Birthing Churches Through Prayer #3 (Apostolic Evangelism #9)

As we have examined one example of Paul planting a church from the Book of Acts we have seen:
1> We must be sent by the Holy Spirit to where we are to plant the church. Apostolic means being sent and it is the Holy Spirit who sends us.
2> We saw that Paul’s first few converts were simply natural consequences of his prayer life and his habit of finding a quiet place to pray. He did not have a program of evangelism nor did he hold public meetings upon arriving. Let’s continue to story of Paul in Philippi.

Scene Four – The conversion of the jailer and his household: Although Paul and Silas were beaten and cruelly treated by their captors, “At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25). You know the rest of the story. There was a great earthquake, which caused the prisoners’ chains to fall off, and Paul was barely able to stop the hailer from killing himself. The jailer and his family were saved that night, but again this was not the result of a concerted evangelism effort. Instead, Paul and Silas were simply “praying and singing hymns to God.” Their focus at that moment was not on reaching people, but reaching God.

Scene Five – The church at Philippi is born: So far, it seemed that all Paul had done in Philippi was seek place of prayer and worship – and people somehow got converted along the way. But by the end of the chapter there was an amazing development: The church at Philippi had been born! As the chapter concludes, we are told, “They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed” (Acts 16:40).

Where did these “brethren” come from in the formerly unevangelized city of Philippi? Paul had conducted no crusades. There is no evidence that he found any synagogues to evangelize. Amazingly, The Lord touched hearts all along the way, giving Paul “divine appointments” as he simply pursued a place of prayer.

Birthing Churches Through Prayer #2 (Apostolic Evangelism #8)

We are looking at Paul’s apostolic ministry and the stages he and his team went through to birth a church in the city of Philippi. We saw that Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to go to this city to establish a church by planting the Gospel of the Kingdom. They literally had other plans but the Holy Spirit stopped them twice from going elsewhere and then directed them to Macedonia through a vision. The truth we discovered was that apostolic people are “sent ones,” but we need to know where God is sending us.

Scene Two – The conversion of Lydia and her household: Look at Luke’s description of Paul’s first actions in Philippi: “On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer.” (Acts 16:13 NAS). Paul’s first impulse was not to find a place of ministry, but rather a place of prayer.

When Paul and his team found the place of prayer, they ended up conversing with some women who had assembled: “…we sat down and spoke to the women who met there” (Acts 16:13). One of these women was Lydia , and “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14b). Lydia and her household ended up being baptized, and she offered Paul’s team a place to stay.

Do we see how incredibly simple this was? Lydia’s conversion was not the product of an organized crusade or evangelism program: it occurred when Paul merely sought a place of prayer and was alert to evangelism opportunities along the way.

Scene Three – the deliverance of the slave girl: Soon after the conversion of Lydia and her household, Paul’s team was again “going to the place of prayer,” when they were approached by a slave girl who was possessed by a fortune-telling spirit (Acts 16:16 NAS). After putting up with her irritating behavior for many days, Paul cast the demon out of the girl. Another convert had been gained, but the event landed Paul and Silas in prison. Again, the convert was reached as a by-product of Paul’s quest for a place of prayer.

Birthing Churches Through Prayer #1 (Apostolic Evangelism #7)

One of my favorite church-planting stories is found in Acts 16, the account of Paul’s apostolic journey and outreach to Philippi. How did Paul get started on his quest to reach Philippi with the Gospel? Did he schedule a crusade? Did he try to evangelize the synagogues, as he did in other places? Did he develop a cell-church network? No, Paul had a strategy that might seem highly unusual to us today? He prayed.

How could such a strategy work? Why not get right into the work of preaching the Gospel to the lost? Paul realized that, as E.M. Bounds would later point out, “Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men in even greater.” Paul knew that before organizing an outreach to people, he first needed to spend time agonizing before God. He understood, as J.C. Ryle has warned, “Never, never may we forget that if we would do good to the world, our first duty is to pray.” Judsom Cornwall expands on this: “God does not command to pray as a form of chastisement or disciple. Prayer is as necessary to spiritual life as scuba tanks are to the physical life of a deep-sea diver. Prayer is the atmosphere in which a human spirit can function comfortable. It is the breath of eternity so necessary to our eternal spirits that are confined in temporal bodies.”

Paul’s apostolic ministry in Philippi can best be observed in several distinct scenes:

Scene One: Paul’s leading to visit Philippi: A vital key to successful apostolic evangelism is ascertaining God’s direction. The body of Christ is called to take the Gospel into all the world, but individually we must know our specific sphere of ministry. Like the disciples who had fished all night and caught nothing, we need to know on which side of the boat to cast our nets.

