Trails with Meaning

Stephen Nielsen

The narrow most treacherous road may be the best one. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

A wide dirt trail. Easy to walk on. Many think it is easy to follow Jesus in His way. But as Jesus was walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Lu. 9:57).

A grassy trail.

The grassy trail is a quiet trail and best for conversation. Two men one day reflected on their conversation with a…

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Five Functions of a Prayer Ministry

The function of a prayer ministry is its purpose; and its function will tell us what it does; it will give us the reasons why we should have it.  In this post we will discuss five functions of a prayer ministry.

Five Functions of a Prayer Ministry

1.  It provides for teaching on prayer.  Every prayer ministry should do some-thing to teach its people what prayer is and how to pray.  If your ministry is in a church, and you are the head pastor, you should see to it that sermons are preached on prayer and that prayer is taught in Sunday school classes and bible study groups.  Wherever your ministry is located, I think it would be good if you had prayer retreats and prayer conferences, where speakers would teach on prayer and where workshops would be given to learn about prayer.  Moreover, you should encourage your people to read books on prayer.  I suggest you have good books and pamphlets on display and available for your people.

2.  It exists to encourage and motivate people to pray.  When your teachers and conference speakers teach on prayer they should always teach in such a way that prayer is encouraged.  In other words, they should be excited about prayer and should seek to motivate their listeners to pray more and with more earnestness.  It would also be helpful if leaders would send out a regular letter or memo just to encourage people to pray.

3.  It provides a structure to gather and distribute prayer requests.  The gathering and distribution of prayer requests is vital for a prayer ministry.  Everybody has prayer requests, but for one reason or another most of us don’t always share them.  The prayer ministry should provide the atmosphere and the tools to share and record prayer requests so that people can pray over them.

One thing we always do in my church Sunday school class is have a time when the leader asks for prayer requests; and he records them on the dry erase board.  Then we all break up into groups and pray over them.  I think this is one of the best ways to pray for needs.  I always look forward to that time.

Other things can be done too.  Prayer chains are very helpful, especially for urgent needs.  The way it works is when someone has an urgent need he would call a designated leader and share his request with him.  That leader would then call all the other chain leaders.   Those leaders would make just one more call to the first person on their chain.  Each person that is called will have the responsibility to call another person and pray over the request until everyone on the chain is called.  This method won’t work of course unless every person on the chain is faithful to call and pray.  If just one forgets to call all the rest won’t get called and therefore they won’t get the opportunity to pray.  However, if you have some faithful dedicated people, the prayer chain is a very good tool and I have seen it bring some speedy answers to prayer. 

Leaders should also instruct their people to get in the habit of making lists of requests so they can pray over them later.  Every time I meet with people in a group and prayer requests are shared I write them down so I can take them home and periodically pray over them.

All sorts of things can be done to gather prayer requests.  I suggest that if there are mission minded people in your ministry they could gather requests from missionaries around the world.  If there are people more interested in world event or in politics they could gather those types of requests.   Also, requests could be gathered from various ministry groups in your church.  All the different types of requests could be distributed to prayer groups and to faithful intercessors.   Those who are faithful at prayer will be delighted to receive the requests because they love to pray.

4.  It provides a structure to gather people for prayer.  It would be great if people would just naturally meet together for prayer on their own, but it just doesn’t work.  People have to be reminded to pray together.  They have to be given opportunities, and meeting places; and they have to be given the proper motivation to pray.  The prayer ministry can provide these things as its members volunteer to open up their homes as meeting places and to lead prayer groups.  They can also volunteer to call and remind people to come to prayer meetings. 

5.  It gives people the opportunity to lead and serve. The larger you make your prayer ministry the more positions of service will open. When you begin to plan your ministry, design it well and let people know of all the opportunities to serve.

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All are God’s Creatures: Turtles, Ducks, and a Chipmunk

Stephen Nielsen

It is amazing how many turtles are in this small lake. They like to crowd together. They seem to be a very social animal (reptile).

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
James 3:7-8

Diving for supper!

This little guy just loves the spotlight. I have found that chipmunks are not too afraid of humans. They make great pets.

It seems that ducks get along well with turtles.

I know every bird in the mountains,
and the creatures of the field are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Psalm 50:11-12

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How Birds and Flowers Can Help a Christian

Stephen Nielsen

Our text for this blog is Matthew 6:25-30, where Jesus is giving a sermon to His followers.

Matthew 6:25-30

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is…

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Jesus and the Pharisees on Divorce: from Matthew 19:3-9

Stephen Nielsen

This is our eleventh study. Please click HERE for an intro to this study. Today we will focus on the Biblical teaching of divorce.

Matthew 19:3-9

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were…

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My Adventure: Geese, Ducks, Path, the Dam

Stephen Nielsen

Today is Easter morning, and it was so good this morning to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and our life in Christ. As I am now at home relaxing in Him, I want to share with you one of my adventures about a week ago. I walked across the Coon Rapids Dam and along the Mississippi River. I will give you just a few of the photos I took along the way. This is Mr. Canada geese–very common in Minnesota.

I also saw these Mallard ducks. I don’t know why but the female always takes the lead. It is a picture of our backward culture, since the male (the husband) is to be the head of the wife (Eph. 5:23), though I suppose he can lead from the back.

Part of the way along the river is quite treacherous. But that is part of the adventure.

This is the Coon Rapids…

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Don’t Be Anxious

Stephen Nielsen

This is a subject that I know I need. It seems that the older I get the more I worry about things. I think it is because I feel weaker and more vulnerable. So, I look forward to what I will learn here. Our text is Matthew 6:25-34.

Matthew 6:25-34

“For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? 26 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 “And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span?…

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Signs of Spring

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Sin’s Foul Bondage

Stephen Nielsen

In this post we will return again to Matthew 6:19-24, and we will focus on the evil result of laying up for ourselves treasures on earth.

Matthew 6:19-24

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 22 “The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate…

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When we gave our lives to God and received His Son, the blood of Jesus Christ did a wonderful work in us; it cleaned us and gave us the right to be priests.  As priests we now have the right, by the blood of Christ, to draw near Him and to do His work of intercession for others (The Hebrew root word for priest, qarab, actually means to draw near and is used of one who may draw near to the divine presence, Exodus 19:22, 30:20).

But all the work that is done in us and all the work we do as intercessors is done by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We can do no good work without the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit and the blood of Christ work together.  As Andrew Murray has said, “As the blood gives the right [of intimate access to God], the Spirit gives the power for believing intercession.”4

I suppose there are several things we can do to stir up the Holy Spirit in us, so that we have His power for the prayer ministry.  Just two things, however, keep coming to my mind—things that I believe God has put on my heart.  The first is that we must be holy and pure.  The second is that we must emphasize prayer more in our preaching and teaching.

 Power by holiness.  In Matthew 5:8 Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Also in Hebrews 12:14 we are told that without holiness no one will see the Lord. 

God is holy and He expects us to be holy too.  If we are not holy we cannot see Him as He is.  And we won’t be able to commune with Him or communicate with Him.  In fact, if we are not pure, He doesn’t listen to us; He puts us at a distance.  But if we decide that we need Him and that we want to commit ourselves to Him and obey Him, He will then do a work in our heart to make us holy.  Yes, if we confess our sins He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).

Now here is the way I think we are given power through holiness: at the precise point of our repentance, the Holy Spirit works in us and strengthens us so that Christ begins to dwell in our heart (He feels more at home with us). When this happens Christ works in us to root us in His love; and soon we are filled with the fullness of God.  Being filled with God we have the power of God—power for more holiness and power for prayer (from Eph. 3:16-20).

He will not empower us for His work while we are unholy; because, in that state we are corrupt in our mind (and our conscience also becomes corrupt, Titus 1:15), and thus He can’t trust us.  But if we are holy we see Him as He is, and thus we are drawn near to Him and are empowered by Him.

Power by teaching and encouraging prayer.  If you really want to have power in your prayer ministry, besides maintaining your holiness, follow the call of God to encourage and teach others about prayer.  Jesus was always teaching His disciples how to pray.  And Paul was doing it too. 

Listen to what E. M. Bounds says about Paul:  “Paul was not only given to prayer himself, but he continually and earnestly urged it in a way that showed its vital importance.”5 

Again E. M. Bounds writes, “Paul’s course was more distinctly shaped and his career rendered more powerfully successful by prayer than by any other force.  It is no surprise then that he should give such prominence to prayer in his preaching and writing.  We could not expect it to be otherwise.  As prayer was the highest exercise in his personal life, so also prayer assumed the same high place in his teaching.”6

In my reading of Paul’s Epistles, I have found that Paul was constantly talking about prayer.  Several times He told his disciples that he was praying for them.  On occasion he instructed them in his letters on what prayer was and on how to pray.  He wrote masterful prayers for them (they weren’t necessarily prayers that they should use as examples for their own praying; they were prayers that he prayed for them).  Above all, with a heart full of prayer, he encouraged his followers to keep praying. 

Here are eleven passages where Paul encouraged his readers to pray:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:25

Brethren, pray for us.

2 Thessalonians 3:1

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you.

1 Timothy 2:8

I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

Hebrews 13:18-19

Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.  But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Romans 12:12

Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.

1 Corinthians 7:4-5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Philippians 4:6-7

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Colossians 4:2-3

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; mean while praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the Word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chain.”

Romans 15:29-30

Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me.

Ephesians 6:18

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.

Notice, from these passages, some of the encouraging words Paul used: “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:18), “continuing steadfast in prayer” (Rom. 12:12), “give yourself to fasting and prayer” (1 Cor. 7:5), “continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2), and “be alert and always keep on praying” (Eph. 6:18).

Prayer was certainly important to Paul wasn’t it? It should be important to us too.  Now more than ever we should teach prayer in the pulpit and in our Sunday school classes.  And we should seek to exhort every Christian we encounter to pray. 

But if we really want to be one who encourages prayer, we must first be one who prays.  E. M. Bounds has said, “He who would teach the people to pray must first himself be given to prayer.  He who urges prayer on others must first tread the path of prayer himself.”7  He goes on to say, “…the reason why there is so little preaching on prayer in these modern times is because preachers are not praying men?”8

So what must we do?  Well, you who are committed to prayer must encourage others to do the same.  The burden is on you.  It is your task and calling from the Lord.  And when you obey Him in this work He will give you power in your prayer ministry. Soon the people you encourage will begin to pray more.  And they will in turn encourage others to pray too.

4 Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, p. 228.

5 E. M. Bounds, Prayer and Praying Men (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), p. 108.

6 Ibid., p. 109.

7 Ibid., p. 110.

8 Ibid., p. 110.

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