Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 13: Providence and Prayer

One of the age-old questions regarding the Christian faith surrounds the issue of prayer: If God has indeed determined what is to occur, then what need is there for intercessory prayer? In short, why should we ask God to do anything? (This is a paraphrase from p. 214 of the book Not By Chance).

The short answer, of course, is that God commands us to pray. Repeatedly, in fact. Even that most famous of prayers, the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13, begins in verse 9a with the verb “pray,” a present, imperative verb that is, essentially, a command. This final chapter of Not By Chance provides us with three primary reasons, in the context of God’s providence, why we should make requests of God.

I. Prayer Glorifies God for His Providence. The overarching purpose of all prayer is the glory of God. This is perhaps more obvious of prayers of thanksgiving, praise, repentance, or worship than it is of intercessory prayer. Prayer should draw attention to the fact that it is God who does things—not us, and not chance.

The example of Zacharias and Elizabeth is used for illustration. They had prayed for a child, and God answered their prayers in His timing, in such a way that the glory was clearly given to Him. God’s answer was a part of the providential plan of history and prophecy.

II. Prayer Adjusts Us to God’s Purposes. It is not always easy to adjust to God’s purposes; we frequently look at prayer as a tool by which to get God to adjust to ours! Several examples are cited:
· Isaiah 60-62: God has already promised deliverance and blessing upon Israel, and yet He tells His people to pray ceaselessly for it to come.
· II Peter 3: Our prayers can be “instruments for furthering the divine purpose” (p. 223).
· Matthew 6:9-13: We are commanded to pray for God’s Kingdom to come
· Revelation 22:20: John prays, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
“Rather than being consumed with our personal material needs in prayer, we are to make God’s kingdom and righteousness the central focus of our prayers.” (p. 224)

Some effects of providence-focused praying:
· Prayer is a divinely determined means for effecting His purposes. God has chosen to allow us—indeed, to command us—to participate in this way; what an honor!
· Prayer is a divinely determined means for focusing our attention on God and His purposes. He doesn’t need us for anything; we are to be focused on Him.
· Prayer is a divinely determined instrument for changing us. What ultimately, is God’s goal for our earthly lives? It is not comfort, health, financial independence, smooth circumstances, or to get projects done—it is that each of us be changed, to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ! Theologically, we call this sanctification.
“Yes, we are invited and encouraged to make all our requests known to God, to unfold our heart’s desires freely and frankly to him. But a biblically informed view of providence should guide what and how we pray. And a biblically informed understanding that there are specific objects—present promises and future events that are certain—that God intends to govern our prayers will guarantee that He is unmistakably glorified and that we, as prayer participants with Him, are changed in the process.” (p. 227)

We are also reminded of the example in Daniel 9. Here, Daniel is studying the prophecy of Jeremiah and realizes that the restoration of Israel is about to occur (vs. 1-2; there is an excellent discussion of the dates involved in the footnotes of the book). What does he do? In vs. 3-15, he confesses the sins of himself and his people. In vs. 16-19, he asks God to do what God has already said He would do. Jeremiah 29:10-14 also puts an emphasis on the prayers of God’s people. Daniel illustrated the three purposes of providence-focused praying given above.

III. Prayer Checks Our Presumption on Providence. It is our natural inclination to trust upon our own decision-making. David, in II Sam. 5:17-25, faced two nearly identical situations, and twice prayed to God seeking His will—and God told him two different responses, both of which were successful. What God wanted you to do in the past may or may not be what He wants you to do now.
“Seemingly providential circumstances alone are not trustworthy. We do not look at our surroundings for signs of direction without prayer to God for guidance, even in situations we think we can figure out because we have faced them before.” (p. 232)

How should our knowledge of providence affect our prayer life? Certainly, it should “invigorate the prayer life and motivate” us to pray, with confidence in God. We should not be preoccupied with material concerns, but with God’s concerns. (This, among other reasons, should drive us to study His Word!)

Prayer changes things, but more importantly, prayer changes people; let prayer change you.

For previous chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 12: Providence and the Church

Again, I apologize for the delay in completing this series of posts. The book Not By Chance by Layton Talbert is an excellent study of the providence of God and I highly recommend it to you. Chapter 13, the last chapter, will be coming shortly.

Chapter 12 deals with Providence in the Church, and is a survey of how God’s providence was seen in the book of Acts, in the early church. Here are the main points:

· God may intervene directly in the affairs of His church and in the individual lives of His people (Acts 5:1-11). This passage also illustrates that He can do this in both “negative” and “positive” ways.
· God is free to alter circumstances in ways that are humanly impossible (Acts 5:17-24). He may not always let us out of prison—but He can!
· God may preserve or deliver His people through aid even from our enemies (Acts 5:33-40). The apostles were facing severe anger in vs. 33, and Gamaliel, if you notice carefully, isn’t actually looking after the apostles’ best interests. His pragmatism, however, is what God used to allow to go free that day.
· God may choose not to intervene even in behalf of His choicest servants (Acts 7:54-60). John the Baptist, James, and countless others were martyred throughout the history of the church. The five missionaries in Ecuador were cited among those who have given their lives (or otherwise suffered) for the cause of Christ. God’s will is always the best place to be—but it isn’t always the safest place.
· God is capable of working in people we would never expect, even through events that seem to us tragic, senseless, and counterproductive to the cause of Christ (Acts 7:58-8:3). If Saul had not been the persecutor that he was, would he have become the apostle he was?
· God uses persecution and affliction to accomplish His purposes for and through us (Acts 8:3-4). History and Scripture both teach that persecution often serves to spread the Gospel all the more!
· God may direct us to minister in unpromising places and unlikely situations, with apparently minimal potential, for His own purposes (Acts 8:26-40). How many missionaries and preachers do we know who serve in such places today? How clear is it, in retrospect, that God set everything in place for this encounter between Philip and the eunuch, including even the translation of the Scriptures he was using?
· God may intervene in the lives and affairs of people in spectacular, unexpected, extraordinary ways if He chooses (Acts 9:1-8). Most of us didn’t “meet God” like Saul did on the road to Damascus—but God can do that.
· God can intervene in humanly hopeless, dangerous, and even life-threatening situations (Acts 12:1-19). Peter had every reason to believe he would follow Stephen and James to martyrdom…but God delivered him. Interesting thought: What were the people at the house praying for that night: Deliverance, or boldness?
· God can use human disagreements as the catalyst for diversifying the ministry and more effectively accomplishing His purposes (Acts 15:36-41). The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was significant; both were seeking to do God’s will. The Bible does not tell us who “was right.” Disagreements between believers do not mean they cannot be used by God in the future.
· God may close the door on seemingly logical or needful ministries, only to redirect later into the paths of His choosing (Acts 16:6-10). We may wonder why God allows ministries to close down when they are doing His work—but that is His decision. God may want His servants to minister in other places.
· God may allow us to suffer wrongfully in order to bring us into contact with certain sinners (Acts 16:16-34). Joseph provides a thorough O.T. example of this.
· God is in sovereign control of the elements; natural disasters are His tools to shape His purposes (Acts 27-28). Various O.T. passages (e.g., Job 38; Nah. 1:3) speak to the fact that God can and does use the “elements” to accomplish His will. History provides numerous other illustrations.
· God preserves the life of His servants until their work is done. All the things that happened to Paul…and yet, at the end of the book, he is still alive and serving God!
Lessons for life: We must humbly yet confidently put our faith in the power of the King of Kings. We must realize that it won’t all be a “bed of roses.” What God allows us to experience is for our good and for His glory!

For previous chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Who I'm Voting For, Part 2

80th House District: Aric Nesbitt

There are two candidates in this six-way race that stand out to me: Aric Nesbitt and Frank Thompson. I think that both of them can be fine representatives for the people of Van Buren County.

Frank's background is business-oriented. He has been a small-business owner in our county for a long time; he's a family man (married for 42 years); he takes a good stand on the issues. I certainly won't begrudge anyone who wants to vote for him.

Aric's background is somewhat different. He is much younger; I believe he is still single. He has spent most of his working life in the political world. He also takes a good stand on the issues and shares my values. His one liability, in my book, is that he has spent most of the past decade working outside of Michigan and in DC, which is not necessarily an asset.

But Aric has one big advantage in my book, too: He has demonstrated that he will reach out to others. He has both called me personally and visited my house last Saturday (disclaimer: I think he was just working his way through my neighborhood, as opposed to seeking me out individually) and discussed the issues with me. And if you know me, you probably realize I would ask him straight questions. I liked his answers, and I like his energy.

Governor: Pete Hoekstra

As in the state House race above, I see two candidates who stand out above the rest: Pete Hoekstra and Mike Bouchard. I think either one would make a good governor for Michigan. I give Hoekstra the nod in my book.

A word on the other candidates: I have not been pleased with Rick Snyder's avoidance of taking good positions on social conservative issues. His economic ideas seem sound (something that's true for all five GOP candidates), but I can't say too much else in his favor. Mike Cox has demonstrated a penchant for "being a politician" and has already behaved badly with some of his misleading advertisements against Hoekstra. Tom George, who is from Kalamazoo and whom I know personally, has not convinced me of his fiscal conservatism, demonstrated oh-so-terribly with his tax hike vote a few years ago--a vote that helped swing the critical Senate vote to the democrats.

Bouchard has a lot going for him. His stands on the issues are solid, and his experience in Oakland County will be valuable. Pete Hoekstra, however, has demonstrated a very strong friendship with pro-family and pro-life groups, including reaching out to homeschoolers and supporting local control of public education. He also has a long record in Congress; most of it is very good.

The other races in my precinct are uncontested. Make sure you vote on August 3!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Who I'm Voting For, Part 1

Very soon I will be voting, probably for the last time, in a Michigan election. There are several important primary races where I live:

U.S. Representative, 6th District
State Senate, 20th District
State Representative, 80th District

Here's who I am voting for, and why:

U.S. Representative: Jack Hoogendyk

Hoogendyk is looking to upset incumbent Fred Upton, and I hope he does. Hoogendyk has a record, from his six years in the Michigan House, of sound fiscal and social conservatism. He is a Christian man who has shown that he will vote as he speaks. He is predictable; he does not seek which way the wind blows before deciding how to cast a vote. You know what you are getting...and in his case, I like it. A lot.

Upton, on the other hand, has been a case study in political expediency. He is not reliably conservative. He has voted with the democrats too many times on issues that matter, such as the surge vote several years ago, the TARP bailout, and the Cash for Clunkers bill (a failure of which he was one of the leading cheerleaders).

Republicans have a clear choice, and they need to make the most of it.

State Senate, 20th District: Tonya Schuitmaker

Tonya is another politician who has put her votes where her mouth has been. She is consistently conservative, pro-life, and fiscally sound. She has done a great job, worked hard, and reached out to her constituents (including me) during the past six years she has served in the State House. In short, Michigan needs her and 147 similar people in the Legislature.

I have not been impressed with Lorence Wenke's credentials as a conservative, although he (or Larry DeShazor) both would be vastly superior to the candidate running on the other ticket. DeShazor seems like a good guy but for the most part his record is not as long as Tonya's.

Next post: Thoughts on the other two races

Monday, July 5, 2010

Greenville-area Highlights

There are advantages to living in Michigan, as I have the past six years (for instance, the relative lack of stifling heat in June and July), but there are advantages in South Carolina, too.

Today, I ate lunch at Chick-fil-A. The food was good, and the service was unusually good for a busy fast-food restaurant.

And there's Zaxby's, Sonny's, various other BBQ joints, fried chicken places, etc. There is no high-end BBQ in Michigan that I am aware of.

In general, there are more shopping options here than in the Kalamazoo area.

There are two banks and a credit union within one block of where I work. The elementary school for three of my children is, quite literally, next door.

I must see what else I can discover.