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Monday, May 30, 2016

The Person Who Prays - Solitary Prayer (part 3)

Introduction

Over the last four weeks, we have learned prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening. We have learned how to approach God with our heart, mind, and soul – recognize God is to be revered, God’s mercy, God exists, God’s power, God’s faithfulness, God’s righteousness, and God is eternal and omnipotent so keep focused on Him. The final part of approaching God taught our prayers should give testimony of God. The Bible has taught us how to pray to God – petitioning for self, others, enemies, adoration, thanksgiving, and confession/repentance. Besides this, we started learning about the attributes, attitudes, and actions of an effective person of prayer. Two of these are righteous, which comes from God, and belief God has the power to do what is necessary to change things and answer prayers.
Today we will learn one more thing the Bible teaches about the person who prays. The person who prays, prays in solitude.  Why is this important? Why does it not conflict with other Bible passages?


Pray in Solitude

The third most common teaching in the Bible regarding the attributes, actions, or attitudes of the person who prays - the pray-er - regards where physically to pray. Five times in the New Testament, the disciples recorded Jesus teaching or modeling prayer in solitude. With Matthew 6:6 and 14:23, and Luke 5:16, 6:12, & 9:28, Jesus taught His disciples solitude is necessary in praying. Mark and John each record the same thing as Matthew 14:23.
In Matthew 6, Jesus taught the disciples whatever they did because of their belief in Him must not be done to receive attention and praise from men, but to be noticed by the Father. Whether the disciples gave help to the poor or prayed, they should only seek recognition from God. In Matthew 6:6, Jesus said to them, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” [NASB] He spoke against the Pharisees’ method of prayer that sought the attention and praise of people. Jesus contrasted it with the purpose of true prayer - to be in the presence of God, communing with Him, petitioning Him, seeking His will, and listening to Him. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites because they sought the approval of man and not God. They were not as righteous as they pretended to be. Jesus told the disciples not to stand in high traffic places praying just to be seen by people. Instead, He said, go to a quiet, solitary place – an inner room or closet - since the reason of praying is to draw closer to God. Solitary prayer keeps people focused on God and their relationship with Him. It keeps the person who prays from seeking self-centeredness.
In Matthew 14:23, Matthew recorded after feeding the 5000 men, plus women and children, Jesus went up the mountain to a solitary place to pray. It says, “He was there alone.” When reading this chapter, we understand Jesus and His disciples fed the people in the evening, which was about 6pm before night fell.  After the feeding, Jesus sent His disciples away from the crowd, probably to give them a respite. While He prayed, a storm blew up and battered the boat. Verse 25 says, “And in the fourth watch of the night, He (Jesus) came to them walking on the sea.” The fourth watch was a Roman term of time for 3am-6am. Understanding this, we realize Jesus prayed alone for almost twelve hours. Mark 6:46 and John 6:15 record this for us, too. He took time to be with and commune with the Father and gained rest for His body. Solitary time in prayer provided rest for Jesus and rejuvenated His Spirit from communion with His Father.
Luke 5:16 says after Jesus healed the man of leprosy, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” After times of ministry, Jesus knew His physical body needed rest. He recognized, too, that He needed to commune with the Father. His relationship with the Father was close. Just as we want to stay close to our parents and other family members by being with and talking to them, Jesus wanted closeness with His Father. Solitary prayer makes it easier to commune with the Father without distractions. It provides rest for the body, too.
In Luke 6:12 we read Jesus went to the mountain to pray. He was alone, we note, because He called His disciples to Him in verse 13. Why was Jesus praying in solitude? How long did He pray? This verse tells us Jesus prayed all night, between 9 and 12 hours. Before this verse, we read Jesus healed a man’s hand. The Pharisees and Levitical scribes were present and challenged Him since He healed on the Sabbath. Jesus prayed to commune with the Father, to receive strength from Him, and to get away from disbelieving, challenging people. He prayed to prepare for the next days when He chose His twelve disciples and teach His greatest sermon – the Sermon on the Mount. Solitary prayer provides peace from daily life, challenges, and the neediness of people. It provides rest for the body and spiritual rejuvenation.
Luke 9:28 says, “Some eight days after these saying, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.” [NASB] Before this record, Luke said Jesus fed the 5000 people, questioned His disciples, told them not to reveal yet who He is, and taught them about being His disciples – what it requires. Jesus had been busy mentally, spiritually, and physically. He interfaced with and met the needs of thousands of people. He was preparing to teach His disciples more and heal a demon-possessed boy. Jesus needed rest for His body. He needed strength. Jesus wanted to be with His Father. He prepared for the coming days when strength of mind and body would be necessary. The tired disciples fell asleep while Jesus prayed. Solitary prayer opens the door for the Father to talk to us in ways that will enlighten and strengthen us for the days ahead. It gives rest for the tired body and mind. Solitary prayer brings us into the presence of God to receive from His well strength, nourishment, and rejuvenation. It allows us to be filled with God’s words and goodness so we can walk strong with Him in the future.
Notice Jesus did not always go to prayer by Himself. At times He took people dear to Him to His place of prayer. He modeled prayer for them and allowed them a glimpse of the Father during His own times of prayer.

Relevance and Conclusion

Solitariness solely for isolation was not what Jesus taught. He taught this so people understood the intent of the pray-er’s heart was what God listened to and saw. That intent, be it righteousness or showmanship, determined if God would listen to and answer prayer. Jesus taught this lesson so people understood a pray-er must get away from distractions to commune truly with the Father. A quiet place allows a person to focus on God so the pray-er can approach God with reverence. That person can have an honest conversation with Him that enables two-way communication. This private conversation gives the pray-er solitude so he or she is not swayed to push his or her sins, for which confession should be made, under the rug. Solitude allows focus, genuine communication, sincere repentance and confession, strengthening for the days to come, and rest from the days just passed. It turns the focus back to God and helps us remember He is our strength and the purpose for our life.
When you pray, do you go to a quiet place alone? Do you seek to meet with and commune with God? Do you have a genuine two-way conversation with Him? Or, do you pray so others can see your “religiosity” so they will know of your “holiness.” Do you seek the praise of people or of God? Solitary prayer is given to us as a gift from God to get us away from the demands on our time, attention, emotions, body, and spirit. It allows us to commune genuinely with God, hear His voice, and be strengthened and nourished. It prepares is for the coming days so we walk in God’s will and with His strength. Solitary is not the only way Jesus taught us to pray, but it has its benefits for our whole being – mind, heart, body, and soul.

When did you last truly seek God in solitude and without pretense?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Since...


Romans 3:23 begins with the word “since” – “Since all have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God, which God bestows.”  [AMP] This takes us to the previous verse. Verse 22 gives us the hope of God.

We all sin. Some people lie. Others steal or murder. Still others cheat themselves, other people, or God. Some people choose homosexual relationships while others beat their spouse. Some sins are more visible and people consider them worse sins.

We must realize no sin and sinner is worse than any other. We must realize God recognizes we are all sinners. The “since” of verse 23 leads us back to the previous two verses. God gives us hope as Paul stated it in Romans 3:21-22.
“Now the righteousness of God has been clearly revealed apart from the Law, though it I confirmed by the Law and the Prophets. This righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe. There is no distinction.” [AMP]
All people sin and are sinners. No one is righteous because of his or her sin. All sins are equal to God; they are sin and separate us from Him. Period. Only by God’s forgiveness of us of our sins can we be made righteous. Jesus Christ died our death penalty for our sins so we can have God’s forgiveness of our sins.

All sins are the same; they separate us from Holy God.

Accept God’s righteousness through Jesus Christ.
Believe Jesus Christ is God’s Son and your Savior.
Confess your sins to God and be made righteous.
Don’t delay.
Enter God’s presence and live eternally with Him.

Oh God, we ask for Your mercy and forgiveness. Make us clean so we can be in Your presence.




Monday, May 23, 2016

The Person Who Prays - Belief in Power of God (part 2)

Introduction

In the last Bible study, we learned God chooses to hear, listen, and answer the prayers of a righteous person. Righteousness comes from God because of absolute faith in God, like Abraham, Moses, Noah, and Job displayed in their lives. It is an unwavering faith in God that acts upon what God has said to be obedient to His commands. Righteousness also comes from God’s mercy and forgiveness of our sins through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross to die the death penalty for all humankind. A person receives righteousness from God when he or she acknowledges Jesus is the Son of God, believes He lived and died to save him or her from sin, and confesses with contrition his or her sins to God. Righteousness cannot come from anything we do. Because God is righteous and defines righteousness, it can only come from Him.

As you noticed, righteousness requires belief in God and in Jesus Christ as the saving sacrifice for our sins, our willful disobedience to God and His laws. Belief is the next aspect of the person who prays we will study.

Belief

Belief in God is the attribute second most spoken of by the Bible in a person who prays. The Bible writers most often stated it as “having faith in God.” In this category, five Bible verses speak on “prayer” and two teach about the verbs “to pray” and “to ask.”

In Matthew 17:19-21 Jesus confronted the disciples who were unable to cast a demon out of a young boy. He rebuked them for their little faith. When the disciples asked Jesus why they could not drive the evil spirits out, Jesus replied, “Because of the littleness of your faith.” Their belief in the power of God was small. Jesus told them even a faith as small as a mustard seed could make mountains move. Nothing would be impossible when they prayed and fasted with and for this kind of faith. The kind of faith Jesus spoke of in this passage comes from the Greek word pistis and means a conviction of the truth of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and their power to bring about that for which they pray and believe. This faith has implicit trust and confidence in God.


Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24 record Jesus speaking further on this. Jesus said belief brings receiving that for which you ask in prayer if you ask without doubting. God grants the prayers of the person who believes when he or she asks from Him. Prayer is tied to faith without doubt. A person who prays, but without faith, has no communion with God, does not know His will, has a heart unchanged by His Holy Spirit, and therefore does not pray in conjunction with God’s purposes. This type of prayer will not effect change in the person who prayed or the situation for which the person prayed. Prayer requires righteousness of the pray-er and belief by the pray-er in the triune Godhead.

