Proactive Prayer

“One of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ and he said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, Hallowed be your name.

            Your kingdom come.

            Give us each day our daily bread,

            and forgive us our sins,

                for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

            And lead us not into temptation.’”

(Luke 11:1b-4, ESV)

            “Start praying” and “Read your Bible” are two phrases which have long been the mantra for spiritual growth.  I have been taught, and unfortunately at times have taught others, that to grow as a believer, one must simply pray.  End of story.  The problem with such a simplistic and limited view is manifested in the question, “Why does it matter if I pray?”  If prayer is an act just to say “I prayed this morning,” then it quickly becomes irrelevant.  Prayer is a wonderful and necessary aspect of one’s spiritual life.  If I am honest, the shallow teaching on prayer I mentioned reveals there has been a lack of discipleship in teaching others to pray.

            In Luke 11, Jesus’ disciples ask Him to show them how to pray.  Jesus did not leave His disciples to figure it out for themselves; instead, He immediately showed them how they should pray.  He didn’t give them a list of rules or requirements to have a meaningful prayer.  He prayed with them.  If Jesus’ original disciples needed to learn how to pray, is it any different for us today?

            I recently concluded a sermon series on prayer.  In my preparing for Sunday and studying of the Word, I consistently saw the Bible describing prayer, not as individuals presenting their wish list to God, but as a continual seeking of God’s will, provision, and forgiveness for the entire fellowship of believers.  In the current culture, individuals have been taught to look out for themselves.  As believers are saturated in the modern attitude of self-satisfaction, we must fight the urge to pray for ourselves and begin praying for another’s needs and their cries for help.  In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says that before sacrifices are acceptable in God’s sight, one must be reconciled to others.  If we are praying for a concern and are capable of fulfilling that need for someone else, we must be people of action and reconcile that need before continuing our prayers.  St. Francis begins his famous prayer in this idea of thought, “Make me an instrument of Your peace.”   We are not intended to meet with God alone.  We are meant to bring the peace of God to others.

            Prayer develops within each believer the ability to trust in God and in His ability to provide for every need.  In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, Jesus tells them to ask, “Give us each day our daily bread.”  There is a dependence of the disciples upon God to provide for the entire community each day what it needs to survive.  Daily bread not only refers to physical sustenance, but to all needs of the community of believers, including the spiritual needs.  It would be easy to say one should just sit and wait for God to provide, but this is not what Jesus intended.  If anything, Jesus intends for his believers to be prayerfully moved in such fashion as to provide for the needs of others.

            Luke describes how Jesus would go by Himself to pray at different times, and he leaves no room to question the invaluable influence prayer had upon Jesus’ ministry and all He accomplished.  Prayer is not an incantation, whereby we obtain control over a mystical being who dispenses blessings at our pleasure.  It is the foundational way of communication between us and God, Who is completely holy and perfect.  For Jesus, prayer kept Him constantly connected with His Father and faithful to His purpose.

            In teaching His disciples about prayer, Jesus often used the word “when,” as in “When you pray…”  Jesus realized that His followers must pray; it was not optional or occasional.  It is absolutely necessary.  If there is anything Jesus demonstrates in His own prayers, it is that He had to go out by Himself and spend time with the Father.  He was grounded in His Father’s will and constantly communicated with Him.  How are you doing when it comes to taking time to communicate with God?  Do you make time to be alone and speak with your Heavenly Father?

            After preaching on prayer, a topic I thought I understood so well, it has been a blessing to see with fresh eyes what we have been given, which is the opportunity and privilege to approach the throne of God and be present before Him.  Stop trying to pray someone else’s prayer, or use their prayer habits. You have to figure out what is right for you in your unique situation.  If you get only one thing from this, may it be that you need to find a way to make prayer a part of your life.  Do not pray just to say you have prayed, but pray in such a way that you will meet with God daily!

             May your prayers connect you with God and His plans of redemption for your life, and also move you to act upon those plans for the sanctification of yourself and others.

Andrew Needham has served as Youth Pastor and currently serves as Pastor of South Fork Friends Church in Snow Camp, NC. He graduated with a B.A. in Religion from Campbell University in 2007, and is married to his wonderful wife, Mary Needham. He loves gardening and how it displays all things growing into their intended mature image.

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.

Making Disciples of All Nations

Focus: China

       China is classified as a “restricted nation” due to its suppression of Christian literature (including Bibles) and highly regulated “tolerance” of Christian churches.  Approximately 8% of the population in China is Christian, 13% Buddhist, 28% Confucianism, but the majority is primarily non-religious though local native practices persist.

