Friday, October 26, 2007

Time Out For Evaluation

For the past month we have been looking at various aspects of prayer - the way in which we communicate with God and in which He developes His relationship with us. At this stage I am going to take a several day break in blogging to assess whether this method of input is value for time it requires. I would appreciate if you could take a few minutes to respond to the past posts either by e-mail to or by means of the comment box on this blogsite. I would appreciate knowing:

1. Was the information valuable to you and how?
2. How often did you acess the material and how much of it have you read?
3. What did you like best and what did you like least about the format or content?
4. Did you recommend it to friends?
5. Should this continue, if so what topics should we investigate and how should it dovetails with activities/services at church?
6. Any other suggestions you might have.

Thank you for your suggestions and advice.

Mike Clarkson

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Prophetic Prayer

6 Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:6-10

We have seen how prayer is the chord that binds us to God. We have read how it can build our character, our relationship with Him and even the very fabric of the Kingdom of God. We have seen how it is ordinary, it is warfare, it is construction, it is praise and it can be solace. We have seen how Jesus is our model and our partner as we pray to the Father. We have seen how the Holy Spirit is our helper and our translator in the process. But if we are to pray effectively how is it that we can know what to pray for and in what way? How do we know that we are praying God’s will?

One way of course is to test our prayers by our own spirit. As we grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord our spirits will testify with His Spirit as to what is His good and perfect will. Another way that we have already seen is to take our prayers and God’s purposes from the Bible. Scripture contains both evidence of God’s past workings and His future intentions and these are reliable for our current understanding. But sometimes our own inadequacies – our confusion, our busyness, our well intentioned error, our selfishness, our woundedness, our immaturity – will cause us to be uncertain as to how to pray or act. It is at this time that the Holy Spirit may himself guide our paths.

We can see in the passage above how St Paul, headed at first for Asia, was carefully redirected by the Holy Spirit. Although we are not told how the information was imparted we see clearly that St Paul was prevented from going to Asia. Then, as he and his companions changed direction and tried to enter Bithynia, once again they were thwarted by God. Finally they were directed in the correct course by a dream sent by God.

We worship a God who speaks to His people. He speaks through our world/environment/ and the course of history around us, He speaks through the Scriptures and by His Holy Spirit. He speaks directly to us today. This may come in the way of dreams and interpretation, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, prophetic words or in other ways. We may “see” something of His purposes through dreams or visions, “hear” His words aloud or inside our minds, “understand” with a clarity which is more than natural or even be given information supernaturally. If we receive this communication from God we must first test it against Scripture, against human knowledge, with our God-aware inward spirit and through the counsel of other mature Christians. If however, it seems right after all of this, as with St Paul’s direction from God, it may be helpful in directing our steps or our prayer.

I can remember when I first thought that God might be calling me to an ordained ministry. Linda and I prayed for almost three years asking God for assurance and confirmation. Over time we found that assurance in the encouragement of other Christians, in the circumstances of our testing, in Scripture, through clear prophetic leading and insight into God’s purposes (both in dreams and inner voice during retreats) and finally in the peace within our hearts that we both felt. The Holy Spirit will work through this same process for major decisions or daily direction. It is one of the ways in which God builds intimacy with us in prayer, guides our steps and enables His sheep to hear and recognize His voice with increasing confidence.

Can I encourage you today, as you pray, to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in what you pray and how you pray and see if in time it doesn’t make you a more effective prayer.

Mike Clarkson

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Persevering Prayer

1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'
4 "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'"
6 And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" Luke 18:1-8

Living in a “fast food” society where instant gratification is the norm, waiting for God to act, even when we know He will, can sometimes be difficult. This must have also been true for the disciples or Luke would not have included the above parable in his gospel. It may have been that the truth of this persistence became real for him after Jesus’ ascension and he had to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Or it may have been necessary for Paul as he waited in prison for God’s purposes to be worked out. The perseverance is even listed as a fruit of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s letter to the Galatian Church (5:22) where the word used is makrothumia which can best be translated long-suffering or fortitude

In any case, it is clear that at times we have to wait for God’s timing before moving forward. Nonetheless, Jesus also makes clear that we are to keep praying throughout that time. It is the widow’s persistent entreaties that win the day not just her patience. We are also not to give up. If God has spoken to us of His will then we are to continue to bring that intention back to Him again and again. Unlike the uncaring Judge, God will hear us and not tarry a moment longer than necessary in answering our petitions.

C. H. Spurgeon, the great Victorian preacher instructed his listeners: “If you are sure it is a right thing for which you are asking, plead now, plead at noon, plead at night, plead on. With cries and tears spread out your case. Order your arguments. Back up your pleas with reasons. Urge the precious blood of Jesus. Set the wounds of Christ before the Father’s eyes. Bring out the atoning sacrifice. Point to Calvary. Enlist the crowned Prince, the Priest who stands at the right hand of God. And resolve in your very soul that if souls are not saved, if your family be not blessed, if your own zeal be not revived, yet you will die with the plea on your lips, and with the importunate wish on your spirits.”

I thought you might like to reflect in your prayers today on a tale of two frogs:

The two frogs fell into a can of cream,
or so it has been told.
The sides of the can were shiny and steep,
The cream was deep and cold.
“Oh, what’s the use,” said number one,
“It’s plain no help’s around.
“Good-bye, my friend, good-bye, sad world”
And weeping still he drowned.

But number two, of sterner stuff,
dog paddled in surprise.
The while he licked his creamy lips
And blinked his creamy eyes.
“I’ll swim at least a while,” he thought,
Or so it has been said.
“It really wouldn’t help the world
If one more frog were dead.”

An hour or more he kicked and swam,
Not once he stopped to mutter.
Then hopped out from the island he had
Made of fresh churned butter.
(Author Anonymous)

Mike Clarkson

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Prayer and A Developing Trust

The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
Acts 14:20-28

St Paul and Barnabas, the encourager, were on the return leg of their first missionary journey to Asia Minor. They had been sent out from Antioch strengthened by prayer and fasting (Acts 13:1-3) and were now to return there after having encouraged the churches in Galatia planted on their outward journey. We are not told the details of the “good news” preached by the pair at Derbe but their efforts were clearly fruitful, empowered by the Holy Spirit. As they visited the various new churches on their return journey they clearly saw the need for leadership (what we would today call lay-leadership) and appointed elders in each church. This process, we are told, was accompanied by the same “prayer and fasting” into which the Holy Spirit spoke earlier and with which they had been strengthened throughout their journey.

But why prayer and fasting? Why was this “commitment” not accompanied by an intense training course or some other form of preparation? A clue to this practice might be found in this explanation from Dallas Willard in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: “Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in Him a source of sustenance beyond food. Through it, we learn by experience that God’s word to us is a life substance, that it is not food (‘bread’) alone that gives life, but also the words that proceed from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4). We learn that we too have meat to eat that the world does not know about (John 4:32-34). Fasting unto our Lord is therefore feasting – feasting on Him and on doing His will….Actually fasting is one of the more important ways of practising that self-denial required of everyone who would follow Christ (Matt 16:24). In fasting, we learn how to suffer happily as we feast on God. And it is a good lesson, because in our lives we will suffer, no matter what else happens to us.”

In other words, through the prayer and fasting that was the form of committal of these elders they learned first hand through experience about the hardships that they would endure (vs 22) and the trust upon which they could rely (vs 23). This was not some abstract book learning for some future date but a practical on-the-job training in working together with the Holy Spirit which they would need from that day forward – just as Paul and Barnabas had.

As we learn about prayer and our relationship with God deepens so too will we need this practical understanding. We too will need the words of life that God has to give us. We too will find struggle and hardships and need the trust in the Lord that comes from prayer and fasting. We too will need the adjustments to our self-sufficient bent that accompanies a life given over to God in this way. As we move into a season of considering Stewardship and the role that God plays in the financial side of our lives, let us begin to pray that together our trust in one another and God’s relationship with us will build, that we will begin draw closer to Him and more closely embrace His purposes here at The Church Of The Cross.

