Tag Archives: Psalms

Revelation 8:3-4 – Incense, Prayer & Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

In Revelation 8 we have a lovely picture of incense and prayers rising before God,

‘Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne.  And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.’ (Revelation 8:3-4 NRSV)

This is such an amazing picture of prayer, and more than that, of our prayers coming before God.

There are two other verses which refer to incense and prayer, one more from the New Testament and one from the Old Testament:

‘When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.’ (Revelation 5:8 NRSV)
 
‘Let my prayer be counted as incense before you’ (Psalms 141:2 NRSV)

Prayer is incense, is like incense and is offered with incense!

This says a great deal about how important prayer is to God.  The incense that was used in Tabernacle and later Temple worship was not cheap!  It was made from costly ingredients, some of which came from long distances away.  It was also to be made to a specific recipe that was to be used only for worshipping God (see Exodus 30:34-38).

Prayer that God listens to costs!  Now there are times when we pray and it costs us nothing, God still hears those prayers, but they do not really grab his attention.  Jesus’ prayers were answered by his Heavenly Father because he put all of himself into them.  This is also something we see in great hero’s of faith, they know that they have to put themselves on the line when it comes to prayer.  It can be very hard to say, ‘yet, not my will but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42 NRSV) as Jesus does in the garden of Gethsemane, but this is what the hero’s of the faith have done, and it is also what we can do too!  This is where we get our depth in prayer.

Prayer is made up of different ingredients!  This may surprise you, but this is one reason why breadth of prayer is so important.  In the incense recipe different things were to be mixed together in equal quantities, this would have balanced the scent, and made the incense more beautiful to smell!  It is no wonder that the incense was to be burnt before God alone.  What do you mix in your prayer?  There should be worship, petition, intercession, listening, praise and thanksgiving to name but a few things.  We should also pray in different ways, both individually and especially corporately.  This is why we need breadth of prayer.

In this association  between incense and prayer we also see something else.  They seem to be especially closely linked when prayer is being answered by God.

As I said in my post 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 – The Fragrance of Jesus that last week I smelled incense in the service at Maswell last week.  This was during the worship and God’s presence was really there.  One thing that I did not share though was that during the service we had prayed for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani to be released, and I did feel that God was really happy with that.

Today, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani had been released and acquitted, that is God!  He is now back with his family, and with the other members of his church.  I praise God for his faithfulness, a reflection of God’s faithfulness to him!

Now I know that incense had two meanings, although I only at first recognised one fo them.  That Jesus was there among his people, and that all the prayers of all the church (including Maswell) for Pastor Youcef had come before God, and that the answer would soon be revealed!

WOW!!! WHAT A GOD!!! HE IS SO AMAZING!!!

Heavenly Father, help us to realise how highly you value prayer, and how it should be made up of different ingredients.  Help us to be prepared to give all we have in prayer as Jesus did, and help us to have balanced prayer lives.  And thank you that you do answer prayer, help us to be expectant to see your answers, praying in faith to see you act.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Exodus 2:1-4 – A Special Baby

‘About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married.  The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months.  But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch.  She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the banks of the Nile River.  The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.’ (Exodus 2:1-4 NLT)

In chapter one we have just read how the Israelites are now being oppressed by the Egyptians.  Being forced to make bricks without straw, and then being forced to commit filicide (the deliberate murder of their sons).  Which the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, avoided doing and because of that were rewarded by God.

This is what is happening when the story of Moses begins.  I love the NLT for these few verses, because it says that Moses was a ‘special baby’, and all baby’s are special even before they are conceived!

We see this is Jeremiah’s call:

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
(Jeremiah 1:5 NRSV)

King David speaks in a similar way in Psalm 139:

‘For it was you who formed me in the inward parts;
     you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I  am fearfully and wonderfully
          made.
     Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
     intricately woven in the depths of the earth.’
(Psalm 139:13-15 NRSV)

Moses was a ‘special baby’, but all babies are special to God and special to their parents.  On Twitter I regularly retweet posts for Saying Goodbye, as I think the work they are doing both to enable all affected by the loss of a baby in the womb or in very early life to be supported and to say goodbye to their babies by services in the great cathedrals of this land, and to help remove the taboo that has surrounded infant death for far too long is fantastic.

Like Jeremiah I was called even before I was born, as I was one of twins and my twin was stillborn having only developed to 3 months.  I have never known my twin, but there is a hole in a way, I feel there is someone I should know, that I have never had a chance to know!  I have no easy answers, but I know this, even when I have no answers I can trust God regardless.  Even in the womb babies can recognise their parents voices, so I am certain that they can recognise and respond to their Heavenly Father.

So Moses was a ‘special baby’.  His birth and the few months that followed, when his mother risked him being discovered and killed, was the beginning of a long journey until God got him to a place where he could be used in a mighty way.

Like Moses, all our lives are journeys, and all our journeys have a beginning.  Most probably not as fraught with danger as Moses’ beginning was, but whatever that beginning was, we can say for certain that God was there.  But what about babies who had a very short journey in this life?  Well, God was there too, and we can trust him with them now as his ‘hand is not too short to save’ (Isaiah 59:1 NRSV)!

Heavenly Father, thank you that you hold all our lives in your hands, that you were there at our beginning.  Help us to show compassion to all who have experienced infant loss, and thank you that you hold those little ones in your loving arms.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Psalm 74 – When God Gives No Answers

‘… there is no longer any prophet,
and there is no one among us who knows how long.’ (Psalm 74:9 NRSV)

You may wonder what a psalm is doing in a series from the book Ezekiel, well I read this yesterday as I am working through the Psalms but haven’t read one for a while, and this fitted so perfectly with what I shared yesterday from Ezekiel so I though I would share too.

In this psalm Asaph asks how long Judah, Jerusalem and the temple will be laid waste and over-run by its enemies.  He asks the questions, but there will be no answers.  Why? Because there are no prophets left.  Yesterday I looked at how God condemned the false prophets and prophetesses who were prophesying in Ezekiel’s day.  God was against them and they would experience his wrath (see Ezekiel 13).

This psalm seems to have been written by an eye-witness of the destruction of Jerusalem that Ezekiel (among others) prophesied.  God’s presence had left (see Ezekiel 10), so what had once been God’s land, city and temple were now over-run and destroyed’ and ‘desecrated’ by foreigners.

All the prophets who had been left in Jerusalem and had been prophesying lies were now gone.  God had fulfilled his word!  But this meant that Asaph did not know how long this would last for, he was a priest, not a prophet, and there were now no prophets left for him to go to in order to seek God’s word!

We can see the effect this has on him, he is perplexed and confused, he can only cling on to what God has done in the past and ask God to act again for his people and against the enemy.

I have had times in my Christian life when I have had no answers.  When I was became unwell just over 10 years ago, I was also confused and perplexed, I asked God questions, but got no answers.  Through everything I held onto one thing, no matter how bad things got the Father was with me, whereas the Father had to turn his face away from Jesus when he was on the cross as a consequence of my sin.  Jesus was forsaken by his Father, but I would never be, because of what Jesus had done for me.  That was my only hope at times, but like Asaph it sustained me.

Heavenly Father, help me to be honest with you in prayer, like Asaph was.  If all I have is questions then let me bring them to you.  In dark times help me to cling onto, and praise you for, what you have done, and still be able to ask you to do it again in an uncertain future.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Azusa Street Prophecy – Certainty or Warning?

The Azusa Street Prophecy.

In the last days three things will befall the Great Pentecostal Movement:
1.     An overemphasis on power rather than righteousness;
2.     An overemphasis on praise to a God they no longer pray to;
3.     An overemphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, rather than the Lordship of Christ.

This is a very famous prophecy, it was given during the Azusa Street Revival from which it gets its name.  I am going to use it as an example of how we should view prophecy, as it is well-known and generally accepted.

The question is this.  Is what is talked of in this prophecy an absolute certainty, or is a warning of what we need to avoid, and deal with if it occurs?

Now in the Bible there are prophecies that are certain to happen, such as those about Jesus’ First and Second Comings, although these have been misunderstood by many Jews (about Jesus’ First Coming) and many Christians (about Jesus’ Second Coming). But many prophecies in Scripture are conditional, and outcomes can be delayed or changed due to how people live before God.  An example about this is how God delayed the exile of the nation of Judah until after Josiah’s lifetime because he had humbled himself before God (for the whole story see 2 Chronicles 34-35).

So what of extra biblical prophecies?

Firstly, the simple fact that they are not in Scripture means that they are not inerrant.  Part of the prophecy may be spot on, another part may not be.  The emphasis may not be exactly right.  If a prophecy involved a definite date or year it is false if it does not happen then it is a false prophecy, or that part concerning the date is false is it happens either later or earlier. (All the predictive words I have given which included years or referred to specific occurrences have happened.) Secondly, if we say that a prophecy is inevitable then we are misunderstanding how Christian prophecy works.  To say something is inevitable is fatalism, we see this in other religions, but not in Christianity.  God is not a divine watchmaker setting things off in creation then just sitting back and not interfering with it any more.  He is actively involved, and when ever we pray into something we are inviting him to fulfil on earth what he already done in heaven, as we pray in The Lord’s Prayer.  In most cases we need to both pray and act in faith to see God move and fulfil a prophetic word that he has given, God can and does act sovereignly but in most cases he works with and through US. Thirdly, warning prophecies in particular will either happen if certain things are either done (or not done), or they contain within them how to either avoid it happening, or how to deal with the situation if it does happen.

Azusa Street Prophecy – Certainty or Warning?

So how should we consider the Azusa Street Prophecy? It is an extra Biblical prophecy so it is not inerrant, however it has been well-tested over the years, and is generally accepted as a word given by God. It is actually a prophetic warning not an inevitability.  To see it as inevitable is to misunderstand the reason why God shared this.  The prophecy includes with in it how it can be avoided or dealt with if it happens.  It does not say that each of the things are overemphasized are not important, but that too much stress is put on them, and so things that are equally important are neglected. The church needs to focus on BOTH the power of God AND the righteousness of God and how that should impact our own lives.  We should never deny God’s power, and seeing him move in power should always happen in the church, but we should not overemphasize it – it should just be a supernaturally natural part of church life.  God is righteous so we should seek to live rightly before God and with our fellow people, not to gain God’s favour, but because of God’s favour in Jesus dying for us.  In both the Old and New Testaments righteousness has both vertical (with God) and horizontal (with men) components, we should never forget that! The church needs to focus on BOTH praise AND prayer.  This is one focus that has definitely slipped, but that God has been seeking to redress.  Jarrod Cooper from New Life Church in Kingston-upon-Hull wrote an excellent post a while back The Greatest Mountain? The Greatest Battle!, and the statistic that 60% of churches no longer have a corporate prayer meeting is easily believable from my experience in churches in suburbia.  Over the years I have had contact with various churches as I have worked in Christian bookshops.  Growing prayer in churches is very dear to my heart and God has given me a vision to help grow prayer in churches even before I became aware of this statistic. This might surprise you from looking at this part of the prophecy is that praise and worship is not the main thing that has displaced the place prayer should have in the church.  The main thing that has displaced prayer is actually the focus on small groups, and this has been future exacerbated by churches following Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church model which marginalises prayer by NOT making it one of the purposes of the model (the five purposes are Fellowship, Discipleship, Worship, Ministry and Evangelism).  This could be addressed by adding Prayer as one main focus to this model. In fact to grow prayer in churches you really need to reconnect it back with praise.  We see the two linked in the Psalms and in The Lord’s Prayer, and elsewhere in Scripture.  Again it should not be a case of either/or but both/and, let’s get the balance right! The church needs to focus on BOTH the gifts of the Spirit AND the Lordship of Christ.  In fact the gifts of the Spirit should just be an expression of the Lordship of Christ in our lives.  That is what they were in the early church, but even then things got out of focus at times.  That is why we have a whole section on public worship in 1 Corinthians 11-14.  Again this is part of the church being naturally supernatural. Spiritual gifts functioning correctly is the greatest expression of the Lordship of Christ in the church that there is!

So where do we go from here?

Pentecostal and charismatic churches are no longer just denominations, we now see the baptism and gifts of the spirit recognised across all denominations to one extent or the other.  Where the church is growing the most locally, nationally and internationally these are considered normal.  This would not have been foreseen when this prophecy was given. Now in different sectors of the church we do see different problems, we do see the different problems in different churches, in some churches all are problems, yet in others we see none of these problems. Let’s get things in balance, if things are out of balance we are given in this prophecy how to redress the balance, by focusing for a while on the thing underemphasized until the balance is restored.  Let’s re-focus on righteousness (which is a gift from God), prayer (through which he chooses to act on earth) and the Lordship of Christ! What do you think about the Asuza Street Prophecy?  Have you looked at it fantastically?  Will you now look at it differently?  I’d love to hear you thoughts.

Prayer Lists

What place should prayer lists have in our personal and corporate prayer?

If you have read some of my other posts on this site then you will know that I am not a fan of prayer lists.  I shall explain why I dislike them, and also what their good points are (and I do admit that prayer lists do have good points).

I shall look at why I dislike them first by asking a few questions, I am doing this on purpose so that when you then look at the good points of prayer lists it will actually put those good points in perspective.

Let’s first define our terms.

What is a prayer list?  A prayer list is a list of things or people that you feel that it is necessary to pray about.  In its simplest form it would just contain names or headings, but will often contain more detailed information.

What is a prayer outline?  A prayer outline gives you points around which you can focus your prayers, again these may just be single words or headings, or may give you more information.

Are prayer lists biblical?

This is a very simple question, ‘Are prayer lists biblical?’, or to put it another way will you find a prayer list anywhere in the Bible?  God at times asks people to pray, or not to pray about specific things.  People asked other people to pray for them and what God was doing in and through them (e.g. Ephesians 6:19-20).  But nowhere do I find a list of things to pray for.

By contrast I find plenty of prayer outlines.  Here are a few examples that I have personally used, and the situations I prayed about them for.

  • Psalm 96 – I prayed through this for about 6 months, praying for Israel and her place in God’s plan of salvation of the world, and place in God’s present and future plans.  From it I was led onto other scriptures which I also prayed through including Romans 11.
  • The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) – I have prayed through this in various ways, at various times over the years, and I look forward to many more years of getting to know it better.
  • I have used many, many scriptures as bases for prayer, and all the prayer outlines I now write for Kingdom Revival Prayer are completely based on scripture.

Do prayer lists deepen your prayer life?

What I mean here is, ‘Does it draw you closer to God and to know his heart in how you pray?’.  Let’s be honest here, in general the answer will be a resounding ‘NO!’.  In fact, one problem with prayer lists is that praying for things on prayer lists can be a good way of avoiding going deeper in your prayer life with God.

It is not wrong to pray for things and people, but prayer should be a conversation not a monologue.  What is more, prayer is most effective when you really touch the Father’s heart in prayer because he has first touched you and shown you what is really in his heart.  This is how Jesus acted and prayed, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.  The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing’ (John 5:19-20 NRSV).  When you pray in this way you know that God is listening to your prayers, even if the ultimate outcome is not the one you hoped for!

Now a prayer list can be a springboard for moving into deep places with God, but as one can often get in the way it is not the one that I would generally recommend, and would say that having the starting point of scripture is generally preferable.

Depth of prayer is important.  If you read accounts of revivals then you will see that God led deep prayer, intercession and repentance are a feature, and are key to that move of God taking place.

Do prayer lists broaden your prayer life?

If the only prayer list you have is a list of your immediate family, friends and only about your local church then the answer may well be no, in all other cases the answer will be yes!

This is the main area where prayer lists can be very good.  They can give you a wider perspective of what is happening elsewhere in the church and in the world.  Basically this is where prayer lists really shine, especially those that have been put together prayerfully and skillfully.

In conclusion.

Prayer lists, as I have said before in The Tyranny of the Prayer List in a Meeting and Growing Beyond It! are good slaves, but very bad masters.

They can have a place in broadening you prayer life, but our ultimate basis for prayer should always be scripture, and we should also always be seeking to deepen our prayer lives and not use prayer lists as an excuse for not asking God to do so.

Do you use prayer lists?  Are they a help or a hinderance to you?  What do you think!

The Lord’s Prayer #4 – The Greatest Psalm

What is The Lord’s Prayer?

Our Father in heaven,
     hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
     on earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our debts,
     as we have also forgiven our debtors. 
And do not bring us to the time of trial [into temptation],
     but rescue us from the evil one. 
[For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours for ever.  Amen.]  (Matthew 6:9-13 NRSV [marginal readings in square brackets] )

I have already said that it is a prayer outline, but is there more to it?  From the title you can guess what I am going to say now.  It is Hebrew poetry.  Now there is Hebrew poetry in the psalms and elsewhere, in this case I would class this as both Hebrew poetry and a psalm, and in Aramaic it even rhymes!  (See http://aramaicherald.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/jesus-poet-christs-words-as-hebrew.html for more on this.)

What do I mean by saying that The Lord’s Prayer is Hebrew poetry.  It struck me one day when I had been looking at The Lord’s Prayer and then read Psalm 1.  In Psalm 1 we see parallelism, an idea stated and then either expanded or otherwise developed.

We see this in The Lord’s Prayer also.

  • If God is our Heavenly Father then how should we respond?
  • God’s kingdom and will are inseparable, you are saying the same thing in two different ways, and we want to see both on earth as they are already are in heaven.
  • God provides for us both physical provision (food) and spiritual provision (forgiveness), our response should be to extend it to others.
  • God id our protector, what does this mean for us.
  • It is also finished off with a great doxology, which whether Jesus stated it with the prayer outline or not draws the whole prayer together, and back to praise to his Father, and finishes with a resounding Amen’, ‘So be it’.

The book of Psalms in the Old Testament is often referred to as ‘The Prayer Book of The Bible’, there are psalms of praise, of prayer, of lament, of longing.  More than that there are psalms elsewhere in the Old Testament, Moses’ and Miriam’s songs of praise to God in Exodus 15:1-21, and Deborah’s song in Judges 5 are a few examples.  For me The Lord’s Prayer is the ultimate psalm of prayer and praise, as we shall see as we examine it in greater detail.

Jesus made The Lord’s Prayer easy to remember for his first century audience.  How easy do you find it to remember?  Why do you think this is the case?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A Liturgy Based on Psalm 24:3-6.

When I read this part of Psalm 24 it suggested a liturgy with responses to me, like some of the liturgical psalms.  Here is the section from the psalm and then the liturgy, which could be used in corporate prayer, follows (with the responses in bold).  Please feel free to use it!

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation. Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.  (Psalm 24:3-6. NRSV)

Lord, we can only keep our hands clean and hearts pure with your help.

Lord, please help us.

Lord, we can only worship you with your help.

Lord, please help us.

Lord, we can only watch our mouths with your help.

Lord, please help us.

Lord, help us to long for your blessing.

Lord, please bless us.

Lord, help us to long for your salvation.

Lord, please save us.

Lord, help us to be a people who seek your face.

Lord, please let your face shine upon us.

Amen.