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2007 03 18am - Prayer - A Commune With God

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Prayer – A Commune with God

Introduction.

If 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.

2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV

Repentant – Expressing sincere regret or remorse about  wrongdoing or sin

Humility – Placing Other’s Importance above Your Own Importance

 

Our understanding of a prayer life revolves around these 2

       concerns.

I.    What Kind of People Does God Listen To?

“This is what the Lord says: Stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the Lord. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. 3 Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent . . .  Luke 18:9-14, NIV

Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? Ezekiel 18:23, NIV

God Listens to REPENTANT People

 

II.  Why is Humility so Important?

True humility indicates a righteous heart, genunine obedience, and lack of destructive behaviors - sin.

 

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9, NIV

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14,

The Lord detests all the proud of heart. . .  Somoman Proverbs 16:5,

The Lord is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

Proverbs 15:29, NIV

If anyone turns a deaf ear to God’s law, even his prayers are detestable. Proverbs 28:9, NIV

If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; 19 but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer. Psalm 66:18

Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:1-2

(Zechariah 7:4-13)  When you fasted and mourned for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? 6 And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?

Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'

"But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. "'So the Lord said, When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,'.

III.   What Kind of Prayer Does God Answer?

3 Principles

FIRST.  ENSURE THAT GOD HEARS YOU

If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. 24 But since you rejected me, you will call to me but I will not answer; you will look for me but will not find me. Proverbs 1:23-28, NIV

Have you rejected God by your Actions?

Hypocracy?  Hypocrisy - Is their a credibility gap between our

       words and our actions . . .

 

SECOND.  UNDERSTAND, PRAYER IS A FAMILY PRIVILEGE

 

Church Family Privilege  - out of our relationship with God

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”   John 14:6-7, NIV

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . .   Matthew 6:9, NIV

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.   John 14:13-14, NIV

 

THIRD.  APROACH GOD IN FAITHFULNESS

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.   6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.   8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.   11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”   12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”  15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”   16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison.   Acts 12:1-17, NIV

(Luke 17:5-6)  The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 6 He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.

There are 4 Hindrances to Prayer

UNRIGHTEOUSNESS - For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those-who do evil." (1 Peter 3:10-12)

LACK OF FAITH - Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:2-6)

SPEAKING EVIL OF OTHERS - With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be. (James 3:9-10)

MISTREATING YOUR SPOUSE - Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7)

Conclusion.

the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

James 5:13-16, NIV

INVITATON

STAND

SONG OF INVITATION      My Jesus, I Love Thee     #364     v1,2 and 4


! The Preacher and Prayer

THERE are two extreme tendencies in the ministry. The one is to shut itself out from intercourse with the people. The monk, the hermit were illustrations of this; they shut themselves out from men to be more with God. They failed, of course. Our being with God is of use only as we expend its priceless benefits on men. This age, neither with preacher nor with people, is much intent on God. Our hankering is not that way. We shut ourselves to our study, we become students, bookworms, Bible worms, sermon makers, noted for literature, thought, and sermons; but the people and God, where are they? Out of heart, out of mind. Preachers who are great thinkers, great students must be the greatest of prayers, or else they will be the greatest of backsliders, heartless professionals, rationalistic, less than the least of preachers in God’s estimate.

The other tendency is to thoroughly popularize the ministry. He is no longer God’s man, but a man of affairs, of the people. He prays not, because his mission is to the people. If he can move the people, create an interest, a sensation in favor of religion, an interest in Church work — he is satisfied. His personal relation to God is no factor in his work. Prayer has little or no place in his plans. The disaster and ruin of such a ministry cannot be computed by earthly arithmetic. What the preacher is in prayer to God, for himself, for his people, so is his power for real good to men, so is his true fruitfulness, his true fidelity to God, to man, for time, for eternity.

It is impossible for the preacher to keep his spirit in harmony with the divine nature of his high calling without much prayer. That the preacher by dint of duty and laborious fidelity to the work and routine of the ministry can keep himself in trim and fitness is a serious mistake. Even sermon-making, incessant and taxing as an art, as a duty, as a work, or as a pleasure, will engross and harden, will estrange the heart, by neglect of prayer, from God. The scientist loses God in nature. The preacher may lose God in his sermon.

Prayer freshens the heart of the preacher, keeps it in tune with God and in sympathy with the people, lifts his ministry out of the chilly air of a profession, fructifies routine and moves every wheel with the facility and power of a divine unction.

Mr. Spurgeon says: “Of course the preacher is above all others distinguished as a man of prayer. He prays as an ordinary Christian, else he were a hypocrite. He prays more than ordinary Christians, else he were disqualified for the office he has undertaken. If you as ministers are not very prayerful, you are to be pitied. If you become lax in sacred devotion, not only will you need to be pitied but your people also, and the day cometh in which you shall be ashamed and confounded. All our libraries and studies are mere emptiness compared with our closets. Our seasons of fasting and prayer at the Tabernacle have been high days indeed; never has heaven’s gate stood wider; never have our hearts been nearer the central Glory.”

