You Can Pray commendations

Here are some commendations for my latest book, You Can Pray (available from amazon.com and thinkivp).

“The subject of prayer can raise profound questions, fears, guilt and frustration in us all. Tim Chester answers with rich theology and practical wisdom. As ever he is Trinitarian, gospel-shaped and pastorally-hearted. By the end you won’t just believe the title, you’ll rejoice that, in Jesus, You Can Pray.” – Glen Scrivener, an ordained minister and evangelist.

“You may be thinking ‘not another book on prayer’ and so was I.  What I found was a book that challenged and stretched how and what I pray for. It was a refreshing reminder of the fundamentals of prayer and the end focus of glorifying God; however he chooses to answer our prayers.  Whether you’ve read a lot of books on prayer or none – this is well worth the read.” – Charmaine Muir, Minister for Workplace, All Souls, Langham Place.

‘A very encouraging and enjoyable read. It put a spring into my step and got me praying more than I had been.’ – Sam Allberry, Associate Minister, St Mary’s Church, Maidenhead; and author of Connected, Lifted and Is God Anti-Gay?

‘I am so grateful to Tim Chester for writing You Can Pray. It is gracious yet challenging, accessible yet theologically robust. If you’ve ever wondered why we need to pray, or how to get better at it, this book will help you enormously. In a crowded market, this is one of the few books on prayer I shall recommend unreservedly.’ – Pete Greig, founding champion of the 24-7 Prayer movement, Director of Prayer for Alpha International and Lead Pastor of Emmaus Rd church in Guildford, UK.

‘Enjoyment and prayer are words that are not normally associated together, but after reading You Can Pray you will not be able to separate them! Tim’s book is full of helpful insights into how we should pray, why we should pray and what we should pray. It’s simple to read, yet not simplistic, as it engages deeply with the biblical text and also with contemporary issues. The book addresses many of the challenges that hinder us from praying and is jam-packed full of encouragement and tips on how we can become great pray-ers. Having been in full-time Christian ministry for over twenty years, both in Africa and in the UK, I wish this book had been available when I first started out! It is a must-read for anyone who wants to make prayer easy, biblical and God-glorifying.’ – Andrew Chard, European Director for AIM International

For the next couple of weeks ThinkIVP are offering a special discount on You Can Pray for readers of my blog. Order through these links and you will get the hard copy for £6 and the ebook for £4. This offer does not apply to orders from North America.

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You Can Pray – the movie

Here ‘s a short video introducing my new book, You Can Pray.

You Can Pray is available from amazon.com in the US and thinkivp elsewhere.

For the next three weeks or so ThinkIVP are offering a special discount on You Can Pray for readers of my blog. Order through these links and you will get the hard copy for £6 and the ebook for £4. This offer does not apply to orders from North America.

 

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New Book: You Can Pray

Today sees the launch of my latest book, You Can Pray – a title which so effectively summarises the book that it doesn’t have a subtitle. It is published by IVP.

Here’s the blurb …

If you’re easily distracted when praying, you’re not alone. In fact, if you struggle to pray in the first place, that’s not unusual either. Tim Chester tells us how we can be great pray-ers. And he admits that that’s a really bold claim.

‘The secret of great praying has nothing to do with human effort or skill,’ he explains. ‘Lots of people would like to think that it does because they want to make prayer an achievement.’ But the secret of great praying is …
Knowing three things about God:

  • That God the Father loves to hear us pray
  • That God the Son makes every prayer pleasing to God
  • That God the Holy Spirit helps us as we pray

Tim looks at: why prayer is easy (how we pray), why prayer is difficult (why we pray) and the arguments and priorities of prayer (what we pray). Prayer is a child asking her father for help. And that’s not beyond any one of us.

I’ll post some of the commendations in a future post.

You Can Pray is available from amazon.com in the US and thinkivp elsewhere.

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Can you help me think about prayer?

I am considering writing something on prayer and how people relate to God. I would love to know what people find helpful in this area and what they struggle with. So I’ve put together an online survey.

It would be a great help if you could fill this in and also pass on the link to other people.

The survey should only take a few minutes to complete and you can skip any of the questions.

All answers will be anonymous.

Thank you.

The link is http://prayerlife.questionpro.com/.

I’ll keep the survey open until the end of May.

Which member of the Trinity do you natural relate to the most?

