I want you to ask yourself a simple question. You may not like the answer, but I want you to be honest with yourself. The answer to this question is simply between you and God (and He already knows). How much did you pray last week? How many times did you begin the day with prayer? How many times did you close the day with prayer? How many times did you give thanks before eating a meal? How often did you make time to pray?
I think there is a difference between praying at certain times and setting aside time to pray. By this, I do not mean that God does not appreciate both. I am not saying that the first lacks any benefits. The point is whether or not we pray when it is convenient and when it may not be. Praying before a meal is like going to church on Sunday – it is a time that is already set aside; it is convenient. We should pray before meals, but is that the only time we pray? We should go to church on Sunday, but is that the only time we worship God?
People have often asked, “Is it wrong if you fall asleep while praying in your bed?” This is a difficult question. There is no passage that gives us a direct answer. However, the Bible does talk about some attitudes that might help us with the answer. If night time is the only time you pray, then it might be best to get out of bed, get on your knees, and pray. But if you “pray without ceasing,” I can only imagine the joy God has as one of His children lays their head on His lap and talks to Him until they fall asleep. I assume it is similar to a little child laying his head on mommy or daddy’s lap and telling them about their day. But if we are only praying at night, then we have another question we need to be answering – “Why don’t we pray?”
I think there are four reasons why we do not pray and we need to move beyond all of them.
- We think prayer does not work. We know what the Bible says, we know that God hears our prayers, and we know that we are supposed to pray. But what about when Grandma was sick? We prayed for her to get better and she died. What about when we were having trouble paying the bills and I was up for a raise at work? I prayed about it, but I did not get it. As humans, we seem to be able to focus only on the negatives – when we did not get what we wanted. Too often we pray selfishly (not according to God’s will) and too often we pray without faith. When we pray with faith, we are praying with an attitude that God does hear us, but that he also knows what is best for us.
- We are too busy. I think this may be the number one hindrance to prayer. When I lie down at night and realize that I have not prayed all day, it is usually because I was running from one thing to another. I had not set aside time to pray. This is why Jesus would get away from everything. After dealing with large crowds, He would go off by himself to pray. After the limited commission, when the disciples came back, Jesus took them off by themselves. They needed some time away to refocus and pray.
- We fail to appreciate the power of God. Yes, we may pray for someone with cancer to get better, only for that person to die. But I have prayed for some with cancer to get better and they did. Gary Ogden was a loved preacher in the Tampa Bay area. Phil Roberts was a much-loved Bible professor at Florida College. In the winter of 2003, both men were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is fatal 99.9% of the time. Many were praying for both men. And as expected, Dr. Roberts died after a little over one year. But a month later, Gary Ogden was giving one of the evening lectures at the Florida College Lectures. Two months later, his doctors pronounced him free of cancer. I have said before, I could pray for a red Camaro to be in my drive way when I get home. I do not think God will say “yes” to that prayer. But I believe He could do it if He wanted to do it.
- We are too comfortable. If being too busy is the number one hindrance to prayer, this may be a close, and closely related, number two. We have houses, cars, electricity, more than enough food, entertainment, and education. Too often, we feel that we have provided it for ourselves. Maybe we should make ourselves uncomfortable. I am not saying to go sell everything, but I do have some suggestions. Make a point to talk to a coworker about the Gospel this week – that will make you a little uncomfortable. Ask one of the elderly of your church if you can pick up their groceries for them – that might make you uncomfortable. Call and ask if someone needs a ride to church – it might make you uncomfortable. Make a decision to talk more about God to non-christians – that might make everyone uncomfortable. When we get uncomfortable, it becomes easier to pray. We need to be praying that we can do things for others and act in a way that gives God the glory (Matthew 5:16). Those kinds of things may make us uncomfortable. But it is ok, we pray when we are uncomfortable.
We are getting close to the Superbowl and next Sunday when the game is over, one team will stand in the middle of the field pumping their fists into the air, high fiving one another, and crying tears of exhaustion and joy! The other team, however, will walk to the locker room with their heads hanging, crying tears of exhaustion and defeat. A few years back, after a hard fought final game of the World Series, the camera panned over the dugout of the losing team. The players sat with their faces buried in their hands, many with tears down their cheeks. The announcer let the scene sink in before saying, “Losing hurts more than winning feels good.”
I think this statement rings true in many aspects of life. We feel that the pain (or even the fear) of losing inhibits the drive to win (or even try). Psychologists call this “loss aversion.” What this means is that the negative consequences of losing provide more motivation than the positive outcomes of winning.
I think this is clearly seen in how many Christians feel about salvation. Too often, it is the fear of hell that gets people out of bed on Sunday mornings. We preachers preach on the need to be at church, the need to be faithful, the need to read your Bible, and sometimes that comes across as a checklist for staying out of hell.
Do not get me wrong, hell is a good motivator. You can talk to those living in sin about the concept and pain of hell and that might lead them to act. Without a doubt, I was baptized mainly because I did not want to go to hell. The question is this, “When do we stop scaring them out of hell, and rejoicing them into heaven?”
