Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 28 February 2016
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Prayer Doing Much
“Just saying a prayer is not doing much.” This is what a pastor friend told me when I visited him on his hobby farm. His sheep had suffered from fungus at their feet – contageous foot rot (I think). This was hard to eradicate and heal and my friend had just said a prayer and nothing happened. But then, he said, he prayed for them like he would pray for people in a healing service. He focused, exercised faith, took authority and released healing over his sheep and – incredibly – all signs of infection disappeared over the next few days. They were all being healed.
This was great (praise God) but what did he mean by saying: “Just saying a prayer is not doing much”? What did he mean and was he right? Do you sometimes just say a prayer – a quick thought in this direction and a quick thought in that direction: “Lord, please give my brother a job.” “Lord, please give us good politicians.” “Lord, please give me a new spiritual gift.” And what is the outcome?
From the outset, I want to affirm that God hears all of our prayers and sometimes he does respond to prayers that are not even on the top of our prayer lists. I remember how one pastor shared that he was perusing a hunting magazine and there was an ad for a drinking cup which was in an acceptable price range and the pastor just had the fleeting thought that he liked the cup and could afford it. Then he immediately forgot about it. But, a short time later, he ministered in another country and received a thank-you-present from his hosts which was precisely the cup from the magazine. This was not a box of chocolate or flowers or what was usually given. How did this happen? God listened to his fleeting thought and desire of his heart and he answered him demonstrating how close he was to him and how much he loved him (even though other prayer requests – even more pressing ones – were not yet being answered).
God can answer fleeting thoughts which are mostly half-hearted affairs and he is patient with us when we are new Christians and don’t know much about praying to him. He encourages us. One new convert told me how fog made it difficult for him to cross the road. He prayed to God and the fog cleared immediately. He had story after story of God sorting his day and meeting his needs. This man didn’t know much about prayer and just expressed his need when it occurred but God encouraged him.
In the Bible, God’s people were not always mature in prayer. When the people of Israel were in slavery in Egypt, they neither walked with God nor knew how to pray, but God heard them anyway:
Exodus 3:7-10: The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering … And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them … I am sending you … to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Simply crying out in pain as an unbeliever (and God’s people were unbelievers – bowing down to idols – at that time) is not mature prayer but God’s compassion is bigger than any of our failures. God sent Jesus as an answer to the needs of sinful humanity before any of us knew what was happening.
Romans 5:1-11 [PHILLIPS]: … while we were powerless to help ourselves . Christ died for sinful men. In human experience it is a rare thing for one man to give his life for another, even if the latter be a good man, though there have been a few who have had the courage to do it. Yet the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us.
… we are men justified by the shedding of his blood … If, while we were his enemies, Christ reconciled us to God by dying for us, surely now that we are reconciled we may be perfectly certain of our salvation through his living in us.
God is always a step ahead of us. He pursues us with his grace. He is always touched by our cries of pain and he sent Jesus to offer us salvation before we even knew how much we needed peace with God and redemption. God is amazing and patient, but – giving us time – he also wants us to mature in our relationship with him and this includes our understanding of prayer – how and when we talk to him. And, for a mature Christian, just saying a prayer is not doing much (or not doing as much as God wants and we need).
I want to illustrate what I mean by drawing your attention to two spiritual principles: 1. The presence of God with us through the Holy Spirit is not always the same. On the one hand, the Holy Spirit always resides in us. Jesus promised that he would never leave us. [Matthew 28:20: “… And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”] But, on the other hand, his presence and power also intensifies at certain times, especially when we worship and pray. The Holy Spirit never withdraws from us completely but our relationship with him is dynamic. We are either open to his fullness or we quench him and somehow stifle his presence and power.
Ephesians 5:30: Instead, be filled with the Spirit …
2 Timothy 1:6: … fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
1 Thessalonians 5:19: Do not quench the Spirit.
Ephesians 4:30: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God ...
Whenever we worship and pray, we experience this dynamic, namely that the presence of God intensifies around us and in us. God through the Holy Spirit somehow draws closer to us with his glory, love and power.
The best object lesson for this principle is the ancient tent of worship which God set up immediately after he had rescued his people from slavery in Egypt. The Bible is very clear that the blueprint for the worship tent existed and still exists in heaven which means that the principles of worship governing the worship tent are eternal.
The Lord said to Moses –Exodus 25:9: “Make this tabernacle [that is the worship tent or dwelling place] and all its furnishing exactly like the pattern I will show you.” God insisted on this request – Exodus 25:40: “See that you make them [the entire tent and all of the worship utensils] according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” Exodus 26:30: “Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain.” Exodus 27:8: “Make the altar hollow, out of boards. It is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain.” Cf. Exodus 31:11; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44.
God himself provided the precise blueprint for worship at the tabernacle because this blueprint was according to the existing – eternal – realities of heaven itself which are not superseded even today. This means: The principles of the tabernacle – the deep truths of this ancient worship tent – the patterns which God showed to Moses – are still in force today and therefore apply to us – here and now – this morning. The Bible explains – Hebrews 8:5: “They [human priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’” Another person actually had a vision of the tabernacle in heaven – Revelations 15:5: “After this I looked and in heaven the temple, that is, the tabernacle of the Testimony was opened.” [Cf. Revelations 11:19: “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant.”]
Show Slides: 1. Picture, 2. Layout
The dominant feature of the worship tent were three distinct places which became progressively more intensely filled with the presence of God – his glory and power. First, there was the “outer court” which was in the open before the tent. Then, there was the “holy place” – the first half of the tent – and then, separated by a heavy curtain from the “holy place”, there was the “holy of holies” – the place of worship which only the high priest was allowed to enter once a year and he would only enter with trepidation because this place was so holy that it was dangerous for mere mortals.
The Bible teaches that when Jesus died for us on the cross – when he offered the all-sufficient sacrifice of his own body and blood – the curtain between the “Holy Place” and the “Holy of Holies” was torn in two, signifying that the old worship tent had served its purpose and what it foreshadowed, we now all enjoy. Jesus, by forgiving us our sin by his blood and filling us with the Spirit of God, allows us to worship anywhere and progress to the “Holy of Holies” whenever we want and seek him.
Matthew 27:50-52: And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open …
Hebrews 4:16: Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 9:1-28: Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Hebrews 10:11-24: Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…
How do you get to the “Holy Place” or even “Holy of Holies”? I will talk about this in a minute but first introduce you to the second spiritual principle which explains when and how our prayers become more powerful. The word of God and the Spirit of God belong to one another and must never be separated. The more the word of God – the truth of God – and the Spirit of God are in union in what we say and do, the more powerful our ministry is and this includes prayer, preaching, witnessing and serving in all circumstances.
From the book “Surprised by Miracles” by Edgar Mayer: Three foundational statements spell out the essential connection between the Word and the Spirit of God:
1. The Word has no power without the Spirit.
…repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations…but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:47,49 NIV).
…Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait…in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:4-5; 8).
…our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction…you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 NIV).
(See also Acts 19:11-20; First Corinthians 4:20; Second Timothy 3:5; Zechariah 4:6.)
2. The Spirit does nothing without the Word.
…sustaining all things by his powerful word… (Hebrews 1:3).
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message (Acts 10:44).
Take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
(See also Genesis 1:1-25; Psalms 107:20; Isaiah 55:10-11; Matthew 8:8,16, 16:19; Mark 7:33-35; Luke 8:4-15; John 6:63; 20:22-23; Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20; Ephesians 5:26; Philippians 2:15-16; Colossians 1:6; First Thessalonians 1:5-6; 4:8; First Timothy 4:5; Second Timothy 4:1-2; Titus 1:3; First Peter 1:23-25; Second Peter 3:5; James 1:18; Revelation 19:11-16.)
3. The Spirit confirms the Word with power.
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31 NIV).
Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it (Mark 16:20).
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power… (1 Corinthians 2:4).
(See also Mark 2:9-12; Luke 19:37; John 2:11; 6:2; 7:31; 10:38; 14:11-12; Acts 2:22,43; 4:29-30; 6:8; 8:6,13; 9:36-42; 13:12; 14:3; 15:12; Romans 15:18-19; Second Corinthians 12:11-12; Galatians 3:5; Hebrews 2:3-4.)
