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”.

Monday, 6 February 2017

A praying king

Hezekiah, King of Judah, could teach us a few things about prayer.

He knew where his power came from - God.  He was a man of prayer who depended on the Lord to deliver his little nation from Judah's enemies.

In the face of huge odds, he helped turn his idol-worshiping people back to the Lord and then defended his kingdom against the overwhelming forces of Assyria.

His story is told in 2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 29-32 and Isaiah 36-39.

Hezekiah became King of Judah after a long line of ancestors had turned to idol-worship and desecrated the temple in Jerusalem.

The new king - just 25 years old - set about restoring worship of God and wiping out idol-worship.  It may well be that he was influenced by the prophet Isaiah who played a large part in later events in his reign.

The young king demonstrated a deep faith in the Lord, turning to him in prayer in key developments in the next few years.  Here is a brief summary of the role of prayer in Hezekiah's life:

  • He began by ordering the priests to return to worshiping God and cleaning the temple of idol-worship.  Then, he called on the people of Israel and Judah to come to the temple and consecrate themselves to God.  Next, he interceded in prayer to God for those who had not fulfilled all the legal requirements of purification for the restored Passover celebration, showing a loving and caring heart for his people.  God responded to this prayer by healing the people;
  • Clearly, his intimacy with God grew as the years went by as he sought God in prayer as soon as the invading Assyrian forces threatened Judah with destruction.  Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, brought his hordes to surround Jerusalem, taunted Hezekiah, and tried to intimidate the people into surrendering.  Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet cried out to God and the Lord promised Isaiah that he would defeat the Assyrians.   More than 180,000 soldiers died and the seige was lifted; and finally
  • Hezekiah fell seriously ill and Isaiah told him that the Lord informed the prophet that the king would die and he should prepare for this.  But Hezekiah prayed to God, telling him that he had been faithful to the Lord and asking for more time on earth.  God then told Isaiah that he had heard Hezekiah's prayer and would heal him,  declaring he would prove it by causing the sun to fall back on the sundial by10 degrees.  The sun fell back and Hezekiah was healed.
Writing in the 1800s, E.M. Bounds suggests in his book Prayer and Praying Men that we can draw these lessons from Hezekiah's prayer life:
  • God hears prayer;
  • God pays close attention to prayer;
  • God answers prayer; and
  • God delivers us from dark times as a result of prayer.
For me, the biggest lesson from Hezekiah's life is his complete commitment to honouring God, no matter what.  He could truly say he served the Lord wholeheartedly.

Prayer flowing from a heart dedicated to the Lord is powerful.



Monday, 30 January 2017

The right key

Colin Dye says we need the right key to unlock the door so that the power of God is unleashed as we pray for others.

This is particularly true when we feel called to intercede for others in dire situations.

"When those storms begin to lash, we have to know how to respond," Dye writes in his book Prayer Explosion: Power for Christian Living. " . . . We need to come to God, wait before him if necessary, and ask him how he wants us to pray - which mode of prayer he would have us use."

He adds: "Relying on God for direction as to how to pray just underlines the fact that we can't even begin without him; it is the Holy Spirit's leading which is the difference between praying for our own ideas in a vacuum and bringing into being his creative will."

This comes as we get to know God better through meditating on his word and yielding ourselves to him in prayer.

Dye notes the apostle Paul's words in 1 Timothy 2:1: "I urge then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone."

If effect, he says this suggests several steps in intercession:

  • We begin by sensing a need;
  • The Holy Spirit then shows us God's ability to meet that need;
  • We plead with the Lord to meet that need; and
  • Finally, we give thanks as we sense the "peace and assurance that the need has been met".
It begins with allowing the Holy Spirit to "lay on our hearts his concerns".

We need to remember that the Holy Spirit is praying - interceding - for us as Paul says in Romans 8:26.  And Jesus himself is interceding for us and our concerns in God's throne room (Romans 8:34).

God wants to answer our prayers, but they must conform to his will.  If they do, we can be confident that God will act (1 John 5:14-15).

Believers have a special place in the prayer chain - we are seated with Christ "in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 2:6).  This should give us confidence that God will listen to our requests and banish feelings of unworthiness.

We are able to pray with confidence because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross - not because we are righteous or good enough.

As we ask the Holy Spirit how to pray in a particular situation, he may give us unexpected promptings, or words of knowledge and wisdom.

Dye tells of a situation in his own life when he was scheduled to preach in Nigeria.  His church in London, England was holding an all-night prayer meeting to support him.

The prayer group sensed that they were to pray for Nigerian children - not knowing why this was important.  It happened that there was "a plot to bribe children to start a riot where we were preaching".  That might have disrupted and destroyed the meetings.

"But God alerted those people in Britain and they prayed until the threat lifted and not one stone was thrown," Dye writes.

Praying - interceding - for others can be a battle.

But when we know what God wants in our circumstances, we can be confident that the Lord will act.


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Pray for your leaders

We are called to pray for our nation's leaders - even if we don't like them.

Why?

I can think of several reasons:

  • We pray for our leaders so that we can lead godly and peaceful lives. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
  • We pray for them because their authority has been given them by God. (Romans 13:1)
  • We pray for them because the Lord turns the king's heart wherever God wills. (Proverbs 21:1)
  • We pray for them because God rules over the nations, including our leaders. (Psalm 22:8)
In other words, prayer matters.  God moves as we pray.

But I admit that I am not keen about some of the leaders I see.  Like many people, I have my likes and dislikes among the men and women who rule the nations.

Does that mean I am allowed to pray bad things about them?  No.  Jesus even goes so far as to say that I am to pray even for those who persecute me. (Matthew 5:44)

So then, how should I pray for my nation's leaders?

I like some suggestions made by David Mathis, executive editor of desiringgod.org at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/seven-ways-to-pray-for-your-leaders.

Mathis says that wisdom is one of the greatest needs of any leader.  He suggests we should turn to James 3:17 as a guide for praying for our leaders, specifically church leaders.  But they apply as well to our national leaders.

James 3:17 says:

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."

Touching each one of these qualities, we can ask God that:

  • Our leaders be "pure" in the sense that they lead blameless lives;
  • Our leaders be "peace-loving" - seek to make peace among the people;
  • Our leaders be "considerate" of others, thinking of the welfare of others;
  • Our leaders be "submissive" to God in their approach to ruling others;
  • Our leaders be "merciful" - a leader who is full of mercy will find followers who are ready to go anywhere for him or her;
  • Our leaders yield "good fruit" in their lives - things that benefit the people;
  • Our leaders be "impartial" - not making snap judgements without knowing what is true; and
  • Our leaders be "sincere" - speaking the truth in gentleness.
It may seem a lot to ask of anyone in politics - it's a rough-and-tumble game.  But I have seen a few people like that.

We need to pray that God will work on the hearts of those in leadership to demonstrate these qualities.

With God, everything is possible.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Expectant prayer

George Muller expected answers to his prayers in God's timing.

Sometimes, God's answers came just when food and funds were running out for his orphanage in England in the mid-1800s.

On March 9, 1842, there was no money left in the orphanage to pay for food for the many orphans under his care.  He had never asked for money, depending entirely on praying for donations.

"Muller's response was to do what he knew best," writes Bryan Chapell in his book Praying Backwards.  "He gathered friends early in the morning and prayed again.  The daily mail provided no relief.

"Then, just as all hope seemed lost, a special delivery letter arrived.  It was a letter that had initially been delivered to the wrong address.  The letter contained a sizeable gift mailed from another city."

This was typical in Muller's life.  He and his associates "grew to expect the Lord's work" in their lives.

Muller kept a daily journal listing his prayers and the answers he received - sometimes years later.  Over his lifetime, Muller recorded 50,000 answers to specific prayers.

His biographer, A.T. Pierson, said that "having asked in conformity with the word and the will of God, and in the name of Jesus, he (Muller) has confidence in Him, that he heareth and that he has the petitions thus asked of Him".

By asking in Jesus' name, says Chapell, Muller was not only asking Christ to intercede for him, "but also to indicate willingness to submit to God's will".  Muller expected God to answer as heaven knew was best.

"Muller used Jesus' name with the expectation that God would answer in the way that most glorified the Saviour."

This did not mean that Muller had an easy life and that all his prayers were answered in the way he wished.  "Through the course of his life, Muller buried two stillborn children, a one-year-old son, an adult daughter, and two wives," writes Chapell.

He says we will not know until we are in heaven why God would give so many miraculous answers to Muller's prayers, but not save these people who were so close to him.  Ultimately,  he says we must trust God to "listen to us and to do the best for our eternity and his glory".

Of course, this means we must pray for God's revelation of his will, much as Muller did.

When Muller faced a problem, he sought God's direction as he read and meditated on scripture and he asked for the Holy Spirit to speak to him.  And he considered advice from others, counting on the Spirit to guide him to the right path to take in prayer.  Then, he prayed with confidence, expecting to receive God's answer to his needs.

It's an approach that many great Christians have followed down through the ages.

It is a path that is open to us today.




Monday, 9 January 2017

The power of forgiveness

Jesus Christ has forgiven us our sins and has poured out his mercy upon us as believers.

What would happen if we did the same to each other?  It might transform the church and the communities we live in.

Jesus said in John 13:34-35:

"A new command I give you: Love on another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Forgiveness and mercy are key to loving one another.

Should we be praying that the Holy Spirit stir up a spirit of forgiveness and mercy among believers?  I believe we should.

Francis Frangipane, author of The House of the Lord: God's Plan To Liberate Your City From Darkness, tells of a warning by the prophet Jeremiah that God would hand over the city of Jerusalem to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. (Jeremiah 34)  This was because of Judah's rebellion against the Lord.

Panicked, Judah's leaders obeyed - for the first time in years - a law that called for freeing their own people from slavery for debts every seven years. They were to be forgiven their debts.

Evidently, Nebuchadnezzar abandoned the seige of Jerusalem after the leaders took this step.

But as soon as the Babylonian king was gone, the Judean leaders re-enslaved the people they had freed.  Nebuchadnezzar returned, the city was taken and burned, captives enslaved and Jeremiah's prophecy was fulfilled.

"We are just like the Judeans of Jeremiah's day," writes Frangipane.  "Our cities are also under attack, and no program of government aid can help us.  What we need desperately is divine intervention and deliverance.  We need to see the mercy of God and his convicting power poured out supernaturally on the people!"

He says that as we forgive each other, God will move in our churches and ultimately in our cities.

People will begin to see the power of forgiveness and love in our churches and that spirit will infect our communities.

Too pie-in-the sky?  No, that's how the early church grew and spread.

And it is at the root of revivals - local and national - through the centuries since the resurrection of Christ.



Monday, 2 January 2017

Simply ask

Are you asking God for what you want?

Most believers know that we must ask God in prayer for the things that we desire.  But, speaking personally, I often neglect to do it.

One of the saddest passages in the Bible is Ezekiel 22:30 where God says he was looking for someone to intercede for righteousness in the land but he found no one.  There was no one to "stand in the gap" on behalf of the people to ward off coming destruction.

There are big things such as national issues in which to seek God's help.  And for many people in the world, there are serious personal problems such as food and shelter to pray about.

But I wonder if we Christians think that some things are too trivial to bring to God.  Or, we decide that we can manage better than God to solve our concerns.  Or, we ask once and give up if we don't get the instant answer we wish.

Colin Dye, author of Prayer Explosion: Power for Christian Living, believes that a key reason for this kind of thinking is that we often have an "independent spirit" - a feeling that we need to fend for ourselves.

"In spiritual matters," he writes, "it is actually independence which is the unspiritual thing and dependence on God that is power and strength."

Dye makes it clear that God wants us to ask.  Jesus repeatedly tells us to ask (John 4:2, John 16:24, John 14:13-14, Matthew 7:7-11).

"Let it never be said that we missed out on his blessings just because we didn't ask," says Dye.

He says that we should not approach God timidly.

The writer of Hebrews declares in Hebrews 4:16: "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most."

"Our God loves us much more than we appreciate," Dye writes.  "Trust him.  Trust in his love."

In Isaiah 62, the prophet writes that God yearns for his people.  Isaiah calls on the Israelites to "take no rest, all you who pray to the Lord".

Dye notes that the apostle John writes in 1 John 5:14-15 that "if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us".  And if we know he hears us "we know that we have what we asked of him".

So, as pray-ers, we are to align ourselves with God's will.  We know his will as we become familiar with God as a person - through prayer, meditating on scripture, and the light of the Holy Spirit.

Then, we can pray with true confidence and faith.

Many Christians have followed this route in praying for major issues in their lives.  It is the road George Muller took in praying for the many orphans he was caring for in Britain in the 1800s.  Without making public appeals for funds, he always received enough money to pay for food and shelter for the orphans - sometimes on the very day when his orphanages were running out of food.

Dye's words push me out of my lethargy in prayer.

As the apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:6: "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done."

Words to live by.