Sunday, 16 July 2017

Finding God's comfort

Sometimes, life's pains are so severe that even prayer seems impossible.

I am learning that a great prescription for emotional and spiritual pain is praying the Psalms back to God.

As I mentioned recently, Donald S. Whitney, author of Praying the Bible, recommends using scriptures to fuel your prayers.  He suggests that the Psalms are particularly valuable as prayer fodder, although you can use other Bible passages, too.

The value of the Psalms is that they contain the whole gamut of emotions - from deep depression to great joy.  And God is at the centre throughout.

Today, I turned to Psalm 46 for my daily read.  The opening two verses caught my eye:

"God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.  So, we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea."

This helped me remember that God is my refuge.  He is always there for me.  I can run to him for his comfort when things seem to be going wrong.

So, I thanked God for being there for me.  I asked him for his strength.

Later in the Psalm, I read in verse 10: "Be still, and know that I am God!"

I was reminded that, no matter what the circumstances, God is God!  Stopping and focusing my mind on who God is helps restore perspective to my anxious thoughts.  He knows the beginning from the end.  He is almighty.  He is working things out for good to those who love him.

In fact, I occasionally picture Jesus with me and neither of us says a word to the other.  I am just content to be with him.  This brings me peace.

The rest of Psalm 46 is a great encouragement when struggling with worries.  It speaks of God and how awesome he is.  I may not know my way out of a particular problem, but God has everything in hand.

The Psalm's description of God is a platform for praising our Lord.  Praising God brings a measure of hope.

So, I am grateful for the psalms - a record of honest feelings expressed to a loving and mighty God.

They help me pray.



Monday, 3 July 2017

Praying the Bible

Is your prayer life a bit stale right now?

If so, Donald S. Whitney, author of Praying The Bible, has a suggestion for you: Pray the Bible.

I have put Whitney's approach into practice in the last few days and find it practical and helpful.

Christians have prayed the scriptures for many centuries.  And there are many who do today.

D. L. Moody, the great American evangelist, and George Muller, founder of British orphanages and an apostle of prayer, prayed with the Bible open before them.  Each considered prayer vital in seeing God move powerfully in their work.

Whitney, an American seminary professor, says the advantage of using scripture passages to fuel your prayers is that you are using God's words and his promises.  And, as you pray the Lord's words, you are praying his will.

Another advantage: You will never run short of prayer material.

Whitney says Muller began praying the scriptures after finding he had a hard time concentrating during his early morning prayer time.  His prayer life took wings when he began praying through Bible passages, even as he walked through nearby fields.

I like Whitney's simple method.  Here is his illustration of someone praying through David's Psalm 23:

  • Starting with verse 1 - "The Lord is my shepherd" - this person might thank God that the Lord has shepherded him all his life.
  • Then, he might ask God to shepherd his family, guarding them against the ways of the world and guiding them into the ways of God.
  • He might request the Lord to shepherd him in the decision that faces him about his future - does he change jobs or not?
  • He might go on to pray for the leaders of the church - the church's "under-shepherds".
The author says a woman in one of his classes spent a half hour on that one verse as it sparked one idea after another for prayer.

He urges us to continue praying through a psalm until we feel we have completed our prayer time.  We might even go on to another scripture passage.

Whitney says the psalms lend themselves most easily to this kind of prayer because they were originally written as prayers.

But he notes that the letters written by the apostles are full of great material for praying.  And even the gospels are good as we can use an incident in Jesus' life as a springboard to prayer.

In fact, there are Old Testament passages which offer inspiration for prayer, too.

Whitney emphasizes that praying the Bible is not the same as studying or
 meditating on the scriptures.  The purpose is to use God's word to stimulate prayer.

As Whitney says, we need never be bored in our prayer times again.


Saturday, 24 June 2017

Why confession matters

There is an old saying that "confession is good for the soul".

But, if you're like me, it's a hard thing to do.  There is an inner resistance to admitting we have sinned - against God or someone else.

Yet, the Bible makes clear that confession of sin is essential to inner healing, a right relationship with God, and ultimately power in prayer.

As I see it, confession follows repentance and leads to God's forgiveness.  Each step draws us closer to God.

Repentance is a heart decision to turn away from sin and back to God.  Next, we confess with our mouths that we have done wrong.  And then God forgives, graciously restoring us to intimate communion with him.

The apostle John summed it up in 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Author, prayer warrior and world evangelist Dick Eastman says in his book The Hour that Changes the World: "This brings to our attention an essential law of prayer: My prayer life will never rise above my personal life in Jesus Christ."

He adds: "According to Scripture, there can be no effective prayer life where sin maintains its grip in the life of the believer."

As the psalmist says in Psalm 66:18: "If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened."

"Why is confession so difficult for some?" asks Eastman.  "Perhaps because confession is really the most painful part of personal prayer."

I realize that there are some sins I resist confessing because I don't want to admit I'm wrong.  That's especially true if confessing means having to ask someone for forgiveness.

But this hard-shell resistance may be standing in the way of inner peace and powerful answers to prayer.

Eastman says he includes a time of personal confession every day during his prayer time.

He uses Psalm 51: 10-11 as the basis of his confession: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me."

He breaks this passage down into four steps:

  • A plea for divine holiness ("Create in me a clean heart").  He reviews the previous day's activities and asks God to point out areas that need confession so that a healthy relationship with the Lord can be maintained;
  • A request for a divine attitude ("Renew a right spirit within me").  He considers his relationships with others and whether he has a forgiving attitude toward them;
  • A request for divine guidance ("Cast me not away from your presence").  He confesses his need for the presence of God during the day to lead him and to defeat temptation; and
  • An appeal for divine unction or anointing ("Take not your Holy Spirit from me").  He says to God that he needs the Holy Spirit to operate through him.
A good plan.  And a reminder that I need to take confession seriously.


Sunday, 18 June 2017

God's burden

You may get a strong desire to call out to God for someone without knowing why.

If so, obey and pray.

Elizabeth Alves tells of just such an episode in her book Becoming a Prayer Warrior.

Decades ago, she got out of bed at night to get a glass of water when a picture of a cousin she hadn't seen in 10 years flashed across her mind.

Suddenly, she fell to her knees and cried out: "Don't let him move, God! Don't let Mike move! Stay still! Stay still!"

She had no idea why this feeling swept over her.  She got up to go back to her bedroom and again fell to her knees, calling out:

"Get him up, Lord! Get him to run!  Run, Mike, run!  Lord, help him to run, run, run!  Let him run, God! Run, run, run!"

After a few minutes, she calmed down and went back to bed.

The next morning, she called her aunt and told her about her prayer experience.  Her aunt said her son was in Vietnam.

A month later, her aunt received a letter from her son, an American pilot, who said he had been shot down and landed in a tree.  He tried to scramble away but fell into a bush, just as Vietcong soldiers began searching the area for him.

A Vietcong soldier stood unwittingly on his pant leg so he couldn't move.  The soldiers were looking up into the tree.

They moved away to sweep nearby bushes and he got up to run but felt as if someone was pushing him back down.  Then, he got up again as it seemed safe and, feeling an impulse to run, he dashed away and was recovered shortly afterwards by a U.S. military helicopter looking for him.

I have heard similar stories of God placing an urgent burden on people to pray when they don't know why.

Not all of us have had such a dramatic experience.  But, God is speaking to us all the time.  And he often drops someone's name into our minds.  Elizabeth Alves' story is a reminder to me that I should pray immediately - even if nothing serious seems to be going on.

One of the reasons Elizabeth Alves was used by God in the Vietnam incident is that she had a close relationship with the Lord.  She listened to him and acted on what she heard.

The prophet Daniel had a similar connection with God.  Daniel began seeking God in prayer as a young Jewish exile in Babylon.  He remained faithful to the Lord even in the darkest times.

Then, one day he was reading in the prophecy of Jeremiah that "the desolation of Jerusalem would last 70 years".  He felt a great desire to pray and poured out his heart, confessing his sin and the sins of the Jews against God.  He called out to God, admitting the Jews did not deserve it, but pleading for Jerusalem based on the Lord's merciful love.

