When a Friend Wanders or Walks Away From Christ

One of the most painful experiences a believer can endure is watching believing friends wander (Psalm 119:10) in their theological convictions or obedience to Christ. Even more painful is watching those who once professed Christ walk away (“went out from us,” 1 John 2:19) from the faith altogether because they were never truly believers. How do we, who identify as being in Christ, respond and pray for those who have seemingly drifted away from where they once were spiritually? Whether it be a friend altering their views on sexuality and marriage or a friend outright denying the faith, we all respond in some way but not all of our responses are equally helpful and God-pleasing.

When I hear the news of a friend repositioning within, or even away from, the faith my response is typically one of frustration. Even when it is a person whom I do not personally know I tend to feel betrayed along the lines of, “How could they do this? I thought we were in this together!?” To some degree I think these feelings are legitimate and appropriate. At the same time though I want to move beyond this response of feeling betrayed to a response that is redemptive and inwardly honest. 

Led by Psalm 123

The Scripture which weighs on my mind through this process is Psalm 123. There are two parts which make up Psalm 123 and these parts revolve around the words “eyes” (vv.1-2) and “mercy” (vv.3-4). First, the anonymous Psalmist states that just as the eyes of servants are fixed on their master and the eyes of a maidservant are fixed on her mistress, so are his own eyes fixed on the LORD who is enthroned in the heavens. Second, in a world filled with scorn and contempt the Psalmist prays that he would instead experience and feel God’s mercy. These four verses guide us both in how we think about and pray for others and also how we think about and pray for ourselves. 

For Them

The primary obstacle between those who have wandered or walked away from the LORD and the LORD Himself is spiritual before it is intellectual. Often those who alter their moral or theological commitments voice these changes as stemming from struggling with inadequate answers to lingering questions or a deeper and more enlightened exposition of the Scriptures. While honest questions and searching of the Scriptures may be at play there is always another component at play: the heart. When we talk about our ‘hearts’ we are talking about what we feel, desire, and love. Our hearts are relevant to the issue at hand because we are incapable of thinking thoughts which are uninfluenced by our hearts. 

So, when we pray for those who are in some way far from the LORD our prayer is that the eyes of their hearts would be turned by the LORD to the LORD Himself through faith in Christ. Regardless of whether we are praying for the one who is having a momentary lapse in their faith and is wandering or the one who has walked away due to the fact that they were never truly saved we pray the same – “LORD, turn their eyes to you and you alone.

We also pray that the LORD on high would be merciful to them. The world is a hard place to live especially for those who choose to live in this world far from Christ or without Christ. Even more pressing though is the reality of the possibility of someone spending eternity separated from God. As a result we plead for the mercy of God for our friends. We pray that God would not leave them alone in their distance or isolation from Him. We pray that God in His mercy would either keep them close if they already are His or that He would draw them to Himself if they are not yet His.

For Us

Those of us who are truly in Christ will remain in Christ, safe and secure (1 John 2:19). This truth does not negate the present and continual need for God’s grace and mercy to keep us safe and secure. In Psalm 119:10 we read, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” The Psalmist simultaneously recognizes that he is currently in a good place spiritually speaking and that he needs God to keep him from wandering. Sin is deceitful and is in the business of hardening Christians hearts (Hebrews 3:13). If I (we) are being inwardly honest then we have to humbly take serious the danger before us. We journey as pilgrims with humility recognizing our continual need for God’s grace and mercy to keep us from wandering. 

In Closing

One last word of encouragement is that when a friend wanders or walks away from Christ we must not grow weary in prayer. Our prayers are patient because we are not privy to God’s timetable. His ways are mysterious and our understanding of God-sized things is infinitely ill-equipped. By God’s grace may we be found faithful in our pursuit of those whom God has put in our lives.

Credits

Photo by Lili Popper on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Obadiah 3 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Praying for Government Officials

Coverage for the 2020 presidential election is beginning to heat up. Candidates have declared their intention of running for president, debates are being hosted by national media, and Trump is tweeting. All of this coverage should serve as a reminder that God’s people are called to pray for their leaders. Paul wrote to Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). 

