Praying Before Decisions

And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples:  and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13).

The decisions we make determine the direction of our life.  Wise or foolish.  Godly or ungodly.  Moral or immoral.  Ethical or unethical.  Profitable or unprofitable.  Decisions matter.  In politics it is said, “Elections have consequences.”  But so do most other decisions. If there were a time we need to pray, it is before make decisions. And Jesus again gives us a picture of this.  This moment came on the day and night leading up to Jesus selecting the Twelve Apostles. Notice the role that prayer played in this decision.

The Time To Pray Is Before

Again we see Jesus being very intentional about His prayer life. This was no accident or coincidence. Knowing that this decision was coming, Jesus took time ahead of time to pray about the decision. He was proactive, not reactive. He stayed ahead of the curve. So when the time came, He already had been praying and seeking the Father’s will, guidance, wisdom.

As you anticipate decisions that have to be made, don’t wait until the time comes. Don’t “wing it” and hope for the best. Take time ahead of time to pray about it. Be intentional, proactive. You need to seek God’s face about it. Ask God to reveal His will in the matter. Ask Him for wisdom, discernment, faith, and courage. He will grant it.

The Greater The Decision, The More Prayer Is Needed

This decision would have long-term, historical, even eternal consequences. So Jesus didn’t just pause for a quick, silent request. He “continued all night in prayer to God.” Hours of praying, hours of not sleeping, hours of seeking God. Did Jesus do this for every decision? No. But this one was of particular importance. When daybreak came, He gathered all His followers and selected the Twelve, with new titles: “apostles” (sent ones).

You may not need to pray for hours about where to eat lunch, or what flavor of ice cream to choose (though I’m pretty indecisive). But when the decisions are truly important, we need to spend plenty of time in prayer.  For some, it is a business decision.  For others, it is a relationship decision, or career move.  For our nation, it is a presidential election.  The more important the decision is, the greater the consequences, the more time you need to spend in prayer. Don’t be hasty. Don’t jump into things. Don’t make commitments that you will regret. Pray about it! Pray a lot about it! Take all the time you need, wait on the Lord, and He will guide you.

The take-away? Decisions have consequences. Let us be sure to make prayer a part of the picture – a vital part.  How have you experience this in a specific decision?

A Picture of Prayer and Fasting

Mark 9:17-29

If there is one thing that we Americans like it is food. The average American eats 2000 lbs a year, which includes 29 lbs of french fries, 23 lbs of pizza, 24 lbs of ice cream, and 53 gallons of soda (1/wk). That, of course, has led to the need for shows like The Biggest Loser or Extreme Makeover Weightloss Edition.

However, dieting is also now cool, hip and popular. But when we think about not eating for a period of time, we usually don’t think about our prayer life (other than praying for weight loss). And yet Jesus uses an incident in His ministry to make a direct link between praying and another spiritual discipline: fasting. The story of a Daddy and his boy paints us a picture of praying and fasting.

Family Crisis

We all face needs in our life each and every day. But there are times in which we head into a full-scale crisis (family, kids, marriage, work, ministry). These are times in which “business as usual” is out of the question.  Just think of the recent hurricanes and the required preparation and responses.

This Daddy was in one of those times. Imagine your little boy or girl possessed by a demon, their small body ripped and ravaged by an invisible force within. A power that is totally out of your (or their) control (vs. 18, 20-22). This demon would throw the boy’s body into convulsions like a violent seizure, make him start foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth as he cries. It was happening right then! Throughout his life, this demon had led him into open fires to burn him, or into deep water to drown him. This was a full-blown demonic assault!

This is a picture of what Satan wants to do to your life, family, ministry (John 10:10 – steal, kill, destroy; I Peter 5:8 – devour). We all will face times of crisis.

Faith Crisis

This Daddy went to the first people he could think of: the disciples. But they weren’t prepared (vs. 18b). Jesus expresses tremendous frustration with His disciples for their lack of faith (vs. 19). Lack of faith is always something that disappoints and frustrates our Lord. It is like a slap in the face from His children!

