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!

Monday, 16 April 2018

The value of journaling

One way to hear God is to ask him questions and write out what you believe he is telling you in your mind.

Mark Virkler, co-author with his wife Patti of 4 Keys to Hearing God's Voice, says it has profoundly changed his prayer time and his life.

He acknowledges that there are risks involved.  You can allow wishful thinking to intrude.  Or, you can attribute to God things that are clearly wrong according to the Bible.

Virkler is careful to check what he believes he hears from God with other mature Christians and the Bible.  This is especially important where major life decisions are involved.

I have been following the Virklers' approach for almost a decade.  For me, it has been a great help.

Mark Virkler says that years ago he was inspired by reading Habakkuk 2:1-3 to try this form of journaling.

Habakkuk says: "I will keep watch to see what (he) God will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved."  Then God tells him to record the vision he receives and "inscribe it on tablets" so that others may read it.

Out of this, Virkler developed this method:

  • Stillness: Quiet yourself so you can hear God's voice;
  • Vision: Look for vision as you pray;
  • Spontaneity: Recognize God's thoughts that light upon your mind; and
  • Journaling: Write down the flow of thoughts and pictures that light upon your mind.
When Virkler refers to "vision", he means keeping your eyes on Jesus to see what he is telling you.

"Focusing the eyes of our hearts upon God causes us to become inwardly still, raises our level of faith and expectancy, and makes us fully open to receive from God."

Virkler says that "these elements have transformed my devotional life".  He adds: "Now I find that I can enjoy dialoguing with God by the hour and leave fully charged with his life and love."

Listening to God in this way has highlighted some of his weaknesses as well as the Lord's love for him.  Virkler says God pointed out to him that he was obsessed with rules and a legalistic approach and urged him to adopt a life of mercy and love towards others.

As for me, it has helped me to look at others the way God sees them rather than through my own petty feelings.  Sometimes that means God gently reproving me.

A benefit for everyone is to realize how forgiving and loving and encouraging God is.


Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Joy in the darkness

Habakkuk, a prophet of God, found joy in the midst of darkness.

His prayer encounter with God tells me something about hope in troubled times.

His story in the Old Testament book of Habakkuk is mostly filled with gloom.

The book is only three chapters long and most of it is about God's coming judgement on his people Israel.  But the book concludes with a song of hope.

The book opens with Habakkuk's complaint to God about the lawlessness of the society he is living in.  He accuses the Lord of not listening to his cries for help and justice.

I find this refreshing.  The prophet is human and he expresses his human anxieties and frustrations.  As praying people, we are to be authentic, too.  God knows how we feel.

God's answer shocks Habakkuk.  The Lord tells the prophet that he is raising up the Babylonians to punish the wayward Israelites.  They will invade and conquer and destroy.

Habakkuk protests - but carefully.  He recognizes that God cannot stand wickedness - "your eyes are too pure to contemplate evil".

But,  he adds: "Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?"

Is Babylon going to be allowed to destroy nations without mercy?

There are times when we, too, question why unjust people are permitted to exploit others - especially, if they are exploiting us.  We can't understand why we are suffering while bad people thrive.

Then, the Lord replies with a powerful message.

In effect, God says the unjust will not get away with murder.  In time, they will face their comeuppance.  They will be judged.

Far more important, "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea".

God is telling Habakkuk - and me - that whatever troubles we are going through, a time is coming when God's glory will flood the world around us.  All things will become new.

The prophet responds with a song that I love:

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights."

Habakkuk's words suggest that he is looking beyond the horrors of the day to what God has in store for all people who believe in him. 

Above all, he trusts in - and loves - his great God.  God will carry him through the coming trials.

As Christians, our hope is in God who loves us and cares for us and who will celebrate when we join him in heaven some day.

Monday, 2 April 2018

A bigger vision

Followers of Christ need a bigger vision of what church is all about, says Dutch Sheets.

Sheets, author of Authority in Prayer: Praying with Power and Purpose, says the Bible views the church as more than a collection of individuals, caring for each other.

He declares that the church has been given authority to spread God's kingdom throughout the world and in every aspect of life.  And prayer is a key instrument in achieving this goal.

