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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.

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.