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Archive for the ‘prayer’ Category

If you’re a small group leader or involved in leading prayer ministry, check out this excellent list of practical tips for leading prophetic prayer times.

Also, check out the helpful post on prophetic activation exercises.

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If you only had one prayer to pray, what would it be?

In the 19th century Russian tale ‘The Way of the Pilgrim‘ a pilgrim journeys across Russia, seeking to practise Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) by constantly repeating the ‘Jesus Prayer‘,”Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner“, an ancient confessional long-revered in Eastern churches. More recently, evangelicals became enthusiastic about repeating daily the prayer of Jabez“Oh that you would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from the evil one.” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).

Inspired by the pilgrim’s tale*, I pondered my own choices: if I had to choose a simple prayer to repeat constantly, what would it be? Not that I disliked the ‘Jesus Prayer’, but curiosity left me wondering if there was an even simpler option. Perhaps “Help me, God!” or “Come, Holy Spirit“? “Abba, father” or “Jesus, let your kingdom come“? What was the most basic, most fundamental prayer of my life? Certainly I would have rated all of these as fundamental at various times. But in musing on this question again recently, I came to a even simpler answer.

I want every prayer that I pray to acknowledge who God is and who I am. For I have authority and agency: what I do and say matters. Yet it is God who loves me, calls to me, rescues me, sets me on my feet, and sends me. It is his Spirit that gives me new life, his kingdom which compels me. How could a single prayer encompass so much? Was there a prayer that would reflect the most fundamental desires of my life: to live in agreement with how God has made me, and what he says about me, to be filled with the Spirit, and to submit my life to his purposes and kingdom rule? When I put it that way the answer seemed obvious: agreement and submission can be summed up in a single word.

I believe that the simplest, and most fundamental, prayer that I can pray is “Yes.”

“Yes” encompasses acceptance and invitation, agreement and obedience, triumph and celebration. It’s agreeing to try something new, and confirming a request. It’s answering the door, and accepting seconds of dessert. It’s admitting blame, and conceding defeat. It’s agreeing to marry! It’s the shout of victory, and the exclamation of an overflowing heart.

With a single word I can say so much. I want to say “Yes” to everything that God says about me; “Yes” to his love and his saving grace; “Yes” to the life of the Spirit and crucifying the old self; “Yes” when he calls my name and asks me to leave everything and follow him; “Yes” to everything he asks from me. I will declare “Yes” to Jesus as Lord and King, and a wholehearted “Yes” to every good thing he has for others. And along the way I want to celebrate everything that he has made and done and purposed with a resounding “Yes!”

Praying “Yes” acknowledges my authority and agency: God asks -not compels – me in all things. And yet by itself the word is meaningless – it is simply a response. In order to respond, there must be first a question or command. Thus with this simple prayer I can profess the reality of God as ultimate source and final question: all of creation must answer. My answer is “Yes.”

I am made to freely respond to God’s love. I am a free agent who finds peace only in surrender. I am an individual made for relationship. I have authority only in agreement. He loves me; I love him. He calls me; I answer. He sets me on my feet; I walk beside him. He gives me identity and purpose. Everything he says about me is true, everything he commands is because he loves me. I can only say “Yes” to him, because he first said “Yes” to me.

So, I was convinced. Simple, yet profound, “Yes” seemed a worthwhile prayer to spend time with – and the nervousness I sensed within me made me confident that it held plenty of potential for wrestling with deeper things. So, how would I go about using this simple prayer?

In a nod to the Russian pilgrim it’s my intention to use the prayer as a meditation during a pilgrimage of sorts. I am planning for this pilgrimage, which I expect to take some time, to take me on a journey through the various questions, statements and commands put before me in the Bible. As I consider each “Yes”, and I expect there to be many different kinds, it will be with the intention of understanding what God is saying or asking in a deeper way than before. As with the practice of the Jesus Prayer, my hope is to hear God’s voice. And I am certain that along the way I shall find many ways to say “Yes”.

Despite the simplicity of the words, and the familiarity of much of the territory I expect to cover, I don’t expect an easy journey – in fact I am sure it will be adventurous, challenging and occasionally scary. Though I remain confident of the value of an intentional journey with God, and in his capacity to surprise me.

Though on the face of it ‘Yes’ is an easy word, it’s often very hard to say. Submitting to authority can be hard; acknowledging responsibility is tough; following Jesus means leaving things behind. Part of me is deeply scared of this word. What parts of my heart are not in agreement with God? And what about all of the ways in which I’m not fully obedient to him? There’s no doubt about it: saying “Yes” to God requires trust. It’s not meant to be easy, but it requires a decision.

“Will you trust me?” he asks. It’s the first question. I take a deep breath. “Yes.”

 

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” JRR Tolkien, in the Lord of the Rings.

*I first came across this story – I think – in Philip Yancey’s ‘Prayer’.

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i am here.

i’m in this place, waiting for you.

i’m waiting like those wise men,
following a star like a fool.

i’m waiting like jonah
covered in the slime and scale of the sea,
deep in the belly of darkness
hoping for a rescue.

i’m waiting like your mother
pregnant with fear and love.

i’m waiting like our first parents
in the stillness of the garden
listening for your footsteps.

i’m waiting like you did
on the day I was born and
you spoke my name into the world
and said I was good.

what a surprise to find you
already here
so quiet–
waiting for me.

From the Animate booklet, part of the Animate series on Imaginative Prayer at Woodland Hills Church. These look like great resources.

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Seymour Jacklin preached a cracking sermon last night at our 7.45pm service. We’ve been following a series on the Parables and he was preaching from Luke 15.11-32, the Prodigal Son.

He took us through some ‘alternative endings’ for the parable, pointing out where the story could have ended at certain points and why it didn’t. He made the point that this story is not really about the prodigal son, but actually about the merciful father. This is what God is like.

A couple of points which stood out for me:

Seymour made the point that the younger son shows an almost offensive audacity – both in asking his father for his inheritance and for having the nerve to return home after he has squandered it. And strangely, to our ears, in both cases he is rewarded for his nerve: the father says yes to his first request, and later runs out to welcome him home. We need to have this kind of faith, this hope, to come to our heavenly father with our requests, to trust in his mercy. Perhaps we could all do with a dose of this bold presumption of a son towards his father.

The younger son sees that he has no where else to go and goes back to his father in desperation. Let’s not hesitate in running back to God only in desperation – don’t wait for a ‘purer’ motive to return to him. He is ready with arms open to welcome us home. Peter said, ‘where else should we go?’ (John 6.68, paraphrase)

The point he made that particularly struck me was this: both sons missed the point of their relationship with their father or their sonship. The younger son wanted the benefits of sonship without the relationship, and the older wanted a reward from his father for his faithfulness as a son. Both failed to see that it is the relationship with their father which is the richest reward. The real treasure is the Father himself!

As Seymour memorably put it,

he doesn’t just own the orchard – he is the orchard! And the apples… the cider… the sparkle!

He is the treasure which you seek…

We sung a great song during the worship time afterwards that fitted perfectly:

Love Came Down – Ben Cantelon (Songza link)

I’ve found a love greater than life itself
I’ve found a hope stronger and nothing compares
I once was lost now I’m alive in You

 

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Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This reminded me of Gary Haugen’s challenge for us to dare to ‘leave the visitors centre and take the risk of climbing the mountain with dad’.

If we never “dare more boldly to venture on wider seas” we’ll never really experience the wonderful safety of God, his grace and strength to see us through, safe in his hands.

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Today I was helping with the administration at an event run by the Christian Leaders’ Forum (an organisation working to develop church leaders in North East England) with Nicky Gumbel speaking.

My first impression was just that I really liked him. Of course, he’s familiar to me, from preaching at HTB and from the Alpha DVDs – in fact he’s familiar to millions as the face of the Alpha course. He comes across on the DVDs as intelligent, friendly and, with the eponymous black notebook filled with stories and gentle humour. But as he talked openly with the church leaders this afternoon it struck me how warm, funny and generally likeable he is in person, as well being someone absolutely passionate about people coming to know Jesus. He impressed me a lot and I thought, here is someone I’d respect and trust, and I can see why people leave their highly paid city jobs to come and work for him.

He told lots of Alpha stories, of course, and it sounds like they’re having a great time down at HTB in London. It also struck me the way he talked about they ‘work with everyone’ in terms of the Alpha Course. He said that worldwide there are more Catholics doing Alpha now than anyone else, and the Orthodox church is also interested. I liked the way he talked about following the work of the Holy Spirit, in something like the way they did in Acts: ‘oh, the Gentiles are speaking in tongues, that must mean it’s OK to baptise them!’ Brilliant! He’s really passionate about people working together in evangelism, and reminding the church that what we have in common is far greater than what divides us. He said that he’s convinced that if a church is focussed on reaching the lost, above everything else, the rest will follow. I believed him.

He reminded us, too, how important a place they give to the work of the Holy Spirit and told us about people being healed and coming to faith through words of knowledge. He explained that at the end of every meeting they ask the Holy Spirit to come.

So, at the end of this evening’s session, he asked us all to stand and he prayed, very simply, ‘come, Holy Spirit’. What followed was one of the most intense times of the Spirit that I’ve known in a long time. An absolute stillness descended, a ‘heavy peace’ and it was amazing. There was a richness in the air, an intensity and tears were just welling up in me and running down my face. We stood in silence for several minutes, our hands held open. Then he brought some words of knowledge and a lady became a Christian! Then he asked people to go down to the front if they wanted prayer, so I went down to help pray for people.

I really like the way HTB do this stuff and it’s the same at Soul Survivor. There’s no hype, no fuss. It’s really simple, really direct and completely powerful. There’s such an expectancy and authority about it: we’re going to invite the Holy Spirit to come and then we’re going to wait… There’s an ease about the way it happens, a normality and you never feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

He told some fun stories too, and one really funny one from the North East (completely untrue of course!). Although you’ll find it anywhere on the web, I’ll post it here for your enjoyment:

Two British traffic patrol officers from North Berwick were involved in an unusual incident while checking for speeding motorists on the A1 Great Nort h Road . One of the officers used a hand-held radar device to check the speed of a vehicle approaching over the crest of a hill, and was surprised when the speed was recorded at over 300 mph. Their radar suddenly stopped working and the officers were not able to reset it.

Just then a deafening roar over the treetops revealed that the radar had in fact latched on to a RAF Tornado fighter jet which was engaged in a low-flying exercise over the Border district, approaching from the North Sea .

Back at police headquarters the chief constable fired off a stiff complaint to the RAF Liaison office.

Back came the reply in true laconic RAF style:

Thank you for your message, which allows us to complete the file on this incident. You may be interested to know that the tactical computer in the Tornado had detected the presence of, and subsequently locked onto, your hostile radar equipment and automatically sent a jamming signal back to it. Furthermore, an air-to-ground missile aboard the fully-armed aircraft had also automatically locked onto your equipment. Fortunately the pilot flying the Tornado recognized the situation for what it was, quickly responded to the missile systems alert status, and was able to override the automated defence system before the missile was launched and your hostile radar installation was destroyed.”

A good day!

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Openness and Prayer

Blogger TC Robinson has been investigating open theism on his blog and starting various interesting discussions along the way. I recently commented (hopefully gently!) on his post about prayer:

I’ve always understood prayer to be pretty effective – not just in my personal relationship with God, but also for affecting what happens in the world. I agree there’s definitely the sense in the Gospels of Jesus taking time out in prayer to learn his Father’s will (as Duane and others have mentioned above) but surely the overwhelming teaching of Jesus is that God responds to prayer and our prayers therefore have real consequences in the world, e.g. Luke 21.36, Matt 7.11 ‘how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him’, Luke 10.2 ‘ask for workers’, Luke 22.32 (in verse 31 it sounds like Satan is also able to pray!)… and I haven’t even mentioned some of the most famous verses about prayer!

What I understand from what Boyd and others teach is that because God is relational he has chosen to mediate his authority through free agents such as ourselves and angels etc.* Although the plan was for us to rule ‘under authority’ (c.f. Luke 7.8), we have real delegated responsibility. To this end God has chosen to limit his influence and authority in the world according to our direction and desire. The really challenging thing about this view is that it makes prayer absolutely critical. God’s involvement depends on us asking for it! When we pray ‘your will be done’ we’re apparently – in a really odd way – actually giving God ‘permission’ to act to bring about his will. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

I actually think this view has a lot to recommend it, as it makes sense of Jesus’ instructions about prayer and the importance Paul obviously gives to prayer (e.g. 1 Thess 3.10). God is genuinely responsive to our prayers, relational even in the exercise of his sovereign authority. That sounds like a truly dynamic relationship! It’s also interesting to note the way Paul talks about being coworkers with God.

[*At the beginning humankind is given dominion over the earth (Gen 1.26-28 ) but unfortunately it seems we surrendered our authority to Satan, who is now the ‘prince of this world’ (John 12.41). But Daniel 7 indicates that part of our final destiny is to finally reclaim this authority in the kingdom of Jesus.]

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