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Let’s face it. Spiritual things are hard to discuss with everyday words. In fact, they’re not only hard to talk about, they’re hard to think about! There are just some things about Faith and the Kingdom of God that make us sprain our brain muscles when we really try to understand them.

As a result of our difficulty in understanding such things, there is often a temptation for us to assume that because the spiritual realm is so “spiritual”, it is therefore unapproachable – that it is too mysterious for us to understand and consequently impossible for us to experience meaningfully.

For example, we sometimes feel too intimidated to make prayer a practical priority in our lives or we dress it up with so much formality that it ceases to be genuine prayer.

On the other hand, there is also a temptation to sometimes take prayer too much for granted and then approach it tritely (if we approach it at all). Prayer may seem to us either lacking in any real benefit or is a religious duty, a strict discipline with which we afflict ourselves.

But real prayer is neither of these things. First and foremost, prayer is the activity of a life which dwells in the presence of God. It is quite literally, “going into His presence” though we still stand here on this solid earth in the full light of the material world.

How sad then if we neglect that for which we were created! Remember that Jesus died so that your sin may be forgiven and removed from you so that you may stand in God’s presence without guilt or shame.

Prayer is simple child-like dependence and devotion of one who implicitly trusts in God

Prayer is simple child-like dependence and devotion of one who implicitly trusts in God

If you never trouble with going into His presence, then you cannot “come to know God”. If you are not “coming to know God” then you are not receiving eternal life (John 17:3). If you are not availing yourself of eternal life, why did Jesus then die?

If we do not pray, we trivialize the purpose of His suffering and death. We also surrender the abundance of joys and comforts that His presence affords us.

Prayer is a stance and attitude that we adopt signifying our reliance upon His love and awesome power rather than the foolish alternatives given by the world. It further declares that we have the strength and good will of Almighty God sustaining us though the weight of the world oppresses us.

Prayer is simple child-like dependence and devotion of one who implicitly trusts in God. It is a love song sent up from a heart overflowing with adoration and passion for its Creator. It is the soul-wrenching lament of one trapped in the mire of loneliness and pain. Prayer is the crying out of one life for the deliverance of another.

Prayer is talking with God but is also sitting silently before Him.

Prayer is the giving of thanks and praise to the Most High but is also the receiving of the blessings of His presence, joy and peace.

To not pray is to be completely and utterly alone though surrounded by a sea of people. But to really pray is to be with God as we walk along through life.

To not pray is to languish in failure and futility however successful the World tells us we are. But to really pray is to be about our highest calling of all.

Let us be careful then to be a people who pray.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” (Colossians 4:2-4 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Of the many practical privileges that we’ve been given as children of God, prayer is the most profound and yet most simple. It doesn’t take any great physical strength, geographic location, or material asset to avail oneself of prayer. Nor is the activity of prayer reserved for only a special “caste” or class of persons while others are shut out, dependent on others to do their interceding and supplicating for them.

Having said all that, it is good to periodically clear the air on the purpose of prayer. Prayer fundamentally has only one essential activity, that of personally approaching the throne of the Most High. Prayer also has merely one essential qualifier: the one who approaches the throne can only do so through faith in Jesus Christ’s work of atonement (His substitutionary death and His victorious resurrection from the dead).

After all, in our own fallen human nature not one of us can approach the holiness of God without judgment befalling us since a perfectly righteous judge MUST judge sin – even such sins as we might label as “inconsequential”. It is only when we have surrendered ourselves to His forgiveness that we can come to Him unafraid as He completes His work of cleansing by counting to us the righteousness that comes from Christ Jesus’ perfect life and blameless death.

Make no mistake about it. Jesus’ payment of our sins and victory over the power of death pave the way for prayer to become what God has intended it to be from before the beginning of time. Prayer is less about coming to God because you want Him to answer your prayers (whether for healing, success, comfort, or help) than it is about your coming to “meet with” Him. Supplication and even intercession for others are the secondary purposes of prayer, while fellowship between you and your Creator are its ultimate rewards.

