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Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Pray & Vote

In an earlier post we said there is a time to stand still and do nothing, purely receiving God’s saving grace (Exodus 14; Eph. 2:1-9) and there is a time to run the race, still on the receiving end of grace but co-operating, working, doing, acting by that grace (Phil. 3:12-15; 2 Tim. 4:7; Col. 1:29 etc.).

On the second category, Don Carson writes of Jacob in Genesis 32:

None of this means he is so paralysed by fear that he does nothing but retreat into prayer. Rather, it means he does what he can, while believing utterly that salvation is of the Lord.

On the one hand, Jacob sets in motion a carefully orchestrated plan (32:1-8)… On the other hand, he prays, reminding God of his covenental promises, pleading his own unworthiness, acknowledging how many undeserved blessings he has received, confessing his own terror, begging for help (32:9-12).

Jacob takes action and prays…

(For the Love of God, Vol. 1, Jan. 31)

Voting in KisumuYou could add the example of Nehemiah – again, action and prayer. As we approach election day in Kenya on Monday we remember the importance of both – voting and praying. On praying for leaders I was helped by Josh Moody’s little article written around the time of the US elections. To summarise it, we pray for leaders:

  1. Because they are people (1 Tim. 2:1). “Leadership is a tough job. And our leaders are people like us doing a difficult job.”
  2. Because we’re told to (1 Tim. 2:2). Including for those who “we deem to be illegitimate, or who in some way abuse their authority” as did the powers in Paul’s day.
  3. That we may lead peaceful and quiet lives (1 Tim. 2:2). “This is very different from a pseudo-messianic view of political leadership. We do not pray that they will solve all our problems, or reverse the effects of the Fall, or solve every calamity that may happen on their watch.” We pray simply that we would be spared chaos and oppression.
  4. That they would encourage or at least allow godliness (1 Tim. 2:2).
  5. That the gospel would be allowed to spread (1 Tim. 2:3-4). “We want schools to be open to the gospel, universities, public spaces, and churches and Christian institutions to be able to go about their work unhindered. Paul does not ask us to pray that the government would itself convert people; it is unable to do that. Government instead has the relatively limited task of allowing for the gospel to do its job, which, by the power of ‘God our Saviour’, is the conversion of all those who believe.”

Tuombe..

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At the last First Priority prayer meeting Harrison preached from 2 Chronicles 20. A few things that came across very clearly…

  • The story makes the point – As Harrison said, just reading the story, from impending disaster to amazing deliverance (with the final twist of another disaster) it preaches itself. The tension builds unbearably to the great turning point – the Word of God proclaiming, “You do not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf” (2 Chron. 20:17 cf. Exodus 14:13-14). What a great Bible theme – “Salvation belongs to the Lord”, “He saved us”, “Not by works”. And here it is beaten into our heads by a wonderful story.
  • The engagement of the whole person in prayer and worship – Earlier in the prayer meeting, Harrison exhorted us to engage our mind, body and emotions in prayer for the persecuted church and mission in Egypt and Algeria. We are to engage our mind – being well informed on what’s going on in our world (see 2 Chron. 20:2) and praying specific requests (2 Chron. 20:10). We are to engage our bodies – speaking aloud (2 Chron. 20:6), maybe standing or bowing down (2 Chron. 20:5,18). And we are to engage – our emotions, praying for persecuted brothers in N. Africa not in some cold disconnected way but as if we are there with them in prison, as suffering members of our body (Hebrews 13:3). It’s this engagement of emotions that most challenged me. Wary of whipped up emotions, wary of the frantic shouting of the Baal worshippers, and wary of the idea that volume equals power, I can tend to the other extreme of avoiding emotion. But in 2 Chronicles 20, the reason the story is so powerful is largely that it is full of raw emotion. Fear drives Jehoshaphat to prayer (v3 – and Harrison gave us a personal testimony of that experience). Jehoshaphat’s prayer is full of passion (why else the ‘redundant’ ‘O’ at v6 and v12?). The overjoyed praise of the Levites is with ‘a very loud voice’ (v19). Returning from the plunder there is a God-given joy (v27). So the question is not so much, “To shout or not to shout?” The question is, are we engaging our minds, bodies and emotions in genuine prayer and praise?
  • The contradictions of a true believer – Jehoshaphat is a true believer. In 2 Chronicles 17 he leads a greater revival than his father. In chapter 19 he again goes out among the people to ‘bring them back to the LORD (v4) and he rolls out the wonderful blessing of a God-honouring justice system. In chapter 20 he turns to the Temple and prays a model prayer of humble dependence on the Lord (fulfilling 2 Chron. 7:14). So Jehoshaphat is the real thing. Even a prototype of the great Jeho-Shaphat (Jehovah-Judges). And then you get 2 Chronicles 20:35-37 and he’s in league with a wicked king of Israel again (as in ch. 18). What do we say? “He obviously wasn’t a real believer after all” or “He’s fallen from grace”?  Do we tell him to “Get born again (again!)” I don’t think so. Aren’t all Christians contradictory? Don’t we all have contradictions in our lives? We believe one thing and we also believe something else that is completely contradictory. Or we say we believe one thing but our behaviour says something else completely. Talking personally, I am a mass of contradictions. Yes we should seek consistency – a consistent mind and consistent behaviour – our life’s work must be conforming ourselves to the Word of God – but at the same time the Word itself tells me that until I die I will always be fighting the sinful nature which desires what is contrary to the Spirit. Which is why 2 Chronicles 20:17 is such good news. It’s not about me – it’s God’s salvation of sinners all the way home.

