Sunday, December 28, 2014

Envisioning a more awesome church: Intercession

Acts 2:41-43 "So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles."

Introduction and review
When I think of objects that fit in the category of "awesome", few are more "awesome" than a top fuel "funny car". Such machines can blister a quarter mile in under 4 seconds. The powerplant underneath the body of such a vehicle is truly mind blowing. Each engine produces roughly 8,000 horse power and costs in excess of $70,000 dollars. By the time the four second race is finished, the motor will had spent over 22 gallons of highly flammable nitro-methane and alcohol fuel. When it comes to getting such a high performace work of art down the track, no money is spared in squeezing every bit of horsepower out of the 500 plus cubic inch motor. The car pictured above is but an example of how beauty, technology and power can work together.

Yesterday I began sharing with readers where God has been dealing with me lately on the subject of envisioning an awesome church. Four terms were used yesterday to summarize what is meant when I say - "envision an awesome church": intercession; word; fellowship & co-mission. Whatever vision God has for each local church must include these four necessary elements. All four work together in harmony and not one of them must ever be excluded. 

Much like the drag car illustration, a church can many times be chocked full of beautiful people and have the latest and most sophisticated programs. However without the power of prayer, the church will not be able to get down the track pre-ordained for it by God. The vision for drag racing is simple: get to the finish line in the shortest amount of time. The vision for any local church is to glorify God by having fellowship around the Word, making disciples and doing the great commission. Such a general vision requires interecessory prayer. 

When it comes to the area of intercessory prayer or prioritizing prayer, churches do not consistently practice this vital effort. It is for this reason that I want to focus on this first element in envisioning an awesome church. Without intercession and without regularly dedicating our efforts at word ministry, fellowshipping and co-missioning to reach all peoples for Jesus, our churches will be at best religious and moral institutions that though beautiful and efficient in their programming, yet will have no power and no impact. 

Intercessory Prayer as a vital first step in envisioning an awesome church
In the Book of Acts and the Epistles, it is very obvious how important of a role prayer played in the life of the early Christans. In Acts 2:42 we read: "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."
The word translated "prayer" speaks of praying with a purpose. This word is many times used as an umbrella term that covers other sorts of praying. 

The early church was "devoted continuously" to prayer, and the results show. In Acts 4:31 we read the results of a powerful prayer meeting conducted in the church at Jerusalem: "And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness." The actual prayer itself is recorded in Acts 4:26-30, and its very contents demonstrate how seriously the people took the word of God, how much in fellowship they were with one another and how serious they were about the great commission. 

When the early Christians had to make any major decision, whether it was for additional leadership or seeking clarity for ministry, they always prefaced what they did with prayer. (Acts 1:14,24; 3:1; 6:4,6; 13:3; 14:23) Whenever the early church was going through a difficult season of persecution or strife, they interceded and sought the face of God. (Acts 12:12; 16:25; 20:36; 21:5)
This is why the early church could be described in the fashion we see back in Acts 2:42 as being a place were folks "feeling a sense of awe". 

Now did this first major step of intercession only exist in the Book of Acts. Certainly not! When we comb through the New Testament letters (epistles) and Revelation, we see the Apostles urging the churches to pray. I will only mention the references and then expound briefly on one of them as we close out today. Here are the references we see the Apostles teaching and urging the churches to engage in prayer. (Romans 8:26-27; 1 Cor 14:15; 2 Cor 1:11; Ephesians 1:18; Phil 4:6-7; Col 4:2; 1 Thess 5:17; 2 Thess 3:1; 1 Tim 2:1; 2 Tim 1:3; Philemon 1:6; Hebrews 13:18; James 5:13-15; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 5:14-15; 3 John 2; Revelation 5:8)

Now in one of these passages we see this simple and plain command in 1 Timothy 2:1 "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men". Later on in the same chapter we then read these words in 1 Timothy 2:8 "Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension." Think about how awesome a church can be when these commands are heeded consistently and persistently. The favor of God will be released to move in the church and go ahead of the church. God's favor, or His grace and power in action on behalf of His people, is free to move to allign the things of a given community with His heavenly purposes. Think about what happens when we pray for one another? The well-worn facts of churches experiencing infighting and hard feelings can be changed. Prayer is afterall part of the arsenal in the Christian's spiritual armor. (Ephesians 6:18-20)

Intercession must be consistently practiced and applied to stave off the attacks of the enemy, the temptation of the world and the tendencies to want to operate in the flesh. Busyness is perhaps one of the most common excuses as to why individual Christians and churches in general do not have a serious effort towards intercessory prayer. 

Practically speaking, whenever the church has a dedicated prayer meeting, the church membership ought to do all they can to be a part. Any meeting that is conducted in a church ought to not just have a token opening prayer, but include intercession over whatever is being discussed and if possible, intercession for those involved in the meeting. Praying for unsaved people should occupy a large percentage of our intercessory efforts. When we pray for the unsaved, we will approach reaching them with the heart of God Himself. 

Closing thoughts
As we close out this post regarding what it means to envision an awesome church, the first necessary ingredient is intercessory prayer. Author Gregory Frizell in his book "The Power of Prayer and Fasting", page 3, Broadman & Holman Publisher, notes: "While we continue on our frantic search for the next promise of power, personal fulfillment, and self-gratification, God stands at our side, patiently waiting and holding a connection that will give us one of the greatest sources of power we will ever know. It's a source of power still unknown, underused, misunderstood, and even fear evoking in the minds of some people. Pure and simple, it is the power of God that manifests itself through prayer and fasting." 

Can you and I imagine such an awesome church? If all we do is invest sweat and gritting of teeth alone, then the fruit of the best intentions of the flesh is all we will get. If all I do in preaching is just read the commentaries and jot down a few point without intercession, the sermons will amount to religious "talks" and nothing more. However whenever prayer is coupled with programs, planning and preaching, the outcomes will far exceed the efforts of men. When Jesus says in Matthew 17:20-21 that we can move mountains by prayer, this assumes we have aligned ourselves to God's will through prayer. A mountain cannot be moved by men, but only by God. An awesome church must begin with a serious concerted effort towards mutual and individual intercession.

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