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Friday, May 31, 2013

Teach Us To Pray

praying-manOne day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ Luke 11:1

I wonder how you learned to pray.

If you were brought up in a Christian home perhaps your formative experience of prayer was within your family. Or perhaps you floundered your way to prayer within a cell group or church prayer meeting.

The disciples, being first century Jews would have been taught from childhood how to make the ritual prayers of their faith and would have read the prayers recorded in the Tanakh - the Hebrew Bible. Yet when they saw Jesus praying they recognised something they had not seen before. There was a quality in the prayer life of Jesus which was unfamiliar yet attractive and they wanted to experience it for themselves.

It puzzles me that there are Bible colleges and seminaries all over the place, where people can study God's word and be trained for service, but no Christian institutions whose primary goal is to teach its students to pray. We seem to be expected simply to absorb the ability to pray.

I count myself privileged to have studied at one of the UK's best Bible colleges. It was a place soaked in prayer: we were expected to have personal devotions before breakfast; there was chapel each weekday morning; every meal and every lecture would be preceded by prayer; every lunchtime would conclude with prayer for former students; once a week we would meet in small groups to pray for different parts of the world; every term there would be a quiet day when we would not be allowed to speak and were expected to devote the time to prayer. Yet we were never actually taught to pray. It was just assumed we could do it.

I have to say that it is my experience that most people can't do it. It's not through any fault of their own, they simply haven't been taught. Most people don't know how to go beyond confession (perhaps), thanksgiving (probably) and asking for things (the bulk of our praying). There is little worship beyond singing on Sunday, no adoration and absolutely no concept of seeking God's face. Consequently, prayers are prayed half-heartedly and rarely answered.

I don't wish to sound condemnatory but I believe the church in this generation is floundering because we have not been taught by previous generations how to get breakthroughs in prayer. We need to relearn the lessons from the classroom of prayer and the place to begin is where the first disciples began.

Lord, teach us to pray.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Persevering Prayer

Disciples PrayThe apostles were all united in persevering prayer and petition together with the women, Jesus' mother Mary, and his brothers. Acts 1:14

They had been told to wait.

Jesus' followers had no idea how long they would have to wait. They just knew they had to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. Would it be hours? Days? Weeks? Months? How would they know when the Holy Spirit had come? Would He be visible? How would they react?

We have the benefit of being able to look back to the Day of Pentecost but they had no frame of reference except for a few words of Jesus promising them that His Spirit would dwell in them and comfort them and that they would receive power enabling them to tell the world about Him.

And so they waited, perhaps with some trepidation.

Imagine your self in a waiting room. What do you do while you sit there? Twiddle your thumbs? Read a magazine? Send text messages?

I remember Derek Copley, former Principal of Moorlands Bible College recalling a situation when he had been waiting for a student who was late for an appointment with him. He became increasingly irritated as time passed and the student failed to appear. Eventually she did arrive but by this time the Prin (as we affectionately called him) was quite angry and told her so, complaining that she had wasted his time. "Well," she responded, "you could have spent the time praying."

The disciples did pray as they waited. The apostles, the women who had accompanied them throughout Jesus' ministry and his family were united in persevering prayer. It seems that was their primary focus. There was really nothing to do but to keep praying that the Spirit would come to them. Nothing of any import was going to happen until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and so they prayed. And they went on praying.

How long will you persevere in prayer until God empowers you with His Holy Spirit? Will you wait until it happens or will you simply go off and do what you believe God wants you to do anyway?

As churches, bodies of God's people seeking to do his will, do we come together in unity and persevere in prayer until we know that the Holy Spirit has equipped us for the task ahead? Or do we make plans and pray that He will bless them?

I believe the poverty of power in the ministry of the church today, and in our individual Christian lives, is due to the fact that we have absolutely no idea what it means to persevere in prayer in the way the early church did. So we do not have the genuine revivals of the 18th and 19th century. Instead, we have a society in decay and a church following it rapidly into a rise of materialism and decline or morality.

May God forgive us and teach us to pray.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Crowned With ...

imperial_state_crownCrowns are the privilege of monarchs and princes.

This week Queen Elizabeth II attended the State Opening of Parliament to read out her Government's plans for legislation in the coming year. Many present were dressed in dramatic robes of various kinds or in the sometimes very strange uniforms of British pageantry. But amongst them all, there could be no doubt who was the monarch.

The Queen wore the Imperial State Crown - an extravagance of jewels with over 3,000 individual gems set in gold and silver with a purple cap and ermine trim.

Our Glorious King 
As Christians we know Jesus is our glorious King:

But we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour. Heb 2:9

One day everyone will recognise His sovereignty and bow the knee. We are simply His subjects.

Or is this really true?

We Have Crowns
Ordinary subjects don't have crowns. But when we examine Scripture we discover that God's people do have crowns.

Here are just three examples:

Psalm 103:4 - He crowns you with love and compassion. The diamonds, sapphires and pearls of the Imperial State Crown have nothing on these brilliant jewels. God has set His love and compassion on us and they beautify us more gloriously than any rare gem.

Psalm 149:4 - The Lord takes delight in his people; He crowns the humble with victory. Gold and silver won't buy your freedom from any sin but God gives us victory over temptation if we are humble enough to accept His help.

Proverbs 10:6 - Blessings crown the head of the righteous. We are righteous in Christ and so experience all the blessings God has for us. As Paul put it, we have been blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3).

Love, compassion, victory and blessings - all things which should make us stand out as spiritual royalty and give us confidence in our Father, the King.

Why not take some time to meditate on these jewels and praise God for them.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Contemplating God's Glory

unveiled faces god's gloryAnd we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:18

Glory is self-replicating.

It is impossible to encounter the glory of God without being changed.

Perhaps that is why we often shrink from prayer.

Our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29) and fire is comforting and warming just so long as we maintain a safe distance. So much of the time, when we come to God in prayer, we remain superficial, as though we are conducting some kind of business transaction.

Maybe we offer a few words of praise, admit some minor fault, say a polite "thank you" for answered prayer and bring some more problems which need solving. The whole exercise is quite pleasant, But we have not allowed The Lord's fiery gaze to burn into our soul.

And yet, if there is going to be any genuine transformation we need to take time to develop a deep intimacy with God.

One of my favourite quotes on prayer is from Andrew Murray:

Take time in the inner chamber to bow down and worship; and wait on Him until He unveils Himself.

But Paul tells us that we too need to unveil our faces.

It is as dangerous as playing with fire but that is when we begin to become Christ-like and to reflect the glory of God to the world.