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Monthly Archives: December 2014

How to pray for your city

The world is now over 50% urban. According to Mike Davis in ‘Planet of Slums’, in 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with a population of more than one million; today there are 400, and by 2015 there will be at least 550.  If cities are where the world’s population are moving then how can we respond in mission-focussed prayer?

What you need to get started:

  • A large map
  • A history text on your city (or the internet)
  • Good walking shoes
  • An open heart

Step One: Study

Get to know the place you live in.  This may take a little research and an investment of time but the better you grasp the places and people that make up the urban landscape the more informed your prayers could be.

  • Understand the History of your city: growth patterns, why it’s growing, who are the immigrants to the city, where did they settle and where do they work?
  • Understand and map the different areas: downtown, blue collar neighbourhoods, ghettos, industrial parks, commercial areas, etc.
  • Understand the power centres: political figures, police departments, religious leaders, media outlets, centres of commerce, finance, schools, and areas exploring the arts?
  • Understand the spirituality of your city: what temples, churches, mosques and sacred monuments are there?
  • Understand the social make-up: what ethnicities and social classes live and work in which areas?

Step Two: Walk

  • Observe: the streets, different areas and people. What do you see?
  • Meet People: find out what the needs are in the different communities, hear stories, ask questions.
  • Pray: Walk the streets and ask God to show you what he sees and to know His heart.

Step Three: Pray and become the answer to your prayers

Now you have a good understanding of your city and the people within it, share your knowledge with your community.  Decide how you will pray for the city personally, with friends and as a church community.   Bless the good, pray for the leaders within it, and pray for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done in areas of deprivation or difficulty.  If God particularly gives you a heart for a need or social challenge how could you and your church be part of God’s solution to the problem practically as well as prayerfully?

Listening

Did you ever notice that God gave us two ears but only one mouth? Sometimes we forget this when we go to pray, and we spend the whole time talking to God. Listening is a particularly simple way to pray, but it can be challenging if you’re not used to it.

Try listening

  • Make space – listening takes time and it helps if you start by removing distractions.  Choose a place and time that helps you focus on God.
  • Clear your head – many people find it difficult to still their minds when they sit in silence. If you find you’re thinking of things you need to do, make a list for later then put it to one side.
  • Don’t worry – if the thoughts filling your mind are about situations or worries you want to pray about, don’t try to push them down.  Give them to God one at a time and then let go of them.  Don’t let anxiety absorb your energy.
  • Learn to recognise His voice – God can speak in many ways.  He can use our thoughts, feelings, the bible, our experiences or our surroundings to capture our attention.  If you find your mind filling with pictures or thoughts that seem a bit strange or random. Pay attention to them and test whether you think they’re God’s voice.  He will not contradict what He’s said in His word, and the Holy Spirit can help you with discernment – the ability to tell God’s voice from others or ours.

As you finish be sure to write everything down, even the things that seem strange or unrelated to anything. If God is speaking He will continue the conversation, or you can ask Him to confirm what He’s said in other ways as you go on with your day or week. If they are just random thoughts, that’s okay; it’s all part of the process of learning.

5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible

5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible

We do God and His Word a disservice when we turn Scripture into something it’s not.

By John Pavlovitz

December 23, 2014

John Pavlovitz is a pastor/blogger from Wake Forest, North Carolina. An 18-year veteran of local church ministry, he currently writes a blog called Stuff That Needs To Be Said, and in 2015 is launching an online Christian community called The Table. John has been married for 17 years to Jennifer, and has two children; Noah (9) and Selah (5).

The Bible.

Christians talk about it all the time, though what they mean by “The Bible” isn’t always clear. That is to say, other than the catch phrase “God’s Word” I’m not sure what the Bible is to many who claim it as the sacred text that guides their life. I’m positive we’re not all on the same page, so to speak.

Some Christians want to make the Bible something it isn’t, and it makes for some disastrous conversations and dangerous assumptions, especially in interactions with other Christians.



Here are 5 things about the Bible I wish more believers would consider:



1. The Bible Isn’t a Magic Book.

The Bible isn’t The Good Book. It isn’t really a book at all. It’s a lot of books. It’s a library.

Its 66 individual books run the diverse gamut of writing styles, (poetry, history, biography, church teachings, letters), and those books have dozens of authors; from shepherds, to prophets, to doctors, to fishermen, to kings. These diverse writers each had very different target audiences, disparate life circumstances and specific agendas for their work; so we don’t approach each book the same way—for the same reason you wouldn’t read a poem about leaves the same way you read a botany textbook. Some are for inspiration and some for information; we receive and see them differently.

If we can see the Scriptures this way; as many diverse works telling one story in one collection, Christians can free themselves from the confusion about what they mean when they say “literal.” We don’t have to equate history with allegory with poetry, or read them in the same way. We can also see the Bible as a record not just of God, but of God’s people, and we can find ourselves within it.

2. The Bible Isn’t as Clear as We’d Like It To Be.

Often, (especially when arguing), Christians like to begin with the phrase, “The Bible clearly says…” followed by their Scripture soundbite of choice.

If we’re honest, the Bible contains a great deal of tension and a whole lot of gray on all types of subjects.

Those people aren’t always taking the entire Bible into account.

If we’re honest, the Bible contains a great deal of tension and a whole lot of gray on all types of subjects. For example, we can read the clear Old Testament commandment from God not to murder, and later see Jesus telling His disciples that violence isn’t the path His people are to take.

But we also see God telling the Israelites to destroy every living thing in enemy villages, (women and children included), and we read of Moses murdering an Egyptian soldier without recourse from God.

That’s why some Christians believe all violence is sinful, while others think shooting someone in self-defense is OK. Some find war justifiable in some cases, while some believe all war is inherently immoral.

Same Bible. One subject. Several perspectives.

That’s not to say that truth is relative, that God doesn’t have an opinion on violence or that He hasn’t given us His opinion in the Bible. It’s just that the answer may not be as clear and straightforward as we like to pretend it is.

Many times, when Christians say the phrase “The Bible clearly says…”, what they really mean is, “The way I interpret this one verse allows me to feel justified in having this perspective.”

When you read and study this library in its totality, there are certainly themes and continuities and things that connect exquisitely, but if we’re honest we can also admit there are ambiguities. It doesn’t diminish the Scriptures to admit that they are complex. On the contrary, most great works throughout history are.

3. The Bible Was Inspired by God, Not Dictated by God.

Christians will often rightly say that the Bible was “inspired by God,” and I completely agree. However, that idea often gets twisted in translation.

The Bible is “God’s Word,” but we need to be careful about what we mean when we say it was “written” by God. These are the words of men who were compelled by God to tell, not only what they claim to have heard God say, but things happening in and around them—their struggles, personal reasons for writing and specific experience of God. Of course they were inspired by God, but they remained inspired human beings, not God-manipulated puppets who checked their free will at the door and transcribed God’s monologues like zombies.

The book of Timothy says the Scriptures are “God-breathed,” that they originate from God, but it doesn’t claim they are God-dictated.

4. We All Pick and Choose the Bible We Believe, Preach and Defend.

Christians often accuse believers with differing opinions of “cherry picking” from the Bible;  holding tightly to verses they agree with, while conveniently jettisoning ones they are uncomfortable with.

The only problem is, each time this assertion is made, the one making the accusation conveniently claims objectivity; as if they somehow have a firm, dispassionate understanding of the entirety of Scripture, without bias or prejudice, and that the other is violating that.

As we mature in our faith, some of us may be able to shake off some of our personal biases and get closer to the true meaning of Scripture. But until then, most of us have our own Bible, made somewhat in our image. There are as many specific individual interpretations of Scripture in history as there have been readers of it. Our understanding and belief about the Bible is a product of our upbringing, the amount of study we’ve had, the friends we’ve lived alongside, the area of the world we live in, the experiences we have and much more.

Is it really fair to accuse someone else of selectively using Scripture, unless we’re prepared to admit to the same crime in the process?

The words in the Bible point to someone for whom words simply fail. The words give us some frame of reference, but ultimately, God is far too big to be contained in those words.

5. God Is Bigger Than The Bible.


This past week, I took a walk along the beach, taking in the ocean. For those who’ve ever done so, you understand the vastness; the staggering beauty and power; the relentless force of the tides. You know the smallness you feel; the overwhelming scale of creation you find yourself face-to-face with.

Billions of words have been written about the ocean. I could gather up every single one of them; the most beautiful, vivid, accurate descriptions from fisherman, marine biologists and poets. I could read every last word about the ocean to someone who has never been there—and it would never do it justice.

There’s simply no way to adequately describe the ocean in words. You have to experience it.

I wish more Christians would admit that the Bible, at its most perfect and inspired, is a collection of words about the ocean. They are not the ocean itself.

God is the ocean.

The words in the Bible point to someone for whom words simply fail. The words are filled with good and lovely things that give us some frame of reference, but ultimately, God is far too big to be contained in those words.

The Bible is not God. The Bible is a library filled with inspired words about God. We can discover and explore and find comfort there. We can seek the character of God, and the message of Christ and the path we’re to walk in its pages.

We can even love the Bible. I certainly do.

But we should worship the God who inspired the Bible.


Prayer ideas to try together

Ideas for small groups

Praying small groups is a great way to grow closer to God as a community. Whether your gathering with friends, a prayer triplet, a cell, small or house group, or with fellow students or co-workers, small numbers make for a flexible time of prayer. If you’re not in a small group already then gather a group of three to eight people and find a place and time to meet regularly.

Prayer ideas to try together

  • Keep a Prayer Journal: Have a prayer journal to record the things you pray for and how God answers them. It is an amazing reminder of the way God works and a great thing to look back on each week.
  • Prayer Walk: Pick a neighbourhood or place and walk with the intention of asking God to show you where He’s at work, what He cares about and how you can pray.  See our prayer walking page for more.
  • The Lord’s Prayer: Divide the Lords Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) into sentences and take it in turns to expand on the meaning and lead the group in prayer for that theme.
  • Pray For Each Other: Put a chair in the middle of the group and have one person at a time take turns in the chair while the rest lay hands on them and pray. If people are unfamiliar with praying aloud then start by asking everyone to pray one short, positive and blessing prayer over the person you’re focussing on. You can dedicate a prayer meeting to praying for everyone in the group or you can pray this way for one person each week.
  • Get creative: engage all five senses and try varying the style and method of prayer.  Use silence, speaking out and song.  Try eating something as you pray for hunger for God to be stirred in your area.  You could ever write, draw or paint the answer to what you’re praying for.  For more ideas go to ‘How to pray creatively’.
  • Study Prayer: Read a chapter of a book on prayer each week, discuss it and practice what you learn.
  • Pray for your city: Take a city newspaper from the day or week. Have the small group go through it and find things to pray for. Then pray for them and the current events in the city.
  • Don’t stop because your times up: at each meeting every member of the group could write a prayer request on a small piece of paper. These can be swapped and everyone take someone else’s need home with them. Each week you could have a different person and request as your prayer project.

Fasting

Hungry for God?

Fasting is the voluntary giving up of something we normally do regularly in order to increase our focus and time commitment for God. Most commonly fasting is linked to food and can be anything from not eating anything for a period of 24-7 hours, to giving up a specific thing we like and eat regularly for a period like Lent. The purpose of give something up is to show that we love God first. It’s also useful for our own personal development because when our comfort is removed the negative sides of our character can emerge.

“More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.”

