“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”
One of the simplest but most effective principles that every follower of Christ needs to learn is that “What comes out of our lives is determined by what goes in.” Let me illustrate what I mean with an example from my childhood. When I was a kid my dad and I used to fish in the Ohio River near my hometown of Steubenville, OH. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that area, the Ohio River is formed by the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monogahela river at Pittsburgh, PA, initially flowing north until it takes a sharp left turn, reversing it’s direction and flowing south. This change in the course of the river forms the northern panhandle of the state of West Virginia. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s the banks of this river from Pittsburgh to Wheeling, WV was dotted with giant steel mills. Some of my fondest memories of childhood involve floating down the Ohio River in my dad’s boat catching large mouth bass, catfish, carp, and even the occasional walleye. In spite, of what you might think the fishing was actually pretty good back then but there was one key rule that we always observed. We never ate any of the fish that came out of that river! The reason was that many of those steel mills and the other industrial plants that lined the banks of that river dumped polluted waste into the waters of the river. Due to that fact, the fish that came out of the river were dangerous, perhaps even deadly to eat. What went into the river determined what was coming out of it. The same principle holds true in our spiritual lives. Let me flesh that out a little bit for you.
If there is nothing coming into your life, nothing is going to be able to flow out.
The Ohio river is a massive river but it depends on the flow from the Monogahela, the Allegheny, and hundreds of other smaller streams and creeks for its water supply. If we were to suddenly cut off the waters from these sources from flowing into the Ohio, the river would quickly dry up and cease to flow. That is the way it is with your life. If you don’t maintain a constant inflow of spiritual resources into your life you will quickly dry up. It would be shocking to most Christians to realize how quickly this process can occur if the inflow was immediately cut off. But what usually happens is that problems and concerns of life simply mount up and slowly cut off the inflow from our lives. Like cholesterol slowly and imperceptibly building up in our arteries over the course of years, so to will the problem of ministry clog up the spiritual arteries of our hearts if we are not careful.
If we are going to fix this fundamental problem we must focus on the inflow of our lives. A couple of months ago the doctor told me that I have high cholesterol, in addition to putting me on Lipitor, he also told me to go on a low fat, high fiber diet that will help to reduce the inflow of bad cholesterol into my blood stream. The same basic principle holds true in our spiritual lives. If we want to have a healthy spiritual life we need to cut down on the fat and increase the healthy spiritual food that we take in. That means that we need to her serious about maintaining our Bible reading and study. It means that we need to cut down on the time we invest in entertainment and start digging deeper into the things of God.
We have experienced something very special over the past several weeks here at First Baptist, Metropolis. For nearly two months now God has moved within our congregation in a very special way. Last Sunday night in our deacons meeting we rejoiced in the fact that last month eighteen people joined our fellowship, most of them by baptism. What’s even more exciting is that nearly every week, I am hearing from other Pastors around the country about how God is moving in their congregations. Couple that with the fact that right not across the nation there are two films in the theaters that expressly present the gospel (Son of God and God is not Dead) and it becomes clear that something special is beginning to happen. While it is too early to call it revival, God is clearly up to something and if you pay attention you will see Him moving all around you. With this in mind, I want to encourage everyone who reads this to refocus and rededicate themselves to the work of prayer.
It is no secret that every revival in the history of the church has begun with people setting aside time to pray and to seek God’s face. We are all familiar with 2 Chronicles 7:14 which says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Notice the emphasis here on prayer and repentance. These are the two key elements in every great revival that has occurred in the church. Therefore, over the next couple of weeks, I am going to dedicate this blog space to encouraging and equipping Christians for the work of prayer.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” One of the first things that stands out in these verses is that these commands are to be the perpetual activity of Christians. We should always be rejoicing, always praying, and always giving thanks. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to serve with an older Pastor named Tom Darter. One of the interesting characteristics of Tom’s personality was that when he started to pray he would begin with the word “…and.” So if you were sitting down to a meal with Tom he would pray, “…and Father we thank you for this food.” If you asked him to pray for a need he would say, “…and Father I come to you today on behalf of Joe…” If he was praying in the worship service he would say, “…and Father we praise you today for…” He always began his prayers with the word “…and.” One day I worked up the courage to ask Tom why he did this. I will never forget what he said, “Joe, prayer is the continuous work of every Christian. Our prayers do not have a beginning and an end, our lives are just one continuous prayer.” Tom went on to explain that when he prayed he was just continuing an ongoing conversation with God that had begun at the moment of his conversion.
This is what Paul has in mind here when he says “pray without ceasing.” We should be in an ongoing conversation with God that reflects our gratitude, our dependence, and our adoration. Today, as you go through your daily schedule I hope that you will strive to keep up a constant conversation with God. As you go through your day, talk to Him. Praise Him for His goodness and grace. Ask Him for the things you need. Thank Him for the many blessings, even the small ones, that He sends your way. Pray without ceasing.