Monday, 11 June 2018

God's prayer army

Sometimes, I like to think of Christians as God's prayer army on earth.

An army protects the people and invades enemy territory.

In the same sense, Christian prayer warriors call on God to advance his kingdom by bringing people to faith in Christ.  And they battle to fight off Satan's attempts to afflict and destroy believers and the church.

Christ commissioned us to preach the good news and make disciples of people in all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).  That is advancing God's kingdom in enemy territory.  Prayer plays a major role in that effort.

As well, the apostle John tells us in 1 John 3:8 that "the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil".  Satan was defeated when Jesus died for our sins on the cross and rose again.  But the devil remains active and works to undermine Christians physically and spiritually.

Here, prayer is vital in protecting believers, bringing healing from physical and spiritual wounds, and denying Satan a foothold in our lives.

The apostle Paul makes clear in Ephesians 6 that our real enemies as believers are unseen dark powers under the authority of Satan (Ephesians 6:12).  He urges us to put on spiritual armour such as the Word of God and to "pray in the Spirit at all times and in every occasion" to fight demonic attacks.

While Jesus was on earth, he cast out demons, healed people, and preached the gospel.  He spent long hours in prayer before going out among the crowds to speak and bring healing.

In my eyes, the commander of this prayer army is God.  He sets out the plan of attack and defence and assigns us as his soldiers to our specific tasks.

Our duty as individual warriors is to listen to God and follow his directions.  Some may be called to leadership roles, identifying targets given them by the Lord and leading groups in prayer to achieve those ends.

All armies need trained soldiers.  So, some prayer warriors can be tasked to train others in the great calling of prayer.

And every believer must remember that battles are won when warriors look out for each other.  When we see fellow believers are suffering, we must come to their aid - in prayer and in other ways.

This picture of an army of God helps me visualize the much bigger picture of God's eternal plan.

I may be just one person in one city.  But I am part of a great army of believing prayer warriors around the world, praying that God's will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Satan cannot stop God's children if we take up our prayer assignments - and pray.




Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Never give up

We must never stop praying for our country.

It's easy to get discouraged from praying for our country when we look around us.  Society in the West seems to be going from bad to worse. 

Yet that's probably the best time to pray. God has moved with power when the outlook is dark.

The Bible makes clear that God wants us to pray for our people.  And he will answer.

His answers don't always come in our timeframe.  But they do come.

The children of Israel suffered 400 years in slavery in Egypt before God intervened to free them (Acts 7).  I'm sure many despaired of freedom and stopped praying with faith in that long period.  Yet many others did pray.

Even Moses was surprised when God spoke from a burning bush in the wilderness of Midian and announced: "I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt.  I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers."  (Exodus 3)

Then, the Lord nominated Moses to lead the people to freedom.  It was a task Moses felt was impossible, but he reluctantly took a faith step to obey God.  And he began a time of prayerful reliance on God that achieved the impossible.

On the other hand, God intervened immediately and miraculously in 2 Chronicles 20 when the vast armies of Moab threatened to overrun the people of Judah.  After King Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah prayed for help, the Lord threw the enemy into confusion and defeat when the army of Judah marched out praising God.  God's people won without striking a blow.

The story of the Israelites in the Old Testament is sprinkled with times when God's people were overcome by enemies and later rebounded when they turned back to the Lord.

So bad times can lead to good - if God's people pray.

God pointed out to Solomon in a vision in 2 Chronicles 7 that he would heal the land of Israel if his people turned back to the Lord after rejecting him for a period of time.  In verse 14, he says the Israelites must humble themselves, repent and pray as steps to restoration.

Repentance means turning back to the Lord and away from the sin of rejecting God.

The history of the Israelites after Solomon's reign underscores the truth of that promise.

Indeed, modern Christian history also demonstrates this truth.  The Wesleyan revival in Britain broke out when conditions in that country were as seriously wrong as they were in France in the mid-1700s.  Prayer and turning back to God changed the course of British history while France descended into revolution.

In Luke 18, Luke records Jesus' parable of the persistent widow who plagued the unjust judge until she obtained the justice she sought.  Luke says the reason he told this story to his disciples is that "they should always pray and never give up".

Good advice for us, too.


Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Always a chance

Keep praying for that impossible man or woman who seems like a lost cause.

In Charles Spurgeon's eyes, no one is beyond the grace and mercy of God.

Spurgeon, a great 19th century British Baptist preacher, offers an encounter between God and Moses as evidence that we should never believe there are really hopeless cases.

You may recall God's reaction to Moses' brother Aaron making a golden calf for the wandering Israelites to worship.  The Lord was furious and threatened to destroy them all and to start a new nation under Moses (Exodus 32).

But Moses pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his people.

Moses suggested the Egyptians would declare God called the Israelites out into the wilderness to destroy them.  The Israelite leader then appealed to the Lord to "turn away from your fierce anger".

He added: "Turn away from this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people."

He reminded God that he had made a binding agreement with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to make his people as numerous as the stars.

