Category: Article

“I’ll Pray for You”

Have you ever shared a need or struggle with someone, and in response hear them say, “I’ll pray for you”? And had a sneaky suspicion they wouldn’t? Why is that? Is it because we’re cynical, skeptical or because we’ve been that person saying, “I’ll pray for you,” knowing full well we wouldn’t?

Prayer is one of the most loving things we can do for someone. Prayer takes people’s greatest needs to the most powerful Being in the universe. The reverse is true too—neglect of prayer is a serious lapse of love. How cruel would it be to know someone who could meet our friends every need, and refuse to connect them?

Perhaps you’ve walked away from a conversation wishing a friend would have prayed for you right then? I know a number of people who, after listening intently to others, respond by offering to pray on the spot. What would happen if we did that? Not in a cultic, lockstep kind of way, but whenever we sensed it was good timing, when prompted by the Spirit? That would be a force to reckon with.

So why not?

I read an article years ago suggesting the “mediatorial elite” are a barrier to spontaneous prayer. It described a social dynamic among Christians where people often don’t pray out loud, or at all, because we’re intimidated by what others will think. Prayer on the spot?–that’s for the spiritual giants.

The author went on to debunk this idea by pointing to the priestly work of Christ. Jesus died and rose to make it possible for all people–young and old, fresh convert or seasoned sage, to draw near to the throne of God with confidence to receive grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:14-16). In other words:

There is no mediatorial elite.

To follow through on our promise to pray, and to be bolder in praying on the spot, we may need to confront the false notion of a “mediatorial elite.” Begin by repenting of exaggerated concern with what others think of your praying. Ask Jesus to forgive you for minimizing his priestly work on your behalf. Then take Jesus up on his promise–grace to help in time of need! Any time, any place.

We are a kingdom of priests, living stones that compose a holy, cosmic temple where the Spirit dwells. He prompts the priests to pray for the people and mission of God. So let’s get on with praying out loud, on the spot, in intercession for others.

Walking with a friend through the streets of a village in northern Thailand, we were surrounded by opulent Buddhist temples covered in gold flake. As we reflected on the spiritual poverty around us, we were cut to the heart. As we lamented the beautiful deception, my friend piped up and said, “Let’s throw up the true temple and pray for this place.”

As we prayed and called on the name of the Lord, the Spirit’s presence throbbed in our presence. Who knows what the Lord did in answer to those prayers? Now, just think what could happen in your town, city, church, if you “threw up the true temple” more often and prayed on the spot!

You can read more about praying in the Spirit in Here in Spirit: Knowing the Spirit who Create, Sustains, and Transforms Everything.

 

Hearing the Spirit

Listening to the Spirit can sometimes feel like trying to hear someone over a band at a concert. How do we make out his voice? What exactly is he saying? To hear the Spirit, to become acquainted with his voice, we have to quiet the noise. One form of noise is busyness.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “We have lost the art of being still and doing nothing.” Can you remember the last time you did nothing? Really, stop and think about it. I have to talk myself into doing nothing sometimes, and when I am doing nothing, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to do nothing. I even have to shoo away the guilt for not being productive so I can just sit and enjoy grace. Occasionally when I’m reading the Bible, items for my to-do list materialize. They distract me and try to push God’s words around my mind. Suddenly getting a task done feels more urgent than meeting with God!

Once we slow down long enough to eliminate busyness, we may not like what we see. Danish philosopher and father of existentialism Søren Kierkegaard wrote volumes of thought-provoking philosophy that required gobs of doing nothing. Yet in reflection he described himself as a spectator in life, someone who learned about the views and theories of others while contributing nothing to the greater base of knowledge. He envied “great men” who pursued interests with great success, while struggling to find his own purpose. He struggled with a profound sense of inadequacy.

Do you ever feel inadequate? I think of mothers in our church who feel the pressure to accomplish something: well-disciplined children, organic, gluten-free diets, well-kept homes with inviting interior design, a stand-out hobby, side job, or great career. If they don’t accomplish these goals, they feel like they don’t measure up. Or men who are so driven by work and platform building that they have lost touch with the Spirit of God. We often mistake accomplishment for purpose.

Kierkegaard eventually saw through all of this: “Let us never deceive youth by foolish talk about the matter of accomplishing. Let us never make them so busy in the service of the moment, that they forget the patience of willing something eternal.”

He came to the point where he realized the futility of busyness in the service of temporal things and began to value the importance of slow, patient eternal things. This is particularly challenging in our age, where we believe just the opposite—that we need to accomplish a bunch of great things in order to be purposeful.

In this milieu, how do we hear the voice of the Spirit? We may need to begin by renouncing accomplishment, to throw off the claim that a meaningful life is based purely on what we do and instead learn to rest in what God has done. We must patiently set aside productivity to slow down enough to value the things of God. Embrace the value of silencing other voices in order to make out the sound of the voice that matters most. This is a lifelong endeavor: cultivating the patience of willing something eternal. And it is worth it, every single bit.

You can read more about listening to the Spirit in Here in Spirit: Knowing the Spirit who Create, Sustains, and Transforms Everything.

3 Elder Essentials

1) Lead the Mission of the Church. We see church leaders doing this throughout Acts. Paul deliberates with the elders about his missionary travels. Local elders make decisions through reasonable discussion and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Deliberating an important decision on behalf of the Jerusalem Church, the elders concluded, “It seemed good to us and the Spirit” (Acts 15:22-28). It is noteworthy that these elders made a decision in unity. Elders should work through issues toward unity in the Spirit as much as possible, speaking with one pastoral voice to the church on important matters. They should be careful to not bend an ear to individuals in the church, inadvertently becoming a pawn for divisive agendas, but always seek to shepherd together in tenderness and truth.

If elders don’t seek the filling and wisdom of the Spirit, they overestimate thier own power and wisdom and fail to serve the church well. They will easily become self-protective and withdraw from people or people-pleasing and engrossed in people. The Spirit reminds us that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, so we don’t bear the burden of changing people nor do we have to find refuge in isolation, since the Lord “prepares a table in the presence of my enemies, and leads us through (not abandons us) the valley of the shadow of death.” The elders at City Life seek the Spirit together through study, reflection, and prayer. Our bi-weekly meetings and retreats help us focus our leadership.

2) Pastor the Church. Good pastoring starts on its knees. In Psalm 23, David recongizes his ultimate Shepherd is the Lord. In staying close to the Chief Shepherd, he will not lack anything he needs for his calling. Our elders open every elder meeting with prayer, and pray for specific people in the church who are in need. In addition, we pray for five members by name. We alternate emphases of our meetings between shepherding for pastoral care and strategy to set visionary leadership.

All of our elders are engaged in counseling the sinner, sufferer, and struggling saint, in community with our church. They are remarkably faithful, self-sacrificing, compassionate men. We frequently pair up to provide support to those who need counsel with the aim of: Listening to their Story, Empathizing with their Story, and Retelling their Story around Jesus. Counsel happens very intentionally through coaching and training leaders, doing life together in City Groups, and always seeking to be a counseling & encouraging presence. This is critical. Elders must be in touch with the flock to shepherd the flock. For that reason, it is unwise for elders to have a community group all thier own. They must live in the pastures, so to speak, in order care for the sheep well.

3) Promote & Protect the Gospel. Out of our devotion to Jesus, and his greater devotion to us, we are called to shepherd with the Rod, guide with the Lamp, and point to the Treasure of this Word. The rod is God’s Word, which should be used to guide, protect, correct the flock in holiness. This happens when we preach, teach, counsel, pray. We labor to push the gospel through everything in order to avoid authoritarian or passive leadership and to rivet people’s attention to Jesus Christ as thier supreme authority and King, and thier source of endless satisfaction, love, and forgiveness as Redeemer. Elder authority is alway mediated through Jesus, and points back to Jesus as Head of the Church ruling through his Word. Spiritual authority is not residential in elders, but in the office that must maintain the utmost character to carry out the ministry of the Word among God’s people.

My 3 Favorite Coffees of 2017

Since moving to Austin over a decade ago, coffeeshops have filled the streets about as quickly as high-rise condos have populated the skyline. You’ll find one of these below. Since using a Breville espresso machine, I’ve begun to favor beans that make for a great espresso. The fact that I’ve limited myself to a coffee a day over the past year has made me even more picky (although I’ve splurged a bit the last month!). All of these can be used to make a great cup of coffee and would be a great gift for a coffee lover.

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Irving Coffee Roasters: Blackstrap – This espresso is rich, molasses-caramel, heavy-in-the-best-of-ways goodness. A favorite from NYC and worth ordering every single time.

 

large_b24823b1-233e-4b86-80a5-fcb592e1d33eCounter Culture46 – In addition to having a cool, pastel, no-nonsense compostable bag, this bean is smooth, smokey, and dark chocolate. Not as dark as Blackstrap, it’s a great everyday bean. Its name comes from the 46th recipe Counter Culture created.

 

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TweedTimepiece – This coffee is from the most-expensive, sheik coffeeshop in Austin, Houndstooth, with its original store located in the downtown Frost Tower. These guys take coffee seriously, and it shows. Timepiece manages to combine the caramel I love with a brightness that keeps it from being too heavy.