Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Walking With Jesus: Prayer Warriors

“Prayer Warriors” is a term that I don’t hear very much these days, at least not around here. That’s a shame – it’s a title that bestows a great compliment on a guy or gal who has a strong, visible, effective prayer life. They are warriors, because they fight evil, sin and Satan in this world with the most devastating weapon at their disposal. They bring everything to God in prayer: their daily life, thanking God for blessings, problems that friends and family have, their country, even strangers around them. One of the reasons that Prayer Warriors get noticed is that their prayers are “powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Their prayers seem to get stuff done – as if they have a special inside to God that the rest of us lack.

C. H. Spurgeon once said, "Prayer pulls the rope down below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly; others give only an occasional jerk at the rope. But he who communicates with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously with all his might."

Jesus was the ultimate Prayer Warrior – in the gospels we see him spending almost as much time praying with God as we see him be with people. Everyone, including his disciples, saw that Jesus’ prayers produced powerful effects. One of his most gut-wrenching prayers was the night before his crucifixion, when he prayed for believers and also for God’s will to be done in that situation. Before he died for you, he prayed for you.

The truth is that Prayer Warriors don’t have any special connection; they just take advantage of what the scriptures tell us so plainly: God acts on prayers. He not only commands us to pray, but He wants us to, is eager to hear from us, and eager to show us what awesome things He can do if we just “pray big”. Realize that prayer isn’t natural for a sinful person – it’s a skill that has to be learned, practiced and honed, just like any other you have in your life. You have to keep doing it often enough to build up “prayer muscles”.

So how can you become a powerful and effective Prayer Warrior? Here are God’s instructions, straight from the Bible and into your life:

  • "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).
  • "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
  • "…The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16).
  • "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18).
  • "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (Romans 8:26).
  • "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
  • "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
  • "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (James 4:3).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Walking With Jesus: The All-Or-Nothing God

About ten years ago, Stephen Curtis Chapman wrote a song that I very much liked called "Dive", in which he sang: But we will never know the awesome power / Of the grace of God / Until we let ourselves get swept away / Into this holy flood / So if you’ll take my hand / We’ll close our eyes and count to three / And take the leap of faith / Come on let’s go!

I've always loved the imagery of "diving" into a relationship with God -- when you dive into a pool, there's none of this toeing the water nonsense to see if the temperature is to your liking. You jump in, and it's all-encompassing. It's everywhere around you, and there's no going back.

One of my college friends posted a great quote that from C.S. Lewis about our All-Or-Nothing God: "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important." Or, in the words of Miyagi in Karate Kid, "
Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do 'yes' or karate do 'no.' You karate do 'guess so,' *squish* just like grape. Understand?"

Many faiths and religions try to straddle the middle line in an effort to lure more people in -- make it accessible, don't make it too offensive, and certainly don't stress that this is an all-encompassing way of life. It's just a fashion accessory, to slip on and off when you feel like it.

God is a self-described "jealous" God (Exodus 20:5) -- He wants ALL of your life, not just a bit, not just part, and not even most. He's willing to give you everything for free -- eternal life, purpose, rewards, forgiveness, guidance -- but He's not willing to compromise on what He wants from you either. He doesn't want to share you with the world, to be "another" god in your life; He wants to be your All-Or-Nothing.

A great example of this is in Matthew 19:16-30. A rich man who was also pretty religious comes up to Jesus and asks what he has to do to get eternal life. Jesus knows that this man's love of money is competing with God for importance in his life, so Jesus tells him to give all of his riches away -- a test, to see if this man could give it all up to dive into God without any distractions. Yet the man couldn't -- he walked away sadly. God was important to him, but not as important as other things.

Diving into the All-Or-Nothing God is absolutely terrifying to consider. It's a huge risk. It demands everything from us. It certainly will change our lives. It might force us to get rid of things we love that distract us from our walk with Jesus. It might make some people like us a lot less. It might cost us dearly.

And yet, as C.S. Lewis said, it is of "infinite importance" -- nothing is more important than whether we surrender ourselves fully to God or not. There really is no middle ground, no matter what you may like to believe.