“When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people,
if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
Synopsis: The last nine newsletters (1) of mine have been leading somewhere, though I began to recognize that only about a week ago. It's time for all of us to pray.
I have been interested in the state of Christ's church ever since I became a follower of Jesus back in 1962. Only gradually have I come to see how far most of our churches today have drifted from the picture the New Testament gave us on how local churches are supposed to function structurally and organically.
Two years ago some health problems came along and I then began to examine more closely the state of my own "interior world" -- the personal, intimate side of my knowing Jesus in heart, mind and soul. All sorts of innate deficiencies and culturally driven inadequate responses to life (garbage and sewage) began to surface in me. I had been "going with the flow" in the streams and currents of life in this world, mostly just staying up to date on trends and movements, and then reacting to them. I did not stop and take note that the church was not growing more militant and triumphant but gradually dumbing down, losing her impact on society, and offering less and less challenge to pursue moral excellence.
I knew that "as the church goes, so goes the nation." Since the real church is a small group (a remnant) within the professing church, one might say, "as the remnant goes, so goes the nation." God is actually not running the universe all by Himself, but in partnership with us, His people. He gives us what we have deserved, often stopping us from total self-destruction by a slender margin of pure mercy--at the last minute. We reap what we have sown. The overwhelming problems coming down on us nowadays are our fault, not God's.
When we hear truth about God and ignore it, we go blind and become dull of hearing in that area of understanding -- to our own greater hurt. The Old Testament shows plainly that a mere outward show of integrity and religion in a nation is far from what God wants. He hates hypocrisy and religious pretense. Yet these days we are occupied with our own lofty goals driven by ambition, pride, and self interest. Though we've been told by Jesus that we can't serve God and self-interest, our response to this (and other similar pleas from the Lord) does little more than make us slightly more religious. These days, who takes anything Jesus said seriously, though Jesus owns the universe and we are only His temporary house guests here? The real God is ignored, insulted, blasphemed and demeaned in the ugliest language ever invented. We are a planet of idols, self-made gods narcissistically worshipping our own creations. God's people stay silent, saying and doing nothing to change the status quo, sometimes contributing to it.
Jesus designed and built the universe, serving the Father and the Holy Spirit as He did so. The Three had us in mind. We were invited to stay here for a season (if our behavior met the Landlord's basic rules on behavior). We were put here so that we might learn to love in the same way that God loves. He'd like to teach willing candidates among us to live out the life He demonstrated--a life that restores, serves, and heals. Our rewards (if any) would come later. Instead of quietly serving Jesus as He asked, we have turned everything upside down. God is self-giving and we are self-seeking -- where is our common ground? Isaiah said, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!" (Isaiah 5:19-20)
God is, a Personal Being -- He deeply wishes each of us to walk with Him personally in our interior life. He'd also like us to be real and transparent in our relationships with other people out in the exterior world. The world needs to see and hear Jesus in and through us. It's the basic design of society. Jesus needs clear transparent vessels of integrity if He is to speak to others through us. At the same time, God has designed things so that we should each find a path in life which leads to holiness. Holiness is wholeness -- being well-rounded and complete, wedded to the impeccable purity and integrity of Jesus Christ in our hearts.
Genesis says that man and woman were created in the image and likeness of our Creator. God is a Spirit -- His image in us involves the making of two distinctive, complementary sexes, not one, not three. Our creative and inventive gifts, our capacity for worship, love and relationship reflect the Creator's image in us. What is called God's "likeness" in us unfolds as we allow Him to transform us from self-seeking to self-giving persons. Thus, over time, we become in time "imitators of God." (Eph. 5:1) However we can' grow as followers of Christ by sitting on the sidelines as passive bystanders.
We were all born into a highly damaged creation. Human sensibilities, inside and outside, are badly broken. Man's sin has caused the entire universe, the natural world, to be fatally broken as well. The restoration and repair task for man and nature required the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the second of the Persons.
In every age of history, a few have been willing to follow Jesus to become new creations and to be citizens, destined to assume leadership in a new heavens a new earth. Only those who respond to Jesus benefit from his atoning sacrifice.
The power supply and energy for living an authentic Christian life is the very same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead two millennia ago. It's the power with which He also "upholds the universe by His mighty word..." That same power will very soon raise us, his followers, to eternal life.
Thus, there is another subtle feature of being a genuine Christian. We can not live this high-quality new life in our own self-effort (that power is what the Bible calls man's natural life, or "the flesh.") Those who love Jesus and follow Him with the right motives understand that our part is to make ourselves available to Jesus so that He can live His endless life through us. Some have called the normal Christian life, the "exchanged life." For Jesus to obtain that life for us was the greatest gift ever given. The Bible says, "...you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you." (1 Peter 1:18-25)
Nowhere does the Bible picture the church of Jesus as an audience of consumers assembled to be entertained by a professional choir, with the hour capped off by a lofty, but irreelvant, message in the style of Greek Oratory.
Rather, a very important aspect of our calling to follow Jesus is our individual and group prayer. God uses the prayers of His people as very central key to his communication with His people. This very Personal God wishes to speak to us in many loving ways best described as the courtship of Lover and Beloved. Courtship never succeeds if the beloved is indifferent and fails to respond. Indifference to a suitor's patient calling is a very uncivil way of expressing hatred.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another," should not be all that difficult to do -- when we pay attention to our Leader. In a world of information overload, a world-culture saturated with deception and lies, we surely need the Wisdom of God as never before. We are surely now very near to the end of the age. Yet, when the world all around us needs to hear from Jesus through His own personal representatives, we followers of Jesus have become weak, unavailable, ill-informed -- languishing in indifference.
One obvious solution to today's enormous problems is to encourage our fellow Christians to come together and start praying. Apparently we aren't bothering to pray very much. Do we wrongly assume we are doing just fine without Jesus, or do we suppose He really doesn't care?
I believe that if we begin to pray, from the heart, now, God will quickly respond. We may think we are not in need of prayer. Let's pray anyway and see if God doesn’t answer. When we pray we may well discover that God is ready to answer with torrents of living water. I believe our needs for radical help from God have never been greater. If we start to pray I'm convinced it won't be long until God shows us how much we need to repent and how perilous our condition really is right now.
Prayer 101: A few friends and I are proposing a new format for prayer tailored to the uniqueness of our time. We are suggesting that each and every one of you gather your family, a few friends, your home Bible class, for some down to earth serious prayer. Since it is now the midnight hour and the dangers are very grave, please step in and learn to pray immediately as part of your in-service Christian training. The suggested starting format below has been chosen to help you avoid a couple of common pitfalls when praying in a group. But go, as the Spirit leads.
God willing, we'll be post some guidelines and comments on a web site so you can share your experiences with others and learn from them. Every prayer group needs to stay on track and to stay keenly aware that is a solemn gathering between us and our Lord Jesus. Yours is a unique prayer meeting, owned by and led by Jesus Christ the Lord -- make sure He stays in charge.
Every person in the group should pray. Shy-persons can write their prayers down on paper and pass them to the Facilitator. Yes, we think your group should have a Facilitator. An essential feature of Prayer 101 is that you are each communicating with the living God. He is supremely intelligent, emotional deep, and fully acquainted with every human need. Jesus will listen and respond to your prayers, and more importantly, He will change the members of your group, breathing new resurrection life into each one of you. Be prepared to be changed by a style of transparent praying. The overall reasons for gathering in prayer in this "family style" is to allow the Spirit of God to change us. Beyond that, expect the Sovereign Lord to begin to change the world around you.
Pray like this:
1. Thanks-Giving. Each member of the group should briefly thank God for what he or she is grateful for here and now. We can all do this, even in hard times. Starting our prayer times by thanking God is a form of worship; it's where we should always approach God. As evidenced by many of the Psalms, God knows that we have overwhelming problems and needs these days, and He invites us to bring them to Him daily. Let's start by acknowledging that we need to come into alignment with our Holy God first. He is the One who continues to show us kindness and mercy, though we deserve to be banished forever from His very presence. You might want to open with a short reading from the Bible and an opening prayer to get started on the right wavelength.
2. Far-Away-Lands. Our planet seems like it is all about ready to self-destruct, and indeed the Bible says it is. To start praying for our beleaguered earth, let's pray for a few public figures in the news, first, for people who are half-a-world away today. Let's pray that God would move these leaders and persons of influence away from opposition to God and God's programs. Christians in foreign lands are often in constant peril all their lives. Our prayers will enable God to empower them. Leaders near and far away are often unwitting servants of evil demonic powers--our prayers directed at the invisible powers of evil behind the scenes can make a difference. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." --remember Ephesians 6:12?
The one key, pivotal, most important country on earth is Israel. If you don’t see this, read the Old Testament.
3. Our Home-Land. Pray next for national and local leaders. Often churches stay away from controversial political issues in praying and in preaching. Therefore things get worse. Ask God to show your group ways to change the world from backstage, from behind the scenes, using our God-given powerful weapons of spiritual warfare (2). Instead of simplistically praying for a certain person in power to be "saved," pray for God's influence in his or her life by means of love, kindness and mercy. [Yes, we do not seek to convert others to our way of thinking…we seek to model lives that demonstrate the love of Christ.] The New Testament asks every church to make corporate prayer (3) our high priority. As a group why don't we ask our Almighty God to quietly set aside and to dry up demonically empowered projects now running unchecked in our communities. Deal in prayer with the fallen angels behind collective evil in the world. Only God's remnant knows how to do this. We need to pray so we will be given eyes that see and hears that ear, not merely by the physical observations we can absorb daily, but asking God to show us what He’s doing in the unseen world….praying for hearts to change, believers and unbelievers alike, for priorities to shift away from ourselves, our agendas to align with His.
4. The Local Scene and Your Circle. You have touched upon the big picture in prayer, now pray for the needs in your group. (This is where most small prayer groups start and end--going no further. In your prayer group who is ill, who is out of work, who is out of action because of illness or emotional exhaustion? The dynamics of YOUR prayer group are the most important issue you will be dealing with--that's why we listed this last. We Christians say we love each other but in reality we often harbor grudges, bitterness and resentment toward one another. In the symbolic language of First Corinthians 12-14, the whole body of Christ is sick. Broken relations and unconfessed sin in the group must be sought out and carefully healed. Go slow and be very careful. The Holy Spirit knows how to gently show every member of your group where and how they need to change. We can all be blind in some areas of our own lives and fail to see that it is "we," not "they," who have unresolved conflicts with others in the group. Remember, the church as a whole, the Body of Christ, is weak these days because of sin. Repair and healing of our nation therefore starts with our small group. When your prayer times ends, write down a list of "to do" items so that new life and healing God makes known can spread to others. God will want to use you to answer some of the prayer requests that came up.
As your prayer group begins to see things as God sees them, branch out to other areas of prayer, to special projects or certain people. If your find yourself not knowing how to get started in your prayer group, select one of the great prayers in the Bible (4) as a model. Read and apply.
Invite the Lord Jesus Christ to step down into the midst of your prayer group every time you meet. He will gladly direct your prayer activity, provided you stay out of the way. Invite one or two seasoned "prayer warriors" to help out in your group by keeping you all on track. We suggest you stay informal in your prayer group and not tie yourselves down with extra rules and unnecessary protocol. It is not necessary for you to address God in perfect King James English. Put a few guidelines in place then stick to them. When your group gets too large, divide and multiply.
There is nothing new here. Truth never changes. "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever." Your prayer group has the privilege of being used by God to change history. Please pitch in and allow God to work through you in this simple new way? Let us know what you learn and what God shows you.
In short, what my friends and I feel called to do is to urge you to all become actively engaged in praying -- and please start immediately. We strongly feel God wants to meet us in prayer at this critical hour in our nation's history. We are confident that Jesus is ready to respond if we will make the first move; confident that Jesus is ready to respond if we will engage with Him fully as the branches to His vine.
Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. “For you shall go out with joy, And be led out with peace; The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, And instead of the brier sall come up the myrtle tree; And it shall be to the LORD for a name, For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:6-13)
Write: Lambert Dolphin, mailto:email@example.com; Postings: http://paracleteforum.org/prayers101/; 12 September 2010
My web site: http://ldolphin.org/;
Links: 1. Previous newsletters: http://ldolphin.org/news/
2. Spiritual Warfare, http://www.raystedman.org/thematic-studies/spiritual-warfare/
3. Corporate Prayer, http://ldolphin.org/prayoption.html
4. Prayers in the Bible, http://www.raystedman.org/thematic-studies/prayer/
Other Concerns--Finances: Month after month, year after year faithful friends have contributed to my monthly support. I realize all of you are very likely being affected adversely by the current economic down turn. As usual, I am trying to look to God alone to keep my bills and expenses paid. I am not backed by any organization, I have no staff or secretary. I am very grateful for the generous help of friends near and far, clear evidence to me of the grace of God. Your may send contributions directly to my PayPal account. Ray Stedman Ministries has graciously provided a channel for tax deductible donations. If you'd like a tax receipt, send your check to Ray Stedman Ministries, Attn: Lambert Dolphin Ministries, PO Box 413, Mount Hermon, CA 95041. Thank you very much!
Class in Psalms: I am currently teaching through some of the Psalms on Sunday mornings at my home church, Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, CA. My classes are posted weekly in mp3 audio. Current series: http://ldolphin.org/psalms/index.html. My past newsletters are on my web site, http://ldolphin.org/news/ for your amusement. I am always writing something new, but articles seem to take me forever to finish. See my main library page, http://ldolphin.org/asstbib.shtml. Lambert Dolphin. mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.