Because of the amazing truth of this and the incredible wonder of it, He taught us in Matthew 5:9 to begin our prayers with “Our Father….” How He loves us! How He longs to catch us up into His loving embrace! Heed the secret language of close intimacy between the Father and His Son and how He offers it also to us. “Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him…. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:19b-21, 23 ESV).

Prayer must find its roots in the confidence and loving trust that only real fellowship between you and God can provide.

Prayer must find its roots in the confidence and loving trust that only real fellowship between you and God can provide.

Does this really mean that He will “show Himself to us?” Did He really mean that He Himself, accompanied by “our Father”, “will come and make themselves at home with us?” Either He means this, or it is nothing more than sentimentality. Jesus was never interested in simply being sentimental however. He could never do anything less than speak the truth for He Himself was truth then and is still truth today (see John 14:6). He said these things to those who have given their hearts to Him so that they may understand the degree to which He treasures fellowship with them.

It is right and good to come to Him with your needs ready to be lifted up to Him. It is good and even great to approach His throne with the hurts and burdens of others on your heart, offering them up to Him as you intercede. But always remember that prayer must find its roots in the confidence and loving trust that only real fellowship between you and Him can provide. It may be that He chooses to not answer your requests as you have uttered them so that the blessings for which you hunger do not eclipse the One who sends the blessings. Seek to touch His face before you try to move His hand. The heart of a father or mother is moved most deeply by the child who wants more than anything to just sit on his or her lap. So come to the Father’s throne! Come seeking His help! But come mostly because you want to know Him better.

“We… proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:2b-3 ESV).

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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The one-hundred and twenty degree heat of the sun bore down on my head with fierce zeal. At the moment there was no wind, but I was glad about the fact for it made things worse: just imagine aiming a blow-dryer at your face from only three inches away and turning it on “high”.

I determinedly clambered up the steep hill so I could look across the great rift that separated the Negev Desert from the Sinai. As I reached the pinnacle of the crag that I had climbed, I looked about me but could only see barren wasteland. Before my feet was a small gorge at least three-hundred feet deep, its far side rising sharply up into another cliff-face. Beyond each rocky and lifeless summit was another, the host of desert mountain tops marching on until they faded from sight in the dusty haze of the hot afternoon.

It is often when we are in "retreat" (a pulling away from distraction) that we more readily hear the still small voice of God .

It is often when we are in “retreat” (a pulling away from distraction) that we more readily hear the still small voice of God .

I glanced behind me and realized that the rest of my team members were preparing for a siesta so I would be left to my own devices for a time. I found a stone shelf near the top facing the west that was somewhat flat and out of sight and planted myself there so that I could have a few moments alone.

Well… not alone. It was, in fact, an opportunity to visit with God without the distractions of a busy schedule or the pressures of decision-making that constantly assaulted me. As I looked to the west, I thought about the mountains on the Egyptian side of the rift, the Sinai. Not so far from where I sat, the Israelites had been delivered by God from their centuries-long bondage and had marched towards the fulfillment of special promises that God had made them. Not so far from where I sat, the Lord had saved them from the attack of a hostile army as they made it through the impassable obstacle of the Red Sea and yet their pursuers did not.

As I sat there, I thought of those described in the Bible as having been used by God to powerfully change the world. What set them apart and made them especially attractive to God in His plans and in His mighty movements to work out His will for humanity? Merely their willingness to listen, trust and obey the Lord. Perhaps that was why God’s prophets and even the Lord Jesus Himself would withdraw from their busy lives to the remote wilderness.

Until I had spent that tiny bit of time in the desert, I had always envisioned the “wilderness” mentioned in the Scriptures as being a sort of “Rocky Mountain” or “Appalachian Trail” kind of wilderness… lots of green and lots of animals. But unlike places at which I had previously camped or visited, the wilderness of the Negev Desert was absolutely silent. There were no animals or birds to betray the ominous silence that seemed to fill my ears nearly as tangibly as cotton balls.

Maybe in those brief retreats wherein one was momentarily removed from the buzzing drone of human need and the blare of ignorance and idolatry seemed more remote, one could more readily hear the still small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12).

As I sat on my little rocky crag, I prayed. I praised. And I sat quietly in the vast silence. It was good to be alone with the Lord, if even for only a little while.

But then a fly landed on my arm. I flicked it away and resumed praying. The fly came back… this time with friends. I shooed the crowd of critters away again but they then began to buzz around my head. I continued to pray and worship God, but was now becoming increasingly agitated and less focused. It dawned on me then that my diminutive assailants were like so many little distractions and annoyances that accost all Believers in our walk with the Lord. Little things have a way of buzzing into the forefront of our thinking the very moment we try to settle down to spend some time in prayer or in reading (and meditating upon) God’s Word.

Let’s face it. Little things accumulate so quickly and easily in our lives that many of us are nearly drowning in details. There is such a buzzing going on in our minds so much of the time, even though we may go regularly to church and are perhaps even serving Him in some capacity, we can’t hear a thing He says to us. It’s like having Direct TV with hundreds of channels all on at the same time. Yeah, God’s “signal” is being “transmitted” (as His Holy Spirit moves in our lives), but we cannot make out what He’s saying (we can’t see the tree for the forest surrounding it). Consequently, the end result is that we lose our vital connection with God under the deluge of messages and signals sent our way and so we cannot be refreshed or given guidance: God’s divine provisions are sent, but we never receive them because we cannot find them in all the clutter of our fast-paced lives.

It’s those “little things” that dilute our passion for the Savior. It’s the “little things” in life that “get under our skin”, little annoyances that interfere with the peace of God that SHOULD be filling our troubled minds. It’s these “little things” that imperceptibly compromise our spiritual integrity and draw us from the sure footing of walking with the Savior.

It’s the “little things” that imperceptibly compromise our spiritual integrity and draw us from the sure footing of walking with the Savior.

It’s the “little things” that imperceptibly compromise our spiritual integrity and draw us from the sure footing of walking with the Savior.

But what do you do with the little buggers? As with me on that mountain peak in the Negev, you might try to “swat” a few here and there, but don’t even allow that to steal your gaze from the face of Jesus. Getting caught up in trying to eliminate ALL distractions is too distracting a venture to venture upon. Eliminate those things that CAN be removed but recognize that you cannot cut yourself off completely from responsibility nor can you foresee every contingency that might introduce distraction back into your life.

Also recognize that there is a spiritual power at work that does NOT want you to tune into God and will attempt to step up your distractions. Just as the Lord Jesus, in a critical time alone with God, found Himself the target of distracting ideas, suggestions, and temptations from the prince of that evil power (from Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, & Luke 4:1-13), you too will find yourself subject to notions and impulses that will try to grab hold of your attention and keep your gaze turned away from the Prince of Peace.

These spiritual “flies” will buzz and buzz, but you and I need to just let them buzz while we stay busy with seeking God’s face in His Word, through prayer, and in service to Him for the sake of His kingdom. It is not a coincidence that a “nickname” for the devil is “Beelzebub” (meaning, “Lord of the Flies”). He is indeed the “Lord of Distraction”, as well as, I might point out, the “Lord of Lies”. We too easily follow his leading over the leading of God Himself.

Nevertheless, we have in God both true light and real life. Let us not allow ourselves then to be robbed of an unspeakably marvelous gift by failing to spend quality time with Him in prayer and in personal worship. Even the “Lord of Flies” is tiny and inconsequential compared to the King of all creation. “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God… He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great… things that your eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:17a, 21 ESV).

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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With temperatures climbing up the thermometer, it’s clear that “warm weather” activities have also arrived. We have plunged again into our yearly customs of summer events, not the least of which is grilling out.  Hopefully, as our family grills out throughout the summer, I’ll be a bit more careful than I was a few years ago.  Early one morning, I had pulled the gas grill out away from the house and dutifully cleaned it, preparing it for use later that day. When the late afternoon rolled around, I ceremoniously exited the back door of my house carefully balancing a plate full of meat on one hand and grasping various grilling utensils in the other. I set out all the necessary accouterments on a nearby table and then reached down to turn on the gas.

Fire on the grill

The flame of my match reached a concentrated pocket of gas and suddenly a brilliant flash and roar leapt out of the grill up into my face.