Most believers recall Jesus' words in Matthew 28: 18-20: "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you."

But most of us - myself included - have put this "Great Commission" on the back burner.  Mentally, we have turned this over to a few gifted evangelists or missionaries.

Instead, we have focused on ourselves, trying to build strong communities of local believers.  That is indeed a vital part of being the church.  However, that is only one aspect of what God wants.

Sheets says that in the original Greek of the New Testament, the word "ekklesia" which has been translated "church" is an "assembly of people set apart to govern the affairs of a state or nation - in essence a parliament or congress".

"When Jesus said he would build his church, he was without question speaking of a body of people that would legislate spiritually for him, extending his kingdom government (rule) over the earth," writes Sheets.

As prayer warriors, followers of Christ work with God to extend the kingdom in all areas of life.

Sheets tells of a World Vision development project near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1989 where they noticed the villagers worshiped a huge tree which they believed housed demon spirits.  The World Vision team recognized this stood in the way of the love of God bringing local people into his kingdom.

They recalled Jesus' comment in the Luke 17:6 that if his disciples had faith as small as a mustard seed, they could tell a nearby tree to be uprooted and thrown into the sea.  So, they prayed along those lines as the villagers watched in the coming weeks.

Six months later, the tree's leaves dried up and finally it collapsed into the river.  The villagers were astonished, declaring that the team's God did it and 100 villagers became believers.

Sheets mentions other striking stories to support his contention.

He says Christians are not to force their faith on others.  But they can pray and be open to sharing their faith.

"We are not merely human," writes Sheets.  "We are supernatural sons and daughters of the Most High God, filled with his Spirit and anointed to rule."

He states emphatically: "If a society or culture remains the same after Christ's church shows up, then the church is not being the church."

That is quite a challenge to us as followers of Jesus.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

The significance of praying together

Imagine your country being threatened with invasion by foreign powers:  Would your president or prime minister call a national prayer meeting to plead with God?

Probably not.  Even Christian leaders these days are unlikely to make group prayer to God a priority.

But King Jehoshaphat of Judah did exactly that when faced with an invading force of Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites. 

I believe we can learn from the steps Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah took when confronted by this powerful threat.

Jehoshaphat believed in God and turned to him first before taking any action.

In 2 Chronicles 20, we read that Jehoshaphat proclaimed a national fast and called a prayer meeting.

"The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him."

Clearly, the fear of invasion galvanized the people.  At the same time, they obviously believed that God could do something.

Do we believers consult God before we take action?  Do we seek our commander's orders before going into battle in our everyday lives?  Do we join together in the face of adversity?

Jehoshaphat opened the prayer meeting by laying out the problem clearly before the Lord and declared his confidence that God "will hear us and save us".  He was placing his entire trust in God.

His prayer concluded with these words: "We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you."

Do we as believers try to do everything on our own strength?  Or do we, like the apostle Paul, admit that we are weak and depend on the strength of God (2 Corinthians 12:10)? God works best when we allow him to lead us and work through us.

After Jehoshaphat's prayer, Jehaziel, a Levite, is moved by the Holy Spirit to deliver a message to his king and the people of Judah.  He tells them that God has informed him that they are not to fear the enemy because "the battle is not yours, but God's".  He even says the Lord declares they will not even have to fight their enemies - the Lord will take care of them.

For me, this is one of the great blessings of group prayer.  As we pray together, God moves in our hearts and solutions to problems emerge simply as we pray.  One person's prayer sparks a response in another individual's and suddenly we see an answer emerging.  It is the Holy Spirit at work.

As a result of the prayer meeting, the people of Judah go out to meet their enemies, praising the Lord.  They do not have to raise a finger in anger - God causes the enemies to fight among themselves.  They win a victory without striking a blow.

We North Americans are so used to using our minds and our hands in practical ways that we have forgotten the value of coming together in prayer.

But the apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12: "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

If that is true - and I believe it is - we should pray first before acting.  What we see around us is not the most important thing - what is happening behind the scenes in the heavenly realms is far more important.

We don't need a war to spur us to pray.  Satan is behind evil and is always active.

We need to pray together - united - all the time.


Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Prayer and outreach

Some years ago, a friend told me that he had no time for prayer - he was busy reaching out to others with the good news of Jesus Christ.

