How God Uses Prayer!

-To Show His Great Power!

A survey of God’s Word reveals how God uses prayer, in our lives, in a number of ways. In this post I want to ask you to consider how God will often answer your prayers, with a display of power, in order to strengthen your faith! In Acts, chapter 12, we find the Apostle Peter imprisoned by King Herod. So the text says that the church was earnestly praying for his release.  With great power, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, in the prison, where Peter was being held; and, released him from his chains & then escorted him out of the prison, safely passing 2 separate guard posts and out through an iron gate! From there, it says, “When he (Peter) realized this (that the Angel freed him), he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway.  ‘You’re crazy!’ they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, ‘It’s his angel!’ Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison” Acts 12:12-17.

-To Astound You!

They were astounded! I’ve often thought about Herod, and his guards, when reading this text! What a display of power was evidenced to release Peter from his chains and imprisonment! But, the same display of power God used to confront Herod & the Jews, with their helplessness to stop Him when He determines to do something according to His Sovereign plans, is the same power display that God uses to strengthen our faith! The same display of power that buckled & weakened the knees of unbelievers, strengthened the faith of believers! When you study the Gospels, you see that Jesus kept growing the faith of His disciples! For 3 1/2 years He kept convincing them that the work of God can never be done in the power of the flesh; or, by the world’s methods.; but, by the supernatural power of God alone. God wants to engage us in prayer so we see His power.

-To Build Your Faith!

God also intends to build our faith & belief , in Him, as He answers our prayers. Why do we see the supernatural work, of God, in the book of Acts? Chapter 2:42 says the believers, ““…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” The early church was birthed in prayer! It says they DEVOTED themselves to prayer!  James identified that prayer was a problem for some: “You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires”  (ch. 4:3)  God doesn’t answer selfish prayers! He does, however, answer the prayers of helplessness & utter dependence on His power! Jesus taught His disciples that God answers prayers that are God-centered & God-focused! So, how might your prayers need to change?

 

How Pain Brings Us To Our Knees!

Going On Vacation! Next Post July 17th

-Does God Really Love Us?

We are tempted to ask how it is that God could truly love us if He allows us to suffer through painful experiences. In fact, it is because He loves us that He choreographs pain and suffering into our lives. Let me explain. It is not our natural tendency to seek closer fellowship with God when our lives are filled with blessings attached to this world. No, it is our tendency to stray from God when life is good! We get more comfortable leaning on this world’s blessings for our daily support. So, God— in His Love & Sovereign grace— places a “wake up call”, in the form of a painful experience, in front of us. He shakes us back to reality with something to get our attention re-focused on Him. To force us to our knees in prayer to Him.

-Our Greatest Satisfaction!

He does this because He knows that nothing will ever offer us greater satisfaction than a Spirit-filled relationship with Him.  All of this world’s goods and services are but cheap substitutes for a walk with God. If you follow the narrative, from the first chapter in the book of Acts, you’ll see 120 disciples waiting, in an upper room in Jerusalem, for the promised Holy Spirit. And, in chapter 2, the Spirit comes to indwell and fill the believers so they’d have the supernatural power, of the Spirit, to obey Jesus’ commission to take the gospel to every people group & to disciple them.  Immediately, God begins to use them in His supernatural work as 3000 were saved & became disciples that day! And, then, more and more were added!

-Comfortable & Complacent!

But, as you read the next few chapters, it seems like the church becomes complacent & comfortable with their success and God’s work begins to slow down! So, God, in His Sovereignty, brought persecution! Stephen is stoned! And, then James is killed & Peter is imprisoned. And, it’s this crisis of faith that unsettled them & they returned to their knees in prayer! They were humbled! They got back to Biblical prayer! They expressed their helplessness & total dependence on God’s power to see Peter released from prison! “So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church” Acts 12:5.  In the verses that follow, God sends an angel to spring Peter from prison (vs 6-11).

-The Lost Confronted By Answered Prayer!

There’s another prayer principle that God reveals to us by His answered prayer to release Peter from incarceration. God will use a mighty display of His power to confront the lost with their sin! King Herod had imprisoned Peter and assumed he had more power than he actually had! So, God says, “No, Herod, you’re plans to kill Peter won’t work!” Someone once said: “We make our plans & God laughs!” I love that! Don’t lose heart, church! It may appear the world is out of control. But, God hasn’t lost it. In His Sovereign timing He will display His power again & confront the lost with their need for repentance. So, let’s get the bigger picture when we find ourselves in a painful place! Don’t pray that God will take it away! He may be doing a special work in your life or the life of someone watching! Trust His plans!

 

Supernatural Prayer!

-Lot’s Of Goofy Ideas About Prayer!

The world— and, even the church— has some pretty goofy ideas about prayer! For some, prayer is like magic! If your faith is strong enough, YOU can pray the sick back to health! YOU can pray the dead back to life! I’ve heard prayers— by some who claimed to be believers— that sounded more like witchcraft or New Age spirituality, where, prayer is like “The Force”; and, the battle against the dark side! And, if God is going to win, YOU have to support Him with your payers! In other words, the fate of the world; and, even of GOD, is in YOUR hands; or, in your prayers!

-Blasphemous Prayer!

Then, there is the blasphemous “Word of Faith” teaching on prayer; or, the “Prosperity Gospel” that makes God out to be little more than your personal “Jeannie In A Bottle.” You want health, wealth & prosperity? Just name it and claim it! God is helpless against the power of YOUR words if you claim it in Jesus’ name! He has to give it to you! That’s a perversion of what Jesus taught His disciples to pray! It’s a perversion of what prayer looks like in the New Testament.

-Why Is Real Prayer Supernatural?

Prayer, in the New Testament, was SUPERNATURAL! I mean, by that, that prayer was an absolute reliance & dependence on God. These perversions of prayer are humanistic in nature. The power is INSIDE us! Biblical prayer, instead, depends on the power of God that is OUTSIDE us! We’re admitting to our WEAKNESS; and, to our inability to affect change! We’re trusting in a SUPERNATURAL God to do what we cannot do! Biblical prayer is expressed helplessness & a dependence on God’s power! Let me put it another way:  whatever we don’t pray about, we’re basically telling God, “I got this,” right? Don’t need you for this one, God! Let me get personal! How many of you get up early enough Sunday mornings to pray that God would move powerfully in your Worship service? How many of you prayed specifically for a certain person that needs to be saved? Whatever ministry you might be part of in your church, do you pray regularly over it? For people that are part of it? I doubt that most of you really believe you can do God’s work without His SUPERNATURAL help! But, if you’re not praying over it regularly it kind of casts doubt!

-What Are Your Expectations?

We need the Holy Spirit’s conviction that if we’re not spending significant time appealing to God, in passionate prayer, that we shouldn’t expect him to do any supernatural work in our midst, in our lives,  or, in our church! By our failure to pray, we’re telling God, “I got this! Don’t need your help!” Listen, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need our self-centered know how! He doesn’t need us at all! But, it seems to be God’s M.O. to engage His people in deep, passionate, humble, helpless & desperate prayer BEFORE He does His great,  SUPERNATURAL work! He includes us; and, He uses our prayer to grow, in us, a deeper dependence on HIS power, rather, than our own! Will you repent of your false views of prayer; or, your prayerlessness? God help us!

 

God Loves Generosity!

-He Loves The Cheerful Giver!

In fact, to quote the words of the Apostle Paul, to the Church of Corinth, accurately, “…God loves a cheerful giver…” 2 Corinthians 9:7.  God is generous! He gives us everything we “need” the Scripture says; and, an awful lot of our “wants” also! He is a good God! And, His expectation is that we would become more and more generous as we are sanctified & made a new creation in the image of His generous Son, Jesus!

-There Are Expectations!

And, He has those expectations, of us, with good reason—He has given us His Holy Spirit to indwell us & change us! That means we can give “in the flesh”—giving sparingly or reluctantly! Or, we can give “in the Spirit”—to give willingly & generously & cheerfully as a work of the Spirit in our life! Generous giving is the supernatural work of God’s indwelling Spirit! That “in the flesh” attitude comes from a belief that God is a TAKER rather than a GIVER!

-A Giver Or A Taker?

If we believe that God is a TAKER, we’ll also give sparingly & reluctantly! We’ll see His requirements of a tithe & offering as taking away something that’s “MINE”; or, something “I’ve WORKED for.” But if, in our heart, we see God as a GIVER we’ll see all our financial blessings as coming from God; not, from ourselves! Our financial decisions ultimately reveal what we think about God! God is a GIVER! That is His nature! He gave life to Adam & Eve. He gave them a beautiful garden home! He gave them a choice! And, when they made the wrong choice & sinned against Him, He gave His Son—because, “God so loved the world that He GAVE His only Son…” So, He gave the world a 2nd chance at redemption through Jesus & the Cross!

-He Gives So We Can Give!

And, as followers of Jesus, He gives to us so we can be a blessing; and, give to others! This is an amazing truth from God’s Word! Whether you’re rich, by the world’s standards; or, poor like the widow who gave her mite, God has given us our stuff to make givers out of us. That’s exactly what Paul told the Church of Corinth: “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance [or: make every grace abound to you], so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work” 2 Corinthians 9:8. Get that? God gives us what we have so we can be generous!

-It’s All His Anyway!

He gives us enough, so, that if we manage it rightly, we’ll have what we need to be GIVERS! Now, the implication is that if we say we don’t have enough to give, that we’re mismanaging what He’s given us! Or, God’s Word is incorrect! Paul actually expands on this in v.10— “…the One (GOD) who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” In other words, God gives on BOTH sides of our giving! He gives us “seed” before we give; and, He multiplies it & provides a harvest for all the righteous deeds we can do in regard to giving! That’s God’s promise! He gives all of us what we need to BE GIVERS! Though, in His Sovereignty He may give more to some than to others; so, that they can give MORE! But, we’ve all been GIVEN to GIVE! That brings God glory!

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part II

-It’s Not By Human Effort!

Let’s say you’re part of a church that’s bucking that trend we’re seeing, in America, where 9 out of 10 churches are experiencing decline! God has blessed you with a core of leaders who are faithful disciple makers! How do you sustain that spiritual momentum? This post is “Part II” in my attempt to answer that question! And, let me be clear that it’s NOT something that can be sustained by human effort! The salvation of souls is a work that is exclusively God’s work—“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” Jesus said. I concede that regeneration is a supernatural act of God on a human life!

-We’re God’s Ambassadors!

But, I also understand that God enables us to be His ambassadors in reconciling unconverted individuals to Himself! So, what’s our part in sustaining spiritual momentum? In my last post, we opened up our Bibles to Hebrews 10:24,25—“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The 1st thing that stands out, to me, is the writers admonition, as inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, to “…be CONCERNED about ONE ANOTHER…” This is one of the most attractive; but, often overlooked behaviors of a sanctified local church community of faith! Do not underestimate how enticing that kind of behavior appears when set side by side with the rest of our narcissistic, self-absorbed world. Any group or community that shows genuine concern, for others, will stand out!

-Focus On Others!

So, if we are to sustain the spiritual momentum necessary to make disciples who make disciples we have to continue to focus on others more than ourselves. God calls us to look after one another; to, think about one another; to, be occupied with one another! But, notice that the writer says to “…be concerned about one another in order to promote love…” The command here is NOT to love one another—although there are plenty of Scriptures that tell us to love one another—but, to PROMOTE love! Some translations say, “…to stimulate one another to love…”; or, to “…stir up one another to love…” In other words, we’re accountable—NOT just to love each other—but, to promote love within the body!

-That’s Not Natural!

That implies that THAT kind of love doesn’t come natural to us! We have to work at it with the Spirit’s help. Notice, also, that the writer is concerned that the church promote “…good works…” Just like his command to promote love, the writer is not telling the church to DO good works—though Scripture commands us many times to do good works—but, to PROMOTE good works! To stimulate each other; and, to stir up one another to good works! Again, it’s about keeping each other accountable; to, look for every opportunity to do good works wherever you find yourself! For others! For relationships! Get the focus off of ourselves! That’s, in part, how we sustain the spiritual momentum to make disciples who make disciples! (NEXT Week… Part III)

 

What A Healthy Church Looks Like!

-It’s Supernatural, Holy Spirit Empowered!

God’s work is never accomplished in the strength of the flesh! The book of Acts describes the early church as a supernatural, Holy Spirit empowered organism. What we read, in the 2nd chapter, is the result of a healthy church living in obedience to Jesus. After His resurrection, He gathered the disciples; and, He commissioned them to go & do something—He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations! But, He told them 1st to go to an upper room, in Jerusalem, and, WAIT for God’s Holy Spirit to indwell them & empower them! And, that’s exactly what they did!

-The Normal Way The Spirit Works!

In the power, of the Holy Spirit, they began to make disciples! It says:  “Those who accepted the message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47).  The church grew spiritually & numerically! This is the normal way that the Spirit of God works.

-A Healthy Church Is Gospel-Centered!

When a church gets spiritually healthy, Jesus uses them to add disciples—a healthy church is loyal to God & to one another in their devotion to sound doctrine. The text says “…they devoted themselves…” to the teaching of the Apostles! That word “devoted” literally means to be “loyal” or “attached” to something—the church was LOYAL to the teaching of the Apostles; so, they were LOYAL to sound doctrine! That’s a mark of a healthy church—it’s “Word” centered! It’s “gospel-centered”!

-A Healthy Church Rejects Error!

That means it exposes “error”—all teachings contrary to the Apostle’s! Any church that fails to expose error; and, fails to align with the New Testament teachings of the Apostles is unhealthy! And, we do so out of a loyalty, and, attachment to God first; but, also to the rest of the members of our local church! As a faith community, we show loyalty to each other; and, Biblical love for each other when we insist that everything we teach & preach—in classes, in Small Groups, in the pulpit—is consistent with the Apostle’s teachings in the New Testament!

-It’s A Challenge To Stay Healthy!

Can you imagine the challenges, of this church, in Jerusalem? Adding 3,000 new believers in one day is both a Pastor’s “DREAM” & a Pastor’s “NIGHTMARE.” All the variety of backgrounds! Their ignorance of basic Bible doctrines! What a mammoth task to disciple them all in their new faith—but, they were “devoted” or “loyal” to each other & that made all the difference!

Daniel: War In The Spirit World!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-All We Need To Know!

It’s easy for us to go off on a tangent & obsess over the supernatural aspects of a Biblical text like Daniel chapter 10. It’s true that we need to be aware of what happens in the realm of the supernatural; but, ONLY in as much as the Word of God reveals it to us! Everything else is in the realm of speculation! Scripture tells us all we need to know about the spirit world. There is no other authoritative source on demons and angels! That said, there’s really no debate that the “…prince of the kingdom of Persia…” in v.13 & the “…prince of Greece…” mentioned in v.20-21 are “fallen” angels. While Scripture refers to demons as “princes” in other passages, not every occurrence of the title “prince” points to a demon. Even here, in v.13, Michael, the archangel—is called a “chief prince.”

-Are Demons “Territorial”?

But, for several good reasons, it seems accurate to call “the prince of Persia” & the “prince of Greece” fallen angels or demons! For example, they oppose the angel of God sent to Daniel; and, Michael—God’s archangel—fought against them. Then, in v.20-21, the angel told Daniel that he was going to “…return to fight against the prince of Persia…”; and, when he was through with him he’d fight the “prince of Greece.” So, here’s my best shot at interpreting that—it seems like demons (at least some of them) are “territorial.” They seem to have spiritual responsibilities over countries, regions, and perhaps cities. And, somehow they seem to gain strength as they get a deeper foothold.

-Overcoming Demonic Strongholds!

We need to keep that in mind as we pray for revival. It’s possible that our area could have a strong demonic foothold—not unlike the kind of opposition that Daniel faced in Babylon. Let me draw another point, from Daniel’s story, because of that: Our prayers may require fasting & extra time & effort because of spiritual warfare in the spirit world! In case you forgot, look back at v.2 to see the amount of time that Daniel devoted to prayer & mourning & fasting! It says 3 FULL WEEKS! We need to pray MORE! We need to pray LONGER! And, perhaps we ought to be giving ourselves to FASTING if we hope to break through the demonic front-lines that war against us! Perhaps we need to let that thought soak in awhile! To meditate on Daniel’s spiritual stamina!

-Do You Have Spiritual Grit?

As I pause on that, I can’t help but think that our God deserves a higher level of devotion than we typically give Him. I’m ashamed to admit that I so rarely give Him my “1st Offerings.” It’s usually my leftovers that I give Him. What about you? Isn’t that also true of you? We usually give God our leftover time, our leftover effort, our leftover “piano”, and, a whole lot of leftover stuff we don’t even use anymore! Is it possible that we haven’t seen revival because we only pray for it if we have any leftover time? Daniel took a spiritual retreat for 21 days; and, just one note of interest—in v.13 it says God’s angel was delayed, by a demon, for 21 days. Daniel prayed ‘til there was a breakthrough! He didn’t quit!