The Danger of Becoming an Awakenings Agnostic

When is the first time you remember seeing God move? The first time you remember being aware of his presence, seeing him change lives, or knowing he was near? I remember seeing God save young people, some of whom were hippie-types. I remember our church converting a skating rink into a “One Way Christian Night Club.” I remember wanting to know Jesus personally. I was 11.

When was the last time you saw him move? Just last week I had the honor of helping someone place their faith in Christ alone for salvation. That never gets old. Sunday, as I taught on my Sharing Jesus book for my friend Kie Bowman at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, I sensed God’s good hand, and was renewed in my heart that God called me to encourage believers in evangelism. How about you? When did you last see him answer prayer, change a life, or change your life?

When is the next time you will see him move? Are you anticipating his work in your life?

I know what you may be thinking: “Hang on, you are asking questions about our experiences–isn’t it a dangerous thing to focus on our experiences?” Yes, but no more dangerous than to ignore the reality that our God is living and active and at work in our world.  The Word of God, his unchanging truth, is always the arbiter of our experience. But the Bible that guides us teems with accounts of the activity of God at work in the world.

I’m always wary of people who overly emphasize experience. But I’m concerned about the other side of this: believers who interpret the Bible by their non-experience. We have an entire generation who has never really seen God move in power, except in spots here and there. The cumulative effect can be to develop a suspicion toward anything out of the ordinary. We could even become agnostics toward spiritual awakening. Jonathan Edwards wrote several of his treatises on revival to respond to professing believers who were skeptical of the work of God.

God has moved mightily in the past. We see it throughout the Word, as I noted above. We see it in history, through powerful missionary movements, in remarkable stories of God’s people standing firm in persecution, and in great revival movements. I love to tell my students some of the stories of revival. For some, it’s a stimulus to seek God with a fresh heart. For others, I fear it’s just some stories totally detached from their experience with Christ.

We don’t seek revival for the experience of it. We pray for a God-intervention, an awakening, to know God more. We ask for God’s power to be more effective in serving him and to bring more glory to his name. We pray for God to awaken the church because God can do more in a week of his activity than we can do in a decade in our own power.

There is another thing: an awakening really does change things. It changes the church, and it sweeps many into the kingdom of God. I’ve seen bits and pieces of this in my life on earth. I’ve never been the same from such visitations.

Don’t seek an experience, but don’t be suspicious of them either. Seek the face of God more than his hand, and walk with him with deep affection, and pray for revival. Like the Psalmist prayed in Psalm 85, and Habakkuk prayed, and as Isaiah prayed in 64:1. Our world is a mess, and our hope is in God.

By the way, several years ago a professor of mine named Malcolm McDow and I wrote a history of awakenings called Firefall. More recently we updated it. If you are hungry to know more about how God has moved in the past to be stirred to pray today, you can get it here. My life has been shaped greatly by the stories of revival.

One more thing: I warn my students, and I want to warn you–you can be in the middle of the activity of God and miss him at work. You wouldn’t be the first. That reality drives me to prayer. I believe our God is at work in powerful ways, and I don’t want to miss being a part of his activity. As you pray, pray for revival.

Seven Simple Ideas for Daily Prayer

While in my seminary days I found great help in prayer from a resource produced by Peter Lord of the First Baptist Church of Titusville, Florida, called the 2959 Guide (29.59, or about 30 minutes in prayer). The following is my adaptation and expansion of something I first thought of while going through the guide. I often use this in my daily prayer time. Perhaps it will encourage you as well. These are seven themes you see practiced consistently in Scripture. While I’m emphasizing these for personal prayer, they would be useful in corporate settings as well.

1) Praise: Praise is our response to the person of God. We praise him for who he is.  Praise is not noise, just as reverence is not silence. It is the acknowledgment of God’s greatness. It is recognizing he is “hallowed,” or “holy,” as the Model Prayer tells us (see Matt 6:9). Sometimes reading a Psalm of praise helps here. Beginning with praise starts our praying with a focus on God, not us, which is always best.

2) Thanksgiving: This is our response to the goodness of God. Thank him for what he has done. “Enter His gates with thanksgiving” (Ps 100:4). “In everything give thanks” (1 Thess 5:18). An attitude of gratitude should permeate our lives.

3) Confession:  Confession is our response to the holiness of God. Our sins will hinder our praying (see Ps 66:18). As we pray, we can ask the Holy Spirit to reveal each sin in our lives. Then we can confess the sin (see 1 John 1:9) and forsake it. When broken relationships are involved, we should seek to make them right as well (see Matthew 5). Remembering God’s forgiveness in Christ also helps us to be forgiving to others.

4) Intercession: This is our response to the love of God. Intercession means taking time to pray on behalf of others. When we ask of God, Foster reminds us, we are not “trying to manipulate God and tell Him what to do. Quite the opposite. We are asking God to tell us what to do. God is the ground of our beseeching . . . Our prayer is to be like a reflex action to God’s prior initiative on the heart.”[i]

5) Petition: Petition is our response to the love of God for us. It is appropriate and necessary for us to ask God to meet our needs. However, in our consumer-driven culture, we can learn from this prayer of petition from an anonymous soldier:

I asked God for strength that I might achieve;

I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked God for health that I might do greater things;

I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy;

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;

I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;

I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for—

but everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am among all men most richly blessed.[ii]

6) Listening: Listening is our response to the voice of God. You may not be aware of it, but wherever you are as you read this, noises are all around you. Rock-and-roll music is all around you. Rap tunes are playing. People are discussing various topics from sports to finance. The only thing you need to hear these voices is the proper receiver. Opening the Spotify App will suddenly usher into your presence a bevy of sounds.

Prayer operates the same way. God is constantly speaking to us, teaching us, leading us. He always speaks through his word, and he never speaks contrary to it. The question is not whether God is speaking but if we are listening.

7) Consecration: Consecration is our response to the activity of God. It is a prayer of commitment. Often in Scripture believers made specific, fresh acts of consecration: Jonah in the whale’s stomach (Jonah 2:1–10); David, following his sin with Bathsheba (Ps 51); Paul, our Lord, and others. In our times of prayer, we are often confronted with the need to make a fresh, new commitment to God.

[i] Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 42.

[ii] C. R. Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 113.

The Prayers of Jesus

That Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees, why not make him tremble? Why not storm the very gates of hell? Nothing could please God more. In the conflict that is upon us, certainly we can ill afford to neglect one weapon Satan does not have in his arsenal and the one he fears the most—prayer.[i]  —Ralph Herring

Prayer. We all say we believe in it. We sometimes practice it. But do we pray believing? How can we grow in prayer?

I’m convinced the place to start with prayer is with our Lord and his example. While the following is not exhaustive, here are some ways Jesus serves as our model in prayer. Let these truths encourage your prayer today.

First, he spent time in personal prayer. Mark 1:35 and other passages observe his penchant for private prayer. How is your private prayer currently?

Second, he prayed at important events (Matt 26:36-44; Luke 6:12). “Of course, we should do that,” you say. Important events call for prayer. But he prayed all night before calling the 12. When have you spent all night in prayer because of a vital matter? I admit, I’ve only been a part of two all-night prayer meetings. But most believers have never done so, or anything remotely related to this. Is prayer your first choice when facing an important decision?

Third, he taught the importance of prayer (Matt 6). The only thing the Gospels tell us the 12 specifically asked Jesus to teach them was to pray (Luke 11). The Lord’s Prayer, as we call it, offers a model of how to pray. Jesus always teaches his followers those things most vital to his heart. What are you learning just now about prayer?

Fourth, he prioritized seasons and places of prayer (Luke 5:16). On this occasion in Luke we read how our Lord often withdrew to a certain place. In this hyper-driven world of ours we need both a place and times of personal sabbath and retreat. Do you have a special place to seek the Father?

Fifth, he prayed when facing temptation and when suffering (Matthew 4:1-2). Both when facing the temptation of satan and during the agony of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed. As my colleague Chuck Lawless points out, prayer is vital in the real spiritual warfare we face as Christians. In addition, three of his statements on the cross were prayers. Suffering and temptation should drive us to our knees rather than driving a wedge between us and the Father. Do you turn immediately to God in prayer in times of temptation, or when facing suffering?

Sixth, he gave thanks (Luke 10:21). He gave thanks before miraculously feeding the five thousand, for instance. Are you a grateful person, and is your gratitude aimed at the good God who gives good things?

Seventh, he modeled prayer (John 17). John 17 reminds us Jesus prayed for his disciples then and for us even now. Do you see prayer as a means to be more like Jesus?

Eighth, he calls on us to pray for harvesters (Matthew 9:36-38). Jesus calls his disciples to pray for harvesters. When we share our faith, we are answers to that call to prayer! Will you be an answer to this prayer by sharing Jesus this week?

Finally, Jesus continues to intercede for us now! Hebrews 7:25 reminds us he always lives to intercede for us. Will you live confidently, knowing this fact?

[i] R. Herring, The Cycle of Prayer (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1966), 62–63.

Sharing Jesus Book Training Video 2

One day last week I heard the following:

–A church in Virginia has 400 members going through the Sharing Jesus Book

–A church in Missouri has one-third of their congregation signed up to work through the book over 8 weeks (the biggest group signed up for any training in the church’s history)

–A nurse told one of my students how she has been helped so much by this book she is reading. She had no idea who the guy is who wrote it she said, but it’s called Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out. My student told her, “I know him, I’m reading the same book for his class.” Small world.

Here is the second training video from the landing page. In this one we look at the glorious, amazing gospel. Don’t believe it when people tell you the gospel is of no interest to the unchurched, or sharing the gospel doesn’t matter to believers. The way we “package” the gospel and approach believers definitely causes some to step back. But, the gospel is still the power of God to salvation, and so many who love Jesus want to share him, and not freak out or overcomplicate it.

May this video encourage you today.