A Skeleton outline for three talks:
To help us reach such a place in Christ, we will be loosely following the example of the prophet Elijah to explore many key principles that, God willing, will be principles that guide us for the whole of our life.
1) ‘The Lord before whom I stand’ (1 Kings 17:1)
Being fit for purpose means being sure of our relationship with the Lord. When Elijah burst upon the pages of history, bringing a strong challenge to the king, it was because he knew that he had received the commission of the Lord to do so. He announced himself to King Ahab as one who ‘stands before the Lord.’ (1 Kings 17:1). He was strong and secure in His position with the Lord. Before we serve we stand.
If we ask the question, ‘What made the
prophets prophets?’ the starting point is both the call of God and
ongoing friendship and communion with the Lord. We have looked at the
whole issue of commissioning in ‘The Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Spirit;
here we will focus more for a moment on the intimacy aspect.
3) Friendship with God. God called Abraham his friend, He walked with Moses, and He declared in John 15:15-17 that He no longer calls us servants but friends.
I no longer call you servants,
because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have
called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have
made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed
you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will
give you whatever you ask in my name.
Jesus eagerly desires fellowship with us, even more than we want it with Him.
4) Think of it from the Lord’s point of view. In the midst of so much spiritual indifference, in which even His own name is constantly taken in vain, how precious it is to Him to find a people who want to honour Him.
The enemy hates and fears such friendship, but God prizes it.
a) You can probably think of plenty of reasons why God might want to keep his distance from you. It is His nature to reach out to us, however. The goodness of the Lord is constantly reaching out to us. It honours God, and it will help us, if we dare to believe this!
5) The goodness of the Lord is always coming towards us
In the aftermath of the horrendous Rwandan massacres, the prisons were full – of prisoners singing their hearts out to the Lord who they have come to know and love.
i) For many years Saul persecuted David, chasing him out of the palace, throwing spears at him and forcing him to live like an outlaw – an early day Robin Hood. When the roles were reversed, and David was on the throne, he was more concerned to say, ‘Is there anyone else left in Saul’s family I can be kind to?’ (2 Sam. 9:3) than to wipe out his enemies. That’s the heart of the Lord towards us.
The goodness of the Lord is constantly coming
towards us. Again and again we will find Him prepared to act on our
behalf. (Exod. 33:19, Ps. 23:6, 31:19)
This in turn has knock on effects to encourage other people (cf Ps. 142:7)
God has made us so that, through coming to know Jesus, and the work of the Holy Spirit, we are capable of a full-blown relationship with our Heavenly Father. This will involve the whole of our heart, minds and emotions.
b) Wouldn’t it be dull if our conversation with our best friend was always one way? A relationship that is more monologue than dialogue is unbalanced. Prayer can become not endless soliloquy, but intimate friendship.
c) When God speaks, it is always strategic. He has purposes in mind; ways of helping us to prioritise our time and to sharpen our goals. What has He said to you, or shown you, recently?
d) He may also have specific things He wants to pass on to others. God told Elijah to do something really serious: to go and proclaim a drought on the land. (1 Kings 17:1)
What we do as both individuals
and nations matters greatly to God. There are consequences for ignoring
Him and going against His ways. The sins of Israel had reached a point
where God had no choice but to act in judgement against them: to do
something so radical that it would make them aware that they were
provoking heaven. The drought would give them the chance to repent.
Consult the Lord before
we act The old versions often exhort us to
‘hearken to the Lord.’ (eg Ex. 15:26) ‘Hearken’ is a
lovely word. It has within it the concept of obedience.
When the voice came from the cloud God said, ‘This is My beloved Son – listen to Him!’ (Matt. 17:5) (rather than just pray to Him).
· The Son does nothing on his own. He can do only what he sees the Father doing, and he does exactly what he sees the Father do. (John 5:19) I don't do anything on my own. I say only what my Father taught me. (John 8:28)
a) It is so important to consult the Lord before we act. It is an excellent principle to adopt. When we do seek to listen, it blesses God. The Church becomes prophetic and exciting rather than traditional and predictable.
b) Elijah would not have survived if he hadn’t done heard the Lord telling him what to do at each stage of his pilgrimage.
c) Knowing that Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel will try to do away with him, God tells Elijah to do something really wacky. ‘Go and hide by the brook Kerith. I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.’ (1 Kings 17:2-3)
· When the Spirit works more deeply in our hearts, we begin to see in a new way: God enables the ordinary to become extraordinary, He turns sight into insight. We will often glimpse something out of the corner of our eye, and then need to move in that direction. May the Lord help us to recognise the leadings and nudges God sends – even when they seem strange.
8) The sovereignty of God.
It is good to take special note in Scripture of the times when God speaks personally through His prophets. There is obviously a great deal we can learn from the prophetic books, (and they are so relevant to today) but many prophets 'turn up' through the pages of Scripture. He is the God of I AM and I WILL, the God of History, the God of first causes.
A prophetic life requires us to recognise something that is everywhere implicit in Scripture and now and again clearly spelt out: that God is utterly sovereign.
He is endlessly creative in taking the initiative. Who else would have thought of meals on ravens? Or of crossing the Red sea in the way that Moses did? You will see many examples of this in your life as you go on with Him.
God is also very careful in what He allows to come our way – though it often doesn’t feel that way.
He never has to say, “Whoops I got that bit wrong!”
He is the God who says ‘I am what I am, and I will do what I will do.’ We have free will – but He has even more of it!
a man just like us.
(James 5:17) That means he
must have had times of fighting loneliness, and fears, battling with the
‘but what ifs:’ “What happens if some trigger happy farmers shoot down the
ravens and they stop bringing me their stock of bread and meat? And where
are they finding all this food anyway?”
The Authority of God’s
Word. When you are going
through the mill, and the but-what-ifs are hitting hard, it can be worth
turning a Scripture upside down to see just how powerful His Word really is
the right way up. ‘Now may the devil of all discouragement.... fill you with
despondency and anxiety as you find yourself completely unable to trust in
him, with the result that you abound in hopelessness because there is no
power coming from the Holy Spirit!’ Now read Romans 15:13 to see it the
right way round.
Or try this one: ‘Now to Him who is quite unable to do anything like as much as you ask or imagine, due to the total lack of power that is at work within us. (Eph. 3:20)
Supernatural or unexpected leadings:
‘Go at once to Zarephath.’
(in Jezebels’ home territory). (1 Kings 17:9)
There are many forms of leading and guidance but only one Spirit. The principle is that guidance comes as and when it is needed. God honours those who give Him the chance to work!
The Lord promises to care for us (it is lovely to do a Bible study on the word ‘care for’ and ‘cared for.’ Now it was to be provision by ravens no longer, but rather living off the fat of a rich well-to-do widow. Right? No, quite definitely wrong!
Elijah found a woman using up the very last that she had. Elijah came through for her in the nick of time in order to let God come through for her. Otherwise she was just another statistic in the famine count.
God gave him the faith to declare that the small amount of flour and oil she still had left would not run out so long as the drought endured. (1 Kings 17:14) It reminds me of the small bottle of vital vitamins that Corrie Ten Boom saw miraculously never ran out in Ravensbruck concentration camp. Heidi Baker has witnessed many such miracles of food being miraculously replenished in order to feed the orphans she was caring for in Mozambique.
God out of the limelight. Elijah then had a completely different
challenge to adjust to: life away from the front line action. It must have
been puzzling to find himself so far away from all he felt called to do for
Solitude is not loneliness. There is all the difference between the solitude with God we come to prize, and the loneliness that we dread. The enemy would be missing a trick if he did not tell us that we were moon gazing – but it those who spend time in secret with God who are powerful in their service for Him.
Crises. Not that
Elijah’s time in Zarephath was entirely even paced and uneventful. When the
widow’s son suddenly died it provoked a great crisis. She suddenly lashes
out and blames him for ‘coming here to remind me of my sin.’ (1 Kings
17:7-8) I wonder what that referred to. Some old skeleton in the cupboard
faith was up the task –
even though now the roof
over his head was in jeopardy. Notice he prayed more than once. This is
often necessary. Notice that he stretched himself out three times on the
boy’s body. Soaking prayer, rather than just a one off command, is often
vital. May our faith likewise rise to the many challenges that we face in
the course of life.
The Stature of Waiting.
I want us now to consider the place that waiting occupies
in Elijah’s life, first at Kerith and then in Zarephath, and to see what a
central place waiting plays in all of our lives.
· We may be having the ‘Mid-Vision Blues:’ in which case it may feel for all the world as though there is no God.
· God often births vision and projects with an initial rush of exciting signs and confirmations. At some later point, however, everything goes strangely quiet. The temptation to conclude that you have got it all wrong and that you should therefore backtrack.
· Our experience of God will vary hugely from day to day, and from season to season. Some days will be fog-bound, while others are radiant. This is normal. God can do as much in the darkness as is in the light.
· Maturity lies in trusting that God is just the same in the darkness as when you were able to see. Try not to backtrack. A simple piece of advice: ‘Don’t go back in the darkness on what you heard in the light.’
· God knows when to call us back into action. A long time later, in the third year he told Elijah it was time to go and meet Ahab again. He is Lord of the times and seasons in our lives.
15) When God calls one, He usually calls others too.
God is into raising up teams. Rugged individualism, where everyone does what is right in their own eyes, can ruin everything. Because of the unusual circumstances, however, Elijah had to make do with whoever he could find: in this case it was Obadiah.
· Obadiah (1 Kings 18:1-16) was a reluctant partner, but a man who had been doing good behind the scenes for the Lord, hiding the prophets of God’ to protect them from Jezebel’s zeal against God.
· When times are tough there are complex issues to face: ‘Do you toe the party line (and go along with whatever Ahab is demanding) or do you join the French resistance?’ It was really tough for Obadiah to decide whether he was prepared to help Elijah because it jeopardised his already precarious position. Mercifully, he did just enough to bring about God’s purposes.
16) The most important partnership of all. Here’s a question many of you will be facing, ‘Who do you partner with marriage-wise?’
A broken engagement is a lesser sin in God’s sight than a marriage that doesn’t tick. If you marry someone who isn’t in the Lord just to get a partner, you will always be limping spiritually. You really need to know that God has ‘cleared’ the relationship.
· If I can make a suggestion, look for someone who is easy on the ear as well as on the eye: you will be hearing their voice a great deal. Remember too that God works by complimentary gifting rather than thinking alike on every point. Some people are just plain incompatible, but others the Lord delights to weave by their differentness. As Dad said at our wedding, ‘like a pair of antiques, more precious as a pair.’
· Don’t jump guns physically!
Combine prayer and work without
confusing the two. Obadiah was a believer in a
tough place: he was working for Ahab! Pray for Christians who are called to
work in hard places: it is great to get behind them in prayer.
The Lord said to Moses,
"Why do you keep calling out to me for help? Tell the Israelites to move
forward. Then stretch out your staff over the sea. The water will open up
and make a road where they can walk through on dry ground. (Exod. 4:15-16).
· The king asked, "What do you want me to do?" I prayed to the God who rules from heaven . . . But we kept on praying to our God, and we also stationed guards day and night. (Neh. 2:4-5,9)
18) There is a time to be forthright. Elijah did not shrink from telling Ahab what he had done. (You are the one who is troubling the nation, 1 Kings 18:18). He then called a summit meeting of the prophets and challenged the nation to choose between God and Baal.
down from the Lord.
Fire normally goes up! This
was supernatural stuff and it led to a complete revolution in the nation’s
lifestyle. The defeated prophets of Baal were done away with. Nothing less
radical would have turned the nation back towards God.
