Enjoying Prayer

Do you enjoy praying? Do you consider it one of your absolute favorite things to do? Do you enjoy gathering for prayer and worship? Pause before reading on and answer these questions honestly in your own heart.

Now my guess is that many of you confessed in your heart that prayer isn't so enjoyable. Some have practically abandoned the practice of prayer altogether because it's just so unpleasant. Others have reduced it to a bare minimum duty. For years I've preached on God’s call for us to be a praying church. Not just a church that prays here and there but a church that has an insatiable thirst for God. A church that has a spirit of prayer or a culture of prayer. We began Ren in 2003 and I think we are still infants in regards to prayer. And I'm really wanting to see this change.

I want this to change for several reasons. I am convinced that if we don't find joy in spending time with God we will slowly drift away and eventually harden our hearts. I also believe that unless we come into a lifestyle of joyful sustained earnest praying we will never make the impact on the city that God intends for us. I am fully persuaded that God wants to increase His presence in our midst dramatically. Like maybe 10 or 100 or 1000 times what it is presently. I am catching glimpses of what our future could look like if we will set our hearts to pray as a church. I see outpourings of the Spirit that transform people from the inside out. I see in Providence thousands coming home to Christ. I see people being anointed to go out and touch nations.

And these dreams all hinge on prayer. I'm urging every one of us to make it our primary ambition to discover the joy of prayer. I'm urging every one of us to believe God to turn our boring gloomy prayer closet into a green pasture. I'm not satisfied that there are some people who love praying at Ren. I want everybody to love spending time with God. I want everyone to experience the living waters that can be found in prayer.

I wish a passionate email or sermon alone could awaken some of us out of prayer slumber and into a vibrant alive joyful life of prayer. I wonder sometimes if the greatest sermons on prayer wouldn't be enough. We have to want it. We have to at least decide in our hearts that we will make prayer a priority.

To be honest I struggled to find joy in prayer for years. I struggled to be consistent. I struggled to pray for an hour. It was almost torture to pray that long! But I can testify that now my time spent with God is the most delightful satisfying thing I do. I can't get enough of it. I don't even look at the clock because time flies when you enjoy something. I hear His whisper and I see His face. My heart is captivated by His beauty. I feel His embrace at times. It's become like green pastures. Like coming to the waters of divine pleasure. It's soooo good. And because I love this church I cannot help but to jealously want each of you to experience the fullness of sustained joyful prayer!

Is it easy? Yes and no. There are certainly powers of darkness that oppress. There are distractions. There are difficult circumstances that weigh us down. There are physical weaknesses and illness that make it difficult to focus. There's no question that prayer can be a fight. But in another sense we can get to a place where prayer does become easy.

It's like playing an instrument perhaps. When I first started playing guitar I was terrible and I struggled. I didn't even have good rhythm. My hands hurt. It was almost unpleasant but I kept at it because of my long term vision of the joy to be able to just jam freely. I practiced constantly. It felt sometimes like I wasn't progressing. I hit “brick walls” in my progress and got really frustrated by my limitations at times. But I kept at it until eventually it flowed. Eventually I could get out of the guitar the melodies in my head. Eventually the playing became exhilarating! It went from unpleasant to joyful. But it took time.

My dear brothers and sisters, do not give up. Do not settle for unpleasant praying. Push into God and cry to Him to teach you. Tell God you want to be the most joyful prayer in the world. Beg God to teach you the secret of joyful prayer. He is willing and eager to teach us!

The Secret to Passionate Prayer

Prayer has always been an important aspect of my life since I came to Christ in 1989 and throughout my ministry. Before we started Ren in 2003 countless hours were given to bathing the idea in prayer. In 2009 prayer deepened in my own life and began to overflow to the community. What I've observed in my life and the life of the church through the years is that prayer can be a little like the waters of the sea. At times it can be dead and other times there is rapid movement. It's up and down. It's a fight to maintain a strong passionate fiery prayer life. It seems like everything in our flesh, and in this present world and in the invisible demonic realms around us, is fighting to squelch the spirit of prayer within us. I'm feeling that resistance this week.

You've heard me preach over and over that we desperately need a revival in our lives and in the Church that will have an impact on greater Providence. It's not that we don't know God. We do. It's not that we don't have God in our lives. God is with us. The image that God keeps giving me is of a light bulb that is dim. Or a small cup of water. Or water up to the ankles. You've probably heard me unpack each of these at various times. The idea is that we have the presence of God but in a rather small measure. The Bible has much to say about measures of the anointing. Jesus had the Spirit without measure. Some were described as filled with the Spirit. Paul talks about being filled with the full measure of the fullness of God (Eph 3). I am fully persuaded that there's much much more. As believers we are nibbling at the feast instead of feasting at the feast. And God is eagerly inviting us to eat more and drink deeper!

Because of this great truth it always leads us to the subject of prayer. Because prayer is the primary way that we access the riches of God. When I say prayer I'm including the full range of praying. I'm thinking of contemplation and writing and sacred reading and studying the Word and fasting and crying out in the car or in the woods and corporate prayer and shutting yourself away in the closet and praying earnestly. I'm talking about stilling the soul and listening, as well as, “loud cries and petitions”. All these forms of prayer are important in helping us access greater measures of God’s presence.

This practice of unceasing prayer requires more than discipline and willpower. There are a lot of really hardworking Christians that are failing at prayer. There are Christians who in most things have extraordinary willpower but cannot seem to build a raging fire of prayer. What I've been learning from God in this season is the importance of joy in sustaining the momentum of prayer. In His presence is fullness of joy and the joy of the Lord is our strength!

The secret to sustaining the passion of prayer lies in the hidden fuel of reminding ourselves that God is joyful and that He delights in us and we exist because He wants us to be happy. There have been famous people like Jonathan Edwards and John Piper and CS Lewis that have tried to get this message through to the Church but I'm not sure we fully get it. I know I have much further to go to comprehend this. Piper puts it this way - “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”. In other words, not only does God permit us to pursue happiness in Him but He gets glory when we find our happiness in Him. God wants us to be happy! And the more we understand this the more we will be sustained in a life of passionate prayer that alone will bring an outpouring of the Spirit.

My encouragement to each of us is to push away the clouds of condemnation and to stop thinking of God as an old cranky gloomy God who is mostly sad, sometimes angry and rarely happy. We really need to shift our entire thinking about who God is. There is incomprehensible joy within the Trinity. God delights in us as His children beyond what we can imagine. As we begin to see God as He is the clouds of heaviness begin to thin and vanish away and the sunshine of His presence begins to fuel our passions for Him.

Oh I feel so inadequate to articulate this and even more inadequate to convince you. Perhaps that's why I've decided to write weekly on this in the hopes that as it's sinking into my heart more and more it will sink into yours as well. I love you all dearly and want the very best for each of you. I'm praying that we would be a house of prayer for all nations and that our gatherings would be marked by the full glorious tangible presence of Jesus !!!


Something New

God is doing deep things in my heart in this season. I can feel a beautiful shift happening and an increase of hunger and thirst. I'm eager to go out into the deep waters of God. The picture that came to me recently was that we've been in shallow waters. Refreshing and real and good but shallow. And now God wants us to push out into the deep and envelop us with His glory. The plethora of promises of fullness and greater works and abundance are so alive to me right now. I just sense God drawing us into something greater.

Again, it's not that what we have is bad. It's not. I see so many wonderful things happening at Ren and the presence of God has been with us in measure. Lives are changing. Relationships are being restored. Many are learning how to be fruitful disciples. Our finances are good. We are growing numerically. We have a great leadership team. There's unity. I rejoice in all of this and am so thankful for the fruit we've seen over the years!

But there's more. A lot more. I hear God saying that we aren't even scratching the surface. That we are like 5 watt bulbs and He wants to bring us to be 1000 watt bulbs. We are carrying Dixie cups of His anointing but He wants us to trade our Dixie cups for massive containers of His presence. I'm deeply convinced that He is not just vaguely willing to give us more but that His heart is burning to release the Spirit in and through us in ways we've never experienced. The vision He's giving me is of a strong tangible manifestation of His presence that profoundly changes our lives and impacts greater Providence!

Talk is cheap. Trust me at 50 years of age I am just so sick of revival talk. There's so much frothy hyped up talk and preaching about revival or awakening or renewal or whatever you want to call it. Everyone gets easily inspired when a dream is cast for a new kind of Christianity that is marked by supernatural power. A Christianity where conversions and healings and transformation are the norm. After 28 years of seeking an outpouring of the Spirit on and off I cannot bear to just talk it up and get everyone excited for like a month. What God is doing in me is different. What I'm feeling is a renewed call to develop a culture of prayer at Ren.

Before I explain what that means I want to remind us all that prayer has always been what has preceded historic revivals and outpourings and missionary movements. From the early Christians in Acts to today there's always been extraordinary prayer before God breaks forth in power in tangible ways. We see this across all denominations in all places and times, whether Scottish Presbyterian or Chinese Pentecostal or New England Congregational or deep American south Baptists or frontier Methodists. It may look slightly different in expression but you always find insatiable thirst as a forerunner to these outpourings of the Spirit. I'm afraid there are no shortcuts.

In 2009 in the 7th year of the church we experienced the beginnings of a move of God. Out of a season of 40 days of prayer and fasting the Lord begin to break us and ignite a deep hunger and thirst. The fires of prayer began to burn. The presence of God increased. Miracles happened. God called us to move into the heart of the South End to be more accessible to more kinds of people. Finances increased and the church doubled. Over and over God spoke to us about being a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56). He said that if we'd consecrate ourselves and seek Him with all our hearts He would pour out His Spirit in ways beyond what we could imagine and use us to change a city. This wasn't something we thought maybe God might have said one day in prayer to us but weren't sure because, well, maybe it was just us wanting that. No. It was confirmed over and over and over and over. The Spirit made it so clear not only to me but to many others who were in the current of prayer.

What I believe God is telling me is that while things are good, we have veered away from this call to be a house of prayer for all nations. I'm not sensing at all that God is mad at us but, rather, that He's joyfully wooing us into the things He promised. It's clear that what God wants to do cannot be done apart from extraordinary prayer. The vision God has given us for Ren simply cannot be done apart from earnest night and day prayer. And it's not enough that just I pray much or a handful of precious prayer people pray much. God is saying it's going to take all of us. We have to shift the ethos of the church toward prayer.

What is the point? I’m not just wanting you to come out on Saturday for a one hour prayer meeting. Yes, that would be great if 100+ would come every Saturday and cry out to God for an hour. But I'm talking about a transformation of the culture of Ren. That we’d become a people who love prayer. That we’d love to come together and worship. That our small groups and leader meetings and dinner parties and outings would include all sorts of praying. That we would in our personal lives make more room for God. That we'd become a people who above anything this world has to offer would love the place of prayer and view it as a well of living water. This is where God is leading us and I'm following and I'm asking each of you to come along. The Lord is about to do something new !!!