Prayer and Evangelism – Keys to Expanding the Kingdom

11935448-old-keys-on-a-wooden-table-close-up-stock-photoI wrote this article several weeks ago for Take the City, an outreach ministry I have had the privilege of being a part of from its inception. It was birthed, in part,  from the house of prayer, and continues to grow through its commitment to prayer and evangelism.

Reinhard Bonnke, the well known German-born evangelist once said, “…evangelism without prayer is like an explosive without a detonator, and prayer without evangelism is like a detonator without an explosive. We need both.” Indeed, this goes along with what Jesus taught His disciples.

The ninth chapter of Matthew was likely a typical day in the life of Jesus. He healed a paralyzed man, confronted some religious leaders, raised a young girl from the dead, healed a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and two blind men, and delivered a demonized man who was mute. Matthew said in verse 35, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” Then in verses 36-38, he records, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.’”

Jesus could only help so many people, being that He was just one person during His earthly life. The works He did revealed to His disciples the Father’s heart. They, too, saw the needy crowds and probably felt overwhelmed by it all. At just the precise moment, He let them in on a secret that would make it possible for more to be ministered to. I can almost imagine what they were thinking – “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” Seriously, though, it is clear from this story that prayer and evangelism must go together. He then sent them out, making them the answer to that prayer. (see Matt. 10)

When we spend time in prayer, especially extended times of prayer, we will feel what the Father feels for those who do not know Him, and His longing to have them as His own. We will encounter those who are lost, weary, wounded, broken, and outcast, and we will feel His compassion towards them. You cannot spend time in extended prayer and not feel compelled to reach out to these ones. Jesus felt it in the above passage, and if He lives in us, we will too. Prayer, therefore, fuels missions. It is the catalyst that will cause us to leave our prayer closets in search of the lost sheep.

As we reach out to these needy ones, it will quickly become apparent that apart from His help and power, we can do nothing. We can easily become overwhelmed when faced with multitudes of seemingly insurmountable problems. It can take a toll on us, physically, emotionally, and spiritually if we do not have consistent times of prayer to be refilled. If Jesus took time away from the crowds to be with His Father, how much more should we? Dealing with people in desperate situations like drug abuse, prostitution, poverty, sickness, and demonic bondage is heartbreaking. Times like these will drive us to our knees in prayer.

Attempting to evangelize the lost without the compassion of Jesus is simply a religious exercise. For too long, the Church has emphasized evangelism, but lacked teaching on the necessity of intimacy with God. The second Great Commandment – “Love your neighbor as yourself,” has been placed before the first one, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Putting them in the proper order joins prayer and evangelism. Prayer produces intimacy, which produces love for God and compassion. Love for God engenders love for people and empowers us to go out, be His witnesses, and make more disciples. The more we pray, the more we will want to reach out, and the more we reach out, the more we will pray for God’s power and provision in sending more laborers. We cannot afford to separate the two if we truly want to expand His kingdom.

Characteristics of Great Leaders

12107733Being a leader isn’t easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest challenges we face as flawed and frail human beings. Perhaps that is one reason we have lacked good leaders in the recent past. It is all but guaranteed when leaders fail, most everyone knows about it. But true leaders carry an integrity and character about them that they do not fear failing. They are confident in their abilities, for the most part, and willing to take responsibility for their mistakes. They walk in truth and have nothing to hide. They do not seek to blame shift nor discredit those they lead, even when they may have a right to. Great leaders seek to build up those they lead. Through their honesty and integrity, they inspire others to want to be great.

It has been said that great leaders do not create followers, they create leaders. As a leader, you will lead by example, whether that example is good or bad. The Apostle Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Those that influence you will also influence those you lead. This is the law of reproduction – you will reproduce who you are, not who you say you are. Good leaders don’t fear or become jealous if those they lead excel them, in fact, they encourage them to do so! They want their ceiling to be the floor for those around them. Leaders want to see their people succeed in their calling and destiny. They get excited to see others grow and develop in their gifts and skills, and give them real opportunities to do so.

It is important that leaders create a culture of freedom, where those they lead are free to be themselves, warts and all. They should not try to force conformity to a certain style, behavior, or message. Instead, they seek to draw out the diversity that will encourage authenticity, and the unique giftings each person possesses. They are unafraid to be vulnerable in front of their people. By sharing their own struggles, they give permission for others to do the same. This facilitates a place of safety, love, and nurturing that draws others in and brings healing and freedom.

If you are a leader, it’s important to remember it’s not about you. Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, said He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. He is always our model for all of life. Leaders should be the best servants. They do not ask their people to do what they are unwilling to do themselves. They are the first to do, the first to give, the first to lay down their lives for the ones coming behind them.

Jesus never sought the limelight. He lived a life of humility, the likes of which have never been seen before or since. He never sought a platform. Yet others were drawn to Him and sensed the unprecedented authority He walked in. His authority was rooted in His intimacy with the Father. The same is true for all leaders. We have no authority except that which has been given to us by God. The deeper our intimacy with the Father, the greater our authority will be because He can trust us to use it wisely.

All leaders make mistakes; they are human after all. But there are some characteristics and signs you want to pay attention to that may determine if a leader is worthy of following. Here are just a few to consider:

• Insecure and jealous of those more gifted than them.

• Seek to be served and act as if they are better than those around them.

• Controlling, want to be in charge of everything, and do not give others opportunites to    grow, develop, and use their giftings and skills.

• Refuse to do things they ask their people to do, especially menial tasks.

• Boastful of how God uses them, prideful, or always talking about themselves.

• Never share their own personal struggles or they attempt to maintain a certain  appearance.

• Blame others for their own failures or mistakes and refuse to take responsibility or make  restitution when needed.

• Insist on doing their own thing and do not make an effort to work with others in the  community.

• Refuse to listen and take heed to others’ complaints, suggestions, ideas, and concerns.

These are just a few examples; hopefully, you get the point. It is important to choose our leaders wisely, but even more important to pray for them regularly. Those who lead carry a greater weight of responsibility and accountability before God. They are deserving and in need of our prayers and support.

 

 

Costly Consequences of the Church’s Identity Crisis

id-crisis-churchI read a deeply disturbing article online yesterday about a small, but growing segment of society that has come to be known as “transabled.” According to the article, these people seem to feel they do not “fit” in a healthy, whole body. Instead, they long to be disabled in some way. So much so, that they will injure themselves in order to accomplish that desire. I don’t know that I’ve heard anything so bizarre in my life, though there has definitely been an increase in bizarre behavior these days. We have heard much about the transgender people who feel they were born the wrong gender, and some who go so far as to say they feel they should have been born as an animal instead of a human. As I was pondering these things yesterday, trying to make some sense of them, trying to understand what the root of these issues is, it became clear it had to do with identity.

It seems to me that the whole world is struggling with identity. This thought led me to consider the Church, for I have heard it said many times, “As the Church goes, so goes the world (or nation).” It is clear in Scripture that God ordained the Church to be the change agent of the world. We are the light of the world, the salt of the earth. We are the ones who are to make Jesus known to the lost, to carry on the mission He began over 2,000 years ago. That was His commandment in the Great Commission. In some ways, we have done well, but in others, not so much. Over the past several years, the Church seems to be having her own identity crisis.

Our nation is more divided now than perhaps ever in her history. The same can be said about the Church. Not only do we have myriads of denominations, but we have added labels to those as well. Progressive, conservative, fundamentalist, traditionalist, liberal, and so on. We are indeed a sadly fragmented body. And the world sees and knows it, at least to some degree, by our words and actions. One of the biggest problems, as I see it, is that we have strayed from the foundation of the Word. We have embraced the interpretations of men rather than the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We have gathered teachers who tell us what we want to hear – Paul called it, the tickling of the ears – rather than the truth, in love. In the name of political correctness, we have become tolerant of that which God hated so much, He took it upon Himself at the cross.

When those who claim to follow Christ embrace the practices of abortion, homosexuality, pornography, adultery, and other such behaviors, we have clearly departed from the commandments of God. Whether we commit such behaviors ourselves, or we endorse leaders, both in the Church and in our govenment that do, we are nonetheless condoning that which God has condemned. He condemns the sin, not those who are trapped in bondage to it. The consequences of our choices, I believe, have greatly contributed to the chaos we are now living in. In many ways, sadly, the world has become a reflection of those who are called to a counter-cultural way of life.

Thankfully, because of the blood of Christ that was shed for our sin, we still have hope. No person, people group, or nation can wander so far that His blood cannot reach, redeem, and restore. Only the Spirit of God can heal and unify His fragmented body so that we can be the salt and light we are destined to become. Only the love of the Bridegroom can woo a spiritually adulterous bride to totally surrender her heart and affection to Him. Only our loving heavenly Father can conform us to our true identity.

He has given us incredible power and authority to see the changes we are longing for come to pass – it is called prayer. We have no excuse if we fail to use it. The consequences of our identity crisis are becoming ever more costly. We can blame and point the finger at everyone else if we want, but He has given the earth to us. (Ps. 115:16) It is our great privilege and responsibility to properly steward all that He has given to us. He is always there to help us, if we are simply willing.

 

 

 

4 Keys to Prepare Our Hearts for the Coming Days

As a believer, if you pay much attention at all to current events in recent years, it is 4keyseasy to see that the world we live in is rapidly changing. Every day it seems, there is another headline about Christians being martyred, children being abducted and sold into sex trafficking, racial riots, celebrities changing their gender, and others. It is as if we are living in the days of Isaiah 60:2, See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,…” It can be hard, at times, to stay focused on the Lord and His promises as we watch so many sliding deeper and deeper into depravity. 

Even the Church is becoming more divided over basic biblical truths such as the institution of marriage, denying the reality of sin, hell, and eternal judgment, and claiming that all are already saved without the need for repentance. Certainly, all is not lost, nor is the Church doomed to fail, but we must be aware of the signs of the times in which we live. In fact, Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day for being unable to discern the signs of the times unfolding before their eyes, saying, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” (Matt. 16:3b)

The danger in not being familiar with the signs of the times we live in is that we will be unprepared to face the difficulties, and take advantage of the opportunities that the signs are foretelling, when the time of their fulfillment comes. We could possibly be among those Jesus prophesied would fall away (Matt. 24:10-11). Many people, including believers, choose to turn a blind eye and not think about what could happen. Others give in to fear and self-preservation by stockpiling food, water and other material goods, hoping to somehow avoid any coming crisis. Still others are counting on being raptured away before the real troubles begin. Do any of these choices reflect the nature of Jesus?

I believe the best thing we can do to prepare ourselves for increasing difficulties is to spend time preparing our hearts. By that I mean, spending both quality and quantity time in the Lord’s presence, meditating upon His Word. The more we do this, the greater our faith will become, enabling us to stand no matter what comes against us. We also need to seek inner healing and deliverance in order to recapture any legal ground the enemy has to attack, torment, and deceive us. It also helps break lies we’ve believed about God, ourselves, and others so we can have healthier relationships. We need to be a part of a life-giving community, whether traditional church or small group, with people we know and trust. We are called a body because we need each other. We need to spend time in worship and prayer, not just at weekly meetings, but in our homes every day. Worship and prayer help us refocus on how big and awesome our God is, taking our focus off of our situations or the latest world crisis. Whatever we focus on grows.

I’m sure there are other ways, but these are a great place to start preparing your heart. Each of these require time, and time is short. We can’t afford to put off or wait until we feel like it to begin this critical preparation. Step out in faith, and trust the Lord to meet you and help you; it will be worth it!        

The Dilemma of Unanswered Prayer

If you’ve been a believer in Jesus for very long, no doubt you’ve experienced thewoman-praying dilemma of unanswered prayer. I believe no one is exempt from it. Yet many turn away from God because of it. In my daily conversations with Him, the topic often comes up. I’m always the one that brings it up, of course. I have been walking through a season of unanswered prayer that has lasted many years. Those of you who know me, know I have had ongoing health issues for over twenty years. I have had more people pray for me than I can possibly remember – even people that are well known for their healing anointing on an international level.

As an intercessor, I strongly believe in the power of prayer. I direct a healing ministry that has seen many, many healings and miracles over the past eight years. I have personally prayed for people and seen them get healed. I even pray over myself every day. I believe it is God’s will for everyone to be healed (1 Peter 2:24), just as it is His will for everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). But everyone doesn’t get saved, and likewise, not everyone gets healed. There are many reasons for this, too many to mention in this short article.

So how do we respond in the face of unanswered prayers? Here is how I choose to respond:

1. I believe God’s Word is true and He cannot lie. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t. I refuse to give up believing and pressing in for my healing.

2. I believe God promises to work all things together for my good. (Rom. 8:28) Though the enemy is the one who brings sickness and infirmity, God’s plans for me are bigger and greater than any plans the enemy may have. He has already brought much good through this trial – I am growing in my faith; I have greater compassion for the sick and suffering; I have drawn closer to God because of my great need for Him; I am growing in patience; and these are just a few!

3. When other believers say or imply things like, “You don’t have enough faith,” or, “You must have sin in your life,” (which are things we are often taught and can, at times, be true) I have had the opportunity to exercise grace and forgiveness, and to go before the Lord to see if what they are saying is true. Twenty years gives one abundant time to do a lot of soul searching!

4. I am learning the art of waiting on God. For more on what this means, see my article, The Crucible of Waiting Upon God. God’s ways and timing are not like ours. He is more interested in the process than in the final destination. For Him, it is always about relationship, not our personal comfort. He is always good, so when He allows pain to touch our lives, His purposes for doing so are always redemptive. When we don’t understand His ways, we can always trust His nature and character.

5. While I am in this season of waiting, I am learning the importance of taking better care of my body. It’s sad, but so often true, that we take our good health for granted, until we lose it. I am finding natural alternatives to help heal and restore my body that have helped tremendously. I am also learning to eat healthier. There is so much sickness that can be prevented just by changing our diets.

