Friday, April 29, 2016

CLOSET PRAYER

Closet praying happens when we’re alone, in secret. “Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6).

But there is more to it. The Greek word for closet in this verse means “a private room, a secret place.” This was clear to Jesus’ listeners, because the homes in their culture had an inner room that served as a sort of storage closet. Jesus’ command was to go into that secret closet and shut the door behind you. And it’s a command to individuals, because this is not the kind of prayer that can happen in church or with a prayer partner.

Jesus set the example for this, as He went to private places to pray. Over and over Scripture tells us He “went aside” to spend time in prayer. No one had a busier life, as He was constantly pressed by the needs of those around Him and had so little time to Himself. Yet, we’re told, “In the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). “When he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23).

Consider the command Saul was given in Acts. When Christ apprehended this persecutor of the church, Saul wasn’t sent to a corporate church meeting, or to Ananias, the great prayer warrior. No, Saul was to spend three days alone and apart, praying and getting to know Jesus.

We all have excuses for why we don’t pray in secret, in a special place alone. We say we have no such private place, or no time to do it. Thomas Manton, a godly Puritan writer, says this on the subject: “We say we have no time to pray secretly. We yet have time for all else: time to eat, to drink, for children, yet no time for what sustains all else. We say we have no private place, but Jesus found a mountain, Peter a rooftop, the prophets a wilderness. If you love someone, you will find a place to be alone.”

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A PLACE OF PRAYER

Our homes are to be places of prayer!

“If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). Some Christians call this “agreement praying.” You are deeply blessed if you have a devoted brother or sister to pray with. Indeed, the most powerful intercessors I’ve known have come in two’s and three’s. If God has blessed me at all in this life — if He has used me for His glory — I know it is because of a few mighty intercessors who pray daily for me.

The place where this kind of prayer takes place most powerfully is the home. My wife, Gwen, and I pray together daily, and I believe it holds our family together. We prayed for each of our children during their growing up years, that not one of them would be lost. We prayed about their friendships and relationships. We also prayed for their future mates, and now we’re doing the same with our grandchildren.

Sadly, very few Christian families take time for prayer in the home. I personally can testify that I’m in the ministry today because of the power of family prayer. Every day, no matter where my siblings and I were playing, in the front yard or down the street, my mother would call out the front door of our home, “David, Jerry, Juanita, Ruth, it’s prayer time!” (My baby brother Don wasn’t born yet.)

The whole neighborhood knew about our family prayer time. Sometimes I hated to hear that call, and I griped and groaned about it. But something clearly happened in those times of prayer, with the Spirit moving amid our family and touching our souls.

Maybe you can’t see yourself holding family prayer. Maybe you have a spouse who isn’t cooperative or a child who’s rebellious. Beloved, it doesn’t matter who chooses not to be involved. You can still come to the kitchen table and bow your head and pray. That will serve as your household’s prayer time, and every family member will know it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

BLOW THE TRUMPET IN ZION

What exactly are we to pray in times such as these?

Here was Joel’s prescription for Israel in that day of gloom and darkness: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children. . . . Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?” (Joel 2:15–17).

Here was the call to the church: “Don’t be discouraged or give in to despair. You are not to believe the devil’s lies that there is no hope for an awakening.” Instead, according to Joel, the people’s cry was to be, “Lord, stop this reproach on Your name. Don’t let Your church be mocked any longer. Stop the heathen from lording it over us, taunting and asking, ‘Where is your God?’”

You may think, “What God promises here is only a possibility. He says He might hold back His judgment. That’s nothing more than a ‘perhaps,’ a ‘maybe.’ Everything He calls for from His people could be in vain.”

I don’t believe God tantalizes His church. And He won’t send His people out on a fool’s mission. When Abraham prayed for God to spare Sodom (where his nephew Lot lived), the Lord’s heart was moved to save that city even if only ten righteous people lived there. And Abraham prayed this as destroying angels were walking into the city! I’m convinced God’s people today are to pray to the Lord in the same way.

Joel’s prophecy regarding an outpouring of the Holy Spirit is found in Joel 2:28-32 and is repeated by the apostle Peter in his sermon in Acts 2:17-21. The prophecy begins, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

EVEN TO ME

“Therefore . . . saith the Lord, Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Joel 2:12–13).

As I read this passage, I am struck by the words, “Even to me.” As gross darkness fell over Israel, God appealed to His people: “Even to me — when you’ve pushed Me out of your society, when mercy seems impossible, when humankind has mocked My warnings, when fear and gloom are covering the land — I urge you to come back to Me. I am slow to anger, and I have been known to hold back My judgments for a season, as I did for Josiah.”

Do you see God’s message to us in this? As His people, we can plead in prayer, and He will hear us and answer the sincere, effectual, fervent prayers of His saints.

I have a word of warning to the church at this moment: Beware! Satan comes precisely at such a dark hour when disaster looms over the earth, when the heathen rage and terrorize nations. The devil knows we’re vulnerable, and he throws out this lie: “What good can you do? Why try to evangelize Islamists, when they want to kill you? You can’t change anything. You might as well give up on the sin-saturated world. There’s no use praying for an outpouring of the Spirit. All your repenting is futile.”

But God comes to us with this word from Joel: “There is hope and mercy, even now! I am of great kindness and slow to anger. And now is the time for you to turn to Me in prayer. I may hold back My judgments and even bring blessing to you.”

Even now — in a time of murderous Islamic extremism, of militant homosexuality, when our nation has lost its moral compass, when courts are driving God out of society, when fear grips the whole earth — it is time to turn to the Lord in prayer.

Monday, April 25, 2016

STEP INTO THE RIVER by Gary Wilkerson

The skeptics said to Joshua, "If we cross over the Jordan River, we're going to face enemies as never before. You know the reports. There are thirty-one different kings in the land where we're going and every one of them wants to do us in. Do you know how many kings we've defeated in the last forty years? Exactly two. What on earth are you thinking? How could this be what God wants?"

Joshua knew it would be difficult — in fact, impossible. But he also knew there was only one way for Israel to go: forward. They were going to cross over, and they would do it in faith, trusting that God had their best interests at heart.

We all know that in the end, Joshua and Israel possessed the land and were blessed.

The priests carrying the Ark stepped into the rushing river, and as soon as they immersed their toes, God supernaturally parted the water. After that, every evil thing the skeptics predicted was turned into good for God's people.

The people came to a great fortified city occupied by their enemy. When they marched around it, the impenetrable walls came tumbling down. A handful of kings that Israel thought would be hostile instead joined them and doubled the size of their army.

Did all this make super-saints out of Joshua and Israel? Not at all. At one point Joshua failed to obey God, but because he repented quickly, the Lord used the experience to strengthen him.

Are you willing to step into the river? God may be saying, "If you'll just commit to putting your toe in, you will see me part waves for you. It doesn't matter how many enemies and fortresses you face, I will carry you across to the other side. I have already laid out my plans for you and I'll see them through to fulfillment, all to My glory."

I urge you: Trust God to lead you across your Jordan. Let Him silence the voice of every skeptic. His “Plan A” for you won't be defeated. He is faithful — and He will give you victory!

“The Lord said to Joshua . . . As I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (Joshua 3:7).

Saturday, April 23, 2016

THE CALL OF FAITH by Claude Houde

The beginning of David’s public ministry is this gigantic moment when he slays a giant named Goliath. David came from what today would probably be called a “dysfunctional family.” He was cruelly ignored and neglected. As a teenager he was left to tend to the flock in the mountains, a lonely and dangerous job.

When a man of God was looking for a candidate to replace Saul and become king, David’s father, Jesse, showed off all his sons, but ignored David. It was as if David didn’t exist. His brothers put him down, demeaned him and maliciously questioned and mocked even his noblest aspirations.

When David, in spite of them, slew the enemy and came out victorious in his fight against Goliath, he left his home, as King Saul took him under his wing.

Saul was a tormented and failing leader and he quickly became terribly jealous of David. Saul was threatened by God’s favor on David and by how much the people loved him. After having a father who seemed to ignore him, David suffered still further under an “adoptive father figure” who, irrational in his insecurities, finally tried to kill him.

It was in those days of his first and faltering steps of public ministry that David experienced his first victories. He was strong and filled with potential, and although supernaturally called, he was also terribly alone and extremely vulnerable. David said of himself during that period, “I am still weak though I have been anointed to be king” (see 2 Samuel 3:39).

God then sent Jonathan to David. Jonathan answered the call of faith with friendship, selfless support, and humility for a greater cause. This is a call that presses one to give and help someone else with no expectation or promise of anything in return. You cannot imagine the divine flow of blessing such a decision on your part can unleash in your life. This revelation can touch and change a marriage, a family, a church and even a nation. “And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt” (1 Samuel 18:3-4).

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Claude Houde is the lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.

Friday, April 22, 2016

JESUS AND LAZARUS

As told in John 11, Jesus’ going to Bethany wasn’t so much about Lazarus’ death as it was about His own death. Think about it: When the time came for Jesus to face the cross, how would His followers ever believe He could be raised up? There was only one way they would believe it. That was for Jesus—there in Bethany with His beloved friends—to enter the most hopeless situation and work His purposes in the face of the humanly impossible.

I’m convinced Jesus would not have entrusted this experience to anyone outside His inner circle. Such things were reserved for those who were intimate with Him, who didn’t think as the world thinks. You see, it is only in such friends—people who know Christ’s heart and trust Him fully—that He can produce a faith which can’t be shaken.

The fact is, Jesus knew all the future hardships that would take place in the lives of these dear ones. He knew every illness and tragedy they would face. And He wanted to see in them a faith that would believe in His care no matter what calamity they faced.

When Jesus finally arrived, Martha’s first words to Him were, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee” (John 11:21-22). These words may sound full of faith on Martha’s part, but when Jesus responded, “Thy brother shall rise again” (11:23), Martha’s answer was revealing: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (11:24). In other words: “It’s all over for now, Jesus. You’re too late.”

Jesus replied, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (11:25–26).

Christ was telling her, in other words, “No, Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. Believe in Me and you’ll never die.” Again, He wasn’t just talking about Lazarus, but about His own death and resurrection. To Him, Lazarus’ raising was already a settled matter: “Martha, don’t you believe I can go even into the grave and do the impossible for you and Mary, all of your days?”