Reflections on the Mystery of “Unanswered” Prayer

Today I’m sharing from The NIV Bible blog.

Reflections on the Mystery of “Unanswered” Prayer

By Dr. Bill Mounce

If you’re like most people, you are somewhat mystified with the whole topic of answered and unanswered prayer. That describes me too. When my infant daughter died (her name is Rachel), the next time I taught Sunday school I started by listing all the verses that unequivocally promise that God answers prayer. Of course, all my friends in the class jumped to God’s defense and basically tried to explain that these verses didn’t really mean what they said. At least that was my take on their response, and I understood why.

I certainly understand the need to interpret Scripture in light of Scripture, but what so often happens is that we downplay the tremendous privilege the Lord has given his children to ask of him whatever we want. As a result our prayers tend to be anemic, which means we generally don’t have to face the issue of unanswered prayer. (I also understand that theologically there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer, but that’s a topic for another article.)

I am thinking of verses such as John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” And I am thinking of qualifications like Matthew 26:39, which is Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane: “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

I have no answer for this dilemma, but I do have a few observations that have helped me.

How to Pray

1. Pray with boldness.

Jesus told us to ask. He wants us to ask. And he promises to hear us. That’s pretty amazing in and of itself. I know that when we experience what appears to be unanswered prayer time after time, we can give up. But re-read Matthew 7:7–11: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” These words have to mean something, and despite the Lucan parallel that says he gives the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), Matthew’s version is much more broad.

2. Pray expectantly.

What actually raised this topic for me was a sermon I just listened to by Alistair Begg through his ministry, Truth for Life. He said that we believe that God will answer because we know he can answer. That is a wonderful balance.

Read the rest here.

What It Means to Pray “Your Kingdom Come”

Sharing today from the True Woman Blog at Revive Our Hearts.

What It Means to Pray
“Your Kingdom Come”

By Stacey Salsbery

When I think of the word “kingdom,” I think of grandeur and royalty—a place where lords and ladies walk about. There is, of course, a castle and beautiful gardens. There are well-behaved children running around in pristine white clothing. There is a monarchy that loves both the people and the land in hopes of championing both. Oh, and there’s evil, but good always triumphs.

Okay, basically, when I think of the word kingdom, I think of my daughter’s favorite movie, The Princess Diaries, and Genovia, the fictional kingdom in that movie, is quite lovely. But is that what God intends for us to think when we read verses like “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33)? 

And is that what Jesus had in mind when He told the disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10)? Are we asking God to bring upon us His glorious kingdom where righteousness is the scepter (Ps. 45:6) and tears are gone forever and life is perfect and lovely all the time? Well actually, the answer is both yes and no. 

The Kingdom of God Is Both Now and Not Yet

The Scriptures tell us there is a physical, earthbound kingdom still to come in which Christ will rule as King. In John 14:2–3 Jesus tells the disciples, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” 

Therefore, with confidence we can say as Paul did in 2 Timothy 4:18, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.” An everlasting kingdom is coming where Christ reigns eternally—and righteousness and justice and peace are equal partners in a society forever set on bringing glory to God. 

And it will be amazing. Like nothing we can even fathom (1 Cor. 2:9). Though now we suffer for a little while, it’s “not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). So we wait with eager expectation, longing for the day Christ will make things right, praying with confidence in our faithful God, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). 

The Physical Kingdom of God Is Coming

So then Jesus encourages us to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10) that we might not lose hope. That our focus would stay on the eternal instead of the temporary, laying up treasure in heaven instead of filling our houses or closets or pocketbooks. 

But if we focus on only the future physical kingdom of God, we miss out on the present spiritual kingdom of God. 

In the gospels Jesus spoke often of the kingdom of heaven, declaring from the start of his ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). It’s the same message John the Baptist declared. Paul lived in Rome two years, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30–31). Because in Christ, the kingdom of God is also right now.

Read the rest here.

How to Study Your Bible in 2020

Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.

How to Study Your Bible in 2020

By Matt Smethurst 

Ever heard the parable about the man who, in order to discern God’s will for his life, would open his Bible and read whichever verse he saw first?

One day, as he was going through a difficult time with his family, he sought the Lord’s guidance. Opening his Bible, he pointed to a random verse. His finger rested on Matthew 27:5: “Then Judas went away and hanged himself.” Puzzled by these directions, but still hungry for a word from God, he called a “do-over” and flipped to another page. His eyes settled on Luke 10:37: “Go and do likewise.” Flustered but chalking it up to coincidence, the man decided to give his method one last chance. Saying a quick prayer, he flipped the page and placed his finger on John 13:27. There, staring up at him, was a command from Jesus: “What you are about to do, do quickly.”

It’s a humorous anecdote, but it illustrates a serious point. Misusing the Bible is easy; “correctly handling” it is not (2 Tim. 2:15).

In my little book Before You Open Your Bible, I explored nine heart postures that are helpful, even necessary, for rightly approaching God’s Word. But what happens when the prelude ends and you begin reading? What then?

1. Observe: What Does It Say?

The first step is observation (or perhaps better, comprehension). Whenever we open God’s Word, our most fundamental task is simply to see what’s there.

The good news is that observation isn’t complicated. It mainly consists of reading slowly and carefully in order to gather the basic facts of who, what, where, and when. Good questions to bear in mind include:

  • Are there any repeated words or ideas?
  • Who is speaking or writing?
  • To whom are they speaking or writing?
  • Who are the main characters?
  • Where is this taking place?
  • Are there words that show chronology?
  • Are there contrasts, comparisons, or conditional statements?
  • What is the logical progression in the author’s argument?
  • Are there words that indicate atmosphere, mood, and emotion? Figures of speech?
  • What are the section divisions and linking words?
  • What don’t I understand here?

Biblical observation doesn’t have to be some drawn-out, laborious process. You don’t need to consciously ask and answer each question. The more you engage the Bible, the more alert you’ll become to such things. (By the way, it’s best to work through whole books of the Bible from beginning to end, rather than adopting a “popcorn” approach that ignores context and bounces randomly from one passage to another.)

2. Interpret: What Does It Mean?

The next step is interpretation. You’ve considered what the passage says, but what does it mean?

Read the rest here.

Our Eyes Are Upon You

Our Eyes Are Upon You

For we have no power against this great multitude
that is coming against us;
nor do we know what to do,
but
our eyes are upon You.
─2 Chronicles 20:12

Have you ever been so bewildered, frustrated, and afraid about a situation that you forgot all that God has done for you in other areas of your life? Years ago I experienced a disappointment so utterly shocking that it just about knocked me down. I cried out to my Lord, “I can’t do this anymore! I don’t have the strength to go on!”

I admit that I was feeling somewhat disgruntled with God because I felt He had let me down. After I had calmed down a bit, though, my prayers became, “OK, Lord, You know how disappointed and afraid I am right now but I know and trust that You have some kind of plan in all this mess. Please show me how to proceed next.”

Jehoshaphat has everything going against him in this section of Scripture and he shows a normal human reaction: he is afraid. But instead of wondering how they will get through such a tough situation, he rests on the promises of God and what He has done for them in the past. Jehoshaphat then commits the entire situation to God because he knows only God can save the nation; he acknowledges God’s sovereign power over this situation; he praises God’s glory and takes comfort in His promises; and he professes complete dependence upon God ─ not himself ─ for deliverance in this situation.

Wow! What great faith and trust Jehoshaphat shows here! He throws himself completely into God’s loving care because he has the assurance that as God has been there for him in the past, He is also right there beside him now. And God does assure Jehoshaphat that the battle is His and He will fight it!

I find myself ─ and I’m sure you do also ─ in situations from which I cannot extricate myself. God says, “Turn it over to Me. I’ll take care of it.” Oh, that you and I might learn to turn it over to Him as Jehoshaphat did!  ─J. Vernon McGee

In my own situation, God not only answered my prayers as to how next to proceed, but He showed me in three different ways:

  1. He gave a close friend the above verses in 2 Chronicles as she was praying about my problem, and then she obediently shared them with me.
  2. Next, the sermon the following Sunday was based on Luke 7:46-49, which compares building your house on rock versus building it on sand. My house (my relationship with the Lord) is definitely built on rock ─ The Rock ─ so no matter what the enemy does to try and shake me up, his storms cannot blow my house apart. And the Lord, my Rock, will enable me to withstand any storm that will come my way.
  3. God showed me during a Bible study that He had indeed used my praying friend to speak His will to me.

I freely admitted to God that I am weary of the fight, but I had His assurance that He would fight the battle for me. I also realized that the outcome doesn’t matter as much as my faith and trust that God would work everything out for my best interests while I simply waited and watched for what would happen next.

Beloved, are you currently in the midst of a frightening or bewildering situation? Are you wondering what to do or how to cope? Claim God’s promises and acknowledge that He only wants the best for you, right where you are now, and then trust that He will work everything out for your good and His glory.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please forgive us for our selective memories. We know that you are always working in our lives, yet there are so many times when we forget that You are totally in control. We praise You for always being with us and taking care of us so well, and we ask that You help us recall Jehoshaphat’s words during the difficult times: “For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” Oh, Lord, we praise and thank You for who You are, our All in All!

Why Did Jesus Need to Be Baptized?

Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.

Why Did Jesus Need to Be Baptized?

By 

If we were to compile a catalog of practices that are essential to the Christian faith, what would be included? Among other essentials, baptism would certainly need to be high on the list. Baptism is one of the means by which Jesus commissions his followers to make disciples (Matt. 28:18–20). It’s also central to the preaching of the gospel at the inception of the church at Pentecost (Acts 2:38). In short, the idea that Christians should be baptized—regardless of when or how—is central to the Christian faith. This should come as no surprise.

What may come as a surprise, however, is that Jesus himself was baptized. Baptism wasn’t just something Jesus commanded his followers to do, but an experience he also underwent. As familiar as we may be with the Gospel accounts, the fact that Jesus submitted himself to baptism may still strike us as odd.

The plot thickens even more when we consider that the baptism Jesus submitted himself to was John’s baptism, which is described as (1) accompanying “repentance” (Matt. 3:2); (2) in conjunction with people “confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6); and (3) as the means by which to “flee from the coming wrath” (Matt. 3:7).

It doesn’t take much pondering to realize that this doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of what the New Testament says about Jesus—that he was God’s virgin-born (Matt. 1:19–25), sinless (2 Cor. 5:21Heb. 4:15), perfectly obedient Son (Heb. 5:8–9John 17:4), fully pleasing to the Father (Matt. 3:17), who pre-existed as divine but laid aside his glory to take on flesh (Phil. 2:5–8). Nonetheless, Jesus says it is fitting and appropriate that he be baptized (Matt. 3:15).

All this leads to an important question: Why did Jesus need to be baptized?

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Both Mark and Luke record this story but don’t raise the question (Mark 1:9–11Luke 3:21–22). John’s Gospel doesn’t give us the events of Jesus’s baptism but emphasizes the same effect as the other Gospels—that the Spirit of God descended on Jesus, anointing him as the Son of God (John 1:32–34). Only Matthew raises the issue by including a piece of the story that the other Gospel writers don’t—John himself was hesitant to baptize Jesus. John, aware that Jesus wasn’t just another person coming to repent and confess his sins, protests: “I need to be baptized by you, but you are coming to me?” (Matt. 3:14).

Jesus’s answer to John’s reluctance is instructive, both in answering our question and also in revealing an important aspect of Matthew’s theology. Jesus said, “Let it be so, for it is fitting in this way for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). This is a weighty answer, containing two words—“fulfill” and “righteousness”—that are central ideas in Matthew’s Gospel. Something important is going on here.

Nonetheless, Jesus’s response to John remains a bit esoteric for most readers today. So allow me to offer the following paraphrase: Jesus is fulfilling his role as the obedient Son of God by practicing the required righteousness of submitting to God’s will to repent (i.e., to live in the world wholeheartedly devoted to God).

Read the rest here.

Anyway

The poem below was reportedly written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta. 

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;

forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;

be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;

succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;

be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, some could destroy overnight;

build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;

be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;

do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;

give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;

it was never between you and them anyway.

—Mother Teresa

What is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?

Sharing today from Got Questions?

Question:
“What is the Second Coming
of Jesus Christ?”

Answer: The second coming of Jesus Christ is the hope of believers that God is in control of all things, and is faithful to the promises and prophecies in His Word. In His first coming, Jesus Christ came to earth as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, just as prophesied. Jesus fulfilled many of the prophecies of the Messiah during His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. However, there are some prophecies regarding the Messiah that Jesus has not yet fulfilled. The second coming of Christ will be the return of Christ to fulfill these remaining prophecies. In His first coming, Jesus was the suffering Servant. In His second coming, Jesus will be the conquering King. In His first coming, Jesus arrived in the most humble of circumstances. In His second coming, Jesus will arrive with the armies of heaven at His side.

The Old Testament prophets did not make clearly this distinction between the two comings. This can be seen in Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7 and Zechariah 14:4. As a result of the prophecies seeming to speak of two individuals, many Jewish scholars believed there would be both a suffering Messiah and a conquering Messiah. What they failed to understand is that there is only one Messiah and He would fulfill both roles. Jesus fulfilled the role of the suffering servant (Isaiah chapter 53) in His first coming. Jesus will fulfill the role of Israel’s deliverer and King in His second coming. Zechariah 12:10 and Revelation 1:7, describing the second coming, look back to Jesus being pierced. Israel, and the whole world, will mourn for not having accepted the Messiah the first time He came.

Read the rest here.