Some Thoughts on Prayer

Prayer is one of those mysterious and somewhat confusing aspects of the Christian life. We know that we’re supposed to pray but we often struggle with the Why issue. And when we don’t have a good answer we default to, because we’re told to (Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Sometimes that’s a really good answer.

But we want more. We want answers to questions like, If God is sovereign, why should we pray? Or, If God has planned everything, how much difference can my prayers make?

These are legitimate questions that deserve thoughtful answers. But I want to offer two, perhaps simpler reasons for you to pray.

Prayer is a way of acknowledging who God is.

When you pray about problems you are saying, God I can’t handle this by myself. It’s bigger than me. I need help. I need You.

When you pray in confession you are saying, God I sinned against you. I want our relationship to be right. I don’t want this to come between us. I don’t want to face life with a strained relationship.

When you pray in thanksgiving you are saying, God I recognize that you did this. It wasn’t anything that I did. You did it. I’m grateful.

When you pray in adoration you are saying, God you deserve all of my praise. You alone are worthy.

Prayer is our way of acknowledging that we need God, that we are willing to humble our self before Him, that we’re a thankful people and that He is the object of our love.

Prayer is also an expression of your faith.

Even when you don’t understand how prayer works – and especially when you don’t understand how it works, to pray says something about your faith.

It says that you believe when you don’t understand.

It says that you trust Him when your way is dark.

It says that you won’t give up when giving up is the logical and easy thing to do.

It says that you value prayer even when you don’t see the value of spending time in prayer.

Prayer is perhaps the greatest expression of faith available to the Christian.

It’s questionable whether or not we’ll ever find completely satisfactory answers to some of the great and difficult questions about prayer. But you don’t need answers to those questions in order to pray.

Pray to acknowledge that God is your God and you need Him. Pray to express your faith in Him.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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God in the Uncertainty of Life

Yesterday I preached a Thanksgiving sermon I called It’s Always Time to be Thankful. Taking examples from the Bible I tried to show that it’s important to be thankful at four critical junctures in life –

-in the Good Times when life is Great (Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 after the birth of her son);

-in the Hard Times when you’re going through difficult times and life isn’t so great (Paul in Acts 16 in prison);

-in the Certain Times when you can see God working in your life (King David in Psalm 18 after God gave him the kingdom);

-in the Uncertain Times when you wonder where God is or what He’s doing (Daniel in Daniel 6 when he was told not to worship God).

As Christians we intuitively understand that it’s important to be Thankful in the Good Times of Life. We know that we need to be Thankful in the Certain Times and we even have the sense that we need to be Thankful in the Hard Times.

That leaves the Uncertain Times.

There are several things about the Uncertain Times that I couldn’t fit into my sermon and I’d like to share them with you.

I think that it’s in the Uncertain Times of life that we struggle the most.

Some people have referred to these times as desert experiences. There is a spiritual dryness that parches the soul.

Times like this are often associated with great trials or spiritual testing. Times when we understand the cry of David and make it our own: How long, Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? (Psalm 13:1).

Why does God put us through times of Uncertainty?

There may be various reasons – let me suggest three.

1. God puts us through times of Uncertainty to draw us to Himself.

When your way is cloudy and unclear you are more likely to run to Him for help.
It’s sad but true that when life is great we don’t need God (we do, we just don’t know it). We don’t look to Him for guidance. We don’t run to Him for help.

We’re like the small child who plays confidently and independently in the light, but let the darkness come and they immediately run to one of their parents. They don’t need you in the safety of the light but they do in the uncertainty of the darkness.

The same is true of many Christians. And so God send uncertainty into our lives so we will run to Him for help.

2. God puts us through times of Uncertainty to show us our frailty and His strength.

We live in a culture that elevates the self-made man and glories in the strong man. But that’s not the way of Jesus (Check 1 Corinthians 1 starting with verse 18).

God is not looking for strong men; He’s looking for people who will live each day recognizing their own weakness but in His power and strength. And so He sends times of uncertainty into our lives.

Until we come to understand the words of Jesus, My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). And we can say with the apostle, Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

3. God puts us through times of Uncertainty to bring Glory to Himself.

The Glory of God is the ultimate purpose for our existence. It’s why we are here. Anything else is but a distraction to the Christian life.

It’s all about His Glory.

God is most glorified when we find what we lack in Him. And we lack plenty.

But sometimes we need to be reminded of why we exist and so God sends the Uncertain Times, the Unclear Times. To help us to be Certain and to see Clearly.

Uncertain Times do not come by chance – they are the work of God.

Let me borrow from the words of the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 12; do not despise the work of God, because the one God loves is the one to whom He brings the Uncertain Time.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

God is Here

I can’t remember the last time, if ever, that I’ve seen so much fear in the lives of so many people. This election has brought out the worst in us in so many ways.

So today, the day before the most historic election in recent memory, I want to share some good news with you directly from God for you to meditate on before you go to the polls.

Remember that the same God who fed the multitudes; who calmed the storm; who gave sight to the blind; and who raised the dead is the same God who will take care of you and our country after November 8.

Psalm 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 34:4
I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 56:3-4
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 118:6
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Matthew 6:25-34
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Philippians 4:6-7
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 1:7
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

1 Peter 5:7
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

You don’t need to live in fear. God is here.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Thorns

The Thorns

We all have them. Some are larger, some smaller; some hurt more, some less. But we all have them – the thorns of life. Even spiritual giants have them. The Apostle Paul comes to mind (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

No one likes the thorns, they cause heartache, tears, doubt, worry, anger (often at God), sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days. From our perspective they serve no earthly or heavenly good. They are useless intruders that rob us of our peace and happiness.

But what if, as Laura Story sings, what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise? If you haven’t listen to Blessings in awhile, take time to listen again here.

If you are familiar with Steven Saint’s story you know that he has been enduring tremendous suffering as the result of an accident. Recently he posted this poem online. I shared it on my Facebook site but for those who don’t communicate that way, here it is again.

The Thorn
Martha Snell Nicholson

I stood a mendicant [beggar] of God before His royal throne
And begged him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
I cried, “But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me.”
He said, “My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.”
I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace,
He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.

The thorns of life are not arbitrary nor are they pointless. They have a purpose often greater than we can see. Life would be radically different without the thorns. And not always in a better way.

Think about how the thorns impact your life.

Without the Thorns we would

…trust Him less
…love Him less
…want heaven less
…pray less
…cherish His blessings less
…encourage others less
…grow in Christ less
…grow weary of this world less
…desire God less
…learn about His grace less
…spend time with God less
…experience God’s power less

My heart goes out to those who are being pricked by the thorns. It’s never fun. My prayer is that you will know the grace of God in your time of suffering (2 Corinthians 12:9) and that your thorn will reveal the face of the One who loves you more than any other.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Lessons From Haiti

It’s been awhile since I blogged – six weeks to be exact. During that time I was preparing for and engaged in ministry in Haiti. I’m finally back in my routine and able to reflect on things that happened during the time I was in Haiti.

On this trip I had the opportunity to teach a course to 40 pastors on Angelology and Demonology; preach in three churches; preach five evangelistic meetings; take our music team to four different venues to give concerts (they also sang each night of the meetings); visit four different ministries in Haiti to see how God is using them; and meet with two groups to discuss ministry in Haiti.

As I’ve had an opportunity to look back at all that took place I would say that it was a mixed bag – some blessings, some discouragements. Some things went right and some didn’t. Some expectations were fulfilled and some weren’t. Sometimes I was frustrated and sometimes I wasn’t. That’s often how it is in ministry.

Not that it makes it any easier to deal with. I’m just the kind of person who, in the words of Col. John “Hannibal” Smith, the leader The A-Team in the 1980s television show of the same name, loves it when a plan comes together. But even our best conceived plans don’t always come together the way we envision them – especially in Haiti.

Since my return I’ve been reminded of two passages in Proverbs – A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps (Haitians often say man proposes but God disposes – not a bad translation of Proverbs 16:9). The other passage is Proverbs 19:21 – There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand. In the end we have to surrender all of our plans, ideas, hopes and dreams to a sovereign God.

Why? Why can’t it be OUR plans? Why does it always have to be HIS plan? There are two simple reasons: 1) He knows what He wants to accomplish. Ministry isn’t about us, it’s about Him. Whenever we insist on our plans we make ministry about us; we put ourselves in the center instead of Christ. 2) His plan is best. This is a direct consequence of reason #1. If God knows what He wants to accomplish then it stands to reason that His plan is always going to be better than my plan.

So whatever was accomplished in Haiti through our rather ineffective efforts was accomplished because God had a plan. A plan that was certainly different from my plan. But a plan that was far superior to my plan. And so I leave the results to Him, praying that in some small way our team made an eternal difference in the lives of a few people.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Hobby Lobby Case: Victory for Religion or Harbinger of Defeat?

Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down what many believe will be one of its most significant decisions of this term. In summary the court decided by the narrowest of margins (5-4) that a privately owned company cannot be forced by the government to pay for health care which violates the religious convictions of the owners. Those who sided with the plaintiffs, which in this case were Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, will claim a great victory for our first amendment rights, specifically the protection of religion. The comments posted online by the Pennsylvania Family Institute reflect the sentiments of many evangelicals. Liberty in America was affirmed and protected today as the United States Supreme Court sided with advocates for First Amendment freedoms, and rejected government overreach into the lives of those who own and operate businesses. You can read their complete statement here.

There is, however, cause for great concern in this apparent victory. Our government was established to function with three equal but separate powers; the executive (president), the legislative (congress) and the judicial (courts). Each has their role to play in concert with the others. One of the geniuses of our founders was that our laws were to be established by the officials who were elected by the people. Those who were closest to the people and answerable to the people made the laws.

However, recent history has demonstrated the inability of the executive and legislative branches of our government to function together for the good of our nation. For some time our nation has been at a political impasse. While many on both the right and the left of the political spectrum see their primary responsibility as impeding the agenda of their opponents there is a dark side to this impasse. We have effectively become a nation ruled by the courts. No longer is the will of the people or their elected representatives the key factor in determining our laws. Instead a few unelected judges who do not need to answer to the people determine the laws that govern us.

In the case of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Christians approve the court’s decision. But what happens when the makeup of the court shifts to the left? When decisions begin to come down in opposition to our religious beliefs? It will only take one more strategic appointment for the votes to become 5-4 against religious freedom. And another to be 6-3. Before we rejoice too loudly we need to understand what is at stake. We need to realistically evaluate the course on which we are headed. A country that is ruled by its judiciary can more easily be led down a different path than a country in which the laws are established by the representatives of the people. Do we really want to be a nation ruled by judges? Even if they occasionally rule in our favor?

While I am grateful for the ruling in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Woods case, I believe that it is a dangerous harbinger of things to come. That we will increasingly become a nation ruled, not by laws passed by the people or their representatives, but by judges. And if recent history is any indicator, the decisions will not reflect a biblically based wisdom, but a humanistic view of life. There is danger in the path that we are on even if we see occasional victories.

Which brings me to this: our confidence is not in man but in God. The Psalmist reminds us that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man (Psalm 118:8) and the writer of Hebrews that the Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6).

Ultimately our hope is not in the laws that are passed or the judicial decisions that are rendered but in a righteous God who never changes (Hebrews 13:8). That is where we need to rejoice!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Splashed with Someone Else’s Sin

In my personal Bible reading I’m working my way through the book of Isaiah and I’ve come to chapters 7 & 8 where, hidden among the words of judgment, I found an important lesson.

The background for this section of Isaiah was the invasion of the southern kingdom, Judah, by the combined forces of Syria and the northern kingdom, Israel. The central issue was, would Judah trust God to protect them or would they search for a protector among the pagan nations of the world, in this case Assyria? The prophetic message of Isaiah was for the nation to trust in God and not in the strength of human armies. He was all that they would need. But as the story played itself out Judah was blinded by its own sin and chose a human protector over a divine protector.

What caught my attention was the tension that runs through the passage between the godly and the ungodly people in Judah. God was going to bring His judgment on the ungodly for their sin but at the same time the godly people in Judah would be caught up in that judgment. Through no fault of their own, they would suffer the same punishment as everyone else. The prophet clearly predicted (vs 17) that God would hide His face from Judah (withhold His blessing) because they chose to trust in the King of Assyria to deliver them instead of trusting in God. But the nation was composed of both godly people (the minority) and ungodly people (the majority) and when He withheld His blessing because of the actions of the ungodly, the godly in Judah would pay the same price.

That offends our sense of fairness. Certainly, if God was fair, He would reserve His judgment for those who did the sinning. But sometimes innocent people get caught in the sin of the world and suffer along with everyone else. That’s true when a nation sins and it can be true when individuals sin. Sin rarely, if ever, affects only the sinner. Innocent people get splashed with the mud of someone else’s sin all of the time.

The question for us is not Why should I pay when someone else sins? but How should I respond when I am not the guilty party? Isaiah tells us. In the same breath that he pronounced God’s judgment he said: I will wait on the Lord, who hides His face from the house of Jacob; and I will hope in Him (Vs 17). There’s the answer: wait and hope. In the case of Isaiah, wait for the time that God would deliver the nation and hope (trust) in His goodness. For you and me it’s wait for the time when God will make all things right (maybe now, maybe later) and trust that He does everything right even though we don’t understand it.

And that’s where we so often get hung up. We can wait for God when everything is going great, or when we can understand what’s going on. But wait for Him when the situation we are going through seems so unfair to us?

We can trust God when there’s really little that we actually need to trust Him for (after all we only need to trust when there’s trouble – which isn’t all of the time. I know we always need to trust Him but you get the point). But trust Him when we suffer because of what someone else did?

That’s exactly what God wants. He wants us to wait for His timing – after all His timing will always prove to be better than our timing. And He wants us to simply trust Him, even when it’s not our fault, because He knows what is best.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve