The following talk was given at ‘The Prayer Academy’ on October 24th 2018.
Seeking after God
On April 15, 2013, Carlos Arrendondo stood with hundreds of other people at the finishing line of the Boston Marathon. As many of you will remember, terrorists detonated two bombs at that point. Carlos was caught up in the resultant carnage. The blast threw him to the ground. He later said that when this happened his instinctive reaction was to run as fast as he could from this awful scene. However, as quickly as that thought entered his mind, another thought took over with an impulse to run to the injured, to help them in whatever way he could. As a result of this action, he was captured in an iconic image as he and another man helped a terribly injured individual called Jeff Bauman. In Carlos’s own words, when the bombs went off, he thought, ‘This is a moment…make a better choice.’ That better choice led to him helping people who were seriously injured.
I believe that statement has resonance for Cartsbridge.
This is a moment: a unique moment in the story of our church. This is a moment when we are experiencing the blessing of God. We have so much to thank God for in this season. But running parallel to this blessing, the collective prayer life of the church hit a real low before the summer. An average of around 30 people attended the midweek prayer from a membership of 231 people.
The September Prayer Focus and now ‘The Prayer Academy’ is a way of saying to the church, ‘This is a moment…make a better choice.’
Therefore, before the Prayer Academy can start, we need to have a change of heart!
For this to happen, it requires that we invest our time and energy in two central areas:
1. Align ourselves with God’s purposes for collective prayer
As we align ourselves with God’s purposes for collective prayer, it says something about us.
(a) We demonstrate our dependence on God’s power
The collective prayer times of a local church provide a clear and emphatic demonstration of our complete dependence on God’s power for all our work. To meet for the purpose of bringing the people and the work of the church before the Lord signals our dependence on him like nothing else can. At the same time, collective prayer sets before the church family a demonstration of the answering power of God.
One of the things that impacted Kenny Crawford and me when we spent time with the elders of the church in Vlore, Albania this month was the way they encouraged the church to celebrate answered prayer. They pray very specifically as a church and when God answers that prayer, they acknowledge it as a church with praise and thanksgiving.
Let us be more specific in our praying and more intentional in celebrating answered prayer together.
(b) We focus our minds on the church and its mission
Collective prayer trains us to realise our oneness within the body and to be concerned about the ministries of the church. God’s desire is to shape and beautify the whole membership together, and to bring about a responsible and involved body of people bonded in a sacred activity of united prayer. We care together in prayer times and we feel together.
(c) We extend the horizons of our faith
Collective prayer trains the church to develop faith and to anticipate great things from God.
In John 4, Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” Collective prayer makes those words real in the life of the church, encouraging us to regularly lift up our eyes to the see the needs in our world. It focuses our minds and hearts on issues much bigger than ourselves.
(d) We are taught in the school of prayer
In collective prayer we discover the full scope, range and manner of prayer. Untied prayer is uniquely educational and broadening.
2. Approach God with the right heart and attitude
The idea of the Prayer Academy was inspired by the truth of Psalm 24:6…
“Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.”
The generation of those who seek God in Psalm 24 is blessed by God. Do you not long to be among the generation who seek God and who know the blessing of God?
What does it mean to seek God?
I spent three years in Nottingham working with a church in the late nineties. On one occasion, I remember taking my family to a large park on the outskirts of Derby on a Saturday afternoon. I am not entirely sure how it happened but I managed to lose Alisdair, my son, just shortly after leaving the car. The few minutes until I found him again were awful. For that short period, my energy, thinking and heart were poured into finding him.
That picture is both helpful and unhelpful at the same time when we apply it to seeking God. It’s helpful because it captures the strength of the Hebrew word for seek. Our entire heart is to be engaged in seeking God. But it is also unhelpful. We are not seeking for God as if he is somehow lost. Jesus has made a covenant commitment to be with his people through the Holy Spirit. “Surely, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). When the Bible repeatedly calls us to “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always” (Psalm. 105:4), it is an acknowledgement that his revealed, conscious, trusted presence is not our constant experience. There are seasons when we become neglectful of God and give him no thought and don’t put trust in him. His face – the fullness of his character – is hidden behind the curtain of our sinful desires. This condition is always ready to overtake us. That’s why we are told to “seek his face always…continually…”
John Piper says that seeking God is the conscious fixing or focusing of our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection on God.
There well over 30 references in Scripture to the importance of seeking God but our primary inspiration tonight comes from 2 Chronicles 34 and the story of King Josiah.
Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for thirty-one years. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.
In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David.
(2 Chronicles 34:1-3)
At his ascension, he was 8 years old. In the 8th year of his reign, at the age of 16, he began to seek God. I am convinced this was a crisis point in the life of Josiah. Very often, crisis points are moments when we are brought to see our need for God’s presence and help. Here is this teenage boy, with the cares of the kingdom on his shoulders, newly aware of the responsibilities and possibilities which that brought him, turning to God. When he was 16, Josiah began to seek the God of his father David.
What about this moment in the life of Cartsbridge Church? This is undoubtedly a season when we are experiencing the blessing of God. But more than ever, this is a time for Cartsbridge to seek God. This is a moment to press on with greater urgency.
Why do I say that? Well, an example from the experience of God’s people can help here. The context is one in which the Israelites are preparing to enter the Promised Land. At this moment, Moses says to the people:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you – a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
The very blessing of God can cause the people of God to forget him.
What the Deuteronomy passage is saying in our language is this: don’t take your eye off the ball.
I recognise that we are a busy, busy church with many of the members leading very busy lives. However, it is a cause for concern if only 15% of the membership attend the collective prayer gatherings of the church (pre-summer 2018 attendance).
We are called as the people of God to seek him. John Piper says that this is the conscious fixing or focusing of our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection on God.
“If you seek him, he will be found by you.”
(2 Chronicles 15:2)
This is a profound principle that is repeated throughout the Scriptures. The idea is that when we draw near to God, he reveals himself to us.
God does not hide himself from seeking hearts.
This truth lies at the heart of the Prayer Academy.
I grew up in the Ayrshire town of Dalry and spent a good bit of time over at the coast in Largs. The main route home involved the steep climb up the Haylie Brae. There is a fork on this road which drops down to my hometown. I discovered that once I made this turn and moved the car into neutral it would coast all the way down the two mile stretch of road with only an occasional light touch on the breaks! Eventually, the car ambled to a stop before the turning onto the main Kilbirnie to Dalry Road.
In church life, it is possible to coast along in neutral, thinking we have momentum. However, eventually we will grind to a halt.
The call to seek God is really about encouraging the Church to move into gear and then moving up the gears in order to move forward with God.
And this is never done better than when we do it together!
“Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.”