31 March 2023
“Devote Yourselves to Prayer” (But…)
The Holy Spirit has been challenging me of late to be “devoted to prayer” (e.g., Colossians 4:2-4; Acts 6:4). Given what’s unfolding in our lives, that’s a critical and helpful leading, a necessary discipline. But such prayerful devotion needs the Spirit’s direction as well, because…
…it’s possible to be devoted to praying for the wrong thing! Back in 1987 we faced a serious crisis of faith. Little more than a year earlier we had moved from suburban Southern California to rural Georgia by the Lord’s leading, in order to work with a small missions organization based in a small town. All went amazingly well for the first year. In addition to the missions work (developing teaching material for third-world pastors), the Lord opened doors left and right for me to teach Bible studies in local churches and home groups. It was an exhilarating time.
From Success to Failure
Then, as quickly as our ministry had waxed, it waned, and all doors of ministry slammed shut. It was as though our spiritual passport had been stamped Persona Non Grata, and (and, as I like to tell it), “even the Lord forgot our address.” We were in terrible straits financially, and reduced to living in a mobile home without air conditioning, a “tin box” which baked like an oven under the Georgia sun.
The pressure — financial, spiritual, social, and psychological — became so unbearable that set I myself to seek the Lord and not let go until He delivered us. I wanted out of the situation and I was determined to be heard, so I “devoted” myself to prayer — but I was praying for the wrong thing! And that became clear shortly after I received a witness in my heart that God had heard my loud complaints. I knew in the Spirit that He agreed to end the trial. Good news, right?
Wrong! With relief and a little joy, I left the bedroom in which I had been praying and went to the kitchen for a drink of water. And then it hit me. I had just importuned the Lord — and received from Him — one of the stupidest things for which I had ever prayed. Several thoughts hit me at once:
- We had been going through this trial for months. What if we were almost “out the other end” and by my praying I had terminated or derailed the process? What if we were nearly through the dark tunnel, and all I had accomplished by my praying was to hit the “re-set” button? I suddenly felt very much like a coward and quitter.
- Worse: As anyone who has attended high school or college will know, there are some courses which are required for a degree. If you fail the course — or “drop the course” for whatever reason — the course is still required, and it must be taken again in the future; otherwise, no graduation, no degree. In the answer I had just received, all I had accomplished was to “drop the course” and push the trial into the future, where we’d have to repeat the “trial” in order to get a passing grade.
From Failure to Success
I returned immediately to the bedroom to pray. If I had been fervent in asking God to “make it all go away” just minutes before, my fervency was doubled! “Lord, please cancel that last request! I hate what we’re going through; but I don’t want to go through it again because I failed or ‘dropped the course’! Give us the strength and faith to go through!” Finally I sensed that this prayer, too, had been answered. And it was. Nothing changed. The trial continued…
…but only for a few more weeks. It turns out that the Lord hadn’t “lost our address.” Out of the clear blue the president of a Bible college in upstate New York, someone who barely knew me, called to ask if I would speak at the school’s Easter-week conference. (I understood that I was to be a speaker, but it turned out that I was to be the speaker!)
Less than 30 seconds after that was arranged and confirmed, the phone rang again. A church in Maine (folks about whom I knew nothing) called to ask if I would preach at their Easter-morning service. Then a local pastor called to ask if I would preach in his absence on Palm Sunday and if Denise would teach the adult Sunday School class.
In no small part because of God’s blessing on the word of the Lord during that Easter-week conference, we wound up being called to pastor a church in upstate New York. Within three months we had moved and were earlobe-deep in a very challenging pastoral ministry.
What would have happened if I had insisted on quitting, on “dropping the course,” on imposing my pain-free timetable, rather than accepting the Lord’s trial of chastening and discipline? Looking back now, it’s sobering and scary to think about how things might have turned out.
Are you in a season of “going through it”? However hard your “course” may be at the moment, see it through to the end, so you won’t have to repeat an undesirable “class”! I almost failed by getting the wrong prayer answered!
- 2Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; 3praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; 4in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.
- Colossians 4:2-4 NASB
Devoted Prayer Together
Could you please “devote yourselves to prayer” for us on some matters? Since we’re focusing on “devoted prayer” in this month’s newsletter, now may be the perfect time and place to share our ministry needs with you.
- A “door” has opened once again for me to teach at North Florida Theological Seminary (NFTS) in Middleburg, Florida on April 15, the Saturday after Easter. For this daylong class, I’ve been led to put the focus on the vital spiritual themes of 1 John (connecting back with parts of John’s Gospel). I have taught on this subject about every 5-10 years in other places, and each time the Lord seems pleased to more deeply unfold this breathtaking little epistle. (No doubt there will be other opportunities to minister in local churches in Florida as well, like the congregation of my good friend, Pastor Alix Compere.)
- Another “door” has opened once again in Guatemala (~May 18–31) to teach at the annual ISPI Pastors’ Retreat May 25-27. (To my surprise, the focus will once again be 1 John. I say “surprise,” because it’s rare that the Lord has me repeat a topic back-to-back in different locations.) Out of all the places I teach, there are no more eager students than these pastors, each one of whom is a diligent, systematic Bible reader. Our time together each year means a lot to them (and to me). Our partners help make this and other teaching trips possible.
Worshiping together at last year’s Guatemala Pastors’ Conference4
- That Guatemala trip is dependent on special gifts and donations to fund the trip. Right now barebones tickets are creeping up to the neighborhood of $900 roundtrip. Other costs (e.g., hotel nights when we can’t stay with local pastors, helping with gas and food, etc.) I’d estimate to be about $400. If Denise were to go, it would nearly double all of that. (Many expressed disappointment at her absence last year; they’ve heard her teach in the past!)
- We are still “devoted to prayer” regarding the “new thing” that the Lord has indicated He will do. We continue to seek and pray for His open door.
Pushing Ahead on Publications
Devotion, too, is what’s required to keep making forward progress with our writing and publications. We’ve been able to keep our promises:
- The two new chapters from Book 3 (The Fellowship of the Forerunner) of The John the Baptist Experience series are now available as e-booklets on Amazon Kindle. That makes two consecutive chapters — On the Brink of Failure? (an exploration of James 3:1 and the sin of Moses) and The Secret of John’s Appeal (which should be an “unexpected joy” to read) — available to the wider public. (Of course, they’re available for free on our website as well.)
- We’re also rejoicing that the Spanish translation of Percy Gutteridge’s Logos & Rhema (i.e., Logos y Rhema) is also “out in public” in Amazon Kindle format. Following our policy, it’s also available for free (and as a downloadable PDF) from our website. Many thanks to Inés María Gonzáles Valdés for her many hours of cooperative translation work on this! (My notes reminded me of something I’d quite forgotten — Inés was the one who originally transcribed the audio message into English several years ago.)
- Website coding of La Bendición Rechazada (the Chávez family’s translation of my book, The Rejected Blessing, about the forgotten foundation of the Azusa Street Revival) has begun at last. But it will take a while, since the text, bibliography, and endnotes span almost 30 pages of single-spaced text. Truthfully, this coding project will probably “take a back seat” to preparing to teach the seminary class on 1 John (mentioned above) and getting the materials translated in time for the May trip to Guatemala.
- Is there a new chapter for The John the Baptist Experience series underway? Yes. There are two, in fact. The first is from Book 2 (The Extraordinary Message) and has the working title of Kingship and Collective Amnesia. Draft #4 is done, so think of Kingship as being halfway through the editing process. The other chapter, from Book 3, is titled The Correlate of Kurios and stands at draft #6. Kingship deals with understanding what we should be proclaiming about the Kingdom of God. Correlate presents the relationship between two New Testament words which define our relationship with Jesus. More on these two next month, I hope!
Our quotation from Colossians 4:2-4 (above) mentions that thanksgiving aids devoted prayer. We thank you for your time, your friendship, your giving, and most of all, your devoted praying. I’m often aware of your praying when I’m writing or when I’m teaching at “an ‘away’ game,” like the Florida seminary or the Guatemalan pastors’ retreat. We bless God for each of you and ask the Father that you, too, will be led by the Spirit to be “devoted to prayer,” and that you’ll be praying in the will of God (not praying yourself out of it, like I almost did!).
Much love in Jesus,
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- This is one version of Edvard Munch’s famous 1893 painting, “The Scream”, which hangs in the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo, Norway. This public-domain image can be downloaded from Wikipedia.org. ↩
- This is reversed highlight of the painting mentioned in the previous endnote. ↩
- Image of Alix Compere comes from a still taken from a North Florida Theological Seminary promotional video. ↩
- This and the remaining photos and book covers are my own work. ↩