Hezekiah’s Response to Death & Threat of Assyrian Siege Warfare: Isaiah 38:1-22

God is faithful

It is amazing the vast difference that exists between two people, when one of them puts their hope, faith, and trust in God and the other one wants nothing to do with the Lord. This was the scenario played out in the book of Isaiah as King Ahaz did not have a relationship with the Lord, therefore, he did not trust Him. As a result, when Israel formed an alliance with Syria to attack Judah, king Ahaz decided to place his trust in man (the king of Assyria) and military alliances and while it may have spared Judah from the immediate threat of attack, it would ultimately invite disaster upon Judah in the future. However, his son, king Hezekiah did have a good relationship with the Lord and he was used mightily by God to bring protection and blessing on the kingdom of Judah. In Isaiah 38:1-22, we find ourselves in the middle of Hezekiah’s narrative. Prior to this chapter, the nation of Assyria who had made an alliance with king Ahaz was now attacking Judah, the very nation they vowed to protect, so it seems the sins of the father were attempting to visit the son, but king Hezekiah did not do what his father would have done. Instead of turning to man or alliances in the presence of danger, he turned to God in faith and prayer, despite the immense fear he and his people were experiencing, especially at the prospect of siege warfare, which could last for months or even years. In a letter, the Assyrians demanded the complete and unconditional surrender of the city of Jerusalem, so Hezekiah takes this letter before God and asks the Lord to deliver them. As a result of this faith and prayer, the Lord instructs Isaiah to go before Hezekiah to deliver a “fear not” message and that God would give Hezekiah a sign that his message was received loud and clear and that the Lord had the situation under control. That evening, the angel of the Lord swept throughout Sennacherib’s encampment killing 180,000 soldiers without a single arrow being fired into the city of Jerusalem.

Understanding how and why the narratives of king Ahaz and king Hezekiah compare and contrast each other is very important to understanding the overall message of the book of Isaiah. On the heels of Judah’s miraculous deliverance in chapter 37, chapter 38 presents Hezekiah with a fatal illness and the Lord instructs Isaiah in v. 1 to go and tell Hezekiah he better get his affairs in order “for you shall die, you shall not recover, thus says the LORD” (Isaiah 38:1).

***I do not know about you, but I would be thinking, “Well dang! I thought we really had something good going here God. Am I missing something or did I do something wrong?”***

EXPLANATION OF PASSAGE

After king Hezekiah receives this word from the Lord, his reaction reveals his true character. See, Hezekiah was an honorable man, he was determined to do good in the eyes of the Lord, he followed, trusted, and obeyed the Lord and because of that, the Lord blessed and honored Him in return. In our trials or dire circumstances, character is developed and God uses these tests to teach us patience, endurance, and faith. In fact, trials not only teach character; they also reveal it. With Ahaz and Hezekiah, their decisions and outcomes either revealed a close relationship with God, or a lack of one. The key difference between Ahaz and Hezekiah was when disaster struck, Ahaz put his faith in man and brought judgment and destruction on Judah, but Hezekiah put his trust in God and brought salvation and deliverance to Judah.

***Question: “How can these two men who were father and son be so different?”***

***Answer: “Their response to the crisis was rooted in the type of person they were before it.***

It is impossible to trust God when you do not have a relationship with Him, but Hezekiah did, so lets look at how he would respond to this sudden diagnosis of impending death. The first thing he does is pray and in this prayer he reminds the Lord of three things: his faithful walk, his loyal heart, and his righteous behavior. Being the son of Ahaz, who was one of the wickedest kings, going as far to even offer his own son, as a sacrifice to false gods seems to demonstrate just how far Hezekiah had fallen from the proverbial tree. Our relationship with God provides us with a stable foundation to believe in His promises, especially during difficult seasons. Barry Webb explains, “This serious illness Hezekiah faced was the crisis behind the crisis, which brings each of us face to face with our own mortality, and can put our trust in God on a razor’s edge.”[1] After praying, Hezekiah wept bitterly, submitting his life to God’s will and the Lord answers his prayer immediately, sending Isaiah with a second message that promised two things: God would heal him and add fifteen years to his life and God would deliver him and Jerusalem from Assyria, for God’s honor and David’s sake. John Oswalt believes Hezekiah’s recovery, “Was not merely because God has changed his mind but because of his willingness to keep faith with those to whom he has committed himself in the past. There is no limit to the effect of a faithful life. Although the sins of a person may affect future generations, the results of a person’s faithfulness will reach to a thousand generations.”[2] It is through our prayers, God says He will deliver us and since God never changes, much can be learned about His nature from Scripture.

