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

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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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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

Ask rain from the Lord at the time of the spring rain… Zechariah 10:1a

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In its context, the prophet Zechariah in this passage is exhorting the people of Judah to turn from their idolatrous practice of attributing the blessing of rain to the false god Baal, and return to asking the Lord (YHWH), the true giver of rain, to give them the rain they needed for their sustenance.

What strikes me about this passage is that the prophet Zechariah is exhorting the people of Judah to ask God for something that they would probably be getting anyway: rain in the time of the spring rain.
Have you ever thought something like, “Why do I need to ask God for this? Doesn’t He know my needs? Doesn’t He already know my wishes and desires? Doesn’t He want to bless me? Why do I need to go through the process of asking Him for things He already knows that I want, and things which He probably already wants to give me?” Why ask God for rain when He is going to give the rain anyway? Why does God want us to pray to Him?

I believe there are at least three reasons why God wants us to spend time with Him in prayer, and ask Him for things He already knows about. The reasons can be categorized under the headings of Transformation, Fragrance, and Love.

Transformation
God is taking us through a process to transform us to be like Him. When we spend time with God in prayer, we are transformed, re-created so to speak, into His image. The more “face time” we spend with God in prayer, the more we are transformed. We get a glimpse of this truth when we read the account of the disciples experience with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Luke’s account tells us, “And while He (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.” (Luke 9:29). I realize that Jesus did not need to be changed; He was and is already the perfect reflection of who God the Father is. But I believe that when Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and directed His attention from this world to His heavenly Father, He began to reflect the glory of the Father as He came into His presence; and this was what was being revealed to His disciples.*

Moses face was changed after spending 40 days and nights in the presence of God on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 24:12-18, 34:29-35). And the Apostle Paul relates this experience that Moses had to our experience as we come into the presence of the Lord:

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit”. 2 Cor. 3:18

The Apostle Paul also writes to the Colossians that they are to “put on” the new self, “who is being renewed (lit. renovated) to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him…”
Col. 3:10 NASB

When the human race fell in Adam’s transgression, the image of God in us was tarnished/distorted. When we are born again by faith, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, God begins that work of renovation in us–like renovating a building–removing what is old and rotted, and replacing it with the new. We are being re-created in His image to be more like Him. Spending time with Him in prayer acts as a catalyst to move this process along. He doesn’t need us to pray, it’s the other way around. He wants to bless us, and cause us to reflect to the world around us what He is like! The was Adam’s original purpose: to be a reflection of the invisible God to the physical world. Adam failed in this, but Jesus, who is called “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45) succeeded.

Fragrance
“For we are a fragrance of Christ to God…” (2 Cor. 2:15a)
When we come to God the Father in prayer, He “smells” the fragrant aroma of His Son on us. We manifest “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him” (2 Cor. 2:14). In other words, when we come to God through His Son, it brings pleasure to Him. God enjoys the pleasure of our company. We are His treasure, His inheritance. We are the reason He sent His Son to die on the cross. He loves it when we come to Him in prayer!

Love
Our Heavenly Father wants the best for us. He wants to transform us; He wants to spend time with us. He wants to include us in accomplishing His will “on earth as it is in heaven”. He wants to reward us for being involved in accomplishing His will on earth by building His church and reaching out to a lost world. He lets us pray to Him to accomplish these things; He lets us in on what He is doing; and He rewards us for playing a part in accomplishing His will.

Ask the Lord for rain in the season of spring rain. Don’t do it out of duty or obligation; do it to bring pleasure to Him.

*I recognize that there are other equally valid ways of interpreting this passage: namely that Jesus was simply unveiling His glory to His disciples at this event. I believe that these views are not mutually exclusive.

In Search of Stability

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…show me Your way, Lord, and lead me on a level path.

Ps. 27:11b (HCSB) Davidic Psalm

When I think of a level path, I think of a path that is easy to maintain one’s balance on. The opposite of a level path would be one that is on an incline; like walking on a path along the side of a steep mountain, constantly trying to keep balance and fighting the forces of gravity trying to pull you off the path. I think David was asking God show him how He (God) would have him to live his life, and for God to bring calm and balance into his life.

If you are like me, you may find that you are prone to an imbalanced life. Let me give you a few examples to illustrate what I mean by an imbalanced life. Someone wrongs you, and you have the desire, the fantasy, of not only paying them back for what they have done, but paying them back double or triple the retribution they actually deserve. Someone criticizes your appearance, so you become obsessed with their comments, replaying them in your mind for the rest of the day. Someone criticizes your work performance, and you feel like giving up altogether because after all, no one is recognizing all your hard work.

We can become imbalanced when it comes to spiritual things as well. Here is one way it can happen. We typically resist the ministry of the Holy Spirit leading us to repentance at first. When we cease resisting and come to faith in Christ, we experience spiritual regeneration, through which we are given the desire to please God. We experience spiritual success by casting off some of the old sinful habits we had before our conversion. But we can fall into the trap of gradually setting the spiritual bar of performance higher and higher for ourselves until all the joy of our conversion is gone. The Lord wants simple faith and obedience from us. No more, and no less. It’s easy for us to go beyond the simplicity and purity of devotion to Jesus (2 Cor. 11:3). Peter illustrated this when Jesus was washing the disciples feet at the last supper. At first Peter did not want the Lord to wash His feet at all, then he wanted Jesus to wash not only his feet, but also his hands and his head. Jesus told him “just the feet, Peter” (my paraphrase). Our responsibility is to find out what the Lord wants from us and then do it; not go beyond it, or add anything to it.

Peter and David were men of extremes. They had great highs and great lows. They were men of passion and had a great desire to know and follow the Lord. Yet left to themselves, they were men prone to imbalance. Church history gives us many examples of men who were passionate for God, yet took that passion to unhealthy levels through severe asceticism, often ruining their own health by long periods of fasting, sleep deprivation, and isolation. We also see many examples of imbalance today in various Christian ministries that seem to only emphasize one aspect of Christian living. Some can’t seem to stop talking about money. Some only talk about believers having a positive image of themselves. Some only talk about Israel, only prophecy, only speaking in tongues, only the Holy Spirit, and on and on. All of these things are important, but over emphasizing one aspect of Christian living is to walk on an uneven path.

What does a balanced life look like?

First let me say that a balanced life comes about through the influence of the Holy Spirit, who guides us primarily through the written word of God. Following Jesus and His teaching, which comes down to us through the gospels and the epistles of the New Testament, lead us to that balanced life that David prayed for. It is a life long process; it does not happen overnight. Here are some of the indicators to give us an idea of what a balanced spiritual life looks like:

1. Our relationship with God becomes the most important relationship in our life. You might call this the first step towards internal balance.
2. Our Bible becomes the most important possession we have. We experience a spiritual hunger for reading the word of God. We seek to get to know God through reading and studying His word.
3. The importance of our relationships with other people rises to a new level. We don’t mislead or lie to others. We honor our commitments to others. We don’t take advantage of others. We strive not to hurt others by what we say.
4. The importance of our relationships and responsibilities to family members rises to a new level. We work to provide for our families. We seek to make amends in relationships we may have damaged in the past.
5. Our responsibilities in the workplace take on new importance as we reflect Christ to those around us. We bring discredit to His name when we behave poorly in the workplace.
6. We pay our bills on time and manage our financial responsibilities.
7. We take care of our bodies as they are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
8. We realize the importance of belonging to a local church. At church we grow in knowledge of the faith; we build relationships with other believers, giving and receiving encouragement from other members of the body of Christ.

God has given us a sense of what is good and right. The real danger we face is that we are prone to look the other way when the Holy Spirit shows us areas of our lives He wants to change; areas that are either sinful, or “out of balance”.

Pause to reflect: Is my relationship with God the most important relationship in my life? Do I sense that God is leading me to a level path? If not, what barriers are preventing this from happening?

Lord, by Your grace, strengthen our desire for You! Change us to love what You love, and hate what You hate. Lead us and guide us into Your way, and lead us on a level path, that our lives might reflect what it means to follow You.