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Decreeing & Declaring or Begging & Pleading? Praying with Faith and Wisdom

It has been difficult for churches to navigate through this time of pandemic. Early on especially, there were many who were wrestling with what it means to have faith in the midst of panic and fear. We must never allow our faith to surrender to the fear that demands we bow down to the idols of the world. But faith does not demand that we dispense with caution. Caution is inherent to wisdom. Jesus not only desires to increase our faith, he also wants to increase our wisdom. It’s God’s word that makes us wise enough to discern the will of God in the midst of many dangers, toils, and snares. And it is the wisdom of God that should inform and guide our faith.

Unfortunately many Christians operate with a definition of faith that is not really biblical. Some people’s idea of faith is based on the preaching and teaching of “prosperity preachers” who teach a “name it and claim it” brand of prayer. The idea is that faith is a force that gives us the power to decree and declare our own desired reality into existence. Faith may also be viewed as providing an impenetrable “hedge of protection” against the ills of life in the world. Fear, it is said, weakens the hedge and allows the enemy a way through. There is not only a misunderstanding of faith, there is also a misunderstanding of fear based on a misreading of Job 3:25. It’s a misreading that misses the whole point of Job and ends up giving fear, ironically, far more power over people (I may explore the misunderstanding of fear in another article).

As a result, there have been some who have wrongly believed that taking precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was an unacceptable capitulation to fear (this is not to say that some of the precautions taken were not in themselves foolish). They wrongly believed that faith would guarantee a shield of protection and given them a license not to take necessary precautions. I have seen stories in the past few weeks where some have apparently died as a result. These ideas have crept into the minds of many Christians in a variety of different settings to one degree or another. The primary source of these ideas are popular “word of faith” preachers who have had huge platforms in television ministry and popular books for decades now.

One prominent “faith teacher,” Kenneth Copeland, recently took up the task of decreeing and declaring that COVID-19 go away. He literally tried to lead his staff and followers to huff and puff, and blow it away. After evoking the power of God, Copeland clearly believes he has the power himself to command the wind and control the atmosphere to blow the virus away (Watch the video clip HERE – Go to 27:58 minute mark to see the decreeing and declaring to blow COVID-19 away). This is why he made the controversial and blasphemous statement in the past that when he sees in the Bible where Jesus says “I am,” Copeland said he just smiles and says, “I am, too.”

This idea of prayer as decreeing and declaring is often justified by reference to Romans 4:17—actually just the last phrase of that verse. The phrase is about the one who “calls things into existence the things that did not exist” (ESV). That power is wrongly attributed to Abraham’s faith. In context, it is clearly God who has the power to do that and it is God and God’s power that was the object of Abraham’s faith. Abraham trusted in God to bring to pass what God himself had promised. “Faith” teachers like Copeland would have us believe that we posses that kind of power ourselves and that we can decree and declare things into existence ourselves. Typically they do acknowledge that we can only decree and declare what is revealed in the Bible to be God’s will, but they interpret the promises of the Bible in such a way that gives people license to decree and declare just about whatever it is they want in terms of prosperity and personal comfort and security. In other words, the decreeing and declaring usually revolves around all the things that Jesus insisted should not be the primary focus of our lives, personal security and wealth (Matthew 6; Luke 12).

Christians are not called to trust in their own power to call things into existence; Christians are called, like Abraham, to trust in “God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom 4:17). God’s word does not promise us that we have the power to decree and declare and demand at any time perfect personal security and prosperity. We are promised a world of perfect peace, but that’s a world of God’s own making in his perfect timing when Christ comes again. In the meantime, Jesus promised that in this fallen world we would have tribulation (John 16:33). Nevertheless even in this world we can have a measure of the peace of the world to come in hope. Hope, however, requires patience to wait for God’s timing rather than trying to force it in our own power (Rom 8:25).

Faith does not demand that we throw all caution to the wind. Biblically that would be what Proverbs calls foolishness. Why did the Christian look both ways before crossing the road? Well, of course, it was to get to the other side, and it’s not really a joke.

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.  Proverbs 22:3 NLT

The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence. Proverbs 14:16 NLT

In this fallen world there are many dangers, toils, and snares. Believers are not to trust in their own ability to blow them all away, but to trust in God to give them the wisdom to avoid them. But believers are not guaranteed protection from all possible danger. The book of Revelation shows how believers by trusting in God and refusing to compromise their faith out of fear of the devil and evil men will avoid the danger of God’s coming wrath. They are not, however, guaranteed that they will be able to avoid the wrath of the dragon that is carried out through the beast (Rev 12:7-17; 13:5-10). There are some dangers that God will guide us around; there are others that God will guide us and save us through as we endure.Pharisee and Publican

Christian prayer is not decreeing and declaring our own will according to our own timing; Christian prayer is humbly asking—even persistently and patiently begging and pleading (see Luke 11:1-13; 18:1-14 REALLY!! READ THESE PASSAGES!)—and trusting in God’s will and timing. Prayer is not arrogantly commanding and demanding as if we are God; prayer is humbling asking and trusting in God’s power and God’s timing. And faith is trusting in God to give us wisdom to avoid the dangers of this fallen world, especially the danger of forever being prisoners of our own arrogance and foolishness. Wisdom is still crying in the street, but there will come a time when it is too late to answer her call.

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
    in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Proverbs 1:20-33 ESV



So, What are We Praying for?

Prayer and worship are chief among the means of grace. New life in Christ begins with prayer and is sustained and strengthened by prayer. But genuine Christian prayer is informed and transformed by the word of God. The Bible is essential and indispensable to prayer and all the other means of grace and spiritual disciplines. The Bible should inform and transform the content and direction of our prayer and our worship with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Bible reveals to us that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9-10); the Spirit enables us to believe the message of the Bible and confess Jesus as Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit also helps us in our weakness to pray as we ought to pray.  In other words, the Holy Spirit inspires and guides us to pray according to the word of God, which reveals the will of God. The Spirit even picks up where we fall short and prays for us.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. ~ Romans 8:26-27 NRSV

In our weakness we easily forget what Jesus said should be the focus of our prayer lives. For that matter, we easily forget what should be the focus of the entirety of our lives as Christians, including all the other means of grace and practice of spiritual disciplines. Jesus warned that our focus should not be on worldly riches and acclaim and our own personal comfort and convenience (Matthew 6:19-33; Luke 12:13-34). Instead of allowing our lives and prayer lives to be consumed by the worry over our own comfort and security in this world, “about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25 NRSV), Jesus tells us to “strive first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33 NRSV).

In other words, our personal desires for pleasure, comfort, and security in this world should not be focus of our lives; neither should they be the focus of our prayer lives. God and God’s will for us should be at the center of our prayers. In all things, especially in prayer we should seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. We should pray for God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness to come and reign supreme in our own lives, and flow through us into the lives of others and the rest of the world. Jesus said:

  “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” ~ Matthew 6:9-13 NRSV

This is how the Holy Spirit inspires and guides us to pray according to God’s will revealed in God’s word, especially in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Word of God in the flesh (John 1:1-18).praying hands on bible

The Spirit will also inspire and guide us in our worship of God together in the church where prayer and the reading and preaching of the Bible together with the liturgy and songs and hymns of the church, and especially the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, conform us to the image of Christ. In worship also we seek first the kingdom and God and his righteousness to renew us into the image and likeness of God so that we will be blessed to be a blessing to our communities and our world for the glory of God’s name among the nations. Prayer, Bible study, and worship are all means to this goal, a goal that will be brought to completion at the resurrection of the body when Jesus comes again. This is what Christians are called to pray for.