It is interesting to note here that the Lord would offer a sign, in much the same way He did for king Ahaz, but Ahaz would refuse the Lord’s sign when one was offered because he did not have a relationship with God. However, to ensure Hezekiah of his healing, the Lord would move the shadow back ten degrees on the sundial (2 Kings 20:8). While there is some debate as to whether Hezekiah’s healing predates the attack of Assyria in chapter 37, what is assured is no king of Assyria would ever capture Jerusalem.

APPLICATION AND THEOLOGICAL ISSUES

Just as Hezekiah and Ahaz both received “fear not” messages, the same promises found in God’s Word applies to the church today. Later in Isaiah, (Isaiah 41:10, 14; 43:1-7) the prophet speaks of a future exile coming, but even in spite of what that would mean, God promised to watch over His children, to rescue them, and to bring them home. As followers of Christ, we need to know how we are going to respond to the “fear not” circumstances and trials of our life. Are we going to put our hope, faith, and trust in man, or will we be like Hezekiah and trust in God’s promises.

***The driving question: “How do we respond when God says ‘Fear not?’”

***Our answer will reveal if the Lord is truly our all-in-all and ever present help in time of need.

John 16:33: “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.”

When Hezekiah was on his deathbed, he had become depressed because it felt as though his very life was being robbed from him. Upon this realization, he began to contemplate never again being able to worship the Lord or enjoy fellowship with others. In vv. 10-13, he says he feels like a tent being taken down or a piece of cloth being cut away. He was broken in both body and spirit and in constant pain from what some scholars believe to be an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Despite his condition, he cried out to the Lord in speech and tears and he made a renewed commitment to the Lord (Matthew 23:12; Isaiah 57:15). This renewed commitment pledged to walk humbly before the Lord, to declare His healing power, to acknowledge the love of the Lord, to praise the Lord, to hope in God’s faithfulness, and to worship faithfully in the house of the Lord. These pledges and traits are what God calls each of His children to do. Our humility compels God to give life to His children, our praise and thanksgiving in the midst of trials and circumstances allows us to grow in our suffering, and our strong witness about the Lord, even in the face of death proclaims God’s faithfulness and salvation. One of the best sayings I have heard is, “Complain and you will remain, but praise and you will be raised.” As Hezekiah came to realize the miraculous work God had done in his life, he knew words could never convey his sincerest gratitude for his deliverance and Geoffrey Grogan beautifully explains, “In God, word and deed always perfectly correspond. The king has learned humility from this experience, for through it he has come to recognize that another controls the course of his life and the day of his death.”[3]
As a result of his healing, Hezekiah is moved to worship the Lord in the temple. If this account truly happened before the attack by the Assyrians, it is easy to see how much bolder he was in his prayer and petition before the Lord with the letter from the enemy demanding the complete surrender of Jerusalem. This story is reminiscent of 2 Kings 13:18 where Elisha instructs king Joash to hit the ground with his arrows, but he stops after only hitting the ground three times. Our finite understanding has a tendency to limit our thoughts and actions and this essentially puts God in a box.

