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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Have You Hur'd?

"I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer," (1 Tim 2:8).

The theme of raising hands in prayer or worship is repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments. I did hear one young man use this particular verse to argue that women were not to raise their hands at all, but that just shows you can make scripture say anything you want it to if you take verses out of context.

Prayer on the Battlefield
Probably the most familiar passage about hands being raised in prayer is Ex 17:8-13. This is the account of Joshua's defeat of the Amalekites as Moses stood on a hill overlooking the battlefield. When he held up his hands the Israelites were winning; when he grew tired and lowered his arms the battle turned against them.If you've ever tried standing for any length of time with your arms in the air you will realise how quickly they begin to tire and ache. There was a simple and practical solution to this problem. Two men, Aaron and Hur, took the responsibility of holding up Moses' weary arms until the battle was won.

The account is often used by preachers as an illustration of the importance of both prayer and action in working to achieve God's will. It's a valid use of the passage, but there is an additional insight here which could transform the effectiveness of the prayer of the church.

We are all supposed to pray for ourselves, for friends and family, for the extension of God's kingdom. But you can't be in fellowship with other believers for long without realising that some Christians seem to have a particular passion for praying for others. They're easy to spot because they are the ones who take out notebooks the minute someone starts to mention needs for prayer.

These gifted intercessors can spend hours in prayer asking the Lord to intervene in all kinds of situations from the personal to the international. Most of what they do is in the secret place so the rest of the fellowship will probably be unaware of the amount of time such people give to prayer, nor will they appreciate the physical and spiritual toll such a ministry can take on the individual intercessor.

It's also true that intercession is one of the most underrated ministries within the church. The work of the intercessor may well be the crucial difference between success or failure of a venture the church is undertaking; the effectiveness of the preacher or worship leader may be significantly enhanced as a result of intercession; the number and severity of spiritual attacks on church members can be influenced by the gifted pray-ers.

Tired Pray-ers
Several times in the past I have heard gifted intercessors talk about becoming weary and finding it more difficult to pray than they used to. Like Moses, they have found it impossible to maintain their part of the battle because they haven't had the support they need. Intercessors are at the sharp end of the battle, on the spiritual front line, and they need support, care and encouragement.

Pastors particularly have a responsibility to support the intercessors of the church. Just like Aaron the priest, Moses' brother, they have a role to play in enabling the pray-ers to keep praying. It's all too easy to think that the people who pray effectively are in less need of pastoral care than those whose spiritual or personal life appears less stable. But intercessors, by the very nature of their ministry, are vulnerable too.

A Need For Hur's
The other man assisting Moses was Hur. We know very little about him though Jewish tradition suggests he was Miriam's husband. He did not have the same kind of prominent role in the community as Moses or Aaron. But he was on that hill with them supporting Moses through his prayer vigil.

The intercessors in our churches need people like Hur. They need friends and companions who will encourage them whilst both praying with and for them. Leaving the intercessors to themselves and letting them just get on with their ministry will lead to a weak and ineffective church. When the intercessors are being encouraged and prayed for they will become more effective and the entire ministry of the church will become more dynamic.

Prayer College Assignment
Who will pray for the pray-ers? Our intercessors need prayer. Will you be a Hur? If you don't already know who are the gifted intercessors in your church, find out who they are. Then start praying for them, that the Lord will strengthen and encourage them, that He will protect them and that their ministry will be effective.

If you are a weary intercessor make sure your pastor knows so that they can support you. Also look out for a Hur, an "ordinary" member of the congregation, who can be an understanding friend to you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Intimacy With God

Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It's important because it's the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you "my beloved daughter," "my beloved son," "my beloved child." To pray is to let that voice speak to the centre of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being. - Henri Nouwen

Seeds of Desire
It seems to me that there are three kinds of pray-ers: those who don't; those who do, but out of duty; and those who love to pray because they have discovered that it is the doorway to intimacy with God.

When the Holy Spirit plants in our heart the seed of a desire for greater intimacy with God the only thing that can satisfy our soul is to experience the love of Jesus in a deeply personal way. As St Isaac the Syrian is quoted as saying in "Listening to God" by Joyce Huggett,

Thirst after Jesus and He will satisfy you with His love.

It is clear from Paul's prayer in Eph 3:14-21 that this was his desire for the Ephesian believers.

Song of Songs
Throughout Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, the relationship between God and his people is described in terms of a marriage. The word "bride" is frequently used as, sadly, is "adulteress" when there is a turning away from the Lord to foreign gods. In Paul's teaching on marriage in Eph 5:22-33 he makes it clear that marriage, including in the "one flesh" aspect of the relationship, is designed as an illustration of Christ's spiritual relationship with His Church. As Paul says, this is a profound mystery but, if the physical intimacy between husband and wife is intended as an illustration of the spiritual intimacy the Lord desires with His people, our longing should be to co-operate fully with the Holy Spirit in developing our prayer lives.

Many of us as evangelicals are uncomfortable talking about personal prayer in these terms. Perhaps the language sounds too close to that used in Catholic mysticism or monastic spirituality. But then we are faced with Solomon's Song of Songs. What is this account of passion doing in our Bibles? I have been told it is there to show us that physical intimacy between a husband and wife is a God-given gift to be enjoyed. If that is the sole reason for its inclusion then we evangelicals have an even bigger problem because, as Anne Atkins points out in her book "Split Image", the wedding doesn't occur until the end of chapter 3 and there is much lovemaking before that! The primary reason for the inclusion of the Song in Scripture is that it is, like the relationship it portrays, an illustration of the depth of spiritual communion possible between the believer and their Lord.

