YOU SHOULD BE PRAYERFUL:

For the Christian, praying is supposed to be like breathing, easier to do than to not do. We pray for a variety of reasons. For one thing, prayer is a form of serving God (Luke 2:36-38) and obeying Him. We pray because God commands us to pray (Philippians 4:6-7). Prayer is exemplified for us by Christ and the early church (Mark 1:35Acts 1:142:423:14:23-316:413:1-3). If Jesus thought it was worthwhile to pray, we should also.

Another reason to pray is that God intends prayer to be the means of obtaining His solutions in a number of situations. We pray in preparation for major decisions (Luke 6:12-13); to overcome demonic barriers (Matthew 17:14-21); to gather workers for the spiritual harvest (Luke 10:2); to gain strength to overcome temptation (Matthew 26:41); and to obtain the means of strengthening others spiritually (Ephesians 6:18-19).

We come to God with our specific requests, and we have God’s promise that our prayers are not in vain, even if we do not receive specifically what we asked for (Matthew 6:6Romans 8:26-27). He has promised that when we ask for things that are in accordance with His will, He will give us what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15). Sometimes He delays His answers according to His wisdom and for our benefit. In these situations, we are to be diligent and persistent in prayer (Matthew 7:7Luke 18:1-8). Prayer should not be seen as our means of getting God to do our will on earth, but rather as a means of getting God’s will done on earth. God’s wisdom far exceeds our own.

For situations in which we do not know God’s will specifically, prayer is a means of discerning His will. If the Syrian woman with the demon-influenced daughter had not prayed to Christ, her daughter would not have been made whole (Mark 7:26-30). If the blind man outside Jericho had not called out to Christ, he would have remained blind (Luke 18:35-43). God has said that we often go without because we do not ask (James 4:2). In one sense, prayer is like sharing the gospel with people. We do not know who will respond to the message of the gospel until we share it. In the same way, we will never see the results of answered prayer unless we pray.

A lack of prayer demonstrates a lack of faith and a lack of trust in God’s Word. We pray to demonstrate our faith in God, that He will do as He has promised in His Word and bless our lives abundantly more than we could ask or hope for (Ephesians 3:20). Prayer is our primary means of seeing God work in others’ lives. Because it is our means of “plugging into” God’s power, it is our means of defeating Satan and his army that we are powerless to overcome by ourselves. Therefore, may God find us often before His throne, for we have a high priest in heaven who can identify with all that we go through (Hebrews 4:15-16). We have His promise that the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16-18). May God glorify His name in our lives as we believe in Him enough to come to Him often in prayer.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

PRAY FOR YOUR ENEMIES:

Several places in the Bible command us to pray for our enemies (Luke 6:2735Romans 12:20). Most familiar to us is the passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:43–45, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” It is clear that Jesus expects us to pray for our enemies, but how do we do that?

Our first response to that question is probably not the right one. When someone wrongs us, we’d like to pray that disaster falls on them! We may be tempted to pray the imprecatory psalms and hope to sit back and watch God exact vengeance on the evildoers, much like Jonah did outside of Nineveh. But that is not what Jesus meant by praying for our enemies. He had something better in mind that will benefit us as well as our enemies.

When someone sets out to cause us harm, our natural reaction is to protect ourselves and fight back. They gossiped about us; we’ll gossip about them. They lied about us; we’ll lie about them. They smeared our reputation; we’ll smear theirs, too. However, Jesus calls us to a higher standard. He demonstrated that standard by never retaliating when someone wronged Him. And they wronged Him a lot. His own people rejected His message (John 1:11). The religious leaders mocked and tried to trap Him (John 8:6). His own family was ashamed of Him and tried to make Him stop preaching (Mark 3:21). His friends deserted Him in His worst moment (Mark 14:50), and the city who had cried “Hosanna!” when He arrived in town shouted “Crucify Him!” a few days later (Mark 15:13). So, Jesus had enemies, and, when He said to pray for our enemies, He knew what He was talking about.

