Tag Archives: prayer

Addressing Society’s Problems — Adam Carlson

Editor’s Note:  Brother Carlson’s article on recent societal problems mentions the tragedies in Dallas, TX, in July, 2016.  Since the completion and submission of his article for publication, other similar tragic events have taken place and made national news in Baton Rouge, LA, Tulsa, OK, and Charlotte, NC.  These calamities and the similar afflictions which have taken place repeatedly in recent times show the relevancy of brother Carlson’s thoughts from scripture as expressed in this article.  May we take these words to heart, and pray for our nation, the friends and families of all those tragically affected by these violent acts, and each other.

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There are many sad and heavy hearts in light of the recent shooting deaths of two civilians at the hands of law enforcement and the murder of five police officers in Dallas, Texas.  When these tragedies happen there is much debate as to whether anger at law enforcement or abuse of authority by law enforcement is justified.  During these trying times, Christians must be proactive rather than reactive so we can bring about the positive change so many in the world desire.  The following six points for consideration will now be proposed so that each of us as followers of Christ may live in a godly manner in this ungodly society in which we find ourselves.  My prayer is that this may be of benefit to everyone who reads this article.

First, we must pray.  Prayer is a given…but when one finds themselves in afflictions such as the Dallas shootings, for what are we to pray?  We should pray that God comfort the loved ones of the victims (2 Co. 1:3-4).  We should also pray for those who perpetrate these acts because God’s desire as stated by Paul is that “all people…be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Ti. 2:4).

These acts of violence sadden and anger us but we must not let our anger blind us to God’s love (Ep. 4:26-27, 31-32).  It is easy to resort to calls for justice in these situations; certainly there does need to be consequences for those who commit acts of violence.  Yet we must not let that blind us to the fact that Christ died even for these individuals (Mk. 2:17).  We must remember that even we, before our conversion, were ungodly (Co. 3:5-7; Ti. 3:3-7).  God’s grace is for all (T. 2:11-14).  We must also remember the commandment of Jesus to love and pray for our enemies (Mt. 5:43-45).  These are not optional matters.  How can one proclaim the gospel but have animosity in their heart towards perpetrators of evil deeds?

Second, we must take action in a positive way.  “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (Ja. 1:23-25).

James calls Christians to put faith into action.  Listening is a good thing but one can listen to a sermon on loving our enemies and even agree with it…but it’s more challenging to put it into practice.  This is what must be done.  It goes beyond shouting slogans, hashtags, and updating profile pictures on social media.  This is a call to put our beliefs into practice by helping our fellow man.

Third, remember the real issue.  Violence against law enforcement or anyone for that matter is symptomatic of a larger issue.  It is easy to treat outward symptoms of a disease, but more difficult to treat the disease itself, said disease being how societal issues are manifested in the public arena.  Race or any issue which divides is used by Satan to his advantage.

We must heed Paul’s reminder to the Christians at Ephesus:  “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ep. 6:12).  How sad it is that these matters may be used even to divide brethren!  This is why it is imperative that we must be on guard and remember that Christ died for all…including the ungodly (Ro. 5:6).  Remember that it is because of our own selfish desires that strife arises among the body.  “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this that your passions are at war within you?”  (Ja. 4:1)

Fourth, remember that the world needs the blood of Christ.  We are redeemed by His blood (Ep. 1:7).  If one wants society to change for the better, this is the message which needs to be proclaimed.  Catchy slogans, demonstrations in the streets, politicians’ legislations and proposals…none of these will solve these issues.

Only the message of redemption through Christ will solve these problems.  As the song we commonly sing with children says:  Red and yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in His sight.  Regardless of our outward appearances, His blood covers all.  It is only through that avenue that true peace and equality will be achieved.  Only when we all realize that everyone has value in God’s eyes and it’s only by Christ that this is made possible (Ga. 3:26-28).

Fifth, take note of your conduct while you react.  There already has been and for the foreseeable future there will continue to be much debate regarding these matters.  Emotions and tempers will be running high.  This is why Christians who choose to engage in discussion on these matters must continually examine themselves and their conduct.  If one chooses to participate in debate, regardless of which side of the issue you may fall into, God expects you to conduct yourself in a way which glorifies Him (Co. 4:6).

We can expect ungodly behavior from those in the world.  It is for that reason we must be cautious to set a good example for them.  Hateful, divisive rhetoric is no excuse for a Christian to stoop to that level; we’re called to put away things such as that (Ep. 4:29, 31; Co. 3:8; 1 Pe. 2:1, 21-23).  It’s easy for one to be carried away by inflammatory statements made by others, but Christians should be careful that we don’t do the same thing.

Apply the “Philippians 4:8 Test” before speaking, especially on the Internet, and ask before one verbalizes or writes for the world to see if what you are about to say is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise.  If there is any doubt, then simply find another way to say it or discard it completely.  There’s a reason we’ve been given two ears and only one tongue (Pr. 14:29; 15:1; Ja. 1:19-20).  There is a right way and a wrong way to speak, and at times it is even best to be silent altogether (Ec. 3:7).

Sixth, learn to listen.  Another problem which arises is the refusal to open our ears and listen to others.  This is due to either pride or the stubborn desire to be right in what we believe.  Paul gives Timothy attributes which the Christian must possess:  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Ti. 2:24-26).

We’re not always going to agree with thoughts or ideas put forth, but we must take the time to listen to other viewpoints.  This is not to say we must accept everything that’s said, but we should also not be quick to dismiss opposing viewpoints.

It’s easy to become angry and disillusioned when we see our society crumble before our very eyes at the sight of evil.  The prophet Habakkuk struggled with this very scenario as he questioned God about how ungodly Babylon could seem to get away with what they were doing:  “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?  Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?  Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise” (Hab. 1:2-3, emp. added).

Many today join him in struggling with this question.  In time the prophet learned to trust God and learned that God was using Babylon for His purpose:  “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Hab. 3:17-19, emp. added).

As mere men we won’t always fully understand…yet we must trust.  Faith must be learned.  We must remember that God can and will use all things, regardless of how evil it is, for the purpose of His will.  Everything we do is to be done according to His will (Co. 3:17).  May everything which we do be done in a scriptural manner!

adamcarlson130@hotmail.com

Adam preaches at the Valley Church of Christ in Kingsport, TN. 

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Prayer and Suffering — Jeff Lovitt

Years ago, C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book entitled The Problem of Pain.  It is a great discussion of the subject from a theological perspective.  A few years afterward, his wife was diagnosed with cancer.  He started keeping a journal of the time he had left with her, documenting their experiences and the struggles of faith it presented.  This was later put into a book entitled, A Grief Observed.  The notable thing between the two books was that the logic and theology of the first melted under the prolonged and progressive pain chronicled by the second.  Faith was stretched to its breaking point when actual pain dominated their lives.   All the negative emotions, bitter questions, and challenges to faith come out in that journal.  Yet as time passed and he continued chronicling their experience, he finally come to peace with God.

When reading the book of Job, one realizes the disadvantage Job had in not seeing “behind the curtain” with the view we are given.  He could not see the end result while enduring his pain.  Starkly obvious, as he himself noted, he had no mediator between himself and God (Job 9:32-33) through which he could get answers.  He couldn’t understand the reason for his suffering after his thorough and consistent efforts to be righteous.  Having no direct line of communication in order to redress his grievances with God, he became frustrated:  “Behold, I cry, ‘Violence!’ but I get no answer; I shout for help, but there is no justice. “He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass; And He has put darkness on my paths” (Job 19:7-8).

Job illustrates the predicament of all who believe in God but have no direct knowledge of His will or purposes, or that there now IS a mediator between ourselves and God (1 Tim. 2:5).

Job also speaks to that associated pain of loneliness, when even friends fail the sufferer:  “He has removed my brothers far from me, And my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. My relatives have failed, And my intimate friends have forgotten me” (Job 19:13-14).

Job had friends all right.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to sympathize with him (Job 2:11), and for seven days did not speak a word because “they saw that his pain was very great” (Job 2:13).  Their blunder came in not leaving it at that and perhaps offering to help him take care of those things he wasn’t able to do.  They eventually felt that they had to open their mouths and offer their opinions as the reason for Job’s suffering.

Though the church should visit more, and especially those who are suffering, some (like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) are not especially suited for this ministry.  Great sensitivity must be exercised in visiting the suffering.  You can’t just say, “My uncle had that, and he died!”  Or, “You know, if you’d have paid more attention to your health, you wouldn’t be in this situation.”  The suffering one does not need to be visited by modern-day friends such as that!  The best visit to the suffering does not require much to be said at all.  Just a gentle touch, an understanding smile, a direct look into the eyes, and a heartfelt “I love you and am praying for you” does wonders.  The suffering one is already impressed that you took time to come see them, and understands that they are important to you.

Most importantly, know and remember that we DO have a mediator between ourselves and God—the ONLY one so qualified, Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5-6)!  He has opened up for us “a new and living way” into the presence of God Almighty, that we may have confidence to be heard in prayer (Heb 10:19-22)!  Consider what lessons that suffering teaches us:

1) Suffering Teaches Us To Lean on God, Not Ourselves.  The apostle Paul shared the circumstances under which he learned this lesson.  Because of the great revelations he was given, to keep him from exalting himself, God gave him “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7).  He prayed three times that God would remove it.  Any one of us who has suffered can understand repeatedly asking God for help for our suffering in prayer.  During Paul’s third prayer God answered him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  (2 Cor 12:9).  Accepting this, he proclaimed: “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong”  (2 Cor 12:10).  When have you ever heard of anyone praying, thanking God for their suffering?  Quite the opposite!  We, like Paul, pray that God will remove the pain, when we need to learn what Paul learned, and thank God for showing us we need to trust in Him more!

2. Suffering enables us to show not just sympathy, but true empathy toward others who are suffering.  The subtle difference is important.  We should be sympathetic and show compassion for the troubles in which people find themselves.  But empathy means actually being able to feel their pain because we’ve gone through their experience ourselves.  But you can’t be empathetic if you’ve never suffered.  You can’t KNOW their pain unless you know their pain!  The Scripture testifies, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor 1:3-5).  The person who has not endured suffering cannot fathom what someone else is going through.  I was reawakened forcefully to this truth not long ago.  A friend of mine lost his mother some years ago.  I was there for him and visited her in her final days.  I showed sympathy, love, and was very genuine in my desire to bring them comfort.  Then, in the summer of 2014, I lost MY mother.  The reality of this hit me hard.  But it opened my eyes even wider.  I shared with my friend (who himself recently passed away) that while I wanted to share his grief in losing his mother, I didn’t fully understand it till my own mother died.

He just smiled and said, “I understand.”  The empathy that filled that conversation (on both sides) was much richer than any well meaning words of sympathy I had offered earlier. He wanted to share his grief in losing his mother, I didn’t fully understand it till my own mother died.  He just smiled and said, “I understand.”  The empathy that filled that conversation (on both sides) was much richer than any well meaning words of sympathy I had offered earlier.  We must first learn through suffering, and trusting God in prayer through that suffering, to truly be able to help others in their suffering.   It adds a richness—because of the pain—that can exist in no other way.  Therefore, even pain becomes a blessing when used to serve others.

3) Suffering enables us not only to empathize with others who have suffered the same pain, but as 2 Cor 1:3-5 also teaches, it qualifies us to empathize with and offer comfort to “those who are in ANY affliction.”  It is true that personal pain is unique pain.  No one can know with exact certainty how someone feels when going through pain.  Having said that, your own pain—and more importantly how you deal with it, if you lean on God and remain constant in faith and in prayer—does enable you to offer true comfort to others in their pain, even if you haven’t gone through exactly what they are going through.  It keeps you interested in their struggle.  It prevents you from sounding dismissive and uninterested when they open up to you.  And . . .

4) Suffering forces you to look inward, upward, then outward.  Inwardly—You have to assess the strength of your faith.  Will you believe when faith ceases being just a theory and has to face hard, difficult facts?  Can you trust God when you don’t know or can’t see the outcome, and when the real possibility for the future is not what you would want? When you realize that you are not in control?  Upwardly—Will you get angry at God?  Will you face the Scripture, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” (Phil 1:21) and believe it, or will you fight tooth and claw for life HERE, demonstrating that you walk after the flesh, and not by the Spirit?  (Rom 8:2-11).  Outwardly—Having decided to trust God through the pain and commit your prayers to Him for strength, you will become useful to Him and to others who have not yet surrendered their life fully to Him.

“For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.” –Matt 16:25)

  jefflovitt@charter.net

 

 

 

Thoughts on Prayer – Cougan Collins

God talks to us through His written Word. However, prayer is how we talk with God, praise Him, thank Him and make requests of Him. In this article, I will show you that prayer is a part of our public worship and our private lives as well. I will also answer the following questions: How do we pray and by what authority do we pray? How should we pray in public worship? Finally, I will give you four steps to a better prayer life.

How do we pray and by what authority do we pray? Study the words of Jesus in Luke 11:1-4. In this model prayer, notice to Whom the prayer is directed: the Father in heaven. Consider also what Jesus said in John 14:13, 15:16, and 16:23. What do all of these verses have in common and teach? Jesus made it easy to see that our prayers are to be directed to the Father, and we are to pray in His name, or by His authority. Based on His teaching on prayer, we are not supposed to pray to the Holy Spirit or to Jesus. Rather, we are to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name. This is the example we find throughout the Bible (Ep. 5:20; Co. 3:17; Ac. 4:23-30).

How should prayer be done in public worship? In our public worship, two things happen during a prayer. First, a person leads the prayer. Second, everyone else is listening to the prayer and making it their own.

Who should lead in prayer?   James teaches us that we need a righteous person leading the prayer (Ja. 5:16). We should never want a person living in sin or a non-Christian leading us in a prayer.

“Well, what about a righteous woman? Is it acceptable for her to lead prayer in a worship service with men present? Paul gives us the inspired answer (1 Co. 14:34; 1 Ti. 2:12-14). In doing so, he is not being a chauvinist pig. He doesn’t have a bone to pick with women, nor does he view them as being lesser than a man. He was an apostle of God, and he is teaching us how God wants things done within His church.

Interestingly, the word “silence” in the above passages doesn’t mean absolute silence; if it did, a woman couldn’t tell her children to be quiet or even sneeze during worship or she would violate this scripture. All Paul is saying is that a woman should not take a position of authority over the man in public worship, which would exclude her from leading prayer when men are present. God has chosen the men to lead in the public worship, which is why He inspired Paul to tell Timothy, “I desire therefore that the men prayer everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or doubting” (1 Ti. 2:8).

Since the men are to lead prayer in church, I want to share two tips about leading prayer:

  1. When you pray, pray with reverence and respect for God, keeping in mind that you are praying for the church and not just for yourself.
  2. When you pray, speak loudly and clearly so that everyone can hear you and be a part of the prayer. If you are soft-spoken, then come to the front of the assembly and use a microphone if one is available.

If you will follow these simple steps, you will know that everyone can hear you and take part in your prayer. For the rest of us, we need to make sure we are listening carefully and not messing around with something else. It’s important that we think about what is being said and make that prayer our own. We can agree with the prayer by saying “Amen,” either to ourselves or verbally. We should always keep this in mind every time someone leads a prayer.

Let me conclude by sharing with you four steps to a better prayer life:

First, your prayers must be sincere. Consider as a great example the sincere prayer of David after he sinned against God (Ps. 69:13-17). As you read this prayer, you can hear David’s sincerity. We need to follow this example by being sincere when we pray.

Unfortunately, there are many today who pray without sincerity. The story is told of a wealthy man who went wading out into the ocean when a big wave swept him out to sea. He began to struggle to save his life, but all his efforts failed. When it looked like he had no chance of survival, he prayed. He said, “Lord, if you will save my life, I will give you half of all my money.” A few moments later, he had managed to make it a little closer to safety. He then said, “Remember Lord, I promised you 255 of all my money if you will save my life.” A few moments later, his safety was still questionable; yet it still looked more hopeful so he prayed and said, “Lord, keep up the good work! Just a little more help and I will be safe. Don’t abandon me now! Remember, I promised you 10% of my money if you will save me from drowning.” A few minutes later, the man finally was able to touch the ground. He prayed to God one last time and said, “Thank you, Lord, for saving my life. Don’t forget my promise to you. If you ever need anything, I will seriously think about giving you some of my money.”

While it’s easy for us to see this man’s lack of sincerity to God, many are just like him today. They make little plea bargains with God. Yet when things work out for them, they disregard what they said they would do. People who do this will not be pleasing to God. Therefore, we must be sincere in our prayer life.

Secondly, we must pray with faith. How many times have you prayed to God and doubted He would answer your prayer? Christians should never doubt (Ja. 1:6-7). We must realize that God answers our prayers. After Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He illustrated how they must be persistent when they pray with faith (Lk. 11:5-10). Not only does this parable show how we must pray in faith, it also shows that we must be persistent. God does answer our prayers, but He will answer in a way that is best for us. He might answer a prayer with a “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe later.” Paul gave us a great example of God saying “No” to prayer (2 Co. 12:7-9). His prayer was answered with a “No” because God’s grace was sufficient for him. It is important that we learn to accept God’s answers and trust in His decisions, as Jesus did (Mt. 26:39). Christ prayed for the cup to pass, but He left it up to God’s will rather than His own. Many today try to take matters into their own hands instead of accepting God’s answer. However, Christians must learn to pray with faith and accept God’s answer.

Thirdly, we need to pray with humility. God will not hear your prayer if you are haughty or self-righteous because He wants us to be humble like His Son. Peter wrote, “Be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Pe. 5:5).

How many times have you heard of someone praying to God with the attitude that they deserve something because they have done so many good deeds? Jesus gave us a great example of an insincere prayer (Lk. 18:9-14). This self-righteous Pharisee came to remind God of how good he was and how glad he was that he wasn’t like the tax collector. How many of us have prayed to God and told Him how good we are or how better we are than someone else? While I hope that none of us have done this, if we have we are just like this self-righteous Pharisee and we will not be justified in our prayers. However, the tax collector came before God and wouldn’t even look up to heaven. He asked God for mercy with a humble heart. This is the example we should follow. If we do, we will be justified in our prayers as well. Don’t forget to pray with humility!

Fourthly, pray for the right things. Sometimes people think they can pray for whatever they want and they should receive it. They completely forget about the will of God and pray for things which God will not allow. For instance, some will pray before they enter a casino and ask God to help them win big. Some have even prayed for vengeance on those they don’t like.

The story is told of some college students who filled up water balloons and dropped them on people from the third floor. One night, they realized they hit a police officer and were scared to death. One of them suggested they pray about it. However, instead of asking God to forgive them for what they did wrong, they prayed that the officer would not catch them. They were praying for the wrong reasons.

Sometimes when we are selfish, we pray for the wrong things as well. James wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (Ja. 4:3). If we have the wrong motives and pray for the wrong things, God’s answer to our prayer will always be “No.” Yet when we pray from our hearts for things in accordance with His will, He will acknowledge and answer our prayers to make things work out best for us based on His wisdom. Thus, let us always strive to pray for the right things!

Christians, we need to remember to use prayer in our everyday lives because it is how we talk to God. We must use prayer in our worship and in our private lives. Our prayers should be directed to the Father in the name of Jesus. Men must lead in mixed public prayer and we must take part in that prayer. Let us be sincere, praying in faith and humility for the right things, realizing that God answers our prayers according to His will.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (He. 4:16)

lgchurchofchrist@cableone.net