Ray Pritchard's Posts (12)

Sort by

Boiling Prayers

We face two dangers whenever we talk about prayer. We can make prayer seem so difficult that only the “super-Christians” can pray effectively while the rest of us just muddle along. Sometimes the stories we tell about saints who spent hours on their knees crying out to God end up discouraging us because we’re busy and tired and the kids are wearing us out and our job is a hassle and life feels like a burden, so even if Luther prayed two hours every morning, that was a long time ago, and he’s been dead for almost 500 years.

You know what I mean.
It’s easy to get intimidated about prayer.


Or we can go to the opposite extreme and make prayer seem like texting a friend to meet you for dinner and a movie. That has the advantage of making you want to pray, but you can end up with a lightweight view of prayer. Instead of coming into God’s presence to talk to your Heavenly Father, you feel like you’re chatting with a friend who is checking his Instagram while you are talking with him.


We would do better to think of prayer as a gift from God that enables us to stay connected with the Lord of the universe. If we use the gift, we will grow deeper in our knowledge of God.

Our Father wants us to pray, he encourages us to pray, and he invites us to pray. With that in mind, let’s look at James 5:16-18 and see what it teaches us about the power of prayer. We find in this passage a pattern, a promise, and a proof. Let’s take those one at a time.


A Pattern to Follow


Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed (v. 16a).


You don’t hear many sermons on this verse. We don’t think about it often because we don’t know what to do with it.


On one level, it’s not difficult to understand. In this verse James gives us a three-part pattern to follow:


First, we confess to one another.

Then we pray for one another.

Then we are healed.


Let’s be frank and admit it is the first instruction that trips us up. Confession of sin is never easy, even when we know confession is good for the soul. Proverbs 28:13 tells us that when we confess and forsake our sins, we will find mercy from the Lord. That’s the dilemma of this verse. We know we need to confess our sins, we know it is good for us, but even so we do whatever we can to wiggle out of that obligation.


This is the only place in the New Testament where we are told to confess our sins to one another. In thinking about that, we can’t overlook the context (vv. 13-15), which teaches us how to pray for the sick. The whole passage emphasizes the communal nature of the Christian life. What happens to you touches me, and what happens to me touches you. We need each other more than we know, and we never need each other more than when we are sick.


James 5:15 includes the phrase, “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven,” suggesting the close interplay between the physical and the spiritual. Sometimes our bodies get sick because our souls are sick with unconfessed sin. We cannot get better physically until we get better spiritually.


Why does this matter?


Sin isolates.

Confession brings us together.


Sin destroys unity.

Confession repairs the breach.


Sin makes us sick.

Confession leads to healing.


Why are we hesitant to confess our sins? I can think of many reasons. It feels intrusive, it’s humbling, we are embarrassed, afraid, and our pride keeps us from admitting the truth.


Let me pause and ask a question of the text. Is James thinking about private confession or public confession? The answer is yes, depending on the circumstances. Most of the time our confession will be to another person against whom we have sinned. Occasionally we may need to be more public if the sin was of a public nature.


James is not telling us to confess someone else’s sin. I can’t do that, and it’s a big waste of time. We can’t force anyone to confess. After all, “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” We aren’t called to bludgeon people into confession.


James wants us to think about the man in the mirror, not the man next door. If you are married, don’t keep a record of the sins of your husband or wife. What good does that do? Keep track of your own shortcomings, and then be quick to confess them to the one you love.


Suppose someone says, “Yes, I sinned, but he sinned against me.” Well, that’s probably true. It’s a rare case where the fault is 100% with one person. What do you do if the other person refuses to confess their sin? The answer is not hard to find.


Take care of your side of the street.

God can take care of the other side.


What happens when this is ignored?


  1. We live in guilt.
  2. We live in isolation.
  3. The fever spreads.
  4. Joy disappears.
  5. Anger increases.
  6. Self-loathing dominates.
  7. Friendships end.
  8. Trust erodes.


We confess together so that we might pray together.

Confession clears the way for prayer to happen.

Otherwise, there are obstacles in the road.


James pictures the church as a community of believers where we are close enough to be honest and open enough to be real. When that happens, true healing can take place.


The devil will fight you every step of the way. It’s not just lust that he uses against us. It’s the shame and guilt of what we’ve done, and the recurring thought, “What if others knew what you’ve been doing?” So we live in the shadowy realm of fear, worried someone will find out the truth about us, desperately hoping for a way out. We will not get better until we decide to do whatever it takes to be pure before the Lord. You can’t have clean hands until you decide to wash off the dirt.


I knew a Christian counselor who repeated one key phrase: “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Then he would add: “If you’ve got a lot of secrets, you’re really sick.” He’s right, and the cure to those secrets that pile up is found in verse 16:





When we sin, everything within us screams out “Cover it up. Turn off the lights. Bury the evidence. Destroy the tapes. Make up an alibi. Leave the scene of the crime. Run! Run! Run!” John 4 tells the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. He caught her attention with the promise of “living water” that would quench the thirst deep within her soul. When she asks for that “living water,” Jesus responds by saying, “Go, call your husband and come back” (John 4:16). On one level it appears Jesus is being insensitive. Why bring up anything about her past? Is Jesus trying to embarrass her? The answer is no. But his instruction to call her husband made her very uncomfortable. She doesn’t want to go into detail, so she simply replies, “I have no husband” (v. 17). That was true, but it wasn’t the whole story. She knew she was hiding the truth, but what she doesn’t know is that Jesus knows it too. This woman has had five husbands, and the man she is living with currently is not her husband.


Does Jesus love this woman? Yes, he does. He knows the truth and still offers her eternal life. Here is the wonder of God’s grace. Only someone who loves you can look at your past without blinking. Real love means knowing the truth about someone else and reaching out to them anyway.


Don’t miss the kicker to the story. “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did’” (v. 39). Once the woman’s secrets were out in the open, she was set free and a revival broke out. 


Oh, the blessedness of having nothing to hide. If you are ready to be rid of your secrets, you can be set free.


A Promise to Believe


The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (v. 16b). 


The word “working” comes from a Greek word that means "energetic” or “boiling.” The boiling prayers of the righteous have great power with God. What's a boiling prayer? It has nothing to do with standing or sitting, kneeling or lying down. It has nothing to do with lifting your voice or speaking in a whisper. It has nothing to do with how loud or how long you pray or whether you open your eyes or keep them closed. When they take your daughter away for lifesaving surgery, you'll discover what a boiling prayer is. When your children are in trouble, you'll pray boiling prayers to God. When anything becomes life or death to you, you’ll pray an earnest, fervent, boiling prayer, and it won’t matter how long or how short you pray.


I heard a Bible teacher tell of a wreck in which his wife was badly hurt. When he got to the crash scene, his wife was unconscious, and her life was hanging in the balance. As he rode in the ambulance to the hospital with her, he stretched his arms over her body. “In that moment all I could do was repeat, ‘O God, O Jesus, O God, O Jesus, O God, O Jesus.’” Then he added, “I felt like it was the first time in my life I had ever really prayed.”


When I heard him say that, my mind went back to the night our first child was born. My wife was several weeks overdue, and that night there were various complications. During the long hours of waiting, the doctor warned us they might have to do a Caesarean delivery. Sometime in the late-night hours, the doctor came in and told us the baby was having fetal heart distress. He showed us on the monitor how the heartbeat was going way up and way down. “We’re going to watch this, but it doesn’t look good.” Two or three hours passed, and about 5:15 AM the doctor came striding in with a very concerned look on his face. He spoke one sentence: “We’re going to take the baby now.” That was not a question. He wasn’t asking for my permission. Suddenly the room exploded with activity: nurses coming in and out, carts being wheeled in, someone grabbed my wife, and within thirty seconds the room was completely empty except for me. It happened so fast I didn’t have a chance to kiss my wife good-bye. I didn’t have a chance to pray with her. The last thing I saw was her frightened face as they wheeled her into the delivery room. As I sat alone in that room, I tried to pray but I couldn’t. All I could do was say, “O God, have mercy. O Jesus, have mercy.” After what seemed like hours, though it was only about 20 minutes later, the doctor came in and said, “Mr. Pritchard, you’ve got a son. He’s healthy. He’s going to be okay. Your wife is doing fine.” I felt that day like it was the first time I had ever prayed in my life.


A Proof to Remember


Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (vv. 17-18).


James 5:17 adds a fascinating fact about Elijah when it calls him a man "with a nature like ours." The King James Version says he was a man of "like passions." He was like you, and he was like me. Read the story and see for yourself. Elijah had his ups and downs. He was a little rough around the edges. Not so polished. Not so refined. You're not going to have Elijah over to watch the World Series because you don't know when he's going to go off. He's that kind of man. When he gets a message from God, he's going to take action. You're not going to talk him out of it either. He was far from perfect. He's got a temper, and he is prone to depression and discouragement. James used him as an example for us to follow because, despite his human weaknesses, he was a man of prayer who walked with God during an evil generation. Though he was an imperfect mountain man, he was also a man of prayer and enormous faith in God. And that's why he's in the Bible.


It's easy to argue with James when you think of all Elijah did. He was a man of extremes, never settling for the moderate middle. When Elijah was at his best, he called down fire from heaven and defeated 850 false prophets. When Elijah was at his worst, he ran across the desert and hid in a cave on Mount Horeb. He did nothing by halves. Talk about life on the edge! He was on the edge half the time and over it the rest of the time. What about that story of Elijah laying himself on the body of a dead child and praying for God to bring him back to life (1 Kings 17:17-24)? Most of us can't imagine doing something like that. But then we're not like Elijah. Or are we?


Elijah was not some superhuman man in a category far beyond the rest of us mere mortals. He experienced all the emotions of life—joy, sorrow, victory, defeat, frustration, exultation, encouragement, discouragement, anger, forgiveness, despair, and relief. We face a twofold danger when we study a life of great accomplishment. Sometimes we tend to canonize a man, treating him as if he were exempt from the normal temptations of life. It is easy to chisel Elijah's head on some religious Mount Rushmore and say, "There never was such a man before or since." Or we may focus on a great man's failures, faults, and foibles, exposing every sin and every foolish mistake so that in the end he seems not very great at all. We pull him down into the muck and mire of ordinary life until the luster of his greatness has disappeared underneath the veneer of his frailty.


All the heroes of the Bible had their weaknesses, and Elijah was no exception. And that is one reason we are drawn to such a man. God used him in spite of his weaknesses. After his greatest victory, Elijah ran away. He ran away! God had to go and find him and talk him back into his senses. Then God used him again. That's a good story because it’s our story. We've all run away under pressure. We've given up, thrown in the towel, quit the race, caved in when the heat was on. No one is strong all the time. We're all made from the same clay. Elijah's story is our story because Elijah's God is our God too. Just as he came after Elijah, he comes after you and me again and again and again. He doesn't know when to quit. He doesn't accept our letter of resignation. He finds us, calls us, refines us, rebukes us, encourages us, and refits us. Then he commissions us all over again.


James wants us to remember that this imperfect man of God prayed, and the rain stopped. It didn’t fall in Israel for 3 ½ years. Then he prayed again, and the heavens opened up, and rain fell from heaven, ending the drought. If God would listen to Elijah’s prayers, he will certainly listen to ours.


Not long ago a friend of ours was going through a desperate battle with cancer. She wondered how she should pray about it. One day I passed along this bit of advice: “If you need a miracle, ask for one. There’s no extra charge for large requests.” That’s entirely biblical. Sometimes we shrink back from “big” requests because we think they are too much for us to ask. But such thinking reveals a man-centered theology. When we pray, we are coming to the God of the universe who holds all things together. Why not ask for what we need? It’s quite true: There is no extra charge for large requests.


What, then, is the application? Let’s confess our sins, let’s pray together, so that the Lord might heal us. Pray boiling prayers because those prayers get God’s attention. Remember Elijah and ask God for what you need.


In the end prayer is not a burden, not a duty, but a blessed privilege. We should not pray because we have to but because we want to. Let us pray with confidence, expecting God will answer our prayers. Nothing is too great to ask, and nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Read more…

“Humble yourself!”
He shouted it a second time.
“Humble yourself!”

It happened just after the end of the college football playoff game between Georgia and Oklahoma. As the two teams exited the field, after Georgia defeated Oklahoma in a thrilling double-overtime victory, one of the Georgia players spotted the Oklahoma quarterback and shouted those two words at him:

“Humble yourself!”


It was unique enough that the video clip spread across the internet. You can hear lots of things after a football game, but you’ll rarely hear anyone shout, “Humble yourself!”


It remains good advice for all of us. If pride is the first sin, then humility is the first virtue. Years ago I learned the First Rule of the Spiritual Life: He’s God and we’re not. All spiritual growth starts with this truth. Until you grasp what it means, you are still in spiritual kindergarten.


James 4:6-10 fleshes out what it means to humble yourself in the eyes of the Lord. In this passage we discover six steps that unlock the path of God’s blessing for his children.


Would you like to know God better? Humble yourself!
Would you like to receive God’s approval? Humble yourself!

Would you like to break through to victory? Humble yourself!


Would you like a closer walk with God in 2018? Pay attention to this passage because it will help you jumpstart your spiritual life.


# 1: Take a Knee


“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God” (vv. 6-7a).


Humility doesn’t come naturally to most of us. It’s the virtue which, if you think you have it, you probably don’t. D. L. Moody used to pray, “Lord, make me humble, but don’t let me know it.” 


No one likes being told what to do. We would rather be in charge of our own affairs, and that’s why the whole notion of surrendering our pride to the Lord sounds strange at first. But there is no other way to get better. There is no other way to be healed. There is no other way to be forgiven. There is no other way to find a new life.


We can fight the Lord, or we can surrender everything to his control.

When we fight, we lose.
When we surrender in faith, we win.


Some friends saw this sign painted on the side of a bus in Nigeria: “Man no be God.” That sums it up, doesn’t it? You aren’t God, you never were, and you never will be. Start there, and you’ll be on the right path.


Humility grows best in the rich soil of God’s grace. Don’t pray for more humility; pray for more grace. Pray that God will pour out his grace in your heart so that you will only boast in the Lord.


The proud man must constantly remind you how great he is. He brags because he wants you to praise him. But if you have to tell me how great you are, how great could you possibly be? The braggart brags because he’s trying to convince you (and himself) of how great he is. The humble man doesn’t brag because the truth speaks for itself. He leaves his reputation in the Lord’s hands because it doesn’t matter to him what others think. He wants God’s reputation to become great in the land. What happens to him doesn’t matter as long as the Lord’s cause goes forward.


Walking in humility means you confess your sins, you forgive your enemies, you admit your mistakes, and you don’t brag about how great you are. It also means you serve others with a smile, not with a frown.


“God opposes the proud.” Don’t let that happen to you!

“But gives grace to the humble.” So pray for the grace you need.


Take a knee.
You’ll be glad you did.


# 2: Fight Back


“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (v. 7b).


This is both a command and a promise. If we submit to God, we may be sure that when we resist the devil, he will flee from us. We have no power in ourselves against the devil, but he has no power to use against us when we fight with God’s power. By ourselves, we can’t win; with God’s help, we can’t lose.

The word “resist” is a military term. It means you stand and fight. You don’t run away. We are to flee temptation, but we are to fight the devil. That means taking up the armor of God and standing in the evil day (Ephesians 6:10-17). 


Satan is like a football coach studying the opposing team. He has “game film” on us, he knows our weaknesses and our strengths, and he uses what he knows against us. If he can get you discouraged, he’s already won the battle. He knows when you lose your temper. Satan isn’t equal to God, but he’s a lot smarter than you or me.


Don’t be surprised when he hits you out of the blue. Fight back!
Don’t be surprised when he comes to you with a seductive temptation. Fight back!

Don’t be surprised when he whispers in your ear in a moment of weakness. Fight back!


The devil is a murderer by nature (John 8:44). He will destroy your career, your marriage, your family, and your ministry if you let him. You’ve got to stand and fight.


Fight back with the Word of God.
Fight back by singing great hymns.

Fight back by praying to Jesus.
Fight back by leaning on your brothers and sisters.

Fight back by confessing Christ openly.

Fight back by coming to the Lord’s Table.

Fight back by fleeing every temptation.


Stand and fight, child of God!

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.


# 3: Draw Near


Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (v. 8a).


The question is not, how near is God to us, but rather how near are we to him? Every married couple understands that proximity is one thing, but intimacy is something else. A couple may be seated on the same couch but be miles apart from each other. They may sleep together but not share the same bed spiritually. It is quite possible to be married and live entirely separate lives.


Drawing near to God starts in the heart. Take another married couple and watch them for a moment. She may be knitting or playing the piano. He may be reading a book or listening to her play the piano. Minutes may pass without a word being spoken, but they are happy together. He has drawn near to her, and she has drawn near to him.


If we come to God with that same desire to know him, he will draw near to us. You do not need to be an advanced Christian or a super-saint or a deep Bible student. The newest saint and the weakest believer may know God’s presence.


Years ago I heard the question put this way, “If God feels far away from you, who moved?” It’s never the Lord. We may know his presence and feel his pleasure if we truly want it. He will draw near to you if you draw near to him.


# 4: Clean Up


“Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (v. 8b).


We must cleanse our hands because they are dirty with sin.

We must purify our hearts because they are divided, and we are distracted.


This means we stop making excuses for bad attitudes, for casual unkindness, for clever put-downs, for dabbling in pornography, for bragging about our accomplishments, for envy of others, for bitterness, for a critical spirit, for our prayerlessness, for our need to be in control, for giving in to despair, for hating our enemies instead of loving them, and for our failure to do what we ought to do.


Here’s a useful way to apply this truth. Take some time to get alone with God. Pray this simple prayer: “Lord, show me the truth about myself.” Then write down what the Lord shows you. In my experience, you can’t do this in ten minutes, and you can’t do this when you are busy. It takes time to open your heart to the Holy Spirit. When I have done this, I have been appalled at what the Lord reveals to me about my own heart, but then I have been glad for the cleansing that comes from confession and repentance.


Hosea 10:12 offers us a wonderful promise:


“Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (NLT).


Plowing is hard work because it means digging up the rocks and pulling the weeds that keep the good fruit from growing. But if we by God’s grace do the hard thing, the Lord promises to send the rain that produces a new life with new joy and fresh fruit from heaven.


# 5: Get Serious


“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom (v. 9).


This isn’t exactly “your best life now,” and it doesn’t sound like the “abundant life” or the “life that wins.” In fact, this verse runs counter to the “I want to be happy all the time” version of Christianity that is very popular in the West.


Be wretched—Who wants to be wretched?

Mourn—Don’t worry, be happy.

Weep—That’s a real downer.


If we laugh, we should stop it and start mourning.

If we have joy, turn it into gloom.


I’ll be the first to agree that this verse, stated this way, seems like a downer. But let’s step back and ask ourselves what James means by all this.


Is he a killjoy? No, that can’t be right.
Is he a Nattering Nabob of Negativism? Whatever that is, that’s not who he is.

Is he a frowning Puritan? That’s not fair because the Puritans were supremely happy in God.


James wants us to get serious about our relationship with God. When theologian R. C. Sproul died in December 2017, Russell Pulliam wrote an assessment of his life in the Washington Post. He located Sproul’s huge influence in the fact that he believed in the theology of John Calvin. That led to this sentence:


"Sproul believed that we are more sinful than we usually think we are."


That’s spot-on accurate, both as a statement of what Sproul believed and of the true American self-assessment. Most people, even those who don’t go to church, would agree they are sinners. That is, no one’s perfect, we all make mistakes, and so on. It’s not hard to get people to agree with that concept. But the Bible goes much further. It tells us that sin has infected every part of human life, that we are spiritually dead, spiritually blind, lost, separated from God, and without hope in the world. The Bible reveals the solemn truth that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). We have all missed the mark. The whole human race is lost, broken, dead, blind, deaf to God’s truth, in a state of perpetual rebellion, and so separated from God that we are under his wrath, and bound for eternal punishment in hell.


That’s what God says about the whole human race.

That’s God’s verdict on you and me.


If you don’t believe that, or if you think that’s too harsh, or if you can’t handle the truth, then this verse will make no sense to you.


It all depends on how messed up you think you are.


Small sinners need a small Savior.
Moderate sinners need a moderate Savior.
Bigtime sinners need a bigtime Savior.


We are all bigtime sinners!


Once we see our sin as it really is, we will be wretched and mourn and weep. We’ll stop laughing and start crying. We’ll let our joy be turned to mourning. And that opens the door to the abundant life we all seek.


Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

This promise comes true whenever we decide to take God seriously.


# 6: Stay Low


“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (v. 10).


When my friend Don Lough became the Executive Director of Word of Life a few years ago, he asked his mentor Howard Hendricks for his advice. His reply was simple: “Lie low and exalt Christ.” That’s a good word for all of us. We can brag on ourselves, or we can exalt Christ, but we can’t do both at the same time. That sentence stands as a powerful admonition for every Christian. It is great advice because it describes two choices. You can exalt yourself, or you can exalt Christ, but you can’t do both. When we decide to lie low and exalt Christ, there is no limit to what the Lord may choose to do through us.


I began this sermon by talking about one football player who shouted at another football player, “Humble yourself!” What he said to his rival, God says to us. His message is crystal clear.


We can be blessed, but we must humble ourselves.

We can change, but we must humble ourselves.
We can experience the abundant life, but we must humble ourselves.


In the early days of 2018, many of us are thinking about how we can get a fresh start and make a new beginning. James 4:6-10 shows us the path that will jumpstart your spiritual life:


Take a Knee.

Fight Back.

Draw Near.

Clean Up.

Get Serious.

Stay Low.


In the Kingdom of God, the way up is down. If you humble yourself, the Lord will raise you up.


One final thought keeps ringing in my head. Verse 6 reminds us that God “opposes” the proud. Ponder that for a moment.


Could a Christian be an enemy of God? Yes. If that is not true, then these words of James have no application to most of us.


Could God be “opposed” to one of his own children, even though he loves them with an everlasting love? The answer is yes because God loves us so much that he will not leave us the way we are. His love leads him to “oppose” our pride, our anger, our loose tongue, our lust, our unkind spirit, and all the excuses we make for our sin.


It’s like those old Fram oil filter commercials where the mechanic says, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” If you humble yourself now, God won’t have to do it later. A wise pastor friend told me “the first price you pay is always the cheapest.” He’s right. The price for dealing with our problems never goes down; it always goes up. That’s true personally, and it’s true for our relationships. We put off dealing with our issues because we think it will cost too much to deal with them now. But that’s a huge mistake. Sin left untouched always grows. It’s like a deadly cancer you leave untreated. Sin always spreads because it is the cancer of the soul.


We can humble ourselves in the eyes the Lord, or we can go on living the way we want until the time God decides to humble us. The choice is ours.


Every blessing awaits those who will humble themselves before the Lord.


This is the promise of God, and it is good news indeed. May God help us to take these words to heart.

O Lord, grant us grace that we might humble ourselves in your sight. Show us where pride has taken root. Shine the light of your Word on the hidden parts of the heart. Where we have sinned, have mercy. Restore us, O Lord, that we may rejoice in you once again. Amen.

Read more…

How to Love Your Enemies

How To Love Your Enemies

by Ray Pritchard

You never know what will grab someone’s heart.


Mosab Hassan Yousef grew up as a Muslim. From an early age, he studied the Quran, memorized its teachings, said the daily prayers, and followed the way of Islam as faithfully as he could. In that respect, he was like many other young men growing up in Palestinian towns in the West Bank, with one important exception.


His father was one of the founders of Hamas, the militant terrorist organization.


You wouldn’t think he would be a likely candidate for conversion, but the ways of God are beyond human explanation. In his book Son of Hamas (Tyndale, 2010), Yousef tells how he met a man who gave him a New Testament. Because of his interest in religious matters, he decided to read it to see for himself what it said. Naturally he started with Matthew. Soon he encountered the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). There he got his first unfiltered exposure to the pure teachings of Jesus.


It blew him away.


When we interviewed Yousef on American Family Radio, he told us the same story he writes in the book. He couldn’t get away from the revolutionary nature of Jesus’ teaching. One particular point stayed in his mind. Matthew 5:43-45 says,


“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”


“I was thunderstruck!” he said. This was the message he had been looking for. Soon he became a Christian. Three words so captured his heart he simply couldn’t get away from them.


Love your enemies-don’t hate them.

Love your enemies-don’t despise them.

Love your enemies-don’t kill them.


On the radio he told us, “All the other religions say, ‘Love your friends’ or ‘Love your neighbor,’ but only Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’”


So easy to say, so hard to do. This may be the most difficult command Jesus ever gave. Even when we read it in the Bible, it is extremely difficult to believe Jesus meant what He said.

If you’ve got an honest-to-goodness enemy,

If you’ve got someone who doesn’t like you,

If you have so-called friends who attacked you,

If you know people who have hurt your loved ones,

Loving your enemies may not be at the top of your list.


There are a lot of other things we would like to do to our enemies, like getting even or making them suffer like we have suffered. It’s even harder when your enemies have attacked your children or your grandchildren or your spouse.


Who Are My Enemies?


That leads to a very practical question: Who are my enemies? In the broadest sense, an enemy is anyone who turns against me. Jesus is not talking about enemies on the other side of the world. He is talking about personal enemies who tend to be much closer to home. In fact, home is the first place to look for our enemies. Jesus said, “A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matthew 10:36). He mentions three close relationships that can go sour:


A father and his son,

A mother and her daughter,

A mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law.


We can easily extrapolate from that list to other close relationships, including the husband-wife relationship and relations with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other more distant relatives. These are the people we go home to every day or interact with on more or less a regular basis. Every week we work with or go to school with people who may dislike us. We may even come to church and see people we would rather not see. Many of our enemies are found in our immediate sphere of influence. If this teaching of Jesus about loving our enemies is going to work, it must work first in the relationships closest to us. You have to learn to deal with the people closest to you before you can impact the world around you.


Most of us have encountered some enemies along the way. Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. Nothing seems more natural than to hate those who have hurt us deeply. Yet Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” How can we do this?


Unhappy in Babylon


We can find some help from a story tucked away in Jeremiah 29. Here's the background. The year was 597 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and his mighty army had come once again to the gates of Jerusalem. They had come once before, in 605 B.C. That’s when they took Daniel and his friends into exile in Babylon. Now eight years later, they have come to Jerusalem to take another group of Jews into exile. It was a humiliating experience for the people of God. It was also a punishment from the Lord because of their rebellion. In a true sense, they got what was coming to them--70 years in captivity in a foreign land, ruled by pagans who did not worship God.


Not all the Jews were taken to Babylon. Jeremiah was one of those who were left behind. Chapter 29 records a letter he sent from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon in order to encourage them. God's message is unexpected: "Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" (v. 7). God's word is very simple: I put you in Babylon for a purpose. Although I know you are humiliated, discouraged, and angry, do not despair. Pray for the prosperity of Babylon.


Read that last phrase of verse 7 very carefully: "If it prospers, you too will prosper." Here is a message from God for all of us. Many who read these words find themselves caught in a bad situation at work, or at school, or at home. Someone has hurt you deeply and it's all you can do not to strike back. With all your energy, you barely hold back the bitterness. Some of it sloshes over the top now and then. You couldn't pray for your enemies if your life depended on it. But God says to do it anyway. That's the whole point of Jeremiah 29:7.


Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, is used three times in this verse. Besides peace, it means blessing, wholeness, completeness, the absence of conflict, prosperity. Here is the shocking fact—at least it would have been shocking to the Jewish exiles. God ties their blessing to the blessing of the Babylonians. This seems counterintuitive since the exiles were God's people and the Babylonians were pagans. He is really saying they were better off in Babylon, and Babylon is better off because they were there. Said another way, we can summarize this verse this way:


You need Babylon!

Babylon needs you!


Immediately one can imagine any number of objections the Jews might have raised:

"These people are pagans."
"They invaded our land."
"They destroyed our city."
"They burned down the temple we built to worship God."
"They’re vile people—killers and rapists."

"Why would I want to pray for them? They don't deserve it."


It was all true. The Babylonians were not nice people. You really can't be a nice barbaric killer. There is no such category. To spread their kingdom, the Babylonians acted ruthlessly against anyone who dared to oppose them. Life was cheap, death was easy, and torture a means of sending a message to future foes.


God says to his discouraged people, "I know you don't like it in Babylon, but that doesn't matter. You're going to be here for a while so settle down and make the best of it. Don't treat the Babylonians as they treated you. Seek to bless and be a blessing. Pray for the Babylonians. They certainly need the prayers. And you, my people, need to pray. As you pray, I will bless them. And in blessing them, you too will be blessed."


The World vs. God


Nothing seems more natural than to hate those who have mistreated us. But here we learn a better way. After I had preached on this topic, a man said to me, "Everything the world says about human relationships is wrong!"

The world says, “Get even.”
God says, “Seek the good of those who have harmed you.”


The world says, “Get angry.”
God says, “Pray for them.”


The world says, “Don't waste time loving bad people.”
God says, “Love them anyway.”


We need to pray for our enemies, and they need our prayers.


If we don't pray for our enemies, who will?
If we don't pray for our enemies, how will they ever change?
If we don't pray for our enemies, how will we ever be free from bitterness?


Every time we are faced with people who mistreat us, we have three options:


1) We can hate them with total hatred. That accomplishes nothing.
2) We can struggle to hold back our anger. That will emotionally exhaust us.
3) We can pray for God to bless them. That opens the door for God to bless us as well.


“Love your enemies.” Easy to say, hard to do.


What does it mean to love the people who have ruined everything you hold dear?
How do you pray for someone you despise?
How do you seek the good of people you wish were dead?
Why would you seek their prosperity after what they did to you?


How Are We to Love Our Enemies?


Here are seven suggestions that will move us in the right direction.


1) Greet Them


We often overlook this simple step. One part of loving our enemies is greeting them graciously when we see them. Sometimes instead of turning the other cheek, we turn away so we won’t have to say hello to someone who has hurt us. Some of us have been quite adept at looking the other way, ducking into a room, crossing the street, or even using Caller ID to keep from greeting people we don’t like. But if we only greet our friends, what benefit is that? Do not even sinners greet each other? One part of loving your enemies is to greet them instead of avoiding them. Smile, shake hands, and say hello to your enemies. It’s a good first step.


2) Disarm Them


That’s what you do when you turn the other cheek or go the second mile. You disarm them by doing the very thing they least expect. You do it by speaking well of them when no one expects it. General Robert E. Lee was once asked his opinion of a fellow officer who was widely known as one of Lee’s greatest detractors. The general responded that he thought the man a very fine officer. “But General,” his questioner replied, quite perplexed, “I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you.”  “Oh, yes I do,” replied Lee. “But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”


3) Do Good to Them


It’s fascinating that in Luke 6, when Jesus said, “Love your enemies” (verses 27,35), both times he immediately added, “Do good to them” so we wouldn’t miss the point. Doing good to your enemies means seeing beyond your pain and their meanness to their humanity. It means seeing them as people made in the image of God and understanding there is something twisted inside that causes them to do what they do. Doing good means doing what will promote their healing despite the way they have treated you. You make the first move. You send the e-mail. You pick up the phone. You make the contact. You bridge the gap. You set up the appointment.


But what if they don’t respond well? That doesn’t matter. We’re not in charge of how people respond to us. Make the first move and let the Lord take care of the results.


4) Refuse to Speak Evil of Them


That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:28). It means you choose not to think evil thoughts, and you refuse to speak evil words against those who have wronged you. Proverbs has a great deal to say about the power of words. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). Every time we open our mouth, life or death comes out. I am increasingly impressed with this thought: Forgiveness in many cases is not possible because we will not stop talking. As long as we talk over and over again about how others have hurt us, we will never find the strength to forgive. At some point, we have to stop talking and start forgiving. Here is the simple truth:


You can criticize the Babylonians, or
You can pray for them.


But you can't do both at the same time.


I once knew a man whose wife had been repeatedly and publicly criticized for something she had written. When I asked how she was handling it, he said, “She has taken a vow of silence.” She would not speak to her critics because nothing she said would satisfy them, and she would not speak of her critics for the good of her own soul.


Perhaps some of us need to take a vow of silence so we can let go of bitterness and get on with life.


5) Thank God for Them


If you believe in the sovereignty of God, you must believe your enemies are sent to you by God’s design and with God’s approval. If Satan could not tempt Job without God’s permission, and if Satan could not sift Peter without Jesus’ permission, your enemies could not torment you without God’s permission.


I believe God places in your life every person you need for your spiritual growth. He’ll send a Saul, a David, an Esau, a Daniel, an Absalom, an Esther, a Judas, a Barnabas, and a Timothy. God uses each one to teach you something and to make you more like Jesus.


Behind your enemy stands the hand of God. God would never permit it if he did not intend to bring something good out of it. You should take a picture of your enemy, stick it on your refrigerator door, and thank God for your enemy every time you look at the picture.


6) Pray for Them


When German pastor Martin Niemoller was arrested by the Nazis in World War II, he prayed daily from his prison cell for his captors. Other prisoners asked why he prayed for those who were his enemies. “Do you know anyone who needs your prayers more than your enemies?” he replied. But what if you hate the person you are praying for? Tell that to the Lord. He won’t be surprised. Then say something like this, “Lord, I hate this person, but you already know that. I ask you to love this person through me because I can’t do it in my own power. I ask you for a love I don’t have and can’t begin to produce.” God will not turn you away when you come with an honest heart, admitting you need his love to flow through you.


7) Ask God to Bless Them


Here’s a simple way to do that. When faced with someone who has mistreated you, ask God to do for them what you want God to do for you. Seek the blessing for them you want God to do for you. Think of it this way: The greater the hurt, the greater the potential blessing that will come when we forgive from the heart and by God’s grace bless those who curse us.


A woman wrote me to say she realized she needed to forgive her husband who left her for another woman after many years of marriage. She found out he had been having an affair for the previous year. To make matters worse, she discovered that some of her friends not only knew about the affair, they were aiding her husband and helping him cover up his infidelity. When she wrote to me, she said she realized she had never truly forgiven those friends for what they had done. Here is her story:


Today I wrote to four people the Lord brought to my mind that I needed to pray for, ask for a blessing for them, and I felt the drive to write to them and tell them I had asked God for them to receive a blessing from God. At first it was the hardest thing I had done in sooooooo long, but then as I started writing the quick message telling them after hearing a sermon (didn't say on what) that I was writing to tell them I'd asked God to give them a special blessing. Three of the four people have claimed to be Christians, but they all contributed to my ex's infidelity and adultery. Yet, after writing the emails, I felt better and more at peace. 


This is a good example because she did not mention their sin. She simply wrote to say she was praying for them to receive a blessing from the Lord. How did they respond to those notes? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. She did what she needed to do, and it set her free.


Let me offer one final word: Your enemy is a gift from God to you. To say that is not to excuse evil or to condone mistreatment. It does not cancel the need for punishment when a crime has been committed. It is to say exactly what Joseph meant when he said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Our enemies humble us, they keep us on our knees, they reveal our weakness, and they expose our desperate need for God. Just as David needed King Saul to pursue him, to persecute him and repeatedly attempt to kill him, we need the enemies God sends to us. If we didn’t need them, he wouldn’t send them. Therefore, we thank God who knows best, and we love our enemies the best way we can. Often God raises up an enemy to see if we really want to be like Jesus. He will keep our enemies alive and well as long as we need them.


Jesus had enemies. They killed him. He loved them anyway. Do you want to be like Jesus?


“I would rather die than hate you”


In 1957 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on “Loving Your Enemies” at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. As he came to the end of his sermon, he said there is a little tree planted on a little hill and on that tree hangs the most influential person who ever came into this world. In the cross of Christ, the love of God has broken through into human history. Now we know what love looks like in a world filled with hatred, distrust, bitterness, pain, mistreatment and abuse. As the hymn writer said,


See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?


It is a message from God that love is the only way. It’s the only way to heaven, and it’s the only way to live on earth. If we believe in Jesus at all, we must say to our enemies, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.”


Mosab Hassan Yousef is right.
Only Jesus says, “Love your enemies.”
Now it’s time for us to do it.


Heavenly Father, some of us desperately need this message right now. We’re all going to need it soon because we live in a broken world. Give us grace to love our enemies. We’ll never do this without you. We say in the words of an ancient prayer, “Where there is hatred, let us sow love.”  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Going Deeper

1.       Who are the enemies in your life?
2.       Which is harder for you—to speak to your enemies or to pray for your enemies?3
3.       Read Luke 6:27-36. Why did Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek?
4.       Name someone who is a good role model of showing love to difficult people.
5.       What steps do you need to take to love your enemies?


Read more…

How to Pray When Life Blows Up

“Prayer is not everything but everything is by prayer.” So said Ray Ortlund. All Christians would agree with that statement. No matter what our background, instinctively we know prayer is central to the Christian life.


We all know we ought to pray.

We all feel we should pray more than we do.


Life can change so quickly. The phone rings and a voice says, "I've got bad news." It could be anything:


            A failed exam.

            The test came back positive.

            Your granddaughter is sick.

            Your son goes to jail for drunk driving.

            The company doesn't need you anymore.

            "I'm being sued."
            A friendship suddenly ends.


You discover another woman or another man.


Time stops. Life will never be the same again. How will you find the strength to go on? You try to pray, but the words won’t come. How do you pray when life blows up? We can find an answer in 1 Thessalonians 3:10-13.


Paul knew the Thessalonians were near the breaking point, and that’s why he sent Timothy to check on them. When Timothy came back with a good report that the believers were standing firm under pressure, Paul’s joy knew no bounds. He was encouraged (v. 7), the news was like a new lease on life to him (v. 8), and he couldn’t stop thanking God for them (v. 9). That brings us to Paul’s prayer in verses 10-13. Here is an excellent way to pray for those going through a hard time. It’s worth pondering because every week we’re asked to pray for people in difficulty. Very rarely does anyone say, “Things are going great. Pray for me.”


Here are three ways to pray when life blows up. First, you should pray for . . .


Faith Without Holes


“Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith (v. 10).


Note these four facts about the way Paul prayed:


1. His prayer was constant.


Paul says he prayed day and night. When was the last time you lost sleep because you were praying? I remember Len Hoppe often talked about how God would wake him up in the middle of the night to pray. Has that ever happened to you?


2. His prayer was earnest.


Paul uses a very unusual expression that has the idea of going above and beyond all normal measures. You might translate it with the phrase “super abundantly.” Prayer must be earnest to be effective. Weak, shallow, half-hearted prayers produce weak, shallow, half-hearted results. God says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). James 5:16 reminds us that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (NKJV). So what is a “fervent” prayer? The Greek means something like “boiling.” It has nothing to do with your posture, whether you are sitting or standing or lying down, and it doesn’t matter whether your eyes are open or closed. A boiling prayer has nothing to do with how loud you pray or how many words you use. It’s not about folding your hands or waving them above your head.


So what’s a boiling prayer? Let me put it this way. When they take your four-year-old granddaughter away for life-saving surgery, no one will have to tell you what to do. You will pray a boiling prayer right there in the waiting room at the hospital. You may not utter any audible words, but your heart will pray a boiling prayer


I remember hearing a preacher say that when his wife was in a terrible automobile accident, he was so overcome that all he could do was cry out, “Oh God! Oh Jesus!” Looking back, he said it felt like that was the first time in his life he had really prayed.


When anything becomes life or death to you, you’ll pray an earnest, fervent, boiling prayer, and it won’t matter how long or how short you pray.


Paul cared so much for these young Thessalonian believers that he couldn’t help but pray earnestly for them. We should do the same for the people we love.


3. His prayer was practical.


He said he was praying “that we may see you again.” Do you pray about your everyday affairs?  If you are a salesman, you should pray about your appointments. If you are a doctor, you should pray for your patients. If you are a teacher, you should pray for your students. If you work in an office, you should pray for your fellow workers. Nothing is too small to bring to God’s attention. If it matters to you, it matters to him.


4. His prayer was purposeful.


Paul had a particular goal in mind.  He wanted to supply what was lacking in their faith. The word “supply” was used for mending torn nets and setting broken bones. He used the same word in Galatians 6:1 for restoring sinning saints and in Ephesians 4:12 for equipping all the saints for the work of ministry. It’s what an equipment manager does before the start of a football game. He makes sure the players have their helmets because if they go into the game without a helmet, they are going to get clobbered in the head.


So here’s the prayer: “O God, my brothers and sisters are in a great spiritual battle. I pray they will be fully equipped for whatever they might face. Grant them strong faith—with no holes!—so they can stand and fight victoriously no matter how hot the battle may be.”


We pass on to the second way to pray when life blows up.

Love Without Limits


“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (v. 12).


Love is the supreme grace. You can never have too much of it. You can never have enough of it. Paul is saying, “I pray God will make you an overflowing fountain of love.” He is praying they might become “Super Lovers.”


Many years ago this song was made popular by Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick:


What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No, not just for some but for everyone


I’ve had occasion to think about that over the long, hot summer months that brought such turmoil to cities across America. We happen to live in Dallas. Not in a suburb, but in the city itself, not far from White Rock Lake on the east side of the city. Many times I’ve taken a bike ride along the Santa Fe Trail to downtown, ridden Main Street through Deep Ellum, and then on Main Street down to Lamar in the heart of the city. That’s where I head north on Lamar to Houston, where I turn right and ride past American Airlines Center where the Dallas Mavericks play basketball. I catch the Katy Trail, then cross North Central Expressway, and start winding my way back home. I mention that because I’ve ridden my bike many times at the intersection of Main Street and Lamar where the shooting took place on July 7th that ended with five Dallas police officers killed and nine others wounded.


That tragedy shook our city and made headlines across America. The morning after the shooting, Dallas police officer Bryan Woodard posted a video on Facebook (viewed over 7 million times) that urged people to pray for peace. Near the end, he repeated a phrase that has gone around the world: “I refuse to see hate live while love dies.”


That strikes me as a truly Christian point of view. If we know the Lord, then love must be our rule of life, even when people around us have given in to anger and hatred. We discover a lot about ourselves when we are tired, discouraged, angry and afraid. I don’t mean to suggest that increasing and overflowing in love is easy. It isn’t, especially in trying times. But it is precisely at this point that what we believe about the gospel gets put to the test. If someone asks me to give the answer to the problems that plague our world, I don’t know the political answers or the legal answers, but I do know the gospel answer. We are all sinners in desperate need of the grace of God. The ground is level at the foot of the cross because God doesn’t play favorites. We’re all in the same boat, and the boat is going down. If God doesn’t do something, we’re all going to drown.


But God has done something!


In the cross of Christ, the love of God has broken through to rescue us, to heal us, to forgive us, and to make us a community of brothers and sisters who show the world that reconciliation and healing is possible. I know we’re far from that reality today, but if we believe what the Bible says, then we must believe real change is possible, not only on a personal basis but also on a community basis.


When the church is united, God is glorified and the world is amazed. In a world filled with so much killing, so much pain, so many broken hearts and so many fractured lives, a truly united church will be irresistibly attractive to many hurting people. But it’s easier to talk about this than to put it into practice. We’re all pretty good at liking people like us. But lots of people aren’t like us, and they aren’t very easy to like either. How can we apply this truth? I have two suggestions:


A) Pray for unity. Pray for the Holy Spirit to bring unity in the larger body of Christ. Pray for a deeper unity in your congregation. Ask God to reveal and remove any wrong attitudes that hinder the work of his Spirit in your midst.


B) Ask yourself a hard question: “Am I willing for God to change me?” It’s a lot easier to think others need to change. “My kids are driving me nuts. Change them, Lord!” “My husband ignores me. Change him, Lord!” “My wife is getting on my nerves, and my boss is a jerk. Change them both, Lord!” Perhaps we should all pray this simple Chinese prayer: “O Lord, change the world. Begin, I pray Thee, with me.” As the old spiritual says, “It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” Before we ask God to change anyone else, we’d better look in the mirror.


Let’s pray for ourselves and for each other that our love might increase and overflow, not only to our friends but to those we don’t know and even to those who may not like us very much.


There is yet a third way to pray when life blows up. Pray for . . .


Strength Without Flaws


“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (v. 13).


The word “strengthen” means to buttress something, like the famous “flying buttresses” of cathedrals in the Middle Ages. If you are going to stand strong in the time of trial, your heart must have a strong foundation, one free of cracks, flaws, and weak areas. Nothing reveals the true condition of the heart like difficulty, setbacks, opposition, and hardship. Most of us can be strong while the sun is shining and life is good, but when the thunder clouds of trouble rumble overhead, all the inner flaws are likely to be revealed. Whatever is in the heart must come out eventually. If there is anger in the heart, it will eventually come out. If there is greed or lust, it too will come out. And if there is love and kindness and forgiveness and mercy, that will also be revealed. Nowhere will your heart be on clearer display than in the trials of life.


God uses our trials to say to the watching world: “Here is what a real Christian looks like!” He has been battered and bruised by life, his face is streaked with tears, the days are hard and the nights are long, but here—yes, here!!! —right here, this is what a Christian looks like. Is he always victorious? No. Is he always triumphant? No. Does he sometimes have doubts? Yes. But here he stands, a supernatural creation of the grace of God. Take a look, world. He is not perfect, but he is a child of God.


Here, then, is a prayer to pray when life blows up. Pray for . . .


Faith without holes,

Love without limits,

Strength without flaws.


Think about this for a moment. You are where you are today because somebody prayed for you.


Somebody prayed, and you came to Christ.

Somebody prayed, and you found a job.

Somebody prayed, and you were healed.

Somebody prayed, and you were rescued in the middle of the night.

Somebody prayed, and your marriage was saved.

Somebody prayed, and you said no to temptation.

Somebody prayed, and you didn’t give up.

Somebody prayed, and you made the right decision.

Somebody prayed, and you experienced God’s power.


No one knows how much sin and sorrow we’ve been saved from because somebody prayed for us.


What is the application? Pray! Pray, pray, and keep on praying. Do for others what others have done for you. When we can serve people in no other way, we can pray for them. By prayer we cast a pebble of faith into a lake of hope. Though the pebble sinks, the ripples go on and on and on. We’ll never know the difference our prayers have made until we get to heaven.


I close with the question Jesus asked in Luke 18:8, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” As we move closer to the Last Days and the end of the world as we know it, anxiety will rise, tumult will increase, nerves will fray, society itself will be shaken to the core, troubles will mount, and it will seem as if the world is spinning out of control. What should we do to hold on to our faith?


We should pray. 
Earnestly, fervently, repeatedly, unitedly, persistently.


If you believe Jesus is coming back . . . pray, pray, and keep on praying. 


When the Son of Man comes . . .

Will he find faith in your church?
Will he find faith in your family?
Will he find faith in your heart?


Lord Jesus, grant that we might not be discouraged even a little bit by the things that happen around us. We want to pray and to pray more than we do. We ask for “praying grace” so when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on the earth made manifest in our prayers. Amen.

Read more…

Where Revival Begins

The Scottish poet Robert Burns said it this way: 

“Would some power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!”


It’s a gift most of us need to receive more often. We all want to believe the best about ourselves. That’s natural, and it’s even healthy. But it’s also healthy to have someone hold the mirror in front of your face and say, “This is what you really look like.” It can be a very instructive experience.


Spiritual progress begins when we see ourselves as God sees us. It’s one thing when a friend says, “This is what you look like.” It’s another thing for God to utter those words. We can sometimes fool even our closest friends, but it’s impossible to fool the Lord. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” He knows what we say behind closed doors, the secret thoughts no one else can hear, the hidden motives, the buried ambition, and all the twists and turns of our sinful nature. He doesn’t have to uncover our thoughts; he already knows them.


This is a sermon about revival. Let’s start with the word itself. You revive something when you bring it back to life. You can’t revive something that has never been alive in the first place. That’s why revival is different from evangelism. Evangelism is preaching the gospel to the lost that they might be saved. Revival awakens the saved from a state of spiritual slumber. When God sends revival, the church wakes up. Or to give a more formal definition, revival is the sovereign act of God, whereby he calls his backsliding people to repentance, faith, and new obedience to him.


I grew up in a church tradition that emphasized “revival meetings,” usually week-long gatherings where a visiting minister would challenge us spiritually. I can remember sitting with rapt attention as Angel Martinez preached night after night at the church where I grew up. That was at least 50 years ago. Probably the greatest move of God I’ve been part of happened during a youth revival in May 1970. Lives were changed forever by the decisions made that weekend. I say that so you’ll know I’m not speaking against “revival meetings.” Not at all. They can be greatly used of God. I simply point out that revival is a sovereign move of God that can’t be scheduled in advance.


Our text comes from 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is perhaps the most famous verse on revival in the Bible:


“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”


In the preceding verses the Lord lays out certain hard times that might come to the people of God. There might be a drought or a plague of locusts or an outbreak of disease in the land. 1 Kings 8 adds other times, such a crushing military defeat, or famine or blight or cities under siege by the enemy, or being sent into captivity. This verse is meant for God’s people whenever there is trouble in the land. The promise always applies, but in desperate times we need to pay close attention to verses like this.


2 Chronicles 7:14 was written for such a time as this. Let’s consider what it says under three headings.


I. The Subjects of Revival


“If my people, who are called by my name” (v. 14a).


These two phrases tell us this verse is limited to those who know the Lord. In this political season, when clergy of all stripes rush to support their preferred candidates, it’s important to remember 2 Chronicles 7:14 was not written to the Democrats or the Republicans. This is not a blanket invitation that applies to anyone, anywhere, at any time. God limits this invitation to those who are “his people.” This is not, for instance, a verse that applies to the Hindus. Nor does it apply to mankind in general. This promise applies to those who know Jesus and to no one else. To be called by the name of the Lord means you have called upon the name of the Lord to be saved (Romans 10:13).


II. The Conditions for Revival


“Will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways” (v. 14b).


Here are the four conditions for revival:


#1: Humility


What exactly is humility? Although many answers might be given, perhaps the simplest is that humility means seeing my true condition before God. After all, pride is simply taking credit for things that I’m not really responsible for. When we start feeling too puffed up about ourselves, we need to remember 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?” The answer is nothing. Not even Bill Gates can say, “I did this by myself.” To be sure, it took courage and ingenuity and commitment and perseverance to build Microsoft. Mr. Gates sits atop a multi-billion-dollar empire that didn’t happen by chance. Give that man all the credit he deserves. The same applies to every other successful man or woman in any field of endeavor. Kudos to anyone who has “made it” to the top. But just remember this. The strength to do the task, the intelligence to put together the plan, the skill to bring all the parts together, the courage to make it happen—all of it comes directly from God. It is true that between the richest man and the poorest man there is a great gulf in terms of worldly possessions. But on one point—the only one that counts—there is no difference. Both are alike the recipients of the grace of God. Neither man has anything to boast about. When we understand that, it changes the way we look at life, it changes the way we evaluate ourselves, and it changes the way we treat other people. If we are wise, it also changes our view of worldly success. We won’t base our self-image on our net worth when we believe God isn’t impressed with our bank account. We’ll have time for people because we understand we are all created by the same God.


#2: Prayer


What sort of prayer is the Lord talking about? It is the sincere prayer of a person who realizes his true condition. When I understand everything I have comes as a gift from God, my prayers will be filled with gratitude, love and praise. I will cry out to God, confessing how far short I fall of his divine standards. And every day I will remember the words of Jesus, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).


# 3: Seeking God’s Face


The phrase “seek my face” is a familiar one in the Old Testament. It has to do with the direction of my life. It is very similar to the fourth beatitude: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). To seek God’s face is to hunger for a closer walk with him. Many of us know little of this because we fill our stomachs with spiritual junk food that never satisfies but keeps us from seeking nutritious food. The question is, what are you hungry for right now? Those who are hungry to know God seek one thing; those who are hungry for a career seek something else. What you are hungry for determines what you seek.


# 4: Turning from our Wicked Ways


At some point things have to change. We must repent. To repent means you turn from your wicked ways. You used to cheat on your wife, but now you don’t. You used to be lazy, but now you aren’t. You used to fill your mind with bitterness, but now you don’t. Once you were angry most of the day, but now you have turned away from anger. Once you were sloppy on the job when the boss wasn’t watching, but not anymore. Once you lived in lust for that which God has forbidden you to have, but not anymore. Once you lived to party on the weekends, but that life is part of your past. Whatever your wicked ways are, revival means turning from those ways to the ways that Please God. It means a definite break with the past and a deliberate change of direction.


If you think about it, these four conditions form a kind of progression:


You will never pray with any fervency until you see your true condition before God.
You will never seek God’s face until you begin to get serious about prayer.
You will never turn from your wicked ways until God becomes all-important in your life.


Humility leads to prayer. Prayer leads to seeking God’s face. Seeking God’s face leads to turning from our wicked ways.


III. The Results of Revival


“Then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (v. 14c).


We need to think carefully about this because it’s easy to turn 2 Chronicles 7:14 into a formula for revival. Certainly the verse lays out a plan for us to follow. The word “then” encourages us to believe our crying to God will never be in vain.


Our tears are not in vain.
Our prayers are not in vain.
Our burden is not in vain.
|Our sadness is not in vain.
Our desperation is not in vain.


Perhaps we can say it this way. When we are so dissatisfied with the status quo that we cry out to God for help, the answer will indeed come from heaven and things will begin to change. We must not limit God as to the how and the when. He is still the sovereign God who does whatever pleases him (Psalm 115:3). We must not dictate to the Lord about how the answer from heaven will come. He will answer in his own time, in his own way, according to his own will. But we have this assurance:

He will hear.
He will forgive.
He will heal.


If we do our part, though it will seem very incomplete, God will certainly do his. If we humble ourselves, and if we pray, and if we seek his face, and if we turn from our wicked ways, knowing all the while that we still fall short, God will move from heaven to come to our aid.


Politics is Not the Answer


This verse gives me hope because we seem to be in a bad state today. I cannot remember a time when America was more divided than we are at this moment. As a nation, we have turned away from the Lord. How will we ever find our way back to God?


The answer won’t come from the White House.
Politics will not save us.
Putting another justice on the Supreme Court won’t heal our land.


I say that in full recognition that it matters greatly how we vote because it matters who sits in the White House and makes those judicial appointments. We have to vote. I’m all for speaking out and taking a stand.


But when all is said and done, our greatest need is not political; our greatest need is spiritual. We need another great awakening in our land. Perhaps it will come in our day. I certainly hope so. Perhaps we will see another Layman’s Prayer Movement sweep our nation. I’m certainly encouraged by the thousands who have come to the various state capitals to pray with Franklin Graham. I’m very glad about the hundreds of thousands who came to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the “Together 2016” event. Later this year a number of ministries are planning different events to call the church to prayer. I urge you to get involved in praying with others for revival. Across the nation churches have come together to pray in response to the shootings that have taken place. This is all to the good.


Praying in the Last Days

Let me add one final thought. I believe we are living in the last days before the coming of the Lord. It certainly seems like the “terrible times” of 2 Timothy 3:1 have come true in our generation. I don’t have any secret information about the date of the Lord’s return. I’m simply giving my observation on the basis of what the Bible says about the last days.


What if Jesus is coming soon? What difference should that make to us? Can we still expect a move of God in the last days of human history? With all my heart, I believe the answer is yes. Take a quick look at Luke 18:1-8, which we call the Parable of the Persistent Widow. Most of us know the story about the judge who gave the widow what she wanted because she wore him out by coming back again and again. It’s an easy-to-grasp lesson on the importance of persistence when we pray. That much is obvious. But here’s the kicker. Jesus ends the story this way: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Where did that come from? This isn’t a parable about the second coming. It’s about prayer. But Jesus applies it to the situation on the earth when he returns.

What’s up with that?


We need to read this against the larger New Testament teaching that in the last days there will be a huge turning away from the Lord. It is sometimes called the “apostasy” or the “falling away.” You can read about it in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 and 2 Thessalonians 2. As we rush headlong toward the return of Christ, we should expect to see exactly what is happening today:

False Christs.
Spiritual counterfeits.
Christians compromising their faith.
Pastors turning away from the truth.
Spiritual leaders who mislead the flock of God.


As the foundations of society crumble beneath us, we will see this happening more and more. All these things are just the “beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8).


We ought to read Luke 18:9 in light of those passages. In a world where truth has become entirely subjective, where feelings trump biblical commands, where we reinterpret the Bible to justify our sin, Jesus’ poignant question takes on a deeper meaning:

When the Son of Man comes…

Will he find faith in your church?
Will he find faith in your family?
Will he find faith in your heart?


While going through my files, I found the notes from the final sermon I preached at the first church I pastored after seminary. On that parting Sunday I told the people, “I have some prayers I have prayed for a long time.” I listed a number of requests I had brought before the Lord. My notes say I had just talked with someone whose marriage was in trouble because of an enslaving habit. They were in despair and needed a place to live. No name is written down, and I can honestly say that 33 years later, I have no idea who I was praying for back then. But I added this…


“Not all my prayers have been answered… yet!!!”


As we journey along through life, there will always be some prayers that haven’t been answered yet. Will we give up or will we keep praying? That’s what Jesus means when he asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”


Will he find anyone still believing or will everyone turn away?
Will he find faithful believers who still pray as the world self-destructs?


We can make sure the answer is yes. We can do our part by praying persistently, unitedly, fervently, joyfully, and faithfully. I believe those end-time prayers will have great power with the Lord because they are offered in the face of persecution, ridicule, and rising unbelief.


God will not let those prayers go to waste.


Start by Looking in the Mirror


So where does revival begin? The answer is always the same. It begins with you and it begins with me. It’s one thing to talk about what stands between our nation and revival or between my church and revival. It’s always easier to confess someone else’s sins. Ask God what stands between you and a new experience of his power and blessing. If you ask in sincerity, God will surely answer.


Do we have to stay the way we are? The answer is, “No, but." We have to start by understanding “the way we are.” Once we see that, the possibility of genuine change and real spiritual growth is open to us. So I end where I began. Revival is not far away when we see ourselves as God sees us. It’s easy to say, “America needs to get right with God” or “My neighbor needs changing” or “My church needs revival.” Those statements can become excuses for evading our own responsibility.


The call of Christ is always personal. He calls us one by one to follow him. Perhaps we should repeat the Chinese prayer that goes this way: “O Lord, change the world. Begin, I pray thee, with me.” Revival begins with the person you see when you look in the mirror. Start there and by God’s grace revival will begin inside your own heart. 

Read more…

If God is Sovereign, Why Pray?

“I listen more than I talk.”

That’s how a well-known pastor described his prayer life in a sermon I heard recently. It was the reason he gave that arrested my attention.

“After all, it seems like God is going to do whatever he wants to do anyway.”

There are various ways to respond to that statement, including simply nodding your head in agreement. If we don’t dispute the sovereignty of God (and we don’t), then where and how does prayer fit into God’s plan? Or why should we bother praying if God has already determined the answers before we start to pray?

I suppose that most Christians have wondered about that question at one time or another. Certainly skeptics have thrown it in our faces to discourage us from seeking the Lord in times of crisis. I confess that I have wrestled with this issue on more than one occasion.

If God is sovereign, why should we pray at all? Many years ago I listened to a tape by R. C. Sproul on this topic that helped me greatly. Here are seven statements that will help us think wisely about this question:

1. God invites us to ask for what we need.

We are told to ask, to seek, to knock (Matthew 7:7-8). Why? Ask and it shall be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. In Psalm 81:10 the Lord promises, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” This is where prayer becomes intensely personal. Our Heavenly Father-who already knows our needs-invites us to make our needs known through prayer.

2. We don’t know what we really need.

We think we do, but we don’t. Or to be more accurate, we know part of our needs, but not all of them. Our perspective is inevitably limited by our own experience, desires and personal knowledge. Romans 8:26 says that “we do not know what we ought to pray for.” Have you ever felt you’ve “run out of words” when you pray? That has happened to me on more than one occasion. I remember one couple that seemed to be in a perpetual crisis situation. I had prayed so much for them without a positive result that finally I ran out of prayers. I didn’t know what to say anymore. I didn’t know how to pray for them effectively. All I could say was, “Lord, have mercy,” because I couldn’t think of any other words. Sometimes we face the same issue when we seek God’s guidance. Often we are so confused that we’re not sure what we should be asking for. And sometimes we are so weary that words will not come to us.
We don’t pray to give God information he wouldn’t otherwise know.

Rarely can we be absolutely sure what God wants to do in a particular situation. After we have made our requests to God, especially regarding the crisis issues of life, we must cry out, “But Father, I don’t know what you want. And I want your will to be done even if it means my will is not done in this situation. I truly believe that you know best."

That’s why the most basic prayer is always “Thy will be done.” But God knew that we would often be baffled in prayer so he sent the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27). He prays for us when we don’t know how to pray for ourselves or for anyone else.

3. God knows what we need before we ask him.

Matthew 6:8 says this very plainly: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” That means we don’t have to impress God or use big words or pray long prayers, We don’t have to repeat ourselves when we pray, and we don’t have to worry about getting all the details correct or throw in flowery language when we pray. Since God knows us through and through, he knows our needs better than we do. When you pray, you aren’t informing God of anything. He knew your need before you bowed you head.

4. We do not pray to inform God of anything.

This may seem obvious but it needs to be stated anyway. When you pray, you aren’t informing God of things he wouldn’t otherwise know. The Bible tells us that he numbers the stars in the sky, the sand on the seashore, and the hairs on your head. He even calls the stars by name (Psalm 147:4). Ponder that for a moment. Billions and billions of stars and he knows the name of each one. Think how easily you get flustered on Sunday morning trying to remember that person you met last week. If your church has multiple services on Sunday morning, you probably don’t know everyone in your own church.

But God does.

He not only knows all the people in your church, he knows everyone attending every church everywhere in the world. More than that, he knows the names of all 6.8 billion people on planet earth.  But even beyond that, he knows the names of everyone who has ever lived here and everyone yet to be born.

If God knows all that, do you think he is going to be surprised that your gall bladder is acting up again?  Do you think he doesn’t know about your crabby boss or how you gained 10 pounds in the last month?

In case you doubt this, listen to the words of Psalm 139:1-3.

    O LORD, you have searched me
    and you know me.
    You know when I sit and when I rise;

    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
    You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.

    Before a word is on my tongue
    you know it completely, O LORD.  

That would appear to be total knowledge of every aspect of your life. Nothing you do or say surprises God. He knows your secret thoughts, your hidden motives, your unspoken dreams, and he knows what you are going to say before you ever open your mouth.

I find this a liberating truth for the prayer life. It means I don’t have to yell or shout to try to make him understand. And I don’t have to go into some long explanation either. I don’t even have to repeat myself unless I want to. He got the message the first time. Actually, he got the message before I ever sent it.

