Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Notes on Prayer and Fasting

Several years ago I gathered the following notes for Grace Baptist Church to guide us in the work of prayer and fasting. Samuel Miller has an excellent essay on this subject, as does Don Whitney, in his book on Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Today, our church is fasting and praying for the advance of the gospel on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. There are 60 people groups on the island, 52 of which are unreached by the gospel. We sent a team there last summer and later this summer plan to send one of our members to work there for a year.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that has been largely neglected in our indulgent society. But it is a biblical practice and helps focus and intensify prayer. Perhaps the following notes will provide a starting point for your own study of this topic in God's Word and a new, or renewed practice of fasting for God to work in powerful ways in our day.

Notes on Fasting

As we approach the day of prayer and fasting, consider the following thoughts on the place of fasting for believers. Ask the Lord to enable us truly to repent of our sins and humble ourselves as a congregation before Him. Pray that He would revive us and restore His powerful presence among us as a church, and as a nation. Prepare this week to set aside this Saturday for special prayer and fasting. Take time this week to review these notes. Look up the Scriptures cited. Plan to join in this effort on Wednesday, March 31, 2010.

What is Fasting?

*Fasting is a Christian's voluntary abstinence from food and other legitimate enjoyments for spiritual purposes.

"To make the matter complete, we would add that fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not only be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some spiritual purpose."

-D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

"Whenever men are to pray to God concerning any great matter, it would be expedient to appoint fasting along with prayer."
-John Calvin.

Fasting helps the believer to concentrate the mind and body on spiritual concerns so that fervent, extra-ordinary prayer might be given to those concerns. Various kinds of fasts are mentioned in the Bible:

-A Normal Fast involves abstaining from all food, but not from water. (Mt. 4:2

-A Partial Fast is a limitation of the diet but not abstention from all food. (Dan. 1:12; Mt. 3:4)

-An Absolute Fast is the avoidance of all food & liquid, even water. (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9).

-A Supernatural Fast which require God's supernatural intervention into the bodily processes and are not repeatable apart from the lord's specific calling & miraculous provision. (Deut. 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8)

-A Private Fast is the one referred to most often by Jesus, and should be done without calling attention to oneself. (Mt. 6:16-18)

-Congregational Fasts involve the church participating together. (Joel 2:15-16; Acts 13:2)

-A National Fast is a call to the nation to fast. (2 Chron. 20:3; Neh.9:1; Jonah 3:5-8) (The US Congress has called 3 national fasts, under John Adams, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln)

-There was one Regular Fast under the Old Covenant. (Lev. 16:29-31)

-Occasional Fasts which occur on special occasions as the need arises. (Mt. 9:15)

On Wednesday, we will be fasting as a congregation. Most will enter into this as a normal fast. Some will participate with an absolute fast. Others will engage in a partial fast. Your physical and medical health should be taken into consideration before fasting. Even those who for medical and health reasons should not abstain from food can abstain from other legitimate enjoyments such as, TV, internet browsing, recreation, entertainment, etc.

Fasting Should Be Done for a Purpose

-To Strengthen Prayer (Ezra 8:3)

-To Seek God's Guidance (Judges 20-v. 26; Acts 14:23)

-To Express Grief (1 Sam. 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:11-12; 1 Jn. 1:9; 1 Sam. 20:34)

-To Seek Divine Deliverance/Protection (2 Chron. 20:3-4; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16)

-To Express Repentance and a Return to God (1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8)

-To Humble Oneself before God (Ps. 35:13)

-To Express Concern for the Word of God (Neh. 1:3-4; Dan. 9:3)

-To Overcome Temptation and Dedicate Oneself to God (Matt. 4:1-2)

-To Express Love and Devotion to God (Lk. 2: 37; Zechariah 7:5)

We will be fasting to help focus our attention on the desperate need of the Gospel to break through on the island of Sumatra. Pray for the believers who are there. Pray for more workers to be sent. Pray for the Spirit to own the Word throughout that island to the salvation of many in this generation.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Samuel Zwemer's prayer for Muslims

The following article is taken from Kairos Journal, an excellent online source of insight on a wide-ranging array of topics. I highly recommend it.

