AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO PRAYER

Probably one of the most important things in our spiritual walk for which we need encouragement is our prayer life. This is true whether we think in terms of our own personal prayer or of united prayer with others. We live in a world where everything seems to conspire against it. Satan is very active against prayer and finds, amongst other things, good ground to resist it through our own natural predisposition to take an easy route in life whenever possible. Desperation and pain are frequently an unpleasant stimulus to prayer and we would probably admit it is in such times that we really pray. But there are much more positive stimuli, and some are offered below.

1 The Privilege of Prayer

Let us the approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Heb. 4:16

It is so important to recognise what a privilege prayer is. Such a privilege is something for constant meditation. Prayer is the practical expression of the two most important things that any human being can have in this life; access to God and relationship with God. This means we can come into his presence and find that he is pleased to receive us, and ready to listen to us. It is important to recognise that the access we have is to a place where God rules – the “throne”. Our access is to the all-powerful, ruling Lord of Creation, the one who has power over everything and knows everything. Our access is to an audience with God who is King over all. Without such access prayer would be of no avail, just mere words, and we would have no confidence in making requests. But with such access we have come to the centre of divine power. All is available to us through One who is all-wise.Such access means we have a relationship with God. Talking to someone and listening to them, and especially talking at the deepest level is the essential mark of relationship. And our relationship in prayer is with an Almighty God who is also our Father. At a human level if we fail to talk and listen to our friends or family our relationship founders and we lose all the value and help it can provide. It is so important to communicate. God, as Father, is, in the nature of things, always ready with a listening ear, ready to “help in time of need”, ready to provide, ready to guide. It is very short-sighted on our part to fail to talk and listen to Him, so letting the relationship weaken. Relationships in life which are helpful and strengthening are one of the most important things to successful living and much to be pursued; how much more so our relationship to God. We are always glad to talk to helpful friends and we should certainly have the same frame of mind with God. We should feel able to be utterly free to really speak our mind and our heart, and in simple language. We should feel able to simply sit with Him and just enjoy his presence, even when we are not quite sure what to say; relationships are sometimes secured as much by being quiet in the presence of a loved one as by talking. And what a privilege it is to have access through our relationship at any time and in any place!

2 The “Price” of Prayer

“We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” Heb. 10:19

Access and relationship with God was bought at a great cost. It did not simply “just happen”. To establish the “privilege” of coming into the “throne room” of God our sin had to be dealt with, and a sacrifice was essential. Prayer is no cheap privilege, to be taken for granted. God’s own Son paid the price with his own blood, something that we can scarcely really conceive. Calvary, and the forgiveness of our sin makes prayer possible. The only cost we are called to make is to allow sin to die in our lives, and leave godlessness behind us. If, at a human level, a family member’s death proved to be the means of restoring a warm and enduring family relationship we would be eternally thankful, and would honour that death immensely. The death of Jesus as done precisely that as far as our relationship with our Heavenly Father is concerned. How tragic that we are all too inclined to neglect such a privilege that was paid for at such a price! Thinking on the cost, however, will bring us more readily to the throne of grace, release a deep sense of thankfulness into our prayer and see it release the Father’s power.

3 The Power of Prayer

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be opened in order that you may know …….. his incomparably great power for us who believe” Eph. 1: 18,19

Prayer in itself is not power, but it is the switch that releases power, or more precisely, God’s power. That is why it is so powerful. If the switch is rarely pulled, the power is rarely seen! Two things are required in order to operate that switch. First, there must be faith in the Living God and in his readiness to listen to prayer. Second there must be godly living in the one who prays. Prayer is no mere slot machine operated by “correct” words or much repeated words. It is the function of a living relationship in which a genuine heart faith in God is allied to godly requests and a life which is pleasing to Him.

4 The Priority of Prayer

“You have not because you ask not”. James 4:2 “Ask and you will receive”. Matt.7:7

There is no clearer lesson in Scripture than the truth that all powerful works of God have their beginnings in prayer. In fact it becomes very clear that when God wants to move and do something He seems always to get someone or a number of people to pray for what he is wanting to do. It is part of the way he works. In prayer we are co-workers with him in his purposes. The genuine works and power of God have always come out earnest prayer.

Sometimes indeed that prayer comes in the shape of a heart-rending cry out of sheer distress, as with the Israelites suffering and crying out for deliverance under brutal Egyptian oppression. In answer to their cry God raised up Moses and delivered the Israelites, a deliverance that was, however, in his purpose before ever they cried out. Following the ascension of Jesus, the apostles and others gave themselves to ten days of prayer, pursuing in their prayer Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. God met with them on the Day of Pentecost and the promise was mightily fulfilled. The switch had been pulled – here was the power. Paul, blind and broken in spirit cried out to God for three days for God to speak to him, and he was answered by Ananias telling him of his commission to the Gentiles and praying for him to receive the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes prayer comes out of a promise or a vision of a work which is strongly impressed on the heart of someone who has learned to “wait on God”. The annals of those sent on missionary work over the last two centuries are full of examples of this; Brother Andrew of Open Doors, seeking to support persecuted Christians is one such remarkable story of an entirely new twentieth century work begun in vision and secured by uninterrupted intercession to the benefit of untold Christians. There are many other similar stories

In whatever way such a burden of prayer is released it is always prior to and fundamental to the work which is accomplished through it.

Bob Dunnett

NATIONAL INTERCESSION – Further Thoughts

Last week’s blog looked at the intercession which was made during the crisis of World War 2 by those who had prophetic insight and faith to grasp that God could and would act in answer to prayer.  We considered such intercession on both a national scale and among individuals.  It clearly undergirded military victories and the final success against an evil regime.  This week we continue to look at some of the lessons we can learn from that intercession.

One very important fact to keep in mind as we do this is that in the bible experiencing war is always seen as an act of judgement on God’s part.  This is not an easy principle to grasp especially when what is seen as a seemingly “innocent” nation is attacked by a ruthless, unprincipled antagonist.  The idea that an “innocent” nation in such a situation is under judgement goes against deep emotions of loyalty, against a sense of justice, and, of course, in a godless world, against rationality!   If the nation happens to be our own nation then the idea of judgement is all the more strongly rejected!  But the bible is quite clear on the issue. God, speaking to his prophet Ezekiel spoke of “My four dreadful judgements, ’Sword and famine and wild beasts and plague” (See Ez. 14:12-21).  To be caught up in a war (the “sword”) is to be under judgement, whether the country which is attacked thinks itself innocent or not.  The twentieth century European (and world) wars are rarely, if ever, seen as judgements, but to the prophet’s eyes it is all too clear.  The twentieth century was labelled by one well-known historian as “the century of slaughter” – world-wide slaughter; and not without reason!  Biblically it was a century of judgement. Germany, Russia and, yes, Britain and America, along with many other countries, came under the judgement of war.  Wisdom lies not in claiming innocence but in trying to understand why it came to us.  “Where were we at fault?” is the proper question to ask.

This was a concept that initially stumbled the prophet Habakkuk.  When God told him that Judah was going to be ravaged by the merciless Babylonian army, he expressed great indignation at the idea of such a godless power being let loose on his country which, though not perfect on any count, was far less deserving of judgement than the attacker.  This was his viewpoint despite the fact that he knew perfectly well that Judah’s sister nation, Israel, had a century or so before been ravaged by the equally murderous Assyrians and that the event had been clearly recognised by the prophets of the time as a judgement .  Indignant, he in fact challenged God on the question of judgement through an evil power.  He was partially helped when he learned from God that evil Babylon would itself be judged in due course, but he nonetheless had to accept the fact that Judah was going to come under judgement for turning its back on God and was going to suffer grievously from the Babylonian war machine before Babylon in its turn suffered.

Two weeks ago in our blog we quoted the text of Abraham’ Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer in the midst of the American Civil War.  In an astonishing way he recognised very clearly the nature of war as a judgement of God.  He wrote, “And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People?”  He did not condemn the Southern States for their slavery or seek in any other way to justify the Northern States for their actions but recognised that the whole of the nation, North and South, was under judgement.  He was not offended as was Habakkuk.  More astonishing still, he clearly recognised that the judgement could bring about a national reformation and had a profitable purpose.  That “reformation” would lead to a turning away from the arrogance and pride which had rejected God in the midst of the success and prosperity of the growing nation. Lincoln was remarkably biblically literate and had a clear understanding of the nature and purpose of the judgements of God and that war was one of those judgements.

Thus when the likes of Rees Howell and Derick Prince, whom we mentioned last week (and the many others whom we shall never know of), took on a burden of prayer for the nation as the Nazi threat was carrying everything before it, they were in fact praying for a nation that was under judgement.  Much prayer had been made in 1939 for peace to prevail, but that had not been answered in the way that was hoped.  War came; judgement fell.  What in effect was happening with those who went on interceding was that they were praying essentially on the theme of “Lord, in wrath remember mercy”.  They could not turn the judgement (wrath) away but their prayer was effective for mitigating the judgement of war.  This had become Habakkuk’s position with God when he learned that his prayer would not prevent judgement; he pleaded for mercy in the midst of judgement.  He could not prevent Judah from being overrun and exiled to Babylon, for that was a decreed judgement of God, but he could plead for acts of mercy from God in the midst of it and he could plead for an ultimate restoration of Judah.  Thus when “wrath” comes, God remains open to a cry for mercy.  That should not in any way deaden our recognition or de-sensitise us to the appalling horrors of war as a judgement, but it does mean we are not left utterly helpless.

At the moment we are, as a nation, already under the judgement of God, though not at present under the judgement of war.  The present judgement is witnessed in the growing confusion and incompetence of government, in the way the nation has been “given over” by God to its own increasing moral and social collapse, and to its worship of pleasure and treasure.  This judgement is not, of course, peculiar to our own nation; it is in fact happening world-wide.  In such a wide scenario strong, evil men are likely to gain power and look for conquests, if need be by force of arms.  They in turn become the human agents of war (or terror), and become the instruments of judgment.  This process of development is one that we are becoming more and more familiar with in our world and is by no means unk nown at this time in our history.  It is very sobering and should lead (in Lincoln’s term) to a spirit of humiliation.

With a world bent on ignoring its Maker and pursuing its own libertine agenda, the call to God that he might none the less release acts of mercy is very urgent for our world. Looking for him, however, to hold back judgement itself is much less secure. But, judgement or not, the intercessory call for God to fulfil the mission to the Gentile world, to gather his own and to bring in His Kingdom remains paramount and will certainly be answered.

Bob Dunnett

NATIONAL INTERCESSION

Last week’s blog contained the Proclamation that Abraham Lincoln made to the United States in 1863 calling for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer in the midst of the American Civil War. This was actually one of three such proclamations; the first preceding it by two years at the beginning of the war and the third toward the end. Is it possible to say what they achieved?  The two aims of the Prayer were clear: “…the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country to its former happy condition of unity and peace”. The second of those two requests was fully answered. The secession of the South with its endemic social structure of slavery was always a very real danger; its armies initially were not inferior to the North’s. But the “divided and suffering Country” was in fact restored and united. At the same time the end of slavery in the South was secured. The united nation went on to prosper greatly. In the blessing of that very restoration and ensuing prosperity we can also see the first aim, the pardon of God of national sins, was also achieved. God gave the nation a new start with its most marked sin of slavery being removed. So prayer was answered. Such is the power released when a whole nation responds to God in time of need.

Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Proclamation and its outcome were not, however, unique. The same sort of thing has happened in our own national history. Few people will be unaware of the new and graphic film “Dunkirk” with its great concentration on the horrific reality of the event. No portrayal of Dunkirk and the deliverance of the British army at that time of complete national crisis will ever be complete, however, without recognition of the request of King George VI for a National Day of Prayer throughout the whole Commonwealth on May 26th 1940. Only two weeks earlier, On May 10th, the Germans had launched their offensive on France and by May 24th they had broken through all the allied defences. The whole British army, over 300,000 men, having lost most of its equipment, was hemmed in at Dunkirk, its only escape port.  King George VI, a man of clear Christian faith, called the people of Britain and the Empire to commit their cause to God: the loss of that army would have meant the end for Britain. The Day of Prayer was for the salvation of an army and of a nation. The King led the way on that day, along with members of the Cabinet, to Westminster Abbey, where hundreds queued to get in. All over the Commonwealth this happened. The sequel is well known. Hitler hesitated, a great storm over Flanders slowed the Germans, a great persistent calm over the Channel enabled the smallest of boats to reach Dunkirk, a huge response came from hundreds of seafaring people to face the dangers of the beach at Dunkirk and the result was that a whole army was evacuated and saved. Churchill had estimated that possibly 30,000 might have got away. In fact ten times that number were brought home. A further call to National Prayer was made for September 8th 1940 in the midst of the Battle of Britain which was reaching its climax. Immediately afterwards an all-out attack was made by the Germans but just when they had achieved a major victory the German air force gave up the battle and the long onslaught of several intense weeks petered out. Another answer to prayer, and recognised as such by senior leaders.

The story of God acting in answer to prayer during those appalling years of World War 2 does not stop, however, with National Days of Prayer called by a godly King, crucial though they were. There is a great deal of evidence available of groups of Christians and individual Christians on their own, giving themselves to prayer and intercession and seeing God move in the most remarkable ways at times of grave national danger. Rees Howells, the Director of a Welsh Bible College was an outstanding example of this continual prayer being offered up by Christians during the war. He turned his college into a remarkable intercessory force and followed through on every major military campaign from Dunkirk to the landings in Normandy and beyond, seeing remarkable answers to prayer throughout the war until Hitler was finally defeated. Derek Prince, known to many as an outstanding Bible Teacher, records his own personal individual intercession when as a medical orderly he served with the British Eighth Army in North Africa at the time when Rommel was on the very point of breaking through into Egypt and then Palestine. He simply gave himself boldly to prayer and fasting that Rommel would be stopped. I suspect there were many others doing the same but unknown to each other! He records the powerful intervention of God which he witnessed as Rommel was stopped within a few miles of Alexandria. Both Rees and Prince were deeply aware of the fact that though the war was in a sense a judgement on Britain, Hitler was an also instrument of Satan against the world-wide spread of the gospel and the survival of the Jews. It was on that account that they felt able to intercede for victory in the war.

Intercessors who hear God are, therefore, people of great importance in the flow of national history, whether operating singly or in groups. They are much to be encouraged, and the need for them is always of the highest. They are still important for a number of reasons:

1 I think it fair to say that in the general flow of prayer in the church generally there is not very much persistent and earnest prayer on national issues, despite Paul’s injunction, “I urge, then, first of all that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving,  be made for ….. kings and all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1). The Sunday services in churches frequently lack any such concerted national intercessory prayer, and this is true of many evangelical churches. It is also frequently neglected in prayer gatherings.

National prayer for rulers and governments is not very high on the agenda. But some need to stand in the gap! Praise and worship is utterly essential, but perhaps we need to reflect on the fact that earnest intercession can have just as much effect in stimulating believers, and convicting and impressing unbelievers.

2 The fact is that we are facing an appallingly threatening time in our history when we need to be alert to the dangers before us. Very few Christians are aware of the judgements that overhang our nation in view of our blatant and arrogant rejection of God.

3 Intercessors still have a critical role even when the nation goes has to through judgement. As in the case even of such majestic prophetic intercessors like Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, they are not always able to stop God’s decreed judgements (as is, I believe, currently the case with our own nation), but their prayers through the trials of judgement are crucial for ultimate survival and restoration. This was precisely what happened through the intercessors who were praying for our nation during the war

4 Such intercessors are in fact the instruments by which God is able to “in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk) even in the most dire of national straits. Their ministry, mostly hidden remains of primary importance

Bob Dunnett

WISDOM FROM HISTORY

I was much impressed this week as once again I came across the proclamation by Abraham Lincoln when faced with national chaos in the midst of the American civil war. I was struck by the sheer spiritual stature of the man and equally struck by the spiritual stature of the members of the American Senate. It was a remarkable outburst of the spiritual DNA of so many of the first settlers on that Atlantic sea board: that DNA was a simple but real faith in the God who brought them to, and watched over them in their new land. It is printed in full for your consideration, some parts are highlighted in bold print, and at the end I have made a few concluding comments. I hope it speaks to you and challenges you afresh in the same way I found it challenging me. It is much more than just a bit of history!

 A Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America

For a Day of Prayer and National Humiliation

Fasting and Prayer *

(* This was made in 1863 in the middle of the very bitter American Civil War)

 

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behoves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

Comment

As the President stated, blessing on any nation is tied to its acknowledgment that God is its Lord. This is the same for individuals. Faith and trust in God accompanied by obedience to the standards he has set before humanity is the royal road and only road to blessing, national or personal. When we jettison God we jettison our blessing, for God rules the world and its nations on his own principles. This is as true for “Christian” nations as for others. Indeed for those who have known and walked in God’s ways and then deliberately turn from them and forget God, the inevitable outcome of judgement is even greater.

This is precisely the matter that the Proclamation faces up to; “We have been preserved, these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God”. Lincoln is speaking for the nation as a whole, the nation as it had become before the outbreak of hostilities. He clarifies the situation with the words, “We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”

 There could not be a more prescient and accurate statement to describe our own present situation in our own nation at this time in its history. We are not in the midst of a civil war, but we are certainly in the midst of something akin to political civil war with turmoil, confusion “drawn daggers” and treachery. The hope of strong leadership that did seem to be present at one point has now been broken. The outlook is very bleak and threatening. The real tragedy, however, is that there is at this time no one of the spiritual ilk of Lincoln in national leadership, no phalanx of spiritual thinking such as was present in the U.S. Senate when it formulated the Proclamation and laid bare the real heart of the national problem. With us there has been not only a forgetting of God and his ways, but a deliberate embracing of a secular anti-God position along with a dilution and discarding of his moral commands. Indeed the marginalisation of our Christian heritage has begun and is fast increasing. Judgement stares us in the face, judgement that could cost Christians dearly.

This presents the church of God with a massive challenge, for there is nothing left but the church. There is no room for a “National Day of Prayer” of the kind Lincoln proclaimed; we simply do not have the required spiritual capital left at the national level. The church has to step in. It requires two things of the church: a prophetic voice in the nation that refuses to be silenced and a recourse to prayer of a kind we have not been generally used to. The real danger, however, is that we have not yet fully woken up to a full grasp of what the current chaos will lead to. Until we do wake up to the position the motivation to such prayer will simply not be there.

 

Bob Dunnett

 

To be continued

AN EXCELLENT PRAYER INITIATIVE

We are coming to the end this week of what I believe is one of the most productive and promising of the many prayer initiatives that we have seen of recent years.  I am referring to the ten day prayer initiative launched by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York and covering the ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost Sunday.  There are many things which commend it.

First it came from the Archbishops of the National Church acting in harmony and unity.  It was not a “token” call in any sense but an expression of their oneness of heart-longing for real renewal by the Holy Spirit in the church at large.  It was not aimed merely at the Church of England but was genuine “national” in concept in that it built bridges and was wide open to other Christian denominations and streams.  Among those other groupings there was widespread response. It gave adequate space for wide variety in the mode and manner and intensity of prayer.

Second it was a clear “spiritual” call – a call to prayer.  Refreshingly it did not centre on projects and programmes, but put its finger on the most important need in the church – a return to urgent and focussed prayer.  The church needs prayer more than plans – prayer leads to God’s plans and God’s power.

Third it was eminently practicable and possible because of its essential simplicity.  It was actually the nearest thing that we can get to a National day of Prayer at this time.  The Queen is in no position to call for such a National Day of Prayer, for such days have as their essential rationale a truly and blatant national calamity which is obvious to the vast majority in the nation.  The days after Dunkirk were the background to what I believe was the last National Day of Prayer, called by George VIth, when we all knew that invasion and conquest by the Nazis was imminent and very possible.  We have no such evident calamity.  None the less prayer for the nation and for genuine Christian spiritual renewal in the nation remains its most pressing need.  The call by the two Archbishops for such prayer, using their position, authority and power in the Church of the nation was the next best thing and highly appropriate.  We should thank God for them and for the Providence that has put them together at this time to make such a call.

Fourth it was astutely and firmly biblical, taking, as it did for its inspiration the model of the early church at prayer for the ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost Sunday. In those days the early disciples gave themselves to earnest and prolonged prayer.  This again was no token prayer, but an expression of their deep desire that the promises of Jesus about the Kingdom and the Spirit would be fulfilled. We are told they “gave themselves to prayer” (“made a business of prayer”)”. There were not many of them – a bare handful – but they believed the promises of Jesus and the readiness of the Father to answer their prayers despite the fact that they were few in number. Their number was not an essential factor – their spirit was.  In effect 120 praying people brought about the coming of the Spirit and subsequent revival among the Jews.

Fifth the Archbishops’ Call gave a very clear and simple direction to the prayer.  It is so important that prayer is given a direction and that intent is spelled out. Much of prayer is simply “ask and you will receive” and we should not be ashamed or put off by such simple direct asking.  It is very biblical, and it is encouraged by Jesus himself.  Intercessory prayer is intended to achieve objectives and get results; it needs to be specific.  It is the church’s weapon. There are, of course, other aspects of prayer which are important and belong to the asking process, but we want things to happen.

The direction that the Archbishops gave was twofold, and again thoroughly biblical and simple.  We were asked to pray for the Coming of the Kingdom of God, not only in our own country but across the world.  This was the essential longing of Jesus himself and the substance of his commission to the disciples “to go into all the world and make disciples”.  The Kingdom of God, His rule, is intended to operate in the hearts of men and women and to be worked out through them in acts of peace, righteousness and justice.  Thus the Kingdom of God is extended and grown as people turn to Jesus. It is as simple as that; and that is precisely what this initiative put its finger on – that people might turn to Jesus and so the Kingdom might grow. What a wonderfully accurate pointer for prayer!  At the same time, moreover, the call in its second directive was that we should seek the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to make this happen, to empower Christian people to be the sort of witnesses that could bring other people to believe in Jesus.  It was prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit. There can be no real renewal without the presence and empowering of the Spirit Himself. It cannot be planned and it cannot be programmed.  The Spirit blows where He will, and will not be directed; but God sends Him to those who earnestly seek Him – prayer is key.  How appropriate that the ten days should end on Pentecost Sunday, therefore.  It was Pentecost that gave the power essential to the witness of the church – it gave it great boldness and it gave it great clarity and it released something of the miraculous in the life and experience of the church which greatly authenticated its witness.  It is to be much hoped that we shall see something of this happening on this Pentecost Sunday and succeeding days.

It is also profoundly to be hoped that though this prayer initiative was very sensibly made for just ten days that the impetus will go on for a great deal longer than that and leave a permanent impression. “Keep on asking” until we receive is the need. At a personal level, having moved from the “big city” to small village I have witnessed myself the beginnings of revitalisation in the groups of the 4s and 5s who make up the prayer life of the village through this initiative. It will have had a major impact elsewhere, I’m sure.

Bob Dunnett

The Pleasure and Power of Prayer

I do apologise for this column being posted rather late in the day. The reason is that Tuesday has become a day in which I am particularly involved in leading some prayer in the church throughout the month of January. The church in which I worship has set aside the whole of the month for prayer and cancelled all its normal midweek meetings so that people may engage specifically in prayer. I have been leading a series of sessions called “Praying for the World”.

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Thinking About the New Year

Well, the New Year has come! We have welcomed it in, largely with food, fizz and fireworks, and offered good wishes.

January 1st is, however, very much a rootless occasion. That is to say it is not grounded on any substantial event or memory. The date has no inherent message. Christmas is rather different since Christmas is rooted in the celebration of the birth of the Son of God and the offer of human salvation. The Jewish New Year as it is presented in the Old Testament is also full of meaning. The first month of the Jewish calendar (Abib) was set aside by God to mark the deliverance of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt and it included the Feast of Passover. Thus for the Jew the New Year was a memorial of deliverance, of a new freedom and of an assurance that God was their God and would be with them. It spoke of hope.

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