Be Careful How You Intercede in Prayer

Don Carson reminds us not to go to the extreme of believing we can so influence God in prayer that we turn him into a genie of our own making:

The…extreme begins with the slogan, “Prayer changes things.” Petitionary prayer is everything. This means that if people die and go to hell, it is because you or I or someone has neglected to pray. Does not Scripture say, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2)? Worship and confession must of course be allotted an appropriate part, but they can reduce to mere self-gratification: it can be fun to worship, a relief to confess your sins. Real work for God, however, demands that we wrestle with God, and cry, with Jacob, “I will not let you go until  you bless me” (Gen. 32:26). Not to intercede is to flee your responsibilities as a Christian. Far from being an insult to God, petitionary prayer honors him because he is a God who likes to give his blessings in response to the intercession for his people. In fact, if you agonize in your prayers, fast much, plead the name of Jesus, and spend untold hours at this business of intercession, you cannot help but call down from heaven a vast array of blessings. Of course, if a Christian adopts this line, he or she is in danger of treating prayer much like magic: the right incantations produce the desire effect.

-D.A. Carson, “Lessons from the School of Prayer,” in A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1992), p. 30.


The Gospel According to Isaiah

Some have called Isaiah the “fifth gospel” because it is so blatantly clear about the coming Messiah.  It was written before the gospel narratives in the New Testament, so perhaps it’s not “fifth” in order.  Perhaps a better name could have been given.  Nevertheless, Isaiah preaches the gospel of Jesus, and it couldn’t be more clear.

Isaiah speaks of a day that is coming Jacob shall take root and Israel will fill the whole world with its fruit.  He speaks of a day when Jacob’s guilt will be atoned for.  He speaks of a day when people from all over the world will worship Jehovah in Jerusalem.  Here’s what he writes in 27:6-9, 13:

In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit.  Has he struck them as he struck those who struck them? Or have they been slain as their slayers were slain? Measure by measure, by exile you contended with them he removed them with his fierce breath in the day of the east wind.  Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be atoned for,and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin: when he makes all the stones of the altars like chalkstones crushed to pieces, no Asherim or incense altars will remain standing…And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

“Jacob” is going to take root and “Israel” is going to bear fruit in the whole world.  We know that all those who are of Christ are the true Israel.  What will this taking root and bearing fruit be?  Colossians 1:6 says, “[The gospel] which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing — as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.”  This fruit of Jacob is truth of God’s grace in the gospel of Jesus.  This fruit is gospel fruit which God works in us, and it is the only fruit that will last forever (John 15:16).

In verses 7-9, the main idea is that God uses affliction to purge his people. Even during exile (v. 8), God’s discipline of his people was carefully considered. Everything that happened to them was done for their good (Rom. 8:28). Isaiah tells us that God’s people (“Jacob”) will be atoned for through suffering so that “no…altars will remain standing” (v. 9). God wants to bring his people to idol-free worship of himself. The great fulfillment of this is seen in Jesus, as he atoned for our guilt through suffering and death. He was stricken and crushed by God (Isa. 53:10) so that his people’s sin would be removed. Atonement for sin requires death (cf. Isa. 22:14), and Jesus made the final atonement on the cross.  This great atonement gives God’s people the ability and access to come to God’s altar instead and worship him instead of worshiping at the altar of idols.

The chapter closes with a beautiful picture of God’s people worshiping him “on the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (v. 13).  Everyone who was lost in Assyria or driven out of Egypt will come and sing praises to God. These people are the people of Israel — everyone who worships Jesus as God and Savior. This is God’s chief end for the world — that people should be gathered together to glorify and worship him.

The story of the planet earth is that God is making one people for himself and his Son is the one shepherd who provides atonement for these people.  God’s Son is the one king who leads these people.  This grand story is working toward a climactic ending where the people of God will come to worship him in his holy city.  This is the story of earth.

And it couldn’t be more clear.


What Does it Look Like to Wrestle with God?

I wrote an article last week (Tuesday, November 20) about Jacob wrestling with the Lord. During that event, Jacob wouldn’t let go of God until he was blessed. God then proceeded to break his hip–quite the blessing! Then, in due time, God did bless Jacob in a real, genuine way. Jacob walked away a changed man, with a new name, and with a physical disability. The story is quite nice, isn’t it? A man wrestles with God, doesn’t give up, and walks a way with a blessing and a new perspective on life. If only it was that easy.

Someone who read what I wrote asked, “What does it look like for us to wrestle with God?” So, in this post, I’m going to try and elaborate a bit more on what it looks like for us to do that. I made the point in the first post that wrestling with God consists of being humble, being prayerful, and being repentant (thanks to Pastor Mark Driscoll for those aspects on preaching–I simply adapted them to fit into a relationship with God). This past Sunday, while I was in Omaha for the Thanksgiving holiday, I heard a sermon on petitioning God in prayer and lo and behold, one passage used was Genesis 32 and Jacob wrestling with God. The key, the preacher said, was when God said, “Let me go.” What God means when he says that is not “Let me go.” Rather, he means, “Strive with me. Don’t give up. Pray hard with faith and maybe I will be gracious enough to grant your request.” As I sat and listened to the sermon, I was challenged even more than by what I wrote five days prior.

What can we glean from this passage for our practical application? I think the most important thing is to not give up in prayer. Strive with God (that is what the name Israel means). In the Christian life, we must have a satisfied discontentment. We could argue phraseology all day long, but for the sake of this issue, let us put it this way:

1) Are we satisfied with who Jesus is and who we are in him and the relationship we have with him? I’m sure most would say, “Definitely”. 2) Are we content to stay in the same spot we are today in this faith journey? I hope your answer would be no.

Jacob was satisfied with God enough to not leave him, to be physically close enough to him and wrestle him. Yet, he wasn’t content with just that–he wanted a blessing. He wanted God to touch him in a way that only God could. I think a satisfied discontentment would be a key point to the way we approach our relationship with God. To wrestle with him is to ask him for big things–to not be content with the status quo of American Christianity and just go about our daily lives the way they are. Yet, at the same time, we must become subject to his will and be satisfied with his sovereign purpose.

To summarize, I’ll elaborate on the three keys I made in the previous post:

1) Humility: Wrestle with God as you try to put to death your pride, arrogance, and selfish attitudes. Trust the Lord for blessing when you seek him and fully put your trust in him. Your worth is found in Christ, not in looking good. This is not where our disposition lies as humans. Naturally, we seek out the good for ourselves. Be radically Christ-centered and others-oriented. Peter says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Wrestle with the fact that your flesh says, “Me first” and your spirit says, “Christ first.” It’s not an easy thing. It is a battle. Seek the Lord for humility. It is the foundation for quality in prayer, study, work, and relationships.

2) Prayer: Wrestle with God as you commit your requests to him. During the sermon I heard this past weekend, the pastor used examples from the gospels when someone asked for a healing and Jesus said something to the effect of “Your great faith has made you well.” Now, this pastor is a Reformed Baptist. He is not, nor am I, talking about faith healings or things of a Charismatic nature. Simply, Jesus said, “Have great faith!” We must wrestle with God and say, “Help my unbelief! Help me to have greater faith! I don’t believe you can bring my family to you, Lord! I want you to change that in my heart.” We cannot manufacture great faith. We must ask for it. When the disciples thought they were going to be destroyed at sea, Jesus said to them, “O, you of little faith.” There are degrees of faith. We must wrestle with God in our requests. Ask him for great things with great faith that he has the ability to do them. Don’t have great faith? Ask God for it–that even demonstrates faith that God can give it. Another facet of this is persevering in your prayers. Trust the Lord to change your life, a friend’s life, or do a mighty work in your school or workplace. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah was praying for rain after a three and a half year drought. He told a servant to go up on a mountain to check for rain. Every time he went up there was nothing and each time Elijah told him to come back. Elijah went back to prayer “with his head between his knees.” This happened seven times! Elijah was persevering in prayer. Eventually, God granted the request. We cannot treat God like a servant of ours. We cannot expect him to do things based on our desires or needs, but we can ask him to do things based on his infinite goodness and perfect character.

3) Repentance: Wrestle with God and seek him to find the sins that are prevalent in your life and repent of them. Turn away from the wickedness! There are so many sins we know about and don’t know about. We must wrestle with him over Scripture texts that are uncomfortable to us. Labor in prayer so we can trust the Holy Spirit to put to death the evil thoughts and deeds we do. Labor in prayer and ask God where we are falling short if we do not realize it–not so we can have a quick fix and stop sinning–but so we can fall more in love with Jesus and be more sanctified. When we repent, essentially, we are saying, “God, I hate what I am doing and I want you do a great work in me to change me. I confess my sin. Bless me, Lord, though I don’t deserve it. Help me treasure your Son, Jesus, more than this sin.” The great wrestlers of the Christian faith are those who continually run back to the Lord and have faith that he is there for them and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6).

I hope that is insightful as to how we can wrestle with God on a daily basis.

Wrestling God with You,