Mike Clarkson

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Prayer and A Conformed Life

11 When Solomon had finished the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the LORD and in his own palace, 12 the LORD appeared to him at night and said: "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.
13 "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.
2 Chronicles 7:11-15

The people of Israel had reached the pinnacle of their position as the Chosen People of God. As a nation they had been birthed through Abraham, taken out of slavery through the help of Moses, taken into the promised land by Joshua, prospered under the Judges and been given a line of Kingdom through David. Now under Solomon they had completed the Temple as instructed by their God and were asking for His blessing on them and what they hoped would become His new home. And God answers their prayer with a resounding YES! But the Lord God of Israel warns them of more difficult times ahead and gives them a formula for dealing with the future: humble themselves, pray, seek His face and turn to obedience to God’s ways. Then, once again, God will hear, forgive and restore the nation. As we spend time thinking about our prayer life with God we might also look at the other three aspects of God’s direction to His people.

Humbling ourselves is another way of saying that we might not always be right and that we might, at least on occasion, want to listen to what correction God might want to give us. Acknowledging that God might know more than we do and trusting His direction can be very humbling. Yesterday we introduced the possibility of fasting alongside our prayer. Denying ourselves food or other activities is another way of humbling ourselves and saying to God that He is more important than aspects of our own regular habits or desires. It is a way of putting Him before us.

The Old Testament is full of examples of the people of God seeking either God’s face (relationship with Him) or the work of His hand (His deeds on their behalf). Here Solomon is told that it is out of relationship that a continued blessing will come – not just out of the occasional rescue or obliging environment which God could produce. Again, occasional fasting combined with regular prayer can keep us focussed on our dependence on God and our desire for increased relationship with Him.

Finally, our lives need to reflect all of this spiritual discipline. If we are focussed on God, seeking a developing relationship with Him, putting Him first in our lives, denying aspects of ourselves, there should be some evidence of this in our lives. Turning from our wicked ways, or those things which displease God, should be a constant theme in our work, our family life and our relationships with friends. There should be heavenly product in our lives and we should begin to look more and more like our Father in Heaven.
Seeking a greater intimacy with God and a greater empowering in His prayer life through fasting was the testimony of the well known Evangelist Bill Bright. In his book, The Transforming Power of Fasting and Prayer, written shortly before his death just five years ago, he says:
“After forty-five years of emphasizing evangelism, discipleship, and fulfilment of the Great Commission, some may think that I have gone off on a tangent with my strong emphasis on fasting and prayer. The fact is that the best way to help individuals become evangelists for Christ is to bring them into a relationship with God in which the Holy Spirit renews them. Only fasting meets the criteria of each aspect of 2 Chronicles 7:14. When you humble yourself and pray and seek God’s face and turn from your wicked ways, something happens to you and you get excited about the Lord in a way that you do not through any other means.
Why fasting?
First, Christians who fast say that it sharpens and sensitizes their spiritual faculties to become more in tune with what God is doing throughout the world….
Second, fasting results in greater intimacy with and a deeper enthusiasm for God, which in turn spills over into every other area of life. The joy of the Lord becomes much more visible to others, and the motivation to witness is greater….
Third, fasting prepares us for a spiritual harvest. Today, people throughout the world are hungry for the gospel. I have been a believer since 1944, and I can assure you that God is doing a great and powerful work, unprecedented in this century. This is most definitely a remarkable time of harvest.”

As we seek God’s face at The Church Of The Cross, let us also humble ourselves, pray and turn towards God’s ways. Let us allow Him to draw us ever closer and to equip us for the work to which we are called as His disciples. As a special appendix to today’s devotional, below is a further excerpt from Bill Bright’s book which may help a bit with the “how to” of fasting prayer.

Mike Clarkson


Step 1: Set Your Objective
Why are you fasting? Is it for spiritual renewal, for guidance, for healing, for the resolution of problems, for special grace to handle a difficult situation? Ask the Holy Spirit to clarify His leading and objectives for your prayer fast. This will enable you to pray more specifically and strategically.

Step 2: Make Your Commitment
Pray about the kind of fast you should undertake. Jesus implied that all of His followers should fast. For Him it was a matter of when His followers should fast, not if they should do it. Before you fast, decide the following up front:
- How long you will fast – one meal, one day, a week, several weeks
- The type of fast God wants you to undertake
- What physical or social activities you will restrict
- How much time each you will devote to prayer and God’s word

Step 3: Prepare Yourself Spiritually
The very foundation of fasting and prayer is repentance. Unconfessed sin will hinder your prayers. Confession, forgiveness and restitution are a beginning. Ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit. Meditate on the attributes of God. Do not underestimate spiritual opposition. Satan sometimes intensifies the natural battle between body and spirit.

Step 4: Prepare Yourself Physically
Fasting requires reasonable precautions. Consult your physician first, especially if you take prescription medication or have a chronic ailment. Prepare your body. Eat smaller meals before starting a fast.

Step 5: Put Yourself On A Schedule
For maximum spiritual benefit, set aside ample time to be alone with the Lord. Listen for His leading. The more time you spend with Him, the more meaningful your fast will be.

Step 6: End Your Fast Gradually
Begin eating gradually. Do not eat solid foods immediately after your fast. Suddenly reintroducing solid food to your stomach and digestive tract will likely have negative, even dangerous consequences. Try several smaller meals or snacks each day.

Step 7: Expect Results
If you sincerely humble yourself before the Lord, repent, pray, and seek God’s face; if you constantly meditate on His word, you will experience a heightened awareness of His presence. You will feel mentally, spiritually, and physically refreshed. You will see answers to your prayers.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Prayer and Fasting

1 "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 "This, then, is how you should pray: "'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
16 "When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Matt 6:1-18

If one were to ask most people in the world what they could quote from the Bible, probably the most frequently mentioned text, by Christians as well as others, would be what we now know as “The Lord’s Prayer”. Matthew includes this as one of Jesus’ teachings, following the Beatitudes, in what we now refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” Although we often see this prayer out of the context of this teaching, here it is clearly included as one of a series of what we might today call Spiritual Disciplines: Forgiveness, Giving to the needy, Fasting and Simple Living.

This is not the only place that the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting are linked. Jesus prayed and fasted in the wilderness. The Pharisees accused Jesus and his disciples of failing to pray and fast when they ought. Jesus explained that the driving out of evil spirits in a demonized boy could only be done through prayer and fasting. Moses the lawgiver, David the King, Elijah the Prophet and Daniel the faithful governor all are recorded as fasting and praying. Hannah in the Old Testament and Anna in the New Testament both employed prayer and fasting as a regular spiritual discipline. Fasting and prayer were regular aspects of life for the Desert Fathers, many of the early Saints and the reformers Luther, Calvin and Knox.

In the passage above we see Jesus’ assumption that his disciples will both pray and fast and his warning that these are not meant to be badges of spiritual accomplishment or produce admiration from others, but rather are one way in which we can grow closer to God. If prayer is the method by which we are empowered to carry out much of God’s work, its occasional accompaniment with fasting is what empowers our prayer. But what is fasting and what does it achieve? Elmer Towns in his book, Fasting For Spiritual Breakthrough, explains: “It’s important to note that religious practices such as fasting are less important than doing God’s will. As Micah 6:8 points out, what the Lord truly requires of us is devotion to Himself: ‘To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.’ Fasting is not an end in itself; it is a means by which we can worship the Lord and submit ourselves in humility to Him. We don’t make God love us any more than He already does if we fast, or if we fast longer. As Galatians states, ‘Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage’ (5:1). The goal of any discipline is freedom. If the result is not greater freedom, something is wrong.”

The act of fasting is withholding voluntarily something from ourselves. This might be food or drink, an activity in which we would under other circumstances engage, or a pleasure which might otherwise find ourselves enjoying. In short, we deny ourselves something. The purpose of this is to humble ourselves before God. But fasting without God is merely self-denial or asceticism. The power comes when we do this together with Him. If we couple the discipline with our prayer (relationship building) with God, then the denial becomes a giving over of ourselves to our Lord for His purposes. Our fasting then serves to remind us of our own weakness and dependency on God. It might give us the time or opportunity to add something of God’s purpose to our lives – like more time to study or giving to the needy. It can be a further joining of our souls to His Spirit. This can be true whether we deny ourselves totally as in the abstaining from eating for a prolonged period or partially as in refraining from certain foods or practices for a short time.

In coming days we will continue to consider what the Bible has to say about fasting and prayer. But whether or not you choose to accompany your prayer with fasting at this time, can I suggest that you join with Linda and me in asking God for His mercy and compassion for each other.

Mike Clarkson

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Prayer and Spiritual Warfare

32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom. Luke 12:32

12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. Matthew 11:12

Over the past several weeks we have seen how God has called us to prayer in order that, through consistent and intimate communion with us He can make us more like Him. He can minister to us, can place His Spirit and His Kingdom values in us, can guide us and enjoy our company. We have also seen how our time in prayer can achieve the purposes of expanding the Kingdom of God that He is seeking. Through prayer we become partners with the Living God in the work of the Kingdom. This may be through praying for the welfare of others or on behalf of specific tasks and results.

Intercessory prayer is sometimes also called Spiritual Warfare. For the more peace-loving of us this may seem strange or even distressing. “I thought that Jesus came to bring peace and that we were to be people of peace,” we might well think. In this we would not be wrong – but, if we are to be effective in our prayers we need also to understand that we do not simply seek to build God’s work in a vacuum. The Bible tells us that we have an enemy. Peter describes this enemy whom we sometimes call Satan or the devil: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Peter 8:8,9

Luke records Jesus’ reassurance above, that God intends for us to have His whole world. We saw the same promise earlier in Genesis. But we also hear through the words of Jesus recorded by Matthew that we may need to fight in order to obtain the Kingdom which has been promised us. That fight is part of what our prayer lives are all about. We struggle through prayer to allow God to make us all that He intends for us. We battle on behalf of others who may not be able to enter into such warfare on their own or may need additional help. We add our voices to God’s intentions to bring about His victories on this earth. This was the model that Jesus himself presented to us.

In his book, Born For Battle, R Arthur Matthews explains:
“It has been said that ‘the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.’ The essential principles that brought about the defeat of Napoleon were developed on the football field. Had there been no football-field discipline, there could have been very different results at Waterloo. It might appear to border on impudence to transfer the thought and say that the battle of the Cross was won on the praying field of Gethsemane, but I am serious. If not actually in terms of encounter with the enemy, then from the point of vital principle, it was most certainly so.
“The Soldier of the Cross had taught His disciples the need to pray, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ The obvious inference is that God has limited certain of His activities to responding to the prayers of His people. Unless they pray, He will not act. Heaven may will something to happen, but heaven waits and encourages earth’s initiative to desire that will, and then pray that it happens.
“The Cross of Jesus Christ represents the one focal point in history at which the redemptive work of God for man focused and culminated in one infinite, massive act. Gethsemane represents the vital principle which makes it possible for that redemptive work to be successfully consummated on earth.”

In other words, our prayer not only prepares us for the battle in which we are engaged every day, it also places ammunition in God’s hands for Him to be able to use in His own time and place to further the work of His Kingdom. In this way we are the sheep of His pasture but we are also the soldiers of His army! As you pray today, ask God for the one thing He would want you to pray that would help His cause and would make best use of your time in this battle.

Mike Clarkson