Living Confidently in the Sick Society

The following photograph is one that I took at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Cincinnati Museum Center in February 2013 with their permission to display it on a blog for personal use. This is a series of small idols which were found in the outlying towns of Israel and Judah during the time of the Old Testament prophets, and it corroborates their declarations about what was happening in their times. In their day it was literally a ‘build your own god’ movement out of wood, stone and clay, and their choices were for a Yahweh with the characteristics of a pagan god and only the name of the one true God. Or the idols show that they would make their preferences for one or more of the pagan gods around them who wasn’t as picky on matters of personal morality and integrity as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.


The prevalence of idolatry in ancient Israel and Judah during the time of the Old Testament prophets is a factor which is often rightly mentioned in current preaching and teaching as the reason for the judgment of ancient Israel and Judah. This judgment of God culminated in the destruction by the Assyrians of the northern kingdom of Israel, centered in the city of Samaria, in 722 B.C.E., then in the destruction of Judah in two phases, in the judgment from the Assyrian emperor Sennacherib which destroyed the outlying cities and towns but which God stopped short of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E., and then in the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under their emperor Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. And certainly idolatry was at the heart of God’s indictment against Israel and Judah during these years.

There was, though, another count in the indictment which often goes overlooked: the decline in personal honesty and trustworthiness and the pervasive cheating and deceit in business matters and personal matters among his people. These were indications of how far they had departed from the one true God, and their society became more and more sick as a consequence.

The prophet Micah saw the decay of devotion to God around him and the decay of his society, and spoke strongly to the people in his day about the consequences that would come because of it. He lived about seven hundred years before Christ, and he spoke to the people of Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom of Judah, which had become a house divided and a society at war with itself. The root was that they had neglected and then abandoned God. The consequence was that sins against God had infiltrated into all aspects of their lives, and this was defiling and destroying civil institutions and families. And to those in the midst of this situation, Micah gave them guidance on the need for godly wisdom that their circumstances made more necessary than ever. Their times were difficult, and growing more difficult, but the times were certainly not hopeless. The greatest reason for hope always remained, in the almighty, all loving and all wise God of Israel, the God of the Bible. So in all that they were experiencing as their society started to crumble around them, what was called for was not despair and despondency but rather a continued faith and a confident expectation of the mighty intervention of God himself.

These words of Micah still speak to us today, because we see the same kinds of conflict happening, and the same kinds of sins still infiltrating our society and causing decay and rot throughout. While many cast off restraints in their self centered definition of freedom, there is still the same hope in the God of the Bible for each one who has been born again of the Spirit of God through faith in God, and that means that there is always good reason to remain steadfast in faith in God. Even though scripture does indicate that society will become sicker to the point of terminal illness as the end approaches, there is still every reason to remain confident in God. This is the direction for the attitude and actions of the people of God in all ages, from the encouragement of the prophet of God to remain faithful to god, and from the personal declaration of the prophet himself of his own abiding faith and expectation in the God of the Bible.

“How much heartbreak is mine!
I am like someone gathering fruit in summer, like someone picking the last few grapes of this year’s vintage,
There are no grapes to eat, no early figs for the longings of my soul.
The people who were serious about God have been obliterated from the land, and there is no one left with a modicum of honesty.
Everyone left waits in murderous ambush, each one waits for his brother with a net. The highest bureaucrat expects favors,
The judge wants bribes, and the political bosses dictate their own whims,
They all make their little plots and schemes together. The best one among them is like a briar, the most honest one like a prickly hedge.
The day your watchmen predicted, the time of God’s judgment, has come, now is the time that they all get lost in their own confusion.
Do not put your trust in a neighbor, do not even trust someone that you may know well.
Even with the wife who is in your close embrace watch your words.
Because a son shows contempt for his father, and a daughter places herself above her mother
And a daughter in law places herself above her mother in law, and so a man’s enemies are the people in his own dwelling.
And so I am looking for the LORD, I am waiting for God my Savior!
My God will hear me!”

(Micah 7:1-7, Dale’s translation).

The people of God must live wisely in the midst of the sick society. Dissatisfaction with the circumstances can mean an honest lament over where things have deteriorated, but still there is wisdom from God available, even when there is disappointment and disillusionment with other people as we live our lives in the middle of the sick society. The people of God can look out upon all the deterioration and depravity and yet find that there is a path of wisdom from God for them in the midst of all that. The circumstances are heartbreaking, though, to the person who knows God.

The deterioration of society to become the sick society is one where even the institutions intended to restrain evil and wrongdoing become accessories to the performance of evil. Rampant sin means the perversion of justice in those offices which were intended to preserve justice. While there has always been some injustice in human society, something can happen where someone realizes that he or she is living in the sick society, and this realization breaks the heart when it comes. All that is left is a lament for civil society as it is. 

The prophet begins with a lament, about how it seems like all the good stuff is all used up and all the good times are gone, and that he is left with nothing around him that gives him hope:

 “How much heartbreak is mine!
I am like someone gathering fruit in summer, like someone picking the last few grapes of this year’s vintage,
There are no grapes to eat, no early figs for the longings of my soul.”

The prophet is feeling like everything good has been sucked out of life. His ministry began in the time of Jotham, one of the godly kings of Judah who reigned in Jerusalem as his capital city, continued during the long reign of Ahaz, who was one of the most ungodly and incompetent kings from the line of David to reign in Jerusalem, and concluded during the time of Hezekiah, who was one of the most godly kings from the line of David. He seems to lived and prophesied roughly about the same time as Isaiah, but may not have lived until the time of the invasion of the Assyrian king Sennacherib that Isaiah 36-39 describes, and which happened in 701 BCE. This description of his disappointment may reflect the realization that the good times for the kingdom which happened in the early years of Hezekiah were going to come to an end, that the restoration and revival which had come with Hezekiah would give way to the judgment on the outlying cities and towns of the nation of Judah.

This description is of his emotional reaction to the sin of his people and the coming judgment of his people. He expresses this with the traditional poetic form known as lament. Earlier he had begun this book of prophecy with a lament and the lament in this current passage is reminiscent of lament of 1:8-16. Though his lament was a traditional poetic form, it is nevertheless heartfelt, and with it the prophet shows the scriptural response to heartbreaking circumstances that he was seeing. In his own society he was seeing a sick defiance of God which was daring God to take action and do something. In fact he shows us that for a godly person, witnessing a decline in personal morality throughout one’s own society is something well worth mourning over, and it is something that is worth giving one’s own heart into grieving over the evils that must provoke the holy God of the Bible as well.

We always want the joy and happiness in life, but if we look at the world and our times with the lens of scripture, we may find great reasons for sadness and sorrow. That’s why there is such a strong current of lament in the Old Testament Psalms and prophets, and why you also see lament in the New Testament also. It’s the appropriate emotional and spiritual reaction when a godly person looks out and sees a decline in godliness around himself or herself. And certainly there will be times when churches and societies increase and decrease, prosper and decline, as time goes on. So the reaction of disappointment and grief to the decline and impending judgment of God is as appropriate to godly people as satisfaction, peace and joy when the gospel spreads, people come to Christ and the church is built up. Somewhere some people get the idea that following Christ means nothing but joy, peace and happiness and that there’s something wrong with us if we experience disappointment and grief in this world. But that’s looking for the cause in the wrong place often enough – for a godly person looking out at this world the disappointment and grief may well be the sign of something really right with himself or herself – the growth in personal holiness and being able to look out at this world with a focus based on and guided by the absolute holiness and righteousness of God himself.

”The people who were serious about God have been obliterated from the land, and there is no one left with a modicum of honesty.
Everyone left waits in murderous ambush, each one waits for his brother with a net.”

Micah lamented the loss of the people who were serious about God from those who were supposed to be the people of God. His contemporary Isaiah lamented the same thing (Isaiah 57:1-2 59:1-12 for the lament). They may have been thinking about the loss of faithful, believing Israelites such as Barzillai the Gileadite (II Samuel 17:27-29, 19:31-39). What they were seeing were that the generation which had remained faithful from the days of Jotham through the reign of Ahaz to the reign of Hezekiah were dying off, and the generation which had grown up during the reign of Ahaz were gaining ascendancy. They were seeing the generation which had known previous security was giving way to a much more self concerned, self seeking and rapacious generation – those who were the children by relation shared little of the faith of their fathers. While there will always be such individuals in families who do not follow the faith of their parents, the prophets of God realized that some kind of line had been crossed in Israel and Judah during their lifetimes. And soon the judgment of God fell upon Israel and Judah: first upon Israel in the days of Hezekiah, in 722 BCE, and then upon Judah through the Assyrians later in the reign of Hezekiah, in 701 BCE.

The tripwire for the coming judgment was given as the withering of personal morality and trustworthiness in comparison to the standards of God which were held up in the Word of God. The judgment would come not just for the rampant idolatry and the attendant sexual immorality which had grown in the past generation (the connection in the ancient world between idolatry and sexual immorality was well known throughout the Old and New Testaments). The judgment would come for the cheating lifestyle: the person who is trying to cheat God out of his due glory under the Word of God that “You shall have no other gods before me,” his family out of their due honor and loyalty under “You shall not commit adultery”, and fellow human beings out of due honesty and fairness under, “You shall not murder . . .  you shall not steal . . . you shall not bear false witness . . . you shall not covet.” It would not be too much to say that one of the greatest generations had become the cheating generation.

This is a common and pernicious delusion that can take hold of a person, a family, a generation, a nation: that God doesn’t care about my personal integrity. From this delusion even the people who may claim to know the holy and righteous God of the Bible may descend to taking unfair and immoral advantage of others and using others for one’s own benefit at their expense. Yet this does come from idea that a person can build your own God. The people of Israel and Judah had come to the point where they thought that they could building a God for their own tastes from bits of the God of the Bible and the pagan gods from the people around them. So they came up with a God who looks the other way and doesn’t care about sin – not a holy God who cares about the holiness of his people. And unfortunately, this has been the same delusion that has infected believers throughout the ages, from professed believers in the USA around the late 1800s and early 1900s, to the late 1960s to the late 1970s, and now since the past decade as well.

The prophet then went on to expose how the decline in personal morality among those who were to be the people of God in Israel and Judah was corrupting the institutions of civil justice. The corrupt ruling class would lead the way for the nations which were heading insanely into the judgment of God.

“The highest bureaucrat expects favors,
The judge wants bribes, and the political bosses dictate their own whims,
They all make their little plots and schemes together. The best one among them is like a briar, the most honest one like a prickly hedge.
The day your watchmen predicted, the time of God’s judgment, has come, now is the time that they all get lost in their own confusion.”

Micah was describing what was happening with corrupt ruling class over the people of God and how they were daring the judgment of God. Isaiah also decried this, and and spoke about the coming time of judgment from God (1:23, 10:1-4). Micah’s words echo of his more graphic indictment of the predatory leaders earlier in his prophecies, in 3:1-12.

“And he says,
“’Hear now, you leaders of Jacob, and you judges of the house of Israel,
isn’t it proper for you to know justice,
you who hate what is good and love what is evil?’
. . .
‘Hear this, heads of the house of Jacob and judges of the house of Israel,
who detest justice and pervert all that is right,
who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with injustice?
Her leaders render judgments for a bribe, and her priests pontificate for profit,
her prophets read tea leaves for money.
Yet they still rely on the LORD as they say,
‘Isn’t the LORD in our midst? Nothing bad will come upon us.’””

(Micah 3: 1-2, 9-11, Dale’s translation)

The ruling class of ancient Israel and Judah, the corrupt officials whom Micah and Isaiah addressed, did not have just a secular responsibility to the nation. While in the Old Testament there is some sense of the consent of the governed, but also the ultimate responsibility of the government and the ruling class in particular was their responsibility to God and the Word of God. In the most real sense the only true theocracy the world has ever seen as was ancient Israel, especially under the godly kings, and the times of godliness were the times that the nation looked back to as the golden ages, especially the times of David and Solomon. What happened was their sense of responsibility to God and their people gave way to a cynical ‘What’s In It For Me?’ mentality, where doing anything at all in connection with their responsibilities for honesty, fairness, justice and mercy under the Law of God gave way to not doing anything except what was in their own personal advantage. But the judgment of God would come upon them, and the mark of the judgment would be their own cluelessness and their own confusion as things started to turn against them.

This abuse of human institutions meant to protect the weaker from the stronger came through the disappearance of godly and honest people from the ruling class as it became more and more corrupt. Those who were in the place of judgment and enforcement of justice themselves were falling into the deceit and greed of the society as a whole, of the society which had neglected, disregarded and disdained the God of the Bible. The corrupt ruling class were using their positions for the pursuit of personal gain and cashing in, and as such were a bitter disappointment to those who were still around who still trusted and followed the God of the Bible.

The injustice in the sick society is very much the responsibility of those in authority, of the corrupt ruling class: the responsibilities of the office are discharged no better than the personal morality of the officeholder. Too often men and women even within the people who claim to know and follow the God of the Bible have shown far too little concern over the moral convictions and personal morality of public officials, whether those officials were elected or appointed. Yet the personal moral compass of those officials has a great bearing on whether the execution of the office becomes the enforcement of genuine Biblical justice and mercy in line with the God of the Bible or the enforcement of the whims, pipe dreams, folly and immorality of others. Yet compare the reason why Governeur Morris encouraged George Washington to become accept the presidency of the United States during its infancy: “The exercise of authority depends upon personal character. Your cool, steady temper is indispensably necessary to give firm and manly tone to the new government.”

This shows very much the corrupting power of sin. Sin can turn the people in the institutions, both religious and secular, intended by God to restrain sin, into the weapons of its own warfare. And this infection of sin in the cheating generation can weaponize the civil and even the religious leaders and institutions to speak and act contrary to the righteousness and holiness of the God they claim to serve. So then, even within the professing church of Jesus Christ, within the vocational ministry and denominational hierarchy, the infiltration of this subtle idolatry, to make the generation following a faithful generation the cheating generation, can defile the ministry of church leaders. This same kind of ‘What’s In It For Me?’ mentality can infect the church as an institution as well within the vocational ministry and a denominational hierarchy. And the cheating infects the professing church as well when its leaders start to follow the idolatries and follies of the cheating generation. And the decline begins as the presence of the holy and righteous God begins to withdraw from ministries, churches and denominations which once reflected his character and experienced his power to save to the uttermost.

This shows, then, another pernicious delusion that often takes hold of those who seek and attain political power: that God doesn’t care about how I deal with others in the conduct of my civic responsibilities. It is the delusion that my personal morality and integrity in the execution of my office do not matter before God. The ruling elite becomes influenced by the behavior of others in the ruling elite – they can see others of the cheating generation doing what God has condemned, and they then eagerly follow them to make sure that they get their own pieces of the pie. And indeed so many times this abuse of political power for personal gain becomes rampant simply because  those in power and part of the ruling elite see others ‘getting away with it’ and they simply want to do what they can to get their part of the undisclosed benefits. Giving and receiving bribes and working to keep on funneling benefits to myself and my family at the expense of others becomes a normal way of life among the ruling elites.

So this build your own God mentality  can come up with a God who looks the other way and who does not care about the integrity and justice of those who pursue and receive political power. It can change within one generation, when a faithful generation gives way to the cheating generation. But this politics for personal profit will ultimately be exposed, according to the words of Jesus himself in Luke 12:2: “For there is nothing which has been concealed which will not be brought out into the open, and hidden which shall not become known.”

But this is not the whole story yet — the prophet of God then went to describe how deeply the decline in personal morality was infecting the family of the cheating generation. What was happening was horrible betrayals, with family members ratting out each other, so that no one could ever be certain of the loyalty even of a spouse. In the sick society, even family and friends are of little or no support. When the loss of truthfulness and integrity penetrates a nation and a generation, it means the loss of trustworthiness, and so within the family itself there is rampant betrayal and conflict.

“Do not put your trust in a neighbor, do not even trust someone that you may know well.
Even with the wife who is in your close embrace watch your words.
Because a son shows contempt for his father, and a daughter places herself above her mother
And a daughter in law places herself above her mother in law, and so a man’s enemies are the people in his own dwelling.”

The infiltration of the trend of society into the family circle makes the family a prime area of conflict in the cheating generation. Where there should rather have been mutual love and respect, disrespect and conflict are rampant among the cheating generation. What the prophet is describing is role reversal –  where personal arrogance results in contempt and disdain for family members and ultimately the betrayal of family members. And as far as what would be expected to be normal and praiseworthy behavior – go to the book of Ruth and contrast the humility and respect of Ruth for  her mother in law Naomi with the behavior that the prophet describes here.

Yet there would be betrayal rather than support for family members among the depredations of the cheating generation against their neighbors, even to their closest earthly neighbors. Even more, the repeating pattern of deceit and aggression among the cheating generation means that family life itself becomes a bitter disappointment. The moral that the prophet drew was that even among one’s own family members the person who seeks to follow the God of the Bible must watch his or her words and be careful of what he or she says. Thus the godly person must watch his or her back even while he or she is standing for God in the middle of the cheating generation. It is a situation where love and fidelity are sacrificed, and anything you say can and will be used against you.

So this highlights another pernicious delusion that can come from the build your own God mentality: that God doesn’t care about my loyalty to my family members and how I treat them. I can still pursue my dreams and fantasies of plenty and power and personal glory despite what it means to my family members, my closest neighbors in this world. In fact, this drive to plenty and power and personal glory often builds greater disruption and conflict within families as ambitious and ruthless family members build unholy and unrighteous internal alliances for and against other family members with those who are outside the family circle. Instead of mutual love and respect within the family, having to deal with the repeated pattern of deceit and aggression means that family life itself, intended from the beginning by God to be a blessing, a source of enjoyment and happiness, becomes instead bitter disappointment and disillusionment.

And where there is lukewarm devotion to God at best among so many with only a vague kind of religiosity – the result seen in the past hundred years in the United States and the result of liberal theology that compromises and explains away Biblical truth and dead orthodoxy which fails to live out Biblical truth – it is no wonder that the restraining influence of the church of Jesus Christ wanes. Then the infiltration of tolerated and indulged sins into the family, the increase of material good without devotion to God, gives way to an onslaught of social evils. The children may only have the bad example of the mistakes, follies and sins of lukewarm parents, and they may fall into drugs, out of wedlock pregnancy, idleness and unemployment and despair and suicide. But the responsibility of each one before God remains, and he is there and he is not silent.

So the people of God who are standing for God in this situation find may this to be the way of wisdom with untrustworthy family members. They need to be extremely careful with what they say. The situation calls for guarded and carefully weighed words – to tell the truth but not necessarily full disclosure – as the shrewdness necessary for someone who has to watch his or her back in one’s own household. And even more, this is also noteworthy as one of the problems of a church that has probably grown too large, or a church which is declining, is that professed believers become untrustworthy as well among themselves. They fall into the habits and practice a lot of petty backstabbing and backbiting, sometimes with vicious little bits of second hand gossip that are decades old. But this becomes necessary in the wake of the build your own God mentality – it calls for extreme caution in dealing with those who can come up with a God who does not care if they bear false witness against and betray the members of one’s own family.

This, then, is also something especially that believers in Jesus Christ need to note. Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry as Prophet and Teacher, referred to these same verses and said that they would continue to be characteristic of times of persecution for his church afterwards:

“Do not think that I came to push peace upon the earth; I came not to push peace but a sword, because I came to divide a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother and the bride against her mother in law, and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. The person who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and the person who love son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,  and whoever does not pick up his or her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. The person who finds his life will end up losing it, and the person who loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

During the times of the sick society and the cheating generation, there is still one thing left for the person who knows, trust and follows the God of the Bible. Despite the moral insanity of the sick society and the cheating generation, God himself remains an unchangeable and unshakeable source of security. No matter what, continuing in trust and confidence in God will always be appropriate. Only through God can discouragement, despondency and hopelessness be turned to hope, trust and confidence.

The faith that is secure in God looks forward to his intervention in the sick society. The people who follow the God of the Bible can then live with confidence in his wisdom, power, compassion and justice, and they can live with the realization that however bad the situation is and however bad it may become, God is greater than that situation, and he is never at a loss.

The prophet himself held up a lantern of the kind of faith in God that the situation was calling for:

”And so I am looking for the LORD, I am waiting for God my Savior! **
My God will hear me!”

The prophet showed the people of God to look to their God beyond all the circumstances and to wait for his solution, for his salvation in the midst of the sick society. He showed them to look to God, that whatever the wrong being done in the present, that God will judge and overrule that evil. Moreover, that time of waiting will also be the time of God’s patience in offering his mercy and the opportunity for repentance before he imposes his justice upon the unrepentant. The man or woman of God in these circumstances will then imitate the patience of God as he or she waits upon God, with the expectation that God’s wisdom will mean perfect timing for the time that he intervenes in the world that he created, which he rules and for which he takes the ultimate responsibility that justice will be served.

Note that the prophet had no schemes or resources for any changes in himself that he could do for the reformation of the sick society. The situation was so beyond the prophet and the people who followed the God of the Bible that all that they could look for was his solution to the sick society. So the prophet went on with the assurance that his prayers would make a difference since he was going to the God who would make the difference. He could say with confidence, “My God will hear me!”

As the sick society starts to unravel and disintegrate at the fringes and within, the way of the people of God has always been to trust in God and to seek him earnestly and diligently in prayer. No matter how difficult the times become, there is always an immovable basis of security in our God. He is the true and living God, the Almighty and the Eternal, who never changes. So then, he is our source of our confidence and security when we have been placed in the midst of the sick society. And the way of the godly then is to take refuge in prayer, to give full confidence to God in all the troubles of the current times. They turn to the one true God, the God of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, since he will not betray or disappoint.

And this turning to the God of the Bible will mean turning away from the gods that we try to imagine out for ourselves. The statement of confident faith of the prophet exposes the problem with the ‘Build Your Own God’ mentality: the gods we build out of our own preferences and imagination can’t hear us. They aren’t real and cannot answer us. They bring out God’s continuous taunt to those who try to build their own gods: go ahead and cry out to them and see if they can save you. And those who try to build their own gods find out quite quickly that made up gods cannot save them in the time of trouble.

But the person who turns to the God of the Bible will quickly find that he is not like our imaginary gods at all. That person will find that the God of the Bible is quite willing to be called, “My God” by the people who give themselves entirely to him and seek to live in harmony with him throughout their lives. They will know that know that his presence gives the incentive to pray and the assurance of answered prayer, as they live with him and they grow closer to him in intimacy, love and trust. They will know that the God of the Bible is a God who genuinely hears the prayers of his people, and who trust that, “My God will hear me!” when they pray to him. They will know that there is no deficiency in his ability to intervene in our world and in our lives and in his willingness to hear and answer prayer. All that he was waiting for was the simplicity of faith that trusts him wholeheartedly, to receive his answers for our lives and our world. And this will then mean actual prayer to God who hears, in response to his many invitations to pray. It will mean that our prayers are not vague expressions of hope but the actual expression of our genuine faith and reliance on what God can do and is willing to do and will do. As A. C. Dixon once said, “When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do; and so on. But when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.”

So the times of disintegration in the sick society are the times which simply call for continued confidence in God. Because of the eternal, almighty and faithful God, there is never a reason to give up any hope when we look out at the situation we see in our world. When we experience bitterness and disappointment because of what we see around us, it rather calls us to seek his intervention in our lives and in our world. The need is to continue to  be in prayer to the God who truly hears and answers prayer. No matter how difficult the times become, there is always an immovable source of security in our God. He is the true and living God, the Almighty, the Eternal, who never changes. Therefore he is the source of our confidence and security, and he becomes the one to whom we turn as well to change the sick society around us.

Then let us continue to pray to our God for a revival in our churches, that our generation and the generations to come may come to a full experience of God the Savior through his Son Jesus Christ. Let us ask for the transformation of our sick society through the mighty working of the Holy Spirit, first among the believers in our churches, and then among those who have not received his salvation in our society. Let us have that reliance upon God for his work of conviction, of cleansing and of reconciliation between God and man. Let us seek for the revival of the love of Christ among us to where we see the reconciliation and restoration of families. There are known cases of people who prayed for thirty and forty years for revival, and God did answer them and brought transformation. I would hope that we would not have to wait that long, but still we can persevere with the assurance that our God will hear us.

The God of the Bible remains the same despite whatever happens in the society around us. Thus his people can remain confident in him no matter what occurs, because he is faithful and mightier than every situation. And this calls us in our day, in our sick society, to continue to in faith and prayer in our day, to wait upon God because God will hear us.

So remain in prayer, and in the way of faith in God in the midst of the sick society. Continue to look for change to happen, from the God who know and changes the human heart, hardened and sick as it may be and as it may become in the sick society. Look for his revival and spiritual awakening to come upon our sick society.

And finally, each one of you, make certain that you have taken the most urgent and necessary step to place your deepest confidence and ultimate security in God alone. I mean make certain of your own eternal salvation before God  through Jesus Christ. Enter the reconciled fellowship with him through repenting of your sins and placing your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior now and for all eternity. Make certain that you can stand before God not because of anything that you have done but solely and entirely upon the death of Christ upon the cross for you, for your own eternal salvation. The security in God for all eternity is for those who have been reconciled to him through Jesus Christ. If you don’t know how to do this, simply take every word I have written in this paragraph and address it back to God in prayer, that that is what you want from him – eternal pardon and acceptance with him through faith in Jesus Christ alone – and state to him that you are now, at this very moment, repenting of all your sins and placing your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation.

‘Let Go and Let God!’

Updated again!

One of my memories from the time that I was a prayer counselor for the Rex Humbard ministry back in the late 1970s and early 1980s was how wrapped up many Christian parents and, sometimes, Christian leaders would get in the lives of their children and even other adult believers. I can remember how one sister in Christ, with sons of her own on her heart, telling another mother quite compassionately, “Let go and let God.”

That’s an old Alcoholics Anonymous expression, but it does speak to the exaggerated sense of responsibility that many believers, often Christian parents, take for the lives of other people. They become interfering ‘helicopter’ parents in the lives of others, usually their own children, but sometimes others as well. Many times Christian leaders fall into this trap of over-responsibility, when they come into a kind of stubborn self delusion that they know what is right for another believer. They may then fall into very devious and sinful ways of trying to force another adult into what they believe is right for that person. For myself, I can think of at least three fellow pastors to whom I have felt a need to say, “Let go!” There was one of them in particular that I really felt that this was a message that God had for him. Out of these experiences, I developed my own twist on the First Spiritual Law from Campus Crusade for Christ’s list of the Four Spiritual Laws: “God loves you, but everyone else has a wonderful plan for your life!” I think that often we fail to emphasize that God brings no one into our lives, especially another believer, as the vehicle for our own ambitions and plans but that together we may all follow his plans for our lives.  As for myself, I have kept and will always keep the final responsibility to discern and follow God’s will from his Word for myself (II Timothy 3:16-17, Romans 14:9-12, II Corinthians 5:10, Philippians 2:12-13), and I think that’s really God’s plan for every adult and every person who is growing into adulthood.

I don’t see this sense of over-responsibility and surrogate over-parenting which I have mentioned in the Bible, either in precept or example. I first mentioned this in an earlier blog post (We’re Not Your Parents!):

How unreasonable this is can simply be seen by looking at the scriptural pattern and God’s design for the world in his creation and providence: God only gives parental authority and position to those who have children by birth or adoption, and parental authority is only given to them over their own children and ceases when their children become adults. We need to recognize anything else as a self serving deception.

Jesus calls us away from all that attitude of self exaltation over another two sentences later: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). His call is away from any path to or self justification of power over others for the sake of my own pride and self satisfaction to the way of Christlike servanthood and humility. In this age of self serving pride, this is the way to show the reality of our salvation and our ongoing relationship to the Son of God who took on the form of a servant and humbled himself even to the death on the cross (Philippians 2:1-11).

Rather, especially in Jesus, I see a turning back of the responsibility to follow God’s Word back on adults who already have that responsibility. I can see much more the entrusting of the people for whom they had concern back to God, often in an explicit commitment of them back to God in prayer. That, in fact, is often part of the meaning of the nice little benedictions that close the New Testament letters like Jude 24-25: “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy . . .” It is the point of statements like Paul’s in his farewell to the Ephesian elders at Troas: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

Many of the Christian parents that I knew in the past had come to the place where they had entrusted the lives of their children to God, and took pains to leave them there, as they themselves often said. They could pray in faith for them and trust God for them without attempting to interfere in their lives, control them, or enmesh themselves in their lives and wrap themselves in their lives. Those who dedicated them publicly to God before the church sometimes bring back the memory of that act to bolster them when they are tempted to fret or become over involved in their lives Even more, I believe that this kind of entrusting someone into the care and keeping of God above all is necessary for every believer, every Christian leader, to do with everyone with whom they are tempted to do so the same. So, if you have any kind of anxiety or concern about anyone’s life, do not discuss it with anyone else, and make it a subject of gossip.

What this comes down to is that we need to be careful to treat other people in age appropriate ways if we are to be truly loving as Jesus has loved us, and this means making sure that we treat adults as adults much more often. “ . . . love does not act in inappropriate ways . . .” (I Corinthians 13:5).  I believe that often a controlling, helicopter parent takes these tendencies into his or leadership style if he or she becomes a leader in a local church, denomination or or other evangelical institution. Too often it seems like this is often neither recognized nor rebuked, even among the official leaders of churches, when they begin to act as surrogate parents, even in the lives of other adults. Again, I have seen this tendency most often among church leaders when they have been helicopter parents. When they become empty nesters there is a real danger that they become helicopter people. It’s not hard to recognize the characteristics that this obsessive, unwanted and unwelcome interference in the lives produces in the lives of those who are consumed with it: hovering, intrusive, interfering, fearful and obsessively observant about the life of another adult.

There was once an an egregious example of how destructive this kind of helicopter parenting can become in the classic film Now, Voyager. In this film Bette Davis showed her tremendous acting ability as the youngest daughter of a tyrannical mother who tried to rule her every possible, miniscule way. In the film Claude Rains played the psychiatrist who diagnosed her character with a severe mental illness and managed to get her away from the tyranny of her mother. Nowadays, her character would not be diagnosed with mental illness but arrested development and psychological injury due to repeated verbal and emotional abuse. The mother would be recognized as being more pathological than the character which Bette Davis played. Her character, before the psychiatrist pulled her away from her toxic home life, showed a life which could be described as prematurely aged and emotionally exhausted, robbed and ransacked through having to deal with her mother’s tyranny over her life.  Unfortunately, though, it’s not often one parent but both spouses in a marriage who get caught up in this kind of treatment of others. This is an extreme example, and rarely comes to this, but I do want anyone caught up in this kind of treatment to understand that the personal and emotional consequences can be quite destructive. Here is the portrayal of what this treatment brought to this still young woman.

This is not where God has called us, brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather, follow the scriptural path of entrusting the people in our lives entirely to God and renouncing any kind of over-responsibility or interference in their lives. Learn to leave them in the hands of God if you are ever tempted to try to over-reach in responsibility and criticize and sabotage decisions and actions that they have made with full responsibility before God and man. Confess any previous meddling or controlling actions as sin before God (I John 1:7-10, I Peter 4:15 – note the word ‘meddler’).

  • Admit before God that you act as a surrogate parent to feed your own ego and your own reputation and to avoid your own fears, needs and disappointments, and that you have not been willing to step back and allow God to work in the lives of the others but have tried to play God yourself in the lives of other people. Admit that you have not seen God the Father but yourself as the perfect parent, that you have not recognized the Son of God but yourself as the one who should be in charge of someone else’s life, and that you have not realized that God the Holy Spirit is the one who brings about real changes in another person’s life and not yourself.
  • If you are an empty nester parent and you finding yourself being drawn to play the part of the self appointed surrogate parent, admit that you miss your own children and that you obsessively watch for  and prey upon the real, supposed or exaggerated weaknesses of others to try to enlist them to be in the place of a child so that you can keep on playing the part of a parent in someone else’s life.
  • Thank God for every moment that you have had with your children, and work on your own relationship with your children. Explicitly renounce control of them and entrust them to God.
  • Work on your own marriage if you are married. If you are obsessed with controlling any other person, there is a good possibility that your spouse is being cheated out of the proper attention, respect and affection by that obsession.
  • Develop healthy, respectful, non controlling relationships. Keep on reminding yourself that Jesus is Lord, not you for as long as it takes for the message to sink in. If it helps, develop a habit of seeing Jesus as standing between every other person you are tempted to try to control and yourself.

In addition, if you are tempted to keep on meddling and hovering around some other believer, pray, confess and do nothing but thank God for that person and praise God that he is working out HIS will in that person’s life. Do not talk or complain about that person any longer, and go to those you have expressed your ‘concerns’ and retract what you have said as out of place, unnecessary, self serving and most likely distorted!

End your bossiness, meddling and gossip.

In case you just immediately missed or dismissed or ignored what was just written, end your meddling and gossip.

In case anyone else advised you to miss, dismiss or ignore what was just written, end your meddling and gossip.

In case you are bristling at what was just written and your habitual stubbornness has arisen when as it usually does when you are confronted with your bossy, meddling and gossiping ways, understand this: you still need to end your bossiness, meddling and gossip.

In case you are now calculating how ending your bossiness, meddling and gossip will damage the exaggerated reputation that you have tried to construct for yourself through talking yourself up and talking down that other person, understand this: you still need to end your bossiness, meddling and gossip.

If you are now trying to say that God has led you or led anyone else to encourage you to speak and act in these unscriptural ways, understand this: you still need to end your bossiness, meddling and gossip.

If you cannot get the picture out of your mind that that other person is immature and needs your help, understand that immaturity is not necessarily a permanent, lifelong state, that what you think is immaturity in that other person may not now and may never have in fact existed as a long term problem, and that your immaturity and your own long term problem is your bossiness, meddling and gossip. Rather, thank God for whatever ways in which he guided, protected and preserved you in spite of yourself and your own immaturity and find some humility in recognizing all the ways in which you have failed, messed up, sinned and fallen short of all your own desires and expectations. So you still need to end your bossiness, meddling and gossip.

Then, find the way to pray for the person with which you have been wrapped up in getting your way in that person’s life. Getting your way in that person’s life is not an item on God’s agenda for that person’s life.  Give the almighty, all-wise and all-loving God the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he is doing and can do in the life of another person, and be prepared to give that other person the benefit of the doubt if you are or have been praying for him or her and he or she has been making choices that may not fit your ideas but which do not violate scripture. Here are some ways to pray for a fellow believer, whether your child or someone else’s child – but still God’s child — who needs to be entrusted into the ultimate keeping of the almighty, all-wise and all-loving God:

  • Pray for that person to be built up and established in the Word God, in faith, love, witness and maturity (II Thessalonians 1:11-12, Colossians 2:6-7).
  • Ask that that person grow to maturity in Christ, in life, service, and fruitfulness (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  • Request that God fill that person with spiritual insight, to be receptive to the Word of God and in first hand, personal knowledge of God (Colossians 3:15-17, Ephesians 1:15-20).
  • Pray that that person be filled with the love of Christ through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-21, Philippians 1:9, I Thessalonians 3:12, Hebrews 3:13, 10:24-25).
  • Ask that that person be filled with the Spirit of prayer in the name of Christ, to become a person of constant prayer (Romans 8:26-27, Ephesians 2:18, 3:12, 6:18).

Here are some ways to pray for someone for whom you may be concerned who is not a believer:

  • Agree with the gracious desire of God himself that that person come to salvation in Christ (Ezekiel 18:23, John 3:17, I Timothy 2:4, II Peter 3:9).
  • Reason with God that the salvation of that person is the fulfillment of the purpose of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 12:23-24, I Timothy 2:5, II Corinthians 5:14-15, Romans 14:9).
  • Ask that that person come into contact with a daily witness with an open heart (Acts 2:47).
  • Ask that Christ be made manifest in the gospel to that person through the Holy Spirit (II Corinthians 4:6, Isaiah 9:2, John 6:44, 15:26-27, 16:8-11, I Thessalonians 1:5, Psalm 83:16).

If you are a pastor, then, learn to let go when people leave your church for any reason. Pray over them as I have just mentioned. There may be problems that they have had with you or your church, or even other problems with which they have been suffering in silence at your church. It may well be that they need to get away to deal with them. People rarely run away a loving church with sound Bible teaching, but they do run from interfering, controlling and even abusive people in churches. If that person is not you, you may still need to let them go to find a safe haven. While scripture does call us to remain in fellowship with other believers, I cannot find anywhere that it says we must remain in fellowships where interfering, controlling or abusive people continue to wreak their mischief and pain upon a believer, especially if the leaders in the church tolerate, encourage or even participate in that same interference and abuse.

If people leave your church, do not:

  • Try to track them to any churches where they may be attending, or ask anyone that you know is a friend of that person to keep an eye on them and report on what happens to them. (This may in some cases violate anti-stalking laws.)
  • Keep on trying to get them back to attend your church again, especially if they have become involved in another church.
  • Express any concerns about them publicly or privately, or write any letters or have any discussions about them with people at a new church if they start attending one.
  • Especially do not share any of your concerns or perhaps personal disagreements or quarrels with a fellow pastor, even if it’s in a letter or email and under the guise of a referral. (This may meet the legal definitions for libel, slander and defamation of character.)
  • If you know of any medical treatment that this person has undergone – and this includes counseling and psychotherapy – be extremely careful what you say. You might be opening yourself up for legal action under HIPAA regulations.

If you are a pastor and another pastor does something like calling you to tell you things about someone who has started to attended or sending you letters or emails about that person, here’s what I would advise:

  • Let that pastor know that you are prepared to let that person know everything that is said or written, and that he or she will get a copy of the letter or email for his or her consideration.
  • If that pastor starts to backtrack and try to get you to stop you from doing any such thing, then ask for a complete retraction of everything that was said, especially if it was done in a letter or email.

Some years ago V. Raymond Edman wrote about the tremendous damage that can be done through the letter writing campaigns that many had brought much suffering to many believers, both pastors and otherwise. In a previous blog post, Recommendations, References, Evaluations and Slander, I wrote about how this can cause problems in finding employment and other unnecessary vocational obstacles, and I do believe that many of the files of our pastors, churches and denominational offices do contain documents which amount to de facto slander against fellow pastors and fellow believer. Over the years I’ve also met those in our churches and among our leaders are extremely vulnerable to receive and pass on slander, hearsay and rumor. The very least that any leader in the church of Jesus Christ can do is to refuse to receive it and act on it, especially if they themselves have been devastated when it happened to them.

During my time in the pastorate, I found that there was usually at least one controlling person trying to hold the reins in a stagnant and declining church – and often this was a married woman going into or past middle age. Often I found that in families where patterns of addiction are entrenched that there was a person who had been trying to control others for years or decades. In an earlier blog post (Controlling Others As Counterfeit Love), I dealt with the issue of trying to control other people. I still think that we have not dealt often or loudly enough about this tendency to try to control, rooted in human pride, the desire to play God in someone else’s life, in our preaching and teaching. Here is some of what I wrote then:

Biblical, Christlike love is servanthood, not control:. . . serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:14). It is seeking the highest good of another person according to the standards of the Word of God. Attempts to control others pollute love, sabotage their God given responsibility for their own lives, and may eventually destroy the relationship. Here are some of the self deceptions of the person who attempts to control others in their lives.

1. Self Deception: “I believe that a person who changes to my specifications will be a better person.”

Reality: This is a dangerous arrogance of personal authority and presumption of personal knowledge of what is best for another person. Only God can be the real judge of what is best for another person.

2. Self Deception: “I am responsible to make another adult do what he should do.”

Reality: Each adult has his own responsibility before God to follow his will, and will answer personally to God for how he has fulfilled that responsibility.

3. Self Deception: “God has given me special insight and capability to help this person make necessary changes in his or her life.”

Reality: This is mistaking the voice of obsession for the voice of the Holy Spirit, and is a rationalization of attempts to play the Hoy Spirit in another person’s life. The real agenda of the Holy Spirit is different than that of another human being, and he does not originate nor stand behind obsessions.

4. Self Deception: “I would be happier if this other person changed.”

Reality: Happiness is dependent upon your personal choice of the will of God.

5. Self Deception: “I meet my emotional needs by exerting power over others.”

Reality: God wants you to find satisfaction in a humble walk with himself.

6. Self Deception: “I am overprotective of those whom I love.”

Reality: God alone is sufficient to protect and defend his people. . . .

  • “Results in another person’s life are not my responsibility.”
  • “My preconceived notions of what the end result of my helping may be far from God’s actual intentions for another person.” .
  • “I cannot change another person, no matter how much I care and want to help.”
  • “No strings of control are to be attached to my gift of love.”
  • “I am not needed in the role of Messiah.”
  • “I must never underestimate my own human vulnerability.”
  • “I must never overestimate my ability to know what is best for another adult.”
  • “I am not superior. I am just a friend, a person who has chosen to love.”
  • “Only eternity will reveal the fruit of love I have sown in other’s lives.”
  • “When I love another person, I offer it as a gift to Christ.”

Here are some other posts in which I dealt with this issue of over-responsibility and control, and the results that it may have in the lives of others. The issue of escaping the control of a hovering, controlling parent is something that has often been mentioned in the lives of young people when they leave our evangelical churches. Again, I think that we need to keep on talking about the need to go beyond a childhood version of one’s faith, or a second hand or heirloom faith, as a part of growing to maturity in Christ and as an adult.

All scripture references taken unless otherwise indicated  from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers

Charles Finney On Parents Praying For Their Children

“ Prayer, to be effectual, must be offered from right motives. Prayer should not be selfish, but dictated by a supreme regard for the glory of God. A great deal of prayer is offered from pure selfishness. Women sometimes pray for their husbands, that they may be converted, because they say, “It would be so much more pleasant to have my husband go to meeting with me,” and all that. And they seem never to lift up their thoughts above self at all. They do not seem to think how their husbands are dishonoring God by their sins, and how God would be glorified in their conversion. So it is with parents very often. They cannot bear to think that their children should be lost. They pray for them very earnestly indeed. But if you go to talk with them, they are very tender, and tell you how good their children are, how they respect religion, and they think they are almost Christians now; and so they talk as if they were afraid you would hurt their children if you should tell them the truth. They do not think how such amiable and lovely children are dishonoring God by their sins; they are only thinking what a dreadful thing it will be for them to go to hell. Ah! unless their thoughts rise higher than this, their prayers will never prevail with a holy God.”

“The temptation to selfish motives is so strong, that there is reason to fear a great many parental prayers never rise above the yearnings of parental tenderness. And that is the reason why so many prayers are not heard, and why so many pious, praying parents have ungodly children. Much of the prayer for the heathen world seems to be based on no higher principle than sympathy. Missionary agents, and others, are dwelling almost exclusively upon the six hundred millions of heathens going to hell, while little is said of their dishonoring God. This is a great evil; and until the church have higher motives for prayer and missionary effort than sympathy for the heathen, their prayers and efforts will never amount to much.”

Three Links For Your Consideration

During the 1980s I was greatly blessed by the monthly circular Herald of His Coming and the many articles from classic authors on prayer, revival and sanctification which it contained. I recently checked, and they are now online! The URL is Herald of His Coming.

Another circular which blessed me during those years was Pulpit Helps. The past issues up to December 2009 are now online: Pulpit Helps, but the circular itself has been superseded by Disciple magazine.

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.

“Let’s just get good ol’ Joe to do it . . .”

Some years ago, at a church which had grown for a number of years previously, one of my friends from seminary corroborated my observation that it seemed now like the same people were being asked to take up all the new ministry responsibilities. For example, if they were looking for people to read scriptures during a service, it was from the same group of people they would find the ones to do it. And it seemed that the others who were in attendance and who would have been willing to take up new responsibilities were never even given a chance to know about them. All of a sudden, there would be an announcement that something new had started, and good ol’ Joe, who may have been teaching Sunday School, serving as an elder, singing in the choir or leading an outreach Bible study, had been the one tapped to lead or participate in that something new. So one person is probably being asked to do more than is either wise or within God’s will when others are willing and able to help with the load of ministry.

That church had plateaued at that point. And the same kind of pattern is often found in small churches. The same core of the same people do the same things for years. They decide to try something new, and it’s mainly those from the same core who are tapped to lead and support the new activity, program or outreach. And the new activity, program or outreach dies, and the same people from the same core group of people keep on going with the same kinds of church activities and ministries that they have been doing for years. And there may be people who are in attendance who could but do not participate, support or lead the new activity, program or outreach because they are not given the opportunity, and they may eventually end up leaving the church because they get tired of being treated like spectators, or they feel like people trapped on the outside looking in.

Here’s what I’ve seen happen: when people think of some new kind of activity, ministry or outreach, they may immediately think of someone to fit into the slot. And that person may simply be good ol’ Joe, whom they have known for years. It’s someone they know, may be comfortable with, and may think be capable of the job. But the problem is that they don’t stop, pray and ask God for the right people to fill the position. And then they don’t make the need known beyond the same core group. And if they do, the person is not given a chance to pray and think about it; it’s more like they are being forced into a slot or trapped into something.

So, be careful to pray and be open to the leading of God first. Maybe there’s someone besides Good Ol’ Joe to take that ministry.

Inside the Rex Humbard Prayer Group

During the summers of 1977 and 1978, from May 1979 to August 1980, and from July 1984 to February 1985, I spent usually about 40 hours a week answering a telephone like this: “Rex Humbard Prayer Group, may we help you?”

During that time, perhaps the zenith of the worldwide television ministry of Rex Humbard, his family and associates, there were anywhere from 12 to 20 of us answering the phones for personal prayer requests; it was 24/7 free prayer support available before the phrase 24/7 became fashionable. We had two rooms when I first started there – an office for our supervisor, and a room with desks and telephones for the rest of us. About 1979 we added another desk and another person on the day and evening shifts. We were a combination of middle aged men and women, young men planning on going into ministry, some men already in ministry part time, and others who were bound together by a desire to love and serve God and an unwavering trust in his Word and that he answers prayer. None of us were perfect by any means; some of us had gone through some deep problems in our lives, but what God gave us through those problems was an ability to speak and pray with others who may have been desperate, needy, emotionally hungry, abused, and even suicidal. We noted that often the calls seem to come to the one person on the shift who had gone through something similar and was able to minister to that person from a position of sympathy, understanding and faith.

I generally worked the evening shift – from 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM EST, although sometimes I worked through till midnight, and sometimes I worked days and nights as well. When I first started, we would generally take about 30 calls per shift, and when I left in 1980 to attend seminary we were taking about 45 calls per person. During the summer of 1978 and from 1979-1980, I was shift lead, which simply meant that I started out the group in prayer at the beginning of the shift.

Most of the time we would simply be praying with people for various needs that they had. Many times there were requests for prayer for healing, and for financial needs, and sometimes for the needs of family and friends who were going through serious addictions as well as other problems. Sometimes people who had been drinking would call us, and those kinds of calls could be quite difficult. I do remember one lady who called who was definitely not sober, and we prayed together for her to receive Christ during the call. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but some time later she called back, stone sober, and assured me that she intended to keep on following Christ.

As it worked out, the telephone ministry was an ideal opportunity to witness to other people, and many of us did pray with many others as an expression of repentance and faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. Generally, people who called had some level of spiritual interest already, and usually we would end up explaining the gospel, praying with them for them to receive salvation, and then praying for the need for which they had called. The followup was usually through mail and referral to churches, and we did regularly encourage someone who had professed Christ to start to attend a local Bible believing church and tell the pastor how they had prayed with us.

Wayward, backslidden believers were actually the most difficult people for us to deal with for the most part. The people in the Prayer Group were united in a desire to love and serve God, and it was difficult to have patience and show love to people who were either professing to know Christ or to have known Christ and yet were determined to act in a way contrary to God’s revealed Word. I personally often simply prayed for their requests for God to grant them for his glory (John 14:13) and according to how they were abiding in Christ and following his Word (John 15:7). Usually this was followed by a strained silence, and I would then try to say as lovingly as possible, “God bless you. Good bye.”

I don’t know of any statistics, but from the letters we received almost daily, we did see many, many answers to prayer. I can recall several testimonies of having been healed of cancer, though I know there were more. We always knew that there were more answers than letters, though, because there were times people would call back with more requests and mention that they had received answers to the requests that they had already received.

We never asked anyone who called in at any time for one penny, and I can remember saying several times that we would pray with anyone regardless of whether they were supporting the ministry financially or not, and that they did not need to pay for our prayers. When people would call for financial needs, we would ask them if they were giving to God’s work in some way, simply to know how to pray, since we could easily ask God to provide them sufficiency based on, “Give and it shall be given unto you,” and, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” And I do know for a fact that pretty much everyone in the Prayer Group was supporting God’s work in some way with at least a tithe, since we knew that our own financial responsibility, generosity and obedience were on the line daily.

Though a number of Christian authors – charismatic, evangelical, classic and contemporary – were read by the members of the Prayer Group – often in between calls – the one Book we all agreed upon was the Bible. Though we may have had other translations at home, in ministry we all used the King James Version – not because anyone thought that it was a superior or inspired translation, but because it was the one that we all agreed upon. When we shared the Word of God with others, it was the King James Version that we used. There was a dictionary on hand for anyone who wanted to look up an archaism in the King James Version, but generally no one needed or wanted any special help to understand the older English dialect of that translation. And to this day I still use the promises of God’s Word in which I memorized long ago in the King James Version when I pray with others.

There’s also one artifact from this time which has remained with me – the book Personal Promises From God’s Word. I believe that it was compiled by John Hendricks, who was a veteran pastor on the staff of the Cathedral of Tomorrow and an associate of the Rex Humbard ministry. Over the years, I’ve come back to this book from time to time during times of difficulty. Pretty much the same book, in both King James and New International Versions, has continued to be reprinted since the 1970’s. Both my grandmothers received a copy, and one was buried with her copy. In addition, several years ago I found a large number on sale at a Christian bookstore, bought some, and gave them to the others on the worship team with which I sang. My hope has always been that others would come to know that the God of the Bible is faithful to his promises, and the riches of his compassion and goodness are to be found in the promises which are ‘Yea and Amen’ in Christ.

Few people have known about this part of my life, and I could not speak much about it when I was actually working there because of confidentiality of the requests and needs of people. It was a great disappointment to me that when I went to seminary and into the ministry that this part of my previous experience was pretty much ignored and dismissed, though it was highly relevant as a part of my preparation for ministry. Though in seminary I was known for fluency in Greek and Hebrew (and several did know about the time that I spent often alone in prayer and personal study), few seemed to have any interest in hearing about this part of my life and my past experience. Oh well.

For anyone who is interested, the TCT Christian Television network has recently been replaying some of the Rex Humbard programs from 1977-1979 on Sunday afternoons. These programs may also be accessible through their website.

The Circle of Faith and the Ripples of Praise

Over the years, as I’ve been part of many fellowships, I’ve seen fellow believers calling around frantically for others to pray when there are needs which they feel deeply. Often enough, though, the others who are requested to pray are not really those who are experienced in praying scripturally for others. Sometimes those who are requested to pray may not even be believers.

The remedy that I suggest for the improvement of corporate prayer in the body of Christ is a method which I call The Circle of Faith and Ripples of Praise. It is a method which I have followed for many years without really giving it any special name or even really sharing it with others.

The Circle of Faith are those believers who have agreed and have prayed for the request to God in mutual faith.

  • The members of the Circle of Faith are all believers in Jesus Christ.

    The first reason for this method is seeking for all those in prayer to be on ‘praying ground.’ This means that they are all ‘in Christ’ — regenerate believers who can legitimately claim the promises of God in Jesus Christ. This is not to say that God does not answer the prayer of an unbeliever, but that the covenant promises of answered prayer in the scriptures are addressed to those who are believers. This avoids the problem with those who call those who may not even be believers to join in corporate prayer concerns — they are calling those to agree with them in prayer who do not have the scriptural relationship to be assured of answered prayer.

  • The members of the Circle of Faith are all ‘walking in the light as he is in the light’ (I John 1:7).

    A believer in Christ has the normal condition attached to answered prayer of abiding in Christ (John 15:7) and not harboring intentional, unconfessed sin (Psalm 68:16). This avoids the problem of calling professed believers who may not be walking closely with Christ to join in for corporate prayer concerns. The agreement sought in prayer is not undercut by those whose lives do not meet the scriptural conditions for answered prayer.

  • The members of the Circle of Faith are all agreed on what they are asking God to do.

    Paul in I Timothy 2:1 calls for believers not to dispute with each other as they pray. Moreover, the condition in Matthew 18:19-20 calls for agreement among those in prayer. This avoids the problem of calling those who are not really agreed in what they want to ask God asking God for contradictory things when they are attemptingt to join together in prayer. The basis of the request needs to be the persuasion of all joining in prayer that what they are asking is a scriptural request before God.

  • The members of the Circle of Faith are all asking in faith for what they want God to do.

    This means that all in the Circle of Faith need to fulfill the promise of Mark 11:24. This means that the circle of those praying will be singleminded in faith before God for what they are asking, and not simply several people exemplifying the doublemindedness reproved in James 1:6-8. This addresses the problem of those who may not really be ready to trust God do do what they are all asking. It avoids those who attempt to ‘correct’ and ‘edit’ the prayer of the person who has just prayed, rather than agree.

  • The members of the Circle of Faith are all asking for what they want God to do for the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

    This fulfills the condition of answered prayer from John 14:13. It is the one reason for prayer which those who love God can agree upon: the glory of God.

The Ripples of Praise are the testimonies of God’s answers to prayer which come from the members of the Circle of Faith to others.

  • The Ripples of Praise may be shared with others who are not believers in Jesus Christ as a testimony to the God of the Bible, who hears and answers prayer.

    People of all religions and all denominational backgrounds go through rituals of prayer, but the testimonies of answered prayers from believers show the reality of God to those for whom prayer is simply a ritual or recitation of words.

  • The Ripples of Praise may be shared with others who are not ‘walking in the light as he is in the light’ (I John 1:7) as a testimony to the joy of godliness.

    One of the lies to which the backslidden are in bondage is that their way is ‘practical,’ and that a genuinely godly walk without the compromises that they have fallen into is not. It is the false survival ethic, of living as if God really did not exist, as if he were not faithful to his promises, and as if following him faithfully were not much more rewarding than a compromised life.

  • The Ripples of Praise may be shared with others as a witness to the effectiveness of agreement in prayer.

    One of the tremendous corrections needed to the futility of much ineffective corporate prayer is to demonstrate that true agreement in prayer genuinely receives answers from God.

  • The Ripples of Praise may be shared with others as a witness to the effectiveness of praying in faith.

    Praying in faith often encouraged by example of those who ask and receive from God regularly and who have lived in faith for many years

  • The Ripples of Praise are shared with others as a witness to the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

    Each testimony of answered prayer is ultimately a witness to the glory and grace of God through Jesus Christ, not the spiritual superiority of the person or persons who prayed.

Pray for your pastor!

The following is an article which I wrote in 1985 when I was the pastor of the Flourtown Alliance Church in Flourtown, Pennsylvania.

The great need of the church of Jesus Christ today is Spirit filled leaders: men who have been with God, whom Jesus Christ is transforming, and who are able to impart vision and strong and mature leadership.

Only through prayer can the church receive such men for leadership. Only through prayer can such men be given ministries of spiritual effectiveness. Jesus himself counselled his disciples, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38). Only through prayer can the men already in leadership positions show continued spiritual growth and increasing fruitfulness. The very nature of ministry makes it imperative that a man be called and empowered from God, since “. . . the Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63). The man of God will then be called from a Spirit wrought burden, prepared by the daily living out of the Bible, and taught by the Spirit until he becomes a tested, proved, conscientious disciple whose example can be followed without fear.

Throughout the ages great men of God have sought prayer for church leaders out of their recognition that their own labors would have been fruitless without it. John Wesley once wrote, “How does a praying congregatino strengthen the preacher!” Charles Finney once remarked, “Brethren, if you felt how much ministers need wisdom to perform the duties of their great office with success, and how insufficient they are of themselves, you would pray for them a great deal more than you do; that is, if you cared anything for the success of their labors.” R.A. Torrey once said, “Any church may have a mighty man of God for its pastor, if it is willing to pay the price, and that price is not a big salary but great praying.”

How, then, should one pray for his pastor? He should pray first of all for him to experience the abiding fullness of the Holy Spirit in his life. Apart from the empowering that Jesus Christ imparts, a man of God can do nothing of lasting spiritual value.

Pray for your minister to experience the sanctifying fullness of the Spirit. The example of the messenger especially upholds the credibility of the messenger in the ministry of the Word. Ask that he be purified from ungodly influences and practices, and become himself an example of a transformed, Christlike life.

The vision and burden of the Lord are likewise necessary fro the message of the man of God. Pray that your pastor will acquire a heavenly perspective, that of the Word of God itself. He will then not reinforce men and women in what they already know so that they become complacent in the faith. Rather, he will become one who is able to express the realities of salvation to them, so that they might live in divine direction and comfort.

Seek from God also the empowering of the Spirit for the entire ministry of your pastor, so that he will be effective out of the pulpit as well as in it. Then he will know the direction of the Spirit not only in the preparation and delivery of his sermons, but also in his visitation and even in his casual conversations. The Lord might then open hearts before him for witness and edificatino that otherwise would not be given.

Finally, the minister needs the fullness of the Spirit to become a man of prayer himself. The Spirit of grace and supplication will then teach him how to approach the Father through Jesus Christ in an acceptable fashion. Unless he learns to do this on his own, his own life will become a hindrance to the flow of the Spirit.

The price that the congregation will pay for their pastor’s anointing will be prayer: specific, heartfelt, beliving prayer. The results, though, will more than justify the effort, as men and women come to Christ and are build up in the faith under the leadership of a Spirit filled ministry submissive to Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church.

Jonathan Edwards once said, “If some Christians that have been complaining of their ministers had said and acted less before men and had applied themselves with all their might to cry to God for their ministers — had, as it were, risen and stormed heaven with their humble, fervent and incessant prayers for them — they would have been much more in the way of success.” Could not the people of God in our churches then call a halt to criticism of their pastors — and replace it with prayer?

Church Detox Installment 5: Rebuild and Recharge Praying Together

Generally, when believers pray together, they pray in a large meeting, a small group of a dozen or so or in smaller groups of two to three. Over the years I’ve led a number of prayer meetings and expressed myself to God aloud before others many times. There are some times, though, when I’ve sensed that there are some members of the body of Christ who could use some constructive guidance on praying with others. Here are some ways, though, that a person can avoid being discourteous in the matter of praying together:

  • Understand the purpose of praying together.

    It is not to gather as many believers as possible to pray about something, since God has promised to answer prayer where only two believers are in agreement. Very often, I’ve seen greater answers to prayer where only several are gathered in agreement and trust in God than when some well meaning believers are frantically trying to get as many people as possible to pray for their concerns. The number of believers joined together in prayer most certainly does not put any additional pressure on God if their hearts are not in accord with his will and their prayers are coming more from human anxiety than trust in his love and goodness and seeking his will.

  • Pray to be heard by God and not those around you.

    Address your prayers to God for praise for aspects of God’s character which you truly adore, for thanks for things for which you are truly grateful and for requests on which you really want God’s answers. Corporate prayer is not a time to give announcements or testimonies or to slip the others in the group some concerns you would like them to think about under the guise of praying to God.

  • Remember that God knows all the details already.

    Give no more than a summary of details when expressing praise, thanks or making a request of God. God knows all the details already, and your brothers and sisters in Christ need to know only enough so that they can agree to your prayer before God without misgivings.

  • Pray for one request at a time.

    In the larger groups, spend less time in praying aloud, and generally stick to only one item in your request. You won’t give the impression of monopolizing the prayer time either intentionally or unintentionally if you pray aloud several times for several requests when there are openings rather than one long prayer for several requests.

  • Allow the Holy Spirit to lead and close the meeting.

    Allow others openings to pray, and avoid any rush to start to pray immediately when someone else is finished. A slight pause between people praying is normal, and it’s not ‘dead air’ that someone has to rush to fill. In fact, in those pauses I’ve often felt God speaking to me to pray, and what came from me after taking the time to pause and concentrate on God was a greater blessing and expression of faith than if I had rushed immediately to speak. If a little while passes when no one is praying aloud, and you sense that others are getting fidgety, it’s normally acceptable to close in some way, with a quiet ‘Amen,’ or a short summary prayer. Since it would seem that the Holy Spirit is no longer prompting anyone to pray, it can be pretty much safely concluded that he has called the meeting to an end in this case.

  • Pray in a way which expresses a reverence and trust from the heart.

    It’s generally better to pray more slowly and in a soft spoken manner if that expresses a thoughtful and reverent faith and personal approach to God than in a rush of words or an attempt at eloquence. While some subjects may elicit passionate prayer, most will not. Deep feeling and burdens in prayer may call forth unintentional eloquence before God (see Genesis 17, and Abraham interceding with God for Sodom and Gomorrah), but generally an attempt to sound eloquent as a show before man is not something which is impressive to God.

  • Allow yourself to be a part of God’s answer.

    Sometimes someone may share something for which one of the group might have resources in which he or she could be part of the answer to the prayer, that could be pursued after the meeting. It’s generally best to pray silently during the meeting and request guidance as to whether God would have you to help. Then, if you sense his ‘yes,’ ask quietly after the meeting whether your help would be welcome. If the person sharing the request refuses your help, respect that refusal. After all, that person was requesting God’s answer, and wasn’t intending to give anyone else an opening to interfere or impose their answers instead of God’s answers.

  • Gently suggest counseling if you suspect that is needed.

    If there is a problem which is shared which might call for counseling, a quiet inquiry after the meeting as to whether the person who shared that concern is receiving counseling is appropriate. If not, it could be suggested, but it would be inappropriate to be too insistent. Rather, make it a matter of prayer yourself that that person would see his or her need of the scriptural wisdom of fellow believers in the body of Christ, if God agrees that there is a need there.

  • Keep prayer requests within the circle of those who are there and praying.

    Keep requests for prayer within the group, especially if it deals with matters which are personal or should be kept confidential, such as problems within a family. Generally avoid taking prayer requests from one prayer meeting and sharing them in another prayer meeting, unless the entire matter is also known to and a real concern of the others in the next prayer meeting. This will help to avoid the tendency among believers to ‘share prayer requests’ simply as a form of sanctified gossip.

  • Respect what others pray for and the way that they may pray.

    Do not attempt to amend, correct or contradict someone else’s prayers before God. Answered prayer is promised to agreement among believers. If you are uncomfortable with what someone is asking, ask yourself whether you could see Jesus requesting that very same thing from the Father. If you are uncomfortable with the style of someone’s praying, you may need to ask yourself what it is that makes you uncomfortable. If it seems like that person is praying with genuine trust in God, it may well be something within your own heart that needs some dealing before God

  • Take the burdens from others and lift them to God.

    When others reveal the depths of their hearts and often their pain, there can sometimes be too great a sympathy with them, so that we take on their pain and their burdens, instead of lifting them to God. The difference is this: is the burden left with God when prayer is concluded?

The times that we pray together are a special time that we can be the body of Christ together. They can be a time where our lips can be the lips of Jesus to express the prayers that he would pray for our brothers and sisters if he were in our place. So with that reverent understanding of our responsibility let us take care to conduct ourselves courteously, compassionately and reverently in our times of prayer together.