RSS

Private Prayer by Dr. Joel Nederhood

Unknown.jpeg

Morning by morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; morning by morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation (Ps. 5:3).

Those who develop the habit of private prayer follow Jesus in a very special way. The Bible says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (Mark 1:35).

This was Jesus’ habit. Luke tells us that, the night before He called His followers and chose 12 disciples, Jesus “went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (6:12).

The beautiful thing about being a Christian is that those who follow Christ can follow Him to the private place of prayer and can talk there with their Father in heaven. In this they may imitate their Savior in an extremely significant manner.

But what about this private prayer? I have a feeling that many Christians don’t know very much about it. Even those of us who know the secret of private prayer remember times when we called ourselves Christ’s followers but didn’t often follow Him to a private place to pray.

Those who do not know the joys and the power of private prayer must long for a deeper, more private relationship with God. Many of you who are reading this right now know something about Christianity, but you know virtually nothing about time spent alone in conversation with God. I don’t mean that you don’t pray. Of course you do. But your prayers are extremely brief. Once you have cried out in your need; you don’t know what else to say. The simple fact is that you spend very, very little time in actual prayer to God.

Don’t be satisfied with that. A little booklet called The Kneeling Christian says that prayerlessness is the secret of your failure. Often we talk about the secret of success, but what is the secret of the failure of gloomy, despondent,”unsuccessful” Christians? They do not speak freely about their Savior. They do not turn over their burdens to Him. They sometimes fall into gross sin. In their hearts, they harbor envy and anger and greed and all sorts of emotions that have no place in the lives of those who claim to follow Christ. Not one of us can claim that he or she has not experienced failure as a Christian. What is the secret of our failure? Our prayerlessness.

So we must follow Christ in prayer. We must look back across the centuries and see Him rise early in the morning and make His way to the solitary place where He prayed. We must follow Him to our own private place and there learn the reality of private prayer. It is a discipline, but, like every discipline, it yields freedom. Prayer is beautiful, and, if we are willing to let it, it can transform our lives. In this article, I wish to address whether we pray or not, where we pray, when we pray, what we pray for, how we pray (i.e., whether audibly or silently), what helps we need for our prayer, and what we should expect from private prayer. I write especially for those who have already confessed their sins and fled to Christ for salvation. I know that there are always readers who have not yet surrendered themselves to God’s saving grace—they have not asked Jesus to be the Lord of their lives. I hope, however, that, if you are not yet a Christian, you will continue to read about the blessings of private prayer. It could be that God will work in you and give you a holy jealousy so that you will not be able to rest until you enjoy private prayer yourself. I assure you that Jesus Christ wants nothing more than to have you come to Him in faith so that you can learn the glory of this holy exercise.

There are some people who believe in Christ but who don’t pray very much, because they tend to feel that it is really not very necessary to pray. If you ask them how they feel about prayer, they say something like this: “After all, God is in charge of everything anyway, and He will do what He wants, so why bother praying?” Then they say that God knows their needs anyway, that there’s no use telling Him about things He already knows. They pray occasionally, but they don’t arrange their lives so that they can have a time of private prayer.

I understand their feelings, and I am very thankful that the Bible contradicts them. In Luke 11, we have the record of Jesus’ disciples asking Him to teach them to pray. He does teach them—He gives them what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer. He also does more. He indicates that they should use the avenue of prayer, that they should not hesitate to approach God and make their needs known to Him, because God does hear and answer prayer.

Jesus told His disciples several brief parables—special stories—in connection with prayer in Luke 11. (Why not look them up and read them?) They all can be summed up in this statement: “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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).

So let there be no question about whether we should pray. God is greater than our logic, and when it comes to the things of the Spirit, we must not be logical and biblical. Jesus not only teaches us to pray, but also encourages us in the strongest possible language to practice prayer. Those who do not arrange their lives so that they can enjoy the advantages of private prayer miss out on the full wonder of what it means to be a Christian.

Surely we should pray. About this there is no doubt whatsoever. But where? In a sense, location makes no difference. There is a form of continual prayer, which I cannot get into now, that Christians should be involved in all the time. That kind of prayer obviously can and should be done everywhere. But when it comes to private prayer, the kind by which we follow Christ to the solitary place, it is good to have a special place to pray.

In Matthew 6:6 Jesus tells us, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” Each of us should have a special room to go to in to pray. I realize that many of us just don’t have a room that we can use, because our apartments are too crowded. Some of you who are reading this little article are living in barracks or even in cell blocks. Privacy is very precious, and, unfortunately, many people these days have a hard time finding any. If you are in a situation in which privacy is scarce, you will have to use your ingenuity to try to find some somewhere. Maybe you’ll have to go out into the garage, or storeroom, or somewhere in the basement.

If you have a room available to you, that is the ideal place to go. And I strongly suggest that you have your private prayer in the same place as much as possible. It should be a place where you cannot be observed or heard, and where you cannot hear all the sounds of what is going on elsewhere.

Privacy is not just incidental in this kind of prayer. Private prayer must be between yourself and God. You should not discuss your prayers a great deal with others. Prayer is powerful when it is not affected in any way by the judgments of others.

Now, finding a private place can be related to your time of prayer, for some places are often more private at one time than at another. When should you pray? Well, there is a 

sense in which people pray all the time—they try to live in obedience to God and to think about His will for their lives, so what they do and say is a form of prayer. But private prayer—the kind of prayer Jesus clearly practiced and recommended that you practice—when should you have such prayer?

In answering this question, you must make allowances for the fact that people differ with respect to when they are most alert. We should remember that there are morning people and night people. It would be unrealistic to suggest that night people have their private prayers in the morning. One very fine Christian I know says very frankly that his faith is very imperfect before 9 a.m., especially before he has his first cup of coffee.

Even so, there is reason to believe that, when the Bible talks about private prayer, it considers that in many cases there will be morning prayers. Jesus’ solitary prayers were early morning prayers and prayers that went on through the night. Apparently, the important thing about the matter of time is that private prayer works best in a time of stillness. And it is not necessary to limit such praying only to one time of day. Psalm 55:17 says, “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and He hears my voice.”

There are, however, several advantages that come with early morning. First, the stillness of the time before dawn helps in private prayer. Second, and this is even more important, our own minds are still uncluttered by the events of the day; Then, too, when we rise early to call upon the Lord, it is often the easiest time to find a private place.

In connection with this, I also want to mention that private prayer should be of some substantial duration. Jesus spirit extended periods of time in private prayer. If you are new at praying in private, you may wish to start with five or ten minutes, but, before long, fifteen minutes will probably become a minimum for you. You will look forward to days when you don’t have to go to work, holidays and the like, when you can spend more time praying. Yes, there should be a time set aside that is approached carefully and arranged deliberately so that you do not pray quickly and then rush away as soon as possible. You may need some kind of clock that helps you make sure you get up on time and that signals when you should conclude your prayers (because there are other things that must be done). 

Many of you will have to arrange your lives so that you can get up on time to have your private prayers. This may mean that you will have to go to bed earlier in the evening, but all this is part of the discipline of prayer, a discipline that ultimately yields liberation.

How should you conduct your private prayers? Should they be audible or silent? It is possible to pray to God silently. When you have good control, your thoughts can march through your mind as efficiently as if you were speaking out loud. But you often do not have good control of your mind, do you? People who pray silently in the early morning are very apt to find themselves becoming drowsy and confused; when they are through, they may wonder what they have actually prayed about. In general, then, your time of private prayer is a time to formulate your prayers audibly. It is important, as well, to arrange your thoughts and to speak sensibly and coherently to the Lord. Many times, combinations of silent and audible prayer may work out well. The important thing is that you maintain your attention and do not think that you are praying when you are actually in the process of falling asleep.

Therefore, it is also important that you have proper posture in prayer. When it comes to prayer posture, no one has found an improvement on kneeling. For many, this is surely the posture of choice in private prayer. It would be a mistake to try to pray while lounging in one’s favorite easy chair. That is quite counterproductive.

Now the important question—what should you actually pray for, or pray about, during your time of private prayer? I cannot begin to answer this question in such a brief article, for there are so many subjects to pray about that will come up in your private prayers over a period of time, especially as you become more and more accustomed to having this special time with God each day.

You must remember, though, that the primary idea in prayer is asking. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He taught them a prayer that was made up of requests. In Luke 11, we read that He encourages them to pray by saying that those who ask for things will receive them. In private prayer, you can lay all your needs before

the Lord. It is a time to pray for others, as we all are obligated to do. Often God brings difficult circumstances into our lives or the lives of those who are very precious to us so that we will learn to lean on Him in prayer. This is what Psalm 5:3 expresses when it says, “In the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation.”

In your private prayers you will find that, along with your requests, you will also naturally offer praise and thanksgiving to God for all His mercies to you. One cannot experience the joy of private prayer without being moved to praise God for His goodness. You may find yourself calling out, in the words of Psalm 145, “I will exalt You, my God the King; I will praise Your name for ever and ever…. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom” (vv. 1,3).

There will also be your confession of sin. The person who meets God in private prayer grows to see himself or herself as the chief of sinners. There is nothing like private prayer for humbling people. The sins of others recede into the background, and pray-ers see themselves for what they really are. It is a time to bare your heart before the Lord and to ask Him once again—you always end up asking for something, you see—to cleanse you and to fill you with His Spirit.

In addition to all of this, you will need helps in order to get the full benefit of private prayer. You will need the Bible. Often when praising God, it is best to use the words He gives us in His Scripture. You should have it open before you as you pray, and, over a period of time, you will learn to look to special places for the words you want—to tell God how much you love Him and how much you want to magnify His name. In the Bible, too, are words of confession—Psalm 51 tells us about our own unworthiness. You may want to write passages on cards and use them as you pray. Over a period of time,· those words will be burned into your memory. Surely you need God’s Word right there with you in your solitary place.

lt is also good to have a prayer list—to make sure that you remember all you should remember when you come to God. As you pray more and more, you will realize that you have a great responsibility to pray for others and that you can do this best by having some kind of list. There will be in”stances in Which you should pray for speCific things for special people. And as you pray for the salvation of certain people whom God has put on your heart, you may find it helpful to have a special card for each person.

When you pray for someone who has cancer, for example, you should not simply ask God to bless that person, but pray that He will destroy cancer cells in that person’s body. You should pray as specifically as you can for people. You owe it to them; Those who belong to Christ have this high priestly responsibility.

The blessings that accompany private prayer are too numerous to list. l will conclude with a brief consideration of a few of the more obvious ones.

There is the joy of anticipation—you are always able to look forward to meeting God in that private place, and you know that there you will again be able to cast your burdens on Him. There is also the peace that passes all understanding. When you bring to God your deepest needs and the needs of others, you can feel the calm that comes from knowing that He is in control, and that you can trust Him. There are so many situations in life over which we have no control, but we can pray about them. 

Another blessing is this: as you learn the discipline of private prayer, you will know that one of the reasons these situations have happened is that God is heeding your request. Private prayer is an overwhelming privilege, and it is there for anyone who humbles himself before the Lord and learns to pray.

In our private places, we are in the presence of our loving Father, and we realize that He is preparing us for eternity- when we will be able to talk to God face to face.

Our continual prayer needs to be, “Lord, teach us to pray.” We have much to learn. We need to overcome our tendencies to put all sorts of things ahead of our need to pray. We need God’s help in arranging our lives so that we really do pray. And when we come to the private place, we need to be taught the wonder and glory of talking with such an awesome God!

About the author: Dr. Joel Nederhood, a minister of the Christian Reformed Church, serves as radio minister of The Back to God Hour,a weekly broadcast of his denomination. This article is an edited version of a radio address given by Dr. Nederhood in January 1986. Also available at biblical studies.org.uk/pdf/ref-rev/01-3/1-3_nedorhood.pdf. The article in full can be seen in Reformation and Revival: A Quarterly Journal for Church Leadership: Volume 1, No.3, Summer 1992.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 13, 2019 in Prayer Helps

 

Tags: , , , ,

*C.S. Lewis and 8 Reasons for Believing in Objective Morality

Unknown.jpeg

The cornerstone of the moral argument is the existence of an objective moral standard. If there really is a standard of right and wrong that holds true regardless of our opinions and emotions, then the moral argument has the ability to convince. However, apart from the existence of such an objective standard, moral arguments for God’s existence (and Christian theism) quickly lose their persuasive power and morality as a whole falls to the realm of subjective preference. Although I could say a fair amount about what the world would be like if morality really was a matter of preference (consider The Purge), the purpose of this article is to provide reasons for believing in objective morality (or “moral realism,” as philosophers call it).

Because of his continued focus on the objective nature of morality throughout his writings, and due to his unique ability to communicate and defend this concept in a clear and compelling manner, I will rely heavily on the thought of C. S. Lewis below. As I’ve read through a number of Lewis’s books, I’ve identified eight arguments he raises in favor of objective morality. Below is my attempt to list these eight arguments and offer a few thoughts of my own concerning each.

1)    Quarreling between two or more individuals. [1] When quarreling occurs, individuals assume there is an objective standard of right and wrong, of which each person is aware and one has broken. Why quarrel if no objective standard exists? 

By definition, quarreling (or arguing) involves trying to show another person that he is in the wrong. And as Lewis indicates, there is no point in trying to do that unless there is some sort of agreement as to what right and wrong actually are, just like there is no sense in saying a football player has committed a foul if there is no agreement about the rules of football. [2]

2)    It’s obvious that an objective moral standard exists. [3] Throughout history, mankind has generally agreed that “the human idea of decent behavior [is] obvious to everyone.” [4] For example, it’s obvious (or self-evident) that torturing a child for fun is morally reprehensible. 

As the father of two children, a daughter who is five and a son who is three, I have noticed that even my young children recognize that certain things are obviously right or wrong. For example, while watching a show like PJ Masks, my children can easily point out the good characters as well as the bad ones – even without my help. In short, the overwhelming obviousness that certain acts are clearly right or wrong indicates that an objective moral standard exists.

3)    Mistreatment. [5] One might say he does not believe in objective morality, however, the moment he is mistreated he will react as if such a standard exists. When one denies the existence of an objective standard of behavior, the moment he is mistreated, “he will be complaining ‘It’s not fair!’ before you can say Jack Robinson.” [6] 

Sean McDowell relays an example of this when he shares a story involving J. P. Moreland taking the stereo of a University of Vermont student who denied the existence of objective morality in favor of moral relativism. As Moreland was sharing the gospel with the university student, the student responded by saying he (Moreland) couldn’t force his views on others because “everything is relative.” Following this claim, in an effort to reveal what the student really believed about moral issues, Moreland picked up the student’s stereo from his dorm room and began to walk down the hallway, when the student suddenly shouted, “Hey, what are you doing? You can’t do that!” [7] 

Again, one might deny the existence of an objective standard of behavior through his words or actions, but he will always reveal what he really believes through his reactions when mistreated. (Note: Here at moralapologetics.com, we do not recommend you go around and mistreat others, as that wouldn’t be a moral way to do apologetics. See what I did there? Rather, we are simply bringing up the mistreatment issue as a way of exposing a deep flaw within moral relativism.)

4)    Measuring value systems. [8] When an individual states that one value system is better than another, or attempts to replace a particular value system with a better one, he assumes there is an objective standard of judgment. This objective standard of judgment, which is different from either value system, helps one conclude that one value system conforms more closely to the moral standard than another. Without some sort of objective measuring stick for value systems, there is no way to conclude that civilized morality, where humans treat one another with dignity and respect, is better than savage morality, where humans brutally murder others, even within their own tribe at times, for various reasons. 

To illustrate this point, Lewis says, “The reason why your idea of New York can be truer or less true than mine is that New York is a real place, existing quite apart from what either of us thinks. If when each of us said ‘New York’ each means merely ‘The town I am imagining in my own head,’ how could one of us have truer ideas than the other? There would be no question of truth or falsehood at all.” [9] In the same way, if there is no objective moral standard, then there is no sense in saying that any one value system has ever been morally good or morally bad, or morally superior or inferior to other value systems. 

5)    Attempting to improve morally. [10] Certainly, countless individuals attempt to improve themselves morally on a daily basis. No sane person wakes up and declares, “My goal is to become more immoral today!” [11] If there is no absolute standard of good which exists, then talk of moral improvement is nonsensical and actual moral progress is impossible. If no ultimate standard of right and wrong exists, then one might change his actions, but he can never improve his morality.

If there is hope of moral improvement, then there must be some sort of absolute standard of good that exists above and outside the process of improvement. In other words, there must be a target for humans to aim their moral efforts at and also a ruler by which to measure moral progress. Without an objective moral standard of behavior, then “[t]here is no sense in talking of ‘becoming better’ if better means simply ‘what we are becoming’ – it is like congratulating yourself on reaching your destination and defining destination as ‘the place you have reached.’” [12]  

6)    Reasoning over moral issues. [13] When men reason over moral issues, it is assumed there is an objective standard of right and wrong. If there is no objective standard, then reasoning over moral issues is on the same level as one arguing with his friends about the best flavor of ice cream at the local parlor (“I prefer this” and “I don’t like that”). In short, a world where morality is a matter of preference makes it impossible to have meaningful conversations over issues like adultery, sexuality, abortion, immigration, drugs, bullying, stealing, and so on.

7)    Feeling a sense of obligation over moral matters. [14] The words “ought” and “ought not” imply the existence of an objective moral law that mankind recognizes and feels obligated to follow. Virtually all humans would agree that one ought to try to save the life of a drowning child and that one ought not kill innocent people for sheer entertainment. It is also perfectly intelligible to believe that humans are morally obligated to possess (or acquire) traits such as compassion, mercifulness, generosity, and courage. [15]

8)    Making excuses for not behaving appropriately. [16] If one does not believe in an objective standard of behavior, then why should he become anxious to make excuses for how he behaved in a given circumstance? Why doesn’t he just go on with his life without defending himself? After all, a man doesn’t have to defend himself if there is no standard for him to fall short of or altogether break. Lewis maintains, “The truth is, we believe in decency so much – we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so – that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility.” [17] 

Although the eight reasons provided above do not cover all of the reasons for believing in objective morality, it is a starting point nonetheless. If any of the reasons above for believing in objective morality are valid, then the moral argument for God’s existence (and Christian theism) has the ability to get off the ground. In fact, if there are any good reasons (in this article or beyond it) for believing in an objective moral standard, then I think God’s existence becomes the best possible explanation for morality since such a standard at the least requires a transcendent, good, and personal source – which sounds a lot like the God of Christian theism.

        FOOTNOTES

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), 3.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] Ibid., 5.

[4] Ibid. In the appendix section of The Abolition of Man, Lewis provides a list that illustrates the points of agreement amongst various civilizations throughout history. See C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), 83-101.

[5] Ibid., 6.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sean McDowell, Ethix: Being Bold in a Whatever World (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2006), 45-46.

[8] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), 43, 73. Also see Lewis, Mere Christianity, 13.

[9] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 13-14.

[10] C. S. Lewis, “Evil and God,” in God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014), 3-4.

[11] Even if someone’s goal is to become more immoral, he still needs an objective standard to measure the level of his badness.

[12] Ibid.

[13] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), 54.

[14] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), 10.

[15] C. Stephen Evans, God and Moral Obligation (New York, NY: Oxford University Press), 2-3.

[16] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 8.

[17] Ibid.

*About the Author: Stephen S. Jordan currently serves as a high school Bible teacher at Liberty Christian Academy. He is also a Bible teacher, curriculum developer, and curriculum editor at Liberty University Online Academy, as well as a PhD student at Liberty University. He and his wife, along with their two children and German shepherd, reside in Goode, Virginia. This article first appeared on January 18, 2019 at moral apologetics.com

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 10, 2019 in Apologetics, C.S. Lewis

 

Tags: , , ,

*5 BIBLICAL TRUTHS ON BAPTISM

ocean-baptism-9174396512.jpg

Article Written By David Schrock

Too often baptism is seen as waters that divide. In the New Testament, however, baptism publicly identifies Christians with their Lord and one another. Especially in Paul, baptism is appealed to as a means of unity in the church. Those who have died and risen again with Christ are known by their common baptism (Romans 6:3–6). As Paul says in Galatians 3:25–29, all those who are “one in Christ Jesus” have been “baptized into Christ.” Baptism, therefore, is a means of identifying those who are one in Christ.

This unifying purpose of baptism explains why Paul is emphatic about baptism in 1 Corinthians chapter one. Instead of unifying the church in Corinth, it was dividing it. In response to the news that the church was fractured by personality cults (“I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ,” v. 12), Paul reminds the Corinthians of their unity in the gospel (see 1:17–2:16). He reproves them for the way baptism was playing a part in dividing them, and in the process Paul presents five truths about baptism.

1. Baptism Identifies Us With Christ

The Corinthians had made the mistake of identifying their baptism with the person who baptized them. Or at least, that’s what Paul’s rhetorical question overturns in verse 13: “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Absolutely not!

Baptism doesn’t connect us to the individual who immerses us; it identifies us with the king represented by that individual. Even if that person later disqualifies themselves from ministry or leaves the faith, the baptism remains valid. Baptism symbolizes Christ’s work of grace; it doesn’t confer grace in itself.

As Jesus taught in Matthew 28:19 (“make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”), baptism identifies us with Christ, as it is administered by his church. In this way, baptism is the way Jesus gave his disciples to publicly identify with him. He could have said build an ark or move to Israel, or stop cutting your hair. In the Old Testament he commanded some of his people to do these things. However, in the New Testament, baptism is the initiatory rite of every follower of Christ.

Baptism is what marks out Christians and divides them from the world. It symbolizes our spiritual unity in Christ and brings visible unity to Christ’s church. Therefore, if you want to publicly identify with Jesus, water baptism is the way.

2. Baptism Doesn’t Save; It Announces Salvation

First Corinthians 1:14 is a fascinating verse because of the way it downplays baptism. Paul says, “I thank God that I baptized none of you . . .” And to paraphrase, “Oh well, except for a few like Crispus and Gaius. And, oh yes, the household of Stephanas too. I don’t remember anyone else” (vv. 14–16).

These verses disclose the humanity of Paul’s letter, and strangely his Godward praise for few baptisms reveals something about baptism. Most immediately, it reveals that baptism was a concern for Paul in Corinth—why else the emphasis on baptism right after introducing the problem of divisions? Clearly, Paul’s gladness for baptizing only a few people relates to the factions in the church (v. 12).

More theologically, Paul’s words reveal that baptism is not salvific—i.e., baptism does not grant or guarantee salvation; it announces salvation. If baptism effected salvation (as in the erroneous doctrine of “baptismal regeneration”) he would not be able to say: “I’m glad I baptized only a few.” He can only say this if baptism symbolizes the real thing.

Therefore, we conclude from this verse (and the rest of the New Testament), baptism doesn’t confer or complete salvation; it announces the antecedent, already-present gift of salvation. In fact, baptism makes two announcements, one by the individual and one by the church.

3. Baptism Is An Individual Announcement

Most familiar to us in baptism is the reality that baptism gives the individual an opportunity to pledge themselves to Jesus. In Acts, when individuals repented and believed, they “publicized” their newfound faith by baptism. The same is true today. When I was 17 and just beginning to learn how to walk with God, I was asked if I wanted to be baptized. I absolutely did. Somewhere during that year, God opened my eyes to see my need for Jesus and filled my heart with faith.

I spent weeks preparing to give my testimony, so that before entering the water I would verbalize my trust in Jesus. At my baptism I shared my testimony and my faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. The visible act of baptism was personalized by the verbal announcement I made just before.

In every baptism, the individual makes a public confession of their sin and their need for a savior. For this reason, it is vital he or she knows how baptism symbolizes the gospel they believe—i.e., death and resurrection with Jesus (Rom 6:3–6). At the same time, churches must help individuals know what they are announcing in baptism. Ideally, this includes the person sharing their testimony of conversion (through writing, video, or speaking).

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul identifies two names and one household baptized by him. These individuals testify to God’s work of grace in Corinth and each of them publicly announced their break from Corinth and their allegiance to Christ in their baptism. In this way, they reiterate the point: baptism is an individual announcement. But that’s not all.

4. Baptism Is Also A Church Announcement.

In 1 Corinthians 1 we find two ways baptism is the church’s announcement. First, consider the time Paul spent in Corinth compared to the number of people he baptized. How could Paul spend 18 months in Corinth and only baptize a few people? The best answer is that he instructed others to baptize. In other words, he entrusted the work of baptism to the church that he planted in Corinth.

When Paul came to Corinth, no church existed. Typically the church, as an embassy of the kingdom, baptizes the new citizen of the kingdom. Because baptism and church discipline are the means by which the church exercises the keys of the kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:18–20; 18:15–20), the church is the spiritual institution authorized to baptize.

However, when a church does not exist, as in Corinth, it must be the apostle or missionary who baptizes. This is what Paul did in Corinth (see Acts 18). But as soon as he baptized a few, he apparently handed over the baptismal duties to someone else.

This leads to a second observation. In verse 17 Paul declares, “For Christ did not send me to baptize.” What an odd statement. How can Paul say Christ did not call him to baptize? What about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19)? Was Paul only called to make converts, not disciples? He did in fact baptize some; so what is Paul saying?

I don’t believe Paul is confused or negligent in his calling. Rather, he understands his calling as distinct from the work of the local church (where baptism is “housed”). He was not a local pastor. He was an apostle (1 Corinthians 1:1), an evangelist, a missionary. If you follow Paul through Acts, he went around preaching the gospel and planting churches. Even when he stayed from longer periods (18 months in Corinth; 3 years in Ephesus), he was not a local elder per se.

It’s for this reason that Paul distinguishes his mission as a call to preach the gospel and not to baptize. In planting churches, it makes sense he would baptize some, but as a roaming apostle his life-calling was not to baptize many in a local church.

Broadening Paul’s personal conviction to a wider principle, his statement reiterates the point Jesus made about the keys of the kingdom. They are not given to any individual but the church in its local assembly. It is the local church that baptizes believers—unless, of course, no church exists. In which case, someone like Paul in Corinth or Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) baptizes a new convert in hopes that he (or she, in the case of Lydia) will be part of a new church.

The abiding principle is this: the church has the responsibility in baptism to testify to a person’s faith. The church does not have the power to confer or complete salvation. However, it does have the delegated authority to baptize believers in Christ based on their visible faith, which leads to a final consideration: the relationship between belief and baptism.

5. Baptism Follows Belief

Believer’s baptism, defined as baptism following belief, is the pattern in Corinth. Acts 18:8 says, “And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” This comports with the regular pattern in Acts: the gospel is preached, people believe, and they are baptized.

Throughout the New Testament, baptism comes after belief. Even when households were baptized, as with Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16), the baptism came to the believers of the household.

Acts 16 bears this out. When Paul was in Philippi, the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul responds: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v. 31). In short, it is not baptism that saves, it is faith in Jesus Christ. However, because baptism is the means by which individuals make their faith public, and the way churches affirm their profession, Luke continues the baptismal story of the jailer:

And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (vv. 32–34)

Notice the stress on the preaching of the Word (v. 32) and the joy of receiving that Word in faith (v. 34). Significantly, it wasn’t just the jailer who rejoiced in faith; it was the whole household. There is no mention of infants here; no mention of sprinkling. Sprinkling cannot be “baptism” because the word baptizō means “to immerse.” The pattern repeats: baptism follows belief.

Historical records show the origin of infant “baptism” did not occur until the practice of “emergency baptisms” began in the third century.[1] In the New Testament, the regular pattern is for baptism to follow belief. To a church divided by the practice of baptism, Paul emphasized their belief in the gospel. In fact, Paul’s words about divisions exacerbated by baptism (vv. 13–16) are followed by his corrective: a renewed vision and focus on the cross of Christ (vv. 17–25).

In truth, baptism is given to affirm the faith of those who believe the gospel. In Corinth, they had lost sight of Christ’s cross (1:18–25), the Father’s calling (1:26 – 31), and the Spirit’s illumination (2:6–16). Indeed, baptisms that should have been pointing to the gospel of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had become an object in and of themselves. And for that reason, Paul called the church to look through the symbol to the substance, to see the one God in whose triune name they were baptized. Indeed, this is the unifying purpose of baptism—to conjoin through the same covenant sign believers in Christ to enjoy the same fellowship with God by the same Holy Spirit.

A FINAL WORD

Today, baptism is both overemphasized and underemphasized. Some make baptism necessary (and sufficient) for salvation. Others, in response to this overemphasis, make light of baptism. Likewise, some put no barrier around baptism, letting anyone who wants to dive in. Still others, who want to only baptize true converts, make it overly hard to be baptized. To be balanced, faithful pastors and churches should aim to affirm evident faith as soon as possible.

For some, like the Philippians jailer, it will not take long to observe their faith or to join that brother or sister in affirming his or her faith with baptism. For others, for children or those who are still hazy about the gospel, the decision to baptize may take longer. In principle, though, the five truths outlined above will be helpful to remind us of the importance of baptism. While not essential for salvation, it is essential for the health and witness of the church. Moreover, churches who take baptism seriously serve individuals well by stressing the seriousness of baptism and the joy it is to be baptized.

*Adapted from the article: “Waters That Unite: Five Truths About Water Baptism” by David Schrock. David is the pastor for preaching and theology at Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia. This article was adapted from 9marks.org 

[1] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 857: “The most plausible explanation for the origin of infant baptism is found in the emergency baptism of sick children expected to die soon so that they would be assured of entrance into the kingdom of heaven. There was a slow extension of the practice of baptizing babies as a precautionary measure. It was generally accepted, but questions continued to be raised about his propriety into the fifth century. It became the usual practice in the fifth and sixth centuries.” See also Steven A. McKinion, “Baptism in the Patristic Writings,” in Believer’s Baptism: A Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright; Nashville: B & H Academic, 2006), 163–88.

For Further Reading/Study on Baptism:

Jamieson, Bobby. Understanding Baptism.

Jamieson, Bobby. Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required For Church Membership.

Pratt, Jr. Richard, editor. Understanding Four Views on Baptism.

Wright, Shawn D. Believer’s Baptism.

Wright, Shawn D. & Ferguson, Sinclair (editors). Baptism: Three Views.

 

Tags:

Should We Pray For Revival?

 

Unknown

*By Alvin Reid

Ministers today seem more concerned with political power in society than spiritual fervency in the church, while pop culture contributes to the moral decay among the youth.

While marked by an increasing ethnic diversity and various religious beliefs, the nation’s established religious groups –– particularly Protestants –– demonstrate a sterile spirituality. One pastor bemoans the obsession with gambling and rudeness, while churches are attended at convenience.

College campuses teem with students chasing after the latest philosophies, the more unbiblical the better. The more educated a person you find, the less likely you are to discover a Christian. Meanwhile, churches are filled with people who listen to pastors preach then contradict the sermon by the way they live.

You may think these descriptions came from the blog of some concerned Christian commenting on our time. But the first one comes from Great Britain just before the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and others who were used by God to lead a great revival there. The second comes from the American colonies prior to the First Great Awakening. The final came around 1800, with college campuses in the newly formed United States influenced by Voltaire, Rousseau, and others, at the dawn of the Second Great Awakening.

Ours is not the first generation to recognize the spiritual declension among us, or to see the need for God to awaken his church and touch our land. From the saints of the Old Testament to leaders in our time, prayer for revival has marked believers who understand the need for the Spirit surpasses our ability and intelligence.

In my own tradition of the Southern Baptist Convention, I see a growing focus on prayer for revival. New SBC president Ronnie Floyd has already led several gatherings of pastors across the nation to pray for revival. I participated in one in Atlanta with almost 400 people –– mostly pastors –– seeking the Lord. You can be sure that when revival comes, it will not just touch Southern Baptists! Revival is the work of God, not of a tradition of men. “We can define it as a period of unusual blessing and activity in the life of the Christian Church,” Lloyd-Jones observed. “Revival means awakening, stimulating the life, bringing it to the surface again.”

Five Reasons to Pray for Revival

So should we pray for revival? Let me offer five thoughts on the topic:

1. If we choose to pray for revival instead of obeying God, we should not pray for revival; we should pray a prayer of repentance.

Prayer for revival is not a bandaid cure. If we are not passionate about sharing the gospel, honoring the word, and bringing glory to God, our prayers for revival are meaningless. Note the words of Tozer: “Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late — and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work.”

2. If we see revival as God’s stamp of approval on our status quo Christianity, we may not desire the answer God gives.

Past awakenings brought fundamental changes to music and methods, for instance. Both John Wesley and Whitefield struggled mightily with the idea of preaching in the fields. They were proper Oxford men, after all! But their use of such a “profane” method helped to spur a great revival. In past revivals both gospel proclamation and social ministry converged, whereas today they are too often seen as rivals. Revival separates our preferences from unchanging truth.

3. That being said, we should pray for revival, starting with our own hearts.

I know I am experiencing a fresh touch of God when I stop confessing everyone else’s sins and start with my own. Too many of us are better at expressing our opinions on social media than focusing on what the Spirit is saying to us.

4. We pray for revival because of biblical teaching.

Psalm 85:6 and Habakkuk 3:2, among others, offer us examples of revival prayer. Michael Haykin offers insight on the apostle Paul and prayer for revival. Ray Ortlund also has a fine article on biblical revival praying.

5. We pray for revival because of our study of history.

Here are only a few examples:

It is God’s will through his wonderful grace, that the prayers of his saints should be one of the great principal means of carrying on the designs of Christ’s kingdom in the world. When God has something very great to accomplish for his church, it is his will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayers of his people; . . . and it is revealed that, when God is about to accomplish great things for his church, he will begin by remarkably pouring out the spirit of grace and supplication. ~ Jonathan Edwards, Some Thoughts on Revival)

Oh! men and brethren, what would this heart feel if I could but believe that there were some among you who would go home and pray for a revival: men whose faith is large enough, and their love fiery enough to lead them from this moment to exercise unceasing intercessions that God would appear among us and do wondrous things here, as in the times of former generations. ~ Charles Spurgeon

When did you last hear anyone praying for revival, praying that God might open the windows of heaven and pour out his Spirit? When did you last pray for that yourself? I suggest seriously that we are neglecting this almost entirely. We are guilty of forgetting the authority of the Holy Spirit. . . . When God sends revival he can do more in a single day than in fifty years of all our organization. That is the verdict of sheer history which emerges clearly from the long story of the Church. ~ David Martin Lloyd-Jones

I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions. ~ John Wesley

G. Campbell Morgan famously observed how a sailor has no impact on the wind. But a good sailor knows the wind, and knows how to set the sails when the wind blows. Let us study the history of revival and let us gather in what Edwards called “a humble attempt to promote explicit agreement and visible union of God’s people, in extraordinary prayer” so that we will know when the Spirit moves afresh. Then we may set our sails accordingly.

*Source: Alvin Reid (www.desiringgod.org – June 18, 2014)

About the Author: Alvin Reid is Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He is the author of several books, including Firefall 2.0: How God Has Shaped History Through Revivals.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 26, 2019 in Revival

 

Tags: ,

4 Ways To Spot a Bitter Root by Erin Davis

180918-rootpsd.png

Every good gardener knows that you can’t chop weeds. Try to go after those buggers with a weed eater, and you’ll get nowhere in a hurry. You’ve got to rip weeds up by the roots. Otherwise, they will just keep coming back, and when they do, they’re bound to bring more and more of their weedy friends.

It’s no accident that God uses the image of a weed to describe a particular sin that has a way of creeping into all of our hearts . . . bitterness.

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Heb. 12:15).

Bitterness isn’t one of those big, flashy sins that you can see growing above the surface of our hearts. It may not show off like anger or produce big ol’ hunks of rotten fruit like disobedience. Bitterness is a sleeper sin. It grows beneath the surface, down deep in the soil of our hearts.

But the author’s warning in Hebrews is clear—that bitter root will one day sprout, and when it does, “many will become defiled.” In other words, if that bitter root keeps growing, there will be a harvest of pain for you and the people in your world. And because bitterness is a weedy sin that burrows in our hearts first, we can’t just cut off the behaviors that bitterness causes. (We will get to those in a minute.) We need the Lord’s help to yank that baby up by the root.

The Pack That Bitterness Travels In

Ephesians 4:31 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Paul is describing a cluster of emotions here that come along with bitterness. I know from experience that bitterness almost always travels in a nasty pack. When bitterness is taking root in my heart, usually wrath is, too. The same goes for anger, slander, and malice.

Our pastor directed my husband and me to this passage as part of our premarital counseling. He described these emotions as a progression.

  • If we don’t deal with bitterness, that bitterness will progress toward extreme anger (that’s wrath).
  • If we don’t deal with the anger, we will start to clamor or demand what we want.
  • If that doesn’t work, we will start to talk bad about the object of our bitterness in the hopes of recruiting others to agree with and justify our feelings (that’s slander).
  • If that goes unchecked, we will eventually have a desire to cause harm to the person we are bitter toward.

All along the way, people are hurt, relationships are derailed, joy is stolen, and growth of the fruit of the Spirit is stunted.

Four Ways to Spot a Bitter Root

With so much on the line, it is wise to ask ourselves often, “Am I bitter?” Since bitterness is a sleeper sin, the answer isn’t always obvious. Here are four questions to help you spot a bitter root.

  1. Am I replaying the tapes?

Do you find yourself constantly replaying the tapes of a conversation with someone? When you interact with her, do you spend days rehashing every word or body language cue?

Bitterness flourishes in the soil of justification. I’ve found that when I fixate on my interactions with a specific individual, I’m looking for justification for the anger or frustration I’m feeling in a relationship. I’ve learned that if I find myself replaying the tapes often, I should see it as red flag that something is off in my own heart.

2. Is my mouth out of control?

Romans 3:14 says, “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

There’s a connection between the junk that comes out of our mouths and the bitterness that tends to take root in our hearts. Do you find yourself losing your cool often? Are you critical, snappy, rude? Do you find you cuss more easily following your interactions with someone who has hurt you? Maybe the sins you’re committing with your mouth are simply an extension of the bitterness that you’ve allowed to grow in your heart. If you’re trying to deal with the way you speak and gaining no ground, it’s possible that you need to dig deeper and yank out the root of the problem.

3. Am I sick?

Psychologist Dr. Carsten Wrosch has studied bitterness for fifteen years. He says:

When harbored for a long time, bitterness may forecast patterns of biological dysregulation (a physiological impairment that can affect metabolism, immune response or organ function) and physical disease.

Scientists have concluded that bitterness, if left unchecked, interferes with the body’s hormonal and immune systems. Bitter people tend to have higher blood pressure and heart rate and are much more likely to die of heart disease and other illnesses.

Of course, the apostle Paul didn’t have access to this scientific data when he wrote much of the New Testament, but that didn’t keep him from connecting the dots between bitterness and our bodies. In Acts 8:23, Paul describes the “gall of bitterness.” It’s a bile, a bitter substance that can literally make us sick.

I have a friend who regularly visits nursing homes to serve communion to the infirm. She has told me on multiple occasions that she can walk into such settings and identify bitter women simply by looking at them. Their postures and expressions can’t help but betray the bitterness that has burrowed deep into their hearts. Certainly, not all physical ailments are the fruit of a bitter root, but some are. Is it possible that the cells of your body are wilting under the weight of unchecked bitterness?

4. Is my clan bitter?

The “bitter root” in Hebrews 12:15 is first described in Deuteronomy 29:18:

Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.

Like all weeds, bitterness has a way of spreading. This passage describes one possible progression. A man infects his wife. She infects her children. The bitterness spreads, and soon the whole tribe is infected.

  • Is your marriage marked by bitterness?
  • Are your children bitter?
  • Does your group of friends tend to sit around and gripe?
  • Is your church filled with harsh and angry people?
  • Is your community prone to placing blame?

Is it possible that your own bitterness has had a ripple effect and that the poisonous root has burrowed past your own heart and into the hearts of the people you love?

About The Author: Erin Davis is a popular author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. She is the author of many books and Bible studies including Connected, Beautiful Encounters, and the My Name Is Erin series. Erin also has the privilege of serving women in her local church as the women’s ministry director. When she’s not writing, you can find Erin chasing chickens and children on her small farm in the Midwest.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 21, 2018 in Sanctification

 

Tags: , , ,

*Making Disciples Jesus Way: A Few at a Time by Dr. Greg Ogden

841318.jpg

Thesis: The church urgently needs to recapture its original mission of making disciples of Jesus by creating intimate, relational environments of multiplication and transformation.

“The crisis at the heart of the church is a crisis of product”, writes Bill Hull (Hull, Bill. The Disciple Making Pastor. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1988, 14.). Is there any more important question for a pastor to answer than, “what kind of people are we growing in our ministries”? According to pollsters such as George Barna and George Gallup, we are not producing people who are a whole lot different in conviction and lifestyle than the rest of society. This has been well documented so I will not bore you with a recitation of the bad news. I will get right to what I consider the solution.

Jesus made it crystal clear that there is to be a singular product which He equates with the mission of the church—“Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Every church’s mission is the same. There is only one mission: making disciples of Jesus. We may prefer to express it in a fresh, contemporary way, such as “to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ” (Mission Statement of Willow Creek Community Church , South Barrington , IL), but it will still just be a restatement of the Great Commission.

When I have opportunities to speak to pastors on the subject of disciple-making, I have taken an informal poll, “Raise your hand if you have a few people in your weekly schedule with whom you meet for the purpose of helping them to become reproducing disciples of Jesus?” Sadly, I get minimal response. It would seem to be a natural expectation since Jesus modeled for us the way to grow disciples. He called twelve “to be with him” in order to shape their character and transfer his mission to them. I believe we have a crisis of product in major part because pastors are not following the model that Jesus gave us. And we are missing out on a most joyful and fruitful opportunity.

In this article I will describe an embarrassingly simple, yet reproducible way to grow disciples of Jesus that will leave your practice of ministry forever changed and your church populated with self initiating, reproducing disciples of Christ.

Here is the model: Disciples are made in small, reproducible groups of 3 or 4 (triads or quads) that cultivate an environment of transformation and multiplication.

In my experience, the following three elements form the necessary building blocks to grow disciples, which, in turn, addresses our “crisis of product”:

• The model for multiplication

• The priority of relationships

• The environment for accelerated growth

The Model for Multiplication

I call it my major “ah-ha” moment in ministry. It has shaped my approach to growing disciples more than anything else. Frankly, it was a discovery break-through I stumbled on.

I had been frustrated that I was not seeing a multiplication of disciples. The one-on-one model was the paradigm that I had assumed was the way to make reproducing disciples. After all, wasn’t the Paul-Timothy relationship the biblical pattern? Discipling meant to give myself to one other person for the purpose of seeing the life of Christ built in them, which would then lead them to do the same for another and so on. The only trouble was, I wasn’t seeing “them doing the same for another.” In other words, there was no multiplication.

What was I doing wrong? We have all heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results. Frustrated, I would redouble my efforts: make sure I had good content; ratchet up my prayer life; teach the skills of bible study, witness, etc; and yet I was not able to instill confidence, pass on the vision, nor empower the other person to disciple others. All my refinements only led to the same results.

Then the break-through came. I had written a disciple-making curriculum (Greg Ogden. Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), which became the basis for my final project for a Doctor of Ministry degree. My faculty mentor thought it would be a worthy experiment to test the dynamics of this material in a variety of settings. So in addition to the one-on-one, I invited two others to join me on this journey. There was no way I could have anticipated the potency to be unleashed. Just by adding a third person it was as if the Holy Spirit was present to us in a way that was life-giving and transforming and laid the foundation for multiplication.

I have never gone back to the one-on-one model for making disciples because of what I experienced. Now thirty years later, I have had considerable opportunity to reflect on the difference in dynamics between triad and quads, and the one-on-one approach.

What were the limitations of the one-on-one model?

1. In the one-on-one the discipler carries the full weight of responsibility for the spiritual welfare of another. The discipler is like the mother bird that goes out to scavenge for worms to feed to her babies. With their mouths wide open, the babes wait in their nest for the mother bird to return. The discipler is cast in the role of passing on their vast knowledge to the one with limited knowledge.

2. The one-on-one relationship sets up a hierarchy that tends to result in dependency. The one- on-one creates a father-son, teacher-student, mature-immature relationship. As appreciative as the Timothy might be, the one in the receiving position will more often than not, not be able to see themselves in the giving position. The gulf between the Paul and the Timothy is only accentuated when the relationship is between pastor and parishioner. The pastor is the trained professional, who has superior biblical knowledge which the non-professional, ordinary lay person will never see themselves achieving.

3. The one-on-one limits the interchange or dialogue. I liken the one-on-one discourse to playing ping-pong. It is back and forth, with the discipler under continuous pressure to advance the ball. The discipler must keep pressing the interchange on to a higher plane.

4. The one-on-one also creates a one-model approach. The primary influence on a new disciple becomes a single person. The parameters of the discipling experience are defined by the strengths and weaknesses of one individual.

5. Finally, the one-on-one model does not generally reproduce. If it does, it is rare. Only self- confident, inwardly motivated persons can break the dependency and become self-initiating and reproducing (These generalities are in no way meant to demean the positive and powerful experiences that a one-on-one relationship has meant to many. When it comes to the multiplication of disciples my experience teaches me that this generally does not lead to reproduction).

In my opinion we have inadvertently held up a hierarchical, positional model of discipling that is non-transferable. As long as there is the sense that one person is over another by virtue of superior spiritual authority, however that is measured, very few people are going to see themselves as qualified to disciple others. We may tout this is as a multiplication method, but in actuality it contains the seeds of its own destruction.

As a result of my experience, I commend a non-hierarchical model that views discipling as a mutual process of peer mentoring (“Discipling is an intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples in order to encourage, equip and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ. This includes equipping the disciple to teach others as well” – Ogden, Discipleship Essentials, 17). In order to avoid the dependency trap, the relationship needs to be seen as side-by-side, rather than one having authority or position over another.

An Alternative Practical Model of Disciple-Making (Triads/Quads)

Here is my best take on why triads/quads are energizing, joy-filled and reproductive:

1. There is a shift from unnatural pressure to the natural participation of the discipler. When a third or fourth person is added, the discipler is no longer the focal point, but they are a part of a group process. The discipler in this setting is a fellow participant. Though the discipler is the convener of the triad/quad, they quickly become one of the group on the journey together toward maturity in Christ.

2. There is a shift from hierarchy to peer relationship. The triad/quad naturally creates more of a come-alongside mutual journey. The focus is not so much upon the discipler as it is upon Christ as the one toward whom all are pointing their lives. Even as a pastor, I found that though the relationship may have started with a consciousness that I was the “Bible answer-man” because of my title and training, within the first few weeks the triad/quad allows me to be another disciple with fellow disciples who are attempting together to follow Jesus.

3. There is a shift from dialogue to dynamic interchange. In my initial experiment with triads, I often came away from those times saying to myself, “What made that interchange so alive and dynamic?” The presence of the Holy Spirit seemed palpable. Life and energy marked the exchange. As I have come to understand group dynamics, one-on-one is not a group. It is only as you add a third that you have the first makings of a group (Think Trinity).

4. There is shift from limited input to wisdom in numbers. The book of Proverbs speaks of the wisdom that comes from many counselors (Proverbs 15:22). It is often those who may be perceived as younger or less mature in the faith from which great wisdom comes, or a fresh spark of life or just great questions. In a current quad, one of the men at our initial gathering announced, “I have never opened the Bible.” I had observed an eagerness and hunger in Mick, so I was sure that I had misunderstood his comment. So I responded, “You mean you have never studied the Bible seriously”. “No, I have never opened a Bible.” Since that first session, Mick has demonstrated a veracious appetite for Scripture. Yet what has been particularly challenging is his perceptive questions that have led to engaging dialogue and deeper exploration.

5. There is a shift from addition to multiplication. For me there is no greater joy than to see a Christian reproduce. All the above adds up to empowerment. For over two decades, I have observed an approximate 75% reproduction rate through the triad/quad model of disciple- making.

In summary, a smaller unit encourages multiplication because it minimizes the hierarchical dimensions and maximizes a peer-mentoring model. By providing a discipleship curriculum specifically designed for this intimate relationship, it creates a simple, reproducible structure, which almost any growing believer can lead. Leadership in these groups can be rotated early on since the size makes for an informal interchange and the curriculum provides a guide to follow.

Anything worthy of the name of discipling must have a way of creating the dynamic of intergenerational multiplication.

But this is only one aspect of growing self-intiating, reproducing disciples.

Disciples Are Made In Relationships, Not Programs

Making disciples places priority on an invitation to relationships, not an invitation to a program.

Disciple-making is not a six-week nor a ten-week, nor even a thirty-week program. We have tended to bank our efforts on making disciples through programs, while not keeping a priority on the relational process.

Biblically, though, disciples are made in relationships. When I am forming a new triad/quad, I approach someone personally, eyeball to eyeball in the following way: First, I ask the Lord to put on my heart those to whom He is drawing me. I am looking for those who are hungry and teachable. When there is a settled conviction as to who the Lord would have me approach, here is generally what I say to them, “Will you join me, walk with me as we grow together to become better disciples of Christ? I would like to invite you to meet with me and one or two others weekly for the purpose of becoming all that the Lord intends us to be. As I was praying about this relationship, I sensed the Lord drawing me to you.”

How does this relational approach differ from a program?

(1) Discipling relationships are marked by intimacy, whereas programs tend to be focused on information.

Programs operate with the assumption that if someone has more information that it will automatically lead to transformation. In other words, right doctrine will produce right living. Filling people’s heads with Scripture verses and biblical principles will lead to change in character, values and a heart for God.

Alicia Britt Cole captures this difference between program and relationship, “Program was safer, more controllable, and reproducible—less risky, less messy, less intrusive. It seemed easier to give someone an outline than an hour, a well-worn book than a window into our humanity. How easy it is to substitute informing people for investing in people, to confuse organizing people with actually discipling people. Life is not the offspring of program or paper. Life is the offspring of life. Jesus prioritized shoulder-to-shoulder mentoring because His prize was much larger than information; it was integration” (Alicia Britt Cole, “Purposeful Proximity—Jesus’ Model of Mentoring”, Online Enrichment, A Journal for Pentecostal Ministry).

(2) Discipling relationships involve full, mutual responsibility of the participants, whereas programs have one or a few who do on behalf of the many.

Most programs are built around an individual or a few core people who do the hard work of preparation and the rest come as passive recipients of their work. Of course, this is less true of a more egalitarian small group than it is of a class where one-way communication dominates. Though this may provide tremendous benefit to one who has done the preparation, the result is usually enormous amounts of unprocessed information. As much as I believe in the power of preaching for conviction and decision, I would be naïve to believe that preaching alone produces disciples. If preaching could produce disciples, the job would have been done.

In a discipling relationship the partners share equal responsibility for preparation, self-disclosure, and an agenda of life-change. This is not about one person being the insightful teacher, whereas the others are the learners who are taking in the insights of one whose wisdom far exceeds the others. Certainly maturity levels in Christ will vary, but the basic assumption is that in the give and take of relationships, the one who is the teacher and the one who is taught can vary from moment to moment.

(3) Discipling relationships are customized to the unique growth process of the individuals, whereas programs emphasize synchronization and regimentation.

The very nature of most of our programs is that they cannot take into account the uniqueness of the individual, which is essential to growing disciples. A program usually has a defined length. You commit to ten weeks and you are done. Often churches follow the academic calendar. Start a program in September when school starts and complete it in June in time for summer vacation. Once the cycle is completed, disciples are supposed to pop out the other end of the system. Completing the program is equated with making disciples.

Discipling relationships must necessarily vary in length of time, because no two people grow at the same speed. It is not just a matter of a forced march through the curriculum, but an individualized approach that takes into account the unique growth issues of those involved.

(4) Discipling relationships focus accountability around life-change, where as programs focus accountability around content.

Programs of discipleship give the illusion of accountability. But upon closer look the accountability is more focused on completing the assigned study curriculum than follow through on the changes or transformation into Christlikeness that is expected of a disciple of Jesus.

Growth into Christ-likeness is the ultimate goal. The gauge of accountability in programs tend to be easily measurable, observable behaviors such as Scripture memory, completing the required weekly reading, and practicing spiritual disciplines. In a discipling relationship the accountability focuses on learning to “observe or obey all that [Jesus] has commanded” (Matt. 28:19). For example, there is a huge difference between knowing that Jesus taught that we are to love our enemies, and actually loving our enemies. Discipling relationships are centered on incorporating the life of Jesus in all we are in the context of all that we do.

The Environment of Transformation: The Three Necessary Ingredients

Without question the setting where I have experienced the most accelerated transformation in the lives of believers has been in these triads/quads or small reproducible discipleship groups. I call them the “hot-house” of Christian growth. Hot houses maximize the environmental conditions so that living things can grow at a rate greater than would exist under normal circumstances. The conditions are ripe for accelerated growth. This is what happens in a triad/quad.

Why is this? What are the climatic conditions in a discipleship group of three or four that create the hothouse effect? There are four ingredients when exercised in a balanced way that release the Holy Spirit to bring about a rapid growth toward Christlikeness: This can be summarized in the following Biblical principle: When we (1) open our hearts in transparent trust to each other (2) around the truth of God’s word (3) in the spirit of mutual accountability ,(4) while engaged in our God-designed mission, we are in the Holy Spirit’s hothouse of transformation.

Let’s look at what is contained in each of these three environmental elements that makes for accelerated growth and reproduction.

Climatic Condition #1—Transparent Trust

We return to the fundamental truth that has been repeated the theme throughout this article: Intimate, accountable relationships with other believers is the foundation for growing in discipleship. Why is transparency a necessary condition for change? The extent to which we are willing to reveal to others those areas of our life that need God’s transforming touch is the extent to which we are inviting the Holy Spirit to make us new. Our willingness to enter into horizontal or relational intimacy is a statement of our true desire before God of our willingness to invite the Lord to do His makeover in our life.

The small size of a triad/quad says that this is going to be close. There is little place to hide. The environment in which self-revelation is drawn out is increasing trust. Certainly trust does not happen instantaneously. Trust is an earned and developed quality. To get to the deep end of the pool we must go through the shallower waters of the affirmation of encouragement, support through life’s difficulties, and prayerful listening in order to help our partners hear God’s voice in life’s decisions. Only then are we likely to venture in over our heads by confessing our patterns of besetting sin to one another.

My experience tells me that few believers either have the regular habit or the safe context in which we can reveal to another human being what lurks inside the recesses of our hearts. Until we get to point where we can articulate to another those things that have a hold on us, then we will live under the tyranny of our own darkness. James admonished his readers, “Confess your sins to another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:16 ). James makes a direct connection between confession and healing. In this context healing appears to be of a physical nature. Yet James believed that the health of one’s spirit directly affected the health of one’s body.

What is the connection between confession and freedom? Bringing the shame of our guilt into the light before trusted members of the body of Christ can in itself have a liberating effect. Once something is admitted before others, it begins to lose it power to control. Sin loves the darkness, but its power weakens in the light.

To learn to swim in the deep waters of transparent trust is a necessary element for accelerated growth in the Christian. Learning to swim can be a scary experience, especially when you in over your head. But once you learn to trust the water to hold you up, you can relax and experience its refreshment.

Climatic Condition #2–Truth in Community

The second of four environmental elements that creates the conditions for the hothouse of accelerated growth is the truth of God’s word in community. I started with relationships because I believe that the context in which God’s word should be studied is in community. A great failing today is that we have separated the study of God’s word from transparent relationships. We have been more concerned about getting our doctrine right than our lives right. It is not that knowledge is not important, it is. It is not that right doctrine is not important, it is. It is just not enough. Because the goal is to incorporate truth into our being which happens as we process it with others.

It is particularly important in our day that a disciple has the opportunity to cover the essential teachings of the Christian life in a systematic and sequential fashion. We are living at a time when the average person has minimal foundation for their Christian faith. A generation ago Francis Schaeffer and Elton Trueblood warned us in prophetic voice that we were one generation away from losing the memory of Christian faith in our culture. We are the next generation of which they spoke!

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is an unlikely place to find evidence for this loss memory. One night Leno took to the streets with microphone in hand asking people questions about their biblical knowledge. He approached two college age women with the question, “Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?” Quizzical and blanks looks led to this reply, “Freedom of speech?” Then Leno turned to a young man, “Who according to the Bible was eaten by a whale?” With confidence and excitement, he blurted out, “I know, I know, Pinnochio!” The memory of Christianity has been lost.

One of the participants in a discipling triad that I led was woman about ten years my senior who had been raised in the home of a congregational pastor. After we had completed our time together, she said to me, “Greg, I have something to confess. When you asked me to join this group, I didn’t think I had a whole lot to learn. After all I had been studying the Scriptures all of my life having been raised in a home where the Bible was central. But I discovered as we covered the faith in a systematic and sequential order, that my understanding was much like a mosaic. I had clusters of tiles with a lot of empty spaces in between. This approach has allowed me to fill in all those places where tiles belong. I now see in a comprehensive fashion how the Christian faith makes sense of it all.”

Climatic Condition #3–Life-Change Accountability

Life-change accountability is rooted in a covenant. What is a covenant? A covenant is written, mutual agreement between 2 or more parties that clearly states the expectations and commitments in the relationship (Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials, page 14 provides an illustration of what a mutual covenant might look like). Implied in this definition is that the covenantal partners are giving each other authority to hold them to the covenant to which they have all agreed.

Yet there is a rub. To willingly give others authority to hold us accountable to what we said we would do is for most Westerners a violation of what we hold most dear. Robert Bellah’s ground breaking research, Habits of the Heart, is a sociologist’s search for the core of the American character. He found that freedom from obligation defined the center of what it is be to an American. Here it is in a nutshell: We want to do, what we want do to, when we want to do it, and no one better tell us otherwise. We want to be in control of our own choices, life direction, character formation, schedules, etc. Everything in us grates against accountability.

Yet accountability brings us back to the very core of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is one under authority. Disciples of Jesus are who leave no doubt that it is Jesus who is exerting the formative influence over our lives. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) The way to get serious about this truth is to practice by coming under authority in our covenantal relationships in Christ.

Climatic Condition #4: Engaged in our God-Designed Mission

Micro groups are not designed to be holy huddles. Though we all seek safe environments where our true self can be nurtured, micro groups also need to be springboards from we are sent to serve Christ in all dimensions of our life. In many ways, this fourth dimension, though last in order, is most critical. Without mission, there will be little transformation. It is as we apply our faith in the work place, in our roles in the home, are stewards of our financial resources, exercise or spiritual gifts in ministry the church or addressing an area of brokenness in the world, that we have to come to terms with our fears and limitations.

As we are engaged is mission we are stretched beyond our limited resources. When we are thrown back in reliance on Jesus, waiting for Him to show up because we are beyond our confort zone, we are just where we need to be. This is where the importance of our micro group takes on even deeper significance. In this group we are refreshed, patched up, encouraged and sent back out to be ambassadors of Jesus.

Conclusion: “The crisis at the heart of the church is a crisis of product.” I would challenge every pastor in America to schedule into his week a 90-minute time slot to meet with two or three others for the express purpose of discipling for multiplication. Can you imagine the impact on the quality and quantity of the product, if we began to see an organic multiplication of these reproducible groups over the next ten years?

*This article is presented here with the written permission of the author – Dr. Greg Ogden. The original article may be found along with many excellent disciple making resources at the website: globaldi.org which stands for the Global Discipleship Initiative of which Greg Ogden is the Chairman of the Board. The Global Discipleship Initiative trains, coaches, and inspires pastors and Christian leaders to establish indigenous, multiplying disciple making movements, both nationally and internationally.

About the Author: Greg Ogden (D.Min, Fuller Theological Seminary) recently retired from professional church leadership and now lives out his passion of speaking, teaching and writing about the disciple-making mission of the church. Most recently Greg served as executive pastor of discipleship at Christ Church of Oak Brook in the Chicago western suburbs. He previously held the positions of director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Fuller Theological Seminary and associate professor of lay equipping and discipleship. His seminal book Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ has sold over 250,000 copies and has been a major influence on discipleship in the contemporary church. He is also the author of several other excellent resources that will help you in effectively making disciples who make disciples: Transforming Discipleship; Making Disciples a Few at a Time; The Essential Commandment: A Disciple’s Guide to Loving God and Others;  Leadership Essentials: Shaping Vision, Multiplying Influence, Defining Character (co-authored with Dan Meyer); Essential Guide to Becoming a Disciple: Eight Sessions for Mentoring and Discipleship; and Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God.

 

Tags: , , , ,

*Prayer: The Prelude to Revival by Roger R. Nicole

Unknown-3.jpeg

It is in keeping with Reformed thought that revival should be grounded in prayer, because in prayer we acknowledge God’s sovereignty. God alone is the One who can dispense revival. So, revival is not something that is within the reach of human beings; it is something God alone can provide.

Sometimes people have expressed the attitude they think we ought to have in a motto which goes like this: “You ought to pray like a Calvinist and preach like an Arminian.” That is, pray as if everything depended upon God and preach as if everything depended on you. I would like to suggest a change in this formula which will improve it by fifty percent: “You ought to pray like a Calvinist and preach like a Calvinist.” Do not pray as if everything depends on God. (There is no good reason to have an “as if” in that motto, because things do depend on God. He is the One who sovereignly ordains and blesses.) Then preach like a Calvinist, because there, too, the results depend on God. Do not imagine that either prayer or preaching are activities in which we suddenly take leave of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

What Does Prayer Change?

When we consider prayer, there are questions which often are disturbing to the minds of some people. The first question is: “Do you think that you can really change the mind of God? That is, can prayer make God modify His sovereign plan?” There are people who feel that unless you are prepared to say this, there is no great value in prayer. I do not know what the reader’s particular idea on this subject may be, but I would like to say that if you believe you can change the mind of God through prayer, I hope you are using some discretion. If that is the power you have, it is certainly a most dangerous thing. Surely God does not need our counsel in order to set up what is desirable. Surely God, whose knowledge penetrates all minds and hearts, does not need to have us intervene to tell Him what He ought to do. The thought that we are changing the mind of God by our prayers is a terrifying concept.

I will be frank to confess that if I really thought I could change the mind of God by praying, I would abstain. I would have to say, “How can I presume, with the limitations of my own mind and the corruptions of my own heart-how can I presume to interfere in the counsels of the Almighty?” It is almost as if you were to introduce somebody who is utterly ignorant of electronics to a weapons plant in which, by pushing certain buttons, one might precipitate an explosion. You say, “Go ahead and push buttons. Never mind what happens.” Oh, no! There is comfort for the child of God in being assured that our prayers will not change God’s mind. This is not what is involved in prayer, and we are not in danger of precipitating explosions by some rash desire on our part.

But then people say, “If you cannot change God’s mind, what is the point of praying? If prayer does not change things, prayer is worthless.”

Here you have perhaps noticed that I have changed the formula. I did not say,”change the mind of God,” but “change things.” I never said that prayer does not change things. Prayer does change things, but it does not change the mind of God. The reason prayer changes things but does not change God is that He has appointed prayer as an effectual means for accomplishing His own purpose. This effectual means is essential for this accomplishment. When we have a right understanding of the sovereignty of God, we recognize that God has established a plan in which not only the effects but also the causes are ordained. We cannot disconnect the causes from the effects or the effects from the causes.

For example, I lift a book in your sight. Because the book has risen into the air, I am in a position to say, “God has ordained that it should get to this particular place.” He must have ordained it because that is where the book is. But notice, God did not ordain for the book to rise all by itself. He ordained that it should rise at the end of my hand. He ordained that I should have strength in my arm to lift it. He ordained that I should choose this particular book in order to illustrate this particular point. There is a connection between the book’s rising and the subject I wish to develop. All these things are tied up together. If there were no lecture, there would be no point of illustrating the power of second causes. If there were no desire to illustrate the power of second causes, my hand would have remained at my side. If my hand had remained at my side, the book would not have risen. I think we can argue in this way.

God, however, ordained that there should be this lecture, that there should be a desire to show the correlation of causes and effects in His sovereign plan, that this particular illustration should come to my mind, and that I should implement it by the strength that He has given me. One cannot say, “If you hadn’t touched it, it would have risen anyway,” because God did not ordain that it should rise anyway. He ordained that it should rise through my hand.

That is exactly the case with prayer. Prayer is an effectual secondary cause that God has related to the effects involved. Just as the activity of human beings on earth is related to the effects that are produced, just as the book rising is related to the hand lifting, so are the effects of prayer related to the prayer that is offered. So although prayer does not change the mind of God, it does change things. God has appointed change through prayer, even though the way in which the cause is related to the effect is not perfectly clear to us.

The fact that the way this happens is not clear does not give us grounds for denying the relationship. We pray for healing. If God provides healing, we cannot say, “There would have been healing whether I prayed or not; I would have gotten well anyway.” God provided healing in relation to prayer.

We pray for an increase in the knowledge of God and earnestness in His service. If God is pleased to bless our lives in this way, we cannot say, “This would have happened whether I prayed or not.” God provides His blessing in relation to the prayer.

We pray for the salvation of someone we love, someone God placed on our hearts to intercede and plead for. That person is born again by the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot say, “This would have happened whether I prayed or not.” It is related to our prayers. God, who has appointed the salvation, has also appointed prayer as the means to that salvation. We cannot omit any link in that chain and say that the chain will exist whether the link is there or not.

A final question is: “How can I pray if I do not see how prayer works?” That is not a wise way of handling the matter, since it is God who tells us that prayer is part of His plan for us. It is not necessary that we have an understanding of the ways in which God’s purposes are implemented. God has put this means at our disposal. He encourages us to pray. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 He says, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” To insist that we must have an understanding of how this works is a very unreasonable attitude.

Even in affairs of daily life we do not have this attitude. I am sure you have used a touch-system telephone. Do you understand how it works? Do you have that consummate knowledge of communications to know exactly what goes on when you press those little buttons? Do you know how those numbers are changed into binary code and used to track down the particular telephone you wish to call? Experts may understand this. But I must say, as far as I am concerned, when I am calling, I do not think of any of those things. I just pick up the phone and touch the buttons. I do not worry about how this happens. I am interested only in whom I am going to reach and what I will say.

It is the same with prayer. We do not have to know how it works. It is enough to know that it does work. Prayer is part of God’s sovereign plan and is an effectual means by which we can share with God in the fulfillment of that plan. When we pray, we are cooperating; we are working together with God in the work to which, in His own mercy, He has been pleased to call us.

Since prayer is part of God’s plan, we are not forcing God’s hand at any time by praying. We are not intruding our own will in a way that is disagreeable or uncomfortable to God. We do not need to fear that we are finagling with buttons about which we know nothing, which might bring disaster on ourselves and others. We are praying in line with the great purposes of God. Without prayer there are many things that would be different. It is by virtue of prayer that they are what God has planned them to be.

In Scripture, prayer is presented as a prerequisite for revival. It is a prelude. If you study the history of revivals, you will find that they are best documented not only in their effects but also in their preparatory prayer periods. This was true of the revival in New England under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. It was true in the revival in Wales under Evan Roberts. It was true of the revivals attending the ministry of Charles Grandison Finney in the United States. Revival that is worthwhile is bathed in prayer. When He wants a revival, God is pleased to lead His people· to pray that revival might be forthcoming.

(1) The prayer that leads to revival must be believing prayer. This is the point the apostle James makes in his Epistle (James 1:5-7, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord”). When we come to the Lord we must come with the expectation that He is able and will do great things. If we come vacillating, wondering whether God is able to accomplish anything, whether the situation is really so desperate that even God cannot touch it, then obviously our prayer is lacking in fervency. We are just going through the motions, as it were. We are not really praying.

God wants us to come to Him in faith. Indeed, prayer is an exercise of faith in which we are steeped in the supreme greatness and ability of God, and have our eyes fixed on the majesty of His purpose and the superlative quality of His resources. Nothing is impossible for our God. Our God is able to move mountains. He is able to transform hearts, break resistances, reach out even underneath the conscious lives of people to transform them. So we should never say, “Here is somebody beyond God’s reach. The hardness of heart is so great, the wickedness of life is so manifest, that this cannot possibly be a candidate for acceptance into the kingdom of God. We might as well give up on this person.”

In spite of the fact that the early church had seen God do many great things, it undoubtedly thought this way about Paul. The early Christians thought. “This one is lost. There is no way God will bring Paul into the kingdom. He is a persecutor, an enemy, an opponent. There is no hope for him.” When Paul tried to join the church, they gave him the cold shoulder (Acts 9:26). They said, “We can’t trust this man. He will be spying on us and then use his knowledge to annihilate the church.” It took Barnabas to reason, “God saved me; maybe He can save Paul, too.” He went close to Paul and befriended him at great danger to himself. He made sure that Paul truly was a child of God. Then he brought him to the apostles (Acts 9:27). We, too, might think, “What less likely a candidate for election than Paul?” Yet God was pleased to reach him and change him. God made him the great apostle of the Gentiles, the benefit of whose ministry is still with us to this day. We need believing prayer, prayer that does not concentrate on the obstacles. We must not say, “He is hopeless,” or “Our country has gone to the dogs,” or “Our church has gone liberal.” Prayer must recognize that God is all-powerful and can do wonders. If anyone prays and does not believe, that one is unstable (James 1:6-7). He cannot expect anything. But if we come with faith, accepting the reality of the power of God, we will experience that effective prayer which changes things in keeping with God’s purpose.

(2) The second characteristic of the prayer that brings revival is submission. It must be submissive prayer. That is, we must be prepared to submit our own ideas, aims, and ambitions to the sovereign God. We must not intrude with our outlook, pressing it on God, as it were. Rather, we must come with a desire to understand God’s outlook and subordinate our desires to what He has ordained.

Some people say, ”That kind of prayer is not really effective. If you start by saying, ‘If it be Your will … ‘you are attempting to give God an out in case He is not going to do it. You are not believing.” That is not the point at all. We do not need to give God an out. God does not need an out. What we are doing when we say, “If it is Your will … ” is articulating the principle that we are not telling God what should be done but are actually identifying with His purpose and asking to work together with Him in fulfillment of that purpose.

We have a moving example of this kind of prayer on the lips of our Lord Himself. In Gethsemane He said, “If it is possible . . . Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). This is mysterious to us, for it indicates that at that point of His human consciousness, our Lord was left in suspense as to what the will of God was. “Not as I will, but as You will.” That is the condition of effective prayer-that we should be willing to accept what God has ordained in order that His purpose might be accomplished.

Sometimes it is hard for us to pray that way, because our will is so strong, and our understanding of what God should want is so clear that we do not even feel like saying, “Your will be done.” When we pray for revival, especially, we say, “We do not need to introduce conditional clauses. The very fact that God leads us to pray is an indication that He wills that some form of revival should come.” Still, the very essence of a consecrated prayer is that it should be in keeping with the will of God.

This is what is meant by praying in the name of Jesus. To pray in the name of Christ is not simply to have a little addition to your prayer, in which you use those words almost as a magical formula to insure success. To pray in the name of Christ is to identify yourself with Christ, with His aims, His purposes, His ministry. It is to say, “I am with Jesus, I am for Him and His purposes.” The one who prays in the name of Jesus does not need to fear disappointments, because unity with the purpose of God protects him from that. There is a submission to God which acknowledges with gratitude the way in which God is pleased to answer.

This prayer must be God-centered. It must relate itself to God’s glory rather than to our private desires. Of course, God permits us to present our private desires as well. There is nothing wrong in asking God to give us good weather for mountain climbing if good weather is important for it. But here again, it would be wise to say, “If it be Your will,” because there are also people, such as farmers, who need rain. Since the desire of the mountaineer may conflict with the desire of the farmer, it would be good for both of them to be submitted to whatever God is pleased to send. God permits us to present our desires, but we must have a supreme desire, especially in the prayer for revival, to see the glory of God manifested.

Some of the most effective prayers in Scripture do this. They are even argumentative at this point.Think of the prayer of Abraham when he prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. He even argued with God, saying, “Is it right for You to destroy those cities if fifty … forty-five … forty: .. thirty… twenty… ten righteous people live there?” (Gen. 18:24-33). God blessed that prayer. So we can say that if Lot and his family were saved, it was because of the faithful intercession of Abraham, who did not relent, even though, in the end, the number he cited was not sufficiently small to warrant ID salvation of the wicked cities.

Think of the prayer of Moses who argued, “If You destroy Your people, what will happen to Your name? Your glory is at stake. Don’t do it” (Ex.32:11-13).God blessed that glorious intercessory prayer of Moses, who disregarded his personal ambitions in order to identify with the purposes of God.

A prayer for revival should be centered, not in the desire that we should have more money for our church (because there will be more people coming), not that there should be a new Vitality in our denomination (as compared with other denominations), nor that any other of our human desires and ambitions should be satisfied, but rather that the glory of God might be manifested. We should pray that His name might be exalted, that His kingdom might be made evident, that His glorious reign might be established even more widely in the hearts of men and women.

(3) Our prayer must be persistent. The Scripture emphasizes that we ought not easily be discouraged in prayer (Luke 18:1). If we do not receive at once the answer we are looking for, we ought not to reason, “Well, God just doesn’t want me to have that; I guess I’ll give up.” There are people who have been wonderfully persistent in prayer-for husbands or wives, children or parents-and God has blessed their persistence. Do not give up too soon. Do not conclude too rapidly that God is uninterested. So long as you have a burden on your heart, keep praying.

In the church in which I am a member there is a man who has moved me profoundly in this respect. It is a wonderful church now. We have a preacher who is a wonderful expositor of the Word of God. I never attend a service there at which my soul is not blessed. But some 40 years ago this church was exceedingly small-there were about 10 or 12 people on a Sunday morning-and it was passing through a veritable desert from the point of view of biblical ministry. I understand that at one time one of the pastors was actually a practicing Christian Scientist.

Throughout this bleak period this man, Deacon George Day, was praying. He did not say, “This church gives me nothing. There is nothing to be expected here, nothing to be hoped. I am going to find another fellowship that will be more fruitful for me.” No! This man said, “This is my church. I am not going to give up. Since I do not get any spiritual nurture from the sermons, I will get it from the Bible directly. I will attend some other meetings in other places, but I am still going to be in my own church on Sunday morning, and I am going to pray for this ministry.” Deacon Day kept praying for that church for years. Now he is an old man, more than 80. There is hardly any strength left in his body. When he can come to church he uses an earphone, because he is very deaf. But there is joy in his heart which moves one to tears. Whenever I see Deacon Day, I see the power of God to answer persistent prayer. I see a warrior who did not allow himself to be defeated, but who stayed at his post, pleading for his church and asking God’s blessing upon it.

(4) Finally, the prayer that leads to revival must be consistent prayer, in which we are prepared also to do what we can to achieve what we are asking. If we pray for the conversion of our loved ones, somehow we must give out witness, too. We must witness by life and words, when they can be effectually presented. If we pray for revival, we must be prepared to open our hearts so that God may revive them. We ought never to take prayer as a means of avoiding the actions God challenges us to.

My father had an experience which I would like to relate to illustrate this point. As a young minister he had been an assistant in a large church which had only two pastors in 50 years, one ministry of 25 years, followed by another of 25 years. After having been in that church, my father became pastor of a very small church in a little village in southern France. Prayer meeting was on Wednesday evening, and there was usually a very limited attendance. One Wednesday there was a frightful storm. The wind was blowing. Rain was falling in buckets. My father thought, “There is not going to be anybody at the prayer meeting tonight. If I go, I will only drench myself. I might as well stay home.” My father was very interested in Hebrew and was studying the song of Deborah in the book of Judges. The temptation was great to stay in his cozy home and deal with that.

As my father was wrestling with this, there came to his memory a sermon given at the time of his ordination. It was on the passage which says, “Go out and make them come in” (Luke 14:23). Most of the time we think about the expression “make them come in.” But on this occasion, the preacher had focused on the phrase, “Go out.” He had said, ” ‘Go out’ means to reach out for people; it means, do not stay in the coziness of your study. You must go out and reach out.” While the gales were blowing and the wind was hitting the windows, my father remembered that and concluded, “Well, I guess God wants me to go out. I do not expect many people. I do not expect very much of anything at this prayer meeting. But if God has told me to go out, I will go out and speak at the prayer meeting;” This was the meeting in which revival started in his church!

Prayer is the prelude to revival. Do you want revival? Then be prepared to pray. “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray . . . then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.”

*This article was originally an address given at the 1982 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, Philadelphia, PA. and is adapted from Dr. Roger R. Nicole, “Prayer: The Prelude to Revival” in Reformation and Revival, A Quarterly Journal for Church Leadership (Volume 1, No. 3, Summer, 1992).

About the Author: Dr. Roger R. Nicole (1915-2010) was a native Swiss Reformed Baptist theologian and taught for many years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary as well as the founder of the Evangelical Theological Society.

 

Tags: , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: