Sunday, 26 March 2017

Praise God!

Praising God can change us and the lives of those around us.

I was feeling grumpy for no particular reason this afternoon when I remembered how important it is to praise God.  It is perhaps most important when we feel least like thanking and praising the Lord.

Of course, God deserves praise simply because he is God - our creator, redeemer, healer and loving Father.  As we praise him for who he is, our minds turn away from our troubles to the Lord Almighty who is greater than anyone or anything in the universe.

Praise and thanks change me as I realize that, whatever my circumstances, God is in control of my story as well as the story of the world.  And I am always in his caring hands.

But Cindy Jacobs puts her finger on another reason to praise God - driving away satan and his attempts to defeat us.

Jacobs, author of Possessing The Gates Of The Enemy, has seen the effect of worship and praise as she intercedes with others in prayer for difficult personal, local and national issues.  She calls this "intercessory praise".

She tells the story of a woman who asked for prayer during a women's gathering.  The woman had been hospitalized with depression and was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Ministers gathered around her and prayed over her without any noticeable effect.  She felt horribly oppressed.

The head organizer then asked for a worshiper to come forward and lead worship.

While that person led worship, Cindy Jacobs went to the piano and "we began a type of warfare that is becoming quite frequent in prayer groups today - warring against the works of Satan by worshiping the Lord".

The women rose to their feet and sang and clapped and the depressed woman began to weep.  She said the oppression had vanished.

"It was though a cloud had lifted, and for the first time in years her thoughts were clear," Jacobs says.

Terry Law says in his book The Power of Praise and Worship that worshiping and praising God turned his life around when he was bitterly angry with God when his young wife died in a senseless accident.  He then saw people healed and saved in the midst of worship concerts he led in Communist Europe in the 1970s and 1980s.

Jacobs notes that David played music when King Saul was seized with "a distressing spirit" and the songs of praise to God would banish this spirit from him (1 Samuel 16:23).

As Jacobs says, the Bible speaks of praise as a battle weapon against satan and his forces in a number of places with remarkable results (2 Chronicles 20 and Acts 16, for example).

She writes that, some years ago, the Oakland, California, Police Department invited the Shiloh Christian Fellowship, led by pastor Violet Kitely, to go to Pleitner Avenue to see what they could do about the serious drug and crime problem there.

Working with the police, the church set up block parties there, giving away clothes, serving hot dogs, preaching the good news, and worshiping God.  The atmosphere of joy and worship led to startling changes.

The police reported that 70 per cent of the drug lords left the Pleitner Avenue area after the block parties.  They shared their reports with the local media.

We can worship in a variety of ways, from singing to silent adoration of our glorious Lord.  We just need to do it.

Already, this afternoon's grumpiness has vanished as I think about God and praising him.

Praise God!



Monday, 20 March 2017

United, targeted praying

Big things happen when Christians pray together for the advancement of his kingdom.

As I noted last week, Christians prayed under the cloud of persecution for boldness in sharing the good news of Christ (Acts 4:23-31).  God's response was to bring many into the family of God.

A modern revival in Uganda broke out as persecuted Christians from many denominations prayed together ankle-deep in swamps under the murderous regime of Idi Amin in the 1970s.

Yet so many of us evangelicals would never venture to pray with believers in other denominations even though we share the same faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord.  The fact that we can't work and pray together is one more obstacle to faith for those who don't believe in Jesus.

There are certainly good things happening in many cities.  Our own city has an interdenominational prayer effort for the city every January and a few people from different churches pray together during the year.

But it seems to me we have hardly tapped the power of united prayer among believers.

Certainly, Eddie Smith and Michael Hennen believe that Christians uniting in prayer is key in spreading God's kingdom and defeating the plans of the evil one.

Their book Strategic Prayer: Applying the Power of Targeted Prayer makes a strong case for approaching prayer for our communities by joining together with a definite plan.  They say that we need to understand what our enemy - the evil one - is up to in our area and our response should be praying to disrupt his plans and further those of the Lord.

I intend to explore their ideas further in coming weeks.

Their overall message is that Christians should target their prayers specifically after understanding what the enemy is up to in their personal lives and in their communities.  This requires serious reflection about ourselves and our local communities, examining scripture, and listening to the Holy Spirit.

They are convinced that our prayers are most effective when we join together to pray these targeted prayers.

They point to Jesus' great statement in John 17, calling on the Father to ensure that the followers of Christ are one just as the Father and the Son are one.  He goes on to say that he wants believers to be brought together as one so that the world will know that the Father sent him.

The authors say this unity in the faith is not the same as uniformity - there is room for diversity in the church.  But we believers should be able to pray as one since we share faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour who died on the cross and rose again.

Armed with a clear understanding of what God wants, we can pray with purpose.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:19-20: "I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father.  For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

That's a promise - God's promise.

May the Holy Spirit help us as followers of Christ to pray together for God's glory to spread around us.



Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Preparing the way

Political parties use "advance men" to organize and prepare the way for the leader's visit to a city or a big rally.  Without them, parties would get poor results.

Similarly, prayer warriors are needed to prepare the way for God to bring revival to a community or nation.  As Christians, we are called to be "advance men and women" for God.

Wesley L. Duewel, a missionary leader and author, declares in his book Touch the World Through Prayer that a great ingathering of people into the kingdom of God in our country or any country will only happen supernaturally through the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit moves as we pray.

"When God desires to do a mighty work of salvation and spiritual harvest, he calls his people to their knees," writes Duewel.  "The Holy Spirit places a deep hunger in the heart of those of God's children who are close enough to him to hear his voice."

Stories in the Bible back Duewel up.  For instance, in Acts 4:23-31, the young church prays for boldness in sharing the gospel while under the shadow of persecution.  A fresh influx of new believers follows.

Prayer has laid the groundwork for other great revivals in recent centuries - millions becoming believers in the United States in the mid-1800s and in Wales in the early 1900s to name just two examples.  Prayer plays a central role today in the explosive growth of the church in China and India.

So, prayer warriors play a key part in advancing the kingdom of God.  They may be virtually invisible, but they have an exciting task - an important task in God's eyes.

Duewel has some suggestions for our personal preparation to pray for revival:

  • We can prepare ourselves by reading biblical and historical accounts of revival;
  • We can collect information showing the need for revival in our country or others;
  • We can meditate on scripture passages in which God promises great blessing, harvest and revival; and
  • We can make sure there is nothing in our own hearts that would hinder prayer.
Then, he suggests guidelines for us as we pray specifically for revival in our country or other countries:
  • We can make sure we pray daily for revival in a particular country;
  • We can make a list of specific prayer requests, such as giving a new awareness to God's people of the urgency of this need;
  • We can be prepared to accept whatever God has decided in terms of his timing, his methods, and the people he will use;
  • We can schedule special extended times of prayer for the community, country or countries we are praying for;
  • We can pray publicly for these matters in church prayer services;
  • We can mention this to others as an encouragement to pray in this way;
  • We can encourage revival as a theme in periodic prayer gatherings;
  • We can file material we find on revival in different parts of the world for later use; and
  • We can fast as an added way to focus on revival prayer.
In our prayer times, we should include times of thanksgiving, meditation on God's word, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit's leading.

This is a wonderful task for prayer warriors - with eternal results and value.




Tuesday, 7 March 2017

A praying church

When people pull together in prayer, the results can be astonishing.

The Bible is dotted with stories of people fervently praying as one.  The early church grew rapidly as the young believers joined together in bold prayer in the face of persecution.

But that's not just a story for the distant past.  It's happening today.

I have written before about one of my modern heroes - Jim Cymbala - and his church, the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City.  His book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire describes how God led him to make group prayer the central focus of his struggling congregation and the amazing results in transformed lives.

Now, I am reading Prayer Explosion: Power for Christian Living which again talks about prayer as fundamental to the life of a church - this time, the Kensington Temple in London, England.

Colin Dye, the book's author and senior minister of Kensington Temple, believes that leaders and people need to pray together regularly, seeking what God wants in their church and the world around them.

Kensington Temple has long placed a strong emphasis on group prayer.  And, as a result, the church has felt led to evangelize, become involved in serving people in the London area and abroad, and has planted churches and small groups widely.

But, as frequently happens, busy church activities began to intervene and the church's prayer gatherings started suffering.  The church "began to lose power and effectiveness".

So Dye and the church leaders realized they had to change their way of thinking and their priorities.

"To do this we needed to know we were moving in the will and way of God," Dye writes.  "We needed to be open to receive his focus and direction, not only individually but together as a church."

They approached this by asking God for an understanding of his will in the situation they were in. They knew that God would never ask them to do anything that was contrary to what he has already revealed in the scriptures.

Dye says God will make his will known through reading a particular scripture or hearing a song or a comment from someone.  As we are open to God, the Holy Spirit will open our minds to these prompts.

