Monday, 20 November 2017

Jesus and inner healing prayer

John Eldredge says that "the glorious news is that God restores the soul - he heals the broken heart".

Eldredge, author of Moving Mountains, joins other writers in declaring that inviting God into our emotional and spiritual issues can lead to inner healing.

Eldredge and others like Leanne Payne, who wrote The Healing Presence, say that bringing Jesus into the painful incidents of life - past and present - can bring release and peace.  They have seen the results in their ministries.

In fact, Jesus referred to the broken-hearted in Isaiah 61:1 when he declared his mission to the world as he shared scripture in his home town synagogue in Nazareth.  Isaiah 61:1 speaks of preaching the good news, binding up or comforting the broken-hearted, proclaiming freedom for captives, and release from darkness.

In her book, Payne notes that God says: "I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind." (Jeremiah 17:10)  Scripture describes the many kinds of heart that God sees.

"These are hearts that are either sinful or wounded and need healing," Payne says. "In their healing, Jesus first of all comes in and stands in the midst of that heart.  He who is the Light of the World illuminates it."

She adds: "He then speaks the healing word, one which, if received and acted upon, sets the heart free from all the other dominating voices: those of the world, the flesh and the Devil."

Typically, Payne and the person she is praying with invite Jesus into the emotional problem they are praying about and ask him to reveal the fundamental issue.  Sometimes it can be a word which triggers memories.

This can lead to forgiving others or seeking forgiveness.  Imaginations and hearts are cleansed.

Eldredge tells the story of an elderly man "who had been experiencing profound, unresolved sadness, which he could not name, nor link to any cause".

As Eldredge and his team prayed, Jesus brought back to the man's memory an incident when he was five years old.  The young boy had grown up without a father who had disappeared after his mother had become pregnant outside of marriage.

One day, the five-year-old boy was running from room to room throughout the house.  His mother asked him what he was looking for and he said: "I'm looking for my daddy."

That kind of wound can be deep-seated and need healing from Jesus.

I know a woman who has been healed physically and emotionally.  The emotional healing took longer, but for her, it was the most important.

I acknowledge that many Christians today believe that divine healing was for the limited time of the New Testament and is no longer necessary now that we have the written scriptures.

I believe God heals today physically, emotionally and spiritually.  There are many reports of miraculous physical healings that cannot be explained by medical science.

In my view, healing prayer works best in concert with good medical care - they are both avenues God uses to heal us.  For example, there are obviously some chemical imbalances that are best dealt with through medication.

But God does heal the broken-hearted.  Let's rejoice in this truth.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Resisting the enemy

A fully-effective prayer ministry must include resisting Satan and his works, says Watchman Nee.

Nee, a great Chinese Christian who died in a Communist prison decades ago, says that "prayer is the best offensive weapon against our enemy".

He suggests in his book Let Us Pray that a complete prayer life should involve three elements - praying for our own needs, praying for the glory of God and the fulfillment of his will, and praying against Satan and his efforts to undermine the work of God in us and the world.

He notes that many Christians pray for themselves; a smaller proportion also pray for God's glory; and even fewer dream of praying against Satan.

I have long been among those who neglected Satan in my prayer life.  And yet the apostle John said in 1 John 3:8 that "the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil".  Should that not be part of our mission, too?

Nee takes Jesus' story of the widow pleading with the unjust judge to avenge her against her adversary as an illustration of our battle against the evil one (Luke 18:1-8).

The author points out that Jesus clearly contrasts the unjust judge with God.  The unjust judge eventually - but reluctantly - agrees to assist the widow but only after a lot of pleading.  However, God loves to come to the immediate aid of his children.

We are like the widow, says Nee.  On this earth, we are helpless by ourselves - we are vulnerable to attacks from the enemy.  But, like the widow, we can appeal for help - our help comes from the Lord.

He suggests that the adversary in the story is just like Satan.  He is determined to hurt the widow.

The story closes with Jesus declaring: "And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?"  In other words, God will act against the adversary as we pray to him.

Nee says that God has already won the ultimate victory over the evil one through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.  But Satan remains powerful in our world until Jesus' return to earth at the conclusion of history.

"The aim of a true prayer touches on not just personal gain," Nee writes, "but more importantly on the glory of God and the loss of the enemy."

He says that the enemy "will do anything which can cause believers to suffer either spiritually or physically, to fall into sins, or to incur loss or damage".

Here are some of the ways he suggests praying against Satan:

  • As God cursed Satan in the Garden of Eden, so we can ask the Lord to curse Satan under the power of the cross in our current situation;
  • As Jesus forbade the demons from speaking, we can ask God to forbid Satan from speaking through the mouths of people around us;
  • As Jesus talked about "binding the strong man (Satan)", so "we may ask God to bind Satan and render him powerless";
  • We can appeal to God to "destroy (Satan's) work in us, destroy his manipulation over our work, destroy his devices in our environment, and destroy all his works"; and
  • We can ask God to rebuke the enemy as the archangel Michael called on God to do against Satan (Jude 9).
Praying against Satan is an extra arrow in our prayer quiver.  Let's use it.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Even when it's hard

Prayer power depends on doing what God asks us to do - even when it's hard.

Jesus is our supreme example - Son of God and yet a man who was constantly praying to the Father, seeking direction as to what to do next.  And then he did what the Father laid out before him.

His greatest test came in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death.  He asked his closest disciples to go with him as he prayed in anguish before the Father, knowing that he was soon to die for the sins of men.  The gospel of Luke tells us that he even sweat drops of blood from the overwhelming stress.

"Abba, Father," he cried out in Mark 14:36, "everything is possible for you.  Please take this cup of suffering away from me.  Yet I want your will to be done, not mine."

Jesus faced physical pain and death, but - even more - he was about to be cut off from his loving ties with the Father on the cross as the full force of man's sin fell upon him.  He was to be the sinless sacrifice to pay for our sins so that we might have access to an eternal relationship with God.

The Father answered Jesus' prayer by giving him the strength to go through with his mission.  His obedience led to a stunning victory over Satan and evil.

Imagine what would have happened had he not obeyed!  We would all be hopeless - in the grips of Satan and hell.

Before Gethsemane, Jesus gave a clue to the power of his ministry.  In John 5:19, he said: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself.  He does only what he sees the Father doing.  Whatever the Father does, the Son also does."

I believe Christ is talking about his time in prayer with the Father as God shows him what to do.

The apostle Paul also made a difficult choice to obey what God asked him to do.

Towards the end of his evangelistic career, Paul was informed by the Holy Spirit he was to go to Jerusalem with suffering and jail awaiting him (Acts 19).  He went ahead with the trip even though his followers pleaded with him not to go.

He said: "My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus - the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God."

Paul's letters glow with wonderful prayers for the people he is talking to.  He called on people to pray always in all circumstances.  His prayers were marvellously answered - because he obeyed what God told him.

The Lord often lets me know what I must do when I ask him.  He lets me know through scriptures and promptings in my mind.

But sometimes I balk because there is a cost to obedience.

The apostle John said in 1 John 3:22 that we will receive whatever we ask if we obey God and do what pleases him.  The implication is that I will not necessarily receive what I seek if I do not obey him.

This speaks to me.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Seek God's vision

Vision is as important in praying for the world around us as it is in everything else.

Great revivals in history began small with God planting a hope and desire in a few praying people's hearts.  As the movements grew, the visions expanded.

Now, we are at a time when the body of Christ needs a vision for the world - starting with our own small worlds.

I have been re-reading Flames of Revival: Igniting the Hearts of a Nation through Prayer by Elana Lynse.  It's a book written in 1989 about great revivals through history, beginning in the Bible and continuing to the late 1800s.

Towards the end of the book, Lynse runs through all the discouraging things that are going on in our Western society today - anti-God movements, drugs, unfaithfulness among Christians and so on.

But she is not discouraged.  She builds her faith by picturing how revival - spiritual renewal - could change the city she lives in.

I need that faith.  So do other believers.

I believe it is God who gives us the desire to see our world transformed for Christ.  And then, it is up to us to seek God's vision for our little corner of the earth.

An example is the young Christian church in Antioch in Acts 13.  The people were praying and fasting - seeking God.  God responded by telling them to commission Paul and Barnabas to carry the message of Christ to the broader world.

Always, Paul sought God's direction before moving on to his next destination.  In one case, God even stopped Paul from doing what he thought he should be doing - evangelizing in the province of Asia.  Instead, the Lord gave him a vision to enter Macedonia, taking Christ to Europe.

It is inspiring to see how the Holy Spirit has moved around the world over the years since Christ's birth, death and resurrection.

Lynse describes what happened in what she calls "The Prayer Century" - the 1700s - a time when the great French philosopher Voltaire predicted the death of Christianity in 30 years.

Many churches had become corrupt and a lot of clergymen did not believe in the power of God.  There was widespread drunkenness, robbery, violence, and oppression.

But God was at work in Europe and North America.

In Germany, Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf sheltered a persecuted Christian sect - the Moravians - on his estate and launched a 100-year daily prayer vigil for evangelizing the world.  The Moravians sent missionaries throughout the world - including the American colonies.

One of those affected by the Moravians was John Wesley who launched the Methodist revival in England in the mid-1700s along with George Whitefield.  Wesley was a strong advocate of the power of prayer.

Later in the century, a "concerts of prayer" movement began in England.  A group published a short tract, calling for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, church unity, and prayer for the worldwide advancement of God's kingdom.  One denomination after another dedicated the first Monday of every month to prayer for revival.

This led 23 ministers of New England churches to band together in prayer for outreach to the world.  Revival broke out which spread rapidly to other parts of the young United States. 

As revival sped throughout the U.S., society changed.  Drunkenness, violence and robbery declined.

Lynse's book details the impact of other revivals over the years, always at times when the outlook looked grim.

I sense that a growing desire to pray in the Western world may be a step towards another revival.

May it be so.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

United, targeted, passionate prayer

James Banks tells a story that illustrates the power of united, targeted and passionate prayer.

The great American evangelist D.L. Moody launched a series of meetings at Cambridge University in the fall of 1882 and was nearly laughed out of town by the Cambridge students.

“The crowd heckled Moody’s simple speech, mimicked his down-to-earth mannerisms, and poked fun at Ira Sankey, Moody’s song leader,” writes James Banks in his book The Lost Art of Praying Together. “One Cambridge student, Gerald Lander, sneered, ‘If uneducated men will come to teach the varsity, they deserve to be snubbed.’”

The first two nights were very discouraging and Moody later said he felt like had “come up against a brick wall”.

Before the third night, he called together a group of 150 mothers to pray.  Moody said later: “Mother after mother, amidst her tears, pleaded for the young men of the university.”

That night, 52 young men gave their lives to Christ.  One of them was Gerald Lander, the scoffer.  He later became a missionary to China.

The mothers had a definite target - the salvation of the young students - and they prayed passionately together.  And God moved.

It reminds me of one of my favourite Bible passages - Acts 12:6-25 - where the young church prayed for their leader, the apostle Peter, imprisoned just after another leader, James, had been executed.

Peter was lying asleep in a jail cell, chained to his guards, while others in the church were praying fervently for him.  The apostle was to be put on trial by King Herod.

Suddenly, an angel appeared in the cell in blazing light and struck Peter on the side to wake him up. Then, he broke the chains binding Peter, led him right out of the jail through open doors and past guard posts and into the city.

At that point, the apostle realized this was not a dream - he was free!

Peter went to the home where many of his friends were praying for him.  At first, they thought he was a ghost - it was too amazing to believe.

Banks tells another story of organized, continual prayer by the Metropolitan Church in London, England under the famous Baptist preacher, C.H. Spurgeon.

“Spurgeon’s church practiced prayer strategically, with united prayer permeating the life of the church at multiple levels,” Banks writes.

People prayed in different groups for specific needs - spiritual protection for the elders, spiritual growth for the Sunday School, for the associated Bible College.  And they had a regular prayer meeting of thanksgiving.  Each member was also asked to set aside a special day to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

In addition, Spurgeon listed items for prayer and these were prayed for in different groups spread throughout London.

Finally, they met for a week of prayer at the outset of the new year.

Spiritual growth - not numerical growth - was Spurgeon’s measuring stick for his church - the largest in London.

“If we restrain prayer, we restrain the blessing,” he said. “Our true success as churches can only be had by asking it of the Lord.”

What was true in the days of Peter, D.L. Moody and C.H. Spurgeon remains true today.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Persistent Pleading

Is it right to constantly plead your case before God?  Won’t he get irritated like any earthly parent who is hounded by a persistent child?

Yes, it is right, says Jesus.  And no, he won’t get irritated.

In fact, Wesley L. Duewel says in his book Mighty Prevailing Prayer that pleading in prayer is fundamental to answered prayer - if it is according to God’s will.