The basic Bible teaching is clear and all churches agree; but throughout Church history, the danger has always been to separate what must not be separated: the Word of God and the Spirit of God. In a recent book, three seasoned ministers whose combined ages total 235 years and whose combined ministry experience is 170-plus years, (These figures were calculated at the time of the book’s publication in 2012) speak again about a silent divorce which has occurred in the Western Church:
It is our view as coauthors that, in general, a silent divorce exists in the Church today between the Word and the Spirit. When there is a divorce in a family sometimes the children stay with the father, sometimes with the mother. In this divorce we have what might be labelled “Word” churches and those that could be called “Spirit” churches. Although Jack [Taylor], Charles [Carrin] and I [R.T. Kendall] are not necessarily calling for such churches to come together, we are calling for a remarriage between the Word and the Spirit in the Church [R.T. Kendall, Charles Carrin, Jack Taylor, Word Spirit Power: What Happens When You Seek All God Has to Offer (Bloomington, MN: Chosen Books, 2012), 7-8].
According to these ministers, modern churches are caught up again in a separation of the Word of God from the Spirit of God. This is not intentional; therefore it is more a “silent divorce”; but the consequences are real. There is a price to pay for breaking up the union of the Word and the Spirit.
What happens if there is an emphasis on the Spirit but a neglect of the Word? You can easily become flaky and lose your handle on the truth because spiritual experiences need to be grounded in the Word of God. Not all prophetic visions, emotions, and power displays are from the Spirit of God. Discernment is needed:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ (Colossians 2:6-8).
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God… (1 John 4:1-2; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).
In the Bible, one congregation had all spiritual gifts functioning (see 1 Cor. 1:7), yet suffered harm for not maturing in accordance with solid teaching:
…I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it… (1 Corinthians 3:1-2).
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good (1 Corinthians 11:17).
Churches that have a greater emphasis on the Word of God can easily spot the deficiencies of churches that highlight the Spirit but lack a solid grounding in the Word. However, what about their own deficiencies? What happens if there is an emphasis on the Word but a neglect of the Spirit? In the worst case scenario, you end up with Bible teaching and church doctrines that are true but have no life in them because God, through the Holy Spirit, is not present.
From history, we know that this is possible. Churches can end up with a kind of dead orthodoxy (dead rightness) that keeps Bible knowledge pure but far from God because the truth of the Bible alone does not lead to a relationship with God. All knowledge remains in the head but not the heart. It is a worrying prospect but you can speak the truth and even be zealous for the truth and still not have the Spirit witness to your spirit that you are a child of God.
Great church traditions can become empty rituals, devoid of the Spirit, as Scripture attests:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40).
Then, without the Spirit of truth actively guiding the Church, there is always the danger that the soundness of teaching is not as sound as one would hope:
These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules (Matthew 15:8-9; see also Isaiah 29:13).
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
The word of God and the Spirit of God belong together and, according to everything the Bible teaches, the closer the word and the Spirit come together, the more powerful God can work which means that the more we allow God to fill us with the Spirit – the more we allow God to lead us into the “Holy of Holies” and there fill us with the Spirit – the more powerful it is when we speak his word from that place – express his will in prayer, preaching, counsel and wisdom. The more we allow God to perfect the union between word and Spirit in us and through us, the more powerful prayer becomes and everything else.
Can you see now the importance of the two spiritual principles which I have mentioned and how they work together in prayer? The first spiritual principle was: The presence of God through his Spirit intensifies around us and in us, whenever we worship and pray. And the second spiritual principle was: The more the presence of God intensifies through his Spirit, the more powerful and effective becomes his word (when we pray his will and proclaim his truth) because the word of God and the Spirit of God belong and work together.
Taking into account these two spiritual principles, why is it true then: “Just saying a prayer is not doing much”? Ministry – prayer or preaching or anything – from the “Outer Court” – from a place where the presence of God is not as intense as it could be – is not as effective as bringing the words of our prayer or the words of our preaching into union with the fullness of the Spirit. This is how God operates and once we come to understand how he works, it can be absolutely amazing:
Reinhard Bonnke. Living A Life Of Fire. An Autobiography, Orlando: E-R Productions LLC 2009, p241-242: I stood to preach. [This was when the guest-evangelist, who moved in healings and miracles, left him on his own.] I saw the shape of the gospel. It was different this Sunday morning. I had never sensed the message quite like this. When I opened my mouth all timidity was gone. I spoke with an authority I had never known before. Suddenly, the room became charged. The Holy Spirit was confirming the word in the minds and hearts of the people. About midway through my sermon, Dolphin Moses, who was interpreting for me was overcome by the power of the Spirit and fell to the floor.
