Monday, February 27, 2006
First Spiritual Topic for Prayer
My last article related the general principle that God desires for us to pray more about matters spiritual than matters physical. So, then, about what spiritual concerns are we supposed to pray, if we mean to be excellent in prayer? Most of the prayers recorded in the New Testament prayers cover one of several general topics.
The first topic is LOVE. Paul regularly prayed that the new believers he had fathered would revel in Christ’s love, and also would have love for each other. See these scriptures:
(Philippians 1:9-11) And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, (10) so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, (11) filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.
(1 Thessalonians 3:12) May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.
(2 Thessalonians 3:5) May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.
(Ephesians 3:16-19) I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (17) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, (18) may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, (19) and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
This is what Jesus desires for us, as well. He said to His disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
The next time we pray, let’s be sure to pray for our churches that the people will know Jesus’ love, and will have love for each other.
Love in Christ,
Friday, February 17, 2006
Excellence in Prayer
Once God taught me that the elder/bishop’s primary duties are “prayer and the ministry of the Word,” it occurred to me that I must be excellent in both of these areas. What does it mean to be excellent at praying? (I was sure that I was NOT a very good prayor.) There are many valid answers to that question, but here is the one that seemed best to me: To pray well is to pray biblically.
If I needed to pray biblically, then I needed to find out how Jesus, the apostles, and other biblical characters prayed. The Bible records the prayers of many people, and I may in the course of time try to do an exhaustive study of these prayers. To get started, though, I just studied prayers in the New Testament.
As I did, God led my thinking about prayer in three directions:
1. For what or about what should we pray?
2. How should we pray?
3. What lifestyle helps us pray?
So, as I studied New Testament praying in search of these answer, here is the first thing I learned regarding what we should pray:
Prayers in the New Testament were predominantly about matters spiritual rather than matters physical.
I have found only one NT prayer about physical matters.
(3 John 1:2) Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.
John did hope and pray that his people would prosper in matters of health and wealth.
BUT, out of many prayers in the New Testament, only this one mentions such concerns. Every other prayer is prayed for spiritual concerns.
The dear people in our churches generally do not understand or practice this. In a typical prayer meeting, or a time of "prayer requests" in small group sessions, our people can make long lists of people who are sick or facing surgery. They enjoy sharing these concerns with each other, and take comfort in praying for those who are hurting physically.
There is nothing wrong with this, praying that people will be healed, comforted, sustained financially, etc. BUT, if this kind of praying is the focus of your prayer meetings or of people's private prayer, then your people are not praying well or biblically.
Likewise, in our private prayers, it is very easy to pray for our own health and that of our family members. It is very easy to pray for God to keep our old cars running or help us pay our bills.
But these are not the matters that God intends to have before our minds in prayer. Instead, matters of spiritual health are to be our concern in prayer---our sins rather than our bills; our people's maturity rather than their surgery; our neighbors' souls rather than their bodies.
I’ll go into more detail in future articles, but the general answer to the question, “For what or about what should we pray?” is: We must pray about matters spiritual more than matters physical.
Love in Christ,
Messenger of Joy
God has been gracious to deliver Angela Joy Young into this world healthy and with a big fan club! Susan labored bravely Wednesday night and Thursday, and gave birth to "Angie" at 7:50 Thursday evening. She is 10 lb 3 oz (our family's biggest) and 21", with light brown hair.
We were blessed to be at Allen Birthing Center, with midwives Becky and Amy in attendance. Susan's good friend Lori Yandell helped as well, and was a Godsend. Dear people from our church, Lloyd and Betty, Larry and Norma, and Glen and Darlene, sweetly cared for the rest of our children while we were gone. (Andrew was having so much fun, he told Mommy not to hurry!)
Susan chose Angela Joy's name to mean "Messenger of Joy," but Susan and I have dear friends whose friendship influenced our choosing these names as well. My friend is Angela Temples, who was my next-door neighbor growing up, and now works at Southwestern Seminary. Susan's friend is Joy Rounsavall, who was a close friend in college, and now works as a church planting pastor's wife in California. Thank you, Angela and Joy, for adding sweetness to our dear baby's name.
I wish you could have seen how beautiful Susan looked during the hardest part of labor ("transition"). The beauty of Jesus Christ shined out from her face, and nearly took my breath. The ladies commented also, although I don't think they were as awe-struck as I was!
The baby was well past her due date, and we were tempted to worry. God knew just when to send the baby, though, and just how to bless us richly in the process. He is faithful.
Mommy and Baby are napping now, the fridge is filling up with food that the church has brought, and I feel surrounded by God's loving kindness as I write this.
Love in Christ,
Prayer is Primary-The Elder's Priorities
The elder cannot trust his church to teach him his duties. First, churches expect their elders to do too much. Churches call upon the elder to do many things, from administering the work of committees, to visiting the sick, to performing weddings and funerals. (Yes, for some of the many small-church pastors, the list is much longer: mowing the grass, turning on and off the lights, cleaning the buildings, fixing the plumbing, etc.) If the church has a written job description, it is probably a page long, with about 20 duties named, and a phrase at the end that says, “other duties as needed.” If the church does not have a written job description, then rest assured that an unwritten job description several pages long, with upwards of 50 duties named, exists in the collective mind of the members! Second, churches do not normally derive the elder’s list of duties from the scriptures or from the example of the best elders throughout history. Instead, their list is made up of every good thing they have ever seen any minister do anywhere anytime.
The elder cannot trust his heart to teach him his duties, either. First, his heart is bigger than his schedule! That is, the love of Christ moves the elder to concern for many people. He desires to minister to the sick, the lonely, the mature, the immature, the lost of his community, the lost on the mission field, the missionaries he knows, his colleagues who are hurting, and the list goes on and on. Second, his own personal preferences will send enjoyable tasks to the top of the priority list, and send distasteful duties to the bottom, regardless of their relative importance.
For the first seven years of my own ministry, I wandered among these church-made and self-made lists of duties. My ministry had some success because of God’s grace and the power of the Gospel, but was, frankly, a failure in general.
Then, about three years ago, God taught me what should have been obvious, that there are two tasks for the elder/bishop that supercede all others: “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” (This is the NIV translation. I will address the literal meaning of the Greek in a future blog, and I welcome you to do so in your comments.)
God taught me this through a key verse in the Old Testament and a key verse in the New Testament. First, a verse about Samuel:
(1 Samuel 12:23) As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.
Here we see this one-two punch that characterizes the work of the man of God: prayer and teaching the Word of God, with prayer listed first.
The New Testament verse about the apostles:
(Acts 6:3-4) Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them (4) and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."
Here we see the same combination, with prayer again listed first. Here the order of these two is not clear, however, because the apostles had mentioned the Word of God already, before restating their concern about ministering in the Word along with the ministry of prayer.
Since God showed me this foundational truth, I have endeavored to re-orient my ministry to fulfill these God-given tasks.
I look back on these three years and say that, despite certain failures due to my own immaturity and selfishness, my ministry has been, in general, a great success.
In future blogs, I will share how God has worked this truth into my life and ministry, and what I have learned about how to do these two basic tasks with excellence.
Thanks for reading, and I welcome your comments.
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]