5 Ways to Start a Revolution (of Prayer)

The foundation of following Jesus is prayer. This deep personal communion, this spirit-to-spirit connection with God is at the same time a privilege unique to Christians and a part of any serious life of faith. The Bible encourages prayer by invitation (if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways… [2 Chronicles 7:14]) and imperative (Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened. [Matthew 7:7]). The centrality of prayer in Christ’s church is a settled matter and few Christians would stand up and say otherwise. We agree at each of these points in theory and by doctrine, but does your church show this commitment in action?

Prayer is said to be one of the most difficult ministries, and this challenge might be your experience. Meaningful prayer requires a compliant heart, repentant and believing that God will answer petitions. Prayer does not require eloquence of speech, but it does demand a heart guided by the Holy Spirit and fed by scripture. Distractions must be put aside; prayer cannot be engaged at the same time the television is on. Prayer is demanding, but the Christian who discovers the spiritual treasure that awaits them through this relationship can’t help but long for more.

If you want to ignite a revolution of prayer within your church, the first thing to remember is that it starts with you. You need to be fully committed to a life of prayer, with both a practice and an experience of regular, deep prayer with God. In fact, without this prayer life, it’s unlikely that you will have the desire to ignite a change in the prayer ministry of your spiritual family. The desire will come when your holy dissatisfaction peaks and you are moved by the Holy Spirit to do something about it. And when that happens, when you’re motivated by the Spirit, move immediately! Here are five ways to bring people into the movement with you.

Model Prayer

One thing that keeps well-intentioned people from praying is the fear that they will somehow get it wrong. The fear is that they will use the wrong words or someone will not understand their prayer. You can address this by modeling simple prayer. Use the structure and words of the Lord’s prayer to show that eloquence doesn’t have to do with complex syntax and a lofty vocabulary. Show that passionate prayer comes from the heart. Show that prayer begins and ends with a clear recognition of our relationship with God – Our Father in heaven. The more we can emphasize this simplicity, the more people are invited to prayer.

Lead On and In Prayer

If the Holy Spirit has motivated you to take the lead in moving your spiritual body into a deeper prayer life, then every step that you take should be preceded by and sustained in public petition. Be up front that this motivation you are sharing with your brothers and sisters is not an idea of your own, but that it comes from your commitment to prayer and the prompting of God the Spirit. Show the perseverance power that you enjoy comes from continuing in prayer, publicly seeking the power of Christ for ministry, and showing your trust that He will deliver.

Publicly Share Answers to Prayer

This should be a regular part of the life of the Lord’s church, as it is one of the great encouragements to God’s people. Answers to prayer show those growing in their confidence that He is at work in countless ways, that He does answer our petitions. When we are public about giving God glory for the answers that we see to our prayer, it works in the hearts of those at the edges of the congregation who want to know this same power. Doing this also serves evangelistically, showing, without preaching, the inestimable power of our God and His love for His people.

Pray Deeply

Praying simply and directly invites others to join in as it knocks down the barriers to public, congregational prayer, but if we want others to grow with us in their maturity and the depth of their prayer life, we should also make it a point to pray deeply. This will mean different things in different situations, but a good place to start is to pray the scriptures back to God. Go beyond the well-known verses to the deeper well of the Bible, showing the importance of the full counsel of God. Trust the spirit and be open is sharing your concerns, your heartbreaks, your pleading for grace in the lives of the unsaved. Your transparency encourages others to pray in the same way.

Teach Prayer

We’ve heard the saying that habits and actions are “more caught than taught.” The first four points of this list have to do with leaders taking action, for example, praying in the presence of others. But, as much as we would like to teach by example only, we must not forgo supplementing our example with sound biblical teaching. The Bible is filled with lessons about prayer and its importance, and an entire library of books can be built on that topic alone, so use these resources to preach and teach on the importance of prayer and its benefits while you lead others to add their voices to the prayer chorus.

Building a prayer culture within the church is not an easy task. It takes teaching and practice and being intentional about giving God’s people opportunities to put their prayer into action. They will be encouraged by hearing about answers to prayer and further encouraged to hear of your own struggles in building your prayer muscles. One of the most important things we teach and show is perseverance. A revolution starts with a spark but rarely catches fire overnight. Start, take the first step, even if you find yourself alone. To borrow from Edward Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” Be committed to seeing it through, because the rewards are eternal.

3 Signs Your Church Needs Spiritual Renewal

A church may be filled to overflowing week after week, with visitors regularly adding to the attendance and pushing the numbers ever higher. The generous giving of all those people may account for a budget that builds a grand edifice and fills it with the latest technology to stream the pastor’s message around the globe. During the week, there may be programs scheduled every day, enough to fill the family’s wide and varied interests. From the outside, the church gives the appearance of success, and yet, it might be a valley of dry bones on the inside.

