What a Friend We Have in Jesus

In 1819, a man was born into a rich family in Ireland. When he was 25 years of age, he migrated to Canada. Why did he leave his home? First, because he became a Christian and was rejected by his family. Second, because of tragedy in his life. He was engaged and the night before their wedding, his fiancée drowned. He moved to Canada and became a school teacher. He fell in love again, but this woman also died before they could get married.

How would Joseph Scriven respond to these events in his life? He responded in two ways: 1) he dedicated himself to working and helping the poor and needy and 2) he wrote a hymn (which was first written as a poem to comfort his mother who was living in Ireland):

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

 

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.

Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!

In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

 

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear

May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.

Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer

Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.

 

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  (John 15:13)

For more on the story of Scriven, see http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/Christian-Music/hymns-the-songs-and-the-stories/what-a-friend-we-have-in-jesus-the-song-and-the-story.html

The Heidelberg Catechism on “As We Forgive Our Debtors.” Matthew 6:12

The Heidelberg Catechism addresses the question of our forgiving others and God forgiving us as follows:

Question 126. What is the fifth petition?

Answer. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;” that is, be pleased for the sake of Christ’s blood not to impute to us, poor sinners, our transgressions, nor that depravity which always cleaves to us; even as we feel this evidence of thy grace in us, that it is our firm resolution from the heart to forgive our neighbor.[1]

The question follows:

IV. How are sins remitted unto us, or why is it added, As we forgive our debtors?

Our sins are so remitted unto us, as we also forgive our debtors, which clause is added by Christ, 1. That we may rightly desire and pray for the forgiveness of our sins, and may, therefore, come before God in true faith and penitence, the sign of which is love to our neighbor. 2. On account of our comfort; that we may be assured of the forgiveness of our sins, when we extend forgiveness to others for the sins which they may have committed against us; and may have the assurance that we are acceptable to God, although there are many remains of sin still within us.

. . . He who does not forgive fully and perfectly, does, nevertheless, obtain forgiveness, if he does but forgive truly and sincerely. Therefore forgiveness shall also be extended to us, if we forgive truly and sincerely.

Amen!!!!

How Should the Church Pray When Facing Threats of Persecution?

When the gospel is preached and God adds to the number of believers, it is not surprising that persecution arises and the church is forbidden to preach. When that comes, how should we pray? The temptation is to be self-focused and pray for peace, or judgment on those persecuting the church, or for protection from enemies.

Yet, the example of the apostles in Acts 4:22-31 (in the context of Acts 3:1-4:31), helps us know how to pray. They prayed that God would enable them in the midst of persecution, and that they should be able to preach the word with boldness. At such a time, we appeal to who God is in his being, what his word says, and then ask him to do his work as only he can do through us.

The Situation

After their release and threats against preaching the name of Christ (4:1-22), Peter and John went to their friends and reported what had happened 4:23-24a).

Notice how they reported about their questioning by the chief priests and elders and the threats, but said nothing about their own defense. The challenge for the advancement of the gospel is at stake and in that case the focus is on that gospel. They are looking to the future and seeing the danger facing the gospel.  How would they respond to this threat? Their response was to turn to God in prayer.

The Apostles’ Prayer

How did they pray? By affirming who God is in his being and quoting scripture that was applicable to their current situation (verses 24b-28).

They addressed God as sovereign Lord (cf. Luke 2:29; 2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4; Rev. 6:10). They affirmed that God is the ruler over all (including the current situation). How is God sovereign and ruler? He is the one who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them (cf. Exod. 20:11; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 146:6; Isa. 37:16). Thus, he rules over all. Their faith in God and their theology came together in their prayer. They trusted God and they believed that he controls all things and no human threat will stand against him.

They quoted Scripture from Psalm 2:1-2 (see 4:25-26). Why? They saw that the quotation was fitting for the situation they were facing. In Psalms 2:1-2. The nations conspired in vain against the Lord’s anointed, as did the enemies of the gospel in the situation of the apostles. The chief priests and elders, in their threats, could not win. They could not succeed against God. Everyone who comes against God’s anointed is fighting a losing battle, in view of Ps. 2:1-2.

Their actions (4:28), unknown to them, fulfill Scripture (in this case, Ps. 2). So, the apostles saw their current situation from a biblical theology (salvation history) point of view. The actions carried out against Jesus in crucifying him were planned by God (cf. Acts 2:23; cf. 3:18).

They prayed by making a request to God (4:29-31). It is important to note the content of their request in the face of threats.  They prayed that God would consider the threats against them and grant them boldness (to continue to speak the word). They prayed that God would confirm their proclamation with healings, signs, and wonders. They prayed that God would do this through the name of his Son Jesus (4:29-30). The remarkable thing about this prayer is that the apostles are not focusing on themselves and asking for protection (which was going to come if they continue to preach) but their focus is on the progress of the gospel. They could pray this because they knew that God is in charge. An interesting note on the request for boldness is that when they speak in boldness, there is astonishment and evidence that they have been with Jesus (4:13; cf. 14:1-4). They asked for miracles and wonders since only God does those, and when they are performed as they preach in boldness, it will confirm that God is at work.

Their prayer received an immediate answer (4:30). It is not every prayer that receives an immediate answer. This is a unique situation and confirms that God has heard and answered them. He gave them boldness to proclaim the word. The only other place where we have this kind of an immediate answer to prayer is in Acts 16:26.

The apostles asked that God should perform healings and signs and wonders in through the name of Jesus (4:30). What does this mean? A clue is in the context of Acts 4:1-22 (see post next week).

Forgiveness as a Condition for Answered Prayer (Matthew 6:12)

In my last post I wrote on conditions for answered prayers. In this post, I want to look at one example of this kind of condition for effective prayer. There is no better place than Matthew 6:9-15, where Jesus gave his disciples directions on how to pray. The request for God to forgive us our debts (sins) just as we have also forgiven our debtors (those who have sinned against us) is simple but deep (6:12). There are two things in view here. The person praying is saying that God should forgive just as he himself has forgiven others. This is a condition and the plea is that the forgiveness of God that is sought is compared to how one has already forgiven.

Second, there is an underlying condition in this request and that is, if I have not forgiven those who have sinned against me, God will not answer my prayer for forgiveness. How should we understand this? First of all, this is not a prayer for initial justification. We cannot merit it and God’s forgiveness of us is not merited on what we have done. Christ has accomplished it perfectly. Second, we cannot deny that if we are not forgiving of others, we cannot expect God to forgive us our own sins.

Matthew 6:12 is a prayer for ongoing restoration with God in fellowship as we sin against him daily. It is a prayer that recognizes that the kind of fellowship sought for in prayer is one we ought to be giving to others daily. Forgive us “just as we have forgiven . . ..” The nature of the verb used here (perfect tense) gives the sense that forgiveness has already happened on the part of the one praying and the results of it continue even into the present. The kind of forgiveness sought from God is one in which one’s sins are not held against him and that is the kind of forgiveness we have also extended to our brothers and sisters. To ask God to do what we have not done or are not doing for fellow brothers and sisters is hypocritical (cf. 6:5).

Thus, there is a condition for the prayer of forgiveness. It is there implicitly in 6:12, and is stated explicitly in 6:14-15;

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

 

The word “for” in verse 14 provides a sort of commentary on the request in verse 12. Though the exact connection between our forgiving others and God forgiving us can be debated, we cannot deny the conditional relationship between what we are asked to do and what God promises to do for us.

For other instances where forgiveness is a condition for God answering us and forgiving us, see Matthew 18:35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37 (cf. Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).

Conditions for Answered Prayers

Are answered prayers conditional on something that we must do? Twice in John 15, Jesus speaks of prayers that will certainly be answered. He says in John 15:7, “. . . ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” In 15:16, he says     “. . .whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” The question is, what is it that guarantees the answers to these prayers?

First, there is a condition to answered prayer. John 15:7 begins with a conditional clause,

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Before claiming the promise that all our prayers will be answered simply because we have asked, as we are instructed (see Matt. 7:7-8), Jesus lays out a condition for answered prayers. The condition is twofold: abiding in Christ and his words abiding in us. That is, trusting him, loving him and keeping his commandments (cf. 14:21, 23). This promise of answered prayer is for those who are abiding in Christ. Thus, when believers live close to Christ and in obedience to Christ, their prayers will be in accord with the will of God and the purposes of God, and are certainly going to be answered. The person who is abiding in Christ and in whose heart the words of Christ are abiding (and taking full control), such a person will not ask anything that is contrary to the will of God. Such a person will not pray for selfish reasons (James 4:3) but for the right reasons. In John 15:7, the “if” clause is what determines whether one’s prayer receives an answer or not. Therefore, there is a condition for answered prayer here.

Second, John 15:16 says,

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

Even here, there is a twofold condition to answered prayers: going in obedience and bearing fruit, and praying in the name of Jesus. The first condition is along the same lines as in 15:7, trusting Jesus and obeying his words. The second condition is praying in the name of Jesus (cf. 14:13-14). The one who prays in the name of Jesus is the person who has faith in him and is obedient to his words and therefore prays in accord with his purposes. Hence, a prayer in the name of Jesus proceeds from faith, embraces our union with Christ and more importantly, brings glory to God. In 14:13, prayer is to be done in the name of Jesus for a purpose, “. . . so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (14:13). We can conclude that to pray in the name of Jesus is to pray in line with who he is and with his desire to glorify the Father. It is asking Jesus for those things that will result in him bringing glory to the Father. One of the things that brings glory to the Father is bearing fruit as a result of abiding in Christ and his word abiding in us (see 15:7-8).

The prayers that God answers are the prayers of those who abide in the Son (through faith) and in whom the words of the Son abide (evident in a life of obedience). It is the prayers of those who bear fruit in keeping with the Son’s appointment of them. It is the prayers of those who glorify the Father through the bearing of fruit (15:8) and who pray on the merit of the Son.

What are some examples of prayers that are according to God’s purposes and that meet the conditions for answered prayers? I will answer the question in my next post next week.

Praying the Purposes of God

What kinds of prayers is God bound to answer? Scripture teaches that God will certainly answer the prayers of his people. This creates some confusion since often one is left with prayers that are not answered and wondering how one ought to pray to receive an answer. In some cases, you would hear a prayer end with, “Not as I will but as you will” in keeping with Jesus’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:42) or end with “in Jesus name” (John 14:13-14; 15:16). But, what does it really mean to pray effectively? It means praying prayers that fit with God’s will and purpose for the world and for our lives. One of the sure ways to know we are praying in accordance with God’s will is to pray his purposes; that is, praying that he should do what he says he is going to do. On this, we have a few examples in Scripture.

In Romans 10:1, Paul writes:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.

In response to Israel’s unbelief and zeal that sought righteousness by works, Paul prayed that God would save them. This was his sincere heart’s desire and prayer. Yet, Paul knew that God had a plan to save Israel. We read in Romans 11:25-27:

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,

he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;

27       “and this will be my covenant with them

when I take away their sins.”

According to Paul, then, the situation of unbelief on the part of Israel is a temporary hardening until the fullness of Gentiles is brought in. Also, there is a future time when Paul knows that God will save all Israel and this is in keeping with Scripture (he quotes from Isaiah 59:20, 21; Psalms 14:7; 53:6; and Isaiah 27:9 to support his claim that all Israel will be saved). Knowing this truth, Paul still prays for the salvation of Israel.

What are we to make of this? The knowledge of what God is going to do does not remove the need for prayer. Why? Simply put, prayer is the means that God has put in place and uses to accomplish his purposes. Knowing the outcome of something does not mean that we should not pray. For example, we know that Jesus is coming and we pray, “Come Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

Daniel is another example of one who knew the purpose of God and yet prayed that God would bring it about. Daniel prayed fervently for the release of Israel from exile (Dan. 9:1-19). Daniel knew what God had purposed to do. We read in Daniel 9:1-2:

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

According to Daniel, he knew that God had purposed to bring release to his people after seventy years (see Jer. 25:11-12 and 29:10). Yet, in verses 3-19, he prayed fervently to God for the release of Israel.

With the examples of Paul and Daniel, we can see that prayer centers on what God has purposed to happen and so we pray that he will do what he has planned to do. Often our prayers center on what we want to see happen and the question is, are we interested in God’s agenda or only our agenda? Sometimes we pray that God will do things because we do not know what the outcome is or ought to be (like being delivered from unbelievers in Romans 15:31) but most of the time we ought to pray the promises of Scripture, that God would bring them to fulfillment (as Paul and Daniel prayed).

When we focus on the agenda of God and pray that his purposes will be fulfilled, we are praying in accordance with his will and those prayers bring him glory and are sure to be answered.

Yet, are answered prayers conditional on something we do? See my post tomorrow.