“He regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.” - Psalm 102:17
In the wake of the school shooting that took place yesterday in Parkland, FL I would like to offer some thoughts on prayer as well as ponder some of the deeper reasons behind the “why?” that so many are asking at this time.
First, prayer. Lately the fashionable reaction to Christians or even deists who offer prayers for the families and victims of horrible events is mockery. Social media political and philosophical couch warriors are never wanting for words when someone states that they are praying. The gist of their mockery is that prayer essentially does nothing. In our meme culture this has been represented recently by portraying King Théoden of Rohan (in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings) receiving the news that “Gondor calls for aid” to which he imaginarily replies with “My thoughts and prayers are with Gondor. Sending positive energy their way.” This popular sentiment and meme also introduce another disturbing element, namely that our thoughts are roughly equivalent to that of prayers.
To those who don’t believe that God exists, or more accurately, have worked to suppress the knowledge of His existence (cf. Rom. 1:18; Ps. 14:1), they may derive some comfort from the idea that others are thinking about them in the midst of a trial. However, our thoughts do exactly nothing. This is a phrase that I have personally grown weary of hearing, especially from Christians who profess to believe not only that God exists, but also that the Bible is His inspired Word. This is nothing more than mysticism, with the idea that we can somehow connect with the galactic energy of the universe and channel our thoughts along some pathway to someone else. Our thoughts do nothing.
Prayer, on the other hand, is different. Prayer really does have the ability to affect change. This process is mysterious even to the most learned Bible scholar. Bypassing most of surrounding arguments the simple fact of the matter is that Christians are commanded to pray. “I desire then that in every place the men should pray” (1 Tim. 2:8). This was a foundational element of the corporate worship of the early Church (Acts 2:42). The disciples of Jesus saw Him modeling prayer so often that they asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). Paul commanded it of the church in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:17). Whatever the mysterious relationship is between our prayers and an omniscient God who has seen the beginning from the end and known every day before one came to be (cf. Ps. 139:16), the simple fact is that God commands us to pray and somehow, when our heart is delighting in God (Ps. 37:4), when we ask, God delights to respond (cf. Mt. 7:7).
Notice the verse at the top of this post: “He regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer” (Ps. 102:17). This one is especially applicable in light of yesterday’s tragic events. Why? Because God has said that those who call out to Him in destitution He will take note of and answer. What’s more, specifically for those grieving we have more promises: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). Today, from a national standpoint, can there be anyone more brokenhearted and crushed in spirit than the parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, and friends of those so tragically slain? Why do we pray? We pray because God has said that we should and that He alone has the ability to minister to their souls in a way that none other can. Again, the skeptic would ask – “why?”
As a firm believer in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, that it is the very record of God Himself that He chose to give to the world, I find in the Bible that God to whom I am commanded to pray has revealed Himself as the Eternal (without beginning or end) Creator (the ultimate cause) of all that is (cf. Jn. 1:3). He truly is powerful – the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). Unlike our thoughts which are powerless, He knows all – even our thoughts (Ps. 139:1-4ff)! And when we direct our thoughts and words directly to Him (not to others) this is called prayer and in this act, there is none more powerful to hear and answer! God alone can give true peace in the midst of tragedy. God alone can give eternal hope. To those who died in the knowledge of the Gospel, or good news of Jesus Christ, they were immediately ushered into the joy of the Lord (Mt. 25:21ff.) and for them, it was truly great gain (Phil. 1:21). For those who do not have this knowledge, there is nothing better than that they be exposed to the eternal Good News through this so that no matter what other pain they may suffer in this life, they can know that in the life to follow, there will be no more pain, no more death, no more tears, no more mourning (Rev. 21:4)! That is the power and hope of prayer, and is why we pray!
Back to that meme for a moment. Not only is there mockery of prayer (we already addressed the vacuity of thoughts), but also implied is the need for real action, which is exactly what was being called for by Gondor. May we take a moment to be precise? When applied to a real-world situation, there are important nuances to be made here. Apples to apples, this would be akin to responding to the attack on Pearl Harbor with prayer only. That was truly an act of war that required an immediate and swift military reaction. To be sure, prayers were offered up in the wake of the loss for life and no doubt had profound effect. However, to say that no prayers should be made in light of yesterday’s shooting is simply ignorant and is not truthful with the facts. That act, nor similar ones which preceded it, was not an act of war. Perhaps action is required, but not with the same haste as Pearl Harbor. In this case, in the seconds and minutes and hours and days afterward, prayer is the best action that can be taken by true believers.
As I compose this, Senator Marco Rubio (Republican, FL) was speaking on the Senate floor addressing this. Not long before, President Trump issued some remarks on it as well. Much of the nation is calling for stricter rules, tighter regulations, etc., saying that if only those had been in place, this could have been prevented. I would like to ponder this for just a moment and offer a different perspective from my viewpoint as a Christian.
Let me start with a small vignette. I grew up in Central Oregon and went to high school in the 1990’s. I actually graduated high school a scant few weeks after the tragic Columbine High School shooting. Maybe not as readily recalled by those outside of Oregon was another school shooting which took place the year before, May 21, 1998 in Springfield, OR at the hands of Kip Kinkel, who had savagely murdered his parents before going to the school and killing two more. Up to this point school shootings were not a familiar national category for the average household. The events in Springfield shook us up quite a bit, but we all figured that Kinkel was pretty deranged. In fact, Central Oregon was sort of a cowboy kind of place with ranches all around in the high desert. People of all persuasions enjoyed gun sports whether for hunting or merely marksmanship. It may be that my class was one of the very last to ever recall driving to school as a teenager and seeing pickup trucks with guns in gun racks right next to us as we parked, or our friends showing us their .30-06 that they were going to shoot later that day just prior to going in for class. This was every-day stuff, nothing out of the ordinary. Chances are, at the high school I attended, if someone came in and started shooting, dozens of students and teachers would have run to their trucks and stopped him long before the police arrived. So what changed?
A quick search shows that school shootings have actually been going on for a long time. The first occurred in 1840(!) And there have been school shootings in every single decade since then. Every. Single. One. Equally fascinating to note is when they started to rise: the 1970’s. From that point on the number has never gone down. Television coverage and major media outlets have been giving them lots of coverage from about the time of Kip Kinkel forward. This led to cries of tighter legislation and continued debate over the topic of guns themselves that has continued nearly unabated since 1999. Let’s set that debate aside, as well as talk of the media’s coverage (although I would love to talk about that too), and focus instead on the 1970’s. What happened in that decade that caused such an uptick in violent crime? Why would school shootings nearly double from the decade prior? Let me propose to you that it was in the 1970’s that our country experienced a fundamental philosophical shift. Philosophic thought divides the history of the world into three categories: Pre-modern; Modern; and Postmodern. The Pre-modern age is basically anything prior to the 16th Century, or around the time of the Renaissance. The Modern age runs from the Renaissance through to about the 1950-60’s. There are differing opinions as to when precisely it ended and the postmodern age began. The history, development, and characteristics of each of these periods are also a subject for a different day, however let us zero in on the birth of what is known as postmodernity – it occurred right around the time of the uptick in public school violence (among other distinguishing events). Is this a fantastic coincidence, or are there characteristics of postmodern thought that might contribute to these types of events?
I will argue for the latter option. Millard Erickson, in his book The Postmodern World, gives us several characteristics of this age.
The sum of these characteristics is that there is no such thing as right or wrong. You may think something is right and may even have an argument for it, but if I feel differently than you, then your logic doesn’t matter. You may value life, but I don’t – so what are you going to do about it? Does any of this sound familiar? He illustrates this trend not only through discussion of philosophers and universities, but also through popular television shows. Back in the days of the early transition, shows on the tube actually taught morals and truths. Fast-forward to a purely postmodern show that typified the 1990’s, Seinfeld, and it was “a program about nothing. Yet actually, by not being about any subject, having no moral, it is itself telling a story about the world. There is no objective right or wrong.”
