Tag Archives: prayer

Prayer For A Nation

God makes a promise about prayer in 2 Chronicles:

. . . and (if) my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I myself will hear from the heavens, forgive their sin, and heal their land. (7:14)

The Lord is speaking to King Solomon. At the dedication of the new temple in Jerusalem Solomon prayed publicly and asked God to always answer the prayers offered at the temple.

Thirteen years later God is finally answering Solomon’s request. That’s a long delay but hearing from God is worth the wait!

To understand God’s answer to Solomon we must move back one verse. God tells Solomon, “When I stop the rain or send locusts to devour the land or if I send a pestilence, and my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray” etc.

God’s promise is about those times when he uses natural disasters to soften hard hearts and bend stiff necks. Extreme weather is now blamed on man-made global warming (or “climate change”). Nevertheless, God is still the master of nature and the Bible clearly says that he sometimes employs nature to get our attention (see Exodus 9).

Of course, every bad storm is not a judgment from God. Jesus used a storm on the Sea of Galilee to demonstrate his divine authority by commanding the wind and the waves to stop. He made no mention of any national sin.

The point is this: When God’s people disobey him and deserve his judgment, God offers a pathway to return to his favor.

First, God’s people must humble themselves. Genuine humility starts with attitude and stirs action. The Israelites often humbled themselves by fasting. Skipping meals was a way to demonstrate that they were contrite.

Next, God’s people must pray. When combined, prayer and fasting are powerful. By fasting and praying God’s people demonstrate their desire to connect with God.

In addition, God’s people must seek his face, that is, his personal presence. Seeking requires time and effort. When God’s people gather for combined prayer and fasting the purpose is to experience God’s powerful, personal presence.

Finally, God’s people must turn from their evil ways. No amount of fasting, praying and seeking will solve the problem if God’s people defiantly persist in disobeying his commands.

To simply turn from evil ways without turning to God would also be short of the goal. The objective is always to enjoy God and his favor.

God promises to hear from heaven despite the chasm between him and his people. God will then forgive their sin and heal their land, both spiritual and physical restoration. He is Lord of the visible and the invisible, of individuals and of nations.

As followers of Jesus we are God’s people now and we share in this wonderful promise about prayer. So let’s humbly seek the Lord in prayer, turning from sin to him. God will hear and restore.

May God always hear from heaven and visit us with his healing presence,

Brother Richard

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Culture Wars and Prayer

Elijah appears suddenly in the pages of the Bible in 1 Kings 17. He is a prophet, a man of God.

Elijah lives at a time of spiritual decline in Israel. God’s people are being led astray to forget the God of the Bible and to adopt a competing worldview.

The champion of this competing worldview is a woman named Jezebel. Jezebel is a Baal worshiper. Baal is an idol. Baal worshipers give this idol credit for controlling the rain, and thus having the power of life.

Jezebel is married to the king of Israel, a man named Ahab. She uses her political position to promote Baal worship. She also abuses her power to intimidate and persecute those who worship and serve the Lord.

Baal worship threatens to extinguish belief in the Living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So God sends Elijah to confront King Ahab with bad news. Rain in Israel will cease. Why? To prove to the people that Baal does not control the rain, God does.

Eventually Elijah faces a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. This event is one of the most dramatic in all the Bible (see 1 Kings 18). It is a contest to prove who is really God.

The contest was simple. The prophets of Baal would prepare a sacrifice and call on Baal. Elijah would prepare a sacrifice and call on the Lord. The one who answered by fire would be the true God.

The prophets of Baal cried out to the idol but, of course, it failed to answer. Then Elijah cried out to the Lord. In his prayer he called on God to turn the hearts of the people back again, back to the truth, back to the Lord.

Israel was experiencing what some would call a “culture war.” Two competing worldviews were struggling for the hearts of the people: Baal worship versus faithfulness to the God of their forefathers.

We find ourselves in a similar situation today, a time of frustrating spiritual decline. Powerful proponents of secularism are working diligently to erase the God of the Bible from the public square and from the hearts of the citizenry.

Whether we call this struggle a “culture war” or a “spiritual battle,” the stakes are high. Elijah recognized the fundamental issue in his struggle and he expressed it well in his prayer. The basic issue was not the laws of the land or the leaders on the throne. The basic issue was the hearts of the people.

Elijah’s response to the struggle in his time included bold prayer. His prayer called on God to turn the hearts of the people back again. We should follow his example and pray passionately for God to turn the hearts of the people back to the truth, back to the gospel, back to Jesus.

God answered Elijah’s prayer and brought a great victory. But the struggle continued. We can expect the same: great victories and continued struggles. We can be faithful in fighting the good fight, because we know that the ultimate victory belongs to the Lord!

May God’s Spirit inspire and enable us to be faithful,

Brother Richard Foster

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How Can We Be Alert In Prayer?

Does your mind wander when you pray?

Praying alone in a quiet place can be a relaxing activity. In fact, it can be easy to doze off. When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane the night before his arrest, he asked his disciples to watch and pray with him.  They fell asleep . . . 3 times.

Being informed can make us alert. What if Jesus’ disciples had known that an angry mob with torches and clubs was coming to take Jesus away by force? I doubt if they would have fallen asleep!

The Bible urges us to be alert in prayer: “With every kind of prayer and petition, pray in the Spirit at all times; and to get this done, be alert by using all perseverance and prayer for all believers, and for me, that a word will be given to me when I open my mouth to boldly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:18-19).

Persistent prayer for all believers is one way to stay alert in prayer.  Pray for all Christians everywhere, those you know and don’t know, those you like and don’t like, those in your local church and not, those in your denomination and not, those in your country or culture and not. That’s a tall order!

There are tens of millions of Christians around the world, we cannot know each one personally. Instead, we must learn what we can about believers in faraway places so that we can pray for them.

God’s Spirit may stir in us a special interest for certain communities or circumstances. For instance, we may have a special compassion for persecuted believers.

Then it says, “and for me,” that is, pray for me. In addition to praying for all believers everywhere, we should also pray for individual believers we know personally.

But what about people who have not yet been saved? Shouldn’t we pray for them?

When Jesus saw crowds of folks looking like sheep without a shepherd, he had compassion on them. He urged his followers to pray to God, not for the lost sheep, but for believers to do the gospel work.

In the instruction above, the writer asks his readers to pray that he will be bold in making known the mystery of the gospel. A mystery in the Bible is not something that is difficult to understand. It’s something impossible to know until it is revealed. The gospel is the revelation about Jesus, that he died and rose again so that we can be forgiven and have eternal life.

The best prayer for lost people is prayer for saved people to be bold and share the gospel. We need prayer for boldness to witness because our natural disposition is to keep quiet about the gospel. Telling others about Jesus requires the inspiration of God’s Spirit.

Pray for God to give you the same concern for others that Jesus has. Compassion for others will keep you alert in prayer.

May the God’s Spirit inspire us to share in his great harvest,

Brother Richard Foster

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The Theistic Fork in the Road

Everyone is on a journey of faith, even atheists.

We all start the faith journey by asking the fundamental question: Does God exist? How we answer this question influences our basic views about living in this world. Those who answer “No” and those who answer “Yes” have different conceptions of reality and different pathways in life. This does not mean that we cannot be kind and tolerant with one another. We can even work together on important issues. But there will be vital differences between the two groups.

Those who answer the fundamental faith question by believing that God does not exist are immediately faced with a second question: How do I live when life has no real meaning? Despite suggestions to the contrary, atheism leads to a philosophical position known as nihilism. Nihilism says that there is no real significance in life. Whatever one accomplishes will eventually be erased and forgotten. Our very universe will someday either tear itself apart from relentless expansion or crush itself in a Big Crunch. There is nobody in eternity to remember anything or anybody for good or ill – supposedly.

