Category Archives: Christian leadership

Don’t Waste Your Time in the Prison (Continued)

JosephLast time, we said that being faithful in the small things is necessary if we are going to make the transition from the prison to the palace, as Joseph did (see Genesis 39:20 through 41:44). If we stay close to God’s heart and put Him first, He will give us a good inner sense of how to walk out faithfulness, no matter where we currently are.

Besides serving the jailer with excellence, what else did Joseph do to make his time in the prison worthwhile? Very likely, he kept in close personal communication with the Lord. I doubt if he could have served with integrity if he had not, and without that close relationship, being able to interpret dreams accurately for Pharaoh’s servants, and eventually Pharaoh himself,  would have been unlikely.

We have a hint of something else Joseph did while in prison, found in the story of the king’s butler and baker. Genesis 40:6, 7 tells us that Joseph, in serving these two men, noticed that they were sad. He asked them, Why do you look so sad today?”  That’s an odd question to be asking of prison inmates!  “They said to him, ‘We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.’ And Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t interpretations belong to God? Please tell me the dreams’'” (v. 8).

Joseph didn’t just perform his designated duties. In the process, he cared about the people he came in contact with. I doubt if most prison workers would be concerned about whether the inmates under their jurisdiction were happy or sad! Joseph offered to listen to the dreams of these two men and to help them with the interpretations. The Bible doesn’t tell us, but if Joseph took the time to converse with and care about the butler and the baker, he might have done the same for the other prisoners as well. He probably knew all their stories  — why they were there and whether they had been justly or unjustly imprisoned.  Because of his own circumstances, he would have had compassion for them.  Suffering will either harden and embitter us, or it will build the heart of God in us.

Now, let’s imagine a little bit. Again, the Bible is silent on what I’m proposing, but as I was talking with the Lord about Joseph’s prison experience, I believe He gave me this insight:

Do you think when Joseph became the prime minister that he forgot about all the prisoners he had come to know? Remember, Joseph had been an innocent victim himself, and he had asked the butler to put in a good word for him when he was restored to Pharaoh’s good graces — but the butler forgot him. After a disappointing experience like that, do you think Joseph just ignored the plight of those who had been imprisoned with him? I doubt it. By this time, Joseph was walking in a level of character maturity that would not have permitted him to be so selfish. It is highly likely that Joseph used his influence with Pharaoh to get some of those other prisoners out of jail, too.

How can we apply these ideas while we are waiting for our own destiny fulfillment?  First of all, it is critical that we not waste our prison time. We can serve, and serve well, right where we are, even if it’s not the ideal situation. We can love while we’re there — encourage, comfort, and listen to others — while we’re waiting. It’s not just about poor us. We’ve got people to care for, which is an eternal work of great value in God’s eyes. In addition, all the faithfulness and giving of ourselves that we do during this time is training for our next level of Kingdom responsibility.

Secondly, when we move from the prison into better times, it’s important to bring others with us. We need to do what we can to lift them into their better place, too. The details of how that works out will be different for each of us, but here are a few ideas:

  1. Use what you have learned in the hard spots to help others through. That’s part of why you went through those difficulties in the first place. “And if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer: or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation” (2 Corinthians 1:6).
  2. Use what influence, insights, and experience you have to help others find their place of serving Jesus.
  3. Don’t sever relationship with people who have come to love you, just because you’ve moved upward or outward — especially when people express a desire to stay connected with you. Whether you realize it or not, some of them may be looking to you as a father or mother in the faith. Don’t abandon your spiritual sons and daughters. Apostle Paul stayed in communication with the churches and individuals whom he had mentored. He prayed for them, too.

May you persevere until you make it from your prison experience into your God-appointed place of service, and may you bear plenty of Kingdom fruit in your process of getting there.

 

Part 1

 

Don’t Waste Your Time in the Prison

JosephIf you’ve ever read the story of Joseph, found in Genesis 37 and 39-45, you know how wonderful it is — almost like a fairytale dream come true. An innocent young man is betrayed by his evil brothers, who sell him into slavery.  He eventually ends up about as low as he could go, in a dungeon. And then, overnight, he is catapulted to be prime minister of a world super-power nation.

We so love those rags-to-riches stories, don’t we? How many preachers and teachers have expounded on Joseph’s happy ending, telling us all, “Hang on! Your destiny appointment is on the horizon. You are coming out of that prison, just like Joseph!” I’ve written a few devotionals on that theme myself. We need Joseph’s story to give us hope, to inspire us to press on.

But here’s what we don’t often talk about: how you live in the prison has a lot to do with whether you ever get out. If we don’t tell the whole story, we are not really helping each other.

In Luke 16:10, 12, Jesus commented, “He who is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much, and he who is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. … If you have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who will give you that which is your own?” Jesus was talking about money, but it’s an across-the-board principle: be faithful in the little things, because if you are not, God and man will see no point in entrusting you with bigger things. We learn to handle much responsibility by practicing with the little stuff.

This is where it is entirely possible to miss out on the promises God has given us. There are a whole lot of people who never come into what they were born for — not because God wasn’t faithful, but because they weren’t. So many people with big dreams (which were genuinely implanted in them by God) are looking for the “someday” when, overnight, they will be shot from God’s cannon into a magnificent destiny.  They’ve even had those dreams confirmed multiple times through prophetic words from other people.

But they are forgetting a key point in the story: Joseph served with excellence in the middle of his prison. Yes, Genesis 39:21-23 tells us that God was with Joseph and gave him favor there, but if Joseph hadn’t used that favor to do his job well, how long do you think the keeper of the prison would have left him in charge?

There are people who have huge destiny promises from God, but they can’t be counted on for the simplest things, like being on time — or showing up at all, for that matter. You can’t depend on them to unlock the church door if the regular opener is out of town! For those with basic faithfulness issues, the happy, getting-out-of-prison ending to the tale may never come. Or if it does, those who gave them the promotion may sincerely regret the decision.

So, what did Joseph do, while he was in prison? First of all, he followed directions. That’s a good starting place. But I think he probably went beyond that. He no doubt kept his eyes open for what needed to happen so things could run smoothly. He served the prison keeper with excellence.  It was the same thing he had done previously as Potiphar’s servant. Both Potiphar and the chief jailer came to the place where they knew Joseph wouldn’t drop the ball. He could be counted on. He had their best interests in mind.

Why? I don’t believe personal ambition was the whole story. Joseph was a God-pleaser more than a man-pleaser. That thread runs throughout his biography. And if we want to excel so that we can come out of our prison into our destiny, caring about what God wants more than what we want is a necessary component for our future success. Cherishing God’s heart first and foremost takes us a long way toward walking out the day-to-day faithfulness which is required in order to move onward in His plans for us.

Serving the keeper of the prison with excellence wasn’t all that Joseph did while in that place. I’ve got a few more ideas to share with you next time, which I hope will excite you as much as they did me.

Part 2

What Is an Apostolic Intercessor?

Quite a few people coming to this blog are asking about apostolic intercession. So today, I would like to share what I have learned thus far on the subject.  I’m going to state honestly and right upfront that there is not a lot of concrete information in the Bible to help us.  I will be sharing a little of what I have been taught by others, but mostly what the Lord has been revealing to me personally over time.

Let’s start with a few possible definitions.  You may recognize yourself in one or more of them, but keep in mind that definitions are simply tools to help us understand concepts, not standards to measure ourselves against to see whether we have arrived  or are disqualified.  We will be much happier if we simply do what God has given us to do, let Him continually take us further, and not worry about wearing tags and titles.

1.)  An apostolic intercessor functions as a personal intercessor for an apostle.

2.)  An apostolic intercessor is aligned with an apostle and taps into the apostolic authority flowing downward from that apostle.  Whatever the apostle’s jurisdiction of authority is, is what the apostolic intercessor has authority to reach into in prayer and receive answers for.

3.  An apostolic intercessor has been given authority by God to pray and receive answers within a particular sphere of influence — such as a region, state,  or nation that he or she is called to intercede for.

It is this last definition that I would like to examine more in-depth.  In a sense, the apostolic intercessor might be acting in the role of an apostle in the realm of prayer — being “sent” in intercession (“apostle” means one who is sent) to a region or nation.

Another mark of this type of apostolic intercessor is that he or she will usually be a leader of other intercessors.  Teaching others the keys to answered prayer and bringing them up into greater levels of understanding about intercession will be part of his or her function.  The group of intercessors that he leads will also flow corporately in the greater authority of the apostolic intercessor leader in receiving answers to prayer for their region.

The Old Testament prophets provide a model of what apostolic intercession entails.  They were sent not only to speak to the nation of Israel, but in many cases, to pray for her as well.  And they received extraordinary answers as they prayed.  Daniel repented on behalf of Israel and with his prayers accomplished their return to their land from exile (Daniel 9:1-19).  Elijah prayed for the rain to cease, and he received  the answer; he prayed for the rain to return, and it did (James 5:17, 18).  After first laying the groundwork in prayer, he decreed an end to rain, and he decreed the onset of rain again 3 1/2 years later (1 Kings 17:1 and 1 Kings 18:44).  Elijah taught others by establishing schools of prophets.

An apostolic intercessor would certainly need to be a prophetic intercessor as well — listening to the Holy Spirit for direction and then praying matters out according to what He reveals.

Rees Howells, who lived during the first half of the 20th century, is a fine example of an apostolic intercessor who, along with the band of intercessors he led, received miraculous answers during World War 2 for Great Britain and the rest of Europe.  In addition, their prayers brought intervention for Ethiopia during a critical time in its history, and were instrumental in the reestablishment of Israel as a nation.  If you are serious about understanding apostolic intercession, I strongly recommend reading The Intercession of Rees Howells, by Doris Ruscoe and Rees Howells: Intercessor, by Norman Grubb.  You may wish to read my series of posts about Mr. Howells as well.

I also recommend Derek Prince’s book, Secrets of a Prayer Warrior.  In it are essential keys for apostolic intercessors (or anyone who desires to change the world through prayer).  Mr. Prince comments, “God has made us a Kingdom of priests.  As such, our responsibility is to rule by prayer.  The Bible reveals that this world is not really ruled by presidents and governors and dicators.  They only seem to rule.  The people who really rule the world are those who know how to pray.”

You might find my book,  House of Prayer ~ House of Power of value, too.  It is geared toward the one who is feeling a tug upon his or her heart to form a prayer group and lead others in intercession to transform their region.  It has practical information on how to get started, along with outline teachings you can use to train up your group in the art of intercession.

The role of apostolic intercessor is weighty.  It requires serious commitment to prayer.  It also requires humility — an emptying of self with all its ambitions for recognition.  It is not an overnight process, but something that takes time and a great deal of refining to come into.  E. M. Bounds commented, “A severe apprenticeship in the trade of praying must be served in order to become a journeyman in it.”

We all have a long way to go, at every level of intercession, in being effective.  Whether you are specifically called to apostolic intercession or not, God will show you your area of influence and how to obtain your answers.  Each of us has a key role to play in advancing the Kingdom of God through prayer.

Salvation Houses of Prayer

And I sought for a man among them that would make up the hedge and stand in the gap before me for the land, so that I should not destroy it: but I found none.Ezekiel 22:30

Recently, I read a blog post by James Goll, about a vision that God gave him.  He saw the letters SHOP hanging in mid-air in front of him.  The Lord spoke to Mr. Goll that SHOP stood for Salvation House of Prayer.  He commented that although there are many houses of prayer, few of them pray for souls. God is desiring for our emphasis to change.  He is asking His intercessors to be involved in prayer evangelism.

My heart was so stirred by Mr. Goll’s vision. The prayer gathering of which I am a part is patiently and faithfully laying the groundwork for revival and awakening to take place in our region.  Revival and awakening result in radical transformation in the lives of individuals and whole communities. Revival speaks of the Church rising up out of its stupor and returning to a passionate love for Jesus — holiness, reverence for the Lord, walking in His ways and in His power.  Awakening is about those who do not yet know the Lord coming to receive Him in droves.  Although our group already prays for these things, I made a mental note that in the future, we will be even more diligent to pray for the lost — for a great harvest to be brought in.

What is prayer evangelism?

To evangelize is to spread the good news of Jesus to others.  Someone has to do the actual speaking of the gospel message — whether through the oral or written word.  Those who function strongly as evangelists are gifted in sharing Jesus with nearly everyone with whom they come in contact.  They are effective in leading others to the Lord.  And it is as natural as breathing to them.

But there are those of us who do not have as many social contacts or opportunities to evangelize, or who do not do as well at direct evangelism.  Many intercessors find themselves in this category.  Yet, we have a way of reaching the lost which we are perhaps not taking as seriously as we should.  We can participate in evangelism through prayer.

Although someone has to do the actual speaking to the lost, it is equally true that someone has to prepare the soil of their hearts to receive that word.  That is the place of intercessors.  Our prayers for nonbelievers are a prerequisite to them recognizing their need for salvation.  Mankind is incapable of desiring God without the aid of the Holy Spirit.  We can partner with God’s plan to reach them by praying softened hearts into them.  We can beseech the Lord to release the Holy Spirit upon their lives, to deliver them from Satan’s influence and to implant in them a hunger to know Jesus.

As we gather together to intercede concerning all the other important needs, let’s no longer neglect the unsaved.  (Let’s not neglect them in our personal prayer times either.)  The Father’s heart breaks over those who are steadily marching the highway to hell.  Some of them are our own loved ones.  We must catch His heart and His compassion for them.  Only the Holy Spirit can do such a work in us, but if we will ask, He will fuel our prayers for souls.  And He will answer.

We must understand that prayer is the most powerful tool God has given to His Church to advance His Kingdom.  Without prayer, nothing changes.  Through prayer, all things are possible.  We rule the world through prayer — but only if we pray.

May God raise up those salvation houses of prayer. 

Let’s Talk Christian Leadership

I’ve been thinking a lot about Christian leadership lately — what it is and what it is not.  It’s a good idea for anyone who has a leadership role to think it through from time to time, just to make sure we’re still living it out the way Jesus intends us to — because it is easy to slip from the model He set for us.

Jesus knew that the Kingdom leadership concept is foreign to our soulish nature, and that’s why He gave instruction about it:

“You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.  But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you, let him be your minister, and whoever would be chief among you, let him be your servant.”
Matthew 20:25-27

So, leaders are to serve those whom they lead, exhibiting humility, not being heavy-handed, honoring the ones who follow them.  They are to encourage, care for, and inspire those for whom they have been given responsibility.

Genuine Christlike leadership does not involve bullying, tyrannizing, intimidating, manipulating, and expecting others to bow down to us.  You wouldn’t think I would have to say that, but unfortunately, leaders in the Church do those things sometimes.  Such behaviors are easy to fall into, but they wound people and cause them to bitterly leave  church fellowships behind.

Leaders in the Body of Christ must continually remember the concept of sonship for all believers.  What do I mean by that?  Simply this: every Christian is a son of God, with all having equal value in the Father’s eyes, all having equal covenant and inheritance privileges through Christ.  Revelation 5:10 says  that Jesus, the Lamb of God, “has made us [all] kings and priests unto our God, and we shall [all] reign on the earth.”  We are all royalty, and there is no caste system in God’s family — no Level Two sons with the right to lord it over the Level Ones.  We must never forget that.

Heavy-handed leadership is often rooted in insecurity about one’s ability to lead.  It may involve fear that the leadership position will be taken away, resulting in clutching and striving to retain control.

The antidote is to understand our position in Christ — that we are God’s beloved, and that He will always give us (and help us retain) what is best for us.  Developing trust in Him, and learning to depend on His abilities flowing through us, will help us overcome fears and insecurities about having our ministry position snatched away from us.  We will become the Kingdom leaders that Jesus meant for us to be.

When You Are Unjustly Criticized …

Sometimes we do the best that we can, seeking to walk in integrity and humility of heart, trying our utmost to stay conformed to the likeness of Jesus, and yet something goes wrong.  Another believer chooses to see our motives as evil when they are not, begins to go on the attack, brings up a nasty report against us, and, unfortunately, the criticism is believed by those who ought to know us better than that.

Most of us encounter such trouble at some time or other.  Maybe you are currently going through it.  Today, I simply want to give you some Scripture verses to comfort and help you through:

In the time when I am afraid, I will trust in You.  In God I will praise His Word; in God I have put my trust.  I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.
      — Psalm 56:3, 4

In God I have put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.
      — Psalm 56:11

I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy, for You have considered my trouble; You have known my soul in adversities, and have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy.  You have set my feet in a large room.  [That “large room” is the place of His grace.]
      — Psalm 31:7, 8

You shall hide them in the secret of Your presence from the pride of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.  [Staying in His presence keeps us in the secret place of His grace and protection, where we can live above the “stuff.”]
      — Psalm 31:20

No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn.  This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of Me, says the LORD.
     
Isaiah 54:17

Commit your way unto the LORD; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.  And He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday.
      — Psalm 37:5, 6

I called upon the LORD in distress; the LORD answered me, and set me in a large place. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do unto me? The LORD takes my part with those who help me ….
      — Psalm 118:6, 7

Remember that God sees it all, and He knows how to deal with it.  He will either eventually set the record straight, or else bring you into greater  humility and Christ-likeness through the experience.  Although it is never easy to endure being treated unjustly, if we will refrain from lashing back and will continue to keep our hand in His, over time, our real character will be revealed to all.

For this is the will of God, that with well-doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
     
1 Peter 2:15

[For Jesus Himself] when He was reviled, did not revile in return. When He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him [the Father] Who judges righteously.
      — 1 Peter 2:23

In the meantime, we can help ourselves and the person who is treating us badly by responding as Jesus and Peter directed:

… Pray for them which despitefully use you …. — Matthew 5:44

Finally, be all of one mind, having compassion one of another. Love as brethren. Be pitiful and courteous, not repaying evil for evil, or railing for railing, but on the contrary, blessing — knowing that you are called thereunto, so that you will inherit a blessing.
      — 1 Peter 3:8, 9

War and Peace

While in prayer a few days ago, I heard the following words in my spirit: “War and peace.  There is war in the heavenlies over the peace of Jerusalem.”

My first thought, since Israel is much in the news right now, was that it was about the need to pray for Jerusalem, but as I inquired further, I understood that “Jerusalem,” in this case, was symbolic, meaning the saints of God.

The Lord went on to explain that there is an onslaught going on against God’s people to cause them to mistrust His goodness and His faithfulness to His promises.  It is a two-prong attack: the bringing about of negative or hindering circumstances, and then the pounding of discouragement and worry against our minds.

This war is nothing new.  It is an age-old conflict.  But as we draw nearer to the end of time, the heat is intensifying.  Daniel 7 gives us a picture of the very end of the last days.  Verse 25 says of the Antichrist, “He shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High.”  Daniel 7:21, 22 says, he “made war with the saints, and prevailed against them, until the Ancient of Days came ….”   Revelation 12:12 adds, “…for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has only a short time.”

Are these verses being fulfilled right now?  No, they speak of a literal person who will come against God’s people, the literal coming of the Lord to establish His physical kingdom, and the final judgment.  But as we get closer to that time, we are seeing an increase in the assaults upon us.   I am hearing from many people these days who are distressed and plagued with the temptation to worry and doubt like they have never experienced before.  The circumstances are different for each of us, but I dare say most of us are feeling the pressure.

So, what do we do to overcome?  We wage our own spiritual warfare.  We determine in our hearts not to give in to the pressure.  This means that when we notice worry or doubt of God’s faithfulness nagging at the edges of our minds, we don’t ignore it. If we just ignore the thoughts, it won’t be long  before we start agreeing with them.  We must actively refuse to indulge the wrong ideas, and we command the assaulting demonic influence that is injecting them into our thinking to leave.

We speak the truth of the Word of God — truth about His faithfulness, His goodness, His commitment to His promises.  It is good to meditate on these character qualities of God, but it is even better to verbalize them.  Quote the Bible verses aloud, so that you hear them.  If you don’t know where very many of them are, I can help you: go to Encouragement from God’s Word.  You will find a lot of verses topically listed there, and if you would like, you can purchase them in booklet form (but you don’t have to.) 

Repeatedly speak to the Lord of your belief in Him.  Tell Him you trust Him, that you believe He will help you, that you believe the promises in His Word and the promises He has personally given you.  I do this silently a lot, but I also do it aloud.  There is much power in the spoken word.  Speak these things in prayer even if you don’t feel it in your emotions.  As you believe by an act of your will, empowered by what you know to be right in your spirit-man, the thoughts and emotions will eventually line up.  That doesn’t happen easily or immediately, because it is part of the spiritual battle we are waging.

What if you have already indulged in worry, fear, mistrust of God?  What if you’ve already spoken doubt and pretty much given it all up into the enemy’s hands?  Capitulating to the enemy in earthly battles means you lose.  But it is different in the spiritual realm.  As long as you are breathing, no matter how badly you have botched it, you can still win.  Ask the Lord to forgive you, and determine to speak and believe right things from now on.  Exercise what faith you have, and watch God strengthen you and build more faith in you.  We all fall down, but the Lord does not have a limit on how many times He will pick us up.  Just keep pressing on, always determining to go higher.  Only those who refuse to get up again fail.

Personally, I find comfort in knowing I am not alone when these assaults hit me.  When other people express that they are going through the same thing, it helps me to understand that we are comrades in arms, all experiencing the same war.  We strengthen each other along the way.  In fact, that’s why I am writing this today, so that you will know you are not alone.  And we will make it.  Jesus says so in His Word.