Here is where Jesus challenges this Daddy about his own faith (vs. 23-24). I love this response! With tears in his eyes, and a cry in his voice, the Daddy says, “I do believe, but help my unbelief!” I have faith, but I’m not where I need to be. Help me grow in faith! That was all Jesus needed to hear (vs. 25-27). But there was another crisis that was also lacking when it came to the disciples’ prayer life:

Fasting Crisis

The perplexed disciples couldn’t figure this one out. So Jesus makes a powerful explanation (vs. 28-29). Prayer is powerful. Praying in faith is even more powerful. But there are some crises that are so serious, threatening, daunting that nothing will overcome them unless you also fast. Prayer, faith and fasting.

The disciples clearly were not fasting (though they would after Jesus’ ascension; 2:18-20). But Jesus obviously was. We don’t read much about it. Jesus didn’t flaunt it or draw attention to it (we only read of His wilderness fast; Mt 4:1-2). But here He implies that He was fasting. And He was ready to confront this crisis in the power of the Spirit (Lk. 4:18).

The take-away? Sooner or later you will face a time of crisis in your life. You may be in one today. That is not a time for business-as-usual in your prayer life, devotional time. It is a time to seek God’s face with body, soul and spirit. And fasting may be just what is necessary to confront that demonic assault. Prayer, faith, and fasting: it will empower you to face anything, by connecting you to the power of God’s Spirit.

Jesus – A Picture of Praying Alone

I believe it is important to remind God’s people that praying together as a church body is essential to the spiritual life of the church. It may not be the most physically active and energetic service, and will not really connect or engage those who are spiritually stagnant or indiffierent, but it is the lifeblood of those who are serious about seeking God. As our Executive Pastor put it recently, “Sooner or later everybody will end up at prayer meeting!”  Some just wait until a crisis.

But there is an important part of a believer’s prayer life that is not collective or public. It is when you spend time alone with God in prayer. Group praying must never replace or be a substitute for private, personal praying. We get a picture of this in the Gospels from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If we are going to develop a healthy personal prayer life, we need to:

Pray Intentionally (Matthew 14:22-23)

After feeding the 5000, Jesus sent His disciples ahead (on a ship), personally dismissed the crowd, and went up a mountain to pray alone. Notice the word: “apart” – he got away from people, distractions. “He was there alone.” He remained there until meeting His disciples on the water just before dawn. He spent the night in prayer.

Notice also: “to pray.” He went up to pray. Jesus was intentional about it, about making it happen. It wasn’t for rest and relaxation. He made a conscious, intentional decision to get alone somewhere so that He could pray. It didn’t just happen. He planned for it. He made it happen. And it won’t just “happen” for us either. Either you are intentional about it, or it won’t happen. “Come apart or you will come apart.”

Pray Sacrificially (Mark 1:35)

This took place early in Jesus’ ministry, after casting out a demon in Capernaum and healing Peter’s mother-in-law. His fame spread like wildfire and He was getting mobbed. Here we see Jesus getting up early, long before sunrise, finding “a solitary place” to pray. He probably slept in a group with His followers, so He had to put forth a little more effort to find an appropriate time and place. It was not convenient. It came with a price.

For some of us it takes more effort than for others (family, kids, roommates, hotel rooms) – but it is far too important. If you want a prayer life (personally or collectively) that is convenient and comfortable, you won’t find it, and you will wither on the vine spiritually. Praying is a battle that requires sacrifice, commitment, and dedication. Just like Jesus had.

Pray Regularly (Luke 21:37; 22:39-41)

Here we learn of a favore spot of the Lord. He would teach in Jerusalem in the daytime, then go to the Mount of Olives at night (where Gethsemane was located). We know He would pray there regularly, because of other comments made in the Gospels (22:39; John 18:1-2). This was a custom, pattern, favorite spot.

It doesn’t really matter where your favorite spot is to pray alone (living room, Florida room, Starbucks, back yard, neighborhood). What does matter is that you go there regularly, consistently.

The take-away? Praying won’t come easily or naturally – as a congregation or as individuals. But to experience “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man [that] availeth much,” you need to be intentional, sacrifical, and regular. The reward and results will change your life and change eternity.  How has your life been impacted by praying alone?

Serving by Praying

 Luke 2:36-38

We tend to look at prayer as something we do in order to receive things from God. Sometimes we look at prayer as a way of giving thanks to God. And there are times we pray just to fellowship with the Lord. But as we look at pictures of prayer in the Gospels, we run across an individual that highlights another aspect of prayer, which is also important.

Anna was a person in the Bible that usually shows up in our churches only once a year (around Christmas time). She was an original Senior Warrior. Depending on how you interpret our text, she was either 84 years young, or had been widowed for 84 years, which would make her over 100 years old. Either way, “she was of a great age.”

Anna gives us a unique picture of prayer: serving by praying. She never left the temple (decade after decade) and she served God. But this was how she served God: with fastings and prayers. We tend to think of serving as physical activities only. But praying can be the most powerful ministry you have! Notice:

  1. Anna prayed consistently – Need I say more? 84 years without fail, without quiting, without getting discouraged enough to throw in the towel, without leaving it for the younger generation, without waiting for other people to join her, without giving up when the answer didn’t come. She just kept praying.

  1. Anna prayed frequently – “night and day.” We don’t know the details, but it was clearly not every once in a while, or even once a day. It was an ongoing part of her life, that seemed to be unending. She was truly praying “without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17).

  1. Anna prayed sacrificially – Her prayer life included fasting, which is intentionally foregoing physical nourishment (or at times pleasures) in order to seek God with greater intensity and focus. She did not take the easy route or convenient path when it came to serving God. She paid the price.

  1. Anna prayed expectantly – Even though it took her entire lifetime, when Jesus the Messiah was presented in the Temple, her prayer immediately turned to thanksgiving (vs. 38). She even began to testify and witness. Anna prayed expecting God to answer – though she did not know when or how.

The take-away? We need to witness, volunteer, give, sing, but above all this, we need to pray. It is through prayer that everything else is empowered because we are connecting with God. You want to serve God and impact the world? Start on your knees.

Question: How have you been able to serve God through your prayer life?

Enquiring of God in Prayer – Every Single Time

II Samuel 5:17-25

 

There are many things in life (perhaps even most) about which we already know God’s will. We don’t have to pray about it … we know (moral commandments, tithing, sharing the Gospel, church attendance). But when it comes to specific decisions about which God has not specifically revealed His will, we must be faithful to enquire of God in prayer, to seek counsel of God. And we must do this each and every time, every single time.

Today we encounter another case of David not making assumptions, but seeking God before acting. And he gives us another great example to follow. After reigning for 7½ years as king over Judah (in Hebron), David is approached by the elders of Israel about becoming king over all Israel. David agrees and is anointed king, to eventually reign from Jerusalem for the next 33 years. But this decision didn’t sit too well with Israel’s long-term enemies: the Philistines.

 

The Enemy Advances (vs. 17-18)

It was like an automatic reflex: David becomes king, the Philistines attack – possibly trying to defeat him before he could set up his kingdom and build the city of David. They spread their armies out in battle formation across the valley. David hears about it and heads to the “hold” (lit. stronghold, castle, fortress; possibly even the cave of Adullam, 23:13). But he doesn’t go to hide.

 

David Seeks Direction (vs. 19-21)

David did as was his custom: he enquired of the Lord. “Should I go fight the Philistines? Will we have your blessing? Will you give us the victory?” These are important questions! Does God want us to commit to a task, endeavor, project, ministry – even if it’s a good one? If we commit, will we have God’s blessing? Will God give us the victory?

David sought the Lord first, then obeyed as soon as God gave the command. This is how it ought to be. And as a result, the Philistines were defeated. But these were stubborn rascals…

 

The Enemy Returns (vs. 22)

It was like a broken record, like a swatting a fly that keeps coming back. “The Philistines came up yet again,” and set up their army in the same valley as before (possibly the next year, we don’t know the time lapse). Second verse, same as the first!

It would be great if problems would go away after the first blow. If temptations could be defeated once and for all, forever. If Satan would get the hint, and leave us alone! But that is not reality. The war is not over, nor will it be during our lifetime on earth. So what do we do when the same problem presents itself again? Look at David…

 

David Seeks Direction Again (vs. 23-25)

Notice the word when (vs. 23a). Enquiring of the Lord was an automatic thing for David. It had become an engrained part of his life and leadership. What a testimony! You see, he didn’t assume that what and how God wanted things done the first time, would be true the second time. He didn’t just go after the Philistines because that’s what God said the first time. He sought the Lord again, every single time.

And it was a good thing he did. Even though God would give them the victory again, He would use a different method, strategy. David was not to go straight up, but to go around them and attack from behind. (“Going round the mulberry bush”) David again obeyed God’s command and experienced yet another victory.

 

In the Christian life and ministry, we know we need to seek the Lord’s guidance and direction. But we tend to think that God’s methods don’t change, that what God used once is what He will always use; that what God wanted us to do last year is what He wants us to do this year. We make assumptions. We talk about “doing things God’s way,” but we need to be careful. What if God wants us to do things differently, or not at all? We must enquire of God in prayer continually, and be like David, willing to follow whatever God’s commands – even if it’s different from before. Only then can we experience His blessing and victory.

Enquiring Of God In Prayer – When Opportunity Knocks

II Samuel 2:1-4a

I cannot recall how many times I have seen people jump at the first opportunity they get, only to find themselves in situations they wish they had avoided. It happens with jobs, relationships, even ministry opportunities. That is why “enquiring of God in prayer” is so vital. Let’s learn a lesson from David.

This story unfolds at a critical moment in the history of Israel. David, still a national fugitive, is living in the Philistine town of Ziklag with his family and the families of his followers. He gets word that King Saul, and especially Prince Jonathan, have died in battle. The entire nation goes into mourning, even David. “How are the mighty fallen!” (1:19). Here is where our story picks up.

 

David’s Moment Of Opportunity

We have to remember that David knew this day was coming. Years earlier, God told the prophet Samuel that He had rejected Saul as king over Israel and sent Samuel to anoint David to be the next king. Even Jonathan, Saul’s son, knew that David would be the next king (not him).

And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons” (I Samuel 16:1).

But what David did not know was when. He kept serving Saul, year after year, playing music, leading the army in battle, earning the respect and trust of the people. David even passed up more than one opportunity to kill Saul when Saul was out to kill him! It wasn’t God’s timing. Now Saul was dead, and David had the opportunity to step in and seize the leadership of the nation. Talk about a job offer! A promotion opportunity!

 

David’s Response To This Moment

As soon as the time of mourning passed, David went to “enquire of the Lord” (vs. 1). David didn’t assume that it was God’s will for him to go back to Israel. He didn’t presume to know God’s timing for the transition. He turned to God and began asking questions.

Should I go up to the cities of Judah?” In other words, was it even time to move back at all? God responded, “Go up.” David then asks a follow up question, “Where should I go to?” God replied, “Go to Hebron.” Hebron was that famous town that Caleb wanted when they conquered the Promised Land.

David wanted God to guide every aspect of his decisions. This would affect his future, his family, and his country. David was willing to listen to God’s voice, and wait on God’s timing. Even when the opportunity must have seemed like a “no-brainer” to everyone around him, David still took time to pray about it and seek God’s counsel and direction.

The results were worth it (vs. 2-4a, 11). David was anointed king over the house of Judah for seven years, then would become king over all Israel for another 33 years. He would reign as king for four decades. But the transition came about by David enquiring of God in prayer.

 

This is how we ought to approach every decision – especially those that will impact the direction of our life and family. Too many times Christians assume that just because they get offered a job or promotion, or because they meet a great guy or girl, or face any “open door,” that it is God’s will. The devil can open doors too! Human wisdom, determination, and ingenuity can open doors. That doesn’t mean it’s God will and God’s time (both are vital). Our most important response to moment’s of opportunity is to turn to God in prayer (guided by His Word) for wisdom, discernment, and direction.