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Guard the Gates - Part 2
By: Philip Harrelson
The expression of guarding the gates really has to do with guarding the mind. As noted in the previous message, John Bunyan wrote another classic although much less recognized than Pilgrim’s Progress entitled The Holy War which tells the story of Mansoul being captured and taken over by Diabolus because of the gates being compromised. That same plan is still being effectively carried out in our generation. People of every kind and status within the church have a responsibility to not let this kind of thing take place. This is especially true of those who are actively called into the ministry. If the shepherd can be toppled, the sheep will scatter.
It was explored how that study allows a man who serves a church to guard his mind. While that is a good measure to take up, there is another crucial “guard” that we have to recognize. It is the aspect of prayer. Of all the disciplines involved in a Christian’s life, prayer is the most difficult one to maintain conversely it can be one of the most joyous and powerful tools we can find in our spiritual arsenal. A preacher must maintain regular habits of communion with God in prayer. If a minister is not careful he can come to the place in which he will neglect his place of prayer because of his attention to the Kingdom. He may have all kinds of grand truths rolling through his soul because of the constant exposure to the Word. He can be so busy with various meetings, discipleship of new converts, and counseling of those who are in the throes of some dilemma of life, and obligations to duties of the organizational stripe, that he can entirely neglect his prayer life. In fact a minister is more likely to omit his praying than a new convert who has just come in to the church.
Diabolus loves to get the men involved in ministry to fall to the temptation of substitutes for prayer. Sermons on prayer, reading books on prayer, attending prayer conferences, and hearing sermons on prayer can never take the place of prayer. One can even come under the belief that church attendance, praise, singing, giving, and doing measures of physical labor at church can be a valid substitute for prayer. What soon happens is a tendency to resort to all of these things to move us into a position for revival without true heart-felt prayer.
Pastoral prayer is a great biblical concept and it has great authority. There is an ingredient of spiritual authority that comes to life when a pastor will discipline himself to prayer for his people. From the outset, I have to tell you that this is NOT an easy task to do. Prayer that is truly heart-felt and sincere rarely takes place (for me, perhaps not others) when we just decide to get on our knees and begin to pray. There has to be some stimulus of preparation that is involved in it. There are useful things that you will learn to use to help put your mind into a vein of prayer.
There are times when reading books on prayer will be very helpful to put you into a mindset of prayer. Some of the ones that I have regularly gone back to frequently and year after year are listed below:
E. M. Bounds Complete Works on Prayer—There are eight books in a single volume and are very rich and motivational toward opening my heart for prayer. The Necessity of Prayer, The Essentials of Prayer, The Possibilities of Prayer, The Reality of Prayer, Purpose in Prayer, The Weapon of Prayer, Power Through Prayer, and Prayer and Praying Men.
Leonard Ravenhill on Prayer—Ravenhill’s material is becoming increasingly rarer to find in bookstores these days. He was a staple for many of the preachers who attended the Deeper Life conferences scattered around the nation in the 1970’s. There have been times that I have read just a page or so of Ravenhill’s material and found it incredibly rich in preparing my heart and mind for prayer. Particularly helpful a
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Discipline - Without this essential quality, all other gifts remain as dwarfs; they cannot grow. Before we can conquer the world, we must first conquer self.
Vision - Those who have most powerfully and permanently influenced their generation have been "seers" - people who ha e seen more and father than others - persons of faith, for faith is vision.
Wisdom - If knowledge is the accumulation of facts, and intelligence the development of reason, wisdom is heavenly discernment. It is insight into the heart of things. Wisdom involves knowing God and the subtleties of the human heart. More than knowledge, it is the right application of knowledge in moral and spiritual matters, in handling dilemmas, in negotiating complex relationships.
Decision - When all the facts are in, swift and clear decision is the mark of a true leader. A visionary may see, but a leader must decide. An impulsive person may be quick to declare a preference; but a leader must weigh evidence and make his decision on sound premises.[ read more...]
What would an ineffective pastor look like? Here are seven habits of highly ineffective pastors and how you can avoid them.
- Be reactive. Effective people are proactive. They take responsibility for their lives and aren't swayed by their physical or social environments. Being proactive means responding by choices and values, not by emotions or circumstances.
- Focus only on short-term results. A good habit says, "Begin with the end in mind." This attitude will help you keep a heavenly perspective throughout your day-to-day work.
- Do the least important thing first. An effective pastor will look at all the things in his or her life and prioritize them. The people or items at the top of that list will receive the pastor's first and best attention.
- Think win/lose. Truly effective pastors will look for win/win solutions. They find agreements that benefit and satisfy everyone involved. This principle is especially valuable with staff and volunteers.
In a recent study of church growth, the following factors and strategies were noticed as being utilized in growing churches while churches that were declining were not using these principles.
1. Reach out to Newcomers. Focusing on the needs and concerns of newcomers, making inquiry convenient and non-threatening, and allowing people to move at their own pace, characterized the growing churches.
2. Build Member Commitment. While reaching newcomers is most important, the growing churches expected much of members, and active involvement of everyone was sought.
3. Train and Involve Laity. There was always a bold, compelling vision for the congregation’s future as well as ways of equipping and deploying laity drawn to the vision for ministry.
4. Make Bold Plans. Churches with goals and dreams far beyond current ministries and resources were more likely to grow than other churches, all other things being equal.[ read more...]
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: (Philippians 2:5)
"You can think your way to failure and unhappiness, but you can also think your way to success and happiness. The world in which you live is not primarily determined by outward conditions and circumstances but by the thoughts that habitually occupy your mind." -Norman Vincent Peale
Marcus Aurelius said, "A man's life is what his thoughts make of it."
It has been said that the wisest man who ever lived in America was Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Sage of Concord. Emerson declared, "A man is what he thinks about all day long."
If you think you can have revival, you can.
You get what you preach. If you are preaching revival and believe with all of your heart that revival will come, it will come. It will come with God's timing, and He is bound by His word. And His word says that He hears us when we pray. If we are seeking for His will and are sincerely seeking revival for our church and community, it will come. We have to believe!
"But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come." (Mark 4:29)
If you think your church will grow, it will.
If you are praying for your church to grow, it will. If you plant the seed of faith, and water it with prayers and fasting, the church is destined to grow. It is the will of God for the church to grow. This is His church and He wants it to succeed. We have to get our thinking right, get our attitudes straightened up and get on board with what God has in store for us. Rick Warren, in his book A Purpose Driven Church, tells us to not ask the question "Why is the church not growing," but to ask, "What is causing the church to not grow." Whenever we get our thinking on the right path, the church will begin to grow and mature. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth,
"I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase." (1 Cor. 3:6)[ read more...]
Without fail, every time I fly, I am amazed at what I can see from the window of an airplane. Whether it is scenic mountains and lakes or large cities, I love to see the view from above the world.
I live about forty miles from Chicago and I drive the Chicago highways quite frequently. What a horrible mess they are. Often it takes two hours or more to get from one side of the city to the other. Many times I have sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic wondering what the problem is and promising myself that I will never drive that highway again. Yet, when I fly over the city I can see all of the highways at the same time. I can point out all of the trouble spots in just a few moments. I can see the bottlenecks, I can see the accidents. New perspective is gained.
If you have been through Chicago more than once, you have probably heard of the 'Hillside Strangler'. It is a notorious section of highway near the town of Hillside where two interstates and a road merge into a single lane to enter the Eisenhower Expressway. It has long been dubbed one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the world. It will literally stop you dead in your tracks where you won't be able to move for a long, long time. A few years ago they spent over a 100 million dollars to fix the problem. They widened the entrance to three lanes. However, after all of the time and money they spent to fix this, the traffic flow is only slightly better. People are just as frustrated as before. When you see this area from above, you can see that the congestion has only been pushed further east. The problem is easily seen from the sky, three lanes are not enough for this traffic merger, and they need more lanes stretched out over more distance. The estimated cost to rebuild this section of highway is now well over one billion dollars.
It is amazing how crystal clear the answers are when seen from above. The perspective one can receive from the skies is like receiving new revelation.
During a time of terrible persecution and uncertainty, the Apostle John was banished to the Isle of Patmos. There was no way out. Facing the darkest hours of his life, John had many questions on his heart. He couldn't think his way out. He couldn't see his way out. Though he lived to an old age there, he didn't know he would do so at the time.
However, Jesus knew some things John didn't know. Jesus was about to invite John up into the heavens. Jesus wanted to give John some new perspective and some fresh insight.[ read more...]
Understand the value of your time. In the corporate world, managers are encouraged to assess the actual dollar value of their time. This helps the person and their staff understand that time equals money. As much as the church is not focused on money as the corporate world is, a minister should understand that his time is very valuable and it is limited.
Invest your time wisely. Understand that you only have so much time to invest in a given ministry, project or person. Make the best use of it. Don’t allow distractions or other people’s agendas to keep you from staying on track. A minister should be allowed the same courtesy as any other professional when it comes to his time.
Think of your time like you think of your money. You would never think of investing your money unwisely or just wasting it on every person would ask you for it. You would consider wisely where it should be spend and on who. Time is more valuable than your money, invest it wisely.
Set aside time each day to prioritize the demands on your time. Yes, you should be allowed to decide how your time should be spent. Prioritizing the demands of your time will allow you to spend time in areas where it is most needed and where the greatest return will come from it.[ read more...]
Balance in life does not come naturally. For many of us, our lives are lived in extremes. Incredible things happen when ministry and life are lived at their fullest. The problem however, is that when one area of our life is lived at an extreme, the others become out of balance.
Spending larger amounts of time in one area causes the other areas of our life to become anemic. Few vocations understand this more than the ministry. Our dedication to God and commitment to His church often cause us to have an imbalanced allocation of energy and time resources. Sadly, our families are too often the benefactors of the lessor of the imbalance.
Someone once said, “Time waits for no one!” How true! We really do only have one life and one chance at making the moments of every single day of that life count. Moments that are divided between our jobs, families and ministries. Moments that we will never get back. Moments that turn hours into days. Days into years and years into lifetimes.
- How do you manage all those moments?
- What are the priorities that you have set to budget those precious moments?
- What rules have you put into place to guard the distribution of those moments?
- Is your life so frenzied that you really have no idea who should get the best of “you”?
It's not unusual to feel stuck, trapped, and unable to move from a situation you feel is stifling. Actually, it's part of life and growth. But getting "stuck in" and "growing through" situations are different. Here are some ways to shift from one to the other.
- Step back and ask yourself what's really going on. When you're caught up in the stuff of everyday life, it's easy to lose objectivity. It's good to set aside a little time each day to challenge the obviousness of what seems to be going on. Is there a lesson to be learned that you are missing? Might that setback really be a step forward? Will things really turn out as badly as you think they will?
- Consider whether what's happening has happened before. Is this a unique situation or is it just another example in different garb, of an issue you've failed to confront before? If it's the latter, maybe now's the time to solve it and move on.
- Assume that present events and circumstances may be less of a "problem" than parts of a larger "process." There's a fair case to be made for the notion that, in this life, all is process rather than result. In other words, what this life is really about is growth and learning. Viewed in this light, where you're heading is not as important as how you choose to get there.
- Ask yourself what you can do next. It's the small steps that lead to successful journeys. Don't get sucked in by the suggestion that you've got to solve it all today.
Few people will deny the theory that a local church stops growing as the size of the church building reaches 80% capacity. The reason for this is purely human and not so spiritual. Most people simply will not tolerate feeling crowded in the pews. Using chairs instead of pews helps this problem somewhat, but eventually the congregants feel like their space is being invaded and soon become uncomfortable.
However, this is not the biggest reason for a church's lack of growth or the reaching of certain size and then growth stopping.
We use the analogy that a fish will only grow to a certain size in a small fish bowl but in a larger pond for instance, the fish can grow much larger. I’m not so sure however, that God’s church should so easily be compared to a fish. I suggest that the building however, is not necessarily the problem in most cases. In fact, we have all seen churches who were literally bursting out at the seams. In many parts of the world today, revival is happening at an unprecedented rate. Pews are packed and chairs are in the aisles. Some churches are utilizing 2-3 services per day to accommodate the crowds.
While it is true that most people don’t like to be in a crowded atmosphere, it is also true that people will come when they are being fed. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me Peter?” Peter responded in the affirmative and when he did, our Lord told him to “Feed my sheep.” He did not tell Peter to house them or get them plenty of exercise. He told him to “Feed Them."[ read more...]