Pastors as “The Elite of Prayer”

Today I came across this great quote by Peter Taylor Forsyth. He was a Scottish theologian who lived from 1848–1921. In his book, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, he writes:
I speak to and of the ministry, which is at once our despair and our hope. If the preachers have brought preaching down it is the preachers that must save it. The Church will be what its ministers make it. A Church of faith like Protestantism must always be what its chief believers make it. And these foremost and formative believers are the ministers. The real archbishops are the archbelievers. If a Church has not its chief believers in the pulpit it is unfortunate. And if a whole denomination of Churches fail in this matter there is something fatally wrong. The ministers are in idea the experts in faith. They are the élite of prayer. If the Church is to be saved from the world it is the ministers that must do it. And how can they do it but as men pre-eminently saved from the world? And no man has the seal of that salvation on him except by action—by thought and prayer which become moral action. A man has the stamp of supernatural reality upon him only by such prayer. If another than the minister carry that stamp in any Church he is its true minister. The true minister, in the pulpit or out, does all his business in the spirit of this prayer. The man of commerce may say he cannot. I will not argue that now. I will only say that the minister has this advantage—he not only can but he must, if he know his business, and is to keep it going. And no man ought to take up this business unless he know it. A preacher whose chief power is not in studious prayer is, to that extent, a man who does not know his business. A stringent ethic would say he was in danger of becoming a quack. That of prayer is the minister’s business. (pgs 129-130) Continue reading

Is it God’s will or Mine?

I have never heard God’s voice. I have had plenty of times when I wish I would have, but I never had. I think that most people have not heard the voice of God, though I know some have. Despite never hearing God’s voice, there have been plenty of times when I felt the leading of God.

When I started dating my wife I knew she was the one for me. When I was thinking about seminary I got a big scholarship that made the decision a very clear one.

This is one of the challenging things about God’s leading. God does not often lead with a voice from the sky or a message in the mail. He often leads through circumstances or through our own thoughts and feelings. The challenging part is knowing what is really God’s leading instead of circumstances, thoughts, and feelings that we need to overcome to follow God’s leading. Put simply, is it god’s will or mine?

So how do you know? I am not sure there are any rules. But I have found a couple of things to be important. First, don’t make decisions in a hurry. Try to take time to sort out what God’s will really is. Second, clear your head. Step away from the problem. Step away from the business of life. Go hiking or spend a day away so that you can discern God’s will away from all kinds of other voices. Third, draw close to God. Dive into your Bible. Pray a lot. These disciplines help tune you into God’s voice above other things.

 

2 Great Prayers for Preachers

I collect prayers and quotes for use before I preach and lead worship. Here are two great ones I found recently:Spurgeon

May the great and gracious Spirit, who is the only illumination of darkness, light up my mind whilst I attempt, in a brief and hurried manner, to speak from this text. —Charles Spurgeon

Dear God, through Your beloved Son You have said that those who hear Your Word are blessed.  How much more fitting it would be for us to bless You, praise, thank and laud You unceasingly, O eternal and merciful Father, with glad hearts, that You show Yourself so friendly—indeed, so like a father—to us poor little worms, that You speak to us about the greatest and highest of subjects—eternal life.  Nevertheless, You don’t stop there, enticing and wooing us to hear Your Word through Your Son.   He says: “Blessed are martin lutherthey who hear the Word of God and keep it.”  As if You couldn’t get by without our ears—we, who are dust and ashes!  Many thousand times more do we need Your Word.  O, how unspeakably great is Your goodness and patience!   On the other hand, woe!  Woe! over the ingratitude and colorblindness of those who not only don’t want to hear Your Word, but even stubbornly despise, persecute, and blaspheme it.  Amen. —Martin Luther

A Great Henri Nouwen Prayer for Preachers

The other day I came across this prayer by Henri Nouwen from his book A Cry for Mercy.  I have a growing collection of prayers for before I preach and this is a very nice addition.

 henri nouwenDear Lord, you have sent me into this world to preach your word. So often the problems of the world seem so complex and intricate that your word strikes me as embarrassingly simple. Many times I feel tongue-tied in the company of people who are dealing with the world’s social and economic problems.

But you, O Lord, said, “Be clever as serpents and innocent as doves.” Let me retain innocence and simplicity in the midst of this complex world. I realize that I have to be informed, that I have to study the many aspects of the problems facing the world, and that I have to try to understand as well as possible the dynamics of our contemporary society. But what really counts is that all this information, knowledge, and insight allows me to speak more clearly and unambiguously your truthful word. Do not allow evil powers to seduce me with the complexities of the world’s problems, but give me strength to think clearly, speak freely, and act boldly in your service. Give me the courage to show the dove in a world so full of serpents. Amen.

