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Open to Change

I remember as a child in Michigan longing for the first warm breeze signaling spring was on the way. I looked forward to the snow melting. I watched for the first crocus pushing through the earthy crust and blooming in the beds along the sunny side of the driveway. There was an anticipation of good things to come. Even though winter often fought back, eventually spring reigned, and the dark, cold days of winter receded from view.

In many ways, the idea of a new season accurately describes where I find my life and ministry. I see God at work around me. The warm wind of the Holy Spirit blows through my life reminding me He is at work. Change is on the way. I anticipate good things to come.

Change happens constantly, but I have seen it more clearly in the past year or so. Navigating the change has greatly challenged me. I shifted from career ministry to working full-time outside the ministry, fitting in ministry responsibilities as I am able. As a result, my focus had to shift as well. For the first time in almost thirty years, I now focus on something outside of full-time ministry.

Ministry-wise, my focus shifted to the house church ministry. I still have several speaking events and conferences scheduled this year, but now the primary focus of my life is the local house church in which I am involved. I am more excited about house church ministry than anything I have done in ministry over the last thirty years.

In August last year, after I returned from the time in San Francisco with the house church movement there, I gathered friends to pray. We’ve continued meeting weekly since that time. I am full of joy to share with you how God moves in these gatherings. Every week we sense the Holy Spirit moving as we pray and seek what he has for us. We pray between one to two hours with no agenda. We listen for his voice. We expect to hear from him. We expect physical transformation when we pray for healing. We expect healthy marriages when we pray for troubled relationships. We expect wayward children to reconnect with parents when we pray for restoration. We expect the Holy Spirit to speak to us about needs in our lives when we give him room to speak. And he does not disappoint! He does exceedingly abundantly beyond all we could ask or think. At this time, we have not officially launched as a house church. We are only holding prayer gatherings. I am confident God will direct us when he is ready for us to take the next step.

I’ve also seen changes in my life in the way the Holy Spirit is transforming me. One of the noteworthy areas was an ungodly desire for significance. Ouch. Seeing God humble me and remove this from my life is a great blessing.  As a result, I no longer care about my social media presence. You may have noticed I am rarely on Facebook or Twitter anymore. I’ve turned away from caring about how many followers I have on Facebook or Twitter. Frankly, I’ve lost interest in it entirely. I have huge questions on the benefits, if any, of social media. What this means is the manner in which I communicate with you changes as well. Going forward I will likely update less frequently. My hope is to keep you posted when I see God at work and keep the focus on him, and less on me.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19a, ESV). The entire passage is a blessing. I encourage you to read it. I love how God understands the challenge we face with change. He speaks to our tendency to hold onto the past when he says, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.” It is our nature to try to keep things the same. God kindly nudges us to let go of the past. When we hold onto the past, we are unable to open our hands to what God offers for our future. This is where I struggle the most. I can see where God has changed my life and ministry, but I often try to maintain different aspects of the ministry I’ve had in the past while trying to move forward into what God has given me for today. For example, I’m aware I missed several months of updates online. It haunts me as I scramble to take care of projects pressing into my schedule. How freeing to read those words reminding us to let go of the past. When I do, I find I have everything I need to fulfill the ministry God has given me to do today. I rest in this.

Where are you in the process of change? Like me, do you struggle to let go of the way things were in the past? Do you find it challenging to adapt when change comes?  Gratefully God understands. Keep turning to him as change keeps coming our way.

Wait. There it is. Did you feel it? I just felt a warm breeze.

 

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

For more on the model of prayer used in our prayer gatherings, see the blog post here: https://timothymark.com/teach-us-to-pray/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transformed Lives

Last month I was in Rockford, Illinois where my entire family gathered for Thanksgiving. It was a privilege to see everyone again. We are spread out over the United States from Washington State, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. It is a rare treat when we are all together. While there, I stayed at my nephew’s home. He and his wife recently purchased the home and are slowly remodeling it.

One morning I sat in the guest room with a cup of coffee and looked around the room. There were a few quirks that needed addressing, but I love his house. It is a mid-century modern design. I can already see in my mind how amazing it is going to be someday. I don’t see it as it was. I don’t see it as it is. I see it as it will be. I see it complete. And I love it!

I took a sip of coffee, and it occurred to me that God sees me like I see this house. God looks at me, and he doesn’t see me as I was. He doesn’t see me as I am. He sees me as I will one day be. And he loves me!

I love my relationship with God. Through my relationship with him, the Holy Spirit has transformed many areas of my life. I look back with gratitude at all he has done. At the same time, I am aware of areas in my life that still need transformation. Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows me the dark corners of my heart where sin still lurks. Hidden sins like pride, lust, or seeking glory for myself slink away from the light. They try to hide, but the Holy Spirit shines his light upon them. At that moment, my tendency is to focus on all that still needs to be transformed. It can feel overwhelming. The solution is to understand how God sees me.  

None of us have arrived. In the end, we are men and women trying to follow Jesus. Some days we follow well, some days we do not. On the days when we have blown it, we tend to get discouraged. This is why it is important to understand how God sees us.

Remember, God doesn’t see us as we were. God doesn’t see us as we are. He sees us as we will be. This is because God sees us through the cross. He sees the sacrifice of Jesus paying the penalty for our sin. His death paid for all the sins we’ve done in the past. His death paid for all the sins we may commit today, and his death paid for all the sin we may do in the future. His blood covers them all. That is why God does not see us as we were, nor as we are, but as we will be. He sees us completely sinless, perfect, and holy, like Jesus. This is amazing!

Sometimes I look back with regret on sins of my past. At other times I may look at my life now and see so many areas that still need improvement. Whenever I do this, I may become discouraged. Instead, I need to look forward to the day when God completes his work in my life. Like my nephew’s home, I need to imagine how amazing it will be when God completes the work in my life.

Romans 8:28-29, ESV, says “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

In God’s plan, all things work together for good. This does not mean all things are good. Sin is not good. But God still uses it for good in our lives. This is because his idea of good is when we are more conformed to the image of his son, Jesus. When we recognize our sin, it should bring us to repentance. In that repentance we are humbled. When we are humble, we look a little more like Jesus. When we look a little more like Jesus, it is good! And on it goes….

In Paul’s second letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he wrote, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV).

Here we see the ongoing nature of this transformation. How we wish the transformation in our lives could be completed now. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. God continues to transform our lives into the image of Jesus as long as we live on this earth. Thankfully, you and I are in an ongoing process whereby God the Father transforms our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit so that we progressively look more like his son, Jesus. The process continues until we finally die or the Lord returns to take us home. Then the transformation is complete.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he wrote, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). This is great news! This is worth celebrating! God begins the work of transformation the moment we accept his forgiveness of sin through the cross. This same God continues the work within us until finally, we are complete in him. What a day that will be!

My friend, this is my encouragement for you this month. God knows all our faults yet loves us anyway. He looks at our lives and sees the man or woman we will become. He sees us not as we were, nor as we are, but as we will be. And he says, “I love you!”

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

Solving The Puzzle

In July 2018, I flew to Los Angeles to tape my episode of Wheel of Fortune. The episode aired October 5. The entire experience was more than I could have imagined.

My flight arrived in late afternoon. I spent the night in Culver City, a few miles from Sony Pictures studios. In the morning, I dressed and made my way to the studio lot. I was nervously excited.

At 7:45 AM, I met the other contestants in the parking garage ground floor. We were escorted through security and into the studio building. For the next four hours, we were trained and coached in everything related to spinning the wheel. We were sequestered in a room separate from the rest of the studio. Legal contracts were explained and signed. The contestant coordinators took us out to the main studio so we could get comfortable with the surroundings. We were taught how to spin the wheel, and we each took turns practicing. We practiced our introductions. We filmed a short promo for our local TV station. The experience was surreal.

Late in the morning, my team assembled at the wheel to do a practice game before recording our episode for TV. There were stand-ins for Pat Sajak and Vanna White. We played a condensed version of the game including introductions, toss-up rounds, and regular rounds. As the practice round progressed, a contestant coordinator came to me to coach me in the game. “Tim,” she said, “don’t look at the wheel or the other players. It can be mesmerizing but don’t do it. Just focus on solving the puzzle. Don’t think about anything else. Just solve that puzzle.” It would be the best advice I received.

The wheel hypnotizes, and there are many distractions in the studio. Off camera, in front of the wheel, is a TV monitor showing how much money you have on the board, what you have already won, and any prizes you have won. The audience cheers you on. Large cameras shift positions. Between rounds, contestant coordinators encourage. Make-up artists touch up your make-up. Distractions abound.

Finally, the time came to record our episode. I stood at the wheel as the announcer Jim Thornton announced, “Please welcome the hosts of our show, Pat Sajak and Vanna White.” The game was on!

Everything went quiet. Adrenaline surged into my veins. Time slowed down. And one simple thought locked into my brain: “Solve the puzzle.” Nothing else mattered. I did not look at the monitor to see what I had on the board. I didn’t look at the wheel. I didn’t look at the other players. I didn’t even pay attention to Pat. Everything in me was focused on solving the puzzle.

In the end, I ended up solving most of the puzzles. I think back to that moment when the contestant coordinator told me to focus on solving the puzzle. That made all the difference. I share this because I think there is an interesting correlation between my experience on Wheel of Fortune and the Church in North America. Let me explain.

The decline of the Church in North America is a puzzle to me. As an itinerant minister, for the past thirty years I’ve ministered in churches across the denominational spectrum. Across denominations, it is increasingly difficult to find a healthy church. Most are in steep decline. This should alarm us. We must solve this puzzle. This is the one thing on which we must focus. We have to come to the place where nothing matters but solving this puzzle.

Unfortunately, often we are mesmerized by lesser things. We are easily distracted by things that do not matter. And we must change.

On Wheel of Fortune, when I landed on bankrupt, I lost everything I had accumulated in that round. It didn’t faze me in the least. I didn’t care. Honestly, I didn’t even know what I had lost. All I cared about was solving the puzzle. With the church, all I care about is solving the puzzle of why we are in decline. I don’t care if I lose everything in the bank. I don’t care if I lose my retirement account. I don’t care about anything but solving this puzzle. It may cost me everything. I don’t care. I have to solve the puzzle.

On the set of Wheel of Fortune, there’s a used-letter board. It hangs from the ceiling just off camera to the left of the puzzle board. It shows all the letters that have been called and any letters that have not been called. When a contestant guesses a letter that is not in the puzzle, a loud buzzer sounds, and they lose their turn. The letter is marked off on the used-letter board. You don’t want to call the same letter again. That would be foolish. In the church, we’ve tried to solve the puzzle of our decline with programs, better music, and more interesting messages. But those things haven’t solved the puzzle. We’re no closer to solving the puzzle than when we started. Sadly, we keep calling the same letter. At some point, we have to call a new letter. To continue to try the same things and to expect a different result is foolishness on a Biblical scale. We’ve already proved that those letters are not in the puzzle solution.

For the church, let’s consider using some of the letters that have not been called. How about prayer? How about fasting and prayer? How about an utter dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit? How about an expectation of sacrifice, of putting it all on the line for the cause of Christ? How about discipling one another? How about confessing sin to one another? Perhaps we might solve the puzzle by trying some of these things.

What if we stopped calling the same letters and tried one of these options? For example, what would happen in our churches if for forty days we stopped all of our programming, our worship music, and preaching, and simply fasted and prayed over the state of the church? What would happen? It’s a letter worth calling. Perhaps it would help us to solve the puzzle.

These things might not draw a crowd, but they may solve the puzzle of why we are in decline. Personally, I’m willing to try. I’m not going to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them and expecting a different outcome. Something has to change.

It’s more than just a game. In the end, the only thing that matters is solving the puzzle.

 

Behind the Scenes on Wheel of Fortune

It was a blast to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune, and it was a privilege to watch the show live with friends and family. Thank you to everyone online who sent pictures and posted on social media. You made it even more special. Thank you!

I get loads of questions regarding the experience. WheelofFortune.com asked me to write a blog about my experience for their site. It is a privilege to be the featured contestant this week! They published a condensed version of this blog. You can read the WheelofFortune.com blog here.

I had often wondered what it was like behind the scenes, so it was a thrill of a lifetime to experience it first-hand. Now I get peppered with questions whenever someone finds out I was on the show. Here are the top ten questions folks ask when they discover I was a contestant on America’s Game:

#1. Did you win?

Yes! I won $20,050 in cash and a trip to Antigua, a total of almost $27,000 in cash and prizes. Wow! The trick is keeping the results secret between the time you tape and the time the show airs, usually around two months. Mums the word. I taped my episode on July 28, 2018, and had to keep the secret until October 5 when it finally aired.

#2. Did you get to meet Pat Sajak and Vanna White?

Yes! Early in the morning Vanna came into our contestant room and introduced herself. During the game, I stood next to Pat in position number one and got to chat with him between rounds during a commercial break. Since I went to the bonus round, I spoke with both of them during the closing credits section of the show. We discussed organ donation. (I’m a living organ donor, and it was mentioned in my introduction.)

They are humble and kind. They make you feel really comfortable. When Vanna came into our contestant room, she was wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt with her hair pulled back and no make-up. She was super down-to-earth.

#3. How did you audition?

I submitted a video online on wheeloffortune.com in November of 2016. (That’s right, 2016!) A few weeks later I was invited to a live audition in Tampa in January 2017. I auditioned in Tampa with sixty other hopefuls. Two weeks later I received a letter stating I was selected as a contestant. In the letter, they stated they would try to get me on the show sometime in the next 18 months. In early July 2018, I received a call from the producers asking if I was available to tape on July 28! Game on!

I auditioned because I wanted the experience. I wanted to see what it was like behind the scenes. I highly recommend auditioning for the show. What do you have to lose?

Here is the link to audition online at WheelofFortune.com. Go for it! http://www.wheeloffortune.com/jointheshow/

#4. Were you nervous?

As a minister, I am used to being in front of crowds, but this was different. During the morning training, I was so nervous I was sweating profusely. I had massive underarm sweat marks on my shirt! Finally, I asked a contestant coordinator if I should put an undershirt on. With a look of alarm, she told me to change as quickly as possible! I didn’t know we were about to head out to the studio to shoot the promos for the local stations. So yes, I was nervous.

#5. Did adrenaline kick in?

Once the game started, my adrenaline kicked in so hard I could hardly think. The first toss-up felt like it was in slow motion. My brain was completely overloaded. Somehow I was the first one to ring in, and I solved the puzzle.

From that point on, I remember very little. Adrenaline was surging, and my brain was fried. Everything was in slow motion. I could hardly hear anything. I remember thinking to myself, “Why is my brain so foggy? Why is Pat speaking so softly? Why can’t I hear the music?” I think the adrenaline was affecting everything. I had no idea how much money I had on the board at any given time. All I knew is that somehow I was solving puzzles. I remember at one point going bankrupt and hearing the audience groan. I had no idea how much money I lost. It didn’t faze me in the least. My brain was so foggy that the bankrupt didn’t register. Still, I won the round. At this point my brain was mush. I remember a producer saying to me, “Pastor Tim, you’re doing great!” All I could say was, “My brain is so fried…”

I vaguely remember winning the second toss-up and the first round. I won the second round, but I have no recollection of what happened or how much I won. I won the prize puzzle round. I do not remember Pat coming over and telling me I was going to Antigua. My brain was busy trying to figure out insignificant things. My belt buckle kept sliding to the right when I spun the wheel. My brain locked onto that. I shifted it back to center while Pat was congratulating me on winning the trip. I don’t even remember what Pat said. For some reason, my belt buckle seemed more important at the time! I laugh every time I think about this!

#6. What was the studio like?

It was a thrill to see the wheel for the first time! When I first stepped into the studio, I was struck by how much smaller it is than it appears on TV. The wheel seems smaller. The distance between the contestants and the puzzle board feels smaller. Everything seems condensed. Off camera, in front of the wheel, is a monitor that shows how much money you have on the board, how much you have already won, and any prizes you have won. Over to the puzzle board side of the studio, the used letter board hangs from the ceiling to the left of the puzzle board so you can refer to it as the game progresses.

#7. Did you have to wear makeup?

Yes, and I loved it. Ha! The makeup artist was fantastic, and it was one of the most relaxing moments of the day. I almost fell asleep while she was working on me. Eventually, I completely forgot I was wearing makeup. After taping the show, I almost left the building with it still on. One of the contestant coordinators stopped me at the last moment. That would have been awkward!

The studio at Sony Pictures where Wheel of Fortune is filmed also houses the studio for Jeopardy. The make-up artist that did my make-up also does make-up for Alex Trebek. I felt like royalty!

#8 How many shows do they film in one day?

Six. Taping begins at noon and ends around 6:00 PM. Contestant training begins at 7:45 AM. My episode was the first taping of the day. Special thanks to the contestant coordinators who take people like me off the street and get them ready for a national television appearance in four hours. Amazing staff!

#9. Do you have to pay taxes on what you won?

Yes, or go to jail. I’ll pay State of California tax because the money was earned in that state, and then I’ll pay my normal federal income taxes. An interesting side-note is that you also pay taxes on non-cash prizes, like the trip to Antigua I won. (See bonus question #11 below.) The tax is on the estimated value of the prize. You have the option of forfeiting any prize if you do not want to pay the taxes.

#10. When do you get your winnings?

Four months after the episode airs. I should receive a check on February 5, 2019.

#11. Bonus Question: When are you going to Antigua? Who are you taking with you?

I forfeited the trip to Antigua. The trip was valued at almost $7,000. The income tax on that would be about $1,700. If someone offered me a trip to Antigua for $1,700, would buy it? Probably not. So I forfeited the trip. I decided I would rather save the tax money for something else, maybe a trip to Australia. I do not receive any cash value for the trip.

Another issue with the trip is that I could not transfer it, sell it, or exchange it. I had to be one of the two people on the trip. So who do I take with me? Who do I leave home? It quickly becomes complicated! I think if you are married, then it is probably a good value. As a single, it just didn’t make sense.

It was a privilege to have a small part in the history of this iconic show. I am grateful for everyone involved from the producers, the contestant coordinators, the makeup artists, and of course, Pat and Vanna. Even though my brain was fried, I will never forget the incredible experience of being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. I am so blessed.

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

The importance of humility

Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks so clearly and directly that it is shocking. I’m not referring to an audible voice, but a word to the soul that is precise and irrefutable. Such was the case on day two of my time in San Francisco.

Our group and a couple of leaders from Church Intensive met in the living room. We had finished an extended prayer session and had returned from a break. I settled in with a fresh cup of coffee as we continued our discussion on the importance of humility. I listened as individuals shared, but something was bothering me. I felt frustrated. I wanted to share my experiences over the past thirty years of ministry, but the conversation was dominated by others in the group. I was slowly growing annoyed. This was the moment when the Holy Spirit spoke to me.

“Tim,” he said, “You know why you are frustrated? It’s because anytime someone else is speaking, no one is paying attention to you.”

Ouch. The irony was rich. I was in a discussion on humility, and I was frustrated because no one was paying attention to me. That’s pretty rough.

As God would have it, we took a break for 20 minutes to spend time in personal prayer. No one else was aware of what the Holy Spirit had just spoken to me. I retreated to the back bedroom, closed the door, and got down on my knees beside the bed. I was appalled. Shocked. Silenced. Stunned. I hardly spoke to God, but when I did it was in profound recognition of my sin. I repented. Most of the time I just knelt there in silence. I saw my sin as sin – horrible, terrible sin.

After a time, we returned to the group meeting. We continued our discussion. I sat there silently, still groping with the reality of my sin. Finally, there was a pause, and I shared with the group how dismayed I was by what the Holy Spirit had just revealed to me. As I shared, the Holy Spirit completely broke me. I covered my face with my hands and wept.

An awkward silence settled on the group. I didn’t care. I saw my sin as God sees it. I repented. I was broken. I couldn’t look up. I was ashamed, but it was a deeply cleansing moment for me. At that moment, the Holy Spirit showed me what humility looks like: deep, profound, repentant humility.

Strangely, it was a highlight of the trip for me. It was a revival in my heart. Afterward, I felt renewed and refreshed. My heart was aligned with God’s heart. In the sessions that followed, God deeply ministered to me.

I share this story as a reminder of the importance of humility. Humility and godliness are essential attributes of a follower of Jesus. They are essential for a leader in the Church. They are also essential within the congregation. When humility and godliness are present, we can work through any differences in theology or preference in application. When these attributes are present, there is unity. When these attributes are missing, we have chaos, strife, and division.

I share my story with you because I suspect this is a larger issue within our churches than just myself. It affects leadership. It affects those who are not in leadership but wish they were. It affects us all. Think about some of the conflicts we’ve witnessed in our churches. How were they resolved? Did we witness lives characterized by humility and godliness? Sadly, this is the exception rather than the rule. Usually, we try to fix the problem by debating theology or our preferences. Instead, we need to address the heart problem of a lack of humility and godliness.

Humility is a key component of following Jesus. Consider these passages:

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3, ESV).

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, ESV).

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5, ESV).

It saddens me when I see individuals in an online debate over non-essential theological positions. Most are deeply knowledgeable but evidently lacking in humility. It fosters division. It cannot be of God.

Paul addressed this in his letter to the Corinthians. This is what he wrote:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, ESV

Sometimes we forget the body of Christ in North America is made up of millions of people. People like you and me who read the word of God and sometimes draw different conclusions. Good men believe differently. When there are differences, humility saves the day. When there are differences without humility, there is strife and division. The problem is not our differences in theology or application. The problem is a lack of humility.

In thirty years of ministry, I’ve made many friends across denominational lines. The one thing we have in common is a deep love for God and gratefulness for the forgiveness for sins we receive through his son Jesus’ death on the cross. Beyond that, differences abound. When we live together in humility and godliness, there is unity in the body of Christ. It is beautiful to witness. But when humility is lacking, there is strife.

Looking back, I see times when I was not humble in my relationship with others in the body. I’ve sought forgiveness when possible. I also imagine I will address this issue in my life in the future. I continue to grow in my relationship with God, and I have many lessons to learn. But I experience the refreshing work of the Holy Spirit when I acknowledge my sin and repent, and that has made all the difference.

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

Teach Us to Pray

Recently I spent fifteen days in San Francisco with Church Intensive, a training and equipping ministry of We Are Church, the house church movement in San Francisco. My goal was to learn more about the house church movement there. Seven participants, including myself, met with elders, pastors, and other leaders from the house churches. The experience profoundly affected me.

I was expecting to meet like-minded people. I did. I was expecting to get a better understanding of the structure of their organization. I did. I was expecting to learn about their values and practices. I did. But I was not expecting a move of the Holy Spirit in my own life that continues within me today. And it all began with prayer.

Every morning we met together for prayer. But it was not like any prayer meeting I have ever attended. I struggle to describe it.

Our group sat in the living room of the building where we were staying. Usually, I cradled a cup of coffee in my hands. We sat in silence until someone in the group prayed. When someone prayed, the rest listened carefully, praying silently with them. When someone finished praying, we sat silently waiting for the Spirit to move someone else to pray. We became comfortable with long moments of silence. There was no prayer list. We prayed as the Holy Spirit led. Sometimes the Holy Spirit would bring to mind a passage of Scripture to someone, and they would read the passage to the group. Other times the Holy Spirit would bring to mind a worship song, and someone would play it on their cell phone. We sang along or sat and listened to what the Holy Spirit was saying through the song. The cadence of prayer moved back and forth from heaven to earth and back again. We prayed as the Holy Spirit led. The Holy Spirit spoke through the prayers, Scripture, and song. We responded in prayer. On it went. Over time the Holy Spirit wove a theme of what he was saying to us. Sometimes the prayer time lasted almost two hours. No one wanted to quit. We soaked in the presence of God during those moments. For fifteen days we met like this. On the last day, when the final amen was spoken, I was profoundly saddened to know this experience was ending. In my short fifty-three years, I’ve never experienced the Holy Spirit moving in prayer as I did in these gatherings. I will never be content to just go through the motions again.

These prayer times are the one thing I intend to replicate here at home. I believe it is the key to my life and ministry. It is the key to the renewal of the Church in North America. Prayer. Simple, Holy Spirit led prayer.

Over the past several months, I’ve blogged about prayer. God has taken me on a personal journey in this area. But this time I saw prayer in the context of the Church. Now I am beginning to understand what prayer could look like in our gatherings. Imagine what would happen if our churches prayed like this.

I long to see churches pray with passion. Not just going through a list, but humbly pleading with God to revive their church, their families, and their homes. I long to hear reports of people confessing their sins to one another and praying for one another. I long to hear of marriages restored because someone begged God to intercede. I long to see the fullness of the Holy Spirit poured out in my generation, for my country, because people prayed. I long to hear of buildings shaking because the Holy Spirit moved as people prayed. It has happened before. Why should I be content with less?

Please hear my heart. I love the Church. I hurt for the Church in North America.  A few of our churches are healthy. Perhaps your church is one of the healthy ones. I celebrate with you. But in North America, most of our churches are unhealthy. Most are slowly dying. Instead of injecting the renewing work of the Holy Spirit into our dying churches, we’ve caked layers of makeup on the dying bodies. We repaint the sanctuary. We install chairs instead of pews. We change the music. We try the latest program. We try anything but prayer. Frankly, I am broken over this. Meanwhile, God is calling us to the simplicity of prayer. Will we heed the call?

Consider these passages:

“It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (Luke 19:46, ESV).

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another…” (James 5:16, ESV).

“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” (Matthew 6:7, ESV).

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, ESV).

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12, ESV).

“…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18, ESV).

“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer…” (Acts 1:14, ESV).

“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31, ESV).

Throughout history, every move of God has started with prayer. In the generations before us, revivals swept continents because someone prayed. Think about that.

I returned home from San Francisco. I unpacked my suitcase. I made a cup of coffee and made my way over to my favorite chair. I sat for a moment in silence. I bowed my head, and a simple prayer pursed my lips.

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

The Purpose of Prayer

Last month I wrote about making prayer a priority in our lives. I continue to explore the mystery of prayer. I wonder why God created prayer in the first place. Why did he make a way for us to communicate with him? Why does God want us to pray? It is hard to comprehend.

A few nights ago I was settling in for the evening and reached for the remote to the TV. I was tired from the day and looking forward to a relaxing evening catching up on my favorite shows. I was about to press the power button when I sensed God speaking to me, calling me to spend some time with him in prayer. I paused and set down the remote. It was odd. I had no needs. There was nothing pressing in my life. I wasn’t stressing over anything. But I clearly felt God’s pulling me aside to connect with him. Why was God calling me aside to pray when there was nothing I needed to pray about? This was the moment I realized I was looking at prayer from my own perspective. What if I were to look at prayer from God’s perspective?

We tend to think of prayer as our way of communicating with God. We know God wants us to bring our requests to him. Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6, ESV). John further encourages us to bring our requests to God when he wrote, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15, ESV). So, yes, we should bring our requests to God.

But what if we were to look at prayer from God’s perspective? Why did God create prayer? Is it merely for us to bring our requests to him? Is it only for our benefit? What if God created prayer for his benefit? What if he wanted to reconnect with the creation he loves?

It is helpful to consider the idea of prayer in the context of our relationship with God. God loves us. He loves us even when we are separated from him by our sin. Because he loves us so much, he sent his own son to pay the penalty for our sin through his death on the cross. When we accept this gift of forgiveness for our sins, we begin a relationship with God. Yes, God does this for our benefit. We benefit greatly! But what if we were to view salvation from God’s perspective? A relationship benefits both parties. What if God does this for his benefit as well? What if God created a way to forgive us for our sins because he longed to reconnect with us?

How does this relate to prayer? Again, our natural tendency is to think prayer is all about us. It is our way of bringing our requests to God. But what if we were to look at it from God’s perspective. What if prayer were also for God’s benefit? What if God created prayer so he could commune with his creation until we were finally together face to face? What if God calls us aside to pray not because we have something we need, but because he wants to spend some quality time with us?

When we view prayer only from our own perspective, it reveals a flaw in our understanding of our relationship with God. Imagine a husband and wife settling in for the evening. The wife leans over to her husband and says, “Can we leave the TV off? I want to talk.” The husband pauses and says, “Why do you want to talk to me when I don’t need anything?” Ouch. I do not recommend this! Clearly, this relationship is in trouble! But when we consider our relationship with God in this context, then we understand how silly it is if the only time we speak to him is when we need something.

In this situation, we pray because God enjoys the time with us. We commune with him. We sit with him as lovers sit together and enjoy a sunset. We enjoy his presence and relish his love for us. We tell him how much we love him. We sit in silence and listen for his still small voice in our spirit telling us how much he loves us. We have no needs because of his kindness. We thank him for his faithfulness and kindness to us. And on and on.

That evening, when God called me aside to pray, it was a precious time with him. I relished his presence. I loved on him for his kindness to me. I enjoyed the time with him immensely. I suspect he enjoyed it as well.

I challenge you to carve out some time when you can spend time with God without asking him for anything. Use this time to tell him why you love him. Yes, God wants us to bring our needs to him. Do so. But sometimes God just wants to spend time with the ones he loves. Spend time with him today.

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

The Priority of Prayer

It is an interesting season in my life. I am transitioning from a focus on full-time ministry to splitting my focus between responsibilities with the rental house, sailboat, managing another property, and the ministry. The greatest challenge I have is finding time for creative work like writing this featured blog. I started this article weeks ago. Now June is past, and I finally have a moment to complete the work and get it sent to you. I am so far behind, but I am content knowing God is completely in control. How freeing that is!

If you read my last few blogs, you know I am asking a lot of questions about the way we do church in North America. I’m seeking God and searching his Word for answers to what it means to follow Jesus. In a previous blog, I wrote about how he has led me to pray daily for opportunities to share Jesus with those who do not know him and for opportunities to disciple others. I continue to do this. It is interesting to see how the mundane moments of life are transformed into opportunities for ministry.

Working outside of the ministry is a blessing. I enjoy living out my relationship with God in the everyday moments of life. In many regards, now my life is a better example of what it means to follow Jesus than when I was full-time in ministry. God has taken my focus from operating a ministry to ministering to others on a daily basis. I enjoy it. Most of us have jobs outside of ministry. We have family responsibilities. We may have kids in sports. We may have grandchildren. We may have responsibilities with school. Our lives are jammed with activity. Every day, in the midst of my packed schedule, I look for opportunities to share Jesus or to disciple someone. And the opportunities are all around me.

I continue to pray. Recently God impressed on me to pray for him to do something supernatural in North America. So now I daily spend time pleading with God to do something here. I pray for revival. I pray for repentance. I pray for God to move with power and authority. Again, I find it interesting he is not yet leading me to do anything except to pray. In my mind I know prayer is important, but God is reminding me to make prayer the priority above all else.

It occurred to me that God does not need me to start anything. I don’t need to start a new program. I don’t need to start a new model of ministry. I don’t need to start a church. He doesn’t need me to start anything. I only need to join him in what he is already doing with his Church. He started the Church thousands of years ago. Sometimes we make a mess of it. Through the years it often strays from what God intended, but it is still alive. He still draws people into relationship with himself. He still longs for a relationship with his creation. He still forgives sins. He is still calling us back to himself. We do not need to come up with a new program to make it happen. He will make it happen. We join him.

God led me to pray. That means, at this time, my job is to pray. So I take time out of my day to pray for God to do something in North America. That is my job description until he changes it. As I pray, I find my heart longing deeper and deeper for the church in North America.

The challenge is to be content with prayer alone until God says it’s time to move. We live in a results-oriented culture. We work hard. We get a paycheck at the end of the week. We strive for goals and celebrate the moments when those goals are met. In the physical realm, when we make something with our hands, we get to see the results of our labor. But when we pray, we don’t always get to see a result. Usually, there is no obvious physical connection between our prayer and an outcome. Because of this, we may minimize the importance of prayer. Our natural tendency is to let prayer slide so we can get back to work doing something for God. We unconsciously think, “I could get so much more done for God if I weren’t spending all this time in prayer!” How silly we are.

If and when God says, “Move,” I will gladly move. Until then, I will pray. I am convinced that prayer is the most important thing. It is more important than anything I could do. It is not an abstract theory. It is the truth. I am attempting to live this out. The question is, “What would God do if I would pray?” That, my friends, is a question all of us need to ask.

How about you? Is prayer an important part of your life? Do you believe when you speak to God, he listens? What would God do if you prayed?

I always enjoy reading your comments.  Feel free to post your thoughts below.

Intentionally Following Jesus

Last month I asked a lot of questions regarding how we think about church. You can read the full blog here. I continue to process these questions. I’m seeking God’s guidance in all of it. Here’s where my thoughts are currently.

Right now I am praying daily for God to give me opportunities to share Jesus with people who do not know him. God is always at work drawing people to himself through the work of the Holy Spirit. I want to look intentionally for those whom God is drawing into a personal relationship with himself. I want God to use me to reach them. I am also praying daily for God to give me opportunities to disciple those who already know him. I am intentionally looking for those one-on-one opportunities to help others grow in their relationship with God.

The key word in both scenarios is “intentionally.” This idea is new to me, and it fills me with a sense of anticipation as I begin my day in this way. I am learning to slow down and readjust my schedule to take time for others.

My laptop is not working well. At times, the processor will grind to a halt. Sometimes it shuts down unexpectedly. It is frustrating. One day a particular program I was using was conflicting with my calendar program. I called the Customer Care line and learned they were aware of the conflict and were working on a fix. I was on the phone with the agent for over an hour while we tried to fix the issue. During a slow reboot, we had time to talk. I learned the agent had been a youth pastor. I asked him to tell me about his relationship with God. He shared with me the various ways he was serving in his home church. I listened for a few minutes.

Then I said to him, “So far you have told me what you are doing for God, but you still have not told me about your relationship with him.” There was a pause on the line. After a moment he replied, “That is very insightful.” As we continued to share, it occurred to me that this was a moment I had prayed for that morning. This moment was an opportunity to disciple someone, even though I did not personally know him. I shared with him about learning that ministry can become an idol. I shared my own story with him about learning to enjoy sitting on God’s lap and focusing on my relationship with him instead of the pressures of ministry.

Because that morning I had prayed for the opportunity, I was aware of the moment when God showed up. It occurred to me that when I pray this way, by default I give God full control of my calendar. If he wants to cause my laptop to fail so I will spend time with someone on a tech call, he has the right. Surprisingly, it gave purpose to what I would generally consider a delay. I had plenty of items on my to-do list for the day. God cleared all of them away so he could use me to minister to someone else. When we live with intention, it gives purpose to the mundane moments.

What would happen if daily we intentionally looked for opportunities to share Jesus with those who do not know him? What would happen if daily we intentionally looked for opportunities to disciple other followers of Jesus? Would our lives look different? Would it affect our schedules? What would happen if we made it our intentional daily goal to love God with abandon and selflessly love others? Would we give away our resources to meet the needs of others? Would we use our resources to minister to the poor in our communities? How would our world change?

I ask these questions because it seems like these are elements missing in many churches today. We seem comfortable to attend church, sit when it is time to sit, stand when it is time to stand, sing when it is time to sing, listen to someone teach, and then return home and live lives that are pretty much the same as the lives of anyone else in our neighborhood. There is an uneasy disconnect between what we do on Sunday and how we live Monday through Saturday. This disconnect is why I repeatedly call for an authentic relationship with God. If our relationship with God does not affect our lives and the lives of those around us, then maybe we should question if we are actually in a relationship with him.

In the end, I want to follow Jesus intentionally. I’m not content to hope it will happen by osmosis. I want to live a life of abandon, willing to give all to see others come into a personal relationship with God. I want to do whatever it takes to see others grow in that relationship. I want to share my faith intentionally. I want to disciple others intentionally. I want to grow in my relationship with God, intentionally loving him with abandon and selflessly loving others.

Will you join me? Will you live a life of intention? What would God do through you if daily you asked him to give you opportunities for sharing Jesus and discipling others? It just might change your life and your world.

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

Invest in other ministries as well

There are many great Christian organizations in our region participating in this event. Here are a few of my favorites I personally supported during this 24 hour event. For me, it is all about investing God’s resources in a way that pleases him. I’ve had a blast investing in these organizations.

For more information on each ministry, click on their name to visit their website. To give to these organizations, visit givingpartnerchallenge.org and enter their ministry name in the search box.

Patch our Planet – Custom orphan care strategies for the local Church. I’m an active board member and supporter.

Agape Flights – Delivering cargo, mail and humanitarian aid to missionary partners serving Christ in the Caribbean. One of our board members serves in this ministry, and I have shared devotions with the staff on many occasions.

Pregnancy Solutions – Providing free, confidential, high-quality, and compassionate care for women. You do not need insurance to receive their free services.

Gator Wilderness Camp – Helping troubled young boys find healthy relationships with God and others. I love this ministry. They reach many families in crisis and give them hope.

Your donations to any of these organizations are doubled by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Have fun and see your investment doubled. Go for it!

The Giving Challenge is provided by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County with giving strengthened by the Patterson Foundation.