Why Pray? (Does it really make any difference?)

I want to thank everyone for your kind and encouraging words regarding the message I preached on June 16th about the mystery of prayer and why God, through human eyes, seems so capricious i.e. why does he answer some prayers and not others?

My daughter, Macy Watts, listened to it yesterday and told me should couldn’t stop crying. (Most of the time that’s what happens when they find out I’m that day’s preacher. )

Why pray? Because Jesus did.

Why flood heaven with requests? Because Jesus did.

I shared the following with Macy. Perhaps, for those who are wrestling with this spiritual disciple called prayer, my response to Macy may be of some encouragement. love to you all. nw

“Macy, the topic (of why God answers some prayers and not others) has always been problematic for me. Way before Jordan died I would hear testimonies of people talking about how their loved one had stopped drinking or using drugs. I begged God to heal my dad and sister. They died anyway. Or about someone who had been reconciled with their dad or mom. And I would ask God, “Why them and not me??” But, at some point, you just have to strip away the veneer and ask the question behind it all: “can I trust God, or not?” It’s a hard question sometimes. In Daniel 9:23 the angel, Gabriel, came in “swift flight” to tell Daniel, “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given.” If I am going to believe John 3:16 I have to believe Dan. 9:23 right? I can’t cherry-pick which scriptures I’m going to believe and which ones I’m not. At some point in one’s life you have to drive a stake in the ground and, with your Bible in your hand, say to God, “Life is hard. I don’t understand most of it. But I’m going to believe this book, by faith alone, in Christ alone.” And then walk away with the issue once and for all settled. As my brother/friend, Joe Price, told me after Jordan Blake Watts took his life, “If faith was easy, it wouldn’t be called faith.”

When Macy texted me after listening to the message she included my closing quote:

“It appears to me that God has decided that he can use me better in my pain than with my son still here. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. I don’t have the answers that I need. But I’ve chosen to believe that God is still God. And that God is still good.”

For Narnia, nw

When Jesus Worked at McDonald’s

This past week, on a Tuesday morning, I swung through the drive-though at a local McDonald’s for a warm, robust beverage on my way to work.

After placing my order I promptly pulled up to the first window to pay for said beverage where I was warmly greeted by a woman at the window who said, “Hello darlin’.”

I almost began weeping (while, at the same time, strangely thinking of Roy Orbison).

A little context…

My family is hurting deeply. The weight of the approaching anniversary of when I walked into my son’s room and temporarily went insane is, at times, so heavy we simply can’t bear it.

My daughter, Kelsie, flew in the previous weekend to go with us to watch our youngest daughter, Macy, in “9 to 5” where she attends college. It is always awesome when we’re all together.

But that joy is always closely accompanied by a dark, suffocating shadow. For it’s when we’re all together that we’re all acutely aware of who’s missing – the gaping, painful hole left by Jordan’s  death on May 13, 2013.

After Macy’s performance we all embraced and wept.

The Monday before my visit to McDonald’s I was numb. I couldn ‘t focus or concentrate. I felt nothing. I had nothing to say. I was empty and bone-dry.

Back to Tuesday morning at McDonald’s…

I was in such a fragile state emotionally, the McDonald’s employee’s kindness caught me off guard. I could hear the sound of a key unlocking my psychological prison door. I could, all of a sudden, hear Jesus whispering to me, “I’ve got this. I’ve got Jordan. Trust me.”

I came very close to asking her seriously, “Are you an angel?”

But the story doesn’t end there.

Then came today (Wednesday)…

I again found myself in the very same McDonald’s drive-through to grab a sandwich for lunch (clearly, I have no concern for my health )

Guess who was at the same window? She looked at me, recognizing me from the day before, and said, “Hello sweetheart!”

This time, I did something I’ve never done in my entire life.

I asked this angelic stranger, “Ma’am, do you pray?”

She looked back at me intently, smiled, and said softly, “Every day.”

I said, “Almost 5 years ago my 19 year old son took his life. My family is suffering. Would you pray for us?”

She said, “I will pray for you every day.”

I began to tear up and said, “My name is Nick.”

I paid her for my sandwich and began to drive to the second pick-up window when I heard her say, “I will pray for you, Nick!”

The New Testament records that Jesus prayed for people often. I know he’s interceding for the Watts family.

He told me so today at McDonald’s.

Nick

The Valley of Vision

The Valley of Vision: a collection of Puritan prayers is a book of prayers I have in my library. The Puritan Movement took place primarily during the 16th & 17th centuries.

As with any “religiosity” the corrupt heart of mankind can twist God’s Word to mean what they want it to mean – hence, the completely unbiblical actions of the religious leadership surrounding the Salem Witch trials during the Puritan era.

However, although the wicked events claim most of the press, most Puritans were just like us: broken people trying to navigate this sometimes painful and chaotic thing we call life. The prayers in the book mentioned above, and cited below, represent the fervent prayer-life of these precious, broken people. Enjoy and be inspired… nw

“O incomprehensible but prayer-hearing God,

I thank you for the riches to me in Jesus – for the unclouded revelation of him in your Word where I behold his person, character, grace, glory, humiliation, sufferings, death and resurrection.

I come to you with nothing of my own to offer – no works, nothing of worth, no promises. Just me.

Deliver me from the natural darkness of my own mind, from the corruptions of my heart, from the temptations to which I am exposed, from the daily snares that attend me.

O Lord, I am astonished at the difference between what I receive and what I deserve – the heaven I am bound for, the hell I deserve.

O God, it is amazing that we can talk so much about our mere human power and goodness when, if you did not hold us back at every moment, we would be devils incarnate.

Nothing exceeds your power. Your might is infinite, your grace limitless, your name glorious.

Let angels sing for sinners repenting, for prodigals restored, for Satan’s captives released, for blind eyes opened, for broken hearts healed, for giving us hope in a sometimes hopeless world.

Destroy in me every lofty thought. Break my pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds.

Let my words and actions be firmly rooted in your Word.

I ask great things of a great God.

Amen”

The Lord’s Prayer (It’s not the one you’re thinking of…)

The “Our Father, which art in heaven,…” prayer was certainly said by Jesus, but as a “model prayer” for the eager-to-learn-how-to-pray disciples.

However, the disciple, John, records for us a wonderful gift. For his entire 17th chapter comprises an actual prayer Jesus prayed as he was readying himself for his crucifixion: “Father,” Jesus prayed, “the time has come….” (17:1)

Praying for himself, the disciples, and the world, Jesus pours his heart out to his Father. The disciples had no earthly idea what was about to take place. But, in his prayer, Jesus reminds us what our “true north” must be when life caves in around us (which is what was about to happen to Jesus’ closest followers.)

Jesus prays, “I have given them Your word…Your word is truth.” (17:14, 17)

Some 10 centuries removed from when the psalmist wrote, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (119:105), Jesus reminds us that nothing has changed – God does not change. Our “true north” was – and is – His mighty Word.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” (Col. 3:16)

Nick

Homeless Demons

[Jesus said],“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.  Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”  Luke 11:24-26

There are dozens of sermons in this passage.  Allow me to briefly focus on just one: the security & authority one has in Christ.

First of all, this passage must not be taken out of the context of the canon of Scripture.  One who has professed their faith in the risen Christ cannot be demon-possessed (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19-20; Eph. 1:13-14)  A believer is already “possessed” – by the Holy Spirit.  John MacArthur rightly comments on this passage:  “When a demon is defeated by the power of Christ, the soul vacated by the power of darkness is taken over by Christ.”

It should be noted that the principles taught by Jesus in this passage apply without restriction to a non-believer.  This truth is sobering. The torment of evil spirits can be manifested in chronic anger, bitterness, a critical spirit, unforgiveness, pride, sexual addiction, lying, disrespect for authority, fear, etc.  For the non-believer, to try and “will” these self-destructive habits away can, indeed, lead to momentary improvement.  But, according to Jesus, the relief is merely temporalChrist, the Bible tells us, is the only “cure” for sin.  (cf. Romans 8:1)  A demon is not afraid of “a house swept and put in order.”  A demon, on the other hand, is terrified of a “house” possessed by the risen Christ.  (cf. James 2:19)

For the believer, as previously stated, the Bible is clear:  we cannot be demon-possessed.  However, the enemy is no fool.  As Billy Graham purports, satan is a strategic genius.  As such, demonic oppression is quite common and can be manifested in the very self-destructive habits mentioned above.  New Testament scholar, Dr. David Garland, comments, “Demons…do whatever they can to neutralize” and twist biblical truth in a believer’s life.  The difference between a believer and a non-believer, when in this state, is profound.  For the believer, all that is required is a conscious re-focusing on the truth: God’s Word.  Jesus said, the truth sets us free.  Paul wrote, “For we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”  In sum, satan has no hold on believers.  He only wants to make us think he does.  The enemy’s best and most used weapon, after all, is deception.

If you’ve never placed your faith in the risen Christ, please consider His claims.  Honestly investigate the historicity of Jesus and the reliability of the Gospels. 1  Consider the evidence.  Make your own decisions based on the evidence.  Consider Him who loves you so much that He died a horrific death on a wooden cross, then, three days later, authenticated His claims about Himself by rising again.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  The Apostle Paul  (1 Cor. 15:3-4)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

1 Two very good, very readable books on the topic of evidence for the Christian faith were written by former atheists:  More Than a Carpenter, by Josh & Sean McDowell;  The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel.   A third book, a little harder to read, but a classic, is Mere Christianity  by C.S. Lewis, also a former atheist.

The Hardest Prayers to Pray

“But I say to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,…If you love those who love you what reward will you get?” (Matthew 5:44-47)
 
“I couldn’t do it.”  That’s what one person told me after I’d asked the folks at church that night to pray for their enemies.  Thank God for that person’s honesty.  Frankly, the first time I tried to pray for people who’ve hurt me the worst…..well, I couldn’t do it either.

This brief blog is not intended to be about the topic of forgiveness as much as it about praying for our enemies. But it’s difficult to separate the two topics. John Bevere (Buh-VEER) explains why. In his book, “The Bait of Satan,” Bevere, using the story of Joseph, highlights a biblical truth so arresting that, when I first read it, it stopped me in my tracks. But, before we get to what he wrote, we need a little background.

In Genesis 37, Joseph, the second youngest of twelve brothers (and still a teenager), was sold to Midianite gypsys by his own brothers. Why? Because they hated him. They originally wanted to kill Joseph, but the oldest brother, Reuben, talked them out of it. Joseph’s nightmare took him to Egypt where he would spend the next 13 years in slavery & prison. But, as the Scriptures repeatedly state, “The Lord was with Joseph.” By God’s orchestration, following those 13 years, Joseph was released from prison and elevated to 2nd in command over all Egypt, subordinate only to Pharaoh. As a famine ravaged the land, outlying tribes of people came to Egypt to seek grain for food. Every person wanting food had to go through Joseph. And guess who showed up?

Twenty years had passed since Joseph had seen his brothers that horrible day when they sold him. No doubt, he remembers his cries for help as his brothers stood there with hate in their heart. But today, his brothers bow before him pleading for mercy. They don’t recognize Joseph. But he immediately recognizes them. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. He had all authority to, once and for all, have them painfully executed for the twenty years they had stolen from him. This would be the sweetest of revenge. Right? Back to the lesson I learned from Bevere.

Bevere wrote, “Had Joseph had in mind not to forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery as an adolescent boy, and decided to execute them, God would have let Joseph rot in prison.” Why?  Because one of Joseph’s brothers was a man named Judah.  Why is that important?  John, a disciple and eye-witness of Jesus, answers that question:  “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.” (Rev. 5:5)  See where this is headed?  Jesus Christ would be a descendent of Judah.  And there was no way God was allowing the blood-line of the Messiah to be severed.  So, clearly, making the choice to love and forgive his enemies saved Joseph’s life.

Spent and exhausted from being up all night, suffering from extreme blood loss & shock, the crucified Jesus was able to make only short utterances from the cross.  Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, together, record seven of those brief, labored statements.  The first is found in Luke’s account, 23:33-34:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  Here we find Jesus praying for His enemies – while they were crucifying Him.  Think about it – when you pray for your enemies you experience the power of perfectly identifying with Christ while He was on the cross.  And we all know what followed the crucifixion – the resurrection.  I believe that “resurrection power” follows this kind of praying.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Family Matters

“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, hcsb)

Family devotions…..

Think about that phrase for a moment. What comes to mind? If you’re like most families – nothing comes to mind. I don’t have a single childhood memory of my parents leading any type of family devotional time.

Biblically, family-worship was never an option. “….watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen….Teach them to your children…. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when He said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear My words so that they may learn to revere Me as long as they live in the land and may teach [My words] to their children.” Deuteronomy 4:9-10, niv

What follows is a devotional I received recently written by pastor/teacher, Jim Hardwicke: (Jim is the man under whom I surrendered to the ministry in 1980.)

What ever happened to family devotions–where parents simply read a portion of the Bible to their family, talk about it with them, and pray together?

In his book, While God is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers, author Steven E. Woodworth writes, ‘Religious worship was by no means limited to the church or confined within the walls of houses of worship. ‘Family prayers,’ held each evening in each Christian home, were as important to nineteenth-century Christians as any of the corporate worship services of the church…Vermont soldier Wilbur Fisk noted that reading a chapter of the Bible and praying together had been his family’s ‘custom from time immemorial.’ Deep in the South, not far from Atlanta, James A. Connolly and other Union officers found themselves quartered with a Southern family, in whose house the Army of the Cumberland’s headquarters was located. That evening, Connolly and other staff officers joined the family in their regular evening prayers, including the singing of hymns’.

Family devotions don’t have to be long. In fact, more than 10 minutes, or so, might be too long. But any of us can read at least a few verses from the Bible and pray together, for the needs of our family members, our church, our nation, and/or our world. Why not start this week? Why not aim for family devotions at least 5 out of 7 days a week?

When our children see real Christianity lived out in a daily way in our homes, it will change them forever.

Not enough time? Schedules too crazy? Don’t feel qualified to lead something like this? Relax – if that’s what is going through your mind right now, you’re normal. It also means that Satan is both furious – and terrified – hoping that the frantic thoughts with which he tries to fill your mind will lead you to do……nothing.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick