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Friday, March 28, 2008

Building a Foundation For Answered Prayer - Part V

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chron 7:14

While it's true that the Lord answers many different kinds of prayer we see, at the end of this verse, what His priorities are. If we understand this, making God's priorities our own will mean that we pray according to His will. Consequently our prayers will be answered.

As we saw last week, it is God's people who must consciously turn away from sin. This results in an immediate response from Him - He forgives. Before all other answers to prayer, the Lord's desire is to restore the broken Father-child relationship with His sons & daughters. He doesn't hide His face from us any longer than is necessary.

Because of the Fall we have an innate understanding that if we do something wrong we must pay the consequences. As a result, many Christians find it hard to accept God's forgiveness even when they've truly repented. We feel we deserve punishment and the tendency is to think that we don't deserve restoration of relationship with God. Like Adam in the Garden we want to hide from Him.

But Scripture is very clear. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). He has paid the price and there is nothing more required of us. As long as we behave as though we deserve condemnation, we are of no use to God. We are doing nobody any favours if we continue to mourn over our sin when the Lord has forgiven us and wants us to move forward. We must not stop at repentance. We must accept forgiveness and move on. This is God's priority for His people.

Healing of the Land
The healing of God's people from sin and the healing of the nations are often linked in Scripture. Healing of the land equates to the coming of the Kingdom. A kingdom is simply a place where a king rules. The Lord Jesus Himself said that we should seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt 6:33). In fact, He makes these things a condition for answered prayer in other areas, thus confirming the priorities we see in 2 Chron 7:14.

When the Kingdom of God has become a reality in our personal lives it can begin to be formed in our families, our communities and our nations. But we have to do our part. The promise of a healed land is conditional on us doing those things we've been studying in the past few weeks. Above all, we must actually pray, as Jesus taught us, "your Kingdom come."

As we've said numerous times before, we should be specific. When Caleb, a man in his eighties, entered the Promised Land, he asked for a mountain. He did not say, "give me a mountain," but, "give me this mountain" (Josh 14:12). As we seek to see God's kingdom and rule established in our nations, we need to start to pray for specific situations and specific people. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we should be praying in the manner of Caleb.

Prayer College Assignment
The Lord Jesus told his disciples that their faith could move mountains (Matt 17:20). Seek God's face and search your heart. He will give you a passion to claim a particular mountain. Perhaps it will be to reach a certain family or neighbourhood with the Good News; perhaps it will be to see ungodly legislation overturned; perhaps it will be for a reduction of crime in your city. Whatever it is, the Lord has a specific mountain for you to tackle in prayer. If you make as your priorities, first maintaining your personal relationship with God and secondly praying for your mountain, you will begin to see more fruit in your prayer life.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Building a Foundation For Answered Prayer - Part IV

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chron 7:14)

In our journey through this verse, discovering some of the essential conditions for answered prayer, we have now reached the uncomfortable part.

Turn From Their Wicked Ways
Believers are very happy talking about the dreadful state of society and blaming the godlessness of our culture on the sins of this and previous generations. We bemoan the standards of sexual ethics, the ridicule of Christians in the media, the madness of scientists who want to create human-animal hybrids, the breakdown of family life and the growing dependence on drugs and alcohol. We want to see change and we pray for those caught up in sin, that they would turn from their wicked ways to the Lord Jesus.

But that is not what this verse is talking about for it is not calling on worldly people to repent, but God's own people. It's easy for us to blame others for the state of our nations, but the Lord puts the onus and responsibility on us. In this verse we are not told to preach repentance. Instead, we ourselves are called to turn away from our own wickedness.

God Knows
Most of us present a nice, tidy front to our fellow believers on a Sunday morning and Wednesday night. I'm sure I'm not the only married person to have a falling out with their spouse just before going to church, smile my way through the service, and continue with the row in the car on the way home. None of us want other believers, who all appear to have got their act together, to know what we're really like under the surface.

But God knows. He knows when when we fail to submit to our husbands or love our wives sacrificially; He knows when we use the phone at work for personal calls; He knows when we waste hours on computer games or surfing the net for images we should not allow ourselves to see; He knows when we gossip or store up hatred in our hearts; He knows when we look on others with judgment and condemnation instead of love and compassion; He knows our righteousness is nothing better than filthy rags.

When Paul wrote Gal 5:16-26 and listed everything from sexual immorality to drunkenness with idolatry, discord, envy and other forms of depravity, he knew very well that he was speaking to Christians who, even as believers, were capable of falling into such sin. We, like them, need to be warned to turn away from our wicked ways. We cannot expect God to respond to our prayers for those lost in sin if we are perpetuating sin in our own lives.

Prayer College Assignment
The history of revivals shows that any genuine movement of the Spirit of God always begins with a renewed sense of the awfulness of sin and true repentance amongst God's people, usually accompanied by great remorse & weeping. If we want to see others coming to faith and our nations changed we have to heed the condition that we turn from our own wicked ways. This Easter take time to ask the Lord to show you something within yourself which requires repentance and change.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Building a Foundation For Answered Prayer - Part III

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chron 7:14)

We've been spending the last few weeks looking at some of the conditions for having prayer answered. This is not a 5 step programme for getting what you want from God. On the contrary, it's about putting yourself in a position where the Lord can use you, through your prayer life, to accomplish His plans.

Last week we considered the overriding importance of seeking God's face rather than seeking His hand - the need for our prayer to be based on a love relationship with Jesus. This week I want to continue thinking about the purpose of seeking His face.

Seek My Face
I once heard Andrew Wommack say that 95% of our prayer lives should be about seeking the face of God and that only a small proportion of our prayer should be intercession. That is not to diminish the value of praying for our needs or the needs of others, but to emphasise that in order to pray effectively and according to the will of God we need to spend time in His presence getting to know Him and understanding His desires.

When we look at our world, the little bit of it in which we live or the bigger global picture, we see problems. But we only see these problems at a surface level. If we begin to pray about these situations before we have sought God's face we may actually end up praying contrary to the will of God, even though we have the best of intentions and a desire to see Him putting things right.

A Case Study
An example which comes to mind in this Olympic year is China. For years missionaries worked to take the gospel to the Chinese peoples and a small church was formed. Suddenly all the missionaries were expelled from the country and Christians around the world wondered what on earth the Lord was doing in removing the support that this fledgling church so desperately needed. There was genuine concern that under the communist regime the church would experience such persecution that it might die.

Missionaries waited on the borders praying that they would be allowed back in to the country so they could once again minister to these baby Christians. It never happened. Instead the Lord used the persecution to strengthen and establish the church. Now, despite being forced underground, it is possibly the fastest growing national church in the world. God's solution was very different from man's.

The Real Purpose of Prayer
The purpose of prayer is not to see our desires met, but God's plans fulfilled. Before we start interceding we need to spend time seeking God's face for His will. That means giving Him love, worship and adoration so that we take our focus off our own desires and recognise His absolute sovereign authority. It means reading Scripture for the purpose of understanding His character and His passions. It means having the humility to ask Him how we should pray and seeking Him for the gift of discernment to see beyond the surface of problems into the heart of what He is working to achieve.

Prayer College Assignment
When praying for people this week, take time to ask the Lord how you should pray and what you should pray for. Allow the Holy Spirit to prompt you by seeding your mind with ideas. When you begin to pray in this way you will start to see more answers to your prayers because you will be learning to pray in accordance with the will of God.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Building a Foundation For Answered Prayer - Part II

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chron 7:14)

Last week we began thinking about this verse and how it sets out conditions for answered prayer. We noted that we have to be God's people and be recognised as such by all the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms. We also considered the vital importance of humbling ourselves before God, acknowledging that we are His, bought with a price, and that He has the right to full authority over us. Our desire should not be to pray according to our will but His.

We will now continue through this vitally important verse.

And Pray
"Why pray when you can worry?" Sometimes prayer is our last resort. We exhaust every other option first. We worry, analyse, discuss, strategise, try a few things. Then, when nothing else works we decide all that is left is prayer so we turn to the Lord and say, "I've run out of options, please will You intervene." We need to completely change our direction so that prayer is the first item on the agenda.

Failure to prioritise prayer is an indication that we have not yet learned the lesson of humility. When prayer isn't our first thought we are effectively saying to the Lord, "I don't need You, I can find a way to do this on my own." That is pride, the kind of pride that began the building of the tower at Babel. But 2 Chron 7:14 shows us that prayer is essential to God's intervention and without it we won't see the changes in the world around us which we long for. Activity is great but if it isn't preceded by prayer it will not have the kind of productivity which is an indication of God's blessing.

And Seek My Face
This is what Prayer College is primarily about - seeking God's face. So often prayer becomes a matter of seeking God's hand for His blessing. There is nothing wrong with asking the Lord to supply our needs. Indeed, the Lord Jesus taught us to pray for our needs to be met. But seeking God's face, seeking Him for who He is, must precede our requests for help.

When we love someone we enjoy being with them. We want to be around them just for the pleasure of their company and with no ulterior motives. If we seek God's face simply because we think it's a step towards getting our prayers answered we will fail miserably. If we are in a love relationship with the Lord Jesus then we should desire to seek His face with all our heart. It is on a foundation of love, not a set of procedures that we will build a prayer life that is productive.

Prayer College Assignment
It's a hard question to ask ourselves, but one which we should be examining regularly. Am I praying to get my needs met or to seek the face of the Lord? It is vital to do both, but the effectiveness of intercession and supplication will be dependent on the extent to which our prayer life is an expression of our love for God.