Paul and his team originally intended to take the Gospel to Asia, but, “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6b). They changed course and tried to go into Bithynia, “but the Spirit did not permit them” (Acts 16:7b). It must have been baffling to face those closed doors, yet it wasn’t long before The Lord had shown Paul where he was to go:

“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that The Lord had called us to preach the Gospel to them.” (Acts 16:9-10)

We might not experience as dramatic a “Macedonian call” as Paul received, but we too need a clear sense of the Lord’s direction for our ministry. Apostolic people are “sent ones,” but we need to know where God is sending us.

Apostolic Prayer #3 (Apostolic Evangelism #6)

The Psalmist wrote: “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6) When was the last time you sowed in tears, with a broken heart for the condition of the lost? Most often my eyes are dry and my heart, although not hard, is not focused on the lost and dying. I believe that God wants our hearts to break with the one thing that breaks His heart – the lost going to hell. Think of it, He created us for fellowship and to share His love with and people either reject His offer or, worse still, have never heard of His offer. As a result they spend eternity in hell separated from the very God who created them and wanted to have a relationship with them.

This is not just some nice religious theory. Jesus demonstrated this heart for the lost when He wept over the city of Jerusalem: “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.'” (Luke 19:41-42) Consider this: Jesus wept over the very people who only a short time later would shout, “Crucify Him!”

Paul the apostle likewise had this same broken heart for the Jewish people who had not yet been saved. Everywhere Paul went, these religious people were a thorn in his flesh. Yet look at Paul’s passionate prayers for them:

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1)

“I tell you the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites… (Romans 9:1-4)

Paul loved his persecutors so much that he would be willing to be cut off from Christ in order to bring them to salvation! As remarkable as Paul’s sacrificial prayer life was, he was not the only one who prayed that way. Look at Moses’ intercessory prayer for the Israelites:

“Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses said to the people, ‘You have committed a great sin. So now I will go up to The Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’ Then Moses returned to The Lord and said, ‘Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin – but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.'” (Exodus 32:30-32)

Here are examples of true intercession. Like the examples of Jesus, Paul and Moses, intercession means loving people so intensely that we are willing to lay down our lives to stand in the gap for their salvation. In the church today man has made this ministry into something only certain people are called to and they become the ‘experts’ often praying for everything but the lost. Then, the rest of the Christians don’t need to pray with such intensity because they are not called to this ministry. Nonsense! Everyone is called to pray for and speak to the lost about the love of Jesus.

So, maybe, just maybe, we should first pray for ourselves – praying for a “heart transplant.” This would allow us to receive His broken heart in exchange for our sometimes selfish and uncaring hearts. Then we would see powerful prayers for the lost.

Apostolic Prayer #2 (Apostolic Evangelism #5)

Passionate and persistent prayer is what is needed as the local church becomes apostolic in nature. When an assembly takes seriously the apostolic commission to “send” their people into the world to make disciples it will require much persistent and passionate prayer.

This kind of passionate prayer is exhibited by Isaiah’s cry, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens! That you would come down!” (Isaiah 64:1a). Although apostolic prayer wants to see the lost saved and the kingdom of God extended, there is something it seeks even more: the manifest presence of The Lord. It years that He would rend the heavens and come down and fill the earth with His presence and glory. As E.M. Bounds once said, “The church on its knees would bring heaven upon the earth.”

Yet, tragically, Isaiah has to confess to The Lord just a few verses later: “There is no one who calls on Your Name, who stirs himself up to take hold of you.” (Isaiah 64:7a). While The Lord is waiting for us to call upon Him to rend the heavens and come down, few are willing to stir themselves to take hold of Him.

God made a similar observation to Ezekiel: “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.” (Ezekiel 22:30). Where are those today who will stand in the gap in behalf of the lost? Would The Lord have to again lament when looking for those who share His heart for the lost and are praying for both their salvation and for more laborers to enter into the harvest fields because the harvest is ready?

London pastor Charles Spurgeon once remarked, “Winners of souls must first be weepers for souls.” This is an echo of the words of the psalmist: “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6)

Apostolic Prayer (Apostolic Evangelism #4)

The story has been told about a young man in Bible school who offered to help David Wilkerson minister on the streets of New York City. Wilkerson asked him how much time he spent in prayer. The young student estimated about 20 minutes a day.

“Go back, young man,” Wilkerson quickly replied. “Go back for a month and pray two hours a day, every day for 30 days. When you’ve done that, come back. Come back, and I might consider turning you loose on the streets where there is murder, rape, violence, and danger. If I sent you out now on 20 minutes a day, I’d be sending a soldier into battle without any weapons, and you would probably be killed.”

