Posts Tagged 'Prayer'

7 Healthy Habits, Part 1

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Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.

So wrote Confucius in his “Analects.” And as far as he goes, he’s right. People are people wherever you go, only the faces and names change. But Christians are supposed to be different; our natures are different; our sinful nature has been replaced with Christ’s nature.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:6, 7 TLB)

Given the truthfulness of what Paul wrote doesn’t automatically do away with the truthfulness of Confucius. Even though Christians been “set free from sin” because our “old selves” have been done away with, we still have a responsibility to live like people to whom this happened. God, through the work of His Son, has radically changed our natures, but our behavior – how we live our lives – is up to us to bring into line with what God has done. God won’t change our behavior; He graciously leaves that up to us.  But, it’s not easy to change our behavior because so much of it is based on habits adopted long ago. Fortunately, the Bible can help us out. Living lives that glorify Christ means developing new habits to replace old habits. Let’s take a look at some new habits every Christian needs to adopt in the coming year.

Trust Christ, Galatians 2:20

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (TLB)

This verse is a statement of fact; a fact that is true of every single believer, not just the apostle Paul. What he is getting at here is not living “the crucified life,” whatever you think that may mean. It does not suggest that Christians should seek to “crucify themselves.” It’s written in the past tense, meaning Paul and all believers have already been crucified with (or in) Christ. Our crucifixion is an accomplished fact; it was something that took place at a specific point in time. It happened to us when it happened to Christ.

But what exactly does Paul mean when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ?” In the simplest of terms, Paul is referring to his old, inner self being dying with Christ on the Cross. When Jesus died on the Cross, our hopeless, helpless, sin-depraved natures died with Him. It’s a curious way of thinking and the modern mind that views history in a linear fashion has problems grasping the idea that 2,000 years ago something happened to people not yet born. But remember, time is man’s invention, and God exists outside of it. He doesn’t occupy our space and isn’t bound by our naïve concepts of things like time.

It takes faith – trust – to believe that our sinful nature is, in fact dead. Can it be proven? Of course not! That’s why Paul wrote about trusting in the Son of God’s work on the Cross done on your behalf. You have to trust what you can’t prove.

When you confess Christ as your Lord and Savior, God views you as having died with Him on the Cross. Your sinful nature, and in fact all your sins and your guilt, were mystically attached to Christ so that when He died to this sinful world, so did you. This sinful world no longer has a claim on you any more than it did on Jesus. To prove the world had no hold on Him, Jesus rose from the dead, proving that He was no longer subject to the natural world. Neither are you, at least as far as sin is concerned.

But, you don’t stay dead. The counterpart of death with Christ is living a new life in Him – or as Paul put it, “I’m dead, but now Christ lives in me.” The Christian life is now like this:

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:4 – 6 NIV)

Of course, he’s writing to converted Jews, convincing them that the new life in Christ set them free from the burden of having to live by all those religious regulations. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been set free from sin’s grasp on us so that now we can live for Christ; we can live lives inspired by Him. Our lives will now “bear fruit for God.”  Here’s the kicker though. We actually have to trust that what happened to us 2,000 years ago did actually happen to us. We have to develop the habit of continually trusting in Christ. We do this by reading His Word; by filling our minds with the facts of His finished work on the Cross. We develop the habit of trust in Christ by living for Him, or perhaps more accurately letting Him live through us. The more we change our habitual ways of thinking and living, the greater of habit of trust will become.

Praying to God, Philippians 4:6

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (NIV)

Actually, this verse presents us with a double whammy: we are to (1) pray to God, and (2) not be anxious about anything. Just try telling any mother not to worry about their children and see what kind of reaction you get. For a lot of people, not just mothers, worrying is seen as a virtue. To not worry about something is seen by them as being irresponsible. But the Bible makes it plain: Christians are not to be anxious about anything. That’s an absolute statement. It’s not that we shouldn’t be concerned about important things, but we should never be anxious about them. That’s hard to do. We live in a very negative culture at the moment that encourages us to worry about everything. From the dopey, “If you see something, say something” admonition to the obsession people have with flu shots, suspicious neighbors, and germs, the modern American can find all kinds of things to be anxious about! Fortunately for us, the Bible gives us the secret to living a worry-free life: replace anxiety with prayer. Replace one habit with another one.

