Kingdom Finances: A Theology of Money

I love business. I think it is one of the most noble and worthwhile pursuits anyone can embark upon. Unfortunately, Christians have a bizarre and distorted view of money that has led us to demonize businessmen and women, leaving them to feel like second-class citizens whose only purpose and value is to fill the coffers on Sunday morning. To those who have ever struggled to come to terms with your desire to prosper and wonder if it is Godly or not, this post is for you.

To be totally frank, I have no idea what “The Prosperity Gospel” is. I hear disparaging remarks about it all the time, but I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone explain to me its core tenants. All I hear are snide remarks about “God wanting you to be healthy, wealthy and wise” as if that were a bad thing.

Hold on a second. Are you telling me God wants you to be sick, poor and stupid? I’m pretty certain God does want you to be healthy, wealthy and wise. Let’s take a closer look at those three.

(1) Healthy
If God doesn’t want His people healthy, why was such a large component of Jesus’s ministry healing the sick – healing all who came to him? Why did Jesus commission his disciples to go out and heal? Jesus healed out of compassion, out of love for people. And since Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing, he evidently saw it in the heart of God to heal people. Unless you have received a divine word of Judgment, assume that your sickness if from Satan, not from God.

(2) Wise
There are whole books of the Bible devoted to helping foolish people become wise. They are called Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. Collectively, the Jews refer to these books as Wisdom Literature. I think we can pretty well bank on God wanting His people to grow in wisdom.

(3) Wealthy
Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor.” He also said, “Blessed are you who hunger now,” yet a few chapters later, Jesus is miraculously feeding the multitudes. Why was he taking away their blessing!?

Jesus was clearly speaking in metaphor in the Beatitudes and Luke 6. Physical hunger has no virtue in it and neither does physical poverty. Lacking the basic necessities of life does not make you a blessing to other people, it makes you a burden.

We need only look to the Bible to see that many wealthy men followed God wholeheartedly – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Job. In ancient Jewish tradition, wealth was a seen as a requirement for the Spirit of God to rest on someone. In order to be a prophet, one had to be “strong, wise, wealthy and humble.” That is oral tradition and not Scripture, but I think it is appropriate to mention.

Christianity’s Mental Handicap
So you agree that God wants you to be healthy and wise, but still have trouble swallowing the idea that God wants you to be wealthy? Perhaps you’re remembering Jesus’s words to the rich young man, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then come, follow me.”

We use and abuse this story in Christianity. We drag up every negative reference to money in Scripture and use it devoid of any context. The simple truth is that there is more about the Godly use of money and righteous business practices in the Bible than there is about any other topic.

Jesus gave that particular advice to that particular young man because his wealth had become an idol that prevented him from following Jesus. If your wealth ever becomes your master, that is the only recourse to follow – get rid of it! Your soul belongs to Jesus, not to Mammon. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that wealth prohibits us from following God.

Wealth and Eternal Rewards
Here is the more compelling piece to me. When the Master hands out various sums of money to his servants in Matthew 25, who are the ones that were rewarded? The ones who increased the amount of money they had! Even scarier, the one who did nothing with his Master’s money was thrown out of the Master’s Presence.

And let’s not lose sight of the fact that Jesus is in the middle of a discourse on the End Times. This is an End Times parable through and through. Jesus is talking about eternal rewards when he rewards the servants. The servants who were faithful to grow their Master’s money on the earth received significant heavenly rewards – they were put in charge of many things (entire cities in Luke) because they had the mindset to expand the Kingdom and developed administrative skills useful to the King.

Anyone who has ever handled significant amounts of wealth knows the burden it can be. Money has a way of revealing who and what we truly are. A generous person becomes a philanthropist. A greedy person hoards their wealth and eventually loses themselves to it. A wishy-washy person becomes absolutely paralyzed. Money makes us more of what we are, so it is of paramount importance that we are men and women of character. The servants who prospered in Jesus’s parable did so righteously. They didn’t steal any of their Master’s money to use for their own purposes, they didn’t squander it in foolish pursuits. They were trustworthy individuals who wanted to wisely secure the best return they could for their Master.

In reward for their character and faithfulness, the servants were promoted far beyond what they could have ever imagined. The newly crowned King had significant posts to fill in His Kingdom and needed people he could trust, people who had already proven their faithfulness and desire to serve.

I’ll admit, meditating on this passage has really rocked me. Up until this point I didn’t think God really cared what my bank account would be when I left this earth and went to be with him – I am rethinking that in light of this End Times money management parable.

Tithing, Saving and Investing
I am a huge fan of tithing – I think it is an essential part of Christian discipleship. Tithing is far more than an Old Testament Law – it is a Principle of Faith. The Principle of Tithing predates the Old Covenant by some 500 years. Tithing was instituted when Abraham encountered Melkizedek, Priest of God Most High. It was an act of faith and thankfulness that so moved God’s heart that He made it a permanent part of Jewish life from then on.

The way I understand tithing is this: Everything I get I receive from God, it is all His. However, He makes me a deal and says that if I will return 10% to His house then I can keep the rest. Giving 10% of my income to secure God’s blessing and favor on my financial life – absolutely!

Once I tithe, I can do what I want with my money. I can spend it all on whatever suits me, I can give it away, I can save it or I can invest it. At this point, it becomes my decision what to do with what I have. If I choose to live within my means in order to save or invest, that is my perogative.

So let’s say I save 10% of my income for a year. I now have a decent size chunk of change, is that wrong? No, of course not. Neither am I compelled to give it away. Money that would have otherwise been wasted on selfish desires can now become a tool to help myself and others.

Now let’s say I invest that money in the stock market (for simplicity’s sake). It is a good year and I make some money. My belief is that I should tithe from the interest that I earned, however large or small that amount may be. By tithing from my investments, I have now contributed to the Kingdom twofold: first from my initial tithe and second from my earned interest. I also have the potential to contribute even more in coming years as my investments increase and compound. Using money as a tool, I have made myself a better servant through wisdom.

Rather than saving, couldn’t I have just given it all away? Sure. But then I would have no savings or cushion for life. What if I or my wife got sick? I’d have to go into debt or ask for help from family and friends. I don’t want to be a burden to the people I care about, especially not if it is well within my power to prevent.

Tom’s Shoes is a good example. I once heard Blake Mycoskie, CEO of Tom’s Shoes, talk about his business during Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit. I don’t remember the actual figures used in the interview, but the theme of the conversation was this:

Blake had a sum of money. He could have used that money to put shoes on 1,000 kid’s feet, and that would have been noble. Instead, he started a business that puts 1,000 pairs of shoes on kid’s feet every year. There is a profitable servant.

Let’s look at another example. Say someone inherits a million dollars. They could sow it all into the Kingdom right away – and that would be great! They also would have nothing left to contribute at that point beyond what they were already doing. But instead, say they invested the million and sowed the interest into the Kingdom. It might take a decade before they had sown a million dollars, but now that money will continue to generate interest to finance the Kingdom for years, even decades, to come. I have nothing against short term impact, I think it is wonderful. But I’m primarily concerned with sustainability and building the infrastructure necessary to advance the Kingdom over the long haul. A million dollars can feed a lot of hungry people, but they will be hungry again tomorrow. If we haven’t built them a sustainable future we have only postponed their suffering, not solved it.

Financing the Kingdom
I want to help people discover a vision for financing the Kingdom. It is something that I am passionate about and that I think about often. King David sowed millions of dollars into the Temple and payed singers and musicians to worship God night and days for years. What if I could do the same with missions? What if I could accrue enough money in investments to pay out a million dollars a year to finance mission work throughout the world? What if I could fund my congregation so extravagantly that all our staff were well cared for, we never had to turn away people in need and we could house all the homeless in our city in apartments the congregation owned, free of charge?

I want people to dream big. I want people to have clear, ambitious and faith-full goals for their lives. I want people to start dreaming about sowing millions or billions of dollars into the Kingdom in their lifetime. Why not?

Perhaps those ideas are too big and too abstract. Then start at home. What would it look like for you to start a business in your town whose primary goal was to advance the Kingdom? Maybe you sell groceries, but you use a portion of your proceeds to fund a women’s shelter. Maybe you are an accountant, but you really want to minister to inmates. You might not be able to during tax season, but you can fund someone who can.

Money is not an impure or dirty thing. Money is the byproduct of righteousness. Doing business justly, treating people well and with a sincere desire to serve, supplying them with services they need or appreciate – this is business God’s way and it will build a loyal clientele and the natural byproduct of satisfied customers is income.

I believe the next wave of revival is going to come from the business sector. I hope we are ready for it. I hope we have men and women of character strategically positioned to reap a great harvest of souls and to finance a prayer and missions movement that will not end until Jesus returns. Amen.

What I Meant to Say – Being Born Again

I’m really coming to love my Monday “What I Meant to Say” posts. I don’t always get around to them, but I really should. It is nice to process and share any additional thoughts with you all.

I’ll start by saying that yesterday was amazing. I’d place it in my top three (top one?) favorite Sundays with you all. I don’t know all that was going on, but here is what stood out to me:

(1) Reclaiming Vineyard heritage in Worship
Erik, Ieshia and Dani led us in worship and it was super sweet. Erik broke out an old Vineyard song “Jesus, Holy and Anointed One” and it did my heart good. It reminded me that, at our core, the Vineyard is a worship movement devoted to singing simple love songs to Jesus. Very simply, we offer all that we are to Jesus, knowing that we are precious in his sight. We don’t need a world class sound and light show to have amazing worship – we need hearts that burn with passion for Jesus.

(2) We had some brand new believers with us
On Saturday, Waverly hosted its first ever Christian Music Festival called ReVibe – it was wonderful. The best part of it was that several people committed their lives to Christ for the first time. One of those people was at church worshipping with us (after having attended an 8am Mass at St. Mary’s) and her joy was contagious. I think everyone was riding high off of the ReVibe wave and we were primed to engage.

(3) God worked through my sermon
Pastor Kent told me as we transitioned into ministry time – “Just so you know, that was the best sermon you’ve ever preached.” That was really great to hear – it felt pretty normal to me, but it was the right word on the right day – praise Jesus for that! The notes from my sermon are included below. Unfortunately, the sermon was not recorded to some equipment malfunction.

(4) You guys responded in amazing ways during ministry time
We had TONS of people come over to the Prayer Wall to be the ministry team and IT WAS AWESOME! At first folks were hesitant to come, so I made the offer one more time. Evidently that was enough because we had a great response. It was so good to pray for God to refresh people, to fill them with His Spirit and to speak Truth over their lives. I’m aware that one person prayed to be born again and another asked to be baptized. It was a very tender time and made me so appreciate this part of Vineyard culture.

(5) We had powerful art
One of the speakers at ReVibe painted a picture as he delivered his sermon. By happenstance (wink wink) we were able to have the painting in the sanctuary during our worship service. It was a picture of Jesus clasping our hand and pulling us up and out of our yuck – how fitting! I don’t have my theology nailed down on this, but I believe the LORD works powerfully through art and other creative expressions… and we need more of it!!!!

(6) We are in a new season
It seems like our congregation is always in transition. It is apparent to Dani and I that we are in another new season. It feels like God has closed the previous chapter and is writing a new one – one entitled “BABY INFESTATION.” A number of folks have been having dreams/pictures/visions/feelings that our congregation is about to explode with new believers. God is totally taking the lead on this and we are trying to align with it and prepare ourselves. We’re doing that in two ways:

(a) Street Ministry – a number of us have been partnering with Heartland Vineyard in Cedar Falls to do Street Ministry on Thursday nights. It has been a beautiful time of seeing Jesus set people free. It is now time to bring it to Waverly. A little later in September we will start our own Street Ministry Program on Tuesday nights. Keep your eyes peeled for anouncements.

(b) Home Group – If we’re going to have babies, then we need to put them in families with Mamas and Papas. Dani and I are opening our home to the congregation to come and experience what life is like in the Kingdom. We’re going to eat together (potluck style – so bring something tasty!), worship, teach and minister to one another. So much of Christianity is heady, intellectual stuff, which certainly has its place – but if that is all we do when we get together it quickly becomes burdensome and boring. This is something different. This is relational and emotional experience. This is loving one another well and learning how to be family. This is connecting across generations and experimenting with being the people of God, not just learning about it in some abstract way. Dani and I both believe that home groups will quickly become an anchor for our congregation – places where people can come to rest and refresh and encounter God in different ways than they have before.

Those were the things that were stirring in my heart and part of what made this past Sunday so energizing to me. I’m curious what you all were feeling/experiencing, so if you were there – shoot me an email or leave a comment below. I love you guys. I love being your pastor. Thanks for all you do!

Ben’s Notes from Sunday – Part Two: A New Creation

Review Part One

*The discipleship journey starts with Jesus calling us to follow him.
*People can follow Jesus for a long time before they are “born again” and become a new creation.
*The Bible points out multiple times that becoming a Christian is a deliberate decision that happens after one has reasoned things through and weighed the cost and consequences.
*When a follower is ready to become a true disciple, they move on to the second stage of discipleship – being born again and becoming a new creation
*We get the phrase “born again” from Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus in John 3.

Being Born Again
*Depending on how long a person has been following Jesus (or in our case, coming to church or some other Christian activity like a home group or bible study), they may know a lot or very little about Jesus and the Bible.
*It is essential to know that, while Bible knowledge is important, head knowledge does not make one a disciple. There are people who have impeccable theology, yet their lives reflect that they have never been transformed by the One they claim to know. (Think of the Pharisees where Jesus says – “You diligently search the Scriptures, but refuse to come to me.”)
*The Normal Christian Life is a transformed life. Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” and “Love is the more excellent way.” Don’t be fooled by people who can quote a lot of Bible verses, make a good argument or who want to tell you all about their experiences with God. Those things are great, but if their life isn’t full of the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control) their discipleship is suspect. They might have good information, but weigh it carefully.

Being “born again” has four parts (synthesis of Acts 2 & 8):
*Repentance
*Belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior
*Baptism in Water
*Receiving the Holy Spirit
*All four are essential for proper functioning

Why Every Part is Necessary
*The four parts mentioned above are all mentioned in the Bible when someone is born again, or saved.
*Think of each part as a cylinder in your car.
When you have all four, everything fine, you can go wherever.
When you have three, you function well, but hills are hard
With only one or two, you can make it if everything is downhill.
*These four parts lay the foundation for the rest of your Christian life. If one or more of them is missing, something will come up that will keep you from progressing into freedom the way you want to.
*This list isn’t intended to be burdensome or to stratify “super Christians” from the rest. Every Christian in the New Testament is supposed to have all four parts. They can come at any time and in any order, the important thing is that all four things have happened.
*Many issues that surface in our walk with Jesus can be resolved by addressing one of the four aspects of being born again. Far from a ‘once and done’ mentality, these are truths we should revisit frequently

The Four Parts Explained
Repentance
*Biblically, repentance is expressed more through long-term life change than through momentary sorrow.
*It is important to confess our sins and acknowledge our guilt before God so that we can properly apprehend Jesus’s sacrifice and receive forgiveness, but the truth of our words will be backed up by our actions.
*Repentance is: (a) turning away from our former way of life, (b) confessing any past actions that we know to be contrary to the character of God, (c) asking for God’s forgiveness and (d) committing ourselves to living differently by God’s grace and power.

Believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior
*The book of Romans tells us “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
*If repentance is “turning from”, belief is “turning to.”
*At this point, the new believer swears their allegiance to Jesus as their Sovereign Lord. That sounds really mysterious, but what it means is this. From now on, the disciple consciously chooses to view themselves as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven living as a foreigner in their current location. They swear to uphold the laws of the Kingdom and accept Jesus’s words as final over their lives.
*The disciple must also believe that Jesus’s finished work on the Cross is more than adequate to pay for their sins: past, present and future.
*We are not our own, we were bought with a price
*If I were to ever change the name of our congregation, I would change it to “the Embassy” because this idea of citizenship is so important to me. (Tom and Maggie, sovereign territory in a foreign land – a place of safety and security, a place where that nation’s laws are in effect.)

Baptism in Water
*The disciple is fully immersed in water as a symbol of being dead and buried.
*Coming out of the water is symbolic of having been resurrected with Christ. The “old” person died and was buried in the waters of baptism. The “new” person is alive by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
*All past sins were washed away. All legal claims of the enemy were nullified. The person has a perfectly clean conscience before God and is an inheritor of the Kingdom of God with all of its benefits.
*Baptism is a sacrament, meaning that we believe it carries with it a significant impartation of grace. We believe that, in baptism, the Holy Spirit does a word of regeneration, or recreation, and makes the person new, hence, “born again.”
*We also believe that the disciple receives a measure of the Holy Spirit that allows them to begin manifesting and cultivating the fruit of the Spirit.

Receiving the Holy Spirit
*According to the Bible, it (sometimes) isn’t enough to simply be baptized in water – our conversion isn’t complete, we aren’t adequately equipped to live life they way God desires for us.
*In Acts 8 and again in Acts 19 we read accounts of people who believed in Jesus, were baptized in water, and still needed someone to lay hands on them and pray for them to receive the Spirit. NOTE: The assumption is that we receive the Spirit concurrently with our water baptism
*How does one know if they need to receive the Spirit?
(1) If you see yourself primarily as a sinner in need of repentance rather than a power-full new creation.
(2) If you are in bondage to fear, anger or sin.
(3) If you notice that you can’t do the things Jesus did or said you could do.
(4) If you wouldn’t describe yourself as abounding in love.
*Any of the above are good indicators that you need to receive the Spirit or be filled with the Spirit again.

A New Creation
*Being “born again” is just the start of the Christian life. The four parts of being born again really function as a chrysalis, where everything you were is melted down and you emerge as something completely different, capable of things your former self couldn’t imagine.
*The Bible calls Christians, “new creations.” Here are some of the things that are true of all those born again as children of God:
(1) God no longer cares to remember our sins and blots them out of His books. When He looks at us, He sees in us the same righteousness that was in His Son Jesus.
(2) We have the mind of Christ
(3) We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us and working through us
(4) We have a new heart that has God’s desires written on it
(5) We are called and equipped to do “greater things” than Jesus
(6) God promises to listen to our prayers with a sympathetic ear
(7) We can expect that God will answer our prayers
(8) We no longer live in fear of Judgment Day because it is the Day where we will receive our eternal rewards
(9) We can come with confidence before God, knowing that He loves us
(10) We can live lives free from the power of sin
*Living as a New Creation is a topic near and dear to my heart. It might even be my core life message. For me, living as a new creation is living in a way that is undeniably supernatural, attractive and contagious.
*We have to live life better than the world. If the claims and promises of the Bible are true – that we are new creations endowed with the mind of Christ and empowered by His Spirit – then we had better look different than the rest of the world, shouldn’t we? The Church should be on the cutting edge of health care, social justice, science, music, art, government – you name it. We should overflow with love, wisdom and power for all the world to see.
*I’m not saying we fake it or put on a show – people see through that. I’m talking about being the real deal. I’m talking about actually being transformed, actually loving one another and the people around us with genuine service and affection. Is it possible? I really think it is. And that’s why we’re doing this series. I want to give us a target, something to shoot for. I want to hold up the standards of Scripture without apology or trying to explain how that isn’t for today.
*And here is the tension. Reading the letters Paul, the other Apostles, and even Jesus wrote to the churches, it is easy to see that those congregations were a mess. Almost every one had issues that needed to be fixed – that’s what the letters were written for.
*Perhaps it is a lack of faith on my part, but I don’t expect us to be perfect. I don’t expect that we’re never going to have issues to deal with or that live is going to flow along smoothly for everyone all the time.
*What I do expect is that we will work through those things together, that we won’t give up or grow weary, that we will press on together into the things that God has called us to. It is foolish to think we could establish the Kingdom in our midst in all its fullness before Christ returns, but I don’t want that to keep us from trying. I want to go for it, with you, and see what 150 lives united in love can accomplish.

Ministry Time – Pray for anyone who needs one of the four parts

Are you a zoo or a jungle?

I’ve heard lions roar twice in my life. One time was at the St. Louis Zoo and the other was in Ngoro Ngoro crater in Tanzania. While the event was the same (a lion roaring), the experience was quite different!

I happened to be at the lion exhibit in St. Louis when the lion let loose. I remember watching through the glass/bars as he paced and stretched. Then he let out a tremendous roar that drew people from all the nearby exhibits. It was amazing to see the people flock to take pictures and admire this magnificent beast. I imagine it was the best part of the day for the kids at the zoo.

That event stands in stark contrast to my other experience. I was on safari in Tanzania at the end of a two week long trip. My group was going through Ngoro Ngoro crater and we had just stopped for lunch. We were outside the caravan of Jeeps taking pictures when someone spotted some lions off in the distance. They were a significant distance away, but people got a little nervous. Then, for some unknown reason, the male with the group roared. He sent the majority of the group scrambling for cover. I remember seeing one woman fumbling to open the door, slamming it behind her and locking it for good measure. It was quite the opposite of the zoo. No parents took their children by the hand to bring them closer to the King of the Jungle this time!

I share these stories because I feel like God is asking me, is asking us, “Are you a zoo or a jungle?”

As a Christian, I believe I have the Spirit of the One and Only God living inside of me. The Spirit of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is pulsing through my veins, animating me with the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead. So the question is, how am I treating him?

Am I a zoo, where people can observe God in me at a safe distance, never fearing that the two of them will meet? Or am I a jungle, where the Lion reigns supreme and anyone in close proximity to me had better take note that they are about to be encountered by the Risen Christ on his home turf? Am I a cage confining the Spirit to a lifetime of entertaining religious tourists, or does the atmosphere change when I walk into the room because I carry God inside me and He has the freedom to cut loose?

We all have to choose what kind of environment we will be. Humanity’s default is to put God on display for profit and we must consciously fight against that tendency. We are after changed hearts and lives and that can only happen when we bring the Kingdom of Heaven near.

“Stages” of Discipleship

As I continue to prepare for this Fall’s sermon series, The Normal Christian Life, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about discipleship. Jesus commands us to make disciples – not to have people make “decisions for Christ.” I believe Jesus envisioned a similar approach to what he did with the 12: grab some friends/relatives, walk through life together and, while doing so, teach and demonstrate what it means to be a son or daughter of God. Equip them, counsel them and develop Christ’s life within them. Then, when they are fully trained, they will be like their Master and can be sent out to repeat the process with others.

Like many people I’ve met, I was never discipled in an intentional way. Most of what I am and have has been gleaned from others, but my progress into maturity would have been much faster, much healthier and much more enjoyable had someone walked with me through the process.

As someone who is now discipling two young men, my challenge is to meet them where they are, figure out what stage of maturity they are in and help them to advance to the next stage of Christlikeness. It isn’t easy, I’ve never done it before, but it is invigorating and life giving. My goal is to get them to maturity faster than I got there and to see them surpass me when they get to the same stage of life I’m in. If I can do that, I know I’ve succeeded as a discipler.

Now, as to the “stages” I’ve mentioned. These are simply my own creation. I didn’t get them from anyone and they aren’t endorsed by any big-name preacher. They are simply how I think of people when I meet them. Feel free to take them and use them or change them into something that works better for you. The point is that you take ownership of the fact that you are called to disciple others and encourage them into Christlikeness.

I use the analogy of human life for my stages. It makes sense to me to think about discipleship in this way. The stages, as I see them, are: birth/baby, child, teenager, young adult, adult and elder.

(1) Birth/Baby
David Pawson has an excellent book and sermon series entitled, “The Normal Christian Birth.” The distilled version is this: in order for someone to have a good birth into the Kingdom, they need to (a) Repent of their sins and cut ties with their former life, (b) Believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, (c) be Baptized and (d) Receive the Holy Ghost. To miss any of these 4 components is to have a bad birth into the Kingdom that will hamper your walk with Christ until it is corrected.

Once someone is born again, they are a baby, a spiritual infant. They need a loving father and/or mother to look after them, love them and care for them. Babies are a lot of work. They require a lot of input and their only output tends to stink. Babies make messes, get into things they shouldn’t and need to be taught how to be part of a family. The Vineyard has a saying, “Faith is better caught than taught.” While solid Biblical instruction is essential to discipleship, people in the “Baby” stage rely more on models. The discipler has the divine responsibility to model for the Baby what it looks like to be part of the People of God. Doing life together is paramount in this stage.

(2) Child
As a Baby grows up into a Child, they start a more formal educational process. In addition to what the disciple has already learned about repentance from sin, believing in Jesus, baptism and being filled with the Spirit they also need to learn about living a holy life and have their entire world view shaped by a meditation on eternity – the New Heaven and New Earth that God will bring us into. Some think that teaching about Judgement, Heaven and Hell is for advanced disciples, but the Bible makes it clear that this is an “elementary teaching” (Hebrews 6). The sooner Christians start meditating on eternal life with God and storing up heavenly rewards the better.

A disciple in the “Child” stage tends to be really good at regurgitating information and really bad at critical thinking and application. They can correctly cite a bible verse, but don’t really know what it means or how the context of the verse nuances its application. Children tend to be very concrete thinkers and are, therefore, rather rule (Law) bound. They need skilled teachers who are able to affirm where they are and who also expose them to a wider range of truths, texts and applications. It is important to note that the Bible frequently holds two opposite and opposing views in tension and talks favorably about each.

(3) Teenager
Teenagers look all grown up, but are still immature. As disciplers, we can be too quick to think that someone has matured. Just because someone knows a lot of Bible verses, prays regularly, and has budding gifts does not mean they are mature or ready for leadership. They still need to go through a period of testing to see what is really inside of them.

Like their natural counterparts, spiritual teenagers tend to go through a rebellious questioning phase. They start examining the things they believe and try to push the boundaries, just to see if they can. A good example of this is the “hyper grace” movement currently circulating in the American Church. The “hypers” are exploring grace, trying to understand what it really means. Because they have that trendy, edgy feel so common in teenage cliques, they are getting quite a following. And they say outrageous things, “because Jesus paid it all, I don’t have to confess or repent. I live in sinless perfection.” OK, that sounds awesome – I’ll see you in five years, then you can let me know how living in a community of people who never confess or repent of their sins works for you.

Disciples in the teenage stage are at a critical juncture. They are in a place where they have a lot of knowledge (and think they know it all), they have spiritual gifts that are starting to manifest and an appearance of maturity. What they (oftentimes) do not have are mature characters. They are not in possession of the Fruit of the Spirit. This crisis point is essential to draw out what is really in the person’s heart. Will they rebel and go their own separate way, rejecting what they have learned and proving that they were stony or thorny soil? Or will they resubmit themselves to The Lord Jesus and enter into young adulthood?

(4) Young Adult
For those that successfully make the transition to the Young Adult stage, a whole new world opens up. They enter a world of endless possibilities and freedom. Because they have submitted themselves to authority (first Jesus, then their discipler and lastly their congregation) they now have authority. They can be trusted with some leadership responsibilities and their voice carries weight in the community.

Disciples in the Young Adult stage always have a busy life. Oftentimes people in this stage are working full time; married, engaged or seriously dating; living on their own and making their own way. They are learning to be responsible and productive. After receiving for so long, they are now making the transition to giving.

