Finding the Messiah in the Psalms

psalms

ABSTRACT & PURPOSE OF BIBLE STUDY

Bible Study Class: How to find the Messiah in the Psalms.

Summary Statement: All psalms have a relationship to the person and/or work of Christ, not just the traditional Messianic psalms.

Goal: This study’s goal is not to uncover Christ in every verse, but instead to understand how the major concepts and ideas of the Old Testament are foundational in understanding the person and work of Christ. Additionally, by understanding the different roles the Messiah/Jesus played in the psalms will enable the reader/student to view the psalms and the Old Testament through a new Christological lens.

PART I: UNDERSTANDING GENRE AND CONTEXT

            Genre classifications are vital to understanding a psalm in terms of proper context, mood, and structure and Richard Belcher correctly shows how the genre of a psalm also has implications for how a psalm relates to Christ.[1] When looking at genre, Belcher emphasizes it is critical to, “take into consideration the context of the psalm in its historical or literary setting, the unfolding of revelation through redemptive history, the unity of the purposes of God for His people, and the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ.”[2]

Points to Avoid

            The reader must not solely focus only on the human author because this limits the meaning to only the historical or literary context and does not allow for the development of legitimate connections to Christ. Such connections only arise when the major concepts of a psalm are understood in their proper context and when those concepts in redemptive history are also understood.”[3] Additionally, as Gary Yates advises, “We must first do our work of establishing the original and historical message of the Old Testament text, but then we must also consider the canonical implications of the Old Testament text in light of its fuller canonical context in the New Testament. [Above all else,] we must be faithful to both.”

Key Themes About Jesus/Messiah in the Psalms

            One of the greatest ways to identify and understand the Messianic nature of the psalms is to analyze how Jesus viewed the Old Testament, specifically the encounter Jesus had with the two individuals on the road to Emmaus.[4] Belcher demonstrates why this is so significant, because “If Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, then the Old Testament itself must be seen as preparatory and incomplete, moving toward the coming of the One who would fulfill all things. Thus the Old Testament is anticipatory and always looking ahead.”[5]

The covenant of marriage is a common concept used throughout the Old Testament[6] and New Testament[7] to define the relationship between Christ and His people. Paul portrays the oneness of marriage and the covenant role Christ plays in His relationship with the church[8] and Belcher illustrates, “Jesus points to Himself as the bridegroom and uses the parable of the royal marriage[9] to emphasize the necessity of accepting the invitation to the wedding feast and to come wearing the proper robe given by the king.”[10]

Psalm 22 pictures the Messiah as the suffering servant and is best understood first in its Old Testament context and then in terms of the crucifixion of Jesus. Belcher depicts “the suffering of the individual in Psalm 22 as a type of Christ’s suffering.”[11] This Messianic psalm has elements of both typology and prophecy and is best described as an individual lament, but also includes a section of praise and thanksgiving following God’s answer. Belcher shows the deliverance of the son of Jesse is a foreshadowing of the ultimate deliverance of the son of David and he rightly identifies, “All aspects of the work of Christ come into view in Psalm 22: His priestly work of suffering on our behalf; His prophetic work of proclaiming His deliverance; and His kingly work of reigning over all things.”[12]

When looking at royal psalms, especially in their historical context, the Lord was adopting the king as His son and the Lord was putting him on the throne as His human vice-regent. Belcher illustrates, “[While] the king leads the people in military battle, Yahweh is the one who ultimately fights for His people and wins the victory.”[13][14] Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. further clarify, “The deification of the human king was pervasive in Israel and these ideas were adapted into a concept of the king being the ‘son of God,’ an earthly representative of the Lord, chosen by the Lord to rule over the people Israel.”[15] Frank E. Gaebelein further explains, “The king was God’s anointed representative [and] submission to the king implied submission to the God of Israel.”[16] John Walvoord brilliantly illustrates how the trilogy of Psalm 22, 23, and 24 gives a panoramic view of Christ. Walvoord expounds how, “Psalm 22 speaks of His work as the Good Shepherd dying on the cross for our sins.[17] Psalm 23 speaks of His present care for His own as the Great Shepherd,[18] interceding for them in heaven. Psalm 24 [then] describes Christ as the King of Glory, the Chief Shepherd,[19] who will enter the gates of Jerusalem.”

The psalms also picture Jesus as being a second Adam, by which communion was restored between God and humanity. Jesus is then pictured being a second David, by which the Davidic covenant truly becomes fulfilled and salvation was made possible. At the same time, while these passages often foreshadow a future event, they also demonstrate the humanity of Jesus. Psalm 41:9 captures the immense betrayal of a close friend, which Jesus would suffer at the hands of Judas Iscariot. Isaiah 53:3 prophesizes the Messiah would be despised and rejected, leading right back to Psalm 41:9, which showed betrayal was not a foreign experience to David.

Scholars use a variety of approaches to determine if a passage is directly or indirectly referring to Jesus. For example, the historical-critical approach has issues declaring any of the psalms as being Messianic because any hope for the future was centered in a historical king and as Belcher illuminates, “The problem with an approach that denies any Messianic elements in the psalms is that it disconnects the original meaning of the Old Testament from the New Testament.”[20] The literary critical approach moves away from a strictly historical view and emphasizes a more literary view, but as Belcher explains, “it still suffers from a dichotomy between the original meaning of the psalms and the New Testament interpretation.”[21] The historical grammatical approach is a step in the right direction, with the goal of affirming the importance of the divine element in the psalms, but “there is still no agreement on how to determine whether a psalm is Messianic…”[22] However, the Christological approach Belcher uses combines elements of the previous three methods by highlighting the “importance of historical context, the grammar of the Old Testament text, the literary characteristics of the text, what the text teaches about God (theology), the significance of the divine author, and sees the New Testament as a guide to how we approach the psalms.”[23] In this final approach, both the human author and divine author play a significant role. Belcher explains, “without taking into account the implications of a divine author, one is left trying to bridge the gap between the historical meaning of a psalm and a later meaning related to Christ. Focusing only on a human author limits the meaning to the historical or literary context and does not allow the development of legitimate connections to Christ.”[24] Ultimately, without Christ, the purpose of the Old Testament can never be fully understood.

PART II: TYPES OF MESSIANIC PSALMS

Royal Psalms

            Royal psalms are prayers offered to the Davidic king during special times, wars, or events based on the covenant promises that God made to the house of David, that his sons would rule forever.[25] Clarence Bullock identifies the common thread that holds these psalms together is the subject of kingship and, “The most obvious criteria are they (1) refer to the ‘king,’ (2) mention the ‘anointed’ one as a noun or make use of the verb, and (3) they refer to David by name.”[26] Royal psalms pray for the king of the day, but they also point to Jesus, specifically the indirect Messianic psalms because only Jesus can fulfill all the prophetic elements. This is clearly seen in Psalm 2 and serves as a great example, especially how verse 6 shows how the Lord has put the king on the throne and given historical context, this would be like the Lord adopting the king as His son. DeClaissé-Walford et al. demonstrate, “The themes of speech and kingship continue to be developed as the king reports God’s words and promises: He said to me, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you.’ In the Old Testament, as in other parts of the ancient Near East, the king was considered God’s son.[27] Many interpreters interpret the announcement today I have begotten you as a reference to God adopting the king as a son.”[28] Essentially, the Lord was establishing the king as His human vice-regent. Psalm 89 is another important royal psalm, especially considering when it was written. There was a crisis and serious problem when this psalm was penned because the Davidic rule had been compromised due to the Babylonian exile. However, despite the disobedience in the house of David that led to God removing the king from the throne, the purpose of this psalm is to ask the Lord what happened to His covenant promise, so this psalm is uttered in a way that is hoping and expecting God to keep His promise.

Typological Prophetic Messianic Psalms

            These psalms involve typology, which simply means they employ analogies or comparisons. This is commonly seen between David and Jesus or the righteous sufferer and Jesus. Psalm 41 is a great example, specifically verse 9 as DeClaissé-Walford et al. highlight, “The psalmist asserts that the suffering he is experiencing is exacerbated by those around him. When the text of the psalm is examined closely, it seems as if the sin of the enemies is a sin of omission rather than of commission and rather than acting as active agents of evil, the enemies have turned their backs on the psalmist by giving up hope for his recovery and by expecting his demise.”[29] Looking ahead to John 13:18, Leon Morris shows how quoting this psalm, “Represented the betrayal not of an acquaintance but of an intimate friend,”[30] which was exactly what the psalmist had experienced. Another good example is Psalm 69:9, which depicts the psalmist enduring persecution due to his devotion and zeal. Then in John 2:17, Morris explains how the Old Testament is present at every crucial moment in the Gospel and he then illustrates, “The action of Jesus gave evidence of a consuming zeal for the house of God and the ancient Scriptures found their fulfillment in what He did. John’s aim [was] showing Jesus to be the Messiah and all His actions imply a special relationship with God, which proceeded from His Messianic vocation.”[31] One of the most important principles to keep in mind is how the New Testament writers viewed the Old Testament, specifically the book of Psalms, which is the most cited book in the New Testament. In addition to seeing the similar roles between David and Jesus, the introduction of the Holy Spirit adds a prophetic element, which allowed the New Testament writers to make these connections.

Prophetic Typological Psalms

            These psalms are very similar to the Typological Prophetic Messianic Psalms, in that analogies, comparisons, and typology are still present. The noticeable difference is these psalms take on more of a prophetic element because as the writer of the psalms speaks of his own experience, the words that he is speaking and the things that he says actually go well beyond his own literal experience. Psalm 16 deals specifically with the deliverance from enemies and in verses 9-10, the psalmist is convinced God will protect him. DeClaissé-Walford et al. demonstrate, “The assurance that a person shall not be moved (bal ʾemmôṭ) is a statement of confidence, because the psalmist trusts in the external grace of the Lord, who is before me continually and is at my right hand.”[32] In Acts 2:25-28; F. F. Bruce further explains how Peter uses this psalm of confidence in his speech regarding the exaltation of Jesus taking place in the fulfillment of God’s promise to David. “The words, ‘you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let your holy one see corruption,’ refer therefore to the Messiah of David’s line, ‘great David’s greater Son,’ whom David himself prefigured and in whose name he spoke those words by the Spirit of prophecy. These prophetic words, Peter goes on to argue, have been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth and in no one else; Jesus of Nazareth is therefore the expected Messiah.”[33]

Purely Prophetic Psalms

            These are specific and direct prophecies found throughout the Old Testament.[34] While there are not many found in the Psalter, Psalm 110 is a royal psalm that proclaims, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Writers of the New Testament quote this psalm fourteen times, more than any other passage because of its ability to illuminate the ministry of Jesus Christ, who became prophet, priest, and king over all people. Matthew 22:44 is one such occasion as R. T. France shows, “Apart from this underlying presupposition that the scriptural text is divinely inspired and therefore authoritative, this introductory formula makes three hermeneutical assumptions which will be crucial to Jesus’ argument: (a) that the speaker in Psalm 110 is David; (b) that David is speaking about the Messiah; and (c) that someone described as “my lord” is superior to the one speaking. Of these the third is the most obvious.”[35] What makes this psalm even more profound deals with it being written in the postexilic period, when Israel had no king on the throne. In an attempt to answer why a royal psalm of David was presented here, DeClaissé-Walford et al. explain, “Ancient Israel was seeking a rationale for continued existence as a distinct people within the vast empires. The people chose to find a way to remain a separate entity, so they rebuilt their temple; they resumed their religious observances; they wrote down their history; and they pledged their loyalty to their sovereign God, YHWH, the God of their ancestors.”[36] Here again, the king is depicted as God’s adopted son and while the king fulfilled some of the priestly roles, only Jesus Christ completely fulfills all the prophetic elements of this passage.

Eschatological Kingship Psalms

            These psalms focus on the reign and rule of God Himself and Psalm 47 serves as a great example. In its historical context, this psalm celebrates the kingship of God, making it an enthronement psalm, which also speaks of the lordship of Yahweh over all nations. As Frank Gaebelein indicates, “Its genre conforms to the psalms celebrating Yahweh’s kingship, [but] it also has a prophetic, eschatological dimension as the psalmist longs for the full establishment of God’s rule on earth.”[37] The purpose of this psalm was most likely the celebration of a mighty victory provided to Israel by Yahweh, but it also echoes what will happen in the future when every nation will recognize Yahweh as king. It is important to note every kingship promise found in the Old Testament can be applied to Jesus in the New Testament.[38] Messianic psalms point the reader to Jesus and the psalms are among the most widely cited Scriptures found in the New Testament, as they clearly define the work, role, and worship that Jesus deserves as king.

PART III: A NEW LENS

            Once an understanding of genre and context is gained, the reader is positioned to read the psalms and the Old Testament through a Christological lens. This was something many New Testament writers employed as they witnessed the life, death, and exaltation of Jesus, which provided them with a new insight to interpreting the Old Testament. Daniel Estes and many other scholars agree, “Several psalms have come to be called Messianic psalms even though it is quite likely the original psalmist did not grasp the Messianic dimensions that would later be explicated in the New Testament text.” Essentially, the New Testament writers understood the Old Testament text in a deeper reality that even the original authors might have. One important principle to keep in mind here is the Holy Spirit divinely inspired all Scripture,[39] but until Christ came, many of them were not fully understood.

Whenever contemplating the Messiah and the psalms, context is critical, but it is also important to understand what the fuller implications are as it relates to what Christ has done and what He will come back to finish. New Testament writers understood the historical and literary context of the Old Testament, which enabled them to clearly develop and explain how and why Jesus was the fulfillment of everything the prophetic Old Testament passages spoke of. John Goldingay accurately shows, “In light of Jesus’ coming, the Holy Spirit now inspires people to see significance in the Old Testament that was never there before.” New Testament writers were able to view the psalms in a new way. Psalm 8 is a great example because it is not only is a reflection of God’s creation and man’s role found in the Genesis account, but it also finds fulfillment in Hebrews 2, which applies these verses to Jesus Christ alone and His supremacy. In the original and historical context, man was given dominion, until sin entered the world. As a result, the passage speaks of Jesus and the writer of Hebrews makes a insightful conclusion that while humanity lost the image of God in the Garden, the first coming of Christ restored fellowship with God, and the second coming will make all things new. Jesus not only became a second Adam; He also became and a second David. The writer of Hebrews also recognized that Jesus had essentially become the sin and guilt offering, which was required for the remission of sins.[40] As F. F. Bruce demonstrates, “For a biblical statement of the sacrifice which could take away sins our author goes back to the Psalter,[41] and he finds a prophetic utterance which he recognizes as appropriate to the Son of God at the time of his incarnation. The title of this psalm marks it as Davidic[42] and the words of the psalm could not refer to David in propria persona,[43] and that therefore they should be understood as referring to ‘great David’s greater Son.’”[44]

While the failure of the Davidic Covenant appeared problematic, especially to those living in exile, it is important to understand the difference between the messiah in historical and eschatological terms. Bullock explains, “The historical level refers to the literal meaning: the king is the Israelite king, and David is the David of the Old Testament. By eschatological level, we refer to a future person: the king is a superhuman figure, designated by Yahweh to accomplish a superhuman task, and He is the Messiah, the Christ of the New Testament.”[45]

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

            In an effort to find the Messiah in the psalms, this study has sought not to simply uncover Christ in every verse, but instead to understand how the major concepts and ideas of the Old Testament are foundational in understanding the person and work of Christ. Through a proper understanding of genre, historical and literary context, roles of Messiah/Jesus, and how the psalms are viewed through a Christological lens, it is apparent that all psalms have an unbreakable relationship to the person and/or work of Christ, and for that matter, so does the entirety of the Old and New Testament.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Belcher, Richard P. Jr. The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from all the Psalms. Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2006.

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988.

_______. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.

Bullock, Clarence Hassell. Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2001.

DeClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

France, R. T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Keil, Karl and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament – Volume 5: Psalms. Edinburgh, UK: T. & T. Clark, 1891.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.

Gaebelein, Frank E. ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.


[1] Richard P. Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from all the Psalms (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2006), 197.

 

[2] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 195.

 

[3] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 195.

 

[4] Luke 24:26-27, 44-47

 

[5] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 32-33.

 

[6] Hosea 1-3; Psalm 45:10,16-17

 

[7] Revelation 19:6-8, 21:26; Ephesians 2:11-12; & Matthew 22:1-14

 

[8] Ephesians 5:22-27

 

[9] Matthew 22:1-14

 

[10] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 133.

 

[11] Ibid., 167.

 

[12] Ibid., 172.

 

[13] 1 Chronicles 29:23

 

[14] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 132.

 

[15] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 419.

 

[16] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 347.

 

[17] John 10:11

 

[18] Hebrews 13:20

 

[19] I Peter 5:4

[20] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 24.

 

[21] Ibid., 25.

 

[22] Ibid., 28.

 

[23] Ibid., 31.

 

[24] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 195.

 

[25] II Samuel 7

 

[26] Clarence Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2001), 178.

 

[27] II Samuel 7:14

 

[28] DeClaissé-Walford et al., NICOT– The Book of Psalms, 69.

 

[29] Ibid., 388.

 

[30] Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 552.

 

[31] Morris, NICNT – The Gospel According to John. 172.

 

[32] DeClaissé-Walford et al., NICOT– The Book of Psalms, 181.

 

[33] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 64.

 

[34] Isaiah 9 & 11; Jeremiah 23 & 33; Hosea 3; & Ezekiel 34

[35] R. T. France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 850.

 

[36] DeClaissé-Walford et al., NICOT– The Book of Psalms, 837-838.

 

[37] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 357.

 

[38] Isaiah 45; Zechariah 14; Philippians 2; & Revelation 19

[39] II Timothy 3:16

[40] Hebrews 9:22

 

[41] Psalm 40:6-8

 

[42] It is found in both the Masoretic and Septuagint texts alike.

 

[43] David did offer sacrifices.

 

[44] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 239.

 

[45] Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 182.

Spiritual Warfare

full-armor-of-god

Jerry Rankin brings to light the enemy’s intent on rendering every person ineffective in one’s resolve to live for the Lord and ultimately bringing glory to the His name. While some of the examples of the missionary exploits presented may seem sensational to a Westerner’s mind, this writer believes Rankin is overly legitimate in his presentation of spiritual warfare. Rankin has provided, “clear guidance on how to live the promised life, deep conviction about falling out of step with the Spirit, strong encouragement to engage in the battle, and [immense] hope that victory is indeed the Christian’s birthright.”[1]

Rankin further illustrates, “The devil is against us, the world is around us, and the flesh is within us, collaborating to defeat us in our Christian walk.”[2] One of the biggest misconceptions is that flesh and Spirit are viewed as being equals in the battle over sin. Instead, Rankin explains, “There is a tension between good and evil; Satan seeks to entice us to choose his way while the Holy Spirit is jealous for us as God’s possession.”[3] The Lord is referred to as El Kanna, which translates as jealous God, but this literally means there is a zeal that rises up within God when something or someone threatens the covenant that exists between God and His creation. He is not jealous of us; He is jealous for us. There are two dangers presented here: one is to disbelieve in the existence of Satan; the other is an excessive, unhealthy obsession with him. In our minds, the things that happen in life make more sense when the reason behind them is made known; unfortunately, in many cases the circumstances remain eclipsed from view or rationalization. Over the years, this writer has seen the error on both sides of this extreme. Some blame Satan for everything and the devil will always take credit for anything one allows him to, but on the other spectrum is looking for meaning behind everything, especially when bad things keep happening to good people. In Old Testament times, ailments and persecution were related to sin in one’s life and that trend is still unfortunately carried out in many church circles today. This is an area every religious leader must keep a watchful eye out for because it has the potential to dismantle a believer’s faith.

Daily, this writer reminds himself it is imperative to remember Satan is a deceiver, liar, and tempter and as a fallen angel, he attempts to speak into our minds, disguised as an angel of light. While Satan is the lord of this world, his time and power is limited, so we must do everything in our power to keep our minds focused on bringing glory to God, because as Rankin demonstrates, “Anything in our mind that is contrary to the truth of God’s Word is a lie and comes from Satan’s deceitful nature.”[4] When Satan cannot get to us through our sinful nature, he resorts to becoming a hindrance, so it is crucial believers continually pay attention to both the sins of commission and omission. Rankin explains, “If Satan cannot get us to sin by yielding temptation and indulging our carnal nature, he simply hinders us from carrying out God’s will.”[5]

A great Scripture to commit to memory is 1Peter 5:8-9: “Be sober! Be on the alert! Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him, firm in the faith.” Ephesians 6:16 is also a great addition to this promise: “In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.” And finally, James 4:7: “Therefore, submit to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” These passages have formed a resolute faith in God and it is crucial to be students of God’s Word because the Bible, the Sword of the Spirit is the only weapon available to Christians, so it is imperative to know the Word of God, so when trials and temptations present themselves, believers will be able to pass the test like Jesus did when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness. This writer has endured much heartache and pain in life, but in God’s hands, He has used it all for good, because I love the Lord and am called according to His purpose. If you do not give everything to God, your heart will grow cold, as you burn with anger and resentment. Additionally, we will never experience healing, until we stop clinging to the source of our pain. Ultimately, we must never forget we belong to God and Satan is nothing more than a thief coming only to try and kill and destroy. Second Corinthians 2:11 reminds us: “To be ignorant of Satan’s schemes and devices is to be defeated by the devil, conformed to the world, and defiled by flesh.” Instead of being conformed, we must be transformed by the daily renewing of our minds and living our lives to bring glory to God!

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Rankin, Jerry. Spiritual Warfare: The Battle for God’s Glory. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009.


[1] Jerry Rankin, Spiritual Warfare: The Battle for God’s Glory (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), x.

[2] Rankin, Spiritual Warfare, 20.

[3] Rankin, Spiritual Warfare, 21.

[4] Rankin, Spiritual Warfare, 46.

[5] Rankin, Spiritual Warfare, 64.

Power and Value of Prayer

pray1

There is no denying prayer is arguably the most important task of the spiritual leader and Colossians 4:2 only serves as evidence that prayer and thanksgiving cannot be dissociated from one another in the Christian life or for the spiritual leader. F.F. Bruce further demonstrates how, “The remembrance of former mercies not only produces spontaneous praise and worship; it is also a powerful incentive to renewed believing prayer. Men and women of persistent prayer are those who are constantly on the alert, alive to the will of God and the need of the world, and ready to give an account of themselves and their stewardship.”[1] Christians are called to be Christlike, which means doing the things Christ did. Prayer can often be the determining factor and Dave Earley makes a great point asking: “If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, needed to pray, how much more do you I?”[2] Making time to pray was vital in the life of Jesus and it should be the same for every believer and especially for every spiritual leader. Earley could not be more correct in his assumption that, “Time spent praying can be the best time-saving device you have,” since God can accomplish in seconds what would take a human a lifetime, or longer to achieve. In life, one will always make time for what is important and the greatest indicators are often revealed by analyzing where a person’s time, talents, and treasure are being utilized. When God is not the priority, it is not a matter of if; it is only a matter of when life will come crashing in. For this writer, this was a lesson learned the hard way, but one that will never be forgotten. When God is first in all things, everything else in life will naturally line up. This does not mean life will not have challenges; in fact, Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble,” so this only makes prayer and intimacy with God even more important.

The first application is maintaining intimacy with God because this is the sustaining force behind any ministry and one of the primary ways to develop this relationship is through prayer. Earley shows, “Jesus viewed prayer as the secret source of spiritual strength and the reservoir of real refreshment. Even when He was very busy, He was never too busy to pray.”[3] The statistics are frightening how many pastors are leaving the ministry either due to burnout or moral failure and those that stay in ministry often feel unequipped, discouraged, and disillusioned in ministry. According to Maranatha Life, fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches. In addition, eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors. Of these that choose to stay, fifty percent are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.[4] This is a huge problem!

The second application reveals how prayer is a vital lifeline to God and many spiritual leaders like Billy Graham believe that more can be accomplished through prayer than by any other means. However, Earley goes one step furthers stating, “Prayer is our greatest weapon.”[5] To this notion, one must truly ask themselves is prayer really a weapon? There is often talk of spiritual warfare and Paul alludes to a believer’s fight not being against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil. It can be easy to picture doing battle through prayer, but the only offensive weapon listed in the armor of God comes in the form of the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, not prayer. While a believer’s protection does come from the armor of God, prayer only becomes a weapon when it is coupled with the Word of God. There is a cataclysmic event that occurs as prayer is used in conjunction with the Word of God. This can be seen after Jesus was baptized and went into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan. In each occurrence, Jesus used the Word of God to counter every temptation. Knowing the Word of God is vital for every spiritual leader to understand because the quickest way to scatter the flock is to attack the shepherd.

A third application comes in knowing God certainly responds to His servants when they pray, but does this mean God acts only in concert with His servants’ prayers, must God wait until prayer occurs, or is God free to act as He chooses? To these questions, Earley does a great job explaining why eleven of the fifteen accounts of Jesus praying are found in Luke’s account because he sought to portray the human aspect of Jesus. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is seen retreating alone to commune with God in prayer and from His model, it becomes apparent every believer must make time for prayer. In Revelation 5:8, the notion that the prayers of the saints are stored up until the golden-bowl is full enough to be poured out is indicated. While this text may point more to end-time events, it still shows there is power in continued prayer efforts.

Ultimately, it is important to understand God is free to act whenever and however He likes. Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) demonstrates, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Some of God’s greatest gifts are often unanswered prayers and with finite minds it is impossible to see the bigger picture of what God is accomplishing in and through people and their situations. When humans see disaster, destruction, and atrocities, God may see countless people turning their lives over to Him and seeking His comfort and peace. While there are plenty of biblical accounts of God choosing to act due to the intercession of His followers, He is only bound by the promises in His own Word.[6] There are also examples of intercession occurring until God was moved. Abraham’s plea and God’s ultimate destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are prime examples.[7] In this instance, Earley shows how Abraham issued God a challenge based on His character and His promises.[8]

Lastly, while God most certainly is free to act in anyway He sees fit, that does not diminish one’s need to pray. Followers of Christ are instructed to cast their burdens and cares upon the Lord. Prayer should then release one’s cares and concerns to God and one of Martin Luther’s famous quotes was spot on: “Pray and let God worry.” A beautiful illustration of what happens when prayers are lifted up is picturing Jesus at the right hand of God acting as the mediator between Christians and God. As prayers are lifted, Jesus takes those petitions directly to the Father, interceding on their behalf. Jesus interceding with and for the believer is a powerful picture and God’s Word even promises, when one does not know what to pray, the Spirit knows the heart and lifts those petitions before God.[9] Douglas Moo further illustrates:

God knows what the Spirit intends, and there is perfect harmony between the two, because it is in accordance with God’s will that the Spirit intercedes for the saints. There is one in heaven, the Son of God, who “intercedes on our behalf,” defending us from all charges that might be brought against us, guaranteeing salvation in the day of judgment (8:34). But there is also, Paul asserts in these verses, an intercessor “in the heart,” the Spirit of God, who effectively prays to the Father on our behalf throughout the difficulties and uncertainties of our lives here on earth.[10]

While praying is crucial to a successful ministry and spiritual wholeness, knowing what and how to pray are the most important aspects. To truly turn prayer into an offensive weapon, one must know the word of God and the promises found within it. Earley explains, “The Bible contains 7,487 promises, many of which contain God’s willingness to answer prayer. [This means,] when we pray for things that we are confident God wants to do, we can boldly quote His Word back to Him.”[11] While knowing the Word of God is important, it is also crucial to live a life of integrity and honesty so that nothing hinders the prayers being lifted to God. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness are some of the key ingredients to living a life above reproach and one focused on intimacy with God, but God also calls His followers to act justly, to walk humbly, and to love mercifully and intimacy through prayer is greatly needed to fulfill all of these commandments.

BIBIOGRAPHY

Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984.

Earley, Dave. Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders. Chattanooga, TN: Living Ink Books, 2008.

Maranatha Life Website, “Statistics about Pastors,” http://www.maranathalife.com/lifeline/stats.htm (accessed October 26, 2016).

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

[1] F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 172.

[2] Dave Earley, Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders (Chattanooga, TN: Living Ink Books, 2008), 18.

[3] Earley, Prayer, 21.

[4] Maranatha Life Website, “Statistics about Pastors,” http://www.maranathalife.com/lifeline/stats.htm (accessed October 26, 2016).

[5] Earley, Prayer, 11.

[6] Exodus 32 & Psalm 106:23

[7] Genesis 18:22-25

[8] Earley, Prayer, 45.

[9] Romans 8:26

[10] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 527.

[11] Earley, Prayer, 116.

Last Resort

The busier our life gets, the more time we should be making for God, yet the more hectic our life becomes the less time we seem to make for Him.  When we make our relationship with God the top priority in our life, no matter what we are walking through, we will know that we are living according to His will.  You may be thinking, “What good is that going to do me when my world is crashing in all around me?”  I’ll tell you, “It is the only thing that will get you through when everyone and everything in this world has forsaken you.”  It took me, in a time not so long ago, to learn this painful lesson.  It literally took me getting to a place where God was all I had to realize He was all I needed.

It’s not a matter of if a storm will come; it’s a matter of when and if we are going to weather it, we must depend on God to get us through.  When the water begins to rise, when the walls begin to give way and panic begins to set in, what we do in this most desperate time is something we should be doing all the time: praying.  Instead, this is often our last resort and the sad reality is many of us know a lot about God, but rarely experience His presence because we don’t communicate with Him through prayer.  I love what Corrie ten Boom wrote, “Prayer is powerful.  The devil smiles when we make plans. He laughs when we get too busy. But he trembles when we pray – especially when we pray together.”

If prayer is so powerful, why don’t we make it more important in our lives?  Do we think God has more important things to do, that He won’t or can’t answer our prayers, or are we more afraid that He actually will show up, but then ask something of us?  Is the notion of being transformed into the image of Christ that terrifying?  When we commune with God, His heart becomes ours and what moves the Father begins to move us.

So now what?  Given everything I have just said what should you do? Begin to pray and just be yourself; stop focusing so much on what you are asking and begin to focus on whom you are asking.  I learned very early that practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent and growth takes time, but I promise you the more time you make for God, the less stressful your life will become.  The best way to learn how to pray is to begin praying.  Start your day by thanking God for the air in your lungs, even the breath in your mouth, well maybe after you brush your teeth, but you get my point…   The more you begin to experience God, the more of Him you will want because there is a void in all of us that only He can fill and if I am going to be full of anything, it is going to be Christ!