About Prayer

“Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9) 

            Have you asked yourself why you don’t pray as often as you should, why your mind wanders when you do, and why you don’t pray expecting that God will answer? If you have, you’re probably not alone. Last year, I led a class through a study of twenty basic beliefs Christian beliefs. The study was based on the book Christian Beliefs by author and seminary professor, Dr. Wayne Grudem. The material to prepare for these classes included a video of Dr. Grudem teaching each lesson. One of the lessons was on prayer. Prayer is at the heart of a true relationship with God. Our Christian lives should begin with prayer, end with prayer and be filled with prayer everywhere in between. And it’s true that the degree to which we pray is an indicator of our trust in God. But like every other aspect of our Christian lives, prayer is subject to human imperfection and in need of God’s gracious work. 

              “Pray then like this…” In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus gave His disciples a model for prayer.  It is a model for us as well. Known as the Lord’s Prayer, the intent of Jesus’ teaching is that God’s preeminence and glory is to be central as we make our requests known to Him. Though often recited, neither this nor any other prayer should be a mindless repetition of phrases, but instead heartfelt communication with our heavenly Father. 

            The Bible teaches a lot about prayer and we learned much in this class: the purpose of prayer, the effectiveness of prayer, what it means to pray in Jesus’ name and things that hinder our prayers. All of it was tremendously fruitful. But as I watched the video in preparing for the class, I was mostly struck by Dr. Grudem’s personal reflection about prayer in his own life. He shared that on the front of his prayer journal was a note he had written to himself. It reads,   “Wayne, this is not wasted time, this is your work. This is where the work of the Kingdom is established and advanced”. Just before reading the note, in a very self reflective way he affirmed his belief in what he had written about prayer, but also his desire to believe it even more. The note was to be a constant reminder that prayer was not only necessary in preparation for his work in ministry, but was in fact the work itself. I was so encouraged by what Dr. Grudem shared. I hope you are. Like every other aspect of the Christian life, a life of prayer is one in which we will always be growing. It’s easy to become discouraged in areas where we fall short of what we desire and God deserves. But it’s also important to realize that this Christian life we live is a process of continual growth. We are never completely there on this earth. God knows that. So be encouraged when recognizing your prayer life is not all it should be and your desire that it be more. That is the Holy Spirit’s work in you. Now just follow His lead and take the steps to be more faithful. Seek the Lord daily in His Word, keep a prayer journal to help you be more deliberate in prayer, and naturally of course, pray. 

 Prayer

Father, thank you for the encouragement we get from others. It’s really from you. Thank you for your grace as we grow more into who you created us to be, and help us to strive more to that end. Let our striving always be out of a thankful heart. Thank you for the Holy Spirit who helps us in our prayers. As your children, let prayer be the context in which we live each day. It is never wasted time. Amen!

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Who’s Changing Who?

            “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” The context for this verse is Paul’s teaching on the resurrection. There were some in the church at Corinth who were not only being negatively influenced by incorrect teaching about the resurrection, but also by their association with people of questionable character. Paul founded the church at Corinth during his second missionary journey and ministered there for eighteen months. After his departure, he later received a report of problems within the church. Corinth was one of the largest cities in the Roman world. It was also one of the most corrupt. Instead of growing in spiritual maturity, the church was characterized by their immaturity. There were many issues Paul addressed in writing to the Corinthians, but a primary purpose of his letter was to exhort them to break away from the negative influence of the culture in which they lived. 

            The culture in which we live exerts great influence as well. As certain phases of life end, others begin, bringing with them new sets of influences as new relationships are formed. These influences can either be good or bad. In Corinth, just as there is today, evil influence exists. But it is also the case that, though it may not necessarily be evil, the influence of new relationships can cause us to be less than what God desires for His children. Are you mindful and on guard for this subtle influence?

            As a child of God, Satan can’t impact our relationship with God. He can, however, do much to affect our fellowship with Him. It is impossible to completely avoid culture’s influence on our lives, and as Christians, we are called to engage the world in which we live with the gospel, but we must always be careful of the company we keep. We must “put on the whole armor of God” daily (Ephesians 6:11). One of Satan’s greatest deceptions is to have us believe that our own strength is enough to avoid being impacted by negative influences. This is why knowledge of God’s Word is so critical; it helps us to discern His will. It is also the means by which the Holy Spirit gives us a filter with which to see the world. Our strength is the Spirit’s presence in us. Those in the church at Corinth failed to take this seriously. We must not! Our culture is challenging, but our God is greater. As you enter new phases of life, meet new people and develop new friendships, let me ask, are you pointing them to Christ or are they pointing you away from Him? Are you changing them or are they changing you? Don’t be deceived, it matters!              

Prayer

Father, our culture exerts great influence. We are tempted by it, and in our own strength completely incapable of standing against it. God, we know that you are the one who changes hearts. Thank you for changing mine. Help me to be a positive influence on other people by pointing them to Christ. Lord, thank you for your goodness and your grace. Let my life be lived for your glory each day. Amen!

Divine Sovereignty And Human Choice: What Tension?

“If I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is foreordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other.”        -Charles Haddon Spurgeon- 

            It seems more and more we live in a day in which we consider God’s Word as true and authoritative only as long as it agrees with our own opinions and understanding.  There are many issues related to God and our understanding of Him that are mind blowing.  But isn’t that the way it should be?  He is God after all.  In the last chapter of his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, a book about Jesus’ disciples, John MacArthur discusses the life of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.  As it relates to this betrayal, Scripture makes clear that though it was foreordained by God, it was carried out freely by Judas.  MacArthur says, “God’s plan and Judas’ evil deed concurred perfectly.”  Jesus affirmed both God’s predetermined plan and Judas’ responsibility for his evil actions (Luke 22:22).  As MacArthur sought to explain the tension between divine sovereignty and human choice he used the above quote by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.     

            There are certainly passages of Scripture that are difficult for us to reconcile in our minds.  Consider how the Bible records Jesus’ statement that no one can come to Him “unless the Father draws them” (John 6:44) but also teaches that a person is condemned because of their unbelief (John 3:18).  What about how the Lord’s desire is that none perish but that all reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9) yet while teaching clearly that not all are saved.  And how could Jesus’ crucifixion be God’s plan and the Jewish leaders still be held responsible for carrying it out?  What about all of Romans 9?  When we read these passages, the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human choice may appear to contradict, but they don’t.  They may seemingly appear irreconcilable, but they’re not.  There are no contradictions with God nor is there any need for the passages that support each of these doctrines to be reconciled.  We accept them because the Bible teaches both.  What is needed is our submission to the realization that God really is beyond our full understanding.  I like the way Kent Hughes puts it when he says that “if anyone completely understands the ways of God, the Trinity will have to make room for another member.”  Consider the following verses: 

–          “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) 

–          “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the LORD, or who has been His counselor?  Or who has given Him a gift that He might be repaid?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36) 

            The above passages underscore the impossibility of our being able to fully comprehend God’s ways.  It would be a mistake however to let this fact dissuade you from the deep study of God’s Word.  We must go as far as the Holy Spirit takes us, realizing at the same time our full understanding and for that matter, opinion or belief is not the basis of the truth of God’s Word.  It never has or ever will be.  So, as to the tension between divine sovereignty and human choice; it is only ours, not God’s.  Spurgeon goes on to say  concerning divine sovereignty and human choice, that they are “two lines that are so nearly parallel that the human mind that pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, and they meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.”  God is amazing.  Aren’t you glad we have a God who is beyond us?  What kind of God would He be if His ways were our ways, if His judgments were searchable, and if He needed our counsel?  Could we then appreciate the greatness of His grace?  I don’t think so.  But thankfully such is not the case.  Our God will always be beyond us and because the words of Scripture are His words, they are beyond us as well.  Isn’t that just as He and they should be?

The Perfect Father

“You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) 

            My dad is 82 years old today. I think about my dad a lot. As he gets older and as his birthday approaches, I think about him even more. When I think back over the years, I remember the various stages of what I thought about my dad. They’re probably not much different than most of our thoughts concerning our fathers. When I was little, I looked at him with such reverence, he couldn’t do anything wrong. I just took in every word he said. But, as I grew and became more independent in my teenage and early adulthood years, though I loved and respected him, I wasn’t always as eager for the advice he had to offer. As I’ve aged, now having children of my own, I realize how often his advice was right.            

            “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” The central theme of this passage in Matthew is not about how to be a good father, but on emphasizing the perfection of our Heavenly Father. The Greek translation for the word “perfect” means to mature. In the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), Jesus taught about the high standards in which Christians are to live. Though it’s unattainable in this life, we are to pursue perfection. God’s standard is His own perfect character. Well, the truth is, my father can’t meet that perfect standard. Nor can I or any other father, we never will. That fact, however, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be our hearts desire. But at best, earthly fathers are but a dim reflection of our Heavenly Father. 

            I know I have a great father who loves me. I’ve always known that I can count on Him for anything, but like we all do, I have an imperfect father because all earthly fathers are destined to be just that, imperfect. I know the mistakes he made along the way, he made loving me. I’ve made plenty of my own. God’s Word teaches that in our pursuit of Him, we will always fall short. Thankfully, our Heavenly Father never does. He’s the perfect Father who never fails and because He loves us, He gave His Son to be the perfect sacrifice for our sin. It’s our Heavenly Father who should be our role model. As your Heavenly Father has dealt so graciously with you, honor Him and extend that same grace to your imperfect earthly father. Thank him for what he has done for you, but also forgive him for what he has failed to do. That will bring glory to the Father who loves you the most, the Father who awaits you in heaven. 

 Prayer 

Heavenly Father, thank you so much for my earthly father. Thank you for the wisdom you gave him in raising me. Though imperfect, he loves me. Father, in the ways that he may have failed, I forgive him.  We all have failed. You are the one perfect Father and we adore you. Thank you for your Son, Jesus Christ. Help me to show the grace you have shown me, and by the power of your Holy Spirit, give me a desire to be perfect before you. Amen!