5. We pray to express our total dependence upon our Heavenly Father.

When R.C. Sproul discussed this issue, he quoted John Calvin, the great theologian of the Protestant Reformation, who said that prayer is not for God’s good, but for ours. That’s an amazing thought. Because God is God, he doesn’t “need” our prayers. But we need to pray. Calvin means that God’s perfections are perfect in their completeness. While God desires our prayers, they do not “add” anything to who God is. Let me say that another way. God doesn’t need the information we give him, but he encourages us to give him the information anyway.
God doesn’t “need” our prayers.

Perhaps an illustration would help. Picture a father watching his four-year-old daughter trying to put together a puzzle. She tries and tries but she just can’t get the pieces in the right place. Her father watches with great interest but he doesn’t interfere. Finally, she crawls in his lap and says, “Daddy, would you help me put my puzzle together?” He smiles and bends down and together they begin to pick up each piece. One piece at a time they put the puzzle together.

Now why didn’t the father help his daughter earlier? For one thing, she didn’t ask for his help. For another, he wanted her to try on her own. And most of all, he wanted her to ask for his help. When she did, he was honored and gladly helped her finish the puzzle.

Is this not a picture of how our Heavenly Father deals with his children? Although he longs to come to our aid, often he waits until we ask him specifically. Sometimes he wants us to come to the end of our own pitiful resources before he intervenes. When we cry out in despair, he is honored as we express our complete dependence upon him.

Every prayer is the cry of a child saying, “Help, Father, I can’t do this by myself.”

6. We pray because God is honored by our persistent faith.

I’ve already said that since God knows what we need before we ask him, we don’t have to repeat ourselves to get his attention. But that’s not the whole story. We all know from personal experience that not all our prayers are answered the first time we pray them. Sometimes we receive immediate answers, but often we must wait days, week, months, or even years.

How long should you pray for your loved ones to be saved? My answer is simple. You should pray until God answers your prayers. Do you remember the story of the widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8? The woman kept coming back to the judge to plead her case. Because the judge was dishonest, he didn’t have time for her, but her persistence wore him down so finally he said, “I’m going to see that this woman gets justice before she drives me crazy.” Listen to the words of Jesus as he applies this story to our Heavenly Father:

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly (Luke 18:7-8).

Jesus isn’t saying that God is like the unjust judge. But if an unjust judge can be swayed by the persistence of a widow, won’t God’s heart be moved by the persistent prayers of his people? The answer is yes. Persistent prayer moves the heart of God because it expresses desperate dependence on him.

Sometimes it takes desperate circumstances to bring forth this kind of faith. Perhaps you’ve heard about the doctor who said to his patient, “There’s nothing I can do. It’s in the hands of God now.” “Oh no,” the patient replied. “Has it come to that?” It always comes to that sooner or later. Prayer reminds us that in the end everything depends on God and not on us.

James 5 gives us another wonderful example of the power of prayer. Elijah prayed that it would not rain and for 3 ½ years there was no rain in Israel. He prayed again and the rains fell from heaven. Here’s the moral of the story in James 5:16, “The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective.” In the original language James used a word that means “to boil over.” Fervent prayers get God’s attention because they come from a heart that believes God’s power is unlimited.

This doesn’t mean that you need to shout when you pray or that you have to weep or moan or stand or sit. Fervent prayer is simply prayer offered in earnest petition to God. It’s not the words that matter . . . or the length of the prayer . . . or the tone of your voice . . . or whether you stand or kneel or sit. What matters is that you really mean it when you pray.

Many years ago I heard a pastor speak at a youth worker’s rally in Long Beach, California. During his message he told how his wife had been involved in a terrible accident. As the ambulance rushed her to the hospital, he tried to pray but the only words that would come out were “Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.” Looking back on that experience, he commented that it seemed like one of the few times in life he had ever really prayed.  
Fervent prayers get God’s attention.

Many Christians have had the same experience. It sometimes takes a crisis to teach us that God is not impressed by long words, many words, fancy words, or loud words. What matters is that our hearts be focused on him. Fervent prayers move God to action because they come from persistent faith in the face of desperate circumstances.

7. We pray because he’s God and we’re not.

This of course is the first rule of the spiritual life. All prayer is based on this simple truth. He runs the universe, we don’t. We pray because he’s in charge and we’re not.

And here’s a crucial insight. When we don’t pray, it’s because we’ve forgotten who’s God and who’s not. A lack of prayer means we’re still trying to run the show. It’s a sign that we’ve decided we can handle things on our own.

And that brings us back to the original question. If God is sovereign, why pray? While chatting with a friend, I mentioned this question to him. He looked at me and said, “There’s an easy answer to that question.” I asked what it was, mainly because I wanted to be sure I knew it myself. “Because he commanded us to,” he replied.  When you think about it, that is the ultimate answer. We pray because God has commanded us to pray, which means that prayer must be good for us.

Sometimes you see little signs that say, “Prayer changes things.” I believe that’s true. And the first thing prayer changes is us. It teaches us to depend completely on our Heavenly Father, and it reminds us that he’s God and we’re not.

Why pray if God knows everything in advance? Because God has ordained that our prayers are part of his plan for the universe. Our prayers really do matter to God. In a sense God limits what he can do in the world so that he can work through our prayers. It’s not that God “needs” our prayers. He doesn’t. But in his kindness, he has invited us to join him in the great adventure of bringing his kingdom to this sin-cursed planet. Through our prayers, we partner with God in changing the world.

Our greatest problem is not with God’s sovereignty but with our sinful unbelief. The Bible says, “You have not because you ask not" (James 4:2 KJV). But Jesus himself invited us to ask God for anything that we need. So why don’t we pray more than we do?

Let’s wrap up this message with a very simple theology of prayer. Our part is to pray fervently, sincerely, and honestly, bringing our deepest concerns to the Lord. God’s part is to listen to our prayers and to graciously answer them in his own time, in his own way, according to his own will. If we do our part, God cannot fail to do his.

“Give Him No Rest”

Perhaps you are still not convinced. Let me share a passage I came across while reading the book of Isaiah.

“You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth” (Isaiah 62:6-7).

“Give him no rest.”

Give who no rest?

The Lord invites his people to pray, asks them to pray, commands them to pray, begs them to pray. And then he says, “When you pray, give me no rest."
Bang on the door of heaven.

This may be the most startling invitation to prayer in the Bible.

Give the Lord no rest when you pray. Bang on the door of heaven. Pray, pray, and keep on praying. Pray that God will hear and answer and move from heaven.

Don’t put any time limits on God.
Don’t think he will be bothered by your repeated requests.
Don’t say, “This is too small to bother God about.”
Don’t say, “I’ve prayed about this long enough.”

Wear him out!

He loves it when his children beg him to help.

Are you praying for a loved one to be saved? Wear him out!
Do you need God’s wisdom for a major decision? Wear him out!
Are you facing temptation and need God’s help? Wear him out!
Are your children struggling spiritually? Wear him out!
Do you seek a godly spouse for your granddaughter? Wear him out!
Are you praying for revival in your church? Wear him out!
Do you long to become stronger in your faith? Wear him out!

Don’t take “no” for an answer.

It almost sounds unbiblical or dangerous or possibly blasphemous. But if the request itself is godly and noble and pure and good, you have every reason to stand your ground when you pray.

Give him no rest.
Wear him out.

God calls us to pray. He invites us to pray. He commands us pray. He begs us to pray. He exhorts us to seek his face every day. We have been given unlimited access to the throne room of the universe. The King of Kings wants to hear from you. Don’t keep him waiting any longer.

Read more…

The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

“You won’t believe the things that have happened to me."

The man stood over my desk as he spoke those words. Then he proceeded to tell a tale of woe the likes of which I had not heard in many years. As I listened, it seemed to boil down to three basic parts. First, he had lost his promising career through a complicated series of cunning plots against him. Then his wife left him for greener pastures and more securi­ty. And now he was facing a mountain of legal bills. He seemed to be backed into a corner. His question was sim­ple: Why would God let something like this happen to me?

The phone rang about nine o’clock one night. The voice at the other end said, “Pastor Pritchard, could I talk to you for a few minutes?” As I listened, I heard a story about a mar­riage gone bad. She had married him a few years earlier, and things had not gone well. He abused her, and later on he abused the kids. Eventually she filed for divorce, and now he wants nothing to do with her or the children. In her heart of hearts, her greatest desire is for God to give her someone to be a loving husband and godly father. She has prayed and prayed about it, but there seems to be no answer. “Pastor Pritchard, why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Is he pun­ishing me because I got a divorce?”

Another phone call came.

A wom4ean in our congregation had had a stroke. When I saw finally got to the hospital, she couldn’t talk but she could squeeze my hand. “This is Pastor Ray. Do you recognize me?” She did. I prayed for her, and then I said, “Don’t worry. You’re going to be all right. We’re going to pray you through this.” The whole church prayed for her, but things weren’t all right. That night she had another stroke, this time a massive hemorrhage that left her comatose. Five days later she died. In the end, our prayers seemed to make no difference.

Where Is God When We Need Him?

Of all the things that weigh us down, perhaps no burden is greater than the silence of God.

  • A godly mother prays for her wayward son. He was raised in the church, he went to Sunday school, he knows the Bible-but when he left home, he left it all behind. For many years his mother has prayed for him, but to this day he remains a prodigal son.
  • A wife prays for her husband, who left her after twenty-three years of marriage for a younger woman. He seems utterly unreachable, and the marriage heads
    swiftly for divorce.
  • A husband prays for his wife, who has terminal cancer. She has six, maybe seven months to live. None of the treatments stop the rampaging tumors. The elders anoint her with oil and pray over her in the name of the Lord. She dies five months later.
  • A young man prays fervently for deliverance from an overpowering temptation, but the struggle never seems to end. The more he prays, the worse the temptation becomes.

And so we cry out with the psalmist, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trou­ble?” (Psalm 10:1).

The Problem No One Talks About

As we think about this question we will be helped if we simply acknowledge reality. A great many believers struggle with the issue of unanswered prayer. If there is a God, if he really does answer prayer, why doesn’t he answer my prayers?

For those who are in pain, a theoretical answer will not suffice. Nor will it be enough to simply say, “God always answers prayer. Sometimes he says yes, sometimes he says no, and sometimes he says wait awhile.” We say this a lot. I’ve said it myself. But it sounds facile and superficial when someone cries out to God from the pit of despair, and the heavens are as brass, and the answer never comes.

There are people who bear hidden scars from the pain of prayers that were not answered. They remember times when they prayed, really prayed, said all the right words with all the right motives, even asked their friends to join them in prayer, deeply believing that only God could help them out; and after they prayed, they waited and waited and waited, but God never seemed to answer.

We don’t talk about this problem very much. I suppose that’s because we’re afraid that if we admit our prayers aren’t always answered, it will cause some people to lose their faith in God. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what has happened. Many good, devout people secretly doubt that God answers prayer. They doubt it, for when it really counted, God did not come through for them. So in their hearts, deep in the inner recesses of the soul, hidden behind a smiling face, rests a profound disenchantment with the Almighty.

Calvin and Hobbes

You wouldn’t think that such a serious subject would make it to the comics, but I happened to find it in a comic strip called “Calvin and Hobbes.” It’s late November, and a little boy is waiting with his sled for the first big snowfall. He waits and waits-but all he finds is brown grass... and no snow.

So he says, “If I was in charge, we’d never see grass between October and May.” Then, looking to the heavens, he says, “On ’three,’ ready? One . . . Two . . . Three. SNOW!” Nothing happens, and the little boy is downcast. Then he shouts to the heavens, “I said snow! C’mon! Snow!” Then, shaking his fists, he cries, “SNOW!” Now thoroughly disgusted with God’s failure, he says, “OK then, don’t snow! See what I care! I like this weather! Let’s have it forever!” But his defiance does not last. In the next frame we see the little boy on his knees offering this prayer: “Please snow! Please?? Just a foot! OK, eight inches! That’s all! C’mon! Six inches, even! How about just six??” Then he looks to heaven and shouts, “I’m WAAIITING...”

In the next frame we see him running in a circle, head down, fists clenched, making a little-boy sound which the artist spells out as “RRRRGGHHH.” That’s not an English word, but every parent has heard it many times. Finally, the little boy is exhausted, his energy spent, his prayer un­answered, with snow nowhere in sight. In the final frame, he looks up at God and cries out in utter desperation, “Do you want me to become an atheist?”

Many Christian people feel just like that little boy, only they have prayed for things much more important than a few inches of snow, but the end result has been the same. And in their frustration and despair, they have cried out to God, “Do you want me to become an atheist?” Some of them have. Most haven’t, but they keep the pain inside, still believing as best they can in a God who sometimes answers prayer and sometimes doesn’t.

When Dad Died

At this point I would like to add my own testimony to the list. Many years ago my father suddenly and inexplicably became very ill. I was just married and was starting seminary when I got the late-night call from my mom. My father was so sick that they had taken to a hospital in Birm­ingham. Marlene and I made the trip from Dallas, and the whole thing was like a dream to me. My dad was a doctor. Doctors don’t get sick; they heal the sick. How could my dad be in the hospital? But he was, and the outlook was not good. Something about a strange bacterial infection that the doc­tors could not stop.

And so began a two-week ordeal I will never forget. We went to Birmingham and then back to Dallas. A few days later the call came and we went back again. This time Dad was worse. I prayed, but it was hard and I was scared.

The turning point came on the second trip when I went in to see my father in intensive care. By this time, he was in and out of a coma, and I don’t think he knew who I was. When I went back out in the hallway, I saw a friend from my childhood days. He had come down to see how I was doing. Something about seeing an old friend triggered my emotions, and I collapsed against the wall and began to weep. It was in that terrible moment that I realized my father was dying, and I could do nothing about it.

A few days later, my father died despite our prayers and the doctors’ best efforts. Thirty-eight years have passed, and I know many things now that I didn’t know then. I understand life a little better. But after all these years, I still don’t know why God didn’t answer our prayers. The mystery is as great to me today as it was in the hospital corridor in Birmingham, Alabama. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now.

My Grace Is Sufficient

But I have been helped by one great discovery: I’m not the first person to have my prayers go unanswered. In fact, the Bible is filled with stories of men and women who prayed to God in the moment of crisis, and God-for reasons some­times explained and more often not explained-did not answer their prayers. We don’t hear much about that because our focus is naturally on the great answers that came just in the nick of time. Most of us would rather hear about the part­ing of the Red Sea than about Trophimus being left sick at Miletus. Miracles that did happen are more encouraging than stories of miracles that almost happened.

As I flip through the pages of the Bible, I find no story of unanswered prayer that encourages me more than the account of Paul’s unanswered prayer in 2 Corinthians 12. In that passage Paul reveals that fourteen years earlier he had been caught up into heav­en and had seen things that no mortal man had ever seen before. It was the greatest experience of his life, and he never forgot what it was like. But when that great experience was over, something else happened to Paul that would change his whole perspective on life. Let him tell the story in his own words:

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these sur­passingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Bible students are divided about what this verse really means. Some suggest that the “thorn in the flesh” was the fierce opposition Paul received from his Jewish opponents. Others suggest it was some kind of demonic oppression. Still others think that the thorn was a physical ailment that crip­pled Paul in some way and limited his effectiveness.

In one sense it really doesn’t matter. The crucial point is that Paul prayed for God to remove the “thorn in his flesh” so that he could get on with his ministry. In fact he prayed not once but three times. And each time God said no.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me" (v. 8).

Can you imagine that? The apostle Paul, probably the greatest Christian who ever lived, the man who introduced Christianity to Europe, the man who wrote so much of the New Testament-that man, when he prayed about this need in his life, found that God did not, would not, answer his prayers.

It’s hard to believe because we know that Paul was a man of prayer. He writes about prayer in all his letters. Sup­pose Paul were to come to your church next Sunday and after the service said, “Now, I’ll be glad to pray for any of you.” What would you do? I know what I’d do. I’d get in line and ask the apostle Paul to pray for me.

But here’s a clear-cut case, given in his own words, of a time in his life when he desperately begged God over and over again to answer a very specific prayer, and God said no.

As I ponder this story, I gather great encouragement from it. It teaches me several important principles.

1. Unanswered prayer sometimes happens to the very best of Christians.
2. When it happens, it is humanly unexplainable.
3 When it happens, God has a higher purpose in mind.

In Paul’s case he kept on praying until God finally gave him an explanation. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is suffi­cient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (v. 9).

Sometimes our prayers are not answered because God can do more through us by not answering our prayers than He can by answering them.

Sometimes God’s no is better than His yes.

Think of it this way. What would happen if God answered all your prayers all the time in the exact manner in which you prayed? Forget for a moment that some of your prayers are foolish and shortsighted. Just suppose that God answered them all. Would that produce spiritual maturity in your life? I think not. If God always answered your prayers, eventually your trust would be in the answers and not in the Lord alone.

But when God says no, we are forced to decide whether we will still trust in God alone-without the benefit of an answered prayer to lean upon.

Don’t get me wrong. Answered prayer is wonderful, and if none of our prayers were answered we would probably stop praying altogether. But if all of our prayers were answered we would end up taking God for granted. Unanswered prayer forces us to trust in God alone. And when we do, he alone gets the glory, for it is at that point that his strength is made per­fect in our weakness.

We Grow Best in the Darkness

If I could add a personal addendum to what I wrote earlier about my father’s death, it would be that his passing was the single greatest loss of my life so far. I use “so far” advisedly because I am 59 going on 60 going on what?  Maybe 65 or 70 or 75 or 80. As I look at my life compared to others around me, I see many people whose path has been much harder than my own. But I know that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). If I live long enough, I will certainly see much more personal sorrow. There is no way around it.

So I ponder my life and realize that after my father died, the world no longer seemed like a safe place to me. That basic thought has never changed since his death in 1974. But with that safety net taken away, I have learned much about my own weakness and about God’s strength. My father’s death turned my world upside down. But out of it, slowly, very slowly, I began to grow and change. There have been other hard times since then. I now look back and think that the most concentrated times of spiritual growth have come as a result of my trials.

When he was an old man looking back on his life, British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge summarized it this way in an interview with William F. Buckley:

“As an old man, Bill, looking back on one’s life, it’s one of the things that strike you most forcibly–that the only thing that’s taught one anything is suffering. Not success, not happiness, not anything like that. The only thing that really teaches one what life’s about–the joy of understanding, the joy of coming in contact with what life really signifies–is suffering, affliction.”

This is exactly what Paul is saying, and it is the testimony of Christians across the centuries. We grow best in the darkness of pain, sadness and despair. We learn many things in the sunlight, but we grow best in the darkness.

A Soldier’s Prayer

Sometimes it is better for us if our prayers are not answered immediately. Sometimes it is better if they are not answered at all. The great question is not, “How can I get my prayers answered?” The great question is, “What will it take to draw me closer to God?”

Consider these words attributed to a Civil War soldier who died in battle.

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for, but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.                                               
I am, among men, most richly blessed.

It is a great advance in spiritual understanding to be able to say, “I got nothing I asked for, but everything I had hoped for.”

Though He Slay Me

That brings me to the conclusion. Sometimes our prayers will go unanswered. Unless you admit that fact and deal with it as a Christian, you will probably give up prayer altogether. To make matters worse, sometimes our prayers offered from righteous motives and pure hearts will seem to accomplish nothing. It is as if the heavens have turned to brass.

But that is not true. God does hear every prayer, even the ones he chooses not to answer. And no prayer is entirely wasted, for even unanswered prayer may be used by God to draw us closer to him. In that case we may say that it was better for our prayers to go unanswered that we might draw near to God.

The final solution, I think, lies somewhere along these lines: When we pray, we tend to focus exclusively on the answers; God wants us to focus on him. Whatever will help us do that is what we really need. Sometimes that means our prayers will be answered in amazing and miraculous ways; other times our prayers will not be answered at all.

Do you remember the experience of Job? He lost his home, his fortune, his children, his health, and his reputation. All that he counted dear was taken away from him. When he finally hit the bottom, filled with anger and wishing that he were dead, he uttered these words of faith: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15 KJV). It’s as if he is saying to God, “You can take my life, but you can’t make me stop trust­ing in you.” Yes, there is a note of belligerent defiance in those words, and yes, Job wasn’t too happy about what God had done to him. And yes, he wanted his day in court. But underneath the anger and searing pain was a bedrock faith in God. “I don’t understand this at all, but I’m hanging on to you, Lord, and I’m not going to let go.”

That’s the place to which God wants to bring us. Some­times unanswered prayer is the only way to get us there.

What to Do When Your Prayers Are Not Answered

Having said all of that, we still need to know how to respond when we pray and God does not answer us. What do we do? I have three suggestions to make.

1. Keep on praying as long as you can.

Sometimes God’s answers are delayed for reasons beyond our knowledge. Who can really say why a prayer which has been uttered 9,999 times should finally be answered the lO,OOOth time? But sometimes it happens.

From time to time we hear stories of how people have prayed for a loved one for twenty, and even thirty years, before the answer finally came. And we all know of stories of how some people have made miraculous recoveries after the doctors had given up all hope. Should not we gain hope from such seeming miracles?

A woman stood up in a Sunday school class I was teaching and told about a friend (well-known to several others in our class) who had prayed for her husband’s salvation for fifty-nine years. After all those years, he finally trusted Christ and died a few months later. Don’t you think his wife must have gotten discouraged somewhere along the way? What if she had stopped praying after thirty-seven years?

So pray, pray, and keep on praying. And as you pray, don’t be ashamed to beg God for a miracle. Who knows? You may be surprised to find that in the end, after you have given up all hope, God has moved from heaven to answer your prayers in ways you never dreamed possible.

2. Give God the right to say no.

In the ultimate sense, God already has that right, whether you acknowledge it or not. But if you never acknowledge that God has the right to say no to you, you will be filled with anger, frustration, and despair. To fight against God’s right to say no to you is really the same thing as fighting against God. That’s a battle you’ll never win.

How much wiser it is to say, “Lord, I am praying this prayer from the bottom of my heart, but even as I pray I con­fess that you have the right to say no if that’s what You think is best.” You’ll sleep well at night when you learn to pray like that.

And in this we have the example of the Lord Jesus who, when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane with the sweat pouring off him like great drops of blood, said, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39 kjv). If Jesus needed to pray that way, how much more do we?

Let God be God in your life. Give him the right to say no.

3. Keep on doing what you know to be right.

In the darkness of unanswered prayer, you may be tempted to give up on God. You may feel like throwing in the towel and checking out of the Christian life. But what good will that do? If you turn away from God, where will you go?

Keep on praying, keep on believing, keep on reading the Bible, keep on obeying, keep on following the Lord. If you stay on course in the darkness, eventually the light will shine again and you will be glad that you did not turn away in the moment of disappointment.

He Maketh No Mistake

Many years ago I heard Dr. Lee Roberson quote a poem called “He Maketh No Mistake.” A man named A. M. Overton wrote the poem when his wife died. Dr. Roberson became acquainted with it when he met the pastor who had officiated at the funeral for Mrs. Overton. It seems that while he was speaking, the pastor noticed Mr. Overton sitting in the pew writing something. Thinking that was a strange thing to do, he asked him about it after the service. He said he had been writing down a poem during the funeral service. “He Maketh No Mistake” has become very popular and has spread around the world.

Born out of deepest personal sorrow, it touches us with a profound statement of trust in God amid the trials of life.

My Father’s way may twist and turn,
My heart may throb and ache
But in my soul I’m glad I know,
He maketh no mistake.

My cherished plans may go astray,
My hopes may fade away,
But still I’ll trust my Lord to lead
For He doth know the way.

Tho’ night be dark and it may seem
That day will never break,
I’ll pin my faith, my all in him,
He maketh no mistake.

There’s so much now I cannot see,
My eyesight’s far too dim;
But come what may, I’ll simply trust
And leave it all to him.

For by and by the mist will lift
And plain it all he’ll make,
Through all the way, tho’ dark to me,
He made not one mistake.

In the end that will be the testimony of every child of God.  When we finally get to heaven, we’ll look back over the pathway of life and see that through all the twists and turns and seeming detours that “He made not one mistake.”

We see dimly now as we march on through the shadows of life. But the day will come when the sunlight of God’s love surrounds us as we stand in the presence of Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us. Until then, we move on through the twilight knowing that some of our prayers will not be answered no matter how hard we pray. But this fact sustains us on our long journey home:  He did not say, “My answers are sufficient,” but rather “My grace is sufficient for you.”

Read more…

Free Ebook on the Lord's Prayer Just Released



I’m pleased to announce the release of our newest free ebook. You can download my book And When You Pray: The Deeper Meaning of the Lord’s Prayer in Kindle, Nook, and PDF formats. Click on the link to download your free ebook.  

Please note that the free version is only available at the KBM website. If you go to the Kindle store or the Nook store, you’ll have to pay for it. But we believe so much in the message of this book that we’re making it available for free on our website. 
When I first preached through the Lord’s Prayer, I discovered what Christians have known for centuries. This is truly a prayer for all occasions. It is so simple that a child can understand it but so deep that you can study it for a lifetime and never come to the end of it.
Here are the chapter titles:
1. Invitation to the Heart of God
2. God Our Father
3. Taking God Seriously
4. Kingdoms in Conflict
5. Nothing More, Nothing Less, Nothing Else
6. Daily Bread Living
7. Unless You Forgive
8. Does God Lead His Children into Temptation?
9. Deliver Us From Evil
10. Praying From the Footnotes
A Final Word
Epilogue: Singing Through the Lord’s Prayer

The book contains a built-in study guide with question embedded in each chapter and additional questions at the end of each chapter. The questions make the book very suitable for Bible study groups, discipleship groups, and Sunday School classes.
I actually wrote the Epilogue on “Singing Through the Lord’s Prayer” after the manuscript had been turned in. But I felt so strongly about it that the publisher agreed to include it. 
Because the book is out of print, the only printed copies are quite expensive. We’re hoping to acquaint a new audience with the deeper meaning of the Lord’s Prayer by giving away the free ebook. 
Just go to our digital download page, look for the image you see above this blog entry, and then download the version you want. It’s as simple as that. 
And if you’d like to help us out, help us spread the word about this new ebook version of “And When You Pray.”
Note: If that link doesn’t work for you, try this one instead.


Read more…

I talked to Peter Wang Last Night

Wednesday night


I had a Skype conversation with Peter Wang in Dalian, China tonight. He told me that Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the first time the police tried to shut down his church. They first raided a prayer meeting and later interrupted a Sunday church service, eventually forcing his congregation to move into Peter’s apartment and then forcing Peter’s family to move to a different apartment. Those were dark, hard days for Peter and his family and his congregation.

How are things now?


“The police now call me and ask for my advice,” he said. “If they are concerned about a house church in Dalian, they call and ask me, ‘Do you know this church?’ If I say yes, they leave the church alone.”


How did such a change happen?


“It has to do with you and me, Pastor Ray.” Peter was referring to our visit last October when despite much opposition, we were able to have a Sunday night Meet the Author event at Dalian University of Technology. Up until the last second we thought the event would be canceled. Later we made a video of that amazing evening.


Peter told me that it wasn’t until months later that the police told him what happened. We wondered that night why no police showed up at all. It turned out that two days before the event, the “big boss” over religious affairs said to the police, “You must stop this event with Peter Wang and Ray Pritchard.” My name only matters because I am a foreigner. Peter said the police have no problem shutting down a Chinese-led event. But they have to be much more careful when foreigners are involved because they fear pressure from other governments. So the police officer said, “I will shut them down but I want a written order,” thus covering himself in case things went badly. He was promised that the order would be delivered.


That weekend was a holiday in China so many offices were closed. The police officer said he called everywhere and no one knew where the order to close us down was. It never arrived so the police just ignored the event, which was attended by 400-500 students. Here’s the kicker. The officer told Peter then when he arrived at his office on Monday morning, the order was on his desk. But it didn’t matter because the event had already happened. The policeman couldn’t figure it out, but Peter told him that God had protected us. The officer even agreed with him and then asked him to pray for his son (even though the officer is evidently not a believer). Peter prayed for his son, thus opening huge doors of friendship.


At the moment Peter is doing well, and the police are not bothering the house churches in Dalian (this isn’t true of the rest of China. In some cities there is continuing persecution).


My son Mark and I are going to Korea and then to China in late October and early November. We will spend time with Peter and, God willing, visit his house church once again.


There are other stories of God’s amazing protection that Peter told me, but this one stuck in my mind. Why did the police allow us to meet last October? Because God arranged it so that the order stopping us would be “lost” all weekend and then show up on the officer’s desk a day too late.


We do serve an amazing God. I know Peter is very grateful for your prayers.



Read more…

When last we left Jonah, he was in the belly of the great fish. He was in a bad fix and a bad way. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “Nothing clears the mind like the certain knowledge that you will be shot in the morning."

That’s obviously true.

If a man knows he is going to be shot very soon, it has a way of clearing the mind of trivial details. You don’t worry about washing the car if you know you’re going to be shot at sunrise. Someone else can wash the car. You’ve got bigger things to worry about.

So it was for Jonah. But first he has to come to his senses.

I had the chance to spend some time with a man involved in ministry to students. Occasionally he is faced with difficult disciplinary decisions when the young people break the rules of the group. “I’ve dealt with everything you can imagine. Every sort of sexual sin. Cheating. Breaking the law. You name it, I’ve seen it,” he said. This particular organization has an established set of procedures in place to deal with those who get in trouble. And very often they are able to help the young people make amends and set their lives on a new path.

During our discussion the man made two comments that stayed with me. First, he has learned that lying has almost become a non-issue today. Everyone lies, and they lie all the time. It’s almost as if it’s not a sin to lie anymore. Perhaps it is a sign of postmodern relativism that we have come to accept that lying isn’t wrong. Or perhaps it is just a fulfillment of Romans 3:13, “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” After discussing how people routinely lie to cover up their sin, he offered this conclusion:

You can’t help a liar.

You can help anyone struggling with any sort of sin as long as they tell the truth. But you can’t help a liar because you can’t trust anything he says.

The situation is compounded by the fact that when most of us get caught, we confess as little as possible. And that leads to the second key point. The man said that it’s always a good sign when “they tell you something you didn’t already know.” If you knew A-B-C, but the person then adds D-E-F, you know their repentance is deeper than just “I’m sorry I got caught.” True repentance always involves coming clean, and coming clean means owning up to the whole pattern of wrongdoing, not just to the thing you happened to get caught doing.

Three Hard Words

Proverbs 28:13 declares that he who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." The Bible also says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God desires “truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6) or as Eugene Peterson puts it, “truth from the inside out.” It is very hard for most of us to come to this place of total honesty with God and with others. Most of us face a continual battle to be transparent in all our dealings, especially when we have sinned. You can make a good case that the three hardest words to say are “I have sinned."

No one wants to say that. We would rather do anything, including lying, to keep from saying those words. We’ll make excuses, we’ll rationalize, we’ll twist the facts, we’ll blame others, and we’ll say, “It’s not my fault” or “She told me to do it"or” So what? Everyone else is doing it."

The excuses never seem to end.

Let’s lay down a marker here at the start of this message. It’s a good mark of spiritual health if it is becoming easier for you to say, “I was wrong.” That’s a good sign because it means you are taking responsibility for your own actions. It means you are ready to get your life right with God. It means you’re ready to start growing again.  

They say that every sermon should have an application so let me give you mine even before we get to our text. Here’s what I’d like you to do. Take a Bible plus a notebook and a pen and find a quiet place. Then pray this simple prayer: “Lord, show me the truth about myself.” Those seven words are all you need to say.

Then wait for God to speak to you.

When we pray that way, the answer will begin to come from heaven. Little by little the Holy Spirit will show us our weaknesses, our faults, our mistakes, our bad attitudes, our foolish words, our pride, our arrogance, our need to be in control, our need to tell others what to do, our desire to have our own way, our anger, our bitterness, our lack of mercy, our lack of love, and our lack of compassion. I know from personal experience that if you wait long enough, the Lord will always reveal the truth to you.

It’s hard to do this. God knows that so sometime he forces the issue. Sometimes God puts us in places where we have to face the consequences of our own stupid choices.

He won’t take sin in stride.
He won’t say “Boys will be boys.”
He is passionate for holiness.
He loves us too much to let us go on in sin forever.

That’s a truth Jonah found out the hard way.

In Jonah 2 the disobedient prophet finds himself in the belly of a great fish. We don’t know what sort of fish it was. We do know that the Lord appointed the fish to catch and swallow Jonah alive. It was a divine miracle that the fish appeared at just the right moment in just the right place, with just the right appetite to swallow Jonah but not to kill him or maim him in the process.

Can you imagine what it was like inside that fish?  It’s dark, you can’t move around very much, the fish is swimming constantly, salt water washes over you, seaweed wraps around your body, and unidentified objects knock against you. One other thing. The inside of a fish really stinks. Plus it’s greasy, slippery, and the fish is trying to digest you.

Jonah’s Psalm

Jonah 2:1 says, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God." While he is inside the fish, he composes a beautiful prayer that takes the form of a psalm.

First, he cries to God for help. “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry” (v. 2). No boasting here. He knows that if God doesn’t save him, he will never get out of the great fish alive.

Second, he confesses that God put him where he is. “You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas" (v. 3). Notice that Jonah doesn’t blame the sailors for throwing him into the deep nor does he blame the storm or the great fish. Jonah sees clearly that behind the ship and the storm and the casting of lots and the raging sea and the great fish, behind all of it stands the Lord of the universe. Jonah bows before God and says, “I’m here because you put me here." It is a great advance spiritually to stop blaming others for your problems. Jonah knows he must answer to the Lord alone.

Third, he feels like he is going to die in the great fish. “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head” (v. 5). There’s no way out unless the Lord brings him out. Apart from God, he’s Sunday lunch for the big fish and there’s nothing to be done about it.

Fourth, he remembers the Lord is his only hope. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord” (v. 7). Finally Jonah is acting like a true believer. After all the running away, after all the disobedience, after all the prodigality, after all the self-centered living, God has Jonah’s undivided attention.

God will do whatever it takes to bring us to the place where we remember him. He’ll stop at nothing. That includes calamity, sickness, loss, repeated failure and heartbreak.

Whatever it takes to get us on our knees is good for our spiritual growth. Jonah is saying, “Lord, I’ve been running from you for a long time, and now at last you’ve got my full attention.”

Fifth, he vows to serve the Lord. “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good" (v. 9). You can see the spiritual progress he’s making in this psalm. First, he acknowledges that God put him where he is. Second, he accepts God’s discipline. Third, he thinks he’s going to die. Fourth, he finally remembers the Lord. Then and only then does he vow to serve the Lord.

He comes to the great conclusion in verse 10: “Salvation is of the Lord." This is the hardest lesson for any of us to learn. Salvation starts with God and it ends with God. Some of us struggle a lifetime to learn that. Most of us have learn it over and over again. Some people never learn it at all. But there is no salvation, no deliverance, and no getting better until we realize that if God doesn’t save us, we will never be saved.

That’s the advantage of being in the belly of a great fish. It clears the mind so you can think about what matters most. Most of us would probably improve spiritually if we spent a few days in a great fish, or at least someplace without TV, radio, or the Internet. In the terrifying darkness inside the fish, Jonah realized the folly of fighting against God. As the wise man said, your arms are too short to box with God. He’s going to win every time.

What We Know So Far

Let’s wrap up the message with a few observations about Jonah’s journey so far.

1. Although he was a prophet, it had been a long time since he had talked honestly with God.

It’s amazing and frightening how easy it is for church people to go through life without talking to God. Why do you think Jonah prayed in the great fish? For one thing, there was nothing else to do. Without the regular distractions of life, Jonah focused on the Lord. People say to me, “Why doesn’t God speak to me?” To which I answer, “He speaks to you all the time, but you won’t slow down long enough to listen.” The loud clamor of life and the constant pressure to get things done, to meet our goals, and to cross off items on our to-do list, all of it conspires to keep us from hearing the still, small voice of the Lord.

But God knows how to speak to us. And he certainly knows how to get our attention.

It’s a good thing to be desperate if desperation turns your heart to the Lord. I can imagine few things worse than being in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights. But it is better to be in the fish and talking to God than on dry land boasting about your big plans.

You pray inside the great fish because if God doesn’t do something, you will die there.

But notice this. It’s not that the belly of a fish is inherently more dangerous than living in a luxury suite in a high-rise hotel. You can get into trouble anywhere. An earthquake can strike, a tornado can come, a car can veer off the road, catastrophe can strike at any moment. You can be singing a tune one moment and have a stroke the next. It happens every day. No one is immune to trouble, and there is nowhere on earth where you are truly safe from heartbreak, sadness, disease, danger and death.

2. God had to stop Jonah in his tracks in order to get his attention.

Notice the progression. In chapter 1 Jonah acts and keeps messing things up. In chapter 2 Jonah prays and things start getting better. Often our greatest problem is slowing down enough to hear God’s voice.

3. God delights to deliver his people from impossible situations.

Being trapped inside a great fish for three days and three nights is an impossible situation. Even after Jonah gets right with God, he’s still inside the fish. He’ll never get out on his own. So God works an amazing deliverance. Look at verse 11 of Jonah 2:

The Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

The same Lord who appointed the fish to catch him now tells the fish to let him go. By the way I checked out the Hebrew word translated “vomit” and it means . . . vomit. That’s a very good translation.

Some of you have heard of “projectile vomiting.” That’s what happens here. Jonah took a ride on the “regurgitron.” One moment he’s wedged in the belly of the fish, the next he’s flying through the air, and the next he lands on the shore, covered with shrimp cocktail.

All of it meant to teach him and us that salvation is of the Lord.

The Famine Always Comes

Jesus told a parable (Luke 15:11-31) that fits with the story of Jonah. A young man came to his father and said, “Give me my share of the inheritance.” So the father did, and the young man took the money, left his family, and journeyed into the far country where he spent his money on wild living. One translation calls it “riotous living.” He spent it all on wine, women and song. It all worked out until the famine came.

By the way, you can mark it down. The famine always comes sooner or later. You can have your fun and spend your money and live any way you like. You can throw off all restraint. But the famine comes eventually. When the money runs out, you find out that your so-called friends won’t return your phone calls. They were happy to party with you when you had cash in your pocket and a credit card to cover everything else. But when you tap out, your party buddies suddenly disappear.

Now he’s feeding the pigs, hoping to catch a little from the slop bucket. The Bible says when the prodigal son came to his senses, he said to himself, “Back home my father’s servants have plenty to eat. I will arise and go to my father and say, ‘I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ Make me one of your hired hands.”

He began the long, slow, difficult journey home.
Ashamed and embarrassed of what he had done.
Wondering what his father would do.

He needn’t have worried. Jesus said that the father saw his son a long way off. That means he had been waiting, waiting, waiting for his son to come home. Don’t you know the folks in the village made fun of him. “Come on in, old man. That son of yours is gone forever. Don’t waste any more time on him. Give it up.”

But he wouldn’t give up. The father said, “I will not come inside. I am waiting for my son to come home.” Day after day, he waited, watching and hoping for a sign his son was coming home.

One day he saw it. A tiny speck on the horizon.

The father ran to meet his son while he was still far away.
He didn’t say, “Let him come all the way and then I’ll talk to him.”
He ran after him.
He couldn’t wait to see his son again.

Once a Son Always a Son

After his father had hugged and kissed him, the son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” That was the speech he had rehearsed. He was going to say, “Make me like one of your hired hands.” But he never got those words out. The father wouldn’t let him say it.

Why? Because once a son always a son.

A son at home, a son far away, a son in the pigsty, and a son on the way back home.

That’s why the father said, “Go get the sandals. Go find my best robe. Get the golden ring. Kill the fatted calf. My son who was lost has been found. My son who was far away has come home. Let’s get the party started.”

I’ve got some good news. The lights are on in the Father’s house, and the door is always open. The Father stands waiting for his prodigal sons and daughters to come back home. And he doesn’t say, “Clean yourself up first.” He just says, “Come on home. We can’t wait to see you again.”

He doesn’t say, “Prove that you are worthy,” because no one is worthy of the Father’s love. He just says, “If you are tired of living in the far country, if you’re tired of running away, if you’re ready to come home, the door is always open to you.”

What’s the hardest part about coming home? It’s that first step. Oh, how hard it is to take that first step back home to God. Prodigals are scared to take that first step because they are afraid of what awaits them on the other end of the journey.

What if there is no one to meet them?
What if no one is glad to see them?
What if they are greeted with a torrent of angry words?

Jonah and Jesus

They don’t understand that Jesus has paved the way home in his own blood. His death is so great and his resurrection so complete that nothing can be added to the value of what Christ did for us 2000 years ago. That’s why when Jesus himself spoke about this, he called his own resurrection the “sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:39-40). As Jonah was in the belly of the great fish, even so Jesus was in the heart of the earth. As Jonah came out of the fish, even so Jesus came out of the realm of death.

The story of Jonah points us to Jesus, and the story of Jesus tells us how far God will go in behalf of guilty sinners. He sent his Son to the lowest place on earth, to the bloody cross of Calvary, the emblem of suffering and shame. And out of that shame he fashioned our salvation.

Now the door to heaven has been thrown wide open. Now all the reluctant Jonahs of the world can find their way home to God. Sometimes we sing “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” I wonder if we shouldn’t change just one word to get the full impact of this story:

Outrageous grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

The grace of God is not just amazing. It’s outrageous! It welcomes the worst sinners into the courts of heaven. It makes a way for even super-religious people to be forgiven of all their sins. And for the rebel who today languishes in the far country, feeling alone and forgotten, God’s grace reaches out and says, “Jesus has paid the price. When you are ready, you can come home to God.”

Father, we thank you that we don’t have to be perfect because if we did, who among us would qualify? We thank you that we don’t even have to scrape off the dirt of our own foolish mistakes. We couldn’t do that if we tried. All we have to do is turn and come home.

Lord Jesus, you are the Friend of sinners. We are so glad because you are the Friend and we are the sinners. Thank you, Lord, for this story because if Jonah can get a second chance, there’s hope for all of us.

Give us grace to come and courage to take the first step. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Read more…

Something Big is Happening Here

Sometimes you discover a new truth by accident.

That happened to me recently as I was reading through Ephesians. Actually I’ve beenreading and re-reading Ephesians for the last few months. When I read David Powlison’s advicethat we should master Ephesians and be mastered by it because “in apinch you could do all counseling from Ephesians” and “It’s all there:the big picture that organizes a myriad of details,” I decided to goback and make it the focus of my daily Bible reading. So that’s whatI’ve been doing for the last few months. Sometimes I read a few verses,sometimes a chapter or two, sometimes I read the whole book.Occasionally I ponder a single verse.

I’ve been struck repeatedly by how Paul emphasizes the cosmic dimensions of God’s plan. He does itin Ephesians 1 where he talks about God bringing all things togetherunder the headship of Christ (v. 10) and how Christ is now seated farabove all authority and power (v. 21). He does it again in chapter 6when he says that we wrestle against principalities and powers and thespiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (v. 12). Paul sees what happens here on earth as being closely connected to events in the spiritual realm.So with that in mind, I’m reading along in chapter 3 where Paul talksabout how in the church Jews and Gentiles stand on an equal basis, withthe same standing and the same privileges. That’s a tremendous truth tothink about. Then you come to this verse:

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of Godshould be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenlyrealms” (Ephesians 3:10).

That’s the sort of verse you might read quickly and not think about. But it deserves closer examination. Paul says that God has arranged things so that the church of JesusChrist displays the “manifold” wisdom of God. The word means“many-colored.” Picture a bouquet of multi-colored flowers or a piece offabric with a vast variety of colors, red and pink and blue and brownand green and yellow. I have seen computer programs that promise thatthey can print pictures in “millions of colors.” That’s the idea here.God’s wisdom has many hues, many varieties, and God intends to use thechurch (meaning those of us in the church) to display that wisdom.

Ray Stedman explains it this way:

The word translated manifold here is literally the many-colored wisdom ofGod. Why did the apostle choose this poetic adjective? It is becauselife consists of many colors. We all have blue days. And red hours ofanger and passion. And golden moments of glory. And dark, somber valleysthrough which we must pass. And lush, green pastures into which we aresometimes led. God’s love is manifest in all of these hues of life. Sowhen you go through a blue time, it is God’s love that you are learning.When you go through a dark and pressured time, the love of God is beingmanifested there. You may not see it, but God knows how to make itclear. And even the joyful times are manifestations of the many-coloredwisdom of God.

So far, so good.

But then look at that last phrase. God intends to display his“many-colored” wisdom to “the rulers and authorities in the heavenlyrealms.” That can only be a reference to the angelic beings watchingfrom heaven. When Ligon Duncan preached on Ephesians 3:8-13, he painted this word picture:

The Apostle Paul is saying that God has put you up on the stage of historyand that when you look up into the galleries and into those expensiveboxes you are going to see the angelic powers of heaven, good and evil,because God is putting them in graduate school to learn from you of Hiswisdom and glory. In other words, God is going to display His glory togood angels and bad angels. He’s going to display the wisdom of Hisplan to principalities and powers through you as the church.

Kenneth Wuest offers this succinct summary:

The Church thus becomes the university for angels, and each saint a professor.

Folks, that’s a mind-blowing insight. It’s telling us that what happens to us on earth has a purpose that goes far beyond us personally. God intends to use the events of this life, the good and the bad, thehappy and the sad, the positive and the negative, all of it together andeach part individually, to make a display for all the universe to see.He does it so that the angels scattered across the universe, in alltheir various ranks and orders and levels, will see something of God’swisdom worked out through what happens to us here on earth.

Unanswered Questions

I find this perspective helpful because so much of what goes on around usseems to make little sense. I’m thinking of the heartaches of life, howone person gets cancer and dies while another person is spared cancerand yet another person gets the same cancer, goes through chemotherapyand survives. Why does one child live and another die? Why is one familyhit with a seemingly endless series of trials? Why did this husbanddecide to walk away from his marriage? Why did the car wreck leave thisman crippled but the man next to him walks away unscathed? The list goeson and on and on.

Why was this person promoted and that one passed over?
Why do some people want to get married but never find the right person?

Ephesians 3:10 offers us a unique perspective that we need to consider. I can say it in one simple sentence:

Something big is happening here.

Something much bigger than us.
Bigger than our own personal agenda.
Bigger than anything we’ve ever dreamed.

If we are Christians at all, we know that life isn’t about us.
We’ve heard that for years.

But here is an insight that may bring light on some of those “why” questions.

God intends to use us as a demonstration of his wisdom to a whole galaxy ofangelic beings who watch with great interest as we move through life onour way to heaven. They see us struggle, they watch us grapplewith tragedy, they see us deal with setbacks, they pay attention when wecry out to our Father for “grace to help” in the nick of time. They seein ways we don’t see how God’s plan is moving forward through oursuffering and pain and tears.

Now if this is so–and this seems to be exactly what Paul is inferring in Ephesians 3:10, lots of thingsthat happen aren’t just about us. Something much bigger is going through our struggles in this world. We wouldn’t understand it even if God tried to explain it to us. But we get little hints of it in verses like this.

As I pondered this some more, I remembered that Jonathan Edwards commentedthat in heaven we will spend the vast stretches of eternity marvelingwith other believers about how the wisdom of God was displayed in hisplan to save us and shape us into the image of his Son. When I firstheard that, I thought to myself, “Well, fine. But I think after maybe250 years or so, I’ll have fully covered all the mysteries of my ownearthly journey.” I admit that’s a very human way to look at it, butthat’s what I thought. But suppose God intends to use our life journeyas a canvas on which to paint the richness of his wisdom for the angelicbeings to study. Suddenly that lifts us into a realm of cosmic purposethat will truly stretch across the endless ages of eternity.

I think it means that at some point when we face hard times and when lifemakes no sense whatsoever, we need to stop and say to ourselves,“Something big is happening here." God never wastes anything. Not even the tiniest tear falls without a purpose.

Sometimes we think that life should get easier as we get older. I doubt that is the case for most people. If anything, the mysteries of life become more profound as we realizehow little we understand about why things happen the way they do.

Two people die every second.
But you are not dead.

Three Quotes

As a means of helping us think about this a little deeper, consider thesethree quotes gathered from very different authors in very differentplaces.

The first quote comes from a pastor who asked the following question, “Where in the Bible did God ever give someone aneasy job to do?” Now we may quibble with the question, but I think thelarger point is quite true. It’s hard to think of anyone in the Bible towhom God gave a truly “easy” job. Now why is that? God puts all of usto the test so that we will be forced to trust in him. If he only gaveout “easy” assignments, we wouldn’t have to trust him very much. Maybewe would conclude we didn’t need him at all. But hard assignments driveus to our knees in prayer.

The second quote comes from a certain TV preacher. A few months ago, while listening to asnippet of a program, I heard him offer this insight: “God will neverbring us to the place where we no longer need him."

And all God’s children said, “Hmmmm.”

That’ll make you stop and think. Down deep there is a part of us that would like to come to a place where we don’t have to trust in the Lord so much. Not that we don’t want to pray, but secretly we’d like to be in such aplace of earthly fulfillment where we didn’t have to pray desperateprayers to the Almighty. It would be wonderful (or so we think) ifthings were going so well that all we had to do was to praise the Lordall day long.

Not going to happen.
Not this side of heaven.

If all our needs were met, we’d end up forgetting God just like the children of Israel did in the Old Testament. Earthly prosperity tends to be no friend of spiritual growth. And total prosperity generally means total disaster. I think thatpreacher was right on in what he said. God intends to bring us again andagain to the place where we are crying out to the Lord, begging for hismercy and his grace.

That’s not a fun place to be.
But it’s where we need to be.
Anything that drives us to our knees is good for the soul.

The third quote comes from my friend Peter who pastors a house church in China. Lastmonth he and his wife came to the U.S. for a special seminar in Dallaswhere they spent a week with leaders from other countries at a fancyretreat center. Peter said it was a very good week, but there was onedrawback. “We had a beautiful room, wonderful meals, and everything weneeded was provided for us. We didn’t even need to pray.”

It’s always easier to pray when we have a consciousness of our own need.While we were with Peter, he prayed powerfully for us and for my wife inparticular who was going through some physical difficulties at thattime. It was a transforming moment to hear this Chinese pastor pray sofervently to the Lord.

So much faith!
So much earnest desire!

Later he told us that the Chinese church has no choice but to pray and askGod for healing. Given the pressures of the last sixty years, the churchhas learned to call upon the Lord fervently. I know I’ve used that wordtwice, but then I think of James 5:16, which in the King James Versiontells us that the “fervent” prayers of a righteous man avail much withGod.

The end of the whole matter is clear. Do not lose heart when hard times come. Something big is happening here.

Something bigger than you can see.
Something bigger than you can imagine.
Something so big that you can’t begin to figure it out.

I believe God brings us back again and again to these times ofdesperation so that we will see that it’s not about us and our problems.God intends to use our trials to teach us to pray and to trust him moreso that (and this is the point of Ephesians 3:10) the angelic beings will behold in us the many-colored wisdom of God.

When we see a fellow saint going through hard times for which there seems tobe no earthly explanation, let us erect over that spot a sign withthese words:

God at Work

When I was a teenager, I used to attend country churches where they wouldsing, “We’ll understand it better by and by.” Back then I didn’tappreciate the depth of theology behind that song, but with the passageof many years I see it more clearly now. And in this one verse Paulpulls back the curtain to give us a peek at God’s purposes that we wouldnot otherwise know. As you face the trials of life, keep this truth infront of you and make it a bedrock of your faith:

Something big is happening here.

Read more…

This topic has been on my mind for quite a while. I first delivered this talk at a missions conference in Montreal several years ago. It came to mind again this week after I was asked a question about the Second Coming during a question and answer session at Cannon Beach Conference Center in Oregon. I have been thinking and praying about what we should expect as we consider the call of Christ to take the gospel to the ends of the earth in light of the end of the age. It’s not just a question of missions and it’s not just a question of Bible prophecy. It’s a more focused question. “What should we expect as we do the work of evangelism in light of the Second Coming of Christ?"

There are several ways to get your hands around this question. Here are two preliminary observations:

1) What we believe determines who we are and what we do.

We can never separate theology and practice nor can we divorce doctrine from daily life. Belief matters because ultimately whatever is in the heart comes out in what we say and what we do.

2) Our view of the last days shapes our view of evangelism and world missions.

Perhaps a better way to say it is that our whole view of the future shapes our hopes and prayers for what God may yet do around the world. Obviously there are missionaries scattered in many places who hold a variety of views regarding the end times. It is not necessary (or likely) to suppose that Christians will come to a general consensus regarding the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium, the eternal state, the place of Israel in God’s plan, or the proper way to interpret Revelation. We’ve been discussing those things for a long time, and there is no end in sight. What would seminary students do late at night if they couldn’t argue about the fine points of Bible doctrine?

And I suppose that one’s evaluation of the future depends greatly on where and when you make your judgment. Christians living during a world war are likely to view the future much differently from those who live in a time of peace and prosperity. No one does theology in a vacuum. To Christians in Muslim lands facing severe persecution, the hope of the Second Coming may seem much more real than it does to happy, well-fed Western Christians whose biggest worry is how much they can spend for Christmas this year.

With that background, I would like to focus the question a little bit more. Are there any reasons to believe that we will yet see great spiritual awakenings around the world? I think the answer is yes, for reasons I will set forth in this message.

For many years I’ve read about great revivals in the past. Note the last three words. “In the past.” Sometimes those stories sound so amazing that you wonder if such things could happen in our day.

Could there be another Welsh revival in our day?
Could there be a Third Great Awakening?
Could there beanother Laymen’s Prayer Revival?
Could we see whole nations shakenand changed by the preaching of the gospel?

Instinctively we know the answer is “yes.” Of course those things are possible in our day. God is not limited by the moral decay around us nor is he bound by our unbelief. My sermon hones in on one key point. If these truly are the Last Days before the coming of the Lord, could these things still happen?

In order to answer that question let’s back up and answer another one first. What will the world be like in the Last Days? Here are two lines of biblical evidence to consider.

1) It will be the worst of times

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1). The word translated “terrible” occurs only here and one other place in the New Testament. In its other occurrence, it refers to the two violent men who were possessed by demons in the region of Gadara (Matthew 8:28). They were wild, uncontrollable men who lived among the tombs. The “last days” will be fierce, violent, dangerous and frightening. Savage times will come as men cast off all moral restraint and society begins to disintegrate.

Two decades ago evangelical philosopher and theologian Carl Henry predicted that as America progressively loses its Judeo-Christian heritage, paganism would grow bolder. What we saw in the last half of the 20th-century was a kind of benign humanism, but he predicted that by the start of the 21st-century, we would face a situation not unlike the first-century when the Christian faith confronted raw paganism–humanism with the pretty face ripped off, revealing the angry monster underneath. His words have come true, and we see the proof with every passing day. So Paul warns Timothy, “After I am gone, things are going to get worse before they get better. Buckle up, Timothy. Terrible times are coming.” That’s why Paul said, “Mark this,” or “Understand this,” or “Pay attention to this.” Don’t be naïve and think that everything is going to be okay. It’s not all going to be okay. But forewarned is forearmed. If we know what is going to happen, we won’t be surprised when it does.

Consider two more verses:

1 Timothy 4:1 “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”

2 Peter 3:3 "Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.”

We can summarize this line of biblical evidence by saying that the entire age will be characterized by unbelief and religious apostasy as men continually reject the truth and follow their own desires. There is a sense in which these things have always been true for the last 2000 years, and there have been many periods of extreme spiritual darkness. When Jesus uses the image of “birth pains” in Matthew 24:8, he may be telling us that we should expect these hard times to increase as we near the end of the age. The moral collapse of the end times will be like labor pains before a new world is born where Christ reigns as king.

But that is not the end of the story. There is another line of evidence we need to consider.

2) It Will Be The Best of Times

Let’s look briefly at two lines of evidence:

First, consider these words from Joel 2 that are repeated by Peter on the Day of Pentecost:

But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:16-21).

This passage is extremely important because of where and when Peter uttered these words. It’s as if Peter is saying, “The Age of the Holy Spirit is now upon us.” It certainly means that God intends to pour out the Holy Spirit across a wide swath of humanity. What Joel predicted and Peter preached not only characterizes this entire age, it will come to a climax in the final days of human history. There will be amazing signs in the heavens and on the earth surrounding the Day of the Lord. And there will be a great movement of evangelism in the last days, starting 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost, continuing through the Church Age, and coming to a vast climax just before Jesus returns.

Second, we have the parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13. Jesus told a story about a farmer who sowed wheat in his field, but during the night his enemy came and sowed weeds (sometimes called tares) among the wheat. The farmer had no idea what had happened until weeks later when he discovered the wheat and the weeds growing together. When his servants volunteered to pull up the weeds, he told them to leave the weeds alone lest they accidentally pull up the wheat at the same time. They were to let the wheat and weeds grow together until the harvest, at which time he would have the reapers gather the weeds for burning, then the wheat would be gathered into the barn (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). Later his disciples asked him to explain the story.

The wheat and the weeds represent believers and unbelievers in the world. The Lord sows the good seed that produces believers while the devil sows bad seed that produces unbelievers. That’s the world as we see it today. Christians and non-Christians live and work and play side by side. We shop at the same stores, we eat at the same restaurants, we drive on the same roads, and we work in the same companies. Very often we watch the same programs on TV, and we may even send our children to the same schools. The real point of the story is that you can’t always tell by looking who is a Christian and who is an unbeliever.

Superficially we may appear to be much the same. And when we die, we are all buried in the ground. I’ve walked through many cemeteries, and you can’t tell much about the spiritual state of those who rest six feet below the surface. The saved and the lost rest side by side. We are much the same in life and in death. But a day of final separation is coming when the Lord himself will send his angels to separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Since he alone will be the judge, there will be no mistakes.

What does this parable teach us about the Last Days? I think it suggests that there will be parallel harvests of good and evil in the days preceding the coming of the Lord. Evil will be more outrageous than ever before, and the good will easier to spot. Evildoers will become more brazen, and there will be a corresponding harvest of righteousness in the last days. The Lord’s work will prosper in the midst of continuing moral decline. This leads me to believe that the greatest revivals in history are still ahead of us. We’ve all heard it said that the darker the night, the brighter the light shines. When a jeweler wants to convince you of the brilliance of a diamond, he places it against a black background.

If we are indeed living in the last days before the return of Christ, we should expect things to get better and worse at the same time. I think we should believe God for amazing answers to prayer, culture-shaking moves of the Holy Spirit, and unprecedented open doors for evangelism. We should pray for the gospel to spread like wildfire across India and China. If there is going to be a final harvest of righteousness, then we should expect to see hundreds of millions of people coming to Christ in the years to come. And at the same time, the devil will do all he can to ignite an explosion of evil around the world.

As we rush headlong into the final days leading up to the coming of Christ, we should expect hard times and good times, increasing opposition and amazing open doors, trouble ahead and glorious gospel victories. All these things go together just before Jesus returns to the earth.

What Difference Does It Make?

As I travel to various places to speak, I sense worry and uncertainty everywhere I go. Last week during the question and answer session at Cannon Beach in Oregon, I talked about trends that may be leading to the events of the Last Days. At one point a person in the audience raised her hand and said, “If all of this is going to happen, what can we do about it?” Excellent question.

So I shared a short summary of this message and said, “I think these are great days to be alive. Think of it! We may be the generation that sees the return of Jesus Christ.” And that’s truly how I feel. I’m optimistic about what God is doing in the world today.In light of all this, how should we live?

Be Alert!

The last days will be a time of confusion and spiritual delusion. Don’t be sucked in by the spirit of the Antichrist that is already in the world. That spirit tries to make us think that sin isn’t really sinful and that there is no such thing as right and wrong. It also seduces us into silence when we ought to be speaking out. Ponder the words of I Peter 5:8 (ESV), “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Don’t let that “someone” be you. A great deception will come to the earth in the last days. Many will be deceived. It’s easy to say, “That would never happen to me.” Don’t be too sure. Many will be deceived who today would laugh at that suggestion.

Don’t be Naive!

This is a time for the people of God to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Don’t be naive about the true nature of sin in the world. Bad things happen because evil people cause them to happen. They hijack planes and fly them into skyscrapers. They mail anthrax to public officials. The strap bombs on young people who then blow themselves up on crowded buses. They loot and kill and destroy and defraud and break the laws of God and sometimes they go on TV and gloat about it. If we are indeed living near the coming of Christ, then we ought to brace ourselves for further outbreaks of hideous evil. The worst is yet to come. No matter how good the world seems to be in terms of technology, the moral compass is pointing in the wrong direction.

Don’t Be a Pessimist!

Believe God for great things in the last days. Pray big prayers. Ask God to bring in the last-days harvest in your town, your city, your state, and your nation.

Be Bold!

This is no time for compromise. In times like these, Christians ought to be bold and open about our faith. Raise the flag of Jesus high above your head and then take your stand under that flag so that those near and far know who you are and whose you are. Open your mouth and say a good word for the Lord. Speak up for the Savior. Let your voice be heard so loudly that no one can doubt whose side you are on.

March in Tight Formation!

This is no time for believers to wander off on their own. Stay tight with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Stay tight with your local church. Stay tight with your Sunday School class or your small group. Stay tight with your Christian friends at work. Stay tight so you can’t be easily picked off by the enemy. When we march in tight formation, we are a formidable force to be reckoned with. When we try to go it alone, we become easy targets for Satan’s attacks.

Live Without Fear!

If we know the Lord, we are joined with the One who is the ultimate Victor in the battle between good and evil. A friend reminded me that one of the old spirituals says, “My Lord, what a morning, when the stars fall from the skies.” The slaves often sang songs that talked about the coming of the Lord because that great hope contrasted so vividly with the bleakness of their bondage.

If we read about “terrible times” to come and then give in to fear, we have missed the great point that Jesus is the Victor in the end. We live in hope because our God is a God of hope, and in Christ we have great hope for the future. The church has always done its best work in bad days and hard times. When the skies are the darkest, it is then that the glory of the gospel shines the brightest.

Charles Dickens began his epic novel A Tale of Two Cities with these words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." That stands as a good description of what lies ahead of us as we approach the end of this age. Satan will unleash his full arsenal, knowing that his time is short. Therefore, we should not be surprised when hard times come. But this age will also end with an unprecedented spiritual harvest around the world. I can’t imagine a better time to be alive.

We are fighting a battle we cannot lose.
The Lord is looking for somesoldiers who will serve in his army.
Will you answer the call?

Read more…