David Brainerd observed, “The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best.” The answer to the question “Does prayer make a difference?” is definitely, “Yes!”. But let’s consider how and why the Bible teaches us that prayer matters so much.
The question of evil and suffering is never a theoretical one. We all experience real and deep pain and wickedness. However, for the Christian believer (who recognizes there is a God), there are only three logical possibilities for the evil things that happen in this world:
Paul contends in Romans 1:18-22 that, although God is invisible, his works are a visible proof of his actions and existence. Everyone realizes, in their heart, that there is a God; but many try to suppress this knowledge even from themselves.
Paul briefly exhorts in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 for believers to “Pray without ceasing.” Yet some of us might ask the question: “Why?” Why pray without ceasing? That seems a tall order for busy people who have many life obligations on their plate already. But consider the biblical inducements to prayer by asking yourself a few clarifying and self-examining questions:
From a negative standpoint, the neglect of Christian history reflects the incorrect assumption that we have all wisdom in our day and there is nothing to learn from wise men of the past – in effect, that the Holy Spirit has been inactive for the last 2,000 years. Our generation is among the worst when it comes to what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” infatuated with the newest thing and suspicious of anything that is old.
True faith is an act of the will, in the sense that God gives us a new will in the new birth, along with faith (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:8). God does not make us robots; he successfully woos our hearts. Faith is not merely an act of the will, because it is also the act of the Holy Spirit in our souls, drawing us to Jesus Christ, and bringing us to trust in him as he is revealed in his Word (James 1:18).
While every decision, whether large or small, is going to have its own distinct set of challenges, there are three basic principles that we should apply in every life situation. This does not mean discerning God’s will always be easy, but God does promise to lead us, in his own good time and way, when we apply these principles faithfully!
I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27). Paul, writing to the church at Corinth to correct their problems, confesses that he himself has to be careful to avoid sin. In fact Paul intimates he goes to great lengths — disciplining his body, keeping himself under control — to avoid the pitfalls of willful sin. But why? Did Paul not believe in the perseverance of the saints, or in the eternal security of believers?
The book of Revelation is perhaps the most controversial book in the Bible among Christians. Even sincere, Bible-believing Christians seem to come up with more widely varying interpretations of this book than of any other passage or prophecy. The variety and severity of these disagreements can be intimidating or discouraging to the simple reader, who may feel that there is no one Truth to be found within its mysterious pages. But it is vitally important to remember that God did not inspire the writing of Revelation to bring confusion, but hope and joy to his suffering church.
Our first and primary obligation is certainly to the local church. The Bible is very clear on the fact that we are to financially support those pastors who minister to us spiritual things, by ministering to their physical needs (1 Corinthians 9:7-11; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). The Scripture is equally plain regarding our obligation to support the poor and needy within the body of Christ (1 Timothy 5:16; 1 John 3:17).
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How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel (Psalm 78:40-41). This passage has been misunderstood by some to support the idea that men and women have an autonomy which God cannot violate and that we, therefore, have the ability to “limit” (as per the KJV) God’s interactions with his creation. It is thought that we have a “sacred free will” which God can not, or will not, violate.
Throughout much of church history there has been great confusion, and even tragic error, regarding the interpretation and use of the Song of Solomon. While some Jewish leaders have been on record discouraging it from being read by any man under the age of 30, Christian leaders have been almost as obvious in their discomfort with the book. One Christian forefather Origen even suggested that it should not be read by anyone who has not first completely crucified all his carnal, fleshly desires.
It is important to know that every sin leads to Hell — even a sin as seemingly “small” as eating one bite of a forbidden fruit. There is no sin which, in the eyes of God, is “forgivable” in the sense of being too small or petty for God to care about.
Why should I be concerned with doctrinal nuances? Isn’t that stuff just for preachers? This is a common question, or at least a common attitude, with which I have come into contact as a pastor. The richly diverse and meticulous language of Scripture, and a careful theology of Scripture, is often seen more as professional jargon for clerics than every day food for the souls of every day people. But nothing could be further from the truth.