Friday, November 1, 2019

City Notes '19 Special | Kingdom Unleashed: Praying Shamelessly, Boldly, Persistently to an Almighty God

We really want to depend on God and that is all about prayers. Otherwise, you just use a lot of human effort to try to solve problems. + Dr. Aila Tasse, Lifeway Mission International 

In the midst of my recent silent retreat at The Abbey of the Genesee, I think the Lord has been inviting me into a new discipline of prayer and fasting that I'm planning to submit to beginning December 1. This reflection has also been shaped by being steeped in the books The Kingdom UnleashedPracticing the Way of Jesus, and From Weakness to StrengthThe timing of this retreat, the gift of these books, and the whispered invitation of God in relation to prayer, fasting, and enemy-love have also provided many seemingly divine winks as the past weekends Emmaus City Church has been in Matthew's Gospel focused on Matthew 9:27-38: Jesus' Compassionate Power to Send Us to See & Labor to Set Free, Matthew 9:37-10:16: Jesus' Sending Power to Free Us to Be "Tumblers for God"Matthew 10:16-31: Jesus' Fearless Power to Preserve Us & Protect Us to Proclaim, and Matthew 10:29-42: Jesus' Cross-Shaped Power to Give Us Courage in Conflict.

The Special City Notes to come will feature excerpts from The Kingdom Unleashed, Practicing the Way of Jesus, and From Weakness to Strength. If they whet your appetite, I encourage you to purchase the books above and step into being discipled with me by faithful sisters and brothers around the world who are practicing the way of Jesus by living the Our Father | Lord's Prayer and loving their neighbors and enemies. 

Chapter 3 | Praying Small Prayers to an Almighty God

We see prayer as a lifestyle. We begin by prayer. They see us praying; we pray together and they know that, when we come together, we pray. And everything we do starts with prayer. And so we don't teach them prayers for them to start learning how to pray. They see us begin with prayers. Even when somebody is a new believer, we take them with us on a prayer walk. And sometimes they don't even understand why we do this. Finally, they learn that it is something they have to do. ... We really want to depend on God and that is all about prayers. Otherwise, you just use a lot of human effort to try to solve problems. Dr. Aila Tasse, Lifeway Mission International 
The 100-Yearlong Prayer Meeting

On August 27, 1727, 24 men and 24 women agreed to spend an hour each day in scheduled prayer, covering all 24 hours in the day, seven days a week. The idea soon grew, and the practice of continual prayer went on non-stop for more than one hundred years. Out of this prayer meeting, the Moravians felt called to engage in foreign missions. This was the first major Protestant missionary movement not associated with colonization; it even predates what is usually considered the beginning of the modern mission movement with William Carey. Starting from a population of 300 in 1727, within 65 years they had sent 300 missionaries around the world, including to North and South America, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Arctic. They were the first to evangelize slaves; some even sold themselves into slavery to gain access to slave communities. The Moravians were also the first to send lay people into the mission field rather than just ordained ministers. John Wesley traveled to Georgia before he was a Christian on a ship that also carried some Moravian missionaries. In the middle of the Atlantic, a storm came upon them suddenly, catching the crew unprepared. In a scene of chaos, the mast snapped in half and the passengers went into panic – all except the Moravians, who were calmly praying and singing together on deck. This made a deep impression on Wesley, and he eventually became a follower of Christ at one of their meetings back in England. The Moravians thus played a critical role in the Wesleyan Revival, the start of Methodism, and the beginning of British evangelicalism, among other things. All of this grew out of repentance and a 100-yearlong prayer meeting!

The Amidah & The Lord's Prayer | Our Father, Your Kingdom Come

Prayer was central to Jesus' life and ministry. As a rabbi, Jesus prayed at least three times per day using standard liturgical prayers. But the Gospels frequently tell of Him also withdrawing into the wilderness for prayer, often spending the entire night praying, such as when He needed to make decisions about the direction of His ministry (e.g. Mark 1:35-39) or before appointing the Twelve. This raises the immediate observation that, if Jesus needed to spend extended times in prayer – He who was in full and unhindered communion with the Father – how much more do we need to do the same if we are going to have the Spirit's guidance and power?