A Prayer for the Muslim World--Samuel Zwemer (1867-1952)

The great historian of Christian mission, Kenneth Scott Latourette, once said that no man deserved the title "The Apostle to Islam" more than Samuel Zwemer. The 13th of 15 children born to a Dutch Reformed immigrant family in Michigan, Zwemer gave his life to the evangelization of Muslim peoples. For 40 years he worked in Iraq, Bahrain, and Egypt. In his extensive travels throughout Asia, India, Africa, and North America he presented the needs of Muslims to Christians and the gospel of Christ to Muslims.

A plea for persistent prayer for Muslim peoples and lands was a constant theme in his public speaking and writing. [The following prayer is found in Samuel M. Zwemer, Islam and the Cross: Selections from "The Apostle to Islam," ed. Roger S. Greenway (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2002), 153-154.]

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who hast made of one blood all nations and hast promised that many shall come from the East and sit down with Abraham in thy kingdom: We pray for thy prodigal children in Muslim lands who are still afar off, that they may be brought nigh by the blood of Christ. Look upon them in pity, because they are ignorant of thy truth.

Take away pride of intellect and blindness of heart, and reveal to them the surpassing beauty and power of thy Son Jesus Christ. Convince them of their sin in rejecting the atonement of the only Savior. Give moral courage to those who love thee, that they may boldly confess thy name.

Hasten the day of religious freedom in Turkey, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa. Send forth reapers where the harvest is ripe, and faithful plowmen to break furrows in lands still neglected. May the tribes of Africa and Malaysia not fall prey to Islam but be won for Christ. Bless the ministry of healing in every hospital, and the ministry of love at every church and mission. May all Muslim children in mission schools be led to Christ and accept him as their personal Savior.

Strengthen converts, restore backsliders, and give all those who labor among Muslims the tenderness of Christ, so that bruised reeds may become pillars of his church, and smoking flaxwicks burning and shining lights. Make bare thine arm, O God, and show thy power. All our expectation is from thee.

Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son in the Muslim world, and fulfill through him the prayer of Abraham thy friend, "O, that Ishmael might live before thee." For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

18 years ago today, he was released from captivity

One of the highlights of my time in Istanbul took place tonight at a dinner table. I had the privilege of sharing a meal with Joel and Margaret Delhart in the home of mutual friends. Joel grew up in Central Asia and continues to live there today. In the summer of 1991 he and a veterinarian, Dr. William Lewis, were working in a remote region of Afghanistan, serving the Hazara people by implementing a vaccination program for their farm animals. On Saturday, July 6, they were abducted by a Mujahideen commander and held for ransom. On January 4, 1992, exactly 18 years ago, Joel was released. Dr. Lewis had been released 3 months earlier after becoming critically ill.

The quiet, humble confidence in God that Joel exudes is recounted in a book that he and a co-worker who was the lead negotiator for his release co-wrote, entitled, The Upper Hand: God's Sovereignty in Afghan Captivity. I was given a copy of the book tonight and look forward to reading the details of the story that I heard over dinner.

Seven years ago, the Deharts also survived a grenade attack on their church during a worship service in Islamabad. Both of them were injured in the attack and live with the resulting challenges of those injuries.

They are passing through Istanbul on their way back to Central Asia to continue serving the people they love by teaching English. Being with them was a reminder of the reality of suffering and sacrifice that many or our brothers and sisters face around the world today. It was also a reminder to pray for those who choose to live in hard places for the sake of the gospel.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pray for Brian Hamrick

UPDATE: Wednesday at 3:30 PM Eastern Time I spoke with Katherine and learned that Brian has had 2 stable days. He was taken off the ventilator for 15 minutes today and responded well. The doctors are hopeful that further surgery will not be necessary and they plan to start slowly taking him off the heavy medications soon. The family is encouraged and very grateful for the prayers of friends far and near.

Please pray for my friend, Brian Hamrick, pastor of First Baptist Church in Clewiston, Florida. Brian had to be rushed via life-flight to Ft. Myers late Saturday night due to complications following major surgery. Early Monday morning his condition deteriorated and sepsis set in.

In an email late last night his wife, Katherine, wrote, "He is a strong man and is fighting for his life. Please be in prayer for him. God is in control and can do anything! Our hope is in Christ, the ultimate healer and great physician."

Please pray for Brian, Katherine and their 2 sons, Nathan (4) and Luke (1).

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dr. Wyman Richardson goes to Congress

Wyman Richardson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dawson, GA has been invited to give a brief devotional before the Georgia House of Representatives tomorrow morning at 10AM Eastern time. His comments will be livestreamed, beginning promptly at 10AM. You may tune in by going here and clicking on the House link.

Pray for Wyman as he seeks to bring God's Word to these governmental leaders in a way that will be helpful to them and honoring to our Lord.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thanks for your prayers

It has been a month since I had my up close and personal encounter with lightning. These last 4 weeks have been filled new experiences. Some of those were mentioned in Donna's update a couple of weeks ago. Others have been harder to articulate. About a week after the strike I was able to write the following to my church family.
Most of my thinking has been somewhat productive. Some of my thoughts, however, have been pretty dark. I have been reminded of Bunyan's Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt, who, if once they get in a man, know how to lay low both Mr. Great-Grace as well as Mr. Little-Faith. They have become familiar enemies the last few days.

I am not angry at God. I am not disappointed with Him. Nor do I think He had nothing to do with this. The events of early Tuesday morning are so unusual that it is impossible not to see the sovereign hand of God at work orchestrating every event.
As I have told many people since that night, my first conscious thought was, "God has done this." I don't think it is enough simply to say that He allowed it. I believe He orchestrated it. As I also wrote to the church,
The same God who sent the bolt of lightning through my body is the One who sent His Son to cross. I have no reason to doubt His mercy and grace.
Those thoughts have been increasingly confirmed to me over the ensuing days. By His grace I was able to attend our church's morning worship services this past Sunday and able to address, albeit very briefly, both English and Spanish congregations. It was very encouraging for me to be there and to fellowship and worship with brothers and sisters to whom I am united in the bonds of grace.

I reminded our church that God is good in all His ways. He was good in sparing my life. And He would have been good in taking it. Psalm 119:71 and 75 are my testimony. It is good for me that I have been afflicted, and I do know that God has done this in faithfulness.

There are many more lessons that the Lord is teaching me--and reteaching me. So much of the Christian life is not learning new things but learning fundamental things in new ways.

Doctors have given me reason to anticipate continuing progress in recuperation. I am seeing daily improvements. There are still some difficulties with which I must contend, and, I have been encouraged to be patient with these. Hopefully, they will diminish with time.

I am so very grateful for all of the prayers and expressions of love and encouragements that have come my way. Many who I know primarily or even exclusively through blogging have encouraged me with notes and comments. I am deeply appreciative and reminded of the wonder of being in the family of the living God.

Please continue to pray as the Lord brings me to mind. I am planning to preach this week for the first time since the strike. Fortunately, I have a great apostolic example of preaching "in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling" (1 Cor. 2:3).

In the future, I hope to be able to write more specifically about lessons learned through this experience. If I am enabled to do so, I will post such thoughts here.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Pray for Iowa and the Midwest

Eric Schumacher, pastor of Northbrook Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has asked us to pray for those who are suffering due to the storms and floods in his state. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Teams are on the ground seeking to minister. Pray that the Gospel of Christ will be proclaimed in word and deed as brothers and sisters suffer with and minister to those who have been affected.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pray for Pastor Forrest Pollock and Bell Shoals Baptist Church

UPDATE: It has been confirmed that Pastor Pollock and his 13 year old son died when his plane went down in western North Carolina. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Pastor Forrest Pollock of Bell Shoals Baptist Church has been missing since leaving Brandon, Florida Sunday afternoon in his private plane for North Carolina. He was flying the plane, which never made it to its destination. Search crews on the ground and in the air are focusing on an area near Rutherfordton, NC where an emergency transmitter signal has been detected.

As you pray, remember his wife, Dawn, their 6 children (15-9 years old), the church, and the search crews.

Regular updates are being posted on the church's website.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Pray for Tom Brady

Several people have contacted me off line about my response to Tom Brady's comments in his recent 60 Minutes interview and have promised to pray for him. Since New England is playing Saturday night for an undefeated season, and doing so in front of what could be a record setting television audience, this seems to be a great opportunity to pray concertedly for him. If you watch the game, ask the Lord to stir him up to keep seeking the answers to his questions and to give him no rest until he comes to rest in the Lord Jesus Christ, his Savior.

Encourage others to join in the effort. May the Lord put people in his life that will guide him that is found in knowing Jesus (Matthew 13:44).

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Chapman's call to prayer and the elephant in the corner

Dr. Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, called on Southern Baptists to pray during his report to the excom earlier this week. Specifically, he said that we need to be praying for God to bless us with "His wisdom, His glory, His holiness and His witness of Jesus Christ."

Amen.

Those 4 concerns are vitally important and should be focal points of our praying. But sometimes, I wonder if prayer is tantamount to hypocrisy, or at least a cover for our clear disobedience to God's revealed will.

When the Israelites, still basking in the displays of God's power in their victory over Jericho, were humiliated in their efforts to conquer Ai, Joshua and elders of Israel fell on their faces for hours and cried out to God in heart-felt prayer (Joshua 7:6-9).

God's response is very instructive as well as timely for Southern Baptists. He said, "Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned ...." (7:10-11a). There was sin in the camp due to Achan's violation of God's clearly revealed will. Because of this, it wasn't time to pray. It was time to act. The sin must be addressed before it would even be appropriate for Joshua to pray for God's blessing.

God had clearly spoken, making known His will that the Israelites were not to take any of the "accursed things" from Jericho and that all of the silver, gold, bronze and iron was to be placed in the treasury of the Lord (6:18-19). Achan did not do this, but stole some of the forbidden things (7:1).

Then, when Israel marched on Ai, expecting God to go with their army as He had at Jericho, the Lord let them flounder in defeat. In the wake of that humilation, Joshua and the elders pray. And the Lord, in effect, tells them to stop praying and to get up and correct the sin that is in the camp.

I have often wondered what that scene must have looked like from heaven's perspective? His people are praying for His blessing while violating His revealed will. It must have appeared to be highly presumptuous in the sight of God.

Granted, Joshua did not yet know about Achan's sin. When it was made known to him, he did not pretend like it was no big deal, or ignore it, or justify it or make excuses about why it couldn't be addressed. We don't read about him saying, "But Lord, we don't want to violate the autonomy of the local clan."

Which brings me to the elephant in the corner of our SBC zion. I am grateful for Dr. Chapman's call to prayer. We desperately need what only God can provide. But isn't it time for our leaders to do something about the elephant that is stinking up the room? Of course, I am talking about the horrible, God-dishonoring fact that most of our SBC church members give no signs of spiritual life. If you can assume that merely showing up at church is a minimum indicator of spiritual life then it is not too much to conclude that over half of our denomination's 16.3 million members are spiritually dead.

We are Baptists. We say and have repeatedly confessed in our writings that we believe we understand the Bible to teach God's clearly revealed will that a local church should be comprised only of regenerate members. We have, historically, been champions of our Lord's teachings on church discipline. We believe that by doing so we are merely submitting to the revealed will of our Master. Or at least, we used to believe and do those things.

What must it look like to heaven when we pray for the Lord's guidance and blessings as we intentionally ignore and refuse to do what He has called us to do? I think it must look like presumption and hypocrisy.

The issue of our inflated statistics and regenerate church membership has gained increasing attention over the last 2 years. Even some leaders are now admitting that we have a problem (see here and here) . But admitting to a problem and calling for action on it are two different things. It is time for Southern Baptist pastors, churches and denominational leaders to stand up and say unequivocally,
"We have sinned. Our churches are filled with unconverted members. Our evangelism has too often encouraged this very malady, and we must repent!"
We must have reformation in our church life. It will not be easy. It will not be painless. But it is absolutely necessary if we are serious about desiring God's blessing."

Do we want His wisdom? It is displayed in the church that is ordered according to His Word (Ephesians 3:10).

Do we want His glory? It is displayed to those who humbly seek Him in obedience to His revealed will (Exodus 33:18-34:7).

Do we want His holiness? Then we must obey His will, delight in what He delights in and do what He commands (1 Peter 1:14-16)/

Do we want His witness to shine through us? It will, when we live differently from the world and bear His image in lives of obedience and good works (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:9-12).

These are all things for which we must pray. But let our prayers be without presumption. We must be willing to deal honestly and humbly with our sin--particularly with the sin of churches filled with unregenerate members.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Winslow on pastors' weaknesses and needs

Octavius Winslow's Morning Thoughts and Evening Thoughts are two of my favorite devotional books. His August 1 and August 2 morning readings are good reminders of how much pastors need the prayers of their people. I have often thought that if my people really knew how weak I am they would desperately pray for me more than they do--and I am quite confident that most of them pray regularly for me now.

Consider this sample of Winslow's insights:
Who are ministers of Christ? Are they angels? Are they superhuman beings? Are they inspired? No, they are men in all respects like others. They partake of like infirmities, are the subjects of like assaults, and are estranged from nothing that is human. As the heart knows its own bitterness, so they only are truly aware of the existence and incessant operation of those many and clinging weaknesses of which they partake in sympathy with others. And yet God has devolved upon them a work which would crush an angel's powers, if left to his self-sustaining energy.
If you are a pastor, read Winslow and be reminded of your weakness. If you have a pastor, read Winslow and remember to pray for those who are charged with the responsibility to care for your souls.

You can find the readings for the whole month of August here at the Grace Gems website.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

State Senate Resolution to Pray for Florida

Florida Senate Resolution
On May 3, 2007 the Florida Senate passed a resolution calling on the residents of our state to pray "that God would have mercy on our state" as we approach another hurricane season. Not only Florida but nearly the whole Gulf Coast region and much of the Atlantic Coast has been chastened by hurricanes the last few years. Other parts of our nation have experienced natural disasters from tornadoes, fires and floods. All of these are reminders of our smallness and dependence on power far greater than ours for protection. We may be able to name the storms, but we cannot change their direction or impact.

This is an appropriate resolution for our state legislators to pass. The text is found below. May the Lord who commands winds and waves (Job 38:11) indeed show mercy to us in the months ahead. More importantly, may He turn many hearts to Himself and remind us of our need of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • WHEREAS, throughout our history, our Nation has turned to prayer for strength and guidance in times of challenge and uncertainty, and
  • WHEREAS, past presidents, including Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and others, have called for a day of prayer at times of crisis and disaster, and
  • WHEREAS, our first President wrote in 1790, "May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths..." as we face the challenges of our times, God's purpose continues to guide us, and we continue to trust in the goodness of His plans, and
  • WHEREAS, we have been warned by leading hurricane forecasters of the likelihood of a very active hurricane season, and
  • WHEREAS, our preparations can protect against hurricanes but cannot influence the strength or frequency with which they occur, and
  • WHEREAS, in addition to these preparations, the residents of this state are in need of protection,
  • NOW, THEREFORE, Be It Resolved by the Senate of the State of Florida: That in recognition of the first day of Hurricane Season, June 1, 2007, the Senate calls upon the residents of this state to pray that God would have mercy on our state and protect us from harm.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I confess, I have a private prayer language

One of the controversies bubbling up in the Southern Baptist Convention has to do with "private prayer language." Steve McCoy recently revealed that NAMB is now asking about this in their applications for scholarships:
"Do you speak in an unknown tongue (glosolalia) or have a private prayer language?"
Well, I have a confession to make. I have a private prayer language. I didn't seek it. It didn't come in any kind of ecstatic jolt. I have had it for as long as I can remember. My private prayer language is the language I use when, well, praying in private.

Though all prayer ought to be authentic, there are appropriate differences that should characterize the way we pray in different settings. Our public prayer should employ different language than that offered in more intimate groups, and prayers offered in private should be different from both of these. Spurgeon recognized the difference between public and private prayer and devoted separate chapters to each in his Lectures to My Students.

When leading in public or corporate prayer one should remember that he is praying in behalf of those gathered. Corporate praise, corporate confession and petitions that are appropriate for the body in general should punctuate such praying. When leading a church in pastoral prayer, the minister, Spurgeon suggests, should consider the general needs and concerns that mark the congregation. "He should bring the joys and sorrows of his people alike before the throne of grace, and ask that the divine benediction may rest upon his flock...and that the forgiveness of God may be extended to their shortcomings and innumerable sins." Such prayers must seek to carry to the throne of grace all of those who are gathered for worship. Anything that would hinder spiritually minded people from following should be avoided.

In small groups, prayers can be more appropriately intimate and less formal than in larger gatherings. More personal needs can be specifically brought before the Lord and, given the nature of the relationships of those present, sins can be more specifically confessed and lamented. When families or spouses pray together, those issues that uniquely concern them are proper subjects of prayer. It is appropriate for four friends to pray together specifically about personal struggles and decisions in ways that would be inappropriate in a larger gathering.

When praying privately prayer can be completely intimate because it is completely private. This does not mean that it can be "cheeky" or flippant. God is still in heaven and we are still frail creatures of dust. But as children coming alone to a dearly loved and infinitely loving father, we may go to our God without regard of what others may think of our words or expressions. Our Lord prayed privately with words that were often not recorded and only partially recorded in Gethsemane. So it is with our own private prayers. They are characterized by expressions and language that is intimate and private. This is what D. M. M'Intyre means by the title of his book, The Hidden Life of Prayer.

Every Christian must pray this way, behind closed doors, if you will. Our Lord specifically instructs us to engage in private prayer. "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Matthew 6:6). That is what I mean when I say that I have a "private prayer language." My prayers "behind the door" are intimate, personal and transparent. I confess specific sinful attitudes and thoughts that plague my heart. I say things that would be completely inappropriate for me to say in corporate or even small group prayer. Sometimes, I don't even know what to say and find myself wordless in the presence of God as I pour my heart out to Him. At such moments I take great comfort in knowing that "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" (Romans 8:26).

Now, for the record, my "private prayer language" is not any kind of ecstatic utterance. But it most definitely is private and intimate. It is not nearly as warm, consistent or vibrant as I want it to be and hope that it may yet become, but it is real. I am not a proponent of praying in a language that is unknown--which is typically what is meant by "private prayer language." But I would sooner rejoice that a brother is praying in private than to castigate him for doing so in a way that is unintelligible. Private, personal prayer is one of the chief means whereby our hearts are cultivated for godliness.

In this sense, every Christian should have a private prayer language. In fact, in my opinion anyone who doesn't should be disqualified from serving in any capacity in the SBC. Now there's a policy that surely every Southern Baptist can support!

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