The Purpose of This Blog

In response to the challenge by the Southern Baptist Convention that churches take on the task to share the gospel with unengaged unreached people groups, the missions team of Harmony Pittsburg Baptist Association felt the need for a way to focus prayer on the task. This blog is intended to facilitate prayer for those contemplating their role in fulfilling the Great Commission. This on-line prayer guide may prove useful to those exploring a call to missions involvement as well as to those who have sensed a call to pray for those who will go to the front lines.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gospel Debt

The Apostle Paul explained his desire to preach the gospel in Rome in these words:  I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise (Romans 1:14).  In what sense did he owe a debt?  The kinds of people named -- the civilized and the uncivilized, the educated and the uneducated -- had not done anything for Paul that required him to return a favor.  It would make sense for Paul to speak of his debt to the Jews for the instruction in the Scriptures they gave him.  Even more logical would be for Paul to say that he was indebted to God (a sense taken by many modern translations who put the verse in terms of being under an obligation).  How could Paul owe both those who were part of the Roman empire and those of the tribes beyond its borders who spoke unintelligible languages?

We owe a debt when we possess something that belongs to another.  If someone loans me money, I owe him money or its equivalent in return.  When I receive electricity from the power company, I owe them payment for having possessed and used what was theirs.  Whenever we possess something that belongs to another, we are their debtor.  In this sense, when we are given something to pass on to someone else, we become debtors.  We owe them what is theirs.

As Americans, we usually see the gospel in terms of personal salvation.  The individualism of our culture causes us to miss the global or universal aspects of the gospel.  As someone recently put it, the gospel is not what Jesus has done for me but what He has done for all.  My story is just a small part of His story.  My testimony confirms the truth of the gospel which is for all peoples everywhere.  After all, Jesus is not just the propitiation for my sins but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  Anyone who believes in Him has eternal life (John 3:16).

The gospel is more than a personal possession.  It is a treasure meant to be shared.  It belongs to others also.  I am not to hoard it to myself.  Since it is meant for others, I owe it to them.  I am in their debt until I have shared it with them.  I am debtor to them because I hold what is theirs.  They may be near or far, like me or unlike me, but I owe them what is theirs.

In the U. S., one's credit score has become very important.  The higher one's score in his or her credit report, the lower his interest rate and the easier it is to receive further credit.  The way to a higher score is by faithfully paying off one's debts.  Recently I asked myself the question, "I wonder what my credit score is with God?"  Let's pray that we will be faithful in paying our gospel debt by seeing that the nations get the gift God has given us not only for our benefit but also to give to them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Years ago, a well-known televangelist was sentenced to 44 years in prison for taking the money sent to his organization for use in ministry and using it to support his own lavish lifestyle.  (I have not used his name because he has served his prison time and also publicly confessed and repented.)  To use for oneself what was given for others is stealing.  It is illegal, unethical, and immoral.  It is reprehensible.  But how often do we do this with God's blessings to us?

When God promised to bless Abraham, He made it clear that the blessing was not just for his own benefit.  "I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. ... And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:2, 3).  The Psalmist makes it clear that this pattern applies to all of us, not just Abraham:  "God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. ... God shall bless us and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him" (Psalm 67:1-2, 7).

Both the words to Abraham and the lyrics of the psalm make it clear that the blessings we receive from God are meant to reach all the peoples of the world.  We are stewards of whatever He places in our possession, managers of His estate for the purpose of making His glory known throughout the earth.  To use His gifts for our own comfort and pleasure without thought of how to help others know Him and reverence Him is as surely a crime as that of any embezzler.

The first impulse of the child of God is to share generously.  "Freely you have received; freely give," Jesus told the disciples as He sent them out to preach and heal (Matthew 10:8).  When Jesus fed the five thousand, He gave the pieces of the five loaves and two fishes to the disciples who in turn gave to the crowd with the result that all were fed with plenty left over.  And God was glorified in Jesus!

We are blessed to be a blessing.  Let us pray today that God would make us as generous as He is.  May we use what He has given us to make Him known among the nations.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Another Look at Acts 1:8

Various attempts have been made to apply the geography of Acts 1:8 to the personal situation of Jesus' disciples.   A common view is to see "Jerusalem" as the city/town/village where one lives, "Judea" as the state/province/district, "Samaria" as the nation, and the "uttermost parts" as the world.  The writing of missiologist David Mays has given me another way of understanding these levels.

Mays points out that we can classify the peoples who need our witness as either "like us" or "not like us."  "Like us" may include similar factors such as language, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic status, or even age-group.  When we don't share one or more of those factors, we tend to see others as "not like us."  Usually, that means that there will be some barrier to get over in order to share the gospel.

Mays further points out that peoples are either "near us" or "not near us."  This distinction is based solely on geographical location.  Some, regardless of the other factors already mentioned, are right around us, readily available for contact and conversation.  Others will require us to make a journey or relocate in order to develop a relationship with them.  Again, there is a barrier to cross--simple geographical distance.

Combining these two types of distinction yields four classifications:  (1) like us and near us; (2) like us and not near us; (3) not like us and near us; and (4) not like us and not near us.  Applying these four categories to Acts 1:8, we see Jerusalem as those both like and near us; Judea, like us but not near us (that is, not so close); Samaria, not like us but near us (that is, not so far); and the uttermost, not like us and not near us.

As pointed out in a previous post ("Both ... And"), we are not to think in terms of progressing through these levels sequentially.  We are to address them all simultaneously.  It is not logical to ignore the lost around us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  It is heartless to neglect those in lands with little access to the gospel while repeatedly evangelizing those around us.  And while it may be more comfortable and pragmatic to share with those of our own kind (think "homogenous unit" principle of church growth), it would be utterly selfish to save our own at the expense of Jesus' "other fold" (John 10:16).

Let's pray that we will be complete in our obedience to Jesus' instruction.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A False Dichotomy

To insist that churches and believers must focus their missions efforts on unengaged unreached people groups (UUPGs) is not to suggest that other efforts are wrong or unimportant.  All efforts to make disciples of those without Christ have merit.  We just have to be careful not to neglect those who have the least access to the gospel.  We must not allow good things to so occupy us that we fail to do the thing that Jesus most clearly commissioned us to do.

It is comparable to Jesus' teaching on tithing.  When He rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their rigorous approach to tithing while neglecting the more important heart attitudes, He said, "These ought ye to have done and not leave the other undone" (Matthew 23:23).  In other words, it's not a question of one or the other; do both.  What they did was not wrong; it was what they had failed to do that brought His condemnation.

Preachers often contrast one activity with another in order to emphasize their point.  I have a book in which a prominent evangelist seems to say that soul-winning is more important than discipleship.  What he really means is that there are some faulty approaches to disciple-making that focus on those who are already saved and omit presenting the gospel to those who are lost.  True discipleship begins with the first witnessing relationship.  He would be the first to agree that those who are won to Christ must be discipled.  He would also agree that discipleship  must include evangelism.  After all, one cannot be a disciple unless he makes disciples.  We should not separate things God has put together.

The examples of false dichotomies make for an extensive list:  social ministry versus evangelism; local evangelism versus global missions; mass evangelism versus personal evangelism; church planting versus soul-winning; praying versus doing; and so on.  I am sure that you readers can add your own examples to this beginning of a list.  However, in almost every case, it is not a question of either/or but of both/and.

In missions, we should not have to stop current efforts in order to focus on UUPGs.  A church should not cut back its support of established missions through prayer and giving in order to take mission trips.  Appointing career missionaries should not be curtailed in favor of extensive use of volunteers.  We don't have to quit working alongside incarnational missionaries in order to embrace unengaged unreached people groups on our own.  We need to do all of these things.

It is true that the good can become the enemy of the best.  When good things crowd out the best thing, adjustments must be made.  But where possible, it is preferable to give the best its proper emphasis without diminishing our support for and commitment to the good.

Let's pray today for wisdom as to how to do the highest that ought to be done without leaving the other undone.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Point of Practicality

Making it our aim to plant healthy reproducing churches in unengaged unreached people groups is the only way to assure the completion of the Great Commission.  Any other aim will always come up short of full completion.

