Prayer Changes Things!

June 1, 2020

What is the secret to the revival of the church? To spiritual restoration? How can you renew your own relationship with God? How did the ancient prayer of Daniel move heaven and change a nation?  Here's an interview with Anne Graham Lotz to explain:


Why is prayer such an important activity?


Anne Graham Lotz: Communication with God is vital to a vibrant relationship with him. We will never really know God in an intimate, personal relationship if we don’t talk to him. Half of our communication with God is listening to what he has to say through his Word, which is why reading our Bibles is so important. The other half of communication is talking to him, which is prayer. Prayer is also important because the Bible commands us to pray.


Why is prayer so often neglected?


Anne Graham Lotz: Prayer may be neglected for several reasons. Some of those reasons are doubt that God answers prayer, doubt that prayer really makes any difference, and doubt that God will truly listen to our prayers. Also, prayer is hard work. We may neglect it because we’re too tired, too busy, or too distracted to put into prayer the effort required.


What are the characteristics of an ineffectual prayer?


Anne Graham Lotz: Prayer offered without faith by a person that doesn’t truly believe God exists will not be effective. Sin in our lives that we refuse to confess will also render our prayers ineffective. A husband who dishonors his wife physically or verbally will be ineffective in his prayers.


How is effective prayer born out of a sense of desperation?


Anne Graham Lotz: Desperation compels us to pray with fervent, focused faith—especially when we have no one else to turn to. God honors our faith when we place it in him alone—with no back-up plan, no other recourse, no other way out. He hears and answers our desperate heart cry, because he loves to show himself strong on our behalf.


Why did you turn to the Bible character Daniel as a model for prayer today?


Anne Graham Lotz: Daniel’s prayer moved Heaven and changed not only his nation, Judah/Israel, but also the nation in which he was living at the time: Persia. His prayer is one that worked. God’s people were separated from God and were living in exile. But in answer to Daniel’s prayer, they were restored to God’s place of blessing.


I believe our nation is in deep trouble. We seem to have lost our identity because in many ways we’re separated from God. I believe it’s imperative that God’s people pray as Daniel did, or our nation may unravel morally and spiritually to the point of no return. I believe we desperately need the blessing of God.


What are the elements that make up The Daniel Prayer found in Daniel 9 and that you recommend should be followed today?


Anne Graham Lotz: Daniel prayed under compulsion. His prayer was based on a covenant relationship that he had established earlier with God. He was confident in the character of God whom he knew by years of experience, as well as knowing God as he’s revealed through his Word. He prayed with humble contrition as he confessed the sin of his people as though it were his own. He was very clear in exactly what he was asking God for. And he prayed until his prayer was answered.


What are the differences of praying in public versus praying in private?


Anne Graham Lotz: Both public and private prayers are acceptable. But public prayers take into account other people listening in. Private prayers are spoken to God alone. The difference is the same as the difference between public speaking versus a private conversation. Things we say, or confide, in private to our closest friend are different than what we would share in public.


What do you mean “patterns help us focus our prayers”?


Anne Graham Lotz: God knows that sometimes we lack words to express our feelings, heart-cry, thoughts. And so within the Bible he includes people’s prayers as models to help our own. Daniel 9 is one example. The entire book of Psalms is another. Our Lord’s own prayer in John 17, or the prayer we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer that many people recite every time they go to church are also examples. At the end of The Daniel Prayer, I include prayers that I wrote to help the reader articulate his or her thoughts after reading a particular section of the book.


What should be the ultimate goal of praying?


Anne Graham Lotz: The ultimate goal for me in prayer is to draw near to God…to fall in step with him…to discern his will so that my life might be lived accordingly…to discover what burdens are on his heart that I might take them into my own heart, then pray them back to him.


You say The Daniel Prayer is a battle. How so?


Anne Graham Lotz: Prayer taps into the very power of God. The devil resists serious, focused prayer because he’s defeated by it. And so the devil will try to attack our concentration in prayer; he will try to confuse or contradict the content of our prayers; he will do his best to distract and/or divert us in prayer so that we’re crippled by inconsistency.


Is there anything else you’d like to say?