Habitual prayer is important. Don’t ever wait to feel “moved” to pray! Develop the habit of praying and pretty soon it will be as natural to you as breathing. But you must make it a habit. Don’t find time for it, make time for it.  But for Paul, prayer wasn’t quite enough; he added “and petition.” That’s a new word for the old fashioned idea of “supplication.” But what does it mean? Prayer is general idea, but it’s far more than just “talking to God,” as some people think. Praying to God is based on God’s promises to believers; it’s a form of worship and devotion. Petition is a special kind of prayer made during times of stress or need and it appeals to God’s mercy. John Knight made this observation –

One prays for forgiveness – and it is given; he supplicates for the recovery of his child – that is mercy which exceeds the bounds of grace.

These things, prayer and petition or supplication, need to be practiced habitually. They shouldn’t be haphazard or occasional things we do when we feel like it or think of it. But Paul carries this a little further. He tells us that we should present our requests “to God.” That’s not just telling Him what you need. The Greek is pros ton theon, which is better rendered, “in God’s presence.” This refers to God’s continual presence; He’s always there, listening, watching, waiting for you to talk to Him. Despite how some Christians pray, we don’t “go into God’s presence,” for He is always with us, whether anybody else is or not or whether we feel Him or not. It’s an objective fact of the faith: God’s abiding presence. We need to habitually pray and petition God with that attitude of mind – we are in the presence of the mighty God. With that understanding, how can we possibly be anxious? How can we doubt His hearing us?

When other people around us – friends and family even – don’t seem to understand us or seem unable to help us, we can depend on God. In fact, if we take Paul at his word – and we should – God is the first Person we should turn to, not the Person of last resort.  There’s a tremendous promise attached to the habit of prayer:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 NIV)

A lot of us want that “peace which transcends all understanding” without doing anything to get it! We get it when we practice habitual prayer – the kind of praying Paul wrote about.

Remain in Christ, John 15:4

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4 NIV)

This may seem like an obvious habit to develop. What Christian would not want to remain in Christ? Apparently there are many Christians who have little or no interest in remaining in Christ because so many Christians live barren lives. If you want to be a productive Christian, then remaining “in Christ” is essential. Jesus declared that He was the “true vine,” God was the great gardener, and the believer is a branch. Of course, all this is symbolism which represents a couple of aspects of the Christian life:

(1) Christians who produce fruit – those who live lives that are pleasing to God and marked by living in accordance to His will – are like healthy branches.
(2) Christians who don’t live like that are like branches that are barren and brittle.

How does a Christian become like a healthy branch? By remaining in Christ. Essentially, man is unable to do anything to please God apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Unless you are consciously living in Christ, nothing “good” you do is of any value to God in terms of eternity. Heavenly fruit-producing happens only when a believer is in good stead with His God – when he remains firmly grafted in the Vine, who is Jesus Christ.
So there are really two things happening here. First, Christians are supposed to be producing good fruit in God’s sight, and the only way they can do that is to be in a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ. But there are many people who think they are in that kind of relationship who are, in fact, not all. Their lives, in God’s sight and very often in the sight of other believers, are spiritually barren – essentially worthless. It’s Jesus that makes all the difference in the world. You see, a good deed done without Jesus is just a good deed that may benefit the recipient of that good deed. But that same good deed done in the Name of Jesus has a spiritual dimension behind it. It benefits the recipient more than you can notice with your natural eyes. It also benefits the Kingdom of God in ways you can’t imagine.

Christians anchored in Jesus are an unstoppable force for the Kingdom in this dark world. But we must remain in Him. Remaining in Him doesn’t just happen. It’s a relationship, and every relationship needs to be cultivated; it needs to be worked on. As Christians, we need to pay attention to how the most important relationship in our lives is doing. We can’t afford to be lazy about it; we should never take it for granted. Remaining in Jesus is habit we have to work on constantly. It’s the third healthy habit for Christians to adopt.

