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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Everyone Needs to Calm Down (Especially Evangelical Christians)

I can’t remember a time when evangelical Christians were so uptight (many, not all) about the political landscape, unless it was back in the 60’s when they wanted to impeach Earl Warren (yes, I’m old enough to remember it – and they were uptight).

You would think that God had just stepped off of His throne and Hillary was taking over the universe. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God is still in control.

We like to say that He’s in control but the evangelical blogs, the Facebook posts, the Twitter feeds, the emails and the scare tactics seem to indicate otherwise.

The way that many evangelical are acting you would think that if Clinton wins this election, the world as we know it will come to an end. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t but I’m sure of this – God will still be in control on November 9th and every day after that.

I’m not making light of the importance of this election. It may well signal a sea-change in our nation. And, yes I believe evangelical Christians should exercise their freedom to vote for the candidate that they believe can best lead our nation.

But where’s our faith? Is it in the political process? Or in our ability to elect the “right” candidate? Or is it in God, who by the way is still in control.

The writer of Hebrews didn’t tell us to keep our eyes on the Republican Party; or on Donald Trump; or on passing the right laws or policies. He told us to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). There’s a reason for that. God is still in control.

Hey, we believe that God will bring about His will no matter who’s in the White House. We believe that He will bring about His will no matter who sits on the Supreme Court.

And isn’t that what we ultimately want – God’s will?

I’m not ignoring our responsibility to get involved in the political process. I’m just questioning the panic (even hysteria) that is the result of an unbalanced view of the sovereignty of God. When we say that God is in control we are confessing that He is sovereign over all things, including the election of our president.

So here’s my suggestion: Everyone just needs to calm down. Stop with the scare tactics. Stop telling people who God wants to be president. Stop pontificating on the end of civilization if your candidate isn’t elected.

Go ahead and try to persuade people to vote for your candidate; vote your conscience. But get a grip on reality! God is still in control.

That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:6).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Don’t Expect God to Make Everything Right

Linda Randall popularized the song God on the Mountain. If you’ve never heard her beautiful voice you can listen to her sing it here. I’ve mentioned this song in some of my previous posts – it’s got a great message of encouragement.

My wife was part of a duet that sang it at our church this past Sunday. The chorus of the song says:

For the God on the mountain, is the God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times
is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day is still God in the night.

There’s always been one phrase of the song that bothered both me and my wife. It’s the phrase when things go wrong, He’ll make them right. I know that ultimately God will make everything right. But I don’t think when most people hear the song they’re thinking long-range. They want God to make it right and to do it now. And if that is how people understand this song aren’t we offering them a false message and a false hope?

The reality is that God doesn’t always make things right in the short-term. In fact He may not make them right in our lifetime. He didn’t make everything right for the unnamed heroes in Hebrews chapter 11. He didn’t make everything right for countless missionaries through the centuries who have been martyred for their faith. When we expect God to make everything in life right we’re missing the point of our faith

So with apologies to the author (Tracy Dartt) and to Linda Randall who made it so popular, our duet made a slight change in the wording of the song. Instead of singing when things go wrong, He’ll make them right, they sang when things go wrong live by faith not by sight.

After all that is the defining mark of a Christian – living by faith. Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17). And he says explicitly in 2 Corinthians for we walk (live) by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). That’s who Christians are; it’s what they do.

The Christian life is not waiting for God to make right the wrongs of our lives. It’s not even wanting God to do make them right. That’s living by sight; by what we can see. We’re to live by faith; by what we can’t see but know to be true. So when life goes wrong we show our faith, not by asking God to make everything right but by trusting God even when we can’t see and we don’t understand. That’s faith (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t expect God to make everything right. If He does it’s called grace and you can be thankful. But if He doesn’t we still need to live by faith.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What Does Trusting God Look Like?

Each year at our church we choose a theme – something about the Christian life that we want to emphasize throughout the year. Our theme for this year is Everything by Faith. It comes from the Apostle Paul’s statement, the life which I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). Paul considered his life to be dead and the life of Christ to be alive in him so that everything he did in this life he did by and through faith. Faith was the ruling factor in his life. The Apostle’s life was all about trusting God in every circumstance, in every decision, in every moment.

As Christians we are to live, like the Apostle Paul, every moment of every day by faith. That means trusting God in everything. It won’t be easy – in fact it will be difficult. Your flesh doesn’t want to live by faith; the world will tempt you not to live by faith; Satan will oppose you if you try to live by faith. But living by faith is the goal of our lives on this earth.

But what does trusting God in everything look like on a practical level? It’s one thing to say that you trust God, it’s another thing to know what trust actually looks like. Let me give you some snapshots of trust that I’ve recently shared with our church family plus a few additional ones.

Trusting God is to believe, embrace and act on the truth that . . .

You are important to Him even when it seems like He’s forgotten you (John 3:16, Matthew 10:39-41)

He knows and will always do what is best for your life (Philippians 1:6)

He knows what is going on in your life and is involved in ways that you cannot see (Romans 8:28, Philippians 2:13)

He is leading your life to make you into someone He wants you to be (Romans 8:29)

His desire for your life is better than anything you could come up with (that’s just common sense)

His work in your life is rooted in His extreme love for you (Romans 5:8)

He can turn the bad of your life into something good (Genesis 50:20)

Your life is not spinning out of control because He is in control (Isaiah 14:24)

If you follow Him it’s the right thing to do even when it means that things don’t always go smoothly for you (1 Peter 1:3-9)

If you choose to follow Him and live life His way it will all work out in the end (1 Peter 1:6-7,9)

He can and will help you in ways that are best for you (Hebrews 2:18, 4:16)

What looks like a failure in life to you He can turn into something that looks like a success to Him (remember Peter? John 21:15-17)

When you can’t explain what God is doing in your life you accept it knowing that there will be a day when it will all make sense (1 Corinthians 13:12)

You will be more like Jesus when He’s done with you than you were when He started (Romans 8:29)

Remember that the Christian life is not about what we can see, but Who we trust. Our motto is and must be we walk by faith [always trusting] not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

When Are You a Christian?

Last week the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of the Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, that affirmed that opening a legislative meeting in prayer does not violate the U.S. Constitution. One of the remarkable things that came out of this decision was a statement by Justice Elena Kagan who opposed the decision. She wrote, When citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another.

As Christians we should find that line of reasoning both shocking and offensive. If I understand Justice Kagan correctly, she believes that there are times when we are to be guided by our faith and times when we should not be. That there are times when something, in this case our relationship to our government, holds a higher priority than our relationship to God. That there are times to be a Christian and then there are times not to be a Christian (or at the very least not to act and think like one).

Before we engage in a group bashing of Justice Kagan we need to do a little self-inspection. It has been my observation that Christians already do exactly what she has suggested. It may not be our government that we put in a place of priority over God but we often put something in that place.

How many times have we put our desires over God’s will in our lives? How many times have we put our goals, our plans, and our decisions first? Before God? In His place? Let’s not feign shock when someone says what is already apparent. Perhaps if Christians in our culture really did put God first she would not have made such an assertion. Maybe she was just stating the obvious.

I wonder if Justice Kagan in her life has been exposed to Christians who lived the convenient Christian life? I wonder if she thinks that Christians don’t really take their faith too seriously so it shouldn’t be a problem for them to set their faith aside whenever they deal with their government. Maybe there’s more to this story than we know. Instead of simply shaking our heads and passing over her statement maybe we need to ask why she would have come to this conclusion.

But moving beyond Justice Kagan maybe it’s time to ask ourselves the question: When are you a Christian? Really, when should you act like a Christian and when is it OK not to act like a Christian? When should we slavishly follow the teachings of the Bible and when can we ignore them? Let’s be honest – we do it quite often and we do it well.

I know the answer to the question and so do you. But knowing the answer and living the answer are completely different things. And it’s the way we live that really provides the answer. If we find it easy to set aside our faith whenever it interrupts our lives or becomes too difficult then we have agreed in principle with Justice Kagan and done exactly what she has suggested we should do.

It is only when Christians, in every area of life, refuse to give up living their faith regardless of the circumstances that we have the right to be offended by such thinking. It’s when the words of Christ are played out in our lives on a daily basis that we can claim that we are Christians first: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Problem With Faith

Every year at our church we choose a theme – something that will guide our thoughts and lives during the year in a Biblical direction. Several times throughout the year we come back and review the theme to see how we’re doing. This year our theme is Everything by Faith. The idea is that faith for the Christian is not just expressed at the point of salvation but it is one of the ruling characteristic of our lives. Everything we do in life is to be guided by faith. Hebrews 11:6 says without faith it is impossible to please [God]. The emphasis of the entire 11th chapter is on how followers of God lived out their faith on a day-by-day basis.

But there’s a problem with faith – or more specifically, there’s a problem with how we as Christians often attempt to exercise faith. I received an email after yesterday’s sermon from one of our members. The issue that they raised illustrates the problem that many Christians have in understanding faith. Here’s a brief quote: Where does living by faith come in when you had faith that a loved one would be safe but they were killed? . . . do human reactions and responses like this [IE being upset if our prayer isn’t answered] diminish our faith or somehow indicate to us that our faith wasn’t strong enough? We’ve all been there. We’ve all had these same thoughts and struggles.

Here’s the problem as it relates to faith. What that individual was describing was faith in faith, not faith in God. And that’s often how we exercise our faith. We equate faith with how strongly we believe or how hard we pray. If we pray but our prayer isn’t answered in the way we prayed – in this case the prayer was for safety but the individual was killed, we immediately assume that the problem was with our faith. In fact the outcome may have had nothing to do with our faith.

The measure of our faith is not in the quality of our beliefs or prayers, it is in the quality of the One in whom we believe. In other words it is the object of our faith that is the critical issue. The object of our faith as Christians is not in a strong faith (although that is certainly something we should desire). The object of our faith is the Eternal God who never changes; who is always faithful; who always does what is right; who always does what is best for His kingdom and for our good; and who loves us with an eternal, undying, unequaled love.

Faith in faith is simply faith in ourselves; in our ability to believe harder. That’s dangerous and weak territory in which to live. With a loving, all-powerful God as the object of our faith we can pray for someone’s safety knowing that if they run into danger God had something better in His eternal plan. That’s living by faith.

Will there be times of doubt, tears and disappointment? Sure – that’s part of our humanness and God understands (Psalm 103:14) but we keep on trusting, not because we have such strong faith but because we have such a powerful God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Stubborn Faith

If there is one key ingredient of the Christian life, one thing that is foundational, it is faith. I’m not discounting grace, without which we cannot be saved, but that’s entirely a work of God in which we have no part, whereas faith is a work of God in which we do have a part. We enter the Christian life by faith (Ephesians 2:8) and we are to live it out by faith (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, James 2). In other words our faith is to make a difference for the kingdom of God.

And that’s the issue for us as Christians. Perhaps it’s better framed as a question: How is your faith? At what level are you living out your faith? The biblical writer James says that unless our faith is evident in the way we live our Christian life it’s not going to work (James 2:17), it has no value.

Christ addressed the issue of faith, or the potential lack of faith, in one of His parables. In Luke 18 He gave a parable on the subject of prayer – one of the key indicators of faith. The parable concerned an unjust judge and a widow who had been the victim of some wrongdoing. Someone had taken advantage of her. At first the judge ignored the widow, perhaps because she didn’t have the financial means to bribe him for a favorable verdict. But because she didn’t give up she became a thorn in his side and he decided that taking her case was preferable to listening to her constant complaining.

We don’t need to press the parable too far – it’s obvious that the relationship between the judge and the widow is to illustrate our relationship with God. We know that God isn’t unjust and that He doesn’t listen to us just to get us to shut up. That’s not the point of the parable. The point of the parable is that we are to be like the widow. When we pray we are to keep pressing our supplications to God; we aren’t to get discouraged and quit. And that’s where faith comes in. Faith is never giving up because we know that God has the answer – that God IS the answer.

At the very end of the parable Christ asked this question: When the son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? Perhaps a way to translate it that clarifies the meaning is will He find that kind of faith? The kind of faith that the widow had. He’s not talking about saving faith; He’s talking about living faith. When Jesus comes will He find people living out their Christianity in a gritty, I-won’t-give-up-no-matter-what-happens, don’t quit kind of way? Not because we have a never-die attitude but because we know God and we’ve been living a life of faith long enough to have seen what He can do.

The question still needs to be asked, perhaps today more than ever – what kind of faith will Christ find? Will He find anyone who is really living out their faith? Anyone who is so committed to a life of faith that they just won’t give up no matter how hard life becomes? Anyone who is really making a difference for the Kingdom?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve