Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Proper Prayerful Worship: A Desire to See God's Will Fulfilled (Part 3)

“I pray that the eyes of your heat may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” – Ephesians 1:18-19 (Context)

We have been focusing on prayer as a purposeful focus on God: His will; His grace; His plans; and His forgiveness. As a Christian, I must be biblically informed in order that my prayers are in “harmony with the will of God” (JM). I want God's will because God's will and counsel is good, wise, and perfect according Him – but don’t miss that God’s countenance is perfect for us, always . This kind of conscious, Spirit enlightened expression communicates "our praise, our unworthiness, our desire to see God's will fulfilled, and our utter dependence on Him for all our needs" (ibid). Thus, our prayer is worshipful.
In his book, “Knowing God,” J.I. Packer poses that the problem of knowing God is that most people, even Christians, do not think highly of – or fear – God. Do you think highly of God (Isaiah 5,6)? The God-ward focus of Jesus’ model prayer is impossible to miss with His opening lines establishing the focal point of non-repetitive, intimate, worshipful prayer. Jesus starts the prayer praising God’s name, expressing active willingness for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done (Matthew 6:7-14).  The supplicant is concerned for the honor of God and the extension of His Kingdom. Everything else fits into that context, so that the whole agenda of prayer is determined by the Kingdom and glory of God. This is perhaps the most important perspective to keep in mind in all our praying.

Alabama Christian Athletes Praying
            Far from being merely a wish list, godly prayer is fundamentally an act of acknowledging God’s sovereignty, confessing our own total reliance on His grace and power, and looking to him as Lord and Provider and Ruler of the universe. God is not some celestial Santa. Any prayers that are self consuming, self indulgent, self aggrandizing; any prayer that seek whatever I want no mater what God wants; any prayer that suggest God must deliver because I have demanded it – those are prayers that take his name in vain. Such praying is egregious sin against the nature of God, against the will of God, and against the Word of God. Because such prayer is an act of worship, to offer a prayer based on such a heinous perversion of God’s character is tantamount to worshiping a false god.

Source: Pulpit Magazine, Premier Issue. Oct 2012. Vol. 1 No. 1. Ipad version.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Perhaps the Most Christian Human Being"

by Huffington Post's Jim Wallis

I just learned about Gordon Cosby who was a prolific and catalytic Southern Baptist pastor in D.C. During the days of segregation in America Cosby's ministry advanced interracial Sundays in D.C. - a practice which would arguably shape the vocations of so many pastors, more than any other figure in his generation (NPR). Cosby is not very famous but this amazing national tribute to his lasting endeavors provides for some really good legacy meditation. I sure hope some of these characteristics can be ascribed of me at my funeral.

“World War to Spiritual War”
After he graduated from seminary, the country was entering the war, so Cosby enlisted as a chaplain. Cosby was part of the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. He helped pull wounded soldiers to safety and ministered to the dying. For his service he earned a Silver Star for bravery.

"At Normandy, he buried hundreds of young men, including his best friend," says Wes Granberg-Michaelson, who knew Cosby for 45 years.

"As he dealt with young men who were facing death, he realized how poorly equipped they were to deal with the questions of life and death and how poor their faith had prepared them," Granberg-Michaelson says. "And it was that experience that convinced him to — if he survived the war — come back to the states and he would start a church that would have the ability to form faith deeply."

After his return in 1946, he did just that. The Church of the Saviour was one of the first places of interracial worship in the city. One of the tenets of membership in the church was a commitment to service in the community. Members were required to work with the homeless at shelters and at the church-run hospice and medical clinic.

“Could have been Famous but the Church was Most Important”
As his reputation grew, Cosby got invitations to speak from all across the country. He turned them all down; Cosby wanted his church to remain small. "What Gordon understood is that the model of church that he was setting forth — it wasn't going to survive if the church simply got larger and larger and larger," Granberg-Michaelson says. Gordon Cosby never needed or wanted to be out front or become a famous public figure. He could have spoken across the country, and was often invited to do so. But he instead decided that his own vocation was to stay with a relatively small group of people trying to "be the church" in Washington, D.C.: the Church of the Savior, which has produced more missions and ministries, especially with the poor, than any church I know of anywhere in the country -- even the huge mega-churches who capture all the fame. He never wrote a book, went on television, talked to presidents, planted more churches, built national movements, or traveled around the world. He just inspired everybody else to do all those things and much more. And the world came to him.

