Let’s start with prayer. What do you think of when I say prayer? Many people think of long, formal entreaties to God. Many people think you have to be a Priest or a Pastor to really know how to pray “right.” But, when I look at the Bible and see the prayers of people in the Bible, I don’t see that. I see people crying out to God. Sometimes, they are crying out in pain and asking for help. Sometimes they are crying out in fear, sometimes in joy. But really, they are just telling God what is on their minds. Let‘s look at some prayers from the Bible:
...God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, "Help! Murder! Police!" before you come to the rescue? Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day? Anarchy and violence break out, quarrels and fights all over the place. Law and order fall to pieces. Justice is a joke. The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head.
God, I'm not trying to rule the roost, I don't want to be king of the mountain. I haven't meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans. I've kept my feet on the ground, I've cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mother's arms, my soul is a baby content.
And those are both from the old testament, before Jesus redeemed us with his blood and gave us direct access to the Father. Now that we are covered in the blood, Jesus invites us to pray to God in his (Jesus) name: John 16:23-24"This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I've revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he'll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!”
There are a lot of different ways to look at prayer. I tend to think of prayer in three categories or types.
- Personal prayer time
- Praying the Word
- Praying in the Spirit.
Personal Prayer time-
My personal time prayer time is pretty much what you see at http://www.whatgodsaidtonight.blogspot.com/ . It is just my time telling God what is on my mind. Sometimes it is the things I think I need or want for me. Other times it is about the needs of other people. Sometimes it is just being thankful and praising and worshiping God. This personal time prayer is kind of an “anything goes” prayer time where I am just letting God know what is going on with me and then waiting to see what he has to say about it.
Prayer is our time to pour out our hearts to God. But, then, the really amazing thing is, prayer is a time for God to talk back to us. It is a conversation. When we pray, we can expect God to answer Isaiah 65:24 says, “I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!”
For me, “hearing God” during this type of prayer time is words that he puts in my head. I usually don’t hear him as an audible voice, but there are words, thoughts in my head that are not mine, that fill me with peace and line up with the Bible. Then, later, I see what ever it is that he has said apply to my life or come true in my life. This is especially true when he tells me to do something and I do it, that is when I really get to see God work. He said it, I do it and I get what he said I would get.
There are three key questions to measure or test whether what we think is God’s voice is really him or not.
- Does it agree or disagree with the Bible?
If it does not agree with the Bible, IT IS NOT GOD. God will NEVER contradict the Bible. If you are still learning the Bible (truthfully, we are all still learning the Bible) and you are not sure if it agrees or not, use the tools in “Part 1: The Bible…” to investigate and ask some of the people that you connected with in “Part 2: Pastors, Preachers and Ministers…” to help.
- Does it give you a feeling of peace, confidence, assurance?
If it does not, if it fills you with anxiety, doubt, fear, discomfort, it is probably not God. This is the easiest one to figure out on your own. Just ask yourself how you feel. Do you feel good or bad? It really is that simple. God only gives us good things. Sometimes he will tell me things I may not want to hear (e.g., when he told me I had to quit smoking after 20+ years of being a 1.5 pack a day smoker) but when he said it, I wasn’t afraid. I felt at peace even though I had no idea how I would do it at the time. Praise God I am now smoke free for over 7 years…but that is a testimony for another time…
- Does what he says become true in your life? Does what he said would happen actually happen? If you do something he has told you to do, do you get what he told you would have? God does not lie so if he said it, it will happen. This one can be tricky. There have been times when I thought that God had told me something but nothing happened right away so I thought I had missed it, that it wasn’t God. Then, years later, what he said comes through and I realize it was him, I just wasn’t patient enough. However, in general, look at what you believe he has said (this is where journaling your prayers and what God says to you really comes in handy) and look at what happens.
After time, you will begin to recognize his voice consistently.
Exercise to hear God in your personal prayer time:
Try journaling your personal prayer time and what you think God says to you in return at least once a week for one month. After one month, read back over what you have journaled and see if what he said is working in your life. You may also gain some other insights by reading over what you are praying about over time. If you like the experience, keep it up! If not, keep praying but feel free to drop the journaling part of it.
Praying the Word -
All this really means is finding the scriptures in the Bible that relate to your situation or the situation of the person you are praying for and speaking those promises out loud to yourself and to God. The hard part about this kind of prayer is that you need to know your Bible.
There are great tools that can help. Our good old websites at http://www.blueletterbible.org/ or http://www.biblegateway.com/ can be a big help. Also, June Newman Davis wrote a book called Scripture Keys that has just about every issue we could ever go through in it with the related scriptures. She has since made it available on line for free at http://wherepeacefulwaters.com/scriptures/scripture_keys.htm . There are a lot of other “scripture keys” type books that are good. Ask at your local Christian bookstore and they can help you find one that works for you. You may also find that your Bible has a good concordance in the back that helps you find the scriptures that relate to your situation.
The easy part of this kind of prayer is that you don’t ever have to wonder if God will hear or answer it. When you are praying the word, you can know without a shadow of a doubt that God will take care of it, because it is something he has already promised to us.
When I am praying for someone else, I am always careful to pray the word of God over their situation because I want to be sure that they get what they need. This is the best way I know to do that.
Exercise to pray the Word of God:
Using the websites http://www.blueletterbible.org/ or http://www.biblegateway.com/ or http://wherepeacefulwaters.com/scriptures/scripture_keys.htm or other tools (Scripture keys or your Bible’s concordance) find at least three scriptures that talk about the promises God has related to the following topics:
- Physical healing
- Your current biggest need
When you have the scriptures for #3, your biggest need, say the scriptures out loud. You may want to say, “God, it is written that…” There is power in speaking God’s word out loud so be sure to do this out loud. Keep those scriptures handy and every time you need to be reassured about what God has promised you, read them out loud again. Then, get ready to see God do something great in your life according to his promise!
Praying in the Spirit (speaking in tongues) -
Ok, now if you haven’t learned about this before, or even if you have but haven’t yet experienced it for yourself, you may be a little freaked out by this next section. That is ok, most people are at first, but try to keep an open mind and get through this, believe me, it is worth it!
Let’s look at some of what God has to say about praying in the Holy Spirit from the Bible:
Ephesians 6:18 “Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere.”
Acts 2:4 Talking about the apostles who were praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come after Jesus had ascended to heaven, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
So praying/speaking in “tongues” (also called your “heavenly language” or “praying in the Spirit”) is Biblical. When someone is baptized in the Holy Spirit, one of the ways it comes out is they speak in a language that they do not know, sometimes a language that no one knows.
You will hear some people say that “tongues” are from the devil. I like what Bishop Leonard always says about that. He says that in all the time he spent hanging out in the bars, living like the devil before he was saved, he never once heard anyone speaking in tongues. He never even thought about it until he was saved!
What is this heavenly language? It is the Holy Spirit speaking through us. The great thing about this kind of prayer is that it is essentially the Holy Spirit praying for you. There is a lot of power in this kind of prayer.
I will pray in my heavenly language when I need encouragement and don’t know how else to pray. I pray in my heavenly language when I don’t know how to pray for someone else. I pray softly in my heavenly language when someone else is praying to lend support and God’s power to their prayer. Sometimes I just pray in the Spirit when I need strength. I ALWAYS feel better when I pray in the Spirit.
It will often feel weird at first. You may wonder. “How do I know whether I am really praying in the Spirit or whether I am just blabbering nonsense?” The best test of this I have heard is something Pastor Mark Leonard taught, the “red truck test.” When you are talking about one thing, it is almost impossible to think about something else without that something else coming out of your mouth eventually. For example, start talking about something, anything, and try to think about a red truck while you are talking but don‘t talk about the red truck…could you do it? I can’t. But, when you are praying in the Sprit, you can easily think about a red truck or anything else and continue to pray, because it isn’t you speaking. If you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and have your heavenly prayer language, give it a try…could you do it? Yep, me too!
If you have not received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and have never prayed in tongues, read the book of Acts. Pay careful attention to the following verses: Acts 1:4-5, 2:1:21, 19:9, 10:46 .
Then, when you are ready, just begin to pray and ask for God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. Keep praying and worshiping. If you are not sure what to say, just say, “Hallelujah” or “Thank you Jesus” and keep saying it. After awhile, you will begin to feel something kind of bubbling up out of you…go with it even if it feels weird at first. Just let your mouth speak whatever comes out. Then just let it keep coming. You will likely feel a great release when this happens and you will feel the Spirit of God in you. A lot of people cry, especially the first time, because it is such a powerful experience.
Congratulations! You have just gotten closer to God and you now have a power in your life, in your prayers that you didn’t have before. You will begin to notice changes in the effectiveness of your prayers and in the effectiveness of your life.
Now, let’s talk about worship. Worship is a sacrifice. True worship will cost you something. There are a lot of ways to worship God. The most traditional way is through words or songs. The book of Psalms in the Bible is essentially songs of worship. Worship can be something you do alone with God or it can be something you do with other people (e.g., during a church service). But true worship is more than singing a song.
God tells us to worship him in spirit and in truth: John 4:23 “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
Now to tell you the truth, I am still figuring out what that means, but what I do know is that true worship requires that I sacrifice and give something of myself. When I sing in worship, I sing from my gut. I almost always have my eyes closed because I want to shut out everything except for me and God. I often end up on my knees or flat out on my face because I am giving my all to God and can’t really stand up anymore.
When I worship God with words, it is often like this post from the What God said tonight blog:
My prayer: Mighty God, awesome Father, teacher, healer, savior and redeemer. Everything I need. The Lord of creation who claims me as his own. The God of more than enough. He that owns the cattle on a thousand hills and who's streets are paved with gold. The one who loves me enough to die for me and even more, to be resurrected for me. I am here tonight God just to worship you.
I don't have an agenda tonight. You know my needs and wants before I do. I just want to recognize you and worship you. You are the peace that passes all understanding. You are the calmer of the storms. You are the one that makes me smile in the morning and sigh in contentment in the evening.
You are the reason I can love. You are the reason I am healed. You are the reason for my life. You make a way out of no way. You are the one who gives me my dreams, my aspirations and then you are the one who makes them possible.
You are the master of the time and the universe and everything. You are the one true answer to every question ever asked. You are my whole world. Nothing is possible without you and all things are possible with you. God, I remember all that you have done for me and praise you for always making a way. God, I am grateful for where I am today. God I am hopeful and trusting you for tomorrow. I adore you and my heart swells at the thought of you.
Here is what God said in response that night to my worship:
Wow daughter, that was beautiful! The fact that you are here and wanting to spend time with me is enough but to have you pour out your heart touches me in a way that is difficult to describe. David did that. He would, for no reason, just pour out his heart in love for me. That is why I said he was a man after my own heart. His love and worship reached out to my heart in a way that was truly phenomenal.
Worship is an interesting thing. Whatever you worship gets bigger in your life. One of the reasons that I tell you not to have any gods above me, to not worship false gods, is because I know that this happens. What ever you worship and pay attention to gets bigger in your life.
I want to be the biggest thing in your life. When I am the biggest thing, everything else is manageable. You don't worry so much about things turning out. You don't worry so much about food on the table, clothes on your back and a roof over your head. You trust me when I am big in your life. That's when we really get to do the fun stuff.
When you are focused on me, we can accomplish great things. Keep worshiping me daughter, not because I need it but because you need it. Keep making me first so you can see every dream realized.
You are so precious and I don't want to lose one moment with you. Don't waste your time on the things that don't matter. Focus on me and the things that matter. Focus on people, focus on love, focus on the purpose that I have put in you so you don't miss a moment with me. This week has great promise but you will need to focus. I love you daughter, tonight and always.
So, we worship God not just for his sake but for our own sake. Every time we worship him, he becomes bigger in our life and the rest of our problems issues, tests, and trials become smaller.
There is power in worship. I have known people who have experienced great miracles during worship, like the woman who was healed of a broken leg during worship, took off her temporary cast and started dancing! Or like the young man whose eyes were healed during worship. I have also heard about but have not personally witnessed yet, gems (e.g., diamonds, sapphires, emeralds) falling our of the ceiling during praise or just showing up in pockets or Bibles. There is power in true worship.
There are other ways to worship God. You can worship him with a financial offering, with service or with a gift of some other type. If it is a sacrifice in honor of him, it is worship.
Exercise to worship God with your words:
Write God a letter (or email :) ) telling him everything you love about him. If you are just getting to know him, it might be a short letter, but just make sure it is heartfelt and that you really pour yourself into it. Take your time and really think about what you love about him and then write it down. Save the letter. 30 days later, write another letter telling him what you love about him. Do this for at least 3 months, every 30 days. Then go back and read all three letters together and see how your relationship and appreciation of God has grown.
There are so many amazing worship singers, musicians and leaders, there is no way to include them all here, but here are some that really help me to connect with God.
In alphabetical order:
Todd Agnew: http://toddagnew.com/
Brad Braland: http://bradbraland.com/
Matt Maher: http://www.mattmahermusic.com/
Meredith Maudlin: http://www.meredithmauldin.com/
Peter Spencer: http://www.soundofpassion.com/
Will Strickland: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=501684518&ref=ts
Steve Swanson: http://www.fobworshipmin.org/
Jason Upton: http://www.jasonupton.net/site/
Kim Walker: http://www.myspace.com/kimwalker2
I also love the online radio station from Elijah List called Elijah Streams http://elijahstreams.com/ . They always seem to find amazing worship singers and musicians that no body else knows about yet.
Check them out and see what you think. But remember, worship isn’t about the musician, the singer or the song and it isn’t even about you. It is about God. True worship will take some work from you. It will take sacrifice but the benefits are immediate and lasting.
Exercise to increase your worship of God:
Try to find at least one way to worship God each day. At the end of each day, review the ways that you have worshipped him. If you can’t think of any, take some time and worship him before you go to bed. Worship him in words, in song, in some other sacrifice, but don’t let the day end without worshipping him.