Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Captured Heart?

Taking Thoughts Captive

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Dear Intercessors,

Our mind is a battleground. Multitudes of thoughts bombard us all the time. Did you realize that the problems we face on internal - in our thoughts and attitudes. Satan knows that if he can control our thoughts, then he can control our actions. We cannot have a positive life with a negative mind. Taking negative thoughts captive is not easy. You know as well as I that there are times when our mind just doesn’t want to listen. The lies of the enemy are vicious. Destructive strongholds try to invade our minds every day, and it takes commitment and discipline to control our thoughts. We have to put our whole heart into it.

Did you know that in the Kentucky Derby, a horse race in the U.S., the winning horse runs out of oxygen after the first mile? He runs the rest of the race with his heart. Great athletes understand this truth. Michael Jordan, the great NBA legend, says that “heart” is what separates the good from the great. How does this apply to our thoughts? This means that you must decide to take negative thoughts captive with all your heart if you want to see breakthrough in your life. You can’t casually apply this truth. Just like the race horse, you must consciously determine to fight and win. Commitment starts in the heart.

“At times it will be very hard, and committing to take negative thoughts captive will be the only thing that will carry you through the hard times.” John Maxwell

Then how can we possibly break these destructive strongholds in our mind?
How can we be aware of these defeating thoughts? The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 that the weapons of our warfare are not of the world, but they are divinely powerful for the destruction of strongholds. We can’t destroy these strongholds by ourselves - We need divine help because the battle is in the spiritual realm - We need God to show us the lies we believe. God is divinely powerful to demolish strongholds. So often we try to do it ourselves - We determine to solve the problem on our own - We take surface thoughts captive and not the thoughts underneath that are feeding those thoughts. We must ask God to show us the strongholds. We need the Holy Spirit’s help. We must give Him permission to deal with the strongholds in our life. He is the one who can break the power of the lie. You can pray right now and give God permission to show you the strongholds in your life:

“Lord, I realize that I cannot destroy the strongholds in my life by myself. I need your divine power. I give you permission to show me strongholds in my life. I invite you into the center of my life to reveal to me the lies I have believed. I acknowledge my dependence on you to do it.”

The only way we can combat these lies is by truth.
God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). It’s our weapon (Ephesians 6:17). God’s Word has power! It’s living! It’s active! It judges our thoughts and our attitudes (Hebrews 4:12). It can defeat those schemes and devices of the enemy. It can show us if our thinking is lining up with divine truth. It’s time we exalt God’s Word more than our human reasoning. Satan wants to trip us up, but God wants to bless us with His truth - Satan wants to bring hopelessness into our life that paralyzes our faith in God and His promises - He is out to destroy our destiny.

  • Let’s learn to respond to God and believe His truth in our everyday experiences.

  • Let’s allow His truth to be our final authority.

  • Let’s let Him expose those lies that we have believed most of our life.

  • Let’s repent of wrong ways of seeing life that is contrary to Scripture.

  • Let’s learn to take our thoughts captive on a daily basis.

Realize that believing the lies of the enemy rather than God’s truth is offensive to God. It’s sin because we don’t believe what He has said in His Word. But He will demolish those lies as we confess them and wield the Sword of His truth in prayer, praise, and proclamation.

Disciplining Your Thought Life

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Picture in your mind a wrestler who is working out with weights, and you probably can imagine that his face is wrinkled with a sweaty look of determination and with veins bulging out of his neck and arms. It would certainly look extremely painful, and all of us have experienced pain if we’re alive. But experiencing discipline is a choice. We hurt from discipline, but we will also hurt without it. The wrestler’s pain is good and helpful. He gets stronger and hopes to win the wrestling match. But if he didn’t practice lifting weights, he would experience losing to his opponent and it would be a pain of regrets.

Taking thoughts captive to Christ takes discipline. We have to discipline our thought life. We are not waging war as the world does. We have to study God’s Word and cling to the truth. We have to be alert to the lies of the enemy. We have to pray and depend on God to demolish the strongholds in our lives. We have to work hard at taking captive every thought. The Apostle Paul lived a disciplined life. He forced his body into subjection so that he would win the prize. He went into strict training for God. He wanted to win. It was hard and unpleasant at times I am sure, but He wanted the prize. He had no pain of regrets. The pain of working hard was nothing compared to losing the prize.

Disciplining yourself by taking your thoughts captive is well worth the pain. It is learning to say “no” to the attacks and fiery darts of the enemy. It is learning to say “yes” to God’s way of victory, peace, and joy. Cultivating a life in God’s Word and believing and praying His thoughts take time and work, but it is well worth the effort. If we want to be successful in the end times, we must take our thoughts captive. We must have a holy resolve to believe God’s truth rather than Satan’s lies. The situations on earth in these last days are going to be extremely difficult. We must have a strong handle on God’s truth in order to have victory. We must learn to say “no” to everything the devil throws at us. The enemy fights hard because he knows that his time is short. Who wants to believe a lie? Who wants to live a defeated life? The value of taking our thoughts captive is so worth the effort, and it becomes an increasing delight to live from the rich treasure of God’s Word.

For an assignment this week, give God permission to show you the strongholds in your life. Continue thinking about what you are thinking about during the day. Write down your thoughts whenever you fall into a negative emotion. Ask yourself, “What am I thinking right now?” “What just happened that brought me into a negative emotion? Write it down. Watch for patterns of negative thoughts. You will often come to the same negative thought such as “Nobody loves me”, “I’m always alone”, “I can never do anything right”. If you see the lie that you believe in your thoughts, confess it to the Lord as sin. You are believing a lie which is contrary to God’s truth. Confessing the lie is a big step towards breakthrough. For additional help, pray the following prayer every day for the next two weeks.

A Breakthrough Prayer for Taking Thoughts Captive

“Lord, I pray that you would help me understand the enemy’s strongholds in my life. Please help me to close all open doors to the lies of the enemy. I want to see breakthrough prayer and have victory in my thought life. Show me any false beliefs that are contrary to Your Word. Show me when I trust my own thoughts rather than Your Word. Help me not to become captive to Satan’s schemes. I want to develop a stronger lifestyle in meditating on Your Word. Show me any area in my life where I have embraced a lie instead of Your truth. Show me when I am listening to the enemy instead of You. Make me aware of what lies I am entertaining when I get into negative emotions. Help me to see patterns of false beliefs. Bring revelation of the enemy’s strongholds in my life.

I choose to take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). I choose to believe Your Word. I choose to listen to You on a daily basis. Teach me to think about what I am thinking about. I don’t have to let Satan outwit me because I am not unaware of his schemes in my life (2 Corinthians 2:11). I thank You that there is no falsehood in You. ‘I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws… I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord; do not let me be put to shame. I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free’ (Psalm 119:15-16, 30-32). In Jesus name, amen.”

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).

Together in the Harvest,
Debbie Przybylski, Intercessors Arise
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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Veteran Wisdom for New Pastors (and some not so new ...)

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Letters to New Pastors
Michael Jinkins
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI 2006

Pastoral ministry is not a career, Mal, it's a vocation, and if you chose it for yourself, you're in the wrong place. You're only going to do yourself and others a great deal of damage if you stay.
If God did not call you to ordained ministry, you really are on your own. And that's not really where you want to be, because you can't do this on your own!
The best pastors encourage deliberation among the people. The best pastors respect the movement of God's Spirit in the community. The best pastors help people discover the gifts God has given them. The best pastors help people sharpen their perceptions, deepen their understandings, and exercise the leadership to which God calls them--even (maybe especially) when they don't agree with the pastor.

A pastor who insists on getting his contractual "days off" is only setting professional boundaries. While thinking about professional boundaries may be important at some level, talk like this may squander a vital pastoral and teaching opportunity. The pastor who by example reminds us of our need for Sabbath rest, by contrast, invites us deeper into God's covenant of life with all creation.

If the church didn't have politics, it wouldn't be a group of people trying to work out how to live together. Because that's what politics is: people working out their common life, people negotiating their values, beliefs, and aspirations and the varying degrees of influence necessary to promote the values and beliefs they hold precious and aspirations they think are worth the work. Granted, the church is more than just a group of people trying to work out how to live together, but it is certainly no less than that.
Isn't it politics to work with others, including people of influence, to create a more livable community? Isn't it politics to seek the goals that are achievable now while not forgetting what we want to achieve in the long run? Isn't it politics to try to build bridges between people who may be able to agree on essentials though they would never agree on certain other things? Isn't it politics to shape our words diplomatically so that we can be heard even when tempers run high? Isn't it politics to pay attention to the interests and perspectives of the congregation, even when we don't personally share all their interests and every aspect of their perspective?
Jim Wallis recently mourned the fact that "politics has been reduced to the selfish struggle for power among competing interests and groups, instead of a process of searching for the common good." He says, "We can find common ground only by moving to higher ground." [Jim Wallis, The Soul of Politics: Beyond "Religious Right" and "Secular Left" (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, Harvest Books, 1995)] I hope you're willing to do all you can to redeem the church politics of our time, because if politics is left only to those of few scruples, we can hardly be surprised when it is unscrupulous.