John Bisagno and Peter Golin believe that prayer is essential in effective evangelism.

"Prayer is not just an optional part of evangelism, but must be an essential part of every aspect of our evangelistic efforts," says Golin, a British Columbia medical doctor, in his book Living the Gospel.

"Is there any connection between prayer and evangelism?" asks Bisagno in his book The Power of Positive Praying.  "A ten-day prayer meeting in the Upper Room nailed that at Pentecost."

Bisagno was talking about the prayer gathering of the followers of Christ after his ascension to heaven and the outpouring of the Spirit upon them at Pentecost when they preached to crowds and 3,000 of them became believers.

Bisagno has personal experience to back up his view that prayer is a vital part of outreach to people who do not know Jesus.

Before preaching at evangelistic crusades, he tried to spend one or two hours in prayer every afternoon before the evening event.  He saw a direct relationship between the amount of time he spent in prayer and the number of people who accepted Christ in the evening.

Before his first crusade in Belfast, Ireland, 80 people prayed all night and 360 people gave their lives to the Lord the following day.  Similar prayer sessions at other great rallies led to similar results.

Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist of the 20th century, has said that prayer before his crusades was key to the large numbers of people who poured down to the stadium floor to receive Jesus.

Why is that?  Because we do not save people - God does. 

The Spirit of God works in the hearts of people to bring them to himself.  And we are co-labourers with the Lord as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:9.  It is our task to be instruments of God's love and to talk about Jesus as the Lord provides opportunities through prayer.

Golin says prayer should surround every aspect of our relationship with others.  Here are some of his suggestions for daily prayer:

  • Pray that we will love Jesus more and have increased compassion for others;
  • Pray for opportunities to talk about Jesus every day;
  • Pray that the Lord will open the hearts of non-believing friends to Christ;
  • Pray that we will understand, learn and present the gospel clearly;
  • Pray that we will put aside our pride and be vulnerable as a witness of our faith to others;
  • Ask the Lord to give us humility, gentleness, patience, honesty and respect as we share our faith in Christ;
  • Ask that God will take our eyes off ourselves and direct them to him as we share the gospel; and
  • Ask for courage to turn the conversation to the Lord.

I realize I can't do anything without God. 

But God will work in every situation as I pray.





Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Stay alert

 Keep alert and watchful in prayer, says Watchman Nee.

Nee, a great Chinese Christian who died in a Communist Chinese prison camp, says Satan attacks prayer more than anything else in the Christian life - trying to distract believers from this great work on behalf of God's kingdom.

In A Balanced Life, Nee outlines Satan's tactics in fighting prayer and suggests how we can thwart his efforts. 

He bases his comments on the apostle Paul's words in Ephesians 6:18: "Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.  Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere."

He touches on five areas where we need to be watchful and active:

  • The time of prayer: Satan tries to discourage us from prayer, dropping into our minds a desire to sleep or put off prayer for whatever reason.  We must respond by guarding a regular time of prayer.  In fact, we must pray that God will protect that prayer time;
  • Use of our prayer time:  Often our thoughts "begin to wander and become confused" during our prayer times or we become drowsy.  So, before we pray, we should ask God to enable us to pray without being hindered or sleepy, and to help us pray with "spirit and concentration";
  • The wording of our prayers:  Satan is quite happy when we pray in a scattergun fashion, failing to hit the mark on the issue we are praying about.  Nee says we should keep our focus on what we are really asking God to do and not get distracted by other things;
  • Thorough prayer: Sometimes, prayer warriors too easily take one shot at the prayer problem when they should cover all eventualities.  An effective praying person "will use all kinds of prayers to surround as with a net the thing he prays for so that the adversary can do nothing"; and
  • Follow-up prayer: Satan will try to undermine our prayers for others by changing his methods.  We need to be watchful, noting any change in the person we are praying for or in the problem we are praying about.  If we notice a change, we should adjust our prayers to deal with that change.
Nee's words carry authority because he practiced what he preached.

Satan may have thought he silenced this great Christian in a Chinese prison in the 1950s.

Instead, Nee's words about his Saviour and the Christian life have spread throughout the world.

May we pray with the same passion and precision and power.