Some of the hardest questions in the Christian life have to do with God not answering our prayers— no matter how much we pray or how much faith we can collectively muster. Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Why didn’t God do what I prayed He would do? Why doesn’t God love me? Because if He did, He would not have let happen what happened? Where was God during my time of deepest need? I prayed to God for ________ and it did not happen.
Which inevitably leads us to ask this: Why God? Is the problem with me? Am I not doing enough to get my prayers answered? Or is the problem with You? Are You showing favorites and am I on the bottom of Your list? What’s the problem? Help me understand this, God, because this is hurtful and doesn’t make any sense.
You’re Right, It Doesn’t Make Much Sense
And the reason for that is our reliance on Cliff Note theology. We grab a few Scriptures, usually out of context, and hold on to them like a life preserver vainly trying to get them to say something they don’t. Consider these:
1 John 5:14-15 – Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
Did you notice something? The key, according to this verse, is praying “according to His will.” When that happens, badda bing, badda boom, prayers get answered. But when we ask for something not according to the will of God, all bets are off. The answer will be, “Not today, not ever.”
Matthew 18:19 – “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.”
First, this statement by our Lord has nothing to do with prayer, but with dealing with a sinning believer. And even if it did give us a prescription for prayer, can two people agree for world peace and the end of all wars, and it be a guarantee from the Lord? I think not. Why? Because God has already revealed to us that in the future we “will hear of wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6). God has already spoken prophetic truth to us and won’t violate His Word because of our prayers.
Do you want to know the reason God often doesn’t answer our prayers? Because the reason will change the way you look at God and prayer from this point forward. If you want to know more, then keep listening.
The following is a study on prayer.
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In Proverbs 4 the Lord reveals to us some promises that come with wisdom. They are simple, direct, pointed promises, and each has a condition that must be met. Fulfill the condition, receive the promise. Refuse the condition, and you walk away empty handed and promise free. It’s that simple.
The Proverb begins with the father once again giving sage advice to his young children. Watch how this unfolds.
Proverbs 4:1-2 – Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; (why) for I give you good doctrine: (therefore) do not forsake my law.
The father then reminds his children about his own upbringing and the words his father told him that he is now passing on to his own children. He says:
Proverbs 4:3-5 – When I was my father’s son, tender and the only one in the sight of my mother, he also taught me, and said to me: “Let your heart retain my words; keep my commands, and live. Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.”
Get Wisdom! Get Understanding!
The point the father is trying to impress on his beloved children is the importance of getting wisdom and understanding. In fact, you can almost feel the urgency in the father’s words: “Get wisdom! Get understanding!” (Prov. 4:5) Later, he adds, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7).
Wisdom (ḥoḵmāh) is defined as “skill, experience and shrewdness; with the beginning of wisdom and the supreme wisdom being to properly fear and reverence God.”1 Understanding (biynāh) means “comprehension and discernment, which is accompanied by righteous actions and it carries a strong moral and religious connotation.”2 So when the father says “in all your getting, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7), he is imploring his children to add righteous actions to their reverence and fear of God. It’s not a theological point to be debated. It’s not a mere mental exercise. It’s living in real time a life that corresponds to a reverence of God. Like Jesus later said, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Great question. How would you answer Him?
The First Promise
Then comes the most exciting part of these few verses. Wisdom is now personified as a woman and each of these promises about wisdom (her) is connected with a condition that must first be met. There are three do’s and one don’t. Let’s look at the don’t first.
Proverbs 4:6a – (condition) Do not forsake her (wisdom), and (promise) she will preserve you.
To forsake (ʿāzaḇ) someone is to “leave, neglect, or abandon” them, usually for someone or something else.3 And the idea associated with the word translated preserve (šāmar) means “to keep watch, to guard, to watch over carefully like a mother over her young child.”4
So the first promise from wisdom is that if we do not abandon wisdom or neglect the wisdom found in God’s Word, then wisdom will guard our life and watch carefully over us like a loving mother to her cherished young child. Wisdom will become our protector, our safety, and our security in troubling times of trials and temptations and persecution. She will preserve our life during the attacks of the enemy and reveal to us what is true and trustworthy. And in doing so, we will be strengthened against the schemes of our enemy who speaks to us lies disguised as truth (John 8:44).
Wisdom will also protect us from falling prey to our own ideas about things. She will help us bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) so we won’t confuse our selfish, carnal thoughts and feelings about ourselves and others and vainly think they come from the Lord. If we hold on to wisdom and do not abandon her to our own self-centered sense of right and wrong, then she will guard us against the temptation of trying to create God in our own image by believing He thinks and feels like we do.
And nothing could be further from the truth. Why? Because He doesn’t. God doesn’t live in our box.
As the Lord says in Isaiah:
Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
I think that should settle it, don’t you?
There are three more promises granted to those who embrace the conditions associated with wisdom. We’ve only looked at the first one, the don’t.
Tomorrow we’ll continue with the three do’s.
- Baker, W., & Carpenter, E. E. (2003). The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament (p. 337). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
- Ibid., 130.
- Ibid., 819.
- Ibid., 1171.
Today is the first day of a 40 day adventure.
No, this adventure is not about a mission trip to Haiti or a hike down the Appalachian Trail. This 40 day adventure is a time specifically set aside to discover more about the Lord and to specifically learn to hear Him speak. That’s right, it’s my desire during this adventure to draw closer to the Lord than I’ve ever been before and to learn to hear His voice. I’m not talking about hearing Him speak to me through His Word, which is wonderful. But I long for something more personal, more intimate. I long to hear Him speak to me personally as He has others in Scripture, and as He has also done for me several times in the past. In fact, those time of hearing His voice are some of the high points in my spiritual life.
I know what many of you may be thinking.
“Oh, here we go again. It looks like somebody else is wanting to move beyond the sufficiency of Scripture. I guess Scripture’s not enough for Steve and now He wants more than God has already provided for him. Maybe he wants an encounter like the one described in The Shack or to hear God speak like Sarah Young claims in Jesus Calling or something like that. Doesn’t he know that God only speaks today through His Word?”
No, I don’t know that. In fact, I see many places in Scripture where God speaks to His children in other ways than through the Scriptures. Let me give you a few examples.
The Damascus Road
In Acts 9, we find Jesus verbally speaking to Paul on the Damascus Road. It wasn’t just a command or some proclamation declared from heaven. It was a conversation where both He and Paul spoke to each other. And in this conversation Jesus did not only speak through the written Word, which for Paul would have been the Old Testament. Instead, He verbally communicated His personal message and will to Paul that could not be found from reading, for example, the Psalms or Isaiah.
Acts 9:4-6 – Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
“Got it,” you say. “But that’s the apostle Paul. He was an apostle and could therefore hear God speak to him verbally in ways He doesn’t do today, to anybody, ever. You and I are not apostles. We don’t even have apostles anymore. So how God spoke to Paul back then was just for Paul— and not for us today.”
Really? So how do we explain God speaking, just a few verses later, to a non-apostle named Ananias? He was not an apostle like Paul. He was just a faithful disciple of Jesus who lived in Damascus that God had chosen for a specific task. And how was Ananias to know what specific task God had in store for him unless, somehow and in some way, God spoke to him personally.
The Scriptures say God spoke to Ananias in a vision (Acts 9:10). Yet it was more than a dream or vision, it was actually a conversation. God spoke, and Ananias responded. God gave a command, and Ananias had some questions about God’s command. Then God answered those questions and sent Ananias on his way. Watch the give and take of this conversation.
Acts 9:10-16 – Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
This conversation did not happen from Ananias reading the Old Testament during his time of daily devotions. This was a verbal communication from God that gave direction, instruction and explanation to a human being and occurred outside of His written Word. It was personal, meant only for Ananias, and communicated God’s direct will to one of His children. Not to each of us, but only to Ananias.
That’s what I’m striving for over the next 40 days. I want my relationship to be so close to the Lord that when He speaks, I will hear and listen. And I want to know His voice so well, like a child does his mother’s, that I won’t make the mistake of confusing His voice with mine.
Words of Encouragement
But there’s more. In the very next chapter we find God speaking to Peter regarding a vision he had about whether he should eat ceremonially unclean animals. Again, this is a conversation between Peter and the Lord. It’s not Peter coming to this conclusion by reading Leviticus or Deuteronomy or some other Old Testament text and gleaning principles from them to help him make up his mind. It’s a direct conversation between God and a human being. God gives a command and Peter responds with an objection. Then God gives another command and addresses Peter’s objection. Plus, the text says God had to do this three times. Read it for yourself.
Acts 10:12-16 – In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.
But some may still be unconvinced that God can, and desires, to speak to us personally and directly and not necessarily always through His written Word. After all, He is God and can do whatever He wants (Psalm 115:3). So when we read accounts like the one above with Peter, sometimes we conclude these encounters with God were in a dream state or vision or an early morning stupor and not a direct conversation, from lips to ears, between God and a human being. It’s true that often, in Scripture, God speaks in a dream or through a vision. But that’s not always the case. Consider how Jesus encouraged Paul in Acts 23. This was a personal, intimate, one-on-one message of encouragement that was not revealed through a dream and was meant for Paul alone. In fact, the text says the “Lord stood by him” when He spoke.
Acts 23:11 – But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”
This was not a message Paul received from reading Proverbs or the creation account in Genesis. It was a direct, personal word from the lips of the Lord to Paul. And it shows that sometimes God speaks to us about specific needs that we have outside of, or in addition to, His Word. It doesn’t mean God ever violates His Word or contradicts His Word, but sometimes He speaks to each of us outside of and in cooperation with His Word.
It appears the Lord has more tools in His toolbelt than we imagine.
Think about it, you have a decision to make about taking a job offer. Should you stay and accept the offer at Bank of America in Charlotte, or should you move and accept a competing offer with Capital One in Mclean, Virginia? You don’t know what to do so, as a Christian who desires to be in the center of God’s will, you ask God to tell you what offer He wants you to take. Not to give you wisdom so you can make the decision based on salary incentives and benefits, the relative costs of living, affordable housing, and professional growth potential— but to tell you specifically what offer He wants you to accept.
How does God do that through the Old or New Testament? How does He communicate His desire directly to you? Is there any verse, or passage, or story that specifically reveals to you the answer God has for you regarding the move?
Probably not. Now there are principles in the Scriptures which may guide you in making the decision. There may be passages that talk about the wisdom God gives you to help you decide your future. But for those of us who want a deeper intimacy with the Lord, we hunger for more. I want to know exactly, precisely, specifically what God’s will is for my life and I believe I can know that best from His lips alone. How? Through the Scriptures? Absolutely. But also by His direct communication— however He chooses to reveal Himself to me.
Because I can’t think of a particular passage in Ezekiel or Amos or 1 Corinthians that will tell me to either stay in Charlotte or move to Virginia. Can you?
To Hear His Voice
My desire during this 40 day adventure is to learn to hear God’s voice on an ongoing basis. Not every once in awhile, but daily, hour by hour, much like a loving son longs to hear soothing words from his father. I’ve heard Him speak to me in the past, and these times have become cherished memories. But I’m tired of living on the memories of good times, long past. I hunger for more. I believe the default position for the Christian is for our Father to speak clearly to us as He has to others in His Word and for us to hear and understand what He is saying.
I believe we should be able to ask Him questions and receive from Him answers, much like the disciples did of Jesus. It was natural for the disciples to ask Jesus a question and expect an answer. Why should we expect otherwise? After all, Jesus gave us “another (állos) Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). And this “another (állos) Helper” is the Holy Spirit, who is just like Jesus.
But that’s something we’ll look at tomorrow.
If you’re so inclined, join with me and let’s discover together what God wants to do during this 40 day adventure with Him. Hop on board. It should be quite a ride.
Many of us make resolutions this time of year. It just seems natural. Maybe we want to lose weight, get out of debt, or finish a long neglected project around the house. But as a Christian, we want to somehow make our resolutions more spiritual. That also seems natural. So we often resolve something like this:
“I want to read my Bible more.”
“I want to pray more.”
“I want to share my faith more.”
“I want to love more, forgive more, worship more.”
“I want to live more like a Christian.”
“I want to know more of God and have myself conformed to the image of His Son.”
But the key to discovering the “abundant life” (John 10:10) Jesus spoke about is not in keeping resolutions, no matter how good they may be. It’s living a life of holiness. It’s practicing sanctification. It’s being set apart or consecrated unto God. After all, we belong to Him.
But sanctification never takes place unless we first understand the way God’s if / then promises work. The promise comes after the condition. The then follows the if. Consider the following:
Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
(condition one) Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
(condition two) and lean not on your own understanding;
(condition three) in all your ways acknowledge Him,
(promise) and He shall direct your paths.
Want to know more. Then keep listening.
The following is a study on Proverbs 3:5-6.
To download the slides for this message, click – HERE
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Often we are confused concerning the gifts of the Spirit, especially the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. Questions still linger: Are all the gifts for today? Or, were some of them only for the time of the apostles? And, if they are for today, what does the exercise of these gifts look like? How are they manifested in the church today?
In order to understand the truth behind these questions, we must begin with a simple, seven letter word: another. There are two Greek words translated “another” in this passage. The first is allos, which means “another of the same kind.” And then there is heteros, which means “another of a different kind.” Now, look at the passage in question:
1 Corinthians 12:8-10 – For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another (allos) the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another (heteros) faith by the same Spirit, to another (allos) gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another (allos) the working of miracles, to another (allos) prophecy, to another (allos) discerning of spirits, to another (heteros) different kinds of tongues, to another (allos) the interpretation of tongues.
Now we have three groups of gifts each divided by the word heteros – or “another of a different kind.”
Word of wisdom
Word of Knowledge
Gifts of Healings
Working of Miracles
Discerning of Spirits
Different kinds of tongues
Interpretation of tongues
Do you see how logically the Lord has presented this confusing passage about the gifts of the Spirit? Do you see what He is trying to teach us? If you want to know more, then keep listening.
The following is a study on 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.
To download the slides to this message, click – HERE
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