Category Archives: prayer

DEVILS, DOGS AND CRUMBS

Jesus did not want to be found. He “entered into an house and would have no man know it” (Mark 7:24). This seems a little out of character for the Lord, who was always among the multitudes teaching and working miracles, which by their very nature were designed to bring attention to Himself. But there were occasions when it was necessary for the Lord to keep a lower profile (e.g., Matt. 14:12,13,23). In this instance, the Pharisees had been offended at His teaching and He had withdrawn, perhaps so as not to provoke a confrontation with them just yet (Matt. 15:12).

The house into which Jesus secreted Himself was in the coasts or borders of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21; Mark 7:24). However, Jesus’ fame and reputation had already preceded Him into this land of the Gentiles (Mark 3:8; Luke 6:17). One of those from those same coasts who knew of Jesus was “a certain woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit” (Mark 7:25). This young girl had been grievously vexed with a devil (Matt. 15:22) and this sad situation must have vexed her loving mother sorely, as well.

She had heard of Jesus’ healing of the sick and His casting out of the devils and she believed He could do the same for her daughter (Mark 7:25). Perhaps she had been among the thousands who had went out to see Jesus do these things and to hear Him teach. When she learned that Jesus had retired to her own region, she sought Him out and, in faith and humility, fell at His feet and asked for His mercy (Mark 7:25; Matt. 15:22). Her love for her daughter and her faith in the Lord must have been great, indeed. As a testimony to her faith, the Holy Spirit records Jesus’ commendation of her “great faith” (Matt. 15:28).

This woman was not a Jewess. She was, in fact, descended from the mortal enemies of the Jews, the Canaanites (Matt. 15:22). She is called a Greek and a Syro-phenician woman by nation (Mark 7:26). While her heritage was of pagan origin, she seems to have had some knowledge of the Messianic hope and placed those hopes in Jesus for she calls Him “Thou Son of David” (Matt. 15:22), a Messianic title. Furthermore, she seems to have some knowledge of Hebrew theology for she attributes her daughters malady to a demon. But Jesus’ response to her indicates she was not a proselyte (Matt. 15:26).

When Jesus did not answer her immediately, the apostles wanted to send her away (Matt. 15:23). Jesus’ response to the disciples request to send the woman away was to say that He was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:24). This may sound, at first, as though it was intended to grant their request. Though she was not a descendant of Abraham by birth, yet by faith she was (cf. Gal. 3:7). She had the faith of Abraham in the Lord’s ability to grant her request. Thus, though she was rebuffed, she persisted in her quest.

While at first she had apparently called to the Lord from some distance (Matt. 15:22), she now came closer and worshiped Him (Mat. 15:25). Her request was simple: “Lord, help me.” Her request was repeated for she “besought” Him (Mark 7:26 – “besought” is in the imperfect tense, indicating she kept at it). The scriptures teach that we should pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:17). Perhaps she had heard Jesus teach the need to continue instant in prayer (e.g., Luke 18:1-18). Maybe it was just her faith and desire to see her daughter healed that kept her asking. But she persisted!

When Jesus responded that it is not “meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it unto the dogs” (Mark 7:27), she answered yet again and said, “Yes, truth, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs which fall from the master’s table” (Matt. 15:27; Mark 7:28). Jesus’ use of the word “dog” here was not as uncomplimentary as at first might be imagined. The word for “dog” here means “little puppy.” Even the little puppies are allowed a few crumbs and scraps that fall from the table, she said.

The Lord was so impressed with her observation, which revealed her faith, that He acknowledged the greatness of her faith and granted her request (Matt. 15:28). From that very hour her daughter was made whole (Matt. 15:28). The woman obviously believed the Lord’s statement for she ceased to request help and returned back home (Mark 7:30). God does not always answer our requests immediately. He allows us room to grow and for our faith to be revealed. This Gentile woman was and is great example of a loving parent, faith in the Lord and persistence in prayer.

Eric L. Padgett

Does God Hear The Alien Sinner’s Prayer?

Many in the religious world believe in the “sinner’s prayer.” This is the “prayer” which you would hear, say, at the end of a Billy Graham crusade, or in various denominational churches around the country, in which the sinner is encouraged to come to Christ and “invite Jesus” into his life and thus be saved by prayer. Going even further, there are some who believe that God hears and answers the sundry prayers of those who have never even obeyed the gospel, who are not Christians. But what does the Bible says about this issue?

The first point that needs to be made is that there is a difference between the alien sinner and the child of God. Addressing the situation of the Gentiles under the Old Covenant, Paul said that “at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). While the alien sinner is now amenable to the New Covenant, as all men are because it is universal (e.g., Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15,16), because he has not submitted himself to God’s covenant, he does not enjoy the benefits of that covenant.

When Jesus said, for instance, “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), He was saying that those who do not come to Him cannot have rest from their sins. There is a difference, therefore, between the one who has come to Him and the one who has not. In fact, all spiritual blessings are in Christ (Eph. 1:3). There are no spiritual blessings that are not found in Christ.

Prayer, however, is a spiritual blessing. It is the prayers of the saints which John says rises as an odor of spiritual incense in the nostrils of God (Rev. 5:8; 8:3,4). It is the prayer of a righteous man that avails much (James 5:16). Because prayer is a spiritual blessing, and all spiritual blessings are found only in Christ, prayer is only effectual to the one in Christ. The alien sinner’s prayer is no more effectual than the alien sinner’s Lord’s Supper.

Furthermore, there are various passages which state explicitly that God does not hear the alien sinner’s prayer.

  • John 9:31 – Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth His will, him He heareth.
  • I Peter 3:12 – For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
  • Isaiah 59:1,2 – Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.
  • Proverbs 28:9 – He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.
  • Proverbs 15:29 – The LORD is far from the wicked: but He heareth the prayer of the righteous.

These passages are indeed clear. However, because God is omniscient (I John 3:20; Job 37:16), He actually knows what the alien sinner is praying. Therefore, the question, Does God hear the alien sinner’s prayer, is not simply a question of God literally hearing and knowing what the alien sinner is praying, but does God hear with the intent of answering those prayers. Clearly, according to scripture, God does not listen to, with a view to answering, the alien sinner’s petitions to God.

Sometimes, Cornelius is offered as an example of an alien sinner whom God heard. Cornelius was neither a Christian nor Jew. Yet Acts 10:31 says, “Cornelius, thy prayer is heard.” How can this be reconciled with the previous passages and the thrust of the argument presented in this article? Here are two possible answers to this.

First, while it is said that God heard Cornelius’ prayer, his prayers were heard as a memorial that came before God. Notice verse 4: “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” It is not that God had heard and answered the specific prayers Cornelius prayed, but that God acknowledged that Cornelius was praying and that he was a good man. This is in perfect harmony with the view that God knows all things and would know Cornelius’ prayers.

We don’t know all that for which he was praying. Did Cornelius think he was doing right? The fact that he was giving alms and praying to God presupposes he was doing what he thought was acceptable to God. Like others who believe that they are acceptable to God, he very likely was praying for quite a lot of things, good health, wisdom, temperance, patience, etc. But did God answer those specific prayers? The implication surely is that when the angel first appeared to Cornelius, that this was the initial response to Cornelius’s actions, both prayers and alms. If God hears with a view to answering the alien sinner’s prayers, then God would have been answering at least some of his prayers all along. But Acts 10 suggests this is not the case.

The word used for “hear” in Acts 10:31 is defined by W. E. Vine as “‘to listen to’ (eis, to, and No. 1), has two meanings, (a) ‘to hear and to obey,’ 1 Cor. 14:21, ‘they will not hear’; (b) ‘to hear so as to answer,’ of God’s answer to prayer, Matt. 6:7; Luke 1:13; Acts 10:31; Heb. 5:7.” The basic idea of the word is “to listen to.” Vine says that this word when used in Acts 10:31 means “to hear so as to answer.”

Because God is omniscient, He knew Cornelius was a devout man seeking Him. Because of this, God responded to his prayers and his deeds by sending an angel to instruct him to send for Peter who would give him the information needed to obey Him (Acts 10:6). Cornelius’ case was unique in that he was the first Gentile convert to Christ who was not first proselytized to Judaism. Even in this, God heard his payers as a memorial, and did not specifically answer his petitions.

A second answer to this question of Cornelius’ prayer was offered by Guy N. Woods. Brother Woods suggested that Cornelius was still under the law of patriarchy and that is why his prayers were heard. Under this view, he was not an alien, but an obedient child of God living under the final moments of the Patriarchal Law.

Brother Woods wrote:

“That the devout officer was worshipping God under the system of patriarchy is the only conclusion harmonizing the difficulties of the case. It is, to this, no valid objection that, after the angel’s visit, Cornelius was to hear words whereby he and his house were to “be saved” ; at the moment the angel appeared to him he became accountable to God under this, the Christian dispensation; prior to the visit of the angel he was answerable only under the system which alone was available. Nor, can it be affirmed, from these premises, that on the foregoing assumption, all men, who have not heard the gospel today ought to be regarded as in his category. No one lives in his category; the gospel had never been extended to embrace the Gentiles prior to the events of Acts 10. It follows, therefore, that the condition of the Gentiles, from Pentecost to the house of Cornelius was legally that which characterized the Jews from the cross to Pentecost. When one law supersedes another, the effects of the superseded law carry over to the point where the newer law becomes effective” (Questions and Answers Open Forum Freed-Hardeman College Lectures, 1976).

Either one of these two possibilities answer the question regarding Cornelius’ prayers. Whatever may be the answer, the correct answer will not contradict the clear teaching in both the Old and New Testaments that God does not hear, with a view to answering, the alien sinner’s prayers.

Eric L. Padgett

Worship

Worship is an important element in the life of the Christian. While it is a command of the Lord to worship Him (i.e., Rev. 22:9), it should also be an automatic response of a grateful soul for the blessings of life and salvation. Indeed, in all human beings, whether they openly profess to be religious or not, there seems to be a tendency to worship. However, most direct their worship to the wrong object. Some worship their ancestors, others worship the heavens, some worship an object crafted by their own hands and others worship themselves (Rom. 1:21-28). While the desire and need to worship is there, the knowledge of Whom to worship and how to do it is not. God’s word teaches us about the proper object of worship and the proper way to do it.

First, only God is to be worshiped. “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex. 34:14). Because all other objects and persons are created by God, only He is worthy of worship (Ps. 100; I Chron. 16:25,26). Since Jesus is also God, and, along with the Holy Spirit, was involved in the creation of the world (Gen. 1:1,2; John 1:1-3), He is also worthy of worship (Mark 5:6; Rev. 4,5). Many, however, often without even realizing it, worship things other than God. Some worship wealth or possessions and others worship fame and status. But Jesus made it clear that we cannot serve God and mammon and be acceptable to Him (Matt. 6:24). God is the only authorized object of worship.

Second, reverence must be exhibited when approaching God in worship. When Moses approached God in the burning bush, God told him that the place whereon he stood was “holy ground” and that he should remove his shoes as a sign of reverence (Ex. 3:5). Today, of course, we do not show reverence by removing shoes, but we should show reverence in the way we approach God in worship by the way we dress, by the way we conduct ourselves and by the way speak. David said he would not offer to God that which cost him nothing (II Sam. 24:24). We should be willing to sacrifice in order to come before God. Like the four and twenty elders before the throne, we should cast down our crowns before the Lord (Rev. 4:10). Our attitude toward God will be manifested by how we present ourselves before Him (I Chron. 16:29; Psalm 92:2).

Third, God must be worshiped according to His will. Jesus said, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” God must be worshiped both in spirit and in Truth (John 4:24). To worship God in spirit is to worship Him with the right attitude or disposition of heart, which we just mentioned. But God wills that we worship Him according to truth as well, which means it must be done the right way.

For example, when Abel offered the wrong sacrifice, God was not pleased (Gen. 4:4,5). Cain chose to offer that which God had not commanded and was condemned for his unfaithfulness (Heb. 11:4; Rom. 10:17). Likewise, Nadab and Abihu offered the wrong fire in worship, a fire which God had “commanded them not,” and were destroyed because of it (Lev. 10:1,2). God said He was going to be sanctified in those that come nigh Him (Lev. 10:3). The world attempts to worship God in it’s own way, and God will have none of it. Ignorant worship is false worship and is not acceptable to God (Acts 17:23). Jesus condemned this kind of attempt to worship God when He said, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).

Fourth, scriptural worship of God consists of specific actions which God has authorized. Some have said in the past that all that we do in life is worship. Such a view is completely without scriptural support. For example, when Abraham obeyed God’s command to offer Isaac, Abraham said “abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship” (Gen. 22:5). Abraham was not worshiping as God commanded until He went to the place and performed the actions God had commanded. Abraham lived during the Patriarchal dispensation when God spoke directly to the fathers (cf. Heb. 1:1,2). Today, however, we live in the Christian dispensation and we are to listen to the Lord and the Lord only (Heb. 1:1,2; Matt. 17:1-8).

Under Christ, worship consists of five specific acts: Teaching/preaching, prayers, singing, giving, and the Lord’s supper. Very early on in the inspired account of the establishment and growth of the Lord’s church we are given a list of things in which Christians strictly continued and these five items are subsumed under them. Acts 2:42 states: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” While we cannot here go into detail about each of these avenues of worship, a brief summary will suffice to show the example of the first century church.

The book of Acts records that upon the first day of the week, the early church gathered to hear the gospel preached, which was the equivalent of the apostle’s doctrine being taught (Acts 20:7). The apostles doctrine involves teaching/preaching. This passage (Acts 20:7) also states that they partook of the Lord’s supper, or broke bread, on the first day of every week (I Cor. 10:16). Prayer was also an important and mandatory part of the services of the Lord’s church in the first century (Acts 12:12). On the first day of every week, first century Christians were commanded to lay by in store as God had prospered them (I Cor. 16:1,2). Finally, singing was a part of the worship of the assembled church (Heb. 2:12; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; I Cor. 14:15). Singing was also a way of “teaching and admonishing” which is referred to in Acts 2:42. Anything more than these adds to the worship and anything less, on the Lord’s day, takes away from God’s commands and corrupts the New Testament pattern.

God demands our worship be pure. Therefore, “let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker” (Ps. 95:6) and let us “give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (I Chron. 16:29).

Eric L. Padgett

Observations on Scriptural Prayer

One important scriptural avenue of worship is prayer. Prayer is a very vital part of the Christian’s life because it is by prayer that we make known our petitions to God and it is one means of expressing our gratitude to Him for His blessings. Just as every child naturally wants to communicate with it’s father, so should we desire to speak with our heavenly Father. The early, first century Christians engaged in prayer often, and because it was a part of their worship assembly, so it should be a part of ours. The New Testament teaches us that those who obeyed the gospel on the day of Pentecost “…continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). This was not just on an individual basis but in the assembly of the saints, as well.

For example, in Acts 4:24 we read: “And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea and all that in them is.” Notice, that they all lifted up their voice “with one accord.” Individuals did not lift up their voice in individual prayer while those next to them did the same. This would have been, and still would be, confusing and chaotic. The Bible says, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (I Corinthians 14:33). Yet they all said the same words. Obviously one individual led a prayer and others followed along. Otherwise, it could not have been “with one accord” that they prayed. In I Cor. 14:6, Paul says others must say “amen” at the giving of thanks, indicating one leads another in prayer in the assembly of the saints.

Another example is found in Acts 12:5, where Luke writes, “Peter was therefore kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” Acts 12:12 further states, “And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.” Therefore, according to the New Testament pattern, prayer is an act of worship in which the church must congregationally engage if it is to worship God in truth as Jesus commanded.

But, of course, these disciples were only following the example of Christ, who on many occasions prayed and taught concerning prayer. Jesus gave the model prayer, as recorded for us in Matthew 6:9-13. They were also following the commands of the Lord’s Apostles to pray. In Ephesians 6:18 Paul writes “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching hereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” I Thessalonians 5:17 – “Pray without ceasing.” Again, I Tim. 2:1 and 8 – “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men”; “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”

The Bible teaches us that we are to engage in prayer for ourselves (Phil. 4:6), and for our enemies (Matt. 5:43-45), for those who have repented of sin (Acts 8:22-24), for those who are engaged in preaching the gospel (I Thess. 5:25), for those who are sick (James 5:15), and for many others.

The only restrictions that the Lord puts upon our prayers is that, first, they be in harmony with His will. “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, he heareth us” (I John 5:14,15). Second, that we do not use vain repetitions. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matt. 6:7). Third, that we do not pray to be seen of men. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to the Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:6). And fourth, and most important of all, that we be Christians, I Peter 3:12 – “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” Also consider James 5:16. There is no authority anywhere in the New Testament for something called the “sinner’s prayer.”

In the assembly of the saints, when the church is gathered together, when men are present in that assembly, women are not permitted to take a leading role. The men are to lead the congregation. Notice two passages of scripture. In I Corinthians 14:34 we read, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” Then, in I Timothy 2:8-15: “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting…Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in transgression.”

Notice the contrast between verses eight and eleven: Men are to pray but women are to keep silent. The principle for this command is set forth in verse twelve: women are neither to teach nor usurp authority over the man. Elsewhere in the New Testament women are commanded to teach, but the principle here is that they are not to “usurp authority over the man” by so doing. Women may sing, but they are not to lead songs when men are also assembled.

Finally, we should also realize that when we approach God in prayer we are approaching the God of all creation. His name is holy and reverend (Ps. 111:9). He is to be feared (Ps. 96:4; I Pet. 2:17). So many today approach God with an irreverent or casual attitude, mistaking His approachableness for the ordinary or pedestrian. But God is holy and so should we be when we approach His Holy Throne in prayer (I Tim. 2:8; Heb. 12:28). This will be manifested in our speech, our dress and our attitude.

Eric L. Padgett

WILL GOD HEAR?

This week, Larry Albritton of the West Side Church of Christ will be with us for our extended Gospel Meeting. I have opened the blog to brother Albritton. The following is from the West Side Church of Christ bulletin of Nov. 17, 2013.

The Philistines had taken possession of the ark of the covenant, but after several plagues, they returned it. With the ark recovered and relocated at the house of Abinadab, Israel had time to lament the unfaithfulness to Cod which had caused them to lose the ark. During these years, Samuel preached that Israel must put away her idols and return to Jehovah. This they did. After offering a lamb in sacrifice to the Lord, “Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel and the Lord heard him” (I Samuel 7:9).

Today, when people cry out to God, does He hear them? Will he hear us? From all that the Bible tells us, God only hears those who hear Him. Consider the following:

“He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” (Proverbs 28: 9).

“The Lord is far from the wicked: but He heareth the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29).

“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66: 18).

“Your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59: 2).

The cries of the disobedient God will not hear. Those who turn a deaf ear to God’s laws, that live wickedly, that are insincere in their service to Him–God will not hear their petitions. What a striking blow this is to many who have sought God’s help as a last resort at a moment of peril! There is no toll-free emergency line to His throne. If a line does exist, it is because we have been listening to Him.

When one becomes a child of God and is cleansed of past sins by the blood of Christ (Acts 2: 38 ; Galatians 3: 16-27; and Ephesians 1: 7), the distance to God is spanned. A Christian is able to commune with the heavenly Father through the advocacy of Jesus Christ (I John 2: 1). God hears His children!

When a baptized believer sins, repentance, confession of the wrong, and prayer for forgiveness serve to maintain the favor of God (Acts 5:22-24 and I John 1:7-9). If such iniquities continue and are not put behind, there comes a time when God will no longer hear us. Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 5 :23-24. If we offend a brother in Christ and fail to make it right, our “gift” of worship will not be accepted. Peter tells us that a marriage conflict may even cause our prayers to be hindered (I Peter 3: 7). It is good to always remember that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availed much” (James 5: 16).

When life strikes a harsh blow and the world seems to be caving in about me, I certainly want God to hear my cries for help. The Father has promised to hear me and respond if I have been hearing Him. If you cried out to God, would He hear you? We must prepare ourselves so He will.

Larry Albritton, Nov. 17, 2013