Difficulty 2: Prayer (Part B)

Difficulty 2 – How long to Pray?  Short or long?

We’ve already covered what Jesus said about long prayers in the Sermon on the Mount:

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. – Matthew 6:7-8

Yet, Paul reminds us in this verse:

“Pray without ceasing” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Again in Colossians 4:2 we read “Continue steadfastly in prayer….”

So should we pray all the time or not? If we simply consider the previous blog about prayer, we know that Jesus was not condemning public prayer, but long and empty prayers for the sake of personal gain.

The issue of how long a prayer should be is very simple: long enough. So how long is enough? First, let’s review what prayer is, it is a communication with, not a one directional speech to God. [And this is where I am also convicted.]

We are probably all quite decent at saying a “blessing” at a meal, but how good are we at saying a prayer?

In public, we rarely, IF EVER, pause to hear God respond. This just seems abnormal; I mean only in large church settings when the Pastor asks us to pray silently do we have public prayer with a chance to listen.

You may be asking at this point: What do you mean “listen for God to respond?”

Prayer is not one-way. It is a conversation with God. Jesus gave us an example of going off alone to focus on God specifically. He didn’t leave the presence of others just to be alone. Jesus went off to spend time with God in dialogue and communication. [Isn’t it interesting that even Jesus (as Son of God) felt it was important to spend time with God the Father].

Praying has been defined in a variety of ways by the secular world, but in a Christian context Prayer is dialogue and relationship with God; it has the power to change outcomes and attitudes. Prayer is about an interchange with our Father, not a one-way plea for help or blessings. This requires a bond that is stronger than just faith, but a desire to listen. One can have faith in God, but it takes trust in God to allow Him to work out the finer details.

Only through spending time with Him can we listen and identify those fine details. Ever hear that little voice in the back of your head? Maybe it’s God. Maybe it’s Satan. But either way, you have been influenced. The question is, are you blocking the influences of sin long enough to hear from God?

How long do you need to pray? I would have to agree with Paul: Pray without ceasing! It’s the best way to hear from God.

I have come to learn that prayer does not require seclusion (although it does help tremendously). Prayer doesn’t require closing of the eyes and bowing of the head. But it does require a subdued heart that is willing to listen and acknowledge God as creator, sustainer, and planner of our future. Are you willing to pray long enough to get guidance as you travel this road we call life?

Difficulty 2: Prayer (part A)

In the Sermon on the Mount (the longest recorded sermon by Jesus in the Bible), Jesus tells us not to pray in public, but to pray in private:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:6

And then Jesus mentions not to pray for a long time:

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.Matthew 6:7-8

And if we jump to 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we find Paul tells us “pray continually.”

So the difficulty is three-fold (or more):

  1. Should we or shouldn’t we pray in public
  2. Should we pray short prayers or long prayers, and
  3. Why pray if God knows what we need before we ask?

Prayer “difficulties” are numerous throughout the Bible, so I’ll cover them during several blogs:

I’ll cover public prayer only today. Should we pray publicly or privately?

First, we find example after example of Jesus praying privately:

After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.Mark 6:46

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. – Mark 1:35

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. – John 6:15

41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:41-42

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16

However, we also find Jesus thanking God through prayer at the following events:

  • At the last supper, praying for the disciples and all believers – John 17
  • At Lazarus’ grave: “41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’” –John 11:41-43
  • Feeding of 5000: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.” –  Mark 6:41

And then in the following events, we find evidence of public prayers:

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.  – Matthew 19:13

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers. – Matthew 21:12-13

Throughout other passages of the Bible, we find public prayer:

 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. – Acts 12:12

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.James 5:16a

23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.Acts 4:23-24

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said: Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.1 Kings 8:22-23

Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:8 for men to “pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands.”

My conclusion then is that when Jesus said to go off privately to pray, He was right. Our prayers should be private so that we can focus on having a “communication” with God; an opportunity to hear, not just talk to God.

At the same time, it is also right to pray publicly, as long as it’s done with the right heart – see upcoming blog on “Praying the Will of God.” Jesus did rebuke the Pharisees for public prayer, but it was because they didn’t pray publicly for the right reasons. (“For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.” – Matthew 6:5)

The former passages above show that it is right to publicly thank God for His blessings, as well as to pray publicly for large groups and events.

Difficulty 1: one God or three?

So, let’s start with the most basic of all difficulties – one that even believing Christians have issue or concern with. How can God be one person as mentioned in Deuteronomy 6:4, but yet declare to be plural as mentioned in Genesis 1:26.

First, let’s review some more Scripture that relate to this issue:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they…. – Genesis 1:26

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. – Deuteronomy 6:4

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – John 1:1

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. – Genesis 1:2

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.John 14:28

So what we have here is a list of what to the non-believer is all contradictory.  How could God be only one, but be many? And is Jesus God?

Let’s first look at what experts say: language experts point out (grammatically) that the translation of God in Genesis 1:26 is from the Hebrew “Elohim” which is naturally plural in their native language. This would translate as “Let us [plural] make man in our [plural] image.” This explains why it is translated as “us,” or is that why?

Other experts point to passages in the New Testament that use the Greek noun “theos” which is translated to God in the singular tense (“…when God [singular] created the world…”Mark 13:19). So which is right?

Before we decide, lets also consider passages throughout the Bible that refer to God in the sense of the Trinity:

The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”Psalm 110:1

Who has gone up to heaven and come down?  Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is the name of His son? Surely you know! – Proverbs 30:4

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:16-17

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Matthew 28:18-20

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.2 Corinthians 13:14

 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.1 Peter 1:2

Based on these Scriptures God exists as three beings, but is still one being (The Lord speaks to the Lord – surely He is not talking to Himself, or is He? . . . in a sense). So HOW is that possible? How does God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit exist as one?

Well, let’s take a look at the simplistic view.  I’ve been asked by many teenagers over several years to try and explain how God can be three different beings at one time. I think it’s best to think of it this way: let’s look at me for example. I’m a son to my parents, a brother to my siblings, and a father to my child. I’m three different people to three different groups of people.

I can’t explain if this is true for God, but it does help to explain how three beings (or characteristics) can be internalized in one being.

Remember, that we have truly limited minds, from a human sense, but also from a programmed teaching sense.  There have been multiple studies done that prove that children brought up in a negative environment (children often told “no”) are more constrained by the “box.” Whereas children who have been brought up creatively and allowed free expression have better success at opening their minds to new concepts and ideas that have not yet been conceived (i.e. inventors, or those with new ideas).

Our minds have trouble imagining that God could exist as three beings in one body. However, if you look at all the characteristics of God, or simply at omniscience, for example, how is it that God knows everything?  Simple – He’s God. God can do anything. He has no limits! Therefore, if He wants to exist as three beings, and interact with us in three different manners (Father in Heaven, Son on earth and returning again, and Holy Spirit to indwell us) He can. Not only can He, but He does.

As Wesley would ask “what is One plus One plus One?”  The answer?  One!

God is three, but also one!

Difficulties – an Overview

Yesterday I mentioned that I would begin a series on Bible Difficulties. Today we will begin that journey. Please note that this is NOT an attempt to “prove” the Bible. This series will merely speak to address some issues that are found within the Bible. For example, how can the earth only be 4000 years old as described in the Bible, but yet science proves it be over millions of years old based on fossils.

I will not attempt to address every item ever scrutinized, but will address some popular ones. On the other hand, if there are any specific topics you would like addressed, please let me know and I will include them in a future post. As a note, I will address not just conflicts between Scripture and Science, but also difficulties that arise within Scripture itself like how can God be three, yet one?

Furthermore, this series should help discuss why you don’t really need “blind faith” to believe Christianity is true, but rather logical reasoning should lead one to discern that Christianity is true.

To me, this is as simple as opening our mind a little. First, we must realize that we have limited capacity in our minds to understand things (caused by our own culture). If we take a child for instance, they will believe most anything, merely because we have not yet programmed them to think otherwise. Their minds are open to understand and to believe even the most wild and absurd idea ever thought of (i.e. monsters in their closets). However, as we raise and “teach” children, we take a very organized approach to limiting every child’s thought process by programming them with what we have “proof” of, or in some cases what others have taught us. For example, we teach a child that grass is “green” and the sky is “blue.” But how do we know? You are using your blind faith when you tell somebody that!

Let’s use another example. For years, we taught children around the world that there were 9 planets, based on scientific proof. Now, years later, scientists declare there to be only 8 planets. We are programming our children to believe everything science tells them, even though science, by virtue of its own name is imperfect. Science is a “study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment” (www.oxforddictionaries.com). Note 2 key weaknesses in this definition of science’s limits:

1)      Physical and natural world (not including spiritual)

2)      Through observation and experiment

Science, therefore by definition, does not consider spiritual or divine ideas or methods. Secondly, science is based on observation and experiment, which means that those things not observed cannot be proven (i.e. evolution – it’s never been observed because the “theory” itself mentions that it takes thousands of years). Going one step further, “science” is flawed by human intervention and involvement which has been proven time and time again when we look at what foods are really healthy for us (take eggs for example).  As a reminder, this series is not here to “bash” science; however, where science and Scripture conflict, I will take a logical approach to reconciling an answer.

That’s enough for today, let’s get started fresh tomorrow with a look at God: is He one or three Gods?

The Final Unknown: #10

Unknown #10 (the Final Chapter for this series)

The Three Wise Men (or Magi) never saw Jesus in the manger as depicted in Nativity scenes around the world.

When they [the wise men] had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:9-11 (KJV)

Following along with the rest of the story (so we don’t take this out of context and to verify the claim), it was then that Joseph followed his dream and immediately departed a different way (eventually into Egypt per Matthew 2:13-14). In verse 16, we find the urgent command from Herod to execute all children under the age of two (as time-lined by the wise men – verse 16), further clarifying that the wise men were not at Jesus’ birth, but that they possibly took up to 2 years to find and visit Jesus.

MORAL:  Don’t believe EVERYTHING the world proclaims, even when it proclaims “Christianity.” 

Personally, I would never condemn someone for displaying a Nativity scene with the wise men. Rather, I’m glad they are professing their faith.

NOTE:  If you liked this series on the “unknown” or little known Scriptures, please let me know. I am considering a new series on what some would call “contradictions” of the Bible, but would encourage some feedback from you. Thanks again for your support!

The Unknown: #9

Unknown #9 – God detests cross-dressers

Don’t take me as prejudice. I’m merely spreading the truth.

It is clearly written in amongst several laws dealing with animals in Deuteronomy 22:5 –

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.

Just thought you might want to know it!

Moral: Before you go around hunting for clothes to wear in your spouse’s closet, remember the Lord’s Word.  🙂

The Unknown: #8

Unknown #8 – Moses wasn’t the only one to part the waters!

One thing I love about the Word of God is that it is “living.” We use that word (living) to describe the Bible, but don’t always know what it means. I would define it as such:

The Living Word of God is revealed to us as we are ready, and not before.

Essentially, we can read the Bible over and over again, but until we are ready to accept certain aspects of it, we may never understand it, or even recall reading certain passages. This is definitely true for me as I read the Bible; I still pick up things every time I read it. One example is as follows: these passages have never stuck in my head before (except of course the first one).

1) Moses (and children of Israel) @ Red Sea: Exodus 14:21-22 (also mentioned in Nehemiah 9:10-11:12, various Psalms, Isaiah 63:12, and Hebrews 11:29)

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided….

2) Joshua (and children of Israel) @ Jordan River Joshua 3:13-17 (also mentioned in Joshua 4:7, 4:23, and 5:1)

 13And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap. . . . 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing.

3) Elijah (and Elisha) @ Jordan River: 2 Kings 2:8

Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

4) Elisha @ Jordan River: 2 Kings 2:14

[Elisha] took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

Who knew?

Moral: If God wants you on the other side, He’ll find a way to get you there

The Unknown: #7

Unknown #7 – Atheists claim the Bible says….

According to many atheists, and even agnostics, there are numerous Bible verses that claim there is no God, or that refute Christian beliefs such as God is a loving God. Let’s analyze just a few:

Myth: Psalm 14 says “There is no God.”

Analysis: Psalm 14 fully states: “The fool says in their heart: ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1)

If we really dig in, we can find this same phrase in Deuteronomy 32, 1 & 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah 43, 44, & 45. However, each of these times, the phrase is accompanied with additional supporting Scripture like:

There is no God like thee1 Kings 8:23 (NIV)

Apart from me there is no God – Isaiah 44:6 (NIV)

Myth: God will dishonor priests by “smearing dung on their faces” (Malachi 2:3)

Analysis: In Chapters 1-2 of Malachi, the Lord addresses the failings of the priests to honor the altar and the Lord by offering improper sacrifices. In Malachi 2:3, he then discloses that if they don’t bring honor to their position, that He will indeed dishonor their faces and their descendants.

Myth: God will lie to people (2 Thes 2:11)

Analysis: In 2 Thessalonians 2, we are warned of future deceivers that will arise before Jesus returns. The Lord speaks about how people who “refused to love the truth and so be saved” will follow these lies (2 Thes 2:10). Because of this, the Lord will condemn them (the wicked), because they have delighted in sin. Simply, this passage re-affirms that those who do not believe, trust, and follow Jesus will not receive an eternal life in Heaven.

Moral: As we know, anything taken out of context can be construed. Read the whole story for yourself.

…they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if [it] was true. – Acts 17:11b