Issue Two: A Fresh Hope Horizon Paper – April 2020          

 

Introduction:

Fresh Hope has five strategic themes emerging from our ethos within a 100-year horizon framework. One of these is Prayer. The primary objective is:

To prioritise prayer and discernment as essential for leadership, mission and ministry in church life.

This article is proactively offered as a critical resource to assist your church to discuss and cultivate ‘Prayer’ (including but not limited to ‘discernment’). You will notice that our priority begins with everyone in every sector of our movement: more than an ‘ideal’ but a hope that as God’s people we need prayer to nurture the essence of our mission and ministry and sustain our own life in God.

Sometimes, as in times of crisis, we revert to prayer as a last line of defence. This begs the question “what if we were to invert this orientation and promote prayer as a proactive first port of call?’’ What if prayer was essential to the wellbeing of our lives and our communities? If this is so, we must spur one another to reignite our discipline and passion for prayer.

Prayer becomes for us, the fuel that ignites our mission and ministry.
Prayer is vital for our personal wellbeing and our capacity to follow God in obedience and love. As we pray, we continue to alert our soul to the reality of our worth in God’s kingdom economy.
Prayer is the conduit that connects us with the Spirit of God to align our lives in synchronicity with God’s agenda, lifting us from our petty self-preoccupations.
Prayer is an underrated spiritual discipline or practice; essential for each disciple.
Prayer is an adventure that brings untold discoveries and insights.
Prayer is foundational in unlocking God’s perspectives as we seek to live this life.
Prayer is a critical skill, that Christian apprentices must acquire to follow Jesus’ example and teaching.
Prayer is also a mystery that quietly creates hope into our deepest uncertainties and doubts.

One hundred years from now, it is our prayers that will sow lasting growth and maturity; not our accumulation of wealth or status or influence.  ‘Ask and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.’  (Matthew 7:7-8)

 

The Practice of Prayer:

I am convinced that it only takes a generation to lose sight of the importance of prayer with consequential impacts on churches, disciples, families and communities. All too often, prayer is relegated to a trite introduction, a closing addendum or a mere formality with little thought as to its importance and priority.

Our reliance on media (including all forms social) creates for us what C.S. Lewis called ‘the Kingdom of Noise’ [1]. Unfortunately, our post-modern culture promulgates incessant activity, information and alertness – all capable of undermining our reliance on God as Lord, thereby subverting our motivation, willingness and time to engage proactively in prayer.

The practice of prayer must be essential for the Christian life. In order to believe and live this mandate, we must first realise we are living in non-neutral territory. That’s right – we have an enemy!  

‘We have taken a wartime walkie-talkie and tried to turn it into a civilian intercom to call the servants for another cushion in the den.’[2]  Given Scripture reminds us that this enemy wants to rob and destroy our lives, we should take a proactive stance to prioritise prayer as often as possible.

Into this backdrop we promote prayer as the most important teaching on the topic by Jesus – the Lord’s prayer.

Pray like this:

Our Father in Heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
But rescue us from the evil one.
For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.  (Matthew 6:9-13. NLT)

Fortunately, this priority teaching from Jesus speaks for itself – clear and compelling. What better place to begin in practising prayer than with the Lord’s prayer!  Enough said.

Scripturally, our prayer practice also includes the following.  Consider how…

  • Prayer enables us to defeat the devil. (Luke 22:32; James 4:7);

  • Prayer precipitates the acquiring of wisdom. (James 1:5);

  • Prayer is the medium to bring salvation to a lost world. (Luke 18:13);

  • Prayer is a critical element for the healing of the sick. (James 5:13-15);

  • Prayer brings restoration for each of us who sin. (James 5:16-20);

  • Prayer is how we strengthen disciples. (Jude 20, Matthew 26:41);

  • Prayer is how we mobilise labourers into the mission field (Matthew 9:38); and

  • Prayer is how we accomplish the impossible. (Mark 11:23-24).

These prayers orientate beyond the realm of private practice. They penetrate the Kingdom economy to the extent that they are shared in community as believers join in unity for higher purposes.

 

Anatomy of a Movement of Prayer[3]:

The author of the book referenced in this section, David Bryant has scoured history and researched every Major Great Spiritual Awakening that has occurred in the Christian story.  At the beginning, middle and at every other point in every spiritual awakening, there was Prayer. 

Of particular note, was the Puritan divine Jonathan Edwards who in the 1740’s coined the phrase ‘Concerts of Prayer’. As a part of the First Great Awakening, Edwards circulated a book to equip Christians for a movement of prayer. His book: ‘A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer of the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth’[4]  was instrumental in mobilising a movement of praying people.

Bryant took the idea of ‘Concerts of Prayer’ from Matthew 18:19-20 which says: ‘I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them’ (NIV).  Here the word ‘concert’ is another iteration or translation of ‘agree’. In ancient Greek the term is ‘Sumfoneo’ from which we get our English word – Symphony! The symphony must act in unity and agreement.

In describing the symphony or concert of prayer, Edwards borrowed the vision of Zechariah 8: 18-23 to paint a vivid picture. He referenced this vision as ‘an anatomy of spiritual awakening’.

At the time that this vision was delivered, the remnant Israelite population had returned to Jerusalem, from exile, to rebuild the Temple.  Both Zechariah and Haggai spoke prophetically into their plight as Zechariah’s message of prayer and awakening precipitated a new reality: ‘’Return to me, … and I will return to you’ says the Lord Almighty.’ (Zech: 1:3)

‘Here is another message that came to me from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: The traditional fasts and times of mourning you have kept in early summer, midsummer, autumn, and winter are now ended. They will become festivals of joy and celebration for the people of Judah.  So, love truth and peace.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem.  The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’  Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”  – Zechariah 8:18-23

Bryant describes four critical hallmarks in the vision: so helpful, so important for this season of the church in Australia if as a people of ‘prayer’ we are to help precipitate a new spiritual awakening. 

  • Hallmark 1:  The Attitude:  An Urgent Shift from Fasting to Feasting.
    Up until Zechariah’s word – the Israelites had been stuck in mourning and fasting. They needed to recapture their joy and festivity; their wonder and curiosity for God to help them shift.

  • Hallmark 2:  The Agenda:  Seeking God or Seeking the face of the Lord.
    When things seem tough, there is a renewed urgency to pursue God within intent and focus.

  • Hallmark 3:  The Impact:  Not just Jerusalem but all peoples.
    While God was seeking to bless Jerusalem, His heart was aligned for all nations.

  • Hallmark 4:  The Ignition:  Not an institution – but Gospel aliveness from person to person.[5]
    It wasn’t the religious institution that birthed revival – it was God’s people restored and renewed to share the good news of God’s love.

As the global church continues to see God at work, we invite your church community to develop a Symphony of prayer to position your community for spiritual awakening.

 

A Final Word about Discernment:

There is something within the human condition, that from time to time, doubts whether God is personally interested in speaking to His people and to individuals, given the scale of the Universe. Many have debated the question ‘Does God still speak today?’ with polarizing effects. More too often, people pull out the card ‘God told me’ as a mechanism to have their own way; or add heaven’s weight to their opinion in the hope of agreement or in the control of circumstances or others.

Beyond the misuse of God language, there exists a Christ-centred reality known as ‘Discernment’.  ‘Discernment, then, is the process of intentionally becoming aware of how God is present, active, and calling us as individuals and communities so that we can respond with increasingly greater faithfulness’.[6]

Henri Nouwen[7] describes it as follows:  ‘Discernment  is a spiritual understanding and an experiential knowledge of how God is active in daily life that is acquired through disciplined spiritual practice.  Discernment is faithfully living and listening to God’s love and direction so that we can fulfil our individual calling and shared mission.’

While discernment nests within the broader construct of ‘mystery’ it is best practiced within a community of faith with complementary gifts to ensure the avoidance of excessive abuses and misuses.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:20: ‘You will know them by their fruits’, when tied to the contrasting list in Galatians 5 (works of the flesh vs fruit of the Spirit) is a helpful starting point for discernment. The practice of prayer helps us check our motivations and inner drivers, thereby positioning Christians in team to discern together the will of God.

‘We ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord.’ (Colossians 1:9-10 NRSV).

 

Discussion Starters for Church Leaders

  • Discuss together how your faith community prioritises and utilises prayer? Where are your strengths, what are your growth points?

  • What might you need to change or prioritise going forward with respect to your prayer practices?

  • Share your personal experiences of how prayer has made a difference? What stories can you share of how prayer has changed lives or brought breakthrough into the life of the church?

  • As you read the verses listed in Zechariah chapter 8, how might this vision of transformation impact the way your community prayers for a spiritual awakening? What outcomes might flow as a consequence of you understanding the Hallmarks of this vision from God? Do you think it is relevant today, and if so, why?

  • Does your church have a team of people who practice intercession? Paul in his first letter to Timothy requested: ‘that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.’  (1 Tim 2:1)

  • Intercession is the act of praying, petitioning and asking for favour for another.

  • Discuss together how you might establish a church-wide intercession team?

  • What criteria would you use to determine who can join such a team?

  • How might you manage confidentiality and use electronic resources to assist you?

  • How familiar are you with discernment? Is this something you might consider for mutual decision making in the life of the church going forward?

  • Spend some time in prayer asking God to change your hearts and minds and keep you teachable with respect to following Jesus.

 

Helpful Reading:

  • Mike Bickle. Growing in Prayer. A Real Life Guide to Talking with God. © 2014. Charisma House

  • Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, Claude King. Experiencing God:  Knowing and Doing the Will of God.  Revised and Expanded Ed.  © 2008.  B&H Books.

  • Walter Brueggemann. Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth:  Prayers of Walter Brueggemann.  © 2003.  Fortress Press.

  • David Bryant. How Christians Can Join Together in Concerts of Prayer for Spiritual Awakening and World Evangelization.  © 1988.  Regal Books.

  • Bryan Chapell. Praying Backwards.  Transform Your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus Name. © 2005.  Baker Books.

  • Richard Foster. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.  © 1992.  Hodder & Stoughton.

  • Bill Hybels. Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to be with God. 10th Anniversary Ed.  © 2008. IVPress.

  • David Jeremiah. Prayer: The Great Adventure. © 1997.  Multnomah Books.

  • Timothy Keller. Prayer:  Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. © 2014.  Hodder Faith.

  • Larry Lea. Could You Not Tarry One Hour?  Learning the Joy of Praying. © 1999. Charisma House.

  • Elizabeth Liebert. The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making. © 2008. John Knox Press.

  • Paul Miller. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. © 2017. NavPress.

  • Andrew Murray. With Christ in the School of Prayer. © 2018. Digital Version DigiReads.

  • Henri Nouwen. Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. © 2013. 

  • Dutch Sheets. Intercessory Prayer:  How God Can Use Your Prayers to Move Heaven and Earth. © 1996. Regal Books.

  • Dallas Willard. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. © 2012. IVPress.

  • Tom Wright. The Lord and His Prayer. © 1996.  SPCK Classics.

 

Online Resources:

 

Dr. Andrew Ball
Executive Ministry Director

Churches of Christ in NSW & the ACT.

© Fresh Hope Resources 2020.

 

[1]   C.S. Lewis.  The Screwtape Letters. © 2001 Harper Collins.  p. 171.

[2]   John Piper. Desiring God. 10th Anniversary Edition. © 1996.  Multnomah Publ. p.152.

[3]   Note: The title and ideas for this section come from David Bryant’s great book listed in the bibliography.

[4]   This book costs just over $1 See:  https://www.amazon.com.au/Explicit-Agreement-Extraordinary-Religion-Advancement-ebook/dp/B005Z2CN4O/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

[5]   Note:  Fresh Hope is developing a Prayer Strategy that will articulate these Hallmark’s further.  Please watch check our website for updates.

[6]   Elizabeth Liebert.  The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making. © 2008. John Knox Press.

[7]   Nouwen – see Helpful Reading.