The Struggle With Unbelief…

Isaiah 43:11-12 (NIV)

I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.

When we reach the point in the history of Israel that the Prophet Isaiah is born, and he is called to fulfill his role in the Kingdom of God, we are several centuries past the exodus of the people from the land of Egypt under the appointed leadership of Moses. And in our passage, we find God still pleading with His people to believe in Him … to trust Him … to place their faith in Him – the “I AM”. God revealed Himself to His people through mighty and miraculous events; signs and wonders; judges, kings, and prophets; and yet, there is a continual call from the Spirit of God to “see” Him and to “know” Him.  And as I reflect on this message this morning, I recognize that our current generation seems to struggle with the same issue: Faith!  How many millennia have come and gone that multitudes of human beings have resisted to acknowledge or believe in our Creator?

Moses struggled with the unbelief of God’s people even after the great parting of the Red Sea and their supernatural deliverance (salvation) from the pursuing armies of Pharaoh. We find the same issue of unbelief under the leadership of Joshua after crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It continued under their Judges, under Samuel, and during the reign of the Davidic Kings.  Restoration leaders like Ezra and Nehemiah urged the people returning from the judgment of exile to believe and to restore their faith and worship toward God. The major and minor Prophets spoke as the mouth of God – “I AM Here!” “I AM He!” “I AM!” Indeed, this apparent veil of unbelief was the very reason that Jesus, the Son of God, was sent into the world. We are commanded to believe in Jesus for redemption and eternal salvation; and yet, Jesus had to rebuke even His disciples for their unbelief at times. What gives? Why are humans so resistant to believe … so rebellious against the knowledge of God?

There are so many Scriptures that come to mind regarding unbelief:

Deuteronomy 1:30-33 (NKJV)

30 The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ 32 Yet, for all that, you did not believe the Lord your God33 who went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day.

Psalm 78:52-58 (ESV)
52 Then He led out His people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. 53 He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid, but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. 54 And He brought them to His holy land, to the mountain which His right hand had won. 55 He drove out nations before them; He apportioned them for a possession and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents. 56 Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most-High God and did not keep His testimonies, 57 but turned away and acted treacherously like their fathers; they twisted like a deceitful bow. 58 For they provoked Him to anger with their high places; they moved Him to jealousy with their idols.

Matthew 21:28-32 (ESV)

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the Kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

John 12:37-50 (ESV)

37 But although Jesus had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Cf. Isaiah 53:1) 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.” (Cf. Isaiah 6:10) 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. 42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. 44 Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not only in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45 And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. 46 I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. 47 And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”

John 14:5-11 (ESV)

Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does His works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

Hebrews 3:1-19 (NIV)

1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are His house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’

11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was He provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

So, I think the point has been made here regarding the seriousness of unbelief.  And I think it stems from our own human pride … that somehow we think that we know more than God on how things are supposed to be … how He is supposed to govern His Kingdom … how He should do things the way we think He ought to do them.  Rather than believe what God has revealed, we want to question Him regarding what He has not revealed. In my observation, I believe God has revealed Himself sufficiently for humans to believe in Him.  We just tend to be stubborn and resist because of our human will … the inclinations of the thoughts of our hearts … and the inability to trust Him with the “unseen”.  Well did the inspired writer of Hebrews define the concept of faith: “Now faith is the substance (confidence) of things hoped for, the evidence (assurance) of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 – NKJV)  And Paul asserts that what may be known about God is plain to see because God has made it plain to us.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen; being understood from what has been made so that people are without excuse. (Cf. Romans 1:19-20)

I think about what Jesus said to Thomas after His resurrection: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (Cf. John 20:29) Thomas had been with Jesus for three years.  He saw the miracles.  He heard the sermons.  He knew Jesus personally.  Yet, he did not believe the testimony of his fellow disciples concerning the resurrection.  I find that interesting … knowing that we can exhibit the same behaviors when fellow Christians share their testimonies about what God is doing in their lives.  It is not just a matter of a skeptical attitude; rather, I think it becomes a manifestation of a hardened heart … calloused by our own paradigms of who we think God should be. But God said: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Cf. Isaiah 55:8-9) Instead of trying to out maneuver God, perhaps we should just simply believe Him based on what He has already shown us. “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known.” (Cf. John 1:18)

So what is the application? Well, here is what my heart is telling me:

Deuteronomy 13:4 (NIV)

It is the Lord your God you must follow, and Him you must revere. Keep His commands and obey Him; serve Him and hold fast to Him.

