God's Lightning: A Seminar on Prayer

Session Four


Ps.136:1-3, 26; Eph. 5:18-21; II Thess. 5:18

Story: The day they came to get me

The crisis

The armed men, evidently from the Muslim militia group in the area, who were standing at the door of the church asked "Where is the pastor?" At the time, I was the pastor. Dr. Manoogian said, "He is not here today, but won't you come in and worship with us."

The background

We had helped to establish the English-speaking University Baptist Church during our early years of ministry and language study in Beirut. Over the years other missionaries had come to lead the church. Finally, during a lull in the civil war, a new pastor had come and lived in an apartment in the same building where the church met for worship just a block up the street from the main gate of the American University of Beirut. A number of westerners had been kidnapped in that area and held as hostages in the early 1980s. When fighting erupted once again, the pastor and his wife were advised by the American embassy to leave the country. At that point I agreed to serve as interim pastor even though we lived on the Eastern side of the city while the church was located on the western, mostly Muslim side. About a month after the pastor and his wife left, although I was faithful in going there each Sunday morning for the sake of the Filipino and Arab people as well as the American and British people who came to worship, I began to feel that it was poor stewardship of my life and a danger to the lives of the church members for me to continue to go for the one worship service per week that we conducted in English. The Muslim militia people knew who I was. They also knew that I parked in just about the same place each Sunday morning and they knew the building into which we went up one floor above the street level to our worship center.

One Sunday morning, at the conclusion of the service, I told the people how I felt about the danger to them if armed men should come into the service to take me at gun-point and any of them should try to prevent them. I explained that my own life would be at risk as well; however, I promised to record a message each week on cassette tape and send it with Maxine. It was safe for her to go because they were not taking American women as hostages, only men. Then they could carry on the service as usual and play the tape at the time for the sermon.

On the very first Sunday that I did not go in person, Maxine crossed into west Beirut with our dear friends, the Manoogians. Ikie Manoogian was an American missionary nurse and Peter was a Lebanese doctor of Armenian descent. He was also a leader and a deacon in University Baptist Church. The small group gathered as usual for the English language worship. They sang hymns, prayed, and took the offering. Then, when it was time for the sermon, they started the tape player.

About that time the doorbell rang. Dr. Manoogian opened the door to find three armed militia men wanting to come in.

The teaching


Ps.136:1-3, 26; Eph. 5:18-21; II Thess. 5:18

In Ephesians 5:18-21 Paul admonishes us to be filled (continually) with the Holy Spirit.
18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the LORD , 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our LORD Jesus Christ.

The verb “be filled” is in the present tense, signifying continuous action. It is a strong imperative and could be translated, “Keep on constantly being filled, over and over again.” Being continually filled with the Holy Spirit normally results in “singing and giving thanks for all things.”

The ministry of praise and thanksgiving deserves a large place in our praying. God often answers our prayers when we begin to thank Him and praise Him for His answers! This is one reason I like to start a group conversational prayer with praise and thanksgiving and nothing else. Some people have trouble avoiding asking God for anything and concentrating only on praise; but as various ones express their praise and adoration to God, an atmosphere of praise and thanksgiving often grips the entire group, lifting us all up to His throne in worship.

Giving thanks and praising God is an expression of gratitude for what God has done. Ps. 136 and 150 both express God’s people’s gratitude for His goodness and grace in creation and in salvation throughout their history. Psalm 136 is a psalm of praise to God for His blessings throughout Israel's history. “Give thanks unto the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever” (v. 1); this is the repeated refrain in each verse of the Psalm. It is always a good practice in prayer to count our blessings one by one as the psalmist did. This is one way to build a thankful spirit and avoid depression. There are also many other scriptures, such as the following, which admonish us to praise the Lord.

Psalm 33:1-4 says, 1 Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. 2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. 3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. 4 For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. Psalm 67:3-4 says, 3 May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. 4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth.

Psalm 100:4-5 adds, 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

In the New Testament we find the same principles. Paul says in Colossians 1:12 12 . . . giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light. In Hebrews 13:15 we read: 5 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Praising God and giving thanks is an expression of faith not only in what God has done, but also in what God is doing and is going to do . We are saved when we agree that we are sinners, confess our sins, repent and trust in Jesus as our Savior and give thanks. Giving thanks makes it feel real!

We receive answers to our prayers when we quit begging God to answer and start thanking Him for answering! Mark 11:24 says 2 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

This principle is found in the Old Testament in 2 Chron. 20:13-26, especially vss. 21-23 21  After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: "Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever." 22 As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 23 The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.

Praise and thanksgiving are an expression of faith even when our situation becomes bad or goes wrong. (Praise the Lord anyway!) We are to give thanks at ALL times for ALL things. Bad hair; broken fingernails; twisted ankles, insults from others, persecution, etc.; Eph. 5:20 teaches us to be 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and II Thess. 5:17-18 says, 17  pray continually; 18  give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. This becomes extremely difficult when disaster comes to the Lord's work or the Lord's people. We have read of situations when years of translation work have been burned up in a fire which also destroyed the equipment which was used to produce the translation. When I was director of the Baptist Recording Studio in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war at one point the leaders of a Maronite Catholic militia from the village above us came and confiscated all our recording equipment and held it for over a year.

Give thanks IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances. We are to give thanks in spite of our circumstances. Paul had learned this truth as he says in Phil. 4:11 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

We are not to give thanks for evil, such as armed robbery or war or cancer which may come to others but for whatever God allows to happen to us [as happened with Job (loss of wealth, family and health), Fannie Crosby (blindness), Joni Erikson Tada (paraplegic), and many others.] God is able to redeem all that He allows even though it is often difficult for us to see any benefit from very negative experiences.

ALL our worship (personal, family, church, conferences, etc.) should give a large place to praise and thanksgiving and it is always fitting to begin our prayers with praise and thanksgiving and to end them with thanks to God for hearing and answering them.

The Resolution

To conclude our story:
When the armed men who stood at the door of the church asked "Where is the pastor?" Dr. Manoogian said, "He is not here today, but won't you come in and worship with us." They could hear my voice, but sure enough, I was not there! They sat on the back seats for about ten minutes and then got up and left! Everyone was relieved that I was not there!

When Maxine got home and told me what had happened, I was also very relieved that I was not there! We were able to keep the services going for the English-speaking community for several more months until we were completely cut off from the west side by the heavy fighting along the "green line" which separated east and west Beirut. It seems the Lord had told me at just the right time when to stop going in person.


Can you pray prayers of praise and thanksgiving for fifteen minutes without asking God for anything? Please try it. Write notes in your workbook about the results of your efforts.

Why is it important to remember to thank and praise God before we ask Him for anything? Write your thoughts in your workbook. Perhaps such prayers will remind us of how God has answered our prayers in the past.