Saturday, 23 November 2013

City of God

“I have undertaken to defend the most glorious city of God against those who prefer their own gods to the founder of that city. The King and founder of this city…has made clear the meaning of the divine law in the Scriptures of his people, in which it is said, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
St Augustine

Monday, 18 November 2013

Prayer and Mission

The following is an excellent video introducing a series on prayer and mission. I was struck particularly by the first part of the video where 'God' interrupts a prayer meeting.

Prayer Course

Typical me, advertise a new prayer course and forget to say where it can be found. So for those who are interested, here is the link: http://www.prayercourse.org/

It is free with videos to watch and outlines to follow.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Heart of the Scriptures

I am always keen to listen and learn from other Christian traditions, especially those who have been around a lot longer than my own. One such tradition that continually fascinates me is the Easter Orthodox Church. Here is one of their best writers Frederica Mathewes-Green talking about the heart in the scriptures:

What does the bible have to say about the heart?

 “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” Luke 2:51

“The word of God…[pierces] to…the thoughts and intentions of the heart” Hebrews 4:12)

“Out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:19)

 Surprisingly, the Bible treats the heart as the place where we do our thinking—we think in our hearts, not our heads. And, as Matthew 15:19 shows, those thoughts are not always noble. In our culture we regard our ability to reason as one of the highest aspects of human personhood, but forget how often we employ that faculty in less-than-noble pursuits. The biblical Greek word for thinking actively, like when you’re thinking something through, is dianoia, and it includes selfish fantasies, plotting, and scheming:

 “The imagination [dianoia] of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21)

“He has scattered the proud in the imagination [dianoia] of their hearts” (Lk 1:51)

 So if the heart is where humans do their thinking, where do they feel emotions? The strongest emotions, as well as the deepest thoughts, are said to arise from “the inward parts,” the bowels and kidneys, as we might refer to “gut feelings.” That sounds coarse in our culture, though; so modern English translations usually substitute something more polite, located higher up in the body.

 Psalm 16:7 in Hebrew: “I will bless the Lord who has given me understanding; in the night also my kidneys instruct me”

King James Version, 1611: “My reins also instruct me” (reins being an archaic term for “kidneys,” as in “renal function”)

Revised Standard Version, 1952: “In the night also my heart instructs me”

New American Standard Version, 1971: “My mind instructs me in the night”

 Apparently, over the centuries, everything’s been rising. Maybe in a hundred years we’ll read, “My hat instructs me”!

 But it’s not a matter of substituting “bowels and heart” for “heart and head,” for the Scriptures don’t share our view of emotion as an equal-and-opposite alternative to reason. Our assumption is that people tend toward one function or the other, and we deplore the waves of emotion that undermine reason, or the coldness of solitary reason that stifles the heart. But the Scriptures don’t view them as opposed or parallel faculties.

 In the Scriptures, having emotions is not a function or action, parallel to dianoia thinking. A specific emotion, like anger, might prompt a biblical character toward an action, but the person wasn’t engaged in a distinct process of emoting at the time, as opposed to thinking. He just got angry, and acted it out in a particular way. He probably was thinking, actually. He was thinking about something that made him mad.

 This makes sense, when you think about it. Reason and emotion actually are not separate. When we feel an emotion, it is because of a thought we’re having—often enough, a completely logical thought. And we all know how our emotions subtly influence our reasoning. These are two aspects of a single process, not opposites or alternatives.

 Here’s another difference. The Scriptures’ use of “heart” is much broader than ours today. The heart was seen as the center of a person’s entire being. It was the place inside where thoughts, emotions, memories, fantasies, will, and desires all bubble together as in a cauldron. (While the deepest thoughts and feelings are registered in the “inward parts,” the usual source of both is the heart.) The heart includes both good and bad elements; as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” The heart is the home of our inner self, and the place where Christ must rule.

 You might well ask why this difference of viewpoint matters. It’s because, when we agree with the cultural assumption that human beings are composed of two opposite functions, reason and emotion, it damages our witness. If human beings don’t have anything but reason and emotion, there is no way God can communicate with us. All our claims about God can be ascribed to emotions.

