Prayer is your PRIMARY ministry.
It's God's chosen method for Christ to be formed in you. There is no substitute for prayer. Without prayer you are inevitably a weak carnal Christian.
Prayer is where the action is. It's where Jesus is. It's where you experience fellowship with the Lord such as you will in no other way.
We also look here at how God looks at healing today and briefly how he sees the role of women in the Church.
I wrote much earlier in this paper that God's purpose in putting us on the earth was to "prepare a bride" for Jesus. We are to be like him and live and reign with him for eternity. He does this by forming his very nature in us which is love. Pure godly love that is totally altruistic.
The primary means by which he accomplishes this is "prayer". It is as we spiritually look into his face in prayer that we are transformed.
"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory." 2 Corinthians 3:18
It is as we open our spirits to him, the Holy Spirit, that he works in us his perfect will. This doesn't happen automatically, i.e. you don't grow as a Christian proportionally to how long you have been a Christian. Some people who have been Christians for a long time are still carnal. The apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament to the church at Corinth and said that of them. Alternatively, it doesn't just happen when you go off to a private place somewhere for a "quiet time" either, i.e. it's not simply a matter of putting "kneeling time" in and the more hours you clock up, the more spiritual you become. It's as you yield your spirit to him consistently and humbly.
It all goes back to God's fundamental plan for mankind. His purpose for you personally isÂ "Christ in you, the hope of glory".
The Apostle Paul said inÂ 1 Corinthians 11:1 "Follow me as I follow Christ."
By this he didn't mean for us to try and imitate his actions, his good deeds and miracles. That would be impossible. He didn't even mean follow his religious practices because they both worshipped in a Jewish temple, kept the Jewish Sabbath and Holy Days, Jewish dietary laws etc. What he meant was that just as Jesus turned to the Father in heaven and received daily from the Father the help he needed and the power to live by the Holy Spirit, so did Paul and we are to do the same.
Christianity is a Mysticism not a Moralism. In other words it's first about what you are before it's about what you do. It is about the same mystical (or hidden) life that animated Christ himself being received by those who follow him. Only when we receive the same power that Jesus received will it be possible for us to truly live the moral teaching of the Gospel. The organised Church as a whole has largely reduced the spiritual mystical teaching of Christ to just another moral teaching or worse - a set of legal do's and don'ts.
God's purposes are "love" pure and unadulterated. No one can fulfil them unless the same Spirit that empowered Jesus empowers them from within. Jesus said,
"Without me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
Prayer.Â That's God's chosen channel of grace. We must continually turn back to God, seeking his face for himself.
§ We must turn to him in our joy and in our sorrow.
§ In our emptiness and in our times of fullness.
§ We must turn to him with complete candour and honesty.
We must turn to him and receive from him whatever he decides to give. At first this will be love and confirmation and peace and joy. As he begins to fill us more, we receive the truth in greater measure. The truth about ourselves is painful to take.
Prayer is not an easy option. But there isn't a Plan B. As St Teresa of Avila said, "There is only one way to perfection and that is to pray, if anyone points in a different direction then they are deceiving you."
I am someone who has been actively involved in church organisations for well over 30 years. I have gone through many phases and stages. I was taught as a young Christian that I must both pray and read my Bible for half an hour each day if I was to grow as a Christian and please God. So I did. Or at least I tried to and for most of the time I succeeded. However the times came when I couldn't keep it up.
After hearing one very stirring sermon I promised God I would pray for an hour each day for the coming month. But I was so busy that I found myself praying up till midnight and then running out of time and so praying on into the early hours of the next day. I tried to get a couple of extra hours ahead to give myself a buffer but I couldn't do it. I fell asleep praying and got further and further behind. Eventually I "owed" God about 4 hours of prayer and became totally discouraged and depressed (as well as exhausted). I gave up on praying totally for a bit because I felt so unclean.
Then at a later time, when I hit 40 I had a mid-life crisis. I didn't think Christians were supposed to have them! But my circumstances were that I was pastoring a church and was feeling like a square peg in a round hole. I was trapped and couldn't see a way out. I saw that the best part of my life was behind me and it looked gloomy ahead. It was a grim time for me and my family, especially my wife.
I didn't pray (apart from "grace" at the table) for about three years. I gave up all of the trying to please God and do good works and witness etc. etc. I really wanted not to believe in God anymore, that would have made things easier. However I couldn't stop believing. Deep down inside I knew God was there. I just didn't want to be around him or any of his people.
God extended grace to me.
I got ill. It was extremely painful and I thought "This has got to be cancer". So I cried out to God in desperation. I thought if we were going to meet soon I better get things sorted out quickly.
A couple of months later as I was walking through a park in Cardiff, God spoke to me and said "You couldn't stop believing in me could you?"
I said "No, Lord, I couldn't."
He said "Well, I couldn't stop believing in you either." It was so wonderful that I burst into tears.
I don't recommend that you fall away from God and stop praying for three years but whatever it takes for you to see that it's God who is holding you in the palm of his hand and nothing can knock you out - that's what you need too. I am different now. I know that I know that it is by grace I have been saved by faith and that isn't of myself (AT ALL) it is of God! I have resigned as general manager of my universe.
My prayers are different now. Mostly praise and talking to God about how wonderful he is and thanking him. I don't need to understand what's going on in my life or around me. He is working it out for good and nothing in all the cosmos can stop him from succeeding. My long lists of prayers are gone now. I used to feel so guilty when I heard about faithful prayer warriors who prayed someone through by praying for them to be saved every day for 30 years. I would dig out my old lists and pray them through again for a week or two). I think God was pleased with my desire but he was probably as unmoved by the actual prayers as I was.
When we first became Christians, we were spiritual babies. Yes, we had received the Holy Spirit. It was him who first drew us to God and granted us repentance to salvation. He gave us the desire for God and the awareness of our sinfulness and desperate need of a Saviour.
But we very still very carnal!
Oh, we probably had a lot of zeal and emotion but we were essentially following after God because he was meeting our (newly experienced) needs. We worshipped him because it felt wonderful. We prayed because he answered our prayers and it was so good to feel clean and forgiven. We were reborn into a new spiritual world. We loved to read the Bible because we experienced God speaking to us out of every page. We even witnessed to others because we were so full of it.
As time went on however, the fire of our first love subsided into dull embers. We felt bad because we didn't want to pray and read the Bible or go to prayer meetings like we had done at the start. We heard sermons about backsliding and forced ourselves to pray a bit more, but it only lasted for a while before we became spiritually lethargic again. We felt that we were not growing spiritually and that we had lost our first love.
In fact, this was all a part of God's programme for us. When we are first saved, God gives us lots of encouragement, blessings and delights. This is just the way we treat a little baby. We do everything for them. But as the baby becomes a child and then a teenager we don't bottle feed it any more. As a part of growing up we expect them to have to do more for themselves.
Jesus described it like this "The kingdom of heaven is like yeastâ€¦"
When we first receive the Holy Spirit, he draws us to Jesus. It is as we spend time with Jesus in prayer of all kinds that He is able to grow and grow inside us, like the yeast working through the whole lump of dough. God uses adversity and our own human nature to drive us to prayer.
The only one who can ever please God (ultimately) is Jesus. Only love can reach his divine standards. Only "Christ in you" can ultimately please God. (I know that God can be pleased with people on a natural level when they display good attributes such as love and faithfulness, but this is not pleasing to God in the sense of attaining his standard of divine, selfless love).
This is the divine exchange, Christ being formed in us as we draw near to God. It can only happen through suffering. If God were to remain as easily accessible and eager to answer every prayer as he seemed when we were first saved, we would never develop the nature of Jesus within us. It happens through, our experiencing at times:
Yes God uses all of these.
But it is in this crucible that the character of Christ is formed in us. Not by our willpower or our superior IQ or personality. It happens as we die to self and allow Christ to have his way in our lives. It happens as we learn to say "Not my will but yours be done Lord."
It happens as we pray. As we cry. As we come to God in our utter emptiness and he fills us from his inexhaustible reservoir of love.
Our initial prayers of requests for his blessings, (his healing, his provisions, his protection, his granting of fruitfulness to our evangelistic efforts, etc. etc.) become our seeking God for himself alone. This only occurs as Christ is formed in us. Only then are we able to face the awful truth that we don't want God alone and we never did. We want the joy, the excitement, the feeling of cleanness and holiness, the experience of intimacy and empathy as God ministers to us. We want to stay here on earth and enjoy the blessings that God offers his beloved children. But when we realise that greater intimacy with Jesus means sharing with him in suffering, in doubts, in fears and in rejectionâ€¦then we are stripped of our faÃ§ade.
Use the Lords prayer by all means but it's heart to heart. Go where God leads you. It's personal not theoretical.
How can you evaluate how well you are doing that? Can you compare yourself with anyone else? Of course not! You can't even evaluate your own spirituality, let alone anyone else's. All the factors that have gone into making you the person you are right now. The pain, the doubt, the fears, the loneliness and rejection, the anxiety or maybe the abuse you have suffered all go into the equation. Along with the successes, the joys, the security, the gifts, the friendships and love you have been given. All these are weighed by God, who alone can judge our hearts.
Times of concentrated prayer are essential but we can come to a place of rest in his presence so that we can then go through the day "yieldingly". In this sense we can be in a continual state of openness to the Holy Spirit whatever life throws at us. Jesus did it. I don't do it very well at all.
I don't think I am qualified to evaluate my own spirituality. But, if I honestly said how spiritual I feel now after being a Christian for many years, I would tell you that I believe I am still predominantly carnal. That is I think I spend more time doing my will than Jesus' will. I spend more time thinking my own thoughts, protecting my own image of myself, my reputation, pursuing my own comfort and pleasure than Jesus'.
Suffering sometimes helps me. But at other times it makes me more stubborn. You can't work it out like a formula. It's a relationship! Jesus gave his disciples "the Lord's prayer" which has some value in outlining legitimate topics to cover with God but on the other hand it can easily become a meaningless mantra that hinders true communion with Father.
With men it's impossible but with God - everything is possible.
Here's a thought. Why don't you do a personal study of the prayers in the New Testament? There you are, I'm not telling you what Jesus and the apostles prayed - you look it up for yourself. Oh I know, it doesn't necessarily follow that they exactly represent the overall pattern of prayers that they prayed but it should be a pretty good indication shouldn't it?
Why not start with the gospels and then go on to the book of Acts to start with? Highlight in yellow any section that is a prayer. (God doesn't get angry when we mark our Bibles). You may well be amazed by what they prayed for and what they didn't! Did Jesus ever pray for anyone to be saved or healed? Did the apostles or early Christians ever pray for finances or protection or for their meetings? How much of their prayers were thanksgiving, how much was asking for things and what things did they ask God for?
You tell me.
God is already as loving towards you as he will ever be. He already wants the very best for you and is committed to seeing that you get it. "So what's the point of praying then?" you might ask. Every point in the world.
Say, for example, you have a child who desperately wants a pet. They have seen an adorable puppy and have been begging for one of their own. The parents who love their child dearly would love to give them a puppy of their own but they know they need to learn some lessons about responsibility and self discipline first. What do the parents do? They can lecture the child and the child will swear on a pile of Bibles that they will take care of the puppy and be responsible but the parents know this would only be words.
So they ask the school to invite their child to be responsible for the guinea pig over the summer holidays. The child is not too pleased but they accept the charge and begin to learn. They learn that the pet must be cleaned and fed even when they want to go in and play on the computer or watch TV. At first the guinea pig is terrified of them and just hides all the time. They learn that pets aren't always fun. They slowly, slowly learn that even a guinea pig has a certain charm as they get to know it a bit and it begins to respond to their attentions.
That's what prayer is like. We might ask God for 101 things that he would love to give us except that he knows we aren't ready for them yet and it wouldn't help the formation of Christ in us. (And that is what God is working towards all the time.)
We may desperately want a marriage partner. We pray and pray and all we get is invitations to our friends' weddings. One by one they get married off and we seem stuck on a very high shelf. God seems a million miles away. On top of that, there's this person at work/college/school who seems determined to make life miserable for us and somehow circumstances conspire to team them up with us time after time.
So we get angry, frustrated and downright nasty. Not realising that they are God's provision for us. Before we get the partner we are after we need to become the partner God wants us to be. How does this happen? Suffering. Having to deal with "difficult" people. We know we should try to get along with them and we know we can't do it so we ask God for help. Prayer changes us, not God.
Yes, God does heal. He is the great healer. Healing is God's ultimate desire for all people. He will accomplish it eventually. But very often he doesn't heal. Even when it's one of his own true believers who loves him dearly and cries out for healing with all the faith they can muster.
Healing is something that God uses to demonstrate the Kingdom of God. Jesus healed all that came to him for healing during his earthly ministry. Sometimes he healed people who didn't exercise any faith for it. Jesus demonstrated his compassion by healing sick folk.
Healing does not belong to all Christians as a right because "by his wounds you have been healed". This verse from 1 Peter 2:24 is talking about his "wound" singular, which is his suffering and death and refers to our salvation and forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God as a result of that "wound".
Forgiveness of sin does belong to Christians but not the right to perfect physical health. When this is taught it causes harm. Have you ever been to a healing crusade where the minister proclaims that it is God's will to heal everyone and encourages all to come and "receive their healing"?
Have you looked at the faces of the sick as they go home afterwards?
Can you imagine the condemnation, the self-loathing, the fear of others' disapproval at their lack of faith?
Tragically, people are led to focus on their (often great) needs rather than God. The truth is that Christianity isn't primarily about us receiving from God. It's about him. Weak and selfish and foolish people are fed on a spiritual diet of emotionalism and self-centredness, that keeps them immature in their faith.
You may be thinking now, "God doesn't make sick people. Everything God makes is good. It's humans who are responsible for all human imperfections and that's ultimately through sin." This sounds good except for one thing. God is responsible for humans. He has made us and we are his creation. Nothing we have ever done or become is, was or ever will be outside of his express will and purpose. Otherwise we, (or possibly the devil, if you prefer) would be more powerful than God.
Suppose you made something so complex and alive that it had the power to make choices. When it made those choices, just as you programmed it to do, do you think you could shrug your shoulders and say, "I'm not responsible for what it decided?" Of course not! You would have been the maker. You set the parameters. The buck would have to ultimately stop with you.
The same is true of God. Stop trying to apologise for God, Christian. He's not ashamed of anything he has made or done. His plan of salvation is on course and everything is working for good. Everything IS working for good. EVERYTHING is working for good.
Relax; the universe is in good hands.
Christians have always tended to get this wrong.
"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?"
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
(John 9:1, 2)
You don't hear many sermons on this scripture unless they are trying to explain away the obvious meaning of it which is that God causes even things like blindness to display his work in people's lives.
We have all been created equal in the sight of God. Women are not second class Christians. God did not make "man" in his image he made "mankind" in his image. Women are made as much in the image of God as men. We all have different gifts and talents and our gender does not exclude us from having any in particular.
A woman can be called of God to any role in the church she chooses including that of apostle, prophet, evangelist or teacher.
There is much material abounding on this subject if you have an open mind to receive it. When you apply the principles of biblical interpretation that I have outlined in this thesis you will see that the Scriptures constricting women's roles in society and the church are to be interpreted in the light of the law of love and an understanding of the times and context in which they were written.
I have indexed a web site in the Links page that I recommend to expand your mental horizons on this subject.
Occasionally, I have referred to God as "she" in this work. I know it sounds strange, we are so used to calling God "he". But God has all the wonderful aspects of womankind's unique gifting as well as men's. Calling God "he" makes us comfortable because we think of "he" as more powerful and, of course, we are used to it, but there is really no intrinsic reason why we shouldn't refer to God as "she". Perhaps in a strongly matriarchal society "she" would seem natural.