Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Everyone Who Seeks Finds By Francis Frangipane

Everyone Who Seeks Finds By Francis Frangipane

It is not hard to recognize one who has spent extended time at a newsstand: his conversation overflows with the drama of current affairs. And, it is not hard to discern a person who has come from a sporting event, as their face reveals the outcome of the game. Likewise, people can tell when an individual has spent extended time seeking God. An imperturbable calm guards their heart, and their countenance is radiant with light, as with the morning dew of Heaven.

Beloved, to seek and find God is everything.

The Eternal Imprint
It is to our shame that, in our era, church services do not focus more on actually seeking God. Yes, we do honor God and thank Him for what He has done. We hear a sermon and, perhaps, enjoy a time of fellowship with others. Yet only rarely do we depart a congregational meeting with the fire of eternity reflecting off our faces. Instead, we fill up with information about God without actually drawing near to Him. Most of us are still largely unaware of God's presence.

While we rightly need church programs, fellowship, and times for ministry training, we must not automatically assume that religious indoctrination is the same thing as actually seeking God. And while I am often blessed listening to contemporary Christian music, even godly entertainment is no substitute for my own worship encounter with God.

Therefore, let us ask ourselves: Is there a place and a time set apart in our spiritual lives where we can give ourselves to seeking God? What if the Spirit of God actually desired to manifest Himself during our worship service? Would the Lord have to wait until we finished our scheduled program? I respect and recognize the need for order; we need the scheduled times for announcements and the defined purposes that currently occupy Sunday mornings, but have we made room for God Himself?

"He Knew Not That His Face Shone"
When we first determine to draw near to God, it may seem we have little to show for our efforts. Yet, be assured: even the thought of seeking God is a step toward our transformation. Still, we often do not notice the first signs of our spiritual renewal, for as we grow increasingly more aware of God, we simultaneously grow increasingly less aware of ourselves. Though we may not see that we are changing, others certainly will.

Consider the experience of Moses. The Lord's servant had ascended Mount Sinai, and there stood before the living God. The eyes of Moses were actually filled with God's sun-like glory; his ears actually heard the audible sound of the Lord's voice. Yet, when Moses returned to the people, the Bible says he "did not know that the skin of his face shone" (Exod. 34:29). When the Israelites saw the fire of God's glory on the face of Moses, "they were afraid to come near him" (v. 30). They saw he had been with God.

The church needs more people who have, like Moses, climbed closer to the Almighty, people who have stood in the sacred fire of God's presence. Instead, we exhaust ourselves arguing over peripheral doctrines or styles of music in our song services.

Perhaps there are benefits to constantly debating the nuances of our doctrines, but are we not more truly thirsting for the reality of God?

Our goal is to, day by day, draw nearer to God. He has commanded that we come boldly to His throne of grace. To receive the help we need, we must arrive at His throne. Remember also that our confidence comes from Christ Himself. He promised,

"Everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:8).

We are seeking a lifetime of increasing devotion, though it may certainly begin in a season of drawing near. In spite of natural and spiritual obstacles, as we persevere, the Lord assures us, "How much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"
(Matt. 7:11).

If we do not cease seeking and knocking, we will discover unfolding degrees of intimacy with God. Even now, He's drawing near. The Lord promises, "Everyone who … seeks finds" (Matt. 7:8).

Master, to possess more of You is the heart-focus of my existence. Draw near, blessed Redeemer, fulfill Your desire for me by fulfilling my desire for You.

The Excellency Of Christ By C.J.B. Harrison

The Excellency Of Christ By C.J.B. Harrison

“Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for Whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

People whose lives are shadowed by regrets are always to be pitied. The Apostle Paul had no regrets. Others might lament that they had sacrificed their career or their friends for something or somebody, but he never thought in terms of sacrifice when he looked back at what might have been. When once he had found out how excellent Christ was, nothing else seemed nearly so important or precious. Far from regretting that he had given up all for Christ, he never ceased to thank God that he had done so.

Excellency In The Realm Of Righteousness
Paul was a man who from his earliest days had always been seeking excellence. He wanted the very best. For many years he sought that excellence in himself, trying very hard to be perfect in his own righteousness; trying, but never succeeding, for in spite of his great efforts he could find no satisfaction in his attainments. Sometimes he felt pleased with himself, but at others he was depressed with the fear that after all there was something that he lacked. If he searched the Scriptures to see if there was something more that he ought to do, of course there was – there always is. Only a superficial man, who is too easily pleased, can believe that he is really doing all that he should, and even he has no means of compensating for past failures or blotting them out. Saul of Tarsus was not a superficial man; he was in deadly earnest. For him, then, it must have been a constant source of disappointment to know that he could never reach perfection and that no amount of effort on his part could make him the man he knew he ought to be.

Then one day God, in His mercy, showed Saul where he could find true excellence. To him it was a surprising discovery and a revolutionary one. He gave up trying to be righteous then. He ceased his efforts to be spiritual. What a miserable life it is when we are trying to be spiritual! Moreover we somehow convey this air of misery to others and make them feel that it really isn’t worth it. Saul’s dissatisfaction gave place to great joy when he discovered that God freely offered him the perfect righteousness of Christ, as a gift: that he no longer had to try to be content with his own imperfect efforts, but could possess as his very own the excellency of Christ’s righteousness. Never again would he have to fear failure, for there is no failure in Christ. Never again would he have to make comparisons of his own efforts with those of others, wondering if he could manage to surpass their standard and so have the doubtful satisfaction of feeling better than his fellows.

This comparative righteousness – being rather better than those around us – brings no real comfort. Happily the righteousness of Christ is not comparative. It is excellent – it is better than the best. Christ is the sum total not only of all that we would like to be, but of all that God could ever wish us to be. He could not be better, for He is perfect. When Paul found that there was a righteousness like that to be had, he gladly let go of all else to possess it. His own religious efforts, his good opinion of himself, his reputation before others, his wealth, his status: if these were a hindrance to enjoying such an excellency, then he would gladly discard them all, for they were not gains but losses. Who ever would seek to find satisfaction in his own imperfections when he could freely possess the perfection of Christ?

Saul did not begin his Christian life by resolving to adopt Christian doctrines, nor did he fall into the error of basing his happiness on his own ability to copy other Christians, or even to imitate Christ Himself. He realized that, in the Lord Jesus, the Father had found His full and final satisfaction. All that God now wanted was that Saul should freely appropriate the same excellency, find his rest in it, and begin to prove its value as an inward power in his own life.

Excellency In The Realm Of Love
Saul had also sought excellency in his, friendships and associations. He moved in high circles, and aspired to move in even higher ones. He liked to be with the best people, and to have them as his friends. He wanted to be well thought of, to have a good standing and close friendship with those who mattered most. He liked to be liked – and who of us does not? But it seems certain that as he pursued this course he found that the friendship of the world left him restless and dissatisfied.

Then the day came when he found the supreme blessing of knowing Christ and the excellency of His love. From that moment he forsook all lesser loves. He counted the friendship of this world and the attractions of its society well lost, if in exchange he had found a place in the love of Christ. He did not mourn over the past or regret what he had given up, for he had now found something so much better, the excellency of the love of Christ.

It was an absolute love. It had led his Saviour to lay down His own life in order to redeem one who was doing his utmost to be His worst enemy. No wonder, then, that the apostle found a new incentive to pour out his own life in sacrificial devotion. How inadequate and unworthy had been his motives when he was only trying to please men and to be rewarded by their favour! How full of compromise life can be when we are governed by the thought of what people will say or think of us! How erratic is our course, when we are looking this way and that to be sure that men do not misunderstand us, fearing their criticism or longing for their praise. To Paul, the love of Christ was so excellent that it formed a master passion in his life. Other considerations which used to weigh so heavily with him had now ceased to matter. It was not that he was indifferent to others, or lacking in appreciation of them, but rather that everything else had to be subordinated to the one purpose of pleasing the One Who loved him so much.

In the light of such love, Paul felt a constant urge to get to know his Lord better. It could never be enough just to have a superficial satisfaction with his first experience of the love of Christ. It is true that life had many good things to offer, but these were nothing compared to an increasing intimacy with Christ. It is a sad thing when Christians imagine that they know it all, and allow other interests to draw them aside from the one great pursuit of a deeper knowledge of the Lord. Paul realized how small was his apprehension of the love of Christ, and was all the more determined to let nothing stand in the way of his learning more of it.

Excellency In The Realm Of Power
Furthermore there is excellence in the realm of power. Hitherto Saul had exerted his own strength – and it was not inconsiderable. He had also sought and found support and authority from the great in this world. The very day in which he met Christ, he was intent on showing how energetic he could be, and his energy was backed by letters of authority which bore weighty names. Within his own nation none dare withstand him; he felt equal to them all. It was not that Saul had never tasted power, for he had; but in coming to Christ he came into the sphere of an altogether different kind of authority, which far surpassed anything he had previously dreamed of. We need not worry if we lack human power or earthly authority. This man who had them, cast them away as worthless rubbish, once he had discovered the blessedness of fellowship with the One Who has all authority in Heaven and on earth. It is the excellency of Christ’s power which is meant to characterize our lives.

The power which Judaism wielded was a power to exclude, a power to shut men out. Intolerant of all with which it did not agree or which it could not understand, it hunted men down, denounced and accused them, excluded them. That was all it could do. The power of Christ, however, was a superior one, for it brought men in, even sinful and unworthy men. It pursued men – only to pour out love upon them. Its message was one, not of accusation, but of freedom from condemnation by the Blood of the Cross; it did not shut men out because they were unfit, but offered to make them fit in order that with boldness they might enter in. All the wealth and learning of Paul’s old world could only provide a Beautiful Gate, outside which a poor lame man might sit and beg. Yet the humble disciples of Christ, with neither learning nor wealth, could speak a simple word of power in the Name of Jesus which could set such a man on his feet, and send him entering joyfully into the Temple, walking and leaping and praising God (Acts 3:8).

