The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. ~ Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? ~ Micah 6:8
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. ~ John 17:3
Many people don’t like the book of Ecclesiastes, stating that it’s “depressing,” but they miss the point of the book entirely. The book is not saying that everything in life is meaningless. After all, God has blessed life, work, and play (provided it’s not sinful). However, the life apart from God is empty, and nothing can truly satisfy us apart from God.
Many are familiar with the words of St. Augustine of Hippo, in which he writes, “You awake us to delight in your praise; for you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This is the point the writer of Ecclesiastes is making. Making good grades, getting a good job, attaining wealth, having great sex, having fun parties, enjoying the best foods, etc. will not truly satisfy the space in the heart. The writer is not saying that none of these things are pleasurable, but they will neither satisfy nor sustain a person ultimately.
Isn’t it worth considering that the richest people in the world are never satisfied with all the money they have? They still want more. The same thing with other pleasures and vices. But at the end of the day, there’s still something missing. Occasionally we’re surprised to learn that some persons who seemed to have had it all end of taking their lives.
The writer is not saying any pleasure in life is bad and empty. However, where persons will truly find their purpose and fulfillment, strangely, is by fearing God and walking in His ways. Furthermore, those who simply live for the pleasures while dismissing God will not only give account one day, but all of these will be stripped from them.
1. Why would fearing God and keeping His commandments prover to be a good thing? Why would we find fulfillment in these?
2. How does Jesus define eternal life?
3. What does Augustine mean when he says that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God?
 Saint Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, ed. Hal M. Helms (Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2010), 3.
(From the book, Metal Head Devotions, by Geno Pyse, available through amazon.com)
It might come as a surprise to some, but I like heavy metal and thrash music (not death metal or the scream metal that’s popular today). I’ve liked these ever since I was a kid. For one, these are fitting for those who are misfits and just don’t like the carbon copies we’re expected to conform to. But, even though dark at times, I feel metal music is often far more honest than other genres. While so much of what’s popular is simply about drinking, partying, making out, and one upping others, metal music deals with many issues, stomping over “political correctness.” Even so much in mainstream Christian music is about having warm fuzzies, avoiding so many issues in real life. Very little is genuinely thought-provoking.
I recently released a book through Amazon, geared toward Christians who enjoy heavy metal, Metal Head Devotions: Heavy Devotions for Those Who Like Heavy Music. The following is the second devotional in it. I hope you enjoy. Blessings!
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. ~ John 3:19-20
Light and darkness are both strange things in existence. We make use of both for various reasons. Light is vital for life and well-being—both physically and spiritually. We use light to see and to expose. We use darkness to hide and conceal.
In Jesus Christ, light has come into the world in the spiritual sense. Apart from Him, we walk in the darkness, neither seeing nor knowing where we are going. In our darkness, we are completely disoriented. We see evidence of this in our world today. There is such chaos and disorder throughout the world. People calling good evil and evil good. Politicians and various leaders making decisions to fix problems, but what usually happens is more problems are created instead. So many decisions being made today make absolutely no sense, but this is the result of darkness—disorder and chaos.
On the flip side, the light shines and exposes things for what they are, and we are exposed for what and who we truly are. This is beyond uncomfortable. We are exposed as being weak, sinful, dirty, disgraceful, perverse, selfish, unholy, naked, and in desperate need. When Isaiah was exposed in the presence of God in Isaiah, he cried out that he was “undone.” He literally felt like he was going to be destroyed. Who among us like to be exposed for our faults, our lies, our improprieties, our gossip, etc.? The shame we feel can become unbearable. This is one of the reasons we don’t always rush to the light.
As followers of Christ, or persons considering doing so, it is important that we understand that God’s desire is not to shame us or destroy us. His desire is that we might see our desperate need for Him, to understand the terrible guilt and wickedness of our sins.
Think of it this way, we don’t need a doctor until we realize we’re sick or something is truly wrong within us. The same is true when it comes to the light of Christ. Most of us like to think that we’re pretty good chaps, until His light reveals our real selfishness, ulterior motives, false love, cowardness, and beastliness. Most of us are oblivious to just how deeply some of our words and actions have impaled and wounded other people, whether family, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. Once we can truly see and recognize our wretchedness, we can then begin to understand our own personal, and desperate, need of the Savior. But are we willing to approach the light and be exposed or creep back into the darkness and die in our sins?
1. When you consider the benefits of light in the natural realm, how does this transfer to the spiritual?
2. What does the Bible mean when it says, “In him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men”?
3. What does the Bible mean when it says, “people loved the darkness rather than the light”? How does this affect people’s responses to both light and darkness?
But if that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him … and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Years ago, when I was in my teens, my parents had gone out of town. When they left, the house was in disarray. My mom sternly warned me that the house had better be straightened up by the time they returned—or else. At the time, I had the benefit of knowing when they would return, and I did make sure I had taken care of all the chores before their return.
Jesus has “gone out of town.” He has left His people with instructions: for the shepherds and teachers to lovingly guide, instruct, and equip His people in the ways of righteousness, and for His people to carry out His Great Commission.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20)
Consider the One who has issued this commission. It is none other than Jesus, the Christians’ Savior, Lord, God, and King. Believers need to recapture the definition of these titles:
Savior – one who saves, rescues, or delivers from harm or oppression. Jesus saves/delivers His people from the tyranny and ultimate consequence of sin, the wrath of God, the devil, and hell.
Lord – one who has authority, a master. One who calls the shots and is to be obeyed.
God – the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth.
King – a sovereign ruler.
Are these the way Jesus is viewed and treated in many churches? Be honest, is sin recognized and handled as a real hazard, danger, and poison? Is Jesus approached with genuine reverence and treated as authentic royalty? Is He approached as persons would approach a king, with humility and loyalty?
Many people and churches emphasize Jesus’ love to the point of exclusion of His other attributes and characteristics (holiness, justice, truth, and purity). However, we must understand the One who extends forgiveness and grace is also the one who commands us to repent and to sin no more. While Jesus promises a heaven for His people, He also promises a hell for the unrepentant and unbelieving. He, indeed, is the gracious Savior of all who turn to Him, but He is also the Judge who will condemn those who reject His light because of their love for the darkness.
Jesus asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Elsewhere, He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). How can Jesus be one’s Lord and King if what He says is dismissed?
On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:22-23)
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)
There are two kingdoms. Each of us is a citizen of one or the other, and our heart and loyalties are to whichever one we belong. Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Granted, in context He is talking about money, but the principle certainly applies on a broader scale. These two kingdoms are diametrically opposed to the other. The one is a kingdom of light, holiness, love, purity, and truth. The other is a kingdom of darkness, evil, selfishness, immorality, and deception. Although the kingdom of light is the kingdom of the rightful King, the kingdom of darkness is ruled by a would-be king (Satan) who is in continual rebellion of the rightful King’s rule.
There are many who feign to be a part of the kingdom of light, yet their lives reveal love for the kingdom of darkness (this will be discussed further in chapter four). The Bible says:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10)
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. … And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:19-24)
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is transformative. When a person believes the Gospel and is born again by the Spirit of God (see John 3), he becomes a new creature. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). The Bible tells us those who are born again become citizens of King Jesus’ kingdom.
Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:12-14)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph. 2:1-3)
The genuine follower of Christ still battles an internal struggle with sin. He is made perfect positionally, but not experientially. Nevertheless, he is changed, and will continue to change.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:17-18)
John tells us that if we claim to have fellowship with God while walking in darkness, then we lie and are not practicing the truth. He goes on to explain that if we walk in the light, then we have fellowship with God, “and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Still, we cannot claim to be without sin, but “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all righteousness” (see 1 John 1:5-10).
Later in John’s letter, he encourages believers to abide in Christ, and when He appears, we will be like him. John then adds, “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Then, in the next paragraph he writes, “No one who abides in [Christ] keeps on sinning … Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil … whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God” (see 1 John 2:28-3:10).
In John’s Gospel, the apostle shares some of Jesus’ teachings about abiding in Him, loving/obeying, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus emphasizes our need to abide in Him, apart from which we cannot be nourished, grow, or bear fruit.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:1-6)
What does it mean to “abide” in Jesus? Jesus likens Himself to a vine and his followers as branches. The vine is the source of the roots and nourishment. If a branch is severed from the vine, it dies and withers. To abide in Christ means to stay connected and dependent on Him the same way a branch is connected and dependent on a vine. Disciples of Jesus Christ are to have this kind of relationship to Him.
In the previous chapter, Jesus explains to His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (14:15), and those who do He will send the Spirit of truth to live in them (vs. 17). Jesus goes on to promise them who love Him, who keep His commandments, will in turn be loved by Him and the Father. Furthermore, He will manifest Himself to them (vs. 21).
In chapter 16, Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth—will guide His people “into all the truth,” “things that are to come,” and “take what is [Christ’s] and declare it to you.” In all this, the Holy Spirit’s intention is to glorify Christ (see vs. 12-15). If any words or activities do not truly honor Christ, His teachings, and redemptive work then one can be certain that these are not of the Holy Spirit of God.
What does walking in the light, abiding in Christ, loving and obeying Him, and the Holy Spirit have to do with staying alert and awake? Walking in the light gives evidence of a genuine relationship with God. Obeying Christ and keeping His commandments gives evidence to authentic love for Him. The Holy Spirit will reveal truth and things to come to those who love Jesus.
In Matthew 24, Jesus tells of some things to watch for concerning His coming and the end of the age. There are those who limit this discourse as meaning the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.; however, this must include the future because Jesus has not yet returned. During this discourse, Jesus makes a distinction between wise servants and wicked servants. The wise servants continue to wait, serve, and expect the return of the Master. The wicked servants grow weary of waiting and begin to serve themselves. Jesus gives clear warning of the severe judgment of the wicked servants (vs. 45-51).
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable of ten virgins. Five of the virgins were wise, while the other five were foolish. The coming of the bridegroom was delayed. The wise had prepared and had gotten extra flasks of oil for their lamps. The foolish made no such preparations. The wise who had prepared were each welcomed to the wedding feast. The foolish ones, who were late in coming due to not being prepared, were prohibited from joining in the feast. They were told the horrifying words, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (see vs. 1-13).
Oil is often used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus returns, there will be many who are churchgoers but who are not born again. Therefore, they will not be filled with the Holy Spirit or genuine faith leading to salvation. Jesus warns in Matthew 24 of some whom He describes as wicked servants, although professing Him to be their “master,” go through the motions of religiosity but do not expect His return. These also become abusive toward His faithful servants while associating with the godless and adapting their ungodly ways.
For His faithful ones, Jesus does not simply leave them in the dark. Jesus had rebuked the religious leaders of the day, saying, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3). Yet, in answer to the disciples’ question, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3), Jesus gives various signs to watch for. Each is an indication that His return is drawing ever closer. Furthermore, throughout the New Testament we are given other things to watch for (we will consider some of these later). The question must be asked, would Jesus rebuke us today for not being able to interpret the times?
Jesus promised He would return when we least expect it; yet He expects His people to anticipate His return and be prepared. His return just might be closer than we think.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul notes, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (5:3). The apostle goes on to state matter-of-factly that such persons who live immorally, impurely, or covetous “has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (vs. 5).
As Paul continues, he explains that we had once been a part of darkness, with all its shameful works; however, in Christ we have become children of light.
But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:13-16)
Elsewhere, Paul writes on the similar theme:
For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. (1 Thes. 5:5-7)
Our Master has gone “out of town,” and He appears to be delaying; nevertheless, He is going to return. When He does, will He find us faithful in our service, anticipating His return? If He returned this week, would we be taken by surprise? We cannot be faithful and unfaithful at the same time. Which are you? May we take ever so seriously Jesus’ admonitions. He has given explicit warnings to the immoral, the hypocrites, and the apostates. May His words be inscribed in our minds, on our hearts, and the depths of our soul: “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
~ from the book, Storm on the Horizen: Are We Approaching the End Times? by Geno Pyse, p. 11-26
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. ~ Romans 1:16
Good News. This is what gospel means. Only when persons understand the reason as to why it is good news will individuals begin to understand, and genuinely appreciate, the significance of the gospel.
The apostle declares that he is not ashamed of this good news—the gospel. That is, Paul is neither embarrassed nor apologetic about the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not simply a statement but a declaration. One that is countercultural and unpopular, for many find the gospel to be either offensive or ridiculous.
Roman society, like ours, had all kinds of gods and conflicting philosophies. For the most part, one could get along if he played by society’s rule of religious inclusivity. So, religion was treated almost the way people complement each other’s tattoos today. However, exclusivity was considered arrogant and presumptuous then as it is today.
Yet, here is Paul, not willing to play society’s game of religious flattery. No, he was not belligerent towards those of different faiths, but neither was he willing to say that Jesus Christ was but a way to paradise or heaven. Although he was greatly outnumbered, he was not embarrassed of the gospel, and he boldly declared that it is the power of God for salvation.
In Acts, we read of Paul’s visit to Athens and how his spirit was troubled as he witnessed the abundant idolatry. We are told “that the city was full of idols” (17:16). Paul reasoned in the synagogue and conversed with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in the marketplace. Then, one day he stood in the midst of the Areopagus, and said,
Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)
He proceeds to tell them of the God of Christianity, and how this God created the world and all humanity. Paul then begins addressing men’s idolatry and calls them to repent, as he tells of a fixed day when God “will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (vs. 31).
Concerning idolatry, whether it is religious or ideological, Paul addresses it in his letter to the Romans. The apostle does not mince his words, as he explains that our idolatries are neither accidents nor “mistakes.” The atheist’s stance on there being “no proof” is an invalid argument. And Paul declares God’s wrath is revealed
against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (Rom. 1:18-19)
How? In “the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (vs. 20). The psalmist writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God …There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard” (Ps. 19:1, 3). Furthermore, Paul states that even though Gentiles who do not have the law “show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience bears witness” (Rom. 2:15).
From the macro down to the very micro, creation reveals design, order, and complexity. And a general morality is revealed throughout the world, whether the society is democratic, communistic, Hindu, etc. With this said, elsewhere Paul does note that the conscience can be seared: “Through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:2). That is, a person’s conscience can become numb.
This issue of “suppressing the truth” must not be dismissed. If we were to probe honestly, each of us would see where we have done this in our own lives. Yet, we can see the suppression of truth all around us. The news media does this constantly. Certain people of a political party are verbally condemned for alleged behaviors, while explicit displays of the same behaviors in another party are dismissed.
In education and science, the theory of evolution is projected as “fact,” even though there is no evidence to support it. In fact, there are some prestigious individuals who have openly shared that they know evolution is not true, but they hold to it lest they would have to admit they have a Creator to whom they will give account to.
Another area you see the suppression of truth is in the philosophical realm, when people claim that truth is relative; that is, there are no absolutes. This becomes almost comical, as nearly everyone who professes this absurdity will go on to say how your views are wrong, or this action is unfair, etc. This profession of there being no absolutes (especially moral) is typically used to justify behaviors permitting individuals to do what they want, without having to feel the pangs of conscience.
Say what we will, but the fact of the matter is each of us has committed idolatry and suppressed the truth. As one theologian has said, our hearts are idol factories. Idols come in all shapes and forms. They can come as images of wood and stone, the saints of Catholicism, the Virgin Mary. Idols can be the traditions of churches or the pleasures of the flesh. An idol is anything that would replace God of His rightful place in our lives and worship. Even the garments of Evangelicalism can cover idolatry.
To put it another way, the Old Testament often uses the imagery of harlotry and infidelity when confronting idolatry:
Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. (Jer. 3:9)
Your lewdness and your whoring have brought this upon you, because you played the whore with the nations and defiled yourself with their idols. (Eze. 23:29-30)
My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. (Hos. 4:12)
Let us make no mistake, idolatry is present in many churches today clothed with many expressions. In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer rightly notes that idolatry begins within the mind, simply thoughts that are unworthy and contrary to whom God is.
Idolatry, regardless how we might dress it or justify it, will never bring us to God and salvation. In fact, idolatry does just the opposite, leading persons away from the true God and deeper into deception and false security. But Paul says the gospel—the good news—is the power of God for salvation to anyone who believes!
~ from the book, The Pure Gospel: Undiluted and Unadulterated, by Geno Pyse, p. 9-17.
“Prayer accomplishes nothing,” says the naysayer, “I prayed about _____, and nothing happened!” Part of the problem with such thinking has to do with the misperception of God. God is not anyone’s genie or a cosmic vending machine. God is our Creator and owes us nothing. We are to serve Him, not vice versa.
However, there is something else to consider. James tells us, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (5:16). Earlier, he writes,
You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. ~ James 4:2-3
According to James, prayer is neither powerless nor the problem. He says the prayers of the righteous person has great power, and we receive not because we ask according to our own will and desires rather than according to God’s will and wisdom.
According to Noah Webster, 1828 version, righteous means, “Just; accordant to the divine law … it denotes one who is holy in heart, and observant of the divine commands in practice.” Character, integrity, and virtue all matter to God. The prayers of those who are righteous are powerful, not the prayers of those who are haughty, shrewd, deceitful, immoral, or unbelieving. Understand, this doesn’t mean God will answer prayers according to a righteous person’s desires simply because he or she is righteous. Paul the apostle notes,
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Still, when persons want to dismiss prayer as a waste of time, we must consider the issue of character. When God denies our requests, do we have the right to be angry and to accuse prayer as being meaningless? Could it be that we are both the problem and the hindrance? Can we say with complete honesty, in accordance with the truth, that we are righteous, just, and holy in heart? If our answer is “No,” then we reveal that the problem is, indeed, us and not prayer.
Both as Christians and as churches, if our prayers seem to be ineffective and go no where, then we should examine ourselves. How might we be living unrighteously? How might we be asking according to our desires while dismissing God’s will and wisdom?
Prayer is not powerful and effective simply because it is uttered, or even because it is spoken in God’s name. Prayer is powerful when it is spoken from one who is righteous and when God’s glory is kept in view. If you see prayer as futile, know that prayer is not the problem. Rather, the real problem is the unrighteousness being harbored within your heart.
We love words like grace and justification, although these reveal it’s all God’s work. So why are we afraid of words like predestination and election? After all, we’re told,
Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself. ~ Ephesians 1:4-5
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. ~ Romans 8:33
Take the time to consider these seven things:
1) We are finite creatures considering the works of an infinite God. Why should we be surprised we don’t comprehend such concepts?
2) God is complete and perfect in His holiness, love, justice, goodness, and mercy. None of these attributes betray the others when God does what He does. We might not understand, but we must remember point number one. To accuse God of being unjust is an astounding thing, considering none of us is the poster child of justice (Romans 3:10-18).
3) To dismiss or deny these words and concepts is to be unfaithful to the sacred texts (these are difficult to miss in Ephesians 1). What an astounding thing to dismiss, and in some cases to abhor, God’s revelation. We’re moved when we hear, “I have loved you, and you are saved entirely by My grace.” But then are bewildered when we hear, “I have chosen you and predestined you before the foundation of the world.”
4) These concepts were not meant to divide God’s people but to bring comfort to believers who were facing very real trials and persecution. Why are we not comforted by them?
5) Were it not for His election and predestination none of us would be saved, because none of us seek God on our own accord.
6) Predestination does not nullify God’s invitation for all to come to Him. Just because we don’t understand how these tie together in unity doesn’t make them less true. Again, we are finite.
7) That God would bother saving the likes of you or me should blow our minds and fill us with overwhelming gratitude. Grace means to receive what we don’t deserve (mercy, salvation), and it is the gift of God not by works. So what’s the problem with predestination and election, again?
What does all this have to do with prayer? First, if you are born again, this should fill your heart with utmost gratitude. Salvation always begins with God taking the initiative. If we love Him, then it’s only because He first loved us (1 John 4:10, 19). Second, it should motivate the child of God to want to talk with Him, because He wants to hear from you and me.
Let’s neither be afraid nor dismayed by these words and concepts. And certainly let us not be unfaithful to Sacred Text. They come from the all-wise One to the unwise, the Infinite to the finite, and the Just to the unjust. It shouldn’t surprise us that we don’t fully comprehend these great truths (far lesser things boggle our minds). What should surprise us is that we were were on His mind and in His heart before the foundation of the world.
It is common for preachers and laity alike to say, “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called!” Although we hear such things, this is not really the consensus. Most, I dare say, do not really believe this. Think about it, many churches will not even consider a person for a pastoral or staff position if one does not have the minimum of a master of divinity degree. Many would not take the time to read a theology book by someone who is not a seminary professor or have a doctorate degree. And many Christian organizations won’t consider persons with less than a master’s degree. Sadly, degrees neither prove a person is qualified, biblical, or filled with the Holy Spirit. Yet, a person can have the required biblical knowledge and filled with the Holy Spirit and His power, yet not possess a degree of any kind. Check out what the Scriptures say,
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. ~ Acts 4:13-14
Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. ~ Acts 6:3
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. ~ 1 Timothy 3:1-7
Take note in each of these passages. Where was the source of power and what were the requirements of the leaders? The source of power was from time with Jesus and the being filled with His Holy Spirit. And this was in the lives of some described as uneducated and common. Mind you, this doesn’t mean they were stupid, but a degree is not what made them effective. And when we look at actual biblical requirements, where does one see anything about education or degrees?
One of the things that drives me crazy about the denomination I’m affiliated with is the leaders will say, “We’re a people of the Book!” Yet, they add human requirements for persons to be leaders, pastors, missionaries, etc., which often supersede the requirements of “the Book. (e.g., one needs a degree, fit a certain image, etc.).
So many people talk about wanting to be a “New Testament” church. Now, all one has to do is consider the believers in Corinth and Galatia to realize the early church had its share of problems. However, there is a lot lacking in the modern, sophisticated church. Today, where is the power, unction, boldness, and the plain evidence—“they had been with Jesus”?
I believe many people are passed over in churches and organizations—persons who are filled with the Holy Spirit, who’ve been with Jesus, and fulfill the biblical requirements—because they have not earned a degree. They love God, love people, have a good reputation, and are capable teachers of the things of God, but they don’t possess a degree.
Think about this, most of the great persons of God in the Scriptures, the prophets, and the apostles would not be church leaders or pastors in today’s churches, despite their caliber. Ironically, many today have the degrees and “experience” but not the caliber. Will the church today truly get back to the place it needs to be: being immersed in prayer, the Scriptures, and being filled with the Spirit of God?
One of the results of Covid is the revealing of many people’s ignorance of the Christian faith and its relation to the church. For all who profess to be Christians, and despite any criticism (sometimes justifiable) of churches, we must remember that the church is Christ’s idea. Let me say that again. The church is Christ’s idea.
“I don’t need to go to church to be saved,” some say. Perhaps not, but what makes you think you’re saved if you reject the very idea and structure of the One you profess to be Savior and Lord? “You’re adding works to salvation,” someone will accuse. No, I’m saying you’re dismissing the very idea and structure Jesus established. “Well, I don’t need to go to church to worship God,” many say. Well, just because you profess to worship doesn’t mean you do, nor does it mean it’s acceptable to God. The Scriptures reveal numerous times when God rejected people’s worship. The writer of Hebrews admonishes,
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~ Hebrews 10:24-25
“Well, I’m fed by Pastor Stanley [or Jeremiah, etc.].” Perhaps, but church is not simply about you. The church is a body where every member has value and is needed (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). There are persons in the church you are to interact with, to encourage, to exhort, to hug, to pray for. It is difficult to be involved (as we’re commanded to be) sitting in a recliner or laying in bed.
No where in the New Testament are followers of Jesus Christ called to be Lone Rangers. First Baptist Church of La-Z-Boy, St. Paul of King Size Bed, and Holy Trinity Breakfast Church are not legitimate churches. It is one thing to truly be shut in and bedridden, but it is quite another to dismiss church and the support thereof simply out of “convenience.” God calls us to love and serve one another. There’s nothing “convenient” about this. Church is more than simply going to sing some songs and hearing a message. Church is a living organism made up of individuals who minister to one another and to be involved together in the Great Commission of our Lord.
If you’re choosing to stay home from church when you are quite capable of going, you can use whatever excuse you want. But you fail to understand the very faith in which you profess. The Christian faith is not an isolated or “private” faith, but one of community. You do need church and the church needs you.
Prayer is such a mysterious thing. God is Sovereign, His purposes will be accomplished, and His will cannot be thwarted; however, He has purposed that some things will either happen or not happen—depending on the prayers of His people.
In prayer, because of the shed Blood of Jesus Christ, God’s people appear to simply pray wherever they are praying at the moment. However, they are also in the very presence of God before His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19-22).
Strangely, like the stealth of Navy SEALs, our prayers also enter behind enemy lines where the works of God are not noticed by us, but are active nevertheless. While our prayers in no way force God’s hand to do anything, and neither is God dependent on our prayers in any way, somehow our prayers play a vital role in people’s deliverances, the breaking of strongholds, the infusion of God’s power, protection of God’s people, etc.
Our prayers truly matter. This truth is sorely neglected, forgotten, and misunderstood in many of our Evangelical churches. In the book of Daniel, we get a rare glimpse of the spiritual reality that goes on behind the scenes where human eyes cannot see. In chapter 10, Daniel (who had been praying and fasting for three weeks was visited by an angelic being. The prophet is told,
Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come. ~ Daniel 10:13-14
How have we gotten to the point where we have such audacious arrogance to think spiritual battles are won and the kingdom is advanced simply by our preaching, programs, and church attendance? How have we become so lazy and unbelieving when it comes to prayer that churches have nearly jettisoned prayer meetings, and the average Christian spends less than two minutes in prayer? Will our Bible studies bring revival? Will our church programs break the strongholds and addictions holding people captive? Will our Christian concerts bring the protection and comfort needed by those suffering around the world? These, apart from prayer, will accomplish very little, if anything at all. We must pray! If we truly want to see captives set free behind enemy lines, then we must pray. To simply say we entrust everything to God’s sovereignty is to offer an invalid excuse not to pray; furthermore, to spurn all God’s commands and instructions to pray. The darkness will only grow stronger as God’s people refuse to pray.
Jesus says explicitly, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’” (Matt. 21:13; Luke 19:46). Therefore, not only is He stressing the importance of prayer, but it is to be of highest priority of any congregation gathering in His name—from the vocational ministers to the attending laity. So we should ask ourselves, how did churches become houses of worship? Understand, this is not simply a changing of terms. These are not synonymous. No, this shift is quite consequential.
“My house is to be a house of prayer,” the Lord declares. Yet, consider the emphasis of most churches. Is it prayer? No, most churches emphasize the preaching, worship, or missions/outreach of some kind. Yet, typically in any service prayer is given only a couple of minutes. Certainly the preaching of God’s Word, worship, and missions/outreach are all important. However, it is through prayer churches show their dependence on God and seek His directives. Furthermore, it is through prayer these other things are infused with the power of the Holy Spirit versus man’s ingenuity and activity (there is a distinction). Incidentally, it is by the lack of prayer churches reveal their trust in themselves (rather than on God) and seek after their own agendas instead of God’s will. Oh sure, in many cases buildings are erected and congregations grow numerically—but not infused with the power of God and a deeper knowledge of Him!
Henry Blackaby writes this haunting observation, “Those who know they can do nothing apart from abiding in Christ will cry out to God continually (John 15:5). People who become self-confident and proud will find they are too busy to pray.” How much do you and I, as well as our churches, genuinely cry out to God in total dependence and with abandonment of ourselves?
We say that we follow Christ and that He is our Teacher and example—that we want to be like Him. But is this true? Do we follow His example? Do we really want to be like Him? Oswald Chambers is right when he says, “Prayer seems like such a small thing to do—next to nothing at all in fact. But that’s not what Jesus said. To Him prayer is everything.”
Consider how many times in the Gospels we read of the Son of God rising up early in the morning while it was still dark or staying up late into the night for the purpose of praying. Before calling His disciples, He prayed. So devoted was He to prayer that His disciples (who no doubt were familiar with prayer) requested that He teach them to pray. Before His passion, knowing the cup of suffering was being given to Him to drink in its entirety, He pleaded that there was some other way; nevertheless, He wanted the Father’s will to be done. Is this our mindset—our desire—to seek long and hard after God, to enquire of His guidance in every decision, and to surrender our desires and agendas in order to align ourselves with His? This is difficult. In fact, this is impossible if we are not being infused with His Spirit. Cheryl Sacks rightly notes that this cannot happen apart from fervent prayer.
Please understand, I’m not speaking as one who is some great prayer warrior. But I see so much powerlessness of the church as darkness spreads further and many people falling away from the faith. We have Christian literature and media galore, but where is our influence? We have plenty of nice facilities and events, but where is the power? Is not our lack of influence and power simply a result of our lack of prayer?
The purpose of this article is not to shame the church or put her down. Rather, I am simply wanting to encourage you, and that we may encourage one another, to seek passionately after the heart and face of our Father—just as our Savior exemplified. By the moving of the Holy Spirit within us, may our church buildings be restored to houses of prayer instead of houses of worship. May we become completely dependent on God rather than our own abilities, and may we learn to sincerely pray patterned after His, “Your will be done.” From here, only God knows what incredibly positive effects this would have in our lives, our homes, our churches, our communities, and our world. We won’t ever know, except churches becoming what God has willed for them to be—houses of prayer.