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The Fourth Dimension
In February 2009 we did an Alpha Conference at the largest church in the world. 11,000 people attended the huge venue at Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea. They have seven services each Sunday and many satellite services, as even this massive venue and multiple services is not able to contain the entire congregation which now numbers over 800,000 members.
Dr Paul Yonggi Cho was converted from Buddhism as a young man. This church which he started fifty years ago has seen phenomenal growth. He was once asked, ‘Dr Cho, how did you build such a great church?’ Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied: ‘I pray and I obey.’ In his book, The Fourth Dimension, Dr Cho describes a life of praying and obeying – the world of answered prayer, dynamic faith and true communion with God.
1. Pray and obeyProverbs 15:1-10
The writer of Proverbs contrasts ‘the wicked’ with those who pray and obey: ‘The lives of God-loyal people flourish ... he delights in genuine prayers. A life frittered away disgusts God; he loves those who run straight for the finish line’ (vv.6a,8b,9, MSG).
If we live like this we will bring great blessing to others. ‘A gentle response defuses anger’ (v.1a, MSG). When someone is angry and yelling at us, we can respond in the same way which may escalate the situation. Or we have the power to diffuse the situation by responding calmly and gently.
Our words can transform lives: ‘Knowledge flows like spring water from the wise’ (v.2a, MSG).
The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life ... the lips of the wise spread knowledge’ (vv.4a,7). Whereas ‘cutting words wound and maim’, ‘kind words heal and help’ (v.4, MSG). We are not to use our tongues to hurt, harm or cause worry to others. Rather, we are to use them to heal, help and encourage others.
Thank you, Lord, that the prayer of the upright pleases you and that you love those who pursue righteousness. Help us to pray and to obey.
2. Pray with passionActs 11:19-12:19a
Full of prostitutes, nightclubs and drinking dens and renowned for its lax moral standards, Antioch was a city similar to a city like London today. It was the capital of the East in the ancient world. It was a wealthy city, renowned for its buildings and its culture. It was a cosmopolitan city that attracted people from all over the world.
This city was transformed, becoming a distinguished Christian city, the springboard for Christian mission to the entire Gentile world, because they began to preach the message not only to Jews, but to Greeks also, ‘telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus’ (11:20). The Lord’s hand was with them and ‘a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord’ (v.21).
God used Barnabas, whose name means ‘son of encouragement’. Joyce Meyer writes that encouragement ‘is not flattery or empty praise, but heartening words that inspire us with hope and confidence meant to build us up in our relationships with God and others ... Do you have a “Barnabas” in your life? ... Are you a “Barnabas” in someone else’s life?’
‘When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord’ (vv.23–24).
It was not a hit and run visit: ‘For a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch’ (v.26).
There was a release of finance. Each gave ‘according to his ability ... to provide help’ for those in need (v.29). This is an important principle of the Christian community – those who can afford help to pay for those who can’t.
This was a period of great blessing and massive church growth. However, they also faced a rising tide of opposition. The Judean King Herod Agrippa I (c.10BC – 44AD) was a lifelong friend of the mad Roman emperor, Caligula.
Agrippa had a cruel streak, which he inherited from his grandfather, Herod the Great (c.74BC – 4AD), and his uncle Herod Antipas (21BC – 39AD) who had executed John the Baptist and tried Jesus. He took to persecuting Christians. He was an unscrupulous politician who wanted to gain popularity with the people (12:1–3). He had James executed. Peter was in prison and Herod planned a public lynching (v.4, MSG).
Peter was guarded by four squads of four soldiers each (v.4). He had double the usual guard and chains on both hands (v.6). Peter himself ‘slept like a baby’ (v.6, MSG). It has been said that there is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience!
The church faced a seemingly impossible situation. The very existence of the early church seemed to be at stake. What did they do? What are we to do in situations that are seemingly impossible? We see the answer in verse 5: ‘The church was earnestly praying to God for [Peter]’.
- Pray together
‘The church’ (v.5) joined together in prayer. ‘Many people had gathered and were praying’ (v.12). The New Testament teaches a lot about private prayer, but there is even more about praying together.
- Pray earnestly
There are two reasons why they might not have prayed at all. First, James had been executed (v.2). God had not answered their prayers for James. We don’t know why, but it did not stop them praying.
Second, Peter’s situation seemed impossible. Their choice was either to give up praying or to pray passionately. The Greek word ektenōs (translated here as ‘earnestly’), was used to describe a horse made to go at full gallop. It denotes the taut muscle of strenuous and sustained effort as of an athlete.
The imperfect tense suggests that they prayed not as a once-off, but for a considerable length of time. They persevered.
- Pray to God
When we pray, we are not just talking to ourselves, or praying eloquent prayers to impress those who hear us. Prayer to God means having an audience with God. It means actually coming into the presence of God – asking and receiving.
- Pray for others
They prayed for Peter (v.5). There are many types of prayer: worship, praise, thanksgiving, petition, and so on – but here we read of intercessory prayer. They prayed for him because they loved him. Intercessory prayer is an act of love.
This was an extraordinary prayer meeting, and the results are evident (vv.6–15). In answer to their prayers God acted supernaturally. Peter was freed the night before his trial. God’s answer involved visions, angels and chains falling off (vv.6–9). Obstacles were removed. The guards did not bar the prisoners’ escape, and the iron gate to the city opened in front of them (v.10).
Peter went to Mary’s (the mother of John Mark) home. The house was packed with praying friends. A young woman, named Rhoda, went to the door and recognised Peter’s voice.
She was so excited and eager to tell everyone Peter was there that she forgot to open the door and left him standing in the street, knocking away. Peter’s friends did not believe her report, telling her she was ‘crazy’ (vv.12–16, MSG).
John Stott writes of verse 15, ‘It is ironic that the group who were praying fervently and persistently for Peter’s deliverance should regard as mad the person who informed them that that their prayers had been answered.’
The word of God continued to increase and spread (v.24). As John Stott writes, ‘The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison and Herod triumphing; it closes with Herod dead, Peter free and the word of God triumphing.’
Lord, help us to pray like the early church who prayed together, praying to you and praying passionately for others. May your hand be with us and may we too see a great number of people believing and turning to the Lord.
3. Pray for wisdom1 Kings 2:13-3:15
Solomon ensured his long tenure by liquidating all his enemies early in his reign (chapter 2). How different was the action of this son of David compared to Jesus, ‘the Son of David’, who brought life to everyone and taught us to love our enemies. He is the one who reigns eternally.
However, there was at least one thing that Solomon definitely did do right. God said to him, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you’ (3:5). His response demonstrated humility and a recognition of his need for God. Solomon prayed, ‘Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong’ (v.9).
God was delighted with Solomon's response. He said to him, ‘Because you have asked for this and haven’t grasped after a long life, or riches, or the doom of your enemies, but you have asked for the ability to lead and govern well, I’ll give you what you’ve asked for – I’m giving you a wise and mature heart. There’s never been one like you before; and there’ll be no one after. As a bonus, I’m giving you both the wealth and glory you didn’t ask for – I’ll also give you a long life ... ’ (vv.10–14, MSG).
Jesus said, ‘Seek first his [your heavenly Father’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:33). In effect, by praying for wisdom, Solomon was seeking first the kingdom of God. God said to him that as a result, all the other things would be his as well.
The offer of wisdom does not just apply to Solomon. James writes, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you’ (James 1:5).
What will this wisdom be like? James gives the answer, ‘The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere’ (James 3:17).
Lord, we need your wisdom. Give us wise and discerning hearts in every situation we face. Lord, I pray for wisdom that is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
‘The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.’
Whether you think you are good or bad, God is watching you … Is that comforting or not?