Whether we like our leaders or not, whether we voted for them or not, God’s command is that we pray for them. This begs the question, “what sorts of prayers ought we to be praying for our elected officials?” The following is not an exhaustive list. It is four suggestions to help structure some of your prayers for the leaders God has placed over us. 

Pray that our elected officials would have their eyes opened to see the beauty of the gospel.

Ultimately, we desire political leaders who genuinely fear God and reflect that in their personal and political lives. The first prayer for those in positions of leadership ought to be that they would see their need for Christ and turn to Him in repentance and faith. Our prayer is that God might move in such a way that He would grant to those officials “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Pray that our elected officials act in ways that accord with the justice of God.

God has given government as a common grace. One of the purposes of government is to protect righteousness and to punish wickedness. When done well, the government acts as an extension of God’s justice. Paul wrote, “For he [government] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4). All governments do this very imperfectly, but we ought to pray that our officials would lead in such a way that righteousness is protected and wickedness is punished. 

Pray that our elected officials would be humble, wise, and courageous.

Proverbs 3:7 warns, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” The fear of the Lord is a holy reverence for God flowing from a right understanding of God resulting in submission to God. Therefore, humility, wisdom, and courage are the fruit of a proper fear of God. Our elected officials are humble when they realize that God is creator and they are creation. Our elected officials are wise when they “lean not on their own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Our elected officials are courageous when they realize that there is more at stake than the praise of man. As God’s people, we should be praying to this end.

Pray that our elected officials would protect peace and religious liberty.

Paul’s intention in praying for “kings and all who are in high positions” is “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Paul’s hope was that Christians would be free to live peaceful, quiet, God-glorifying lives. Notice, Paul isn’t lamenting the latest tax hike; he isn’t calling down fire on those who have differing economic ideals. His agenda is fairly simple: let me live at peace, preach, and serve Christ. 

In Closing

Election coverage can get our blood boiling. It can make our nerves a wreck. It can dominate our Facebook feed. However, this year, make it a goal to pray more than criticize, to plead with God more than complain, and to intercede more than condemn.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Timothy 2:1-2 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

Guarding Your Heart from Anxious Worry

What makes your heart anxious? What do you tend to fret about? Sometimes we worry about major issues like a loved one with cancer. Other times, our worries are smaller than a life-threatening illness. Worry can be replaying a conversation over and over again in your head to make sure you didn’t embarrass yourself. It can be the sinking feeling in your stomach as you consider an upcoming meeting. It might look like obsessing over what the boss is going to think when you are late to yet another appointment.

Opportunities abound for our hearts and minds to be consumed with anxious worry. However, God’s agenda for us is to experience the peace associated with prayer, not the turmoil that accompanies worry. In Philippians 4, Paul makes the connection between fervent prayer and a peaceful heart. He wrote, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

The Philippian Christians were confronted with many opportunities to worry. They faced threats and persecutions from their “opponents” (Philippians 1:29-30), and they were concerned about the welfare of Paul and Epaphroditus (Philippians 1:12; 2:26). Paul was imprisoned in Rome and Epaphroditus had fallen deathly ill. Instead of being pleased with their over-concern for his safety, Paul gives them the sweeping prohibition, “be anxious for nothing…”

The same verb translated “be anxious” in Philippians 4 is used positively earlier in the letter where Timothy is said to “show genuine concern” for the church in Philippi (Philippians 2:20). Apparently, the Philippian church had moved from genuine concern to a posture of worry or stress. Paul’s command for them is to cease what they have been continually doing. For Paul, there are areas in which we should express real concern for ourselves and others. However, there is no proper object of obsessive worry. Instead, we ought to bring all things before God in prayer.

How does prayer lead to a peaceful heart?

Hannah was worried. She wanted a child (1 Samuel 1:7-8). She was so overcome by her emotional state, she had stopped eating. Those around her only compounded her suffering. Her husband had taken another wife, presumably because Hannah couldn’t bear him children. On top of this was the relentless bullying and mockery coming from her husband’s other wife.

Hannah had much to worry about. However, she models Philippians 4:6-7 by running to the Lord in prayer. She speaks to the Lord out of her “great anxiety and vexation” (1 Samuel 1:16). She is convinced that God hears, God cares, and God acts. You can read here for a more detailed explanation of Hannah’s theological commitments that led her to pray. This article deals more with the peace Hannah experiences following her prayer.

After pouring out her soul to the Lord, Hannah experiences a peaceful heart. The Scriptures record that following her prayer she “went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad” (1 Samuel‬ ‭1:18‬). Hannah’s swift change is perplexing to us because nothing about her circumstances had changed (yet). When Hannah said “amen” she was still childless, still sharing her husband, still going to be mocked. Yet she had peace.

After bearing her heart to the God who knows all things, who cares for his people, and is powerful enough to act, she can rest. When we begin to believe God’s grace toward us, we can begin trusting him with the outcome of our circumstances or suffering. Peace is not the result of God giving us what we want in prayer, it is a gift he gives his people when they rely on his good plan. One commentator put it succinctly, “The condition for experiencing God’s peace is not that God grants all of our requests but that we have made known all our requests to God with thanksgiving. God’s peace is not the result of the power of our prayers or the effectiveness of our prayers… When we trust God in prayer, God gives to us his peace to guard our hearts and minds against anxious thoughts.”

In Closing

Bobby McFerrin released the hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in the fall of 1988. Often wrongly credited to Bob Marley, who died in 1981, the song is catchy, fun, but overly simplistic in terms of its message. If only it were that easy. Just stop worrying, just be happy. Philippians 4 and Hannah’s example instruct us that peace is a gift from God that he gives his people when they run to the creator of the universe and pour out their hearts before him. This is not a simplistic, one-time occurrence, but a habit we form by continually taking everything to the Lord in prayer. Prayer is not some kind of a magic bullet, but it is one of the means God uses to move us from a posture of worry to one of peace.

G. Walter Hansen, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter to the Philippians (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2009) 293.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Philippians 4:6-7 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Sickness and Suffering: How to Pray

Prayer request time in any church can devolve into a long list of distant relatives (or relatives of relatives) with relatively (pun intended) minor ailments. Though it can make us laugh when we are asked to pray for Aunt Loraine’s cousin’s friend’s colonoscopy, we are often faced with far more serious, and close to home, requests.

My wife recently spent the better part of a week in the hospital with a severe infection. As I sought to pray for her, it got me thinking about how exactly I should pray for those who are sick. The following is not the only four things we can pray for a sick person but can serve as a guide to get us moving in the right direction.

How should we pray for those with some kind of physical illness or weakness?

Appeal to the Lord for healing

Most Bible scholars agree that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12 was some kind of physical ailment. Paul prayed to God multiple times, asking him to take away this thorn in the flesh. Likewise, the Apostle John prays for the health of the recipients of his 3rd letter, “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2).

As part of our prayer for those who are sick, we ought to ask God to grant them healing.

Ask the Lord for sustaining grace so that the sick might suffer well

God, for his own purposes and will, chose not to take away Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Three times Paul asked for it to be removed. Jesus’ answer finally came, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Paul concluded thenTherefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Jesus promised sufficient grace for Paul to endure his physical suffering for the glory of God.

God is faithful and will always grant his children one of the two things: 1) healing or 2) sufficient grace to walk through physical sickness to the glory of God.

Admit that God’s will is superior to ours

On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus pleaded with the Father to spare him from the impending suffering of the cross, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me–nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). It was the will of the Father for Christ to suffer and it brought about immeasurable good. Similarly, If God chooses not to heal, we must trust God’s good and sovereign will. God is so good, wise, and loving that even when we don’t understand, we trust that his plan is the better than ours. Tim Keller says it this way, “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”

Anticipate the suffering-free glories of heaven

As we pray for others we can anticipate a day where we won’t hear words like “cancer” or “death.” Sickness and suffering are both temporary aspects of our broken world. Revelation 21:3-4 remind us, “… ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…” We long for that day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Corinthians 12:7ff and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Tim Keller. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Penguin: New York, 2014) 228.

3 Convictions for a Consistent Prayer Life

Prayer is an area that nearly every Christian has room for greater consistency and discipline. That is actually the easy part to admit. It is more difficult to acknowledge that our lack of prayer flows from wrong thinking about God and ourselves. Our natural bent is towards unbelief and self-sufficiency. These tendencies often keep us from praying.

