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My New Book on Prayer Released!

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book:  IGNITING AN IMPASSIONED PRAYER LIFE – How to Develop the Energized, Extended, and Sustainable Life of Prayer You’ve Always Wanted. Do you wish you were more motivated to pray? Is your prayer life sporadic and...

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What is the best way to pray?

Prayer, like most spiritual practices, is subject to a spectrum of opinion and conviction as to how it is best practiced. Prayer in a word, means different things to different people. Typically we associate prayer with some form of communication and personal encounter with God....

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Leadership Principles and Prayer

When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD… Numbers 11:2 (NIV) Why is prayer often the great omission when it comes to discussion of spiritual leadership? In my humble estimation the topic of leadership is the most frequent focus of...

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November 24th, 2016 · by Tom Stuart · News & Reflections, Relationship with God, Relationships

“Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16 Holman Christian Standard Bible

Forty five seconds – that is how long most award shows, including the Oscars, give recipients to say “Thanks!” Conveying thanks to the people in our lives who have blessed us and contributed to our success is of paramount importance. We dare not leave anyone out, especially mom, dad, our spouse and God.

I think the 45 second rule is a good one to incorporate in our everyday lives. Giving immediate and heartfelt thanks to those who bless us with some kindness, however great or small, has a multiplied benefit. It is not only an expression of common decency to our fellow human beings, but it is also an acknowledgement of the presence in each of us of the divine. As those who believe in God, we know that “every good and perfect gift is from above” originating from our Heavenly Father (James 1:17 NIV). When others are kind to us, it is a tangible indication of God Himself showering us with His goodness. What better use of the next forty-five seconds is there than to say “thanks,” to both our human and divine benefactors?

This is one of the most transformative ways there is to cultivate a thankful heart to God. Imagine how different our world would be if we made the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to “give thanks in everything” a 45 second rule in our lives. What if we made it our practice to not let any time lapse between an act of kindness shown and a heartfelt expression of thanks to those who show it?

There is no better opportunity to begin to put the 45 second rule into effect than during the celebration of the Thanksgiving season. I want to be the first to put into practice what I am preaching.

Thank you for being a faithful reader of this blog! And thank you God from whom all blessings flow!

Have a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!

November 15th, 2016 · by Tom Stuart · Church History, Growth & Development, Overcoming

 “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” John 9:25 NIV

What do you as a believer say to an unbeliever who is adept at poking holes in any case you present as evidence for the existence of God? How do you counter their rejection of your appeal to a standard of absolute truth (the Bible)? What do you say to their demand for scientific proof in dismissing your claims to the reality of a spiritual dimension to this life and beyond?

Thankfully, there are Biblical precedents and strategies for answering such objections. One line of approach which I’ve found to be very helpful can be summed up in one word – “history.” The power behind this approach in countering atheistic opposition to truth is in sharing the “HisStory” aspect of history. Emphasizing God’s role, both prophetically and instrumentally, in the writing of His story presents factual evidence that is difficult to dispute. In this vein of reasoning, I share here three appeals to history as undeniable facts that are associated with some form of Divine foreknowledge and supernatural intervention.

1. PERSONAL HISTORY – Our personal testimony, the sharing of HisStory in our lives, is one of the most convincing arguments we can put forward for the existence of God. The testimony of a changed life is incredibly powerful because no one can effectively argue against the reality and impact of a personal experience. For this reason, it seems wise to make the sharing of some aspect of one’s testimony as a default response whenever stiff opposition to Biblical truth is encountered. We see the scriptural paradigm for this throughout the New Testament. When the blind man whom Jesus healed was grilled by the Pharisees in their attempt to dismiss reasons to believe, they were confounded by the healed man’s simple testimony. “One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25 NIV)! When the apostle Paul met with vociferous opposition, sometimes accompanied with threats to his very life, he repeatedly defaulted to the sharing of his dramatic conversion testimony (Acts 22, 26, Galatians 1, 1 Corinthians 15, Philippians 3, 1 Timothy 1).

