God has really been stirring my heart lately about the importance of prayer. We have been adding some corporate prayer times to our monthly schedule as a church because we strongly believe that if we want to see the Spirit of God at work in a powerful way we must take prayer seriously. I don’t do this often, but I am sharing with you the sermon I preached this past Sunday. It is from Daniel 9:1-19 and in this passage Daniel reveals what it looks like to go beyond maintenance prayer to front line prayer. Once you click on it you can go to the 39:00 minute mark for the beginning of the sermon.
Do ya see? Do ya see?
All the people sinking down?
Dontcha care? Dontcha care?
Are you gonna let them drown?
How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come?
You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done
Oh, bless me Lord, bless me Lord
You know, it’s all I ever hear
No one aches, no one hurts, no one even sheds one tear
But He cries, He weeps, He bleeds
And He cares for your needs
And you just lay back and keep soaking it in
Oh, can’tcha see it’s such sin?
‘Cause He brings people to your door
And you turn them away
As you smile and say
“God bless you, be at peace”
And all heaven just weeps
‘Cause Jesus came to your door
You’ve left Him out on the streets
Open up, open up
And give yourself away
Ya see the need, ya hear the cries
So how can you delay?
God’s calling and you’re the one
But like Jonah, you run
He’s told you to speak
But ya keep holding it in
Oh, can’tcha see it’s such sin?
The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can’t fight
‘Cause it’s asleep in the light
How can you be so dead
When you’ve been so well fed?
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, ya can’t even get out of bed
Oh, Jesus rose from the dead
Come on, get out of your bed
How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come?
And You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done
You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done
Don’t close your eyes, don’t pretend the job’s done
Come away, come away, come away with Me my love
Oh, come away from this mess
Come away with Me my love
Come away from this mess
Come away with Me my love
Come away, come away
Oh, come away with Me my love
Within every human breast rages this desire, driving him forward. Many a person confuses the object of that desire and spends his or her entire life striving for the unobtainable. Very simply put, the great passion in the heart of every human being, who are created in the image of God, is to experience the awesome majesty of God’s presence. The highest accomplishment of humanity is entering the overwhelming presence of God. Nothing else can satiate this burning thirst. -AW Tozer, Experiencing The Presence Of God
A busy religious life devoid of God’s presence
Have you ever been haunted by the idea that there should be more to the Christian life than what you are currently experiencing? I will admit that I have frequently felt that way. When I read in the Psalms how the saints of old delighted being in God’s presence I feel an ache overcome me and I want the intimacy and joy that they experienced.
We need to know the difference between the omnipresence of God and the manifest presence of God
One of the things we learn in God’s Word is that there are different ways to understand and experience the presence of God. In Psalm 139:7-12 we read this:
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
What the Psalmist is describing is the omnipresence of God. To say that God is omnipresent is to say that he is present everywhere. But Scripture also describes the manifest presence of God.
“You make known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” -Psalm 16:11
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and hit filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. -Acts 2:1-4
The manifest presence of God is when he reveals himself in a unique and clear way. It seems that the pathway to true joy is found in only one place, God’s presence. When we experience the manifest presence (or some refer to it as the relational presence) of God we find that our hearts are impacted and we are spiritually transformed. The reason why it is imperative to make this distinction is that we can affirm with our minds that God is omnipresent and yet never truly experience his power in our life. Our greatest spiritual need is to go beyond the omnipresence of God and into his manifest presence.
We need to be aware of what is keeping us from the life transforming presence and power of God
What are some of the barriers that keep us from experiencing God at a deep level?
- We don’t truly have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is possible to be religious, attend church, and still not know God personally.
- We allow distractions and busyness to keep us on the surface of knowing God. How many hours do you think you devote to a screen during the week compared to meditating on God’s Word? Social media, the news, entertainment, busyness, all work in such a way to keep us on the surface of what it means to know God deeply.
- We numb our pain with worldly pleasures. This is a temptation that I face on a regular basis. There are hurts and wounds in our heart that we refuse to deal with. So, instead of doing the hard work of laying our hearts bare before God we self-medicate. Alcohol, shopping, TV, exercise, perfectionism, sex, and work are all ways that things that can keep us from allowing God into the deep places of our life.
- We are stuck in a habitual sin. We have given up the idea that we can experience spiritual victory in a particular area of our life and we have grieved and quenched the power of the Spirit of God in us.
- Truth be told, we really don’t like the idea of God being God in our life. We might not say this out loud, but completely surrendering our life to the manifest presence of God does not sound like all that much fun.
We need to know what we must do to experience the life transforming power of the manifest presence of God
So what do we do to actually experience the presence of God in our life? As I have been reading and studying God’s Word I believe these are the primary ways that we can experience God today.
- We experience the presence of God when we are honest. Ask God to give you a desire him on a deeper level (this is where I am at right now). God already knows where we are at spiritually so we might as well just be brutally honest with him.
- We experience the presence of God when we repent of our sin. Darkness and light can not co-exist. God will not put up with false gods and idols in our life. Spiritual renewal and revival are preceded by confessing and turning away from our sin.
- We experience the presence of God through reading God’s Word. Are you soaking your heart and mind in the truths of God’s Word on a daily basis? One area that I want to grow in is not only reading and studying the bible but actually meditating on it.
- We experience the presence of God when we pray. Prayer is talking and listening to God. It is in these sweet times of fellowship that we can go deeper with God. I have been challenged recently to come to God and to just be quiet in his presence. When was the last time you spent 10 minutes just being quiet in God’s presence?
The last thing I should do is act like an expert when it comes to revival. I have never lived through anything like what I have read about in the Great Awakening. But it seems to make sense to me that genuine revival among God’s people would need to be preceded by a growing awareness and desire to be in his presence.
Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas as you ponder the idea being in the manifest presence of God.
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” -Augustine
Longing to See the Holy Spirit Work in a New Way
I meet on a weekly basis with my Life Transformation Group. It consists of three other men who are committed to making disciples who make disciples. Just this morning we were talking about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. One of the questions I asked was, “do you think there is more of the Christian life that you could be experiencing?”
I think this is a good question for all of us to ask. Do we genuinely desire for the Holy Spirit to change us, grow us, and empower us? Or, have we grown rather comfortable spiritually and would have to admit that it has been far too long since we really pleaded with God to reveal more of himself to us?
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
During our Life Transformation Group discussion we talked about the difference between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit.
John said this in Matthew 3:11, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Being baptized in the Holy Spirit is what happens when a person first places their faith in Jesus Christ and repents of their sin. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is immediate upon being saved and it is permanent. It is also not something that can be repeated.
The Filling of the Holy Spirit
In Ephesians 5:18 the apostle Paul writes this, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is different than being baptized with the Holy Spirit. Paul commands us to continually seek after the power and filling of the Holy Spirit in our every day lives.
Making Room for the Holy Spirit
So, what can we do to be filled with the Holy Spirit? I believe there are a number of biblical answers to that question. But one of the more important things we can do to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to ask God to reveal to us what there is in our life that we need to surrender or repent of. In 1 Thessalonians 5:19 Paul writes, “Do not quench the Spirit.” So we know, as frightening as it sounds, that it is possible to diminish or stifle the work the Spirit longs to do in our lives.
This morning, our Life Transformation Group, took time just to quietly pray and ask God to reveal to us anything in our life that we need to change in order for the Holy Spirit to fill us with his power. We only took a few minutes of quiet prayer and each one of us came up with something that we sensed the Spirit telling us that we need to do or surrender.
What about you? Would you be willing, right now, to take some time and ask the Spirit to reveal to you anything in your life that is keeping the Holy Spirit from filling and empowering you?
“What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” -Greg Beale
Do you feel stuck spiritually? Do you sometimes wonder if there is more to the Christian life than what you are experiencing? Are you living with a sense that you are just managing your sin instead of really dealing with it? Are you quietly wondering why you are not changing as much as you would hope?
PREMISE #1: WHEN WE WORSHIP GOD WE BECOME LIKE GOD.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. -2 Corinthians 3:18
The apostle Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians that we are spiritually transformed by worshipping God, by “beholding the glory of the Lord.” There are a million different things in life that are screaming for our attention. Yet, how often do we sabotage ourselves by failing to slow down, quiet our heart and mind, and truly seeking hard after God in worship?
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:38-42
PREMISE #2: ALL TOO OFTEN WE ARE GOING THROUGH THE RELIGIOUS MOTIONS WITHOUT TRULY WORSHIPING GOD.
“I hate, I despise your feast days,
And I do not savor your sacred assemblies.
Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.
Take away from Me the noise of your songs,
For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. -Amos 5:21-23
Have you ever wondered why you, or anyone for that matter, can attend church, do their devotions, and yet remain unchanged spiritually? I think one of the problems is that our spiritual life has become too routine and mechanical. We are like the people that Amos is addressing. We have this tendency to drift in and out of religious experiences without a genuine, life-transforming encounter with God.
PREMISE #3: THERE ARE INDICATORS, OR SIGNS, THAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH THE RELIGIOUS MOTIONS WITHOUT TRULY WORSHIPPING GOD.
…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. -2 Timothy 3:5
- You are lacking in joy.
- You are critical with others.
- You are easily angered.
- You are lacking in contentment.
- You are anxious.
- You are irritable.
- You are bored.
- You don’t care much about those who are lost all around you.
- You have unconfessed, unrepentant sin in your life.
Our behavior is directly related to the condition of our heart. We change our behavior by having our heart changed. Our heart is changed by coming into God’s presence and worshipping him.
PREMISE #4: YOU ARE CURRENTLY WORSHIPPING SOMETHING OR SOMEONE AND IT IS SHAPING YOU INTO IT’S IMAGE.
Those who make them (idols) become like them; so do all who trust in them. -Psalm 115:8
N.T. Wright puts it like this, “When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around.”
Are you worshipping your job, family, hobbies, politics, success, fitness? One way to figure out the answer to that question is get alone for an extended period of time and ask God to reveal to you what it is that is most important to you in life. We are moving at such a frantic pace that often times we are not even aware of what is truly going on in our own heart.
PREMISE #5: THERE ARE HOLY HABITS THAT WILL LEAD TO SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION.
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. -1 Timothy 4:7-8
- Ask God to reveal areas of unconfessed sin and truly repent of it.
- I personally believe that one of the greatest hindrances to spiritual transformation (or revival) is trying to manage our sin rather than really dealing with it. This may require getting into a relationship with someone who will pray with you and hold you accountable.
- Sing songs of worship to God during the week.
- I would say that one of the most special times for me is on Sunday when I am singing praise to God with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But this raises a question, why don’t we do this more during the week? Perhaps we need to turn off the political talk show and listen to worship music instead.
- Instead of merely reading Scripture meditate upon it.
- We need to allow the Word of God to soak into our hearts and our minds. Are we really embracing the mind-blowing truth that God is speaking to us as we read his Word? What does it look like to meditate on God’s Word rather than merely reading it? Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes this, “As you read, pause frequently to meditate on the meaning of what you are reading. Absorb the Word into your system by dwelling on it, pondering it, going over it again and again in your mind, considering it from many different angles, until it becomes part of you.”
- Commit yourself to a deeper prayer life.
- Over the past year God has been convicting me when it comes to my prayer life. I need to pray for my own spiritual good. I need to pray so that I will not be overcome by the temptations that I face every single day. I need to pray for there to be a spiritual awakening in my church and city. We give lip service to the idea that prayer is important but far too often our lives reveal that we actually believe we can get by in our own strength and power. I think the bottom-line is that nothing much will change if we are not developing a deeper prayer life.
- “We must be able to existentially access our doctrinal convictions. If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will eventually lead to nominal Christianity—that is, in name only—and eventually to nonbelief. The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine. . . . Christianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all.” -Tim Keller
Since I have been here at New Life Church I have slowly gotten to know a number of the local pastors. There is a group of us that meets every week for lunch at Perkins. It has been good just to get to know each other and share the ups and downs of ministry. Over the past few months we have begun praying as pastors on a monthly basis for revival here in Watertown.
“The coming revival must begin with a great revival of prayer. It is in the closet, with the door shut, that the sound of abundance of rain will first be heard. An increase of secret prayer with ministers will be the sure harbinger of blessing.” -Andrew Murray
I am excited to let you know one of the things we have decided to do is work together as churches and begin hosting times of worship and prayer. Praising God in song for who he is and asking God to work in a new way in the city of Watertown. In order to get the word out we have created a website that encourages people to be praying for the city of Watertown. You can find the website HERE. We have also created a Facebook page HERE.
Would you do me a favor? Take a moment to pray for Watertown, South Dakota. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be at work in a mighty way. Pray that Christians would be energized with renewed passion to love God and love others. Pray that those who do not yet know Christ would come to know and worship him. Pray that in all that we do that God is glorified. Thank you!
“All revival begins, and continues, in the prayer meeting. Some have also called prayer the “great fruit of revival.” In times of revival, thousands may be found on their knees for hours, lifting up their heartfelt cries, with thanksgiving, to heaven.”
As I have pointed out in a couple previous posts (HERE and HERE), preaching from the book of Jonah has me contemplating the idea of revival in our day and time. It’s not hard to understand why when you read this from Jonah 3:1-5:
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
The incredibly wicked city of Nineveh heard the Word of the Lord, and immediately confessed their sin and turned to God. Amazing. It makes me wonder, could it happen today? In his excellent book, “Revival”, Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out that there are some obstacles that must be overcome if there is going to be revival today. He writes this:
And we, too, must become aware of that, we have got to feel it until we become desperate. We must ask ourselves how we can succeed if we do not have this authority, this commission, this might, this strength and power. We must become utterly and absolutely convinced of our need. We must cease to have so much confidence in ourselves, and in our methods and organisations, and in all our slickness. We have got to realize that we must be filled with God’s Spirit. And we must be equally certain that God can fill us with the Spirit. We have got to realize that however great ‘this kind’ is, the power of God is infinitely greater, that what we need is not more knowledge, more understanding, more apologetics, more reconciliation of philosophy and science and religion, and all modern techniques-no, we need a power that can enter the souls of men and break them and smash them and humble them and then make them anew. And that is the power of the living God. And we must be confident that God has this power as much today as he had one hundred years ago, and two hundred years ago, and so we must begin to seek the power and to pray for it. We must begin to plead and year for it. ‘This kind’ needs prayer.
It is so easy, such a seductive trap, to think that our strategies, or our “slickness,” is what matters when it comes to building the church and making a difference in this world. It reminds me of what we find in the first chapter of Acts, “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Let me summarize these verses, “don’t launch your church plant, don’t hold a Bible study, don’t do anything or go anywhere until the Spirit of God is empowering you. How many times do we run out in front of God and his Holy Spirit thinking that in our own power we can get things done? Strategies, systems, and plans have their place but for anything meaningful to happen we need to once again experience the power of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
Are you yearning for the Holy Spirit to work in you, your family, your church, and your city in a new way?
Will you join me in praying for a fresh work of the Spirit?
Featured picture is “Pentecost” by Jean II Restout (1692-1768)
“Revival is the visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have been sleeping and restores a deep sense of God’s near presence and holiness. Thence springs a vivid sense of sin and a profound exercise of heart in repentance, praise, and love, with an evangelistic outflow.” -J.I. Packer
I recently began preaching through the book of Jonah. The fact that the entire city of Nineveh repented and turned to God got me thinking about revival. So I did what I normally do, I purchased some books so that I could explore this topic in greater detail. You can find the two books I have been reading HERE and HERE. During my study one of the things that I kept coming back to is that for revival to happen it is going to require brokenness among God’s people.
It was while I was praying about revival that I came to this sobering conclusion; I like the idea of revival but not so much the idea of brokenness. Revival means the Spirit of God is at work. Christians are having their love for Christ renewed and unbelievers are coming to know Christ for the first time. I genuinely long to see this happen here in Watertown, South Dakota.
Unfortunately, I am much less interested in the personal brokenness part.
Brokenness means admitting and repenting of my sin. Brokenness involves my bloody death and my flesh resists this at every turn. It also means allowing my mind to think through the horrifying reality that there are countless numbers of people who are headed for an eternal hell.
The reluctance that I feel towards brokenness reminds me of an excerpt from one of my favorite books, “Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken.
Severe Mercy is a true story about a husband and wife who have made their relationship with one another into an idol. They love each other and want nothing to come in-between them, even God. At one point Sheldon Vanauken, the husband and the author, begins to realize that he likes the idea of God as long as God does not disturb his comfortable life too much. Sheldon writes this:
“Though I wouldn’t have admitted it, even to myself, I didn’t want God aboard. He was too heavy. I wanted Him approving from a considerable distance. I didn’t want to be thinking of Him. I wanted to be free—like Gypsy. I wanted life itself, the color and fire and loveliness of life. And Christ now and then, like a loved poem I could read when I wanted to. I didn’t want us to be swallowed up in God. I wanted holidays from the school of Christ.”
“I didn’t want us to be swallowed up in God.” I think that there are quite a few people who feel this way. We want a god to forgive us of our sin. We want a god that will bless us. But are we willing to be swallowed up by the One true God? The truth is that this kind of total surrender to God is frightening. What will God take from us? What will God ask of us? Will God be enough to satisfy us?
I don’t have a neat and tidy answer at this point. I don’t have a verse that makes the fear of being “swallowed up by God” suddenly disappear (neither do you). But I am aware that I must confess these fears and deal with them if I am to experience a renewing work of the Holy Spirit in my life. Will you join me in the process?
Above picture taken from wwwdotjasonisaacsdotme
This Sunday I am going to begin preaching through the book of Jonah. If you have been in the church for very long you know the basic story. The prophet Jonah runs from God and gets swallowed by a large fish. Eventually, reluctantly, Jonah preaches (the shortest sermon in world history) to the wicked city of Nineveh and they repent. You already knew that, right? I want to suggest to you that there is much more to this prophetic book then first meets the eye. If you will read Jonah with an open heart and mind I believe it both challenge and inspire you on a deep level. Here are just a few of the themes we will discuss in this book:
- The sovereignty of God. Even the sea, and the creatures of the sea, are under the control of God.
- The grace and mercy of God. The ironic part is that these characteristics of God are what infuriates Jonah!
- The mission of God in the world. Israel has been commanded to be a light to the nations but they were more concerned about their prosperity than they were the world around them.
- You will have to deal with some tough questions. For example, are we more like Jonah or Jesus?
- How an attitude of nationalism can keep us from caring about others. Just for kicks look up the word “jingoistic” and then ask yourself if you see this as a problem when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission.
- There are tremendous similarities between Jonah and the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son.
- We must deal with the fact that we all have the tendency to love our comfortable lives more than we love other people.
- The gospel is clearly being pointed to throughout the book of Jonah.
- The book is, start to finish, a love story. The love of God for his lost sons and daughters.
- A wonderfully inspiring theme is REVIVAL. The entire city of Nineveh repents and turns to the Lord. Will you join me in praying for revival here in Watertown, South Dakota? In your hometown?
My plan is to blog through each chapter, but today I just wanted to share this EXCELLENT video that details the overall story-line of the book of Jonah. The video was produced by the creative people at The Bible Project.