PRAYER & “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need.” – Jesus

Luke‬ ‭11:10-13 MSG‬‬, Jesus says …

“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in.

If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate?

If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider?

As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”

Read more at … http://bible.com/97/luk.11.10-13,23.msg

RELIGION & Religious Nones Still Thank God, Ask for His Help #Pew #LifeWay

by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 4/21/16.

They probably won’t show up to church this week, but the religiously unaffiliated may still pray.

A Pew Research study found 76 percent of Americans say they thanked God for something in the past week. That includes 37 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.

A quarter of nones also say they asked God for help in the past week, while 6 percent say they got angry with Him.

Religious individuals are much more likely to say they’ve turned to God recently, but it’s noteworthy how many of those who claim no faith still report talking to God.

The religiously unaffiliated are broken into two categories: atheists/agnostics and those who are “nothing in particular.” Almost half (48 percent) of those who classify themselves as nothing in particular say they expressed gratitude to God in the past week. A third (32 percent) say they asked God for help.

Even a portion of atheists and agnostics say they thanked God in the past week (18 percent) and asked Him for help (13 percent).

Read more at … http://factsandtrends.net/2016/04/21/religious-nones-still-thank-god-ask-for-his-help/

RELIGIOSITY & Americans Skeptical Of God But Think Heaven Is Real, Somehow

By Joshua A. Krisch, Vocativ News, Mar 21, 2016.

The United States formally separates Church and State, but it’s hard to deny that America is inundated with religious innuendo, from its controversial pledge of allegiance all the way down to its Judeo-Christian courthouse displays and faith-espousing legal tender. Yet fewer Americans pray or believe in God than ever before, according to a new study in the journal Sage Open.

Researchers found that the percentage of Americans who claim they never pray reached an all-time high in 2014, up five-fold since the 1980s. Over the same time period, belief in God and interest in spirituality appears to have similarly declined, especially among young adults.

The findings suggest that, “millennials are the least religious generation in memory, and possibly in American history,” says Jean M. Twenge, psychology professor at San Diego State University and coauthor on the study, in a press statement. “Most previous studies concluded that fewer Americans were publicly affiliating with a religion, but that Americans were just as religious in private ways. That’s no longer the case, especially in the last few years…”

The notion that the U.S. is inching away from organized religion is nothing new. Throughout the 2000s, studies repeatedly found that many Americans had lost faith in religious institutions. But scientists suspected the shift was from organized religion, rather than spirituality—that Americans had stopped attending formal services, but that they still prayed and believed in private…

But this new study suggests that Americans have a problem with God—and that our spiritual issues run deeper than paltry mistrust of religious institutions.

For the study, researchers pulled 58,893 entries from the GSS, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults. The results suggest a steep decline in the number of Americans who pray, believe in God, take the Bible literally, attend religious services or identified as religious—all factors that should have relatively little to do with America’s skepticism of large institutions.

Read more at … http://www.vocativ.com/news/299168/americans-pray-think-heaven-is-real/

PRAYER & Creative Ideas That Foster “Spaces for Prayer” at Vintage Faith Church, Santa Cruz, Calif.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/27/15.

The following excerpt from my book, Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press) describes creative ideas that encourage prayer. It looks at how Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California creates “spaces” for prayer.  These ideas can help leaders create a more robust prayer life in a church.

Chapter 5: Vintage Faith Church

The campus of Santa Cruz Bible Church seemed the antithesis of an organic church setting.  Neatly trimmed hedges embraced meandering sidewalks amid beautiful window-laden buildings. Vintage Faith Church had grown out of the college ministry of this congregation, and currently worshipped in this boomer church’s multipurpose worship gymnasium.1  I wondered how Vintage Faith could create in this utilitarian space an atmosphere engendering the mystery and wonder of God so preferred in organic milieus.

The answer arrived as I entered.  Dark curtaining surrounded me on all sides.  Vintage Faith’s simple stage was off center, and thrust into the audience.  Three large media screens were placed along a long wall, and on the ends of the auditorium were two “mood walls” where colorful yet muted images of young people lifting their hands in worship imbued this room with a 270-degree sense of expectation.  A six-foot metal cross graced the center of the stage, flanked by two candles and a large oil painting depicting a stylized cross.  And though this was a bright sunny day, the low lighting, visual images, curtaining, candles, and encompassing artwork transformed a contemporary gymnasium into a peaceful, subdued, and sacred space.2

Dashboard:

  • Church: Vintage Faith Church
  • Leaders Dan Kimball (pastor), Josh Fox (pastor of musical worship), Robert Namba (pastor of spiritual formation), Hannah Mello (director of worship arts) Kristin Culman (communications and hospitality)
  • Location Santa Cruz, California
  • Affiliation Nondenominational, though assistance is provided by Santa Cruz Bible Church.
  • Size 375-450  “That’s an estimate,” states Dan Kimball.  “We don’t count people, we count leaders”
  • Audience: Multiple generations, college students, university personnel and faculty, artists, and pre-Christians – people who are spiritually sensitive
  • Website http://www.vintagechurch.org

Let sacred spaces support your mission.

There was nothing wrong with the aesthetics of the Santa Cruz Bible Church auditorium, for it carried the feel of a conference center or a lecture hall.  A boomer predilection for such venues may be due to an emphasis on the church’s teaching role.  However, the lighting, art, mood walls, candles, prayer cove, etc. at Vintage Faith may indicate a Generation X preference for balancing head knowledge with heartfelt experience.  Vintage Faith created a powerful and encircling atmosphere of mystery, wonder, learning and supernatural encounter.

The following are some of the ways Vintage Faith creates sacred spaces.3

Curtains make the institutional feel of a multi-purpose auditorium more intimate and private.  Though Vintage Faith worships in an auditorium that will hold 700+, the encircling curtains help attendees feel they are in a private and personal encounter with God.

Prayer areas are created between the curtains and the outer walls.  Large throw pillows, candles and rugs not only create a 270-degree cocoon of prayer, but also keep prayer a focus.

A prayer cove beyond an arched trellis offers a space for extended times of prayer with intercessors.  I have observed that over time a prayer room’s proximity to the platform can wane, paralleling a distancing of prayer from centrality in a growing congregation.4  Vintage Faith avoids this, by placing their prayer cove near the stage.

Seating includes tables as well as rows of chairs.  Tables allow interaction for those desiring it, while forward facing chairs allow other attendees a degree of anonymity.

The platform was off center, so that a large cross was centered in the auditorium expressing the centrality of Jesus.  Subsequently, musicians and the lectern were not centrally located, nor the focus.

Low lighting and candles create a sense of reverence, expectation and mystery.  The candles are also “symbolic of Jesus as the light of the world,” stated Kimball.  Though lighting was raised slightly during the sermon so notes could be taken, their muted luminosity kept the focus off of the leaders, the audience and other extraneous distractions.

Two mood walls were some of the more creative elements.  To create this, the end walls of the auditorium were left bare above the eight foot high curtaining.  On the white wall above video projectors slowly and appropriately beamed images correlating to the theme of the night.  This worked remarkably well, creating a 270-degree experience (the rear wall was not utilized).

Art of diverse mediums was displayed on the stage and around the room.  Large paintings in genres ranging from classic to post-impressionism ringed the room.  In addition, congregants were encouraged to participate in interactive artwork, which during my visit included a large mosaic that would upon completion be displayed in the auditorium.

A final caveat.  These examples should serve as models to assist others in sketching their own indigenized elements.  They are not to be followed unswervingly, but rather as examples to forge a coalition between church leaders and artists.

Footnotes:

1. This multi-purpose gymnasium featured basketballs courts, a stage recessed into one wall, and a cheery, if somewhat industrial, ambiance.  Such boomer predilection for light, airy and multi-use sacred spaces seems a reaction to the builder generation’s stained glass, dark wood and inflexible worship venues

2. Vintage Faith’s goal is to have a ministry center near downtown Santa Cruz and rent a larger worship gathering space.  However, presently they are doing a remarkably adept job at creating a sacred space in a gymnasium

3. Adapted from the Vintage Faith Church bulletin, June 5, 2005.  For exhaustive ideas for creating sacred space see Dan Kimball’s helpful book written with David Crowder and Sally Morgenthaler titled Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004).

4.  See “Missteps with Prayer” in Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Congregation, pp. 43-53

PRAYER & How to Find the Intercessors: The Differences Between Roles & Gifts

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/27/15.

We often have trouble getting people to attend prayer meetings. And, this may be because those who have the gift of intercessory prayer, don’t know they have it. Let me explain. When you invite everyone to a prayer meeting before the service, only a few people (probably those with the “gift of helps”) show up. The problem is that you have not identified those with the gift of intercessory prayer, and those with other gifts are only half-heartedly joining in.

But, the “gift of intercessory prayer” is listed as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in James 5:14-16, 1 Tim. 2:1-2 and Col. 1:9-12, 4:12-13.  So how do we “find the intercessors?”

First, let’s look at a definition of “the gift of intercessory prayer.”

These are people who have the special gift for “passionate, extended and effective prayer, c.f. James 5:14-16, 1 Tim. 2:1-2; Col. 1:9-12, 4:12-13 (see this excerpt from Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey, Wesleyan Publishing House). C. Peter Wagner estimated that about 5% of a congregation has the gift of intercessory prayer (1979, 1984, p. 70).

Secondly, how do you help those with the gift, “find it?”

A student once said,

“How can you even know if you have the gift of intercessory prayer? Is it if you like prayer? That seems like more a product of personality than gift. Is it because you see more results when you intercede? How can that even be measured? Do you just know it or feel that it is your gift?  Dr. Whitesel, in your post you talk about a “supernatural charge or anointing”… I can get pretty jazzed when I preach and I can feel like I am “in the zone” but does that mean it is my spiritual gift?  I am sorry to ask all these questions but perhaps I am just that young adult like the original student refers to who just hasn’t fully developed a mature prayer life.”

Here is how I replied, “My professor Pete Wagner wrote a book on Spiritual Gifts and he suggests these five steps to finding yours (Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, Regal Books, 1979, 1984, pp. 68-70.)

  1. Explore the possibilities (e.g. the Bible and Spiritual Gifts Inventories)
  2. Experiment with as many gifts as you can (obviously the gift of martyrdom for example 😉
  3. Examine your feelings (you are doing that with preaching)
  4. Evaluate your effectiveness (are people growing in learning when you are in the zone?)
  5. Expect confirmation from the body.”

Thirdly, Everyone Has the Responsibility to Pray (because there is a difference between “roles” & “gifts”).

A student once responded, “I really do not see how intercessory prayer is a gift and I think we are selling ourselves and our congregations short when we consider it so.  I think prayer, period, is a discipline. I am convinced that the reason why more people do not pray corporately is that they have no basis to do so. They can’t pray because they don’t know how. They don’t know how because they never do it. I found this true existentially. I never could pray when I was a late youth, early adult and that was because I had no prayer life. But once God developed within me a passion for prayer.”

These are good thoughts.  However, the distinction that Peter Wagner would make is that everyone has the “role” of prayer, but not everyone has the supernaturally empowered “gift” (see Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, Regal: 1979, 1994, pp. 85-87).

For example, I think I have the gift of teaching (1 Cor. 12:28, Eph. 4:11-14, Romans 12:7, etc.). Though someone may have to teach on occasion without the gift, they cannot say they do not need teaching abilities. They do.  But they don’t get the supernatural charge and anointing that those with the gift regularly experience. Now, I’m not saying teaching is such a great gift. I think the gift of intercessory prayer is more critical. But, I have the role of intercessory prayer, and am called to exercise it regularly.

Thus, when like the student above I began to mature in my Christian discipleship I discovered that I had a gift for teaching that as a shy teenager no one could have foresaw. But, I must be careful that I do not view everyone through my lens (i.e. gift) of being a teacher. If I do, I may unfairly criticize them for not teaching with the same passion as I. And especially so, because they may have another gift, such as the gift of intercession.

Thanks for allowing me to elaborate on the important need for everyone to practice the “roles” and for specially endowed people to operate in their gifts.

Here is how one student used “command and gift” as substitutes:

Matt said, “This discussion (roles and gifts) is very similar to the discussion on evangelism we keep having here. Some older member keep pushing back that they don’t need to because they aren’t good or they can’t do it unless the spirit prompts them to. I keep bringing it back to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) which is the universal command, and the scattering of the seeds (Mark 4:1-20) the reality of the command. With those as a frame work we then discuss the difference between gift and command. Some people are gifted in evangelism and they will win droves of people to Christ, everyone else needs to evangelize and their harvest is what it is.”

I responded that I think “role” is a better better word that command.  That is because everyone has the command, and thus should undertake a role in evangelism.  But some have the gift, and we should position and empower them for more effective ministry.

Another example is the gift of teaching (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-14, Rom. 12:7, Acts 18:24-28, 20:20-21).  Everyone has the role (such as in teaching your children, c.f. Deuteronomy 4:9) but some have the gift and might develop a career of teaching.

Deuteronomy 4:9 (NIV)  “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”

PRAYER & Listen To the Founder of the Church Growth Movement, Donald McGavran, Praying

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/27/15.

Whey my students study the importance of measurement they often notice that a champion of measurement was Donald McGavran, the founder of Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission (now School of Intercultural Studies).

Yet most people don’t know that McGavran was also a strong proponent of prayer and its impact upon effective evangelism.

A student came across a Wheaton College website that included sound clips of Donald McGavran praying before he teaches on church growth.  I thought it might be an interesting addendum to this discussion.

http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/docs/mcgpra.htm

Here are a few transcripts from this archive, to give you a glimpse inside of this man’s heart.

(PS  I am a guest professor for Wheaton College.  I toured the Billy Graham Museum and it is an amazing history of evangelism in North America.  If any of you are near the northwest side of Chicago, you must visit the powerful (and free 🙂 Billy Graham Museum at Wheaton College.)

Collection 178, T32 – January 3, 1979 (81 seconds)

[Tape begins in the midst of the prayer]…growth of Your church our first act is to give thanks to Your for the church, the body our Christ, Your household, a sure refuge in the midst of storms, a mighty instrument Lord in Your hand for the reformation of men and societies. We thank You for what each one of us owes to the church. None of us would be here, would be saved, would have hope of heaven or power on earth but for the church. We thank You for the tremendous extension of the church throughout the earth and for the army of missionaries for the gospel, who generation after generation have gone out to proclaim the Good News and disciple the nations. Most of all, good Lord, we thank You for Jesus Christ, the head of the church, our savior and our Lord. Grant, we beseech You, to each of us Your special blessing as we study how to extend the church, how to multiply congregations, how to increase units of the redeemed, units of peace and justice in all peoples, all tribes, all casts. all classes of society that praise and thanksgiving to Your glory may resound from every city and hamlet throughout the earth. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Collection 178, Tape T34 – January 8, 1979 [98 seconds]

[Audio of the first half of the prayer badly distorted on the original recording] Let us pray. Gracious God, You are all pervading love enfolds us. Your salvation, made known of old through Your prophets and made operational in the life and death of our savior, flows fast and wide throughout the earth. You send forth a constant stream of missionaries of the Gospel, that those who live in darkness may know the light of the world, even our Lord Jesus Christ. We stand amazed, Lord, at the extent and diversity of the missionary laborers of Your household. We stand even more amazed and humbled and affrighted at the enormous numbers of those who have not yet heard that there is a savior and that by belief in Him sinful men may become righteous and [words unclear] blind men may receive eternal life. [Brief section missing] through the expansion of Christianity, and the advance of the Gospel, and plan for the birth of multitudes of new congregations of the redeemed. Among all the thousands of pieces of the human mosaic, touch our eyes that we may see the truth, and touch our hearts that we may burn with compassion, and steel our wills, good Lord, that we may do those things that we know we ought to do. This we ask in Christ’s blessed name. Amen.

Collection 178, T51 – February 16, 1979 (107 seconds)

Let us pray together. We gather before You, O Lord our God, as men whom You have called, called to be Your ministers and missionaries and administrators. Into our hands ,good Lord, You have delivered considerable ability and resources. You have appointed us as stewards. And You have given us responsibilities and from us You will require an accounting. And we are told that it is required of a steward that he be found faithful. We discharge our duties, O Lord, in a very complex world where many priorities war within us and without us. We live in such a welter of demands. So many people are shouting that we should follow what they think is important, and our own hearts, Lord, are pulled this way and that. And so we cry to You our compassionate God, send out Your light and Your truth. Let them lead us. In this class and in every class help us discern what is Your clear command and where we are left to do what we think best. Help us weigh most carefully between two appealing courses of action. Show Your clear light of Your revelation on our pathway. And above all, O God, give us the courage to walk the paths which You show to us. In Christ’s name. Amen.

PRAYER & My Favorite Quotes/Strategies That Can Encourage More Congregational Prayer

by Bob Whitesel, 6-4-15.

It was one of my professors, Dr. C. Peter Wagner, who said that prayer was the one topic he has heard discussed more, yet practiced less, than any other church discipline.  After 25+ years of church consulting, I must sadly say that I can anecdotally confirm that analysis.

It is my hope that discussing prayer and its important correlation with church outreach, will inspire church leaders to buck the trend and integrate prayer more copiously in their congregations.  It is helpful to remember that prayer is the a work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-9), and thus prayer is the “right-arm” of evangelism.

Some of my favorite insights on prayer come from the following quotes:

“All of God’s works are done through believing prayer” is the famous saying of John Wesley, who turned the spiritual tides of England back to the Lord in a dark hour (quoted by Armin R. Gesswein in “Prayer and Evangelism,” Evangelism: The Next Ten Years, ed., Sherwood Eliot Wirt, [Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1978], p. 97).

And Dwight L. Moody the American lay-evangelist and founder of the Moody Bible Institute is remembered for his well-known observation that “every work of God can be traced to some kneeling form” (Gesswein, ibid.).

There is a simple quote by Jim Cymbala in the book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, that, “When people work, people work. When people pray, God works.”  What poignancy!

Another one of my favorite quotes is by Dr. Billy Graham.  I used it in the chapter on “Missteps With Prayer” in my book Growth by Accident, Death by Planning (2004).  But because of its importance I want to quote it here again.  Dr. Graham has said that “the secret of each Crusade has been the power of God’s Spirit moving in answer to the prayers of his people.  I have often said that the three most important things we can do for a crusade are to pray, to pray, and to pray” (quoted in Sterling W. Huston, Crusade Evangelism and the Local Church [Minneapolis, Minnesota: World Wide Publications, 1984], p. 50).

Because of this strategic nature of prayer, in Growth by Accident, Death by Planning I spoke of several methods for “mobilizing prayer.”  I encourage leaders to consider carefully these options, and work to inculcate prayer move pervasively in their congregations.  Again for review, here are some of those prayer strategies:
1)  Prayer Teams.
2)  Neighborhood Prayer Centers
3)  Operation Andrew: A Prayer Covenant List
4)  Prayer Triplets
5)  Concerts of Prayer
6)  Designating “Prayer Coordinators”
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In addition, just as important is the strategy of employing 50/50 prayer in EVERY prayer opportunity (I’m not yelling by using all caps, I just want to stress the pervasive nature that 50/50 prayer must take 🙂

For a recap, 50/50 Prayer means emphasizing and employing prayer in all venues and meetings that is structured so that:

50% of the prayer is focused on the needs of the congregation.

50% of the prayer is focused on the needs of the unchurched.
50/50 prayer must be stressed, encouraged, talked about, and modeled.  But, 50/50 Prayer does note mean praying less for congregational needs.  Rather it requires adding 50% to our prayer times to ensure we mention the needs of those who are unchurched.

If the reader would like some more reading on the strategic importance of prayer and church growth and health, here is a selected and annotated bibliography of classic prayer books I have found helpful:

Terry Teykl, Make Room To Pray (Muncie, Ind.: Prayer Points Press, 1993).  This is an excellent book, explaining how to add a prayer room to your church that people will actually use!

Terry Teykl, Blueprint for the House of Prayer (Muncie, Indiana: Prayer Point Press, 1997).  Here Teykl gives a workbook for your leaders to go through to distribute 50/50 prayer throughout your congregation.  This is a great tool for a prayer or a leaders’ retreat.

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) is a new classic.  The quote I used earlier in this missive comes from it.  Fantastic insights!

David Bryant, With Concerts of Prayer: Christians Join for Spiritual Awakening and World Evangelism (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1984).  Bryant turned the church on its head when he put small group interaction, varying types of prayer, and testimonies into a prayer event he called a “concert” of prayer.  Tens of thousands of people have participated in these concerts in venues from sports stadiums to Sunday School rooms.  These energetic and creative “concerts of prayer” have helped revitalize prayer gatherings.

Dick Eastman, The Hour that Changes the World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1980).  This is a classic book that explains how prayer is linked with bringing people to Christ.  Eastman argues that the world will never be effectively evangelized if we do not increase prayer.

D. L. Moody, Prevailing Prayer (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1885).  Moody was involved in one of the greatest revivals America has ever known.  And in this tome he tells how prayer played the key role.

Leonard Ravenhill, Revival Praying (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1962).  Another classic, that will inspire, motivate, and enthuse your leaders to take prayer for the unchurched seriously; eventually adopting it as a lifestyle.

Pray! Magazine (Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, http://www.navpress.com.) is a great periodical that will remind you of the strategic nature of prayer.  Put in on your end table next to “Outreach Magazine,” ”Rev.,” and “Time.”

There are many more great books available on the important topic of prayer.  But the above are tendered to begin to spur your thoughts and thinking on prayer.  It is my hope that prayer will become a “core competency” of all congregations.  It has to … if we are to change the world!