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Part 1—Three Keys to Successful Leadership
I think I’d like to begin by directing you to two verses of the New Testament and asking you if you can pick out a key phrase that is found in both of them. The first verse is Acts 20:28, the second is 1Timothy 4:16. We’ll begin with Acts 20:28 and, as I said, the contest is to pick out the key phrase which occurs in both. It depends partly on the translation that you happen to be using. I’ll read the first one. This is spoken by Paul to the elders of the church at Ephesus. I think it’s a rather appropriate text for you brothers here today.
“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.”
Let me just point out the careful balance of the word of God. The elders are overseers but they’re among the flock, they’re not over the flock. There’s a very delicate balance; to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.
Now let’s turn to 1Timothy 4:16. This is in the singular, it’s addressed to Timothy who was, I personally understand, exercising an apostolic function toward the church at Ephesus. He was not, as I understand it, a resident elder but he was Paul’s representative acting on behalf of Paul in ordering the church. Now it’s perfectly possible to understand it another way but that’s the way I understand it.
“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”
Now that’s not a difficult thing. What is the key word? Take heed, that’s right. What I want to point out to you this morning is that in each case yourself comes before the flock and before the doctrine. In Acts 20:28 it’s take heed to yourself, then to the flock. And in 1Timothy 4:16 it’s take heed to yourself and to what you teach. So in each passage the first admonition is not to take heed to what you’re responsible for whether it be the flock that you’re shepherding or the ministry that you’re giving to them, but before that take heed to yourself.
Let’s consider together this morning how you can take heed to yourself, how you can take care of yourself. And that’s not to be selfish or self-centered. It’s to do it because without doing it you don’t have much to give to others. Another thing I’ll point out is if you really inspire, challenge and bless people and then your own life falls apart, it’s questionable whether you will have more blessed or hindered those people in the long run.
What I’m going to share with you is very personal. It’s simply things I’ve discovered that are important if I am to take heed to myself. I’m in no way suggesting that the list would be exactly the same for any of you but I trust that in sharing with you things that have become very important in my life, decisive, the Holy Spirit will cause you to focus on the things he wants you to focus on—which may not be exactly the same.
I think the first thing I want to emphasize—well, I’ll come at it by asking a question. There are many different valid answers to this question. I’m not saying one answer is right and others are not. But if I were to ask you viewing God’s people all through the record of scripture, from the days before the flood, period of the patriarchs, the period of the law, the period of the church, viewing it in totality, what is the basic requirement of God in every such age to be the people of God? What is the thing that God asks for? Hearing God’s voice. I personally believe that runs through every period of God’s dealings with man. I believe it is the key to success and in fact, I believe success is impossible in a spiritual sense without it. And I think amongst us there has been a certain tendency to emphasize aspects of hearing but not focus on hearing as a whole. People said to me when I have spoken on this theme: How do you recognize God’s voice? And I would answer something like this: If the phone rings and I pick it up and it’s my wife on the other end, I don’t usually have to ask her who it is. I recognize her voice. Why? Because I know her so well. So how do you recognize God’s voice? By getting to know God. That’s why it’s such a crucial test.
I heard about a bank system, probably there’s somebody here that knows much better about this than I do—the main safe in the bank is electronically operated and responds only to the voice of a given person. So without that person’s voice you can’t open the safe. And nobody can imitate or actually copy somebody else’s voice. That’s another amazing thing. Every voice is individual. I think that somewhere deep inside every one of us there should be a safe that only opens to one voice. And there is no other voice that can copy the Lord’s voice.
I want to take some scriptures about this. It’s really an impressive list. I could double the list if I wanted to easily, but I want you to just follow with me a whole series of scriptures of which this is the emphasis. Starting at Exodus 15:26. I’m not going into the context at length, this is at the waters of Marah when the waters had been healed and God used that crisis and situation to give a revelation of himself to his people. And it always impresses me that it was God’s initiative to reveal himself to his people as their doctor. It wasn’t something that Israel asked for, it was something that God determined. And if Almighty God is willing to be our personal physician I think we should give the offer serious consideration. Verse 26, he said:
“If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians...”
How many of you have ever been in Egypt? I spent two years in Egypt in World War II. There are very few diseases which aren’t represented in Egypt. It would be hard to find any.
“...for I am the Lord who heals you.”
So there’s the revelation. I am the Lord who heals you. In modern Hebrew, I am the Lord your doctor. Exactly the same word is used in modern Hebrew. But God says if you want me as your doctor, I’ll be it on condition if—if—and there are four conditions. Number one, you diligently heed the voice of the Lord. Two, you do that which is right in his sight. Three, you give ear to his commandments. And four, keep all his statutes.
One brother said what God asks for is obedience. And I said I want to go further back. You understand what I meant? Because you can’t obey God if you can’t hear his voice. You can hear his voice and not obey him but the problem with most Christians is not that they don’t obey but they don’t hear.
I don’t know how your translations go. I know the New International Version uses obey right at the beginning. What does it say for the first if? If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord. Okay, that’s good. The Hebrew is a repetition of the word hear which is a common Hebrew idiom for being emphatic. It says if hearing you will hear the voice of the Lord. All the emphasis is on that word hear. When I was sick in hospital and in need of healing and I came to this passage and I wanted the Lord to be my doctor, I said what does it mean when you say if hearing you will hear? I felt the Lord answered me, you have two ears, a right ear and a left. To hear hearing is to hear God with both ears. Many people listen to God with one ear and another source for the other. And the result is confusion.
