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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Powerful Prayer

Not all prayer is equal
Some prayers don't go further than the ceiling. If we "cherish" sin in our hearts God will not hear us, for example (Psalm 66:18).

Some prayers are diminished on their way to heaven by a husband's lack of consideration towards his wife (1 Peter 3:7). The prayers of uncaring husbands are weak.

Other prayers are powerful, however.

Before Daniel had even finished one of his evening prayers (Daniel 9) an angel was sent swiftly to tell him God had not only heard but answered the prayer as he began it! (9:23)

Steps to powerful prayer
What made Daniel's prayer so effective in heaven? Here are seven steps to powerful prayer:

Powerful prayers are serious
Daniel puts on itchy sackcloth, uncomfortable ashes, he fasts and he pleads with God (9:1-4). Some of this may be Old Testament attire, but the seriousness is for all believers.

Powerful prayers are planned
Daniel was a busy government worker who, because prayer was so important, had to schedule it into his life (6:10), three times day. This prayer was the third one of the day, it seems (9:21). We schedule into our lives all sorts of things we deem important: so too should we with our prayers and intercessions and petitions.

Powerful prayers arise out of Scripture
Daniel was "claiming the promises" of God. God had promised to restore his people to Jerusalem soon, Daniel prayed for it to happen. Daniel's prayer arose out of the writings of Jeremiah (9:2). He reasoned "God has promised it, I shall hold God to his promises". Powerful prayer, therefore, starts in heaven, comes down in Scripture to earth, and returns to heaven on the lips of his people. God could have planned history to miss this weak human dimension out, but he has willed that his promises shall be fulfilled through the prayers of his people. So when we are praying for loved ones, for example, rather than making up prayers, we could say to God, "It is not your will that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), please save my son/daughter/wife/mother..." How can God not do what he has expressed is his will?

Powerful prayer is filled with adoration
Daniel's prayer is shot through with expressions of the greatness of the God to whom he comes, "the great and awesome God" (9:4), "the one who keeps his covenant of love" (9:4), the "Lord our God who brought your people out of Egypt" (9:15). Daniel is echoing what Jesus taught us to do, include in our prayers "hallowed be your name."

Powerful prayers are passionate for God's glory
What causes Daniel so much grief is not so much the poor condition of God's people in Exile, not the destruction of Jerusalem, not the broken up temple, but what all of these say to the surrounding nations, "Israel's God is pathetic." The honour of God's name is what disturbs this holy man most of all, "O Lord, hear and act. For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because the city and your people bear your name." (9:19).

Powerful prayer is penitent
Nothing is more prominent in this particular prayer than confession of sin, since it was the people's sin that led them into trouble. What is most notable of all, however, is that Daniel confesses the sins of his people corporately. Did Daniel really commit the long catalogue of sins he lists? No. But Israel's sins are "our sin" not "their sins." Jesus taught as much, "forgive us our sins" he taught us to say.

Powerful prayer is specific
Daniel does not ask God to "bless us", not that that would be inappropriate at times (Numbers 6). He asks for very particular things, that God would not be angry anymore (9:16), would restore his temple (17) and forgive his people (19). The sharper the arrow, the more effective it is.

It is possible to improve in the school of prayer. It is possible for our prayers to become more effective, for us to grow in prayer. And here, Daniel shows us how.

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Plague of Pornography (3) God's Cures for Satan's temptations

Get this sin into proportion
It would be all too easy to blow this sexual sin out of proportion. Yes, looking at pornography is a sin because it is sexual impurity.  Enjoying God's good gift of sex outside his decreed boundary - which is sex between a married man and his wife, alone - is sinful. We are called to flee sexual sin (2 Timothy 2:22) not flirt with it.

But it would be easy to get sexual sin out of proportion. It is surely no worse than pride ("I would never sin that way"), self-righteousness ("I have never sinned that way"), unforgiveness, ("I could never forgive her for that sin") or a judgemental spirit ("Aren't people who fall for that one pretty awful?")

This is not to deny the sinfulness of sexual impurity but to put all men and women on the same level - all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

It is very possible for we Christians who have been brought up in a pure Christian home to find ourselves self- righteously setting sexual sin up as the mother of all sins, and disregarding some good old-fashioned planks in our own eyes, such as unforgiveness, gossip or greed or pride.

1. Start out with a righteous hatred
Sexual impurity must be put to death in the same way as other sins, such as greed, ("Oh she's just off on another of her shopping sprees"), lying ("I couldn't come to home group because I was ill") or unforgiveness. It starts with seeing the sin as God sees it, not as the world sees it or as one might have seen it / overlooked it in the past. Sin is an ugly monstrosity. We must understand sexual impurity as Joseph did, who before it came along his path, had already made up his mind and so said without a second thought, "How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9).

Watching pornography is wickedness. Ask God to teach you that in your heart. Ask God daily to create in you a pure heart (Psalm 51:10). At this moment you may be unable to imagine that a sin your sinful flesh "loves", you will come one day to hate.
2. Set out to put an end to this sin
Secondly,  decide before God today, that you are going to war against sexual impurity. Many battles against sin take time, so the fight may take time: this is not to excuse falls along the way, but to recognise we have a powerful enemy, and if you have committed a sin on many occasions, you have sown according to the sinful nature seeds that will take a while to uproot; the sin is likely to have burned a path in your mind, which will take time to heal. Be patient with yourself, for God is patient with you.

3. Know that you have a Helper
No matter what secular help you might receive, it is very unlikely you will ever be delivered from besetting sins without divine help, for Satan has the whole world under his spell (1 John 5: 19) and Jesus alone can deliver you from sin. Be assured that the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. You have the Spirit of God dwelling within you, and with his omnipotent help, you can, you will win this battle. But don't trust one little bit in human helps or yourself.

4. Confess your sins to someone
You have already done that to God - many times, perhaps even with tears. It's time now to seek help from the body of Christ. Talk to a trusted Christian friend (who won't judge you) or your pastor - be assured he is more likely to weep with you than condemn. "Confess your faults to one another so that you might be healed." (James 5:16).

5. Begin to put this sin to death
No sin dies without its sustenance being removed. "Put to death the misdeeds of the flesh" (Romans 8:3). Write down all the sources of sexual temptation and begin to put them out of your life, one by one, or ten by ten. Are there places you go which now need to become 'no go'? Are there TV programs you can no longer watch? Are there people who you must say goodbye to - forever?  Perhaps you have to get rid of the TV, or come off facebook, or end all Internet use for a few years. A few years? How serious are you? "If your right hand / eye causes you to sin cut it off / gouge it out" - sounds like radical action to me.

Put in place layers of Internet protection: go for one of the increasing number of Internet Service Providers who block porn at source, use accountability software like Covenant Eyes or Accountable to you. Use Google's safesearchlock.

But do not do any of this on your own. Without the aid of the Holy Spirit - without prayerful dependence on the power of God - you won't succeed. Prayerfully put this sin to death.

6. Know that as you battle with this sin, you are loved and forgiven!
Astounding as it may seem, your sin hasn't altered how God sees you or how he loves you. Justification assures us of our righteousness in God's eyes - on account of the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Saviour, and God's covenental love assures us that we are eternally loved, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This astounding grace is not an excuse to sin but an incredible motive to live a holy life! "You mean God still loves me in spite of my sin?! In response to such overwhelming love I want to work out my salvation with fear and trembling."

7. If you've been hurt, help and forgive
Finally, if you've been on the receiving end of this sin,  help your husband/wife to be held to account and help her/him put this sin to death. Know that his/her sin is nothing to do with you, and everything to do with her/his wickedness. "Every Heart Restored" will help you work through the pain.

(If after patience and help he/she stubbornly won't end the sin, consider divorcing him/her - because he/she is guilty of porneia and Jesus says you can divorce him/her for that (Matthew 5:32) You have no duty before God to put up with a serial-adulterer - for that is what a porn addict is).

There are now some wonderful resources available to help Christians through this particular besetting sin. Some are listed them below.