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Monday, July 28, 2014

Understanding prayer

Posted by Gary on May 19, 2012

1 John 5:14 “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.

“There is a limit to the doctrine of the prayer of faith. We are not to expect that God will give us everything we choose to ask for. We know that we sometimes ask, and do not receive, because we ask amiss. If we ask for that which is not promised—if we run counter to the spirit which the Lord would have us cultivate—if we ask contrary to his will, or to the decrees of his providence—if we ask merely for the gratification of our own ease, and without an eye to his glory, we must not expect that we shall receive.” (Charles Spugeon: Morning and Evening May 19-Evening)

 

Fervency and concentration in prayer

Posted by Gary on January 18, 2011

As a shadow has no power because there is no substance in it, even so that prayer, in which a man’s proper self is not thoroughly present in agonizing earnestness and vehement desire, is utterly ineffectual, for it lacks that which would give it force. “Fervent prayer,” says an old divine, “like a cannon planted at the gates of heaven, makes them fly open.”

The common fault with the most of us is our readiness to yield to distractions. Our thoughts go roving hither and thither, and we make little progress towards our desired end. Like quicksilver our mind will not hold together, but rolls off this way and that. How great an evil this is! It injures us, and what is worse, it insults our God. What should we think of a petitioner, if, while having an audience with a prince, he should be playing with a feather or catching a fly? (Charles Spurgeon: Morning and Evening-January 15 evening)

Praying for our children

Posted by Gary on April 23, 2010

Each week I try to include in our church bulletin a quote regarding the Christian faith hoping that people either before service or after will take some moments to read it, you know a little mini sermon from a guest speaker. I search the web and look for things to share and today found “Praying for Your Children” by William Scribner.

I would like to share a segment with you it was a rebuke and challenge for me. If we were really convinced that our children had souls and were going to spend eternity either with God or without Him we would pray more for them.

It is so very easy to say that we believe certain things such as the fact that our children have souls but what are we doing to help see them by saved? Prayer is vital but there is much more. Do we read the Bible to them and seek to apply it to their hearts? What do we let them watch and read? What do they see in us as they watch us? Is it the faith that we tell them we believe? Now Scribner:

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Rick Warren, The Inauguration and the frightening responsibility of being God’s servant IV

Posted by Gary on January 21, 2009

j0438498 The model for every pastor’s preaching, teaching and praying is the Prophets, Apostles and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are only truthful and faithful to the degree that our preaching, teaching and praying resembles theirs.

Concerning Rick Warren’s prayer today I want us to use imagination rooted in Scripture and ask the following: "Would Moses have prayed a prayer similar to Warren’s?" "What would Jeremiah have prayed if he were offering the invocation?" "Leave the words but remove Rick Warren and insert John the Baptist instead. Would, could, John the Baptist have approached God as Rick Warren did?

When the ecstasy wears off we have some serious thinking to do about the events of this day and what they portend for the future. But for now I would take hold of us and hand us the spectacles of Scripture. I ask you, I gently shake you as I ask you. Stop and think. Would the Prophets, Apostles or the Lord Jesus Christ have prayed in the way that Rick Warren did today?

For weeks I have tempered myself and called myself to be as gracious as possible, fearing what Warren might do today. I must say it was worse than I feared.

Can you imagine the Apostle Paul asking God to help us remember that what unites us is "not religion" but "our commitment to freedom, and justice for all"?

The God who commands all His creatures to love and serve Him only is to overlook our false gods and idolatry and remind us that our greatest commitment is to give freedom and justice to other men? Our greatest duty is not to other men, not even in bringing them freedom and justice. Our first and greatest duty is to worship, revere and serve God and Him alone:

Exodus 20:2-6 "I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."

How can a servant of the jealous God bring our idolatry right into His presence and far from confessing it ask Him to remind us of some duty that in our idolatrous hearts we think is higher than honoring the one, true, God alone?

I defy you to tell me that any of the Prophets or Apostles would have prayed something like this.

Christians, we must be discerning.

Rick Warren, The Inauguration and the frightening responsibility of being God’s servant III

Posted by Gary on January 19, 2009

When God’s servants are called upon to pray they are first and foremost to consider God, His holiness, greatness and glory over and above the thoughts and opinions of the people who will hear and hopefully join him in His prayer. The great snare in public prayer is to consider human beings above God. This can happen in two ways. First, the sin of trying to impress the other prayer participants by our phrasing and wording so that our intention albeit ever so subtle is to lead people to marvel at how Godly we are.