In discussing this “loss aversion” and being a Christian, Gary Henry says, “It need not be this way, however. We need not spend our lives simply moving away from things. There are wondrously great things to move toward, and we need only cultivate our taste for them to be powerfully drawn by their attraction.” He is talking about things like the love and grace of God, the beauty of God’s word, the glory of God that is spoken in His creation, and the joy and encouragement we receive from meeting with other saints. While hell should be avoided, as we mature as Christians we should desire heaven. Not just because we are afraid of hell but also, because we desire to be with God, we desire to give glory to God, and we should desire to thank God for His care.
This may be easier said than done. “Loss aversion” is second nature to us. But why? As we grow up, we learn the pain of losing, getting hurt, being betrayed, and therefore we begin to protect ourselves from those things. So how do we fix this problem?
I think Jesus has already answered this question, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Children are absolutely amazed by the simplest things. When James was little, he stood at the window for a long time watching snow and ice fall from the sky. They are intrigued by the stories of the Old Testament. They want to plant trees, hug squirrels, and run in the grass and at the end of the day they know it all comes from God! As we “mature” we do one of two things: we either 1) disregard these things completely or 2) worship these things instead of the creator.
We need to get back to that child-like humility, where be believe and act like God is the beginning and end of all things. We need to move towards heaven because God is there not just because it is not hell.
Remember the parable of the talents? The men with ten and five go to work and double their money; while the man with one is too afraid of the negative consequences of losing to even try! He was so afraid of “hell” that he was paralyzed. I find it interesting that in the Bible, when people go to great lengths to avoid something, they often get what they were trying to avoid.
As we strive to be good stewards of Christ, don’t focus on just the pain that comes if we fail – you will be paralyzed. Instead, focus on a relationship with God where you grow to be more like Him and maintain the same standards and love the same things. In his conclusion on the subject Gary Henry says, “The darkness is to be avoided, yes. But even more than that, the light is to be loved.”
In our technological world it is easy for us to be distracted from whatever we may be doing – an alarm goes off, we receive a text message, the television blares in the background, and of course our children call for us constantly. Usually, we think of it as a bad thing to be distracted. We probably should when something of lesser importance (i.e. a text message) distracts us from what is of greater importance (i.e. the Sunday morning sermon).
Most preachers preach and teach from an outline. The main points (or the bare bones) are written out but the “meat” is spoken from memory of what was studied and thought out. One of the drawbacks of this style of public speech is that it is easy to get carried away on one particular issue, point, or sub-point. For example, if I get started on the subject of “new age” religion and thought, I am likely to be distracted from my main point while I blast away at the idea of relative truth. It is common to hear teachers and preachers, as they are climbing off of their soap box, say, “But I digress…” This simply means that we have wandered a bit from our main point and followed some related tangent for a little too long.
What about when something of great importance distracts us from something a little less important? If you are reading a book, it is good to be distracted when you hear your child crying. Sometimes being distracted reminds us of what is more important – that book is not going to go anywhere, but the child will!
In Philippians 2, Paul seems to get distracted from His main point. Now I realize that the Holy Spirit was in control of what Paul wrote, but that does not mean that Paul’s feelings and personality was not present in his letters. Paul is admonishing the Christians in Philippi to submit to one another, put one another first, and maintain a selfless, humble attitude. To drive the point home, Paul uses Jesus as an example of humble, selfless service. But Paul gets a bit distracted…
Before long, the subject is no longer about the attitude that Christians need to have in dealing with one another. The subject has now shifted to the glorification of Jesus Christ at the right hand of God. Not only has God glorified Christ, everyone (sooner or later) will acknowledge Jesus Christ as King! It’s almost as if, at the mention of Jesus’ sacrifice, Paul has to stop and give glory, honor, and praise to God for His grace. Paul cannot even bring up the subject without getting on his knees in prayer for a few moments. After reflecting on Jesus Christ for a while, Paul is ready to get back to the rest of his letter.
In his second epistle Peter is discussing the need for Christians to submit to those in authority – even to those who are unjust. Like Paul, Peter uses Jesus as the example. Jesus’ suffering was completely unjust – He was completely innocent. In His suffering, Jesus entrusted Himself to God. But Peter cannot stop with a mere mention of Jesus’ sacrifice. He leaves his main point, because, to him, there is nothing more important than Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He will allow himself to be distracted from anything in order to take a few moments to focus on, expound upon, and even get carried away with Jesus’ death. Between 1 Peter 2:25 and 3:1 you could almost insert the phrase, “But I digress…” because he picks right back up with the theme of submission.
Oh that we would get distracted from our worldly affairs more often to focus on the gift of God’s son. Of course we have important things to do – Paul’s admonition to humble ourselves before one another and Peter’s encouragement to submit to those in authority are extremely important – but it is our Lord on the cross that gives meaning, focus, and perspective to everything else. I think this is what Paul was really getting at when he said, “I decided to know nothing among you except for Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” For Christians, this should be the center of our lives, our thoughts, our words, and our actions.
May God help us to be distracted from this life in order to glorify Him more often!
We have been discussing the sure victory we have in God. We have looked at some of the battles that God and/or His people have fought and we have noted how He won (i.e. stopping the sun, stones from heaven, chariots and horses of fire, and an angel – the destroyer). There is one other aspect about God’s victories that we want to consider; God does not feel the need to go to battle with what you, the Jews, Satan, or I think of as a typical battle plan.
As the children of Israel were marching through the desert, close to entering the Promised Land, they ran into a big wall – literally! Between the wilderness and the Promised Land stood the fortified city of Jericho. One might expect the battle plans to look like this:
- Block off all the entrances and exits of the city
- Chop down trees for battering rams
- Build siege towers
- Build siege ramp
- Begin an archer attack from the towers as infantry file up the ramp and into the city
Such a plan would make sense. It is logical and about the only proven strategy for taking a fortified city. However, according to Joshua 6, God’s battle plan looked more like this:
- Circumcise your warriors!?!?!?!
- Walk around the city once a day for six days
- On the seventh day, walk around the city seven times
- Have the priests blow horns and the people shout
- After the walls fall, take the city
Such a plan does not make sense. It is illogical and is only good for exercise and humiliation. But God always wins. As the people of Israel followed the word of God (Joshua 6:8), God destroyed the wall of Jericho, allowing His people to flood into the city and destroy it.
In Judges 7, we read of a similar story as Gideon takes his army to fight against Midian. You might expect a simple battle plan:
- Gather every warrior you can find
- Go down into the valley
- Overwhelm your enemy with the sword
But again, God feels no need to follow human practice as He told Gideon of His battle plan:
- Send home all of the scared warriors
- Send home all the warriors who knelt down to get a drink
- Divide your tiny army into three divisions
- Separate your divisions of 100 men and make a bunch of noise
- Destroy your confused and dazed enemy
There is no greater example of this than in the Gospel. The Jews rejected Jesus because He was not the type of Messiah they expected in their battle plan:
- Find and accept a great military leader
- Watch Him single-handedly kill all the Romans
- Put Him on a literal throne in Jerusalem
To most, God’s plan would have seemed silly! Paul sums this whole point up quite nicely in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” and “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to saved those who believe…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Wow! The way God fought His battles against His enemies is exactly how He fights against sin – His way, not ours. “There is a way which seems right to man, but its end is death (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25)” and “For my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways declares the LORD (Isaiah 55:8f)” both spell out this principle. So God’s battle plan to deal with sin looks more like this:
- Leave heaven
- Become a man
- Teach people who will not hear
- Love people who will not care
- Be betrayed
- Die on the cross
- Rise from the dead so that they will know for certain that I WILL WIN!
When God fights, He wins. Therefore, when God promises victory, we can rest assured – God Will Win! We need no more evidence of this fact than we looked at yesterday, but we may want to know HOW God wins. To some this may seem a silly question – God wins because He is God, because He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Who can compete with that? While this is true, the Bible tells of the strategies and weapons God uses in battle. So, with all power, knowledge, and presence, how does God war against His enemies?
Yesterday we mentioned how God fought against Egypt and her gods and pharaoh. With the 10 Plagues, God disrupted their farming (water to blood, locusts, and hail), their livestock (death of livestock and hail), their health (boils), their ability to work and travel (darkness), their comfort (gnats/lice, frogs, flies), and their families (death of the firstborn). God attacked every aspect of their lives and achieved His goal – freedom for His people and recognition of Yahweh in Egypt!
We also see how God fought against His enemies in a literal battle. God caused mass confusion in the ranks of the opposing army, He would throw stones from heaven, and He would halt the sun so His people could take advantage of their ground and fight longer.
We also read about an angel that God uses to deal out death – “the death angel.” Three main texts tell us about this angel (assuming they are referencing the same being). After sending the first nine plagues, God was ready for the final act against Egypt. In Exodus 14:23 we read, “For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” It seems that God was using this “destroyer” or “death angel” to carry out this final plague. There is a possible reference to this same angel in Revelation 9:11.
The second reference is in Joshua 5:13f. As Israel was preparing to go against Jericho and enter the Promised Land, Joshua came across a man ready for battle, “When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, ‘What does my lord say to his servant?’”
The third reference to this angel is in 2 Kings 19:35. Sennacherib, King of Assyria, had surrounded Jerusalem and things looked bad for Hezekiah. Sennacherib even sent a letter back to Assyria that said, “I have Jerusalem shut up, like a bird in a cage.” But God was not going to let Jerusalem be destroyed at this time and we read, “that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.”
One of my favorite passages in the whole Bible is 2 Kings 6:14-17. The scene is of Elisha and his servant and the surrounding enemy army: “So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" He said, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Then Elisha prayed and said, "O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see." So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
We asked how God wins all of His battles – God wins some battles without ever fighting. “So they arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians. But when they came to the edge of the camp of the Syrians, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, ‘Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.’ So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives.” 2 Kings 7:5-7
God uses His angels and spiritual beings however He sees fit. If He wants them to fight the battle, so be it. If He just wants to run the enemy off, so be it. But make no mistake about it, God Will Win!