As the church leadership pondered their problem, Dye had a picture in his mind of a house with the pillars crumbling.  The Spirit brought to his mind Jesus' words in Mark 11:17: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations."

"This scripture then became our 'prayer line', the general thrust of what God was saying to us."

They then looked at what was stopping the church from being a house of prayer.  They found "apathy, slumber . . . and the spirit of prayerlessness itself."  They prayed against these things.

The church concentrated for nine months on these issues.  They prayed this 'prayer line' consistently and intensely throughout.

They spent a great deal of time in praise and thanksgiving, considering this an entrance into God's presence.  They pictured the people of the church as a surrounding wall - the walls of salvation - as those who entered the church community would become believers.

They prayed for occultists, drug addicts and gangsters to come to their church "and they started to come in and turn their lives over to God".

Kensington Temple is too large a church to meet in one place - hiring large 10,000 seat halls for joint celebrations.  Otherwise, the church meets for prayer in smaller groups - and that suits Colin Dye just fine.

Small groups permit easier sharing "and greater spontaneity in the use of gifts of the Spirit".

At his church, there is strong direction and focus to the prayer gatherings.  Leadership, he says, must always be listening to God and gaining a sense of what the Lord wants to do next.

Prayer meetings vary in style - sometimes stressing prayer and thanksgiving, sometimes breaking into small groups for praying about personal needs, sometimes engaging in spiritual warfare.

"There have been times when I've come to lead a meeting with four or five things to pray through and haven't got past the first one," Dye says.

The church has periodic "nights of prayer" where prayer continues throughout the night.  Times of prayer are interspersed with segments of teaching and singing.

In Dye's eyes, one of the most powerful aspects of praying together is the "principle of agreement".  Jesus makes the point in Matthew 18:18-20 that if two of us agree about anything we ask, the Father will do it for us.

"It is about aligning ourselves corporately with God," Dye writes.  "It is not about trying to manipulate him."

He continues: "Our task is to discover the things that are already accomplished in heaven, those things that are planned in the purposes of God!"

This searching for what God wants is characteristic of Kensington Temple.

Another characteristic is that all the church's leaders are involved in prayer - group prayer as well as personal prayer.  For Dye, this is vital to the spiritual growth of the body of believers.

Praise God for praying churches!




Monday, 27 February 2017

Two voices

God is always speaking to us - but so is Satan.

So, how are we to tell the difference?

For believers, this is an important question.  It is a key issue for those who are seeking to draw closer to God through prayer.

Peter Lord offers some guidance in his book Hearing God.

Unlike Satan, God “desires a relationship of love and trust,” Lord writes.  “He seeks you and offers himself to you.”

He points to the great passage in Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

It is up to us to open the door to Christ and let him in to our hearts.

On the other hand, Satan tries to force his way in “through your emotions and your reasonings”.

“He bombards you with ideas and feelings and bombards is a good way to describe Satan’s approach,” says Lord.

God wants fellowship with us while Satan wants to subvert us for his evil purposes.

Referring to Jesus’ picture of the shepherd of the sheep in John 10:2-3, Lord says God wants to lead us - not push us and drive us.

Satan “threatens and intimidates”, suggesting that if we don’t do something, bad things will happen to us.  He tries to compel us to do things.

Jesus knows all about us because he lives within us.  He speaks to us in loving terms.

I have learned through my own experiences in writing what I believe God is saying to me in my spiritual journals that the Lord knows all my weaknesses and yet is constantly offering his counsel - and sometimes correction - in love.

Satan takes a different approach.  As the scriptures say, Satan is “the accuser”.  He seeks to discourage us and condemn us.  He wants to make us feel worthless.

Lord also says that Satan tries to compel us to brood over the past or worry about the future.  God wants us to keep our eyes on the present, offering to walk with us through our everyday work and relationships.

He quotes Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:34 that we are not to “worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself - each day has enough trouble of its own”.

“When your thoughts are filled with worries and cares about what tomorrow may bring, you can be sure you are not hearing his voice,” Lord writes. “Jesus commands you to be concerned about today, and he will certainly guide you about the present.”

Jesus also says God will provide us with our needs and help us in the situations we are in.  We just need to trust him with these details and not spend restless nights worrying about them.  Worry is Satan’s weapon.

I find Peter Lord’s thoughts helpful.  


God wants me to lean on him and reject Satan’s agitating voice.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Promises

Don’t neglect the power of praying the promises of God!

So says Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher, author and prayer warrior.

Spurgeon, known as “the prince of preachers” in 19th century London, said he soaked himself in God’s promises from scripture to fuel his prayers.

That’s because what God promises, he will fulfill.

In an 1886 sermon, Spurgeon talked about Jacob in Genesis 32, struggling with God before he was to meet his brother Esau the next day.  Jacob was afraid of Esau because he had cheated his brother out of his inheritance.

As he wrestled in prayer with the Lord, he reminded God that he had promised Jacob he would do him good if he returned to his country.

Jacob, the schemer, admitted that he was not worthy of the love that God had shown him.  He pleaded with the Lord to deliver him, based on his promises.

After a night of grappling with God, the Lord granted him his request.

Spurgeon said that “when we come to pleading terms with God, there is nothing that so helps us as to be able to quote the promise and plead ‘You said’.”

“I would have all Christian people know God’s promises,” Spurgeon said.

No businessman would ignore the value of cheques in his possession, he noted.  But Christians often seem unaware of the value of the Lord’s promises.

The author said he looks at the circumstances in which God makes promises because they may be similar to his own.  That gives him extra confidence in his prayer requests.

“Many and many a time has God brought a promise home to my heart with such freshness that I have felt the Bible was made on purpose for me.”

We can count on God because the Lord “cannot lie”.  By his promise, God “engages himself to act in a certain way, and he will do so”.

God is all-wise so he does not make promises that he cannot keep.  And he does not make promises that would be bad for us.

Spurgeon pointed out one important condition to praying God’s promises - confessing our own sins and becoming right with God.

As Jacob came before God, he admitted his own unworthiness.  We need to do the same if there is anything standing in the way between us and the Lord.

But we should not feel that past sins prevent us from asking God to fulfill his promises in our lives.  

Spurgeon underlined the fact that God is a god of mercy and will carry out his promises once we throw ourselves upon him.

Many great believers have memorized and meditated upon the promises that are sprinkled throughout the Bible.

I have neglected this for too long.  I am inspired to follow Spurgeon’s lead.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Help!

HELP!

God has given us the key to unlocking his great power in the world around us - prayer.

But we often fail to use it because we are discouraged - or we don’t believe it really matters.

The great Christian author, Andrew Murray, says that’s a shame - and a sin.  It’s a sin because we are to obey God and prayer is a Biblical command.  Prayer demonstrates our dependence on God and establishes intimate relations with him.

So, what does Murray recommend to help us use this gift - this key that God has given us?  Cry: “Help!”

In his book The Ministry of Intercession, Murray says we first need to confess our own impotence.  We can be sure that the Lord will help us.

Then, we must throw ourselves on the Lord, realizing the Christ lives within us and is our sole source of strength.  As Jesus told us, we can do nothing of eternal value by ourselves.

“This dependence upon God secures our true independence,” says Murray.  We are freed from self and yielded to the Lord of the universe who governs everything.

Many of us - myself included - are afraid to let God have full control of our lives, fearing we will have to give up too much that we treasure.  But vital prayer for others - intercession - depends on allowing God to lead and us to follow.

The next step is to rely on the Holy Spirit to move within us (Romans 8:26).  The Spirit is already praying for us when we don’t know how to pray.

Murray goes on to Jesus’ amazing words in Mark 11:24: “Therefore, I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

The author says there are several important elements in these words:
  • Desire: The word for “ask” in this verse is translated “desire” in the King James version of the Bible.  As we are yielded to God, the Spirit plants his desire in our hearts.  Murray calls this the “soul of prayer” - without it, our prayers are feeble;
  • Pray:  Our desires must be expressed in concrete words and thoughts - not just general wishes.  We count on God to give us the grace of prayer as we express our desires in words;
  • Believe:  Jesus asks us to have faith that God will answer our prayers.  This may be just a pinch of faith - at the very least, we must be willing to trust the Lord to do what he has promised to do; and
  • Receive:  “Faith has to accept the answer, as given by God in heaven, before it is found or felt upon earth,” writes Murray. He acknowledges this causes problems for many believers, but he suggests spiritual answers to prayer can only be accepted on a spiritual level before they are visible.  If we have prayed according to God’s will, we must praise the Lord for whatever the answer is that he gives us - even if the answer is a long time coming.
Initially, we may not feel differently as we pray like this, Murray says.


But, “in due time, we will become conscious of his presence and power”.