Christian testimonies are rooted in the redeeming grace and overcoming power of Jesus’ victory over sin and Satan at the cross. We dare not underestimate the spiritual impact of our testimony. Since the very word “testimony” begins with the word “test” it can rightly be said that there can be no testimony without first encountering and overcoming a test. Our testimony exalts God’s supernatural power enabling us to conquer the various “tests” in our lives. Giving our testimony affirms afresh both the all sufficiency of Christ’s triumph and the refutation of every foe of truth. Not surprisingly it is one of just three weapons that the church has been given to overcome the Devil. “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11 Emphasis added ESV).

2. JEWISH HISTORY The HisStory of the Jewish people, encapsulated in the fulfillment of numerous promises concerning them and the land of Israel, is a uniquely compelling case for the existence of God. Considering the sheer volume and variety of prophecies spanning thousands of years that have come to fruition before our very eyes within the past 70 years, it is in a word – miraculous. Apart from the supernatural intervention of God, there is little or no ground for a dismissal as mere coincidence, or a rational explanation of such specific predictions coming to pass. The restoration of the nation of Israel in 1947, after 2500 years of occupation and the ongoing return of the Jewish people, stand out as a stunning fulfillment to over fifty Old Testament prophecies (Jeremiah 30:3, Ezekiel 11:17, Amos 9:15, Jeremiah 16:14-16, Isaiah 43:5-5). It is so remarkable that God invites us to marvel at the thought of it. “Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment” (Isaiah 66:8 NIV)?

The history of the Jewish people up to and beyond the birth of Christ is well documented. Every critical turn of events in their ongoing saga was accurately foretold in the Old Testament – including their growth as a people descending from Abraham, their slavery and eventual deliverance from Egypt, their conquest of the land of Canaan and the establishment of throne of David, the Babylonian captivity and restoration of the temple (Genesis 15:5, 13, 18; 2 Kings, 7:16, Leviticus 26:32-33, Jeremiah 29:10). Even the New Testament prediction of Jesus regarding the destruction of Herod’s temple came to pass in 70 AD (Mark 13:1-4). The scattering and hatred of the Jewish people among the nations since that time, was also foretold, finding its culmination in the horrors of the Holocaust that God used to restore them to the Land of Promise (Deuteronomy 28:37, Jeremiah 29:18, Daniel 7). Even since then, HisStory continues to unfold according prophecies of Scripture. As promised, God has blessed the land as never before with economic prosperity (Ezekiel 36:11). Among other things Israel abounds in natural resources and is a world leader in technological innovation. Trees are growing in the desert and wastelands have become like a ”well-watered” “Garden of Eden” with its fruit exported to the world (Isaiah 41:18-20, 51:3 & 58:11, 27:8). Just rehearsing HisStory of the Jewish people should fill us with praise and quicken faith in our hearts in sharing that God not only exists but is the sovereign Lord of history.

3. CHRISTIAN HISTORY – HisStory of Christianity, in and of itself, provides several great arguments for the existence of God. This is especially true when we consider Jesus’ own predictions regarding its growth, influence, and rejection by the world, all of which have come to pass. In this article, for simplicity’s sake, I will focus on just one, the history of world’s rejection of Christianity. Amongst all the religions and isms of the world, the singular and persistent hatred of Christianity has always been most striking. Providentially the persecution and martyrdom of Christians were clearly foretold by Jesus. “Don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13 NLT). “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” (John 15:18 NLT). “You will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers” (Matthew 24:9 NLT).

Over the past two millennia beginning with the early church, the degree to which we have seen fulfillment of these predictions of Jesus is both startling and mind numbing. Foxes Book of Martyrs first published in 1563, offers an early historical record of the persecution of believers from Roman times up through the Reformation. We live in an age where there is now an unprecedented escalation of the persecution of Christians. Statisticians of such things report that half of all the Christians who have died for their faith did so within the last century. Open Doors USA reports that over 100 million Christians in more than 60 countries are presently suffering some form of persecution for their faith. Each month, on average, 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed, and 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians (such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrest and forced marriages).

It is also noteworthy that the end time predictions in the Book of Revelation tell us that the Devil, knowing that his time is short will in his anger seek to wreak havoc upon the church (Revelation 12). This fact, coupled with the sheer numbers stated above, and the fact that no other religion is so persecuted, all testify to the reality of a God whose eternal purposes are being unfolded in a world that will eventually see the return and rule of His Son Jesus Christ.

These three indisputable reasons to believe are by no means exhaustive. What reasons to believe have you relied upon to further the reception of the Gospel with those unbelievers you encounter?

November 4th, 2016 · by Tom Stuart · Answers to Prayer!, Growth & Development, Prayer, Relationship with God

george-sisneros

“Do you love me more than these?” “Follow me!” Jesus – John 21:15, 19 NIV

“God I love you.” What would happen if you traded all your personal prayers for that simple four word prayer? What if you made a commitment to stop praying for yourself, your health, your wealth, and your safety and made it the only prayer you prayed for an entire year? We dare not underestimate the transforming power of a simple prayer, breathed repeatedly from an earnest heart.

Like many, I always marvel at the way God chooses to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things. The stories of such people are both intriguing and inspirational because of the unlikely series of circumstances that catapults them from a life on the couch to life on the edge, from a life consumed by the world to life as a world changer. Their testimonies capture our imagination since most of us can identify with the ordinariness of their lives before God called and transformed them into heroes of the faith.

One such hero of the faith for me is a new found friend named George Sisneros. When I met George during a month long visit to Guatemala last February 2016, I was immediately attracted to his no holds barred love for Jesus and passion to pour his life out for the gospel and the Glory of God. I was fascinated how he and his wife Vonda along with their children, in just three years as independent missionaries, were strategically investing their lives in several orphanages, serving the poor, and adopting a remote mountain village where among other things they have built a boys academy to teach English and Bible.

How could a single family, in such a short amount of time in a foreign culture, be having such kingdom impact? It could only be God and I was enthralled hearing George tell his story.

Five years ago George was just an ordinary American male, spending a Sunday afternoon sitting at home in front of the TV cheering on his home football team, which just happened to be the Denver Broncos. Typical in so many ways, George was living the idyllic American life as the husband of a loving wife, father of four, owner of two successful businesses, and settled in a comfortable home. Little did he know that it was all about to change.

At the end of the game, suddenly out of the blue, he heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him – “Do you love Me?” “Yes! Of course I love You” he replied. It was quiet. “Do you love Me more than you love your wife?” George paused. As he thought about it, he knew the answer. “I love my wife more” he acknowledged. “Do you love Me more than your love your kids?” came the Lord’s reply. This time, the answer came more easily, George had to admit “I love my kids more than I love You Father.” And then, just one more question “Do you love Me more than your love the Denver Broncos?” No sooner had the Lord asked that question and He was gone. George was left alone to ponder this one.

George began to wonder if he really did love God. He had just watched three hours of football, but could not ignore the fact that he had never spent three hours alone with God or prayed and read the Bible for three straight hours. He was undone. He talked to his wife that night about it and they prayed together. That’s when he made the “God I love You” prayer commitment.

Almost a year later, at the invitation of some friends from his church, George found himself in Guatemala on a short term mission trip. Unbeknownst to George it was a setup from God in answer to his yearlong “God I love You” prayer. At the end of the week, he was standing at the back of an orphanage watching 200 kids with their hands raised, engaged in praise and worship. Seeing their obvious love for God and feeling His love in that place, overwhelmed him. It was there, in that moment, he realized he loved God too. God had answered his prayer. It would change the trajectory of George’s life. He could sense God was saying “I don’t want you on Sundays. I don’t want you when you have time. I want ALL of you. Follow me.” From a heart overflowing with love for God, George gave an unequivocal “yes” to God’s call.

Seven months later, having sold their house and businesses to follow Jesus, the Sisneros family landed in Guatemala City with just two suitcases each and no idea what God wanted them to do. George determined to set aside the next six months to read the Bible and study Spanish while they sought God’s direction. The rest, as they say is “His story.” The Sisneros are now planning to open a Christian middle school and building a medical clinic in their adopted village of El Rosario.

To meet George and get a video update on his ministry click here.

I love to tell George’s story whenever I teach on prayer. It offers hope to those who want a deeper relationship with God in prayer and want to see their life transformed in the process. It illustrates how uncomplicated our communication with God is really meant to be and how even the simplest of prayers can change the world.

Is there a prayer, stirring in you, that you need to pray to see a longed for change in your life? If so, maybe it’s time to make that your primary focus until you see a breakthrough.