Lead such lives that
God can answer your prayers.
There is a real need for
exercising authority in prayer.
Let me take you back to a Soviet concentration camp. A slip of paper was
smuggled out saying, ‘Yes our main need is for prayer – but lead such lives
that that God can answer your prayers!’
discipline would be like a river without banks.’
Real intimacy is not casual. It requires
quality time. Cultivate a lifestyle that helps you to hear the Lord. (Jer.
22) Imitate the lifestyle of Jesus who was always seeking to spend time with His Father. Mark 1:35
a) When did He do it? Early in the morning: ie at a quiet uninterrupted time. Early rising was the price to pay in the Middle East for solitude.
Specifically before making major decisions or going through particularly hard tasks: eg before choosing the twelve disciples and again in Gethsemane before facing the Cross.
b) Where did He do it? Certainly He did it as He walked along, in communion with his Father all the time and for special needs as they presented themselves to Him. But it seems to be especially in lonely places that He met with His Father.
c) It's an interesting thought that the place of prayer in Scripture often seems to be elevated above the everyday world: eg on a mountaintop, up in the Temple or wherever. Make ‘trysting places’ where you meet with the Lord.
23) How did Elijah know he had the authority to pray down the fire of God? This is a matter of experience. Learn to sense when the power of God is present in a special way to heal, as it was for Jesus. But sometime God takes us by surprise: we pray with little faith and something happens; we pray with much faith and nothing appears to do so. The important thing is to give matters to the Lord – but to be careful not to pray down the wrong kind of fire on people and places! (Luke 9:54-55)
24) Prayer: The Ministry of Heaven. Elijah put his head between his hands. (1 Kings 18:42) What was he doing? He was entering the ministry of Heaven – prayer!
There are very explicit instructions in the Bible to pray. E.g. Jer. 33:3, Matt. 7:7, 21:22, 18:19
In the Acts of the Apostles we find the disciples always on their way to or from a place of prayer. It’s the very best habit to get into.
If Jesus spent much time in prayer, then so must we. Many things will not change by mere well wishing or by simple and polite prayers about situations.
· Whitefield spent whole night prostrate in prayer. Luther declared, ‘If I rest I rust; I am so busy I must spend two to three hours a day in prayer.’ Thus it has always been with the great evangelists: they have not been lured from the secret place with God in order to focus on ‘their’ ministry.
25) God builds safeguards into the power of prayer.
People want something for nothing. ‘Come on, God, if you want us to serve you, you’ve got to give us give us something.’ The language used to describe the prodigal son has something to teach us here. He began by saying, ‘Give me my share of the property, my inheritance.’ (Luke 15:12) All the emphasis is on his desire to get. By the end of the humbling process he goes through he says, ‘make me as one of my father’s hired workers.’ (Luke 15:19)
· The Lord’s process with us takes us beyond the ‘Give me’ mentality to ‘Lord make me’. There is another stage beyond this, and that is to say, ‘Lord use me.’ Some want God to use them before He has made them, whilst He is quite prepared to use others whilst they are still in training.
26) Mistakes. We learn by making mistakes, for example when we think we have authority but actually we are only moving in presumption! No one graduates in the school of listening without making major mistakes. Don’t be afraid of making them.
· Yet we should certainly take notice of them and learn from them. Others may be hurt and affected by them – and they may be pointing to something major that is out of balance in our lives.
· Words have power – for good or otherwise. The Bible has a lot to say about this. Words once spoken can’t be taken back.
· Be especially careful if your leading flaunts common sense. Although much of God’s leading certainly does appear initially to be ‘illogical,’ the fact is that many have made a shipwreck of situations by supposing common sense to be unspiritual. In some cases, we are at great risk of being taken captive by subtle pride. The devil can delude; we are deceived if we think he cannot.
· It is always worth checking our track record. We may discover that we are much better at hearing in some areas than others.
· Speaking something out loud often serves to strengthen or weaken it. Ideas often sound good in the head, until we speak it our loud. Many daft ideas I have had have never got out of the house, because Ros either quietly eliminates them for me, or adjusts their timescale.
· When God shows us something, it’s much harder thank you think to remember what He said two days or two weeks later. We think at the time, ‘I’ll never forget that,’ but when you are 40, you are unlikely to remember what God said to you this weekend – unless you make a note of what He says to you – in easily retrievable form. It could prove be really useful!
· In evangelistic terms – God uses what is sown. People remember what we say: so we need to say it!
27) What stops prayer from being answered? If we cherish wrong thinking in our hearts and wrong lifestyle, He won’t answer our prayers. Ps. 66:18, cf Isaiah. 1:15
· If we are harbouring unforgiveness in our hearts, all the power will gradually leak out. It may only be in one area of our life but it will gradually reach out and contaminate other areas of our life, like a virus on a computer disk.
For an electric ring to stop working, the power only has to break at any one point for the contact to be broken. It is dangerous when electric lines get damaged. There is only one letter difference between to repent and to resent.
28) Praying to prophets of Baal: When people’s prayers drift off course. So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. (1 Kings 18:28)
devil hath the power to assume a pleasing shape.’ (Shakespeare)
The fact that someone is pious or length in his prayers doesn’t mean he is necessarily on track. If you are praying to an idol, God will answer you in keeping with your idolatry.
Tell the people of Israel that if they sin by worshiping idols and then go to a prophet to find out what I say, I will give them the answer their sins deserve. (Ezek. 14:4) (In other words, ‘I will answer them in keeping with their idolatry’).
Part Two: Elijah on the Run
‘Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.’ (1 Kings 19:1-3)
It is common to have a downer after something spiritually significant has happened. Let’s have a look at some of the causes. Relationship breakdowns do so much to knock the stuffing out of you. Bless the Lord if you have never experienced such a thing, but the work of the spirits of division, playing on our desire to be right, and our immaturity can cause havoc. But we can learn through what we suffer in this and become more wise and more gentle.
1) What's the point, it will all go wrong again! How can I get on and do anything useful for the kingdom when x is just watching and ready to do me down again!
2) Satan aims to get Christians mistrusting each other and looking more at each other than at Him – or at the work that needs doing. Don’t bow to that spirit!
3) There is nothing more precious to God than a couple, a family, a fellowship, a prayer partnership that is seeking His face. So of course it comes under attack.
· The fact that so few Christians pray together in marriage even about big issues let alone small ones is an illustration of just how much the enemy has attacked us in this realm, and how far we have succumbed. If Satan works hard to stop us praying individually, then he works still harder to try to stop us praying corporately.
4) Elijah had had enough. Under the intense pressure, Elijah prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, Lord," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
Before anyone criticizes Elijah, it’s fair to say that we haven’t been through what he had been through. He had been under huge tension for years. He’s just had the biggest battle of his life, no food or drink, and now his faith collapsed.
· The enemy uses a sense of failure to try to knock you out of the battle. (It often comes hard on the heels of some failure in relationships).
Elijah wanted out from circumstances that felt too tough, and from challenging vested interests. We need a break from the soul face to be sure, but don’t let the sheer extent of the suffering the world, and the knowledge that we have from the Bible that there are tough times coming on the world make you defeatist. Evil may be strengthening in many ways, but so too is the work of the Kingdom. It will be so right until the end of the age, when the angels will separate the wheat from the tares.
5) Many Christians are feeling disappointed. Various things they had hoped and longed for simply do not appear to be coming to pass. The sense of disappointment can be crippling: 'we've tried that before and it didn't work. We didn't get very far.'
· We must be so careful not to allow the power of disappointment lead to lead to cynicism. Disappointment leads to a vicious spiral: from there it goes into discouragement – the most insidious of all temptations – and from there it can progress to bitterness or self pity before plunging the soul into still deeper trouble.
· Sometimes an apparent failure is just a prelude to the ‘real thing’ happening. A sort of dummy run.
· Cry out to God for Him to find ways to turn our disappointments into His appointments before plunging down into discouragement and ultimate despair or cynicism. It takes strong trust as well as faith to do this.
· Praise is the best resource we have for doing this. The more we praise God, even for the things we are finding excruciatingly hard, the more it releases His power into situations, and the less power these things have over us.
Praise keeps our focus
on God so that we do not inadvertently practise the presence of evil.
7) God uses failures! The good news is that God does much of His best work through people who are aware of their failures. Jesus said, ‘Let nothing be wasted’. (John 6:12)
· The great preachers Moody and Billy Graham were both forbidden to preach at seminary. Moody was told that he would never amount to anything much, and Billy Graham was told he wasn’t suited to front line work like preaching.
Just think how much would have been lost to the Kingdom if they had allowed that rejection to crush them forever! Failure is rarely final unless we let it be.
8) Restoration. How did God set about restoring His bruised and battered servant? By giving him food and rest. We can cope with almost anything if we have food and sleep. Never get in the way of thinking that one or the other don’t matter. We need to watch both our bodily and our spiritual life. The two are more closely connected than many realize.
9) God sends angels to aid us in His missions. Look at the means God uses to rescue Elijah. He sends an angel to him. Angels can go where no human being can. They are not limited in any way. They are God’s ministering angels ‘sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.’ (Heb. 1:14)
· For any mission we are on for God, He will send angels to strengthen us. Their assistance is often vital.
You are just about to attempt
something for the Lord and you are suddenly reminded that nothing much
happened last time you tried this. Whilst this might occasionally be a call
to try something a different way, the chances are that it is the enemy
trying to stop you in your tracks. You never know what will happen if you
11) God rewards the persistent. Heidi Baker set out to pray for the blind, and on dozens of occasions when she did so, nothing happened. Finally at long last the breakthrough happened and one person was healed of blindness. That opened the floodgate for many more. This is the principle of the breakthrough: the God who breaks right through.
· John Wimber and Jackie Pullinger likewise had to pray for years for John before he saw the terminally sick healed and for Jackie to see people set free of drug addiction.
There was only too much opportunity in the intervening years to conclude that God wasn’t calling them to this ministry! It felt that way for Elijah at this time. What’s the point of going on: Jezebel and Ahab are still on their throne: nothing’s really changed. It had – but he was too depressed at the time to realise it.
‘Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’ (Rom 12:11)
Morale and expectations
are all-important. When you
find yourselves thinking and feeling, ‘I'm sure it will all end up badly: my
last group did!’ catch yourself. God is not in the business of letting you
down. Pray about it with someone else.
Remember the revised
Heineken principle: ‘The
prayers of others can reach the parts our own cannot.’
If our morale has been
sapped by the increasingly
strong secular challenges to the faith (the sneering of newspapers, and the
challenge of postmodernist humanism, where man is depicted as being the
centre of the universe who must make his own way through life because there
is no omnipotent omnipresent God) then get back to the God of first
causes. He is the Sovereign Lord, and Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of
4) The Lord wasn’t ready to plunge Elijah back into the fray. Why? Because because He knew he wasn’t ready! He sent Elijah instead to Mount Horeb: a mountain steeped in associations with the presence of God. He wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on in His servant’s heart and tease it our of him. On two occasions He asked, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah.’
What the Lord discovered was that Elijah was somwhat self righteously taken up with his own achievements. ‘I’ve been doing this that and the other.’ The focus was definitely more on self than on God. May this not be true for us too.
A powerful encounter.
The Lord said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the
LORD, for the Lord is about to pass by." Elijah witnessed powerful and
terrifying demonstrations of wind, earthquake and fire – all thoroughly
biblical symbols, about which many of us need to know more. The wind that is
a winnowing cleansing work amongst the people of God rather than a
comforting zephyr. The Refiner’s fire which purges us of impurity. The
shaking of all things that an earthquake represents, which is happening at
all levels of church and society.
But this tough rugged prophet already knew the God of Wind Earthquake and Fire: what he really needed was a more intimate touch – the still small voice that spoke of God’s intimate presence with him. This is what really touches our heart.
13) Fresh commissions. God then gave Elijah specific commands, to appoint Hazael as king over Aram and Jehu as king of Israel. This shows God’s concern for the nations. He wants us to share His heart for the nations.
· There has been a subtle privatization of the faith. It is so important to think globally., Let God give you professions and even nations to pray for. If that feels too daunting a task, start by praying for indiifvudlas in that group, and then going out wider from there.
· God then called him to appoint his own successor. Any church or movement that isn’t thinking of the next generation is selfish. Whereas Saul had persecuted his successor, David, Elijah would do all he could to mentor and prepare his successor Elisha, who would do twice as many miracles as he had done, and whose ministry would last twice as long.
· Desire others to go further than you have done. There was no envy or resentment in Elijah that another would go further than he himself had done. In terms of relationships, preventative action is always best: get in the habit of blessing one another.
· The role of Mentors. Elisha was blessed to have Elijah as his mentor. Jesus didn't just say 'You'll pick up prayer as you go along and stick around me - He taught them.' We learn much by being in the presence of people for whom prayer is the air that they breathe.
· Who do you share your heart with? Every one of us needs such a person.
A few years ago my daughter said to me, ‘I’m so glad I decided to receive from you, Dad.’ That conscious decision has enabled us to enjoy heart to heart prayer and fellowship together.
14) It's good to ask the Lord questions. We are His friends and we can always ask Him. It may be that He is not ready to answer, or we are not mature enough to understand, and only time will give the answer but that’s fine: keep the file open and expect Him to answer one way or another.
a) When you are stuck on an issue, it is good sometimes to ask loaded questions. Lord, is there any reason why I shouldn’t do this? He will warn us if we are in danger of going off course.
15) The prayer of relinquishment. Although we are called to be active in faith, there is also a time to yield. Don’t live with your hands knotted up – it hurts when God has to prise our fingers open. Knowing when to hold on in faith, and when to yield is a matter of discernment and experience.
16) God is training our hands for warfare (Psalm 144:1). Because prophets deal with heavy burdens they have to do so with a sensitive touch. This requires real training. This is what we are going to be looking at.
17) Summoning reinforcements in prayer. But let's not go the other way and forget that the enemy is strategic as well as horrible. He lies in wait like a serpent in the grass looking to strike any loose heels there are about to strike. There are highly damaging physical and emotional as well as spiritual assaults made on the lives of Christians and it would be ridiculous to pretend otherwise.
18) Prayer as a Strategy. Prayer is so important that we need to look on it as a strategy rather than just something spontaneous. How good are we are recognising the need to round up the level of support we need for a particular project? Know when to throw the reserve battalions in!
a) This means we need to have lines of communication in place before we need them.
b) It is easier to ask prayer for specific events than for general health and strength – but that may be when we most need prayer!
19) Overcoming fear. It was fear that caused Elijah to run away. The devil is the author of fear, both in individual lives and through the oppressive regimes that oppress whole nations and even groups of nations. Don't forget that millions live in countries where they cannot hear the gospel openly.
20) What is the devil is angling for? Through the pressure and trouble that the enemy sends, he is hoping that fear may set in and that we will agree to a subconcious pact: effectively, that he won't trouble us if we will only stop troubling him. Don’t give in to such temptations!
21) Spiritual opposition. When Daniel was praying for breakthrough for his people, the prayer was answered immediately in heaven, but not on earth (Dan. 10:12). Why the delay? The enemy withstood him, is it any wonder that we too are often withstood?
· One reason some lose heart is because they attribute to God things that actually come from the devil. If we think it is God opposing and withstanding us, is it any wonder that we lose our inclination to pray? We feel that God Himself has scuppered us. Although the Lord is sometimes withstanding us, because what we are trying to do is simply wrong, too dangerous or premature, it is often the case that we are being withstood.
a) We must fight through. Many visions never see the light of day because we do not push on and bash through. We give up praying too soon. We are specifically told in Scripture that we should RESIST the devil. He is a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour – and we must learn to recognise the times when he comes knocking up against our door.
b) Recognise when there really is satanic opposition, and when we are too quick to put the blame on the enemy. One cartoon depicts satan crying, because ‘these Christians always blame me for everything!’
c) Recognise the ways in which Satan attacks. When Satan attacks a church or organisation it's rarely by the front door initially. That would often lead to a tightening of the ranks and to immediate spiritual retaliation. He works around the edges, maybe trying to lull us into a false sense of security or to distract us with a seemingly endless series of diversionary problems. Keep alert and awake.
I would highly recommend Tom Marshall’s excellent book Understanding Leadership (Sovereign World) and particularly the chapter ‘Meet the corporation’ for an explanation as to how satanic forces can become entrenched in organisations.
d) Spirits of Division The way most splits occur in churches and movements is that he focuses on some weak link somewhere in the system, gains an entry point into someone's thinking and then through gossip, misrepresentation or suspicion drives wedges that do incalculable damage. This is utterly damaging spiritual warfare and we must do everything we cannot to do Satan's work for him. Yes, we too can do it – it's not just other people!
· Spiritual ‘plants.’ Satan sends plants into fellowships and into prayer groups, to try to lead people into red herrings or even to take them over altogether. These things do not get better by remaining unaddressed Beware anyone who is constantly denigrating other people, or setting themselves ever up as being superior. They are the least likely to be authentic. Honesty, by contrast, can cure almost anything.
e) Power going to the head. Elijah was able to thrive on both Carmel and at in the widow’s home at Zarephath. But Satan is always trying to intoxicate people with an attraction to power and wealth – and spiritual power is no exception. It can be a heady matter. There are a small handful of people who try to make a niche and a name for themselves in the whole realm of prayer and spiritual warfare as a way of not having to face up to harder challenges at home or elsewhere in their lives. This is not healthy.
22) Honesty and Humility counteract Satan’s plans. Humility and a willingness to serve are a powerful antidote to the enemy’s work and will enable us to do the Lord’s work safely. There is great strength in gentleness: (which is strength that is tamed and harness rather than weakness).
23) Not every obstacle is of the devil. God may be in the hindrances! Paul wanted to go and preach the gospel in Spain but Satan prevented him. If Paul was prevented is it any wonder that we are too? But he didn't give up because of it, any more than Daniel stopped praying because the heavens felt like brass for twenty one long days!
· Look how God turned this around for good –far more good in fact than if Paul had reached the Iberian peninsula. In some amazing way, God may be far more at work in the things that hinder us than we realize at the time. (cf Rom. 15:22)
24) Prophets are the eyes of the Body of Christ. Throughout Scripture we see intercessors and prophets raising warnings and setting the direction for the Body of Christ. Moses was told in Numbers 10 to make two silver trumpets. Of these two original trumpets, one was for calling the assembly together and one to be sounded for moving the camp on – often calling them into battle. In Revelation chapters 8-12 all these climactic events result from the sounding of the seventh trumpet, which happens as a result of the prayers of God's saints.
· The shofar is mentioned 72 times in Scripture, and it is often used in connection with prayer, when watchmen, who look out and see dangers that others do not see report back to the camp. The sound of the trumpet is compared in Ezekiel 33:2-9 with the voice of the prophet.
25) The battle for the West is very much on! If the threat against marriages is hideously obvious, there are many other difficulties being targeted against Christians today. Much of this is coming in the form of legal constraints and restrictions: this is an area to be particularly watchful in.
26) It also affects the whole world of work. One particularly obvious trend that is developing is to accuse Christians of being narrow-minded. It is a dangerous attack, made the worse for having some basis in reality in certain cases! We are often our own worst enemies. ‘It is so important not to major on minors!’
The battle about wearing crosses is just a small part of this but a real sign of it. In a memo leaked from a central meeting, the BBC has recently admitted to an inherent prejudice against Christianity. It would be prepared to show a Bible being burned – but not a Koran.
27) Persecution and the future of our nation. When Ahab and Jezebels’ persecution devastated the godly in the land, it is not easy to see that it strengthened the believers. People often say, rather glibly, that what we need is a good dose of persecution. It is by no means automatically a good thing. Recent experiences in Nepal show that persecution has fragmented the church into factions: ‘those who collaborated and those who did not,’ rather as it was in France and Belgium in the aftermath of the Second World War. May God give us fervour and dedication without necessarily the same stimulus.
· Pray for the freedom of this country to be protected and that very many good things many happen in our country and go out from this country to the rest of the world. In other words, we're praying for mercy and we're longing for revival. But Brother Andrew warns us that there are only two kinds of countries those that say, ‘it can’t happen here, and those that say, we thought it couldn’t happen here.’ This is a huge call to be prayerful and involved.
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people (Pvbs. 14:34); 'Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted. (Pvbs. 11:11)
28) Be prepared to pray and act wider as God leads you. God has given us mighty weapons of faith; we must use them. But remember, He may use us to be the answer to some of our own prayers.
Pray for the spontaneous revelation of God to many people – but don't look to that as an excuse for not doing our part in seeking to make Him known!
‘I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.’ (Philemon 1:5)
In times of crisis people are more open to the Lord. During both the World Wars, and again during the Falkands War crisis, many soldiers started reading their Bibles. There are few atheists on the eve of a battle! God is shaking many loose from their self-centredness; may His people be on hand to point them in the right direction.
29) Do you know what burdens the Lord wants you to carry? Who are you seeking to pray through to salvation? What professions / regions / countries do you feel called to cover in prayer and to be watchmen for?
30) God is into participatory church! Do you give space for God to work in your midst? Don’t preprogram every minute of your meetings and services. I love to end seminars with question times. This makes sure that what I have been teaching itches where it scratches, and addresses people’s real concerns, rather than just firing off presentations and insights in the hope that people will feel well watered as the result of sitting under the general spray.
31) Many are fed up with sitting on their butts. The devil has long worked to convince many people that they are the wrong sex to contribute in public, or that they are too old or too young for their contribution to be taken seriously. This leaves only a few strong bucks around – and they may be more than happy for things to continue like this. This is not how the Lord wants things to be.
32) Applying truth. Too many fellowship meetings stumble by in platitudes and generalities, or teaching which, though true in itself, leaves people’s real needs unmet, and their prophetic abilities on hold. 17+15 does = 32, but it is not exactly stunningly relevant to most people’s immediate situations. No wonder that the more spiritually attuned become reluctant to devote precious time out to something that neither meets their personal needs or enables them to make any significant contribution. Releasing full-scale participation is vital.
33) When my people are one: I will do great wonders in your midst. Christians who are greedy for power and competitive hinder the work of Christ more than almost anyone else. We can save ourselves so much pain if we can relax in the fact that the gifts of one are for the benefit of all.
· When people told Moses that other elders were busy prophesying, thinking he might be jealous or rebuke them, he was delighted: "Are you concerned what this might do to me? I wish the Lord would give His Spirit to all His people so everyone could be a prophet." (Numbers 11:29)
· Where there is pride, the Lord will find ways to humble us. He cannot but resist the proud and give grace to the humble.
34) Many of God’s finest servants were and are intercessors. Moses, Samuel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel . . . God gives authority in the place of prayer. He is looking for people He can trust to wrestle and prevail in prayer. People who will overcome the excuses and get stuck into prayer, but who will avoid the traps of the profession and not allow themselves to become judgmental by mistaking their own prejudices for discernment. All they desire is to see the Lord glorified.
35) We're back with the thought of loud tears and cries. With persistence comes not just gritted teeth, but divine boldness. Not the cheekiness of irreverence, but the confidence of those who know that they stand before the Lord of heaven's armies. Dare to use the verses of Scripture in spiritual warfare, and remind God of His promises. This is the hallmark of the great Biblical intercessors.
36) Prayer and worship should flow together. God wants our prayer life to be exciting, varied, a living relationship. In all too many prayer meetings you could play a tape and hear last week's prayer meeting all over again! You need a prayer meting to get over the prayer meeting. Experiment with different forms.
· Pray to be quick to use the opportunities that we have. God will give us opportunities to pray with people, even with non-christians. Loads of opportunities present themselves in the course of life: it's often as simple and as challenging as saying ‘Let's pray together.’
37) Misunderstanding As surely as the king misunderstood Elijah, so none of us will go very far in the kingdom of God without being seriously misunderstood or misrepresented. It is important to let God do the vindicating – but sometimes, a word of explanation is all that is required to right a misconception.
types of wilderness
Normally, if God feels distant, guess which one of us has moved? But, as we shall be seeing, there are different types of wilderness:
‘ I cannot find God anywhere, in front or back of me.’ (Job 23:8)
39) Wilderness of Sin
No one can be right with God and wrong with men. Everyone thinks forgiveness is a good thing until we have something big to forgive.
Unforgiveness and discrimination separate us from His closeness.
If I can share something rather shocking with you, prayer can be either heavenly, or devilish. Just as heaven is very close at hand, so too are our dominant desires.
The fact is that we organize our life, and direct our actions, in line with our dominant desires. These dominant desires tend to be fulfilled. ‘Beware what you set your heart on, for it will be yours,’ Amy Carmichael counsels.
‘If you have a thing in mind, it is not long before you have it in hand.’ (John Burroughs).
The way out of this wilderness lies through repentance and doing whatever it takes to put things right. Here’s a hint: it is impossible to hate someone you are praying for.
God is not deceived.
II) Wilderness of the devil’s making
If the Lord is asking us to do something, you can be sure the enemy will try to divert us into something less good, or even diametrically opposite what the Lord is asking of us.
Through some event, accident or attack the powers of darkness try to get us to take the wrong way and to get bogged down in something not of God.
The way out of this wilderness is to resist the devil and he will flee from you.
III) Wilderness of testing and preparation
God allows us to go through certain difficulties because He knows that it will make us more serious about wanting to go His way. Aren’t you glad cars are MOT’d?
There is a theory practice gap for most of us, between our expectations and our daily reality. Anything that can narrow this gap is to be welcomed. It doesn’t happen by magic. Normally, it happens because we take seeking God seriously, (that’s our part) just as He takes meeting our needs and shaping our heart and character seriously. (That’s His part).
Remember: Jesus was first filled with the Spirit, (Luke 4:1) then led into the desert to be tested by the devil (4:2). He then emerged from the desert in the power of the Spirit (4:14). The sequence is significant.
What was being tested? Whether there was anything in Jesus that would allow Him to be driven from His course and to accept a shortcut, an easier way, and a more selfish way to fulfil His destiny. The truth is of course that if He had accepted those wrong ways, He would not have reached His destiny.
Often, we think we are strong when, in reality, we are simply untested.
This is why the Lord often allows a messenger of Satan to buffet us – to keep us humble and to drive us to pray that He may make us more in His image. 2 Cor 12:7-9
Incidentally, so far as we know, Paul’s ‘thorn’ was never removed. For the rest of his life he was compelled ‘to make the best of it, and to let it make the best of him.’ 2 Cor. 12:9
Some tests are universal, but God leads and tests us individually; where we fail in one respect, we are likely to be given a second chance again later. Expect to meet certain situations again second time round.
May the Lord help us to recognise those impulses that come into our heart which are temptations. These things have much less chance of controlling us if we are quick to identify them and to walk in the opposite spirit.
There are times, though, when we may feel so distant from God that it seems as though He has turned against us. Listen to these words from Job.
‘I beg God for help, but there is no answer; and when I stand up, he simply stares.
God has turned brutal, stirring up a windstorm to toss me about.’ (Job 30:20-22)
Have you ever felt like that? It’s part of the Christian experience, but it can feel very disconcerting, not least because all the usual markers, the ways by which God leads us, appear to have been taken away. Everything is being stripped away – but this is because He wants us to trust only in Him.
Hab. 1:2: Our LORD, how long must I beg for your help before you listen? How long before you save us from all this violence?
Lam. 3:44 You are behind a wall of clouds that blocks out our prayers. (CEV)
If you feel that the heavens are like brass, don’t be put off: push on and push through.
As you consider these different types, you can see how unhelpful it would be to rebuke Satan if what is actually needed is repentance on the one hand or perseverance on the other. The right diagnosis is all-important! With these different types of wilderness, get the diagnosis wrong, and everything becomes uncomfortable!
Part Three: Prophetic School
Most commonly, the Lord gives His word through His word – but sometimes through some prophetic communication.
1) Prophecy is very important for the Church. Sadly, it is also very easily abused. Even though God does reveal future events through it, prophecy is not primarily about foretelling future events. That would be dangerously akin to divination. At all times, Word and Spirit must go together.
situation that we face, God has a promise in His Word.
The more these promises live
in our hearts, the more faith we will have and the greater the threat we
pose to the powers of darkness. No wonder they do all they can to make it
difficult for us to understand what God is saying. They know full well that
once we identify God’s strategy – and challenge theirs – we
are well on the way to being able to thwart and overcome their strategy.
3) Without building a theology around them, Frank Peretti’s novels (This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, Monarch) contain poignant examples of how the powers of darkness pepper our minds with all manner of distractions distortions, aspersions, red herrings and self-doubts – not to mention full-scale gales of accusations against other Christians. The books are a timely reminder of the way the Holy Spirit actively prompts us to pray – and of how important it is for us to heed these nudges. May we be alert to overcome all the devil’s efforts to undermine our position in Christ and to scramble our lines of communication!
When prophecy does relate to future matters, we have to be particularly careful.
· Armenian Christians were told to flee Turkey near the start of the twentieth century. Those who did so were blessed; those who remained were killed.
· Danish Christians in 2nd World War were told to be out of a town on a particular day – which was when the Gestapo raided.
· We were told to go and buy our own house – it was perfect timing, and helped us to do something we would not have done without that impetus. It proved essential!
3) The character of the prophet. In such examples, much surely depends upon the character of the person: not that anyone is infallible, or that God can't speak through anyone.
4) Presentation. A great deal depends upon how we phrase things to people. Knowing how to respond is a separate art from hearing a word in the first place. David du Plessis’ ‘rule’ about giving words to other people is not to give words to people on their own (hole in a corner stuff) but rather in the presence of people who already know them well. This makes it easier for the person to endorse or reject the word.
5) Don't be afraid to backtrack when you have got something wrong. Be honest, don’t exaggerate and be prepared to repent.
A word from the Lord is not a word from the Lord until it is tested. All things must be tested.
Expect several strands of guidance to line up. As a rule of thumb, if three of the following line up, we may be on course to say that something is a word from the Lord.
i) An inner witness. (Peace the Umpire)
ii) Specific leadings (eg prophecies, visions)
iii) The witness of the Word of God (don’t kid yourself with this!)
iv) The external witness of mature Christians.
v) The opening or shutting of circumstances (Circumstances are the ultimate arbiter of many situations, but to leave it all to that can often be lazy).
6) Roots and Causes
There are often reasons behind the things that happen eg 2 Sam. 21:1-14. Habakkuk 1, cf Jer. 25 – and God is prepared to share them with his people. ‘The Lord confides in those who fears Him. He takes the upright into His confidence.’ (Ps. 25:14; Pvbs 3:32,).
7) Integrate worship and intercession. 'With us in Scotland the great thing is the sermon; but today it is different, the great thing now is prayer.' (Written a hundred years ago).
We need flexibility in our church structures and in our personal lives. Some churches don't make any space for intercession at all in their Sunday services).
Blend worship and intercession. To do this is to enter the heavenly realms where Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us.
8) Music can still our soul to hear the Lord. When Kings Jehoshaphat and Jehoram were on a military expedition against Moab they got themselves into an awful pickle and turned to the prophet Elisha for help. His first reaction was not to deploy the cavalry on the left flank but to send for a harpist! (2 K. 3:15f). The Lord gave a remarkable prophetic utterance that rescued the situation.
Jehoshaphat had seen something like this before, of course, in the remarkable deliverance from advancing armies in 2 Chron. 20, when again music had played a vital part, as he sent the singers on at the head of his army.
· There is special power when believers meet together in unity. It is important to get together in order to seek His face for big things. Norwegians harness the power of water to make hydro electricity, and we must harness the power of being together for the sake of God’s Kingdom. I'm always very conscious of what Derek Prince said, ‘Don't let people squander My presence in self-blessing, as Pentecostals have done so often in the past: Harness the power that is in this meeting to pray for the future of Kenya.’
· The Lord Jesus sought His Father with loud cries and tears. (Heb. 5:7) There was urgency. There was persistence and importunity. (The word used in the Luke 11 parable = shamelessness.) Jesus taught us to pray with persistence because this is can be powerful. We should not stop praying in the face of apparent dead ends. In these parables, God was specifically drawing parallels and contrasts between His utter willingness to give and man's reluctance to do so.
10) No is a perfectly good answer from God.
If God granted we asked of Him it would crush both what we want and what He wants. Praise God for His “No’s”!
pray for peace if danger threatens, but still hold on to all those racial or
national prejudices that make for war and strife. It can be a long way to
take a prayer topic from head to heart.
But I would say this: the promise of God is that everyone desiring to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Don't be surprised at the pressure. We are all in it together, though the pressure obviously differs from one person to another, and from one culture to another.
11) Satan understands the power of prayer better than we do. He would much prefer to get us looking sideways, feeling that everyone else's prayers are very much more effective than our own, that we are nothing and so on. Or, for some, that we are the tops and that other people haven’t got half of what we’ve got. Both are equally wrong.
12) Testing and Timing
So many of our problems in guidance are to do with the timescale. His purposes dovetail in with GMT, but they originate in eternity, which operates outside of time.
A call may not be the commission: God calls once and then He calls again.
1. The angle of our prayer is all important. We may not be fully sensing the Lord's direction in prayer. We may not be catching the thermals! Often it helps to come from praise; it reminds us that we are fighting from victory rather than for victory, and that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places.
2. Learn to recognise the ways in which God meets you. Especially learn to sense his Yea or Nay.
3. Remember that the way God speaks to you is usually in keeping with your character: by no means automatically 'audible' hearing. Jeremiah was very different from Hosea. But both heard the Lord.
4. I’m going to take you back now to the early church in Antioch. Acts 13: one word from God releases so much.
5. Dreams. Visions. Indirect speech.
13) Let no word from the Lord fall to the ground.
Knowing what to do with what we have heard is quite different from receiving it in the first place.
Many words need praying through, passionately, until they are fulfilled. Blessed and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. It is wonderful when prayer becomes our dominant desire.
14) So much depends on where and to whom you are looking. If you look inside yourself for answers you will feel depressed; if you look to circumstances you will feel oppressed but if you look to God you will be blessed. One plus God is still a majority!
May we indeed ‘lead such lives that God can answer our prayers.’ God, lead us on, now in gentle intimacy and now with loud tears and cries, to reflect Your likeness and accomplish Your purposes. In Jesus’ name. Amen.