Wednesday, February 19, 2020

EmmDev 2020-02-19 [Hungry Prayers] This'll change your life

This'll change your life

"This will change your life!"
This is a promise often made by advertisers, friends applying peer-pressure and those who just want us to go with them.

While Paul doesn't use these words, the sentiment or, more accurately, the conviction is present in his hungry prayer for the Ephesian Christians.

And what does he pray for?

  • He prays for inner strength (resilience, character, integrity & perseverance)
  • He prays for the indwelling presence of Christ
  • He prays for the power to grasp God's love.

The third prayer is significant.
God's love is so great that we need help to understand it!
He uses four dimensions in his attempt to alert us to the magnificence of God's love. I love his image: How do you grasp length, breadth, height and depth?

Is there any better prayer we can pray for people?

Read the prayer slowly and thoughtfully.

Dwell on the enormity of a love that we need power just to help us get a handle on it....!

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.      (Ephesians3:16-21)

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

EmmDev 2020-02-18 [Hungry Prayers] To know Him

To know Him

When the congregation in Philippi was established by Paul, the first three members were Lydia (a wealthy businesswoman), a slave-girl who'd lost her (demonic) ability to foretell the future and a civil-servant jailer and his family. So there was already a vast disparity in the social status positions of the members.

In addition Philippi had become a place where retired military officers would settle. This strong military presence (although retired) strengthened this border town, but also permeated the community with all the aspects that go with the military: discipline, medals(achievements), rank, order and structure.
Then came along some Judaizers (Jewish Christians who insisted that you needed to be circumcised to be a real Christian.) They used their status as teachers of the law to "pull rank" on the Philippian believers and to bolster their arguments.

Paul deals with this kind of snobbery decisively. He puts out his own CV of academic and societal achievements and then, after comparing the very best of his achievements to the privilege of knowing Jesus, says: "I consider them rubbish!" (The word for rubbish means "dung" or "offal".)
If you could imagine Paul's life as a balance scale then one end of the scale is so heavy that the ground underneath it is dented and cracked, while the stuff on the other side (which is up in the air) is wobbling and bouncing around uselessly. There's just no comparison.

Then Paul prays an incredibly hungry prayer which you can read below. He is so enthralled by the love of Christ that he's not only longing for the benefits of that relationship (resurrection) but he'll gladly walk the road of suffering and even death so long as he can know Christ.
(By the way, the phrase "somehow attain to the resurrection" isn't about effort, it's about the fact that he doesn't even understand how God raises the dead, but he's willing to walk through the door of death into the unknown.)

Do you long for Jesus, your Lord and Saviour, as much as Paul does? Or are you a fair-weather Christian? Gospel singer Wayne Watson sang "I'd rather walk in the dark with Jesus than walk in the light on my own." (I think he and Paul will be good buddies.)
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.      (Philippians3:8-11)

Friday, February 14, 2020

EmmDev 2020-02-14 [Treasure Cupboard] Real Love

[Apologies for the missed EmmDev yesterday...
today I want to divert from "Hungry Prayers"...]

Real Love

Today is Valentine's day.

While for some it is an opportunity to celebrate romantic love, for many it is a painful day.

It's painful:
  • for teens when the "popular" kids get celebrated and many feel overlooked
  • for the lonely who have not found the "soulmate" so often romantically idealised on this day
  • for those who have experienced or are experiencing the breakup and failure of a romantic relationship or marriage.
  • for those whose "valentine" has passed away
While we really do celebrate happy and healthy romances and don't want to impose any guilt on the fun and sparkle of these relationships, I think there is a bigger truth that applies...

The big truth is that romantic love, the love of a parent for a child, the love of a devoted friend, the beautiful warmth of family and community and even the love we have for our pets are the overflow a Much Greater Love - The Love God has for us. The Love demonstrated in the giving of His Son.

Take a moment to bask in that love...
...because it is the Love from which all other love must flow.

If you found yourself in one of the painful categories I mentioned above, then remember this: You are totally and beautifully loved by the Majestic King of the Universe! Take time to celebrate the other loves that also flow from this love and recognise that family, friendship and community are also outflows of this Great Love.

If you are blessed to enjoy the romantic love of another person, take a moment to give thanks and then re-commit to love them, not only romantically but with the Love of God.

If you know someone who is in one of those painful places today, why not reach out? You don't have to talk about Valentine's day or do anything "cheesy" - just express God's beautiful love to them.

After all, we are much loved indeed!

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.      (John3:16)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

EmmDev 2020-02-12 [Hungry Prayers] Home or Here?

Home or Here?

Today's hungry prayer is prayed by Paul in Prison. He's under house-arrest in Rome and although we know that this isn't the imprisonment that leads to his martyrdom, Paul doesn't know this. In fact, after his release it is only 5 or 6 years before he will be arrested again and executed by Nero.

Paul is talking to the Philippians about his own personal circumstances - and because Philippi is a Roman Colony (a sort of "mini-me" of Rome) I think he is anticipating that the same pressures and stresses that he is feeling in Rome will ultimately manifest in Philippi too.

Paul has had a good "innings" of ministry. I would guess that he's somewhere in his sixties (a good age for those times and his "mileage") and he's been a Christian for about 26 years. He's completed three missionary journeys, planted numerous congregations and mentored numerous young pastors. He's stood firmly for the gospel, clarified theology and written most of the 13 letters we have from him in the New Testament. (It's probably only the letters to Timothy and Titus and possibly Colossians and Ephesians that haven't been written yet.)
Paul's dilemma is this: Does he hope to be released or does he hope to go Home to be with the Lord?

What is so beautiful is the tug-of-war that Paul describes:
  • He realises that he will need courage to go through the doorway of death but he is confident that eternal life is the ultimate prize and he longs for that.
  • But he cares more about the church than his own comfort and so he is willing to stay (even if it's in prison and facing martyrdom)
And while our passage isn't a prayer, it is obviously the result of prayer. His conclusion in the "Home or Here debate" is that he is convinced that he will remain...

So there are two beautiful "hungers" inside of Paul. The hunger to be home with the Lord and the hunger to be of service to the Lord and His People. Balancing these hungers is important: If we long for heaven too much it could become selfish denial of the needs around us. If we cling to this life too much then it means that we are too consumed with ourselves and what we are doing. (The Old Testament king Hezekiah clung to life and, in the extra fifteen years God gave him after he pleaded, it led to the birth of one of Israel's worst kings, extreme and consuming materialism in the monarchy and the first steps of the Babylonian invasion.)

In Paul these two desires are balanced - it's the honest tug of war that makes him the man that he is.
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.       (Philippians1:20-26)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

EmmDev 2020-02-11 [Hungry Prayers] Watchmen


Today's beautiful hungry prayer comes from Psalm 130 which Martin Luther called a "Pauline Psalm" because it's an Old Testament expression of the Gospel in typical Paul-terms.

The Hebrew Poetry is beautiful too:

  • there are clever word plays - the word for "kept record of my sins" is the same as the word for "watchman"
  • the word for wait is "qavah" - which means to wait, to hope, while God weaves the tangled ends together.
  • The poet changes standard word order around, where the convention in Hebrew is to put the verbs first, he puts God's Name or "My Soul" first.
  • In some cases he even leaves the verb out - leaving us to insert it. You see this in vs.6 where the word "wait" doesn't occur in the Hebrew text, but you automatically want to insert it and it makes the passage more poignant, more passionate and more hungry.
We can break the psalm into 4 parts.
v1-2: Despair over our brokenness.
v3-4: Good News because God doesn't guard our sins: He forgives them
v5-6: Hunger for Intimacy with God
v7-8: Message of love and rescue for the world

In the first two parts the Psalm briefly and eloquently expresses our brokenness and the beautiful truth that God forgives us instead of auditing us.
But it's the beautiful part three that grabs me today...
When we have truly been forgiven, we come to that place of being able to sing "I was there when they crucified my Lord, I was there when they crucified my Lord, ooooh sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble tremble, for I was there when they crucified my Lord"

The fear-reverence that the Psalmist expresses in v4 leads him to the longing expressed in v5. "I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope."

And then comes v.6 with the verbs left out but implied:
"My Soul ... for the Lord, like watchmen ... for the morning, like watchmen ... for the morning."

Can you feel the hunger? The longing? He knows that He needs God more than anything! He's a watchman longing for the dawn - He's a soul longing for God.

This hunger (satisfied) then leads him from first person singular to third person plural - O Israel hope in the Lord for with Him is unfailing love and full redemption.

Read this Old Testament Gospel Presentation and let its aroma make you hungry too...
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
2 O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
6 My soul [waits] for the Lord
more than watchmen [wait] for the morning,
more than watchmen [wait] for the morning.
7 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.      (Psalms130:1-8)

Friday, February 7, 2020

EmmDev 2020-02-07 [Hungry Prayers] Searchlight


Today's "hungry prayer" is found in a beautiful psalm that has an awkward ending...

Our passage comes from Ps.139 and it's a much loved Psalm.
The two thirds are comforting and inspiring
- Lord you have searched me and know me
- You know my words before I speak them
- You're behind me and before me
- There's nowhere I can go that You can't find me
- Even the darkness can't hide me - You change darkness to light
- You created and knit me together in the womb
- You've written up all my days in Your book
- Your amazing thoughts outnumber the grains of sand
- You're with me when I sleep and when I'm awake

But then David takes a sharp turn: He speaks out angrily against the wicked and those who misuse God's name and act wrongly. It's a strong and harsh denunciation and hatred of evil in the light of the comforting thoughts we've had thus far.

Commentators suggest that this is a "loyalty declaration". We find examples of this in contemporary literature: "With my friend you shall be friend, and with my enemy you shall be enemy..."

BUT having contemplated the extremes of evil, David takes his loyalty even further when he invites God to shine a searchlight into his life. "Search me, know me, test me." David knows that the path to wickedness can have small beginnings. He doesn't want to become one of God's enemies. So he prays: "Search me!"

This is a hungry prayer - knowing that God already knows all of him, he asks God to intensify the search. He wants a life fully committed to God.

If only you would slay the wicked, O God!
Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD,
and abhor those who rise up against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.      (Psalms139:19-24)

Thursday, February 6, 2020

EmmDev 2020-02-06 [Hungry Prayers] In this life and the next

In this life and the next

Most people relate to Psalm 23 as a comfort prayer - they wouldn't easily call it a hungry prayer.

Today I am conducting a funeral for a young man who passed away too soon (he was 46). His name is Adriaan ("Addi") and he was a relative, a friend and much loved. Tributes have poured in about his enthusiastic love for life and others. Throughout his illness and after his passing psalm 23 popped up all over the place.

But the more I've reflected on the Psalm, the more I'm convinced of its hunger. The Psalm explores the length, depth and breadth of life and then creeps across the horizon.

We start with the length which is expressed as green pastures, quiet waters, soul restoration and right paths. This speaks of our longings in the hurly-burly busy-ness of life. David realises that, in the midst of complexity, peace can only be found with God. But he also recognises the beauty of life that can so often be missed unless we take a moment to count our blessings and thank the Blesser.
But life can get deep: The valley of the shadow of death is a place where our bullies are frailty, doubt and death. Whether we face our own mortality or that of others, we are not alone or unprotected. David knows that He needs the presence of the One who walks with us and protects us.

