What is intercedewith.me?

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I’m so excited to announce (at least here on my blog) the launch of a new social prayer website, intercedewith.me. Here is the “about” information from the website:

First Assembly DeLand is passionate about equipping the Church with tools for building a life of prayer in each individual believer’s heart, a house of prayer in each believer’s home, and a culture of prayer in each partner ministry. The frenzy of modern life makes it hard to sustain a secret life in God. To that end, we built intercedewith.me to help you build prayer into your daily life. Visit the site whenever you find yourself with a free moment – in line, on your lunch break, in the evenings before you turn on the TV – and take some time to engage in prayer with the current focus.

Intercedewith.me is the brain child of my good friend Mark, our pastor, and myself. We have been trying for years to get a greater amount of people at our church to pray. We’ve experimented with many different things and while some people did engage, we realized that some people saw “prayer times” as a special service or an elitist thing to do. Many people didn’t see it as something practical or something that they could do at anytime or anywhere. We were praying and thinking of ways to help and teach our church to pray throughout the day. We wanted to show them that prayer is for everyone and doesn’t have to be hours long to be effective. I’ve talked before how, sometimes, 15 second prayers, prayed throughout the day, are better than a whole hour once a day. It’s all about constant communication and conversation.

It was in that heart that intercedewith.me was birthed. Mark had an idea of making a online, mobile-friendly site where people from all over could engage with a prayer focus and, if they wanted to, leave prayers about the prayer focus on the site. It was an amazing idea and something that I’ve never seen done before. While people are waiting in line at the grocery store, they can open the website on their phones, hear/see the prayer focus, and engage in prayer in their heart and online….all while still in line! We added the ability where people can also share the prayer focus and/or their prayers with their friends on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

As a designer, I understand the opportunity cost to the things we attempt to do. The theory is if we make something easy enough, people are more likely to do it. While praying does involve time, focus, and attention, intercedewith.me is not meant to replace a believer’s personal prayer life. Rather, it is to boost and encourage their prayer life by stirring their faith and passion as they join with others believers in prayer, just like corporate worship times should boost our desire to worship at home.

I encourage you to check the site out and engage with us as we pray throughout the week for different issues. You can follow us on Facebook or Twitter to see when a new prayer focus is posted.

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Four Scriptures To Pray Over America

Praying for a nation and for God’s will can sometimes be a little tricky. You don’t want to pray that God will bless your nation with abundance when they are rebelling against God. Yet you also want to stand in the gap and pray against judgment and that God in His mercy will draw people to Him. So what do you do?

You can never go wrong praying from the Bible for something. When we pray the Bible, we are praying the will of God.

This is important. The Bible tells us God’s heart and by praying it we are appealing to God for what He already wants.

Here are my four favorite scriptures that I pray over America. They can also be applied to any nation. I have italicized the parts I really focus on.

O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2 ESV)

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28 ESV)

Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you! Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men! (Psalm 9:19-20 ESV)

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:10-22 ESV)

Worship = Intercession = Our #1 Priority

What is a worship team’s first and main responsibility: engaging with God or leading people?

This question is probably the greatest and most argued question in the Christian worship world. Many sermons, commentaries and conferences spend their time debating whether worship teams and leaders should make their main focus seeking God or whether they should focus on the congregation they’re leading.

Before I try to answer this question, we must talk about the three kinds of worshipers that come to a church every service:

The white-hot worshiper

This is the person that comes to each service ready and prepared to worship. These worshipers are what I call “the worship team encouragers.” They are passionate, alive and in love with Jesus and whether they physically express it in their praise to God, their heart is engaging with God before the first note is played or sung.

The “smoking flax” worshiper

This is the person that comes to a service a bit unfocused and distracted or a little cold of heart and lacking in passion. This person will usually engage in worship by the end of the worship set, it just takes several songs before they’re heart comes alive. These people love Jesus greatly, but they struggle choosing to push through the worries, troubles and pressures of their lives in order to worship corporately.

The cold-hearted or unsaved

This is the person who either does not know Jesus or is so cold feeling towards Him. They come to church services either out of duty or to soothe their conscience. They may like or not like the music, the lights, sermon, songs, but regardless of what their opinions are, their hearts are unengaged.

(Note: It is not our job to judge what category each person that comes to church is in. We only need to be aware of the different categories for the sake of planning and prayer.)

Now upon looking at these three types of worshipers, we must ask what is the solution and answer for all three types. What is the answer for encouraging white-hot worshipers, re-igniting “smoking flax” worshipers and birthing love into those who are cold or unsaved? Lights aren’t the answer. New songs with driving guitars isn’t the answer. Using the best skill and talent available isn’t the answer. The only thing that can engage all three types of worshipers is the presence of God. Only an encounter with the Lord can encourage, re-ignite and break through to the heart of all types of worshipers.

Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8 ESV)

There’s a powerful thing that happens when we worship and draw near to God (whether indivdually or corporately). The Bible says that God draws near to us. His presence comes close to our hearts. The God who is a consuming fire, the fountain of joy and the healing balm comes close to us, engages and ministers to us when we worship Him. People who are struggling with addictions, shame or a host of other issues are set free when God draws near.

When a congregation seems not to be stirred to love and worship, the most loving/merciful thing a worship team can do is to love God without reserve; a love that removes all hinderances and distractions and focuses on God. Why? Because even if the worship team are the only ones truly loving God that service, God will still draw near to the entire congregation. That’s why we say in our church:

Worship is the highest form of intercession.

When we lead worship (instead of following people’s emotions for that service), we are reaching out to God asking Him to come and minister and touch His people. We are asking for the rain of the love of God to come and soften the hearts of His people to receive the Word that is to be preached that service. We are standing in the gap for those who are bound and can’t cry out for themselves.

I believe that you can focus on people during worship and still worship God as long as we are not taking ques from the congregation concerning how passionate we should be. Whether or not the congregation is stirred, we should give God our all, because after all is said and done, we are ministering to an audience of One. Our greatest hope and prayer should be that as we worship God with all that we are, He would draw near not only to us, but to all those who are following us. That is our #1 cry, hope and focus.

Help To Better End A Fast

This is a follow-up post to Help To Better Fast. I believe that fasting can change people, cities and even nations. That said, I believe it’s what we do after the fast ends that brings about the longterm difference. I consider seasons of fasting to be like a powerful conference — God can speak to you during it, you can feel moved, dreams can be reawakened, but if you don’t follow through after it’s all over then it’s been little of actual value for the long run. These are just a few practical things and a few spiritual things to make sure your fast is as effective in the long run as it was in the short run.

Don’t binge

Practically speaking, this means that if you haven’t eaten food for over 3 days then you should take it slow. If you haven’t ate anything for a week or so, don’t try eating steak right away, no matter how good it smells. I promise you it will be painful later, if not dangerous. Start off with bread, soup and salad. This is why Olive Garden is my favorite place to end a fast. The soup, salad and breadsticks combo is filling yet safe to eat.

Spiritually speaking, this means that you should not try to make up all your lost time by binging on media, food, or other things that you were fasting. Especially with longer fasts, you have trained yourself to eat and live a certain way. Do your best to keep the godly parts of that.

No spiritual vacations

Tailing off the end of point one, it is imperative that you decide not to take any spiritual time off after the fast is over. The few weeks after a fast is over, when the flesh is regaining it’s normal strength, are the most important to cement habits and practices you established when your flesh was weak during fasting. I encourage you to strive to keep your same prayer and devotional schedule the same as it was while you were fasting till it becomes a normal day to day habit and something ingrained into your life.

Fast again (and regularly)

Fasting should be a regular spiritual discipline in our lives. It’s a excellent way to keep our hearts and spirits in check and to make sure we’re not slipping into apathy or coldness of heart. I encourage you to plan and schedule your next fasting time before you end your current fast. I say this cause your spirit will look forward to it but your flesh will fight it tooth and nail once you end your fast. I know that most people are more quick to say “we should fast more” at the end of the fast than they are a week later. Schedule your fasting time and stick to it.

If you don’t know when to fast, pray and ask God when you should. He may call you to something weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. I highly encourage a few continual days of fasting every month at least. Again, this helps makes sure that every month we’re evaluating our hearts in the place of prayer and fasting. We ought to do it more than once a month, but monthly is better than never doing it.

For those monthly fasts, I highly encourage you to join the Global Bridegroom Fast (GBF). The fast is held the first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of every month during the months of January to November, and the first Monday through Sunday of December, making a total of forty days of fasting each year. You can find out more information about the fast here.

Surround yourself with prayer

Decide to keep the atmosphere in your house and your life acclimatized to prayer. Choose to make sure your friendships and relationships are those who pray and who encourage you to pray in return. I also encourage you to start listening/watching the IHOP (International House of Prayer) 24/7 Prayer Stream. It’s free and it’s a way to use your speakers and/or TV in a way that’s not going to numb your spirit to God. You can view it free here.

Start a Bible study

Finally, the last thing I would suggest to make sure you don’t waste your fasting after you end your fast is to start a Bible study. This can be by yourself or it can be with your spouse, your family or a group of friends. The point of this is to move past the point you are during the fast, that you would grow after you fast not just during it. There are many great personal Bible studies. I personally recommend any from Beth Moore or Mike Bickle (free!). Many of these can be adapted for a small group. I also recommend doing any from John Piper as a group study (especially his Seeing & Savoring Jesus Christ DVD/book study). At the same time, sometimes the best thing to do is get together, open the Bible and pray and talk about it. Decide that you want to know Jesus better before the next fast and this will make sure that your fasting propels you somewhere deep in God.

Help to Better Fast

A couple weeks ago I wrote on Help To Better Pray.  I felt it might be helpful to post a few thoughts and helpful tips regarding seasons of fasting in general.

Biblically, there is one main way to fast and that is to fast everything but water. When the Bible talks about fasting, it is usually talking about a water-only fast. The Esther Fast (no food, no water) was only done once in the Bible and was done in light of a coming holocaust. Many people talk about doing a Daniel Fast, but there is no mention that what Daniel and his friends did was a fast. Though in some ways what they did was fast, the Bible never calls it a fast. The reason I’m bringing this up is that many take the easy way out by deciding to do a Daniel Fast.

The main reason why we fast is to create hunger in our hearts for God by making our flesh uncomfortably weak.

In your Christian walk, you will realize that the quickest way to stir up hunger and longing for God is to deny your flesh food. When our flesh is weak, our spirits become strong. A second reason why we fast is for discernment. The more we starve our flesh, the clearer we hear from God.

In reality, when it comes to fasting, there are only a few things that are required:

  1. Do whatever God tells you to do.
    If God tells you to fast by only eating vegetables, then do it. If He doesn’t tell you any particulars, don’t wimp out. Fast like the Bible says to.
  2. Fast only what is doctor-approved and authority-approved (parents/pastors/doctors).
    If “God told you” to not drink water for a week, your doctor, parents and pastors will tell you that you didn’t hear from God. These checks are there for our good.
  3. Avoid media and other time-wasting activities.
    If we’re not careful we dullen our spirits and hunger by consuming crumbs and trash from media. Do you best while fasting to spend as much time with God as you can. There’s always time to go to the beach, shopping or to watch that TV show.
  4. Seek God.
    If we hold back food from our flesh but don’t seek God, we’re not fasting, we’re dieting.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of your fasting time.

Practical Tips

Overcome the first 72 hours

When doing an extended fast, whether 7 days, 21 days or 40 days (or longer), the hardest part of the fast is the first 72 hours. It is the time that the body realizes it’s not getting it’s normal diet and lifestyle. This can begin some slight pains both physically, mentally or emotionally (such as hunger, boredom, loneliness, etc). It is important to remember that all these things are fleeting. Your body will adjust after the few days. I find myself at the end of the fast wanting to continue the fast instead of ending it, but those first few days can be killer. Remember to see the light at the end of the tunnel and keep praying for grace. You’ll make it.

I will say to expect free food during the fast. Also expect your favorite shows or movies to appear while your fasting media. There’s something about fasting that draws people and media to tempt you in every way, but be strong. The Lord loves our seeking Him!

Buy mints and gum

This point sounds silly, but trust me, your breath will reek after a day of fasting. Help yourself out and buy some mints and gum. Another benefit is that you trick your stomach into thinking you’re eating if you chew gum. I’ve had major stomach pains lighten up simply by chewing a piece of gum.

Drink water

On a water only fast, I think the hardest thing to do is to drink water. After about a day, I begin hating water. I feel sick of it. It is  incredibly important to keep drinking it. The average person should be drinking 3-4 liters of water a day. Force yourself to drink or you will become dehydrated.

Suspend exercising

I advise suspending exercising while fasting if you’re only drinking water. It’s not healthy to work out your body without feeding it. You will force your body to start eating muscle, and your heart is the most vital muscle in your body. Don’t mess with it. Doing this opens the door to anorexia and bulimia.

Spiritual Tips

This is a fast, not a diet

It’s so easy to start thinking about how to lose weight while we’re not eating. Resist the temptation to think that way. It will turn your fast from a spiritual act into a carnal one. Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Pray during the fast

This may sound like an obvious point, but I find it amazing how many times I’ve fasted and I rarely ever pray. I’ll read the Bible some but I’ll seldomly enter the place of prayer during this time. There is a tendency while fasting to focus on the hunger (or whatever it is you’re fasting) instead of focusing that attention and time to God in prayer. I also think that we try to bear the fasting “burden” ourselves thinking that God will call us a wimp if we approach Him complaining or speaking how we’re hungry. This is not how God thinks. He is moved that we desire Him enough to put away things we enjoy to better seek Him and better stir our heart to love Him. If we pray for grace and strength when we are struggling in our fast, He will gladly give it. Use this fasting time to speak and pray to Him more. Let it stir you to seek Him longer and more regularly.

Remember the phrase “in secret”

The phrase “in secret” comes from Matthew 6:16-18:

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Jesus states that fasting is something done in the privacy of your life. Our fasting time should be between the Lord and us. There is no need to proclaim what sacrifices we are making for the Lord. Neither should we look all depressed and hurting during the fast. This can be a little challenging especially if you’re fasting all food for the first time; the hunger pain can be quite intense for the first few days. Regardless, Jesus calls us to be joyful, keeping our fasting secret to all but Him. (Note: As a husband, the only one besides Jesus who knows what I’m fasting is my wife. We fast together as one flesh. Also I highly encourage all children and youth to tell their parents what they are fasting, if they are.) If hiding the discomfort of fasting from others seems too hard, then pray (point #1) that God would give you grace and joy to fast.

It’s about love, not legalism

If you don’t make it and you cave into your desires for food or entertainment, don’t stop! Remember, the act of fasting is not about the human will trying to prove itself to God. It’s about love. It’s not about legalism. Reject any lie that tells you that you’ve ruined the fast and that God is disappointed with you. Pick yourself up and continue fasting and seeking Him. The Lord delights in us. He remembers that we are weak and that we stumble and fall and He rejoices when we get back up and continue to do that which we originally set our hearts towards.

Help To Better Pray

I decided to post some quick points and resources to help people pray, particularly for my church during this 28 day prayer initiative we’re in.

Pray 15-30 second prayers.

The point of prayer is not to give God a laundry list of things to do. It is two-way communication. It is intimacy. It is relationship. The point of praying is connecting and talking to God for the entire day, not just a hour in the morning. Try praying a quick 15 second prayer every time you think about it. Put notes around you so that you are reminded to pray these short prayers. Here is an example of a 15 second prayer:

Jesus, I pray for my church. I ask that you would pour out Your Spirit upon us. I pray that right now You would reveal Yourself to every member and every leader. Speak to their hearts and encourage them with Your love.

Praying quick prayers like that out loud or under your breath will keep your heart engaged with God throughout the day — and that is the point of prayer. It will train you to pray more and longer. It will also keep you connected to the Spirit to hear what He speaks to you. 15-30 second prayers will change your life completely if you do it consistenly.

Pray the Bible.

James says that we don’t have answers to our prayers cause we pray amiss, asking for our own selfish desires instead of what’s on the heart of God. When we pray the Word, we are assured we are praying the perfect will of God. Take a portion of Scripture and apply it to what you’re praying for. Here is an example prayer for the lost in the city using John 3:16 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1:

Father, You love all the world. You love the lost. You desire none to perish but all to believe in Jesus Your Son. I pray that Your Word would run swiftly in the city, that as Jesus is preached, You would convict hearts and bring them to salvation. Make people’s hearts tender to receive You I pray in Jesus name.

Here is what I advise doing when starting to pray:

Pray in the Spirit.

This is something that I find myself neglecting in prayer. I have a tendency to think of tongues as something used just for corporate prophecy, but it is primarily a tool for prayer. There is nothing that will engage and focus your heart to seek God and pray like praying in tongues. If you are not filled with the Spirit, ask the Lord to baptize you with this gift. He loves you and desires for all His children to have it. After you ask for the gift of tongues, open your mouth in faith and start speaking.

There are also times where we run out of words to pray or we don’t know what to pray for a certain focus. The Bible says that during these times, His Spirit prays through us the perfect will of God. He does this through tongues, groanings and utterings.

I hope this has helped equip you to better engage with God in the place of prayer.

The Christmas Bear: 10 Years Later

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The year was 2000. I was 16 and had just come back from the original CallDC rally a few months earlier. There were a couple dozen of us who went and came back truly transformed. It wasn’t hype or a spiritual high, it was a complete spiritual overhaul. We came back changed and longing for God.

That Christmas, I decided to make a prophetic statement and pray a prayer of faith. I went to Walmart and bought over 20 of their $5 Christmas bears (see picture). With no explanation of what it meant, I gave a bear to each of my friends that year who were close to me and who were seeking God passionately.

My prayer (and what the bears symbolized) was that 10 years from that time I wanted to see everyone that got a bear still passionate after God. I didn’t want them to *just* still be going to church or saying they’re a Christian. I wanted them to still be as on fire (if not more) as were were 10 years ago around Christmas.

As the years went by, some friends moved away and some stayed. Some became rooted in ministry and some waned in their spiritual walk. But every year I would look at that Christmas bear (which I never packed away but kept in my room) and prayed and believed God that my prayers and desire would become true.

So here we are, 10 years later. I forget some people who I gave the bears to and others I remember. It’s been a beautiful time remembering these people and friends and seeing them with God even after a hard decade. I am truly grateful at God’s love and mercy, cause it’s only His grace that has kept us. Even the ones that are away from God right now, no one has died from the group. He is still merciful cause there is still time.

So if you have a bear, take a moment and (1) thank God for keeping you regardless of your spiritual place with God and (2) think of your bear and let it move you closer to Him.

I love each of you and thank God for you. The light is always on and the party inside is always going…come what may. 🙂