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Visions of the Coming Days 
by R. Loren Sanford

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R. Loren Sanford, within his sober reflection, reveals the heart of the Father and the hope of glory for the body of Christ. With clarity and piercing biblical insight, he helps believers understand what is to come, and he gives practical advice on how to prepare spiritually--for the events that will unfold and for their role in all of it. Foreword by John Paul Jackson   


 

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"The Big Three," Part 2

By Dan Reiland

I'm reading George Muller's autobiography (Whitaker House). You may not find it to be a literary masterpiece, but it's incredibly inspiring. I definitely recommend it. Muller was a man of great faith and prayer. I've been struck by his daily devotion and utter commitment to asking God for his every need both for himself and for his ministry. The striking thing about Muller's life of prayer is the daily passion. Muller offered up many of his prayers with the expectation that God would answer them that day, and if not that day - soon.

A characteristic that marked Muller's life was a sense of profound dependence upon God. One amazing story was about Muller refusing to take a salary from a church he pastored. He only received what was placed in the offering box and what God prompted others to give. But on occasion the elders forgot to take the money out of the box and give it to him. Instead of asking the Elders for the money, he committed only to pray that the Elders would remember, so he could see the hand of God at work. This may not be the act of dependence and faith God calls you to, but it's important that we all trust God to be the source and power for all our needs and behind all we do.

It is prayer that releases God's power. It is only by this power that anything of eternal value happens.

I'm not suggesting that you stop working and assume a monastic lifestyle of seclusion and prayer. When I was younger I was critical of such a lifestyle and now believe that the sacrificial lifestyle of a monk dedicated to sincere prayer is making more of a difference than we know. Nonetheless, most of us are called to serve in a capacity that engages with people on the front lines through leadership. The message of this article is that leaders and churches that are weak in prayer are weak in power. They are weak in effectiveness and run the risk of doing all they do in the flesh and not the Spirit.

In this three part series I am calling attention to the three essentials of all local churches. Whether you have 50 people attending or 5,000 people attending, the essentials remain the same. They are leadership, prayer and evangelism. No matter what style, method, philosophy you use, or culture you are in, you can't get away from the Big Three. If you do, you are eventually headed for trouble.

The first article began with leadership. God has chosen to work through people. As church leaders we are charged with the mission He gave us. We all have a choice, we can engage the mission equipped merely with our leadership gifts and talents or we can engage the mission based on the time we spend on our knees asking God for guidance, power and blessing upon our gifts and talents. So, let me ask you a personal question. No one is looking - be honest. How much time and energy do you invest in prayer?

If your answer is that you fall short in the area of prayer, don't let this become a road to guilt. That's what the enemy wants. Think grace. But get in the game and pray. If you are tempted to ask "how much" you should pray, be careful, that can lead toward more guilt and even legalism.

It's true that more time in prayer is better than less time. But the actual amount isn't the point as much as your consistency, passion and heart behind the prayer. I am making a big assumption that you want to pray. But like many church leaders, you find the busyness of your life crowding out time for prayer. I urge you to make time to pray. Carve out the time. Make it happen. Fight for it. Let everything else wait. Whether you pray 20 minutes a day or 2 hours a day is between you and God. The point is to talk to God and listen for His voice. Beyond these set-apart times of prayer, scripture tells us to pray without ceasing. I've learned that, for me, praying without ceasing means to carry an attitude of awareness, dependence, and communication (listening) to God throughout the day.

The purpose of this article goes beyond the leader praying, to deal also with the issue of whether or not your church is a praying church. I began with you a leader, because as I wrote in part one of this series, it all starts with a leader. I have found in consulting with many churches, that almost always, if the leader(s) is a praying leader, the church is a praying church.

I am blessed to serve in a praying church. The senior pastor, Kevin Myers, set the stage long before I arrived. He and key intercessors like Dave Bearchell, Karen Shogren, Vic Flock, Tina Kirschner and Paul McCrea, along with scores of others, wear out the knees of their pants on behalf of God's work in our church. Beyond those key intercessors, hundreds of people faithfully pray for the work of the church at 12Stone.

Questions to help you evaluate and develop prayer in your church:

   - Are the pastors and key volunteers men and women who are devoted to prayer?
   - Is the presence and power of God readily evidenced within the ministry of the church?
   - Is it easy to give testimony to current and fresh things that have happened that could only happen  with and through the power of God?  
   - Is the congregation quick to recognize and give credit for the power of God working in their midst?
   - Are "prayer meetings" mostly prayer or mostly conversations between Christians who gathered for prayer?
   - Are there a number of opportunities for the congregation to engage in prayer?
   - Is there a spirit of faith and anticipation of God moving and answering prayer in your congregation?
   - Do the leaders consistently emphasize prayer as the only real answer to accomplish anything of real value?
   - Does the congregation demonstrate a confidence and trust in God for the church's ministry?
   - Is there a clear sense that the leaders hear from God?
   - Is there a clear sense that the leaders and the people hear from God and obey?
   - How long would it take a new person to your church to discern that you are a praying church?
   - As a leader, when you are overloaded and overwhelmed, do you work more or pray more?
   - What are the avenues that your church employs to teach people to pray?
   - What are the opportunities that your church provides to help people practice prayer?