***The question we must each ask ourselves is if we are going to allow our circumstances to define us, as we tell God how big our problems are, or are we going to begin telling our problems just how big our God is and that our ultimate prayer is that His will be done?***

ILLUSTRATIONS

Five years ago, I was involved in a very serious accident that nearly took my life. I was on a long-distance cycle ride and a pickup truck hit me from behind going 65mph. I broke five discs in my neck and four in my lower back. The impact separated my shoulder and rendered me unconscious. That moment in time would shape the rest of my life and it is no coincidence that was the very day I became a pastor. It was almost as if the devil was trying to take me out before I could begin my ministry. It would take over five reconstructive surgeries to put me back together again, but throughout the journey to where I find myself today, I remained faithful to the Lord, I witnessed to countless doctors, nurses, techs, and anyone else who would listen to the miracle God was doing in my life. Sure, I had to deal with constant intense pain and depression tried to overtake me as my plans to enter the military were robbed, but God had something better in store for me because I stayed humble and submitted my life to His complete will. In less than a month, I will graduate with my M.Div. and will be going into the Army as a chaplain, which is beyond what I could ever dream of. Through my suffering, God used me to touch countless lives and through my restoration, He has provided hope for many people walking a similar road to recovery. Last year, I ran over 1,300 miles, which is something the doctors said I would never be able to do again. God’s omnipotence and omniscience allows Him to heal us and know everything we need and are feeling. In some cases, God will choose to miraculously heal us, while in cases like mine; He gave me the strength to endure all the medical procedures. In the end, He receives the glory either way and even my suffering has brought me closer to the Lord and a day never goes by that I do not praise Him for the work He has done and is continuing to do in my life.

CONCLUSION

The power of prayer has no limits because there is no limit to God’s power. When we are at our weakest, the Lord is at His strongest and He is close to the brokenhearted. He calls each of us to cast our cares on Him for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. In all of our petitions, we must remain humble, faithful, and maintain an attitude of praise. God will always provide exactly what we need when we need it. In the bad, we must learn to praise and in the good, we must not forget to praise. Hezekiah trusted in the Lord and because of his faithful walk, his loyal heart, and his righteous and humble behavior, God was compelled to act. In our deepest depths of despair, Webb explains, “Such lessons are priceless, but often it is only by looking back, as Hezekiah does in the end of this chapter, that we can see how suffering has been the means God has used to teach them to us (Hebrews 12:11; Romans 8:28).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Grogan, Geoffrey W. Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Yates, Gary. “Trusting Man vs. Trusting God: Ahaz and Hezekiah.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Five Video Presentation, 10:44, (accessed August 4, 2017).

[1] Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 154.

[2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 677.

[3] Geoffrey W. Grogan, Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 237.

 

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Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? By Phillip Yancey

Prayer_Does it Make Any Difference?

When asked why he writes about sensitive topics with irony and such honest skepticism, Phillip Yancey says, “I write books for myself, [since] I am a pilgrim, recovering from a bad church upbringing, searching for a faith that makes its followers larger and not smaller. I feel overwhelming gratitude that I can make a living writing about the questions that interest me. My books are a process of exploration and investigation of things I wonder about and worry about.”[1]

Yancey begins each day spending an hour reading God’s Word, praying, and meditating, which he claims helps align his will for the day with that of the Lord’s. While prayer is the intimate place where God and His children can meet, it also can also be an extremely frustrating and confusing place to be, unless the person praying has the right frame of reference and proper understanding of how prayer works. To address these issues, Yancey answers fundamental questions like: “Is God listening? Why should God care about me? If God knows everything, what is the point of prayer? How can I make prayer more satisfying? Why do so many prayers go unanswered? Do prayers for healing really matter? And does prayer change God?”[2] By studying all 650 prayers in the Bible, Yancey views prayer not so much as a way of getting God to do his will but as a way of being available to get in line with what God wants to accomplish on earth. This reading analysis will evaluate Yancey’s approach to the topic of prayer being a privilege and not a journey or duty and will define areas of personal application derived from the reading.

