Fasting Prayer

Like many churches across the nation we will be marking the beginning of 2016 by holding a week of prayer. Talking and listening to God in prayer helps prepare the way for him to use us. I know of 15 people who prayed the ‘sinners’ prayer during 2015, most of these during the autumn term. This is the great mission that we are on – to see more and more people coming to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Our desire is that in 2016 we will see even more people taking that life changing step.

We each have a part to play in talking about Jesus, however the bottom line is that it is the Holy Spirit who waters the seed and brings people to faith in Christ. The work begins with prayer. Jesus commanded us to pray for workers to go out into the harvest field.

How did Jesus prepare himself for his ministry? The answer, as many of you will know, is that he went out into the wilderness for 40 days and nights to fast[1]. It is clear from the New Testament that fasting was a part of the spiritual life of the church, especially around times of decision making and strategising[2]. Jesus himself seemed to assume that it was something that his followers would do after he ascended to heaven[3].

What then is the benefit of fasting? Many people seem to have the idea that fasting is a way to make prayer more powerful, if you like to twist God’s arm. I am not sure where this idea comes from. However it seems to me that fasting is more about us drawing closer to God in intimacy. By resisting a natural appetite for food we are declaring that we have a greater hunger, a hunger for God. The discomfort of an empty belly reminds us to choose to push deeper into Christ. It also frees up time in a busy schedule that we can use to spend in prayer.

I would encourage you to fast during our week of prayer and use this opportunity to press into God. There are many different levels of fasting, from missing one or two meals during the week through to fasting for the whole week. You could choose to miss the same meal each day for the week, you could miss all meals on one or more days.

Whatever you choose to do I pray that God will richly bless you as you join in our prayer times together during the week.

[1] Matthew 4:2

[2] Acts 13:2-3; 14:23

[3] Luke 5:33-35

 

This blog post featured in the January 2016 edition of Lifelines

Prayer Changes Things

In May 1940 the allied British, French and Belgian forces numbering some 350,000 troops were cut off and surrounded by the German Army. In a speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill described the events in France as ‘a colossal military disaster’. He advised Parliament that ‘the whole root and core and brain of the British Army’ had been stranded at Dunkirk and seemed about to perish or be captured.

The situation was desperate and, while the British High Command strategized and planned a means for rescuing these troops, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer. He himself attended a special prayer service at Westminster Abbey on Sunday 26 May. The Archbishop of Canterbury led prayers ‘for our soldiers in dire peril in France’. Up and down the country, and across the British Commonwealth, churches, chapels and synagogues were overcrowded as people turned out in vast numbers to offer up their own prayers.

As a result of those prayers three extraordinary events took place without which the rescue would have been impossible. Firstly for some unknown reason Hitler hesitated, and ordered his advancing armoured divisions to back off. Secondly the skies darkened and a furious storm in Flanders grounded the Luftwaffe. Thirdly a great calm descended on the English Channel which became like millpond. A vast flotilla of boats of all shapes and sizes, including many never designed for crossing the Channel, made their way to France and over the next few days rescued the vast majority of the troops.

The following Sunday the churches were filled once again as the King led a National Day of Thanksgiving for the miraculous rescue that had just taken place. Prayer changes things!

We may not be in a predicament of national peril of the magnitude as was seen 75 years ago, yet many people in our land face seemingly impossible circumstances on a daily basis and don’t know who to turn to. The last weekend in September has been designated as a National Weekend of Prayer and the churches in Hook are joining with hundreds of churches across the UK to pray. We are inviting you, the people in Hook, to let us know what you would like us to pray for on your behalf. You don’t have to be religious, you don’t have to belong to a church, and you don’t even have to give us your name! Simply hand your prayer request in to one of the three churches in Hook during the month of September and over the 3 days 25-27th September we will pray for your situation, confident that Prayer Changes Things.

This blog post featured in the September 2015 edition of Hook Focus

 

How Great is Our God?

There are many worship songs that contain the line ‘How Great is Our God?’ or something similar. Even by itself the line communicates something of God’s majesty and wonder because it is in the form of a rhetorical question. That is, it is a figure of speech in the form of a question asked in order to make a point rather than to elicit an answer. Yet it is a very poignant question that we would do well to answer.

How great is your God?

How you answer that question will dramatically affect your life. It will affect the way you think, the way you speak and the way you act. It will also affect the way that you pray! The greater your view of God, the greater your expectations in prayer. The bigger your God, the bigger your prayers can become.

This was brought home to me again recently when I picked up a book called ‘Praying for Your Elephant’ by Adam Stadtmiller. The book is subtitled ‘Boldly Approaching Jesus with Radical and Audacious Prayer.’ Running through the book is a thread about a time when, as a young youth pastor, Adam and a colleague prayed for God to send their youth group a real, live, full grown elephant. (You will have to read the book to understand why he prayed such a prayer, and how the prayer was wonderfully answered!)

From then on ‘praying for an elephant’ becomes a metaphor for praying for something large and specific. He writes: ‘The boundaries of our personal prayer lives often have less to do with biblical restrictions and more to do with the limitations we place on them.’ In other words – our view of God is too small. The book is an invitation to expand our view of God and our expectations of prayer.

Jesus himself taught us an antidote for a too small God in the prayer he taught us. It begins ‘Our Father in Heaven, Holy is Your name’. Take a few minutes to mediate on each of those 8 words and allow the Holy Spirit to expand your view of God as you fill out the answer to the question, How great is your God?, in your heart.

This blog post featured in the September 2015 edition of Lifelines

Buy Praying for your elephant from Amazon UK
Buy Praying for your elephant from Amazon US

The prayers of God’s People

In my experience followers of Jesus universally struggle from time to time to know that their prayers are heard and have an impact. Sometimes we get an almost immediate answer, this week I have had the joy of seeing two prayers answered in the space of just a few hours. More often it seems that we bang on, again and again, with no apparent impact. It is not that our prayers bounce back off the ceiling, it can seem they don’t even get that far! Is this the reality? What happens to the prayers that seem unanswered, or when the answer does not pan out the way we were looking for? A verse jumped out at me from Revelation that I find provides a helpful insight.

And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. Revelation 5:8 (NIV2011)

At the start of chapter 4 John sees a door standing open in heaven and together with him we are invited to enter the Throne Room of God. What we see is the present reality of what is happening in the spiritual realm; the usually unseen parallel reality where good and evil are exposed for what they are. It is into this context that we encounter the twenty-four elders, representing all of God’s people. If, as I believe is the case, we are to understand that this is a picture of what we are doing in the spiritual realm when we engage with God in worship and prayer in the physical realm then this is massively encouraging. In Revelation 5:8 God’s people are depicted as having harps, musical instruments for worship, and golden bowls of incense which we are told are our prayers.  This reassures us that our prayers reach their destination, and furthermore are a pleasing aroma to God. The image is extended in chapter 8 where we read:

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Revelation 8:3–4 (NIV2011)

Even though our physical senses may not always be touched, and although our emotions may not always be engaged as we worship and pray, that is only half the picture. Revelation draws back the curtain and reveals that our prayers do in fact reach the very throne of God. The next few verses of chapter 5 tell us that God’s people sing a new song of praise to Jesus, the Lamb who was slain. This is an indicator that the balance of our praying needs to be praise and worship towards God so that we get caught up with his kingdom purposes, rather than seeking to bend his will to ours though our requests.

This blog post featured in the March 2014 edition of Lifelines

Red Moon Rising – by Pete Grieg & Dave Roberts 

RedMoonRising A movement began in 1999 that has affected more than 50 nations of the world. Starting with a group of young people in the ancient West Sussex city of Chichester, a chain of 24-7 prayer has spread from North to South and East to West. Not just in the UK or even Europe, but from Communist China to Washington DC. Prayer rooms have been established across the globe gathering people from different expressions of Christianity to pray round the clock. Meeting in places as diverse as caravans and nightclubs the prayer rooms, known as ‘Boiler Rooms’, have experienced the power of God in remarkable ways.

As is so often the case with a move of God, this movement started by accident and has been led by self-effacing people who are as surprised as anyone at what they have seen happen. This book recounts the story and shows how God has connected people together from different corners of the earth with a common passion to seek God in prayer. People who have attended these Boiler Rooms have sometimes come intending to spend only a few minutes in prayer and ended up staying for several hours. Others have walked in off the street to seek sanctuary, whilst yet others have come declaring a desire to become followers of Jesus. The common thread has been a willingness to persevere as this quote highlights:

 PUSH (Pray Until Something Happens) Perseverance has been a key theme for 24-7. In many ways continual prayer is exactly that – a refusal to quit! With all the encouragements and even miracles of the first few years of this crazy movement it would be easy to make it sound as if everything is easy or automatic, when he reality is that we all live with far more frustrations in prayer than breakthroughs. We are called to persevere as we seek to love God, love one another and love the lost. (p239)

The authors identify three characteristics of prayer that is central to the ethos of the Boiler Rooms:

Intimacy: 24-7 prayer is not simply about functionality – adding effectiveness to the things we do. First and foremost a Boiler Room is about friendship with God and, as in any relationship, intimacy grows from time spent with the one we love.

Infection: And the thing about hanging out in God’s presence is that it is contagious. When an individual develops intimacy with God they inevitably become infected with his life and love. Just as infections spread when one person breathes on another, so God’s breath conveys the same life-giving power today that it did on the day he created Adam from the dust. It is through intimacy with God that we become infectious carriers of his life-breath. And a contagious Christian is an effective one.

Effectiveness: A Boiler Room is a centre for transformation, but before we see the changes reported in the newspapers, we will experience them in our lives. You don’t need 24-7 or a Boiler Room to discover intimacy with God, but maybe it can help! (p274)

Interwoven amongst the details of this present move of God are snippets from the history of earlier prayer movements, most notably Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians whose 24 hour prayer meeting lasted 100 years. As you read this book, allow yourself to be provoked and encouraged. I expected to find the story of persevering prayer to leave me feeling guilty and inadequate. Instead I find myself stirred inside; praying ‘God, could it happen here? God, let it happen here!’

Buy Red Moon Rising from Amazon UK
Buy Red Moon Rising from Amazon US

God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer – by Pete Grieg

God-on-mute Perhaps one of the reasons that we struggle to pray is because we don’t always get the answers we want. Our prayers seem to hit the ceiling and don’t seem to change anything. There are many books on prayer that claim to give us keys on how to get whatever we want from God. This book is not like that!

Pete Grieg is a giant on the world stage when it comes to prayer. He is Director of Prayer at Holy Trinity Brompton and a founding champion of the 24-7 prayer movement that began in 1999 and has impacted more than 100 nations. If anyone should know about prayer then surely Pete’s your man!

In the opening chapter Pete describes the moment when 29 year old Sammy, wakes him in the middle of the night with pain in her leg. In the cot alongside lies 7 week old Daniel, their older son Hudson sleeps in the adjacent room. Initial concern that his wife’s cries will wake the baby are quickly forgotten when she begins to fit. Sammy’s body ceases to be under her control as she convulses violently and barely manages to exhale a plea to her husband to pray. His prayer was frantic yet seemingly futile. Sammy was turning blue; the pillow was becoming blotted with bloody spittle, the ambulance seemed to be taking forever! Yet in all the noise and confusion Danny continued to sleep peacefully. On arriving at the hospital a CAT scan detects a growth in Sammy’s brain the size of an orange.

Pete weaves together their journey through Sammy’s illness and frustration at unanswered prayer with Jesus’ journey from Maundy Thursday through to Easter Sunday via the cross to help us understand that even God’s silence is an answer. Wrought in the crucible of reality and pain, this is not a trite answer to a theoretical question. Rather it is the journey of ordinary people who despite plumbing the depths of despair retain their grasp of faith in God.

Buy God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer from Amazon UK
Buy God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer from Amazon US

Context changes everything

If you are the kind of person who likes scripture fridge magnets, then you will almost certainly have seen one with these words ’I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ (Philippians 4:13) What an inspiring verse! Are you facing a challenge? Then this verse promises you Christ’s strength!

But what does Paul mean by ‘I can do all things’? Does it mean that I can decide to launch myself out of my office window aiming to fly down Lynwood Gardens in the ‘strength of the Lord’ and expect to defy the laws of gravity? I doubt anyone reading this would believe that this is an appropriate interpretation of the verse and would restrain me, or even have me sectioned , were I to attempt such a foolhardy feat. Yet is it so different to imagine that this verse guarantees us exam success, strength to carry the shopping, confidence to win the deal at work? Is it a promise that God will show up and help us do anything we want?

This is where context comes in. Someone has said that ‘a text without a context is a con!’ That is certainly true in this case, as would be proved by my cuts and bruises were I to attempt Christ empowered aviation. Fortunately we don’t have to look too far to see Paul’s context here. Read back a couple of verses and you will see he is thanking the Philippians for taking up a collection to help with his physical needs. Even as he is dictating the letter, he realises that his readers might be misled to think that his physical wellbeing was what was important to him, so he qualifies his thanks by reminding them that his contentment was not based upon circumstances. Verse 11: Not that I speak from need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.

How did Paul learn his contentment?  Verse 12 tells us: I know how both to make do with little and I know how to have an abundance. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to have an abundance and to go without. Time and again Paul faced shortages and plenty, hunger and abundance. Notice how he links these together with the phrase ‘In everything and all things’. Did you spot that the ‘all things’ in verse 12 and 13 both refer to the same thing – Paul’s contentment! He can be contented in all circumstances only because Christ empowers his contentment. Christian contentment is not a stoical, grin and bear tough times because someone somewhere else is worse off than us. Followers of Jesus can be truly contented through good or bad circumstances, whether or not they change because their hope and confidence is in Christ. When we are content to rely on Him, He is truly glorified, because His strength is on display.

This blog post featured in the February 2013 edition of Lifelines

Money, Money, Money

Have you ever wondered would you do if you inherited a £1 million from some long lost relative or gained it from some other windfall? It does not seem to matter how much money people have, we always seem to want more. Older readers will remember lines from classic songs such as ‘Money, money, money. Must be funny. In a rich man’s world’ or ‘Money makes the world go around’ that express the world’s expectation that having more money will solve their problems. The stark truth however is that money does not make people happy and this sometimes leads people to state that ‘money is the root of all evil’.

Whilst that phrase is found in the Bible it is actually a misquotation! What Paul actually wrote was: ‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.’ 1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV)

As people who are daring to live by the Word and the Spirit, our goal is to allow the Bible to shape our thinking on every area of our life, including our finances. You may have heard the story of an airplane that was in difficulty and the pilot announced that they were about to crash land. One person called out “Should we do something religious?” only for someone else to reply “Let’s take up an offering!” If we limit our understanding of the Bible’s teaching on money to offerings, then we short-change ourselves.

The issue with money is not whether we are rich or poor, but rather whether we crave it. Paul says that craving for money has led some to wander away from their faith. Biblical teaching about money strikes right at the heart of our faith and our understanding of the gospel. It is not a side issue. Because it is such an important subject, Simon and I will be preaching a series that we are calling ‘Jesus on Money’, starting in the middle of January. As we do this, we will discover that Jesus pulls no punches as he challenges commonly held attitudes. Our prayer is that as we see what Jesus had to say about the subject, our hearts will be changed and instead of us serving money, we will learn to make money serve God’s kingdom.

This blog post featured in the January 2013 edition of Lifelines