Every year I make the mistake of thinking that life will be slower around the church in the summer months. But we don't slow down; we just shift gears. In some ways it's even busier than during the rest of the year, especially when you factor in youth camps, vacation church school, conferences, and the way we share duties when various staff members take their vacations.

I had a terrible argument with a member of my church. I cannot imagine now how in the world I let things get so heated. It just so happened that I left town the day after our argument. I was driving that next day, a Sunday morning, and as the usual time for worship approached (the holy hour of 11:00 A.M.), I found myself in a small town. I literally pulled into the first church parking lot I came to, walked into the church and sat down. I had never been in this church before, and in fact had never even been in a church of this denomination before. The preacher was preaching on the topic "Is Toleration a Christian Virtue?" You may be interested in his answer. He said, "I don't know if toleration is a Christian virtue. But I do know that humility is, and I know forgiveness is. Whether or not we are willing to tolerate the differences of others isn't really the question. We are called to discipleship by a God who guaranteed us only that if we follow him, we will receive a cross. That's it! Next to what the cross demands of us, tolerance is small potatoes."
As soon as worship was over, I found a phone and I called the church member I had argued with. I swallowed my pride, and asked for forgiveness.

Marjory Bankson has said, "The concept of call assumes we are spiritually linked with others and with creation, whether we like it or not...We separate in order to recognize that we are related--not only to each other but to God." [Marjory Zoet Bankson, The Call to the Soul: Six Stages Spiritual Development (Philadelphia: Innisfree Press, 1999)] I think this idea flows naturally from the idea that God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, created humanity to reflect God's own trinitarian community. We are created to be in relationship, and if we short-circuit this relatedness, we burn out.

Helmut Thielicke, in a book entitled A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, tells beginning seminary students that all real theology is prayed theology, reminding them that Saint Anselm's famous ontological argument for the existence of God is actually written as a prayer. [Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, introduction by Martin E. Marty (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962)] I really don't find it hard to think of academic theology as an act of prayer. What I sometimes find very hard, though, is to really, consistently think of pastoral ministry as prayer. Why? Because ministry requires a continual engagement with people, that's why. I find it infinitely easier to extend Christian charity and generosity of spirit to Kant than to the church organist, and no matter how frustrating I may find Barth's statement on the vestigia trinitatis, it's nothing like the frustration I feel when the nursery worker calls at the last minute --again--to say that she is running late. If ministry is an act of prayer, then all matters great and small are put in a whole new frame, and life (all of life) is a lot more complicated than it appears.

Okay, I understand that you think it's common courtesy to ask your members whether they'd like you to pray for them when they're in the hospital. And I can understand how a hospital chaplain visiting strangers would want to make doubly sure he or she were not transgressing a professional boundary. Many people in the hospital might resent receiving a spiritual or religious service if they were of another faith or of no faith at all. But, really, for the life of me, I cannot imagine why else you visit members of your congregation when they're sick except to pray for them. I can't tell you how often I have visited with people in the hospital who were puzzled and dismayed because their minister came by to see them, talked to them, listened to them, then left without praying for them. There is a sense in which pastoral ministry is a "helping profession," like nursing and social work. But there's also a sense in which it is something altogether different. Listening is important, and I can't tell you how long it took me to learn the wisdom of the old clinical pastoral education adage, "Don't just do something, stand there!" But I would wager that your people want you to pray for them as much if not more than they want you to listen to them. And what's more, they need you to pray for them.
It's possible you're thinking of prayer as a sort of zipper that closes a pastoral visit, instead of as that event from which everything else in the visit flows.
I can't tell you how often I have prayed at the "end" of a pastoral visit, only to look up at the end of the prayer into the face of the sick person, or into the face of a loved one, and realizing. "Now the pastoral conversation is about to start!"

The practice of faith and ministry is like a dance. Round and round we go, potentially growing wiser as we live and pray and reflect critically on what we are doing.

You need rest right now--spiritual rest, mental rest, and physical rest--and I want you to make sure you take better care of yourself. You haven't taken a vacation in far too long. But don't blame your exhaustion, even your spiritual exhaustion, on the idea that as a pastor you aren't able to get spiritual nourishment the way your laypeople get it. You aren't a layperson. You're a pastor. And, strangely enough, God has woven into our vocation some wonderful means of receiving daily nourishment, means that do not require us to retire to a retreat center. Every day we can and must pray. Every day we can and should read the Bible. The Psalms are at our elbows, the testimonies of the saints stand on our bookshelves and bedside tables ready to encourage us even in the most difficult of days. Every Sunday Christ is raised again to new life on the Lord's Day, and we are raised with him by the power of God's Spirit. There we stand in the midst of it all, preaching, presiding at the Lord's Table, baptizing, welcoming, sending forth, listening throughout the service beneath the cues on the page of the worship bulletin for the whisper of God's eternal Word and Spirit.
In fact, after thirty years of being a pastor, I have to say I worship God much better, much more attentively and actively, when I lead worship than when I attend worship led by others. Week after week I am surprised by how God speaks to me in the midst of the worship I am leading. Though sometimes I leave worship tired, I seldom leave worship empty. As pastor, my spiritual life is grounded here in the worship of the congregation I lead. And all the other spiritual disciplines I am engaged in, somehow point to the gathering of this congregation with whom I listen to God's Word by preaching.

Perhaps the Christian teaching that gives me most comfort is the one that reminds us that Christ, who is a stranger to none of our human weaknesses and who knows us better than we know ourselves, prays for us constantly. I say this because I am more convinced with every passing year that I don't know what I need, nor what I should pray for. At the same time, I'm thankful that God invites us to pray, to join our voices with Christ's through his Holy Spirit. When I pray for you, I offer up intercessions that you will come again to faith. And I believe I can pray this with confidence. But I also recognize that the outcome doesn't rest on the fervency or frequency of my prayer, but on God's own prayers for you. I am convinced that the biggest change wrought in prayer is not the one we pray for, but the change in our own hearts and minds when we offer ourselves and our desires to God whose business is transformation. At any rate, I'm praying for you, as you asked me to do.

Both knowledge and faith are grounded in a reality we try to approximate by using the word "relationship."
God is in control of this relationship and uses it as a tool to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ. For this purpose darkness, the feeling of absence, disappointment, humiliation, loneliness, and the sense of unanswered prayer prove to be tools as effective as light, joy, the sense of God's nearness, serendipity, and the ineffable wonder of fellowship at the heart of God's community of faith.

I had forgotten that pastoral maxim until you mentioned it your last letter: "The interruptions are the ministry."
I know some pastors who are so overwhelmed by interruptions that they never get around to praying, meditating, reflecting, reading the Bible, or attending to their own spiritual lives in any way. It's much wiser to ensure a steady flow of oxygen to our own souls before rushing to attend to the needs of others.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

No Time To Pray. No Time To Pray?

"No Time to Pray"

As I write this devotional, I am in the midst of a period where I am leading three Prayer Summits in two weeks. These Summits involve time away from the routines and demands of life to give God our undivided attention. Typically spanning three days, men and women go to a retreat center to read Scripture, worship in song, and pray responsively as the Holy Spirit directs. All of this is done in community. It is a life-transforming experience that teaches participants more about prayer than any sermon series or seminar ever could. Truly, these lives are never the same again.

I am especially amazed that these spiritually hungry people are willing to spend their most precious commodity on the privilege of prayer. This commodity is not money or even physical energy. It is the commodity of time.

J. Oswald Sanders wrote in his book Spiritual Leadership, “Mastering the art of prayer, like any other art, will take time, and the amount of time we allocate to it will be the true measure of our conception of its importance. We always find time for that which we deem most important.” In the same paragraph, Sanders comments on Martin Luther’s busy schedule, stating that extra work was a compelling argument for spending MORE time in prayer. Quoting Luther’s reasoning he notes, “Work, work, work -- from early till late. In fact I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.“

Biblical Models of Wise Time Investment

This sounds so very radical to our overloaded and technologically sophisticated society. But it is good to remember that the early church found their power to “turn the world upside down” through their commitment of TIME to prayer. They spent ten solid days seeking God in prayer prior to Pentecost. They devoted themselves continually to praying together (Acts 2:42) and gathered every day for spiritual nourishment and encouragement (Acts 2:46, 5:42). I would guess that they spent many hours every week in united prayer.

