Sermons

This is a collection of Michael White’s sermons, from CityLIght Church in New York City.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 10/28/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

The Holy Spirit in You

When you gave your life to Jesus, God gave you His Holy Spirit as a guarantee:

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. – 2 Cor 1:20-21

His Holy Spirit is a guarantee that when you die, you are going to Heaven to be with Jesus (see John 14:1-5). His Holy Spirit is also a guarantee that while you are still alive, you will live a supernatural life.

You are filled with the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead!

The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead gives life to your mortal body – Romans 8:11

That means you get to pray the same prayers Jesus prayed – heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons (Matt 10:8) – and expect exactly the same results!

If you believe in Jesus, you already have His Holy Spirit in you. But did you know there is more?

There Is More

There is an experience that is separate and distinct from salvation called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Here is the best way I know how to explain it.

Imagine I have two sponges. They are both the same brand, and brand new: completely identical right out of the packaging. Now imagine I take one of those sponges and leave it out on the counter for several days. It will still be a sponge! But it will be bone dry. Imagine, on the other hand, I take another one of those sponges and submerge it in a giant bucket of water. Picture the sponge coming up out of the water, absolutely dripping. It is now soaking wet. Wherever that sponge goes, it leaves a trail of moisture. I can’t use the first (dry) sponge to clean anything; but I can use the second (wet) sponge to take care of business!

This is the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Every believer has the Holy Spirit in him/her; but not every believer chooses (or even knows to choose!) to be baptized in His presence. Some of us are walking around – bone dry – wondering why we don’t feel the presence of God, and why our prayers aren’t effective. Others are so saturated with His presence that we leave a trail of His glory everywhere we go!

Here is what Scripture says about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. We are going to work through the Book of Acts, and the examples will get more concrete as we go. The first several Scriptures will illustrate our invitation to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. The remaining Scriptures will show us how to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 6, as the church was multiplying, the early church leaders needed help:

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” – Acts 6:1-4

The church leaders needed people who would be powerful and effective. So here are the qualifications they asked for in potential employees: “Seek out…seven men…full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (v 3). Full of the Holy Spirit.

If there was no such thing as the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the early church leaders would have simply said, “Any Christian will do!” But they didn’t; they specified they needed men who were full of the Holy Spirit. If we all had as much of the Holy Spirit as we would ever receive at the moment we got saved, their search would have been over. But it wasn’t; they needed men who were full of the Holy Spirit.

And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. – Acts 6:5-7

Don’t you want to be used by God like that? Don’t you want to be a believer who not only has the Holy Spirit in you, but also has the Holy Spirit working through you?

The Apostle Paul, writer of 13 out of 27 books in the New Testament, knew the importance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit:

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” – Acts 19:1-2

This – by the way – is where a lot of the church is today! We believe in Jesus, but we’re not so sure about the Holy Spirit. We get nervous whenever anybody talks about Him. We’re worried the Holy Spirit will make us fall on the floor, laugh a little too hard, or do something weird! So we stay in our dry Christian lifestyle, instead of pursuing the greater things God has for us!

And [Paul] said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all. – Acts 19:3-7

Look at this progression. These were already believers. They had already been baptized “into John’s baptism” (v 3). They knew they were sinners in need of a Savior, but they didn’t know where to go from there. So, Paul baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus.

But he didn’t stop there! There was still more God wanted them to have! So Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied!

Wow! Have you ever spoken in tongues? Have you ever prophesied? If the answer is no, there is more God wants you to have! He wants you to be baptized in His Holy Spirit: speaking in tongues, and prophesying!

The word “upon[1]” (v 6, above) is the same preposition used at Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:16. Jesus was already fully God! He didn’t need to repent of any sin. Yet something powerful still happened at His baptism.

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. – Matt 3:16

God wants you to be saturated in His presence in exactly the same way! So why would you stop short of everything He wants you to have?

The Day of Pentecost

The early church was filled with the Holy Spirit as they sat in the upper room:

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4

They already believed in Jesus! They had already repented of their sins! But before they went out and did what God called them to do (Luke 24:49), they needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came, and they spoke in tongues!

Do you know what I find most encouraging about all this? Scripture says the Holy Spirit came. He descended like a dove (Matt 3:16) upon Jesus. Then He rushed in from Heaven on the early church (Acts 2, above). And after He came, He never left! Scripture never speaks of the Holy Spirit withdrawing His presence from the church: the body of Jesus Christ! He’s still here! And He wants you to let Him in to your life!

As the Gospel spread, so did the baptism in the Holy Spirit:

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 8:14-19

Again, here was a group of disciples who had received the word of God. They believed in Jesus! Yet the Holy Spirit “had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v 16)! They were already saved! But there was more God wanted them to have. So God used Peter and John to get them baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Note that Simon saw something (v 18)! That means that when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, something happened. There was a dead giveaway that these people were no longer the same.

Final example:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” – Acts 10:44-47

When Peter preached, the Holy Spirit fell! Nobody had to lay hands on anyone at all! They spoke in tongues, and then they were baptized in water.

Here’s what we have seen in all these examples:

1) The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate and distinct experience from salvation. These were believers: people who already believed in Jesus. Yet God wanted them to have more!

2) There was evidence. As people received the Holy Spirit, they spoke in tongues. Simon (Acts 10:18) was not even a believer; yet he saw something that was evidence of the power of God being poured out on the people present.

Speaking in Tongues

Speaking in tongues is the Scriptural evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. That statement brings about a very logical question: Can I be baptized in the Holy Spirit if I don’t speak in tongues?

I was baptized in the Holy Spirit over a decade ago. I came up for prayer after a Friday night service. Someone prayed over me, and nothing happened. But I didn’t give up. I didn’t lose hope! The following Sunday, I was sitting in my seat at church during worship, and the pastor said, “Start speaking in your heavenly language.” I opened my mouth, and tongues came out!

I remember praying for a young woman in our church to be baptized in the Holy Spirit several years ago. She came up for prayer after service and asked for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I laid my hands on her and started to pray. But half-way through the prayer, I heard the Holy Spirit say, Stop. So I stopped. I said “Amen,” and asked her to return to her seat. She was puzzled. Heck, I was puzzled! Why wouldn’t God want us to contend for the baptism in the Holy Spirit then and there, in that moment? Minutes later, I looked over at her: she was laughing and speaking in tongues! How good is God?!

How many of us get discouraged because we pray for the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but we’re afraid nothing is going to happen! Don’t let fear of what is (or isn’t) going to take place keep you from having everything God wants you to have! Sometimes healing happens in an instant; other times healing takes time to unfold. We should always pray for the instant miracle, yet leave room for God to do a gradual work if that is the path He chooses! Why should praying in tongues be any different?

Also, remember that speaking in tongues is evidence; it’s not the main event! Tongues is like the receipt you get at a store. You don’t go to buy a receipt; you go to buy something else! Yet your receipt is evidence, in the event that anyone ever calls your former purchase into question.

There will be moments when Satan tries to lie to you, and tell you that you haven’t been baptized in the Holy Spirit. And that is when you open your mouth, and start speaking in tongues.

If you don’t speak in tongues right away, don’t get discouraged. Keep pressing in. Keep asking. Don’t give up! It might happen right away. We’ll pray for it to happen right away! But it might also take some time. And we have to be okay with that.

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for [e]bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” – Lk 11:9-13

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] Greek epi, Strong’s G1909

God Knows Everything

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘God Knows Everything’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 9/23/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

God Knows Everything

God knows everything. Long before you were born, He set the universe in motion. He “…measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven with a span, and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure. [He] weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance” (Isaiah 40:12). If God created the universe, and everything in it, can’t you trust Him to know the intricate details of your life?

He knows what you need. He knows how to provide for you! He knows what you need to hear. He knows what to say to you! He knows your every thought. He has the hairs on your head numbered (Lk 12:7)! He knew you – even when you were dead in sin – and made you alive together with Christ (Eph 2:5). He knows everything you’ve ever done wrong; and He loves you just the same!

God knows everything.

I recently attended a lunch for New York City pastors. A group of us get together once per month to reflect on ministry in New York City, and to encourage each other. This week, one of our crew was particularly stressed. He mentioned how unreasonable the demands placed on a pastor are. “I’m supposed to be a preacher, a counselor, a financial manager…and so much more. How am I supposed to do all that?”

My heart immediately went out to him. The demands of a pastor certainly are unique: we’re expected to be a Bible scholar, a community leader, an organizational leader, and many times an author too! But his question stuck with me. “How am I supposed to do all that?”

Here is the answer I came up with: You are not supposed to do all that. You are simply supposed to know that God can do all that.

God knows everything. If He really knows everything, that means there is no challenge for which He is not prepared; and if His Holy Spirit really lives in you (Rom 8:11), that means there is no challenge for which you are not prepared!

Some of the greatest victories I’ve ever experienced in life came from moments in which I felt completely unqualified to do what God asked me to do. Here is what the Apostle Paul learned as he trusted and relied on God:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – Phil 4:13

The same promise stands for you! When you lean on God like never before, He will move through you like never before.

So, what challenges are you facing? What potential victories lie ahead of you? Are you ready to trust God like never before?

Joseph and Pharaoh

On paper, Joseph was unqualified for his destiny. He was a dreamer: an ex-con who had been accused of rape. Yet God promoted him to be second-in-command over all Egypt. Do you know why?

When Pharaoh had a dream, he needed someone to tell him what it meant. Pharaoh dreamt about “seven cows” (Gen 41:2), and “seven heads of grain” (Gen 41:5). The dream was bad, and “his spirit was troubled” (Gen 41:7). So “he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men…but there was no one who could interpret…for Pharaoh” (Gen 41:8).

But then Pharaoh called Joseph:

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.” So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” – Gen 41:14-16

Look at Joseph’s attitude: “It is not in me; [but] God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” What a response! I don’t know how to do it, but God does! I can’t do it, but God can!

This was a huge break for Joseph! God was giving him an opportunity he might never see again! But Joseph didn’t fall for the trap that he had to know how to handle it himself. He knew that if He simply leaned on God like never before, God would work through Him like never before!

God knows everything. Joseph leaned on God for understanding, and God told him exactly what he needed to know. He gave Pharaoh an interpretation of his dream (see vv 25-32). Then, he told Pharaoh exactly how he should respond:

“Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine.” – Gen 41:33-36

God wanted to bless Joseph. In fact, He wanted to bless all of Egypt for Joseph’s sake. But first Pharaoh needed a lesson in financial planning. God would bless him with seven years of increase to prepare him for seven years of famine.

Without God, Pharaoh would have blown all the increase. He would have spent all the money as it came in! But God knew exactly what he needed. God showed him what was coming, so he could properly save.

It all started because of Joseph’s humble posture to rely on God. You see, Joseph understood something you and I should understand: even though he didn’t have all the answers, he knew that God does. And what was the fruit of his relying on God, instead of trying to figure it out himself? Promotion.

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” – Gen 41:39-41

The more you rely on God, the more He will promote you! If you feel completely unqualified to do what He’s asked you to do: that’s ok! In fact, that’s encouraged. Take a step out in faith: lean on God, and not your own understanding (see Prov 3:5); and He will promote you to places you never dreamed!

You don’t have to know everything. You just have to know the God who does.

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

God Is Moving!

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘God Is Moving!’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 9/9/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the arrow above.

God Is Moving

God is moving, whether you can see it or not! We all have things we’ve been praying about for years. After contending in prayer for some time, it can be tempting to give up. If we don’t see God moving in response to our prayer requests, we can get discouraged and even walk away! But I’m here this morning to tell you to hang on, because God is moving!

Our church’s Manhattan location meets in a rented space: we’ve rented the basement of a Russian Orthodox Church since 2002. Years ago, the Lord started speaking to us about owning that building. We’ve been through several rounds of the church’s Board inviting us to submit a purchase proposal, only to be told that the Board can’t come to a consensus to sell. It’s been a frustrating process to say the least. Until recently, I had all but forgotten about God’s promise to give us that building; but this week, I had a dream that reminded me: God is moving.

In my dream, the head priest at the church upstairs called me out of the blue. I had taken all plans to buy the building off the table; but he contacted me, completely unsolicited, to ask me if we were still interested in buying the building. We had a long, drawn out conversation for what seemed like hours about how to get his Board on the same page, with everyone willing to sell. Keep in mind that, throughout this whole process, this man has been our biggest opponent; yet in one moment, he had become our biggest advocate.

This was a big reminder from God to never give up on the things He has told me to hope for; to never stop praying for the things He has told me to believe for.

Even If You Don’t See it

God is moving, even if you can’t see it. He is moving, even if it doesn’t seem like it. God is moving, even if you can’t feel it!

There are two types of “words” you can receive from God:

1) The logos is God’s written word. He is speaking to you through His word. As you read through God’s word and see a promise that applies to you, your job is to receive it and appropriate it (i.e. take possession of it).

2) The rhema is God’s spoken word. He will speak to you in prayer. He will speak to you through other people. God’s Holy Spirit is moving; and when He has a message for you, He will find a way to get it to you!

Every word God gives you – whether logos or rhema – is a seed you get to plant into the ground through prayer. It may take time; but eventually that seed will sprout and start to grow. It may take time, but sooner or later the branches will begin to bud and you will start to see fruit!

Here’s where we often get confused with the words God has given us: making the seed grow fast is not your responsibility. Jesus reminded His disciples that there is an element of mystery and unpredictability to the way God’s promises unfold:

And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” – Mk 4:26-29

Positioning yourself to receive God’s promise is important; but making the promise come to pass is not your responsibility!

Look at the language Jesus uses: the seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer “does not know how.” The farmer certainly has responsibilities. First, he has to leave the seed in the ground. If he digs up the seed just to make sure it’s there, he’s not going to get any fruit! If he takes the seed and continually plants it in new ground (i.e. hopping from church to church), he’s not going to get a final product. But if he leaves it in the ground, the earth – the fertile, faith-filled environment into which he has planted – will yield crops “by itself.”

The farmer also has to protect the seed. It is the farmer’s job to make sure pests don’t damage his harvest. When an animal comes in to dig up the seed, his responsibility is to take that animal out. When an animal comes to dig up what’s been planted, his responsibility is to make sure nothing happens!

In your life, the “pest” is most often Satan whispering lies into your ear. You might even have well-meaning friends and family members telling you to move on and forget about the promise! Maybe you heard wrong, they might say. Maybe that’s not for you, they might believe! But your job in those moments is to protect the seed. Keep it in the ground – in an environment of faith – so it can take root and grow!

The Wind of God

Are there areas in your life where it seems like God has stopped moving? Are there seeds God has given you to plant that seem dead in the ground?

Do you remember God’s promise to Moses?

“Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord.’ ” – Exodus 6:6-8

He gave the promise to Moses as seed; but Moses had to protect it. When Pharaoh told Moses no, Moses had to protect it. When the people whined and complained that things were getting worse and not better, Moses had to protect it. Watch what happened when Moses brought God’s people to the edge of the Sea:

And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt?”

And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” – Exodus 14:10-11, 13-14

Moses knew they didn’t have to fight the Egyptians. God had already promised He – not they – would defeat them! But Moses did have to stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.

And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night. – Ex 14:19-20

Here is what God does as you’re waiting for His promise to unfold: He shields your vision. The Angel of God, who had been in front of God’s people, moved and went behind them. God knew His people were anxious. They were looking backward as their enemy chased them, instead of forward as God led them! So he blocked their view. He would not allow them to see the false future the enemy wanted them to believe.

I know this feeling. This past week, our 4-year-old son woke up in the middle of the night, barely breathing. My wife heard him first, and ran to help. I heard him trying to cough and catch his breath, and I was right behind her. We knew something was very wrong: he had had bronchitis before, but nothing like this. I threw on clothes, grabbed our boy, ran to the car and headed for the emergency room.

Two blocks into the drive, I pulled over and dialed 9-1-1. Our son had coughed, and couldn’t catch his breath. Cops pulled up within 60 seconds. The EMS was there one minute later. They immediately hooked him up to a nebulizer and gave him a steroid to open up his airways. The ambulance sped off, and I followed in the car.

When I was in that car, following my barely-breathing son in an ambulance, my mind tried to go to a dark place. You know exactly what I mean: in one moment, you start imagining everything that could go wrong. You start planning out the angry conversations you’re going to have with God if things don’t go your way! I had to make a decision in that moment to take my eyes off of what the enemy was doing, and put them back on what God was doing. God shielded my vision! I had to turn off the doubt and the fear, and put my eyes back on Jesus. I had to protect the seed!

When the enemy is right on your heels, don’t let your mind go into those dark places. God is going to do what He has promised to do! He will keep the promise alive.

One hour later, our son was stable and breathing well. We stayed in the emergency room overnight for observation, and headed home the following morning. God is faithful. He did everything He had promised to do. Our boy – the promise – is happy, healthy, and at home.

You see, even when God’s people didn’t see it, God was moving:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. – Ex 14:21

Before the waters move, the wind blows. Sometimes we get so focused on the water – what has to move – that we miss the wind – what God is doing here and now. If the wind hadn’t blown, the waters wouldn’t have been divided! Are you hearing me?

God is moving. Take a moment to stop and ask Him, “Lord, what are You doing, here and now, in this moment?” Take your eyes off the waves, and open up your heart to the wind. He is moving; but if you keep focusing on what He isn’t doing, you will miss what He is doing! Don’t be so focused on seeing the water move that you can’t feel the wind blow!

So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. – Ex 14:22

God turned the problem into protection. He used the Red Sea – the very thing that seemed like it was blocking God’s people from their destiny – to protect them as they passed through on dry land. He used those same waters to annihilate the enemy.

And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. – Ex 14:27

God Is Moving

Through that dream, I knew God was inviting me to believe in His promise like never before. We will get that building. He will do everything He promised to do. He always has, and He always will.

I woke up from that dream and took out my prayer journal. I started writing down every area in my life where God had given me a promise. I focused on the places where it didn’t feel like He was moving. I repented for my lack of faith. I asked Him to shield my vision: to take my eyes off what the enemy was doing, and put them back on the Cross. Then I prayed, “God, help me to feel the wind.”

God is moving. Can you feel it?

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Trust God Like Never Before

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Trust God Like Never Before’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 8/26/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

Trust God Like Never Before

Do you trust God? Do you know He always has your best interest in mind?

For some of us, it’s easy to trust God. We have a history with Him in which He has demonstrated His faithfulness, so relying on Him for tomorrow’s breakthrough is as easy as reviewing our history with Him.

For others, trusting God is a little more difficult. Perhaps we’re brand new to faith, and feel like we haven’t seen God come through time and time again. We know we’re supposed to trust God; but when we enter into moments where trust is required, for whatever reason it doesn’t happen as naturally as we’d like it to.

When we trust God, we will be blessed:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit. – Jer 17:7-8

Sometimes we wait to trust God until He blesses us. We think to ourselves, I will trust God as soon as He answers my prayer! But Scripture says trusting God is a prerequisite to seeing His continued faithfulness. Do you want to be blessed? Trust God! Hope in Him!

I love the imagery God uses as He speaks through Jeremiah. When we trust God, we will be, “…like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river.” Trusting God makes you firmly planted. Even when life is rushing by at full-speed, those who trust in God will be stable and secure. No matter how fast the river of life flows, trees with good roots don’t get carried away! No matter how crazy life gets, when we trust in God, we will not be moved!

Trusting God causes you to flourish! When you trust God, you have no need to fear. Whoever trusts Him, “…will not fear when heat comes; but [his] leaf will be green.” When heat comes – when you’re afflicted by the trials of life – you will be protected and continue to prosper. When drought comes – feeling like you’re far from God – you will be grounded and continue to flourish! No matter what happens in your life, you will continue to bear fruit!

Here is what will happen when we make a decision to trust God with our whole heart:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. – Prov 3:5-6

Do you trust God with “all your heart?” If not, don’t panic! It’s ok! We’re going to talk about how to get there. Scripture invites us to trust God more than we trust ourselves. When we trust Him – and when we demonstrate that trust with our actions – God will direct our paths. To “direct” is the Hebrew yashar,[1] which means “to make straight.” When we trust God, we won’t waste time moving in the wrong direction. He will shorten and streamline the process from promise to fulfillment when He has our trust!

It’s Hard to Trust God

We know why Scripture says we should trust God. But sometimes trusting God can be difficult. When a new crisis rears its head in our life, trust isn’t always our first response.

Many of us have trust issues. We’ve had people – men and women, young and old – in our lives who have violated (i.e. “breached”) our trust. Once our trust has been violated a handful of times, it gets even harder to develop trust.

When was the last time somebody made a promise to you and couldn’t keep it? In 2014, I wrote a book called Intelligent Charismatic.[2] I finished the book at the beginning of the year, and then started exploring publishing options. In the summer of 2015, I signed a publishing contract with a small Christian publisher. The way God set things up was nothing short of astounding. I was beyond excited, and convinced that contract was exactly what my book needed to be successful.

Yet by early 2016, the book still wasn’t published. What’s more, plans to publish were stalled. The publisher was merging with two other small Christian publishers, and all projects were paused. I started to realize the publisher simply wasn’t going to deliver on the promises and deadlines we had discussed. By the end of 2016, I accepted the reality that I would have to walk away from the deal and pursue other options. My trust had been breached! Someone had made promises to me they could not keep!

I had a choice in that moment: would I recoil from God’s call to publish a book simply because my trust had been broken? Or would I continue to press in and fulfill the mandate He had on my life?

In early 2017, I got the breakthrough I had been praying for. Thomas Nelson – one of the world’s biggest publishers – called me. They wanted to publish my book. The executive who would bring my book to market was wildly successful in the Christian world: he had brought both The Prayer of Jabez and Heaven Is for Real to market. He called me – unsolicited – on a Monday afternoon, and told me to expect another call from him tomorrow. All he had to do was “get some approvals from his team,” and then he would call me back.

When he called me on Tuesday, I was excited to pick up the phone. My life was about to change! But his tone didn’t match my expectations. “Mike, I have some bad news,” he started. “My team doesn’t think it’s time.” It was happening again! My trust had been breached, yet again. Another publisher had made promises to me they could not keep.

I had a choice in that moment: would I recoil from God’s call to publish a book simply because my trust had been broken? Would I convince myself that if God really wanted me to publish a book, He would have made it easy? Or would I continue to press in and fulfill the mandate He had on my life?

The next day, I called that publishing executive back. I asked him what he would do in my shoes. “Mike,” he said, “I would publish the book myself.” He then proceeded to teach me about the in’s and out’s of the publishing process for almost an hour. What had started as a let-down had turned into a crash-course in self-publishing. What had started out looking like a curse had turned into a blessing!

In the summer of 2017, I launched my own publishing company, and published the book myself. I don’t know why those setbacks had to happen, but I do know God made me a writer for a reason. I believe my book has a powerful message that is going to change a generation. I don’t know why everything turned out the way it did; but I knew I had to make a decision: God, I trust You. God, and I know You will perform every promise You have spoken over my life!

The Common Denominator

Who was the last person who made larger-than-life promises to you? We all have something in common: every single one of us has put our trust in someone who has let us down. When our trust is breached, we get hurt.

Here is what typically happens over the course of our lives: we learn through experience that people cannot always be trusted, and our ability to trust people going forward diminishes. Studies have shown that children whose parents are divorced will have a harder time trusting people as adults.[3] When we see that people can’t keep promises as children, we assume the trend will continue when we become adults. Then, once we grow up, constant breaches of trust ingrain the notion that people are untrustworthy. As another example: going through a divorce as an adult reduces the trust you place in other people, as well as the trust you place in institutions.[4]

Here’s the rub: from childhood into adulthood, we have repeated experiences that ingrain the notion that people cannot be trusted. Instead of entering into trusting relationships, we avoid them because we assume we’re going to get hurt! We all crave trust; but instead of learning to trust again, we recoil! Tragically, we get so used to having our trust breached by other people, that by the time we come to God, our heart has been broken so many times, we just assume an inevitable moment is coming when God will let us down.

But God is not a man:

“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” – Num 23:19

Other people will fall, fail, and come up short; but God will never let you down!

God Has Done It

Throughout history, God shows us that He has done everything He promised to do. He promised to make Abraham a “great nation” (Gen 12:2), and then He did it. He promised to lead His people out of captivity (Ex 14), and then He did it. He promised to “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, [and] cast out demons” (Matt 10:8), and then He did it!

Think about this: since the beginning of human existence, God had promised His people a Messiah. He told them a Man was coming, who would erase their pain, and take away the sin of the world! In Old Testament Scripture, there are 127 Messianic predictions involving more than 3,000 Bible verses, with 574 verses referring directly to a personal Messiah![5]

Everyone was waiting for God to do what He had promised to do! People didn’t know exactly what the Promise was going to look like; but they knew He was coming! And 2,000 years ago, do you know what God did?

He did exactly what He said He was going to do, from the very beginning:

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. – Lk 2:1-7

In 33 years of life and only 3 years of earthly ministry, Jesus fulfilled every single promise God had ever made. God’s people had to wait a little longer than they expected for Jesus to arrive. Jesus didn’t have the “royal” pedigree that many priests and scribes expected Him to have! But God did it.

So what are you trusting God for? What are you believing God for? Do you believe He will do everything He promised to do? It might take a little longer than you expect. The answer to your prayers might look a little different than you planned! But “God is not a man, that He should lie!” He’s going to do it, in Jesus’ name!

Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. 2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. – Psalm 37:1-5

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] Strong’s H3474

[2] https://amzn.to/2wfYot0

[3] King, V. “Parental Divorce and Interpersonal Trust in Adult Offspring.” Journal of Marriage and Family. 19 Feb 2004. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2002.00642.x

[4] https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/surviving_betrayal

[5] Payne, J.B. Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy.

Praying in Faith

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Praying in Faith’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 7/22/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

This is seventh installment of a series on prayer preached at CityLight Manhattan. For previous installments, please visit intelligentcharismatic.com.

The Role of Faith in Prayer

We’ve taken the last six weeks to establish that prayer is important. We’ve talked about personal prayer and corporate prayer; praying what God shows you, and the power in the laying on of hands. We’ve spoken about fervent prayer, and even praying in tongues!

Prayer is powerful! But the power of prayer is lost if we don’ pray in faith. Here is my question as you read through (and/or listen to) this message: When you pray, do you believe it will happen?

If you want to see your prayers answered, you have to learn what it means to pray in faith. Are you ready?

My favorite Scripture passage on faith is Hebrews 11. This is the Great Hall of Faith. This chapter tells the story of men and women who have grabbed hold of what it means to pray in faith, and seen their lives absolutely transformed as a result. But before the testimonies even begin, Scripture defines faith:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. – Heb 11:1

Faith is the substance of your prayers. It is the active ingredient that truly matters. Faith is the evidence that what you are praying for will come to pass! When someone asks you, “How do you know God will do it?” Your reply can simply be: “My faith is the evidence, and I know the promise of God is coming!” If you don’t have faith, you have nothing; but if you have faith, you have everything you could ever need.

For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. – Heb 11:2

Anybody who ever got anything from God, got it by faith. We’re going to look at some specific examples. For now, it’s important to know that faith works; and if it worked for the “elders” (i.e. people who didn’t have a written record of God’s faithfulness), it will work for you (someone who does)!

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. – Heb 11:3

The creative process that jump-started our universe happened by faith. “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). Then God spoke. He said, “Let there be light” (v 3) and there was light. God spoke over something that wasn’t shaping up to be what He desired it to be; and everything changed! The same pattern will happen in your own life when you speak (i.e. pray!) in faith. Things that seem shapeless and void will suddenly take shape according to God’s word; but you have to speak by faith!

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. – Heb 11:4-6

Let that last statement sink in. Let it ring out over your prayer life. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” If you go to God, you have to first believe that He is; and as you make the conscious decision to trust a God you cannot see, He will reward you with a tangible manifestation that He is there.

Look at what faith did in the lives of other heroes mentioned in Hebrews 11:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. – Heb 11:8

When God called Abraham to leave his home (Gen 12), Abraham didn’t have any proof that his destination would be better than his current location! But he had his faith. God often calls us out of our comfort zone, but gives us limited (i.e. partial) information as to where exactly He is calling us. We know what we are leaving behind; but we don’t always know what we are getting in return! That is faith: making the decision to trust that God knows best.

By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. – Heb 11:11

Sarah didn’t have a Bible to rely on! She didn’t have memory verses about men and women in Scripture who had been healed. All she had was her faith. God spoke; and she listened. She made a decision to trust God; and as soon as she had faith, she received “strength to conceive seed.”

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. – Heb 11:17-19

Do you remember what God called Abraham to do after he and Sarah had their baby? He told Abraham, “Take now your son…, whom you love…, and offer him…as a burnt offering” (Gen 22:2). Imagine what Sarah must have thought about God’s command! But Abraham obeyed by faith. He trusted that God knew what was best. Faith helps us to respond with obedience whenever we are tested; because it reminds us that everything we have to give comes from God anyway!

By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. – Heb 11:24-26

Faith empowers us to refuse to live in comfort, and instead step out on the word of God! Faith reminds us that the fruit of obedience is more desirable than any treasure we can gain on earth!

By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned. – Heb 11:29

It was faith that enabled Moses to lift up his hand (Ex 14:21) so the people of Israel could pass through the Red Sea. It was faith that sent the waters crashing back down on their enemies.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. – Heb 11:30

It was faith that caused the walls of Jericho to come crashing down. What obstacles stand in the way of God’s promises over your life? What impediment is He willing to move when you make the decision to simply believe?

The Importance of Faith

There has been a common theme in my meetings with our church members lately. Our people are going through some stuff. We have men and women who are facing immigration trials in real threat of being forcibly removed from the United States. We have people contending for financial increase who need the money to survive!

Whenever you face an impossible situation, here is what you need to remember: nothing is impossible with God (Lk 1:37)! You have to keep your eyes on Jesus. You cannot afford to think about all the what-ifs: What if God doesn’t come through? What if my miracle doesn’t happen? What if God isn’t real? Get all of that out of your head! You have to have such tunnel vision that you refuse to even so much as think about anything other than the fullness of God’s promises coming to pass over your life.

If you want to have results, you have to have faith!

When Faith Fails

Do you know what happens when we focus on the what-if’s, instead of the promises of God? Doubt creeps in. And doubt is the most damaging, destructive force that can ever impact your prayer life. Look at the contaminative effect doubt has on our relationship with God:

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – Jas 1:2-8

Life is not easy! You will go through trials that test your faith! But your responsibility is to keep your eyes on the promise of God: even when it seems impossible, and especially when it seems irrational.

God will give you what you need! But you have to ask in faith. If you doubt, you are “double-minded” (v 8). That means God wants you to have the mind of Christ so you can pray like Him (2 Cor 2:16); but when you have doubt instead of faith, unnecessary blockages materialize that can interfere with what God wants to do in your life.

Faith is the key ingredient that causes the answers to your prayers to materialize. Even if you have all the other elements in place – you know your word, and you take time to pray – your efforts will not bear fruit unless you mix them with faith!

When you doubt, you can get so scared that you actually talk yourself out of doing what God has called you to do. In 2014, God called me to write a book. He downloaded the vision for every single chapter in a matter of days. I felt the burden to write it: it felt like something had been deposited in me that I had to get out! But then doubt started to creep in. I had only been a full-time pastor for one year. What business did I have writing a book? I was only twenty-seven years old. Who did I think I was writing a theological dissertation? There were so many doubts! But I had to choose faith over those doubts.

I pushed through those doubts, and I wrote that book.[1] I had to have such tunnel vision that I forgot about all the what-if’s! I had to protect my faith by intentionally blocking out any discouraging thoughts that worked their way into my mind. And I’m glad I did. The book has been such an immense blessing to our church community. One of our members sent me the following message yesterday:

“I feel like you were reading my mind while I was walking through the words of your book – every question & doubt that I have was clarified.”

Wow! It wasn’t easy; but it was worth it!

I was sitting on the couch last night talking with my wife about this message. I asked her how many times she had been through a situation where it was almost impossible to keep her faith. I wanted to know about her struggles to keep her faith in the midst of trying circumstances.

Before she was pregnant with Clive (our first son), she worked with a woman who was also trying to get pregnant. Try as she might, her co-worker could not conceive. The process had been going on for years. The woman was considering in-vitro fertilization. She was researching all her different options to try and conceive. So she printed out a copy for Rachael, too. “Just in case.”

Imagine my wife’s faith-battle as she tried to continue to believe for conception as someone without faith printed out a packet of information on IVF and left it on her desk. My wife made a decision: I am going to believe, instead of doubting! She threw all that information right in the trash; and not long after that, we were pregnant with our happy, healthy son!

When doubt rears its ugly head, you cannot afford to let it breathe. Cut it down immediately. Put your eyes back on the promise of God! He will do what He said He will do; but you have to have faith!

When You Have Faith

Here is what happens when you silence the doubt, and give voice to the faith:

Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” – Mk 11:20-24

When you have faith, mountains will move! Whatever things you ask for in prayer, you will have them!

The disciples marveled at Jesus. They wondered, What is it about this Man that makes His prayers so powerful? So He told them: “Have faith in God” (v 22)! Do you want to know what made Jesus so different than you and me? FAITH! He had a perfect relationship with God, which led to perfect faith in God. Jesus had a perfect understanding of who God is, and complete confidence in everything God would do.

But I Don’t Have Faith

So what do you do if you don’t have the faith required? Should you go home and repent, and wish you were a better, stronger Christian? Absolutely not! Whenever you need faith, all you have to do is ask for it.

Do you know what the disciples did when they didn’t have enough faith?

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” – Lk 17:5

They asked Jesus to increase it, and He gave it to them!

Do you know what a man who needed a miracle did when he didn’t have enough faith?

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mk 9:24

He asked for help, and Jesus helped him! If you don’t have faith, don’t panic! Don’t beat yourself up. Simply ask God for help:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” – Matt 7:7-8

Pray In Faith

God will do everything He has promised. When you pray, stop giving yourself an easy way out. Don’t waste time planning what your life is going to look like if you don’t get an answer to your prayers. Don’t waste time rationalizing a reason why God might not show up.

Faith is built as you wait for God’s promises. Guard it with all your heart. If you need more, just ask! Pray in faith, and watch God come through.

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] https://amzn.to/2yHLw2u

Praying in Tongues

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Praying in Tongues’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 7/15/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast, please click the play arrow above.

A Necessary Introduction

Praying in tongues can seem weird. Instead of avoiding it, let’s just acknowledge it. What was your first experience with tongues? Let me tell you mine.

I grew up in a church with a very conservative worship expression. There was no raising your hands in worship, no dancing, and certainly not even talk of praying in tongues. So imagine my shock when I walked into a Spirit-filled church for the first time as a young adult, shortly after moving to New York City.

The service started gently enough. The worship team – a full band – started playing, and I actually liked the music. Two songs in, I was wondering if what I had heard about Spirit-filled churches was all wrong. “Be careful,” people told me. “Things can get a little weird,” my friends cautioned. But this was nice!

Three songs in, I heard something. It started out as a grumbling: like people whispering in a language I couldn’t understand. Four songs in, it got louder. Now I heard something coming from a couple behind me, definitely audible, and making me uncomfortable. Five songs in, I couldn’t take it anymore. Two people behind me were yelling in tongues at the top of their lungs, and jumping up and down. I stared at them, hoping they would stop; but instead, they got louder.

I left immediately after service, avoiding awkward handshakes with the “crazy” people all around me. I went home, and I prayed. “God, what was that?” I made a vow to never go back to Spirit-filled church. But then the Lord spoke to me in prayer. Do you think a whole congregation of people has it wrong? Or is there something in YOU that needs to change?

That day was the start of an incredible journey God has taken me on to discover the power of praying in tongues. It definitely got off to a rocky start; but from that day forward, I have been searching the Scriptures to discover everything the word of God has to say about praying in tongues.

Praying in tongues can seem weird. Every time I preach on “tongues,” I know there are people in the sanctuary who simply won’t come back. But just because something is weird, doesn’t mean it’s not from God. Just because a message isn’t immediately palatable to people who have never heard it before, doesn’t make it any less true.

Tongues Is A Gift

First, we have to establish that “tongues”[1] is a gift. The Apostle Paul includes “different kinds of tongues” in his description of nine “spiritual gifts” in his letter to the Church at Corinth:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant…There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. – 1 Cor 12:1, 3-11

Tongues is a gift, not a reward. A reward comes when you do something to earn it; but a gift is given when you position yourself to receive it! Here is why that is important: I know many Christians who think they have to earn the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues (the two go hand in hand). But God is not holding back His Holy Spirit for the moment you get your act together. He has already “poured out His Spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28). The Holy Spirit is already here! All you have to do is open your arms and receive.

The Power and Purpose of Tongues

Here is why you need the gift of tongues:

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. – Rom 8:26

There will be times in your life where you simply don’t know what to pray. Sometimes, an obstacle you are facing will seem so overwhelming that you simply don’t know how to tackle it in prayer. And do you know what? That’s ok! That is what praying in tongues is for!

When you pray in tongues, you are making the decision to open your mouth, but the Holy Spirit is deciding what to pray. So is it you, or is it God? YES! You are opening your mouth, and God is praying a perfect prayer through you.

The Apostle Paul refers to praying in English (or your primary spoken language) as praying “with understanding,” and to praying in tongues as praying “with the spirit” (1 Cor 14:15). When you pray “with understanding” (i.e. in English or your primary spoken language), your prayer has to pass through the filter of your mind. It is subject to influence by your thoughts, will, and emotions. But when the Holy Spirit prays through you (i.e. when you pray in tongues), there is no filter. You have a Scriptural guarantee that the Holy Spirit is praying perfect prayers through you. He helps in your weaknesses, and makes intercession for you with groanings which cannot be uttered.

So next time you encounter a situation so complex that you don’t know how to pray, try praying in tongues! Whenever you come up against an obstacle that seems too scary to face, try speaking in tongues!

When should you pray in tongues? All the time. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

I pray in tongues more than you all… – 1 Cor 14:18

He unashamedly admitted that he prayed in tongues more than anyone else he knew in the church; and we see the fruit of it in his life. Here was a man whose handkerchiefs and aprons (Acts 19:12) healed the sick! But you can’t walk in the power Paul demonstrated, without praying the prayers he prayed.

Some Christians see praying in tongues as something you should do at the end of your payer time, when you run out of things to say in English. I couldn’t disagree more. I like to start my prayer time by speaking in tongues. As I do, God will start to show me what He wants to pray for through me. As I pray in tongues, He will show me the faces of people in the church whom He wants me to lift up in prayer. He will start to remind me of the promises He has spoken over my life. He will start to fill me with faith to believe for the impossible, every day of my life! When I start off praying in tongues, God will show me what He wants me to pray “with understanding.”

There is power in praying in tongues:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. – Jude 1:20-21

Praying in tongues – or “in the Holy Spirit” –is the way we “build ourselves up” on our “most holy faith.” Praying in tongues is the way we keep ourselves in the love of God, and keep our eyes on Jesus! The implication is there is “building up” that God wants to do in you, that can only get done when you release His perfect will over your life by praying in tongues!

Why Don’t We Talk About Tongues More?

If praying in tongues is so important, why don’t we talk about it more in church? I believe the short answer is: pastors and churches are afraid you won’t come back. It is a subject that is difficult to explain and easy to misunderstand. What’s more, many people have had bad experiences in churches that pray in tongues, so many pastors and leaders don’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole!

Most people with bad “tongues” experiences fall into one of two categories. First, you may have been exposed to tongues in a way that completely caught you off guard and took you by surprise. I know a woman whose friend had invited her to church dozens of times. She finally said yes; but when she showed up, the pastor decided to throw his sermon out the window. Instead, he preached a message in tongues. Then, he “fell out” (i.e. fell down) under the power of God and started rolling back and forth on the floor. A few seconds later, everyone else in the church did the same thing. Can you imagine her terror as a first-time guest?

Second, you may have been frustrated because you know about tongues and have been seeking the gift of tongues, but for whatever reason it has proved elusive. I know many Christians with this experience. I remember a woman in a discipleship group who had been wanting to pray in tongues for years. One night, visiting a friend’s home, she found herself in a Bible study, surrounded by well-meaning Christians who wanted to see her baptized in the Holy Spirit. So, fifteen people surrounded her, started praying in tongues, and expected her to do the same. But nothing happened! She really desired to speak in tongues; but she felt so much pressure from the people around her to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit and start speaking in tongues that her prayer changed from, “Lord baptize me in the Holy Spirit,” to “Lord, get me the heck out of here!”

The topic of “tongues” has definitely caused some heartache and pain in the church! So instead of revisiting the subject from a Biblical perspective, we throw it out altogether. We seek the first seven “spiritual gifts” (see 1 Cor 12, above), and then avoid the last two. But just because a principle has been abused does not make it any less true.

Why We Need to Talk About Tongues

There is a whole generation of believers growing up in the church that does not understand the power of praying in tongues. We need to change that. At the end of our lives, you and I will be accountable to God for truths we passed on to the next generation, as well as any truths we kept to ourselves. I, for one, do not want to be held accountable for withholding any Biblical truth that God wants His people to embrace!

That is why we preach on finances at our church. Yes, some pastors and televangelists have abused the principle of Biblical prosperity. But that doesn’t make the principle that you “reap what you sow” (Gal 6:7) any less true! If I don’t talk about giving, and encourage you to tithe, there are blessings God wants to give to you that won’t come into your hand (see Mal 3:10).

This is why we practice prophecy at our church. Yes, some people – ministers and lay people alike – have abused the practice of prophecy. I’ve heard of men in the church telling ladies who are not interested in them, “But the Lord told me you are supposed to marry me.” What a disgusting abuse of a gift God meant for good! But just because abuse has taken place, doesn’t mean the gift of prophecy should be thrown out altogether. In fact, Scripture reminds us to, “Purse love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor 14:1, emphasis added).

The same is true for praying in tongues. After my first run-in with aggressive tongue-talkers at a Spirit-filled church, I almost never came back. But look what God has done! If I had avoided the truth that praying in tongues is powerful, there are things that God never could have accomplished in my life that are now done!

Abuse of Biblical principles doesn’t mean we should throw them out; it simply means we need better instruction. It means we need to teach the people in our churches to know and love the word of God for themselves, instead of learning what to believe from other people!

Holy Spirit Etiquette

Did you know God devotes an entire chapter of Scripture to Holy Spirit etiquette? He tells us where and when exercising certain spiritual gifts is appropriate. I highly recommend you read through all of 1 Corinthians 14 and see it for yourself. It will allow you to better interpret whether what you are seeing in church is “genuine.” It will also allow you to better evaluate when and where to use the gifts God has given you in your own life.

Here is an excerpt:

Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. – 1 Cor 14:13-15

Listen to what the Apostle Paul is saying here. When he prays in a tongue, his spirit prays, but he doesn’t understand what is being prayed. So what should he do? Does he throw out the practice of praying in tongues altogether because he doesn’t understand what is going on? Of course not! He doesn’t have to choose either praying in English, or praying in tongues; he embraces both as 1) powerful and 2) from God.

But look at the warning the Apostle Paul also includes:

Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. – 1 Cor 14:16-19

By and large, corporate worship is not the place to speak in tongues. Why not? Because guests – unbelievers, or “the uninformed” (v 16) – will have no idea what is going on. If we do things in our Sunday service that unchurched people won’t understand, we are placing stumbling blocks in front of them. How many first-time guests do we have to send running for the exits before we start to operate with a little discretion?

Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying. I am not saying for one moment that we should ever back away from the Biblical truth that all believers should speak in tongues. Speaking in tongues is powerful, and you need the gift of tongues if you are going to go out and do everything God created you to do! But we have to be able to explain Biblical truths in language unchurched people will actually understand.

How to Receive the Gift of Tongues

If you’re convinced that praying in tongues is Biblical, and you want the gift of tongues, you need prayer. Don’t worry; this is the easy part. The difficult part is getting past the mental and emotional blocks that immediately materialize as soon as we mention “tongues.” Actually receiving the gift is easy.

The Biblical way to receive the gift of tongues is to ask for prayer. Believers receive the ability to pray in tongues as a by-product of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The pattern we see in Scripture is as follows: a believer who has already received the baptism of the Holy Spirit will 1) lay hands on and 2) pray for someone who hasn’t, and the Lord will impart the baptism in the Holy Spirit, along with the gift of tongues.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 8:14-19

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” 

So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”

And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?”

So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”

Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. – Acts 19:1-6

So, are you ready to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues? Ask someone who already speaks in tongues to lay hands on you and pray. Believe that as they do, you will speak in tongues.

But what if nothing happens? What if I have been trying to speak in tongues for years, and I still can’t?

Relax! Your story is unique. We aim for the Biblical model because that is what we see in Scripture. We also have to acknowledge, however, that God works through different people in different ways.

I spoke in tongues for the first time when I was sitting in my seat in worship service (at the same Spirit-filled church I ran out of only months before)! I had gone up for prayer a couple weeks prior, but I didn’t speak in tongues. I was nervous because 100 people were staring at the back of my head, waiting to see what would happen. I was on-guard because I didn’t want to feel forced to speak in tongues. I wanted a real, authentic experience with zero manipulation and no hype! So God honored my desire. I didn’t speak in tongues that day I got prayer; but I did speak in tongues several weeks later, while I was sitting in the pew and minding my own business. Your testimony is unique; so don’t assume it will happen for you like it happens for someone else!

For a more extensive discussion on praying in tongues, please see the Intelligent Charismatic book.

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] Please note that for the purposes of this resource, I am going to refer to “tongues,” “praying in tongues,” “speaking in tongues,” and “the gift of tongues” interchangeably.

Prayer that Works

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Prayer that Works’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 7/8/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

Prayer that Works

Have you ever been through a period in your life where it felt like every prayer you prayed worked right away? When I first gave my life to Jesus, I experienced this. I prayed for a promotion at work, and I got it. When a family member was going through health complications, I prayed for healing and she received it. I met the woman of my dreams, and I prayed the relationship would work (she is now my wife)! It was like every prayer I prayed was immediately effective.

I’ve also been through times in my life when it felt like prayers went unanswered. So, what is the difference between effective and ineffective prayer? What was the difference-maker in times when I saw one answer to prayer after another?

The Bible tells us there is such a thing as “effective” prayer. The implication is there also is such a thing as ineffective prayer. So wouldn’t it be a good use of our time to discover the difference?

What Makes Prayer Effective?

Here is how James encouraged the early church to pray:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. – Jas 5:13-18

There are several important points in this passage. First, prayer works. Prayer is the remedy to suffering, sickness, and sin. Second, prayer produces. Prayer produces joy, healing, and forgiveness. Third, there are different types of prayer. You can pray for yourself, or you can “confess your trespasses to one another” (v 16) so other people can pray for you!

But let’s hone in on verse 16: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” To “avail much” means to get stuff done. In other words, the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman!) works! We all want prayer that works, don’t we? So what does it mean for our prayers to be 1) effective, 2) fervent, and 3) righteous?

1) Effective. The dictionary defines “effective” as “successful in producing a desired or intended result.”[1] Our prayers should be results-driven. We should pray specific prayers that have a measurable (i.e. objective and quantifiable) impact. When you prayed for a raise, what dollar-amount did you ask for? Did you get it? What was your salary (or hourly wage) before you started praying, and how did it change as a result of your prayer? If you can’t measure the impact your prayer actually has, how will you know if it really works?

2) Righteous. Scripture tells us that in order for our prayers to work, we have to be righteous. So what does it mean to be righteous?

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Cor 5:21

To be righteous means to believe in Jesus: not just that He was a prophet or an important historical figure, but that He is King of kings and Lord of lords! When you make Jesus Lord of your life, you become the righteousness of God. You don’t just have His righteousness, leaving you in a state where you can lose it; you are His righteousness, which leaves you in a state where your position to pray effective prayer is guaranteed!

3) Fervent. We saved this characteristic of “prayer that works” for last because I believe it’s the most difficult to truly understand. In English, we define “fervent” as “having or displaying a passionate intensity.[2]” This is where we sometimes get lost as the church. We think fervent prayers have to be emotional. The more passionate intensity we display, the better! When we see someone who is crying and weeping as they pray, we think, Wow, God must really be moving in that prayer.

But emotional intensity does not always translate into prayerful efficacy. Showing more emotion doesn’t necessarily make your prayer more effective. In the original Greek translation of James 5:16, the word we translate as “fervent” is actually the Greek word energeo.[3] which means “to be operative, to be at work, or to put forth power.” This is where we get the English word energy. So “fervent prayer” gets things moving. Energeo prayer creates power that is derived from the effective utilization of resources.

Let me illustrate this with an example. When I was in college, my parents took me out for dinner to celebrate my birthday. We went to a restaurant called the Grist Mill. The restaurant was situated right on a river; and at the back of the restaurant, there was a giant wooden wheel. As the water from the river flowed over the wheel, the wheel started turning. Back when the restaurant was a mill, the turning wheel would power a mechanism that would grind grain (i.e. grist).

In other words, the mill was powered by harnessing the energy of the water. This is how fervent prayer works. It’s not that you’re using more energy than necessary. That would be a waste! You are not a generator, trying to produce powerful prayer on your own. Fervent prayer means channeling something powerful that God has already given you, and maximizing the impact it has on the work that needs to get done!

You see, God has already given you His word. That is the wheel; when you put it to work as He intended you to use it, things will start to get done in your life. The Holy Spirit is moving like those waters at the mill. He is ready and willing to put motion to your prayers! But you have to use the word to harness what the Holy Spirit is doing!

Do you see it? Fervent prayer doesn’t necessarily mean praying with passionate emotional intensity; it means harnessing the move of God’s Holy Spirit by praying what God wants you to pray, instead of what you want to pray for yourself. It means using the word of God to harness the move of the Holy Spirit!

Elijah Prayed

Whenever I see someone pray powerful prayers in Scripture, I take note. Scripture says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months” (Jas 5:17). What made Elijah’s prayers so special?

Elijah was a human being, just like you and me. In other words, what made his prayers so special was not something inherent about his physical makeup or character composition. It was not some extremely rare character trait or part of his nature. He was just like us! But how many times have you ever held back the rain? He was a human being just like us; but there was something Elijah was doing that made his prayers powerful and effective.

Scripture tells us how Elijah declared the drought James describes:

And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”

So he went and did according to the word of the Lord, – 1 Kings 17:1-5

The pattern we see in verses 2-5 allows us to interpret the boldness we see in verse 1. Here was the pattern in Elijah’s life: Elijah received the word, and then he did what God told him to do! He didn’t declare a drought because he thought it would be cool if it didn’t rain! He didn’t have plans to go to the beach! He had the word of God: Elijah, I want you to go to King Ahab and declare a drought. So then he went out and declared what God told him to say.

This is fervent prayer. Elijah got a word from the Lord, and went out and declared it by faith. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t stop to wonder what would happen if the result to his prayers didn’t come. He simply made a decision to partner with the Holy Spirit by using the word of the Lord he had been given. He was harnessing the power of something moving that was bigger than him, and declaring effective prayer based on the strength of that movement!

Last week[4] we talked about “praying what you see.” God will show us something in His word (the written word, or logos). He will show us something in prayer (the spoken word, or rhema). Our responsibility is to take that word, and declare it by faith. We participate in what the Holy Spirit is doing by using his word to get God’s work done in prayer.

Once Elijah had God’s word, he knew his prayers were as good as answered. Here is why:

For You have magnified Your word above all Your name. – Psalm 138:2

God exalts (i.e. holds) His word above His name. The Jewish people would not even utter or record the name of God because they had such a reverence and an awe for God’s power. Yet here is God saying, if you want real power, use my word!

When God declares something, it is as good as done! And fervent prayer means taking what God has said, and declaring it by faith!

The Question You Have to Ask Yourself

Here is the question you have to ask yourself as you read this: are your prayers based on the word of God? Or are they emotional appeals based on your feelings?

If your prayers are based on emotional appeals, there is no guarantee they will be answered. But when your prayers are based on the word of God, you can declare them with complete confidence, just as Elijah did!

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. – 1 Jn 5:14-15

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] http://bit.ly/2mgQome

[2] http://bit.ly/2mglNFq

[3] Strong’s G1754

[4] http://intelligentcharismatic.com/pray-what-you-see/

When the Church Prays

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘When the Church Prays’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 6/24/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

The Call to Pray

Last week, we talked about the power of personal prayer.[1] God’s promise is that when we repeat His word back to Him, “…it shall not return to [Him] void” (Is 55:11). Our prayers are powerful. Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov 13:21)! There are things God wants to do on this earth that cannot get done unless we open our mouths and start to pray!

Your highest calling in life is to pray. When we pray, we get God’s work done. Even more important, we build relationship with Him. Have you ever tried to build relationship without conversation? It’s impossible. If you want to be close to someone, you need to communicate with him or her! And if you want to be close to God – to know what makes His heart beat – you need to spend time in prayer.

This week, we’re going to expand on the power of prayer. Specifically, I want to talk about corporate prayer. I want to show you what happens when the church starts to pray together.

It’s time we – the church – take our mandate to pray seriously. Other major religions clearly understand the importance of prayer in a way we have forgotten. This week I had a long conversation about religion with a man who comes from an Orthodox Jewish family. He told me that, in his family’s synagogue, you are expected to attend three prayer services every single day! When you wake up, you come to pray. When it’s lunch time, you go to pray. On your way home from work, you stop to pray! And these are not just short prayers; these are hour-long prayer meetings where ten or more people are present. What would your life look like if prayer was that important to you? What would our church look like if prayer was that important to us?

Our family lives across the street from a mosque. Whenever I wake up early, there are always groups of people in that mosque, praying. It forces me to ask myself an important question: if we had a 4am prayer meeting at our church, how many people would show up? If other major world religions focus so intently on praying in community, how have we – the carriers of the Good News – lost our focus? What would this city look like if the church passionately embraced our call to spread the Good News that Jesus died for our sins: not only through church services and evangelistic outreach, but also through prayer?

There are certain things that happen when you pray in community that simply cannot happen when you pray alone. Jesus explained this to His disciples in Matthew’s account of the Gospel:

“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” – Matt 18:18-20

When we agree, it is done. But you can’t agree if you’re alone! That means there are things God wants to accomplish that will not get done unless we come together as the church and start to pray.

Corporate prayer doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It shouldn’t be a demonstration for your friends to see how anointed you are, and how much Scripture you have memorized. It should simply be a declaration of God’s word, followed by spiritual agreement: partnering our faith so that God’s will can come to pass. We live in an age where division is more prevalent than unity. Are you ready to help change that?

What Corporate Prayer Does

Corporate prayer is effective. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of what we can accomplish by praying together, but it will get us started:

1) Corporate prayer establishes protection.

When God’s people were living in exile, God raised up a man named Ezra to lead them back home. Ezra was a scribe who was, “…skilled in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). But here was the challenge: the world at that time was unsafe. Israel had no army because they had been scattered throughout the nations. They had no means of protecting themselves because their ability to fight and defend had been hamstrung by the Babylonians. So when Ezra led God’s people back home, he was leading what appeared to be a helpless, defenseless caravan.

So what did Ezra do? He called the people to pray.

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.” So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer. – Ezra 8:21-23

When the people prayed, God listened. When they responded in unity, God moved in response to their prayer! They not only made it to Jerusalem; they rebuilt the city into a remnant for God’s glory. They began reconstruction on the temple so corporate worship could take place!

In our household, prayer is a must. We pray together all the time. As soon as everyone is awake in the morning, we start to pray. I plead the blood of Jesus over our children and declare they are going to have an amazing, faith-filled day and hear the voice of God. Before anyone leaves the house, we stop to pray. We declare that whoever is leaving will be protected, and that whoever stays in the house will be safe and sound. When someone returns home, we pray and thank God for their safety! Before we go to bed, we thank God for another day alive and for the sweet sleep we’re about to have.

What’s the point? There is power in prayer! And my wife and I want to teach that to our children at a young age. Your prayers don’t have to be long; they just have to be powerful! Prayer works. So get together with your church, your family, and your friends, and start to pray!

2) Corporate prayer inspires repentance.

Ezra returned to Jerusalem to find life for God’s people in complete disarray. God’s people were lost in sin. Because there was no corporate worship happening, the people had been overwhelmed by the dominant culture of that day. They were doing whatever they wanted, and the consequences were disastrous.

Have you ever seen this in someone you know? They move to a new city, absolutely in love with Jesus; but if they can’t find a good church family, over time they start to change. Their love for Jesus dwindles, their prayer life erodes, and they stop reading the word. That is the state in which Ezra found God’s people when he came back to Jerusalem.

So do you know what Ezra did? He called everyone together to pray:

Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly. And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.” – Ezra 10:1-3

Corporate prayer inspires repentance! Ezra didn’t have to tell God’s people what to do; he simply invited them to pray, and the Holy Spirit told them what to do! An entire people group was inspired to change their ways because of the power in corporate prayer.

Your city is not going to change unless we start to pray. This nation is not going to change unless we start to pray. This world is not going to know the love of Jesus Christ the way God wants people to, unless we start to pray!

3) Corporate prayer activates freedom.

Acts 12 gives us a particularly powerful example of what can happen when we get together and start to pray. Peter, a leader in the early church, was in prison. James, the brother of John, had just been killed (v 2); and it looked like Peter was next! So what did the church do? Did they plan a rally to make politicians aware of their plight? Did they take up a special offering to hire a lawyer to defend their leader? NO! They simply started to pray.

Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. – Acts 12:5

Peter was in trouble! But when the church got together and started to pray, everything changed. Look how God answered the church’s prayers:

And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. – Acts 12:6-10

Peter went from bound to delivered as the result of corporate prayer. Whom do you know in captivity? Who in your life is struggling with sin? Who in your life is trapped in a situation (s)he can’t get out of? How is that all going to change in an instant when you get some like-minded people together and start to pray?!

The early church wasn’t even aware how powerful their prayers were. When God sprang Peter from prison, Peter showed up at the prayer meeting that had activated his freedom:

So … , [Peter] came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”

Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. – Acts 12:12-16

The disciples were praying; but they didn’t even believe their prayer would be answered! The very answer to their prayer – a freed Peter – literally showed up at their front door; yet they were so unaccustomed to seeing their prayers answered that they didn’t even believe it was true. I pray the modern church would never be caught off-guard like that. I pray you and I would never be caught unaware like that!

God is faithful. Your prayers work. We don’t have to be taken by surprise when the answer to our prayer shows up at our front door. We can simply make a decision: I believe my prayers are effective, and I am going to use them. We can get together and start to pray; and in response, God is going to move!

© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] http://www.citylightnyc.com/podcast/Open-Your-Mouth.mp3