Dear Good Shepherd,
Someone from Good Shepherd asked me very recently again why we ought to pray since God already knows what we need anyway.
First, prayer is not just asking God to meet our needs. That is certainly and necessarily included in prayer but prayer is far more comprehensive. It includes and involves praise/adoration, the confession of your sins, thanksgiving for God’s mercy, grace, and blessings, and prayers for other people. Prayer is the way God has provided for believers to relate to him personally. You speak to God from your heart. This ought not to be always through a written form of prayer which can become rote and stagnant. Prayer is a conversation. When you speak to someone you love your aim is to share your heart with them. When I speak to Anne I do not open a book and read to her. I just talk. And she speaks to me. Written prayers are fine and good but your prayer life ought to be broader and deeper than the Book of Common Prayer.
Second, God uses prayer to change you. When you open your heart to God in prayer, especially when you express your desires and longings, you give yourself over to him. You open the door to your mind, heart, and will. God uses prayer as one vehicle through which he moves you and changes you.
Prayer is a two way street. It involves listening as well as speaking. God speaks to you sometimes imperceptibly, through the movement of his Holy Spirit in your will and emotions so that over time you think and act and speak differently. Other times he speaks to you directly and perceptibly. He does this primarily though the bible which is why scripture is an important companion to your prayers. Often during prayer I’ll read a bible passage and the words will cut right to the center of my heart. They will seem to have been written specifically for me at that moment and to apply specifically to my circumstance. Other times he speaks to you through other believers. God uses other believers, especially in your local congregation, to correct, encourage, and help you stay on the path. Finally, God can sometimes speak directly to your heart during your prayer. His voice is not audible, but it is certainly recognizable. This form of communication is often difficult for new believers to grasp. But the more familiar you are with God’s Word, the more tuned your heart becomes to God’s Spirit so that, over time, God’s voice becomes increasingly recognizable.
Third: God’s purposes will be accomplished with or without us and yet, he has decided to include believers, include the Church, in his sovereign providential rule over the cosmos. God chooses, sometimes, to effect his will or bring his purposes to pass, through the mechanism or through the vehicle of our prayers.
God, for example, determined from the beginning of time to heal the lame man in Acts 3:1-10 but he used Peter to accomplish the healing. Peter’s words were not the source of the healing. God was. But God used Peter as the means. Prayer is one of the means God uses to accomplish his purposes. That means that the prayers you pray are vital to your life, to the life of the church and to the spread of the gospel. James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” That can be taken out of context and abused rather easily, but the truth to which James points is that God sometimes accomplishes his will through the prayers of his people.
So prayer is a means by which you communicate 1. praise, thanksgiving, your repentance, and your requests to God. 2 God effects change in you through your prayers. And 3, prayer is a means through which God allows believers to participate in his sovereign and eternal plan for the Church and the world.
But what about prayers that are not answered affirmatively? Since we do not always know God’s will, it is important to pray for whatever it is we think we need or others need and leave our requests with God. If the prayer is in accordance with his will, then, Jesus promises, you will receive what you ask for.
Often, as we’ve learned before, we think we are asking for good things, things we think we need, when in reality we are asking for something harmful or that is inconsistent with God’s character and purposes. Often we think we are asking for “fish” when we are in reality asking for a “snake” (Luke 11:11). It is important when faced with unanswered prayer to remember that God’s “no” is as good as his “yes”.
When one of my children comes to me with a request, I have to consider whether the fulfilling the request will result in goodness or harm for my child. It may, for example, make Rowan very happy to eat only Oreo cookies for the next three years of his life, but it would also mean very bad things for his overall health. No good parent says “yes” all the time. God is our infinitely wise and good Father. He loves you too much to say yes to all of your requests.
John Piper preaches on Unity and Truth
Spiediefest and Balloon Rally
The Lambeth Conference
Women’s Saturday Bible Study
Ministry Fair, Ingathering Sunday
Youth Update from Micah
Adult Education Series: Divisions in the Church
Sermons on the Podsite
Website Update: Our main website is still down with a virus. Until it is fixed or replaced, news will be posted here. Since this format is something like a blog, you might want to check here fairly regularly. It is easy to post news items, updates and articles and I will be doing so as much as possible. You may also notice that this temporary website has a “comments” option. If you would like to leave a comment after an Update or article, ask a question, or say anything at all that you don’t mind being published (it will show up publicly) just click on the comment button and comment away.
What Paul commands with the words avoid them, is not no contact at all, but the kind of contact that communicates life can go on as usual between us. It can’t. If you, as a professing Christian, persist in departing from the doctrine the apostles taught, we can’t simply hang out together like we used to.
False Teachers Seem Nice
That brings us finally to verse 18 and the two reasons Paul gives for why doctrinal vigilance is so important. Verse 18: “For such persons [that is, the persons who depart from the doctrine] do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”
Let’s take the second one first. Verse 18b: “By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” The word for flattery is simply blessing. And smooth talk doesn’t necessarily mean manifestly slippery. It just means pleasant and plausible. So the reason we must be so vigilant over biblical doctrine is that those who depart from it take simple people with them by pleasant, plausible speech that presents itself as a blessing. False teachers don’t get a following by being rough and harsh. They get a following by being nice.
Just take two examples from history: Arius (d. 336) and Socinus (d. 1604)—both of whom denied the deity of Christ. Parker Williamson describes Arius like this:
Here was a bright, energetic, attractive fellow, the kind of citizen whom any Rotary Club would welcome. Singing sea chanties in dockside pubs and teaching Bible stories to the Wednesday night faithful, this was an immensely popular man. His story reminds us that heresy does not bludgeon us into belief. We are seduced. (Parker T. Williamson, Standing Firm: Reclaiming the Chastain Faith in Times of Controversy [Lenoir, North Carolina: PLC Publications, 1996], p. 31.)
And another writer describes Socinus like this:
He was a gentleman. His morals were above reproach and he distinguished himself by his unfailing courtesy. Unfailing courtesy was remarkable in an age when even the great Protestant leaders, Luther and Calvin would use vile street language when arguing with their opponents.
This means that it will seldom be popular to resist false teachers in the church because they are almost always perceived as bringing a blessing and speaking with winsome words. They are gentlemen. And Paul says the innocent are carried away. Hence he says, “Watch out for them. And avoid them.”
Spiediefest and Balloon Rally: This week 390 pictures and bookmarks were sent out to visitors at our tent. Without the prayers and hard work of many people this event wouldn't have been successful. THANK YOU EVERYONE! (from Pat Chaney)
A Good Lambeth Conference Summary: This is perhaps one of the better responses to Lambeth yet written. It comes from an English bishop who was there. I have only one quibble with his assessment. He suggests that everything depends on the orthodox leaders cooperating with one another to help reform the church. I agree that orthodox cooperation is essential. But in truth only the Archbishop of Canterbury, at present, has the power to actually “do” anything substantive and so long as he refuses to act to discipline the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion will continue to experience fracture and turmoil.
Women’s Saturday Bible Study: Will be starting up again this Saturday. This bible study meets every week and all women are invited.
Cleaning Ministry: We are still in desperate need for one small group of people step into the cleaning ministry. The commitment would be to clean the church building once a month. If you are willing to help please contact the church office at 723-8032 or speak to Cookie Finch.
Ingathering Sunday is coming up the Sunday after Labor Day. For the last two years there has also been a missions and ministry fair which is an opportunity for those leading various ministries to recruit and for those who may not yet be involved in some form of Christian service to step up to the plate. If you head up a given ministry begin thinking about how you will design your display. More information about all of this will be coming soon.
Youth Update from Micah: Youth Group will be at the regular times this week: Sr. High, 6-8 (Sunday); Jr. High, 6-8 (Monday). Please remember to invite friends. Parents, please remember to offer rides and talk to the parents of visitors. Growing the youth group is a team effort. If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know as well: 607-621-2876. Please start thinking about what nights will work in the coming school year, as well, Junior High parents.
Adult Christian Education Series: Divisions in the Church: This Sunday we’ll continue our overview of the 39 Articles and ask, in particular, what set’s Anglican Christianity apart from other reformation era movements? What is “catholic” about Anglicanism and what is “reformed”? We’ll also take the opportunity to look more carefully at the Articles that have to do with scripture, the sacraments, worship, and the authority of the church. After our focus on Anglicanism we’ll turn increasingly (over about 4 sessions) to the state of the modern ecumenical movement. How have divisions in the church been healed and how have they increased?
Sermon Podcasts: Anne’s sermon from last week will be posted on the sermon podcast site. You can find almost all past sermons posted there as well.
Good News for the Week:
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:17-20)
Don’t forget to Bring a Friend to Church