"You do not have because you do not ask God." (James 4:2)
Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach, but He repeatedly taught them, by word and through His own personal example, how to pray.
In Luke 11, after giving His followers what we call The Lord's Prayer, Jesus told one of the most amazing stories about the manner in which He wants us to pray. Please don't let your familiarity with this story cause you to miss its incredible impact.
"Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence." (Luke 11:5-8 NLT)
Wow! "Shameless persistence!" Other translations render this term "shameless audacity" (NIV), "importunity" (KJV), "impudence" (ESV), or "persistence and boldness" (Amp).
Does God really want us to pray with this sort of attitude? Aren't we supposed to treat God with incredible reverence and respect?
Yes, but we are His dear children. And He is 100 percent faithful to every promise He has ever made. Friends, He wants us to trust Him and go to Him with our hearts fully expecting He will certainly answer our prayers if we pray: (1) consistent to the Word of God; (2) for His glory, not ours; and (3) prompted by the Spirit in our hearts.
If these three aspects are true for something you are praying about, DO NOT QUIT KNOCKING on heaven's door until the answer comes! He wants us to pray with this sense of expectancy.
When I talk to folks about prayer, I am often reminded of my dear son Daniel. While he is now an MD and is bringing God's blessings to many, when Dan was only about 4 years old, he had a habit of asking me difficult questions. Like . . . "Dad, how did God get started?" I would answer, "Well, Dan, God has always been." With a look on his face of total disbelief, Dan would say, "Dad, how is that possible????"
When I couldn't satisfy Daniel's insatiable curiosity, he would essentially grab my face with his two hands and say, "Dad, just tell me!!" Did that make me upset with Dan? On the contrary, it would endear me to him. He thought his dad knew everything (which, obviously, is very far from the truth!)
Sometimes, I do the same thing with my Heavenly Father (who DOES know everything and is all-powerful and all-loving as well!) When I believe He wants to do something for those I love and for His glory, I have the sense of holding His face with my hands and coming to Him with shameless audacity. As I grab His face, I see God smiling at me. And, my friend, He will do the same with you!
Will you pray with a growing group of us in greater Grand Rapids who are praying with this sort of persistence for revival and spiritual awakening in our area for His glory and the salvation of many?
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:9-13)
No one, especially none of us pampered Americans, likes pain. While pain can warn us to quickly take our hand away from that hot stove to prevent deeper burning, it’s still not something we long for. Those who relish pain we call masochists.
Yet pain is an inescapable part of life. Not just the physical pain of stubbing our toes, jumping into a pool full of cold water or getting bit by an angry dog; but emotional and relational pain that, in some respects, can be more debilitating and even permanent if we let it.
Given the choice, wouldn’t we all choose a pain-free existence?
But should that be the case for us followers of Christ? Sure, we would love to grow into all God intends for us without pain. But students of the Bible know that because of our self-centered natures, we need pain to motivate us to mature in godliness.
So, we are exhorted by Paul to “glory in our suffering” (Rom 5:3) and to delight in our weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties. ( 2 Cor 12:10) James says we should “consider it pure joy” when we encounter painful trials. (James 1:2) Not because we are masochists, but because we know that pain is God’s way of helping our selfish characters grow more like Jesus’ selfless one. The author of Hebrews says that God disciplines those He loves and that no discipline is pleasant, but painful. (Heb 12:6,11) But what does it produce? “A harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:11)
Consider the Biblical examples of Joseph and David who were unfairly treated by those around them, but all that pain produced in them persevering faith in God. A.W. Tozer put it this way, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”
In Hebrews 12, we see Esau who demanded his hunger be satisfied now even if it meant foolishly selling his precious birthright to his younger brother Jacob. In contrast, consider Moses described in Hebrews 11 as being willing to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Why did he do this if pain is our ultimate enemy and pleasure our ultimate friend? “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Heb 11:26)
And that is the key! Not living for a short term benefit that is temporary, but for the long term, more permanent gain. We trust that God will reward us in the life to come. Jesus said that we should rejoice when we are mistreated for the cause of Christ because “great is your reward in heaven.” (Matt 5:12) There are promises like this all through Scripture.
So, like an athlete training for the Olympics, or a musician practicing scales day after day, we choose to endure the pain of preparation for the goal of ultimate, certain reward.
But what if your worldview says that this life on this planet is all you get? Then pain becomes our greatest enemy, because I simply must get all I can out of my 70 or 80 years of existence. So if you cause me pain, you owe me big time!