A PRAYER FOR THE NEW YEAR

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God for whom a year is but a moment, I thank You for this new year.  I thank You that I get this gift of life for another year.  For another chance to serve You.  The year past was filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, smiles and frowns.  I thank You for being with us.  The New Year is filled with giant possibilities to be excited about and scared of.  I thank You that You already know what is coming.

I pray for a sense of newness in the New Year.  Let it be a fresh start for me.  Help me to do things I have left undone, to reconcile old relationships, and to make great new friendships.  I also pray for a sense of oldness in the New Year.   Help me to connect with an ancient faith, to be guided by Your Word, and to be a little more old-fashioned in a world that is far too fast paced.

I pray for big things in the New Year.  Please do impossible, giant, and world changing things.  Shake up social issues, overturn financial crises, and rock lives that seemed un-rockable.  I also pray for little things in the New Year.  Do all kinds of ordinary, everyday, and simple things in our live.  Give me eyes to see Your daily grace for me.

Help me to know You better and follow You more closely in 2015.  May You- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- receive all the glory in all my life and world.  Amen.

 

Develop Your Faith Muscle and Tune up Your Faith Car

You would not go out and run a marathon after not working out for a year.

You would not expect a car that has been parked in the garage for a few years to drive well across the country.

So why do so many people expect their faith to be there when they go through difficult times when they have done nothing do develop or strengthen their faith.

I see it over and over again.  A person talks to me about having a faith crisis after a difficult time in their life and I wonder–when was the last time you were in church?  How is your devotional life?  Tell me about your prayer life?  I don’t think that we can control God.  As if God will be nicer to you and go easier on you if you are in church more often.  But I do think that faith is like a muscle.  It needs to be stretched and worked out regularly.  That way when life throws you into a marathon you have the muscles in place to do the work.  Sure, you might still get sore.  You might still pull a muscle.  But you are better off if you have been working those muscles regularly.

Prayer, Bible reading, spiritual conversation, worship…  All of these aspects of the Christian faith are like tune-ups and test drives on the vehicle that is your faith.  If you haven’t used a car in a while then things don’t work right.  These things might be mundane– like getting an oil change or going to the gym– but you want to do those things before you need them.

How is your faith doing?  Do you need a trip to the gym?  Where do you need a tune-up and a test drive?

Are you making decisions by analysis, or discernment?

In the last few months I have had a number of conversations with people about how to discern God’s will. Several people in my life have been looking at big decisions and trying to ask what God’s will is.  In the midst of all of these conversation, I had N. Graham Standish come and do a training with my church on how to be a church based on discerning and following God’s will.  Since issues related to discernment have been on my mind and people have questions about it, I will be doing a few blog posts about finding God’s will.  Today we begin with a basic understanding of what discernment actually is.

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Most of the time we make decisions by analysis.  The word means to cut apart or dissect.  We take decisions and divide them into choices, arguments, sides, or parties.  Think about learning to write book reports in school.  Or debate.  Or make decisions using Robert’s Rules of Order. They are all based on dissecting arguments into pro’s and con’s and making a decision based on which side makes the most sense, is the most coherent, and has the most upside.

Christians are not really called to decisions by analysis. We are called to discernment.  Discernment means to separate or sift out.  This way of decision making assumes that God has a plan and that it is our goal to sort out what that is and follow.  Imagine mining for gold in 1849.  You  move a pan or rock around and watch for gold and the larger rocks move to the outside of the pan.  That is how Christians are called to make decisions.Which_way_home._-_geograph.org.uk_-_1607215

Think about the early church in the book of Acts.  When they need to make a decision they stop and pray and ask God to guide them.  When they give a reason for their decisions, sometimes all they can say is that it “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”  (Acts 15:28)

God’s will does not always make sense.  It does not not always have the best upside for us.  In fact, if you think back to all of the Sunday school stories that you learned from the Bible, you will find that most of them were not the most logical choices.

I am convinced that a lot of the problem in our churches and in our denominations today stem from a fundamental confusion between discernment and analysis. Many christians are trying to make decisions with analysis and wondering why they seem distant from God’s will.

We will be exploring how to discern more in the next few posts.

 

 

Thanks to Graham Standish (website) in his talks and in his book Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose,Presence, and Power.  He has really helped me to understand this topic.