Jesus touches on the importance of persistent pleading in his story about the widow who plagued an unjust judge with repeated demands for justice in her case (Luke 18:1-8). The judge eventually gives in reluctantly to her incessant petitions.

Unlike the unjust judge, Christ says that God is glad to answer his children’s requests.

Duewel says that successful pleading depends above all on your relationship with God.  

“Be sure that you are arguing for that which glorifies God, for the extension of God’s kingdom and in accordance with God’s will.”

You can be bold with your arguments before the Lord once the Holy Spirit and God’s word in the scriptures confirm that your desire is God’s will.

“Presenting your case and detailing your arguments not only pleases God, it helps you understand the need more completely, moves your compassion, strengthens your determination, and arms you with greater holy hunger,” writes Duewel.

He recommends the following ways for presenting your case before God:

  • Plead the honour and glory of God’s name.  Will God’s name be glorified if he grants your request? “The glory of God should be the prime motive in all you do.”
  • Plead God’s relationship to you.  You can approach God confidently, knowing that he created you; he redeemed you; he is your helper; and he is your Father.
  • Plead God’s attributes.  These include God’s righteousness, his faithfulness, and his mercy and compassion.
  • Plead the sorrows and needs of the people.  People like Daniel and Nehemiah in the Bible “identified with people, especially the people of God, in their sufferings”.  God feels the sufferings of his people, so this plea reaches his heart.
  • Plead the past answers to prayer.  Point out how God has worked in the past, praising him for what he has done.
  • Plead the word of God and the promises of God.  Duewel notes how Abraham, Jacob and Moses among others, underlined what God had already promised as they outlined their requests to the Lord.
  • Plead the blood of Jesus. “There is no more prevailing argument we can bring before God than the sufferings, blood, and death of his Son.”
A great way to guide effective prayers!

Monday, 9 October 2017

Being honest with God

The Israelites were fed up with manna every day and Moses was afraid for his life.

So, Moses complained to God - and God answered supernaturally.  He sent meat - quail.

In a sense, the story in Numbers 11 is funny.  But Moses took the mini-revolt seriously.  He knew how his followers felt about the endless flow of the same-old manna God had sent from heaven to feed the several million Israelites in the barren desert.

I have been thinking about this story since our pastor highlighted it in a sermon last Sunday.  For me, it illustrates the importance of going to God with every need and being honest in prayer.

As our pastor pointed out, it wasn't possible to grow food in the desert.  So, the Lord dealt with the Israelites' hunger by sending every morning a fresh batch of manna which the Bible says looked like resin and tasted like coriander seed.

After a while, the people started angrily saying: "If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost!  Also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.  But we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!"

The people got so riled up that they stood in the doorways of their tents and wailed.

Moses was naturally bothered by this and he knew the Lord was upset with the people and their ingratitude.  He knew how the Lord felt because he was always in close touch with God.  He spent hours in the Tent of Meeting praying and receiving guidance.

The Israelite leader then emptied his feelings to God.

He asked the Lord: "Why have you brought this trouble on your servant?  What have I done to displease you that you have put the burden of these people on me?"

He asks God where he can get meat for the people.  He declares he can't do it on his own.  And he goes so far as to say to the Lord: "Please go ahead and kill me . . . and do not let me face my own ruin!"

God answers immediately with a divine solution.  He tells Moses to gather 70 elders in the Tent of Meeting so that he can bestow the power of the Spirit so that they can help him bear the burden of leadership.

And, amazingly, he arranges a giant wind to blow in quail so they lie in heaps about three feet high.  The people have their meat but there are later consequences for their ingratitude.

What do I take away from this prayer story?

Jan Johnson, author of Enjoying The Presence of God, writes:

"If we believe that God is grand enough to love our flawed self, we can speak the truth to him about what we feel - anger at others, disappointment with ourselves, resentment toward him."

God wants the "real" me in prayer - not the "pretend" me.  He is my father and he understands me better than I understand myself.

This story also tells me that he wants me to bring everything that bothers me to him.  Maybe he is disappointed by my lack of faith or trust that he will bring me through.  But he is patient and ready to help.

I love the apostle Paul's advice in Philippians 4:6: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

When Paul says we are to bring "everything" to God in prayer, he means "everything".

What a loving God!