My Problem With Prayer

I have a hard time praying, not because I don’t believe God can answer prayer, but because I overthink the process. So I try to pray because God’s Word quite clearly directs us to pray constantly (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17) even though I fail miserably.

Christ-followers of different stripes profess all sorts of beliefs about prayer. The brethren I truly admire simply obey God’s Word from a simple, childlike faith, without cognitive conflicts. They are the ones who pray for miracles and watch God provide those miracles. Unlike some believers who demand God’s obedience to their prayers, they don’t just pray in Jesus’ Name; they live in Jesus’ Name.

My problem with praying is the opposite of those who demand answers to their prayers, and it’s because of one Scripture passage:

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5:16b)

While I correctly claim for myself the righteousness of Jesus, there is no way I can consider my life righteous in the sense of living without fault. Though I must claim God’s grace over my faults, I can’t ignore other Scripture passages that instruct us to be righteous:

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:29)
Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. (1 John 3:7)
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Romans 1:17)

Where are my answers to prayer?

I’ve prayed for the same things over the years, things that would make me more Christlike, such as greater self-control, more active love, more intimacy with my Father God. I want to remember Scripture passages so I can recall them when needed for meditation or encouraging others. I want holy boldness to confront sin with love as my Savior did. I want to be remembered as a man after God’s own heart, and holy, because God is holy. And that’s all I want.

I ask, Is that too much, Lord?

His answer doesn’t satisfy, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” I know it’s true.

I ask, Why, then, do I not see godliness in my life?

He answers, So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.

I ask, But I’m a mess, Lord. How can you use me like this?

He answers, Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

I am humbled by His truth. Why couldn’t I see it before. Father, use me however you wish. As messed up as I am, I trust Your perfect judgment. Thank you, Lord, for all my faults and my strengths, for they are Yours.

This World Is Not My Home …

… I’m just a passin’ through.

I love the old country gospel songs, even the twang that goes with them. I thought of this one at Walmart this afternoon, when I couldn’t bring myself to leave my trash in the shopping cart after using it.

You may wonder why that’s such a big thang. Man, I was tempted most fiercely to do it. I mean, the afternoon sun was hot and I was sweating bullets already; I didn’t need that walk over to the garbage can with a few pieces of plastic wrap. They have “associates” who need the job security, don’t they?

If you’re wondering what plastic wrap in a shopping cart has to do with that old gospel song, I’ll tell you with a question. If you were visiting someone, would you leave your garbage in their car, or on their couch or table? Would you leave it laying around at church? Only if you were an absolute clod would you do that.

What is this world to you? If it were your own home you could fill it with waist-deep trash and nobody could say a thing, though what others would think of you is another story. But it’s not your home. According to God’s Word you and I are only sojourners:

2 Corinthians 5:6-9 ESV (6) So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, (7) for we walk by faith, not by sight. (8) Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (9) So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Assuming you were a Christ-professing clod showing disrespect of others’ homes or your workplace, or even your local Walmart, what would that say about your Savior? Say, you pick up a product here, find a better buy over there, and just leave your first choice where you picked up the second. Why, that’s great! You’ve just ensured someone’s job security, but please keep your mouth shut about your faith while doing it.

Better yet, think carefully about what you do, whether or not it glorifies your Savior. Even in private, think about what you do, as what you do in private tells who, and whose, you really are.

Read, Carefully!

Of course, you must start with God’s Word. But beyond that, godly men and women author godly works that don’t add to, but simply clarify God’s Word, relating it to new audiences.

Then, there are the Christian authors of generations past, whose works the Holy Spirit has used powerfully for revival in those times. Click here for a great—and short—article about Chesterton, Muggeridge, Boreham, Sayers, and MacDonald (C.S. Lewis’ mentor). Click here for a glimpse at Christian authors from even further back, such as Augustine, Calvin, Clarke, and so on down the alphabet. Though many of them had great things to say, they are, of course, no substitute for God’s Word.

Now I must reveal my motivation for this post; my e-mail in box offered me a brief excerpt from Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. Upon a careful reading of said excerpt (thus, the title for this piece), I decided to share it with my vast audience. In it, Lewis explains why we must prostrate ourselves before our great, Creator God, and His seemingly unfair demands upon us. This is a profound read, so I dare ya to dive in—carefully.

Perhaps by now you’ve noticed my harping on reading carefully. Our media-saturated culture has desensitized us to the nuances of the written word. If it isn’t dramatized and animated, it isn’t worthy of our attention, and I’m one of the worst offenders of classical literature. With all of my entertainments, I haven’t the time for serious reading, though I prefer to rest heavily upon my dyslexia as my old, reliable excuse. Even now, at the close of this post, Netflix attempts to seduce my attention away from godly pursuits. Of course, all work and no play makes Jim … a liar.

BTW: During my pitiful attempt at researching for this post, I happened upon this compelling excerpt from WARRANTED CHRISTIAN BELIEF by Alvin Plantigna, and you don’t even need a doctorate in theology to understand it. You’re welcome.

Be Careful What You Say

Thumper

Zack Locklear posted an excellent statement about Christians judging those of the world, and it describes a general principle to which all who claim Christ’s name must adhere: Jesus died to save sinners, not to condemn them (John 12:47-48). The most telling part of that passage is verse 48, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” Jesus’ statement here couldn’t be more clear; it tells who will be judged, and by what standard.

So, who will be judged? Not adulterers. Nor thieves. Nor liars. Nor murderers. Not even homosexuals or pedophiles. On the last day, God’s Word will judge all who reject Jesus and refuse to receive His words. All other sins are only symptoms of that damning sin.

But, what of those who claim to belong to God through our Lord Jesus Christ? Can they get away with sinning, “that grace may increase?” Apostle Paul emphatically answered (Romans 6), “May it never be!” Then, in Romans 8:29, the apostle wrote, “For those He foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn of many brothers.” Predestination and eternal security controversies aside, those who prefer habitually sinning to seeking Christlikeness are not God’s chosen people.

Finally, Apostle Paul told us what attitude we are to display toward non-believers: Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:5-6) If you don’t have anything redemptive to say, don’t say anything at all (apologies to Disney’s Thumper character).

My Infinitesimal Understanding

A few minutes ago I let my mind wander to God while relaxing on my bed, and I thought about how much I’ve learned about God over the past few years. As I lay there contemplating my infinite, eternal Lord, I realized that my vast knowledge <(8-P) amounts to nothing compared to all that He is. Yes, His Word tells us all we need to know about Him. And yes, His Holy Spirit reveals His personal message of truth to each of us. But my pea-brain is woefully ill-equipped to grasp even the most elementary understanding of His infinite Being.

In view of that humbling truth, I wonder how other Christians can boldly stand so cock-sure of their ideas about God and His Word. Face it, any embellishment of God’s Word, such as commentaries and systematic theologies, are only some human being’s conclusions, regardless how carefully they’ve studied it. So taking Luther’s, Wesley’s, or Calvin’s statements as tantamount to Holy writ is foolish in the extreme. Remember the two builders that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 7:24-27? The wise builder built on the Rock, not on his ideas about it. Our understanding of anything is nothing more than shifting sand.

Agreeing to disagree is not compromising on God’s truth. Standing, immovable, on ones personal understanding smacks of personal pride, and remember, “I” is at the center of both pride and sin. So, if you’re absolutely convinced that your personal understanding of God and His Word is spot on, you’d better dig down to the Rock for your foundation, or great will be your fall.

Building a Glitch-Free Christ-Follower

A few years ago I made the mistake of offering to build a computer for a friend. I bought all the components and assembled them carefully, routing the connecting wires for a neat appearance and efficient air flow. But that was the easy part. Correctly installing and configuring the CPU and motherboard required a careful reading of the Instruction Manual.

But even that was easy compared to the task of building and equipping effective disciples of Christ. Unlike building a computer, much of the hard work falls to the one being built. We absolutely must study God’s Instruction Manual to achieve our most glitch-free performance. Contained in that Instruction Manual are sixty-six books, ghost-written by forty people from three continents over roughly 2000 years. Maybe I should say, “Holy Ghost-written,” as God’s eternal Word is the one true Author.

If the Bible seems too daunting as life’s Instruction Manual, God’s New Testament offers some concise summaries of how Christ-followers should behave. One such summary is contained in chapter twelve of Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church. Here are a few key verses:

Rom 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.

