PRAYER FUNDAMENTALS

 

Learn the fundamentals of basketball before you practice passing behind your back or slam dunking. Same for prayer:

 

  1. Choose a time. What we schedule is important to us. What could beat an appointment with God?!  Sadly, it gets overlooked by scheduled meetings. Picking a time doubles the chance of success. And while you are at it, pick a spot. Peter and John went to the temple (place) at the hour of prayer (the time), and God showed up. Daniel prayed three times a day in the same place–and position.

 

  1. Make up a prayer agenda. I struggled as a young man with prayer, wondering if I had covered the essentials. So I developed an agenda. I started with worship, because the psalmist invites us to “enter his courts with praise(P).  I thought of who God is and what He does. Then I follow with repentance (R). When we have seen God for who He is, we more clearly see ourselves for who we are. Confessing sin on a regular basis helps walk with a greater consciousness of our need for change and our confidence in the cross. Claiming God’s forgiveness, I turn to asking (A). I start with me, then family, relatives, friends, pastors, etc. I finish my prayer time by yielding (Y) my day, my time, my body, my meetings, my problems, my dreams to the Lord. For years this simple acronym (P-R-A-Y) has helped me grow in prayer.

 

Why a prayer list? We write up an agenda for important meetings; we want to keep the commitments we make; we want to stay on track; and we want to persist in prayer. The Lord’s Prayer also gives us a wonderful agenda for prayer, phrase by phrase.

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  1. Pray out loud. God told disobedient Israel, needing to return to God, “Take words with you” (Hosea 14:2). Speaking out words allows us to express our heart, and it reinforces its content.

 

  1. Practice silence. God can talk. One way to learn to listen is to quit talking. After I have spoken, I give God a chance. Again, a quiet place helps. Come with paper, ready to write anything you think God is saying.

 

  1. Don’t be afraid of repetition. Sometimes gratitude is repetitive. People in love could say so ten times and mean it stronger every time.

6. Pray with others. We can learn much by hearing how others express their love for God or how they confess their sins. A friend joins me once a week. I borrowed his list of the attributes of God and it helped me to expand my time of praise.  Praying together always upgrades my prayer time.

IS SIN THAT SERIOUS?

 

Not a big deal because of the cross, right? Wrong! Big deal because of the cross. Sin put Him there. Jesus “ever lives to intercede for us.” How does He pray? That we will be like Him, loving righteousness and hating iniquity. Bottom line of the intricate Old Testament sacrificial system: sin is serious and the Lamb will deal with it.

 

Many are casual, thinking sin’s not serious, not that serious. For instance, too many think that sleeping together before marriage is not that bad because Jesus is forgiving. The blood of Jesus covers sin that we uncover. It does not cover the sin of the proud, the self-centered, the willful. They are on their own.

 

Christians casual about sin…

will not walk into their God-appointed destiny;

will not impact the kingdom of God;

will not please Jesus;

will choose happiness over holiness, and

will potentially crash, bringing shame to Christ.

 

Sin is never dealt with lightly in the Bible. If you agree, do two things:

 

 

  • CONFESS YOUR SINS DAILY.

 

Ask God to help you to see them as He does, something that could separate you from Him, for time and for eternity. You may hear some preachers say that sin does not separate us from God because He is gracious. When young people have asked me if I think they have committed the unforgivable sin, I answer no, because they are concerned about it. One who isn’t would likely have a hardened heart. A Christian that sins willfully and without confessing is in danger of hardening his heart.

 

But didn’t Paul say that NOTHING would separate us from the love of God? Yes, but look at the context. He wrote that Christ died “in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…To set the mind on the flesh is death” (Romans 8:4-6). “The wages of sin is death”–always. Every sin has the seed of death in it. If Bill Graham decides to test the law of gravity in a plane five miles up, he will find out by falling. If he decided to live in the flesh, he would fall.

 

Paul goes on to say, talking to believers, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (12,13). It is those people who will discover the holding power of God’s love.

 

      2) CONCENTRATE ON JESUS, NOT ON SIN.

We don’t deal with sin by focusing on it. Tried that as a teen–didn’t work. We focus on Jesus and the cross, where sin was dealt with. We are changed by what we believe and behold. So as we behold Jesus and believe that He crushed sin at the cross, we live victorious over sin. We confess it in order to leave it and not think about it. Great idea!

WHAT TO SAY TO SOMEONE WHO HAS HAD AN ABORTION

 

BUT FIRST, WHAT NOT TO SAY

GOD WILL GIVE YOU ONE TO REPLACE YOUR LOSS.

You sure about that one?  Not what is needed now. You are not trying to represent God at this point, just allowing your friend to share. She needs to talk.

 

I UNDERSTAND. I HAD AN ABORTION.

You do not understand. Just hear the full story. Try nodding and listening as best you can.

 

YOU DID WHAT YOU THOUGHT WAS BEST.

Don’t try to reason with someone going through incredible grief, who has been made to feel like a murderer, who feels like she can’t go on. This is NOT time to present reasonable answers or solutions. Do not see yourself as the advice-giver or the answer-person.

 

WHAT TO SAY

NOTHING. JUST LISTEN

Don’t even ask questions, unless it is to keep her talking. Let her share anything she wants about her situation and sorrow. Don’t even think about critiquing her story or correcting any words, such as “fetus,” or “termination.”  She has probably had that from others, who offered advice or gave counsel for free, even when it was not requested.

 

I CAN’T IMAGINE THE LOSS YOU MUST FEEL.

Way to go. You understand that you can’t really grasp it.

 

GOD IS NEAR TO THE BROKEN-HEARTED. HE’S NEAR EVEN IF IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE IT.  Okay, if she has poured out her whole story and there’s no more coming, maybe it can be a time for hugs and words of comfort. Maybe! You could ask is she wants prayer. If she is open to touch, you could put your hand on her shoulder, or if you know her well and are a woman, on her heart. You might want to pray for the comfort of the Holy Spirit, Who alone truly knows, understands, and deeply loves.

 

I KNOW WHERE YOU CAN GET HELP.

She needs hope. It may not be you, but it may come from you. Is there a ministry you know about that works with people who have gone through abortions and can walk through the healing process with them? If not, could you find one?

 

GOD IS A MERCIFUL, FORGIVING FATHER. HE BOTH FORGIVES AND HEALS.

When you don’t know what to say or what to do, love will tell you. “Love never fails.” That is good to know. Sometimes we can find ourselves over our head, in territory we’ve not been in before, wondering if we should agree or disagree, speak or listen, wait or walk. At that point, try love. It will likely give you the best response–or no response. And at some point, maybe the second time around, we might want to speak about a God who forgives if she asks about forgiveness.

WHY PRAY FOR REVIVAL?

 

BECAUSE SCRIPTURE TEACHES US TO.

“Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved” (Psalm 89:3,7,19). Notice it is repeated three times.

“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6).

“Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2)

 

BECAUSE GOD BRINGS REVIVAL IN ANSWER TO PRAYER.

Peggy and Christine, age 84 and 82, were so convinced by God that He was sending revival to the Hebrides Island, that they prayed day and night. They finally asked their pastor to give an invitation to Duncan Campbell. He came for two weeks–and stayed for two years, leading a powerful move of the Spirit of God from 1949 on. Credit two invalids for praying faithfully and in faith.

 

Seventeen students at Asbury College were praying at 2 AM on February 2, 1970 when one of the student leaders said, “We can quit praying. He’s coming tomorrow.” He came for chapel–and stayed. Classes were shut down for three weeks because of the convicting and convincing work of the Holy Spirit, bring confession of sins and a fresh love for God throughout the campus.

 

They began sending out students in small teams all around the country. Wherever they went, revival broke out. The students had been praying together for many months and believing God to send revival. Instead of simply saying “Cool, bring it on,” they followed the Scriptures and prayed. Revival gives us two main assignments–prayer and proclamation. We talk to God about people, and we talk to people about God. We can’t bring revival apart from God, and He won’t bring revival apart from us. He looks for praying people through whom He can work. Maybe He’ll find you.

 

BECAUSE HISTORY GIVES US HOPE.

The conditions in America at the turn of the eighteenth century were anything but positive. Most even in the church had lost hope, while some prayed and believed. God moved powerfully on campuses, in churches, and in the workplace. He did it again halfway into the nineteenth century, and again in the beginning of the twentieth century, this time at a small church on Azusa Street. The impact of that revival is still felt more than a century later. We say with Habakkuk about the mighty works of God, “O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known.”

 

BECAUSE A GREAT REVIVAL IS COMING.

The Old Testament ends with a promise and a curse. I’ll take the promise. God says, “Behold! I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5,6). Join multiplied thousands believing for the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5, a revival of relationships, a revival in the home that powerfully impacts society–in every country of the world. We can pray in faith, knowing our prayer is going to be answered–soon and very soon!

UNDERSTANDING SPIRITUAL ABUSE, Part 2

We will not shame people.

Shame is a weapon of choice for abusers. I won’t preach on treating the body as holy, then freak out when someone has a coke. Using guilt, fear, the law, or position are illegitimate ways to motivate. Legalism gets quick results, just not lasting ones. The law brings external compliance, a poor excuse for the motivation of love through the work of the Spirit.

We will not have hidden rules.

People often don’t know until they break them. If they go out to dinner instead of showing up for the Wednesday night prayer meeting, they are held in suspect. They decide under pressure not to miss again. But when company comes in from the west coast, they don’t go to the Friday night outreach. They won’t do that again. The pastor made a subtle reference to it in his sermon two days later. Ouch.

We will view members positively,

not as lazy or stupid, like the Pharisees viewed them. And we will see ourselves as no different from the people we serve. If anything, we are lower. We won’t think that we own people. If they want out, we will make it easy. People find out how close it is to a cult when they talk about leaving.

We will not turn Christianity into keys,

three steps. Christianity by formula is not what the apostles passed on. Abusers have code words and phrases: Loyalty, submission, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed,” “he’s in rebellion,” “she has a Jezebel spirit.” They take the mystery out of the Christian life with easy answers: “You’re sick because you are not disciplining your children right.”  

We won’t create uniformity.

In abusive systems individuality and creativity are frowned upon. New ideas and originality threaten the program. Better to dress alike, talk alike, even fix your hair alike. In unhealthy systems, good ideas don’t fit. Uniformity outscores unity.

We will reward grace-givers, not legalists.

I believe in fasting, but so did the Pharisees, and they thought they earned extra credit for it. Fasting is normal Christianity, not a sign of super-spirituality.

We will avoid spiritual abuse by walking in humility.

Humility means that anyone can speak into my life, especially people that disagree with me. I don’t have all the answers, and no one else does either. The best defense is to live by grace rather than by the law or by formula.

God-ordained leaders must walk with meekness and at the same time exercise God-given authority in a way that builds trust. How sad that some use God to serve themselves, all the while wearing a mask of holiness.

My counsel:  Never violate your conscience under the constraint of a false loyalty, like a Scripture that urges you to obey your leaders. One caution:  don’t overreact. Not everyone who talks about submission or obeying elders is an abuser. They are Biblical words.

Jesus was full of grace and truth, but what rubbed off on people was grace: “Of his fullness we have all received—grace upon grace” (John 1:16). He didn’t load people down with burdens as the Pharisees did—He took them off. He said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). That’s the kind of leader we want to follow–and be.

UNDERSTANDING SPIRITUAL ABUSE, Part 1

 

I am a recovering Pharisee. I did some of what Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for. Pastors are given a place of influence, which they can use appropriately or illegitimately. The Pharisees, then and now, often violate their position in these ways:

 

DEMANDING MUCH.

They place heavy expectations upon people that they themselves do not carry out. In their excellent book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen say (my summary) that when abuse is present, good news becomes bad news, the gospel becomes a curse, what is supposed to make you happy makes you sad, and what is supposed to bring rest brings work, ceaseless work to get better.

 

EXTERNALS OVERRIDE INTERNALS.

They value looking good more than being good, a preoccupation with performance. One’s identity can be wrapped up in the nervous pursuit of holiness, which means putting forth effort to keep the law. Abuse often boils down to transferring the focus from grace to law.

 

MAJORING IN MINORS,

which also means minoring in majors. The Pharisees made gray areas into black and white issues. When the doubtful things like drinking or entertainment or clothes take center stage instead of core doctrines, what you do supersedes who you are. In religious abuse, questionable things are no longer questions.

 

COERCION.

Abusers don’t mind telling men and women what they can and cannot do, wear or not wear, say or not say. But they like to keep people in the dark. They are secretive and seclusive. People who disagree with them are cut off from fellowship and often shamed in public. Abusers adopt a bunker mentality: “They are out to get us,” which typically makes them defensive, argumentative, and feisty.

 

IMPOSITION OF GUILT.

Compliant people enter into a co-dependent relationship with the abusers by walking in submission, defined in the way the leaders mandate. Followers pick up as best they can on the silent codes and the unwritten rules. The God of the spiritually abused is a judge rather than a father. He is tricky, changing, always wanting more, and disappointed with a faulty performance. Abusers are like an insecure dad who cannot get what he wants so reverts to emotional force to get it.

 

As a young pastor, I identified with the elder brother more than with the prodigal, which made me a little nervous, because he is the brunt of the story. He postured himself as the responsible one. He is blind to his selfish accusations, critical spirit, and irresponsibility.  I never left home like the prodigal did, but look at the story; each brother had his own field that he was trapped in. Simply put, the elder son was an abuser.

 

To keep us recovering Pharisees on our toes, let us agree that by God’s grace…

  1. We will not shame people. (Part 2 will explain Seven Things We Will Not Do!)

 

IS COMPLAINING LEGAL?

