Monday, January 11, 2016

God-sized prayers. God-shaped rhythms

There's a wall in our children's ministry area with the words God-Sized Prayers written on it. Each child has been asked to write one God-sized prayer request on it that they pray for during 2016. My son's prayer request is for our friend Bob to be healed of Motor-Neuron Disease. One girl prayed for her siblings to come to faith, another for the homeless in our city to be fed. As usual, our kids lead the way in faith.

Towards the end of last year as we preached through the book of Ephesians, God got our attention about our tendency to pray survival prayers. The Apostle Paul reminded the church in Ephesus of God's powerful prayer-answering ability, calling them to pray beyond their own needs and beyond their own life-times.  Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all you can ask or imagine, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever Amen. (3:20) 

Of course, our Father hears our desperate prayers for survival, because He graciously cares for every detail of our lives. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, Give us this day our daily bread. But He taught them to pray, Your kingdom come before and after that! He was shaping their prayers to go from the tyranny of their self-centered urgency to the priority of God's grand, eternal reign. From the above-mentioned verse, one might describe God-sized prayer as "Prayer, empowered by the Spirit and emboldened by our position in Christ, that confidently asks God to show His glory through the church in ways that exceed our imagination and outlast our generation, for the sake of Christ's fame." Perhaps this kind of prayer is less about survival and more about revival? What if we asked God to help us pray more like this in 2016?

And what about God-shaped rhythms? While Paul viewed God as Sovereign, this didn't breed any sense of prayer passivity in him. He said that we needed Christ's power to pray these God-sized  prayers. He also said, "I keep asking God," knowing that this kind of prayer required perseverance. Jesus famously told the prayer parables of the persistent widow and neighbor who kept asking, seeking and knocking. (Luke 11) He told these so that we should pray and not give up. Praying God-sized prayers requires power and perseverance from God himself,  because we so easily retreat into small, survival prayers through defeat or delay.

When a distraught father brought a son suffering with epilepsy to Jesus for healing, he said that the disciples were not able to heal him. After Jesus had cast out the demon and healed the boy, the disciples asked him in private, "Why were we not able to cast it out?" and His answer to them was, "This kind only comes out only through prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:29) The disciples had seen people healed and delivered before as they prayed. But this particular situation seemed to be a mountain that could not be moved. Jesus' solution was to call them to greater private prayer for the sake of greater public power. It is not a neat formula.We ultimately rely on God's sovereign grace. But God-shaped rhythms of prayer and fasting do empower God-sized prayers.

As a church we pray together the second Wednesday of each month at 133, and fast together twice a year for three days. These times have been absolutely indispensable to our life as a church over the years. They are like the engine room of a ship, bringing heat, power and forward momentum. We will continue to fast twice a year, but have felt prompted in 2016, to fast once a month on the day of 133, in response to Jesus' words, "This kind only comes out through prayer and fasting." We are not doing this to twist God's arm. We simply believe that as we fast and pray together consistently, He is wanting to empower us to pray beyond survival towards revival,  confident that He is able to do more than we can ask or imagine. Won't you join us this Wednesday the 13th January, as we fast and gather at 6:30pm at our Brea campus to pray.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Brave New Year

Every passing year is a gift worth celebrating and every new year is a trust worth stewarding. Last night, before we fell asleep waiting for the Times Square ball to drop, our family described their 2015 in 3 words over Thai food. My words were fruitful, complex, and breathless. Honestly, I've never felt more thankful for the surprising goodness of a passing year, or more hopeful about the one to come. I've also never felt more sobered by the prospect of the new year, because I really do believe that every year is a trust from Jesus, and to whom much is entrusted much will be required. 

So I'm asking what unique posture is required for us this year, to meet its unique challenges and opportunities. In the midst of our New Years' Resolutions, I'm trying to heed the reminder that we are human beings not human doings. The burning question for us this year may well be, "What does the Lord require us to be this year?" before we ask, "What does He require us to do?" In 2016, I am persuaded that God requires us, among other virtues, to be brave.

Of course, bravery is not the absence of fear. Bravery might be described as courage in the face of our fears. Scripture is full of stories of bravery. One of my favorites is the story of the 12 men who went in to spy Canaan. They carried back huge bunches of fruit from the fertile land. But 10 of the spies came back with a fearful report about giants. Only 2 came back saying, "There are giants, and there is giant fruit. But our God is greater than all of these. We should go in." Nobody remembers the names of the 10. But the names of the 2 are famous. They were called Joshua and Caleb. They had a different spirit. They were brave. Joshua led the people of God in to the land with God's repeated command to be strong and courageous. Jesus, our true and better Joshua, set his face like flint, enduring the cross and scorning it's shame for the joy set before Him. He bravely completed the work of salvation for us  even though he did not want to go to the cross.

Today, soldiers are known for bravery, as are firefighters and police officers. But every walk of life requires some degree of bravery. Much of my parenting has been teaching my children to be brave in the face their fears. Only one of my children is naturally brave. The other two have learned it. People can be taught to be brave. The question is, can Christians learn to be brave? I hope so.

We need to learn bravery to stand firm in a changing world where church bombings and Christian beheadings have become horrifically common-place. The seismic shifts in the West around the re-definition of marriage, the pro-choice agenda and pervasive moral relativism, also point to a more subtle, yet no less certain, erosion of religious liberty for Christians. The playing field has changed. If they ever had it before, Christians no longer have home ground advantage. Christendom as we knew it is over. The new tolerance is extremely intolerant towards any claim on objective morality. If Christians were resented in the past, it was because they were viewed as holier than thou. Now the same Christians with the same convictions are viewed as judgemental bigots. Christian bravery will mean, as a wise friend said, that we have a soul of conviction and a voice of courage, even if that means we are viewed as out-of-step with the pervading culture. In case this sounds all gloom and doom, the good news is that this shift will result in the shrinking of cultural Christianity, and the strengthening of the Church as a courageous company of Christ-followers.

I'm not talking about walking around with a target on our back, crying foul because Starbucks removed Christmas trees from it's holiday cups! The Church cannot afford to get into self-pity or self-protection. The real reason we need to be brave is that we are called to be kind to those who are unkind. Kindness requires great bravery. While we honor the bravery of the armed forces who are called to protect our civil liberties, the Church is called to a different kind of bravery. Turning the other cheek requires peculiar bravery, as does praying for your enemies and blessing those who persecute you. As Barry Corey writes in his book, Love Kindness, Christians need a firm center and soft edges to engage their opponents with civility and dignity. We overcome by the blood of the Lamb, who conquered in meekness rather than might.

Curiously enough, I think we need to be brave enough to rest well this year. I live in a city that never sleeps and in a culture that has forgotten how to Sabbath; to worship, unplug and eat with family and friends. There is always work to be done. Our lives are frenzied and frenetic, often unnecessarily so. But if God, who never grows weary, rested from His labor on the 7th day, it was surely to model healthy rhythms of hard work and good rest for us?  John Acuff recently wrote, "In a culture that praises busyness, rest is an act of bravery."

Finally, we need to be brave to stay true to our mission and our method. It is so easy to employ a  defensive posture in these times, or to over-complicate things, but Jesus our Great Commissioner has deployed us very simply to make disciples by the power of His Spirit. The gospel is still effective. The Spirit is still powerful. And the Commission is to every nation until our Great Commissioner returns. I am convinced that one of the primary reasons God has given us progress as a church is that we have remained true to our  mission to, "Glorify the Father in the power of the Spirit by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of Jesus." Increasingly, we are relying on the method of prayer-saturated mission. There are no short-cuts, but there are spectacular pay-offs when we stay true to the Great Commission. I am persuaded that this will be a year of unprecedented gospel fruit.

These are days of profound need and those who steward the light of the gospel will be called to spend themselves to see the night retreat and the Day advance. But advance it shall! Our Lord has conquered sin and death, and will renew all things when He returns. Until then, we employ Christ's bravery to stand firm, remain kind, rest well and stay true.

Standing strong in the power of His might, may it be a Brave New Year.