Everything stopped, except the listening crowd. They waited breathlessly for the next word. I waited for Dolphin to recover. As I waited I was taken away from that place in my mind. It was as if all sounds and sights became muted, and I heard the word that I could never conceive – My word in your mouth is as powerful as My word in My mouth.
I could only take it in by the Spirit. My senses would not go there. There was no question that I was now entering new territory in my relationship with God. This thought would never have occurred to me. It came on the heels of watching Dolphin crumble to the floor as he tried to repeat the words that had just come from my mouth. Something was happening here that only the Spirit could give sense to. My authority in Him was far greater than I had ever imagined. As long as I was in harmony with God’s will, I was to speak things as God spoke them, and to expect to see God’s own results.
How good is God? There are no limits for us. If God wants us to get to a place where his word in our mouth is as powerful as when he speaks the word with his own mouth, what must we learn to move in such authority? It’s worth every effort on our part. It’s worth every sacrifice, including fasting. But, as much as fasting and repenting are core disciplines to deal with sin and selfishness (to get ourselves out of the road), the secret of enjoying a greater intensity of God through the Holy Spirit is to wait on him and let him take you to this place. He is in charge and he is good and he promised us that it will happen and it does. The timing is up to him but we can trust his timing.
One pastor (Benny Hinn) described his experience of having God progressing him from the Outer Court to the Holy Place and then the Holy of Holies:
Everyone begins to pray in the “flesh” which means that you are pretty much starting in your own strength. You begin with what you know (prayer lists, immediate concerns). You are busy confessing your sin and at this stage you suffer from distractions – your emotions and then also your natural senses are getting in the way. The body is tired – worn out. The legs hurt. You get up and move around. Then you are back on your knees. Prayer is repetitious: “O Jesus, where are you. O Jesus.” Nothing seems to happen. The clock is ticking so slowly. The dog barks. The phone rings. Muscles ache. You just have to get something to eat.
If you haven’t prayed in a while, this phase in the Outer Court may last for two hours before you feel anything or even three hours. It may take longer than most of us are prepared to pray. However, if you are in the habit of praying, then it may take you only fifteen minutes to move on to the next stage. While you are in the Outer Court you do not actually know how much you have progressed to the Holy Place because the flesh – your natural senses – cannot discern the spiritual progress. You may only be minutes away from your breakthrough in prayer but you don’t know and therefore you go and fix yourself a sandwich.
When you come to the Holy Place there is suddenly an explosion of praise. The flesh no longer fights you. You are no longer aware of distractions or the clock. The words become wealthy. God begins to talk to you. Worship comes in. Tears begin to flow. There are no longer repetitious prayer but we quit talking to him according to what we seem to know and let him take over. Jesus becomes so real to us. Everything is just right. There is the peace that surpasses all understanding. Feels so good.
Most Christians think that this is it but there is more. If they stayed just a little longer – maybe another half hour in prayer – then Jesus would bring them into the Holy of Holies where it is indescribable. One minute in there changes your life forever and – maybe the estimate is right – only very few people have ever entered into this place. There words are inadequate. God sits on his throne and we are on our knees. This is no longer the time where we say: “I need this. I need that.” But God speaks and says: “I need this. Go and tell them this. Go and do that.” This is also the place of silence where we are still and know that he is God. He satisfies our souls. Deep communicates unto deep (Psalm 42:7).
The pastor had one experience where he was in the Holy of Holies for the very first time. He was surprised and amazed and he just mouthed the word: “Hallelujah.” But when he did so, the presence of God withdrew – at once – which puzzled him and frightened him. Didn’t God want praise. Immediately the Spirit said to him: “In here even your words are unacceptable.” This was not the place for the mind to function – for words or feelings to be expressed. Here heart talks to heart – spirit to spirit. The soul finds rest and is satisfied.
