The eternal difference your prayers make

“So, you were the one praying for me!  Thank you!”

In Heaven, two things will happen, I predict–

–1.  People will be coming up thanking you for praying for them.  You barely remember calling out their names to the Father, but He heard and used your prayer and they are living forever because you were faithful.  Sure makes you want to be faithful, doesn’t it?  (See Luke 18:8)

–2. People will be coming up telling you they had prayed for you. And that will answer a question that had bugged you for years:  Was it someone’s prayers that caused those wonderful things to happen in your life?  And now you know. Sure makes you want to be grateful, doesn’t it?

This was brought home to me by a testimony in Christianity Today for July/August 2014.  (I wrote about it then and still treasure it.)

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What I said when she said her prayers were so weak

“It’s not all up to you.”

She had given me a burdensome list of prayer needs.  Her husband was battling a terminal illness, her daughter was in a bad situation, the grandchildren were at risk, and she herself felt so far from the Lord.

I’m breaking no confidence in sharing this.  First, she gave permission, and second, her needs are not unlike a dozen people whom I know. There is a lot of this going around.  A few minutes later, a mother whom I do not know, but who found us on the internet, wrote with a similar list of prayer needs.

She asked me to pray for her. She did not ask for advice. However, while I am indeed lifting her needs in prayer, the next best gift I can give is to encourage her own praying.  I asked if she was “up” to my commenting on her prayers.  She was.

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The three mysteries of divine intercession

“…seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). 

We hear it all the time and we preachers are not shy about proclaiming divine intercession.  One member of the Trinity interceding with the other Two, or even two members of the Trinity interceding with the Third.  If I sound unsure about this subject, it’s because there is much that eludes me.

One.  The mystery of divine intercession: What does it look like?  What’s going on in Heaven when it happens?

This would be a good time for me to describe what I think goes on at the Throne when intercession is taking place.  I’ll pass, thank you.  This is far beyond my poor powers to imagine.

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The number one way to encourage a pastor

There was a time when it was easier to pastor a church than it is today. There was a time when churches running a thousand on Sunday were considered mega. There was a time when churches took what they had in the way of pastoral leadership and pretty much went with it without a lot of complaints.

Those days are no more. It’s a different world we live in.

People demand strengths and excellence and results from their leaders. They look for power in the pulpit and skills in relationships. They want degrees and winsomeness and it wouldn’t hurt if you looked sharp either.

They want to be fed in sermons and challenged in programs. They want input in decisions and no longer hand the keys to the kingdom to the new preacher.

What they do not want…

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My morning prayer

In the morning, O Lord, I will direct my song and my prayer unto You and will look up.  (Psalm 5:3)

I love You, my Lord.

I love You as much as I’m capable of.  If I were You, I would not be satisfied with that.  I would grow weary of watching me stumble and hearing me confess and repent for the zillionth time.

And yet, You are patient. Steadfast.  Forgiving to the ultimate, loving beyond anything that I imagine or ask.

How can I begin to comprehend Thy love and faithfulness?

Help me, Father.

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Have you ever been arrested? Did anyone pray for you?

Remember the prisoners as if chained with them…. (Hebrews 13:3) 

This was my morning radio program (“Phone Call from the Pastor,” Lifesongs 89.1 FM.  Christian radio station in New Orleans)….

Have you ever been arrested? Imagine the devastating impact on your family.

Last night the television news showed the arrest of a fellow on the Northshore for the murder of a convenience store clerk several years ago.  In handcuffs, he was being escorted into jail by a couple of sheriff’s deputies.

As he passed the camera, the man paused, stared into it and said, “Pray for me.  And pray for my family.”  I confess to being shocked. I mean, he was a fairly rough-looking man–the word ‘burly’ comes to mind–and I was expecting anything but that.

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10 verses that forever make prayer available, God accessible and us responsible (to act in faith!)

We begin with four verses in Romans 8 that are stunners. In truth, we don’t need to go further to settle the matter of God’s availability and our blessedness…

1.–“The Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).

2. –“It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:34).

3. –“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us (which is what he has been saying for 30 verses!), who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

4. –“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

In addition, there are incredible verses, promises, and insights scattered throughout the New Testament shining forth like beacons calling us to believe God and start obeying…

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When God says ‘no’

Now, when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.  Acts 16:6-7

I was 33 years old and minister of evangelism at the largest, most prestigious church (of our denomination at least)  in the state.  A few months earlier, our pastor had left and the leadership had handed me the assignment of preaching every three Sundays, every Wednesday night, and doing the Tuesday men’s Bible study for 150 fellows. All of that in addition to my regular duties.

I loved it.

One day, the chairman of the pastor search committee visited my cubby-hole of an office.  “Joe,” said Paul Moak.  “Do you believe God wants you to be pastor of this church?”  What a question.  Definitely a stunner that caught me off guard.  But I knew the answer.

“No, sir,” I said without hesitation.

“Neither do we,” he said.  (That seems funnier now than it did at the time.)

“But there’s a movement to make you the pastor of the church,” he said.

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To a friend going into denominational work

In a sense, I could be writing this to myself some 15 years ago as I transitioned from pastoring (for 42 years!) into the office of the Director of Missions for the SBC churches of Metro New Orleans.  These days, it applies to friends such as Louisiana’s Dr. Steve Horn, who left the pastorate of FBC Lafayette to become Executive of that state’s SBC churches or Dr. Shawn Parker, who left FBC Columbus MS for the Executive office in Mississippi. 

You’ve been pastoring churches all your adult life.  And now the Lord–with the assistance of an executive search committee–is moving you out of the pastorate into a denominational office where your constituency will be churches and pastors instead of deacons and Sunday School teachers and the WMU.

I have been there, done that, and have the t-shirt.  And maybe a scar or two.

Eighteen months into my five-year tenure with the New Orleans Baptist Association, Hurricane Katrina flooded our city, ruining  vast neighborhoods and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents while destroying many of our churches.  Every day was a challenge. The blessings came in waves, the frustrations never left.

I came by these grey hairs honestly.

Ideally, in your new position you will have just enough difficulties to challenge your strengths without crushing you, and enough encouragement and prayer support to compensate for your weaknesses without making you self-satisfied or complacent.

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Ten things you will never hear me say

One. “Back in my day.”  I’m actually living in my day.  Today. 

This is my day.  I am as alive and active as I have ever been. I vote, I read the paper every day, I blog several times a week, and I’m often on Facebook.  I still work–traveling to cities far and near to preach and minister.

I married Bertha three years ago.  She still teaches English at a community college across town.  Much of her day is spent at the laptop grading papers and communicating with students.  She is very much in the present; neither of us is living in the past.

Earlier this month I drove to northern Kentucky (495 miles) to minister and drove back the next day, arriving home in time to sketch for two hours at our church’s Christmas program that evening.

I’m still here.

Two.  I’m going to ‘unpack’ this message.  Ugh! 

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