Let Us Pray
This newsletter is a prayer request. This time it's not about me, but about us. I believe that prayer is the greatest resource we have available. It's free and can't be banned. I think prayer is being increasingly neglected just when we need it most. I keep meeting people who do not realize the vast resources we have in prayer because they have had little experience in praying, and perhaps had no role models among family or friends to learn from. In case you haven't noticed, we're living in time of great stress, with major changes going on around the whole planet.
Background: When I became a Christian back in 1962, there were churches in many cities across the land which could be called "Philadelphian." The term refers to the Lord's descriptions of seven representative types of Christian assemblies down through history. Today the churches that still have life in them are more often found to be, "Laodicean" in character (see The Little Church that Tried, http://www.raystedman.org/revelation/4194.html and The Poor Rich Church, http://www.raystedman.org/revelation/4195.html). A third group of churches includes churches which had recognizable spiritual life in them 50 years ago, but this group has now dropped off the radar screen altogether. They've been replaced by groups that are no longer Christian in their core values.
It is true that a few lively new churches have been springing up through the planting efforts of groups such as Acts29, http://www.acts29network.org/. But, for the most part, the vitality of American churches has, I believe, sunk to a very low level.
Over recent years the content and relevance of a lot of preaching in the U.S. has changed -- in the wrong direction. The hymns we sing have moved away from what was taken as normative worship music a century ago. What ever happened to worship which consisted of genuine thanks and gratitude addressed from the people to God? I find music in many churches today seems to have been provided as a kind of entertainment for the congregation's benefit? I sense that God is not at center-stage in many churches any more. He seems more like a non-participating visitor who sits in the back row, or is to be found outside in the patio, (hence Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.")
Quite a few of my Christian friends don't go to church anymore. Some seem to have hunkered down into a survival mode. I strongly believe we are at a spiritual crossroads in our nation, so our rediscovery of prayer right about now could change a lot of things for the better.
The small Baptist Church where I came to the Lord featured regular Wednesday night prayer meetings. I attended, because I thought we were all expected to attend. (I think the pastor took attendance). Wednesday night's two-hour meeting opened in the main auditorium where we heard reports from our church missionaries and general major prayer requests as well. Corporate prayer by all of us on these "big" issues followed. We then adjourned into small groups of men and women where we prayed on our knees for another hour.
I am very grateful to this day that I also joined a weekly men's early morning prayer meeting back in the 60s. It was held near my church in a local dentist's office. When I drive by that office today I still see it as a chapel. The seven or eight men who attended almost never missed a single meeting. We all prayed on our knees, and the fellowship was very special.
Forty years ago the subject of "spiritual warfare" was often brought up in sermons at my church. Some churches where I live held annual "Revival Meetings." A visiting speaker, if he was any good, would tell us about the power of prayer and share with us anecdotal stories of major changes he'd seen wrought by intercessory prayer whether at home or overseas. Today I never hear this topic discussed at all. But, the warfare we are involved in as Christians has obviously greatly increased. (For more on the forgotten topic of Spiritual Warfare see http://raystedman.org/battle/).
It is wonderful to remember the way things were spiritually a few decades back in the church where I became a Christian. My home church was not unique, I visited quite a few of the other churches in this area, and I always learned something. In contrast, I suspect that converts to Christianity in the last couple of decades believe that "church" has always been as bad as it is now. These same younger friends also can't believe the national divorce rate was 6% when I was their age. In the world-views of many younger people I meet now, two key institutions in society are now thought by many to be irrelevant, that is, marriage and the church! These are the first two items on my prayer list.
The Information Age has swept in upon us in just a few year's time. World-wide, easy travel and instant satellite news allows us to see what's going on anywhere, at any hour of the day or night. But we're a culture where Biblical illiteracy is soaring. (Knowledge and wisdom are two very different entities – that should be obvious). These days, I meet very few Christians who have bothered to think through their own Biblical world view. Finding sources of short-term gratification is apparently far more important for many of us. But God deals in absolutes: we are accountable to God for what we know about Him and we'll be judged by our actions based on that knowledge (Romans 2). "To him who has been given much, much is expected..."
I think most everyone knows we are now in a great time of radical change. This time it is not local or national, but world wide. Up until the 20th Century Planet Earth knew only local wars and conflicts. Now we've seen two horrific world wars. More than once we have come to the brink of a nuclear disaster. (see Sex, Religion, and Money: Times are 'achangin, http://www.ldolphin.org/seasons.html). Suddenly last Fall we got to see how interconnected all the nations are economically. The Bible has long predicted global government, and now suddenly it is on the verge of becoming a reality. Last week I read about a Rabbi who had started a global community to bring in one religious system acceptable to all. (A one world church is also predicted in the Bible).
If the Christian community was alive and well in our land today, all these issues, and many more, would be addressed daily and weekly by the collective prayers of Christians across the land. There may well be some healthy prayer cells here and there; it is entirely possible I am out of touch.
All Christians know something about prayer, or we wouldn't know the Lord. Great numbers of people, including many non-Christians, can attest to a time of crisis in their lives when they cried out to God and He helped them. Most Christians do pray about their immediate circle of family and close friends. But the New Testament takes it for granted that prayer is a regular, established feature of the normal Christian life.
We ought not to be deterred in praying boldly because we followers of Jesus are few in number and the problems we need to pray for are so monumental. God usually works with small remnants and He is able to leverage the prayers of very ordinary people so as to move mountains.
When we do pray these days, most of us pray about ourselves, or our immediate circle of family and friends. Locally-focused prayer can easily become myopic. My men's core group a few years back agreed we'd not pray for "sore toes." We saw that we were often putting trivial and unimportant prayer requests on the table. The bigger issues affecting the community, the state, the nation never came up for prayer. Prayer that is really only about our own self-interest and comfort can't be expected to move the heart of God.
The church is an organism, a living reality functioning supernaturally whenever two or more Christians meet together with our Lord. It would be great if we could gather all the Christians we know together at one time and place for a world-crisis prayer meeting, starting small is more realistic. God meets with us when we pray, in small groups or in large, and He prays with us. "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26-27).
About 20 years ago when we realized that prayer was a disappearing element in the life of the local church, some friends of mine tried for at least two years to get a weekly prayer meeting rooted at our church. They failed! There were lots of solid Christians there who could in principle take part, but most Christians were then, and still are, very busy. My past experience working with these friends who "died trying" to revive a weekly prayer meeting in our church leads me to suggest we start with small home prayer cell groups—and leave the bigger picture to God.
One of the devil's strategies down through history has been to divide and conquer God's people. I've been told that San Francisco had a great public march of solidarity down Market Street sponsored by the mainline churches of the city around the turn of the 20th Century. Apparently 100,000 Christians participated. The big parade events of recent years have been spectacles like Gay Pride Day. Today it is usually in very small neighborhood churches of that San Francisco where believers are found on Sunday. These small groups dare not work together very closely because each wants to maintain enough members to pay their pastor's salary and keep up on the rent on their building. Street Christians and store-front missions are where one finds most of the vital Christian witness in San Francisco today. But it would make a huge difference if even small churches and home groups put in some major times of prayer right now.
My main point here is that the absence of a strong offensive campaign against the growing darkness, leaves us splintered, pitted against each other, and marginalized. We have nothing to say to the world and no power to say it effectively. But prayer changes things!
I am persuaded that right now is the most urgent time for us to get into intensive pray in our entire history as a nation. I believe that we are more in need of prayer than we can imagine. I also believe that once we do start earnest prayer, God will "come down" and begin to meet us in power.
To that end here a few practical suggestions. The very best examples of prayer are to be found in the Bible. We can start there.
Prayer groups need good leaders—otherwise we won't stay focused on a topic for more than a couple of minutes. Think of prayer times as strategic battle-front meetings with the Lord Jesus, our Commander in Chief, in our very midst. Our unity and agreement on key issues of the day will set God free to move in amazing, unexpected ways.
It is helpful to open a prayer time with prayers of thanks and gratitude to our Lord for who He is and what He has done in the past. Starting with God also reminds us of who He is and the nature of our relationship with Him.
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17)
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4-7)
The second agenda item in a good prayer meeting is to confess our failures, our sins, any actions on our part that have distanced us from God. Doses of First John 1:9 will be a huge help here. In the prayers in the Bible by Moses, by Daniel, by Jeremiah, by Ezra, the person praying often considered the sins of the people he was praying for to be his own sins. Let's make confession of sin part of our prayer life style. It's in the Bible.
Down through history God has sometimes brought revivals to his church. I have been told that the repentance and brokenness which God's people experience when there is a real moving of the Spirit, is unbelievably powerful, humbling, and life-changing. God does not revive people who are wallowing in self-indulgence, self-righteousness, and preoccupation with the perishing things of this world. Sadly we often think we are doing OK with God when in fact we are in grave danger!
Confession of sin characterizes godly prayer. Often we drift away from God one small step at a time. As we begin to talk to God in prayer we should be ready to bring to him our requests for cleansing and forgiveness. Confession of sin generally cascades when it's genuine. What may begin as the admission of "a few small faults" can easily grow as God turns on His inner spotlights in our hearts.
Prayer does not allow us to tap into God's power for our own selfish purposes. Prayer lines us up with God's plans and programs. If we haven't been praying, chances are we'll miss out on all the exciting things God is doing behind the scenes of history. God is a Personal God, compassionate and understanding. Nothing is more thrilling than being used by God, and He will use anyone who is available. If we aren't involved in praying, God will get His work done by other means, but we can lose out big time.
The prayers of men and women of the Bible whose prayers were recorded in the Bible for our benefit are superb for us to learn from. For illustrations, see Ray Stedman's series, Jesus Teaches on Prayer, http://raystedman.org/jprayer/ and Prayers of the Old Testament, http://raystedman.org/otpray/.
How about the great high priestly prayer of Jesus in John Chapter 17?
James the brother of Jesus says, "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit." (James 5:15-18). This can be paraphrased as, "the fervent prayer of a righteous man releases much power." James also let's us know that Elijah was a man just like any of us! He had no magical powers. He simply believed God and prayed with diligence and perseverance.
While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Tablets of the Law, his brother Aaron led the people to build a golden calf and slip into a very pagan party at the foot of the mountain. This was a time of grave crisis for the newly formed nation of Israel. Moses' remarkable prayer of intercession is found in Exodus Chapter 32.
Dave Roper calls attention to the days of Ezra the scribe, The Time to Pray, http://raystedman.org/leadership/roper/suchatime/3469.html. The national life of Israel was at a very low ebb when Ezra came upon the scene. Ezra's great prayer (Chapters 7-9) is a perfect fit for the times we live in.
Daniel's great prayer which brought the Babylonian captivity of Israel to an end is a wonderful model prayer for us today. See The Other Side of Prayer, by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/daniel/0367.html.
The dedication of the First Jewish temple in Jerusalem featured a marvelous prayer by King Solomon. See Prayer's Frontiers, http://raystedman.org/otpray/3741.html.
One teaching on prayer that stands out in my mind regarding the need of the hour for us today is found in the Apostle Paul's teaching to his young protˇgˇ Timothy:
"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time," (1 Timothy 2:1-6)
This short word of encouragement is packed with detailed information. It's worthy of careful study. Ray Stedman analyzes this scripture in The First Thing: Prayer, http://raystedman.org/timothy/3768.html.
The teaching in this passage shows that state of a nation is ultimately determined by the prayers of God's people!
Lastly, can we agree on the big items we need to pray about right now? I mentioned my first two hot issues already -- the church and the family. It should be clear that our local, state and national leaders need prayer now as never before, and the guidelines of 1 Timothy 2:1-6 are perfect for this. We ought also to pray for the leaders of other countries—whether they are only allies or our enemies. Terrorism is lawlessness and lawlessly can only be eradicated by prayer.
God is a Just God. But the courts and legal system of our nation have slipped far away from even minimal standards for justice in many cases. Governments are in power by God's edict. Leaders at all levels of government are God's ministers who need to understand the high calling given to men and women who serve in the government.
The economies of the world, the banking system, trade, real-estate, global commerce are being shaken to the core right now. Is God's hand in this? Most assuredly, yes! As more and more of our fellow countrymen are losing their jobs, as companies and banks are failing right and left, serious hardship is bound to increase. There is no easy fix for the world's economic problems. They're all tied together. In the long run God will pull down the entire old world order and bring in a completely new system. Will that happen soon? We don't know. If not, if the final events that will close the age we live in, are delayed, how will God help us in the interim?
Central to everything happening in the world is Jerusalem. I believe that we won't have peace until Israel is reconciled to God. But the Jews most likely won't come to the Lord Jesus until they come very close to being utterly destroyed in the last great war.
Christians are few in number—don't be misled by church attendance stats. God has always dealt with the various nations through individuals and small remnants. We who know and serve the Lord Jesus Christ have key leverage in the world right now. This is a time for bold prayer! Nothing is too hard for God. While He does not need us to get His work done, in amazing ways He involves His people in all manner of things in heaven and earth.
So, how about a little creativity in prayer right about now? God's greatest work usually starts small and grows organically. Let's all get involved, each of us as we are able. Shall we see if we can start a prayer epidemic?
"...Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:21)
January 28, 2009