Renewed Resolve to Preach and Practice the Gospel

the-gospel

At the local church where I serve as teaching pastor, we are in the middle of a series called “The Good News” – we’re surveying the gospel as presented by Mark.

It is a very healthy thing to read through the gospels, letting them speak for themselves to us about Jesus, His ministry, mission and the Kingdom of God. What Mark records for the reader (his intent is to present “the beginning of the Good News”) tells us what Mark believed (probably from Peter’s preaching and tutelage) was important for the reader to know of Jesus.

Again, if I let myself just listen to Mark, then I feel like I am bombarded with powerful, compassionate images of a Christ who spends a great deal of time driving out unclean spirits and healing the sick. And with each sequential occurrence, whether individual or the masses, the crowds become more desperate for Jesus, and His fame (people spreading the testimony of Jesus) grows. The more Jesus heals and delivers, the more people do everything they can to get to Him or to bring others to Him. When Jesus was just being Jesus – he could not even hide from people if he tried. (Yes, there are also those who grow increasingly hostile to Jesus – but this isn’t about them right now). As I read I am overwhelmed with passion, with desire, with delight and deep longing.

And then I pause to consider the trends, the fads, the programs, and paper-back buzzwords and techno-idolatry that I see pushed as “how we’re going to really reach this generation.” Let’s be clear – I love technology and I love communication, leadership and administration. I don’t have time or interest to defend myself on those fronts. My point is that if more leaders were more honest – a great deal of what is pushed and polished has nothing to do with what occupied so much of Christ’s time and energy. I struggle with wanting a better facility, more staff, more funds for more sophisticated operations, and all the same stuff that most leaders wish they had more of or better. And I don’t apologize for wanting all of it. There’s no reason not to be excellent.

But the gospel. The gospel itself is really, really enough. It’s more than enough. There isn’t a facility in my county that could contain the people crowding inside if they thought Jesus was really there touching broken lives. No one would care about acoustics or esthetics. Like those so many long years ago, they’d come to hear and be healed. I believe the Gospel is still powerful. I believe it is still the power of God. I believe the Name of Jesus still authorizes healing and deliverance. I believe untold numbers of people need both. I believe the gospel still works.

So with renewed resolve I will preach and practice the gospel. I trust the Holy Spirit to help me, to guide me, to teach and lead me – and to be the Power and Presence of Christ to us and through us now. My world still needs good news; the Gospel is still the best news.

He’s the God of the Hilltops and the God of the Valleys

Fog in the Connecticut River Valley as seen from a hilltop farm in Stewartstown, New Hampshire.

1 Kings 20:23-30

I would like to caution against asserting a theology that declares God is more willing to be present or loving or powerful in one place over another place.  Not in a building, nor “out on the streets” – neither is relevant. There is nothing sacred about geography, buildings, etc. I have heard it repeated time and again that God is more willing to act in third world/overseas vs. North America, or “the market place” vs. in the gathering of believers. It suggests favoritism and smacks of insinuation against the nature of God. He acts according to His Nature and in response to faith – He is no respecter of persons or places, and He does not change like the shifting shadows.

It is pagan, in fact, to think in terms of “out there” or “in here.” It was pagan for the Arameans (1 Kings 20:23-30) to think Yahweh was restricted to a certain jurisdiction or region (hills, but not valleys). The pagan king thought that since he lost a battle in the hills, that perhaps he’d be more successful in the valleys.  However, The Lord displayed his power without locational restraint or preference. Yahweh is “I am” – He is fully present in the moment, in the spot.

(I can’t help but pause to allegorize here a bit – this pagan king’s plan to “get Israel down in the valley” in order to defeat them – sounds all too familiar, right? The enemy often seeks to drag us into valleys of discouragement, depression or distraction – places where we might well be vulnerable or weak – and do his worst to wound us there. But dear friend – the same God who is present in the highest point of our lives is present in the low places as well. He will never leave us nor forsake us; He is faithful; His love endures forever. Yea – even though you sludge through the valley of the shadow of death – fear not! He IS WITH YOU.)

The same glory on the mount of transfiguration was powerfully present to deliver the young boy from the harassing evil spirit (Mark 9). The same authority to drive out devils in synagogue was present to rebuke a fever (Luke 4). We need not worry about when or if the water is troubled (John 5), but determine that we are willing to be made well. Jesus didn’t care about the Jacuzzi; he was after the man’s will.

