What has Jesus asked us to pray for?

What has Jesus asked us to pray for?

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Matthew 9:35-38

WIG Take. That’s an abbreviation for “What’s it going to take? Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus gave a charge to go and make disciples of all nations. If we take a look at Jesus’ methodology, it becomes clear that one man, even a God-man, cannot do the task alone. Jesus took upon himself human flesh and thus limited himself to acting as a man, a man full of the Holy Spirit and unhindered by sin, but a man nonetheless. I know I am treading on thin theological ice when making such statements but stay with me. He was fully man and fully God. But, he still made it clear that it is better for us that he left us than if he stayed on earth with us. Why? Because until he left here and was glorified with the Father, he could not send the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower every man and woman who becomes a Jesus-follower.

Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has distributed himself through every Jesus-follower on earth. Distributed empowerment is critical to the completion of the mission he gave to us. If Jesus had stayed on earth, he would have been limited to preaching/teaching to those who were in physical proximity to him. He would have been limited. He left so he could empower and release into the harvest every Jesus-follower on earth. This task is not relegated to professional religious leaders with Seminary or Bible College educations. In fact, they are subject to much the same limitations as Jesus would have been, along with a few more. These Bible College and Seminary graduates are not men who walk in perfect, sinless fellowship with the Father as Jesus did. They are subject to the failures of the flesh the same as every other Jesus-follower. They are just called to give themselves to equipping the rest of us to do the work of our ministries.

In the northern part of the county in which I live (North San Diego County), there is a population of just under a million people. Reasonable estimates are that only 10% of those are real Jesus-followers, leaving 90% far from God. The professional religious people currently living in this area cannot reach that 90% of the population with a personal proclamation of the gospel. What I mean by “personal proclamation” of the gospel is when the gospel is presented to someone by someone whom they know, have a relationship with, and trust. That is a friend, colleague, or family member.

Why won’t television broadcasts by excellent Bible preachers or literature distribution efforts do the job? Because Jesus commanded that we make disciples, not make converts. Television shows and literature aren’t equipped to do Biblical disciple-making. That can only be done in the context of a personal relationship person to person. Many disciple-makers are required to disciple the people from among the approximate 900,000 people in North San Diego County who are now far from God.

Jesus’ only prayer request that he submitted to his church is that we pray for laborers. That is because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. I certainly agree with Jesus that the laborers are few. Unfortunately, many Jesus-followers are not following Jesus in the process of disciple-making. So, Jesus’ answer to the problem is not a recruiting effort. It is a prayer effort. Pray the Lord of the harvest that he sends laborers into the harvest. The exciting part about praying that prayer is that you will probably become part of the answer to your own prayer. You will become a laborer in the harvest, taking the gospel to your own set of social contacts.

Another exciting thing about obeying Jesus and praying this prayer is that he will answer it. Some people have a hard time thinking Jesus will listen and pay attention to their prayers. But, do you think Jesus will ignore you when you pray the very prayer he has commanded us to pray? I don’t think so. Of this, I am confident, when I spend my time earnestly praying for laborers for the harvest, Jesus is busy working in the hearts of those whom he is calling into the harvest.

Jesus did qualify the request by labeling our effort in prayer as “earnest.” He didn’t ask us to do rapid fly-by prayer for laborers; he said we are to pray earnestly for laborers. This prayer request is to be high on our priority list of supplications we consistently bring before the Father.

The task is great, but I have learned a slogan, “start small, dream big.” You have a social network of people where you live, work (or go to school), and play. You are the laborer God has called to minister to them, maybe not the only one, but they are your mission field. Start small, focus your gospel efforts on your social network (not your online social network, but your in-person social network). And continue to pray earnestly for more laborers for the harvest.

The greatest need in the American church is to equip and release the members of the body of Christ into the harvest to reach those far from God. Don’t wait for someone else to lead the way. Obey Jesus and begin to love your neighbors with the intent to share the gospel with them as the greatest act of love you can give them. I’m not advocating harsh presentations to everyone in your network, but I am advocating engaging meaningful and spiritual conversations that can lead to a natural gospel presentation.

Let us earnestly pray for laborers. If we do, we won’t be alone in the harvest. Lost people for whom Jesus died will be found, and we will all be rejoicing.

I am reminded of an illustration my Pastor shared a while back that really struck a chord with me. You wind up coming before the Lord at the end and are stepping up for judgment (for reward, not for salvation). When you see Jesus face to face you are so excited to see him but even more excited to tell him as you point behind you, “Jesus, look who I brought with me!” There, lined up behind you are the people who became Jesus-followers because of your prayers and because of your personal gospel sharing with them. And then there are the one’s they brought with them. You get a lot of joy from the disciples they bring with them as well. What a happy time.

Multitudes of laborers are needed. Pray earnestly and be an answer to your own prayer.

SHOULD FASTING BE IN THE ARSENAL OF A JESUS-FOLLOWER?

SHOULD FASTING BE IN THE ARSENAL OF A JESUS-FOLLOWER?

And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”  Luke 5:33-39 (parallel passages in Matthew 9:14-17 and Mark 2:18-22)

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. – Matthew 6:16a

I want to answer one simple question primarily. Does Jesus expect his followers to include fasting as part of their spiritual life?

Fasting sounds so medieval like it is something monks do in monasteries. Surely it isn’t expected to be a part of the life of an average Jesus-follower, is it? I’m not a monk, and I don’t want to be one. Why fast? Besides, aren’t we saved by faith alone? I don’t really need to get into “spiritual disciplines” in order to have eternal life, do I? Of course not.

The simple answer to the question is pretty clear in the passages above. In Matthew 6 Jesus states plainly, “when you fast.” He didn’t say, “If you fast.” So, it appears that fasting is an assumed practice by Jesus.

In the Luke passage, Jesus again makes it clear to me. His disciples didn’t fast (he explains why), but there will come a time after his death, resurrection, and ascension that they (we) will fast.

So the simple answer to the simple question I started with is, yes, followers of Jesus are expected to fast until he comes again. (Not one long fast until he comes, I don’t think I could make it, but fast as a regular practice until we are reunited with the Bridegroom.)

Jesus explained why his disciples were not asked to fast while they were with him. To do this, he gave two examples, the one about new wine in old wineskins and the one about sewing a new cloth patch on old cloth. In both cases, the old couldn’t survive the new. The religious culture of the Jews included lots of outward expression including fasting among other practices. Jesus was wanting to “take a break” with fasting so it would be entered into in a new way once he inaugurated the new covenant. Actually, the “new way” was how it should have been practiced all along, but Jesus wanted to make clear that the New Covenant is indeed new. The New Covenant is to be practiced based on the inward power of the Holy Spirit and not based on any outward appearances. The new life in the Spirit will blow up the old wineskins of the Old Covenant practices of the Jews. This was clearly a problem since we have the book of Galatians largely because the practices of the Old Covenant were being carried over in a legalistic fashion and required Paul to write the corrective letter. In his corrective, he was direct with the truth that this life is experienced in the power of the Holy Spirit and not in the practice of outward expressions, in this case, circumcision.

So, yes we should fast, but not as the Pharisees whom he encountered often.

I plan to write some more on fasting so we can hopefully put it to practice with a Biblical view to glorifying God and enjoying him forever. I am in some cases being reminded, and in others, I am learning, as I write. Writing turns out to be good for me. I hope it is for you as well.

HOW TO FAST AND BE HEARD BY GOD

HOW TO FAST AND BE HEARD BY GOD

“Cry aloud; do not hold back;
    lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
    and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
    they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
    and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
    will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
    from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 58:1-14

Motives color everything we do, but actions still count. Both matter, especially in spiritual matters. It is possible to go church, sing the hymns and praise choruses, pray and give and yet be offending God. I don’t want to be offending God, especially when I am supposed to be doing things to please him. Israel had this problem with their fasting.

When they fasted they continued to do business (seek your own pleasure) and oppress (mistreat and underpay, if at all) their workers. They were cantankerous; they would quarrel and fight. What was God’s response? Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. God isn’t interested in our religious show of fasting.

A fast pleasing to God has a goal to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke. It involves caring for the hungry and the poor instead of going about business as usual. This kind of fasting has as its goal to bring freedom, both freedom economically but more importantly freedom spiritually. People are not only held in bondage to debt or dead-end jobs but worse; people are caught in bondage to their sin and bondage to demonic spirits that want to consign them to an eternal hell.

I love God’s response to a proper fast.

then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

Isaiah ties a proper fast to a proper observance of the Sabbath. It is not to be just another day of doing business as usual and pursuing our own pleasures. I think it is worth mentioning that two of the most successful companies in their respective fields are Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby, both of which do not do business as usual on the Sabbath or Sunday. ( I know the difference so please don’t argue with me about Sunday not being the Sabbath.)

Again, the results of proper Sabbath keeping along with fasting;

then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

I have stated before that my interest in fasting has been reinvigorated by recognizing that it appears by the observation of Disciple-Making Movements around the world to be an essential component that precedes these movements. Many Jesus-followers are concerned about the future of America, and it appears there is good reason. The solution to redeeming our culture and seeing the United States once again riding on the heights of the earth is not political or military might, but masses of pagan Americans bowing the knee to King Jesus and following the King of Kings rather than the Republicans or the Democrats or any other political party.

We must become effective, and God sotted followers of Jesus who become disciple-makers who make disciple-makers, who make disciple-makers. Then we will see a Disciple-Making Movement in our land much like those in the Global South. It is happening in other parts of the world. It can happen here, but only if we will give ourselves to a strong movement of prayer and fasting and walking in the Spirit.

Being disciples is not about better theology, it is about obeying God in Christ, being doers of the word and not hearers only. Join with me in fasting for a great Disciple-Making Movement in the United States.

IN DEMONSTRATION OF THE SPIRIT AND OF POWER: A CALL TO PRAYER AND FASTING

IN DEMONSTRATION OF THE SPIRIT AND OF POWER: A CALL TO PRAYER AND FASTING

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

I envy people whose minds work in a way that makes them excellent apologists and debaters. Unfortunately for me, I am not one of those people. I don’t have the attitude that apologetics is a waste of time and should not be engaged in. However, I do hold strongly to the position that no amount of logical reasoning or fancy philosophizing will bring anyone into saving faith in Christ.

Why am I so adamant about that? Because Scripture makes it abundantly clear that outside of Christ we are dead in our trespasses and sins. If you look carefully at the meaning of the word, dead, you will find that what it actually means is, dead. The last time I checked dead people couldn’t do anything for themselves. They are dead. So the question is, can a person be argued from death to life? I don’t believe so.

The New Birth is a miracle. It is a demonstration of the Spirit. It is a demonstration of the power of God. Dead people coming alive in Christ. No amount of words of human wisdom can accomplish that.

Paul’s ministry was characterized by many other demonstrations of the Spirit and power. Demon possessed people were delivered from their captivity. Sick and lame people were healed. Greatest of all, hearts were changed to become loving people and people of Jesus-like character.

There are millions of people within an hour’s drive of us who need to find this kind of forgiveness and deliverance. Some are afflicted with the kinds of bondage that Jesus said, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29 NKJV)

Prayer and fasting have been proven by experience to precede every disciple-making movement in this century. We have been commanded to go make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus taught. Part of what Jesus taught is this command to go make disciples. One of our prayer goals, if we are to pray Biblically, is for the Lord to raise up laborers who will make disciples. Of course, many of us need to heed that command ourselves. Disciple-making is one of the commands of Jesus we are to teach and to obey ourselves.

Thus, prayer and fasting. I know that I am not capable of making a disciple of Jesus. Only the Holy Spirit is capable of doing that. Which is why Jesus told his first disciples/apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they were endued with power before launching on their disciple-making mission. When our efforts to bring people to Jesus are heavily seasoned first with prayer and fasting, then we will see the demonstration of the Spirit and power. And we will see the multiplication of disciple-makers moving us closer to the completion of the Great Commission as well as the transformation of our community because its citizens will be transformed by the power of God.

Let us pray for the complete transformation of San Diego County (and your community for all of you out of my region) by the transformation of its citizens by the power of God in the gospel.

What a difference the Holy Spirit makes

What a difference the Holy Spirit makes

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:15-23


Paul prays for the Ephesians for three things:

  1. That you may know the hope to which he has called you
  2. What are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints
  3. What is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe

These are powerful subjects, and I may treat them in a different post, but for now, I want to put the emphasis elsewhere.

Recently I was speaking with a brother who shared with me and some others that he had heard from some who said they intellectually really understand the gospel but find they don’t have the passion and emotional attachment to it that many others talk about.

I am currently listening on Audible to Jonathan Edwards’ classic book The Religious Affections: How Man’s Will Affects His Character Before God. I will undoubtedly be simplifying his statement, but here goes. True religion (speaking of Christianity in 17th century American English) always affects our emotions and has an emotional component to it. If we are not moved emotionally by the gospel and by God’s revelation of himself in Scripture, then the reality of our Christianity is questionable.  I know, this gets really dicey telling someone that if they don’t have an emotional experience they aren’t saved. Well, that’s not what I am saying, and I’m not sure what Edwards is saying about that; I am still in the early parts of the book.

What Edwards is saying is that powerful emotions are normative for a believer. Consider the deeply emotional passages written by David in the Psalms. How about Paul’s exultations over Christ in the epistles? There are many others.

I want to encourage any readers who find their emotional life with God lacking. I’m not writing that everyone should be “falling under the power,’ or dancing through the congregation every service. I am saying; you should have an emotional connection to Jesus Christ that is apparent to you and on occasion to others.

So, if you have an academic grasp of the gospel, but don’t have the emotional component (Which I am assuming everyone wants to have, how would it be to be in love with your spouse and feel no emotions?) there is an aid Paul refers to in his prayer. He prays for the Ephesians that God “may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened.” It’s a heart thing. Knowing in your head isn’t the same as knowing in your heart. The Holy Spirit is the agent who brings Jesus to your heart from your head. He comes as the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. He allows us to see with the eyes of our hearts, in addition to our physical eyes.

So, what is my solution to the problem of not having an emotional experience of God? Pray this prayer for yourself that Paul prays for the Ephesians. And don’t just pray once, memorize this Scripture and pray it every day. If you pray this from your heart, you will experience it in your heart. Of this, I am sure.

But I do caution, don’t gauge your experience by that of anyone else. Some of us, like me, are more on the quiet side of life. While I have been known to shout exuberantly in response to the preached word, I am generally more sedate than some of my friends. Two responses will mark the answer to your prayer; love and joy. These are the works of the Spirit that dwell deep in your heart.

Father of glory, grant to me the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Christ. Open the eyes of my heart. Enlighten me that I may know the hope to which you have called me. Enlighten me to know what are the riches of your glorious inheritance in me,  and enlighten me to what is the immeasurable greatness of your power toward us who believe, according to the working of your great might that you worked in Christ when you raised him from the dead and seated him at your right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And you put all things under your feet and gave Jesus as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Make this your genuine prayer, and you will soon know the emotional joy and love that accompanies the gospel. The eyes of your heart will be enlightened to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.

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