When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” John 21:21-22 NIV
Years ago I was invited to a meeting with a couple of Christian leaders in our city with the purpose of exploring a cooperative ministry effort. I knew each of the men and was familiar with the intensity and dedication with which each led their well established and successful ministries. As I was making the thirty minute drive across town on the freeway I decided to take the time to pray for the meeting. Almost immediately I heard these words, whispered by the Holy Spirit “Stay in your lane!” At that moment traffic was fairly heavy on the four lane stretch of road that I was on and my first impulse was to warily check the lanes on either side of me.
Assured that everything was alright, I figured I would stay in the lane in which I was driving until I needed to exit and turned my attention to what the Lord really intended with the words “stay in your lane.” I knew it was a word of wisdom for me as it related to the meeting. The lane I was being warned to stay in was my lane and focus of ministry. God was reminding me of the importance of fixing my heart clearly on His calling and purpose for my life, and not being drawn or forced out of that lane into the lane of another. Having this quickened in my spirit brought a sense of peace with the realization that there was sure to be pressure in the meeting to change ministry lanes.
When I arrived and the meeting got underway it was readily evident that the two men already had an agreed upon agenda. They had a cooperative plan for a worthy ministry goal which they wanted me to merge into, but which clearly was in a lane beyond the purview of the ministry I represented. To have submitted to their plan would draw me out of the lane of ministry to which God had called me and forced me to function outside of my gifts and abilities. Because of the “stay in your lane” word, I had no trouble politely declining their offer while blessing them in the unique lane of ministry to which God had obviously called them.
There is an inherent danger in taking our eyes off the lane or path God has us on by comparing or compromising our life and ministry with another. God has given each of us unique gifts and grace that are matched to unique tasks and callings. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, in reference to his comparing himself to John, is a great illustration of this point (John 21:21-22). When He says “What is that to you? You must follow me” He is in essence saying “forget the other person’s lane – just stay in your lane!”
It is akin to the realization young David had to as he prepared to fight Goliath. When King Saul attempted to dress David in his armor, it not only did not fit him, it would have hindered him and likely caused his defeat (1 Samuel 17:38-39). Being drawn into functioning like someone else is always a trap. It inevitably diminishes what we are best at while forcing us into areas we are not good at.
Peter’s temptation to compare himself to John is the same temptation we all face. It can lead to compromises we will eventually regret. This is why Paul writes “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12 NIV). Simply put, the comparison game is just not wise!
Do you know the lane God has called you to abide in as you serve Him with the unique gifts and abilities He has given you? Are you staying in your lane while finding joy and fruitfulness? Or, are you struggling outside your assigned lane in a lane God never called or equipped you to function? If you feel frustrated, oppressed, compromised, or trapped in what you are doing to serve God, you just might be in the wrong lane.
If you do sense you are in the wrong lane, maybe Paul’s question to the Galatians applies to you. “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth” (Galatians 5:7 NIV)? In other words, who or what forced you out of your lane? Have you been deceived through comparing yourself to someone else into trying to do something you are not equipped or called to do?
Give heed then to Jesus’ words to Peter who was more focused on John than Jesus – “What is that to you? You must follow me.”
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Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man. Luke 21:36 NIV
In my previous blog post “What can the righteous do?” I established that the moral foundations of society are being destroyed all around us; and that the mandated response of the righteous, as spelled out by Jesus, is to watch and pray.
The question of the hour now becomes, why does it seem that this priority to watch and pray is not being heeded by the Church? My use of the word “Church” refers primarily to expressions of the Body of Christ in Western culture including both the Church universal and individual churches. In order to answer this question, and propose a remedy, it is necessary first to understand the dynamics that have shaped the typical Sunday morning church service in the West in recent years.
In the past forty years there have been two movements within the Church that revolutionized Sunday morning services, most notably within evangelical and protestant expressions. The first was a worship movement which began with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Charismatic Renewal and Jesus Revolution of the 1970s. It was marked by a proliferation of Spirit inspired praise songs that lifted the corporate worship experience into a new realm of God’s presence and made extended, Christ exalting worship the center piece of a church’s Sunday service. It continues to this day and reflects the Biblical precedent of Revelation throne room worship.
The second dynamic that changed the Sunday morning service is best described as a movement that embraced relevance and excellence for the purpose of evangelizing the unchurched. The result was a shift of focus in service planning, from us (churched) to them (unchurched), and it was fueled in the 1990s by the church growth and seeker sensitive movements. No matter where church leaders fall in their opinion of these two influences, the salient redemptive feature was that the Church once again began to think about evangelizing lost friends and neighbors. For good or for bad, most evangelical churches continue to this day to seek to communicate “relevance” through their messages and “excellence” through their facilities, programming, and every aspect of their ministries.
Visit any given church, on any given Sunday, in any given community in this nation, and I would venture to guess that the dynamics I have just described in the two previous paragraphs will permeate every aspect of the service. At the outset there will be a worship band leading twenty to thirty minutes of engaging praise and worship. Excellence, relevance, and visitor friendly will be the bywords. Greeters will meet you at the door, and a visitor center and aroma from a coffee bar will draw you in. The meeting place will have a contemporary design, with one or more large projection screens, state of the art sound systems and upholstered chairs. The service will include a friendly individual or two giving announcements, a greeting time, and special music selection presented during the offering. The sermon will follow a text from the Bible, with a view to some practical application in the Christian life, with a few personal illustrations thrown in by a pastor dressed in jeans. There will be an opening and/or closing prayer, and even perhaps an offer for some personal counsel or ministry to those seeking it.
Has this been your observation? Now think about it, is there a glaring omission from this picture? There is for me, particularly given the premise stated at the outset of this article – that the moral foundations of society are being destroyed all around us; and the mandated response of the righteous, as spelled out by Jesus, is to watch and pray. The reality is, church services that fail to address the chaotic disintegration of our world that every righteous soul is vexed with day in and day out, and offer no opportunity for meaningful prayer and intercession as a remedy, have ceased to be relevant. A prayerless church is an irrelevant church because it is not adequately preparing its people for the trying times in which we are living.
While we have all benefitted from what God has done through the movements of past years in awakening the church to worship and to reaching the unchurched, it is now obvious we desperately need a new move of God to awaken the church to prayer. Leaders of a prayerless church are like the crew on a sinking ship who are more concerned with the passengers comfort and entertainment than mustering them to the life rafts. It’s time to muster people to watch and pray rather than sleep and play.
Thankfully, the move of the Holy Spirit to awake a slumbering church is already gaining momentum. God is alerting His people like the five wise virgins to begin storing up oil in their lamps through a praying lifestyle. In the past thirty years the number of ministries devoted to being houses of prayer has grown from 25 to over 10,000! There are now 24/7 houses of prayer throughout the world including a presence in every Muslim nation. God is birthing a hunger for prayer and intimacy with Him that is unparalleled. Although championed by forerunner type of ministries it is now setting churches afire for prayer as well.
Would you join me and countless others in praying for this prayer movement to continue to grow and increase? Pray specifically for the churches in your area, particularly that their pastors might awaken their slumbering churches by making watchful prayer a top priority in their services.
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When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? Psalm 11:3 NIV
I don’t know about you, but I find this to be very unsettling and thought provoking question. It comes in the context of a prophetic Psalm that was penned by David, but inspired by the Holy Spirit, describing the very days in which we are now living. It refers to a crisis situation where the moral foundations upon which a society or a nation has been built are being systematically overthrown and destroyed.
The scenario which Psalm 11 describes is one in which demonic forces of darkness are launching wicked and violent attacks specifically targeting God’s people and the righteous ways of God they represent. Does that sound familiar? Any God fearing person who has any awareness whatsoever of what is going on in their community, the nation and the world cannot help but acknowledge that we are presently under such concerted assaults. As a consequence, we can certainly identify with Lot who while living in Sodom and Gomorrah experienced his righteous soul being vexed daily by “the lawless deeds he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:8 ESV).
What then should the righteous do when confronted with such unsettling, perplexing, and ruinous circumstances that threaten our very existence? Right at the outset in verse one David suggests that we have two alternatives, either take refuge in the Lord or flee to the mountains for safety. He offers the idea of fleeing with the phrase “How then can you say to me: ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain?’” It is obvious, from the way he says this that fleeing to “your” mountain, wherever or whatever that may be, is not a viable option.
It is noteworthy that these two options in the face of harm are a recurrent theme in the Scriptures, with the “mountains” typically representing a self-reliant, God-rejecting choice. We see this also in Psalm 121and in Revelation 6. Fleeing to the mountains without really taking refuge in God is a prescription for disaster. That is exactly what happened to Lot and his family (Genesis 19).
That poses an important consideration – what then are “your” mountains, to which you as a flitting bird tend to flee? Truth be told, we all have them – mountains of our own choosing to which we are prone to retreat. It is critical to identify them because that can go a long way toward helping us avoid fleeing there, rather than turning to the Lord as our refuge. Often they are a form of escapism where we medicate our stress or pain or fears with behavior that is at best self-serving and at worse sinful. Sometimes our mountains are places where we choose to hide in a cave and go about our business pretending as if nothing is at peril anywhere. Such behavior may be bliss, but it does nothing to prevent, prepare for, or prevail over evil.
The answer of course is to make it our lifestyle and confession, just like David, that “in the Lord I take refuge” (Psalm 11:1). That is great advice, but how practically does a person do that? One of the simplest explanations of what it means to take refuge in the Lord comes from the Lord Jesus Himself just days prior to His arrest and crucifixion. It is found in the Gospel of Luke where He describes the perilous times that will mark the last days before His return. Here with sobering detail He predicts shakings in the heavens and on the earth, wars, persecution, anguish and perplexity that will affect every living being. He also warns against deception, anxiety, and escapist sinful excess. Then with urgent clarity Jesus spells out what it means to take refuge in Him. “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36 NIV).
Watch and pray! Could it be any clearer? Three simple words, describing how to take refuge in the Lord, spelled out by the Master Himself. But this is not the only time Jesus said this. He also gave this same advice to Peter as He agonized in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He specifically called out Peter with this warning: “watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38 NIV). These words undoubtedly had a dramatic and lasting effect on Peter, who heard them twice within days but failed to heed them. We know this because years later in his first epistle, he reiterates this exact same advice to all the believers scattered throughout Turkey and to us also upon whom the end of the ages has come! Peter wrote “But the end of all things is at hand: be therefore sober minded, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7 KJ2000).
In summary, it has been readily established that the moral foundations of society are being destroyed all around us; and that the mandated response of the righteous, as spelled out by Jesus, is to watch and pray. It is comforting to know that being a person of prayer is the very best way to prepare for and position ourselves for the dark days that are coming upon us.
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No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.” Isaiah 54:17 ESV
Have you ever stopped to consider what things are holding you back from loving and serving God the way you’ve always wanted? Can you pinpoint what is restricting you from a whole hearted commitment to following Jesus in the way you believe you really should?
Like most people, I love the opportunity afforded us, as we begin a new calendar year, to turn over a new leaf in our spiritual lives.
Regardless of your answers to the opening questions, the reality is that there are obstacles and restrictions standing in your way of new beginnings spiritually. The enemies of our souls are always seeking to thwart the forward progress of every believer who sets their heart to abide in and do the will of God. These enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil all afflict us with restrictions that can hold us back from experiencing the fullness of God’s plan and purposes for our lives. It’s as if they have “fashioned weapons against” us that through threat and intimidation, bludgeon us into passivity, or worse yet, retreat and hopelessness.
As this verse from Isaiah indicates, these weapons typically fire their volleys as voices – either from within or without, in the form of a “tongue that rises against you in judgment.” These wagging tongues have a way of pelting us with misbeliefs and untruths about ourselves and God. If we give heed to them they inflict us with a sense of unworthiness, lack, fear or worse, which result in spiritual paralysis.
As you begin a new year, what debilitating judgments are being whispered in your ears? What is holding you back from becoming all God has created you to be? Is it a sense of unworthiness because of some besetting sin? Is it the distractions engendered by a love of the world and the accompanying lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life? Is it bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness rooted in a broken relationship? Is it a lack of confidence and fear of failure? Is it a lack of time caused by over-commitment and busyness? Is it a lack of finances, education, experience, friendships, open doors, opportunity etc.? The list is endless, but God is limitless in His ability to supply whatever we need!
In the midst of this bombardment of weaponry fashioned against us, God makes an astounding promise! He says none of these weapons or judgments has the staying power to succeed. In fact, our vindication from Him is a guaranteed part of our inheritance as His children. But how? What are we to do in order to see this promise become a reality in the midst of bombardment?
The key is found in the latter part of the first sentence where it says “you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.” It is important to note that it is our initiative that is expected, yes even required, to claim this promise. Simply put, God expects us to take the initiative of faith to step out and refute for ourselves, the lying tongues seeking to block our path in our pursuit of God. The Hebrew for “refute” carries with it the idea of dealing severely with or literally condemning the lying voices that condemn us.
Actions prompted by faith, and confidently rooted in God’s ability and kind intentions, are always required to inherit His promises (Hebrews 6:12).
Taking a faith initiative to refute such debilitating lies and judgments requires that we do two things.
- Speaking Out – First it requires speaking out and confessing the truths of God’s Word to counter them. This is exactly what Jesus did when tempted by the Devil in the wilderness. It could go without saying, but suffice it to say that God’s power is released through the speaking of His Word and He can only confirm what we confess (Hebrews 3:1, Job 22:28). In other words, we must say what we desire to see (Mark 11:24).
- Stepping Out – Secondly, refuting debilitating lies also requires stepping out and doing something that is directly contrary to, and in spite of, the voices of opposition. We need to be like Peter, stepping out of the boat to walk on water. Practically, this means facing our fears of failure and trusting Jesus to affirm and support us. The old adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is decidedly true when it comes to steps of obedience of faith.
The following phrase, given to me by God for this year, has become my prayer and declaration for myself and others whom I know and love:
No Restrictions can Stand Between, You and God’s Purposes in 2016!
Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back from God’s plans for you in 2016. Determine right now, at the outset of this New Year, that you will allow no restrictions to stand between you and God’s purposes. Can you make a prayerful commitment to refute every hindrance by speaking out and stepping out, in Jesus name?
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“And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to [Zechariah], standing at the right side of the altar of incense.” Luke 1:10-11 NIV
It is always a joy to revisit the Christmas Story. In reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth and accompanying Old Testament Messianic prophecies, I never cease to be amazed at the treasure trove of spiritual insight and principles revealed therein. After forty years of ministry and multiple Christmas sermon series, I would estimate I have probably given over 100 messages focused on those Scriptures. One would think whatever could be said, has been said, but every year my heart is stirred afresh with some new perspective on God’s salvation gift to the world of His only begotten Son!
This year I have found myself viewing the nativity through the lens of prayer. (You may have noticed that is a common perspective from which I view many things these days.) What I have discovered underscores once again the imperative of prayer, both in our personal lives and in the unfolding of God’s purposes in the earth. John Wesley, great revivalist of the 18th century, once made a very provocative statement. I have yet to see anyone disprove it. “God does nothing but in answer to prayer!”
Not surprisingly, therefore, we need only look at the beginning of the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, chapter one, to see that prayer was the catalyst that initiated God’s redemptive plan heralding the coming of Jesus.
It is remarkably significant that it was in the “prayer room” of the Temple, the Holy Place, during one of the twice daily times of offering incense and prayers that God chose to initiate His long awaited plan of salvation. It was there, as Zechariah was fulfilling his priestly duty to represent the nation of Israel in prayer that an angel of the Lord appeared to him announcing he would father a son who would prepare the way for the Messiah.
This practice of offering incense, both morning and evening, representing the prayers of Israel, had been instituted by God on Mount Sinai over 1400 years earlier (Exodus 25, 27). It always coincided with the burnt offering of a lamb on the brazen altar in the courtyard, from which coals were drawn to take into the Holy Place to burn the sacred incense. The incense was to be left burning continually throughout the day and night as a pleasing aroma to God and symbol of the prayers and intercession of God’s people. The Holy Place was the ante chamber to the Holy of Holies and separated from it by a veil. In the Holy Place was the golden altar of incense, the table of showbread, and golden lampstand which was to continually illuminate the room because it had no natural light.
It is critically important to understand the context of this ritual of prayer, in which Zechariah was a key participant, to fully appreciate the role of prayer in releasing God’s redemptive plans. It is as though the accumulation of centuries of prayers, for the coming of the long awaited Messiah, finally reached its tipping point. And in God’s fortuitous purposes it was on Zechariah’s watch that the overflow of Israel’s prayers offered as fragrant incense, at long last triggered God’s answer. The answer came in the promised conception of John the Baptist who would prepare the way of the Lord and God’s long awaited gift of salvation.
But, for a select few, the revelation of Jesus as God’s Messiah would not have to wait thirty years. Here again, prayer was the differentiator and it is Luke’s gospel which draws our attention to this fact. We see there that prayer not only releases God’s plans, but also reveals them. Luke concludes his Christmas account in chapter two with the story of two people who, because they were devoted to prayer, were given the great privilege of seeing and recognizing God’s Son, decades before He was revealed to the world. Their names are Simeon and Anna and their lifestyles of prayer are worth emulating. Both of these individuals loved being in the temple, God’s house of prayer. Both were focused on praying for the long awaited revealing of the one who would bring salvation. We are told Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” and “moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts” where he just happened to meet Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus (Luke 2:25 NIV). Anna’s prayer life is even more remarkable. She “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:37-38).
The underlying theme of the Christmas Story has always been that those who seek Him will find Him. It was true for the shepherds and true for the wise men. And it is decidedly true for all those, like Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna, who seek Him in prayer. Prayer’s greatest reward is being granted a personal revelation of Jesus Christ. This is true from Genesis to Revelation. It inspires me to seek Him with the earnestness of all those who have sought Him throughout history in the Word of God. I trust and hope it will do the same for you.
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