This is also a crisis point – will the disciple learn to choose relationship with Jesus as their highest goal and highest good. In the busy-ness of life, will they still take time to nurture their relationship with God?

Most people I know tend to get stuck in the teenage or young adult phase for a long time. They are either on the verge of total surrender and obedience or on just the other side and have gotten side tracked with life.

At this stage, the disciple is learning the cost of discipleship. They are beginning to realize that money doesn’t grow on trees and churches aren’t miraculously endowed with money each year. Just as it takes money to run a household, it takes money to run a church. They realize that all the food they ate in home group had to come from somewhere. They realize that everyone has a busy life and the time their spiritual family spent pouring into them was more precious than they could really comprehend at the time.

As these realizations begin to accumulate, the young adult starts to make the transition into Adulthood, maturity. They begin to give of themselves. They volunteer, they tithe, they evangelize and disciple others. Eventually, they decide that they will take responsibility for their own growth and seek to bless, love and encourage others.

(5) Adulthood
These are the people every pastor wants in their congregation. These are the committed, dedicated, passionate people that make ministry happen. These are the regular volunteers, the tithers, the people hosting home groups and teaching Bible studies. These are the people welcoming new believers into their homes and living lives of true discipleship.

These are the glory years of the Christian life. They are years where you are growing in communion with God, stepping into your true identity and calling, doing meaningful/fulfilling work, and seeing the Kingdom expand one man or woman at a time. The dividing walls between secular and sacred have come crumbling down and you can find God anywhere you look. You know God and are known by Him. You have peace.

(6) Elder
Very few people, in my opinion, make it to the Elder stage. For the record, I’m not using the term to mean the position of oversight talked about in the Bible. I’m using the term to talk about those venerable saints that make you shake your head in wonder.

In order to become an Elder, I think one needs to have been walking with Jesus for 40-50 years. Given that most of us really commit to the discipleship process between 20 and 30, that puts Elders in their 60’s to 80’s, provided they have done their homework and grown up before they grew old. Elders have an unmistakable air of grace around them. The only word to describe them is “holy.” These are the people Proverbs talks about when it says, “Grey hair is a crown to the aged.” These people have walked the walk, stood the test of time and been found faithful. These people know Jesus.

I’ve met a handful of Elders and they make me uncomfortable and comfortable at the same time. On one hand, they seem to be able to look through my bravado and see the insecure young man underneath. And at the same time, they make me feel so loved and encouraged I think I can do anything.

Elders leave a lasting legacy. Their lives have such a dramatic impact on the world around them that they are not easily forgotten, at least by the people that knew them. There is an almost critical shortage of Elders in the Body. Too many grey haired wonders have hung up their spurs and retired. Too many have gotten weary. Too many have been ignored by those obsessed with the new and the young. We need a resurgence of respect for the Elders of the Church – they would save us from a lot of needless struggle.

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So there is my list. I know it was a lot of reading, but I hope you found it helpful. As always, I love to hear your comments.

Thanks for reading!

Saltwater Fish and Freshwater Fish

This Fall, I will be leading my congregation through a sermon series entitled The Normal Christian Life. I’m seeking to answer the basic questions of Christianity for myself and then share them with the congregation. One of the questions I’ve been wrestling with is, “what is sin?”

A quick survey of the available literature reveals that the Church is really good at condemning certain sins, absolutely excellent at recounting various lists of sins from Scripture – Old and New Testament – and pretty abysmal at answering my question. The exceptions to this that I have found so far are John Piper and Wayne Grudem.

Piper and Grudem both answer the question, “what is sin,” by explaining the Reformed doctrine of “Total Depravity” – which in plain English reads like Psalm 51, “Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Piper and Grudem both do a great job of explaining that (pre-Rebirth) we aren’t sinful because we’ve committed sins, we commit sins because we are sinners. Grudem goes on to explain in Chapter 24 of his book, Systematic Theology, that the Reformed Doctrine of Total Depravity does not preclude people from being moral or performing acts of justice. It is just that, in a sinful state, we are not able to do anything that pleases God. “Our righteous acts are as unclean as a menstrual garments,” is Isaiah’s poetic phrasing in chapter 64.

As convincing and correct as I find both Piper’s and Grudem’s arguments, I felt something lacking. I couldn’t envision a clear and concise way of explaining this concept to an unbeliever – it was too heady and lacked conviction. So I set to work praying, asking God for a way to preach this message in a way that would be easily understood and carry the proper punch. I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I’ll share what I have so far.

As far as I am aware, there are two main categories of fish – saltwater fish and freshwater fish. Each type of fish has evolved to be comfortable in that certain environment and to transplant a saltwater fish into freshwater (and vice versa) is to kill the fish.* So, if I wanted to save a bunch of fish in the ocean, I couldn’t just dump them off at a neighbor’s farm pond – the change of environment would kill them. If I wanted to transplant those fish, I’d have to find a way of changing the internal environment and chemistry of the fish so that they could survive the different level of salt in the water.

That is exactly what Jesus does for us.

We were all born as “saltwater fish.” If I were to corrupt David’s Psalm to fit my anaology, it would read “Surely I was a saltwater fish from birth. I was a saltwater fish from the moment my mother conceived me.” Through no conscious effort on our part, we were born saltwater fish. And the salt in the water is symbolic of sin. Fish in the ocean can see the salt in the water, even though it is all around them and directly impacts how they live and function. So it is with us. Until the Holy Spirit gives us the ability, we are blind to our own sinful nature, our own corrupted thoughts and desires. It isn’t until Jesus draws us to himself that we are able to see things clearly for the first time.

To continue with the analogy… the Kingdom is freshwater territory – saltwater fish don’t feel comfortable there, they are as hostile to that environment as the environment is dangerous to them. You can be the biggest, baddest fish in the ocean and it doesn’t matter – the Kingdom is Freshwater. Conversely, you can be the kindest, gentlest, most virtuous saltwater fish there ever was – and it still doesn’t matter because the Kingdom is Freshwater. Neither of them can live in the Kingdom for any length of time unless they become a different kind of fish.

Whichever of the two fish mentioned above you relate to the most, you still have to come to Jesus. He alone has the ability to change you on the inside so that you are comfortable in the Kingdom and that it will be a life-giving environment for you. Obtaining Eternal Life in the Kingdom isn’t about being moral and following a bunch of rules – it is about submitting your life to Jesus as your Lord and Savior. That is why we say we are “saved by grace through faith and not by works.” Will we go on to do good works after we’ve been transformed? Of course! That is what the children of God do – but we can never confuse our external acts with our internal state before The Lord.

That is what I have so far friends. Was this a helpful analogy for you? Why or why not? Could I clarify anything? Would you feel comfortable using this analogy when you are evangelizing?

I want to refine this concept because I think it articulates the heart of the Gospel, but I need feedback. If you would take a moment to comment below or send me an email, I would greatly appreciate it. As always, thanks for reading.

* [Full disclosure: in researching this allegory I did discover that there are certain subtypes of fish, mainly bull sharks, that can seemly survive for extended periods of time in either environment. For the purpose of this example, those fish are excluded. =) ]

What I Meant to Say: Metanoia (Repentance)

Matthew 4:17 is the nucleus of Jesus’s life and ministry. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near,” is the essence of Jesus’s work on the earth. Everything we see in the Gospels flows from it. Therefore, it is essential that we understand what Jesus means in those first few words recorded in Matthew.

I’ll preface this by admitting that the word “repentance” has a lot of baggage associated with it. The word has been damaged in our culture and is in great need of explanation so that we can understand it correctly. Repentance is the absolute first step to salvation – it is imperative that we understand it well and can explain it to others.

Let us first examine what repentance is not.

When we proclaim the Good News, we want people to repent. However, getting people to repent is not us trying to convict other people of their sins so that they will turn to Jesus for forgiveness. Convicting people of their sins is Holy Spirit’s job (see John 16). A great many saints have taken this approach through the years and God, in His mercy, has allowed it to be fruitful. Even still, I do not think this is the most effective means of advancing the Gospel.

I’d like to go on to explain what repentance is by comparing and contrasting two Greek words, metanoia and paranoia.

Paranoia is a word we are familiar with in English. It describes a disease wherein someone is absolutely consumed with thoughts of other people, specifically, that other people are out to “get them” or do them harm. This is exactly what the word paranoia means in Greek – para means “alongside” or “beside” and noia is the word for “thinking” or “mind.” So, paranoia has a double meaning – it can mean “outside your mind” (meaning madness), or it can mean “thinking about the people beside you.” Paranoia is literally the fear of man, being consumed with thinking about the people around you and what they are thinking about you. Paranoia is a disease of the enemy that steals, kills and destroys a sound mind.

Metanoia is commonly translated as repent, which is really unfortunate because that isn’t anything like what the word means in Greek. If you think about it, re means “to do again” and pent is from the word penitent which means “feeling or expressing sorrow for sin.” So repent literally means “to feel sorry and do penance over (and over) again.” Yuck. But it helps explain why we evangelize the way we do. We’re trying to get people to feel sorry for their sins.

Contrast that with the actual Greek word metanoia. Meta can mean “to change” or “above” and noia once again means “mind” or “thinking.” So metanoia also has two meanings – “to change your mind/thinking” or “to think about the things above,” meaning God. If paranoia is being concerned with what other people think of you, metanoia is being concerned with what God thinks of you.

So, what does Jesus mean when he says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”? I think what he means is this: “The Kingdom of Heaven, God’s reign and rule, has come near to you. I’ve proved it by healing the sick, casting out demons and even raising the dead. God is real, and He is coming as a King to overthrow His enemies and establish His Kingdom on the earth. How are you going to live in response to what you have seen and heard? Are you on God’s side or not? I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – I am God’s terms of peace. If you will submit to me as your Lord and Savior I will spare you from the wrath that is soon to come on the earth. If you don’t, them you stand condemned already as those that have rebelled against God and rejected His terms of peace.”

The sentence I highlighted above, “How are you going to live in response to what you have seen and heard”, is what I understand Jesus to mean with the word metanoia. Repentance can only happen when we have been confronted with the Superior Reality of God’s Kingdom. When we see God’s Kingdom triumph over the kingdom of this world through signs, wonders, miracles, love, mercy and forgiveness then we have a choice to make – will we align with Immanuel (the God in our midst) or will we continue our allegiance to the Prince of this world through unbelief, skepticism, cynicism, fear, revenge and unforgiveness? While metanoia is oftentimes accompanied by remorse over sin (Acts 2:37), it isn’t always (see Acts 10).

To clarify, I don’t want to do away with the English understanding of repentance, that is, “to feel sorry for our sins.” As Disciples of King Jesus growing in holiness, we will experience sorrow for our sins. We will grieve how we have hurt God’s heart through willful disobedience and we will ache over how we have caused pain to those we love when we act contrary to our true nature. What I am trying to make clear is that, as it pertains to Evangelism, we are required to confront people with the Reality of God’s Kingdom in such a way that it gets them to think about God. And if we can get them to ask questions like “What does God think about me? Are we on good terms? Were Jesus to come back right now and establish the Kingdom, would I be on the winning side or losing side?” so much the better.

I long for the Church to reclaim metanoia. I long for us to look for ways to change people’s hearts and minds by demonstrating the true Gospel of Grace. I long to see Disciples of Jesus carry His Presence in such a powerful way that whenever we walk into a room, we can truthfully say, “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near to you.”

I believe that day is coming. I believe it is promised to us in the Scriptures. My prayer is that I will live to see it, even pastor a group of people who will be the living embodiment of the “greater things.” Amen, let it indeed be so!

Rude Awakening

11:00pm. 12:00am. 12:30am. 3:00am. 4:40am. Those were all the times my son got up last night. And he was wide awake at 4:40. Uuf da.

There are so many wake up calls when you become a parent. And not just the ones in the middle of the night. I’m talking about the wake up calls of character. It turns out I’m not as patient, kind or gentle as I originally thought. I just never encountered anything that riled me up too badly.

As 5:00, then 5:30 then 6:00 rolled around with no signs of Emory slowing down, I decided to make a pot of coffee. I grabbed my old favorite mug – wide rimmed, rustic country style with a picture of corn on the side. It reminded me of all my early morning quiet times pre-children. Fond memories for sure, but they came with a bitter edge this morning.

You see, I used to think I was so spiritual. Up at 6 of my own accord to read the Bible and journal while I sipped coffee with a splash of cream – that was my picture of the ideal Christian life. But here is what I realized – it is easy to be spiritual and not holy.

“Spiritual” is a word thrown around with nauseating frequency these days. Worse, it is a non-word, empty of any significant meaning. People use the word to describe situations or experiences that give them the tingles, but don’t transform their lives. They are “spiritual” and carnal at the same time.

Spirituality is an individual pursuit. It is you worshipping in the context of yourself. It really isn’t anything short of idolatry.

Holiness, however, can only be worked out in community.

Holiness is being like God. It is reflecting His image as purely and consistently as we can and we only know if we are being successful if there is someone else to see it. The presence of another human being reveals our hearts far better than hours spent alone in private meditations.

I am not holy unless I am holy at my absolute worst. When everything is against me, when everything is rubbed raw, when I am squeezed to a pulp – what comes out? Trials don’t build character, they reveal it. I don’t get to explain away my feelings, words or actions by saying “I’m tired,” “I’m hungry,” “I’ve been around too many people,” “I have stress at work or at home.” I don’t get to do that because God doesn’t do it.

It humbles me to think of how God interacts with me. I throw tantrums and pity parties enough for six people, I can’t imagine how He deals with me so gently knowing that He deals with the same stuff in each of the 7 billion people currently on planet Earth. What humility. What grace. What patience.

And I am made in His image and likeness. I’m designed to reflect and incarnate His character. I have His Spirit and His Mind. I have a new heart that longs to please Him.

I also have a long way to go in this journey of holiness. I have recently become aware of a whole host of things that were previously hidden from me. It is more than a little discouraging, but I’d rather know what is there so I can deal with it than continue in dysfunction and unholiness and hurt the people around me.

So here is to being decidedly unspiritual and embracing the work of carrying my cross of obedience and holiness. Here is to working out holiness in the context of community and seeing people as a blessing. Here is to giving up my unBiblical ideas of the pseudo-Christian life and embracing what it means to be the Body. I know this won’t happen perfectly, but that is precisely the point. I don’t get better at being Jesus in the worst of times unless I get to practice.

Daily Bread

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray in Matthew 6, he taught them to pray “Give us today our daily bread.” What has interested me these last few days is that just before Jesus launches into the Lord’s Prayer, he prefaces it by saying, “When you pray, don’t keep on babbling… your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” If God knows what we need for our daily sustenance and survival, what is the point of asking Him for it, especially if we are to avoid unnecessary words? Also, just a little while later, Jesus instructs us not to worry about what we are going to eat and drink because we are precious to our Father and just as he feeds the birds of the air, so too, will He feed us.

So it got me thinking — is Jesus instructing us to pray for something other than daily food and water? Is “daily bread” a cryptic form of instructing us to pray for another type of sustenance and, if so, what are we to be praying for?

In John 4, Jesus has sent his disciples into the city to buy food. While they are gone, Jesus has a nice chat with the woman at the well and reveals to her that he is, indeed, the Messiah. Upon the disciples return, they urge Jesus to eat the food they have just brought back, but Jesus replies, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about,” John 4:32. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work,” John 4:34.

Jesus obviously needed to eat real food, but there was another type of food that sustained him – spiritual food – daily bread.

I believe that our Daily Bread is to do the good works we were created to do. Our Daily bread is to overcome the enemy, prevail in prayer and set up the Kingdom on the earth. I’ve often wondered if Jesus drew from the story of Caleb and Joshua when he taught his disciples to ask for daily bread.

To recap: Joshua, Caleb and 10 other spies are sent into the Promised Land after their Exodus from Egypt. They were to bring back a report of the land itself and also its inhabitents. Upon their return, the spies related that the Land was exceedingly good, but that it was inhabited by giants. 10 other spies urged the people to not go in, but Joshua and Caleb protested. They said, “Do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

Joshua and Caleb saw the giants as bread. Conquering them would sustain the conquest of the Promised Land and inspire the Israelites to greater glory. Sadly, the Israelites gave in to fear and spent the next 40 years wandering until every last one of them died.

I wonder if Jesus was trying to get us to pray big prayers. I wonder if he was inviting us to ask our Heavenly Father for giants to overcome. I wonder if he was hoping that we would lay hold of our identity as “more than conquerors” and seek out those things that seem so large in the eyes of men and overcome them through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The more I wonder, the more I ponder, the more certain I become – Daily Bread is the establishment of the Kingdom of God through the hands of His Saints. Daily Bread is healing the sick, raising the dead, and making demons homeless. Daily Bread is bringing people to salvation through Christ. Daily Bread feasting on the fruit of answered prayer.

This revelation has changed how I pray. I used to think that asking for daily bread was asking for the grace to scrape by. I now think that asking for Daily Bread is asking for supernatural empowering to overthrow demonic strongholds and to eat giants for breakfast.

One last thing. Jesus taught us to pray in the plural. We ask for OUR daily bread. I can’t win the Promised Land by myself – I need an army behind me. Once again, the story of the Israelites becomes pertinent.

In the course of their wandering, some of the Israelites became content with life outside the Promised Land. The Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh all found life outside the Promised Land quite satisfactory and they wanted to stay outside, they didn’t want to fight. But Joshua made them. Joshua made the men fight until their brothers had inherited their portion from The Lord, only then could they all rest secure.

It isn’t enough for me to fight for and secure my own portion, I have to fight for and secure yours along with you. Until the whole people of God have stepped into their inheritence, none of us can rest. We have a responsibility to our brothers to fight for them, to see them secure in their identity and destiny. Any less than that is to work against what Jesus taught us.

I hope that this revelation sparks a fire in you. I hope that you begin to pray big prayers. I hope that you really come to understand that you are more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus who loves you. I hope that you dream big dreams and fight for the dreams of your friends. We need you.

Personal Prayer and Corporate Prayer Revisited

My last post was mostly about the need for corporate prayer and intercession, so before I circle back around to talk about personal prayer, let’s recap what we learned about intercession.

*Intercession, entychano literally means, “obtaining the promises of God,” “laying hold of the Kingdom and pulling it into our circumstances,” or “causing things to unfold in a certain way.”

*Intercession is absolutely essential to the unfolding of God’s plans and purposes. “You do not have because you do not ask,” says James. Without prayer we won’t receive many of the things God would willingly give.

*We always pray corporately, even when we pray privately. Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the plural – “Our Father… give us today our daily bread.” There is an understanding in Christian theology that I can’t be full unless you are. I can receive my inheritance unless you receive yours because part of my destiny won’t be unlocked until you succeed. Intercession is fighting for the dreams of our friends.

Personal prayer, proseuchomai, has the all encompassing definition, “to pray.” This type of personal prayer includes a wide range of heart postures including petition, thanksgiving, praise, worship, confession, intercession, lament and so on. Every type of emotion or experience can become a seed bed for prayer, as attested to in the Psalter. What is less understood is that personal prayer also encompasses a wide range of activities. You can journal, paint, soak in a bathtub or in music, stand, kneel, dance, lie prostrate, raise your hands or sit by a creek. Any type of activity can be partnered with prayer so long as prayer is your primary goal.

So that is a little bit about what prayer is, but now comes the deeper question – why? Why does God want us to pray? I’ll attempt to answer that question by telling you a story.

On the morning of June 30, 1859, Charles Blondin became the first man to ever cross Niagara Falls in a tightrope. Monsieur Blondin would go on to cross the Falls over 300 times, each time upping the ante. He was famous for crossing the Falls blindfolded, stopping to cook and eat an omelet halfway through and pushing a wheelbarrow filled with 350# of concrete safely across.

Legend says that Blondin once asked the crowd if they thought he could push a person across in the wheelbarrow. Seeing one man cheering wildly, Blondin asked the man if he would like to get in. The man declined.

I don’t know if that particular story is true, but I know this one is.

Several weeks after Blondin’s initial crossing, he showed up to cross with his manager, Harry Colcord, clinging to his back. Before they started their crossing, Blondin was overheard telling his manager, “Look up, Harry.… you are no longer Colcord, you are Blondin. Until I clear this place be a part of me – mind, body, and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself. If you do we will both go to our death.” The two went on to make a very successful crossing to the amazement and thrill of the 50,000 onlookers.

I love the words Blondin spoke to his manager. They are equally appropriate words for Jesus to speak to us – “Look up. You are no longer you, you are Me. Be a part of Me – mind, body and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do this by yourself. If you do, you won’t make it.”

The goal of prayer is conformity with Christ. It is to make us one in mind, body and soul. It is to help us think how he thinks, feel what he feels and act as he acts. Prayer is anything but a disembodied experience that begins and ends when we enter our prayer closet. Prayer is a continuous, ongoing experience where day by day, even hour by hour, we have an ongoing dialogue with God and are led by His Spirit.

The chief goal of prayer is to pray until God’s will becomes ours and our will becomes His.It is the only goal we need. I get uncomfortable when people offer up a dozen reasons to do something because it feels like they are trying to convince me to do something I wouldn’t want to do. All we need is one really good reason — and letting the Word come alive in our flesh in the place of prayer is the best reason of all.
The only other reason to pray worth mentioning, in my opinion, is that prayer gets us involved in eternal things. When we give ourselves to the place of prayer we become co-laborers with God, bringing about the Kingdom of God. I say this because prayer is not prayer in the biblical sense unless it is accompanied with action. We can’t pray for God to feed the hungry and not do it ourselves. We can’t pray for God to care for the orphans and not take them into our homes. We can’t ask for God to bless marriages and not give everything we have to building up our own. Unless prayer is followed up with action it is nothing more than good intentions – it is powerless and hypocritical.

Prayer is the place of transformation, of conformation. Prayer is where the power is because it is the place where we touch God’s heart and get His perspective. Prayer is where we deal with our own brokenness and sin, it is where we fight our lions and bears so that, when we are faced with Goliath’s in public, we have the power and authority to deal with them. This is why I say that prayer is the proving ground.

I once heard Bill Johnson say, “I can pray for you to do what I can do, but I can’t impart my history with God to you. You have to make that for yourself.” We all need to make history with God and that happens in the place of prayer. It won’t benefit us or the world to work miracles if we don’t have the character and integrity to stay faithful to God and in love with His Son Jesus.

We live in an age that loves individualization. We want our own personal plan for discipleship. We want Jesus to cater to our needs and make us holy without much effort or inconvenience on our part.

That just isn’t going to happen.

The method of transformation and discipleship is unchanged in 2,000 years of church history and has been making high caliber saints the entire time. The plan is to pray. Pray and read the word. Pray and fast. Pray and worship. Pray and give. Pray and serve. Pray for your enemies and everyone who hates you. Pray by yourself and pray with the community. Pray, pray, pray – pray without ceasing and devote yourself to prayer.

Only prayer will transform you. Only prayer will result in a life of communion with God. I don’t want to undermine the importance of Scripture, but many of the greatest saints of history were illiterate. They couldn’t read or study, so they prayed and the course of our world was radically adjusted because of their intercession. Of course, if you’re reading this, then you can read and you should study the Scripture dilligently, letting them form your imagination and give you language and passion for your pursuit of God. My point is simply to say that prayer, more than any other discipline, is essential to the work of sanctification.

Daniel, Peter, John, Paul, Jesus – all these men had set times for prayer. If you want to do what they did, you must do what they did. Before we can go around “doin’ the stuff” we first have to get “the stuff.” And “the stuff,” the anointing of the Holy Spirit, only comes in prayer (see Luke 3:21, Acts 2:1).

There is no single enterprise that is more important, more inspiring and more impactful than the work of biblical prayer and intercession – that is, making a petition with the full intention of being the answer to your own prayer. Did you pray for The Lord to heal Aunt Sally? Then you’d better call Aunt Sally and release healing over her. If at all possible, The Lord wants to use you to answer your prayers; prayer is a full contact sport, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

One last thought. When David wanted to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, he first tried to bring it on a cart. The cart hit a bump and Uzzah payed the price. After further investigation, David found that the Ark, the very Presence of God Himself, could only be carried on the shoulders of the priests. The take-away is this: God doesn’t anoint methods, he anoints men (and women!). No program is going to usher in the Presence of God into your congregation, only prayer. When the people of God step into the Priestly model that Jesus lays out for us in Hebrews 7:23-25 we will once again see the Presence of God being carried by the People of God. Amen, let it indeed be so!

Personal Prayer vs. Corporate Prayer

I just had a mind-blowing revelation about prayer that I wanted to share with you. I seriously think this message can change the prayer culture in our congregations if we can get ahold of this.

The greek word for personal prayer in the New Testament is proseuchomai. It means, “to pray, to wish for.”

The greek word for corporate intercession in the New Testament is entychano. It is a conjunction of en “in, or into” and tychano, which means “to take part in, to obtain or provide, to (cause to) happen in a certain way.” Corporate intercession in the New Testament has the connotation of obtaining the promises of God, manifesting the Kingdom by taking it out of the theoretical and into the tangible through unity in prayer – that is pretty exciting!

There is something about agreement and unity in prayer that God finds irrisistable. Breakthrough, answered prayer, happens more frequently when a community prays in a concentrated manner rather than with scattered individuals offering up their own private wish lists. Corporate agreement in prayer is part of the Church’s mandate to make things “on earth as they are in Heaven.” It is the Church living out its mission of ekklesia, “the ones called out by Jesus to gather in his name for the purpose of exercising his governmental powers for the well-being of the city” (Alexander Venter, “Doing Church,” p.36).

Thomas Rainer has noted that the most effective congregations in evangelism and discipleship are the congregations that have a high value for corporate prayer. He also notes that, as the value for corporate prayer and intercession decline, so does the health of the congregation.

Corporate prayer and intercession is an essential ingredient in the Christian life. Corporate prayer and intercession isn’t for the super spiritual, the super anointed, or those who have a “passion” for prayer. It is for everyone. When Luke summarized the key components of the Early Church, he described them as being “devoted to prayer.” The word “devoted” is used 10 times in the New Testament, 6 of those times it is used to describe how Christians should be in prayer. To be devoted is to be set apart. To be devoted is to be in a particular habit or pattern of prayer that frequently draws you away from regular life and into the secret place. Only you and God know if “devoted” is a word that described your prayer life, but if it doesn’t then I encourage you to make the necessary changes to come into alignment with this biblical standard.

Corporate prayer is sorely lacking in my congregation right now. It isn’t part of the DNA of my tribe and that is a major hole. I believe that sustained corporate intercession is the key to transformation. Intercession, entychano, is what is needed to obtain God’s promises, to pull the potential into the concrete, to enable us to declare “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Nothing less than anointed men and women coming together in corporate agreement with the Kingdom of God will result in changed hearts and lives. Prayer is the proving ground, the place where our hearts are overshadowed by His heart. It is the place of transformation and innovation. Prayer enables us to work more effectively because God is working with us, preparing the road ahead of us.

We don’t need more or better methods of churchmanship. We don’t need to decide if we are “missional,” “seeker sensative,” “attractional,” or “emergent.” We need to be people of prayer. We need to be people available for the Holy Ghost to use whenever and wherever He so chooses. Amen.