11. And So?

Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 11. And So?

Zech 1:3 ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’

Zech 2:10 For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord.

Zech 3:10 In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’

Zech 4:6 ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’

Zech 6:13 he will be a priest on his throne

Eph 4:11,12 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service,

But: As so often seems to happen I thought the previous study was the last one of this series and yet as I have been praying this morning there comes what seems a natural completion of it that takes us into the realm of practically praying. My assertion in the previous study, that undergirds all the other studies, is that God was speaking through Zechariah to His people while they were building the Temple, the house or dwelling place of the Lord on earth. Yet the words were to prepare and equip His people to be His dwelling place themselves, as we now see so clearly through the New Testament. But it is so easy to just ‘do a Bible study’ and leave it at that, but the truth is that the word of God is designed to change us. How should these studies change us?

The Big Issues: As we have progressed through these studies I have become more aware of the two big issues: the first is the world ‘out there’, the world that God wants to reach. As we look at the state of the Western world today it is in a mess. I would recommend the sobering reading of ‘Morality’ the 2020 book by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks which systematically uncovers the moral bankruptcy of the West, with very specific practical outworkings. There is a desperate need for change. The second thing is the church. To Israel He had said through Isaiah that they were to be “a light to the Gentiles.” (Isa 42:6). To us today Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) If we dare be honest we have abysmally failed to be this resulting in the state the world is in today. We have carried on our spiritual ceremonies and failed to impact the world around us because, even though some of us have been doing a lot, it has rarely been as ‘the body of Christ’ with his power and his revelation.

And So? Whenever such truths really impact us, it is not that they pull as down in condemnation for our failures (which is what the enemy would seek to do) but challenge us to stand up and pray. Prayer has always been the precursor to true revival, it is the acknowledgement of the people of God of their helplessness and failure with the recognition that only a sovereign act of God can change things. But what to pray. I think it has been eighteen months that I have felt this call to prayer but only today did I feel a specific way to pray. When God moves on in His purposes, it seems so often He gradually reveals His strategy, even though in essence it was there in His word already. For those who will allow themselves to be moved by this may I offer the following, no doubt  very incomplete, things to pray, to start pointing us in the right direction. Please feel free to add what you will:

“Father, please forgive us, cleanse us, envision us and empower us and then release us as you start to move sovereignly.”

– To come in line with God’s heart must mean first being honest about our need, with the recognition that we need Him to change our hearts in preparation for being part of what He is planning to do, so we will start to become available to join in with what He is doing.

“Lord, please raise up an even greater army of prayer warriors who will not only pave the way for these things to happen but who will stand there overseeing the battle when it comes.”

–  Prayer in incomprehensible ways, is seen as part of God’s strategy to mobilize His people and enable them to rise up and conquer as Moses did of old (see Ex 17:10-13).

“Lord, release faith and vision in your people in new ways that they may become an army of witnesses in both word and deed to the world around us.”

– Will we become available, will we be trained to be confident as witnesses who move in both word and power to reach the hearts of those around us?

“Lord, please raise up an army of evangelists, anointed by you to bring the life-changing conviction that is needed to bring the watching world to its knees in submission to you as they receive Jesus their Savior and Lord.” 

– The gifted ministry of the evangelist is the one divinely anointed to remove blindness and bring conviction, bring the word of God to bear on individual lives. Nothing less changes people.

“Lord, please raise up an army of teachers, who will be there to feed, teach and equip new believers with divinely anointed understanding as they come as babes in Christ.”

– New believers will need to understand a new perspective and in the excitement of all that happens, establishing them in their new faith will be essential to enable them to stand in the years to come.

“Lord, please raise up an army of pastors who will be there to feed, care for, protect and bring healing to the many dysfunctional new believers come from this hurting and damaged world.”

– The people in the world around us today are so confused, so hurting, so anxious, so wounded, so disorientated, that they desperately need loving care and healing.

“Lord, please raise up an army of prophets who will bring revelation to keep your people on track, warning them against coming obstacles and distractions and revealing the way ahead.”

–  Revelation is at the heart of the working of God and we desperately need His vision, His insight, His wisdom to energize us, and move us forward.

“Lord, please raise up an army of apostles who will come with the humility of divine wisdom that builds and strengthens the rapidly expanding church and able to release your power in your people.”

– The gift of the apostle comes as a strategic wise anointed overseer to guide and equip and empower and  enable the people of God, not mere managers but equippers, envisioners, empowers, and senders.

“Lord, please release faith in each of us, your children, to enable us to receive your destiny for these days to be life changers, world changers and those who glorify you.”

– We are all called to be active parts of this body, with changed hearts and minds and wills, submitted to Him. This will require time and ongoing daily enabling to achieve as we pray.

“Lord, as I purpose to be available to you for you to achieve through me whatever you want, please clarify in me your gifts that enable me to be the unique part of your body you want me to be. Amen.”

– My gifts from God that make me who am, the gifts you have from God, are there just waiting for Him to energize and use them – all the above things, and musician, administrator, Internet Techie, writer, composer, whatever. A gift from God to be used by God as God stirs them, opens doors for them to be used, and then enables them to touch other lives and glorify Him.  May it be so.

45. Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 45. Q.7 Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

Hab 1:2,3,5    How long, Lord, must I call for help,  but you do not listen? …. Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? …. “For I am going to do something in your days  that you would not believe, even if you were told.   

Hab 2:1  I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me

The Questions:  There are times when things happen on the earth which should raise questions in the wise – what is happening, why is it happening? The arrival of Covid-19 in the early part of 2020 is one such thing.

Habakkuk’s Experience: Habakkuk was a prophet, ministering, probably just a few years before the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586/7, who looked at the unrighteous state of his nation and asked God, “Why, why do you put up with this?”  When the Lord said He was going to bring disciplinary judgment on his people by bringing the Babylonians to deal with this nation, this left Habakkuk amazed and confused. His response: I’m going to have to go aside and listen and watch to see what He will say.”

God and Judgment (For detail go to my link ‘The Judgments of a Loving God): How God brings about a particular judgment is in some ways irrelevant. In Job we see Satan allowed to come against Job and he does it initially by stirring up the Sabeans to plunder his goods (Job 1:12-15). Howe did Satan do that? Did he make them attack? Only, I suggest, by whispering in their ears that Job was a good target. How did the Lord fulfil His word getting Nebuchadnezzar to attack Israel? Only, I suggest, by getting one of Satan’s emissaries (see 1 King 22:20-23) to go and whisper proud thoughts to him. God doesn’t need to make people do evil, He just lets Satan stir their already sinful attitudes to go that way.

Covid-19?  Is Covid-19 a judgment from God? How did it start? As one website puts it, “The source of the coronavirus is believed to be a “wet market” in Wuhan which sold both dead and live animals including fish and birds. Such markets pose a heightened risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans because hygiene standards are difficult to maintain if live animals are being kept and butchered on site.” It would also appear there was a Chinese doctor who warned about it but was disregarded. Careless workers plus disregard by the authorities? Sounds like the work of the enemy allowed, we have to say, by the Lord. But why?

The Effects: Consider what has happened. The world has ground to a halt, economies are under threat, proud authorities are lost as to how to deal with it, and relatively few numbers have died (over an above those who would have died in the northern hemisphere winter anyway.) Mankind has been humbled and people shut off from their usual activities given time to reflect on life. Discipline? Most certainly.

But Why? Well, what was God’s intent in bringing Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem? To discipline and humble the people, to stop the ongoing sin of idolatry that He had spoken against for so many years through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to cleanse the people of their sin to prepare them to return to the Land with a new outlook. What, if we are right and God is behind it, even if it is simply Him standing back and letting the sinfulness of mankind bring it about, is He seeking to achieve through it? Well of course only time will tell but what we have already noted might give us a clue: mankind is being humbled and people given opportunity to pause up in their lives and ponder on the important things of life. For some time now, various voices from around the globe have been hinting at the possibility of God coming with worldwide revival and such as this would appear to be a way of preparing people’s hearts to receive Him. The ministry of John the Baptist may be what should be the ministry of the Church to the world at the present time. Check out Isa 43:3, Mal 3:1, Matt 3:3 and see if they speak to you.

Revival or Renewal: But  I find a question rising in me, an uncertainty if you like: does God want to bring Revival or would He prefer to bring Renewal? We need to understand the difference and then listen carefully. Revival, history shows, is God coming in sovereign power for a limited period of time both inside the Church AND outside it bring in a great harvest of the lost. Renewal is where God comes by His Holy Spirit to reinvigorate the Church.  Restoration tends to refer to a restoring of gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit. If we have renewal and restoration together we have a reinvigorated ‘body of Christ’ that is equipped, empowered, and envisioned to continue to work of Christ as we have never seen before.

Christ’s Calling to the Body: Consider what Jesus said of himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” (Lk 4:18,19) and “report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) As we have seen previously, Jesus sent out the twelve to do these things, then the seventy-two and concluded with an ‘all-church’ commission: “go and make disciples of all nations… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:19,20) having already declared, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).

How to Pray: Praying for Revival is easy: “Lord, please come and sovereignly do all the work.” Praying for Renewal and Restoration is harder: “Lord, please come in the power of your Holy Spirit to bring us together and equip, empower and envision us to be the body you called us to be so that through us you can reach this world – that you have prepared with this virus – with your power and your revelation.”

And So? Uncertain about the days in which we live? Pray.  Uncertain about God’s intents? Pray. Uncertain about your availability? That is down to you, your act of will, just declare it and make yourself available to Him, not only to pray but to be available to do whatever He wants to do as we pray. Amen? Amen!

16. The Unrighteous Judge

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 16. The Unrighteous Judge

Luke 18:1-8:  Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Purpose & Context: The purpose of this parable is there in the first verse: “they should always pray and not give up.”   Now that is very obvious and this is one of parables that addresses a problem we face regularly in the Christian life – my prayers don’t seem to be getting answered and so the temptation is simply to give up. Again it is one of those parables that doesn’t say what you think it is going to say but the end result is still quite clear and as Jesus clearly thinks that prayer is an integral part of a life of faith, the final punch line is challenging: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”


  • there is an unrighteous judge – didn’t fear God and didn’t care what people thought of him.
  • a woman comes to him to demand justice for her situation.
  • he clearly takes no notice for she has to keep on coming to him, and he refuses to hear her.
  • eventually he gives way and gives her justice.
  • his thinking is that although he doesn’t fear God or care about what people think, he is eventually worn down by her coming and even fears that in her frustration she might attack him; for this reason alone he will hear her.
  • Jesus’ teaching concludes that if this unrighteous judge eventually hears this woman – and he is unrighteous, unfearing of God and man, won’t God who does care for us (implied) hear us and respond to us when we keep on praying.

Reasons for No Answers: In the 3rd study, the Parable of the Good Friend, we faced this same situation and I noted there the following reasons why sometimes we have to pray and pray and pray: First, sometimes constant and continual prayer is an indicator of the urgency and reality of the person praying and the Bible indicates that God looks for such reality (Deut 4:29). Second, I believe spending time in God’s presence deepens our relationship with the Lord and so He holds back a while to ensure this happens.  Third, I believe sometimes we have to pray and pray before we get to the point of realizing what God’s will really is and we ask for it (and then get it) in his name (Jn 14:13). Fourth, there is clearly spiritual opposition sometimes (see Dan 10:13) and we don’t always get what we want (see 1 Thess 2:18)

Why God Answers: The obvious first reason is that He loves us and loves to talk to us, and that must always be our starting point, but reversing the reasons above for no answers:

  • first, He will surely answer when He sees our urgency. When the Lord spoke to Moses at the burning bush He said, I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” (Ex 3:7) The Lord does feel with us and for us as a loving heavenly Father.
  • Second, even though we may not be receiving an answer, He is attentive to us, appreciates us and loves to hear from us, just like any father loves to hear from their child in need.
  • Third, when we have caught His heart, He will answer: And I will do whatever you ask in my name,” (Jn 14:13) which the Message version paraphrases, “whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it,” e. when the Father sees we are in line with the Son’s guidance, He will answer.
  • Fourth, we just have to recognize that we are often in spiritual warfare and the enemy seeks to hinder us. Perhaps more for this one than any of the others, as we saw in Luke 11, Jesus says ‘keep on badgering heaven, don’t give up’, and now says the same thing. It is like he is saying, if you think you’re on the right track, don’t be put off, keep at it, keeping praying, keep asking. Not wanting to be depressing, it appears that Isaac prayed 20 years (Gen 25:20,21,26) for Rebekah to conceive (either that or it took him nineteen years to get around to praying!)

I don’t know: Prayer, I believe, is the most mysterious part of the Christian life. It is amazing that we can talk to Almighty, all-knowing and all-wise God. We can come up with suggestions such as above but at the end of the day all we can say is that the Son of God encouraged us to pray and keep on praying. That is at the heart of two of these parables we have considered. Put aside intellect and engage heart – and pray.

3. The Good Friend

Meditating on the Parables of Luke:  3. The Good Friend

Luke 11:5-8  Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

Purpose: The purpose of this parable is apparently to motivate us to pray, if for no other reason, than just do it to get results. I’ll open up on this shortly.

Context: The chapter starts with, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Lk 11:1) which is followed by the teaching we often refer to as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. That perhaps doesn’t help us a great deal but what follows the parable certainly does: 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; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Lk 11:9,10) Note that word ‘So’ at the beginning which links it to the parable before it. It is all about prayer – the disciples’ desire to pray, the prayer outline given by Jesus, and then the direct teaching to ask and keep on asking (as the verb tense indicates)

Facts of the Parable: The story or illustration includes the following:

  • there is a person in need of bread (quite a lot actually!).
  • he has a friend who he feels might be able to help out.
  • he goes to him at the middle of the night, knocks on his door and explains his need.
  • his friend, put out by the time of night, replies, ‘Don’t bother me.’
  • he explains that the house is locked and the family asleep; it is inconvenient.
  • yet (implied) the original person continues to ask.
  • the friend inside, to keep the peace, opens up and gives him what he wants.

The Teaching: Jesus explains the following:

  • friendship was not enough to get him to open up,
  • however shear audacity, keeping on asking in the middle of the night, did.

A Picture of God? If this is about asking in prayer, doesn’t the home-owner / friend appear as God? And doesn’t this put God in a poor light? The answer to this comes in verses further on: “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? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:11-13) In other words, these verses should be read with the parable to conclude, ‘If the home-owner will respond because of his friend’s audacity, how much more will God respond to His children calling out to Him. We thus have a parable that gets its full meaning only by being read in the light of the surrounding teaching.

Repeated Teaching: First of all there is the repeated asking. In the parable the first man asks and asks, and eventually gets. In the teaching of v.9,10 the tense of the verbs indicates it should be, ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, and knock and keep on knocking. But then there is the repetition of the teaching itself: the parable says keep on asking, the verbs say keep on asking and the conclusion that the Father will give good gifts to His children implies keep on asking. (Later on in chapter 18 there is the parable of the unrighteous judge which teaches the same thing – keep asking).

Why the Need? We often have to ask, why would Jesus tell a parable like this, and the answer has to be to meet a specific need. The need in this case, I suggest, is that prayers don’t always get immediate answers. I have several reasons for this, I believe. First, sometimes constant and continual prayer is an indicator of the urgency and reality of the person praying and the Bible indicates that God looks for such reality (Deut 4:29). Second, I believe spending time in God’s presence deepens our relationship with the Lord and so He holds back a while to ensure this happens.  Third, I believe sometimes we have to pray and pray before we get to the point of realising what God’s will really is and we ask for it (and then get it) in his name (Jn 14:13). Fourth, there is clearly spiritual opposition sometimes (see Dan 10:13) and we don’t always get what we want (see 1 Thess 2:18)

The Encouragement: For these reasons above, we find we need that encouragement to keep on praying. This particular parable seems to suggest, don’t go on logic, but just keep on praying even if (and especially if) you think God is getting fed up with it. There are times in scripture when God says don’t pray, but until you hear Him say that to you – keep at it!

Snapshots: Day 42

Snapshots: Day 42

The Snapshot: “I am sending you…” (Ex 3:10) It sounded good when God had said He saw, He had heard, and He had come down to rescue His people. Yes, it had been good up to the point He added, ‘I am sending you’. Our natural cry (and it took Moses nearly two chapters of arguing to make this point) is, “I’m not up to this!” Of course we’re not, that’s why He said, “I will be with you.” (v.12) So often as Christians we pray for God’s help to change the circumstances when all the while He wants us to pray for wisdom (see Jas 1:5) so that we can play our part in His plans to change those circumstances. For some crazy reason – I think it’s to do with love – He wants us imperfect people to join in His perfect plans, to be part in changing this world.   Amazing! Incredible!

Further Consideration: As little children we like hearing fairy tales of handsome princes who come to the aid of distressed damsels. As grown up Christians we like praying for our family or neighbours to come to the Lord – because we know that is what the Lord would want us to do. But then comes the shock: I will speak to your family – through you. I will be a witness to your neighbours – through you.

We ask the Lord to change us and hope He will give us a tablet that tastes nice that will change us or wave a magic wand over our circumstances to change them, but then comes the shock when He says, “I want you to change them.”

Just recently I presented our prayer workshop group with a question that the Lord put before me: In this Fallen World where the circumstances often seem bad, does God want to change me through the circumstances or to change the circumstances through me? The answer came loud and clear: BOTH!

We would much rather sit on the sidelines and watch while God beats up the enemy, while Jesus heals the sick and delivers the demon possessed, or the Holy Spirit sweeps in with revival power, but instead He has given us the most incredible privilege – He has called us and made us “the body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27) and so for most of the time (and yes sometimes He does move sovereignly without using us), Jesus who is the head of the body (Eph 4:15) seeks to guide us and direct us to do the works he started doing (see Lk 4:18,19,  Mt 11:5, Jn 14:12)

Now when Jesus says, “I am with you,” he is reminding us that he indwells us by his own Holy Spirit and so He will be the guide, the director who shows us what to do and how to do it, and He will be the power that enables the changes to come. No longer on the side lines but utterly involved; that is His calling.

27. Aspiring to Pray

Aspiring Meditations: 27.  Aspiring to Pray

Matt 6:6   But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matt 6:9   This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven….

Matt 14:23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.

Matt 19:13  Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.

We might think that the subject of prayer is so familiar that we really need not consider it, and yet surveys reveal that even leaders – on average – tend to only pray a few minutes each day. So what can we say that hasn’t been said before? Nothing perhaps, but let’s lay out the basics and see if they will speak to us afresh.

Matthew and Luke both have the word ‘pray’ eleven times. It is a familiar topic. In Mt 6:6 we see some interesting things. First, Jesus assumes that prayer will be part of the life of his followers for he says, When you pray.” Second, prayer is shown to be an expression of a private and intimate relationship with God, hence pray in secret. Third, prayer is a channel through which God will ‘reward’ or bless us.  Challenging! These are merely starting points.

So concerned is Jesus for his disciples that he gives them a structure of how to go about prayer in Mt 6:9 on. When we come to Mt 14:23 we see that he himself prayed on his own sometimes and it clearly wasn’t just a quick few words. We don’t know what time he went up there to pray but he was still there “When evening came,” indicating the passing of time.  Luke shows us another time when he prayed: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” (Lk 6:12,13) Again it is clear he prayed for a long time and the second verse suggests that he had been praying to make sure he got right the choosing of the first apostles. Prayer thus took on a purposeful significance. In his teaching Jesus, perhaps backing up his own practice, “told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1) Persistence becomes an important element in prayer sometimes.

When it comes to life post-Jesus, it seems clear that the apostles followed in Jesus’ footsteps in respect of prayer: “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.” (Acts 10:9) Some suggest it was a standard time for Jews to pray but the fact of the matter is that this ex-fisherman now incorporated prayer into his life.  Later in Acts there is another lovely little picture involving prayer: “when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.” (Acts 21:5) As they parted from one another, the natural thing was to commit themselves and one another to the Lord in prayer. Excellent!

Now I have purposely left one of our verses above to last because I believe it is particularly significant to the church today: “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.” (Mt 19:13) Such a simple little verse and yet so profound. Parent (presumably) brought their children to Jesus for him to lay hands on them and pray over them. It was expected he would do that and although his disciples objected he did actually do it (v.15). The practice of laying hands on did not arise until the Law introduced it in Ex 29 when Aaron and his sons were instructed to place their hands on the sacrifices. Laying on of hands there was clearly to identify with the sacrifice.

Years later, however, we see laying on of hands in a different context: “Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he that this is tgo be and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed through Moses.” (Num 27:22,23) Moses laid hands on Joshua, not only to identify with him but to impart to him the anointing for leadership, and we later read, “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him.” (Deut 34:9) So now we see Jesus placing his hands on these children to impart a blessing. In Acts we see this same thing occurring again and again. See Acts 6:6 (praying over the new deacons), 8:17 (for the Samaritan believers to receive the HS), 9:12,17 (Ananias praying over Saul), 13:3 (sending off the new apostolic team), 19:9 (Paul prays for the Ephesian believers) and 28:8 (Paul healing a sick man). When we pray over one another, do we expect the Lord to turn up?

Now note the commonalities: it was always in the context of prayer and it was always to impart the blessing of God. I am aware that in many churches there are opportunities given for people to come forward to be prayed for but I believe I have a new sense of the heart of God that this is to be for all His people, Twice in the past six weeks (once in the UK and once in the USA) I have had opportunity to preach on faith and in both congregations I invited a dozen people to come forward who would like prayer. Then, and here is the difference and the point I believe the Lord was making, I asked leaders or prayer ministry teams to stand aside and specifically invited people who had never prayed over someone to come and pray for these people as I guided. I asked them to wait silently before the Lord’s to sense His presence and then sense what He felt about the person before them, and only then pray God’s blessing over them in whatever form they felt they could do it. It was thrilling to watch and awesome to behold.

Now I am aware of the dangers in doing this and it needs careful oversight and careful follow up but I believe the point the Lord is making is that He wants to encourage more and more of His people to pray over one another – expecting Him to turn up and bless.  I have been impacted by the picture in Mark 3:1-5 where Jesus went into a synagogue and healed a man with a shriveled hand. It is almost certain that the man was a regular, one of the men of the community who probably turned up week by week to hear the scrolls read and expounded, and to hear the prayers. Now that happened week by week but they expected nothing else, but then Jesus came in and healed the man. See the parallel: the word of God was expounded week by week but they expected nothing else.

Now Jesus comes to us and says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) We are called to do the works of Jesus. Now I am not suggesting that all will have faith to bring healing but I am suggesting that all can have faith to wait on God and expect Him to bless (Mt 6:6 – reward!) as we pray. Yes, this is a challenge to faith and to lifestyle but more it is a challenge to become the body of Christ who does the work of Jesus, not merely the leaders. If we do not make regular opportunity, and bring regular encouragement for the people of God to step out in faith, we will be like that synagogue and there will be people continuing to come and go, week by week with needs that Jesus wants to address but that we are failing to meet. It is time to rise up to truly be the people of God and it will be revealed as we pray. Yes, let’s aspire to this!

8. Prayer?

Short Meditations in Philippians: 8. Prayer?

Phil 1:19a   I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ,

There is a strange and often difficult-to-discern mix of the work of the Lord directly and the Lord through other people, when it comes to the subject of us receiving His blessing. Paul is looking towards his deliverance, which we will see in the next study, but he sees it will come as a combination of the prayers of the saints and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Now I have to confess we are wading in waters about which I am more unsure than most things. How God uses us in what appears to be answers to prayer is, I believe, a mystery which will stay a mystery until we reach heaven. Does God act without me praying? Yes He does. Does He appear to act to ‘answer’ my prayers? Yes He does. Do things sometimes appear to stay the same when I don’t pray? Yes, they do. Does God sometimes appear NOT to answer when I pray? Yes, that’s right. Now I have just set up various scenarios and they are all true and I don’t know why. I don’t know why God sometimes prompts us to pray, it seems, and He answers, but sometimes doesn’t seem to answer. I don’t know why sometimes God seems to let bad situations continue without intervening, and yet on other occasions He clearly does step in and bring changes.

So why is it such a mystery? Because God is an all-wise and all-powerful person who is sovereign Lord of the world, and He knows what is the best thing to do.

So where does this lead me in respect of prayer? Do it! What about when He doesn’t answer? Listen more attentively and try and catch why, but keep on praying. Why does He seem to wait on my prayers sometimes? I think it is because He wants to involve me in His activities, as His son. When we do pray – and wait, and wait – I suspect we always get greater insight into the ways of the Lord.

So for Paul there was a two-edged thing. On one hand the Gospel was being promoted by him being in prison, but on the other hand, he felt it was still something that limited him and the Gospel in a wider sphere, and so he wanted prayer and wanted to get out – and believed it would happen and it would happen when the saints kept on praying.

When it comes to it, it is not the prayers that will bring his release, but the work of the Holy Spirit; it will be God Himself who will bring about His deliverance. Presumably He would put it in the mind of some leader to release Paul. Why should the prayers of the saints move God? They don’t, He already intends to do it, but He wants His people to draw near to Him and catch His heart for this, and then He will act.

63. The Experience of Prayer

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  63.  The Experience of Prayer

Heb 13:18,19   Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

A personal touch: Verse 19 is unusual in this letter in that twice the writer refers to himself with ‘I’.  Although, as we said in an earlier study, there is an element of mystery as to who the writer actually is, it is clear that his readers know him. This is one of the rare pointers in the letter that this might be the apostle Paul, for suddenly this is his style and the sort of thing he would say. He has been with the recipients of this letter but is now away from them but hopes to return with the help of the Lord (implied).

The Purpose of Prayer: What is fascinating is that after his initial, “Pray for us,” we find a sort of self-justification: “ We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.” i.e.  we are sure that we haven’t got ourselves into any trouble but we just need the Lord’s help to get back to you soon.

I think, in this, we see one of the basic motivations for prayer: we find ourselves in circumstances that we feel ought to be changed but we feel they are beyond us and only God can do it, and so we petition Him to step in on our behalf. Yes, we worship and we praise and we give thanks, but ultimately I suspect that so much of our praying is that we see wrong circumstances and want them changed by God and our prayers are petitions for Him to do that. Let’s look at similar examples in the New Testament, particularly noting what is being asked for.

First, to the church at Rome: “I urge you, brothers, 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 I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.” (Rom 15:30-32) The struggle the apostle Paul speaks about is the ongoing conflict or battle against the enemy who seeks to thwart our plans. Thus is request in these verses is twofold: first, to be delivered from the hands of the unbelieving Jews he so often encountered and then, second, that what he does in Jerusalem will bless the believers there.  Again, it is for an enabling by the Lord, that he asks.

Then to the church in Corinth: “Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.” (2 Cor 13:7) There was conflict and even disagreement with him there and so he prays that God will enable them to resist bad responses to him and act well.

Then to the church at Ephesus: “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:15-19)  i.e. he asks the Lord to help them mature, giving them wisdom and revelation of the truth,  to be able to know Him better, realizing more fully the wonder of what they have been called to and the power that is available to them.

Again I that same letter, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:16-19) Twice here he asks the Lord for them to have power through the Spirit. The first time was for them to be strengthened spiritually to be full of faith and love, and the second time was that they may comprehend the depth of God’s love for them. Again only things God could really do.

Finally, in that same letter,  “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Eph 6:19,20) i.e. that God would make him bold in declaring the Gospel.

Then to the church at Colosse: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” (Col 4:2-4) Again, similarly, that God would open the way for them to share the Gospel and that He would give Paul the ability to do it well.

To the church at Thessalonica: “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” (2 Thess 1:11) i.e. that their lives would live up to their calling with God’s help, so that they would fulfil God’s will for them.  Again, later, “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.” (2 Thess 3:1,2) i.e. that their sharing the Gospel will be fruitful and that they would be protected from opposition.

Finally to his friend Philemon, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” (Philem 1:6) i.e. for Philemon to be able to share his faith and in so doing make it even more real.

Keys to Petition-Prayer: In every case we have considered there is first of all an awareness of a goal to be achieved, something that needs changing. Second, implied within that but not expressed in what we have said, that goal is to be something we believe Jesus would want for the kingdom. Third, there is also implied in all this, the recognition that the goal can only be achieved by God’s help, i.e. there is the recognition of our inadequacy.

Practicalities: Because I believe our prayer meetings are so often full of random praying, I teach groups, “Unfocus on answers, focus on God.” i.e. first and foremost focus on the Lord and then out of that pray as He leads, with His wisdom and revelation; don’t assume anything in prayer. Second, ask, is there a part you want me (us) to play in fulfilling this prayer? We are in partnership with the Lord and there maybe something we should be doing. May it be so.

4. Peace can be lost, regain it

Short Meditations on Peace 4. Peace can be lost, regain it

Phil 4:6,7 present your requests to God. And the peace of God,… will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In the previous meditation we said that peace is there as the environment in which we live or, to use another picture, it is like the scenery in the background on the stage of our lives but, we added, it can be disturbed.

Why? How? The answer to those two questions is because we live in a fallen world, a world that goes wrong, and has gone wrong ever since the Fall (Gen 3). From then on, the presence of Sin in the world meant that our wrong actions harmed the world or disturbed the world and so today everyday life can be worrying and worry destroys peace.

Today life for us is extraordinarily easy in comparison to living in the first century. Today we drive to the local supermarket and get our food. If we are in difficulties, we probably get state benefits. Health care is on hand but nevertheless things still go wrong in life – and we worry about what might happen. Illnesses come, accidents happen, the economy takes a turn for the worst, global warming means we have extremes of weather; we live in a fallen world where things go wrong.

Now as children of God we need to know that our Father in heaven is there for us to guard us and guide us, protect and direct us and keep us from harm. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one”. We are to remember that our Lord is there working on our behalf for good at all times (Rom 8:28). We’ll say more about that in a later mediation.

But then there are, shall we call them, more normal uncertainties – taking an exam, for instance. There is going to a doctor about a pain we’ve prayed against but which wouldn’t go.  What is it, what might have to happen? The need for peace. Then there is the next door neighbour who plays loud music late at night and who you don’t think will be open to a reasonable plea for change. The need for peace. Then there are the delays on the way to an important appointment and it looks certain you will be late. The need for peace. Often they will be things out of our control, things not going as they should, things causing problems or difficulties – worry. The need for peace.

How does peace come? We pray. As we pray nothing changes as far as the circumstances are concerned but within us comes this peace, an almost unaccountable peace, and yet it is the sure knowledge that the Lord has heard and He is in control and it will be all right. Peace often doesn’t depend on the outward circumstances, the outward appearance when it comes to spiritual issues, it comes from the Lord who is in control and who is never stressed but who always has peace.

3.4b … and listen and watch!

Short Meditations in Psalms: 3.4b  …and listen and watch!

Psa 3:4  To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.  

The second part of this verse is, I suggest, one of those verses of Scripture that we all read and pass over quickly without much thought, taking for granted what it says.

For the last year I have been teaching a small prayer group to listen to the Lord. I have formed a dictum that I have repeated to them again and again: “Focus on God; unfocus on answers.” Now the reason I have said that is that many years of sitting in prayer meetings convinces me that most of the time we want to tell the Lord the answers we want Him to give us: please heal me, please save Aunty Jean, please change these circumstances at work, please deal with our unpleasant neighbours, and so on.

When we do this two things follow: we do not make the Lord our first priority in life and we cease to be open to the variety of answers He might want to give. Going with this so often is unbelief that does not expect God to answer when we pray. Perhaps His difficulty in answering is that we keep on uttering more and more words and fail to stop and listen.

David cried out to the Lord and (the bit we take for granted) the Lord answered him. Now the things that follow in the psalm may be the way the Lord answered him, but how in general does the Lord ‘answer’ us when we cry out to Him?

Well we hinted at the first answer in the previous meditation, the peace of His presence comes over us. Sometimes this is accompanied with a sure sense that He knows, He understands and He has it all in hand.

Second, He may speak to us. How many of us dare take that step of faith and say, “The Lord said to me…” It is unbelief that says God cannot speak to you. The whole Bible testifies to the truth that God is a communicating God. If He communicated with hundreds of people in the Bible why shouldn’t He communicate with you? After all, you are His child aren’t you? Don’t parents speak with their children? How will He speak? A quiet whisper in your spirit that comes through your mind, words that make sense, perhaps a sentence or more, sometimes just a sense, sometimes words that stand out when you read the Bible or are praying. Listen for them.

Third, He may act and bring change. People may change, circumstances may change, and you may change. David wanted a change of circumstances but there was also a change in him as we shall shortly see.