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Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Power of Prayer When Two or More Agree

ImageIn the last two days, I wrote first here and then here about praying with someone else, and I have always been encouraged by two verses in chapter 18 of Matthew about the power of prayer when two agree together.  It says:

“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.”

– Matthew 18:19 (NASB)

What an encouraging passage!  I have claimed this verse many times in my life, praying with a friend, and understanding that there was a special connection with the Lord because two of us were agreeing together to petition the Father.

But then I started hearing from different sources that I was taking the verses out of context.  In reality, the joy stealers told me, these verses are about church discipline, not prayer in general.

Well, I always want to have my theology straightened out or my understanding of God’s Word corrected, even if it means my personal disappointment.  However, on a straightforward reading, these verses do seem to be talking about prayer, even if the previous context is also about church discipline.

Well, if you’ve ever wondered about this, you would be encouraged by this little note I found recently in Wayne Grudem’s book, Systematic Theology.  Dr. Grudem’s teaching supports my earlier understanding of this verse and even says this: “Praying with others, then, is also right and often increases our faith and the effectiveness of our prayers.”  He footnotes his section on praying with others with this thought:

“Although the previous four verses (vv.15–18) have to do with church discipline, the word “again” at the beginning of v. 19 signals a slight change in subject, and it is not inappropriate to take vv. 19–20 as a broader statement about prayer in general in the context of the church.”

So there you are – an encouragement to find a buddy and agree with him or her in prayer.  The verse means just what it looks like it means: there is power in prayer, and apparently a special power when two or more agree together.

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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My Summer With Sommer

Dave and his wife Kris

This week I’m in Minneapolis for a Pastor’s conference which I atttend every year.  It’s put on by Bethlehem Baptist Church, where John Piper pastors. The family came with me minus Josh who has his nose to the grindstone at school.  It was two years ago at this conference that I ran into an old friend whom I hadn’t seen or heard from for 20 years or so: Dave Sommer.  I hope to see him again this week.

You’d love Dave. He’s a joyful guy with a gentle, godly spirit; I found out when we ran into each other that he had only become a pastor a few years back. But it was more than 25 years ago that Dave and I were roommates for a summer, and the Lord used that time in my life in a very significant way.

The previous year had been a low point in my life.  It was my junior year at the University of Illinois and you might call it my Nebuchadnezzar year.  Me, the “A or B” student, well, I had almost flunked out.  And I think I know why: You know that time in the book of Daniel when Nebuchadnezzar went out on the roof of his palace and looked at Babylon and thought about how great he was?  The result was that God made him go mad for, well, I guess about 7 years.  Without going into all the gory details, I also was afflicted with an overestimation of my own importance, and so, in God’s providence, I went mad for about a year.  I was coming to the end of it (and the end of myself) when Dave and I became roommates in a houseful of Navigator guys during the summer of ’86.

There were about 5 or 6 guys in the house that summer, (one guy rented it and the others subleased from him, as I remember) and as it turns out, there were only so many bedrooms, and so two of us were going to have to share a room.  Dave and I volunteered.  What I remember about those few months is that he and I decided we would seek the Lord together.

During the day, he worked at a local bank while I labored at University Food Service, but when we would come back in the evening, we would often slow down and pray together.  It was a healing time for me.  I remember praying the Psalms and singing hymns.  it’s funny what you recall.  For instance, I remember singing “Be Thou My Vision” and Dave slightly cracking up, having trouble singing the last verse (“High King of Heaven my victory won.  May I reach Heaven’s gates O bright Heaven’s Son…”) Apparently, he kept thinking about “hiking in heaven” and couldn’t get that picture out of his mind. I still think of that to this day.

One day we were praying the Psalm that says “Your lightning lights up the sky”, and Dave recalled the thunderstorm from earlier in the day when that very phenomenon had taken place. I guess you had to be there, but for us, it was a God moment.

Sometimes God puts special people in your life at just the right time.  By the start of school that fall, I was on my way to sanity, healing and maybe a little greater humility.  God’s work through my summer with Sommer helped to speed me on my way.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

My Favorite Prayer Partner

Diane and I will celebrate 20 years of marriage this coming May.  By God’s grace, that means we have been praying together almost every day for two decades.

It was Dennis and Barbara Rainey of Campus Crusade that gave us the idea, back in the day.  One or both of us (I asked her – she can’t remember either) heard some teaching by the Raineys regarding the blessings of praying daily with your spouse, and after the wedding day, we decided to really go for it.

In those first few days of praying together after our wedding, our consistent prayer request was, “Lord, enable us to establish the habit – keep us coming back.” We had to pray this – I love to start things, but I’m not always so crazy about finishing, and I had the sense that just starting to pray with Diane would be nice but not enough.  Praying together for a lifetime could be huge, so I thought that if we wanted to pray…we had to pray.  Anyway, God answered those initial prayers, and after a while it became a beautiful habit.