 

Seems that way. Wasn’t my fault I got the flat tire, my children got sick, I lost the job. It didn’t take long for the children of Israel, freshly redeemed from Egypt, to gripe. Maybe they expected to live on miracles. They had seen plenty when God put the pressure on the Egyptians–and they went free every time. Perhaps they felt so special that they figured it would always go that way.

 

Not this time: “Then Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sa, and they went into the wilderness of Shur; they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter…And the people murmured against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’ And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet” (Exodus 15:22-25).

 

The obstacle became the opportunity. Too bad they didn’t see it that way from the get-go. Too bad they didn’t say, “If God could deliver us from the strongest army in the world, I’ll bet He has a solution to this water problem.” Then the test would become a testimony. Instead it became an example of how easily people complain when situations turn on them. It’s not about our circumstances–it’s about ourselves. Can we trust God when things turn south or must we register our displeasure?

 

The verse before this paragraph reads, “And Miriam sang to them, ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his ride he has thrown into the sea’” (21). Too bad they couldn’t just keep worshiping instead of whining. Worship proves that our center of gravity is the character of God rather than the situation at hand.

 

Did they expect to get a smooth ride? Do we? Do Christians miss their plane, have car trouble, cranky neighbors, work issues, financial pressures? Life is full of tests, trials, tension, the very thing that give us character–IF we keep our focus on the Lord who has triumphed gloriously. Otherwise, we simply prove that we are members of a human fallen race by grumbling.

 

Some prefer to keep worshiping–like Paul in the prison cell after being unjustly beaten, or Daniel after his life was threatened if he prayed to any god besides the king, or the apostles who praised God after they left a rugged meeting with the religious leaders because they were counted worthy to suffer for the Name.
God is God, and that is what He expects us to do. And if we do, we learn to ride higher than our trials, and they turn to triumphs. You probably know people like that. They have come into a rhythm of life that their focus is so much on beholding the Lord that they appear not even to taste the bitter water. They live on a higher plane. That’s where I want to be. How about you? Their answer came from a tree. Ours does too! Would it have helped if they had known that their next stop was Elim–with twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees? (27).

WHAT MIGHT THE COMING REVIVAL LOOK LIKE?

 

More and more leaders are saying that revival is imminent. I agree. Revival is God’s business. We don’t serve it up; we respond to a God who causes the wind to blow. Yet we take part in the dance. God engineers revival–we steward it. And we pray it in with passion. Here’s an outlook I recommend we consider:

 

We will respect the past, but we don’t live there. Knowing the history of revival tells us that it includes some important ingredients, like prayer, but the shape it takes depends upon how and where the wind blows. 2017 looks different from 1905, and even the Jesus revival of the 1970s. Computers had not come into their own a few decades ago. The internet could be used to great advantage in a viral culture. If a child is healed of Down syndrome and a million people witness it instead of a hundred, we will thank God for the internet!

 

What if…

  • As many people came to faith in Starbuck’s as at the altar? We have seen a transformation of the marketplace into a ministry center the last two decades. In the ‘70s, we were still stuck at church. If we don’t have options, we will lose those who would rather meet us on their turf than ours. Hey, that’s what the word “go” means.
  • What if no-names in every healthy church replaced the singular famous revival preacher? We have enough churches ripe for revival that will spring into action. Having no-names share in leading puts the right image before people—the face of Jesus.
  • What if the revival was embraced by many churches and revival turned into vival? Visitation becomes habitation, and God decides to stick around. Long-term impact beats short-term explosion.  
  • What if we were unable to pinpoint where it started? Then we would conclude it started in heaven. If it breaks out in many places simultaneously, we don’t have people flocking to a place but a church flocking to the people.
  • What if folks keep their hands off it, don’t try to own it but steward it as a move of God?.
  • What if local churches had their own spin on the revival, each of them responding according to their own needs?
  • What if revival meetings included training sessions to take it to them? More out there than in here.

 

Important ingredients:

  • 24-hour prayer. Thank you, Mike Bickle, for vision. We have houses of prayer in every major city and many in not-so-major. Down through history, prayer has been the single most important catalyst for revival.
  • Multi-generations. Malachi 4:5,6 waits to be fulfilled. An un-fathered generation stands under a curse. This revival will include a Father blessing from heaven and physical fathers renewed to put children above career or golf handicap. It will also feature spiritual fathers reaching out to a younger generation, discipling them, and help them to develop a rhythm that will serve them for the long haul. This will be powerful–and new! This means…
  • Five-fold ministry. The apostolic could come into its own. Mature oversight will help give the revival continuity. A team of leaders could also take preemptive action if parts of the revival headed for crazy town.
  • Wider participation, including Catholics and orthodox.

 

How do we pray?

Pray for selflessness. Pray for fire and for humility. God exalts the humble.

Pray for discernment. How will Satan come against us? Division. Sectarianism. We’re right.

Pray for unity between young radicals who have often led revivals and fathers who mentor.

Pray for multitudes to be swept into the kingdom.

 

THE VALUE OF SUFFERING

 

Which letter of Paul’s is most joyful? Philippians. How did the church at Philippi begin? Injustice, a brutal beating, and a night locked with stocks in a prison cell. It led to the conversion of the jailor and his family, then many others. Paul suffered well, and his test became a testimony. That happens when people choose to live above the circumstances. Our biggest obstacles are not our circumstances but ourselves. What do we learn about suffering from a letter full of joy?

 

SUFFERING IS A GIFT.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in his name but also to suffer for his sake” (1:29). We normally think of suffering as a burden. How could Paul call it a gift? Because suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3,4), good fruit and great joy.

 

SUFFERING CAN THROW US FOR A GAIN.

Paul spoke about chains four times in the first chapter. His imprisonment allowed him access to the palace guard. Imagine being chained to the apostle Paul for four hours. Sooner or later you are going to hear the good news. Paul wrote that “it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (1:10). God is a purposeful God. We don’t go through hardship meaninglessly. If you are facing difficulty, look for a miracle masquerading behind the misery.  Hey, he’s writing his letter from a Roman prison. And we’re reading it two thousand years later. That’s a long time on the market!

 

SUFFERING CHANGES THE GAME PLAN.

It is not live or die but obey or not obey. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). We learn not to fear death but disobedience.

 

CHRIST EMBRACED SUFFERING SO WE COULD AS WELL.

“…he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (2:9). Suffering was written into His journey to earth. He told the men on the way to Emmaus, “Did not the Christ have to suffer and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:46). If suffering was a part of His job description, won’t that also be true for ours? Then it means that fellowship with Him would include suffering with Him. Paul wanted “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering” (3:10).

 

SUFFERING MEANS JOY IN DIFFICULTY.

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (4:12). Happiness is situational for most people. If things go well, then I am, too. If things go wrong, I’m down. Paul embraced a mindset that allowed him to live on top of situations. Rather than riding the roller coaster of circumstantial happiness, he found meaning in suffering and gave thanks in all seasons. A really wise way to do life.

BE AN EXCEPTION

 

When one of my kids said, “Everybody’s doing it,” I said, “Wrong. You aren’t.” Sometimes children don’t want to be an exception.

 

Noah was. “The Lord saw…that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time…But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6: 5,8). Every inclination–but Noah’s. He was an exception. That made him exceptional.

 

Parents, teach your kids to be an exception, even when it hurts. If it doesn’t hurt, maybe it doesn’t help. The flow of humanity was toward evil. Noah stemmed the tide, and God used him to start all over. Talk about influence!

 

Imagine the derision when he spent one hundred years building a massive boat–in the desert. They had never heard of rain; mist came up from the earth. They laughed and scorned. They were not laughing when Noah finally went inside and it started to pour. They found out they were on the wrong side.

 

Dad and Mom, don’t cave in. They will thank you later.  Some parents want to be the friend of their children. They want influence, so they step down from being an authority to being a friend. Big mistake. You are their guidance counselor, their teacher, their mentor for life. You know what is right; they are going to learn it from you. Then, hopefully, they won’t chuck it as teens when the pressure mounts, when sex looks too inviting to pass up, when they become an exception.

 

I was respected as an athlete, but I didn’t show at the after-game parties. They never asked me why. They knew. My parents had raised me to be different, and I accepted it. I never wished that I could join them. Credit gentle parents with living the life and making it more attractive. Everyone “important” went to the parties. I didn’t.

 

When it had rained for thirty days without stopping, I wonder if Noah’s three sons thanked their dad for not giving in under the overwhelming pressure of deriding neighbors. Non-stop mocking. It could have caused Ham, Shem and Japheth to change sides. But they made it on the boat. And they were still dry after forty days of a torrential downpour. Thank Papa Noah for not throwing in the towel.

 

Kids need to fit in. My sisters and I fit in with our parents. That was enough. We didn’t have to fit in with the crowd. We knew that we were different, and it didn’t matter. To find favor in the eyes of the Lord is worth whatever derision we might receive.
How about being an exception at work or at school? Never complain about the bosses or teachers. Choose gratitude rather than filling the air with the smog of resentment. Live a godly lifestyle rather than a compromising one. Be an exception. Go ahead–win the favor of heaven.