Why don’t we look at those conditions just for a moment. I think it’s so important. I would point out to you that almost every passage of the Bible which states the conditions for being healed begin with what you hear. That is the key to healing. If you listen listening to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight. You must be determined that you will do what is right when you discover what is right. That’s number two. Number three, give ear to his commandments. Notice we go back again to the ears. Give ear to his commandments. And four, keep all his statutes. Very kind of generally, I believe statutes are the way God has appointed his people to live. They’re not exactly legal enactment. I think there are ways that God has appointed for us to live. I think being healthy is very closely tied to living the way God appointed us to live. So if you want God as your doctor, there’s the conditions. To listen listening, you’ve got to do what is right in his eyes, you’ve got to give ear to all his commandments. Sometimes we’re very selective. We listen to the ones that suit us and ignore the ones that don’t. And finally, we’ve got to live according to his statutes. That governs our conduct in the body of Christ, living according to his statutes.
There’s one very significant example of the importance of listening to God’s voice. That really, having God as our doctor is conditional about that. I’m not setting aside human doctors. I appreciate them, go to them whenever I feel it’s right. But I do want to have the Lord as my doctor.
Okay. Let’s look on in Exodus 19:5–6. If we look at verse 3, the Lord says to Moses:
“Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the children of Israel... [then we’ll miss out the next verse. Verse 5:] Now therefore if you will indeed obey by voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me above all people. For all the earth is mine and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Again, there’s a most tremendous offer from God but it’s conditional. If. And though the translation may vary, in Hebrew it’s precisely the same. If listening you will listen to my voice and keep my covenant. Again, we cannot keep the covenant if we do not hear the voice. And then God says you will be my people in the fullest sense. You will be my representatives. And I think the highest calling: you’ll be a kingdom of priests. I think those are the two highest ministries: king and priest. They’re offered to those who hear the voice of the Lord.
And then in Deuteronomy 28, first of all verses 1 and 2. Deuteronomy 28 is one of the longer chapters in the Bible. And it consists very simply of two kinds of things. Blessings and curses. And at the beginning of each section it tells you how you qualify for the blessings and how you qualify for the curses. It’s very simple. The blessings take much less space than the curses. Beginning at verse 1:
“It shall come to pass if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all his commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you on high above all nations of the earth. [It’s very similar to being kings and priests—in fact, it’s saying it another way.] And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you because you obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
Notice the condition is stated twice. And again in Hebrew it’s the same. If listening you will listen. I’ve always said that it’s so nice to be leading a life in which the blessings overtake you. It’s so much better than pursuing the blessings and seeing them always just a little way out of your reach. I don’t think it’s really the best way to focus on the blessings. I think it is to focus on hearing and obeying the voice of the Lord. Blessings God will take care of. You may be traveling at the maximum permitted speed but they will go faster and catch you up.
On the other hand, now verse 15:
“But it shall come to pass if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God to observe carefully all his commandments and his statutes which I command you today, that all this curses will come upon you and will overtake you.”
Curses also travel fast. And notice the basic principle is so simple. If you want the blessings listen carefully to the voice of the Lord. But, if you don’t, then the curses will come. So in a sense, that’s the watershed in a human life. Listening to the voice of the Lord or not listening.
Let’s go on to Psalm 95. I was reminded of this psalm as I was sitting here enjoying the worship. I don’t know how it is with you, but as a preacher, when people really begin to worship the Lord, I want to worship and I do, but my mind becomes so fertile that I have to kind of make room for what the Lord says to me. And I think this is very true in Psalm 95. We could read really, perhaps stage by stage the whole psalm.
“O come let us sing to the Lord; let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving and let us should joyfully to him with psalms.”
So we begin with loud jubilant praise. Thanksgiving.
“For the Lord is the great God and the great king above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth, the heights of the hills are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”
He is the creator of the universe. But from that jubilant vocal praise we move on to worship. And in the Bible, worship is primarily an attitude, not an utterance.
“O come let us worship, let us bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
I really believe we don’t do enough kneeling. I’m not suggesting we do it now but I grew up in the Anglican church and there are a lot of things I can criticize but you never go through an Anglican church service without kneeling. And kneeling does something to you, bending your knees before God has got a definite effect on your attitude. So let us bow down, an attitude. Let us kneel, an attitude, before the Lord our Maker.
“...for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.”
Now when you come to that second phase, then you are ready to hear the voice of the Lord. It was a very beautiful illustration here this morning. First of all, there was loud jubilant praise, then there was a silence. Then the Lord spoke. That, I think, is a pattern that is normal in scripture.
“Today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, and as in the day of trial in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me, they proved me though they saw my works. For forty years I was grieved with that generation and said: This is a people who go astray in their hearts and they do not know my ways. So I swore in my wrath they shall not enter my rest.”
Why did they miss the rest of the Lord? Because they did not hear his voice. And they made God very, very angry and he said this people always goes astray in their hearts. In fact, he said in a sense, there’s nothing I can do for them. They didn’t hear his voice.
