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Four mistakes in prayer

The sermon yesterday morning dealt with mistakes we sometimes make in prayer. You can listen to it here.

Prayer is an important part of the Christian life. It is a discipline that can not only bring us closer TO God but one that brings us closer to being LIKE God. Still, being human, there are times that we may pray in a way that is not appropriate. Sometimes it happens in our own weakness, other times, in our zeal for good things to happen. In no particular order, here are four mistakes we should avoid in prayer.

First, praying for our own selfish motivated reasons. In James 4:1-6, James chastises those who fight because they don’t receive, says they don’t receive because they don’t ask and then even when they ask…they don’t receive because they ask with wrong motives to spend it on their own lusts. Why would a Christian pray that God let him win the lottery when there is no reason a Christian should be gambling in the first place? Yes, we can ask for things we want but we need to check our motives. God is not mocked.

Second, we may ask that God intervene in the free will of another. God, who wants all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4), is able to ‘force’ us to do His will but He created us in His image and gave us the opportunity to choose good or evil.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,
(Deu 30:19)

So, in our desire to have others become Christians, praying that God would make this child or friend a Christian is something God won’t do against that individual’s will. A better prayer would be that God would guide/lead us to be sure that we do not put a stumbling block in the life of any individual. Still, be careful, God won’t make YOU do good either!

Third, we sometimes put God into our own conception of what He needs to do or not do. It goes like this “God, if you don’t want me to do this, then stop me!” (see the point on free will above) or “God, if you will do….XYZ by tomorrow at 2pm then I will know that you want me to do this or that”

You might say that Gideon (Judges 6) did this so “Why can’t I?” While it is true that God did respond to Gideon’s request to verify the message given to him by an angel, I would suggest that we would do better if we stopped trying to be Gideons and simply asked God for wisdom in the choices we are going to make, something He promises to give us. (james 1:5) And if God does send an angel to tell you that you take on a particular task, then maybe at that time, you might ask for an appropriate sign for verification.

Fourth, we can use prayer as a substitute for other spiritual activities. There is a time for prayer and there is a time for action. Jesus says that those who hear his words and DO them will be blessed. (Matthew 7:24-25) There are times when we need to get off our knees and do what is set before us to do.

This is especially true when it comes to studying the Scriptures. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by God’s word, not by pray. (Rom 10:17) When the Bereans  wanted to verify Paul’s message of Jesus being the Christ, they did not pray to God about it, they searched the Scriptures. (Acts 17:11)

I have made some of these mistakes in my prayer life and I imagine you may have too but if we can recognize these mistakes, we can avoid them.

 

 

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Learning from others

There are many valuable lessons we can learn from the mistakes of others. In today’s lesson we learn something from the mistakes of a very well known Bible Character.

Which Bible characters have taught you the most?

 

Training for godliness! Need number 4

Imagine you desire to run a marathon, set the goal of finishing the marathon, learn what it takes to train for the marathon and then…don’t put any of it into practice or keep hitting the snooze button! How much closer are you going to get to training for the marathon? Well, of course you are not getting closer.

Activity or practice of what you learn is an essential part of training. In a marathon situation, you practice setting a pace, breathing correctly, even perhaps how to grab a drink from a refreshment stand, drinking a little bit and pouring the rest over your head (I suppose). The point is, if you don’t put your knowledge into practice, it will not benefit you.

James is a classic epistle for talking about putting one’s knowledge into action in the spiritual realm. You learn more patience as you go through the trials than by watching other people do so. You learn more by comforting other people going through those trials than by reading about the ‘right thing to say’. As Job suffered through the trials Satan threw at him, he relied on what he knew about God and his years of experience to keep himself from sinning.

David, in facing Goliath, had previous experience in facing threats which helped prepare him for that situation. In all of it, he credited God with seeing him through. As God saw David through a fight with the lion and the bear, God will help us with the biggest lion of all.  Satan is a roaring lion out to devour whoever he can. Activity helps us in our training.

Is attending church services such an activity? Is reading your Bible such an activity? Will these help you become more godly? The truth is, no godly Christian would fail attend church services or read their Bible, but how mature you are will make a difference to the answer. A newborn Christian will most certainly get trained in godliness by attending services but, as you mature, you need to be sure that you are not just a pew-warmer 5 years later. Reading your Bible is always going to move your forward, as long as you do not simply read the same passages over and over and fail to go a little deeper into the text. Apparently those to whom Hebrews was written has such a problem:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14 ESV)

This audience of God’s people missed out (as did we) on an opportunity to learn more about Melchizedek because they were dull of hearing when they should have been teachers. They had reverted back to milk and they did not have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice. In other words, no activity!

Don’t let the fear of mistakes stop you, you simply have to put what you have learned into action. If you talk to much, practice listening more. Make it a priority and a prayer item. If you use foul language, be aware of the times your react like that and, either avoid those situations, or pay attention to your actions so you can conquer the reaction and replace it with an appropriate response.

We don’t get to Heaven by being perfect (or at least perfect in ourselves) but as we add a virtue like godliness to our life, we become more like our Lord and assure ourselves of an entrance into that kingdom.
What activities help you exercise yourself toward godliness?

God wants all to be saved

1Ti 2:1-4  First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  (2)  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  (3)  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  (4)  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

This passage of encouragement to Timothy has a lot to say to us too.  Let’s look at a few simple things you can learn from this set of verses.

1. Prayer works. Paul makes several statements in other letters about prayer, in all of them, there is not an expression of doubt to the effectiveness of prayer. He even teaches us in 2 cor 12 that sometimes, the answer is ‘No”.

Of course, it helps to know what you are to pray for. I know in our country we have a large and well respected history of protest and demonstrations but how many in their demonstrating spend time in prayer for the leaders that they are protesting against? In addition, for what would you pray? Paul tells Timothy to pray that we have peaceful and quiet lives, lives that are godly and dignified.

I think that we often forget that our purpose in life is to promote the Kingdom of God. If we have quiet and peaceful lives, it makes it easy for us shine as servants of God and to spread the Gospel, which is the power of God for salvation.

2. Even though you may feel that it is distasteful, it is a pleasing thing to God. Not because God likes or wants leaders that are bad ones or wicked, or dicitorial but because we show our dependance on the One who is able to take care of us.

3. God wants everyone to be saved.  This very clear statement which echoes throughout Scripture shows that God is not a capricious, vindictive God. He wants everyone to be saved. The fact that everyone will not be saved is not because of any desire on God’s part. One passage that we may overlook in regards to this idea comes from Matthew 25 in verse 34, the Lord welcomes the saints into Kingdom that was “prepared” for them. Yet in verse 41, the cursed ones are sent into a place “prepared for the devil and his angels”.

Two places, one prepared for the saints, the other for Satan. There is NO PLACE prepared for the lost. God didn’t make one for them. He wants all to be saved.

Lesson: Pray for our lives so that we can spread the Gospel and Live our lives so that we don’t become lost.

Who is Jesus to you, really?

The question of “Who is Jesus?” is a question that is asked many times. Almost everyone has heard such a question. The question of course, can be asked in many different ways and I won’t take the time to list them here (but I just became inspired for sermon outline. LOL).

To the Christian, Jesus is the Lord of all. He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Redeemer, the Lamb of God, the Sacrifice for our sins, the One who brings peace between God and man. He is the King and Ruler and all authority rests with Him. That last one is important.

Authority lies somewhere. You might have a problem at a business establishment and so you talk to the clerk and maybe the manager and if the problem is bad enough, you can talk to the owner or the CEO and even then, you can go further to the stock holders or the public opinion route. If the offense is bad enough you can talk to the courts and if the laws aren’t what they should be you can talk to your congressional representative, up to the president and Supreme court and then back again to the people to change the law if needed. All in a search for the person with the authority  to deal with the issue.

You can’t go higher than Jesus. The Father has given to Jesus all authority. (Mt 28:18-20) So to the Christian, the statement that Jesus is Lord and King, should mean allegiance to Him and what he wants of us.

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (Joh 8:24)

We accept that statement as Gospel truth. However, now the question is, Since we know who Jesus is, do we live like we believe it? Take for example, James’s statement:

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! (Jas 2:19)

Mark records that they knew him as well.

And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God.” (Mar 1:23-24)

And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. (Mar 1:34)

Do your actions show your belief in Him? Knowing him, believing that God is one, and even calling him the Holy One of God was not enough to save the demons. (For those who have read my blog for a while, you will remember that James is breaking the word “believe” into components and uses it to indicate a simple “mental acceptance of a fact” and lacking actions that show that the fact has any importance to you.(read this or this one)

So again, I ask: Who is Jesus to you really? The answer can be found, not in your words but in your actions. Even reading the Bible might not be an indication because we are “to be doers and not hearers only” (James 1) but doing something like ‘visiting the widows and orphans” while certainly an action, might not be done in faith. Both are necessary.

Here is the challenge: 99% of us will read a post like this and think , Yes, I can, or need to, do better. Well, make a plan to do so. Pick ONE item today that if you start doing it will make a difference in your spiritual walk with the Lord. It might be more time reading of the Bible (and that is a great place to start so that you will know better what to do), more time praying, it might be taking the list of sick in the church bulletin and sending a card to them. A 101 other activities can be done to help and not all actions will make a difference in your life or in your life today. However, we, a Christians walk and talk and live in a certain way. Let’s do more of it.

Who is Jesus to you? Really?

You or God first?

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?
(Hag 1:2-4)

For many people, the time to serve the Lord is when things are better in their life. This is a very short sighted perspective. If your life got better so that your dream life became a reality, whatever that might be, we need to know that it is only temporary. Not temporary in the sense that the job you have or life you have will end in ten years with an economic downturn (though that can happen), but temporary in the sense that in 100 years, you will not be there to enjoy it. For some of us, that number is 50 years. When God cannot get his people to pay attention to his priorities, you can be sure, He is not going to pay attention to theirs.

It is always time to work to rebuild the house of the Lord. While the house in Haggai’s time was a temple where people would go to worship, we know from Jesus’ own words (John 4:21) that the worship of God is not confined to one location, it is something that his people do on an ongoing basis and they make up the temple of God.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1Co 3:16)

(sidenote: 1 Cor 6:19 which says almost the same thing is a verse of the individual Christian, but the above first fits more as the congregation that Paul is writing to, a group of Christians)

The sad thing is, that just like a house that is not constantly being mending and tended to, it will begin to deteriorate and that, whether fast or slow, is a type of destruction we should not be part of:

If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1Co 3:17)

Sure, I think most people would tend to think of rampant active destruction, but we should also consider the destruction that comes about due to inactivity and neglect.

Look at your checkbook. It has been said that a person can be known by the items his money is spent on. For me, you would see a number of Sonic Happy Hour drinks (For those not in Texas, Sonic is a fast food establishment and “happy hour’ is 1/2 priced soda drinks from 2-4pm), you would find Netflix charges, Half priced book charges among the various bills for rent, gas, lights, regular weekly contributions to the congregation, etc. In other words, you might be able to deduce that I like specialty sodas and watching movies along with other things but you would also see a desire to help the congregation meet its task to spread the Gospel.

Look at your life for the last week. If you were to look back at the last 168 hours, and look for things that built the house of the Lord, what you find? 3 hours at worship services (4 if you went to midweek study) and then what? Prayer, reading, calling a sick brother, visitation, talking to someone about God? Talking about God’s laws to your kids when they get up or sit down or go to bed? Memorizing scripture?  What do you do to build up the house of God?

It is true you are one brick in that house, so be sure to build yourself up but it is often better to be built up with others, be in a group study, be in contact with other Christians.  It is also true that God builds us up. Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up. Spend time in prayer and study of His  word, grow in the knowledge of Christ, let the Scriptures which are able to make you wise unto salvation and adequately equip you for His service live inside of you.

Put God first and HE will take care of you. Easy to say, hard to do…unless you live by faith.

 

Prayer works for us too.

Jas 5:16-18   Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  (17)  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  (18)  Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

If I am correct about my suggestion in the last post, then James’ use of Elijah here should encourage the activity of prayer and petitions and supplications to God. Elijah, who we know that God heard, who was taken up from this earth and did not die, was a man like us. We think of great men of faith and think “Oh for their faith” We shake our heads and feel we will not live up to their example.

So we elevate the prophets and do not just underplay their weaknesses but forget about them altogether. Elijah had his grand moments and no one can doubt that his contest on Mt. Carmel was a true mountain top experience. God answered his prayer at almost moment he began to pray and the whole nation could see that God, was indeed God. Then Elijah, upon receiving a death-threat from Jezebel, ran! So much for the great man of faith!

Do not let us not judge Elijah harshly, let us remember, he was a man like we are: Prone to the Mt. Everest top highs and the death valley lows.  This should encourage us to follow more closely after his example of prayer, in which he was successful.  The only one to not sin, Jesus , also took on our nature too and in his distress, he prayed. (Luke 22:44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.)  In his example, we see the power of prayer for sure, but I think James uses Elijah because he was not sinless, yet he was heard.

James wants us to pray also. He also wants us to know that pray works. More than just our prayers, but also the prayers of others on our behalf.

The prayer of the righteous man has great power, James says. I would presume that James is considering that the one asking for the prayers is deep in the struggles of his own sin, trying to be righteous and needing the help of those who are. He confesses his need, humbles himself before God and those who are spiritual (Gal 6:1-2) lift up prayers for him, as well, I would suppose, for themselves so that they are not tempted too.

In all of this, I see the need for community. Not in a casual, see you for an hour on Sunday type of community, but a community were we get to know each other well enough to feel comfortable with confessing our sins. Those who do not feel as if they need the fellowship of believers (“I can worship God where I like”) forget the admonition to ‘not forsake the assembling of (our)selves together” (Heb 10:25) But those who quote 10:25, need to quote 10:24 also and balance it out. Verse 24 says we need to know one another well enough to encourage us to do good works.

There is much in the Bible on Prayer, we need to learn as the disciples did, how to pray. (Luke 11:1)

Pray when you are sick.

Jas 5:14-16   Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  (15)  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  (16)  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 

In looking at this passage, there are basically two ways you can look at this. Well, three if you simply want to say that both options are under consideration. The first is to think of this as a physical healing and from a physical sickness. The second is a spiritual healing from a spiritual sickness. It obvious that we are to pray for the sick and we know that God does intervene from time to time (In His time) to heal people in ways that we are amazed at. 

We know even in the Scriptures that sickness is not always taken away. Paul suffered the thorn in the flesh and God did not heal him. Paul had faith.  One of the things about Biblical interpretation is that the easiest answer is most likely the right one. Unless the context clearly says it is spiritual or physical we are left drawing conclusions from what is said. 

 There are some difficulties either way. Still, I will suggest that this is a spiritual illness and what may be most likely under consideration is some of the ‘illnesses’ that James has been rebuking them for. One cannot assume that the whole church was the way James was describing it but certainly enough of them were that James wanted to put a stop to it. What would/should a person do who sees himself in the descriptions that James is bring out? This is scripture from an inspired man, a leader and elder at Jerusalem. As the audience listens to it, some of them (the humble ones) would be thinking “Ouch, you are stepping on my toes. I need to fix that.” Some might even be having a David moment: “Thou are the man” and responding “I have sinned”. Such humbleness would lead to many actions of repentance but one would certainly be the confessing of that sin.

Who better to confess it to than the Elders. Spiritually mature men who can help others (Gal 6:1-2) and asking for them to pray for their infirmities of the soul.

Think for a moment! If you begin to realize you are greedy and covetous, or envious and boastful, do you think such a flaw in character can or will disappear in a night and a day? Each person is different. Even Abraham told the same lie about Sarah on two different occasions and Isaac did the same thing with Rebekah (but that was a full lie since she was not even a 1/2 sister).  Common sense and our own experience recognizes that some sins keep coming back (or do we keep going back?) and one of the best ways I know of to remove the power of a temptation is to tell someone else you are suffering with that issue.

Pornography, sexual activities before marriage, adultery within marriage, covetousness, greed, jealousy, thoughts that make you ashamed, etc, etc. When another knows, there is help, there can be accountability but there can also be prayers that will help you fight and protect you against the temptations. The promise is that God will heal you, raise you up and that your sins will be forgiven you. The forgiveness of sins is of great comfort but the being healed of any of the maladies I mentioned in this paragraph or many that I did not mention, is a load of the mind and spirit. It will help you to be more productive in the Kingdom of God.

 

Pray in suffering

The next few posts, Lord willing will deal with prayer. James has a few things to say and I think it is worth taking some time to look at all of these verses together and spread it out.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (Jas 5:13-18)

 

The first thing that is worth noting is that James recommends prayer when you are suffering. I am reminded of his opening verses where he advises us to meet our trials  with an attitude of joy and if we lack wisdom (presumably, the wisdom of how to deal with our trials) we are to ask God who gives generously to all. The sufferer might need more assistance in how to deal with his sufferings in a wise way. Job, of course, seems to have already had that figured out. “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”  (Job 2:10) but not everyone does.

The assumption is that praying while you suffer will be of assistance to you. If you are praying for wisdom, James says God will give it. Perhaps though you just need encouragement to keep going. Luke 22:40-46 talk about Jesus and his disciples at a difficult time. Jesus is said to be in agony. (sounds like suffering to me) The disciples are sorrowful and wind up falling asleep because of it (which may be a result of suffering too as I am sure they were affected by the Savior’s mood). The action of Jesus and advice to the disciples supports the idea that prayer helps. “Pray that you don’t fall into temptation” he said.

Paul expresses confidence in the power of prayer when he asks for prayers from the Ephesians.

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph 6:18-20)

I know that sometimes we have a tendency to ask for prayers and are not sure if anyone really will (or perhaps we don’t really expect someone to) and sometimes we say “I will pray for you” and then do not. But I don’t think Paul’s words were “just words”. He really wanted their prayers.

It might be worth it to note what he asked for: Prayers that he might preach the Gospel as he should! What?! Paul, the preacher to the Gentiles, traveler on 3 missionary journeys, author of many epistles, appointer of elders, trainer of preachers, establisher of congregations…..THAT Paul wants prayers to speak boldly?

If he needs prayers, it is a 100% certainty that I do.

Let the prayers go forth and let them go strong. Those who suffer, pray and pray for wisdom, patience and know that God will hear your prayer. We all should pray not just for those who suffer but for those who preach the word too.

More on prayer in another post.

Wisdom, a gift from God

James says that our trials will produce steadfastness and that steadfastness has an effect on a person so that they ‘lack nothing’. However, James goes on to suppose that someone may lack wisdom and in that case there is ultimately one source…God. (1:3-6)

God, unlike man, is a great gift giver. He isn’t stingy about it or scolding either.  Should you need the gift of wisdom, ASK!  He can and will provide it. Solomon asked for wisdom and got not just a little bit of wisdom, he got a whole bunch. Judging from these verses, I think that we gain a lot of wisdom from the trials we go through. Still, occasionally, we may face a situation and truly not know what is the best way to handle it.

Prayer should be our first step. I know that gaining insight into a problem doesn’t always occur during prayer but it has happened. Additionally, the faith in we must ask is not to be an impatient one where we expect God to answer just as soon as we finish the question.  Sometimes there is a delay in the answer.

Two additional sources for wisdom (and the reason why there may be a delay) is from His word. Proverbs is full of wisdom as well as the many passages that teach us valuable lessons to apply to our life. As we read his word (you do that regularly, don’t you?) we often will come across a passage that we forgot or one that we see speaks to the situation and guides us to a solution.

The other source is the experience of others. So many times we can learn from what others have done, their mistakes and triumphs. Several times Solomon says to his son “listen to what I am saying”. If you have someone you know who has gone through the experience you are going through, asking for their insight can help, especially when they are a Christian.

Wisdom is the appropriate use of knowledge that results in a blessing. It is also one of the best blessings God can give us. Ask if you need it.

 

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