June 2013

The Necessity of Spiritual Coaching

The case can be made that anybody who wants to reach their full potential must have a good coach. It is historically and quantifiably true not only in athletics, but also in the trades, arts and sciences, business and so on. Most importantly however, it is true spiritually.

The biblical term for spiritual coaching is discipleship. Jesus’ plan for every believer to grow and fulfill their life purpose in Him is that they be coached or discipled. That is why in His final instructions before His departure to heaven He told His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Paul, on a number of occasions in his writings made a case for discipleship. Probably one of the most all-encompassing was his appeal to the Corinthians that that they follow him both as a discipler and as a disciple himself of Christ. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

For people in our modern culture the term coaching is more relatable and understandable than discipleship. The principles of successful coaching, as applied to every field of endeavor, are true also for spiritual growth. There are some basic natural principles that make for good coaching that any person aspiring to be a modern day disciple of Christ should look for in a spiritual coach or discipler.

Coaches are typically older and wiser than those they are coaching. Coaches have the benefit of accumulated wisdom from both years of evaluated experience and study.

Great coaches have wisdom not only about their craft but also with regard to how to address the unique needs and diverse personalities of those they are coaching.

Last week I was in Des Moines, Iowa, where I attended the 2013 United States Track and Field Championships. A lot was at stake for the athletes as only the top three finishers in each event could qualify to compete for the U.S. in the World Track and Field Championships to be held in Russia this August. Needless to say it was a very competitive meet at the highest level of performance with a number of American records and world leading marks being set. As a former college high jumper I was in track heaven.

During the men’s high jump I had a front row seat across the track from the pit in the section with all the high jump coaches. Sometimes I love watching the coaches almost as much as the athletes. One coach of particular interest to me was a guy from Kansas State named Cliff Rovelto. Cliff is currently one of the best high jump coaches in the world. In last year’s London Olympics, it turned out that all three of the US high jumpers that made the team, unlike like any other event, were coached by the same coach. That coach was Cliff.

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How to Pray for the Nations

While Jesus’ call to pray for the nations of the world is indisputable, the practical how-tos of such a seemingly momentous task are not as clear. Praying effectively for the nations requires digging into both Old and New Testament Scriptures to discern God’s ultimate purposes for the nations.

Because we know that the key to getting our prayers heard and answered is to pray according to His will we must ask the question – what is God’s will with regard to the nations of the world? “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)

From a study of the Bible, the following are five approaches I have found helpful in which to pray for any given nation based on God’s will and His ways in dealing with the nations.

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The call to pray for the nations

“Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:8 NIV)

It is hard to comprehend what a magnanimous heart God has when one considers the verse “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Think about it. The world, the entire world includes 196 nations and the 7 billion people who inhabit them. That takes a whole lot of love. Something only Jesus could accomplish through His death on the cross, burial and resurrection. And it is His ultimate intention that “all the nations, whom [He] has made shall come and worship before [Him].” (Psalm 86:9)

Even a cursory reading of the Bible immediately conveys this loving concern God carries for the nations of the world. We are explicitly told in Psalm 66 that “His eyes keep watch on the nations.” (vs. 7) In nearly every book of the Bible we find the evidence of this heart expressed through prophetic utterances and/or divine initiatives to both reveal Himself and draw nations through repentance and faith toward Himself. From His Old Testament promise to Abraham to bless all the nations of the world through him, to the New Testament command of Jesus that the gospel of the kingdom be proclaimed throughout the entire world, we see His unshakeable purpose to make the nations His inheritance. Again, that is a whole lot of love! How can He possibly do that?

His choice is to do it through the instrumentation of prayer and intercession. From the book of Genesis forward we find God looking for individuals to answer His call to become intercessors on behalf of His purposes for the nations. Just consider the intercessory ministries of the likes of Noah, Moses, Daniel, Nehemiah, the prophets, Paul and the apostles. “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance” He pleads. (Psalm 2:8) “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one,” He declares through Ezekiel. (22:30 NIV) “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought Him salvation, and His righteousness upheld Him.” (Isaiah 59:16 ESV) And with that He calls forth His son Jesus who alone is able to save and who “ever lives to make intercession.” (Hebrews 7:25)

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Praying a Hedge of Protection

One of the critical aspects of intercessory prayer is praying for a hedge of protection. The hedge as a metaphor for spiritual protection is used at least five time in the Bible to describe God’s means of protecting both individuals and nations, Israel in particular. In each context it affords us a view beyond the veil that separates the natural from the spiritual world and gives us a glimpse into the spiritual warfare that is often required for the fulfillment of God’s purposes.

Our first introduction to the hedge of protections is in the book of Job. Here we see Satan asking God for access to afflict Job. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?” (Job 1:10) This hedge was obviously placed there by God to protect Job and was so effective that even Satan could not get at him. As the story unfolds we see what can happen when God removes a hedge and how even in doing so He uses it to work good in Job’s life by giving him a deeper revelation of Himself.

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