Sunday, January 28, 2007

Protecting Prayer (Part 2)

Be careful to guard and protect your time of prayer with God. The time should be, quite literally, a holy time. Often, we think of things that are holy in moral terms and as a special attribute of God. All of that is true. Yet, in addition, the concept of holiness is also one of "set apartness." The quote found on the right-hand panel of this blog from the Gospel of Mark (1:35) shows us Jesus as going to a solitary place to pray. Consider that if He did not do these things, the pressing demands of His ministry would have burnt Him out. He needed to guard that time as holy (set apart).

Consider also the description of a temple complex as given in the 40th to 48th chapters of the book of Ezekiel (the layout is in the above left graphic of today's entry). Compared to the site of the first temple on Mount Zion and its re-building on the same site a few decades later, the plan for Ezekiel's temple site would be enormous. Unlike the two temples built on Mount Zion, Ezekiel's temple calls for a sacred district surrounding it. Its area would be around 55 square miles (my hometown of Troy, Michigan is 33.6 square miles). The purpose of all this additional space is found in Ezekiel 42:20. It was "to separate the holy from the common." We see how the protecting and keeping of holy things as separate is so very important to God.

Prayer is a privilege but it is not a luxury. The world would have us think that taking time out to pray before or in the course of a busy day is a waste of time. If we're going to get something done, the world would say, get off your knees and get busy. Yet, the Bible and Christian experience point to the idea that our work really begins with prayer. Thus, we need to guard our sacred time in prayer with the same attitude which sacred space has been guarded by the people of God in both Old and New Testament times. My prayer for my readers and myself is that God will implant in us the same sense of importance, urgency and holiness in prayer which God has toward prayer.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Protecting Prayer

One way of understanding the title of this entry is that of a prayer which asks the Lord's protection in a difficult or dangerous situation. Such prayer has biblical precedent. We find an example of such a prayer offered by a group of exiles as they prepared for the long and dangerous journey from Babylon to Israel (see Ezra 8:21-23)

However appropriate and true it is, that is not the intended meaning for this blog entry. My meaning here is the protecting of the time and circumstances in which prayer occurs. The three enemies which war against the Christian, namely the world, the flesh and the devil, have a way of trying to entice or convince us that time in prayer with God in Christ is not a top priority. In our entertainment-crazed culture, we find too often, as Shakespeare put it, that "the world is still deceived with ornament" (The Merchant of Venice Act 3, Scene 3). My wife refers to this as "being distracted by shiny objects." Our culture exists in a time in which these "shiny objects" are available to us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These are the things which grab our attention and often take away (as in steal) our time with the Lord. This may take many forms depending on our lifestyles. Perhaps it is that "just one more" television show or video game that you think will take only a few minutes and mutates into an entire evening. Perhaps it's that "I'll hit the snooze button one more time" which ends up becoming several snoozes and results in little or no time in prayer in the morning.

There can be other aspects to the world's call to neglected or deflected prayer. Many of us live through times in which a number of real demands are made upon us. Perhaps it's an increased number of hours at work. (Ironically, I received a call at home for tech support from work while I was writing this entry). Perhaps you've just brought your newborn baby home and the child is keeping you up at night. There can be a number of demands, legitimate in themselves, that demand our attention. It must be noted that an increased workload was an strategy of an evil Egyptian pharaoh. You can find it in Exodus 5:1-9

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.' " Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go." Then they said, "The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword." But the king of Egypt said, "Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!" Then Pharaoh said, "Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working." That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the people: "You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don't reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God.' Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies."

For Pharaoh, the most important thing in life was not God. It was himself and his own glory in the building projects of his reign. Therefore, according to Pharaoh, it was critical to get the attention of the Israel off God and onto him. Reflect on how this attitude still prevails in so many ways in our own time and place.

More on this in the next entry...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Some good advice from an expert on prayer

I belong to a small group at our church which is dedicated to growing in our knowledge and practice of prayer and intercession. We have been reading Andrew Murray's book "The Ministry of Intercession." I found one of these quotes quite the challenge and want to place it here on the blog as a challenge to you as well.

Murray wrote: To break through old habits, to resist the clamor of pressing duties that have always had their way, to make every other call subordinate to this one, whether others approve or not, will not be easy at first. But the men or women who are faithful will not only be rewarded themselves but will become benefactors to their fellow Christians: Thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in" (Isaiah 58:12)

Murray wrote these words about a century ago. Yet, his advice is just as timely and on point in 2007 as it was in 1907. Murray has encouraged me to know that great warriors of prayer are not confined to the past. They live now and will into the future. We have the privilege of really putting aside old habits and becoming one.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Lonely Pilgrim

The journey that a Christian makes in this life can often be a lonely journey. The account of Christian's journey to the Celestial City, in John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress" is a wonderful allegory of the Christian life which demonstrates a distinct "aloneness" quality. Even when surrounded by those we love and who love us, in our hearts and minds, the words of Proverbs ring true to us: "Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy." (Proverbs 14:10 NIV).

A 20th century preacher and writer encapsulated this in his book "Man - The Dwelling Place of God." A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) has often been referred to as a 20th century prophet. Two of his books "The Pursuit of God" and "Knowledge of the Holy" are already considered classics of Christian devotional writing. Although he has been with the Lord now for over 40 years, his writings and his sermons (many of which are available in free downloadable mp3 format here) sound as if he were speaking with today's world and today's church in mind. I've linked to Tozer's chapter "The Saint Must Walk Alone." I hope you find this as insightful as I did.

Monday, January 1, 2007

A Happy New Year (Off to a prayerful start)

Our church concluded its time of 24 hour prayer this afternoon at 2pm. By the grace of God, we had full coverage of all hours during the 24 hour period. It was an absolutely blessed time. It was also the first time that I was able to participate in something like this where a part of my time was spent in prayer, reading and reflection between the hours of 2am to 5am.

While I know that God hears prayer at whatever hour of the day it is offered, I think that there may be a special blessing for those who are crying out to the Lord in prayer when the rest of the world around us is dark and our community is asleep.

I think that those who participated had a sense of what the peace of heaven must be like. We hope to do this again (perhaps annually). In a few hours that I had at home earlier today (I've been rather busy with the 24 hour event itself in not only praying but helping to work through some of the logistics), I came across the text of a Watch Night service conducted by Charles Spurgeon in London on December 31, 1855 (Text here). It is a solemn reminder that our fund of time on this Earth is limited and to learn to pray and cry out to God to "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."(Psalm 90: 12 NIV). I suggest reading it today on New Year's Day (even though any day of the year would be a good time to read it and take its' message to heart).

Happy New Year from the School of the Solitary Place!!!