Reasons To Pray: Getting Involved With God’s Plan

Why doesn’t God answer more prayers? Why don’t we see dramatic miracles today as often as they happened in the book of Acts? Those are questions that puzzle many a modern Christian. We know God could do more, so why doesn’t He? Why does He choose to use His power in some situations, but not in others?

In other words: If God is love, why doesn’t He do something about all this suffering?

Those are some of the questions tackled in Philip Yancey’s book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (which I highly recommend). One of the things that he points out should be pretty obvious, but it’s something I hadn’t thought of much before. To borrow Yancey’s analogy, God’s not a vending machine. You can’t pop prayers in like quarters and have the answer you requested fall out. There’s more going on.

Prayer is for building relationships as much (or more) as it is for making requests. And while God does answer prayers, he often answers in a different way than we might expect. The “something” that He does in response to prayer has a great deal to do with His people’s relationship to Him.

Partners in the Kingdom.

Let’s start out with a couple quotes from Yancey’s book:

“I will build my church,” Jesus announced, proclaiming the new reign of God’s kingdom on earth. That, too, has taken shape gradually and fitfully over twenty centuries with many embarrassing setbacks to go along with the advances. I think of the profound grief God must feel over some chapters of church history. Yet, as Paul put in an astonishing metaphor, “the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!'” God has made the work of the kingdom dependent on the notoriously unreliable human species (p. 110)

It’s an astonishing thing to think about, really. God calls the foolish, weak, lowly, and despised people, then He entrusts them to act as the body of His son operating in the world (1 Cor. 1:27-28). With that thought in mind, I look at myself (and often others as well) and shake my head wondering, “Oh, Lord, what were you thinking?” And yet, for some reason, He welcomes all believers as partners in the kingdom. Read more

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Reasons to Pray: Building Relationship With God

I have very little trouble believing that God is here with me, real, and listening when I pray. But I do struggle believing He’ll do something about it. I know He can, but I doubt that He will. I don’t ask, “Where are you, Lord?” nearly as much as I do, “Why this and not that?”

This struggle is why I recently read a book called Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey. I’d picked it up about a year ago and it’s been staring at me from my bookshelf ever since. I highly recommend you read it, even though it really didn’t answer my main questions about prayer. Instead, it shifted how I think about prayer.

Responding to God’s Presence

“I have learned to see prayer not as my way of establishing God’s presence, rather as my way of responding to God’s presence that is a fact whether or not I can detect it. … My feelings of God’s presence — or God’s absence — are not the presence or the absence. … God is already present in my life and all around me; prayer offers the chance to attend to and respond to that presence” (Yancey, p. 51-53)

The Bible does talk about people fleeing from the Lord’s presence, leaving His presence, or being unable to enter His presence. And since we’re told “seek Yahweh while he may be found. Call on him while he is near,” it seems that there are times when He cannot be found and is not near (Is. 55:6, WEB). We’re also told our sins can block relationship with God (Is. 59:2). But that doesn’t actually mean He’s not present. Read more

Are You Spiritually Minded Yet?

One of the many issues Paul addressed in his first letter to the Corinthians was that of disunity. The church of Corinth was suffering from a spiritual malady all too common among churches today. They were split into factions, squabbling over which leader to follow, happily tolerating sin, and looking down on fellow believers. Paul’s words to them can give us guidance for finding a way out of similar problems today.

Disunity is Ridiculous

Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13, WEB)

Paul is begging these people in the name of our savior to stop their contentions and divisions. His questions, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you” shine a spotlight on how ridiculous their squabbles and disagreements really are. Christ is not divided and He’s the one into whom we were baptized. There is no division when we’re in Him.

