Want to see God at work? Start by praying the Lord’s Prayer today

praySince 2015 I’ve been on a quest to discover how God is at work. You see, I serve with a mission organization, One Challenge. In 2015, we adopted a new strategy statement, which says: “We ask how God is at work, then assist the Body of Christ to bring God’s transformation to individuals, communities and nations.” It seemed logical, then, to ask how is God at work? So the Global Research Team, on which I serve, then spent the better part of a year and a half searching the scriptures to discover how God is at work in the world and applying those insights to our work.

When it was time for us to organize a gathering for all the mission information workers in our organization back in September 2016, we came to the consensus that “Asking how God is at work” should be our conference theme. There I shared a brief presentation on the biblical basis of how God is at work in the world.

Upon returning home from the conference, our pastor asked me to share a twenty minute message on Mission Sunday.  It seemed fitting to share something about God at work.  But my great challenge was to identify one passage that touched upon the many ways that God is at work in the world. After some reflection I was surprised to conclude that the Lord’s Prayer touched on many of these themes. Thus the Lord’s Prayer became the text of my sermon.

A few weeks later I was visiting with a friend at church who is a Bible professor at Taylor University. He remarked:  “I teach a class on the Lord’s Prayer, and  I’ve read a lot of books on the Lord’s Prayer.  So when you said you were speaking on the Lord’s Prayer, I was attent to see if you had any new insights into the Lord’s Prayer. My friend, you did not disappoint.”

I thought I might write a blog series about the Lord’s Prayer, coming at it from the angle of what we discover about how God is at work in the world and how he invites us to join him in what he is doing.  Writing a series is a lot of work, beyond what I have time to do. So here is a summary of seven ways God is at work in the world based on the Lord’s Prayer.

Seven ways we discover God at work in the Lord’s Prayer

  1. “Our Father in Heaven” – God is at work building his Family here on earth
  2. “Hallowed by Your Name” – God is at work bringing glory to his name on earth
  3. “Your Kingdom Come” – God is at work establishing his kingdom on earth
  4. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – God is at work bringing the perfections of heaven to earth
  5. “Give us today our daily bread” – God provides us with all we need for living & so much more
  6. “Forgive us our debts” – God is at work restoring relationships
  7. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” – God is at work delivering us from temptation and the wile s of the Devil, aka Satan, the Evil One.

The breadth God’s work described in the Lord’s Prayer is quite mind boggling!

I’ve come to view each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer as an iceberg. As we know, the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” points to a huge mass of ice below the water’s surface. So it is with the Lord’s Prayer.  Each phrase points to a greater reality found in the biblical narrative.  This point really struck me back in 2012. As I was reading through the Bible, I started to jot down passages that were related to the seven parts of the Lord’s Prayer in a section in my journal. To date, my list covers 56 hand written pages! Each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer points us to a greater reality of how God is at work in the world. There is much more going on “below the surface” than is immediately apparent.

So what does all this mean for us?

Do you see that God invites us to join him in what he is doing in the world? Simply put, there are many things that God calls us to do, but the first and greatest thing God invites us to do is to pray. That is the whole intent of the Lord’s Prayer, to pray, isn’t it? We pray. God works. So if you want to see God at work, start by praying the Lord’s Prayer today.

Here is a great book on the Lord’s Prayer

I’ve just finished reading  Darrell W. Johnson’s book on the Lord’s Prayer,  Fifty-Seven Words that Change the World: A Journey Through the Lord’s Prayer.   This short book (119 pages) is full of insights into the Lord’s Prayer. I heartily recommend it.

Click here to go to Amazon to take a look inside.

God Opens Doors for Effective Ministry

Last weekend I was sharing at a missions conference in Kansas about the work of One Challenge. I pointed out that in 2014, OC workers were active in 102 countries –  the highest number of countries in the history of the organization. Since I’ve started writing this blog series about the ways that God is at work in the world, it occurred to me to look at the broadening of OC’s ministry from the God-at-work perspective.

New Testament Teaching

Turning to the New Testament, we find five passages that state God opens doors for effective ministry. The majority of these are about Paul’s ministry.

When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27

But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective {service} has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. 1 Corinthians 16:8-9

Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord. 2 Corinthians 2:12

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned. Colossians 4:2,3

In Revelation we have the words of Jesus Himself.

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:  He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.’” (Revelation 3:7-8)

While all these passages point out that God opens doors for effective ministry, the Colossians 4 passage adds the additional point that God opens doors for effective ministry in response to prayer.

Modern Examples of How God Opens Doors through Prayer

As I reflect on how God opens doors for effective ministry through prayer, one striking example comes to mind. In 1982 God led Brother Andrew, the founder of the organization “Open Doors,” to launch a seven-year prayer campaign for the opening of the Communist Bloc. The campaign began in 1983. Seven years later on November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and rest of Eastern European countries soon came out from under the Communist yoke. As a result, the 1990s witnessed the beginning of religious freedom first in Eastern Europe, then in the former Soviet Union.

I well remember reading Charles Colson’s accounts of the role that people of faith played in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in “The Body”. Little did I realize that God would open a door for me and my family to serve in Romania for 15 years, strengthening the churches there.

Paul reminds us that God “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). In the case of Brother Andrew’s seven year prayer campaign, not only did God “open doors” in Eastern Europe, but God also opened up Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time Central Asia was an even tougher “no access zone” than Eastern Europe.

God gave me an “open door” to have a short term ministry trip to Mongolia 2013 – where I learned how God opened this closed country with just four believers in 1990, built his church, which numbered at least 41,000 in 2014, and was using Mongolian believers to enter even more difficult “no access zones”.

Yes, God is able to do way more than we can ask or think.

Oh God, now open the 10/40 Window!

As Eastern Europe and Central Asia were breaking free from the Communist yoke, Christian leaders began to focus prayer attention on the world’s toughest “no access zone”, the 10/40 Window. For over two decades now, the month of October has been chosen to “pray through the window.” Although we have yet see an opening of North Africa, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Asia similar to the Communist Bloc, there are signs that God is at work in the region in an unprecedented way. What wonderful testimonies we hear of how God is drawing peoples in this region to himself and how encouraging to see the growing number of church or disciple making movements!   These “first fruits” should encourage us to continually intercede for the opening of the 10/40 Window.

So in response to prayer, God opens doors to for effective and fruitful ministry. This is another way that God is at work in our world today. Since this is the case, how are you praying for God to open doors? And when God opens a door for ministry, he has in mind someone to walk through that door, and you just might be the person! Are you ready to go with God through that open door?

Discerning Where God is at Work

How do we recognize where God is at work? This is a pertinent question for mission work. Henry Blackabee first turned me on to this line of inquiry in his book Experiencing God, when he identified the key to experiencing God as “Watch to see where God is working and join Him” (p. 15). Hey, I want to experience God. But how do I figure out where He is at work?  That seems easier said than done.

Earlier this year the mission organization I serve with, One Challenge International, adopted a new strategy statement that says, “We ask how God is at work, then assist the body of Christ to bring God’s transformation to lives, communities and nations.” This comes at our question from another angle and adds the “how” element to our question. So what guidelines might we use to recognize how and where God is at work?

I believe that Scripture provides with a framework that enables us to discern how and where God is at work. To start off, let’s look at Matthew 16:13-18 (NIV)

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

In this passage, Jesus reveals two indicators of God’s work.

First, Jesus declares that God the Father reveals to people that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (see verse 17).  In the church where I grew up, this passage was often referred to as “Peter’s Great Confession,” and I was taught that confession leads to conversion or salvation (as per Romans 10:9-10 NASB: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”) Much later I observed that God the Father is directly involved in bring about people’s confession or conversion. You might guess that I did not grow up in a church in the Reformed tradition!

Other passages in the Gospels also reveal that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are involved in the conversion process.  For example Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:44 NIV).  Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ words where he claims “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”  (Matt. 11:27 and Luke 10:22, NIV translation).  In John 16:7-11 Jesus speaks about the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  (NIV)

As we turn to the Book of Acts, we find that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are active in conversion process. For example, Acts 2:47 says, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  The account of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9, which Saul, aka Paul, retells in Acts 22 and 26, highlights Jesus’ direct involvement. Acts 10 highlights divine intervention in the conversion of Cornelius and his household, specifically an angel, visions and voices from the Lord and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Lydia’s conversion, mentioned in Acts 16:14, indicates “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (NIV). So we find continuity between what is promised in the Gospels and what happened in the history of the early Church as recorded in Acts. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all involved in the conversion process.

I’ve digressed a bit, wanting to broaden our understanding of the divine work involved in conversion. So let’s turn to Matthew 16:18 where Jesus reveals a second indicator of God’s work.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Emphasis added)

Here, Jesus states that he will build his Church. Tom Julien, in his excellent book, Antioch Revisited, calls this passage Jesus’ “Great Prediction” (p. 91). I usually refer to this as Jesus’ Great Promise.  Either way, it describes Jesus’s ongoing work: He is building his Church.  Note that Jesus did not say, “Peter, you will build my church” or “my disciples will build the Church”. Jesus said He himself would build his Church. So practically speaking, when we see the Church growing, either in number or holiness or by geographical dispersion, these are a good indication that Jesus is involved.

Conversions and Churches – Signs of God’s Work

We have made two discoveries from Matthew 16:13-18 that help us discern how and where God is at work. Conversions: when we see people confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, this is a sign that God is at work. Churches: new churches and healthy, growing congregations are signs that God is at work.

Since the early 1980s, I’ve tracked the numbers of baptisms and new church starts, first for a local church, later for a whole nation, and now for the mission agency I serve. I started to track these numbers because are the clearest measures for the growth and health of the Church. Much later I realized that these measures not only track the growth of the Church, but also point to God’s modern day work. Every conversion, every new church has divine fingerprints upon it.

So in order to “see” where and how God is at work today, there are two items to keep our eyes open for: conversions and new churches.  With that in mind, where do you see God at work today?

Granted other “unspiritual” factors can be involved in conversions or church growth, but that may be a topic for another day. But I do have in mind several other indicators that point to God’s modern day work. And if the Lord grants me opportunity, I intend to write about these in the future.