Tag Archives: prayer

More On Prayer

by Scott

In my most recent article, I shared what I believe is one of the most important aspects in regards to prayer – being led by the Spirit.

For the Christian who is called to walk in the Spirit (i.e. Galatians 5:16, 25; Romans 8:4), we should look to see the Spirit active in all aspects of our lives, even in our praying. I pointed out that it is the Spirit of God who knows the will of God, and He also loves to step in and intercede on our behalf when we know not what to pray (Romans 8:26-27). I suppose that, along with Christ, the Holy Spirit has the most fruitful prayer ministry. Such truth stirs me to see Him more active in my prayer life.

But in this article, I wanted to take some time and clear up possible confusion or feelings that I have somehow set aside other kinds of prayer.

When I, or we, speak of Spirit-directed prayer, I suppose what can come to our minds is spontaneous prayer. And that’s not a wrong idea. Matter of fact, with most of the Spirit’s activity, there is a spontaneity, at least from our human perspective. Along with the Father and Son, the Spirit is well-aware of the bigger plan of what they are looking to accomplish in seeing God’s glory fill the earth (i.e. Habakkuk 2:14). Nothing ever catches these three off-guard.

But from our human standpoint, I think it quite easy to recognise the Spirit’s work as spontaneous, almost as if He is Lord over the ‘all of a suddens’. We are not always ready for nor do we normally plan for His workings – with the activity of His gifts, His power, His regenerating life, His directing of our prayers, etc.

Yet, I also want to note that, from our perspective, not everything the Spirit does has to be seen spontaneous, even in our praying. The greatest example is found in places like the Psalms. Though we consider the Psalms the song-book of the Bible, and it is, it also stands as a book of prayers. Many of the Psalms were to be prayed aloud by the congregation in varying settings. They had first been written by David and many others, but were written for the benefit of the community of God’s people in the coming generations. They were a kind of liturgy for the saints of old.

The word liturgy should not scare us. It simply refers to the order or form of our corporate worship gatherings. And, lest we misunderstand, even the most Pentecostal of churches have order to their corporate gatherings – prayer, song, song, singing in tongues, song, prayer, song, sermon, offering, song (or something similar).

Yes, the Psalms were originally written as directed by the Spirit, probably some of them spontaneously coming from an overflowing heart of praise or pain. So there is still the impromptu-ness of these prayers. But in the generations that followed, there would have been a planned reading aloud of those songs and prayers. And I believe this to be a beautiful thing. Shoot, I benefit from reading aloud these prayers, both individually and corporately.

So, I definitely wanted to clarify that, with regards to the direction of the Spirit in our prayings, this does not always refer to the ‘all of a sudden’ and the unplanned.

Another example centres around walking in the fruit of the Spirit. This is not always unplanned for me. I awake in the morning [most of the time] wanting to live as Christ lived, which includes living out those nine fruits mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Yet, at the same time, I can find myself not necessarily  contemplating the fruit of the Spirit, but an opportunity presents itself for me to show the patience and kindness of God. Both are Spirit-directed, but one was planned and one was impromptu. Neither one is better and both are Spirit-directed.

Therefore, by no means do I want to negate nor set aside our prepared and planned prayers, or any aspect of God’s planned activity in our lives. Such would over-simplify things and over-spiritualise our life in God. It can’t be done. Both have their beauty.

But, however we know the leading, direction and guidance of the Spirit of God Himself – planned or unplanned – we are called to know this leading, direction and guidance. We are called to keep our hearts, ears and eyes attune to the One who indwells and empowers God’s people. It’s not easy nor is it safe, but it’s good and right.

Spirit-Directed Prayer

by Scott

One of the most common means of communication with God is through prayer. As God’s people, we are even called to pray continually, or without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

I suppose most are aware that this kind of call to prayer does not intrinsically include the necessity of closing our eyes, nor folding our hands or bowing our knees. These actions aren’t wrong, but they are not the way of prayer. Life doesn’t allow for such postures at all time, but because God Himself resides within believers, the door has been opened for constant and consistent prayer.

