14 Oct 2013
The modern Church in the West does not seem to place a significant sense of reliance for its well being upon prayer, that kind of prayer that asks and keeps on asking for God to expand His Church on earth. We often start or close our gatherings or small group studies in prayer by asking for requests. However these requests seem to be nearly exclusively about the things that concern our daily earthly lives. Do we consistently co-opt prayer for the comfort or convenience of ourselves? Prayers, for example, for those in the hospital or those with relational or financial issues are not to be dismissed. But at the same time we must ask …. is this all there is to prayer? What does this partial praying teach new participants in our midst?
Paul shares with the Ephesians the specifics of his prayers on their behalf …….
15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints,
16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers;
17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might
20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, - Ephesians 1:15-20 (NASB95)
Could it be that our focus on self-centered praying is a sub plot of our general attitudes and indirectly how we are being taught? Have we interpreted the teaching of the church such that we believe our walk with Jesus should be like a newly laundered shirt, starched, clean and fresh smelling having never been exposed to soiling or sweat or suffering of any sort?
Collectively we have studied church growth and many books have been written about mega churches and their individual unique formula for amazing growth. We have sophisticated sociological studies of the world view of men and women that are supposed to aid us in reaching the unsaved according to what they purportedly value and to which they reportedly respond. Can an abundant emphasis upon the thoughts and analysis of man keep us from seeking the leading and guiding of His Spirit? Can this same dependence upon man’s thoughts minimize our praying for His kingdom work to explode? It was God Who spoke through Isaiah these words: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. “ - Isaiah 55:9 (AMP)
These efforts by those called to lead and shepherd the church are predominately from good and pure hearts. But what might be some unintended consequences to the thinking of the average church going individual who should be praying forcefully for God’s kingdom to come? It is not our intent to analyze or advise changes to the teaching and preaching of the church. However regarding prayer ….. imagine for just a moment what might occur if each authentic believer in North America should decide today to pray specifically for a few disciples every day that they would be deeply committed to walk moment by moment filled and guided by God’s Spirit.
Paul tells us that he prayed for those in the area of Ephesus in this way:
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name,
16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,
17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. - Ephesians 3:14-19 (NASB95)
Is it possible that if our private praying were to be saturated with this kind of prayer on a daily basis that our praying in more public settings together with those new to prayer would be positively impacted? Can the church in North America be changed by prayer, ferocious focused down in the trenches fervent prayer?
As we reflect on those who are called to shepherd individual local churches we might consider praying in concert with the instruction and prayer request of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:
18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. - Ephesians 6:18-20 (NASB95)
Our perspective is so critically important. How do we see God? How do we see ourselves? How do we see the world around us? How do we see prayer? The perfect perspective is to see all things as God sees them. How do we move our viewpoint more closely toward this end? Is it not spending more time in the presence of God and in His Word?
The perspectives of all of us will be less perfect than those of God. If we are to reside in the realm of acute accuracy; we must quickly admit that our positions are less than precise. Yours are off and mine are as well.
It is however my perspective, no doubt flawed to a greater or lesser extent, that the Nation of Israel and her relationship with God is somewhat of a picture or premonition of the relationship between the Church and Jesus Christ, her Husband. To the extent that this might be true, we can perhaps purchase eye salve to see, or contact lenses to enhance our vision concerning the church today in her battle against the enemy of our souls. ( See Deuteronomy Chapter 28 )
In the context of Deuteronomy 28 God speaks to the people of Israel through his prophet Moses. God’s promise is :
1 IF YOU will listen diligently to the voice of the Lord your God, being watchful to do all His commandments which I command you this day, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.
2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you if you heed the voice of the Lord your God. - Deuteronomy 28:1-2 (AMP) - (emphasis added)
God’s instruction is to hear and heed. How are we doing obeying these simple commands? To whom are you spending the most time listening? Without accurate hearing there can be no authentic heeding.
The essence of this chapter is the contrast between blessings of God and curses from God and the causation resulting in blessings or curses. Our focus from this chapter is winning or losing battles. God promises if they listen and carefully obey He will see to it that they will win in all their battles. “They will come against you one way and flee from you seven ways.” ( v 7) Conversely if they fail to carefully listen to the Lord and authentically obey His directions they will fall in defeat to their enemies. “You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them, and you shall be tossed to and fro and be a terror among all the kingdoms of the earth.” (v 25 )
Just as the Nation of Israel fought to capture and maintain the promise land, the church is called to fight to defeat the work of the enemy of our souls in this world. This battle is real and the battle like the battle of old is the Lord’s, yet we by the wisdom of the Lord are placed precisely in the central position of this battle. Unfortunately some of us do not have eyes to see or ears to hear to understand where we are located, and perhaps more unfortunately some have not hearts to obey when we know.
Is it your perception that the church is operating seeing the blessings promised by verse 7 above or the consequences promised in verse 25? If we are not observing the blessings being fulfilled as God prophesied [based on the aforementioned assumptions] what seems to be missing on the part of the church?
How do we effectively fight this battle? The Word of God strongly teaches that we should diligently and persistently listen to the direction of the Lord through His word and by His Spirit. In order attain to this altitude of communication, we must spend protracted time alert in His presence seeking His face.
Could we for the sake of His kingdom loosen our hold on our own needs, loosen our hold on our traditions, and loosen our hold on the short cuts to church growth, and simply spend protracted time in the presence of the One who holds all things in His hand? Oh that we can learn together to come to the Lord of Heaven, the creator of heaven and earth, with open and empty hands and say from a humble and surrendered heart, "your are the potter and I am the clay, make me and mold me after Thy will, while I am waiting yielded and still."
The blind preacher, George Matheson [1842 -1906]*put it very clearly …. “ O the cross that lifted up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee; I lay in dust life’s glory dead, and from the ground where blossoms red, Life that shall endless be.”
Oh God give us this life that flows out of death, give deep in our hearts your perspective that except a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, there will not be an expansion of the kingdom of God in this place.