Writing this post is very therapeutic for me. I have to vent my frustration. In the past week I received yet another email full of drivel claiming to be Christian.
It was a call to prayer given by another so-called prophet who, of course, had a vision that 2016 is the year of God’s Restoration and Deliverance.
(I thought Hebrews 3:7 & 13 say “Today” is the day for God’s restoration and deliverance whatever the year?)
Anyway, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to stand more firmly for the truth of the gospel by attempting to obey the Apostle Paul’s command in Titus 1:9, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also torebuke those who contradict it.” Paul also commanded Timothy: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke(when you see false doctrine or ungodly living), and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
We pray about the war and genocide in the Middle East.
We pray for Christians, our brother and sisters, who are suffering and being persecuted; whose loved ones have been killed; whose children have been murdered; who find themselves in war and refugee camps, our brothers and sisters: we pray that you would strengthen their faith, remind them of your fatherly love and care, and that you use even the most terrible circumstances for good. Please provide for them physically, spiritually and emotionally. Please bring an end to the turmoil and violence.
We pray for Muslims and those of other faiths that have been affected by the violence and hatred. Oh, Sovereign Lord, be pleased to use this massive evil and upheaval to bring many to faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ. Please grant Christian people, especially in surrounding countries, a great love for their fellow human beings and deep desire to demonstrate the love of Christ in very practical ways. May we never disregard the stranger and alien and orphan and widow in need.
We pray for the members of DAESH/ISIS. Lord, please fill them with a realisation of the evilness and terribleness of their deeds. Please bring them to repentance and faith in Christ. Lord, if this is not your good will, be pleased to bring about swift justice upon them. We remember that one day all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account for every deed. Thank you that no one will escape your justice.
We pray these things in the precious and powerful name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Commander of the armies of heaven.
Helpful articles on The Gospel Coalition website on ISIS here and here.
Being a pastor can be a really tough job. We love the church and feel honoured to teach God’s word. But we go through our spiritual highs and lows. We feel discouraged at times. We often feel that our sermons are boring and having no impact. We are tempted to focus just on the wrong in the church and forget what’s right. Sometimes we just have bad days or bad weeks. Many times we are discouraged by our own sinfulness.
This December I had the privilege of reading some of John Calvin’s sermons on the book of Ephesians. I felt as if I was re-converted after every sermon. I loved Calvin’s (correct) emphasis on the utter hopelessness of man and the extreme, deep grace of God in drawing us out of the pit of hell and giving us new life. I was challenged by Calvin’s regular reminders to ask God to make me perceive my sins more, to throw myself once again on the mercy of Christ, to hate my sin more, and to aim more at holiness out of an abiding sense of profound gratitude to a good, majestic God.
Jesus said that our heart will follow our treasure. In other words, our bank statements will show our priorities. In a similar way, our prayers follow our priorities. What do you pray for? Do you find yourself praying a lot about health, wealth and prosperity? Those are obviously the things you consider the most important.
What should we praying for? Often we struggle in our prayer time because we are not really sure about what we ought to be praying. Sometimes our church prayer meeting can be the most depressing meetings because we pray for the wrong things, or at least we don’t pray for the best things.
A helpful practise is praying the prayers found in the Bible. In Matthew 6:9-15 we have Jesus’ own example of prayer that should serve as our guideline. Jesus said we should pray like this (v9):
The Bible teaches that God is sovereign and providentially orchestrates all things. In the Old Testament even the unbelieving king Cyrus of the Persian Empire is called “God’s servant”, because he, unknowingly, carries out God’s purposes. In the Bible God is always pictured as in control of all things, even natural disasters, the throw of a dice and the feeding of birds. Here is the question: if all things happen according to God will, why should we pray (or do anything)?
William Carey, the famous missionary to India, was at a meeting of ministers in England to raise money for his missionary trip to India. One older minister stood up and rebuked Carey. “Sit down, young man”, he said, “if God wants to save the heathen in India he will do it without your help or mine.”
Does the sovereignty of God, like this older minister supposed, excuse us from prayer and missionary endeavour? In answering this question, we must ask two more questions:
On Saturday morning we ended our church’s mission’s month with a seminar presented by Bishop Frank Retief. One of the topics covered was, “Why pray for missions?” In introducing his subject, Frank made the point that only Christians can pray. I’m assuming that we all understand pray to mean: speaking to God. If there is only One True God, only prayer directed to him will be heard and answered.
A lot is said about power these days. Power evangelism. “Powerful” church services. There is even a power-Bible. Is praying for power wrong for Christians? Does it conjure up images of witches and warlocks mixing potions and reciting spells, while requesting power from some evil, occultic being? Is prayer for power legitimate and biblical?
A key figure in the Xhosa tradition is the imbongi or praise singer. The praise singers traditionally live close to the chief’s “great place” (the cultural and political focus of his activity); they accompany the chief on important occasions – a praise singer preceded Nelson Mandela at his Presidential inauguration in 1994. The praise songs generally give tribute to and acclaim to the actions and adventures of chiefs and ancestors. The apostle Paul ended his prayer in Ephesians chapter one with a kind of praise-song.
Ephesians ch. 1 has a great prayer for Christians in Africa, especially considering our backdrop of African Traditional Religions with their strong belief in spirits, spiritual powers and the influence of the ancestors.
Thankful for your faith
(15) For this reason I also having heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and the love towards all the saints, (16) I never cease giving thanks for you. (Ephesians 1:15-16)
Paul began his prayer by thanking God for his readers – the Christians in Ephesus. In Ephesus it was not unusual for families to offer public thanks to the Greek goddess Artemis, such as dedications inscribed in stone. In 1:15-23 Paul wanted to publicly thank his God. The reason Paul thanked God refers back to 1:3-14, especially 1:13-14, where the eulogy was applied to Gentile believers who were now in Christ and on an equal footing with Jewish believers. Paul had good reason to thank God for his work in the believers’ lives, especially because the Ephesians had heard and believed the gospel and were sealed with the Holy Spirit. The phrase “having heard of your faith” explains why Paul was giving thanks and. The brevity of this thanksgiving report may give credence to the theory that this was a circular letter intended to various home churches. It should be remembered that Paul had not been in Ephesus for a few years and there were most likely many new converts whom he did not know personally. The recipients’ faith was “in the Lord Jesus”. Their faith was originally in Artemis, but now it was in the Lord Jesus.