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October 29th, 2016 · by Tom Stuart · Overcoming, Prayer, Relationship with God

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. Ephesians 3:12 NLT

In this third and final blog post on the topic “3 Ways to Increase Your Confidence in Prayer” we shall be considering how to overcome a third major debilitating issue that undermines confidence in prayer, the mischaracterization of God. By mischaracterization I am referring to any view of God that distorts His gracious, loving, and benevolent nature.

In previous posts we saw how 1) Applying the Blood of Jesus is God’s provision in dealing with condemnation and how 2) Asking for a Spirit Given, Word Based Prayer is God’s answer for settling any confusion around praying according to the will of God. So, without further ado, here is how anyone seeking God in prayer, can do so confidently by identifying and rejecting misleading views of God, while embracing an accurate understanding of His divine nature.

3) FOCUS ON GOD’S “DONE” INSTEAD OF YOUR “DO” – Confidence in God is antithetical to having confidence in oneself. This is a distinguishing characteristic of Christianity which, unlike all other religions, bases the benevolent acceptance by God on what He has done for His followers versus what they must do for Him.

 This done versus do religious dichotomy is rooted in two fundamentally different understandings and portrayals of God. The God to whom the Christian relates and approaches in prayer is a loving, gracious Father who has already done for His children what they cannot do for themselves. The forgiveness of sin, a righteous standing, and the promise of eternity are fully provided by God through the gift of His Son (John 3:16). This explains why the Apostle Paul writes “because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence” (Ephesians 3:12 NLT). In contrast, the god whom all other religions portray is a deity who demands religious deeds that a person must do in order to earn their love, acceptance, and favor.

With regard to prayer, this divergent done versus do characterization of God has a direct influence on the level of confidence with which a person approaches God and presents their requests. The danger, albeit temptation, for the praying Christian is to view God as someone they must do something for, to get His attention and gain His favor. This pitfall always causes us to cease putting confidence in Him and what He has already done. It deceives us into placing our confidence in our own self effort as to what we think we must do. Appealing to God based on the fluctuating ground of our attempts, rather than generating confidence, robs us of a rock solid confidence in God.

In the realm of prayer, engaging in an intimate relationship with God is both the means by which we are meant to pray and the end purpose of prayer itself. This is why we are told that the “prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15:8 NASB). God loves it when His children choose to spend time with Him in prayer. It is in that very action that a relationship with Him is deepened. Jesus expansive prayer life and His many teachings on prayer spoke volumes regards the critical importance of the interconnectedness of prayer and relationship with the Father. This is because prayer is the pathway in getting to know God and knowing God in turn is what fuels a life of prayer.

One of the greatest sources of confidence in prayer is in knowing intimately the person and character of the God whom we seek. The author of Hebrews emphasizes this in writing that confidence (faith) rests in both believing God exists and “that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV). It is specifically this belief in the magnanimous generosity of God, based upon the experience of having Him reward us when we earnestly seek Him, that instills confidence in Him as we pray. This confidence in our heavenly Father is not unlike the confidence and implicit trust a child has in the attentive faithfulness of their earthly father. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him” (Jeremiah 17:7 NIV Emphasis added). No matter the outcome, we know the answer comes from a loving Father.

What a confidences builder it is when we choose to focus on the fatherly nature of God as we come to Him with our requests. After all, being children of the heavenly Father makes us royalty with all its accompanying benefits and privileges. As King’s kids we can naturally expect that our Father will grant our requests “out of His glorious riches” and “no good thing will He withhold from” us (Ephesians 3:16 NIV & Psalm 84:11 NIV). Reminding ourselves of His desire to give us only what is best for us instills in us a quiet confidence and rest in His fatherly love (Isaiah 30:15).

To whom are you looking as you approach God in prayer? Are you focused on Him and what He has already done for you? Or are you focusing on what you must do to be heard? How you answer these questions reveals your view of God. If your view of God is a mischaracterization of His fatherly nature, you can pray this simple prayer: Father, I know you love me, and have already done for me what I mistakenly think I must do for myself. Through your Son, Jesus Christ, you have forgiven me, made me righteous, and accepted me as your child. I therefore come to you on that basis, with great confidence, knowing as your son/daughter that you delight in hearing and answering my prayers.

 

October 25th, 2016 · by Tom Stuart · Overcoming, Prayer, Relationship with God

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 ESV

In my last blog post I shared from the Scriptures the critical importance of confidence in our approach to God in prayer. Confidence, or faith, as it is most commonly called in the Bible, is the key to getting answers to prayer. Nobody spells this out more plainly than Jesus. “Therefore I (Jesus) tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24 NIV Emphasis added).

If you are finding yourself struggling on the believing end of prayer, no need to despair. Our lack of confidence is not a problem for God. He has provided in His word ways to overcome every confidence robber we face, not the least of which are condemnation, confusion as to how to pray according to His will, and mischaracterizations of His divine nature. In the previous blog I addressed the first of these issues – condemnation. There I explained how applying the blood of Jesus is God’s provision for dealing with the accompanying guilt, and is the process whereby He makes us righteous and acceptable to approach His throne of grace with confidence.

Now let us focus on a second way to increase our confidence in prayer – by ridding ourselves of the confusion of not knowing how to pray. Uncertainty with regard to discovering and praying according to the will of God is a debilitating confidence robber. The epistle of James likens this condition to being plagued by doubt, tossed to and fro like a wave of the sea, and terms it “double-mindedness” (James 1:6, 8 NIV). He tells us that such a “person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7 NIV). Truth be told, nothing deflates our rising expectation for answered prayer like double-mindedness.

But wait, the opposite is also true. Nothing pumps up our prayer expectations like knowing the will of God. No one explains this better than the Apostle John. “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15 NIV Emphasis Added). These verses lay the foundation upon which every effective prayer should be based – asking according to His will. The challenge, of course, in any given situation which requires prayer, is to discover exactly what the will of God is. This is obviously easier said than done.

What then should a person to do who desires to pray, but is battling double-mindedness and has no confidence as to what the will of God may be?

2. ASK FOR A SPIRIT GIVEN, WORD BASED PRAYER. It is to the Holy Spirit that we must look for confident direction in our praying and it is with a yielded will that we must come to the throne of grace in order to receive that direction. This requires approaching God with an utter dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and a determination to give Him full control of our situation with a “not my will, but thine be done” attitude. We are emboldened to do this because we are promised that “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27 NIV Emphasis added).

There are two primary ways in which the Holy Spirit increases our confidence to pray “in accordance to the will of God.”

The first way is when the Holy Spirit gives us His own words to pray in response to our yielding to Him to pray through us. Typically the words or phrases He gives us to pray extend beyond our own intellectual understanding or are unintelligible altogether, such as tongues or groanings too deep for words. Paul calls this manner of prayer, “praying in the Spirit’ and encourages us to do it “at all times” (Ephesians 6:18 NLT). Jude specifically emphasizes the confidence building aspect of “praying in the Spirit” when he says that through it you are “building yourselves up in your most holy faith” (vs. 1:20 NIV). This means of praying increases our expectation of seeing answers because we know that God is at work using the things He gives us to utter to function like Spirit guided directives to accomplish His will.

The second way the Holy Spirit helps us to pray confidently is by giving a revelatory promise from the Bible that reveals and expresses God’s will for the specific concerns we carry. Praying God’s Word, is the primary means that God has provided for us to pray according to His will. When we pray from the Bible, reciting back to God His own words and will, we do so with an incredible confidence, knowing not only that we are in agreement with Him, but also that He is hearing and agreeing with us.

When the Spirit gives us a timely revelation as to how to pray by illuminating a portion of Scripture it is referred to as a “rhema” word. Rhema is the Greek word used in the New Testament to refer to a now, revelatory “word” from God. For instance, it is “rhema” which is used in the verse “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 NASB). This verse is encouraging to anyone who lacks confidence in prayer because it promises that God has provided a way that faith can come! And even more importantly, it declares that the means by which faith comes is by receiving a rhema Word from God. This is why it is so important to ask the Holy Spirit for a rhema Word upon which to base our prayer. In so doing faith is released and confidence that God has both heard and will answer, abounds.

In summary, whenever you find yourself stumped and lacking confidence as to how to pray, pause and ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Expect Him, as the promised Counselor who leads us into all truth, to either give you His words to pray or illuminate a passage from the Bible for you to pray. Latch onto and use these Spirit given prayers as a basis for confidently approaching God and as fuel for persistently beseeching God until an answer is released. You will be amazed at the increase in faith and expectation praying in this way generates.

The final installment of “3 Ways to Increase Your Confidence in Prayer” will be in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned.