Some of the hardest questions in the Christian life have to do with God not answering our prayers— no matter how much we pray or how much faith we can collectively muster. Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Why didn’t God do what I prayed He would do? Why doesn’t God love me? Because if He did, He would not have let happen what happened? Where was God during my time of deepest need? I prayed to God for ________ and it did not happen.
Which inevitably leads us to ask this: Why God? Is the problem with me? Am I not doing enough to get my prayers answered? Or is the problem with You? Are You showing favorites and am I on the bottom of Your list? What’s the problem? Help me understand this, God, because this is hurtful and doesn’t make any sense.
You’re Right, It Doesn’t Make Much Sense
And the reason for that is our reliance on Cliff Note theology. We grab a few Scriptures, usually out of context, and hold on to them like a life preserver vainly trying to get them to say something they don’t. Consider these:
1 John 5:14-15 – Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
Did you notice something? The key, according to this verse, is praying “according to His will.” When that happens, badda bing, badda boom, prayers get answered. But when we ask for something not according to the will of God, all bets are off. The answer will be, “Not today, not ever.”
Matthew 18:19 – “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.”
First, this statement by our Lord has nothing to do with prayer, but with dealing with a sinning believer. And even if it did give us a prescription for prayer, can two people agree for world peace and the end of all wars, and it be a guarantee from the Lord? I think not. Why? Because God has already revealed to us that in the future we “will hear of wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6). God has already spoken prophetic truth to us and won’t violate His Word because of our prayers.
Do you want to know the reason God often doesn’t answer our prayers? Because the reason will change the way you look at God and prayer from this point forward. If you want to know more, then keep listening.
The following is a study on prayer.
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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus equates anger with murder (Matt. 5:21-22), in much the same way He equates lust with adultery (Matt. 5:27-28). Later, John adds the following:
1 John 3:11-15 – For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love (agapaō) one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his (Cain) works were evil and his brother’s (Able) righteous. Do not marvel (wonder, be surprised, astonished), my brethren (fellow believers), if the world (kósmos) hates (to detest, an active ill will in words and conduct, a persecution spirit) you. We know (eidō) that we have passed from death to life, (how) because we love (agapaō) the brethren. He who does not love (agapaō) his (personal) brother (fellow believers) abides (rest, make their home) in death. Whoever hates (to detest, an active ill will in words and conduct, a persecution spirit) his (personal) brother (fellow believer) is a murderer, and you know (eidō) that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Anger + Hatred = Murder
John also equates anger and hatred with murder. And he states that “no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” This is a profoundly important point. Which raises a couple of questions:
Have you been angry with a fellow Christian?
What was the cause of your anger? Was it the holiness of God? Or some personal preference about which you felt slighted?
Are you still angry with that person? And if so, why?
Did you know that, according to the Scriptures, you are guilty of murder? Why? Because the one you hate and murmur about was created in the image of God. And to hate someone created by God, who is also made in the image of your God, is to hate God. You cannot love the Creator and hate His creation.
The Scriptures call this murder. Are you confused? Do you think hatred and murder are two different things with two different penalties? Do you want to know what the Scriptures say about anger and murder? Then keep listening.
The following is a study on Matthew 5:21-22.
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In my devotional time today in Proverbs 5, I discovered some words of wisdom I would like to share with you:
Proverbs 5:1-2 – My son, pay attention (listen carefully, give heed, obey) to my (not the world’s) wisdom; lend (extend, stretch out) your ear to my (not the world’s) understanding, (why) that you may preserve (watch, keep, guard) discretion, and your lips may keep knowledge.
The Proverbs are all about wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. And the key to living in these blessings is to forsake the wisdom of this world, which is moronic (mōría) at best, and embrace the wisdom that only comes from God (1 Cor. 3:19). It’s a daily choice, sometimes an hourly choice, we can make.
So how ’bout it? Are you up for the challenge?
And one more:
Proverbs 5:21 – For the ways (path, journey of one’s life) of man (each man, you and me) are before the eyes of the LORD, and He (the Lord) ponders (to make level, to weigh, to guard or watch carefully) all his (each man, you and me) paths (goings, the circle of a camp).
Did you catch the meaning of this proverb? Our life’s journey, our life’s choices are laid out before the Lord. Nothing is hidden from Him. He sees all. Everything. Good and bad.
Is that a good thing that nothing is hidden from God? Or not such a good thing? That depends on your view of God as your Father.
What is Your Heavenly Father Like?
There are two ways to look at this proverb. And they are basically determined by our perception of what God the Father is like and how we choose to interpret the word, ponder (pālas). One way is to focus on the part of the definition that means “to make level, to weigh.” The image would be of a large legal scale, with our actions on one side and God’s righteousness on the other. We would then see God as a great Judge with a mighty hammer waiting for us to cross the line, to do something disappointing to Him, something embarrassing to His character. And once the scale becomes unbalanced towards our sin and not His righteousness, WHAM! – down comes the hammer. In essence, “All our lives are before the Lord and He is waiting, just biding His time, until we mess up. And when we do, geez, out comes His iron fist.”
This is a picture of an abusive father who is head over a dysfunctional family. This is not what our God is like.
The other way to view this proverb is to focus on the other meaning of the word, ponder. That would be to “guard or watch carefully.” Now we see the Father as a caring, careful Parent who wants to make sure His beloved children are safe, protected, and not somewhere where they could get hurt. He’s waiting everyday at the bus stop for them to arrive home. He’s sitting in the stands watching every soccer game they play to make sure they don’t get hurt. He’s hands on, proactive, and always involved. And our blessing comes from knowing our lives are always “before the eyes of the Lord.”
This is a picture of a good father who lovingly leads a wonderful family. And this, my friend, is what our God is like.
Rejoice today that your life is hidden with Christ (Col. 3:3) and the very hairs on your head are numbered (Matt. 10:30), and not simply counted. And know how much your loving Father can’t keep His eyes off you— His beloved child.
Rest in that today.
If you’ll take the time, you’ll find the core message of Jesus was about the kingdom of God. Over and over again we find summary verses like this one:
Matthew 4:23 – And Jesus went about all Galilee, (1) teaching in their synagogues, (2) preaching the gospel of (what) the kingdom, and (3) healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.
In fact, Jesus said the object of the gospel He preached, and commanded us to preach, is the kingdom of God. Consider what Jesus said in His olivet discourse:
Matthew 24:14 – “And this gospel of (what) the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
There are also certain kingdom characteristics in the lives of believers that the Scriptures point out to us as signs of His kingdom. In essence, when believers manifest certain characteristics of the kingdom in their lives, we can know the kingdom of God is present. And, conversely, when a believer doesn’t manifest these kingdom characteristics, we can also safely assume the kingdom of God is far from them.
This is a sobering thought. Character, holiness, and sanctification matter. Do you want to discover more about the signs of life in the kingdom? Then keep listening.
The following is a study of Acts 4:32-5:16.
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For the last couple of months I have been preaching about the Holy Spirit and His gifts, focusing on John 14 and 1 Corinthians 12-14, but specifically on 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. We have asked the Lord to show us what these gifts mean, are they all still operating in the church and, if so, what does that look like today? That’s right, we’ve dealt with all the controversial topics that tend to divide the body of Christ: second filling, baptism of the Spirit, Cessationism vs. Continuationism, the five-fold ministry, tongues and the interpretation of tongues, the role of apostles and prophets, if any, today, what is a word of knowledge and word of wisdom, and all the other crazy, scary stuff. It’s been quite an eye opening experience to see, not what I was taught in Seminary or grew up believing in a Southern Baptist church, but what the Scriptures actually teach regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in His church back then, as well as today.
Naturally, in the course of this study on the Holy Spirit, we moved to the Acts to see how this was played out in the early church in real time. Last Sunday we preached about Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14-39) and the amazing results of a 297 word message, excluding Scriptures, that was empowered by the very Spirit they received a few verses earlier (Acts 2:1-4). The Promise of the Father was given (Acts 1:4), and 3,000 people joined the 120 in faith in the risen Lord Jesus.
What an amazing day that must have been.
But now what? How do these 3,000 new believers, many from areas outside of Jerusalem (Acts 2:5-11), grow in their new faith? What are they to do? Where do they go? How do they learn? There would be so many questions each of them had. Where would they go to find the answers?
If they returned back home to Egypt or Rome, for example (Acts 2:10), who would disciple them? Who would teach them truth from error? They would be the only ones in their country that had received salvation as evidenced by the giving of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). No one carried the light of Christ to their families and friends but them. No one was to speak into the darkness but them. They were alone. Uncertain. Literally babes in the midst of Jewish wolves. By returning home they were, in effect, being sent out as missionaries to tell others about the new life found in Christ— the Christ whom they knew nothing about other than what Peter had preached, and what they were just now discovering for themselves.
It was a recipe for colossal failure. Much like sending an eight year old to convince an atheist University professor of the validity of the New Testament text. They were vastly outgunned and woefully inexperienced in the things of Christ. They needed a time to grow, to mature, to understand what just happened to them. They needed time to come to grips with their faith in the Lord Jesus, and what that faith meant from that moment forward.
A New Home
So, most likely, many of them stayed. Where else were they to go to hear about the “wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).
Once, after Jesus proclaimed His unpopular, politically incorrect truth about the kingdom of God that offended the half-committed, many of His followers “went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:65). Jesus had been telling them about the all-consuming relationship they were to have with Him. This new life they had experienced, this born-again reality was not like going to the synagogue once a week to dance around their Jewish maypole, feel good for a moment or two, faithfully perform their religious duty, and then go back to life as usual.
This was different.
Religion tries to make us feel good about ourselves by following some man-made ritual that, at least on the outside, makes us look better than we were before— especially when we compare ourselves with ourselves or with others who are struggling like us.
But this was different. Completely different.
What Jesus came to bring was a totally new life. The old man, our old life, is not rehabilitated or made better, or less offensive, by Christ’s sacrifice. He is put to death. Dead and buried. Just like Christ. Jesus sees nothing in us worth bringing into the new life He’s purchased for us (Isa. 64:4). Nothing. So all of the old man, the pride, fear, lusts, wants, desires, religion, rights, needs, literally everything— dies. Everything gets buried. Everything rots. And the new man, what Paul later called the “new creation” in Christ, is born again (2 Cor. 5:17). Born anew. Born from above. Resurrected to a new life (Rom. 6:4), created in the image, or likeness of God (Eph. 4:24), and secured by the indwelling presence of God Himself— in the person of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14).
This was a message the religious crowd in Jesus’ day, and in our day, finds offensive. So they left Him to find another guru that was willing to teach what they wanted to hear, about how to have Your Best Life Now!
Look at the question of Jesus and the answer of Peter.
John 6:66-69 – From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Exactly. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
This was the same sentiment those who came to faith at Peter’s sermon most likely had. Why go back home? Back to what? People who don’t know what I now know, which is next to nothing. Everything has now changed. I’m a new man. I see things differently. And I now have needs I didn’t even know existed before.
“Lord, I need to grow in my faith. I need to understand more of You who re-created me into something new. I need to know what Your will for me is now. Where am I to go? What am I to do? I need to learn how to hear Your voice and recognize when You speak. I need to be taught how to pray? I want my faith to grow. I want to understand the gifts the Spirit has given me to exercise for You. Lord, I need to spend time in Your presence and at Your feet. There’s so much I don’t know. So much that seems confusing to me. Lord, if I may, these other believers are now my family. And this, Your church, is now my home.”
And so they stayed.
They Continued Steadfast
Notice what happened next.
Acts 2:42 – And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
But there is so much more here than we read on the surface.
Do you want to know how these new believers spent the rest of their lives? Do you want to find out what made them the kind of people that turned the world upside down in the span of a few years (Acts 17:6)? Do you think we, as the church, can learn anything from the life they forged for us with the Spirit?
I do. But that’s something we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to discover together.
The context of Psalm 3 deals with David’s great betrayal at the hands of his own son, Absalom, whom he dearly loved (2 Sam. 18:33). Absalom had driven his father from the holy city, Jerusalem, and was seeking to usurp his kingdom and take his life. David’s guilt as a failed father towards his rebellious son must have been unbearable. Adding to that the guilt of his own sin with Bathsheba and the murder of his close friend, and her husband, Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam. 11:15), may have caused David to feel Absalom’s actions were justified, a fitting penalty for the sins of David’s past.
The future looked bleak. There was division within his own family. To regain his kingdom he would have to wage war against his own son, forcing him to repay evil for evil to the one he loved. God was grieved and David was unsure as to what to do.
There is much for us to learn about God and our own problems in this psalm. Note, for example, what happens when we, like David, focus on our problems and what others say about our situation:
Psalm 3:1-2 – LORD, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.”
But now, the focus has shifted from what is before us to our God and all He has promised. You can almost feel David’s faith begin to grow:
Psalm 3:3-4 – But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.
As Corrie ten Boom once said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”
David realizes God has not abandoned him. He has cried out to his Lord, our Lord, and his voice had been heard. God was still on His throne and He still loved his son, David, no matter how desperate the circumstances. The same truth applies to each of us when we get our focus off our problems— the immediate, the overwhelming, and focus instead on what lasts— the Eternal, the Lord, the Sovereign One.
And the result of that change in focus? No more fear. Rest and peace in the face of turmoil. Confidence in Him and Him alone. “God’s got this. I’ve nothing to fear.”
Psalm 3:5-6 – I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
After all, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). Great question. Answer, no one. Not even Absalom.
This thought brings great courage to David. God is not finished with him yet. Today and tomorrow are just setbacks. But God’s plan endures to all generations.
Finally, that confidence is expressed in action. David, and each of us, find our prayers going from “Help me, please, for I am dying” to “Arise, O Lord” and do what You promised to do for your children.
Psalm 3:7-8 – Arise, O LORD; Save me, O my God! For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongs to the LORD. Your blessing is upon Your people
Did you get that? “Your (God) blessing is upon Your (God) people.”
The End from the Beginning
One final thought, did you notice all of God’s actions are recorded in the past tense (have struck, have broken)? That’s right. For the child of God, we can rest in faith knowing what God has promised to do has already been done in the eyes of the Lord. His Word never changes. If God promises to do something for us, in faith, it’s already done. It’s finished, established, completed, done. Time is a construct of man, not of God. He sees everything, past, present and future, in real time. Scripture calls that seeing “the end from the beginning” (Isa, 46:10). We simply have to rest, by faith, in the completed work of the Lord even though our eyes may see, for a time, something quite different.
David saw Absalom’s rebellion and his kingdom, the one promised to David by the Lord, ripped from his hands. But not God. None of that surprised Him. God knew how all of that was going to turn out and His knowledge of the future was not based on changing circumstances, but on what He had promised David in the past. What was currently happening, in God’s eyes, were merely details.
So we should also live our lives with the same focus on Him, with eyes of faith, seeing the truth of what God sees and not what our circumstances cause us to fear. The promises our faithful God has made to each of us are true, and will come to pass, regardless of how dark and bleak our circumstances may seem today. And living in the reality of this faith, to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), will give us the peace and assurance in Him that will help us know our Lord sustains us and gives us the confidence to proclaim, even in the midst of the battle, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (Ps. 3:6).
Psalm 3:8 – Salvation belongs to the Lord, Your blessing is upon Your people.
The “Your people” also include you and me, those chosen in Him “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). And His blessing is upon His people. Take a moment, stop fretting, and rest in that.
Pray for the Lord to open your eyes today to see the wonder of His grace and sovereignty in all things (Ps. 115:3) and to teach you how to live like children of the Most High God (Rom. 8:17). Which, as incredible as it sounds, you are.
Praise be His Name!