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.

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.

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.

 

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?