In one way this fact is obviously true because the mandate is to save some from every people group, not just to save as many as possible (see the post "A Matter of Obedience").  Preaching to the Southern Baptist Convention, David Platt illustrated this point by asking the audience to imagine a company of rescue teams sent out to help victims of several towns hit by tornadoes.  When the whole company reaches the first town, they find more devastation and victims than they could ever help.  He asked, would it make sense for the company to send teams on to other towns, knowing that doing so might mean that some victims at the present location would not be reached in time?  He pointed out that getting to other towns would require travel time, time that could have been used in rescuing people.  He added that some of the other towns were even known to resist help from others even to the point of attacking and killing outsiders.  So would it be logical for the company to send teams to those other towns instead of focusing on the first one?  His answer was NO, unless the commander had ordered them to save some from all the towns, not just save as many people as possible.  That is precisely what our Commander has ordered us to do.

Think of a large farm with various fields, some with grains, some with berries, and some with trees bearing different fruits and nuts.  In a particular year, the harvest is so plentiful that the workers cannot get the whole of any one field harvested.  So the owner sends the laborers into the various fields to get as many from each field as possible because he wants at least some of each variety.  Such a situation is comparable to what the Lord has ordered us to do.  (Of course, another solution is more laborers--the subject of a different post.)

There is another point to make.  Practically, we don't know for sure that sending workers to UUPGs will lessen the number saved.  One of those groups might turn out to be particularly responsive.  One of those groups might prove to be the key to reaching many other groups.  We can't know for sure how the Lord of the harvest has planned it all out, so it is best if we do it His way, not the way that seems best to us.

Another comparison for our task would be to the taking of a long, multiple-choice test (one like students take for getting into a university or graduate school).  A strategy recommended for the best results is to avoid taking too much time with any one question.  It is better to go completely through the test answering the questions that one knows the answer to and then go back to the ones that require figuring out.  In that way, the student answers as many questions as possible with the added bonus that sometimes the answer to a later question might help answer an earlier one.

Unless we get the gospel to all the people groups as the Lord has commanded us, we will not know how He has provided for things to work out.  There may be another Billy Graham or Hudson Taylor in that next people group to be reached.  The way to reach the most people is to do what He has commanded--make disciples of all nations, i.e., people groups.

Let's continue to pray for all those who are embracing unengaged unreached people groups.  Let's pray that many more will join them.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Issue of Strategy

The previous two posts have presented two reasons for stressing the need to "embrace" unengaged unreached people groups even though there are many other lost people who could be evangelized.  First, I urged us to consider that although other peoples may be just as lost as those in UUPGs, those groups at least had some access to the gospel and had someone already working to get the gospel to them.  Second, I reminded us that the Great Commission commands us to make disciples of all people groups not to make all people disciples.  There will always be more lost people that we could evangelize, but someone has to stay focused on those peoples who have not yet heard.

That leads us to a third reason for making the effort to reach UUPGs our highest priority.  Such a focus is the most strategic way to assure that as many as possible have the chance to hear the gospel and be saved.  Any other definition of missions' ultimate goal will lessen the likelihood that the lost will be found.

One of the ways that the concept of people groups has been explained is that a people group is the largest social unit through which the gospel will spread without encountering significant barriers.  Since the gospel spreads fastest within homogeneous units, establishing a witness within each unit is essential to seeing the greatest number of people saved in the shortest amount of time.  Cultural insiders face less resistance than cultural outsiders.  Establishing a group of multiplying disciples within every people group is the best way to see as many come to Christ as possible.

The sower scatters the seed.  He does not pour the seed into a limited area and wait for the developing plants to reproduce and cover the field.  He has an optimal plan for broadcasting the seed over the whole field so that the harvest will be as bountiful as possible within the growing season.

I once attended a church that served the Lord's Supper to more than 15,000 worshipers every weekend.  Each person took the juice representing the blood from a small plastic cup that was passed by ushers to congregants on trays.  I couldn't imagine how long it would take to fill that many cups one by one.  Then I discovered that they had a machine that filled an entire tray of cups at a time.  In a way, I am saying that the fastest way to fill the world with the gospel is to change our thinking from the goal of discipling every individual (fill each cup) to the goal of discipling each people group (fill each tray).

In His wisdom, the Lord instructed His followers to get the gospel to all nations, the socio-ethno-linguistic cultural units that make up the world.  Once each unit is "infected" with the Word, it will spread to each individual more quickly.  His strategy for saving as many individuals as possible is to plant indigenous churches within each people group of the world.  Let's make that our prayer today.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Matter of Obedience

Why must we give ourselves to missions?  Particularly, why must we focus on the unengaged unreached people groups of the world?

To believe in Jesus is to believe in missions.  Someone has said, "God had only one Son and He was a missionary."  (I believe I have seen the quote attributed to David Livingstone.  If I am wrong in the quotation or the attribution, please correct me in the comments.)  The idea is that Jesus was sent by the Father from heaven to earth to live among us and reveal His will by teaching His word and doing His work.  Since "sent" is the meaning of the Latin term from which we get our words "mission" and "missionary," Jesus is the original missionary.  His incarnation is the model for our ministry.  As He came to us, so we must go to others (John 20:21).  If missions does not matter much to us, then Jesus does not matter much to us.

But even in missions there is a work that is essential for obedience to the will of our Lord.  If we are not careful, we will miss the crux of what Jesus commanded us.  It is not a matter of how many souls can be saved out of different cultures; it is a matter of all peoples being represented around His throne at His coming (Revelation 7:9).  The Great Commission (as shown in some of my earliest posts) directs us to make disciples out of all the people groups of the world.  The focus is on people groups, not individuals.  Our task is not to save every person in the world, a goal that we know will not be achieved since only "a few" find the narrow road and enter by the small gate (Matthew 7:13-14).  Our task is to get the gospel to all the peoples (tribes, languages, ethnic groups) of the world.  This task is the one Jesus has assured us we can and will complete.

Getting the gospel to other people groups is why God allowed persecution to scatter the first disciples to Samaria and Antioch (Acts 8:4; 11:19-20).  Getting the gospel to other people groups is why the Holy Spirit sent Barnabas and Saul on the first mission trip (Acts 13:1-3).  Getting the gospel to other people groups is why Paul was compelled to preach the gospel where "Christ was not known" (Romans 15:20).  It was not just a matter of geography but more a matter of ethnology.  Years ago, the book Peace Child demonstrated how God has placed a gospel "key" in every culture, some practice or belief that provides an opening for understanding His salvation.  This provision is our clue to solving the mystery of His will.  He wants the gospel to penetrate all cultures, all people groups.

Yesterday, I mentioned that some have used the argument that no one should get to hear the gospel twice until all have heard it once.  Today, I ask you if it is right for a people group to receive a second missionary while there remains a group who has none.

Let's pray that we can see our task the way God sees it.  Let's pray that we will do our task as God wants it done.  Let's pray that we will have His heart for all peoples to hear about Jesus.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Question of Access

Why should getting the gospel to unengaged unreached people groups receive our greatest effort?  Why should the message of Embrace take priority over other appeals to reach the lost?  Why should we pass by thousands of souls ready to be harvested in order to plant the seed in a person of a different tribe?  Why focus on those hardest to reach when there are so many others to rescue?

After all, lost people are just as lost in Texas as they are in Tanzania.  Without the gospel, boys and girls face a frightening eternity no matter where they live or what people group they belong to.  The unbeliever across the street needs Jesus just as much as the man without the gospel on the other side of the world.  The souls of those in people groups who have received the gospel are just as precious as those in groups that have not.

It's a question of access to the gospel.  My neighbor in Texas is surrounded by churches, by Bibles and Christian literature, by preaching and teaching through radio, TV, and other media, and by co-workers, friends, and, in many cases, family members who are sharing or could share the gospel with him.  The case is similar for many people groups around the world who received gospel workers years ago.  They have established churches and ministries even though as much as 98% of their population may not have yet have been evangelized.  Even those people groups classified as "unreached" have someone working to get the gospel to them.  But the "unengaged" are without a witness.  They have little hope of hearing about Jesus unless someone steps up to the task.  Shouldn't they at least have a chance to hear the gospel?

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus said that the shepherd would leave 99 sheep in the fold to search for one that was lost.  One missionary spokesman used to say that no one should get to hear the gospel twice until everyone had heard it once.  After all, the only thing worse than being lost is being lost and having no one looking for you.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What Does It Mean to "Embrace" a UUPG?

This blog's purpose is to facilitate prayer for churches and disciples in the process of "embracing" a UUPG--unengaged unreached people group.  Those terms were defined in one of the first posts I wrote.  But I want to make sure that we understand what it means to embrace.

To embrace a UUPG means to accept the responsibility of getting the gospel to a people who otherwise would never hear there is a Savior.  It means becoming the missionary.  It means doing whatever it takes for as long as it takes to see indigenous churches established firmly enough to taken on the task of evangelizing their own.

It might help to understand what embacing is NOT.  It is not just praying for a UUPG as important as that effort is.  It is not just taking mission trips although trips are definitely involved.  It is not just developing a partnership with a missionary even though church support is often vital to the realization of a missionary's strategy for reaching a people group.  All of these activities are good and legitimate expressions of the passion to see God's glory extended to the nations.  But they are not what is meant by "embrace."

To embrace is to take on the task of getting the gospel to a UUPG.  It means being willing to be the "boots on the ground."  It means establishing a strategic presence for sharing the gospel.  It means discipling new believers who in turn will evangelilze and disciple others.  It means planting reproducing churches, churches that will plant churches that will plant churches in a movement of multiplication.

Someone has compared the commitment to embrace a UUPG to the commitment of marriage.  Prayer could be compared to admiring someone from afar.  Mission trips could be compared to dating.  A partnership with a missionary could be compared to going steady or perhaps an engagement.  But embracing means a commitment, like marriage, for as long as it takes, for better or worse, to see it through.

Pray today about the level of your commitment.  Are you ready to EMBRACE?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Five Things We Are Commanded to Pray For

I am the type that needs the instruction manual to put things together or to operate a new appliance or piece of equipment.  The Bible has instructions for us about prayer.  Specifically, there are certain requests that Scripture commands us to make.  These commands are important for several reasons.

  • If God has commanded us to pray for something, we can be assured that it is His will.  We can pray with assurance that He will accept and answer such a prayer as long as our life does not disqualify us in some way.
  • To fail to pray for the issues that God has commanded us to pray for is not just a matter of neglect but of disobedience.  As I said in my previous post, such an omission turns our prayer into sin.
  • As we understand that "prayer is not getting man's will done in heaven but getting God's will done on earth," we value the guidance God gives us in what to pray for.  He has not left it to us to figure out how to "help" Him.  We can do it His way, not ours.
Here are the things we are to pray for with the Bible verses where they are found:
  1. Pray for workers:  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (Matthew 9:38).  We should not only pray for additional workers but also that the existing workers will have boldness (Ephesians 6:18-19) and that opportunities for speaking the gospel will be opened to them (Colossians 4:2-3).
  2. Pray for authorities: Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made ... for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence (1Timothy 2:1-2 with omission).  This prayer has to do with creating a political and social climate that is conducive to the spread of the gospel and the safety of those who are bearing witness (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).  For this reason, we should pray that world leaders will move the world toward peace, especially the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6).
  3. Pray for the lost:  Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men ... For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1, 3-4 emphasis added).  Praying for the unsaved to come to Christ is necessary so that the word of the Lord may spread quickly and in a way that will bring glory to Him (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
  4. Pray for the sick:  Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed (James 5:16).  This verse follows several others on praying for the sick, something we should do not only out of compassion but also for the impact healing can have for the spread of the gospel.  Jesus said divine healing demonstrated His authority to forgive sin (Mark 2:10).  He went everywhere preaching, teaching, and healing (Matthew 4:23; 9:35).  Since His ministry continues (Acts 1:1; Hebrews 13:8) through us, why limit what we do to two of the three?  Such praying must be more than the "organ recital" many of our churches go through in prayer meeting.  It must be praying in faith and in the Spirit.
  5. Pray for enemies:  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:44). This kind of praying is especially important for calibrating our heart to be "in sync" with the One who loved us and gave His life for us even while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8, 10).  Seeking good for those who wish us ill clearly demonstrates the reality of our relationship with the Father through Christ (Matthew 5:46-48).  Our adversaries will find the ground for their opposition cut out from under them (1 Peter 3:14-16; 4:12-16).
Let us pray about the things that matter to our Creator, our Savior, and our Advocate.  As we do, we can boldly present our own needs and cares in the confidence that since we have obeyed His commands and are pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:22) we will have what we ask.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Prayer Becomes Sin

One day as I read my Bible, I was startled by these words about the wicked: When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his prayer become sin (Psalm 109:7 NKJV).  How can prayer turn into sin?  How can something as lovely as communication with our heavenly Father be twisted into something that condemns us?  There are five ways that we can sin by praying.

1.  Prayer becomes sin when it is an act of disobedience.  In a previous post, "When Not to Pray," I wrote that there are times when God says to quit praying and start doing.  But a prayer might also become sin when we fail to pray for those things that God has commanded us to pray for (look for a post on this subject soon).  We might also err by talking when we should be listening or just remaining still and quiet in His presence (Psalm 46:10; Habakkuk 2:20).

2.  Prayer becomes sin when it is contaminated by a sinful life.  Proverbs 28:9 says, One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.  We need clean hands and a pure heart to approach the Holy One (Psalm 24:4).  Ron Dunn used to say, "It is the life that prays."  If our life offends God, so will our prayer, unless it is a prayer of repentance.

3.  Prayer becomes sin when it is offered to a false god or idol.  Israel provoked the Lord by their prayers offered on the high places.  Westerners in the 21st century may lightly dismiss this offense thinking that idolatry is a thing of another time and place.  But when the Bible warns against "images," we need to make the connection to imagination.  If we are praying to a false idea of God, our prayer is an act of sin.

4.  Prayer becomes sin when it is centered on self.  The New King James Version has a picturesque translation of Psalm 106:15: He gave them their request but sent leanness into their soul.  The Psalmist is referring to the time when the children of Israel craved meat in the wilderness (Numbers 11).  God's granting of their petition was a judgment on the sinfulness of their prayer.  We should always keep in mind that prayer is not getting man's will done in heaven but getting God's will done on earth.

5.  Prayer becomes sin when it lacks faith.  The Bible says, Whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).  The apostle Paul was referring specifically to a believer who ate meat that had been offered to an idol even though he was unsure whether or not it was right to do so.  With regard to prayer, we can commit the same offense when we pray in ways or ask for things when we are not sure it is right to do so.  It is imperative that we pray in the will of God by the aid of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27).

We should not let the danger of praying wrongly keep us from praying.  The only way to learn to pray is by praying.  Our heavenly Father is as delighted by our sincere mistakes as is any earthly parent who hears his child learning to talk.  As we pray, His Spirit will lead us and correct us.

Let us pray today, not in fear that we might do it wrong, but in full assurance that when we pray for His glory to be extended to all peoples, we are doing it right.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Prayer Rendered Powerless

In his book Real Evangelism, Bailey Smith, a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, offers the shocking proposition that we can nullify the power of prayer.  He suggests that we do so by our inaction.  If we fail to act on what we pray about, we give prayer no outlet to complete its purpose.  He draws an analogy with electrical power which must complete a circuit to release its energy.  Any "short circuit" disrupts the flow leaving the intended use powerless.  Smith applies this concept to our praying for God to make us a soul-winner, but then failing to make any contacts, in effect choking off any avenue for God to answer our prayer.

In previous posts I have tried to demonstrate the connection that Jesus and others in the Bible made between prayer and faith.  It is important to realize that faith is a two-sided coin.  One side is that of receiving a word from the Lord.  If God does not speak to us, then we do not exercise faith but presumption.  When Jesus told Satan that it was wrong to tempt or test the Lord His God, He meant that He would not jump off the pinnacle of the temple unless the Spirit told Him to, regardless of what promises could be found in the written word of God (Matthew 4:5-7).

But the other side of the coin is obedience.  William Carey preached, "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God."  Both parts of that statement are about faith.  Just as there is no faith without a word from God, there also is no faith without a work from man.  What I mean is that if we believe, we will act.  This teaching is clear in what James says about faith and works.  Much so-called faith is dead, useless (2:14-26, especially verses 20 and 26) because nothing comes from it.  While works do not produce faith, true faith always produces works.  When God's Spirit leads us, and He always does if we are truly children of God (Romans 8:14), our faith in Him and His word is revealed by our obedience.  Failure to obey is unbelief.  It is sin.  When we don't do the good we know we are to do, it is sin (James 4:17).  When we act apart from a faith-creating word from God, it is sin (Romans 14:23).  True belief always leads to action.

Of course, the act of praying is itself a work produced by faith.  We pray because we believe God will hear and do things in answer to prayer that He would not otherwise do (James 4:2).  However, let's not nullify the power of our prayers by failing to do the things consistent with what we are praying for.  The disciples, who were told to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send forth laborers into the harvest, were themselves sent into the harvest by Jesus.  As we pray for God to extend the gospel to the unengaged unreached people groups of the world, let us do all we can to go ourselves if at all possible.  Let's not short-circuit prayer's power by inaction.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Prayer Promises and the Prayer of Faith

You may ask anything in my name, and I will do it.  John 14:14

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  Matthew 7:7-8

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. Jeremiah 33:3

Is claiming a promise the same as praying in faith?  Possibly, but usually not.  I fear that some people try to use the wonderful promises in the Bible to obligate God to do what they want.  They are like litigants that go to court to enforce the terms of a contract.  While it is true that great men of the Bible found grounds for their praying in God's covenant or prophecies (e.g., Acts 4:25-26; Daniel 9:2; 2 Samuel 23:5), that approach is not the same as hearing (in our spirit) God respond to our plea with a word of assurance.  Besides, no mortal could ever force the Almighty to do anything.  Such an approach goes beyond confidence to arrogance.

So why did God give us promises if we are not to use them to remind Him to act?  The promises are reminders to us that our heavenly Father delights to hear from us and to help us.  They are clues to His character, evidence of His generosity.  He encourages us to come to Him with our needs that He may display His glory by His provision.  We should not be like the fisherman caught in a storm who though he had neglected his relationship with God nevertheless prayed, "God, you know I've never bothered you before, and if You'll help me just this once, I'll never bother You again."  No, God promises to answer prayer so that we will come to Him repeatedly.

There are times when a prayer promise may become a word from the Lord that enables to pray the prayer of faith.  I have heard Tom Elliff teach about prayer and getting a word from the Lord.  He has many wonderful testimonies of times that he has prayed about matters and the Spirit led him to a verse of Scripture as confirmation that his prayer had been heard and would be answered.  The Spirit would "quicken" a phrase or verse from the Bible, make it come alive in a way that made him aware that God was speaking specifically to him at that moment.  On a few occasions, I have had the same experience. But there is a great difference in the Lord's using His word to assure us of an answer and our using His word to obligate Him to answer.

Prayer and Scripture go together to build our faith.  We should allow the promises of answered prayer to do what they were intended to do--get us to pray more often and more confidently because they assure us of God's willingness to hear and to answer.  We may even find that the words of Scripture help us articulate what our heart longs for.  The more steeped in Scripture we are, the more we will find ourselves praying God's word back to Him.  After all, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

Let us pray.  We should never allow thoughts of inadequacy to hinder us.  Teaching on prayer may lead to the concern that we don't really know how to pray or that we are not doing it right.  The promises should encourage us.  Let's just do it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Prayer of Faith Part 2

Our trust in God's character--His goodness and kindness as well as His power to actually help us--is a type of faith, but it is not the kind of faith required by the "prayer of faith" mentioned in James 5:15.  I have often prayed for someone who was sick, but although I approached God confident of both His ability to help and His faithfulness to do what was right and good, the person was not healed (as the verse indicated would happen).  Now, I can either look for ways to explain away the verse--as many do by saying that death is God's perfect healing or by saying that God must have had some other plan--or I can look for ways to better understand what the prayer of faith is.  I choose the latter.

Faith requires a word from the Lord: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).  Only when God has spoken can we be sure of what His will is.  Once He has revealed His intention, we can pray with complete assurance.  A man once shared with me a testimony of God's healing his son.  The son was in the hospital, deteriorating by the hour.  The father, a faithful follower of Jesus, was praying fervently and unceasingly.  He believed in the Lord's power to heal and in His goodness to hear prayer, but still the son grew worse.  The father said that he had to go to his house for something, and as he was driving, he was suddenly struck with the realization that his son was healed.  His heart leaped for joy and gratitude to God.  The moment was so strong that he turned the car around and headed back to the hospital.  He met the son's doctor in the corridor.  The doctor had just left the son's bedside.  He looked the father in the eye and said, "He's made a turn for the better.  He's going to be all right."  The son went through long days of recuperation, but the father never had any doubt that his son would be completely restored,  And he was.

That moment when the father experienced the realization that his son was healed was God's revelation, His word to him about the situation.  When God speaks, things become real (we see this in the opening words of Genesis).  When His Spirit testifies to our spirit, His will becomes real to us.  A spiritual reality is created within us.  Thus the Bible's definition of faith is, in the words of Hebrews 11:1, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  When God speaks, faith is created in us and what is true in the spiritual realm becomes real to us, often before it becomes real in the material realm.

Note that this word from the Lord is not the logos but the rhema.  It is not the written word of God to everyone, it is a revealed word of God to a specific individual regarding a specific situation.  I have shared a salvation experience comparable to that of many others.  I was raised in the church and understood the plan of salvation--my sinfulness, my inability to save myself, Christ's death on my behalf as my only hope, my need to repent and believe--long before I was truly saved.  One day, all those things that I understood intellectually hit me with a reality and forcefulness that made it seem like I had never truly understood those teachings before.  They became real in me, a part of me.  When God's Spirit witnessed to my spirit and made salvation real to me, I was able to have saving faith.  I had believed in my head what God's word, the Bible, taught, but only when His Spirit-spoken word made real in me what Jesus had done for me was I able to exercise genuine faith.

To pray the prayer of faith, we must first "get a word from the Lord."  The story goes that a man made a sudden trip to Alaska and when the weather turned really cold, he realized he had forgotten to bring an adequate coat.  He calls home and his wife agrees to send the coat by next-day delivery.  Later he meets up with his boss who offers to buy him a coat.  His reply?  "I've already got one."  Now technically, he does not yet have it in his possession.  But he knows that it is on the way so that he does not have to procure one by some other means.  When we have His word, we know that we have it.  That's why 1 John 5:15 says, If we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.  The way we know that He has heard us is because He has responded by speaking to us.

Let us pray with the confidence that comes from knowing the character of God and the written word of God.  But let's keep praying until He responds and tells us what He intends to do.  Then we can pray the prayer of faith.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Prayer of Faith

There is a peculiarly effective way of praying: the prayer of faith.  It is found in James 5:15:  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.  And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  What is this kind of prayer?

We know that Jesus linked faith and prayer.  As He explained the withering of the fig tree to Peter, He said:  Have faith in God.  For assuredly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.  Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them (Mark 11:22-24).  Although some might focus on the power of the spoken word ("he will have whatever he says"), Jesus clearly emphasizes the importance of faith, particularly confidence in the person of the Father ("have faith in God").

I remember hearing an Ecuadorean preacher illustrate the prayer of faith by telling about how a child relates to his father.  Accompanying his father on a trip to the city, the child asks for an ice cream cone.  At first the father says no, but the child keeps on asking.  Eventually, the father relents and buys the treat.  The preacher said the child kept asking because he knew his father and knew that the father would buy the ice cream.  Of course, the point is that the child had faith in the generosity, i.e., the character, of his father.  The preacher went on to say that we can be sure that our prayers will be granted when we pray in complete faith in the character of our heavenly Father.

This line of thinking is in agreement with what we are told by the writer of Hebrews:  But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (11:6).  Our show of confidence in God by bringing our petitions to Him pleases Him so that He delights in giving us what we ask.  After all, He has told us, Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me (Psalm 50:15).  His strength is made perfect in our weakness, manifesting His grace, power, and majesty.  The Father delights to hear us and to help us, so we can pray with confidence.

