At the conclusion of Luke’s
account of the birth of Jesus Mary and Joseph bring the babe to the temple to
be dedicated to the Lord. They are met there by Simeon and Anna. Anna had been
praying and fasting in the temple night and day into her 84th year.
What had she, and as I suppose, Simeon, been praying for all that time. They were
praying for the Messiah. Only His presence would suffice for
We too can pray something similar. I often pray for
people whose needs are obviously more complex than I can fully fathom. But I
can pray for our Lord to touch them personally. He is the only answer that will
And there were shepherds
living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An
angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around
them, and they were terrified.
Holy fear has been a natural part of Christmas from the
beginning. The angel calmed their fears with the good news of great joy. Today
both the fear and joy of Christmas are lost in worldliness. And the lostness is
so deeply ingrained in our own hearts as well as our society. Nothing is
powerful enough to break its hold upon our hearts but trembling in fearful joy
over the good news of great joy that the God of the universe has come to us.
The Holy Bible: New International Version.
1984 (Lk 2:8–9). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
had a conversation this week with several men about the fear of the Lord. One
of the men asked the obvious question of how you develop the fear of the Lord.
I have several suggestions on this concern.
I think the question needs to be directed in the primary position. The first
question is not “How do we raise the fear of the Lord in society?” We must first
ask how we cultivate the fear of the Lord in ourselves. I believe there are three
crucial factors in developing fear in our own hearts. (1.) We need to expose
ourselves to the reality of God primarily through scripture. The absence of the
fear of the Lord is an intellectual disconnect from the reality of God. John
did not have to cultivate fear when he saw the glorified Christ in The
Revelation. Isaiah did not have to work it up in his vision in the temple [Isaiah
6]. (2.) We must ask God to reveal Himself to us. We need to be supernaturally
drawn nearer and nearer into God’s presence. (3.) Praise the Lord. Speak about
His majesty, holiness, greatness and glory. We are stirred by God’s glory as we
express it in our words.
here we do not turn the question directly to society. We must next ask how to stir
the fear of the Lord in our families and in the family of God. The same three
steps must be applied to these circles. (1.) We must expose our families
conjugal and spiritual to the glory of God primarily through scripture. (2.) We
must ask God to reveal His glory to us. And (3.) we must express His glory for
the ears of those gathered. This is one obvious means for the fear of the Lord
to become contagious.
how does this apply to society in general or to an entire people-group, our own
or another? Well these same three elements are necessary. Only here I would
suggest that the order becomes crucial and needs to be rearranged from what I
have listed in the two categories above. Prayer must be the first element. It
may very well be the most deficient in most of our efforts. And where revival
or an awakening broke out in the past, prayer, extraordinary prayer, was always
of us are aware that the wonderful directions for worship in Ephesians 5 are
plural. We are to sing and pray and give thanks together. But most of us have
not thought much about verse 21 the concluding verse of the passage. “Submit to
one another in the fear of Christ.” Grammatically this verse is part of a
sentence that begins with verse 18. The only active verb from verse 18 through
verse 21 is “Be filed.” All of these things, singing, giving thanks and
submitting to one another are applications of the filling of the Spirit. We
tend to think of the Spirit’s filling as individual. But the verb “be filled is
also plural. There is obviously some individual participation in this matter
but the picture is of the church being filled together with the Spirit of
Christ. In this context verse 21 brings in the fear of the Lord. We often take these
words as the reason for submitting to one another. And frankly, I believe that
to be a legitimate application. But I also think it is calling us to tremble in
together in our worship. The fear of the Lord can be contagious in worship as
the Spirit of God moves on the body of Christ.
few weeks ago I picked up The Fear Factor
by O.S. Hawkins. I believe this is the most important book I have read this
year. Hawkins showed how important it was that the church throughout the book
of Acts walked in the fear of the Lord. The theses of The Fear Factor springs
from Acts 9:31.
church throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built
up, and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit
If any single statement characterizes
the church in America it is the absence of the fear of the Lord. We are much
more into preventing fear. That may be because we do not understand the
difference between the fears of the world and the Fear of The Lord. A good
place to see these two highlighted is at the end of Mark 4. After Jesus had taught
all day the disciples took Him in their boat across the sea. He lay down on a pillow
in the bow and went to sleep. A terrific storm descended on the sea so that experienced
fishermen were afraid. They went and woke Jesus, “Master, you not care if we perish!”
Jesus woke and standing out on the deck rebuked the storm. Immediately the wind
calmed and the storm ceased. The final verse of Mark 4 says the disciples were more afraid. They were terrified. “What
kind of man is this that even the wind and the sea obey him!”
Now notice this final fear. It was not
fear that Jesus would punish them. It was a greater, all-consuming fear that
caused them to tremble because they were in the presence of God. Do you tremble
in the presence of God? Such fear will affect our thinking, our living and yes
our watching and praying.
4:2 calls us to be steadfast in prayer. That is certainly God’s call for us in
these days. The verse continues, “watching in the same.” This touches the heart
of this blog. And the verse concludes with the words, “in thanksgiving.”
Thanksgiving is a major key to steadfast prayer. Thanksgiving expresses and
also produces a joyful attitude in prayer. Thanksgiving develops the faith that
keeps us watching and calling upon God in prayer. As scripture calls us to give thanks in
all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18), our thanksgiving is an expression of faith.
If you have not given thanks by faith you have certainly not been obeying the
command to give thanks in all situations.
“Give thanks, with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s giving Jesus Christ His son.”
praying in these days misses the purpose of God on the earth. Our purpose was
dramatically portrayed by the Spirit of God on the Day of Pentecost. Our
prayers like the miracle of Pentecost should be aimed at the uttermost parts of
the earth, at every “ethnos”  or people group on earth. World missions is the purpose of
the church in the world. And Jesus said, This gospel of the kingdom will be
preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end
will come. 
I have cancer. And that affects my
prayer life. I am not interested in aiming my prayers at finding a better
parking place at the Old Country Buffet. I sense the urgency to pray for the
The Greek word translated “nations”
in Acts 2 refers to ethnic groups.
The Holy Bible: New International Version.
1984 (Mt 24:14). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Many of us are still familiar with
the post-millennial hymn lyrics, “And the darkness shall turn to the dawning
and the dawning to noon day bright. And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth
a kingdom of truth and light.” However the New Testament says some different
things about the last days. In 2 Timothy 3 Paul wrote, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the
last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful,
proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love,
unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous,
rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
How do we respond when we see such
things happening around us however near or far we are from the end? We can
complain at the dissolution of our society. We could gripe at the wrong that we
see in politics and the media. Or we can pray. Whatever else God calls us to do
in these days, we must pray. We can no longer live under the illusion that
anything short of the power of God will accomplish the will of God in our time.
Some of us feel led of God to pray for a
move of His Spirit in these days like took place on the Day of Pentecost in
Acts chapter 2. As Peter quoted,
“And in the last days it shall
be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons
and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and
your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will
show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and
fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to
blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it
shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be
There is a sense in which the
last days began with this momentous event. But Peter was not saying those were the last days. He was saying this is
what will happen in the last days. Are you praying for the power of God to be
unleashed on the hearts of men in these days? Are you praying to see what only
the hand of God can accomplish?
you standing in the gap for the place where you live? In Genesis 18:17 the Lord
said to the two men who were headed to Sodom and Gomorrah. “Shall I hide from
Abraham what I am about to do?” And so in the permission of God Abraham pleaded
for the city to be spared. Moses interceded for God to spare Israel in their
rebellion. Psalm 106:23 says,
Therefore he said he would destroy them— had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
God spoke about Israel in Ezekiel 22:30
saying He sought for a person to stand in the gap so He would not destroy them
and He found none.
Will you become the intercessor for your
neighborhood? For your city? For cities in your region? For America? O that
there might be intercessors. Will we wait until the day that Noah, Job and
Daniel (Eze.22:30) could not intercede for America to begin to pray seriously
Awake in the night with burning stomach
and muscle cramps; I know this to be typical if only occasional effect of my
cancer treatments. I am also having spiritual cramps. I am able to pray while I
am up in the night. But my mind will not move on from people I have prayed for
whose lives are crashing in sin or its consequences. Some of them were people for
whom I had seen great answers to prayer. I understand Paul’s lamentation in 2
Corinthians chapter 11.
“And, apart from other things,
there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for
all the churches.
Who is weak, and
I am not weak?
Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”
I do not enjoy this trial. And I am
tempted to give up on such prayers. But I know the Heavenly Physician is
subjecting me to spiritual treatments. I am the silver chalice being purified
in this fiery blast furnace. And by God’s grace some of these for whom I pray
will yet drink the life changing elixir from God’s vessel that is being formed.
Have you ever prayed and not seen
answers? Most of us have been discouraged by this phenomenon. Discouragement is
one of the primary weapons the enemy throws at our prayer lives. If you wish to
be a powerful prayer warrior you must be able to quench his darts with the
shield of faith. Luke chapter 18 begins, “And he told them a parable to the
effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” The parable Jesus
told here was about a powerless widow going to an unjust judge. She was
persistent even though her cause seemed hopeless.
2 Corinthians chapters 4 speaks to
anyone who longs for supernatural ministry. It begins with the words,
having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”
If you are looking on temporal
things, you will be discouraged. The words lose heart translate the same word
used in Luke 18:1. In the Corinthian passages Paul speaks of our situation as
mortals in supernatural warfare; afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not
driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not
destroyed. Verse 16 uses the same word again, “So we do not lose heart. Though
our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” In
the presence of God we are renewed in the assurance of invisible and eternal
things. Verses 17 and 18 continue, “For this light momentary affliction is
preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look
not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the
things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are
How do you begin your prayers? I suspect King David and the Holy Spirit inspiring him were not simply speaking of entering the formal temple when they gave us the 100th Psalm. Verse 2 shows us that the psalm is about coming into the presence of the Lord. Verse 4 might well be applied to beginning prayers.
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!”
Discipline yourself to spend time praising God before you do anything else in your private prayers. You will find that changes the whole tenor of your prayers.
How do you
pray when your heart is troubled? Think with me back to a time when your heart
was grieved or broken. Some of you do not have to think far back. How did you
pray? Did you pray for comfort? Did you pray for deliverance? Did you ask God
to turn your heart ache into joy? Did you ask him to change your circumstances?
Those are surely legitimate prayers.
Do you ever ask yourself or God what you should pray in such times? In John
12:27 we find Jesus before the cross asking what He should pray.
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I
‘Father, save me from this hour’?”
But Jesus knew His purpose in life was not to avoid pain. Is that your
purpose in living? It is not your purpose before God.
On this occasion Jesus prayed His purpose and ours.
“Father, glorify Your Name!”
The Father affirmed the rightness of that prayer with a thunderous voice
have glorified it and will glorify it again!”
Some of the people standing around said, “It thundered!” Others said, “An
angel has spoken to him!” But Jesus said, “No. This voice was not for my sake
but yours.” The voice was for us. Are you asking God to glorify His name?”
Have you read
Psalm 130 recently? Open your Bible now, or the next chance you get, and read
this powerful psalm. It begins,Out of the depths I
cry to you, O Lord!
You have probably cried out to the Lord out of the depths of trouble or
heart ache. We just received an e-mail from a close friend whose cancer has
made a turn for the worse. We cried out with her in desperate prayer. Some of
our most powerful praying springs from the depths of trouble.
Troubles often humble our hearts before God. The next stanza of the psalm
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
nothing increases the confidence of our faith like praying from the depths. The
next verse concludes,
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
And our hope is made strong as we pray in times when
there seems to be no immediate hope. The psalm confirms,
for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul
waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning.
And such prayers become
a powerful testimony. Nothing calls others to join us in prayer like praying
out of the depths. The psalm concludes with a call for the people of God to put
their hope in the Lord. Crying out to God in trouble will call others to cry
out to Him as well.
Many years ago I was asked to
speak at a prayer retreat for a church. They had heard that the church I
pastored agreed at the beginning of each year on a few things that all of us
would pray for in the year. They wanted to do the same thing and asked me to help
them come up with a list. One of the things they thought they should pray for
that year was that they might become a praying church. They chose three other
things they all believed they needed to pray for. Then they reduced each
statement into one word so it would be easy to remember. When they came to
becoming a praying church, they simply used the word “PRAYER.” I thought it
very appropriate for them to be praying for prayer.
I pray for my prayers. I pray
for God to help me discipline myself to spend time in prayer. I pray for God to
help me keep my mind focused while I am praying. I pray for God to direct my
heart to pray in His will. And I trust the Spirit who aids us in our weaknesses
to inspire the prayers of my heart.
Paul makes a statement in 1
Corinthians 5 about being with the Corinthian church in Spirit. That used to be
a fairly common statement especially among church people.
“I can’t be there, but I am with you in Spirit.”
I suppose I am glad we no
longer hear that much because the statement was weakened by its use as an
excuse for not being at church because of work or a vacation or a ball game or
an ox rigorously pushed into the ditch.
But I do think we ought to grasp
the full meaning of this phrase. It should especially be used with missionaries
serving overseas and for anyone whose heart we genuinely connect with.
Connecting with someone by
the Holy Spirit means groaning with the Spirit that groans with someone we care
about. Paul used this phrase to address a church in the midst of crisis. Being
with someone in Spirit means sharing the burden of a Holy Spirit inspired
purpose and vision.
Being with someone in Spirit
surely includes prayer. Sometime after my cancer and treatments had reduced my
endurance I was involved in an outdoor crusade. I preached the first night. But
I was too exhausted to go the next night. So I spent the whole time of the
service praying for the preacher, the people and the neighborhood where the
crusade was held. I was with them in Spirit.
God uses prayer lists to narrow
the focus of my prayer life. When I start writing out prayer lists I prayerfully
seek what God wants me to believe Him for. Continuing to pray for the people
and things on these lists keeps my faith focused in the direction God is
A prayer list also broadens
the focus of my prayer life. With a prayer list the Holy Spirit disciplines me
to trust God over a period of time. It is one thing to pray for someone today.
It is another to commit to pray every day. In time I begin to see God working
over the course of the life of a person I am praying for and over the course of
my own life as well.
When I start making a list of
prayer requests God always puts people on my list whose problems seem too
complex to heal. I am often amazed when they start to turn things around in
their lives. Then more often than not they disappoint me terribly. I would give
up except I have committed to pray for the list they are on. Continuing to pray
stretches my faith far more than seeing answers great or small.
If we are going to pray like
we have never prayed before we are going to need to stretch our prayer lives.
From time to time in the months to come I will make suggestions of ways to
increase the quantity and quality of your prayers. But at this early point I am
suggesting something so simple that many of you will discount it; a prayer
A godly deacon in the church
I pastored in the 1970s used to pray, "Lord, help us to pray for all those
for whom it is our duty to pray." His prayer reminds me of the words of
Samuel after the people had demanded a king. "God forbid that I should sin
against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." There are people that it is
your duty before God to pray for. And the only way I know how to consistently
pray for them is to write their names down and discipline yourself to pray for
God can use a simple prayer list to stretch the
compassion of your prayer life. As I have made lists and committed to pray for
people on a daily basis God always prompts me to pray for people I don't really
like. I am often amazed at how God expands the dynamics of my relationship with
Him as I discipline myself to pray for that person I am tempted to envy; or to
pray for that person who slighted me and so offended my pride; to pray for that
person I disagree with; to pray for that person who disgusts or intimidates me.
I know of no more effective tool for stretching my shriveled unchristlike
attitudes than praying for people God impresses me to pray for on a consistent
The process of struggling to hear God’s will in a matter brings us to conviction in what we are praying. When you have struggled over time in prayer you not only begin to hear God more clearly, but you believe more fiercely in what you are asking from God. Although we should be quick to pray, quick thoughtless prayers miss the heart of New Testament teaching. Matthew 7:7-8 calls us to ask, and seek and knock in prayer. But the tense in the original language calls for continual action. It might well be translated as both the Amplified and The Holman Christian Standard Version indicate, “Ask and keep on asking. Seek and keep on seeking. Keep on knocking.” Biblical prayer is not the whim of a moment but theconviction of a life time to the God of eternity.
If by vague prayers, you mean careless,
unfocused, unburdened prayers I doubt if they can be answered.
Last week I shared my
experience with vague prayers. But we should never base theology on human
experience. What does the Bible say about this matter? Well, first of all I
need to say that the Bible never says God does not answer vague prayers.
However, it does discourage some things that fall into the category of vague
prayers. If by vague prayers we mean careless, unfocused, unburdened prayers, I
doubt if they can be answered.
And the Bible does
encourage specific prayers. Passages like the story of Jesus asking the blind
men what they wanted Him to do for them (Mt.20:32) nudge us in that
direction. But other passages like God’s pleasure with Solomon’s request for
that it is wise to consider even struggle over what we ask for. Specific prayer
often needs to be a process. God takes time to hone our vague praying to the
sharpened point of His will in a matter. And His will is nearly always
different and greater than I would have prayed at first.
I just finished reading
one of the best books I have read in years. But I would like to challenge a statement in the book. The author gave a well-known quote from one of the
spiritual giants of our day. “God does not answer vague prayers.” To be honest
that is not my experience. In the past few years I have celebrated many such
answers. In most of these I knew to pray for a person or situation, but just
did not know what to pray. In one notable case I sensed a check in my spirit
anytime I tried to pray something specific for a particular family. I began
simply to take them daily to God asking Him to work in their lives. I was not
sure I wasn’t praying for judgment to fall on ungodly people whom He may
have raised up like Pharaoh (Rom.9:17). I was astounded when I
received news that the couple had started going to church. I was not surprised
to hear that the teenage nephew living with them who had been bounced from home
to home all of his life was making fun of their church going. Finally I heard
that the boy was dramatically saved.
Now I will grant what
some of you may be thinking. I do not know if I was the only one praying for
this family. And I do not know that God did not work in spite of my weak prayers.
However, such questions can be asked about any answer to prayer. I suspect
these factors play a part in all praying. I thank God that His work does not
depend on my getting prayer right all the time. And if I am praying for
someone, I believe God is probably urging someone else to pray as well. That is
part of the wonder of the family of God.
I am calling this blog "Watching in Prayer." One of my life verses, Habakkuk 2:1-3, begins, "I will stand at my watch and station myself on the rampart."
To a great extent I see God's church today as watchmen on the rampart in the midst of a spiritual war. There is a great history of this picture in the Bible. One notable example is Ezekiel 33 where God spoke of putting a watchmen on the wall to warn of impending judgment. Jesus gave us another striking use of this picture in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the night He was arrested He took Peter, James and John aside in the darkened garden and asked them to watch with Him. When He returned and found them asleep He asked if they could not watch with Him for an hour. "Watch and pray," Jesus told them and us, "lest you fall into temptation."
Like that fateful hour before the cross, these are crucial days in God's working on the earth. And it is urgent that God's people pray as we have never prayed. Have all the mighty prayer warriors passed from the earth? I am devoting this blog to biblical teachings and encouragement for God's people to watch and pray.
I will encourage you to grow in intimacy with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit as we watch together with Him. And I will share prayer requests and encourage you to pray for God's work throughout the world in these exciting days. Dave