When we’re thinking about reformation we can easily focus exclusively on the ministry of the Word and forget the desperate need for prayer – or rather the desperate need for God expressed through prayer. In one of the best books available on the subject of prayer, Don Carson shows us how Word and Prayer go inseparably together. iServe Africa apprentice Ann Mwari reviews this must-read book.
A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and his prayers
D.A. Carson writes “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” with the aim of working through several of Paul’s prayers so as to help us hear God speak to us today and find strength and direction to improve our praying, both for God’s glory and for our good.
The writer begins by highlighting the urgent need of the Church – the need to have a deeper knowledge of God. He argues that one of the foundational steps in knowing God and one of the basic demonstrations that we know God, is prayer – spiritual, persistent, biblically-minded prayer. In chapter one, the writer cites some of his Personal Lessons from the School of Prayer. This is followed by The Framework of Prayer in chapter two, focusing on 2nd Thessalonians 1:3-12. The writer gives Paul’s framework, majorly thankfulness for signs of grace and confidence in the prospect of vindication. In chapter three he highlights some worthy petitions made by Paul in 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-12.
In chapter 4 the writer brings out the aspect of Praying for Others, which is followed by A Passion for People in chapter 5 (1st Thesssalonians 3:9-13). The writer then gives the content of A Challenging Prayer in chapter 6, based on Colossians 1:9-14. In chapter seven and eight he gives some real life Excuses for Not Praying and helps with Overcoming the Hurdles (Phil. 1:9-11) respectively.
Chapter 9 of the book explains the mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, highlighting the need to pray to him with the view of His sovereign yet very personal nature. This is extended in Chapter 10 (Praying to a Sovereign God) with much focus on Ephesians 1:15-23. In chapter 11, Carson helps us understand how to Pray for Power based on Ephesians 3:14-21. Surprisingly (compared to what we might think we need power for), this power is meant to help us grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ. Finally, he highlights on how to Pray for Ministry focusing on Romans 15:14-33.
These detailed yet clear explanations of some of Paul’s prayers have been helpful to me on understanding how to pray biblically. Besides explaining how to use the Scriptures to pray, the writer has also highlighted some excuses we use for not praying and given a few remedies for this lethargy. This is very helpful for the Church today, where most of us can talk about prayer and even read books on prayer yet still fail to pray.
This book contributes to meeting the need to grow into a deeper knowledge of God through a Biblical life of prayer. Therefore, I recommend it to every Christian, for growth in the knowledge of God and consequently in prayer.
I don’t know if it’s a good idea to write this post when I’m going through transition myself… Or maybe it’s the perfect time to remind myself of these things… Anyway, here goes…
When Duncan Olumbe led an excellent session for us at the September ministry training course on transition, there was one thing that he mentioned but didn’t have time to go into detail on: building a RAFT.
The idea of building a RAFT comes from the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds but it’s applicable to anyone moving on, whether adults or children, mzungus or East Africans. The basic plan is Reconciliation-Affirmation-Farewells-ThinkDestination. It’s not only practical and proven but it also fits well with the pattern and teaching of the apostle Paul, someone who certainly knew what it was to go through a lot of transitions.
Deal with conflict before you leave. Forgive and ask for forgiveness. We can easily sweep conflict under the carpet. Particularly when we are leaving it’s very tempting not to bother dealing with unresolved issues. But 2 Corinthians is a letter that testifies to the great desire of the apostle Paul for reconciliation.
Over the years things had become increasingly tense between Paul and the Corinthians. There were misunderstandings and hurts (2 Cor. 1:17), there were painful visits and painful letters (2 Cor. 2:1; 7:8). He could easily have given up on them and walked away but Paul’s whole letter (which we call Second Corinthians) is a heartfelt attempt to bring about reconciliation in advance of his third visit so that it will not be another painful one (2 Cor. 7:2; 13:10). He finishes in 2 Cor. 13:11 with a bunch of quick fire exhortations: a) rejoice (joy and bitterness cannot co-exist); b) aim at restoration (literally to ‘mend what is broken’); c) agree with one another (share the mind of Christ); d) make peace (take the initiative to concede, cease fire and instead cultivate, live and speak peace), finishing off his sentence with the great empowering promise that ‘the God of love and peace will be with you.’
Above all this, the most important thing that Paul does in seeking reconciliation is to affirm his love for the Corinthians…
Throughout 2 Corinthians Paul affirms his love for the Corinthians in the strongest possible language. “I do not love you? God knows I do!” (2 Cor. 11:11). He explains that the reason he wrote the hard letters that he did was out of “the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Cor. 2:4). He says that if you could look at his heart you’d find the Corinthians engraved on it (2 Cor. 3:2). He is desperately concerned for their spiritual life – if they are going well he is overjoyed, if they are drifting away he is gutted. He has the concern of a betrother (2 Cor. 11:2) and the love of a father (2 Cor. 12:14-15). The whole letter is dripping with love.
We talked the other day in a second year class at iServe Africa about this passage and the different ways in which we can affirm love for one another. And we saw that there are a lot of cultural aspects to this. Paul commends a ‘holy kiss’ (2 Cor. 13:12) whereas we might have other non-verbal means of affirmation more appropriate in our cultures – e.g. giving and receiving of gifts or preparation and eating of food (we affirm love for our mother by eating a big plate of her food) or visiting and receiving a visit. Then there are indirect verbal ways of affirming one another – e.g. taking greetings from someone to someone else or publicly praising someone to someone else or associating ourselves with someone in affirmation of their ministry (you see Paul doing all these often at the end of his letters e.g. Romans 16).
But on top of all these is the (counter-cultural) example of the Apostle Paul to actually directly verbally affirm love for one another. Someone in our discussion at iServe pointed out that it is usually the congregation who affirm their love for their pastor not the other way around. But here the Apostle is saying directly and repeatedly (in writing) to the Corinthians that he loves them. [Note to self: remember to write emails, cards, messages.]
Paul’s letters always end well – with a grace-filled prayer of gospel blessing – e.g. “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Cor. 13:14)
Closure is important. When you write an email it is good to sign off in appropriate way. If there is no greeting and sign off then we wonder whether you’ve hit ‘send’ by mistake and there was more to come or it simply comes across a bit cold. A relationship without a farewell is a bit like that.
As Duncan told us, leave time for goodbyes. Don’t be packing and heading to the airport thinking of those you didn’t make time to meet up with. List those you need to say goodbye to and plan how you’ll do it. You won’t do it perfectly. You will miss some people. You will find there is sometimes a mismatch between how important someone is to you and how important you are to them. Some goodbyes will be awkward. Sometimes they’ll be painful. But they’re worth doing well. The classic goodbye in Scripture is Paul’s to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20). He reminds them of his pattern of gospel ministry, he charges them and warns them, he commits them to God and the word of his grace, there are floods of tears, physical contact, all very un-British! Not all goodbyes need to be that dramatic but there does need to be closure and a right sort of sadness.
I remember a meeting many years ago where someone asked the great New Testament scholar Earl Ellis why there was so much crying at Paul’s farewell in Acts 20 (“that they would not see his face again”) when surely all of them believed in eternal life and the resurrection and were confident of meeting again. Earl paused and then told us about his meeting with an old Christian friend some months before and they were both very aware that this friend would soon die and that they would not see each other again in this life and there was a right grieving of that loss.
The final log of the raft is turning your thoughts towards where you a transitioning to. This might include getting information (internet, reading, talking to people), a pre-travel orientation, moderating expectations (not too low or too high), and making practical arrangements (not just for travelling there but for the first few days – picking form the airport, accommodation, making calls, getting cash).
Paul was certainly very clear where he was headed (or at least clear of his intentions). He set his face to go (like Jesus) to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22). On another occasion he planned to go to Rome and then on to Spain with clear intentions of gospel work in both places. He didn’t live in the past but in the present and future (Phil. 3:12-14). He may not have know the details of what was going to happen to him in the cities he visited (Acts 20:22-23) but he had certainly moderated his expectations – great opportunities to ‘finish the task’ along with ‘prison and hardships’ (Acts 20:23-24).
One other practical take away from Paul’s example – as he thinks destination he writes ahead to prepare people for his coming. That is what the letter of 2 Corinthians and Romans and Philemon are for – emotionally and theologically and practically preparing people to receive him.
Of course God is sovereign in all this. Paul’s story shows us that sometimes (often) his transitions went hugely differently to how he expected or intended. He was torn away from people without a proper goodbye (1 Thessalonians). He was prevented from entering some places. He finally turned up at Rome as a prisoner. At one point everyone deserted him. But at least, by God’s grace, he did the reconciliation-affirmation-farewell-think thing as well as he could. And in all things he had that great confidence that can be ours too: that God goes with us, that his grace is sufficient in our weakness (felt more strongly in transition), that he rules over shipwrecks and visas, that he will get us where he wants us and eventually bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom.
It was very good to have pastor-scholars Gary Cymbaluk and Kip’ Chelashaw with us last week to teach our second year class. Kip’ shared with us A Biblical theology on the person and work of Christ and it was great to see many beautiful ways in which Christmas and Easter tie together the different threads of the Bible story. Then Gary shared with us on Objective Truth – why we need to orientate ourselves to ‘true North’, reality outside of us.
Perhaps one of the most striking things Gary shared with us was this:
“Things are not true because they are in the Bible; they are in the Bible because they are true.”
This might sound odd but it fits with the end of John’s Gospel:
“Jesus did many other things as well.” (John 21:25)
In other words there are loads of things that happened, true genuine historical things, which are not recorded in the Bible. The truth, reality, is bigger than what is contained in the Bible, even though the Bible is the only book which tells us how to understand that bigger reality and how to be saved from its darkness.
The Reformers, 500 years ago, believed:
“the authority of Holy Scripture rested purely on the fact that it reports upon real acts of God in revelation… The authority of Holy Scripture then rests not upon the form of its recording [that it is written in a book] but upon… the reality of the revealed facts attested in writing.” (Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics as quoted by D K Mckim).
Everything in the Bible is true but it’s not that being written in the Bible magically confers on things the attribute ‘true’. Rather the reason that things are in the Bible is because they are true – the acts of God in history.
“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down.” (John 21:24 cf. 20:30)
The Bible is legal testimony – it points to concrete reality, often as an eye witness. As Gary helped us see, the truth is out there. There is such a thing as objective reality, what Francis Shaeffer called ‘True Truth’ which is there whether or not you believe it, whether or not I believe it, it is just there. And the Bible witnesses to that reality.
So what? Here are a few consequences:
- We are not supposed to be like the Pharisees who got fixed on searching the Scriptures as an end in itself. We are supposed to search the Scriptures to find the reality of Christ and come to him to have life (John 5:39-40; 20:30-31).
- Christians should be people committed to truth wherever it comes from. Science (exploring reality) is good. History (examining sources from the past) is important. When we make claims or share things on social media we, more than anyone, should be concerned to check out whether they are true.
- We should rediscover the historicity of the gospel. The message of the apostles was not about some fuzzy feelings they were having it was ‘News’ that something had happened – a man had been crucified and he had risen again. This was not a self-help philosophy it was public truth (Acts 26:26).
- Let’s think carefully about whether we ourselves really believe that the things in the Bible are public truth or whether we have quietly bought into the view that this is ‘my spirituality’, ‘my truth’. Do we really care whether these things actually happened or not? Have we forgotten that the Scriptures are describing reality and started to treat them as writings that ‘work for me’ or that ‘I believe because I know I’m supposed to believe this stuff because it’s the Word of God’? When challenged by unbelievers do we respond with ‘In my opinion’ or ‘Me I think’ or do we stand firm on this being Reality for everyone whether they like it or not.
- As we look with sadness at how the contemporary Godless world is embracing an aggressive form of relativism and self-definition where ‘I create my own reality’ and ‘Don’t you tell me that my reality is wrong’, we need to be careful that we don’t do the very same thing in our own spirituality. Many false teachers in the church will tell us, ‘Create your own reality and define yourself by speaking out positive words about yourself’. Many motivational speakers will tell us, ‘Don’t let anyone say anything negative into your life’. As the old Bible teacher Dick Lucas has said many times, biblical spirituality which is always about facing up to hard reality not living in a fantasy world. Biblical faith is not faith in faith. Our faith is supposed to be a trust in solid historical truth – Jesus crucified and risen.
- We need to embrace the great Reformation rediscovery that hope it outside ourselves. Identity is not something we find by looking within. Wisdom is not in us but in Christ. Good is not in us but in Christ. Salvation is not found by looking inside for the still small voice or by trusting in our good works or even in our feelings of assurance. Salvation is about having our eyes opened to reality – seeing the crucified, risen, exalted God-man – and finding in him an objective status – ‘Righteous’ – an alien righteousness, from outside.
Some more resources from second year class over the last couple of weeks:
We always praise God when iServe Africa apprentices head into the corporate market place as servant leaders or into school teaching committed to discipling or into medicine as a mission field or into godly marriages that picture Christ and his Church. One of the rediscoveries of the Reformers 500 years ago was that all these can be places of ‘full time Christian ministry’.
But be also praise God when some decide to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). There is a huge need for godly Bible teachers, a huge need for gospel-hearted pastors for God’s flock, a huge need for kingdom-minded quality workers in the harvest field. So it’s exciting when we receive a letter like the one below from a young man who has decided to head towards a life ministering the gospel of Jesus. But even more encouraging than his desire to go into pastoral ministry is the heart that you see below – the heart we all need – that turns from self to Christ, lives in the light of eternity, prays Your kingdom come, Your will be done.
The prayer of a Christian going to pastoral ministry
I am the son of a small poor village, the son of separated parents trying to make ends meet and have a better future. I am a graduate from a good university and with good grades. But I don’t see myself pursuing my career unless as a means to serve Jesus better with the gifts he has given me.
I believe God has given me, as a member of his church, teaching gifts. I have had the privilege of extensive training that has helped me get a better understanding of his Word, know Jesus more, be clear in my understanding of the Gospel and enjoy serving his people with the Gospel. I know now that I am more than a son of a farmer; I am one of the sons of God, born to him by faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus.
I’m not sure how the near future may turn out for me. Who knows, I might live long and serve Jesus for a long time. Praise God if he grants this. On the other hand I might not have a long life or a successful ministry for that matter. I know I can expect suffering and that actually that suffering may give me more joy in the hope of God’s glory and delight in knowing Jesus who will one day bring the perfect world. That life of joy in suffering might be a good testimony for others. Praise God if that happens.
Whatever my life may turn out to be I know one thing for sure: this I am convinced of, that Jesus has won me eternal salvation and no one should trade this for anything else. I will live for him now, use that which he has given me to serve him, teach others about him as I seek to know and walk with him myself.
I may seem to be talking like a man of great faith yet that is not really the case; it is just that I have found that when you live under the instruction of God’s Word and see his amazing eternal promises, see what Jesus has achieved, then you will want more than anything his reign and to live for him now in this world ahead of the glorious new creation where he will reign forever. A man who believes this truth, the truth of God’s Word, will have the resolution to live in service to this King, want to know Him more and serve Him with his life according to the portion of their gift from our King to His church.
I want to be this kind of man who hears, believes and responds to the amazing call of our king, Jesus. May the Lord be glorified with this one life and bring fruit for his work through the gospel. And may the joy of serving King Jesus not fade no matter how the near future turns out to be. May the hope of God’s eternal glory always remain in front of me when the enemy of my soul tempts me with earthly temporal and vain pleasures or scares me with earthly pain and even death.
This is my prayer.
Resources on finding your life work:
Leading a congregation of God’s people in prayer is a privilege but not an easy thing. Here are a few resources and then a few more tips.
- Kingdom-centred prayer
- 4 reasons every church needs a time of confession and How to keep it fresh
- How to lead a prayer meeting
10 tips for leading corporate prayer from the front:
- Written – it’s not a biblical law that you have to write out your prayers but it is a good idea: a) it means that you’ll remember all the things you need to pray for and not get nervous and tongue-tied; b) it means you can structure your thoughts and think through the phrasing so you pray prayers that are theologically sound and make sense (it’s very easy to start speaking heresy or nonsense when you’re up front and off the cuff); c) it means you can keep it short and to the point (it’s very easy to waffle and wander and repeat yourself when you are extemporary) – one side of A4 paper will be 4-5 minutes which is fine. Even if you don’t write, at least prepare.
- Biblical – use Bible arguments in prayer: appealing to his mercy, calling him to defend his glory/name, claiming the Lord’s promises (check they are actually promises that apply to us). BCP prayers are a good model: 1) address God using an attribute that it relevant to what you are about to pray for; 2) ask God; 3) on the basis of Jesus’ work on the Cross. You may find it helpful (but it is not essential) to structure your prayers on a Bible prayer (an incomplete list below). Another approach, which can be very helpful, is to pray along the lines of what was preached last week at church. We want to be praying the Word. But [warning!!] this is not the place for preaching – keep it short and prayerful.
- Look outward – it can be helpful to mention particular needs of the church family but in the public worship service it’s good to have an emphasis on the needs of the world, our nation, our leaders (1 Tim. 2) and the national church. It can be good for us also to pray by name for other Christ preaching churches which might not be in our denomination but are brothers in Christ and fellow workers. It helps to remind us all that there is only one harvest field and one Lord.
- Specific but not over-specific – it’s good to pray for particular places, events and situations. Let’s mention for particular people and things coming up in the nation and in the life of the church – missions. But [warning!!] we don’t need to tell God exactly how to sort those situations out.
- Check the details – check with the pastors for news of those who are ill and with those in touch with mission partners for up-to-date information on missionaries. Check whether it is ok to give details of illnesses or names or countries before you pray for them in public (i.e. be sensitive to confidentiality and security issues).
- Pray for the praying – both individually and together with all those involved in the meeting in the vestry half an hour before kick off.
- Pray the prayers – rather than spending much time telling us what we are going to pray for, just go for it and pray to the Lord our God. And when you pray them don’t just say them, pray them.
- Slow down – make your delivery slow enough so we can all follow and pray along with you. Short pauses can be really helpful.
- Amens – one of the great things about corporate-led prayer is that one person is speaking but we are all praying along with you and then we all agree with an ‘Amen’ at the end to express that this is our prayer too (1 Cor. 14:16). So let us know at the beginning how you would like us to respond at the end of the prayers. To keep us with you try dividing the prayers into three or four portions (with different themes) and closing each with a similar appeal through Jesus which is followed by a strong corporate “Amen” or “Hear our prayer”.
- Pray for the praying – all the way through the process. Prayer is a spiritual activity. Pray before you prepare that the Spirit would guide you to the prayers the Father wants to answer. Pray that they would be helpful to God’s people. Write before the worship service meet together with all those involved to pray through all the different parts of the service, not least the praying.
Some biblical prayers for inspiration:
1 Kings 8:57-60; Nehemiah 1; 9; Psalm 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 16, 18, 46, 47, 51, 62, 63, 65, 67; Isaiah 37:14-20; 63:7-64:12; Jeremiah 32:17-25; Lamentations 3:19-26; Daniel 2:20-23; 4:34-35; 9:4-19; Matt. 9:38; 1 Cor 1:4-9; 2 Cor 1:3-4; Eph 1:16-23; 3:14-19; Phil 1:3-11; Col 1:3-14; 1 Thess 3:12-12; 2 Thess 2:16-17; Phil 1:3-6,9-11.
Rosemary Wambui, who has just returned from serving for a year alongside a health centre in Uganda shares her experience:
I was born in Nakuru Kenya, where I was raised and went to school. I am a nurse by profession. Jesus Christ is the Lord and Saviour of my soul. In 2016 I completed my University education and was so excited to be in the nursing field and make money
as it was also my family’s expectation. Little did I know that the Lord was calling me to serve his people cross-culturally in a different country. I joined iServe Africa as an apprentice only to realize that my placement was in Northern Uganda, in West Nile region among the Lugbura, where I served as a nursing officer in the health centre and also in the community. In the church I was helping in the youth service while in the health centre I helped conduct morning devotions with the help of a good Christian friend.
It was not only an exciting thing being in a country I had never been to before, but also a challenging thing. Leaving my friends and family and my fiancé was not an easy thing. Praise the Lord for sufficient and even abundant grace. He enabled me settle well despite a tiring journey of 10 hours drive. The people were very welcoming, though some culture shock hit me on the very first day. Language barrier was my great challenge as about 85% of the clients did not understand English or Kiswahili so some times I had to use sign language to communicate whenever I without a translator. Food was also my great challenge especially enyasa, ants, mukene and mudrokori but praise the Lord who enabled me to eat them (though some times with difficulty). Snakes were my greatest challenge and most of the time they came in the house. I also wrestled with boils for eight months.
For the joy set before him…
The most amazing thing is seeing Christ going through so much to accomplish his mission. He suffering hardship we will never understand. He was hated and killed by the ones he came to save. But he did not fail in his task despite it all. His rejection and death was the very thing that achieved his mission which was saving sinful man. This has been my strength through out the year.
I was encouraged by David Platt’s book Follow Me. I learnt what it means to follow Christ. “Deny self and take up the cross,” I told myself, “Despite all the challenges, I will not fail in my task”. This has been my slogan.
I’m grateful that God has made this year a time of great spiritual growth for me as I have read several Christian books, practiced the spiritual disciplines, studied the Word of God deeply as I prepared talks, and received training from Global Link Afrika. Serving people in Northern Uganda only increased my passion for nursing and medical mission. As I go back to Kenya, I go back being a transformed lady, feeling a responsibility and readiness to serve, especially those with terminal illness (palliative care) and share Christ with them as they prepare for departure.
To my fellow incoming missionaries…
We have been called for mission and for cross-cultural missions. He who called us is able to give you strength, grace and wisdom. If you focus on him, He will enable you accomplish your task. May God bless you abundantly.
This testimony first featured in the GLA magazine The Link.