So, don’t be superstitious about locations or timing or even the right song… Just practice His presence and power and love – all the time. The battlefield is in our thoughts, in our attitudes, in our readiness, in the ruling superstitions that still determine when, how, or IF we experience God’s presence and power. He is not fickle, we are. He is not moody; we are. He is not easily distracted; we are. He isn’t even easily offended; we are.

Now, there is more to locations, at times, than I fully grasp. I know that angels attend us, and appear certain places or guard places or etc. I am aware of the inexplicable episodes of divine presence and eruption in certain places and seasons. I am convinced there is more to those stories than we really know. What we DO know is what is important. The emphasis in the Kingdom is the presence of God in/on/among people. You are the temple. Location is irrelevant to God’s presence and power. Faith is relevant. Worship is relevant. Humility is relevant. Hope is relevant. Joyful anticipation is relevant. Obedience and even risk are relevant.

Our mind-set, our confidence, our faith-anticipation often is often influenced (negatively or positively) by location. This habit is at the root of a great deal of our boredom, our dissatisfaction, our lack of fruitfulness, etc. Too often believers contextualize the potential and potency of the Dynamic Presence of God. But the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. His desire is to cover the earth with the knowledge (personal intimate experience) of His glory (Hab. 2:14). Wherever you are – He is fully present and invites your readiness, your anticipation of His Glory, your embrace of His Lavish Loving Presence, and your participation with His power.

  • In your seat at worship service, or in your seat behind the wheel of your car
  • While you’re singing your favorite song, or selling your featured product
  • While you’re standing in the prayer line or the check-out line
  • At summer camp, or at the school dance
  • Prophesying by the fire pit, or small-talking at the water cooler.
  • If it is any other way, it is just religion, superstition.

So – remember He is the God of the Hills and the God of the valleys.  He does not change; He is fully present. The rest is up to us.

Leaders Pray for Those in Their Care

prayer hands

 

Of all I have read about how to be a super-ninja-hip Christian leader, one of the fewest emphases I’ve seen is this: Leaders are intercessors. Or, at least they should be.

1 Samuel 7:8, “And the people of Israel said to Samuel, ‘Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.’”

The people of Israel urged Samuel not to cease to make intercession for them that the Lord would intervene, saving them from their oppressors / attackers.

I fully understand that we do not live under the same dynamic as Israel, that the nature of the Kingdom is less hierarchical and that every believer is a priest. In Christ, each of us can and should come to the Lord in prayer on our own, for our own concerns, and have gratitude and confidence that our prayers matter to heaven.

However, there remains a leadership principle here.

Samuel was their leader. They trusted him; he served them. And what they asked of him was to pray for them. Specifically – to “not cease to cry out to the Lord for them.” Regardless of the differences between contemporary settings and the religious system of ancient Israel, this remains true: part of our calling and responsibility as Christian leaders is to pray for those we have the responsibility to serve. They need us to; we need us to.

The examples are blazon. Jesus, our Lord, Savior, High Priest and King interceded for His followers, and for those that would follow them. He prayed so much and so often in secret that we don’t know what and how He prayed. But what is recorded for us in John 17 is sufficient to know that He interceded for us before the cross. And Hebrews 7:25 affirms that Jesus is still interceding for us – in whatever mystical manner that implies.

Paul interceded much for his churches. Each letter from him contains includes the contents of just some of his prayers. A casual reading of his letters leaves no question that the Apostle understood it was his apostolic responsibility to “not cease” crying out the Lord for those he led.

Furthermore, with Samuel, Jesus and Paul – those for whom they prayed were aware that their leaders were praying for them, and (at least somewhat) aware of what their leaders were praying for them. The same should be true for those we serve. They should know we are praying for them and even what we are praying.

Consider how important this is and what effect it has.

First, there is the effect that prayer has – period. Prayer matters. It makes a difference. Heaven partners with praying leaders. Samuel’s prayers mattered – they helped secure the Hand of the Lord to save Israel from the Philistines. Jesus’ prayers matter (nuff said). Paul’s prayers mattered – and have for 2000 years. Our prayers matter. No, not necessarily more than the prayers of those we serve. But they DO MATTER. Our prayer – our intercession – over the lives of those entrusted to our leadership is sacred currency to heaven. Our prayers matter over our children, our friends, our staff, our students, our teams, our churches and our organizations. The first and greatest responsibility for any and every Christian leader is pray over and for everything and everyone under their responsibility.

Further, there is the effect that knowing they’re being prayed for has on people. How do you suppose the readers of the epistles felt when they read Paul’s prayers for them? How were they encouraged? How was their faith informed? What did knowing the content and passion of Paul’s prayers for them do to help them feel the love and commitment Paul had toward them? People really appreciate knowing that their leaders are praying for them (obviously this is truer in organizations where there is a shared, corporate faith. In secular contexts, it may not be plausible or even proper for people to know leaders are praying for them. But we should pray none-the-less). Sometimes I have observed that the more specifically people know what we are praying for them, the greater the impact it has on them. They appreciate it more deeply and more encouraged. People want and need to know we’re praying for them.

Finally, there is the effect that praying for those we lead has on us. When leaders intercede for those in their care, they tend to care more. Praying for those we lead keeps the heart of the leader connected to the perspective and passion of heaven. It protects our perspective from the influences of carnality, competition, and conflict. Praying for those I lead keeps Heaven’s purposes for them in my heart and on my mind. And Heaven’s purpose must be my singular goal. I cannot lead well anyone for whom I have not prayed well.

Therefore, leaders of whomever and whatever you lead – do not cease to cry out to the Lord for whatever and whomever is in your care. It matters.

Thanks for reading (and for leading, and for praying)
‘Dav

Reverencing the Holy Spirit

dove

The more we reverence the Holy Spirit, the greater His active influence will be among us. By reverence, I mean a strong feeling of respect and admiration, a deep and joyful awareness of and honor for the Holy Spirit.

Luke presents this precept in the unfolding life of the early church. In Acts 5, a man named Ananias sold some property and gave the proceeds of the sale to the church. However, he claimed that he withheld none of the money for himself. Peter called him out for lying to the Holy Spirit (not for keeping what was rightfully his). Consider this clearly: Ananias tried to mislead the apostles (in order to appear generous), but Peter called this lying to the Holy Spirit. Peter recognized the prevailing presence of the Spirit in the church. This reverent awareness seemed to allow for or produce a powerfully active influence of the Spirit, so much so that the lying man and his wife (who was part of the plan to “test the Spirit of the Lord”) both fell dead (Acts 5:1-10).

As a result, great fear come upon all the church, and as many as heard these things. And (as further result) many signs and wonders were performed by the hands of the apostles (vv. 11-12). I believe the same joyful awareness of and honor for of the Holy Spirit fueled the compassion and confidence to work miracles. Luke continues in vv. 13-14, describing a broad respect for the church: no one dared join them under pretense, and the community held them in high regard. This sentiment was not due to a program or a strategy of the church; it was not in any way due to the church’s attempts to fit in or be accepted. This was directly because of the reverence the church possessed and practiced toward the Holy Spirit, which fostered His active influence in and through them.

Luke brings the narrative to crescendo in vv. 15-16 when he describes people bringing the sick and oppressed from neighboring cities and lying them on the streets so that Peter’s shadow would fall on them, and “they were healed, every one.” We can probably assume there was no mojo in Peter’s shadow. What we can assert is that Peter walked with a reverent (bold, joyful, respectful) awareness of the Holy Spirit. As a result, both he and the church he helped lead bore a reputation as carriers of divine presence. This reputation fueled not only a healthy respect and admiration from the world around them, but also a robust hope in the Christ they served.

It is easy to hear the Apostle Paul’s affirmation of such reverence: “Do not grieve the Spirit” (Eph. 4:30), “Do not quench the Spirit” (I Thess. 5:19), “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Apostolic faith is that which prizes, prioritizes, cherishes, and reverences the Holy Spirit.

I am challenged to centralize my own awareness of the Holy Spirit, to reverence Him deeply and happily. I am determined to humbly lead my family and encourage my church to foster such reverence for the Spirit. Because, I believe, the more we reverence the Holy Spirit, the greater His active influence will be among us. I want nothing less and nothing else.

Thanks for reading,
~ Dav

Isaiah 6: A few thoughts for today’s willing messenger

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In the year that King Uzziah died, the prophet Isaiah has a spectacular vision that forged the future of his ministry. While the events and immediate consequences of the vision are directed to Isaiah and his contemporaries, that which is revealed or affirmed regarding the mission of heaven remain constant and timelessly informative, edifying and applicable.

​The passage includes material that, although inspired and worth study, will not be included in this essay, which will instead focus on how the passage portrays the nature of God, atonement, and the message of repentance and healing.

​In his vision, Isaiah sees Adonai enthroned high and exalted. The train of his robe fills the temple. The Hebrew syntax accentuates the majesty of the moment with an apparent use of the “plural of eminence” on the noun “robe” and verb “fills.” (As if said that Adonai’s robes filled and filled and filled the temple.) Accompanying Adonai are angelic beings called Seraphim, or “burning ones.” These blazing creatures use their sets of wings to cover themselves in the presence of the Lord; they revere the Sovereign Master, the Lord of Hosts.

​The Seraphim cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” There is a beautiful paradox in this cry. Thrice the blazing ones shout, “Holy!” Hebrew uses repetition for emphasis. God is exceedingly Holy. Holiness is God’s supreme nature, it is God set apart, unique, distinct; God alone is “high and lifted up.” God is the exalted One, transcendent. And yet, the whole earth is full of His glory. God’s glory is His majestic splendor, beauty, and magnificence. God’s glory is His radiance and our ecstasy. His Glory pervades creation. God is transcendent in Holiness, but immanent in Glory. This paradox reveals God’s design and desire to be manifestly present in our midst, borne out in the incarnation: The Word became flesh and dwell among us, and we have beheld His glory.

​At the sound of the Seraphim’s shout, the temple door-posts shake, and the whole house is filled with smoke. God’s presence seems too great for even the heavenly structure to bear as it sways under the weight of glorious cloud of Glory. This scene in heaven seems echoed in Acts 4, when the place is shaken as the Spirit of God fills all in the house.

​At this Isaiah cries out, “woe is me for I am undone…a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips…I have seen the King.” The majesty of God’s Holiness and Glory invokes this self-condemning sentiment. God does not condemn Isaiah, nor do the angels. Isaiah condemns himself with his words. Isaiah is convinced he must die, he is “undone” in the presence of Adonai’s splendor.

This scene, too, has and echo in Peter’s confession before Christ in Luke 5:8, “depart from me, Oh Lord, for I am a sinful man.” But Jesus does not condemn Peter, rather he assuages his fear and calls him into service, saying, “do not fear, for now on you will be catching men.” And likewise, though Isaiah would sentence himself (rightfully) to death, heaven does not. One of the seraphim flies over to Isaiah with a live (burning) coal and touches Isaiah’s lips, saying, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away (cut off, taken away, lifted) and your sin is purged (atoned for).” The flaming coal from the altar, having born the sacrifice, is applied to Isaiah. His iniquity is taken away. His sin is atoned for – and this verb in the imperfect tense indicates that this atonement continues – all of Isaiah’s sin is atoned for.

This altar speaks to us of the atonement of Christ, who was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection of the dead (Romans 1:4).

The Holy Spirit’s fire applies what Christ’s sacrifice has accomplished.

​Isaiah, too, is then sent to carry the message of atonement. But here is where the language in the text feels awkward. It seems as if Adonai intends to prevent his people from hearing the message. But it may be better understood that although God’s desire is not to preclude restoration, He here recognizes that the hearts of His people are bent on rebellion. Isaiah’s preaching will only harden their hearts further. Because their hearts are hard, they will not hear or understand. They will not return (repent), and will not be healed. But in these consequences, the reader can hear the hope of heaven.

Adonai desires for men to hear His message, to understand it and to return to Him, repenting of their futility and rebellion. And in this returning, they will find healing.

​Isaiah’s mission was sad. But ours is not. From this passage we can be assured that a Holy God is still expressing His glory in the earth. The Holy Spirit blazes with the purging flame of Christ’s atonement for sin. And heaven still seeks fire-born messengers to call men and women to hear and understand, to repent and be healed.

Spiritual Spontaneity in a Worship Gathering

living in the box

Every Thursday morning I meet the same friend for breakfast. We meet at the same time, and we meet for approximately the same length of time each week. I know pretty well what range of subject matter we’ll talk about. I am nearly certain what each of us will eat for breakfast. And yet, each morning we meet, our conversation is fresh, it is robust, it is encouraging, open and honest. We have cried (well, we’re dudes so we only got a little choked up); we laugh (without fail, every week). We don’t have a specific agenda to cover, though we may likely have thoughtfully prepared a thought or question or story for the other. Our meetings are the result of schedule, planning, and preparation. But when we actually sit down, no matter how much of our routine is…routine, our conversation and interaction is living. It is spontaneous. It is guided by good manners but stirred by great passion.

I reflect on this breakfast dynamic as I consider current (though ancient) discussion about the structure and flow of worship gatherings – of “church” – in terms of the freedom and movement of the Holy Spirit.  I read blog posts and articles and have heard posited from pulpitis cautioning against spontaneity or sensationalism, reminding the reader or auditor that The Holy Spirit can anoint thorough preparation and bless tidy presentation.  I have observed, too, the hazards and chaos and boundary-less worship gatherings that are blamed on the Holy Spirit (who evidently struggles with Tourette’s Syndrome or ADHD).

I would argue, not so much for one or the other, but for an alternative. Of course the Holy Spirit is planner and a preparer. It was He who hovered over the face of deep (Genesis 1) at creation before any creative word was released. It was He who stirred Samson (Judges 13:25) before any lion or Philistine tasted death-by-fist. It was He who filled and “flipped” John the Baptist in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15, 44) before any locust shared a plate with wild honey or anyone got wet with repentance. I deeply believe and depend upon His infilling and influence each week as I prepare to lead our worship gatherings and study for messages to share with the church. In fact, I believe that the Spirit prompts “previews” of needs that can be met, themes to emphasize, and specific actions to take to engage the congregation. I am glad and grateful for the partnership of the Spirit with regard to planning and preparation.

However, I do not leave the Holy Spirit in my study. I bring Him, or rather follow Him, into the auditorium. Much like my breakfast meeting, this occasion is planned for, prepared for, and even allotted a certain time-frame for completion. But also like my breakfast meeting, I anticipate a living atmosphere, a dynamic environment. Real people have gathered in this room. People with needs and opportunities, people with gifts and graces. Moreover, a Real Person is present to preside over and permeate this gathering. The Holy Spirit is fully, actively present with us. It more than just stands to reason that I should be ready for spontaneity, I should expect and accommodate it. Whenever you combine man’s passion and God’s Presence, you’d better leave some white-space in the margins.

Consider with me the role of some of the unplanned events in the NT narratives. Most of the individual miracle stories of Jesus, the ones where we have most specific details and the same ones that have inspired the hope and faith of countless generations, are the result of Jesus being interrupted. If Jesus had refused to accommodate spontaneity (as a result of man’s passion connecting with divine presence), consider the consequences. He would have never made water into wine (John 2). He wouldn’t have freed the grave-living demoniac (Mark 5:1-2). He’d have never told the lame man to take up his bed and walk (Matthew 9:2). He wouldn’t have raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Matthew 9:18). The blind men shouting for mercy would have remained “shushed.” In fact, the tendency to shush people and keep them from interrupting didn’t start with seeker-sensitive services. The disciples of Jesus tried to keep a tidy ministry from the get-go (Mark 10:13-14, Mark 10:42, Matthew 15:21-23). The list of things that Jesus would not have done gets very long if we don’t let him get interrupted.

Along those lines, I don’t believe that wind and fire and glossolalia were on the prayer meeting agenda in the upper room (Acts 2). Peter and John went to pray, and met a lame man on the way….(Acts 3). Things got real crazy during offering (Acts 5).

A living, dynamic gathering need not be characterized by and certainly not limited to specific manifestations or expressions. The Holy Spirit speaks to and through us in various and creative ways. People often see pictures, or feel an impression, or are made aware of specific needs in the room—the goal of which is all to minister grace to the gathered.

Nor is there any need for or benefit from rudeness or overt silly-ness. It seems reasonable to welcome people who have some established level of relationship in the community to share with the gathered what they feel the Spirit is saying to / through them for the benefit of the body. It also seems reasonable that they do so at a time that makes sense in the flow of the service (especially if white space is deliberately provided). Spontaneity need not be urgent; “when” we hear from or share something the Spirit has said is not nearly as important as how we respond. Furthermore, there should be a reasonable means for people to share – like having a microphone available for people to come to. There’s no rationale for hollering-at-will from around the room—no one needs to reach from the back seat of the car and grab the steering wheel. Great passion can function in the context of good manners.

But the largest issue is simply to remember, to celebrate and surrender to the reality that God, very God, the Holy Spirit is present with us. He is living; He is active; He is speaking and acting—through people, the community gathered for worship. The presence and activity of the Spirit in the life and functions of the church is important to heaven. His coming and activity are actually the final intention and plan of God for the planet (Acts 2:17-18). There is no replacement for His presence, no substitute for His activity. He should fill and flood our plan, our preparation, and our presentation. Ultimately, we, the church, are being built together in Christ for the singularly sublime purpose of being a dwelling where God lives by His Spirit (Eph. 2:22). I’m planning on it.

How I Rely On the Holy Spirit

flying dove

I was considering entitling this note “How to rely on the Spirit” – but I just can’t bring myself to suggest that I have the answer or know the way that everyone should rely on Him. I just know what has been effective in my own life and what has enlarged my joy and confidence. I know how I rely on Him, and how I intend to do so more. So, here’s how…

My use of the word “rely” comes from the NLT’s wording in 1 Cor. 2:4 where Paul writes, “…I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.” I like the use of “rely” here because its definition expresses precisely what I think is Paul’s position. It means 1.) depend on with full trust or confidence 2.) be dependent on. Paul relied on the Spirit. Paul enjoins the same sentiment for his audience that he does for himself in Galatians 5:25, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”. In Corinthians Paul speaks of spirit-enabled ministry, in Galatians he speaks of spirit-enabled ethics. Both testimonies invite us, urge us, to look to and lean upon the Holy Spirit for every aspect of Christian living.

For me, relying on the Spirit means that I trust Him deeply, so much so that my trust expresses itself in my attitudes and actions. I rely on Him. The more deeply I trust Him, the more readily I rely on Him. What do I specifically mean by “trust”? What do I trust Him to be and do? What do I trust about Him?

I trust that He is fully present:

I believe that the Holy Spirit is here, now, fully-in-this-moment. I do not believe that I need to rub a lamp or conjure Him up. I do not believe that He is aloof or elusive. Jesus promised that because He was going to the Father, that we could live in the immediate presence of the Holy Spirit, and that He would be present in our lives in every Helpful way (John 14-16). In Acts, Luke describes the Spirit in a believer’s life as “full” or “filled.” He gives no hint of partial presence. I trust that He is fully present, in this moment, in me and with me. I thank Him, honor Him, welcome Him, adore Him and yield to His fullness.

I trust that He is working:

I believe that His presence is active, not passive. He is not with me as an observer, but a Helper. He is not a silent partner; He is the Senior Partner. He is powerful; He is totally sufficient. He is present to influence, to form, to encourage, to strengthen, to enable. I completely depend on Him. Just as certain as I am that He is present, regardless of what I feel or do not feel, I believe—I trust—that He is working.

I trust that his work is working.

I believe that His work in and through me is effectual. I anticipate results.  I believe He is producing fruit in me (Gal. 5:22). I believe He is supplying the grace and power for any need and opportunity (Acts 1:8, 1 Cor. 12:7). I am confident that He is applying in my life all that Jesus accomplished on the Cross. He is working, and I believe His work is working.

I rely on the Holy Spirit by trusting Him.  In witness and worship, in service and ethics, I believe He is present, powerful, and producing.

 

What Difference Does Prayer Make?

prayer           

What difference does prayer make? Scripture testifies that prayer touches and influences three places. Prayer affects heaven and earth and us.

Prayer affects heaven:

Heaven acts because we ask. By that I do not mean to suggest that prayer changes God’s mind or modifies His mood. Rather we ask because The Father has ordained prayer to be the means by which He acts. He has chosen to respond to prayer. We ask because we can – because Christ has opened the way, drawn us near, and has become the “yes” to every promise of God (Heb. 4:16, 2 Cor. 1:20).

Prayer affects earth:

We pray so that heaven’s realities will prevail upon the circumstances on earth. In prayer I partner with God, in Christ’s name, calling for His Kingdom to prevail on earth as it is in heaven. In prayer we contend against evil, injustice, oppression, lack, suffering and all that is contrary to Heaven on Earth (Matthew 6:10).  In prayer we wrestle against rulers and authorities and powers and spiritual forces in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12). We do so from Christ’s victory (Eph. 1:20-23), with joy and boldness and gratitude. Jesus has the receipt for the planet. He’s given us the keys (Matt. 16:18-19). We pray accordingly. We keep praying until the purposes of God prevail.

Prayer affects us:

Prayer touches me – influences me. It should anyway. Prayer should affect what and how I feel, my attitudes, my affections, and even my behavior. When I come to my Father and ask Him to bless or heal or help a friend or neighbor, if my heart is in it, then my heart should begin to feel toward that friend like God’s heart does. If I am interceding for my church, my city, or my in-laws, then it follows that I should begin to share in God’s heart toward them as well. In prayer, I should begin to feel how my father feels, and become as committed to the outcome as He is (Matt 9:36-38).

It is in this arena, how prayer affect us, that I offer some further thoughts. I get very weary of hearing people cajole believers to “cry out to God” – as though our volume and intensity will somehow sway God into hearing and responding. Further, I feel uncomfortable hearing people default to praying in beggarly groans. Heaven is not moved by our fervor, but by our faith in Christ.

However, it is possible that “crying out to God” affects me, awakens me, and stirs me. It is also possible, even probable, that Holy Spirit will move deeply upon us in prayer and as we feel what he feels we may weep (or laugh, or dance, or feel angry). I deeply desire His Spirit to fill and form my feelings, attitudes and behaviors.

What is important is that we let, even expect, feelings be a response to the Spirit’s partnership in prayer, and not assume them a prerequisite to effective prayer. James does NOT say that the emotionally worked up prayer is powerful (James 5:16), but the prayer of the righteous is powerful as it is working. It is the righteousness of Christ that makes prayer powerful. Pray with confidence in the full force of the finished work.

Prayer matters. It makes a difference. It affects heaven. It influences earth. It changes us. I bet that if you let yourself believe this, believe it deeply, it might have a significant effect on your prayer life. Your prayer will make a difference.

Three Reasons for a Blended Worship Experience

 

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Hey – I like new songs. I like fast songs. I like happy-clappy songs. I like songs that make me wanna move-what-momma-gave-me. I love the contemplative and prophetic songs that rise from fresh experience and heart-rending revelation. I also thoroughly enjoy songs that are older than I am, birthed from the passions of my predecessors.

I thoroughly believe that worship lists should be designed to include songs that are fresh and songs that are familiar. Specifically, I suggest that worship leaders include older songs in their worship sets. Here are three reasons why:

1.)    To awaken great faith.  

When you include a song that connects meaningfully with someone who has walked with Jesus for many seasons, even for a life-time, you provide an outlet for that person’s faith and love to be awakened and expressed. People generally are fond of certain songs because they sang them as a result of or in the midst of powerful moments or special seasons in their lives. And when they sing those songs, the testimony that song stirs, and the grace that has been deposited in their lives is stirred. Hot coals are fanned into bright flame. Deep waters spring up from the wells that landscape their journey of faith. This, by the way, is a terrific reason to include songs like this early – so that great faith might be awakened and carried into the rest of the meeting

2.)    To Honor Generations

And on that note, if you introduce an older song at the early (even at first) part of a worship gathering, you send a message to older generations that they are welcome here, that they matter, that their faith is important and their testimony is valuable. You present a stepping stone or a bridge (whatever metaphor you like) to them that enables them to join the room, to participate, to share. Hey – they might not even mind the dark room, loud subwoofers, wrinkled shirts and bonus-body-paint. They may feel like they belong– if someone would just honor them at the outset.

3.)    To Benefit from Testimony

Many of the tried-and-true classic songs (be they public domain hymns or choruses from the Jesus Movement) were forged in the fire of deep personal experience, or devout theological reflection. Their words carry boldness, glory, and often an intimacy that are rare and wonderful. The content – the actual lyrics – of these songs are too valuable to set aside simply because they were introduced in an era long gone, or by someone wearing an outfit we’d only see at a costume party.

 

Jack Hayford has said that the songs we sing build the constitution of our congregations. They make us strong; they make us grateful; they make us yielded; they make us joyful. They fill our minds with noble, pure, and powerful thoughts of God. They fire our souls with melodies of His grace and love. These songs come from the wealth of Christian experience and testimony through the ages. Our worship experience can – and should – include treasures old and new.