The Gospel is Good News

Have you ever been in a room full of people from a different profession to the one you work in?  Ever been with doctors or engineers who use jargon terms and acronyms to speak to one another?  Often times when others are speaking in jargon terms or using industry language the rest of the people in the room feel confused or left out.  Unfortunately the same is true for new visitors to a church; the Christians in the room speak “christianese” to one another.

Ministry leaders and theologians can be the worst offenders of using jargon and industry language.  Sometime in my preaching and speaking I use words that I think everyone understands but they are words more common to a seminary classroom than everyday life.

The word “Gospel” is one word that we don’t use that much outside of church circles.  One minister might say “our church has grown because we preach the gospel” while another minister might say “our church is small because we preach the gospel”. What does this important term in Christianity really mean?  At the time the bible was written, the word “gospel” was a term to describe a herald of good news.  For example a Roman soldier might bring a gospel of good news from Rome to one of the cities in the empire.

The Christian gospel is the herald of good news about Jesus Christ.  The gospel is the good news that Jesus came as one of us to announce the kingdom of God. In many ways to understand the enormous power of the gospel takes a lifetime of reading, listening and discovery.  In writing this article I don’t want to imply as though we can reduce the gospel down to a catch phrase or a slogan to use in our church marketing.  However when we try to share the gospel with our friends and family, it helps if we have a brief description of the good news that we can share in 1-2 minutes.

Here are five key points of the gospel in a nutshell; or the introduction to the gospel that you can share over coffee or on public transport when time is limited.

  1. We are loved by God– the writer of the Gospel of John begins his account of the good news with God rather than with us. The Gospel of John reminds us that God loved the world (John 3:16) and God sent his Son to bring this good news into the world.  In the past we may have started our gospel presentation with our sinfulness, unfortunately some people heard this but never understood that God loves them.  In 2019 we need people to understand that God loves them; the Gospel begins with God not with us.
  2. We are called into a relationship – in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke we read that Jesus called fishermen to follow him … and they did so immediately. So often people believe that the church is about a set of rules to follow not an invitation into a relationship.  In 2019 as we share the gospel with people, we want people to know that God calls them into a personal relationship with him.  We must not expect people to know how to behave before they believe.
  3. We are forgiven and healed– each of the four Gospels gives an account of the crucifixion of Jesus.  The cross and resurrection of Jesus is central to the gospel because without the resurrection we don’t have any good news to announce.  The resurrection reminds us that we are forgiven and healed by Jesus so that we can be in right relationship with God.  When we understand that we are forgiven, we no longer desire to live for ourselves but we turn away from sin and seek to be like Jesus.
  4. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit– in the book of Acts we read that the disciples knew about the resurrection of Jesus but were stuck in fear until the Holy Spirit empowered them. Jesus calls us into a relationship but doesn’t abandon us, he sent the Holy Spirit to lead us and empower us.  Many Christians know that they are forgiven and healed by Grace not works, but they live like it is their effort as a Christian that makes them a better Christian.  The power of the Holy Spirit is the only true source of power in our lives.
  5. We are sent – someone shared the gospel with you in order that you would believe it and then share it with others. In many ways the church has retreated back into a holy huddle rather than being a group of missionaries who go out into the world to share the good news.  The gospel should be such good news to us that we share this joy, hope and love with the people we work with and the people we live near.  A gospel that stays stuck rather than goes out is not the gospel of Jesus.

In many ways this short overview of the gospel will work as an introduction to new Christians or non Christians.  As we go about our lives, look for opportunities to share the good news that God loves us, we are called into relationship with Jesus, through this relationship we are forgiven and healed, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit as we are sent out to share the good news with others.

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In many ways I learnt this “gospel in a nutshell” from a friend of mine, Tony Neylan. Tony died several years ago and I am sure he is enjoying his new life with Jesus.  In his lifetime Tony shared the gospel with thousands of young adults. Tony was never a Christian celebrity or a world famous ministry leader because he believed in sharing the gospel not building a name for himself.  Tony was the most humble Christian leader I have known and his wisdom empowered thousands of others to share their faith.  In my ministry today I see so many signs that it is humility and patience that God uses to build his kingdom, something that Tony taught me when I was young, arrogant and often impatient.

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You can also read a previous Blog post on the Preaching that sounds like Good News.

Please leave a comment on how you think we can share the gospel with others in 2019.

 

markoffaith.net, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, revmarkmcdonald

 

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God does not need Lent, but we do

“God does not need Lent, but we do” these are the words in the opening paragraph of the Lenten resources of the General Synod of the Anglican church.  It describes Lent as a period of waiting and preparation for Easter.  The document says, “the rhythm of fast and feast taps into some elemental need of ours, where denial creates longings to be satisfied so that we come to deeper appreciation of God’s great gifts”.  These words capture why lent is important in our spiritual walk with God.

In Daniel 9:3, Daniel says that he turns to the Lord God in prayer and petition, in fasting and in sackcloth and ashes.  Ashes have become a symbol of turning to God in humility, acknowledging our need for God’s grace.  Lent should remind us of God’s grace; Lent is not a season of earning God’s favour, we can’t be good enough, but it is about returning with humility to our reliance on God’s grace and mercy.

Perhaps you don’t come from a tradition or belief system that observed the season of Lent.  In my childhood, we would not only observe Lent but give up something for Lent.  As a child, I remember heading to the fish and chip shop during Lent to line up for our fish with crowds of other Christians.  It would be fair to say that as a child the observance of Lent was more cultural than spiritual.  Yet I have come to realise that this cultural legacy can easily turn into spiritual disciplines that draw me deeper into my relationship with God.

So, if you want a fresh perspective on the season of Lent or you want to understand this season for the first time here are three things to remember for Lent:

  1. Giving up or Taking up – the focus of many people during the season of Lent is giving up something for 40 days. Perhaps you need to give up something that you enjoy as a  trigger to reminder you to pray or read the bible.  Giving up something for Lent should not be about giving up something that is bad for you or bad behaviour that you should have already given up.  Giving up swearing for Lent is not the point of Lenten disciplines.  The Lenten disciplines are meant to be spiritual exercises that draw you closer to God.  Reading, writing and reflecting are all good practices that we can do at any time of the year, but perhaps during Lent you could take up these spiritual exercises or disciplines with renewed focus. Acts of generosity are also traditional during Lent where people might give up buying something so they have extra money to give to missions or ministry.  Whether you give up something or you take up something focus on how it will draw you closer to God, not the activity itself.
  2. Private disciplines – In Matthew 6:16 Jesus encourages us not to show off about our spiritual disciplines. These spiritual disciplines should not draw attention to yourself and your sense of piety.  These spiritual exercises should not be held over other people to make you look better than them.  Lent should not be something that makes you crumpy and difficult to be around.  It is like the person who gives up coffee for Lent and everyone around them wishes they would just have a coffee.  The spiritual disciplines that you practice during Lent are between you and God.  You might choose an accountability partner who supports you during the season of Lent, this is useful and helpful.  But Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6 that when we fast and pray in secret our Father in heaven will reward us.  This reward is surely closeness to God rather than any earthly treasure.
  3. Sharing the Good News – the subtle thing to remember is that our spiritual disciplines may be observed by others which then present an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus with others. For example if you are pausing at a set time every day for prayer this might be obvious to others and they ask you what you are doing.  Whilst we don’t wish to draw attention to ourselves if someone askes what we are doing then we can draw attention to God.  We can use the opportunity to talk to people about the hope we have in Jesus.  We don’t have to deny that we are involved in Lent if someone asks us.  So, if someone asks me what I am doing for Lent then I’ll tell them that I’m writing in a Lenten journal that our church has produces and can give them a copy if they want one.

In some circles of Christians Lent seems to have gone out of fashion, I understand their point of view.  Some people say we celebrate the resurrection and God’s grace every day, which is true. However I think that the standard of living in our society today is higher than many people experience during their periods of feasting.  We could all use some balance in fasting and feasting and perhaps Lent is a season to remind ourselves of this rhythm.

In finishing read these words from the Anglican Prayer book:

So, by self-examination and repentance,

By prayer and fasting,

By self-denial and acts of generosity

And by reading and meditating on the word of God

Let us keep a holy Lent.

Please leave a comment on how you observe the season of Lent.

 

markoffaith.net, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, Mark McDonald

 

Does preaching the gospel really work?

At a ministry conference I heard the pastor of a large and growing church plant say that their church is growing because they “preach the gospel”. Whilst this is true, they do present a strong gospel message, they have a lot else going for them. They are very trendy, they have good marketing, contemporary worship, great discipleship programs and a committed leadership team. Simply saying that a church is growing because they “preach the gospel” is being a bit simplistic.

Consider the not so subtle message behind this statement; it is basically saying “everyone else isn’t growing because they don’t preach the gospel”. Yet we all know churches and ministries that present the gospel message that aren’t fast growing churches. Preaching the gospel may not result in a large crowd.

In my theology studies I was looking into the connection between human nature and the Gospel. The interesting finding was that whilst the Gospel should inform our human nature in reality our human nature can determine the impact of the Gospel in our churches. Let me highlight it with a simple statement from a friend:

“every week at our young adult service we would hear the gospel presented but we were so busy looking for a partner that we didn’t take it in”.

We need to understand human nature and the desires of our heart to be effective in ministry. If we don’t address human nature then the Gospel isn’t as effective as it could be in our ministries or churches. Consider these examples:

  • Youth Ministry – young people have a human desire to belong and to connect with others. If we don’t meet their need to belong then they won’t hang around long enough to understand the gospel.
  • Young Adult Ministry – young adults have a human desire to find a meaning and purpose for their life. If we present the gospel without connecting it to this desire for a purpose then it will wash over them.
  • Church Systems – Andy Stanley says that you can preach anything you like but the systems in your church influence behaviour. The systems in your church are the systems you put in place to response to human behaviour, things like systems for welcoming newcomers, communication systems, discipleship systems etc. Does your church have systems that are informed by the gospel but are aware of human nature?

Of course preaching the gospel really works. It is the main thing that we should be doing in our churches and ministries. Yet if we think that it is the only thing we need to focus on then we are being to simplistic. Human nature will naturally default to fulfilling its own desires. We have to be intentional at using the gospel to shape all areas of our ministry not just our preaching and teaching sessions.

Please leave a comment below

P.S. Preaching the Gospel is christian language for talking about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is presenting the saving work of Christ to his followers and non christians.

A Youth Ministry of Sinners or Saints?

Recently I was speaking at an evangelical youth camp where many of the participants were active Christians.  Some of the young people were well versed in scripture being able to quote various sections by chapter and verse if needed.  One element that struck me was that many kept articulating that we are all sinners.  Whilst I might agree with them on theological grounds, in my experience it is not common for young people to talk like this; many young people don’t understand the language of sin.

It seems that many evangelical styles of youth ministry have been focusing in on young people being sinners in need of a saviour.  I think most of us will agree theologically that we are all sinners even if we are hard or soft on the exact language we use.  The issue is not theological but cultural; is the “we are all sinners” argument an out of date cultural image for young people?  Are the young people and youth leaders in our churches using that language because they understand it or do they just adopt it because that is the language of their church?

Recently I heard two speakers mention that many young people today already have a low opinion of themselves, that they know they have many flaws they don’t need the church to remind them of that.  they suggested that young people seek connection in the peer group because it helps them blend in and cover up their flaws.  So is the church preaching a message that is that different to the rest of the world?  Perhaps we aren’t if we only give young people confirmation that they are flawed.  We need to separate our message out from the self-help industry which articulates our flaws but if you buy this new book it will rescue you from yourself.

As Christian we preach that Jesus is the saviour of our flaws and weakness.  We should be a little different to the dominate culture which teaches that with our own hard work we will be better.  Perhaps youth ministry needs to teach young people the language of being saints.  In Christ we are a new creation, no longer our old selves but saints.  

Galatians 2:20 reminds us: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In the power of the Holy Spirit, young people are not weak sinners but powerful witnesses to the Resurrection.

When I was young, in the 1990’s, our youth group heard a talk by our church leader inspiring us to be Saints of the new Millennium.  We were reminded that we called by God to be a generation that made a difference in the world.  Back in the 1990 the young people were told by business to get a good job and earn you way to the top; top young people are told they can achieve anything they want to.  So perhaps this current generation knows they can make a difference in the world but do they realise that God called them to do this?  Perhaps this generation of young people in our youth ministries need to hear that they are called by God to be saints, set apart for the work of God.

Perhaps in youth ministry we need not just the sinner language or saint language but both.  We are a new creation in Christ, saved from our sins in order to be the saints who help build the kingdom of God.

Please leave a comment.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, mrmarkmcdonald, markoffaith.net

Why I love Holy Week

Holy Week is a great time of the year because we get to focus on all of the events leading up to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is an opportunity to prayerfully slow down as the Church reflects on the Cross and the empty tomb.

Every Sunday of the year the Church celebrates the Good News of Jesus Christ in church services.  Sometimes there are special feast days but normally we remember the Lord’s supper, his death and resurrection in one short service. Yet in Holy Week we have the opportunity to take an entire week to reflect deeply on each part of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

What are the key parts of Holy Week?

  1. Holy Thursday – this is where we remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  In the Lords Supper we see Jesus giving his body and blood to the Church as a sacramental sign of his death and resurrection.
  2. Washing of the Feet – this symbolic act of lowering oneself to the position of a servant to wash someone’s feet shows us that Jesus humbled himself to serve humanity rather than claim the privileges that a King deserves.
  3. Good Friday – this is the chance for us focus on the Cross and the atoning sacrifice that Jesus made for our sins.  We can let the full weight of this sacrifice rest on us as we realise that the price has been paid for our sins.
  4. Holy Saturday – this day represents the time between the Cross and the Resurrection, which also reminds us that the Kingdom of God is both here and yet to come.
  5. Easter Sunday – without the Resurrection the Cross has no meaning; this is the high point of Holy Week.  We should come to Easter Sunday with great joy because our God is faithful.

I really love Holy Week, some of the most spiritual moments in my life have occurred in Holy Week.  The best sermons I have ever heard were preached on Good Friday and Easter Sunday in 2009.  Holy Week will be a deeply spiritual week if you see it as a special occasion and not just another ordinary week.

To help you get the most out of your Holy Week here are a few thoughts:

  • Focus on Jesus – it is not just about attending services, the services are meant to draw you deeper into a relationship with Jesus.
  • Try to get to everything – this is one week in the year where you should make an effort to get to more church services than just the Sunday service.  
  • Have some quiet time – normally church should be a place where we connect with people, talk to visitors and welcome new people.  However during Holy Week give yourself and others some quiet time.  Let people sit in quiet prayer to reflect on what the Gospel of Jesus Christ means to them.

There are some denominations and churches that don’t do Holy Week because they live in the Post Easter period and theologically I acknowledge that.  However I think we can always be reminded of the significance of the various events leading up the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.  My hope and prayer is that you allow God to speak to you this Holy Week as you reflect on the Good News of Jesus Christ.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, mrmarkmcdonald, markoffait.net

Please ignore the add below

What does the Church stand for?

My experience is that many people are against the Catholic Church based on the version of the Church that they have in their mind.  So the arguments that many people come up with don’t really challenge the true teaching of the Catholic Church.  One issue that many protestant people have trouble with is the concept of purgatory.  Whilst I must declare that I don’t really believe in the purgatory that many Catholic’s claim to believe in, I did find a quote about the work of the then Cardinal Ratzingers very interesting:

“Building on 1 Corinthians 3, Ratzinger argued that the Lord Himself is the fire of judgement, which transforms us as he conforms us to his glorious, resurrected body. This happens not during a long drawn out process but in the moment of final judgement itself. By thus linking purgatory to Jesus Christ himself as the eschatological fire, Ratizinger detached the doctrine of purgatory from the concept of an intermediate state” Quoted from page 167 of Surprised by Hope by NT Wright.

NT Wright claims both Pope Benedict (Ratzinger) and Karl Rahner have moved Catholic Teaching on purgatory away from the understanding that many people criticise the Church for.  Which made me think about one very important rule for understanding the Catholic Church:

Just because a Catholic said something doesn’t make it Catholic Teaching.  This goes for all the liberal and conservative web pages, blogs, podcasts and books out in the market.  In fact just because something is popular doesn’t make it official church teaching.  If you really want to understand the truth about what the Catholic Church teaches don’t google it, go to the official teaching of the Church, starting at http://www.vatican.va.  If someone doesn’t agree with this then at least they disagree with the official teaching not some youtube version of church teaching.

The difference in Evangelical circles is that the opinions of current books, blogs and popular preachers has more weight in defining what the church stands for because there is no “official church teaching”.  For example the work of Tim Keller from Redeemer Church in New York is very popular amongst Evangelicals even though not all Evangelicals are Presbyterian.  The work of NT Wright, an Anglican is well regarded but not all Evangelical Anglicans agree with his arguments.  Mark Driscoll’s books and podcast are very popular yet not many people would list his views as normative for Evangelicals.   So in the cross denominational world of Evanglicals there are popular authors and preachers yet there is no official church teaching.

Whilst this may be a little off topic for this blog, I think this is very important at the moment as there is so much information spreading across the web about what Pope Francis will or won’t do.  Is he a liberal or conservative, evangelical, social justice advocate, liturgically simple or just a nice guy doing his best? As ministry leaders we have a responsibility to build unity in the Body of Christ, not to continue uninformed positions.  So as the ministry of Pope Francis unfolds please check your sources and try to build unity in the Body of Christ.

And I should declare that I know that I am not the source of official church teaching so I will apply the same advice to myself too.  Please leave a comment.

How does God speak to you?

In my line of ministry, and because of the events I attend, I meet Christians from a diverse range of backgrounds.  This means that I encounter a variety of prayer and worship styles because of all the different churches and denominations that I work with.  Yet the interesting thing to note is that God speaks to people in every church, in every prayer style and in every worship style.  The key to hearing from God is to know how God speaks to you.

In my line of work I have met people who hear from God through praying the rosary, reading the bible, listening to podcasts, contemporary worship music, social justice, working with people, teaching and many more.  It would be unfair to say that God doesn’t speak at least someone through a particular prayer or worship style.  However it is fair to day that most people hear from God in the style that is dominant in their denomination:

  • Pentecostals in contemporary worship
  • Catholics in the Liturgy
  • Anglicans in preaching
  • Salvation Army in service of others

Most of us have a favourite prayer and worship style and so we think God speaks to almost everyone in that style.  For example, some of my most profound moments with God have been in the four or five songs of contemporary praise and worship service, yet my wife wants it to finish half way through the opening song to get on with the preaching.

Two people at the same even can have very different reactions.  For example, when I visited a monastic prayer service with a group I was working with, someone said it was the most profound experience of God in their life, yet I could not understand a single word of the service as it was in Latin.

We are all different and so God uses different prayer and worship styles to speak to people.  Here are three things to keep in mind when listening for God:

  1. Not everyone listens in the same way:  Perhaps a friend of yours listens to God using one style but you might be more comfortable with another style.  Look at how you normally take in information (audio, visual, experiential, individual, communal etc) and see if you can find a prayer and worship style suited to that.  Don’t just stick with what is natural in your denomination, experiment with other styles until you find one that helps you listen to God.
  2. Don’t rule it out until you’ve tried it:  some people rule out styles of worship because it isn’t from their denomination.  Perhaps you need to experience something to see if you find God in it for yourself rather than listening to someone else’s negative opinion.  Once you have tried it then you know if it is for you or not, just like I now know that monastic prayers services in Latin are not for me.
  3. Your preferences change as you get older: be aware that as you grow older and as you grow more mature as a Christian your preferences will change.  When you were younger you might have liked more communal prayer styles but as you get older you need more personal time with God.  Perhaps as you get more mature in your faith you need to listen for God through serving others and putting your faith into action.

In your searching you will encounter some styles of prayer and worship that can be forced rituals or superstitious if you don’t enter then the right way.  Check with a trusted leader, pastor or priest who might be able to help you, but be aware that people hear from God in almost every prayer and worship style.

Before we finish here are two words of warning:

  1. God’s Word:  if you don’t ever hear God speaking to you when you read the bible then perhaps you need more detailed advice than this blog post can give.  God’s Word in the bible should be like air to our lungs; it should inspire us, comfort us, challenge us and makes us feel loved by God.  If you never hear from God when reading God’s word then see your spiritual advisor, pastor or priest.
  2. Service:  the bible says that faith without works is dead (James 2:26), so if all you do is sit by yourself listening for God without ever serving others then get out into the world.  As a Christian it is not just about your own personal relationship with God, you must be out in the world serving and ministering to others.

I hope that helps you learn to hear from God.  If you have any advice then please leave a comment in the section below.

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald, markoffaith.net

Eye witness proof of Jesus

People often ask about the proof about the existence of Jesus, did you know that we have eye witness testimony of the existence of Jesus?  Yet why do so many people base their views on Jesus from writers from a different millennium?  Do they have factual evidence to reject the testimony of eye witnesses?  What are the claims of eye witness testimony in Scripture?

On Sunday night here in Melbourne, Channel Nine aired a television drama called “Howz that!”  It is a re-creation of the events surrounding the 1970’s split between the Australia Cricket Board and the cricket players, leading to the creation of World Series Cricket.  The interesting thing about the drama was the actors were portraying real people and their version of events.  In the week after the show aired most of the media were asking the real people about their version of events.  Whilst the show was exciting to viewers, nothing beats the testimony of a person who was actually there.

This got me thinking about the value of eye witness testimony to prove what happened at certain events.  At the same time I was reviewing commentary of 1 John and realised the weight of eye witness testimony in the Epistle.  So what is the eye witness testimony in the bible:

  • The Epistle of 1 John claims to be from an eye witness of the life and ministry of Jesus.  In the Epistle it claims that Jesus was the Son of God and really died on the Cross as an atoning sacrifice for sin.
  • The Second Letter of Peter, 2 Peter, also claims to be an eye witness to the life and ministry of Jesus.  Peter also claims to have seen and read the writings of Paul, and found them difficult to understand.  See 2 Peter 3:15-16.
  • The Gospel of Luke claims eye witness testimony of life and ministry of Jesus.  The author, Luke, also claims eye witness testimony of the life and ministry of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles.

Some modern writers claim that the Old Testimony prophesies about Jesus are so vague that they could mean anything.  Whilst I disagree with this perspective it still doesn’t change the fact that there are at least three written eye witness accounts of Jesus.  We also know that  these writings have been tested over the centuries and found to be as legitimate as any document from that period.  If you want more on this see the work of John Dickson from the Centre of Public Christianity.

So it really comes down to the question “why do people reject the eye witness testimony of Jesus and get their understanding of Jesus from a 20th Century atheist?”  We have to wonder if it is because the message of Jesus is too confronting for them.  Perhaps the message of Jesus demands too much change in the way these people live their life.  Just because a person don’t like a message doesn’t make it untrue.

markoffatih, MarkofFaith, mark of faith, Mark of Faith, markoffaith.net

What do you want to do?

In the last couple of weeks I have been running around seeking advice from lots of different people when it struck me “what do I want to do?”  Whilst this might seem like a simple revelation it was helpful for me to see that God has placed desires in my heart to help me achieve certain things in the circumstances that God has placed me.  If other people want something done then either they can do it or it doesn’t get done.  We can’t live our lives being driven by what others what done.

The background is that I am in a season where I am undertaking some study in preparation for future ministry.  Whilst I like the study, I also like spending time with my kids and I like my part time job and I need the income.  So whilst everyone else might have their opinion on what I should be doing, nobody sees the big picture and nobody will place my family first if I don’t.  Perhaps I don’t even see the big picture because only God knows why things are happening the way they are.

So what do you want to do with your time?  Forget what everyone else is suggesting, how will you spend your time?  What do you think God is calling you to do?  Sometimes we can be encouraged by others to take on more but often we do things to please others not because we think we should do them.  We have to have faith in ourselves that God plants the desires in our hearts.

Marcus Buckingham says that your strengths are the activities that strengthen you, give you energy and give you a sense of purpose.  When you are looking at what you want to do with your life only you and God can truly know what strengthens you and gives you life. So do the things that bring you life.

Who was praying for you?

If you have the Mark of Faith on your life then no doubt somebody was praying for you long before you knew Jesus.  There are just too many stories of people who were supported with prayer long before they achieved greatness to believe that nobody was and is praying for you.  Who was praying that God would touch you long before you even knew God?  Who was praying for your ministry long before you started in your ministry?  The prayers of the previous generation have influenced this generation more than we could ever understand, but believe me when I tell you that somebody was praying for you.

We even see this principle in John’s gospel with the story of Nathaniel, read John 1:43-51.  Long before Nathaniel knows Jesus, Jesus knew and loved Nathaniel.  It is in the conversation with his friends who have met Jesus that Nathaniel first hears about the Messiah from Nazareth.  It is with the encouragement of his friends that Nathaniel overcomes his prejudice to go to see Jesus.  It is this encounter that teaches us all that God knows us and loves us long before we come know God.

Recently I have heard a few stories from people who discovered that someone was praying for their mission years before they started their mission, here are just two:

  1. Archbishop Ben Kwashi – Ben Kwashi grew up in a church going family in Nigeria but rebelled against the faith for most of his teenage life.  In the rebellious young adult years a man talked to him about Jesus and Ben was radically saved.  In order to turn around his life he went back to his mother to share his conversion.  His mother was pleased that he had turned his life around but couldn’t see Ben as a minister.  So Ben went to his grand mother to tell her of his conversion.  His grand mother listened and responded that she had been praying since his birth that he would enter into ministry.  In the years before Ben was even a Christian there were people praying that he would become the great man of God that he is today.
  2. Matt Chandler – Matt was preaching to young adults in universities across America when the Highland Village church asked him to be their Senior Pastor.  Matt thought the church needed a lot of changes so tried his best to turn down the job.  After many meetings Matt took over the church of 150 people as their Senior Pastor.   After he took on the job one of the key elders shared with Matt that he had been praying for 15 years that God would send a Senior Pastor who could grow the Highland Village Church to influence others.  Today that Church reaches over 8,000 people in three campuses every sunday and over 50,000 people download Matt’s sermons every week.

Sure these are famous people and you might think that nobody is praying for you.  Yet I doubt that any of us come to faith without someone praying for us before we even know who God is.  Whilst I know that someone must have been praying for me I wonder who it was.  Was it my grand mother went to church every week and who used to give me 20 cents every time we visited?  Was it my mother who took me to Church every Sunday, was it my father who taught me the value of reading the bible?  Was it a De La Salle brother who encouraged me to think about religious life in Year 7?  Who else would have been praying for me?

So who was praying for you?

  • Parents: most parents pray over their kids when they are babies, even if they aren’t that Christian.  Almost every parents wants a great life for their child and God listens to those prayers.
  • Teachers: did you have a special teacher who looked after you?  did you have a teacher who encouraged you to learn and discover more?  God values teachers and uses them to build us up to enter the mission of Christ.
  • Friends:  that friend of yours who was a Christian was probably praying for you long before you became a Christian.
  • The Previous Generation – whilst we might not appreciate the older generation in our church today, they have been faithfully praying for this generation to continue the work of Christ through the Church.

So who are you praying for?  Do you pray for the next generation as much as the previous generation prayed for you?  If we slip in our understanding of this concept then we can start to think that it was our effort that saved us.  We can start to think it is our effort that makes our ministry grow not the prayers of others.  We can start to believe that God and I are alone in the task of building the Church and we forget that people help us through prayer as much as time or finance.

So thank those who prayed for you and please pray for the next generation to be stronger, even bolder and more passionate than we are.

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