A prayer for church leaders and Bible teachers

Here’s a prayer for church leaders and Bible teachers …

Lord, I rejoice to suffering for your people
…..and I accept more of Christ’s afflictions
….for the sake of his body, the church.
You have commissioned me
….to be a servant of the church,
to present to your people your word in its fulness –
….the mystery once hidden
….that is now revealed to the saints.
To them you have chosen to make known
….among the nations
….the glorious riches of this mystery:
….Christ in us, the hope of glory.
Enable me to proclaim Christ,
….warning everyone,
….teaching everyone
….with all wisdom,
so that I may present everyone prefect in Christ.
Energize me, work in me powerfully
….so I can toil and struggle in this task.
May they be encouraged in heart
….and united in love.
May they have all the riches of full assurance
….and full understanding of Christ,
discovering in him
….all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Based on Colossians 1:24-2:3.


Six words to create a gospel opportunity

Great little post from Donald Whitney

Over and over I’ve seen one simple question open people’s hearts to hear the gospel. Until I asked this question, they showed no interest in spiritual matters. But then after six words—only seventeen letters in English—I’ve seen people suddenly begin to weep and their resistance fall. The question is, “How can I pray for you?” …

This question is similar to one that Jesus Himself sometimes asked: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32). For what we are really asking is, “What do you want me to ask Jesus to do for you?” And by means of this question, we can show the love of Christ to people and open hearts previously closed to the gospel.

I had tried to talk about the things of God many times to a business-hardened, retired executive who lived next door. He was a pro at hiding his feelings and keeping conversations at a superficial level. But the day we stood between our homes and I asked, “How can I pray for you?” his eyes filled with tears as his façade of self-sufficiency melted. For the first time in seven years he let me speak with him about Jesus.

It’s a short, easily remembered question. You can use it with longtime friends or with people you’ve just met. It doesn’t seem too personal or pushy for those who’d rather give you a shallow answer just now, and yet it often leads to a full hearing of the gospel. You can ask it of people nearly every time you speak with them and it doesn’t get old. Just simply and sincerely ask, “How can I pray for you?” You’ll be surprised at the results.


Desperate prayer

Thought for the day:

Sometimes we pray because we are feeling holy and sometimes we pray because we are feeling desperate. I suspect it’s the desperate prayers that God hears.

In other words, when we depend in our prayers on our holiness we start to sound like the Pharisee in the parable Jesus tells in Luke 18. The core model for prayer is that of a child petitioning his or her father. Our prayers are not heard because of anything intrinsic in us other than a belief that we desperately need God every moment and that he hears us when we cry to him in our desperation.

The rhythms of a missional church: #4 speak

We in the Edge Network have adopted five rhythms in an attempt to encapsulate what it means to live our values. Each month for the past few months someone has been designated a ‘rhythm champion’ to encourage people to think about and practice the rhythm of the month. Here are the notes I produced to support this.

4. speak

the challenge

Each week we aspire to tell people the story of Jesus and our story of Jesus, making Jesus a normal part of our conversations. And we speak to God through prayer, recognising our dependence on him in all things.
links to our identities and values

Identities * Because Jesus is our Prophet, we are the light of God … We witness to his liberating truth through our words and actions. * Because the Holy Spirit is God’s empowering presence, we are the temple of God. We are saints, people set apart for God, and the home in which God lives.

Values * 1. The priority of the gospel: We are committed to filling ordinary life with gospel intentionality, pastoring one another with the gospel and sharing the gospel with unbelievers … * 2. Mission through community: We are committed to communicating the gospel message in the context of a gospel community … * 7. Growing by starting churches and church planting networks: We are committed to starting new congregations … * 8. Prayer as a missionary activity: Recognising that God is the primary agent and orchestrator of mission, we view prayer as a missionary activity. We want prayer to be both a regular community discipline, and an impromptu response to needs and opportunities. * 9. Everyone exercising gospel ministry: We are committed to every Christian seeing themselves as a missionary and exercising gospel ministry in every aspect of life …

biblical foundations

We speak to the world, telling people the good news that Jesus is Lord. God rules through his word (Psalm 29). He creates through his word (Genesis 1:4; Psalm 33:6). He shapes his people through his word of promise (Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 6:1-8). He governs history through his prophetic word (1 Kings 13). His extends his kingdom through his word (Mark 4:13-14). We are called to extend Christ’s kingdom by proclaiming his word, calling on people to submit to the coming King and be reconciled with God (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21). * We speak to God, recognising our dependence on him. We have access to the throne of heaven through the death of Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:19-22). The love of the Father, the blood of the Son and the help of the Spirit ensure our prayers are acceptable and effective. (Our prayers are not effective because of their length, fervour or eloquence; nor because our spirituality, goodness or knowledge.) God answers our prayers in his love and wisdom (giving us what is good for us, but not always what we want). Our passion for prayer reflects our sense of dependence of God: he is the primary agent of mission and change.

Bible stories

1 Kings 13 – the power of God’s word. * Luke 8:1-15 – sowing the word of God. * Luke 8:22-56 – the power of Jesus’ word. * Acts 16 – people are changed as Christians speak God’s word. * Numbers 14; Isaiah 36-37; Daniel 9 – prayer is focused on God and his glory. * Acts 12:1-19 – the power of prayer.

putting it into practice

*    Identify together some one-liners that can be used in conversation to talk about Jesus.
*    Think about how the gospel relates to a current news story.
*    Are there routine activities you could do with someone else so you can talk about Jesus together?
*    Adopt a local café and local shops with a view to talking with people about Jesus.
*    Make sure you talk about Jesus in the coming week whenever you meet up with Christians.
*    Think of something you could share from your morning Bible reading with your friends.
*    As a community organize a special event with a gospel talk or discussion.
*    Volunteer with a local community group or join a club with a view to talking to people about Jesus.
*    Take a cake round to a neighbour and be intentional about talking about Jesus.
*    Invite people for a movie night and then discuss the message and values of the film.
*    Hold a half night of prayer for the mission of the church.
*    Ask people if you can pray with them or tell them that your church will pray for their needs.
*    Go on a ‘prayer walk’ – walk round the area using what you see to prompt your prayers.
*    Identify two or three key mission opportunities and encourage everyone to pray for them each day.

The rhythms of a missional church: #2 listen

We in the Edge Network have adopted five rhythms in an attempt to encapsulate what it means to live our values. Each month for the past few months someone has been designated a ‘rhythm champion’ to encourage people to think about and practice the rhythm of the month. Here are the notes I produced to support this.

2. listen

the challenge

Each week we aspire to listen to God, looking for him to guide us through his word and Spirit. And we listen to people around us to understand their stories and the story of our culture.

links to our identities and values

Identities * Because Jesus is our Prophet, we are the light of God. God has illuminated us through Jesus … * Because the Holy Spirit is God’s empowering presence, we are the temple of God … the home in which God lives.

Values * Listening to God * 9. Everyone exercising gospel ministry … We shape activities around gospel opportunities, and the gifts and passions of church members … * 10. Shaped by the Bible: We want our lives and our life together to be formed and shaped by the Bible’s story of redemption … We will not act on the basis of tradition, habit or pragmatism without reflection on the Bible … * Listening to people around us * 5. Inclusive communities … We are committed to … making church accessible to unbelievers. We want to offer a sense of belonging, and be communities of grace in which people can be open and vulnerable. * 6. Working for city renewal … We celebrate the diversity of cultures in our local contexts while recognising the need for gospel renewal.

biblical foundations

God is not silent. God has spoken. Jesus is the Word of God, sent by God into the world to reveal God to us. The Spirit of God inspired the word of God (the Bible) so it is our reliable guide to God’s character, plans and will. God speaks. God continues to speak through his word and Spirit. We listen. We read and study God’s word to discover his will. In the Bible ‘listening’ involves paying attention and acting on what we hear. It’s a hermeneutical stance. We hear God as God’s Spirit makes God’s word clear, moves us as the Bible is read or taught, gives us a special concern for a situation, provides insight into an issue or prompts us to action. The Spirit works in all believers so we can all hear God speaking. The church is the community of the Holy Spirit: God speaks to, and through, the Christian community. We have other ‘voices’ in our lives (the world around us, our own desires) so we need to bring our impressions to the church community. * We listen to people around us to express love for people, and understand their stories, hurts, hopes and culture. We want to learn from others, value what is good, challenge what is wrong, know how to present the gospel in a relevant way. We often take control of conversations by talking; listening is letting others be in control. People sometimes say, ‘You’re not listening to me.’ It shows how we can hear information without really paying attention.

Bible stories

Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 4 – God speaks to his people. * 1 Samuel 3 – God speaks to Samuel.
John 14 – God speaks through Jesus. * Acts 10 – God guides Peter, speaks to Cornelius and spends Cornelius a Bible teacher. * Acts 13:1-3 – the Holy Spirit sends out missionaries.* Acts 16:6-10 and 19:9-11 – God guides and comforts Paul.

putting it into practice

*    Invite people to talk about how God has been speaking to them during the past week.
*    Conclude a Bible study by asking people what God has been saying to them and to us as a community.
*    Challenge people to read the Bible regularly using The Edge Network weekly reading scheme.
*    Encourage people to read the Bible as an act of prayer, asking that God would speak to them.
*    Create space in meetings for people to talk about what God has been putting in their hearts.
*    Tell stories of the local neighbourhood or local people.
*    Let the ‘listen’ rhythm shape your other rhythms by asking God:
– Who should I bless this week and how?
– Who should I eat with this week?
– Who should I speak to this week?
– What should I pray about this week?
– Who should I rest and play with this week?

Should Christians fast?

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking on fasting so today I begin a short series of three posts looking at the topic:

What is fasting?

Fasting normally involves going without food for a limited period of time. But it can also involve abstinence from sexual intercourse, technology or shopping. Paul assumes married couples may abstain from sex to focus on prayer together when he warns them not to do this for too long: ‘Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.’  (1 Corinthians 7:5) Fasting could also involve not using the internet, television, phones or movies for a period of time. Finally it could involve not shopping. Rodney Clapp says: ‘The consumer is schooled in insatiability … The consumer is tutored that people basically consist of unmet needs that can be appeased by commodified goods and experience. Accordingly, the consumer should think first and foremost of himself or herself and meeting his or her felt needs.’[1] The Sabbath day is a kind of fast from work and spending. It is a declaration that we are not defined by what we do or what we buy. In a similar way, a Sabbath fast is a declaration that we are not defined by what we eat.

Should Christians fast?

Jesus assumes Christians will fast. In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says ‘when’ you fast, not ‘if’ you fast. He assumes his followers will fast. The early church also fasted (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23).

In Matthew 9:14-17 Jesus says his disciples of Jesus do not fast because he is among them as the bridegroom of God’s people. But one day he will be taken away and then they will fast. This could refer to the period between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The problem with this interpretation is that the early church fasted after Easter Sunday (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23). So it is more likely that it refers to the period between the ascension and return of Jesus.

This means New Testament is both like and unlike fasting Jewish fasting. The Jews fasted as a sign of mourning and repentance, believing that God would return to vindicate his repentant people (Luke 2:36-38). Christians believe this event has happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus. So our fasting cannot have the same note of mourning. But we also believe the public vindication of God and his people lies in the future. So we, too, are looking for the coming of God.

What is the purpose of fasting?

1. To seek guidance from God
The early church fasted when important decisions needed to be made like the appointment of leaders. In Acts 13:1-3 God guided church leaders when they fasted. Although it’s not explicitly stated that they were seeking guidance, it seems likely they were seeking the next step for the church.

2. To seek satisfaction in God

In Matthew 6 Jesus promises a reward to those who fast. (Jesus also says those who fast to be seen by people receive their reward in full – the temporary and inconsequential admiration of people without the favour of God.) What is this reward? It is not a reward that we earn through fasting as if fasting were some sort of meritorious act. The reward rather is God himself.

In both cases, fasting can also be used to create time for prayer – prayer about the decision needing to be made or prayer pursing a stronger relationship with God.

In my next post I’ll develop this last idea – using a hunger for food to develop a hunger for God.

[1] Rodney Clapp, ‘Why the Devil Takes Visa,’ Christianity Today 40:2, 7 October 1996.

Our posture when praying

In my book on prayer, The Message of Prayer, I wrote:

Much of the devotional literature on prayer is focused on those things which help us to pray – posture, exercises, liturgies, habits. But, while they may be helpful, none of them is necessary. The focus of the Bible is instead on Christ and his sufficiency. There is nothing we can do to make our prayers more effective before God. Any such notions are a return to paganism – it is to suppose that we can manipulate or placate God. As Ronald Dunn puts it, the floor of the throne room is sprinkled, ‘not with the sweat of my good works, but with the of his sacrifice’.[1] The ‘posture’ that the Bible commends is a humble and contrite heart.[2]

This is the big and fundamental truth that you need to bear in mind as you read what follows.

I’ve done a quick bit of research on the posture of people when praying in the Bible. In our context it is usual to pray sitting down. Often people end up semi-recumbent in easy chairs. It seems to me to do little for the energy of our praying. I had a suspicion that standing up was a more common posture for prayer in the Bible and wondered whether we should encourage this more as a way of energetically engaging with God and wrestling with him n prayer.

What I found was this.

1. The Bible does not seem to show much interest in posture when praying. What matters is the mediation of Christ. Back to my quote above.

2. Standing is a more common posture than sitting. Kneeling or bowing face to the ground is also a common posture. I think these postures might help us as we pray – perhaps standing for public prayer and kneeling for private or small group prayer.

