A Time for Real Prayer

by Bob Bradley

September 28, 2009

We recently had our fall celebration meeting at the home of Joe and Marie Alaimo. Our guest speaker was Javi Montenegro, who has spent most of his life in prison and is one of several hundred men who have been discipled by our Prison Ministry under the leadership of Janet Young. Many of these men get very serious about their walk with the Lord while in prison, although a good percentage of them have no reasonable hope of ever being paroled. After 15 years of prison ministry, we are just beginning to see men released on parole who have been under our spiritual care for 10 or more years. It is a very great joy to see these men begin to live out their commitment to Jesus on the outside.

On a personal level, my first surgery greatly decreased the tremor activity in my left hand. I am scheduled for another surgery on November 30. This will address the tremor in my right hand. As most of you know, I am mastering some voice-recognition software, which is really helping me get necessary writing done. It also works for e-mail. I haven't learned to navigate the Web with it yet, but that is my next level of training. I don't think I'll ever go back to typing e-mails and letters!

I continue to be concerned with you about the direction our country is taking on a number of fronts. The president's advisers have clearly convinced him that the only feasible way of dealing with the economic crisis is to monetize the debt, which means printing money out of thin air. This action can only lead to a serious loss of value for the dollar and to extensive inflation. Our president seems to be quite naïve about the intentions of the leadership of the international Muslim community. Clearly, they are seeking a position of political dominance and are asking for and receiving favors that would never have been granted representatives of the Judeo-Christian faiths. The other day I read that Brian McLaren, the very articulate and popular pastor of an emerging church back east has led his people in the observance of the Muslim celebration of Ramadan. I think he called it Muslim sensitivity month. I could go on and on (as all of us could) listing the signs of moral and religious collapse in our country. How are we to respond? Do we need more political action groups? Should we follow the counsel of the radical right, buy a rifle and head for a shack in the hills?

God's solution to crisis always calls us to get on our faces and cry out to Him. It is so much easier to talk a problem to death than it is to pray about it. To many immature believers, prayer is an obligatory exercise that we mechanically engage in before we seek a natural solution to the problem. Real prayer is always more than mechanical. Real prayer is birthed out of a deep conviction that God is concerned about something. We then move from a conviction that God is concerned to a conviction that God is committed to changing the thing that troubles us. Serious prayer is hopeful and increasingly bold in its conviction that God has revealed His will to us and that He will respond to earnest prayer The concept that we can know God's agenda is dangerous in the hands of a spiritually immature person. Those who are spiritually immature always seek to impose their interpretation of God's agenda on those who do not embrace their values or vision. However, those maturing believers who know the heart of God never seek to dominate others, but to win them over with acts of love.

So what is the burden of God's heart today? I believe that God's biggest problem is a compromised, self indulgent church. And I am not talking about those avant-garde churches that have gone off the deep end, such as Brian McLaren's church. I'm talking about evangelicalM churches that pride themselves on preaching a conservative gospel, but it is a conservatism that has largely removed issues of repentance and discipleship from its agenda. People become Christians by believing certain doctrines, rather than by yielding the control of their lives to Jesus. If anyone should suggest that a Christian is one who is obedient to the commandments of Jesus ( I John 2:3,4) he would be labeled a teacher of works righteousness. These compromised evangelical churches are so dominated by the motif of costless Christianity that they would never hire a senior pastor who would confront the congregation on issues of sin and disobedience.

For nearly 40 years now the American religious scene has been dominated by mega-church pastors whose value systems fairly shout big is good and small is pitiable. In the pursuit of bigness, many (but not all ) megachurch pastors have grievously compromised biblical standards and have become master entertainers and master manipulators.

Remember that my purpose in writing this message is not to contrast house churches as the virtuous alternative to megachurches, but rather to explore what our response to the moral and religious collapse around us should be. When Daniel prayed his magnificent prayer of repentance in Daniel chapter 9, he identified with the sins of his fellow Jews and prayed we have sinned … we have rebelled… we have done wickedly. Although Daniel was a very righteous man and undoubtedly was not personally guilty of these sins against the Lord, he identified with his fellow Jews and felt their guilt and cried out to God with all his heart. Daniel’s stance needs to be our stance, and my stance. We are not going to move the hand of God by condemning the sins of the megachurch culture. On the contrary, every pastor should be ready to identify compromise and manipulation in his own ministry and not just attribute such failure to big-name pastors.

How can we personally respond to the challenges of the hour? First, I would caution against solutions that don't have Jesus right at the center of them. There are a lot of conservative talk shows whose hosts mean well but who can lead us into futile handwringing or prompt us to take aggressive actions and attitudes that are not compatible with the Spirit. The Adversary is a master at convincing us that prayer is little more than soliloquy — that is, psyching ourselves up to take some kind of action. The truth is that prayer is the action. Real intercessory prayer is birthed in a heart that has intimate communion with God. So the key to responding to the current spiritual crisis is intimacy with God. To start with, this simply means that we take time to commune with God. It is more than Bible study; it is talking with God and getting to know his heart as revealed through the Word. It sounds simple, and it is, but the challenge is that there are scores of things that compete for the time we would spend with God. Many of you have heard me say this before, and I do not want to seem legalistic, but how well can you know someone if you only give him five or 10 minutes a day? If you set your heart to make more time for God, the hounds of hell will snarl, bark, and whine to get your attention and to divert you from communion with the Lord. But if you persevere, the Lord will hold your hand, dust you off every time you fall, and bring you to a place of consistent communion

The blessing of communion with God is wonderfully spelled out in Psalm 91. The Psalm promises God's protection to those who hide themselves under his wings and abide in His secret place. The biggest reason for the spiritual decline in the Bible-believing church is the simple failure of professing Christians to commune with God. Many of us would read Psalm 91 and say to ourselves, Lord, I love you but I don't measure up to this standard. Have I forfeited your blessing forever? The gracious answer of the Lord to such a question would be to lead us to Psalm 50, verse 15: Call upon Me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

Learning to experience the graciousness of God with you,

Bob

 
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