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EFCA Theology Conference: Prayer

Greg Strand – January 28, 2018 1 Comment

This week is our annual EFCA Theology Conference. This year’s theme is The Gospel, Compassion and Justice and the EFCA.

These are important and weighty issues we are discussing. We affirm and give thanks for the doctrinal truth of God’s compassion resulting in redemption and reconciliation with him “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1). This doctrinal truth is becoming an experiential reality, as we seek to live out this doctrinal truth horizontally with others. It is an affirmation and living out with others both orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice). And as we do this, we confess we stumble toward maturity.

As we approach this topic of compassion and justice, especially as we focus on racial reconciliation, we acknowledge that apart from Christ we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5), and “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1). And yet, we are also keenly aware that this Conference is one in which the enemy would love to “kill, steal and destroy” (Jn. 10:10), one in which the beast will make war on the saints those from “every tribe and people and language and nation” (Rev. 13:7). He will do any and everything to work against the “one new humanity” (Eph. 2:15) God has created through the work of his Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit.

This spiritual life, this new humanity is a work of God (3:3, 5; 1 Cor. 3:6; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:15; Tit. 3:4-7). We do not create new birth or spiritual life, as this life is not on the basis of “of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13). God creates one new humanity. But the work God did, the one new humanity he created, as we keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 18, 25), we will be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). This is part of how we fulfill Paul’s exhortation to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

And, this manifests the truth and power of the gospel not only to those in the world, but also to those principalities and powers, those demonic forces attempting to undo what God has done. God and his grace triumph, so we we live out the truth of the gospel “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).

With this in mind, please join us in prayer as we seek to work and live out what God has created, being eager to see the fruit of the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed and manifested. Here are five specific prayer requests.

  1. Pray for the theology conference theme The Gospel, Compassion and Justice, and the EFCA to come to life and result in justice, righteousness and compassion rolling down like a mighty river in and through the EFCA (Amos 5:24).
  1. Pray for God’s blessing and leading to be upon the speakers, leaders and our corporate worship (Zach. 4:6).
  1. Pray that God will prepare the hearts of pastors and leaders coming, and for the Lord to strengthen and guide all those serving at the conference (Jms. 1:5).
  1. Pray for rich and meaningful connections, conversations, and community as we learn, worship, pray and fellowship together (Eph. 4:29).
  1. Pray for God’s ongoing work of reconciliation, hope and healing in the EFCA, growing the oneness of our hearts, heads and hands as we live out the gospel with compassion and justice (2 Cor. 5:14-19).

We are grateful for your partnership in the ministry of the gospel, and for engaging in this vital ministry through prayer.

 

 

Often our praying becomes rote. We pray the same things over and over. (Sadly, that is assuming we do pray regularly. As a short personal quiz: How often do you pray? How long do you generally commune with the Lord in and through prayer? If married, do you and your spouse pray together?)

Often our praying is general. “Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care” or “Bless all the missionaries.” That is better than not praying at all, and at times we simply do not know what to pray so we pray more generally, and thankfully the Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26-27).
This was the experience of John Piper. He found that his praying would fall into a rut (rote), and in order for him to get out of the rut, it required discipline. What helped him was compiling a list of that prayers prayed by the church as recorded in the Scriptures: What Should We Pray For?

Piper confesses his own personal rut in prayer.

If you are like me, you find that from time to time your prayer life needs a jolt out of the rut it has fallen into. We tend to use the same phrases over and over. We tend to default to worn out phrases (like the word default). We fall into patterns of mindless repetition.

The devil hates prayer. Our own flesh does not naturally love it. Therefore, it does not come full-born and complete and passionate from the womb of our heart. It takes ever renewed discipline.

In order to address this “default praying,” Piper searched the Scriptures to discern those matters for which the church prayed. He compiled them and used them to guide his praying (he also included this list in his book Let the Nations Be Glad):

So when I wrote that book, I gathered into one place all the things the early church prayed for. I printed this out for myself, and it has proven to be one of those “jolts” that I need. I thought you might find it helpful. You might want to print it out and keep it for a while in your Bible to guide you in your praying.

Piper highlights the great and glorious mystery of prayer, that the God of the universe, the all-sovereign one, would exercise his sovereignty and providence through the prayers of his people is amazing (Piper uses the expression “mind-boggling”), which means that even though one is not physically present, one can touch, influence and affect people, families, neighborhoods, churches, institutions through prayer:

Prayer remains one of the great and glorious mysteries of the universe — that the all-knowing, all-wise, all-sovereign God should ordain to run his world in response to our prayers is mind-boggling. But that is the uniform witness of Scripture. God hears and answers the prayers of his people. Oh, do not neglect this amazing way of influencing nations and movements and institutions and churches and people’s hearts, especially your own.

If you want to pray for what the early church prayed for . . .

Piper follows this by including 35 prayers directly from the Scriptures. I encourage you to read through the list. Better yet is to pray through the list. Best is to memorize these prayers and to make them a regular part of your prayers, applied to specific situations. In this way our default praying is praying “according to the Scriptures.”

Let me conclude with this challenge. For those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, often in our prayer lives we live more like practical atheists than we do children of the heavenly Father. Dear adopted child of God, what will you do to change that? God, our loving Father, will give you the grace not only to change that, but his grace is also sufficient to change your heart to desire to change it.

Many consider Calvin a great theologian, which he was. But he was also a great pastor, who preached and lived the truth of the Scriptures. In this latter role, he helped other Christians both to know the truth and to live the truth, and he did so through the means of illustration and application of these truths personally in life, in both his preaching and writing.

I share with you two key truths from John Calvin regarding prayer.

Before doing so, it is important to establish the biblical foundation for what Calvin writes regarding prayer.

As Evangelicals, we affirm that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. “For by grace you have been saved by faith” (Eph. 2:8), we recite. And yet, faith is not something we exercise only at the point of salvation. Faith is also one of the marks of a Christian.

Paul emphasizes this same truth. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul writes, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17; cf. Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). To paraphrase the broader truth and experience, there are two key emphases: (1) the righteous – by faith – shall live, i.e., those who exercise faith in Jesus Christ are made righteous and live; (2) the righteous shall live – by faith, i.e., those who have been righteous by faith, they live by faith, a life of faith.

Here, then, are Calvin’s two key truths of prayer.

First, bearing in mind that we live a life of faith, Calvin described the relationship between faith and prayer in this way: Prayer is the chief exercise of faith. One of the key ways we live a life of faith is through prayer. It is one of the greatest ways we manifest our humility before God and our dependency on the Lord. The lack of prayer reflects a self-sufficiency, a pride and arrogance that we can do this on our own. Prayer manifests a life of faith, a humble and joyful dependency, which pleases the Lord.

Second, in the Christian life, there are few greater ways, if any, in expressing our love for brothers and sisters than intercessory prayer. This is one of Jesus’ key ministries on behalf of his adopted sons and daughters (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 Jn. 2:1). As our Lord Jesus Christ prays on our behalf, we, too, express our love to others as we pray on their behalf. John Calvin writes, “To make intercessions for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.”

It is a joy and privilege to engage with other believers in the EFCA in the ministry of the gospel, as we together engage in prayer, the chief exercise of faith, and as we love one another through the ministry of intercessory prayer.

Each day I receive an email from Christian History that includes historical events of import throughout church history. This one was included today.

On this date in 1877 (April 26, 1877), Minnesota residents observed a “statewide day of prayer”: Grasshopper Plagues, 1873–1877

Residents of Minnesota observe a statewide day of prayer, set by Governor John Sargent Pillsbury, imploring deliverance from a plague of grasshoppers that has been ravaging their crops. Many families are on the verge of starvation. In the next two days warm weather will cause millions of larvae to wiggle to life and skeptics scoff; but a plunge in temperature on the fourth day will freeze and kill them. A chapel will be built at Cold Spring to commemorate the miracle.

As you read, this event occurred in Minnesota and here are some issues of importance:

  • it addresses a catastrophe for a state heavily dependent on agriculture, a grasshopper plague,
  • leaders and people acknowledge their dependency on God through observing a statewide day of prayer,
  • and the kind, good and merciful providence of God is evidenced in warm weather, which caused the grasshoppers to “wiggle to life,” followed by the cold weather, which caused them to die.

Although I live in Minnesota, there is much that has changed since 1877. Each of us could count the ways. However, it is also essential for us to remember that today, April 26, 2016, even though the specific catastrophe has changed, there is much that remains the same, including our dependent response to the Lord in prayer.

  • we live in the midst of a moral catastrophe,
  • we acknowledge our dependency on God through prayer,
  • and we trust in our Father, who is unchanging, and his unfolding good, wise, sovereign and providential plan in and through history.

As we remember this historic date in Minnesota’s history, join me today in expressing our faith, trust and dependency on the Lord through prayer as we live in and respond to the moral catastrophe of our day and as we trust the good, wise and sovereign will and unfolding providential plan of God.

We pray this through Jesus Christ, in/by the Holy Spirit, to the Father.

At the EFCA One conference, during one of the plenary sessions we corporately confessed the EFCA Statement of Faith, which was followed by a time of corporate prayer.

This was grounded in the notion of lex orandi, lex credendi, which means “the law of praying [is] the law of believing.” The heart of this expression refers to the relationship between worship and belief, belief evidenced in what we pray, the heart of worship.

In this service we broke up into groups of 3-5 people. We corporately confessed each Article of the Statement of Faith, which was followed by a time spent in prayer focusing on that Article. I have included this below.

We did this in 20 minutes, taking two minutes for each Article. Confessing each Article took about 30 seconds and we prayed for 1 ½ minutes. The two items focused upon in prayer were thanksgiving and petition/intercession. Due to the limited time, I encouraged people to pray brief prayers. I also guided them by informing them that not all will pray on each Article, but that everyone will pray.

Corporately confessing our Statement of Faith accompanied by prayer was a deeply rich and meaningful time of affirming truth in the context of worship.

EFCA Statement of Faith

God 

  1. We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power, God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.
  • Thank God for who He is, what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do.
  • Might we rest in His sovereign power, and have a sense of our role in his gracious purpose to make all things new for His glory.

 

The Bible 

  1. We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.
  • Thank the Lord that He is there and He is not silent.
  • Might we believe, obey and trust God and His Word.

 

The Human Condition 

  1. We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan. In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from  God, and under His wrath. Only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ can we be rescued, reconciled and renewed.
  • Thank the Lord that through Christ we have been rescued, reconciled and renewed.
  • Might we look at others as fellow image-bearers and be assured the only hope is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus Christ 

  1. We believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures. Jesus—Israel’s promised Messiah—was conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father as our High Priest and Advocate.
  • Thank the Lord for the heavenly intercessory ministry of Christ on our behalf.
  • Might we engage in intercessory prayer for others.

 

The Work of Christ 

  1. We believe that Jesus Christ, as our representative and substitute, shed His blood on the cross as the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins. His atoning death and victorious resurrection constitute the only ground for salvation.
  • Thank the Lord that Jesus Christ is our representative and substitute, the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins.
  • Might we recommit to the truth that Jesus’ atoning death is the only ground for salvation.

 

The Holy Spirit

  1. We believe that the Holy Spirit, in all that He does, glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. He convicts the world of its guilt. He regenerates sinners, and in Him they are baptized into union with Christ and adopted as heirs in the family of God. He also indwells, illuminates, guides, equips and empowers believers for Christ-like living and service.
  • Thank the Lord for the Holy Spirit’s ministry of regeneration, union with Christ and adoption.
  • Might we grow in Christ-like living and service.

 

The Church 

  1. We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone. They are united by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, of which He is the Head. The true church is manifest in local churches, whose membership should be composed only of believers. The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Though they are not the means of salvation, when celebrated by the church in genuine faith, these ordinances confirm and nourish the believer.
  • Thank the Lord for the truth of justification and becoming part of the church with Jesus as the Head and we are the body.
  • Might we proclaim and manifest the gospel.

 

Christian Living 

  1. We believe that God’s justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose. God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. With God’s Word, the Spirit’s power, and fervent prayer in Christ’s name, we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil. In obedience to Christ’s commission, we are to make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed.
  • Thank God that He who began a good work will complete it.
  • Might we love God supremely and others sacrificially, be delivered from the evil one, and make disciples among all people, bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed.

 

Christ’s Return 

  1. We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.
  • Thank God that the crucified Lord is the conquering King and He rules and reigns.
  • Might we cry Maranatha, and live with constant expectancy and a sure and certain hope that results in godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.

 

Response and Eternal Destiny

  1. We believe that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment and the believer to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.
  • Thank God for His end-time verdict and plan realized in a new heaven and new earth to the praise of His glorious grace.
  • Might we worship God for His grace and mercy in granting eternal life, and might we sense the weight of eternal conscious punishment and our call to be ambassadors.