Overwhelmed

Jim Cymbala, the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle – a multiracial church in New York City that now numbers over 16,000 in members – went through a very difficult couple of years with his daughter Chrissy. She had been the model child, but then when she was sixteen years old she began to stray away.  He had tried to control her with all that he could say and do, with what would seem to have been well intentioned attempts to keep her on the straight-and-narrow, but he just kept on driving her further away, until finally she did not come home one night. And then God told him that he would only be allowed to speak to him about her.

But then, after some months, a note was passed to him in one of the prayer meetings of the church: “Pastor Cymbala, I feel impressed that we should stop the meeting and all pray for your daughter.”

That prayer meeting became an intense spiritual battle for the soul of his daughter. Nothing happened right then in the meeting other then intense prayer. But 36 hours later she came back, and she gave this confession: “Daddy, I’ve sinned against God. I’ve sinned against myself. I’ve sinned against you and Mommy, please forgive me.”

Even more, she wanted to know: “Daddy, who was praying for me? On Tuesday night, who was praying? In the middle of the night, God woke me up and showed me I was heading toward this abyss. There was no bottom to it – I was scared to death. I realized how hard I’ve been, how rebellious and w wrong. But at the same time, it was like God wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. He kept me from sliding any farther and he said, ‘I still love you.’”

Overwhelmed – and finally driven to pray, and pray to God only, trust in God the Father only – this describes many of the situations which may come upon God’s people in this world, such as happened to Jim and Carol Cymbala. These situations are the Gethsemanes that come upon God’s people throughout the ages. And wherever there is a place of Gethsemane for them, they – we – were long ago preceded into those situations by the one true Gethsemane in which Jesus prayed so long ago by himself as he went alone, to that place of prayer, to trust in God the Father only in that time.

The garden of Gethsemane was where Jesus went to pray after he had finished his final instructions to his disciples, the last Supper. And it would be the place where he met the betrayer and the place where he would be arrested and taken into custody for civil and political crimes which he did not commit. It was, moreover,  the place where the series of events would be set into motion that would culminate in his crucifixion, burial and resurrection. That night and then on that day to follow, the weight of the world was on his shoulders. That night the one who made and held together the world found out what it was to be overwhelmed.

Gethsemane was the place where the Lord spent his darkest night, where the weight of the world was on his shoulders. It was the place which marked the beginning of the suffering of the Messiah, the time that he face what it would mean to bear the sins of the world in the next few hours. And as well it was the beginning of the battle and the ultimate victory that the Son of God would achieve over the forces of sin and death on the cross. His experience of unprecedented agony there is a guide to us of something of the price of our redemption, in what Jesus faced during the next sixteen or so hours. And, moreover, the experience of Jesus in Gethsemane guides us to what we are to do when we face our own Gethsemanes, when we face the greatest challenges that we face in following the will of God in our own lives, and we find ourselves in the times when we ourselves are overwhelmed, not because of anything that we have done wrong but because we face the will of God in a world of sin.

“And they come to a place which had the name Gethsemane, and he [Jesus] says to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I am praying.’ And he takes Peter and James and John with him, and he began to be overwhelmed and in deep distress, and he says to them, ‘My soul is extremely pained, to the point of death; stay here and keep watch.’ And he went on a little further and he fell on the ground, and he was praying that it is were possible the hour would pass from him. And he was saying, ‘Abba, Father! All things are possible with you. Take this cup from me – but not what I decide but what you decide.’ And he comes and finds them sleeping, and he says to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you (meaning all the disciples) keep awake for one hour? (Again addressed to all the disciples)Wake up and pray that you don’t come into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ And again, he went away and prayed as he said the same thing. And again coming back he found them sleeping, since their eyes couldn’t stay open and they did not know how to answer him. And he comes back the third time, and and he tells them, ‘Are you going to sleep the rest of the time and then have enough rest? It’s over! Look! The Son of Man has been betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let’s go! Look! The one who has sold me out has just arrived!’” (Mark 14:32-42, Dale’s sight translation)

The will of God often places his people in situations which overwhelm them. But Jesus was there first. For him, the night in Gethsemane was a night of sorrow and distress. There was not only physical darkness around them, but also on that night mental and emotional darkness started to close in on him as well. Here we see Jesus, as the “ . . .  man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . .” on the night where he would enter into being, ‘’ . . . despised and rejected by men . . .” (Isaiah 53:3).  And on that night, Jesus was overwhelmed. And because he was overwhelmed then, he went before us to show us what to do when we are overwhelmed.

The night of Gethsemane overwhelmed Jesus with a holy dread of what was to come upon him. His experience was a holy revulsion at the coming ordeal of the cross when he would bear the sin of the world. Someone once described this experience as the ‘presentation of the bill of salvation.’  This is how the gospel of Mark describes it in verses 32-24, in its strong, colloquial, blue collar, everyman style of Greek: “And they come to a place which had the name Gethsemane, and he [Jesus] says to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I am praying.’ And he takes Peter and James and John with him, and he began to be overwhelmed and in deep distress, and he says to them, ‘My soul is extremely pained, to the point of death; stay here and keep watch.’”

The garden of Gethsemane is still there on the side of Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. In that time it was a private garden, and the owner probably permitted Jesus and the disciples to gather there when they were in Jerusalem. Only the gospel of Mark gives the name of the garden. But that was where Jesus came to pray on that night. He separated the disciples into two groups. The group that was closer to him physically were the group of the e inner three witnesses, Peter, James and John. They were earlier the witnesses to the Transfiguration, the Olivet Discourse, and the raising of Jairus’s daughter. And here they heard a little more from him, as he described his overwhelming emotional state to the disciples there.

On that night he was not a teacher discouraged over ignorance of the world, since the problem he came to solve was not good natured ignorance of a lot of well meaning but misguided people. He knew better; on that night he was seeing clearly the defiance and depravity of the sin of the world that he would bear in his suffering. He was not seeing the sins of the series of the any supposed past lives of the people but the sins of humanity, of each individual over the course of a single lifetime but over the course of all time since the sin of Adam.  And he was experiencing the start of the full mental and emotional anguish that would be part of his sufferings. This overpowering mental and emotional distress that was apparently a new experience for his human nature, and indeed, it was a unique experience among all humanity. It was the utterly pure sadness on the one hand, with none of the things that accompany human sadness and make it destructive, the sight of sin and judgment. As the holy Son of God, he was seeing the moral insanity, utter darkness and depravity of sin, as well as the intensity of the wrath of God against sin. His reaction was the perfect reaction of sinless human nature against the horror of the sin of the world. And so that night was the Lord’s darkest night. He was overwhelmed with the weight of the world that was set before him, and that would be on his shoulders as he went to the cross. So this is how Charles Spurgeon described it: “Our blessed Lord saw sin in all its blackness. He had a most distinct perception of its treasonable assault upon his God, its murderous hatred toward himself, and its destructive influence upon mankind. Well might horror take hold of him, for a sight of sin must be far more hideous than a sight of hell, which is but its offspring.”

And so, the promise of the scriptures is not that we would never be overwhelmed ourselves. But note that what Jesus faced here has always been an encouragement to believers in all ages, that he has not undergone anything that we have not undergone before. Being overwhelmed by what happens in a fallen world is not an indication of weakness, but quite the contrary. And yet his reaction of horror at the weight of the sin of this world found far too little in those who claim to be his followers – but more on that later. And being overwhelmed far more often than not a large part of the experience of those who are actually following Christ and who are suffering for Christ in this world, and who may be bearing the suffering of others in this world for the sake of Christ. Just as there was no blame to the sinless Son of God, so also there should be no blame either to believers who are also experiencing being overwhelmed in this world as the weight of this world comes upon our shoulders. And as we follow Jesus in this world, we may well come to see more of what it means to bear more than just the weight of a single prodigal son or daughter, but the weight of a prodigal world.

Being overwhelmed, then, drove Jesus to pray. His perfect example thus provides clear guidance for his people in all ages on what to do when they are overwhelmed as well. There is no better alternative to anyone who has called him Lord and who is standing for Jesus in this world. The experience of being overwhelmed drove him to the one who could strengthen him to bear the weight of the world upon his shoulders. And make no mistake about it, our own eternal destinies, the eternal destinies of everyone around us and who has ever lived, and the fate of the entire universe depended on what would happen in these hours when Jesus was overwhelmed.

In verses 35-36 we understand how the sorrow drove Jesus to pray: “And he went on a little further and he fell on the ground, and he was praying that it is were possible the hour would pass from him. And he was saying, ‘Abba, Father! All things are possible with you. Take this cup from me – but not what I decide but what you decide.’”

This was one of the occasions where his word in prayer to the Father were overheard and recorded. The actual Aramaic word for Father included with the words that he was using, these simple yet deep and profound words. The time had arrived, but now he was asking that it would pass away. The cup was being offered, but he was asking that it be taken from him. The cup was his description of his suffering and death. It was the based on the Old Testament metaphor of a cup that held the wrath of God that was the judgment of God against sin. But there was to be no ransom for the sins of the world except through his drinking the cup in that hour. There would not be any ransom through passing through millions of reincarnations from anyone’s past lives. The redemption of the world, the atonement for the sins of humanity, each one over the course of a single lifetime could only come in one cup of the wrath of God that would be accepted in that hour. The price for salvation of the world  would be paid through the wrath of God freely accepted by the Son of God drinking the cup, and on that night he freely accepted the bill for the salvation of the world.  He accepted the culmination of his mission, in his own words, “ . . .  to give his life as a ransom for many . . .” (Mark 10:45) so that he would become, “ . . . the propitiation for our sins, and not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world . . .” (I John 2:2).

I don’t think that we can see Jesus here in any way to be shrinking from the physical suffering of the cross. He was a man of such physical bravery that he could walk right through a crowd which was intent on throwing him off a cliff. Rather, this was the realization of all that that the cross would mean to him of separation from God during that time through his suffering in his human nature, to the point where he would utter the cry of dereliction: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

So Jesus asked for the cup and the hour to pass from him. He was acting and speaking within the limits of his human knowledge but at the same time he was submitting to the will of God with his unfallen human will also. His brief prayer as recorded was probably a summary of a more protracted struggle of continued, heartfelt prayer that he had before God the Father. And yet he followed with a perfect faith before God the Father and a perfect perception of the Father in this time of crisis. And so he then continued on in prayer with the full submission to the will of the Father.

Again, Jesus guides us what to do when we are overwhelmed. What he was experiencing then may have been and may have often been what believers have been doing the nights in prisons before their executions for following Jesus throughout the ages, and that which is still something that believers are called to do. But even more, if there are no experiences of being overwhelmed and driven to prayer among us there will be no growth and expansion of his kingdom on this world. The further call then is to the place of prayer and submission wherever we may be. This includes the need for prayer beyond the prodigals in our families to the prodigals outside our families — something that seems to happen far too little among us any more.

I would put it that these are the Gethsemanes that believers around us are entering far too little any more – the Gethsemanes of intercession for the world around us rather more than just a continued and perhaps even obsessive supplication for a loved one who may be rebellious and straying – and often enough, this rebellion is the rejection of the overcontrol of obsessive parents who use Christianity to try to control their children. This intercession, where we can pour out our heart for those who are around us who are lost who may not be a part of our family is where our heart reflects more and more the heart of God for the world. And often, isn’t one of the underlying motives about the prodigal often include our family and our reputation?

So where we make the Gethsemane of our lives to be about the prodigal world rather than the prodigal child we declare before God, the world and the prodigal child that our love for God and the prodigal world is more than about our family and our reputation. We send a message to prodigal that it really isn’t about them, they don’t get control with their rebellion, and that it’s up to them to stand before God as a responsible adult who has reached the age of accountability before God. An intercessory and surrendering prayer will often be a part of this, where we seek God and entrust them to God and stop trying to overwhelm them with our obsessive and often deceitful and selfish attempts to control. And when we do so, we will find tremendous opportunities for ministry.

I can’t recall where, but I do remember a story of two Christian parents whose child started ‘hanging with the wrong crowd.’ They were upset and discouraged, but then they saw this as an opportunity to minister to the adolescents from the wrong crowd; after all, the circumstances were bringing them right into their own home. They ended up winning several of their child’s friends ‘from the wrong crowd’ to Christ as they prayed for them, invited them to dinner and to evenings with the family. And lo and behold, their child came back to Christ when that child saw that those whom that child thought had the answers wanted what that child had had all along. So I would leave you with these words from a song from Billy Joel. I don’t like most of what the song  says, but these words should be extremely disturbing to the church and should awaken the church to its responsibility toward the lost and winnable individuals from ‘the wrong crowd’: “You say your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation / She never cared for me / But did she ever say a prayer for me?”

Unfortunately, though, not everyone will respond to the experience of being overwhelmed by prayer. These are the disciples of Jesus who are not careful to respond to the hour of trial and temptation without placing themselves squarely in the will of God and receive the power of God through prayer. They will then still face defeat in this world, because they are living with less than God is ready and willing to give them in their situation.

So here’s what we see in verses 37-40: “And he comes and finds them sleeping, and he says to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you (meaning all the disciples) keep awake for one hour? (Again addressed to all the disciples)Wake up and pray that you don’t come into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ And again, he went away and prayed as he said the same thing. And again coming back he found them sleeping, since their eyes couldn’t stay open and they did not know how to answer him.” The Lord continued in prayer even though he could not rouse the disciples to continue with him. They also were overwhelmed. Their distress seems to have come from their anticipation of the departure of Jesus. That would be the loss that they did not understand and still could not grasp. They had heard ominous warnings over the course of the ministry of Jesus which they could not square with their understanding of how the Messiah would act, and that evening they heard the predictions of betrayal and the predictions of their abandoning him in the hour of crisis. And when that time of crisis came they could not even keep their eyes open despite all Jesus tried to do to arouse them.  

The disciples were overwhelmed beyond their spiritual ability and beyond their own strength and understanding even to pray in that time – but that made it more necessary to pray. They were unable to get what was going on with Jesus and that situation, and they surrendered to the weakness of their human nature in that time. Even so, the situation was far more overwhelming to Jesus himself, and the situation did not stop Jesus from continuing in prayer. And note that Jesus was not asking them to pray for him. Rather, he was seeking to have them do what praying that they could in that time to be able to stand on their own when he was led away in chains. While it is true that here we see Jesus seeking to rouse his closest friends to stand with him, I think that we can also see him as a king seeking to rouse his troops to seek the strength stand their ground in the conflict that he knew they would face. And three times Jesus rebuked them, and both the second and final rebuke very ironic and show his extreme disappointment. But eventually the lesson did come home to them, much later and here is the lesson that was recorded by Peter: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring ion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8 ).

Likewise, being overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion, to being unable even to pray has often been the experience of believers throughout this world and often in the face of all the weight of the world seemingly coming against them. Yet they may still not seek God in prayer, so that they are still unable to face the weight of the world coming down around them with the strength that God is ready and willing to give if they simply come to him in prayer. These believers  may then be those who fail others in the time of trial, when they themselves cannot really get what is going on with the situation that is overwhelming them and overwhelming others. So they have become lost in the overwhelming experience and  do not get to the place where they can find the way out, even if they are trying with all their own might to be tough and self-reliant in the face of all this world brings against them. And once again the London preacher Charles Spurgeon has a pungent word to speak to this situation: “Temptation lets us known how weak we are, and drives us to our knees. It tests our faith and tries our love, and lets us see whether our graces are genuine or not.”

Being overwhelmed, then,  is not a mark of something wrong with us, but of the world that we live in. Nowadays many of us may experience too much of the wrong kind of being overwhelmed from the times that we may be of trying to play God ourselves and in the lives of others in this world. The lesson of Gethsemane, of the horror of the sin of the world, is too little realized among us nowadays. Our own lack of a clear understanding of the horror of the sin of this world leaves us too often too ready to take the side of the sinner against the holy, perfect God who says that sin must be atoned for and points to the cross as the remedy. And too often our concerns center more in the wayward family member than the wayward world around us. And thus there remains too little regard for the seriousness of sin, too little appreciation for the love of God who gave his Son, and too little awe at the utter submission of the Son of God to the will of the God the Father.

Being overwhelmed is the place where we may find ourselves in this world. But it does not have to be a long term or permanent state of our lives. It can be the place which leads to the beginning of a victory that glorifies God to all eternity. Through persistence in prayer the overwhelming situation concludes in victory. For Jesus, the night in Gethsemane ended in victory. The battle which he began there as a part of his war against the forces of darkness continued to its ultimate culmination. He was victorious then and there in Gethsemane so that he could continue in victory to the end on the cross.  The conflict within gave way to his standing up to the beginning of his suffering with the betrayal. So being overwhelmed gave way to standing up and standing firm in the face of what would happen to him over the rest of the night and the next day to the final victory on the cross.

The crushing weight which overwhelmed Jesus became bearable to the point of facing the road to the cross. This was the starting point of the final series of events for which he came began with the acceptance of the cup from God the Father and the victory for which he came.

Here is what verses 41-42 say: “And again coming back he found them sleeping, since their eyes couldn’t stay open and they did not know how to answer him. And he comes back the third time, and and he tells them, ‘Are you going to sleep the rest of the time and then have enough rest? It’s over! Look! The Son of Man has been betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let’s go! Look! The one who has sold me out has just arrived!’”  These were the last words of Jesus before the betrayal and arrest. That was then not something that he faced unwillingly but with the full submission of his will. He knew that the time had come, and he went forth to meet the betrayer, the betrayal and the arrest by an armed mob of hired political flunkeys.

There is some dispute over the meaning of v. 41: “‘Are you going to sleep the rest of the time and then have enough rest?” This was most likely an ironic question that was probably put quite gently to the disciples. After this question he announces the next event in the series of events that would happened over the rest of the night and the next day: his betrayal into the hands of sinners. The words of Jesus recall his own predictions of his death and resurrection which he gave to the disciples earlier during his ministry, which are recorded in Mark 8:31, 9:31,10:33-32.  He was now fully willing to get up  and to  enter into the events that would happen. He had now entered into the full acceptance of the cup of the judgment of God upon himself for the sin of the world and all that would mean to him. The time of prayer has made the change in him now to face his mission clearly, as he rises up from this time of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. He rises from the place of prayer to the path of submission and obedience to the will of the Father to the uttermost. And, just as well, the failure of the apostles then may have been a later victory themselves once the lesson of Gethsemane came through to them years later when they faced their own suffering and martyrdoms.

Being overwhelmed, then, does not have to end that way. That experience does not have to be the permanent experience of the believer. Though we are living in a world which may often beat us down and always, seeks to beat us down does not mean that that being overwhelmed has to be the last word on us and our experience. The path to victory after being overwhelmed comes in getting up and going forward after spending as much time on the knees before God as it takes. So most certainly today there is far too little realization that the victory is won first in the place of prayer. There is the place where we come into the embrace of the will of God there and receive his power, then to the path of submission and obedience.

THE NIGHT OF DISTRESS AND SORROW IN THE GARDEN LED TO THE PATH TO THE CROSS, AND THEN THE CROSS BECAME THE VICTORY FOR ALL WHO HAVE COME TO JESUS IN FAITH FOR THEIR ETERNAL SALVATION. THE CUP OF THE WRATH OF GOD ON THE CROSS FOR US MEANT THE REMOVAL OF THE PENALTY AND PUNISHMENT OF SIN FOR EACH ONE OF US SO THE VICTORY IN THE GARDEN WAS THE PREPARATION FOR THE VICTORY OF THE CROSS AND THE EMPTY TOMB, AND THE VICTORY WAS NOT FOR HIM PERSONALLY, BUT THE VICTORY OF SALVATION FOR HIS PEOPLE, THE VICTORY TO THE GLORY OF GOD TO ALL ETERNITY, FOR ALL THE UNIVERSE. HE HAS ALREADY TAKEN CARE OF THE MOST OVERWHELMING SITUATION FOR US ON THE CROSS – THE SIN OF A LOST AND DYING WORLD. AND HIS VICTORY IS THE REASON WHY THE SITUATIONS WHICH OVERWHELM US NOW DO NOT HAVE TO KEEP US DOWN, BUT CAN LIKEWISE BECOME VICTORIES WHICH GLORIFY GOD TO ALL ETERNITY.

The gospel of salvation is therefore the invitation to participate in the victory of Jesus Christ. The whole point of his death and resurrection to provide the salvation which is received by repentance and faith in him alone. The whole reason why he suffered and died is so that you might come to the place where you  receive his death as the price for your salvation, for the forgiveness of your sins. This calls for the conscious decision from you, for the conscious reception by faith, the saving faith which is the basis of entering and standing in the salvation which Jesus has brought, since without him our sin is overwhelming to us from now to all eternity.

Dark hours and overwhelming situations still come upon us in this world. Some will come unexpectedly, and some will come simply by taking the next step in following the will of God in this world. But his victory makes possible our victories in our darkest and most overwhelming hours. He has shown us the place to find the victory if we find ourselves in our darkest nights, so for us the place to be in the hardest times and in the times of greatest temptation is in the place of prayer. There we can find his power to help us and his presence to guide and strengthen us. There is no need to be thrown into dependence on our own strength and wisdom, but in the place of our own Gethsemane we can receive his strength and wisdom for the next steps on the path of the will of God. And his victory also makes it certain that the earthly troubles will finally end and that finally there will be nothing but eternal, infinite love and joy in the presence of God. And often enough, the overwhelming situation may also have nothing to do with our own sin, but with the sins and follies of others around us. So there remains among us to the end of the world the need to go into the place of persistent prayer, to a Gethsemane of intercession for this world, for not only for the wayward family members but for the people of the prodigal, wayward world around us.

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Jesus’s Revolution Against the Unfairness of the World

Some years ago, a church bulletin board in a Cleveland suburb displayed the following message: “Prayer is faith’s revolution against the unfairness of the world.”

Some days later, the same bulletin board showed a somewhat different message: “Forgiveness is love’s revolution against the unfairness of the world.”

There haven often been individuals who have romanticized political protest and political violence as a way to revolution against the unfairness of this world. I lived in the town next to Kent State University in 1970, and I was one of those sent home early from junior high school when four students were shot dead due to the turmoil of the political protest and violence at that time. I also lived in Nyack, New York in 1981, when two police officers gave their lives in service in opposing an armed robbery by a renegade political group. I deplore any romanticization of political violence as a way to remedy the unfairness of this world, and I will assert that while there is a place for peaceful political protest, it will not repair the unfairness of this world. So now I say to this generation and every generation that the real revolution against the unfairness of this world comes from Jesus Christ. The revolution against the unfairness of this world is the revolution of faith in God and Christlike love for others. It is the revolution that uses the two weapons of prayer and forgiveness against the obstacles and hurts of this world. It is the revolution of the power of God and changed hearts and not in changed political circumstances.

The revolution of Jesus Christ against the unfairness of this world started in his teaching ministry. It was never a revolution of political protest or of political violence. It was always a revolution of changed people living in a fallen world and bringing into it the power of the world to come, the kingdom of God, that was present in the person of God’s anointed King.

An unusual incident happened during his last week of his earthly life and ministry before his crucifixion. On the slopes of the Mount of Olives, outside Jerusalem, stood a fig tree. One day he found no fruit on it, and he commanded that no one would ever eat from it again; the next day it had completely withered and become lifeless. It was the only miracle of judgment and destruction that Jesus ever performed during his earthly ministry, It was this incident which he used to tell his disciples are to deal constructively with the unfairness of the world around them.

The teaching that Jesus gives from this incident is the authorization of Jesus for his people to act radically different than the world in the way that they meet the unfair obstacles and hurts of this world. He gives a mandate for those who have been saved by faith in him,  to deal in a manner with the world around them in a way opposite to the way the world treats them. And understanding and following the revolutionary teaching of Jesus on how to deal with the unfairness of this world is how his followers are to show the difference it makes to be a son or daughter of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

Here, then, is how the gospel of Mark describes the incident of the withered fig tree and the teaching that Jesus gave based on that incident: “And as they were going along in the the morning they saw that the fig tree had dried up from the roots. And Peter, recalling what had happened before, says to him, “Rabbi, look! the fig tree which you cursed has dried up.” And Jesus said to him in answer, “Have faith in God! Assuredly I say to you that whoever says to this mountain, ‘Up and be thrown into the sea!’, and does not doubt in his heart but believes in his hear that what he says will be accomplished, it will happen for him. Because of this, I say to you, all things whatsoever you pray for and ask, believe that you have received it, and it will happen for you! And when you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your transgressions.” (Mark 11:20-25).

Faith in God is the basis for answered prayer. It makes the difference between simply addressing prayers to God as part of a religious ceremony and making pious God-talk and seeing legitimate requests answered by God. It is the attitude of trust in God and confidence in him that sees real answers to the requests that we make to God. It is the revolution of faith against the unfairness of the world.

Faith in God is a necessary condition of answered prayer. The definite fulfillment of the requests that we make to God in prayer calls for the definite stand of faith in God. The actual answers to prayer, then, come where there is an attitude of childlike trust and confidence in God.

In verses 20-22, Peter noticed an actual example of answered prayer, in the fig tree that had dried up overnight in response to the curse of Jesus upon it. The word of command from the Son of God, in the form of a curse, amounted also as a request to God the Father for a request for the destruction of the fruitless tree. This may be an enacted parable of pronounced judgment, but the main point of Jesus is the need of faith in God for answered prayer. He said, “Have faith in God!” Jesus called his disciples to trust in the power, wisdom and goodness of the heavenly Father whom he had been revealing in his words and deeds. The lesson of faith was that there need not have been any surprise that the prayer was answered, but rather expectation that it would be.

One of the things that tends to be lost in the English translation of this passage is also the interplay of the singular and plural ‘you’s’ in what Jesus says. He isn’t saying to Peter, “You (singular), Peter, have faith in God.” Rather, what he is saying here is to all the disciples: ‘All you here who are listening to me – you (plural) – have faith in God.’ I don’t think that this is a small point. I think that it can have a major impact when we understand that faith in God for answered prayer is not something that comes to or is the responsibility of just certain individuals who have faith. Rather, it is part of what Jesus expects for prayer from all his disciples, and it is part of what he expects from us when we pray together. And I think that the more that we realize this, we will come more and more to see answered prayer not so much in terms in receiving the personal and individual blessings that we seek – though God is certainly gracious and ready to answer prayers form individuals standing in faith before him – but answered prayers coming to believers united in faith in our marriages, families, small groups, churches and fellowships of churches. Although this faith in God for answered prayer starts with each of us as individuals, we truly do see how Jesus wanted it fulfilled when we pursue it in the plural. It will come when we see Jesus addressing not just me, when we change the object of Jesus’s statement from the singular to the plural, but Jesus addressing us – his people who he calls by his name.

Faith in God, then, is what Jesus points to as the condition to see the requests that we make in prayer become realities. it is faith in God – not self confidence, the amount of personal confidence that a person can drum up in oneself, but rather trust in a trustworthy God. This needs to be made clear, because self confidence is only faith in oneself and one’s own capabilities, and not in God. It is not a feeling of faith either, since Jesus says nothing about feelings here. It is not saving faith in Jesus Christ either, as in the third chapter of the book of Romans, as Paul set out, but it is is the continuation of saving faith, in trust and dependence on God. It is a faith in God that comes from knowing God, and it grows as a believer in Christ grows in that relationship with God. And it is not, in the light of other scripture, which includes the direct statements of Jesus himself, the sole condition of answered prayer, since Jesus teaches elsewhere, for example, that praying in his name for the glory of God (John 14:13-14) and continuing in relationship to him and in his Word (John 15:7) are just as necessary for the life of answered prayer. And even more, it can and should include understanding and holding to other promises of God, as faith in the God who made the promises, in asking and seeking from God what he has already promised to give in answer to prayer.

And as far as the answers to prayer, I think that we need to look at how the apostolic church actually exercised their faith in prayer. It was not for things, such as Peter getting a bigger house in the neighborhood of the Jewish High Priest so he could invite him to a neighborhood Bible study, nor for a more attractive spouse, nor for a bigger bank account, nor for most things that many of us now might want in answers to prayer. Here’s where I think that modern prosperity theology has muddied the waters in regard to answers to prayer, that it’s about expecting God to answer prayer for things, and often self indulgent and self aggrandizing things. And even in regard to the church, you don’t find them asking for a sanctuary bigger than Herod’s Temple to proclaim the gospel or a gymnasium or a chariot stable and stadium to carry on a sports ministry to to the sports crazy young people in the Roman empire. Their vision wasn’t for stone, bricks and mortar. Rather, the apostolic church exercised their faith in God in the direction of the ministries of the Holy Spirit to them and through them for the witness of the gospel throughout the world, and for the building up of believers in Christ. We can see them exercising their faith in God in prayer in the upper room before the day of Pentecost, when they were gathered with one accord in one place (Acts 2:1). We can see them exercising their faith in God when they prayed for boldness to share the gospel and for God to provide them with miracles to witness to his gospel (Acts 4:29-30). And this was not so that they could go, “Ooh!” and “Ah!” or say, “That’s awesome!” when they saw the miracles that they were asking for, but so that God’s truth would prevail against the unfair opposition to the gospel that was coming against them.

Going on, then, we can see that faith in God is necessary to achieve the impossible through prayer. However large the need may be, faith in God will find whatever is asked is entirely possible within the power of God.

In verses 23-24, Jesus goes on to say, “Assuredly I say to you that whoever says to this mountain, ‘Up and be thrown into the sea!’, and does not doubt in his heart but believes in his hear that what he says will be accomplished, it will happen for him. Because of this, I say to you, all things whatsoever you pray for and ask, believe that you have received it, and it will happen for you!” He is not promising for anyone the ability to re-arrange the landscape, but rather giving an example of something that they would consider impossible for them that they could accomplish through prayer. They were at that moment descending the slopes of the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem – that was the mountain that Jesus meant when he said, “ . . .  this mountain . . .”  The Dead Sea would have been within sight of them – that would be the sea that Jesus meant. So the phrase means, in answer to believing prayer, for example, they could command the Mount of Olives to be thrown into the Dead Sea. That wasn’t something that Jesus would want anyone to take seriously as a matter of prayer, but rather as an example of something within the power of God that could be achieved through prayer. The emphasis is that the believer must trust God to do the impossible to see him accomplish the impossible, and this promise then becomes the challenge to believers to ask the impossible of God through prayer. And I do believe that we do see this kind of word of command coming from a stand of faith established in prayer in the book of Acts, in the healings of the crippled man at the temple (Acts 3:6), of Tabitha/Dorcas (Acts 9:40), and the crippled man in Lystra (Acts 14:10).

So then, faith in God to answer prayer never, ever limits his power to answer before even asking. The promise of faith is not about the what and the why but about the can and the how of answered prayer. It is a quiet confidence in God’s power that approaches him confidently and appropriates his promises trustingly. And this kind of faith cannot be directed toward one’s own self interest,  but even more to the interests of the kingdom of God first of all. By the time a person in Christ has grown to the place where he or she regularly exercises this kind of faith, in fact, he or she has grown beyond his or her own petty personal interests and material concerns and turns to exercise it more in intercession for the needs of the world and the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world.

One of the strongest examples that I can find in Christian literature about this kind of faith is in the diary of David Brainerd, as he pursued his missionary work to the Native Americans in the United States before the Revolutionary War. In a remarkable passage, he states, “In prayer my soul was enlarged, and my faith drawn into sensible exercise for my poor Indians; and though the work of their conversion appeared impossible with man, yet with God I saw that all things were possible . . .  It seemed to me that there could be no impediment sufficient to obstruct that glorious work, seeing that the living God, as I strongly hoped, as engaged for it.”

The prayer in faith to God is revolutionary because it is opposite to the the natural pride and self reliance of human nature where there is little sympathy with Christ and only intermittent experience of being led by his Spirit and walking in his Spirit. It is not the usual way of human nature to deal with problems and difficulties, but the way in which Christ has directed us. And I think that the pride and self sufficiency of many Christians, and therefore many within our churches, leads them to believe that they can make it on their own without having to trust God much in prayer. Howard Hendricks once told how he asked a pastor how much of a prayer life he had, and the pastor replied, “Not much.”

He then asked the pastor how long he had had a problem with pride, and the pastor asked, “How did you know about that?”

Hendricks said, “By your answer to my first question.”

And again, this faith is not to be divorced from the whole teaching of scripture and from the righteous and spiritual common sense leading of the Holy Spirit in prayer that prevents faith in God from becoming presumption. Certainly though, the faith that will see God doing the impossible in this world is necessary to the work of his kingdom and for the demonstration of his glory, though, will often seem to be strange, outrageous and presumptuous when it is exercised, but often understood to be the leading of the Spirit when it happens. For example, in a prayer meeting in the fall of 1982, I prayed for freedom for brothers and sisters in Christ behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union, and for their government to be replaced by a more just and equitable system that would permit the free and open preaching of the gospel. I don’t think that I was alone in the body of Christ around the world in what I was asking, but was simply joining in what many brothers and sisters in Christ were praying around the world. From the others in the prayer meeting, though, I received some outraged and angry looks, as if I were some kind of nut. But I rejoiced after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the following events, as the others around the world who prayed for the same kind of thing to happen, as I could say,  with some joy and assurance, “I prayed for that!”

If, then, I’ve already made the point that the godly exercise of faith in God for answered prayer will be more in the way of intercessory prayer for the witness of the gospel and the working of the Holy Spirit in and through the church. And I’ve already made the point that this kind of faith in God was not to be exercised simply by certain individuals, but by all the disciples of Jesus Christ. So, I want to ask the question, “Where is the place of intercessory prayer in the modern church?” I’m not asking simply about what may have happened to the midweek prayer meeting, although it’s possible that some may find this question leading them to do more to strengthen it. Some churches do have an abundance of small groups where often intercessory prayer does take place among believers on a weekly basis – although I would ask the question whether this intercession includes concerns beyond the stated needs of those in attendance at the group. No, I’m wondering whether intercessory prayer has anywhere near the same place in many churches as it did in the apostolic church, where it seemed to have a significance comparable to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, and far ahead of singing praises.

Here are several relevant passages:

“And they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers.” (Acts 2:47).

“I call for, therefore, first of all, for requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving, to be made for all men, for kinds and all in authority, that we might lead quiet and peaceful lives in all godliness and seriousness. This is good and acceptable before God our Savior, who wishes all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth . . . I wish, therefore, that men in every place pray, as they lift up holy hands without anger or arguing . . .” (I Timothy 2:1-4, 8).

Here’s my suggestion. In many churches, what had been the normal custom of the pastor to offer an intercessory prayer has been left in the past. Usually we may hear some kind of prayer to bless the service or the message from the Word, but pretty much in most churches it’s a series of praise songs, or, in recent months, sometimes something that does not even sound much like praise, but twentysomething angst and weird metaphors allied with a pretty shallow understanding of God, the gospel, and scripture – it seems to me to be more like a bad coffeehouse solo at times. I don’t think that it’s too much to suggest that we could easily drop at least one of these songs for a time of prayer and intercession. If God is truly meeting us in our time of worship, he is gracious enough to give us some time to approach him with the needs of our people, our congregation and the world. We could do this by a pastor leading in intercessory prayer, or, two or three spiritual leaders, leading in intercessory prayer for the needs of the congregation, but most of all for the needs of a lost and dying world that needs men and women who need to know how to exercise faith in God for the power of the Spirit of God to bring them the gospel of God.

But Christlike faith is not all that Jesus calls for to receive answered prayers. He links it with something else. Christlike faith that receives answered prayers also demonstrates a Christlike forgiveness of others.

Forgiveness of others must accompany the prayer of faith. Christlike forgiveness of others is part of the conditions of answered prayer as well. Unforgiveness as well as unbelief will cut short answers to prayer. The forgiveness of others as part of one’s own prayer life as a stand taken before God and then the whole body of Christ and the entire world is love’s revolution against the unfairness of the world.

It is the expectation of the Lord Jesus himself that the forgiveness of others is to be a regular part of the believer’s prayer life. It is not too much to say that the most underemphasized condition of answered prayer is forgiving others before God as part of our prayer lives. And it is not too much to say that too often we don’t get what we want from our prayer lives because we don’t give God what he expects from us as part of our prayer lives, namely, forgiving others for each and every offense against us before him.

In verse 25, Jesus said, “And when you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone . . .” Jesus called for forgiveness, then, toward the end of his ministry, just as he had in the Sermon on the Mount and when he gave the outline of prayer that we call the Lord’s prayer. Here his call to forgiveness may have been to forestall a possible misunderstanding that the disciples may have taken from the withering of the fig tree. His call to forgive was tacked on to the end of his statement on the need for faith to prevent them from ever offering requests in prayer that were unanswerable from the start: prayers for the harm of others out of personal spite. This call to forgiveness is Jesus’s call for the believer in Christ not to deal with other people in curses but in forgiveness. It is Jesus’s call that prayer is not to display any kind of hostility or even contempt toward other believers but rather to release them from that hostility and offense before God. Jesus gave his call to forgiveness to apply to every possible offense, every personal judgment, and any kind of grudges for any reason. I think that Jesus gave us this not only because he knew that taking up offenses and grudges against others was a universal habit of human nature but because he had seen it in the lives of his own twelve disciples. For instance, James and John once made asked Jesus, after a Samaritan village refused them hospitality, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54). Jesus immediately rebuked them for that, and I think that he wanted to make sure that they kept free and generous forgiveness of others as part of the conquering faith of a victorious prayer life – victorious not so much over circumstances, but first of all of the most malicious tendencies of one’s own heart. And like the previous verse, this is also a command in second person plural in the original language, and I think from this we need to apply this not only to our own individual hearts but also in our social relations with each other as believers in Christ in the body of Christ – and there will be more on that shortly.

By the command of Jesus, then, forgiveness must have the broadest possible scope. It must mean letting go of any personal animosity toward anyone for any possible reason. Most commonly, this will be for those who say and do things that may offend or harm ourselves or those that we love, and for those who arouse our envy, hatred and spite. It means that we do not sit in the judge’s seat of our personal and social courtrooms of our hearts and of our evangelical social circles with the determination that we will not be soft on the real or supposed crime of another person against us or anyone else. It is noteworthy that this applies to the state of the heart of the Christian who claims Jesus as Lord, and is never applied to civil justice; it is especially necessary for believers in Christ because we have the tendency to have very strong expectations on how others should act, and there is thus that tendency to cherish and nourish personal offenses and bear grudges, and even to spiritualize and rationalize them, and even to continue stubbornly in them when Jesus through the Holy Spirit puts his finger on that beloved little offense that we have been nursing for far too long.

Here’s the rub, then, with those who claim that they can’t forgive because, “It’s hard!” Jesus does not give a pass on this to anyone because they find it hard or difficult in any way! And neither should we, when someone brings up this excuse. Frankly, I think that the excuse of the extreme difficulty often comes from those who are either too obsessed with the sin of the other person to see anything else, or those who believe that they have something to gain from not letting that other person off the hook; either way, it’s covering the sin of unforgiveness with the sin of deceit. So the first issue with those who claim, “It’s hard!” is the issue of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Each issue of personal offense kept and not released in forgiveness is ultimately an issue of obedience before God and will be answerable at the judgment seat of Christ. And the truth is that over the centuries many, many believers have been able through the grace of God to forgive even the deepest offenses and crimes against themselves and even the most beloved members of their families. Jesus himself was the ultimate example of this kind of forgiveness when he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  And Stephen, when he was dying from being pelted with rocks, was able to say, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60) .Still another example that may come to mind for many is the forgiveness that God enabled Corrie ten Boom to extend when the guard whose abuse led directly to the death of her beloved sister Betsie told her how he had come to Christ and that he was extending his hand to ask her for forgiveness. And I can attest to the utterly impossible but real stand of forgiveness that Rev. and Mrs. Robert Hullinger took toward Bill Coday, who had murdered their beloved daughter (and my friend) Lisa Hullinger. So, to those who cling to this excuse, we may all legitimately say, “Who are you to say it’s too hard?

Forgiveness before God, then, assures a believer of an unhindered relationship with his heavenly Father. This kind of forgiveness before God that Jesus calls for means that there is no quarrel with another person that stands between him or her and his or her heavenly Father. And this is what it is all about: not letting our gripes with other people poison our relationship with God.

At the very end of this passage, Jesus gave the same reason for forgiveness of others that he gave throughout his earthly teaching ministry: “. .  .so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your transgressions.” (verse 25). Jesus places here the forgiveness of God as being reciprocal to the the believer’s forgiveness of other people. This does not appear to be the same kind of judicial forgiveness as part of justification by faith through grace, as in Romans 3:31-16, but rather the forgiveness of sins necessary for an ongoing, close relationship with God; as some have put it, it’s relational, not judicial, forgiveness. And the reason for this is apparent: human unforgiveness particularly intrudes into the relationship with the heavenly Father because if intrudes into the prerogative of judgment which God reserves for himself. Unforgiveness amounts to personal judgment of another person which no believer in Christ has either the wisdom nor the justice to pursue. And this is why personal forgiveness of other people is necessary to live in God’s forgiveness and not to have that personal grudge standing between oneself and an unhindered relationship with God.

In the light of scripture, then, the security to forgive is in the justice of God and his promise to defend his people. It takes faith in the justice of God, as he has revealed himself to be the totally righteous, fair and just Ruler and Judge of the world, to forgive just as it takes forgiveness to live in that close relationship with God where relational faith receives answered prayer from God. But even more, in the context of scripture, then, this forgiveness is truly the practice of loving others as Jesus has loved us. This is the revolution of love which comes from practicing forgiveness in the way that Jesus has :

“Let all bitterness and anger and wrath and rage and slander be swept away from you, with all desire to hurt and harm another person. Be kind and merciful to each other, as you forgive each other just as God has forgiven you in Christ,. and be copycats of God, just like beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ has loved you and given himself as a sacrifice and offering to God as a sweet fragrance . . .” (Ephesians 4:31-5:2).

“Love . . . does not keep a record of wrongs . . .” (I Corinthians 13:5).

“ Be extremely serious about your prayer life, and above all things have fervent love for each other, since  love covers a multitude of sins . . .” (I Peter 4:7-8)

It then becomes obvious, as it is often belabored by some now, that the person who bears that grudge is hurt the most before God. But we need to emphasize as well that grudge, those hurt feelings, not only stand between two or more people, but also between every person that takes up, keeps and holds that same grudge and God. Again. this is also a second person plural in the original language; it refers not just to me but also to us. And this is something that is too often skipped over, on how much grudges between believers poison church fellowships, since often the bearer of a grudge passes it on to others, and each person who takes up that same grudge on behalf of the aggrieved party has the same responsibility to forgive before God for their borrowed spite. And this is often why there are so many broken relationships within our churches, that there is someone pursuing a grudge against a believer and continuing obstinately and impenitently to pass it on to other believers, and other believers are easily being drawn into other people’s grudges and vendettas.

After my over 38 years of following Christ, I’ve learned and experienced a great deal, and I must honestly say that the one thing that continues to astonish me is how so many believers, even otherwise spiritually mature pastors and elders, are so easily drawn into taking on the offenses and grudges of other believers. I think that there is more rampant and totally unnecessary social unforgiveness than many of us would like to admit. From what I can tell, this starts the way most rumors, quarrels and grudges start in our adolescent years, and they are symptoms of how so many in our churches have the same social goals, habits and practices of a high school senior. It usually starts with the hurt feelings of one conceited and talkative person, and it usually is nothing more, but those hurt feelings grow, the offense becomes highly exaggerated and encrusted beneath falsehoods and scare stories, and all this is passed on to others, to get other people worked up over things which were never their business to begin with. And where this comes from a conceited, arrogant and talkative person, there is a great deal of ego validation in this social vindictiveness. And those who are drawn in often seem to be more like adolescents who want to be part of the group of cool kids, and then let themselves be taken in as a part of the element of malicious secrecy, malicious self promotion and even malicious entertainment that come from these often baseless hurt feelings. A more carefully discipled and spiritually mature person, though, eventually learns to reply to these often habitual victims of hurt feelings by, “Be quiet about it, and stop talking about it – let go of your bitterness and forgive – I think that I would hear a very different story from that other person – I cannot be drawn into this – I think that you really need to let go of this . . .” And these kinds of hurt feelings and personal grudges rarely come up under any legitimately scriptural proceedings of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17, I Corinthians 5:9-13), because it will usually be found, if each allegation is considered seriously and calmly and the accused party can reply to each accusation one at at a time, that the person behind the allegations is living in a raging and extended tantrum and his or her charges and insinuations against a brother or sister in Christ will not stand in the light of day.

So then, let’s make a call for group forgiveness more a part of our public ministry, as well as unity in that forgiveness, and restoration to the full love and fellowship of believers of the repentant as Paul wrote in II Corinthians 2:5-11. In our fellowships of believers, let’s make it more outwardly prevalent to extend forgiveness to others in our prayer times, to make explicit and open the practice of Mark 11:25, and to cover the sins of other brothers and sisters in Christ, and to refuse to define and hold down our brothers and sisters in Christ by their past faults and sins. I would urge us to to make it a custom to urge forgiveness of others as well as asking forgiveness of God according to I John 1:9 when we come before God to share the Lord’s Supper. I don’t doubt that we would find our church fellowships to be much more merciful and forgiving if we made extending forgiveness as much as part of our practice of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as taking the benevolent offering is in some churches at that time.

As someone who has himself been a victim of a civil crime in the past and who has been a part of a jury murder for hire trial where the prosecution sought the death penalty, it’s worthwhile for me to take a moment to tell how the forgiveness Jesus calls for fits in with civil justice. The duty of the believer is to tell the truth to assist civil authorities to fulfill their office (Romans 13:1-7) and to decide according to the law without any personal vengeance in the act. I always thought that at the end of the novel The Three Musketeers,  it was done exactly right, where each one of the Musketeers declared their personal forgiveness of Milady de Winter even as she faced civil execution for her crimes and murders.

I’ve left until last in dealing with forgiveness about the emotional consequences of forgiveness and and unforgiveness, and I’ve done this pretty much because we have a tendency to be so emotionally centered in our preaching and teaching, and the emotional consequences are a consequence of obedience to what Jesus commands about forgiveness, and not the reason to forgive. First, there’s a remarkable passage in David Brainerd’s diary about his own experience of forgiveness for those from Harvard who had pursued a personal vendetta against him for an imprudent remark:  “O it is an emblem of heaven itself to  love all the world with a love of kindness, forgiveness and benevolence; to feel our souls sedate, mild and meek; to be void of all evil surmisings and suspicions, and scarce able to think evil of any man upon any occasion; to find our hearts open, simple, and free, to those who look on us with a different eye!”

Two of the most poignant descriptions of extended unforgiveness and bitterness and the extreme emotional torment that it brings comes from both Cindy Swindoll, the wife of Chuck Swindoll, and James Robison – hardly those who would be in any kind of collaboration! They themselves linked together the following passages to describe their own experiences under the sway of extended bitterness:

“And becoming enraged the master (of the unforgiving servant) turned him over to the tormentors until he repaid what he owed. And that is the way my Father in heaven will treat you unless each of you forgives his brother from your hearts” (Matthew 18:34-35).

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your aggravation, and do not give an opportunity to the devil . . .” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

As I recall, both Cindy Swindoll and James Robison reported a tremendous personal oppression due to their bitterness, and they identified their tormentors as demons and described their their experience as demonic oppression due to bitterness and unforgiveness. Scripture definitely connects a kind of demonic inroads into our lives though extended unforgiveness and bitterness, and this is why many people who come to a real victory of forgiveness suddenly seem to experience a great deal of peace, joy, and frankly, renewed and deepened sanity. There’s a clinical term called ambulatory psychosis, and I think that certainly unforgiveness and bitterness is part of the underlying problem in many whom we can say are walking on the edges between sanity and insanity. I’ve often felt, as some other pastors that I have known, that one of the symptoms of this kind of demonic oppression is seeking after praise music to relieve the torment, like King Saul did (I Samuel 16:14-16, 25), and I’ve known a number of people like that, in being practically addicted to praise while holding on to deep bitterness. So, I would bring it back to this again: one of the best things that we can do as a part of public ministry in our churches is regularly to call our people to forgive others, and perhaps to make our call to forgiveness even more clearly and compassionately if more and more people seem to be using praise as an escape from the torment of their own bitterness and the part of their hearts that remains allied to hell.

Forgiveness, then, is revolutionary because it does against the usual human tendency to bear and nurse a grudge. The revolutionary way that Jesus sets for his followers is not to withdraw, plot and sulk, but to forgive as he has brought us forgiveness. After declaring forgiveness before God, then, we need to follow the advice of Peter Marshall: “Never talk about them and never think about them.” This is well worth having an unhindered relationship with one’s heavenly Father.  Christlike forgiveness, then, comes from the person, who is growing to pray like Jesus himself if he were in our shoes, and it is the demonstration of Christlike trust in the heavenly Father and growing to love others has he has loved us.

Jesus Christ, then, calls his followers to deal with the unfairness of the world by his methods. Whatever has happened to us in the past is not to enslave us to brooding and sulking over hurt feelings and past injuries, to complaining about others,  and to be chained to the ways of this world to deal with difficulty and hurt. Rather Christ calls his people to the adventure and joy of faith and love, to see the possibilities that can happen by the grace and power of God if we follow his revolutionary methods. His call is to the revolution of faith, to seek fro God to melt the hearts of the impenitent and obstinate, and to do the miracles of reconciliation and the accomplishment of the impossible. His call is also the revolution of love, in which his people forgive as he has forgiven, as far it is necessary.

Whatever hope and dreams that there may be among us as brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore,  which are in line with the will of God, for successful evangelism, purifying revival and spiritual awakening here and overseas, and to see victories of faith over the obstacles and difficulties of our lives – especially anything that would keep us from our greatest usefulness for Christ in this life – let us take them all to God in prayer and expect his answers for them. Let us take every complaint and every obstacle and turn it into a prayer request. And as your faith grows, let your faith and vision take in the whole world for Christ.

The Christlike heart that expresses itself in Christlike praying, then, is also a forgiving heart. For any believer, therefore, who wants to see answers to pray, take your backlog of grudges and declare your forgiveness before God for them. Ask God to bless that person, and, if you have a tendency to keep digging up grudges, burn the list. Understand that there is no getting around forgiveness if there is any expectation to get close to the God who knows all our hearts and our every thought and for him to hear and answer prayer.

Finally, the revolution of faith and love begins when a person comes to Christ by faith to receive eternal salvation from the path to hell to the place in heaven. Repentance and faith in Christ is the way to sign up for his revolution of the changed heart and to become a believing and loving revolutionary in this world.

How to pray scripturally for the unbeliever you love

This outline of prayer was developed from a series of promises from God’s Word that I had been using in my own private prayer journal over a number of years. This outline was first presented in the Taylor Christian and Missionary Alliance Church on a Wednesday evening service in the spring of 1989. I shared it in an email with some fellow pastors in the year 2000 with the verses filled out and key words emphasized. Here is the outline in the original form. I offer it back again so that it can be shared further for specific prayer for those in the lives of fellow believers whom they love and want to come to Christ. It is one of the themes in the testimonies of many believers of my parents’ generation that there were several people or more praying specifically for them for an extended period before they actually came to a profession of faith in Christ.

Too often prayer meetings in our churches become dry renditions of physical ailments (the weekly casualty list), and prayer requests outside that ‘safe’ zone become fodder for gossip. I am afraid that there are actually some in our church fellowships that seem to use soliciting prayer requests as a cover for keeping tabs on other people. Here is some fodder for directing others in the body of Christ back to the most serious and most scriptural kinds of requests.


I. Pray with the assurance that it is God’s will to save those apart from Christ

Scripture references: I Timothy 2:1-4, II Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 18:13

Note also I John 5:14-15: God promises to answer prayers in accord with his will, and his will is expressed in his written Word.


II. Pray in the name of Jesus for the glory of God: John 14:13-14.

Claim the fulfillment of purpose of the death and resurrection of Jesus in their salvation: John 12:23-24, II Corinthians 5:l4-15


III. Pray in the assurance of faith.

Matthew 21:21-22, Mark 11:23-24, James 1:-8


IV. Pray with a clean heart

A. While abiding in Christ: John 15:7

B. Not indulging in known sin: Psalm 66: 18

C. Having forgiven others: Mark 11:25

D. With pure motives: James 4:3


V. Continue in prayer

God promises to answer persistent prayer: Luke 18:1-7, I Thessalonians 5:17


VI. Make specific requests for:

A. Them to encounter witnesses (including yourself): Romans10:14-5, Matthew 9:38

B. Overcoming of their spiritual blindness and the conviction of the Spirit, the witness of the Spirit to the Lord Jesus: II Corinthians 4:4-6, Luke 8:12, John 6:44,15:26-27,16:8-11, I Thessa1onians 1: 5. Prayer for someone else’s salvation is definitely spiritual warfare!

C. For the success of the Word: Isaiah 55:1l, Hebrews 4:12, I Peter 1:23-25


VII. Pray specifically by name for those you are concerned about: Matthew 7:7-11.