Tag Archives: prayer

Fear Not…

“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

I recently read an article written by an older teenager named Jacki as she cited her three biggest fears (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/my-3-biggest-fears-as-a-teenager). They were the following:
• Fear of the future;
• fear of failure;
• fear of intimacy and loneliness.

In citing her fear of the future, Jacki said: “As teenagers, we start to realize the idealistic plans we made as kids aren’t sure things. We don’t have control.” Overwhelming can be the feeling of being, “in-between.” “…in-between schools, jobs, plans, and security. Stress lingers. My future was a blank slate, everything was up in the air, and I felt swallowed by the unknown. Fear of the future pressed in.”

The next is a fear of failure. Jacki states: “Failing in school, work, relationships, driving—basically, failing at life. We’re afraid of disappointing those we love and messing up in some extravagant, irreparable way. The fear of failure is paralyzing because it inhibits us from taking risks and moving forward—which is, of course, what growing up is all about.”

The last of the three is a fear of intimacy and loneliness. Jacki says: “This is the season of my life where I’ve never been more aware of how sinful and broken and flawed I am. Yet it’s the season where I’ve never been more aware of trying to cover up my flaws. I’m afraid of people seeing the real me.”

If we were honest, we can identify with Jacki’s state of mind. You and I have encountered those fears or maybe we still do. The feeling of vulnerability is akin to the human experience.

But how we handle our fears is another matter. The Lord Jesus wants us to turn our anxious thoughts into prayers (Philippians 4:6), asking God to be mighty in our lives and slay our fears through faith.

Would you bring your fears before Him today and ask for strength to face them? Would you pray for the young people in your life that may be facing anxiety every day? Ask that God would work in their lives and draw them unto Himself. Remember that Jesus said: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

God’s Protection and Peace

Like many kids across America, my children started back to school today. They were a little anxious, as were their parents. Wanting to get this school year started in the right way is important to all of us. Will they do well? Will they make friends? Will they make good decisions? My situation is small in comparison to those friends who recently dropped their kids off at college for the first time. My heart goes out to them.

As I thought about today, a couple of verses came to mind. One was part of one of David’s recorded prayers. “You hem me in, behind and before,and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it (Psalm 139:5).” This verse tells you where God is in relation to your life. If Jesus is your Lord, He is ever-involved in your circumstances, your life events and your daily concerns. Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch Christian woman who gave refuge to Jews during WWII in her home, said: “There is not pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” Christian, you are never alone.

What are you to do with those thoughts of uncertainty? 1 Peter 5:6-7 says that such thoughts ought to drive us to prayer. “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God… casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” Anxiety is a normal feeling, but it should never rule us. God does not want us to dwell on our insecurities. Rather, we are to give them to Him.

I assured my children that a new school year brought with it new friends, new teachers, new responsibilities, and new opportunities to do well. I encouraged them to do their best, “…for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).” I told them that we were proud of them; that we loved them; and that they were up to the task. Thankfully, day one is in the books. May God give you grace for the days ahead.

How to Prosper, Spirtually

I was recently confronted with the question: “How does one prosper spiritually?”  Another way of putting it would be to ask: “What is the key to spiritual growth?”

I believe the first Psalm has some insight into this question.  The book of Psalms has often been referred to as Israel’s hymnbook.  It contains songs- or poems, teaching on what it means to praise God and know God.  The emotions brought forth cover the spectrum of the human experience. When I was going through a dark time in my life, a pastor told me: “Go home and read the psalms.  You’ll know that David and others identified with you.”

The ESV Study Bible states: “The first psalm serves as the gateway into the entire book of Psalms, stressing that those who would worship God genuinely must embrace his Law (covenant instructions).  But its sustained contrast the psalm reminds readers that in the end there are really only two ways to live.”

Notice the agrarian illustration.  “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”  – Psalm 1:1-3

First off, to prosper spiritually, means to be blessed by God.  “Blessed is the man… (whose) delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”  The Hebrew denotes happiness, prosperity. It reminds us of the beatitudes in Matthew 5, Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”  You remember those.  “Blessed are the peacemakers… .”  “Blessed are the poor in spirit… .”  “Blessed are the pure in heart… . ”  One commentator states: “What is given to us in this first Psalm is contrasting sources of values.  “The truly happy person guides his life by God’s instruction rather than by the advice of those who reject that instruction.”[1]  The blessed man or woman is favored by God because of the priority in their life to honor God with their ethical and spiritual decisions.

What does it mean to delight in the law of the Lord?  Might we substitute all of God’s word, the Bible for “the law of the Lord”?  Thus, we must participate in the following:

  • To read it; to actually know what it says. To study it.  Jesus said: “Thy word is truth.” (John 17:17); we need to know the truth, before it can set us free.  It is an oxymoron to be a Christian and not interested in what the Bible says and teaches.
  • To mull it over in your mind; to memorize it.  Psalm 119 is an elaboration of Psalm 1.  “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”  This is the acquisition of the ability to call it to mind when you need it.  I know a woman who writes a central verse or thought from her devotions down and she glances at it throughout the day.  Other believers post verses in their car on the dash or on the refrigerator, to be continually reminded of God’s promises and precepts, that the word might become part of us.
  • To obey it, apply it; put it into practice.  Scripture must rule your mind, if you are to prosper spiritually.  You must be willing to submit yourself to God’s way of living, instead of living your own way!  Where are you getting your theology?  From the Internet, Facebook, Dr. Phil or Oprah?  Or do you sit with the Bible open and pray: “Lord, teach me.  Show me.  Whatever you say, I will do.”

Secondly, spiritual death is revealed in how one believes and lives.   Verse one says: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers….” Who are the wicked, sinners, or scoffers?  By the context, it is certainly those that give no mind to God, his presence, his instruction, his love or His wrath.  With these there is no fear of God.  Our country has suffered for a long time from no fear of God.

Today, our young people are falling prey to the idea that truth is relative.  In 2005, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton wrote Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Conducting the most comprehensive study of religion and teenagers to date, the sociologists discovered a newly dominant creed that they dubbed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Rather than transformative revelation from God, religion has become a utility for enhancing a teenager’s life. Smith and Denton lay out the five points of MTD:

  • A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.Surely American teenagers did not invent this new religion. A quick scan of bestseller lists, television guides, or public school curricula will reveal MTD’s appeal. Indeed, the God of MTD sounds like the “cool parent” teenagers adore.

“God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process,” Smith and Denton write.  That’s one of the things missing today is a healthy fear of God.  Many live as if there is no God.  Lawlessness abounds.

In contrast, the blessed person recovers a healthy fear of God.  The awesomeness of the Lord affects how I think and how I live; my understanding of sin and my remorse over it.

One’s spiritual health must include a healthy reverence for the God of Scripture.  In contrast to our society, the Israelites participating in the exodus in 1500 B.C. were faced with an awesome scene on Mount Sinai: “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”  Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:18-20)

But without healthy reverence for God, there is spiritual death.  There is no middle ground; there is no state of limbo.  You can tell a lot about a tree or bush by the health of its leaves; whether it is getting enough rain; enough sun or is subject to bugs or disease.  The tree described in Psalm 1 is one that has taken root by a source of water.  Its leaves are robust.  Its fruit is plentiful.  Oh that we would have more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

How do we prosper spiritually?  Caspar Schwenckfeld likened the spiritual life to the “School of Christ.”  Schwenckfeld explained Christian growth in these terms:

“The Christian also goes to school, drawn by the Spirit of God into the school of Christ, the Teacher of divine mysteries. Although God instructs His pupils, the Christians, inwardly in the Spirit, He has also appointed preachers and teachers to interpret Scripture and to instruct the outer man, to direct him to God and to the crucified Christ; to teach him the malice of sin through the outward worship-service, teaching, preaching, reading, studying, admonition and ceremony.”[2]

This “school” of the Christian faith also has a goal in mind: that we as Jesus’ followers would be more Christlike in love, belief and ethics, bringing glory to God.  That’s why Peter ends with the phrase: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever (2 Peter 3:18)!”  The danger is stopping our progress.  Someone once said: “Christian growth is like riding a bicycle.  Once you stop, you fall off!”

