All posts by Jon Mitchell

Editorial: How Is The Church of Christ Different From Denominations? (May/June, 2018) — Michael Grooms, Guest Editor

“So…how is the church of Christ different from other denominations?” I have been asked that question many times, and I am happy to give an answer. First, let me address the question itself. The term “church of Christ” is a possessive term that demonstrates the church as belonging to Christ. It is not the name of a denomination. Paul told the church in Rome, “…the churches of Christ greet you” (Rom. 16:16b). Second, the question assumes that the Lord’s church is one of the many denominations that we see in the religious landscape today. This is a misnomer. Jesus Christ did not make denominations. He made His church, and He only made one (Matt. 16:18). Men made denominations as a result of leaving the truth of God’s Word.

The church of Christ is made up of Christians who have been added to the church by our Lord as they were baptized into Christ for the remission of sins. (Acts 2:38, 41, 47; Rom. 6:3-6). Jesus alone has the authority to add men to His church (Matt. 28:18) and He only adds those who submit to His instruction that they believe and are baptized (Mark 16:16). Christ’s church is distinctive in nature because its members require authority from Jesus in all matters pertaining to worship, doctrine, and practice. This is the command of God. The Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11 NKJV). Paul, also inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote to the Christians in Colossae: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17 NKJV).

Since our Lord has thus instructed, true churches of Christ are determined to “speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent. Do Bible things in Bible ways, and call Bible things by Bible names.” In organization, each congregation is autonomous and overseen by a body of elders (Acts 20:28; Tit. 1:5). Deacons aid the elders in carrying out the work of the church (1 Tim. 3:18-13; Acts 6:3-4). Preachers have the charge to preach the word of God (2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 2:15). The elements of worship are only those which we find in scripture. The church sings with the voice and heart, not with instrumental additions (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). The Bible is preached, and the Lord’s Supper is observed each Sunday (Acts 20:7). Prayer is offered (James 5:16). Contribution is taken each Sunday (1 Cor. 16:2). We decry the names of men and call ourselves only “Christians” (Acts 11:26).

Before our Lord left this earth, He gave to His disciples a charge we affectionately refer to as “The Great Commission.” This charge, which is found in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-16, continues to challenge us through the Word of God to go into the world and bring disciples to Christ. It is our charge to evangelize. It is also our charge to maintain that which has been placed into our stewardship. We are stewards of the grace of God (1 Pet. 4:10). As such, we are stewards of His Word and His church. We must maintain the purity of the church as we preach and practice the unfettered truth of God’s Word. It is up to this generation to pass on to the next generation a church which is true to the Word of God. Let us be ever vigilant to protect and preserve the truth of God’s Word, that we may be faithful stewards.

— Michael

 

God-Centered Ethics — Eric Diaz

Ethics are the moral principles that govern a person’s behavior. God-centered ethics are the moral principles provided to man through His inspired Scriptures. God’s will for mankind has always been that we come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved, He does not desire that any should perish. His love for mankind was shown by sending His only begotten Son to be that Savior and Mediator between us and the one and only living God (1 Tim. 2:3-6). God has always blessed men with a system of right and wrong as well as the free will opportunity of choosing right or wrong.

The first commands from God were given to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. At this time commands were given directly to the patriarchs such as Noah, Abraham, and his descendants. After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt God gave His people the ten commandments and other spoken commands for them to live by. There have also been judges and prophets who have relayed information to the people to live righteously. When we come to the New Testament period we have Jesus, our mediator who provided a better way established on better promises (Heb. 8:6).

A lawyer once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. “Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40) This great foundation of love for God and awareness of others is crucial in understanding God-centered ethics. As usual, Jesus was the best example of loving God by perfectly carrying out His will, even to the point of giving Himself as a ransom for all. Love always involves sacrifice. We gladly sacrifice our time, energy and money for what we love the most.

It can be easy to recognize how to love your neighbor as yourself because we have a vested interest in caring for ourselves. Paul describes a husband loving his wife just like he loves his own body: “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.” (Eph. 5:29) We also have the example here of how the Lord loves His church. Another well known scripture that’s important in this topic is Matthew 7:12: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” So we have yet another example of God-centered ethics summed up in one short verse, often hailed as the Golden Rule.

But what is a sign of someone who loves God? Jesus answers this question very simply in John 14:15: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John also records a contrast between love of God and love of the world in 1 John 2:15-17; one cannot have both love for the world and for God. These verses also cast a light on the darkness that is sin. This doesn’t mean that Christians will never sin, or that when we do sin we don’t love God. It shows the internal struggle between willing spirits surrounded by weak flesh. This is the struggle of living in the world but not being of the world. We are not to avoid the people of the world but we are to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that we may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2). This is our reasonable service.

The Alternative

A truly fair system of ethics must be objective (Acts 10:34), just (Deut. 32:4), and unchanging (Heb. 13:8). Without an objective standard of truth, ethics would be dependent upon any given situation or perspective; injustices would abound and as time goes on standards would change. The alternative would be a system of self-centered ethics, a system built upon the desires of the individual or the majority of a people. This alternative system would be subjective in nature and may even progress to the point of calling good evil and evil good. But if there is no objective standard there cannot definitively be good and evil.

We are repeatedly warned by God not to lean on our own understanding and that our own hearts can be deceptive (Jer. 17:9). This kind of self centeredness has been the downfall of mankind since the very beginning. Through the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life we can be drawn away from God, toward a path of death and destruction (1 John 2:16; James 1:14,15). Adam and Eve fell prey to the craftiness of the devil, who promised something contrary to God’s given word. They sinned and faced the consequences of their actions and so death spread to all men.

God in times past left men up to their own devices. These have always been times of great despair in our history upon this earth. Mankind in Noah’s day showed that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). The wicked cities in the region of Sodom and Gomorrah also suffered from a lack of God-centered ethics and were destroyed. During the period of the Judges, being without a king as leader and guide, everyone did what they felt was right in their own eyes (Judg. 17:6). So we see time and time again the consequences of people with an absence of God-centered ethics.

Conclusion

Regardless of the past, today God requires all men everywhere to repent because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:30-31). We ought to count it a blessing that a truly objective, omniscient Judge will be in charge of such an undertaking. There will be no partiality shown or mistakes made by Him. Every man will give an account of himself to God, so let us be prepared for that day by basing our lives on an ethic that revolves around God. We are without excuse recognizing the tremendous importance of trusting and obeying the one and only living God. We ought to love God by knowing and respecting His will for us. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Eric Diaz is a servant of God residing in the Gulfport, Mississippi area. He’s married to his high school sweetheart Charlotte Diaz and they have four sons. Together they strive to follow Christ with the support of their loving brethren.

 

Jesus As King: An Old Testament Perspective — Gantt Carter

As Christians, we often sing phrases like, “Jesus is Lord” and “He’s my king.” Jesus is not only our Savior from our sins, but He also the Supreme King we are to submit to in love. The reality of Jesus’ kingship/lordship is set forth throughout the Writings of the New Covenant, the covenant in His blood.

Before the Jewish crowd makes their request, the apostle Peter proclaims that “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). “Lord” can also be translated as “Master” and “Christ” as “Messiah.” Jesus of Nazareth is the Master and the Messiah, and that truth is at the core of Christianity (cf. Phil 2:5-11).

The Perspective

This important concept of Jesus as King/Lord did not begin in the first century A.D. The truth builds on the history of God and Israel and flows out of several passages in the writings of the Old Covenant. In fact, the Hebrew term we translate as “Messiah” refers to one who is anointed, especially as a king. Jesus fulfills the thrust of the Old Covenant and the Scriptures given during that time (see 1 Cor. 15:1-4). Consider Jesus own words and actions:

“And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27, cf. 32, 44-47).

Please join me now in an overview of the Old Covenant perspective on Jesus as King and Lord.

The Prophecies

The first specific reference to the coming One is in Genesis 3:15, but the first reference to His kingship may be near the end of the same inspired book. Within the blessings of Jacob upon his twelve sons, we find the following:

“Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples (Gen. 49:9-10).

The lineage of Judah is significant for more than one reason in the history of Israel. David, king of Israel, descended from Judah and all succeeding kings came from Judah. Othniel, the first judge, was of the tribe of Judah (1 Chr. 4:13). The temple builders, Solomon and Zerubbabel, also descended from Judah (1 Chr. 3). King Jesus came as the new temple (John 1:14-18; 2:19), and His people are the temple as they are added to His body (Eph. 2:19-22).

Although dismissed by some, we submit that Genesis 49:9-10 is a foretelling of the timing and nature of the coming One (cf. Num. 24:17). Even many Jews through history believed this text to be about the Messiah. As we reflect on this, what can we see here?

1) He would be a descendant of Judah, the tribe of the kings (Matt. 1:2-3).

2) He would come while the authority of Judah was still perceptible. The last of any indication of royal Judah ceased with the Roman occupation. The Romans removed their authority and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. With the second temple and the genealogies destroyed, there is not even a possibility of rulership out of Judah or someone claiming to be the rightful King of Israel.

3) He would receive tribute (as King). We can translate this portion of the text as “until Shiloh comes” or as a reference to the “ruler’s staff” belonging to Him. “Shiloh” is often considered to be another title for the coming One.

4) All people and nations would submit to Him in obedience, giving Him honor. Jew and Gentile unified as they joyfully submit to their one King (Eph. 1-4).

In 2 Samuel 7, God gives King David a powerful promise about his kingly lineage. The most immediate fulfillment is in Solomon and the succeeding kings from Judah until the exile. However, God later foretells of yet another coming king, a Davidic king who would finally fulfill the ultimate purpose of God for His people. The term “Branch” below may be a technical term for the legal heir to an established royal line of kings.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (see Jer. 33:14-26; Ezek. 34:20-24; 37:24; Is. 11:10).

Gabriel tells the mother of Jesus that He will receive the throne of David and reign forever with His empire never ending (Luke 1:32-33). That parallels Isaiah who observes that the growth of His government and peace will be endless; that He will reign with justice and righteousness forever and ever (note Is. 9:6-7). Regarding David’s own understanding of the promises, Peter states:

“Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:30-31; cf. Ps. 16:8-11; 110:1).

Zechariah, who prophesied after the return from exile, employs “the Branch” language in the inspired document that bears his name. At first glance in chapter six, God seems to only refer to the then present son of Jehozadak, Joshua (see Zech. 6:9-15; cf. 3:8-10). But we submit that the ultimate application of these words is to the final “Joshua” or “Jesus.” (Jesus and Joshua in English are from the same Hebrew name for “Yahweh saves”). Zechariah refers to a priest also ruling as a king (v. 13; cf. Jer. 33:17-18). Although unlawful under the Mosaic Law, Jesus is the King and the High Priest of His New Covenant and Law.

Zechariah 9:9 foretells of a king who brings righteousness and salvation as he rides humbly on a donkey’s colt. Verse 10 includes a reference to battle and to the extension of his dominion but shows him speaking peace to the nations. Matthew 21:1-11 provides us with a clear fulfillment of this text in the life of Jesus as He enters Jerusalem gently and humbly on a colt. Born in David’s Bethlehem (Mic. 5:1-2; Luke 2:1-7), the eternal Ruler shepherds His flock “in the strength of the Lord, and in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God” (Mic. 5:4a).

The last chapter of Zechariah gives us a (at least slightly) different portrayal of Israel’s coming king. First, a terrible and violent battle scene is picture (14:1-2), and then Yahweh Himself goes to war with the nations on behalf of His people (v. 3; cf. 9:14-17). If the Lord is the King after all, then what does this say of Jesus? Jesus is a member of the Godhood. Yes, He is the Great I Am (Ex. 3:13-14; John 8:58; Phil. 2:5-11). Jesus is the Lord, the Master of the universe.

The language of Zechariah 14 relates well to the second Psalm and the lyrics about the possession and the wrath of the King and Son (Ps. 2:6-12). Let there be no doubt, this Messiah is a force to be reckoned with (cf. Ps. 102:25-27; Heb. 1:10-12). But as the battle smoke clears, note the beautiful and powerful words below:

“On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name” (Zech. 14:8-9).

On one hand, the Messiah meekly rids a donkey into town and suffers terribly for His people (Zech. 12:10-11; Is. 53). On the other hand, He proudly marches into battle and crushes His enemies with comprehensive authority. This seeming oddity led some Jews to conclude that there would be two different Messiahs: Ben Yosef (the suffering son of Joseph) and ben David (the ruling son of David). Others saw and continue to see this as either different possibilities or different points in time.

The Point

We know that Jesus became King by means of His death, resurrection, and ascension to the throne in heaven. The good news is “Your God reigns” (Is. 52:7). The Messiah was and is the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King (Heb. 1:1-13) of the true Israel (Gal. 6:16).

Zechariah 14 may refer to the gospel even in a certain sense, or perhaps it pictures the final coming of the Messiah. A time when He will deal with evil and suffering once and for all and rescue His people by granting them life forever with Him (Heb. 9:28; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; 1 Thess. 4:13-5:6).

Jesus was and is the long-awaited King that the people of Israel were longing to come and bring them final deliverance and peace. Of course, the fulfillment of these promises did not always match their perceptions of what He would be and how He would accomplish His work. As noted above, the true messiah (anointed King) is far more than a mere earthly king. For example, examine the way Jesus quotes and applies Psalm 110:1 in Matthew 22:41-45.

As the Prince of peace (Is. 9:6), He is their security and He is their peace (Mic. 5:4b-5). His peace is a different kind of peace than that of the world (John 14:27). His peace is about finding rest for our weary souls (Jer. 6:16; Matt. 11:28-30; Phil. 4:4-9). He reigns in our hearts as we delightfully obey His commands.

As Christians, we eagerly await the return of the King. He will quiet us by His love and sing loudly to us (Zeph. 3:15-20). We shall see the King someday!

Gantt resides in Elk City, Oklahoma, with his wife and two children. He is the preaching minister at the 2nd & Adams congregation.

 

The Unanswered Cry — Emily Hatfield

On Sunday morning, my toddler was that kid.

She wasn’t feeling well. And, let’s add, that she’s only a year-and-some-change old. She needed sleep (like, up-for-an-hour-in-the-middle-of-the-night needed sleep) . She was likely hungry (aren’t they always?), and she was definitely in no mood to sit still. So, after an hour of Bible class, five minutes of announcements, and ten minutes of singing praise to God, she was done. D-O-N-E done.

Of course, she waited to let me know she was done. She waited until the moment that a dear brother in Christ stood up to speak about the upcoming Lord’s Supper. As he approached the microphone and began to speak about the betrayal of our Lord, she cried. It was a different cry. It wasn’t a fussy cry or a defiant cry. She was upset, hurting, unwell. So she cried. And when we stood up, she assumed that she would be getting a spanking because, well, she always does if she makes us get up out of worship (which, has happened like twice since she’s been old enough to sit still). So, the upset, unwell cry turned into a severe, urgent cry of help. Oh, and did I mention loud? Because it was SO loud.

When we got to the back (we sit in the front, of course), she was crying, I was crying, and I was soothing. We sat in the cry room, thankfully alone, as I dried her tears and calmed her heart. I spoke soft words of comfort to her and after a while she was appeased. She understood she wasn’t in trouble; that I was there to help and console. So she breathed deeply and settled into my chest to relax.

But I. was. a. mess.

All I could think of was my Lord, on the cross. Wasn’t that what I had been trying to prepare my mind to do? And while a screaming child can usually distract, she sent me right where I needed to be. She sent me directly to Calvary. To a Child in so much pain and agony; a Child hurting and desperate for comfort from His Father…a Child whose cry, whose urgent cry (My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?) went unanswered.

In the moment that my sweet, innocent girl cried out for my attention, I wanted nothing more than to give it to her and alleviate any discomfort she felt. I wanted to take her pain; to do all within my power to make her happy. And it was what? A little bit of tiredness and hunger that sent her to that point? If I know that kind of love and care for my child, how much more so does God the Father know love and wish to extend it to His children? And yet, for His Only Begotten Son, He chose to let Him hang there — to suffer unimaginable pain and carry the weight of the entire world in His pierced hands and feet.

What love the Father must have for His other children — for the church. For those who have been washed in Jesus’ sweet, saving blood. Those who have taken on His name, Christian. How much love must the Father have for us, to answer our cry (the need to be saved!) instead of Jesus’ on the cross?!

I cannot fathom my God’s love. But wow, am I ever grateful that He chooses to love me even though I’ve failed Him time and again.

My sweet child didn’t know what she was doing. She didn’t understand just how much she was helping me when she cried out. But she was. She took me straight to the heart of God — straight to Calvary. That’s where I need to stay; basking in the great love my God has for me.

Emily worships at the North Charleston congregation in North Charleston, SC. Her husband, Robert, preaches there. She is the host of the weekly podcast for Christian women, Wifey Wednesdays, on The Light Network, a brotherhood podcast network (www.thelightnetwork.tv).

 

Loving And Serving Chronically Ill People — Johnny O. Trail

As she sat in the oncology waiting room, she spied a nurse that greeted her with a smile and escorted her husband back to the area where he would shortly receive Benadryl and his chemotherapy treatment. As the nurse came by to give the wife a status update, the wife motioned for the nurse to sit down. Tears welled up in the wife’s eyes and rolled down her cheeks as she said, “I do not understand why he is so short and rude with me. I do everything in my power to help him. I take him to all the appointments, care for him in our home, and he seems so bitter and unappreciative of me.” This same nurse would later tell a therapist that this was not uncommon among family members of chronically ill patients.

Interaction with people who are suffering may be difficult. Perhaps one has a spouse or family member who is dealing with a debilitating, painful illness on a continual basis. Maybe the preceding vignette is all too familiar to you and the situation that you face on a regular basis. There are some things that we need to remember about ministering to those who are chronically ill.

First, our illnesses tend to heighten mundane or otherwise tense situations. That is, when a person feels bad, they can be very short with people whom they might not have mistreated in the past. Sometimes a person’s pain is so intense that they cannot cope with the most trivial of life’s problems. Pain oftentimes is coupled with the bitterness that comes from being unable to function as one once had in times past. Suffice it to say, there are people who suffer so badly that even rest brings no solace or relief.

One notes from scripture that Job was in so much pain that he could not lay down and rest. As a matter of fact, he preferred death over rest. He said, “When I say, My bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint; Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions: So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life” (Job 7:13-15). There are people who hurt so badly that they cannot sleep.

In some situations, we must realize that it is the “illness talking” and not the person. Certain diseases—especially neurological ones—can cause a person to say and do things that they might not ever do if they were in their right mind. Perhaps some reading this treatise have heard members of their family beg for death or wish to have never been born. Job did these very same things. He said, “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived. Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months” (Job 3:3-6). Job was in so much mental and physical pain that he wished he had never been born. We should not be terribly surprised when a suffering person says something out of character.

Loving a person can mean living sacrificially for their welfare—even when you feel mistreated. Jesus died for the sins of the world. He even died for those who gleefully stood before His cross and ridiculed His precious name (Lk. 22:32-39). Our soul’s salvation is not dependent upon how we are treated by others. However, how we treat others will impact our eternal destination.

Furthermore, one who is chronically ill is intimately aware of their condition. That is, they do not need people explaining how they feel when others truly have an incomplete understanding. The patriarch Job was the only one who was qualified to explain his pain and suffering. He said, “When I lie down, I say, When shall I arise, and the night be gone? and I am full of tossings to and fro unto the dawning of the day. My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust; my skin is broken, and become loathsome. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope” (Job 7:4-6).

If the chronically ill person is a spouse, you have an oath-bound responsibility to care for that individual. Certain marriage vows have the phrase “in sickness and health” in their context. A vow is something which God takes seriously, and married people should do the same (Eccl. 5:4-5). It is sad and tragic when a spouse forsakes a mate at their greatest time of physical need.

Several years ago, Pat Robertson made the comment that it would be okay for a man to divorce his wife as she struggled with Alzheimer’s disease and subsequently start dating again with a view towards remarriage. Such comments are heartless and devoid of true compassion. In reality, we are bound to our spouses until death (Rom. 7:2-3).

If the chronically ill person needs care in the context of marriage, traditional roles might need to be changed. That is, the one who is well might need to take on more of the domestic responsibilities. There might be some limitations to this if the well spouse is the primary source of income, but it does not hurt a husband to wash clothes, sweep the floor and wash dishes for a chronically ill spouse. An appeal to reason might be necessary in this context.

Moreover, it would be absurd to expect one who deals with chronic illness to function in the exact same way before developing their disease. We should not be so rigid in our views of domestic responsibilities, especially in consideration of chronic illness. We need to be willing servants in such situations (Phil. 2:5-8).

Finally, I would encourage those dealing with chronically ill individuals to be patient. Please understand that their pain causes them to be short and even rude with people at times. In the vast majority of cases, they would not normally act that way. Solomon wrote, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” (Eccl. 7:8). Paul wrote, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men” (1 Thess. 5:14).

To the one who is chronically ill, as much as it is possible try to be patient and kind toward those who attempt to help you. Those trying to help will not always understand the pain you are enduring. They will make mistakes in your care and say the wrong thing at times. Remember Ephesians 4:31-32.

Johnny is a marriage & family therapist in Ashland City, TN.

 

Living A More Prayerful Life — Bruce Ligon

One way you and I can measure our faith is by the depth of our devotion to the Lord. I believe with all my heart that the more prayerful we become, the clearer we will see ourselves before God. It should also naturally follow that the more prayerful we become, the more we will depend on our heavenly Father and see ourselves more clearly before Him. This is just one reason that prayer is a supernal blessing and precious privilege that our Father has given us. As we are assured, “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth” (Ps. 145:18).

Our Father desires a close relationship with us. Indeed, this precious truth should motivate us to be more prayerful. Therefore, prayer will be a meaningful part of our lives. The admonition, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), emphasizes the prayerful attitude that should characterize our lives. In a very stressful time in his life, the psalmist David prayed, “In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me” (Ps. 31:1-2).

Alfred Lord Tennyson, one of the most popular British poets, made the following observation regarding prayer: “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” An even better statement regarding the power and efficacy of prayer is found in James 5:16: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” It has been accurately stated, “Prayer can be thought of as a precious jewel, as the more we look at it, the more we realize its beauty and brilliance.” The refrain from the following song reminds us of the bountiful blessing of prayer:

There’s a blessing in prayer,

In believing prayer,

When our Savior’s name

To the throne we bear;

Then a Father’s love

Will receive us there;

There is always a blessing,

A blessing in prayer.

Living a more prayerful life can only become a reality by an intentional effort on our part. To assist us in our striving to live a more prayerful life, please ponder the following suggestions:

  1. Give prayer a priority in your life. How important is prayer in your life? Have you ever chosen to pray instead of reading a book or watching a movie? When there has been pressing concern on your mind, have you ever devoted several hours in pouring out your heart to the Lord? Jesus taught His disciples, “They ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Lk. 18:1). In his comments on this verse, brother H. Leo Boles stated, “The spirit of prayer should be kept constant and alive by exercise” (Commentary on Luke, p. 340). The apostle Paul taught, “Continue steadfastly in prayer” (Col. 4:2). I have read that the idea emphasized by the phrase “continue steadfastly” is to grab hold of something, and refuse to let it go. One application of giving prayer a priority in our lives is to set aside or schedule times that you will pray, and then remain true to your commitment.
  2. When you are discouraged, do not forsake the precious blessing of prayer. Life is not always easy. There will be situations and struggles in the lives of each of us that we may never understand this side of eternity. The reaction of some people to these kinds of challenges is to wonder why the Lord does not act as we believe He should. We must strive to never allow these frustrations to take our eyes away from the blessing of prayer. Across the span of his life, David experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. During a time of extreme anguish in his life, he told the Lord, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me” (Ps. 56:8-9). At times it may seen that the tears that fall to your cheeks will never end. But through whatever comes our way, God is always there and He is aware of what we are experiencing. During these times, you may become discouraged. But do not allow times of discouragement to hinder your devotion to prayer.
  3. Pray with full confidence of faith in God. Quoting from the Old Testament, the apostle Peter said, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Pet. 3:12). When you pray, do you believe that God hears you and your prayer can make a difference? Inspiration states, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). It has been said that to attempt to pray without confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers is to guarantee failure. Indeed, we have the certainty that God is listening. He will be attentive to our cries and pleadings. David exclaimed, “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!” (Ps. 66:19-20). James urged Christians, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (Jas. 1:6).

Within the past year I read the following account, which is allegedly true, from the life of Henry Ford. One day an insurance agent called on him, resulting in Ford buying a $1,000,000 policy on his life. When a friend of Ford’s, also an insurance agent, learned of Ford’s purchase, he was chagrined. Immediately this insurance agent asked Ford the reason he had bought the policy from another agent. Henry Ford matter-of-factly said that he had not inquired regarding him purchasing this kind of policy. In order to receive the benefits available to us in prayer, you and I must remember to pray. As I reflect on this story, it forces me to pause and consider how many good things from the Lord I may be missing simply because I failed to ask Him. As James stated, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (4:2).

The erudite Charles Spurgeon stated, “Prevailing prayer lifts the Christian and shows him his inheritance and transfigures him into the likeness of his Lord. If you would like to reach to something than ordinary groveling experience, look to the Rock that is higher than you, and gaze with the eye of faith through the window of consistent prayer. When you open the winow on your side it will not be bolted on the other.”

Ere you left your room this morning

Did you think to pray?

In the name of Christ our Savior

Did you sue for loving favor as a shield today?

Oh, how praying rests the weary!

Prayer will change the night to day.

So when life seems dark and dreary

Don’t forget to pray.

    Bruce preaches for the Bellville Church of Christ in Bellville, TX.

 

 

Having To Say Something Or Having Something To Say — David Bragg

Mark Twain is credited with saying that the “difference between the almost right word and the right word is…the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning” (www.goodreads.com). A similar dilemma faces the preacher trying to make the decision of what to preach on Sunday. The terrifying answer, from the viewpoint of the pew, is that the preacher simply comes up with something to say. The exhilarating answer, from the viewpoint of the pulpit, is that the preacher will have something to say that will help, bless, and challenge others to walk closer to God.

If there are exceptions, they are rare. No preacher should be frantically searching on Saturday night to decide what they will preach on Sunday morning. To do so, especially habitually, is to reflect a gross lack of understanding and appreciation of what it means to be a gospel preacher. The speaker who struggles from week to week to come up with “something to say” is not only destined for frustration, but will be doing a disservice to those whom he seeks to serve. Of even greater significance, he will be failing God by not becoming the man and the minister God wants him to become.

To be fair, the struggle of a preacher over the conundrum of what to preach may not be so easily dismissed as inadequate training or poor time management. The fact is that Sunday rolls around every week. In many cases, that means the preacher is required to prepare a lesson for Bible class and present two sermons. Then there is the mid-week Bible class. To properly prepare a Bible class lesson or sermon requires a greater investment of time and energy than many people expect. Add to these expectations other tasks such as hospital and home visits, personal evangelism, counseling, benevolence calls, editing and preparing the church bulletin, weddings, funerals, youth events, following up on visitors, keeping tabs on members who have become lax in attendance, mending friction, concerns and complaints that arise between members, and a multitude of other expectations placed upon the preacher. These can contribute to the preacher’s struggle with sermon preparation. In addition, the preacher must not neglect his family, a delicate balance especially as his children grow older. A sensitive eldership and observant church leaders should do what they can to make sure the preacher has adequate time for sermon preparation.

Ultimately, however, the preacher is responsible for how he uses his time in sermon preparation. Fortunately, there are some important steps to progress from needing to say something to having something beneficial to say.

First is to develop a healthy devotional life. When it comes to the Bible, familiarity breeds spiritual maturity. If the preacher is not growing spiritually, how can he expect such growth from those he teaches? If as a young preacher one adopts the disciple of reading through the Bible once a year, imagine the blessings he would reach after twenty years. There is much to be said for such devotional practices in which one does not read the Bible looking for a lesson to preach but rather to gain insight into drawing closer and enriching his relationship with God. Such deepening knowledge of God’s inspired Word will pay rich dividends.

One of the best ways for the preacher to avoid the turmoil of staring at a blank piece of paper on his desk, desperately willing that an idea will come to him so he will have something to say as Sunday morning rapidly approaches, is to adopt a workable plan or timetable for his sermons. The preacher who etches out a proposed plan, even if it is only a month ahead, alleviates a tremendous amount of pressure. Extending out further to three, six, or even twelve months of proposed sermons will allow the preacher to have more “breathing room” from the frantic stress of last minute sermon preparation. Such an approach will allow the preacher to chart out his lessons to ensure that his sermons have a more balanced representation from all various divisions of the Bible (Acts 20:27), provide him more time to “live with” the text or topic while accumulating insight into the deeper meaning of God’s Word, look for and collect relevant and memorable illustrations, and make personal application to his own life before challenging others to do the same.

A third suggestion is for the preacher to demand of himself never to step into the pulpit to preach a sermon without a clear, practical purpose. Except for delivering a lesson at odds with sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3), few things will be more unfair to those in the pew than to walk away from a sermon asking, “So what?” What does God expect to result from the study of the text or topic the preacher has selected? A clear purpose statement will serve the preacher well as a guide to what the lesson should accomplish and a measure for how well he has achieved that purpose. With these thoughts in mind, the preacher can step into the pulpit with greater confidence that he has prepared something worth saying that will bring a blessing to his hearers and glory to God.

One of the great privileges in life is to stand before a congregation of God’s people and proclaim the Word. He does not proclaim a message of his own making. If he has done his job properly he will stand as a herald proclaiming God’s truth. The herald is only a middleman speaking on behalf of one with greater authority. He speaks on behalf of the king. When the preacher stands before a congregation to preach, he is not speaking on his own authority, but on the authority of the King! Therefore, the preacher takes onto his shoulders a tremendous responsibility as he dares to stand and deliver a lesson from the eternal King (Jas. 3:1).

David serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.