Still, at times, prayer simply becomes something like a rote response or simply a cognitive exercise (whether we are praying aloud or not).

What I mean is this: When we go to pray about a situation, many times we just launch straight in. ‘God, thank you for today. Thank you for life and new life. Right now I ask that you reach out and touch Brian’s mother as she is going through this time of pain and suffering.’

That’s one scenario, but the ‘prayer response’ can be very similar across the board.

And I do believe there is a problem if our prayer life simply consists of a cognitive response.

Please don’t mishear me nor misunderstand me. I’m not asking us not to use our brains or our minds in prayer. As one friend reminded me once, ‘If we turn off our brains, then we would be dead.’

But what I sense in a lot of our prayers, or at least my prayers, is that we launch into praying without ever looking to be directed by the Spirit. Our prayers are simply our words and our words alone. I’m not sure that is a very healthy way to approach prayer.

A possible sign of this is when we start our prayers off with some statement like this: ‘God, thank you for this day.’ There is nothing wrong with such a statement. Matter of fact, we should be thankful for this day. That’s a good place to start. There is plenty of Scripture to back up a statement.

But, usually when we make such a statement, I find that we might not really be engaging with God in the activity of prayer. There’s nothing much there, if you will. And if that is the case, we need to be challenged.

Yet for a people looking to pray without ceasing, we need to consider how we can be better directed by the Spirit in our prayer. Didn’t Paul say it like this:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

If anything, the Holy Spirit knows how to pray, since He knows the will of God, the heart of God. It might be good that we be specifically directed, led, guided and stirred by Him in our prayers.

Matter of fact, I think we are called to being directed by the Spirit in all matters of life. That might just be what walking in the Spirit is. And a good place might be to start with our praying.

But, to try and clarify even more, I will give a personal example in my life that happened in recent weeks.

Some will know that I live in the Brussels, Belgium, area. Here, my family and I live in an apartment. But, whereas in America there is lots of space, there isn’t so much here. So everything is crammed together and everything is smaller. While in America they build their buildings outward, in Europe they build their buildings upward, so as to conserve space.

In our apartment, on the other side of my wife and I’s bedroom, we have our neighbours. Actually, it is the bathroom of the neighbours (which is mainly the bath-shower, sink area).

For some unknown reason, our neighbours love to congregate in their bathroom. It seems they have their deepest discussions there. I’m not saying you can’t do that, I’m just saying it seems like all the time, especially since we are right on the other side. And they both don’t have the quietest of voices. So, at times, my wife and I have joked about joining in their conversation, answering a question through the wall to see what might happen.

And, not only do they have deep conversations in their bathroom, but they also have their loudest and most intense arguments there. Well, even if it weren’t in the bathroom, we can normally here it wherever it takes place, due to their extremely loud voices.

So things had reached a pinnacle of frustration. I had tried visiting them one day to graciously let them know we have a small baby and that we are just on the other side of their bathroom. All I was able to obtain was speaking to them through the intercom system (a typical instrument in apartments over here). And, even more recently, we had knocked and I mean knocked hard on the wall to let them know we are just on the other side. One night, with an argument just beginning about 2.00am, I knocked as hard as I could and ended up injuring my knuckles. I had had enough!!

Now, here is the thing. We had been praying. But, as you can probably guess, our prayers were more along the lines of, ‘Lord, please help them shut up be quiet tonight so we can sleep.’ We were struggling because we hadn’t had too many good nights sleep in the past months with a newborn and we were simply at our wits end.

One night I was sitting in bed. I could have been reading, I could have heard our neighbours at it again, I could have been praying. I can’t remember the exact details of the situation. But I remember the exact details of what happened following that initial moment.

Clear as clear can be, I heard God say, ‘You’re praying wrong, Scott. I want you to pray for them, their blessing, their lives, their hearts.’

Again, it was so clear. I could not mistake the voice of God, His communication to me.

I was so sure it was Him that I changed my prayer right then and there, praying as He had shown me how. I also shared with my wife and we began praying according to what God had spoken from that moment forward. I didn’t just one to pray once and that be it. I was looking to pray regularly for them with my wife.

The most fascinating thing unfolded over the next couple of weeks. No, unfortunately, I cannot report that they both came to Christ, at least not yet. But the story is nonetheless encouraging, at least for me if no one else.

That next Friday, while I was at the office, there was a ring at the door of our apartment. My wife wondered who it could be. She answered the door and the person, a female, said, ‘Hi, I am your neighbour. Can we talk?’

My wife is thinking, ‘Is this THE neighbour?’

Well, it was. She apologised for all that had been taking place over the past months and how her partner had treated me when I tried to come over. She said she had not realised that this guy was as much of a problem as he was. She was from Poland (he was Belgian) and she would be heading back to Poland the next day. Her partner thought she would be going for a week’s holiday, but she was going for good, not to return. She had come over to get the readings on the metre for the electricity and gas, since it was actually in our part of the building. She was going to have things cut off since it was all in her name.

My wife invited her in for some tea, hoping to interact more with her. But, unfortunately, she declined the invitation saying that her partner did not know she was at our place and that she had to get back before he became suspicious.

Well, we prayed into the situation, again remembering how God had asked us to pray, and the next day she went back to Poland. We didn’t see here again and we’ve never met the guy. But, ever since then, there has been solid peace for the past 3 or 4 weeks (from whenever she left). Complete peace and quiet, even so much that the guy has only come home about 2 days in this whole time. I don’t know if he has moved out or what, but there have been no arguments, no yelling at 2.00am, none of the sort.

Interesting what happens when you pray in accordance with what God is saying. Our prayers were being specifically directed by God. I wasn’t just praying how I thought I should or how I wanted it to go. I was praying as He was leading and speaking.

Listen, this is not about boasting in me and my great prayer spirituality. Remember, I wasn’t really even looking for God to speak to me in this. It was simply in a moment when God spoke, communicated and directed me towards change. If anything, this was about His rich grace and mercy. He was fathering me.

I am still challenged to be praying into the lives of these two people, even now – for God’s blessing, for their lives, for any kind of hope to rebound off another person, for wisdom for them both if there is a desire to get back together, etc. But, I’m challenged even now to be praying as God leads.

Will we always hear God lead us? Probably not, though I wouldn’t put it pass God. But our prayers need to be directed by His Spirit, since the Spirit knows the will of God. I don’t want to just launch in with a nice and eloquent prayer that seems spiritual enough but lacks anything of God’s Spirit at all. What a waste of time.

So, even before we pray one word, maybe we should just listen, listen to Him. I can think of know better way to help us in our praying.

Experience, Faith, and the Word

By Marv

My wife’s parents were like many French people, agnostic to atheist, covered over with a vague New-Age layer. Many years before the events of this story happened, she had a thought occur in her mind, with a comfort and confidence, and she took it to be the Spirit of God speaking to her. “Your mother will come to faith first, then your father.”

Now, regeneration and conversion is a miracle always, but in a country such as France, you tend to diminish your expectations by a factor of ten, no, more like a hundred. It’s a tough, tough place for Christianity. We talked to them about the Lord, but apart from a little more openness for our sake, nothing much happened. It was hard to have too much impact; we were in the U.S. and they were in France.

One day in 1999, we had just brought home a new electronic answering machine. Back then those things were still gadgety enough to be kind of cool. You had to put a code on it to be able to retrieve messages. My wife suggested 828, because she liked Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” We were about to get a lesson about that verse.

We installed it, and the first time it rang, we decided not to answer but let the machine pick it up. What could it hurt?

Only it was her parents calling from France—with bad news. About 18 months earlier, my wife’s mother, Nicole had been operated on for cancer, successfully, we all thought. The cancer was back, and it wasn’t looking good.

In the next few weeks Nicole declined rapidly. My wife talked to her doctors, but French doctors are typically not frank with the patient or with family in regard to bad news. They told her they could treat her, which Nicole seemed to interpret as “cure,” but this was not what they meant. My wife eventually persuaded the doctor to level with her, since she was so far away and needed to know whether and when to fly over there. “Come now,” she was finally told, since they gave Nicole perhaps a couple of months.

