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Archive for Prayer

Feb
07

Why Discernment is Important:: 2

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No great movement of God has ever been undertaken without prayer. Think about the early church. There, the disciples watched as Jesus ascended up into the heavens. As they stared into the sky with their mouths hanging open, an angel appeared and admonished them to remember that Jesus would one day return in like fashion.

What did the disciples do next? They returned to the upper room where they had shared the last supper and began to pray. It’s important that we notice they did not plan nor did they preach. They did not strategize or brainstorm. They didn’t conduct listening sessions or seek feedback using survey monkey. They simply began to pray. (cf. Acts 1:12-14)

What happens when God’s people pray together about the direction of the church?

First, the hearts in the church and heart of the church is unified with the purposes of God. Corporate prayer brings the church into alignment with heart of God. It is in prayer that we are reminded of who God is and what God is really about. When we pray we connect with God and receive access to all of his resources. Years ago I heard a man speak on the subject of prayer. In his sermon he referenced Luke 19:46, where Jesus rebuked the money changers in the Temple by saying, “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” He then went on to say, “If the house of God is not a house of prayer, then its somebody else’s house.”

Second, the church discovers God’s direction through prayer. Sometimes we are guilty of planning and strategizing and at the conclusion of all of our preparations we tack a prayer on the end of them, asking God to bless the plans we have already made. Unfortunately, we often treat church with such routine that we don’t even consider our need for God’s divine guidance. Year after year we run the same ministry plays, receiving the same ministry results, all the while wondering why our churches are not thriving. Prayer opens our minds to the possibilities of things God wants to see happen in our communities. But we’ll never be awakened to the new thing God wants to do if we do not pray.

Tomorrow I’ll post the final thought on the importance of discerning God’s plan for the church. In the meantime, let me encourage you to wrestle a bit with Don Miller’s quote above. Is your church God’s house? Or does it belong to someone else?

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Feb
06

Why Discernment is Important

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With two wins under their belts, the Israelites were on a roll when it happened. The following passage is a bit lengthy for a blog post, but you need the back story. Check it out:

Now all the kings west of the Jordan River heard about what had happened. These were the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, who lived in the hill country, in the western foothills,a and along the coast of the Mediterranean Seab as far north as the Lebanon mountains. These kings combined their armies to fight as one against Joshua and the Israelites. But when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to deception to save themselves. They sent ambassadors to Joshua, loading their donkeys with weathered saddlebags and old, patched wineskins. They put on worn-out, patched sandals and ragged clothes. And the bread they took with them was dry and moldy. When they arrived at the camp of Israel at Gilgal, they told Joshua and the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant land to ask you to make a peace treaty with us.”
The Israelites replied to these Hivites, “How do we know you don’t live nearby? For if you do, we cannot make a treaty with you.” They replied, “We are your servants.” “But who are you?” Joshua demanded. “Where do you come from?” They answered, “Your servants have come from a very distant country. We have heard of the might of the LORD your God and of all he did in Egypt. We have also heard what he did to the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River—King Sihon of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan (who lived in Ashtaroth). So our elders and all our people instructed us, ‘Take supplies for a long journey. Go meet with the people of Israel and tell them, “We are your servants; please make a treaty with us.”’ “This bread was hot from the ovens when we left our homes. But now, as you can see, it is dry and moldy. These wineskins were new when we filled them, but now they are old and split open. And our clothing and sandals are worn out from our very long journey.” So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the LORD. Then Joshua made a peace treaty with them and guaranteed their safety, and the leaders of the community ratified their agreement with a binding oath.
(Joshua 9:1-16, NLT)

Did you see it? The Israelites were deceived for one reason–they didn’t consult the Lord. Now the first you might ask is “why not?”

Maybe they were a little bit self confident. After all, they had just come off two significant victories and were starting to get their legs underneath them. Or perhaps they just resorted to good old fashioned common sense. Even the most committed people of faith can default to logic and reason, paying attention to their senses and relying on their experience. Could it have been that they just didn’t think it was a big deal? You know how it goes. We’ll let God handle the big stuff like Jericho and Ai; we’ll handle the small stuff.

Regardless of what excuse Joshua and the sojourners had, they blew it. They didn’t consult the Lord and the results would be a burden to the nation for generations to come. This week I want to post some thoughts on the importance of prayer for the people of God. Not the kind of prayer that is offered on behalf of the sick and suffering, but the prayer that is committed to discern God’s guidance for the church as she seeks to fulfill God’s plan and purpose.