6. I continue to pray for others to be healed. It doesn’t make sense that He wouldn’t want us to have what He has already paid for. As I see many of these prayers answered, it stirs my faith anew to continue to stand firm and believe for my own.

7. I often think about the testimony I will be able to share when my healing is complete. I believe that testimony will encourage and empower many others who have been waiting for years to receive their own healing. What a glorious day that will be!

If you’re walking through a season of unanswered prayer, how are you choosing to respond?

Peace that Surpasses Understanding

Don’t worry about anything; on the contrary, make your requests known to God by secret gardenprayer and petition, with thanksgiving. Then God’s shalom, passing all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with the Messiah Yeshua. – Philippians 4:6-7

Shalom is total well-being and wholeness; spirit, soul, and body – something that can only come from God. It is who and what He is; His nature and His character. He is the Prince of Peace/Shalom. There is absolutely NO discord within Him. This same shalom is available to all God’s children. The key is prayer with thanksgiving. Paul doesn’t say God will immediately answer every prayer, however; or that He will answer in the way that we hope He will.

The word translated “passing” can also be translated as, “superior; to excel; better than; to be above; to stand out.” When we bring our requests and concerns to God with thanksgiving, the shalom, or peace He gives, is superior to understanding. So often, we want to understand what He is doing, or why He is allowing certain things to happen, or why He hasn’t answered our prayers yet. When we experience His surpassing peace, we no longer need to understand. We resolve to trust Him because He is good. We rest in the truth that He always has our best interest at heart. He works ALL things together for our good, so we have nothing to fear. Being grateful, even in the midst of trials, is proof of our trust in Him and His leadership.

This peace keeps our hearts and minds safe in union with the Lord. The battle is not necessarily the trial we are in, but keeping our soul in union with God. Not giving in to fear, worry, doubt, unbelief, offense, etc. When our spirit stays in union with Holy Spirit, we are able to keep our soul in check. If we lose that union, our soul is unguarded and open to attack from the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Prayer and thanksgiving enable us to keep our spirit in union with God, for they help us to focus on Him rather than the trouble we’re facing. We face Him, not the trial. Staying in union with Him is our place of safety and refuge. It is the secret place found in the shadow of His wings, where the enemy cannot touch us, and we are dead to the world and the flesh.

Have you experienced this kind of peace? Share your comments below.

Praying Prayers That Always Get Answered

The past couple of weeks I’ve been writing on the subject of prayer. Today, I want to photo (2)consider another aspect I’ve come across in the last several years. I mentioned in a previous post that the only thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray. (If you didn’t see it, you can read it here.) He gave them a model that we call the Lord’s Prayer. It begins with, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10) I believe we’ve recited this so many times we don’t really stop to consider what we’re saying. Do we really know what God’s will is? What is it exactly that He wants done on earth? How can we find out what His will is, so we know what to pray?

I could go off on a rabbit trail here, because I’ve had more conversations than I can count with folks who ask these questions, — not about what His will is for earth, but rather for their own personal lives. If we struggle with discerning God’s will for our lives, how can we possibly understand what His will for the earth is? But that’s not the point of this article…just an observation.

We can know His will because it is written in His Word. One thing I love about the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (and others using similar models) is their emphasis on praying the Word. God gave us specific prayers to pray in His Word because He knew we would need help! There are many written by the apostles that we call Apostolic Prayers. Some examples are: Ephesians 1:17-19, 3:16-19; Colossians 1:9-12; Philippians 1:9-11; and many others. There are prayers in the Psalms and many of the Prophets as well. Then there are Jesus’ prayers such as Matthew 6:9-13 and John 17:1-26.

When we pray God’s Word back to Him, we pray according to His will. And when we do, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14-15) We can know without a doubt that God hears and answers prayers from His Word!

Praying from His Word also alleviates the possibility of “soulish” or “witchcraft” prayers. When we pray from our soul – our mind, will, and emotions – we pray according to what we think or feel, and truthfully, we don’t have a clue what is best!  I encountered this years ago in some of the prayer groups I participated in. Though I didn’t understand it at the time, I felt a strong resistance in my spirit that it wasn’t right. People often pray out of their fears, which come from the demonic realm. Praying out of one’s anger or wounding is also a form of soulish prayer. Praying what we want, rather than what God wants, is not prayer at all, but wishful thinking. These kinds of prayers not only go unanswered, but they can also open us up to demonic torment.

As I said last week, prayer is an awesome opportunity to partner with the God of all creation in seeing His perfect plans and purposes come to pass in the earth and in our lives. He has made it easy by giving us prayers to pray that will always get answered! I encourage and challenge you to join Him in what He is doing in the earth right now, for who knows if He has brought you into the Kingdom for such a time as this?