Live Like an Overcomer (Because You Are!)

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1 John 5:1-21

The theme of Christ’s sonship is seen throughout John’s first letter; he returns to it time and again and here, in the last chapter, Christ’s sonship is what guarantees our relationship to God:

If you believe that Jesus is the Christ—that he is God’s Son and your Savior—then you are a child of God. (1 John 5:1a TLB)

The readers of John’s letter, including you, needed to remember that they were children of God through their faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Part of being a child of God and being related to the Son of God by faith, is the reality of victorious living. That’s another recurring theme in John’s letter: if we base our lives on the Word of God, then we will live an “overcoming life.” In a world that is, generally speaking, against Christians, Christians may live triumphantly, on top of their circumstances and not under them.

We must be born again, 1 John 5:1-5

Our position in the Kingdom is based on the fact that we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ. In effect, we become God’s children by our recognition of the fact Jesus is the Son of God. Our position, in other words, has nothing to do with our good behavior or our sunny disposition. It’s on account of who Jesus is that we have become part of His family. Amzi Dixon, popular Baptist preacher and expositor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, commented:

When we have accepted Jesus Christ, we have become akin to the Father; having become real children of God, we then have the spirit of sonship by which we can come into His presence and make known our wants in a familiar way.

God’s commandments and love, verses 2, 3

But how can we know for sure that we really are a child of God? Faith is one thing, but sometimes our experience and our feelings tell us something else. When we sin, for example, or go through hard times or entertain false teachings, we may be led to think that we aren’t a child of God. Or we may think that of others. Is there a way to know for sure? John thinks so:

…when we love God, and keep his commandments. (1John 5:2a KJV)

So to believe that Jesus is the Son of God is to become a child of God and that enables us to love God and to love others. In terms of love, love for God and love for others cannot be separated; one love cannot exist without the other. Not only that, faith and love are just as inseparable; faith in God and love for Him and for other believers are completely intertwined. John Calvin wrote:

Since God regenerates us by faith, he must necessarily be loved by as a Father; and this love embraces all his children.

What does “love for God” look like? It’s not a feeling, although feelings may be involved. Do you love God? John gives us one way to tell:

Loving God means doing what he tells us to do, and really, that isn’t hard at all… (1 John 5:3 TLB)

Our love for God may be seen in (1) how we love others, and (2) if we do what He tells us to do. If a person lives his life in obedience to God’s commandments as given in His Word, we may be pretty sure he is a true believer. Obeying God’s Word is what loving God looks like.

God’s children are overcomers, verses 4, 5

…for every child of God can obey him, defeating sin and evil pleasure by trusting Christ to help him. But who could possibly fight and win this battle except by believing that Jesus is truly the Son of God? (1 John 5:4, 5 TLB)

In the King James Version, these verses look more familiar:

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth kthat Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:4, 5 KJV)

Anyone who has experienced the new birth has “overcome the world.” They are able to say along with Jesus:

“I have told you all this so that you will have peace of heart and mind. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows; but cheer up, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 TLB)

Verse 5 begins with a question: Who is this person who overcomes the world? The obvious answer is: the believer. But the real point of the question is found in the word “overcomes.” John is not referring to a one-time thing, but rather a continuous activity. The Christian will always be the victor over the world. The person who believes in the divinity of Jesus is the person who lives in a state of victory. If only Christians could maintain this state of mind! Anglican theologian Richard Sibbes wrote:

Let us never give up, but, in our thoughts knit in the beginning, progress and end together, and then we shall see ourselves in heaven out of the reach of all enemies.

Trust the testimonies of God, 1 John 5:6-13

False teachers seeded doubts in the minds of Christians during John’s day; doubts about the divinity of Jesus. Was He really the Son of God? Believing in the divinity of Jesus is key to living as an overcomer. One of the more prominent ideas in John’s writings is that of “witnesses” to what Jesus said and did. Beginning in verse 6, John gives us three witnesses we can trust.

And we know he is, because God said so with a voice from heaven when Jesus was baptized, and again as he was facing death—yes, not only at his baptism but also as he faced death. And the Holy Spirit, forever truthful, says it too. So we have these three witnesses: the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the voice from heaven at Christ’s baptism, and the voice before he died. And they all say the same thing: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (1 John 5:6-8 TLB)

The primary witness we can trust is the Holy Spirit. Since He came to dwell in the Church, individually and corporately, He has been the one Constant. Over the centuries, the pendulum has swung away from the inner witness of the Spirit to an unhealthy dependance on credal statements about Jesus and back to an equally unhealthy dependance on inner revelations. John teaches that the Holy Spirit is the primary witness, backed up by the historical record of Jesus’ baptism where God spoke from Heaven and by His death; the shedding of His blood.

A Gnostic heresy John was combating here taught that Jesus was only a man upon whom God’s Spirit, Christ, descended at his baptism and from whom the “Christ Spirit” departed while he hung on the cross. John’s refutation is simple and to the point. Christ’s public ministry began at His baptism and concluded at His crucifixion. In fact, the crucifixion was really the climax and consummation of the Incarnation. J.B. Phillips in his translation over verse 8 is worth a look:

The witness therefore is a triple one – the Spirit in our own hearts, the signs of the water of baptism and the blood of atonement – and they all say the same thing.

Belief in the Son of God, verses 9-11

We believe men who witness in our courts, and so surely we can believe whatever God declares. And God declares that Jesus is his Son. (1 John 5:9 TLB)

John’s logic is flawless. If we can believe expert witnesses in court, then surely we can believe the witness of God! We can trust the word of a man, but not of God? We trust all kinds of people every day. We trust our retirement funds with financial advisors most of us have never even met. We trust the mechanic that worked on our brakes. We trust the carpet cleaners who work in our homes when we aren’t there. Most of us never think twice about who prepares our food when we eat out. We hope they washed their hands! We assume our doctor knows what he’s talking about. If we can trust all these people, why do we find it so hard to trust in The Lord? This is John’s point.

How important is it to believe God? Consider this:

If anyone doesn’t believe this, he is actually calling God a liar because he doesn’t believe what God has said about his Son. (1 John 5:10 TLB)

God is the one who has taken the initiative to tell man about Himself, therefore man has an obligation to do something with that knowledge. Man, with all his wonderful freedom, does not have the freedom to simply ignore God. When a man rejects God’s testimony, he is, in effect, making God out to be a liar. And this is a very serious offense, indeed.

Lee Strobel, one-time lawyer and Christian apologist, was one who accepted God’s claims after carefully considering them.

I became a Christian because the evidence was so compelling that Jesus is the one-and-only Son of God who proved His divinity by rising from the dead. That meant following Him was the most rational and logical stop I could possibly take.

Indeed it is. Mr Strobel did the right thing. A lot of people don’t.

Eternal life in God’s Son, verses 12, 13

So whoever has God’s Son has life; whoever does not have his Son, does not have life. (1 John 5:12 TLB)

Like the old song says, “Jesus is answer for the world today.” But on the human side, it takes belief in Him. And belief in Jesus is what brings eternal life. That’s why John wrote what he wrote; he wanted his readers to be assured of eternal life. That’s why we have God’s Word; it leads us to Jesus, who leads us to eternal life.

Live with confidence in God, 1 John 5:14-17

Ask according to His will, verses 14, 15

And we are sure of this, that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will. And if we really know he is listening when we talk to him and make our requests, then we can be sure that he will answer us. (1 John 5:14, 15 TLB)

“Confidence” is a word and idea John liked; he mentioned it twice before in this letter: once in regard to prayer and twice in connection to the judgment. The Greek word John chose to use is also translated “assurance” elsewhere. The word has a connection to the idea of “freedom.” Because we have received the gift of eternal life, we have the confidence – the freedom – to approach God in prayer, anytime, anywhere. This is a position of high privilege. We don’t come to God as beggars, but as His children. On this point, David Jeremiah’s comments are spot on:

Do we approach God from a beggar’s perspective or as His cherished child? If we have any difficulty seeing Him as our loving Father, we need to ask Him to help us develop a healthy Father/child relationship.

Here is all you need to know about prayer: we are free to ask God for anything in line with His will. Even Jesus submitted to His Father in prayer.

Pray for a faltering brother, verses 16, 17

If you see a Christian sinning in a way that does not end in death, you should ask God to forgive him, and God will give him life unless he has sinned that one fatal sin. But there is that one sin which ends in death, and if he has done that, there is no use praying for him. (1 John 5:16 TLB)

Following up on his theology of prayer, John gave his readers an example. Christians should pray for other Christians who may be struggling in their faith. This is intercessory prayer of the highest order! A soul’s future hangs in the balance. When we pray for a faltering brother, it goes without saying we need to pray for the Lord’s will to be done in his life. But, sometimes God’s will may be difficult to discern. In that eventuality, we need to pray in the Spirit, as Paul taught in Romans 8:26.

So, our prayers are limited to God’s will, but they may also be limited by the person we are praying for. Depending on what kind of sin he is involved in, our prayers will be of no effect. In regards to this, John is not teaching that there is a sin or habit that God will not forgive. There are two ways in which a brother struggles with sin. First, he may be struggling to stop it; to get out of it. For this person, intercessory prayer will give him strength and determination to trust God to help him get the victory. But the second way is the way John had in mind: a person may be struggling to get into sin and stay there. For one like that, there is no point in prayer. Ananias and Sapphira are good examples of believers going out of their way to get into sin.

When we live like an overcomer, we have learned to trust in God. We have confidence in God. We are able to approach Him in prayer with a freedom and a confidence like the way a child relates to his parents. And we are able to pray for others who may be struggling to become overcomers.

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PAUL: ANOTHER MAN OF PRAYER

Paul, in prison praying.

We don’t often think of Paul as a man of prayer. When we think of Paul, we think of the great apostle, an able missionary, a powerful preacher, the man who started many churches, but we seldom think of him as a man of prayer. Most of us aren’t able to make a list of Paul’s prayers. Yet, Paul was a great man of prayer, and we can learn about effective praying by looking at the prayers of Paul

1. The characteristics of Paul’s prayer

They were motivated by good news, Ephesians 1:15

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints…

More than once, it was good news that moved Paul to pray. For most Christians, the thing that drives us to our knees is bad news, not good news. We pray when we are in trouble, or when we’re sick, or when we’re faced with some kind of crisis. A lot of Christians use prayer like they would use a life preserver: for emergencies only.

Paul often prayed during times of trouble, and so should we. The Bible tells us we should! But Paul also used good news as excuses to pray. When we start to do that as well, we’ll begin to notice something interesting: we’ll be praying more often. And we’ll be looking for good news!

Paul heard the good news about his friend’s faith, and that good news moved him to pray!

They were intercessory, Ephesians 1:16; 3:16

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…

Paul prayed for others; he prayed on behalf of others. Now, Paul also prayed for himself. The Bible tells us to that, too. In 1 Corinthians 12 we read about how Paul was so desperate to have his “thorn in the flesh”removed, that he essentially begged God repeatedly to remove it. So, Paul definitely prayed for himself. But, most of his prayers were like those recorded in Ephesians: on behalf of others.

The thing about intercessory prayer is that any Christian can do it. Most of us will never travel to foreign countries, teaching and preaching the Gospel. Most of us will never stand behind a pulpit or write a book about the Bible. But all of us are able to pray, and all of us ought to be praying for the needs of others, like Paul did. Intercessory prayer might well be the greatest ministry any member of the church may engage in!

They were brief

Both prayers recorded for us in Ephesians were brief. In fact, it may surprise you know that all the prayers in the Bible are short. William Shakespeare may have said, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” but Jesus said this:

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7)

Moses, who we know was a tremendous man of prayer, once prayed a powerful prayer that was a mere four verses long (Deuteronomy 9:26—29). Elijah prayed the prayer of his life and it was only two verses long (1 Kings 18:36, 37). Martin Luther thought that the shorter the prayer the better the prayer.

God is willing to listen to all our prayers. He is never so busy that He wishes we’d hurry up and get to the point when we pray. However, when we pray we are taking up God’s time. When we pray, we need to learn how to pray properly and intelligently. It’s interesting that some of us will read, re-read, re-write, proofread, and have proofread an important e-mail,  letter, or term paper, or whatever, but we so often pray sloppy prayers. We choose our words carefully when we are being interviewed for a job or when we are trying to make a good impression, but we pray like we are the sixth grade.

They were submissive, Ephesians 3:14

For this reason I kneel before the Father…

“Kneeling” in prayer is what we call the “posture of submission.” It’s not so much a physical posture, although it certainly can be, as it is a posture of the heart. When we pray submissively, we are praying that God’s will would be done, not ours. We are recognizing God’s sovereignty.

Most of us aren’t real good at that. We pray—we use many words—with the intention of changing God’s mind or convincing Him that we are right about something instead of acknowledging His sovereignty.

2. The content of Paul’s prayers

They were full of thanksgiving

Giving thanks for something was a big part of Paul’s prayers. He thanked God for all kinds of things:

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. (Ephesians 1:16)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

What do you think Paul meant when he used the curious phrase “with thanksgiving?” Does Paul mean that after you’ve prayed for people and things, you should thank Him for past answers to prayer? Does He mean that you should divide your prayers into two parts, one part thanksgiving and one part requests? Or does Paul mean to suggest that you should thank God for answering the prayer you just prayed?

We need to understand a very simple thing: there is NO such thing as an unanswered prayer. God always answers your prayers, so when you pray and when you present your needs to Him, present them with thanksgiving; expect Him to take care of your requests and thank Him in advance for doing that.

The reason why we think God doesn’t answer some of our prayers is that He answers them in an unexpected way: He answers them HIS way, not our way. By the way, given human nature, and given the immaturity of so many Christians, NO is probably the most common answer God gives in response to our prayers.

So, God is going to answer that prayer. Start thanking before you say “Amen.”

They were directed to the Father

This seems like a minor point and maybe an obvious one, but it is important. Paul prayed directly to God, the Father. He did not pray to God, Son or God, the Holy Spirit.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17)

For this reason I kneel before the Father… (Ephesians 3:14)

Paul was doing precisely what Jesus said we should do:

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23, 24)

Jesus made it clear that we should not pray to Him directly. Jesus is our great Intercessor; that is His ministry today. It is Scriptural to pray to God the Father, not to God the Son. When we pray to God the Father, God the Son will act as our intercessor; we will be the recipients of a wonderful ministry Jesus performs on our behalf.

They were for spiritual understanding

Paul, highly educated in all things theological, often prayed for deeper spiritual insight, for himself and also for his friends. He prayed for other things often, too, but it’s significant that he wanted to know more about God, Jesus, and the Gospel and he wanted those he was praying for to have that same kind of supernatural revelation.

It’s very difficult for believers today to pray for spiritual understanding. We are inundated with secularism day and night. We are prone to be materialistic, not spiritual. We even judge spiritual success by material standards! We so often confuse God’s blessings with success and material prosperity. Paul didn’t always pray for those things, he often prayed for spiritual understanding:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17—19)

Notice what was important to Paul. He wanted the people he was praying for to have deeper understanding and a firmer grasp of spiritual things. This was something he wrote about earlier in his letter:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints… (Ephesians 1:17, 18)

This kind of illumination is something we all need no matter how spiritual we think we are. It’s all well and good to pray for good health or for peace or for success for ourselves and for others, but we should never forget the vital importance of spiritual growth. Spiritual understanding surpasses anything else we may be praying for.

However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” — but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10)

The reason why the church needs spiritual understanding so badly today is that there is so much false teaching floating around and finding a home in it. It’s hard to believe how many churches and once trustworthy ministries have fallen prey to false teachers and their teachings.

He prayed for spiritual power

…and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength… (Ephesians 1:19)

Paul prayed for his friends to have spiritual understanding and spiritual power. What is this spiritual power?

...which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms… (Ephesians 1:20)

That’s what we call “resurrection power!” Paul once said that he longed to know that power (Philippians 3:10). But what is “resurrection power,” exactly? It is the power that raised Christ from the dead, took Him off the earth in a resurrection body and placed Him at the right hand of God the Father. We are to pray that that power is operating in us. We need to pray prayers backed with that kind of power. Our church services should be full of that kind of power. We should pray as Paul did: for more that resurrection power.

JAMES: A MAN OF PRAYER

The inspiring story of a man of prayer, Angus Buchan.

There are several men in the New Testament named James. The James we are looking at now is James, the brother of Jesus. Technically James would be the half-brother of Jesus.

Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

This is the same man who wrote the letter that bears his name, which opens like this:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ… (James 1:1a)

It’s very telling that James never mentions his familial relationship to Jesus, referring to himself instead as “a servant…of the Lord Jesus Christ.” During the early years, James had no idea who his brother really was; it took him a long time to clue in that his brother Jesus was really the Messiah. No wonder our Lord said this:

“Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” (Mark 6:4)

It may have taken James a while to come on-board, but when he finally did, he was all in for the cause! James was one who believed that Christianity was not just a series of doctrines and beliefs, but a life to be lived. James was a man of tremendous faith and his letter is all about Christian ethics: how we are to live out our faith.

He was immensely practical—maybe the most practical of all the New Testament writers—and James was also a man of prayer, and we can learn a lot about the practical side of prayer by looking at his prayers.

1. Wisdom and prayer

James has a lot to say about “wisdom” in his letter, but when he writes about wisdom he’s not writing about “knowledge” or education or philosophy. James’ wisdom relates to how we deal with the trials and tribulations of life. Specifically, James wants his readers to see how wisdom is necessary for discerning God’s will for our lives when the way is unclear:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2—4)

This piece of advice can at first seem like a huge pill to swallow. Who likes trials? As Christians, we need to understand that difficult times come along for a purpose: to make us mature. The thing is, knowing this fact and accepting it are two different things. We may intellectually be able to say, “Everything happens for a purpose,” when a bad thing happens to us, but accepting it means we need to know God’s will—the “why” it happened in the first place. Then we need to know how to react in the face of that difficult time. James makes the assumption that believers undergoing hard times will have a difficult time knowing God’s will, so he goes on to say in verse 5:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

Here is where so many Christians get lost. They are able to see and understand God’s will in the big issues of life; things like death, for example. But they lose sight of God’s will when the “little things” start nibbling at their faith. Bit by bit, piece by piece their faith gets eaten up with worry, anxiety, anger, and that leads to decisions and actions that may be completely out of God’s will. This is where wisdom from above is needed.

A lot of Christians earnestly desire to live in God’s will, and most of them start out well. They read their Bibles, go to church, they fellowship with other believers, and they do all things a Christian ought to do. But then something comes along—a difficultly at work, a family problem, or maybe a financial crisis—and the wind goes out of their sails. This Christian is now faced with a decision or decisions; they stand at an intersection, wondering whether to turn right, left, or proceed straight ahead. They want to remain in God’s, but which direction keeps them in God’s will? This is the kind of wisdom James says we need. This is the kind of wisdom we need to be asking God for.

Very rarely in life are there cosmic billboards telling us which direction to take. A lot of times God’s will may be difficult to see. This is probably by design. If there were “signs” all over pointing us in the right direction, we’d spend our time looking for signs instead of looking at God. If staying in God’s will was easy, it wouldn’t take any faith.

No, we need wisdom, and if we ask for it, God is not stingy! He will give us all the wisdom we need to make the right decisions at the right times to remain in His will. Now, it’s entirely possible we may make the wrong choice. We’re only human, and God understands this. Paul knew what felt like to make the wrong choice.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. (Acts 16:6)

Paul had made the decision to go one way, but it wasn’t God’s will, so the Holy Spirit prevented them from going too far astray. Eventually Paul would venture into the province of Asia and he had great success preaching the Word there, but this was not the right time. However, Paul was a persistent man. In the very next verse, we read this:

When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.

Do you see what the great apostle did when God prevented him from going in a certain direction? He persisted and tried another direction. But, it still wasn’t in God’s will, so again Paul was prevented from making the wrong decision. This may not happen all the time with us, but we can be sure that God will do His level best to gently prod us in the right direction if our hearts are right. But He lets us make the decisions.

But it all comes down to wisdom. Paul needed it, and so do we.

2. Worldliness and prayer

We hear a lot about “worldliness” and how important it is that Christians avoid it. The problem is, most of us don’t know what “worldliness” is. Some Christians think “worldliness” is listening to all that “rock and roll” music on the radio. Others think it’s going to see a movie, or wearing a skirt too short or wearing fishnet stockings and sling back shoes. James, though, knew precisely what “worldliness” was, and it has little to do with how we spend our days off or what we wear:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. (James 4:1—2)

This is what real worldliness look like. When Christians start behaving like that, they are behaving like people in the world. Getting what you want no matter what you have to do to get it…this is worldliness, and this is what concerned James.

Paul understood the wickedness of this worldly attitude because it had infested one of his churches:

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly —mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1—3)

Worldliness makes the life of the Christian miserable in so many ways. Like the alcoholic who can never get enough, so the Christian, once he has tasted of worldliness, can never get enough. What’s worse is what James wrote:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)

When we are worldly, our vision blurs. When our focus is off of God, we cannot pray correctly; we pray for what we want, not for what God wants for us. James’ advice is to take a careful look at what we are praying for, why we are praying for it, and how we are praying. Do we simply have a grocery list of things we want? Or do pray to have God’s will be done?

Prayer always works; prayer never fails, but we must pray as redeemed people. Selfish or self-centered prayers get nowhere. Worldliness will stop your prayers quicker than anything else.

3. Wellness and prayer

We all want to be well, both in mind and body. In fact, judging by the number of pharmacies and clinics in even the smallest of towns, it’s probably safe to say that health and wellness are things Americans are borderline obsessed about.

In New Testament times, people wanted to be healthy, too. James knew this. But James also knew that being healthy was linked to being in God’s will. Remember, James is Mr. Practical, and here is his advice on wellness. Even though this was his prescription for first century Christians, it works just as well today:

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14, 15)

This is an interesting prescription that the average Christian completely misunderstands. James isn’t really asking a question. Just like when James wrote, “if any of you lacks wisdom,” he was assuming they were lacking wisdom, so here James is assuming there is a sick person among his readers. So, if somebody you know is sick, what do you do?

One of things James says is to “anoint him with oil.” The question is naturally, “What good will that do?”  Well, in all honesty, the oil does nothing.  There is more than one word translated “anoint” in the New Testament. Most of time, the word is chrio, which refers to “sacred anointing oil,” the kind used in religious ceremonies. The other word is aleipho, which refers, not to “sacred anointing oil,” but to medicine. This is the word James used, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Essentially, James is telling his readers that when there is a sick person in their midst, pray for them but make sure they take their medicine.

Remember what James is known for? James is known for being practical. What’s more practical than telling a sick person to take his medicine? James 5:14 is not referring to anointing oil, but to medicine.

But, remember, James was also a man of prayer, and that’s why he told his readers that the sick person ought to call the elders to come and pray for him. Praying for the sick is absolutely essential: the prayer of faith will make the sick person well. Does that mean the sick person will be healed instantaneously? Not necessarily. If it is God’s will, the sick person will be healed. If it’s not God’s will for that sick person to jump up, completely restored to health, then that sick person will be “raised up.” What does that mean? It means he will be made well, eventually, one way or the other. The sick person will be given the strength to face the difficult situation he is in. It all goes back to wisdom and being able to discern, understand, and most of all, accept God’s will.

How are you doing at that?

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

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