Paul had great confidence in the faith and prayers of the Philippian Christians. In Philippians 1:19, he stated his deliverance from imprisonment would occur through their prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Paul believed in the power of the prayers of believers. He rejoiced expecting God to work in his situation and saw already at the time God’s hand in his imprisonment because men of the praetorian guard and others in prison were able to hear the Gospel. Christ was proclaimed even while Paul remained in prison.

Later in this letter to the Philippians, Paul taught the believers in Philippi more about prayer. In Philippians 4:6-7, he said, “Be anxious for nothing, 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 comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul trusted in the power of prayer by believers. Even in the midst of his own personal misfortune, he taught the Philippians not to be anxious, but give everything in their hearts and minds over to God in prayer and supplication. Paul told them to expect answer - do not doubt - and begin thanking God for what He will do in answer to their prayers. He told the Philippians to trust in God and His love that He would hear and answer them so that they would have the peace of God in their hearts and minds even though having peace during their times of trial made no human sense. For Paul, effective prayers came from faith and trust in God, without anxiety, that expected God to hear and answer and caused a peace and eruption of thanksgiving to flow forth from the person who prays. Righteousness and belief are paramount for Paul in his teachings about prayer and in his personal life of prayer.

James agreed with Paul’s teaching on prayer. In James 5:15, he stated, “The prayer offered in faith will restore the sick.” In this part of his letter, James spoke about the elders of the church going to the sick person, praying over him or her, and anointing him or her with oil in the name of the Lord. The elder did not make the sick person well, neither did the oil. Rather, the faith of the praying person in the power of Jesus Christ to heal the sick brought His power to prevail in the sick person’s body to make him or her well. The power of Jesus Christ made the person well. The faith/belief that Jesus could and willed the health of the person brought it to pass in that situation.

John spoke of this same required belief by a child of God. He recorded in John 16:26-27 Jesus said, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.” Jesus told His disciples because of their love of Him that came from their belief and trust in Him and His saving power, God the Father loves them. Jesus will not have to beseech the Father to act for His disciples because the Father will, out of His love for them and because of their love for Jesus, answer their prayers – give them that for which they ask. Love acted out toward Jesus Christ because of belief and trust in Him results in communion with and union with God the Father whose desire is to care for and answer the prayers and requests of His children. The believer’s faith Jesus Christ and His power caused the faith of the praying person to be effective in prayer because of God’s love for him or her.

    Each of these men spoke of belief in terms of the Greek word pisteuo. Pisteuo means to think to be true, to be persuaded and place confidence in God and Jesus Christ because of a conviction and trust in the triune God. That trust aids in obtaining what is needed or prayed for, and in receiving salvation.

Relevance and Conclusion

Faith is void without the person or thing in which a person trusts having power to effect anything in the life of the person who believes. The Canaanites and later the Israelites placed their faith in false gods such as Baal, Asherah, and Molech and received no power from these gods to aid them in their lives. Today people who trust and put their faith in things or beings other than Jesus Christ will not receive blessings or help in their lives. If a person places all his or her faith in him or herself to provide all necessary things for life, that person is only human and cannot stop bad things from happening or give life after death. That person cannot provide forgiveness for sin or give eternal life. That person is just that, a created human being. Only the Creator of humankind and all things can give eternal life, cause help to arrive for every situation, heal wounds, forgive the judgment due for sins, and love people even though their sins make them unlovable. Only belief in the One true God can cause our prayers to be effective by God answering them in His power. For prayer to be effective, the person who prays must believe in God and must be made right before Him, made righteous by God's forgiveness of sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for sins.

Today we each must decide what or who we are placing as gods in our lives. We must recognize on whom or what we place our trust and determine for ourselves if that person or thing is almighty, all-knowing, and able to forgive us our sins and love us to and through eternity.

When you look at yourself and your life, in whom do you place your ultimate trust for your life?
God is the only One who has the power to forgive your sins.
He can and will give you perfect peace because of His love for you and His power.
With Him you can walk in strength and trust knowing you have a hope for the future.
Will you lay aside your false gods - those things upon which you relied instead of God?
Will you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and believe only in God?



Thursday, May 19, 2016

Enter His Sanctuary


2But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling; my steps had almost slipped. 
3 For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Psalm 73)


How many of us can relate to what the psalmist said here? Does it appear the wicked continue to have good things, get fat, and receive no punishment for their rebellion against God? Does it appear your following God’s ways brings no positive benefit to your life?

The psalmist in this psalm speaks to the heart of each child of God who strives to obey God and follow Him alone. The people who do not follow Jesus Christ get wealthier and have no remorse for the way they attained their wealth. They have privilege and receive rewards now for their hard work and we appear to struggle and slough through days without recognition or reward for obedience.

This situation may make you bitter or frustrated as it did the psalmist (vs. 21). This bitterness can make you senseless and ignorant to the truth of God, like a beast who rants and rampages only wanting what it wants (vs. 22). This situation may make you want to give up and enjoy a life like the rebellious people.

Before you take that drastic step, do what the psalmist did; enter the sanctuary of God (vs. 17) and stay continually with Him (vs. 23). That sanctuary can be the physical place where you worship God with a family of believers. It can be the closet where you commune with God in quiet. The sanctuary can be wherever you worship the Lord in prayer, song, and Bible reading. The important thing is to enter the sanctuary of God when you feel down. Go to Him and speak your heart to Him.

When the psalmist with overwhelmed feelings of bitterness went into God’s sanctuary, he received balm and reminders for his heart, mind, and soul. What did he receive?

Ø  God’s counsel to calm and guide him (vs. 24)
Ø  Honor and glory from God because of continuing to follow Him (vs. 24)
Ø  Assurance he had the best on earth and in heaven, the Lord God (vs 25)
Ø  Reminders he wanted nothing on earth anyway (unlike the wicked rich) (vs. 25)
Ø  God’s strength to fortify his heart and life forever (vs 26)
Ø  God’s reminder the wicked will perish eternally because of their unfaithfulness to Him (vs. 27)

Remembering and knowing God continued to care for and guide him and would reward him with honor, calm, and eternal life for his faithfulness calmed the embittered psalmist. His realization that he had the best already with the LORD God as his God - a God who is stronger than any created thing, is a fortress in times of trouble, and the giver of eternal life - reminded him he could trust in the Lord.

Does your life seem like it is sinking in quicksand with no rescue in sight? Remember, if you are a Christian, God is your source of strength and power. He is your refuge. From Him you will receive honor and reward. He gives judgment and eternal punishment to the wicked in His time.  

You can have hope today remembering and knowing as a child of God, He will never leave you or forsake you. You can stand strong remembering what Paul wrote in Romans 8:31, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” The answer is no one because God’s might is greater than anything the wicked one can throw against us.

Draw near to God.
Enter His sanctuary.
Receive His counsel, honor, and peace.




Friday, May 13, 2016

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Monday, May 9, 2016

The Person Who Prays - Righteousness (part 1)

Introduction

With the last two weeks’ Bible studies, What is it and How do We approach God and How Should We Pray to God, a multi-part series on the Bible’s teaching on prayer and the pray-er began. In the New American Standard translation of the Bible, over 132 verses speak on the pray-er and on praying, calling out, supplicating, asking, and requesting from God. The first parts of this study on prayer and the pray-er covered three areas:

·         What is prayer?
·         How do we pray?
·          How should we approach God?
This third part of the pray-er/praying Bible study series will cover what the Bible teaches on the pray-er - the person who prays.

      If we can grasp the magnitude of prayer that prayer is not just a conduit to God’s help or a wish list, but a way of growing to know God better - of being in relationship with Him - then we will understand the importance of prayer in our lives. We may start our Christian life praying as a Christian discipline. Over time and with deeper devotions, prayer becomes an everyday desire to be with the Lord. Prayer is a way to stay in a continual and growing relationship with God. By it, we grow more Christlike, too.

What is expected of the Pray-er

Many people think prayer is acceptable to God from anyone. We do not realize since prayer is part of the foundation of our relationship with God that specific requirements of the pray-er are necessary for God to be willing to listen to prayers. The Bible mentions twenty-nine attributes, actions, and attitudes necessary of the pray-er. These group into eleven categories of attributes, actions, and attitudes of a person from whom God will listen to and answer prayer. (Note, I did not say “can” listen to, but to whom God chooses to listen.) I will strive to note these in descending order based on the number of times mentioned in the Bible though no one of them is more or less important in the pray-er than any other. As a quick reference, these categories break out this way – righteousness, belief, praying in solitude, watchfulness and alertness, ceaseless prayer, fervency and enthusiasm, approach of God, self-control, love of people, acknowledge and love of Jesus, and praying in agreement. For this third part of the Bible studies on prayer, we will study the first category – righteousness.

Righteousness.  

When God will hear and answer prayer

One of the famous righteous men of the Old Testament known was Job. Even though he endured testing by Satan that God permitted, Job never denied the Lord nor gave up on Him. He believed God listened to and answered his prayers. In the midst of going through the trials Satan aimed toward Job, Job prayed to God. In Job 16:17-19, he expressed that though his prayer was pure, and it appeared he would sink in the darkness, he had a faithful and listening witness in heaven. Job used the word zak as the word we translate into “pure.” Zak means pure, clean, and righteous. Job recognized the person praying needed to be pure and righteous because only a pure/righteous person could pray a pure prayer. In Job 42:8 God recognized Job’s prayers as acceptable and righteous as opposed to those of his friends because he proved himself faithful to God. In this verse, God spoke to Eliphaz (Job’s neighbor). He told Eliphaz twice that Job was His servant, His child because of righteousness. God recognized and pointed out Job’s righteousness compared to Eliphaz’s lack of righteousness. He told Eliphaz what made him unrighteous in His sight – speaking against Him. Job’s faithfulness showed his righteousness and reflected he prayed pure and righteous prayers. God accepted and listened to Job’s prayers because of his righteousness.

      Besides these two verses on Job, eleven other verses in the Bible record God hears and answers the prayers of the person who is righteous. Righteousness comes from God to His believers. He gives righteousness through belief in Him and forgiveness of a believer’s sins when that person confesses and repents of his or her sin. God continues to give righteousness each day to a believer when that person chooses to live by the power of the Holy Spirit He put within the person on his or her day of saving belief in Jesus Christ. For Abraham, Moses, Job, Enoch, Elijah, and others of the Old Testament, their saving faith came when they believed God and He counted it as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Job 1:8, Hebrews 11).

      In these passages, the writers of the Scripture used the words “righteous” and “upright.” Righteousness in Genesis 15:6 comes from the Hebrew word tsedaqah meaning righteous as a ruler, as God, and ethically, and justified and saved by God. God’s gave them righteousness through His justification and salvation of each of them and every believer. For these men, their righteousness came through great faith in God, which showed in their obedience to Him and His laws. In Job, the word “upright” is used to refer to Job. “Upright” comes from the Hebrew word yashar. It means right, correct, straight, pleasing to God, righteous, and proper. This term comes from the actions of obedience to God and His laws that came out of faith in Yahweh God. In the Hebrews 11 passage, the writer used the Hebrew word dikaios for the English word righteous. Dikaios means righteous, observes divine laws, virtuous, innocent, guiltless, and acting according to God’s will. Notice each of these terms that speak of righteousness are defined in alignment with God’s characteristic of righteousness. When a person is righteous as God is righteous, given to him or her by God, then that person is right with God and God says He will hear and answer his or her prayers.

      Because the attribute of righteousness is important in the person who prays, I will give the verse and references concerning righteousness and the pray-er for your reflection. Consider the following verses:

Ø  Psalms 17:1 – “Hear a just cause, O LORD, give heed to my cry; Give ear to my prayer, which is not from deceitful lips.” Remember, the person from whom God hears and answers prayer is righteous because He made the person righteous by His power and the person’s faith in Him. The person, though sinful, returns and repents to God each of his or her sins and God makes him or her clean and righteous each time. Here David begged God to hear his request and noted he was not asking for it for his own purposes, but because of God’s will. When we pray, our spirit joins with God’s Spirit and we recognize the will of God.

Ø  Psalm 19:14 – “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” The word “acceptable” comes from the Hebrew word ratsown, which means pleasure, delight, favor, and acceptable. When we pray according to God’s will – for His purposes and glory – the prayer is acceptable to Him.

Ø  Proverbs 15:29 – “The LORD is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.Here “righteous” comes from the Hebrew adjective tsaddiyq, which means just, lawful, and righteous as justified and vindicated by God. It expresses the person is righteous because of God’s action toward and for him or her. Remember, vindicate means to clear of blame or suspicion; to show or prove to be right, reasonable, or justified. God hears the prayers of the people whom He made righteous.

Ø  Isaiah 56:1 – “This says the LORD, ‘Preserve justice and do righteousness for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed.” The “righteousness” spoken of by God here comes from the Hebrew noun tsedaqah. This same word God used about Abraham in Genesis 15:6. God commanded the people to do right according to Him and His laws, and by the righteousness He put in them because His salvation, the Messiah, was soon to come. Here, through Isaiah, God foretold of the Messiah He would send among them. He commanded them to obey Him and His laws.

Ø  Acts 10:1-2– “Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout (godly, pious, like God he was righteous in the presence of God) man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.” Cornelius revered and was in awe of God; he feared Him and was devout, showing his faithfulness to God by obeying Him though he was not an Israelite. The salvation from God is for everyone, not just Jews.

Ø  Acts 10:31 – “And he (Peter) said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.” Here we hear God’s judgment of Cornelius. Peter told him God remembered his righteous deeds and so listened to and answered his prayers. The people of Cornelius’ family and household all believed unto salvation that day and Peter baptized them.

Ø  1 Timothy 2:8 – “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” (coming before God righteous as a right relationship with the Lord makes us). “Holy” here comes from the Greek word hosios, which means undefiled from sin, free from wickedness. Note hosios is not the usual word used for “holy” in the New Testament. Normally the Greek word used for “holy” is hagios. Hosios is used only eight times in the New Testament.

Ø  James 4:3 – “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Wrong motives, James noted, come from selfish desires and jealousy. These are not righteousness. “Wrong motives” comes from the Greek word kakos, which means improper, wrong, and evil. James meant if you pray for something with evil or improper things in mind, God will not answer your prayer. God knows the intentions of a person’s heart. He knows when people are righteous or unrighteous and so when prayers are made with wrong or right motives.

Ø  James 5:16 – “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” The word “righteous” here comes from the Greek word dikaios, which was previously defined on page three. God will answer the prayer of a righteous person. God is the One who makes a prayer from a righteous person effective. Through God’s will and power, prayers are answered, yet God distinctly says in the next section, He will not listen to or answer the prayers of an unrighteous person. He considers them an abomination.

Ø  1 Peter 3:12 – “For the eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.” The Greek word for “righteous” here is diakaios. The word “evil” comes from the Greek word kakos. God seeks, listens, and attends to the prayers of righteous people, but is against evil people. He will not listen to or answer them. This passage comes from Psalm 34:15-16 originally. Peter appropriated it for his teaching of the Jews in 1 Peter.