Despite the external measures of health that many churches use–attendance, budget and program reach–it may be the case that internally the church is in deep need of spiritual renewal. The same metrics used by a baseball team to judge success are not the same measures that determine the spiritual vitality of a church. We measure her health on a different scale and by a different authority. The Church’s health is measured in the spiritual life of the people of God. Here are three signs that point to a need for renewal within a church.

3. Discipleship Does Not Transform

The outcome of disciple-making is the third measure of spiritual health. Discipleship should transform. To disciple is to affect the obedience of a Christian and shape their spiritual lives as their Christlikeness grows. Influenced by the world, much of discipleship has become knowledge acquisition in programmatic chunks. People, for example, participate in a program on improving marriage, fill out the study guide, have a potluck at completion and put the book on their shelves. Very few marriages are transformed, but, hey, the participants can recite from memory 5 bible verses about relationships. If the discipleship within a church does not transform the lives of Christians, it is not serving the needs of a body on mission.

 2. Worship is Not Inspired

Any worship where there are performers and an audience is most likely not inspired. If no one is convicted of their rebellion while singing choruses of God’s incredible grace, spiritual vitality is diminished. This measure of inspiration requires keen insight because it’s possible to confuse emotion with spiritual practice and they might look a lot alike. Singing 5 prom-songs to Jesus can lead the ‘worshipper’ to a feeling of euphoria without once drawing attention to the lingering sin of a “wretch like me.” Singing praises to God or praying over the congregation or even standing to read the word of God should give a spiritual lift as we see and hear and feel the grace of God. At the same time that we are in awe of His mercy, we should be convicted of our own spiritual condition in His presence. Worship that does not remind us of the undeserved grace that redeems the Christian from destruction is empty.

1. The Church Doesn’t Pray Together

As Leonard Ravenhill said, no man and no church will be greater than their prayer life. Praying together, voicing our praise and petition and penance aloud in the hearing of other Christians is a unique and transformative experience. It’s also an experience most likely to be avoided by church members, and the lack of congregational prayer is usually (but not always) indicative of little individual prayer. If the Lord Jesus relied on prayer to carry Him through life, who are we Christians to say that we don’t need this discipline in our lives? The lack of a vibrant prayer life is the greatest sign that spiritual renewal is needed.

The encouraging news is that none of these traits are fatal. God encourages even the slightest move toward Him, rewarding the Christian with a new sense of spiritual depth. If this spiritual growth is recognized, it has the effect of becoming self-motivating, drawing the whole church into the life-giving practices. As the church is drawn toward a transformative discipleship that includes a vibrant life of prayer and deep, God-glorifying worship, the dry bones of the church click and clack as they come to life. The vine grows and bears fruit. The church is invigorated and returns to the gospel mission. The world is changed. Isn’t this worth it?

No More Prayer Ministry

Cancel your prayer ministry. Do away with scheduled prayer meetings and seasons of special prayer focus. End the prayer chain and your email list.

Blasphemy? Unchristian advice? Neither! Each of these activities is an important part of the life of the Church, the ‘House of Prayer’ our Lord and the Bible command us to be. It’s the granularity that damages the whole. A prayer ministry, for example, is a segmentation of that spiritual practice within the holistic life of the Christian. The result is that prayer becomes just one among many activities that the believer can choose from in their life of discipleship. In our hurried, over-scheduled lives, prayer becomes a choice on the schedule.

One that often loses out to other choices.

When the Apostle Paul commended continual prayer to the believers in Thessalonica, he placed this emphasis within the spectrum of a complete life. While 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (pray without ceasing) often finds its way onto throw pillows and coffee cups, the Apostle was much more intentional in emphasizing that prayer is an irreducible part of life. The complete passage reads, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18] Do we schedule “rejoicing” meetings? Do you need to receive an email reminder to be thankful? Most likely ‘no’ on both, so why prayer? The answer is hard to type and harder to hear: because many churches and Christians have not made prayer central to their identity.

Prayer should be as natural a part of our lives as is breathing. The culture identified with Christ’s Church should be a culture of prayer. The Lord modeled continual, natural prayer with the Father during his time in the world. While he set off times of quiet communion, Jesus did not schedule prayer time with his disciples separate from the ongoing ministry they pursued. It was a natural part of the life of discipleship. If we study the relationship between Jesus and his guys, we come to recognize how our separation of spiritual activities has affected the church. Prayer should not be a separate ministry; it must be the air that we breathe as we become more Christlike. Prayer should define our culture.

It is better to let the work go by default than to let the praying go by neglect. Whatever affects the intensity of our praying affects the value of our work…Nothing is well done without prayer for the simple reason that it leaves God out of the account.

E.M. Bounds

This is easier said than done. A culture of prayer for an individual or a church requires extraordinary commitment, from yourself personally or from the leadership within the body of believers. It will feel unnatural at first and this will cause hesitation, grumbling and questions of motivation, but you must persevere to find the blessing. We must model spontaneous prayer at every opportunity. A good place to start is the Sunday gathering, where everyone can use their gifts and seek an audience with the Lord on behalf of the body. Prayer as a regular part of Christian fellowship can strengthen those relationships. Pray for your brother aloud as he confides his struggle to you. Pray immediately–not say you will pray–for the family in crisis. As prayer becomes second nature over time, it will also become more comfortable and natural. We won’t see prayer as a separate part of the whole where participation is subject to the whims of choice. Prayer will not be a ministry, we will rightfully see it as ‘the’ ministry. The culture will change. Your church will change. You will change… and be blessed for it.

Planting Seeds of New Life in Prayer

Matthew Henry wrote, “When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is to set them praying.” History affirms this maxim, as the great revivals that God has sparked around the world have always been launched by prayer. There may have been grand movements of Christians joined in crying out to God that brought the revival, but it hasn’t always been so. In countless instances, the hearts of just a handful of people united to plead with God for new life in their community, their country or their church were the passion to which God responded. It is not the size of the group praying that matters as much as the depth of that group’s heart. They need this depth for the perseverance in petition that renewal often requires. God does not put a shot-clock on these prayers, and He may respond to them at once, or it’s more likely that revival comes after a season of souls persevering in long hours of communal prayer.

God uses our commitment to prayer to prepare us for receiving the life-giving power of the Spirit, and this preparation is two-fold. He first sets out to prepare our hearts to burn for revival. The Christian must be able to see the dry bones of the church or the distracted hearts of their community and then believe that spiritual life can come to them if God moves. This hope is the second area in which the heart is prepared because these prayers for new life can require extraordinary perseverance. Revival may appear like a single cloud on the horizon, no bigger that a fist, and prayer warriors must be patient in the time it takes to blossom into a drenching storm pouring down torrents of living water. Without preparation, our hearts would often fail to have the vision needed or the strength to carry on when answer is not immediately forthcoming.

“From the day of Pentecost, there has been not one great spiritual awakening, in any land, which has not begun in a union of prayer, if only [among] two or three. No such outward, upward movement has continued after such prayer meetings have declined.”

A.T. Pierson

The prepared heart prays in complete honesty [JAS 5:16]. Christians recognize that the spiritual vitality of their church is not what it should be and the prayers that issue forth confess as much to God. Sin, cold fellowship, poor leadership – whatever the list of known deficits holds is boldly and openly laid before the Lord for his correction. Genuine repentance in revival prayer forges a heart soft and malleable for God to turn and shape, addressing these things so that new life does not germinate in rocky soil where it cannot flourish. When we pray for our community and for salvation to come, we are open with God about those areas in which we have not reached out or cared for. He may take the first step of turning our attention to knowing our neighbors and serving this community before He sends the Spirit with revival for the hearts of the lost. Honesty starts in the humbled heart, and a humbled heart is prepared by God and committed to Him above all other things.

Psalm 118 ~ Rejected Stone

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:22-24

These stanzas carry a familiarity for the Christian as they are heard in both the New Testament and modern worship. Christ uses the words of himself in all three of the Synoptic accounts, not only making it memorable but also, markedly important across the three diverse audiences for each book. In its NIV84 form, not a week goes by that the day the Lord has made doesn’t ring out in music from the stages of His church. We hear these words and envision the imagery through Christ’s voice, but what does He intend to convey?

Psalm 118 is a hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance. In the case of the Psalmist, deliverance from military enemies who threatened to encroach upon the sovereignty of God’s people. The author leaves no historical context from which to apply the celebration to a particular victory, leaving it open to wide range of interpretations. Regardless, the hymn begins and ends with a vibrant call to praise that cements the goodness of God in the minds of the celebrants:

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;

His love endures forever. (v1)

Is your maturity such that you can say the same thing? Can you look over the record of your life, its struggles, troughs and troubles and say with confidence that God is good every minute of every day and this His love is on full display in your life? Should He elect not to deliver you from trouble, will you sing the same words?

When Jesus speaks these words of the monumental change in the kingdom, He has just told the parable of the Tenants to a dumbstruck audience, most of whom would fail to see themselves as actors in the story. If the parable applied to them, their thoughts would run to a world turned upside-down, something they were wholly unprepared to face.

Salvation for followers of Christ is inextricably bound up in this monumentally changed kingdom. While travail may still be a part of our lives, we can take a celebratory attitude in the hope and promise that this change engenders. For a short time we may suffer, but at an appointed time the Lord’s goodness will be more than a promise. It will be the reality of His enduring love.

Grace and peace to you…

Psalm 117 ~ Extol Him All You People

Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples.

For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord. Psalm 117

Extol: glorify, magnify, exalt, bless, make much of, celebrate, emblazon, sound or resound the praise of, ring one’s praises, sing the praises of, trumpet, praise to the skies, porter aux nues, doxologize, praise God from whom all blesing flow…does your list end here?

Grace and peace to you …

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Open Your Gifts

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One of the great struggles that most church bodies experience is seeing the number of people sitting on the sidelines, unsure of how and where they fit in. One thing that the Body of Christ was never intended to share with the human body is flab! The Holy Spirit has granted ALL of His people with one or more gifts. Some people have opened and shared their gifts widely. Others sit idly by, not even looking at the tags on the boxes to see if one might be theirs.

After discussing the offices that were given to build up and guide the Church, Paul makes an absolutely essential statement regarding the well-being of the body.

…We will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph 4:15-16)

The gifts of the Spirit are given for the benefit of the entire Body (Rom 12) and each gift is a necessary part of the whole. If you elect not to put your gift to use the Body suffers and attempts to compensate in some other fashion. This is less than God-honoring. Likewise, if you choose to intentionally withhold your gifts from the Body, you must realize that you are purposely weakening the whole. This too is not God-honoring.

Ignorance of your gifts is a poor excuse. Take a gifts inventory or simply ask a trusted brother or sister what they see in you. Look for opportunities to put the gift to work and see whether or not it is effective. Pray that the Spirit would reveal your gifting to you. Although it may not be a gift that you want, it will be a gift that fulfills you spiritually and one that serves your brothers and sisters in Christ in exactly the fashion needed.

Grace and peace to you…

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Psalm 116 ~ He Saved Me

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When the prolific duo of Ashford and Simpson penned these words, were they thinking beyond the human realm?

Ain’t no mountain high enough.

Ain’t no valley low enough.

Ain’t no river wide enough, to keep me from getting’ to you.

The psalmist portrays this distance from the Savior in terms of life and death, painting mortality as the last moment in which He can reach out and pluck His creations for the abyss.

The cords of death entangle me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow.

Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!” (Ps 116:3-4)

Such is extent of the Savior’s reach that not even the ebbing moments of life can rebuff Him. We cry out “Lord, save me!” and redemption extends life forever. Restoration is a now and still to come reality. Whatever remains of our time in this world can be in peace and assurance;

Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. (v7)

A thankful heart taken captive by the Spirit guides our gratitude-filled steps, all of these remaining days;

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord—in your midst Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord. (vv 17-19)

Grace and peace to you…

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Psalm 115 ~ Deaf, Dumb and Blind

imageOur God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. Ps 115:3-4

Despite the historical and experiential evidence that idols are powerless over our lives, humankind has continued in their manufacture throughout all of our existence. These statues are meant to assure us of a god’s presence and provide a focal point for our worship. A God who doesn’t take corporeal form requires faith to entrust, an effort that we would often prefer to avoid.

Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. (v8)

Because the idol cannot reveal himself nor communicate his attributes, we are left to invent them. Our default character matches our own. As we explore the theology of our idols we find the worship requirements malleable as the attributes adapt to our fallen nature. Low demands and a conciliatory spirit become the hallmark of the deaf, dumb and blind objects.

The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind. It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to the place of silence; it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forevermore. (vv 16-18)

Idols ultimately fail. The moment comes when the answers they provide no longer fulfill their intended design. We are left to confront the reality of the omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient God who can, and does, answer our prayers and petitions. Only, that is, when our eyes are pointed in the right direction.

Grace and peace to you…

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Psalm 114 ~ We Ran So Far Away

 

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Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,

at the presence of the God of Jacob,

who turned the rock into a pool,

the hard rock into springs of water. Ps 114:7-8

The psalmist pours out his worship as he remembers the great work of God in bringing His people out of Egypt. Psalm 114 is brief but wonderfully expressive. He writes of the moment marking the birth of Israel, of the becoming God’s people.

When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,

Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion. (vv 1-2)

Do we have an equally exquisite psalm stored up in our hearts for the day we were called out from our previous bondage? In true worship of the Holy Almighty God, you and I as His people should be putting pen to paper and leaving a legacy of thanks for those who come after us. That they may read of our transition from imprisonment to freedom is the greatest motivation we can give to others, imbuing them with hope for their own situation.

Grace and Peace to you..

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