Anne Graham Lotz: Yes. One of the most effective ways to pray is to ask God to give you a promise from his Word concerning whatever it is you’re praying for. Then hold him to his Word as you pray it back to him. It’s what has been called “reversed thunder.” God keeps his Word, and basing our prayer on his Word gives our prayers strength and confidence because we know we’re asking for something God wants to give us.


Bio: Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy and Ruth Graham, is the president and CEO of AnGeL Ministries, a nonprofit organization that undergirds her efforts to draw people into a life-changing relationship with God through his Word. Anne launched her revival ministry in 2000 and has spoken on seven continents, in more than 20 foreign countries, proclaiming the Word of God in arenas, churches, seminaries, and prisons. She’s the award-winning author of numerous books. She’s also the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force chairman.


"Life is a Gift"

May 27, 2020 - A devotional by Jennifer Friesen

Gift-giving has never been easy for me. I don’t enjoy shopping and I have trouble making decisions, so purchasing gifts makes me very stressed. Knowing this, my husband and I have a system where we often tell each other exactly what we would like for the next special occasion, sometimes even purchasing it ourselves. “By the way, honey, you got me these concert tickets for my birthday. Thanks!” It saves a lot of time and mental energy.


But the downside is that when you are anticipating something specific, it’s hard not to be disappointed if it doesn’t meet your expectations. What if the “new sweater” he requested is the wrong colour? What if the “book by N.T. Wright” isn’t the one I really wanted to read? Instead of being grateful for the gift, we tend to see all its imperfections and be dissatisfied. This is why return policies exist: because as humans we are so prone to being unhappy with our gifts rather than thankful for them.


In my sermon last Sunday on Ecclesiastes 9, I spoke about how life is a pure gift of grace from God, and that it’s not something we can control for our own gain. There are no returns or exchanges. We have to learn to accept the hard, painful parts of life without complaining. Wouldn’t we rather have the gift of life, even such as it is, than not have it at all?


It is the sinful attitude of entitlement that says we deserve a comfortable, trouble-free, pain-free life. We see this attitude everywhere in our culture: “You deserve it! Treat yourself! If it doesn’t bring you joy, get rid of it! Cut those difficult people out of your life! You deserve to be perfectly happy!” We are so steeped in this kind of thinking that almost every Christian struggles with being “disappointed with God.” We think we deserve exactly the kind of life that we want and expect, and when God doesn’t provide it, we get angry. 


We have to start calling this what it is: pride and arrogance. Who are we to tell God what he should give us? We are his creation, and he is our Creator, our King, and our Lord. He owns us. He does what he sees fit with us. And fortunately, he is loving and kind, and does everything for our good. Just imagine where we would be if he actually wanted to harm us!


Humility is the key to receiving life as a gift. When we realize who we truly are before God – that we are powerless, not in control of anything, at the mercy of God and circumstances, and so fragile physically – we will be humbled and grateful for what we’ve been given instead of jealous, resentful, and bitter over things we don’t have. If we know we are not entitled to anything, only then we will be able accept his gifts with joy!


Psalm 8:3-9 expresses the attitude we should have towards God: “Who am I to have received so much?”


3“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”


Humility before God always leads us to worship, because God is everything that we are not: all-powerful, all-knowing, unconditionally loving and perfectly good. Why would he entrust the rest of his creation to us? Why would he bless us with a world full of beauty, variety, mystery, joy, and abundance? Why would he choose to listen to our prayers or accept our tainted acts of worship? That’s incredible!


Only in this humble posture before God will we ever find what our hearts desire – true happiness and rest, satisfaction and gratitude for the gift of life.


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"Not Safe, but Good"

May 21, 2020 - A devotional by Jennifer Friesen

I’m a bit of a C.S. Lewis fanatic. I can’t say I’ve read every book he’s written, but I’m getting there! And I go back to the Chronicles of Narnia over and over. The way he wrote about Aslan taught me more about the character of God as a child than I know how to describe.


