I wonder what it is that you think of when you think of the future of the church. Some might consider that the church is in decline and her best days are behind her. Many consider the church irrelevant and backwards. The bible holds a different view: the church is the hope of the world, the pillar of the truth, the family of God on earth, the bride of Christ. Jesus loves the church and gave himself up for her. We must have his perspective of the church. The church is God’s 'plan a’ for reaching a dying world with the good news of Jesus’ death & resurrection. The church is at the forefront of the advance of the Kingdom of God. We’re not to be clinging on by our fingertips until Jesus returns, we’re to be at the forefront of the increase of his government and peace that will know no end (Isaiah 9:7).
Something so key to gospel advance is prayer. In a way that I can’t adequately explain, God has ordained prayer as a means by which he will make things happen that wouldn’t happen if we did not pray. The church in Acts were constantly in prayer (Acts 1:14) and throughout the story the church gathered to pray: when they needed wisdom they prayed, when they were stepping out to reach new ground they prayed, when in crisis they prayed. God longs for us to be a church that re-discovers the power of prayer. Below are some ingredients to effective prayer.
1) Confidence before God.
We will not pray effectively if we are bogged down by a sense of condemnation. In fact we will run from God if we believe that we are not good enough to come into his presence. The good news is that he’s qualified us, as a gift. When we place our faith in Jesus, we are covered in his righteousness and this isn’t just for the start of our walk with God - it’s for the rest of our lives. This means we can come before God the Father in prayer in a way that we could if we had lived the life of perfect obedience that Jesus lived! In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph 3:12). The ESV puts it slightly differently, saying that we come before the Father with boldness!
And he wants us to ask him for things. Paul Miller says that "almost all of Jesus’ teaching on prayer can be summarised in one word: Ask".
2) Praying Back the Promises of God
One thing we can pray with absolute confidence are the promises of God in scripture of which there are over 3000. Just as my children (with faith in my faithfulness) remind me when I have promised them an ice cream, I believe that God is honoured when, in faith, we take his promises back to him in prayer. Jacob did this in Genesis 32 when he reminded God of the promises over his life - “you said…” We can take the promises of God that we find in places like Philippians 4:19, James 1:5, Matt 9:38, 1 Tim 2:4 and use them as fuel for our intercession.
3) Praying Specifically and Persistently
Of course it is OK to pray general prayers. But as Bartimaeus found in Mark chapter 10, Jesus does want us to ask him for specific things. As Mark Batterson says: “Nuanced prayers give God an opportunity to reveal more shades of His sovereignty. If our prayers aren’t specific, God gets robbed of the glory he deserves because we second guess whether or not he actually answered them.”
So what are you asking God specifically for? George Müller, who cared for 10,000 orphans over the course of his life was a master of specific and persistent prayer. He journaled his prayers and calculated that he had seen over 50,000 answers to specific prayer over the course of his lifetime. 30,000 of these prayers were answered on the same days that they were prayed. This teaches us two things - to ask God for specific things will encourage us greatly as we see one by one his answer before our very eyes. Secondly it teaches us that sometimes prayers aren’t answered straight away. Sometimes we need to persist in prayer. Jesus would have us persist in prayer sometimes (Luke 18:1-8) so that we can grow muscles in prayer and learn to trust God even when things don’t immediately change.
I finish with this fantastic quote from Jonathan Edwards, who began a mighty prayer movement in his day.
"It is very apparent from the Word of God that He often tries the faith and patience of His people, when they are crying to Him for some great and important mercy, by withholding the mercy sought for a season; and not only so, but at first He may cause an increase of dark appearances. And yet He, without fail, at last prospers those who continue urgently in prayer with all perseverance and "will not let him go except He blesses.”
Let’s be a people of prayer as we ask for his Kingdom to come in increasing measure here in Ipswich and in the surrounding areas.
This blog was contributed by Tom Scrivens and is taken from his talk at the 'Empowered' united Pentecost service.
Tom is the Eldership Team Leader at Hope Church in Ipswich. He also leads Sent, a movement of 18-30s across Relational Mission.
These blogs are written by different people from the IIP team. They are prompted by the things we talk about and pray about when we meet together and by words shared from the praying community in Ipswich.