Now, in that context it’s interesting to look in Hebrews for a moment. In the third and fourth chapter of Hebrews, that psalm is quoted three times. It certainly brings the lesson right through into the New Covenant. We’ll just look at that. My particular version prints quotations from the Old Testament in a different type so they stand out. Hebrews 3:7. Notice for the writer of Hebrews the book of Psalms was what the Holy Spirit said.
“Therefore as the Holy Spirit says: Today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts...”
So this is carried over and applied directly to believers in the New Covenant. Verse 15 of the same chapter.
“While it is said: Today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts...”
And then chapter 4, verse 7:
“Today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
God has certainly got something to say. I mean, that’s three times in two chapters. And the key theme of those two chapters is rest. The word rest occurs twelve times in those two chapters. What’s the way into rest? Hearing God’s voice. That’s why we have so many restless Christians. They don’t know how to hear God’s voice.
Going back to the Old Covenant, I want to look in Jeremiah 7 for a moment, verses 22–23. God is unfolding the way he dealt with Israel. And this is a very unexpected statement.
“For I did not speak to your fathers or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.”
Now historically, that’s correct. Israel did not get out of Egypt by the sacrifices of the law. In fact, it was quite a substantial period later when God began to talk to them about those sacrifices.
“But this is what I commanded them saying: Obey my voice and I will be your God and you shall be my people.”
Again we go back to Exodus 19, if you will listen to my voice, keep my covenant, you will be my people. It’s important to see the relationship. God did speak to Israel about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but it wasn’t primary. What was primary was obeying his voice. And so, it doesn’t mean that it was wrong for them at a certain period to offer burnt offerings and sacrifices but what it means is merely offering burnt offerings and sacrifices without hearing his voice was of no avail. And what he was reproving them for in the period of Jeremiah was that they offered the burnt offerings and sacrifices but they didn’t hear his voice. And so whatever we do in the religious life, it is only acceptable if it springs from hearing God’s voice. I believe that’s just as true properly applied in the Christian life. Anything we can do can be good if it springs from hearing God’s voice. It’s fruitless if we do it without hearing God’s voice. I think that to me that is the shortest summation in scripture of what is required to be the people of God. Obey my voice and I will be your God. I think that runs all through the Bible. Obey my voice and I will be your God.
Now I just want to emphasize in moving on to the New Testament that the basic requirement doesn’t change. John 10:27. Jesus is speaking and he says:
“My sheep hear my voice: I know them, and they follow me.”
Again, I think that’s the simplest statement of what it is to be a Christian. To hear his voice and follow him. It’s not a matter of denomination, not primarily a matter of doctrine, it’s a matter of relationship that’s based on hearing the Lord’s voice and when you hear, follow it. But as you know with the customs of shepherds in those days, they couldn’t follow the shepherd unless they heard his voice. That was the way they related to the shepherd.
For me there is nothing more important in my Christian life and my relationship with God than hearing his voice. And one thing that that requires is sensitivity. It requires also having the right priority. We are a very earnest group of people. And earnest people have their own problems, one of which is being so earnest in doing the right thing that you don’t hear the Lord’s voice. Other groups have other problems. We can become without intending it very much involved in self effort. We have our list of duties, principles and we’re going to do it. We are going to do it. We are disciples. Well, that’s fine. But if you don’t hear the Lord’s voice it won’t work. I think all I can do really in speaking to help you is to point out to you this is a priority. Make room for it. I find the Lord speaks to me in the most unexpected times and places. When I’m on my knees and agonizing I frequently don’t hear from God. But when I’m looking in the mirror and shaving, God speaks to me. I think one of the keys is being relaxed. I was looking in the mirror and shaving in l966 and for some reason which I can never interpret, looking at myself in the mirror I said, Of course, you’re not an evangelist. And instantly God said very quietly, You can be if you want. So I thought to myself, okay. That’s all there was!
Now I certainly do not regard my primary ministry as that of an evangelist but since that time there have emerged in my ministry basically the things that characterize the ministry of Philip: casting out demons, healing the lame and getting people baptized.
Another remarkable example of hearing God’s voice in an unexpected moment: Years back, about l943, when I was a relatively new Christian, I was a soldier in the British Army. I was in the Sudan and I was traveling in a train in which certain compartments were reserved for the military. Traveling north from Khartoum and I got to a small, very, very crowded station. And if you have never traveled in the third world you won’t be able to picture this but the platform was totally covered with living creatures. Men, women, children, nursing infants, old men and then donkeys, camels, goats, chickens... Everybody was bustling, making a noise. And I looked out of the window in my splendid isolation and I said to myself, I wonder what God thinks about all those people. I didn’t expect an answer. But I got an immediate answer. Some weak, some foolish, some proud, some wicked and some exceeding precious. That, I felt, was God’s categorization of the human race. You can think it over. There’s four basic reasons why people don’t come to Christ. Some weak, some foolish, some proud, some wicked and some exceeding precious.
One of the things about what God says is it has a quality of permanence. You have many impressions which may be very important at the time but they don’t have that quality of permanence. But when God has written something on your heart, it’s there to stay. In that context let me offer you this thought in 2Corinthians 3:2–3. Paul is writing to the people to whom he had been ministering.
“You are our epistle [or our letter] written in our hearts, known and read by all men. You are manifestly an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not by ink but by the Spirit of the Living God not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh [that is, of the heart].”
There’s a deep principle there I believe. The only person who can write on the hearts of God’s people is the Holy Spirit. When he writes, it’s permanent. If we merely exhort people and preach at people and lecture people, apart from the Holy Spirit, it isn’t written on their hearts. But that which the Holy Spirit speaks and writes becomes permanent, becomes a part of us. That’s one of the things I felt would be important to share. Now these are kind of taken at random. There’s no special logical order except that I feel what I was saying about hearing God’s voice really is primary and it’s so neglected. Many, many times if I preach on hearing God’s voice, people who have been in churches for years will come up and say how do I hear God’s voice? My answer is usually, how did you get this far without hearing God’s voice? The answer is get to know God. When you know God you’ll know his voice.
And I would also agree when there are times when we are liable to be confused. There are times when we think we’ve heard God’s voice and it wasn’t God’s voice. But that’s a risk we have to take. If you want to go through the Christian life without taking any risks, you’ll never exercise any faith. There’s always a risk involved in exercising faith. So if you want to exercise faith and that’s the only way to please God, you have to be prepared to take risks. The most dangerous thing you can do in the Christian life is play it safe. Really. Because what you’re doing is eliminating faith. When you eliminate faith you eliminate life. The just shall live by faith. Don’t resent the challenges that God gives you to your faith. Because every time you respond positively you increase your measure of life. That’s the way God keeps us living and moving on. I think most of you would agree we tend to move on a certain spiritual plane and then God says you’ve been on that plane long enough. I want you to come up to a higher plane. But if you want to come up to the higher plane there’s only one way—faith. And God always has a specific step of faith to get us onto the higher plane. And if we don’t take the step we stay on the same plane.
I’ll give you a very simple example of that. In l970 my first wife and I were living in a very nice house on a double lot in Fort Lauderdale, a far nicer house than we’ve ever lived in before. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, we put in central air conditioning. I mean, to us it was a palace. And then we began to feel that God wanted us to move. It was just that feeling of restlessness. Not that there was anything wrong with the house, the payments were minimal. If anything, it was too easy. That’s probably the problem. And so we started to contact real estate agents and inquire. Then I was away preaching somewhere, phoned Lydia. She said, “I think I’ve found the house that God wants us to have.” Well, being a husband you know exactly the first question I asked. “What’s the price?” When she answered I said, “That is out of the price. Impossible.” Well, when I got back she said at least let the real estate agents come. There were two ladies, rather sort of hard boiled, ladies in their 40s who probably had a home and children grown up or else they were divorced or something. It was a comical situation. There they were sitting on the sofa. And as you remember Lydia, she was very seldom conventional. That’s an understatement! They were sitting there really giving us the hard sell and it was all so business. She looked at them and said, “You know, I think your legs are unequal!” And they stopped in the middle, got embarrassed and said, “Oh, are they?” “Would you like my husband to pray for you?” Before she really knew what was happening I crawled over to her, held up her legs, they were quite distinctly unequal and her short leg grew out. I tell you, she was astonished! Then I went to the lady beside her on the sofa and did the same thing. Then I said to the second lady, “Would you like me to check your arm?” She said, “Oh, no, that’s quite enough!” They were scared. But what happened was the atmosphere changed totally and in five minutes they were telling us their deepest sorrows and problems. We had penetrated that hard businesswoman shell. God had moved.
Well, from then they took us to see the house and of course you know the end of the story. Not only did we buy the house but we bought a vacant lot next door because we thought we’d build another house for some of our family. We never did build the other house. And it was a fantastic step of faith by my standards at that time. Within a few months I observed my income had doubled without any clear practical explanation. I had taken the step. Well, in l978 or ‘79 I sold that house. Meanwhile I had added on to it. But just to give you an example of how practical God is as a businessman, when I sold the house, just because of the rise in the value of property, I sat down and calculated that I had lived there nine years free. Now that’s not a bad deal by any standards. But if I had turned that challenge down, who knows what I’d be living in today? I’m not living in it any longer, I don’t miss it for five minutes. But it was a stepping stone in my walk with God. And a good part of the money we got out of the house we put into the house we built in Jerusalem. And looking back and knowing Lydia’s heart about Jerusalem, I realize nothing would have pleased her better than to take that money and use it that way.
That’s an example because there was no urgent need. We were very satisfied where we were. But it was God’s time to move up. And you cannot move up without a step of faith. So when the next step of faith is set before you by God then don’t resent it because he’s enlarging your capacity. He’s lifting you to a higher plane. There is no way to progress in the Christian life but by faith. There is no other way it can be done.
