“Be Careful What You Pray For”

From the “Be Careful What You Pray For” department…

A few months ago, I began a journey of discovery. I have been a Christ-follower since I was a child. I have been a pastor for twenty-five years. But I feel like I am just getting to know the person of the Holy Spirit. I grew up in a tradition that was reserved regarding expressions of the Holy Spirit. I have developed a hunger to know more and experience more of the Holy Spirit.

In particular, I am fascinated by the descriptions of “power” in the Bible associated with the Holy Spirit. I want to experience this power and not just talk about it. I have made this my prayer…to know the power of the Holy Spirit. To experience it. I made this my quest, my study, my preoccupation.

About six weeks ago, I developed some health problems that have dominated my life. Two surgeries, three hospitalizations, and continued pain, discomfort, and inconvenience. At first, it so involved me that I had little time for reflection. But recently, as I tried to get some perspective on this season in my life, I came across this verse and found new meaning I had not found in the past.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,”
(Philippians 3:10 NIV)

I do not know that God brought this season of pain into my life in response to my prayer…my quest. I must admit that I was guilty of wanting to know God the easy way. We do not like to think of suffering as a positive in our lives. But some truths cannot be learned through any other path. My prayer now is that I will not waste the lessons of this experience because of self-pity.

I do want to know you, Lord. I want to know your power. And, while I do not desire pain… I would share in the fellowship of your suffering, Lord Jesus. Whatever it takes to know You…


There is no need for us to wait, as the one hundred and twenty had to wait (Acts 1) for the Spirit to come. For the Holy Spirit did come on the day of Pentecost, and has never left His church. Our responsibility is to humble ourselves before His sovereign authority, to determine not to quench Him, but to allow Him his freedom. For then our churches will again manifest those marks of the Spirit’s presence which many young people are especially looking for, namely biblical teaching, loving fellowship, living worship, and an ongoing, outgoing evangelism.

–John R. W. Stott


To study the life of Elijah is to study prayer. When he prayed, crazy things happened. It stopped raining. A dead boy came back to life. Fire fell from heaven. It started raining again. Another word for crazy might be supernatural. When Elijah prayed, the supernatural resulted. But that is what prayer is. When we pray we ask God to do what only He can do. Prayer defies the laws of physics and common sense. We ask God to intervene in our world. That is supernatural. That is prayer.

The writer of James wants to make sure that we understand that all of us can pray like Elijah. We, too, can see supernatural consequences to our prayer. So we should take lessons from Elijah and learn to pray like him.

When God speaks, take a stand on what he says.  Elijah heard the sound of heavy rain. He knew that sound was God telling him to pray for rain. His faith demanded that he proclaim to the king that rain was on the way. No playing it safe. No keeping it to himself. He publicly and boldly stood on God’s word.

Invest yourself in prayer. Assume the posture. Spend the time. Humble yourself. Continue in prayer. Do the work. Though we can pray our way throughout ever day…as we live it, there are times prayer requires deep personal investment. Engagement. Not casual, drive-by prayer.

Pray for as long as it takes.  Who can predict how long it will be until the answer comes? But if God has promised, the answer will come. Six times, Elijah sent his servant to look for rain clouds. Six times the servant reported nothing. But Elijah did not quit praying.

Watch closely for God to move. The answer to prayer may come initially in the smallest of beginnings. For Elijah, it was a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising out of the sea. How many people even noticed? Only those paying attention…only those watching…will see the initial stirrings of God’s Spirit. But notice we must and act we must!

(These are the teaching notes from 8/19/12 based on 1 Kings 18:41-46.)

“Confronting the Casual”

George Barna describes a “tribe” of religious people in American today:

Casual Christianity is faith in moderation. It allows them to feel religious without having to prioritize their faith. Christianity is a low-risk, predictable proposition for this tribe, providing a faith perspective that is not demanding. A Casual Christian can be all the things that they esteem: a nice human being, a family person, religious, an exemplary citizen, a reliable employee – and never have to publicly defend or represent difficult moral or social positions or even lose much sleep over their private choices as long as they mean well and generally do their best. From their perspective, their brand of faith practice is genuine, realistic and practical. To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves.

People much like this are confronted by Elijah in 1 Kings 18. We learn:

  • Casual Christians do not like risk. They love undisturbed lives. They attempt to blend in rather than stick out. Elijah was unfazed by risk. He left himself no “fall-back” position. If God did come through, he was sunk.
  • Casual Christians value tolerance. They accept every belief system.
  • Casual Christians equate activity with spirituality. Stay busy. More about doing than being.
  • Casual Christians pray bland prayers. They pray generically and ambiguously rather than specifically. Their prayers are almost always answered this way…even if nothing really happens.
  • Casual Christians do not expect or want to see God’s power. The supernatural makes them uncomfortable. They value the predictable and the safe.

How many of  these casual characteristics do you see in yourself? Enough to make you uncomfortable?

“Singular Devotion”

Week Four of “Elijah” deals with 1 Kings 18:20-21. Elijah challenges the people with this statement:

If the Lord is God, follow him…”

Many people have made a rather casual “commitment” to follow God. This text challenges us to make a singular commitment — an overwhelming, passionate, life-altering, shocking devotion to Him.

  • God doesn’t want to be your first thing but your everything. Many claim to put God first. The problem is that we often have several “close seconds.” God want to be your first, second, third… He wants to be the center of your life from which all else flows.
  • Indecision is a costly thing. Don’t delay in making your life-choices.
  • God will not share your devotion. Understand: God brooks no rivals. None.
  • Following is more than mental assent but requires intensive action. It is behavior and not words. To be sure, words are important. But, as I grow older I learn that talk is cheap. Action costs. Action counts.