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.

Seasons of Blessing

A former pastor of mine once said, “Seasons of testing are always followed by seasons of Blessings-Glitters-2blessing.” After many years of walking with the Lord, I believe that is true. God is good and He loves to give good gifts to His children. If you’re a parent, you know the exhiliration of surprising your child with something they have desired, and watching the joy erupt on their face, the hugs and kisses they give, and the feelings of gratitude they share. There is nothing quite like it! How much more does our Heavenly Father love to do the same for us? I have no doubt He gets as much joy, if not more, than we do when He blesses us.

Obviously, we would love it if all we ever received from Him were blessings, or at least, so we think. I don’t know of anyone, especially me, that enjoys the trials and testings that make up so much of our lives. I’ve already written briefly on how important those times of difficulty are; if you didn’t read it, you can here.

Though I love the blessings of God, I’ve come to the conclusion that our seasons of blessing can be even more challenging than the times of testing. The reason I believe that is found in Scripture. One example is from Deuteronomy 7-8. In chapter 7, Moses and God remind the children of Israel of all the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon them and will continue to pour out upon them, if they will follow His laws and decrees. Then in chapter 8, He issues a sobering warning, beginning in verse 10, When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery… You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today. If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.” (8:10-20)

Though we’re no longer under the Law, it is true that blessings often distract us from our need for the Lord. It is easy to forget all that He has done for us, and that which He provides for us. Jesus said it was difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom. Wealth kept the rich young ruler from following Him, for he could not let his money go. The man whose vast riches inspired him to build bigger barns to store them in lost his life and his soul. In contrast, testings, when dealt with properly, will drive us closer to God. They bless us by reminding us how fragile we, and the things of this world, really are.

Blessings don’t have to destroy us or our relationship with God, however. When stewarded as they should be, they can be a means to bless others. In fact, God often does just that – He blesses us so that we, in turn, may bless others. Blessings can make us more grateful people. Our old nature is hopelessly selfish and greedy, never satisfied. When we meditate upon God’s goodness in seasons of blessings, we should be humbled and thankful that He doesn’t give us what we deserve. This, I believe, is one reason why God chooses to bless us. He is good, and His goodness is a facet of His splendor and glory. Lord, teach us to be grateful people and humble us through your extravagant goodness!

 

 

Seasons of Testing

722ef7429d5bef55b02631684d622cdcA while back, I wrote an article about the different seasons of life. If you didn’t read it, you can here. This morning, my thoughts led me to ponder these seasons a little more deeply. One in particular seemed fitting for the particular season I have been in – the season of testing. As is often the case, a conversation with a friend I haven’t talked to in a while provided the inspiration and hence, this article. After recounting the various trials I’ve been through in the past several months – having major surgery to remove my left hip and the long, painful road to recovery, learning to deal with the difficulties of being in a wheelchair most of the time, losing my dad suddenly and unexpectedly, plus the loss of my husband’s job – she asked me, “How is your faith holding up?”

There is no greater test of our faith than when we are in the midst of the fire. In fact, I have come to believe that you don’t really know where your faith level is at UNTIL it is being tested. Anyone can have faith when things are going smoothly, according to our plans. However, God wants much more from us than being comfortable, while claiming to have great faith. When God was commending Job to the devil, even the devil understood this when he said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have You not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out Your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face.” (Job 1:9-11) And we all know what happened next; Job was put to the test. 

So is God mean, or angry, does He enjoy watching us suffer? Every saint mentioned in the Bible underwent some form of testing, some more severe than others. It’s understandable why many who don’t believe use this as an excuse. “If God is good, then why do innocent people suffer?” they ask. I admit to wondering this at times, too. Especially when it comes to children. It is true that much suffering is a result of living in a fallen world, or because of our poor choices. But that’s not the point of this article. Why does God allow His beloved children, His chosen ones to go through such trials and testings, even when they have faithfully served Him? I have wrestled with this question for many years.

To understand God’s ways in our seasons of testing requires that we step back from the moment and take a good, hard look at the big picture. In other words, we must have an eternal perspective. As finite humans, we get confused when we focus in on our little world with all of its difficulties – the things that get in the way of us having or doing what we want. Financial lack, sickness, job losses, relational issues, etc., often consume us and turn our focus inward. We seek the quickest, easiest way to get out of the pain. When that doesn’t work, we cry, moan, and groan. We are not unlike the children of Israel wandering through the wilderness.

But God in His wisdom, allows what He could easily prevent in His power. He does this because He sees and knows the big picture, and what He is trying to accomplish in us. James had this revelation when he wrote, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the TESTING OF YOUR FAITH produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4, emphasis mine) There it is – the testing of your faith. Faith must be tested. Testing produces perseverance, endurance, patience. These characteristics, found within the nature of God, will bring us to maturity and perfection. In other words, God’s purpose in allowing seasons of testing is to make us more like Him. If we fail to understand that and resist the process, we only prolong the trials and suffering. Israel’s eleven day journey became forty years of wandering. 

God is not mean, angry, or vengeful. He does not enjoy seeing His people suffer. But like a good parent, He knows that we don’t know what is best for us. He understands how to raise us up into mature sons and daughters. Granted, it’s a painful process, as any parent would testify. It often hurts to discipline our children because we feel their pain. Even more so, does our heavenly Father. Though it may seem harsh at times, His goodness is seen as He walks with us through the fire, and doesn’t prolong it beyond what is absolutely necessary to accomplish His perfect will in us. Instead of praying to get out of the test, may He give us grace to cooperate with Him so we may pass the tests and move on to maturity!

 

The Purifying Process of Prophecy

Last week, I wrote on the power of prophecy to transform your life. If you missed it, you Bible on firecan read it here. I ended the article saying that one of the goals of prophecy is to prepare us to handle the responsibility of the promise God wants to give us, so that we won’t be destroyed by it. A great example is the story of Joseph, the favored son of Jacob. Before Joseph became second over of all of Egypt, and a type of Christ in how he lived a life of integrity and forgiveness, he needed some refining.

As the story goes, beginning in Genesis 37, Joseph was the first born son of Rachel, the only wife, we are told, that Jacob loved. His father unequivocally displayed his favoritism by making Joseph a richly ornamented robe. This, of course, provoked his brothers to jealousy and hatred. On top of that, Joseph was given two dreams from God that his family interpreted correctly, that showed all of them bowing down to him. Whether Joseph shared his dreams out of genuine excitement, naiveté, or haughtiness, we don’t know. Regardless of his motive, his season of testing was about to begin.

Though his brothers, at first, had plotted to kill him, they instead sold him into slavery. He found himself a slave in Potiphar’s house, Pharoah’s captain of the guard. Since God’s favor was upon Joseph, he was quickly promoted to attendant in charge of all of Potiphar’s house. Unfortunately, he wound up in prison after refusing to sleep with his master’s wife and was falsely accused of trying to rape her. Again, God’s favor landed him a promotion to caretaker over all the prison. There he met a baker and cupbearer, whose dreams he interpreted correctly. He hoped the cupbearer would be his ticket out of prison, but instead, he was forgotten for two more years. Finally, he was called upon to interpret Pharoah’s dreams, which got him promoted to second in charge of Egypt, the wealthiest nation on the planet at that time.

Psalm 105 gives some important insight on Joseph’s life: “He sent a man before them — Joseph — who was sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the Lord tested him. The king sent and released him, The ruler of the people let him go free. He made him lord of his house, And ruler of all his possessions, To bind his princes at his pleasure, And teach his elders wisdom.” (v. 17-22) The word “tested” means, to test (and prove true), to refine, to be refined, to smelt. This speaks of heating precious metals until the dross comes to the surface and can be removed, thereby purifying the metal and greatly increasing its value.

Through all the trials, adversity, and injustice that Joseph endured, God lovingly, painstakingly refined him in the fire. All so he could handle the weight of authority and responsibility of not only his family, but all of Egypt bowing before him, as prophesied through his dreams, many years before. There is a saying that states, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” History has most often proven this to be true. I have no doubt that God, in His wisdom and great love for Joseph, would not allow that to happen, so He used the difficult, painful circumstances in his life, in such a way as to bring forth His best for Joseph, and for His people Israel. Without Joseph’s leadership, all of Israel might have been lost during the famine, and then the Promised Seed, Jesus, could not have come forth.

If you have ever received a prophetic word, dream, or vision, and then seemingly all hell breaks loose around you, it may be that God’s word is testing you to refine and purify you so you won’t be destroyed by His promises. Trust Him – He always knows exactly what He is doing!

Have you gone through testing after receiving a prophecy? I would love to hear your story! You can share below.

How to Thrive, Not Just Survive in the Wilderness

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. – Hosea 2:14

Have you ever been in a wilderness season in your walk with God? Maybe you’re in one wildernessnow. If you haven’t, chances are really good that you will. Not just once, but possibly several times. How do I know? Well, I’ve been through a few myself. And if you’ve read much of the Bible, you’ll notice most everyone God ever used had their own unique time in the wilderness, even Jesus. In fact, the wilderness is a common theme; the word is used over 270 times in the Old Testament alone.

The term can refer to a natural area of uninhabited land or pasture. The Hebrew word used literally means, a region suitable for pasturing sheep or cattle; an uncultivated place; not a barren desert. When used figuratively, it often depicts a place of barrenness and dryness, with little to no life or activity. Many times in Scripture it was a place of encounter with God, as seen in Hosea 2:14.

The Israelites encountered God as a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire in their wilderness wanderings. Moses encountered Him in the burning bush. David discovered God as his refuge during his years of running from Saul, hiding out in a cave. The Shulamite maiden encountered Him as a Bridegroom. There are many others as well.

So what does this mean for you and me? Why does God repeat this pattern so many times in Scripture? What are His purposes for these wilderness seasons in our lives? I’ve come up with at least 8 reasons God allows these times in our journey, based on Deuteronomy 8:2-9:

  • Reveals the hidden things in our hearts that hinder our relationship. (v. 2)
  • A time of testing our obedience to Him. (v. 2)
  • Humbles us, causing us to depend upon Him more fully. (v. 3)
  • Produces greater spiritual hunger. (v. 3)
  • We learn to hear His voice more clearly. (v. 3)
  • Proves His faithfulness to us. (v. 3-4)
  • Can be a form of discipline. (v. 5)
  • Preparation for a season of blessing. (v. 7-9)

Learning to understand God’s ways and purposes doesn’t always make these seasons easier, but we can learn to embrace them by His grace, when we realize the good that He wants to accomplish in our lives. I believe we can discover how to thrive in the wilderness, not just simply survive. How should we respond in order to do this? Here are a few suggestions that might help:

  1. Rather than run from the issues in our heart and soul, seek help and healing to get free. The more we are healed, the greater our intimacy with God can become.
  2. Seek His grace daily in areas you struggle to obey. Ask for help and prayer from those you trust.
  3. Humble yourself; trust Him to do what you cannot do. Let His strength come forth as you embrace your weakness.
  4. Make spending regular time with Him a priority. Increase that time as much as possible.
  5. Meditation in the Scripture is a great way to learn to hear His voice. Ask mature friends and leaders to help you if you struggle with this.
  6. Develop a daily attitude of gratitude. God deserves our gratitude, worship, and praise. Remember, grumbling and complaining cost some of Israel their promised land!
  7. Submit to His discipline. Repent, confess your sins to God and to trusted friends. Remember, He disciplines those He loves.
  8. Commit to continue this process when the season changes. Israel is one example of how quickly we can forget God during times of blessing and favor.

As we learn to embrace God’s ways rather than resist them, we can accelerate our spiritual growth. We can thrive, not just survive, in the wilderness.

What has God taught you in the wilderness seasons? I would love to hear your comments!