But does faith in the character of God enable us to pray with NO DOUBT in our hearts?  Don't we still have to wonder about the will of God?  Our belief in the goodness and power of God gives us hope that our prayer will be answered, but it does not give us certainty.  There is an important difference between the prayer of hope and the prayer of faith.  I will write about that next time.

In the meantime, let us pray in the joyful knowledge that our heavenly Father hears us and delights to work on our behalf.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Prayer and Faith

Evangelicals in the United States appear to be losing the culture wars.  Several activist groups seem to have greater influence with the public than does the church.  I hear pastors lament that schools and sports teams no longer respect Sundays or Wednesdays (days churches meet) as a time for churches; they draw children and families away from church activities.  We don't have the clout that we used to.

In Matthew 17, the disciples asked Jesus why they could not cast the demon out of a boy.  They used to be able to do it (Matthew 10:8).  Jesus' diagnosis was unbelief and His remedy was prayer (and fasting according to some manuscripts).  Effective ministry depends on prayer and faith.  These two are dynamically related.

The more we believe, the more we pray.  Faith connects us to the reality of the spiritual realm (Hebrews 11:1).  When the God who answers prayer is real to us, we go to Him more readily, more frequently, and more expectantly.  On the other hand, if God seems distant to us or if He is more like an idea rather than a living person to us, we are more likely to try Him as a last resort or only as part of a ritual.  As we see that every good thing comes from Him and as our contentment derives from Him, we will go to Him more often and spend more time in His presence.  Henry Blackaby has said that as he saw things happen in response to prayer, his prayer times increased.

The more we pray, the more we believe.  This truth is what Jesus was telling the disciples.  Since faith comes by hearing God speak (Romans 10:17), disciples must seek His presence, getting close enough to hear Him.  Often, spending time in the written Word helps us hear Him, especially if we read with hungry hearts.  However, reading the Word only as a religious requirement may not help.  Reading with a prayerful attitude is the key.  The enemy is defeated only by prayer because prayer increases our faith.

I am not saying that our faith increases as we see more answers to our prayer.  I am saying that spending time in God's presence increases our faith because God becomes more real to us.

Let's pray today just to spend time with our Father.  Let Him tune our hearts to sing His praise.  Let His glory fill our minds and hearts.  May we be filled with wonder and awe as we enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.  May our faith increase.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When Not to Pray

Sometimes it is wrong to pray.  Does that sound sacrilegious? heretical? unbiblical?  But it is the Bible that shows me that at times praying is the wrong thing to do. 

Exodus 14:15 is my text.  The situation is like this:  God has humbled Pharaoh and Egypt with the ten plagues.  God's people have been released from bondage.  Moses has led the children of Israel toward the Promised Land and has camped at the shore of the Red Sea.  However, Pharaoh has again hardened his heart and ordered his chariots and troops to bring the slaves back.  Moses and the people are trapped between the sea and Pharaoh's army.  The people cry out in fear.  Moses urges them to be quiet, to stand still, and see the Lord fight for them (verses 13-14).  But God rebukes Moses: "Why are you crying out to Me?  Tell the sons of Israel to go forward" (NASB).  I love the way the Living Bible paraphrases the verse: "Quit praying and get the people moving! Forward, march!"  The Lord was telling Moses that right then was not the time to pray; it was the time to act.

Perry Noble, pastor of NewSpring Church in South Carolina, recently blogged about the necessity of taking action in addition to praying.  He wrote that a person wanting to lose weight would need to do more than just pray about it.  He or she would need to get up and exercise as well as cut back on the cookies and sodas.  Other examples he gave of when prayer by itself would not be enough included when a marriage is in trouble, when someone wants to be a better parent, when finances are a mess, or when a person is struggling with a besetting sin.  He goes on to encourage church leaders to not just pray but to confront issues in the church.  He cites David facing Goliath:  "David didn't just pray and God, through his prayer times, took Goliath out!  Nope, David picked up five rocks, walked down into the valley, and handled business."  (He is a much  more colorful writer than I.)  Noble concludes, "God did not just call us to PRAY about His will, but to PARTICIPATE in it" (emphasis his).

So when is it wrong to pray?  when God tells us not to!  When the Holy Spirit has spoken to our spirit that our prayer has been heard and that God is on the move.  As David sought God about attacking the Philistines, the Lord told him to attack when he heard the sound of troops marching in the tops of the trees, because that would signify that He had gone out before them to give the victory.

I am convinced we do too many things without praying.  But it is just as wrong to pray and pray and never do what the Lord has plainly told us to do.  Henry Blackaby taught us that after our prayer time, we should be extra alert to see what the Lord is doing around us.  Then we must take action to join Him in what He is doing.  Let's pray, but let's also act.  God is moving before us to bring the nations to Himself.  Let's not miss it by staying on our knees too long.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


If you have read Kyle Idleman's book Not a Fan, you know what I'm talking about.  Idleman tells about a new group of vegetarians who feel free to eat meat when they feel like it.  As one young lady said, "I usually eat vegetarian.  But I really like sausage."  She further explained, "I really like vegetarian food, but I'm just not 100 percent committed."  Because so many "100 percent committed" vegetarians objected to such people using their label, those like the young lady chose "flexetarians" as a name for themselves.

Idleman goes on to observe: "'Flexetarian' is a good way to describe how many people approach their commitment to Christ.  And that's the way many Christians approach their commitment to Jesus and the Bible. I really like Jesus--but I don't really like serving the poor--I'm not real big into the idea of going to church--my resources are already spoken for.  I love Jesus--but don't ask me to save sex for marriage.  I love Jesus--but don't ask me to forgive the person who hurt me.  I love Jesus but I'm not 100 percent committed.  They call themselves Christians.  They follow Jesus but they've made some exceptions.  So when bacon is on the menu, their commitments can be adjusted."

Idleman's comments come in a chapter explaining what Jesus meant when He called all those who would come after Him to deny themselves (Luke 9:23).  The biblical illustration is the rich, young ruler who would not give up his wealth.  Jesus must be more important to us than anything or anyone, even ourselves.  We cannot make exceptions.

If I had been writing the chapter, I would have included that many people think they can follow Jesus yet not get involved in making disciples of all nations.  When that issue comes up, the number of "flexetarians" increases dramatically.  Let's pray that we will not be one of them.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Questions to Pray Through

A couple of the affinity group staffs (IMB of the SBC) have delineated steps to guide groups through the process of Embracing a UUPG (unengaged unreached people group).  In general, most of the groups suggest some version like the following:

  • Step 1 Expose. Learn more about this global initiative to Embrace the 3800 unengaged, unreached people groups.
  • Step 2 Explore. Learn about specific, high priority unengaged, unreached people groups that your church feels should be explored more in depth for a possible commitment.
  • Step 3 Educate. Attend Embrace Training workshops in the USA and participate in additional trainings on the field.
  • Step 4 Engage. Your church Embraces an unengaged and unreached people group as part of your vision to reach "the uttermost parts of the earth."
Some websites for the affinity groups list pertinent questions for individuals, groups, and churches to ask themselves as they seek the Lord's will about Embracing a people group:
  • Do we feel drawn to a people of a specific religious background? (Islam, Animistic, Buddhist, etc.)
  • Does the size of the people group make a difference?
  • Is there a specific geographic area we feel led to explore?
  • How remote is the UUPG? How long will it take in travel time to get to where this UUPG is located?
  • Is it strenuous to get to this location?
  • Are there potential dangers to consider? (bad roads and terrain, good medical facilities are 3 days away, malaria area)
  • Are risk and location too limiting for our church to commit to actively engage in reaching a particular UUPG?
  • Does the church or our church members have the financial means to commit to extending the church mission field to this location?
  • Can church members make extended time commitments to travel to this location?
  • Have we considered the pros and cons to choosing a UUPG spread out over a large geographic area or are we better equipped to take on a UUPG concentrated in a geographic location?
  • Do we have anyone in the church that may be able to assist linguistically with any UUPGs?
  • Do we have churches members that may be able to bring technical skills or expertise that would in particular benefit reaching a particular type of UUPG (for example, agriculture experts to assist with rural UUPGS that are mainly farmers, or medical workers who can assist with a UUPG that has a high infant mortality rate)?
It has been left unsaid that all these matters are prayer concerns.  How we would answer them is not as important as the answers the Lord gives us as we stand or kneel before Him seeking His direction and wisdom.  As always, it is best to take our questions to the Father.