Along with depth, life can get broad. There are a vast number of enemies who would try to convince us that we don't have enough and that we aren't "broad" enough. But our loving Father provides all we need and our cups overflow.
Then comes the horizon - the realisation that this life is not our final destination - that we were made for more than this.

David, the shepherd-king (and we have no idea of how old he was when he wrote this Psalm) reflected on life's length, depth and breadth and the horizon of life. He realised that all of this only makes sense if we would let the Lord be our Shepherd, Protector, Provider, Host and Father.

Read this prayer not only for its comfort, but also its hunger.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
4 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.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.      (Psalms23:1-6)

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

EmmDev 2020-02-05 [Hungry Prayers] A Prayer for a Nation

A Prayer for a Nation

"How do do I pray for my nation?"
The prayer of Nehemiah, who was a cup-bearer to a foreign king and who became the leader who rebuilt Jerusalem's walls and "re-booted" Israel, is a great starting point for passionate and hungry prayers for one's nation.
Nehemiah, who is in servitude and exile, gets a report about the sad state of affairs in his nation's capital. The account of dereliction, disgrace and despondency hits him hard - he cries, he fasts, he grieves and he prays. His prayers are not a glib "Please bless the world" but a sharp and targeted arrow that has been released with all the force the archer can muster. He builds a prayer wall.

If his care and concern for Jerusalem is the mortar in Nehemiah's prayer wall, let's look at the stones he builds with:

  • A big view of God's power and love: Nehemiah calls Him the "Awesome God of Heaven", the "loving Covenant Keeper" and the One who "hears" and "sees". Nehemiah really believes that God is able!
  • A clear understanding of our responsibility: While we can't earn God's love, we can hinder the way God's love unfolds in our lives. We do this by breaking covenant and by sinning. Someone once said: "We don't break God's law as much as we break ourselves on God's law." So Nehemiah confesses and recommits...
  • Remembering God's Promises: Nehemiah remembered God's promises and this gave him the courage to pray boldly. He's not twisting God's arm with God's promises, he's remembering that this is what God wants anyway and so he prays with renewed boldness.
  • Come up with a plan: We often read this prayer quickly and forget that this has been the culmination of a couple of days of fasting and praying. Nehemiah's had some time to think, to listen and to plan. He realises that he has a role to play. (We should never underplay the importance of listening.)
  • Being willing to be the answer to one's prayer: Nehemiah was willing to be courageous and available to be used by God and to be part of the answered prayer.
Read the prayer below as the "Prayer Building" that Nehemiah built out of his hunger and thirst for his nation.

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said:
"O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
8 "Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.'
10 "They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man."      (Nehemiah1:4-11)

Friday, January 31, 2020

EmmDev 2020-01-31 [Hungry Prayers] Hungry for Blessing

Hungry for Blessing

Some 10-15 years ago an obscure prayer from Chronicles was thrust into the spotlight of mainstream Christian media by a prominent author. The "market" was flooded with bookmarks, bumper stickers and other branded material to the point that I think people developed callouses to the breathtakingly beautiful passion and devotion of the prayer.

To put it simply, this is a hungry prayer!

The pray-er is a man named Jabez who came from the tribe of Judah and is singled out in 9 chapters of name-after-name genealogy at the start of 1 Chronicles.

It seems the circumstances of his birth were painful (whether because of physical or other pain) and so his mother named him Jabez, which means "He causes pain". In Hebrew culture the meanings of names were important and were often considered to be self-fulfilling prophecies.

This makes Jabez's prayer particularly "hungry" and this is what I want to focus on today...