I then absentmindedly sorted out the food that I was going to grill, taking a good deal longer than I realized. When I was finished, I lit a long match and began to slide it towards the grill’s burner. Beyond the grill, I could see my wife come to the screen door, watching me get started. Just as she got to the door, the flame of my match reached a concentrated pocket of gas and suddenly a brilliant flash and roar leapt out of the grill up into my face. The flame had flared up and was then gone so quickly that I didn’t even flinch. I just stood there blinking, wondering if what I thought had happened had really happened.

My wife cried out and sprang out the door towards me. “Are you all right?” she asked me anxiously as I stood reflecting on the wisdom of starting the fire when one first turns on the gas so explosions don’t happen in your back yard.

By God’s grace, my face wasn’t burned and my eyes were unharmed. I couldn’t even tell that my beard or eyebrows were singed by my little accident. All the flash and flare that my wife saw bursting into my face had had no effect and was little more, in the end, than a light show (for which I’m immensely thankful, by the way).

But while I am glad that this one occasion ended up harmless, we should hope and work towards the opposite when it comes to spiritual renewal among Christians. There is yet untapped an unimaginable supply of joy and peace and power in the presence of God… ready to explode in the “everyday lives” of “ordinary Christians”. Instead of merely settling for “flashes” and “bursts” of spiritual enthusiasm (that don’t even “singe the eyebrows” of discouragement and powerlessness, let alone blow them out of the water), we should recall that the God Who revealed Himself in the ancient Scriptures, is the same God Who is on the move today, looking to see who will trust Him in practical ways in their homes, their work places, their schools, and, most especially, their churches.

King Hezekiah (whose life story is told in 2 Kings chapters 18 through 20 as well as 2 Chronicles chapters 29 through 32) began his reign during a time when his entire nation had lost its spiritual moorings, moral bearings, and sense of national security. Yet, he had a heart to follow God. “He trusted in the LORD the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered” (2 Kings 18:5-7a ESV). As a result of his personal commitment to faithfully follow God and to “flesh it out” in practical ways, the people took courage and were themselves softened in their hearts enough to yield their pride, fear, worry, selfishness, and sin in order to embrace the grace of God Almighty.

And because this wasn’t merely a “flash” of spiritual fervor but the true flames of real renewal for the people belonging to God, the faith that they placed in God’s love and power to protect them sustained them through the most terrifying time their country had yet known: the invasion of the Assyrian Empire. If their revival had only been a show or a shallow display of religious affectation, they could not have stood up to the Assyrian armies surrounding the capital city’s walls.

This wasn’t merely a “flash” of spiritual fervor but the true flames of real renewal for the people belonging to God.

This wasn’t merely a “flash” of spiritual fervor but the true flames of real renewal for the people belonging to God.

But there was a very real and sustaining fuel supporting Hezekiah and his people: the power of God. “…(Hezekiah) spoke encouragingly to them, saying, ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.’ And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah” (2 Chronicles 32:6b-8 ESV).

Because they trusted God’s promises, they faithfully obeyed God in their personal lives (2 Chronicles chapters 29 through 31). Because they trusted Him and because that trust was producing the fruit of reconsecrating their lives to God, they were able to see God perform an amazing rescue for them by doing as Hezekiah had said He would, fight their battles for them (see 2 Kings 19:35-37 and 2 Chronicles 32:20-22). And because their faith and their obedience had led them from what seemed to be certain doom, to a great and glorious victory, the entire known world got to see God at work (see 2 Chronicles 32:23).

I pray that in our generation God’s people will hunger for God the way that Hezekiah did. I pray that we’ll “hold fast to the Lord” and consecrate our lives anew to Him, not only for a few days or even a few weeks, but for something far more enduring. And I pray that in our trust, we’ll place before God all the problems and worries and burdens that are as intimidating to us as Assyrian legions, confident in both His goodness and His power to deliver us and to bless us, His people.

After all, “with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:8 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Making time to find a quiet, out-of-the-way spot to sit and read the Bible feeds the hungry heart in ways that no other spiritual activity can. Reading from it and then “digesting” it, as it were, through the activity of careful reflection and prayer nourishes, challenges, and thrills the soul as the Spirit of God moves invisibly within us.

For instance, in Psalm 145, the Scriptures revel in the fact that He “The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down” (v. 14 ESV). I cannot help but notice how timely a promise it is for so many lives with which my own touches. While the promise does NOT say that He will prevent our hurts and griefs in every instance, there is an indomitable strength that comes from knowing that the Holy One hurries to the sides of those who will cast themselves upon His care, although discouragement may stalk us and sorrows assail us.

And what or who else can make such a claim with such surety? There is no other. Creation itself tells the tale of the faithfulness of God as the sun peeks over the horizon each morning with fresh zeal and enthusiasm. Even the stars twinkle in their interstellar agreement that He Who placed them in the heavens sees the hearts and hands of each member of human society, loving in holy mercy the works of His hands – the souls of men, women, and children spread across this globe.

“The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due season.  You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15-16 ESV).

And how comforting to know that no matter how the orbit of our planet may wobble ever so slightly, reeling perhaps still yet from mankind’s departure from God’s perfect will in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis chapter 3), God has not resigned us to the fateful path that we embarked on in that rebellion, but rolled up His sleeves and moved into motion His great plan of salvation, intent and unstoppable in pursuit of our spiritual healing. In sending His “only, begotten Son” to the Cross, He Himself endured our punishment so that we could, if we would humble ourselves to receive it, become heirs of eternal of life with Him.

How bizarre, then, is it that humanity can continue in its mad pace for achieving nothing at all of any spiritual worth, and fail to note this awesome provision of God? How is it possible that we reject that love? Or, worse yet, mock it by patronizing it with hardly more than a nod if we should choose to wear the trappings of spiritual life and yet not truly have Him as our center for living? Bizarre indeed! For, after all, “the LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works” (Psalm 145:17 ESV).

If we truly would be a “spiritual” people (at least in any way that the Bible would describe it in a positive sense), let us bind our hearts to the pursuit of knowing Him better and set our minds to the task of actualizing His life in us. “One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.  On the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works, I will meditate” (Psalm 145:4-6 ESV).

And since He is truly “righteous in all His ways”, let our hunger for more than mediocrity propel us to new heights in our walk with Him as we commit our deeds, our thoughts, and even our desires to His keeping, and submit them to His will. Let us disentangle ourselves from the first trap of worldliness which is simply the reverberation of unrighteously pursuing our own ways in crass presumption. As we beat our own drums, so to speak, we deny Him in our vain attempts to redefine morality (and thus imposing our will upon His) or follow our own agenda for life. Such efforts only advertise our inclination to be in charge and lord of our own lives.

His wonderful works

“The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.” – Psalm 145:9 ESV

But neither let us fall into the second trap of worldliness which is the bad fruit of failing to trust Him. Inasmuch as we refuse to be convinced of either God’s ability to faithfully shepherd us through life, or His willingness to do so, we are spiritual sittings ducks. Unless we “take the plunge” and trust God through obeying His will for us, we can never fully enjoy what it really means to be a child of God.

Let us now immerse ourselves in the amazing assurance that the Bible would render us as we take hold of God’s promises therein. “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.  All your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, and all Your saints shall bless you!  They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and tell of Your power, to make known to the children of man Your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom” (Psalm 145:8-12 ESV).

At the end of my life, whether it’s today or seventy years from now, there is no firm foundation upon which I may build my life other than the one sealed with the shedding of the Savior’s blood. Let me not waste my moments seeking security in things that will pass away nor let me squander my opportunity to invest in an eternal inheritance through patterns of selfish living. For we each will ultimately find that there is no kingdom that will endure throughout all eternity other than the one whose King is Jesus.

“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations” (Psalm 145:13a ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A few years after the mission trip to which I referred last week, I was on another trip (this time in Togo).  I had the humbling experience of being asked to give the benediction (closing prayer) at the close of a special commencement/commissioning service for a group of new pastors.  They had just finished a pastor training intensive and were about to embark on new adventures laid before them by God in their home communities (mostly in very rural villages scattered throughout West African countries).