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For a church under attack 2 Kings 6:8-23 is a great passage. It doesn’t get much worse than verse 15: “behold, an army with horses and chariots was all round the city.” How does the church react to threats and grenades? Certainly an outpouring of grief and of compassion for those who have been bereaved or wounded. Understandably anger, fear and confusion. Two other common responses are a) ramp up the military/security option, guards on the doors, police sweeps, KDF surge; and b) spiritual warfare, by which we mean offensive and defensive prayer, hedging believers and binding demonic forces, praying frustration and confusion on enemies.  Surely these is a place for all this. Once we have grieved with and comforted the afflicted we do need to take sensible measures to protect ourselves, seek justice and the rule of law at home and abroad, and we do need to pray offensively and defensively. But 2 Kings 6 brings us something deeper about the living God and points us to another way. It’s a chapter all about seeing…

  1. See the knowledge of God (v8-14) – Here is an all-seeing God. No terrorist attack takes him by surprise. He knows every plan being whispered in a bunker deep in Somalia or Yemen. In contrast to sovereign omniscience, the sovereign of Syria is a ridiculous picture of foolishness and blindness. You can hear the laughter of heaven as the king demands to know the double agent (v11), is told that his bedroom talk might as well be broadcast on Al Jazeera (v12), and bizarrely sends forces to capture the one who knows all his plans – and to arrest him for that very reason (v13)!! His foolishness is that he thinks that Yahweh is a limited, weak god like the gods he knows. “Sure, he knows a lot but maybe this time I can outwit him.” Do we really believe God knows absolutely everything or do we sometimes slip into Syrian theology? And the king of Israel is also foolish in a more subtle way. If you look at the surrounding chapters (if it’s the same king) he’s not a great example of godliness but here he is receiving the undeserved blessing of early warnings of enemy attack (v9). He’s not convinced of God’s Word until he checks it out himself but at least he does heed it and is saved (v10). The great sadness and irony is that, while he is very happy to have early warnings of physical threats in the very near future, he is at the same time, like almost all the kings of Israel, ignoring the threats of God’s judgment on the idolatry and violence of his kingdom (e.g. Deut. 28:15-68; 1 Kings 14:15-16; 2 Chron. 21:12-15). Which are we more keen to hear and heed, a contemporary prophetic early warning of a terrorist attack or the longer term warnings from the Scriptures of eternal judment?
  2. See the power of God (v15-17) – Here is a passage often turned to in relation to spiritual warfare. But what exactly happens here? There is Word (v16) and Prayer (v17). What the trembling servant needs first is the Word of God – the assurance from God’s mouth (Elisha is God’s mouth as the Scriptures are for us) that, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave himself up for us all” (Rom. 8:31-32). The besieged church needs the Word of God preached – that’s where we find comfort, courage, Christ. And the besieged church also needs Prayer (v17). But what sort of prayer? For fire to fall on our enemies? Verse 17: “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” Open eyes to see the reality of the Word that has just been preached – the word that those who are with us are more than those who are with them, that if God is for us, who can be against us. Compare that with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – another classic place to turn when we’re thinking about spiritual warfare. And what do we find in Paul’s model prayers-in-the-Spirit? “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:18-19). There’s a similar thrust to Paul’s prayer in the third chapter – that the Ephesians would grasp, know, see, experience the love of Christ that has been preached to them. That they would see what they already have in Christ. What our country needs, surely, is not just prayer against demonic strongholds but God’s Word preached (cf. Eph. 6:18-19), and God simultaneously, mercifully, miraculously opening eyes to see the reality of those things.
  3. See the grace of God (v18-23) – What a fantastic twist to the story? What a massive surprise? We expect the fiery horses and chariots of the Lord of Hosts to descend on the Syrian army and burn them up. But that doesn’t happen. Interestingly the Greater Elisha didn’t call down the angelic defence force when he was under attack either (Matt. 26:53). Instead the enemy army is blinded (they’re spiritually blind already) and led like sheep (again there is laughter in heaven) into the capital city of their enemy, the lions’ den and then (massive surprise) they’re not devoured but fed (v22)!  In fact they get “a great feast” (v23). What a fantastic picture of sovereign grace, of how we have experienced grace? Did the soldiers make a decision to come to the banquet? No they were chosen, drawn, led there like dumb animals. They were enemies (and we were all born enemies of God) taken captive by the Lord. They were blind people whose eyes were opened (v20). It’s pure grace and they go away changed, humbled (v23). The enemies of God’s people are defeated by grace. Won by grace. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons [i.e. ‘like’] your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:44). He then does that very thing on the Cross and his executioner is won – “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matt 27:54). I know a Pakistani man who wandered into a church and heard those verses and realised there was nothing like that in his religion in which you love your brothers but hate your enemies, where you have a God who hates his enemies. He was won and we will feast with him at the banquet table of grace for eternity. I have heard stories of amazing forgiveness and peace coming out of the church in Garissa after the terrible atrocity there. Surely that is the most impressive and powerful spiritual warfare of all.

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There are a couple of extremes we can go to on the whole issue of strategy in gospel ministry:

  1. Prayer and the Word alone – This is the extreme to which I’m tempted to go. Strategy sounds worldly. Let’s just stick to preaching Christ and depend on God. This is the ‘spiritual’, ‘orthodox’ sounding option.
  2. Strategy alone – No one aims for this but you can gradually slip there. We start to act as if strategy has the power to change people. Our church or organisation ends up being driven primarily by business plans rather than God’s plan, by Stephen Covey rather than Jesus Christ. It’s business strategy lightly dressed as Christianity.

I’d still want to say that option 1 is preferable to option 2 but I was challenged recently by an article by Ray Evans to see that there is a place – a very important one – for strategy. He showed me something I hadn’t seen before in Acts 6.

“Here is a classic combination — growth and grumbling (v.1)! An issue of complexity has led to a potentially disastrous situation. It’s what the apostles do about it that’s so helpful. First, they set priorities for themselves and the church (vv.2,4). You’ll notice that word and deed both have to be carried out by the church. They invent a solution and initiate a plan. This is not ‘steamrollered’ through but they gain the ownership of the whole church (v.3). A team is identified, and then publicly empowered for the task (vv.5,6). The result is… more growth — both in quantity and ‘quality’ (v.7).

“Notice also what they did not do: no sermons about contentment, or calls for special prayer for members to be less difficult! Some difficulties need an ‘Acts 6 approach’, where elders ‘manage’ change by identifying problems, develop plans to deal with issues, gain ownership by the church and empower people and teams to take on major responsibilities.”

What I’d seen from Acts 6 before is that the ministry of prayer and the word must take priority. That was what the apostles were commissioned for: to preach Christ, forgiveness and repentance, to wrestle in prayer for eternal things. That’s what changes lives forever. What I hadn’t seen before is that for word and prayer to remain the main thing in ministries and in the church, there must be strategic action. Without strategy, even with all the best intentions, prayer and the ministry of the word will get squeezed out. There are 100 things a church or organisation can do and many of them it should do but how do you keep the main thing the main thing? How does a pastor focus his time on the main thing? Strategy.

Sammy reminded us of the need of a prayer strategy at Raising the Bar – exactly when and where and how am I going to pray, when and where is the church going to pray together? A pastor at the same conference was sharing how he sometimes needs to leave the house and hide somewhere no-one can find him for a few hours to prevent being constantly disturbed in his sermon preparation. That’s strategy. How are we to ensure that there is faithful administration, bills get paid, genuine communication takes place, people are cared for, and there is still time for hours with the Lord, hours of discipleship. hours of sermon preparation? Strategy.

Strategy is not the means of gospel growth – the Word of God is (Acts 6:7) – but in a supportive role, keeping the main thing the main thing, strategy is vital.

P.S. I’m not good at this – we need to help each other!

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This is what it’s all about – Bibles open, reading, reading, reading again. “Noses in the text, knees on the floor” (Dick Lucas). Today was a reminder and challenge to me that gospel ministry is prayer and word ministry (Acts 6:4) – and that both are mainly unseen and hard work.  No-one knows if you’ve been crying out to the Lord for yourself and the church (but as Sammy quoted, ‘If you’re not praying you’re playing’) and no one knows if you’ve been really wrestling with the text, looking for the narrative structure, reading the context, working out who on earth is Evil-merodach king of Babylon or why 1 Samuel 1-2 keeps on mentioning Elkanah.  Personal highlight of the day – the wonderful grace of Exodus 14:13-14: ‘You just stand there and watch the salvation of the Lord – He will work, he will fight.’

  • Praise God for one or two more people today and good time digging into God’s Word.
  • Tomorrow we’ll be looking at 1 Samuel 12, characterisation, the process of preparation, working in groups towards the big idea of 1 Kings 17:17-24, and considering ‘the leader and humility’. Pray particularly that we’d be avoiding the temptation to jump straight into the text and be captivated more and more by the great Bible narrative of salvation in Christ.

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When we say that we want to be watumishi wa Neno we are not saying that prayer is not absolutely vital.  Gospel ministry is ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4).  Why is prayer vital to ministry?  Well, for all sorts of reasons but, specifically thinking of ‘declaring the mystery of Christ’ (Col. 4:3), there are three parts of the process that particularly need prayer:

  1. The message.  I need to pray for light and understanding – for the Spirit to open my eyes to spiritual truths that are spiritually discerned.  And I pray for God’s Word to grip me, to change me, to get inside me, to become a fire in the bones that cannot be held in (Jer. 20:9).  So often my preparation goes through a ‘U’-shaped journey of thinking that I know what the passage is about, then finding that I don’t understand at all, that I’m completely lost and helpless, then being forced to cry out for help and light, and then starting to feel the force of the passage, and finally coming out feeling ‘this is the most important and wonderful passage in the whole Bible!’
  2. The communication.  It’s so striking that Paul ask for prayer simply, ‘that I may make it clear’ (Col. 4:4).  That’s what he was aiming at – not oratory or entertainment – just clarity.  And he realised that clarity is very very difficult – he needed God’s help to achieve it.
  3. The hearing.  We are naturally blind to the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.  The door of our mind and heart is naturally slammed shut.  So the other thing Paul asks the Colossians to pray for is an open door (Col. 4:3).  Charles Spurgeon is brilliant on this:

“The gospel is preached in the ears of all men; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher otherwise men would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it could consists of the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the word, to give it power to convert the soul.” (quoted in Stott, I Believe in Preaching, 335)

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