Jabez knew God and was hungry for God and he believed that walking with this God would alter the trajectory of his life.
  • He prayed for God's blessings, because he believed that God is a God who blesses. Jabez didn't see himself as "cursed" (even though his name implied that) He believed that it is the fundamental nature of God to bless.
  • He prayed for enlarged territory (increased boundaries) and God's hand of protection. Some have tried to spiritualise this by saying that this was influence or even evangelistic success, but I think he was really just praying "Let me be all I can be in every part of my life" or "let me reach my full potential".
  • He prays to be kept from evil and causing pain - When we consider this in tandem with his prayer for enlarged boundaries, then we understand that any "prosperity" Jabez experienced would sidestep the pitfalls of greed, selfishness and abuse of power. It would be for the blessing of others.
Some have turned Jabez's prayer into an incantation.
That misses the point.
We need to see his heart.

Jabez knew God as a Blessing God, as a good God, as a protecting God and as a God who doesn't want our lives to cause hurt others. He understood that God would bless us and have us going beyond our boundaries to undo the pain in the world. And so, knowing and understanding the abundant, generous, protecting nature of his God, Jabez prayed a hungry prayer wanting to connect to and walk with His God.

And God heard his prayer!
May we be this hungry too...

Now Jabez was more honourable than his brothers, and his mother called him Jabez, saying "Because I bore him in pain."
And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying:
"O that You would bless me indeed,
and enlarge my territory,
that your hand would be with me,
and that You would keep me from evil
that I might not cause pain!"
So God granted him what he requested      (1Chronicles4:9-10)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

EmmDev 2020-01-30 [Hungry Prayers] A prayer in times of trouble

A prayer in times of trouble

One of the toughest times in David's life was Absolom's betrayal.
Absalom was David's son who had systematically usurped his father's authority and dignity.
  • We met people outside the palace saying "My father is too busy to see you but how can I help you?"
  • He won over David's key military personnel
  • He staged a coup - taking over the royal palace
  • He did some horrible things to utterly humiliate his father (For example: he slept with (raped) all of David's wives and concubines on the palace roof in full view of the public)

In the book of Samuel the betrayal is described in somber tones and David is seen fleeing from Jerusalem with his proverbial tail between his legs - so sad and defeated that he won't even let his soldiers deal with a lone man named Shimei who pelts David and his entourage with stones and insults. David appears to be a tired and humiliated man slinking off into the unknown. (See 2Sam16)

But we have the prayer David wrote at this dark time. Psalm 3 is a very powerful expression of faith and trust in God at a dismal, dark and dreary time. It expresses a deep and passionate faith in spite of horrible circumstances.

The Psalm is broken into three parts by the Hebrew word "Selah" which most scholars presume is a musical directive calling for a musical interlude - maybe a chance to pause for thought...

In the first part David describes the extent of his distress. It's a simple but very raw acknowledgement of his pain: many foes and many verbal critics who believe that God has abandoned him. It's a tough place, when you have been king, to be dismissed like this.

In the second part he expresses his absolute faith in God. He expresses three attributes of God's nature in three ways:

  • The attribute of protection: God is his shield
  • The attribute of restoration: David believes that God will bestow glory on him and lift his head - see how he expresses future events in present tense.
  • The attribute of Answering: David portrays God was the One who hears and answers.

In the third part David chooses his attitudes and he hands his enemies over to God. David makes two vital choices: to sleep and not to be dominated by the fear of numbers. Choosing to sleep is the ultimate act of trust. There are times that we struggle to sleep even when we want to. I don't think this is what David is talking about here. I think he's talking about going to sleep when he could be spending another hour frantically trying to out-think his problems. He sleeps - handing it over to God - and wakes up - recognising God's ongoing providence. He chooses not to be intimidated by a show of force and he trusts God to deal with his enemies.

Please read through the Psalm slowly. This is one of David's greatest tests. I don't think he composed this psalm quickly or glibly - I think it was a struggle and a surrender, but it brings David to a significant space. It can do the same for you and me.

A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.
1 O LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
"God will not deliver him."
3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD;
you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.
4 To the LORD I cry aloud,
and he answers me from his holy hill.
5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
6 I will not fear the tens of thousands
drawn up against me on every side.
7 Arise, O LORD!
Deliver me, O my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
8 From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.