We get get into heaven without a lot of prayer, and we can even be respected church members. We can have merely a one-minute quiet time every day, and God will still love us. But can we expect to reap a mighty harvest on one-minute conversations with God? Will that kind of prayer enable us to penetrate the hard places where Jesus is not known and worshipped? Will that amount of prayer allow us to influence and impact people whose minds have been blinded by the god of this world? (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Samuel Chadwick gave this warning to Christians who think they can accomplish great things for God without an adequate prayer life: “The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks at our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.”

Does this mean that it is all right to continually sit on our easy chairs, praying for God to take action, while we ourselves are unwilling to take action in obedience to His Word? Of course not. Faith without works is dead. (James 2:26) The proper balance is pointed out by S.D. Gordon: “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”

So what kinds of prayers will successfully result in an expansion of the Kingdom of God? Certainly not “Now I lay me down to sleep” kinds of prayers! Rather, it will take passionate, persistent prayers, as Jesus instructed us: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

More tomorrow….

Passion For The Lord (Apostolic Evangelism #3)

There can be no genuine apostolic evangelism until we first have a passion for The Lord Himself. Apostolic evangelism is not a method, a formula, or an obligation – it is simply the obedient outgrowth of a vital relationship with God. The secret of reaching men is to the the living Jesus Christ and have the sending heart of the Father.

James Robison was a very popular Southern Baptist evangelist for many years. He prided himself on working hard to preach the Gospel in crusades from city to city. When speaking at a banquet one day, Robison boasted that he had preached for 55 consecutive days up to that point, often several times a day. At the end of his message, an elderly woman made her way up to the front in order to ask him a question.

“Brother Robison,” she stammered, “if you preach that often, when in the world do you find time to pray?”

Robison, who had a reputation for rudeness in those early days, looked squarely into her eyes and said, “Ma’am, that’s your job. You pray and I’ll preach.”

Even though Robison had quickly brushed aside her questions, to began to eat away at him. Over and over again, he played her question back in his mind, until he finally repented of his prayerlessness. He had to acknowledge that he was more in love with his ministry than truly in love with God.

Authentic apostolic evangelism is careful to stay centered around The Lord Himself rather than around ministry. It avoids the tendency to glorify toe ‘apostles’ and ‘evangelists,’ heeding the example of Paul the apostle: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus The Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:5)

When we become to message instead of Jesus, something is dreadfully wrong. At that point we have ceased to function in true apostolic ministry and are instead imitating the builders of the Tower of Babel, who openly acknowledged that their motive was to “make a name for ourselves…” (Genesis 11:4b) True apostolic evangelism is just the opposite, not drawing attention to our own story or ourselves, not seeking to be heard and known, not being the center of our message – but exalting the name and fame of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ Prayer Life (Apostolic Evangelism #2)

The book of Acts has often been described as “The Acts of the Apostles,” “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” or “The Acts of the Risen Christ Through His Body.” These are all apt descriptions, but we could propose another title that would also apply: “The Acts of Praying Christians.”

Luke, the author of both Acts and the Gospel of Luke, had a special appreciation for the necessity of prayer. In his Gospel, Luke provides details about Jesus’ prayer life that are left out of the other Gospels. Here are some examples:

Open Heavens: “When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and WHILE HE PRAYED, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, ‘You are Mt beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.'” (Luke 3:21-22)

Power to Preach, Heal, and Set Captives Free: Luke records that immediately after Jesus prayed and fasted for 40 days, He “RETURNED IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT TO GALILEE…” (Luke 4:14). Then Jesus went into the synagogue at Nazareth and read the Messianic passage from the book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of The Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has send Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of The Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Again: “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and PRAYED…And the power of The Lord was present to heal them.” (Luke 5:16-17)

Guidance: “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to PRAY, and CONTINUED ALL NIGHT IN PRAYER to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also names apostles.” (Luke 6:12-13)

Revelation: “And it happened aas He was ALONE PRAYING, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ So they answered and said, ‘John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said, ‘The Christ of God.'” (Luke 9:18-20)

Matthew adds: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.'” (Matthew 16:17)

Transformation: “Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John and James and went up on the mountain to PRAY. And as He PRAYED, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.” (Luke 9:28-29)

The good news is that Jesus did not model this remarkable prayer life to show that He was the Messiah – He prayed as an example for us to follow. If we pray as He prayed, we can expect many of the same results.

THE HEAVENS WILL OPEN AND WE WILL HEAR THE FATHER’S VOICE, affirming His love for us and confirming our identity as He sons and daughters. The voice may not be audible, but it will penetrate our hearts nonetheless.

WE WIL LSEE A GREATER RELEASE OF THE LORD’S POWER to preach (share), heal the sick, and set people free from demonic bondage.

THE LORD WILL GIVE HIS DIRECTION on the important decisions of our life.

WE WILL RECEIVE A HIGHER LEVEL OF REVELATION, and through our prayers the Holy Spirit will reveal more of Christ to us and will prepare the hearts of others who do not know Him to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that we will be increasingly TRANSFORMED INTO THE IMAGE OF CHRIST as we pray and behold Him with unveiled faces.

Have you prayed today?

Prayed The Price (Apostolic Evangelism #1)

After the disciples had witnessed the amazing impact of Jesus’ prayer life, they were naturally curious about how they could have the same power in their own lives. They accordingly approached Jesus one day as He was concluding a time of prayer: “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of Hid disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.'” (Luke 11:1)

There are many other questions that the disciples could have asked: “Lord, teach us to share the Gospel,” or “Teach us to heal the sick,” or “Teach us to cast out demons.'” But there is no record of these questions ever being asked. Why not? Maybe because the disciples could see that Jesus’ prayer life was the secret to everything else He did.

If someone followed you around for a week or two, would they end up saying, “Wow, your prayer life is so awesome! Please teach me how to pray like that!” Unfortunately, many of us do not have a prayer life that would provoke anyone to envy. We want to do the supernatural works of Jesus, but we haven’t yet “prayed the price.”

As E.M. Bounds once pointed out, “The little estimate we put on prayer is evident from the little time we give to it.” Can’t we see from the life of Jesus how important prayer is to a fruitful Christian life?

Those in the early Church seemed to have a clear understanding of the necessity of prayer in fulfilling their mission to reach the ends of the earth with the Gospel. What was the first thing they did after Jesus commissioned them and ascended into heaven? They gave themselves to fervent prayer: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” (Acts 1:14)

In response to their prayers, the Holy Spirit was dramatically poured out on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-5). After 3,000 were saved that day, we are told they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42). In Acts, chapter three, Peter and John were on their way to pray in the temple, and ended up healing a lame man. This resulted in an opportunity to preach to the amazed crowd that gathered because of the miracle.

Peter and John were arrested for their preaching after the lame man was healed- the Church prayed. When they were released the rallied the Church to pray all the more for opportunities to spread the Gospel. God answered their prayers in a rather spectacular way: “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)

We can see how prayer was the foundation for apostolic evangelism in the Church. Their witnessing was the product of more than a new church program or thew zeal of a few. The CHurch didn’t grow because of polished preached and dazzling buildings. Rather, their secret (not a well kept one either) was their zealous prayer.

The “Pastor” and “Teacher”

If you didn’t read yesterday’s blog – the “2/5’s of the Body” – it would be a good idea to read it first.

In Ephesians 4:11-15 we read of the five-fold ministry of Jesus being given as gifts to individuals so that, as they worked together, the whole ministry of Jesus would be represented and the Body of Christ would be whole and wholesome.

As we read yesterday the Body of Christ, the Church, is deformed and unable to walk in health today because we have generally been functioning with only the ministry of pastor (priest) and teacher. We have ignored or theologically removed the need for the ministry of apostles, prophets, and evangelists and thus function with only 2/5ths of the ministry of Jesus actively available today. This needs to change and I believe it is in many places in the world today. There is a hunger for the fullness of Christ as represented by the full five-fold ministry gifts given by Jesus to His Church.

These five ministries that represent the fullness of the ministry of Jesus are trans-local ministries working together to encourage and equip the Church that Jesus is building. Although each person in the five-fold ministry team should be a member and active in a local church their ministry is regional, national, or global. They are not just ministering locally but minister in a wide range of churches and in a wide geographical area. Thus their ministry is trans-local.

I have noticed, however, that people hear what they want to hear or are use to hearing. When I teach on the five-fold ministry and state: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher – people think apostle (five-fold, equipping, and trans-local), prophet (five-fold, equipping, and trans-local), evangelist (five-fold, equipping and trans-local), pastor (local and doing the ministry), teacher (local and doing the ministry). In other words, as this list is read and considered the brain automatically registers what we see and know regarding life in the church – the words ‘pastor’ and ‘teacher’ automatically brings to mind the leader of a local church – the pastor who teaches.

This is not what is meant in Ephesians 4:11-12. The ‘pastor’ is one who is also trans-local as he is a member of this trans-local equipping team. The ‘teacher’ is also trans-local as a member of this trans-local equipping team. The current ‘local pastor’ model of church leadership is simply not biblical. And the combining of the role of ‘pastor’ and ‘teacher’ as some do (reading this pastor-teacher and thus a four-fold ministry) is also seriously incorrect. So, when this list is read we need to see all five of these ministries and roles as trans-local and not equate the last two to something familiar and non-biblical in the church today.

I understand this might be considered by some as radical but I believe it is biblical. And, that we need to remove the traditional and religious interpretation of these two very important five-fold, trans-local ministry roles. Otherwise, the Church will never reach the fullness of Christ and become a mature Church as Ephesians 4 states we must.

News of my current apostolic trip to Armenia can be found on Ralph Howe Ministries Facebook page