      There are some registered, or authorized, churches, but nearly 90% of China’s Christians attend unregistered churches.  In 2011, China’s government initiated a harsher policy against unregistered house churches which has led to more frequent harassment and some arrests.  Other abuse includes random detainment, beatings, and torture.  Christian persecution in China has increased alarmingly in recent years; there are now more Christians in Chinese prisons than in any other country.

         Paul and Junia are long-time missionaries to China, regularly spending large amounts of time there each year.  Time spent stateside is served training future missionaries through discipleship and cross-cultural awareness, as well as counseling and raising support for the missional church. They have four children and together this wonderfully dynamic family shares the heart of Jesus Christ with those whom they have been called to reach, in the East and West.

        Signet Ring is blessed to have had an opportunity to ask Paul about his experiences.  For identity protection, names have been changed.

  1. Were you able to share the Gospel and disciple people freely in your country of service?

        Legally, we are not allowed to share the Gospel and disciple people.  However, if we don’t cause the government to “lose face” in their restriction of open evangelism, we are still able to communicate generally everything we feel God prompting us to, individually and discreetly with small groups.  As we build relationships, answer questions, and share our personal stories in the context of normal conversation, the truth of the Gospel comes out.  Also, presenting the Gospel through songs such as “Amazing Grace” or other creative expressions offers a number of unique avenues to celebrate who God is and His salvation through Christ.

  1. Please tell of someone whose life was impacted with the Gospel and of the change you saw in their life.

       “Jackson” was a very intelligent nonbeliever when he began working with our company about eight years ago, he had not been exposed to the Gospel before working with us.  He was friendly, but a bit intense, and critically examined everything.  Through the daily witness of the ten or so people on our team for over a year and a half, Jackson walked through his questions about God, particularly the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Just as importantly, the consistency of our team members’ love towards him and his family, as well as towards each other, offered a tangible expression of God’s great love for him.  After about a year and a half, Jackson prayed with one of our team members to accept the Lord.

       As a new believer, Jackson’s brilliant mind and excellent communication skills began to be applied not towards a lucrative career, but towards humbly serving others and explaining the truth of the Gospel clearly and boldly.  The most obvious change was an overflowing joy – he has a keen sense of humor and a contagious laugh!  “Jackson” has been a Christian for over six years now, and the house church he started leading soon outgrew his home, with more than thirty people coming several times a week!  Those he has discipled have begun sharing the Gospel with others, continuing the pattern teamwork Paul expressed in 1 Corinthians 3:6.  “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”

  1. What has been your most noticeable spiritual change since you began ministry as a missionary?

        As a couple and as a family, the most exciting and obvious change in our spiritual dynamic is seeing our four kids take initiative in obeying the Lord.  The years of prompting them to pray or asking them what the Lord is showing them has now translated into them asking if we can pray about an issue or volunteering a Scripture they believe God is showing them about a specific circumstance.  This has been most rewarding.

  1. What was/is the greatest spiritual need in your ministry? Physical need?

        The greatest spiritual need in our ministry is prayer support.  We have seen so many times that an area of growth, an opportunity, or an unexpected breakthrough has been the direct result of friends interceding specifically and faithfully.

       The biggest physical need is finances.  As faith-based missionaries, our income comes through contributions of friends and churches who share our commitment to see the transforming power of Jesus Christ reach every nook of the globe.  We’ve seen God’s amazing provision in  miraculous ways over the ten years we’ve been involved with full-time missions work.  However, there have been many lost opportunities due simply to a lack of funds.

  1. Please tell me about your church experience and worship in your country of service (ex: How were/are church services different or alike?).

      Church services in the country we serve are either a bit stiff or formal in the government-approved services and much smaller (10 – 25 persons) in the house churches because they don’t want to call attention to themselves, causing the government to lose face and react.  There are some godly pastors for the government-approved services, but the sermons can be relatively sterile because they may have to submit sermons to government officials before presenting them. The smaller house churches tend to be vibrant with singing, longer prayer times, shorter messages, and more personal testimonies.

  1. Please describe your personal Bible study and prayer schedule in the mission field. Is it difficult to maintain?

      With my wife and I both having typical workplace jobs prior to entering missions full-time, we understand that a hectic schedule can nudge devotional times right off the cliff, no matter what the occupation or life calling.  It happens with us as with anyone, and there are seasons when it can be very difficult to maintain.  Over the years, though, this pattern has actually flip-flopped.

       When we have less stress and rare “down time,” it can become very challenging to take time to pray or open our Bibles.  But when our demands are greatest, our personal Bible study and prayer times increase rather than get trimmed out, for admittedly selfish reasons.  A certain level of desperation for God’s involvement can be a powerful motivator for time with Him because we have seen Him solve some major headaches for us in a matter of hours, not to mention the peace and confidence the Lord offers when we need it most.

  1. Describe an experience you had in the mission field that deeply impacted the way you do ministry.

       When our family was overseas for about 18 months, we were wrestling with whether to continue  living there or transition to a stateside training assignment we had been invited to accept.  About that time, a group of women from California visited our team to offer prayer and encouragement.  Without us sharing details about the decision we were facing, one of the women asked us when they met with us, “Do you feel it’s more important to be a martyr or a multiplier?”  They were sensing that we were willing to sacrifice things God wasn’t asking us to sacrifice, but that we would be effective multipliers while still enjoying some of the things we had been willing to give up.

     We soon accepted the stateside training role that had been offered and now train and encourage missionaries in overseas work.  Another prophetic word spoken over us during that season was that we were supposed to be bridge-builders to that nation and specifically to the city where we had been serving.  We also have regularly returned to that country and have helped short-term teams and one long-term missionary begin serving in that region.

  1. What most encourages you and what do you enjoy most in your missional work/service?

       Because we help train and give pastoral support to twenty-one missionaries in nine different nations, we feel privileged to have a front-row seat to the inspiring testimonies shared from around the world.  Sprinkled among the day-to-day difficulties and routine aspects of struggling through an unfamiliar culture are undeniable reminders of God’s love and provision.  God’s work internationally is fascinating and has a contagious energy behind it, so we are never bored and see the Gospel moving forward even in the tragedies and difficult times.  We are honored to work with very humble and creative people, and we see our amazing God’s character through them and in how He consistently answers prayers on their behalf.

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.

Reflection on Heaven

“What must I do to be saved” asked the jail keeper, and Paul replied,“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  (Acts 16:30-31)

              I had open heart surgery in 1979, accompanied by a stroke.  In 1998 I lost a kidney to cancer.  This year on June 13 I turned 81.  Probably in the near future this old body of mine is going to stop functioning, parts of it already have!  I will soon have to face the judgement and give an account of the way I lived (Rom. 14:10-12).  But this does not have to be a dreadful thing; in fact, it is an amazing event to anticipate and strive toward!

              I “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” but is that all that is required of me?  I guess the answer depends on how I define “believe,” for if my believing on Christ does not affect my behavior, if it is only in my head but not my heart, I have a major problem.

              Let’s look at some Scriptural requirements to be saved from sin and on our way to heaven.  In Matthew 4:17 Jesus says we must “repent,” we must turn away from sin and toward God’s will.  In Matthew 4:19 His invitation is “Follow Me.”  His early disciples “left their fishing nets and followed Him.”  These verses demand a wholehearted action in response to a belief in Jesus identity and purpose.  Have I “left my nets” and do I “follow Jesus” each day throughout the day?  I thank Him for personally providing a direction and an example to follow!

             Matthew 5 is the start of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  How well do we live up to this particular message?  Let’s look at a few verses.  “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away” (5:42).  If that seems challenging, look at the last verse (5:48), “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  Wow!

             I just finished a study of Revelation and found a specific requirement for getting into heaven that was repeatedly mentioned in chapters 2 and 3: We need to be “overcomers” through Christ.  I particularly love Rev.3:5, “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

           In my own strength I surely cannot overcome Satan and his temptations.  He is deceitful and will lead me into sin.  Consequently, it may seem that each disciple of Christ is charged with the impossible task of “being perfect.”  However, obedience to His call to repent and follow Him will result in the Spirit’s empowerment of the disciple toward perfection in love (1 John 4:15-18).  Remember, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, overcame Satan (Rev. 17:14) and “He Who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  Jesus is in us and enables us to be overcomers!  In this we are indeed blessed that we shall one day inhabit the place He has prepared for us (John 14:2).  Praise Him!

Looking to Jesus as my Savior and Lord of my life.  Thank you, Jesus!!

Richard Bridge

Pastor Bridge has been married to Jo Ann, his childhood sweetheart, for over 61 years.  They pastored churches for 46 years. They no longer go on bicycle tours and race kayaks, but they do enjoy rides on their motorcycle trike.  Praise God!

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.