This sort of thinking explains the rise of what people are calling the evil of “microaggressions.” A microaggression is defined as “a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that often unintentionally or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.” One example of a microaggression comes from the University of North Carolina’s Employee Forum which, among other transgressions, warned against complimenting a woman on her choice of footwear. Why? Because, “To do so would be considered to be a microaggression meaning ‘I notice how you look and dress more than I value your intellectual contributions. How you look is really more important.’” (I think I can hear a number of gasps from you who just read these words.)
In any event, when we consider the pain that Jesus and His followers endured as they sought to obey God and demonstrate His love for us who would follow them, we need to have the attitude of Paul, who said, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10)
Bottom line, while we do not choose suffering or pain, neither are we shocked when it comes our way in this world. And whether pain comes to us as loving discipline or to prompt our growth in character, we know it originates from the hand of our sovereign, loving Heavenly Father. He will surely give us the grace to be like Jesus, who kept His eyes on the joy set before Him and thereby was able to endure the cross. (Heb 12:2)
What a grief to hear of the vicious, unprovoked attack last night on police officers in Dallas. As a former prosecuting attorney and trial court judge whose role brought me daily into close contact with law enforcement officers for years, I hurt for the brave police officers in our cities who need now to be ultra-alert as they daily continue to put their lives on the line to protect us all. I also hurt for their loved ones who must wonder if they will ever see daddy or mommy again as they walk out the door to their daily posts.
Yes, it would appear some police officers have abused their authority and made deliberate or negligent choices that have resulted in deaths to otherwise innocent victims, some of which are African-American. These incidents are themselves tragic, but certainly do not justify the deliberate murder of men and women whose only connection to the errant cops is that they too wear a uniform and have a badge. To draw an analogy, it would be totally unjust to condemn every doctor as evil personified simply because we hear of one who abuses his position and carelessly or deliberately causes the premature death of a patient. Those who make wrong choices must bear their own punishment.
And, beyond deliberate choices people make to hurt others, in the course of everyone’s life, there are honest mistakes that we all make! We put erasers on pencils for a reason! Yet it seems that the public demands total perfection in certain areas of life.
I saw this reality repeatedly as a juvenile court judge concerning the system that dealt with child neglect and abuse. Often conditions in the child’s home required removal and placement in foster care. While the overwhelming majority of foster parents are wonderful caretakers, there are a few who are not. During my 15 years on the bench, I saw more than one case where we removed kids from their own neglectful or abusive homes, only to be neglected or even injured in the “licensed” foster home the system found for them.
I also saw instances where caseworkers returned children to their natural parents only to have the kids suffer repeated abuse or even death at the hands of their parents. Needless to say, the public was furious in such cases: “Caseworkers must never make mistakes in licensing foster homes or in returning kids to parents!” Newsflash: caseworkers are human too.
So enough of expecting 100 percent perfection from anyone in culture, including those in law enforcement. Excessive or repeated negligence must be responded to. But anyone who demands perfection from others needs to take a long look in the mirror and also seek the honest feedback of those around them, including their spouses. We all are in need of grace.
So how can we defuse the racial animus that seems to be escalating in our nation? I’m confident there will be calls by city mayors and other officials for all the races to “come together and work together” to bring peace and harmony among different ethnicities. Sounds good, but will it work? Unfortunately, not very well.
You see, if I continue to look at life through the eyes of how poorly “my people” have been treated by “your people,” I will never be satisfied until things are equal in my eyes. And even then, I’m going to feel you owe me for the past injustices against my people. Yes, maybe we can eke out a temporary truce of non-violence, but it can never engender true, unconditional love.
There is and has always been only one answer: Jesus Christ breaking down the barriers and producing genuine love.
How does that look? Let me offer a couple of true life illustrations.
One is Otto Kelly, a tall, muscular former football player who I met in Reno. Otto is Black and a pastor. Otto gets how his race has been systematically subjugated by white people over the years. Yet he told me, “Consider that Jesus was willing to go to the home of a Roman centurion to heal his servant. That would be like a Jew going to help a Nazi General in World War II.” Otto continued, “If Jesus can do that, I can forgive and love my white brothers and sisters." "Forgiveness,” he said, "is not a feeling; it's a choice to obey God."
Jesus commanded us not just to love our neighbors, but to love our enemies! That is precisely what Otto has chosen to do, and he gets the power of God to do it wholeheartedly. I love this brother and am so proud of him!
The other illustration is one very close to me. The highlight of my week is being part of a prayer group that formed only about nine months ago. While it continues to grow, it now consists of a dozen or so white, black, and Latino men who are pastors and ministry leaders. A year ago, few of us knew anyone else who is now in the group. Yet despite being relatively new brothers in Christ we genuinely love each other. And we love to be together. I am convinced these men would literally die for me if need be, and I for them.
The only way to explain this bond we all feel is that we are true blood brothers, a reality that far transcends race, ethnicity or background. We have all been bought by the blood of our big brother Jesus Christ and been adopted into God’s family. As I write this I am choking back tears of gratitude for these men who are so precious to me. God has done this and longs to do this more and more in our days.
Jesus prayed for this sort of unity the day before He went to the cross. Let’s not frustrate His prayer. Listen:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me--so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
National Day of Prayer event we sponsored in downtown Grand Rapids this past Thursday
Thank you to those who prayed for our National Day of Prayer event this past week in the center of downtown Grand Rapids. God gave us great weather, a good crowd and, most importantly, the blessing of His presence.
After an inspiring time of worship, we asked leaders from the Seven Mountains of Culture to share appropriate scripture passages and then asked local pastors to lift these areas of culture up in prayer. So, for example, we had a local mayor, a state representative and a trial court judge each share scripture relating to their governmental roles, and then a pastor covered that entire area in prayer. The same was done for business, education, arts and entertainment, media, religion and family.
People were clearly touched by God's presence. Here's a few comments that people posted on social media:
"What an inspirational, Spirit-led evening! Crowds praying for repentance, revival, and reconciliation! Moving forward together in Christ!"
"National Day of Prayer in Grand Rapids. The SUN showed up. And so did the SON!"
"Great in every way!"
"Powerful time!" "
Toward the end of the event, Grand Rapids First Church Pastor Sam Rijfkogel summed it up well. He said we will look back at May 5, 2016 as a major milestone in our pursuit of revival in our region, that God will certainly be responding to our united prayers. To which we say, "May it be, Lord! All for Your glory!"
Many asked what's next for The Grand Awakening. Please pray that we will clearly hear God and boldly follow His leading.
So you can get a better sense of what happened, below are a few more pictures of the event, most taken by photographer Tom De Vette. To see even more, click here.
The temptation is strong for us to think that if we can just get "our man" or "our woman" in the White House, he or she will restore our nation to spiritual strength and vitality.
I'm reminded of what Chuck Colson once said, "The kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One no matter how good the president’s character or great his ability. Don’t get me wrong: Elections are important; the law is a moral teacher. But all the laws and political victories will not help us if we lose the culture. Our job is the same no matter who is in office: that is, to make serious disciples and to bring Christian truth to bear in all of life.”
Isn't it fair to say that we followers of Christ have, in Colson's words, "lost the culture"? We have not been the salt and light to preserve our nation. We have more been influenced by our world than we have influenced our world for God. Pastor Erwin Lutzer was right when he said, "Perhaps the church doesn't suffer for the sins of the world as much as the world suffers for the sins of the church."
The fundamental problem of our nation is selfishness, me living for me and you living for you. So how do you cure selfishness? Pass a law making it illegal? Of course not. We need heart change. And that takes Jesus Christ working in and through us.
Imagine how things would be different in our cities and nation if every follower of Christ had the attitude of Jesus expressed in Mark 10:45,"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many."
You want to fix our nation? Then consider this: politics/government is a lagging indicator of the health of our culture. Our culture, in turn, is a lagging indicator of the health of the Church in America. In the words of Columnist Cal Thomas, “Without revival of God’s people, major political change is impossible; with revival, major political change is inevitable.”
Yes, our ONLY hope for healing for America is revival of the church leading to major spiritual awakening of our nation. While God, in His sovereignty, determines the when and the how of revival, our part is to unite in desperate, humble, and repentant prayer. And obey what He calls us to do in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Most of our family last summer
The Wall Street Journal has been running a series of articles under the title “2050: Demographic Destiny.” The team writing these articles—looking at the facts—has concluded that world economies are in trouble. But, contrary to what we have been conditioned to believe, our economic woes are not due to overpopulation. In fact, just the opposite: the authors point out that our problems stem from the reality that the number of working-age people in developed nations is shrinking. At the same time, due to lengthening of lifespans, the number of people over 65 is skyrocketing, adding to society the burden of increased medical expenditures for this age group.
So why are the number of working-age people shrinking in our world? Because of what demographers call “low fertility rates.” Translation: women are not having enough babies. It takes 2.1 babies for each female during her lifetime to achieve zero population growth in any given nation: one baby to replace her, one to replace her mate and .1 babies for those who don’t ever reproduce in the future. The average number of children born to women in a nation is called the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of that country.
So where has America been on the scale of Total Fertility Rates? From 1940 through1969, the TFR in the U.S. exceeded 2.1. In fact, from 1945 through 1964 the TFR was more than 3 children per female in America. But, starting in 1970, we have been below 2.1 children per woman. Most recently, the TFR is at 1.86.
Looking at demographics from another perspective is the median age of our population. That is the age where 50 percent of the population is on either side of this number. In 1970, the median age of the U.S. was 28. It is now close to 38! In marked contrast, the median age in the U.S. in 1850 was 18.9. In Muslim lands like Afghanistan, the median age today is about 18. In dying Japan, the median age is 46! Europe is similar. In demographers’ eyes, these cultures are dying off.
But the U.S. is not far behind. In the last two years in America, in the white population group, deaths have outnumbered births because of insufficient numbers of children born.
So what does this have to do with us? Quite a bit, it turns out.
Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” We know—at least in theory—that man apart from God and His Word, inevitably shoots himself in the foot, producing more evil than good. Much truth from God is counter-intuitive: we obey because He is our Lord, not because we totally understand the why. But later on, He often shows us the reason for our obedience.
We need to ask: if the world around us is not bearing and raising children, what about us? Are we listening more to God or to our culture in this important area of life? Does God have anything to say about this area of life? How do we view children? Are they a blessing, or a burden; a privilege to bear and raise, or a pain?
God’s perspective on this issue is clear. One of the first commands to Adam and Eve was for them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with people. He repeated this to Noah after the flood. God has never cancelled this command. Based on what we say above, we can no longer use the excuse that our world is already full and God would have us be “prudent” by minimizing the number of children we have. Psalm 127 makes it clear that children are an unmitigated blessing and that a man is blessed whose quiver is full of them.
Is not Jesus to be Lord of every area of life? Are not our childbearing abilities incredible gifts from Him that, as we yield them to Him, He (not impersonal biology) through us can create a new child made in His image that has the ability to grow up and impact our world for Christ and live eternally? Why do we feel we need to make these important decisions based solely on our projected financial condition, personal preferences, and our perceived ability to manage a large number of children? Is not God’s call His enablement?
Bottom line, brothers and sisters, should not we as Christian married couples be open to God for the children He wishes to bless us and the world with unless, of course, there are significant medical or other issues that make such clearly unwise and thereby wrong?
A brief, personal story. Marcia and I had three lovely daughters and were ready to call our family “done.” Then, somewhat “accidently,” #4 came along—another sweet daughter. In our minds, that really was plenty of children! I was absolutely sure we couldn’t afford any more, nor would more fit into our car or our house.
But then God began to mess with Marcia and me. In her heart, Marcia began to desire another baby. So she prayed that God would either change her heart or mine. As a result of her prayers, God began to show me the many scriptures that describe how God sovereignly opens and closes the womb and how children are an unmitigated blessing. I eventually came to the very challenging conclusion that He would have us go “cold turkey” on birth preventative methods. Yes, we would obey Him. But, at the same time, I was comforted with the knowledge that an all-wise and all-merciful God could see what was obvious to me: we couldn’t handle any more kids!
So, when a couple of months later, Marcia patted her tummy and—with a smile—said that she didn’t feel so well, I was distraught. What had we done? I am now ashamed of my ungodly response. Because that little child in her womb was our first son David who is now a university professor impacting hundreds of students and others with his life. And then came along Suzie, John, Scott, Laurie, Daniel, Angela and Nathan. (Not to mention the 26 grandkids!) Each of which is an incredible person and, in his or her own way, pursuing Jesus and impacting their worlds for Him.
And, yes, God did provide a bigger house, a 15 passenger van, and even college tuition for each of our children! Matthew 6:33 is still in the Bible!
Was it easy? Are you kidding me? But where do we read in scripture that this life is supposed to be about my ease and comfort? And imagine the impact God will produce through these children that He created for His glory. As someone said, children are messages we send to a time we ourselves will never see. They are missionaries to the future.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10)