The Food of Christ

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”

John 4:34 

One day when Jesus’ disciples were urging Him to eat something, He responded by telling them about His food. It was a spiritual food, and He was inviting His disciples to partake of it.

The word that stands out to me in Jesus’ statement is, accomplish. Jesus’ food was not just resisting temptation; it was not just doing kind things for others. His food was accomplishing, finishing the work that the Father had given Him to do. And in order to accomplish something, you have to have a goal and a plan.

How can we know what the Father wants us to accomplish? We get a glimpse of how Jesus did it in Mark 1:35-39. He arose early in the morning and went to an isolated place to pray. Peter went looking for Him, and when he found Jesus, he told Peter, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” It appears that Jesus got His direction from the Father during His time of solitary prayer.

We’re designed to accomplish things. Think of the satisfaction you get when you accomplish a difficult task. The longer the task takes, the more difficult it is, the more satisfaction you receive when you accomplish it. Conversely, our lives are miserable when we drift along without any goals or sense of purpose.

Here are five things that can help us to know what the Father wants us to accomplish:

  1. We must be willing to do what He shows us, and be willing to persevere until He shows us. We must also believe that He wants us to know His will. If we are struggling with being willing, He can help us with that. But we must at least desire to desire to do His will.
  2. God’s desire for us is already embedded in us. By that I mean that there are things that we are attracted to; there are spiritual gifts and natural abilities that God has given us that can give us a clue as to what God’s purpose for our lives are. What activities are you drawn to?
  3. There is a preparation period involved. Jesus did not begin His public ministry until He was about 30yrs old. Moses spent years in the wilderness before the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and commissioned him. Joseph spent years in prison before God raised him up and fulfilled the prophetic dream the Lord had given Him. I am not saying that we cannot serve the Lord now, only that it may take some time before we have a clear understanding of what God wants us to accomplish.   
  4. We must daily abide in His word, the Bible. God uses His word to shape us, change us, give us faith, cleanse us, and speak to us. It is impossible to have an active prayer life and close relationship with Jesus apart from reading and meditating upon His word.
  5. You cannot do this alone. No matter where we are spiritually, we need mentoring, and the counsel of others in order to grow spiritually. God has just designed things this way. I am not just talking about attending church either. I am talking about doing ministry together as disciples of Jesus. The Lord’s plan is to build our lives together into a holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2:19-22).

Once we start to get an understanding of what God wants us to do, then we can begin to set goals and make plans to accomplish that work. We go from wishing and dreaming to doing and accomplishing! We can also begin to streamline our activities by pulling away from things that do not fit into His plan for us.

May the Lord increase our appetite for His food!

Finding the beauty of God in the ugliness of the world

The ugliness of the world–which is its contempt and its adversity–is a profitable sort of bitterness that heals the just. The world’s beauty is its prosperity; and this is a flattering sort of sweetness, but false and seductive…Therefore, in order to escape the ugliness of hell and to acquire the sweetness of heaven, it is necessary to go after the world’s ugliness rather than its beauty.

Bridget of Sweden, Book of Secrets, c. 1305-1373 AD

This quote from the 14th century christian mystic Bridget of Sweden illustrates a truth that seems like a paradox at first glance. When a person seeks all the beauty that this world has to offer–material wealth, fame, power, influence, and pleasure–they find the ugliness of the world. They find the world to be a ruthless, uncaring place, a “dog eat dog” world, as they compete for these things with those who are of like mind. And, worst of all, they are never satisfied when their goals are achieved.

Jesus, on the other hand, calls us to follow Him, and in a sense, to seek out the ugliness in the world. Jesus sought out the lame man at the pool of Bethesda; He encountered the blind men along the road and gave them sight; He noticed the poverty of a widow putting in two small copper coins–all she had to live on–into the treasury of the temple and praised her; He comforted the widow of Nain and gave her son back to her from the dead. Everywhere He went He healed the sick, fed the poor and taught people about the kingdom of God. He sought out the ugliness of the world–those who were sick, in need, and the despairing.  He also said, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there my servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:26

God loves to help those who cannot pay Him back. Jesus told His disciples,  “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But…invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you…” Luke 14:12-13.

