Anywhere, God. Anytime. Whatever You Want?

I believe it is time to change the way we pray. 

Most of our prayer are self-centered and self-focused requests. You know. You have prayed them too. Prayers like, “Do this for me, God. Help me, Lord.” We often have this ‘shopping list’ of prayer requests that we take before God and repeat day-after-day and week-after-week. We often sound like a broken record, I am sure. But we continue to pray in this manner in spite of the Lord’s comment that we are not to constantly repeat ourselves like the pagans.

Matthew 6:7 “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”

I believe we need to turn things around and begin to pray Christ-centered prayers. Gospel-powered prayers. God-glorifying prayers. Where we tell God that we are willing to do whatever He asks of us and go wherever He might send us. It starts with us saying, “Anywhere, God. Anytime., Whatever you want. I’m yours. I’m available.”

When I was born again I remember waking up the next morning and telling God that no matter what He asked me to do or where He asked me to go the answer would always be “yes.” In other words, even before I knew the question or the request, He could count on me to say “yes” to whatever He asked me to do. I believe this is basic and foundational to all that I have had to honour to do for Him and all the places I have been to speak and minister.

In reality, we need to recognize that He is God and we are not. He is the Leader and we are not. So, when we go to spend time with Him we need to listen before we speak. Let Him speak first. In other words, learn to listen. Then after He has spoken we respond to what He has said. We “pray” in line with what we have heard. In this way we are praying His will and not ours. We are working with His plan and purpose and not asking Him to bless our plans. We are praying according to His Word and His will. And, when we do that, we are promised that He hears us and answers our prayers. Of course He does, He initiated the conversation and brought up the topic.

1 John 5:14-15 “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

If this is true and we let Him initiate and thus we are responding … then there should be no such thing as unanswered prayer. 

If this is true then there would be no such thing as bored believers.

If this is true then all believers should be engaged in ministry and walking in the center of God’s will for their day and even for their life.

If this is true then the Christian faith should be the greatest adventure any human being could ever desire to be on. It should be fun (Yes, I said ‘fun’) and challenging.

If this is true then we should be touching lives for Jesus on a daily basis and seeing His power transform not only individuals but communities and our society.

If this is true then prayer in itself should be exciting and always alive, electric, life-giving, dynamic, powerful, and fun. Yes, even fun!

So, I believe that for many disciples it is time to change the way we pray. 

We should learn to sit down shut up, and listen. And, when God speaks  – and believe me Hie will – we can then respond to what He has spoken. Then as we pray in line with what He has revealed we can become involved in seeing His plans and purposes for the day come to pass. 

Now, tell me that won’t be exciting. 

Not Exactly the Avengers

In spite of the fact that I travel internationally and minister to individuals and large crowds; regular believers and leaders; non-Christians and people of many faiths … I often feel inadequate or unqualified. When that happens I remember that God called Moses, a murderer. And that He called David, an adulterer. And Rahab, a prostitute. Not only did God call people who did really bad things, but He also called unusual, insecure, and inconsistent people.

Just consider some of God’s chosen messengers, ministers, prophets, and leaders. There’s Noah, who got drunk; Isaac, who was a daydreamer; Joseph, who was abandoned; and Gideon, who was afraid. There’s Jeremiah, who was too young, and Abraham, who was too old. Elijah, who battled depression. Naomi, who became bitter. Martha, who was a worrywart. And John the Baptist, who ate bugs.

Not exactly the Avengers, these folks. A far cry from any collection of super-saints. But still God called the and used them even though they were far from perfect.

God has not changed. The same God who called imperfect people still does. Now He’s calling you. Inviting you, nudging you, pulling you. God’s call prompts you to live beyond yourself,, to not just be about your own comfort but to completely surrender to His call and bidding. To go. To serve. To build. To love. To fight. To pray. To give. To lead. 

So how do you respond when God calls you? In the Old Testament we see at least three different responses. 

1> The prophet Jonah represents one of the most common responses: “Here I am, Lord, but I’n not going.”

When the God of the universe saw a need in the city of Nineveh, He chose Jonah to go preach to the sinful and rebellious people there. Now Jonah had the gifts. He had the power. He had the ability. The problem is that he didn’t have the availability. Jonah wasn’t willing and flat-out told God, “No.” And please understand, when God spoke, his assignment was clear: “Go to the city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me.” (Jonah 1:2)

Jonah could have said, “Yes, anything for You, God. You are my Lord, and I will do what you ask.” But that didn’t happen. Instead of a willing heart, Jonah balked. He didn’t just hesitate or make excuses; he ran away from God (see Jonah 1:3). And I have to wonder, did Jonah really think he could go far enough away? Or was it just a case of cultivating moment-by-moment denial to avoid the truth and the call of God on his life? Putting your head in the sand, or in Jonah’s case, in the belly of a big fish. Trying to pretend – hoping – that God will just go away. Or change His mind about what He’s called you to do.

Have you ever responded this way?

2> The leader Moses also responded as some of us do still today

The second response to God’s call may not be as outwardly rebellious, but it’s just as dangerous to our spiritual health. When God saw the oppressive power of Pharaoh to God’s chosen people, He called Moses. God said, “So now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring My people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10). Couldn’t be clearer, right? God said, “I’m sending you! Now go! Out of all the people alive today, you’re the one I selected. You’re the one I called. You have what it takes. I’m sending you.”

But Moses has a different response than Jonah. Instead of living in the confidence of God’s calling, Moses was buried in his own insecurities. When God called His chosen vessel, Moses respond, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? (Exodus 3:11). Then Moses quickly told God all the reasons that he wasn’t the right person. “I’m not a good speaker. I stutter. I’m not good enough. Someone else would be way better than me.”

We still do this today.  When God prompts us to do something, we’re tempted to tell Him all the reasons we aren’t His best person for the task. We don’t know enough. We aren’t talented enough. We aren’t good enough. There are so many others better qualified for this than us. “Here I am, God but send someone else.”

3> The third response is, “Here am I, send me.”

This third response is the one that God wants to hear from us. This one isn’t just a statement to God, it is a prayer from the heart. It’s dangerous. It’s not a safe, benign, or self-centered prayer. This prayer requires great faith. It’s risky because it will almost always move you to action. It will probably lead you to do something that may not seem natural or easy. It will cause you to step out of your comfort zone.

Isaiah prayed such a prayer of unreserved availability in the presence of God. The Old Testament prophet retells of his encounter with the Holy One when God asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8a) And without knowing the details, without knowing when or where, Isaiah prayer this stunning, life-altering prayer: “Here am I. Send me” (Isaiah 6:8b).

Isaiah was not a super-saint nor a member of an earlier Avengers team. He was just an ordinary person willing to give his all to God. 

Where do you stand today? As a Jonah? As a Moses? Or as a Isaiah?

God Is So Good

In all the years that I have known, worshipped, and served the living God He has been faithful and totally trustworthy. And, this morning I was simply reflecting on that fact. It is not just some theory or theology that I believe. It is a fact. God is faithful and trustworthy. Or, as the chorus believers sing states: “God is so good and He is good all the time.”

Here are my thoughts for the day. When we see how good God is, we become acutely aware of how good we are not. His holiness reveals our sinfulness. This is what happened to Isaiah, and this is what happens to us in God’s presence. (See Isaiah 6:1-5)

When the prophet saw the glory of God, he didn’t cry out, “I am amazing. I’m holy and perfect like God.” No, Isaiah recognized the depths of his own depravity and shouted, “Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

Isaiah didn’t just say, “I messed up. I did a few bad things.” He cried from a heart of despair, “Woe to me!” The awareness of the depths of his sin brought sadness, remorse, grief, and a spirit of sincere repentance. In God’s presence, Isaiah said, “I’m ruined.” Another version translates the original Hebrew text as “I’m undone.”