A few years ago I realised my relationship with Jesus felt somewhat distant and remote. I have a strong sense of living in relationship with God the Father. After all, I direct my prayers to him and believe he hears those prayers. I believe he organises all the circumstances of my life, using them to shape me more into the image of his Son. I also have a sense of relationship with the Spirit. It’s not that I regularly have tingles down the spine or anything like that. It’s more that I’m conscious that any good I do is not done through some power inherent in Tim Chester. Left to myself I would be a horribly selfish specimen. So it must be the Holy Spirit working in me, giving me new desires to please God and love others.

But Jesus, the Son of God… Jesus felt more remote. I’m fully aware that he died for my sins and rose again to give me life. But that was 2,000 years ago. And in the meantime he’s ascended into heaven. What he did for me was a long time ago and now he’s a long way away. I was (and I am) truly and deeply grateful for all that he’s done for me. But there was not much sense of a present experience of Jesus.

So I started asking other people about their relationship with the triune God. Everyone I met and everywhere I went I asked people: “With which member of the Trinity do you have strongest sense of a real, experienced relationship?” I wasn’t asking people what they thought should be the case. I was asking them to talk about their actual experience. I would pose the question to whole groups of people, even asking for a show of hands.

It’s been a fascinating exercise. I’ve had a huge range of answers. Some people share my experience of relating to the Father and Spirit, but less so to the Son. Others identify primarily with Jesus. For others the focus is mainly the Father or the Spirit. And some people think of God in a rather undifferentiated way. And, no, before you ask, it’s not that charismatic Christians all pick the Spirit. The answers have not really correlated to people’s theological background or denominations allegiance.

Even more interesting has been the conversations that have emerged from asking the question. It’s a great way to get people talking about how they actually experience life in relationship with the triune God. I recommend it. Ask the question of yourself and then ask it of other people.

What I’ve discovered is that most Christians don’t have much of a sense of an experience of God at all, outside of Sunday mornings or a moment of crisis. They’re kind of aware that God is there, off to one side and available if needed. But he’s not a big feature of the nitty-gritty of daily day life.

But I believe in more. I think we can experience more of God. And as it happens, thinking of how the Father, Son and Spirit each relate to us in a distinctive way and how we can respond is a really important way to start experiencing more of God—Father, and Son, and Spirit. Enjoying God is my attempt to flesh out what that looks like on the ground in everyday life.

Enjoying God: Experience the Power and Love of God in Everyday Life.

Available from smarturl.it/enjoyinggod.

We can’t be more generous than God

In a previous post I looked at the need to be generous if small churches are going to work together to plant churches. Looking at 2 Corinthians 8, we saw that we can’t be more sacrificial than God. Now in 2 Corinthians 9 we discover that we can’t be generous than God.

Look at 2 Corinthians 9:6-11. There is a danger that these verses misinterpreted as advocating some kind of prosperity gospel in which we earn blessings from God. The harvest Paul that promises here is a harvest of ‘righteousness’ (9:10).

But the prosperity gospel is not our danger! I suspect our danger is much more likely to be a functional deism in which we operate as if God is not present and active in a dynamic way in our lives and churches. So let’s take these promises seriously.

Look at verse 6: ‘Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.’ The imagery is clear: if you plant 100 bean seeds you’ll get a bigger harvest than if you plant 10. But there’s a straight-forward cause and effect between planting seeds and harvesting fruit.

It’s not so clear that the money you give to the poor in Jerusalem, the greater the harvest you will reap in Corinth. Unless, God promises to bless your giving. Unless, God is no man’s debtor. Unless, we can’t be more generous than God.

Look at how Paul goes on in verses 7-8: ‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’

‘Every good work’ is literally ‘all good works’. So there are five ‘all’s in this verse: ‘all grace … all things … all times … all you need … all good works’. How would you like this to be true of your church? ‘In all things at all times, [we have] all that we need [so that we] abound in all good works.’

If you want that, then sow generously and give cheerfully. You cannot be more generous than God. When you sow generously, when you give cheerfully, God ‘makes all grace abound to you’. And what happens then? ‘You may abound in every good work.’

How do this work? I think we can identify some lines of cause and effect:

  1. Generosity encourages generosity. Generosity in one area encourages generosity elsewhere because giving loosens the grip of wealth. A generous church creates a culture of generosity in which its members are generous.
  2. People replace people. Churches often testify that, when they have sent people, others have come to replace them. But there’s a also a natural sense in which people leaving creates gaps for others to fill. It creates opportunities for people to step up.
  3. Mission inspires mission. Involvement in mission leads to involvement in mission. It changes mindsets. It makes them missional. It encourages creativity. It gives courage.

