- Beyond the Christmas shake
It was Christmas season and the prayer meeting in a friend’s home was about to start. But I was distracted. A picture had popped up on my mental screen: an ornament, a small glass ball containing a snowy landscape. When the ball was shaken, the white stuff swirled up and created a magical scene of falling snow. But it didn’t last long – which is exactly the way it was designed. For more magic it had to be shaken again and again. It turned out that the picture wasn’t a distraction but a focus for the praying: the urge to live beyond the occasional shake; the welcoming of a God-given shaping that brings lasting changes to life’s landscape.
Once again the Christmas ball is being shaken to stir up an image of seasonal magic and the flurry of celebration. This is a time when the heart of the Church should be reaching, more than ever, for a deeper experience of God-with-us. The Immanuel truth is the greatest miracle in history, one that completely redresses our living. Christ became man to redeem us; he rescued us so we can live with him. That starts now not in the future. The immense God, at home in our tiny lives…. Wow!! We live every second Coram Deo (before the face of God); his presence makes the ordinary day extraordinary. Life becomes a journey of learning to enjoy the Lord from close-up, and prayer is at the core. Prayer is a lifestyle response to his presence, while the awareness of his presence feeds prayer enjoyment. Presence and prayer are inseparable constants.
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23)
Before he left them, Jesus whet his disciples’ appetites by telling them of the plan he was looking forward to, one that would cost his life. Then the risen Lord would, in Spirit, come live with his followers. That Immanuel miracle is happening now, a present-moment enjoyment, and the One who planned it wants us to participate in it… .more and more.
The Christmas shake will come and go, but encounters with the Immanuel truth leave us marked and changed. Whatever our level of experience of God-with-us, there is always much more. The journey we’ve been given is as endless as the size of God. And he will keep taking us beyond current boundaries, as long as we keep welcoming his (sometimes uncomfortable or painful) shaping in Love.
- Prayer lists: yes or no?
In Shaped for Prayer Enjoyment I comment: “Listing prayer items is not wrong; noting the prayer needs, scriptures applied to them and answers received are useful parts of prayer administration.” So, is maintaining prayer lists a good habit? Yes…. but lists can work against prayer growth and enjoyment when they are used to drive rather than serve our prayer times. They can be useful accountability tools, reminding us of commitments to pray for specific people or situations. And they help us to keep a record of changes in, and answers to those needs. But when the lists dictate our prayer times, there are three big losses:
- Admiration. Lists are usually about needs. The needs might be Kingdom-relevant and urgent, but should not drive us along a highway of asking at the expense of admiring the Lord. Each need is intended to draw our attention to something about him that we can celebrate. There are viewing points all along the highway of asking, but if all we’re seeing is the need we’ll miss the beauty of him!
- Listening. We hear his voice because we make space to listen. When the list drives us hurriedly from one request to the next, we disengage our praying from the largest, most important part: response to him. What is he saying about that situation, the solution and (most importantly) how it will best serve his glory? We honour the Spirit’s management of our praying by wanting him to be the lead Speaker.
- Love. Intimacy and agreement with the Lord are at the heart of enjoyable prayer relationship with him. We pray as his Bride; our asking for others is a love-overflow from life in the first great command: love for him above everything. Needs bring us into fresh encounters with Love. The asking points are opportunities to ‘feel his heart’, and to rush away from this too soon is loss.
Asking points are usually things we are concerned or passionate about, which is why we don’t want to hurry through them, ticking them off like chores on a to-do list. Ask the Lord which need is to be drawn into your next fixed prayer time. That doesn’t make the others on the list less important. They can be distributed through the day: drawn into a conversation with him while driving, mentioned before a meal, muttered while shopping, etc. Format and structure (including prayer lists) are important to earth our prayer values into practice. But we need to keep checking that they are serving us, not defining us, and are changing with us as we grow as pray-ers.
- A journey beyond duty
When Philip Yancey started exploring the subject of prayer for his book, he interviewed ordinary people. “Typically, the results went like this: Is prayer important to you? Oh, yes. How often do you pray? Every day. Approximately how long? Five minutes – well, maybe seven. Do you find prayer satisfying? Not really. Do you sense the presence of God when you pray? Occasionally, not often. Many of those I talked to experienced prayer more as a burden than as a pleasure.” (Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? p14)
Our own answers might differ from those interviewed, but the questions highlight challenges we all face. Freedom in Christ opens up areas of responsibility we weren’t able to step into before. But it’s a freedom-journey that takes us beyond the familiar orbit of duty. Prayer is much too pivotal to confine to a must-do list. The Lord offers us the enjoyment of himself and the more we grow in this, the more the ‘want to pray’ overtakes the ‘must pray’.
- Today’s favourite enjoyment
Responding to the Lord will be our supreme enjoyment forever. Our big challenge is to experience prayer as favourite enjoyment in the busyness and distractions of today.
Unless we keep prayer in the framework of God’s constant presence, it’s easy to lose the ‘response core’ that energizes enjoyable prayer life. How does the God-with-us truth impact us as pray-ers? Where does a raised heart take us that the unraised heart won’t. Can hunger for God reformat a prayer life?
We’ve been designed to live best with prayer as the nucleus, but how do we do that? Learning to agree with God in prayer is a lifelong adventure of learning. How can we use his thoughts to shape what we say to him? In other words, how can we learn to let him be the Lead Speaker in the prayer relationship? Our hearts are designed with a huge capacity for response to the Lord, but how can we stretch our prayer language to give our hearts that freedom? What are some keys to upgrading corporate prayer times for greater authority and deeper enjoyment of praying together?
These are some of the areas covered in Shaped for Prayer Enjoyment, which came off the press yesterday and will be available in online bookstores soon (and, at this point, retail stores in UK). The book is an invitation to enjoy the prayer life adventure we were designed for.
- WHY a book on prayer enjoyment?
WHY a book on prayer enjoyment? Most of us would score really good marks in a test on prayer beliefs, but we don’t do as well in prayer practice. The gap between belief and practice will never completely disappear as long as we’re imperfect people in a chaotic world. But the good news is: the gap shrinks as we grow in the enjoyment of prayer.
Authentic living means allowing the truth we believe to shape the way we live. We believe that:
- God is the Guarantor of prayer joy, and
- enjoyable conversation is at the heart of the God-us relationship, and
- prayer (even the battle-and-burden ones) is his gift for our enjoyment of him.
But we want to translate these great beliefs into prayer life experience. As long as prayer is little more than an obligation, a dutiful service or a panic button for use in crises, we’re unlikely to reduce the gap. It’s when prayer becomes a favourite enjoyment that there’s real change in the gap size!
Recently, after teaching on ‘Enjoyable Prayer’, someone told me how they had grown up in a church culture where prayer was important, but enjoyment of it was irrelevant, even frowned on. The message seemed to be: the holier the work, the less we should enjoy it. That’s contrary to Kingdom values, isn’t it? Our transfer into Christ’s Kingdom has placed us in the realm of his perfect joy. Redeemed life is an adventure in the fullness of God, including his joy. And prayer is the main highway for our enjoyment of him. Shaped for Prayer Enjoyment was written out of the conviction that growing in enjoyable prayer is at the core of life in God’s company and is the cutting edge of Kingdom advance.
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- More on the satisfying prayer meeting
The previous blog (What makes a satisfying prayer meeting?) touched on the importance of AGREEING with the Lord together. It’s much easier to grow agreement with each other in a prayer group when all present put high value on lining up with the Lord’s thoughts on whatever is being prayed.
Look at this interesting record about Moses’ prayer times (emphases mine).
“When Moses entered the tent of meeting to SPEAK with the Lord, he HEARD THE VOICE speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord SPOKE to him” (Numbers 7:89)
This isn’t a record of one particular prayer session, but of a pattern. Moses would go into the Tent to pray. By this time he had learned that prayer is an exchange, not a monologue, and that God is the one best qualified to be the Lead Speaker. He had things he wanted to talk to God about, but, more importantly, God had things to say to him. So for Moses, it was a time for hearing the voice, not just being a voice.
Moses would probably feel uncomfortable in many of today’s prayer meetings (and I’m sure we wouldn’t be totally comfortable hosting a man whose face radiated a fresh encounter with Glory). Prayer times today are usually not exchanges; they are characterized by us voicing more than hearing. So, rather than the Lord being the Lead Speaker, he is the main Listener. By removing (or reducing) the practice of hearing his voice, we dial down our ability to AGREE with him on the things being prayed.
Why do we cut the prayer encounter in half? Why do we so often major on being a voice and leave out the part where we hear the voice?
I think it’s because we remove praying from the frame of Presence. Not doctrinally, but in practice.
When Moses stepped into the Tent, beyond the veil, and stood beside the mercy seat in the penetrating but veiled brilliance of the Shekinah, I suspect he didn’t lean lazily against a cherub wing and begin talking. Wonder, awe, and holy fear probably left him bowed low in the close-up encounter with “I AM”. He had things to say, but nothing so urgent that he would (or could) grab the role of Lead Speaker for himself. In the Presence, it was right that he hear the voice.
Is it because we are too matter-of-fact about the Presence of God? Or perhaps we ‘forget’ that we actually believe he is present? Present to not simply listen, but to speak. So that by hearing the voice we are able to shape ours to AGREE with him. And so, be part of another satisfying prayer session, satisfying to the Lord and to us.
- What makes a satisfying prayer meeting?
On Monday the focus in the Prayer Room was a nation in South Asia. This morning it was on one in S.E. Asia. In the first, our praying was a mix of lament and enquiry: lamenting the nation’s pattern of disasters and struggle, and enquiring about the root issues behind their chaos and about what the Lord wants us to ask. The second was quite different: from worship we went into asking for a shining of Christ’s love in the nation to break the power of fear in hearts. The two sessions were completely unlike in tone and type of praying, yet both were heart-lifting, satisfying prayer times. What is it that makes prayer meetings, even diverse ones, deeply satisfying?
When the Lord first began showing us the importance of ADMIRING him in prayer, our sessions were quite often totally given to prayers of celebration, praise, thanks, adoration and hunger. At first it bothered me that we weren’t getting to the list of ‘asking points’. Then we realized the Lord was shaping something in us: he wasn’t devaluing the asking, but was teaching us the primacy of admiring him. Of course, we could cut the admiration short and push ahead with asking, but we were learning that when a shift takes us out of sync with the perfect Manager of prayer sessions, it usually puts us in the dry and tiring place of joyless prayer. The top line in our praying became: stay in agreement with him. He knows best what we should be praying and how.
So, this morning’s prayer session followed the Spirit’s prompting into bold asking. On Monday, it was lament and enquiry that was on his heart for us. The sessions were different, but both were deeply satisfying because they were tethered to the same goal: agreement with the Lord.
The mark of a satisfying prayer meeting is not the number of asking points covered, the volume and participation of the pray-ers, or even the quality of the worship music. It’s the shared love of agreeing with the Lord. So every prayer session becomes an opportunity to learn this, and the learning feeds growth in our enjoyment of him as pray-ers.
- Happy with hiddenness
Sandra has been reading Ole Hallesby’s classic on prayer. The book by the Norwegian theologian and author was originally published in 1931. We want to share the below excerpt from his chapter, The School of Prayer as it syncs with our previous post, ‘The nameless pray-ers’:
There is something about prayer and intercession which calls for more self-denial than any other work to which the Spirit calls us. The greater part of the work of intercession is, of course, done in secret; and work of this kind requires the expenditure of greater effort than work which can be seen of men. It is astonishing to see how much it means to us to have others see what we do. It is not only that we all have a great weakness for the praise of others, but the fact that our work is appreciated and valued is a remarkable stimulant to us.
Furthermore, we all love to see results from our labors. But the work of prayer is of such a nature that it is impossible for us always to know definitely whether what happens is a fruit of our own intercession or that of others.
Both of these facts call for a great deal of self-denial in connection with prayer. That is why it is difficult for the Lord to get enough people to carry on this work. It is easy enough to get people to preach. Many are anxious to preach and are offended if not asked to do so. And we who are asked to do so, are so zealous that when we once get into the pulpit it is difficult to get us out again. But there are not many who are willing to take upon themselves the self-denying work connected with prayer, because it is neither seen not appreciated by men.
You may perhaps have prayed for some unconverted people in your neighborhood, perhaps for many years. Then a revival starts in your neighborhood, and the first ones to be converted are the very ones for whom you have been praying so faithfully. No one besides yourself, however, knows anything about that. You have kept it, as right and proper, a secret between yourself and God. Consequently, no one talks about what you have been doing. But the name of the preacher who has spoken at the meetings is, on the other hand, on everybody’s lips. All are loud in their praises of him and say, “My, what a great evangelist!”
My friend, when you begin to grow tired of the quiet, unnoticed work of praying, then remember that He who seeth in secret shall reward you openly. He has heard your prayers, and He knows exactly what you have accomplished by means of them…
O. Hallesby, Prayer (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1959), 163-4
- The nameless pray-ers
Mizpah gives us a clip of Samuel, the pray-er in action. In 1 Sam 7 three things happened: Israel returned to the Lord, the Philistines advanced and Samuel prayed. I was sitting in a quiet Chiangmai coffee shop trying to visualize Samuel’s noisy, violent prayer arena. On one side, a terrified, sure-to-lose army of Israel; on the other the terrifying, advancing, sure-to-win Philistine war machine. And then there was the pray-er, Samuel…. the game changer. Without him in the picture the outcome would have been predictable, but the pray-er’s involvement upset the ‘sure-to’ forecast. Samuel prayed, God thundered, the great Philistine army was destroyed and an invisible Hand kept them from re-crossing Israel’s borders for the duration of Samuel’s life. His mother, Hannah had prayed for a son and Sam was the answer. Then the boy grew up into a pray-er whose asking brought God’s thunder and blessed the nation with deliverance and peace.
I opened to Psalm 99 and got no further than verse 6:
Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he answered them
Samuel – like Elijah – was a prayer news-maker, a pray-er of renown. But he was one man among those who called on the Lord. What about all the other pray-ers? Who were they? What were their names? What were their prayer accomplishments? How many times did heaven thunder in response to their prayers? We don’t know. The Lord has recorded the names of some pray-ers for us, but they are outnumbered by the company of nameless ones. He answered them too, but didn’t broadcast their names.
These are the faithful pray-ers who are happy to stay hidden. They have no desire to publish their prayer schedules and they talk little about the cost of their inner-room life. They’re glad for the chance to serve Jesus’ glory and don’t mind doing it away from the bright lights of the platform.
These nameless pray-ers might not have glowing reports of evangelistic adventures and full meeting schedules, or be able to share photos of great aid programmes and development projects, but if heaven would select just one of them and project to our smart phone screens the consequences of their prayer encounter times, it would probably put us face-down in amazement that so much “thunder” can result from one person who lives to pray him known.
The Lord allows the names of some of his choice intercessors to be promoted publicly, but a much larger number remain hidden, content to simply be known to him in the secret place. Of course, they won’t be hidden forever. The Final Day will thrust them into the spotlight, dressed in indescribable brilliance as Jesus honours them before the Father.
By now my quiet, little coffee table – fortunately in an empty corner – had become a Potter’s wheel. The Lord was shaping my heart, and letting me feel just a small measure of his affection for his present-day nameless pray-ers. Although he chooses not to announce their names on earth, he boasts of them in heaven. They are crucial to the outworking of every good thing he plans to do. Their praying in his name is a conduit of the impossible, supernatural advances of his kingdom in all nations! We can’t know how many nameless pray-ers are devoted to his glory on earth. But what we can conclude is this: there are still too few.
If his kingdom is to break through with greater power and his glory to shine with more strength in the world’s unlikely, resistant places, then the company of his nameless pray-ers must grow bigger. There’s no global sign-up sheet, no badge or daily roll-call for those who will join. We are simply to begin, and then keep doing it.
We know that the inner room (personal prayer life) is good, enjoyable and possible for us all. Yet many of us find it difficult to keep doing it. Why? Please share with us what you think are some of the most common obstacles or struggles Christians face with personal prayer life.
Looking forward to your comments.
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- Rain makes a difference
Monsoon season is here. Scenes of bare trees, sun-scorched hills and dry rice-lands are gone. The landscape is a lush green. The heat hasn’t changed much and humidity is up, but the green world looks cooler. Nature’s fresh beauty is testifying to the difference the rain makes.
Some years ago we ran a prayer room in one of the city’s night-entertainment zones. Two years in a row the Ping River, swollen by the monsoon rains, overflowed its banks and flooded parts of the city. The muddy water found its way in through shut doors and up through waste pipes, flooding the prayer room with 20cm of slush. Even after the room was cleaned, the damaged furniture and mud line on the walls were reminders of the difference rain can make.
We’ve all seen images of the effects of rain, the good and the bad. While one community celebrates the filling of depleted dams and irrigating of land for a new rice-planting season, another mourns the flood-damage to homes or loss of lives in a catastrophic mud-avalanche.
God dresses his promise to bless in the metaphor of rain (Hos 6:3). He can shower his goodness on us as individuals, or send a downpour of the Spirit that revives the church and awakens a community. Unlike the natural order, God’s rain is free from the chaos of the Fall. His rain is an expression of his kindness. The effects are not a mix of good and bad. Pleasant-good and unpleasant-good, yes, but never bad. The rain of his Spirit refreshes, restores and nourishes, and it’s easy to get excited about these pleasant-good blessings. We’re less likely to celebrate the unpleasant-good blessings, when his rain brings ‘mud’ to the surface, and exposes hidden sins and lifestyle choices that don’t agree with him. But we can’t be selective and welcome one effect of his rain while hiding from the other.
Asking for the Lord to come as rain is not a luxury; it’s an essential to living with longing for him to make a difference. His rain is not an inevitable, seasonal feature. He waits for us to want him enough to ask. And to do so from rest, welcoming (unconditionally) ALL the Spirit wants to do in us, the pleasant- and the unpleasant-good, to bring about landscape changes……. in us and through us.
Join us in asking for a growing ‘wanting’ of the promised rain of God’s Spirit:
- in the Thai church
- among frontline, mesage-bearer teams
Click on the comments option below and share your thoughts on the question:
How can we move from believing about God’s promised rain to wanting it?
- in the Thai church