We, the church, are now effectively the mouth, hands, and feet of Jesus in this world. Scripture teaches us that He dwells within us both individually and collectively (Gal. 2:20, 1 Cor. 3:16). When we seek out the ugliness of this world as co-laborers with God, we will see God touch people’s lives. We will see the humility of God in action. We will see the goodness of God, the grace of God, the beauty of God! And when we allow ourselves to be used by God in this way, there is a kind of healing that takes place within us. We experience the joy of being used by God, and the reality of the presence of God.

If all this sounds new to you, and attractive to you, you may ask, “How do I get started?” The very first step is to become a child of God. This is done by confessing to God that we are sinners, asking for His forgiveness, and believing that Jesus Christ died for our sins, in effect taking the punishment for us, and that He rose from the dead on the third day. When we do this by faith, we are welcomed into God’s family, and the Spirit of God indwells us; this is called the “new birth”.

If you are struggling with being willing to be used by God (and there is no one exempt from that struggle), you might begin by developing the habit of getting up a little earlier each day, open your Bible to the Psalms, or one of the Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke, or John), and start the day by reading some scripture and having a dialogue with God about what you are reading, and what you may be struggling with. The important thing is to start the dialogue with Him. Don’t worry about what you are supposed to pray, express to God what you want to say to Him.

Another helpful habit is evening prayer. And although I am not a Roman Catholic or a Jesuit, I have found this habit of reflecting on the day extremely helpful in developing a prayer life.

When you lie down to go to sleep tonight, try this little spiritual exercise the Jesuits call the “Examen”. It only takes about 15 minutes. First, review the events of the day and give thanks to God for the things you experienced that were a blessing to you–even the small things. Then recall the times in the day where you felt God was working or making Himself known to you. Next, ask God to show you any missed opportunities to express love to others or when you may have sinned or done things you are now sorry for; ask for His forgiveness. And finally, ask God for the grace you will need for tomorrow.

May God bless you and attract you to follow Jesus and in doing so, find the beauty of God in this world!

“…when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

fig-tree    (Large fig tree)

Jesus said this to Nathanael when He first met him as recorded in the Gospel of John chapter one. There are valuable lessons to be learned from this first encounter between Jesus and Nathanael, but first we have to “take a step back” from the text in order to appreciate what transpired between them.

Think for a moment about Jesus’ mission. He came to His people (John 1:11) who were related to Him by blood (His fellow Jews) and who had entered into the Mosaic covenant with Him as their God, YHWH. He came looking for something. When Jesus went into the temple, He did it purposefully. What was He looking for? We get a hint of what He was looking for from the gospel records as Jesus came in and out of the temple. Mark 11:11 reads:

Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late. On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again!’ And His disciples were listening. (Mark 11:11-14 NASB)

Jesus came looking for fruit, finds none, then the fig tree withers. Some Bible commentators see this account as a symbolic action on the part of Jesus to illustrate to His disciples the upcoming judgment on the nation of Israel (the destruction of the temple in AD. 70), and to teach them about prayer. Israel is repeatedly pictured symbolically in Scripture as a fig tree (see list of references at the end of this post). Old Testament prophets would often do symbolic actions to illustrate God’s warning of future judgments.

While in the temple, Jesus gave the parable of the vineyard grower, who came looking for produce from the vineyard keepers who, in response, rejected the vineyard grower and killed his son. This parable was directed towards the chief priests, scribes, and elders (Mark 12:1-12). Luke records a parable of a fig tree which bore no fruit which illustrates God’s patience, but also a time of reckoning for the tree which produces no fruit (Luke 13:6-9). Jesus taught in the temple that He was looking for fruit.

So what was the fruit Jesus was looking for? I believe it was faith. The Gospels show our Lord looking for faith in His people. He marvelled at the lack of faith among His fellow Jews at times (Mark 6:4-6), and He marvelled at the faith He found in some Gentiles (Matt. 8:10). What does the faith the Lord was looking for then, and is still looking for now, look like? How is it recognizable? I think we find the answer to that question in Nathanael. The kind of fruit, the kind of faith that the Lord was looking for He found in Nathanael.

According to the gospel of John 1:43-51, Jesus called Philip to follow Him. Philip then found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote–Jesus of Nazareth…” Nathanael replied, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip invites Nathanael, “Come and see”. As Jesus sees Nathanael coming towards Him, he remarks, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit.” Nathanael tells Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael then said, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel.” Jesus replies, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree do you believe? You will see greater things than these. Truly, Truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

The first question that comes to my mind is, “Why did Nathanael react the way he did when Jesus told him that he saw him under the fig tree?” Why was he so “blown away” by this statement that he declared Jesus to be the king of Israel and the Son of God? Couldn’t it be very possible and in no way miraculous, that Jesus just happened to see Nathanael under a fig tree and Nathanael not be aware of it? What would be so special about that? The text itself does not tell us the reason for Nathanael’s declaration, but I think we can make some reasonable speculations as to why he reacted this way.

I imagine a scenario that went something like this: Nathanael finds a secluded spot under a fig tree, making sure no one is around to hear what he has on his mind to pray. Then I imagine him crying out to God in a manner similar to the psalmist who openly questions  God as to why it seems like He does not hear their prayers for deliverance? Why do they have to suffer the indignity of being ruled by the Gentiles? The Romans pollute the land and have their fort overlooking the Temple of God to keep a watch over them. Where is the Kingdom of God? Where is the Messiah? I imagine Nathanael questioning God as to whether He even hears him or sees him. A devout Jew who had these thoughts pent-up within Him and who had to “get this off his chest” would more than likely make sure no one was around to hear him pray like this. A scenario like this or similar to this would explain why Jesus telling Nathanael that He saw him under the fig tree had such a profound affect on him, and might prompt him to declare Him to be the Son of God.

Jesus’ description of Nathanael is also very telling. “An Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” The phrase “in whom is no deceit” is the same wording as the last part of Psalm 32:1-2, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Jesus seems to be comparing Nathanael to the blessed man of Psalm 32, who has complete integrity and openness in his relationship to God, and who has been forgiven of all his transgressions. The man or woman who was like Nathanael, was the kind of “fruit” that Jesus was looking for when He came to His people. And notice where Jesus found him: under the fig tree–in exactly the place where you would expect to find fruit.

What can we learn from Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus? First of all, Jesus sees us; He knows our present circumstances and how we feel in them. Second, Nathanael prayed, and if the above scenario is correct, he took his concerns to God. Third, God sometimes answers our prayers in very unexpected ways. And fourth, Nathanael had a walk with God. He had integrity with God. He confessed his sins, he walked blamelessly in the law of God by faith. His view of God was that He was big enough to handle what was on his chest; not shaking his fist at God, but crying out in desperation to Him.

Finally, Jesus gives Nathanael direction. He identifies Himself with Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28:12), in effect telling Nathanael that He is the way to heaven. Some scholars think Nathanael and the apostle Bartholomew (Matt. 10:3) are the same person. Either way, he is a great example for us!

Israel pictured as fig tree: Hosea 9:10,16, Micah 7:12, Jeremiah 8:13

What does the Bible say about chuch government? How should the church be run?

Tags

I would like to answer this question in five parts. First, we first need to look at the terminology used in Scripture to describe the church and the various offices of the church; Vines Complete Expository Dictionary, and Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary are the sources I have used for this part. Next, we’ll look at the Apostle Paul’s teaching on this subject, and examples we have from the book of Acts to learn how the Apostles set up the first century church. Next we’ll look at some very early extra biblical sources to give us insight as to how the early church interpreted the teaching of the Apostles on this subject. We will then look at the most common forms of church government we see today. In the last section I will make some closing remarks and observations.

Terminology:                                                                                                                                                                        Church: Gr. ekklesia, the “called out ones” of God. The Apostle Paul never thinks of the church as a physical structure, but as a group of disciples of Jesus Christ; he refers to the church meeting within a house (Phlm. 2, Col. 4:15).

Apostle: Gr. apostolos, broadly refers to a “messenger, delegate,” or “sent one.” Luke uses the term almost solely as a designation for the Twelve. Apostles are God’s messengers with a unique status in the church. Every important decision was made by the Apostles. There were some who were called apostles outside the original twelve–Paul (Gal. 1:1),  James (Gal. 1:19), (1 Cor. 15:5,7).

Prophet: Gr. prophetes, “A prophet can predict events beforehand (foretell), but its primary meaning is someone who proclaims the truth with God’s authority” (tell forth, or forthtelling). Prophets proclaim messages of encouragement (Acts 15:32), edification (1 Cor. 14:3), and foretelling (Acts 21:10-11). The congregation was to weigh and evaluate the words of someone claiming the gift of prophecy, as there were false prophets as well (1 Cor. 14:29).

Evangelist: Gr. euangelistes, Evangelists have “a gift of special empowerment whereby God blesses their evangelistic work with the fruit of conversions.”

Pastor: Gr. poimen, “a shepherd, one who tends herds or flocks.” The term is used metaphorically of one who feeds and looks after the needs of Christ’s flock, the church.

Elder: Gr. presbuteros, “a common term for older men as well as for the leaders in the synagogue and the church.” Elders and Bishops (Gr. episkopoi) are terms referring to the same office, cf. Titus 1:5-9. Bishop is used to describe the office and responsibilities of the position, and Elder is used to describe the character and experience of the one holding the office of Bishop (1 Tim. 3:1-7). Although the Apostle Paul uses the term bishop and elder synonymously, the church very early on made a distinction between the office of Bishop and Elder.

Bishop: Gr. episkopoi, “It’s two root words (epi plus skopos) literally refer to someone who ‘looks over’ or ‘watches over’ a group of people.” The Bishop is sometimes called “Overseer.” In 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Tit. 1:7-9 the Apostle Paul describes the qualifications for Bishop. The Apostle Peter describes Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer” of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25). In other words, Jesus is the chief overseer of our lives; all other church leaders function on His behalf and use His life as a model (cf. 5:1-4).

Deacon: Gr. diakonos, “servant, minister.” This word can refer to someone who serves, or someone who holds the office of Deacon in the church. Qualifications for a Deacon (many believe Deacons can be either male or female based on this text) are listed in 1 Tim. 3:8-13. Those chosen to help in the distribution of food in Acts 6:1-6 are commonly thought of as an example of the first Deacons in the church.

What does the Scripture teach concerning church government?

Christ is the head of the church:

There is universal agreement on this point among all christian denominations. The Bible clearly teaches that Christ is the supreme authority in the christian church. “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Col.1:18).

Apostles are the foundation of the church which is Christ’s building:

“I (Jesus) also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18).

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22).

“According to the grace of God that was given to me (Paul), like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:10-11).

“And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:28).

The Apostle Paul established elders as leaders in the church:

“When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they (Paul and Barnabas) commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23).

“For this reason I left you (Titus) in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). Paul then gives Titus the qualifications for an elder in vs. 6-9. Here Paul uses the two terms “elder” in v. 6 and “overseer” (bishop) in v. 7 synonymously. Qualifications for overseer also given in 1 Tim. 3:1-7.

“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17).

“Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the suffering of Christ…shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet lording it over those alloted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:1-3).

When Paul made his farewell address to the church at Ephesus, he called together the elders of the church (Acts 20:17) and charged them: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

I think Scripture is pretty clear that it was the teaching and practice of the Apostle Paul to establish a group of men (elders/overseers) in each church as the primary governing body of the church. But there is also extra-biblical evidence that very early in its history the church made a distinction between the position of bishop (overseer) and elder (presbyter). I would like to quote one of the church fathers and the Didache to give us insight on this subject. Keep in mind that when the term bishop was used in the early church, they were referring to what we would most commonly call today the senior pastor. If we were living in the first few hundred years of the church, we would be calling our pastor “bishop.”

Ignatius of Antioch (c.35-107) is one of our earliest extra-biblical sources regarding the faith and practice of the early church. According to church historian Eusebius, Ignatius succeeded the apostle Peter as bishop of the church at Antioch of Syria. The church at Antioch became a base from which the apostle Paul launched his missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-3, 15:36-41, 18:22-23). We have seven letters from Ignatius which both Protestants and Roman Catholics consider authentic. Ignatius is thought to have been a disciple of the Apostle John, and this is reflected in his letters. What follows is a few quotes from Ignatius, who stressed church unity and obedience to the local bishop. Ignatius sees the local bishop as the representative of Christ to the local church, and he makes a distinction between bishop (overseer), presbyter (elder), and deacon. Quotes are from “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” which are referenced to various volumes of “The Ante-Nicene Fathers.”

“I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas, your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters, Bassus and Apollonius, and through my fellow servant, the deacon Sotio.” Ignatius, c. 105, 1.59–written about 105 AD, volume 1 pg 59 The Ante-Nicene Fathers.

“I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons.” Ignatius, c. 105, 1.61

“There is one bishop, along with the presbyters and deacons, my fellow servants.” Ignatius, c. 105, 1.81

“Let everyone reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ; and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father; and the presbyters as the Sanhedrin of God and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no church.” Ignatius, c. 105, 1.67

“Polycarp, too, was instructed by apostles, and he spoke with many who had seen Christ. Furthermore, the apostles in Asia appointed him bishop of the church in Smyrna.” Irenaeus, c. 180, 1.416

“According to my opinion, the grades here in the church of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, are imitations of the angelic glory, and of that arrangement which (the Scriptures say) awaits those who, following the footsteps of the apostles, have lived in perfection of righteousness according to the Gospel.” Clement of Alexandria, c. 195, 2.505

The Didache (Gr. teaching, pronounced DID-uh-kay) was an early instruction manual for pagan converts on how to lead the christian life. The exact date of its composition is uncertain, but was probably written between 50-110 AD. It was also called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. The Didache is an important document, because it gives us insight into church life in this very early period of church history.

“Therefore, appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord.” Didache, c. 110, 7.381

The Most Common Forms of Government in the Church Today

There are basically three forms of government found in the church today: Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational.

Episcopal

In this form of church government the principal authority in the local church is the bishop, followed by the presbyters (or priests), and the deacons. Some within this form of government see the position of the bishop as heir to the apostles. Some see Timothy and Titus in the role of bishops as they had authority to appoint elders (Tit. 1:5), as did the apostles in the churches they founded (Acts 14:23). Some proponents of this form of government argue from the historical perspective that this was the form of government handed down from the apostles since it was virtually uncontested from the time of Ignatius of Antioch up until the time of the Reformation.

Presbyterian

Advocates of this form of government point out that presbyters in the New Testament occupy the most important place after the apostles; and the plurality of elders mentioned in scripture seems to argue for a plurality or committee of elders as the principle governing body. Often the minister or pastor of an elder-run church is himself an elder, but with no special authority over the other elders. Deacons in this form of government serve under the authority of the elders.

Congregational

The Congregationalist form of church government began with the Anabaptists in the mid 16th century. Congregationalism places the decision-making authority in the hands of the entire congregation. Advocates of this form of government cite the universal priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9), and reject the notion of a “priestly class” between God and the layperson. They point to the fact that the church, alongside the apostles and elders, was involved in the decision-making process at the first church council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:22), and that Jesus pointed to the church as the final court of appeal in matters of church discipline (Matt. 18:17). Congregational churches can be led by a single pastor or by a board of elders or deacons chosen by the congregation.

Closing Comments

In my view the Bible does not contain specifics as to exactly how a church should be governed, and there is good reason for this. Knowing that the church would endure for thousands of years, through multiple ages and cultures, and with variety in the size and spiritual maturity of various congregations, the Lord and the apostles left room for diversity in church government. From a house church in the first century to a large monolithic church in the fourth century to a village church in Latin America or in India in the 17th century to today’s mega-churches with thousands of members and viewers worldwide via satellite television and the internet, there needs to be room for flexibility in how the church is governed. The church is made up of people who come out of the culture they live in. Those living in a culture where they are acclimated to having great authority placed in their leaders such as a king or emperor may be more inclined to accept spiritual authority placed in the hands of a bishop in the local church. Those cultures who are more inclined to democracy such as the Swiss or the United States, may be drawn to a more democratic form of government in the church. And I realize that these are very broad generalizations.

There is a strong case to be made from scripture for a Presbyterian form of government. There is a strong case to be made from a historical point of view for an episcopal form of government. The weakest case (in my view for whatever that is worth) is for the congregational form of government. Each form of government has its strengths and weaknesses. The Episcopalian form tends to promote unity and is efficient in accomplishing tasks. The Presbyterian form promotes fairness, and guards against the corruption that can happen when authority is placed in the hands of a few. The congregationalist form also promotes openness, fairness, and guards against corruption.

Two things can be said with certainty: 1. The Bible teaches that God has called each and every believer to become part of a local church. The Scriptural evidence for this is overwhelming both in the Old and New Testaments. The person who claims to be following Christ apart from an association with a local church is either ignorant of the Scriptures or just fooling themselves. 2. There is no perfect church, as the church is made up of flawed–though saved–people. One of the first tests for those who decide to follow Jesus is whether we are willing to be a part of a community which is made up of less than perfect people.

In Christ,

Mark

                                                                                                                                                     

His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. Psalm 11:4b

In this Psalm David uses some very interesting anthropomorphic language. How can God’s eyelids test the sons of men?

We, by faith, believe that God beholds everything we do. The Bible clearly teaches that God is omniscient. But there are times when we really don’t have a sense of God’s presence; when it doesn’t really seem like God is watching what we’re doing.

We see a person’s eyelids when their eyes are closed. I think David is saying in this Psalm that when we feel that God has His eyes closed, when it seems like He is not watching; when we don’t sense His presence; when it seems like our situation is going out of control, that is when we are tested.

John Eldridge in his book, “Wild at Heart” makes the point that God is a God who “loves to come through” (pg. 32). He has created a world in which His people must live by faith. There are many examples in Scripture of God coming through when it seemed like everything was lost. When the Israelites were backed up against the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army in pursuit, God came through (Ex. 14). When Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace rather than bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, God came through (Dan. 3). When the disciples were crossing the Sea of Gallilee with Jesus asleep on the cushion and a violent storm arose, God came through (Mark 4:35-41). And the ultimate example of God coming through was when Jesus’ disciples thought all was lost. Their Messiah who they thought would  establish His earthly kingdom and throw off the yoke of Roman rule was instead arrested and crucified. God came through by raising Him from the dead!

What should we do when we are tested?

One answer can be found in one of my favorite Psalms, 18:1

To You O Lord I call; My rock, do not be deaf to me, For if You are silent to me, I will become like those who go down to the pit.

Can you hear the desperation in David’s voice? He is expressing to God that without Him, he is as helpless as a man going down to the grave. David needed to hear God’s voice. He needed to know that God was aware of his situation and had not forgotten him. He needed to experience God’s deliverance.

the Bible has much to say about hearing from God. Jesus would often say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”. How does God speak to us? Most often through Scripture, through people, and through His Spirit. God does allow us to get in desperate situations sometimes. But it is only so that our faith can be tested, refined, and enlarged. And so that we can learn that He is a God

who always comes through!

Why is it so hard to develop a prayer life?

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prayer-with-another

If you were to ask most Christians about the health of their prayer life, you would probably hear something like, “I know I should pray more” or “I don’t pray as much as I would like to”, or “I have tried to have a prayer life, but my mind always wanders”, or something to that effect.

Even Christians who attend church regularly, read their Bibles, and share their faith openly sometimes have real difficulty cultivating a healthy prayer life. By “healthy prayer life” I mean having a time set aside each day to talk to the Lord and to hear from Him. I am not talking about “saying a prayer”. I mean really communicating with God; pouring out our heart to Him; having a conversation with your heavenly Father; letting your requests be made known to Him, worshiping Him, and contemplating Him.

We know from the gospels that Jesus got up early in the morning to go somewhere secluded to pray (Mark 1:35). He would often slip away from the crowd to pray (Mark 6:46). King David rose up early to pray (Psalm. 5:3). I could list many other examples of, reasons for, and commandments to, pray. And I believe God has put within all believers a desire to pray. So why is this so difficult for us?

I have struggled with all of the above problems as much as anyone. And what I would like to share are some things that I have learned over the years in seeking to know God more intimately through prayer. I hope these will encourage you in your prayer life!

#1 We have to make a firm commitment to have a prayer life. 

When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, he found that Israel had reverted to idolatry by worshiping a golden calf. He broke the tablets with the ten commandments inscribed on them (Ex. 32). When God called Moses to return to the mountain, he told him the day before to prepare himself, climb the mountain, and present himself there to God (Ex. 34).  There are two very important points we can learn from this account:

1. Moses had to make up his mind the day before to go up to meet with God on the mountain. We too must resolve the day before to get up and meet God in prayer. We can’t wait until morning to decide; it’s just too easy to back out. It’s true we could resolve to have a prayer time in the evening. If this works for you–that’s fine. But I think the examples we have in scripture clearly point to having a prayer time in the morning. It sets the course of our day and gives God the best part–the first fruits–of our day.

2. Going up on the mountain to meet with God is a recurring theme in Scripture. Abraham climbed mount Moriah to offer Isaac (Gen. 22:2); Moses went up Mt. Sinai to meet with God (Ex. 19:3), to hear from God (Ex. ch. 19 & 20); Jesus went up on a mountain to pray (Mt. 14:23), to choose His Apostles (Mark 3:13-19). Jesus gave the greatest sermon ever recorded at the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. ch. 5-7). Jesus revealed Himself to three of his disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-9); He met His disciples after His resurrection on a mountain and gave them “the Great Commission” (Matt. 28:16-20). These are just a few examples. Why did these events take place upon a mountain? What is God trying to tell us?

It takes effort climb a mountain. And we don’t normally spend time and effort for things that we don’t value. I think God is telling us that we must value spending time with Him in prayer enough to make the effort required to do it.

I am not suggesting that we earn our way into God’s presence, or that we come to Him based on our own merits. We have access to God the Father only through the unmerited favor given to us through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. We have “confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19). But as anyone who has tried to have a regular prayer time knows, it does take effort and determination.

#2 God has already equipped us to have a healthy prayer life.

If you have been born of the Spirit–repented of your sins and put your faith in Christ as your Lord and Saviour–you have been given all that you need to have a healthy prayer life. The Spirit of Christ dwells within the believer and can enable us to pray. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church, “…the Spirit helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…” (Rom. 8:26). Sometimes the trouble we have is that we try to have a prayer life through our own efforts. We must realize that we are unable by our own strength to have a healthy prayer life, but that God has provided His Spirit to enable us to pray, and that it is God’s desire that we get to know Him through prayer. So we put our trust in His enabling us to pray, not in our ability to pray.

#3 Find a secluded spot to pray.

The only thing I have found that works in our house is for me to get up before anyone else does, so that I can devote my attention to prayer without distractions. I also think it helps to pray audibly. Speaking my prayers helps to keep my mind from wandering.  I whisper my prayers because I don’t want someone else in the next room to hear my prayers. Sometimes the things I want to pray about are intimate; things I want to share with God alone.

#4 Start with the Bible.

I like to start by reading a Psalm or praying the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:7-13). Praying the Lord’s prayer helps my faith and gives me direction in prayer. It helps me to realize that God wants me to spend time with Him in prayer, and that He is really listening. Some christians object to praying wrote prayers and believe that all prayer must be spontaneous in order to be authentic, “from the heart”. I don’t think this is necessarily true. There are many wonderful prayers in the Psalms, in the English Book of Common Prayer, and recorded for us down through the church’s history. Many of these prayers are well thought out and rich in content. As with anything we do in service to the Lord, we need to be on guard against the danger of doing it as a meaningless ritual. In teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus warned against “meaningless repetition”. On the other side of that coin, it is important to communicate to God what is really on our heart, and not just say to God what we think He wants to hear. What I have written in this section may seem like a contradiction, but it is not. We learn how to pray from Scripture. Prayers in Scripture can give us direction, and we can pray those prayers if we agree with their content and if what they say reflects what we want to communicate to God. If we pray wrote prayers because we have been told to do so, or we think that is how we are supposed to pray, but would really like to talk to God about something else, then we may veering off course from meaningful prayer into “meaningless repetition”.

#5 Confess sin.

The prophet Isaiah wrote: “Behold the Lord’s hand is not so short that He cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that He cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you.” (Is. 59:1-2). It’s very important that we open our hearts to let the Holy Spirit reveal to us any unconfessed sin, resentment, unforgiveness, or jealousy we might have in our hearts. If we are willingly, habitually sinning, this will prevent us from having real fellowship with God. However, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). And if we are struggling with sin, we should still come to God in our prayer time to confess it, and let God deal with it in our lives. In other words, don’t let failure in your walk with the Lord keep you from having your prayer time. We all fail at times.

#6 Help against distracting thoughts.

I think we all are plagued with distracting thoughts when we try to pray–anxious thoughts, things we have to do that day. I heard a tip that I have found very helpful. When I am praying and start to think of things that I have to do on that day, rather than be worried that I may forget these things, I just jot them down and then forget about them until the end of my prayer time. I actually use what Satan wants to distract me with to my own advantage. In the end, I have a “to do” list, and I am not distracted from prayer.

#7 Pray with confidence according to God’s will.

Cultivating a prayer life is a learning process. The Bible tells us to pray according to God’s will. But how can we know God’s will? We learn God’s will through His word, the Bible, and by the direction of the Holy Spirit. It’s very important that we spend time reading and studying God’s word as we spend time in prayer. And as you read the Bible, notice how people in the Bible pray. Notice how and for what the Apostle Paul prays for. When we can discern God’s will, we can pray with confidence. Most of the time that I have lacked confidence in prayer was when I just wasn’t sure that what I was asking God to do was really God’s will in a given situation. There are times when we don’t know what the will of God is. If you study the apostle Paul’s intercessory prayers, you will find that they were not that specific. I have heard people pray for others and they were so specific about what they were asking God to do that it seemed more like they were directing God in what to do rather than making requests from our omniscient Father. God doesn’t need our direction. He invites us to pray to Him and participate in what He wants to do in the lives of others. And if we are students of the word, we can have a much better idea what the mind of God is, and pray in a way that is pleasing to Him.

#8 Be steadfast in prayer

“Devote yourselves to prayer…” (Col. 4:2). We learn how to pray by praying. There are all kinds of books out there to read about prayer, but the best way to learn how to pray is to pray. Set aside a certain amount of time each day for prayer and Bible reading. Start small, but stick to it,  and I think you will soon find yourself wanting more time to pray.

May God bless you and keep you as you meet with Him!

Mark

Questions and Answers

This section is reserved for any questions you might have about the Bible, or concerning Christian faith and practice. I’ll be the first to admit that there are some questions that I simply don’t have the answer to. But I will do my best to answer all questions, and make the distinction between areas where the Bible is very clear, and areas which are open to various interpretations.

It is my hope that new believers in Christ will send in their questions, as well as older Christians who might be reluctant to ask their questions in church.

I also welcome questions from non-Christians who are just curious about the faith.

Yours in Christ,

Mark

Examining the Claims of Mormonism

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Click on the following link to hear an audio teaching by Mark Da Vee on the subject of Mormonism.

Mormonism

Click on the following link to get outline notes on the teaching on Mormonism.

Examining the Claims of Mormonism slide copy

Click on the following slides for the teaching on Mormonism. (Not every slide referenced in the teaching is included here to save space. Only the most relevant slides are included).

#1 Father and Jesus#2 Lehi Comes to America

#5 The test of a prophet

#8 You shall become gods

#9 No Gods but Me

#11 Mormon Mesoamerican map#12 Nephite metallurgy#13 Bible vs. Book of Mormon

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ

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Click on the following link for an audio teaching on Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ taught by Mark Da Vee on a Wednesday night service at Calvary Monterey.
Evidence for the Resurrection

Click on the following two links for outline notes for the teaching on the resurrection and references for the teaching.
Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

References for Resurrection Teaching