Sunday, January 25, 2009

Paul's Prayers, #12

...and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph. 6:17b-20)

Prayer is a battleground.

After teaching believers to take up the defensive parts of the armor of God, Paul gives them an offensive weapon - God's Word - and then takes them to the battleground to fight.

Truth. Righteousness. Readiness given by the Gospel of peace. Faith. Salvation. These are the things that protect. God's Word is the only sword we need. But the battle is very, very real. And the battleground itself - prayer - doubles as a second offensive weapon. That's why Paul tells us to pray "in the Spirit" - which simply means "in the control of" the Spirit. Paul knows that we don't know how to pray as we should, which is why the Spirit prays for us (see Rom. 8).

We've been looking at Paul's prayers - at their meaning and their significance for becoming world Christians. As those involved in missions (either as go-ers or senders) we have to be aware of the profound lesson Paul is teaching here. He's teaching them how to pray warfare prayers - and gives them two assignments right away:

* Pray for the saints with perserverance.
* Pray for Paul to proclaim the Gospel boldly.

Paul knew the utter necessity of prayer for the advance of the kingdom. He also knew that the kingdom advance was countered at each step by the enemy. Prayer doesn't just make things easier - it makes things possible. It isn't a convenience, but a necessity. As a testimony, Paul asks prayer for himself, for the one thing that the Ephesians would likely think Paul had in abundance - boldness. We don't think of Paul as timid, yet his willingness to ask for holy boldness lets us see that indeed he recognized that only reliance on God's Spirit could accomplish the kingdom advance.

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? First, the obvious - prayer is essential. We need to pray warfare prayers over our missionary prayer list. If you're on the field, you need to fight battles on your knees, and involve the folks back home with specific requests. Second, less obvious is that we don't need to assume that the perceived "strengths" in ourselves or others will not be areas of attack. Instead, pray for that person's boldness, or faith, or purity, or whatever you think comes "naturally". Pray for weak areas, and strong ones. Each are subject to attack from the enemy. Finally, pray "for all the saints". Realize, as Paul did, that missions isn't a job for professionals. It's a task for all of us. We're all on mission with God and we all need to realize that. Pray kingdom prayers for the believers in your house and church and school and workplace. Use all the weapons Paul taught in the battleground of prayer. And then walk through the doors He opens in the halls of life!

Prayer: Lord, help us to grasp the battle. Help us to understand that You have given us tools to fight for kingdom advance, not merely the comforts of home life. Then guide us as we learn to fight on the battleground of prayer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Paul's Prayers, #11

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:14-21)

Paul's prayers in Ephesians are some of the most eloquent and theologically rich passages in all of Scripture. Each one is a gold mine just waiting to be discovered, and I encourage you to explore the depths and find many jewels!

This passage gets to the heart of our walk. In Ephesians, Paul addresses three basic topics: Sit (our position in Christ); Walk (live out our faith); Stand (stay firm in our faith). This prayer is in the "walk" section of the book - so Paul is asking God for things that will help with their walk.

Paul asks that God will give them strength with power through His Spirit - but for some very specific reasons:
* So Christ will dwell in their hearts through faith
* So they would have strength to comprehend the love of Christ so they will be filled with the fullness of God

Paul then reminds them that God is able to do more than we think because of His power at work within us - the power, as he outlined in ch. 1, that raised Jesus from the grave. Again, resurrection power at work in our walk!

What Paul is getting at is not knowledge for knowledge' sake ... it is knowledge for the sake of effective ministry. Knowledge for their walk. Knowledge for the glory of God. They have to know His love, His fullness, His amazing power, in order to walk the way he is going to outline that they should walk, and in order to minister the way he charged them to minister.

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? We need to pray for our missionaries, our churches, and ourselves to be strengthened and know more of His love, His fullness, His power. We need constant reminders of His greatness, because our human default is always to self-absorption and self-promotion. Without the focus this prayer gives, we are prone to either despair (when things go poorly) or pride (when they go well). Additionally, we need to be filled with His power - and so we need the strength to handle that. We need to be overwhelmed with His love - and that, too, takes strength.

Prayer: Father, please give us the strength to bear as much of Your love as You want to reveal. Give us Your power through Your Spirit, and help us comprehend more of You. Then use us, our churches, and our missionaries, in ways beyond we can ask or think.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Paul's Prayers, #s 9-10

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:15-23)

This passage, one of Paul's most eloquent, has been the subject of many sermons and entire book chapters! I encourage you to delve deeply here; there is far more than I can cover in a blog post.

This prayer is really two prayers:

1) Gratitude to God for the faith and love of the Ephesians (v. 16)
2) Supplication for God to give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (v. 17), and open their hearts to know (vv. 18-19):
  • The hope to which He calls them
  • The riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints
  • The immesasurable greatness of His power toward believers - the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

First, Paul has seen the faith and love of Ephesus. He spent over 1 1/2 years there (Acts 18) and had a special audience with their elders on his journey to Jerusalem and arrest (Acts 20). This is a church he knows and loves, and is thankful for.

Their existing faith and love is, I believe, the foundation for the depth of revelation Paul requests God give them. Jesus taught that our response to the truth He reveals will determine whether we are enabled to understand more truth (Matt. 13:12). Ephesus had a strong foundation, and Paul wanted to see them go even deeper.

Paul's request, then, assumes that God wants to reveal Himself to them. He wants them to know more about Jesus, and He will give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation to grasp hold of that knowledge. In the process, their spiritual eyes will be opened to know three specific truths:

* The hope to which He calls them. People want hope. Tomorrow in my country we will inaugurate a president who made that word one of two key words in his campaign. Yet ultimately those who hope in Barack Obama - or any other politician - will be disappointed. They are looking for a hope that only God can give ... the hope He calls us to in Christ. Paul wants the Ephesian church to grasp hold of that understanding.

* The riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints. We have no way, apart from divine revelation, to truly grasp what it means to be "joint-heirs" with Jesus. Unlike the false prosperity Gospel teaching that this applies to earthly wealth, the reality is that what awaits us is the true inheritance. Yet this verse speaks to more than our part of the inheritance. It also - in fact, primarily - speaks to His. Note that it is HIS inheritance "in the saints". What is His inheritance? Psalm 2:7b-8 (NASB) tells us specifically: "The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession." The nations are Christ's inheritance! And on what glorious day were they given? A study throughout Scripture of "Begotten" as it applies to Christ, and a study of the uses of the Greek word, reveals that the plainest understanding is "brought forth" - in other words, when God "brought forth" Christ from the grave, the nations became His inheritance! And it is an inheritance "in the saints" - which has profound implications for missions. The close context of this passage to the next one about Christ's inheritance only underscores to me that we are talking about His inheritance of the nations.

* The immeasurable greatness of His power toward believers - the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. God's power raised Christ from the dead, and Paul wants the believers to wrap their minds around the fact that the same power is available to them! The implications of this are staggering. At the very least, as my pastor said yesterday while teaching on 1 Cor. 15, the resurrection means "Our past no longer paralyzes our present". Our sins are truly forgiven and we can truly move on as recipients of grace. But further, we should be encouraged that nothing can be harder than raising the dead - and God's already proven He can do that one!

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? First, we have to grasp that Paul is operating from a missiological context here. He is wanting the Ephesians to know Christ more, but he is also wanting to see their faith and love expand to others. As they "go" or "send" they will need that deep relationship with Christ. They will need to know that there is a hope - that they don't go and send in vain. They will need to know that the nations they are reaching have already been given to Christ as an inheritance - as Abraham Kuyper said, "There is no square inch of earth over which the Lord Jesus does not cry, 'Mine.'" And they will need to know that His power is available to them - the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

Second, we have to grasp that all those things are true for our churches as well. We need to prioritize knowing Him. We need to recognize the hope in dark situations. We need to know that the nations belong to Him. And we need to know that He will give power to fulfill the Commission.

