Monthly Archives: September 2011

Daily Prayer for God’s Presence and Guidance

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane),...

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And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed (Mark 1:35, ESV).

When one reads Mark’s Gospel, it is easy to notice the miracles and healings. Mark emphasizes action. He talks about what Jesus did, more than about what He said. In Mark 1:29–39, Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and others, casting out demons and performing other miracles. Although Mark tells us that Jesus preached, he does not report much of what He said.

However, in the middle of the story Mark mentions another important aspect of Jesus’ life. Although He was a miracle worker and preacher, He was also a prayer warrior. There are many ways in which we can never hope to be like Jesus; He was God in human form and the Savior of the world, two of many things we can never become. However, He was also a man of prayer, and this is one aspect of Jesus’ personality we can all learn to imitate.

The idea of Jesus praying raises some tough questions for some people. Why would Jesus need to pray? If He needed anything, couldn’t He just perform His own little miracle to get it? Didn’t He already know all things? If He has all wisdom and power, isn’t it safe to assume that He did not need any help from anybody, even His heavenly Father? Such questions betray a misunderstanding about both Jesus and prayer.

Yes, Jesus is the Son of God and He is all-powerful and all-knowing. However, as part of the triune God, Jesus always worked with His Father and the Holy Spirit. He never ministered without them. Jesus’ very nature demanded close communion with the Father. Jesus received guidance and directions from His Father, and through the Father’s guidance was able to perform His mighty miracles.

It is no accident that Jesus was praying just before He told Peter that they needed to leave Capernaum and go to the nearby villages to preach (see Mark 1:36–38). Perhaps, during His time of prayer, the Father revealed that He must not stay in one town too long. There were so many towns, so many people in need of the Gospel, and Jesus had so little time in this world. Jesus knew it was time to move on because He had met with His Father. Furthermore, since Jesus received His itinerary from the Father through prayer, it was that much more difficult for people to distract Him from His mission and His divinely ordained schedule. Jesus received counsel and direction through prayer.

Many Christians, however, tend to treat prayer like the Home Shopping Network or a department store. We pray when we want to get something. If we are sick, experiencing financial difficulties, or dealing with other serious crises, we pray. If all is going well, God may not hear from some of us for several days or weeks. In some cases, we might not pray for months until a crisis erupts.

Yet, if we find Jesus praying often, don’t we need to pray even more? If we find Jesus getting up early in the morning and finding a quiet place to pray, don’t we need to do the same? Jesus prayed for His Father’s guidance. Likewise, we should make prayer a priority. Every one of us needs to set aside time to pray, as a first priority (not just when there’s “nothing better to do”) and ask God for direction and strength to overcome any challenges we may meet.

Perhaps the most familiar story about Jesus praying is when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before He was betrayed (Luke 22:39–46). His plea was one of the most familiar prayer requests in the entire Bible: “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

This should be our prayer as well. In Twelve Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, the Eleventh Step is “[We] sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” Not only is this excellent advice for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, but it is also an important lesson for Christians.

As we pray, our first priority should be communion with God. Particularly in evangelical and Pentecostal circles, we speak of having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Relationships, particularly intimate ones, involve spending time together. In recent years, there has been a debate about whether “quality time” or a quantity of time is more important in fostering healthy families. When people started emphasizing quality time, it developed into an excuse for parents to spend long hours at work, devote little day-to-day time to their children, and then justify it by “making up for it” with “quality time” on a vacation. Recent studies, though, have generally shown that relationships are best fostered by a regular quantity of time. It is more important to spend regular time together when building a relationship, than to cram a lot of quality time in at sporadic intervals.

We should nurture our relationship with God through regular quantities of time as well. As we pray, we should make intimacy with God our primary goal. We should become keenly aware of God’s presence. We know He is with us! You should be so confident of His presence that, if somebody should ask how you can be so certain there is a God, you might be tempted to say, “How can I doubt Him? I just talked to Him this morning. He was right there in my room! Of course there is a God!” Let us pray, believing that God will grace us with His presence, because He will do it.

As we pray, God reveals His will for our lives to us. He sees the big picture that none of us can imagine, so we should be eager to know His will for us. Sometimes His will is not easy. He will call us out of our comfort zones. He will convict us of our sins and call us to repent. God’s will is usually not popular. He will frequently call you to choose between doing what is right and doing what is socially acceptable. This is not comfortable, but the eternal rewards far outweigh our momentary discomfort. That is why we also need to pray for the courage to carry out His will.

In the last year or two, I have resumed a concerted effort to wake up earlier in the morning. My alarm goes off around 5:30 AM, so that I can pray for at least a half hour before driving to work. I have noticed that the days that I spend the most time in prayer are usually my best days. The circumstances I face are not necessarily easier on those days. I might face the same workload, traffic, and other sources of stress, regardless of whether I pray or not. However, when I leave my house with the peace that comes only through prayer (Philippians 4:6–7), He gives me greater strength, wisdom, and patience to get through the day.

I invite you to take that challenge. Spend some quality time with God before you leave for work in the morning. Get up a little earlier (I admit, that is the hard part; the snooze button will beckon you) and read God’s Word before you leave. Ask God for wisdom, strength, courage, peace, and all the other spiritual blessings you need. Cast all your burdens, including the needs of those you love, on His broad shoulders so that you do not have to carry them all day long. Invite our Lord Jesus Christ to walk with you, guiding and directing you throughout the day. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you with His divine presence so that you can make it through the day.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

America’s Wake-Up Call: Ten Years Later

The north tower (1 WTC) of the World Trade Cen...

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I originally published the following article in October 2001 in The Wilderness Cry (the newsletter of my church at that time, Nassau International Assembly). This article was written approximately two weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I share it again (with very little change) as a reminder of one response to those events when they were fresh in our memories, and to look at where we have gone as a nation since then. When I originally published this article, I told people that I hoped America would not hit the snooze button. Now, I hope we have not unplugged the clock and thrown it through the nearest window.

America received a shocking reminder of the horrors of war and the suffering that is common in too many countries when hijacked planes, serving as “flying bombs,” crashed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. As I write this article, more than two weeks after the tragedy, only about 300 bodies have been retrieved and over 6000 are presumed to be buried underneath the rubble that once comprised the two largest buildings ever erected by mankind.

These events revolutionalized people’s attitudes and perspectives. Americans united: volunteering to help dig through the rubble or aid those who were digging; donating blood; praying for all who were involved in the tragedy. God was mentioned on television more frequently than He has been in a long time. Even the most unlikely television networks, including ESPN, MTV, and VH1, followed the events (sports and entertainment seemed quite trivial in the face of disaster), and several cable networks halted ALL programming in the hours that followed these events. Gossip columnist Liz Smith, in her September 12 column, admitted that her reports about the private lives of celebrities were too trivial in the face of such tragedy.

Will such changes last? I fear they will not. Within days of the catastrophe, people were already looting stores near the World Trade Center, and unethical opportunists were operating telemarketing and Internet scams, obtaining donations for phony charities that were allegedly helping those affected by the World Trade Center bombing.

As a Christian, this troubles me because these events may be a foretaste of biblical prophecy’s fulfillment. The first time I read the book of Revelation after I came to Christ, I was struck by how much “Babylon” in Revelation 18 reminded me of New York. (The fact that Long Island has a town named Babylon suddenly seems to be more than a coincidence!)

A noticeable example of this similarity is the pride that so typifies New York, and the rest of America as well. As our nation’s leaders claimed the terrorists committed an act of war, I am reminded that no act of war has occurred within the United States in a long time. As a result of this sense of security, we have come to boast as Babylon did that “I sit as a queen and am not a widow, and will never see mourning” (Revelation 18:2). Especially in New York, we assumed that we would never see war or suffering. How naive we were!

Genesis 11 reveals how God responded to human pride in mankind’s early days. Some time after God judged the world through a flood, people began to build a great tower, saying, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the earth” (Genesis 11:4). We usually call this structure the Tower of Babel; however, this is the only place where English Bibles do not refer to “Babel” as “Babylon.” The tower is more appropriately called “The Tower of Babylon.”

The tower of Babylon’s builders sinned in at least three ways. First, they sought to exalt themselves instead of God. Second, they chose to congregate in one area of the world, rather than obey God’s command to fill the earth (see Genesis 9:1). Finally, they appointed alternatives to God; archaeologists have discovered the ruins of towers in the area of Babylon that contained early zodiac symbols. Some people believe the biblical Tower of Babylon was such a “ziggurat.” People were seeking wisdom from the stars rather than from God. Likewise, modern man has come to trust in money rather than Jesus Christ.

Additional similarities between New York and biblical Babylon abound. Revelation 18:2 refers to Babylon as a “dwelling place of demons and prison of every unclean spirit.” New York, as well as the rest of America, has taken great pride in its tolerance of different religions (although biblical Christianity is frequently rejected with the claim that “there is no absolute truth”). Certainly all nations have become drunk from the wine of New York’s immorality as it has become the media and information capital of the world. Much immorality is disseminated from New York via diverse media, polluting the minds of millions.

Finally, the merchants of the earth have become rich by New York’s sensuality (Revelation 18:3). As you read Revelation 18, you will find that Babylon is a major financial and economic center, just as the World Trade Center and nearby Wall Street have been the world most important economic hub. As we have sought riches without righteousness, and money without morals, we have prepared ourselves for divine discipline or judgment.

Several aspects of the World Trade Center catastrophe bear at least a cursory resemblance to Babylon’s judgment in Revelation 18. “In one hour such great wealth has been laid waste” (Revelation 18:17). It is true that only part of New York City was destroyed, and that it took a little over an hour. However, we can see that such a prophecy can easily be fulfilled in New York City. Revelation 18:19 mentions people throwing dust on their heads in mourning, while weeping and crying out. While people may not have intentionally thrown dust on their heads on September 11, thousands were pelted with the dust of the crumbling buildings as they wailed in fear and despair. People cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, even as smoke rose from the World Trade Center’s rubble days after the attack. Immediately following the attack, the smoke even be seen from the International Space Station orbiting Earth. Four hours after the building fell, Joyce and I saw the giant smoke cloud rising as we drove across an overpass in Oceanside, New York, about 30 miles away from the World Trade Center.

Let me emphasize that this is only a wake-up call. It is time for Americans, and especially Christians, to realize that God can judge our nation in fulfillment of even the most shocking biblical prophecies. He can do it in our lifetime. While certain elements of this prophecy have not yet been fulfilled, we now can see that God is able to fulfill such frightening prophecies of judgment in our lifetime. However, He is also able to restore and bless our land if we return to Him (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Even though America probably has more Christians than any other nation, we should still prepare for judgment. We may have higher moral standards than many other countries, but whenever God gives much, He expects much. We have failed to bless other countries, choosing to pursue wealth, comfort, pleasure, and other forms of self-gratification. We have chosen our own paths rather than to serve God and act as a light to the world. God used unrighteous, idolatrous nations to chastise Israel in the Old Testament. Why would He refuse to do so to use today?

Americans can, and probably should, expect our worldly enemies to inflict more violence against our land in the days and years to come. At this time, Christians should heed God’s call to come out of Babylon (Revelation 18:4); that is, we should come out spiritually, separating ourselves from the moral laxity, greed, lust, selfishness and pleasure-seeking that permeate our culture. In the days ahead, we must pay greater attention to God and show greater concern for the spiritual, emotional, and material needs of our fellow humans.

I pray that the heightened concern for others and the greater interest in things that truly matter will not dissipate in the days to come. I especially pray that we, the Body of Christ, remember the lessons of recent days. Let us commit ourselves to greater moral and spiritual purity and more intense service to God.

Categories: Current events | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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