In his sermon on worship last Sunday, Pastor Brian mentioned Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” He explained how this fear of God is not terror, but a worshipful reverence or respect. He quoted from the first Narnia book, where Susan asks if it’s safe to meet with Aslan (he’s a lion, by the way.) And her friend replies, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

This then got me thinking about the oft-quoted motto, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Which is nonsense, but it sounds comforting, so we say it. God isn’t safe, and his plans for us when we follow him are not safe or manageable. It’s not going to be a pleasant process to kill off the sin in our lives and dig it up by the roots. God will allow painful things to happen to us so that we can be transformed into new people with pure hearts and desires that align with God’s. We can expect suffering along the way. Jesus was perfect and even he suffered, so if we’re aiming to be like him, it’s just part of the deal. Safety is not.

But, I have come to believe that because God is good, he gives us the least amount of pain he possibly can that will accomplish his purposes. I believe this because Jesus talks about God as a loving Father, and no Father would cause pain to their child without a good reason. Recently I had to literally hold my crying son down so that he could get a couple of vaccinations he had missed. He was terrified and it caused him pain, but I did it to protect him and help him in the future.  

“Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” (Lamentations 3:32-33) 


In another Chronicles of Narnia book, “The Horse and His Boy,” a couple of friends are racing on horseback to warn the king of Archenland of an impending attack. All of a sudden a lion appears and begins to chase them, and with one giant paw he tears several deep scratches into the girl Aravis’ shoulder. Then, he disappears. 


It’s not until the end of the novel that we discover that the lion was Aslan, and that there was a reason for this fear and pain. Not just one reason, in fact, but two. First, the scratches Aravis received were equal in severity to the whipping inflicted on a slave girl that she had drugged in order to escape from home. Aslan tells her, “You needed to know what it felt like.” But not only that, his chasing of the horses across the desert caused them to run faster, and get the warning to Archenland in time. The fear was necessary, because as one of horses had discovered in that moment, “he had not really been going as fast – not quite as fast – as he could.” Rather than allowing two occasions of pain, Aslan used that one instance to hit two birds with one stone. 


This insight of Lewis’, that God uses our pain for multiple purposes, and allows as little as necessary to align us with his will, is a great encouragement to me. Many people are in pain right now. Many people are suffering from loneliness, anxiety, financial pressure, or poor health. But it helps me to consider that no matter what situation we find ourselves in, it’s never the worst possible thing we can imagine. And God can use that pain for good in multiple ways. He won’t waste a single tear. 


It’s also never as bad as it could be, because there are always bits of beauty and light to compensate. If we focus on those blessings, the pain cannot break us. We are given so much grace in the midst of suffering: the beauty of springtime, the voice of a friend on the phone, an anniversary or a birthday, a hot cup of tea, a friendly nurse. I believe that no matter what pain I may face, God is still in control, and he allows only the smallest amount of pain necessary. He is a good, loving Father – not safe, but good. 


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"A Time for Pandemics"

May 13, 2020 - A devotional by Jennifer Friesen

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build…” Ecclesiastes 3:1-3


Looking at the world around me today, it seems there is no end to the negative repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are sick, people are dying, people are losing their jobs, people are anxious and angry. Our educational, economic, political and health care systems are reeling. When reading Ecclesiastes 3, it seems like God must have determined that this moment in our global history is the time to die, to uproot, to kill and to tear down. Things seem to be falling apart and many feel abandoned by God.


But things are not always as they seem. The point of Ecclesiastes 3 is that every experience, whether positive or negative, is part of God’s sovereign plan. In spite of how meaningless it all seems, he is working to make “everything beautiful in its time.” (Eccles. 3:11) 


How can I say that the deaths and chaos caused by COVID-19 are part of God’s plan? Let me be clear: I don’t mean to say that God caused them or is pleased with this situation. We know that God weeps with us in our grief, just as Jesus did at Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus came to earth to defeat death and transform it, because it is evil - “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). But his resurrection brought something incredibly good out of the horrible suffering of his crucifixion. And he still brings good out of death today, because he redeems every situation and uses it for good, if we trust him.


In God’s view, the ultimate good is to make people like Christ: self-sacrificing, unconditionally loving, Holy Spirit-empowered people who change the world. We often quote Romans 8:28 to reassure ourselves that God has our good in mind: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” But we can’t forget verse 29: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” The ultimate good that God is aiming for is that his people become like Christ. Not that we will be healthy, rich and happy, but that we will become holy, free from our addiction to sin.


