Hillsong illustrating a weakness in us

This morning when I checked my facebook thread there were a lot of comments about what I presume is an upcoming Hillsong conference, who was invited and whether they are false teachers or not.  I went to a Hillsong conference several years ago and I am not surprised by the chatter, because of what I observed there.

I remember a distinct feeling.  A speaker, I don’t remember who, had started the morning with a persuasive argument for the prosperity gospel.  Frankly the argument was pretty good but I wasn’t persuaded, and lots of people clapped.  The next speaker was Rick Warren who used his talk to pull apart the arguments for the prosperity gospel.  It wasn’t aimed at the previous speaker, it just worked out that way and the weird feeling was, I think I was the only person who saw the inconsistency.

It got me thinking if you disagreed with another speaker so strongly on ministry and theology, then how did you get invited to speak at a Hillsong conference, what was the common denominator?  Looking through the list, and doing a bit of research, I worked out the only real common denominator was that you were running a church of over 2,000 people.  It didn’t matter where you in the world you came from, or what your theological background or convictions were.  If you could run a church of over 2,000 you were ‘in’.  At the end of the day it is pragmatism that wins out.

But before we start with a sledgehammer on Hillsong on this, let’s look at ourselves, Sydney evangelicals, on this issue.

A couple of years ago I was asked to speak to a guy who was not happy with Sydney Anglicans, and as a Sydney Anglican I was supposed to…I don’t really know what I was going to do and that was probably a good thing as it turns out.  The conversation started:

Me: “So, I hear you aren’t happy with Sydney Anglicans, tell me about that.”

Him: “You guys claim to be theologically Calvinists don’t you?”

Me: (In my head my theological John Wayne mounts up, loads his guns and gets ready to defend Calvinism). “Yes, that’s right”

Him: “Then why are all your conferences about strategy and methodology.  If you believe that God is sovereign, where are your prayer meetings?”

Me: (Theological John Wayne suddenly feels he needs to be somewhere else) “Ummm….”

I think there is a good place for strategy, methodology and thinking through how to do ministry well.  Theologically this is basic, good stewardship.  But if we have missed that it is about stewardship, if we have missed that it is about the sovereignty of God, if our conferences are more about methodology than prayer, are we really any better?   Or worse because we claim to be more theologically astute.

This guy had exposed our weak spot.  Yes, I am theologically persuaded by God’s sovereign power in ministry, and saving people from their sins.  But am I more likely to pay $25 to go to a prayer breakfast or $395 to go to conference to hear a great practitioner?   (The answer should be I should be at both).  Perhaps the answer should be less conferences and more prayer meetings, I don’t really know.  But I do while we shouldn’t ignore the Hillsong issue, e.g. as far as I know we are not inviting false teachers to speak, we should also address the issue this raises for us.

I am sure there will be some debate about this, and there should be, but before you post can I ask you to pray for me about this.  One could easily say “Pete, you have accused Sydney evangelicals of the same thing you do”.  I know that, please pray I will be a better pray-er.

OK, now you can tell me where I am wrong…

What do I pray for?

How does one prepare to preach?  I have been thinking about that a lot lately and there are some more posts to come about reflecting on how I prepare so I can work out how to do it better.  Preaching is about the Word of God, but I think it has to start with prayer.  Someone asked me once, “If you have 5 minutes left before you preach, do you look over your notes or do you pray?”  I still don’t really know what the answer to that should be.   But I do know that prayer has to be an essential part of preparation throughout the whole process.

What do we pray?  Here is the prayer I use all the time.  I know using formulated prayers is not the vogue, but this prayer articulates what I need better than I can.

My Master God,
I am expected to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;

Yet I long that people will be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony will be given for you.

Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and passion.

Present to my view things pertinent to my subject,
will fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a deep emotion to accompany the words I speak,
and grace to apply them to people’s consciences.

Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.

Help me to offer a testimony for yourself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting your mercy.

Give me freedom to open up the sorrows of your people,
and to set before them comforting consolations.

Give your power to the truth preached,
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.

May your people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that people might be made holy.

I myself need your support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of your grace,
and be able to do something for you.

Give me then refreshment among your people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.

And keep me in tune with you as I do this work.

Amen.

Book Review: A Praying Life

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A Praying Life, Paul Miller.  Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2009.

I came to this book a little skeptically because I have found that there are two types of books on prayer. The first are the books that outline a great theology of prayer (which are good and challenging but don’t help me in my practise of prayer and inspire me for about a week and then just make me feel guilty) and those on the practise of prayer (which often end up in strange theological places and practices for that matter).

This book is more about the practise of prayer, though this is someone who has his theology a lot more clearer than any of the others in this category that I have read.  Learning how to pray is strange thing because it is something that kids pick up and adults forget.

Miller is honest in his writing, brutally honest.  And this is what makes the book so good. He addresses those issues that we don’t want to admit when we are Christian – doubts, questions, etc.  there  are 32 chapters that are easy to read, full of personal experience and wisdom.

That being said, I am still looking for that perfect balance of theology and practise.

There were two take away lessons for me.  Prayers are answered but not always in the time we want them to.  Abraham had to wait 25 years to see some of the blessings that he had been promised.  Miller often refers to the struggles he has had praying for his autistic daughter, Kim and his desire for her to speak.  This took some time and a surprising answer to prayer.

The other lesson is looking for answers to prayer.  Since sometimes we have to be patient has God answers prayer, we can also miss when God is answering prayer.   For me this has meant being more organised and specific in prayer.

This is definitely a must read for those who are seeking to take prayer ministry seriously.