Prayer and Praise, Part 6
We have been talking about prayer and praise and in our most previous article in this series, we asked the question if God is good all the time. Most would agree that He is good all the time, but when the rubber hits the road, we actually tend to balk at that if our prayers are not answered by God in the way we want them to be answered.
We also discussed what we consider to be bad things that happen to Christians and what our response should be to those situations. We cited the example of Pastor Saeed, who remains in an Iranian prison and experiences tortures and beatings because he is a Christian. That is certainly something that most of us would shy away from and would do whatever we could to ensure that this type of thing does not happen to other Christians. In reality though, we are often powerless to keep these things from happening. We pray earnestly for God to release people like Pastor Saeed, yet in his case (as well as others), the continued imprisonment, beatings, and the like continues without let up. Is it because Christians have not responded to that situation by praying often or hard enough? Do we need to prove to God that we’re serious believing that He can only really move when Christians in this realm get “serious” about the responsibilities we have as Christians?
The truth of the matter is that if we look at the narratives and epistles throughout the New Testament (and you can most certainly include the Old Testament as well), it is very clear that persecution was a very real part of the newly created Bride of Christ (Church) community. In fact, Paul outlines some of the things that he suffered at the hands of specific Jews who were out to kill him. They hated Paul because he had been their guy. He was a Pharisee and a Hebrew of Hebrews. He had been given a letter of reference from the Sanhedrin that allowed him to literally go out and hunt down Jews who had become Christ followers; Christians.
But lo and behold, on the road to Damascus, not long after witnessing and approving the murder of Christianity’s first martyr, Stephen (Acts 7), Paul met the Living Christ on that very road. It changed his life for all eternity and now the hunter became the hunted.
Paul’s life was filled with heartache, trauma, beatings, ship wrecks, and so much more. Yet, God used him mightily to teach new disciples, to plant churches, to provide instruction in all doctrinal matters, and to spread the gospel. Would Paul change any of that? From his own word, no, he would not have and he counted it an honor to suffer for the sake of the One who saved him.
In fact, Paul taught something that many of us find incredibly hard to believe, much less put into practice. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us very simply, the following truth:
In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Really? What does that mean? Praise God in everything, literally? Maybe Paul’s being metaphoric here. Maybe he’s using the word “everything” like we would say “Everybody in town came out for the football game!” Surely, not everyone actually came out for a football game, but the idea is that enough or most of the people in town went to that game is what is being stated and we understand it to mean that. We don’t actually believe that every single person in that particular town came out for a football game.
But it’s clear that Paul is not speaking metaphorically. He is not using a figure of speech, nor is he using hyperbole. In fact, in another epistle, also written by Paul, he states the following that supports his command in 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
There Paul does it again, using the words “all things” regarding everything that happens to us. Again, does Paul mean every individual thing that occurs in our life is being used by God to work things according to His will? It would seem so.
If we take the Thessalonians passage together with Romans, the only plausible conclusion to come to is that we should thank God for everything that comes into our lives because He apparently has a purpose for it. If that is true, then the ramifications of that are pretty huge. We need to unpack it, dissect it, and understand what it means for us as Christians who say we want His will in our lives.
The ramifications of what Paul is telling us are manifold. If he in fact, does mean literally “everything” and “all things,” then we must adopt an attitude of gratefulness for each situation that comes into our lives. It is very much like when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and even though He asked that the Father remove the “cup” from Him, nonetheless, He only wanted the Father’s will in His life. I believe it took several instances of prayer before Jesus was able to emotionally unite Himself with the situation.
In Luke 22:39, Jesus prayed thusly, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
In Luke 22:42, He prayed like this: “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
Certainly, they are similar prayers, but there is a nuanced difference. In neither case, did Jesus sin. However, while in the first instance, He readily acknowledged that He only wanted the Father’s will, while asking that He remove the “cup” from Him, in the second, He has concluded that it was the Father’s will not to remove the “cup” and here, Jesus puts His stamp of approval on it as well. He essentially embraces it. The issue is settled in His mind and heart. What Jesus experienced was not emotional virtue, which is basing a decision on how we might feel about something. In spite of how Jesus may have felt about the “cup,” He still wanted only the Father’s will.
Shortly after this, the soldiers come with Judas and Jesus is betrayed and taken into custody, falsely charged with blaspheme. He is then paraded in front of judges with respect to one illegal trial after another during the night. The whole thing was illegal according to both Jewish and Roman law.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us the following:
…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
There is some disagreement over the reason for Jesus’ “joy” here, but I am of the opinion that Jesus was filled with joy for several reasons:
- He would open a way of salvation for humanity
- He would regain the title-deed to earth (Revelation 5)
- the powers of darkness and Satan himself would be defeated
- God’s perfect will could continue unabated and without exception
There are other reasons, but to me, these are the main ones. Jesus well understood the full ramifications of the cross and though He likely hated what the cross meant to humanity and certainly hated the idea of the pain involved when dying in such a barbaric way, Jesus also well knew that it would be such a short-lived pain (and separation from the Father), when compared with all of eternity. It was something He willingly gave Himself to because it was a large part of the reason He came in the first place.
In essence, we give thanks for the cross of Jesus, don’t we? Yet, it was a horrendous affair, killing Him slowly, while wracked with pain from one end of His body to the other. If you’ve ever studied the act of crucifixion as written by doctors, it is very easy to understand just how horribly painful it is for the condemned person. It’s the way it was designed by Romans for execution. The very pain itself often killed by simply stopping the heart of weak criminals. Stronger ones would last up to days before their life ended.
Jesus gave up His life not only to the cross willingly, but gave up His Spirit when the time came, when all had been fulfilled. There is much for us to rejoice in the cross, yet who among us would want to go through it?
When Paul talks about praising God for all things, we had best take that literally, understanding that God allows/directs things into our lives for His purposes. Part of His purposes include our growth in Him so that He would be glorified.
We need to understand a very simple, yet profound truth. We were literally bought with a price. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul sneaks this extremely important truth in among other truths.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
I’ve bolded the sentence that tells us we were bought with a price. The price was the sinless life and death of God the Son. Notice also Paul says that we are “not” our own. Wow, really? That sounds an awful like lot being a slave, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what it is, however, we have the most beneficent slave owner in Jesus. Romans 8 tells us about Jesus as the owner of our souls.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death, (Romans 8:1-2)
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)
Think on those verses. We’ll talk more about what our response to God should be even in the face of terrible persecution, like the kind Pastor Saeed is suffering. Join me then.