Let me share with you a story I read recently. An Italian priest, suffering in hospital from COVID-19, was said to have received a ventilator as a gift, paid for by his congregation. But because of the shortage of ventilators, he refused to use it. He passed it on to a younger patient instead. Within a few days, he died.


This story may or may not be true. But it exemplifies exactly the kind of good that I think God would want to bring out of this crisis: the good of exemplary character, shown in actions that put others above ourselves, and that causes people to wonder, “Why would someone do that? How did they find the capacity for such selfless love?” And the answer would spread far and wide: Jesus.  

  

Is our world in “a time for pandemics”? It would seem so. But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a time for love, co-operation, compassion, generosity and worship. Yes, worship, because our Saviour’s love reassures us that no matter what happens in this broken world, he is still with us, and nothing will stop him from working out his plan to save the human race.


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"No Fear in Death"

May 6, 2020 - A devotional by Jennifer Friesen

Last week our family had a scary experience: Owen fell out of a tree, landing flat on his back. He didn’t knock himself out but was pretty dizzy, and had a very sore neck. After a call to our family doctor to rule out a concussion and ask about the need for an x-ray, we were assured that he would be ok. He probably just got a bit of whiplash. Two days later he was feeling fine.


But what if he hadn’t been fine? What if he had broken his neck? Random accidents kill people every day. 740 children die every day from accidents and injuries alone. As Pastor Brian shared in his sermon last Sunday, life is short and no matter how long someone lives, it will always feel like they are gone too soon. When a child or a young adult dies, it feels particularly unnatural and unfair.


In Acts 20:7-12, the story is told of a young man named Eutychus who fell out a window to his death during a church meeting. No one would have expected that to happen! It must have seemed so completely random and unthinkable. Imagine how his family and friends felt for those first few horrifying minutes. 


The apostle Paul rushed down to the street, and through the power of the Holy Spirit brought the young man back to life. The people rejoiced together over a meal, and went home with a testimony of God’s goodness and healing power that they would never forget. 


God knew what would happen that night. Nothing takes him by surprise, and he can bring good even out of the worst tragedies. Eutychus’ death and resurrection brought joy and comfort to the young church at Troas. Not to mention that the display of God’s power probably did more for the people’s faith than Paul’s words ever could! It was not a random or meaningless event.


My point is that whether we live or die, God is in control and we can trust him. We know that life is fragile, but we need not fear death because 1) there will be a purpose for whatever happens to us, no matter how random or untimely it may seem, and 2) after death we will be with Jesus, and we have been promised a resurrection just like his. 


The song In Christ Alone expresses this perfectly:

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the power of Christ in me;
 From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
 No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
 Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

(by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend)


In this time of uncertainty and stress, don’t allow the fear of death to overwhelm you. With Jesus, you can have hope both for this life and the next!



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"Clueless Followers"

April 29, 2020 - A devotional by Jennifer Friesen

In the news these days, there have been a lot of stories about those who are protesting the restrictions and lockdowns around the world. Some churches in the U.S. are continuing to meet in spite of their state’s ban on large groups, claiming their right to religious freedom. School boards and municipal governments and business owners around the world are considering when, where and how to eventually re-open. Disagreements and frustration are plentiful. Even within our own church family, we may have differing opinions about what to do next to keep our ministries going. So now is the perfect time to ask ourselves: How should we respond when our leaders make decisions we don’t like?


The story of the Israelites’ rebellion in the desert has a lot to teach us. In Numbers 14, the Israelites responded to the fearful prospect of entering Canaan in 3 ways:


1) Complaining (Num. 14:1-3) – They fixated on all the negative possibilities, and resented the hardships they had already experienced.


2) Blaming (Num. 14:4) – They wanted to choose a new leader because they held Moses responsible for all their problems.


3) Rebelling (Num. 14:10, 41-44) – They considered stoning Joshua and Caleb! And even after they repented of this, they still didn’t obey Moses’ instructions. 


When Pastor Brian spoke in last Sunday’s sermon about being “clueless,” I immediately thought of the foolishness of those who complain, blame and rebel against their leaders rather than expressing gratitude, giving grace and offering support. Even when we disagree, we should always express our concerns with respect and kindness, recognizing that the burden of leadership is heavy right now and that it’s impossible to please everyone. Sometimes we won’t get what we want. Can we accept that?


Hebrews 13:17 says, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” 


Our civic, family and spiritual leaders need our prayers right now. They need gratitude, grace and support. But there is an even greater danger than that of foolishly opposing our human leaders. What if we start to direct our complaints, blame and rebellion towards God? Are we angry with God for the circumstances he has allowed? 


Grief, fear, disappointment and even anger are all valid emotions in these difficult days, but we need to express them to God with an attitude of humility and trust. We do not understand why this is happening. We don’t see how it can be part of his good plan. But let us guard our hearts from complaining, blaming and rebelling against God. We made a decision to give our lives to Jesus, committing ourselves to his service in all circumstances. We belong to him, and he has the right to do with us as he sees fit. Where we are right now is where he has put us.


It would be the utmost in cluelessness to think that we know better than God what needs to happen next. If we’re going to be his followers, let’s make sure we are not clueless followers, but wise and humble followers who trust that no matter what, he is in control. Even if our human leaders make mistakes (and they surely will sometimes), that’s ok because we don’t put our hope in other people or organizations anyways. Our hope is in Christ, and by his grace he will help us not to be clueless, but to follow him with confidence and trust.



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"Grace in our Failures"

April 22, 2020 - A devotional by Jennifer Friesen

In last Sunday's sermon, Brian asked us to consider honestly "how we are doing" in the midst of this.


So I'll go first...I'm not doing so well. And I'm sure I'm not the only one. Is anyone else struggling with feelings of guilt and failure? 


I feel like I'm failing as a teacher, trying to "homeschool" my kids. I'm feel like I'm failing at my work, since I can't do many of the usual things I do as a pastor. I'm feel like I'm failing as a mom and a wife because I'd rather withdraw from my family than spend this extra time with them. And I feel like I'm failing at trusting God, because I'm overwhelmed, sad, and discouraged. I know I'm not actually a failure, but these days my feelings don't listen to logic. 


So where is my hope in the middle of this? It's found in one word: Grace.


An old acronym for grace is "God's Riches At Christ's Expense." Jesus gives us grace for all of our mistakes and weaknesses. He showers us with undeserved gifts, even when we fail. Especially when we fail!


The story of doubting Thomas in John 20:24-29 is a great example of this. (Go read it! I'll wait.)


Thomas failed to believe the good news that Christ was risen. His faith in Jesus' promises didn't hold in a time of fear and stress.


It would have been completely fair for the resurrected Christ only to appear to Mary, and expect the disciples to believe her. Why should he have to appear more than once to be believed?


But then he appeared to some of the other disciples. Again, it would have been completely fair for him to appear to just that small group, and expect Thomas to believe them.


But Jesus returned again, to the same room, just for Thomas! Rather than condemn him, he provided exactly what Thomas said he needed: another chance to see him and touch him. That's grace!


From the story of Thomas, I believe that Jesus, in his grace, will keep on showing up. He will keep showing up for you and for me during this time of isolation, no matter how unworthy we feel. He cares about each one of us individually. He will keep on giving undeserved gifts and meeting our failures with grace, because that's who he is!


When I list all the blessings in my life right now, they far outnumber the challenges. I've been given so many gifts: health, food, shelter, friends and family, employment, the beauty of springtime, etc....and God has given me these things even though I'm a mess. He doesn't wait for me to pull it together, he just gives. He just loves us.


What gifts of grace do you recognize in your life right now? 


Consider this quote from G.K. Chesterton: 


"Here dies another day

During which I have had eyes, ears, hands,

And the great world round me;

And with tomorrow begins another.

Why am I allowed two?"


I hope this reminds you how loved you are by God and how much grace he has given you. If you have a need, ask him to provide. Jesus promised that our Father in heaven would give good gifts to those who ask him (Matt. 7:11). He is gracious and compassionate. His grace is how I'm finding hope in the middle of this.


What about you? How have you seen his grace to you this week? Let me know in the comments!



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