Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Man of God Prays

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving. ~ Col 4:2

With this simple statement Paul instructs the church to pray.  But, pray for what?  And how?  We're going to take a look at how Paul prayed and discover the model he provides for our own need to pray.

Most people pray.  It is not unusual to hear those who do not know Christ say they'll pray for us. It's quite common that when a sad situation or troubling circumstance arises that many friends, co-workers, and family will offer "thoughts and prayers" on our behalf.  Is it just me or do you find it odd that people who otherwise never show any type of living faith in your daily interactions with them suddenly have the need to tell us they will pray?

So what are they praying for and to whom are they praying..........and does that object of prayer actually hear a word uttered?

Christians also pray or at least say they will pray for you.  Again, how do they pray?  How do you pray?  Are we to pray for our physical needs?  Is our perfect health of primary importance to God? Are we to pray that we win the lottery? Of course, so that we can give buckets of cash to a charity or help Uncle Charlie pay for his hip replacement or send Johnny to college!  What is the focus of your prayers?  What is the objective your prayers?

This is certain, we are to pray earnestly, continually, vigilantly and with thanksgiving!

But let's back up for a second.  

First, we are to pray to God and God alone! Nowhere in scripture are prayers offered to saints nor angels.  Prayer is offered to our Father in heaven through Jesus Christ our Advocate. (Matt 6:9, 1 John 2:1)  This is clear.  Anything else is shear tradition and an affront to the God we claim is our end goal in praying.  

Secondly, we cannot come before the throne of grace with hidden sin nor unconfessed sin. (Psalm 66:18)  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)  We must come with clean hands and a pure heart.  Therefore, I personally deal with my own wickedness first when I approach the throne.  I'd suggest it is highly to your advantage that when you sin you confess immediately and seek His face. Then when a situation arises from nowhere in your day, you are unhindered and can go right to your Master for help because the first things have been dealt with long ago.

Returning to the verse from Colossians....Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.

This means we aren't machine gun petitioners erratically firing in the air, shooting our demands, er, requests at whim whenever serious need arises.  Our prayer needs to be a consistent daily, hourly, minute by minute routine.  We ought to bow our heart at a moments notice in humility seeking God's will.  He will bend His ear to listen when we rightly acknowledge our dependence upon Him understanding that all things come through His hand.  Our prayers must also be earnest, crying out to our God from whence cometh our help!  We must be vigilant.  We must not let up nor shrink back. We are to keep asking, keep knocking, keep seeking. 

So, what did Paul pray for and since we're to imitate him as he imitated Christ, What do we pray for?  What follows are examples of Paul's prayer life.  Quickly we'll see Epaphras learned a thing or two about prayer from Paul.  Then we'll see Paul himself.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. ~ Col 4:12

Guess what we see right out of the chute?  Epaphras labored fervently on behalf of the saints.  He did not carelessly toss up a prayer here and there.  This dear beloved saint was earnest in his prayers. The Greek word here for labored is agonizomai.  Do you see it?  We get the word agonize from it. It means to contend, to struggle, to strive.  This kind of prayer takes effort!  This is how he prayed but for what did he pray?  He prayed that they would stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.  This was the Colossians, and our, greatest need, not physical comforts.  But lest I get bogged down and bore you let's move on to the Apostle Paul!

Earlier Paul had told this same church

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy. ~  Col 1:9–11

Here we see a continual beseeching to the Lord on behalf of those dear saints Paul so loved.  What was the request?  To be filled with knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual understanding!  Why? Because such was their greatest need if they were to walk worthy and be fruitful in the trials of life. These were essential in order to be fully pleasing to our Holy God.  Without which we cannot be increasing in the knowledge of God nor strengthened with all might nor possess patient joy in longsuffering.  Are you seeing what is so vital to our survival on this sin torn rock?  Our personal comforts are nowhere to be found!  That does not mean that God is not concerned about our comfort but He is certainly more concerned about our eternal comfort and progress of faith.  God our Father cares more that we learn to trust Him and gain heaven than we experience ease and go to our grave incomplete.

Ok, that's one church but what about others?  What about different times in Paul's life?  What did he tell the Philippians or the Thessalonians?

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. ~ Phil 1:9–11

Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. ~ 2 Th 1:11–12

Hmm, still no prayers for a new chariot, a bigger and better tent, a new couch, a better boyfriend, to reap that material blessing, to claim victory over that demon of indigestion!  No, no and no.  No a thousand times.  Always the vertical in order that the horizontal can be properly lived out.  

