Recently I listened to a two-part sermon series by David Bernard, General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International, which I thought was excellent. I’ll be creating an individual blog post for each part. You can find the audio of the sermon posted on YouTube by Make Me A House of Prayer. Here are my sermon notes for Part 1.
“I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:16-18)
This is the key to living for God, basic Christian living, and also Christian ministry. It cannot be done in our ability, but [only] as we walk in the Spirit.
There is a battle raging within us between our flesh (our human nature) and the Spirit of God. If we walk in the flesh, we will produce the works of the flesh (see Galatians 5:19-21). Those who walk in the flesh and thus produce the works of the flesh will not be saved. However, those who walk in the Spirit will produce the fruit of the Spirit (vv.22-25) and will be saved. It is our choice as Christians whether we will walk in the flesh or walk in the Spirit.
Those who have been born again and have received God’s Spirit do not automatically walk in the Spirit; it is a conscious choice to walk in the Spirit. This conscious choice must be made daily, even moment by moment. We can choose to either walk in the power God has given us in His Spirit or in the old way of the flesh and sin. God does not make this choice for us.
There is still temptation and struggle in the Christian life. God has given us power through the Holy Spirit to overcome this temptation and struggle, but we must learn how to use that power. God does not manipulate us like robots; He expects us to make a conscious choice to use His power.
Many have the attitude that they will “get in the Spirit” on Sunday but then for the rest of the week they will live “normally”. What if we turned this around? We should live in the Spirit as a norm and occasionally “touch down” to pay the bills, eat dinner, wash dishes, mow the yard, etc. We should be oriented toward God, walking in the Spirit, most of the time. That is our goal. In fact, our goal is to be in the Spirit all the time.
How do we walk in the Spirit?
FIVE KEY DISCIPLINES
Here are 5 key disciplines that will enable a person to walk in the Spirit.
Discipline #1: Bible Study
First, reading the Bible. We need to be immersed in the Word of God (read, study, hear). If you want to walk in the Spirit, you cannot follow the old, carnal way of thinking; you must get a new way of thinking. The Word of God is what changes our thinking.
Discipline #2: Church Attendance
Second, church attendance. If you want to walk in the Spirit, you must surround yourself with spiritual influences, chiefly spiritually minded people. By faithfully attending church and fellowshipping with other believers, you not only hear the Word of God as it is preached by Godly ministers, but you see it in action in the lives of God’s people.
Discipline #3: Prayer and Fasting
Third, prayer and fasting. We need a daily, consistent prayer life. Some will ask: how much should one pray? Is there anybody who can say that they pray too much? It is true that in most people’s lives they could use more and not less prayer. An hour a day is achievable and would be a good practice. However, a time length is not the most important metric for valuable prayer; but you need more than a few minutes a day.
There are plenty of opportunities to pray. Before, during, and after a church service are good times. There are times for praying with other people during a prayer meeting and there are times for praying alone. There are times, such as during your commute to work, that are good as far as they go but cannot be the only time you pray; you need times of dedicated focus in prayer.
There will be a variety of prayer in quality and quantity. Sometimes you will pray with your understanding and sometimes you will pray in tongues or with groanings that cannot be uttered.
It can be easy to get distracted in prayer. One idea to combat this tendency is to have a pen and paper with you and, if you find your mind wandering, write down what you were thinking about as it might be something the Lord has brought to your mind. If so, you have a documented blessing and if not, you can now move back into focused prayer. This is a strategy for being more effective in prayer. It is recommended to develop more such strategies.
Put prayer in your schedule. It can be easy to let life take us off the course of our prayer schedule. We must constantly analyze our schedules and ensure that we are maintaining a habit of constant prayer.
The simple truth is that we must have prayer in lives if we are going to live for God. Prayer is relationship with God, communication with God.
Fasting goes along with prayer. There needs to be times of fasting. It is for self-discipline; it is not for glory (to earn the praise of men) or to earn favors with God. Fasting does not make us any degree better. The essence of fasting is the declaration to yourself and God that the spiritual life (God’s will) is more important than the physical life (the demands and desires of earthly existence). Fasting tests whether your desire for God is greater than the basic human instinct for self-preservation because it is the deprivation of what the body intensely desires. It is a great way to focus your faith and time, to prove to God, yourself, and the devil that you are properly setting your priorities. It is a great self-discipline that helps you learn to resist temptation and deny yourself. A note of caution: If you fast for the wrong reasons (such as to earn the praise of men or pride in yourself), you will develop a wrong spirit not a godly one. It is recommended to fast consistently; perhaps one day a week. It is, of course, up to one’s personal discretion. There may be times where you are compelled to fast. There may be times when the church is fasting together for a special need. Another note of caution: do not cheat yourself on your fast. Some will find ways to substitute for what they are removing for their diet. For example, some will drink juices that include many of the same nutrition they would receive from eating normal meals. It is recommended to fast without food or water per the scriptural example or, at least, drinking only water.