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Aug
01

How to Offer an Invocation

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A couple of weeks ago Rev. Joe Nelms, Pastor of Family Baptist Church, gained national attention by delivering a rousing invocation at the Nationwide Federated Auto Parts 300 NASCAR event in Nashville, TN. National media quickly picked up on the prayer and the video has since gone viral. While Rev. Nelms’ prayer may not make it into the core curriculum of any worship course at an accredited theological seminary, it does provide an opportunity for me to share a few suggestions on how to offer a public prayer.

1. Know the Purpose for the Prayer
Public prayers are often requested as a part of corporate worship or some public gathering. When asked to perform such a task, the first question you should ask is, What is the purpose of the prayer? What function does the prayer serve in the context of the event? For example, in times of corporate worship several public prayers may be utilized: an invocation to invite or acknowledge the presence of God; an offertory prayer to express gratitude for the faithful and gracious provision of God; or a benediction to ask God to depart with the people as they endeavor to fulfill His purposes in the world. Other times of prayer may be more pastoral in nature and share concern for personal needs and burdens within the congregation or request wisdom and discernment that is needed for a special decision the church is facing. Every public prayer is designed to serve a particular purpose in light of a larger function, and that is where you should begin.

2. Voice the Prayer of the Community
When asked to deliver a public prayer one should consider the audience or the congregation. What are their concerns? What would they pray if they were in your shoes? Part of what distinguishes corporate prayer from private prayer is that the person who offers the corporate prayer offers it on behalf of and for the larger group. If your audience is your regular congregation, you need not be as sensitive to biblical words and theological concepts as you would if you were at, say for example, a NASCAR event.

3. Prepare in Advance
Some religious traditions are comfortable with writing public prayers as a part of their preparation while others are reluctant to write their prayers out. Either way, it is thoroughly appropriate to give some consideration and thought to the prayer well in advance. A little advance preparation will prevent your prayer from coming across as wordy or redundant.

4. Remember your True Audience
At the end of the day, all prayer is directed to God. When you pray, either publicly or privately, you pray to God. The purpose of prayer is not entertainment and its not to make an impression. All genuine prayer is to God as though no one else exists, even when offered in public. I don’t think of God as a cosmic killjoy who doesn’t delight in His children at play. But in a world where 1 out of every 3 people live on $2 a day or less, I think its safe to say that there are larger concerns than high performance tires.

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So since self righteousness is not a valid option, what are the benefits of the righteousness provided by Christ? In the next section of Romans 10, Paul reveals the benefits of the righteousness that are available through Christ.

For example, we do not have to ascend to God through our own efforts because Christ has come near to us. In Romans 10:6-8, Paul continued, “But faith’s way of getting right with God says, ‘Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).’ In fact, it says, ‘The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.’ And that message is the very message about faith that we preach” (Romans 10:6-8, NLT). Through the incarnation and the resurrection God fully demonstrated His commitment to come near to us, rendering our efforts to ascend to God unnecessary.

Not only did God come near to us, righteousness is made available by believing and confessing the gospel. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10, NLT). Self righteousness is pursued through external efforts which are believed to transform one’s inner life. But in these two verses Paul has shared that life change happens inside-out. Believing in the heart leads to confessing with the mouth. In other words, when the heart is right, right behavior will follow.

This Christ righteousness is available to all who ask! Regardless of race, gender, or status; all are welcome, and those who come to Christ are not disappointed. The next section of Romans 10 goes like this, “As the Scriptures tell us, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.’ Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved’” (Romans 10:11-13, NLT).

Tomorrow I’ll conclude this series on praying for those who don’t. Thus far I’ve observed that we should pray with understanding. What remains involves you and me and God unfurling His mission in the world.

Categories : Evangelism, Prayer, Romans
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“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God” (Romans 10:1-4, NLT).

How do you pray for those who don’t? The first suggestion that Paul offers is to pray with understanding. Our prayers for those who don’t pray can be guided by understanding the heart of the problem. Paul shares three problems that his fellow Israelites have that are not uncommon with people today.

The first problem is what I would call religious enthusiasm. Paul acknowledged that his Jewish brothers and sisters had ample enthusiasm about spiritual things. It wasn’t just an observation that Paul had made about the Jews. He had observed the same thing about the Gentiles (cf. Acts 17:16-34). Clearly he would say the same thing today.

A simple search on Amazon.com revealed that if you searched on the word “christianity,” 280,099 results would pop up. For “spirituality” you would net 131,619 results, and “new age” would yield 13,307. If you amplify the search to a broader domain such as Google, “christianity” would provide a return of 116,000,000 hits. “Spirituality” would produce 136,000,000, and “new age” a whopping 422,000,000!
Our Christian houses of worship may reflect otherwise on Sunday morning, but the world is buzzing about spirituality with zealous enthusiasm!

