Jurong Outreach

"whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ."

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Prayer is not always the answer

The Bible teaches that prayer is important (Luke 18:1; Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:1), but it also teaches that there are times when prayer is inappropriate. When Moses prayed that God would change His mind about punishing Miriam, God told him to quit praying and accept the consequences of sin (Number 12:13,14). Prayer won’t change some things:

If I commit sexual sin, prayer may remove the guilt, but it will not restore my purity.
If I am unfaithful to my mate, prayer cannot remove the fact that I have committed adultery, and my spouse can put me away (Matthew 19:9).
If I am promiscuous and contact a disease (e.g., AIDS), prayer will not miraculously remove the disease.
If I as a parent waste precious years of training and molding my child into the image of Christ, it may be that one day I’ll pray that they’ll come back, and I won’t be able to get them back.
If I gossip against someone, I may pray, and be forgiven, but those words will not be unheard.

God told Joshua to get rid of the sin in the camp, and then pray (7:10). Jeremiah was told not to pray for rebellious Israel (7:9,10, 16; 11:14). God told Cornelius (Acts 10) and Saul (Acts 9,22,26; cf. 22:16), in effect, stop praying, there is something else you need to do in order to be saved.
But often prayer is the answer. How can we encourage more prayer at the grass roots level? It needs to start with elders, deacons, and preachers. When we first set the example, we can say with Paul: Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). While one does not talk of his personal, private prayer life, neither can he hide it. Members can tell which elders and deacons pray. Listeners can discern if the preacher has spent any time on his knees that week. It just shows. Paul wrote, likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid (1 Timothy 5:25).

Once the example is being set, preachers should give emphasis to prayer from the pulpit and in church publications. A congregation can also put in place some public prayer sessions beyond the opening and closing prayers. One that works well is to ask all who want to pray for the church to come a half hour before the Sunday morning Bible class. Choose an appropriately sized room (don’t meet in the auditorium because others coming in will disrupt the prayers). Designate one man as the leader. Any who have prayer requests who will not be there can call him ahead of time. When the meeting starts, he quickly takes additional re-quests from those present. Write them down – perhaps on a marker board. Let all male Christians who desire to lead a prayer, do so each Sunday. If there are several, ask each to pray a short prayer. If there are too many, then rotate prayer leaders from week to week. The session is also open to women and children, of course. One does not have to lead the prayer to pray effectively. Some churches ask the sisters to write cards to those who were mentioned in prayer that day. These cards can be passed around and signed by all present. (Those shut-in their homes or hospital rooms with little to do will pass the time trying to decipher all the names and, perhaps, trying to place all the faces.) This is much more personal than just the name of a church with a note saying, We are all praying for you.

Some churches are going back to Wednesday prayer meetings. These can be done monthly, quarterly, or on the Wednesdays preceding Gospel meetings and other special events. They should be carefully planned and not just left to whoever shows up to pray for whatever comes to mind. Those who will lead prayer should be informed beforehand. To avoid too much duplication in the service, ask each man to pray for a particular part of the work or event. With a Gospel meeting, for instance, one man could pray for the preacher, another for those who are not yet converted, another for the wayward, another for the songleader and song-service, another for the congregation, and so forth. Incidentally, it is hardly coincidental that the church stopped growing in our country about the same time Wednesday night prayer meetings went out of vogue.

We have plowed no new ground in this study. We have scaled no unvisited peaks of divine Truth. Most preachers have preached such sermons at fairly regular intervals. But have we implemented these ideas into rubber meets the road, day-in-day-out church programs? Has our methodology matched our theology? Do we practice what we preach?

Augustus Caesar is said to have found Rome a city of wood, and left it a city of marble. If the congregation where we worship is a city of wood, let’s start praying – and working – and see if in ten years it is not a city of marble.

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A Praying Church Will Be a Forgiving Church (Mark 11:15)

So many congregations don’t grow because there are old feuds in the family, bad blood in the body, and half-buried hatchets under the pews. Unforgiveness is a rot-ting carcass in the spring of the water of life; it is mold on the bread of life we are trying to dispense to our communities; it is a cancer in the body of Christ. We must get rid of it!

How can we develop a forgiving attitude in church members at odds with each other? Appeal to self-preservation. We must simply tell them what Jesus did – if you do not forgive others, God will not forgive you. If you want others to go to hell, then you will go there. This seems to have been the main point Jesus was making in the Model Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). This is the part He chose to elaborate upon after concluding it. He did not comment on hallowed, or daily bread, or the coming of the kingdom, but He did upon forgiveness. After He said, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors (6:12), He explained, For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (6:14,15). He was one of us, and divine, too, so He knew this would be a hard thing for Adam’s race.

A Praying Church Will Become a More Holy Church.

When Jesus went up into a mountain to pray, He came back with His face shining (Luke 9:28,29). When Moses spent time with God, his face was so bright they had to cover it (Exodus 34:29-33). Stephen, a man close enough to God to be described as full of faith and the Holy Ghost (Acts 6:5), had his face shine as an angel (6:15). We may not get up from prayer looking any different, but we will get up acting differently. We cannot spend time in the presence of God’s holiness without some of it rubbing off on us. Anthropologists have long observed that man becomes like the god he worships. As we worship the holy God (1 Peter 1:16) of Scripture in prayer, we become more holy. Would not our churches grow faster if there were less hypocrisy and worldliness among our members? If we can develop a praying membership, hypocrisy and worldliness will dry up on the vine and then be cast away as untimely figs.

A Praying Church Will Be a More Optimistic Church.

Some older preachers observe a higher level of pessimism in the brotherhood today than when they were younger. Some younger preachers (and older ones, too) are less aggressive in preaching the simple Gospel of God today because they seem to think that the things we have preached from the Bible have had their day. They say the church of Christ is on the decline. Some insist that we have to change with (for) the culture, or we will die. Is Christ dead (Romans 8:31)?! Then how could His body be dead? Is God finished with the work of saving people? Then how could His instrument for saving souls be out of business?

We can always make a case for pessimism, but we can also make a case for optimism. The only answer to pessimism is to focus on God instead of on man. God has lost none of His great power (2 Samuel 22:32,33; Job 36:22; Psalm66:3; Jeremiah 32:17). And He still gives power and boldness to His people when they pray (Psalm 68:35). We need to pray again the Psalmist’s prayer: O God, forsake me not; until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come (71:18).

There are clouds, of course, and we would be foolish to lay down our swords and use a trial in both hands, but we also must not put down our trial and take up two swords (cf. Nehemiah 4:17). There have been clouds before. If we had been alive in March of 1866 when Alexander Campbell died, what would we have thought? The Civil War had fractured the country and divided much of the church. We might have wondered if the movement would survive, but it did. If we had been alive during the 1900s when the digressives split the church, we would have wondered if it would survive. We lost much of the brotherhood – most of the members, almost all of the large churches, and most of our church properties. But the church survived. J.D. Tant, a powerful preacher, came to Nashville in the early 1900s and had a debate with a Baptist preacher. After the debate the Baptist and Reflector Magazine wrote: That is the end of Campbellism in this community. The death knell has been sounded, the casket has been lowered, Campbellism is dead in Nashville. They were, of course, using a derogatory misnomer for the Lord’s church, but the church certainly was not dead. About one hundred and thirty churches of Christ will meet in the Nashville area next Lord’s day. David Lipscomb, like an old woman with a broom trying to keep the tide of digression from coming in, taught and fought. And the church survived. We regained our aggressiveness and then thrived.

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Adding the Ceiling and the Roof

Some activities have pleasing side effects. We start jogging to lose weight and find that it also relieves tension. We invest in IRAs to avoid taxes but end up with a tidy retirement. We stop to help a family whose car is broken down and end up converting them and becoming friends. Prayer is like that. It has side effects – and they are all pleasant. These are not answers that God gives to prayers, but are extras He throws in to praying churches (cf. 1 Kings 3). You could say God tops off His answers to prayer with additional blessings. In the analogy of building a house (church) of prayer, these crowning blessings are the ceiling and roof.

A Praying Church Will Have Fewer Rebellious and Unruly Members.

Jesus spent more time in prayer than any man in Scripture, and it is not coincidental that He was also God’s most submissive Servant (Matthew 26:39; John 5:30; 6:38; 12:28; 14:31; Romans 15:3). When we pray as He taught us, Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth, and forgive us our sins (Luke 11:2-4), we come away without the baggage of pride, which is the fuel that starts church fires. Our perspective is better on our knees. We come to see ourselves as beggars needing what only God can give (cf. Matthew 5:3). We can better see the big picture when we are small in our own eyes. God is in heaven; we are on earth. God is infinite; we are finite. God sees the future; we have trouble understanding the present. God on His worst day is better than we are on our best day (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:25). The more we pray, the more we recognize that we are impotence kneeling in the presence of Power and need holding a hand out to Supply.

The more time we spend thinking about God, the less likely we are to rely upon ourselves. Jesus, when He was one of us, expressed man’s position: I can of mine own self do nothing, I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me (John 5:30). Job was a man of prayer, and he learned to submit to God whatever the circumstances. At the death of all his children, and the loss of all his property, he still said, the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21). David spent much time at God’s throne, and came back with the attitude, behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him (2 Samuel 15:26). When Israel saw their true condition, they prayed, do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee, (Judges 10:15). Even though the message was against him, Eli said, It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good (1 Samuel 3:18).

If preachers taught churches to spend more time in prayer during the week, there would be less arguing with his sermons on Sunday. If elders led their flocks into meaningful prayer, they will have fewer of them disputing their decisions. If we went back to praying as Jesus prayed, there would be no rejecting of God’s Truth for innovations He never put a stamp of approval upon. God tops off the efforts of a praying church with peace and a submissive membership.

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God Grants Churches Wisdom in Answer to Prayer

How many churches are trying to live down the mistakes of past elderships and preachers? Some are boxed in be-cause they did not have the wisdom to buy enough property; others have properties not conducive to growth because they are so out-of-the way visitors must have directions to find them. Some store up money as if the church were a bank while missionaries and good works go unsupported; others pay interest on hundreds of thousands while missionaries and good works go unsupported. Some have built great sprawling facilities they can never pay for with their membership base; others built too small and had to add on before they got it paid off. We’ve not practiced church discipline and now the church is weak and worldly, or we’ve practiced it with poor judgment and split the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3). Preachers with poor business and ethical judgment have ruined the influence of the church in the community (and then moved on). Some have preached hard and mean and turned away those who were not yet ready for meat (Ephesians 4:15; Hebrews 5:12-14; Mark 4:33); others have set the church up to be led astray by never preaching on the issues (2 Timothy 4:1-6). Churches have invested in missionaries and Christian education without sufficiently checking the soundness and/or work ethic of those involved and hurt the Cause instead of furthering it.

Churches need wisdom much more than they need money or members. If we have wisdom, we will eventually get money and members. And without wisdom we will likely lose the money and members we now have. Solomon wrote, The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools (Proverbs 3:35) and, there is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up (21:20).

How do we keep from making serious mistakes? Pray for wisdom! James promised God gives it freely in answer to prayer (1:1-6). Paul told the Ephesians, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him (1:16,17). He also prayed that the Philippian church would have judgment to approve things that are excellent, (1:9). He told the Colossians that he did: not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding (1:9).

After World War II a great cry arose because the Allies never bombed the railroad tracks which led to Auschwitz. Although they knew hundreds of thousands of Jews and Slovaks were being transported along these tracks to death camps, the Allied forces never bombed the tracks. They had the power but refused to use it. What about us? Are we less to blame if a congregation and individual Christians are dying and we could help stop the process? Do we use the prayer power available to us to change evil into good? Do we use prayer as a weapon against the things we complain about in our world or even in our congregations?
Let’s have a word of prayer.

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What Happens When the Church of Christ Prays?

A very timid woman wanted to participate in the visitation program of her church, but was petrified by the thought of actually visiting somebody. The preacher, sensing her anxiety, recommended that she pray before each visit. He noted God’s promise to give peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6). A week later the woman was walking on Cloud Nine. She jubilantly told the preacher, You were right – prayer works! Before each one of my visits I prayed that the people wouldn’t be home, and they weren’t! Her prayers worked against the best interests of the church. What about mine? Do they work for the church? What could happen in the local congregation if I prayed?

God Increased Love Within a Congregation in Answer to Prayer.

For what is the church I attend best known? That’s the church that doesn’t use pianos. That’s the church that believes in baptism for salvation. That’s the church whose members think they are the only ones going to heaven. That’s the church that doesn’t have Sunrise services at Easter or Cantatas at Christmas. That’s the church that doesn’t call its preacher, ‘reverend.’ These are all good things for the community to know about us, but are any of these the thing for which Jesus would want His church best known? Wouldn’t it be better if they said of us, That’s the church that loves each other (cf. John 13:33,34)? Or, that’s a church that really believes in prayer? A loving, praying congregation will outgrow an unloving, prayerless one every year. Love shows the community that these are Christ’s followers in a way sermons never could (John 13:34,35). How do we get our members to love each other? Several ways, but one is to pray for it. Paul said, And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more, (Philippians 1:9).

God Unites a Congregation in Answer to Prayer.

Some churches seem to believe in prayer about as much as a ship’s captain caught in a storm. When it was evident that the ship would not survive a storm, the captain called out to his crew, does anyone here know how to pray? One volunteered with, Yes, sir, I do. Good, the captain replied. You pray while the rest of us put on our life jackets. We’re one short. Congregations need an all for one, one for all attitude. Jesus would never have prayed, for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (John 17:20,21), if it were not possible for unity to come about through prayer. The early church continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, (Acts 1:14). Is your congregation or a congregation you know of suffering from disunity? Are brethren biting and devouring one another (Galatians 5:15)? Pray for them. Churches grow in love’s greenhouse, but die in a freezer.
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