Archive for the ‘prayer’ Category

“It’s in God’s Hands Now”

That was the morning headline of our local newspaper here in north San Diego County, and it’s certainly true. We are currently enduring the worst fires ever in this area, and thousands have had to evacuate their homes, including several families in our church.  

Even as I write, I can hear the wind blowing hard outside my window, and smoke covers the horizon to the east. UC-San Marcos, which is just five miles down the 78 from our church, was evacuated earlier this morning, but I just got word that it might letting up in that area. The news reports tell us to stay calm, but to be ready to leave at any time.  

A young married couple in our church had to evacuate their home in the middle of the night because the fire had reached the hillside just behind them, but they are back home now. In the words of the wife: “If the Lord hadn’t changed the direction of the wind, our home would be gone.” Which is a profound reminder of the sovereignty of God, isn’t it? After all, it really is in God’s hands, and not just now, but always.  

In light of that, please pray that He would bring the fires under control and enable the Body of Christ to rise to the occasion.

How’s Your Prayer Life?

  • Martin Lloyd-Jones: “Our ultimate position as Christians is tested by the character of our prayer life.”

  • Robert Murray McCheyne: “What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more.”

Sunday Prayers

Adapted from Alexander McLaren:

O Lord, our merciful Father, we ask you to look upon us who are gathered here in your presence now, and shed upon us a congregation, and upon each of us individually, the helpful spirit of your grace, so that all our thoughts and desires now may be such that you can approve and satisfy them, and that in our worship we may each be aware that we have come into your presence. Amen.

If God is Soveriegn, Why Pray

Here are the links to Matt Waymeyer’s series on prayer: “If God is Sovereign, Why Pray?

Sunday Prayers

Adapted from Richard Baxter’s Puritan Non-Conformist liturgy of 1660:

Eternal, Almighty, and most gracious God: heaven is your throne, and earth is your footstool; holy and reverend is your name; you are praised by the angels of heaven, and in the gathering of your church on earth. Despite our unworthiness, you have invited us through our Mediator, Jesus Christ, to present ourselves and our prayers to you. Receive us graciously. Help us by your Spirit. Let us stand in awe of you. Put your law into our hearts, and write it on our minds. Let your word come to us in power, and help us receive it in love, with attentive, reverent, and teachable minds. Through your word, allow us to taste the flavor of eternal life. Make us fervent in prayer and joyful in praise. Help us serve you this day without distraction, that we may find that a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere, and that it is good for us to come near to God; through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Sunday Prayers

From the liturgy of John Chrysostom, 4th century:

Shine within our hearts, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of your Gospel. Instill in us, also, reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Weather Atheism

I awoke this morning to a thick smoky haze which blanketed our city over night. We’ve noticed it some over the last couple of weeks but today there’s no mistaking that it’s here. I live a couple of hundred miles from the south Georgia wild fires that are currently devastating that area. The winds here in the Southeast have deposited the smoke from the fires to most of our state (Alabama). To make matters worse we have not seen rain in weeks which is a phenomenon I have not seen in my entire life growing up here in the South. For some this means life, death and livelihood. I have cotton farmers in my congregation who stand to loose everything along with a lot of other regional farmers if things do not change.

My hope turns to the Weather Channel starring at the forecast wishing for rain but none in sight. I know a man who has worked on a number of brainy projects for the government most of which are the variety of “if I told you I’d have to kill you” kind. He worked on one where clouds could be “seeded” on the West Coast which would cause it to rain throughout the jet stream in times of drought. Maybe our government could seed a few clouds for our region?

Then this morning the reality of it all hit me as I was driving into work through the thick haze. What ever happened to praying for rain? It is times like this which expose our practical atheism and unbelief in the Christ who “holds all things together” (Col. 1:17). It is drought-drenched days like this which make passages like James 5:17-18 come alive:

“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.”

Could it be that my temporary hope was in a Weather Channel forecast or in a new government program? So I confess my unbelief and today I’m looking to Christ and I’m praying for rain.

“O God, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all those who seek thy kingdom and its righteousness all things necessary to sustain their life: Send us, we entreat thee, in this time of need, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth, to our comfort and to thy honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” (Cranmer, Book of Common Prayer, 828).

The Heart of Prayer

Prayer is the offspring of humility. It is the cry of a lowly heart that recognizes its own weakness and calls upon the Lord for divine provision. In contrast, prayerlessness is the offspring of pride. It is the silence of an arrogant heart that imagines its own sufficiency and whispers to God: “I don’t need you, Lord. I will be fine on my own.” The way to revolutionize my prayer life, then, is not simply through the discipline of my will but the humbling of my heart in which I cultivate small thoughts of me and great thoughts of Him.

Prayerless Pastors: Part Two

This is a short series on the need to reform prayer in ministry. Part One can be found here. In Part Three we will examine some of the more practical features of ministerial prayer life. This is not meant to be a scholarly treatment of the subject but a few scattered thoughts I have been sitting on for a long time.

#2 It is practiced in the home

There is no more important ministry than the one God providentially gives us through our families. Prayer is a key aspect of a family’s daily worship. I believe true family worship should be neither manufactured nor only for certain seasons. I think some well-meaning Christians have gone too far in this area and have made laws out of preferences. Nevertheless, the general direction that we try to follow in our house is to treat all of life as an opportunity to worship and enjoy God through His creation (cf. Deut. 6:4-9). This forces us to think of worship as more than just formal times where we sit down together to sing, read or pray.

However, there are also special times and seasons where we gather and focus our attention upon the Lord. It is not my intention to discuss the dynamics and peculiarities of what is commonly called “family worship” here. Others have ably dealt with this subject in other resources and I’m well aware that there is a diversity of opinions in this area. My simple point is that we are nothing in public ministry if we are not praying with and for our most intimate relationships which is of course our families. Whether in the morning, over meals, before bed, on the way to church, a case can be made for all times. To be clear, my concern is not timing but doing, not formality but faithfulness, not perfection but direction. Employing a little math, some have figured out that we will have 5,630 occasions to pray, read, and worship with our children over an eighteen year period (outside of Sunday worship). As I look at my two young ones and the third that will join us soon, I know that some of those 5,630 opportunities are already passed but today is a precious opportunity to practice prayer in my home with those who witness my ministry first-hand.

#3 It flows over the sacred desk

Ministerial prayer flows over the sacred desk on Sunday morning. The phrase “sacred desk” is commonly used to refer to pulpits and the character of the responsibilities that should take place there. However, I think we can understand this phrase in a wider context. My sacred desk is present whenever I am called upon to unfold the Word of God. This has taken place at home, in prisons, schools, by the side of hospital beds, at funerals and every Sunday behind the pulpit in my church. Your sacred desk might be a kitchen table where you are discipling your progeny to be faithful to the Lord and discern truth from fiction. Or your sacred desk might be a regular lunch meeting you have with a guy in your church who struggles to put off sinful habits and has come to you for help. Your sacred desk could be to a coworker who keeps asking you why you can have so much hope when the world seems like such a wicked place. Wherever God gives you an opportunity to unpack the rich bounty of His Word, that is your “sacred desk” and prayer should be present.

Those to whom we minister should hear us pray and pray often. We shouldn’t just tell our people to “trust God” we should show them how by exhibiting persevering prayer. The Apostle Paul viewed prayer as a means of grace that fueled his ministry of the Word. He let the churches know that God used prayer to further his preaching and missionary ministry (cf. Rom. 15:30; 2 Cor. 1:11; Phil. 1:19). Pastors have a unique opportunity to not merely “deliver” a prayer on Sunday but to lead through their public prayers. How do we encourage our people to pray more fervently and patiently? How do we get them to see the richness of communion with Christ over the humdrum? I would suggest we teach them the prayers of Scripture which provide a rich tapestry of faithful example and steadfastness. Furthermore, we pastors can let our ministerial prayers be an encouragement to people who struggle with this spiritual discipline. More than our jokes, our announcements and the endless opportunities to rehearse the mundane our congregations need transparent, humble prayer from their leadership.

On this note I was encouraged by this reminder from James Usher, “We have assurance that we shall be heard in what we pray, because we pray to that God that heareth prayer, and is the rewarder of all that come unto Him; and in His name, to whom God denieth nothing; and, therefore, howsoever we are not always answered at the present, or in the same kind that we desire, yet, sooner or later, we are sure to receive even above that we are able to ask or think, if we continue to sue unto Him according to His will.”

to be continued…

Prayerless Pastors: Part One

At the heart of Christian ministry is the proclamation of the Word to the glory of the Triune God. This might take place in many forms and on many fronts. However, there is a danger lurking in the recesses of many Word-driven ministries. It appears that prayer has been relegated to a lesser role if any at all. Is it possible that there are many well-meaning churches who might offer polished expository sermons, tight musical productions, meaningful programs and yet have no place in their corporate worship whereby people are exhorted to and/or led in prayer? Such churches are often led by prayerless pastors.

It’s not enough to have good preaching. Biblical preaching must be married to biblical prayer. Likewise, biblical counseling must walk hand-in-hand with fervent God-soaked prayer. I affirm and cherish the urgent calls to biblically reform our concepts of preaching, counseling, worship, marriage, and family in our day. However, it will all prove vain if we seek to bring about change without calling upon the name of the Lord or if we treat prayer as some illegitimate time-filler. Whatever our ministries are known for, if prayer is absent, so is God.

I am assuming a couple of things in writing this: 1) we all wished we truly prayed without ceasing and 2) we all wished we were more focused in our understanding and practice of prayer. It is impossible for us to pray too much. In fact, I have never known anyone who struggled with praying too much or too often. I am also assuming that we can agree on a very basic definition of prayer as exemplified by Scripture. Prayer is our presenting to God our praise, adoration, confession of sin, thankfulness, petitions, and supplication. It might include other ingredients but it is at the very least characterized by these attributes. How should we then go about reforming prayer in ministry? I want to suggest three areas, where we can all make strides to reform the nature and nurture of prayer in the ministries that God has given to each of us. This post is not the last word but just a gentle nudge to get us thinking about prayer as it relates to Christian ministry and to reform its practice.

#1 It is rooted in the study

There is nothing about ministerial study that comes natural. It is time-consuming, exhausting, and intense labor. If it were natural we would not have to pray for it (Ps. 119:18, 34) or labor long with it (2 Tim. 2:15). The fact is the sovereign God of creation gives us spiritual sight that allows us to behold the excellencies of His Word through Divine enablement and fervent study. If God didn’t grant us understanding we would never comprehend anything about His creation, His plan of redemption or ourselves (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14). When we are alone before the pages of God-breathed Scripture, we should constantly be crying out for God to give us understanding. The study of the Word is to be a marriage partnership between exegesis and faithful prayer.

Many ministers get side-tracked with the mundane when prayer and study is needed most. It is easy for us to get bogged down in seemingly good ministerial endeavors, all to the neglect of prayer and consistent study. I know this is true because my phone rings often (at home and office) and there is always something that seems like it needs my attention “right now.” There are always letters to write and emails to answer but nothing deserves my attention more than the Triune God. There is an enormous temptation in ministry to become enraptured with the mundane. However, everything we have to give in ministry must spring from the well of God’s Word. Ministers of the Word must heed the axiom that we cannot meet with others unless we meet with God first. We must first pay attention to our own souls before we give care to the souls of others. Therefore we must pay close attention to the work of the Word and private study. Reforming prayer in ministry begins by sharpening our communion with God and this does not exist apart from the ardent study of scriptural labor.

However a warning is necessary, this should not be read as an excuse to hide out in our church study away from God’s people. I know some ministers that never make it out of the cave of exegesis to see real people in their own congregations. Some ministers of the Word become detached preaching units, separated from the rest of church life. For those who stand faithfully behind a pulpit each Sunday, it is a needed reminder that God has not only called you to be a preacher/teacher but a pastor (cf. Eph.4:11; 1 Pet. 1:1-3). I believe that the preaching of the Word is the backbone of a sound church. Those entrusted with such responsibility should labor hard and beat upon the text until the nourishment of the Word flows out and into the congregation. But, to shepherd the flock of God means much more than delivering one or two sermons a week, it is an imparting of your life to theirs.

Reforming prayer in ministry begins in the most intimate circle of life: our relationship with God. One may be highly skilled in expository preaching or nouthetic counseling but without prayer both are man-centered efforts. A reformed prayer life begins with an ever increasing hunger for and study of the Word. As the study of Scripture takes hold of our life, the Spirit of God convicts, refines, and reshapes our understanding of the ways of God. This in turn should change the way we pray. Our study should yield an understanding of the Creator that drives us to see everything as dependent on Him. Therefore we respond to this truth by constantly making known our praises, dependence, needs, and petitions so that everything we set-out to do in ministry becomes touched by prayer. Our study is not only a seat before His book it is also a seat before His throne where we constantly cry out, “Open our eyes so that we may behold wonderful things from Thy law.”

To be continued. . .

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