A national pastor named James (with whom my partner and I had been working in Ghana) was to give the keynote address.  Every eye and ear focused solidly on him as he both passionately and compassionately laid before his hearers the charge to be faithful stewards of the Word of God.

As he began to wrap up his thoughts and knowing well the prevailing winds of pop-culture Christianity, he began to tell a story about an experience that he’d had early in his ministry with a man named Charles.  Charles, an elder at James’ first church, was as stalwart a pillar of that community of faith as a pastor could hope for.

When Charles became very sick, Pastor James and his church family began to pray for him, intensely interceding over the course of several days.  Charles’ illness did not dissipate however, so more and more Christians were called upon to pray.  The huge numbers of people praying as well as their earnestness touched the family deeply and many believed that Brother Charles would be healed.

As Pastor James was relating his story to the crowd of young pastors before him, I noticed that his audience was being drawn deeply into the account.  They were excited about God’s call upon them; they were eager to see the Kingdom of God grow and advance; and they were expectant of God’s power and might to be manifested in and through themselves.  I could see many of them nodding approvingly of the broad cooperation of God’s people with one another as they agreed in prayer for Charles’ healing and I sensed their longing for something like that to happen for each of them.

But James’ story took an unexpected turn.  Just where the audience expected him to say that Charles miraculously arose from his sick bed to give glory to God, James instead said simply that Charles died.  As soon as they were uttered, the men before me wilted visibly at his words.

James then mentioned a conversation that he had with another Christian friend who challenged him with the words, “Where is your faith?  God undoubtedly allowed Charles to die so that He could raise him from the dead.”  The crowd in the room sat up straighter as a new look of wonder filled their expressions.

The thought of God’s power raising Charles from the dead struck a chord with them just as it had with James years earlier as he found himself wondering if perhaps the whole experience had all been a test.  Soon he concluded that it must have been a test and that he wasn’t to stop praying.  So he began to pray for Charles to be raised from the dead like Lazarus in John 11.  He promptly involved a few of his closest friends and then word quickly spread that people were to now pray for Charles’ resurrection.  The excitement in the crowd about me as James shared his story began to climb afresh as the desire to hear of God’s power working in such an awesome way began to take hold of them.

James shared about how he rose early in the morning and went to the building where Charles’ body had been laid.  He arrived there while it was still dark and silent.  The family wasn’t present and no one answered James’ knock at the door.  It wasn’t locked so he stepped inside.  He walked up to the dark form spread out in the center of the room, ready at any moment to find his brother in the Lord sitting up to greet him.

The crowd about me waited in suspense as James drew near to the end of his story.  Was Charles alive?  Had the Lord raised him from the dead?  Would God not honor the faith and prayers of His people in such a way as to prove His favor?  Everyone in the room seemed to be expecting a resounding affirmation.  Even a few of the officials on the platform near me were nodding their heads enthusiastically and smiling from ear to ear.

James shared that as he drew near to the figure in the center of the room, he was sure he would hear Charles’ voice and see him stir.  Everyone hearing James’ story was holding his breath as he paused in his tale.  What would happen next?  James looked over the hundreds of faces turned his way.  “Charles never spoke,” he said.  “Charles didn’t move.  He didn’t even breathe.”  I could hear the sound of air as the people before me suddenly released the breaths they had been holding.  “No,” James said.  “Charles couldn’t greet me.  He was still dead.  He hadn’t been raised back to life.”

James then shared with the room about the pain that emerged in that dark moment which challenged his faith and the subsequent disillusionment of what at first appeared to be unanswered prayer.   He had thought that by this sign that God would prove His unimaginable power (by conquering death) and demonstrate His infinite love (by answering – in the affirmative – the specific hearts’ cries of His people).

In the years that have followed my hearing James’ tell that story, I’ve thought long and hard about the wisdom that he had sought to pass on to the generation of young pastors heading out into the spiritual battlefields of their homelands.  It seems to me that James’ point was that God has already proven His power by conquering death in Jesus Christ Who was raised to new life!  And it appears to me also that the Lord has already demonstrated His infinite love for us by sending Jesus, His Son, to die for us so that our deepest and most desperate need (forgiveness of sin) might be granted to us through faith!

Many of us want continually for God to prove His power, His love, and Himself.  But God doesn’t have to prove anything.  He is, after all, Creator, Judge, and King.  He doesn’t have to condescend to us at any point on any level.  But it just so happens that He has proven everything we really need to know anyway, praise His name, in what He has done in Jesus Christ.  He didn’t have to… but He did.

It’s therefore all the more grievous a transgression on our part when we hesitate or even refuse to obey Him until He satisfies us with signs and wonders, miracles that wow us sufficiently until all vestiges of doubt are eradicated.  Truth be told, many of us (even those of us who call ourselves Christian) hold back on an attitude and subsequent lifestyle of true obedience to His Word and Lordship until He convinces us that the path to which He calls us is really worth the price of “dying to self” (Luke 9:23).

Of course, we’re not the first to fall into the selfish trap of demanding signs from God.  Some who had seen for themselves Jesus healing the lame and sick, satisfying the multitudes with miraculously provided foods, and even walking on water, said to Him, “What sign do You do, that we may see and believe You?  What work do You perform?” (John 6:30 ESV).

What cheek!  Here they were demanding from God’s Son Himself a sign even after He had provided them with sign after sign!  Luke 11 records the fact that there were some who repeatedly demanded signs from Him (v. 16), yet Jesus’ ultimate assessment for their spiritual pig-headedness was, “This generation is an evil generation.  It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (v. 29b; the “sign” was the man who was sent from God to preach repentance and returned miraculously after three days – Jonah from the belly of the great fish [Jonah 1:17 & 2:10] and Jesus from the grave [Luke 24:6]).

More often than not, what we deem as our “need” for proof before we will believe is really an excuse to not obey God.  Selfishness, fear, pride, and laziness are so deeply rooted within us that we scarcely can discern those traits within ourselves, yet they are there contaminating trusting obedience.

What is actually needful then is a humble and submitted heart that does not put upon God any demand but is ever ready to cry out to Him as did Jesus, “Father… not My will but Yours, be done (Luke 22:42).

It may be that God awaits your request to move a mountain in your life (Matthew 21:21).  But don’t throw in the towel if you have spent yourself in the request and are as submitted as you know how to be.  It could be that your heavenly Father’s refusal to “move the mountain” is the prelude to having you climb it by His side so that you can achieve a high place with Him you could not have known otherwise.

It may be that God awaits your request to move a mountain in your life (Matthew 21:21). But don’t throw in the towel if you have spent yourself in the request and are as submitted as you know how to be. It could be that your heavenly Father’s refusal to “move the mountain” is the prelude to having you climb it by His side so that you can achieve a high place with Him you could not have known otherwise.

As was shared in the previous article, real faith is nothing more than trusting God.  By faith, we receive God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  By faith, we pray, laying out our petitions before him and sending our intercessions to Him.  By faith, we serve Him, believing that He can take our meagerness and multiply it so that many may be blessed.  By faith, we press on in this life believing that our labors are not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58 & Philippians 2:16).  By faith, we rejoice because our God is sovereign and has under His control all the stars of the endless universe as well as the heartaches and needs of these lives of ours no matter how small and inconsequential we deem ourselves (Romans 8:28).

It may be that God awaits your request to move a mountain in your life (Matthew 21:21).  But if he hasn’t, don’t throw in the towel even though you have spent yourself in the request and are as submitted as you know how to be.  It could be that your heavenly Father’s refusal to “move the mountain” is the prelude to having you climb it by His side so that you can achieve a high place with Him you could not have known otherwise.

“This God – His way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.  For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? – the God Who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights” (Psalm 18:30-33 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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When I was leading a mission team on an international trip in an area of the world much hotter than our own, I came down with a severe cold (oddly enough) that moved into my chest and became severe bronchitis (someone told me that he thought I may have actually contracted pneumonia, but we weren’t near any doctors to verify it either way).  At any rate, whatever it was proved debilitating for a few days and I was unable to accompany my team on two afternoons.  At the end of the second day, a Christian named Zacharias dropped by to chat and pray (he wasn’t a part of our team but was there working on another project).  He noted my difficulty breathing and asked me if I would like him to pray for me.  Of course I said yes.  After all, I am a believer in God’s ability to bring healing to those who are sick or are otherwise afflicted (and I was finding the act of breathing to be very painful and difficult).

Zacharias stood up, walked over to me, placed his hand on my shoulder and began to pray.  He prayed in English at first and then switched to Arabic (he was from Egypt originally).  Not only did I gratefully accept his offer to pray, but as he prayed I agreed with him fully confident in the fact that God could heal me if He so chose to do so.  He prayed for a minute or two calling on God to end my affliction (and I placed myself as fully in God’s hand as I knew how).

When Zacharias was done, he concluded with an “amen” and then looked at me intently.  “Do you feel better?” he asked me.

I paused before I answered as I weighed how to answer.  Did I feel better?  My lungs still felt as though they were being crushed and I still struggled to draw in my breath.  I answered honestly.  “No, I don’t.”  And I was content in believing that God would bring healing in His own way and His own time.

However, Zacharias was not content.  He scowled slightly and said crisply, “You must have faith.”  He began to pray again and began tapping me sharply on my chest.  Trying to be as open-minded (and open-hearted) to God as I could, I again agreed (more-or-less) with Zacharias’ appeal to God for healing.  But I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of angst in regard to where this might be going.

When he finished with his amen this time, he gazed at me fiercely and asked, “Did you feel anything this time?  A heat or rushing feeling?”

I thought about his question and then answered simply, “No, I didn’t.”  Zacharias sighed and shook his head sadly and murmured, “You do not have enough faith.”

I considered his statement for a few seconds and then responded – wheezing and gasping all the while.  “Now wait a minute, Zacharias.  What actually requires more faith?  Demanding that God do what I want or trusting Him when He doesn’t do what I want when I want it?”

He looked at me as if he did not know how to answer.  I continued with, “I know God can heal me and I’m not afraid to ask Him.  He can heal me and I believe He will… in His time and in His way.  I deeply appreciate your praying for me and as God answers that prayer – one way or another – I will give Him glory for doing it.”

For the record, Diane (my wife) and I had experienced God’s healing in our lives in very tangible ways!  It was only a couple of years before this encounter that a doctor at a local hospital informed us that our second oldest son probably had leukemia, setting in motion a couple of years of much intensive medical work, first at Columbus and then in Cleveland.  The summed-up version of what happened is that after much prayer and trust in God, the signs and symptoms of leukemia disappeared.  Then, as they tried to understand what was happening with the vestiges of certain symptoms still stubbornly lingering, the doctors watched for lupus.  Time passed, prayers continue to be offered up, and we still trusted God.  Finally, our son was declared free from all signs of disease and was released (it took years for this to completely unfold).

Faith is not a magic wand to make God do our bidding.  It is simply trusting God’s love, power, and holiness to work in us and through us mighty things.

Faith is not a magic wand to make God do our bidding. It is simply trusting God’s love, power, and holiness to work in us and through us mighty things.

As Diane and I sought to immerse ourselves in the comfort and guidance of God’s Word, the Bible, we learned to understand that experience (and others like it) as the venues through which our faith is tried and purified.  If our heavenly Father had not healed our son, our God was no less good, we were no less loved, and His glory any less manifested.  On the contrary, sometimes loss and suffering are the very means by which we most clearly discover that our consolation is in God Himself and not just in what He does for us.  But often it does please Him most and is most advantageous to us for Him to quickly and clearly answer our requests.

Faith is not a magic wand to make God do our bidding.  It is simply trusting God’s love, power, and holiness to work in us and through us mighty things.  When Jesus tells the blind beggar of Luke 18 that his faith had made him well, the Lord was declaring that the man’s trust in Him was what positioned him to experience God’s best for him.  The same is true of you and me.

“You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions….  Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing praise.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.  And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 4:2b-3 ESV).

Beloved, look to God for help and healing.  Ask your Christian brethren to pray for you and even allow them to anoint you with oil in Jesus’ name.  And then, as you trust God and manifest that trust in obedience, let God work out His will for you in His way and in His time as He does the high and holy work of preparing you for an eternity with Him.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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