My Unique New Year’s Resolution

As we conclude another Christmas season, people will be gearing themselves for the New Year. Many people will set for themselves resolutions for the upcoming year. While I most certainly will, like most Americans, seek to get in more exercise and limit those unnecessary, excess calories, I have set for myself a resolution that I would encourage you to set, as well. This resolution is not like most others that will be made. It is not a resolution that necessarily will earn a person more money. Likewise, it isn’t a resolution that will be provide great career success…although it may benefit both the aforementioned areas. The resolution I am making is quite simple: I am making the resolution to listen more. But why listening?

We live in a busy, busy world. It is a world of sound bites. No one takes the time to carefully reason through the information given to them. If something sounds clever, it is automatically taken to be astute. If something is derogatory, it is celebrated. In the process, gossip has been elevated to Gospel and tall-tales into truth. While all this noise has inundated us, we have since lost the ability to truly listen. The more I think about this resolution, the greater importance it begins to carry. Listening is important for several reasons.

  1. Listening keeps a person from misrepresenting another’s viewpoint.

No one likes to be misunderstood or misrepresented. Yet, so often, individuals jump to conclusions when another person holds a differing viewpoint. Much of this misunderstanding could be avoided if people would relearn the art of listening. For instance: recently I was on social media discussing a particular issue occurring within my own denomination. A few individuals verbally attacked me, claiming that I would have been against a popular civil rights leader and was an ultra-right-wing nut job. While I am exaggerating some, I am not by much. People so desire to prove their points that they fail to take into account what another person from a differing viewpoint may really be trying to say. I have been guilty of doing the same. By failing to listen, I misunderstood what others have said. In fact, I have found that some opposing views were closer akin to my own when I finally stopped to thoroughly listen. The art of listening helps us avoid misapplying and/or misrepresenting another person’s views.

  1. Listening helps a person see bias.

Everyone holds a bias—everyone. While we do not want to misrepresent another person’s perspective, the art of listening allows a person to see the argument as it is, while observing the bias held by the person offering the argument. The wise communicator will see through the foggy façade and into the heart of the issue at hand. By doing this, the person will be able to have a better grip on why the opposing person holds the view that they do, which, in turn, will help the communicator engage the true, underlying problem—something especially important for apologists.

  1. Listening guards a person in truth.

Listening and observing will help the communicator better find the truth. For instance, I read an article concerning the educational systems in the 48 continental states. The state where I reside held a far lower ranking than other states in the nation. While this was depressing at first, I stopped to truly read and listen to all the data presented. I found the states that held the highest scores only tallied 15% of the state’s system, whereas the schools that were lower-ranked tallied 100% of the schools in those states. Not only did this show a bias in the report, the art of listening and observing truly revealed the truth; the truth that the educational system in my state was not as bad as the report indicated. The same is true in all communication. Simply listening to the information presented helps a person discern the truth from fiction.

  1. Listening drives a conversation.

Listening is vital to communication. Dialogue requires two or more people conversing. If one person does all the speaking, then the form of communication represented is not a dialogue, but rather a monologue—that is, a lecture or sermon. While lectures and sermons hold their place (being a pastor, I would certainly argue that they would), communication requires two people willing to listen to the other. Person A speaks while person B listens. Then, person B speaks while person A listens.

Often in our communication classes, we promote the importance of styles of speech and manners of persuasion. However, an equally important factor is the ability to listen and observe. If society loses its ability to listen, all we have, then, is a group of talking heads with no one to listen to any.

  1. Listening educates a person.

Listening educates. When a person takes a class, he or she will listen and learn the information given to them. Listening trains a person in what is healthy and good from what is unhealthy and bad. If people simply seek to speak, they will fail to truly learn. Jesus’ disciples had to first listen and learn from him before they were ready to preach and teach. In order for one to teach, one must first learn to listen. Before one is ready to lead, one must first learn to follow.

Conclusion

            As a father, I have sought to teach my son the importance of listening. My son is a wonderful boy. He is extremely gregarious, extroverted, personable, and highly intelligent. For me, I am a typical INTJ (introverted, intuitive, a thinker, and judger–a planner, not spontaneous). Some have called my personality one of a reserved strategist or tactician. Perhaps. My son would fit the category of an ESTJ (extroverted, sensory, thinker, and judger), quite a leader’s personality. Being an extrovert, my son finds it more difficult to stop and listen. Thus, I have been focused upon teaching him the value of listening. Yet, if I am to be successful at this endeavor, I must set a good example for him by being a good listener myself. I cannot expect him to be a good listener if I fail at being a good listener. I hope to find added benefits to strengthening my listening skills along the way. While I will certainly set other resolutions for this 2017, becoming a better listener will hold a high spot on that list. Let it be said, the Christian apologist would do well to strengthen his/her listening skills. The benefits noted in this article especially relates to the apologetic enterprise.

© 12/26/2016. Brian Chilton.

The Importance of Relationships in Apologetics and Evangelism

This past week, God has shown me through multiple avenues the importance of relationships. I listened to Garrett DeWeese’s lecture on “Solving the Problem of Evil” and in that lecture DeWeese addresses the importance of relationships. Also, I had a wonderful conversation with Chaplain Jason Kline as he discussed relational apologetics, that is involving relationships in one’s apologetic presentation.[1]

Often times, people think of apologetics as being a “heady, intellectual” pursuit, unconcerned about matters of the heart. While apologetics concerns itself with intellectual matters and the training of the mind, one must understand that apologetics is a branch of a larger spectrum of evangelism. A strong argument could be made that apologetics is part of one’s discipleship effort too as one must be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2).[2]

Seeing that apologetics is often intellectual, it is easy for one to lose sight of the greater challenge and the greater goal: not winning arguments, but winning souls for Christ. For this to take place, the apologist must understand the great value of relationships. These relationships should include three things.

  1. The presence of love must be included in one’s relational apologetic.

          Christian leaders should understand the great damage that has been done by the anti-intellectual movement that invaded the church beginning in the 19th century. Modern heresies that have entered the church are a direct result of the emphasis placed on the heart rather than the head. But on the other hand, the apologist, in one’s quest to emphasize the intellectual pursuits of the faith, must not neglect the heart entirely especially as it relates to love. A strong head and weak heart leads to a sterile, emotionless shell of what the Christian life should be. It is a firepit with the wood and coals properly placed, yet without a flame providing heat. What’s the point of a firepit with no fire?

Paul warns vehemently that “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). If I have a strong apologetic with no love, then I am just another “talking head.” Apologist, do you love the person you are conversing with? If not, you may want to step out of the conversation until you have the loving flames of the Holy Spirit burning within your heart.

  1. The presence of listening must be included in one’s relational apologetic.

           In my conversation with Kline as well as DeWeese’s lecture, I was reminded of the great value in listening. DeWeese noted that with Job, “Job’s friends were appalled at the conditions Job faced. They sat with Job silently for 7 days, but it all went downhill from there. Their silence, tears, and ministering to Job helped him more than their words.”[3] As apologists we must use our words to proclaim and defend the faith. But we cannot sacrifice a listening ear in order to do so.

I am from the Southeastern United States. While not as prevalent today, it used to be commonplace to find a group of men gathered around a popular restaurant and/or storefront talking about the issues of the day. My grandpa, Roy Chilton, was a child of the Depression Era and served in World War II. In his time, they had no Facebook, Instagram, or instant messenger. Rather, they had the local gathering place. In my younger years, he took me with him to visit some of his friends at one particular person’s welding shop. The thing to remember about these conversations is that many of the stories become “tall tales;” fun stories based on truth, but exaggerated to make the story sound more appealing. “Conversation” is a loose term to be used in this environment as most of the “conversations” turned into a competition for who could tell the greatest tale. I noticed that Grandpa would not so much listen to what was being said by another as much as he was preparing his next story. Others would do the same.

Apologists should use caution against the use of the same practice. If we are simply preparing our next argument without truly listening to the objections being made, then it is highly likely to miss the objection entirely and leave the seeker more antagonistic in the end. As my grandmother, Eva Chilton, used to say (and it may have been partly directed towards Grandpa), “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason; so that we’ll listen twice as much as we speak.”

