Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Praying on the Run

Praying on the Run
by Greg Asimakoupoulos

Although she lives near the top of the world (in Alaska) and her surname suggests a famous family tie, Eleanor Claus isn't related to Santa. And this lively seventy-year-old isn't your typical grandma, either.

In October 2004 Eleanor ran the Chicago Marathon. She completed the 26.2-mile course in 4 hours and 48 minutes, finishing first in her age division. To date she has run twenty-three marathons.

'When my daughters were teenagers, they talked me into running a 10k women's race with them,' Eleanor recalls. 'I felt so good about it, and about being able to do something with them that they enjoyed, that I decided to continue.' She soon discovered that daily workouts provided her a context to focus on what was in her heart. 'It dawned on me that my daily runs were a perfect opportunity to talk to the Lord,' Eleanor says. 'I started using the alphabet as a guide as I prayed on the run. Starting with the letter A, I'd celebrate the attributes of God: awesome, blessed, compassionate. . . .'

Eleanor also uses the alphabet to pray for people. 'Over the years I have compiled a prayer list of family, friends, and those with special needs who've crossed my path,' she says. 'During marathons, it's kind of cool. Since there are 26 miles and 26 letters, I can spend more time praying for each individual and family than I normally do. It also helps the time go faster.'

For Eleanor, the regimen of running has become a metaphor for her walk with the Lord. Hebrews 12:1–3 is not just a wall-plaque Scripture to her. As she runs and prays, she recognizes the importance of looking to the Lord amid life's challenges.

'It takes a lot of hard work and months of preparation to train for a marathon,' Eleanor says. 'That also is a picture of what's involved in running the marathon of faith.'

The fascination with long-distance adventure must run in the Claus family. Last year, at age 18, Eleanor's granddaughter and namesake, Ellie, became the youngest musher to compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. At 1,151 miles, that’s a lot of time for praying!

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

For a Pastor's Meditation & Praying

Notes from Phil>>> Pastor ray has given us a wonderful focus and format for personal reflection and of course prayer...

With this message, I am returning to my series on "The Transformed Life" from Romans 12-16. Click here to read the earlier messages in the series.

Ray Pritchard,
Keep Believing Ministries, Tupelo, Mississippi

Ray Pritchard

Portrait of a Godly Pastor
Romans 15:14-21

In 1978 Michael Hart wrote a book called "The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential People in History." In it he ranked the most important people in the history of the world, taking into account the people they influenced, they movements they started, the impact they made, and the legacy they left behind. Needless to say, the book was controversial from the moment of its publication, which no doubt helped increase its sales. In 1992 the book was reprinted with a few revisions made to the list, although no one in the top ten changed positions.

When I perused the list, I noted that three of the top fifteen came from the Bible—Jesus, Moses, and Paul the apostle. Paul came in at 6th place, just below Confucius and just above a Chinese man whose name I did not recognize who is credited as the inventor of paper. That Paul should be considered one of the most influential men in history is what you might call a no-brainer.

He wrote at least 13 books of the New Testament.
He was the apostle to the Gentiles.
He more than anyone else brought the gospel to Europe.
He was the first great international evangelist.
He was the first Christian theologian.
He may have been the greatest preacher in the history of Christianity.

Two thousand years later scholars still debate the meaning of his words. And Christians everywhere know his name. Above all else, he wrote the book of Romans, arguably the greatest book in the New Testament, perhaps the most important book in the Bible, and one of the foundational texts for the Christian faith.

Everyone agrees that Romans contains a remarkably clear statement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What people don't always recognize is that it also reveals the heart of the great apostle. Here is a man whose life changed the course of world history. What was he like? What made him tick? What were his priorities?

Our passage contains an answer to those questions. As Paul nears the end of his letter to the Romans, he opens himself to his readers and gives them a glimpse of his heart. And that glimpse tells us that Paul had a pastor's heart. I am drawn to these words because for 27 years I served as a local church pastor. Every day I receive emails that address me as "Pastor Ray." I know what it is like to lead a congregation, to live with them, pray with them, laugh with them and cry with them. I don't claim any special expertise except what I have learned "in the saddle," so to speak.

What does a godly pastor look like? That question is easier to ask than to answer, but we can safely say that you know one when you see one. Godly pastors are a great gift from the Lord. They come in all shapes and sizes, they wear different clothes, they speak different languages, and they do different things. They don't all preach alike or act alike. Some are funny, others are very serious. Godly pastors differ in so many ways as to defy clear definition. But they all share certain traits. Romans 15:14-21 gives us a window into Paul's ministry, and through that window we can see clearly the portrait of a godly pastor.

I. The Pastor's Heart

I love how Paul exposes his heart in verse 14. "I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another." He says this after writing the greatest doctrinal treatise in the New Testament. I think any of us would like to pastor a church of people who are

Full of goodness,
Filled with all knowledge, and
Able to instruct one another.

Yet he has just spent many chapters laying out the saving gospel of God in vast detail. And in chapter 14, Paul makes an eloquent plea for the strong and weak Christians to live together in unity. Clearly the church at Rome was a mixed multitude of young and old believers, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, wine-drinkers and total abstainers, people who observed special days and those who observed no special days at all. And sometimes they didn't get along very well. The church at Rome was filled with problems because it was filled with people, and wherever you have people, you have problems.

How, then, can he say such nice things about the church in verse 14? He can say it because his heart is for them and not against them. He says it because it is true in spite of their human weakness. He says it because he loves them and longs to see them grow to full maturity. Most of all, he can say it because he has enormous confidence in God's grace at work in their midst.

If they are full of goodness, it is because the God of goodness is at work in them.
If they filled with all knowledge, it is because God himself has filled them with knowledge.
If they are able to instruct each other, it's is because God has equipped them by his Spirit.

It is always easy to criticize and pick fault with others. But the faultfinder is like a spiritual vulture, flying over the landscape, looking for the failures of others so he can pounce on them. How much better to be like Paul and believe the best and not the worst. As John Stott says, "He is simply assuring them that he knows and appreciates their qualities."

God bless the pastor who loves his people for they will surely love him in return.
God bless the pastor who speaks well of his people for they will speak well of him.
God bless the pastor who believes the best and not the worst even in hard times.

II. The Pastor's Plan

It is not easy to say exactly what a pastor does. Recently I heard about a church that prepared a job description for the pastor that was 35 pages long. I guess they wanted to cover all the bases. Or maybe they had some problems with their last pastor and wanted to make sure it didn't happen again. I am all for job descriptions even though I never had one during the 27 years I served as pastor of three different churches. First of all, most job descriptions are so vague as to be nearly useless. Or they go into so much detail that you can't figure out what the people really want. Wise is the church that realizes that if a pastor stays for any length of time, what he does at the beginning is not what he'll be doing at the end, especially if the church grows during his ministry. Needs change, the congregation changes, the community may change, the staff comes and goes, and his own plans will probably shift somewhat across the years.

It is hard to improve on the job description found in Acts 6:4, "We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." Paul says the same thing in 2 Timothy 4:2, "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching."

Preach the Word.
Do it all the time.
Do it in many different ways.
Be patient as you do it.
Pray as you do it.
But be sure you do it.

So what was Paul's plan? He says in verse 15 that he wrote boldly in order to remind them of certain truths. There is a good sermon here to be preached on the "ministry of reminding." God's people need to be reminded of what they already know.

"Now I would remind you, brothers" (1 Corinthians 15:1).
"For this reason I remind you" (2 Timothy 1:6).
"Remind them of these things" (2 Timothy 2:14).
"Remind them to be submissive" (Titus 3:1).
"I always intend to remind you" (2 Peter 1:12).
"It is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live" (2 Peter 1:13 NLT).
"I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder" (2 Peter 3:1).
"Now I want to remind you" (Jude 5).

Why do we need to be reminded of basic truth?

Because we are forgetful.
Because we are easily distracted.
Because we think we know more than we do.

Someone has said that repetition is the first law of teaching
. Few of us master a truth the first time we hear it. We do better if we hear it a second time. Repetition in a sermon is like jogging in place. By rephrasing a point, it gives people a chance to catch their breath. Then you can move on to new truth.

But this is more than a preaching method. This is God's plan for spiritual growth. We must tell people the great truths of Scripture, and then we must tell them again. Once is never enough.

We must tell them who God is. Then we must tell them again.
We must proclaim the truth about Jesus. Then we must tell them again.
We must show men their sin. Then we must show them again.
We must tell them that they are hopelessly lost. And we must tell them again and again.
We must let them know that God loves them. This we must say many times.
We must proclaim the wondrous news that God sent his Son to save us from our sins. And tell it again and again and again.
We must call men to faith and repentance. And call them again.
We must show them how they can be saved and find assurance of forgiveness. And then we must show them again.

We must proclaim the great truths over and over again, in many different ways, from many different texts, proclaiming all the doctrines of grace with all the power and strength and wisdom and winsome courage that God gives us.

And then we must do it again!

Here is the pastor's plan. He reminds his people of great gospel truth over and over again so that their hearts may be established in grace so that they might become strong in their faith so that they know what they believe and why they believe it so that they can tell others who don't know these things so that they can bring some to Christ so that God may be glorified by a church full of people who live to the praise of the glory of the One who saved them because they had a pastor who day in and day out, in season and out of season, preached the Word, prayed to God, and reminded them of things they already knew so that they might be fully established in all things.

This work is never fully done
. Some people need more reminding than others, and the pastor will find that some are spiritually dull while others grow quickly in the faith. And even when the work is done well, there remains much land to the conquered for the Lord.

God bless those pastors who do not endlessly chase after new ideas and the latest fads but faithfully and creatively and repeatedly, with love and courage and wisdom, remind their people of those great gospel truths that save the soul, nourish the heart, and renew the mind so that the church is full of transformed people.

III. The Pastor's Desire

Paul uses an unusual word in verse 16 to express his desire. He calls himself a minister who makes a priestly offering. That's a phrase that most of us don't associate with the work of a pastor. Evangelicals particularly tend to shy away from any conception of the pastor as a priest. But the word he uses clearly has Old Testament connections to the work of the priest in the temple. Just as the priest brought animals to sacrifice before the Lord, even so the pastor labors to bring his people as an offering to the Lord. But there is one huge difference. The priest presented dead animals to the Lord. The pastor labors to present his people as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) to God.

We all know that the ministry is about people. It's not about buildings and programs. Those things are secondary means to help us minister to people. But we live in a world that tends to give much credence to outward things. Size matters. If the pastor is not clearly focused, he can begin to use his people as a means to building his own name. This happens so subtly.

"I go to Pastor Ray's church."
"I go to Ryan Whitley's church."
"I go to Paul Barreca's church."

But the church does not belong to me or to Ryan or to Paul. In my case, I am very clear about that because I was the 12th pastor of the church in Oak Park, and when I left, the church didn't close its doors. The church was there before I got there, it is still there now that I am gone, and by God's grace it will still be there a hundred years from now.

Years ago I heard it put this way. "Use your work to build your people; don't use your people to build our work." Paul says, "My only aim in life is to offer the Gentiles to the Lord as a sacrifice of believers who have come to faith in Jesus Christ." He said something very similar in Colossians 1:28 when he declared that he labored to teach the Word faithfully to every man so that "that we may present everyone mature in Christ." Many years ago, when I taught through Colossians in a Wednesday night Bible class in Oak Park, a small group of people would come to the chapel for the lessons. That was before we had Awana and Wednesday night dinners and before we had lots of programs, so we often only had 20 or 30 people there. Someone would play the piano, I led the singing, we prayed for a while, and then I taught a Bible lesson. One year I spent a long time going through Colossians verse by verse. I can still remember the night I came to Colossians 1:28. I wanted to show that the goal of the ministry is not to build numbers but to build people so that one day they can be presented to the Lord Jesus Christ. My friend Bob Allen was there that night. Bob must have around 80 years old. He had come to Christ in a dramatic conversion many decades earlier. His faith was deep and genuine, and he was by nature a modest man who didn't talk about himself very much. Because there weren't many people there that night, I roamed up and down the aisle of the chapel, waxing eloquent about the true purpose of the ministry. At one point I had Bob stand up to portray the day he would stand before the Lord. I imagined myself saying, "Lord Jesus Christ, this is Bob Allen. I present him to you as complete in Christ." A hush settled in the room as the magnificence of that day dawned on us all. And I will never forget that Bob whispered, "Thank you," as he sat down. A few years later Bob passed from this life into life eternal, complete in Christ.

This is the true pastor's desire, this is the goal of all his work, this is the reason for his labor. Compared to the honor of presenting men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ, this world has nothing to offer. We prepare people for eternity. That's a lot more important than who made the most money last year or who had the biggest church.

IV. The Pastor's Motivation

In our day pastors are measured mostly by the size of their congregation. We judge a man by how many people he preaches to on Sunday morning. Not along ago I saw a survey of the 50 most influential Christian leaders in America. Most of them were pastors, and all the pastors had enormous churches. I suppose that's to be expected—and it isn't necessarily wrong. A pastor of 10,000 will normally have more influence (or at least be better known) than the man who pastors a church of 75 out in the country or an inner-city congregation that meets in a storefront. I have no quarrel with shining the spotlight on the pastors of large churches because many of them are good men who serve the Lord out of righteous motives. If it is wrong to deify such men, it is equally wrong to assume that all of them are charlatans. Clearly, God gives some men unique gifts that enable them to lead thousands of people in a local church. It's always been that way throughout church history as God has raised up men who influenced vast multitudes. Not everyone can be a Chrysostom, an Augustine, a Luther, a Whitefield, a Spurgeon, a Moody, or a Billy Graham. We ought to thank God for those men whose gifts allow them to cast a long shadow for the sake of the gospel.

But there is another side of the story. When you are young (and here I speak from experience) it is easy to think that bigness equals God's approval. Coming out of seminary, I admired those men who led large churches and wanted that for myself someday. I was very impressed by numbers. Bigger is better. Something is wrong if a man pastors a small church for years. Or so I thought. But with the passing of time comes wisdom and a chastening of those competitive impulses. If a man conducts enough funerals, he will finally realize that we all come to the same end. The pastor of the megachurch and the pastor of the country chapel with a tiny handful of people, they both end up in the same place—in a box in the ground. Death is the great leveler.

And the great temptation is to think that the men who pastor large congregations are somehow better than those who faithfully minister in smaller places. But it is not true. I've already said that God doesn't treat us all the same way. Some are called and gifted to minister to hundreds, some to thousands, some to tens of thousands, and a few minister to millions of people. But in the end all die, and after death we all stand before the Lord to give an account for what we did with what God gave us.

There will be no boasting in that day.
No parading of books and CDs and big auditoriums packed with people.
No listing of all the dignitaries who spoke at our conferences.

None of that will matter when we stand before the Lord
. The only question will be, "Did the Lord Jesus Christ get glory from your labors, or did you build an empire for yourself?" And let it be clearly said that the temptation to empire-building has nothing to do with church size. Pastors of 50 are just as prone to self-glorification as the pastor of 50,000. That is why Paul said he would not glory except in what the Lord Jesus had done through him.

Fascinating how he puts it. "I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me" (v. 18). Ponder that phrase--"what Christ has accomplished through me." Eugene Peterson (The Message) paraphrases it this way: "I have no interest in giving you a chatty account of my adventures, only the wondrously powerful and transformingly present words and deeds of Christ in me that triggered a believing response among the outsiders." A lot of pastors are good at giving "chatty accounts" of what happened last Sunday, how many they had in Sunday School, the size of their building, and how much money they raised in their stewardship campaign. Paul says, "I don't have time for that kind of baloney."

What difference does it make?
The only thing that matter is what Christ has done.

He doesn’t even say, "I won't speak except of what I have done for Christ." That's not wrong, but he puts it even stronger than that—"what Christ has done through me."

If Christ is not glorified in us,
If Christ does not work through us,
If Christ is not the source and goal of our ministry,

What are we doing anyway? And what does it matter? Without Christ, it's all just wood, hay and stubble.

So here is the pastor's motivation—to speak only of Christ. To give him the credit. To say to the world, "In Christ alone, by him and through him and for him, has this work been done. And if Christ had not done it, nothing of value would have been done."

V. The Pastor's Ambition

What exactly is the pastor called to do? Paul gives his answer in verses 19-21.

He makes Christ known.
He preaches the gospel.
He tells the Good News.

In Paul's case, that meant a call to preach Christ where he had not yet been preached, which is why Paul preached in Asia Minor, then in Greece, and finally in Rome. His was a unique ministry. It is the same with those who travel to the "10/40 window" to share Christ with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, and with those who have no religion at all. Even after 2000 years, fully 1/3 of the human race—over 2 billion people—has never yet heard a clear explanation of the gospel of Jesus. And that is why we have Bible translators in distant lands, and pioneer missionaries bravely taking the gospel into "closed countries," and that is why the Chinese believers feel called of God to take the gospel "back to Jerusalem" by spreading the Good News to the Muslim countries that lie between China and Jerusalem.

Our passage ends with a moving quotation from Isaiah 52:15, which is a prophecy of the coming of Christ who would "sprinkle many nations," cleansing them with his own blood. That cleansing was not just for Israel but for all the nations of the earth. And when that happens . . .

"Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand"

It was always God's plan that the gospel should go forth to the ends of the earth so that every nation would hear the Good News. Here is the pastor's true ambition. He labors and prays and preaches so that those who have never heard will hear, and hearing they will understand, and understanding they will see, and seeing they will believe, and believing they will be saved.

Let me close with a story. Not long ago I received a note from a missionary in New Zealand who told of an amazing conversion.

Tracey is a university student in New Zealand. She claimed to be an atheist, but had some very unusual life goals. One of them was to attend a church sometime in her life. In February, a week before university started, Tracey advertised for a “flatmate” (someone to share the rented house with her).

Keren, a new student from Papua New Guinea/Australia, answered the ad. Keren is a Christian and invited Tracey to church. Since Tracey had this life goal of attending a church sometime, she went along with Keren a couple of times. This caused Tracey to reconsider her atheistic point of view and ask Keren more questions. Keren’s job hinders her from attending church every Sunday so Tracey didn’t go either. But the Lord kept working on her heart. One day Tracey went to a used book shop and bought a Bible and began to read it. But it didn’t make sense to her so she went to a Christian used book shop.

Eleanor, a lady in our church, volunteers at this Christian bookshop once a month. Tracey came in and said, “I’m new to this Christian stuff and want to know more about God and need something that will explain what I’m reading.” So Eleanor directed her to some Biblically sound materials and invited her to our church. She also gave Tracey my contact information and gave me Tracey’s. I arranged to meet with Tracey and Keren.

Tracey was a very excited seeker and said that she now believed in God and Jesus and wanted a relationship with him. I was not sure if she had actually made a decision to receive Christ as her Savior, so I set up a time to do a personal Bible Study with her. Our first meeting, I shared the Gospel with her and asked if she had ever received Christ as her Savior. She said, “No, but I’m in the process.” When I asked what obstacles were hindering her, she said she just needed to think about it. I gave her the list of verses to read and also gave her a copy of Ray Pritchard’s book “An Anchor for the Soul.” She came to church that next Sunday and said she was reading the book and things were making sense. A couple of days later I met with her again and asked where she was in the “process.” Tracey’s eyes lit up and she said, “I prayed that prayer at the back of Ray Pritchard’s book. I was afraid to pray with you because I thought I would ‘stuff it up’ and not really be a Christian, but it really was as easy as you said it would be and I’m so happy. God must love me a whole lot!” I said, “He sure does. He has written your name in the Lamb’s book of life!”

What an amazing God we have to seek out a lost soul! He used a flatmate from Papua New Guinea/Australia, a Bible from a used bookshop, a faithful bookshop volunteer, a missionary from America, a book from an American Preacher, and the faithful prayers of hundreds of people around the world.

As wonderful as that story is, there is yet one other detail. A few days later I received an email from Tracey herself. This is part of what she said.

It is a little strange but when you get to know, you can realize why the Lord chose to bring me to him that way :). And I want to thank you very much for your book. Reading it took me through everything and towards the end it asked some very good questions like "Why are you waiting"? And then I realized that there was no reason why I was waiting and after completing that chapter I made the decision to accept Jesus.

There are many wonderful things in that story, not the least being the many links in the chain the Lord used to bring Tracey to himself. And when the time came, it happened exactly as Paul said it would. Tracey knew and saw and understood and believed.

This is why we do what we do. This is the pastor's true ambition—to make Christ known so that men and women everywhere will come to Jesus. There is nothing greater than this. Nothing the world offers can compare with it. God bless all the pastors who faithfully who serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Great is their reward. Amen.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Learn From The Master

“Jesus, teach us to pray”

Our little neighborhood Bible study group finished our meeting last night with prayer. The group is a great mix of people from many different walks of life. There are “professional” Christians, new Christians, normal Christians and non-Christians that attend each week.

One beautiful thing that we all have in common is that we can all do better with our prayer life. All of us can improve, increase and intensify our personal prayer life, no matter how long we have been praying to the God of all creation.

The final comment during our closing prayer was something like “Lord, help us improve our prayer life.” The disciples of Jesus said something similar at least a couple of times in the New Testament.

Recently, I had the privilege of listening to a series of sermons by pastor Andy Stanley of Northpoint Baptist Church in Georgia titled “Permission to Speak Freely.” The messages were all about Jesus’ teaching on prayer. What follows is a very rough explanation of how the truths revealed in that series have changed my prayer patterns in the last several months.

The disciples of Jesus were, for the most part, young Jewish men who had grown up hearing prayers, reading prayers from the Old Testament texts, memorizing prayers, and witnessing the countless prayers of the priests and religious leaders of the day. They had a working knowledge of how prayer was done. But after spending time with Jesus and noticing how HE prayed, they felt compelled to ask Him to “teach us to pray.”

It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t tell them that they already knew how to pray. Instead, he instantly began teaching them what is important and what’s not important when it comes to prayer. One of these instances is recorded in Matthew 6:6-12:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

I have missed the importance of the beginning of this passage for years. There is a great deal of teaching being done in these few verses that has the potential to vitally change your prayer life. Jesus was telling His disciples that if they really want to pray like He prays, then they need to take some time to pray in private.

We know that Jesus didn’t always go to the same room and close the door behind Him when He prayed, but He did consistently find private places to spend time in intimate prayer with His Father. How many times a week do we do that? How many times in a year? If we want to learn to pray like Jesus, finding a private place on a regular basis seems to be a very important example of His to follow.

Jesus then told His disciples something that messes up my prayer patterns completely. In essence, Jesus told them (and is telling us) that our words are not really that important to God. Neither are the lists of things that we consider “needs,” because God knows about these even before we ask. Under normal circumstances, asking God for things accounts for about 98% of my prayer time!

If, in order to pray more like Jesus, I am supposed to go someplace private but not worry too much about telling God about the things He already knows I need, what am I supposed to be praying about? I can just imagine the disciples coming to that same confusing conclusion. So Jesus proceeds to answer their question in the next few sentences.

Those next few verses compose what we commonly refer to as the “Lord’s Prayer.” Are you as mystified as I am when I hear someone repeat or recite the Lord’s Prayer in times of trouble? Occasionally, people admit that they recite the Lord’s Prayer as some sort of last resort to gain God’s protection and/or guidance. I am not sure that was the intent of Jesus when He spoke these words to the disciples.

Instead, it seems evident that He was offering those words as an example of how to pray and what to pray for. It’s pretty clear that these words were not the same words that Jesus used EVERY time He prayed. In fact, in Luke 11, we see a different instance where some of the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray and the words that Jesus used were slightly different. The pattern was the same, however.

In both instances, Jesus taught the disciples to start with God and acknowledge how great God is.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,”

This is in stark contrast to how my prayers usually begin. Most of the time, I jump right in with my list of requests and my list of things that I would like God to do something about. Jesus showed us that instead, we should start with God.

He then proceeded with the next principle of prayer….aligning your will with God’s.

“your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is where praying can sometimes get tough. We all have our ideas about how God “should” answer our prayers and how things “should” work out in our lives. But that is not always what God has in mind. When these two “wills” are in contrast (and they seem to almost always be) it is important that we do what Jesus is teaching here: submit our will to God’s.

Jesus’ final statements in His model prayer have to do with acknowledging our dependence on God for provisions, forgiveness, and safety.

After hearing Andy Stanley’s messages and thinking about the truths revealed in this passage of Scripture, I realized my own prayer life needed an overhaul!

What about yours? Are your prayers similar to the model prayer that we find in Scripture?

If you are not already doing so, I want to encourage you to find a private place where you can escape to spend some intimate time with your Father. Let Him know that you realize how great He is. Spend whatever time it takes to align your will with His. Then talk to Him about the needs that you have and your dependence on Him to provide those things for you.

When we pray like Jesus taught us to pray, it will change our routine prayer life into one that provides intimacy, fulfillment and direction to our lives and ministries.

Brian Coday has ministered to teenagers for more than 20 years and is now the Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator for the National Network of Youth Ministries. He and his family (Jill, Travis and Regan) live in Bear, Delaware, where Brian also coordinates the local youth worker Network called The Coalition.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Pastors Too Busy to Pray

ASSIST News Service (ANS) - PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609-0609 USA

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New study finds even pastors are 'Too busy for God'
Sixty percent of believers around the world find life too hectic to schedule time with God

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA (ANS) -- Almost six out of every 10 Christians around the world feel their hectic schedule prevents them from spending more time with God. And when it comes to pastors, the statistics are just as sobering, a new survey reveals.

That's what a Charleston Southern professor found after polling more than 20,000 Christians from 139 countries about the busyness of their lives and how it affects their relationship with God, according to a new survey whose findings were posted to

Michael Zigarelli, an associate professor at Charleston Southern's School of Business, polled more than 20,000 Christians of all ages from 139 countries about the busyness of their lives and how it affects their relationship with God.

His report, which concludes almost six years of collecting data, echoes the obvious: yes, we're busy people; and yes, our hectic lives prevent us from spending more time with God. Turns out almost six out of every 10 Christians around the world agree to the latter. A few elements to Zigarelli's study are particularly fascinating.

**American Christians aren't necessarily the busiest. Japan, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Indonesia all had a higher percentage of believers who stated they often or always rushed "from task to task."

**African Christians are most likely to claim their busyness gets in the way of developing their relationship with God. (Two out of three South African and Nigerian believers stated this.)

**The United States is the only country where women topped men in saying they were 1) almost always busy and 2) that busyness affected their spiritual walk.

Based on profession alone, pastors are the most likely to say they often or always rush from task to task, beating out business owners, lawyers, teachers, and salespeople.

While a whopping 72 percent of Christian lawyers said their overloaded pace of life interfered with growing in the Lord, almost two out of every three pastors made the same claim, writes Marcus Yoars on the website.

Yoars concludes: "We are busy. Too busy. And we don't need statistics to tell us that."

Writing as a pastor, he says: "But maybe a study like this will wake some of us up to this reality: We, of all people, must find a way to place the Lord above every urgent need, every pressing appointment, every desperate cry."

He adds: "The Bible is explicit in stating that as pastors and spiritual leaders, our standards are higher. Yes, the truth is, virtually everything we do stems from a God-given desire to minister. That's good. But the greater truth is, how can we truly minister without first being ministered to by God and receiving His empowerment? We must place Him above all."

** Michael Ireland is an international British freelance journalist. A former reporter with a London newspaper, Michael is the Chief Correspondent for ASSIST News Service of Lake Forest, California. Michael immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a US citizen in September, 1995. He is married with two children. Michael has also been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station. His weblog appears at: Michael's Wor(l)d BLOG

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Pray Through the Five Stages of Your Ministry

Support and Resources For Pastors and Christian Ministry Professionals

The Five Stages of Ministry

Thomas F. Fischer, M. Div., M.S.A.

Number 8

"On the whole, the same general kinds of things happen because God is in the business of developing leaders. And He is consistent. And certain things must be there—like character, spiritual authority, relationship and giftedness." (LOL, p. 158).

Stage One: Ministry Foundations (Age 16-26)

Character Shaping Phase: Basic character formation, underlying values, growing awareness of God, beginnings of spiritual formation are developed.

Stage Two: Early Ministry (5-12 years in ministry)

Ministry Formation Phase: Leadership character and commitment to leadership role are formed on the basis of early experiences (e.g. conflict, crises, etc). Experimentation and awareness of ministry giftedness emerges, spiritual formation and ministry formation become priorities.

Stage Three: Middle Ministry (8-14 years in ministry)

Spiritual Formation Phase: Life purpose, giftedness, and major roles in ministry are clarified. Insights for empowering people in ministry are learned. Authority and conflict issues are faced, perhaps in the setting of a leadership "backlash." Challenges emerge requiring special attention and growth.

Stage Four: Latter Ministry (12+ years)

Strategic Formation Phase: Acting on one’s specific life purpose and calling in ministry as one’s ultimate areas of contribution clarify. Ministry becomes more efficient and effective at this "ministry peak." Spiritual warfare and spiritual formation become greater foci as the ministry engages in "deep processing."

Stage Five: Finishing Well (??)

Fulfillment Phase: Ultimate contributions continue to be developed, consolidation of a lifetime of ministry achievements and experiences, important values are passed on to other generations of leaders, perception of "destiny fulfillment."

Adapted From: Barna, George. Leaders on Leadership. Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1997.
Chapter Eight, "The Life Cycle of a Leader." Written by J. Robert Clinton and Richar
d W. Clinton

Some Comments…

First, these five stages describe the stages of healthy ministry development. Ministries are made and broken at any of these phases as individuals struggle with spiritual, strategic, and other formational issues and experiences.

Second, the stages have an almost overwhelming overlap in the 8-14th years of ministry. I would suggest that these be called the period of "Ministry Adolescence" because the formative issues and experiences during this period shape the character and content of one’s ministry as greatly as adolescence has shaped one’s life...sometimes with an analogous sense of trauma, confusion, and growth.

Third, everyone in ministry—pastors, congregations, denominational leaders, and other ministry professionals--ought to have a high sensitivity to those ministers in their 8-15th years. They need support, resources, and the wisdom of other trusted Christian brothers and sisters so that they can survive, endure, and be strengthened through this "do-or-die" phase.

Fourth, the period of "Ministry Adolescence" may reach its peak during the "change of life", especially in those denominations where pastors enter the ministry in their late 20’s or in those pastors who have entered the ministry as a second career. This, I believe, is another key time needed for support.

Fifth, I would venture to say that these five phases are not restricted to the ministry. I believe leaders in secular endeavors might also follow a sequence of developmental stages which might prove similar to these. Perhaps this might indicate how leaders in the secular world can certainly be of help to those in the ministry.

Finally, it would be interesting if the recognition of these phases became the basis for denominational ministry health programming. Certainly ministers in each phase have something to offer to others in other phases of ministry and those who are experiencing the same phase of ministry ought to be networked and identified to give mutual support through what may be similar experiences.

Thomas F. Fischer

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