And God relented.  There was punishment but the nation was not utterly destroyed.

It appeared to the Israelites that God had changed his mind.   But this may have been a test for Moses.

If so, Moses passed the test with flying colours.  He appealed to the merciful heart of God.

Moses already had an extremely close relationship with the Lord.  He spent hours in prayer with the Lord and obeyed him without reserve.

Except he could not let the threat to the Israelites go by without objecting.

God listened to Moses and he will listen to us if we pray wholeheartedly for people who are far from the Lord.

Such powerful prayer begins with spending a regular time in prayer with God, says Spurgeon.  We can't pray mountain-moving prayer without getting to know our Lord intimately.

This doesn't mean excusing the sin or the sinner - Moses did not excuse Aaron and the Israelites for making the golden calf as a god to worship.

However, no sin is too great to shut out God's mercy.

A couple of centuries ago, John Newton, a slave trader in Africa, became a believer in Christ and turned his life around.  His hymn "Amazing Grace" speaks of his change of heart and the power of God's forgiveness.

"Never let your indignation against sin prevent your prayers for sinners!" says Spurgeon.

He continues: "O you who love the Lord, give him no rest until he saves men."

Spurgeon says Moses could find nothing good in the people who had rejected God to bring before the Lord.  So, he turned his attention to God himself and his nature.  He noted that the Israelites were God's people - not Moses'.

In the same way, we can pray for people asking God not to let his creatures perish.

And, just as Moses pointed out God's covenant - or agreement - with the Israelite patriarchs in the past, so we can bring before the Lord his promises to us in the scriptures.

Finally, Moses told God that he could not go forward without his people. Spurgeon remarks "we never prevail in prayer so much as when we seem to link ourselves with the people for whom we pray".

"When you can pray like that, when you put yourself side by side with the soul for which you are pleading, you will succeed."

So, we must not give up praying for people who seem like hard cases - impossibly far from God.

The reward for answers to these prayers is overwhelming joy in our hearts - and in the heart of God.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

What's in a name?

What's in a name?  A lot, when you're speaking about God.

The scriptures are dotted with different names for God, each one describing a separate characteristic.

Learning these names - and praying them - can build our faith as believers and bring hope and consolation in time of need.

We can only know God if we seek to know his character - what he is like.  The names of God in the Bible are intimately connected with what he said and did in the lives of real people in real life.

David Wilkerson says he wrote his book Knowing God by Name: Names of God that bring Healing and Hope after discovering "that God revealed these names to his people only as they needed them - in their moments of deepest crisis".

"It dawned on me that this is how I want to learn my Lord's nature also: to understand his heart in our most desperate times."

He adds: "Scripture makes it abundantly clear that, because of our commitment to the Lord, we are going to be put through the fire of testing.  That is the very reason God revealed his names to his people in the first place: to bring them encouragement, hope and life."

I can think of some examples off the top of my head. 

For instance, the name Jehovah-Jireh means "God will provide, our provider".  It pops up in the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac until God stops him at the last minute, providing a nearby goat caught in a thicket as a sacrifice in place of the young son (Genesis 22).

Abraham passed a major test of faith and God showed he would provide for those who remain faithful to their Lord.

Abraham learned another name for God when the Lord delivered enemies of him and his family into his hand in a memorable battle after his nephew Lot had been carried off by marauders in Genesis 14.  Melchizedek, king of Salem and "priest of God Most High", blessed Abraham and "El Elyon", which means "God Most High, creator and possessor of heaven and earth".

As Wilkerson writes, Melchizedek was telling Abraham that God is the creator of the entire universe and everything in it belongs to him - "he is in control of everything".  God had delivered Abram and his family - he had a plan for Abram and would carry it through.

Reflecting and meditating on the names of God can draw us closer to the Lord.  They take our minds away from our frustrations or personal agonies and remind us who loves us most - God Almighty.

I have kept a list of God's names on my desk for years and I refer to them from time to time in prayer and meditation.  They help me in worship and, as Wilkerson suggests, they give me hope.

Sometimes, I think of these names and their meaning as I prepare to sleep at night.

That is a well-trodden path.

The psalmist King David said in Psalm 63:6:

"I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night."


Tuesday, 8 May 2018

An unexpected answer to prayer

Richard Wurmbrand felt an unaccountable desire to visit a certain village in Romania.

He went and it was a visit that would change his life.

He had had a tough upbringing and rejected religion.

He was a Jew by birth but had become a convinced atheist.  Still, one day, he prayed to God and said that if the Lord was real, he had to prove it to young Wurmbrand.

At the same time, an old carpenter in a village high up in the mountains prayed to God, saying that he was old and sick but he did not want to die before seeing a Jew become a believer in Jesus because Jesus was a Jew.  He asked that God bring a Jew to his village and he would do his best to bring him to Christ.

In his book Tortured for Christ, Wurmband writes "something irresistible drew me to that village", one of 12,000 in Romania.

