Repost: Preach with the closing prayer in mind

…and then the preacher says, “lets pray”.

I think this point of the sermon (nay – the church meeting) is the pinnacle. This is the moment when you’re asking people to turn what they’ve heard into gospel centred action…

The action of prayer.

This is the moment of instant application. Your flock can respond to their God’s words right there and then.

Surely the first application of any Bible talk is praying, right? So do you preach with the closing prayer in mind? Are you spending that 20, 30, 40 minutes building up to that moment, when people can depend on Jesus and speak to the Father and say…

What do you want them to say to God at the end of your sermon?

Got it? Good. Now write your talk with that in mind.

The gospel dares us to ignore our feelings…

The gospel of the Lord Jesus is unemotional… it is simply a truth. Jesus; the God-Man died and rose to life for sinners; to absorb their guilt, punishment and death, and to make them righteous, holy and alive as His adopted brothers in eternity to display the glory of His Father.

But the gospel does cause emotions. The gospel causes many many different types of emotions! Christians can rightly feel things all the way from shame to joy, from insignificance to glorious-pride (in a good way).

But what happens when you feel one aspect of the gospel more than another? What about those times when you feel the guilt and shame of your sin; when you feel the weight of your personal rebellion against God… when you feel how small and insignificant you are and how you have nothing… absolutely nothing to offer… just sin; wrath-worthy sin.
What about those times when your feelings of guilt are so strong you just can’t believe that God would want you, let along love you and want good things for you?

See, it’s not that you don’t understand the gospel… you “know” that Jesus’ blood can atone. You “know” that God can forgive through the cross. You “know” what God says, but you just don’t feel it – you feel like it can’t be true… “God could never love me, not now, not after what I’ve done.”

That’s when you need to ignore your feelings. They’re lying to you. In fact, it’s Satan lying to you. So please, don’t act out of your feelings! Don’t act in line with your emotions! Choose, nay, DARE to ignore your feelings and act according to the gospel.

Imagine for a moment… if God really loved you and wanted good things for you, what could you pray for? What would you feel comfortable praying for if you truly felt God was your great and powerful daddy? Anything, right!?! Trivial things, right?! Little nothing things, right?!

So dare to do that! Boldly approach the throne of grace and ask for the type of things that you shouldn’t be able to ask for! Take the plunge! Do it!

Trust God’s unemotional gospel in the midst of your emotional turmoil.


A different form of Church AGM

We had our Church’s 2014 AGM recently and we decided to try a new thing…

Every year we try to a new way of communicating a holistic perspective of church (helping people realise that church is more than their personal experience of it) – here’s one from last year. This year we tried to go really simple and didn’t include heaps of structures and aspects of church in the design (See the full design here).

But the big difference we did this year was two-fold; seating people at tables, and making it a prayer-night.

We setup the room like a cafe; paper on square tables, cups and water, candles, a plate of finger food.

Our Senior Pastor opened the Bible and encouraged us from Philippians 1 that it’s so appropriate that Christians give thanks for God’s work in us and through us. We prayed.

We opened the AGM with apologies, and a couple of people confirmed the minutes from last year. We heard a 2 min report from the Committee (Elders/Board), asked some questions and prayed. We got a finance summary of 2014, asked questions and gave thanks. We closed the formal meeting, but opened up to further prayer.

We walked though the significant ministries at our church; the Mission activities… and we prayed. The Membership and Maturity activities and groups… and we prayed. The Magnification and Ministry activities… and we prayed.

Along the way we didn’t sing, but we got some of our musos to perform a couple of songs they’d just finish writing. We enjoyed their talent and gave thanks.

It might not have been what people were expecting – it was a bit different to what I was expecting, and I organised it – but by the end of the night it felt like a night well spent. And that’s as good AGM in my book.

Do you pray “from” unknowns or “through” unknowns?

It seems a common shared prayer that God would deliver us from troubles, from risks, from the unknown. It goes something like, “Lord, keep us safe as we travel. Lord, keep us from sickness. Etc.”

These are great things to pray. However, there is another side to these prayers we should consider. It’s the prayer that God would help us be godly and other-person-centred in the midst of troubles and hardship.

If you’re in leadership, it worth re-phrasing some of your public prayers (at GrowthGroup or whatever) to include asking God to help us honour him through our hardships, not just asking him to keep us from hardship. 

When can “venting” be biblical?

When it’s appropriately directed towards your loving heavenly Father.

Yesterday I said that there’s no such thing as “godly venting”, meaning venting to someone about other people. But there is a type of venting we find in the scriptures… when God’s people are dealing with real trials and suffering, they come before their loving Father and they process it it honestly, and respectfully with Him.

See how the Psalmist bears his heart’s troubles to God…

Ps 73:2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. […]
13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.

Ps 64:1 Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

Or Moses,

Ex 5:22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Or Elijah,

1Ki 19:4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Jeremiah probably wished he was a little more careful…

Je 20:7 You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. 8 Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.

But at the same time, be careful… Remember what God said to Job…

Job 38: Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: 2 “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

Their response to sin = their grasp of the gospel

How do you know when someone’s really “got” the gospel? It’s an important question because we spend all this time and energy working hard at helping people get the gospel and keep hold of it. What does that look like?

It might be a growth in godliness – that would be nice. But, doing nice things doesn’t mean someone’s grasped the gospel. Loads of people who don’t get the gospel do really nice things!

It’s how they respond to their sin. People only every respond to their sin in 2 ways…

  1. Withdrawal from God (through trying to repay the sin, minimising the sin, denying the sin, or embracing the sin)
  2. Drawing towards God (through acknowledging the sin, repenting from the sin, asking forgiveness for the sin, acting to stop the sin)

Notice that all the first group of actions are movements away from relating to God – even trying to repay the sin is a movement away from God because it’s trying to replace the relationship with an offering (and a pretty poor one at that). But all the actions in group two are in fact movements towards a relationship with God – even the act of stopping the sin is something done while holding God’s hand.

In the end it all comes back to prayer. When they sin… how do they pray? How do you pray?

The goal of public prayer is…

Encouragement? People awestruck at our pious praying styles? No!
The goal of public prayer is simply that people would pray along with us.

Public prayer is a weird thing. I think we forget that if we’ve seen it done for a long time. But it’s really really weird. One person stands out the front and talks with their eyes shut, to someone who’s not in the room. Meanwhile, everyone else shuts their eyes and just sits there. Until some magic words at the end get said, and then everyone chants an ancient Greek word, “amen”.

Now I think it’s a great thing to do, but lets be clear on the goal… The goal is that all those people with their eyes shut would in fact be talking to God the very same words that the lead pray-er is praying. So, pray in such a way that makes it amazingly easy for people to pray along!!!

  • Pray slowly – with gaps between phrases and sentences.
  • Pray SHORT sentences. I’ll say it again. Pray short sentences.
  • Pray clearly.
  • Pray meaningfully.
  • Pray deeply – invoke real theological nous to be simple and clear. It’s easy to get away with bad theology by using lots of words.

Why the verb “use” works so well in prayer

How we pray, particularly in public, matters. And how we speak to God, and ask him to work in people’s lives matters. But it’s hard to give God appropriate verbs! (See previous post)
One of the great verbs to ask of God is that he would “use”.
Use me, use us, use them, use it, use that day, use your word, use your spirit, use these circumstances, use your amazing power, use your grace, use your son…
They set up for a heart thumping prayer to follow.

We all need to stop praying, “I pray that…” and just use some manners

“To pray” means to beseech, to request, to ask. And from a very early age, we’re taught how to ask for things politely… “Excuse me, can I please have the pony?”
However, for some reason, we’re not taught or modelled to ask like that when addressing God!? I have no idea why, but it’s stupid. Instead, we normally say something like, “Dear God, I pray that I would have a pony”. That’s like calling your mum and saying, “Dear mother, I beseech you that I may have a ride to the train station”
If that’s how you talk to ya’ mum, fine, please talk like that to your God.
But if that seems simply weird and almost rude, DON’T DO IT TO GOD.
Just start talking to God in prayer as though, you know, you can talk to him. Drop the fancy language and be real… “God, father, can you please give me a chance to tell Joe about Jesus?”
See, that’s a real question. It’s a real request. It’s a prayer.
So Just pray it, rather than telling him that you pray it.

Using the best part of your day

Have you ever considered what part of your day you are usually most effective or productive?
Some people simply can’t read after 9pm – they just fall asleep. Others can’t read before 9am – they’re just not awake enough. Some people are their most pleasant early, others late at night.
When are you at your best each day? And, what are you doing with the best part of your day?
One way to think of this is like the first fruits of your time. Maybe that time is the time to devote to prayer and bible reading? If that’s not an issue, then maybe devote the best part of your day to your spouse and thus your marriage?
Come 20 years time, be able to look back and say, I’ve spend the best part of my days doing something really important. I’ve been a good steward of my time.

The goal is the second date

If you’re putting on an event for non-Christians, I think the most loving goal is “get a second date”. Make the big aim that they come back again. Make the big purpose that they don’t walk out thinking, “Well I’m not coming back to this next week!”.

If they tap out after one night, it becomes 100 times harder to ever get them back again. They think they’ve looked at it “enough”, they think they’ve given Christianity “a go”. But if they come back, even just one more time, that second date is when they really start listening. That’s when they begin to invest in relationships. That’s when begin to evaluate. Its really rare that ever happens on an evangelistic “first date”.

Two caveats…

1. The strategy doesn’t change, just the goal. The strategy should always be “preach the gospel”. Having the second date as the goal will affect HOW you preach the gospel. Just like if you were preaching on the sinking Titanic, it would change HOW you preach the gospel.

2. Don’t let yourself think that God can’t convert people on night one. Of course he can! Pray that people would move from never even hearing about Jesus to trusting him fully in the space of 90mins!