Now I’m coming into the next thing. I’ve got a little list here and it doesn’t follow but we’ll get through it. Something else that I find extremely important is this: Pray things through before they happen. Now because this is a religious meeting and I’m a preacher I’ll give you a scripture for this. Philippians 4:6–7:
“Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Have any of you ever read the journals of John Wesley? Well, I read them in the l950s, the complete four volume edition. There’s an abridged addition which is all right but it misses out on really exciting things. That was perhaps the most challenging book outside of the Bible that I have ever read. The other one would be Finney’s autobiography. I really am more interested in what people have done for God than in their theories about God. I find them personally more inspiring. And I think part of what has happened in my life has been in response to the challenge of John Wesley’s life. I don’t necessarily espouse all his doctrines but there was some way I could relate—he was a fellow at a college of Oxford, I was a fellow of the college of Cambridge. And he had that classical background. I think there was something between his background and mine that made me—but I was seeing so little of God’s power and here I was, Pentecostal, baptized in the Spirit and having all the language. And we Pentecostals, we believe we had it all. It was a fundamental doctrine for us. And then I read about John Wesley, an Anglican. And I’d been an Anglican, I knew Anglicans didn’t have anything. But he certainly had a lot more than I had. And I think one thing about it was God was pleased that I was humble enough to acknowledge it. And I think that’s gone on to be a continuing inspiration in my life to this day. But why I mention that is because in his journal—
Let me say another thing I appreciate about John Wesley is his spirit. I admire in many ways Martin Luther but I don’t envy Martin Luther’s spirit in the least bit. In fact, I’d rather stay away from it. He was a tremendous man, he impacted history but his personal attitude was of no appeal to me whatever. Least of all his attitude to the Jewish people. But John Wesley had a kind of sweetness in the spirit.
I tell you just by the way, I’ve been exercised for years as to what are the really important general principles for building churches. Not that I regard myself as a great church builder but I feel it’s one of the issues before us. And I’ve searched the New Testament many times and I do believe there are practical principles. But you know what I’ve come to the conclusion? The thing that the New Testament emphasizes the most is humility. I don’t think you can build a New Testament church with people that aren’t humble. It’s the material first, then the blueprint. John Wesley said the truly humble are one kind regardless of what garb they wear (or what label they carry). There is a bond that unites us. And I have found that. I can relate to Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, it makes no difference if there’s that inner humility of spirit.
Coming back to this scripture. In one of the passages in his journals John Wesley takes the middle of Philippians 4:6: in everything by prayer, and he makes this comment: I am persuaded that God does everything by prayer and nothing without it. And that has stayed with me ever since. I am persuaded that God does everything by prayer and nothing without it. And gradually in my own life prayer has been taking a more and more important place. Not that I’m a person that spends long hours in prayer but there’s few days that I don’t spend an hour. That’s not a tremendous record but it’s a lot higher than most Christians. I think the average minister spends six minutes a week in prayer. Let’s not oooh until we spend a lot more ourselves. But I have become persuaded that the safe way to live is pray things through before they happen. Now you can’t always do that. You can be confronted with a crisis and you have to turn to God instantly. But when I begin to feel that God is directing me in a certain situation or I see a certain problem arising in somebody’s life or in a situation, I set myself to get the jump on the devil by praying it through before it happens. And then when it happens I feel confident. If I have faced a thing in prayer and prayed honestly and systematically, when it happens I can face it with confidence.
I have to be a little discreet how I say this but I’ve been praying for about two years for a certain brother that God would stabilize him. A fine brother, lacking in stability. Well then a crisis hit him and I said, “Thank you God, I can see you’re answering my prayer.” If I hadn’t have been praying I wouldn’t have known what the crisis was. When I pray about a certain person or a situation that God will do something significant to adjust them, to bring them into line, I almost anticipate a crisis because God knows what it takes to get that person’s attention, to confront them with a need in their own life and character, whatever it may be.
When I take a ministry journey and I’m on one now, I probably pray it through for two or three months before I set out. And I mention the places and one of the things I do is I feel that God has put a rod of authority in our hands. And the name on the rod is Jesus. And when I’m going anywhere I stretch out that rod over that place and over that situation and over those persons before I get there. Now it doesn’t mean there won’t be crises or problems but basically I have that inner confidence that this situation is going to work out because God is in charge.
Like yesterday, we get to the airport and discover that our flight is canceled. And really it was kind of miracle of God’s grace that we were able to get here because we had to go a completely different route. But I felt an inner confidence. This thing is prayed through before it happened. I do believe that you’ll be able to face life situations in a different way when you practice praying it through. To me it’s not a religious exercise you understand. There used to be a time when I felt prayer is a duty. I ought to be praying. And when you approach prayer that way you don’t do much. Now, it’s my refuge. It’s my key. I do it because it pays. Because if I don’t do it the results are not nearly so good.
I also find that if I’m sensitive, and this links up with hearing the voice of the Lord, he’ll give me prayers to pray I would have never thought of praying. I’m sure you know that. Well, when the Lord gives you a prayer, that’s a revelation of his will. Then you need to set yourself to pray it through. Pray it into being. I don’t believe that we get more just by repetition but on the other hand I do believe in speaking words out into the unseen spiritual realm, charged with divine authority.
Ruth and I feel a major responsibility, perhaps our primary responsibility is intercession for Israel and the Middle East. And we give ourselves very seriously to that. And there are certain scriptures that God has given us. I’ll give you an example. Two examples. They’re both in the book of Psalms in the 120’s. Psalm 125:3. Now this is one of those scriptures that’s given. You would never see it this way if God didn’t give it to you. But it says:
“The scepter of the wicked shall not remain over land allotted to the righteous.”
Now I believe myself and I don’t want to introduce this as an issue, I believe God has allotted to Israel an area of land. I believe Islam is the scepter of wickedness if ever there was a scepter of wickedness. And I can’t tell you how many times I declare into the air the scepter of wickedness shall not remain over the land allotted to the righteous. And I believe every time I say it the forces of darkness begin to reel back before the authority of scripture uttered in faith.
And then another one in Psalm 129. Now I am not suggesting to you people that these are prayers for you to pray. I’m giving you examples of assignments that Ruth and I have had. I’m going to quote this in the King James. Verses 5–6:
“Let them all be confounded and turn back that hate Zion. Let them be like the grass upon the housetop that withers before it grows up.”
And just a few hours before the war in Lebanon began this summer I was making my update in our home in Jerusalem and I said I venture to predict the successes or strength of the PLO will be very short lived because they hate Zion. The Bible says let them all be confounded and turn back that hate Zion. Let them be like the grass upon the housetop which withers before it grows up. Anything in history which opposes the purposes and people of God will be like grass that starts to grow but withers before it comes to fruition. And I would have to say I made a decree when I said those words. Have you ever been startled by the result of what you prayed? You know what it says in Job 22:27?
“You will make your prayer to him, he will hear you and you will pay your vows.”
And you better remember to pay your vows too!
“You will also decree a thing and it shall be established to you.”
It is possible to make divine decrees in our prayers to change the course of history if you’re praying by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and in line with scripture because Jesus said the scripture cannot be broken. Anything that opposes scripture ultimately must be broken, but the scripture never.
And the Lord told Jeremiah that his word was a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces. I tell people the hammer is guaranteed, it’s the rock that will have to break. I find prayer exciting. I hope that you do because it makes it much easier to pray when it’s exciting and it makes your prayers much more effective.
I also want to say that I think my greatest strength in my life and ministry has been praying together with my wife. My first wife, my present wife. Now I’m not suggesting that everybody is in the same situation, but for most of the time in my marriage we weren’t responsible for very young children. There was a time but it was not long. As a matter of habit I’ve always begun and ended each day by praying together with my wife. Years back I came to see if two of you shall agree as touching anything that they shall ask for it shall be done. You are invincible. There is nothing that can defeat you. Sometimes I felt almost sorry for the opposition after Lydia and I had come into agreement because I just knew it wasn’t going to stand. And I think I’ve had my share of opposition. I’m not saying that as a martyr by any means but I know what it is to have opposition. I’ve been surprised by talking to men in ministry how few even feel able to pray with their wife. I mean, that has astonished me. I’m not saying it to be critical but I just can’t understand how you can live with a woman and not be able to pray with her. And I venture to suggest, if that’s something in your life that’s true, it needs to be adjusted. One thing I praise God for is I’ve had a relationship of total honesty with my wife. I’ve never had to put on a religious front. If I disagreed I said I disagreed. And believe me, if Lydia disagreed she said she disagreed. I think I have really been blessed by God in the wife that he has given me each time. But then the Bible says a prudent wife is from the Lord. And he that findeth a wife findeth a good thing and obtaineth favor of the Lord. And I think perhaps there may be an area of fallow ground in the lives of some of you that needs to be cultivated which is praying with your wife. Jesus said if two of you shall agree. The Greek is really harmonize. And praying together, if you stick with it, will produce harmony. I think if you have the responsibility of raising a family, the thing that children want most is harmony. They can’t define it but they can feel it. It’s good to take care of their education, their physical well-being and so on but what makes home a home is harmony. And as you know through your experience in ministry, the United States is filled with kids that had everything but harmony in their home. And they’re wandering around looking for some missing piece. They probably don’t know what they’re looking for or what it is. So I seriously recommend that if you’re not in the habit of praying with your wife you begin to cultivate that habit. Don’t start with a prayer meeting. Begin on a small scale. I always find myself that I pray best if I read the scripture first. I make it a general principle unless there’s an emergency not to pray unless I’ve read a portion from the word because it brings my mind into harmony with God. I begin to think in terms of God’s ways and God’s thoughts.
There have been so many sermons preached on prayer and so little praying resulted that I’m kind of reluctant to dwell on it. A lot of people read books on prayer rather than pray. I tell you, the people who pray are the ones who end up on top. I’ve had enough time to look at some men in ministry that I know in various aspects. I’ve sometimes wondered at the success of some of them because they didn’t seem to have the most powerful ministry and yet they came out on top. My conclusion was they were the men who knew how to pray. I told this brother that I was speaking about that we prayed for him to be more stable. He’s in the middle of a trial and I said the one that prays will come out on top. When all the dust has settled, the one who prayed stands.
Another thing I would suggest. I’m sometimes reluctant to say things because if I preach them I almost always go through them. Welcome adversity. Don’t react against it. I say when something really goes wrong and seems to be going against you, embrace it. Because God is in it somewhere. He knew you needed that. I don’t see everything as the dealings of God. I believe in prosperity. I believe in abundance. But I think God knows what it takes to make us the kind of people he can trust with abundance.
We’ve really talked about two things. Number one, hearing the voice of God. Number two, praying things through before they happen. Number three, walk in your calling. You will only succeed in your calling and God won’t permit you to succeed anywhere else because he wants you where he’s called you. The beginning of this year I sat down and reexamined my own personal priorities. I’m glad I did, it was a very worthwhile thing. I don’t do that very often. But after my personal relationship with God and my wife, my next priority is the ministry of the word. That’s what God called me. I’ve tried to, in a sense, be almost apologetic for that. But there’s no need to be. Not everybody is the same. I understand what it is to shepherd people and care for them, but it’s not my primary calling. And when I really bless people the most is when I am doing what God called me to do.
I was very, very concerned at a certain time about a certain man of God who was behaving in a very unethical and wrong way. And yet was very successful in his own particular field. If I named him, as a matter of fact, everybody in the room would know the name. I’m not going to, that’s not important. And I did something I’ve never done and I haven’t done since and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again, I said, God, I want to know how you can go on blessing the ministry of a man who is so unethical in his dealings. And I’m not going to give up until I get an answer. God gave me the answer very clear. This is what he said. As long as he continues in the area of ministry which I have given him, I will bless his ministry. But one day he will have to account for his stewardship. That solved so many problems for me. The man’s ethics were not right but he was in the ministry which God had placed him. And he’s gone from success to success. And today, thank God, I can even be happy for his success. And God also showed me very plainly it wasn’t my business to supervise other people’s ministries. I’ve observed men of God, I’ve observed evangelists with powerful healing ministries. And when you’re a minister yourself you know what is going on inside the man when he is on the platform. I’ve seen them up against it. Things aren’t working, people aren’t getting healed. And I’ve heard one after another pray some kind of a prayer, God, you called me to do this, I didn’t do it of my own initiative. And if you’ve called me God, you have to stand by me. And I’ve seen that in a sense, is the ultimate in the ministry of God. God, you called me. I know when I’m doing what God called me. And I know that I have God behind me. But when I get outside, then I have problems. I may have a measure of success. I wonder how much of the success is permanent even then. I don’t believe there’s real permanence outside of the will of God.
I’ll tell you something else free for no extra charge—and it’s closely related to the subject we’ve already been dealing with. I have two major spiritual forces that I have been directed by God to make war with. One is Islam, the other is witchcraft. By the time I’ve dealt with those two I don’t need to look for anything more to handle. In neither case was the choice mine. God clearly directed me. The Bible says, “With good advice make war.” Don’t start until you know that God is the one that sent you on the expedition. It was comical because when I got into the ministry of deliverance, for a time I was very much involved in that as you know. Let me say, incidentally, I still believe everything I taught at that time. I haven’t changed. But once a year I get a letter from somewhere: “Brother Prince, somebody has told me that you’ve repented and you don’t any longer believe that way.” That is not true. I still believe in getting demons out of Christians if they’re there. Why should Christians be the only ones that can’t be delivered? I am not in that ministry in the same measure that I was. Thank God God has raised up many other men to do it. When I got first launched there was hardly anybody anywhere that knew what to do with a person with a demon. But at that time it was comical. I would walk into a church and I would walk past a woman and she would start to tremble. I mean, physically, visibly tremble and they would say to me, Mr. Prince, I don’t know what’s the matter with me but when you come near I start to tremble. Well I learned it was witchcraft. They had a spirit of witchcraft and there was a kind of invisible head-on clash between that spirit and me.
Now that isn’t the same today although interestingly enough in a church in Rotterdam we were doing fine, we were really having a good time of ministry and an extremely pregnant young woman came for ministry. And as I reached out my hand witchcraft reared up in her and she reached out to claw my eyes. And she was a small rather timid appearing woman but when this thing manifested itself she became like a cat with its claws out. So the men held her and the spirit came out and she became a very quiet docile type of person again. But that incident was a breakthrough in those meetings. It was at that point that a woman who had no hip joint miraculously received a hip joint. She was on her own, we weren’t praying for her, she was at the altar and she started to scream and jump up and down about two feet in the air which she could not have done before. But after that, the next fifteen persons I prayed for were delivered from witchcraft one after another just like that.
And what I’m saying is witchcraft normally will manifest itself in a woman. The word witch is a feminine word. There is a masculine which is wizard, I don’t know whether people realize wizard is the masculine of witch. But when witchcraft manifests itself or operates through a man, it’s far more powerful and does much more harm than when it’s through a woman. And I have discovered one reason why it can gain control of men. I believe when a man is successful in ministry at a certain point, God will ask that man to lay his ministry on the altar, to bring his Isaac and offer it. Isaac in a way can be compared to your ministry. Isaac was supernatural, he was God’s gift. I mean, it’s the most amazing thing that God would ask Abraham to offer up the son that he himself had given him. But that’s a principle. When God gives us something there will always come a time when we have to offer it back to God. Well, if a man does not accept God’s dealing and does not offer his ministry back, step back and say God this is your ministry, this church I’ve built, this ministry I’ve built, this worldwide outreach I’ve built, whatever it is. Not mine, it’s yours. If you want it back, there it is. Now if a man doesn’t do that, the blessing of the Spirit of God lifts. He’ll still get many, many results. He may go on, the ministry may visibly increase but there’ll be another force that begins to work through him. And that’s the force of witchcraft because witchcraft and rebellion are twin sisters. And you’ll find there are two key words regarding witchcraft. Manipulate and dominate. Satan prefers to dominate where he can. But if he doesn’t have the power to dominate he manipulates. Two things that are never from God are domination and manipulation. And what I have observed is where you are dealing with a man who dominates and manipulates and maintains his ministry by doing that, there will be a lot of apparent results but if you analyze the fruit, there’s very little that’s permanent.