This testimony lines up with another testimony of another pastor:
Bill Johnson: Strengthen Yourself in the Lord, Shippensburg:
Destiny Image 2007, p65-66: As a young pastor in Weaverville I had more than my
share of ‘Blue Mondays.’ No matter what wonderful things had happened on
Sunday, sometimes all I could remember was what had been lacking in the
services. My slides into discouragement were fueled by the comparisons I made
between my spiritual heroes and myself …
Bill Johnson: Strengthen Yourself in the Lord, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 2007, p67-71: Praise was one of the primary tools that God had equipped me with as a young man to strengthen myself in the discouragement of my early years as a pastor. I could be questioning a million things about my life, but I never had to question whether whether I was in the right place when I was giving God praise. It became my default when I slid into a fog of confusion and depression. In Weaverville, our home was behind the church so I often went to the sanctuary late at night, put worship music on the sound system, and spent time praising and worshiping God. Sometimes I remained until early in the morning. I danced, shouted, and basically required myself to do whatever I didn’t feel like doing. The Psalmist David wrote, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul.’ He commands his own soul to come into order and give God glory. It’s important that we learn how to bring our soul, and even our bodies into submission to the purposes of God. Back then I would make sure that the intensity of my praise was in equal proportion to the size of the cloud over my head. Every time, there would come a point when something inside of me would shift, and I was no longer making an effort. My mind, will, emotions, and body were completely filled with conviction of what I was declaring to the Lord. I also noticed that the cloud over my head had disappeared and I was alive in God!
I came to understand that the cloud wasn’t just over my head; it was inside it. I mistakenly thought that focusing on my lack and comparing myself to others was a posture of humility. In fact, it was the opposite. Instead of focusing on God’s greatness in my life, I was focusing on myself. I was actually agreeing with the enemy by making my own problems bigger than God’s promises. And my agreement invited that cloud of oppression to hover over me.
The only way to break an agreement with a lie is repentance, which means to change the way you think. In that place of praise, I fed my mind on the truth of God’s nature until it created a new agreement with heavenly reality. When that agreement was established, the reality started to manifest in my emotions, mind, and body. But I also came to understand more deeply why my dad taught us to do what the Scripture said regarding praise. Making an agreement with Heaven actually requires more than repentance of the mind. You need physical proof to make repentance a legally binding reality. By lining my physical body up with what the Word said, I brought my whole being into agreement with the truth. In doing so, I experienced the principle that physical obedience brings spiritual breakthrough. This may seem a little backward to those of us who hate the idea of going through religious motions and desire to be ‘authentic’ in our worship. Physical obedience brings spiritual breakthrough. But the measure of authenticity is not what you’re feeling or thinking. Those things either line up with authentic reality or they don’t. And if they don’t, Scripture tells us that we get there by moving. Some say it’s hypocritical to do something you don’t feel like doing. I think it’s hypocritical to do only what I feel like doing and call myself a believing believer. Right actions release right emotions and right thinking.
[You may consider the many Bible examples where physical obedience brought spiritual breakthrough – Exodus 17:11: “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.” / 2 Kings 13:18-19: “Then he said, ‘Take the arrows,’ and the king took them. Elisha told him, ‘Strike the ground.’ He struck it three times and stopped. The man of God was angry with him and said, ‘You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.’” / Exodus 14:15-22: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘…Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground …’ … Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” / 2 Kings 5:10: “Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, ‘Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.’” / Matthew 12:13: “Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.” / James 5:14: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” / Matthew 26:26-28: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the[b] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” / Acts 2:38: “Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” / Acts 22:16: “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”]
But why is it right to sing, shout, dance and leap? Why does God seem to want these radical expressions more than silent, awed reverence? While there is certainly a time for the latter, acts of celebration get way more press in the psalmist’s descriptions of how we approach God. The reason – God is a God to celebrate. His every action and thought toward us are extravagant expressions of His love, kindness, goodness, and delight in us; and He gives it all not only to bless us for a momen, but to invite us into the deeper blessing of knowing Him. He delights in us, so He wants us to delight in Him. He rejoices over us with singing [Zeph. 3:17], so He wants us to rejoice in Him with singing. When we give to Him what He gives to us, we step further into relationship with Him, deeping our heart-connection with the source of life.