For those who follow nihilism to its logical conclusion the ultimate question is this: How should I commit suicide? Why? Because life in this world inevitably brings pain, sometimes intolerable pain. Since the atheist has embraced the (incorrect) notion that life is accidental and meaningless, then the most reasonable thing to do is avoid the pain and choose one’s method of death as soon as possible.

This is extreme, however, and so atheists rightly avoid such nonsense. Instead they often end up adopting some version of the position promoted by a dead philosopher named Nietzsche. This ‘enlightened’ humanistic thinker envisioned a sort of ‘superman’ who knows that life has no real meaning yet lives defiantly, pretending that life is meaningful. Is that honest? It sure doesn’t sound very ‘scientific.’

Penn Jillette, a magician, comedian, musician, (and perhaps several others –‘ian’s) is a well-known atheist. He is assertive about his atheism. He actively promotes his idea that God is myth. He works to convert us all to his way of thinking.

Surprisingly, Jillette recently decided that atheists should pray. He apparently recognizes some kind of personal therapeutic value in prayer and does not believe that atheists should be denied the benefits of prayer.

But how can you pray if there is nobody to address (unless you redefine prayer)? When people pretend to converse with someone, when there is no one, we usually take that as a sign that something is not quite right. . . .

So atheists believe life has no meaning but wish it did and they believe that God isn’t listening but wish he were (or someone?). All this time atheists have accused theists of pretense but it turns out that they are the ones who are pretending, pretending that life has purpose when they supposedly know that it doesn’t and pretending that ‘prayers’ to nobody have value.

Now for those of us who answer the first faith question with “Yes, God does exist,” we also face a second question: “Who is God? What is he like? What is he doing?” (Sounds like a lot of questions but they are related!)

As the atheist spends the rest of life trying to find meaning from meaninglessness, the theist spends life discovering the meaning and purpose that flows from the character and attributes of God. When we learn about God’s character we also learn about his mission and purpose. When we understand God’s mission and purpose we are challenged to join him.

Penn Jillette is right about this: prayer is beneficial. But the benefit of prayer is not some kind of personal therapy. The benefit of prayer is that it provides us with a personal connection to the invisible Living God who made us and who gives us purpose in this life and hope for the life to come.

The Bible is our primary document for answering questions about God. It is God’s word to us about who he is and what he is doing. The Bible helps us discover how we fit into God’s kingdom plan and experience meaning and purpose in life now.

God’s purpose for each of us cannot be taken away even in the midst of suffering and pain, issues that atheists regularly use to justify unbelief. But we need not despair even in the most painful of circumstances because God insures that our struggles are purposeful.

Theistic faith provides an answer for the question of why we instinctively believe that life should have meaning and purpose. God made us with an innate sense that our lives matter – because they do. We need not pretend that life matters, as atheists are forced to do. Believing faith enables us to live with confidence.

So each of us must choose to have faith in an accidental universe which can provide no meaning now and no hope for the future, or faith in a loving God who created us and promises us hope for eternity. I choose God.

Brother Richard Foster

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The Beginning of Prayer

When did people start to pray?

In Genesis 4:26 we read that people began to call on the name of the LORD (Yahweh) in the days of Adam and Eve’s grandchildren, specifically a grandson named Enosh. People spoke with God before Enosh was born, but conversations with God prior to Enosh were initiated by God: God spoke to Adam in Genesis 3, God spoke to Cain in Genesis 4. In prayer, a man or woman initiates communication with God by calling upon him.

Eve makes a statement in Genesis 4:25 about the blessing of having a son to replace Abel, who was murdered by his brother Cain. But she speaks of God in the third person (“he”). Prayer addresses God directly, in second person (“you”).

It seems natural to think that Adam or Eve or their son Seth (Enosh’s dad) prayed before their grandson Enosh and his generation were born. If they did, the Bible does not tell us. Instead, the Bible emphasizes Enosh and his generation. Enosh’s uncles, Cain and Abel, worshiped God in Genesis 4, but whatever Cain did was unacceptable to God and whatever Abel did died with him when he was murdered by his brother.

So we have no direct Scriptural evidence for prayer before Genesis 4:26. But in Genesis 4:26 we learn that Enosh and his generation began calling on the name of Yahweh at that time. In Genesis 4:26 something new begins.

“Calling on the name” is surely a reference to prayer. Enosh and his generation may have also sacrificed to God, as did Cain and Abel, but that is not mentioned. The emphasis is on prayer.

Many generations after Enosh, Jesus visited the Temple in Jerusalem. He was outraged by the distractions which the religious leaders had introduced in order to make financial transactions in God’s house. In an unexpected expression of righteous indignation, Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers and drives out the animals with a makeshift whip. He accuses them of turning God’s house into a den of thieves.

Then Jesus makes a fascinating assertion. He insists that his Father’s house is to be a house of prayer. Think of all the activities which Jesus could legitimately mention: praise, sacrifice, teaching, preaching, giving, fellowship, healing, but the only thing he mentions is prayer. Why?

Prayer is at the heart of biblical faith. The soul of spirituality in Scripture is the communion of God with the saints, his people. Humanity is created to know God and to enjoy him and his blessings.

After Adam and Eve sinned and broke the close relationship between humanity and God there was something vital missing in every person, something crying out for completion. Prayer is the heart’s cry for the One who is absent until forgiveness and restoration is affected and a new connection is made with the Maker.

In the larger context of Genesis 4-5 this verse at the end of chapter 4 highlights the contrast between the line of Seth (which includes Enosh) and the line of Cain (who killed his brother, Abel).

Cain’s descendants go to work developing the bountiful natural resources provided by God in order to build an impressive civilization. (I am especially fascinated with Jubal, the first to make and play musical instruments, or perhaps the first to develop music significantly enough to be considered the ‘father’ of all musicians.)

The creative use of nature is in no way sinful in itself. God filled this world with resources and he blessed humanity with the curiosity, creativity, intelligence and energy to discover and develop, to fashion and create. But the line of Cain in early Genesis is distinguished in this instance mostly by an omission, and what is lacking in Cain’s descendants is any effort to call upon the name of the Lord.

Seth’s line, on the other hand, has a desire to seek communion with God through prayer. And so, early in human history the division between believer and unbeliever surfaces (a continuation of the break between Cain and Abel). This is a division which will be seen in Noah vs. the antediluvian world, in Abraham vs. the Canaanites, Israel vs. the nations, the remnant of Israel vs. unfaithful Israel, and finally in the Jewish-Gentile church vs. those who reject Christ.

From Enosh to Jesus to now, the great feature that distinguishes the people of God is prayer, not just haphazard flirtations with prayer, but a heart that is hungry for the presence of God and refuses to give up seeking the Lord until he is found.

Unbelievers pray, but they are not known for their prayer.

God’s people should be seen by the world as a people of prayer.

Brother Richard

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If God Already Knows Then Why Pray?

Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13). First, he warns them not to use prayer as an opportunity to impress people. Instead, followers of Jesus are to pray to please God.

Jesus tells his disciples not to babble on and on like the pagan unbelievers in the first century. They apparently thought that their many words would guarantee them a hearing.

Now this is not necessarily a warning about long prayers. Some prayers recorded in Scripture are lengthy. Jesus is warning us not to use prayer as a battering ram to break down the doors of heaven.

God has already opened the door to his presence through his grace. Jesus died to pay the price of our admission and he is risen in order to bring us into the presence of God.

We need not coerce or manipulate God in prayer. After all, as Jesus goes on to say, our Father in heaven already knows what we need before we ask!

But if God already knows our needs and he already wants to bless us, then why pray? Instead of answering that question directly, Jesus goes on to give an example, a model prayer, often called the Lord’s Prayer.

He begins by telling us to address God as “our Father who is in heaven.” Consider the tension and balance in this statement. “Father” is a term of familiarity, addressing God as one who is close and personal. “In heaven” is a term of transcendence, a reminder that God is the Maker of heaven and earth and that he is high and exalted. Jesus invites us to draw near and know the majestic King of the cosmos!

“Hallowed be your Name; your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus teaches us to focus our prayers first on God and his agenda.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” After magnifying God’s person and affirming his agenda, we turn to our own need. This brings us back to our earlier question: Why pray and tell God what he already knows?

Our prayers are not intended to inform God about our needs. Instead, our prayers are expressions of acknowledgment that God is the only real source of all that we truly need, not just spiritual needs, but physical needs as well.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus is talking about more than borrowing money. He uses “debt” as a symbol for wrongdoing, sin, transgression. As our body needs bread, our soul needs forgiveness, both forgiveness received and forgiveness given. And God both forgives us and enables us to forgive others.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.” God will test us in order to strengthen us. Satan tempts us in order to destroy us. This part of the model prayer is an acknowledgment that we are incapable of spiritual victory apart from God’s power in our lives.

So, Jesus teaches us to affirm and agree with God’s agenda, to acknowledge God as our provider for physical as well as spiritual needs, and to acknowledge God as our protector, our only hope for triumph against the forces of evil in this world.

Prayer aligns us with God’s agenda and directs us toward his provision and empowering. Any other agenda is doomed to failure. Any other provision is an illusion.

“For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen!”

May God’s Spirit inspire us to speak often with our Lord in prayer,

Brother Richard Foster

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Following Jesus Leads Where?

Jesus said, “Follow me!” When we do, where will he lead us?

Jesus’ custom was to attend worship on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). When we follow Jesus, we will have the same custom. We will gather with fellow believers on the Lord’s Day for worship: to sing God’s praises, to hear God’s Word, to give God offerings, and to fellowship with God’s people.

Once, when Jesus attended worship in his hometown, they asked him to read the Scripture and give a sermon. His message upset them. They were so enraged that they dragged him out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:17-30).

Some folks complain about how poorly they are treated at church. Jesus attended with people who wanted to kill him! When we follow Jesus, we will have the habit of worshiping with others on a regular basis, despite the shortcomings of some who attend.

Jesus also had a habit of withdrawing to lonely places in order to pray (Luke 5:16). When we follow Jesus, we will be a people of frequent intentional prayer.

When Jesus slipped away for prayer, large crowds came looking for him. They wanted to hear him speak and to be healed by him (Luke 5:15). They were interested in what he could do for them.

Things are no different today. We are tempted to see prayer as wasted time, or at least as a low priority. After all, we have so much to do! It’s easy to push prayer into the background.

Jesus was busy, too, but he put prayer at the top of his list. When we follow Jesus, we will take prayer seriously.

Jesus appointed his followers and sent them out (Luke 10:1). Their task was to prepare others to meet Jesus. When we follow Jesus, he will send us out to tell others about him, too.

Jesus told his followers that he was sending them out like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3). He knows how difficult this task can be. But Jesus also said that there is an abundant harvest waiting for those who go before him (Luke 10:2).

Harvest is a time of great joy and celebration. In fact, harvest is used in the Bible to picture the end of this age. For those who have worked in the Lord’s field, the Day of Judgment will be one of rejoicing and enjoying the fruit of their labor.

This reminds us of the greatest place that we will go when we follow Jesus. After his resurrection, Jesus led his followers to the vicinity of Bethany. While blessing them, he was taken up to heaven (Luke 24:50-51).

Jesus promised his followers that he was going ahead of them to prepare a place. He promised to come back and take them, and us, to be with him (John 14:2-3). When we follow Jesus, we have a marvelous destination: heaven.

As followers of Jesus, we attend church regularly, we intentionally and frequently spend time in prayer, we tell others about Jesus, and we look forward to the day when our Lord will return to take us home.

May we be faithful to follow our Lord Jesus in all things,

Brother Richard

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