Heb 4:12) and extremely powerful when applied correctly.

Pray in the Spirit
The key is to learn to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He applies the word to our lives. Paul follows up his instruction to take up the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, with one to pray in the Spirit on all occasions (Eph 6:18). There are a number of different interpretations of what it means to "pray in the Spirit" but the underlying principle is the same - pray in line with what the Spirit wants you to pray. In other words, seek God's heart about how and what to pray before you begin.

In Rom 8:26-27 we see the ministry of the Holy Spirit in prayer:

He helps us in our weakness;
He intercedes for us;
He knows God's will.

It would be foolhardy not to avail ourselves of our most powerful resource in prayer.

Prayer College Assignment
Seek the Lord for a Scripture that will speak directly into a situation about which you are praying. Then use that scripture in your prayers.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Prayer Is a Dangerous Occupation

Prayer is a dangerous occupation, at least it should be if we're doing it right.

Two Kinds of Pray-ers
It seems to me there are two kinds of people who pray, those who pray because they know they should, and those who pray because they feel they can't live without it. The only way to move from duty to desire is to keep praying. There seems to be a tipping point somewhere where we cross over from one to the other and find a place of intimacy with God. Then we can't get enough of prayer.

From Duty To Desire
Part of the process of moving from duty to desire is learning to worship. I'm not talking here about singing together on a Sunday, though that is probably where most Christians get their first taste of worship. Rather I'm talking about the individual's personal response to their God. If prayer remains a process of presenting our requests to Him and nothing more it will become dry and lifeless. But if we endeavour to develop our love relationship with Him, He will increasingly reveal Himself to us. We will have a genuine encounter with God.

A Dangerous Place to Be
Perhaps one of the reasons some Christians fail to make the transition from duty to desire is because they instinctively sense that being in intimate relationship with the Lord is a dangerous place to be. It is impossible to enter the presence of a holy God and not recognise one's own failings and weaknesses. The human heart is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9) and we are not conscious of all our sin. The Lord, in His mercy, does not show it to us all at once, but if we are consistently in His presence He will begin to deal with us little by little, bringing us to repentance and helping us to change. This is why I say prayer is dangerous. It is not a pleasant experience to be shown the truth of what lies in our hearts. Repentance and change is a painful process.

The Ultimate Reward
But of course, whilst the process is difficult, the benefits of submitting to this activity of the Holy Spirit are immense. The peace and joy which come from knowing that we are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor 3:18) surpasses anything the rest of the world knows. And the ultimate reward is a more intimate walk with the Lord.

Prayer College Assignment
Ask the Lord to teach you to worship and to move you further from a sense of duty in prayer to a true desire to pray.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Value Of Prayer

This week I have been listening to Rev Peter Lewis speaking on the book of Revelation. One thing that particularly struck me was his teaching on Rev 5:8:

They held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God's people. (NLT)

The Immeasurable Value Of Our Prayers
We are perhaps tempted sometimes to think that our personal prayers have little value. Why should the Lord be interested in what I have to say? But this verse shows us that our prayers are treasured by God. Gold was the most valuable substance known to the first century believers who first read John's revelation. They would not have missed the significance that the prayers of God's people are presented to Him in bowls of gold. Our prayers have immeasurable value to the Lord and this image should encourage us to pray and to see the importance of prayer as a part of our worship.

Sorrow in Prayer
There is a similar image in the Psalms, but this time the subject is our tears.

"You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book." (Ps 56:8 NLT)

Our tears are also precious to the Lord. We may weep alone but the Lord sees all of our distress and each individual tear touches Him. Imagine then the impact that prayer coupled with tears has on God. We may be tempted sometimes to simply embrace our own sorrow and not open ourselves up to the Lord in times of distress, but Scripture shows that if we turn our tears to prayers they will be effective.

"Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with joy." (Ps 126:5-6 NLT)

We do ourselves no favours if we try to control our emotions and keep a British "stiff upper lip" when it comes to prayer. We come to our loving heavenly Father and being honest with Him about how we feel will add power to the prayers He already regards as precious.

Prayer College Assignment
Ask the Lord to help you to bring your prayers to Him with genuine emotion and not simply as dry requests.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Prayers Of The Righteous

James 5:16 says this:

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (NIV)

Am I Righteous Enough? 
I've often looked with admiration at people who seem to see frequent answers to prayer. In the light of this verse I've always assumed they must be more righteous than me.

But this week I have realised that is nonsense.

Scripture clearly teaches that "righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." (Rom 3:22, NIV). Later in the same passage, Paul reasons that there is no room for boasting because our justification is by faith and not through anything we have done. We should not be looking at one another assessing how righteous we are in comparison with another believer. We all have the righteousness of Christ.

Powerful and Effective
So, as righteous people we can expect our prayers to be as powerful and effective as James describes. In the context of this verse, he is talking about prayers for the healing of the sick. I have become very aware recently that very many Christians are going through difficult times. Some have been contending with major health problems for themselves or their families. Others have been experiencing times of quite severe stress. Many are feeling spiritually or emotionally weary.

At such a time we need to remember that we are righteous and our prayers are powerful and effective. In our own church we have seen some true miracles of healing in response to prayer, but we have to continue to stand firm in praying for all the saints.

Preventative Prayer
There is a lot of talk these days about preventative medicine - preventing medical problems by intervening before they arise. An example might be encouraging people to give up smoking so as to avoid lung cancer. I believe there is a role for preventative prayer - praying for protection from the various onslaughts of the enemy before they occur. We have to be alert because the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for people to devour (2 Pet 5:8). But he is only like a lion. We have the Lion of the Tribe of Judah with us and He has triumphed (Rev 5:5).

Prayer College Assignment
Make a point this week or reminding yourself of your righteousness in Christ each time you come to intercede for others. Remember that your prayers are powerful and effective because you are righteous.