It’s not that we should never pray for our own needs. Jesus did say to pray “gives us this day our daily bread.” Indeed, we are to pray for our needs, the greatest of which is for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done in our lives and over all the earth. Jesus is not warning about praying for our need; he is warning about praying according to our greed. Where our will is opposed to God’s, we must pray for our will to be transformed to be in harmony with the will of God. James tells us that praying according to our own desires without regard for the will of God is a mistake. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3 NRSV). But when we pray according to God’s will, when we pray for God’s kingdom to come and for his righteousness to be ours, he hears us and will grant our requests.

And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. ~ 1 John 5:14-15 NRSV

The primary focus of our prayer life should be the truly good things that God wants us to have. We should pray for faith, hope, and love. We should pray for God’s wisdom (James 1:5) so we can know the difference between good and evil and have the courage to do what is right. We should pray for the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control Galatians 5:22-23), to be abundant in our lives in in our churches. We should pray for the works of our sinful nature in us to be removed from our hearts (Galatians 5:24; Colossians 3:5-9) and be replaced by the godly, Christ-like character that God wants to give us.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~ Colossians 3:1-17 NRSV

In other words, we should pray to be the kind of people that Jesus said we should be in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). This is the will of God for us, and it is the most important thing for us to ask for in prayer. And Jesus promised regarding these good things that God wants to give us:

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” ~ Matthew 7:7-11 NRSV

It is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that makes these virtues and holy character possible in our lives (See Luke 11:1-12). These are the good things that God wants us to pray for. This is what is means to seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness first.

A man set his sights on winning the lottery. One day he bought a winning ticket that brought him tens of millions of dollars. He thought it was the answer to his prayers. But winning it all caused him to lose everything that really mattered. His prayer life was focused on all the wrong things. He had millions of dollars, but little to no love. He bought a mansion, but did not secure a place in the house of the Lord. He had lots of fancy cars, but no true friends. He desperately tried to fill the void in his soul with all the shiny things money could buy, but still felt empty. Eventually he blew all the money, he had to sell most of his things, and he lost all hope because he had put his hope in the uncertainty of temporal riches rather than in the eternal God. He gained the world, but lost his soul (see Mark 8:36; Luke 12:13-21).

God wants us to have something so much better than anything this fallen world has to offer us. He wants us to have the things that make for an eternal home with him. Our prayers, our worship, and everything we do should be according to what God wants. And what God wants is the absolute best for us. If God get’s everything he wants, which is all of us, we who trust God with our lives will eternally have everything we could ever need.

So, what are you praying for?


Something Should be Done! But What?

Something should be done! When it comes to the epidemic of mass murder, I don’t think there is anyone who disagrees with that. When it comes to exactly what should be done, of course, that’s a different story.

Many, including me, are quick to offer prayer and call others to it. Others are just as quick to dismiss it as a nuisance and distraction from the “real” solutions. Many, on both sides of the gun control debate seem certain what solutions are needed and/or which are not. But maybe the fact that prayer is so easily dismissed or even engaged in so lightly is part of the problem. I’m not saying it is the only thing we should do, but it certainly should not be dismissed or even offered lightly as just a polite courtesy for that matter. I think we sometimes offer prayers, but fail to really pray. Saying prayers and actually praying may be two different things. We should pray with expectancy and faith that God will really move in powerful ways to change hearts, minds, and legislation where necessary. Neither should we assume that we already know exactly what needs to be done. We should pray seeking divine wisdom and the faith to obey. We pontificate too much and pray too little. God, help us!

Something needs to be done! But what? As with any major problem, this is multifaceted. I don’t think the best solutions will be reached through the blame game played in the arena of partisan politics. The political parties hell bent on gaining or maintaining power by making their political opponents look bad may not be the best source for real solutions apart from ulterior motives. I don’t think we can name call our way to the best solutions either.

What exactly is it that we want to stop? That may sound like a stupid question, but if we really want to find solutions, I think we should be asking at least as many questions with the desire for real answers as we spout off pat answers and offer simple analogies to make those we disagree with look stupid or worse.

What do we want to put a stop to? We need to be specific. Do we want to reduce the overall number of murders each year? Or do we just want to focus on preventing mass shootings? What’s the difference?

Well, according to the CDC there are a little more than 11,000 homicides by firearms committed each year. According to one database, Statista, the vast majority were committed with handguns. There is a very significant category, however, where the type of firearm was not stated. Where identified, rifles, presumably of all varieties, only accounted for 374 homicides in 2016—knives and other cutting instruments were used in more than 1600 homicides. Although it would be good to know more about that unidentified firearm category, which accounts for a little more than 3,000 homicides, if the aim is to reduce overall homicides by firearms through gun control measures, then the handgun should clearly garner most of the attention. Barring a repeal or amendment of the 2nd Amendment, however, a handgun ban is not viable—not that I think we should repeal the 2nd amendment.

If, on the other hand, we want to prevent mass shootings at schools, then the focus could be on semi-automatic rifles, but then again, handguns are still more commonly used. Apart from a total gun ban, what more could be done to keep the guns out of the hands of those likely to commit mass murder? And would a gun ban actually keep these things from happening? Making it harder to get a semi-automatic rifle would not eliminate mass-shootings, although it might reduce the number of deaths during each incident. If handguns are still easily accessible, then what would prevent someone, or multiple shooters as in the case of Columbine, from bursting into a school with multiple handguns still capable of murdering multiple people rapidly?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions. I don’t know the answers for sure, but I don’t think simply focusing on gun control measures as the simple solution is the answer, even without considering the need to amend or repeal the 2nd amendment.

It may very well be time to invest in increased security measures at our public schools. Too many schools are just too vulnerable in our increasingly volatile society. How can we increase security to protect our children in our schools?

Legislative measures and security logistics, while important is still not enough. How do we address our culture’s and popular entertainment’s glorification of gratuitous violence. There’s something in us that seems to enjoy gratuitous violence for entertainment—I think of the popularity of movies like Saw, for example. Without violating the First Amendment, what do we do? Can we not think of anything other than adding more laws to the books anyway?

What about bolstering and equipping children’s very first institution of nurture, education, discipline, and authority: the family? Can we really address these issues without making moral judgments about right and wrong, and teaching about good and evil in the family? Parent’s need to be parents and not just the ones with the troubled kids who might be likely to commit murder, but also those with kids who might be likely to bully and gossip at the expense of other kids, which stokes the already burning fires of resentment and anger in those who have been alienated at home and among their peers.

There is talk about mental health, but what if we no longer know how to differentiate between mental problems and moral problems as a society. Psychiatrist Scott Peck, long lamented the lack of the recognition of evil as a clinical category. Being better equipped to provide mental health to troubled teens is important, but still insufficient, I suspect. I’ve heard some say law enforcement needs the ability to apprehend kids who make the kind of threats that the shooter in Florida apparently made; but how long could they be retained against their will for making threats; and how effective would mental health treatment be if you are dealing with a true sociopath?

What can really be done right now? Is there anything that most people can agree on? I don’t think the majority would agree with a gun ban. Would a majority even agree with additional “common-sense gun laws”? Perhaps, but I don’t know.

If we want to prevent mass shootings at our schools, what can the majority agree on now? Increased security at our schools? I don’t know.

The fires of resentment and contempt are burning pretty hot in our country right now. That is a danger in and of itself. What can we do to cut off the fuel supply?

Maybe less blame-throwing and more cool-headed cooperation on the things most actually agree on. Is there anything left that the majority of us actually agree on?

God, help us!

Moreover, I don’t think we can continue to ignore the larger philosophical and theological issues that may contribute to the multifarious epidemics we seem to have all at the same time. As I’ve said before, America seems to be firmly in the grip of each of the seven deadly sins. Hedonism seems to be the reigning value. Should we be surprised that we are reaping the effects of the nihilism that comes with it? (See my article on a conversation with a teenager who talked about what he would do if he were to shoot up a school and the topic of hell)

We may need prayer, real, fervent, godly prayer, more than anything!

God help us! Deliver us from evil! Show us the hard path to life. Amen.