Now, let’s come back to staying within your calling. All this is related because a man can be in is calling and be successful and yet have many flaws in his character. Ultimately if the character flaws become too serious they’ll probably make it impossible for him to continue in his ministry. But you would be amazed at the kind of flaws that can be in the character of successful ministers. In the ministry of deliverance I’ve had wives of well-known ministers come to me and show me the marks of a husband’s violence on her body. And yet the man was preaching and getting tremendous results. So I’m not recommending that we don’t cultivate Christian character. What I’m saying is the lesson is the importance of being in your calling and how you can be the best good guy but out of your calling you’ll be a flop. And the harder you try the less results you’ll get. When you’re in your calling you don’t really have to try so hard. I don’t mean there won’t be tests, challenges and hard work but normally when you’re in a calling it’s not a lot of effort. When I’m doing the things I’m called to do I feel like a bird flying. When I start to be like a duck that’s running a race, to use Bob Mumford’s expression, or an eagle that’s climbing a tree, I know I’m out of my calling. Better repent quickly and get back.
Let’s look at some scriptures here. This will be the last point we’ll deal with this morning. 2 Timothy 1:9. We need to read verse 8 to get a complete sentence.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner. But share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God. [Now we come to the sentence:] God who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”
I believe that there is a principle there that God, when he saves us, also calls us. I don’t believe that God’s salvation stops short of calling us. He saves us and he calls us with a holy calling. We may not hear the call, we may not be obedient, but the call really goes with the salvation. Being saved is not static. You’re saved into a life, not into a condition. And this calling is not according to our works. It’s not the result of our effort. It’s not produced by what we can do but it’s according to God’s own purpose and grace. Two things: God’s purpose, God’s grace. And this was given us in Christ Jesus before time began. What do you say in your translation? Before time began, is it the same? Before the beginning of time. I think we need to see it that way, that our calling is from eternity. Before time began God had it planned. Therefore, it’s no good trying to go any other way because it will not work. This thing isn’t an improvisation, it’s an eternal plan. The happy people are those who are walking in the eternal plan of God. And it was given to us in Christ. So think of those words, purpose and grace. God has a purpose for you, he has a grace for the purpose. But he doesn’t have grace for you for some other purpose. You’ve got to find his purpose to enjoy his grace.
Let’s take a look in 1Thessalonians 5:24, a well-known scripture which I have on the wall of my study in Jerusalem.
“Faithful is he who calls you and he will also bring it to pass.”
I think that’s the NASV if I’m not mistaken. So if God has called you, he accepts responsibility for you. But only for what he’s called you to do, he will bring it to pass. In l944 when I was still a soldier in the British Army, the Lord spoke to me and said, “I’ve called thee to be a teacher of the scriptures in truth, faith and love which are in Christ Jesus for many.” And I now look back 40 years and I say faithful is he who calls you, and he will also do it. I could have never of conceived at that time the outreach that the Lord would grant to my teaching ministry. There weren’t any tape recorders, cassettes in those days. And today I look back and I can say with confidence God has enabled this ministry to reach millions. Why? Because the one who calls is faithful. Amen, he is faithful. Bear that in mind. He is faithful. You find his calling and walk in it, he will never, never let you down. But, his faithfulness is in the area of the calling. Not that he’ll abandon you or forsake you, but he cannot minister to you the grace outside of the purpose, do you understand?
Two more scriptures. 2Peter 1:10–11.
“Therefore brethren be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble. For so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
We will not look into what’s gone before but Peter has sketched out a course of Christian development and he says in the light of that be diligent to make your calling and election sure. What God chose you for, what God called you to do, be diligent about it. I think that’s very, very important. I think I can say and hope without boasting, when God called me to be a teacher to scripture, my attitude toward my calling was like that of an athlete towards a contest. It has been ever since to this day. I have devoted everything I have and know to cultivating the ability to teach scripture. Strangely enough, some of you may have heard me say this, but I was inspired by a ballerina who was a friend of mine in the old days before I knew the Lord and who has become, I suppose, the most famous ballerina of this century, that’s Margot Fontaine. I knew her, I think, when she was sixteen, a snowflake in the NutcrackerSuite. And I have to say God gave me some discernment because I knew from that day she was something special. We were very close friends for a time. We still maintain contact. And I knew the other main female dancers in that ballet company at the time which was then became the royal opera, et cetera. And I know why Margot got where she did because she lived, for one thing, dancing. Everything she did, the books she read, the food she ate, the exercise she took or didn’t take—ballet dancers can’t afford to do much swimming because it develops the wrong muscles—everything was devoted to being the best ballerina she could be. She became and passed it.
Strangely enough, when God called me to be a teacher I thought of Margot. I thought, I’m going to give to teaching what she gave to dancing. I really believe I can say before God I’ve done that for 40 years. I’m very careful what I let into my mind because I’m the kind of person if it gets into my mind it’s going to get out of my mouth. I guard my mind jealously. I don’t let superfluous, unnecessary things get in there.
Let me give you one final scripture which is very, very brief. Exodus 23:31, and I’m only going to quote the NASV. It’s just about four words. God says to Israel before he brought them into the Promised Land:
“I will fix your boundaries.”
God spoke to me last summer, I need that. I need that. God, fix my boundaries. Show me where my limits are. Show me my area and don’t let me get outside of it. God gave Israel total success while they moved in his will within the boundary. But when they got outside of the boundary, nothing happened. Amen.