Prayer: Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord, that we may know You more. Reveal to us the hope you've called us to; the reality that the nations are yours; and the beauty of the resurrection power available to us. And give us hearts to go and send radically.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Paul's Prayers, #8

8. Now we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong, not so that we may appear to have passed the test, but so that you may do what is right even if we may appear to have failed the test. (2 Cor. 13:7)

At first glance this seems to be a pastoral prayer, not a missions one. And in many ways it does come from Paul's pastor's heart. But just as Paul was ever the pastor, he also never stopped being a missionary.

His heart is this prayer was for them to do right - no matter how Paul and the other apostles looked. A church that knows the right thing and does it will be successful for the kingdom. First, just doing what's right will avoid the distractions that come when an individual or group sins. It will give more time to focus on ministry. Next, doing what's right will include the admonitions from Scripture to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27) and fulfill the Great Commission. So a church that does what is right will be a ministering church. Finally, a church that does what is right will follow John's admonition in 3 John to send out missionaries in a manner "worthy of God". So praying that the church would do right, not wrong, fits into Paul's larger missionary worldview.

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? It's so easy to overlook the obvious. If we want a missions-oriented church, we should be praying, among other things, for our churches to do no wrong and to do what is right. We should pray for our leaders to make wise decisions and avoid sin and temptations, and we should pray for hearts to do what is right. We should pray for our missionaries in the same manner. And we should do what's right ourselves and avoid what is wrong.

Prayer: Father, please help our churches do what is right. Give our leaders ears to hear and hearts to understand Your Word and how to apply it in the circumstances they face daily. Guide us to do what is right and obey the fullness of Your Word, and avoid the sins that would distract us from that mission.

Paul's Prayers, #7

7. He delivered us from so great a risk of death, and he will deliver us. We have set our hope on him that he will deliver us yet again, as you also join in helping us by prayer, so that many people may give thanks to God on our behalf for the gracious gift given to us through the help of many. (2 Cor. 1:10-11)

This is one of my favorite Scriptures on prayer. Paul doesn't so much ask Corinth for prayer as assume that they are praying. This is a significant change from his corrective attitude toward them in 1 Corinthians! This church has been transformed in many ways and is now one of the churches Paul can count on to be praying for him.

This passage is also precious in that we learn one of the reasons that God wants us to share prayer requests and unite in prayer together - because He gets more glory! Paul observes that the more people who are praying, the more thanks goes up to God when prayers are answered. That gratitude glorifies God and points others to Him!

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? None of us - missionaries included - should face challenging situations on our own. We should have the body of Christ behind us, at least in prayer and if possible in practical ways of helping. We should know when we pray for our missionaries, or they pray for us, that we are part of the same team for the same purpose. We need to realize that our prayers for deliverance will be answered "yet again" - in whatever way God knows is best. We need to realize that God wants us to pray united prayers for and with each other. And here is the power of united prayer: The more people who pray, the more glory God gets. So we should be praying united prayers for the nations and our missionaries and our churches and our kids. And we shouldn't hesitate to allow missionaries that same privilege for our needs!

Prayer: Lord, please make us people of prayer. Help us to grasp the significance and power of united prayer. Help us to focus on kingdom-oriented prayers so that all distractions are dealt with and we are free to prioritize your mission through the church to the world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Paul's Prayers, #6

6. I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus. For you were made rich in every way in him, in all your speech and in every kind of knowledge – just as the testimony about Christ has been confirmed among you – so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 1:4-7)

Corinth has gone down in history as a messed up church. In fact, they could be the poster child for how NOT to grow a church! And that is what makes Paul's prayer of thankfulness for them even more precious. He starts his book by talking about what is good and right - God's grace poured out upon them. The richness He gave them in their speech, the confirmation of the message of Christ, the fullness of the experience of spiritual gifts. Paul goes on to address some hard issues and at times speak quite sternly to Corinth. But the beauty of Paul's heart is that he never forgets that he is talking to believers who have experienced God's grace. He never writes off Corinth, because He knows what God has done in their lives.

