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Edited from a message delivered at the "Heart-Cry for Revival" Conference near Asheville, North Carolina, April 9-12, 2002
The focus of the ministry I represent is on the power of praying together, experiencing Christ actively in charge. I am deeply concerned that corporate prayer has such a weak place in the average church in North America. If you find a church that has a strong prayer ministry, you have found a rare church.
You find that if people dont pray together in church, they dont pray together at home either. Surveys say that about 89% of the people of America say they pray, but only about 14% in one survey, prayed with any frequency with friends, family or church. They prayed privately. What this is doing is it is giving birth to private morals and private spirituality and that is chaos. We need to face up to the fact that the neglect of corporate prayer in the home and in the church is bringing on a very serious and a very critical situation. What is it that is so serious about it?
A. W. Tozer wrote the following quite a long time ago in "The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches." He said, "All authority belongs to Christ in heaven and earth. In His own proper time He will exert it to the full. But during this period of history He allows this authority to be challenged or ignored. And just now it is being challenged by the world and ignored by the church. Among the Gospel churches," he wrote, "Christ is now little more, in fact, than a beloved symbol. We sing, All Hail the Power of Jesus Name but we treat the Lord Jesus like a constitutional monarch who leaves the actual governing of His kingdom to others."
Tozer said, "Those in actual authority then decide the moral standards of the church as well as all objectives and all methods employed to achieve them. Because of law and meticulous organization it is now possible for the youngest pastor just out of seminary to have more actual authority in a church than Jesus Christ has."
There is abundant evidence to support what Tozer said. One sign of the diminishing authority of Christ in the churches is that people are baptized and are never asked to commit themselves to learn to obey all that Christ commanded. They come into the church and are received, but they never are disciples. They dont even see they need to be one. I confess that for a good many years I baptized people and I didnt ask them, "Will you commit yourself? I am responsible to teach you to obey all that Christ commanded. Youre going to have to be willing to be taught." I do ask that now. Otherwise people come into the church with no moral responsibility whatever. That is a prescription for chaos.
Observance of the Lords supper may be tacked on to a message which may have nothing to do with the Lords supper. There is no real examination of ones self: am I obeying all Christ commands? Am I obedient? The Lords supper may be just a ritual that has lost its meaning.
Then today we have a problem that Christians do not know or exercise the authority of Christ when theyre dealing with conflict within the church. I am deeply appalled by the fact that when a married couple, both professing Christians, separate, they may get a little counseling but the church does nothing while they go to the civil court, in plain violation of 1 Corinthians, chapter 6, and sue in the civil court. We have "no fault" divorce in Texas, so there are Christians who earnestly desire to keep their marriage, and their mate doesnt say they have committed adultery or any other serious thing like that, but the mate sues in the civil court, and they are divorced. People go to church to say their vows but they go to the court house to break them. And the church is tolerating that!
It has been said there are three marks of a real church. One is that they preach the Gospel. Two is that they observe the ordinances, and three is that they have church discipline. Church discipline ought not to frighten people. It is a positive thing. Church discipline is a safety net for Christian marriages.
When a couple separates, we invite them to meet with the elders of the church. We read Matthew 18:15-20, and we say we are invoking this passage of Scripture. Were claiming the presence of Christ to bring them together. And we have seen it happen.
I have gone to churches that were split apart. Why should we look on helplessly while Christians split apart? Theyre not even splitting over some major issue. Theyre splitting usually over some personalities. As the Lord leads, I go to churches where Ive been invited, and I work to try to bring them together under the active headship of Christ.
I was praying with a brother about the right to life and matters like that, and he said, "I wish youd pray for my church because," he said, "next Sunday may be our last Sunday." The church had a big "blowup" over the dismissal of an interim pastor. The congregation of 300, had fallen to 75 and was still going down. I told him, "I think I could help you." He talked to the elders and one of them called me and invited me to come out.
They were about to have a town meeting, where they would come together and everybody speak their minds. The results of that kind of thing are devastating, causing an enormous number of people to think that the church is irrelevant. A church without divine authority is indeed irrelevant. Where is the authority and power of Christ to unite us and bring us together in the church?
I told them, "You dont need to have me. You need a prayer meeting. If you invite me to come in (they were going to meet that afternoon), and lead this meeting, what Im going to do is to ask the people if they will agree to certain principles, and these are the principles:
"First of all, they are to agree to ask the Lord Jesus to be present and trust Him to be present. He promised He would in a disciplinary situation in Matthew 18. Lets claim it. Dont assume it but claim it. And secondly, trust Him to actively take charge of us. Third, we would be willing and open to change, to repent, which is the change. Repentance is to turn to God from idols, and there were idols. There always are. When Christians cant get along with each other, somebody has an idol. You cant really meet with the Lord and hold on to your idols. Trust Him to change every one of us as He sees fit and trust Him to bring all of us into harmony with the Father in Heaven. That is the ultimate aim of prayer. It is to bring us into harmony with the Father in heaven and consequently into heavenly harmony with each other."
They agreed to let me do it. I suggested they gather the congregation of 75 into a big circle. I stood up and I told them these four points. There were two factions there, and I didnt know who the members of the two factions were, but I knew they were there. I said, "I want to ask you if you could accept these four bases on which we would come together." I went over it again: 1) Ask and trust Christ to be present. 2) Ask him to actively take charge. 3) Were going to ask Him to change each one of us as He sees fit, 4) and to bring us all into harmony with the Father in Heaven.
Ive used this a number of times. No matter how angry the factions are at each other, they have never refused to agree that we come together on that basis. We then went to prayer and different people prayed, and Im quite sure that people from both sides offered prayer. After about 45 minutes of one after another praying, I sensed that we were finished, and I stood up and was about to call the meeting to a close. We had agreed to have a meeting with two other mediators, a pastor and a professor who would join me and we would be the moderators of a meeting with the elders and the interim pastor. We would meet on Thursday night. So I said, "This is all we can do this afternoon, so lets bring it to a close now."
About that time a man on one side stood up, and I thought, "Heres trouble." He said, "If these elders knew what they were doing, they wouldnt need to invite this man out here to help us." The devil always shoots at the one who is trying to do the right thing. He has a strategy--deceive, divide and destroy.
I couldnt say anything. The elders couldnt say anything. He had just said we didnt know what we were doing. But a wonderful thing happened. One person after another said very gracious things, such as, "Im very glad this man came out here. Im glad the elders invited him. I think this was a good idea." Nobody jumped on the man who had stood up. That would have gotten trouble started. But they all supported what we were doing, and the man didnt get one person to join him.
We had laid down a platform for unity that everyone, unless he was a stubborn rebel, would agree on. Then we could work from there with dealing with issues. You must have first a platform of unity. So I then closed the meeting. As I went away from there I realized that if ever Christ honored our request for Christ to be present and to take charge, I saw it that day.
I am thankful to tell you that this church was saved, and I was asked to preach a message as they finally got into a new building. They had been meeting in a store front. They went through some difficult times. They had not had a prayer meeting. We began to have what we called a front-line prayer meeting, and we prayed about the spiritual life of the church. I am convinced that the main reason why we need to unite in prayer in our home and in our church is to unite, mutually accepting and seeking to be under the authority of Christ.
Ive seen marriages helped in the same way. When Christian couples are divorcing, it is the responsibility of the church to exercise discipline and make every effort through the power of Christ, to restore the marriage. Somebodys out of fellowship with the Lord; somebody has departed from the Lord in unbelief or maybe both of them have. If they would submit to their church requiring them to come together and meet Christ together about this, their real moral and spiritual responsibility would be established and the stand of the church would be established. If one of them goes ahead anyway the church would then have to finally say, after making every effort to reconcile that person, we cant regard you now as a brother or sister in Christ until you straighten this out.
I was dealing with a brother and sister in Christ one time and I used this same principle, and the wife was very stubborn. I told her, "You cant have this other man as your husband." She said, "Im going." She picked up her suitcase, called a taxi, and she started out the door. I said, "Youre not just forsaking your husband, youre forsaking Christ." The issue was very clear. She was walking out on her husband for another man. The next day she called and wanted to be reconciled, and theyve been together every since.
People are having church fights and having family fights and walking out on a mate, and they dont think it has done anything to their relationship to Christ. One of the purposes of church discipline is to help the person realize the seriousness of what he or she has done, and they cant take rightful claim to calling themselves a Christian. Im not saying this about every person thats been divorced because there are people who did their best to restore their marriage.
Claiming the Presence of Christ
The presence of Christ is absolutely essential. In Old Testament times Moses realized that the presence of God in the midst leading him and the people was absolutely essential. Israel had made a golden calf. They claimed to be worshiping Jehovah, but they had adulterated their worship of Jehovah. They mixed it with outright idolatry. According to Exodus 33, God told Moses that He was not going up into the land with them. He would send an angel before them. He would drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, and others. God said, "I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked [stubborn] people: lest I consume thee in the way" (Exodus 33:3).
They werent just rebellious but were stubbornly rebellious. Church discipline is not just because a person sins, but it is because he is stubbornly rebellious when asked to repent. God said, "Youre stubbornly rebellious, and Im not going with you lest I consume thee in the way." How can God be intimately associated with people who were practicing idolatry? He has to destroy them.
Notice what Moses response was, a very discerning response. He pled with God to go with him. In verses 15 and 16, were told that Moses said to God, "If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? Is it not in that thou goest with us? So shall we be separated. I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth."
What is it that really distinguishes Christians from non-Christians? It is the presence of God in the midst governing His people. We Christians have been rescued from being under the dominion of Satan (Colossians, chapter 1) and we have been put into the Kingdom of Gods dear Son. Were under a different moral government, a spiritual government. Israel was saved from Pharaohs terrible tyranny that they might be put under the direct rule of God. Moses was the prime minister, but God was the king.
The head of the church is the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be concerned that Christ be present in our midst. People take for granted that Christ is present in the church. Have they considered Revelation 3:14-22, the letter to the Laodicean church? Where was Christ? He was outside. When you read that letter to the Laodicean church, Christ didnt say a thing about immorality or false doctrine in that church. He didnt say anything about factions and strife. But the Laodiceans said they were rich and increased in goods and had need of nothing. How do you tell God, "I dont need anything"? Just dont pray.
Is Christ always present? He was not in the Laodicean church. It is interesting to read what He says: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice, and will open the door, I will come in and sup with him and he with me." At the Laodicean church, Christ was outside, and He wasnt sure that anyone inside would listen to Him.
In Exodus 39 and 40 it tells that everything Moses did in building the tabernacle, he did as God commanded. When he finished everything as God commanded, the glory of God filled the house. This was a manifestation of Gods glory. Thats the glorious presence of God. We oftentimes think of that when praying for revival. The glorious presence of God is when theres an outbreak of obedience. It is to His obedient people that His glorious presence can be shown.
Actively in Charge
What about Christ being actively in charge? Is it true that all authority in heaven and in earth has been given unto Christ? Of course, it is. Its good to know His universal authority over all things and to depend on it, just as it is good to know His universal presence. But we are talking here about His special presence as the Head of the Church--a love relationship.
This is one of the reasons why we need to meet in united prayer claiming Christ actively in charge. We want Him to be our head. We want to honor Him as our head. Many people today do not understand the power and meaning of headship. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12). Headship meant that his life was imparted to all of us. And the life that was imparted to all of us was a sinful life. Sin is universal. Thats how powerful headship is.
Christs headship works with all who have His life in them. Whose headship is more powerful? Adams or Christs? Christs. Why dont we see universal obedience? It is because, as A. W. Tozer pointed out, we must voluntarily obey. Obedience is not optional. It is absolutely necessary. But it is and has to be voluntary. There is no real obedience without love. The obedience He seeks springs from faith and love. Many people have the mistaken idea that if they are saved by grace, they are saved from the need to obey. We are saved by grace, but we are saved unto good works which God has before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).
The church should unite in prayer to claim the headship of Christ: "Oh, God, we want to be brought into full conformity to the headship of Christ." Then what happens? The life of Christ is reproduced in the Body. The power of His headship to transform lives is reproduced in the Body. We gather together to tell the Lord, "We want you to take charge of us. Were taking refuge under your headship." Christ would gather the church together under His protective authority. If anyone gets out from under authority, they are where the devil can get at them.
We need to see the new life of Christ who delighted to do the Fathers will, reproduced in us. And it can be. We gather together and pray and mutually encourage one another in claiming the headship of Christ over us all as a body. Couples can pray that way together, having the headship of Christ over their marriage.
Changing Us As He Sees Fit
The change is repentance. In the Bible no one ever encountered God without being changed. Job was a perfect and upright man in all his ways, one of the best men who ever lived. But the book of Job ended with Job repenting. If Job needed to repent, who doesnt? Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up and he came under the conviction of sin. We need to pray that God will change each one of us as He sees fit. People come together for a prayer meeting without even a thought, "Were going to meet with God!" That should change us. We need to be changed and we can be, for it is the mighty work of our Head to change us.
This whole concept began to grow on me when my children were in their teens. I began to sense some rebellion. It wasnt open, but day after day, I cried unto God, "Oh, God, why dont You change my son?" I was desperate. One morning as I was leaving the place of prayer a portion of Scripture flashed into my mind, the last two verses of Malachi: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."
What stuck out to me in that verse was "...turn the heart of the fathers to the children...." What? Im not the one who is doing these things. I went back to prayer and said, "Lord, I can tell you are telling me I need to repent, and I cant think of anything to repent of." I now realize that was one of the signs of my serious problem. I didnt see myself at the center of the problem at all. I was so occupied with what I saw in my son that I didnt see myself. That is one of the reasons why we need to pray and to pray with a heart open to change. So I said, "Lord, if Youll show me why I need to repent, I will."
Two days later there was a little battle going on in the boys bedroom between the boys, and I knew which one always started it. I walked in and I bawled him out. I dont feel this is the interpretation of Jude 9, but God used it to speak to me: "Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee." What I got out of that verse was that Michael didnt speak as though he were the ultimate and final authority, but I did. I was shocked. But I knew what I had to do.
I walked back to the boys room and I opened the door and said, "What I stood for was right, but the spirit in which I said it was wrong. Will you forgive me?" He said, "Yes, will you forgive me?"
I went back to my room and got down and prayed. I said, "Oh, God, Ive infringed upon your sovereignty. I needed to discipline him, but I didnt need to bawl him out; I didnt need to speak as if Im the last authority. God, youre the final authority, and youre over me." I told the Lord, "I have the responsibility of a father, but if you show me how, Ill do it Your way." I was profoundly moved. I became a servant parent on duty for the King.
If there is one thing I can tell you that will transform your marriage and your family and your children, they need to perceive that you yourself are humbly submissive to God. Then you need to leave it up to God to establish your authority in their eyes. I still had to do my job. I still had to give permission or to refuse permission. Every time I had to make a decision, I began to go to God and say, "What should I do? How do you want me to handle this?"
The best thing that will ever happen to your marriage is for both of you to realize that: together we are yielding headship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Your mate and your children need to be aware of that. You dont need to preach it to them. They will discover you have a different spirit. It takes a ton of bricks off your back when you realize who is really in charge, and youre His servant.
Bring Us All into Harmony with the Father in Heaven
That is what Jesus prayed for in John 17:20-23, that they all may be one: "As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also might be one in Us." There is a unity of life that cannot be broken. There is a unity of love which can be broken. We need both.