Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

First Allegiance

Ideally the church is different.  It is made up of people who are as varied as can be: rich and poor, learned and unlearned, practical and impractical, sophisticated and unsophisticated, aristocratic and plebeian, disciplined and flighty, intense and carefree, extrovert and introvert—and everything in between.  The only thing that holds such people together is their shared allegiance to Jesus Christ, their devotion to him, stemming from his indescribable love for them.

That is why it is always wretchedly pathetic when a local church becomes a cauldron of resentments and nurtured bitterness.  This pitiful state of affairs may erupt simply because there is very little at the social, economic, temperamental, educational, or other levels to hold people together.  Therefore, when Christians lose sight of their first and primary allegiance, they will squabble.  When social or racial or economic or temperamental uniformity seems more important than basking in the love of God in Christ Jesus, idolatry has reared its blasphemous head.  When protestations of profound love for Jesus Christ are not mirrored in love for others who profess to love the same Jesus Christ, we may legitimately ask how seriously we should take these protestations.

– D.A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation [emphasis mine]

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… a church’s commitment to prayer is one of the greatest determiners of its effectiveness in ministry. Prayer is oxygen for the Christian. It sustains us. So it follows that prayer must be a source of life for any community of Christians. It is to the church what it is to individuals—breathing. Yet many of our gatherings could be likened to people coming together merely to hold their collective breath. This would explain why people seem to have so little energy for actually living out the Christian life.

John Onwuchekwa, Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church

I just recently finished reading John Onwuchekwa’s fine little book on prayer, which I wish all our church elders would read. For the past 10 months at least, I have been pleading with our elders to have a church prayer meeting focused around confession, repentance and revival. Thus far, my pleas have seemingly fallen on deaf ears. One of our new elders asked me me to help him start a “prayer fellowship” meeting; we’ve been meeting twice a month now since February, with peak attendance of 6 and average of 4. Recently, I decided to just commit to pray for revival every Lord’s Day at 8:30 am: so far, it’s been only me and a younger brother (which is encouraging!).

I truly believe heartfelt, penitent corporate prayer is the antidote to our church’s dysfunctional disunity.

As one member of a deceased church confessed later, “We stopped taking prayer seriously. And the church started dying.” (Thom Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church)  I pray this will not be the fate of our church.

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Theresa Latini writes:

At times I have avoided telling people about situations in my life precisely because I did not want their prayers. Why? Because, in my experience, too often Christians use prayer in such a way that it becomes something other than prayer. For the origin and telos of prayer is communion with God; together we commune with God in prayer, and therefore we commune with one another.

She goes on to explain:

“Please do not pray for me until you have first walked with me. Know me. Hear the depths of my fear or anguish or whatever it might be and let it affect you. Then let us bring our (not just my) most profound needs vulnerably before God. Please do not try to escape that vulnerability. Because if you do, you have left me, and that is not prayer. Nor is it communion with God through Christ by the Spirit. And if you have no words, that is OK, more than OK, in fact. It’s an invitation to sit with me in the awfulness of my predicament and to silently wait upon God together.”

Amen! I’ve had some awkward and downright awful experiences of well meaning believers who employed prayer to probe, pontificate and prescribe. It is very annoying. Without even understanding the full story, people will jump to conclusions and offer a solution while “praying.” So I can understand why Theresa wants to say, Keep Your Prayers to Yourself!

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The Priority of Prayer

This message is for me:

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Keeping Company with God

Recently, a friend and brother in the Lord decided he doesn’t want any of his Christian books anymore—he’s in a bit of a spiritual rut lately. Ironically, a good number of books in his library were formerly mine when I got fed up with church and decided to unload my massive library. I gladly took them off his hands and have been enjoying thumbing through the pages of my “old friends”.

Right now, one of the books I’m savouring is James M. Houston’s The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God (formerly published as Prayer: The Transforming Friendship). The opening sentence in his Preface are words that could have come straight out of my mouth: “For many years, prayer was [still is for me!] probably the weakest dimension in my life as a Christian.”

Houston said the Aha moment for him was when he realized the truth of what Clement of Alexandria said about prayer as “keeping company with God”; from henceforth, he “began to see prayer more as a friendship than a rigorous discipline … more of a relationship and less of a performance.”  I see now that years of religiosity and ritualized routine have had the same effect on my prayer life.

He goes on to assert that “Prayer is a matter of theology and ethics, both thinking and doing. It is profoundly guided by what we believe and by how we behave. The character of our prayers will be deeply determined by the character of God as we know him and have experienced him.” I think that last bit is key: “experienced him”; I confess that I may have a fairly solid theological knowledge of God, but I can’t say that I have a deep personal and experiential knowledge of God.

Hopefully this book will help to deepen my friendship with God through prayer.

“Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” (Soren Kierkegaard)

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Reformation and Revival

Of late, I have been burdened about the spiritual condition of our church; perhaps my prolonged absence from church has heightened my sensitivity due to my intimate experience of lethargy and lukewarmness. Surely, such an awareness could lead to a critical and judgmental spirit were it not for my acute sense of my own sinful heart, not just when I was in my prodigal state, but even now as I struggle by God’s grace to be revived.

In his classic work, The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter, whom J.I. Packer describes as “the most outstanding pastor, evangelist and writer on practical and devotional themes that Puritanism produced”, observes that:

There are many of our flock that are young and weak, who, though they are of long standing, are yet of small proficiency or strength. This, indeed, is the most common condition of the godly. Most of them content themselves with low degrees of grace, and it is no easy matter to get them higher. …to increase their knowledge and gifts is not easy, and to increase their graces is the hardest of all.

I believe D.A. Carson is correct in his assessment that the “one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God.” (A Call to Spiritual Reformation; Baker Books, 1992). Okay, so now what? More preaching?  More bible studies? Certainly anything we attempt to do in the flesh would fall short at best and at worst, be manipulative, resulting in shallow results. No, we must get on our knees and pray— really pray— for revival.

Our church did have a prayer meeting last year, but to my knowledge, we haven’t had one since.  However, if (when) we have another one, I would suggest we strip it down to the essentials; sure, we could begin with an appropriate song or hymn. And yes, perhaps we could have an open time of sharing where brothers and sisters can briefly share the burden of their hearts, but the bulk of our time and the focus should be on revival—which would entail confession of sin (personal and corporate), crying out for the Spirit to fill and empower us, praising and exalting God, and agonizing over lost souls.

Like the early church, we must lift our “voices to God with one accord [ὁμοθυμαδὸν]” (Acts 4:24; NASB) and wait upon Him to pour out His Spirit upon us. While we can have a time of quiet prayer individually, we should also pray together as one body in unity.

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