Publication: Pastoral Letter, February 2009
Dear Friend in Christ:
The old hymn says, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer. ”What a privilege to speak to the Living, Sovereign God! And what possibilities it offers mortals. Tragically, privilege and possibility are often missed. I am writing to you so that we will not miss them in this serious season.
If all things are predetermined, why does God say to pray? Has prayer a power? Does God actually listen? Is He moved by prayer? Is God simply looking for “seekers” who will become instruments of His purpose and power? I believe so, but I candidly confess that prayer remains a mystery to me, a mystery that I too often neglect or exercise with too little faith.
GOD IS CALLING
God is calling us to pray then act_not the reverse. He is calling us not so much to comprehend the incomprehensible, but to practice the possible. He is calling us to penetrate the clouds of circumstance with powerful, purposeful, and penitent prayers of faith to see His power and purpose.
When God looks at the Church, what does He see? Does He see prayer warriors and volunteers, or does He see spiritual spectators and retired veterans of past wars? No doubt the scene varies from place to place. But I care what He sees when He looks at our house.
Our current blessings are due to former victories, but future victories and blessings will only come as we rise in prayer to meet current challenges. Past exploits will not defeat present enemies.
When God looked upon the Ephesian church (see Revelation 2-3),He saw a church that had lost its first love. When He looked at the Laodicean church, He saw a self-satisfied, lukewarm church. When He looked at the church at Pergamum, He saw a fruitful church prepared to die for His name.
Only God can show us what He sees; when He does, it may break our hearts, but His purpose is to shape our hearts to seek His face and become instruments of His purpose. We believe in Him and His Kingdom, but His Kingdom comes through prayer and obedience. It comes as we pray for it to come and seek it first (see Matthew 6 and Jeremiah 29:13).
In 1964,I had a vision: our church was gathered on Sunday morning ,I in my suit, the choir in their robes, and the congregation in their Sunday best. Then the Lord said, “That’s how you see it. Do you want to know how I see it? ” With some trepidation, I said, “Yes.” I will not describe what I saw, but it greatly disturbed me, and I began to seek God. Along with other men, I spent many weeks of Spirit-led prayer, waiting and seeking God for hours – often upon my face. Since those days and nights, many good things have followed – unimaginable blessings. But now in many cases, the barn is no longer full, workers are few, and some fields lie wasted by the wild beasts. What shall we do? Should we seek better methods or seek the Lord?
The Scripture tells us that no man can come to Jesus, except the Father draws him(see John 6:44) .Is the Father drawing us? Is the “breeze blowing in the mulberry trees”(see 2 Samuel 5:26)? Is He saying, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden”(see Matthew 11:26)? Can we find rest for our souls in turbulent times? I believe so. Can we penetrate the clouds of circumstance and come to the Throne of God? I believe so. Are there abundant reasons to seek God now? Yes, I believe so!
The task, as I see it, is three-fold:
(1) Seek God until we hear from heaven_clearly.
(2) Speak what God is saying – clearly.
(3) Obey and demonstrate the message.
I freely confess that I have often failed in all three areas. Even when I was successful in all three areas, it was not always met with acclaim. But the task remains.
Andrew Murray wrote the Nineteenth Century classic With Christ in the School of Prayer. He pointed out that we are kings and priests to God. He says that kings have power downward,and priests have power upward prevailing with God. It is through our priestly prayer ministry that we reign with Christ. Without a powerful priestly ministry, ruling is mere ambition. The priority is to reach God, then people – not the reverse.
In 1963, I was given Charles G. Finney’s autobiography. Finney told of his pre-Christian skepticism and legal training; he told of his conversion and Baptism in the Holy Spirit and the revivals that followed. While I differ on some theological points, Finney understood the power of prayer. His book changed my life.
Finney offers several characteristics of effective praying:
(1) Must be definite – specific.
(2) Must be in accordance with the revealed will of God.
(3) Must be in submission to the will of God.
(4) Must be intense commensurate to its importance.
(5) Must be born of righteous (unselfish) motives.
(6) Must be in the Holy Spirit who knows the mind of God.
(7) Must be persistent.
Serious, effective prayer has changed history. In 1966, I had the privilege of conversing with Dr. John Abernathy who was a leader in the Shantung revival that occurred in the 1930s in China. He gave me a copy of a book, personally signed, that told the amazing story of salvation, healing, deliverance, and even raising the dead. Hundreds of thousands were affected by that outpouring that began in a difficult, dangerous, and spiritually dry season.
I asked Dr. Abernathy if any believers had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. He replied that thousands of people had that experience.
The seeds of that experience are multiplied in China today – and in the 1930s, they blew across the ocean as the church in New Orleans where my father was a member heard of the revival, and entered into many months of prayer with similar results. Revival came to the bayous of Louisiana. And no doubt, my father’s experience affected me years later. In many ways, this has indirectly affected some of you.
The surge that began in China met waves that began in the United States in Topeka, Kansas, and Houston, Texas. The ripples of those revivals still resonate in history and are touching all of the continents. Effective prayer opens limitless possibilities. It has been said that when we organize, we get what organization can do, but when we pray, we get what God can do.
When Dr. Abernathy signed the book that he gave to me, he added Jeremiah 33:3,“Call unto me and I will show you great and mighty things that you know not.” Indeed, God did, and He will again.
THE PROP 8 STORY
Last year, Proposition 8 was placed on the California ballot. It was a voter’s initiative signed by Californians to prevent gay marriage, which had been approved by the California Supreme Court. California often leads the nation in cultural influence. Millions of dollars were poured into the campaigns on both sides. The attacks against proponents of Prop 8 and people of faith were often vicious and sometimes violent. Most of Hollywood, the “mainstream media,” and many large corporations were behind the supporters of gay marriage.
Christians and churches came together across the state to pray, organize, and vote. The proposition to defeat gay marriage prevailed handily. California believers won a great victory for all of us…but the battle continues.(For continuing updates on this issue, visit our CSM website’s News and Discussion Forum in the “Current Events” topic section.)
Several of my friends in San Diego worked and led in the effort, and two of them will be featured at our upcoming Gatlinburg conference, sponsored by CSM, April 22-24, 2009. George Runyan and David Hoffman will bring messages on prayer. The theme is A Call to Arms: Prayer and Action! I hope you are planning to be with us_visit www.csmpublishing.org for more details and registration.
Gay marriage is but one issue in the battle for hearts and minds. The emerging social agenda is anti-Christian, anti God, and anti-tradition. The response of believers must be more than to react in carnal warfare. While we need to awaken and activate people, we must do more. We must confess our own sins, seek God, and obey Him. Then we need to get out into the fields where the harvest is.
RIDE THE DONKEY
I am reminded that Mary rode a donkey to the lowly stable in Bethlehem where she travailed to give birth to our Savior. And thirty-three years later, He rode a donkey to Jerusalem, where he travailed in prayer to the point of sweating blood, and was crucified to save us.
The donkey is a lowly beast of burden and humility. Perhaps it is time for the Church to “ride the donkey” to its place of travail in order to see real revival. We must humble ourselves and get off our high horse. If we can do what 2 Chronicles 7:14 says and what Jeremiah 33:3 says, we can see another real wave of God’s grace.
God is calling us to humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways…ways of self-interest. The possibilities are beyond what we could ask or even imagine, if we obey.
The task is to confront the enemy who would devour our land and our children. The opposition is not flesh and blood, but spiritual forces in high places. To capitulate or simply go on as though nothing has changed is unacceptable and disastrous.
We must remember that if we do obey, those who are for us are more than those who are against us. We can pray effectively and see great victories in heaven and on earth; infinite and eternal results.
The loss of my dear Carolyn, plus my own age, and the times in which we live have moved me to look for the “donkey” that I must ride to the place of travail. Like Samson I ask, “Lord, can I do it one more time?” Like Simeon and Anna, can I endure to see the Lord’s salvation? Or, will I drift into some “spiritual veterans” club while current battles rage? By God’s grace, I will once again answer the call. I pray that you will re-enlist with me.
Please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your giving this month. Like many ministries recently, we have faced significant financial challenges, even as we continue to move forward in opportunities to sow the Gospel seed in more than 70 nations. If this ministry has been a blessing to you, would you prayerfully consider a special gift to support our work this month? And, would you let a friend know about the spiritual resources available through CSM? Thanks, and may God bless you and your loved ones!
Scripture Reference: Revelation, Jeremiah, Matthew, John, 2 Samuel, 2 Chronicles,