Too Indulgent?
Is it too indulgent for a Christian to take time simply to develop their love relationship with the Lord? Shouldn't prayer be for intercession on behalf of others? Wouldn't an hour that has been given to basking in the love of Jesus be better spent performing some act of service?

It is impossible to have an encounter with God and not be changed. The mark of whether genuine intimacy with the Lord has occurred in prayer (or whether it is purely a self-satisfied delusion) is the extent to which the rest of our lives are different. The evidence will be a greater awareness of sin and increased desire for obedience to the Lord; more heartfelt intercession; a longing for corporate worship; a passion for Scripture; and an increased, divinely inspired love for people which shows itself in practical ways.

Prayer College Assignment
Ask the Lord to teach you how to pray and to plant in you the seed of desire to pray. Don't just pray this once, pray for it daily until you begin to feel the first stirrings of that desire.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Facing Your Giants by Max Lucado

Facing Your Giants looks at the ordinary struggles of human life from the perspective of King David's experience. Beginning with the well known account of how David faces Goliath and drawing lessons from that unlikely victory Lucado, in his poetic prose, comforts and encourages believers to allow God to meet them in the trials of life.

Lucado writes with honesty from his own heart as well as David's as he tackles such subjects as rejection, fear of others, loneliness and guilt. There are no platitudes or easy answers here but acknowledgement of the devastating impact of sin upon personal lives and comfort for those weary of the world. The core of the solution to our difficulties is summed up by Lucado in these words - focus on giants, you stumble; focus of God, your giants tumble.

This is a book of encouragement and hope for all those who at one time or another feel defeated by the giants in their lives, whatever those giants may be.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Mary Waited

"Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary (Magdalene) stood .." Jn 20:10-11

We all have different expectations and experiences of our encounters with the Lord Jesus. John's gospel shows us the reactions of three individuals when they discover the empty tomb which can teach us something about our prayer lives.

Peter, John and Mary
Peter behaves true to form. When he hears the tomb is empty he rushes to the scene to see what is going on. He doesn't get there first but, once he's seen the proof that what he was told is true, he's off home again. It's hard to see that this experience does anything more than cause puzzlement for him. His time at the tomb does not answer any questions for him.

John, on the other hand, gets there first and has longer to take in what's going on. He, we are told, sees and believes. His time at the tomb takes him beyond the plain facts which Peter saw and into the realm of faith before he, too, goes home.

Mary's experience, however, is the most powerful. The word, "stood", could just as well have been translated "waited" as it is elsewhere in John's gospel. Unlike the men she doesn't go straight home, she remains there weeping. She doesn't understand what's going on but this emotional woman seems to want simply to be as close to Jesus as possible and that, for her, means staying at the last place where she knows he was.

Three amazing things happen. First she sees two angels, a remarkable enough experience on it's own. Then she has the single most privileged encounter in history for she is the first to meet the risen Lord Himself. Finally she receives the commission from Jesus to go and tell the other disciples. She is the first person to preach the resurrection of Christ, she is the one to report, "I have seen the Lord!"

Make It Personal
In our personal devotions we can be like Peter, dashing in and out of our prayer time without any encounter with Jesus. Or we can be like John, with a degree of discernment which enhances our spiritual experience.

Or we can be like Mary Magdalene, someone who can be totally themselves with Jesus, who waits around in the prayer closet until He arrives with His own unique love and compassion, meeting every need and commissioning for service.

The question is, are you prepared to "waste time" hanging around waiting for Jesus?

Prayer College Assignment
Waste some time being yourself with Jesus this week.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bless You

"Bless and do not curse."
Romans 12:14

The first time I tried to prepare this post my Blackberry decided to close down in the middle of it. Despite having already saved it three times, my work was gone, deleted, never to be seen again. It seems to me this is an important message.

Praying A Blessing
I have been reading The Grace Outpouring by Roy Godwin. It is the account of what is happening in a small retreat centre in Wales called Ffald-Y-Brenan. It is a remarkable tale of God working in people's lives to bring salvation, healing and wholeness.

What has thrilled me about what is going on there is that the leaders of the centre simply pray blessings over people and then step back and allow God to do what He wants. It is a very simply but powerful ministry steeped in prayer.

Expanding Our Prayers
It seems to me that when we pray for others we tend to pray "Accident and Emergency" prayers. We become aware of a problem and pray that it will go away or that God will help the person through the difficult time. For some time I've been aware that we need to be more expansive in our praying going beyond the A&E prayers and praying prayers of protection. But this book has opened my eyes to the power of simply blessing people.

The Caleb Prayer
We are familiar with the Levitical blessing in Numbers 6:

The Lord bless you and keep you,
The Lord make His face to shine upon you & be gracious to you,
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

That is a powerful scriptural blessing which we can pray over one another. But out of Ffald-Y-Brenan has come another blessing we can use to pray for our nation, known as the Caleb Prayer:

O High King of heaven,
Have mercy on our land.
Revive your church;
Send the Holy Spirit
For the sake of the children.
May your kingdom come to our nation.
In Jesus' might name. Amen.

Prayer College Assignment
Begin praying blessings over people in your prayer time in addition to your usual intercession and see what God will do.