Micah 6:8 (NIV)

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

1 John 3:23-24 (NIV)

And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.

Isaiah 43:10 (NIV)

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.”

Acts 1:8 (NIV)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The issue for each generation is FAITH!  And so we are called to be witnesses … to give our testimony of FAITH.  To me, the issue is what you believe based on who you believe. Isaiah prophesied, “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1) Paul responded: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17) And so, if we want to reach our generation with the hope of salvation, it will require us to not only believe the message about Jesus Christ but to share His message with others. If necessary, we should use words; but otherwise, we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, as the testimonies of our faith. This means to love others as Christ has loved us … just as He commanded us. (Cf. John 13:34) And so, the genuineness of our faith shall be revealed through love….  We need to stop doubting and believe Jesus! Those are my thoughts.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Persevere In Faith…

Hebrews 10:35-36 (NIV)

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.

Our verse this morning is a call to persevere in faith.  Though we see a world in tribulation on many fronts, we know there a great victory ahead of us!  The inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews provides an encouraging word for us, the remnant Church, to keep moving forward as the Day of the Lord approaches.  The righteous shall live by faith, for the Lord does not take pleasure in those who draw back in fear or lose their confidence and trust in Him.  In faith, we are to forge ahead….

Hebrews 10:19-39 (NIV)

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light (of the Gospel), when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised37 For, “In just a little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay.” 38 And, “But the righteous will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who draws back.” (Quoting from Habakkuk 2:3-4) 39 But we do not belong to those who draw back to destruction, but to those who have faith and are saved.

Philippians 3:12-21 (NIV)

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ21 who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.

So I pray that we will take such a view of things.  Spiritual warfare is being waged all around this world – not just here in our own nation.  By faith, we need to press forward and be engaged. As Paul declared: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12) And this is what the Lord says: “The Word of God (the sword of the Spirit) shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Cf. Joshua 1:8-9)

Some final thoughts and exhortations from the Apostle Paul:

1 Timothy 6:11-16 (NIV)

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in His own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To Him be honor and might forever. Amen.

2 Timothy 1:6-10 (NIV)

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-disciplineSo do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.

2 Timothy 4:1-8 (NIV)

1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Parameters of Prayer…

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him. ~ 1 John 5:14-15

We have been talking about being faithful in prayer; and this verse reviews some appropriate parameters of prayer….

First of all, we need to realize that asking God for anything must certainly be aligned with His will. For why would God grant anything that is contrary to His will and desire for us?  Think about that for a moment.  He allows or permits us to have thoughts and to conduct ourselves against His leading, guidance, and the precepts of His Word.  But if we ask Him to do so in prayer, it is not something that He will grant us.  No, John tells us that we must ask according to His will and He will hear us….

Therein lies the challenge for us.  If we want to know if our prayers will be answered … if we want to have confidence when approaching God in prayer … the key will be to know His will!  This means we need to have an understanding of what the will of God might be in order to have confidence that we will receive what we ask.  So some thoughts arise here as I mediate on this verse.  When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, we learn that God is to be approached with reverence and to acknowledge His authority over heaven and earth:

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

Luke 11:1-4 (NIV)

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Our Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’”

What is the difference between “your kingdom come” and “your will be done?”  Is not His kingdom … His sovereign rule in accordance with His will? I sense that asking for His kingdom to come so that His will is done is the point … the application. The kingdom of God must first come to our hearts in order for our thoughts to be changed so that our behaviors (conduct) will change. We know Jesus as Savior but we know Jesus as Lord also.  We must surrender all to Jesus if we are to ever to know His will and to ask according to it.  So what John shared is consistent with what Jesus taught….  Paul weighs in on this point as well; explaining that the intercessory prayer of the Spirit is in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

So what would be some examples of approaching God according to His will?  Do we have anything explicit in the Word of God to guide us in prayer according to His will?  Well, the Bible is filled with the will of God – expressed as His commandments, statutes, ordinances, and precepts. And we know that with the law comes the knowledge of sin (Cf. Romans 3:20) because sin is the transgression of God’s law by definition. (Cf. 1 John 3:4) Paul reasoned that whatever is not of faith is sin. (Cf. Romans 14:23) So when we sin, we are not acting in accordance with the will of God.  Thus, God will not answer a prayer that leads to sin; rather, His desire is for our obedience … our holiness.