 We often hear people say, “You can’t reach God with your mind, only with your heart.” But, as those terms are defined today, it means that any claim of contact with God has no rational basis and is merely emotional. Something like St. Paul’s conversion cannot be claimed as real in an objective, “true for everybody” sense. It’s real only in a subjective, “true for me” sense. Maybe he just had an emotional crisis and hallucinated the whole thing. No prophets heard the voice of God. Moses thought he saw a Burning Bush because he was lonely and discouraged. When the whole population of the Hebrews drew near the smoke-shrouded mountain, and saw lightning, heard thunder and “the sound of the trumpet growing louder and louder” (Exodus 19:19), it was a case of mass wishful thinking.

 When we agree with our culture that all experiences of God are solely emotional, it seriously limits our ability to speak the truth of Jesus Christ in the public square.

 But the New Testament offers us a different understanding of the composition of a human being, and, as a result, a different understanding of human contact with God. I began to glean this after I became Eastern Orthodox, twenty years ago. When I started reading Eastern Christian writings, from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Slavic countries (reaching back to the first century), I had the feeling that something here was really different. It was hard to pin down just what it was. One thing I noticed was that a Greek word, nous (pronounced “noose”), kept popping up. It would appear just like that, un-translated and undefined. Apparently translators thought there was no accurate equivalent in English. It was a concept we just don’t have.

 This was in the days before Google, so to figure out what it meant I kept writing down whatever I thought the definition was, as I read along. At one point I had six definitions. But eventually I grasped that it means the human faculty that understands, discerns, or comprehends.

 This is something we do with our minds, all right—when nous appears in the New Testament, it’s usually translated “mind.” But it’s not active dianoia thinking, like thinking through a problem. It’s the receptive faculty of the mind.

 You can picture the human mind as having two gears, forward and reverse. Forward, dianoia, is when we’re thinking something through, actively reasoning. Reverse, nous, is when we are grasping or comprehending something. This is our faculty of discernment, comprehension, understanding, perception, awareness. It’s how God can make contact with his people, can convey something to them directly, and it has nothing to do with their emotions.

 Forty years ago I had a miraculous conversion to Christ, kind of like St. Paul’s. I was a new college grad, hitchhiking around Europe, and at that time calling myself a Hindu. But when I was touring a historic church and stood looking at a statue of Christ, I suddenly heard a voice speaking to me—not with my ears, but interiorly. It spoke with such authority that doubt was impossible. What the voice said was, “I am your life.”

 When I tried to describe this to people afterward, the best I could describe it was, “It was like there was a little radio in my heart that I never knew was there. Suddenly it switched on and I could hear a voice.” When I met the word nous in Eastern Christian writings, at last I had a name for it; the nous is that “little radio.” And every one of us has one. We are made that way. Because God wants to be in communion with his people.

 Let’s look at how the word is used in the New Testament. When Christ appeared to his apostles, after the Resurrection,

 “He opened their nous to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45)

 He didn’t render the apostles better at thinking logically about the Scriptures, but opened their understanding. Suddenly they could see his Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection foretold throughout the Old Testament. St. Paul says,

 Christians “have the nous of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16)

“Be renewed in the spirit of your nous” (Ephesians 4:23)

“The peace of God which passes all understanding” is actually “The peace of God which overflows the nous” (Philippians 4:7)

“Be transformed by the renewal of your nous” (Romans 12:2)

 The nous is not a special spiritual faculty; it is how we perceive everything. It is how the mind receives and assimilates information. If you open the door and it’s raining, your senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch all transmit their perceptions to the “central office,” the nous. You then process that incoming information and discern that it is raining.

 This first-hand, direct experience of something, which we register by means of the nous, precedes thoughts and feelings. To put that another way, after we perceive something we may well have rational thoughts and feelings about it, but the actual perception came first. After you realize it’s raining, you may have some rational thoughts (“I’d better take an umbrella”) or feel some emotions (“I get sad when it rains”). But both came after that primary perception of rain. The perception itself was not due to your thoughts or feelings, but was derived from objectively real phenomena.

If God communicates with us, we are likely to have a number of thoughts and emotions afterward! But that doesn’t render the experience itself unreal.

 As if the heart-mind confusion weren’t enough, we also have a linguistic tangle because, in English, we use the word “feelings” to mean two different things. We can “get a feeling” and perceive something, or sense something. Maybe we have a “gut feeling.” That would be “feeling” in the sense of the nous. The old Star Wars hero Luke Skywalker had to learn to “feel” the Force; he had to learn how to perceive and tune into something that, in the movie’s world, was objectively real.

 But, unfortunately, we use the same word “feelings” when we mean emotional reactions—hurt feelings or sad feelings. Star Wars villain Darth Vader should have resisted his vengeful feelings. For Luke “feelings” are perceptions, and for Darth “feelings” are overwhelming emotions. Same word, different meanings; no wonder we’re confused.

 But if everyone has this capacity to hear God’s voice, why don’t we? Because the nous is fallen. Just like everything else in Creation. It perceives inaccurately. How many of the conflicts between people are caused by simply not understanding each other accurately—misreading what others say and do. Your damaged, darkened nous might tell you that someone is looking at you funny, when they’re not looking at you at all. The devil makes a playground of this. St. Paul says of nonbelievers,

 “Their very nous… is corrupted” (Titus 1:15)

“[They live] in the futility of their nous” (Ephesians 4:17)

 The nous doesn’t much want to hear God’s voice. It would rather keep itself distracted with a ceaseless stream of incoming sensory data—images, sounds, physical experiences, favorite foods, and so on. When people say that you need silence to hear God’s voice, it doesn’t mean that you should try to be vacant and empty (which would be a spiritually dangerous, actually). But we need quiet at times of prayer because all the busy-work our nous wants to chew over keeps it filled to capacity, and not sensitive enough to register the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). If you were at a noisy party and someone asked you a very important question, you would want get away someplace quiet to think about it. That’s why we need silence, when we pray. We’re trying to listen, to learn how to listen.

 I didn’t know all this when I joined the Eastern Church. I thought it was just a matter of changing to a different denomination. But to my surprise, the Eastern Christian tradition turned out to be not merely an ecclesiastical institution or set of theological doctrines, but an active science or program of inner healing. In the Christian East, we are seen as sick with sin, rather than merely guilty of it; sin pervades us and our world. Like air pollution, it damages everyone, including the innocent, and gives power to the evil one. Sin is death.

 So there’s a sense of urgency about overcoming this creeping toxin. We don’t need only to be forgiven for our sins, but also to stop sinning and stop contributing to the misery of the world. Christ came to take away our sins (1 John 3:5)—not just the penalty for our sins, but the sins themselves. Sin is infection, not infraction. It matters, when we resist it.

 Eastern Christianity is a method or program of strength-training, so we can gain power over our compulsions to sin, and continuously grow in union with Christ. It shows us how to fast, pray, and love others such that the damage of sin begins to be healed, and the light of Christ begins to spread. Though I had no idea that’s what I was getting into when I converted, it turned out to be what I had sought all my Christian life.

 Now most of my work is aimed at helping Christians of all denominations understand and implement this “science” of transformation in their own lives. A significant part is recognizing that our “head-heart” division is not Biblical or true, and learning that the nous exists and needs healing. This alternative understanding of the makeup of the human person restores to us the possibility of authentic communion with God. That’s what the world is longing for.

http://70school.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/read-heart-of-scriptures.html

Advice on prayer

Reading the magazine Christianity recently and in an article about Pete Grieg the man behind the 24-7 Prayer initiative I came across the following question and answer about prayer:

"Justin Brierley:  Any advice for those who want to start praying, or want to pray better?

Pete Greig: Keep it simple. Don't try and pray your way to the top of the staircase - pray the next step. Keep it real, especially if you're the one suffering. God can handle anger. He can handle honesty. The Bible is more honest than most churches.

And then, keep it up - Jesus explicitly says your're going to have to persevere in prayer. Sometimes prayer is like stacking dominoes, and you pray the same prayer that you've prayed 1,000 times before and the whole lot comes through, and it was just that you didn't give up too soon. So keep it simple, keep it real, and keep it up."

Keep it simple. Keep it real. Keep it up.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

New Prayer Course

The following is a music video promoting a new prayer course. The information can be accessed here:

http://www.prayercourse.org/

Here is the promo:


White and black sheep

I came across the following story (and comment) in a recent book by Trystan Owain Hughes which was told him by an elderly vicar at his local church:

A North Wales shepherd is happily grazing his large flock of sheep, when an English tourist stops to admire them. "That's a wonderful flock you have,' he says. 'How much would you say your sheep walked each day?'

The shepherd answers, 'Which ones, the white ones or the black ones?'

The white ones,' replies the Englishman.

'Well the white ones walk around five miles each day,' says the shepherd.

'And the black ones?' asks the tourist.

'Yes the black ones too,' comes the answer.

'And how much grass would you say they eat daily?' says the Englishman.

'Which ones,' says the shepherd, 'the white or black?'

The white ones,' answers the tourist.

'Well, the white ones can eat about six pounds of grass each day,' asserts teh Welshman.

'And the black ones?' asks the tourist.

'Yes the black ones too,' comes the answer.

And so the tourist continues further. 'How much wool would you say they give each year?'

'Which ones, the white or the black?' retorts the shepherd.

'The white ones,' comes the response.

"Well," he explains, 'I'd say the white ones give some six pounds of wool annually.'

'And the black ones?' asks the Englishman.

'Yes, the black ones too,' comes the answer.

By now the passer-by is curious, so he says, 'I'm sorry, but can I ask why you divide your sheep into white ones and black ones every time you answer my questions?'

'Well' said the shepherd, 'you see that's only natural, because the white ones are actually my sheep.'

'Ah,' says the Englishman, 'and what about the black ones?'

And the shepherd answers, 'Yes, the black ones too.'

Trystan writes: "I can't recall exactly why the elderly vicar told me this tale! But I think it can teach us something about how easily we fall into the trap of relying on the labels that we foist on people around us. The way we see people defines how we act and how we treat each other. As the philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote: "The question is not what you look at, but what you see." In other words, we are constantly wearing spectacles through which we make judgements on people and which distort our attitudes towards them.

The book by Trystan id a good one for the season of Advent. It's called "Real God in the real world."

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Defining Moments

The following is a very moving video from the Billy Graham fold and gives a powerful evangelistic message which needs to be heard.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Finding a home in a liturgical Church

Something strange is happening among evangelicals. They are beginning to sense that not only have liturgical churches got something to offer, but that what they do offer is an ancient deep wisdom whose roots reach all the way down into the New Testament. I write this as one who has not really appreciated this over the 40 years I have been an Anglican but who, as I wrestle with the current situation in the Church in Wales decline is now beginning to appreciate its real, true riches.

Partly my thinking has been affected by asking questions about the Church. What did it look like in the early centuries, especially in the immediate aftermath of Jesus Ascension into heaven?  Who decided which books were included in the Bible and which books left out? Why were some books considered in the first place and on what basis were they left out, and what, if anything, have they to offer us now? Also what did the undivided Church look like up until it first split in 1054 and then again in the 15th century?

But my thinking about the subject has also been piqued by the articles that are being written on the internet and in various Christian magazines like Christianity Today, about evangelicals who are starting to drift and gravitate towards the more liturgically ordered denominations like the Anglicans, or in some cases the Roman Catholics (I have been reading two books by former evangelicals who have become Catholics) or Eastern Orthodox.

Here are some excerpts from a recent article on Christianity Today which illustrate the examples I am thinking about.

In a 2007 a conference was held in Wheaton, that bastion of American Evangelicalism on the them of "The Ancient Faith for the Church's Future." Here, the words spoken 15 years ago by Drew University theologian and CT senior editor Thomas Oden rang true: "The sons and daughters of modernity are rediscovering the neglected beauty of classical Christian teaching. It is a moment of joy, of beholding anew what had been nearly forgotten, of hugging a lost child."

The conference's Call for Papers likewise rejoiced:
"One of the most promising developments among evangelical Protestants is the recent 'discovery' of the rich biblical, spiritual, and theological treasures to be found within the early church." In particular, it said, evangelicals are beginning to "reach back behind the European Enlightenment for patterns and models of how to faithfully read Scripture, worship, and engage a religiously diverse culture."

Baylor University's D. H. Williams, author of Evangelicals and Tradition, testified at the conference to the recent upsurge of evangelical interest in patristics (the study of the church fathers in the first seven centuries of the church):
"Who would have thought, a decade ago, that one of the most vibrant and serious fields of Christian study at the beginning of the 21st century would be the ancient church fathers? There has been an opening of new avenues, especially among free-church Protestants, by the almost overnight popularity of bishops and monks, martyrs and apologists, philosophers and historians who first fashioned a Christian culture 1,500 years ago."

In 1978, Robert Webber begun his groundbreaking 'Common Roots: A Call to Evangelical Maturity' by throwing down the gauntlet:

"My argument is that the era of the early church (A.D. 100–500), and particularly the second century, contains insights which evangelicals need to recover."

Twenty-five years later, he could rejoice in the pages of his Younger Evangelicals that they "want to immerse themselves in the past and form a culture that is connected to the past, a culture that remembers its tradition as it moves into the future." Webber observed—with what we now know was not mere wishful thinking—that evangelicals had entered the new millennium by surging into the past.

In 1977, upon the urging of Robert Webber, Donald Bloesch, and Thomas Howard, 45 evangelical academics and leaders gathered to pen "The Chicago Call: An Appeal to Evangelicals," whose prologue declared evangelicals' "pressing need to reflect upon the substance of the biblical and historic faith and to recover the fullness of this heritage." This historic document began by issuing a "Call to Historic Roots and Continuity":

"We confess that we have often lost the fullness of our Christian heritage, too readily assuming that the Scripture and the Spirit make us independent of the past. In so doing, we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, blind to the work of God in others and married to our cultures. … We dare not move beyond the biblical limits of the gospel; but we cannot be fully evangelical without recognizing our need to learn from other times and movements concerning the whole meaning of that gospel."

One person speaking about his own experience of coming to faith in an evangelical/charismatic setting and yet feeling that "something was missing" writes:

I gave my life to Christ in a Canadian charismatic church. It was a modern-church setting with a giant, auditorium-like sanctuary that someone had decorated to look like a suburban living room, complete with sea foam green carpeting and rubber plants. On Sunday mornings, I would walk in and feel the palpable presence of the all-powerful and all-loving Lord. On Saturday nights, at cell-group prayer meetings, I was mentored by wise "fathers and mothers in the Lord." On Monday nights, I participated in the music ministry of a dynamic youth group.

Yet through the years, though this wonderful church formed me in the joy of the Lord that was my strength, I felt like we were missing something. As a stalwart outpost of the kingdom in a threatening world, our faith seemed somehow precarious. We stood, as we faced that world, on a foundation made of the words of our favorite Bible passages—our "canon within the Canon"—and the sermons of our pastors and a roster of approved visiting evangelists. There was utterly no sense of the mystical massiveness of a church that had stood firmly for 2,000 years. No sense that our foundation actually stretched down and back through time. I didn't have a clue who John Wesley, Martin Luther, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Ignatius of Antioch were. I just knew that I felt like I was part of a church that was in some ways powerful, but in other ways shallow and insecure in a threatening world that did not share our faith.

I now see that my early sense of the church's insecurity stemmed from what J. I. Packer has called evangelicalism's "stunted ecclesiology," rooted in our alienation from our past. Without a healthy engagement with our past, including historical definitions of "church," we are being true neither to Scripture nor to our theological identity as the church. Though Packer doesn't put it this way, it is easy to see ways in which their stunted ecclesiology has led evangelicals to allow the world to shape the church."

Journalist Colleen Carroll Campbell discovered through her research among young Christians that the informal, spontaneous style of many free-church Protestant groups does not give these young adults enough of an anchor. In Massachusetts, Campbell spoke with Sharon Carlson, a young woman raised in the Plymouth Brethren movement, a free-church tradition that eschews liturgy, tradition, and hierarchy. Carlson described the Communion experience as "tearing up bread and passing around cups of grape juice after men in the assembly spontaneously stood and repeated the words that they felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to say," and she felt that was no longer enough. As Campbell reports, " 'I want to be more connected to history, the history of the Christian church,' said Carlson, who relishes the knowledge that she is worshiping the way Christians have for centuries. 'There have been generations of people before me saying the same prayers.' "

Carlson found it difficult to attend emotional, upbeat, and impromptu services on those days when she did not feel the fervour to worship. When she encountered liturgical worship as a student at Gordon College in Wenham and during a year in Oxford, England, she noticed herself gravitating toward the Anglican churches, where she could reaffirm her beliefs with a creed, regardless of her feelings. She also liked following a church calendar that connected the seasons of the year with the seasons of Christ's life. Now Carlson uses the Book of Common Prayer regularly and worships at Christ Church, a theologically conservative and highly liturgical Episcopalian church.

In this shift, Carlson is not alone, writes Campbell. Her new church has attracted "throngs of students and faculty" from evangelical Gordon College. Many of these became full-blown "converts" to the liturgical style of Episcopalians. This, despite the misgivings many share about the theological directions of that denomination. Surely something is afoot among the younger evangelicals.

You can read the entire article here but the points raised are interesting ones and touch on the kind of thinking that is occupying me at the moment. As an Evangelical I want to remain true to the bible and the core doctrines of the faith, but I am more than aware that that concern was the Church's well before the 15th century and Luther and Calvin and continues to be the concern of much of the Church I have been wary of because of the way that they "dress it up" in liturgy. The truth however is that the liturgy, far from dressing things up actually helps preserve, communicate and protect the faith handed down (2 Timothy 1:1-14). True it can be repetitive and perhaps less "exciting" than some of the worship you find in the Pentecostal and other free churches, but what it lacks in excitement it makes up for in depth, consistency and importantly orthodoxy.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Salvation explained

"Are you saved?" is a question I have occasionally been asked over the years, as some have wondered if, as an Anglican, it was possible. Here is the answer from an Orthodox Christian's point of view, that Christian being an Orthodox Bishop, Kallistos Ware. It's a very clear, and at times funny, insight into the different approaches to the subject which I found very enlightening, interesting and challenging. Plus it reminds me that as an Anglican I am a "Johnny come lately" to the history of the Church.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Effective Church Growth

I have spent my ministry thinking about what makes churches grow, and next week I will be attending a course "Leading Your Church into Growth" in England, so it is something that has been, and is, very much on my mind. There is no secret formula to how to do this. In fact I suspect that it comes very much under the category of "the wind blows where it wills" (John 3:1ff) meaning that it is a work of the Holy Spirit . But there are from time to time things that strike an inner chord and the following article by Church Lawless (see here) is one such thing:

Praying Pastors—A Non-negotiable to Effective Church Growth By Chuck Lawless 

The famous English pastor Charles Spurgeon once wrote words that still demand our attention today:

“Do not restrain prayer. . . . For only through prayer can the prosperity of a church be increased or even maintained.” (1)

We know that healthy church growth does not occur without God’s blessing, yet how easy it is to talk about church growth ideas, methods, goals, and strategies, while missing this most significant component of church growth: prayer! The goal of this article is to call us to prayer as we lead churches toward growth. (2)

Characteristics of Praying Churches 
Think for a minute about praying people in the Bible. Abraham prayed for a city (Gen. 18:20-33). Moses prayed for God’s people (Exod. 32:11-13). Joshua prayed for guidance (Josh. 7:1-26). Hannah prayed for a child (1 Sam. 1:1-20). Solomon prayed for wisdom (1 Kgs. 3:1- 15). The prophets of God prayed, too, for various reasons (e.g., 1 Kgs. 18:36-39; Jer. 20:7-18).

The early church—dependent on God as they were for all things—prayed fervently (Acts 1:14, 3:1, 4:31, 6:4, 10:9, 12:5, 13:3, 14:23, 16:25, 20:36, 28:8). The apostle Paul prayed for believers (e.g., Rom. 1:8, 1 Cor. 1:4), and he expected them to pray for him (Eph. 6:18-20, Col. 4:2-4). Jesus, of course, modeled a life of prayer for all of us (e.g., Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42, 5:16, 6:12, 11:1; John 17).
Here’s the point: prayer matters, and praying believers lead to praying churches.

Praying Churches Admit That They Are Powerless on Their Own 
Almost twenty-five years ago, I became the pastor of a small church in southwestern Ohio. I had little formal education and no pastoral experience. I had never baptized a person, officiated a wedding, or led a funeral. What I did have, though, was a church family that knew  (2) how to pray. I think of Sonney and Christie, Paul and Edna, and Red and Gloria—all who understood that God alone could grow their little church. They knew they were powerless without him. In fact, I’m convinced they trusted me as a twenty-year old pastor simply because they knew that effective church growth was not dependent on me. 

Here’s the reality: churches grow effectively—that is, by reaching and discipling lost persons—only by God’s power. That power is available to us through prayer. Until we are willing to admit that our churches cannot make a dent in a lost world without God’s power, we will not pray enough.

Praying Churches Put Their Focus on God 
One of my favorite verses in the creation story is Genesis 3:9—“Then the Lord called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (NAS). This verse grabs me because God came looking for Adam and Eve after they had sinned against him. They had rejected his Word, but he sought them anyway because he’s always been an outward-focused God. Prayer is about a relationship with this God, and praying churches focus on him.

A church simply can’t focus on God through prayer and remain centered on themselves. Some time ago, I spent an exciting weekend with an evangelical church in the western part of the United States. When I walked into their building, I immediately saw the flags of several nations hanging in their worship center. The flags represented countries to which the church had sent missionaries. It was not surprising that that same church had committed the weekend to fasting and praying for God’s will to be done in their congregation. God-centered churches are praying churches.

Praying Churches Learn to Persevere Patiently in Faith 
Effective church growth is not an easy process. We preach the Word, and we must then  (3) wait for God to move a heart. We share Christ with a lost person, and often that person does not respond immediately. Visitors attend our churches week after week, and we wonder why they never officially join.

What do these stories have to do with prayer? Have you ever wondered why the Bible so often calls us to wait? (e.g., Isa. 40:31, Psa. 52:9, Acts 1:4). One reason must be that we are often impatient—we want God to respond to our needs in a microwave fashion. We church leaders want God to change our churches right now. Sometimes it even seems like we want the answers to our prayers before we ever pray the prayer!

Praying churches realize, though, that God’s timing seldom matches our timing. He does not always respond as quickly as we would like—but we can still trust Him to accomplish His plan.

A Basic Principle for Developing a Prayer Ministry 
 Elsewhere I have written extensively about developing a prayer ministry in the local church.(3)  My goal in this section is simply to describe the most basic prayer ministry principle described more completely in these other works: the pastor must set the example. Listen to these words from the pastor of a growing church in Texas:

For thirty years I preached more about prayer than I prayed. But it wasn’t until people started seeing praying in my life that my words made a difference. We are fighting on the wrong battlefield. The battle is to be won on our knees. Then we go out and do what God tells us to do. There is no substitute for praying preachers. (4) (emphasis added)

Most church leaders want a ready-made program for prayer, but almost every prayer study indicates that a praying church begins with a praying pastor. Pastor, take a moment to answer this question honestly: “If all of my church members prayed as much and as fervently as  (4) I do, should I expect my church to grow?” If your answer is “no,” you know where to begin.

Here are a few steps toward becoming a praying pastor.
1. Hold yourself accountable to someone. Find someone who knows you well, and who cares enough about you to confront you with this question: “have you prayed today?” The age of email makes it possible for someone to ask us this question every day, and most of us need daily accountability for our praying.
2. Pray with your spouse and family every day. Even a few minutes a day is a starting point,
especially if you have small children. You will emphasize prayer more and more forcefully challenge your church to pray if you know that prayer in your own home is consistent.
3. Do Bible studies on great prayer warriors. It is difficult to read the stories of prayer in the early church without longing to pray as they did. More specifically, how hard it is not to pray more when we read how much Jesus prayed (for example, in the book of Luke). Spend some time studying the stories of prayer noted earlier in this article, and you will likely pray more.
4. Be comfortable with small daily improvements. Few persons become prayer warriors overnight. If today you pray for ten minutes longer than yesterday, thank God for that improvement. If tomorrow’s prayer is simply more focused than today’s, be grateful for the progress. Daily growth eventually means long-term growth.
5. Pray today. You get the point—nothing will change unless you begin by praying today. May God help you to start today in becoming the model prayer warrior for your church.

NOTES 
 1. Charles Spurgeon, The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life (Lynnwood, WA: Emerald Books, 
1993), 105. 
2.  Much of this article can be found in Thom S. Rainer and Chuck Lawless, Eating the Elephant 
(Louisville: Pinnacle, 2003). Used with permission.  5
3. Charles Lawless, Serving in Your Church Prayer Ministry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003); Chuck Lawless, Discipled Warriors (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002). 
4. Glen Martin and Dian Ginter, Power House (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 45. 

Thy Kingdom Come 2017