Observant Jews in Jesus' day prayed the Amidah (also known as the Eighteen Benedictions) three times per day. They understood this to be a sacred obligation, and failure to do so was a sin. These prayers took a good amount of time, however. Rabbis and other "professionals" could be counted on to recite them regularly, but praying the entire Amidah three times per day could be a burden for the average person with a job and a family. Students thus asked rabbis for a more concise version of the prayers that would be more practical for them to say to fulfill their religious obligations. This context helps explain what was happening in Luke 11 when Jesus' disciples came to Him and asked Him to teach them to pray the way that John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray:  

The disciples wanted to find the core of the Amidah that they could recite three times daily. Jesus' answer was to give them the Lord's Prayer, which is remarkably similar to some of the shortened versions of the Amidah that survive from the period. For Jesus, then, the Lord's Prayer was the distilled essence of what prayer should be. He intended it to be recited, but it also reflects His priorities for prayer, making it a model for how we should pray all the time. It is also a summary of His entire ministry and message: 
+ That the Father's name would be glorified in the world around us 
+ That His Kingdom would be ushered in with power 
+ That the people of the world – and particularly His followers – would obey the Word and will of the Father

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name: May the holiness and glory of God in heaven be manifested where I live!

Your Kingdom come: May the reign of God in heaven be established where I live!

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven: It is likely that the phrase "as it is in heaven" actually applies, not just to "Your will be done," but to all three of the preceding petitions: "Hallowed be Your name, as hallowed on earth as it is in heaven. Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. And may the perfect will of God be established in me as fully as it is established in heaven – and among all the peoples of the world!" Out of a heart of gratitude they are a plea that:

+ God's glory may be revealed to people where I live 
+ God's Kingdom reign and authority may advance where I live 
+ God's will may be established in perfect obedience where I live

It is worth asking how closely our top three prayer priorities align with Jesus'. Are they God's glory, God's Kingdom, and God's will, or are they more about us than about God?

Give us this day our daily bread: May the resources of God's Kingdom sustain our needs day by day.

And forgive us our trespasses/debts/sins, as we forgive: May the Lord be merciful to me, a sinner, and may I generously extend that same forgiveness to others. 

And do not lead us into temptation: May God's Spirit keep my heart, my feet, my eyes, and my ears from places of temptation.

But deliver us from the evil one: May the Holy Spirit enable me to resist Satan's temptations, and empower me to be effective in redeeming people unto God from the kingdom of darkness. May the power of evil be voided where I live.

For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. In modern English, this additional part to Jesus' original prayer might mean something like this: "We are asking these things because it is Your Kingdom that is being built as You answer these prayers, and it is Your power and Your power only – which will accomplish these things, and Your answer to our prayer will bring You glory forever."

Prayers and Psalms | Monasteries and Movements

Jesus taught more about prayer than about any other subject except the Kingdom of God. We also know that both He and the early church prayed the Psalms, and the great prayers that we find recorded throughout the centuries are saturated with the words of the psalter. We find profound and powerful prayers recorded elsewhere in Scripture, such as in Paul's epistles, but in all cases they reflect the petitions and priorities of the Lord's Prayer.

Prayer was thus central to Jesus' life and the lives of believers in the early church. In monasteries, life is structured around regular times of prayer. It is worth noting that every major reform in the Church, up to and including the Reformation, started in monasteries. We can also say unequivocally that every major revival and every movement of the Spirit was preceded by long, intense prayer.

The Bible tells us that we are strong when we are weak, that we are dependent on God and on one another, that we can do nothing apart from Jesus. Jesus tells the disciples not to try to spread the Gospel without waiting first for the Holy Spirit in prayer, and every major endeavor in the Gospels and Acts is preceded by deep and intense prayer. In other words, if we want to move the Church forward, the critical action that we must take is prayer.

Mission for All's Story | Recruit the Intercessors, Send the Storytellers 

Prayer and fasting is a high-profile centerpiece of Mission for All, but we did not start that way. We gradually came to embrace the idea – in fact, even before we embraced it, we had started doing a lot of prayer and fasting. We went to seek the face of God. We were convinced that the right path was to bring prayer and fasting into every aspect and area of the ministry. And so, gradually, as we continued to pray, we saw the stories, we saw the testimonies. We touched them, we felt them. We lived with the people in whom God performed miracles – ordinary people. We saw the hand of God and the moving of God, and we were convinced in our heart that this is what needs to be a major priority. And so eventually we were able to become a Disciple Making Ministry. This will work because prayer is a key them in Scripture, critical in being followers of Jesus. Fasting is just part of Scripture. So we can begin, one step at a time – in other words, starting slow to end strong with victory. ...  Start small, and one day you will be sharing the same testimony I am sharing and you will end strong. + Hassan, President of Mission for All (pseudonyms for protection)