  1. The presence of longing must be included in one’s relational apologetic.

What is the apologist’s goal? What is one in apologetics anyhow? Is it the goal of the person to appear smart and intelligent? Is it the person’s goal to show how many books he or she has read? Or is a person in apologetics simply to join a particular community? Intelligence and community are important matters. However, the goal of the apologist if based on relationships must be to clear the path for the Holy Spirit to operate. It is an evangelistic affair. The Westminster Confession of Faith proclaims that “the chief end of man is to glorify God.” To borrow Westminster’s verbiage, the chief end of apologetics is to win souls for Christ. Does the apologist long to see the person with whom they are conversing come to know Christ? Or is the person simply using the arguments as a means of intellectual chess? A strong argument is nothing without the wooing presence of the Holy Spirit. This means that the apologist, if effective, must be a person of prayer, consistently seeking after and desiring God.

Conclusion

Apologetics is a branch of evangelism. Evangelism seeks to persuade people to accept Christ as their Savior. Therefore, apologetics must seek to persuade people to accept Christ as their Savior. If Christ has truly died for the sins of humanity and has truly risen from the dead according to the Scriptures, then the apologist’s intention must be to see others come to know the reality that is Christ and the salvation that comes from a covenant relationship with Him. Let’s be brutally honest. Sometimes we as apologists can become so involved in apologetics that we come off as jerks to those in which we are trying to minister. For me, guilty as charged. The church needs apologetics. The church needs apologists!!! The church is never going to accept the apologist if he/she consistently berates the pastor or those who are not onboard. If this is true of the church, the lost person will certainly not desire to listen to any apologist (regardless of their credentials) if the apologist comes off as obstinate or emotionless. Remember, Jesus was the greatest apologist of all and He spent a great amount of time building relationships. Apologetics without meaningful relationships often becomes valueless.

© June 20, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] The conversation with Chaplain Jason Kline can be found at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2016/06/20/relational-apologetics-with-pastor-apologist-and-chaplain-jason-kline.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Garrett DeWeese, “Solving the Problem of Evil,” Biola University, lecture notes, 10.

God Can Fix This: The Role of Prayer and Service

Recently, theDaily News New York Daily Times had on its cover the words “God Isn’t Fixing This.” The cover was quite deceptive as the article was more of a political rant than a religious polemic. Rich Schapiro, the writer of the article associated with the cover, argues that “Democrats—even those not running for office—slammed the GOP presidential candidates for offering prayers instead of action” (Schapiro 2015). While I will leave the political innuendos to the exchange of pundits in the field; as a theologian and pastor, I feel that I need to address the issue of prayer as it relates to service. Walter A. Elwell notes that “both Testaments insist that while prayer and service are not to be equated with each other, they are also not to be separated from each other. With this insistence goes the belief that only the prayer of the righteous is efficacious (Prov. 15:29)” (Elwell 1996, Logos). I believe that prayer propels the person of faith to do great things for the Lord. The Scriptures provide at least 5 ways that prayer impacts the service of the believer.

Prayer provides trust to serve.

In 1 Chronicles, it is shown that prayer provides the trust necessary to do incredible things for God. The chronicler writes that “when they prevailed over them, the Hagrites and all who were with them were given into their hands, for they cried out to God in the battle, and he granted their urgent plea because they trusted in him” (1 Chronicles 5:20).[1] Their victory came by the trust that they held in God, but it was a trust that moved the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 5:18) to serve. James also notes that the “prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:15-16). Note two important elements in the preceding passage. First, prayer was based on one’s trust in God. Second, the faith of the praying persons lead the people to action. Thus, a faithful prayer life provides one with the trust in God to serve.

Prayer provides encouragement to serve.

Luke notes that the Lord “said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10). Because Paul was a man of prayer, God spoke to Paul and provided him with encouragement to go and serve. This encouragement may also address the change of mind that takes place in the person of faith. When a person commits him or herself to prayer, God begins to change the mindset of the person (Romans 12:2). The person of faith begins to see people the way God sees them. This will move the person of faith to action in order to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17).

Prayer provides direction to serve.

People often want to see action. They want to see results. “Do something! Anything!” Such is the mindset of many. However, it is easy for a person to move in the wrong direction if they are not careful. When speaking of cutting wood for a construction project, my grandpa always advised, “Measure twice, cut once.” This means that a person needs to make sure that what they are doing is correct before taking action. Prayer provides direction. Luke notes that “the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot’” (Acts 8:29). Why? An Ethiopian eunuch was contemplating the meaning of Isaiah 53:7, 8. Philip was able to lead the eunuch to a saving faith in Christ. Why? It was because Philip was led by the Holy Spirit in the right direction. The Scriptures warn that “where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained” (Proverbs 29:18, NASB).[2] Thus, prayer provides us insight and direction as the Holy Spirit leads us. In stark contrast, a lack of prayer may lead one to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

Prayer provides empowerment to serve.

Prayer is essential, in fact critical, if one is to see anything great accomplished. Why? It is because God provides empowerment to the believer to serve in extraordinary ways. Paul notes that “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-16).

As a pastor, I have seen many people perform extraordinary accomplishments due to the empowerment of God. I remember a woman named Gaynelle. Gaynelle suffered from many afflictions. As fate would have it, her husband suffered dementia. Gaynelle’s husband fell and broke his hip. Her husband had to be placed in a nursing home where he could receive appropriate care. Gaynelle, despite suffering numerous physical maladies, drove countless miles each day to spend time with her husband. After her husband died, everyone asked her, “How were you able to do so much for your husband while being so sick?” She replied, “I prayed and God gave me strength to serve.” Gaynelle is but one example of prayer’s empowering capability.

Prayer provides opportunities to serve.

Luke notes that when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch in Syria, they gathered the church together and “declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). Jesus says to the Church of Philadelphia, “I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close” (Revelation 3:8, HCSB).[3] By prayer, God provides doors of opportunity. A person who is seeking to switch jobs does not want to proverbially “jump from the frying pan into the fire.” Rather, a person of faith will desire to follow the will and plan of God. Prayer provides the means of opportunity as God opens the eyes of the believer to the given opportunities at hand. Opportunities lead one to a chance to serve.

Conclusion

So, let us ask the question again; does prayer counteract action? Obviously not! Rich Schapiro obviously does not understand the biblical concept of prayer. Prayer and service are not antagonistic rivals. Rather, prayer and service—while not the same—are complementary. Prayer leads to great means of service. So, when we say, “You are in our thoughts and prayers,” one should not presuppose that service is negated. Rather, the believer is literally saying, “I pray that God gives you comfort in your time of need.” I make no political commentary for either side of the American political paradigm that Schapiro referenced. That being said, perhaps Schapiro is correct in noting that we cannot allow prayer to supplant action. Even James notes that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). However, we cannot allow action to override the importance of prayer either. Instead of demanding that one choose between prayer and service, or demeaning the practice of prayer; why not accept the biblical model realizing that prayer and service coincide? Could it not be that God will fix the issues of society by people of faith? Could it not be that God will use the prayers of the faithful to propel them to service?

 

© December 6, 2015. Brian Chilton

 

Sources Cited:

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996. Logos Bible Software.

Schapiro, Rich. “GOP Presidential Candidates Offer Prayers—Not Solutions on Gun Control—after San Bernardino Massacre.” New York Daily News.com (December 3, 2015). Accessed December 6, 2015. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/gop-candidates-call-prayers-calf-massacre-article-1.2453261.

 

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Scriptures marked NASB come from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[3] Scriptures marked HCSB comes from the Holman Christian Standard Version (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

Seven Reasons Why Prayer is Important

Prayer is one characteristics that is shared among many world religions and philosophies.  In the end, the key difference is the recipient of the prayer.  But what is prayer?  Why is prayer important?  Why do speakers, teachers, and religious leaders emphasize the importance of prayer?  Books have been written on prayer.  Even Jesus gave a model prayer by which we should pray.  Prayer is emphasized because prayer is a very important practice.  Not only can prayer bring spiritual support, prayer can also benefit a person mentally and physically.  In this article, seven reasons will be listed in why prayer is an important practice, beginning with the most obvious reason.

1.     Prayer is Important Because it is Communication with God.

Many religious leaders spoke of prayer, but Jesus not only spoke of prayer, He prayed regularly.  The example of Jesus’ prayer life is seen in Luke, “It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12, NASB).  Jesus was about to select 12 men to be His disciples.  Before He made this decision, He consulted with the Father.  Jesus did so because prayer is communication.

When many couples attend marriage counseling, one of the key areas that is promoted is communication.  How well do the individuals in marriage communicate with one another?  Communication is vital to the Christian, as well.  This is our time with God.  Recent studies have shown that most American pastors only spend about 7 minutes in prayer a day (Dave Earley Video, Liberty University, 2011).  This is not enough.  It can only be assumed that the average congregant spends less time with God.  No wonder we feel as if we do not feel the presence of God.  It is not because God moved.  It is because you did.  Prayer in its purest form is communication with God.  Just as you speak to a parent or a friend, you can communicate with God.  God hears and will respond according to God’s will.  Are you communicating with God the way you should?  There is another reason why prayer is important.

2.     Prayer is Important Because it is the Way to Give Thanks.

Before Jesus fed the 5,000 (more like 20,000 as only the men were counted), Jesus gave thanks.  Matthew, an eyewitness to the event, recorded, “He took the seven loaves and the fish; and giving thanks, He broke them and started giving them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people” (Matthew 15:36, NASB).  Later, John records boats coming from the place where the Lord had given thanks, referring to the place where Jesus performed the miracle.  John writes, “There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks” (John 6:23, NASB).

In our time, one is hard-pressed to find anyone truly thankful for anything.  It seems that individuals are more concentrated on what they do not have rather than what they do have.  There can be found no rest nor contentment for such a person.  However, if we really concentrate on what we have been given, we all have a reason to give God thanks.  Yes life is not perfect.  But, God has given us life.  He has revealed Himself to us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  He has given us food to eat, water to drink, clothing for our backs, and a place to call home.  David Platt writes, “If we make $10,000 a year, we are wealthier than 84% of the world, and if we make $50,000 a year, we are wealthier than 99% of the world.” (David Platt, “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream”, 194).  So, look around you.  You have something for which to be thankful.  Use prayer as a means to express your thankfulness to God.  Just as a person likes to hear thanks for something that one has done, I feel that God appreciates our giving thanks unto Him for the blessings that God has bestowed upon us.  But, there are other areas in which prayer is important.

3.     Prayer is Important Because it is the Way to Intercede.

As prayer is communication, prayer is an important means to intercede for another.  What is intercession?  Intercession means that we speak on behalf of another.  We keep a prayer list at church in which we pray for the needs of others.  I also have a personal prayer list in which I pray on behalf of another.  This is a very biblical practice.  Paul writes to Timothy, First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (1 Timothy 2:1, NASB).  Some wonder, “How do you pray for an hour?”  I wondered the same time until I understood how many people need prayer.  Do we pray for our world?  Do we pray for the gospel to be spread?  Do we pray for our nation and our national leaders?  Even if you have an evil leader, you should still pray for him/her.  It may be through intercessory prayers that one is changed.  Do you pray for the sick?  Do you pray for travelers?  Do you pray for your police officers?  Do you pray for medical staffs?  Do you pray for those in the military?  Do you pray for theologians?  Do you pray for your neighbors?  Do you pray for your family?  The list could go on and on and on.  Yet another element of importance is found in prayer.

4.     Prayer is Important Because it is the Way to Give Praise.

The psalmist writes,

Praise the LORD!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty expanse.
2 Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.

3 Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre.

4 Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.

5 Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals.

              6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150, NASB).

Now even though this is a psalm, most, if not all, of the psalms are in fact prayers put to music.  We should praise God.  What is the difference between giving thanks and giving praise?  Giving thanks is thanking God for what He has done.  Giving praise is thanking God for Who He is.  When one understands the greatness, the power, the glory, the love, the compassion, and the grandeur of God, how could one not praise God?  Yet, another importance is found in prayer.

5.     Prayer is Important Because it is the Way to Confess Sin.

The psalmist writes, “O God, it is You who knows my folly, and my wrongs are not hidden from You” (Psalm 69:5, NASB).  God knows our faults and wrongdoings already.  Some would ask, “If God knows all about it, why do we need to confess our sins?”  This is a good question.  Our confession of sins is admission.  Through the admission of our wrongdoing, we are able to ask for forgiveness from God and also to allow God to direct us on how to correct the mistakes.  Confession also brings freedom.  Confession which leads to forgiveness allows one to live life without the burden of past failures.  The confessor can be like the quarterback who messes up on one play, shakes it off, and goes out looking to play better the next time around.  Also, with God, one does not have to worry about one’s faults being blabbered around to others.  God, who is the essence of holiness and perfection, forgives, corrects, and frees.  A sixth importance exists in prayer.

6.     Prayer is Important Because it is the Way to Ask for Help.

Jesus said, “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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, NASB).  Who does one ask?  The person asks God, seeks God, and knocks to have God’s truth opened unto them.  We all need help.  My wife says I need mental help many times…just kidding.  To ask for help, one must lower one’s pride and admit that he or she cannot do something by themselves.  This may be a shock to learn especially in our individualistic society, but you were not meant to live this life alone.  God in His essence is an eternal relationship: Father, Son, and Spirit.  You, therefore, were created for relationships: relationship with God and a relationship with others.  That is why it is laughable to hear people speak of loving God and not desiring to be in church.  Do you really think you can go this without the help of other Christians?  Do you really think that you do not need to be serving God in a capacity at a local church.

Prayer allows one to go to God in asking for help.  God may give help in a variety of means.  We were praying for a newer vehicle because my truck was getting ragged and my wife’s vehicle was becoming undependable.  God opened the doors for us both to get a new vehicle.  We were not planning to do so, but God worked out a way in that we could while only spending out a little more a month than we had for my wife’s previous vehicle.  This is small potatoes in relation to those who are praying for health issues and the like.  But God is still in the miracle business.  God can give you help in your time of need.  Will you recognize your need for God’s help and ask?  Finally, a seventh area of importance exists for prayer.

7.     Prayer is Important Because it is the Way to Receive Salvation.

Paul writes, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, NASB).  Although, magic prayers do not exist.  When one recognizes one’s need for God and the salvation that God offers, it is through prayer that salvation comes.  Admittedly, many have promoted the recitation of a prayer and that one can go on living just as one has always done.  This is not the case.  Salvation requires one to turn his/her life over to God, receiving the work that God has and will do in the person’s life, and trusting in and depending on God.  But the means of getting the ball rolling is prayer.  Southern Baptists, the denomination to which I belong, have given a sample prayer in which one can pray.  This is not a magic prayer.  But, it lists the elements that need to be in one’s commitment in order to receive Christ as Savior.  Such a prayer goes like this:

“Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and I do not deserve eternal life. But, I believe You died and rose from the grave to make me a new creation and to prepare me to dwell in your presence forever. Jesus, come into my life, take control of my life, forgive my sins and save me. I am now placing my trust in You alone for my salvation and I accept your free gift of eternal life” (SBC.net).

If one prays and really allows God through Christ to become one’s Lord, it is our belief that you have received salvation from Christ.  This, however, is just the beginning.  If you prayed this prayer, you need to find a Bible-believing church and get involved.  You also need to obtain a copy of God’s Word–the Bible–and begin reading it.  It is recommended that one begins with the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Mark.  Would you receive Christ today?

Conclusion

As we have seen, prayer is extremely important.  It is important for you to spend time with God in prayer every day.  Do not think that 5 minutes a day is enough.  Consider this chart below which was given to me by Pastor David Kiser and comes from ShareLife Ministries in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  All rights reserved.  This chart shows how you can easily pray an hour a day.  The only difficulty is finding a time and sticking with it.  If your relationship with God matters to you, spend more time with God in prayer every day.  It could be one of the most important things you ever do.

Prayer Wheel from SharingLife Ministries, Winston-Salem, NC. All rights reserved.
Prayer Wheel from SharingLife Ministries, Winston-Salem, NC. All rights reserved.

How to Spend Time in Prayer
I. PRAISE Start your prayer hour by praising the Lord. Praise Him for things
that are on your mind right now. Praise Him for one special thing He has
done in your life in the past week. Praise Him for His goodness to your family.
Psalm 34:1
2. WAITING Spend this time waiting on the Lord. Let Him pull together
reflections for you.Think about the hour before you and the things you want
the Lord to do in your life. Psalm 27: 14
—-~—–~—–.—-~
3. CONFESSION Ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything in your life
which might be displeasing to Him.Ask Him to point out attitudes that are
wrong. as well as specific acts for which you have not yet made a prayer of
confession. Now confess that to the Lord and claim IJohn 1:9 so that you
might be cleansed for the remainder of the hour before you and then pick
up and read the Word. Psalm 51: 1-19
4. READ THE WORD Spend time reading promises of God in the Psalms.
in the prophets and passages on prayer located in the New Testament. Check
your concordance. Psalm I 19:97
5. PETITION This is general request for others. praying through the prayer
list. the prayer cards. or personal prayer interest on behalf of yourself and
others. Hebrews 4: 16
6. INTERCESSION Specific prayer on the behalf of others. Pray specifically
for those requests of which you are aware. Romans 15:30-33
7. PRAYTHEWORD Now take the Scriptures and start praying the
Scriptures as certain sections of Psalm I 19 lend themselves beautifully to
prayer expression. Psalm 119:38-46
a.THANKSGIVING Spend these minutes giving thanks to the Lord for
things in your life. things on behalf of the church. things on behalf of your
family. Philippians 4:6
9. SINGING Take your hymnal and sing a prayer song. sing a praise song.
sing a song regarding soul winning or witnessing. Let it be a time of praise.
Psalm 59:17
10. MEDITATE Ask the Lord to speak back to you and keep a paper and
pen handy. ready to relate the impressions that He makes upon your life.
Psalm 63
I I. LISTEN Spend time merging the things you have read from the Word.
the things you have prayed. the things you have thanked the Lord for. the
things that you have been singing. and see how the Lord brings them all
together to speak to you. ISamuel 3:9-10
12. END WITH PRAISE Praise the Lord for the time you have had to
spend with Him. Praise Him for the impressions that He has given you. Praise
Him for the prayer requests He raised up in you mind. Psalm 145: 1-13 (From SharingLife Ministries)

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

Copyright June 24, 2013. Brian Chilton.

Hearing from God: Is It Possible to Discern the Voice of God?

Recently, I heard a respectable Christian talk show host claim that it was impossible to hear from God.  He blasted Henry Blackaby’s discipleship program Experiencing God claiming that no one can learn to hear from God.  He also claimed that to say that one could hear from God goes beyond the scope of Scripture.  Is this true?

In my experience as a Christian, I have heard from God on countless occasions and still do.  Without the guidance and direction of God, I would not know how to minister or how to live a life in God’s will.  Furthermore, while I greatly respect the radio host, I fervently disagree with the host on his belief that no biblical evidence exists for the Spirit’s communication to God’s people.  I have found at least five ways that the Spirit of God communicates with His people using biblical texts to present these truths.

God Uses People to Communicate His Will

“So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’  Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:27–31, NASB).  God puts His people…the right people…at the right place, at the right moment, and at the right time to communicate powerful truths to us right when we need it.  With the story in Acts, the Ethiopian eunuch was struggling with understanding a passage of Scripture in Isaiah.  Philip had the answer to the eunuch’s question.  So, God sent Philip to the right place at the right time to minister to the eunuch’s need.  Does this not show the great importance in evangelism and missions?

In my life, God has used the works of apologists to answer my doubts and questions about the faith.  At other times when I have felt down and out and praying that God would give me a sign, God sends a person with a word of encouragement that meets my need.  Even during my graduate studies at Liberty University, God has put the right teachers and the right books in my life to show me His will at the right moment.  God does not only communicate with us through godly people, God also uses another method of communication through the person of the Holy Spirit.

God Uses Circumstances to Communicate His Will

Paul writes, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13, NASB, underline mine).  Through the circumstances of life, God communicated the need to bee content in all things.  Also, God uses these circumstances…especially the bad circumstances…to show the need for Paul to be strengthened in and through the power of Christ.  Many feel that God is entitled to only grant His children good things in life.  However, through circumstances (especially difficult circumstances) the Spirit of God communicates valuable truths to us.  As Paul writes, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, NASB).  The Spirit of God pours out truths to us and builds our character through circumstances of life.  If you pray for patience, God will place you through circumstances that will build patience.  If you pray for strength, God will put you through circumstances which will build strength.  If you pray for more faith, God will place you in circumstances where you will be forced to depend upon Him more.  But, God uses a third way of communicating with us through the Holy Spirit.