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? It can be hard to be a world Christian. A lot of our churches don't "get it". A lot of our missionaries' churches don't "get it" either. Churches find it a lot easier to be like Corinth - selfish and immature - than like Smyrna or Philadelphia. If we sit around and wait for our churches to be perfect we will never focus on the kingdom. We have to start where we are, and acknowledge every indication of God's work in our churches. They have experienced God's grace and however imperfectly they reflect it now, they have within them what is needed to fulfill God's mission.

We need to pray for our churches and for the churches of the missionaries we support. If your church isn't as supportive of missions as you'd like, thank God for what you see and pray for ways to raise awareness and become a catalyst! While you're at it, pray for missionaries who face struggles with churches who expect certain types of results and tie funding to numbers. Pray for missionaries whose home churches don't support them. Pray for missionaries who never hear from their home churches. Whatever you do, don't become critical and judgmental, throwing out everything about your church or a missionary's church. Just thank God for what He has done, and pray for Him to do more.

Prayer: Father, thank You that Your grace is evident in my church. Thank You that even though you are still working on us in many ways, we know that we have the starting point of grace. Please grow us into a kingdom-oriented fellowship. While You're at it God, please minister to those missionaries whose churches aren't supportive. Help them to see the work You are doing and make them catalysts for change in those churches.

Paul's Prayers, #5

5. Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)

Hope ... it's ingrained in us to want to have hope. The power of the concept is reflected in the U.S. President-elect - who ran on the words "hope" and "change". People not only want to hope - they MUST.

That's why Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3 that we should always be willing to give an answer for the hope that is within us. Our hope, reflected in our attitude despite challenges and suffering, is the harbinger of what's inside. It tells the world that there is something different - and should provide and open door for us to tell them about Jesus.

Paul's prayer hits the other side of the "hope" issue. He prayed that the "God of hope" - what a blessed name - will fill us with joy and peace so we can abound in hope. This is part of the perfect unity of Scripture. Peter tells us that we should be willing to answer for the hope we have - and Paul teaches us to pray that God will fill us with what we need to abound in hope! As always in Scripture, the point starts and ends with God. He provides the hope - we live out lives of hope - and then we tell others about the source of our hope.

The trigger, of course, is that we must believe in Him. That doesn't just refer to saving faith - it refers to living faith. It's the day-by-day, "believing God" type of faith. When we believe God, day by day, He fills us with joy and peace. If you struggle with believing God, take a lesson from Romans 10 - focus on His Word, which is the agent of faith. As we hear - really hear, with our spiritual ears - the word of God, our faith grows. And then we walk it out. I love the acronym taught by John Piper about how to walk in faith:

Acknowledge your inability to do it on your own.
Pray for God's help and specific guidance.
Trust God's promises.
Act on His Word, even if you don't feel it or know that you can do it.
Thank Him for His victory.

As we walk in faith, He pours out His joy and peace. When God pours His joy and peace into us, hope is a natural consequence. We should "abound" in hope - it should overflow. Christians should be the most hopeful people in the world! Notice I didn't say positive. "Positive thinking" is a counterfeit for true Biblical hope. Biblical hope is based on who God is, on His sure Word, on His promises. It starts with the God of hope pouring joy and peace into our hearts, and suddenly we find ourselves hopeful in the most challenging of situations. We find that we just can't give up on that broken relationship or that wayward child. We find that the bleak economic forecasts don't keep us awake at night. We find that the critical and negative, doomsday spirits expressed by some Christians trouble us as much as the sins and problems they are attacking. We find that the mountains that are literally in the way of that tribe we're praying for don't seem quite so big and the valleys don't seem quite as deep. We find that we can look things in the face and see them as they really are - and hope anyway.

And as Peter says, the world takes notice.

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? To have that natural testimony of hope, we must first be truly hopeful! We can't work it up in our flesh - that becomes artificial or counterfeit "positive thinking". Instead, we have true hope when God gives us joy and peace. And then we have a message that is powerful and authentic - and the world takes notice. In fact, they start asking questions!

Prayer: Lord, You are the God of hope. Please fill us with joy and peace as we believe You, and cause us to abound in hope so that we will have a message of hope when people ask!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Paul's Prayers, #4

#4. I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.

Paul asked the church at Rome to pray for his deliverance from "unbelievers" and that his service would be "acceptable to the saints". His desire in these prayers was that he could come to them with joy and be refreshed. That's not necessarily a connection that we understand, but from the perspective of a missionary it makes sense.

Paul knew going into Jerusalem that prison awaited him (Acts 20:23). Yet he also knew that God's sovereignty did not negate the need for prayer - in fact, that God could deliver him through the prayers of the saints (Phil. 1:19). He had earlier requested prayer for deliverence from "evil and perverse men" (2 Thess. 3:2). So his prayer for deliverance is not inconsistent with his trust in God's sovereignty - he just knows that God uses the prayers of the saints as one of His means for deliverance. When God's purpose for Paul in prison was complete, the prayers of the saints would be one of the tools God would use to deliver him.

Paul also wanted his service to the saints at Jerusalem - delivering the offering collected on his missionary journey - to be acceptable to the saints. We know from Scripture Paul wasn't a "people pleaser" - in fact he confronted Peter over that very issue. However, he had a heart of love for the saints and genuinely wanted them to be blessed by the offering. This is the offering that Paul wrote to Corinth about and included donations from the impoverished churches of Macedonia (2 Cor. 8). A lot of people had poured into this offering, and he wanted it to be worthwhile.

It's important to note that Paul doesn't link the successful delivery of the offering with his coming to Rome. He merely asks that it be acceptable so that, if God wills, he could come with "joy". He wanted the task in Jerusalem to be completed and then he could truly enjoy the rest and fellowship in Rome, if God willed. As we know, God did will Paul to go to Rome - in chains. He was delivered from unbelievers - Acts 23 records the conversation overheard by Paul's nephew and the resulting midnight transfer to Caesarea. Paul's request was answered and when he came to Rome, his task in Jerusalem complete, he ministered unhindered despite his chains. We have at least 4 letters to show for his time there.

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? The work our missionaries are doing "over there" is very dear to their hearts. They won't truly enjoy times of rest unless they feel their work was done satisfactorily. So pray for the work! Too often we just pray for their personal needs and their protection - when they want us to pray that their project will be acceptable and their ministry fruitful!

They also need our prayers for deliverance - even if we don't know until after the fact what happened. We have to learn to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's guidance! Here's a good rule of thumb I learned from a former small group leader: If someone is on your mind and heart, just assume that God wants you to pray for them! Even if you don't know what's going on or how to pray, just start praying - trust God to either give you wisdom or take your prayers and do what He needs to with them (Rom. 8:26-27). Another trick I try to use - when I read an article or see a news report from a country where I know someone, I pray for them. It's a fairly easy habit to form and then you will have prayers popping into your head at the oddest times.

Prayer: Lord, help us develop a sensitivity to Your Spirit about times our missionaries need deliverance! Likewise, help them have wisdom about how open to be when requesting prayers. Lord, we also need Your help to pray for the projects dear to their hearts. We pray for success and acceptance of the projects, so that the missionaries can truly enjoy their home visits and rest in the glow of a job well done.

Paul's Prayers, #3

#3. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 15:5-6)

Paul wanted the church at Rome - the church he had not established but had grown to love - to live in harmony with each other. He knew that unity is a gift of God - a gift we must work to sustain, but a gift nonetheless. Thus he turns his desire into a prayer.

We need the God of "endurance and encouragement" if we are going to live in harmony. As Romans 14 highlights, there are many issues that can divide a church. Bottom line, we have a mission that is more important than any of those issues. We have a message that surpasses our preferences. And Paul wants the church at Rome to be in unity in glorifying God - the best starting point for missions!

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? There's a reason that Paul - ever the pastor, ever the missionary - prayed for unity. If the enemy can distract us with petty divisions, minor disagreements, "disputable matters" - then he can get us off mission. It's not always major sin that tempts us away from fulfilling His plan. Sometimes it's just distractions. Sometimes it's selfishness. And sometimes it's internal divisions in the church. If we truly are a harmonious congregation, we will be more effective in supporting our missionaries.

Prayer: God, please grant us the gift of harmony. Help us to maintain the unity of the Spirit and keep our focus on the "main thing" - glorifying You in our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Bless those missionaries reading this with strong, unified churches to support them and strong, unified churches to attend on the field.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Paul's Prayers, #2

#2. For God, whom I serve in my spirit by preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness that I continually remember you and I always ask in my prayers, if perhaps now at last I may succeed in visiting you according to the will of God. (Rom. 1:9-10)

Paul had never been to Rome. He didn't found this church, yet he "adopted" them. One of the desires that he expresses in his letter is the desire to finally visit them - something he asks God about. In God's will and timing, he wanted to spend time with them for mutual edification.

He would eventually go to Rome, in chains. The book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome under house arrest, being visited by the church members (who had read this letter by that time). He is proclaiming the word of God "unhindered" as Acts 28 closes.

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? Your missionaries want to visit you. They crave fellowship with you. But they are foremost submitted to the will of God. If they don't get to your church or home on this furlough, don't take it personally. Assume that they are praying for the opportunity, and join them in that prayer for fellowship in the will and timing of God.

Prayer: Father, guard us from self-centered, petty feelings when those we support don't visit us on this trip. Help us to not take it personally. We ask You to bring them to us for fellowship and love in Your timing and within Your will.

Paul's Prayers, #1

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (3 John 5-8, ESV)

I love to pray Scripture. I love it even more when Scripture tells us what to pray!

One of the passions of my life is to become like Gaius - a good sender. I want to learn how to send out kingdom workers "in a manner worthy of God". Part of that is learning how to pray for you, and how to pray for the churches that support you.

Thankfully, we have the perfect teacher. The Apostle Paul - groundbreaking missionary that he was - recorded many of his prayers for the churches and requests he made for the churches to pray for him and his team. Over the next few days, as God wills, I plan to post here some thoughts on Paul's prayers for the churches and his requests from the churches - and how they relate to being good "senders".

1. "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world." (Rom. 1:8)

There is probably no ingredient more important for a church that wishes to be missions-minded than this one. Faith is the starting point for missions involvement - a firm conviction that the message is true and must be shared. Paul's thankfulness for the church at Rome goes beyond their personal faith - he is thankful that they extend that faith to proclamation through "all the world". They were convinced that the message was not just for those in Rome. They didn't focus just on attracting people to come to their church. They went into all the world - and Paul was grateful.

There's another type of faith wrapped up in Paul's comments here. The word used for faith, pistis, can equally mean "faithfulness". The church at Rome was faithful - and word gets around. Really, faithfulness cannot be separated from evangelism. A church with a message, but no faithfulness, will ultimately have no message. Because the church was faithful to God, they were faithful to Paul. His love for the church permeates his letter. He longed to visit them - a church he had not established - and seems to know he can count on them to pray for his specific requests.

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? Our churches need to first and foremost be filled with faith in the message of the Gospel and the need to proclaim it to the world. Then, we need to develop deep faithfulness to God - faithfulness that extends to His servants. When we are faithful - when faith in Him permeates our existence - we will dig deep and rethink priorities. Our budgets will reflect commitment to missions and our people will learn to make hard choices - a well in Africa over a new pipe organ; a new work in Southeast Asia over a new building. People will take care of practical needs for those on the field and those preparing to go. Sunday School classes and individuals will write letters and send boxes and remind them they are loved. Emails will be circulated and maps will display pictures. Pastors will teach the word from the perspective of God's worldwide purposes - and people will open their hearts and homes to the missionaries that come through the church's doors. Eventually, missionaries will go out from the church. But the new works won't be exalted over the old ones. Faithfulness will continue to characterize the church's interactions. All decisions will be prayed over and discernment will be important, of course. But in general, the church will see itself as part of a team along with missionaries that it supports.

Prayer: Lord, help our churches develop a faith that is proclaimed in the world. Help us to be churches that our missionaries can be thankful for. Increase our faith in You and our faithfulness to You and to Your servants. For those kingdom workers reading this, please bless them with at least one supporting church that is faithful to them as the church in Rome was to Paul.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Controlled by the Spirit

The Lord’s spirit took control of Gideon. (Judges 6:33a)

I just love the story of Gideon.

Here is the "mighty warrior" hiding in the winepress. There he is, begging God for reassurance that he has heard His call. And again, we see him jumping at the chance to go overheard the camp of the enemy when God gives him permission to do so "if you are afraid" (Jud. 7). I always get the impression that if he hadn't been the one calling out to the troops that they could leave if they were "shaking in their boots" that he would have been running away himself!

And yet - he was God's chosen vessel. His successes were tremendous and encourage us even today. Why? What is the key to Gideon's victory? I believe Judges 6:33 provides the answer: God's Spirit took control.

Gideon is a reminder that faith isn't about the lack of fear. It isn't about the right words or a prayer formula. It's about yielding to the control of the Spirit. Getting out of the way so He can get something done - that is real faith. It's pressing on, even when fear encroaches every side.

Paul exhorts us to be controlled by the Spirit as well. In Gal. 5 he calls it "walking in the Spirit." Ephesians references being "filled with the Spirit." Basically it all means the same thing - letting God's Spirit so control us that our flesh is suppressed and His fruit is revealed.

Whatever you are facing today in your ministry or walk with God, press on in faith. Don't worry about getting rid of the fear - just yield to His Spirit's control in the midst of it. As you move forward into that new land, studying that language, researching that people group, or just walking across the street to the neighbor's house, seek to be controlled by the Spirit.

And then watch what He does!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Glorious Church

Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, so that he may present the church to himself as glorious – not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph. 5:25-27)

This is just one of those neat tidbits too good not to share.

Last night at the worship service at the Hispanic church I attend with my husband on Friday nights, the pastor referenced Eph. 5:25-27. Since I was struggling to understand the message (in Spanish), I looked at my textual notes in the NET Bible that I use. I saw this incredible tidbit for verse 27:
"The use of the pronoun autos is intensive and focuses attention on Christ as the one who has made the church glorious."

Wow! In the midst of a passage that we in our man-centeredness like to think is about us (at least us as the church), we see the language pointing all back to Jesus. I immediately thought of Jude 24: "Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence".

HE is able to keep us from falling and cause us to stand blameless before Him, without blemish. When the church is presented as gloriously pure before Him, it will be because of His work, His purity, His righteousness, His sanctification. In other words, even in a moment that looks like it might be about us - it's really about Him. We'll all be in total unity about the fact that all that is clean and pure within us is His work.

And that can be a great encouragement - in life and in ministry. Sure, we must do the hard work of the obedience of faith. But as I posted recently, He enables the fulfillment of our good resolves. To paraphrase Paul - we work hard - not us, but Him in us. And in ministry it is the same. We seek to advance the kingdom of God and we make our plans and have our visions and work as hard as possible. But the church that HE will cause to be pure before Him is the church we are working to build ... and so HE is the one who ultimately is going to bring about our success. We never know if it is this person or the next - but we do know that HE has taken the responsibility for the success of the church upon His shoulders.

In the great partnership that is ministry, we have our part. It is important and challenging and difficult and rewarding. But it's not ultimately on our shoulders. He is building His church. We are merely instruments in His very capable hands.

Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this. (1 Thess. 5:23-24)

Friday, January 02, 2009

Ready to love them too?

I just heard an awesome song. In it, Steve Camp exhorts us, "Don't tell them about Jesus unless you're ready to love them too."

How true. It's really the message of the book of James - practical Christianity matters, a lot. And that's where it gets really hard ... and messy. Because sometimes we want the easy way out. We want to tell them about Jesus and get out of town. We want the job of the traveling evangelist, not the boots-on-the-ground shepherd.

And yet study after study confirms that most people come to Christ as a result of 1 to 1 evangelism. Someone takes the time to build a relationship, pours into a person over days, weeks, months, and years, demonstrating love and authenticity - living the message, and praying fervantly, and waiting for the opportunity to verbalize the Gospel.

Verbalizing the Gospel is crucial! We don't want them to think we're just good people. Romans 10 makes clear that verbal proclamation of the Word is God's means of creating faith. But Camp reminds us that preaching, sharing, teaching all are pointless without people who are willing to be "Jesus with skin on". Where the rubber meets the road love MUST go hand-in-hand with preaching and teaching and verbal proclamation of the Gospel.

Many of you are wondering if your efforts matter. You are having lunch with the same lady every Tuesday, going out of your way to get coffee at that shop where the owner lingers just a bit to see what book you're reading, wearing yourself out making sandwiches for the homeless, organizing a donation for the family who lost their home to a Christmas Eve fire. Or maybe you're changing diapers and teaching kids how to spell 2 syllable words and singing Jesus Loves Me while you do the dishes. All are manifestations of love. All are ways to be Jesus with skin on. Hang in there, beloved. If you're loving them too, then you have authenticity to tell them about Jesus.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal. 6:9-10)

Seeing Dust

I've been off work the past two weeks, and trying to catch up on a lot of things around the house. One of my goals has been deeper cleaning than I usually do, and today I noticed something I'm not sure I'm excited about:

I am seeing dust.

Not that it isn't there all along - but as all my friends and family know, I just don't "see" it. I forget to dust (really - it's on my list because otherwise I would never think about it). I don't see cobwebs and I can pass by the TV for weeks without realizing it has this nasty layer on top of it.

But since I've been spending more time in our humble abode lately - and more time focusing on cleaning - I realized today that I could see dust on the TV that I just dusted 10 days ago. Dusting twice in 10 days - what's the world coming to? :) Now I fear that I will never stop seeing dust. Forevermore, I will recognize its slow creep over all our furniture.

This got me thinking - isn't it the same in our relationship with God? We start spending more time with Him and in His Word - abiding with Him - we recognize the dust in our lives. The sin and pettiness and nastiness seem to require more frequent cleaning than we'd realized. First Easter and Christmas are no longer enough ... then the weekly church service is insufficient. We begin to recognize that only a daily "bath" with the washing of the water of the Word will get rid of our dirty hands and feet. It becomes harder and harder to go back to living with a layer of dust.

That's also how it is with recognizing God's heart for the nations. Once He gives us a kingdom perspective, a global view, it becomes hard to stop being world Christians. We begin to notice the unreached people groups. We learn the phrase "unengaged, unreached" and are haunted by the idea that no one is reaching out to this group. We can't hear of a war without wondering about the missionaries in the area. And so it goes. Once our eyes are opened - which seems to take a miracle on the scale of making me recognize dust - we are never the same.

As long as we respond.

If we crawl back into our corner of the world, retreating to the familiar, the enemy will be more than happy to help us forget the anguished look on that picture, the painful headline on the article we read last night. Just as we can quench the Spirit's conviction of sin by not spending time in God's Word, we can quench His awakening of us to His global purpose by avoiding anything but the familiar.

Or, we can nurture that awareness by reading and studying and learning and going and sending and praying and analyzing Scripture for a missions perspective. We can see what kind of relationship we can have with Him if we fully obey the Great Commission and discover the depth of "Lo, I am with you always". We can break out of our comfort zones and experience God.

Not much of consequence will happen if I go back to forgetting to dust and failing to see cobwebs. Failure to see the world as God sees it, however, would be tragic. In fact, it would be the quickest way to waste a lifetime.