Seeking Revival

                “When you pray, say “Father…”

                                                                                                                                                Luke 11:2

                Fred Sanders has written an extremely helpful book explaining the doctrine of the Trinity entitled The Deep Things of God, How the Trinity Changes Everything (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2010).  His book introduces the reader to a wide variety of other helpful material which expanded this readers understanding and appreciation of the place of the Biblical Doctrine in practical Christian living.  I introduce this blog entry with a reference to this book because Sanders concludes his book with a chapter on the impact of the Trinity on the prayer life of the believer.  Over the past several months I have been finding myself increasingly convicted regarding the need for believers to join together in prayer for a renewed outpouring of the Spirit of God in revival.  As I have been praying about this, and seeking to encourage others to join together in prayer for revival something interesting has been happening with me.  It is as if the Lord has enrolled me in School once again.  The course of study is the development of a life of Intercessory Prayer which is fully Biblical.  I have been finding myself thrust into situations where I have been forced to learn what it is to truly pray.

It is here that Fred Sanders has been so helpful because he introduces us to Biblical Triune Praying, which he calls praying with the grain.  I want to whet our appetites for this type of praying with an extended quotation from Sander’s chapter on prayer, pages 211-212.

“It is because of God’s triunity that we have communion with God in prayer.  Once we understand that the Christian life is constituted by the Trinity, we have an opportunity to pray in a way that is consistent with that constitution.  If the Spirit unites us to the Son and reconciles us to the Father, we have an invitation to pray accordingly: to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit.  This is not just the “theologically correct” way to pray but a way of praying that draws real spiritual power from being aliened with reality.  The reality is that Christian prayer is already tacitly Trinitarian, whether we recognize it or not.  Aligning with it means praying with the grain instead of against it.

                Wood has a grain to it.  The long fibers that make up a piece of wood all run in one direction, and a wise woodworker will always find the direction of the grain before starting to work.  He can work along the grain or cut across it, but he avoids planning or sanding against that grain because that is to invite a clash with the directionality built into the piece of wood.  Paper has a gain as well, which is why you can tear straight lines down the page but not across it.  Cat fur has a grain, and if you stroke a cat against that grain, the results are not good for felines or humans.  When you work with the grain of the wood, or the paper, or the cat, things go well.  When you go against the grain, either because you are oblivious to the structural forces involved or because you consider them negligible, things do not go as well.

                The act of prayer has, metaphorically speaking, a grain to it.  Prayer has an underlying structure built into it, complete with a directionality that is worth observing.  This grain is Trinitarian, running from the Spirit through the Son to the Father.  It is a built-in logic of meditation, designed that way by God for reasons deeper than we are likely to fathom.  But we do not need to understand it in order to benefit from its solid structural integrity.  Nor do we need to take special lessons in praying in a properly Trinitarian fashion.  The possibility of praying in a more Trinitarian way is all promise and no threat, all invitation and no danger.  Christian prayer is already thoroughly, pervasively, structurally Trinitarian whether you have been noticing it or not.  The only thing you have to add is your attention, to begin to taking notice of what’s Trinitarian about prayer.”

                What Sanders introduces here is the fact that prayer is an invitation to join with the Father, Son, and Spirit in their communion.  We have help as we seek this because God’s Word tells us that both the Son and The Spirit are interceding for us.  This is the thing I have been learning about prayer for revival.  It is at its heart a seeking to know God as He has revealed Himself to us.  Are we truly seeking to know and love Him?

Intercessory Praying

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a man just like us.  He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

                                                                                                                                                          James 5:16-18

                If you are like me you often find the examples of great Prayer Warriors to be somewhat intimidating. “Historic Pray-ers” are held up an example for us, but they often seem to be people whose commitment to the Lord is beyond that of us ordinary mortals.  Then there are the examples of people of prayer in the Bible and their example is even more intimidating.  People like Moses, or Abraham, David, Daniel, Elijah, the Apostles, or any of the host of New Testament characters seem almost to be from another Planet as they engage in Ministries of Intercession.

In looking carefully at these people of prayer though we make an encouraging discovery.  This is that they, like us, are mere sinful mortals.  James tells us that “Elijah was a man like us.”  What James means by this is that Elijah was a man who was subject to the same frailties and weaknesses as we are.  The reason we find him or others like him so difficult to follow is because we focus our attention upon ourselves rather than the God who hears and answers prayer.  Let’s take a look at what James tells us about Intercessory Prayer in these brief verses.  First, in verse 16 he calls us to intercessory prayer, with the confession of sin, for one another so that we will be healed.  This must be as natural a part of our life together as the Body of Christ as is breathing to our human lives.  There is a presupposition here however.  Intercessory praying requires that we be living in the will of God.  Do we really want the will of God to become increasingly our reality?  The power of prayer is not in the prayer itself it is in the God who we are praying to.  James tells us that the prayer of a righteous person is effective to accomplish its purpose.  James is pointing us to the will of God here.  The righteous person is one who is dependent upon the Lord in every way.  We are sinners redeemed through the merciful grace of Christ.  We are not, nor can we ever be righteous in ourselves.  Here is the precious truth here that James shouts at us.  Neither was Elijah, or Paul, or Peter, or any of the other Biblical people righteous in and of themselves.  None of those great historic people whose biographies we devour were righteous in themselves either.  All of them were sinners like us, subject to the same frailties and weaknesses as we are.

Why then was their intercessory praying so much more effective than ours.  I believe that James is telling us that they had learnt the secret of prayer.  It must be a dependant casting of ourselves upon the purpose of God which is being worked out in Christ.  Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes the righteous life of believers in Romans 12:1-2.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

                When you explore the passages in 1 Kings 17 & 18 regarding Elijah and prayer what is seen clearly is that this was a man who through prayerful meditation was seeking to understand and obey the Will of God.  His prayer of intercession then became conformed to the will of God.  This made the difference for him.  If we join our voices to the Intercessory praying of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, both of whom we are told are interceding for us according to the will of God the Father then our praying will have the same power as theirs, not because of us, but because of them.  Charles Hodge puts it this way in a quotation shared by Kurt Richardson.

“It cannot be supposed that God has subjected Himself in the government of the world, or in the dispensation of His gifts, to the short sighted wisdom of men, by promising, without condition, to do whatever they ask.  No rational man could wish that this was the case.  He then asserted that the condition expressed in 1 John 5:14 is everywhere else implied: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”” (Richardson, Kurt A., The New American Commentary on James, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1997, p. 238)

Fellowship With God

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savoir; my God will hear me.”

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 7:7


                The Scriptures have a lot to teach us about what it really means to live in fellowship with God.  The authors of Scripture enjoyed a rich relationship with God.  At times it is described as “crying out to God” or it is seen in the way a person will “draw near to God”.  Sometimes we discover this rich fellowship in the expectant hope and joy which characterized a person’s life.  Here in Micah 7 we discover his rich fellowship with God in the personal lament which he pens describing his distress at the broken state of the sinful society in which he lived.

Micah’s personal lament is a prayer in which this Godly gentleman cries out to the living God for relief from his distress over the sin which seems to characterize so much of the society in which he lived.  This is in many ways a true measure of the real state of our hearts.  Are we moved and distressed by those things which move and distress God?  In the Scriptures we find many of these types of Lament.  Could it be that this is what the Scriptures mean when they make reference to people who began to cry out to God?

In the book of Psalms alone we find these personal cries to God for deliverance. Psalms 5, 13, 22, 31, 55, and 71 are all examples of these personal laments.  In each of these the author cries out to God for deliverance.  As the cry is brought before God it contains within it a confession of sin and a deep awareness that help and hope can only ultimately come from God.  It is He and He alone who can redeem us.  It is He who can create within us that new life which is characterized by the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

The reality that we are led into here is that the only acceptable context for dealing with our distress is one of worship.  Each of these personal cries for help is in reality a song of worship or a statement of faith.  Our faith is most clearly seen in the ways we respond to the distresses of our lives.  In Genesis 47:31b we read that “Israel (Jacob) worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.”  This was as he was nearing the end of his life.  It was a time for worship.  This is the case with Micah’s time of distress.  It is a time for worship.

When we look carefully at Micah’s lament we see his worship in the context of the brokenness of the society in which he lived.  Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in family life.  Members of families were turning on one another in his world, just as they do in ours.  This always causes great anguish of heart.  Many solutions will be put forward to heal the family, but only one will work and that is the intervention of God.  What is needed is real prayer, crying out to God for help.  This was what in fact Micah did, expressing his expectation of the day in which God would intervene, and his hope and trust in God’s gracious intervention.  “As for me” is his cry.  This is always the believer’s cry.  Is it your cry?

Stubborn Unbelief

       “Later Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were eating;  He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.”                                                                                                                                                  Mark 16:14

                Several years ago I became engaged in a study of the Gospel of Mark, one of the things that was impressed upon my mind and heart was that this Gospel defined just what it meant to be real disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Mark does this by constantly painting a picture of how the disciples refused to really commit to Him on account of their hardness of heart, fear, or unbelief.  As Mark keeps pulling the curtain back to expose the real disciples with all of their failures he shows us the reality of their, and our, entrenched unbelief.   This unbelief causes them, and us, for we are really no different from the disciples, to consistently shrink back from following Jesus because of stubborn unbelief.  The whole Gospel makes this point clearly, and the final twelve verses in chapter sixteen reinforce it by constantly coming back to the theme.  No matter how many times the disciples hear the testimony of the resurrection they refuse to believe.  Mark presents the account of the resurrection as a test which the disciples initially fail.  How would you have done if you had been in their place?  They had the witness of Jesus, telling them all that was to come.  Would they believe Him?  They also had the testimony of the Scriptures which Jesus has repeatedly told them that He is fulfilling.  Would they believe this testimony?  Then there is the word of Mary Magdalene, and of two unnamed disciples who met Him on a journey.  Still they did not believe.  What stubborn unbelief we discover here.

How do we fare when we encounter all the testimony of our Lord’s resurrection?   We think that we would believe, but the question we must honestly ask ourselves is this, do we?  So often the entrenched unbelief we see in this text is revealed in our lives, because the causes of their failure exist in our lives as well.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a little study of the book of Habakkuk which he entitled From Fear to Faith in which he outlined our problem.  We live our lives in fear.  We fear death, failure, poverty, ridicule, loss of power, and could we say it insignificance.  All of this reveals that the focus of our lives is firmly upon ourselves.  Even as those who claim the name of Christian we find ourselves living self-centredly.   The consequence is that we never really begin to follow Jesus.

Mark points to at least four things that show this self-centredness in our lives.

1)      Fear is the first one.  We fear the consequences of really following Jesus.  If we really committed ourselves to living by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ what would it cost us?  We are not really certain that we can bear that cost so we shrink back from becoming a disciple.  There is more here however because we not only fear the cost we also fear the narrow road that Jesus will lead us on.  If we really follow Jesus where will He take us?  Mark makes it clear that the disciples are to follow the crucified one wherever He goes.

2)      Hardness of heart is second.  The disciples refuse to follow because they don’t really want to.  They are more comfortable holding on to their sin.  They have grown accustomed to it.  So have we.   Sin and all of the broken behaviours it has brought into our lives has become a comfortable old friend.  When Jesus convicts us of it we react almost as if He has attacked a beloved member of our family.  To follow Jesus requires of these disciples, and of us, that we die to our sin.  We must put it to death within us.

3)      The third is unbelief.  The disciples have not come to trust, and listen to, the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ through His word.  They have not come to the point where they see in the Word of God a personal, life transforming word that changes everything about them.  How often do you or I read the Word of God in a way that allows us to hold it at a distance?  We read it but we don’t let it speak to us.

4)      The fourth one points to the missionary calling that is at the heart of what it means for us to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.  At its heart this calling is for us to follow Christ crucified into all those places He is going.  The choice of the place is no longer our own, it is His.  Mark along which Paul uses a term that focuses our attention upon the fact that Jesus goes out into our world as the crucified one.  That is the one who bears the curse of God, but who has triumphed over that curse and the death that attends it.  He is the Lamb who was slain but who is alive.  He meets sinners in their misery, and redeems them because He has born their curse.  He meets us in all our brokenness and redeems us because He has born our curse.  Then He begins to walk away from us, looking over His shoulder He calls out for us to follow Him, and He goes right up to the weary, the broken, the vile, and the needy, and He gives them grace, all the while inviting us to come along with Him into these places of need.  Mark makes it clear that the disciple were not sure they wanted to go there with Him.  That is where real life is found however.

What changed for these disciples was what Luke tells us about the giving of the Spirit of God on the day of Pentecost.  Immediately the disciples began to follow courageously.  They became people of faith at that moment, so too will we be transformed by this gracious promise of God.

A Call To Secret Prayer

In recent weeks we have been reminded that we live in an increasingly dangerous world.  There are all kinds of reasons for us to become nervous.  We have conflict between nations, terrorism, riots, the treat financial instability, moral failures as well as the seemingly routine day to day bad news that inundates us.  We look ahead and think that things must get better someday.  However someday never seems to come.  For some the solution to our troubles seems to be to turn to God in Prayer and so we find ourselves organizing and attending great prayer rallies.  These can be wonderful things, but somehow we find ourselves thinking that something more is needed.  When we hear a call to prayer and find ourselves moved to participate we must make sure that we really do pray.  What is needed is secret and real prayer.  We are called to seek the face of God in genuine repentance.  I believe that it was this that W.C. Burns was writing about in his journal entry regarding the day of solemn fasting on March 1, 1840. (In God’s Polished Arrow: W.C. Burns Revival Preacher, by Dr. Michael McMullen, Christian Focus Publications, 2000)

“We had this day a solemn fast, kept by many I have no doubt very strictly, as far as the duty of abstinence is concerned.  We met at two o’clock P.M. and I spoke upon the exercises appropriate for this day:

1)       Self examination in order to the discovery of sin, of the heart and nature as well as of the tongue and life, by the law and the Spirit of Jehovah.

2)       Humbling the soul before God under sins discovered.

3)       Confession of sin, full and particular, free and filial.

4)       Penitent turning from all sin.

5)       Entering into the covenant of grace by the receiving of Emmanuel and the surrender of the soul to Him and to God through Him.

6)       Special prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon this city, and the other places united with us in this fast, the great end designed in its appointment.  There was great solemnity.”

The beginning of any great movement of prayer must always be found in individuals who genuinely begin to seek God for themselves.  This always requires heartfelt Gospel repentance.  Leonard Griffith once asked an assembly of believers who had gathered to consider some great cause whether “they really meant it”.  When we endeavour to share the love of Christ in a city such as ours, or in a world such as we find ourselves living we must always begin by asking ourselves whether we really mean it.  Are we serious about the love of God?  This means that we must personally examine ourselves to see whether we have received that Gospel love, and then, are we truly living in it.  For this is the starting point.  We must join with others to really pray for God’s blessing in revival.  This is a vital thing.  Before we join with others we must find ourselves on our knees in secret prayer.  This is the way forward.

Continuing The Reflection On the Cross

    “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Luke 6:40

In continuing to reflect upon Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain I am seeing more clearly that Jesus is calling His disciples to follow Him as He is making His way to the cross.  In Luke 9:23-24, Jesus states that “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will save it.” 

Such a life is lived out in a world that is hostile to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  How are disciples of Christ to respond to such a trying life?  Jesus calls His disciples to respond with Agape, which is the love of God towards us demonstrated in the cross of Christ.

Such Agape is lived out on account of the preciousness of the object loved.  It is not a response to our perception of what the object may be able to do for us.  It is defined as the love of God towards us.  God did not chose to love us on account of His belief that we might be able to do something for Him, but simply because we are precious to Him.  As Paul writes to the Romans,

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:5-8)

He loved us and chose to reconcile us to Himself through the cross of Christ simply because He deemed us to be precious.  We do not know why we are precious to Him, but we are and that fact brought the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross for us.  On account of Christ’s great love for us we love Him and His people.  We therefore exalt Him constantly in our lives.  We exalt, or worship Him truly, as we approach Him as the crucified one.  This is what it means for us to truly worship Him.  Norman Grubb on page 55 of “The Law of Faith” puts it this way.

“The biggest challenge to faith in our day doesn’t come from atheists denying God but from believes diminishing Him — treating him with cosy familiarity, praying to Him as though He were our Old Pal Upstairs or singing choruses which portray Him as a well-meaning simpleton.”

Real worship recognises that the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe has deemed us to be precious and therefore He reconciled us to Himself even though we are unworthy of such love.  He then calls us to love what He loves, even though the object loved is not worthy.  We simply love because God has declared that person to be precious enough for the Son of the Living God to go to the cross in order to reconcile them to Himself.  Such love is the fruit of the holy Spirit in us.  It becomes in us the expression of the Glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel.  It is this love that our broken world needs so desperately today.