Have you ever noticed that before a mission trip or some great event or in fact before a great work of God in your life, you have intensified spiritual attack?
I believe there is a reason God not only allows but arranges attack in your life. There are a number of benefits that come to us through spiritual attack. Toughening strengthening of faith, the necessary humility, the development of character, and compassionate empathy are wrought in us through trials and yes, spiritual warfare.
I believe the primary or all encompassing reason God allows those things is the preparation of Prayer. We need prayer for that mission trip, for that great gift of God, for the work God wants to do around us. And spiritual warfare drives us to pray. We pray far more consistently because we are under spiritual attack. We pray more fervently because we are in spiritual attack. We pray listening prayers under spiritual attack. We pray more faithfully because we're in spiritual attack.
Of course when you are in spiritual attack the goal is to be obedient. But in addition to any general obedience you need the specific obedience of prayer.
And God is allowing spiritual attack because you simply need more time in his presence. You need the imprint of His reality and majesty, His power and nearness. When you are facing spiritual attack you have to pray as you have never prayed. And you can pray with anticipation because of what God is preparing to bring about in your life. And that kind of praying is necessary for us to walk in the work of God.
Today, we read Hebrews 5.
Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.
In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”
And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Warning Against Falling Away
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
I worship you alone. In Jesus' name, Amen.
You may find that when you pray Hebrews 5 (or any portion of Scripture) on your own, that your prayer and praise may look much different than mine. Guess what? It probably will, and in my opinion, it should! Your relationship with God is different from mine, and any other Christian's! Talk to God with your own voice and heart. He made them, gave them to you, and desires your praise, thanksgiving, worship, petition, and more through all He's given you.
Attempt this form of prayer once or more this week, and let me know your impressions.
Also, if there's a portion of Scripture you'd like to see modeled in prayer, or would like to model in prayer yourself, please email me.
We demonstrate our faith by the way we live. Conduct communicates more clearly than creed.
“Faith is kept alive in us, and gathers strength,
more from practice than from speculations.”
- Joseph Addison
Light from heaven beams down, profiling your life as a vital witness to eternal realities.
The outline of transforming faith boldly stands out against passive conformity.
Etched against a circumstantial backdrop, people watch as you worship.
Devotional contour preaches a clearer message than your words.
Totally reliant on your Creator, you are never disappointed.
Lean on the Everlasting Arms, and sing His praises.
Radically disciplined, you are educated in timeless wisdom.
Listen to echoes from eternity, and find lasting truth.
Humbly appreciative, you’re never too busy to give thanks.
Learn to be content whatever happens, and be rich.
Unquestioningly obedient, you carry out Christ’s orders.
Live by His Word, and He will be real to you.
Hopefully devoted, you walk in Jesus’ steps every day.
Love Him sincerely, and be blessed eternally.
“Jacob bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.”
(Genesis 47:31 NLT)
Johnny R. Almond
Pastor, Colonial Beach Baptist Church, Virginia
Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity—Scripture Personalized
[This devotion based on/adapted from Day 33 of Gentle Whispers from Eternity]
GentleWhispersFromEternity-ScripturePersonalized (copy & paste to browser for blog & book info)
I’ve recently been captivated by the story of Jesus turning water into wine (John 2:1-11). I’ve concluded that we all have “water” of some kind that needs to be transformed into wine.
Water is an essential, elemental part of life. But in this story it also stands for the plain, the ordinary, and the bland. Wine, in contrast, has flavor and fizz. Jesus said this kind of wine must be put into “new wineskins,” because it is needs room to expand and grow.
Take a second and ponder what boring, bland parts of your life may be due for a transformation like this. Your job? Your ministry? Your marriage? Your relationship with the Lord?
The good news is that Jesus can turn ordinary things into something extraordinary. If you’ve lost your fizz in some area of your life, He can help you get it back. And if you’ve been stagnating instead of expanding and growing, your turnaround can be closer than you think.
But transformation comes with a price. Jesus’ mother told the servants at the wedding feast, “Whatever He says to you, do it” (v. 5). I guarantee that if you follow this profound advice, your water will surely be turned into wine.
But it’s a pretty radical statement, isn’t it? Are you willing to do WHATEVER He tells you to do? Think about it. That’s the price of transforming your circumstances and your life.
The wedding feast “ran out of wine” (v. 2), and perhaps that’s how you’re feeling today as well. You had money…but it ran out. You had love…but now it seems to be gone. You had dreams…but somehow they evaporated or turned into nightmares.
At such times, it’s easy to feel frustrated or disillusioned. “I never thought it would be this way,” you moan. That’s exactly how the people at the wedding feast must have felt when they ran out of wine.
But the story isn’t over yet…or at least it doesn’t have to be.
No wine? No problem! All you have to do is find out what Jesus is telling you to do. More often than not, He will tell you to give Him something you HAVE (like water) in order to get something you NEED (like wine). Sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it?
So what do you have today, and what do you need? Like exchanging water for wine, I promise you it will be a great exchange indeed.
Those who taste the newly made “wine” in your life may well be like the master of the feast, who “did not know where it came from” (v. 9). They’ll wonder where you got such peace, joy, and zest for life, even amid difficult times. What a great chance to tell them about Jesus, the one who can turn their water into wine too.
If you’re a Baby Boomer like me, you may have been tempted to feel that life has passed you by and your best years are now behind you. But this story ends with some additional good news. Jesus didn’t just replace the old wine with something new: He saved the BEST for LAST! (v. 10) He can do the same for you, when you do what He says and give Him what you have.
“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:26-29).
God is shaking everything that can be shaken. That which is true and righteous will remain. He is awakening us out of slumber and apathy, and challenging us to a radically obedient lifestyle. There is not one of us who does not struggle in our Christian walk with the reality of radical obedience. We may obey in the big issues of life, but when it comes down to every single detail every day, we find it difficult. It is just too hard, but Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we must be perfect in our obedience just as our Father is in heaven (Matthew 5:48).
How can this be possible? We know we cannot attain perfection in this life, but we can do this by seeking to walk in all the light that the Spirit gives us in every season of our life.
Let’s make this our primary goal in life: To walk in all the light we have and to live radically obedient for God.
If we look back in history, there are several instances where we see how God moved powerfully when His people walked in radical obedience. An obedient lifestyle is key to those who want a powerful prayer life. We read in James 5:16b: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” This is an important verse for intercessors. We must walk in obedience and righteousness if we want a powerful prayer life.
The Sermon on the Mount Lifestyle
“In every detail of their lives—in business, pleasure, in Christian service, in civil duties—they took the Sermon on the Mount as a lamp to their feet.” Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians
The Sermon on the Mount is the greatest evaluation of an obedient lifestyle. It gets down to the nitty-gritty issues of daily life and of whether we are walking in obedience or not. The Sermon on the Mount is the core values of the Kingdom. It is the lithmus test to accurately measure our spiritual development and ministry impact.
The Sermon on the Mount was central for the prayer movement and for the revivals. Two examples in history where the practice of a Sermon on the Mount lifestyle brought great results in the spiritual realm were:
- Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians - Their dedication to prayer and the Sermon on the Mount lifestyle led to a 100-year prayer meeting and a worldwide mission’s movement.
- The Welsh Revival - Evan Roberts, the young man who was used so powerfully by God in the Welsh revival of 1904, prayed passionately that God would purify and bend the Church.
Evan Roberts prayed that God would break his own heart over the condition of mankind. His heart was set on obedience, and agonizing prayer was his daily life style. He believed and preached perfect obedience.
“Evan Roberts captured the spirit of the whole revival with the theme: Bend the Church and Save the World. James E. Stewart claimed that this is the secret of every true awakening. Christians must humble themselves and get right with God so that the Spirit can break through in converting power upon the unsaved. There must be no hypocrisy; the Christian must bend to all the will of God for His life in perfect obedience before the Spirit of God is released. When we are bent to the will of God we will be intercessors, because as He ‘ever lives to intercede’ for His people, if we are abiding in Him we will do the same.” Rick Joynor
Revival and Radical Obedience
Look at Joshua and how he obeyed God. From the standpoint of the human mind, walking seven times around Jericho did not appear to be a wise thing to do for spiritual success. Imagine the pressure and tension he was facing before that battle. Joshua obeyed God and was victorious. It was exactly what God wanted. He loves obedience even when it doesn’t make sense.
We must learn to say “yes” to the purposes of God every day of our lives. Many of us are praying for revival. If we want to see revival, you and I must be revived ourselves. God is after us—all of us. He is raising-up a Church that is steadfast and radically obedient.
When I was a brand-new missionary many years ago, living on an old ship that sailed from nation to nation preaching the Gospel and encouraging the Church, I remember how I felt after the ship left port from my own beloved country. We were sailing towards South America and would be there for the next two years.
I felt so lost and lonely, not knowing the language and so new to the whole mission’s world. Being young and inexperienced, I felt like two years on board that ship was a lifetime. We had no e-mail in those days, and I would call home only once a year. I was with over three hundred strangers from over forty nations on board and had left everything behind except for a few personal belongings. I was living in a tiny cabin with three others from three different nations, and we had nothing in common but our commitment to Christ.
Not being a seasoned sailor, I would often feel the movement of the seas and didn’t even know how to swim. And here we were, all sailing by faith towards South America in an immense ocean and with an unknown future. I was feeling deeply the cost of commitment and obedience to God. It was a big step for me during those days, but I knew that God was inviting me to live a life of radical obedience. Since that time years ago, God has challenged me again and again with the same level of obedience:
- Am I willing to give up everything for the cause of Christ?
- Will I let God have His way with me each and every day?
- Am I willing to pay the price of commitment and radical obedience?
- Do I really want revival and a visitation from God?
Where are you with God? Is He wrestling with you over some issue in your life? Can you say “yes” to Him today? Can you say: “Lord, have Your way with me. I will pray for this end-time revival and choose to obey You at all costs. I will live out commitment in my life each and every day in prayer. I am Yours totally, and I accept your invitation to radical obedience.”Are you willing to pray this prayer and pay this price for revival?
When crowds of people came to visit our ship and when there were endless lines of people waiting to get on board, we realized that obedience is no small thing. We had to work when we didn’t feel like working, we had to serve when we didn’t feel like serving, we had to pray when we didn’t feel like praying, and we had to smile when we didn’t feel like smiling. The result? Many came into the Kingdom and turned their lives over to Christ.
Revival and a visitation from God are not going to be all fun, excitement, and dancing. It will be sheer commitment and a dedicated life style of radical obedience for all of us. Are we ready for God’s visitation? Are we ready for revival? God is raising up a Church that is willing to pay the price.
In whatever way God is challenging your life today, take a small step forward and say “yes” to Him. It’s step-by-step, choice-by-choice, yes-by-yes, one day at a time and one act of self-denial at a time where you will find true life. Jesus calls you to radical obedience and says in Matthew 16:24-25:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
When we accept this invitation to radical obedience in following Christ, we find real fulfillment. Let’s prepare for this worldwide revival. It is in daily obedience that we find life and are ready for a true visitation from God. Let's live a radically obedient life and worship God with reverence and awe. He is a consuming fire.
“When you pray for revival and a visitation from God, you’re asking God for life-shaking experiences that will cost you plenty. Revival is agonizing: It so terrorizes you over your sin that you repent deeply. Revival is consuming: It leaves you no time for hobbies, for chores around the house, for work, for sleep. Revival wrecks your appointment calendar, interrupts TV times, demands your full attention.”
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I’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.
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?
I 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?
The 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.
As most of us know Nehemiah was called by God to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity. Unfortunately, not everyone liked the idea, particularly several key leaders. In chapter 4, verse 1, we read, When Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews . . .
Tobiah also joined the verbal scourging and added, What are they building - if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!
However, Nehemiah being a wise and godly leader immediately turned to the Lord and prayed in verse 4, Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.
But then rather than praying more he and his team went to work. So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. (v. 6)
Unfortunately, Sanballat, Tobiah and a host more were not finished and became angry that the work continued. Verse 8 tells us, They plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.
I find Nehemiah's next actions even more insightful when we think about how we're to pray in the middle of trials. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
They prayed AND posted a guard. They sought God's help AND they used everyday wisdom. They were spiritual AND they were smart.
God expects us to do the same today. Yes, pray for healing AND find the best medical help you can find. Yes, pray for financial provision AND spend what you have well. Yes, pray for your children to become godly AND model a Christlike life in front of them. Pray for the needy AND go share what you have with them. The possible implications are myriad.
Prayer and action are clearly not mutually exclusive!
But so often we prayer leaders, pastors and teachers send messages to others that one or the other, prayer or action, is really enough. We call for great movements of prayer (and we should) but we often leave out a challenge to then act wisely and assertively. Others pull together hundreds or even thousands to serve others and take little time to pray for wisdom, direction and guidance.
And many of us know the hurt and misunderstanding many have faced because a Christian leader did not understand the Bible's clear perspective that prayer is to be coupled with wisdom and everyday deeds.
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray He told them to pray that God would enable and empower them to bring the kingdom to earth as it is in Heaven. He too wanted them to make the kingdom real and vibrant in very tangible ways.
So, are you facing a challenge, a rebuttal, a push back on something you believe God wants you or your church to do? Yes, pray like crazy, call others to join you, ask in Jesus' name that the Father will be glorified, fast if you feel led to, but for Heaven's sake, post a guard!
December has been a very challenging- but rewarding month. God is taking me on apersonal journey and while it's exciting, it's also very draining andemotionally difficult sometimes. During my quiet time, I felt led to studyActs. It seemed I needed to remind myself of my roots (Acts is the 1st book ofthe Bible I studied verse by verse), as well as the roots of what"church" is really supposed to be. I started with Saul's conversionin Acts 9, and never made it past verse 22. Specifically, I parked on verses10-17:
10In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in avision, "Ananias!"
"Yes, Lord," he answered.
11The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for aman from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12In a vision he hasseen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore hissight."
13"Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all theharm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14And he has come herewith authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on yourname."
15But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carrymy name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16Iwill show him how much he must suffer for my name."
17Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said,"Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you werecoming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the HolySpirit."
God used this familiar passage to reassure me that we don't always know what wethink we know. (Yeah, I realize I should've figured that out a long time ago!)Ananias was prepared to hear God- when he heard his name in a vision, Ananiaswasn't like Samuel; Ananias knew immediately that it was the Lord calling him.He answered right away, "Yes, Lord?" (I think it's worth noting thathe said that instead of "What now, God?")
God gave clear instruction, and while Ananias didn't refuse or directly offerexcuses like Moses did, he still wanted to be sure God knew what He was askingAnanias to do. "But God, you do realize this guy wants to kill people whofollow you, right? And God, this isn't just me being paranoid- everything I'veheard and seen tells me this is a bad idea. It's NOT a good situation. Do yourealize how badly this idea of yours might turn out, God?"
That's kind-of my M.O.- not to defy God and tell Him what I won't do, I justwant to be sure He understands MY perspective. MY fears. My reasons forthinking He's asking me to do something that doesn't make much sense.
So how did God respond when Ananias voices his concerns? "Go!"("Ananias, what you don't know is that this man is already changed. Thesituation is completely different than what you're expecting. I've chosen touse this very man you think will destroy my church- and you. I know what isgoing to happen. I know what he's done to my people, and only I know what he'sgoing to face as a result. Thanks for the concern, Ananias, but I've got thisone under control.")
The thing that struck me most is this: when I have similar conversations withGod, I am acting just like Ananias did. I assume that I see the entiresituation, I presume to understand who, what, where and how. Like Ananias, Ioverlook the fact that God is always working behind the scenes: softening hearts,changing the variables, working in all things for the good of those who loveHim. However, like Ananias, I can trust that when God gives me specificinstruction it's because He's been working specifically to make a place for meto be effective.
Why is it so easy to forget that God never sleeps, that God is always at work,that nothing is impossible with God? Why is it so easy to presume that what wethink we know is all there is to know? Why do we act like "walking infaith" means knowing exactly what is in our future? Faith is not only"being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,"faith is trusting that God is in control and we can walk in places where weknow we do not see the entire situation or understand the details of what God isorchestrating.
We will never be able to comprehend, or even imagine how God works in everysituation, understands every variable and knows ahead of time every possibleoutcome, and ultimately chooses the best possible one from an eternalperspective. We just need to walk in faith, knowing that God loves us and Hewon't set us up to fail Him. He's working in ways we can't imagine, usingunlikely people to do extraordinary things. The really cool thing is that wemight just be that unlikely person He's chosen!
Suddenly I had a thought flash through my mind. "Turn around and invite Nancy to church."
I drove past a couple of traffic lights, hoping the thought was not actually from the Lord. But it didn't leave me, even as I reasoned with God that I would be really late for church if I turned around.
"Invite Nancy to church."
Great. Just great. This is not comfortable.
I turned around and pulled up next to Nancy. Naturally, she was startled as she looked over at me.
"Um, Nancy, I feel like I'm supposed to invite you to church."
Naturally, she was startled by my invitation. She declined, as she was on her way to work her shift. But she accepted my offer to give her a ride the rest of the way.
"Nancy, um, last time we talked, you were exploring some unusual spiritual things such as astrology. Where are you at with spiritual stuff?" I asked.
"Interesting you should ask," Nancy replied. "Just last night I decided I was supposed to read the Bible, so I searched around the house to find one."
As I explored a bit more with her, she remembered that she read the verse in Philippians about being able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
"Well, Nancy, just so you know, I really believe that. I live my life according to that truth."
I pulled up in front of Caribou, our conversation ending way too quickly. I asked Nancy if there was any way I could pray for her. "Pray that I will make it to church tonight," she replied as she got out of the car.
"OK, I'm right on that, Nancy!"
Yes, I was late for church. But I'm pretty sure I heard God about turning around. He loves to do that.
I was just settling into a comfortable spot on the floor in front of the fireplace on a bitterly cold winter night, with pillows perfectly positioned. I was reading a book written by a friend about dealing with disappointment when God seems to "disappear." *
Suddenly I had that thought...you know...the one where you wonder if it's God speaking or simply your imagination.
Go and read your book at Caribou Coffee.
I desperately hoped it was my imagination. It was cold and dark. I was warm and comfy.
Go read your book at Caribou.
Rats. It might be God.
I tried to ignore it. I tried to rationalize my way beyond it. Do I really have to?
But the thought wouldn't leave. So I got up, put on my winter coat, and stepped into the cold--pondering again the purpose of obedience.
As I walked into Caribou, I told the Lord I had no idea why He invited me here. But if it was simply to see if I would actually leave the warm fire--then so be it!
I ordered a caramel high rise. Figured I deserved it.
Then the guy behind the counter spoke up. "What book are you reading?" he asked.
Oh, my. That opened up a dialog that continued for several minutes with the interruption of a few customers passing through.
Turns out the Caribou guy was exploring lots of things: Hinduism, reincarnation, Buddhism, and even Christianity. But his big issue? He wanted proof. If Christianity is true, he needed some answers to tough questions. A friend had encouraged him to read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, but he wasn't sure he could buy that Christianity is the only way.
I finally wrapped up the conversation by telling him that I would pray for him while he read the book. I said I would ask Jesus to prove Himself if He really is the truth.
"What's your name?" I inquired, just wanting to make my prayers a bit more personal.
"Thomas," he replied.
Oh, my. I suppressed a laugh, but my heart swelled with gratitude that God cared so much about Thomas and his doubts that he would send me out in the cold to pray for him.
Yes, we have to. We have to be obedient to those promptings of God if we want to see His amazing work!
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