The praying which makes a prayerful ministry is not a little praying put in as we put flavor to give it a pleasant smack, but the praying must be in the body, and form the blood and bones. Prayer is no petty duty, put into a corner; no piecemeal performance made out of the fragments of time which have been snatched from business and other engagements of life; but it means that the best of our time, the heart of our time and strength must be given. It does not mean the closet absorbed in the study or swallowed up in the activities of ministerial duties; but it means the closet first, the study and activities second, both study and activities freshened and made efficient by the closet. Prayer that affects one’s ministry must give tone to one’s life. The praying which gives color and bent to character is no pleasant, hurried pastime. It must enter as strongly into the heart and life as Christ’s “strong crying and tears” did; must draw out the soul into an agony of desire as Paul’s did; must be an inwrought fire and force like the “effectual, fervent prayer” of James; must be of that quality which, when put into the golden censer and incensed before God, works mighty spiritual throes and revolutions.

Prayer is not a little habit pinned on to us while we were tied to our mother’s apron strings; neither is it a little decent quarter of a minute’s grace said over an hour’s dinner, but it is a most serious work of our most serious years. It engages more of time and appetite than our longest dinings or richest feasts. The prayer that makes much of our preaching must be made much of. The character of our praying will determine the character of our preaching. Light praying will make light preaching. Prayer makes preaching strong, gives it unction, and makes it stick. In every ministry weighty for good, prayer has always been a serious business.

The preacher must be preeminently a man of prayer. His heart must graduate in the school of prayer. In the school of prayer only can the heart learn to preach. No learning can make up for the failure to pray. No earnestness, no diligence, no study, no gifts will supply its lack.

Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still. He will never talk well and with real success to men for God who has not learned well how to talk to God for men. More than this, prayerless words in the pulpit and out of it are deadening words.

[1]

The Disuse, Misuse, Abuse, and
Proper Use of Prayer

When I’ve done my best, only then in prayer can I peacefully accept failure and success and, with Kipling, “treat those two impostors just the same.”

—Fred Smith Sr.

Prayer alone will not produce a leader. Paul was a leader but leading in the wrong direction before he learned Christian prayer. Chuck Colson was a great leader in politics before he ever prayed.

But neither can someone be a competent Christian leader without prayer. As healthy plants require rain, so powerful leadership requires prayer. Prayer and Christian leadership unite to bring the blessings of God.

Disuse

Leaders face unique temptations in the area of prayer, and the first is to let it fall into disuse. When spiritual leadership becomes anemic or arrogant through lessened prayer, then prayer gets pushed farther and farther down the organizational agenda. Inevitably comes a leanness of soul even in times of outward success. A current writer says it well: “If I am so successful, why do I feel so phony?”

The problem is, success often lessens our urgency for prayer. As a work gains momentum, the needs in prayer change but not the need for prayer. An organization on a roll needs prayer for direction; a struggling work needs prayer for support to keep it alive. But both organizations need prayer just as much.

Misuse

Busy leaders can sometimes misuse prayer. For example, using prayer for persuasion is a misuse. I served on a corporate board whose president always started the morning meeting with a devotional. Late one night, giving his “good-night prayer,” he thanked God for the devotional I was to give the next morning, which he knew he had not mentioned to me. I felt no disrespect to God to interrupt and say, “God, you know I didn’t know about this and I’m not going to stay up all night preparing.” Everyone laughed after they got over the shock of my interrupting his “prayer.” He was not praying; he was making an announcement.

Recently I heard a speaker ask the audience to pray while he spoke. I think this too can be a misuse, for a preacher should ask people to listen, not pray.

Neither can improper lead time be overcome with prayer, for only once do we know of the sun standing still. Leadership through great sermons and Sunday school lessons will not come without preparation, no matter how sincerely we pray. Sermons are preceded by prayer but developed through work. Study to be informed; pray to be wise.

Nor can we pick the wrong people and make up for their incompetence with prayer. Prayer will not turn a donkey into a racehorse, no matter how much we prefer the racehorse to the donkey.

Finally, when leaders become hesitant to make a crucial decision, prayer can be misused as a pious way to procrastinate. Who can criticize a leader who asks for more time so he can pray—even though he is really hiding his fear and indecision? A leader needs to face his fears and indecision, not cover them with a prayer shawl.

Abuse

Stepping over a fine line from misuse is abuse. I see a difference between the two. Misuse comes from ignorance, while abuse comes from the wrong attitude and motive.

I have heard leaders instruct God to bless their plans. This, to me, is abuse, for it is proper to request something from God but not to instruct him.

Sometimes a leader lets followers listen in while he thanks God for telling him what the organization is supposed to do. Often such prayers claim knowing God’s will in order to line up followers. I once heard a leader ask for discussion of a program that according to him was the will of God. I refused to enter the discussion, for it is not mine to argue with the will of God.

Prayer is not a substitute for intelligent effort, careful planning, efficient selection of people, or adequate financing. A Christian business leader resigned from a college board because of the repeated calls for “seasons of prayer” to get the college out of financial difficulties. The businessman believed in prayer but not as a substitute for responsible financial management. He told me the board was never given any financial statements or operating figures; in fact, none existed other than the depleted bank account and the unpaid bills. As leaders, we have no right to pray for what we can do, for God has already supplied that need.

