Prepare now for your next spiritual drought

Farmer working in the fields with tractor.

Have you ever tried to read the Bible only to realise that after ten minutes you have not taken in a word? Or spent time with your eyes closed attempting to pray but really chasing anxious thoughts as if herding cats?

It is normal to go through seasons of spiritual dryness. Times when prayer and Bible reading become exercises in raw discipline or diminish to nothing. None of us want to remain in such a barren place, but how long we have to endure is God’s call, not ours.

I think it is good to always attempt to nurture your relationship with God, even when it feels as if you are just ‘going through the motions’. I also think it is valuable to accept the barren season for what it is and not heap guilt upon yourself when the going gets tough.

After many cycles of spiritual growth and dryness in my own life, I have learned the value of ‘banking’ spiritual graces. I now try to fill up with the disciplines of Bible reading, memorization, and prayer during my times of plenty. This gives me a reserve to draw upon when it is difficult to read the Bible and God seems distant.

In seasons of growth, make the most of it. Farmers use the growth seasons of spring and summer to make hay to feed their stock through the dark winter months. Be wise and use easy times (or even just ‘normal’ periods) to grow spiritually. Hard times will come again and once they arrive it is too late to start building spiritual condition.

When the fight is difficult, it is enough to stand (Ephesians 6:13).

If you are able to read the Bible today, do so. If you can pray even a little, take the opportunity to come into God’s presence. Go to church, or homegroup, even if it is tiresome or inconvenient. The day will come when you will wish you had done all this much more.


Scripture references:

Ephesians 6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (ESV)

Nice, or necessity?

Ugandan man in brightly shirt praying

One of the subtlest hindrances to prayer is probably the most pervasive. In the broader culture and in our churches, we prize intellect, competency and wealth. Because we can do life without God, praying seems nice but unnecessary. Money can do what prayer does, and it is quicker and less time-consuming. Our trust in ourselves and our talents makes us structurally independent of God. As a result, exhortations to pray don’t stick. (A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller, p16)

I don’t pray as Jesus taught us – generally I am not overly anxious about having enough bread for the day (though anxiety over my debts is always present!). In my view it would be a stressful way to live having to pray for food each day or clothes to wear or the basics of survival. I know that many people do live like this, generally not by choice. However, relying on God does not have to mean an empty pantry; there is a lot more to faith than loaves and fishes.

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
(Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)

One benefit of having walked this Christian road for a good few years now is that I have seen some things which can only happen if God is at work. The transformation of a hard heart to love Christ is the sort of thing I mean. God is in the business of dealing with our hearts, our inner being, the very depths of self that nobody aside from God truly knows or understands. In these murky depths prayer becomes powerful and essential.

Similarly, there is a world outside of us which we are but dimly aware of at best. Whether you read Frank Paretti or not, there is a spiritual realm with beings other than ourselves who have power and agendas that influence our lives. This realm is important even though we cannot directly interact with it. Somehow, what goes on there affects what happens in the physical world and especially with respect to people’s faith and wellbeing.

From within and without all of us are affected by what we do not understand or control. Neither money, human power nor cleverness is useful in contending with these influences. None of us can make changes in the heart of another, only God can. For this we need to pray.


(This is an edited repost from my old blog)

Praying before the throne of grace

praying-before-the-throne-of-grace

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)

‘Seeking God’, sounds so spiritual and pious – far removed from what my life actually looks like in the real world. I want to seek God much more than I do; to live by the Spirit, walk in obedience to His direction, seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God.

Unfortunately I have become anxious about worldly things and my divided interests have lead me away from a strong devotion to God1. For this I feel ashamed and am reluctant to face up to Jesus in prayer when I have been such a lousy disciple. So as an avoidance tactic which at least had an appearance of being spiritual, I picked up a book about prayer2 by John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim’s Progress).

Writing while incarcerated in the Bedford goal from 1662, Bunyan addresses this very issue:

Another encouragement for a poor trembling convicted soul is to consider the place, throne, or seat, on which the great God has placed Himself to hear the petitions and prayers of poor creatures; and that is a ‘throne of grace’, ‘the mercy-seat. (Hebrews 4:16 & Exodus 25:22) …

… Poor souls! They are very apt to entertain strange thoughts of God, and of His carriage towards them: and suddenly conclude that God will have no regard unto them, when yet He is upon the mercy-seat, and has taken His place on purpose there, to the end He may hear and regard the prayers of poor creatures.2

​This is an encouraging reminder of grace. That when it comes to praying to and communing with God, He takes pains to place Himself on a throne of grace so that our prayers may come to him unhindered by the burden of sin we may carry. As I approach God in and through Christ my own very poor track record is gloriously overlaid with the perfect record of Jesus such that I am accepted as God’s own child.

So my attempt to avoid facing my shortcomings as a follower of Christ by reading something written by a great follower of Christ was perhaps not quite so deluded after all!

Now to place myself before that throne of grace.


Notes:

1. See 1 Corinthians 7:33-34

2. Prayer by John Bunyan (Puritan Paperbacks, ISBN 0-85151-090-6) p55

This is day 27 of my project, and not going so well!​

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Image: iStock

Fidgety prayers

fidgety-prayers

There was a time when I used to get up early each morning to spend time seeking God at the beginning of my day. That habit gradually faded as wife, children, work and the internet filled up my life.

These days it is generally easier for me to get time alone late in the evenings rather than in the mornings. Yet making constructive use of this time to seek God takes discipline to turn off the computer or TV, to put down my book and pick up the Bible. Just as it takes resolve and discipline to get out of bed early on a cold morning. My problem is not primarily one of having no time but lies in how I am choosing to use what time I’ve got.

I recall my bachelor days when I would get up and enjoy a cup of tea while reading the Bible and praying before getting ready for work. So in order to reactivate some dormant memory cells, last night I made a cup of tea and sat down to read and pray. My mind wandered, I fidgeted and walked around the room. But I was seeking God.

​Something which has encouraged me in my messy, inadequate pursuit of God is a quote I recently read from Henri Nouwen:

“WHY should I spend an hour in prayer when I do nothing during that time but think about people I am angry with, people who are angry with me, books I should read and books I should write, and thousands of other silly things that happen to grab my mind for a moment?

The answer is: because God is greater than my mind and my heart, and what is really happening in the house of prayer is not measurable in terms of human success and failure.

What I must do first of all is be faithful. If I believe that the first commandment is to love God with my whole heart, mind, and soul, then I should at least be able to spend one hour a day with nobody else but God. The question as to whether it is helpful, useful, practical, or fruitful is completely irrelevant, since the only reason to love is love itself. Everything else is secondary.

The remarkable thing, however, is that sitting in the presence of God for one hour each morning — day after day, week after week, month after month — in total confusion and with myriad distractions radically changes my life. God, who loves me so much that He sent His only son not to condemn me but to save me, does not leave me waiting in the dark too long.

I might think that each hour is useless, but after thirty or sixty or ninety such useless hours, I gradually realize that I was not as alone as I thought; a very small gentle voice has been speaking to me far beyond my noisy place.

So: Be confident and trust in the Lord.”

From The Road to Daybreak, by Henri Nouwen.​ (I read this here)

This is day 4 of my project.​

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Seeing Jesus

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way… (John 21:1)

Miu is a elderly Shan grandma who is a widow with no children. She lives alone and with no income. Her daily pilgrimage to the Buddhist temple did not relieve her feelings of loneliness. One night this last year, when she was already asleep and the door was locked, a man in shining white clothes, with white hair came into her room and the room was brightly lit up. When she asked him who he was, he said that he was the Lord Jesus Christ. He sat on her bed and told her that he sees her and loves her. She was amazed that he spoke to her in Shan. He promised that he would come and visit her again.

Lord we ask that Miu’s faith and understanding of Jesus will continue to grow and be strengthened, despite harassment from her village headman.

Lord for those Shan that are being persecuted we pray for:
  • Boldness
  • Encouragement
  • Power of the Holy Spirit
  • No fear of man, only fear of God
  • Protection
Jesus reveal yourself to the Shan through:
  • Dreams
  • Miracles
  • Healings
  • Deliverance from demons
  • Visions

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Image: Michael Woo

Called to freedom

For you were called to freedom, brothers.
(Galatians 5:13 ESV)

Dear Father,

To me the Shan culture is foreign and strange. I could stand here afar off and judge how they do things, even how the Shan churches function.

There are ways in which it seems they lack freedom, but who am I to talk of freedom when I grew up in a land free from war and oppression of my people. Yet I have lived in bondage to sin, as do all people.

Please free the Shan Dai Christians from sin and traditions of men. May they be free in Christ to follow the fervent evangelistic example of the apostle Paul in taking the gospel always further to places where it is unknown.

I pray that in Your mercy and grace You will give peace, joy and great freedom to the Shan Dai Christians.

Amen

1 Peter 2:9- But you are a Chosen Race, A royal Priesthood, A Holy Nation…

A priesthood of believers- There are around 7 million Shan Dai. Less than 0.1 % of them know the Lord.  Among those that do know the Lord, many have formal churches. They have many rules about ordination, and how pastors are the only ones that can baptize and serve communion. Many that want to serve must first go to a 3 year Bible school in another language. There are too few of these ordained pastors to go out among the 7 million unreached Shan nation. The lay people must be trained and sent out.

Receive daily email prayer request by emailing prayfortheshan@gmail.com and type “sign me up”

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Praying for the Shan and for me

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
James 5:13, 16 ESV

During September I erratically participated in praying for Burma with the Partners folks. I was very impressed by their emails encouraging us to pray and the first one was so good I am going to steal the idea for preparing myself to pray for the Shan people of Burma in October.

The world is full of suffering people. The world is also full of righteous people whose responsibility it is to lift up hands in prayer to God for the sake of those who are lost, alone, hurting, vulnerable and needy.

As we embark on a journey of prayer over the next 30 days, meditate today on what this passage in James means by a “righteous” person.  Get your heart right with God so you will be effective and powerful in your prayers. partnersworld

So, for today my prayer is for God to deal with me so that I can be a useful servant for His glory, particularly in serving the Shan people. When I look into my own heart I do not see righteousness, I need to be clothed in Christ to obtain such a garment. I do have a responsibility to pray for those in need and God has placed within me a conviction to serve the Shan people in this way, something I have neglected over recent months.

Therefore, join with me in confessing your own unrighteousness to God and asking Jesus to purify us from all sin as we seek to serve His people.


Related to this topic:

Image: Veer

A Sunday prayer

God,
you are love itself!
You have shown yourself to us
in so many ways,
yet all of them tell us of creative love,
that never changes.
Love which in the beginning
created the universe,
and brought mankind out of the earth
to live in glorious freedom!
Love which was crucified,
yet rises
with every generation
bringing new promises for the future!
Love which meets our needs
and gives us hope
through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

By Alan Gaunt


Credit: Alan Gaunt, New Prayers for Worship. 1972 John Paul the Preacher’s Press. ISBN 0-903805-04-9

Jesus is offensive

Sometimes Jesus himself, is offensive to people and they will turn away. Understanding the truth, some will refuse to follow Christ.

Often ‘the church’ can say and do really stupid, even horrible, things in the name of Jesus. Individual Christians do the same. Whether by word or behaviour individuals and churches can put others off Christianity. This is a bad thing.

Yet Jesus himself offended people, he appears to have even done so on purpose:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:60-66 ESV)

In the discourse of John 6:25-58, Jesus had spoken words of truth to a large crowd of people. What he said offended them, not because it was hard to understand but because what they did understand was offensive. Jesus fully knew it would offend them and he would lose followers but spoke the truth to them anyway. He had no problem with a huge crowd turning away from following him, leaving only twelve disciples.

We must always speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), but there will be some occasions when the words of Jesus, in fact Jesus himself, is offensive to people and they will turn away. This is heartbreaking, I don’t care how much of, or what kind of, a sinner anyone is the last thing I want is for them to be eternally excluded from fellowship with God. Yet even comprehending the truth – understanding the meaning of the words – some will refuse to follow Christ.

Theology lets us down on the topic of predestination, but Jesus makes it clear enough that unless God enables it to happen, nobody can come to Jesus. So in those awful times when somebody is offended by Christ and cannot see his beauty the most useful thing I can do is pray. I can pray fervently, desperately, that God will grant for that person to see the glory of God in Christ Jesus.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV)


Other posts related to this topic:

Image: iStockphoto

Jesus is offensive

Sometimes Jesus himself, is offensive to people and they will turn away. Understanding the truth, some will refuse to follow Christ.

Often ‘the church’ can say and do really stupid, even horrible, things in the name of Jesus. Individual Christians do the same. Whether by word or behaviour individuals and churches can put others off Christianity. This is a bad thing.

Yet Jesus himself offended people, he appears to have even done so on purpose:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:60-66 ESV)

In the discourse of John 6:25-58, Jesus had spoken words of truth to a large crowd of people. What he said offended them, not because it was hard to understand but because what they did understand was offensive. Jesus fully knew it would offend them and he would lose followers but spoke the truth to them anyway. He had no problem with a huge crowd turning away from following him, leaving only twelve disciples.

We must always speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), but there will be some occasions when the words of Jesus, in fact Jesus himself, is offensive to people and they will turn away. This is heartbreaking, I don’t care how much of, or what kind of, a sinner anyone is the last thing I want is for them to be eternally excluded from fellowship with God. Yet even comprehending the truth – understanding the meaning of the words – some will refuse to follow Christ.

Theology lets us down on the topic of predestination, but Jesus makes it clear enough that unless God enables it to happen, nobody can come to Jesus. So in those awful times when somebody is offended by Christ and cannot see his beauty the most useful thing I can do is pray. I can pray fervently, desperately, that God will grant for that person to see the glory of God in Christ Jesus.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV)