Posts tagged ‘Prayer’

Two Men Praying

This is a story, aka parable, is based on the story Jesus used that is recorded in Luke chapter 18 of the Pharisee and the tax collector. I wanted to update the characters, without changing the story, but the first obstacle was that some may think I am referring to specific people I know. That could not be further from the truth. Both people are conflations of many hundreds of people I have met in 50 years of living. So if you think I am talking about you, you are wrong. If, however, you are convicted by what the story says, then maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to get your attention regarding some things and attitudes you may be harboring. As before, I still get none of the credit or blame for the results. So here goes.

One day in a church building in a typical city, a lifelong churchgoer stopped during lunch to pray. He had been reading many stories about various ones who were preaching error, as well as articles on apologetics aimed at exposing false doctrines that disagreed with the conclusions from Scripture of the author. With all this going through his mind, he prayed this way:
“Lord, I thank you that I am not like others who go to denominational churches. I don’t listen to worldly music, I attend every church service, I only associate with those who teach correctly and agree with me, I partake of weekly communion, don’t believe any false teachings, have been baptized in water, and worship only with those acts you authorize. Thank you that I am we’ll pleasing in your sight and am doing those things necessary to stay saved.”

Out in next to the curb by the church building is a man who is too ashamed to come inside. His guilt from sin is overwhelming and he is at the end of his rope. He cries out to God and can only say a simple prayer. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

One of these men went home that day justified.

Why? Because whenever we start thinking that our standing with God is based on the quality or quantity of our performance, we are basing our salvation on our works, not on the finished work of Christ on the cross. Our standing with God produces good works, and not the other way around. When we deny salvation to those who have not performed a ceremony, or are not doing some list of required works to maintain their saved status, we have fallen from the gospel of grace.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2, 3 ESV)

But wait, those men in Luke 18 were under the old law and not under the new system. For one, are you saying that under the New Covenant it is more difficult to be saved? Well not to worry. In Luke 16:16 Jesus said that the law and the prophets were only in force until John the Baptist, but after that people could enter into the Kingdom of God. Yes, people were being saved when they believed on Jesus even during His earthly ministry.

So I would ask you to read the little story again and ask yourself this question in light of Romans 10:9-10 –
In the story above, which one went home justified before God?

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Offend In Jesus?

There is an interesting passage I have been meditating on that has always seemed odd to me. John the Baptist is a prophet whom I have always admired, especially since Jesus spoke so highly of him. But there is an incident that occurs when John is in prison that I have always interpreted as a time where he was having doubts about his ministry. That never made complete sense to me, since Jesus was the same man John had called “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”! After taking another look at the accounts in Matthew and Luke, I have come to another conclusion for you to consider. Let’s look at what Luke said.

When the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ ” And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight. Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Luke 7:20-23 NKJV)

I think one problem was that I would stop at the end of verse 22. But in verse 23 Jesus not only reassures John that He is in fact the Messiah, but also reminds him to focus on the big picture of His mission, and not be offended because someone else is getting a miracle deliverance and seemingly John is not. What do I mean by that?

Well just a few chapters earlier in Luke, Jesus gets up to read in the synagogue from Isaiah and fulfills a prophetic picture of what His earthly ministry would be.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18, 19)

Jesus, by giving the answer He gave about the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lepers being cleansed, and the poor having the gospel preached to them, is reminding John of a couple of things.
1. It’s not about you.
2. Focus on and give thanks for what God is doing, not on what He is seemingly not doing.
I believe John asked the question, not because He was starting to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, but because he knew the prophecy Jesus was fulfilling from Isaiah 61. John was trying to say, “the sick are healed, the lame walk, but what about delivering this captive?” And that is why Jesus added verse 23 to His reply to John’s disciples and reminded him not to be offended.

So what are some applications of this for us today?

Have you ever been striving for something in prayer with God? Maybe it was for restoration of health. Perhaps you were struggling financially, or were battling an addiction. And in the heat of the battle someone comes along that prays one time, and gets an instant reply. They quickly return to health, or get an inheritance from a long lost uncle, or are delivered from an addiction. Or a marriage or other family relationship is healed. While all of this is going on, you are still in the trenches doing battle and calling upon The Lord for deliverance. In times like these, it would be easy to resent what God has done for the other person rather than “rejoicing with those who rejoice”. Rather than focusing on what God has done and being thankful, we are tempted to turn inward and focus on what has not been done and become offended. This is dangerous ground, for a root of bitterness will defile us and those around us if we do not dig it out. (Hebrews 12:15) We are serving a Savior who has promised that He will never leave us, and will be with us always (Matthew 28:20) and that is a promise we can rest in.

Another application of this principle of not being offended when someone else gets an answer from God can be seen in two other miracles that Jesus performed. I would like to call attention to how these stories would have changed if resentment and bitterness had been harbored and offense had been taken.

In Luke chapter 8, Jairus comes and begs jesus to heal his little girl. When Jesus was walking with Jairus to his house to heal her, a ceremonially unclean woman with an issue of blood causes Jesus to stop when she reaches out, touches His garment, and is healed. While Jesus is ministering to her, Jairus’ servants come and tell him that his daughter had died. Can you imagine how different things would have been if he had become offended and lashed out in anger because this woman’s miracle had delayed Jesus from getting to his daughter before she died? He would have gone into unbelief and lost a daughter.

Or what about the man who was lame from birth, who sat at the Beautiful Gate by the temple in Acts 3? What if, when Peter and John mentioned the name of Jesus, the beggar had been offended because Jesus was a frequent visitor to the temple, and had healed thousands of people, but had never stopped and healed him? His miracle would literally have passed him by.

So don’t short circuit your answer from God by becoming offended when someone else’s prayers are answered. Rejoice with those who rejoice and gain courage from the knowledge that Jesus knows exactly what He is doing. Be heartened in the promise that He will never leave you or forsake you. You have not been abandoned. And in contentment, rest in the assurance that God is working all things together for good for saints like you that love Him. (Romans 8:28)

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Receiving Answers

Let’s take a look at 1 John 3:22 for a moment, because I believe there are some things here that we can discover if we are careful and take our time. For context, I will begin at the previous verse.

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. (1 John 3:21, 22 NASB)

On the surface, if we don’t read closely enough, we can misconstrue what John is saying here. He is not saying that we earn our answers to prayer from God. Well then, what is he saying here?

First of all, lets see what is meant by keeping his commandments. The statement itself implies that we are in a saved condition. Over in chapter 2 John has said,

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. (1 John 2:3)”

If we know Him, we are going know what kinds of thongs to ask Him that would be in accordance with His will.

Another thing to notice is that John separates keeping His commandments and doing what is pleasing in His sight. That is because what John means by keeping His commandments is stated in the following verse. We are to love one another. This fits in with what Jesus Christ said are the two greatest commandments — love God and love neighbor. In addition, it meshes nicely with what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 about everything we doing being useless if it is not done in love.

So rather than a cold legalism and getting our prayers heard by keeping our spiritual checklist filled out, he is talking about doing things that are pleasing in His sight that spring from our love for God and each other.our love for each other will keep us from selfish prayers. Our love for God will cause us to pray “not my will but yours be done”. When we ask for things that are within the will of God, we receive them. When we submit our prayers to the Father’s will, we are confessing that He knows best and will give us what is for our good, even though we may not know what to ask for.

So prayer that is a conversation between those in relationship with Christ, who are walking in love, and asking for God’s will to be done, will always be answered. As our knowledge of God grows, we will not only love Him more, but be even more eager to please Him in all we say and do. When we ask from that foundation, we will have all that God wills for us to have and will rejoice that He knows what is best for us.

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Digging for Gold

When I was online (okay, Facebook) the other day, we were discussing methods of Bible study. The person said that they just pray, read the verse, and God tells them what it means. My response was tentative, because she was wrong on so many levels that I didn’t know where to start without offending her with my reaction. Is “read once and pray” your method of studying the Word? Let me encourage you to reconsider.
To be clear, I have no objection whatsoever to praying before Bible study. In fact, you can and should pray before just about everything! Where the problem arises is when we pray and expect to have the interpretation supernaturally handed to us on a silver platter. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I have been reading and a verse seems to jump off of the page, or suddenly becomes clear. But those times are more a product of study and the pieces finally coming together than an epiphany of some sort. The Word of God is not a pond where the truth rises to the top and is effortlessly scooped off the surface. It is a rich gold mine that has priceless riches that we are to dig deeply into to discover what God has placed there for us.
God has promised to “reward those who diligently seek Him”, and we aren’t doing that when we refuse to put in the work to dig in and discover the depths of the truth. Failure to do the necessary work involved in mining the Word will lead to a life of milk diets at best, and deception at worst. Not every voice you think you hear is from God, but you will never be able to recognize truth without doing the work to let the Word transform and renew your mind. Jesus said to “keep on seeking, keep on knocking, and keep on asking” and that is not a one time experience.
There is also a misperception that it is more spiritual to just pray and ask for illumination than it is to do the work of studying in-depth for yourself. In fact it is less spiritual, because the read and wait method means disobedience to the command of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount to keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking. It also means that we don’t believe that God rewards those who “diligently seek Him.” What are you expecting Him to reveal that is not already there? Have you exhausted the text and discovered everything it has to offer? Then why do we go to it and expect new revelation when we have not mastered the truth that He has already revealed?
So do the work and dig into the Word. There is only one way to God, but there are also no shortcuts to studying His revealed will in the Word. Don’t be lazy about your studies. The gold and gems are there, but we must dig them out if we are to appreciate the treasure for what it is. God has promised that you will not come up empty! Doing otherwise doesn’t mean you won’t have any opinions about what the Bible says; it just means you will have a lot of wrong ones.

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In The Name Of

Have you ever needed to act in someone else’s name? It probably started early in life with something like this: “Mom said you better come inside now for dinner!” In effect, you were saying, “in the name of Mom, come in for dinner” because she had authorized you to pass on a message for her to someone else. And while you were sticking to the message she actually gave you, you had the authority of her name behind your words. However, if you were to say, “Mom said you had better come inside now for dinner, unless you want to let me have your dessert.” then you would no longer be within the delegated authority she gave you.

In the same way, Jesus Christ said to do many things in His name. That phrase is not some magical incantation that bestows power and whatever we want to do or say. Rather it is a statement of the authority behind saying or doing something. Thus, when Peter said, “Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NASB) he was not giving the secret words to make your baptism work. He was stating that one should be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins because Jesus said to do so.

In the same way, we are told that when we pray we are to ask for things in Jesus’ name, and it will be granted. Does that mean that we can say anything we want and it will be given to us as long as we say “in Jesus name” at some point during the prayer? Of course not! What Jesus assured the disciples of was that if they asked for anything that He told them to ask for (i.e. in His name) that the Father would grant it. What is also implied is that if we ask for things that are not what He wants for us, then the request is not in His name. We must be careful about saying we are doing something in Jesus’ name if the Bible has not spoken of it, lest we use His name in vain. And by the way, you can pray in Jesus name without tacking on “in Jesus name” at the end, but it is a good reminder for us to check ourselves and be sure that what we are asking for in His name is really what His will is for us.

This is not overly restrictive. We are commanded to do certain things in His name.

always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; (Ephesians 5:20 NASB)
And,
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:17 NASB)

So if what you are doing or saying is in accordance with His revealed will; if it is something good that you can be thankful to God for, then give thanks and act or speak in His name!

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At All Times!

Wouldn’t it be great to always know the right thing to do in any situation you encounter? To know that, no matter what else you do, that there is something that brings God on the scene for our good? Well there is just such a thing you can do. In fact, it’s never the wrong answer! Let’s let the Apostle Paul show us what it is.

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:18 NASB)

Both “pray” and “be on the alert” are participles in the Greek text. That means they are instrumental and connected with all the proceeding instructions. As such, they are not additional commands to do, but instead are the means through which the previous instructions are carried out. Without alert prayer, none of the things in the previous verses are possible! So if we are reading the prior verses about the armor of God and using the sword of the Spirit and asking ourselves how we are supposed to do all of this in a practical sense, then here is our answer in verse 18; pray and be alert. So when, in the present context, Paul says to pray in the Spirit, he is talking about how to wield the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. There is something powerful about praying over the Word as we are reading and studying, and about using the Word of God in our prayers themselves!

We can also see that the word “all” is used four times in this verse.

ALL kinds of prayers and supplications are to be used: public prayers, private prayers, silent prayers, spoken prayers, long prayers, short prayers, intercessory prayers, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of intercession, and every other kind!

ALL seasons are the season of prayer: all times of the day, all conditions and circumstances, all occasions, all states of mind, etc. There is no time that it’s the wrong time to pray!

ALL perseverance: through times of discouragement or defeat when it seems that all is lost, when victory has smiled or when it has failed …. let nothing hinder the prayer life.

ALL the saints are to be remembered in prayer. What an intercessor was Paul. His letters abound with the word that he is praying for those whom he remembers and for those who will receive his letters. He considered it his spiritual obligation to continue in constant prayer for his brothers and sisters in Christ. It is hypocritical in many ways to ask others to pray for us if we are not willing to also be in prayer for them as well.

Even though the Christian has put on the whole armor of God, he cannot win the victory except through a constant reliance upon prayer. A prayerless Christian is a contradiction of terms. When attacking an enemy, one of the first things that is taken out is the communications network. If you can cut off communication with their commanders, you render an army powerless to know how to fight. Satan has the same tactic. He wants us to cease communicating with the captain of our faith so that we become confused and powerless to recognize his tactics and resist him.

Prayer is not glamorous. Prayer is something largely done in private. But prayer is the tool that God has chosen to use to accomplish his will on the earth. Do you want to see God active in every one of your life situations? Then never think for a moment, in any circumstance, that “all we can do is pray” because prayer is the best, most powerful thing you could be doing!

Prayer — Just do it!

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