Proper use

As important as these dangers in prayer are, however, as leaders we must accent the positive powers of prayer properly used. When I became chairman of the board of Youth for Christ, I remember hearing the old-timers talk about the tremendous blessings that accompanied all-night prayer.

What is the responsible use of prayer?

To ask God to do what we can’t do. For example, we cannot permeate our projects with his Spirit, and so we ask him to. Often we are unaware of the need to change direction, so we ask God for wisdom to be given at the right time and to guide us in the right direction.

Other responsible uses of prayer include these: to recognize God as the ultimate leader; to seek his will together, being willing to do it when it appears; to dedicate ourselves before God to our maximum effort.

I have found that proper leadership prayer involves four steps, which often overlap:

1. Positioning. Prayer positions me. It reminds me I am not the ultimate leader; the Lord Jesus is. I am a steward, not the owner. Sometimes kneeling physically helps me with this step.

2. Shifting into neutral. Prayer becomes most effective when I get fully into “neutral,” where I will accept divine leadership. This is the most difficult part of my prayer life.

Leaders usually are strong-willed, opinionated persons who feel awkward and uncomfortable in neutral. It is so much easier to ask God’s approval of what we want to do than to say “Thy will be done” and truly mean it.

I’ve found I must still my thoughts, honestly separate my interest from the ministry interest, and then test in my mind and spirit various options and how they feel to me. If there is time, I let the options simmer overnight or longer. Then I repeat the options, and if one seems to serve the cause better than the others, I know I am ready to get out of neutral and put the machine in motion with a clear conscience.

3. Dynamic peace. Tournament golfers settling over a crucial putt block out the amount of money on the putt and think only of making a pure stroke. Often as leaders we must block out our fear of failure or our second-guesses as to what we have decided.

Prayer helps us find a dynamic peace—not a sleepy peace but an exhilarating peace. There is confidence in dynamic peace, and confidence lets me concentrate fully upon the task. Prayer does not improve our basic skill, but it gives us concentration that permits us to do our best.

4. Acceptance. When I’ve done my best, only then in prayer can I peacefully accept failure and success and, with Kipling, “treat those two impostors just the same.” A leader prays himself into the conscious presence and will of God so that he accomplishes “my utmost for his highest” and hears the welcoming benediction, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

8

Runaway Mind

My discovery that the human spirit is our organ for God-consciousness gave me not only the power to survive but the energy to thrive in the ministry!

—Roger Barrier Jr.

I am cursed with a runaway mind. Some call me a worrywart. Others brand me as overly anxious. I’m constantly wondering What if? Maybe I inherited the tendency from my mother. More than likely, though, I did it to myself. Maybe it doesn’t matter where I got the tendency.

One Saturday night I found myself sitting in tears behind the couch in our den. Sunday morning sermons were fast approaching, and I was in no shape to preach. Something was wrong. My emotions were frayed. I had four ulcers. I had high blood pressure. I had to cry out for help.

Relief techniques

The first call I made was to the head of our church’s counseling center.

“I’ve been waiting for this,” he said. “I’ve already arranged for you to see a counselor who specializes in executive-level stress.”

During our fourth session, my new counselor mentioned my tendency to worry. He predicted that, unless I got help, my out-of-control mind could one day destroy my ministry. Ministerial stress is bad enough, he said, without adding self-induced anxiety to it.

“You have what I call a runaway mind,” he began. “Every thought initiates a physical circuit of chemical changes in the brain. The more we think the same thought over and over again, the deeper we entrench that circuitry. I like to think of it as a racetrack with horses going around and around. The more we worry, the harder it is to stop the horses.”

My counselor equipped me with all sorts of mental tricks for dealing with anxiety. One was to worry as hard and as much as I wanted for ten minutes—but only for ten minutes. After that I had to put my worries into an imaginary file cabinet and move on. This has often brought relief.

A second approach was to imagine the most idyllic scene. Immediately I pictured an oak near a stream in central Texas. Now, when my mind fills with anxiety, I mentally go to the shade of that tree. The water is cool, and the breeze is steady. In my mind I’ve erected hammocks, napped on pallets, enjoyed picnics, and read books under that tree. When tension strikes in the ministry, a few moments under that tree quiet my heart.

Aided by such techniques, my runaway mind began to come under control, and I got through the crisis. But I soon discovered willpower alone isn’t enough.

Slowing the pace

We live in a society of frantic activity. Pastors often seem to be the most hurried, harried people I know. Seventy work-hours per week were normal for me when I began pastoring. My fatigue—and worry—increased daily. My near collapse showed me my pace could not last forever. Fortunately, I had wise leaders who helped slow me down.

As a result, we developed a plan limiting every minister at our church to a fifty-hour workweek (including Sundays). The plan includes time compensation, because stress is cumulative. If some weeks require more than fifty hours, the ministers must balance with fewer hours over the next several weeks. In addition, our pastors must be home seven nights out of every fourteen. Each of us must take off a full twenty-four-hour day each week. It took several months, even years, for some of us to adjust. But we did it.

Soon after implementing the plan, several of our ministers’ wives quietly thanked me. They were seeing more of their husbands than they ever thought possible.

As my pace slowed, my overactive mind slowed too. My runaway thoughts were easier to corral. But I had more to learn.

Spirit to spirit

Slowing my work life was one thing, but quieting my mind was another. It’s hard to listen for God’s still, small voice when I’m thinking about tomorrow’s lunch appointment, or next Sunday’s sermon, or the balance in my checkbook, or Deacon Jones’s surgery that I forgot. On and on go the thoughts. I can travel from my driveway to the rings of Saturn in seconds.

I found some help when I discovered that our brains run at different speeds. When we’re in a deep sleep, for example, the brain runs at zero to three cycles per second (the delta wave). As it speeds up to four to seven cycles per second (the theta wave), the brain moves toward increasing levels of wakefulness. The alpha wave, at eight to thirteen cycles per second, is best for our creative and contemplative side, for communing with God and hearing him speak.

Most Americans, however, spend the bulk of their waking hours in the beta-wave level of brain activity. This speed (fourteen to twenty-five cycles per second) is perfectly suited for baking casseroles, going to meetings, and solving problems. However, as we approach the levels above twenty-one cycles per second, we find ourselves operating in a hassled, hurried, frenzied state. I do some of my best worrying here.

Part of the problem is the rapid-fire sensory images of our society, which overload our circuits. Remember when television commercials lasted a full sixty seconds?

Now they last for fifteen with four or five visual images flashing at us per second! The visual and auditory bombardment reminds me of the radio jamming during the Cold War. No wonder we can’t hear God’s voice!

The journey out of extreme beta-wave living began when my wife and I were sitting at a red light in Pittsburgh. She asked, “Have you ever heard a sermon about the human spirit?”

I hadn’t, and I didn’t know much about it. So we began to study the Scriptures. I was intrigued by Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 14:15 (niv): “I will pray with my spirit … [and] with my mind; I will sing with my spirit … [and] with my mind.” And in 1 Corinthians 2:10–13, Paul writes how the Holy Spirit expresses spiritual words to our human spirit—the Holy Spirit to our spirit.

The study changed my life. I discovered that the human spirit is our organ for God-consciousness, the seat of our communion with God, the deepest part of our innermost being. In this I discovered not only the power to survive but the energy to thrive in the ministry! It gave me access to spiritual power like never before.

Paul encourages us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 to take every thought captive for the glory of Christ. That is essential advice for controlling a runaway mind. But to shut out the distracting noises, I had to acquire new skills to focus my listening habits. I began by sitting quietly in meditation for minutes at a time. Soon minutes turned to quarter-hours, then half-hours, and occasionally an hour. I concentrated on praying slowly through the Scriptures. Then I would sit quietly and listen for God’s Spirit to speak.

I believe this is part of what Paul meant when he testified to praying “with [his] spirit.” I still pray with my mind—working through a prayer list and consciously considering the things for which I pray. But when the list is complete, I quiet my mind and begin to pray in my spirit. Again and again, God prompts me in my innermost being to pray for people and situations that would normally never come to mind. The most precious times in my life are when God speaks through the Holy Spirit to my human spirit.

The calm in the storm

I no longer need to find a special place to quiet my mind and listen for God. The practice has become a habit I can enjoy at any moment.

Several months after I began the practice of gaining control over my mind, I was leading a particularly difficult elder meeting. My anxiety increased with the tension in the room. Opposite viewpoints were being expressed—and with force. My mind was awash with worry about the outcome. I felt nervous and uncomfortable. I had been here before.

Suddenly, I quieted my mind like I had practiced and sought God deep within. Right in the middle of the fireworks of that elder meeting, the peace of God washed over me and calmed my heart. I was amazed at what God had begun to do in my life.

Later, I began to see how God could speak to me for the sake of ministry. A young mother in our congregation was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain aneurysm. I stopped outside her hospital room and prayed for ministry wisdom. As I was praying, I had an impression deep within my spirit that she was going to be fine. I sensed that God told me she would survive with no complications and be able to raise her children.

She was awake and conscious when I entered. “Surgery is scheduled for Monday,” she said. “The doctors must wait for the swelling to go down. There is no guarantee that the artery will hold until then.” Fear filled her eyes.

I relayed carefully what I sensed God had told me moments before. Then I stepped out and said, “This sickness is not unto death. Whether the doctors need to operate on Monday or not, you are going to be fine. Be at peace.”

I prayed for her healing and recovery with no “ifs, ands, or buts.” Over a decade has passed since then, and she has watched her daughters grow up and marry.

The above story is unusual. Usually I have no idea what God intends to do when I pray for the sick. It is not that I do not ask; God seldom tells me. But occasionally, deep in my inner spirit, I sense his peace, and then I am able to pass it on to someone else.

God’s voice patterns

Over the years I have developed a checklist to help me distinguish when God is speaking to me. I don’t want to be led by my own imaginings. I certainly don’t care to be fooled by Satan’s temptations, accusations, or deceit.

The following list is not complete or foolproof. No one point, of course, is sufficient in itself to prove or disprove the voice of God. But these principles have helped me discern more accurately the voice of God.

God tends to speak gently. Remember how God spoke to Elijah? God was not in the whirlwind, earthquake, or the fire. “And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12 niv), and God spoke in the whisper.

Whenever the voice within me drives and demands like a pushy, used-car salesman, God is not speaking. Many times I have discovered that my drivenness to minister for God has more to do with my own agenda than the prompting of God. Either self or Satan tends toward compulsive clamor and loud demands.

God is never pushy; he seldom urges sudden action without giving us time to reason through the issues.

God’s voice produces freedom. In Matthew 11:30, Jesus says, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (niv). How often I hear, “God gave me this heavy burden to reach this city for Christ.” I used to pray for big burdens like that—but not anymore! The city needs to be reached for Christ, but the burdened attitude may be more of a hindrance than a help. Satan loves to put people into bondage; God loves to set us free.

God tends to speak while we are consciously seeking him. I remember shaving one morning when I heard this voice tell me that the way to expand our church was to buy the six neighboring houses, bulldoze them, and use the land for parking.

What a disaster that turned out to be! It had not been God’s voice. Remember the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house” (Exod. 20:17 kjv).

Later, while listening for God’s Spirit, I sensed his leading in another building matter. This time I followed the promptings, and God opened several doors for us to purchase and pay off many acres of land.

Both self and Satan often inject thoughts or impressions into my mind when I’m not seeking God. But God’s voice usually is heard when we’re diligently listening for it.

God speaks with truth. I often say in moments of despair, “I’m no good” or “Nobody loves me” or “I can’t do anything right.” These are half-truths that come from either self or Satan, but not God.

In marriage counseling, I often meet Christians convinced that God has told them to marry a nonbeliever. That runs counter to God’s Word. Whatever voice or prompting they hear is not God; God will never—and cannot—contradict his Word.

God convicts of specific sins. John 16:8 teaches that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. When God convicts us of sin, the sin is usually specific: “Yesterday at 4:00 p.m. you did such and such.” I know exactly what I did and when I did it. Self or Satan, on the other hand, brings a haunting guilt not tied to specific sins. I’ve often felt accused or had a nagging feeling of guilt. Why do I feel so guilty? I think. I don’t know; I just feel guilty. These feelings are not from God’s Spirit. Often they are from the “accuser of our brethren” (Rev. 12:10 kjv).

God does not confuse. When the trumpet of God sounds, it does not play confusing melodies. When I finished seminary, I began looking to pastor full-time. While I was headed out the door to fly to Denver to candidate at a church, the phone rang. The call was from a pulpit committee in Tucson.

While talking on the phone, I had a deep impression that I was to pastor the church in Tucson. I hung up the phone, turned to my wife, Julie, and said, “We are going to pastor in Tucson.”

“I know,” she replied. “God told me the same thing while you were on the phone.”

Within two weeks, we had moved to Tucson, and we’ve been there ever since. Since then, I’ve felt that clarity in other settings. When I feel confused or uncertain about something major, I tend to wait until God’s will can be discerned more clearly. Satan, not God, is the author of confusion.

Today my runaway mind is under much better control than the time when I was crying behind the couch. I still worry more than I’d like. But I no longer wonder whether I will survive ministry. I have fingernails again. My ulcers are gone. My blood pressure is down. I know how to relax.

Just ask my wife.

9

Disciplines for the Undisciplined

The greatest need of unstructured people is to accept and celebrate who we are in Christ.

—Charles Killian

Igrew up with a profound sense of inadequacy at practicing spiritual disciplines.

I remember weeping myself to sleep many nights as a boy, apologizing to God for failing to read enough of the Bible, for not praying enough, or for just not being the person I thought I should be. I saw God as a referee in a black-and-white-striped shirt, ready to call a technical or throw me out of the game. At best, I saw him as a taskmaster shouting, “Back to the yoke. You haven’t measured up yet.”

I wanted so much to earn the smile of God’s approval, and as hard as I worked for it, I never sensed God say, “Good boy, Chuck.” I felt as if I failed the test of what a spiritual person should be.

I was raised in a good home; my mother took us to church twice on Sunday and once during the week. Her heart was right, but there was a certain rigidity about our faith. We were scrupulous about religious activity, and every time an altar call was given, I responded. I went forward so many times to be born again I ended up with stretch marks on my soul.

I remember one evening when our small church was holding revival meetings. The evangelist preached that we were the ones who nailed Christ to the cross. That image stuck in my mind, and that evening I cried myself to sleep, apologizing to God for killing his Son.

I didn’t understand the unconditional love of God that motivated Christ’s sacrifice, that my sin was completely covered by the Atonement, and that grace meant God was neither angry with me nor blaming me for the death of his Son.

For the next thirty years, I labored under perfectionism. This played into my understanding of spiritual disciplines. I always seemed to be a brick short of a load. Regardless of how much or how often I prayed, it was never good enough.

The turning point for me came during a “dark night of the soul” as I realized what my perfectionism was doing to my work, my family, and myself. I began to explore the meaning of grace. For years I had asked, “God, what can I do to be holy?” I struggled, sweated, manipulated, and worked to please God. But I never escaped feeling like the bad little boy who helped kill God’s Son.

What finally brought stability and peace to this unstructured person, who today is still somewhat unstructured—and delighted to be so—was the realization that my salvation was Christ’s work, not my own. I couldn’t save myself, only he could. It was liberating to realize I no longer had to “do” in order to please God, but could simply “be” in Christ, which included my devotional life.

I was forty before that happened, but once I realized what grace was all about, I began to laugh with a holy laughter. My desire to please God through the practice of spiritual disciplines was replaced by a desire to become conformed to the image of Christ. I no longer felt God was holding a whistle or ready to charge me with a foul for failing to measure up in my prayer life or Bible study.

New image

In my long journey to grace, I learned that I was not alone. Many pastors—but not all—struggle in the same area. For some pastors, practicing spiritual disciplines comes naturally. They get up at 5:30 a.m., read five chapters of Scripture (translating one from the original languages), then pray for an hour before their morning run. They journal daily, fast twice a week, and take an annual retreat to a monastery for a week of silence.

For other pastors, perhaps most, it’s not that simple. While they pray frequently, both publicly and privately, most of the time their prayers are on the run. They struggle to read the Bible cover to cover in one year, despite the latest systematic reading program they ordered in the mail. They live with persistent feelings of inadequacy over their devotional lives.

Some of the guilt pastors feel results from a distorted view of God.

My wife, Jane, helped me see the true meaning of grace. During one particularly difficult time in our lives, I came home and found our oak coatrack standing in the middle of the hallway. It was covered with yellow ribbons.

A note attached to the tree read, “So what if it’s not a real oak tree? Any old tree will do. I love you.” Her unconditional love and acceptance broke through to me. I saw for the first time that God loved me in the same way my wife did. It was a marvelous realization.

Naturally spontaneous

When a pastor has difficulty maintaining daily spiritual disciplines, many regard that as the sign of a spiritual problem or character flaw, and for some that may be the case. But for others the explanation may be their basic temperament. Structure comes more naturally to some personality types than others. Some people naturally prefer order and discipline, while others prefer a more spontaneous and unstructured approach to life.

In their book Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types, Chester Michael and Marie Norrissey suggest a relationship between our basic temperament and the type of spirituality or prayer that works best for us. I’ve certainly found that true in my pilgrimage. I am an “unstructured personality,” and I have discovered there is more to spirituality than discipline.

Our personality structure is a gift from God, and we ought to celebrate its strengths and potential rather than agonize over its weaknesses and shortcomings. Learning to do that, however, hasn’t been easy for me.

The unstructured and the structured person are both healthy and balanced if their life is in Christ. For me to understand and accept my resistance to structure is a measure of balance. I will always be that way to a certain degree, and I need to thank God for the way he made me, even as I struggle for bringing more order to my life. The structured person will always be striving to some degree to break out of a box.

As a result, today my definition of the spiritual disciplines includes but goes beyond the traditional fasting, Bible study, and prayer. It involves any activity that helps me better understand the nature of life in Christ.

For example, when the Mona Lisa was on tour in Washington, D.C., I found myself sitting transfixed for nearly half an hour, engaged by this moving portrait. I sensed I was in the presence of greatness.

How did that help me in my walk with Christ? Two weeks later when I was working on a sermon about the divine mystery and presence that invades us and draws us to God, my experience in Washington, D.C., helped me explain the concept of mystery and presence to my congregation.

I don’t mean to suggest God is present in paintings; that’s pantheism. But I try to be continually sensitive to the surprising places where God can meet me and teach me more about life in Christ. Engaging in that type of ongoing spiritual observation of life, the “God-hunt” as David Mains calls it, is one form of spiritual discipline.

Unstructured people still should pray, study, and fast on a regular basis, but they shouldn’t be in bondage to any particular method or regimen. As soon as maintaining the method becomes more important than knowing Christ himself, it becomes idolatry.

I don’t have the same degree of discipline in prayer that John Wesley did. I don’t get up at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. as he did. But I do get up early enough to be alone and spend an hour of quiet in the presence of God, away from the telephones, the noise, and the confusion of life. It’s such a peaceful time, and I’m reluctant to bring it to an end.

Prayer shouldn’t be restricted to a certain length of time or time of day. It encompasses the totality of life. Jesus said we ought always to pray and never faint. So I’m always praying, whether I’m preaching, teaching, loving my wife, or counseling a student. When I communicate with God even as I go through the routines of life, there’s a holiness and sanctity to these moments.

Forced weakness

There is a danger, however, of such a devotional life becoming too experiential and subjective. That’s where spiritual accountability is important. While unstructured people resist expectations, they need to put goals and structure in place. A soul mate or friend needs to love me enough to say, “Hey, Chuck, you’re copping out. You need to get back to the program.”

Like most unstructured people, I resist structure until it’s forced on me. One hallmark of my personality is that I don’t usually see what God is doing until he’s done it. That was the case when I was asked to take an interim pastorate in a neighboring state, while continuing my teaching load. It lasted four years. During that time, I virtually never used an old sermon; everything I preached was fresh that week. The pressure of that situation created a need for a fresh discipline of Bible study, meditation, and prayer that proved enormously beneficial.

While I still try to avoid what I consider the bondage of the predictable, my devotional life was enriched by the structure forced on me by that assignment.

The effort we make to overcome the weaknesses of our personality types does have value. I was the adviser for a student in the doctor of ministry program who wrote his dissertation on the relationship between obesity and spirituality. He studied an aspect of his personality that had given him tremendous difficulties.

When graduation day arrived, I stood next to him and couldn’t believe my eyes. In just one year, he had lost ninety pounds. For him, controlling his eating became a spiritual exercise.

You be you

Pastoral ministry presents unique challenges and opportunities for the undisciplined personality.

Pastors who struggle with consistency in their devotional lives may feel like hypocrites when they preach about spiritual disciplines. But we all preach beyond our experience to some degree, particularly if we’re preaching the need for radical discipleship to Christ. I don’t know anyone who is the full embodiment of what that means. But if we preach desire rather than attainment, we aren’t being hypocritical. If I want more structure, even though I haven’t attained all that I want, I can legitimately preach.

I used to see the ministry as a place where I could be God’s workman. “Watch me today, Lord, and tell me what you think.” Now I realize what happens in authentic ministry is the exact opposite. God says to me, “Hey, Chuck, come along and watch me work today.” Whatever measure of spiritual consistency I achieve is the result of God at work. I don’t have to have a spiritual walk that matches someone else’s expectations; I just have to be in Christ and allow him to do his work.

The downside to our pietistic tradition in the Western church is that devotionally minded people can become lost in themselves. My spiritual development should not be just for my own sake, but for the sake of the church as well. It is the church that calls me into ministry, that confirms my ordination. It is the church that Jesus is coming for someday.

Those of us who like to fly our own kite need to remember that we don’t exist for ourselves but for the glory of God and for the good of the church. That’s why growth groups, Bible studies, and Christian education can all have a vital part in building up the spiritual life of the unstructured person.

The greatest need of unstructured people is to accept and celebrate who we are in Christ.

The story of Suszi of Anitole has helped me. As he lay dying, he called one of his disciples to his bedside and whispered, “I shall soon stand before the Great Tribunal. I will not be asked, ‘Why weren’t you one of the prophets?’ or ‘Why weren’t you Moses?’ No, on that day I will simply be asked, ‘Why weren’t you Suszi? You would have made a good Suszi if you had just let go.’”

My desire is not to be another Praying Hyde or Martin Luther. I simply want to make a good Chuck Killian. That’s all God is asking of me.

Part 4

[2]

Christian Living – Communicate with God – Prayer

From: Elwell, W. A., & Buckwalter, D. (1996, c1991). Vol. 5: Topical analysis of the Bible : With the New International Version. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.

The Manner of Prayer

a)     Pray according to God’s Will     1 John 5:14–15

b)     Pray in Corporate Worship         1 Kings 8:22–23, 27–30; 2 Chron. 7:12, 14–16; Ps. 116:17–19; Isa. 56:7; Joel 2:15–17; Zech. 8:21–22; Matt. 18:19–20; Luke 1:10

c)     Pray in Faith        Ps. 62:8; Ps. 121:1–2; Matt. 21:22; John 15:7; Eph. 3:21; Heb. 10:22; Heb. 11:6; James 1:6; James 5:15

d)     Pray in the Name of Christ         John 14:13–14; John 16:23–27; Col. 3:17

e)     Pray in Personal Meditation        Matt. 6:6; Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; Luke 9:18; Acts 10:9; Acts 10:30

f)     Pray in Righteousness     Ps. 4:3; Ps. 34:15; Prov. 15:29; 1 Tim. 2:8

g)     Pray in Truth       Ps. 145:18

h)     Pray through the Spirit’s Intercession    Rom. 8:26–27; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 6:18; Jude 20

i)     Pray with Clear Mind and Self-Control  1 Pet. 4:7

j)     Pray with Corresponding Good Works   Prov. 21:13; Isa. 58:6–9; Acts 10:2–4

k)     Pray with Fasting            Deut. 9:18; Neh. 1:4; Ps. 35:13; Dan. 9:3; Acts 13:2–3

l)     Pray with the Fear of God           Ps. 145:19

m) Pray with Fervency and Depth of Feeling            Exod. 2:23–24; Judg. 20:26; 1 Sam. 1:9–10; 2 Kings 20:2–3; Job 16:20; Ps. 6:6–9; Ps. 39:12; Ps. 42:3–4; Ps. 62:8; Jer. 31:9; Lam. 2:19; Mark 7:34; Heb. 5:7

n) Pray with Forgiveness toward Others        Matt. 6:9, 12, 14, 15; Luke 6:37; 1 Tim. 2:8

o) Pray with Humility, Confession of Sin, and Penitence      2 Sam. 24:17, 25; 1 Kings 8:33–50; 2 Chron. 7:14; 2 Chron. 33:10–13; Neh. 9:1–3; Ps. 32:5; Ps. 35:13; Ps. 51:1–12; Jer. 36:6–7; Jon. 3:3–9; Matt. 5:23–24; Luke 18:9–14

