REFORMATION THROUGH PRAYER:
The Spiritual Imperative Of The 21st Century
Reformation through prayer: In society’s escalating struggle to define what truth is and whose perception of truth will prevail, the clamouring for recognition and sanction of one’s standards is creating a roar of conflicting opinions and obscure conclusions. The perspectives which were once deemed universal have been revised, replaced, or merely ignored. Amid screeching cries of pluralism, truth thrives–as long as it isn’t imposed.
The future of any group can be measured in two ways: its potential (as determined by the level at which its most dedicated members closely adhere to the group’s ideals) or by its current health (determined by the percentage of the group’s members who actually follow such ideals). The potential, however, will only be reached if a sizable percentage of those in the group are serious about both pursuing the ideals of the group and know precisely what the group is striving to achieve. In this light, Christianity in America is on shaky ground.
Consider the following statistics by church pollster George Barna:
- Thirty-three percent of the general population polled in 1992 said churches had less influence than five years previously. Fifty-eight percent said the media had become more influential than they were in 1987.
- Forty-three percent of “born-again” Christians surveyed (those who said they would go to heaven only because they trusted in Jesus and confessed their sins–the term “born again” was not used when participants were questioned) said they agreed strongly or somewhat that it didn’t matter what faith one followed because they supposed all faiths taught similar lessons about life.
- Forty-one percent of “born-again” Christians surveyed said they agreed strongly or somewhat that if people are generally good or do enough good things, they will earn a place in heaven.
- Only 35 percent of “born-again” Christians polled had attended a church service, excluding a wedding or funeral, during the previous six months. Twenty-seven percent of the general population answered in like manner.
- Twenty-six percent of Christians surveyed said they felt that the Christian church was sensitive to the needs of non-believers. Only nine percent of non-Christians (those who said they had not made a personal commitment to Jesus that was still relevant to them) said that they felt churches were sensitive to the needs of unbelievers.
- Twenty-nine percent of “born-again” Christians polled said they agreed strongly or somewhat that all good people would go to heaven, regardless of faith in Christ.
- Only 37 percent of “born-again” Christians surveyed said they had explained their religious beliefs within the past month to someone who had different beliefs.
Christians today are in serious need of self-examination and a call to action. As the perceived irrelevance of our faith to society hobbles down an unchanging, wayward path, non-Christians are becoming more wary and doubtful of Christianity’s role in changing lives. While 41 percent who regularly attend church services had read the Bible during the week prior to the survey (not including the reading of Scripture during a religious service), the failure of professing Christians to grasp basic Christian beliefs is disturbing. What these statistics suggest is that churches are failing to make clear the doctrines of the Gospel, most notably that only faith in Christ will get a person into heaven1, and that Jesus has commanded His followers to tell others about the Gospel2.
The emphasis in the above statistics on the “born-again” group is significant not because of the term itself (it was not used in the survey), but as a gauge of the spiritual health of those who claim to trust only in Jesus for their salvation. According to Barna’s statistics, 25 percent of “born-again” Christians polled said they typically do not read the Bible except when at a church service. (Forty- two percent of the general population likewise only read the Bible at such a service.) The statistics suggests that Christians must return to the Bible as their sole authority for belief, and to follow that belief with action, as a means of impacting the world in a positive way for Christ.
( It seems imperative to address at the outset of this essay a point which wrongly divides many congregations today. There are a sizable number of professing Christians who, in one way or another, object to the term “born again” as it relates to one’s salvation. The term, found primarily in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, indicates a state of renewal–a total change in one’s nature, rather than a mere change of one’s actions. It is imperative not to get hung up on mere semantics and wordplay, but to consider the implications of and objections to the concept of being “born again.” Do people object to the mere use of the term (a toothless argument if the term “born again” is never defined)? Or do they object to the meaning behind the term, i.e., that entrance into heaven requires confession, repentance and a total commitment to Christ? The principle remains even if the term “born again” is not used. No servant is greater than his Master.)
The relevance of Prayer is forgotten.