Knowledge, discernment, sincerity, blameless, being filled with the fruits of righteousness.  For God's glory and praise.  That God would work faith powerfully in us.  Oh the greatness of such prayers!  God wants to use you, He wants to use me, to show a sin sick lost world what faith looks like in the midst of turmoil, in suffering, in sickness, in times when every average person would be despairing.  God, our merciful Father, wants to reveal His glory in His people! Are you kidding me? No my friend!  He desires to show the surpassing greatness of His power in the saints.  Yeah, that's you and me.  Oh what a Savior, what a God!

Yes, here it is in the very inspired word of the living God through the hand of his servant Paul;

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. ~  Eph 1:18–19

Oh dear reader who has bore with me so long.  This is how we pray!  This is why we pray!  This is to whom we pray to! A gracious, merciful Savior desires to perfect us, to use old worn down, broken, raggedy clay pots and reveal His manifold glory that we might KNOW the hope of His calling, to KNOW the riches of the glory of His inheritance and to KNOW this surpassing great power toward US who believe!

Do you know this God?  Have you bowed to this Lord?  Will you receive this Savior?  Is this your prayer life?  Or is yours a cold dead ritual to a lifeless deity?  Perhaps a prayer of repentance is necessary for you.  Perhaps you must acknowledge that you know not this God. Perhaps you must recognize that your sin has built a barrier that cannot be breached by anything but Divine grace. Easy for you, not so easy for Christ, as He, the Holy and spotless Lamb, took sin upon His shoulders and bore the awesome weight of it that He might break down that barrier and carry you to glory.  Perhaps you must pray thusly right now before the curtain closes on your life.

And for all of us we must understand that it's all about Him and when we humbly submit to His Lordship and His Sovereign rule He rewards us with more than we can ever ask, imagine or think. It's the deal of a thousand lifetimes!

He must increase but I must decrease

~ Kevin

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Revenge of the Religious Zealots

And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel. ~ Acts 6:15

Such was the countenance of Stephen as he faced the hatred of those who would seek to avenge the honor of their false system. What brought such vehemence out?  Had Stephen blasphemed God Himself?  What had he done?

The sure record, the infallible account, the inerrant disclosure of who Stephen was and what he did declares

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. ~ Acts 6:8

By the grace of God Stephen proclaimed the truth of Christ with power and full of grace which was authenticated by great signs and wonders.  So much so that no one could deny it.  With so many sound words and mighty actions the response came.

 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. ~ Acts 6:9

Stephen's words were challenged.  A debate ensued and Stephen prevailed.

          But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. ~ Acts 6:10

Stephen shattered their arguments.  Demolished their false system.  Tore in two their wrenching of God's glorious revealed truth.  So they progress and now attack his character, a classic approach called ad hominem in which the facts are ignored and the tables are turned to divert, distort, and lie.  You see, pride does not enjoy losing at all.  Pride seeks to win at all costs.  So the attack comes.

Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. ~ Acts 6:11–12

Aha!  And there it is, the accusation that Stephen has spoken against Moses, their beloved prophet and oh yeah, by the way, God, Him too!  The deceitful plotters induce the people and stir up their anger.  So much so that they succeed and drag away this gracious disciple of the glorious Christ and put him before the Council to be tried and executed.  So much for Gamaliel's advise in chapter 5 to "let them alone" because if it be of God it cannot be stopped. (More on that as this story progresses.)

They now continue their deception and 

    put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law;
    for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” ~ Acts 6:13–14

We now return to the description at the heading of this blog.  With all the fierce anger and loathe from the countless masses of hell itself fixed upon this gracious man full of the spirit, they look upon the "face of an angel."  Such a man full of the spirit now gives them an account for the ages (Acts 7:2-53) and closes off with the accurate charge of their stiff-necked defiance in rejecting the very One whom they claim to be following and looking for, this Christ, the Son of Man, the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the world.

They had heard and seen the truth of Christ.  They refused to let go of their pride and their system and their avenging of their prophet Moses was sealed as their anger rose to a crescendo. 

         Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.
         But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;
         and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
          But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.
          When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. ~ Acts 7:54-58

So gnashing at the beloved Stephen like ravenous wolves hungry to devour its prey they cried out loudly, stopped their ears, and rushed at him with the full force of the demons of hell and snuffed out his very avenge the honor of their god.  Has anything changed in 2000 years?  This is the response of unregenerate, self loving, hateful men who refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ and bow their knees to the King.  The Sovereign whom the Father declares, "this is my Beloved Son, hear Him!" 

The contrast between unconverted godless men and God-fearing, God honoring men is vast. 

They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”
Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.  ~Acts 7:59–60

Now tell me, which is the only religion of peace?

He must increase, I must decrease
~ Kevin