The apostle refers here to his brief essay on genuine, spiritual love in 1 Corinthians 13, with emphasis on verses four and following. If you haven’t read it in a while, it’s time you prayerfully review. As far as the second half of this verse, remember what Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone.

Rom 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;

 I’m afraid that doesn’t leave much room for factions, jealousy and power-plays. The practice of showing deference to others, especially to those with whom we don’t click, has largely gone out of style. Our lives and interactions today are all about our personal rights, while we leave our responsibilities flapping in the breeze.

Rom 12:11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;

The Christian life is necessarily proactive. Maintaining that diligence, fervency and servant spirit takes constant effort.

Rom 12:12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,

These are three essential works of faith, without which we will die on the Vine.

Rom 12:13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Everyone loves to hear preaching on generous giving (NOT!). The saints’ needs are as critical today as when Apostle Paul wrote these words, so where is our joy of giving? It has disappeared in our desire to accumulate things and live comfortably. I dare say we could all give much more generously if we would just deny ourselves a few nonessentials. Do we really need frequent dinners out? Does every driver in the family need their own car? Is that home theater truly an essential possession? And what about snow cats, motorcycles, RVs, and vacation homes? Nothing is wrong with having such things, as long as having them remains secondary to helping the needy.

As for practicing hospitality, I stand as guilty as anyone for neglecting it.

Rom 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

We’re emotional beings, so when some jerk cuts us off in traffic our fleshly impulse is to think or say unkind things about them. Does that not sound like persecution? Just because it’s not an overt challenge because of our faith doesn’t mean it isn’t.

Rom 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Let’s keep these actions in their appropriate places. We must feel with people, and certainly not tell them that what they are feeling is unnecessary, wrong or inappropriate. Simply sharing their joy or grief seems like it should be a simple thing. Why then do we always think we have to fix it?

Rom 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

The same mind as whom? Obviously, that refers to Christ Jesus, because He was never haughty and always associated with the lowly. We church people too often offend in respect too esteeming our personal wisdom too highly, so anyone who disagrees with us is just wrong, pure and simple.

Rom 12:17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

This reinforces verse fourteen’s difficult point. Today’s worldly doctrine tell us that we must fully vent our emotions and let our heart lead. God’s word doesn’t prohibit emotional display, but we must keep a positive, uplifting and redemptive bearing. Of course we won’t always feel that way, but that doesn’t mean we can shoot off our emotional mouths when the impulse hits.

The second half of this verse refers to Paul’s statements in Romans 14, about respecting the weak brother’s beliefs for his sake, and not your own. You can’t please everyone all the time, so this is calls for spiritual discernment.

Rom 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Disclosure time: Here is my personal weak area. When I cause a grievance, especially with a brother, the resulting guilt crushes me, stealing my peace and leaving me in a general funk. That’s not what God calls for here. We must not take too much relational responsibility upon ourselves, but accept, and repent of, what falls to our account.

Follow these instructions and you will find yourself more closely resembling Christ’s attitudes of love for others.

Solution

Thanks to my good friend Andy, I see the need to expand on my previous post, “Critique.” While the title reflected only a movie review, it included the question, “Do you ever wonder why so many good church kids graduate from college as lukewarm Christians, or even atheists?” What follows is my answer, in the form of a scathing indictment of Christian pulpits and parents, including myself.

The Problem

Can we prevent our children from going astray? Of course not. They are as individual as we are. Without starting battles we can’t win, though, we must prepare them for their inevitable interaction with this corrupt world system. But how?

The Solution

Desensitizing our youth to the world’s lies begins with the pulpit. And the fault for failing to do so also begins with the pulpit. Parents must understand that allowing our children to face the world unprepared is the worst kind of sin, predisposing them to stumble when faced with life’s inevitable faith-challenges. The fault also lies with us parents, who choose to remain weak in God’s Word and prayer, often demonstrating before our children the worldly attitudes that the Bible prohibits. We also cause them to stumble through our example of self-indulgence, enjoying the very entertainments that weaken their fledgling faith.

The popular church cliche is none-the-less true for its overuse: Sitting in church no more makes you a Christian than sitting in a car lot makes you an automobile. We make our kids attend church and Sunday school, which are good things, but good things aren’t necessarily the best things. Our best and most important work is not drilling Bible passages or catechism answers into them, but modeling Christ’s love when life seems to bury us in its refuse, and we can only do that by maintaining an intimate and teachable relationship with our Father God. As with any relationship, that requires constant, proactive maintenance, and is what following Christ is all about.

Click here for a commentary on Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter twelve, wherein he outlines some essential principles for authentic, Christian living.

And remember, discipling our children in Christ’s love is not optional (Proverbs 22:6).

Other-Worldly Phenomena

Reporting supernatural-sounding and appearing phenomena has become all the rage, but I can’t help being skeptical. Ignorance of cause brings about all kinds of hysterical reactions and explanations. I tend to go with the “pranksters” explanation until more data is available. People can be ingenious when creating hoaxes, and there are more than enough high-power audio systems throughout the world capable of generating other-worldly sounds.

On another tack, secret scientific research may explain such things, but I can’t imagine it being so wide-spread unless it is in the area of transportation. New forms of propulsion may generate loud, unheard of, noises, and spread it far and wide.

If these were supernatural phenomena, I suspect they would be more widespread. On the other hand, prophets of the Bible explained what they saw and heard according to their limited frame of reference. They may well have previewed what is happening today and were unable to explain it.

If these manifestations are of the end-times variety, worrying about it will profit us nothing; our only sensible response is to obey God’s clear commands and be ready when He comes. If you aren’t sure of your eternal destiny, God’s Word will tell you all you need to know to assure your eternal salvation, and here’s a link to a common-sense gospel presentation. Why fear the unknown, when our Savior knows all and loves all?

Caution! Lone wolves are always hungry.

Often I forget that sin is sin; despite our personal attitudes about sinful acts, there are no little sins or big sins. As I grew up Catholic, I embraced the teaching that mortal sins send us directly to hell when we croak (Do not pass GO! Do not collect 200 indulgences!), but venial sins only buy us a stay in purgatory. I suspect that’s the source of the church’s commonly held belief that there is a hierarchy of sins, and that God, in His Infinite Grace, will wink at our minor mistakes if we don’t majorly foul up.

God gave us an important conditional promise in Apostle John’s first letter to the church, bracketed by two statements that are essential to properly understanding the promise:

1Jn 1:8-10 NASB
(8) If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

Please note that he didn’t discriminate between mortal and venial sins; we must confess all sin if we are to gain His forgiveness.

Perhaps I need to define the word, “Sin.” A dictionary might say, “Sin is a conscious transgression of God’s law.” As with most simple statements, however, its true meaning is anything but simple. Many volumes attempting to define that apparently simple three-letter word collect dust on library shelves, but I find another simple statement presents a principle that covers all sin: “I” is at the center of sin. Coincidentally, “I” is also at the center of pride. Think about it.

If we care enough about spending eternity with God to tread the sawdust trail, it only follows that we will care enough to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12). I love that passage because it apparently contradicts the doctrine of grace, and because I know God’s Word never contradicts itself I feel compelled to either discover how it fits in, or simply take it on faith. That bothers me not in the least, because much of His Word seems incomprehensible to individual Christ-followers. Through His Holy Spirit, different passages are understood by, and speak to, different people. In fact, one important purpose of Christ’s Body is to corporately discern God’s full counsel. Lone-wolf believers are nearly always unbalanced in their personal beliefs because they lack that broader insight into God’s Word.

There, I finally worked around to my title for this piece.

AM I A GRASSHOPPER?

I am a prince, a son of the King! I have the Spirit of the eternal God living in me! His Word tells me that I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!

Why, then, do I quake with fear in the face of bitter (even not so bitter) opposition? My fear tells me that I might get it wrong, that my mind will go blank, that they might not like me, that I am not able to go up against them for they are too strong for me, that they are all giants, that they are the Nephilim, and I become like a grasshopper in my own sight, and also in theirs.

Surely those are good reasons for avoiding confrontation with those of the world—or at least good excuses.

If we go to God’s Word, to Numbers 13:25-14:35, we see God’s answer to such excuses. Only after Moses’ entreaty did God grant life to His people Israel, along with forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

If you feel like you’re wandering in the spiritual wilderness, maybe you see yourself  as a grasshopper, compared to those of the world system. Pray that God will transform you into a Caleb, who sees only the prize and the promise. Then repent of your fearfulness. God will bless your desire to please Him.