A second problem that Paul identified was spiritual blindness. While people throughout history have demonstrated abundant zeal for spiritual things, “they don’t understand.” This enthusiasm is without knowledge. In other words, their passion is sincere, yet without truth.
In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul writes about how the god of this world has blinded the minds of people so they have a difficult time comprehending the truth about God’s way of making people right with himself. There is a spiritual battle involved concerned that we must be made aware.

Problem number three is perhaps the heart of the issue when it comes to understanding those who “don’t pray.” At the core is the attempt to make themselves right with God apart from Christ. Any righteousness they hope to attain is by self effort. In the specific case of the Jews, it is by keeping the law. But in principle, there is a sense that out of self effort will evolve the ability to connect with God. They refuse to accept God’s grace and acknowledge Him as the source of righteousness. With stubborn independence, they prefer to get to God based on their own efforts and accomplishments. Does that sound like anyone you know?

So what’s the point? The point is self effort is hard! In the next verse, Paul continues, “For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands” (Romans 10:5, NLT).

Self effort is hard because it requires the continual, unending process of learning and earning; of trying to impress God through dutiful observances and good deeds. It is based on the theory that if a person can accomplish enough good behavior that the good behavior will transform their hearts. In short, my external life will transform my internal life. The obvious problem is this: How good does a person have to be in order to be good enough for a holy God?

Let me explain it this way. How many times per day would you say that you sin? Let’s suppose for a moment that the number is three. Just three sins per day. There are 365 days in a year, so that would roughly calculate to about 1,000 sins per year. How long do you expect to live? Let’s say a number like 80 years. If you live to be 80, committing only 3 sins per day, at the end of your life you would have amassed 80,000 sins! How good would you have to be to overcome that? How many good things would you have to do to surpass that mark?

That’s Paul’s issue with self righteousness. It’s never enough. So when you pray for those who don’t, pray with that understanding in mind. Tomorrow I’ll continue in Romans 10 and share how Paul contrasts self righteousness with the righteousness provided by Christ.

Categories : Evangelism, Prayer, Romans
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Who do you know that doesn’t pray? Who do you love that doesn’t pray? How do you pray for those who don’t? The Book of Romans has been called the “Gospel According to Paul.” It is his treatment of what the gospel is and what the gospel does and how we are to approach it and spread it. As part of this great book, Paul spends some time talking about praying for those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Check out the following passages and observe Paul’s burden for those he holds near his heart:

“With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them” (Romans 9:1-3, NLT).

“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved” (Romans 10:1, NLT).

Paul’s prayer for his fellow Israelites was passionate and vulnerable. It was hopeful and optimistic. He doesn’t condemn them, neither does he judge them. It is hard to imagine loving someone so much that you would be willing to take their place in hell if that would mean they would discover the righteousness that is provided through Christ.

What follows in Romans chapter 10 is an explanation of the righteousness of God and Paul’s description of the “never to be embarrassed faith” that one can find in Christ. Throughout this week I want to unpack Paul’s challenge for us to pray for people who have yet to discover God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

Categories : Evangelism, Prayer, Romans
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“And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for” (1 John 5:14-15, NLT).

Today I want to share six steps that have helped me in my personal approach to prayer. I trust that you can find something here that will benefit you as well.

1. Prayer begins when a God acknowledged need enters my life.
We are intimately related to the sovereign God of the universe. The God who spoke the universe into existence by the power of the word is the same God who insists we call Him “Father” and refers to us as His children. Many times when needs arise and problems intrude, instead of turning to our loving Father we respond in fear. How does God see our needs and problems? Some perspective here can be helpful. From God’s point of view, my need is a platform upon which God can prove to the world how powerfully He provides for his people. Additionally, my need is a signal from God that He has a blessing available for me for which I have not asked. And finally, my need is an indication from God that He has not given up on the possibility that I might learn how to pray. Prayer begins when we adopt God’s perspective on our needs and problems.

2. I turn to God in prayer as my first response, not my last resort.
Many of our public buildings have fire extinguishers encased in a glass cabinet. Etched on the glass in bright red lettering is the phrase, “In case of emergency, break glass.” Ironically, that’s how many people view prayer. When we have come to the end of our resources and our resourcefulness, we break the glass and make our desperate pleas to God. Our relationship to God is a love relationship, not a legal contract. He desires to be our first response when challenges arise.

3. In prayer, God reveals His will to me.
God does this through two means: by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-12) and through the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Spirit of God and the word of God are like two rails upon which a train travels. It takes both to get the job done. If you take one away from the other you risk derailment.

4. I align my will with God’s will.
Here’s the tricky part. Knowing God’s will is only half the battle. Once you are aware of God’s will, you have to take the next step and align your will with God’s will. I think the most helpful passage on this point is the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. He clearly knew the Father’s will, yet asked three times for the Father’s “plan B.” The conclusion Jesus came to was the conclusion we must come to in this step, which is “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

5. I make a faith request based upon God’s will.
Jesus taught us to ask according to the will of the Father. God’s will is our guidance in prayer. We can know God’s will and must ask in accordance to His will when we pray.

6. God hears and grants the request that is made in His will.
1 John 5:14-15 indicates that God’s hearing and granting are simultaneous in nature. When God hears His will He grants his will.

These steps in prayer have been helpful to me, and I trust that you will find them helpful to you as you continue to learn how to pray. Like riding a bicycle, the only way we can really learn to pray is to pray! FB Meyer once commented that the most tragic aspect of prayer is not unanswered prayer. The most tragic thing is unoffered prayer. Let me encourage you to continue to pursue prayer daily. There’s no better way to learn!

Categories : Prayer
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Jul
06

Six Steps to Successful Prayer

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Recently I came across an old story about a quaint, county seat town that became disrupted by the news that an out of towner had bought a building on Main Street and was planning to open a night club. As the news spread through the little hamlet, the people got together and decided to have a community wide prayer meeting at the church. As the people gathered they began to pray fervently, the meeting pushed into the early hours of the morning. As they wrestled with God in prayer, they began to ask God to burn the new night club to the ground. Within a matter of minutes, a severe thunderstorm rolled into town, and lightening struck the building, and it burned to the ground.

The new night club owner was furious when he heard about the prayer meeting and decided to file a law suit against the church for their prayers which caused the loss of his business. The church responded by hiring an attorney and defended themselves against the suit, denying any responsibility for the “act of God.” As a part of the final settlement, the Judge made the following statement: “It seems to me that where ever fault may lie, one thing is for certain. The night club owner believes in the power of prayer and the church does not.”

How do you feel about your prayer life? I personally don’t know anyone who is bold enough to claim that they have it all figured out. Like the disciples of Jesus, we are all learning how to pray. I’ve always been fascinated that the only thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to do was to pray (Luke 11:1). They could have asked Jesus to teach them how to preach and teach or how to perform miracles. But they didn’t. They asked Him to teach them to pray.

This week I want to share some steps in the process of prayer that I have found to be beneficial. I hope that you’ll check in frequently and that these posts will encourage you and help you as you continue to learn to pray.

Categories : Prayer
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Jun
23

How God Answers Prayer

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Last night I was teaching from 1 John 5:14-15 and shared the following about how God answers our prayers. Since it seemed helpful I thought I’d post it this morning. I first saw this Bill Hybels book Too Busy Not to Pray and have used it for years. It helped me understand the nature of God’s response to my requests and had a positive impact on my personal prayer life.

1. Sometimes God says “NO” to our requests because the request is wrong (2 Corinthians 12:8).
2. Sometimes God says “SLOW” to our requests because the timing is wrong (John 11:1-6; Isaiah 30:18).
3. Sometimes God says “GROW” to our requests because we need to mature or are in the wrong spiritual condition (James 4:2-3).
4. When the request is right, the timing is right, and we are “right,” God then says “GO”, or yes to our requests.

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Jun
11

(Missional) Psalm 2

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“I will declare the LORD’S decree: He said to me, ‘You are My Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations your inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will shatter them like pottery'” (Psalm 2:7-9, HCSB).

Notice how Yahweh calls the kings his sons! This reveals how closely tied God is to his mission on earth. The relationship between the Father and the king imparted power and privilege as well as responsibility to mediate justice and equity to the people of God and to lead them in the way of true faith. What was clearly evident with the kings of Israel was even more evident in the Messiah. But I believe that relationship extends to the people of God today as we operate in the Kingdom of God as “Kings and Priests” (1 Peter 2:1-10).

God promised the kings that the nations would be their inheritance. This reminds me of God’s promise to the patriarchs of Israel (Abram, Isaac, Jacob, et al) that whatever direction they looked or where ever they stepped their feet would be their new land. Like those patriarchs, we are to extend the rule of God where ever our feet step. We are the presence of Christ where ever we are! The commission of Jesus to the church was to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. He has delegated the authority to spread the rule of the Kingdom of God where ever and whenever.

But reaching out begins with reaching up in prayer. God said that we are to ask Him for the nations. We are to begin in prayer, asking God to expand our territory and grow our influence. I think there are a lot of good things being done in the name of missions. People are giving sacrificially. People are participating in short term mission trips around the world like never before. New organizations and networks are popping up all over the grid to help facilitate mission work far and wide. All of this should be heartily affirmed. But it all begins with prayer. We can do nothing more than pray until we have prayed. But once we have prayed, God releases us to the nations to extend and implement the Kingdom of God. So what are you waiting for? Ask.