The Mind of Christ

When Paul talks about being like-minded with each other in Philippians, he follows it with “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:1-5, KJV). Our unity comes from all of us learning to think like Jesus. It is the height of arrogance to think we could come up with a better plan, interpretation, or idea than what He has given us. Read more

The Importance Of Genuine Love

Loving other people can be hard. I mean have you met people? Try to have relationship with them and you find out they’re flawed, messy, and might hurt you. Sure they can also be encouraging, positive, and fill your life with joy, but they’re not like that all the time.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just have a relationship with God and not deal with other people, at least the ones that are hard to love? It seems like a nice idea to some. “Just me and Jesus,” they say and think that’s all they need.

But that’s not how God means for His church to function. He wants an individual relationship with you, yes, but He also wants you to be part of a church that He collectively describes as the body of Christ and the temple of God. And He expects you to love everyone in that church even when it’s hard.

Because God Is Love

If a man says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21, WEB)

Those of us who claim to love God have to love the people around us as well. If we don’t love others it proves that we don’t really love God. The reason for this statement is clarified earlier in John’s letter:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God. He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8, WEB)

Being born into God’s family and having a relationship with Him changes us. When we know the God of love, we learn to love as He does. If we can’t or won’t love other people the way God does, then we don’t really understand Him and haven’t really been born of God. Read more

When God Gives You Something You Can’t Handle

Have you ever heard a Christian say that God won’t give you something you can’t handle? It’s a nice, cozy idea in theory but it quickly clashes with real life.

What about my two Christian friends who committed suicide? Should they have been able to “handle” it according to this reasoning? And what about all the families I know who are reeling in the wake of unanswered prayers for a child who died? Are they being punished because God knows they can “handle” such a tragic trial? Or what about my personal battle with anxiety and depression? Am I failing to “handle it” when I turn to a counselor for help?

While the idea that God won’t give you more than you can handle is taken from a scripture (1 Cor. 10:13), that’s not what that scripture actually says. Church people have twisted this verse into a feel-good platitude when there’s a lot more going on.

A Promise For Help And Protection

When God Gives You Something You Can't Handle | LikeAnAnchor.com
Photo credit: Jantanee via Lightstock

In this part of 1 Corinthians, Paul is talking about what we can learn from Israel’s history. He talks about how Christ interacted with the ancient Israelites, the ways they displeased and tempted God, and the punishments they received (1 Cor. 10:1-10). Then he writes,

Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall.

No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Cor. 10:11-14, WEB)

The Greek word translated “temptation” is peirasmos (G3986). It means a trial or “putting to the test” of a person’s character. When used of God, it means proving someone by bringing them “through adversity and affliction in order to encourage and prove their faith and confidence in Him.” When used of the devil, it means he’s soliciting someone to sin for the purpose of making them fall (Zodhiates’ Complete WordStudy Dictionary of the NT).

In context, the verse we’re talking about isn’t a promise that God won’t give you more than you can handle on your own. It’s a promise that He won’t let you be in a situation where your fall into sin becomes inevitable. He never sets us up to fail. Read more

Becoming One Flesh With Jesus Christ

Today’s post is something of a continuation to last week’s post, The Bridegroom’s Pledge. As Jesus Christ’s bride, the church is supposed to be getting ready for a marriage that will take place when He returns. If this were a human wedding, preparations for it would include things like picking a date and venue, mailing out invitations, and hiring a caterer. But none of those things are any use in preparing for a wedding to Jesus. He needs us to focus on something different, something that will strengthen a relationship He intends to last into eternity.

Diversity In Oneness

He who loves his own wife loves himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord also does the church; because we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. “For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will be joined to his wife. The two will become one flesh.” This mystery is great, but I speak concerning Christ and of the church. (Eph. 5:28-32, WEB)

In these verses, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 about the husband and wife becoming one flesh. The Hebrew word for “one” is echad (H259). It’s the same word use in the Shema: “Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one” (Deut. 6:4, WEB).

While echad can mean the number one, in these verses “It stresses unity while recognizing diversity within that oneness” (TWOT entry 61). A husband and wife don’t literally merge into a single being. And God (Elohim) consists of two Beings. But they can be called one because they’re united. That’s the sort of relationship we’re supposed to be developing with Christ. Read more