CHRISTIANS MUST BE RELEVANT
Unfortunately, the increase in the media’s influence is not surprising. Influence comes through relevance, and relevance is found when needs are met. Sex and violence in the media are lowest common denominators, but they are common denominators nonetheless. Sex and violence sell because they relate to basic (albeit base) carnal instincts. The media relate to people by depicting common experience of common emotion: characters on TV express joy; people can relate to joy. Some movies convey sadness; people understand sadness. Even violence breeds violence as it connects with people’s “fight or flight” instinct. All the while, the church plods along under a self-absorbed, holier-than-thou mask of satisfied complacency.
A large percentage of congregations today are so skillful at knitting together a tightly woven facade that the mission of Christianity is being smothered by the actions and attitudes of seemingly well-meaning Christians. Congregations are neither reaching out to people, nor are people reaching out to those who claim to believe. Yet to have any positive impact on society, believers must initiate contact with the world in a meaningful and relevant context. Christianity has the answers, but it must be allowed and compelled to go where the questions are.
For Christians to connect in a relevant manner with society, believers must in no way lower their standards. Rather, they should seek to connect with others both spiritually and emotionally. Individuals must reach out to individuals, for discipleship comes mostly through relationships. Too many non-Christians feel as if too many Christians don’t care, as if churches have become country clubs for the spiritual elite-since, as everyone seems to assert, the first will not really be last, despite our Lord’s proclamation that it is so.
To be effective, believers must not look down self-righteously at the unsaved3 but instead should reach out to them with the hope found only in Christ.
According to Barna’s statistics, 55 percent of the general population are not annoyed when someone of a different religious background discusses his or her beliefs. However, 42 percent–a sizable proportion by any reckoning–said that they are annoyed when such discussion of spiritual matters occurs. This, then, is where the daily witness of friendships can and must have its greatest impact.
If Christ is real in our hearts, we must be real with other people–genuinely interested in pursuing friendships, rather than proselytizing nameless faces as an end in itself. Jesus called His disciples His “friends,”4 and rightly so. He did not spout off trite religious phrases to the masses and then dismiss empty-handed the huge crowds who had come to receive the Bread of Life. Rather, Jesus met needs and formed relationships. He not only forgave the sins of a paralyzed man, but He healed the man’s physical infirmities as well.5 Jesus gave the Samaritan woman at the well the “living water” that her spirit so craved.6 On the same day He preached good news to thousands, He also fed them physically, miraculously with two small fish and five loaves of bread.7
Jesus was relevant. He risked ceremonial uncleanness by mingling with the unclean–neither the religious leaders of Jesus’ day nor their followers dared to do that. What a tragic parallel to our own society. What a difference we could make if we did as Jesus did. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick.
Reformation through prayer.
SEEK HIS KINGDOM AND KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE
Too often Christians are afraid of making waves, afraid of upsetting the status quo in society. Some Christians fear being criticized by unbelievers; many others fear the reactions of believers. But Jesus certainly did not tread lightly. He challenged the religious order of His day and put His life on the line–not for the sake of creating conflict, but for the sake of pointing people back to God. People had become so caught up in regurgitating outward acts of righteousness that they forgot the meaning behind those actions.(8) Are we so obsessed today with receiving praise from people that we totally disregard praise from God? Jesus said those who seek praise for its own sake are due no other reward.(9) Those who seek first the Kingdom of God will find that He meets all of their needs, beginning and ending with the peace that inexplicably exceeds our utmost comprehension.10
To point others to Christ and to Him alone, we must understand clearly and precisely what we believe. To know what we believe, we must go to the source of that belief. If we are not firmly, unshakably grounded in the facts of what we as Christians believe, we risk leading others astray by speaking from ignorance. According to Barna’s statistics, 43 percent (2000: 44 percent) of the people who said they were going to heaven because they trusted in Christ as their Savior and confessed their sins to Him said it didn’t matter what religion one followed because, they believe, all spiritual “roads” lead to the same place. Jesus is Lord of All, but He is not Lord of all faiths.11
The incongruity between Christians’ beliefs and Christianity’s doctrines may attributable in part to a couple of different factors. First, Barna’s surveys show that only 35 percent of born-again Christians had attended a worship service during the previous six months. Twenty-five percent of born-again Christians read the Bible only during a religious service. Put these data together and you have a rough picture of people who say they believe but who do not regularly receive any Biblical teaching. The result is spiritually anemic congregations that are too weak to take care of their own flocks, much less to reach out to a lost and dying world. If this trend does not reverse its direction, those who merely claim to believe will be trampled underfoot and left to die by a world that is looking for meaning and significance that only Christians can offer.
