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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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.