Jesus gave us a perfect example of praying for our enemies when He was being nailed to a cross. In the middle of His own agony, He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He talked to His Father about the people who were harming Him. He did not ask for their destruction; He did not pray for revenge. He prayed they would be forgiven. Jesus had compassion on the deceived people who believed they were doing the right thing by killing the Son of God. They had no idea what was actually taking place. They had no idea how wrong they were. When Jesus said, “They don’t know what they are doing,” He hinted at an important factor to keep in mind when we pray for our enemies.

The enemies we pray for hurt us from their own world of hurt. Their thinking may be influenced by the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4). Their attitudes may have been shaped by past wounds (Judges 15:7). Their actions may have been manipulated by peer influences (2 Kings 12:13–14). None of this excuses their behavior or minimizes the damage they cause, but it helps to explain the why of the matter. People do what they do for their own reasons. They may not be valid reasons, but they seem so to the ones who hold them. So how do we pray for those who have hurt us and never tried to make it right?

1. We can pray that God will “open the eyes of their hearts that they will be enlightened” about truth (Ephesians 1:18). When enemies set themselves against us, they lack understanding. They are reacting from the flesh instead of responding from the Spirit. We can pray that God will open their hearts with understanding so that they will learn from their mistakes and grow wiser.

2. As we pray for our enemies, we can pray for their repentance. Second Timothy 2:25 says that “opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” It is God who softens hearts enough for repentance. When we pray for our enemies to repent, we know we are praying in accordance with God’s will because He also desires their repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

3. When we pray for our enemies, we can ask that our hearts will remain soft and useful if the Lord wants to use us to accomplish His plan in the lives of our enemies. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). When we return anger for anger, wrong for wrong, we put ourselves on the same level as our enemy. But when we respond with kindness, gentleness, and mercy, the situation is often diffused within moments. Nothing is more convicting than a gentle response to a hateful, rude action. It’s what turning the other cheek is all about (see Matthew 5:39). Satan desires discord, so he tries to stir up our fury and coaches us to respond in kind. We should pray that God keeps our hearts soft toward the offenders so that His goodness will be revealed to them through us.

4. As we pray for our enemies, we can pray that God will work in their lives because of this offense to bring about His purposes. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). It is always right to ask that God’s will be done in any situation. We should pray until we want what He wants. If He wants to bless our enemy, we want that, too. If He wants us to serve our enemy in some way, then that’s what we want. Prayer is the aligning of our wills with God’s; when we pray for our enemies, we need to wrestle through our emotions until we truly want God’s best in their lives.

Praying for our enemies is not a natural response to their mistreatment. But we remember that we were once enemies of God ourselves, and we are now His children. We can now intercede for others who are still far off (Colossians 1:21). In doing so, we keep our own hearts free from bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). In praying for our enemies, we become more like Christ, and we keep ourselves in harmony with God’s will, which is how every human being was designed to live.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

ALWAYS PRAY FOR OTHERS:

Praying for others—and this applies to prayer in general—is an easy thing to question. Why should we pray if God already has our best interests at heart? He is wiser than we are, by a long shot. Why does He need us to pray? Wouldn’t it be better to just trust Him to do what’s best? It’s true that God is wiser than we are (1 Corinthians 1:25) and that we should trust Him (Proverbs 3:5–6). And it’s for those very reasons that we need to pray, because praying for ourselves and praying for others is something God commands us to do.

Praying for others is recommended as a source of healing (James 5:16) along with confession. James tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Now, does this mean that only the prayers of good people are heard? No, the word righteous in the Bible refers to those who have faith and are covered by Jesus’ righteousness (Romans 5:13:21–224:2–3).

Jesus told us to pray in His name (John 14:13–14). If you do something “in the name of” someone else, it means you do it according to his wishes. Therefore, knowing God and understanding Him is an integral part of prayer. Now we begin to see why praying for others is important. Prayer is not about getting everything we want or keeping others safe, healthy, and problem-free at all times. Prayer is a powerful way in which we get to know our Savior, and it also brings believers together. Effective prayer for others will bring us closer to God, because effective prayer is based on a knowledge of His will (1 John 5:14). It will also bring us closer to others, as we learn more about them and focus on their needs.

For most of us, praying for others tends to run along these lines: Lord, provide my friend with a job, a car that runs, good health, and safety. If we really know someone well, we might pray for his or her marriage or other relationships. There is nothing wrong with praying for these things; in fact, the Bible encourages us to pray for everything and, doing so, quell our anxieties (Philippians 4:6). It is right to pray for health and for good things to happen (3 John 1:2).

However, most of the prayers recorded in the Bible are of another type. When Jesus was praying for others, He prayed for their faith (Luke 22:32), He prayed against temptation in their lives (Luke 22:40), He prayed for their unity (John 17:11), and He prayed for their sanctification (John 17:17). Paul prayed for the salvation of the lost (Romans 10:1); he prayed that the brothers would stay on the right path (2 Corinthians 13:7); he prayed that believers would be strengthened by the Spirit, rooted and grounded in love, able to comprehend God’s love, and filled with the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14–19). These are all prayers for spiritual blessings; they are all “in Jesus’ name” and according to the Father’s will—prayers that are guaranteed to find a “yes” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Praying for others is important because it fulfills a New Testament command. We are to pray for all people (1 Timothy 2:1). We are to pray for government leaders (1 Timothy 2:2). We are to pray for the unsaved (1 Timothy 2:3). We are to pray for fellow Christians (Ephesians 6:18). We are to pray for ministers of the gospel (Ephesians 6:19–20). We are to pray for the persecuted church (Hebrews 13:3). Praying for others gets our focus off of ourselves and onto the needs around us. As we “carry each other’s burdens,” we “will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Begin praying for others today and help to build up the body of Christ.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

SHAME AND REGRET:

Everyone experiences a certain amount of shame and regret over sins committed in the past. The Bible has much to say about shame and regret, and there are numerous examples of people in the Bible who experienced these negative feelings.

Can you imagine the shame and regret Adam and Eve lived with after their sin? They spoiled the perfect creation God had made. Adam and Eve were in a perfect world, had perfect minds and bodies, and had perfectly close fellowship with God. When they chose to sin against God, all of God’s creation was made subject to sin’s effects, including disease, decay, death, and separation from God for eternity. Every human being afterward was born with a sin nature—the natural inclination to sin. Thankfully, God is sovereign, and He had a plan even then to redeem His world through His Son, Jesus Christ, and give mankind a choice for salvation and eternal life with Him. But Adam and Eve must have lived out their lives on earth with much regret over their loss of innocence and its associated blessings. We know they were ashamed at their nakedness (Genesis 3:10). They must have lived the rest of their lives with regret—after all, they remembered paradise.

Another biblical example of shame and regret is the experience of the apostle Peter. John 13:37–38 describes the night of Christ’s betrayal. Right after the Passover meal, Peter tells Jesus that he would lay down his life for his Lord. Jesus responds by telling him that on that very night Peter would deny three times even knowing the Lord. Later that night, out of fear of losing his own life, Peter denied ever knowing Jesus (John 18:15–27Matthew 26:31–3569–75). After Peter’s denial of Christ, “he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62). Later, Peter was restored and grew in his faith, becoming one of the founding fathers of the early church. Peter did indeed “strengthen his brothers” after being forgiven, just as Jesus had foretold (Luke 22:32). While Peter must have lived with much shame and regret over his public denial of Christ, his deepened understanding of the person and work of Christ overcame his feelings of failure. He realized that he was forgiven by the grace of God, and he moved past his personal regret to feed Jesus’ sheep (John 21:17).

The Bible teaches us that, when we confess our sins and have faith in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, we become children of God (John 1:12). We are cleansed from all our unrighteousness (Colossians 1:15–22), and our salvation is eternally secure (John 10:27–30Hebrews 7:24–25). As we grow spiritually by spending time with God daily in prayer and reading His Word, we find ourselves loving and trusting Him more. We trust that God has cast our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).Yes, we regret our past mistakes, but that is not our focus. We keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Paul put it this way: “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [the goal]. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). Shame and regret are part of what is behind us. We must learn to forget.