“How to live the Gospel and Love like Christ”
“Gordon Cosby taught us how to live by the Gospel and, in these last years and months, he also showed us how to die,” says Jim Wallis. In one of my many visits near the end of his life, Gordon said to me in his deep graveling voice, "I am enjoying dying." What a Gospel thing to say. From the first time I heard Gordon preach, to the last sermon he did a few years ago, I have never heard the Gospel and its meaning more clearly articulated than from Gordon Cosby. As one person said last night, "You knew he loved like Christ, and he made you want to love like Christ too."

“Holy Unrest: Thriving After Death”
Brian McLaren, an author and former evangelical pastor, says that while many evangelical churches don't often survive the death of their founders, Cosby's work is a living testament. "The deeper and broader legacy will be his indirect legacy on the people who were captivated by his holy unrest," McLaren says. "That he just could never be satisfied that the church was fulfilling its potential and that the Christian faith was fulfilling its potential."

1. Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/gordon-cosby-teaching-us_b_2925125.html?utm_hp_ref=religion
2. NPR: http://www.npr.org/2013/04/14/177218091/pastor-mentor-and-social-activist-remembering-gordon-cosby

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Power of Worshipful Prayer (Part 2)

By John MacArthur

When we properly make our requests known to God – without anxiety,
through prayer and supplication, and with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6)
 – we are acknowledging His sovereignty, confessing our own total reliance
on His grace and power, and looking to Him as Lord and Provider
and Ruler of the universe – not as some kind of celestial Santa.
Leading into this next installment on prayer, we are becoming more intimately acquainted with the power and succinctness of prayer through the examinations of John MacArthur. He describes the joy of praying as "the distilled essence of worship." The problem of the misunderstanding of prayer is examined in the first article adopted from Pulpit Magazine's first issue. Particularly examined is how many Christians view prayer as nothing more than "a kind of utilitarian wish list." Unfortunately many stop there and miss out on the unmistakable "parallelism between prayer and worship (5)." This is no coincidence.  Diving deeper we examine how to have closer and lasting fellowship with the Lord God, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit through praying.

There are several problems with the perspective of prayer as exclusively asking. Prayer is more than merely asking. First, Jesus' model prayer is more than merely "asking." Don't misunderstand, prayer does include asking: there are petitions for daily bread (the bare necessities) and forgiveness (the most urgent of spiritual needs). But the model prayer Jesus gave His disciples also includes at least four of the five elements. There are many who want to eliminate from their definition of prayer: praise, adoration, humiliation, and confession.

Remove praise and penitence form the Lord's Prayer and you have gutted it. Insist that proper prayer "is not anything else but asking," and you overthrow one of the central lessons we learn from Jesus' example, that prayer is first and foremost an act of worship. Even worse, such teaching sets up a kind of role reversal between the one praying and the God to whom they pray.

Contrary to what the Bible teaches about our role and bondservant-relationship with the Lord, so-called “Name-it-and-claim-it” theology teaches that man is sovereign and God is his servant. The person praying thinks they are in the demand-and-command position, with God in the role of the servant who is obligated to cough up whatever we ask for. This sort of thinking has more to do with pagan cargo cults than with biblical Christianity.

Prayer is much more than merely asking and receiving. It is indeed a great privilege to come boldly before the throne of grace and to let our requests be made known to God (Hebrew 4:16; Philippians 4:6).  Scripture repeatedly promises that if we ask for anything in faith, God will answer – meaning if we ask in accord with God’s will as prompted by His Spirit (which we shall commune with actively in daily dialogue), He will always graciously and generously respond, not necessarily give (Matthew 7:7-11; 17:20; 21:22; Mark 11:24; James 1:6; 1John 3:22). He often grants our requests “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us (Ephesians 3:20, NASB).

Godly prayer is fundamentally an act of worship.
But the nature of a genuine, faithful prayer is clearly spelled out in 1John 5:14: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” In other words, the promise of answered prayer is not an unqualified blank check. The promise is made only to faithful, obedient, sober-minded, biblically informed Christians whose prayers are in harmony with the will of God. It’s not a guarantee of cargo to every gullible or superstitious religious enthusiast who uses Jesus’ name as an abracadabra. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7, emphasis added). The essential element in prayer is tied to Jesus assertion here. Godly prayer is fundamentally an act of worship. It is an expression of our praise, our unworthiness, our desire to see God’s will fulfilled, and our utter dependence on Him for all our needs. Thus every aspect of prayer is an act of worship.

When we properly make our requests known to God – without anxiety, through prayer and supplication, and with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6) – we are acknowledging His sovereignty, confessing our own total reliance on His grace and power, and looking to Him as Lord and Provider and Ruler of the universe – not as some kind of celestial Santa. Proper prayer is pure worship, even when we are making requests.

Source: Pulpit Magazine, Premier Issue. Oct 2012. Vol. 1 No. 1. Ipad version.