3 Ideas to Revitalize a Church

If Jesus himself suddenly walked into your church, what would change (Luke 12:35-40)? How much would change?

Calvin’s burden for the church and plan for reform:

God’s people must hear their God speak.

Here are 3 thoughts floating through my head on three key issues that are necessary, by God’s grace, to see a Spirit-led, Gospel-enriched in any local church.  As always, this is a “drop in the bucket” to this issue.

#1 – Raise up Godly Men

The only way to turn a church is to turn the key men in the church.

Have a men’s Bible study with a small group of men (10-15 men) once a week where you can look those men in the eyes. I would study certain truths with them.  If those men stand with me, then I could stand against anything or anybody.

On Sunday, you are preaching to everyone.  You can have a more full disclosure of the truth in a smaller setting.  There’s opportunity for give-and-take and exchange.  There also up close to you.  It becomes contagious.

In the study, I would, firstly, study the attributes of God.  It is God, God, God, and more God.  They would see God like they have never seen God before.  They would leave that study saying, “My head is hurting. You have blown the rooftop off of my world.”

I would also, secondly, study how we got the Bible.  People just assume that we got the Bible from Lifeway or King James (seriously!).  We have to show these men how it went from the mind of God to print on paper.  There needs to be a healthy, reverential awe for the Bible.

Yet, if we’re honest, it carries more clout and more weight in most churches to quote popular preachers sometimes than it does Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  People need to have a sense of trembling at the Word of God, lest we not obey the entirety of the Scripture.

And, finally, you have to preach the books in the Bible.  Why? Because you preach the full counsel of God.  You can’t ride a hobby-horse.  You can’t duck certain issues.  The Scripture has to set the agenda as you go through books of the Bible.  As long as you are just always doing a “few steps to this” or playing off a TV program or movie title or some sappy approach to the pulpit like that…you are always going to have Christian-lite.  We need to be confronted, jolted, and shocked with God and His Word—with mercy, grace, and compassion, too.

It is always the challenge to reform the church.  Luther tried to stay in the Catholic Church.  Calvin came out and accomplished more than Luther did in.  The Puritans tried to stay inside the Church of England and were thrown out in the “Great Ejection.”  They couldn’t change it form the inside out.

It is rare in church history to change from the inside out.  New wine doesn’t easily fit in new wineskin.

#2 – How do you awaken a “dead church”?

Last thing I would preach on is John 3:16.  That lulls everyone in the building to sleep.

I would rather preach:

-The Lordship of Christ;

-Repentance;

-New birth;

-Necessary evidence of the new birth;

-Sovereignty of God in salvation to the extent that I could push that;

I would do everything I could to blow a trumpet in heaven to awaken those who are asleep spiritually.  By God’s Spirit and grace, you have to peel back all the layers of religiosity and church-ianity to get down to the live nerve of what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

You have to pray that God shakes people loose from their dead testimony and dead religion.  You have to be relentless with it in “black and white.”  There are certain kinds of preaching and certain subject matters that are like a well-chosen arrow for the bow that find their target.

#3 – You must reach the students—properly.

There is no secret.  The reality of the power of the Gospel and person and work and Christ unleashed by the Spirit through the Scripture on students is the key.

So many students are unconverted.  And, gratefully, many of their parents want them to come.

Must churches resort to a bowling alley and a concert to entertain them.  That’s a very challenging position to be in.  What you win them to is what you must keep them to.

You get a mom and a dad saved—but all their kids may not be saved.  How you hold their attention is important.  By the grace of God, you have to have such a living reality in your own life, in your teaching, your preaching, and outreach to them and pray that God in his sovereignty will arrest their attention.

There is no other play to call.   Try to get the parents involved and have their emotional support (not just drop them here or there).  Reinforce what you are doing.

The key: What God prescribes (and works) in “big church” is what should be prescribes (and works) in “little church”—just with some adapting.

We don’t have to be “shock jocks” with young people where we have to shock them by our edginess to get them interested.  The power is in the Gospel message, not the messenger.

11 Keys to Spiritual Growth

Dr. Joel Beeke famously said:

Time is too precious to waste on nonsense. Read more for spiritual growth than professional advancement.

Indeed, it is incumbent on us to grow spiritually.  It is all of God and all of grace, but it is not passive—it is active.

Second Peter 3:18 reminds us:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Abraham grew in his faith (Rom. 4).  Jesus grew, according to Luke 2:52, which says:

Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

Genuine spiritual growth always results in a better grasp of our own weaknesses and a greater reliance upon God’s strength.

So, here are 11 keys to spiritual growth.  Basic? Perhaps.  Exhaustive list? Not at all. Necessary reminders? You bet!

  1. Know you are saved.

You can’t (shouldn’t) drive the car with the emergency brake on.  Spiritually, you cannot grow if you aren’t saved.

What Jesus did, we can’t do. What Jesus accomplished, we couldn’t achieve. What Jesus gives, we can’t earn. We are saved by grace alone!

Believe in the trustworthiness of Scripture.  Believe in the finality of Jesus’ death (it was full and perfect and we can’t add to it).  We must call upon the name of the Lord by faith alone in Christ alone we are saved. And, finally, there must be a changed and transformed life (spiritual fruit is evident).

  1. Immerse yourself in Scripture.

There must be a steady, constant intake of the Word of God.  The more we put it into practice into our lives is the extent we will grow as Christians.

Not pouring ourselves into the Word of God is not an ability issue or an aptitude issue; it’s an obedience issue. We will never advance beyond our steady diet of God’s Word.

What are some basics you need to know?

  1. Know the essential story line of the Bible
  2. Basic biblical doctrine (trinity, who is Jesus, character of God, the Gospel, resurrection, etc.) – We don’t grow in an intellectual vacuum.
  3. Our Christian duty (what does God require of me as I do the Christian life?)
  4. Godly examples in the Scripture (what can we learn from their lives?)

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly

  1. Grow to love and worship God.

As we grow in our relationship with the Lord and our devotion to Him and for Him, He becomes more precious and glorious to us.

The Gospel is grounds for unreserved worship. Just a sliver of comprehension of our union with Christ ought to create the explosion of joy that we call “worship.”

