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James 5: Remembering God

As we come to the end of James in chapter 5, as is typical in these letters, there are some final pieces of advice.

Jas 5:13  Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

Jas 5:14  Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

I know that turning to God in all situations might not be a natural response all the time. Think about when everything is going extraordinarily well. We kind of forget about God because we don’t feel like we need help. Then, when everything starts to fall apart, we desperately need help and return to God.

It is not that God minds that we come to Him without problems. However, as this passage mentions, even when you are happy, God should be at the center. We aren’t supposed to think of God as simply our escape. Don’t get me wrong, He is our escape, and He will help us out in difficult times. That’s not the question. Read the Psalms, and it is obvious that God is willing to listen when things are difficult. Even if He might not answer right away, it does that mean He is not listening.

However, a relationship with God is about more than that. Think about parents and children. Children certainly come to their parents when they need help. However, the relationship is built on more than that. There are good times as well. Families build memories around those good times, and it strengthens that bond between the parent and the child. I think God is the same way. He is a part of the good times as well even when we might not remember He is there.

That then is the obvious challenge. Maybe we can try to recognize God in the good times and remember to praise Him.

1 Timothy 2: Prayer for All

As a leader in the early church, Paul reminds Timothy that it is important to pray for everyone in 1 Timothy 2.

1Ti 2:1  I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

1Ti 2:2  For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

1Ti 2:3  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;

This even includes people that Timothy would not have necessarily liked. I don’t know Timothy’s views on government, but maybe he was not thrilled with the people in leadership; Paul told him to pray for them. I know that many people today get upset about the government or people in leadership, but we also then ought to pray for those who are in power.

After all, think about it. Who doesn’t need prayer? Even if we don’t like someone, it doesn’t mean that we don’t pray for them. In fact, it almost seems to me that those people who are doing things that the other people who need for most of all (although I realize that we all equally fallen and therefore need prayer equally).

I wonder how this would change the dialogue for Christians. It would be something if we were more concerned about praying for all people. It certainly might be a more positive environment. While I don’t doubt that we need to speak out about things that are going wrong in the world, at the same time, we should make a concerted effort to pray for those even if they oppose us. Even if there are problems that we don’t agree with or support whatsoever, we can still pray for those people.

Acts 4: Asking for Courage

After being arrested in the temple, the priests found no grounds to punish Peter and John in Acts 4. They were threatened to stop preaching about Jesus, but nothing really happened to them beyond the fact that they did get in trouble. After they were released, they went back to their company, and they all immediately prayed.

Act 4:29  And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,

Act 4:30  By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.

I think that they realized that this was only the beginning. Yes, they got in trouble, and they ended up being told to stop preaching. However, they knew that the threats might become more serious over time. They knew that they were irritating the priests, and they knew that they very well might need the strength of God in the near future to endure what was coming.

What seems to be particularly impressive about the early church is the fact that they were tied into God. They did not go and run away. They did not lessen what they were saying. Rather, they asked God for the boldness and strength to continue doing what they were doing. That certainly was not the easier path. There are other things that they could have tried to do. They had have gone back to being fishermen. They could have gone to a different area and gotten a fresh start when nobody knew their association with Jesus Christ. They could have given up the entire Christian thing and returned to Judaism. However, they did not.

They did not because they knew that what Jesus had taught them and what they had seen was the truth. Therefore, they prayed for the strength to endure for the sake of truth.

Isaiah 57: The Peace of God

I think that it’s kind of interesting to think about the idea of peace. I know that we have a chorus that talks about letting the peace of Christ rule in your heart. It seems as if peace is something we get from having a relationship with Jesus Christ, and today in Isaiah 57 we see that reinforced negatively.

Isa 57:20  But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

Isa 57:21  There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.

I think this is interesting though because there are plenty of nonbelievers who will say that they have peace. They are comfortable with who they are, and they are in general satisfied where they are in life. Contrarily, there are some Christians who seem to be anything but peaceful. They don’t seem to have the kind of comfort that we are talking about here.

What is this peace then? It is something that Christ can give us, and it is something that the wicked do not have. However, it is also something that Christians have the potential to have, but we don’t always live like we have ithaven’t.

I think that we ought to go to the primary passage in question.

Php 4:6  Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

Php 4:7  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Interestingly, it seems as if this is something that we can’t necessarily understand but is also undeniably there. It also seems to come through prayer on some level. It seems to come after we have given our problems to God. In other words, we don’t have to handle our problems entirely on our own.

I think that that makes some sense on some level. There are a lot of things in our lives that can be hard to deal with. I don’t know where all of you are coming from, but I am willing to guarantee that your life is probably not perfect. How do we find peace in these kinds of circumstances? If we have to do it all on our own, we will just keep fighting. If we give it over to someone else, we don’t have to bear the burden alone. God can help us, but we also have to be willing to let it go.

Psalms 143: Ask God What You Want

I think that we can be afraid to ask God questions sometimes. I think that we can get nervous and feel like we are somehow bothering God or troubling him with something that is insignificant compared to all of the things He handles everyday in the universe. Or, we can feel like our questions are embarrassing or something that we should be able to handle ourselves.

However, after reading Psalms 143, you get the picture that it is fine to be specific and to be straightforward with God about what we are looking for.

Psa 143:11  Quicken me, O LORD, for thy name’s sake: for thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.

Psa 143:12  And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant.

David was not afraid to lay it on the line. He knew the outcome that he wanted to happen. He also knew that God had certain attributes, and, at least in his mind, his requests were consistent with those attributes. For example, he knew that God was merciful, so he wanted God to help him defeat his enemies.

Now, what we don’t know in this situation was God’s response. As we have talked about before, God hears all of our prayers, but He is not required to give us everything we want. He gives us what He feels is best.

A little bit of speculation here: David got an awful lot of what he wanted from this prayer. He did not die at the hands of any enemies, so whenever it was in his life that he prayed this prayer, God protected him in the way that he had asked. David was praying in a way that aligned with the will of God.

Asking God is great, and we can ask God for anything. We can approach God with courage just like David did. He will hear us, and He will provide an answer in some fashion even if that answer is that we have to wait.

Psalms 140: Handling Difficult People

Today’s topic from Psalms 140 is rather obvious. There are people out there who want to mess with your life. There are people who might not like you for whatever reason, and sometimes it is even unprovoked. Maybe you did nothing “wrong”, but someone just doesn’t like your personality or the way you go about your everyday life.

How are we supposed to handle these people? We can try to be nice to them; in fact, we should be nice to them. However, that doesn’t necessarily solve our problem. We still might have to deal with these people. As nice as we are, we need a plan as to how we are going to handle these situations.

Psa 140:4  Keep me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man; who have purposed to overthrow my goings.

Psa 140:5  The proud have hid a snare for me, and cords; they have spread a net by the wayside; they have set gins for me. Selah.

Psa 140:6  I said unto the LORD, Thou art my God: hear the voice of my supplications, O LORD.

Psa 140:7  O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.

It is interesting that David went directly to God. That tells me a few things. First, it tells me that David believed that God was able to be actively involved in his life. He didn’t believe in a God who was simply a great clockmaker.

Second, this tells me that David believed that God was more powerful than humanity. If God was able to protect David from the enemies that he could not protect himself from, then it seems as if logic necessitates that God is more powerful than both David and his enemies.

Finally, it tells me that God cares about people. David kept coming back to God because he understood that God cared about him. It was a good place to put his trust because it had never failed him before, and he knew that God would not fail him in the future.

We can learn a lot from this chapter about how to handle difficult people in our lives. Mainly, we bring the problem to God. He is involved, He is powerful, and He cares about us. The evil fades away in comparison to our God.

Psalms 116: A Direct Line

Psalms 116 begins with an important statement. The author explains that, “I love the Lord.” Now, the rest of the Psalm advances to talk about why God deserves to be loved.

Psa 116:1  I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications.

Psa 116:2  Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.

Psa 116:3  The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

Psa 116:4  Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.

The first few verses refer to prayer. It is pretty important, and is when you seriously think about it, it is a pretty amazing privilege. Let me propose a kind of analogy. Here in the United States, I can’t just pick up the phone and call President Barack Obama. He is a very busy man, and he has an entire country to run. He’s only human, and he can’t possibly talk to every person who wants to talk to him every day. He might want to, but he would just run out of time and energy.

How much more impressive than is it that we have a God who we can talk to every day whenever we want? However, He is President of the universe if you will. He is the King over everything. Every person on earth can pray simultaneously, and God does not have those kinds of human constraints. It is not like His phone line will be busy, or He needs to get a few hours of sleep at night.

When you compare the direct line we have to God as compared to what we have with anyone on earth, there really is no comparison. God hears our individual voices, and that is why we should call on Him even in times when it is hard. He will always hear us.

Psalms 99: Answers to Prayer

Psalms 99 gives some examples of people who called upon the Lord. When they called upon the Lord, they received an answer.

Psa 99:6  Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name; they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.

Psa 99:7  He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar: they kept his testimonies, and the ordinance that he gave them.

Now, it doesn’t specifically say what they called on God for, but maybe we can go back into the Bible and find what this might be referring to.

Moses called upon God several times as I remember, but here is one example for you.

Exo 32:11  And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

This was after Aaron and the other people had created the golden calf. Moses asked God to be merciful to the people of Israel even though they had been stubborn and disobedient. God immediately answered in this case and said that He would not destroy the people.

I had a harder time finding when Aaron was directly speaking without Moses beside him, but there was a time when the people of Israel were thinking of having a revolution against Moses and Aaron, and here is the prayer that the two men said.

Num 16:22  And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?

Again, God was very angry, and even though He could have easily destroyed all of the rebels in one shot, we see a similar prayer from Moses and Aaron. Most of the people had been deceived by the leadership which is why you get the verse above. They didn’t want everyone to be punished, and they received an answer from God that He would not destroy everyone. The earth did open up and devour the ringleaders, but again, we see an answer to prayer.

Finally, Samuel had a pretty cool situation. The Philistines were threatening to overtake Israel like they always seemed to be, and Israel was asking Samuel to pray to God on their behalf for His assistance.

1Sa 7:9  And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the LORD: and Samuel cried unto the LORD for Israel; and the LORD heard him.

1Sa 7:10  And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel.

Not surprisingly, we see that his prayer was answered. God prevented the invasion that had been coming to Israel.

So what?

I know that some people will deny this, and I don’t have time for a full-fledged defense of the historical reliability of the Bible, but if we take for granted that the Bible is at the very least a reliable historical document, we see records of prayers being answered.

People often say that prayer doesn’t work, but it seemed as if this Psalm is kind of encouraging people to investigate the evidence themselves. See, it worked for Moses, Aaron and Samuel among others. Using these kinds of drastic examples, it is easy to see that, if they are true, there is no doubt that God did them. They are pretty miraculous answers.

Psalms 79: Keeping in Context

Psalms 79 is a little bit gruesome because we see the consequences of Israel failing to follow God. Personally, I’m not sure what time exactly is being described in this chapter because Israel was conquered a few times, but the point is that this was not a happy time.

Listen to what the writer, Asaph, has to say in response to this consequence that God has allowed to happen.

Psa 79:8  O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low.

Psa 79:9  Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.

If I didn’t tell you, you might have thought that this was a New Testament passage. It doesn’t sound all that much different. God is our salvation, and when He forgives us of our sins, He will never remember them again.

However, there is an interesting difference. In this verse, he seems to be largely talking about the physical salvation of Israel. The entire structure of the chapter begins on the physical overrunning of Jerusalem, then we get to the verses I mentioned about needing salvation, and we finally get around to asking God to help avenge the blood of those who had fallen.

This is a very physical type of chapter. This is the type of prayer that you pray when you are in a very difficult situation. Even if you had made some bad decisions that led you to your current location, you can still bring that to God for His help and strength.

Of course, we could spiritualize these verses like I said before. It does sound a lot like some of the spiritual salvation verses that we find in the New Testament, but I would be cautious about doing that. It does not seem to fit the greater context of the chapter, and we want to make sure that we are not reading things in that really are not there.

You all know that I enjoy apologetics, and one of the biggest issues we have in that field is when opponents take Bible verses out of context and “proof text.” We want to make sure that we are not doing that on our side either. Certainly, God is a God who does provide spiritual salvation, but if I was looking for a verse to support that claim, I would not use this one necessarily. This chapter is about a man praying for physical deliverance and salvation from literal captivity.

Psalm 70: Praying with Purpose

The central theme in Psalms 70 is that David wants God to help him quickly. He knows that God is powerful and all that, but he begins and ends this very short chapter by emphasizing that he wants help right now.

Psa 70:1  To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, to bring to remembrance. Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O LORD.

Psa 70:2  Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul: let them be turned backward, and put to confusion, that desire my hurt.

Psa 70:3  Let them be turned back for a reward of their shame that say, Aha, aha.

Psa 70:4  Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified.

Psa 70:5  But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O LORD, make no tarrying.

We all know that God has His own timetable. Sometimes, we want things to happen right now, but we recognize that God is ultimately in control of that and that everything might not happen exactly the way we want it to. David must have known that as well, but it did not stop him from asking God for what he wanted.

David was not afraid to pray confidently. He didn’t beat around the bush. He told God what he wanted. He didn’t command it in some kind of disrespectful way, but he did not leave any doubt as to what he was asking for.

We need to be in the same way. Prayer is a powerful privilege. We are allowed to bring anything to God.

Php 4:6  Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

Php 4:7  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

This verse does not make exceptions. We can bring every request we might have to God. It doesn’t guarantee that He will make it happen the way we want, but we can ask for big things to happen. We can ask for God to intervene in situations. We can ask God for protection. We can praise God for being awesome and above everything else.

David did all of that in this Psalm, and I think it provides us with an example of praying with a purpose.