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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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”