My buddy and colleague Bob Hartley, to whom I often refer, has many marvelous revelatory encounters with God. (I have my moments too!) When he shares these experiences, they are often confirmed to people by very specific insights into their lives and the lives of people they know through prophetic words of wisdom and knowledge. This dynamic gives people "a reason to believe" that Bob may indeed have heard the heart of God through his encounters. I have been with him on many occasions in which he has received divine revelations like this from the Holy Spirit to share with others. On numerous occasions in 2014, Bob has heard the Lord say that this is a season for us to declare Psalm 67 - A Message of Hope for the World.
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah 2 that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah 5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. 7 God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!
God is like an incomparable many-faceted gem. He has many "faces" to His nature that He wants us to come to "see" and discern. He has faces we have forgotten, faces we have overlooked and many faces we've never seen before. One of the open secrets of spiritual life in Christ is to welcome these "faces of God" to shine down upon us. Encoded in these faces are the knowledge of His ways for us to live by in this world. These ways of God have the power to transform human lives and even whole cities and nations and make them glad through the joy of Jesus. Oh Lord...cause Your face to shine on us that we might know Your brilliant ways and become conduits of Your joyful presence in this world.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
So the apostle says that these three virtues of spiritual life will carry on into the age to come and that they should therefore be a focus in the here and now. All we do to cultivate these spiritual arts will be a fabulous investment and a profound and practical way of changing the world around us for the good. Faith and love do get a lot of press in the church world, but I think that hope is often neglected and marginalized. Maybe this is because our culture refers to it regularly and it often seems to be a humanly generated replacement for faith in God. Maybe it is because defining hope can be elusive. We have all experienced it, but it can be trans-rational and hard to pin down into words.
Biblical hope is strong and mighty and can even be considered a precursor to faith and/or love as in Hebrews 11:1 - "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen." It is clear that hope always has the future in view...immediate or long-term...but it is a present state of being. Hope is now! It is an atmosphere of Divine optimism conveyed to us directly by the Holy Spirit that surrounds, soaks and buoys our thoughts, choices, emotions, world-view, expectations, basic attitudes, responses to problems, enjoyment of God and the life He has given us to live. It is like a gentle wind that blows the sweet fragrance of Christ within us into the environment around us and nearby the people with whom we interact who may desperately need a whiff of something...anything...good. Hope keeps us from sinking into the ugliness of despair, negativity, unbelief, pessimism, fear, vengeance and the like. Hope floats! And...as long as we cherish and hold it within our breasts, we too will float. God is the glorious lifter of our heads and beckons us to breathe and shine.
I've always been fascinated that in Acts 2:42, the first followers of Jesus not only devoted themselves to aligning their lives to the teaching of the apostles about Jesus, to koininia (community development) and to prayer, but also to "breaking bread" together or eating together. They did this in a regular larger feast (a party!) and also from house to house. Of course, in this context they celebrated the "Lord's Supper", but they simply shared meals too.
I believe that eating with others is a simple pleasure and joy that God has given to us in this world that creates a special bond of trust and affection between us. There is something intrinsically sacred about gratefully sharing food in the shadow of God's presence. I also see it as a living metaphor of how we are able to "break off" a piece of the life of Christ within us and nourish others by sharing this. And...they can do the same for us. This devotion can help counter the evils that attend lonliness, isolation, fragmentation, separation, rejection, fear, selfishness, busyness, distraction, confusion and depression. Are you "devoted" to sharing meals with others as a way of sharing in the life of Christ? It isn't that hard to do! We need to make it a main priority in our church communities, as the first believers did.
In one of my spiritual encounters years ago, the Holy Spirit said something to me that has stuck with me and resonated within me since that time. "Timing isn't everything, but it almost is," is what He said.
An aspect of being and working in the "easy yoke" of Jesus as our leader has to do with keeping pace and rhythm with Him as the senior ox in the team. I have too often found myself pushing ahead or lagging behind His cadence and example, which only serves to result in sore shoulders or a sore neck for me! Despite the hassle I have given Him in these times, He still gets His plowing done, but the work hasn't been as much "fun" for us.
I pray for the grace to learn to be more and more sensitive to the pace of the steps He sets for me in worship, life, relationships and ministry.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)
My premise in this series of blogs is that effective prayer...prayer "in the name of Jesus"...is based on our coming to know the truer and fuller nature of God, through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, it is the kind of praying that brings the will of heaven to bear upon the earth, because the person praying has clearly discerned the heart, mind, will and purposes on earth of the God who is in heaven....the invisible realm of God right nearby and interfacing with the visible realm we can see with our eyes.
Praying "in the name of Jesus" implies that the one praying does so as an official earthly representative of the Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ. This is the same dynamic that allowed the power of His Father and the Holy Spirit to work through Jesus during his earthly ministry. So Jesus explained, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does." John 5:19
Because Jesus lived, worked and prayed according to the nature or, in the name, of His Father, He was able to pray very simply. Often, He just spoke a clear command to spirit or matter and the sub-normal situations on earth aligned with the will of God. He spoke to fevers, demons, people, fig trees, wind and waves and things that are impossible with men occurred. Then, He told us that we could, would and should operate in life and ministry in the very same manner that He did. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." John 14:12-14
Though this concept of prayer has been misused and abused in past religious movements, this does not negate its validity. I have personally experienced this kind of powerful prayer on a number of occasions. I believe that we will yet see the followers of Jesus grow up into the proper and mature expression of Colossians 3:17 - And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (NLT)
There are different phrases that can be used that the New Testament refer to as keys to effective prayer - prayer that our Heavenly Father will not only hear, but answer with joy, generosity and power. Praying "according to His will", "in the Spirit" and "in the name of Jesus" all come to mind. In Biblical culture and language, a name represented more than it typically does in our culture - it pointed to the entire character and persona of the individual or family who bore the name.
I have found it helpful to think of praying in the "name of Jesus" as praying according to the "nature of Jesus" in order to help this powerful idea not get lost in translation. So then...to pray in the "name of Jesus" is an intrinsic qualifier to prayer that is well prayed. It also implies that receiving greater illumination and insight from the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures that lead to more accurate views of the true nature of God, our place in His heart, family and kingdom and His intentions for the earth and its future will automatically position and empower us to pray more effectively. The Lord has revealed to Bob Hartley, over and over again in many encounters, that this "healed and expanded view" is fundamental to the kind of Hope Reformation that He desires to spread across the globe in the days to come that will overturn an insufficient "misery Christianity" that has dominated the visible church world for too long.
A practical way for this adjustment in prayer to come about it to practice the fine art of laying down our perceived and pressing needs, desires, requests, burdens, plans, etc. to focus, long and deeply, on adoring and magnifying God Himself. He longs to reveal to us forgotten, overlooked and yet to be discovered facets of His nature - or "faces" of God. "Hallowed be Your name" comes before "Give us our daily bread" in the pattern of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray!
My good friend of many years, Bob Hartley, experienced a transforming encounter with Jesus in 1981 that has impacted my life and the lives of many others too. He was a university student in his early 20's who had been encouraged to receive Christ into his life. As he chose to take this invitation seriously, great pains in his heart began to immediately surface. He didn't realize before this how angry he was at God. He went into a Chicago conference hotel room with an assumption that God didn't really care about what was on Bob's heart and that God was nowhere nearby when painful events had taken place in his life throughout his youth.
In his encounter with the love and warmth of the living Christ in that room, God specifically and supernaturally revealed to him how much He had always cared for him, the times He had protected Bob's life, the many times He grieved when Bob would run out from under His protection and get into trouble, people He had sent to him to provide for his needs and many other perspective-altering insights as well. Bob entered that room with a pervasive and unspoken accusation toward God in his heart - "You don't care about what is on my heart!" He left that room 3 days later with a powerful revelation - "God has a Heart! God has a Heart!"
Now you'd need to know Bob's personality like I do to fully appreciate this, but once he received this revelation about God's truer and greater Nature, there was only one question that dominated his being for weeks and years to come - "Father, now that I know You have a heart...what is on Your heart?" As an outcome of continually and sincerely asking God this question throughout many years, God has shared directly with Bob matters of all kinds that are on His heart. And...I believe that for all of us to know the Father's heart more truly and deeply is a vital prerequisite to experiencing more fully what it means to pray to Him "in the name of Jesus".
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:13-14
I certainly don't think that I have mastered what it truly means to pray "in the name" of Jesus. Such a thought freaks me out! But I do believe it is very important for us to reach forward, teach toward and believe for truths and realities that we have not yet fully experienced. Otherwise, we will "dumb down" the amazing promises of the New Covenant and what things are possible in the Holy Spirit here and now. I think of myself as being on a journey into a greater "fullness" - a grand adventure into experiences that are impossible with man, but possible with God. And...I do find great comfort in the words of the apostle Paul below.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
What this says to me is that it is actually better for me, on the front end and fundamentally, to admit I am "weak" in prayer rather than an "expert" in prayer. That I can do! Then, I can learn to trust the Holy Spirit...the only real Expert...to lead me into how to pray by His inspiration and into the amazing prayer promise of John 14:13-14 and others like it.
I have become convinced there is a much deeper reality beneath genuinely praying "in the name" of Jesus than what many people commonly understand. Normally, folks imagine that it is simply a matter of tagging such words onto our prayers to make them more acceptable to the Father. Maybe this is due to a difference in our culture's understanding of the importance of a name in contrast to the importance of names in Biblical times.
The deeper significance is a bit easier for us to grasp when we think of how the police were portrayed by the media a generation ago when they used the term "in the name of the law" to confront a wrong doer. We immediately understood that this term meant an official representative of the civil government was on the scene with the authority and power to take whatever actions necessary to intervene and bring justice to bear upon the situation. In such situations, many words are not needed to accomplish what is called for and might even prove counter-productive to that end. Jesus clearly applied this idea of simplicity to prayer in Matthew 6:7-8: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
I intend to say more about the art of praying "in the name" of Jesus in another post.