He met the carpenter who saw in Wurmbrand the answer to his prayer.  He gave the young man a Bible.

"As he told me some time later," says Wurmbrand, "he and his wife prayed for hours for my conversion and that of my wife."

"The Bible he gave me was written not so much in words, but in flames of love fired by his prayers.  I could barely read it.  I could only weep over it, comparing my bad life with the life of Jesus; my impurity with his righteousness; my hatred with his love - and he (Jesus) accepted me as one of his own."

Shortly after, Wurmbrand's wife became a believer.  They reached out to others and before long there was a new Lutheran church in Romania.

Wurmbrand and his wife later became part of the underground church in Romania during the Nazi occupation and later the Communist takeover.  He spent 14 years in a Communist prison suffering terribly for his faith.  Many Russians became believers as a result of his testimony.

When the young atheist prayed, he got an unexpected answer.  When the old carpenter prayed, he did not know how God would answer, but his faith was strong.

"The prayer of faith links man's petition to the power of God," writes Samuel Chadwick in The Path of Prayer.  "All men believe in the power of prayer to influence mind, develop character, and sanctify motive and will - but that is not all.  Prayer is force.  Prayer changes things."

Yes.  Prayer changes things.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Leaping barriers to listening prayer

Barriers often pop up when we try to listen to God.

Rusty Rustenbach, author of A Guide for Listening and Inner Healing Prayer, says he takes a number of steps to prepare for hearing what God wants to tell him.

One is to "exercise the authority of Christ over all the other voices that seek to speak to you".

Satan is active in trying to distract us.  But the apostle James tells us in James 4:7 that we are to submit ourselves to God and "resist the devil and he will flee from you".

Rustenbach prays out loud: "In the name of Jesus Christ, I command any voice other than God from speaking or interfering with this time."  This speaks to Satan because, unlike God, he cannot read our minds.

Another step is to "ask Jesus to come in a very special way and manifest his presence".

As Rustenbach says, the Bible is filled with requests to God to make his presence known.  God is ready to manifest his presence in special ways when we ask.

Rustenbach prays: "Come, Lord Jesus, come. Come Father God, come.  Come, Holy Spirit, come. Transform me into your likeness."

A further step is to "ask Jesus to search your heart and bring up anything that needs his healing touch".

Rustenbach prays along these lines: "Father God . . . would you search below the surface of my life to bring up any hurtful way that might be hidden there?  Would you also take me to the root of things?  Only bring up what would be beneficial for my healing and appropriate for this time."

Then, says Rustenbach, ask Jesus to communicate with you.

He suggests words like this: "Jesus would you be pleased to communicate with me during this time? I am listening to you and you alone."

Finally, listen and write down the thoughts that God gives you.

"After you have prayed through the preceding steps, the thoughts that come to you are usually God's communication to you," writes Rustenbach.

This approach seems to me like cleaning out a clogged drain that is blocking the flow of water - or, in this case, the words of God.

It makes sense to me.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Expectancy

Susie Larson says "we set ourselves up for disappointment" if we pray to God expecting him to respond exactly as we plan.

"This puts undue pressure on the relationship in a way that's unfair and unsustainable," she writes in her book Your Powerful Prayers: Reaching the Heart of God with a Bold and Humble Faith.

Instead, we should pray with "expectancy" - something quite different from demanding that God meet our expectations precisely as we wish.

"When we dictate to God and then we're surprised when he doesn't jump through our hoops, we eventually lose heart," Larson says.

 But, if we pray with "expectancy that something divine just might happen", we may well see God surpass our expectations.

"To live with expectancy is to live with an ear bent toward heaven.  It's to repeatedly look above our circumstances, knowing that God is involved in our everyday lives."

She adds: "The expectant heart passionately believes that any day now, God just might break through."

As we pray, we should "give God time and space to work out his plans for us with the understanding that there's always a mystery to following God".

"He's a miracle-working God," she says, "and he often breaks through in ways that we couldn't have imagined and at a time we least expect him to."

It's not that we expect too much from God - in fact, we often expect too little.  "Our idea of what breakthrough looks like frequently falls short of what God has in mind for us."

"His breakthroughs always bear fruit, always bless others (not just us) and always accomplish his purposes on earth."

To pray expectantly, she says we must believe that God is at work on earth; that he keeps his promises; that he's the same yesterday, today and forever; that he's not a respecter of people, but of faith; that he draws near to those who are humble and worship him; that nothing is too difficult for him; and that it's impossible for him to fail us.

In my mind, the prophet Daniel is a man who prayed expectantly. 

As a Jewish captive in the Babylonian court, he was selected for execution with other Babylonian wise men for being unable to figure out the nightmare dreamed by the Babylonian king.  He took the problem to God who let him know what the dream was about and he and the other wise men were saved.

This was one of a string of amazing answers to prayer that Daniel received from God in his lifetime.  He trusted God to answer his questions without trying impose his own wishes.  He expected to receive an answer and God responded.

I like that thought - pray expectantly!