3. Lifting up hands in prayer is also common. As it happens, I was reading a history of British art last night and there was an illustration from the fourth century of Christians praying – all with their hands lifted up. I think I might encourage people to raise their hands when they pray. I’ve noticed in the past that I gesticulate when praying just as much as I do when preaching.

Here are some of the relevant verses:

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Learning about spiritual warfare from James Fraser

In his book,Territorial Spirits and World Evangelization? (Mentor/OMF, 199),Chuck Lowe concludes that the strategic-level spiritual warfare advocated by the likes of C. Peter Wagner is unbiblical and the claims associated with it are unfounded. He points the way forward by exploring the experience of James Fraser, a pioneer missionary among the Lisu people in the far-western Chinese province of Yunnan in the early twentieth century.

Fraser perceived spiritual warfare taking place through:

—  Attacks on new converts. The Lisu were bound to demon worship through fear of physical illness. When the family members of new converts fell ill there was strong pressure to return to demonic worship.

—  Public demonstrations of occult power in rituals.

—  Human opposition to the message,

—  Attacks on the missionaries (illness, fatigue, doubt, depression).

He wrote:

It is all if and when. I believer the devil is fond of those conjunctions … The Lord bids us work, watch and pray: but Satan suggests, wait until a good opportunity for working, watching and praying presents itself – and needless to say, this opportunity is always in the future. (Cited 134)

Lowe himself comments: ‘A small temptation, perhaps, but laziness leads progressively to life-long failure and was to be opposed earnestly in disciplined prayer.’ (134)

Fraser employed a variety of actions in his warfare …

Sustained Prayer

The opposition will not be overcome by reasoning or by pleading, but by (chiefly) steady, persistent prayer. The men need not be dealt with (it is a heart-breaking job, trying to deal with a Lisu possessed by a spirit of fear) but the powers of darkness need to be fought. I am now setting my face like flint: if the work seems to fail, then pray; if services, etc., fall flat, then pray still more; if months slip by with little or no result, then pray still more and get others to help you. (Cited, 135)

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Church planting is a divine activity

Last week I asked how we can create church planting movement. The answer, of course, is that we cannot. No. Movements cannot be planned, organised or controlled. They are works of God. Curtis Sergeant says:

There is nothing anyone can do to bring about a Church Planting Movement. A Church Planting Movement is entirely a sovereign act of God … [But] there are things we can do to pave the way for a Church Planting Movement, and there are things we can do to hinder it.[1]

There may be factors that are necessary for church planting movements to take off (we’ll explore what some fo those might be in future posts). But none of them are sufficient causes. You may need to have them in place for a movement to take shape. But they do not guarantee a movement. God must work.

A passion for prayer

What are the implications of this? Number one is the importance of a passion for prayer. David Garrison in his survey of church planting movements claims that all such movement start with prayer. If ultimately any movement is dependent on God, then a passion for prayer is the natural and inevitable response.

We need to see prayer as a primary missionary strategy. We often respond to problems or opportunities by thinking what we can do. We need to respond first and foremost by falling to our knees. Our instinctive response to opportunities or problem is often, ‘What can we do?’ But it should be, ‘Let’s pray.’ Prayer is doing mission and pastoral care.

Spiritual warfare

Another common characteristic of church planting movements is a strong sense of spiritual warfare. This leaves asking where is spiritual warfare taking place in our context. In one sense it seems to be absent. But perhaps this is because Satan achieves his purposes not through demonic and spirit activity. Consumerism and comfort have a numbing affect on so many in our culture. The question then is: What does it mean for us to contend with these things as spiritual warfare?

We need to pray for release from addictions, ual sin and so on. A ‘sauna’ that was really a and a local pub known for -dealing in our area both closed down after we prayed for their demise.

[1] Curtis Sergeant, ‘Insights from a CPM Practitioner’ (www.wsaresourcesite.org/topics/cpm.htm)

Prayer as a missionary strategy

In the Edge Network (part of The Crowded House) we have been learning more about our reliance on God in mission and therefore the need to make prayer central to our mission strategy. This is a truth we all know in our heads, but our practice so often reflects an assumption that our actions are what matters.

It is worth asking why we do not make prayer central. We suspect it reflects our desire to be in control. If my strategy is to persuade people with carefully constructed argument then I am in control (and if I am not then I can read a book to acquire better argument). But if my strategy is to pray for miracles, dreams, open hearts then I am not in control. If I pray with an unbeliever for a specific need then I am not control of the outcome. But this scary reliance on God is precisely what we want to cultivate in the life of our network. This is a strategy that lets God be the primary agent of mission; that lets God be God.

So we want to make prayer:

–  our central missional activity

–  our first recourse when needs or opportunities arise

This involves three things.

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