filled (3)

Passion, Purpose, Power and Prayer

9651008479?profile=originalI’ve watched the influence of the church ebb and flow for the past 30 years, and I have to confess that in most cases, the message and energy behind a movement was much more impressive than the fruit it created. Maybe my expectations are high, but based on the time, money, energy, promotion and presentations strategy that’s flowed into the public arena in the name of modern Christian ministry, I believe that, if Christ-followers were giving our time and attention to the right things, we would see much more lasting fruit in the world.

Before I go too far into the deep end of the pool where it sounds like I’m just splashing around and complaining, let me preface these thoughts with my confession. I’m a committed member of a local body that is using it’s time and resources to build the kingdom and send the gospel around the world. We’re not a perfect church, and I’m not a perfect Christ-follower. Yet I have to return to the standards by which Jesus gave us to measure myself, and periodically ask “How am I doing? How is my church doing? Are we fulfilling the commands Jesus gave us to make disciples, expand his kingdom and transform the world?”

In business or ministry, it’s easy to be busy – and still accomplish little of lasting value, and the larger the church, the more momentum the congregation can create, and by mistaking momentum for God’s presence and anointing, churches can carry on for years (decades), never fulfilling the great commission in a way that is commensurate with their abilities, gifts, resources, and calling.

Ouch. As Christ–followers, we all know this is true. We just want it to be true of other churches . . .  “those guys over there” . . .  not us.

Looking Back

In the past 40 years, since the Jesus People movement of the 60’s, the corresponding Charismatic movement in the churches, and the explosion of creativity which followed, contemporary Christianity has become its own subculture. Social calendars in every major city are filled with Christian concerts, conferences, cruises, musicians, magicians, comedians, authors, and events in ways that would have never happened just 40 years ago. When I came to Christ, contemporary Christian music was only found in dimly light coffee houses, street corners, and barn pastures. How things have changed.

My lament is not meant to criticize, but revolves around this single idea. As the culture changed, and contemporary Christian ideas became part o the larger church culture, Christians thought, and popular magazines of the contemporary Christian movement proclaimed that the cultural acceptance and transformation would carry with it deeper Christian influence in the world. We thought that because Christian music was appearing on the airwaves along with other top 40 and rock and roll music, that Christianity would be more accepted, and have greater influence. As money flowed into the Christian subculture grew in the name of evangelism, missionary and outreach budgets shrunk, and yet Christian influence in our culture diminished. Something is wrong with this picture.

At the same time Christian concerts, music, conferences, art, t-shirts and book stores have proliferated, the church’s influence on the secular world has measurably decreased. Virtually every survey has revealed fewer people attending churches, fewer people believing and regularly reading the bible as a source of their faith. The country and the church has more divorces, more violence, more single parent homes, and more brokenness. By any objective measurement, the gospel is making less of an impact on the American continent today that is was 50 years ago.

Jesus said that our Father’s will was that we bear fruit, and that our fruit remains, and this is the reason for this retrospection. I’m not writing to condemn or criticize. I’m writing to say, with the exception of a few pockets, the church today has a huge disconnect between our effort, activity, and outcome. We are called to be salt and light in a decaying and dark world. Over the past 40 years, we’ve lost ground.

Spending our Resources for Eternity.

I’m not writing today to propose one size fits all, uninformed solutions. I’m not that arrogant. I’m writing to ask four simple questions.

  • Is there passion in your heart for what you’re doing, and for what your church is doing? Confirmation of God’s blessing and purpose is passion. If our hearts are cold, it’s time to do visit the Heart Surgeon, empty our hands of everything that consumes our time and energy, and give him permission to change things, and change me.

  • Are you living on purpose or just spending time?  Jesus and his followers in the church’s first centuries were clear about their mission. They didn’t allow the needs of the day, hour, or moment, extraneous entertainment and time hungry hobbies, and to pull them away from God’s Word, prayer, and doing the things which God entrusted into their care. They knew they were stewards who would give account, not owners who could do what every they wanted.

  • Is there power in your life, church, family, and ministry . . . real, life changing power? The early church and the Christian church throughout history, during times of revival embraced and flowed with supernatural, life-changing, relationship-healing power. Like a vineyard which no longer yields fruit abundantly, maybe it’s time to ask God to prune our lives, and surrender leaves and branches that consume energy without returning anything of eternal value.

  • How is your prayer life?  In Jesus’ life, passion, purpose, and power all flowed from his connection to his Father in prayer. When the disciples got up in the morning, and Jesus wasn’t around, the gospels tell us that they knew He was off praying. In fact, the only thing that the disciples specifically asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray. They knew his life flowed from his Father, and they wanted to live the same way.

At the heart of what I’m asking is this question. Why don’t we have revival? Why doesn’t the church live like, look like and have the influence on the world like the first century church, and like the church in the US during the Reformation, and the first and second great awakening. The late revivalist Leonard Ravenhill wrote that today's Church didn’t have revival because we are content to live without it. While we can’t manufacture revival, every outpouring of God’s power that changed the course of the world was connected to a period when his people loved and obeyed passionately, lived purposefully, walked in the power of God’s spirit, and prayed fervently.

The world is becoming a darker place. Are we the generation that will start the next great awakening? 

Read more…

Does God have to Tell Me to Pray?

9651008070?profile=originalI listened to a conversation between pastors John Piper and Rick Warren recently. From their theological towers, one can barely see the other’s camp on the edge of the horizon. Piper, a died in the wool Calvinist, wanted to talk with “whosoever will can come” Warren about Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life. While the two could have staked out their own territory like medieval lords protecting their castle, they lowered their theological drawbridges and met in the valley to honestly talk about faith and life in Christ.

At one point Warren said “When I find two scriptures that seem to be opposed to one another, I accept them both.” So when Piper asked his friend about Calvin’s predestined approach to salvation, Warren replied that he accepts the idea, that God draws men He foreknew and predestined to salvation. He also believes that whoever confesses Jesus as Lord becomes part of God’s family, and that the door is open to every man - opposing ideas, yet one faith. Warren was comfortable with a God who is bigger than his own understanding.

I have a similar problem with two other scriptures. I hear Christ-followers say “I felt the Lord prompt me to __ (fill in the blank here) ______,” and so they make sure to do, or not do ____ (whatever) _________. This personal interaction with God is like a faith merit badge, worn as proudly as any Eagle Scout’s sash.

At the same time, friends from the less charismatic crowd tend to focus on obedience. They study scripture and are so sure to follow the biblical principles that the idea of hearing God’s voice is almost unnecessary. Their lives are often stable, prosperous and fruitful . . . evidence of God’s presence.

A vital prayer life and prayer ministry has to move out of the “either / or approach” to an intimate relationship with God, and embrace both hearing and obeying God’s voice.

  • If we only do that which we feel prompted into, we become selfish, self-focused children. We demand God meet our requirements, rather than opening our hearts to follow his. 
  • If we only act on what we read in the Bible or learn in a Sunday school class, we become stale, and quite the opposite of the “hear before we obey” crowd. We miss the prompting of the Holy Spirit because He often doesn’t fit into our programs. God asks us to change, take risk, and move into new territory.
  • If we use our comfort zone as an excuse to nullify our brother’s approach, we miss the blessing of what God can, and wants to teach us. We risk becoming bigoted, closed hearted, and quenching the Spirit we so desperately need.

Even the quickest historical survey reveals that the men through whom God changed the world were men who lived by both creeds. No one had to tell Wesley, Spurgeon, Wilkerson or Moody that God’s heart was broken over poverty, orphans, and widows. They preached the word in season and out, ministered to the poor, and listened for God’s voice on a daily basis.

The man who won me to Christ had this plaque on his desk.

All Word and we dry up.
All Spirit and we blow up.
With the Word and Spirit, We grow up.

Jesus demonstrated both. Shouldn’t we?

Read more…

Who am I Praying for?

9651008260?profile=originalThe men’s ministry in our church recently held a daylong event, and I had the privilege of being part of the prayer team. As the guys gathered in the gym surrounded by camo-netting, motorcycles and 4x4 ATV’s,  I was welcomed into the church's prayer chapel by the presence of God’s Spirit. I expected to fight with my roaming mind to stay focused on the prayer-task at hand. I expected to consciously have to still my mind, and wait for my emotional wheels to coast to a halt before I would really enter into God’s presence.

Instead God’s Spirit met me at the door, and for the first hour, I was overwhelmed by a single idea. I sensed God ready to meet with me, not standing off in the distance waiting for me to fight my way into his presence. While I didn’t hear an audible voice, I overwhelmingly sensed God say:

 “You are here to ask me to do things for you, but you don’t have to ask. You don’t even have the right to ask for anything of your own accord. I want your prayers on the basis of my promises to you. I want to answer your prayers, and I offer you my grace, power and presence on the basis of my Unchanging Word.”

As I’m writing this, I’m having a hard time describing how this single idea transformed my prayer expectations. I often spend time in extended prayer. I have my prayer lists, and I pray for my kids, my church, my finances, family and country. I ask God to glorify himself, reveal himself, and cover those who spend their lives in service of the ministry. I have my shopping list that I lug into my prayer closet, but so often I feel like I have to walk up hill before I can talk to God. I have to clear away the brush in my mind to find a peaceful place in the middle of my mental forests before I pray. For those of you in an intercessory ministry, I trust you understand the struggle my inadequate words are trying to frame

Prayer is hard work, and if we don’t pray, there are events in the kingdom that will likely never happen, miracles left undone, souls left unchanged. I do, and God will; if I don’t, God won’t. It’s hard to dance with this humble task without becoming arrogant in the execution.

Yet that day, God reminded me that I am in a covenant with him, and He wants me to pray. God wants and waits for me to enter into his presence. I don’t have to come up with the perfect formula of words before God hears me. He has promised to hear me . . . hear us, and we get to stand before him on the basis of his unchanging commitment to us, our Father, Redeemer, Savior and Friend.

Years ago, a musician named Scott Wesley Brown told this story. Sitting in a prayer meeting, he waited his turn while trying to find the perfect words to impress God and the people around him. He didn’t feel the pride in his heart until a young girl spoke up and said slowly:

“Dear God, A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z.   
Father, I don’t know what to say, so here are all the letters I know.
You put them together in the right order. Amen”

Irritated at first, Brown was humbled by the time the girl finished. He wanted to get it right, to impress and declare. The girl just wanted to pray.

When I go into prayer, do I remember that prayer is a conversation? I hear it all the time, but too often I act as if it’s all up to me. Why aren’t more people coming to the prayer meetings? Didn’t Jesus call all of us to pray? Why are there so few people in the prayer room this morning? It’s so easy to be quietly proud in my prayer closet. That morning in the prayer chapel, God illuminated my pride from his perspective.

I pray because he asks me to come. I can expect an audience because he promised to answer. I am welcomed because of what Jesus sacrificed for me. I can love, because I was first loved. If there’s anything I have to get right in my prayers, it’s humility, and the conviction that God will keep his promises when I ask. Now I can ask in faith.



Read more…