We must flee from the oh-so-convenient, feel-good, don’t-ask-anything-of-me “pop theology” that is being preached today in far too many congregations.(12) (Never mind the biases held by many as we conveniently ignore the fact that Jesus was neither Caucasian nor well- to-do. And homeless. And transient. And poor–at least as this world considers poverty.) Demanding commitment from believers will likely drive many people away–people who likely weren’t serious about following Christ in the first place. But the message of the cross is conviction, not compromise.
Where is diligence in our age of convenience? Instead of “No pain, no gain,” the spiritual credo of many has become “What? Me worry?” Our relationship with Christ should never be convenient. Rather, it should make us so uncomfortable that we can’t help but realize that His strength is all we can ultimately rely on. Unless we are prodded, unless we are constantly challenged to know Christ better, our living faith can turn into a mere creed, the product of rehearsed memorization, not divine transformation.
If we don’t hunger and thirst for the Gospel, we may have already filled our spirits up with meaningless drivel. We may feel satisfied, but satisfaction is not a component of a vibrant walk with Christ. He gives us inner peace and tranquillity, but that peace comes from knowing that His glory, His grace and His provision for us have no end.
Thus, we should never stop hungering and thirsting for the knowledge of who Jesus is, for we will never be able to fully contain that knowledge. It is then that we will stand in awe of His majesty and will be most aware of our inadequacies. We only understand how inadequate our own efforts are when we constantly behold Him before us. To know His will and to be effective in reaching out to the world, we must keep our eyes on Jesus, and only Him, at all times. Unless churches today come to this realisation, we will become to society a mere footnote, not a foundation.
FIRST STEP: THE LOVE OF JESUS MUST EMPOWER US (PRAYER)
To make a difference in our society today, we must respond to the real needs of real people, and the world must see the love of Jesus in our every action. Likewise, we must reassert the authority of God’s Word through what we do and what we say–we must strive for justice in an unjust world. However, love and justice cannot exist independently of one another. Neither love without justice, nor unmitigated justice without love, will be effective. They must both exist in our lives, through our actions. Remember Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery: He forgave her sins (as only God can do), but He first acknowledged that the sins existed.(13)
Likewise in today’s world, we must not be blind to sin, but we must act and react according to the love of Christ which first must be in our hearts. Our Lord loves the most reprehensible among us in society just as much as He loves His own people. We must show that love to those in society who are just like us: sinners in the eyes of a holy God. Jesus loves the murderers, rapists and abortionists among us so much that He died for them. Let us never take that grace for granted and become righteous in our own eyes. Let us take the grace we have been given and give it to those who are as we once were: filthy, decrepit beggars looking for a gift from a King.
Jesus’ love for the Father led Him to drive out from the temple the merchants who had turned the sanctified place into a shopping center(14) and by doing so, He guided the hearts of the people away from sacrifice and back to sanctification. Jesus did not gloss over sin and deny its existence; rather, He confronted it and dealt with it. Believers today must not deceive themselves into thinking that evil will go away if we just ignore it. The most effective means of eradicating evil is not to merely deride it; those perpetuating the evil will then turn around and mock the good that we do–thus causing evil to triumph, for good will have accomplished nothing. As evil multiplies, good must increase with it. The only way the righteousness of God will be manifested to a great enough degree for the task is if men, women, boys and girls who say they believe to show that they believe. That manifestation of righteousness will only occur if we remain firmly rooted in the source of our strength-in a living, active, vibrant and prayerful relationship with the Father through His Son.(15)
God made us solely to live for Him–that is the very reason for our existence. Everything else we do must stem from that purpose, for without His will as the sole reference point in our lives, our lives are totally meaningless. Nothing we do in this life will have meaning unless we first understand Who made us and why He made us.