Ø  1 John 5:14-15 – “This is the confidence which we have before Him that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” God hears and accepts prayers that are in accord with His will. Our faith in Him means we can know God’s will through His Spirit who lives within each believer. When we ask/petition God for what is His will, we can know He will answer our prayers.

When God will not hear and answer prayer

      The Bible teaches the other side of this, too. I call it a negative response or reaction by God to prayer. Three verses in the Bible speak about people for whom God will not answer prayer.

Ø  Proverbs 28:9, “He who turns his ear from listening to the Law, even his prayer is an abomination.” When Solomon used the verb “turns from,” He used the Hebrew word cuwr, meaning departs from. This reflects our understanding of being unfaithful to God and turning away from Him to sin and rebel against Him. The word “listening” comes from a commonly understood Hebrew word, shama’, which means to hear, listen, and obey. In Jewish thought, one could not hear something without acting upon it either for good or evil. “Abomination” comes from the Hebrew word tow’ebah and means disgusting, wicked, and abomination. So this verse states the person who turns away from and rebels against God by not hearing, listening to, and obeying God cannot expect Him to listen to or answer his or her prayers. That prayer is an abomination to God because it comes from a wicked heart.

Ø  Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:12, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Once again, the word “righteous” comes from the Greek word dikaios meaning observes, divine laws, righteous, virtuous, innocent, guiltless, and acting according to God’s will. “Evil” comes from the Greek word kakos meaning improper, wrong, and evil. Peter said here God will not turn toward, hear, or answer the prayers comes from evil people, but he will for the righteous people.

Ø  Matthew recorded Jesus in Matthew 23:14. He said, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” God will listen to the prayers of the righteous, those who seek Him. Jesus addressed the actions of the Pharisees, the men designated to be the religious leaders of God’s people, Israel. He said God saw their hearts and actions and knew the show/pretense of holiness was just that. Jesus said their actions of taking the homes of widows and casting them out was evil. He said God would not listen to their prayers because of their evil actions and unrepentant hearts. God would condemn them because they did not seek His righteousness through true faith and cleansing of their sins by Him.

      Throughout the Bible, God teaches He will listen to the righteous - those who genuinely seek Him, want to be in a relationship with Him, and whom He forgives and cleanses from sins. He will not attend to the prayers of the unrighteous - those who do not follow the Lord and who live and pray with selfish motives. God considers the evil (kakos) person and his or her prayer and abomination.


Relevance and Conclusion

God wants to have a love relationship with each person. He created each person for a purpose just as David said in Psalm 138:8. To provide a way for permanent forgiveness and eternal life with Him, God sent His Son, Jesus the Christ, to be born as a man, live a perfect life, die a cruel death, and then arise from the dead as conqueror of death. Each person who acknowledges Jesus Christ is the Son of God, believes in Him as his or her Savior, and confesses his or sin, God will forgive and accept him or her into His family. He will make him or her righteous. Besides being eternally forgiven and having eternal life, each believer can know God will hear and answer his or her prayer if asked without evil intentions and with a clean heart. Just as David recognized his sinfulness and asked for God’s forgiveness (create a clean heart) and for God to renew a right spirit in him (Psalm 51), each day believers should confess and repent to God asking Him to forgive and cleanse them from sins. This forgiveness by God makes a believer righteous before Him again.
We each must come before God today, if we want to be in a right relationship with Him, asking for forgiveness. God said if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

v  Do you want to be in a right relationship with God?
v  Do you want God to hear, listen to, and answer your prayers?

God wants to be in a relationship with you. Sin breaks our relationship with God and God will not be in the presence of sin; it is an abomination.

v  Pray today for God’s forgiveness and re-experience a right relationship with Him.
v  Know today when you pray, God will listen to and answer your prayers to Him.

Remember prayer is the communication side of relationship with God. It grows our relationship with Him and makes us more Christlike.

Will you come to God repenting and being made right with Him again?

Renew your relationship with God and open your communication with Him.




Monday, May 2, 2016

Prayer: How Should We Pray to God?


When I was a child, my Sunday School teacher taught me to pray to Jesus for other people and myself. As a teenager, a minister taught more on prayer. He said prayers to God should include the words from the acronym A.C.T.S. – Adoration, Confession, Thanks, and Supplication. Considering the latter, I find it interesting the Bible records more prayers about petitioning God for one’s self and others than any other part of A.C.T.S. I believe this occurs because people throughout time realized their need for God to provide for them and intervene for them where they lived. Most people approach God when his or her body or life is under threat. Do we forget Him at other times and only realize our need for Him in our lives when we face dire days? We see this truth for many of God’s children. Yet for those who strive to have a growing faith and relationship with God, prayer is more than an SOS. It concerns relationship. Prayer is growing one’s relationship with Yahweh God, which requires speaking and listening, as we learned in the first part of this study, PRAYER: What is Prayer and How do We approach God? Let us now consider how to pray to God.

Petition for Self

Both the Old and New Testaments record people praying to God as petitioning Him to help them. Authors of books in the Bible recorded twenty-four times when people “petitioned” God to help them. The New Testament records these prayers of petition nine times. Consider these verses:

·         Judges 15:18,
·         2 Samuel 7:27
·         1 Kings 8:28, 8:38
·         Nehemiah 4:9
·         Job 21:15
·         Psalm 5:2, 18:6, 35:13, 66:17
·         Jeremiah 29:12
·         Daniel 2:23, 9:20
·         Matthew 7:11
·         Mark 11:24
·         Luke 11:13, 21:36
·         John 16:26
·         Acts 7:59, 8:24
·         Philippians 4:6
·         1 Thessalonians 3:10
·         2 Thessalonians 3:1
·         James 1:5-7, 4:2
·         1 John 5:14-15
Besides these verses, which in specific mention “praying for” or “petitioning” the Lord for one’s self, other verses record people “crying out to” or “pleading for” the Lord’s help in their plight. These verses include 1 Kings 8:45; Psalms 4:1, 17:1, 35:13, 66:17, 88:2, 118:5, and 143:1; and Lamentations 3:8.

Petition for Others

As mentioned in an earlier paragraph, petitioning to God for other people occurred often in the Bible. “Petitioning” God for other people occurred twenty-three times in the Bible. Sometimes “petitioning” God for one’s self happened at the same time as petitioning for other people. The verses that record these prayers are –

·         1 Samuel 7:5, 12:19
·         1 Kings 8:28
·         Job 42:8
·         Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14, 14:22
·         Daniel 9:20
·         Luke 22:32
·         Acts 13:3
·         2 Corinthians 1:11
·         Philippians 1:19, 4:6
·         Ephesians 6:18
·         Colossians 1:9, 4:3
·         1 Thessalonians 3:10, 5:25
·         2 Thessalonians 3:1
·         1 Timothy 2:1-2
·         Hebrews 13:18
·         James 5:16
When people petition for other people, they care enough for that person to intervene for them to God asking His help or protection for the person. Notice, when we pray to God as part of a growing relationship with Him, we do it because of love for Him. When we pray for other people, we do it because of our care/love for those people. This shows we obey what God commanded in the Old Testament with the Ten Commandments – love God (commandments 1-4) and love other people (commandments 5-10) (Deuteronomy 5:4-21). It shows, too, what Jesus taught with the Greatest Commandment – love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus taught His followers to go a step further than this with His next teaching.

Pray for Persecutors

Jesus, in the New Testament, taught what God taught in the Old Testament, but He took it a step further. He taught the people the neighbor they were to love could be their enemy. Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies and pray for them, even those who persecute them (Matthew 5:44). To love and pray for their enemies, Christians must be in a growing relationship with God. They must become more Christlike. By becoming more Christlike, the love of God for their enemy grows in the Christian. From that growth of love, the believer can love and pray for his/her enemies. By loving and praying for one’s enemies, the believer will be like Jesus when He loved and prayed for those who persecuted Him. Remember when Jesus was on the cross and prayed to the Father saying, “Father forgive them; they know not what they do” (Luke 22:34)? When a person becomes more Christlike, loving a person no matter who they are or what they have done can occur because of God’s love for that person and all people.

A.C.T.S.

You may ask, “What happened to A.C.T.S.?” The Bible writers wrote so much regarding petitioning God and asking Him to help that it appears adoration, confession, and thanks are unimportant. That is not true though. Remember, in communication we ask people to help us, and encourage them, thank them, and often confess sins/faults to them just as James taught in James 5:16. These elements of relationship must be part of our conversations, our relationship, with God, too. They are more important with our conversations with God than with people.

Confession.

When we sin, we sin against God. Remember, sinning separates us from God because He will not be in the presence of sin since He is holy. God is holy and all-powerful. To be able to be in His presence, each person must be made holy again each day because each person sins daily. Because God is merciful, He will forgive our sins when we confess, repent, and ask for His forgiveness. Each person must do this to be in a relationship with Him. The blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who died to take the sins away from people who believe, makes the believer pure, clean, and holy.  Confession is a person’s recognition of his or her sins against God and His laws. Repentance is the grief and guilt a person experiences because he or she disobeyed God and thereby, created a rift in his or her relationship with Him. Repentance brings a person to God seeking His forgiveness and causes a person to turn around to follow God once again. By confessing and repenting daily of sins, each person’s relationship with God remains unstrained and open. He created each person because of His love and wants a relationship with everyone. David, Nehemiah, Daniel, Luke, James, and John each speak on confession and repentance in these verses –

·         1 Kings 8:28
·         Nehemiah 1:6
·         Psalm 42:8
·         Daniel 9:20
·         Acts 8:22
·         James 5:16
·         Revelations 5:8

Thanksgiving.

Throughout the Bible, individual writers of the books and Jesus taught that prayer should includes thanks to God, too. To be in a growing and strong relationship, communication must include thanking the person for caring, helping, and praying for you. A relationship with God through Jesus Christ should include thanks to Him, too. God does and has done many things for us over the years as individuals and as a group of believers from the beginning of time.
David said in his prayer only those who lived with God could thank Him (Psalm 6:5). Daniel thanked God for giving him power and wisdom (Daniel 2:23). Jesus thanked His Father for the fish and bread to feed the 5000 people (Luke 9:16-17). Paul taught people to thank God for what He would do in answer to their prayers (Philippians 4:6). He told them to devote themselves to prayer and thanksgiving to God, too (Colossians 4:2). Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 each Christian should pray and petition God for people in authority and give thanks for those leaders. Finally, in 1 Thessalonians 6:16-18, he told the people of Thessalonica to give thanks in everything. As seen, thanks to God should be part of every prayer. Believers must thank Him for what He has done and will do in their lives and the lives of other people for whom they pray.  By prayer and with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Trust Him because of His love for you.

Adoration. 

Praising and exalting God is adoration. God deserves praise because He is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (all places at once), and because He is the One true God. David, Daniel, Paul, James, and Luke praised God and taught other followers of Jesus to adore (praise and exalt) Him.
David called God His Rock and Redeemer. He was the strength upon whom David could rely (Psalm 19:14). David said God was merciful (loving-kindness) in Psalm 66:20. He called God his King and extolled (praised and exalted) Him (Psalm 5:2 & 66:17). Daniel recalled his ancestors followed Yahweh God and He carried them. He said God gave him wisdom and power (Daniel 2:23). Paul and Silas gave testimony of God’s greatness and love while they were in prison (Acts 20:26). Paul taught believers to rejoice always because the Lord was their God. He aligned this with thanking Him in all circumstances and praying continually (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). James taught people to pray with cheerful songs to God. John saw people bowing before the Lamb in a vision while on Patmos (Revelation 5:8).

Adoration - praise and exaltation - is a form of prayer/song to and about God. Adoration is different from thanks because it does not necessarily refer back to what God has done, but always to who God is. Believers learn to praise God because He is greater than anything life can throw at us and we know God – our God – conquers all things. Christians can have hope in the midst of trying times because they know they will be in heaven with Him one day. Knowing God as Lord, Redeemer, Creator, Protector, and Provider gives believers joy and hope and that should flow back to Him as praise and exaltation – adoration. Adoration and thanks to God come out of our love for God as believers.

Recap

In the first two lessons on prayer, we learned that prayer is communicating and communing with God, which requires speaking to Him and listening to what He says. For communication to be effective and growing, it must be two-way. God listens to our prayers and responds to them as David and Daniel found out. He is faithful to His children even if they are unfaithful to Him.

In the second part of the first lesson, we learned we have to recognize God for who He is and approach Him with reverence. We must recognize His mercy, existence, power, faithfulness, righteousness, and that He rules over all from heaven. Besides this, when we pray and revere God, we give a testimony regarding God through our prayers. Paul and Silas did this while in prison.

The second lesson taught us how to pray. Whether using the acronym of A.C.T.S. or remembering the specific parts from the Bible verses above, we must remember prayer – communication with God – includes each aspect as seen in the teachings of Jesus, the apostles, and other Bible writers. Besides this, for our prayers to be genuine - providing a growing relationship with God and a growing Christlikeness - we should praise and exalt God, confess and ask forgiveness, thank Him, and petition for ourselves and other people, including our leaders and enemies. By offering prayers in each of these areas, we show love for other people and for God. We will have a continual growing relationship with God for which He provided salvation for every person.

Relevance and Conclusion

How active and vibrant is your prayer life? Do you just go to God when you need help or want something? Is He your super-Santa? That should not be.
If you are a Christian, you should continue to grow in your relationship with God. This relationship occurs because He provided the cleansing from your sins that separated you from Him through the blood of His only Son, Jesus Christ, who died for each person’s sin penalty – death and eternal separation from God.

If you pray regularly, do you remember to adore, praise, and exalt Him? Do you thank Him daily? Often we have our needs supplied and we do not give a thought that God’s faithfulness to us provided what we needed before we asked. The bed you slept on last night, for example, you probably bought or received it years ago, but forget to thank Him for it and praise Him each day for knowing in advance just what you needed before you did. That is God’s omniscience. That is God’s faithful love to you, too.

Do you ask God to help you see your sins of the day so you can confess them and ask for forgiveness from Him? God’s righteousness means He will not be in the presence of sin, which means He will not be in your presence because of your sin. His righteousness has a flip side, like a coin. Because God is righteous, He must bring judgment for sin, yet because of His mercy and loving-kindness, He provided the penalty-bearer (Jesus Christ) before your birth and later sin. This action for you means He genuinely wants to be in a relationship with you. Have you confessed your sin today so God can give you His love and mercy today?
Praying for things is as natural as breathing to most of us. Want, need, and desire remind us to pray for our circumstances and ourselves. Praying for other people is not as easy to remember. Just as we breathe and petition God for ourselves, we should petition for other people, including our enemies.

What is prayer? It involves and affects our relationship with God. Prayer is two-way communication with God that brings growth in our relationship with Him and in our Christlikeness. It produces Christian virtues and leads us closer to Him and closer to perfection through salvation in Christ.

It is time to reflect upon ourselves. What are our questions today?
v  Do you pray each day?
v  Do you recognize God for who He is and revere Him?
v  Are you in a growing relationship with the Lord so you do not have a Christmas wish list, but love and effective communication?