The following principle driven thoughts are not comprehensive in nature, but if you heed them, consistently and over the long haul, your church will unquestionable notice the results.

1. Begin by being a man or woman devoted to a life of prayer.

All of us as leaders can increase the depth and breadth of our prayer life. You may need something basic like consistency. Or perhaps you pray daily, but you sense it's more routine and duty and you need more freshness and fire in your prayer. Or perhaps your faith needs to be increased.

John 14:13 stretches me:

"9. Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10. Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." ~ John 14:9-14 (NIV)

At times I feel prompted to insert my name in verse 9. "Don't you know me Dan," even after I've been with you for such a long time - and then again, verse 13 - "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. The God of the universe has promised me that whatever I ask, (according to His plan and purpose,) He will do that I may honor Him. What an amazing promise! God never falls short on His promises, if there is an issue, it's me.

God wants you to engage with Him in a ministry partnership. He will provide the power if you will ask. What is your practice of prayer? Is it time to take it to the next level?

2. Ask God for a dedicated intercessor.

Every pastor and ministry leader on our staff has a personal prayer partner or small team of prayer partners. Personally I can't imagine leading in the local church without a team praying for me. As one of my closest friends recently said regarding prayer: "Dude, you need all you can get!" He's right. Charlie Wetzel prays for me and leads my team of intercessors - Suzy Dougherty, Robert Mallon, Larry Herring, Susan Meek, Nancy Swindler, Doug Bennett and Sherry Bennett. I am so grateful for their prayers. Many other wonderful people pray for me, (they see the need and have mercy!) But this special team is committed to pray for me in earnest. I give them personal and professional prayer requests and they treat those requests with maturity and confidence. They also share their requests with me. Some on this team have been praying for me for more than ten years, others pray for a year at a time and then step off the team.

I urge you to get at least one prayer warrior who loves you, loves God and is full of faith to pray for you. Two or three is better. Seven is awesome. You get the idea. But passion and commitment is more important than how many.

3. Build prayer into the fabric of the church.

We all understand what it means to have something woven deeply within the core of a church. From worship to children's ministry, there are some things that never escape the immediate press of our attention. In the same way, there are attitudes and cultural norms that are dominate within any given local church such as, a generous attitude or a casual dress. How does prayer stack up in your church? Is it deeply part of the core of your church or somewhat marginal and lacking attention?

In your church, when people say: "I'll pray for you." Do they? Are your people convinced that prayer is the only power behind all your ministries?

It is important to teach on the topic of prayer as often as possible. You don't need to teach repeated sermon series on the topic of prayer. One series a year on prayer is good. You can "preach" on prayer 52 times a year by way of a "30 second" well crafted idea within a message on any topic. Please don't get stuck on my usage of 52 times or 30 seconds. My desire is to let you see that it is easy to continually prompt, teach, guide and encourage your congregation to pray through stories and exhortations throughout the year. Teaching on prayer is not limited to the pulpit. It can be carried into small groups, special seminars, and a number of other creative possibilities.

It's important to teach on prayer but more important to actually pray. Provide environments where your people really pray. I don't mean sit in a circle and share prayer requests for 55 minutes and then pray for 5 minutes. I mean really pray. At 12Stone we provide a number of unique environments from every Saturday night at 9:15 PM where a group will gather for more than hour to pray for the next day's services, to prayer teams praying throughout every worship service. Small groups are committed to prayer. We have special services for worship, the sacraments and prayer. The Elders set apart significant time for prayer, and the student ministries open the doors an hour before they meet for dozens of teens to pray before the student gathering begins. There are many more opportunities. My goal is not to list them all, but to show you that they are not complicated. It's all a matter of doing it.

4. Pay attention to what God wants to do and give Him the credit.

What is God is up to in your church? What does He want to accomplish? It's good to make plans and develop strategy but if they are man-made plans your impact will be greatly diluted. How does God want to move in your church? Are you on your knees asking Him for direction? Where is He prompting you to make your next ministry move? You can't do everything in ministry, and you shouldn't. Keep it lean. Go with what God wants specifically for your church.

And always, give God the glory. Never take the credit for yourself. For example, we recently opened a new campus at 12Stone and God has blessed us in amazing ways. Many new people are attending and hundreds of people have said yes to become new Christ-followers. The worst thing we could do at 12Stone is to say: Oh Look at what we did!" No we didn't, God did! The people have worked hard, but God made it work. We are simply stewards of His plan and grateful recipients of His blessings.

So far we have covered leadership and prayer. The third of the "Big Three" is evangelism... coming soon!