In a similar response, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look upon God (Exodus 3:6). Job said he despised or abhorred himself when he saw the power of God (Job 42:6). Peter fell facedown at the Lord’s feet and told Jesus to depart from him because of his sinfulness (Luke 5:8). None of us are any better than Moses, Job, or Peter. And some of us even had similar experiences when we prayed to God for salvation. Even if you didn’t fall facedown, giving your life to Jesus begins with an awareness of your need for salvation from sin.

But why do we need to recognize our sin? Can’t we just start following Jesus and move on? What’s the big deal about looking at how selfish and rebellious we are? Because until we see ourselves as sinners, we’ll never fully understand Jesus as the Saviour. 

For years, I tried to rationalize my own sinfulness, even after I became a follower of God. After all, I knew people who were way worse than I was. I never murdered anyone. I wasn’t a gang member or an abuser. But when I started my journey of coming to know – really know – God … crying out to God and getting to really know who He was and is. When I started asking the Holy Spirit to bring revelation to my heart and mind – revealing the One True God to me and removing all religious understanding and ideas of God … Wow! My self-confidence grew into self-awareness. God is righteous. I’m unrighteous. God is full of glory. I’m full of myself. I had to face the brutal truth about my selfishness. I was selfish. I often told lies, and occasionally I took things that were not mine. I envied others, lusted, and wanted the shiny things this world offered.

But when you really come to know the One True God – the Living God – who was fully revealed in Jesus then we come to see and know our true self. When we see God for who He really is it changes everything. Isiah saw it. Maybe you will too. When the angelic beings sang of the holiness of God, Isaiah knew his own lips were sinful and unclean. We see our sinfulness in full only when we embrace God’s holiness. As long as we compare ourselves with other people, we can deceive ourselves that we are not bad. But when we compare ourselves to God, we see just how unrighteous we truly are. Like Isaiah, as I experienced the presence of God, I became truly aware of the depth of my sin. This awareness then led me to a fuller understanding of God’s amazing grace.

Fascinating Insights

 The Word of God is active and alive (Hebrews 4:12) and ministers to us as we read it. The Holy Spirit brings fresh insights and new understanding to familiar verses as we faithfully read the Word every day. Recently I have been noting things as I read. Things that I had never noticed or thought about before. Fresh understanding. New insights.

Example: Jesus chose faith over family. Jesus puts allegiance to His blood above allegiance to familial blood. We, of course, see this in the following Scriptures:

Matthew 10:34-39 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Then I was reading the story of Jesus’s crucifixion and made a link to these well known verses quoted above.

The most poignant picture of Jesus Himself choosing faith over family was when He hung on the cross and told John, His disciple, rather than James, His half brother, to take care of Mary His mother. Roman Catholics believe that James was Jesus’ cousin instead of half brother, but the principle is still the same: Jesus chooses the faithful disciple over the nearest blood relative to take care of His mother. John 7:5 paints James as an unbeliever during Jesus’ lifetime, something that changed radically when Jesus visited James following the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). Jude, another half brother (or cousin), also became a believer and wrote a letter in the New Testament that bears his name. So there were at least two male near relatives that Jesus could have charged to care for His widowed mother. Instead, Jesus chose a man of faith over a blood relative.

We live in an era in the Church where family loyalty Is sometimes presented as the highest loyalty, but that doesn’t square with either Jesus’ teaching or practice. 

Luke 14:26-27 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

The word “hate” here is a comparison word. It doesn’t mean you emotionally hate (bear ill will towards) your relatives. It means that in comparison to your loyalty to Jesus, someone watching you would see that there’s not even a contest. Your love for Jesus and commitment to His work are so strong that no one, not even your closest relative, can pull you away from your true allegiance. You are going to go with Jesus every time. 

When Jesus was out ministering, He didn’t allow family drama to distract Him. On one occasion, He is interrupted by a family visit and seems almost harsh in his indifference. It’s not that Jesus is apathetic toward His family; it’s that He is passionate about His mission:

“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

Another way of looking at this is that Jesus valued spending time with the “reliable people” —His followers, eager disciples, and earnest listeners — over blood relatives, some of whom (prior to His resurrection) seemed to have doubts. And who knows? Perhaps Jesus’ willingness to walk away from His family while they resisted Him opened the door to their walking towards Him following the resurrection.

Our closest ties aren’t to our blood family; they’re to our faith family — those who do “the will of My Father in heaven.” If those are the true brothers and sisters of Jesus, they must become our closest siblings as well. This means that if our blood relatives are not believers we will be closer to our faith family members while still loving – not hating – our original family members.  

Just a fresh insight from my walk with the Word!

Heroes and Villains

Guest Blogger – Bill Lewis, Apostle
In life we like to reduce things to a simple dime store novel filled with villains and heroes. We want the cowboy western with white hats and black hats. We like a predictable ending as in a Hallmark movie. We want the hero to win, ride off into the sunset, or kiss the girl and live happily ever after.  Life is not quite that simple. I wish it were, but it is not.

A speaker I was listening to recently said that change is a part of progress. Every entity has to change to stay current. Every business has to refresh itself, change the menu, re-decorate, do something to attract attention and customer loyalty.

In the kingdom of God, the kingdom is eternal. It moves and changes in forms, but the core message remains the same. Churches come and go. If you look at the pages of the New Testament and list the churches mentioned, you would be hard pressed to find them today. They vanished centuries ago. Yet, the kingdom of God is flourishing throughout the earth. God moves constantly to reach lost humanity. Humans change their cultures and habits; yet their core issues remain the same. How to address the changing cultures is the kingdom’s ability to adapt and keep the message addressing the age old issues of humans.

People, however, do not like change. They want to find something familiar and stick with it till they die. When I started out, planting a church in a rural, bedroom community, I had only two people who were over 50. The church was made up of young families and singles. This couple was just retired, 65, mail carrier and school teacher. However, they were into the current move of God. Change did not bother them; they were ready to be on the cutting edge of what God was doing. Maybe they were visionaries as well. They supported us all the way.

We live at a crossroads in some ways. God is raising up all kinds of new churches, some small and some rapidly growing larger ones. We live at a time when denominationalism is dying and many independent, or networked churches are flourishing. However, the kingdom of God is strong and growing.

Going back to my novel analogy, the churches that are closing, ceasing to exist, are not attended by unbelievers, but good people who have struggled with change. These churches have held on to the move of God they enjoyed when younger. There is usually a commonality in all these situations, the young people are missing. Somehow there was a disconnect between the older members and their ability to attract and retain younger people. Just as when we planted a church, it was all young people except for the one couple. Today, it is all older people except for a handful of young in most situations.

We may ask, “What is it?” Style, music, decor, language? Is it as simple as young draw young and old draw old?

I strongly believe there is an issue that is common and it is not the above. I strongly believe that the issue is the lack of inclusion and opportunity for younger people to engage, participate, and move into leadership positions. I have been to churches, and attend one now, that is trans-generational. There is a large group of young people and many interspersed into leadership and there is a good number of people of all ages worshipping and serving. Churches can serve and prosper with all ages being represented.

As churches age, they usually keep raising the bar for anyone to come into leadership. More rules, longer wait periods, limited opportunities are common in churches that are just surviving. One international leader I know, puts young people and new converts into roles of service as fast as she can. Her church is packed with young people. I also have known churches that have hard fast rules that no one can do anything until they sit for months or years. There are reasons everyone has for the various approaches, but the first engages and draws young people.

I know a church I worked with that was filled with young families and some great potential leaders. I was excited for that church. I came back a few years later and they were all gone. I asked what happened and found that all opportunities had been shut off to them. They are now leaders in other churches. What a missed opportunity!

Paul, the apostle, constantly encouraged his team to find young people and entrust them with the gospel. It was preparing the next generation.

In this book of life the villain is really complacency fueled by fear and lack of adaptation. Its symptoms include no change, keep the status quo, remember the good old days, and make little or no room for the next generation.

A good read along these lines is Kevin Gerald’s book, Naked and Unafraid which just came out.

The hero in all this is Jesus. He is able to reach every generation and keeps his kingdom growing. While some camps of his are shut down or absorbed into other camps, his kingdom adapts and keeps the message and the hope alive to every generation and culture.