The second sin in public prayer is born of the fear of man. The sin here is being afraid to bring before God in prayer what would be most honoring to Him and most necessary for us from fear that it will anger and upset the people participating. Tomorrow is the Inauguration and the real pitfall before Pastor Rick Warren will be coming very near and dancing all around what needs to be prayed and yet never saying the words. Pastors can display an amazing ability in this realm, we can avoid what needs to be said while making it sound very much like we have.

Let me come to the point. Any prayer offered on behalf of our nation that would make request for God’s blessing upon our president and the country itself must include amongst many other things:

The specific confession of our sin of having turned away from the One, True God. Here is where the vaguery floods in. A pastor may pray asking “god” to forgive us for turning away from Him but what God are we speaking to? What God have we turned away from? Here of course is where the whole thing falls apart and I am afraid true Christians and pastors must either play the man or refrain from participation. This prayer needs to include a request for forgiveness for turning away from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God ultimately revealed as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“But Gary, our country is founded upon the freedom to believe in whatever god we want to”. Yes, and here our country finds itself at odds with the Law of God which permits us no such freedom:

Exodus 20:2-3  "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.”

Our government of course would respond that it is not looking for such a specific, unquestionable reference to God to which any servant of God must respond, “Then you are not looking for me to offer the prayer either for I cannot.” God’s people, let us never forget: we are not messengers of religion in general nor nation promoters, we are the redeemed people of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are Christ’s ambassadors, we speak only of Him and in His interests. How can a prayer that can be attributed to any god be considered faithful to the only God?

A prayer offered on behalf of the nation must also include a confession of our intentioned murder of the unborn children who bear the image of God. Isn’t it a marvel that prayers can be offered to God seeking His favor and blessing while all the while refusing to acknowledge that we have murdered millions of the children who bear His image? Can we attack God by attacking His image in children and then ask for His blessing? Pray all you want, make it sound as religious and flowery as you like but a prayer without confession of the sin of infant murder will be an offense to God:

Isaiah 1:15-18  "So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord, Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.”

“But, our government has said infant murder is lawful.” Yes, and again our nation finds itself at odds with and in opposition to the Law of God. Do we not see that this is the issue? We are at odds with and in rebellion against God and at the same time we think we are going to receive His blessing. It is not going to happen.

Our sins against God in regard to the life that bears His image are many and great. Our sin is rising up to heaven until a day comes when God will relent no longer. Our nation has been unraveling for decades, in judgment block after block has been pulled from our foundation until one day that one block to many will be removed and our house will collapse totally:

Matthew 7:26-27  "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell– and great was its fall."

The responsibility of God’s servant is to confront leaders and nations of their sin so that they will repent and can then rightfully call upon God for mercy and blessing. Are we not all aware of the gigantic elephant in the room? Shall we call upon God while refusing to acknowledge our sins against Him? An attempt to avoid what needs to be said is unfaithfulness on the part of God’s servants.

Perhaps one would ask me, “Gary, you are saying so much, would you like to offer the prayer at the Inauguration?” Here is my answer…In my vanity I would like to think that I would be faithful and bold and would pray just as I have advocated that Rick Warren must pray. As truth takes hold of me I know that without great grace, I would play the coward and seek to please men. A man would be a fool to seek for himself the shoes that Rick Warren will stand in tomorrow. He had only better be there by the calling of God. Pray for Rick Warren, for me and for all of God’s servants, how we need God’s grace to be faithful.

Rick Warren, The Inauguration and the frightening responsibility of being God’s servant II

Posted by Gary on January 14, 2009

Isaiah 1:15-18 "So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.”

There is an eternity’s difference between coming into the presence of God and mere religious formality. Few things have more potential of being formality than political events with a clergyman’s presence. To come into the presence of God means to recognize His holiness, our sinfulness and to lay the heart bare before Him. Religious formality requires none of these things, it only requires religious language.

How do we know the difference between the two? Religious formality takes place without any humbling, soul searching effect on the participants. A prayer is offered and no one is challenged, humbled or offended. To rightly come into the presence of God one must be willing to come to terms with their sins against God and they must also by His grace be willing to part from them.

Religious formality may make reference to sin (more likely the words “faults” or “weaknesses” will be used) but the sins that are most offensive to God and that we most need to acknowledge are never mentioned and participants come away from such a prayer thinking about the sins of others, not their own, hence the avoidance of offense.

Most often at political events prayers with any confession list things we as men do against each other (violence, prejudice, neglect of the needy) but almost never include a list of sins that we commit against God (which all sins are against God by the way). A confession of man’s wrongs against man will be tolerated gladly for in the end most of us convince ourselves that we are not guilty even of these.

All this prayer takes is a man who knows Biblical phraseology and he can slither away just fine. He can mention “reaping what we sow” while never getting specific about what we are sowing or what we will reap. He can confess that we “have turned away from God” but will not be specific about which God we are guilty of turning away from.

Amazingly, all it seems to take to quiet the concerns of today’s evangelicals is a few Biblical phrases and then a conclusion that is in Jesus’ name or some equivalent that those of us who know the Biblical phraseology know means Jesus, “Prince of Peace”, “Wonderful Counselor” or “Good Shepherd”. “He used the phrases” evangelicals trumpet gladly and never ponder that we all escaped the shining light of God’s truth and have offended and angered God by our prayer not honored Him.

O come on Gary, do you really think more than this could be said in an inaugural prayer? Well the question is, what are we after? If we are after formality, avoiding offense and the satisfaction of having offered a prayer then we couldn’t push for more than this. But if we are actually intending to come into the presence of the one, true, living God then something much more penetrating and confrontational is necessary.

Pray that God gives Rick Warren the faith and courage to be His true messenger on January 20.

Yes, Lord

Posted by Gary on March 22, 2007

Contained in a Puritan prayer I recently read:

“If I am not right, set me right, keep me right…”

Do you know something of what this fellow believer was thinking when he prayed this? I understand Him to mean a couple of things:

First, it seems that he believes it is quite possible to not be right in his standing before God and yet not know it, “If I am not right…”. Those who know their own hearts with any degree of accuracy know that it is very possible for us to be blind to our own sin (amazingly somehow, we have eagle eye accuracy to find the sins of others):

Jeremiah 17:9The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Proverbs 21:2
“Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.”

The willingness to believe ourselves blind to areas of disobedience to God is the only safe ground there is, the puritans called this “self mistrust”. If ever I fail to see this possibility and become unwilling to pray this searching type prayer, I am in great danger. We can have no better example than the man after God’s own heart, David who prayed similarly:


Psalm 139:23-24
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”

I think the choice of the word “set” is important. When I hear it in the context of this request, I understand the one praying to acknowledge that he may not want to move from wrong to right. I immediately think of what a doctor does with a bone that is broken and out of place, he “sets” it. That is, he puts his hands on either side of the break and moves the bone back into place by force (yes, gentle force but force none the less). If I understand this child of God rightly, I know full well what he means. A part of me wants to be right with God but a part of me does not, I bristle against seeing my sin and often love it to a degree that I cannot bring myself to forsake it. The Spirit of Christ in me brings me to the place where I am willing to pray “set me right”. “Lord I cannot do it, I will not do it without your grace, do what you must do.” Very often the child of God says, “Lord, I love my sin but by your grace I love You more, I do want to be right, help me.”

Next, it seems that this Christian understands that if sin is so deceptive and powerful to blind us to its presence, it is certainly too powerful for us to overcome and set right ourselves and so He asks God to set him right. Here is another sign that someone has come to understand the truth of God, even if we are granted to see what is wrong in us, we are not able to make it right ourselves, God through Christ must do it. We can say more than this. The truth is that left to ourselves we would not even desire to be put right, God must give us this desire and willingness. Yes, sin is this deceptive and powerful and if you do not acknowledge this, your eyes have not yet been opened to the truth. Again, we can lean on David:

Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Cleanness must be created in us by God.

Last, this dear brother understands that it is not enough to be shown our sin and have it initially dealt with; he knows that the propensity of the sinful nature is to wander away from God in disobedience again and again and so he pleads, “Keep me right”. The hymn writer of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” understood this when he wrote:

“O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”

Christian brother or sister, if you have been brought into contact with this prayer statement it is my hope that within yourself you said, “Yes, Lord”. Lord give us the attitude of heart that prays, “If I am not right, set me right, keep me right.”

When prayer is sinful

Posted by Gary on January 3, 2007

Numbers 22:19 “Now please, you also stay here tonight, and I will find out what else the Lord will speak to me.”

There are times when prayer is sinful. Certainly to pray to God while refusing to repent of sin makes our prayer an affront to God:

Psalm 66:18 “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear;”

To pray and yet refuse to believe in God’s promise to hear and answer is sinful:

Romans 14:23 “Whatever is not from faith is sin.”

It is also sinful to pray when God has already made His will clear to us. Do you remember the story of the prophet Balaam?

Numbers 22:5-13So he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, at Pethor, which is near the River, in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me. “Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam and repeated Balak’s words to him. He said to them, “Spend the night here, and I will bring word back to you as the LORD may speak to me.” And the leaders of Moab stayed with Balaam. Then God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent word to me, ‘Behold, there is a people who came out of Egypt and they cover the surface of the land; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I may be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” So Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s leaders, “Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.”

God had made His will clear, Balaam knew exactly what God wanted Him to do, actually in this case what He did not want him to do.

But Balak the king of Moab was determined to have the Israelites cursed and would not accept Balaam’s refusal. He sends his messengers again who again make it clear that the king wants the people of Israel cursed and promise that the king will reward Balaam richly for cooperating. So, Balaam tells the messengers to stay the night and that he will find “What else the Lord will speak to me.” What else? What else did Balaam need to hear, had he not been told clearly not to go with the men the first time? Peter tells us what led Balaam to pray a second time for direction:

2 Peter 2:15-16 “forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.”

The rest is what Sunday School stories are made of, Balaam is rebuked by his donkey who sees the angel of the Lord on the road standing ready to slay Balaam. What the angel says to Balaam is powerful, “Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me.” (Numbers 22:32). “Your way is contrary to me”, Balaam had been given God’s direction and his seemingly pious act of praying for direction a second time was really rebellion, He didn’t like God’s first answer and was determined to get another.

As a pastor I am often called upon to point people to the Word of God as they seek to know His will. One of the great sadnesses of a shepherd is to see someone receive clear direction from the Word of God only to reject it and disobey. Very rarely will someone declare, “I am going to disobey”, what often happens is that someone says, “I’ll pray about it.” I in no way mean to imply that every issue in life is spelled out in black and white in Scripture, there are times when we need to pray to discern God’s will. But when God’s will is clear and undeniable, further prayer is rebellion, sinful. Many times I have seen people take the exact opposite path Scripture points them to and their justification is “We have prayed a lot about this.” You may have, but you shouldn’t have.

The heart is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), it will find a way to get what it wants. How dangerous leadings and feelings are when we are praying for direction after already having it.

Lord, our hearts are more sinful than we know. Keep us from being contrary to Your way, keep us from insisting on our way when you have made Your will clear. Grant us hearts that rejoice in your will.

With Paul in the School of Prayer

Posted by Gary on September 20, 2005

I’m preaching through the book of Ephesians and recently came to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in chapter 3. The great question this prayer left me with for myself and my congregation was, "What can we learn from listening to an apostle pray?" What strikes me while reading this prayer is that Paul’s main concern for the Ephesians is their spiritual standing and health.

Take a moment and read the prayer for yourself:

Ephesians 3:14-19

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."

Paul’s prayer forced me to think about my own prayers and I hope you will consider yours in light of it. How many of our requests of God are of a spiritual nature? If we were asked, "What is more important our souls or our bodies?" I’m sure most people would immediately say, "Our souls!" Yet look at our church prayer lists. When you are at a prayer meeting what percentage of the requests shared are for physical needs compared with spiritual needs? My guess is that in most churches it is 90% to 10% tilted toward physical needs.

Does this mean that we should not pray for physical illness and people who need help in this way? Of course not! The problem with our prayer lists is not what is on them but what is not. When is the last time you prayed that Christ would dwell in your heart by faith? Have you ever asked God to grant your brothers and sisters to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge? Are you asking God to strengthen you in the inner man? It is no wonder that our churches and the Church in general is weak and failing in America, what are we asking God for in prayer?

By all means pray for your sick friends and bring the more temporal needs of this life to God in prayer we are invited and commanded to. But keep in mind also that in God’s economy there is a movement from the greater to the lesser in importance and we must be careful to regard as most important what God says is most important. And what about the lesser needs? God has that covered:

Matthew 6:33

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

I’m sure we would all say that we would love to have the closeness with God that Paul had and be used of God the way he was. Well then, let’s learn from him and pray for the things he prayed for not only for himself but for others.