Monday, 22 May 2017

Knowing what to pray

What do you do when you want to pray what God wants?  You ask him.

Sounds simple, doesn't it?  But it often isn't.  We either pray what we want.  Or, we blunder along, forgetting the power of praying according to God's will.

But for John Eldredge, asking God what he should pray about has become second-nature.  And he sees results.

In his book Moving Mountains, Eldredge says he and others were praying for a chronically-ill friend when he realized nothing was going to happen.

"I paused, and quietly in my heart I asked Jesus, What is going on here, Lord? What are we doing wrong?  How do we change the way we are praying? Jesus replied, Ask him how he feels about his body."

So Eldredge asked his friend that question and he answered: "I hate my body."

That was the key to opening the door to healing his friend's body.  As Eldredge writes: "You can't bring blessing into a body while the owner of that body is cursing it."

The next step was working with this man to "break those agreements with self-hatred".  Having done that, the group of friends prayed again for healing and soon the man was feeling well.

Eldredge says that asking Jesus what to pray in any situation is "the step that has brought greater results than all others combined" in his experience.

"If prayer is in fact a partnership, I want to be in alignment with God," he writes.

Of course, this is consistent with scripture.  The apostle John writes in his letter 1 John 5:14-15:

"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him."

Still, it is hard to shake myself of the habit of praying for what I want in a situation.  I have to be ready to accept that God knows best - even if the answer is bitter tasting at the time.

Eldredge offers the illustration of someone asking for prayer that his mother and father be reconciled.  That may be what God wants right then - or it may be that the Lord wants something else done first.  Perhaps there are character issues to be dealt with before reconciliation.

We need to remember that Jesus wants to talk with us as he says in Revelation 3:20.  He is knocking on the door of our hearts, waiting to be invited in.

Eldredge always begins his prayer time, asking for God's guidance.  He suggests we begin with simple, specific questions like "Should we invite our neighbours for dinner this weekend" rather than big life-changing ones like "Whom should I marry?" or "Should I quit my job tomorrow?"

Then, he urges us to find a quiet place where we can relax in God's presence without distractions.  He will ask a small question and then repeat it so his mind stays focused.  He does not demand "Yes" or "No" answers, but opens his mind to the still, small voice of God.

When he can, Eldredge begins his prayer time by consciously consecrating himself to God - spirit, emotions, heart, mind, will and body - and asks the Holy Spirit to fill him.  Then, he seeks God's guidance for his prayers and looks for breakthrough - a sign that God is answering the prayer.

This makes a lot of sense to me.  I can think of two friends I have been praying about for several years without outward results.  Have I been praying stubbornly the wrong way?  Does God have something else in mind for them?

I will ask God and start listening to what he says.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Mind games

How our minds think plays a big role in how we connect with God in prayer.

And Peter Lord, author of Hearing God, says that we can change the way we think to better hear our Lord.

Lord declares that "we will inevitably become what we think about all day".  That can be a problem if our thinking is wrong.  It is especially a problem if we base our prayers on wrong thinking.

"My attitude at any given time is determined by my thoughts," he writes.  "Whether I am afraid, loving, anxious, peaceful or filled by any other such feeling, it is all dependent on my thoughts."

The solution, Lord says, is to fill our thoughts with truth - truth about God and from God.

The writer of Hebrews said long ago that we believers should be "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith". (Hebrews 12:2)

And, in his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul said: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

Lord says that we often draw our thoughts from our subconscious where we bury our experiences of life.  Frequently, we interpret our experiences wrongly so that when we turn to our past to base current decisions, we make mistakes - sometimes serious mistakes.  If our reasoning is founded on bad thinking, we will come to faulty conclusions.

But the author offers hope.

"How do you get the air out of a glass? By filling it with water.  How do you get rid of wrong and untrue thoughts? By filling your mind with true and right thoughts from God."

The mind is able to receive new information - sometimes changing long-held opinions, writes Lord.

"When we recognize and accept the appropriate thoughts as truth from God, we repent.  We change our minds."

But if we are to get God's input, we have to spend time with God - reading his word, meditating and conversing with him.

That is the big issue with me and with other Christians, too.  Lord is calling us to spend every waking hour in talking with God and listening to him.

That may seem impossible, but Christians have done it through the ages.  One great example is Brother Lawrence, a 17th century French monk whose prayer life is described in a little book called The Practice of the Presence of God.

Brother Lawrence knew from the Bible that Jesus was always with him.  So, in the ordinary course of daily chores, he spoke with Christ, sharing his needs and worshiping the Lord.  He did everything - even the jobs he disliked - out of love for Christ.

It took discipline for him to make this a daily habit.  But eventually it became second-nature to him and this humble monk had a profound impact on the people around him.  People came to him for spiritual counsel.

Frank Laubach, an American educator and missionary, developed what he called "The Game With Minutes" after reading The Practice of the Presence of God.  The game suggests practical ways we can be in God's presence for at least one minute every hour - either imagining Christ with us or sharing thoughts with him or praying for others.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Paul says we are to train hard as we run the race of life to win a reward from Christ in heaven.

I want to have a close relationship with God.  My challenge is to be disciplined and open my mind and thoughts to the Lord throughout the day.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Finding God's path

Peter Lord, a young pastor of a thriving Florida church, was certain God wanted him to move with his young family to New Orleans to go to theological seminary.

The deacons in his church tried to discourage him.  They pointed out that the church was going through a revival and he had no savings, no job and a young family to care for.  He would have to find a job in New Orleans to pay his way through seminary.

But he and his wife were convinced that, after months of prayer, God was directing Lord to attend seminary.  So, filled with faith, he left for New Orleans to find a job and a place to stay for his family.

Decades later, Lord described in his book Hearing God what happened the day he arrived in New Orleans. He landed a job, registered for school, and found a place to live.

He telephoned his wife and she told him that a church from Mississippi had called to say they wanted him as pastor.  What a day!

In his book, Lord says that "when God speaks, you have faith".

"It's a faith you cannot explain to others. It's just there.  As long as you reflect on [God's] words, the faith remains."

Lord used this example as an illustration of how the results of our conversations with God are vital to understanding what God wants in our lives.  Faith is one of the results.

As I mentioned in a blog post "Two voices" a few weeks ago, Lord notes that it is often hard to sort out what God wants amid the thoughts that whirl through our minds.

He points out that Satan is trying to discourage us by pointing out our unworthiness or exploiting our weaknesses.  But God's voice is loving and encouraging.  When the Holy Spirit points out sins, God also extends mercy when he turn back to him.

Of course, whatever we feel God saying must be checked with the scriptures - God's written words.  It is the Spirit who applies God's words to our particular situations.

Lord lists several things that can confirm God's direction for our lives:

  • God's voice brings peace: There is an internal peace that surpasses understanding;
  • God's voice brings sympathetic understanding: We can deal with difficult people with understanding and sympathy;
  • God's voice brings hope: Hope is confidence in God even when the times are tough;
  • God's voice creates and sustains faith: When we hear from God, faith rises in our hearts - we believe; and
  • God's voice produces gratitude: We are filled with gratitude and praise to our God for what he has done and is doing.
I need to remember this when I seek God's guidance in my own life.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Consecration and prayer

John Eldredge begins his workday by consecrating himself and his workplace and every minute of his day to the Lord.

And that is the way we should begin our prayer time, says the author of Moving Mountains: Praying with Passion, Confidence and Authority.

"It is the fresh act of dedicating yourself - or your home, a relationship, a job, your sexuality, whatever needs God's grace - deliberately and intentionally to Jesus, bringing it fully into his kingdom and under his rule."

The idea of consecration or dedication is not new.

As Eldredge points out, there are instances in the Bible where God called on his people to consecrate themselves before a great event such as the Lord coming down on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19:9-11)

He illustrates the importance of consecration by referring to Acts 13 where the young church at Antioch spent time in prayer and fasting before dedicating Barnabas and Saul as missionaries.

He suggests Barnabas and Saul "dedicated themselves afresh to God; they renounced every way they had wandered from him; they presented their lives, their gifting, and their calling completely to Jesus, to be filled again with his Spirit, to be his and his alone".

In a sense, that is what the apostle Paul commands us to do in Romans 12:2: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, which is your spiritual worship."

Why is it important to do this in prayer?

As I think about it, I cannot enter God's throne room with a mind and heart determined to disobey him.  God wants me to have a willing heart.

I'm unlikely to hear God if my mind is focused on other things - some good, some bad.

If I consecrate myself to God every day, I have a better chance of knowing how to pray according to God's will.  And that is the key to answered prayer. (1 John 5:14-15)

Consecration certainly leads to effective followers of God.  The apostle Paul is a great example, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to Europe while overcoming great obstacles, beatings, and imprisonment.

And I am sure the disciples of Jesus were consecrating their lives to God while praying in the days leading up to the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Lots for me to think about and pray about.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Spirit and revival

One of the marks of revival seems to be the Holy Spirit melting the hard hearts of Christian believers.

A friend of our daughter's told my wife and I last weekend that she has become aware of a quiet and humble renewal underway in a Steinbach, Manitoba church.  The renewal was born in prayer as the church leaders sought God's direction.

An acquaintance told her that she visited the church a while ago and was struck by the key role of personal confession.  Evidently,  she was surprised by the things in her own life that the Holy Spirit brought to her mind.  She left the church a changed woman and now her own church is changing, too.

I have not been to that Manitoba church, but it sounds as if something significant is happening there.

Certainly, there is ample evidence in the Bible and in Christian history that revival must begin with believers.  The Holy Spirit starts with us.

In 2 Chronicles 7, God appears to Solomon in a vision and tells him in verse 14:  "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 I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land."

That suggests to me that healing - or transformation - of our society starts with God's people repenting of their sin, praying and seeking God with all their heart.

In Nehemiah 8, Ezra reads from the scriptures to the Israelites returning to Jerusalem from exile and they are struck to the heart, many weeping.  They had wandered spiritually from the Lord.  But Nehemiah calls on them to find their joy and strength in God.

The story of Pentecost tells how the Holy Spirit convicted the Jewish people listening to the apostle Peter as they realized they were responsible for the crucifixion of the Messiah (Acts 2).  Many found Christ's mercy that day and became his followers.

In another post, I mentioned that, a few years after the Second World War, several church leaders on the Scottish island of Lewis were praying and reading scriptures as they sought how to bring the island's youth back to church.

Then, one of the elders fell on his knees and cried out: "God, are my hands clean?  Is my heart pure?  It is not the young people of this island that need reviving.  It's me!"

That started a four-year-long revival that affected the whole island.

I realize my own heart is not pure.  And I admit that confession sounds scary.

But I also know that God is merciful.  And he knows that I am weak.

I am convinced that the Spirit is gentle - but powerful.

When the Spirit moves, great things happen.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Spirit's fingerprints

The Holy Spirit's fingerprints were all over the astonishing revival of 1857-58 in the United States.

It began very quietly with one man - Jeremiah Lanphier - praying: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"  He was a layman, hired by the Old Dutch Church on Fulton Street, New York City, to reach out to the down-and-out in that city.

The revival continued on for more than a year with more than one million people becoming believers in a U.S. population of less than 30 million.

And, says Samuel I. Prime, this was a quiet, reverential revolution - no fanfare, no superstar preachers, no gimmicks to stir up emotions.  Prime, who was part of the revival, says in his book The Power of Prayer that laymen led this prayer movement that spread like sparks in a fire from New York to Florida and California.

Prime writes that this was a definite move of the Holy Spirit - nothing else can explain it.

Prime's book is a tonic for anyone who is discouraged or disillusioned with the world around us.  Anyone who feels that the church is doomed in North America needs to read this book.

Lanphier was a single man whose whole life was wrapped up in his ministry to the people of New York City.  He had become a believer at the age of 33, 15 years before the revival began.  He had been a businessman before becoming the Old Dutch Church's missionary to the inner city.

He was a very approachable, pleasant man and spent a lot of time on the streets talking to people and distributing tracts.  But his heart was heavy, feeling that he was only touching the surface.

That's when he began asking God what the Lord wanted him to do.

After praying, he felt he should open the doors of the church to businessmen in the area for prayer one day a week for one hour, beginning at 12 noon.  He distributed posters announcing the first prayer meeting on September 23, 1857.

He was the only one there for the first half hour.  Then, one person arrived and by the end of the hour there were six.  The six people were from different denominations - a trademark of that revival.

There were more people the next week.  And about 40 people attended the third weekly prayer gathering and there was so much enthusiasm that they decided to meet again the next day.

From then on, the businessmen met daily.  The prayer gatherings were very informal - everything was brief - the short talks and singing - because some people could only stay for as little as five minutes.

Very quickly, it became apparent that many people attending were not believers, but were under deep conviction of sin.  There were a growing number of conversions.

Ministers started attending - though laymen were prayer leaders - and the prayer gatherings spread to other churches in New York.  Before long, there were 150 prayer centres - some in churches, some in secular buildings in New York.  Thousands were participating.

Then, in 1858, the revival spread to Philadelphia.  Then, on to New England.  Then, west to Chicago.  Before long, every corner of the nation was touched by this Spirit-led movement.

The revival did not go unnoticed by the media.  First, the church press and then the secular press began reporting on the revival.

Prime asserts that the 1857-58 revival was different from previous revivals because there was no dominating human leader and it was lay-led.  As well, people from all denominations worked together - putting aside their differences to worship their Lord and Saviour and pray.

It was a humble, Spirit-led revival.

An example and inspiration for us today.

Monday, 10 April 2017

God can!

I can't - but God can!

Jesus told his followers in Matthew 19:26 that what is impossible for human beings is possible for God - all things are possible!

For prayer people like me, this is a very important message from Jesus.  It is  message we need to hear because it is easy to get discouraged.

Perhaps your family problem is getting worse instead of better.  Or, your church seems to be on the verge of falling apart. Or, the world around you appears to be more Satan's playground than God's.

Of course, there's no guarantee that God will put a bandaid on your problem - or mine - and that it will get better right away.

But we are promised in 1 John 5:14-15 that when we ask something according to his will, he will give us what we request.

Sometimes, it takes time - God's timing.  The children of Israel called out in anguish to God under Egyptian slavery for 400 years before the Lord sent Moses to deliver them.  And Hebrews 11 tells us that many great believers prayed for the messiah for hundreds of years before Jesus came.

That may not be comforting if you have a serious problem now.

There are, of course, many wonderful answers to prayer that happen quickly.  The lame, the halt and the blind called out to Jesus for healing - a form of prayer - and were instantly cured.

A handful of prayer warriors prayed for some years for revival on the Scottish island of Lewis after the Second World War and were rewarded by an awesome display of God's power with many giving their lives to the Lord.  This happened in the lifetime of these praying people.

The great thing about God is that he can surprise us at any time.  No one would have picked timid, fearful Gideon to be the saviour of Israel against the Midianite hordes, but he was.  In the process, God showed Gideon and the Israelites that they won because of his power, not theirs.

The Bible is one long story of weak people casting themselves on God in desperation and seeing their prayers answered in astounding ways.

The lesson I draw from all this is that I must not give up praying.  No prayer is wasted.  It will be answered in God's way and in God's timing.

Jesus said as much in Luke 18 in his parable of the persistent widow.  He told his listeners we must persevere in our prayers as a widow did who plagued an unjust judge with her pleas for justice until he gave in and granted her wishes.

And, even though it took a long time, God told Moses at the burning bush in the wilderness that he had heard the prayers of the suffering Israelites in Egypt and was acting in response. (Exodus 3:7-9)

So, how am I to pray when things look bleak?

First, I must seek God and ask him for his guidance on how to pray in that situation.  I must look for the Holy Spirit's illumination as I read the scriptures and listen to his promptings in my everyday life. Perhaps the Lord will gradually change my prayers as time goes by and he reveals his will to me.

Next, I must continue praying until I see God's answer.

Finally, I must never lose faith that God has heard my prayer and that my prayer matters.

I must never lose sight of the fact that God can do the impossible.

Maybe I can't - but God can.