2 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not willing that any should perish, but that everyone should come to repentance.

John 6:29 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”

John 6:40 (NIV)

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (NIV)

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorablenot in passionate lust like the unbelievers, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you His Holy Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 (NIV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 

1 Peter 2:15-16 (NRSV)

15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.

So, I am confident that anyone who prays to be obedient … to repent and believe in His Son … to receive salvation through Jesus will receive answered prayer.  I am sure that anyone who prays for sanctification will experience that process in their heart. I am certain that God receives our thanksgiving and praise in prayer. And I believe when you pray to do the right thing, God will hear you.  But what about prayers and requests that are improper … even asking in opposition to the will of God?  The Apostle James addressed this matter when he wrote:

James 4:1-4 (NASB)

1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You desire (lust) and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasuresYou adulterous people, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

It is probable that if we ask anything according to our own will, God will not be inclined to hear.  Unless our personal will conforms to the revealed will of God, John indicates that God will not hear that prayer. Silence is the response … the answer.  Indeed, James indicates that prayers focused on ourselves or our worldly passions are in opposition to God and offensive to Him.  He compares such prayers to infidelity and unfaithfulness.  The Prophet Isaiah makes similar commentary:

Isaiah 59:1-3 (NIV)

1 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wickedness.

So what is the application here?  Confidence in prayer stems from confidence in faith! Anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6) We cannot be double-minded or waiver when we approach God in prayer. James gives us this admonition: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”(Cf. James 1:5-8) Likewise, James instructed: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

As we can see, doubt or unbelief can be as great a hindrance to prayer as any other sin.  So, trusting God at His Word … asking according to His Will … and believing you have what you ask are great steps to take when it comes to prayer. This is what Jesus taught as well: “So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.  Indeed, our prayers will be heard when we position ourselves within these parameters of prayer that God has revealed to us.  And I hope this study will encourage you in your prayer time.  Be bold and courageous … and believe!    

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

1 John 5

Faith in the Incarnate Son of God

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Concluding Affirmations

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

High Anxiety

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I’m not sure what I could add to what Paul has already shared….

Do not be anxious about ANYTHING!  We just need to pray with thanksgiving because – as we learned from John: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14-15) Knowing that we have what we asked of Him in prayer and petition should give us reason to include thanksgiving with our prayer.  And in this we experience the peace of God.  It enters our hearts and minds because of our confidence … our faith in Christ Jesus!

So let this be your meditation today.  Do not be anxious.  Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you. (Cf. 1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

God Hears Us

1 John 5:14-15

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him.

This passage has always intrigued me. For additional context, the passage is included in a list of “affirmations” that the Apostle John is sharing with his readers.  He is trying to build trust in God and His promises.  For example, Verse 13 reads: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  Likewise in our passage, he encourages believers to pray (approach God) – asking according to HIS will.  John assures we can be confident that God hears us.

First of all, it should be amazing to us that God … the Creator of all that is seen and unseen – the entire universe … actually listens to our prayers.  Why would such a Being care about His creatures to even do so?  King David pondered the same question:

Psalm 8:3-4 (NIV)

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

Yet, David goes on to assert something quite incredible – God created us to have dominion over His works:

Psalm 8:5-6 (NIV)

You have made them (human beings) a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet:

It is clear from the whole of Scripture that God ordained for human beings to be an integral part of His creative order … for man to have dominion over the earth and everything in it … that man should rule (exercise our ordained authority) over creation with the same love and compassion for it as God Himself.  In other words, our unity and fellowship with God would be such that we as created beings would be “an extension” of God in His creation.  So it follows that God would desire us to communicate with Him and fellowship with Him in this relationship that He designed for us.  In the beginning, it was perfect communion … unity with God … until the first human beings allowed sin to desecrate and corrupt them.  Pride?  Exertion of self-will over the will of God? Disobedience?  Through all the above, we fell from the glory and honor God had bestowed upon us through the deceptive power and darkness of sin….  As Paul explained, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” (Cf. Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21) And as Paul affirmed, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23)

As we have previously noted in our studies, human beings MUST have a Savior.  We cannot save our selves.  We cannot redeem ourselves from our sin because we are incapable to offer a Holy God a perfect sacrifice to atone for our transgressions.  God did the only thing that could be done to reconcile and restore our fellowship with Him.  He offered a perfect Lamb … His Son, Jesus!  God did so because of His great love for us … not because we merited or deserved His kindness or mercy.  Paul makes this quite clear:

Ephesians 2:4-10 (NKJV)

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Father God would not allow His beloved creation … human beings … to continue in separation from Him.  No, His great love with which He loved us would not allow us to remain dead in our sin.  God sent His Son to redeem us … to restore us to true life and to accomplish the good works which God had already prepared for us to do.  He replaced a crown of thorns with a crown of glory and honor! “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ Jesus. And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20) I believe this is why the Apostle John insists we can know that we have eternal life.  This is why John confirms that God hears our prayers.  And if God hears us … we know that we have what we asked of Him!

Jesus made an astonishing declaration right before He raised Lazarus from the dead:

John 11:38-42 (NIV)

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” He said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Jesus knew that God heard Him … and knew that He would receive what He had asked in prayer.  What a confirmation to us that God hears prayer … and a demonstration to us about the power of prayer!  Yet, the reality we often experience is that we do not receive what we asked of God.  What is the difference?  Does God have selective hearing?  Why is John so confident that God hears our prayers and that we can know that we have what we asked of Him? We pray, and yet, loved ones die of cancer; couples remain childless; children leave the Church; chronic illness continues unabated….  Why does God not answer our prayers the way we want Him to … the way we think He should?

John said God hears us when we ask anything according to His will … not our will.  And that is the challenge for us!  That is the conundrum of prayer and the mystery of faith.  How do we ever truly know the will of God in a specific circumstance or situation?  To be honest, I’m not sure. In Isaiah 55:8-10 we read, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  So we have to understand that issue.  In Deuteronomy 29:29 we read, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

So maybe we should consider that in order to pray and ask according to the will of God the Father, we need to grow in the knowledge of His “revealed” will.  And we can do so through the study of His Word and the life of His Son, Christ Jesus.  Those are things we CAN do if we will take the time to do them….  To me, it follows, that increased wisdom will translate into prayers that resonate the will of God.  And ­when He hear us … we need to “receive” and embrace HIS answer to our prayers.  His answer will be in accordance with His will.  And I believe that we can fully trust that His will is always for our good.  His great love redeemed us.  His great love is for us! (Cf. Romans 8:31) And we have to consider that we may not always see how God works and orchestrates in another person’s life to “work” His will for their good.  In other words, God IS answering the prayers offered up in faith; but He is doing so in His way and on His timetable according to His own purpose and grace. (Cf. Romans 8:28; Philippians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:9-10) I just think we have to realize, and ultimately trust, that God does hear us and does answer us according to His will.  We just need to be attuned to how His will is being revealed….

One last thought or observation on this subject.  And I share this as a challenge to all of us who pray fervently for something in our lives.  Hebrews 5:7 reads, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.  Notice that the Scripture here said Jesus was heard because of His reverent submission.  I believe there is a lesson for us here.  Being heard was predicated upon reverent submission.  If a person does not fear God … if a person does not believe Him … if a person does not submit themselves to the authority of the Creator over their life … I’m not inclined to think that their prayer is going to be heard.  God knows those who truly believe Him and reverence Him.  He knows those who love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Cf. Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37) You cannot fool God and think that He will hear or answer your prayers.

My point is that the key aspect of prayer is ultimately our relationship with God.  Ultimately, His will is for each of us to be in perfect fellowship with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.  And that requires reverent submission! That requires humility … forsaking human pride and confessing our sins … and seeking reconciliation through Christ.  It reminds me of an often-quoted passage and I will end here:

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 

If we want our prayers to be heard, we most certainly must ask according to His will.  And His will is for us is accomplished only through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ:

            Recognition of our sinful nature;

            Repentance for our transgressions;

            Redemption from the power of sin;

            Reconciliation to the Father;

            Relationship with the Father;

            Reverence for the Father

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!