P. Douglas Small's Posts (22)

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It's Time for a New Reformation

October 31, 2017 was 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. Barbara and I were in Berlin for a meeting of several hundred global leaders there to mark that date. It was my privilege to lead morning prayer sessions at that gathering. We then made our way to Wittenberg and to Castle Church for the 500th year celebration. The church was packed and the moment was unforgettable.

From Wittenberg, Barbara and I drove to Herrnhut, Germany. The little settlement became famous for the 100-year Moravian prayer revival out of which came 300, mostly unnamed and unremembered missionaries, before the likes of David Livingston, William Carey, Hudson Taylor and others. On the edge of the estate of Count Zinzendorf, this Christian community, at first divided, then ordered and bathed in prayer, flourished. For almost a full day, we explored the little town. We sat for some time, silently, and alone, in the historic sanctuary. We toured the handful of exhibits in the two small museums. We visited the fledgling house of prayer in the small city.

Early that morning, staying at a small bed-and-breakfast farmhouse just outside the city, I was awakened very early, before dawn. I made my way downstairs. The farm house was not yet stirring. I sat in the kitchen and began to scribble on a pad what I sensed to be a download directly from the Holy Spirit. I perceived clearly, that we, as a church, were about to be thrust into a new era that would be as significant as the Reformation.

My notes that morning include: Is the church merely a social institution? Is it primarily a charitable and benevolent organization? Is it a house of religious entertainment and inspiration? Is its purpose moral education? What is the church?

Overwhelmingly, the stats show, most people believe the church to be an institution designed to serve them in some way. Church is a collage of Christian services offered to attendees for a donation. The view is crippling, narcissistic, pragmatic, and far from the Biblical norm. It is time for a new reformation.

Read more in Doug’s upcoming book, The New Apostolic Epoch: God’s Determination to Have a Praying and Missional People. Apostolic epochs involve a breaking away, a new definition and a reorientation. They refocus kingdom purposes. The apostolic epoch that we are now entering is the fulfillment of the desire of Jesus, that his church be a house of prayer for all nations. This is the not the mere amplification of prayer as it is often perceived. It is not the addition of a missing prayer component, or prayer even as a bountiful additive, a power pack, to what we are currently doing. It is not the mere deepening or heightening of the value of prayer; it is a seismic apostolic shift. Through this assertive sovereign governance of God, He will intervene into history for missional purposes. It is my sincere belief that we are on the edge of such a moment again.

Order the book at: https://alivepublications.org/shop/the-new-apostolic-epoch/

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9651034476?profile=originalMark Howell, Pastor of Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada and founder of SmallGroupResources.net, points out that a real challenge and a very common fear for praying out loud together is that of public speaking. For some, public speaking is their greatest fear. That is exacerbated by the idea of talking to God. Many folks think ‘King James English’ is essential for good praying – ‘thee, thou’ and the like! High-sounding phrases sprinkled with Bible verses, and good intercessory oomph![1]

Here are some ideas that Mark suggests, adapted here:

  • Delineate a prayer focus. For example, “Tonight, we are going to pray for a deeper relationship with God. Nothing else.” Or, “Our prayer focus tonight is on folks who do not have a relationship with God.”
  • Read a psalm and pray it. Or choose another passage of Scripture. Let the language of the Bible inform the prayers.
  • Choose a Bible prayer passage, not merely a Bible passage, but a Bible-prayer. Have each participant open their Bible or have printed copies. Read and briefly comment on each verse or phrase. Then go vertical. Ask participants if they can ‘pray it,’ taking the conversational observations and praying them to God. At first, it might seem awkward, but only because we are more accustomed to talking to one another than to God. But watch how so much changes when the conversations go vertical.
  • Encourage each person to choose a prayer passage and develop their own prayer.
  • Put a chair in the center of the room and invite folks to the chair. Call it ‘the Father’s lap’ or the ‘Mercy Seat.’ Have them mention one thing they desire from God. Or some burden they are carrying alone with which they need help. Have them pray it, not say Then allow others to pray with them and for them.
  • Use word or phrase sentence completion prayers as ice breakers. For example, “God, I need your help with __________.” “Lord, I’m so grateful for _______________.”  “Lord, you have been to me like ________________.”
  • Group the attendees in triplets for a time of prayer.
  • Pass out paper or index cards along with a pen. Make it easy and give each person time to write out a simple one sentence prayer need. They can choose to remain anonymous for this one. Swap cards. It is easier to read someone else’s need, at least at times, than our own.
  • On the back of the card, ask each person to list one thing for which they want to give gratitude to God. “Lord, I am so grateful for _______________.”
  • Designate a ‘Jesus chair’ in the middle of the room. “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Mt. 18:20). Say, “Folks, imagine if Jesus was here in the room! Well, He is! Anyone want to talk with Him?” Arrange another chair opposite the empty chair. Then gather the crowd around. Allow one after another the privilege of ‘talking to Jesus.’ Then gather round and pray over them.

[1] Adapted from Mark Howell, www.markhowelllive.com.


9651033888?profile=originalThis is an excerpt from The Praying Church Made Simple, a new resource for congregational prayer ministries. The purpose of The Praying Church Made Simple is to establish clear beginning points for revitalizing the congregational prayer effort; and to set forth a simple approach to prayer mobilization for the smaller congregation.

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Receive this book for FREE with your paid membership in The Praying Church Movement, a network of local prayer leaders who are on a journey to bring prayer to the heart of all they do.

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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

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Three Kinds of Churches

There are three kinds of churches. Some churches pray when there is a crisis. Other churches have a prayer ministry among other ministries. Finally, there are churches that seek to bring prayer to the center of every ministry, to everything the church strives to do and be. They want to become a house of prayer for the nations.1

First, we can no longer pray only about our needs. Second, prayer can never be a program in the church. Further, prayer ministry cannot be a department among other departments. There cannot be a choice – if you sing, join our choir; if you teach, be a part of our Christian education program; if you love youth, work with our young people; and, oh yes, if you like to pray, we have a prayer ministry. Such an approach is doomed to failure. Our third choice is a model for prayer ministry that seeds prayer into every department of the church until there is a praying staff, with praying elders, and praying youth leaders, praying nursery workers and praying families. Everything we do must be bathed in prayer.2 The whole church and every believer must be called to prayer.

Every minister should know that if the prayer meetings are neglected, all his labors are in vain. Unless he can get Christians to attend prayer meetings, all else that he can do will not improve their state of spirituality.3

T. Forsyth offered an amazing insight,

But at last, it is truer to say that we live the Christian life in order to pray than that we pray in order to live the Christian life. It is at least as true. Our prayer prepares for our work and sacrifice, but all our work and sacrifice still more prepare for prayer.

Jesus not only said his house was to be a house of prayer. He said it was to be a house of prayer “for the nations” (Mark 11:17). This approach to prayer moves the church beyond itself to touch the world.

P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

1 P. Douglas Small, Transforming Your Church into A House of Prayer (Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press, 2006), 57-61.
2 Ibid, 64-68.
3 Charles Finney, “The Purpose of Public Prayer,” The Contemporaries Meet The Classics on Prayer, ed. Leonard Allen (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing, 2003), 206.

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A 300 year old church in Massachusetts faced a major challenge. Its ‘young people’ were in their ‘60’s. Their annual budget was $15,000. Most neighbors who passed the drab building with a drive-in congregation thought the church was closed. The neighborhood was now an Italian and Jewish enclave unlike the congregation of forty people with no Jews and one Italian. The church had no bridge to the community and no presence in its neighborhood. It was seen as having no value by the community, despite its rich heritage. It was on the verge of death.

A new pastor spruced up the church – a sign of life to the neighbors. Then he surveyed community needs attempting to determine a pathway for the church to serve the city. Of all the community needs, the one that seemed to fit what they could offer was a day-care for single, working moms. The goal was not a money-making enterprise, but a ministry, targeted to the children of the poor. The center opened with one teacher and two students. In a year, they were caring for thirty-seven children, and twenty-four of those were on government subsidies. Three children were assigned to the day-care by the courts, having been abused or neglected. By the end of the first year, the day-care budget was larger than that of the church. The staff was Christian, but all the kids came from non-Christian homes. Daily, they sang hymns and choruses. They heard Bible stories. They were taught moral principles, wrapped with love and grace. There was music, art, cooking, and medical services. It was ‘total’ child care, with parental interaction as well.

Day-care is not the most reasonable route to church growth, the pastor acknowledged, but it was the route God used to reconnect them to a missional purpose and begin to reconcile lost people to Christ. The pastor recalled, “One mother came into my office, and the first thing she said to me was, ‘Tell me more about Jesus. My daughter has never been the same since she started coming to your day-care center.’ That woman and her daughter are now in church every Sunday.” According to the pastor, “Nine Jews have become members of the church. One of them was formerly the director of the Jewish Community Center, and her daughter works for the day-care center.”

One thing is clear, the community no longer thinks the church is closed, and they have found other ways to serve their city. There is a food pantry and care for homeless street people. They have a weekly television show run by members. They teach English to city-residents. They were given a nine-room, six bedroom house to use as a refugee center. Hundreds have been served through that ministry.

A Cambodian church has now been launched. To reach youth, they opened a coffeehouse, and now the median age in the church has gone from the ‘60’s to the ‘30’s’. Home Bible studies, evangelistic in nature, have also served as a bridge. Some forty-five percent of new members came through the Bible Study door. They woke up the sleeping missional dimension in their congregational life,[1] and a dying church was revived. Revivals that focus on the renewal of its members are not revivals at all. Revivals must have a missional dimension. They must resurrect a collective burden for the lost. With a fresh missional consciousness, the congregation asked, “What can we do together to touch this city?” It must re-center members, not in a new experiential spectrum, but in the middle of compassionate ministry.

If your church closed its doors today, would anyone but its own members notice? Would the community be saddened because such a great community transformation partner was gone?

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1]       Robert Greenway and Timothy Monsma, 112-113.

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Concern for the City

The priests in the Old Testament were assigned, as were the Levites, to cities. They were required to live there. Priestly ministry was never confined exclusively to the temple. Priests were not to become other worldly. Ray Bakke, sociologist and missiologist, says that twenty-five types of urban ministry can be found in the historical books of the Old Testament, and they were carried on by the priests. They were agents of health care, there to eradicate plagues and to certify cleanliness for the good of all. They were charged with maintaining corporate conditions in the city that made life safe. They were charged with pastoral care. They looked after families. They were educators. Their ministry was no narrow ministry focused only on soul care.[1] Through the priests, prayer and care came together. Their walk with God and their daily interaction with people made them social change advocates and agents. They were in the community, walking the streets, not salt in a salt box!

The average church is completely unaware of the city-social environment around it. In fact, we disconnect the church from the city in stark ways. When Rusty Dotson pastored an inner city church in St. Louis, his facility was at the heart of the city-wide gay festival. Thousands passed by his empty and dark facility. The city was at his doorstep and the church was closed. He decided that if any such opportunity came again, the lights of the church would be on and the doors open. When the festival took place the next year, his church offered free food and drinks. They entered a float in the “gay pride parade.” They advertised themselves as the church “that would leave the light on for you.” As the float made its way through the animated crowd, church members waved and smiled. Three television stations were covering the parade and it was being syndicated across the nation as well. When Pastor Dotson’s float was in front of the reviewing stand and live on television the church van pulling the float caught on fire. The parade was halted. Parade officials were frustrated. There was little for the television anchors to do but talk about “the church that kept the lights on!” They had to ponder the question as to why an evangelical church would participate in a gay pride parade. The answer was both awkward and obvious. It was a message of God’s love and grace, a refusal to be excluded.

The harvest around us, passes our empty buildings. In one depressed and drug-infested section of Miami, intercessors discovered fourteen church buildings. Only two had any activity at all Monday through Saturday. One had an office open a few days a week to serve the needs of its members. The church had a base for ministry in a need saturated area, but it was unengaged. Most telling was the discovery that drug dealers preferred the parking lots and alcoves of the abandoned church buildings for drug deals. The absence of light gave place to the darkness.

Cities lead nations! They have a ‘prophetic’ quality about them. We see the city as bricks and mortar, asphalt and concrete pathways. In truth, every city is spiritually alive with a unique personality and purpose. The Biblical idea of ‘nation’ is not primarily a geographically bounded region, but a distinctive ‘people group – an ethnic and kinship network.’ We have not finished our obligation to heaven until we are praying for every tongue and tribe, every kinship group – then in love, making of them disciples.

  • This blog is an excerpt for the newly released The Praying Church Handbook – Volume IV – Intercessory Prayer and Mission. Purchase today>
  • PRODUCT SPECIAL: New release – The Great Exchange – Why Your Prayer Requests May Not Be Getting Answers – On Sale for  Limited Time for $9.99. Purchase today>
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1]       Ibid, 69.

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Becoming Missional

One urban pastor used the following procedure with new members. He asked, “How did you come to Christ?” It was not the church to which he wanted to connect them, as much as to Christ Himself. He wanted to hear their ‘Jesus’ story! He asked a second questions, “What were the circumstances that led to your faith in Christ?” He wanted them to think through the events that brought them to Christ – to see His guiding and pervasive hand in their lives. Third, he asked about their most enjoyable faith experiences through the years. The second and third questions were both calibrated toward mission. In the second, they often recalled personal pain and confusion before their decision to follow Christ. The pastor made the connection that such circumstances are common and often the gateway to faith. He made notes. He looked for opportunities to connect them to others with their own story. The third rehearsed meaningful faith and community experiences. Many recalled some outreach effort or community service involvement (social action, a mission trip, food drive, care of the homeless, etc.). Last, he would ask, “If you could wave a wand and create a future for this church, what would it look like?” With that, they solidified their commitment to the congregation’s future, and unlocked possibilities for the church in which they could be emotionally and spiritually invested.[1] This pastor kept encouraging them to act on their experiences, their abilities and dreams. “The greatest tragedy to befall a person is to have sight but lack vision,” (Helen Keller).[2]

Becoming missional means we move beyond from prayer for our narrow slice of pain to prayer for the harvest. We move beyond seeing the church as a place of nurture for us and our families and see it as a place of nurture and healing for the city – for all people in the city, Christians and non-Christians. We cease to see the church as a kind of religious social club that is exclusive to its members and their guests, and we see it as a missionary enterprise engaging the neighbors and the city, at every angle possible. We release the pastor to be a holy man of God, a missionary trainer and mobilizer. We give him as a gift to the city.

We move from being members, to missionaries – in whatever sector of the culture God has planted us. We cease to be a ‘come to’ church, and we again embrace a ‘go ye’ gospel. We shift our focus from the church, to the city. We become inclusive without compromise. We recalibrate our resources until our budget becomes a theological statement about our mission. Everything we do is bathed in prayer. Everything we do is with the lost and the mission in view. Everything we do at the church must be designed to touch the city and the world.

Worldwide, Christian churches spend more than 85 percent of their resources on themselves. Less than 15 percent goes to outreach, evangelism or mission causes. In U.S., 95 percent goes to home-based ministry, 4.5 percent to cross-cultural efforts in already-reached people groups, and only 0.5 percent to reach the unreached. American evangelicals could provide all of the funds needed to plant a church in each of the 6,400 people groups by specifically earmarking only 0.2 percent of their income. Praying and giving are to be partners in missions. Christians collectively have an annual income of $12.3 trillion. But only $213 billion is given to Christian causes, 1.73 percent of total income. Of that, only $11.4 billion goes to foreign missionary causes. Of that money, 87 percent goes to sustain work among those who have already become Christians. Only 1 percent goes for work among an unreached people group, the utterly unevangelized.

The church has all the resources necessary to reach the unreached peoples of the earth, in fact, it has over 100 times those resources necessary to plant native churches among these people groups. It simply does not have the resolve. Leonard Ravenhill claimed that Christians spend more money on dog food than missions. Ravenhill declared:

Today the church in the city must proclaim and live the whole gospel. It cannot consign concern for everyday human needs to government and expect to be relevant to people. It must provide for the care and nurture of its members, help feed the poor, heal the sick, counsel the distraught, care for the widows and orphans, and preach the Word with boldness. It must avoid the dichotomy that separates evangelism from social ministries and see both as ways to bear witness to the transforming power of the gospel.[3]

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

  • This blog is an excerpt for the newly released The Praying Church Handbook – Volume IV – Intercessory Prayer and Mission. Purchase today>
  • PRODUCT SPECIAL: New release – The Great Exchange – Why Your Prayer Requests May Not Be Getting Answers – On Sale for  Limited Time for $9.99. Purchase today>
  • Give a donation to PROJECT PRAY>

P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1]       Bakke, 88-89.

[2]       DeAnn Sampley, A Guide to Deaf Ministry: Let’s Sign Worthy of the Lord (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1989, 1990), 52.

[3]       Paul Hiebert and Eloise Hiebert Meneses, Incarnational Ministry Planting Churches in Band, Tribal, Peasant, and Urban Societies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), 346.

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What are the barriers to our fulfillment of the Great Commission?

  1. A lack of organized prayer for the city.
  2. The absence of congregational missional training.
  3. The lack of vision or a burden for the lost.
  4. The rural mentality, even of city churches.
  5. The failure to steward witnessing opportunities – an almost total lack of evangelism consciousness.
  6. The disconnect of Christians from non-Christians – the insulation of believers into comfortable holy huddles.
  7. A lack of unity and collaboration between congregations. Independence. Self-serving activities.
  8. The intoxication of busyness.
  9. The generational gap and the aging church.
  10. Buildings that are unappealing or not designed for outreach.[1]

There are two cultural obstacles, both of which are deadly. There is growing cultural resistance to evangelism from the outside. Faith as it is permitted in the public square is being redefined. There is a decided shift to pluralism. America, like Israel before us, is rejecting Yahweh! The second barrier is not “the destruction of religion [but]…it is the transformation of religion from a ‘single-faceted religious meaning system, to a multi-faceted religious meaning system’.”[2] These national shifts to pluralism as a cultural norm are alarming, but they should not paralyze us. Our God performs quite well in contests with idols.

The greater barrier is our own resistance to change, a “take us as we are” posture, self-justifications for not reaching outward to those we now classify as “unreachable!” The harvest we must reap is the most unusual we have ever faced. They do not know the Bible stories or easily believe the principles. They may challenge the Bible itself. They have shed traditional values. Their mentors, from the ‘60’s, created a culture of experimentation and rebellion – a dynamic that needs redemption and redirection, but not death. This is the age for experimentation and cultural confrontation. Sadly, this generation sees the church as unhelpful to their personal needs and at cross purposes with their personal desires: “What could the church do to help me with my alcoholism? Or my addiction? Or my anger?” Seventy percent of those who express faith will relapse at least once following their initial commitment to Christ. They will require great patience and sacrificial discipling. Few will have an existing faith support system to sustain and encourage them. Further, they struggle with the reality that they do not fit into the traditional church and do not want to conform to the current membership profile. They long for religious experiences that do not have the trappings of “traditional church.” Many are not sure they want to be a member of “the church” as it is or as they perceive it. Do we have the resolve to reach such a harvest?

Malcom Muggeridge once charged, “one of the most effective defensive systems against God’s incursions has hitherto been organized religion.” He called the church “a refuge for fugitives from God” whose voice was drowned in religious noise, whose purpose was confused and obscured in the maze of creeds and dogmas. In the church, he charged, “one could get away from God.”[3] George Barna charges, “recent decades have seen the impact of the Church wane to almost nothing.”[4]

Most Christians will say that they want their church to grow and to see new people come to Christ, but is saying, “We want our church to grow!” the same as saying, “We want to reach the unreached!”? Growing our church by finding ‘Christianized people’ who are basically like us is not the solution for a national revival that brings cultural transformation. We must open the church to those who are unlike us. To reach the unreached, the church must become seeker-sensitive and simultaneously Spirit-led. We must be seeker-friendly and Christ-exalting. We must be anchored by holy values, and such a tether, become seeker-driven and plunge ourselves into the culture, concerned about the lost.

We have not learned to separate convictions from compassion. Biblical love will never violate Biblical truth – but the arm of love is longer than the arm of truth. Love is unconditional. It is blind and accepting of all. This harvest is filled with people whose behavioral profile is inconsistent with a church that emphasizes holiness of heart and purity of life. We must never let love muzzle truth. Conversely, we must never let truth bind love. Agape reaches to the lost, but only by truth are they set free and liberated. If we allow truth to lead, we may love conditionally. If we love wildly and freely, truth will follow. Love needs to lead truth.

The greatest resistance to revival and renewal is in the church. Do we have the courage to change?

Share your thoughts a comment below>

  • This blog is an excerpt for the newly released The Praying Church Handbook – Volume IV – Intercessory Prayer and Mission. Purchase today>
  • PRODUCT SPECIAL: New release – The Great Exchange – Why Your Prayer Requests May Not Be Getting Answers – On Sale for  Limited Time for $9.99. Purchase today>
  • Give a donation to PROJECT PRAY>

P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1]       Ray Bakke and Jon Sharpe, Street Signs – A New Directions for Urban Ministry (Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2006), 140.

[2]       Ron Dempsey (Faith Outside the Walls).

[3]       George Otis, God’s Trademarks (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books/Chosen Books, 2000), 32.

[4]       George Barna and Mark Hatch, Boiling Point (Ventura: Revell, 2001), 311.

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The Case for Corporate Prayer - Part 1

In a culture where the individual is everything, a congregational prayer meeting is perceived simply, as a lot of individuals in the same room praying. Sadly, we are blind to the critical importance of corporate prayer. We fail to see the difference between the individual’s right and privilege of prayer, not to diminish its value or power, and corporate prayer, from the office of the church.

Eugene Peterson lamented,

The single most widespread American misunderstanding of prayer is that it is private. Strictly and biblically speaking, there is no private prayer. Private in its root meaning refers to theft. It is stealing. When we privatize prayer we embezzle the common currency that belongs to all. When we engage in prayer without any desire for or awareness of the comprehensive, inclusive life of the kingdom that is ‘at hand’ in both space and time, we impoverish the social reality that God is bringing to completion.[1]

Peterson concedes that prayer involves the individual, but he asserts,

…it never begins with the individual and it never ends with the individual. We are born into community, we are sustained in community; our words and actions, our being and becoming, either diminish or enhance the community, just as the community either diminishes or enhances us.[2]

In the gospels, we find the model of individual prayer – Jesus, portrayed in prayer, constantly. In the early hours of the day and late at night. Before and after ministry events. Prayer marks His life. He ministers out of these private times of prayer, after being alone with His Father. This is the premier model – Jesus, a man, living in and out of divine collaboration, a God-man partnership, a heaven-earth tandem; a man tuned to heaven who speaks and acts out heaven’s word and will.

In Acts, we meet the church gathered in prayer, corporate prayer. Though there are moments of individual prayer – that is, the personal prayer life of the believer never goes away – the corporate prayer expressions dominate. Corporate prayer provides another dimension. Here is the church gathered, many members, one body with Christ, the Head, now in heaven. This heaven-earth tandem is corporate. It is the reformation of the Old Testament tabernacle community; people who lived under the fire and moved following the cloud. Who camped around the ‘Presence’ of God.

In ancient times, the church sponsored daily corporate prayer called Lauds (Morning Prayer) and Vespers (Evening Prayer). When people lived in small villages with the church at the center of the town, daily corporate prayer gatherings drew the villagers inside for moments to consider God in the midst of their daily lives. These two go together. They complement each the other. Neither is complete without the other; the personal and the corporate. This individual intimacy with God and corporate humility and unity is prayer with the goal of personal transformation and the collective prayer of a people who by such prayerful assemblies, declare their deep dependence on God as His visible community.  Through prayer, we are a part of His body on the earth, carrying on His business, engaging in kingdom transactions in His behalf. You can never have a praying church without praying people; and you will never have a prayerless church with praying people.

Scotland pastor, William Still (1911-1997) asserted that the church-wide prayer gathering should be “the tip of the iceberg.”[3] Prayer should be pervasive throughout the life of the church. Without a church-wide prayer meeting, however, the so-called tip of the iceberg, one can almost certainly guarantee that there is little prayer throughout the various organizational layers and operations of the church – a house of prayer.

  • This blog is an excerpt for The Praying Church Handbook – Volume III – The Pastor and the Congregation.
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.



[1]       Eugene Peterson, Earth and Altar, 15-16.

[2]       Ibid, 22.

[3]       Philip Graham Ryken, When You Pray: Making the Lord’s Prayer Your Own (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, 2000), 15.

 

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A Look at the Task

9651027488?profile=originalThere are two billion people who call themselves Christians. Of those, only 680 million (11.5 percent) are Evangelicals or Bible reading Christians. Our task is to wake up 1.3 billion sleeping Christians and simultaneously reach the other 4.5 billion people on the earth. Those billions live in 200 nations, but more importantly, in 16,597 Major People Groups. According to data from the Joshua Project, 6,916 of those People Groups, some 1.8 billion, are still virtually unreached.[1]

Of the 430,000 missionaries from all branches of Christendom, less than 3 percent work among unreached peoples.[2] Seventy-four percent of all missionaries work among Nominal Christians. Only three percent work among Buddhists, eight percent among Tribal Peoples, two percent among Hindus, six percent among Muslims, two percent among Chinese Folk Religions, four percent among non-religious/atheists and one percent among Jewish Peoples. Fifty-thousand unreached people die daily without having heard the Gospel – that is about twenty-six million a year, more than 2000 every hour. Oswald J. Smith would lament, “We talk of the second coming, half the world has never heard of the first.”[3]

Take a world tour with me.[4] If the whole world were a village of 100: 61 would be Asians, 13 Africans, 12 Europeans, 8 from Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean, 5 from the USA and Canada, and 1 person would be from Australia or New Zealand. If the whole world were a village of 100 people, 14 people would speak Mandarin, 8 people would speak Hindi/Urdu, 8 English, 7 Spanish, 4 Russian, and 4 Arabic. If the whole world were a village of 100 people, 33 would be Christians, 22 Moslems, 15 Hindus, 14 non-religious, agnostics or atheists, 6 Buddhists, and 10 from all the other religions.

If the whole world were a village of 100, 80 would live in substandard housing or on the streets of the village, half of them illiterate, 50 would suffer from malnutrition, 33 would not have access to clean, safe drinking water, 24 people would not have any electricity (Of those with electricity, the vast majority would use it only for light at night). If the whole world were a village of 100, there would be 42 radios, 24 televisions, 14 telephones, and 7 computers, but they would not be equally distributed. Only 7 would own an automobile. Five people would possess 32 percent of the entire village’s wealth, all from North America. The poorest one-third would receive only 3 percent of the total income of the village.

If you woke up this morning healthy, be grateful. One million will not survive the week due to some disease for which they have no funds for medical care. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the gnawing pain of starvation, you are better off than 500 million people who are living in a war zone, under a dictatorship, in oppression, or in deprivation. If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead, a place to sleep tonight, you are among the top 75 percent of people on the planet in terms of comfort. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in your pocket, you are among the top 8 percent of the worlds’ wealthy. If you can read this, consider yourself blessed. Two billion people in the world have never been taught to read at all.[5]

This is the task at hand. Let us pray with a missional focus – click to learn some ways to do this. Adopt an Unreached People Group. Pray for National Prayer Leader and Career Missionaries. We can do our part.

  • This blog is an excerpt for the newly released The Praying Church Handbook – Volume IV – Intercessory Prayer and Mission.
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1]       www.joshuaproject.net.

[2]       www.aboutmissions.org/statistics.html.

[3]       www.lausanneworldpulse.com/research.php/856.

[4]       David Julian Smith, If The World Were A Village: A Book About The World’s People (Kids Can Press, 2002).

[5]       The are adapted from data by David B. Barrett and Todd M Johnson of the Global Evangelization Movement website. Other portions come from Patrick Johnstone’s The Church is Bigger Than You Think, Bill and Amy Stearns’ Catch the Vision 2000, and the course materials for Vision for the Nations published by the U.S. Center for World Mission.

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Kneel and Receive this Christmas

There are probably few images more evocative than the manger – that of the shepherds and the Wise Men kneeling before the babe, Christ Jesus. We know that it is unlikely that the two groups were there at the same time, and also, the Biblical record doesn’t include the angels that we place around the primitive scene, but we sense that in that moment kings and common men, indeed, heaven and earth were drawn together. It is a kind of cosmic, but simple image. God has come – in innocence. And men, yes, and angels, even the stars, have declared his coming.

We are drawn to this image. The manger scene never grows old. We buy them and place them on our mantles, in our yards – large and small ones. It is the story of hope. Of God, who has come to earth. Of the possibility of peace. Children and seniors are both moved by it. The poor and the powerful.

All of us want to kneel around the manger – to touch the child. To hold the hope. To sing with the angels. To believe, that with this child, the world will be a better place. Psalm 95:6 issues the call, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” This is the call of heaven to the entire earth – to kneel, to bow down, and to receive the blessing from our Creator and Redeemer. Bowing, kneeling is a sacred matter.

There are cameo moments in Scripture where some godly man knelt and history pivoted. Abraham, on seeing the three angels, one of them, the Angel of Yahweh, “… ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground” (Gen. 18:2). This was a life-changing moment for him and arguably, for the world – the barrenness was broken. Sarah would now have the long-awaited child, ‘Laughter,’ known to us as Isaac.

Men have, throughout history, bowed before the throne of God. In the incarnation, God came to earth, and men bowed before him (Jesus) – and out of him flowed blessing.

The etymological root of the word bless in the Old Testament is – to kneel! The implications of the idea are explosive. To kneel is to position oneself for blessing from God. It is a declaration of dependence. It is an act of humility. It is the tranquility of stillness – how can we move about on our knees? It is the lowering of self. It is coming beneath the shadow of God. It anticipates God above, hovering, touching, giving life, brooding, anointing, imparting – blessing! It the opposite of arrogance, of self-sufficiency, of proudly standing by one’s own strength. It is the end of pride. In the Hebrew mind, the knees were an indication of strength and therefore, to bend a knee, was to subordinate strength to God. Prayer, kneeling, is learning to lean into His strength. To kneel is to seek the blessing of God. It anticipates a positive response. It expects the gift of grace. It awaits a sense of His loving presence. It looks forward to what God might say or do!

At this Christmas season – take time to kneel before the Lord!

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Fixing Our Location on the Journey

Almost everyone has used an automobile GPS navigation system. We turn it on. It finds our location on the face of the earth within a few feet. It identifies the street we are on and the direction in which our vehicle is headed. We input a destination – even points along some route. We set additional perimeters – fast route, scenic route and more. And then the journey begins. The GPS barks out the commands – turn right, turn left. Keep to the right. Move to the left. Merge onto this road or that! It even warns about traffic snarls and advises about detours. And when we take a wrong turn, it incessantly commands, “When possible, make a legal U-turn!” Listen, and you will be steered back on track. Turn it off or ignore its advice, and you could end up off your course, adding hours to your journey. Maybe lost!

During this Christmas season, we remember God’s version of a GPS, the star that led the shepherds to the Savior!

The Holy Spirit, in the life of a sincere, Spirit-filled believer, is a bit like that GPS system. Connected to heaven itself by the Spirit with a conscience programmed by the Holy Scripture, the Spirit serves to keep us on the right road. Mistakes, missed turns, wrong decisions, all demand adjustments. We have to turn – which is the essence of repentance - to repent. You cannot expect to reach your destination, heaven, if you don’t follow the instructions! And as in any journey, turning is not a one-time event. We are constantly turning. Repenting. Recalibrating. Grace compensates for our errors, our misdirection. But grace was never meant to cover wild excursions that paid little or no attention to God’s righteous plan for our lives.

Let us pray this Christmas season: Lord, your word is like a GPS system. How encouraging that you track our path, that you know the twists and turns ahead of us. You know where we are now – and what is ahead of us for 2017. You know the detours we will need to take. We take courage from such knowledge. Amen.

P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

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Are You Thankful for Prayer?

The majority of the world lives without the hope offered by Christ. The open door to God’s throne is a unique post-resurrection-ascension-enthronement Christian notion and unique privilege. That we can pray, pour out our souls to a God who cares, is an incredible privilege. That we get answers from God is beyond incredible. Sadly, prayer is now seen as passé. It is the most under-utilized privilege afforded believers. The average American Christian prays only four minutes a day. God leaves his door open and invites us to visit and bring our troubles, doing so with gratitude in view of his previous grants. When heaven answers our prayer, we should not be silent about such a benevolent God.

Calling God

In the movie Bruce Almighty, a seven-digit number that flashed on Jim Carrey’s display was purportedly God calling. Usually, carefully chosen non-functioning numbers are used in movies. In that movie, the number displayed was a functioning number, at least, when paired with some area codes. A phenomenon followed the airing of the movie across the nation. People added an area code and started calling the number – presumably calling “God!” Those who received the calls “to God” quickly caught on. Many played along. Some found desperate callers on the other end of the line.

A call to a Colorado Network was from a woman behind bars. Only reaching an answering machine did not deter her from leaving a poignant message, “I’m in jail right now. Like I said to you last night, ‘I love you.’” She assured God she was going to change the way she was living and requested His help to return to her family. One person called the number and admitted that they knew this wasn’t the number for God, but wondered if there was another! One medical supervisor, whose seven-digit number matched that shown on the screen was getting as many as 40-50 calls a day shortly after the movie aired. People want to talk to God.[1]

God’s Invitation – “Call Me!”

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who witnessed the demise of Judah, the destruction of the Temple, and the exile of his Jewish brothers, never lost faith in the power of prayer. “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3, NIV). An unknown poet wrote, “When God inclines the heart to pray, He hath an ear to hear; To Him there’s music in a groan, and beauty in a tear.”[2] The desire to pray itself is evidence of God’s work in the heart. It is by grace that we pray.

A Gallup poll some years ago revealed surprising facts about prayer. Some 88 percent of Americans pray to God in one way or another, but only 42 percent dared ask God for material or tangible things – a surprisingly low number. And only 15 percent said they regularly experienced answers to specific requests.[3] God says, “Call me sometime!”

God’s Compassionate Nature

“In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction” Isaiah declared (Isaiah 38:17). The psalmist recalled, “O LORD, You brought me up from the grave. You called me back to life from among those who had gone into the pit” (Psalm 30:3, GWT).We rejoice first that there is a God. Then we are grateful He hears us when we pray, and He cares about us as a loving Father. Prayer is about the relationship, before it is about the benefits.

Just the privilege of prayer is worthy of joy and gratefulness. We rejoice, confident that there is someone on the other end of the line. To withhold our gratitude unless God performs to our expectations indicates the degree to which pride controls our lives. He is God, we are the servants. Prayer is no magic lantern to be rubbed and God is no genie who is there to blindly grant our wishes. That is a pagan idea of prayer! The idea of a compassionate God who hears us weeping in the night and cares is matchless among the religions of the world. And it is distinctively a Christian-Jewish notion.

THIS BLOG IS AN EXCERPT FROM The Great Exchange – Why Your Prayer Requests May Not Be Getting Answers, a new book by P. Douglas Small to be released soon.

P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1] Mike MacIntosh. Falling in Love with Prayer (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor Books, 2004), 27.

[2] John Julian, editor; A Dictionary of Hymnology: Setting Forth the Origin and History of Christian Hymns; “When God Inclines the Heart to Pray,” (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1892), 907; From Spurgeon’s O. O. H. Bk, 1866.

[3] Margaret Poloma and George Gallup, Jr., Varieties of Prayer (Philadelphia, PA: Trinity Press International, 1991), 26-52.

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9651026857?profile=original

Every congregation needs three essential gatherings – one for worship, one for teaching and training (discipleship), and one in which the congregation meets God in corporate prayer. These are not exclusive one of the other. As the church gathers for prayer, there should be at the heart of the meeting, a worshipful disposition. The corporate worship experience should be structured to include significant congregational prayer moments. Yet neither, the church gathered to worship and hear the Word nor the church gathered to pray the Word, can replace the other. The act of praying together is itself a form of discipleship. We learn to pray by praying.

The discipleship-training-teaching effort of the church should include a prayer training component, in which, a deeper

understating of prayer is cultivated, and again, neither can replace the other. The central spiritual discipline that enlightens us is prayer – over an open Bible. Without prayer, discipleship fails. Since, without the discipline of daily time with God, as well as regular moments in which the congregation pauses to meet with God corporately, we testify to independence and self-sufficiency, the opposite of the spirit of one under discipline.

A fundamental characteristic of healthy worship is its vertical orientation. It is not the singing or preaching that inspires us, not the horizontal. Rather, it is edification (horizontal), insistently, in the context of glorifying God (vertical). Our chorus and syrupy brotherly love moments, our best inspiration praise music and positive preaching, will not sustain us. What is demanded is an encounter with the Presence, with God. That necessitates corporate interaction with God, our talking to God, doing it together, and that is corporate prayer.

Sadly, too little prayer occurs in our corporate worship. Even when we sing prayer songs, we recite the lyrics, but do not pray them. We are in church, unconscious of God’s Presence. Essentially ignoring Him – with Him in the room. Talking to one another about Him – but not to Him.

The element of prayer in worship has almost been lost – prayer is a quick opening to say to the people, “We are beginning the service!” And it is a closing exercise, a moment in which many race for the door to be the first out of the parking lot, and in which the pastor positions himself at the door for congratulatory handshakes about the morning message. The benediction, which should be the high point in worship, that moment in which God’s blessing is pronounced on the people, is disappearing.

In smaller congregations, where prayer request times have survived, a collage of needs are cast heavenward with such casualness that the experience testifies to our waning faith in prayer. That too, is the time when staging shifts occur. Prayer is ancillary to worship, almost irrelevant, certainly the stepchild of corporate worship. If prayer is not practiced when the people of God gather for worship, by that omission, we declare its value as insignificant. We assume God’s grace. We transform worship into clubs of sincere people gathered to inspire one another – and that is less than true worship. The congregation needs to hear the pastor, not only talking to them, but also talking to God in their behalf,

modeling Biblical prayer, functioning in his primary role as shepherd-watchman-intercessor. And the congregation needs to be led in corporate prayer.

It is estimated that 90 percent of the people attending some religious events, even church services, are passive observers.[1] The church has been a spectator event. We are sung to, prayed for, and preached

at. The church is thought to exist for the inspiration it offers, the services it provides, the bang for the buck – not so. The church does not exist for itself, for its members, but for the Lord, and because of His loving nature, for the world around us. Contrary to popular thought, worship is not ‘for what we receive from the experience’ but for what God receives. Narcissistic self-interested worship is a form of idolatry; it is self-worship, thinly disguised. And it is self-deception. The new reformation, someone has said, is ‘do whatever works.’ Pragmatism. In our attempt to be contemporary, and to reach a post-Christian culture, we are in danger of becoming ourselves post-Christian. Of losing the faith. To make it all about the person, the sinner, whose major problem is self-centered life, only reinforces the sin. It is the radical opposite that is needed – repentance, a cross, humility, the death of sin and self.

  • This blog is part of The Praying Church Handbook – Volume III – Pastor and the Congregation which can be purchased at alivepublications.org>

[1]       Mike Erre, Death by Church (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009), 39.

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Four Prayer Streams

9651026491?profile=originalThere are four prayer streams in the life of the people of God that are critical.

  1. The congregation gathered in and for prayer. Not preaching. Not teaching or training, but in prayer.
  2. Smaller prayer groups. Not the entire congregation gathered, but slices of church life gathered for prayer. For example, at the heart of every ministry and group in the congregation, there should be a developing prayer culture. To isolate prayer by framing it as ‘prayer ministry’ and placing it there; having youth and children, men and women, singles and seniors, a dozen other ministries here, all undergirded by the prayer ministry there – is fatal error. To assign prayer to a few, even a significant but detached team is to attempt to use prayer as a kind of engine for church ministries, and yet, separate from them. That makes prayer pragmatic, utilitarian, and that is a flawed equation. Every ministry, to be New Testament, is to be humbly dependent on God in prayer. At their heart, must be a culture of God’s Presence, of holiness and humility and that necessitates prayer. The goal is to press prayer into the seams of congregational life. If church activities and ministries are to be animated by the breath of God, they must be praying ministries – the Spirit is breath and prayer is breathing.
  3. The family altar. Currently, only 5 to 8 percent of Christian homes have anything resembling a family altar. That must change. If prayer is foreign to daily life, we declare to ourselves and our children, that we have learned to live without family gatherings in which God is at the center of our lives and activities, our daily relationships, in a formal and openly affirming manner. God must not be ignored. Our children, having learned from us to live without engaging God in an intentional manner six days a week, soon forego the seventh – not continuing church attendance as adults. Tozer bluntly declared, “If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him on one day a week.”[1]
  4. Personal prayer. Daily prayer. Relentless praying. John and Charles Wesley, when traveling together, had the habit of rising early to spend time with God, and then meeting together, often for an hour or more, before they began their day. Spurgeon would rise early for personal prayer, and then gather his family for prayer before they met the day.

Without personal prayer, without family altars, without small groups in which we are all active in prayer, the corporate prayer gathering lacks the roots that cause it to flourish. Yet, without the corporate prayer meeting, that models prayer, that offers teaching prayer experiences that become templates for personal, family and small group praying, the other corollary elements don’t develop. Each feeds the other, and none can replace another. They are interdependent. The most conspicuous of the four is the corporate prayer meeting, the congregation gathered for prayer. Without these, church is a ceremony, not a celebration of lives lived out God’s Presence.

Welsh pastor, Geoffrey Thomas, asserted, “There is no way that those who neglect secret worship can know communion with God in the public services of the Lord’s Day!”[2] D. A. Carson notes, “The person who prays more in public reveals that he is less interested in God’s approval than in human praise. Not piety but a reputation for piety is his concern.”[3]

We are not to go to church to worship, but to go worshipping – out of a life of worship. The form of corporate worship feeds the informal – confession, praise, offering, preaching, prayer, the reading of the Scriptures, repenting, professing, singing, sharing, the bread and the cup, baptism, the blessing. All these feed the personal, informal daily prayer times; and they in turn, feed the public.

  • This blog is part of The Praying Church Handbook – Volume III – Pastor and the Congregation which can be purchased at alivepublications.org>

 

[1]       Tozer.

[2]       Geoffrey Thomas, “Worship in Spirit,” The Banner of Truth, August-September, 1987, p. 8.

[3]       D. A. Carson, Matthew, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 volumes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 8:165.

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Be Still

9651026257?profile=originalBe still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth (Psa. 46:10).

Solitude is the creation of holy space and time for God, but it is not stillness; that is an inner condition. In Psalm 46:10, the word for still in Hebrew is raphah (raw-faw’). It means to sink, to relax by necessity as it were, to fall or hang limp. The short definition is to fail. To sag. It is the idea of coming to the end of oneself. In one passage it is translated to become helpless.

As O. Hallesby reminds us, “Prayer and helplessness are inseparable.”[1] Other meanings are: to cease, to collapse, to be discouraged, even to drop, emotionally and physically. It can also mean to let one be alone, to leave one alone. Overall, it is the idea of stillness and solitude, of waiting out of necessity, at times, lifelessly.

We have interpreted the passage optimistically, “Be still, and know…” But the mood of the word, still, is not one of optimism, but desperation. In such stillness, God promises that we can know that He is God. Know is that familiar word, yada (yaw-dah’), which means to know – as in “Adam knew Eve.” It is beyond head awareness. It is the idea of experiential knowing. Know that I will be exalted among the nations, in the whole of the earth. Know it. Know who ‘I am’. Know me. ‘I am God,’ inviting you to know!

Pascal argued that we are afraid to slow down, lest our fears assail us and confront us with inner misery. The only other option is to continue the frantic, breakneck speed, to live in the numbing noise, to keep the adrenaline rush on so that we avoid the pain.[2] In the world, we are offered a buffet of narcotics for the soul. Baptized in television and movies, games and events of this kind or the other, we engage in what Gary Thomas calls “a quiet, sleepless death in which we kill our souls by letting time race by.”[3]

Thomas continues that being “…drugged by diversions [we] cannot expect to enter the quiet without a struggle.” Addictions are only broken with withdrawal.

For the ancients, there were four markers toward inner quiet.

  1. First, the heart had to be captivated. This is a matter of love, but not merely superficial emotion. Rather, profound love that tethers, that leads to singularity of heart and will.
  2. Second, a bridled tongue, thus, not only stillness, but the capacity for silence.
  3. Third, a limited curiosity, a narrowed focus that is capable of filtering out the peripheral, the things that distract.
  4. Fourth, they learned after losing themselves in God in the early hours of a day to reemerge slowly, to carry the air of the encounter with God into the day.[4]

In stillness, we notice. At the end of ourselves, we find God. Depleted of options, God becomes our only hope.

  • Learn more about Creating Your Own Personal Prayer Closet with Doug’s new book The Prayer Closet>

  • This blog is part of The Praying Church Handbook – Volume III – Pastor and the Congregation which can be purchased at alivepublications.org>

[1]       O. Hallesby, Prayer (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press, 1931), 17.

[2]       Gary Thomas, Seeking the Face of God (Harvest House: Eugene, OR; 1999), 105.

[3]       Ibid, 107.

[4]       Ibid, 109.

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Praying Your Way to Silence - Part 2

9651027453?profile=originalAs we move through life, we flow with predictable patterns of interaction with others. Sadly, so often the emotions, the cognitive content exchanged, the decisions and the delights of the world with which we interact are not in unity with God. On the contrary, they are adverse to Him. Consciously, sometimes unconsciously, we are pressured to compromise ideals, exposed to language and lines of thought contradictory to God’s principles. The drive, the things that delight those around us, is diametrically opposed to heaven’s will for healthy and godly people, not to mention our families. Yet, we are forced to swim in this stream called the world! A world at enmity with God. We cannot escape it. We cannot leave it and flee to the desert. We must be in it, but not of it.

The way we differentiate ourselves, break from its mad rhythms and noises, recalibrate our values, is solitude. Prayer is a protest against the world as it is. It is a declaration to God that we do not want to be a part of this world, that we want the power to live above its grip, and yet to influence it in some profound way. The inability to pray, to tolerate the stillness and silence, is an indication of the degree to which we have become addicted to the world.

“Nothing but solitude can allow the development of a freedom from the ingrained behaviors that hinder our integration into God’s order.”[1] Jesus urged, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father” (Mt. 6:6). The word for room in Greek is tameion, referring to a small inner closet. It was probably a storeroom, a kind of pantry, typically the only room in a first century home with a door.[2]

John Paton (1824-1907) was a legendary Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides in the 1800s, that great missionary century. Paton’s father was common laborer. The small cottage in which John grew as a boy was ordinary. Nonetheless, in it was an extraordinary place – a small private space consecrated by his father for private prayer. Paton remembered it well.

The closet was a very small apartment…having room only for a bed, a little table, and a chair, with a diminutive window shedding diminutive light on the scene. This was the sanctuary of that cottage home. There daily, and many times a day, generally after each meal, we saw our father retire, and shut the door; and we children got to understand, by a sort of spiritual instinct (for the thing too sacred to be talked about), the prayers that were being poured out there for us, as of old by the High Priest within the veil in the Most Holy Place. We occasionally heard the pathetic echoes of a trembling voice, pleading as for life, and we learned to slip out and in past that door on tip-toe, not to disturb the holy charge. The outside world might not know, but we knew, whence came that happy light, as of a new-born smile, that always was dawning on my father’s face: it was a reflection from the Divine Presence, in the consciousness of which he lived.[3]

Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in the third century noted,

In his teaching the Lord has bidden us to pray in secret – in hidden and remote places, in our very bedchambers – which is best suited to faith, that we may know that God is everywhere present, and hears and sees all, and in the plentitude of His majesty penetrates even into hidden and secret places.[4]

Andrew Murray reminds us,

The Father is in secret…He is waiting for us, where He is always to be found. Christians often complain that private prayer is not what it should be. They feel weak and sinful, the heart is cold and dark; it is as if they have so little to pray, and in that little no faith or joy. They are discouraged and kept from prayer by the thought that they cannot come to the Father as they ought or as they wish. Child of God!…when you go to private prayer your first thought must be: The father is in secret, the Father waits for me there…[5]

Quiet. Solitude. Time alone with God – it is irreplaceable.

  • Learn more about Creating Your Own Personal Prayer Closet with Doug’s new book The Prayer Closet>

  • This blog is part of The Praying Church Handbook – Volume III – Pastor and the Congregation which can be purchased at alivepublications.org>

[1]       Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ; quoted by Calvin Miller, The Vanishing Evangelical, 160.

[2]       Philip Graham Ryken, When You Pray: Making the Lord’s Prayer Your Own (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, 2000), 17.

[3]       John Paton, ed. John G. Paton, DD, Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography, 2 volumes (London, 1889), 1:10-11.

[4]       Cyprian, “Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer,” Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian, Appendix, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 Volumes (Christian Literature, 1886; Reprinted: Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 5:447-457, 448.

[5]       Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer (Westwood, NJ: Fleming Revell, 1953), 30.

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Praying Your Way to Silence - Part 1

9651024298?profile=originalBlaise Pascal observed, “All of man’s troubles stem from his inability to sit quietly alone in a room.”[1] Prayer demands solitude times, and perhaps seasons, in which we shut out the world and seek only God. At such times, God is our exclusive concern; we are closed to everything else. This may demand, from time to time, getting away, breaking from our world and its rhythm and demands. It certainly demands private space, uninterrupted time, the absence of distractions, and the developed capacity for stillness. Ravenhill charged that the antidote to burnout, the missing ingredient that insured against an inner collapse of spiritual vigor and vitality was “spending time alone with God consistently.”[2] He said, “…men won’t get alone because we are afraid of loneliness. We can’t take it. But if you don’t know how to get alone with God, you won’t know God deeper.”[3]

The partner to solitude is silence. These two – solitude and silence – are sadly foreign to Western culture. Monastic life seems bizarre to us. Even extended retreats for prayer are outside the range of our appetites. We pray on the run, in the car, with the radio blasting away, and the noises of rush hour in our ears. We pray jogging, as we listen to our favorite music. Praying and multi-tasking. We have no idea the cost, the toll, of such a low commitment to space and time for God on our lives. In addition, we fail to see that the noise and rat race pace are, in fact, characteristics of our worldly age. These are not godly values; they are worldly values.

Moreover, a part of our addiction to the world, our condition of worldliness, is manifest in our inability to be free of the world’s pace and noise. Our failure to pull away is the measure of the degree of our addiction. Just the exercise of struggling to pray, struggling to focus in prayer, is a kind of wrestling free of the cobwebs of worldly entanglement. That itself is a form of prayer, a plea to God, to make the world on top of this world as real, no, more real, than the world in which we live.

The monastics were champions of solitude, and despite the extremes of the movement, there are valuable take-aways. The monastics sought humility in the full acceptance of God’s hidden action in weakness and the ordinariness, even the unsatisfactory elements, of their everyday lives. This was not a passive acceptance of incompleteness, but a resignation from the world’s methods in order that in quiet, God might complete us in His own way. It was the joy of emptiness, simplicity, the rest of not striving in the strength of the flesh, the recognition that what was longed for could only be filled by God.[4] It is exactly the opposite of the flash and pizzazz of Western Christianity.

Solitude, it is observed, actually frees us. It is liberating – because it leaves us alone, with no one, dependent on no one but God. Human interactions take place along a continuum of anticipated action-reaction patterns that include the emotional, cognitive and volitional. We live in a social sea, connected to good and bad, positive and negative influences. Sadly, in our society, these interactive patterns are not typically informed by or reflective of Christian values. This is the reality of being in the world, and attempting not to be of the world. Solitude is our break with these patterns. It is an act of gracious defiance.

In solitude, alone with God, over an open Bible, in prayer, we perceive God’s design for behavior, for Christ-like thinking and feeling. Here we have a chance to receive the strength necessary to develop the character needed to make our break from the world, to bring our lives, by grace, under the liberating lordship of Jesus Christ.[5] Jonathan Edwards would say of Sarah, his wife, and her longing for solitude with God, “She loves to be alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.”[6]

You have not prayed well until you have prayed your way to silence; and you cannot pray well until you have silence in the center of your soul. Much of our praying is only making noise at the noises in our inner heart. It is in vain. You cannot scream your fears and anxieties away. Only the Presence of God, with a clear definitive sense of His love, brings the peace of God. Initially, words are critical to prayer. By them, we empty the cargo of our soul. They are the vessels upon which we load our emotions, our toxic waste, the residue of our temptations and trials, and lay them at the foot of the cross. But then, the best praying is on the other side of words when, if we had more words, they would not matter. This is the moment that something deep in us touches something deep in God, and we know that we know – there is a God, and we are His. He loves us, and all is well, even when nothing seems well.

  • This blog is part of The Praying Church Handbook – Volume III – Pastor and the Congregation which can be found at alivepublications.org>

[1]       Blaise Pascal, Pensees (New York: Penguin Classics, 1995).

[2]       Mack Tomlinson, In Light of Eternity: The Life of Leonard Ravenhill (Conway, AR; Free Grace Press, 2010), 344.

[3]       Ibid.

[4]       Thomas Merton, (2010-05-21). The Silent Life (6). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

[5]       Willard, 160.

[6]       Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 92.

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9651026093?profile=originalSamuel Lee, the great Puritan writer, argued,

Prayer is the soul’s colloquy with God, and secret prayer is a conference with God upon admission into the private chamber of heaven. When you have shut your own closet, when God and your soul are alone, with this key you open the chambers of paradise and enter the closet of divine love.[1]

As the medieval philosophers noted, every choice is a renunciation – a thousand renunciations. To choose one thing is to abandon another. You cannot, as the age-old saying goes, have your cake and eat it too. As in Genesis, choose the one tree and lose privileges at the other. To choose God is to differentiate yourself from the world. To want intimacy with Him is to abandon all other gods.

John Guest offered a balanced perspective:

Prayer is first and foremost an expression of an intimate relationship with God.

Prayer includes discipline, but it is not merely a discipline. It involves setting aside a regular time and place, but it is not merely an item on our schedule. It includes asking for things we need, but it is not merely a shopping list of requests and rejoicings. It involves speaking to God and God speaking to us, but it is not merely an exchange of memoranda.

More than anything else, prayer is a relationship. When we reduce it to a regimen, we deprive ourselves of what all who knew God throughout the Scriptures expressed in their prayers: that God is alive, and the He knows us and lets Himself be known by us, that we can enjoy a deep and intimate personal relationship with Him in prayer.[2]

Prayer itself, the act, is an expression of your need to live out of God’s life, and not merely invite Him into yours. It is more than a fleeting feeling. If you attempt to sustain your prayer life merely out of emotional highs, positive moods, even good intentions, you will fail. A healthy prayer life is found in the balance of both a private and corporate ritual, one as simple as the commitment to pray daily and attend church weekly; to be a part of a small prayer group and also to pray with one’s spouse on a regular basis. Commitment. Ritual – and by that we mean the rigor of a predictable routine. Despite one’s feelings, one’s sense of whether the experience is profitable or not, we should pray. The daily meeting with God is habitual. The ancient John of the Cross noted that in prayer we fight:

…boredom, tiredness, lack of energy. It’s hard, very hard, existentially impossible, to crank up the energy, day in and day out, to pray with real affectivity, real feeling, and real heart. We simply cannot sustain that kind of energy and enthusiasm. We’re human beings, limited in our energies, and chronically too tired, too dissipated, and torn in various directions to sustain prayer on the basis of feelings. We need something else to help us. What?[3]

The answer is ‘ritual – a rhythm, a routine.’ Ritual in a noble sense. Once you embrace a daily/weekly rhythm, the personal and the corporate, you begin to live by that cadence. It is no longer about the immediate euphoria of any given morning of prayer or weekly worship service. It is about obedience and consistency of life. The discipline itself does not change us: God changes us, but the ritual and routine that galvanizes discipline becomes the context into which God’s transforming power is infused.

We sometimes have romantic ideas about prayer and encounters in our attempts to develop a life of prayer that actually distort our perception of prayer and serve to discourage regular daily times of prayer with God. In truth, bright lights and a booming voice is rare. On some mornings, there may be no new, life-changing insight. Good relationships are long-term, and at the same time daily. As Rolheiser reminds us,

Nobody can…sustain high energy all the time, or fully invest himself or herself all the time…Real life doesn’t work that way. Neither does prayer. What sustains a relationship over the long term is ritual, routine, a regular rhythm that incarnates the commitment.[4]

Those who have aging parents visit them, not for the take-way – particularly those with afflictions such as Alzheimer’s – they visit not for the joy, but out of dutiful love! They go despite the feelings with which they wrestle, the disappointments that may exist about how the life of their parent has ended. This is the greater love – not self-serving love, not love looking for a pay-off, but genuine agape. Those who are raising teens ask them the hard questions even if it means processing through a grand hassle, and they do so out of love! You pray because you love God, and He loves you! Your daily time is a declaration of that love, and it opens the cosmic door on your side and intentionally invites Him into your life.

Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, observed that discipline without must be matched by the desire within. We sometimes intensify activity, crank up the will, and see prayer as a kind of power plant, the boiler room of the church. In the distance, God is calling, “Come away!” He is wooing us back to the place we once were when He asks us, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep!” In the flurry of a growing flock, in the feeding of the sheep, it is possible to lose the relationship with Him. Like a couple, busy raising their children, the fruit of their love, running from the supermarket to soccer games, somehow they lose one another in the middle of what the relationship itself created.

A study of mice revealed the deadly impact of amphetamine, both in groups and alone. Researchers determined that it takes twenty times as much amphetamine to kill an individual mouse than to kill a mouse in a group. In a group of mice given a deadly dose, a mouse not administered the drug will still be overcome by the mere impact of the deadly effect of the drug on his peers. Within ten minutes of being in a group of dying mice on the drug, the drug-free mouse will succumb. Dallas Willard charges, “Western men and women, especially, talk a great deal about being individuals. But our conformity to social pattern is hardly less remarkable than that of mice – and just as deadly.”[5] Prayer is the great differentiator. It sets us apart from the group. It takes us out of the rat race. It is the moment when we make our daily declaration, “God is enough!” In solitude, we find what Dallas Willard calls ‘the psychic distance’ necessary to be free from the crowd.[6]

Stop for a minute and evaluate your own prayer life. Is it duty or delight? Is it regular or fleeting? Are you cultivating a relationship or loosing sight of our ultimate purpose here on earth? Declare your love for God. Stay the course. Each day is a new day to commit to Him.

  • This blog is part of The Praying Church Handbook – Volume III – Pastor and the Congregation which can be purchased at alivepublications.org>

[1]       Samuel Lee, “Secret Prayer Successfully Managed,” The Puritans on Prayer. Ed: Don Kistler (Morgan, PA; Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), 239-293, 245.

[2]       John Guest, Only a Prayer Away: Finding Deeper Intimacy with God (Ann Arbor, MI: Vine, 1985), 75.

[3]       Ronald Rolheiser, Our One Great Act of Fidelity (New York: Doubleday Religion, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, 2011), 78.

[4]       Ibid 80.

[5]       Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), 160-161.

[6]       Ibid, 161.

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Kneeling in Prayer

9651026461?profile=originalThe etymological root of the word bless in the Old Testament is, to kneel! The implications of the idea are explosive. In northern Europe, inside one of the great cathedrals, there is a triptych of paintings depicting prayer. The first portrays a marketplace scene full of hurried activity, merchants selling and shoppers bartering. The second offers a window on a small sacred assembly, a handful of folks who have stepped from the busy streets into the temple for a moment of prayer. There, priests occupy themselves with candles and oil, lamps and basins. Even there, one finds bustling and busyness. In the final scene, behind closed doors, is a solitary seeker. He is alone, kneeling in the Presence of God, humbly, in prayer. Here at last is the hidden, secret life of prayer. It is the key to power. It is this calibration with heaven of our inner gyroscope that keeps us upright and sane in the crazy, covetous world in which we live.

To kneel is to position oneself for blessing from God. It is a declaration of dependence. It is an act of humility. It is the tranquility of stillness. How can we move about on our knees? It is the lowering of self. It is coming beneath the shadow of God. It anticipates God above, hovering, touching, giving life, brooding, anointing, imparting – blessing! It the opposite of arrogance, of self-sufficiency, of proudly standing by one’s own strength. It is the end of pride. In the Hebrew mind, the knees were an indication of strength and, therefore, to bend a knee was to subordinate strength to God. Prayer, kneeling, is learning to lean into His strength. To kneel is to seek the blessing of God. It anticipates a positive response. It expects the gift of grace. It awaits a sense of His loving Presence. It looks forward to what God might say or do!

In your prayer time this week, draw even closer to God by falling to your knees as an expression of humility to Him.

  • This blog is part of The Praying Church Handbook – Volume III – Pastor and the Congregation which can be purchased at alivepublications.org>

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