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.

Monday, 3 April 2017

The 100-year prayer meeting

In 1727, the Moravians of Herrnhut launched a 24-hour-a-day prayer meeting that lasted for 100 years.

In the process, the prayer movement sparked missionary activity that touched all corners of the world. And it helped transform the life of John Wesley, a founder and leader in the amazing Methodist revival in England in the mid-to-late 1700s.

That influence is still felt today.  In fact, the embers of that long-ago movement are now bursting into flame again as prayer leaders in England and the United States are calling prayer warriors to intense prayer for the world.

Intercessory prayer centres are springing up throughout the Western world.  A number of houses of prayer have emerged across the United States and Canada where people go for prayer throughout the day and night.

As is often the case, the Holy Spirit seemed to move among a number of different people in the years leading up to the Moravian prayer revival.

Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf, who was key to the Moravian prayer movement, was influenced by his godfather Jacob Spener, a German Pietist, who urged evangelical Christians to form small Bible study and prayer groups, forerunners of similar efforts today.  Spener had a big influence on Halle University where Von Zinzendorf studied.

In his book The Power of Extraordinary Prayer, Robert O. Bakke writes that Von Zinzendorf gave sanctuary on his property in Saxony to oppressed Moravian Christians.  He was disturbed that disputes erupted in the Moravian community and convinced them that they should focus on what they could agree upon.

He drew up a covenant for the group and called on everyone to join together in united and sustained prayer.  God began moving among them and on August 13, 1727, "the Holy Spirit was poured out on the whole community, transforming it by an enormous work of grace," writes Bakke.

From then on, there were people praying in the community round-the-clock for 100 years.

The people caught a vision for missions and went out sacrificially around the world, many of them dying while spreading the gospel.  They worked with indigenous people and slaves in the United States, living with them.

In fact, James Goll writes in The Lost Art of Intercession that John Wesley was deeply impressed by the demeanour of a group of Moravian missionaries headed to the American colonies by ship.  He watched as they served others on board who needed help, did not retaliate when attacked, and remained calm and worshipful in the midst of a frightening storm.

Later, Wesley attended a Moravian prayer meeting in London and was converted to Christ that night.

Goll and Pete Greig, author of Red Moon Rising, tell of their own personal experiences in visiting the little village of Herrnhut in recent years.  Both were moved and say that their visits played a significant part in their own determination to encourage Christians to pray for the world around them.

Greig founded 24-7 Prayer International in 1999 and this youth-led venture has gone viral with prayer cells just about everywhere in the world.

The Moravian Christians were doing something that Jesus' disciples did after Christ's ascension to heaven, just before the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: They spent their days in prayer.

Imagine what will happen if Christians everywhere band together to pray for God's kingdom to advance throughout our nations today.

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!