Not only that, but when we do what He is doing, aligning our bodies as well as our spirits and souls with what He has said, there is a release of His nature that flows to us in that place of intimacy. The Holy Spirit is the most joyful person in existence, and joy is one of the primary expressions of His kingdom in our lives (see Romans 14:17). His command to ‘rejoice always’ is really an expression of His desire for us to have joy! He is simply telling us how to receive it. We not only rejoice because we have joy – we rejoice in our pursuit of joy.
Ruth Heflin expressed
the same transition from the Outer Court into the Holy of Holies with these
words: “Praise … until the spirit of worship comes. Worship … until the
glory comes. Then … stand in the glory.” Every
Sunday, we do this together in our opening worship time. We usually spend about half an hour where we allow God to intensify his presence among us and draw us into closer fellowship with him – fill this place with his glory. Why is this important? Because just saying a prayer is not doing much. Because just delivering a sound message is not doing much. [The preaching can usher in the presence of God as well but it is easier when God prepares the congregation through a time of worship.] Unless the Spirit of God wraps himself around the word of God on our lips, there is not much of an outcome. But when God takes us into the Holy of Holies and there, together as a church, we pray with faith and conviction, all of hell trembles at the power of our ministry.
If you want to analyze what happens at worship and how God draws us into a greater sense of his presence, then one important key is that we dial down our busy thoughts and emotions and the selfishness of our desires and will. God calls us to come and praise him which helps us to repent – to change our thinking – from focusing on us to honouring God. We may not feel like it but we sing and dance and clap to the glory of God, not our own, and this shift allows the Spirit of God to settle us down, quieten our soul, and let us get in touch with our spirit which enjoys communion with the Holy Spirit and, with mind and emotions at peace, this communion with the Holy Spirit can flood our whole being.
I may add that the Holy Place or Holy of Holies may not always be an immensely emotional place. Most of the time, for me the presence of God is not a place of supreme emotions but a sense where I “hear” the flowing thoughts of the Spirit and sense his nearness. (I do get happy preaching.) Then, there are times when I do not sense much at all but still know that he is near as he was near Jesus when he was tempted in the wilderness (Luke 3). However, there is always peace and the peace of God is priceless.
In closing, I want to remind you that prayer is not just about task-orientation and getting our needs met by God.
John Arnott: The Father’s Blessing, Orlando: Creation House 1996, p132: During one season in my life years ago, I would become aware of God’s presence close to me when I was praying. When I felt this, I would quickly get out my “needs list”.
“Lord,” I would say, “we need a newer car, a bigger building, money for the church.” But I noticed that his presence would draw back. I wondered why.
Years later, while reading in Exodus, I related to the deep and searching prayer of Moses, “Show me your glory” (33:18). I immediately cried out, “O Lord, why are you so hard to find? Why is it so difficult to be close to you?” I was thinking in terms of his holiness and my unholiness.
But he spoke to me in my heart, and his answer was one of the most precious things I ever heard God say to me: “When I reveal my heart to someone, I become very vulnerable.”
I had never thought of God as being vulnerable. I thought of him as omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, which, of course, he is. But he was sharing with me his own desire for fellowship, relationship and intimacy – and I was surprised. That’s the nature of love – it needs to be freely and willingly reciprocated. He drew near to have fellowship and intimacy with me, and I was deeply hurting him by immediately asking for things.
Then he spoke again saying, “Many of my people have married me for my money.” That devastated me. I wept and wept. I repented for inappropriately asking him to bless my programs and agenda. “Lord, I’m so sorry! I don’t just want your stuff! I want you! I want intimacy and relationship with you. I want to be a son, well pleasing unto you.”
Through this experience I realized that intimacy is based on humility, vulnerability and trust. We are often oblivious to the fact that God wants an intimate relationship with us. Intimacy cannot be a one-sided love affair. It flows out of humble, vulnerable hearts.
“Just saying a prayer is not doing much.” But becoming mindful of two spiritual principles changes everything: 1. The presence of God through his Spirit intensifies around us and in us, (whenever we worship and pray). 2. And the more the presence of God intensifies through his Spirit, the more powerful and effective becomes his word (when we pray his will and proclaim his truth) because the word of God and the Spirit of God belong and work together. Prayer or preaching or anything from a place where the presence of God is intense, makes us powerful without limit – as God said to Reinhard Bonnke: “My word in your mouth is as powerful as My word in My mouth.” Saying a prayer in that place is doing much. Amen.