SUMMARY

Yancey breaks up Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference into five concise parts. In part one, Yancey demonstrates, “Every faith has some form of prayer… We pray because we want to thank someone or something for the beauties and glories of life, and also because we feel small and helpless and sometimes afraid. We pray for forgiveness, for strength, for contact with the One who is, and for assurance that we are not alone.”[3] Yancey approaches prayer from a universal perspective in its ability to “define who [and Whose] we are.”[4] For anyone searching to know God, prayer is the means, but as Yancey illustrates, “Everywhere, I encountered the gap between prayer in theory and prayer in practice.”[5] Time, skepticism, and prosperity are all reasons listed for why people believe there is power in prayer, but still choose not to engage in the practice. C. S. Lewis conveys, “The prayer preceding all prayers is, ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’” Many people associate prayer with confession of sins and guilt, but prayer is so much more than helpless cries to the Lord. God wants His children to come before Him as they are. Scriptures affirm, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 3:13). This boldness and confidence when approaching the throne must also be done in humility because as Yancey explains, “It accurately reflects the truth… It means, that in the presence of God I gain a glimpse of my true state in the universe, which exposes my smallness, and at the same time it reveals God’s greatness.”[6] Being created in the image of God is one of the many reasons, as children of God; His followers should not be afraid or worry about being completely honest with Him. The Lord sees the heart of the matter and His heart also breaks when His children experience pain, rejection, loss, and every other emotion that attempts to make His children feel insignificant. While it is hard to approach prayer without some form of preconceived notions or preunderstanding, Yancey illuminates the most important thing is to make time for God because what one makes time for is most important to the person. Even if anger is what draws one to God, the main point is God is not being excluded from the individual’s life. Yancey demonstrates, “That God allows, even encourages, such gust of passion, which shows the strength of God’s alliance with us… From the Bible’s prayers, I learn that God wants us to keep it in the alliance, to come in person, even with our complaints.”[7]

After addressing how prayer gets the believer into a right perspective, part two addresses what the point of prayer is and establishes, “To discount prayer, to conclude that it does not matter, means to view Jesus as deluded.”[8] In this section, Yancey sets out to unravel the mystery of prayer by looking at unanswered prayers and explains, “For most of us prayer serves as a resource to help in a time of testing or conflict. For Jesus, it was the battle itself. Once the Gethsemane prayers had aligned Him with the Father’s will, what happened next was merely the means to fulfill it. Prayer mattered that much.”[9] After establishing there is power in prayer, Yancey addresses the difficult questions pertaining to unanswered prayers and whether or not prayers can move God to act. Yancey claims, “I cannot, nor can anyone else promise that prayer will solve all problems and eliminate all suffering. At the same time, I also know that Jesus commanded His followers to pray, certain that it makes a difference in a world full of opposition to God’s will… [However,] God often allows things to play out naturally.”[10] Yancey then compares and contrasts prayer being a wrestling match and prayer being a partnership with God, using the Patriarchs as primary examples.

Part three looks at the language of prayer, its hindrances, and various styles. Yancey says, “Even when prayer seems like a duty, like a homework assignment, we sustain the hope that it could grow into something more.”[11] Given the difficulty of prayer, Yancey attributes this to, “A media-saturated culture [that] conditions us to expect a quick fix to every problem.”[12] As Yancey tackles the language of prayers in the Bible, he demonstrates how the prayers being offered often elevated the needs of others above the one who was praying and demonstrated the Lord’s will being done. Next, he talks about the multiplicity of reasons why people do not pray: they feel unworthy, they are easily distracted, they are too concerned about doing it correctly, but as Yancey reminds the reader, “[Even when we do not know what to pray,] the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”[13] (Romans 8:26-27).

Part four looks at prayer dilemmas and as Emily Dickinson wrote, “There comes an hour when begging stops, when the long interceding lips perceive their prayer is vain.” The first part of this section appears to be a continuation of the previous chapter on what to do when God is silent and it seems like one’s relationship with God is nothing more than two ships passing in the dark. While silence is definitely a dilemma, Yancey now looks specifically at unanswered prayers and whose fault it is. As Yancey demonstrates, “Unanswered prayer poses an especially serious threat to the faith of trusting children.”[14] When dealing with the inconsistency problem, Yancey provides multiple instances where God chose to act and answer the prayers of some, while not answering the prayers of others. The story of the couple from India who happened to be in separate towers in the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001 was a perfect illustration. They both prayed and somehow both made it down the stairwells before the towers collapsed, which so impressed them that they converted to Christianity and the husband became a full-time evangelist. Along with Yancey, this writer cannot help but think of the other three thousand people who died, many of whom were probably praying for the same safety and rescue.[15] This is just one more case that the Lord’s ways and thoughts are higher than mans. Another interesting point Yancey brings out is, “In answering prayers, God normally relies on human agents and in ministries and answered prayers, I learned that many began with a crisis of faith, and a crisis of prayer.”[16] Yancey then shows how sin and unforgiveness hinders prayers.

Part five investigates the practice of prayer and the necessity of making time to commune with God. Yancey clearly defines prayers ability to lift up one another’s burdens, provide peace, lighten one’s mood, and offer liberation from anxiety. Being faithful in prayer also leads to patience in God’s timing and His plan, which further results in perseverance. This section especially highlights how prayer is able to sustain the follower of Christ and deepen his or her relationship with God. One of the best quotes Yancey uses comes from F. B. Meyer who said, “The greatest tragedy in life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” God is love and He wants the best for His children, so when a Christian intercedes on the behalf of another Yancey believes, “In short, prayer allows me to see others as God sees them (and me): as uniquely flawed and uniquely gifted bearers of God’s image. I begin seeing them through Jesus’ eyes, as beloved children whom the Father longs to embrace.” This observation was quite profound.

CRITIQUE

 The story of young Megumi being abducted by North Koreans was heart wrenching, but Yancey brilliantly uses this story to parallel what happened to Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Paul who were aliens swept into a new and strange culture. Prayer for each of them served as a channel of faith and here, Yancey teaches the importance that prayer, “Becomes a realignment of everything, restoring the truth to the universe, and gaining a glimpse of the world through God’s eyes.”[17] Trusting God to use us however He sees fit is the key principle to be mindful of.

The story of Dovid Din of Jerusalem in The Hasidic Tales was also a great demonstration of God’s willingness to be there even in one’s anger. When he said, “All my life I have been so afraid to express my anger to God that I have always directed my anger at people who are connected with God. But until this moment I did not understand this.”[18] This illustration was profound as Reb Dovid instructed Dovid Din to follow him to the Wailing Wall near the ruins of the Temple. At this holy site, Reb instructed Dovid to express his anger toward God and Dovid, for more than an hour struck the wall of the Kotel with his hands and screamed from his heart. Shortly after, those screams turned to cries, which later turned to sobs, but ultimately became prayers/praise to the Lord. God would much rather His children express anger than shut Him out.

Yancey concludes, “I used to worry about my deficiency of faith. In my prayers, I expect little and seem satisfied with less. Faith feels like a gift that a person either has or lacks, not something that can be developed by exercise, like a muscle. My attitude is changing though, as I begin to understand faith as a form of engagement with God.”[19] When looking at what difference prayer makes, especially when people are facing tragedies and persecution, Yancey states, “We pray because against such forces we have no more powerful way to bring together the two worlds, visible and invisible.”[20] When answering whether prayer has the ability to change God, Yancey contrasts Origen’s view that prayer is in vain because God is changeless, to Calvinistic thought, which places its emphasis on God’s sovereignty shifting the focus of prayer from its effect on God to its effect on the person praying.[21] Yancey then uses Charles Finney’s model to resolve God’s unchanging qualities by illustrating, “God changes course in response to the sinner’s change in course, and does so because of those eternal qualities.”[22] While this book is an invitation to communicate with God the Father who invites His children into an eternal partnership through prayer, it seems Yancey is not afraid to ask the tough questions, but some of his questions are a bit lacking, when it comes to the answers or responses provided. While he undoubtedly answers some of the key questions about prayer, it seems he often lands somewhere in the middle of the two opposing views, leaving the conclusion up to the readers. Some may enjoy this style, but this writer would rather have a clear answer provided with biblical proof.

PERSONAL APPLICATION

Yancey calls the book of Psalms a virtual practicum in prayer with 150 psalms, so that when he is feeling inarticulate before God, he turns to this ready-made prayer. This is a great idea, especially since Psalms covers virtually everything from Genesis to Revelation and has prayers for practically every emotion and situation imaginable. Traveling to Israel last year and visiting the Wailing Wall was a profound experience, but to imagine only praying specific prayers from the Torah seemed to put God in a box. I agree with Yancey on using the psalms as a place to go to engage in prayer, but this writer also believes in the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to intercede through us, just as Christ intercedes on our behalf to the Father.

The story about Karl, the lieutenant colonel from the Air Force really hit home with me. I too had dreams of entering the service, but was in a very similar accident breaking multiple discs in my neck and lower back. It took five surgeries to put me back together again, but my dreams had been shattered; or so I thought. I never blamed God or the individual who hit me, but I could not see the future playing out how I had envisioned it. The accident happened on the very day I received my ministerial credentials, so it was almost as if the enemy was trying to take me out before I could start my ministry. I spent much time in prayer as I was confined to the bed and began to commit whatever my future held to serving the Lord. I am thrilled to say, God has healed me and opened some doors I never thought would be opened and by this time next year, I should be an Army Chaplain. Going through five surgeries and never-ending physical therapy could have easily crushed my spirits and left me in despair, but I used ever encounter I had to tell people all about the awesome things God was doing in my life. I was blessed to have amazing neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, but even they are amazed at my recovery and see it as a miracle. It is common to pray for things people want, but in part five, Yancey tells the story of how, “C. S. Lewis prayed every night for the people he was most tempted to hate, with Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini heading the list. Lewis did this because he realized Christ died for them as much as for him and that he himself was not so different from those ghastly creatures.”[23] This is powerful and if we truly believe in the power of prayer, we must engage in it continuously, especially for our leaders and those who oppose Christianity and/or the nation of Israel.

CONCLUSION

Yancey’s approach to prayer clearly establishes even when one might think he or she is in control they are not. This realization may be frightening for some, but for anyone who embraces the intimacy of prayer with the Father will gladly surrender complete control to His perfect will and timing because they know His ways and thoughts are far above their own. This book would be well suited for anyone looking to have a deeper understanding of prayer and the impact it has on the believer’s life. As Henri Nouwen illustrates, “The paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only be received as a gift. We cannot plan, organize, or manipulate God; but without a careful discipline, we cannot receive Him either.” In the end, when someone does not know what to do, they should pray, and even when they know what to do, they should still pray. Prayer is the believer’s lifeline to God and, “Prayer that is based on relationship and not transaction may be the most freedom-enhancing way of connecting to a God whose vantage point we can never achieve and can hardly imagine.”[24] Just as the Spirit intercedes through the believer, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God interceding on the believer’s behalf when prayers are being lifted up.

Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? By Phillip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2006, 359 pp. $16.99 (Paperback).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Phillip Yancey Website, http://philipyancey.com/about (accessed June 27, 2017).

Yancey, Phillip. Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2006.

[1] Phillip Yancey Website, http://philipyancey.com/about (accessed June 27, 2017).

[2] Phillip Yancey Website, http://philipyancey.com/books/prayer-does-it-make-any-difference (accessed June 27, 2017).

[3] Phillip Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2006), 13.

[4] Ibid., 13

[5] Ibid., 15.

[6] Ibid., 37.

[7] Ibid., 68.

[8] Ibid., 80.

[9] Ibid., 86.

[10] Ibid., 87.

[11] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 158.

[12] Ibid., 159.

[13] Ibid., 193.

[14] Ibid., 216.

[15] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 221.

[16] Ibid., 242 & 244.

[17] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 29.

[18] Ibid., 68.

[19] Ibid., 98.

[20] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 118.

[21] Ibid., 131.

[22] Ibid., 134.

[23] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 311.

[24] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 55.

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!