Prayer is the lifeblood of our relationship with Jesus. If that relationship is not nurtured, it will stagnate and wither away.
After forsaking that relationship long enough, we may forget who Christ really is; eventually we may forget we ever knew Him at all. Yet nobody who regularly communicates with the one they love most could forget the one they love.
The only real transformation of our world must begin in the hearts of those who call themselves believers. Only a renewed relationship with the Father through prayer will curb our waywardness as believers become determined to let nothing and nobody stand in the way of knowing Christ better. Let us pray, both as individuals and as a unified body of believers, that God would show us His will for our lives. Only then will we be prepared to receive the courage He provides for whatever He would have us to do. God never calls us to do something without first giving us the means to accomplish the task. If we believe that He is sovereign, we should trust that He will be our sufficiency and provision regardless of circumstances.(16) If we don’t believe God is sovereign and in control of all things, our prayers are dead on arrival.
It is up to us to show we believe what we say we believe. It is up to us to show that what we believe is relevant and necessary to rescue a lost and dying world from an otherwise meaningless existence. If we aren’t willing to take the initiative to demonstrate the love of Christ in our lives, maybe our faith isn’t worth living for in the first place.
OUR LACK OF BELIEF DOES NOT NEGATE GOD
What if we then pray, only to find that God doesn’t respond in the way we think He should? Would that mean He isn’t God? Would God’s unexpected response (or lack of response) nullify our faith? If so, what kind of faith would we have? We really wouldn’t have faith at all. We must understand that prayer is not a matter of what we want from God; He doesn’t owe us anything. The very foundation and purpose of prayer is one-on-one communication with God, getting to know Him personally as we daily become more conformed to his image.
In Scripture, the entire fellowship of those trusting is Jesus is called the “bride of Christ.”(17) In the two-way relationship between us and our Savior, communication is the key. Without communication through prayer, we have absolutely no relationship with Jesus. Period. Even despite any theological biases we may have about such things as the inerrancy of Scripture, baptism of the Spirit or other such points of doctrine, this principle of relationship through communication stands on its own merits. Consider a husband and wife who, although married, never communicate with each other. While they might live under the same roof and have the same last name, without communication their marriage would never become a relationship. The couple would call themselves husband and wife, but there would be no substance behind their marital status.
If a husband and wife (by analogy, Jesus and a so-called believer) never communicate with one another, their relationship will never be fully established and they will never get to know one another. If this lack of communication continues, the husband and wife will soon become strangers to each other, bound only by a common name. Likewise, if we do not nurture our relationship with Christ, we will be unfaithful by default, for something besides our relationship with Him will inevitably end up taking first priority in our lives.
It should go without saying that we find time to do the things we want to do. Consider then the plight of a jealous husband who has been banished to second-place status by his spouse as business, hobbies, other relationships or even daily routine replace his importance in his spouse’s life. Such a relationship–or lack of it–is doomed.
In the same manner, there are far too many people today who call themselves Christians who have no relationship with Christ. These people might attend religious services regularly and be involved in numerous religious-oriented activities, but never seeking to pray, they never get to know Jesus personally. Consequently, these people will merely be running in place spiritually, assuming they know God’s will without first seeking Him. These are the people who on Judgment Day will say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Jesus will reply, “Depart from Me, for I never knew you.” (18)
WITHOUT JESUS, THIS LIFE BECOMES A SICK JOKE
How, then, do we establish and nurture a relationship with Christ? Certainly it must start with personal knowledge, acquired only through a diligent study of the Bible. If we do not study the Bible, we will neither get to know Jesus personally nor know what He wants for our lives. Yet Bible study and prayer cannot effectively exist independently of each other. Bible study without prayer will lead to mere intellectual knowledge of Scripture, such as the Pharisees in Jesus’ day had. This may be knowledge, but it will not be a relationship with Jesus.(19) Likewise, prayer should not exist without a constant study of Scripture. If we pray without studying the Bible, we will have absolutely no idea to whom we are praying. If we don’t know to whom we are praying, the one to whom we are praying may not be whom we think. Prayer and Bible study, as a means of communication with Christ, must be linked, or else our communication will be fragmented, incomplete and very possibly subject us to deception.
Certainly nobody can trust in spiritual truths unless God first draws that person to Himself, but let us not get lost in peripheral arguments over predestination and free will, grace versus works, or other such issues. Central to the question of meaning in life (and certainly pertinent to one’s trust in Jesus) is the fact that without some infinite reference point outside of ourselves, our lives are inherently and utterly meaningless. Who and what we are cannot be determined by the sum total of what we own or what we do. Without an absolute, unchanging and precise reference point, any meaning in our lives is just as unstable as the reference point itself.
There are too many so-called believers today who live only for themselves, never expending time nor energy to bring about positive change in the lives of others; telling others about Jesus becomes a minor afterthought. Such people fail to realize that only what is done for Christ will last forever.(20) Nothing in this life matters except that which the love of Jesus compels us to do. If His love is not the motivating factor behind all that we do, if we live for nothing and nobody except ourselves, we will be utterly dismayed to find one day that for all we acquire or all we do, as the saying goes, you can’t take it with you.
There is absolutely no meaning in life except the will of God in our lives, whether as individuals or communities. Those who seek meaning only in themselves will someday find that they may be better off dead than living a lie, the lie that being their “own person” will give them peace. To assume, though, that one would be better off dead than alive would also assume that life after death will necessarily be a peaceful experience for everyone. For those not finding absolute meaning in life, it would be logically inconsistent to assume that death would necessarily be a peaceful experience for everyone. For those not finding absolute meaning in life, it would be logically inconsistent that death would hold any meaning without an infinite reference point. Without Jesus Christ, neither life nor death mean anything at all. Without Jesus in our lives, death would merely be an extension of the confusion, chaos and inconsistency which fill an unbeliever’s life. The only consistency would be misery.
Sadly, this is the state in which many outwardly religious people find themselves. A person who merely warms the pew on Sunday without seeking to know, love and serve Jesus is just as bad off as a militant atheist who vehemently denounces the Gospel. The Bible makes no distinction between a person who totally rejects Jesus and a lukewarm parishioner who only offers Him lip-service.(21) The fact is that neither of such people will ever enter heaven. If we choose not to follow Christ totally and immediately, we choose not to follow Christ.
THE MARK OF A BELIEVER: THE LOVE OF JESUS
As the statistics cited earlier indicate, a large percentage of professing Christians attend a religious service infrequently at best. Coupled with other survey results which show that a vast majority of non- Christians feel that Christians aren’t sensitive to the needs of unbelievers, it would not be rash to assume that many believers cannot see the love of Jesus reflected in the lives of others who claim to believe. A quick glance at any congregation on a Sunday morning will too often find a gloomy demeanor which hardly give any hint of Jesus’ transforming love, power and joy…not to mention the actions (or lack thereof) which too often stem from a lack of joy (which itself often stems from a lack of commitment to the One Who gives joy), thus further alienating those who rightly suppose Christians should be the reflection of God’s love.
If the joy that Jesus gives is not overflowing from our hearts, we will be totally ineffective in reaching a world which is desperately seeking that joy. If His joy is alive in us, there will be no way we can restrain it (nor any reason why we should) as it overflows from our lives to change the lives of other people. However, we cannot experience the joy and peace Jesus gives unless we continually and totally yield to His will. If we totally surrender ourselves to Christ, the joy which He gives us will be evident to those around us. Without total and immediate submission to His will, we will never have peace, for until we totally yield ourselves to Him, we will still be resisting Him to some degree. If we refuse to give up anything which inhibits our relationship with Christ through prayer, we will risk losing even the menial things which are only superficially important. If this life means anything, it must begin and end with the One Who made us to live for His purpose and His will.
The only way non-Christians will be drawn to our Savior is if they first see that Jesus’ love makes a positive difference in our own lives. This greatly depends on our responses to their needs, responses rooted in the reality that while we live in a sinful, troubled world, there is hope at the foot of the cross–a hope which is implemented through the lives of believers. Our faith means absolutely nothing unless we take it to those who need it: sinners and decrepit beggars, all filthy and without virtue–just like we were before we knew Christ. The Son of Man died for such as these. It is not the healthy who need a doctor.
What are Christians today doing to help those who need to see the love of Jesus? Are we feeding the hungry, tending to the sick, visiting lonely or in prison, or in any other way doing what Jesus commanded us to do?22 The world perceives that we do little more than spout off empty euphemisms, telling people what they need without letting ourselves be the ones to give them what they need. The worst tragedy of all is that the enemies of the cross of Christ are more motivated than those who claim to carry His cross.
Do people need food, clothing or shelter? Do people need a friend to listen to them? Do people need to see empathy and know that others have faced common struggles? Yes, all of these things and more. The world must see that our faith is more than mere talk, that our belief is more than mere head knowledge. We must show the world that Jesus is real to us and that He does indeed relate to them and understand their needs. We must let the world know that we, as believers, can relate to their struggles, the problems from which no honest human being can claim immunity. But we must also let the world know the source of our strength.
If we are to impact the world for Jesus, we must let those around us see our frailties and weaknesses, that Christians are real people with real problems. But the world must also see that despite circumstances, the strength we gain by grace through Jesus is all we need to sustain us. People will know Jesus is real in our lives if we show them that we put our trust in Him. Yet if this trust in Christ is not evident in our own lives, to assume others to follow an example we have not set is utterly ridiculous.
Remember to strengthen your relationship with Christ through prayer.
SHATTERING THE BARRIER BETWEEN US AND CHRIST
If we are to call ourselves “believers,” we must be resolved to let nothing and nobody inhibit our relationship with Christ.(23) We must seek Christ’s forgiveness for the many ways in which we have each rejected His will for our lives. We must seek to heal the division which sin has created between us and God.
Granted, in our society the word “sin” has become so overused that is has become virtually meaningless. While there are many acts and attitudes which constitute sin, its definition is much more concise than merely a list of various offenses. What sin is, by definition, is the failure to seek and to do God’s will.(24) If we sought by our own initiative to do God’s will, we would not need Jesus. But such is not the case.
Anyone who will assert that humans can ultimately solve their own problems doesn’t have a much of a grasp on reality. We are constantly bombarded with reminders in the news that the world is becoming more violent, standards are becoming more arbitrary, and people are committing increasing numbers of totally senseless acts for reasons which defy the most basic logic.
We fail because we are not infallible. We cannot solve the world’s problems on our own. And we cannot progress in supposedly civilized human society until we understand the problem: The problem is that although God made us, we continue to ignore His instructions on how we are to live: in a constant relationship with Him. We cannot seek to be holy without knowing Christ; neither can we seek to know Christ without being holy.(25)
Unless we seek to know Christ intimately, this world will never change. It is readily apparent that despite rampant political maneuvering in nearly every country, people are getting increasingly more desperate to find inner fulfillment that no government, no organization, no mere human being can provide. Political stability can provide us with a precarious lack of conflict, but it can never establish permanent peace in our hearts. No amount of legislation–no matter how much the legislation is based on Christian principles–can show society the love of Jesus. Individual believers must step out and show that love on their own.
Prayer is the key!
TRUE PEACE IS NEITHER LEGISLATED NOR LIMITED
The people of ancient Israel made the mistake of rejecting God as their king, even though He gave them tangible evidence that He was with them during their forty-year stay in the wilderness. Later in their history, during their exile in Babylon, the people of Israel came to understand that God was with them not only in Israel, but that He was with them wherever they went. Likewise, the people realized that because God was with them no matter where they were, anywhere they went could be their home, their place of refuge in this world. Let us today not value our place of refuge more than we value the One who gives us refuge.
Jesus’ first twelve disciples were a very diverse group which, if their earthly natures had prevailed, likely would have torn each other apart if forced to remain together for an extended period of time (much like many congregations today). Certainly we see audacity, egotism and an unabated lack of foresight reflected in the personalities depicted by the Gospels. Especially consider Matthew, a tax collector for the oppressive Roman government (an occupation which in that society made one virtually a traitor to the people of Israel), and Simon the Zealot, who was part of a nationalistic, often militant group of Jews who especially despised the Romans. Left to their own devices, these two men alone could have wreaked utter havoc among the other disciples. Yet the fact that twelve men of such varied backgrounds stayed unified as a group for so long makes absolutely no sense in light of human nature’s obvious shortcomings. What these twelve men had in common, however, was all that they needed to keep them together. The greatest peace among them came when they all focused directly on Jesus.
This is our key to healing divisions within and among believers today. In Jesus’ eyes there is no distinction among people: we are all equally loved by Him, equally esteemed as His creation, yet equally sinful and in need of a Savior. When we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, everything else finds proper perspective in our lives.26 Let us never become comfortable or entrenched in either this world or its ways. Let us realize that we will find no lasting peace and will see no positive change until we acknowledge that our true citizenship is in heaven, with Jesus Christ as our leader. Let us today not curse God for the troubles we have brought upon ourselves. Let us not reject Him and replace Him with earthly leaders. Let us instead embrace Him as the One who has never left us and the only one who can help us.
The issue of peace as it relates to Christians should never be viewed from an earthly perspective. As society speeds toward the year 2000 and beyond, much talk (for we seem to do little else) has circulated about whether the dawning of the millennium will bring about the imminent return of Jesus–and thus bring about the peace which believers so crave. (Never mind that the most widely-used calendar in English-speaking society, which numbers years according to the date of Jesus’ birth, did not come into use until 500 years after His birth. Historians believe that such numbering of the years is off by about six or seven years relative to Christ’s true birth date–thus rendering the year “2000,” and every other date pertaining to Christ’s return, irrelevant and useless, a point clearly made by the Gospels.)27
Millions eagerly await the second coming of Jesus so that, they believe, He will rapture them from the Earth so they may escape the intense persecution which will occur when the Antichrist, the very incarnation of Satan, establishes himself as a powerful but blasphemous world leader. The prevailing belief among many Christians is that believers will be spared the ravages of the Antichrist, that Jesus will take His followers to heaven before the period known as the Great Tribulation. The Bible makes this conclusion ambiguous at best, however, for there are many passages in Scripture which suggest that Christians will indeed suffer and be martyred by the Antichrist himself, that all living believers will remain on Earth until the final judgment of mankind.(28) But the pivotal issue has been forgotten as the debate over when Christ will return has become an end in itself.
What matters most is not whether Christians will suffer for their faith, or at whose hands they will suffer, or when or how that suffering will occur. The issue is whether we are willing to follow Christ regardless of circumstances, regardless of when we believe He will return, regardless of what we have to endure for the sake of the Gospel. What if Jesus doesn’t return for another 100 years or longer? It doesn’t matter. What if Christians must endure the reign of the Antichrist? It doesn’t matter. What if believers are martyred by the millions (as they have been before) for the sake of the Gospel? It doesn’t matter. If we believe that His Word is true, we must believe that His grace is sufficient for us in any and all situations. Our peace is made perfect in Him. He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.29
True Peace = Prayer.
MAKE SURE YOU AND JESUS HAVE IT ALL WORKED OUT
It is imperative that we seek to know the One we claim to love, trusting that his provision is sufficient for our needs. To be able to commune with Him and to have the joy of getting to know Him, we must first pray that Jesus would forgive us for our failure to seek and to do His will. Since human nature dictates that we naturally seek to do things our own way, we must constantly, diligently strive to know Jesus and to follow Him. We must seek to know Jesus’ will–to seek forgiveness for sinning against Him–or risk being chastised severely as the disobedient children of the one who made us.