Richard Foster

Why fast? Well, because…

  • Jesus expects us to fast (Matt 6:16-18) and suggests that there are answers to prayer we will be unable to get without it (Matt 17:21)
  • The Bible is full of it – Esther, Anna, Cornelius, Paul, Daniel, Ezra and David all fasted
  • The early church practised it (Acts 13:3)
  • Breakthroughs in the past have been linked to it – Luther, Knox, Wesley, Spurgeon, Brainerd, Edwards all fasted. Whenever Charles Finney (who led about a million people to Jesus) felt the anointing of God receding in his life he would get away to pray and fast for several days.

There is something intangible and hard to define about the power of fasting, we see many examples of it in the Bible and within the life of Jesus.  Moses fasted for forty days when he went up Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments (Deut 9:9).  The nation of Israel practiced fasting and fasted as a community once a year (Lev 23:27). Most notably after his baptism Jesus was led into 40 days of prayer and fasting in the dessert before launching into three of the most impacting years a human has ever lived on this earth.  There is power in denying ourselves to seek God, fasting connects us to Him and gives strength to our prayers.

If you want to take on such an extreme food fast challenge then don’t make the decision alone.  Consult their doctor for a recommended diet in the run up to and end of the fast, a challenge like this takes preparation for your body and mind.

For health reasons total food fasts for a day or more aren’t recommended for anyone under 16, expectant or breast-feeding mothers, or anyone with a medical disorder affected by diet like Diabetes.  We also recommend that food fasts should not be entered into by anyone with a history of eating disorders. Fasting should be a positive dedication to God, so maybe discuss your motivation for fasting before committing to it.

If food is an inappropriate focus then there are many other (sometimes more challenging) ways to fast.  You could try fasting:

  • Television
  • Your Phone
  • Social time or media
  • Speaking
  • Sleep

Get creative and give fasting a try.  Find something that is a sacrifice and can free up time to be spent with God.

Presenting the whole Gospel

Yesterday a friend of mine(Sara) posted up about a popular T.V. preacher on Face Book which drew a lot of attention.(I hope she sees this and re-posts here.)

To me the real issue was……. what is preaching the gospel?Is it the part that makes us feel good? What does Jesus really say about being a christian? What is proper self-image. Is it wrong to preach in such a way that people leave church with conviction and feeling challenged to walk out the Christ life?

So what do you think? Let’s share without being mean and get to the bottom of this.

 

 

Keith

An Advent Prayer: Jesus Is the King We Always Wanted

Dec 16, 2014 | Scotty Smith

     Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isa. 9:7 (NIV)

Dear Lord Jesus, your righteousness is our surety and your sovereignty is our sanity. Hallelujah,many times over. How could we have possibly imagined that your humble Advent entrance through a stable would lead to the stable-ization of the universe, and that your cradle would eventually rock our peace-less world?

Truly, there’s only one government and one peace sufficient to meet the needs of our sinful hearts and broken world. You are already installed as “the ruler of kings on earth” (Rev. 1:5) and ofeverything else. King David’s throne has become a throne of grace, from which you are actively ruling the world with your truth and grace. Joy to the world, indeed!

Indeed, you are zealously working all things together after the counsel of your will. You—the Lamb of God, the Lord of Lords, and the Lamp of the New Jerusalem—are working in all things, for your glory and for our good. No one and nothing can derail, deter, or distract you from bringing to completion your good work of redemption and restoration.

You don’t promise to do all things easy, but you always doing all things well. Forgive me when I get impatient with your timing, don’t enjoy all your providences, and second-guess your involvement. I’ve lived long enough to know you do some of your “best work” when I am actually feeling the absence of your presence.

As the gospel of your kingdom continues its transforming work in my life, may it advance throughmy life. Give me more joy than I’ve ever had before in loving and serving people. Intensify my hope in the Day you will return and finish making all things new. So very Amen I pray, in your mighty and merciful name.

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