While she was preparing to go over there, my wife spoke to her mother on the phone. We knew most of the evangelical ministers in their town and we wanted to get someone to her to pray for her. My wife quoted to her James 5:14: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

She wasn’t in any church, but we were working on arranging a pastoral visit with someone we had contact with. But before this could happen, she was at the hospital for chemotherapy, and a Catholic priest happened by. She told him what her daughter had said, and asked him if he could anoint her with oil and pray over her, like James said. Now for Roman Catholics this verse has basically become the basis for extreme unction, last rites for the immediately dying. Yet he agreed, and came to her house the next day and did just as James instructed.

Well, my mother-in-law still died of cancer, but it was a year later, and here’s what happened in that year. First of all, though the cancer was not cured, she did have an immediate change of symptoms, whereas she was weak and also unable to eat, she had new energy and her appetite returned right away. She was up and out of bed, and was able to spend many pleasant months with her husband and later with us, when we came to be with her.

We still had “our people” come and pray for her, and they spoke with her about the Lord. Now she was ready to listen. And she did listen, and she placed her trust in the Lord, and she started attending that evangelical church. My father-in-law went with her, and seeing her faith, and impressed by the love that body was giving them, he came to faith as well.

The cancer was still progressing and eventually Nicole did become weak again and unable to do much out of bed. But the very last day, as it turned out, that she was physically able to attend church, both she and my father-in-law were baptized. Nicole gave her testimony, between tears, recounting the story of the priest’s prayer, and her healing, partial and temporary as it was. Then she said, “If I had not gotten sick, I never would have come to know the Lord.”

Nicole still had confidence that the Lord could heal her, and she even thought he would. Now the doctors still had not made it clear to her that they considered her terminal, and we did not wish to discourage her either. You have to understand something; in this beautiful, but post-Christian country despair fills the air, so thickly sometimes that you feel you could cut it with a knife. Cancer patients as a rule do not go gently into that good night, and if her oncologist did not spell out the doom she foresaw, it was to grant a measure of false hope to her remaining days. That is the only hope she was able to dispense, having seen so many agonizing as death approached.

One night my wife stayed with her mother in the hospital, conflicted over knowing the medical prognosis and yet not wishing to overtax her mother’s new faith. But Nicole had a dream about Jesus, and she awoke the next morning both radiant—and knowing she was going to die.

“There’s going to be a reunion,” she said mysteriously. Not understanding, my wife asked her what reunion, with whom? “A reunion with Jesus,” she said.

Her remaining weeks were spent in one hospital or another, and all her friends came and visited her. And Nicole told all her friends about Jesus and how wonderful he was and how she was so happy to be going to be with him. This was a new experience for the oncologist, who was not at all used to hopeful—dying patients.

The doctor told us she wouldn’t last until Christmas, but she did. She died in January 2000. In those last weeks, her estranged son came to see her, and there were tears and there was forgiveness.

At the end of the most difficult but amazing year of her life, she went to her dearly anticipated reunion. The church was packed for the funeral, all her family and friends had come. It was a long service. We gave her testimony. We gave our testimonies. The pastor preached to gospel. That day everyone Nicole loved was gathered together and heard about the love and grace of the Jesus she had come to love and with whom she was now joyfully present.

Perhaps I should think it inadequate that her healing was not quite a “New Testament quality” miracle, not complete, irreversible, permanent. Right.

I am persuaded that the Lord used experiences, in Nicole’s life, in all our lives, to encourage, to build up, to demonstrate His love. And to demonstrate the truth of His Word. Frankly, I really did not have much confidence in the Roman Catholic priest who had prayed for her. But our faith is not in men but in the Lord and in His Word. Besides, James did say to call for the elders, the presbuteroi in Greek, and in the history of the church that word became prêtre in French,“priest.” Of course, the greatest gift was not the physical healing, would not even have been her being totally cured of her cancer. James goes on in verse 15: “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

And the Lord proved His Word that all things, even painful, grievous things work together for good to those who are called, and “those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Rom. 8:30b)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (vv. 35, 37-39).