Tag Archives: prayer

United in Prayer

The new church, established in the events following the receiving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, was an intense affair! Riding on the back of the newly risen and ascended Christ, the church was growing at a phenomenal rate, with a momentum that could have crashed through mountains. The council tried to stop them. They failed. Peter and John were tried before the council for proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection from dead, for it meant that if true the Jewish leaders had put an innocent man to death and they just didn’t want that sort of publicity. Shutting them up was a good option.

Unable to hold them in light of the incontestable evidence before them though (the healed lame man standing before them made sure of that), the council reluctantly let them go, on one condition. To speak no more of the name of Jesus, a condition accompanied by many threats, but no punishment. With no legal grounds to stop them, they tried to frighten them into silence.

It didn’t work. After being released (Acts 4:23), Peter and John went back to their friends and told them everything that had happened. Rather than being downhearted and feeling fearful they lifted up their voices together and united in prayer to God, praising his name and acknowledging the persecution of Jesus and the work done through him. They were aware of the threats that they faced and asked for boldness to continue spread the gospel in Jesus’ name.

You don’t see the church suffering from a lack of confidence in Acts, or feeling inferior. Compared to the Jewish council, or the Roman authorities, the church wasn’t much to look at and they didn’t have any say in the running of the temple, or synagogues. What they did recognise though was that God was in control and while they couldn’t control everything around them, they could raise their voices in praise to God and let Him do the work for them, without fear.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)

Their request in this united prayer was in response to a need that arose. The leaders were trying to silence them, so they asked simply and directly for boldness so they could be a strong voice for Jesus. It wasn’t a long list of small requests, but what was really needed at the time.

Make your prayer a habit, united together with other believers in recognising that God is in control and that he can help you achieve His will. Keep it simple. Ask him for your daily needs, anything that empowers us to speak His word and don’t forget to acknowledge God for who He is!

Bitesize Bible Study – The Book of Nehemiah

Who was Nehemiah?

  • Nehemiah was a contemporary of Ezra.
  • He was born in exile and became cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes.

What happens in the book?

  • Many Jews had returned to the land of Israel from exile.
  • The events in the book of Ezra took place about 11 years earlier.
  • The work of rebuilding Jerusalem has slowed down due to external opposition and internal apathy.
  • Nehemiah is sad to hear of this state of affairs and prays for Jerusalem and for the people.
  • The king asks why he is sad and then gives him permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild it.
  • Nehemiah travels to Jerusalem and once there inspects the city walls.
  • Despite opposition he inspires the people to rebuild the walls.
  • The job is finished in under 2 months.
  • Guards and gatekeepers are established.
  • Following this, Ezra and the priests read the Law to the people.
  • The people confess their sins and rededicate themselves to God.
  • Nehemiah continues his work of reformation.

How was the building work opposed?

  • The building work was mocked – Chapter 2:19
  • Anger was directed at the Jews – Chapter 4:1
  • Enemies plotted to fight against the Jews – Chapter 4:8
  • Enemies schemed to capture Nehemiah – Chapter 6:2

What can we learn from the character of Nehemiah?

  • The book begins and ends with prayer, and Nehemiah is seen throughout to be a man of prayer. He does not carry out a task without praying about it.
  • The prayer is always supplemented with hard work and determination.
  • His work inspired others to work hard as well, and because of this the people together overcame opposition.

 

Next time – Bitesize Book of Esther! 

Bideford Town Council prayers ruled unlawful

A town council in Devon, a county in the UK, which says prayers before its meetings, is judged to have been acting unlawfully.

I thought this was an interesting story.  Firstly, I had no idea that prayers were even held at secular meetings.  And now I have learnt that although this practice seems to be fairly widespread among local council meetings, it has been ruled unlawful.

Perusing the article reveals that it is not unlawful as regards breaching human rights, it is unlawful under a particular statute from 1972 which holds that the local council has no power to summon its members to meetings which includes prayers.

Prayers may still be held, but councillors cannot be formally summoned to attend.

So does this represent the further erosion of Christianity in our society, or is it a mere nonsense given the secular nature of our society?

Such a practice is centuries old in England and the article states that it dates from the Elizabethan era.  In those times England was a wholly Christian country and it would have been the norm for such a meeting to open with prayer.  The King or Queen as head of the church was more involved in political matters in those days, and religion and state were firmly intertwined.

Today only vestiges remain of such a society.  The issue with regard to the holding of prayers has more of a historical feel to it than a religious feel.  Those who are objecting probably object equally to the tradition being uprooted as they do to the removal of the prayers.

In the 21st century religion and state are in the main separated.  Many leading politicians say they are Christian, as do a vast majority of citizens on their census form, but many of these people simply regard Christianity as part of their heritage rather than something practical that affects their everyday lives.

Nevertheless it gives some reassurance to genuine Christians that those who govern the country do try to take the wishes and will of the Almighty into consideration.  I myself was pleasantly surprised that such a practice existed, rather than being annoyed that it may now cease.

What matters ultimately it not whether public prayers are said prior to council meetings, but what is inside the hearts of those who rule this country.  Do they truly have God’s will as their own?  Do they always act in the best interests of others rather than themselves?  Looking at the country as a whole the answer has to be no – or at the very least, those who do fall in that category are a minority.  Human nature always seems to overrule godly nature these days in matters of politics.

So let us be thankful that a Christian minority does exist out there, and that sometimes its voice is heard.  Don’t forget that we can always use our own prayers to ask that those in charge of our countries are ultimately acting in a way that will bring God’s plan for salvation to fruition.

 

How to pray

I have talked in the past about how we can find God. The key things that help us draw closer to God in my opinion are:

  1. to listen to what He has to say, i.e by reading His word the Bible;
  2. to talk to Him through prayer;
  3. to spend time with other people who believe the same things as you.

In my opinion prayer can be the most difficult of the above three things. I suppose its because it can feel one sided rather than like having a normal conversation with two inputs.

If you find prayer difficult and want to know the best way to pray you are not alone. In fact the disciples of Jesus asked him this very question. In response Jesus gave them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6 vs 9-13)

However a mere repetition of this prayer once a day is probably not what Jesus had in mind. What he was showing the disciples was the kind of things they should pray for in order of priority.

Based on this I would therefore suggest that it may be useful to follow this structure for a prayer:

  • Praise God
  • Ask that the kingdom of God on earth will come very soon i.e. The second coming of Jesus
  • Thank God for your everyday blessings
  • Ask for forgiveness of your sins
  • Ask God to guide your actions in the coming day to do things which are pleasing in his sight

Note that nowhere in this prayer is there a section for asking for what you want! I don’t think this means that we shouldn’t ask God for anything but I do think it means that our requests are less important than the above points, and that we should recognize that fact.  We are acknowledging that any answer to our requests will be in accordance with God’s will.

God does want us to discuss our problems with him. Of course he knows what we are about to say before we ask but he wants us to personally set our lives before him:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7 vs 7-8)

 If you pray regularly you will find that when you look back over your life you can see His hand at work guiding you, and that gives us the faith to know that He will always be guiding us whatever we do:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23)

How should I pray?

Prayer is always a difficult topic.  Mainly because although we know in general there are things one should and shouldn’t pray for, it is a very personal thing.

However because its personal, it also means that we may not have a clue where to begin when faced with the task of praying, especially if we are just beginning to get to know God.  It’s also difficult to use other people as an example of prayer, because those prayers spoken out loud tend to be public prayers, designed for a group of people to hear or for a congregation at church.

So without getting into specifics, the best thing to do is to look at the Bible and seek some advice on how to pray.

A good place to start is the Lord’s Prayer, which is the prayer that Jesus uses to teach his disciples how they should pray:

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. – Matthew 6:9-13

So what can we learn from this?  A good format for a prayer is firstly to praise God, and then to pray that the kingdom will come soon.  Then we can ask him for what we want, followed by asking for forgiveness for our sins.  Finally we can ask that we are not lead into situations where we will continue to sin.

That seems to be a good plan.  The tricky bit is the bit where we ask God for what we want.  Can we ask God for anything?  Paul tells us the following:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. – Philippians 4:6

He is saying that we should ask God to help us with the things we are worrying about.  Perhaps we worry about money, job security, relations who are ill or going through hard times, our own health, or just our everyday life in general.  Paul is saying here that we should put our lives in God’s hands and ask him to help us get through every day by His strength.

Jesus also says:

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. – Matthew 6:8

This indicates that we should be asking God for what we NEED and not what we WANT.  Sometimes the distinction is hard to make, so we must ensure that before we ask God for anything we should carefully consider it and make sure we are asking God for the right thing.

Finally, we must remember that the answer to prayer is not always straightforward.  Sometimes God says “yes”, sometimes he says “no”, and sometimes he says “yes but later”.  We must remember that whatever the answer is, it will be in accordance with what God wants.  James the apostle tells us to remember:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  – James 4:13-15

So let us therefore ask God to direct our lives to do His will, and to make us better people in His service, before the coming of His kingdom which I pray will be very soon.  Amen.