When the modern world stepped into post-modernity and cast off truth, morals, and values and replaced them with feelings, it was the beginning of the end. Now, say the purveyors of higher education, no one can tell you that you are wrong; no one can impose their values on you or morals. What kept violent crime at bay, at least to some degree? Probably the idea that there is inherent value in human life. We certainly cannot argue that this is the ultimate solution, but at least it is a step in the right direction. Clearly crime and murder have been ongoing since the fall of man (see Gen. 4:8ff) and the issue is with sin. But, even using terminology such as “sin” belies my belief in truth. God is the “God of truth” (Isaiah 65:16), and those that would worship Him must worship Him according to truth (Jn. 4:24). You see, God has given us an absolute standard of truth, values, and morality in the Bible, and when the teachers of our day profess to be wise apart from the Wisdom of God, then they are in fact displaying their foolishness (Rom. 1:22).
The hordes are already crying for more rules and legislation to be passed, but as I see it, if we want to see these sorts of things decline, a good starting point would be to bring back the notion of truth to the world, along with true, objective values, and morals. It would be even better if people would submit themselves to the Gospel, but acknowledging truth would be a good start.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_shootings_in_the_United_States, accessed February 15, 2018.
Not counting an Indian-related shooting in the 18th century. ibid.
Without going completely off-topic, let me encourage you to read How to Watch TV News by Neil Postman, followed quickly with Amusing Ourselves to Death by the same author. You’ll never look at any form of media quite the same way. And you shouldn’t.
Millard Erickson, The Postmodern World (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL: 2002), 13.
"Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger."
"That is because you are older, little one," answered he.
"Not because you are?"
"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."
C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia Book 4: Prince Caspian (Harper Collins, NY: 1979), 148.
Lewis' understanding of the Christian faith coupled with his ability to communicate through the written word place him in a unique category of authors from the time of Christ to the present day. He wrote many other works besides the Chronicles of Narnia including The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity. The Narnia Chronicles are perhaps his most well-known and are loved by a vast audience, Christian and non alike.
The non-Christian can certainly enjoy these works simply from a literary standpoint, as can the Christian. However, the real beauty of the books is that there weren't simply written to be a fanciful story, but rather an allegory. Lewis used the characters and worlds found in Narnia to tell the story of redemption. Aslan, the majestic and kingly lion is a type of Christ. In every book Aslan is portrayed the same, with his attributes paralleling the attributes of our Creator God.
Lucy, the youngest, has child-like faith (which is necessary to enter the world of Narnia). She was the one who first told the others about it back in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Thus, we see her as a Christian. In the aforementioned work (book 2 in the chronicles set) the four Sons and Daughters of Adam ascend the throne of Cair Paravel and rule for the Golden Age of Narnia. Then, as if no time had passed at all, they were drawn back to the wardrobe by the lamp post and when they came out in England they were children again, despite spending decades as the benevolent monarchs they were in Narnia.
Fast forward to Prince Caspian and a year has elapsed in England, but hundreds, if not thousands of years have passed in Narnia and once again the children are needed. My apologies if this spoils anything for you. There are still bountiful riches to be had to read them through to this point. All this is stated to get us to the quotation above. For Lucy, who first came to Narnia a year and a lifetime ago, her faith in Aslan has only grown. She hasn't laid eyes on him in perhaps 80 years (her time as queen plus her year in England), but she has never wavered in her faith. Now, when she sees him again he is bigger.
Aslan's answer that he does not grow old or bigger is a nod to the eternality and immutability of God. Aslan simply does not change just as God never changes or grows old. He has no beginning and no end; He is the Ancient of Days, the Alpha and Omega. For the Christian who believes in God and in Jesus Christ His Son through the revealed Word of the Bible, the longer we are in Christ, growing in the Word, growing in faith, the bigger God becomes, not because He has changed, but because we have grown in our understanding of Him.
This is the joy of the Christian life. If you do not know the joy of seeing God, through Christ, ever increase before you as you study the Word and increase your faith, then let me encourage you to spend more time in the Word, more time in prayer, and more time simply meditating on the goodness of God, so that He may ever increase (cf. Jn. 3:30)!
Proverbs 21:30 lays out three means of defeating God, or at least, three means that mankind tries to employ against God. In the end, as we shall see, they are all futile.
The first means of outwitting God is from the standpoint of wisdom. Truth be told, all three relate to one another, but let us briefly consider each one. Each means is preceded by a negative - "No wisdom." Therefore we know that this is not true wisdom, for God is the embodiment of wisdom and used her in creation as well as all aspects of His sovereign activity (see Proverbs 8-9). The wisdom in view in this verse is therefore the world's wisdom. The world indeed claims to be wise, but Paul sums up this claim succinctly in Rom. 1:22 when he states that "claiming to be wise, they became fools." We hear the world's claims of wisdom all around us. In fact, the echo is so loud it is almost deafening. In worldly wisdom they reject the notion of God altogether. They come up with their own way to view our origin and refuse to admit that their theory also employs faith. They do the same with the afterlife, some explaining it away altogether claiming that we simply cease to exist after this life while others adopt a more religious view that they can tolerate because it does not come from the Bible, namely that we will somehow be re-incarnated and come back to live over and over and over again. They also foolishly claim that the form of one's reincarnation is based on how they lived this particular life. Superstitious mumbo-jumbo. Also, according to the self-proclaimed "all-wise" world, there is no such thing as sin, for sin presupposes the existence of God who would be offended by sin, the One against whom sin is a violation. This is played out in the notions that are constantly trumpeted that "all men are born good;" "if left to themselves, mankind would choose to do the right thing." If I may be so bold as to interject at this point - how did the world come up with the notion of "right and wrong" anyway? A world that exists apart from God, where there is no afterlife, where truth is subjective can't possibly have any standard of morality because you can always find someone who disagrees. But I digress. How does God view the world's wisdom? "The wisdom of this world is folly with God" (1 Cor. 3:19-20).
The second means of outwitting God (or at least attempting to) according to Prov. 21:30 is tied in with wisdom, and that is "understanding." Again, the negation in front of understanding sets it apart from God's understanding and lands it squarely with the world's version. Using their wisdom, which we have already seen is folly, they consult with one another to gain understanding of their lives and the world around them. The word here in Hebrew (תְּבוּנָה) is tied to cleverness. Think of this as the reasoning process, or what we might call logic. In what they claim to know (their wisdom), they weave it together to form an argument against God and His revelation. It is as though they say to God Himself "You don't exist; you didn't create; you don't judge sin; you won't judge sin in the future; there is no sin and here are all our reasons." Is God open to this kind of reasoning from man? Hardly. In His Word, the Bible, God has revealed that He is unchanging, without beginning or end. Ps. 2:4 says that God, who is in heaven (which is to be instructive to us here on earth), laughs. This is the end of the world's understanding and logical arguments against God. They too are utter folly.
This brings us to the third attempted means of outwitting God in Prov. 21:30 - counsel. Again, it is stated with the negation, so it is not the Lord's counsel, but the counsel of world. Here, they are not just using their own minds and logic, but rather are coming together. Each of the three means builds on the other. We start with what one person knows, then move to his reasoning. Now, at the end, we bring all of mankind together and pool his collective wisdom and understanding. It is a global symposium of sorts and at this symposium they comfort one another with their godless epithets and foolish conclusions. "Don't worry, you can live as you please - God doesn't exist!" "Don't worry about the afterlife, there is no afterlife." "Don't talk about sin - it doesn't exist. That's simply an antiquated notion from centuries back and is a holdover for the religious and superstitious only." "Look at all the millions of people who agree with us; surely they can't all be wrong!" God answers this last one through the pen of Paul in Rom. 3:4 - "Let God be true though every one were a liar."
So what does God do with the counsel of the world? Back to Psalm 2:1-4. Here we find the nations gathering together to counsel with one another - it is the very global symposium we just hypothesized! And, the counsel they are taking together is to unite against God and against His Anointed. Ps. 2:4 - God, who sits in the heavens laughs; He holds them in derision.
Prov. 21:30 employs these three means that the world tries to use against God and concludes this way: None of them can avail against the LORD. God's wisdom is infinite and perfect; the world's is limited and flawed. God's understanding, His reasoning and Logic is infinite and perfect, in accord with His holiness and perfection. As the Creator of Heaven and Earth and all that is, we being the work of His hands (cf. Is. 64:8), He is the author of understanding and reason and wants us to come to Him and learn from Him (Is. 1:18)! We should not turn to one another for counsel against God, but take His wise and infinite counsel! When it comes to a battle of wits with God, man will always lose.
Ephesians 1:4 tells us that God chose those who would believe in him before the foundation of the world. In fact, verse 5 tells that he predestined those whom he chose for adoption. One thing that we learn from this is that God's knowledge certainly knows no timely boundary. In other words, he didn't have to wait for us to be born to find out that we were going to be here. His knowledge of the entire human race, from Adam all the way to the last human that is ever born is exhaustive and has been from eternity past. Now, certainly we didn't exist before the foundation of the world, yet God's knowledge of us did. It is absolutely incredible!
Another observation that we can make is that God's choice of us had nothing to do with our behavior in this life. He wasn't choosing on a merit-based system. In fact, in another epistle we find out that the saving that God does is "not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy" (Titus 3:5).
One fallacy that some people can fall prey to is the idea that the election and predestination of God somehow negate all obligation on the part of the person. The fact is, that while God knows everyone from eternity past and chooses some only because of his mercy, everyone is born into sin which separates us from God (cf. Rom. 3:23). In fact, in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul said that those believer that he was writing to used to be dead in their trespasses and sins in which they once walked (Eph. 2:1-2). What do we say to this then? Well, we want to somehow make the transition from spiritual death (Eph. 2:1) to life. John said that the purpose of his gospel was so that people would believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, they would have life in his name (Jn. 20:31).
The answer is faith. God is presently calling everybody to repentance (Acts 17:30). They are to repent of their sins, and look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2) for life (Jn. 14:6), who by his death and victorious resurrection from grave removed the wrath of God that rests on every soul (Jn. 3:36).
Put simply, when asked what must be done to be saved, Paul replied to the Philippian Jailer "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). So then, let us understand that God's omniscience doesn't negate our need for faith!
"Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder- no end to the prey!" - Nahum 3:1
This is the message that Jonah wanted to preach. Instead he got to preach a message of repentance to the bloody city which was full of lies and plunder.
From man's raw perspective (and in these cases, the perspective of Israel in particular) the message of Jonah was good news for the Ninevites and bad news for Israel. In contrast, the book of Nahum was good news (finally) for Israel and bad news for the Ninevites. There are a couple of applications that we can make.
First, God is sovereign and his timing is not ours. When we speak of his sovereignty we mean that because he is outside of time and sees all, there is no escaping his judgment. This also brings to mind a New Testament truth: that God is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. We know from Jonah that the Ninevites did repent, to the praise of His glorious grace! From Nahum we learn that he will ultimately bring justice about, but that it may not be in our time or generation. Jonah was long-gone, and all the people that were alive in his day, both in Israel AND in Nineveh. So, don't despair thinking that God doesn't notice - He does, and he will not be mocked. His timing is different than ours.
Secondly, let's look at two messengers. Both Jonah and Nahum are prophets, called to deliver God's message. They bear different messages, but more importantly, it is not their right or privilege to change the message. Jonah fought it at first, unsuccessfully, and ultimately delivered the message that God called him to, albeit tersely. The application is this: we are called to deliver God's message, no matter how we personally feel about it or the recipients. This is a sword that cuts two ways. On the one hand, we must give the good news of God's offer of salvation from sin to all without exception. It is not for us to decide who should and should not hear this message. On the other hand, we also cannot change the message. Just as Jonah preached repentance, so Nahum preached wrath and destruction. While we are not Israel or preaching to specific cities or nations, part of the message we preach is that God will ultimately judge the wicked and there is a day coming in which he will pour out his wrath against the wicked. Therefore, let us share the entire message that God has given us, for through it He has ordained to bring salvation to all who are His!
"If you are looking for an excuse not to follow Jesus you will always find one!"
That is an application from Matthew 8:21-22 where one of Jesus' disciples came to him and said "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." Jesus' response to him was a command: Follow me! Followed by an explanation: "let the dead bury their own dead." In that day, and still in some cultures in the present, this phrase does not necessarily mean that someone has just died or is in the last moments of their life. Rather, it means that eventually they would die, and in a family-centered culture, an adult child or relative would stay until the parent passed away, thus helping them in their family trade and securing an inheritance of their own.
In other words, the disciple was really saying this: "Someday, after my father has died, I will come back and follow you." He was making an excuse. Many people do this in life today. They like the idea of what Christ offers but don't like the requirements. They would rather go and live their life however they choose and someday, if they can time it just right, at the very last second, would grasp after him.
There will never be a lack of things to entice you away, whether they be family, promotions, pleasures, or the like. If you look for an excuse, it will always be there. However, the call of Christ is right now: Follow him! Believe on Him! It is worth the cost.
"This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." ~ Psalm 118:24
Do you realize that this verse is true every day? God has made each day; each day is a gift from his good hand.
Therefore we are to:
1) Acknowledge that he is our Creator and Sustainer.
2) Respond appropriately. The psalmist calls us to rejoice and be glad in this fact. We don't get upset, but rather recognize the goodness of God in his work!
Today is the first day of the new week. It is the day that Christians have assembled together for corporate worship since the Church was established. What better way to rejoice and be glad in the work of God than to join with other believers for the purpose of corporate worship through the singing of songs and hymns and spiritual songs together, through the preaching of the Word, through prayer, and through fellowship?
In the words of liturgy: "it is right to give him thanks and praise!"
"O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O LORD, you are our God; let not man prevail against you." ~2 Chronicles 14:11
Israel has been divided for only a short time. Asa, who uttered this prayer, is the son of Abijah. It was Abijah who fought against Jereboam and the northern 10 tribes of Israel in 2 Chron. 13 and was victorious even though they were outnumbered 2:1. The reason Abijah was victorious in chapter 13 was because of his reliance upon God and his recognition that God can bring about victory in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds. This steadfast faith was passed on to Asa who now demonstrates it here with this prayer as he faces a million man army from Ethiopia.
As you continue to read this passage you will find that not only did the Lord grant victory, but a stunning victory! It wasn't Pyrrhic, at a great loss to Asa's side, but they were unscathed, and the Ethiopians, in turn, were thoroughly defeated. We read that "none remained alive, for they were broken before the LORD and his army" (2 Chron. 14:13).
True is the proverb that was recorded only a few generations prior to this event: "The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD" (Prov. 21:31).
To the Christian reading this who knows that they are not the recipients of the Davidic Covenant, what should we learn from this? The most stunning aspect of this chapter is the full and complete dependence upon and faith in God, as demonstrated by the prayer. Indeed, we might ask, "do your prayers reflect such faith in God and reliance upon him?" And if they do not, why not? Do you believe that there is none like God? That he alone is God almighty, ruler of heaven and earth? That doesn't change from the days of Israel to now (cf. Heb. 13:8). Do you believe that he hears the prayers of the righteous? We are comforted with the fact that he indeed does! (cf. Prov. 15:29).
O, that our faith might be increased! O, that our prayers might reflect eternal truth and rightly portray the attributes of God. O, that we might not rely upon our own wisdom and strength, but rather acknowledge our weakness and dependence upon God who helps the weak.