Tag Archives: Wisdom

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



What it Takes to Ask: The Sermon on the Mount

Over the past few weeks I’ve been focusing on the wisdom of Jesus in sermons. Biblically  wisdom is more than simple knowledge of facts that would enable one to win at Trivial Pursuit or even just give intriguing talks like king Solomon. Wisdom, biblically, includes discernment between good and evil with a  view towards the appropriate course of action and godly living, the combination of knowledge and practice.

Although the wisdom of Jesus can be found all throughout the Gospels, and the rest of the Bible as far as that goes since he is the eternal Divine Word, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is one of the most succinct summaries of Jesus’ wisdom teaching, which “astonished” the crowds (7:28-29).

To sum up his famous sermon, Jesus employs a parable of two different men, one wise, one foolish. Biblically, the fool is not someone who necessarily lacks knowledge, but one who fails to take the right course of action, what Jesus called the narrow way (7:13-14). In Jesus parable the wise man build his house on the rock, a solid foundation; the fool, on the other hand, builds on the shifting sands. The difference between the two is the wise one hears the words of Jesus and does them, the foolish man hears but does NOT do them. The later builds a life that cannot withstand the wind and waves of the coming judgment, whereas, the wise man will come through the judgment fine because of his solid foundation.

The words Jesus is referring to, most specifically in this context are the message he began to teach at the beginning of chapter 5, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The wind and the flood waves represent the final judgment, with entrance into the consummated kingdom of heaven at stake, not just the loss of extra rewards. This is made clear by the context of the immediately preceding warning about how to know true from false prophets and the warning that not everyone who professes Jesus to be Lord will enter into the kingdom (7:15-23). In fact some will be turned away as “workers of lawlessness”in spite of their claims to have exercised mighty gifts in the name of Jesus. But Jesus said you will know them by their fruits, meaning obedience to his commandments, not by powerful gifts, which could just be lying signs and wonders (see Matthew 24:24; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

Also, it is likely that the winds and waves standing for final judgment has in view the flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6-8), which Jesus would later use as an analogy for the final judgment yet to come (see Matthew 24:36-51).

Nevertheless, this little parable about the different building projects stands as the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, whose teachings make up the word of Jesus that the wise are to do. The significance of this is highlighted by the fact that He says, it is those who do the will of His Father in heaven who will enter into the kingdom of heaven (7:21).

A stroll through the Sermon on the Mount reveals what followers of Jesus are in terms of character, and how they should live as a result. The stroll doesn’t go on too long before you realize just how stringent the demands and expectations of Jesus are for his followers. Indeed the righteousness that Jesus demands of his followers surpasses that of some of the most devout religious people in his day, scribes and Pharisees, also a requirement for entering into the kingdom of heaven (see 5:17-20). Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and see it fulfilled in the lives and lifestyles of his followers (cf. Romans 8:1-11, especially noting v. 4).

His followers will be those who are poor in spirit, meaning humble. They are those who mourn, over the sin and brokenness in the world, including in them. They are meek to the word of God rather than the wisdom of the world as they hunger and thirst for righteousness rather than madly craving that which gratifies the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes. They are merciful and pure in heart, not driven by self-promotion and self-gratification. They are peacemakers, reconciled to God and neighbor. Persecution and slander do not deter them from the narrow path because their eyes are fixed on the eternal prize. They are salt and light for whose sake the earth is preserved and whose good works reveal to the nations the light of the one true God.

They are filled with love, compassion, and forgiveness, not hate, contempt, and condemnation. They are sexually chaste, in thought and action, in singleness and marriage as they radically mortify anything that tempts them to sin. In marriage they commit to God’s design for one man and one woman for life, as long as they both shall live, not as long as they feel like, or not just as long as no one “better” comes along (cf. Matthew 19). Their honesty lacks no integrity; special oaths are never required as they make no concessions to the idea that sometimes one must lie to get by. They are not people of personal vengeance; neither do they love only those who love them; they love friends and enemies alike and pray for the forgiveness of their persecutors. Indeed they are “perfect” as their “heavenly Father is perfect.”

They give to the needy, and pray and fast not to be seen and praised by peers, but to be secretly rewarded by God. Neither do they live for greed; rather they live to serve God because they pray for His will to be done not their own. They do not live for material wealth or worldly comforts of any kind; instead they seek God’s glory and kingdom and righteousness, not their own comfort and convenience. They judge others rightly and humbly not hypocritically and self-righteously in order to restore never to condone sin or to condemn sinners. And they are judicious and cautious with the sacred things of God.

The level of righteousness that Jesus demands can easily leave one wondering, “who then can be saved?” as His own disciples were once left wondering (Matthew 19:16-26). Truly it is humanly impossible, but thank God, “with God all things are possible.” The inner dispositions and the outward behaviors, all of them, that Jesus demands of his followers are impossible. No one can live up to those standards; no one can be or live that way on his or her own in this fallen world. So what are we to do?

Earlier this week I went to the funeral of my mother’s sister-in-law’s sister. At the funeral my aunt’s son-in-law, who was a member of the same church as the deceased, helped lead the service. He shared his testimony, how he came to know the Lord. He said, for years he ran from the Lord and avoided church. In his early 20’s he pulled a tiny Gideon’s Bible from the sock drawer where he had tossed it years before when he brought it home from school. He had never even cracked it open until that day. He said, he began reading in Matthew and it wasn’t long before he was feeling incredibly convicted, guilty, and quite hopeless because he realized that he did not have any of those things that Jesus was talking about, an he certainly wasn’t living like Jesus said he should be living. As Tim talked about how he was feeling I knew he was probably in the vicinity of Matthew 5, 6, and 7. I had been preaching about these very things for the past couple of weeks. He felt totally helpless under the weight of conviction that Jesus’ sermon had put him under. He was left wondering, “How could I possibly be saved?” “What can I do?”

Then he read these words:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11 ESV)

God gives what God demands! The “good things” Jesus is referring to here are the qualities and dispositions that make up the character of his true disciples who do the will of God from the heart with pure, kingdom seeking rather than self-seeking, motives.

The good life cannot be bought in a store or found in worldly acclaim and prestige. Neither can it be found in how well you eat and what you wear, not in delectable delights or in fashionable fashions in clothing or housing. The good life that Jesus is talking about comes from a good heart with all the wonderful motives and dispositions that only God the Father can give. And all we have to do is ask!

But that’s easier said than done. Because we will not ask if we don’t think we need it. We will not ask if we don’t really believe it’s possible. We will not ask if we don’t really believe Jesus is telling the truth, if we believe He is actually a liar or a lunatic rather than the Lord. In other words, we won’t beg and plead with God until we come to see that we are just poor, miserable, helpless and hopeless (in terms of self-sufficiency) beggars. But that’s what it takes to ask.

If we do ask, however, we will receive; if we will humbly seek, we shall find; if we do knock, God will open the door to the storehouse of heaven’s good things, starting with forgiveness, new birth, His righteousness, and the Holy Spirit and ending with the kingdom of God in the New Heaven and Earth.