Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Prayer—The Warrior's Resource

“Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).

I am increasingly aware and appreciative of the prayers that others lift up on my account. I do not consider the time they give in prayer a light matter, but one of great importance. I am both humbled and made grateful for those who battle on my behalf—those who call or write to tell me so…and those who war even without my knowledge.

It is through prayer that I am empowered, encouraged, and exhorted by the Spirit. And it is through prayer that I am motivated to continue keeping on even when I would rather give up! Prayer works—not only in the visible realm, often delivering me from discouragement, depression, negative attitudes, a bad perspective, or a bad circumstance—but in the invisible realm as well, defeating principalities and powers of this wicked world, intent upon bringing the work of the Lord to naught.

Paul taught Timothy (his own son in the faith) to “pray for all men”
period. And I think we can pretty much assume he wasn’t referring to “God bless so and so” petitions either. Paul’s recorded prayers are not only powerful, they are wonderful patterns for us to emulate (Ephesians 1:15-23, Philippians 1:1-11, Colossians 1:3-14)not only for our family, those we worship with, the American church and its leaders, and our national authorities on every level—but even beyond our borders as well! How often do our prayers cross cultural and geographical boundaries? How often do we pray for local pastors serving the church in Nigeria, Nauru, or the Netherlands—and what about the believers who gather under their teaching (sometimes in secret)? Do we pray for their national authorities—and the influence society plays upon the Christians who must live under their rule?

Reality is, we are easily overwhelmed! T
o consider adding anything else to our already busy schedule can put us into a sweat—without taking the time to process the request we have already decided we really don't have time for it. We barely find a half hour to pray as it is...and now I'm suppose to add another couple countries to the list—with all their problems regarding leadership and religious persecution? Where in the world is Djibouti anyway? Honestly, I didn’t know until today! I had to look it up.

The truth is
—we don’t pray because we are not familiar with names, locations, or the religious bents of other countries! Because of this lack of information we often don't think past the end of our own block
! I personally have enough difficulty deciphering “politics” here at home…let alone remembering the guy who won the last presidential election in some far off African nation!

The fact is
—we can! About 5 minutes worth of research provides you with ample ammunition! We have so many handy ways of quickly (and I mean really quickly) pulling up just about any information we would ever need to know about any country here on earth. If you are blessed with some sort of Internet connection you pretty much have the world at your fingertips. In a matter of seconds your prayer page could look something like this:

Djibouti—Eastern Africa
President Ismail Omar Guelleh
Prime Minister Mohamed Dileita Dileita
US Ambassador and Representative (to the UN) Roble Olhaye Oudine

And viola, you are praying for a country and the people that make up that country in a way you have never prayed before!

And through wonderful organizations like The Joshua Project, Strategic World Impact, and The Voice of the Martyrs you can
add the names of pastors and their flocks—along with their struggles and stories—to that list in time to share them with your family around the dinner table this very evening. It’s that simple. It doesn’t so much take time as it takes priority!

We need knowledge in order to be accurate in our aim. God wants us in full armor—and our “faces set like flint”—always ready to engage the enemy on many front lines. He wants us praying through someone else’s fight!

Going to our knees on behalf of the ministry of another is essential if they are to continue putting feet to that ministry.

I strive to continue in those things that I have learned of the Lord, being ready in season and out of season, to give an answer for the hope that lies therein! I know that your prayers work to help bring that desire to pass. Please pray that I will be faithful to practice what I preach. And to practice it even before I preach it. I pray the same thing for those of you who read this blog and seek to please the Lord above all else. I would like to know how I could pray for you specifically!

We are exhorted to “shod [our] feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15)…the time we spend doing just that will make us ready to walk into any situation the Lord desires that we walk into, for His glory alone.

What we wear on our feet is very important. The Lord knows the “terrain” (the details within each situation) better than we do. We must always choose the shoes He has ordained for that purpose. Let us be very attentive to the Spirit’s preparation.

“Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reporting for Duty

“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

How do you view the idea of being owned—entirely? Have you ever grasped the full mentality of such a position? Does it feel a little stifling? Archaich? A contradiction to the Freedom we are promised in Christ?

Theologically, we may know we are the servants of the Lord—why, we sing about it at church, read about it in devotionals, and talk about it with other believers. To deny that position would be unquestionable. But practically, behaviorally, we may not always act as if our lives are under the orders of Another. We get up and walk wherever we please (John 21:18), not always checking in with our Commanding Officer—we take counsel with ourselves instead—doing that which is “acceptable” among other believers. We like to assume (assumption does not require reckoning) our declared love, worship, and devotion is all that Jesus (the One who died in order to purchase our redemption) wants from us. We believe we are giving Him a wonderful gift: our desire to serve Him. But when push comes to shove we may not fully complete a task He's given or completely forget to ask His opinion on a certain matter. We feel comfortable in our Christianity and are afraid to ask if He would like to see change. We pray “Your will be done” but often do not wait upon His bidding. Sadly, our knowledge does not always affect our actions—we talk and perform as if we will not have to answer for every word and deed. But, according to scripture—we will!

“Deana, a slave of the Savior...” is not the usual greeting I put in a letter to a friend or give as an intro when meeting someone new—but maybe it should be. Such a reference is telling, is it not? Everything that comes thereafter would be weighed by a perfect standard—whether I am putting my pen to paper or choosing a topic for discussion. This declared reality would require greater thought and constant dialogue with my Master when communicating with someone else. What I say or scribble must not be my words only...but my words approved by His Word! It doesn't have to take away style, opinion, love, care, or creativity...but it will take away sin! So much would be left unwritten. And in many cases, so many things would be left unsaid.

The apostle Paul was always quick to identify himself as “not of himself” but belonging to Someone greater. He began almost every epistle with the declaration that basically stated I do the bidding of Christ alone! The word servant, in 2 Timothy 2:24, literally means having a sense of subjection or subservience—a slave. If we have been bought with a price then we are not our own. Period. That absolute truth cannot be ignored without consequences. If we are pursuing the freedom we have in Christ, in a scriptural manner, then we will naturally find ourselves bound to the Lover of our souls with chords that are not easily broken! It is not a forced servitude...it is a sacrifice of devotion—a compelling love that will drive us to commit all of our ways to the authority of Christ. This will be true even when our flesh screams for us to pick up pride in order to judge situations from a human viewpoint and react according to our natural inclinations. It is natural to respond to a negative comment with a negative comment. It is natural to be condescending to a fool who says “there is no God”—especially if that fool is obnoxious.

Paul knew that.

And that is why he reminded Timothy that he was the servant of the Lord—not a gifted pastor, faithful worker, or wonderful teacher—but a slave. “Timothy,” Paul is saying, “Remember, you belong to God entirely. You must obey, even when life (or the people who make up life) makes obedience tough!” No matter how foolish others may seem to be—no matter how stubborn, sinful, or set in their own ways—God would decide how Timothy should deal with them...not Timothy! I think we should take note!

“The servant of the Lord must not strive”—which means to war, to dispute, to quarrel. God does not want us to be quick to verbally draw our guns even if the other party is dead wrong. It is not our job to correct wrong thinking or modulate wrong actions. We are never told in scripture to war against flesh and blood but against the spirit of evil that dwells in heavenly places. As soldiers of the cross, we must fight against the power of darkness, not the individuals that are bound or deceived by that darkness.

There is a right way to handle the “foolish and unlearned” (vs. 23) and there is a wrong way. As servants of the Lord, it is our duty to discover what our response should include. Even when we are assured of the truth we must temper our approach—it is not about gaining the victory—it is, however, about gaining souls unto salvation! And that must be done in love. We must be careful not to tear down a person while we are tearing down their position—this is not the Spirit of Christ. Jesus Himself rebuked Jame's and John's brilliant plan to “call down fire from heaven” upon those who were rejecting the Lord. “[I] did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55-56). The reality of eternity should affect our course of action—“if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (vs. 25). We must, therefore, strive to be relational—talk to them as if they “may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil” and become a brother or sister! (vs. 26).

That possible reality itself should help to keep our attitude in check. Paul says, “the servant of the Lord must...be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient.” Godly persuasion will be confident and pointed...but it will never be contentious or defensive. The Lord's servant must be mild, winsome, and full of kindness. It is possible to be right and pleasant at the same time—even if the other party is neither! This will require patience though—a willingness to continuously endure ill. “The servant of the Lord” must forbear! “The servant of the Lord” must choose to be gentle with all words, kind with every expression, winsome with his personality, and patient with all expectations.

Paul instructed Timothy to impart knowledge instead of quarrel—teach your opposition, don't argue with him. It is vital to be a student of the Word, of Gospel Doctrine, and of those subjects you wish to address if you desire to see change in someone else! Learn what to say in an excellent manner first, open your mouth second! God desires that His people be prepared—allow the Savior the opportunity to prepare you. Spend time with Him. Think. Learn. Pray. “Study to shew thyself approved” (vs. 15) and practice what you learn. Godly persuasion will wisely divide the Word of truth—it will not hit someone over the head with it!

Amy Carmichael said to “rebuke without a pang” is to not understand Calvary love. We understand such love only when we remember that we are not our own—we belong to a precious Savior who will never demand from us that which He did not voluntarily take upon Himself. Jesus, in order to please His Father, chose the life of a slave. He “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant...and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). Let us faithfully follow His example!

“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).