These are the natural lines of cause and effect. But there is also something supernatural going on here. God is generous to those who are generous.

Look at verse 10: ‘Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.’ If you sow generously then God will give you more seed! And what do you do with seed? You sow generously.

Verse 11 is even more explicit: ‘You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.’ If you give generously then God will give generously to you so you can continue to give generously. He entrusts us with his resources. If we’re generous then he entrusts more – so that we can be more generous.

The economy of God

There’s almost a sense in which resources move backwards and forwards. In 8:14 Paul says: ‘At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.’ There’s a constant circulation of resources. My church gives to your church. Your church gives to another church. That church gives to my church. And we end up back where we started. And you’re tempted to say, Why bother? Why is the economy of God like this? Why this circulation of resources with everyone giving to everyone else? Three reasons to close:

  • Verse 13: It evokes God’s praise: ‘Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.’
  • Verse 14: It connects God’s people: ‘And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.’
  • Verse 15: It highlights God’s generosity: ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ All the time we are remembering God’s generosity to us in Christ.

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We can’t be more sacrificial than God

This is based on a talk I gave for Plant North Yorkshire.

How can churches in Europe, especially in rural areas, work together to plant churches in Europe when they themselves are so often few in number. In North Yorkshire most churches have fewer than 30 people in the congregation. Some are without pastors. None has what you might call a staff team. We don’t have congregations full of people with nothing to do or bank accounts full of cash with nothing to do. None of us can plant with feeling it – without a feeling of sacrifice.

So there are lots of reasons to leave the task of reaching North Yorkshire to other people. Or wait until our churches are bigger, stronger, richer. I think that’s a mistake. In fact, I think our churches won’t grow bigger, stronger, richer if we don’t own the task of reaching our country. If we turn inwards then we will become introverted and introverted churches wither and die. But if we look outwards then God will bless our endeavours.

It is, of course, easy to be generous in theory. The practice of partnering together to plant churches will involve some tough decisions. But I want to celebrate and reinforce this spirit of generosity by looking at 2 Corinthians 8-9.

Paul is raising money to relieve the poverty of the Jerusalem church. 2 Corinthians 8-9 are his fundraising appeal to the Corinthian church. We’re not raising money for the poor. But we are asking one another to give resources for mission – money, time and (perhaps hardest of all) people.

There is another point of connection. The Jerusalem Collection was controversial. So controversial that in Romans 15:30-32 Paul asks the Romans church to pray that it will be well-received: ‘I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray … that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favourably received by the Lord’s people there.’

Why might a gift to relieve poverty not be received favourably? The answer is that Paul sees it as a sign of unity between the Gentile and Jewish churches. Their welcome of the gift will be a sign that they welcome the givers as fellow brothers and sisters in the family of Christ. And that meant accepting Gentiles without them becoming Jewish. It was a sign of unity in justification by faith.

The point is that giving is not just giving. It binds us together. It creates relationship. Paul puts it beautifully in 1 Corinthians 9:14: ‘And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.’ It’s reflection of the words of Jesus: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Matthew 6:21) Your hearts follows your giving. It gives you a personal investment in the partnership.

Giving fosters partnership. And partnering together is an expression of our unity in the gospel. That means we need to be willing to receive help as a sign of unity in the gospel. And it means we need to be willing to give help as a sign of unity in the gospel.

I was once phoned by someone asking for the names of our worship leaders. At that time, our worship leader was me on my guitar, but I suspected that was not what he had in mind! So asked him why he wanted the information. The answer was that he wanted to bring the worship leaders of the churches in our city together ‘for unity’. They would rehearse together and then lead an evening of worship ‘for unity’. I kept pressing him on what the point of this was and he kept saying ‘unity’. So feeling mischievous I said, ‘We don’t believe in unity.’ Paused. And then added, ‘We believe in co-operation’. My point is that co-operation implies working something together for a bigger goal. Our unity in Christ is expressed when we work together to reach the lost.

So let’s look at 2 Corinthians with this in mind. I want to focus on two sections.

We can’t be more sacrificial than God (8:1-9)

2 Corinthians 8 begins: ‘And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.’ (8:1) What is that ‘grace’? Verse 7 talks about ‘this grace of giving’ (8:7). The grace or the gift that God has give not the Macedonians is giving. Not simply, I think, the ability to gift, but also the opportunity to give. Giving itself is a gift from God.

But this is not just giving. This giving is sacrificial.

  1. Look at verse 2. The Macedonians are giving ‘in the midst of a very severe trial’ and ‘their extreme poverty’. Extreme poverty is not a good context for generosity. Except that Paul says it is! It’s the ideal context for sacrificial generosity. Notice at his formula: joy + poverty = generosity. Giving without poverty is not true generosity because it’s not sacrificial.
  2. Look at verse 3: ‘For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.’ That’s the definition of sacrificial giving: beyond our ability. Think what that means for church planting. It means giving time when there is plenty for you to do in your own church. It means giving people when there is plenty for them to do your church.
  3. Look at verses 3-4: ‘Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.’ This is willing and unconstrained. They’re not waiting to be asked. Instead they’re the ones doing the asking – asking if they can give because they count partnership a privilege.

What creates this kind of behaviour? Look at verse 5: ‘And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.’ They didn’t have to decide to be generous – it was the natural consequence of a bigger decision: they had given themselves to the Lord and to his people.

How? Why? Here we come to the central point. Look at verse 9: ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.’

You cannot be more sacrificial than God. Sacrificial giving expresses, reinforces and reminds us of God’s sacrificial gift. This is why giving is ‘a grace’. Giving is a gift because every act of giving:

  • loosens the power of wealth over us
  • strengthens our satisfaction in God
  • reminds us God’s generosity to us

Verse 7 is ironic. Paul says: ‘But since you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.’ (NIV1984) The Corinthian was not short on confidence. Paul is about to address the super-apostles who boasted in their faith, speech, knowledge and so on. They thought of themselves as super-spiritual Christians. So Paul says, ‘If you really excel then you will excel in giving.’ Their danger is that they full of their own abilities – and no doubt they were very able – but they were missing the point.

A gospel church is more than an orthodox church which reads the right books, sings the right songs and has the right kind of preaching. A true gospel church a sacrificial church because at the heart of the gospel is the sacrifice of Christ.

We’re called to be sacrificial. But we can’t be more sacrificial than God.

In a future post we’ll look at 2 Corinthians 9 and see that we can’t be more generous than God.

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Praying in the Spirit

John Bunyan wrote a book on praying in the Spirit. He said: ‘There is no man nor church in the world that can come to God in prayer, but by assistance of the Holy Spirit.’ ‘If men did see their sins, yet without the help of the Spirit they would not pray.’ ‘There is nothing but the Spirit that can lift up the soul or heart to God in prayer.’ ‘The soul that rightly prays, it must be in and with the help and strength of the Spirit; because it is impossible that a man should express himself in prayer without it.’ He explains:

O how great a task it is, for a poor soul that becomes sensible of sin and the wrath of God, to say in faith but this one world, “Father!” … O! says he, I dare not call him Father; and hence it is that the Spirit must be sent into the hearts of God’s people for this very thing, to cry Abba, Father: it being too great a work for any man to do knowingly and believingly without it.

Without the Spirit we wouldn’t pray. Do an experiment with me. Every day for a month ask the Queen for something. Wherever you are, speak out loud a request to the Queen. I suspect you won’t keep it up for a month because it’s a futile exercise. Try it now. Say out loud, ‘Hello your Majesty. Could I have an invitation to Buckingham Palace?’ It feels stupid. For one thing, she’s not there with you. What’s the point of asking for something when she can’t hear you? And even if she was in the room with you, her likely response would be, ‘Who are you?’ Or perhaps she would just call security to have you removed. She might respond to one of her children, but you have no claim on her.

Why doesn’t prayer feel like this? The answer is that we have the Holy Spirit. When we pray we feel connected to the Father because that’s what’s happening – the Spirit is connecting us to the Father. When we pray we feel the Father hears us because the Spirit assures us that he is our Father (Romans 8:14-16). If the Spirit wasn’t at work in your heart then you just wouldn’t pray. Every time you tried to pray you would feel like a mad man ranting in the street or a child talking to their imaginary friend.

But we do pray, we can pray, we should pray because the Spirit assures that God is our Father who longs to hear us. The Spirit of God enables us to share the experience of sonship that God the Son experiences. That is a glorious gift of grace. It means confidence, intimacy and joy.

Adapted from Tim Chester, You Can Pray, which is available from Amazon.com and ThinkIVP.

John Bunyan, Prayer, Banner of Truth is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.