And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:3-6)

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel. (Psalm 69:6)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What I Pray for When I pray For Our Church

Have you ever wondered about your pastor’s prayer life? Have you ever wondered what does he pray about most often for us? Maybe you have heard him pray and it sounds different than anything you have ever heard. Do you know he is at church praying and desire to know how he can pray for so long or why he seems to just know what to pray? His prayers will give a grand outline to the question of his heart’s desire for the church. Paul in writing to the Colossians has been my inspiration. For many years now I have taken a personal directive to pray specifically according to a prayer that Paul himself prayed for these beloved people. He shares this prayer with the church by writing,

Col 1:9-14 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Paul’s pastoral heart has sparked my heart in ministry. Often one of my greatest joys is praying through the church directory. I also have on my desk a stack of index cards. These cards have the handwritten prayer requests of several members here. And I can not forget Facebook. When I check my account I often have “real time” news of what the saints are going through. Each of these venues provides me with opportunities to pray specifically. I can therefore imagine Paul, receiving news by a messenger of the church stopping to pray. Or maybe as I have had occasion, fondly looking at some memento from his flock and then praying for those whom he loves.

True pastoral ministry will have its strongest influences by the bible and by prayer. And prayer itself is to be directly influenced by the bible. Show us a man who prays and I can show you one who believes the Word of God.

So as I looked at these verses years ago I found Paul teaching me. First off I learned that he never ceases to pray for them. As pastor I need to do the same. Those whom we love we will pray for. Thus as a pastor I find that as my love for folks grows I pray in greater earnest.

When I pray I agree with Paul that we all need to be filled with knowledge in spiritual wisdom and understanding. This is not just to do a better job or have a comfortable life. This is knowledge to see things from a God centered and exalting perspective. If we are not first and foremost living in the glorification of God then all we do is doubly worthless. However, when we obey the command to do all things to the glory of God, then we actually worship. Remember, worship is in Truth and Spirit. By gaining personal knowledge of God and His will we also will have the benefit of growing in love for God. If we love God and desire His glory, most of our attitudinal and heart problems are cured in rapid fashion. Pastors love to see this sanctification of the flock

Paul makes me aware that I must ask in my prayers for the church to be strengthened. This keeps me aware of the daily struggles within and from outside that weaken us. This prayer is not so that we look good or to have a nice day. As a matter of fact I ask that our sufferings bring us joyful wisdom in God rather than a turning to the world’s solutions.

Next I pray about their journey, walk, with Christ. It is my desire that in a daily fashion we all take every thought of our being into the realization that we have been bought with a precious price. Too often we “move on to the next big thing” or shiny object of distraction unaware of what we are trading off. Because of this we rarely dwell on the great things of God. My prayer is that we all revel in His glory in every facet of the day. For us to do everything to the glory of God we need to value the work of God. Again, we need to know God. I pray that we will not fall in false theology as Satan persuaded Eve. Some do this by reading books without discernment. Some simply overschedule and squeeze God out of their lives. I can be faulted here also. Our walk ought to be in the understandable knowledge of God. I pray that this truth is captive in our minds all day long. Oh Father, may we be God centered people in everything.

I often pray 1 Corinthians 10:13 for myself, and I do it for our church. Temptations often grip us even unaware. I pray that it is by His might that we are strengthened. Sufferings are a means of us getting beyond our experience and personal resources in an opportunity to walk by faith. The challenge for us Americans today is that so little faith is “required”. We have convenience, lines of credit, and ample freedoms. Due to all of this we have lost the urgency of prayer, waiting upon God, and faithfully acting. We depend more on economic and technological resources than Almighty God. My prayer is not that we become Luddites, but that we properly cry out to God before turning to resources or giving into temptation. I pray that the promises of God are implanted, able to save our souls.

So I then pray for endurance and patience. Again I find that this is affected by our easy lifestyles in America. Granted the sour economy has awakened many to their return to God, yet we still have a dominating “I can do better elsewhere” mentality. So we don’t endure, we move on. This ideology in our social lives is often carried into the sanctuary. As a case in point, church hopping is easy. Finding a nondemanding church is easier. The sad thing is that these fallback gathering places may not constitute a New Testament church. Committed Christians persevere. Thus there is something to persevere against. If you never suffer for your faith then it is most likely that you do not have saving faith. We glorify God when we love on difficult people, even in the church. Speaking to the idea of staying in a church through difficult times ought to be a sermon series. Unfortunately, the less mature majority would see this as self serving to the pastor and staff. Let me surmise that the church ought to be revolutionizing the integrity of the believer that they are stalwart people of perseverance. Prayer is the key tool to God working in His people this way.

And I pray for joy in these sufferings. James in his first chapter gives us guidance. Joy above circumstances, with suffering, is glory unto God. It says that the Christian’s hope is in the personhood of God. It makes much of His promises. It strengthens the church as a whole. Yes we must pray for people’s joy, but pray that joy is in the difficulties of life. This builds character and glory.

If we are joyful we are thankful. And in thankfulness we give credit to whom it is due. It can be said that thankful people are worshipful people. And this is God’s desire. As I read in Romans two many moons ago, I saw how God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. This truth led me to realize my sin, and yet His forbearance and grace. It welled up within me a sense that it is only therefore just and joyful to give my life evermore to Him. Thus, though I do fear God, I find I am more motivated to love and serve Him by means of appreciation for what He has worked through the cross. This is what Paul prays.

Paul prays that we would have this revelation. To give thanks to God who has delivered us from darkness to light.

Though Paul wrote these words they are the words of God. They are a truth that sets me and you free. Thus as pastor and fellow sinner I too pray these for us all. May we glorify God in this pattern.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Flesh Profits Nothing

This past week at church we saw God working and folks making commitments. Today as I pray for these folks I am reminded of a key obstacle to success. My reminder came by way of yesterday’s struggle to connect with God. Many moments passed in my morning discipleship before I ever had a sense of assurance, of joy, or connectedness with God. I could not understand why my commitment to the things of God was so immobilized.

Often I have made commitments and failed. I have made a follow up commitments, and failed at those one too. The successes have come when one key ingredient is at hand. Whether it is the renewing of the mind, overcoming sin, or joy in the Lord that lasts, they all come only by the Holy Spirit. My disconnectedness with God was all in the fact that my Bible time was being done in the flesh. It was an attempt to either appease God or demonstrate my worthiness to Him. It may have even be some other issue of the heart. But regardless, I needed to be in the Spirit for any entrance to His presence.

John 6:63 teaches that the flesh profits nothing. If I make a mental commitment it is fleshly. If I am under conviction by the Holy Spirit, not a group mentality or a sense of duty, then my success rate increases exponentially. You see, by the Spirit God gets the glory. By my efforts it is merely a fleshly ordeal. Truly the flesh profits nothing. But if by the Spirit I am putting to death the deeds of the flesh, He gets the glory. And that is how it works. If God is central, set up to receive glory they the odds are in His favor, and thusly ours. It is a submissive appeal to God based upon His glory and being, not my worth or deeds.

John 14 through 17 teaches us much about abiding in the Spirit. We also see this in Romans 8 and Galatians 5. We must seek the Spirit. At Jesus ascension in Acts we are told the disciples needed to wait in prayer for the Holy Spirit to act. When troubles came the church turned to the word of God and prayed. As a matter of fact, they never acted until God, by His Spirit, led them to act specifically.

A quick survey of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament will quickly reveal our need for abiding in Him. Success and growth will never come apart from Him. Neither will God’s glory, worship, or the faith that marks us as His. The listening to sermons, memorization and reading of scripture, and even prayer becomes an exercise in aggravation if we do not have the Spirit. We try and “it doesn’t work”. It does not work my friend for you or for me if it is done in the flesh. It only promotes dry lifeless religious formality. But in the Holy Spirit the simplest verse or uttered prayer can connect us to Almighty God.

So before we set about an action plan for achievement, let us first seek to abide in the Spirit. For it can even become an idolatry of our systems and methods to live “as Christians” if we do not abide in Him.