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Friday, June 29, 2007

One Of Those Weeks

Do you ever have "one of those weeks"?

Of course you do. You're human and, if you're a child of God, you have an enemy who loves to stir things up for you. If anything we should learn to accept that crises are likely to be a fact of life for those seeking to live for Jesus.

Praying About Problems
So how do we handle these times of trials and tribulations that the Lord warned we would experience (Jn 16:33)? Well, surely we should pray about them. The problem is that some of the problems we have seem to grow when we focus our minds on them in prayer.

I have been reading Max Lucado's book, Facing Your Giants in which, in his own poetic style, he compares David facing Goliath with the Christian facing problems and temptations. Lucado points out that in the account in 1 Sam 17 David recognises the problem of Goliath but his focus is on God. David faces the giant, but he speaks of the Lord. Lucado notes that David's "God-thoughts outnumbered Goliath-thoughts nine to two."

It's All About Focus
The way to face any kind of difficulty is with prayer, but it has to be the kind of prayer which is God-centred. When we come into His presence with praise and thanksgiving our awe and wonder of our Creator and Redeemer grows. The bigger the problem, the more we need to meditate on the power and majesty of our God. Only when we have reached the point where we know that we know that we know that the Lord is bigger than our problem can we pray about that difficulty effectively.

When we take this approach our trials, tribulations and temptations will assume their proper proportions. We won't be consumed with panic or distress and we will find ourselves living more godly and victorious lives. As Max Lucado says,

Focus on giants - you stumble.
Focus on God - your giants tumble.

Prayer College Assignment
Determine you are going to spend more time in praise, adoration, worship and thanksgiving than you do in praying about your problems.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

You Are With Me

Max Lucado's book, Traveling Light is a study in the 23rd Psalm. In it he devotes a whole chapter to one short phrase:

"You are with me." (Ps 23:4, NIV)

He focuses on the importance of solitude, and indeed loneliness, in developing our relationship with God.

When You're Lonely
The thing about loneliness is that it is not the same as aloneness. It is possible to be at the heart of a great throng of people and still feel lonely. Equally, being alone does not necessarily make one lonely. It's how we handle being alone that is important.

We live in a world where we never have to experience silence, even when we're alone. There's radio, TV, computers and MP3 players. We can have voices, music or just plain noise in the background all the while. It can fill the empty spaces as we travel alone in our car; it can provide company when we're on our own at home; we can take preaching with us as we exercise.

Filling The Empty Space
But does all this help us when we feel lonely? Or are we simply filling the silence, trying to replace our lack of relationship with something that can never truly meet our needs. I wonder sometimes how much of this noise we create simply so that we don't have to listen to God's whisper. Max Lucado says this,

"A friend turns away. The job goes bad. Your spouse doesn't understand. The church is dull. One by one He removes the options until all you have left is God. He would do that? Absolutely. 'The Lord disciplines those He loves' (Heb 12:6). If He must silence every voice, He will. He wants you to hear His music. He wants you to discover what David discovered and to be able to say what David said. 'You are with me.' Yes, You, Lord, are in heaven. Yes, You rule the universe. Yes, You sit upon the stars and make your home in the deep. But yes, yes, yes, You are with me. The Lord is with me. The Creator is with me. Yahweh is with me."

Prayer College Assignment
If you find yourself in a solitary or lonely place without the comfort you need, don't rail or rebel against it. Instead seek God with all your heart until you too can say with David, "You are with me."

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Sound Of His Voice

Prayer is supposed to function as a two-way conversation. It is about listening as well as talking. The problem is that there are too few of us willing to listen.

"Why does God tell me such trivial things?"
This was the question posed to my husband this week. An elderly lady had been visiting her niece when she thought she heard the Lord tell her that a particular house in the road would be put up for sale. She said nothing, but a couple of weeks later the niece phoned and mentioned that there was now a house for sale in their street. "It wouldn’t be number 5 would it," the lady asked. The niece was astonished. "How did you know that?"

The answer my husband gave was that the Lord was teaching this elderly lady the sound of His voice. By hearing Him about unimportant and insignificant details she was learning what the Lord’s voice sounds like. Then when He has something important to tell her, she will be able to recognise who is speaking to her.

The Shepherd’s Voice
 In John 10 Jesus talks about the sheep who know and follow the shepherd’s voice. The only way the sheep are going to know which voice to follow is if the shepherd keeps talking to them and they keep listening, becoming familiar with it and knowing that safety lies in following that voice. In v 5 of that chapter the Lord says,

"They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice." (NLT)

I wonder how confident we are that we can recognise the difference between the sound of the voice of the Lord Jesus and that of a stranger.

Teach Me The Sound Of Your Voice
Steve once prayed, "Lord, teach me the sound of your voice," and again the Lord began to teach him by speaking about trivial things. In this case it was about putting the kettle on. He used to meet to pray with two young friends who were particularly irregular in their habits. Although they had an arrangement each week to pray together they never turned up at the right time. Steve started to hear a voice telling him when to put the kettle on. His friends would arrive just as the kettle boiled.

Prayer College Assignment
Ask the Lord to teach you the sound of His voice. He will do this. He created us to have fellowship with Him. Anyone who earnestly seeks to hear God’s voice will have their prayer answered because He longs for opportunities to talk to His people. As I said at the beginning, so few people are willing to listen.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Where Have All The Angels Gone?

Heb 1:14 says that angels are

"spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation." (NLT)

There are accounts throughout Scripture of angels coming to the aid of God's people and rescuing or protecting them.

Struggling Saints
But as I look around me at the fellow believers I know and love I see that most of them are struggling with one problem or another. I've been asking the Lord for some time what is going on.

I believe God is on the move and the forces of darkness are consequently mobilised to do all they can to limit the effectiveness of God's people. But if we're on the winning side, why does it seem such a struggle at the moment?

And then this question occurred to me. Where have all the angels gone? Scripture indicates that we have personal angels assigned to us (Matt 18:10, Acts 12:15) but it sometimes feels as though mine has gone off duty!

War in the Heavens
Daniel's experience is enlightening. When he had his encounter with an angel (Dan 10) he was told that the angel had been delayed because of the activities of other spiritual forces. We often forget that all around us there is an unseen spiritual realm where warfare is being done. We need to be aware there is more to life than what we see with our eyes.

The thing that released the angel coming to Daniel was 21 days of mourning. Along with that went a degree of fasting - Daniel was seeking God with a passion. Something similar happened in Acts where the church was gathered to pray very earnestly for Peter (Acts 12:5) who was being held in prison. An angel appeared and rescued him.

Prayer Releases Angels
The key thing to note is that these angels did not appear as a response to a casual request or an "arrow" prayer. In both situations the petitioners had given themselves wholeheartedly to praying. They had deep personal concern about the situations that drove them to seek God's answer with everything they could muster.

Prayer College Assignment
If you are aware of people who are struggling under enemy onslaught, pray earnestly for them, even asking God to send an angel to protect them (Ps 34:7) or rescue them (Dan 3:28). Don't give up until the answer arrives.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Worshiping Together

The inheritance and peace God gives cannot be fully realised apart from a corporate experience of worship. Individual worship, while important, must be accompanied by corporate worship in the body of Christ to fully experience the presence of God as He intended. As we obey this statute in our Christian communities ... we realise we need each other to enjoy the fullness of the presence of God.

Fuschia Pickett

A Worshipping Community
We have focused a lot on personal prayer and worship in recent weeks, but it is important to get the balance right. Worship in eternity will be corporate and that experience is to be reflected in a worshiping community now. Jesus said that wherever two or more are gathered in His name, He is present (Matt 18:20). That is not to diminish the value of personal private prayer and worship which is essential to the spiritual health of the believer and the place to meet intimately with Christ. But we are not isolated individuals - we are a family of brothers and sisters. If our private spiritual lives are healthy we will want to meet together both for fellowship and for worship.

The Place Where God Dwells
There is an extra dimension in corporate worship which cannot easily be defined other than by Ps 22:3. The Lord inhabits or dwells in the praises of His people. He chose the Tabernacle and then the Temple to be the place where His presence rested - the place of corporate worship. Whilst we are now individually temples of God's Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), we are also being built together as a single entity (Eph 2:19-22).

Our Responsibility
This places upon us a particular responsibility when we come to corporate worship. For the body to function effectively in worship every member needs to play their part. One aspect of this is contained in Paul's teaching to the Corinthians about order in public worship where he reminds them that they all have an offering to bring (1 Cor 14:26 ff). But there is another essential element. That is that we have a responsibility to come to corporate worship spiritually prepared. The beginning of the service should not be the beginning of our worship. We should not be entering His gates with weariness and and His courts with heaviness of heart.

Songs of Ascent
The book of Psalms contains a series of songs to be sung as the worshipers approached Jerusalem and the Temple (Ps 120 -134). They are known as the Songs of Ascent. Their purpose was to prepare pilgrims for corporate worship in the Temple. We too need to prepare ourselves for time when we meet with the body for worship. To fail to do so will limit our personal ability to engage with Lord, but it will also deny to others some of the enjoyment of the fullness of the presence of God.

Prayer College Assignment
Take extra care this week to prepare yourself for your times of corporate worship. Something as simple as listening to worship songs on your way to church can make a significant difference to the state of mind you are in when corporate worship commences.