Category Archives: Christian Character

WATCH AND PRAY:

Jesus used the phrase watch and pray on a couple of different occasions. Once was the night before the crucifixion. Jesus took His disciples with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He prayed that “this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39). After the prayer, He found His disciples sleeping. He was grieved that they could not even pray with Him for an hour and warned them to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Another occurrence of the phrase watch and pray is found earlier in Jesus’ ministry when He prophesied about the end times. Luke chapter 21 details many of those events, and Jesus warns that they would happen suddenly: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap” (Luke 21:34). He then says, “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (verse 36).

“Watch and pray.” The word translated “watch” means “to have the alertness of a guard at night.” A night watchman must be even more vigilant than a daytime guard. In the daytime, danger can often be spotted from a distance. But in the night everything is different. A night watchman must use senses other than sight to detect danger. He is often alone in the darkness and without the defenses he would otherwise employ. There may be no indications of enemy attack until it happens, so he must be hyper-vigilant, suspecting it at any moment. That is the type of watching Jesus spoke about.

Jesus warned us that we are too easily distracted by the physical and will be caught unaware if we do not continually discipline ourselves. In the Garden of Gethsemane, sleepiness overcame the disciples. Their physical need overpowered their desire to obey Him. He was grieved when He saw this, knowing what was ahead for them. If they did not remain spiritually vigilant, in tune with Him (John 15:5) and ready to deny the flesh, they would be overcome by the evil one (1 Peter 5:8).

Jesus’ disciples today must also watch and pray. We are easily distracted by this world, our fleshly needs and desires, and the schemes of the enemy (2 Corinthians 2:11). When we take our eyes from Jesus and His soon return, our values begin to shift, our attention wanders, and soon we are living like the world and bearing little fruit for God’s kingdom (1 Timothy 6:18–19). He warned us that we must be ready at any moment to stand before Him and give an account of our lives (Romans 14:121 Peter 4:5Matthew 12:36).

“Watch and pray.” We can only remain faithful when we are devoted to prayer. In prayer, we continually allow God to forgive us, cleanse us, teach us, and strengthen us to obey Him (John 14:14). In order to keep watch, we must pray for endurance and freedom from distractions (Hebrews 12:2Luke 18:1Ephesians 6:18). We must pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When we live with the eager expectation of the Lord’s return and expect persecution until then (2 Timothy 3:12Matthew 24:91 Peter 4:12), we are more likely to keep our lives pure and our hearts ready to meet Him.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

what to do when god says no:

We love the truth that God answers prayer (1 John 5:14–15). But what we love most is when He agrees with our requests and says “yes.” But sometimes God’s answer is “no” or “not yet.” As a good Father, God will not grant us that which is not in our long-term best interest, even when we plead. God’s “yes” answers build our faith and confidence in prayer. But how are we to respond when He says “no”?

Accepting God’s “no” can be a sticky situation. There are verses that seem to indicate that whatever we ask for in faith we receive (e.g., Mark 11:24Matthew 21:22). If we isolate those verses and build a theology around them, it can be faith-shattering when things do not happen as we anticipated. It is wiser to take a step back and consider the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Any time we build a whole doctrine around one or two verses, we are headed for trouble.

Several times in Scripture, God did not do as someone asked. He is God, and He can see things we can’t see. King David pleaded with the Lord for the life of his and Bathsheba’s infant son. David fasted and prayed for days, but, on the seventh day, the child died (2 Samuel 12:1618). God said “no.” David responded in a way that is a model for us all. He accepted that what God had done was right and good, “and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (verse 20, NKJV). He had hoped for a different outcome. But God is God, and He has the right to make life-and-death decisions. In his grief, David did not become bitter toward the Lord or turn away. David’s response to God’s “no” was deeper worship and surrender, even in his heartache.

The New Testament gives more examples of times when God said “no” to His servants. The apostle Paul was set to travel throughout Asia Minor to preach, but God said “no” (Acts 16:6–9). Paul thought he had understood the plan of God. He believed he was to continue in Asia. But the Holy Spirit said “no.” Because Paul’s desire was to listen and obey, regardless of what it cost, he left Asia Minor and went to Macedonia instead. There he started churches that impacted the whole world. His response to God’s “no” was instant obedience and a change of direction.

In his personal life, Paul was plagued by what he called a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul pleaded with the Lord on three separate occasions to take this “thorn” from him, but God said “no.” In this trial, Paul learned to appropriate greater measures of God’s grace and to live for the glory of God through the difficulty. His response to God’s “no” was to glory in his weakness (verse 9). Instead of giving up in frustration or deciding God did not care, Paul chose to “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (verse 10).

What we learn from the biblical examples is that God never stops being God. He is sovereign: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ . . . What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do” (Isaiah 46:9–11).

There are many times when God can say “yes” to our requests because they fit into the plan He is working out in our lives (Romans 8:28). He said “yes” to Moses’ request to see His glory (Exodus 33:17). He said “yes” to Solomon’s request for wisdom (1 Kings 3:11–13). And Jesus said “yes” to everyone who asked Him for healing and help (Matthew 8:16). But our faith-filled requests do not supersede God’s sovereign rule. If He was bound by our prayers, as some teach, He would, in effect, cease to be God. We would be gods by dictating His actions. Nowhere in Scripture do we see such a precedent.

God will often say “no” to things we yearn to see happen. Those with immature faith sometimes use this as an excuse to abandon Him altogether: “God didn’t heal my baby.” “God didn’t save my marriage.” “God didn’t give me that job I needed.” If our view is that God is obligated to grant our requests like a genie grants wishes, then we will be dismayed when God does not “perform” for us. We choose whether to allow a “no” from God to shatter our faith or build it up; a “no” from God can teach us to endure—even when we don’t understand (James 1:3).

It is often in the seasons when God says “no” that we are forced to pursue God more earnestly. God’s “nos” often shatter the tiny box in which we tried to keep Him and allow the real God to reveal Himself to us. He says “no” when it is part of His grander plan. He says “no” when our lack of faith indicates that we do not truly believe He is who He says He is (Hebrews 11:6). He says “no” when our requests are rooted in selfishness (James 4:3) or when a “yes” would harm us. And He says “no” when, like Paul, we must learn that His grace is sufficient for us. The biblical examples of servants of God who experienced God’s “no” help us learn the right response when God says “no” to us.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

are there any conditions to answered prayers?

Some people would like prayer with no conditions. They wish God to be a celestial genie who, when summoned by prayer, must grant any request they make. They find a measure of encouragement in the fable of Aladdin and his lamp, aspiring to that level of control over God’s power in their prayer life. But the biblical fact is that prayer has conditions. It’s true that Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22). But, even in that statement, we have one condition to prayer: faith. As we examine the Bible, we find that there are other conditions to prayer, as well.

Here are ten biblical instructions concerning prayer that imply conditions to prayer:

1) Pray to the Heavenly Father (see Matthew 6:9). This condition to prayer might seem obvious, but it’s important. We don’t pray to false gods, to ourselves, to angels, to Buddha, or to the Virgin Mary. We pray to the God of the Bible, who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and whose Spirit indwells us. Coming to Him as our “Father” implies that we are first His children—made so by faith in Christ (see John 1:12).

2) Pray for good things (see Matthew 7:11). We don’t always understand or recognize what is good, but God knows, and He is eager to give His children what is best for them. Paul prayed three times to be healed of an affliction, and each time God said, “No.” Why would a loving God refuse to heal Paul? Because God had something better for him, namely, a life lived by grace. Paul stopped praying for healing and began to rejoice in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).

3) Pray for needful things (see Philippians 4:19). Placing a priority on God’s kingdom is one of the conditions to prayer (Matthew 6:33). The promise is that God will supply all our needs, not all our wants. There is a difference.

4) Pray from a righteous heart (see James 5:16). The Bible speaks of having a clean conscience as a condition to answered prayer (Hebrews 10:22). It is important that we keep our sins confessed to the Lord. “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18, NAS).

5) Pray from a grateful heart (see Philippians 4:6). Part of prayer is an attitude of thanksgiving.

6) Pray according to the will of God (see 1 John 5:14). An important condition to prayer is that it is prayed within the will of God. Jesus prayed this way all the time, even in Gethsemane: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). We can pray all we want, with great sincerity and faith, for XYZ, but, if God’s will is ABC, we pray amiss.

7) Pray in the authority of Jesus Christ (see John 16:24). Jesus is the reason we are able to approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 10:19–22), and He is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). A condition to prayer is that we pray in His name.

8) Pray persistently (see Luke 18:1). In fact, pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). One of the conditions to effective prayer is that we don’t give up.

9) Pray unselfishly (see James 4:3). Our motives are important.

10) Pray in faith (see James 1:6). Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), who alone can do the impossible (Luke 1:37). Without faith, why pray?

Joshua’s prayer for the sun to stand still, as audacious as that request was, met all these conditions of prayer (Joshua 10:12–14). Elijah’s prayer for rain to be withheld—and his later prayer that rain would fall—met all of these conditions (James 5:17–18). Jesus’ prayer as He stood before the tomb of Lazarus met all of these conditions (John 11:41). They all prayed to God, according to His will, for good and necessary things, in faith.

The examples of Joshua, Elijah, and Jesus teach us that, when our prayers line up with God’s sovereign will, wonderful things will happen. There’s no need to be abashed by mountains, for they can move (Mark 11:23). The struggle we face is in getting our prayers lined up with God’s will, having our desires match His. Congruency between God’s will and our own is the goal. We want exactly what He wants; nothing more, nothing less. And we don’t want anything that He doesn’t want.

Godly, effective prayer has conditions, and God invites us to pray. When can we pray big? When we believe God wants something big. When can we pray audaciously? When we believe God wants something audacious. When should we pray? All the time.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

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