Rev. Shane on Prayer (Part VII)
Despite my near constant thoughts of retirement, I will play another 70-100 Softball games this year. What I enjoy most about competitive softball is the honesty. When there are two out, men on base, you are at the plate and the game is on the line; you either get it done or you don’t. If just the thought of that situation does not excite you, you really shouldn’t play the game on a competitive level. True competitors live for those times when the game rests upon their shoulders and they rise to the occasion. I want to suggest that spiritual condition of the world rests upon the shoulders of the church and the condition of the church rests upon the shoulders of each individual Christian. Each of us literally stand at the plate to offer our contributions to salvation history. Will we get it done or will be afraid to swing the bat? Will we be those who usher “Victory in Jesus” into this hemorrhaging world or will we be content to find salvation for us and ours? I think prayer has everything to do with answering these questions.
The book Transformational Church was written by authors Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer. The book was based upon a study in which hundreds of effective and growing churches all across USAmerica were asked to identify specific strategies and practices. I purchased a copy a few years back and read this on page 136, “Christ United Methodist Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois was plateaued in the 1990’s. Pastor Shane Bishop believed something changed in 2001. The church relocated in the late 90’s but in 2001 the church just took off. People at Christ church embraced a deeper practice of prayer. Currently a prayer team gathers before church every Sunday morning and prays through every area in the church facilities were activities take place. They pray for the pastors and worship leaders.” With profound apologies for quoting myself, here is the deal: Nothing great will happen in this world unless the church steps up to the role God intended for her and the church will never step up into that role until Christians learn to pray.
James 4: 2-10
V. 5 The Holy Spirit, which God has placed within us, longs for us to be faithful At Pentecost, God gave the church the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us, serves as a conscience, gives us the power to be witnesses, gifts us for the work of the church and draws us toward God. The Holy Spirit longs to more fully connect you with God. That is why in your best moments you want to spend more time in prayer, attend worship, take a Bible Study, participate in a mission outing, give more generously, join a small group and treat others ridiculously well. The Holy Spirit brings out the best in us! Learning to respond to that which propels us toward faithfulness, obedience, prayer, service, generosity and witness is half of the battle to living a victorious Christian life!
V. 6 He gives strength to stand against evil desires Here is the other half. We are a part of a fallen world and the gravitational pull of sin is undeniable. That is why you don’t have to teach kids to be bad; they already have that piece. How many times have you been in church and you decided you were going to take a serious step forward in your spiritual life? You had wasted enough time, made enough excuses, you knew God was calling you to step up right now and you were locked and loaded! Then you leave church, walk across the parking lot and the devil is sitting in the passenger seat of your car smoking a cigarette with Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” blaring on the radio. You are irritated Satan is there, irritated all that worship music has been erased from your left side brain, irritated about the traffic on the parkway and irritated that it only took one minute and nine seconds after leaving the building to lose very bit of inspiration you received from church. Then you begin to wonder where to eat lunch, how God could possibly use someone as whacked out as you and as you drive you begin to question if you really have the time to do all this “God” stuff after all. By time you get home all your good intentions are flushed down the toilet, the devil is exhausted and needs a nap and you just keep living a hint of the life you were created to live. I have an idea for you, the next time God really touches your heart in worship say a prayer that God would, “Give you the strength to stand against evil desires” as you leave the building. Walk to your car and tell the devil to turn the music down, shut his stinking mouth, get out of your car and let him know what he can do with his cigarette. Often the worst evil is not doing wicked things, it is failing to do the good things you know God asked you to do. We are reminded in this passage that the Holy Spirit gives us the strength to stand against those things that come to steal what God is trying to do in us. James said, “Resist the devil and he will flee.”
“God sets himself against the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” When I was at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit a few years back, I heard business consultant and author Jim Collins. He has spent years attempting to scientifically quantify the difference between good leaders and great leaders in the business community. He not only concluded that humility is the key virtue that defines the difference between good leaders and the best leaders but conversely found that pride born of success is the first stage in the decline of an effective leader. Let me paraphrase, “Humility takes you to the top and pride plunges you to the bottom.” Pride says, “I can live my life my way. I am in control. I know what is best. Rules don’t apply to me. I don’t have to listen to anyone. I am strong enough, smart enough and moral enough to navigate my own life. I do not need the help of God. The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty heart before a fall.” Pride is the toxic playground of individuals who have accomplished so little that they think life is about them. Here is a great reason to stop thinking you are “all that and bag of chips;” pride will destroy you, destroy what you have built in the past and limit or occlude what you could have accomplished in the future. When we are humble enough to finally admit our desperate need for God; we are on the path to success in everything that matters.
V. 7 So humble your self before the Lord Mac Davis wrote, “Its hard to be humble when your perfect in every way.” I don’t think we have to get out of bed every morning and say, “I am going to try really hard to be humble today.” I believe humility is a natural by-product of a heart right with God. When we properly understand who God is, who we are and where we stand in relationship to each other; there is no room for pride; only gratitude and thanksgiving! I love fall nights when I am away from the city lights and it looks like God ripped open a sack of sparkling diamonds and scattered them across a black, velvet sky. It always takes my breath away. When I look into the churning Milky Way and begin to sing, “How great is our God”, I am driven to my knees. The next time you get so full of yourself that everyone around you wants to throw up, think of God’s speech to Job when he asked, “Where were you when I made the stars?” Stewart K. Hine wrote in 1953, “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder. Consider all the worlds thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power through out the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee. How great thou art, how great thou art. Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art.” That is what I am talking about!
V. 8 Draw close to God and God will draw close to you James offers three instructions for approaching God in verses nine and ten.
- Wash your hands you sinners God is holy and cannot tolerate sin in His presence. God will always accept us as we are but He loves us too much to leave us that way. You have to repent if you want to approach God.
- Purify your hearts you hypocrites The Greek word for hypocrite literally denoted an actor who wore a mask; hypocrisy is the distance between our true selves and whatever was represented on the mask. The authentic Christian is constantly in the process of lessening that distance. It is only when our true self is unconcealed that we may approach God in prayer. No one gets into the throne room of God with a mask.
- Weep sorrowfully for your sins Imagine your teen-ager awakens you one morning and says, “I sneaked out of the house last night and stole your brand new car. I was drag racing my friends when it ran off the road and rolled a few times. I didn’t call the police because we were drinking and what is left of your car is in a creek somewhere. I just told you because I knew you would look in the garage this morning, so consider this a courtesy. The important thing is that I am not all that upset about it. I am headed to bed now, I am exhausted.” Flippant confessions will not get the job done with God any more than they would with you or me! There has to be remorse for how we have hurt ourselves, how we have hurt others and how we have hurt God. There also needs to be some hint of a learning curve in confession. “Weep sorrowfully for your sins.”
V. 10 When you humble yourselves for before the Lord, He will lift you up! When our hearts are truly broken before the Lord, when we realize we are nothing without God’s strength and when we submit ourselves to His will we are in excellent position to be used by God! He longs for you and me to eagerly step up to the plate and become the people we were created to be. God waits for us to approach Him humbly in prayer so He can lift us up, fill us with his Holy Spirit and empower us for the work of the Kingdom. If we will humble ourselves before the Lord, there no ceiling to what God can accomplish through people like you and me. If you are down right now, know that God desires nothing more than to lift you up!
I believe God has a wonderful game plan for your life, for your church, for your region, for your state, for your nation and for this world. The execution of that plan sits squarely upon our shoulders. The salvation of the world will not be accomplished by a few extraordinary leaders doing high profile things, but by hundreds of millions of committed Christians being obedient in small things. I am convinced that the Kingdom will “come on earth as it is in heaven” one obedient Christian at a time.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, is the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois.