How to spend an hour in prayer…

I am starting a prayer emphasis at the Wheaton College Graduate School tomorrow with a message called “Stop Dabbling at Prayer!” based on Mark 1:35-39. By the way, our once- a-week grad chapel talks are put up on YouTube the same day as they are given — Wednesdays, 10:40-11:25 am. Stop by our chapel service if you are in the area. The public is always welcome. We meet in Barrows Auditorium of the Billy Graham Center. Here is the link:

As I was saying, before I interrupted myself, we are starting a prayer initiative and I will be handing out a very simple guide to help students spend an hour alone in prayer. Its probably similar to other guides that you have seen, but I have shaped it over the years. You are welcome to use it and can tailor it to your own situation.

We desperately need to be a people of prayer! My friend, Dick Burr, used to say that the reason our churches are no longer praying church is because they are made of people who are no longer praying “in the secret closet.” (Matt. 6:6)

Hope you find this guide helpful…

10 minutes of Preparation: Quiet your soul before the Lord by reading out loud a Psalm, like Ps 51; personalize it and pray it back to the Lord. Come before the Lord with humility and repentance, and remember to apply the gospel to yourself.

10 minutes of Adoration: Read out loud a Psalm, like Ps 103; sing a hymn, like “Praise to the Lord the Almighty the King of Creation” or a worship song like Matt Redman’s “Blessed be Your Name.” Let your heart be filled with adoration and praise; sense the presence God “inhabiting” them. (Ps 22:3)

10 minutes of Thanksgiving: Remember and recount the Lord’s recent blessings in your life; deliverances, answered prayer, encouragements, provisions, etc. “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Ps 118:1)

10 minutes of Petition: Bring your pressing issues and fears before Him. With what are you presently struggling: family, finances, studies, job, habits and patterns of behavior? “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my pleas for mercy!” (Ps 130:1, 2) “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.” (Ps 143:10)

5 minutes of Listening Silence: Pray out loud 1 Samuel 3:9, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening” … then listen.

15 minutes of Intercession: Pray for your friends/relatives/neighbors/fellow workers/students and their needs. Pray for our college/grad school; faculty/staff. Pray for your church and its leadership; for its mission/outreach and its ministry to children and youth, widows, sick, and shut-in. Read Ps 107 out loud and then pray for your nation; its leaders, the poor/homeless, the oppressed/persecuted. Pray for the revival of God’s people (Acts 3:19). Also, pray for the global influence of the gospel; for the unreached, the planting of new churches and training of leaders for those churches, the ministries of care/compassion/justice/anti-slavery, and those in prison for the sake of the gospel.

How can God carry the burden of this world? 

I am at a place in my life where I can hardly pray without my heart being so burdened with the weight of the requests that it really feels like it is breaking. I have a dear friend who just passed away, another who has cancer, another who is in recovery from a broken neck, another who is recovering from back surgery. In addition, prayer for  the suffering places of the world where hunger and deprivation reign and where innocents suffer from the greed of the powerful. Lastly, prayer for the victims of senseless acts of violence wrought by terrorists or those motivated by anger in the workplace or by road rage.

Who can bear the burden of prayer for these things? And yet there is God… He hears my requests and yours as well, and the cries of those who are suffering alone and forgotten– constantly and all at once! He is not limited by the boundaries of a finite nature, a changeable character, or the whims and oddities of emotions.

I have never before thought of the infinitude of God in relation to prayer.  There is no waiting list or pecking order to his attentiveness.  There is no favoritism to his love. His answers don’t always come immediately nor in the shape of our desires or passionate pleas, which any parent can understand, but they will come because he hears them all.

He does not hear us according to our worthiness, but according to his love for us in Christ. Nothing that comes from his hand is meant for evil nor for our punishment, though it may involve suffering and hurt like … There is no one so sinful that God will not hear his cry of repentance.  There is no one so prodigal that she will not have the Father’s embrace.

The only prayer that God rejects (at least that I know of) is the prayer of the self- righteous heart.  In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus compares the prayer of the Pharisee who is obsessed with his own virtue with the prayer of the despised tax collector who humbly asks God for mercy. Jesus said,”I tell you this man (the tax collector), rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

So my dear sister or brother, why do you hesitate to pray? Are you afraid that you are not worthy enough or that God has more important things to do than listen to you? Do you feel you have prayed and prayed and God has not answered? Do you feel that what you are facing is the punishment for the sins of the past? Do you no longer feel like praying? I have felt all of these deceptive hindrances to prayer and found only one solution; to just pray!  After all this is what faith does; it humbly acts on what it knows to be true even though everything in and around it screams the antithesis.  One Puritan preacher said that when Jesus cried out “my God, my God, what have you forsaken me” faith was evidenced not at the nadir of joy and peace but at the meridian of darkness.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. 

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense; but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.

William Cowper, 1774

Praying for the Nation

prayerAs we face the New Year and the threat of the Fiscal Cliff, let me suggest that we spend time in prayer for our nation. Most of my readers are from the USA, but I know this blog is read in at least 40 other countries. Perhaps the following will prime the pump of prayer for your nation as well:

• The Bible teaches that God blesses those nations that keep His standards of justice and righteousness. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Proverbs 15:34 NIV)
• It also teaches that God will discipline nations that defy His standards. “For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined.” (Isaiah 60:12 NIV)
• Our nation has clearly violated many of God’s moral standards.
• The Bible gives examples of individual believers who, convicted over the sins of their nation, confessed those sins to God. Thus, Nehemiah prayed: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we have committed, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:5-7 NIV)
• God commands us to pray “for all men everywhere,” and especially for our national leaders, with the overarching goal of peace and salvation. “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:1-4 NIV)
• Holy Scripture teaches that Satan binds the hearts and blinds the minds of the lost, and that we should pray for their release from that bondage. “… if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” (II Timothy 2:25-26 NASB)
• Jesus taught that we should pray even for our enemies. “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 NIV)
• The Bible teaches that we should not be anxious, but instead that we should present our requests to God with thanksgiving, which results in the experience of God’s peace. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

A blessed 2013 to you and your family, and may God lead our nation along the path of repentance!

North Korea

North Korea is more than a dictatorship, it is a totalitarian regime where citizens must not only obey their leaders but worship them as gods. This is a very consistent theme throughout history.  Dictatorships have often been accompanied by emperor worship or at least hints of deification: the Roman Caesars, King Herod (Acts 12), Hitler, Stalin, Emperor of Japan, even the anti-Christ (2 Thess 2:4). Kim Il Sung, the founder of “modern” North  Korea created “Juche,” (literally, self-reliance) the country’s ideology which has become the state religion and the government uses cult indoctrination to see that it prospers. North Korean children are annually given one piece of candy, which is a luxury in a country where 40% of children are malnourished. These children are taught that before they eat their candy they are to give thanks to their country’s dictator-god.  They are also taught to sing worship songs found in a book of 600 hundred hymns to Sung and his son Kim Jong-il. In fact, there is a Christian ministry that has put Christian lyrics to at least thirty of these hymns and is broadcasting them into the country. (The reverse of what Hitler did when he took Christian hymns and changed the lyrics to support the worship of the State.) To keep “Juche” in place, the government harasses, tortures, imprisons, and kidnaps those who dare follow “the God of heaven” and his Son Jesus Christ. Thus to disavow “Juche” is tantamount to treason just as refusing to step on the “Fumie” was in sixteenth-century Japan or to burn incense to the Emperor was in second and third-century Rome. I wonder what test of citizenship we might someday undergo in the West? Pray for the Church in North Korea.

What is Your Hope for the Church?

Christianity Today is celebrating a “rebranding,” which includes a new visual identity and the launch of a new ministry website, As a part of its celebration, it is asking people to respond to the question “What is my hope for the future of the Church”? Since I am a contributing editor to Leadership Journal, also published by Christianity Today Int’l, I was invited to write something in answer to the same question.  To be honest, when I went on the website and started to read people’s hopes for the future of the Church, I got scared. Call me Mr. Sensitive, but after being a pastor for 40 years all I’ve heard have been people’s preferences for what they want the Church to be like, and these preferences are often hidden behind their hopes, dreams, and “suggestions.” I believe that many of these “suggestions” are based upon flawed Continue reading “What is Your Hope for the Church?”