As we peer into the Word of God we find help for our prayerlessness in the opening pages of 1 Samuel. The book begins with a woman weeping in Shiloh. Her name is Hannah, and she teaches us much about prayer. A close inspection of Hannah’s story points us ultimately to God’s faithfulness and demonstrates that his character fuels our prayers. If Hannah were our instructor in the school of prayer, I believe she would give us 3 necessary convictions for a consistent prayer life.

1. Recognize Your Dependence

One conviction we must develop is a deep recognition of our dependence on God and his grace. We will never consistently pray without a settled understanding that we, as sinful creatures, need the Lord. I once heard a preacher say that a Christian’s prayerlessness is his/her declaration of independence from God. When we fail to pray regularly, we are demonstrating a reliance on self that is antithetical to the Scriptures. So, instead of pretending like we have it all together, we begin by admitting that we are actually quite needy.

We see this demonstrated in the life of Hannah. Upon first meeting her, we learn that she is absolutely devastated by her inability to conceive a child. On top of that, her husband makes his best case for “the boneheaded move of the year award” when he asks her, “…why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8 ESV). [A word of wisdom to husbands reading this, if you come across your wife crying, the answer is never to remind her how blessed she is to have you in her life]. Worst than the dumb question, Hannah’s husband has taken another wife, Peninnah, who has been able to bear children. Peninnah is relentless in her mocking and bullying of Hannah (see 1 Samuel 1:6-7).

All of this culminates in Hannah being broken. Her circumstances, family, and friends have all failed to provide hope. She is in such anguish that she has stopped eating. In her pain, she understands that there is only one place she can run. And run she does, straight to the throne of grace.

2. Believe God Cares

It is not enough to know we need God, we must believe that he cares. We need to know that our cries are heard by a tender and loving Father. God, by sheer grace, invites us to pour out our fears, our failings, our desires, and our griefs to him. It doesn’t make him nervous or embarrassed. He delights in hearing from his children.

Hannah is found at the Temple “pouring out her soul out before the Lord” because she believes that God is the type of God that cares for his children (1 Samuel 1:15). Dale Ralph Davis makes the connection between her desperate prayer and her belief that God cares, “[Hannah] addresses Yahweh of hosts, cosmic ruler, sovereign of every and all power, and assumes that the broken heart of a relatively obscure woman in the hill country of Ephraim matters to him.”

Hannah is so eccentric in her prayer that the priest on duty assumes that she is drunk (1 Samuel 1:14). While the priest is guessing about Hannah’s state of mind, the Lord of the universe has leaned in to hear her plea.

3. Trust God’s Sovereignty

God not only cares, but he is also sovereign, meaning he can and will bring about that which he wills. He is powerful enough to answer any request. He can save the person you’ve nearly given up praying for. He can deliver your child from the deepest bondage to sin. He can restore broken relationships. He can comfort in the deepest affliction.

We see Hannah’s trust in God’s sovereignty in the way she addresses him. She calls him “Lord (Yahweh) of Hosts,” a title signifying his rule over the entire universe. He is the sovereign Lord who commands all the armies of heaven. There is seemingly no doubt in Hannah’s mind that the one who “closed her womb’ (1:5) is the one powerful enough to reverse her fortunes. Hannah’s trust in the sovereignty of God doesn’t lead her to a “ho-hum why should I pray if God is sovereign?” sort of attitude. Instead, it was her understanding of the sovereignty of God that drove her to pray.

Conclusion

No schedule, no app, no amount of alarms can create in us a desire to pray. After all, Hannah didn’t run to the Lord because she realized she hadn’t done her daily quiet time. She came out of a clear understanding that she needed him to act, a firm belief that he cared to listen, and a settled trust that he was powerful enough to deliver her. Likewise, let us rest in these truths and find in ourselves a growing desire to pour our souls out before the Lord.

Credits

Photo by Hamish Clark on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Proverbs 9:10 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Dale Ralph Davis, I Samuel: Looking on the Heart (Christian Focus: Ross-Shire, Scotland, 1988) 18.

Praying for God’s Glory Is Not Easy

We’ve all had those times when we’ve heard someone pray and thought to ourselves, “Geeze…I wish I prayed like that.” I imagine the disciples felt this emotion when they heard Jesus pray His prayer in John 17.

For many of us, when we think of Jesus and prayer our minds go to Luke 11:2-4 (“Father, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come […]”) where Jesus teaches in three short verses the content that should shape our prayers. If Luke 11 is the Reader’s Digest lesson on prayer then John 17 is Jesus’ unabridged, Magnum Opus. It is 26 theologically rich verses which are unparalleled in their ability to instruct us how to pray. Oddly enough, Jesus doesn’t do any instructing in this prayer. We receive this instruction as flies on the wall catching a glimpse of what a God-honoring prayer sounds like. As we look at Jesus’ prayer we notice it prioritizes God’s glory and that praying for God’s glory may be a bit more difficult than we envision.

Praying for the Glory of God can be Costly

In John 17:1 Jesus has a unique way of praying for God’s glory. He prays that he himself would be glorified (“glorify your Son”) so that God the Father may be glorified (“that the Son may glorify you”). On the surface, this sounds a bit self-centered of Jesus. After all, who goes around praying for their own glory? Well, Jesus’ prayer isn’t so simple. As this prayer comes to fruition in the next several chapters we realize that the Father glorifying the Son happens through Jesus being betrayed, beaten, and crucified for our sins (as well as subsequently being resurrected and ascending into Heaven). Jesus is moved to pray for the glory of God even when He knows it comes at great personal cost.

Praying for the glory of God is doable when we suppose it will not cost us too much or unsettle our version of comfortable. Sometimes though, God, for the sake of His glory, pushes us past the boundaries of our own comfort by taking our children to the mission field or by bringing about hard-to-accept consequences for sin. Understandably, we struggle with praying for the glory of God because the glory of God can be both kind and terrifying. That being said, it is always for the good of those of us in Christ because it is transforming us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-30).

Praying for the Glory of God is Not Passive

Sometimes we assume that our work concludes with “Amen” when praying for the glory of God. However, we are not moviegoers waiting for the show of God’s glory to start. We participate in God’s good plan in displaying His glory. As we walk through John 17 we watch the verbs unfold and find that Jesus “glorified” the Father “having accomplished the work” the Father gave Him to do (v.4). Further, Jesus “manifested” (v.6) the Father’s name to people by “[giving] them the words” given to Him by the Father (v.8). Jesus doesn’t take a backseat and He doesn’t take over. He simply takes action by being obedient to the work God gave Him to do.

Again, the glory of God in prayer has a way of uncomfortably stretching us. Becoming a participant in the glory of God recognizes that we are His instruments. It is for the glory of God that we are called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and show “hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9). God’s work oftentimes includes our work.

God will be Glorified

Sometimes, we need reminding that God always accomplishes His glory. This doesn’t make us complacent or indifferent. Instead, it fastens our hearts to the solemn reality that God’s glory is in God’s hands, according to God’s plan. The ones whom Jesus was given to preach to (v.2), do indeed keep (v.6), receive (v.8), and believe (v.8) God’s Word. In other words, what happens is exactly what the Father intended to happen. Like Paul, we recognize our part as instruments in God’s hands but we never forget that although some of us may plant and some of us may water it is God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

I love this truth because it reorients my thoughts to see things like God sees things. God calls me to speak and live out the Gospel. He has not given me the ability, or responsibility, to awaken dead hearts or rid human hearts of indwelling sin. These things are the things of the Holy Spirit as He works through the living and abiding Word of God (1 Peter 1:23).

I can lay my head to rest at night because of the truth that God’s Word always accomplishes exactly what God has intended it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11).

In Closing

Praying for the glory of God may be costly and it will likely require participation on your part but there are no better words to occupy the space of your prayers. Every prayer uttered for the glory of God is a surrender to infinite wisdom and the sovereign plan of the Father who is preparing you for eternity. All that God calls you to be and do is for your joy both now and forever (John 15:11; 17:13). It is always worth it to pray for God’s glory, even when the answer to your prayer pushes you beyond the boundaries of your own comfort and leisure.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Obadiah 3 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Siim Lukka on Unsplash