persistent prayer

And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”

Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

1 Kings 18

God was confronting Israel over its idolatry and the evil that came with that. The land was suffering from drought. We see in this chapter what probably Elijah is best remembered for, God making himself known as God, and Baal as no god.

What follows that is most interesting. Elijah tells King Ahab (his wife, Jezebel) that there is the sound of heavy rain coming. There’s not a cloud in the sky. And then Elijah goes off and prays, literally on his knees. And his request is for rain. He was surely led to thus speak to King Ahab, and then to pray. But it didn’t come easily.

Six times Elijah prayed with seemingly no answer. But the seventh time a small cloud emerged. Elijah then somehow knew God had answered, and sent word to King Ahab to be ready, precisely to escape the downpour. And then we read more Elijah like stuff. God’s power comes on him, and he runs by foot, and actually outruns King Ahab on Ahab’s chariot. Remarkable stuff.

But we can’t forget the entire narrative, what follows. Elijah is paralyzed in fear over Jezebel’s threats, and comes crashing down into a depression in which he asks God to take his life, feeling in despair and clearly exaggerating that he was the only follower of God left. James points to this incident for our application today:

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

And notice what preceded that:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5

We’re to pray, and keep on praying until God’s answer comes. Really pray. What people used to call, “pray through.” We may need to pray only one time. But ordinarily we’ll have to pray repeatedly for whatever reasons. Something God has given us, a vital role for us to play here and now, in and through Jesus.

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Jesus blesses children

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Matthew 19:13-15

I’m not sure what happens when we become adults. We easily become hard and cynical. And with the idea that we more or less have the measure of things. And it’s hard not to be that way in a world where so much is wrong, and in which we carry some of that wrong with us, even right in our hearts.

Jesus’s words here concerning children speak volumes to us, as to what God wants us to be, and how we will be when we fully arrive in the life to come when we see Jesus, and become like him in a finalized sense. And this is dynamic, by the way, and not static, so that there will be an ever increasing growth in the fixed state we’ll be in there. Exciting of course.

Jesus always spoke of God as Father, and taught his disciples to pray to God in that way: “Our Father…” And he taught that unless we change, are converted, and become like little children, we will never enter God’s kingdom (Matthew 18:3). We’re to have the faith of a little child.

And Jesus loves children. There is surely a special blessing from him for them, even to this very day. Childhood is an opportune time for children to meet Jesus in a new and lasting, eternal way. So that through the rough patches that come their way later, and through possible bad turns, God can help them come back to the life that is truly life. In and through Jesus.

 

speaking against other believers unlawfully

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

James has a lot to say about the tongue. This section follows, or perhaps (as NIV heading might suggest) is part of what preceded on submitting oneself to God, and one can see the possible connection with the opening thought on quarreling and not getting along.

To slander is to speak some untruth against someone, but the word might only mean to speak against someone, period, even if what is said is the truth. Only God knows the entire truth, and the truth through and through, so that we must beware of thinking we know in any final sense.

And when we speak in that way we also somehow put ourselves in the place of God. God alone gave the law, and God alone can make judgments based on it. Our judgment invariably won’t measure up to God’s, nor will our application of the law. In fact we will be so amiss, that we in effect will be judging the law itself. Exactly what that means is hard to pinpoint, except to say that our judgment on others inevitably means we are judging the law, and not getting at the true meaning of it, making the law into something other than it is. It is for living according to God’s will in love. We simply are incapable of making any such judgments on others.

And that’s what might be key to understanding the passage. It is referring to judging others in a sense in which we can’t. There are necessary judgments in life which we must make and receive. And best to do so together, always in a prayerful attitude.

What we might take home from this is simply to be cautious, so that if and when we speak we will do so in complete humility, emphasizing mercy, and God’s work in the entire process. Only God can convict the wrongdoer, and bring them to repentance. We can’t. We may necessarily have to confront someone, but we do so gently in love, realizing that we can easily fall into sin ourselves. But we are included in God’s work of restoration (Galatians 6).

We must beware of taking matters in our own hands, and brashly applying the law, when inevitably we who judge do the same things ourselves (Romans 2). When we stand in that kind of judgment of others, inevitably we not only distort what they did due to our own sin, but we also distort the law itself, somehow making it conform to our own understanding, beset with a heart not right, and therefore not seeing everything clearly. Only God can judge, convict, sentence, and redeem. We can’t.

So we best take a cautious attitude. And not slander or speak against our brother or sister even when our gut reaction is to do so. When we have to consider problems, we best do so before God, and when necessary, together. And not tolerate anything that doesn’t accentuate mercy along with the utmost humility concerning our own weakness and shortcomings.

neither underestimate nor misunderstand the grace of God (nor think we can comprehend it)

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

We find again and again in scripture that God’s grace is key in our lives, in the lives of others. There are differences in teaching on this, as one might and should expect. There is what theologians call “common grace,” in which God pours down his blessings on all, in sunshine and rain, and provisions for life and more. This is not the grace described in this passage which brings salvation, according to scripture.

This is a big subject, but this post will touch mainly on one aspect of it, while addressing one common misunderstanding. God’s grace is alive and well in the world, and there is the light which enlightens every person (John 1). But the goodness and kindness of God is meant to lead people to repentance (Romans 2). There is no salvation apart from faith in Christ. It’s not just that somehow in an inexplicable, mysterious way that in the end all are saved through Christ. The NIV avoids this misunderstanding in the translation above, even if less literal. God’s grace is at work in all kinds of ways, but the special grace of salvation is always linked to repentance which means a turning from sin to God, and to faith, which means a trust in God and in God’s word, the message of the good news in Jesus.

Theologians also refer to “prevenient grace” which means the grace by which people receive the good news of the gospel for themselves by simple faith and trust in Jesus. Through Jesus’s death for our sins, and resurrection. We trust in what God has done for us through Jesus’s death, and receive forgiveness of our sins and new, eternal life.

So the grace which saves, to which the passage above refers, is not a cheap grace by which people get in with no change of life. Not at all. But at the same time grace is at work in spite of us, not because of us. That’s not to say that our efforts toward understanding and entering into this grace are a waste of time. Grace termed as prevenient by theologians might well include some of this striving, making every effort to enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 4). But also we have to remember that we still sin and have indwelling sin (1 John 1). And that is all the more true of those who have yet to cross over from death into life. They are sinners, period. Maybe Christians are both sinners and saints (Luther), depending on what you mean by that. God’s grace at work in people’s lives is in spite of so many things. God in his grace accepts us completely exactly where we’re at, but in God’s good grace, he certainly doesn’t leave us there.

Grace means we’re satisfied with nothing less than God’s salvation, which doesn’t mean only the forgiveness of sins, but also new life, a new way of living. By the Spirit in the love of God. Which means a changed life, a transformation both complete at conversion, and incomplete until Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6), meaning there is a process involved.

This grace gives us hope, and helps us to get out of God’s way, simply presenting the gospel, and trying to be responsive to God’s word. But this grace teaches us, teaches others. God’s full, unmerited, undeserved favor in helping us in ways beyond us, but in ways that indeed reach us in and through Jesus.

fights or grace?

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil,and he will flee from you.Come near to God and he will come near to you.Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:1-10

Jeff Manion at Ada Bible Church gave another helpful message (they’re all good from him, as well as from others there) on this passage (not yet available online, but it will be the fifth in the series).

Conflict is a fact of life. Over and over again we encounter it here and there. I’m thankful to experience little of it, but it does occur at times. Sometimes we hold it in, but that can’t last forever. One way or another, for good, but mostly for ill, it will come out. If we can let it out to God like the psalmists of old, that is good. And sometimes after we let it cool down, we might be able to address the problem, first in ourselves, and then maybe we can help someone else.

James points out that our problem is desire, maybe the desire to be right, respected, things that may or may not be legitimate, but certainly out of place here. At the heart of this is pure idolatry. James calls those who fight and quarrel adulterers, certainly meaning in a spiritual sense. His hearers/readers were at least primarily Jewish, steeped in what we call the Old Testament, in the scriptures, and knew the theme of spiritually adultery in God’s people departing from God to serve and worship other gods, which were no gods at all, but idols.

When God is God to us, then we are enabled by grace to love the God who loves us, who is love, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But when other things become our gods, idols in our hearts, which includes a whole host of possibilities, really anything, even including ourselves, we find that getting along with others can be a challenge, or maybe not on the table at all. God brings his people together in harmony, in contrast to idols which divide, in significant part due to the demonic influence behind them, which is bent on division and destruction.

Jeff Manion’s message is much better than what I just shared, a bit of what I’ve said reflected from it. The part that especially hit home for me from what he said is how God is the God of grace, who loves to give and give and give some more. How after these strong words, it is made clear that God gives more grace. What we need to do is ask in prayer, and not to fulfill our pleasures, either. God wants to give generously, over and over again.

Then there’s a list of what we’re to do, one thing after another, at least eight in all depending on how you count. We are to respond to this word, to take action, the starting point, submitting ourselves to God, after which we can resist the devil and do all the rest. We are to get serious about our own problem, rather than focusing on the problems of others. Coming near to God with the promise that as we do so, God will come near to us.

Grace from God to help us live in submission to him in our every day lives with others. In and through Jesus.

what life throws at you

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books. And it’s about not so much what life throws at us, but what we want out of life. We want to suck it high and dry, as if somehow we’re going to get life out of that. But the writer as well as the observer and “Teacher”, the one who experienced this said that it was all futile, even meaningless.

It’s not like the details of life don’t matter, because they certainly do. We want to do all that we should, and do it well. Although in the nature of things, we are limited. And there is always more that either needs to be or could be done. As long as life shall last.

Maybe the conclusion of the matter at the end of Ecclesiastes, along with wisdom woven throughout, is what we need to set our sights on. Particularly that ending that declares when it’s all said and done we’re to fear God and keep his commandments. We let life get to us, with all its obligations, demands, and expectations (real or imagined) pressing in against us.

Maybe it’s time to stop and ask what really matters. To really fear God, and be intent on keeping God’s commandments in and through Jesus is what in the end matters. At the same time, we need God’s wisdom to navigate the bumpy, rough, and sometimes puzzling terrain of life. Enjoying all the good gifts from God, and even finding satisfaction in the work we do. Maybe we can find a rhythm in it all, which can help us live in what is really life. A challenge indeed. God will help us in and through Jesus.

1 Corinthians 13

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13