  John 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

  1. Live in obedience to Christ.

Not according to our own agenda, but according to the Word of God and obedience to Him.

1 Peter 1:2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

Obedience is of utmost importance.  Every step of growth in the Christian life is a step of obedience to Christ.  Where there is no obedience there is no spiritual growth.

  1. Be filled with the Spirit.

If you love Jesus, it’s because the Spirit proclaimed “Come forth!” over your dead heart. You’re saved ’cause you got preached at. And like sap going through the vines of a branch, so the Spirit is in the work of a Christian.  You can do nothing apart from Christ.

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

Better translated: “Be filled by the Spirit.”  There’s not a sense that we are being filled up with the Spirit as though the Spirit is poured out a pitcher into our empty glass.  Rather, to be filled is to be controlled by, led by, energized by, and growing in the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

The Gospel’s fruit is proof the Spirit is still at work on the surface of the deep, that God is still declaring life into existence. We are to walk in the reliance, power, direction, and enablement.  We are totally dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit to mature, develop, and grow us in Christ-likeness.

The fruit of the Spirit: there’s no law against such things. Completely free. You can get as much peace, patience, kindness, etc. as you want. We can’t take or leave certain fruit of the Holy Spirit. It’s all or nothing. They’re called “the fruit” of the Sprit, not “the fruits.”

  1. Resist the world, the flesh, and the devil
  • The world = the evil world system that dominates the world as we know it.  The things of the world don’t seem expendable because we haven’t found Christ supremely valuable. We are to enjoy the world God has given us, to be sure.  But we are to avoid the evil empire that is behind the realms of this world.

1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

  • The flesh = Living by the flesh is like sweatin’ to pay back a dude who owes you money. Each one of us has a fallen humanness (see Romans 7) that must be put to death the deeds of the flesh.  You must aggressively crucify our own flesh.

1 Corinthians 9:27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

  • The devil = If you give the devil cereal, he’s going to want a glass of milk. When the devil comes to accuse you, remind him you are in super-tight with the God who made him. We must put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18).  We can never put our guard down.

1 Peter 5:9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

  1. Be in close fellowship with other Christians.

The Puritans used to say:

The devil attacks the ship that sails only, not the one in the armada.

The Christian life is very contagious.  It encourages you to stand strong as others step forward.

1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

We should be in the world – but who has access to your ear and heart? Those people need to be strong Christians (Pro. 27:17).  When you run next to someone running with Christ, you pick up your pace and get more intentional about all you do for God’s glory and His kingdom.

Charles Spurgeon said:

Satan attaches more importance to godly fellowship than we. Since union is strength, he does his best to separate.

  1. Be in prayer before God.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed Luke 5:16.

If Jesus needed focused prayer in solitude, how much more do we?!

We must know what is like to humble ourselves before the throne of grace.  To confess our sins and seek his face.  We are transformed into his image. You will learn dependence, trust, and giving him all your concerns.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 pray without ceasing,

Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication

  1. Come to the Lord’s Table.

Keep the cross central in your life, and you need to be regular at the Lord ’s Table. Often when we partake of the Lord’s Supper we’re wallowing in the mire of remembering ourselves and our sins when Jesus said, “remember me.”

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.

“Breaking bread” was the Lord’s Supper.  If you love the promise, come to the Lord’s table, and ponder its price.

  1. Have a place of Service and to Share the Gospel (evangelize).

One of the marks of someone who desires to serve Christ is that he also desires to serve Christ’s church

There must be an intake an outflow.  This might be a formal place in ministry.  But often it is just doing normal life with those in your church.

When we are simply taking in (like taking food in with no exercise), we must also exercise our spiritual muscles and working in the Lord’s vineyard.  Doesn’t matter where we are, which ministries we serve or support, what church we’re a member of—it’s all about God’s kingdom, not our own.

1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

  1. We grow the most in our present trials.

Don’t hate what God has destined you for (1 Thess. 3:3).  Our greatest lessons are most often learned in the school of affliction. These are not optional electives, but required classes.

You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 1:6

You may need to pray today, “Lord, I am not where I want to be.” It is okay to pray that – better to be honest before Christ than anything else.

What are one or two of these areas you need to focus on before the Lord?

4 Refreshing Truths About God’s Love

Nothing fancy today.  Just four reminders about God’s love I have been thinking and praying through in my own life, family, and ministry.  I pray you are encouraged by these Gospel-reminders today

  1. Our amazingness isn’t adequate to earn God’s love, but our sinfulness isn’t enough to stop it.

When Paul says nothing can separate us from the love of God, he means, really, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39). God’s love for you and approval of you isn’t changed by your botches or boosted by your accomplishments.

You don’t have to worry about God’s presence, promises or provision because God’s love for his children is never in question.  God’s love for sinners is stronger than his condemnation of sin (Rom. 5:1; 8:1).

  1. For the record, God’s love does win.

Our Savior is an ever-vigilant Savior. He has saved us, is always saving us, and will save us in the end (Romans 8:28-30). All hail the power of Jesus’ name!

In the end, it’s not just that we will go up to heaven but that heaven will come down to us (Rev. 21:2-3). All praise to God! When, in the end, we finally see what we were up against and how God intervened, we will simply say, “Thank you, Lord.”

At that end of all things, we will simply plead nothing to this amazing God but his Son and his perfect, once-and-for-all work.

  1. God’s love for you isn’t his stamp-of-approval of your living, but evidence of his character.

It would be easier to count each and every star and every granular sand on every beach than to measure God’s for you (Jeremiah 31:3).  I should more quickly doubt my love for my own children than doubt God’s love for me demonstrated on the cross.

God’s love doesn’t depend or rest on you (John 10:27-30). You did not awaken it; you cannot quench it (Eph. 2:8-9). Rejoice that it all in Christ!

  1. There is no one too hard-edged, too wicked, or too far off or gone for the saving love of God in Christ (Luke 24:39-43).

 There is no nut God can’t crack.  After all, he saved you and me, didn’t he?

And, remember, our love and prayers for unlovable people is directly tied to our awareness of the depth of our own sin.  The first step is to recognize that there’s absolutely no one who is unlovable, not even you. So, those forgiven much will love much.

 

Unity Does Not Mean Uniformity

Unity isn’t equal to uniformity. The latter centers around individualistic likings, but the former is built exclusively upon Christ (Eph. 4:1-6).  This is a significant difference in living out the Gospel in local churches and in other types of partnerships.

Any type of “diversity” in the local church that demands homogeneousness or “acceptance” that imposes uniformity is further evidence how much we need the Gospel in our church.   The beauty of the church’s worship isn’t our identical uniformity in style but our diversity, yet with the same message.

Biblical, Gospel-driven unity isn’t the consequence of identicalness.  That is, except, of course, when the price of unity at the cost of truth is a bad bargain (e.g., when one must deny the essentials of the Christian faith). Rather, unity results when Christ-ward love interconnects with difference.

Honestly, the price of unity and diversity is you don’t get your way.  And if the power of the Gospel is made and shown in making one new man where there was two, what does it say about our churches? And how are shaped by the Gospel if we divide just like society does on a daily basis?  Doesn’t there have to be something wrong with the Gospel and how we display it if this is the case?

Our prayer is that our churches would more fully experience the power of the Gospel to bring people together in the Body of Christ.  So, let’s get practical.  Here are four types of sameness to run away from and four types of Gospel-heavy unity to pursue.

4 kinds of sameness (uniformity) we should avoid

  1. Trying to convert only one type of person or group.

The idea that people come to Christ faster when they don’t have to hop over barriers such as race, socioeconomic class, etc.  (For instance, I founded a church called “Church on the Run” trying to reach only runners.) So, we make churches that lower the bar and enable people to come to Christ without seeing any culture shock—encountering anyone but what they are used to.

That thinking is hard to square with what Paul says in Ephesians 2.  When you lower the bar for one group, you double it for everyone else. You become all things to one person, not all people (1 Cor. 9:19-27).

Another example: How can a church that only reaches 30-somethings obey what God says in Titus 2:2-5:

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Doesn’t Paul see the church that spans generations? How does a church of only rich people obey James 2:1-9 (not to favor the rich but honor the shabby dressed)?

It is a misplaced pragmatism, it seems.  I want to see people come to Christ and cheer it on, to be sure, and I appreciate the heart of those trying to reach a particular group (which, missionally speaking, is sometimes your only choice).

God said, though, he will use the love of the church (John 13:35)—the inexplicable example of the church—as it loves across boundaries that no one else in our culture will love across. The English-speaking church that loves the French speakers when no one does is a powerful witness in a community.

  1. Legalism

These are extra-biblical rules that flatten out unity.  If everyone in your church has to make the exact same choice in every extra-biblical, non-essential, and third-level matter, you will do this.  They have to get with your program and Jesus’.

We should ask ourselves:

–What rules do people have to keep in order to be fully welcome and united in our church?

–What are the expectations—spoken and unspoken—of members?

–Are they supposed to dress a certain way (suit and a tie or all sandals and ripped jeans and black plastic glasses)?

–Do they have to support a particular political party?

–Do you assume they have to educate their kids in the same way?

–What behaviors are sins are not allowed to struggle with?

Many of these avenues are unstated and invisible to us.  Truthfully, no one wants to exclude people.  But those rules become apparent who enters into the church and who is welcome to stay.

If all sins are ridiculed (no one can struggle to overcome anything) and everyone agrees on everything, then people who come from a different place culturally (international or just different than you), they realize they must conform or leave.  Even in subtle ways, the sermon illustrations I choose, the events we plan, etc. all can affect this.

Christ abolished the law in bringing people together (Eph. 2:15).  Let’s not add anything to that that isn’t necessary.

  1. Sameness that reflects the sameness of the area.

If you are a missionary and you are trying to reach a certain people group, yes, you will probably have a lot of sameness.  That particular group may not ever be within geographical distance to have it any other way.

But some churches in certain areas look just like everyone else in their neighborhood.  Don’t overlook other kinds of diversity—age, economic status and those types of things.

  1. Of triviality.

Jesus said in Luke 6:32-36

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

And that’s what we do in our churches.  We often love people in our churches that are like us.  And this is why most churches are not diverse.

Very few churches are ethnically diverse (from my research, it takes about 20% non-majority culture in your church to be considered “diverse” culturally).  We make little or no effort to understand people different than us.  We naturally attract people like us.

If we don’t think carefully about how to reach other kinds of people, we won’t.  The path of least resistance will be there and we must fight against it or we will end up there.

4 ways to nurture Gospel-driven unity in all kinds of diversity

  1. Deal with the obvious “elephant in the room.”

Maybe you’re not like this.  But I tend to get nervous around people different than me.  And that is usually the case for most people in most churches.

However, it is okay to admit there are differences and some of those make us uncomfortable.  It is not okay to ignore or not willing to face this discomfort.

Talk to any visitor who is not the usually type of person visiting your church and they appreciate the people who made a concerted effort to befriend and welcome them.  For some from other countries, it is hard to be part of a church where American patriotism is an assumed part of Christianity.  They are thankful for America, but it is assumed it is an “American church.”

Just acknowledging this exists and having conversation about it is encouraging. Just talk about it.  Start it from the pulpit, in the prayer ministry, and pray for the international people (and those who aren’t usually part of your church) to serve and love who are different from them.  Make it an assumed normal part of your church life.

  1. Promote diverse leadership.

This is huge.  We can talk all day abut unity and being equal in the church.  But if your leadership team is only comprised of one type of person—ethnicity, business background, race, blue collar, white collar, etc. for example—you will send a loud and clear message that that image is the “first-class” Christian in your church.

Sometimes, we may hold people to a different standard than Scripture holds out. Obviously, people must meet the biblical qualifications for church leadership (1 Tim. 3, Titus 1, etc.). We aren’t bending truth for pragmatism.

However, if we expect all of our pastors to have read the same books or be naturally outgoing (or whatever), you’ll get a lot of uniformity.  Instead, we need to look at the men of our churches who are qualified to lead our churches.  You may find people that weren’t obvious to you and not even considered.

There is a cost to be count to work with people from other backgrounds, cultures, walks of life, and other assumptions.  You have to work hard to make sure everyone is on the same page biblically and otherwise.

Yet, price of biblical unity and diversity means you always don’t get your way.

  1. Make sure your church has a healthy understanding of the doctrine of sin.

There’s little doubt that the chief barrier to unity is pride.  It causes one group to look down on another group.  And pride tempts us to exalt our own forms as normative.

If some people see themselves as sparkly and clean in our churches, they don’t want to sully themselves with someone on the fringe.  Maybe they will tolerate them in the church because Jesus loved “sinner” (Mark 2:13-17).  But they may never embrace them as a brother or sister—even after demonstrable evidence (the early church to Paul.  Thankfully, Barnabas took him in! Acts 9:26-28).

Here’s a modern-day example: The hipster feels way too cool for the straight-laced or the homeschooling crowd.  He won’t go to them because they aren’t as sophisticated as he is.

This is not about getting the “good” people to love the “bad” people.  Rather, it is to get the good people to realize that they are no better than the bad people.  They stand united in their sin and need of a Savior with those who are rough around the edges.

Once that happens, they are free to love people different from them—no condemnation and no judgment.  Then there will be real unity—not just uniformity.

  1. Elevate Jesus Christ and his glorious Gospel!

That is, in his life, death, and resurrection because that’s where we find our unity (1 Cor. 15:1-8).  And that’s a kind of uniformity we can live with.  Everyone uniformly loves and is following after Christ because that is primary and essential.

Ephesians 2:14 says:

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility

It wasn’t just making peace…but Christ is our peace.  Unity and love in the church is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Friend, we don’t want any other kind of unity.  We can’t compromise truth.  We don’t want unity over a different Gospel.  That is mutual treason for Christ.  You can’t jettison the Gospel to get closer together. When we do have the Gospel in common then we have a sure foundation to work on.

If you want unity to emerge in your church, you need to exalt Christ and his people.  The more Christ is to your people that will be enough to them.  Trivial matters will be just that—trivial. The more prominent Christ is in our church, the less prominent other stuff will be.  The more the Gospel is the center and shapes our church, the less scary the differences may be.

The world should be able to look to the church as a model for peace and unity, established by truth, never in spite of it.

 

4 False Views of Christianity

Why the social prejudice in 21st century America against and toward talking about religion? There’s a fear of proselytizing—of converting someone to your religion— that runs deep in today’s society and media. It seems dangerous to a lot of people.

As Christians, shouldn’t we just omit certain things in the interest of “social harmony”? Why don’t we just keep quiet?

I mean, seriously, are Christians dumb? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier?

The most important passport we can ever have we get in Matthew 28:16-20. It gets us into all nations. And there are only three responses one may have to the Great Commission: go, send or disobey.

In these verses, we can see four false versions of Christianity that these words of Jesus speak against.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

1. Christ-less Christianity (28:17)

At the heart of any Christianity must be an understanding of Christ Himself (Matt. 28:17).

Notice that the disciples worshipped Him.  It’s not just a matter of the head (knowing about Christ), but the heart as well (knowing Christ).

Notice also Matthew says “some doubted” in verse 17.  This is a strange thing to include at the end of the book. Why did he say this?

Matthew is realistic to the end—he put it down as the fact it was. Jesus wasn’t deflected by these doubters.  They didn’t change His commands or purposes for the disciples. The same goes for us. Some doubted but the disciples worshipped. They bowed their bodies and gave their lives to His service.

Further, notice the totality of Jesus’ words: all authority, all nations, all His teaching, always, all times.

Jesus was claiming to possess the omnipotence of God, and that with His power and His presence, He would be with His disciples. Who else could claim omnipresence?

Though the Trinity (one God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Bible, the idea is certainly there. Jesus understood Himself to be fully God—one in purpose and being with the Spirit and the Father.

It’s amazing that these 1st-century Jewish monotheists were worshipping as God someone they had known.  But they did, and they were right to do it.

This Christ-centered Christianity isn’t the kind some people want.  People today want morality, respectability, cultural advantages…but not Christ Himself. True obedience to the Great Commission depends on worship of Christ Himself.

2. Selfish Christianity (28:18)

Christ’s words in His exalted state bear the same loving character as His words on the cross. Jesus wants those who become His disciples to love others (John 13:34-35).

This is the basic imperative: not just be disciples but make disciples. God wants us to figure out how to care for others and make disciples.

What does this have to do with us? With all the people we work with? With all the people we’ve never met? Does all your Christianity have to do with yourself?

Within this command to make disciples, Jesus also clearly has a concern for what we would call missions. Jesus is assuming they will—and probably commanding them to—go to all nations.

Remember, the Great Commission would accomplish nothing if not for the fact that Christ has ‘all authority in heaven and on earth

People have had differing interpretations of what this means, but it seems that what Jesus meant by “nations” was language units and people groups. His view is extended beyond Israel.

This is not a new thing.  The beginning of Matthew’s gospel goes back to Abraham, to whom God says in Genesis 12:1-3 that all nations will be blessed through you. These witnesses in the gospel now have seen how this plan of God’s was to be accomplished, that is, through their telling the Gospel to all nations.

Why does Jesus, with all that power, take that initiative? People with power usually have other people seeking them out. But God is seeking us. When we seek out others with the Gospel, we are a picture with our lives of God’s love.

This command is still in effect. Billions of people still have not heard the biblical Gospel.  So many in cities in other countries.

Pray that God would give you a heart to make His word known in one of these cities—in your city. God wants us to radically care about others, andto give our lives to know them so that they will come to know Christ. You may pray (and you should); you may give (and you should); and you may also go.

Lastly, in Jesus’ words we can infer a special concern for children. The Great Commission is to take effect, not only over space but over time.  And not only to all nations but to all generations.

Part of making disciples is having concern for the younger ones who will go someplace we can’t—the future. Parents should think if they are doing this in their own homes.

Parents, carefully consider this: it is not in the first place the church’s responsibility to train children—it is yours. God has given parents and families the fundamental responsibility to train children in the truth of the gospel. Sunday School or small groups are a wonderful assist, but it is only that. As a church, we have to understand the importance of children and youth and seek to disciple them.

3. Careless Christianity (28:19)

Many evangelical Christians find it strange that baptism is inserted here as something basic if we see it as being non-essential for salvation (28:19). However, we can conclude from this verse that God commands baptism, and so we should practice it.

We have no authority to edit Jesus. He’s not just talking about intentions. If Jesus says we are to be baptized, we are to be baptized, and we can see in Acts that it’s a water baptism by immersion (Acts 8:36-39, etc.). We can’t regard it as optional.

Who should be baptized? All true disciples of true God who believe His true Gospel and none other.

4. Casual Christianity (28:20)

Jesus is concerned with real evangelism. He didn’t say “teaching them everything” but teaching them “to obey” everything.

Jesus wants disciples, not just opinions. Truly becoming a Christian may happen in a moment, but its effects last a lifetime. It may take time for someone to sort out what following Jesus means in their lives, and that’s okay. We should not be quick to count those “won,” as evangelical churches historically have been.

When you become a Christian, your life doesn’t immediately become perfect, but it does become different (read the whole book of 1 John!). Only disciples are to be baptized.

What are our reasons for not fulfilling the Great Commission?

We may fear social rejection, or being a poor witness. But our silence can’t obey Christ’s commands here. We must pray for people; we must verbally proselytize, evangelize, and witness (Romans 10:13-17). A people who does this will be a outsider in this world.  Because we follow the Risen One who has sent us, we will be despised for proselytizing.

The Gospel of Christ hasn’t ceased to go out, yet the Great Commission won’t be revoked. Real Christianity is Christ-centered, costly, and committed to obeying these words.  To that end, He will be with us until the end of the age.

Will you accept this Great Commission to be His disciple?

4 Unique Ways God Grows the Church

What does a church need to grow?

Over the years, some have suggested (certainly the list is longer than the below):

  1. A happy congregation;

  2. By stressing the blessings of the Christian life;

  3. Permanence of witness;

  4. The right atmosphere;

  5. Asking people how they want church to be; and,

  6. Favorably impressing non-believers around them

 

You may say:

Come on. What are the 4 super-unpopular ways to grow a church?

Well, God, in His perfect sovereignty, providence, and power, grows His church in super-amazing, super-unpopular, and, humanly speaking, super-crazy ways even through:

  1. Complaining (Acts 6:1-8).

In the passage in Acts, the church’s strains were neediness and diversity of languages.  This led to misunderstanding, distrust, and complaining.

The Bible is clear that Christians aren’t perfect.  At our church, we’re here because we know we are lacking.  We assemble as a testimony of our neediness.  All humans sin and do what we want, not what God wants.

Christians do have a track record of caring for others.  Practical application:  consider how much you are willing to give to care for others?  Watch any tendency to complain.  It’s a distraction from the real work of the church.  Strive to be a peacemaker.

These verses are what we refer to for our structure of deacons.  In Acts, the deacons serve each other to promote unity.  Deacons served to meet:  physical needs, unity of the body, and allow others to conduct the ministry of the Word.

  1. Death (Acts 6:8-7:50).

Stephen’s point is that God’s messengers are always rejected, but God goes on to use them for His glory anyway.  Stephen was the first Christian martyr.

As Christians, we understand part of our natural depravity is to reject God’s truth.  It’s how we explain why we do bad things.  By nature, we are defensive against God’s truth.  Be cautious about rejecting God’s word when it convicts your heart and the penetrating rays shine in.

Read the account of Stephen on your own.  Accounts such as this put our struggles in perspective and show us how God always prevails in the end.  Work to find your joy in Christ so you can withstand whatever opposition God calls you to and still be an accurate and joyful witness.  Read the Bible and biographies of Christians to see the history of what God has done throughout the ages.

What is the effect you’re having on others?  Are you helping them become confident rejoicers in what God has committed to do?

  1. Deportation (Acts 8).

Christians were dispersed through exile and shared the Gospel with those around them in their new locality.

They shared that our only hope to be accepted by God isn’t by righteously reforming our own lives.  But it’s by God’s righteousness in Christ—the perfect life that Christ lived His death on the cross, specifically giving Himself as a substitute and taking the punishment for sin that we all deserve.  And we are called to receive the forgiveness of sins from Christ.

How do we know that what Christ taught about His death is the truth?  We know because God raised Him from the dead.  We can have confidence in Christ’s plan succeeding.

Did you notice in this passage it’s not the pastor/elder or deacon who’s evangelizing, but a regular member of the church?

Friend, are you prepared to share the Gospel?  How can you better prepare your self? Two Ways to Live is a great resource that will help you prepare.

And practice and be available to evangelize.  It’s not just when you’re happy that you should share the Gospel.

Pray also for God to use your trials as opportunities for evangelism. Hard times are often the best because that’s when you’re most aware of your need.

Often, we share examples of evangelism in our gathered time to encourage others to evangelize.  Our church is committed to seeing the Gospel spread through out the world.  Nearly 12 percent of the current budget goes to missions.

  1. Persecutions (Acts 9:1-31).

God used Saul’s persecution and the miracle of his conversion to grow the church.

Non-Christian, what in your worldview explains the change that Saul went through?  Jesus Christ is the risen Lord and He changed Saul’s life.

Christian, proclaim the Gospel, be patient, and pray for fruit  Why should we ever despair of anyone?  Share the Gospel, wait and hope.  Marvel at God’s grace in Paul’s life.  No sinner is too great for God’s grace.

The former slave trader turned pastor and evangelist, John Newton, said

I have never despaired of any man since God saved me.

Christian, get to know your own heart well. Get to know your own sin against God so that having seen how He saved you, you will never despair of any man.

We hope that in our church there is a joyful perseverance in evangelism.  Pray that we will take appropriate risks to share the Gospel.  Our confidence is based not in ourselves but in Christ.

Stephen rejoiced in such imperishable things even as the stones hit him.  What about you?  Can you conceive of God’s good plans for His church despite complaining?

We’d rather have our reputations, our rights, our homes, & our lives rather than an expanded Christian church.  The first Christians made their choices and priorities, and we are making ours.

 

Is our unity Gospel-centered?

When we lose our unity in the church, it’s because something has become more important to us than Jesus.  And in any church with sinners–which, of course, is every church–conflict will exist and achieving resolution is difficult.

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson said:

The gospel is a message of reconciliation and peace with God. How can non-Christians be convinced that Christ reconciles us to God if we are not reconciled to each other?

This quote may sound odd to our ears.  Most churches today would rather protect personal preference over corporate, spiritual unity and community under Christ.

But our gracious God is more concerned about the unity of the church than her programs, size, or parking lot.  And healthy churches are known, in part, by what they teach and hold to, their holiness vertically to the Lord and horizontally to one another, and their spiritual unity in Christ.

Paul addresses the problem of division in the local church in his first letter to the Corinthians.  This church in Corinth had been founded just a few years earlier.  Members of the church were accustomed to picking and following their favorite church leader in Corinth, a city renowned for its public speakers.

The problem was one of destructive divisiveness.  As Paul heard about the nature of these quarrels from his friends, Paul’s concern grew. Paul writes:

My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.” (1:11-12).

Paul thus begins with the command:

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1:10).

Unity in the church is not something we can ever take for granted.  We’re called to do both: Contend earnestly for the faith and be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-6).  “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him” (1 Cor. 3:17). Guard the unity of your church. It isn’t yours.

Paul then gives us at least 6 reasons for the church to seek to be united in the midst of blessings. As we follow the Lord’s lead, may these be true of us.  And may we spend time on our knees praying before God for these in our church, families, and ministries.

1. Gospel-centered unity showcases Christ.

Paul asks, “Is Christ divided?” (1:13). Divisions in the church suggested that Christ is divided and such suggestions lie about Christ.  “Accept one another, as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:7).

Our unity displays Christ. Withdrawal denies Christ. Members of the church are to be united to display the truth about Christ.

There is only one Christ, and the message that Christ has brought us is the important thing, not the preacher who preached it.  Nor should we have a wrong attachment to preachers. Rather, preachers should point towards Christ and we should love the ministers of Christ for the Christ they serve.

2. Gospel-centered unity elevates the cross. 

Paul writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1:17).

Division on the basis of worldly appetites promotes the messenger (pastor / preacher) and obscures the cross.  Unity of mind and rule is a fruit of a mature congregation. Disunity and different standards is a fruit of immaturity.

3. Gospel-centered unity conveys humbleness  (1:26-27).  

The kind of divisions that the members in Corinth were expressing should have been ruled out by their own history.  The Gospel of Christ demolishes this world’s estimates of what is valuable and shows that a status-oriented culture is false.

May we regularly work to humble ourselves by comparing what we deserve (wrath) with what we are given (grace).  When things are going well in your life, too, this should be a ground for humility because it is based fundamentally on God and His love, not what you deserve

4. Gospel-centered unity demonstrations spiritual maturity (3:1-4).  

Division is a sign of spiritual immaturity.  These Christians had every opportunity to grow in Christ, yet they continued to live by the secular norms of their society. Gospel-centered unity is evidence of spiritual maturity among Christians.

5. Gospel-centered unity reflects submission to God (3:21-23). 

God directs the various pastors and workmen He employs and His church is founded on Christ alone.  God owns the church and God will destroy anyone that destroys His temple.

Gospel-centered unity acknowledges that the church belongs to God, not men, and reflects the churches submissions to God’s authority.

6.  Gospel-centered unity comes from treasuring God’s promises.  

Division is unnecessary.  If you are in Christ all things are yours. Petty divisions demonstrate a misunderstanding of God’s great promise. And remember: Face-to-face conversations – better than phone calls, certainly not emails – are the way to preserve or repair unity.

As we continue to celebrate what God has done, is doing, and embrace what lies ahead at your church, think of the riches that we have in Christ. Be joyful and expectant in prayer! Devote yourself to exploring the richness of the salvation that Christ has given you in the Gospel, the daily blessings that you have, and the riches that God has promised to you.

Mediate daily of the undeserved blessings and promises that you have been given because of Christ alone, and the divisions in Christ’s church that Satan wants to bring in times of blessings will disappear.

 

5 Marks of a False Teacher

When our son was younger, he had a certain fixation on a monkey.  No, it was not a real monkey.  It was his stuffed animal buddy simply named “Monkey.”  While he can sleep without Monkey, the transition time from crib to sleeping was greatly improved with Monkey near and close.

The problem was that our son loved to throw Monkey and his other crib-buddies out of his crib for fun before falling asleep.  We would give him Monkey and his buddies one more time, but after they went overboard a second time, he just needed to go to bed!

To mitigate this, my wife and I decided to purchase another stuffed animal monkey similar to the Monkey.  We took careful steps to make sure the monkeys were the same.  Finally, satisfied a second monkey would slow the crying down if the Monkey went out of the crib, we purchased it.

When the new monkey arrived, we slowly introduced it to our son.  From the get-go, he was not impressed.  He spotted the Monkey-want-to-be from, literally a floor away.  He wasn’t going to replace his Monkey with a fake an imposter.

Now, who is the first animal to go overboard, you ask? The imposter, of course!

What valuable lessons come from a young children! As Christians, it is our duty to know why we believe what we believe and how to expose false teaching and false teachers.

As Christians, what unites us greatly outweighs what might divides us. In the essentials, such as the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, inerrancy of Scripture, the resurrection of Christ, etc., we need to be in agreement. We cannot compromise on these major issues of the Gospel. These are non-negotiables, to be sure! In fact, to depart from these doctrines is to depart from the Christian faith itself.

So, on a lunch hour here, I have put together 5 marks of false teachers.  Certainly, these are not all the markers of false teachings or teachers.  However, this is a good list to start from.

1. False teachers employ secret deceitfulness in teaching, spreading, and promoting their false doctrines.

Peter stated that false teachers “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Paul warned the believers at Ephesus that they should “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14).

Jude 1:4 exhorted his believers to be aware that “certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Often, false teachers swear that they believe the most essential beliefs of historical, biblical Christianity.  Yet, many hold back their weird teachings and teach them only to the “really serious” followers, at least until they get a footing.  From there, they pour them into the ears of all (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

2. False teachers regularly overpromise what they actually can deliver, both in this life and the life to come.

Peter so strongly notes this in 2 Peter 2:18-19.

For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

Perhaps the most well-known example is a promise of “health, wealth, and prosperity,” if you follow certain teachings.  Others promise that your family will be stronger and fractured pieces of your past will all be perfectly restored this side of eternity.

Still, many false teachers seek to remove the offense of the cross and to “make plain” its mysteries (2 Timothy 3:9).  Of course, this is done in the name of “setting people free” from the “needless restraints” of the Bible.

Certainly, it is not unheard of to hear many proclaim loudly that their teachings, opinions, and practices will bring world peace. Yet, when their views are fully embraced, the promised freedoms and liberties are nothing more than hidden chains and shackles.

3. False teachers are boastful.

Jude held back no punches on this topic:

These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage (Jude 16).

Just as the false teachers railed against Paul (see 2 Cor. 11), false teachers glorify and lavishly exalt themselves. The so-called “super-apostles” criticized Paul, stating that his physical presence was weak and his speech disreputable.  While Paul wrote well and had “weighty letters,” they said,” the false teachers claimed that they alone excelled in public speaking. There was not a bone of modesty in their body!

False teachers boast of their followers (especially through social media), talents, wealth, and sufferings as a body. They promote healings that were false, converts that are false, of good never done, and works never accomplished.

4. In God’s providence, false teachers are sometimes very successful for a season.

By—and only by—God’s allowance, false prophets can “run up the numbers” to appear successful.

Jesus said:

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

Paul noted in 2 Thess. 2:9:

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders.

Church history is not short of such examples.  The Arians of the early centuries after Christ’s death had the emperor and perhaps 80% of the clergy on their side.  Pelagius, at one time, seemed to have corrupted vast numbers of people into denying original sin, among many other errors.

5. Yet, finally, sooner or later the silliness  of false teachers shall be manifest. 

Consider these Old Testament examples:

-For a short time, Jannes and Jambres seemed to succeed as well as Moses and Aaron (Exodus 8:16-19).  However, during the plague of the gnats, they could do nothing and said to Pharaoh: “This is the finger of God!” (Ex. 8:19).

-For a long time, the priests of Baal had things as they liked in Elijah’s day (1 Kings 18). Yet, God’s power, once again, proved who was true and who was false.

As believers, our tendency is to withdraw in the face of false teaching from the fear and service of God. Yet, David reminds us in Psalm 37:35-36 of this truth:

I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.

What are some other marks of false teachers you can think of?

Does Prayer Really Work? – Part 2

Part 1 here

For most people, the honest struggle with skepticism finds its fuel in the disappointment of prayers not answered—messages sent to God with something like faith, hope. If prayer really worked all the time, we’d know about it. There’d be no need to encourage people to pray because we’d get everything we asked for.

That’s quite a thing to imagine. Some Christian groups would answer that if it’s not like that for you, it’s only because you don’t have enough faith.

Is this true? Why aren’t some prayers answered? Let’s look at two unanswered prayers from Scripture.

Ezekiel 20:1-31

 Ezekiel was an Israelite in captivity in Babylon who was called to prophesy. This passage appears in the section of the book of Ezekiel that concentrates on prophesies against Israel.

God clearly tells the elders of Israel, “I will not let you inquire of me.” Why? These Israelites hadn’t chosen to reject God, but to be inclusive of other gods in their worship.

Note in verse 31 the practice of giving live children as burnt sacrifices—frequently condemned by God. The fact that He allowed this practice to continue was part of His judgment. Sometimes God’s judgment comes as a hardened conscience and feeling of freedom from His constraints.

Result in this story? God refuses to hear them.

One clear reason for unanswered prayers is disobedience to God, a reason that is cited often in Scripture. Old Testament examples are found in:

Psalm 66;

Proverbs: the Lord is far from the wicked;

Isaiah: God refuses not out of His own ignorance of the prayers or inability to grant them but because of their sins;

Micah 3:4;

Zechariah: when I called they did not listen so when they call I will not listen.

However, this message isn’t exclusive to the Old Testament. Jesus Himself teaches it, for example, in the parable of the vine and the branches. Jesus teaches that regular, persistent, continued disobedience leads to unanswered prayer.

So is all unanswered prayer a result of our disobedience? Look at Paul’s example.

2 Corinthians 12

 Paul has just been reminding the Corinthians of what God had done, and following some sarcastic boasting (11:16-12:6), Paul tells them that he has been given a “thorn.” People have speculated inconclusively on what this was, but we do know that it was a trial, severely negative, and continuous.

What did Paul do? He pleaded with and begged God to take it away from him a total of three times. But God said His grace was sufficient.

Would heaven spurn Paul’s request? Why was Paul’s prayer unanswered? Sin, disobedience?

We know Paul was imperfect, but his life wasn’t characterized by unrepentant sin. That answer is as helpful as Job’s friends’ counseling him to repent.

God gives another reason: Paul and others he ministered to would know God better through Paul’s weakness. Paul received even better than he asked (v.9-10).  This isn’t just positive thinking. So you could say Paul’s prayer didn’t work, but it wasn’t because of his sin, but because of the sovereign will of God. The will of the same One who gave His only Son for those who hated Him.

What about you?

These two aren’t the only ones who have prayed unanswered prayers. We have, too. The only biblical advice in this situation is to keep praying and trust God. Through prayer we come to know God. Prayers of thanksgiving always “work”. Prayers of confession always “work.”  It is in our prayers of petition that we’ve all faced this.

It could be because we don’t really know the one we’re talking to–if we’re living in open disobedience to His commands. But if we’re God’s own children, who are called by His name, we’re taught that persevering, sincere prayer will work.

What is the purpose of prayer?

What is the ultimate purpose of prayer? Ultimately, it is for God to make Himself known in this world. In the Ezekiel passage He repeats “for my name’s sake,” to make it clear. The purpose of prayer is for you to know God yourself and to make Him known to others.

Prayer is a close fellowship with God. If the only relationship you have with God in prayer is to particularly ask Him for things, then you’ve missed out on what a large part of prayer should be. In Paul’s situation, what changed was what Paul prayed. Paul came to see the real torment in the larger picture.

God’s purpose in all prayer, answered and unanswered, is to make Himself known. Does this mean that our prayers are useless? No, as with evangelism, God has chosen to work through our prayers to accomplish His sovereign purposes.

Did Paul’s prayer work? His torment didn’t end.

Did the prayer of the elders of Israel work?

In both cases, God refused their requests, but through both God made Himself known. This wasn’t at all what the elders wanted, but it was what Paul really wanted.

In your own heart, truly, what do you really want more than anything else in the world? Answer that, and you’ll know if your prayers are working.

Does Prayer Really Work? – Part 1

We love statistics but know that they can either be twisted to tell false stories, or can tell true stories that surprise us.

Here’s an interesting one for you concerning pastors and prayers.  According to LifeWay Research survey:

The amount of time spent in prayer and personal devotions raises questions about the vitality of many pastors’ spiritual lives. While 52 percent report spending one to six hours in prayer each week, 5 percent say they spend no time at all in prayer. Furthermore, while 52 percent say they spend two to five hours a week in personal devotions unrelated to teaching preparation, 14 percent indicate they spend an hour or less in personal devotions each week.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2009/december/how-protestant-pastors-spend-their-time.html

If this is the state of pastors (full-time, part-time, bi-vocational, etc.), what is the average time the average Christians pray? Many would guess it is less than 3-4 minutes per day (http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Faith-Tools/Meditation/2004/12/U-S-News-Beliefnet-Prayer-Survey-Results.aspx)

And we’re supposed to be the zealous ones.

Why so little? There could be several reasons. (Note that this blog is directed particularly at those who believe in a prayer-answering God. Those who don’t will have different reasons.):

-We’re too busy to pray.

-More practical courses of action could be taken, or we could resort to others, such as doctors, accountants.

-We might be embarrassed to have others pray for these matters.

-We may have prayed in the past and found it wanting, never to be tried again.

Briefly, we will look at three real-life situations from the Bible:

1) The situation of a despairing, childless woman;

2) The situation of an outlaw; and,

3) A situation of great physical danger.

  1. Hannah in the temple (1 Samuel 1-2)—a tragically realistic situation

Hannah is childless and one of two wives. The other had been blessed with children and wasn’t gracious about it, provoking Hannah year after year.

  1. Jonah in the fish (Jonah 1-4)—a fantastic situation

Scholars have disputed the historicity of this account, but there’s no compelling reason for skepticism. Events like this have been recorded more than once since Jonah, especially during the days of the whaling industry in the last 200-400 years. The main situation is that Jonah is running in disobedience from the Lord and is literally thrown overboard into a stormy, raging sea and then swallowed by a large fish.

  1. Peter in prison (Acts 12:1-20)—a dramatic situation

 Peter had been imprisoned for his faith, James had already been killed, and the church itself was in danger. Who knows how far Herod would have gone in his persecution?

These aren’t fictional fairy-tales or made-up stories. Each situation is from real-life. How did these people respond to these situations?

  1. How does Hannah respond to her fear, anger, and shame? She prays (1 Sam. 1:9-18).
  1. Jonah was from the hill country, people who did not like the sea at all. Imagine his fear and uncertainty. His response was to pray (Jonah 2:1-8).
  1. The church’s response was to pray for Peter (Acts 12:5).

In the Bible, there’s very little direct teaching about prayer, but there is much prayer recorded. So many put so much on prayer. Why? What were the results of these prayers?

  1. Samuel 1:19-20—The Lord gave Hannah a child.
  2. Jonah 2:2-10—The fish vomited him onto dry land.
  3. Acts 12:6-19—Peter was miraculously freed from prison.

3 prayers. 3 answers.

Do you really, honestly believe these things happened? We have no real reason to believe they didn’t.

Yet, these things don’t seem the stuff our lives are made of. What do we learn from these situations?

We realize the desperation, sincerity, and specificity in these prayers. Their desperation led to their hearts’ sincere pleadings for specific things.

  • Desperation: Whales and jails can make our state more obvious, but they can’t make it more desperate. Do you really need the triune God less than Jonah, Peter, or Hannah? No, though we may see less clearly our need of Him, we are just as dependent on God.
  • Sincerity: Their desperate need led them to abandon any insincerity. When you go to God, talk truly honestly to Him about everything.
  • Specificity: Sincere prayers are always going to tend to be specific prayers. What is it particularly that concerns you? If you want God to answer specifically, you have to ask specifically.

(If this experience of prayer hasn’t always been the way you’ve experienced it, wait till next blog.)

There are some warnings in these stories for us, though. These stories speak against our busyness, better-ness, and bitterness.

  • Busyness: No matter what, time has to be made for prayer. It’s not all the Christian is called to, but it is essential.
  • Better-ness: We seem to think there’s someone better to go to with our problems, but really, who’s better to go to when you experience, for ex., medical problems? Not that you shouldn’t also go to the doctor, but is prayer your first reflex? What do you do with your fears? Have you learned to trust Him with them?
  • Bitterness: Did the church at Jerusalem pray just once? Was Jonah in the fish only one day? How long do you think Hannah prayed? Not that we always get everything we want simply by persistence, but God does instruct us to be persistent in our prayer. There is hope in God’s Word–keep praying. We simply cannot know the outcome, but we do know we have a God who delights to hear our prayers.

Are you convinced? Prayer is no less necessary for you in your relationship with God than talking is for your relationship with your husband, wife, best friend, boss, family, or child.

Biblical prayer is always rooted in and turns about the person of God, not ourselves. In coming to understand prayer, we’re coming to understand God and His character. Your prayer life shows a lot of what you believe about God.

Why do evangelical Christians spend so little time in prayer? You’d better ask yourself.