The Reality of Being Still before God

I am, once again, coming face-to-face with something from my early years with which I need to deal in order to move ahead as the Spirit would have me move in the area of prayer.

As I wrote in a previous post about true confidence in prayer, God has placed me on the path of discovering how I can truly have confidence in praying.

The problem many people have is that they use prayer as a means to find God’s will.  Therefore, they throw up all manners of prayer trying to cover every possibility, hoping that one of them would resonate with God and be His will.  That is not the purpose of prayer, though.

Before we pray, it is important to have discerned what God wants to do.  Prayer is not about finding out God’s will; it’s about asking Him to do what He already wants to do.

So, the initial stage of prayer, the foundation, is worship.  This all-important foundation gets sold short and only given token attention.  Worship puts the focus on God which then prepares us to be still before God in order to listen.

This is where I am, once again, coming into direct conflict with teaching from my youth.  Being still doesn’t only mean physical; it also means mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Inside each of us is that voice that is like that special feature on a DVD which has commentary running about the movie as the movie is playing.  That inside voice is an internal commentary on our lives as we live it.  It is that voice that must be stilled in order to hear God.  And that can be difficult.

In order to shut off that voice, we must put everything else out of our mind.  It is in this state of meditation that we open ourselves to hear from God, whether He speaks to us directly or uses something already given to us (i.e., a passage of Scripture) and uses that to speak in us.

If that voice is still talking, the ability to hear God is greatly hindered and degraded.  Stilling that voice takes discipline, a discipline with which I still struggle.  And I must admit, not something that I have ever viewed as critical.  I have only focused on the physical aspect of stillness, which is only a very small part of being still before God.

Our world, our culture does not encourage stillness.  It does not encourage stillness physically, but more so, it does not encourage stillness spiritually, mentally and emotionally.  Even when we are still physically, there are many things still stirring in us and talking to us.

When preparing to pray, we must be come to a position of absolute stillness in order to hear what the Holy Spirit and Jesus are already praying regarding whatever it is that rests upon our hearts.  Failure to do this (which praying too quickly about something represents) will only result in praying in our own strength, in our own voice, which does not lead to confidence and boldness in prayer because our prayer will fall on deaf ears.

When we do not still that inner voice, it is that voice that we convert into “prayers” because we rush too quickly into intercession.  We pray in our own strength and come to God’s door under the panic and weight of the circumstances facing us.  And the result is that prayer which should be effective becomes quite ineffective.

Do you want what I want?  What I want is that everything I pray is what comes to fruition.  What I want is that, in God’s perfect timing, everything I pray to come to pass happens.  I want people to see the boldness and confidence in prayer approached properly.

There is a saying: “The proof is in the pudding.”  The man whose teaching on many different aspects of walking in the Spirit has been influential in the last 3 years or so of my life has this approach to prayer.  The number of miracles he has seen occur just as he prayed them is numerous.  There is the proof.

He has ultimate confidence and boldness in prayer.  That’s what I want.  I hope you do as well.  Therefore, I am diving deep into what it means to be absolutely still before God so I can truly listen.

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Being __________ and Christian: An Oxymoron?

In preparation for this coming Sunday’s sermon, I did an informal, unscientific survey.  I asked people to give 1, 2, or 3 words that, in their experience, describes Christians today.  Currently the number of responses given stands at 25 with 21 being positive in nature and 4 negative.  100% of those responding said they were Christians.

(As an aside, I would like to find those who say they are not Christians and have them answer this question.  Could be an interesting study in contrasts.  But I digress.)

I was really looking to see if a particular word was used to describe a Christian.  Now, while the responses were good, I did not see this particular word submitted.  I find the absence of this one word telling.  I must admit that the absence of this word bothers me for it is the description of this word that separates followers of Jesus from those who are not in a visible and practical way.

What is that word?  Joyful.

One person responded to the survey question with “hope” which is an obvious cause for being joyful.  Think about it, how joyful does the average Christian seem as s/he goes through each and every day?  When the average Christian experiences those things that life throws at everyone, would those (non followers of Jesus) who see us walk through these things describe us as “joyful” even in the midst of struggle, trouble, and difficult circumstances?

What I am finding is that it is normal for the follower of Jesus to walk through these situations no different than one who is not a follower.  That is sad and maybe that’s one reason why those who do not follow Jesus don’t see those who do follow Jesus as possessing anything worthwhile that they don’t already possess.

Being joyful doesn’t mean we become a “supernatural masochist.”  Oh, I thank Thee Lord that I hath crashed my car.”  Being joyful means that we live out our gratitude and thankfulness before God every day because of the reality of His presence, purpose and provision in all circumstances.

Paul tells both the believers in Thessalonica (I Thess. 5:16) and Philippi (Philippians 4:4) to “rejoice always.”  The word translated as “always” means “at all times,” no matter the circumstance.  This is possible because we know that God is always at work on our behalf.  We can rejoice because God is always seeking to use every thing to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

Faith and anxiety cannot exist together in the same space and same time.  Do we believe that God is always for us? (Romans 8:31)  If God is present and brings His purpose and provision, our faith in Him releases us from anxiety in order to worship, give thanks and rejoice because we know He has it handled.  If we are filled with the fullness of God, we behave in ways unlike the world around us.

Because of the reality of God’s presence, purpose and provision and His being for us, Christians should be the most grateful and relaxed people walking the face of the earth.

Worship is an every day activity, not just reserved for Sunday mornings or conferences.  The presence or absence of continual, daily worship reveals something about our perspective on the reality of God’s presence in all situations.

What should Christians sound like on earth?  Our voice should be heard at all times worshiping God. which is built upon a foundation of thankfulness and from which joy just “oozes” from us.

It is in this attitude, mindset, perspective of continual, daily worship of a personal nature that must be foundation from which our praying is built.

It is in this attitude that we enter the presence of the Almighty God as we prepare to pray.  And this worship is not to be a token gesture towards God before we pray; it is to be genuine and seen as vital, not just as a preliminary to get to what we believe is important which is what we want to ask of God.

In an email conversation with my sister who lives in Kansas, I revealed to her the word I was looking to see if it would be given.  In a reply she told me the story of a woman in the town where she lives: “Every now and then you come across an individual that is radiant and you know without inquiring that they are indeed a Christian.  There is an older gal in town and her face just shines every time I see her even when heavy things are on her mind.  She just glows.  Mrs. Renfro is proof that it can be done!  She is a joyful Christian.  Her face shines when no one is looking!!”

God is slowing reconstructing my approach to prayer.  It is my desire that the result of this reconstruction will be a incredible increase in confidence and boldness in what I pray as I see His power flow as I pray what is already His will to do.

Confidence in Prayer – Do We Really Have It?

In 1 John 5:14-15, we read, “And this is the confidence we have toward Him, that whatever we ask according to His will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us, that which we ask, we know that we have the requests which we asked of Him.”

Jesus said in Matthew 21:22 this: “And everything which you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

James said in James 1:5-8 this: “But if any one of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and does not reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith, doubting nothing, for he who doubts is like the surge of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed about.  For that man must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

Two days ago, I came face-to-face with the reality of how I, and many others, approach prayer.  When I pray, is boldness and confidence demonstrated, I mean, really and truly demonstrated?  

Or is it more common that what is revealed when I pray is that I am in truth playing darts in a pitch black room trying to hit the target of what God’s will is?  Isn’t that what I am really doing when I pray for God to respond or do something but then add on the tag phrase at the end, “if it be your will?”  Isn’t that phrase really indicative that I am not really sure if something is God’s will?  

Then, if it really is indicative of the fact that I am not really sure, then how can I pray truly believing that this is what God wants to do?  And, since faith is being sure of what God will do or how He will respond, what right do I have to expect that what I pray will come to fruition?

And if and when I actually stumble upon it, how will I actually know that I have found God’s will?

And where is the boldness or confidence in that?  (By the way, that was a rhetorical question; there isn’t any.)

What does boldness or confidence look like?  It looks like certainty, that the outcome is never in doubt.  It looks like the certainty of the outcome if the Miami Heat of the NBA played a Junior High basketball team; the outcome is not in doubt whatsoever.

What is boldness/confidence in prayer?  It is knowing what God will do before we pray and then join Him in asking Him to do it.  

Prayer is not about finding out God’s will.  Before we pray, we ask God questions like, “What are you up to in this situation?” and “What do you want to do here?” and then listen to what He reveals to us so that we understand what He wants to do (His will).  It is then that we add our voice to what Jesus and the Holy Spirit is already praying (Romans 8), joining them in asking God to do what He already wants to do.  

When we know that we are praying exactly what God wants to do, there is boldness and confidence because we know that what God wants to do in a particular situation, He is going to do.

We move from praying for the answer to praying with the answer.  That’s a process that takes time, but it’s the place to which I am moving.  

Stay tuned.

Did you hear that explosion?

My adviser in seminary taught me to be a biblical theologian.  I have blogged about this at a prior time, but I would say here, to suffice, that being a biblical theologian means allowing Scripture to speak for itself and shape what I believe, even if that means going against what I had been taught and read repeatedly for many years.  When this type of event occurs for me, I characterize it as an explosion.

Well, did you hear an explosion yesterday?  I certainly did.  Yesterday, I saw a vast majority of what I have been taught about and on prayer destroyed in an incredibly loud explosion.

This explosion was a result of my reading a short (96 pages) book titled, “Crafted Prayer,” by Graham Cooke.  (You can buy it as an e-book for $5 at http://www.brilliantbookhouse.com

Immediately after his introduction, Graham starts with Jesus’ words from Matthew 21:22: “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”  Graham then asks this question: “Why, then, do we seemingly receive so few answers to prayer today?  Was Jesus lying?” 

When I read how Graham answered his own question, I knew that a lighter was being held to the detonating cord that was connected to the explosives sitting underneath what I had been taught about prayer.  Graham answered it this way:

Prayer, as it is taught today in most churches, doesn’t work.  Most of us have been brought up in a tradition that when something bad happens, prayer must begin immediately.  This seems reasonable and even righteous, but on a deeper level, it actually hinders the power of God to work on our behalf.  In my experiences in churches and friendships, when we pray too soon, we usually pray in unbelief.  We find ourselves praying out of the shock or trauma of the situation itself, and we pray out of our panic, our worry, our anxiety and our concern.”

Graham goes on to say that when this occurs, the approach is a shotgun approach.  We throw up all manner of prayer, different ways that God might want to respond.  We even add the phrase, “IF it be your will,” in order to cover any possibility we may have missed.  I wonder if, when God hears all these types of possible responses, He thinks to Himself, “What is this, multiple choice?”

When this praying occurs, it has now ceased being about the person or situation about whom is being prayed, and become, in reality, about our search to find God.  “We have forgotten to pray what God wants to do and begun our own search for Him.”

Throughout the rest of the booklet, Graham unfolds a process of prayer.  He speaks of how we are to enter the presence of God with thanksgiving and praise (Psalm 100:4).  He speaks of what it means to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) He speaks of the rest that is involved.  As we are still and resting, we are listening, listening to what our Lord is praying as He intercedes for us as He stands at the right hand of God. (Romans 8:34).  We are also listening to the Holy Spirit who is also praying for us as we do not know what to pray. (Romans 8:26)  What Jesus is praying and what the Spirit is praying matches and what they pray to have happen will happen.

So, we listen to what they are praying and we join them in praying what they are praying.  We do this by listening intently which can only happen when we are still and at rest.  And, when we pray what they are praying, we KNOW that what is being prayed will happen.  We don’t pray FOR the answer; we prayer WITH the answer!

This teaching is direct conflict with some of my responsibilities as a pastor, namely the pastoral prayer portion of our worship gathering.  I am given requests of which, oft-times, I am unaware and expected to pray for them on the spot.  Yet, since I am unaware of how Jesus and the Spirit are praying regarding these things, the prayer becomes a search for God regarding these things, rather than being still and resting and listening intently, all of which takes time.  No wonder rarely does what I say in these prayers come to fruition.  I’m trying to hit the target, but am, in reality, spraying arrows all over the place.

The explosion may have happened quickly, but the reconstruction process will take some time.  I want it to be time well spent which results in a level of intimacy between me and the Spirit which I never dreamed possible.

Looking forward to the results.

Confidence through the Prophetic

Recently, in a devotional I gave to a group, I discussed the story of David’s battle with Goliath. I recently heard a different perspective on a certain aspect of this, one that opened up a line of thought that I see as vital for the church today.

I asked the group this question: why could David be confident that he was going to be victorious over Goliath?  The answers I received were the ones I expected.  These answers mentioned God watching over him and God being with him and the like.  I then asked a follow up question.  I asked the group, “Where in this passage did God tell David to go out onto that battlefield, let alone that David would defeat Goliath?”

The answer is that it is nowhere to be found.  David received no communication from God that this was what he was supposed to do.  My common approach was that since David was doing this in the name of God that God wouldn’t allow him to die, but actually defeat Goliath against all odds.

This approach, perspective and attitude flies in contradiction to other times where someone was serving in the name of God and God allowed him/her to be killed.  I think of Acts 12 where God allowed one of the apostles, James, to be beheaded by Herod but rescued Peter from prison when Herod intended to do the same to him.

For David, there had to be something else at work in order for him to have the confidence that he was walking off that field alive and victorious.

And there was.

It’s actually found in the previous chapter.  In I Samuel 16, we read the story of God telling the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse to anoint the man who would be the next king of Israel, that man being Jesse’s youngest son, David.  So, Samuel prophesied over David, giving him the word of the Lord for him.  David knew he would be king of Israel because God had said so.

Now, fast forward to chapter 17 and Goliath.  David knew God’s track record in protecting him and giving him the ability to do certain things like protecting his flock from predatory and vicious animals.

David also knew what God, through Samuel, had spoken over him.  David wasn’t yet king, so he knew that there wasn’t anyway that he wasn’t leaving that battlefield alive.  That meant that it sucked to be named Goliath that day!  David couldn’t lose!

David believed that it was proper for him to go out against Goliath because of Goliath’s boasts against God; he also had the confidence because he knew what had been spoken over him.  That’s pretty strong confidence!

What about us today?  What prophetic word has been spoken over you?  What has the Holy Spirit said about what you will do and who you will be?  I knew at age 17 that I would be doing today what I am doing for, even though he didn’t realize it (and I don’t believe he believed in prophetic words in this age), someone spoke a prophetic word over me that I would be doing what I am doing today as a pastor.

Way too many Christians today have absolutely no idea what God through the Holy Spirit has called them to do and be.  They just float through life.  In reality, these Christians are like everyone else around them who have no relationship with the Father.  They do not stand out as different when they should stand out as being different because of God’s power flowing through and prophetic word upon them.

What is far too common today is that many followers of Jesus are actually just travelers with Jesus.  Jesus said in Matthew 4:19, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  Travelers just float along with Jesus never really moving forward, whereas followers are continually trained to fulfill a specific role in and for the kingdom of God moving forward as this occurs.  We are given this role through the Holy Spirit speaking it to us.

Now, that role doesn’t necessarily stay the same but changes as God, through the Spirit, continues to equip us.  We are equipped for a specific role and then, as we grow, we are further equipped for the next role.  All of this involves communication from the Spirit of God as He communicates what He has seen in the spiritual realm whom God has declared us to be in our identity as His children.

Inside that knowledge given to us by the Holy Spirit is confidence and inside that confidence is power and ability because it is given to us by the Holy Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:1-6)

So, what has the Spirit declared to you about what you will do and who you will be for God? If you are unsure, I would encourage you to get into some serious conversations with the Spirit.  There is a prophetic word for you which the Spirit has; listen to it and then, from it, allow the confidence gleaned from that word build and the power and ability that the Spirit gives to us because of that word flow.

Shalom

Today is Happy “Resurrection Celebrating” Day

So, it’s the day after Easter.

How will you acknowledge and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus today?

How will you encounter and experience the living Christ today?

Or, as can be common among followers of Jesus which moves me to sadness, will not a thought be given today to the fact that Jesus is no longer dead but alive?

While the day of Easter has special celebrations because of Jesus’ resurrection, everyday should have its own celebration because of Jesus’ resurrection.

What might that daily celebration look like?  Well, in a word, it looks like life, real life, which is living to God.  The Apostle Paul says in Romans 6:8-11 this:

“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more; death lords it over Him no more.  For the death which He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God.  So also you, reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but living to God in Christ Jesus.”

Everyday, every follower of Jesus Christ should consider that new day as the next opportunity to experience the resurrection of Christ in our own lives.  Everyday is an opportunity to go deeper into that life which we have because we have died with Christ and also have been raised with him.

I would like to ask you to consider something.  If this perspective and approach were to be genuinely yours, how would it change things for you?

For me, because I have participated in both Jesus’ death and resurrection, a whole new world has been opened to me.  As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 2, only someone who is spiritual (born of the Spirit) can understand things of the Spirit.  He also says in 2 Corinthians 5 that he no longer considers anyone according to the flesh, but the spiritual.

As I go through each day, I get the privilege of seeing into the spiritual and seeing the world around me from that vantage point.  It’s exciting stuff!  I get to participate with God in seeing people experience the reality of their life in and through Christ.  God wants it to be your normal experience too.

And it can be.  And, if it is, you also will actively celebrate the resurrection everyday.

Happy “resurrection celebrating” day!