“But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting expectantly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life.” (Jude 1:20-21)
Notice that it is our responsibility to “build ourselves up”. How? By “praying in the Spirit”. There is a praying with the intellect and then there is praying in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit includes tongues but is not necessarily limited to tongues. Paul says: “I will pray with the Spirit and I will pray with the understanding. I will sing with the Spirit and I will sing with the understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15). Given the context of 1 Corinthians 14 being the vocal gifts of the Spirit (prophecy, tongues, and interpretation), it is obvious that Paul is saying that it is valuable to pray, and even to sing, in tongues. Paul says in v.5, “I wish that all of you spoke in tongues”; and, in v.18, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you”. So, for Paul there is great value in speaking in tongues in prayer to God. It seems that normally we will pray in our known language but that sometimes when we press forward in prayer the Spirit of God begins to inspire prayer in an unknown tongue or groanings which cannot be uttered. It may also be that the Spirit of God inspires prayer in our known tongue with thoughts and words which were not produced by ourselves but by the Spirit of God. We need all kinds of prayer. We need simple meditation, reading and meditating upon the Word of God, prayer for needs, intercession, in the Spirit, etc.
If you are not strong in your faith, it is most likely because you are not praying or are not consistently praying in the Spirit. If you do not feel like reading Scripture, attending church, fellowshipping with God’s people, giving financially to the Kingdom of God, there is an extremely high chance that you are not praying. Think of Samson, who after an extended period of godless actions, finally wound up in a situation without the strength to which he was accustomed. The scriptures say that Samson “did not know that the Spirit had departed from him”. He had been compromised in his heart long before it became apparent to himself and others. Today there are people who we think are strong in their faith one week and then the next they are walking away from God. We may think that this is truly the case, but the reality is probably that they let go of their prayer life long before the point of their turning away.
If prayer is a struggle for you, the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 serves as a 6-point pattern for simple prayer that can be short or long. If you spend 5 minutes on each point, that is 30 minutes; if you spend 10 minutes on each point, that is an hour. You can follow this pattern by simply reciting the prayer and then adding your own prayer to it. Start with “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by your name” – here is the first point: praise and worship. You could praise the Lord for things He has done or who He is. Next, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – here is the second point: pray for the will of God. You could pray for the will of God in your life, in the church, in the world. Next, “Give us this day our daily bread” – here is the third point: petition. Do not start your prayer with petition, as it were, what you want; start with praise and worship and asking what He wants. Then, you can make your requests known to Him. This could be prayer for food, money to buy food, or a job to earn the money to buy food. This simply represents the practical needs of our life. It is important not to be foolish and confuse wants with needs; focus on your daily bread, not your daily cake. Next, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” – here is the fourth point: confession and repentance. Once we are in a spirit of prayer, we are better able to recognize our sins and failures. A relationship with God, as with human persons, must be based on honesty and repentance. In prayer, God will bring things to your mind if you are receptive to His leading and illumination. It is amazing how we can come to prayer bringing to God all the ways our lives lack what we want or need and in prayer God will reveal to us all the ways that we lack. In prayer we will be struck with the profound sense of amazement that such a Holy and Good God works with such unholy and worthless people as ourselves and this will inspire us to worship and repentance and humble, submissive dependence upon Him as our source of life, light, love, and power. Prayer is much more about God changing us than us changing God. If you think that prayer is about convincing God to do what you want than you have misunderstood what prayer is about. Prayer is about learning to submit your will to God’s will. When your will is aligned with God’s will you will pray according to His will and your prayers will be answered. Many times, the things that you wanted will be forgotten. You will realize that you do not genuinely want what you thought you wanted. Next, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” – here is the fifth point: prayer for God’s grace and provision to help you in times of temptation and testing. Some trials will come not matter what but there are trials and temptations that you can avoid if you would pray and submit to the leading of the Spirit. Therefore, if you do not pray, you are asking for a lot of trouble that you could avoid. Pray for strength and for God to lead you in the paths of righteousness. Pray for spiritual victory. Finally, “for yours in the kingdom, power, and glory. Amen.” – Here is the sixth point: end with praise and worship. So, if you can memorize the Lord’s prayer, you have a scalable outline for prayer. The key is simply to get started and develop the habit. The quantity and quality of your prayer will improve with practice over time.
Jesus gave some practical instructions for prayer.
“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:5-7)
The principle is that prayer is for the purpose of relationship (communication, fellowship) with God; it is not for show. This does not prohibit corporate, public prayer; there are examples of this in the Scripture. The intention and orientation of the heart in prayer is the focus of Jesus’ comments. Prayer must not become another item on our checklist as if it were a legalistic requirement that we must do in order to fulfill our duty. It also must not become something we do to receive the praise of men. It is about talking with the Lord and having fellowship with Him. If you do it for show, you have already received your reward; as soon as that prayer was over, you have used up its value to yourself. But, when you focus on your relationship with God in prayer, the value lives on in your life.
On Jesus’ words about vain repetition: prayer should be meaningful. The words we use should be deliberate. The value of our prayer is not determined by the length of time we pray, how many words we use, or the extent or elegance of our vocabulary. We are not trying to manipulate God in prayer; we are trying to commune with our God. Again, the normal result of prayer is that our will conforms to God’s will rather than His will conforming to our will. It would be a frightful think for God to give us what we asked for all of the time; it can be a scary thing for God to give us what we ask for because our desires and will are corrupted by our sinfulness and foolishness.
James and John asked to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus in His Kingdom. Jesus asked if they could be baptized with His baptism. They, not understanding that He was referring to His martyrdom, accepted that baptism. History tells us that at least James died a martyr’s death. John, too, suffered much persecution. They prayed for great honor and surely, they received it, but at the cost of great suffering. If you pray for something, you just might get it and that might not be the wonderful thing you thought it to be. It is much safer to preface all your prayers on the will of God.
It can be easy to use repetitious phrases without intention and deliberation. We need to recognize when we do this, stop, and course correct. If you were to simply repeat the words “I love you, you are beautiful” to your wife in a rote fashion without intention and deliberation, these words would be meaningless. Your words to your wife and your God need to be well-chosen and meaningful.
“Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they disfigure their faces so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
There is no direct command in the NT to fast; there are plenty of direct commands to pray. Jesus simply said, “when you fast”. He did not say “if you fast”; he said, “when you fast”. Therefore, we should fast! It is important to remember that the purpose of fasting is not to earn favors with God, to show God how spiritual you are, or, God forbid, to show others how spiritual you are.
Use common sense, but, basically, do not go around telling everyone that you are fasting. For example, if someone invites you to lunch when you are fasting you do not have to tell them that you are fasting. You can simply tell them that that will not work for you at that time. Do not put on a certain persona intended to communicate your spirituality. If you do something like this, whatever reaction you receive (even if it is admiration and praise) is all the reward you will receive for your fasting. Obviously, this does not mean that you cannot every tell anyone you are fasting. If someone asks you if you are fasting, you should not lie. Again, use common sense. We are not fasting to make ourselves look good; we are trying to get our spiritual priorities in order and impose discipline on the flesh so that the Spirit can move freely.
Discipline #4: Follow Godly Authority
The fourth key to walking in the Spirit is to follow Godly authority. We must be part of a body of believers. This means that there is a spiritual order, organization, and authority. Some people think that they are so spiritual that they are sure they get all their orders directly from God. If something seriously thinks this, then they will never be open to spiritual leadership or correction. If someone goes to an elder in the church, and tells them that God told them to do something, what is that elder supposed to do? There is nothing he can do. Obviously, God has appointed authority in His church. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:37: “If anyone things they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.” Someone who is truly led by God will acknowledge spiritual authority. No human leader is infallible and so this does not mean unquestioning submission to any human leader. What it does mean is that every Christian should have a spirit of carefulness, humility, and submission and should not despise authority. This should be the attitude of a Christian: “Obey those who rule over you and be submissive, for they watch for your souls.” (Hebrews 13:17). A truly spiritual Christian is submissive to the Church. We should never follow a leader into sin, false doctrine, or unethical practices. But, if a person is a God-called leader who is sincerely trying to teach and preach the Word of God, there should be a high level of respect and submission on the part of the people of God. Think of a police officer directing traffic. His job is to direct traffic and the drivers are supposed to follow his direction. It is not the job of the drivers to get out of their car, go up to him, and question his direction. This is merely an analogy, imperfect as it may be. Obviously, if there is reason to think the police officer is corrupt, then you do not have to follow him into corruption. You will need to demonstrate that corruption of course and keep a humble, careful spirit when you do. Remember, we will all give an account to God. In the church, God has placed leaders for your good. Listen, submit, and obey. If you want to grow in Christ, you must learn to submit to Godly authority.
These four keys will enable one to grow in Christ, to be a true disciple, and to walk in the Spirit. This is basic stuff. If you know the Word, have a relationship with God in prayer, come to church, and submit to Godly authority, you will be spiritually minded. You will not be easily deceived.
Discipline #5 will be covered in Part 2.