Saul and his colleagues only had power to put men into prison. Christ’s power was superior, for He could bring them out. Once and again in those early days, the prison doors were opened and the imprisoned saints set free. This was indeed power, something with which the rulers themselves could not cope. But far more than material prisons were broken open: for men whose souls were in bondage, men who had long been enslaved to their own fears and passions, came to find a full deliverance from the dominion of Satan.

Saul himself, like the man in the Gospels possessed with a legion of demons, had proved the authority of Christ to speak the word of release which would bring him – “clothed and in his right mind” – to sit docilely at the feet of the Jesus Whom he had once so hated. Such a man cannot be seduced by the offer of earthly titles or positions among men, nor can he be frightened by those who claim to possess them. All lesser powers are seen to be feeble when once a man has tasted of the exceeding greatness of Christ’s resurrection power.

Yes, that is where the excellency lies. It is resurrection power. “The weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). God does not begin until man has finished. His power is the power of resurrection, coming into circumstances which speak of hopelessness and impossibility – as it were the very death of all human efforts – and showing the excellency of His mighty power. He seeks such circumstances; He needs them; He will, if necessary, wait for them. It may have taken some time for Paul to realize how his own energies and efforts could hinder the Lord and get in His way.

He doubtless felt, as we often do, that he could contribute something by his own strength or wisdom to assist the Lord’s working. A time came, however, when he had to realize that this was not so, that his supposed gains were really losses, his helps hindrances. When he had learned this lesson, he was led into a life of great power and fruitfulness, for his ministry became marked not by his good efforts and intentions but by the excellency of Christ’s risen power. It is only by learning to be crucified that we can prove the reality of the power of God.

Excellency In The Realm Of Purpose
Saul was an ambitious man. He wanted the best and was willing to plan and strive that he might reach it. Yet he was, in fact, moving in the opposite direction: the harder he tried to serve God the more he became an antagonist of Christ. For let us make no mistake about it: God’s goal is always Christ. If we are striving for any other objective, seeking satisfaction in ourselves or in others, or trying to build up something of importance among men, then we are failing to appreciate what God’s purpose is. It is even possible that, like Paul in his misguided zeal, we are working against the Lord’s purpose even while we seek to serve Him.

God has one great all-inclusive purpose, and that is to fill everything with the glory of His dear Son. There were many good things which Paul might have done, some so good that he might even have felt it worthwhile devoting his whole life to them. In Christ, however, he had found the excellent, the surpassing, and for that he gladly counted all else but loss. He saw that God’s intentions toward mankind were not just of general kindness or helpfulness: so far as he was concerned the one urgent matter was that Christ should be given a place in their lives. Nothing else was good enough; this was the one thing that mattered. If they failed to live in the good of Christ within, then all else was vain. For this one purpose, then, Paul put himself unreservedly at the Lord’s disposal. He was willing to endure any suffering, if by it men could be brought to a living knowledge of Christ. And, until we come to the same position, we, likewise, cannot know true excellence.

The apostle realized, though, that such a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus was not the end of his ministry, but only the beginning. The Father’s intention concerning the believer was more than an introduction to Christ and more than a committal to Christ: it was that the whole life should be possessed by Christ and changed into His likeness. Paul not only sought converts, he sought converts who should be entering by experience into the excellency of Christ. He knew that in eternity this would be the one thing that mattered, and he made it his business in all his ministry to labour for eternity. The great issue then would not be concerned with the hundred and one things which seem to matter in Christian life and work now. The one great question would be: How Christ-like had they become? This, then, became the master passion of the Apostle Paul, so far as he had any part that he could play: to “present every man perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28).

And he knew that this ministry was inextricably bound up with his own apprehension of Christ. Far more than we realize, God is concerned with His great end of conforming us to Christ. To what purpose is our service to Him or to others if we are not growing more Christ-like even as we serve? By all means let us devote all our powers to the Lord’s service, but let us beware of making service the end, for, so far as God is concerned, the only satisfactory end is Christ. And we need not wonder whether it is necessary to be so downright as Paul was, for we may be sure that it is. Only those who are prepared to go right through with the experience of counting all things loss for Him can be sure of enjoying the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.

How to be patient in 2010 By Rick Warren

How to be patient in 2010 By Rick Warren

"The Greek word for patience literally means, 'It takes a long time to boil.' Pastor, do you take a long time to boil?"

Rick Warren

What skills and virtues make effective ministers? Strong public speaking skills, leadership, compassion? Most likely patience won’t make your list.

But when the apostle Paul defines the kind of love that is the foundation of ministry in 1 Corinthians 13, he starts with patience.

God says to truly demonstrate the kind of love that all ministry should be based on, you’ve got to start with patience. Why? He’s had several thousand years experience dealing with people! His love through the centuries has been demonstrated over and over again by patience. He expects our love to be patient as well.

And, pastor, you’ll find all sorts of opportunities to demonstrate patience in ministry this year. Disgruntled parishioners, demanding leaders – even your family will give you lots of chances to build upon this important virtue.

The Greek word for patience literally means, “It takes a long time to boil.” Pastor, do you take a long time to boil? You should.

The Bible tells everyone in 1 Thessalonians 5:14b (NIV) to “be patient with everyone.” Notice that God commands this. He doesn’t suggest it. God never tells us to do something without showing us how to do it. Here’s what the Bible has to say about becoming more patient:

Remember how patient God has been with you.

You’ll never have to be more patient with anyone else than God has been with you. In 1 Timothy 1:16b (NIV) Paul says, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst sinner, Christ might display his unlimited patience.” God choose Paul despite the fact that he was a persecutor of the church. God showed unlimited patience to him. And, pastor, he shows unlimited to patience to you and I as well.

Romans 15:7a (NIV) says, “Accept each other just as Christ has accepted you.” The reason we should accept other people is that God has accepted us. The reason we are to be patient with other people is that God has been patient with us. That’s the starting point for learning to be patient in 2010.

Learn by listening.

Proverbs 14:29a (NIV) says, “A patient man has great understanding.” You’ve got to have understanding to show patience. The Bible says the key to patience is understanding. No doubt you’ve seen this in your life. When you understand someone, you’re more patient with him or her.

If you don’t understand them, you’re not going to be patient with them. You understand people by listening to them. Proverbs 18:13 in the Message paraphrase says, “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.” In other words, don’t evaluate what people do or what they say until you’ve heard it all.

Most of us pastors think we’re pretty good listeners. But are we? Research shows that only seven percent of the meaning of what you say is communicated in words. Another 42 percent of that meaning comes from how you say what you say (vocal tone, pitch, volume, and delivery). The remaining 50 percent of the meaning is communicated through non-verbal language (facial expression, hand gestures, and body language). Pastor, that’s why phone calls are only about 50 percent effective! You can’t see what the other person is communicating through his or her body.

To be more patient in 2010, you need to listen more. Listen with your whole body because listening is as much about your eyes as your ears.

Make allowances for each other.

Everybody’s got bad days. We’re all flaky from time to time. Kay knows when I have touchy times. In fact, I have two of them in particular – Monday mornings and the night before I preach. I’m sure you can relate. On Monday morning I’m beat from preaching and interacting with people all weekend long. The night before I preach I’m touchy because I have PMS – Pre-Message Syndrome. Kay makes allowances for that. She realizes those are bad days, and she cuts me a break. If you’re going to be more patient in 2010, you’ll need to give people a break from time to time.

The Bible says, “Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other’s faults, because of your love” (Ephesians 4:2 NLT). Sometimes the people you’re dealing with are just having a bad day. Resist the urge to retaliate. Show your love by making allowances for their faults – and bad days.

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Of course, that’s the Golden Rule. “Always treat others as you’d like them to treat you.” That single sentence could save most relationships. This is easy to understand but difficult to practice.

Philippians 2:4-5 (NLT) says, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” To be more patient in 2010, take some time to discover what other people are interested in. That’s not just a good practice for patience; it’s a crucial pastoral practice. Make it your priority this year to get to know the people in your circle of influence – from your spouse to your kids to your staff. What makes the people in your life tick? You need to know. It’ll let you know how they want to be treated and will make you far more patient this year.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times best seller The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for ministers.

Copyright © 2010 Rick Warren

Looking for Titus - Larry R Taylor

Looking for Titus - Larry R Taylor

People who make the difference

“Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia.”

2 Corinthians 2:12 NKJV

There are people who make the difference. Titus was one of those people

There are a cadre of men associated with the ministry of Paul the Apostle. Each uniquely contributed to the growth of the early Church both in numbers and character. Timothy gets a lot of attention as does Barnabas and even the contentious John Mark. Titus is distinctive but often overlooked.

Paul surprisingly admits that though a door was opened by the Lord for him to minister in Troas, he couldn’t find rest there without Titus. So strong was the bond between this father in the faith and his son that it drew Paul away from a fruitful field to the unknown in Macedonia just to find Titus.

To the religious “ought to” mind-set, this may seem unfathomable. Paul “ought to” have had his priorities straight. He “ought to” have suffered through and pressed on to complete the work in Troas. He “ought to” have put his own feelings and needs aside and gone for the “greater good”. But he didn’t and there is the lesson for us.

There is a need for a Titus in all of us. If we are to continue in the calling of God as ministers of the gospel then there has to be the inward recognition that we can’t do it alone. There must be the understanding that there are key individuals placed in our lives by God that are a part of the motivating force that moves us forward to completion in our kingdom purposes.

Paul was troubled by the absence of Titus. For whatever reason, he needed his brother in the faith there in order to effectively continue. Without him, he had to leave. Again, our religious friends would say to us in a similar situation to “suck it up” and keep going. But in the understanding of the early Fathers, relationship was essential.

A number of years ago I was leading a group in establishing a new fellowship. Our first year or so went very well. We were growing in numbers, we had obtained and remodeled a facility and things looked good. Then it happened. Two of the key families in the fellowship got new jobs in a different city and moved. We tried to continue on thinking that no one person should be the key to a churches existence. Unfortunately, the “umph” just wasn’t there anymore. There were still good and committed people in the group, it just seemed that with the departure of these two families, the heart, soul and vision for the new work left with them.

As Pastor, I should have “manned up” and carried on. I did try. But the realization began to hit me that without these co-workers who carried the same vision and passion for the church that I did, I couldn’t carry on as before. I had to admit that I needed them, not just anyone, but the specific families that left. They were friends, confidants, encouragers and supporters. Their stature and people skills made up for deficiencies in my own makeup. Their leadership in exhorting and encouraging the others was essential in validating the directions that I felt led by God to pursue. You can object all you want and say we shouldn’t be “codependent” and rely on others to that degree, but the truth is we all do. And when leaders try to go it alone and accomplish their goals in isolation there is a dryness of soul that eventually becomes toxic.

Paul and Titus shared a common passion for the King and the Kingdom. Their hearts were knit together by their desire to see the Body of Christ fully mature and fully functioning. But there was also the inescapable personal dimension. The interpersonal dynamic was established in the Spirit, strengthened in ministry and hardened in resisting religious pressure to conform to the the demands of the legalist. They had been through it together.

I believe that many today are on a search for Titus without even realizing it. We have whole movements within The Church that are dedicated to fostering Apostolic, father/son relationships. There are accountability groups and “covering” councils abounding. Occasionally, true relationship happens.

There are at least two lessons to be drawn here. First, we all need a Titus. Not some artificially chosen person who meets our institutional requirements, but a relationship truly born of the Spirit and nurtured by the love of God that motivates us to overcome whatever resistance encountered in carrying out the purposes of God. Second, we are called to be a Titus for many who will give up without our input, encouragement and “just hang’n out”.

There are people who make the difference. You are one.

Trust in the Place of Unity

You are called to live out of a new place, beyond your emotions, passions, and feelings. As long as you live amid your emotions, passions, and feelings, you will continue to experience loneliness, jealousy, anger, resentment, and even rage, because those are the most obvious responses to rejection and abandonment.

You have to trust that there is another place, to which your spiritual guides want to lead you and where you can be safe. Maybe it is wrong to think about this new place as beyond emotions, passions, and feelings. Beyond could suggest that these human sentiments are absent there. Instead, try thinking about this place as the core of your being - your heart, where all human sentiments are held together in truth. From this place you can feel, think, and act truthfully.

It is quite understandable that you are afraid of this place. You have so little knowledge of it. You have caught glimpses of it, you have even been there at times, but for most of your life you have dwelt among your emotions, passions, and feelings and searched in them for inner peace and joy.

Also, you have not fully acknowledged this new place as the place where God dwells and holds you. You fear that this truthful place is in fact a bottomless pit where you will lose all you have and are. Do not be afraid. Trust that the God of life wants to embrace you and give you true safety.

You might consider this the place of unification, where you can become one. Right now you experience an inner duality; your emotions, passions, and feelings seem separate from your heart. The needs of your body seem separate from your deeper self Your thoughts and dreams seem separate from your spiritual longing.

You are called to unity. That is the good news of the Incarnation. The Word becomes flesh, and thus a new place is made where all of you and all of God can dwell. When you have found that unity, you will be truly free.

- Henri Nouwen (The Inner Voice of Love)

A Cry for Integrity – Before it is Too Late! By M. John Cava

“Behold you desire truth in the inward parts . . .” (Psalm 51:6)
To quote the recent movie, Rocky Balboa, “You’re better than that . . ..”
I have spent countless hours in the middle of the night agonizing with God over people who profess Jesus as Lord and continue to operate in behind the scenes carnalities, control games, and politics. They bring damage to the Church Body, themselves and the name of the Lord. I hear my heart saying, “How can this be in the Body of Christ? How can they be so unhealed in their soul, yet still involved – even prominent in the ministry?” God is light, so pure and holy, how can they still dwell in the shadows in significant areas of their life?
Are you maybe like me? Then, I ask God to search me to see if I am blind-spotted, a legalist or deluded. (I know I am not perfect either.) He will often affirm to me, “No, you see clearly – it is generational iniquity.” (It is thinking or ways that are “bent” and not the straight way of God.) They won’t let anyone touch it. The lack of integrity is there in speech, finances, falseness, ambitions, pride, anger, immorality, or manipulation etc. A lot of gifting, yet there are big holes in character. It’s not just fault-finding – it’s obvious.
What do I mean? The love of God and even the gifts and calling of God are not a license to do what you please. In the big picture, some prophets give prophesies that don’t happen (not all, thank God), evangelists inflate the numbers, pastors abuse their flocks, adulterous associate pastors get transferred secretly and leaders are a financial mess. In the small picture, church politics goes on, families put up false fronts of healthiness, gossip rings continue, money designated to missions never gets there and pornography shows up on the computer history. Where is the integrity? What about the glory of God?
It can be different. Humility attracts grace and revival:
Let me share a few firsthand examples. About eight years ago I took a team to minister at a small youth retreat in Switzerland. There were only about 50-60 young people and several lady leaders in their twenties. They didn’t seem to spiritually hungry. Around the third group session that I led, one of the leaders came to me in mid-talk and said she wanted to say something. After a few minutes, I gave her the microphone. She went on to share that she had been steeped in Internet pornography for years and never told anyone. She gave it up a year-ago, but felt she had lived a double life to the youth group and wanted to repent to them.
Two things happened at once: A small group of prayers encircled her in love. And a line formed beside me on the platform to confess every imaginable young adult sin. The atmosphere in the room transformed with the manifest presence of God and revival broke out that went on for days. Piles of prayer, tears and joy were all over the room every session, gifts of the Spirit began flowing and young people got free. Eventually family members heard and came to watch and they were convicted. These young people went back home and started leading their friends to Christ with true power and signs and wonders. I was receiving emails of wildfire that continued after I left. It all started when one young lady got the guts to respond with integrity.
The next situation was in 2009 with a pastor in his late thirties who wanted a group of older leaders to advise him and pray for him. Through a prophetic word a generational iniquity of perversion and bestiality was identified four generations back. Having some vague remembrances of strange events, he submitted to ministry and ended up having severe manifestations of deliverance with shaking and vomiting. It was messy. He didn’t care. He wanted to honor God and walk with integrity. He and his congregation were healed and strengthened by the Lord. Jesus seemed to drawer closer to them.
But have our iniquities distanced him more than we know. I wonder if Jesus was targeting the modern day Charismatic/Pentecostal church when he spoke in Matthew 7:21-23, “ Many will say . . . have we not prophesied . . . cast out demons . . . done wonders . . . I declare to them . . . I never knew you . . . depart from me .. . .” What happened? A lot of ministry and gifting, but too much unseated iniquity that still influenced their relationship with God and had a major effect on others. If this is a cycle that you see in your own life . . .. Beware!
Do you want true unity of the Spirit? The word “integrity” has built into it the meaning of oneness “integer.” We can have prayer meetings, pastor’s banquets, marches, worship concerts and the like, but without inner integrity there will be no unity (oneness) of the Spirit. This is the heart level that God sees and evaluates, not the outward forms. Neither, will a “temporary gathering-anointing” win a city, nor force the demons back. There is no lasting power. Unfortunately, many are substituting bigger for quality . . . but not the Lord.
God still brings ministries down and judges his people. It may take ten years, but eventually what is done in secret just might be shouted from housetops. Like David’s sin with Bathsheba – the truth came out – the damage eventually came. His whole family and kingdom suffered. God will not be mocked. We have seen big ministers fall in the last 25 years, but how about the small ones and ordinary folks that go on causing damage.
It is not just a matter of everyone knowing everyone’s business. Private things can be handled privately, and public things publicly. It is about real repentance, confessing our sins one to another, so we can be prayed for and healed. True humility. Walking in the light – where we can have real fellowship with one another and be washed by the blood of Jesus. We need relational integrity of truth, so there can be trust.
God cleaned house in the time of Ezekiel. The “behind the wall sins,” eventually loosed iniquity and judgment on the whole land.
“Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women . . . begin at my sanctuary’ . . . so they began with the elders who were before the temple.” Ezekiel 9:6
He will do it again in the New Testament days.
“For the time has come for judgment to begin in the house of God, and if it begins with us first .. . .” (1 Peter 4:17). So let’s remember, the “us” is the Church!
Tens of thousands of people are leaving the traditional church in America. Yes they want relationship, yes they want simple church models and yes they are tired of hypocrisy and church politics as usual. They cry for integrity, “Can someone really tell us the truth about what is going on around here and stop trying to control the masses like cattle?”
Dear leader, brother, sister - please allow God to up-root your iniquities. Don’t let fear, pride, stubbornness, independence, temporary ministry identities or insecurities keep you imprisoned. Jesus bore our shame on the cross and he didn’t deserve it (Hebrews 12), so we can fess-up and come to the Father – free! It is okay to be wrong or need help. There is always redemption in integrity. “But as for me, I will walk in my integrity, redeem me and be merciful to me (Psalm 26:11).
We need to show people the real 24/7 character of Jesus. The famous missionary, Raymond Lull, said it this way, “The image of the crucified Christ is found much rather in men who imitate Him in their daily walk than in the crucifix made of wood.”
For the glory of God, let’s come clean. Let go of what is holding you back. You may imagine all the ramifications of looking bad and it shatters the ego of your old nature. Truth is your friend. Have many people been telling you to change in an area of your life, but you keep denying it and rationalizing it away – though there is a train of failures proving their point.
Also, stop enabling people who have a track record of little integrity. It takes courage to set boundaries, and say “no.” Some people need to lose relationships until they get enough integrity and humility to earn them back. The Father’s love includes correction for true sons and daughters (Hebrews 12).
God is an expert in exalting the humble. “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you (Psalm 25:21). A movement for integrity will bear great fruit. Let it start with you and me.

Common Questions About Emotions

Common Questions About Emotions
(Proverbs 29:11 NKJV) A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back.
What Kind Of Emotions Should Christians Have?

While God is emotional there are some emotions that God never has. God is never envious, lustful, greedy, bitter with selfish ambition, small-minded, or petty. Neither is he anxious or fretful but dwells in perfect peace. His emotions are positive, holy, noble and appropriate. God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. Since we are called to be “in the image of God”, then whatever else that means, it means that at the end of our Christian maturity, our emotions should in some measure share these divine qualities. We should be “walking in the light”.

Thus godliness means forsaking some emotions and embracing others. We should be utterly free from unholy and fleshly emotions and moving toward mature and holy emotional responses. The mature saint of God is filled with love and utterly free from bitter envy and selfish ambition. (James 3:15-18). Petty covetous worldly longings are replaced by the love of the Father (1 John 2:15-17) and perfect love casts our fear so that we dwell in quietness, peace and confidence (1 John 4:18, Isaiah 26:3). Holy people do not easily fly into rages or engage in back-biting and quarrelling rather they are centred people full of love, joy and peace (Galatians 5:19-23). There is thus a grand and holy emotional authenticity that accompanies maturity in Christ.

As a rough guide our emotions can be broken down into three classes:

Holy emotions – those experienced by God such as compassion, joy, and holy indignation and those that accompany life in the Spirit such as praise, worship and adoration. These emotions are derived from the kingdom of light and the Sprit (Ephesians 5:18-21, Colossians 3:16-17, Galatians 5:22,23) and are in agreement with true wisdom (James 3:17,18) They are the emotions of Christ in us. They are not necessarily religious or pious emotions. Admiring a flower or delighting in beautiful music or focussing on the beautiful and the good can be just as holy as going to church. (Philippians 4:8)

Human emotions – based in our human situation and the created order and shared by Jesus during His time on earth. This includes emotions such as grief, pain, fear, abandonment, sadness and sorrow, anxiety, stress, anguish and vulnerability. These emotions are well chronicled in the Psalms. For the Christian they are temporary and in eternity there shall be no more crying or sadness or pain (Revelation 21:4). While these emotions may feel bad they are not evil or toxic. They can be painful but they are not poisonous.

Fleshly emotions – are poisonous and destructive and include toxic emotions such as malice, envy, selfish ambition, sensuality, bitterness, overpowering lusts and murderous hatred. They are closely tied up with the works of the flesh and with evil deeds. Their outcome is spiritual death. These emotions were not part of mankind at Creation and are not “natural human reactions” (For instance grief is a natural human reaction but bitterness is fleshly. One can have “good grief” without a trace of bitterness. Bitterness is not natural to the human condition.) Rather these emotions are derived from the kingdom of darkness and have their source in a dark wisdom (James 3:14-16).

This classification helps us see the relative value of our emotional responses and to use the techniques described in the succeeding chapters to assist with our sanctification. It also puts the lie to the old humanist rubric “there are no right or wrong emotions.” All emotions are not equal. Some are of much higher value than others and some emotions and impulses are positively wrong. This classification also goes a bit beyond the black and white classification of emotions as ‘spiritual” or “unspiritual” that causes so much pain in traditional missionary circles. When pain and disappointment are seen as “unspiritual” we simply add to the burden the person is carrying. Hurt, disappointment, pain and frustration are valid human emotions stemming from our creatureliness encountering a fallen world. Human beings were created good but mortal and it is as we explore this mortality that we find out many useful things about ourselves. The above simple classification also saves us from the error of stopping there with our human emotions and being content simply to explore ourselves at that level. It tells us there is something higher, something beyond our mortality and that it is as we focus on our immortality in Christ that we develop the highest and noblest parts of our being.

We are thus called to participate in the holy emotions so that they transcend the human emotions and overcome the fleshly emotions. By this I mean that we must choose our emotional level and which emotions we will be gripped by. When disappointment strikes we can choose to respond with holy emotions and pray through until we trust God and can praise Him as the Psalmist did or we can respond at the human level and sit down disconsolate in human misery and gradually see it through or we can respond from fleshly emotions and lash out in anger, bitterness, distrust and revenge. Consider Paul in jail in Philippi in Acts 16. He praised God, sang psalms and rejoiced thus transcending the human emotions of pain and discomfort and effectively banishing any fleshly emotions such as bitterness or desire for revenge. Thus Paul participated in holy emotions so that they transcended the human emotions and overcame the fleshly emotions. The human emotions are not denied or seen as wrong rather they are acknowledged but not focussed on. They are transcended. The saint focuses on and deliberately chooses to move toward the holy emotions. Prayer, fasting, praise and worship, reading Scripture, meditating on good teaching and doing good works are all helpful in this process. However above and beyond these things we need the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit responds differently to each of theses three categories of emotion. The Holy Spirit rejoices and assists us when we engage in holy responses. He produces them within us so they can justly be called “the fruit of the Spirit”. (Romans chapters 8 & 12, and Galatians 5) On the other hand the Holy Spirit comforts us when the human emotions such as grief overwhelm us (see 2 Corinthians 1). Finally He is determined to break the grip of fleshly emotions such as hatred, lust and revenge. In fact the Spirit wars against such impulses so that we cannot fully give way to our worst desires (Galatians 5:16-18). Thus the Holy Spirit produces holy emotions, comforts overwhelming human emotions and wars against fleshly emotions. However we have a choice in the matter. We can take heed of the Spirit’s promptings or we can discard them in fleshly rebellion. This leads Paul to say that the mind set on the flesh and its fractious emotions “is death” but the mind set on the Spirit with His holy emotions is “life and peace”(Romans 8:5,6).

Relational Mentoring – John Sandford

Relational Mentoring – John Sandford

Wisdom can be measured – Let’s define “mentoring” as the impartation of wisdom to achieve measureable results in life and the marketplace. Having a bunch of facts (information), knowing a subject well (knowledge), and connecting the dots on how and why things work (understanding) is a long way from “wisdom” - doing something that bears ministry fruit and multiplies finances. Wisdom is the real-world application of knowledge and understanding and it can be easily “measured.” …number of people saved, increased wealth, etc. The goal is real results, not just more head knowledge.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise. Prov 11:30

The wealth of the wise is their crown… Prov 14:24 NIV

I want to distinguish relational mentoring from teaching, preaching, coaching, consulting and counseling. Let’s define relational mentoring in terms of the seven-step process below.

1. The mentor tells us how (we ask questions and get confused)

2. We watch the mentor do it (and say that looks easy enough and we can’t wait to try)

3. The mentor watches us do it (we screw it up, give up, and try again while the mentor points out areas to improve, and repeats 1 and 2 as often as necessary. Their example and words inspire and encourage us.)

Note: Most of us are in need of mentoring for a reason. We are inclined to sabotage our own success; we also need help overcoming our poverty mindset or spiritual bondage. Teaching us how and getting the revelation is still one big step away from implementation.

In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; 2 Tim 2:25 KJV

4. We do it by ourselves (and check back with the mentor periodically for adjustments; maintain the relationship)

5. We do it by ourselves and prosper (We feel the applause of our mentor; "well done")

6. We become mentors ourselves and start to equip and disciple others to measurable results

7. Return to step one

By contrast, let’s ask ourselves, “What is non-relational mentoring?” Answer – Preaching! It can motivate us to try, but we’re all programmed from years of going to church to lose that motivation about the time we hit the parking lot after the meeting. It’s common to talk about putting a discipleship or training series on a DVD to change lives. Can you see the oxymoron? It takes 7 “relational” steps to make a disciple and accomplish real change… our attempts at mentoring people in the church or the marketplace usually consists of the first step plus a charge for the material or an offering.

Fellowship is working together - We think of fellowship as chatting after a meeting, having friends over, retreats, etc. It’s prone to be shallow and, although it does communicate acceptance, it doesn’t change lives. Biblical fellowship that does change lives is built around sharing a common purpose and working together to produce something. Local churches are in a huge transition right now because our “traditional” purpose has been to grow the church. The church has been a totally introverted institution that exists for its own self-propagation; thus, shallow fellowship. We are beginning to understand that our real purpose on earth is expanding the Kingdom into the other six mountains of our culture. The real purpose of the church is to equip the saints to do ministry (Release Kings.) Our progress is measured by our impact in our culture; not just Sunday morning attendance.

If we incorporate the concept of mentoring into our fellowship, what does it look like? Fellowship in the Greek (Koinonia) means partnership, participation, or benefaction, and the root word (koinonos) means sharer or associate. That sounds more like working together than having tea, doesn’t it? Don’t partnership, participation and association sound like a business relationship? I’m simply suggesting that the kind of fellowship that mentors, comes by working together; maybe even 40 hrs a week doing business together as a practical learning environment. In this kind of fellowship, mentoring occurs in the production of goods and services, and wealth is created (on the job training.) Viola! We have received wisdom – measureable in profits and changed lives!

Availability – “Successful” mentors often grow, get too busy to be available to their followers, and then degenerate back to preachers and teachers and become mediocre because they can’t get beyond step 2. Mentoring that changes lives is personally available and invested in seeing the follower meet or exceed the ability of the mentor. Teachers are easy to find – turn on the TV or walk into any book store. Fathering mentors who walk us through change to measurable fruit are harder to find.

For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; 1 Cor 4:15 NKJV

Multiplying mentors – How can mentors retain their personal availability through growth to mentor hundreds or thousands? The best ones learn to duplicate themselves so they not only have sons, but the sons have sons too (grandchildren). It’s easy to multiply steps 1 and 2 through books, CD’s, webinars, websites, FAC pages, and newsletters, but everything grinds to a halt at step 3 unless a real, live, communicating person is available to answer questions and discern problem areas. In the absence of that “live mentor,” many students give up on change and stop short of becoming Kings or Christians, or traders, or musicians, or business owners, etc. Didn’t Jesus multiply his personal ministry through the 12, then the 72? He clearly spent most of his ministry focused on those 12. That’s because 12 is about the number we can personally mentor and maintain some semblance of availability.

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples… Luke 12:1 NIV

A relational mentor is a person we can talk to about our failures and successes. And if they don’t hear from us, they will ask how we’re doing and check on our progress… by measuring it! What does that feel like? If feels like being loved by a father; a reflection of being loved by the Father.

Measure the mentor – How do you find a great mentor? Just find someone whose fruit can be measured. Are people getting saved? Are Kings being released? Is wealth being multiplied? Pretty easy, isn’t it?

How do you know when you’ve graduated from step 5? People are getting saved. Kings are being released. Wealth is being multiplied. Pretty easy, isn’t it?

Said another way, “If my disciples haven’t made any disciples, then I haven’t either."

Releasing Kings through step 3 - God is inviting His people to explore their hearts desires, find their mountain, and experience new levels of fruitfulness in ministry, finances, and fun. My dream is to take the intimacy of a great prophetic counselor who touches hearts and combine it with the skill of an equally great business mentor (already prospering in his field). That mentor would connect real world performance (often dollars) with the wisdom that leads to holistic change; everything from heart to performance. The student gets both the heart and the details; natural and spiritual. We put an end to the dualism that has kept Kings out of our cultures. I am just starting to see these "priestly / Kingly" mentors. God is doing something brand new and it's exciting.

Key to the Keys of the Kingdom - Dallas Willard

Key to the Keys of the Kingdom (The)
Published in The Great Omission, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006.

A pastor confided in me that he loved to spend a short while reading the newspaper in the morning, but felt it would be irresponsible. This was only one of many things he either denied himself or felt guilty about doing because of his perceived work load. He was burdened by the task of making a small church succeed in circumstances that were very hard. No matter how hard he tried, it would never be enough, so long as his attendance was not large and growing and he did not have an appropriate building and cash flow.

In fact, however, the inner burden he carried is not much different in quantity from that of many ministers prospering in larger, more "successful" churches. The need to achieve is too great. Invariably, it is the personal and spiritual life of the minister that suffers. And--like doctors, lawyers and other professionals today--he often comes to feel strongly that the circumstances in which he works are in conflict with the very goals for which he entered the ministry in the first place. Heightened frustration and disappointment go hand in hand with decreasing strength, peace and joy. The conditions and habits of our work in ministry often seems incompatible with the life that Jesus lived and surely offers to us.

But it does not have to be so. There is a way of getting hold of our concrete ministerial situation and finding the joy, strength and vision in service which obviously characterized Jesus himself, as well as many of his fellow-workers and friends through the ages.

The One we work for and with has placed in our hands the keys to the Kingdom of the Heavens. (Matt 16:19) Setting aside centuries of ecclesiastical controversy over the meaning of this passage, we need to simply understand that our confidence in Jesus as the one who "has say over all things in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18) can develop into practical access to the riches of the Kingdom. These in turn make it possible for us to do the work we have to do and to live our lives in the strength, joy and peace of Christ.

Having the keys is not a matter of controlling access to the kingdom, as is often thought. Keys do not first mean the right to control access, but the enjoyment of access. Imagine a man who carefully kept his doors locked and his keys in hand, but never went into his house! Having access to the kingdom, living in it, is what matters.

The meaning of Matt 16:19 is, therefore, not fundamentally different from Matt. 6:33: "Seek more than anything else to act with the kingdom of God and to have His kind of goodness, and all else you need will be added." (paraphrase) Or Romans 8:32: "He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things." (NAS) Or the well-known Philipians 4:19: "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (NAS)

But if the abundance is here, enough even to defeat the "Gates of Hell," why are we not thriving in it? The answer is that we have a key to the keys. The abundance of God to our lives, our families and our ministries is not passively received or imposed and does not happen to us by chance, but is claimed and put into action by our active, intelligent pursuit of it. We must seek out ways to live and act in union with the flow of God's kingdom life that should come through our relationship with Jesus.

There is, of course, no question of doing this purely on our own. But we must act. Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort. And it is well-directed, decisive and sustained effort that is the key to the keys of the kingdom and to the life of restful power in ministry that those keys can open to us.

What are some practices that will make "the keys" given in response to our faith in Jesus as Messiah effective in our lives as ministers? We strongly need to see the manifest hand of God in what we are and what we do. We need to be sure He is pulling the load, bearing the burden--which we are all too ready to assume is up to us alone. We must understand that He is in charge of the outcome of our efforts, and that the outcome will be good, right. And all of this is encompassed in one biblical term, "Sabbath."

The Sabbath, Jesus said, was made for man. (Mark 2:27) That is, it serves human life in essential ways. Without it, life cannot be what it should be. That is why it is given in the Ten Commandments, at the heart of the moral law. It is not something we have to do because God has arbitrarily required it of us, a pointless hoop He would have us jump through. It is His gift to us. At the same time it makes clear that our life and our ministry is also His gift to us.

Sabbath is a way of life. (Heb. 4:3 & 9-11) It sets us free from bondage to our own efforts. Only in this way can we come to the power and joy of a radiant life in ministry, a blessing to all we touch. And yet Sabbath is almost totally absent from the existence of contemporary Christians and their ministers.

What is Sabbath? Biblically, it is a day, once a week, when we do no work. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work." (Ex 20:9-10) It was also a year, once every seven years, when God's covenant people not sow seed, prune vines or store up harvest. (Lev. 25:4-7) And to the question, "How are we going to eat in the seventh year?" God replied: "I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years." (vs. 21)

The moral principle certainly applies as well to our non-agrarian, contemporary life, though our faith will be greatly challenged in working out the details. Very practically, Sabbath is simply "casting your cares upon Him," to find that in actual fact "He cares for you." (I Peter 5:7) It is using of the keys to the kingdom to receive the resources for abundant living and ministering.

Three practices or spiritual disciplines are especially helpful in making Sabbath real in the midst of our life: Solitude, Silence, and Fasting. These are three of the central disciplines of abstinence long practiced by the followers of Jesus to help them find and keep solid footing in the kingdom that cannot be moved--in the midst of a busy and productive life, or even a life of trial, conflict and frustration.

For most of us, Sabbath will not become possible without extensive, regular practice of solitude. That is, we must practice time alone, out of contact with others, in a comfortable setting outdoors or indoors, doing no work. We must not take our work with us, even in the form of bible study, prayer or sermon preparation, for then we will not be alone. An afternoon walking by a stream or on the beach, in the mountains, or sitting in a comfortable room or yard, is a good way to start. This should become a weekly practice. Then perhaps a day, or a day and a night, in a retreat center where we can be alone. Then perhaps a weekend or a week, as wisdom dictates.

This will be pretty scary for most of us. But we must not try to get God to "do something" to fill up our time. That will only throw us back into work. The command is: "Do no work." Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don't have to do to be. Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming.

Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on you shoulders after all. You will find yourself and God will find you in new ways. Joy and peace will begin to bubble up within you and arrive from things and events around you. Praise and prayer will come to you and from within you. The soul anchor established in solitude will remain solid when you return to your ordinary life with others.

Silence also brings Sabbath to you. Silence means quietness, freedom from sounds except natural ones like breathing, bird songs and wind and water moving. It also means not talking. Silence completes solitude, for without it you cannot be alone. You remain subject to the pulls and pushes of a world that exaust you and keep you in bondage, distracting you from God and your own soul. Far from being a mere absence, silence allows the reality of God to stand in the midst of your life. It is like the wind of eternity blowing in your face. Not for nothing does the Psalmist say: "Be still and know that I am God." God does not ordinarily compete for our attention. In silence we come to attend.

When we stop talking we abandon ourselves to reality and to God. We position ourselves to attend rather than to adjust things with our words. We stop our shaping and negotiating, or "spinning." How much of our energy goes into that! We let things stand. We trust God with what others shall think.

Of course there is a time to talk, as there is a time to be with others. But we are not safe and rich in talk and companionship unless our souls are strong in solitude and silence. If we have heard the good news and have come to trust our Savior, He will meet with us through extensive solitude and silence to stablize his love, joy and peace in us. His character will increasingly become ours--easily, thorougly. You rarely find any person who has made great progress in the spiritual life that did not have much time in solitude and silence.

A pastor who has been discovering all this writes: "As I have slowed my life down through silence and solitude, I have discovered both the wickedness hidden by a hurried life as well as the wonder and delight my Father has in me. Oddly, through intentional times of practicing spiritual disciplines my walk with Jesus has become more spontaneous. He is present in more of my day. I have loved others better, and seen progress made in overcoming anger and the desire to have things my way. In a nutshell, Jesus has greater access to and control over my life. I'm more in tune to the still small voice of the Spirit."

Fasting is another long proven way of finding our way into Sabbath, where we live and do our work from the hand of God. In fasting we abstain from our ordinary food to some significant degree and for some significant length of time. Like solitude and silence, it is not done to impress God or merit favor, nor because there is anything wrong with food. Rather, it is done that we may consciously experience the direct sustenance of God to our body and our whole person. We are using the keys to access the kingdom.

This understanding of fasting is clearly indicated by Jesus in Matt. 4:4 (with its back reference to Deut. 8:2-6) and in John 4:32-34. Fasting is, indeed, feasting. When we have learned well to fast, we will not suffer from it. It will bring strength and joy. We will not be miserable, and so Jesus tells us not to look miserable. (Matt 6:16) Was he suggesting that we fake a condition of joy and sufficiency when we fast? Surely not. He knew that we would "have meat to eat" that others "know not of." I and many others can report that we have repeatedly verified this in experience.

Fasting is one way of seeking and finding the actual kingdom of God present and active in our lives. And because we are then more immersed in the reality of the kingdom, practically utilizing the "keys," our lives take on the character and power of Jesus. This will assure us that our work is his work and that he is working. Though we act, and work hard, it is after all not our battle and the outcome is in his hands.

Another pastor had this to say about his experience with fasting: "Surprisingly, after the fast is when I began to realize something from the fast. I came back from the fast with a clearer sense of purpose and a renewed sense of power in my ministry. The anger which I unleashed at my wife and children was less frequent and the materialism that was squeezing the life out of my spirituality had loosened its grip."

Yet another pastor said: "It is now my regular practice to fast before and during times I preach. I have a deeper sense of dependency and of the immense power of the spoken word. This has been demonstrated by the dear individual in my congregation who runs our tape ministry. She said that since January of this year , her order for sermon tapes has doubled. 'I can't explain it,' she said, 'but whatever it is, keep it up!'"

Experimental, prayerful implementation of solitude, silence, fasting--and other appropriate practices, such as fellowship, worship and study (there is no complete list of spiritual disciplines)--will certainly liberate us into the riches of kingdom living. We do not have to live under the thumb of our circumstances. For many, it is a considerable test of faith to take control of how they spend their time. But that is up to us. And putting time-tested, biblical disciplines for the spiritual life into sensible practice will soon lead us into an abundance of life that is eternal in quality and power.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Stormbreaker

Links of compassion descended
from heaven's throne with
an anchor for us amidst
life's storms of
sin and sorrow,
fear and failure,
loss and loneliness.
That anchor is,
and ever will be, Christ's
costly, compassionate
cross of salvation.
Love's anchor holds.

Susan Lenzkes © 2011

Let Us Pray

If we sought a fresh vision of prayer
and our prayers suddenly become visible ...

We would find the Father's children
sitting on His lap adoring Him and
basking in His overflowing love and joy.

We would watch our pleadings call the
wooing light of the Spirit into dark lives.

We would rejoice to see guilt-ridden souls
bow at Christ's cross then rise to
dance in pure freedom and new life.

Ears would be pressed to God's heartbeat and love,
catching the rhythm to go and service in His strength.

Some prayers would be faithfully chopping
holes in the roof of despair to lower suffering
friends to the feet of Jesus for His touch.

Others would be found scooping faith and strength to
endure from the bottomless well of Christ's sacrifice.

And the flashing of warriors' sword would be seen
everywhere as the powerful Sword of the Spirit
slashes at evil to make way for truth and light.

While we can't yet see what happens in heavens,
we can begin to see what prayer accomplishes on earth.

Susan Lenzkes © 2011

Turning the World Upside Down

Here we stand,
Christ Church,
His Living Body,
feet hesitant, uncertain,
at the world's subtle
crossroads of choice.
Will we follow the
beckoning path of
ease and compromise,
or stride onward in the
sacrificial way of the cross
where love's blood is spilled
and new life is born?
At every crossroad
we are led by the
shadow of Christ's cross

Susan Lenzkes © 2010

Closer Encounters

Parading before the
Pearl of Great Price
draped in our cheap simulations,
our rhinestones of righteousness
and fools gold
we think to impress -
hope to appeal
Then this grand and gracious God
strips us of our tawdry treasures and
allures us to His lustre
Himself placing
a glorious Signet Ring
upon our barren hearts -
God's seal of everlasting love

Susan Lenzkes © 2000

At Home in Reality

I tried to pretend
but the truth wanted in
I tried to deny
but was living a lie.
I kept running away,
but there came the day
when I fell on my face,
and in that prone place
where pain and truth meet
I lifted my eyes and saw nail-scarred feet.

Taken from Licking Honey Off A Thorn, © 2001 Susan Lenzkes

Fitter, Healthier, Stronger

Lord, what have I gained
if i eat wisely and well
but neglect to dine at Your table;
if I work our faithfully
while failing to exercise love;
if I give myself to the pursuit of fitness
yet am not fit for Your kingdom?
Earthly disciplines fortify
the body for a lifetime.
Heavenly disciplines strengthen
the soul for an eternity

Susan Lenzkes © 1996

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Does Prayer Make Any Difference?

Prayer is far more complex than some make it out to be. There is much more involved than merely asking for something and receiving it. For every person who feels that prayer has not “worked” for them and has therefore abandoned God, there is someone else for whom prayer remains a vital part of her life, sustaining her even when her prayers have gone unanswered, because her belief and trust is not only in the power of prayer but in the character and wisdom of God.

Taken from Has Christianity Failed You? by RAVI ZACHARIAS. Copyright © 2010 by Ravi Zacharias. Used by permission of Zondervan.

There is an immense difference between a worldview that is not able to answer every question to complete satisfaction and one whose answers are consistently contradictory. There is an even greater difference between answers that contain paradoxes and those that are systemically irreconcilable.
Once again, the Christian faith stands out as unique in this test, both as a system of thought and in the answers it gives. Christianity does not promise that you will have every question fully answered to your satisfaction before you die, but the answers it gives are consistently consistent. There may be paradoxes within Christian teaching and belief, but they are not irreconcilable. To those who feel that Christianity has failed them because of prayers that went unanswered, it is important to realize what I am saying here.

I sat with a man in my car, talking about a series of heartbreaks he had experienced. “There were just a few things I had wanted in life,” he said. “None of them have turned out the way I had prayed. I wanted my parents to live until I was at least able to stand on my own and they could watch my children grow up. It didn’t happen. I wanted my marriage to succeed, and it didn’t. I wanted my children to grow up grateful for what God had given them. That didn’t happen. I wanted my business to prosper, and it didn’t. Not only have my prayers amounted to nothing; the exact opposite has happened. Don’t even ask me if you can pray for me. I am left with no trust of any kind in such things.”

I felt two emotions rising up within me as I listened. The first was one of genuine sorrow. He felt that he had tried, that he had done his part, but that God hadn’t lived up to his end of the deal. The second emotion was one of helplessness, as I wondered where to begin trying to help him.

These are the sharp edges of faith in a transcendent, all-powerful, personal God. Most of us have a tendency to react with anger or withdrawal when we feel God has let us down by not giving us things we felt were legitimate to ask him for. We may feel guilty that our expectations toward God were too great. We may feel that God has not answered our prayers because of something lacking in ourselves. We may compare ourselves with others whose every wish seems to be granted by God, and wonder why he hasn’t come through for us in the way he does for others. And sometimes we allow this disappointment in God to fester and eat away at our faith in him until the years go by and we find ourselves bereft of belief.

G. K. Chesterton surmised that when belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from him — but, in heaven’s name, to what? To the skeptic or the one who has been disappointed in his faith, the obvious answer to Chesterton’s question may be to give up believing that there’s somebody out there, take charge of your own life, and live it out to the best of your own ability.

But Chesterton also wrote, “The real trouble with the world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite.” (1) He is right. Only so much about life can be understood by reason; so much falls far short of any reasonable explanation. Prayer then becomes the irrepressible cry of the heart at the times we most need it. For every person who feels that prayer has not “worked” for them and has therefore abandoned God, there is someone else for whom prayer remains a vital part of her life, sustaining her even when her prayers have gone unanswered, because her belief and trust is not only in the power of prayer but in the character and wisdom of God. God is the focus of such prayer, and that is what sustains such people and preserves their faith.

Prayer is far more complex than some make it out to be. There is much more involved than merely asking for something and receiving it. In this, as in other contexts, we too often succumb to believing that something is what it never was, even when we know it cannot be as simple as we would like to think it is.

The Irish poet Frances Browne framed a poem about a band of pilgrims sharing about their losses in life. One pilgrim spoke of a treasure lost on the high seas, another of a fortune, ravaged and plundered. A third spoke of a lost love, and a fourth of having buried a little child.

But when their tales were done, there spake among them one, A stranger, seeming from all sorrow free: “Sad losses ye have met, but mine is heavier yet, For a believing heart hath gone from me.”

“Alas!” these pilgrims said, “for the living and the dead, For fortune’s cruelty, for love’s sure cross, For the wrecks of land and sea! but, however it came to thee, Thine, stranger, is life’s last and heaviest loss! For the believing heart has gone from thee.” (2)

I remember my mother, lying in bed, her life hanging in the balance after a stroke at the age of fiftyseven. A group of elders from the church came and prayed for her. Afterward, one of them told us that the Lord had told him that my mother would get well. My younger brother, especially, who was twenty-two at the time and a medical student, was greatly buoyed and encouraged by this assurance of God’s promise to heal her. However, only a few days later, her condition deteriorated, and she passed away. Of course we were grief-stricken and bewildered. But even more devastating was the response of some in the group — that she had died because someone in the family had lacked sufficient faith for her healing. We were already reeling from our loss, and now we each found ourselves, like the disciples, examining his or her own heart, asking God, “Is it possible that I am responsible for her death, or was this always in your plan and purpose?”

You are not alone in your experience of prayer. One hears stories of unanswered prayer all the time. Adding insult to injury is hearing someone else’s story, someone whose prayers seem to be always answered or even someone who never thought of praying and yet their loved one has recovered. Read the following thoughts of a prominent Christian author, which I have compiled from his various writings. I have changed some of the wording but retained his ideas.

I have prayed long and hard for God to save my mother’s life, but my prayers have gone unanswered.
I wish so much that God would rescue me from this dreadful school, and I have prayed to no end. I am still here.
I finish praying and then struggle with my conscience, wondering if I had concentrated through it at all.
Prayer for me meant pain, defeat, and much lost sleep.
It is this terrible burden of duty in prayer that has taken its toll.
Every evening was so cloaked in gloom because I dreaded bedtime and the nightly struggle for supreme concentration.

His struggle over his problem with unanswered prayer caused him to turn away from his Christian faith at the age of thirteen, and it was not until some twenty years later that he knelt and prayed, “perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” (3) Yes, these are the experiences and words of C. S. Lewis. Lewis stated clearly that it was his disillusionment with prayer that made him walk away from his Christian belief when he was only a young lad. Yet fifteen or so years after his conversion, Lewis said he found himself in “philosophically a rather embarrassing position” of praying and trusting this same God for the safety of his brother, Warren, who was in Shanghai during a Japanese attack. (4) If we are being honest, which of us has not sensed this frustration, dejection, and confusion over prayer? Scholars of great philosophical prowess have asked what sort of God this is who needs to be pleaded with, cajoled, and begged. Once again, they show their total ignorance of how people in the East relate to God and have no difficulty accepting the distinction and inequality between God and man. Some Western celebrity thinkers, on the other hand, not only don’t accede to this difference; they suggest that, if anything, man’s ethic is higher than God’s. But leaving the philosophers, scholars, and celebrities out of the discussion for the moment and returning to the subject of our own experiences with prayer, we all fully understand Lewis’s frustration and readily identify with him.

It is not always as easy for us to identify with the profound prayers of some who seem to know God so well, and we listen with rapt attention, wondering at just how foreign it seems, as if it originates from another planet. Years ago, I read about a notable Indian Christian by the name of Bakht Singh, truly a remarkable person. Born into a Sikh family in Punjab, he regularly attended Gurdwaras (Sikh temples). When he was presented with a Bible at school, he promptly tore it to shreds. Years later, he went to Kings College in London, and while an engineering student in Canada, in 1929 — the same year C. S. Lewis became a Christian — Bakht Singh surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. He became one of the most notable Christians in India’s history and was highly respected and revered, dying in 2000 at the age of ninety-seven.

Stories abound of the power he wielded in prayer. On one occasion on a long walk across India, a stranger is said to have stopped him and challenged him to pray for relief from drought for the area he was passing through. Bakht Singh asked the man if he would believe in Christ, should his prayer be answered. The man hesitated and then consented. As Singh was about to get on his knees to pray, his traveling companion supposedly cautioned him, “Don’t you think we should wait to pray for rain until we are within range of our stop for the night — we still have some way to go, and we don’t have any umbrellas.”

Fact or fable, I have never bothered to determine. There is precedent in Scripture, however, when Elijah prayed for rain during a time of severe drought and had to run for cover himself (1 Kings 18). The Bible is replete with such answers to prayer, and it is a fact that George Mueller of Bristol, England, was just such a man of prayer in the 1800s. Often he would have not enough food to feed the orphans and street kids in his charge, but would offer thanks for the food anyway, before it even arrived. Numerous eyewitnesses and biographers have testified to his prayers of faith.

Saint John Chrysostom wrote this about the power of prayer:

Prayer is an all-efficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine which is never exhausted, a sky unobscured by the clouds, a heaven unruffled by the storm. It is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings. . . . The potency of prayer hath subdued the strength of fire, it hath bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest; extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. 5

Who can read that and not be tempted to exclaim, “Is that mere rhetoric?” No, not so. Each of the instances referred to by Chrysostom is drawn right out of the Scriptures. The Bible talks about the privilege of prayer and cautions against insincere prayer. Whether we’re talking about the Welsh Revival or that in the Hebrides or the Second Evangelical Awakening in America, all had one thing in common — concerted prayer over a protracted period of time. Often as a student I would read stories of those revivals and their foundations of prayer, and I would think, That’s what I want to build my life on — the solid footing of prayer. My library is full of books on prayer. One would think that with each passing year the discipline of prayer would get easier, but in fact it doesn’t. Whether early in the morning or late at night, it is always a challenge. But as God has proved himself, I have had several different experiences in which I sensed God’s very clear answer within my spirit. There is no doubt in my heart that prayer makes a difference in anyone’s life.
Is Anyone Listening?
Does Anyone Care?
There is no getting around the fact that the answers to prayer that Bakht Singh and George Mueller regularly experienced don’t fit the common experience. My daughter Naomi has experienced some tough situations, but, by God’s grace, has kept her feet steady. She travels the globe, working on behalf of the neediest of the world. Whether in the rescue or rehabilitation of women enslaved by the sex-trafficking industry or help for children affected by AIDS — either through the loss of their parents or their own diagnosis of HIV positive — she is in the thick of situations where the need and pain are overwhelming. She often says that perhaps God intended her place to be among the broken people of the world, and in her own personal life she has endured much pain, disappointment, and betrayal. Every now and then I hear her say, “I wish God would answer some of my prayers in a way that would let me know he is even just listening.”

She currently makes her home in a quiet neighborhood on the West Coast of the United States. Recently, after a visit with us in Atlanta, she returned home to be greeted by her energetic Golden Retriever, India, who insists that Naomi first make up for all the lost time with her before anything else is done. Her landlady also came running to welcome Naomi home. So she set her suitcase on the ground just outside her door and got down on the floor, greeting the dog with all the preoccupation of the one-way conversation that a person with an affectionate dog regularly engages in, and also responding to her landlady’s conversation. Finally she turned back to grab her suitcase. Only ten minutes had elapsed from setting it down outside the door and returning to retrieve it, and when she opened the door it was not there. She began to wonder if she had left it in her car, although she was sure she remembered unloading it. But her landlady confirmed that the suitcase had been at the door, which is how she had known that Naomi was back. She searched the periphery of the house in case it had been moved, but there was no sign of either the suitcase or its contents. I was ten thousand miles away when she called home, quite upset. Some of her favorite things were in the suitcase, as well as a few new things she had bought while she was away. She reported the loss to the police, and after two days when it still hadn’t been located, they didn’t give her much hope that she would ever see it, or anything in it, again.

I wrote to her, encouraging her not to lose hope. This was a small thing for God, and we continued to earnestly pray that he would restore it to her. Her prayer was, “I know it isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. It’s just a suitcase. But there are things in it that are important to me. I’ve experienced so much of the pain of life and seem to have known so few answers to my prayers — couldn’t you bring my suitcase back? It would mean so much to me to know that you are there and that you are listening.”

The fourth morning after its disappearance, she got up and checked outside the door as she had for the last three mornings — only to find nothing. She spent the morning working, frequently asking the Lord for the return of her suitcase. At noon she again checked outside the door, finding nothing. In the early afternoon she went out to run an errand, and when she came back there was still no suitcase in front of her door. A few minutes later, she went to the door, and sitting in the exact spot where she had left it three days earlier was her suitcase! She couldn’t believe her eyes. In great excitement she opened it up and found everything there. Not a single thing had been taken.

Now mystified but filled with gratitude to the Lord, she called me. “Dad! Dad, you won’t believe this! My suitcase is back, and nothing has been taken! ” Later that day, she wrote to me and said, “You know, it’s a small thing, but I needed that little small thing from God right now. I needed that little gesture just to know that he cares when I’m a little down.”

Someone once humorously quipped that if you really want your spouse to hang on to every word you say — to listen with rapt attention and remember every word — just talk in your sleep. Someone else told a story about a bishop who knelt before the altar and began praying, “Dear Lord….” And a voice came from heaven asking, “What is it?” They had to pick the bishop off the floor, as he had fainted. The reason these stories strike us as funny is that it is so important to us that someone care enough about us and love us enough to listen to what we say, to care about what we think. And when we pray, when we pour out our hearts and make ourselves vulnerable before God, we sometimes cannot help but wonder — even a little bit — if there really is anyone listening.

Little Things That Make a Big Difference
Prayer has wings. It can lift you beyond the dark clouds of the human struggle so that you are able to soar above. At the same time, prayer is a reminder that we are not God. Do you remember those lines by Robert Browning?

Go on, you shall no more move my gravity Than, when I see boys ride a-cockhorse I find it in my heart to embarrass them By hinting that their stick’s a mock horse, And they really carry what they say carries them. (6)

I have absolutely no doubt that if you are a praying Christian, your faith in God is what is carrying you, through both the good times and the hard times. However, if you are not a praying person, you are carrying your faith — you are trying to make your faith work for you apart from your source of power — and trying to carry the infinite is very exhausting. The question of unanswered prayer is a haunting one. What if prayer doesn’t make the difference it’s supposed to make? In this chapter it is not my intention to deny the great disappointments of unanswered prayer or even to attempt to provide answers to why our prayers are not answered. Rather, I want us to take a good, hard look at what God intends prayer to be.
The Mysterious Impact of Prayer
The Bible has a lot to say about prayer, either directly or by inference, with respect to the effect of prayer both on a situation and in the life of the person praying. Nearly fifty quite lengthy prayers are recorded in the Scriptures, along with numerous short ones. If we want to understand prayer, it is critical to understand how the Bible views prayer.

In all of its expressions, whether halting and short or flowing in beautiful, well-structured phrases, prayer is simply a conversation with God. If we turn prayer into a monologue or use it as a way to showcase our gift with words or as a venue for informing or instructing others who may be listening, we defeat the very purpose of prayer. The Bible makes it clear that prayer is intended as the line of connection from the heart of the praying person directly to the heart of God. Jesus himself practiced a lifestyle of prayer and urged his disciples to imitate him by making it part of their daily existence. His prayers represented prayer at its best and most sincere.

I marvel at the impact of praying with a hurting person. I have prayed many times with someone who has claimed to be a skeptic and is living in a manner that supports that claim, only to finish my prayer and open my eyes to see tears in his eyes. Although prayer remains a mystery to all of us but especially to one who lives apart from God, I have observed again and again that even the hardened heart retains a longing for the possibility of communicating with God.

For example, on a trip to Hungary, I spent an evening with a few colleagues as we discussed spiritual and philosophical issues and tried to answer the questions of our six Hungarian hosts. They included, among others, a member of the parliament, a theoretical physicist, and a successful businessman. None of them were followers of Jesus Christ. They were in the truest sense atheistic — with no belief in God or recognition of any need for God.

After hours of interaction, the evening came to an end. Before we separated, I asked if they would mind if I concluded our time together with prayer. They were a bit taken aback, but in a rather bemused manner they agreed that I should pray. I prayed briefly for their nation, their families, and their own lives. I prayed that God would show himself to them in some meaningful way and thanked him for the opportunity to meet them in their homeland and spend the evening with them. When I said Amen and lifted my eyes, I saw tears in the eyes of each of our hosts. There was a hushed silence. Everyone seemed peculiarly reluctant to disturb the sense of God’s sudden, unexpected presence. We bid them good night. The next morning, I stood to address an audience miles away from the dinner of the previous night and recognized some of the very people with whom we had spent the previous long evening. I was surprised, not only because of the distance they had traveled to be there, but also because this was a closed event, open only to registered delegates. But there they were.

When the session finished and the hall cleared, the businessman approached me and said, “Something happened last night.” He went on to say that after the prayer the previous evening he had been so moved that he hadn’t gone back to his hotel room. Instead he had walked most of the night until he had come to the place of accepting that Jesus Christ was who he claimed to be — the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And he had given his life into the keeping of that Savior. Prayer can accomplish amazing things, reaching into hear ts in a way that all the correct answers to questions that are honestly asked sometimes cannot do. Conversely, more certainly than anything else, sustained prayer that seems to bring nothing in response can result in a sense of futility with life and an erosion of faith. Like the myth of Sisyphus, who repeatedly rolled a huge rock up a mountain only to watch it roll down again, unanswered prayer may well be where most of those who have lost their faith began that journey into unbelief.
Jesus on Prayer
No one is a better instructor on prayer than Jesus himself. By simply observing the specific occasions in which the Scriptures tell us that Jesus spent time in prayer, it should be evident how very important prayer is: at his baptism (Luke 3:21); on the occasion of his transfiguration (Luke 9:29); at the selection of his twelve disciples (Luke 6:12); at the Last Supper with his disciples during the Passover Feast (John 17:1 – 26); before his arrest in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36 – 46); and at his cruel execution on the cross (prayers that are recorded by all four gospel writers). Reading these prayers and coming to terms with how Jesus prayed and why he prayed as he did provide all we need for a fascinating study. The most definitive passage on prayer is what is often called the Lord’s Prayer or, as some scholars like to call it, the Disciples’ Prayer. (More than once I have heard an audience asked to recite the Ten Commandments by memory, and few can do so. But most people who have attended church even for a short period of time or are over the age of fifty have learned the Lord’s Prayer either in church or in school). A mere sixty-five words, it is uttered thousands of times a day. In this simple prayer, we see what prayer, however expanded, should be.

The highly significant first words carry the weight of all of prayer: “Our Father in heaven.” This is a uniquely Christian utterance. I have never heard a Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or anyone of any other faith ever begin prayer with those words. The conversion story of a wealthy socialite woman in Pakistan, Bilquis Sheikh, is appropriately titled I Dared to Call Him Father. In these two words alone — “Our Father” — we recognize, at least implicitly, two truths: the nearness of God as our heavenly Father, and the sovereignty of God as the one who controls everything. As soon as you cry out in prayer, “Heavenly Father,” you are recognizing his sovereign rule over your life.

The great prayers of the Old Testament — even from Abraham, the friend of God, or from David, a man after God’s own heart — do not begin this way. To address God in this way is distinctive. It was Jesus’ way of introducing to his disciples that God was their heavenly Father. Can you imagine how new this must have been to the disciples — even shocking — to hear God addressed this way? In the Jewish faith, of which Christianity is the fulfillment, God was so revered, so distant, so holy — so “other” — that his name could not even be spoken. That attitude is still true among Jews today. To hear God addressed in such a familiar and intimate manner must have made an immediate impression on them of what Jesus was teaching about their relationship with God.

The prayer recorded by Matthew (6:9 – 13) is also recorded by Luke (11:2 – 4). Jesus gives the context in verses 5 – 10.

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’

“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The New Testament events took place in the Middle East, and in the East it is an absolute must to place food in front of a guest, without exception. You simply do not welcome anyone into your home without offering them food and drink. My first reaction when reading this story was to think that I knew exactly how the host felt: What on earth is this friend thinking, arriving unexpectedly at midnight [it had to be unexpected, or the food would have been ready], and hungry at that? But it happens all the time.

I had an uncle who, when an earthquake hit our city, moved his whole family of seven into our home for three months. Already a family of seven living in a small two-bedroom home, we had to feed and provide a place for them for all those months. Even then, I marveled at it. I remember asking my mother how my uncle felt he was safer living with us when his own home was a mere half mile away. Why was it necessary because of one earthquake for their family to move in with us for three months? There we were, fourteen of us in a four-room house — two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a living room. Indeed, they actually did arrive at midnight, and all of a sudden we all had to vacate our beds and give them to the “guests.” We were not happy. But there was absolutely no possibility, not even a thought on the part of my parents, of turning them away. Courtesy demanded that we open our home to them and share all that we had.

This is precisely the context of Jesus’ story. It is one of those “how much more” passages. If through sheer pressure of culture a person yields to the needs of a friend because of his friend’s persistence, “how much more will your heavenly Father do for you?” The man’s neighbor was asleep; God doesn’t sleep. The neighbor had locked his door against any intrusion; God is always available to us. The neighbor didn’t know his friend; God knows every heart and every need. He knows the numbers of hairs on our heads. He knows the days each of us have been given for life on this earth. He sees every sparrow that falls. He knows our need before we even ask him to meet it.

Jesus then applied the lesson by saying, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11 – 12). Then he gives the key to the whole passage that begins with his model prayer: “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (verse 13).

On the heels of the Lord’s Prayer and as his conclusion to it, Jesus tells us that God will give the Holy Spirit, his indwelling presence, to those who ask for it. That is the whole point of the prayer. It is not spoken in the form of a question — it ends with an exclamation point. God will give the gift of the indwelling presence of the holy God to any who ask for it — this is an absolute certainty! You can count on it!

We hear so little of this today. In its efforts to make God relevant to modern men and women, the emergent church seldom emphasizes to its audiences that the ultimate result of prayer is that Jesus intends to make his home within the life of the supplicant. We have turned prayer into a means to our ends and seldom wait on God’s response long enough to think about what he wants for us in that very moment. By reducing the evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to one particular gift, we have robbed people of the Holy Presence that prompts us in prayer, prays for us when we don’t have the words to pray for ourselves, and comforts us in our times of need.

The paramount need in the church today and in the individual Christian is the indwelling presence of God. In an incredible twist, this indwelling presence of God, the Holy Spirit, makes God both the enabler of our prayers and the provider of answers to those prayers.

This is precisely how a wise parent raises his or her child — teaching the child to train his or her hungers and longings so that in turn, the parent is able to provide for those hungers and longings. More than anything else, this is what prayer is about — training one’s hungers and longings to correspond with God’s will for us — and it is what the Christian faith is all about. Paul reminds us of this numerous times. Jesus talks of the prompting from within and the provision that comes from without, which is the work of the Holy Spirit within us and the provision of God from without.

A neighbor once came to our door, asking me to pray for a particular family need. I smiled at her and said, “I’m glad to pray for you, but you know, you have equal access to God and can come to him yourself at any time.” I thought I had captured a nice, culturally relevant term for her. But she paused for a moment and said, “I know that, but you seem to have an 800 number for him; for me it’s a long-distance call.” I suppose if that had happened today, I could have replied by suggesting that she get a roaming package on her phone.

Humor aside, I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put him. We have kept him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on him in prayer, we wonder where he is. He is exactly where we left him.

Calvin Miller makes a powerful point:

The sermon and the Spirit always work in combination to pronounce liberation. Sometimes the Spirit and sermon do supply direct answers to human need, but most often they answer indirectly. Most problems are not solved by listening to sermons. The sermon, no matter how sincere, cannot solve these unsolvable problems. So if the sermon is not a problem solver, where shall we go for solutions? Together with the Spirit, the sermon exists to point out that having answers is not essential to living. What is essential is the sense of God’s presence during dark seasons of questioning…. Our need for specific answers is dissolved in the greater issue of the lordship of Christ over all questions — those that have answers and those that don’t. (7)

This is one of the most defining differences between an apologist who is merely interested in arguments and an apologist who knows God in a clear and personal walk with him. To the skeptic, to say that prayer is more about the lordship of Christ than it is about getting answers may seem at first blush to be evasive, but it is not. It is in keeping with the worldview that God’s presence is a felt presence and must be pursued with diligence — and it is precisely what “ask, seek, and knock” means.

In his book The Integrity of Worship, Paul Waitman Hoon makes a powerful observation about how God works on us as individuals through prayer, molding us into what he wants us to be, teaching us to think as he wants us to think:

How often have we craved light on our life in the world, only to be summoned to ponder our destiny in eternity. How often have we been preoccupied with the church local and instead found our vision turned to the church triumphant and universal. And how often have we asked that worship bless our souls with peace, only to hear the lesson for the day calling us to a holy warfare. How often have we desired strength to overcome the world, only to learn that we are to be stoned and sawn asunder in the world. How often have we sought comfort to our sorrows and instead found the sorrows of the world added to our own. Such reversals may be strange to men. But only such contradiction answers to realities both relevant and irrelevant that are at the heart of the church’s worship. (8)

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

(1) G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (San
Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 87.
(2) Frances Browne, “Losses” in The
Cambridge Book of Poetry and Song, edited
by Charlotte Fiske Bates (New York:
Thomas Y. Crowell Publishers, 1910), 56.
(3) C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape
of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1984), 228-229.
(4) As quoted by Kathryn Ann
Lindskoog in C.S. Lewis: Mere
Christian, 3rd ed. (Wheaton: Harold
Shaw Publishers, 1987), 118.
(5) Quoted in Leonard Ravenhill,
Why Revival Tarries (Minneapolis:
Bethany Fellowship, 1959), 156.
(6) Robert Browning, “Christmas-
Eve” in Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day
(London: Chapman & Hall, 1850), 66.
(7) Calvin Miller, Spirit, Word, and Story
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 56, 57.
(8) Paul Waitman Hoon, The
Integrity of Worship (Nashville:
Abingdon Press, 1971), 164.