Why We Pray For Government Leaders

…the Lord filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel (Ezra 6:22).

King Darius didn’t just allow the Israelites to worship God at the temple, he assisted them in reestablishing worship at the temple! He did this because God changed his attitude. 

Nearly 60 years later, King Artaxerxes did the same thing for Ezra: “the king had granted him everything he asked for, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him” (7:6). Artaxerxes gave Ezra and the returning Israelite exiles…

  • … authority 
  • … provisions 
  • … tax exemptions (vv. 14, 20-22, 24) 

Ezra says again that this was all due to God putting this in Artaxerxes’ heart: Praise be to the Lord, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem this way (vv. 27-28).

Daniel declares that all of the world leaders are in that position of leadership because God placed them there. The apostle Paul teaches us that government officials are God’s servants and that we are to pray for them (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). 

God can change the attitude of even the most hard-hearted, godless leader. Not just change their attitude, but give God’s people favor with that leader. 

Don’t become frustrated—pray. 

Don’t get discouraged—pray. 

Pray, pray, pray for all of God’s servants who are in leadership over us. God has a plan. All of history is His story, and He will change attitudes so that His servants fulfill His plan. 

Fear’s Invitation

Have you ever had a really good scare? Maybe in the dark or when you were young? Then in the light or as you got older you thought, “Why was I afraid of that?” Our relief came from the fact that we think we know more. But here’s the problem: there is a difference between a healthy fear and an unhealthy fear, so not every fear is something we should try to alleviate.

Sometimes we treat too lightly the things that are really quite powerful. Consider the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem. There are more angels sent by God surrounding this one event than anywhere else in all the Bible. Yet all four angelic appearances have the same message: “Do not be afraid.” 

Why would people fear what we now celebrate as such a joyous event? I think it’s because God Himself—the All-Holy Creator of the Universe—is coming near to sinful man (see John 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:15-16). 

God is holy, and His holiness is unapproachable by sin. At the exact same moment, God is love, and His love desires for us to approach Him. We cannot make this happen on our own, which leads to more fear. 

Thankfully for us, God Himself has provided the way for sinful man to approach His awesome, unapproachable holiness!  

In the Greek language of the New Testament phobeō is the main word for “fear.” This word can be defined as either fleeing from a terrible thing or clinging in obedience to an awesomely reverent thing. Jesus said the same things when He told us, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him” (Luke 12:4-5). 

In the Advent story, the first appearance of “Do not be afraid” is when an angel appears to Zechariah. Why would Zechariah be so afraid at the approach of God? I think there may have been three reasons: 

  • Herod was king—making the society Zechariah lived in politicized and irreligious 
  • Zechariah was without a priestly heir to carry on his family name 
  • his wife Elizabeth may have sinned—at least that’s what people would have whispered about her barrenness 

All of this added up to Zechariah feeling like God was displeased with them and that He was only coming close to bring fiery judgment. 

The angel told Zechariah not to fear because “your prayer has been heard.” In other words, “I am inviting you to trust in what God HAS already done versus trusting in what you might or might not be able to do on your own.” Phobeō was an invitation to choose reverential obedience (holy fear) of the eternal over the terror of the temporal. 

Sadly, Zechariah initially clung to the negative phobeō. Yet after Elizabeth did conceive and John was born, this was transformed into holy, reverential fear, as heard in the Spirit-inspired song he sang. Notice in Luke 1:67-75 Zechariah’s emphasis on all that God has done: He has come, He has redeemed, He has raised, He said, He has kept His covenant, He has rescued, He has enabled.  

Have you put yourself in the category of “unworthy of God’s favor”? Has fear crippled you—like it had done with Zechariah—from continuing to pray, believe, and try? 

Fear is an invitation to evaluate in who or in what I have placed my trust.

I invite you to accept the invitation to take your eyes off the temporary and put them on the Eternal One. “…The time is coming quickly, and what I show you will come true. It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed. (Habakkuk 2:3 GNT) 

Check out the other messages in this Do Not Be Afraid series by clicking here. 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—The Assurance In Christ’s Ascension

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

The Assurance In Christ’s Ascension

     Our Savior descended when He came to the manger of Bethlehem, and further descended when He became ‘a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3). He descended lower still when He was obedient to death, even the death of the Cross—and further yet when His dead body was laid in the grave. … Long and dark was the descent. There were no depths of humiliation, temptation, or affliction that He did not fathom. …  

     The time came for our Lord to continue His homeward, upward journey and return to the glory from which He had come down. From the Mount of Olives, ‘while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight’ (Acts 1:9). The rest of His upward progress we cannot describe. Imagination and faith step in and conceive of Him as rising beyond all regions known to us, far above all imaginable height. … 

     How high He ascended after He passed the pearly portal Paul cannot tell us, save that he says God ‘seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion’ (Ephesians 1:20-21). He describes our Master as ‘dwelling in unapproachable light’ (1 Timothy 6:16). The Man Christ Jesus has gone back to the place from where His Godhead came! …

     We are sure that the purpose of His love is secure or He would not have returned to His rest. The love that brought Him here would have kept Him here if all things necessary for our salvation had not been finished. …

     Remember that His assent to the Father is representative. Every believer rose with Him and grasped the inheritance. When He rose up, ascending on high, He taught our feet the way. At the last His people will be caught up together with the Lord in the air, and so will they be forever with the Lord. He has made a stairway for His saints to climb to their bliss, and He has traveled it Himself to assure us that the new and living way is available for us. In His ascension He bore all His people with Him.

From Our Lord’s Triumphant Ascension

Jesus told His Father that He had completed everything He was sent to complete (John 17:4). John also says that Christ’s “It is finished” cry from the Cross also marked the completion of everything that had been prophesied about Jesus (John 19:28-30). 

Such amazing love brought Jesus to earth! And His steadfast love also made sure that He left absolutely nothing undone that was needed for our salvation! 

There’s now no reason for us to live fearful or anxious or skeptical about what is coming next. When Jesus says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” and when He promises that He has gone to prepare a place for us to bring us to be with Him, He has demonstrated His authority to make these claims in His death, resurrection, and ascension. 

Oh my friends, live every day in that glorious assurance!

Prayer Expectations

Many of our prayers could be much bolder and much more specific than they are. Why is that? Because how we view God is going to determine what we pray and what we expect after we pray.

When we pray, we approach an All-Loving Father, and we approach an All-Powerful God. I have found that typically people get warmed by the idea of Father and get scared by the idea of God. They say things like: “What if my prayers don’t hallow God’s name? What if He’s mad at me? What if I pray an improper prayer?” 

God wants us to come to Him in prayer, so He makes Himself very accessible! The Father is both Father and God; the Son is both Friend and King; the Spirit is both Comforter and Convictor. We get ALL of this in One God. 

Charles Spurgeon had this word of encouragement: “If You are my Father, then You love me. If I am Your child, then You will regard me, and poor though my language is, You will not despise it.” Jesus came to earth fully God and fully man, making Him our perfect intermediary (see Job 9:32-35; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25). And the Holy Spirit helps interpret our groaning prayers (Romans 8:26-27). 

Have you ever noticed that neither the prophets of the Old Testament, nor Jesus in the Gospels, nor the apostles in the New Testament ever prayed, “God, if this is Your will please do such-and-such”? They simply prayed. Or more accurately, they prayed so boldly and specifically it almost sounded like a command: “Stand up” or “Be clean” or “Go, your prayer has been answered.” 

When you and I are praying to an All-Loving and All-Powerful Father, with Jesus interceding for us, and the Spirit helping us, we too can pray these bold and highly specific prayers. 

After all, if you don’t pray specifically and expectantly, how will you know when your prayer is answered? 

I find John Piper’s acrostic very helpful in praying these bold and expectant prayers. He calls it APTAT: 

  • A—Admit I can’t do anything without Christ. This hallows His Name. 
  • P—Pray for help to do it. 
  • T—Trust a specific promise of God to help me (two general promises are found in Isaiah 41:10 and Romans 8:32). 
  • A—Act. Do the things I need to do: apply for the job, ask forgiveness, schedule a meeting. 
  • T—Thank Him when I’m done. 

Two final thoughts—

  1. Make prayer more of a listening relationship than a talking relationship. 
  2. Give yourself some grace as you are maturing; don’t expect immediate perfection. Start praying and then let the Father, the Son, and the Spirit help you mature in your prayer life. 

I hope you can join me this Sunday as we continue to work on our plans to pray.

Godly Leaders Need (+) Desires

…if someone desires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position (1 Timothy 3:1). 

Desires—Paul uses two different Greek words for this one English word. The first word is orego. In the (+) sense it means to stretch out in order to grasp something. In the (-) sense it means to give one’s self up to the love of money.

The second word is epithymeo. In the (+) sense it means to long for a good thing (see Matthew 13:17; Luke 22:15). In the (-) sense it means to covet what is forbidden (see Matthew 5:28; James 4:2).

So (+) or (-) leadership comes down to desire. If I want a leadership position for what I can get, that is a (-) desire. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them… (Jeremiah 45:5). 

But if I desire a leadership position for what I can give, that is a (+) desire. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:43-45). 

With these differing desires in mind, the list of qualifications for church leaders in verses 2-7 and 8-13 should be viewed through the (+)/(-) desire lenses:

  • Why should I be above reproach: (-) so that I can get something, or (+) so that I can serve others better?
  • Why should I be faithful in marriage: (-) so that I look good, or (+) so that I am strengthened by my spouse to serve? 
  • Why should I be temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, sober, gentle, agreeable, content, and so on? The answers to those questions determine what desire I have.