The leaders modeled this wise and power-conscious use of time. In Acts 6:4, the apostles did not want to take time to solve a major administrative problem, but instead delegated this important task to other capable men. Their rationale was simply, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word.” The original language and context in this verse indicates that these leaders gave substantive amounts of time every day to praying together as a leadership team.

Of course, the early church “caught” this commitment to prayer from Jesus’ example. He spent substantive amounts of time in prayer early in the day (Mark 1:35). He often spent hours in prayer in the wilderness (Luke 5:16). Jesus made it a habit to pray at the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39). He spent an entire night in prayer prior to selecting the disciples (Luke 6:12). After finding his disciples sleeping following His hour of prayer in the garden, He went back and prayed two more times (Matthew 22:36-46).

Clearly Jesus, the early church leaders, and New Testament Christians understood the value of substantive amounts of time dedicated to prayer. So, maybe a three-day Prayer Summit every once in awhile is not so radical after all?

Do the Math

I show a video clip occasionally when I speak. The piece is titled “40 Million Minutes” and powerfully demonstrates the following facts:
* The average person lives 77 years. That equates to 28,000 days, 670,000 hours, or 40 million minutes.
* The average person spends 24 minutes a day getting dressed. That equals 13 hours a month, 7 days a year, or 1 year in a lifetime.
* The average person spends 40 minutes a day on the phone. That factors out to 20 hours a month, 10 days a year, or 2 years in a lifetime.
* The average person spends 1 hour a day in the bathroom. This amounts to 30 hours a month, 15 days a year, and 3 years in a lifetime.
* The average person spends 3 hours a day watching television. That's 90 hours a month, 45 days a year, and 9 years in a lifetime.
* Then the video presents this riveting fact. The average Christian spends less than 10 minutes a day in prayer. That equates to less than 6 hours a month, 3 days a year, and 7 months in a lifetime.
* The video ends with this line: “You do the math.”
One Inspiring Example
One of the recent Prayer Summits I recently enjoyed was in Denver, Colorado. World Venture, a dynamic missions agency, sets aside one important week a year for a renewal conference. They bring all of their stateside missionaries together for training. All of their U.S. staff also attends. In all, over 100 mission leaders participate. Even though the week is very busy and they have more to cover than time allows, World Venture spends the entire first two days of this five-day event in uninterrupted prayer. That is an investment that speaks volumes. Hans Finzel, President of World Venture, states, “This is not an option for us. We know we must put prayer first if we are going to know God’s direction and experience His power for our mission."
The great preacher and writer E.M Bounds wrote these challenging words about our use of TIME and our commitment to prayer:
"Prayer cannot be retired as a secondary force in this world. To do so is to retire God from the movement. It is to make God secondary. The prayer ministry is an all-engaging force. It must be so to be a force at all. The estimate and place of prayer is the estimate and place of God. To give prayer the secondary place is to make God secondary in life's affairs. To substitute other forces for prayer retires God and materializes the whole movement.”
“It is better to let the work go by default than to let the praying go by neglect. Whatever affects the intensity of our praying affects the value of our work. 'Too busy to pray' is not only the keynote to backsliding, but it mars even the work done. Nothing is well done without prayer for the simple reason that it leaves God out of the account. It is so easy to be seduced by the good to neglect of the best, until both the good and the best perish. How easy to neglect prayer or abbreviate our praying simply by the plea that we have church work on our hands. Satan has effectively disarmed us when he can keep us too busy doing things to stop and pray. " E.M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer
The Real Issue
Of course, the goal of this devotion is not to “guilt” us all into spending more time in prayer. The real issue is not time. Time is just the delivery system of spiritual desire and genuine dependence on God. As my mom used to say, “You do what you want to do.” We do not allocate substantive time to prayer because we do not want to, do not feel that we need to, and fundamentally doubt the value of doing so.
It is not that we are too busy to pray. It is that we value other activities, efforts, and strategies above the call to prayer. This is a heart issue each of us must resolve with the Lord at the deepest level of our souls.
In the meantime, I am still humbled and amazed at the hundreds of very busy people who take precious TIME to go away for three days to seek the Lord. It is never easy, but always worth it. Ultimately, it is time well invested for the sake of the character and mission to which God has called us all – because we certainly cannot do it on our own resolve and power. He alone is able and worthy to be sought.
Copyright © 2009 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
If you would like a tool to help you spend more quality time in prayer, check out The 29:59 Plan. Pastor Peter Lord designed this plan to help Christians spend 30 minutes a day in prayer, but in a non-legalistic way (thus the name “29:59”). Over 600,000 people have used this tool and Strategic Renewal has partnered with Peter Lord in revising it for today’s Christian. Please check it out at

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Inner~View #55: Honest Talk About Honest Prayer

    Praying Pastor interviewed Peter Lundell, author of Prayer Power: 30 Days to a Stronger Connection with God (Revell, January 2009)

    Prayer Power, Peter Lundell, 978-0-8007-3263-9

    Praying Pastor ~ Many Christians don't talk about hardships with prayer. Why do you open up about the struggles you, as a pastor, have had drawing close to God in prayer?

    My first draft of the book read like an instruction manual of all the things you ought to do to be spiritual like me. I realized that the more spiritual I tried to sound, the less honest I was being. I was hiding behind my words. No reader should have to, or would want to, put up with that. And besides, it was boring.

    So I determined to be totally honest. I rewrote the book and openly shared every doubt, struggle, and failure, because every reader goes through struggles. And if I’m not honest with readers, how can I expect readers to be honest with others or even themselves? This is especially important for pastors.

    I’ve discovered two things: First, brutal honesty is tremendously liberating, and I don’t want to live any other way. Second, when we stick with prayer and don’t give up, answers and victories rise from these struggles. Answers and victory never rise from pretending.

    I hope to connect with readers in hope that they’ll connect with me and the victories I’ve experienced—so that they will experience their own victories.

    Praying Pastor ~ What are some of the things God has taught you about prayer over the years - especially from the perspective of your leadership roles?

    It’s good to listen before I talk. If I always dive into prayer and never spend time listening, I only dump my own “give-me list” on God. But his word says in 1 John 5:14–15 that when I seek and pray according to his will, my prayer will be answered. So the key is to first get in sync with God.

    We’ve got to have a hunger, or thirst, for God. Without hunger, no program or technique or anything we learn will go anywhere. But with hunger for God, we could know almost nothing and still have a great prayer life. Hunger is singularly important—which is why it’s the first chapter.

    When I pray with faith and don’t get what I ask for, God will soon show me why. There is always something to learn in unanswered prayer.

    Praying Pastor ~ What suggestions do you have for those times when a pastor or leader just doesn't feel like praying?

    Read a prayer. Someone was inspired in prayer when he or she wrote it down. So if we’re feeling tired, depressed, or like a zombie, we can let the inspiration that first permeated that written prayer permeate our own hearts and minds. I find the Psalms to be the best source for this. We can do this with the Lord’s Prayer, and extrapolate on each part of it. Books of prayers are also available. I’ve also written my own.

    Reading prayers in this way should be seen as a way to get prayer moving, not as the prayer experience itself. In no way do I want to direct people to simply read other people’s prayers. The purpose is to kick-start our own.

    Another thing is to play worship music. Put on a CD or iPod and worship along with the music, then move into prayer. It’s no coincidence that Saul’s demonic spirit left when David played his harp, and it’s no mystery why most churches play music in the background during prayer times or altar calls. The Holy Spirit operates more in worship, and the music has the effect of lifting us up and prying us open as well.

    Third, try creating a prayer notebook or just a handy list. Though this may feel forced, lists give substance and direction. And with that, our prayer is much more likely to take off with spontaneity and passion.

    Praying Pastor ~ How can we combat busyness and pray through distractions?

    As I discuss later, the first thing is to establish a consistent prayer time and location. Early monks went to the deserts of North Africa to spare themselves the distractions of busy life. Most of us aren’t going to do that, but we can choose to pray in a place that is not full of messes to clean or work to be done, even in a one-room apartment, we can face the window. I practice what I call “intentional neglect.” I intentionally neglect all the things screaming for my attention. When I’m done with my prayer time, then I do them. When God is our priority, everything else falls into place—especially in the church. It amazes me how much we pastors forget that.

    When we do pray, we still confront distractions of the mind—there’s really no escape. That’s why I always keep a notebook, day planner, or scratch paper handy. Thoughts will come regarding something I need to do. Rather than distract myself by trying not to forget it, I jot it down, forget about it while I pray, and do it afterward. Or the invading thought, especially if it’s from the Holy Spirit, might be something I turn into a prayer.

    If, no matter what we do, we still can’t focus, then yell. Seriously. But yell someplace where people won’t hear and think you’re nuts. If need be, let your very prayer be to ask God to help you focus. Raising the voice can have an immediate and powerful effect in focusing the mind. Try it and see!

    Praying Pastor ~ What do you mean by "praying boldly" and how can Christians learn to do that?

    Praying boldly is the opposite of excessively polite prayer and of—I’ll just say it—wimpy prayer. Praying boldly is praying without intimidation, not caring what other people think, expressing ourselves to God without concern for being appropriate or religiously correct but rather with a passion from our guts that pours out, unashamedly. Bold prayer is not arrogant. It’s humble and faithful, because of its self-abandoned focus on God and expectation of what God will do.

    People often assume they must be polite or solemn before God. Nowhere does the Bible teach this. Two thirds of the Psalms are complaints, and they are not polite. Most prayers in both Old and New Testaments are bold, expectant, and to the point. When Jesus teaches on prayer in Luke 11:5–10, he talks about an obnoxious guy who bangs on his friend’s door at midnight. Then he says we should bug him the same way by continually asking, seeking, and knocking. I often wonder if God gets tired of diplomatic prayers. Why else would he actually tell us to be bold and persistent—and use examples that, if we were on the receiving end, most of us would say are obnoxious.

    There’s no real method to doing this. It’s a mindset that chooses to free itself from previous assumptions and uses the Bible as a model of how to pray.

    Praying Pastor ~ How can we practice the presence of God and include him in everyday tasks?

    Practicing the presence of God primarily has to do with developing an attitude, a continual awareness that God is always with us, and that in turn, we always incline our attention toward him.

    The first thing most of us need to do is to slow down or cut unnecessary activities from our calendar. Busyness is an enemy to practicing the presence of God. Jesus repeatedly blew off other people’s agendas for him and continually focused on his purpose for being here. Pastors who do the same are always happier, closer to God, and more effective. And when we practice the presence of God, we increase our ability to be intimate with him when times do get busy.

    Here are some practices that may help develop that attitude: My last thought before I sleep and my first thought when I wake up is centered on God. When I get mad or stressed, I try to see things from God’s perspective. When I am waiting for someone, I use that time to pray. I do menial tasks with an awareness and love of God. I often have a praise song on my mind as I go through the day.

    Breath prayers are another practice that can help. These are super-short prayers that we can utter with one breath at any time all through the day. The first one we know of, that has been used for centuries, is the “Jesus Prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Most pastors may rather spontaneously say their own breath prayers, such as, “I praise you, Lord.” “Fill me with your Spirit.” “I receive your peace.” The possibilities are endless.

    Praying Pastor ~ You talk about "prayer of agreement." Can you explain that and why it's an important element of powerful prayer? How valuable are Pastors' Prayer Groups for this?

    We’re all familiar with Matthew 18:19–20: “If two of you on earth agree about anything…” That’s a major part of agreement in prayer, but there’s more. I encourage people’s agreement in prayer to start before they even pray. We first need to be in agreement with God’s Word. I always try to pray in accordance with a promise or exhortation or example in Scripture—rather than just give my own agenda to God and hope he blesses it.

    Second, pray in agreement with the Holy Spirit. However the Spirit communicates with us (everyone is different), we may feel led to focus or stretch our faith on what God intends, and that may mean letting other prayer requests go. When our prayer is led by the Spirit, we have far better results than when we’re in the driver’s seat.

    Third, we agree with others in that fascinating, inscrutable pattern in Scripture where people joining together exponentially increases answers to prayer. When we do this, it’s important to establish exactly what we’re agreeing on. In a hospital, for example, do I as a pastor agree with Mrs. Smith that God will guide the doctor, or that she will have a miraculously fast and complete recovery, or that God will miraculously heal her so that surgery is unnecessary? The amazing thing to me is that God tends to answer prayers at the level where people put their faith.

    Pastors’ Prayer groups are great for this. I started and lead one myself. We’ve got a bunch of guys who commit to two things: leave doctrinal differences at the door and relate to each other in humility. It’s wonderful. With great diversity, we combine our knowledge of the Bible with openness to the Spirit and to one another’s wisdom born out of experience. I wish every pastor were in such a group.

    Praying Pastor ~ You're a proponent for creating a place of prayer and establishing a time of prayer. Why are these important elements for prayer?

    These two disciplines are the most important external helps for maintaining a strong prayer life. Without them, our good intentions eventually drown under the assaults of busyness and distractions.

    A place of prayer helps us concentrate in the face of distractions. That place could be the church sanctuary, an empty room in the house, a spot in the back yard, or even a rug laid out on the floor, on which the only thing we do is pray. The physical surroundings of a location devoted to prayer tell our brains, “Focus on God.” And if we ever feel bored or in a rut of over-familiarity with a place, a change of location can be stimulating.

    Establishing a set prayer time ingrains a habit of prayer into our minds, such that if we miss it, we feel anxious because something is missing or wrong—and it is! A set prayer time is not to force ourselves to pray as much as to create a boundary of protection from busyness. That boundary of time is like a protective fence around a garden, where we give ourselves freedom from intrusions to spend unhindered time with God. Preferably we’ll do this as early as possible in the morning, so we can lay the whole day before the Lord. And unlike a prayer place, I have never found benefit in changing my prayer time, so I highly recommend keeping it sacred, especially if we’re traveling or really busy. Whether short or long, this protective fence of a set time must be intentional, because no one else can do it for us.

    Praying Pastor ~ You're a pastor, and yet you still struggle with prayer. What advice would you give to fellow pastors or longtime Christians about enriching their prayer lives?

    I do and I don’t. I don’t often struggle to pray, because intimacy with God has become part of my lifestyle. But I do struggle in prayer.

    True men and women of prayer will sometimes wrestle in prayer, as did many figures in the Bible, like Jacob’s symbolic wrestling with the angel and Jesus’ wrestling over his fate in Gethsemane.

    Like anyone else, I struggle with unanswered prayer or major decisions to do something by faith, when tragedy strikes, problems of injustice, and healings that take a lot longer than I’d like. The key is to keep struggling—don’t give up and too quickly assume something is God’s will before you know for sure. The angel commended Jacob for not giving up until he got a blessing. God the Father actually sent an angel to help Jesus wrestle in Gethsemane. Sometimes wrestling in prayer is God’s will for us.

    Wrestling in prayer is a good thing. It draws us closer to God. And it changes us in the process.

    Praying Pastor ~ Peter, please write a prayer you would hope every pastor reading this interview will pray in faith...

    Father, you love me so much. Sometimes the demands and heartaches of doing your work drain me. Rejuvenate me with your presence. Fill me with your Spirit as I lift my hands to you. My life and my ministry are in your hands. I choose to keep it there and trust you to lead me and bless me so I will always be a blessing to others. I will pursue every vision you’ve given me and overcome every hardship that intrudes, because, Lord Jesus, I walk in your footsteps. Your victory is mine. Lead me to live it every day. Amen.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

The Impact of Praying On Your Preaching

Unction JunctionUnction Junction
The Holy Spirit's power can't be forced, but it can be fanned into flame.
by Bryan Wilkerson

Early in my preaching ministry, there was an elderly saint who often led us in prayer during a service. Whatever else he might have prayed for, he never failed to conclude without asking God to grant me "unction from on high." I wasn't sure what unction was, but it sure sounded like something I needed.

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The Impact of Praying On Your Preaching

Unction JunctionUnction Junction
The Holy Spirit's power can't be forced, but it can be fanned into flame.
by Bryan Wilkerson

Early in my preaching ministry, there was an elderly saint who often led us in prayer during a service. Whatever else he might have prayed for, he never failed to conclude without asking God to grant me "unction from on high." I wasn't sure what unction was, but it sure sounded like something I needed.

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NEW ~ Praying Pastors Project

Praying Pastors Project

The Praying Pastors Project ( officially launched at the end of 2008 as a part of America’s National Prayer Committee. Their goal is to place a copy of “Giving Ourselves to Prayer” in the hands of every pastor in America, plus link them to a pastor’s web site. Of course, this is the eighty-chapter book that I compiled for the NPC.

One of the best stories I’ve heard thus far comes, not out of America, but out of Kenya. Rev. Kennedy Waningu in Nairobi, Kenya heard about the book and immediately wanted to launch a project there. He started training pastors in November and has 18 pastors from 5 different nations who have completed a course utilizing the book “Giving Ourselves to Prayer: An Acts 6:4 Primer for Ministry” and now those pastors are returning to their countries to train others. The idea is to enlist corporate sponsors to purchase and give books to the pastors in their community. Thus far, 39 sponsors have committed to the project. It is so rewarding to be a part of something that impacts the nations and beyond.

You can be a part of this impact - - Click here to purchase a copy of the book for a pastor and pray for a donor or donors to purchase enough copies of this prayer resource book to place in every theological education library in America.

Dr. Dan Crawford
Disciple All Nations, Inc.

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