p) Pray with Love for God     Ps. 91:14

q) Pray with Obedience to God          1 Kings 8:58–61; Prov. 28:9; Isa. 56:6–7; John 9:31; 1 John 3:21–22

r) Pray with Patience   Ps. 40:1

s) Pray with Perseverance       1 Chron. 16:11; Ps. 5:1–3; Ps. 55:17; Ps. 86:3; Ps. 88:1; Ps. 109:4; Ps. 116:2; Luke 11:5–10; Luke 18:1–8; Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17

t) Pray with Sincerity of Heart           Deut. 4:29; Ps. 17:1; Ps. 25:1; Ps. 145:18; Jer. 29:13; Lam. 3:41; 2 Tim. 2:22; Heb. 10:22

u) Pray with Wise and Appropriate Words    Eccles. 5:1–7; Matt. 6:7; 1 Cor. 14:14–19

Motives for Prayer

a) Pray Because God Hears Prayer     Deut. 4:7; 1 Kings 9:3; 2 Kings 19:20; 2 Kings 20:5–6; Ps. 34:15, 17; Ps. 65:2; Ps. 86:5, 7; Prov. 15:29; Isa. 49:8; Isa. 65:24; Jer. 33:3; Joel 2:32; Zech. 13:9; Matt. 7:8–11; Matt. 18:19–20; John 16:24; Rom. 10:12–13; James 5:16

b) Pray Because It Is a Christian Duty           Matt. 7:7; Rom. 12:12; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Tim. 2:8; James 4:8; 1 Pet. 4:7

c) Pray in Confidence That Prayers Are Heard          Deut. 9:19; Deut. 26:7; 2 Sam. 22:7; Ps. 3:4; Ps. 4:3; Ps. 6:9; Ps. 10:17; Ps. 17:6; Ps. 18:6; Ps. 22:24; Ps. 34:4; Ps. 38:15; Ps. 55:17; Ps. 66:19; Ps. 116:1; Ps. 119:26; Lam. 3:55–57; Jon. 2:1–2; John 11:41–42

d) Pray out of a Desire for the Things of God           Matt. 6:33; Col. 3:1–2

e) Pray with Certainty of Personal Access to God Eph. 3:12; Heb. 4:14–16

Hindrances to Prayer

 a) Anxiety Hinders Prayer Phil. 4:6

 b) Disobedience Hinders Prayer Deut. 1:43–45; Deut. 3:26; 2 Sam. 22:27, 41–42; Jer. 11:10–11; Lam. 3:8, 39, 41–42, 44; Mic. 3:4

 c) Doubt Hinders Prayer James 1:5–7

 d) Failure to Heed God’s Law Hinders Prayer Prov. 28:9; Zech. 7:12–13

 e) Failure to Pray Hinders Prayer 1 Sam. 12:23; Hos. 7:7; James 4:2

 f) Failure to Remain in Christ Hinders Prayer John 15:7

 g) Faithlessness Hinders Prayer Heb. 11:6

 h) Forsaking God Hinders Prayer 2 Chron. 15:2; Prov. 1:24–32

 i) Haughtiness Hinders Prayer Job 35:12–13; James 4:6, 10

 j) Hypocrisy Hinders Prayer Ps. 78:36–37; Ezek. 33:31; Matt. 15:1–9; Mark 12:38–40

 k) Idolatry Hinders Prayer Jer. 11:10–11, 14; Ezek. 14:1–3; Ezek. 20:31; Zeph. 1:4–6

 l) An Improper Husband-Wife Relationship Hinders Prayer 1 Pet. 3:7

 m) Insincerity Hinders Prayer Deut. 4:29

 n) Irreverence Hinders Prayer Mal. 1:7–10

 o) Losing Heart Hinders Prayer Luke 18:1

 p) Meaningless Repetition Hinders Prayer Matt. 6:7

 q) Praying Contrary to God’s Will Hinders Prayer 1 John 5:14

 r) Pretentiousness Hinders Prayer Matt. 6:5

 s) Refusal to Help the Poor Hinders Prayer Prov. 21:13

 t) Selfishness Hinders Prayer James 4:3

 u) Self-Righteousness Hinders Prayer Luke 18:9–14

 v) Sleepiness Hinders Prayer Matt. 26:40–43

 w) Unconfessed Sin Hinders Prayer Ps. 66:18; Isa. 59:1–2; John 9:31; James 4:8

 x) Unfaithfulness Hinders Prayer Hos. 5:6–7; Mal. 2:11–14

 y) An Unforgiving Spirit Hinders Prayer Matt. 6:14–15; Mark 11:25

 z) Wickedness Hinders Prayer Prov. 1:24–31

Elwell, W. A., & Buckwalter, D. (1996, c1991). Vol. 5: Topical analysis of the Bible : With the New International Version. Includes indexes. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.


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[1]Bounds, E. M. (1999). Power through prayer. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2]Shelley, M. (1996). Deepening your ministry through prayer and personal growth : 30 strategies to transform your ministry (1st ed.). Library of Christian leadership (59). Nashville, Tenn.: Moorings.

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