Romans 8:1 is a great comfort to any believer who struggles with leftover feelings of shame and regret: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We are sinners, but we are justified. We have a shameful past, but we have a better future. We used to walk in foolishness and rebellion, but now we walk in newness of life (Titus 3:3–7Romans 6:4). God has forgiven those sins we feel shame and regret over. We can move on. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

DEALING WITH REGRETS:

Regret is sorrow or remorse over something that has happened or that we have done. Regret can also be a sense of disappointment over what has not happened, such as regretting wasted years. To be human is to have regrets because making mistakes is a universal experience. The Bible gives much instruction that, if followed, will result in fewer regrets. God’s commands and boundaries are written down for us in His Word, and the more we adhere to them, the less we have to regret. However, in God’s grace and mercy, He has also provided a way to deal with regrets when we have not lived as wisely as He wants us to (see Psalm 51:12).

In considering what the Bible says about regrets, we should start with the fact that in a couple of places we are told that God “regretted” an action He took. The Hebrew root for the word “regret” actually means “to sigh.” Since we know God does not make mistakes, the concept of sighing is a more descriptive term for the kind of regret God experiences. Genesis 6:7 says that, after seeing the wickedness on the earth, God regretted making man. This does not mean that the Lord felt that He made a mistake in creating human beings, but that His heart was sorrowful as He witnessed the direction they were going. Since God knows everything beforehand, He already knew that sin would bring consequences, so He was not surprised by it (1 Peter 1:20Ephesians 1:4Isaiah 46:9–11). Instead, this glimpse into God’s character shows us that, even though He already knows we will sin, it still grieves Him when we choose it (Ephesians 4:30).

Human regret is different from God’s regret. Human regret occurs because we do not know all things and we do make mistakes. As we age, we often look back on decisions made in youth and regret our choices. However, those regrets usually fall into one of two categories. Our regrets arise from either foolish choices or sin choices, and each requires a different response.

First, we may experience regret because of foolish choices, situations in the past that we wish had been different. For example, let’s say we had chosen to attend Z College and major in X. After years of fruitlessly pursuing a career in X, we regret that college decision. The choice of college major was not a sin, and we may have thought at the time that it was a good choice, but we now realize it was not. We can deal with that kind of regret by claiming Romans 8:28 and asking the Lord to make it work for the good. We can choose to focus on the positive aspects of all we learned and trust that, if we were seeking the Lord at the time, nothing was wasted and He can use even our immature decisions for good if we trust Him. We can forgive ourselves for our immature decision and purpose to grow wiser from what we learned (Philippians 3:13).

Peter is one biblical example of someone who deeply regretted a foolish decision. Although Peter was committed to Jesus, his fear made him run away when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, and he later denied his Lord. His actions did not come from a desire to sin, but from impulse, spiritual immaturity, and fear. He deeply regretted his actions and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62). Jesus knew about Peter’s regret and specifically asked to see him after His resurrection (Mark 16:7). We learn from this that our regrets are not hidden from God and He desires to restore us when we return to Him (Malachi 3:7Jeremiah 24:7).

Other regrets are due to sin choices that may have left scars and consequences. After a lifetime of selfish debauchery, some people in their later years are so overwhelmed by regret they cannot experience joy. The consequences of their sin for themselves and others may haunt them for years. The pain of regret can drive us to decisions we would not otherwise make. Judas Iscariot is one such example in the Bible. After he realized that he had betrayed the Messiah, Judas was so filled with regret that he tried to undo his actions by returning the blood money. When that didn’t work, he went out and killed himself (Matthew 27:3–5).

Regret can lead some to self-destruction, but God wants to use it to lead us toward repentance. It’s important to understand that regret is not the same as repentance. Esau deeply regretted his decision to sell his birthright, but he never repented of his sin (Hebrews 12:16–17). Regret focuses on the action that has brought sorrow; repentance focuses on the one we have offended. Second Corinthians 7:10 explains the difference between mere regret and true repentance: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Rather than allow the regret to win, we can allow Jesus to transform us so that our past sin choices magnify His powerful grace. When we come to Him in repentance, believing that His sacrifice on the cross was sufficient payment for the debt we owe God, we can be forgiven (2 Corinthians 5:21Romans 10:9–10Acts 2:23).

Two men betrayed Jesus on the night He was crucified. Judas had worldly sorrow (regret), and his life was ended. Peter had godly sorrow (repentance), and his life was transformed. We have the same choices those men had. When we face regret, we can let it consume our lives, or we can lay our fault at the feet of Jesus, turn from it, and let Him restore us (Psalm 232 Corinthians 5:17).

Prophet Nathan’ Sermon