The late Dr. Jack Rothenberger taught:

“The focus of Schwenckfeld’s life and thought was on the personal experience of the living Christ.  For him, God alone is the teacher; He touches the inner life of the seeker by granting experiential knowledge of Christ (what Schwenckfeld called, ‘Erkenntnis Christi.’)   Which defines the maturing awareness on the part of a believer that he or she is empowered daily by Christ to live for God and others.”[3]

Some of you may be familiar with the Navigators’ “Wheel of Christian Growth.”  Christ is at the center of the wheel and thus, at the center of our lives.  The spokes consist of Witnessing, Prayer, Study of the Word and Fellowship.  Each Christian is to be active in the following:

Prayer: This is simply conversing with God.  Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty

things that you do not know.”  We need time alone with God.  Instead of looking at it as a duty, you must recover the sense that your spiritual life depends on it. If Jesus deemed it necessary to pray alone and often, we must place a high priority on it as well.  So our spiritual health depends on us meeting with the Lord. If Jesus needed it, how much more do we!?  His habit was to get up while it was still dark and pray with God. He would often retreat to a lonely place and pray. He would give his disciples well needed rest after serving the crowds whether it be feeding or healing.  Before He was arrested, what was He doing?  Praying!

Pastor Kevin DeYoung states:

“This is why prayer is so essential for the Christian.  The simple act of getting on our knees (or faces or feet or whatever) for five or fifty minutes every day is the surest sign of our humility and dependence on God.  There may be many reasons for our prayerlessness- time management, busyness, lack of concentration- but most fundamentally, we ask not because we think we need not. Deep down we feel secure when we have money in the bank, a healthy report from the doctor, and powerful people on our side.  We do not trust in God alone.  Prayerlessness is an expression of our meager confidence in God’s ability to provide and of our strong confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves without God’s help.”[4]   Wow!  So that’s why prayerlessness is sin!

Studying Scripture:  Psalm 119:104: “From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Paul told us in Romans 12: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Our minds must engage the study of Scripture so that our spirit can be transformed from grace to grace.

Witnessing:  Christians have the best news in the world! 1 Peter 3:15: “… sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence… .”  Sometimes we underestimate the power of our testimony, which is really a testimony of God working in our lives.  The Lord has given you a world to reach.  We must not be timid about sharing Jesus, the Name which is above every name.  It is not witnessing if you don’t mention Jesus’ name.

Fellowship:  “No man is an island.”  We need each other.  Hebrews 10:24: “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  Fellowship is obtained through attending worship, Sunday School, small groups & activities.  Open your life to give and receive love.

We must seek the fellowship of other Christians; you must be in His word and prayer on a regular basis; we must actively witness to and serve others;  If we are to prosper spiritually!  And most of all, the Holy Spirit must take up residence in our lives, which happens to every person when they trust in Christ.

God has wired us so that we get something out of something what we put into it.  Very little happens without effort and initiative.  Other things require us to be active in order to stay alive. I can sit here and say: “I’m going to boycott air,” and then try to hold my breath.  But after about a minute, I’ll be gasping for it.  I can try to boycott oxygen for a minute and a half, but sooner or later I’m a take a deep breath and give up my protest.

There is only so much of us to go around. Until we need to stop and take care of ourselves. Do you remember the illustration of the oxygen mask on the airplane? Before you take off the stewardess informs you that you must first put yours on before you put your child’s on. So it is with our own usefulness and blessing to others. We need to fuel up with God before we can be a blessing to others.

[1] ESV Study Bible.

[2] Selina G. Schultz, Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig: A Course of Study, “A Christian,” (Pennsburg, PA: Board of Publication, 1964), 67.

[3] See Dr. Jack Rothenberger’s article at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1989/issue21/2124.html.

[4] Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot, (Chicago: Moody, 2010), 232.

Opening Prayer for the Pennsylvania State Senate

On Wednesday, September 24, 2014, I was privileged to offer the opening prayer on the floor of the Pennsylvania State Senate. This was a special day, as a resolution was passed, honoring the 280th Schwenkfelder Day of Remembrance. See http://schwenkfelderexilesociety.org/schwenkfelders-in-pennsylvania/.

The following is what I prayed:

“Our Father in heaven, we humbly come before Your throne, as You are the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe. We thank you for this day, as You have gathered these men and women to make important decisions concerning our commonwealth. We thank you for their gifts, abilities and education. As lawmakers of this great state, they serve the people of Pennsylvania and they serve You.

And yet, Lord, we understand that You are the ultimate Lawmaker. We are helpless without Your leading. Your word tells us in Proverbs 16:25 that “There is a way that seems right unto men, but in the end leads to death.” Keep us from acting in our own wisdom. May we operate with the wisdom that comes from You.

Help our laws to reflect Your law, found in sacred Scripture. Your word tells us in James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Give us wisdom and discernment to make choices that would glorify You and would be best for the people of this privileged state.

I pray this in the name of your precious Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Why Pray?

What keeps us from prayer? Busyness, pride, the feeling that we can take care of life on our own.

Maybe it is the newness of prayer. You’ve heard others pray and you’ve never done it that way before.

Boredom. You think prayer is boring. You don’t want to waste your time stopping and talking to a God that you don’t know that much about. Yet, if you were honest, you live as if you don’t need God.

What must one say in prayer? Sometimes it is just a sigh and the words: “Help me, Lord.” In the spring of 2010, I was lost on the streets of Athens, Greece without my passport and phone. To complicate matters, I did not know the language. My prayer was: “Lord Jesus, help me get back.” And He did!

Prayer is verbal reliance upon God. It is audible faith. If you were asked to give a prayer in our church service, it may be that you would think about what you would say; write it out, and maybe produce a rough draft and a finished product. Prayer can be long and elaborate or it can be short and sweet. It may be that you would need to Prayer is a means of relying on God. It can be defined as simply pouring your heart out before Him. Psalm 62:8: “Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him….”

Someone that knew of the importance of prayer was the Apostle Paul. Paul and his friends were afflicted. They feared for their lives. (verse 9) Their mission brought them into places and circumstances that were hostile. Adversity drove Paul to prayer. On one of his missionary journeys, his life was in danger. We are not sure what caused Paul so much affliction. We’re not sure what he was referring to. It might’ve been a disease. It might have been a situation like the riot in Ephesus mentioned in Acts 19.

A listing of some of his afflictions is given to us in 2 Corinthians 11:23, where we understand that he was flogged and beaten for his message. He was stoned; faced danger from the elements and being in the wild. His life was at the mercy of evil people. He suffered shipwreck and imprisonment. Paul would write from a cold Roman jail cell in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul saw prayer as a lifesaver to his circumstances. He also mentions fighting with wild beasts in 1 Corinthians 15:32.

Whatever it was that threatened his life, Paul knew that God rescued him. God was not finished with him yet. God preserved his life. So desperate was his attitude that he actually believed that God would raise him from the dead. Some scholars believe that he was quoting a Jewish verse, from what is known as the “Eighteen Benedictions.” “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, for Thou makest the dead to live.”

What was for the purpose of these afflictions? So that he and his friends may rely on God, “who raises the dead.” (Verse 9). It was for humility, for conforming them to Christ, for removing the self-sufficiency in their lives. Paul was not too proud to request prayer in our passage. He identifies the power associated when God’s people pray in verse 10: “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” In a mysterious way, the prayers of the Corinthians worked in cooperation with the power of God to rescue Paul and his friends.

This in turn will lead to the blessing of many. Lots of things have happened through prayer. Diseases have been healed; people have been brought to safety; families have been restored; marriages have been reconciled; jobs have been found; lives have improved; people have been formed and shaped to be more like Christ; hardened individuals have been saved; lots of things! When you choose to avoid prayer, you lose out on seeing the hand of God move in your life. As the old hymn goes “Oh what peace we often forfeit; Oh what needless pain we bear; all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

Prayer does not automatically save a person from trouble. God saves us from trouble or preserves us in the midst of it. Paul would eventually give his life for the sake of the gospel. His life was appointed for suffering, as Jesus told Ananias in Acts 9:15: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

Paul would teach that prayer is an instrument in the hands of a loving heavenly father, to allow us to see, experience and join in what God is doing. Prayer is a means to see God move and the situation improve.

What have you got to lose? Are you willing to give up your pride; to put away your sense of inconvenience and rely on God for what troubles you? What stresses you? What is robbing you of your joy? Are you willing to give your life up and gain what only God can give you?

Many of you are aware of the horrific car accident on North Broad Street in the early morning hours of Monday; the accident that took the life of a young man in our area. The passenger was Andy Kham, son of Mhong and Samboun. We’ve had the privilege of ministering to the family during this past week. On Tuesday afternoon, Samboun’s testimony: “Our God is amazing!” All of his organs are in good condition. When I asked her what the church may do to help, she said: “All we need is prayer, at this time.” I’m pleased to report that Andy is making improvements every day. We thank God for His provision and mercy in the Kham’s lives.

Prayer reminds us that we are helpless without the Lord. James 4:14 asks: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” This is a message and an identity that is so contrary to our culture today. R.C. Sproul states: “We live in a time of practical atheism.” Not many of you would identify yourself as an atheist or an agnostic, but you live like it. You are prayerless, never relying on God. You tend to rely on yourself. If asked, you would say that you believe in God, but you live as if God does not exist, or you don’t need Him.

Here’s John Piper’s explanation: “Suppose you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose a strong and reliable friend promised to live with you and do whatever you needed done. How could you glorify your friend if a stranger came to see you? Would you glorify his generosity and strength by trying to get out of bed and carry him?

No! You would say, “Friend, please come lift me up, and would you put a pillow behind me so I can look at my guest? And would you please put my glasses on for me? And so your visitor would learn from your requests that you are helpless and that your friend is strong and kind. You glorify your friend by needing him and asking him for help and counting on him.”

Why pray? To glorify God as the Supreme and loving Father, Savior and Sustainer in our lives. Jesus said: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” Piper ends with this definition: “Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy.”

Rev. Dr. Tui and Margaret Shishak are examples of how God answers prayer. In 1973, Tui visited two of our former pastors, Rev. Dr. Bert Jacksteit and Rev. Dr. Jack Rothenberger, hoping to secure support for a Christian college among the tribal people of eastern India. Tui came to Central Schwenkfelder Church, trusting that God would provide. 40 years later, Patkai is a thriving Christian liberal arts college and looks to reach out to Burma. Patkai was born out of the prayers of Christians in Nagaland, Manipur and overseas. God answers prayer!

Are You a Praying Church Member?

Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.” This was a statement to equip the disciples for the work that they had ahead of them. It was to prepare them for what was ahead as they ministered in a world and culture that was not friendly to Christ. And our culture and world are returning to the same environment that characterized the first century. What is it like to lead the church of Jesus Christ in such an era?

Many ministers are failing, becoming discouraged. Listen to the following blog post: “I woke up this morning thinking that I might not have many more days left as pastor of my church. I am burned out and my wife is burned out. We are so weary of the critics. We have tried to be loving and kind to them, but it just gets worse. You can only take so much. My four kids have really been hurt through the years too. Even the “good guys” in my church expect more of me than I can handle. Our church has less than 175 in attendance, but I am expected to be in so many places at so many times every week. I am really tired. I feel both guilty and relieved writing these comments this morning. I feel guilty because I know I will be abandoning my call. I feel relieved because I finally have someone to talk to even though I am anonymous.”

What is the best thing you can do for your church leader? There are many things listed in Paul’s words found in 1 Thessalonians 5:12: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” Notice the commands given concerning church leaders. We are to respect them, hold them in high regard and live in peace with one another. The qualifiers addressed to church leaders do not speak toward value or importance, but rather to responsibilities. As a pastor, I feel responsible for the faith and spirituality of my church’s members. I rejoice when they are thriving and concerned when they are not. I’m blessed when I see Christ in their lives and I’m burdened when it appears they have gotten off track. Why? Because pastors take their jobs seriously.

And because it is tough to lead God’s church. The devil knows our blind spots. He knows our temptations. He knows what our needs are and will do anything to deceive us to going after counterfeits and not relying on God.

I had a pianist at my former church in East Central Kansas. Her name is Annette Reed. My kids call her Grammy ‘Nette. She was Linda’s mentor for Women’s Bible studies. She and Tom were leaders at the First Christian Church of Pleasanton, KS. Annette prayed for me often. I was on her weekly prayer list. Because of her prayers, my preaching ministry prospered in Pleasanton. People grew in their love for God’s word. And we had a productive ministry there.

Today, I have a team of prayer warriors. They pray for me each week. I let them know how I want to be prayed for. They pray for many things concerning my family, my ministry, my parenting, my kids, my spiritual health, my sermons, etc.

What does prayer do? This is kind of a philosophy of prayer for our church and its leaders. Consider the following verses:

Prayer moves the hand of God: James 5:16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” Prayer is used by God to show us His power and love.

Do you wonder what happens when God’s people pray? Listen to the words of Daniel 9, the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to the prophet Daniel. Verse 20: “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill– 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.” Did you get that? While Daniel was praying, the Lord commissioned Gabriel to go and speak to Daniel! I wonder what happens in the heavenlies when we pray!?

That’s not to say that God waits on us, nor can we manipulate Him in any way. But when His children by faith, ask in faith, He lovingly moves and acts on their behalf. And He willingly does so! Notice Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him. Consider the following as a short philosophy of prayer, as you pray for your church leaders:

Prayer holds back Satan and fights against our spiritual enemies: Job 1:10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.” Satan could not touch Job, without the consent of our sovereign God! The devil lays many traps. Our struggles are not with other human beings, but with the “Accuser of the Brethren.” All of this because, as Ephesians 6:12 tells us: “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Prayer advances God’s kingdom: 2 Thessalonians 3:1: “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you….” In the same way, pray that my sermons may be everything that they are supposed to be. Pray that hearts and minds would be open to the gospel. Ask God to open doors for us as we minister to others. It is an incredible task that I love to do, but I also struggle with it from time to time. In Colossians 4:3, Paul asks that these Christians would pray, “…that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned.” Paul was imprisoned for preaching the gospel, so he asks them to pray that God would open a door and give him more boldness.

Prayer encourages those for whom it is given. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5: 25: “Brethren, pray for us.” And Hebrews 13:18 Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.

There are around 400,000 pastors in America today. Take notice of the following statistics available from a number of various and reliable sources, compiled by the Schaeffer Institute:

• Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or
contention in their churches.

• Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.

• Eighty percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.

• Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no
other way of making a living.

• Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry
within the first five years.

• Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

• Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

• Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.

Ministry is tough work. Rainer’s fourth pledge would be the best way you could bless me, Pastor Bill, Pastor Julian, Vern and Don. I repeat it here: “I will pray for my church leader every day. I understand that the church leader’s work is never ending. Their days are filled with numerous demands that bring emotional highs and lows. They must deal with critics. They must be good parents and spouses. Because my church leaders cannot do all things in their own power, I will pray for their strength and wisdom daily.”

How could you pray for us? Our spiritual lives; our holiness; our joy, our families; our wisdom and discernment.

And yet there are many times I’m greatly encouraged in the work of the gospel. Take for instance, the following email sent from one of our mothers: “I just wanted to tell you how thankful I am for you and Linda. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me and your sermon on Doing Good for Others further encouraged me to take the steps necessary to [help this family]. Thank you so much for all your sermons! [We] both enjoy them and find deep meaning and encouragement from them. I loved your sermon last week about children. What perspective on the importance of children and teaching them God’s Holy Word.” This made my day! May God bless those who support their leaders in ministry.

The Process of Spiritual Growth

The following message is based on 1 Peter 2:1-10, on the subject of the importance of Bible study and prayer. It was delievered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on January 22, 2012.

Someone remarked at the last Church Council meeting that the daffodils on our grounds were beginning to pop up. What causes that? What determines that leaves should bud? Why do we have to trim our hedges from time to time? Each is an example of the mysterious process of growth. From a scientific standpoint, we know that photosynthesis is involved, sunlight and water being necessary for plants to grow. But God is the one who brings these things about. The same can be said for spiritual growth. How does this happen?

Today’s topic is based on the second point of our mission statement. We long to become fully mature disciples of Christ by glorifying God individually and together as a church; and by growing spiritually through Bible study and prayer. This latter point is based upon Peter’s words in his first letter, chapter two, verse one: “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” By Peter’s words, we are reminded that we are dependent upon God for spiritual nourishment and growth. He has provided the sustenance in His word, the Bible. As a result, He has provides the growth through His Holy Spirit.

THE BIBLE TRANSFORMS US.
What do we say about the Bible as a church? In our core values, we say that we are committed to honoring the written Word of God, the ultimate authority in our individual lives and in the life of Central Schwenkfelder Church. In our mission, we are called to love God. Jesus responded with a Bible study, of sorts, when asked what the greatest commandment was (Matthew 22:37-38). Part of loving God is loving His special revelation given to us in Holy Scriptures. And in our vision, we understand that Scripture and prayer are the means by which we develop spiritually.

At present, there are many opportunities to study the Scripture to facilitate your spiritual growth. There a host of small groups and Sunday School classes which are designed to do this. One in particular is the Bible for Life curriculum being studied downstairs in the Blue Lounge. I encourage you to check it out.

How does this spiritual growth take place? It is a mystery, but also natural. How does a baby grow, having been fed by his mother? It is through his longing and drinking. One of the problems is that we don’t long for God’s word. We are distracted by other things. Or we’re just plain lazy. To battle his lazy tendencies, Robert Rogers grew up with the attitude: “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed.” The reason for this dependence is that the Scripture is a living book; it produces life through the power of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 4:12 states: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” There is no other book like it.

What transforms us? Transforming are the people, places and things which act upon us, influencing us, empowering us, motivating us, redirecting our behaviors. God works on the heart, through the head, and He uses His written word to do so, in tandem with the Holy Spirit. As a result, we are: “…transformed by the renewing of our mind” as Romans 12:1 says. Recently, I watched Rocky II with my sons. I forgot the valuable lessons of hard work, hope and love that spread throughout that motion picture, not to mention all the scenery from Philadelphia! In it, Rocky was dependent upon Mickey, his trainer; Paulie, his brother-in-law and most of all, his loving wife Adrian. At a poignant time in the movie, when her life was at risk, it was not until she woke from her coma and said: “There’s just one thing: “Win!” That statement brought life to Rocky Balboa and propelled him to beat the champion, Apollo Creed.

Why is it so critical that we study the Bible as Christians? This is because believers in Jesus have always been a people by the book. It is only through exposing ourselves to the truth of God, that we can be sanctified, set apart for God’s service. Jesus prayed for us in John 17:17: “Sanctify them according to the truth; Thy word is truth.” It is important to remember that although God used humans in the process, the Scripture itself is not a human book. Its ultimate author is God. Speaking in reference to the prophetical literature of the Old Testament, 2 Peter 1:20 states: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Scripture is not a collection of man’s opinions. If that were the case, it is outdated. But the word of God is eternal; there are everlasting truths in its pages. J. Gresham Machen, one of the founders of nearby Westminster Seminary said: “Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or an artificial thing. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was founded upon the authority of the Bible, yet it set the world aflame. Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God’s word is life. Dark and gloomy would be the world, if we were left to our own devices, and had no blessed Word of God.” The Bible is a book of life. The moment that you deny its authenticity or discredit its truth, you relinquish its ability to develop you spiritually. If you do not receive the Bible as the means of your spiritual growth, then what do you? What can compare to it? The Bible transforms us. Next …

PRAYER FORMS US.
Prayer must be a priority for us. It was said that George Washington would make it his habit of retiring to his quarters each night at a specific time, regardless if there was company in the room, to keep his appointment with God. Jesus’ practice was to get alone with God and pray, often upon the Mount of Olives. Mark 1:35 says: “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” The prophet Daniel knelt in prayer three times a day to petition God on behalf of His people. Daniel 9 is one of those prayers recorded for us.

When you think about it, prayer and Scripture study is a two way communication with God. He speaks to us in Scripture; we speak to Him in prayer. Or, it can be compared to breathing: inhaling God’s truth, exhaling our response/concerns. But why do we not get it until something bad happens? How do you regard the Bible? How do you use it? What is your practice of prayer? I’m reminded that however busy I become, all roads lead back to these two simple, yet powerful things. I need that time with God if I am going to succeed as a pastor. I must have that time with the lord if I am going to get all the things done that I am suppressed. Prayer centers me; keeps my priorities in line and calms my spirit so that I can be all that God wants me to be. There is an old hymn that states: Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Dr. Tim used to say: “Prayer is the machine room of the church.” We accomplish very little as individuals Christians or as a congregation, without prayer.

We must come to God with an attitude of expectation; to know that He is a God who answers prayer. If we don’t believe that, then why waste the time with believing God in the first place? There is the story told by Craig Groeschel: “A pastor once asked his church to pray that God would shut down a neighborhood bar. The whole church gathered for an evening prayer meeting, pleading with God to rid the neighborhood of the evils of this bar. A few weeks later, lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground.

Having heard about the church’s prayer crusade, the bar owner promptly sued the church. When the court date finally arrived, the bar owner passionately argued that God stuck his bar with lightning because of the church members’ prayers. The pastor backtracked, brushing off the accusations. He admitted the church prayed, but he also affirmed that no one in his congregation really expected anything to happen.

The judge leaned back in his chair, a mix of amusement and perplexity on his face. Finally he spoke: “I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Right in front of me is a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer and a pastor who doesn’t.” Sometimes we are like the pastor. We say that we pray, we pray, but there is not expectation of God doing something as a result. Yet, God makes the promise through the prophet Jeremiah in 33:3 of the book that bears his name: “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”

We want to be a different church, for ourselves and others. Today, we have welcomed Betty, Marge and Bill into our fold. They have now become one of us. I trust that we have their confidence as a church that desires: “…to become fully mature disciples of Christ by glorifying God individually and together as a church; and by growing spiritually through Bible study and prayer.” We are not a church that spins its wheels. Rather, we want to go places and do great things for God, our Savior.