God Knows; We Don’t


Our sermon Sunday has stuck with me. We’re currently going through the gospel of John and have reached the chapters in which Jesus prepares His men for His crucifixion and resurrection . . . or at least tries to. The pastor who preached started by saying, God knows and we don’t, and He knows that we don’t.

That fact came through clearly in the passage we were studying (John 16:16-33). The disciples are kind of scratching their heads saying, Huh? We don’t know what you’re saying. So Jesus spells it out for them. They reply, Now you’re speaking plainly. No more vague references or metaphors. Jesus comes back by saying, Actually you still don’t really believe like you think you believe. In just a short time you’ll all be scattered and will desert Me.

As we know from Scripture, that’s precisely what happened. But the disciples didn’t know at the time when Jesus was telling them all these things. But He gave them the piece of information they needed most. This would provide them with the peace in the midst of tribulation that He mentioned in the last verse:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

So what was this piece of information? That Jesus had overcome the world? I’m sure that was good news for them to hear, but when the tribulation hit, when the persecution would come, when they were hunkered in a room away from the crowd who had put Jesus to death, could they see this triumph Jesus talked about? Probably not.

But He gave them the information they needed:

Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. (vv 22-24)

So often the last two verses are pulled out of context and used in a presumptuous way by people who want to “hold God to His promises.” They want to ask for a mansion or to win the lottery or to marry up or whatever fills their heart’s desire.

But Jesus was talking specifically that His disciples could ask God to show them what was happening when they didn’t understand. When they would grieve for three days after the crucifixion, when they didn’t have a clue what they would do with their lives since Jesus wasn’t going to reign the way they thought He would.

They needed wisdom, and that would come from asking God. Interesting that Jesus’s half-brother, James, got this message. He said in his letter to the persecuted church,

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (Jas. 1:5)

Because God knows, and we don’t and He knows that we don’t, He tells us to ask. That’s it. Ask Him. And He will give generously, without making us feel like fools for coming to Him in our ignorance.

I’ve found myself more than once this week saying, I don’t get it, Lord; show me what You mean. Do I, in that moment, have clarity? Sometimes, but not always. Sometimes I have to wait, and sometimes I have to dig a little to understand the part that I don’t get.

I’m pretty sure Jesus was talking about spiritual things. I mean, the context is how the Messiah (He Himself) had to depart, had to die, all because His kingdom was spiritual. But can we ask for wisdom for the temporal stuff, too? I don’t see why not. I just don’t think God was promising to give us the temporal stuff.

When I was a kid, I used to pray regularly for a bike. No bike. Until one day I got an old second hand bike, probably as a gift from my parents. Problem was, we lived on a hill. I mean, we lived in the middle of a two-mile stretch of hill. Below us was a mile of down, and above us was a mile of up. Owning a bike then wasn’t quite what I had imagined.

But twice in my adult years, I actually had need of a bike. Both times someone (two different someones) generously lent me a nice ten-speed that I could use long term, as if I owned the bike.

I know God gives wisdom. James makes that clear. And certainly He wants us to ask for other things we need. Our wants that we think will make us happy? Not so much. But the peace in the midst of trouble? He gives that for sure. Because He knows, even when we don’t. And He knows we don’t.

Published in: on August 16, 2019 at 5:29 pm  Comments (6)  
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The God Who Involves His People


Today is the National Day of Prayer here in the US. Consequently, in honor of that occasion, I’m posting this edited version of an article that appeared here ten years ago.

For whatever reason, God has chosen to involve us in His work.

People today like to talk about the “mystery of God,” as if there’s some kind of veil over His face or some kind of secret we have no hope of learning. Never mind that Jesus came to show us the Father. Never mind that the Holy Spirit lives inside us. Never mind that Jesus said the Spirit would guide us into truth. Never mind that He explained the things concerning Himself from the Law and the Prophets.

But here’s what I do find a mystery—perfect, omnipotent, all knowing God, Creator of the universe, wants to involve me in His work. Somehow, my being a part, rather than Him snapping His fingers or speaking a word, or even unleashing the Heavenly Host, brings glory to His name.

Here’s one of the ways that the skeptic can know that Christianity wasn’t thought up by some human—there are so many improbabilities, so many apparent contradictions. If a person was to invent an all powerful, sovereign god, it would be most logical to have that all powerful, sovereign god take it upon himself to do what he knows is best. Cut out the middleman, so to speak. Do it himself because then he would be sure it would get done right.

But that’s not the way the God of the Bible has chosen to operate. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. Then He commissioned those who believe in Him to make disciples. He commands us to love one another and to love our enemies. And He tells us to pray for our pastors and teachers and fellow Christians and rulers and authorities. In short, He gives His church the responsibility of representing Him to the world.

Why would He do that? We do it so imperfectly. Inevitably we invite hangers on and pretenders.

But it’s His plan, and remember, He is sovereign and all-knowing as well as all powerful.

Rather than exploring all the reasons why people no longer like church or can’t stand Christians, perhaps we should simply go about the business of being the Body Christ which God intended us to be. Will some people still scoff? Sure. Will some still be offended? Undoubtedly.

But the scoffing won’t be because we’re doing something scoff-worthy. The offense will be the gospel and not the contentious way we conduct ourselves.

And the thing is, child-like faith in a great God who invites us to ask anything according to His will, brings us to His throne of grace.

Published in: on May 2, 2019 at 5:09 pm  Comments (2)  
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Does God Care Who Wins The NCAA Tournament?


Even the person least into sports here in the US is likely to know that the top division in men’s basketball is holding their tournament to determine the 2019 champion. We’ve fondly dubbed this time each year, March Madness.

It’s not quite as mad as it used to be. Yes, there are still upsets which scramble everyone’s game-by-game predictions, but one TV network used to cover the games so there were split screens and much jumping from scheduled games to updates and even the endings of close games. The games, of course, started during the week, so working people were taping the games they most wanted to see and trying to avoid hearing final scores.

Things have changed. Cable TV is now part of the mix. All games can be viewed by whoever has that service. Or has the internet and enough data minutes to see the games they can’t otherwise get. In other words, there’s far less scrambling, far less madness connected with seeing the games.

Still, many people put a lot into picking winners and following the games to see how well they’re doing and what chance they have of winning office pools or more. In other words, a lot of people are interested in what a bunch of college students are doing the three weeks of the tournament.

Factor in interested parties which include fellow students at the competing universities, friends and family, alumni, teachers past and present, people who live in the communities where the different schools are located. In other words, beneath the layer of unattached fans, you have a layer of attached fans.

At the core, of course, are those intimately involved with the basketball programs—players, coaches, athletic directors, trainers, cheerleaders, ball boys, those who work the games, scorekeepers, timers. People involved are invested, some to a greater degree than others.

In all this, does God care who wins the NCAA men’s basketball championship?

That question comes to my mind in part because I spent thirty years as a coach—of various middle school, and then high school, girls sports teams, including basketball. Since I worked at Christian schools, we always prayed together as a team, but most often we were playing against other Christian schools which also prayed as a team.

Early on I confronted the dilemma—could I expect God to hear our prayers and not theirs if we both prayed to win the game? And if we prayed to win and yet lost, did that mean there was sin in the camp, that God was somehow displeased with us, that we had more to learn spiritually before He would reward us with a championship?

In other words, I wrestled with the issue of praying for a victory in a basketball game. In the end, I decided not to pray for wins.

The temptation is to conclude that God simply doesn’t care. Whether team A or team B wins certainly doesn’t change who He is or what He wants to accomplish. But I believe God cares about games because He cares about us.

In fact, one of the reasons I loved coaching so much was that I viewed sports as a microcosm of life. During a season of basketball, a team faces in miniature many of the things that they’ll have to deal with on a larger scope later on: adversity, success, hard work, togetherness, failure, discipline, teamwork, obedience, response to injustice, doing your best, bouncing back from not doing your best, and more.

Don’t get me wrong. Winning is sweet. But there’s so much that goes into winning, and I think God cares a lot more about those things. Ultimately, He cares more about the people than He does about the winning. Sometimes the greatest affect on a person comes from losing. In other words, some people need to lose to be the people God wants them to be. Some players need to forgive a teammate for making a bad decision or taking a bad shot. God cares more that they learn to show compassion and forgive than He does about their winning.

There’s a song that goes right to the heart of this matter. It’s called “Blessings”:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

After a catalog of other things Christians have been known to pray for, the song turns and asks in the chorus, penetrating questions:

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

Sports can be a training ground for young athletes, and we who are on the sidelines, or on this side of the TV, watching have no way of knowing what God is doing in the lives of those people running up and down the court. I think God cares a great deal for each one of those student-athletes, but I don’t know if that means He’ll calm a nervous heart so a young man can play up to his potential or if He’ll prompt a player to say a kind word to an opponent or allow a TV camera to distract him so he misses a key free throw.

The book of James makes a couple clear statements about prayer:

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2b-3)

So God wants us to ask—just not with wrong motives, not selfishly.

Does He care about who wins the NCAA Tournament? In the grand scheme of things, probably not, but how the winning and losing and all that leads up to those results affects us, absolutely: God cares because He uses raindrops for His purposes. Or teardrops.

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle,
Are they not in Your book? (Psalm 56:8)

From the archives: a reprisal is an edited version of an article that appeared here in March, 2015, which seems fitting on this first weekend of the 2019 tournament.

Do I Pray My Priorities?


Photo by Garon Piceli from Pexels

More often than not, when a speaker addressing Christians addresses the topic of priorities, an established order of what’s important surfaces: God first, others second, self third. Generally “others” is broken down into family over friends or neighbors or business associates or church contacts.

I suspect most Christians, when asked, would also say they value missions highly, care about their pastor, and are interested in evangelism, missions, or some other ministry. I’m confident many would add a concern for our schools, public or private, and what’s happening in national government, maybe in state government, and some even in local government.

These things and others that we care about according to our priority lists, should be occupying more of our time and money and energy and thoughts than what we so often do think—and pray—about: things that will make me, my family, and my friends happy or more comfortable.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t “live my list” like I wish I did. But even if I fail to welcome the new neighbors on the corner, can’t I pray for them? Even if I don’t have offering money beyond what I give to my local church, can’t I pray for missionaries or other ministries? Even though I don’t write a note of encouragement to my pastor, can’t I pray for him?

Living out our priorities is hard, hard work. Prayer? I know some people talk about laboring in prayer, but it seems to me conversations with God about the things I care most about ought to be conversations I rush to have, ones I look forward to, and have to be pulled away from with reluctance.

And if that’s not the case, then maybe the problem is my understanding of prayer, or my list. I know what my priorities should be … what I say they are. But are my priorities like my New Year’s Resolutions—a list I make knowing full well it’s more wishful thinking than a guide for what I intend to do?

I understand wishful thinking. I’ve wished I was a good housekeeper, a good correspondent, a conscientious exerciser. But do I wish those things to the point of change? The first clue to the answer to that question, I think, is whether or not I begin to pray for the thing I say I care about.

If I believe God hears and answers prayer, and I do, then why, why, why wouldn’t I pray about the things I say are top most on my list of priorities?

From the book of James:

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (vv 16b-18)

Elijah’s nature was just like ours. James was clearly implying that we have the same kind of power in prayer as Elijah had. But his prayer had to do with God getting the attention of a wayward king, a disobedient people. In other words, his prayer had to do with the spiritual welfare of those to whom he was sent as a prophet of God.

Would that my prayers will become more centered on spiritual needs than on physical ones!

From the archives: this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in July, 2009.

Published in: on March 1, 2019 at 4:51 pm  Comments (7)  
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Best Intentions


Best intentions really aren’t enough. Addicts often have the best intentions but can’t break the vise of their vice. Children frequently have the best intentions, only to forget a few minutes later what it is their parents have told them to do. I don’t doubt that Presidents and senators and representatives, governors, assemblymen, all have the best intentions to rule well and keep their campaign promises. Sadly, we know how that works out more times than not.

Clearly, intending to do well isn’t the same as doing well.

The people of Israel were a perfect example of this basic fact. They declared their intentions as they prepared to follow Joshua into the Promised Land:

They answered Joshua, saying, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. (Joshua 1:16)

How quickly “all you have commanded” turned into Achan taking a bit of gold, some silver, and a fancy piece of cloth—things Joshua, at God’s direction, had said Israel was not to take.

In the end, best intentions are only as good as the act of following through. It’s not enough to intend to serve others if we turn around and serve ourselves instead. It’s not sufficient to intend to obey God if we go our own way when we don’t like what He says. It’s not OK to intend to keep our promises if we break them when it’s more expedient to do so.

Are intentions worthless? No. They reveal our hearts at a moment in time. But our hearts are fickle, weak, wicked, and deceptive. The person who says, “Mine isn’t” proves how deceived he is by his heart.

The point is, intentions need to be propped up by commitment which turns into action. God didn’t just intend to send a Redeemer, He actually committed Himself to that role, and then took on the form of Man and went to the cross to implement what He intended.

If we are to go beyond intentions—intending to obey God, to live righteously, to love our neighbors as ourselves—we will know we mean it when we commit, when we start, and when we stay with it.

The people of Israel intended to possess the Promised Land. They couldn’t stand on the bank of the Jordan and simply intend to conquer Jericho. The priests needed to step into the water, and the people needed to walk to the other side with a wall of water billowing up beside them. They needed to march around the city for days, and they needed to charge ahead once the walls were down.

Best intentions? They aren’t worthless. But they aren’t really even a start. They are hopes, plans, and for the Christian, the perfect thing to take to God in prayer.

This post is a revised reprint of one that appeared here originally in October 2012.

Published in: on February 19, 2019 at 5:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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Our Amazing God


Blogger friend InsanityBytes recently posted an article entitled “Moving Mountains” in which she discusses the difference between wishful thinking and prayer. My immediate thought was—God. The difference is dreaming of something and asking God for something.

That thought started me thinking about answered prayer. I’ve had atheists before challenge me to name an answered prayer. I don’t generally write my prayers down. I’d be writing all day. And a lot of times I don’t know how God has answered prayer. But once in a while, He is gracious and gives me a peek into what he’s doing with my requests. Mine and others, no doubt.

Note, these answers to prayer are not because of me. They are because of God, who laid the need on my heart (and likely on other believers’ hearts) and prompted us to pray, because He delights in including us in His work, then answered those prayers in a powerful way.

For instance? Some time ago, because of a prompt in a prayer journal I was using, I started praying for believers who live in places that persecute them. As part of my prayer, I started asking for the pastors of those churches to receive training in the word of God so they don’t get sucked into false teaching.

So not long after I started praying for this, a particular pastor here in the US said he was leaving his ministry because he felt the need to go abroad and help train pastors in places where they don’t have great study tools or easy access to schools that will train them.

Today I learned that a whole ministry has begun with one pastor here making his study tools available for use—by anyone but especially by pastors around the world. The UK arm of his ministry is heading this up and undoubtedly these “how to study the Bible” tools will equip hundreds and hundreds of pastors from China to Iran and beyond. What an incredible answer to prayer.

Another prayer was from years ago. In 1990 missionary Luis Bush with Partners International referred to the 10-40 window, by which he meant people living between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator. Generally the countries in this window have limited access to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ironic, since it includes the Middle East where Jesus lived.

According to Wikipedia,

Roughly two-thirds of the world population lived in the 10/40 Window, and it is predominantly Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, animist, Jewish, or atheist. Many governments in the 10/40 Window are officially or unofficially opposed to Christian work of any kind within their borders.

Back those 30 or so years ago, the idea was to pray because we could not go.

Well, a great deal has happened in that region since 1990. How many of those technological changes and regime changes and wars and revolts have allowed the gospel message to penetrate this closed window? More than we may be aware of.

But I want to highlight one specific, from God only, answer to this prayer. Many Muslims have reported having dreams that have brought them to the Bible or to someone who had a Bible and could explain it. These personal reports are especially powerful because as Nabeel Qureshi explained in the expanded edition of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Muslims place a great deal of emphasis on the meaning of dreams. Nabeel himself reported having several confirming dreams that convinced him God was the God of Christianity, not Islam.

He was careful to add that dreams are not replacements for Scripture. But God uses them to draw people to Himself.

And why shouldn’t He? In Biblical times, God spoke to Joseph, Mary’s future husband, in a dream, more than once. He spoke to King Nebuchadnezzar through more than one dream, and to Joseph. He spoke to Daniel through dreams, and the magi when they were about to return home.

My point is, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Why shouldn’t He communicate with people today through miraculous means? I know this is controversial for some Christians who believe the “ecstatic gifts”—the miraculous things the Holy Spirit does—ceased to take place once we had the Bible.

But evidence seems to be on the side of increasing dreams that open people up to the truth of the Bible. And these people just happen to live in the 10-40 window. Is that not an answer to prayer of God’s people?

Why would we relegate this amazing phenomena to the the trash heap of coincidence? Why should we suspect that these people turning to Christ are lying about their dreams and about the reason they are turning to find the truth about Jesus?

Someone who does not believe that God hears and answers prayer can pooh-pooh a dramatic change in the fortunes of the people in the 10-40 window that allows people who once had no contact with Christianity to now have access to the internet, to have missionaries in their country, to travel to countries that allow Bibles and preaching. But believers should know better.

Would these things have happened without prayer for the 10-40 window? We can’t know. But we do know God hears and answers prayer. He prompts us to pray in the first place because He wants to do a work that includes us.

Think about it. We can pray for God to move a mountain, then when He does, are we going to say, Well, it’s probably a natural phenomenon that caused it to move and it would have done so even if we hadn’t prayed.

If we believe God answers prayer, why would we question the answers we can see? Sure, God does use all kinds of means to answer prayer, but that fact should not mask His involvement. He is as amazing today as He was when Jesus turned water into wine, when He multiplied the loaves and fish so they fed more than 5000 people, when He calmed the wind and waves. That’s the God who lives in the heart of every believer. Pretty amazing, isn’t He!

Published in: on February 4, 2019 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gratitude, Day 13—Prayer


I’ve written from time to time about prayer (other articles include this and this, but there are more), but I still don’t really understand it.

My atheist friends keep asking about answered prayer, as if getting what we pray for would prove that God exists. I’ve tried to explain that asking God for stuff isn’t really what prayer is about, but I haven’t been able to articulate it clearly. It always sounds so nebulous.

And still, I’m so thankful for prayer.

I have to wonder, what would I do for a friend who is having surgery if I couldn’t pray for her? What would I do for a family that is in danger from the California wildfires, if I couldn’t pray for them? What would I do for someone who just lost a loved one if I couldn’t pray for him?

I am so grateful I don’t have to find out. The very idea of prayer means I can bring all the stuff I’m concerned about to God. Somehow, trusting Him to work, however He chooses, is far more important than “getting what I want.”

Then Sunday, the pastor who preached, gave a wonderful example from our study in the book of John, tying it with 1 Peter 5:6-7.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

The incident recorded in John relates the first known public miracle Jesus performed—turning water into wine. In this case the “prayer” was Mary’s as she came to Jesus with the problem. Someone else’s problem, our pastor added; she wasn’t just praying for what she needed but for what others needed.

The “prayer” itself was simply a statement of the problem. Mary didn’t precede to tell Jesus how she thought He should handle the circumstance. “They’re out of wine, Jesus. Do you think you could have a couple of Your disciples take a cart to the farm down the road and buy some wine from them. Of course, we’ll need to take up a collection first so that we have enough money to pay for it. Maybe you should send two others to the farm just beyond that neighbor, just in case. After all, we want to be sure it’s enough this time.”

No, Mary, left the problem in Jesus’s hands so that He could solve it as He saw fit. What He chose to do was surprising and abundant and beyond what the steward expected: the wine was the best of the feast—far better than was usually served at the end of such an event.

How often do we Christians dictate to God what He should do for us when we pray, rather than presenting Him with the problem and letting Him work as He will? I know I do that. But we also have Jesus’s model when He prayed in Gethsemane. There He gave a specific something He wanted His Father to do: “Let this cup pass from Me.” But He didn’t stop there. Instead He submitted to His Father’s will.

These were not words He indiscriminately tacked on as part of religious formalism. Jesus actually was giving the Father control, even if it meant NOT saying yes to what He’d just asked. Actually, He knew His Father was not going to say yes. I mean, He came to earth for the very purpose of dying for sinners. So why did He bother to ask? Because that’s what He wanted. He didn’t want to suffer. He didn’t want to die. But He wanted to obey His Father more.

I think that’s what is lacking in a lot of our prayers. We don’t actually want what God wants if it means we don’t get what we want.

So why am I thankful for this kind of prayer that is . . . not really procuring what I need? Well, what I actually need is submission to God. So it is precisely what I need. And it is communion with the Living God, which is precisely what I need. And when He assures me that He hears my cry, I am so moved, so humbled, that He would listen to an insignificant, low-on-the-totem-pole believer like me. I’m not even the chief of sinners (Paul already claimed that place). I’m not the chief of anything. I’m just a little flower, here today for only as long as the number of days ordained for me last. I’m not the chief hostess or the chief apologist or chief writer or chief evangelist. Not chief anything. And God still listens to me. Actually He loves to listen to me. He longs to listen to ME! I have no idea why except that He is God.

So I am beyond grateful for prayer. It is an awesome, awe-inspiring privilege to pray.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues from Pexels

Published in: on November 19, 2018 at 5:18 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Effective Prayer Of A Righteous Man


At the end of the book of James, there are a few verses that deal with prayer. The context is specifically prayer for someone who is sick, which seems like a lot of prayer from Christians in 21 century America. I used to take prayer requests from my students, sometimes publicly, so we could pray together, and some times privately, for my eyes only. And for God’s. The vast majority of the requests were for health issues.

But that’s beside the point, because, though that was James’s starting point, it’s not where he ended up. Instead he went to a general statement, then to a specific example. First the statement: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

What kind of “much” can prayer accomplish, James?

He answers this question with his example:

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (5:17-18)

I love the explanation of who Elijah was—a guy just like the rest of us. No super saint. He didn’t have angelic blood. He wasn’t special in any way. But he did have two things going for him. 1) His prayer was earnest. 2) He was righteous.

Whenever I read these verses, I think, I should be praying more. I mean—rain! We could use rain in Southern California.

But the point is not to pray for stuff just because I want to see stuff happen. Like the Dodgers winning the World Series or even something more practical like safety for a friend who is on a trip.

The key, I think, is in the “righteous” part. It reminds me of a verse in Psalm 37, one people love to quote: “Delight yourself in the LORD / And He will give you the desires of your heart.” (v 4)

Health-and-wealthers use that verse as a limitless credit card that God has to honor. Atheists use that verse as evidence that prayer “doesn’t work.”

But both groups are ignoring the first phrase: “delight yourself in the LORD.” That’s like being righteous. It’s essentially saying, enjoy God so much you would not want to be doing anything He doesn’t want you to do. So why would we ever pray for something we aren’t absolutely sure God wants?

In Elijah’s case, he prayed for no rain, then three plus years later, for rain, because God told him what to ask for. So he was sure. He knew what God wanted.

But why does God even bother? I mean, He can send the rain whether we ask or not, and usually does.

Again in Elijah’s situation, God accomplished several things. Elijah didn’t ask for these things in secret. People, particularly the king of Israel, knew why there was no rain. God was showing His power, His sovereignty to a disobedient and godless man. At the same time, Elijah’s prayer was serving as an example down through the ages to all who knew his story but who later read James’s commentary on it. And finally, God delights in involving His people in His work.

That’s believers today, just as much as it was believers in the first century.

My tendency, when I do get an idea of what God’s heart might be, is to pray too generally. When I was a kid it was, “Bless Grandpa and Grandma and all the aunts and uncles and cousins.” Today is more apt to be, “Work in the hearts of this people group or that one.”

So general. How would I ever know if that prayer is accomplishing much?

I’ve said before that the secret to prayer isn’t that it “works” at all, yet this verse in James and the one in the Psalms makes me think I’m only partly right there. I do think the biggest part of prayer is sharing God’s heart, pouring out my concerns to Him, and recommitting myself to trust Him in those circumstances. But praying for a judgment on a disobedient land? I would most certainly have to be convinced that’s what God wanted, just as Elijah was.

But that’s the point. Prayer moves me closer to God so that I actually do know what He wants. I know, for example, I am to love my neighbors. Any time I am not loving my neighbor, I can know for sure that I am not delighting in God, I am not praying as a righteous person who can expect to accomplish much.

In short, I don’t really need to worry whether or not my prayers are too general or too selfish or whatever. I simply need to pray so that I draw closer to God, so that I can be used by Him when He shows me what He wants me to pray for.

Published in: on October 5, 2018 at 5:54 pm  Comments (6)  
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Treasonous Prayer


“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How many people have memorized that line from Matthew 6, along with the rest of Jesus’s prayer, and recited it routinely without grasping the traitorous implications? I’m one.

I listened to part of a radio message some years back from Pastor Philip De Courcy in which he made the point that this line from Jesus’s prayer is a radical, traitorous plea.

In His day, Rome’s kingdom ruled and Caesar’s will was to be done. For a good reason, the Jewish council stood before Pilate accusing Jesus of opposing Caesar (John 19:12).

Paul says in Philippians 3 that the believer’s citizenship is in Heaven. Meaning, if we think about it, that we are little more than guest workers here in the US or wherever else we might live.

Of course, we quickly explain, we actually have dual citizenship because God’s kingdom is spiritual. Jesus Himself said as much when He was answering Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).

But how does dual citizenship work? In our spirits we obey God, but in our bodies we obey the government? We might draw that conclusion from Jesus’s answer to the question about paying taxes: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).

Yet there’s that prayer—“Thy kingdom come.” It’s a plea for God to put an end to the machinations of Man and for Him to take His rightful place as Sovereign.

It’s also a statement of loyalty—I want You to prevail, Your kingdom to be triumphant, even over the kingdom in which I presently live.

I guess the biggest question is whether or not I mean the words I say when I’m quoting Jesus’s prayer. Is it His will I want? Am I passionate about His kingdom coming or would I prefer a cleaned up version of the one we have right here and now?

Honestly, it’s sobering to think what those words from the Lord’s prayer mean. I even thought about whether or not it was wise to title a post “Treasonous Prayer.” After all, the way the world is starting to look at Christians, we could well be accused of working against the “good of mankind,” and do I really want a written record about praying something treasonous?

Yes, actually I do because the real revolution that I am praying for must occur first in my heart, where I step off the throne and allow God to rule, to have His will prevail. How could I pray for His kingdom to come and then resist His takeover in me?

This article first appeared here in September, 2011.

Published in: on September 12, 2018 at 5:25 pm  Comments Off on Treasonous Prayer  
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God Is Able


I wrote this piece six years ago for my church, but I don’t remember the occasion. Thing is, I feel more strongly about this subject now than when I wrote it.

I’ve seen God answer prayer in ways that surprise me. Even when I believe. Even when I know He is able.

When He shows Himself faithful, it’s just pure delight. Kind of like knowing the roller coaster ride is going to be a thrill, but then actually going on the ride and being thrilled!

Anyway, this article fits with my desire to grow in my prayer life. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. There are too many things to pray for. Sometimes I feel bored. There are too many things I’ve already prayed for. Sometimes I lack compassion and sometimes I get so emotional it’s draining. Sometimes I’m praying for people I will not ever know, this side of heaven, and have no way of learning how God has answered prayer.

But all this simply shows me how weak I am when it comes to prayer. So I’m posting this article as a reminder to me.

Ephesians 2:20 makes a bold statement about God—He is able: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think . . .”

I can’t help but notice that this description of God comes without limits. It doesn’t say, God is able when the economy is sound or God is able when you’re young and healthy or God is able when the right people are in government.

Despite the fact that we know intellectually God is able, when difficult times bare their poison-filled fangs, we may be tempted to depend on our own strategies rather than on God. Too often the philosophy that appeals in the midst of tough circumstances is, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Actually, like most false teaching, there is a fragment of truth embedded in that maxim. We are to be responsible and obedient. We are to do the job or ministry God has called us to do. But a self-help worldview obliterates the lines between our responsibility and our dependence on God.

In contrast, Abraham illustrates an uncomplicated trust in God. Genesis 12:1-9 records that God told Abraham to leave home and go to a new land. His response? I’m on my way. He did not wrest control from God and say, “Okay, God, I’ll move when my family situation is stable, when I’ve sent ahead to find a good plot of land we can buy, when I can afford this move or have figured out the safest route.” No. Scripture says, “He went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8b).

That kind of obedience was possible because Abraham believed God was able. He could lead him, protect him, give him a miracle son, raise that boy from the dead if necessary, and make Abraham the Father of nations.

God is able, beyond what we ask or think. Of course, if we never ask . . .

Published in: on September 10, 2018 at 4:43 pm  Comments Off on God Is Able  
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