Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 4

14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.’ ” John 11:14-15

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44) why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. We have learned that the Lord does this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

The fourth reason the Lord may delay His answers to our prayers is to DEVELOP OUR FAITH IN HIM (John 11:11-16). “These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ ” (John 11:11). The Lord Jesus views Lazarus’ death as “sleep” because from His divine perspective, death is harmless and hopeful. When Jesus said, “I may wake him up,” He was referring to when He would raise Lazarus from the dead. Since the coming of Christ, the death of a believer is regularly called “sleep” (cf. Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Dead Christians are asleep not in the sense of an unconscious “soul sleep,” but in the sense that their bodies appear to be sleeping.

But the disciples did not understand Jesus. “Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ ” (John 11:12). The disciples misunderstand Christ and think He is speaking of natural sleep. “Why risk Your life, Lord, to arouse a man from a night’s sleep especially if he is on his way to recovery?!”

“However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.” (John 11:13). Death is not a state of unconsciousness or “soul sleep” as some teach. When believers in Jesus die, they go directly and consciously into the presence of the Lord Jesus (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-24). Their physical bodies are asleep in the grave (cf. John 11:11-14), but their spirit and soul have gone to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-24; Revelation 6:9; 20:4; cf. Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).

This is why Paul writes, 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Paul refers to death as his spirit and soul being “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” in heaven (5:8). There is no intermediate existence. We are either “at home in the body” (5:6) or “present with the Lord” (5:8). There is no mention of some other kind of existence in between being at home in the body or present with the Lord.

In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul writes, 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” For Paul, death “is gain” because he (his spirit/soul) will “depart and be with Christ, which is far better” than living “on in the flesh.” Where is Christ right now? He is in heaven at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrew 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; I Peter 3:22) as are all believers in Jesus who have died (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-24).

“Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’ ” (John 11:14). The Lord “plainly tells His disciples that “Lazarus is dead. But then Jesus says something that is very shocking. “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” (John 11:15). Christ says He was glad He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death! What is there to be glad about in Lazarus’ death or anyone’s death for that matter?!

When Jesus said he was glad for the disciples’ sake that He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death, “that you may believe,” He was not talking about their salvation. His disciples had already believed in Christ for everlasting life (cf. John 1:35-51; 2:11; 6:69). Jesus’ joy is for the disciples’ faith which would be strengthened when they would behold Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. What would the disciples’ faith have been like if they did not witness the raising of Lazarus? Their faith would lack content. And they would have less courage when they would face life-threatening situations.

God allows disappointment in our lives to strengthen our faith. We look at other people and think, Lord, how can You do this with this type of person? How can You do the impossible? Death is final! How about people we do not think God can change? We may have doubts about God changing a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a neighbor. We may even doubt that the Lord can change us! But God can make a difference!

Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’ ” (John 11:16). Thomas looked death in the face and chose death with Jesus rather than life without Him! This is not the kind of commitment or courage we may have expected from this doubting disciple. Thomas’ comment, “that we may die with Him,” is intriguing because history tells us that eventually all but one of Jesus’ disciples would die a martyr’s death for their Lord.

Even though Thomas expressed great courage and confidence now, he would express doubt over Jesus’s resurrection later (cf. John 20:24-29). But for now, he was ready to die with Jesus! This tells us that those who are spiritually confident today may find themselves in the depths of despair and doubt tomorrow.

What about you? Are you willing to face death with Jesus rather than life without Him? Are you willing to follow Christ no matter what the cost? When people ridicule you or mistreat you, or even threaten to kill you, will you still follow Jesus? Thomas expressed this kind of commitment now even though he did not know for sure how safe or unsafe he would be going up to Judea again. When non-Christians encounter this kind of courage among believers, it can cause them to consider their own eternal destiny.

Paul alludes to this in Philippians 1:27-28: “27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.” This kind of boldness in the presence of one’s enemies assures the believer that his message his true and proves to his opponents that their defeat is certain.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when You delayed Your coming to Martha and Mary, You were wanting to strengthen the faith of Your disciples and all who would witness what You were going to do at Lazarus’ grave. It may be difficult for us to understand this at the time of our own disappointment and loss. But You do not waste our fears and pain. You want to transform our anger into acceptance, our fear into faith, our grief into gladness, and our despair into hope through Your resurrection power. The more convinced we are of this resurrection power, the more courage we will have to face those who oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ. This boldness before our enemies assures us that Your message is true and it proves to our enemies that their defeat is certain. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for this assurance You give us when our trust is in You. In Your powerful name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 3

“Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.’ ” John 11:9

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44) why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. So far we have learned the Lord does this to display more of His glory (John 11:1-4) and to declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6). Today we learn the Lord also delays His answers to our prayers to DEEPEN OUR SENSITIVITY TO HIS WILL (John 11:7-10).

John tells us, after waiting two days, Jesus wanted to return to Bethany of Judea where His life would be in danger. “The disciples said to Him, ‘Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?’ ” (John 11:8). The disciples are saying, “Are you serious, Lord?! You were just there and they attempted to kill you! It would be suicide to go back there now!”

While we can understand their concern for the Lord, the disciples apparently had not noticed that a lot of people were having difficulty seizing Jesus (cf. John 7:30-32, 44-46; 8:20; 10:39). The Son of God – not the angry religious leaders—was in control over His ministry timetable. In all honesty, the disciples were not as concerned about Jesus’ safety as they were their own.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We are no different than the disciples when the Lord’s way is not our way. Especially when He asks us to do something risky. We try to rationalize and avoid what He is asking us to do. How many of us have had God ask us to do something risky and immediately we complain or try to convince ourselves that we cannot do it? “It is not logical or realistic!” we tell ourselves. But God asks us to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9-10). Jesus told His disciples that “the day” – the time of His public ministry on earth – was the opportunity for action. While Jesus, “the light of this world,” was with them, they could walk and “not stumble” (John 11:9). Later, they would have the light of the Holy Spirit’s presence (John 14:16-18, 26; 15:26; 16:13-15). But to function apart from Jesus is like walking around at night (John 11:10). Operating without His guidance and illumination will cause us to trip and fall on our face.

If you walk during the day while the sun is shining you won’t stumble because you can see the obstacles and avoid running into them. If you walk at night, you are more likely to stumble because you cannot see the obstacles. If you walk in the light of God’s will, you will not stumble. But if you walk in the darkness against God’s will, you will trip yourself up.

Jesus was saying He could safely return to Judea if He was walking in the light of His Father’s will. No harm would come to Him until the Father’s appointed hour. And if His disciples go with Him, who is the Light, they will not be in any danger either.

The Lord may delay His answers to our prayers to teach us to be more sensitive to His will. Jesus was teaching His fearful disciples a lesson about walking in the light of God’s will. When they follow Jesus, Who is the Light, they will be safe in the Father’s will and love. But to turn away from the Father’s will and love, invites all kinds of trouble. Likewise, when we walk in darkness and do things our way instead of God’s way, we get into all kinds of problems. But if we walk in the light of God’s Word and love, we will grow closer to Him and He will reveal His glory to us.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for allowing situations to get worse after I pray about them to nudge me closer to You and Your love. When I feel out of control, I often try to be in control to give myself a sense of feeling safe. I seek to do things my way as if that gives me a greater sense of control. Yet this often leads to isolation and more pain. Lord, I want to learn to yield to Your control when I feel out of control because it is then that I am most safe. Thank You for helping me to recognize this so I can turn this area of my life over to You. Walking in the light of Your love dispels the darkness that can so easily overwhelm me when I feel out of control. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to get worse after we pray about it? Part 2

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:5

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign recorded in John’s gospel (John 11:1-44) why the Lord allows a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? The first reason is to display more of His glory (John 11:1-4). Raising Lazarus from the dead would bring more glory to Jesus than raising him from his sickbed. We see today that the second reason for Jesus’ delayed response to our prayers is to DECLARE HIS LOVE TOWARD US (John 11:5-6). This may sound strange to us at first, but let’s listen to what the Bible says in these verses. John reminds his readers that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5). The word “loved” (agapáō) means to choose to do what is best for another person. Christ wanted to do what was best for this family. This may seem hard to believe when we look at what Jesus does next.

“So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” (John 11:6). If Jesus loved this family, why would He wait two more days before going to help them? We must keep verses five and six together. Christ delayed His going to them because He did love them and wanted to do what was best for them in God’s eyes. From Mary and Martha’s perspective, Jesus needed to move faster – “Hurry up, Lord, our brother may die!” But Jesus says, “Slow down and do this My way.”

From this we learn that God’s love may delay His answers to our prayers in ways that we cannot understand at that time. Mary and Martha had no idea what Jesus was going to do when He would come to them later. I’m sure it did not feel like Jesus loved them or Lazarus when He delayed His coming. Perhaps Mary and Martha’s distress over Lazarus’ suffering caused them to forget that death was no obstacle for Jesus. Christ could raise Lazarus from the dead with no more effort than it would take Him to raise Lazarus from his sickbed. Christ delayed His coming because He did love this family. Waiting until Lazarus was dead for a few days would enable Jesus to reveal His love in a deeper and more powerful way to them. While Jesus’ absence caused Lazarus’ death, his death caused his resurrection, and the glory of God was manifested and many people believed in Jesus (cf. John 11:43-45)!

When the Lord does not answer our prayers right away, remember that this does not mean He loves us less. It means He loves you more and knows what is best for you. The apostle Paul reminds us, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39). No one and nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, including our feelings. Just because I do not “feel” the Lord’s love during difficult times, does not change His love for me.

For example, when I am standing in our living room at night amidst our furniture which my wife has beautifully arranged, I then turn off the light so I cannot see the furniture. Does that mean the furniture is not there? Of course not. Just because my eyes and feelings tell me there is no furniture in front of me does not change the truth of the furniture’s existence. God’s inseparable love for us is the same way. Our senses do not always detect what is true. They can be fooled. This is why God calls us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith enables us to experience God’s love when our senses tell us the opposite.

Sometimes we can misinterpret difficulties in our lives as God’s attempt to punish us. Some of us may be running from God right now because of this assumption. For example, “some time back, newspapers carried the story of a young fellow named William who was a fugitive from the police. The teenager had run away with his girlfriend because the parents had been trying to break them up. What William did not know was that an ailment he had been seeing the doctor about was diagnosed just after his disappearance. It was cancer.

“Here was William, doing his best to elude the police, lest he lose his love, while they were doing their best to find him, lest he lose his life. He thought they were after him to punish him; they were really after him to save him.” (Howard Hendricks, Don’t Fake It, Say It with Love).

God is not out to punish us when He permits a situation to get worse after we pray to Him. He loves us and He wants to show Himself to us in deeper and more powerful ways. Don’t run from the Person Who loves you and wants to rescue you. Let Him find you and hold you in His arms.

Prayer: Father God, it is easy for us to quickly assume that You do not love us when bad things happen to us or to those we care about. Thank You for reminding us today that You allow those You love to suffer. After all, You allowed Your only begotten Son Whom You have always loved, to suffer in our place on a cross. Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his family led Him to delay His coming to them so they could discover His love in deeper and more powerful ways. Christ’s absence caused Lazarus’ death, but his death caused his resurrection which would manifest God’s glory so many would believe in Him. Father, when You are absent, we can seek You by faith. Please help us to walk this life on earth by faith and not by sight so we can experience Your love even when it is contrary to our senses. Hold us in Your arms of everlasting mercy when this life does not make sense to us. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to get worse after we pray about it? Part 1

“When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” John 11:4

In recent months all of us have been reminded that life is short. As of today (September 21, 2020), there have been over 961,000 confirmed COVID-related deaths in the world with over 31 million cases. 1  Since January 1, 2020, there have been over 30,826,000 unborn babies murdered in the world through abortion procedures. 2 These statistics alone are alarming.

On a more personal note, when we were living in the Philippines, fifteen college students died in a bus crash in Tanay, Rizal in February 2017. A few months after that, a Korean pastor was murdered near our subdivision when he confronted a thief breaking into his home.

It is normal for us as human beings to ask “Why?” Why has God allowed so many lives to be lost through the global pandemic? Why does He permit innocent babies to be killed before they begin to live outside the womb? How can He allow such young people to suddenly die in a bus crash? Why does He permit someone who accomplishes so much good to be murdered by a thief? I believe it is okay to ask these kinds of questions. God is not disturbed by such questioning because He knows it will foster growth.

Another question that comes to my mind as I ponder these deaths is, “Why does God sometimes allow situations to get worse after we pray about them?” Why does our spouse or child who is sick, become sicker after we ask the Lord for their healing? Why does our job situation become worse after we plead with the Lord to make it better? Why does that unresolved conflict worsen after we beg the Lord to help us resolve it? Doesn’t God care? Doesn’t He hear us?

These kinds of thoughts probably raced through the minds of two of Christ’s dear friends when Jesus allowed the situation they faced to become worse after they asked for His help. From these verses in John 11, we will discover several reasons why the Lord sometimes allows a situation to become worse after we pray about it. Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it?

The first reason is to DISPLAY MORE OF HIS GLORY (John 11:1-4). Because the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus in Judea, He went beyond the Jordan to Bethany of Perea (John 10:40; cf. 1:28). During this time, a tragedy fell on a household at Bethany, a small village located about two miles southeast of Jerusalem. This is not the same Bethany where Jesus was currently staying on the east side of the Jordan River. This household had often given Jesus hospitality when He was in Judea.

“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.” (John 11:1). John records just how close Jesus was to this family in the next verse. “It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” (John 11:2). These were not casual acquaintances. They knew and loved each other very much. This is why the sisters sent for Jesus. “Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ ” (John 11:3). This sickness must have been very serious since they called for Jesus to return to the area. The sisters assume Jesus would come right away when He heard that their brother, Lazarus, was sick because Jesus loved him.

When a godly Christian became seriously ill, several friends gathered around his bedside to ask God to restore him. The last one to pray spoke of the faithful service of this man, and concluded his prayer by saying, “Lord, You know how he loves You.” After a moment of silence the sick believer said to him, “I know you meant well, but please don’t plead for my recovery on that basis. When Lazarus was ill, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, but their request was not based on his affection for Christ. They said, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ It’s not my weak and faltering allegiance to Him that calls forth His attention, but His perfect love for me that is my constant strength and hope.” 3

Mary and Martha’s plea for Jesus to come heal their brother was based upon Jesus’ love for Lazarus, not Lazarus’ love for Christ. From the perspective of the two sisters, “If you love someone, you will drop what you are doing and come to his aid.” But look at Jesus’ response. “When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” (John 11:4). Jesus did not view Lazarus’ sickness as a crisis. He did not see the final outcome of Lazarus’ illness to be death. Instead, He saw it as an opportunity to display God’s glory. Lazarus’ illness was not because of a specific sin in his life or a lack of faith, but because it was going to be used to reveal God’s glory as the “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).

If someone thinks that a Christian walking with the Lord cannot become ill or contract a disease, that person is either ignorant of the truth or just downright wrong! Lazarus’ sickness was not a means of punishment nor a sign of rebellion. Instead, his illness had a higher purpose.

Think about it. What would bring God more glory – to heal Lazarus or to resurrect him? What would lead more people to believe in Jesus – to raise a living person from his sickbed or a dead person from his grave? One of the reasons God may allow a situation to get worse in our lives is to bring Him more glory when He answers our prayers. Sometimes God makes us wait until it seems that the answers to our prayers are impossible so that He gets more glory!

Our tendency is to think that God does not care about us when He does not answer our prayers immediately. But the truth is we do not often understand His timing and purpose because His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). What He asks of us during these times is that we trust Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your ways and Your thoughts are so much higher than mine. I cannot understand Your timing and purposes much of the time. But this does not mean I cannot trust You when I face difficult times. I truly believe that You allow situations to grow worse even after we pray about it so You can display Your glory in greater ways. You demonstrated this by permitting Lazarus’ situation to grow worse so You could reveal Your Person and Power in a greater and more meaningful way. Even now, as more people die of COVID or other causes, more people will begin to think about their need for You and fall on their knees begging You for mercy. Lord, the Scriptures clearly tell me that You are still on Your throne when bad things happen on earth. Your purposes are still being fulfilled. The Bible is still true when it says with God all things are possible. Please continue to use the bad things in the world to get peoples’ attention so they can believe You are the Resurrection and the Life, Who guarantees a future resurrection and never ending life to all who believe in You. In Your powerful name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths#what-is-the-total-number-of-confirmed-deaths

2. https://www.worldometers.info/abortions/

3. Dave Branon, Hymns: 90 Devotions From Our Daily Bread, “His Love Not Ours.”

I AM A BLESSED CHILD OF A GOOD AND GENEROUS FATHER

“7 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Matthew 7:7-11

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my father and mother gave me a very special and unexpected gift at Christmas. My father painstakingly built a miniature Noah’s ark out of wood and my mother hand-stitched stuffed animals to place in the ark. It wasn’t until I was much older that I came to appreciate how much of a labor of love this must have been for them to carefully construct and create such a wonderful gift. We did not have a lot of money in those days, so they used what they had to express their love for me.

As I write this article, I am wondering how many children today have parents who are basically good and generous to bestow good gifts upon them? I also wonder how many people in Jesus’ audience in Matthew 5-7 had experienced the goodness and generosity of their earthly fathers when it comes to the bestowal of good gifts upon them? Before I get ahead of myself, let’s back up to this scene on a mountainside where Jesus was teaching His disciples surrounded by a multitude of people (Matthew 5:1-2).

Christ had just talked to His disciples about sharing the good news of His Kingdom with unbelievers. He compared their unbelieving audience to “dogs” and “pigs” (7:6). Pigs in Jesus’ day were unclean, wild, and vicious animals. Likewise, the dogs in that day were not domestic pets like we have today. They were also unclean, wild, and despised. Jesus warns His messengers that unbelieving people may respond to the good news of the Kingdom like pigs that “trample under their feet” the “pearls” thrown before them or like dogs who “turn and tear you in pieces” when you give them special gifts (7:6b). Christ is cautioning His messengers to be discerning when sharing the good news of His Kingdom with a lost world. Some people will reject their message and turn against them. Therefore, they must be wise about approaching hard-hearted people and rely on the Holy Spirit to prepare those people before sharing more of the message with them (cf. John 16:8-11).

It is in this context that Jesus instructs His followers to pray to their heavenly Father Who is the exact opposite of their persecutors. Christ says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (7:7). The words “ask” (aiteō), “seek” (zēteō), and “knock” (krouō) are all present imperatives which would be translated – “keep on asking … seeking … and knocking.” Do not give up no matter how strong the opposition. Jesus is saying to “ask” your Father in heaven for what you need. “Seek” your Father for what you need. “Knock” on the door of Your Father’s house so He will open and give you what you need. God has a huge storehouse of blessings in heaven to give you, but you must ask Him for them to receive them. And these blessings are not necessarily monetary. They may be in the form of favor with those you witness to. He may bless you with protection or boldness as you share the gospel with the unsaved. He may give you assurance when you are plagued with doubts or security when you feel extremely vulnerable.

Christ emphasizes the certain results of persisting in prayer, “Ask, and it WILL BE GIVEN to you; seek, and you WILL FIND; knock, and IT WILL BE OPENED to you. For everyone who asks RECEIVES, and he who seeks FINDS, and to him who knocks IT WILL BE OPENED” (7:7-8). There is no doubt in Jesus’ mind that persistent prayer “WILL BE” answered. His promise allows no room for uncertainty. He does not say they “might be” or “may be” answered. He says they “WILL BE” answered! Why is Jesus so certain of answered prayer? Is it because of our performance or godliness? Our worthiness? Not at all. It it because of the character of our heavenly Father.

Jesus asks His audience, “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent” (7:9-10)? As I read these verses,I wondered if Jesus may have paused for a few seconds after He asked these questions to scan the faces of His audience. Might there have been some faces that winced in pain? Faces that were covered with confusion because they did not have a father who was there to meet their needs? Or if their father was there, he did not give them wholesome (“bread”) or nutritious (“fish”) food for them to enjoy. Instead he used his resources to buy things to medicate his own pain such as alcohol or a prostitute.

Some of you reading this article may be fatherless. You did not have an earthly father who displayed any degree of goodness and generosity towards you. This has left you with deep father wounds in your soul. The idea of a loving and generous father seems foreign to your thoughts and experiences. It is difficult for you to approach your Father in heaven with any sort of expectancy that He will hear or answer your prayers.

Whether our earthly fathers were good and generous or not, Jesus wants His followers to know that their heavenly Father exceeds the goodness and generosity any decent father on earth displayed. Jesus turns to look at the fathers in His audience and He says to them, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (7:11)! Jesus’ point is if our selfish and self-absorbed (“evil”) earthly fathers did not give disappointing (“rock”) or dangerous (“serpent”) gifts when asked for what is wholesome (“bread”) and nutritious (“fish”), how much more will our Father in heaven Who is perfect in goodness and generosity, “give good things to those who ask Him?” (7:11b).

This is why He encourages us to persist in “asking … seeking … and knocking.” Not because of our goodness, but because of the good and loving nature of our Father Who is in heaven. He delights in giving His children good gifts.

Notice the phrase “your Father in heaven” (7:11). Before you can pray like this, you must know God as your Father. Not know about Him, but know Him personally. How? The Bible says, “If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin…” (Galatians 3:21-22a NLT). We cannot become God’s child by obeying God’s laws. God’s laws actually reveal our sinfulness and that we are slaves of sin. No matter how much good you have done, you are still a sinner. You fall short of God’s standard of perfection and deserve to be punished. When we realize we cannot save ourselves from sin, then we will be more open to receiving the promise of eternal life through faith in Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6).

“So we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ… For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:22b, 26 NLT). To know God as your Father requires faith in Jesus Christ. For example, just as you trust a chair to hold you up through no effort of your own, so you must trust Christ, through no effort of your own, to give you everlasting life. Once you do, it does not matter when Jesus returns, you will have a home in heaven with Him. You won’t have to panic when some preacher starts predicting the end of the world because you have the assurance you will live with Jesus forever because of your faith in His promise to give eternal life to whoever believes in Him (John 3:16).

Child of God, if you are not asking your Father in heaven to give you good things you are living below average!But when you ask the Father for more and more blessings, you are asking Him to engage in one of His favorite activities. After all, God loves to give and He has a storehouse full of blessings to give you, but You must ask Him for them. When we ask our Father in heaven to bless us, we step forward into another life. And as God blesses us, He wants us to share those blessings with others.

Prayer: Loving Father in heaven, when I awake in the morning, it is with eagerness that I enter into Your presence to soak up Your goodness and grace towards me through Jesus Christ. So many things on earth have distorted my perception of You as my Father in heaven, but I am learning to trust what You say about Yourself in the Bible. I need Your grace to renew my mind in such a way that I may see You as You truly are – a good and loving Father Who delights in lavishing His children with good and perfect gifts from above. It is a fairly new thought for me to think that when I ask You to bless me, I am asking You to engage in one of Your favorite activities. With Your help Father, I am committed to persevering in prayer knowing that You are perfect in goodness and grace. You delight in lavishing me with Your many blessings. Please lead me to the people You want me to share Your blessings with. Oh, how I praise You for being my Father in heaven! And I thank You for loving me more than I ever thought possible. I look forward to talking with You again. With much love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

I can come boldly into God’s presence

“In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” Ephesians 3:12

Is it difficult for you to draw near to God in prayer, especially after you have sinned? Do you perceive God to be too distant or unloving to approach Him with your problems? Does the thought of talking to God scare you? If so, listen to what God’s Word tells us in Ephesians 3:12:

“In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him” (3:12).

The moment we believe in Jesus Christ for salvation from hell we are placed “in Christ” (Ephes. 1:13-14; 2:8-9). This phrase “in Christ/Him” refers to how God sees us. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, the apostle Paul has been focusing on how God sees us after we come to faith in Jesus. In our last lesson we learned that “the mystery of Christ” refers to the equality of Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ which had not been revealed previously in the Old Testament (Ephes. 3:1-6).

As a member of Christ’s body, the church, I can approach God’s throne room in prayer with “boldness” and “confidence.” The word “boldness” (parresia) literally means “all” (pa) “speech” (rhesis) or freedom to say all. It conveys an attitude of openness that comes from freedom and a lack of fear. The word “confidence” (pepoithesis) refers to being persuaded that God is Someone I can fully trust and rely upon, much like the confidence that a beloved child has towards his gracious and loving father.

As a forgiven and saved sinner through “faith in” Christ (Ephes. 3:12; cf. 1:7; 2:8-9), I can approach God without any doubts, fear, or hesitancy, wondering if God will welcome me into His throne room. This bold approach to God is not based on any achievements or feelings of my own, but upon the finished work of Christ whereby He paid the full penalty for all my sins when He died in my place on the cross (John 19:30; I Cor. 15:3-4; Col. 2:13-14).

If I lack boldness approaching God in prayer, it could be because I have looked to my own efforts or feelings instead of Christ’s sufficient sacrifice for my sins. If I doubt or disbelieve that all my sins are forgiven and that I am totally accepted by God based on what Christ has done, I will have less boldness in prayer.

But what a wonderful privilege we have as God’s beloved children to take our troubles, our problems, our loneliness, our sadness, and our fears to our gracious and all-wise Father in heaven. This is all possible because of Christ’s finished work on the Cross.

Have you ever had a friend who knew a very famous and distinguished person? You would never have any right to enter that famous person’s presence were it not for your friend’s relationship with that person. This is what our Savior, Jesus Christ, does for us with the most distinguished Person in the universe – Almighty Father God! In the presence of our faithful Friend, Jesus Christ, there is always an open door into God’s throne room.

Prayer: Gracious Father in heaven, thank You for reminding me that I am always welcome to come into Your throne room because I am totally accepted and forgiven through faith in Your only perfect Son, Jesus Christ. Please remove the lies that keep me from approaching Your throne of grace without fear or hesitation. You are for me and not against me as demonstrated by giving me Your best when I was at my worst. I am still amazed by Your outrageous love for me which motivates me to know You more intimately and to make You more well known to a lost and perishing world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

I now have instant access to God

I HAVE INSTANT ACCESS TO GOD

“For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:18

Do you ever get frustrated with artificial intelligence? You call a customer service phone number and talk to a computer that mimics the cognitive functions of human beings? After pushing several buttons and being placed on hold, you are finally able to talk to a live person. Thankfully, Christians do not have to worry about such delays when it comes to talking to God in prayer.

After addressing how Jesus reconciled Jews and Gentiles to one another and to God through the Cross (Ephes. 2:14-16), the apostle Paul focuses on their equality before God. He writes, “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephes. 2:18). Both Jewish and Gentile believers have direct “access” to God “the Father” through Jesus’ death on the Cross.

Before the Cross, access to God was through Judaism, but now access is “through” Christ by the Holy “Spirit” for all who believe in Jesus for salvation regardless of culture or background. The word “access” (prosagōgḗ) means to “come towards (near) and have intimate (face-to-face) interaction” with God.

Imagine trying to make an appointment with the President of the United States of America. You telephone the White House, tell them who you are and that you would like to make an appointment. Then the questions bombarb you: “Who are you? Where are you from? What is the nature of your inquiry? Can anyone else help you? He’s very busy.” “I know he’s busy …”

But if the President’s son calls him, that’s not the kind of response he will get. It will be, “Oh yes, I’ll put you right through.” His kids can ring up and just say, “Hey, dad, I’ll be there in 5 minutes. I’m gonna pop in and see ya.” They can walk right past the security guards and secretary into their father’s oval office because they are children of the world’s most powerful leader.

That’s the kind of access we have with God. This is such a magnificent privilege for all Christians. We do not need to go to God through a priest, a pastor, or some other spiritual leader. All believers in Jesus can approach God directly now as His children because Jesus’ shed blood removed the barrier between us and God. We can now enter God’s throne room in heaven through prayer anytime, anywhere, about anything. No one can keep us from entering God’s presence, and nothing can keep God from answering our prayers.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the direct access I now have into Your presence in heaven through the shed blood of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You for the Holy Spirit who enables me to go to You in prayer at anytime about anything. No one can keep me from approaching You in prayer and nothing can keep You from answering my prayers. This is such an awesome privilege that I do not want to take it for granted. I look forward to our next conversation soon. I love You PaPa. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Overcoming incredible odds

15 Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s… 17 You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.” 2 Chronicles 2o:15, 17

When King Jehoshaphat and Judah were surrounded by a great multitude of enemies from Ammon and Moab and others with them in what seemed to be certain defeat, Jehoshaphat “set himself to seek the Lord and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” and all the people “came to seek the Lord” (20:3-4). As Jehoshaphat turned to the Lord in prayer, he focused on the supremacy and ability of God to meet them and deliver them in the midst of their national crisis (20:6-12). He confessed his and Judah’s inability to overcome these great odds against them, yet he said to the Lord, “but our eyes are upon You” (20:12b).

The Lord told the king and all of Judah not to “be afraid” because “the battle is not yours, but God’s” (20:15). God assured them that they would “not need to fight in this battle” (20:17a) because it was His. Their responsibility was to “position themselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you” (20:17b). God’s responsibility was to do the fighting in this battle.

Has God ever lost a battle? No, of course not! He never loses. He has a 100% success rate. He bats a 1000. He always wins when He fights against an enemy. The question is, “Will we let Him fight for us?” Will we turn the battle we are facing over to Him?

How did Jehoshaphat position the people to watch God fight for them? Instead of taking up military weapons, he put the choir in front of his army to “sing to the Lord, and … praise the beauty of holiness, …saying: ‘Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever’ ” (20:21). As they sang praises to the Lord, “the LORD set ambushes against the people” who came against them and “they were defeated” (20:22). When God heard their praise in the midst of this crisis, He responded to their circumstances and brought them victory.

What battles are you facing right now that seem hopeless? Is the battle in your marriage or family? Your job or school? Your finances? Your health? Your witness for Christ? A habitual sin? God says it is now His battle in your marriage or family. It is His battle at your job or school. It is His battle with your finances or your witness for Christ. It is His battle with your habitual sin.

The Lord says to lay down your weapons (e.g. your anger, clever words, manipulation, obsessing, running, worrying, etc.) and trust Him to fight this battle for you. Put yourself in a position to see God work. Instead of trying harder, be still and trust Him to work on your behalf. Instead of working harder, watch Him fight for you. He is already at work to bring victory.

Then praise Him for what He will do. You may say,“I will praise God after He answers my prayer.” If you wait to praise God until after He answers, is that faith? No. Anyone can thank God after the fact. Faith is thanking God in advance, praising Him in advance that the odds will be overcome, that the solution will arrive, that the miracle will take place. When we start to thank God in advance for what He is going to do, we are going to see some very amazing things happen.

Prayer: Almighty God, I want to acknowledge that the battles I am facing right now are far beyond my ability to overcome them. Right now I want to tune into You, Lord, and see these battles from Your point of view. I know that nothing is impossible with You. You have helped me so much in the past and now I am trusting You to help me now. I am handing these battles over to You to fight. They are now Yours, not mine. I am laying down my weapons and trusting You to win this battle for me. Much of the battle is within me. I am my biggest problem. Please change me wherever You need to. Lord Jesus, I want to thank You in advance for the victory You are going to win. Thank You that I can trust You to do what I never could. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can we silence our condemning hearts when we pray?

20 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” I John 3:20-22

The apostle John has just finished talking about how practical acts of love can give believers assurance that they “are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before Him” in prayer (3:17-19). But sometimes when we kneel before the Lord in prayer, we may feel like failures trying to love one another compared to how Jesus has loved us without limitations. We may have a sensitive conscience that condemns us for having done too little, or for not making up for past failures. Our sinful flesh may even suspect ourselves of impure or unworthy motives when we try to love others. This kind of self-condemnation can lead us to think that God could never answer our prayers. No doubt, Satan, who is the accuser of believers (Rev. 12:10), is happy to see Christians approaching God in prayer with a condemning heart that lacks the assurance that God will answer their prayers. He knows if this is not addressed, shame will set in and isolate the believer from God and others.

John counters a self-condemning heart by reminding us that “God is greater than our heart” (3:20a) which may forget how we have loved “in deed and in truth” (3:18) in the past. But what our heart does not take into account, God, who “knows all things” does take into account (3:20b). God remembers the times we have loved others even though our hearts may be inclined to ignore this. During these times when our hearts condemn us, we need to speak the truth to our hearts and assure them that “God is greater than our hearts” in that He “knows all” about how we have loved others in the past. So when we approach God’s throne of grace in prayer (Heb. 4:15-16), John wants us to remember that God takes into account (even if our heart does not) “all” that we have done for Him in love.

When we come before God in prayer with a heart which “does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (3:21). The word “confidence” (parrēsia) refers to freedom to speak, boldness, or fearless confidence before God when we pray.

John goes on to say that we can have a more confident and effective prayer life when “we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (3:22). Just as an earthly father has great delight in the obedience of his children, so too, does our heavenly Father as well. He loves to answer the prayers of His obedient children who ask for what pleases Him.

Dr. Tony Evans tells the story of being in Columbia S.C. to preach at a crusade at the University of South Carolina’s football stadium. Twenty-five thousand people had gathered for the evening session, but news reports indicated a serious thunderstorm was on the way. In fact, the storm was expected to hit at 7:00 pm—the exact time the meeting was scheduled to start.

When the sky grew darker and darker, the organizers didn’t know what to do at first. Eventually, they called a prayer meeting. When the preachers and other Christian leaders came together, Tony says that all the preachers prayed “safe prayers” – prayers where God would look good either way it went. Lots of comments about the Lord’s will and so forth. Then, a short little woman named Linda spoke up, asking, “Do you mind if I pray?” Linda’s prayer went something like this:

“Lord, Your name is at stake. We told these people if they would come, they would hear a word from God. If they come, and it rains, and You control the weather, then You look bad… because we told them that You wanted to say something to them. Therefore right now I command You, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to stop the rain for the sake of Your name!” The preachers opened one eye and started looking at one another and said, “Whoah!”

Everyone took their places under the dark, threatening sky. The leader of the crusade told the people, “We will go as long as we can.” Umbrellas sprouted up among the crowd. Linda was on the stage and a man next to her opened his umbrella and offered to shield her as well. Linda said, “That’s okay. I don’t need it.”

Tony says he and his wife watched as the rain clouds came up to the stadium and then split in two. The storm rained on both sides of the stadium and came back together on the other side. All of those gathered for the crusade stayed dry. They all witnessed a miracle!

When we focus on the fact that God is greater than our condemning hearts and He answers those who are pleasing and obedient to Him, we will have the kind of boldness that Linda had at that crusade. We will be able to approach Him without fear or hesitation.

Prayer: Father God, often times when I approach You in prayer I do not believe You will answer me because my heart condemns me. Help me to believe that You are greater than my condemning heart and know all the things I have done for You in love. I want to love You more and obey Your Word more so I may grow closer to You and deepen my communication with You. Please grant me Your boldness to pray in a way that honors You above all else. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Begin your day with prayer

“O Lord, be gracious to us; We have waited for You. Be our arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.” Isaiah 33:2

As the faithful remnant of Judah watched the destructive and treacherous Assyrian army approach Jerusalem (33:1), they prayed to the Lord to be “gracious” (compassionate and understanding) to them, not harsh or impatient with them (33:2). They had looked eagerly (“waited”) in faith for the Lord to intervene and penetrate the darkness of night at the dawn of the morning with His strength (“arm”) in a new and living way. They could be excited about the start of each day because God was their “salvation” (deliverance) from their “time of trouble” with the Assyrians.

Do you sometimes have difficulty waking up in the morning to face the day? Perhaps you have changes to deal with at work or there is a person you must face with whom you have an unresolved conflict? Maybe you have been struggling with depression and your mind tends to wander while you are still in bed? Instead of counting your blessings, you are counting your curses?

Whatever challenges you are facing, start your day with the Lord who is “gracious” and kind. God understands you and your circumstances better than anyone. This is why He can be so gracious and compassionate with you.

Do you “wait” expectantly for the Lord each morning, anticipating His strength (“arm”) to penetrate the darkness in your soul or in the world in which you live to deliver (“salvation”) you from “trouble” whether it is from your own actions or the actions of others? The Lord is waiting to assist you in the morning. Will you check in with Him through prayer?

To help the truths of this verse sink in to your heart and mind, kneel before the Lord and slowly read this verse aloud attentively. Then write the verse out in your journal and read it aloud again. Read the verse aloud again, asking “Where am I in this passage?” Replace the personal pronouns in the verse with your name. For example, I would pray, “O Lord, be gracious to Jeff; Jeff has waited for You. Be Jeff’s arm every morning, Jeff’s salvation also in the time of trouble.” Personalizing the verse in this way helps the Holy Spirit apply these truths to the emotional center (limbic system) of your brain.

Read the verse again noticing what word or words jump out at you, grabbing your attention. Focus on those words for a while. Finally, read the verse again and write out what you have observed. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see how this applies to your life. Doing this will help renew your mind with the truth of God’s Word. Then you can write out a prayer to the Lord that helps you apply the verse to your life.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You that I can start every morning afresh knowing that You are gracious and strong to deliver me from trouble whether it is the result of my own decisions or the decisions of others. Nothing is too hard for You. Help me not to underestimate Your power to change me or my situation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.