In reply, God sent the angel Gabriel to give the Lord's reply - a further prophecy about the restoration of Jerusalem until the "Anointed One" would come.  The reference to the Anointed One seems to be a prophecy of Jesus' coming and his sacrifice on the cross (Daniel 9).

I believe it is a privilege to receive a burden to pray from God.  It is evidence that God wants us to work with him through prayer.

But, like Daniel, we must - I must - begin by building a close and continuing relationship with the Lord, listening and obeying.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Praying with faith

Jesus made some stupendous promises for those who pray with faith.

But what does it mean to "pray with faith"?

It is something that I have wrestled with over the years.

Sometimes, people pray with little or no faith and God will answer, "Yes." And sometimes they pray fervently but wrongly and God says, "No."

John Wimber, founder of the charismatic Vineyard movement, believed that faith was very important in prayer.  In his healing ministry, he always looked for someone who had faith - a relative or friend - if the sick person was without faith.

And yet, he noted in his book Power Healing that he and his church saw no healings for about year after they launched a healing ministry.  In fact, the breakthrough came after he uttered what he said was a faithless prayer over a woman with a high fever.  She was healed.

It is easy to forget that God is the healer - not me or anyone else.

Andy Stanley, a renowned American author and pastor, has said that "walking by faith is simply living as if God is who he says he is and that he will do everything he has promised to do."

So faith must be in God - not in my ability or gifts or how I feel.

I like what Samuel Chadwick, a British Methodist preacher and teacher a century ago, says about praying with faith in his book The Path of Prayer.

He notes that Jesus declared that "all things are possible to him that believes".

"Without faith it is impossible to please God," Chadwick writes.  "Without faith it is impossible to have fellowship with God.  Without faith man can do nothing with God, and God can do nothing with man."

Then, he outlines several essentials for praying with faith, taken from the epistle of James in chapters 1, 4, and 5.

As praying people, we must:

  • Ask (James 1:5):  There is "no limit to the range of prayer," says Chadwick.  "God waits to be asked before he gives the gifts that supply man's deepest needs."
  • Ask in faith (James 1:6):  As James says, a person who doubts is "double-minded" - unsure what to believe or ask.  A person of faith trusts that God will do what he promises.
  • Ask aright (James 4:3): "God takes account, not only of what we want, but of why we want it," Chadwick writes. "He looks at the heart."  Sin can stand in the way of God's answers.  Lack of forgiveness is another issue.  Self-seeking is still another barrier.
  • Ask righteously (James 5:13-18):  Personal integrity is a powerful argument for our prayers to God. Chadwick says that "faith is no substitute for right living".
  • Ask earnestly: "God promises to be found of us when we seek him with all our hearts," says the author.  "Elijah's prevailing prayer was intense in its passion."
  • Ask in the Spirit: Elijah's prayer was "inspired, instructed and empowered of the Holy Spirit".
  • Ask in the prayer of faith: As Hebrews 11 points out, the great men and women of the Bible "dared and endured by faith, even dying believing".  Chadwick underlines Jesus' great promise in Mark 11:24: "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours."
There is plenty of material for me to reflect upon as I pray.  Is my heart right with God and other people? Are my motives godly? Am I clinging to God's promises such as Mark 11:24? Am I seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance as I pray?  Most of all, do I trust that God will do what he says he will do?

If the answer is yes to these questions, I can pray with real confidence.


Monday, 5 June 2017

Listen to Jehaziel!

It looks hopeless - a vast army is invading and we're all quaking in our boots.

But wait!  Jehaziel speaks up: "This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don't be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God's."

And God intervenes and destroys the enemy as his people praise him. (2 Chronicles 20)

I have been thinking of this great intervention in Judah's history and the powerful words of the prophet Jehaziel as Christians today face creeping darkness in our cities and nations.  As believers, we must join together - all believers - and pray and seek God's face to turn around these dark times.

And we must believe that the battle is fundamentally God's.

Are we believers too complacent?  Or have we already given up in the face of Islamic terrorism, destruction of the family, racial animosity, spreading crime, the dominance of anti-Christian values in society?  Or, do we simply doubt that God is strong enough to turn things around and heal our cities and nations?

I believe more and more believers are praying.  But much more needs to be done.  Judah was saved when the whole nation came together to plead their cause before the Lord.  The Christian church needs to do the same in our Western countries.

The great impact of united prayer has been documented throughout the ages.

In Acts 4, the early believers prayed together that they would speak boldly for Christ in the midst of persecution and the faith spread rapidly.

In East Germany, prayer meetings in Leipzig led to the collapse of the Communist regime in 1989.  See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/europes-revolution-the-pastor-who-brought-down-the-berlin-wall-1799976.html.

In Uganda in the 1970s, churches from many denominations prayed together - often in secret - as dictator Idi Amin launched terror campaigns against Christians.  A revival broke out among the Christians and Amin was eventually overthrown in the late 1970s.

But first we Christians have to look at ourselves.  Are we prepared for spiritual battle?  What is the state of our hearts?  Do we love others - or hate them?  Those are questions I ask of myself.

Francis Frangipane, author of The House of Lord: God's Plan to Liberate Your City from Darkness, says God's strategy for healing our cities begins with us.

In my city - Ottawa Canada - I see encouraging signs.  The National House of Prayer was founded to pray for our nation and Love Ottawa, a local inter-church ministry, fosters a week of prayer for our city every January.

Yet I feel this is only a beginning as more believers join together in praying to our great God for our nations.

As Jehaziel said, the battle is not ours, but God's.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Removing the veil

I have sensed for several years that the prince of this world has dropped a veil over the eyes of an elderly friend of mine, preventing him from seeing Jesus as he is.

So I am praying that Jesus will reveal himself in some way to this man who has attended several of the Alpha courses on Christ, but still does not understand and accept the good news.  He hangs on to the forlorn hope that God will judge that he has been good enough to enter the kingdom of heaven.

I know of others, too, who have had difficulty grasping the gospel even when it is explained plainly and graphically.  One woman I know belonged to a women's Bible study group and had heard the gospel many times, but it was only as she was listening to the radio as she was driving one day that everything clicked and she rejoiced in what Christ had done for her.

In my mind, this reinforces the truth that it is the Holy Spirit who brings people into the family of God.  We are called to speak of Jesus and to show God's love to others; but it is the Spirit who changes hearts.  And this may happen in unpredictable ways.

Colin Dye, author of Prayer Explosion: Power for Christian Living, says that Satan is actively trying to subvert Christian efforts to reach those who do not know Christ.

Dye, pastor of Kensington Temple in London, England, speaks from experience.  His church has a vast prayer ministry that has been praying and sharing the gospel in London and Africa with striking results.

"The main reason people reject [the gospel] is because they're not ready," says Dye.  "The ground isn't prepared and there are spiritual forces that are blinding them."

He quotes the apostle Paul who wrote: "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:4)

So the prayer warriors in his church - and there are many of them - include prayer against Satan along with prayers for those who don't know Christ as they evangelize.

As Dye notes, Jesus has given us authority to trample over all the power of the enemy. (Luke 10:19)  But he advises us to pray together - in support of each other - as we pray against Satan's activities in our cities.  We need to uphold each other as Satan can seriously impede us - and hurt us - if we operate alone.

As most of us do, Dye says that he prays for God's mercy on people because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross; for the Holy Spirit to convict people of their need for Christ; and for the Spirit's insight into what to say and do.  And he brings before God the Lord's promises from the Bible.

But he also prays against "strongholds" that may be binding people - the thoughts that dominate the minds of people.  These thought-lives may be so strong that they may affect large numbers of people and be difficult to dislodge in ordinary conversation.

He mentions an evangelistic mission to the African country of Benin some years ago which was plagued with the dark forces of Voodoo.  His church had gone there to help local people present the gospel and found resistance to the message of Christ among non-believers.

The church team spent a lot of time in prayer to break the hold of these evil forces on the people. And, in subsequent trips to that country, hundreds became Christians.

He reports similar prayer stories in London.

Dye notes that if I am to pray effectively for my friend,  I must draw close to God in my own life. If the enemy finds a chink in my armour, he will exploit it to my detriment.  And I need to seek the Spirit's guidance as I pray.

But, above all, I must pray convinced that God is all-powerful and everything is possible with him.