Breaking News (maybe?): Book Announcement

I’m pretty slow on the news, but this was a pleasant announcement from two lecturer friends. QTC Principal Gary Millar and QTC Lecturer/Pressy Minister Phil Campbell, both great blokes, have a new book coming out.

Looks exciting, and when I get my hands on one you can be guaranteed a book review here…and I’ll most likely get signatures and photos with the authors.

Watch this space!

Update:

Here’s what Dale Ralph Davis says about the book:

Let me invite you to eavesdrop on an Irish-Aussie conversation about preaching. This book teems with ‘plusses’: it is short (as a tome that takes Eutychus as its poster boy must be); it is stretching (they force one to deal with longer texts—and leave one asking, ‘Why can’t I summarize extended passages like that?’); it is specific (they include actual sermons with critique); it is searching (in case you skip the first chapter, ‘pray’ occurs eight times in the conclusion); and stirring (you still want to preach when you’ve finished reading). If you don’t buy the book, don’t cry if Eutychus isn’t saved!

Update II:

Believe or not I think I beat Nathan Campbell to the post!

Update III:

I’ve just received an advanced copy for review. Watch this space indeed!

Talk 4 – Gary Millar – Learning to pray in a Self-Preoccupied World

Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y, Millenials…

According to some sociologists the Baby Boomers were the most self-absorbed in human history. The following generation, Gen-X, needed to fend for itself. So as a generation they were marked by an independent nature. Those from an earlier generation might confuse this with selfishness, but Gen-X were just looking out for number 1. In other words they, too, were selfish. Gen-Y are also labelled more selfish and greedy than the boomers, new research suggests, with popular myths of them as a caring, community oriented, and politically savvy generation being totally wrong. This current generation is mostly focused on money, image, fame – ie, selfishness.

As a race, we are utterly self-preoccupied. We live in a world that screams ‘it’s all about me’.

How does this affect our prayers? We approach prayer with this attitude: what I pray is between me and God, and it’s none of your business. My needs are God’s top priorities in the universe.

Therefore what we pray about shows that we need something other than God to satisfy us.

1.     Pray in a way which says, ‘Praying together is the norm’

According to the Bible prayer is a team game not an individual one. We approach prayer individually then on to the group. But in the Lord’s Prayer it starts with ‘Our Father’ – we pray as part of a global family, which is part of God’s family itself. There is no more ‘me’ there is only ‘us’.

But this is weird to us! Why is that? First, my prayer life has nothing to do with you. Second, isn’t the mark of a mature Christian someone who is praying on their own well? Third, praying with other people doesn’t score as much spiritual points than on your own for hours. Fourth, we never think we need other Christians, just that we need more discipline.

Instinctively we think that prayer is individual.

“It is sometimes said that good private prayer is the foundation of good corporate prayer, but it may be more biblical to say that corporate prayer is the foundation of private prayer. Out experience of God in Christ is corporate. Western individualism has made the individual alone with God the centre of spirituality. For the people of the Bible it is the relationship between God and his people that is central.” (Chester, The Message of Prayer, 153)

But this isn’t saying that praying on your own is wrong – Jesus says earlier in Matt 6 to pray on your own rather than as a show for others. The point: make sure you’re praying to God and not to impress other people – his estimation of us is the only one that counts. Jesus is saying: don’t show off in your prayers, and don’t go on and on in your prayers.

His emphasis: we’re in this together!

The monastic movement – we have it in our heads that locking ourselves away and trying really hard to be really spiritual on our knees is the way of the mighty prayer warrior.

There are things around the house that often go missing – remotes, hair brushes, etc. The thing that often goes missing in Church is praying together.

Think about songs that sing about corporate prayer. According to Gary’s research there has only been one song about corporate prayer.

 

Jesus, where’er thy people meet – William Cowper

 

Jesus, where’er thy people meet,

there they behold thy mercy seat;

where’er they seek thee thou art found,

and every place is hallowed ground.

 

For thou, within no walls confined,

dost dwell with those of humble mind;

such ever bring thee where they come,

and, going, take thee to their home.

 

Great Shepherd of thy chosen few,

thy former mercies here renew;

here, to our waiting hearts, proclaim

the sweetness of thy saving Name.

 

Here may we prove the power of prayer

to strengthen faith and sweeten care;

to teach our faint desires to rise,

and bring all heaven before our eyes.

 

Lord, we are few, but thou art near;

nor short thine arm, nor deaf thine ear;

O rend the heavens, come quickly down,

and make a thousand hearts thine own!

 

We need a return to prayer together as the church – we need to not only because God tells us to, and that it’s good for us, but also because it also helps spread the Gospel in God’s world. We need to help each other to do it because it will have a habit of disappearing.

 2.     Pray in a way which says, ‘I am not the centre of the universe’

 

The biggest obstacle in our lives is that we believe we are the centre of the universe.

Ask Gary about his most humiliating self-centred moment – failing his driving test

We’re all appallingly self-centred by nature. The Lord’s prayer is designed to get us beyond ourselves – beyond our inner brat. Our Father ‘in Heaven’ – a way of saying that the perfect eternal rule of God has broken into our world. We say ‘our father in heaven’ to blow our minds – that this God has allowed us to become part of his family!

Ezekiel 36:22-23 – not for your sake that I do all this, but for the sake of my holy name…

Ezekiel says this kind of thing over and over in his book – about God intervening in history unlike any other tim

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Mat 6:10 ESV)” – a big prayer for God’s Kingdom to come, for Jesus to return

“When a Christian rightly prays the Lord’s prayer at any time his prayer is more than adequate.”  Martin Luther

This prayer should change the way we look at the world – a powerful antidote for looking at the world in our preoccupied selfish way

How do I know that I’m praying as though I’m the centre of the universe? Think of your prayers as a pie chart. How much of the pie chart is taken up by my agenda or God’s agenda? How much for ourselves, how much for other people? How much is devoted for immediate stuff, and how much for the longterm stuff of God’s plan?

Solution: to be changed by the Gospel. A useful exercise is to write down the words of the Lord’s prayer and say it every day for a month slowly. The Lord’s prayer is designed to shock us out of our selfishness.

3.     Pray in a way which says, ‘God is the one I need’

Only God can satisfy us.

In John 17:1ff we have the longest prayer of Jesus. In it we find him praying for God the Father to be glorified in how people receive the Gospel and to glorify Himself through it. All the way through his prayer it is God centred and gospel-saturated. And as with Jesus our master, we are here to glorify God.

Knowing God and delighting in God is the only thing that matters – it’s what we are made for and it’s what is good for us.

In our self-preoccupied world this prayer of Jesus cuts across this instinct. How can we pray like this?

John Piper uses this acronym for his prayers: I O U S

I – incline – Ps 119:36

Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!

O – open – Ps 119:18

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.

U – Unite – Ps 86:11

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.

S – Satisfy – Ps 90:14

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

First acknowledgement – most of us get out of bed not rushing to prayer, but tired, ugly and needing coffee. Piper’s acronym for prayer recognises that we wake up selfish!

The end of the matter:

God makes it possible for me to pray in a fallen world through the Gospel.
God exposes the reasons we don’t pray and stirs up a new desire to pray through the Gospel.
God reshapes what we pray for, how and when we expect him to answer, through the Gospel.
God changes the way we pray for ourselves and the world through the Gospel.

I’m not waiting for God’s answers…

I have a friend on Facebook who recently posted this as his status:

I’m not waiting for the Lord to answer my prayers because He’s waiting for my obedience.

I have a general rule to be gracious and generous with Twitter and Facebook posts primarily because by nature the posts tend to be removed from context – so the rough-in-the-ball-park way to try to discern their meaning is through what you know of the person generally.

So without wanting to impugn any particular theology of prayer to my friend, it is worth pointing out that his Facebook post pretty much sums up these thoughts on the struggle of prayer in an instant world. Gary Millar (in my summarised notes) puts the problem this way:

We are all allergic to waiting. Apple users will know the pain of receiving an email from Apple about their latest new thing ‘coming’!

We need to be prepared to wait when we pray.

We are allergic to helplessness – we want action now – not God’s long term strategy, but to sort things out now so we take on the job, we take over and try to work things out for ourselves.

We need to learn to see what is already there – the little answers on the way to the big answers (eg seeing the changes in your children’s godliness).

In our instant world we can do so much more and quicker than 20 years ago, but we need to remember the people of prayer know that prayer is a long term job.

Happy waiting for the Lord to answer your prayers :)

Talk 3 – Gary Millar – Learning to Pray in an Instant World

 Intro: Here is why praying seems weirder than ever in our world. As we get older we get less patient. And we live in a world that is getting faster and faster – waiting is now out of fashion! We live in an instant world. Think broadband, sms, and emails: if we don’t get instant connection or instant replies we wonder what’s going on.

Why is this a problem? Because prayer doesn’t work like this – it’s not an instant supply line, it’s not a way to get to God and get what we want straight away. If we start here – that prayer is about getting stuff now – we will struggle to pray for life.

Why? Because:

a.  God works at his own pace

God seldom appears to be in a hurry – for instance in Genesis Abraham wonders around for years until he has a child, Jacob waits and works 14 years before he is free to leave with the wife of his choice, Joseph spends 20 years in jail waiting for God to be at work.

At an important level God’s work in our lives is a lifetime work – and it’s even longer term in terms of building his Kingdom. It’s a long-term gradual process.

One way our prayers are out of sync with the bible is when we think of prayers and answers we think instinctively of quick answers to our immediate answers, but God operates on a much grander scale.

b. God works according to his agenda and not ours
See the prayers of Paul in Eph 1:15ff, 3:14ff, Phil 1:3ff, Col 1:9ff,1 Thess 3:12ff, 2 Thess 1:11ff

Most of Paul’s prayers cannot have instant answer – his prayers are dominated by long-term concerns. These are prayers that need to be repeated, prayers for the long haul, prayers about people’s lives and God’s agenda. The focus of his prayers are not that his friends would have easy lives, and that every obstacle would be removed for their churches – but that they will be faithful, persevere and that Jesus would be honoured at the end of it all.

Think about the prayers in prayer groups – God is the God of all the details, so small details are good to pray for. But to stop there is to miss God’s agenda for the world. God invites us to pray for the impossible, and tells us he will work in us and through us by our prayers – and then we sell him short with our pithy requests.

We massively underestimate God’s power in prayer – he wants to change us through our prayers, he wants the Gospel to be grown, he wants his Son glorified…and we often can’t get past the small things in life.

How to pray right now in the light of that:

1.   Recognise our greatest need(s):

On one level we think we can do our own things. But when I look at life in the light of the Gospel I realise I am so far out of my depth – there is nothing I can do to advance God’s agenda 1mm on my own. This is when I pray – because I’m shaped by the big picture.

Prayer is born out of learned desperation. – Paul Miller

If we get this, it will change the way we pray – the focus will be on God’s work in us and in the lives of others.

2. Expect to put in effort:

A common Christian myth: real spiritual people find prayer easy.

Yet Paul tells the Colossians about Epaphras and how he wrestles in prayer for them. Wrestling is hard work! Jesus prayer in the Garden was hard work!

Prayer is hard because we live in a fallen world – and it’s intractably linked to God’s work at transforming our lives.

Christian life is active battling throughout. Recognising the battle is the mark of spiritual maturity. – JI Packer

3. Learn to cope with spiritual allergies:

How do you live with allergies? You learn to cope.

We are all allergic to waiting. Apple users will know the pain of receiving an email from Apple about their latest new thing ‘coming’!

We need to be prepared to wait when we pray.

We are allergic to helplessness – we want action now – not God’s long term strategy, but to sort things out now so we take on the job, we take over and try to work things out for ourselves.

4. We need to wait for answers to big prayers:

At points God in his kindness will give us glimpses of his grand plan, but most often we need to wait for the answers to our prayers. Think of the big prayers from OT heroes – like Daniel and Nehemiah – they all about waiting for God’s big plans to come through.

5. Look for the small interim answers to big prayers:

We need to learn to see what is already there – the little answers on the way to the big answers (eg seeing the changes in your children’s godliness).

In our instant world we can do so much more and quicker than 20 years ago, but we need to remember the people of prayer know that prayer is a long term job.

Talk 2 – Gary Millar – Learning to Pray in a Cynical World

Here’s the second talk from Gary Millar. These are condensed from the notes I took – so feel free to correct if I misheard anything!

Intro: What is the ultimate prayer killer in our world? It’s cynicism. Cynical people. People, and personalities, whose default position is to distrust the information that we’re given. All of us live in a very cynical world – and Christians who subconsciously think this way about our world will end up prayerless. Prayer won’t seem so urgent or necessary in a cynical world.

So the biggest obstacle to prayer is cynicism – or the bible’s word: unbelief. Unbelief is not an intellect thing. It’s not just the intellect’s inability to grapple with a concept. Unbelief, biblically, is the choice to refuse to trust and believe God.

Today unbelief is in. There is no scandal in being an atheist as their used to be. Trusting God today is completely counter-cultural.

Unbelief is a what you would call a biblical mega category – pretty much all sins can be traced to this (idolatry is another meg-category).

Even as Christians we act as unbelievers, and unbelief kills prayer. Deep down we will say in our hearts, ‘I do not believe that you’ll answer this prayer because you haven’t answered big prayers in the past’

(Mark 9:14-29 ESV)

[14] And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. [15] And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. [16] And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” [17] And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. [18] And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” [19] And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” [20] And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. [21] And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. [22] And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” [23] And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” [24] Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [25] And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” [26] And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” [27] But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. [28] And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” [29] And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

What’s the problem in this story?

According to Jesus, in v19, the problem is unbelief – the disciples thought they could do the exorcism on their own! The disciples are contrasted with the father – I believe, help my unbelief!

What is the antidote to the attitude of unbelief? Most of us feel the tug of this struggle every day…

Six steps to a (better) prayer life:

1. Repent
Repentance is never trendy. If you refuse to believe that God will work through, hear, and answer your prayers then now is the time to repent. If you haven’t be praying because you believe that you can do it on your own then it’s time to repent.

2. Rebuild
Rebuild your trust in God.

(James 1:6-8 ESV)

[6] But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. [7] For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; [8] he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

What is James saying about doubt here? He is not saying you must have no doubt whatsoever, but that you should work on your trust issues. Doubt doesn’t say ‘How can God do that?’ It’s an issue of unbelief.

3. Rediscover
Rediscover delight.

We’re not very good at delighting at the details of life. But to repent is not only to turn from unbelief and turn to trust God, but also to delight in Him. It’s not hard, but it does take effort. And here’s the key: to look at the world through the Gospel.

4. Rekindle
Rekindle faithfulness

(Deuteronomy 8:11-20 ESV)

[11] “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, [12] lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, [13] and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, [14] then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, [15] who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, [16] who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. [17] Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ [18] You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. [19] And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. [20] Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.

In Deuteronomy 8 Moses warns Israel not to forget God when they go into the land. Realise that God has done it all for them – remember him when you take the land. It can be easy to lose our faithfulness when everything is nice and good in our lives.

5. Recover
Recover our awe

It’s vital to gasp at the greatness of our God.

Paul Tripp says it well in his book ‘Dangerous Calling’:

A human being who is not living in awe of God is a functionally limited human being…when awe of God is absent it is quickly replaced with awe of ourselves.

How do we get back here? Awe happens when we are confronted by greatness. There is only one thing that can produce awe: the Gospel itself.

6. Renew
Renew our hope

Remember there’s more to come, life will be better than this. This is not escapism, it is reality.

In CS Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles there is a character named Puddleglum. He is a picture of a character stripped of hope.

Our world is becoming increasingly cynical making hope harder and harder.

Conclusion:
We need to do all of this, BUT we can’t do it all by ourselves. We need God to do it for us in the Gospel. The only real prayer is Gospel driven prayer – we need God to work the Gospel a little bit deeper into our lives. Only then can we repent, delight in God, be in awe of God, gasp at the greatness of God, and be in thanks as we see more and more of Jesus Christ. And this is a prayer that God delights to answer!

 

 

Talk 1 – Gary Millar – Learning to Pray in a Fallen World

Gary Millar

Here’s my attempt to capture some of what Gary Millar spoke on during the recent Ignite Training Conference 2013. For various reasons I missed a couple of Gary Koo talks so I’ll post up those summaries when I get a chance to re-listen to those talks.

Gary Millar’s first talk: Learning to Pray in a Fallen World (Genesis 3).

Intro: Prayer is really hard! Even for a Christian of many years, prayer is hard. Almost everybody struggles with prayer. And this is not helped by the current strategy of most churches: agree to not talk about it, pretend that there’s no problem. For if we ignore the problem then we’ll feel less guilty about it.

Gary [Ed: towering man of God and preacher that he is] confesses also to being a prayer wimp.

We begin our journey into scripture by looking at Genesis 4, which isn’t a pretty place to start. Right after Adam and Eve are booted from the Garden we have human beings starting to kill each other. But by the end of Chapter 4 we have the birth of prayer with the birth of Enosh (4:26) – at this time people are calling on the name of the Lord.

Why are they doing that? Because people are beginning to understand the Gospel! They have got a glimpse of the coming of Christ.

How? In Genesis 3 there was a promised descendant of Eve who will be the snake crusher. But this doesn’t turn out to be Abel (because he dies) and it definitely can’t be Cain (because he’s the murderer). So by the time of Enosh people have started to get the fact that things will not get sorted out straight away – that God will not fulfil his promises right away. So they cry out to God, they acknowledge their hopelessness.

Prayer starts with the Gospel – only when you see that God is the only one who can fix this messed up world through his saviour then you can pray.

BUT

A.  It would be easy try and develop a big ‘to do’ list of prayer as though this will solve the problem.

This would be an almighty waste of time. Ironically enough if you want to pray more, you don’t focus on praying! You focus on the God of the Gospel. Prayer should start and end with God – and this saves us from the ‘to do’ list mentality

B.  It would also be easy to just wallow in incredible guilt.

But this is the point of Genesis 4:26 – if you wallow in guilt you haven’t got the message. The Gospel doesn’t leave us feeling guilty, it drives us to grace.

Here’s how John Bunyan understood this concept: Now I saw in my dream, that the highway, up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called salvation. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back. He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

Here’s how John Calvin understood it: Just as faith is born from the gospel, so through it our hearts are trained to call upon God’s name in prayer.

HOWEVER

Here’s some bad news:

Our generation is probably the most difficult to live in and be a prayerful person. We live in a fast paced, cynical, socially connected world. It’s not easy to pray – we need to take this difficulty seriously. Yet, struggling with prayer is not a new thing, it’s been around since the start of the church. (Gary quotes some guys in church history expressing their disappointment with non-prayerful people and giving their advice on prayer). If you struggle with prayer you stand in a long line of saints before you.

Again, why is it so hard? Because we live in a fallen world. We still have the desire for intimacy with God, but it’s really hard to pull it off. Getting through to God is also really hard, and we’ll try anything to get some sense of God (eg. all the various traditions and superstitions surrounding prayer).

Why does all of this matter? Understanding it all means we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we struggle to pray.

HOWEVER

Here’s some good news:

Prayer is designed for a fallen world! God has designed prayer to work in a fallen world.

And remember: prayer is an interim measure. It’s temporary. In the new heavens and the new earth there will not be any more prayer, for we will see and speak with God face to face!

Prayer is also designed for this world where we feel discouraged and hurt, by our sin and the sins of others against us. But before we get despondent, let’s be encouraged with these three things:

1.  God has made prayer possible through the Gospel.

Without the Gospel prayer just can’t happen.

Galatians 4:4 reminds us that because we are God’s sons we have the spirit of God which helps us cry out Abba, Father. Therefore the Gospel allows us to join in the original conversation in the universe – within the Trinity.

2.  God made prayer good in a fallen world through the Gospel.

God says he will show up when we pray. Even when it feels like a rubbish time together, it is still good.

3.  God has promised he will answer our prayers in a fallen world through the Gospel.

Like a child to their parents, we can ask anything and trust God with the answer. And because we can trust God we can ask of him *anything*.

There are some prayers that God will always answer positively.

  • Prayer for forgiveness
  • Prayers seeking to know God better – and since this is the whole focus of God in our lives (to grow our knowledge of Him leading to Christ-likeness) he will answer
  • Prayers for wisdom – to know how to live for God
  • Prayers for the strength to obey
  • Prayers asking for the spread of the Gospel

Here’s how to be an advanced prayer:

  • Become an expert asker
  • Recognise that you are always so close to making a train wreck of your life
  • Jesus says come to me you who are weary – so the criteria for coming to Jesus is to be weary – not those who are qualified in prayer