Choose some of these questions and pray about them today.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Unanswered Prayer

It is popular to say that no prayer goes unanswered as long as we take "No" as an answer.  Other possible responses to our prayers, other than getting what we asked, include "Wait" and "No, but here is something better."  However when God responds in one of those ways, we can know it.  We "hear" His answer in our spirit.  What about when nothing at all happens?

Hindrances to prayer, things that keep us from communicating with the Father, fall into two basic categories.  There are things that keep us from being heard.  Then there are things that keep us from asking.

Jeremiah found out that there were conditions under which the Lord would refuse to hear His people's cries (7:16; 11:14; 14:11-12; 15:1).  The Psalmist wrote, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18 NKJV).  Examples of sins that block prayer (Isaiah 59:1-2) include idolatry in the heart (Ezekiel 14:3), failure to help the poor (Proverbs 21:13), mistreatment of one's spouse (1 Peter 3:7), self-indulgence (James 4:3), and lack of faith (James 1:6-7).  This list is representative, not exhaustive.

One preacher who grew up on a farm told how he would sneak off behind the barn to hide his smoking from his father.  Once while he was indulging his habit, he heard his father coming.  Hiding the cigar behind his back, he tried to distract his father by calling attention to a circus poster on the barn wall and asking if he could go.  His father replied, "Son, never ask for a favor with a smoldering disobedience behind your back."  Those who would approach the Lord must have "clean hands and a pure heart" (Psalm 24:3-4).  Only through Jesus may we approach the throne with confidence of receiving what we need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Sin may keep us from receiving what we ask.  However, in His grace God often gives us what we don't deserve.  He uses kindness to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  So even non-believers will sometimes have their prayers answered.

But there is a prayer that goes unanswered 100% of the time--the prayer that goes unoffered.  It is like the basketball player who said he failed to score on all the shots he failed to take.  James said, "You have not because you ask not" (James 4:2).  If we are too lazy or too distracted or too busy to ask, then God will not answer.  Just as there is a vital connection between prayer and faith (Mark 11:24), so is there a link between lack of prayer and unbelief.  The more we believe in the God who answers prayer, the more we pray.  The more we pray, the stronger grows our trust in Him who answers.  On the other hand, if we have little faith that God will answer, it is unlikely that we will pray.  Then when we don't see answers to prayer, what little faith we might have had diminishes.  Soon we find ourselves going without prayer, serving Him in our own way and in our own strength.  Such a life is doomed to fruitlessness.

Just as the only way to learn to swim is to get in the water, so the only way to learn to pray is by praying.  Let's start with baby steps or by crawling.  And if we can't do either of those, let's learn to roll over.  But we must begin.  God will be as delighted with our efforts as a parent is in his child's first steps.  He will help us.  He will teach us.

Let us pray.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why Perseverance in Prayer Is Necessary

God's delays in answering prayer come from His goodness and wisdom.  They are never due to any weakness on His part.  His power is so great that He can do anything instantly.  After all, He merely spoke and the universe was created.  Therefore, any delay in receiving what it is His will to give us must in some way bring additional benefit to the one praying or to others whom God wishes to bless.

There are three obvious factors that come into play in delayed answers: the enemy, ourselves, and circumstances.  Any one or any combination of these issues can contribute to lag-time in requests becoming reality.  God uses these factors to bring additional benefits to us in the way He answers prayer.

That the devil and his agents can hinder the answer to prayer is seen in the experience of Daniel (chapter 10).  The angel sent to give Daniel the answer he was seeking explained his tardiness in arriving thusly: Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them  But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days.  Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia (verses 12, 13 NIV).  Daniel's answer was delayed because of resistance in the spiritual realm.  We must be careful to avoid dualism in our understanding of spiritual warfare.  Since God is all-powerful, any resistance He allows must be because it serves His purposes.  It is possible that God has limited Himself because He has decided to give mankind a significant role to play in the course of events.  But it is more likely that the Lord allows delay because doing so is a way to achieve multiple purposes.  The other two reasons for delayed answers help explain why God allows the devil to temporarily thwart His plans (and it is something He allows; remember Job).

Delays may be due to the timing of the answer.  God usually works through space-time processes.  He can do everything directly and immediately, but He most often uses a process.  (The real question concerning creation is not if it took place in six days instead of eons, but why God took six days when He could have done it all in an instant.)  A biblical example of timing as a factor in answered prayer is when Jesus waited until Lazarus had been dead for four days before He responded to the plea of Martha and Mary.  Henry Blackaby has helped us see that the wait was necessary in order to give the women and His disciples a greater revelation of Himself.  John indicates in his gospel, that the resurrection of Lazarus played a part in provoking the religious leaders to kill Jesus (John 11:45-53).  Our human, earth-bound, time-bound perspective does not allow us to see how God is orchestrating all human events.  He works His answer to our petition into the overall plot of history.  In fact, He probably allowed our need so that we would ask so that He could act at the proper time.  Mind boggling!  But remember what He told Isaiah: "Before they call, I will answer" (65:24).  The Lord's timing is always purposeful.  He is never early nor late with His answers.  His answer serves multiple purposes.

The third reason for answers to prayer not occurring immediately is that God uses the time between our asking and His answering to draw us closer to Himself, to build our character, or to strengthen our faith.  As we continue to pray, the Holy Spirit gets us ready to accept the response that God knows we need.  This was the experience of the apostle Paul with regard to his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).  If God answered every prayer immediately, what spoiled little brats we would be!  Ability to accept delayed gratification is the essence of maturity.  When God keeps us waiting, we seek Him more earnestly, developing a yearning for Him, not just His gifts.  As our tolerance for delay increases, we are less likely to doubt the Lord's character or ability.  We trust Him more.  The Father does not keep us asking so we can wear Him down but so He can build us up.

If we give up praying for something, what does that mean?  Did we not really need it?  Was it not really that important to us?  Have we grown self-sufficient (which means self-centered)?  Isaiah cried, "You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest and give Him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth" (62:6).  If we are truly committed to Jesus and the Kingdom, let us persist in calling on the Lord to extend His glory to all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


The title of this post is a well known acrostic that stands for "Pray Until Something Happens."  Our grandfathers called it "praying through."  One writer on prayer (whose name I long ago forgot) compared much of our praying to the action of children at play, ringing someone's doorbell and then running away before anyone opens the door.  How often do we make requests of the Lord but fail to keep asking, seeking, and knocking (Matthew 7:7-8) until we know we have received an answer?

Jesus emphasized persistence in His teaching about prayer.  In one parable a widow pesters a judge until he grants her request just to get rid of her.  The lesson is not that God has to be persuaded or cajoled to answer us but that we "should always pray and not give up" (Luke 18:1 NIV).  Jesus insisted that we persist in the parable of the importunate neighbor who wouldn't let his friend rest until he loaned him bread (Luke 11:3-13).  This parable is directly connected to His teaching of the Model Prayer.

Perseverance is demonstrated by the great men of prayer.  Abraham haggled with God over the number of righteous that would spare Sodom and Gomorrah.  The cities were not spared but Lot was, which I assume was his main concern (Genesis 18:16-33).  Note that Abraham prayed until "the Lord had finished speaking" (verse 33 NIV).  Daniel prayed and fasted for three weeks until the angel came with the answer he was seeking (Daniel 10).  Paul prayed three times (perhaps a number symbolic of repeated prayer) for the thorn in the flesh to be removed, ceasing to plead only when the Lord answered with His assurance of grace (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).  Most importantly, we see Jesus praying three times for the cup to pass from Him (Mark 14:32-42), praying until He knew His hour had come.  If Jesus persevered in prayer, so should we.

There are three steps in prayer.  Most people think of only two: asking and receiving.  But there is a third step, one that comes between the asking and the receiving: knowing.  We clearly see this step in the teaching of 1 John 5:14-15:  This is the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we KNOW that He hears us--whatever we ask--we KNOW that we have what we asked of Him (emphasis added).  Ask--know--receive: those are the key steps in prayer.

Let us persevere in prayer until the Holy Spirit assures our spirit that we have been heard.  We may know that God has granted our request, or we may know that He has something better to give us.  And what if we never know?  We keep praying until we receive.

Our prayer for the nations is so big that we may never fully know we have been heard.  But as He leads us to pray for specific things, like which people group to embrace, we can keep on praying until He answers.  Let's not give up.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Prayer Sure to Be Answered

There is one sure way to know that we will receive what we pray for.  The Bible clearly tells us:  This is the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of Him (1 John 5:14-15).  When we ask God for what He already wants to give us, getting it is a sure thing.  When we request that He do what He already intends to do, what could be more certain?

Before you dismiss this truth as a rhetorical gimmick, consider the fact that God knows better than we do what our needs are (Matthew 6:8).  He is far wiser than we are in knowing what needs to happen.  He is far more loving, wanting to give us the best, than we can imagine.  As the old saying goes, "God gives His best to those who leave the choice to Him."  So why wouldn't our chief desire be to pray according to His will?

But how are we to know what His will is?  Just to ask for something and then say "if it be Thy will" is not praying in faith (another requirement for answered prayer according to James 1:6-7).  One way to know God's will is with the aid of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:27).  I believe another way is when God puts the same burden independently on more than one person's heart (Matthew 18:19).  But the most common way to know God's will is through His word.  We know what His will is because He tells us.

As I have written in a previous series of posts (for example "All the World in All the Word"), the Bible shows us that God's chief aim is to extend His glory to all the nations.  Scripture clearly says that it is not God's will that any should perish but that all should be saved (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4).  God's commands, the Great Commission for instance, show us that His purpose is to reach the nations with the gospel.  Nothing about God's will could be clearer.  Nothing about prayer could be surer.

However, just because it is God's will does not mean that a simple request will automatically come to pass.  There are several reasons why we must persist in prayer, but that issue will require another posting.  Nevertheless, when we pray for the salvation of lost individuals, lost nations, or lost people groups, we can pray with confidence that someway, sometime our prayer will be answered.  George Mueller reportedly prayed more than 60 years for the salvation of two men before they were saved, one of them after Mueller's death.  But his prayer was answered; it was God's will.

Let's pray today with assurance, even boldness, for the salvation of the nations.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What to Pray For

Some prayers are more important than others.  No prayer that comes from a heart truly lifted up to the Lord is unimportant, but some are more strategic for the advance of His Kingdom.  There is one petition that is so important that the devil will do his best to get us to forget it or neglect it.  It is so important that the Lord commanded us to offer it.  It is not optional but imperative.

Jesus gave the command when He saw the "crowds" "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" and "had compassion on them."  His words to the disciples, including us, are probably familiar to us:  "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field" (Matthew 9:36-38).  If we see what Jesus saw and feel what Jesus felt, we must do what Jesus asked.  But how many of us are praying for a harvest when Jesus says to pray for harvesters?  God already has the harvest ready: "Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'?  I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest" (John 4:35 NIV).  Human eyes see the field as difficult, unready.  Spiritual eyes see that the Holy Spirit has gone before us and has already prepared the hearts of those He is drawing to Christ.

I find it interesting that Jesus focused the disciples' attention on the size of the harvest.  His compassion was not just for the degree of suffering people experience, but for the fact that some might not be reached unless a worker gets to them.  How much more concerned must Jesus be today?  Can we see 5.5 billion people without Christ?  A recent video talks about how long it would take just to say the name "Jesus" to that many individuals--over 174 years, not counting those who would be born in the interval.  But the question is not how many will be born while we are getting the gospel to the nations; the question is how many will die before we get to them?

Somewhere between 30 to 32 percent of the world claims to be Christian.  By that measure, all it would take to reach the nations is for each of us to tell three or four others.  We all know that it is not that easy.  Followers must become workers, and workers must get into the harvest fields.  A gospel song of a few years back captures what might be on God's mind as He looks at the American megachurch phenomenon:  "My house is full but my fields are empty.  Who will go and work for Me today?"

Would you join me in praying today that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers into the harvest fields?  Would you be ready to become one of those workers?

Monday, March 5, 2012

AAA Prayer Part 3

Are we more like a motorboat or a sailboat?  We tend to think and act like motorboats, containing our power within ourselves.  Spiritually, we must function like sailboats whose power is outside themselves.  Fill the motorboat with gasoline, and it can go where it likes, as fast as it likes, whenever it likes until it needs refilling.  Doesn't that sound like Christians who want to attend a service to get "filled" and then use that power for their own purposes?  The Christian life is more analogous to a sailboat that must adjust its sails to the wind when it blows, in the direction it blows, as strong as it blows.  We have no control over the Spirit; we can only adjust our lives to Him.

Appropriating His power can only come after aligning with His purposes.  The power is not ours to use.  We are His instruments, running on His power.

The need for power is undeniable.  Without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).  The promise of power is readily available.  It comes with the Spirit (Acts 1:8).  When we move in the power of the Spirit, things happen that cannot be explained by our own resources, abilities, hard work, personalities, or leadership.  The 3,000 saved on the Day of Pentecost had nothing to do with Peter's eloquence nor with the fledgling church's marketing strategy.  The place, time, and results all were due to the Spirit.  Power is the ability to produce a result.  We must have power.

More than likely, we will not feel this power.  We may or may not feel a euphoria, a sense of well-being, or a state of confidence.  Most often we feel a sense of inadequacy that keeps us dependent on the Lord. Paul said his preaching to the Corinthians was "in weakness and fear and with much trembling" but also "with a demonstration of the Spirit's power" (1 Corinthians 2:3-5).  Paul later told them that he had learned that when he was weak, then he was strong because the Lord's strength is "made perfect in weakness."  He even boasted about his weakness "so that Christ's power may rest on me," going so far as to state a principle: "When I am weak, then I am strong [i.e., Christ's power flows through me] (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  So the power we appropriate in prayer is not for our use nor for our state of being.  It is solely for the advancing of His purposes, His kingdom.

But we must have it.  His work cannot be done without His power.  When the winds of revival blew through Wales, the taverns closed and the jails were empty.  In the awakening of 1858 (the revival whose chief characteristic was widespread prayer meetings), one million new believers, more than 3% of the states' population, were baptized into the churches in one year.  An equivalent impact today would add nine million to the churches in the US alone.  When I was 16, I was a failure as a witness for Christ, but after a camp experience of complete surrender to His will and renewal of my walk with Him, I influenced people to commit their lives to Christ without knowing that I was doing it.

We should pray for power.  We should pray that others would receive power.  Ten days of praying followed by an hour of preaching is better than an hour of praying followed by ten days of preaching.  Just ask the apostles.

Pray today that we may approach His presence, align ourselves with His purposes, and appropriate His power.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Missions Priority Scale

At the Missions Forum I attended last week, I was introduced to a booklet entitled Becoming a World Changing Church by David Mays.  In it he has what he calls a "P-scale" that "describes a hierarchy of missions priority in the local church."  As you read through the descriptions, at what level would you find your local church?  At what level would you find yourself?

1. Missions as a Possibility: The church gives some funds to missions but the church has little serious interest in ministering to people unlike themselves. It is not a common topic of conversation or a visible church ministry. Church leaders may hope or desire to get involved in cross-cultural outreach in the future.
2. Missions as a Project: A church does periodic outreach or missions activities/offerings. An individual or a group may occasionally get involved in a missions project or go on a short term missions trip.
3. Missions as a Program: Missions is one of the regular church programs. An individual or committee is responsible for maintaining the missions program. There are regular meetings and perhaps a missions policy. The church gives ongoing support to missionaries or the denominational mission program. The church has periodic missions emphasis events.
4. Missions as a Priority: Church leaders and the congregation recognize the importance of reaching lost people at home and abroad. The missions ministry receives more funding, leadership and backing than many other programs. Missionaries are given prominent exposure. Reports on needs and progress in the world are a common feature of all-church gatherings. A significant portion of church income is devoted to cross-cultural ministry.
5. Missions as a Purpose: Discipling the nations is either the overarching purpose or one of the core purposes of the church. The pastor, staff, and church leaders model God’s heart for the world through awareness, teaching, enthusiasm, and personal involvement. Church leaders work to educate and involve the whole congregation with regard to people unlike us at home and abroad who need Christ. The church has a strategy for mobilization that touches all ministries and age groups.
6. Missions as a Passion: Church leaders agree that the church exists to see God glorified in all the earth. Church leaders and the congregation understand, commit to, participate in, and extol their efforts to reach people like us and unlike us, both at home and abroad. Personnel hiring, ministry plans, budgets, calendars, communications, prayer life, and many casual conversations focus on reaching the lost of our own and other cultures. The guiding question for every ministry decision is, “How will this help us reach the world for Christ?”

Further information from the late David Mays including the entire booklet can be found at

Friday, March 2, 2012

AAA Prayer Part 2

Approaching His presence is the most important part of prayer.  After all, our real need in prayer is the Lord Himself.  We don't need things; we need Him.  He doesn't just give us wisdom or courage; He gives us Himself to be wisdom and courage within us.

Being in His presence should lead to a second phase of prayer:  aligning with His purpose.

Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God reminded us that God is always at work and is always inviting us to join Him.  We experience the joy of seeing God's glory manifested in our reality when we adjust our lives to God's will.  The story of the Bible is not what great men did for God but what a great God did through men who were willing to adjust their lives to His plans.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, His model prayer highlighted the importance of alignment.  Approaching God's presence first ("Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name"), disciples then commit themselves to His purposes ("Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven").  Only after those first two steps had been taken were personal petitions to be presented for physical needs, social/relational needs, and spiritual needs.

If we align our lives with His purposes, it is possible that presenting our specific needs will be unnecessary.  "Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4).  "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [the necessities of life] shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).  Sometimes God may require us to ask for specific things in order to manifest His glory and increase our faith (thus the truth "you have not because you ask not" James 4:3).  But generally speaking, His provision is always there for those who follow His vision.

God is not a cosmic vending machine.  He does not exist to meet our needs or grant our requests.  We exist to serve Him.  Out of His grace, He showers us with many blessings, but we must never forget who is servant and Who is Master.  As David Platt says, we were created to enjoy His grace and extend His glory.

After approaching God's presence in prayer today, let's submit our wills to His will.  Let us pray that His purposes will be fulfilled and the whole earth will be full of His glory (Habakkuk 2:14).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

AAA Prayer

(I apologize to any readers who have wondered why I haven't written the last few days.  I was at a conference and was unexpectedly busy and without internet access.  Thanks for sticking with me.)

Three phrases come to mind that explain what I need to do in prayer: (1) approach His presence; (2) align with His purpose; and (3) appropriate His power.

Approach His Presence:  Hebrews 4:16 says, "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."  Prayer is coming into the throne room of the great King.  The Son and the Spirit have gained us access (Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18).  We "enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise" (Psalm 100:4).  We should be conscious of drawing near to Him.  James wrote, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (4:2a).

How do you draw near to Someone Who is omnipresent?  The distance is in our hearts, not our location.  There is a difference in assuming that He is with us and knowing He is with us.  Theoretically, we can pray by just starting to talk -- after all, God is always there.  But as creatures locked into space/time, we benefit by taking the time to seek His face.  Many of the psalms begin with requests for the Lord to hear (4, 5, 17, and so on).  If we take His attention for granted, we do so to our detriment.

When we were children, our parents were delighted when we began to talk.  Even later on, they would tolerate our interruptions as we would burst in with some request or with some "news" that we felt couldn't wait.  But as we matured, we learned that true conversation deserves some respect.  We learned how to approach our parents in the right way.

In a book on prayer, I read about a preacher who asked a great evangelist to pray for him.  The great man invited the preacher to a private room.  The preacher was surprised when the kneeling evangelist was silent for several minutes.  Then he sighed deeply, "Oh, Father" and continued in silence for several more minutes.  Then the evangelist began to pray in a way that was far beyond anything the preacher had ever experienced before.  It was because the evangelist had learned to approach the Lord's presence.

Have you ever had the experience of telling someone something only to turn and see that they had left the room?  On the phone, do we start talking before the other person has come on the line?  If we have a true personal relationship with God, we need to talk to him when we know we have gotten together.

Let us take time today to enter His presence.  We may do so by praise and by confession.  Let's spend time before Him that we may grow to be like Him.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Understanding Prayer

I just bought a new smartphone.  Already I miss my old phone.  Using my old phone was easy because I was so familiar with it.  I don't really understand how my new phone is set up to be used.  Not understanding how something works always makes using it more difficult.  Sometimes we get frustrated and give up.  Sometimes we figure out a way to do what we need to do in our own way.  But if I will take the time to learn and understand the way my phone is to be used, I will be able to do much more than I could before or than I could in my own way.

Prayer can be difficult if we don't understand how it works and what it is all about.  For example, I suppose the most common view of prayer is that of asking-and-receiving.  In fact, there is quite a bit of Scripture to support this view (e.g., Psalm 50:15; Jeremiah 33:3; Matthew 7:7-8; John 16:24).  But anyone who has prayed very much will testify that we don't get everything we ask for.  There are various reasons for which the Lord may justifiably deny our requests, not the least of which is when what we desire is contrary to His will (1 John 5:14).  Someone I know said she wasn't going to pray anymore because God was going to do what He wanted to do anyway.  To a small degree she was wrong because there are some things God will do when we pray that He won't do if we don't pray (James 4:2b).  But to a large degree she was right.  She just didn't understand what prayer was all about. 

Prayer is not about getting our will done in heaven but about getting God's will done on earth (as S.D. Gordon taught in Quiet Talks on Prayer).  Jesus said to pray, "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).  Why God chooses to work through the prayers of His people is debatable, but the fact that He works this way is undeniable.  Regardless of any other reasons involved, one benefit of this arrangement is that it connects us to God more surely than anything else could.  In fact, it would not surprise me if it turns out that God designed prayer primarily as a way for us to truly know Him by spending time in His presence.

As we pray, let's not just present God with a list of petitions.  Let's spend time in His presence, getting to know Him, hearing His voice, becoming familiar with His ways, and discerning His will so that we may pray as we should.  After all, it is His plan to extend His glory to all nations.  We just need to follow Him.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


The denomination that I am part of is not known for its prayer life.  It is known mostly for its emphases on the Bible and on evangelism and missions.  It's not bad to major on the Word and the work, but both of those activities tend to be ineffectual apart from prayer.  That last statement would receive hearty amens from all my fellow Baptists because they know what the Scriptures teach about the necessity of prayer.  However, knowing the theory well has not translated into following the practice well.  More than one pastor has found attendance at the church's mid-week meeting dwindling when he tried to eliminate the Bible study in favor of a true prayer meeting.

Why do so many of us find prayer so difficult?  And finding it difficult, do so little of it?

One reason of course is that the devil does all he can to keep us from praying.  He has nothing to fear from what we do in our own strength and cleverness.  He knows far too well the real damage to his realm that the King of kings can inflict.  He will use his bag of tricks to distract us, discourage us, and divide us so that either we won't pray or that our prayers will be disqualified (Matthew 5:23-24).

Another reason is that our "flesh" resists praying.  Our natural self is "anti-matter" to matters of the Spirit (Romans 8:7).  Prayer is decidedly un-natural.  One way of understanding Adam and Eve's eating of the fruit is that they were looking for a way that they could gain knowledge without having to depend on God.  We have inherited this drive for independence.  I wonder if God sees us as we often see babies crying, "I can do it myself!" and then making a mess of things.  Humbling ourselves to depending on God goes against our grain.  No wonder we find prayer difficult.

Finally, there is a practical reason for a tendency to prayerlessness.  Not seeing answers to prayer leads one to question its value.  We might think, "What good does it do to pray?  I tried praying and nothing happened."  Such a thought reveals faulty understanding of prayer.  If we see God as being like the genie in Aladdin's lamp, we are sure to be disappointed.  But now we have a real problem because the best way, perhaps the only way, to learn to pray is by praying.  What a "catch 22"!

We must become a praying people.  We are either praying or sinning (1 Samuel 12:23).  Pray today that Jesus would teach us to to pray (Luke 11:1).  Pray that the Spirit would help us to pray (Romans 8:26-27).  The Nike corporation might say, "Just do it" but the Father tells us, "Just pray!"  We cannot extend His glory to the nations without prayer.