A godly leader desires to glorify God and serve others, so a godly leader willingly submits to the Holy Spirit to address any area of (-) desire that may derail the God-honoring (+) desires. Just as Jesus is the Ultimate Servant-leader, I too must “have the same mind as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

A mark of a godly leader is one who desires leadership with a (+) desire.

This is part 43 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Hallowed Be Your Name

Jesus was once asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He responded by saying, “The Lord our God, the Lord is One,” and then saying we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (which fulfills the first four of the Ten Commandments), and then love our neighbor as ourselves (which fulfills the next six of the Commandments).

To live this way, we need to pray this way too! That’s why Jesus taught us a model prayer—which we typically call “The Lord’s Prayer”—in which the first three petitions are for God’s glory (hallowed be Your name; Your kingdom come; Your will be done), and the next three petitions are for man’s help (daily bread, forgiveness, victory over temptation). 

Jesus says we can pray to our Heavenly Father, but we still need to remember that He is also the God of the Hallowed Name. The Greek word for hallowed is made up of two other Greek words: 

  • hagnos is something totally immaculate, blindingly pure, and unapproachable. The apostle Paul said this about God: Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on His way. He’ll show up right on time, His arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He’s the only one death can’t touch, His light so bright no one can get close. He’s never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can’t take Him in! Honor to Him, and eternal rule! (1 Timothy 6:15-16) 
  • thalpo means cherished. The same apostle Paul also said that God has given us the right to approach Him as “Abba, Father” or “Daddy, God” (Romans 8:15). 

He is both unapproachable and approachable. He is both awful and lovable. He is both Supreme power and Supreme love. He is both Hallowed and Father. He is unique. Since He is unique, we must approach Him uniquely in holy prayer. But we must always approach first and foremost to reverence His holy Name. As Matthew Henry said, “Let Him have the praise of His perfections, and then let us have the benefit of them.” 

Think of His glory in every request you make of Him. Father, may Your holy, righteous name be hallowed and exalted and made famous as You…

  • … provide my daily bread
  • … forgive me and help me forgive others
  • … give me victory over temptations

Let’s not pray prayers that rob God of His glory. Prayers like:

  • Selfish prayers that are all about me, me, me
  • Doubtful prayers that aren’t really sure God can help
  • Little prayers that insult God’s power and His love
  • Unexpectant prayers that ask God to do something, but we don’t really expect that He will

Let’s be known as people who pray confidently humble prayers. Let’s come to a Father Who is All-Love and to a God Who is All-Powerful—a God Whose power is perfectly balanced by His love, and Whose love is perfectly balanced by His power. May our prayers HALLOW His name! 

Join me this Sunday as we continue to learn more about prayer. 

My Conscience

…my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit (Romans 9:1). 

Conscience is that God-implanted part of a human soul that can distinguish between…

  • …the morally good and the morally bad 
  • …the things that attract God’s presence and the things that repel God’s presence
  • …commending things and condemning things
  • …the things that please the Holy Spirit and the things that grieve the Holy Spirit

Sin corrupts a conscience. Sin tries to blur the lines between good and evil. Sin looks for loopholes. 

Paul said his conscience was aligned with the Holy Spirit—my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit. 

The word for witness is the Greek word martyreo. Martyreo helps me distinguish because of personal experience OR divine revelation. In the case of a Holy Spirit-baptized Christian, it isn’t OR, it’s AND. Jesus used the same word when He said the baptism in the Spirit would empower His followers to be martyreo (Acts 1:8). 

The Holy Spirit aligns my conscience with God’s righteousness. The Spirit grieves when I fall short, and He rejoices when I obey. 

Following the other uses of martyreo in the New Testament, we can see that a Spirit-aligned conscience…

Can you say with Paul, “My conscience is aligned with the Holy Spirit”? You can if you make it a daily habit to listen for the Spirit’s voice and then obey His promptings. 

Don’t let sin corrupt your conscience, but let the Holy Spirit align your conscience with God’s righteousness. 

Fight Or Flee?

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith… (1 Timothy 6:11-12). 

Psychologists tell us that when faced with certain situations our bodies instinctively prepared to fight or flight. Knowing which situations to fight and which to run from are crucial for living a long and productive life. 

It’s no different in the spiritual realm. 

Christian leaders must know which things are worth the fight, and which things they simply must flee. To flee from things we should fight shows a lack of courage. But to try to fight the things we should run from shows a lack of wisdom. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who knows what to fight and what to flee.

Three things you must FIGHT for…

  1. …the purity of the true faith (1 Timothy 6:12; Jude 1:3)
  2. …the disempowered (Proverbs 31:8-9; Matthew 21:12-13)
  3. …the devil (1 Peter 5:9; James 4:7; Ephesians 6:11) 

Three things you must FLEE from…

  1. …idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14)
  2. …sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:18; Genesis 39:12)
  3. …earthly riches (1 Timothy 6:9-11)

Don’t try to fight the things you must flee from, and don’t run away from the things you must fight for. Pray for God’s wisdom to know which is which. 

This is part 29 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Christian Citizenship = Stewardship

“For the Christian, citizenship is about stewardship. That’s especially true in a country where our most important governing document begins with ‘We the People.’ That means we have a lot of responsibility. …  

“God has ordained a government as one way that He shows grace to all people. Government should recognize the God-given duty of human beings and respect the roles and responsibilities of family and church. Government is to keep the peace through the rule of law and to use force to punish those who break it. The role of government is to maintain justice and peace in society so other institutions, especially the family in the church, can do what they are designed to do. …

“Christians should enter the public square with a biblically shaped perspective. To apply a Christian worldview to questions of public policy is not exercising self-interest. It is simply serving our neighbor by testifying to the way God has made the world.” —Jennifer A. Marshall 

For the Christian, citizenship is about stewarding the responsibilities God has given us to the countries in which we live. Those include things like:

  1. Showing proper respect to those in leadership positions (Romans 13:1-6)
  2. Submitting like we’re servants of the King of kings (1 Peter 2:13-17)
  3. Praying for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
  4. Voting for those people who uphold biblical principles

“All the opportunity for self-government through the rule of the people depends upon one single factor. That is the ballot box. . . . The people of our country are sovereign. If they do not vote they abdicate that sovereignty, and they may be entirely sure that if they relinquish it other forces will seize it, and if they fail to govern themselves some other power will rise up to govern them.” —President Calvin Coolidge

A.L.I.V.E.—The “E” Is For Engagement Of Christ’s Followers

Let’s get some insight into the Greco-Roman and Jewish mindsets of the first century AD. Specifically, the mindset of men. 

There is a well-known letter written June 17, 1 BC, from a man named Hilarion, who was gone off to Alexandria, to his wife Alis, whom he has left at home. He writes to her: “If—good luck to you—you bear a child, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out.” This letter captures the male-dominated mindset in the Roman world concerning women and children. In a word: inferior or even disposable. 

This mindset wasn’t limited to the world the Jews called “pagan,” but it was prevalent in Judaism too. Every day Jewish men began their morning prayer time with, “God, I thank You that You did not make me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” 

With this background, it makes it startling that a Jewish man (who prayed that prayer thousands of times) writing to people in Rome (who undoubtedly had the same mindset as Hilarion), begins his list of thank you notes with gratitude to two women! Paul goes on to list no less than 8 women, even giving preferential treatment to a wife (Priscilla) over her husband (Aquila) when he mentions her name first! (see Romans 16:1-4, 6, 12).

William Barclay wrote, “Anyone who asks the question: ‘What has Christianity done for the world?’ has delivered himself into a Christian debater’s hands. There is nothing in history so unanswerably demonstrable as the transforming power of Christianity and of Christ on the individual life and on the life of society.”

Indeed Christians changed the lives of at least four groups:

  1. Women (especially in the role of marriage)—divorce was so common that it was neither unusual nor particularly blameworthy for a woman to have a new husband every year. Yet Christians taught men to esteem their wives and for marriage to be honored by everyone (Ephesians 5:28; Hebrews 13:4). 
  2. Children—who weren’t even considered a part of the family until they had grown up and proven their worth to the father. Yet Christians taught fathers to nurture their children (Ephesians 6:4).
  3. Senior citizens—the pragmatic Romans had little to do with those they considered less valuable. But the first blind asylum was founded by Thalasius, a Christian monk; the first free medical dispensary was founded by Apollonius, a Christian merchant; the first hospital of which there is any record was founded by Fabiola, a Christian lady.
  4. The weak and sick—when a plague hit Rome, all the young, healthy people left the sick and elderly behind. They ran away, but the Christians stayed to help. The Christians taught that everyone (regardless of age, sex, or wealth) was valuable (1 Timothy 5:1-2). 

That was just the start of Christianity. Men like William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln were Christians who opposed slavery; Clara Barton was nicknamed “the angel of the battlefield” and founded the Red Cross; Paul Brand was a doctor who ran to leprosy patients when everyone else shunned them; Mother Teresa loved those poor, dying souls whom others ignored. 

So what’s your conclusion? Throughout history Christians have been martyred for their faith, but not only are they willing to die for their belief that Jesus is alive, but they continue to do good to those who persecute them. Would people do this to perpetuate a hoax? Or does this sound more like the real deal?

Please check out the other evidence I have presented for the resurrection of Jesus:

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