January 2013

The Privilege of Prayer

Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Chap 2; Part 1:  

Why don’t we pray regularly and with passion? Perhaps you do, but my experience as a pastor of many years is that most people do not. Prayer during a church service tends either to be monologues by the few, or thanksgiving one-liners by the several. As a rule, the official church prayer meetings are poorly attended and are usually rather sombre affairs. Private prayers are most often routine request lists concerning people, circumstances, and things.
Pentecostal and charismatic churches often attempt to inject enthusiasm by praying very loudly and in tongues. Some people pace around while others lie prostrate. These are often just matters of style and tradition, and over time they result in as little real spiritual passion as the more conservative approaches. So why then is prayer usually such an uninspiring activity? I can suggest three reasons.
Firstly, we tend to forget that prayer is simply communicating, directly and immediately, with God; not with a God far distant, but with the God who is with us. If my understanding is that God is far away in heaven, and that although he eventually receives my prayers he doesn’t always respond, then I probably won’t be too excited about the prospect of praying. The whole process will seem like a long-distance letter from a third cousin (me) to a very busy head of state (God). The letter goes off but nothing comes back, and so I write another letter, and then another. Eventually, I write occasionally only because my ‘sister-in-law’ testified that she actually got a letter back once (and it contained a nice cheque!). If, on the other hand, I understand prayer as a dynamic conversation with God, who is with me, then I will be keen to pray, and to listen.
Perhaps we inherited this misconception of prayer from the Old Testament worldview.

Old Testament word view
The Jewish scholars of Jesus’ time believed in three heavens. The first heaven was earthly, and consisted of the vault of the sky. The second heaven consisted of the stars and the abode of demons and the spirits of the unrighteous dead. The third heaven was the abode of God. Paul wrote of a man in Christ (probably himself) who “fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know — God knows. And I know that this man — whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows — was caught up to paradise”                   (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). In terms of this Hebrew model, a ‘ring’ of demons and unrighteous spirits separates God from his people. Prayers are therefore up, out, and through; they have to penetrate right through to the third heaven. In order to respond to prayer requests God has to send his angels to battle through the second heaven. Daniel 10:12-14 expresses this understanding: “Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”
In terms of this model, prayers and God’s responses are part of spiritual warfare. Sometimes there are long periods before the prayer receives any response, during which time there is no indication that God has heard the prayers in the first place. This long-distance, time-delay concept of prayer is neither dynamic nor engaging.
The second reason our prayers often tend to be passionless is that so many of us Christians are rich, healthy, and self-sufficient. Why do I need to pray earnestly if I have everything? I wonder how the Lord likes it when his people think of him as a magic genie? Surely, prayer is not about getting things, but rather about communicating with God our Father. If we realised our real need, then we would be far more passionate than we are about prayer. Our real need is not health or wealth, but relationship. God created us to be in a relationship with him, and relationships need communication to develop and mature. Imagine a relationship with your spouse or parent that did not involve any form of regular and meaningful communication. Of course, such relationships do exist, but they are unnatural and inevitably end in estrangement!
The third major reason for passionless prayer is that deep down we are not convinced it ‘works’. We have become confused. We have bought into the false teaching that prayer itself has power, yet we see so few results of our prayers that we have become silently cynical. We talk about the ‘power of prayer’, and we applaud when others testify to answered prayer, but in our hearts, we just do not believe in it any more.
Here are quotes by three of history’s great men of God: I mean no disrespect for them, however I believe that some of their teachings concerning prayer miss the mark. Much current teaching on the subject of prayer particularly troubles me.
Andrew Murray – “Most churches don’t know that God rules the world by the prayers of his servants”
E.M.Bounds – “God shapes the world by prayer.”
John Wesley – “God will do nothing but in answer to prayer”
Andrew Murray was a wonderful ‘prayer warrior’, but did he mean by “God rules the world by the prayers of his servants” that God acts by using the prayers of his people, or that he rules in accordance with the expressed will of his people? Did E.M.Bounds believe this? Did John Wesley? I suspect that they included what I call ‘proclamation’ in their definition of prayer. Even if this is so, their statements seem to indicate that God requires ‘prayer’ before he can act. In his book on prayer, Miles Munro spells out this concept in unmistakable terms. He holds that because God has given man sovereignty on earth, he cannot do anything unless we give him permission (that is, prayer). Dutch Sheets has developed a similar concept in his book on prayer subtitled How God can use your prayers to move heaven and earth.
To illustrate my point further, here are two quotes from a book called Unleashing the Power of Prayer, which contains 30 addresses to The International Prayer Assembly for World Evangelism which met in Seoul in 1984.
“Praying is how you get things done. It’s not what you do, or your preparation; it is prayer itself that is God’s method of getting things done.”
“Prayer releases the power and the authority of God. The Bible tells us ‘whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 18:18]. We see that we have the capacity literally to reach into the realms of heaven and touch the very hand of God Himself.” (Side note, I have recently written an explaination of this scripture click here to read the post)
In contrast to this, here is what Paul E. Billheimer writes in Destined for the Throne; “There is no intrinsic power in prayer as such. On the contrary, prayer is an acknowledgement of need, of helplessness. If He chose, He could act arbitrarily without regard to prayer or lack of it. All power originates in God and belongs to Him alone. He ordained prayer not primarily as a means of getting things done for Himself, but as a part of the apprenticeship programme for training the church.”  That expresses where I stand. 
Prayer is not transacting spiritual business over God’s shoulder. Prayer is talking with God. More than that, it is communing with God.
I use the word ‘privilege’ in the heading to this section because prayer is exactly that, a privilege. As sons and daughters of the Father, we have the wonderful benefit of approaching almighty God in prayer. Prayer is not transacting business in the spiritual realm. Prayer is not influencing, manipulating, or ‘moving the hand of God’. Prayer is an intimate and immediate communication between Father God and us.

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The implications of being a son/daughter of God

Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Part 7:

Our Father in Heaven has paid a huge price, so that we can be his children and not slaves
A son uses his resources of time, talents, and treasures in a different way to that of a slave. A son invests in his father’s kingdom and household. A son takes pleasure in giving his time and money to the things that are important to his father. A son initiates and takes responsibility. A son meets needs where he sees them without anyone commanding him to do so. A son desires the wellbeing of the household.

“Who do you say that you are?” “I am a son of the Most High God!” This is a foundationally important matter. I believe that the real underlying reason we are generally so passionless and powerless is that we have failed to realise that we are children of the living God. Our understanding reflects in the way we pray, in the way we handle spiritual power, and in the way we step out with bold authority.

God’s great overriding plan for us is that we come to know Jesus, grow to be like him, and help others do likewise. To grow to be like the Son of God is to develop the character and ministry of a child of God. To help others to know Jesus, and to become like him, is not an exercise in religious conversion, it is discipling in sonship!
Oh, what a price the Father has paid so that we might be sons and not slaves! Sin separates us from the Father; salvation reunites us with him. The price of that salvation was the earthly life and death of God the Son himself! Oh, what grace, mercy, and longsuffering the Father extends to us in order that we can develop into his mature children! Oh, what a cost the world pays when we live in apathetic disregard for our responsibilities as sons and daughters of the Most High!
As children of God, how then should we use our resources of time, talent, and treasures? Surely, we should use them to;
  • Build up the household of God – the church.
  • Extend the Kingdom of God in our spheres of influence.
  • Give to others for the glory of God.
  • Impact the world with his will and purpose.
  • Subdue the rebellious spirit world with his authority.

Isn’t it difficult to be apathetic about things like this? Surely, the natural response to a realisation of who we are is one of passion and power.

Consider some of the implications of sonship:

The privilege of prayer, both personal and corporate:  As children of the Most High God, we have the privilege of boldly approaching his throne of grace. Hebrews 4:16 has: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Because we are his children we can approach God, and we can ask him for mercy and grace. What a privilege! We also have the right and responsibility to gather with other children of God to intercede for our communities and our nation. This too is a great privilege.

The prerogative of revelation: We, as God’s sons and daughters, have the privilege of receiving revelation from on high. God has entrusted the Bible to us to mediate his truth to the world. He has gifted the church with preachers, teachers, and prophetic voices. He speaks to us because we are his children.

The potential for empowerment: The promise of the Holy Spirit is for us, the children of God. He is prepared to fill us with power from on high. He is willing to empower us so that we can glorify him, and powerfully extend his kingdom.

The response of service: Sons serve! It is because we are children of God that we serve. We serve because the love of God is in us, and because his compassion courses like spiritual blood through us. We serve because this pleases our Father. We serve because it is our duty and joy to give – freely we have received, and so freely we give.

The catalysts of revival:  The churches of the world are full of children of God who just do not know it. They regard themselves as slaves or, at best, as distant cousins. Revival comes when those who know who they really are proclaim freedom, power, light, and love to those who do not.
Isn’t it difficult to remain unmoved by such a mandate? How can we be anything but powerfully passionate when we realise who we are?

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Misconception of who we are

Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Part 6:

For anyone born again of the Spirit of God, in the name of Jesus, then Sonship/daughterhood defines who we are and servanthood defines what we do.  You are not a slave, but a child of God.

The account of the transfiguration describes Jesus setting off for Mount Hermon from a place called Paneas. In his day, people also called this little village Caesarea Philippi, but today we call it Banias. The waters from the melted snow on Mount Hermon come to the surface in Paneas. Many pagan cults and religions regarded this source of the Jordan River as a sacred site. They called it Paneas, because worshippers of the pagan god Pan had built a temple there. When Jesus visited this village, it must have been the location for several shrines and temples. It was here that he asked his disciples,”Who do people say I am?” Then he asked them who they thought he was and Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. (Matthew 16:16-17) I wonder how Peter would have responded if Jesus had asked him, “and who do you say that you are, Peter?” Perhaps we need to ask ourselves this question.

When I was a teenager, Peter Sellers starred in a comedy called ‘The Party’. He played the part of a bumbling, accident-prone Indian, complete with sandals and turban. After doing something particularly outrageous, a woman indignantly asked him, “Who do you think you are?” He looked at her pityingly and responded, “Madam, in India we don’t ‘think’ who we are, we ‘know’ who we are.” Do you know who you are? It seems to me that many Christians suffer from a deep misconception of who they really are. On the one hand there are those who think they are ‘little gods’, but fortunately they are in the minority. The majority of Christians believe themselves to be servants of God, if not slaves of the Almighty. What about you – who do you think you are?
Do you see yourself as a son or as a slave?
Here is the truth. For anyone born again of the Spirit of God, in the name of Jesus, then Sonship/daughterhood defines who we are and servanthood defines what we do. There is a distinct priority order here: who we are determines what we do. More accurately, who we perceive ourselves to be determines what we are prepared to do.
John 13:3-5 records that “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” Because Jesus knew who he was, the son of God, he was prepared to serve his disciples in the most menial way. So what are you – son or slave? Consider the following texts:

Ephesians 1:5 “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Instead of arguing about God’s predetermination of all things, perhaps we should simply note that God has predestined us to be HIS SONS AND DAUGHTERS!

1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” What a powerful and decisive statement.

Galatians 3:26-4:7 “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father”. So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” Note the final verse “so you are no longer a slave, but a son.”

The distinction between a son and a slave mentality is profound. A slave is not an heir, but a son is. A slave does not own, but is owned. A son has a vested interest in the family affairs, but a slave does not. A slave is obliged to obey his master under penalty of punishment, but a son obeys his father because he loves him. Slaves jockey for position and status, but sons know who they are, and that status cannot compare to their privileged position. Slaves focus on getting, because they have so little; sons focus on giving, because they have so much. Slaves have only masters, but sons have a father. Sons are responsible and accountable. Sons are motivated by love, not by fear. Sons measure themselves by the quality of their relationships, not by their performance. Slaves do the minimum required, while sons invest the maximum, for their field of endeavour is their inheritance. A slave defines who he is in terms of what he does. A son determines what he does because of who he is.

If you regard yourself as a slave in God’s household, then this will influence your behaviour in church. You will tend to want others to tell you what to do. When you do it, you will most likely do just enough to avoid a negative reaction from your pastor. You will want others to acknowledge and thank you. In all probability, you will expect God to do things on your behalf. If he does, then you will praise and applaud him. If he doesn’t, then you will most likely sulk or actively rebel. To you the commandments in the Bible are laws designed to prescribe your life and limit your freedom. Please understand I am not trying to be unkind here; I just want to give you the opportunity of evaluating how you see yourself. This is such an important issue!

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Fear and Dis-ease

Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Part 5:

Fear is a powerful inhibitor to enlightenment. We usually fear what we do not understand and therefore cannot control. We have carefully constructed a fortress-like mindset specifically to protect ourselves from the unknown and the uncontrollable. It is fearful to even contemplate thinking differently, let alone experiencing a different reality. So, how do we overcome this fear? We overcome it by focusing on Jesus.

On the mount of transfiguration, the three disciples were afraid when Moses and Elijah appeared, they were very scared when the glory cloud rolled in, and they were terrified when God the Father spoke. They fell, face down, onto the ground, but Jesus went to them, touched them, and told them to get up and not to be afraid. When they looked up, they saw only Jesus. The things that had made them so afraid were all gone and only Jesus remained. The antidote to our fear of the unknown is the realisation that Jesus is a reliable guide. He is entirely trustworthy, and he knows exactly what lies ahead in the cloud of unknowing. If we put our faith in him, then we have no reason to fear. He says to us, as he said to the synagogue ruler so long ago, “don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mark 5:36).

This series is thoroughly Christ-centred and, because of this, some of the proposals I make are very different to much traditional thinking. When you encounter these proposals, simply ask “what did Jesus say and do concerning this?”

Discomfort (dis-ease) with mystery
Inverted kingdoms, mindset, and fear are all interrelated, as is the fourth impediment to spiritual progress, the discomfort with mystery. We love a mystery story, so long as in the end we are told that the butler was the one ‘who done it’. We get very frustrated when the TV set goes on the blink just before the villain’s identity is revealed. We love formulas and rules. Most of us are uncomfortable with ambiguity. Look at the titles of the books that sell best in the spirituality/self-help/psychology section of the local bookstore. They carry titles such as ‘Seven steps to prosperity’, ‘Three keys to abundant health’, and so on. We seem to be happiest when someone else has given us a formula for living or understanding. ‘Pastor, how much should I give to the church?’ If the dear man says ‘ten percent’, then we are happy because either we can disagree and rebel, or we can feel righteous by putting a tithe of our earnings into the offering bag. We are happy to paint by numbers, so to speak, but unhappy to paint on a blank sheet.

Perhaps the solution to our discomfort with the unknown is to acknowledge that mystery is a fundamental part of spiritual reality. God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9), and that is just the way it should be. The New Testament contains references to several ‘mysteries’ and Jesus constantly spoke in parables and then used the mystery, saying, “he who has ears to hear let him hear”. God will reveal some things to us, but not all things. So, we must reconcile ourselves to walking, as Peter and company did, in the glory cloud of mystery. What an exciting prospect this is!

Failure to acknowledge that we live in an inverted kingdom, a materialistic mindset, fear of the unknown, and dis-ease with mystery are impediments to living and ministering with passion and power. One other underlying cause is, I believe, the single most significant reason for our spiritual anaemia – we do not realise who we really are.

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Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Part 4:

The principles of the Kingdom of God are very different to the principles of the kingdoms of this world. It is as though unregenerate people are, in a spiritual sense, walking on the ceiling. A way of understanding our inverted inner and outer worlds is in terms of mindset. A mindset is a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how we interpret and respond to situations. We start to form our mindsets when we are born, or perhaps in the months just preceding our birth and we lock them in at around twenty years of age. Using the previous analogy (see this blog post) , we build our mindsets by observing a world inverted by our inbuilt contact lenses. We should not be surprised, then, to find that our ‘natural’ mindsets are intensely materialistic. We build them from what we already know and have experienced. For most people this is almost entirely materialistic rather than spiritual. Once we have built this citadel of the mind, it is very hard to breach it. Our reality is secure behind its walls, and we will summarily reject anything that does not fit through its carefully crafted gates. In other words, we become relatively immune to new ideas and experiences.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, which wonderfully illustrates the defensive power of a mindset. Apparently, when the conquistadores arrived on the coast of Central America, the Incas could not see their ships. These local people had never seen a sailing ship before, they had no language to describe a sailing ship, and they were not expecting sailing ships. So they just didn’t ‘see’ them. 

The Incas couldn’t ‘see’ the ships

The conquistadores appeared to march out of the sea like the demigods of Inca legends. The local high priest was the most educated of them all, and he sensed that all was not as it seemed to be. He noticed that there were strange currents and wavelets just off shore, which had not been there before. He pondered this and spent considerable time looking out to sea and trying to find the reason for these phenomena. Then one day he suddenly saw the ships which were causing these abnormal motions in the water. He explained what he saw to his fellow Incas, and pointed out to them the exact places where the ships were. After a while, they too were able to see the ships. The sailing vessels were there all the time, but the Inca mindset had effectively eliminated them from perceived reality!

We need to ask big questions in order to break open the fortress of our materialistic mindsets, and we need to seek persistently for answers until enlightenment occurs. Questions are like battering rams at the walls of our mindsets. If we keep pounding with them, then eventually the wall crumbles at that spot, and we are able to take in new ideas and experience a new reality. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

Another way into the walled city of our mind is through the gates. We can stand at the gate, so to speak, and then ask God to send in a cart full of revelation. In practical terms, this ‘standing at the gate’ consists of being ‘open’ to divine revelation. As Christians, we achieve this by studying and meditating on the scriptures, by praying, and by exposing ourselves to the biblically described ‘gifts of the Spirit’. However, openness to divine revelation usually includes persistent questioning. As we read the Bible, we ask the Lord, ‘Have I understood this correctly? Is this what you meant Lord Jesus? Would I see this differently through your eyes?’ As we ask these questions, and as we expect to receive answers, then Paul’s prayer is realised: I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Ephesians 1:17)

So, not only do we need to change our orientation, but we also need to assault our fortified mindsets by repeatedly asking questions. This is a little scary for many people. For others, this requires more mental energy than they are prepared to expend. However, if we are going to progress, then we need to make the effort and ask brave questions.

In this series, I ask some big questions and, although I suggest some answers, it is up to you to find the explanations that will change your mindset.

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.