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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The Praying Church – Part 4

God Empowers Us Through Prayer.

We are heirs of an earth-shaking tradition. When Jesus died, the earth shook (Matthew 27:51); when He was resurrected, the earth shook (Matthew 28:2); when the church began, the earth shook (cf. Hebrews 13:26,27); when the disciples prayed, the earth shook (Acts 4:31); when Paul and Silas prayed in prison, the earth shook (Acts 16:25,26). God gives His people power in answer to prayer. We cannot dismiss this by saying, Well, that was when the church was more exciting, and God won’t give us power today. It is true that God does not give out miraculous power today (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), but untrue that He does not dispense providential power today. Paul wrote, Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power (2 Thessalonians 1:11). Jesus said, and all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive (Matthew 22:21; cf. Mark 11:24). A prayer-less church will be a powerless church. A prayerful church will be a powerful church. Jesus told His disciples, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38), implying that they would receive strength to fight temptation by prayer. If churches prayed more, they would sinless. Sin is the greatest hindrance to growth, for it causes God to withhold His blessings, and sinners to be turned away.

God Enables Us Through Prayer.

There are four ways to affect church growth: convert lost sinners (bring them in the front door); keep weak members from falling away (going out the back door); restore erring members back to service; and lead unfruitful saints to fruit-bearing (John 15:1-5). Genuine prayer helps in each area. We can, and should pray for ourselves to be stronger (Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4). (Remember a stronger church begins with me.) Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!” And God granted him that which he requested (1 Chronicles 4:10; cf. Psalm 121:7).

We can also pray for other Christians to be stronger. Jesus told Peter: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32; cf. John 17:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:3). Paul wrote, “Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest,” (2 Corinthians 13:6; cf. Philippians 1:4-6; Colossians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:10; 5:23). John wrote, “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (1 John 5:16). We have far more need to pray that we may not do evil, than that we may not suffer evil. The apostle not only desired that they might be kept from sin, but also that they might grow in grace, and increase in holiness (1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:1).


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The Praying Church – Part 2

A praying church begins in a single closet in a single home. We can make the church a house of prayer by making our houses churches of prayer. No one can keep us from praying. The devil can’t. The atheists and evolutionists can’t. A hypocrite or a hypercritic can’t. The liberals and the radicals can’t. Do you remember how Daniel responded when all the king’s men told him he could not pray for thirty days? Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber to-ward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did afore time. Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God (Daniel 6:10,11). Nobody could stop Daniel from praying, and his prayers were powerful enough to shut the mouths of the king of beasts. Our prayers can keep another lion at bay (cf. 1 Peter 5:8).

The Church of Christ Must Pray to Be Like Its Ancestors.

The Bible’s history book, Acts of Apostles, tells us why the Jerusalem church of Christ was a great, growing church. Even a casual reading of Acts reveals that the early church relied heavily upon prayer. They continued steadfastly ,in prayers (2:42). This phrase (proskartereo) means, to be earnest towards, to attend assiduously, be instant in. This they did! Prayer, prayers, prayed, praying, or pray are found 34 times in Acts (1:14,24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:31; 6:4,6; 8:15,22,24,34; 9:40; 10:2,4,9,30,31,48; 11:5; 12:5,12; 13:3; 14:23; 16:9,13,16,25,36; 21:5; 22:17; 23:18; 24:4; 27:34; 28:8).

This emphasis started with the preachers. The apostles placed prayer at the top of their To Do lists. They felt prayer was more important than taking care of the hungry, visiting the widows, and organizing the church’s benevolent program. When a church fuss started over the neglect of some of its older members, the apostles refused to get involved (Acts 6). They said, we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word (6:4). Many churches would benefit from looking at how they ask their evangelist to use his time. If he is taking care of benevolence, tell him to stop! Under normal circumstances, when calls come in, they should be referred to a deacon (here appointed to that task). While the preacher has as much obligation to help the needy as any Christian (James 1:27), he should spend the bulk of his time in prayer and teaching. No one has enough hours to do everything. To be successful, we must prioritize our time and do the most important things first. Otherwise the urgent takes precedence over the important. In practical terms, if the preacher tries to handle church administration, benevolence, youth activities, building maintenance, and coffee shop duty, he will get to the end of his week without having prayed or studied as much as he needs to in order to properly feed the congregation on Sunday. Preacher, by the way, how much prayer-peration went into last week’s sermons?

Elders in the early church were men of prayer. When Paul called an elders’ meeting at Miletus, he warned the overseers of the Ephesus church of Christ that false teachers would arise to teach perverse things to draw men after them. Before parting, these men bowed to pray (Acts 20:36). For what did they pray? We are not told, but the context indicates they prayed for Paul and the trouble he faced, and for the church and the trouble it faced. Are you an elder? If so, are you a man of prayer? Do you begin or end your meetings with prayers for wisdom? Do you pray that the church may be spared the destruction of false teaching? Do you pray for the straying sheep under your watch? Do you pray for your missionaries? Do you pray for the deacons helping you carry out your many works? Do you pray for the teachers in the Bible school you oversee? Do you pray for the preacher who assists in feeding the flock? Do you pray for wisdom to untangle the dilemmas (troubled families and divorces, for instance) laid before you? Do you pray for courage to stand for the Truth even in the face of wicked and unreasonable men? Do you pray for the church to grow? Do you pray that all your flock will make it to heaven? Elders, deacons, and preachers need to say more often, Let’s have a word of prayer.

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The Praying Church – Part 1

Is the congregation you attend a praying church? We always have an opening and closing prayer, you say. That’s good, but is it enough to qualify us as a praying church? Do we have special periods of prayer set aside for members to get together and pray? Does anyone go to them? Are there opportunities for members to make prayer requests and lists kept and distributed of them? How many Bible classes, sermons, and bulletin articles in the past twelve months emphasized prayer? What percentage of the membership prays daily beyond offering thanksgiving for meals? God’s house is many things, but it is nothing if it is not a house of prayer. Many congregations would benefit from giving more emphasis to prayer. One said, To pray without action is hypocrisy. To act without prayer is pagan. It’s easy for a Christian to be guilty of both.

Do you remember what the Lord said the day He cleaned house at the temple (Matthew 21:12,13)? Try to picture Him standing to one side of the Court of the Gentiles and watching the Jews buying and selling sacrificial animals. His anger grew as their profits amassed. One historian tries to paint the scene:

Money was changed from foreign currency into the half shekel used to pay the Temple tax. These actions were seldom quiet and not always honest. As He watched the buying and selling, the haggling and cheating, His displeasure grew. If those who passed Him by had noticed, they might have seen Him flex an arm made strong by years of carpentry. They may have seen His fists clenched in frustration and anger. Now His eyes looked around the area, searching for something. Then, He saw it, a piece of rope that had been lost or discarded by one of the merchants. Picking it up, He doubled it, making it a whip, suitable to drive cattle out of the Temple area. Now He quickly moved in actions that were startling and upsetting even to those involved in the clamor of the buying and selling. With a strong hand, He turned over the tables of the moneychangers, scattering their stacks of coins. He untied sheep and cattle and with one flick of His whip, sent them into the narrow, winding streets of Jerusalem. With a voice of authority, He commanded the sellers of birds to take them out of the Temple.

What was His complaint? What set Him off like that? In a voice loud enough to be heard clearly above the turmoil, He announced His protest by quoting Isaiah, My house will be called a house of prayer, and ye have made it a den of thieves, (56:7; Matthew 21:13). He was talking of Herod’s temple, of course, but His new temple, the church (Ephesians 2:21), is no less a house of prayer. If we cannot truthfully say that the church where we worship could be called a house of prayer, how do we expect God to bless it with growth?

Phase 1: Laying the Foundation: Why Should the Church of Christ Pray?

Let’s take this image of building a temple, and apply it to building God’s house of prayer. The first step to constructing any building is laying the foundation. Upon what foundation does the church of Christ (each congregation) build its prayer life?

The Church of Christ Must Pray to Be Like Its Founder.

The church is the spiritual body of Christ on earth and must continue the work He did when He occupied a male Jewish physical body two millennia ago. While on earth, He sought to save the lost (Luke 19:10); so must we (Mark 16:15). He had compassion on the hurting (Matthew 9:36); so must we (Jude 22). He glorified His Father (John 17:1); so must we (Matthew 5:16). He was never far from prayer; we must never be (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Jesus was disappointed with His disciples when they forgot to pray (Luke 22:45); we must be disappointed in ourselves if we forget to pray (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Prayer is mentioned in the Bible five hundred forty five times (in 511 verses). Jesus is mentioned in connection with prayer sixty-two times (e.g., Matthew 14:23; 26:36,39,42,44; Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:32,35,39; John 14:16; 17:9-11,20). He is known to have prayed on at least twenty-two different occasions. We may think a half hour is a long time to pray, but God’s Son sometimes spent whole nights in one-sided conversation with God (Luke 6:12). Much of His last hours of freedom on earth were spent in prayer (John 17), as were some of His last breaths (Luke 23:34,46). It is safe to say that no one ever understood and practiced prayer as Jesus did. He encouraged His disciples to pray and inspired them by His example. Luke, more than the other writers, takes notice of Christ’s praying. Luke’s Gospel of Prayer gives at least twelve references to Jesus’ prayer life.

At His baptism (3:21).
When His fame spread abroad (5:16).
Before naming His twelve apostles (6:12).
Before feeding the 5,000 (9:16).
Before asking, Whom do men say that I am? (9:18).
Prior to His transfiguration (9:28,29).
When He rejoiced in spirit (10:21).
When His disciples asked for instruction on prayer (11:1).
For Peter’s faith to fail not (22:32).
Before His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:41-44).
While on the cross (23:34).
Before eating bread with the disciples at Emmaus (24:30).
As we analyze these references, we can make several observations. First, we see that Jesus prayed before making major decisions. As His church, we need to pray before appointing elders and deacons, hiring preachers, selecting missionaries, beginning new mission works, purchasing properties, taking on building projects, and before merging with other congregations or planting new churches. Second, we observe that Jesus prayed when facing trials. When congregations go through trying times, they need to increase their prayer time. Third, Jesus prayed on ordinary days (cf. Mark 1:35). He never got too busy to pray (cf. 1 Kings 20:40). His church needs to remember to rely on prayer during non-crisis time. We must not get too busy with emphasizing the next project or activity that we forget to thank God for the success of the last one. We must not get so busy enjoying past success that we forget to pray for upcoming activities.

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What is Acceptable Prayer?

God speaks to us through the Bible. We speak to Him through prayer. In prayer, we make our thoughts known to the mind of God. No matter how much good we do, or how much we study God’s Word, we still need His care and protection. This is the reason Paul told us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). It is important that we know the answer to some basic questions about prayer.

Who Can Pray?
Only God’s children have the privilege of prayer (1 Peter 3:12; James 5:16). The privilege of prayer is for those who are “in Christ.” Does God hear the prayers of sinners? Yes, He hears them, but He does not answer them. However, God does help those who are seeking the truth (John 7:17). For example, Cornelius was not a Christian. He was a good man who believed in God. He wanted to be saved. God sent Peter to teach him what to do to be saved (Acts 10:1-11:18).

Why Do We Pray?
Prayer is a way for us to enjoy fellowship with God (Acts 2:42). We pray for God’s help when we need it (Hebrews 4:16). We pray because God has commanded us to pray (1 Timothy 2:8; Luke 18:1). We also pray to thank God for the the blessings we receive from Him (James 1:17).

Where Do We Pray?
Can we pray only in the church building during worship? No, we can pray anywhere and everywhere. Two children were late for school. One said, “Let’s stop and pray.” The other said, “Let’s run while we pray.” We can pray whenever we need to. It does not matter where we are. Paul prayed while he was in prison (Acts 16:25). Jonah prayed while he was in the stomach of the great fish (Jonah 2:1). Daniel prayed in front of an open window in his room (Daniel 6:10). Hannah prayed at the tabernacle (1 Samuel 1:9-18). Jesus prayed in a garden (Luke 22:39-41). When the church assembled to worship, they prayed. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in prayer” (Acts 2:42). “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5).

To Whom Do We Pray?
Roman Catholics pray to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Sometimes they pray to dead “saints.” Other people pray to the spirits of their dead ancestors. But Jesus taught His disciples to pray to God, the Father (Matthew 6:9). We pray to the Father through (in the name of ) Jesus Christ our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).

How Should We Pray?
Must we kneel when we pray? No. The Bible records a number of different positions for prayer. We must pray in faith (James 1:6). We must pray to God with “clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3,4). Our prayers must be in keeping with God’s Will (Luke 22:42).

Does God Answer Prayer?
Yes! He answered Elijah’s prayer at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:36-39). He gave Hannah a son in answer to her prayer (1 Samuel 1:9-20). In answer to the prayer of Hezekiah, He saved Judah from the Assyrians (Isaiah 37:15-36). God answers prayers in three ways. Sometimes He answers “Yes” when He knows it is best for us. When Hezekiah prayed to live, God gave him fifteen more years (2 Kings 20:1-6). Sometimes God answers “No” when He knows it is best for us (James 4:3; 1 John 5:14). Elijah prayed for God to take his life when Jezebel was seeking to kill him (1 Kings 19:4; 2 Kings 2:11). Paul asked three times to have his “thorn in the flesh” removed, but God did not remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Sometimes God says “Wait.” Our request may be right, but it may be asked at the wrong time (1 Corinthians 1:25). This is one way we can learn patience (James 1:3). Abraham had to wait twenty-five years for the son God promised him. Moses had to wait for 40 years before God was ready for him to lead Israel to freedom.

Five Areas of Prayer
(1) Praise (Luke 11:2). We praise God for His power, wisdom, glory, holiness, righteousness, mercy, and longsuffering. We show our respect and reverence in this way.

(2) Thanksgiving (1 Timothy 2:1). We thank God for salvation, the joy of life, and for all the blessings He gives us. We must be thankful from our heart (Hebrews 13:15).

(3) Confession (Luke 11:4; Psalm 66:18). Christians ask forgiveness for every sin they commit (1 John 1:7-9; Acts 8:22).

(4) Petition (Philippians 4:6). We ask for the things we need, subject to God’s will (James 4:3). If we ask for help to be better Christians, then we need to work to be better Christians.

(5) Intercession (Colossians 1:9). We pray for others ( 2 Thessalonians 3:1).

We pray to God because He wants us to speak to Him. Prayer is an important part of a Christian’s life. It is one of the blessings of being “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Does God hear your prayers? If you are not a Christian, you do not have the privilege of prayer. If you are living in disobedience to God, He will not hear your prayers. All spiritual blessings are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). In order to get into Christ, we must believe and be baptized (Mark 16:15-16; Galatians 3:26-27). Why not obey the gospel today so you can have God’s assurance that He will hear your prayers?