Jesus never calls us to give up anything that will last to follow Him. He only asks that we seek to daily become more conformed to His character and His holiness. As we seek to become more like Jesus, He takes the trash out of our lives–trash which we don’t need and can’t have in our lives if we are to enter heaven. If we don’t let Jesus remove from our lives the garbage we don’t need, the resulting spiritual illness will fester like gangrene–and like gangrene, it will kill us spiritually if it is not removed. The longer the trash remains, the more it will stink up the vessel which contains it–and as the trash continues to accumulate in our lives, the more our spirits will disintegrate like rotting flesh–dead, useless and utterly nauseating to a holy God. Let us learn to see our lives as Jesus sees them: useless, stinking vessels made clean and useful only by the One who created the vessels in the first place. By His wounds we are healed; by His blood we are cleansed. Nothing else can measure up to the standard He calls us to attain.
Do we love Jesus enough to hate the sin in our own lives? The positive change this world seeks comes only through repentance and reconciliation with Christ. To not seek such fellowship with the One who made us defeats our only purpose for living. It is imperative that we pray for wisdom to know what He would have us to do. If we second-guess what Jesus would have us to do without first asking Him, the chances are good that we will make any given situation worse than before. A Christian who doesn’t seek Christ is a contradiction in terms.
Jesus knows our hearts. He knows whether or not we are seeking Him with every last ounce of determination we possess. If we will seek him with a no-holds-barred, all-out commitment to do whatever it takes to serve Him, He will provide us with far more grace than we could imagine to allow us to serve Him. The courage Jesus gives to those who are faithful to Him is more than enough to enable them to carry out His will; the ensuing joy which fills believers’ hearts is further evidence of His goodness. If we truly trust in Christ, we can stand firm on the belief that we can endure anything–even to the point of death–and be empowered for everything He calls us to do If we trust Jesus’ promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us, we will be able to move spiritual mountains as He shows them to us and empowers us.
Greater is He who is in us. Let us show the world we believe it.
Prayer is the key!
- John 14:6, 15:1; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:8-9
- Matthew 28:18-20
- Luke 18:9-14
- John 15:14-15
- Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 2:3-12
- John 4:7-26
- Matthew 14:15-21; Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:5-13
- 1 Samuel 15:22-26; Matthew 14:15-21 (cf. Hosea 6:6); Philippians 3:2-9
- Matthew 6:1-6
- Philippians 4:7
- Matthew 7:13-14; John 14:6, 15:1
- Matthew 16:24-26; 1 Corinthians 11:1; James 2:14-16
- John 8:3-11
- John 2:13-17
- John 15:1-11
- Philippians 4:13, 19; Hebrews 13:5
- Revelation 21:9
- Matthew 7:21-24
- John 5:39-47
- Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 1 John 2:17
- Matthew 15:1-11; Revelation 3:14-16
- Matthew 25:31-46
- John 21:15-23; Acts 4:13-31; ; 1 Corinthians 15:19; Philippians 1:6, 3:8, 4:13
- Romans 3:10-31, 5:18-21
- James 4:7 (Note the two sections of this verse, and also footnote 24. Holiness is not merely the turning away from evil, but also a turning to Christ. The two parts of this verse in James cannot be considered separately if the context of holiness is to remain intact. There can be no other consideration from this verse, for there is no moral middle ground between good and evil. See also Matthew 12:22-30.)
- Matthew 6:25-34
- Luke 12:39-40; 1 Thessolonians 5:1-2
- Matthew 13:24-30; John 15:19-21, 17:14-19 (Note about the various perspectives on the millennium: while there are certainly varying theological points of view regarding whether Christians will have to endure the Great Tribulation, the point must not be missed. Jesus clearly stated throughout the Gospels, and likewise the apostles and prophets reiterated, that what matters is not what one goes through for the sake of Christ, but Christ Himself is all that matters. His grace sustains us when nothing else will. Period.)
- Philippians 1:6