God Uses Scripture to Communicate His Will

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, NASB).  The psalmist shows that the Word of God gives us insight in how we should live.  Jesus said to the disciples of the Holy Spirit, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26, NASB).  God uses Scripture to communicate His will to us.  Understand also that since the Word of God is God’s word, then it is the standard by which we all should gauge all things.  God cannot lie so if you hear a compelling that is leading you away from what the Bible says, then it is not God.  It could be the self.  God has a way of bringing back Scripture to your mind through the Spirit at your time of need.  In my life, the Spirit has brought Scripture to my mind that I had not even memorized.  That is the power of the Holy Spirit.  This also shows our need to study the Word regularly.  There is yet a fourth way the Spirit of God communicates with us.

God Uses the Still Small Voice to Communicate His Will

At least four times in Scripture, we learn about God speaking to individuals through what many call “the still small voice.”  It is written of Elijah, “Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12, NKJV).   Elijah was expecting God to speak to him in a loud fashion.  Yet the Holy Spirit did not speak by a thunderous earthquake or a powerful tornado, but God spoke through a gentle still small voice.  In Acts, the Spirit spoke to Philip as it is written, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot’” (Acts 8:29, NASB).  The Lord had a reason for Philip to meet to Ethiopian eunuch as we mentioned before.  But, the Spirit communicated with that same still small voice.  Jesus even shows that we can depend upon the Spirit to give us words whenever we are accused, or perhaps in evangelism.  “When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11, NASB).  Some will say, “Pastor Brian, the text is referring to the disciples.”  Yes, that is true.  However, should we as disciples of Christ expect anything less today?  I think not.  Another text shows how God speaks to us through that still small voice.  “And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding” (Nehemiah 2:12, NASB).  Some will claim that Nehemiah knew the Lord’s will after the event.  That opinion is guilty of reading more into the text than is there.  God placed the thought in his mind before the event took place.  How else would he know that it was God who placed the thought in his mind?  The Scripture gives us a fifth way the Holy Spirit communicate to us.

God Uses the Compulsion of the Spirit to Communicate His Will

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry.” (Luke 4:1-2, NASB).  Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  There are times when the Spirit of God compels us in certain directions.  It may be to talk to a person at a certain time.  I heard the testimony of a woman who worked at a hospital who was compelled by the Spirit of God to do an amazing act.  The Spirit of God compelled the woman to ask a long haired man if he would like a haircut.  She was compelled by the Spirit to use this act as a means of evangelism.  She did not know why the Spirit of God wanted her to do this act, but she was obedient nonetheless.  As she cut the man’s hair, the man told her that his wife used to cut his hair for him.  His wife was sick and in the hospital.  He had not had his hair cut in a while due to his wife’s sickness.  He then began to speak of Jesus and how Jesus blessed him in his life.  The woman was really stumped as to why the Spirit wanted her to use this act as a means of evangelism since the man already had a right relationship with Jesus Christ.  However, to her surprise, a co-worker approached the woman after she finished cutting the man’s hair.  The co-worker asked the woman, “Why did you cut his hair?” The woman said, “I did so because of my love for Jesus.”  The co-worker said, “Can you tell me about this Jesus?”

It was through the compelling of the Holy Spirit that I was led to a Bible bookstore and guided to a shelf that had several apologetics books that God used to answer my doubts and questions.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the guidance and compulsion of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Does the Holy Spirit communicate with us?  Absolutely!  That is part of the process of prayer.  Prayer is reciprocal.  It is a dialogue.  We speak to God and God speaks to us.  How could anyone deny the Spirit’s power to communicate truths to us?  The trouble is, many of us get into trouble when we do not listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This is not only true for apologists, but for all Christians from all walks of life.  We are so busy in our lives that we do not take time to listen to God.  Maybe the reason we are not hearing from God is that we do not really want to listen to God.  We might be frightened by what He shows us…or where He leads us.

Keep the faith,

Pastor Brian Chilton

Postnote: After further listening to the radio host and reading some of the host’s writings, I do not think that he meant to take such a strong stand against “hearing from God.”  Although I do not agree with his attacks on Henry Blackaby, I do think an area of misunderstanding on my part occurred.  But, I would concede that one must ensure that the direction aligns with the Word of God.  Otherwise, it probably is not God that is leading.