Our prayer times aren’t long at all – truthfully, maybe just one or two minutes. We have a TV in our bedroom (I know the experts warn against it – I never said all our habits are great) and are usually watching something for at least a short bit at the end of the day.  So there comes a moment during our “zoning” time when I will turn to her and say, “Hey, let’s pray.”  I pray and then she prays.  Sometimes the prayer time knocks her out so it’s the end of our TV for the night. Then again, sometimes I keep watching.

We pray for the kids every day, for the church sometimes, and then for whatever else is on our hearts.  The prayer for the kids is key – we also prayed for each of them every day when they were in the womb – I would daily lay my hand on her belly and beg God for His blessings on the little one we didn’t yet know.

Praying is great for fights.  There have been a few times in our married life when we were having a pretty good argument towards the end of the day. But we know what we have to do in such cases:  We reluctantly make up…and then pray.

If there is any advice we offer to the engaged or newlyweds, well, you know what it is – pray together every day.  I feel pretty blessed in my marriage to Diane, and I think prayer is the key.  A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

The Day I Heard the Voice of God

There aren’t a lot of days in my life I can say that I know God sent a message intended just for me.  But there are a few. This is one of them…

It was the fall of 1998.  We were living in Lake Forest, Illinois, and I had spent the year interviewing for senior/solo pastor positions.  I was asked to interview for the position at Waupun Evangelical Free Church (Edgewood).  It had been a busy year with trips to visit churches in California, North Dakota (two different churches), Maryland, and Arkansas. We actually had a lot of fun traveling the country, and three of those churches had offered me their position, but we didn’t sense any of them were quite right.  However, all of those churches were solo pastorates.  This Waupun thing was not – there was an Associate Pastor (Mike Giebink) – and it was the largest of all the churches I had interviewed with at that point (the statistic I received at the time was 225 people).

That first interview (by phone) with the people in Waupun was scheduled on Monday evening, October 12.  On the morning of the 12th, I took a prayer walk to talk to the Lord.

I was nervous.  Not only was it the largest church I had interviewed with, but there was an associate staff person, and they were heading into a building campaign.  I knew that I was weak in administration, and I doubted my qualifications. So I told the Lord about my concerns.  I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember what he said.  As I was walking, some semi-obscure verses from the book of Numbers popped into my mind that I had memorized some time before:

Joshua, son of Nun, and Caleb, son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes, and said to the entire Israelite assembly: “The Land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.  If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into the land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord, and do not be afraid of the people of the Land, for we will swallow them up.  Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us.  Do not be afraid of them.” – Numbers 14:6 – 9 (NASB)

Well, that was all it took.  I was buoyant and encouraged as I headed back to our home, realizing that even if I doubted my abilities in pastoring the church in Waupun, the Lord could give grace and bring it about.

I went inside to look over the information that the church had sent, and I turned on the CD player to put on some Michael W. Smith.  At first, however, I got the radio; it was Chuck Swindoll preaching in his Insight for Living broadcast (I liked Chuck, but wasn’t in the habit of listening to him). The message was set at Dallas Seminary, and he was speaking to pastors or future pastors…from Numbers 14.  When he got to the few verses God had just brought to my mind, he actually read them, and I got down on my knees there in the kitchen at 770 W. Westleigh in Lake Forest…and began to cry.  There were four guys set to interview that night, but I had an advantage over them – I already knew the outcome.

We were going to Waupun.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Prayer, Uncategorized

 

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Random Thoughts On Journaling

“Journaling is key – must journal as I meet with God.” – note in my journal from our European sabbatical, June 3, 2009

I’m sitting here in the living room with a stack of old journals in front of me.  Josh is playing the piano, providing some nice background music.  Life is good.

Anyway, about journaling – I’ve been doing it for the better part of three decades, I suppose, but never more than since I returned from sabbatical in 2009.  I have filled 6 or 7 journals since then.  Something clicked for me in Scotland – in the town of Stirling there were 3 coffee shops that became little sanctuaries for me – where God came down, and it seems He often came down…in my journals.

It’s funny because I had set off to Scotland to walk the hills and pray, which I did to some degree, but the idea turned out to be more of a romantic notion than a very practical one.  There were lots of hills to walk, but since doing so was often a new experience, I found myself looking around more than I was talking to God, not altogether a bad thing – I love God’s creation.  It’s just not what was going to bring me the greatest joy.  So journaling and praying and reading at Costa Cafe, Cafe Nero and Cafe Crema in downtown Stirling became my little slice of heaven.

If you were to read my journals over the last 30 years, you would see patterns.  For instance, you would see resolution after resolution after resolution.  It makes me laugh to think about it.  Lose weight.  Exercise. Spend less. Stop eating so much. Go to bed earlier.  Pray more.  Read the Bible more. Get up earlier.  Lose weight again. I think there are fewer resolutions today, which doesn’t mean that I’ve started doing all the right stuff – not at all – just that I’m a little more content, let’s say, in a good way. Maybe the gospel is sinking in more – Jesus accepts me even with the extra 25 lbs.  (But I really should get to the gym more…)

In more recent years, I have taken to writing down thoughts from the Bible or books I’m reading, usually word for word.  I have thought that I would like to do this in a more organized fashion, so that I might be able to come back to these various ideas, but I haven’t gotten there yet.  I could use a computer to record thoughts from books I’m reading, but the idea of having my laptop out when I’m meeting with God seems…well, wrong.  Some people journal in their computers.  I’ve put a few entries in bits and bytes, when I had forgotten my actual journal, but it’s a poor substitute for paper and ink. Something about writing is cathartic.  I can almost feel myself relax and the tension float away when I write, “Good morning, Lord…”

How honest am I in my journal?  That’s an interesting question.  Mostly honest, I think. Of course, by “honest”,  I’m not talking about lying, but transparency.  How can you write a journal without thinking of posterity? In other words, when I am pushing up daisies, I imagine my kids might have some interest. I think it was George Washington who had his private letters burned; all I can say to that is…what a bummer. Now, I’m no George, but I think it would be a crying shame for my descendents to lose the history in my journals. I would love to have journals from my father or mother or even grandfather or great grandparents (I actually have a few pseudo-journals from Dad, but mostly the interest level is low: “went to the gas station; then bought eggs.” That sort of stuff.)  With posterity in mind, there are certain things I don’t write about (use your imagination), but I do wrestle with God in my journals, and I wrestle with myself, and sin.

I love to start a new journal. I often start each new one with very neat handwriting, but that doesn’t last long.

And of course, I pray in my journaling.  Sometimes I am writing to no one in particular; sometimes I am writing to the Lord.  It just depends upon my mood, I guess.  I do write out my prayers in a formal way occasionally; Bill Hybels did that and it seemed to work well for him, so I do it every so often, but not regularly. Mostly when I am praying in my journaling, it’s just recording my thoughts in the presence of the Lord.  And through the process, He sometimes really seems to speak to me, like when I had the sense that He was saying we should call Jeremy Thompson to be our campus pastor in Fond du Lac, or when He gave me Isaiah 54, the whole chapter, as a promise in Scotland.  That was glorious.

I’d better stop now. I need to start getting to bed earlier…

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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What Does it Mean to Wait on the Lord?

Dr. Grudem

Dr. Wayne Grudem was a professor of mine in seminary, and I had a sense that he was a man who really knew and loved the Lord.  One day a student asked him in class how we might teach the people in our (future) churches as well as he taught us.  He said, “Do what I do: tell stories.”  I loved that.

He also wrote one of my favorite books that I use regularly in ministry, called Systematic Theology.  For that dry title, Dr. Grudem does a terrific job, in the words of Garrison Keillor, of putting “the hay down where the goats can get it.”

What does it mean to wait for the Lord? This passage from Systematic Theology encouraged me on Tuesday.  To explain it, not surprisingly, he tells a story, and his last thought is greatly encouraging…

“After crying out to God for help in distress, David says, ‘Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the LORD!’ (Ps. 27:14)…

“An analogy from human experience may help us to appreciate the benefit of waiting before the Lord for a response to prayer. If I wish to invite someone home for dinner, there are various ways I can do so. First, I can issue a vague, general invitation: ‘It would be nice to have you come to dinner sometime.’ Almost no one will come to dinner based on that kind of invitation alone. This is rather like the vague, general prayer, ‘God bless all my aunts and uncles and all the missionaries. Amen.’ Second, I could make a specific but hurried and impersonal kind of invitation: ‘Fred, can you come to dinner Friday night at 6:00?’—but as soon as the words are out of my mouth, I rush away leaving Fred with a puzzled expression on his face because I didn’t allowhim time to respond. This is like many of our prayer requests. We simply speak words to God as if the very act of voicing them, without any heart involvement in what we are saying, will itself bring an answer from God. But this kind of request forgets that prayer is a relationship between two persons, myself and God.

“There is a third kind of invitation, one that is heartfelt, personal, and specific. After waiting until I’m sure I have Fred’s full attention, I can look him directly in the eye and say, ‘Fred, Margaret and I would really love to have you come to dinner at our home this Friday at 6:00 p.m. Could you come?’—and then, continuing to look him in the eye, I wait silently and patiently while he decides what to answer. He knows from my facial expression, my tone of voice, my timing, and the setting in which I chose to talk to him that I am putting my whole self into this request, and that I am relating to him as a person and as a friend. Waiting patiently for an answer shows my earnestness, my sense of expectancy, and my respect for him as a person. This third kind of request is like that of the earnest Christian who comes before God, gains a sense of being in his presence, earnestly pours out a request to him, and then waits quietly for some sense of assurance of God’s answer.

“This is not to say that all our requests must be of this nature, or even that the first two kinds of requests are wrong. Indeed, in some situations we pray quickly because we have little time before we need an answer (see Neh. 2:4). And sometimes we do pray generally because we do not have more specific information about a situation, or because it is far removed from us or because of shortness of time. But the material in Scripture on earnest prayer and on waiting for the Lord, and the fact that prayer is personal communication between ourselves and God, do indicate that prayers such as the third kind of request are much deeper and will undoubtedly bring many more answers from God.”

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Shamelessly Persistent Prayer…and Glorious Answers: The story of Daws

My own prayer life has been significantly impacted by the prayer lives of others, and one of these is a man named Dawson Trotman.  Like King David, Daws was a man after God’s own heart and was used greatly by God to start The Navigators, a Christian organization emphasizing a personal walk with God, evangelism, discipleship and Scripture memory.  The man who led me to Christ was part of this organization, and thus I attended Navigator meetings at West Point and eventually became a student leader with them at the University of Illinois.

There are two biographies (that I know of) written on Daws, and what follows is an excerpt from one of them, The Navigator, by Robert D. Foster.  Foster describes how, early in his ministry (my guess – circa 1930), Daws and his friend Walt claimed a promise from God (Jeremiah 33:3) and subsequently saw incredible answers to their petitions:

Beginning that very week, early in the day before the sun came up, they rode out to a canyon near their homes, built a fire, and knelt in prayer.  With open Bibles, they began to pray by name for the boys God had given them through their Sunday school and Boys’ Club ministry.  For two hours each morning they brought their requests to God, pausing only to reread from the Bible the great and precious promises that spurred them on when they felt their prayers were going nowhere.  Often they would break up grudgingly, in order to get to work by 8:00 a.m.  On Sunday morning, they met and prayed for three hours.

Dawson recalled that as the days passed, “We prayed for Harbor City and Torrance and Long Beach and San Pedro and Los Angeles and Pasadena and then the surrounding cities.  I had received calls from Christian leaders and pastors asking us to come over to their churches and show them how they could reach young boys. The third and fourth weeks we began extending our prayer interests up the West Coast – San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, and Seattle.”  Daws and Walt decided that if God could answer prayer right where they lived in southern California, He surely could do it in other places too…While these promises were soaking in their souls, God began giving them faith to believe that He was going to enable them to reach for Christ men from all of the forty-eight states.  They started praying for men from Washington, Oregon, Texas, Illinois, and then throughout the eastern U.S. on down to Florida.

Dawson continued: “I don’t know which one of us suggested that we get a map of the world, for that surely would give us a good prayer list for weeks to come.  We bought a world map with all the nations in beautiful color and would leave it up there in the hills, covered up at night with a piece of old canvas.  Each morning we would roll it out and put our fingers on China, Japan, a little island called Formosa, and the Philippines. As we moved in our prayer time, we started praying for Greece, the island of Cyprus, Egypt, and the countries of Africa. What exciting days as we covered the world in our intercession, praying by name for each nation and asking, ‘God allow us to serve You some day in each of these places and enable us to reach men for You in every one of these continents of the world.'”

At the end of forty-two days, they felt the burden lift, and they began to thank God that he had heard them and was going to fulfill what He had promised.  During the six weeks they had spent over one hundred hours in prayer in the hills together with God, asking Him to use them to win and train men for His glory around the world.  Little did they realize what was in store for them in the years to come!

Many years later, while looking through some papers in a drawer, Daws found a purple card with “Washington” written on it, and under it was the name of a sailor from that state won to Christ through Daw’s witness.  Here were other names – Les from Illinois, John from Texas, Ed from Wisconsin. Daws and Lila discoved that evening that men from every one of the forty-eight states had been touched by their ministry…

The end of that forty-two day prayer meeting marked a turning point in the life of this man who believed God…That turning point in Daws’s life came when he made a covenant with God to believe God’s promises and to intercede for men. Daws believed that this kind of prayer was not the privilege of a select few, but the right and responsibility of every Christian. His only regret later in life was, “I only wish that I had asked God for more!”

Having been personally led to Christ and discipled by The Navigators, I don’t think it’s too far off to think that my own Christian life is an answer to those prayers in the southern California hills some 80 years ago, and maybe…those whom God has used me to touch and reach as well…

Keep praying!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Prayer

 

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