From the very first day, Mission for All was bathed with intercessory prayer. The ministry had always made prayer a high priority, but there came the point at which intercessors were recruited, trained, and depended upon for every new initiative – recruited and trained by the scores, then by the hundreds, and now by the thousands, and depended upon to uphold all the initiatives with constant, behind-the-scenes prayer. In the last 13 years, the numbers of churches in one African country has increased from 50 churches to many thousands, with at least one disciple-making church in every corner of the country with an average of 54 members per church. The goal is to establish a church in every village or urban neighborhood. This movement has also planted more than 2,200 new churches among unreached people groups in eight African countries, and more than 400,000 people have become Christ Followers – the great majority from formerly unreached people groups.

Mission for All reached out to one particularly resistant Muslim community that had martyred six Christian evangelists a few years ago. They found that the biggest need in the area was for a school, so Hassan approached the Muslim leaders and offered to send a qualified teacher who was also a trained church planter if the community provided the necessary resources. The good will generated by this act of service gave the church planter the opportunity to gradually begin sharing stories about God, leading to the introduction of Jesus as the Savior. In two years, seven churches were planted. The work has required heavy sacrifices. Mission for All's selfless ministry had a profound impact on the Muslim communities, which eventually became receptive to Discovery Bible Groups. As they began to obey what they found in the Bible, entire communities were transformed. For instance, it became far less common for men to abuse their wives or children, ancient clan hostilities ended with reconciliation and cooperation, and families that had never helped others became generous with their resources and time. The change was most obvious to their neighbors. The risk of persecution is high, yet in a few years, thirty-five separate Muslim communities have initiated contact with Mission for All, asking them to send the "storytellers" who brought the message that produced transformation among their neighboring towns and villages.

Jesus told His followers that they would face opposition in building His Kingdom, and Hassan and his sisters and brothers in Mission for All were not exempt. God was doing amazing things within those communities, and many thousands of Muslims were coming to Christ – so the day came when the Muslim clerics banded together and took action against Mission for All, demanding that the ministry shut its doors. The conflict eventually reached the office of the Muslim Governor of the state – including the demand that Hassan be deported. The Governor called a meeting to attempt to bring a peaceful resolution to the situation. This gave Hassan the opportunity to talk openly with his country's leaders, telling them about the grace and saving work of God in the nation. He outlined some of the many ways that Mission for All and other Christians had ministered to the many communities – the mobile medical clinics, the "barefoot dentists," the safe water programs, seed banks, sports ministries, and simple schools, all for the purpose of serving Muslims. The sheiks and imams who were in attendance at that meeting, somewhat begrudgingly at first, all gradually acknowledge that Hassan was speaking the truth. After a while, Hassan stopped speaking, and there was a brief silence. The Governor broke the silence. "It would appear," he said, "if Muslims were doing as many good things for our own people as these Christians are doing, we would not have the problem of Muslims becoming Christians. My recommendation is that we Muslims learn how to be better servants from these Christians!" Many of Muslim clerics who had entered that meeting burning to have Hassan deported walked away with his business card or plans for further conversation with him.

God's power among the movements currently happening in this African nation can be clearly seen in the fact that this small country is now sending Disciple Making Ministry missionaries to many other countries with a high success rate.

Mission for All's Prayer + Fasting Disciplines | Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, Annually 

Daily: Begin the day with an hour of prayer

Weekly: Every Wednesday or Thursday, fasting for two meals

Monthly: One Friday each month for a half night of prayer

Last day of the month: All Christ Followers are encouraged to come out of their house and engage their neighbors with prayer for God to meet their felt needs.

Quarterly: Prayer mobilizations, praying for an "open heaven" so that God's blessings would pour down on disciple-making efforts

Annually: 21 days of fasting (two meals) and prayer starting on January 10

Themes of prayers for ...

Apostolic teams of disciple-makers and church planters

Open doors in restricted regions

Persons of peace to be discovered

God's favor on partner ministries and their churches

Key disciple-making pioneers and leaders around the world

Prayer for Movement in the Global North

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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