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Tim Challies

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May 2005

May 31, 2005

It is the Lord’s delight to give us what we ask of Him in prayer. With David we all ought to cry out, “O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth” (Psalm 54:2). If Christians did not believe this, there would be no reason for us to ask God of anything. He tells us that we can have this confidence. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14,15). While most Christian pay lip-service to the superlatives in that sentence (“whatever” and “anything”) very few really believe it.

The fact is that our prayers are often hindered. There are times when it feels like our prayers are reaching the ceiling and going no further. While we can be sure that God does hear our prayers, there are times when He chooses not to heed or answer them. What is especially tragic is that we are the only ones who can hinder our prayers. I cannot hinder your prayers anymore than you can hinder mine. And while we may have done much to hinder our prayers, we are not necessarily even aware of this. Allow me to present six ways we can hinder our prayers so that God will not answer them. This list is incomplete, for there may be other ways our prayers are hindered, but it contains the most likely and significant ways.

Selfish Motives

All humans are selfish. It is part of our human nature that we naturally regard our own interests ahead of the interests of others. And sadly, we often regard our own interests ahead of God’s. In the passage we read above, 1 John 5:14 and 15, the apostle tells us that our confidence comes from asking “according to his [God’s] will.” James similarly exhorts “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3).

So the first hindrance to our prayer is our motives. We must ask in accordance with God’s will. We must ask only for things that are consistent with the character and nature of God. We must ask for things that are for the spiritual benefit of ourselves or the person we pray for.

Turning Away From Scripture

If we are not spending time immersing ourselves in Scripture and are not obeying what we have learned, we should not expect God to answer our prayers. Our defiance in ignoring the life-giving Words of the Bible may hinder us from having our prayers answered. Solomon goes so far as to suggest that prayers made from such a hardened heart are an abomination to God. “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9).

When we read the Words of Scripture, we ask and encourage God to speak to us. He provides the understanding we need to live lives that bring glory to Him - lives that are increasingly consistent with His standards of grace and holiness. If we thumb our nose at the importance of this discipline and if we disobey what He teaches, He will not answer our prayers.

Unforgiving Hearts

The Christian has been forgiven for the greatest of offenses. He has been forgiven for knowingly, purposely and unrepentantly transgressing the Law of God. And yet we are often slow to forgive our fellow man for the smallest of transgression, for even the biggest of the sins committed against us are as nothing compared to how we sinned against God. God does not honor this attitude. In Mark 11:25 Jesus says, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Our ongoing assurance of pardon before the Father is in some way dependant on our willingness to forgive others. We must be attentive to our hearts, to ensure that we are not harboring hatred and resentment towards others. If we have this attitude we should expect our prayers to be hindered.

Family Discord

It is God’s will that families live together in peace and harmony. It is, of course, impossible for us to live in perfect peace, but God demands that we maintain close relationships and that we seek harmony in our family relationships. It is foremost the responsibility of the father, as the head of the household, to ensure that there is not discord within the family. When this discord exists, especially in the relationship of a husband to his wife, his prayers may well be hindered. The apostle Peter, a married man himself, exhorted husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way, being sensitive to their needs, “showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).

The relationship between a husband and a wife is to reflect that of Christ to His church. It is to be a relationship of absolute love, adoration and sacrifice. If Christ gave His life for the church, how can a husband do any less for his wife? This is, of course, impossible when the relationship is strained or broken. Thus a man should examine his relationship with his wife to ensure this is not a hindrance to his prayers.

Unconfessed Sin

Just as unforgiveness can hinder our prayers, so can sin in our lives that we have refused to confess before God. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Before we conclude that God has simply not heard or prayers or that it is not His will to give us what we ask, we need to examine our hearts to see if unconfessed sin stands as a barrier between ourselves and God.

While we need to continually examine our hearts, we need also to ask God to reveal our sin to us. We should ask those closest to us what they have observed in our lives. While God most often reveals sin through the reading of and meditating upon His Word, we should realize that if we do not learn our lesson from Scripture, He may have to resort to harsher tactics where our sin is revealed before others, even publically. While this may be difficult and humiliating, He does so because He loves us and does not wish for this sin to continue to corrupt us and to stand as a barrier between Himself and us.

Doubt

God wants us to have confidence in His ability and willingness to provide what is necessary for us to attain to godliness. He wants us to believe that He can and will do what He says. Thus when we doubt - when we ask expecting rejection and when we ask almost hoping for rejection - we will hinder our prayers. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:5-7).

Our prayer cannot be separated from our faith. If we are to ask God, we must ask with expectancy, believing in our heart of hearts that God can and will give what we want, provided that what we want is really what we need! We are to ask with confidence and expectancy.

Conclusion

The eighteenth chapter of Luke is premised with the following words: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Jesus goes on to share the parable of the persistent widow. It is a parable designed to teach the importance of persisting in prayer. It is God’s desire that we persist in our petitions before Him. When we ask and do not receive, we need to examine ourselves and question why our prayers are being hindered. Are we asking selfishly? Have we turned away from God, harbored unforgiveness in our hearts or ignored sin in our lives? Or have we allowed discord to creep into our families? These questions can lead us back to the Word of God and guide us to an examination of our hearts.

May 31, 2005

Jack Graham is pastor of the massive Prestonwood Baptist Church which boasts a membership of over 23,000 and is thus one of the world’s largest churches. He has written several books, the latest of which is A Man of God (which releases today). To provide a clear idea of the target audience for this book, one does not need to look much farther than the list of endorsers. The list includes Roger Staubach, Gary Carter and Pat Summerall. Neil Clark Warren (founder of the online dating site eHarmony.com) is added for good measure. And Chuck Norris enters the fray to write the foreward. And if you still aren’t sure, perhaps this quote will bring added clarity. “The Christian life is more important than the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals, and the Stanley Cup all wrapped together” (page 12).

May 30, 2005

Love him or hate him, George Barna often presents interesting information to the church. His latest study, dated May 30, 2005, asked pastors to identify “the three books that had been most helpful to them as a ministry leader during the past three years.” There were over 200 books listed, but only 9 that were listed by more than 2% of the 614 pastors surveyed. Similarly, there were only 10 authors that were listed by more than 2% of the respondants.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church, both by Rick Warren, were ranked as number 1 and number 2. Warren was also the author whose books were listed most often, and thus ranked as the most influential church leader.

Most Helpful Books

Twenty one percent of pastors said that The Purpose Driven Life was one of the three most helpful books they had read in the past three years and 15% said the same of The Purpose Driven Church.

“Only seven additional books gained recognition from at least 2% of pastors – and each of those seven publications was chosen by 2%. Those books were What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancey; Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala; Wild At Heart by John Eldredge; Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels; Spiritual Leadership by Henry Blackaby; Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley; and the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.”

Most Influential Authors

After Rick Warren, John Maxwell was the runner-up, with books listed as among the most helpful by 5% of pastors. “Five writers were mentioned by 3% of the nation’s church leaders: Henry Blackaby, Jim Cymbala, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, and Phil Yancey. The other influential authors were George Barna, John Eldredge and John Piper, each of whom was mentioned by 2%…Another outcome of the research concerned the authors who had the greatest number of influential books listed by pastors. Six authors stood out as having multiple volumes that have helped large numbers of pastors. Researcher George Barna, who had ten influential books identified by pastors, headed the list. Following him were Max Lucado and John Maxwell, with nine books each; Charles Swindoll and John MacArthur, each with six books; and Phillip Yancey, with four acclaimed books.”

Most Useful Types of Books

Fifty four percent of the respondants listed at least one book regarding discipleship or personal spiritual growth. Books about church growth, congregational health or ministry dynamics were the next most prolific, listed by 23% of pastors. Leadership books were equally valued, identified by 22%. No other category was cited by at least 10% of the sample.

“Less influential types of books included those about theology (9%), evangelism and outreach (6%), pastoring (6%), and prayer (5%). Books regarding charismatic perspectives (5%), trends and cultural conditions (4%), and preaching (3%) also generated noteworthy interest.”

Commentary

What can I say? These results are not at all suprising, but yet somehow still seem alarming. How is it possible that only 9% of respondants listed a book about theology? If pastors don’t read theology, how does? What about preaching, pastoring and prayer? Now it does seem that the question asked in this survey was slanted towards this type of leadership book. After all, the question asked what books were “most helpful to them as a ministry leader during the past three years.”

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Pastors either read bestsellers or they make bestsellers. It is difficult to know if books become bestsellers because they appeal to pastors who then tell their congregations about these books, or if pastors are as influenced by the Christian marketing machine as the average Joe sitting in the pew. I suspect it is the latter.
  2. Rick Warren truly is the most influential pastor in North America at the present time. Of course we already knew this, but Barna’s survey provides evidence that his influence is not only among the laity, but among the leadership.
  3. The most popular books are those dealing with leadership. Leaders are influenced by the latest and greatest books on leadership. It is disheartening to see that only 9% of respondants listed a book that dealt with theology. I guess theological books are not helpful in leading a church! Then again, I will admit that some of the titles described as “Discipleship” or “Personal Spiritual Growth” could also be theological, though not if they are Wild at Heart and What’s So Amazing About Grace?.
  4. It seems obvious that the trend away from theology begins at the leadership level and filters down through the church. If only 9% of pastors have been influenced by a theological book in the past three years, how much less the average layperson?
  5. I would very much have liked to see where Brian McLaren rated in this list. I suspect he would have had very little influence with older pastors, but would have been listed prominently by younger men (and women).

I would be interested in other people’s thoughts on this survey, which you can read here.

And I would also like to know the three books that had been most helpful to you in your Christian walk during the past three years.

May 30, 2005

In the past couple of years I have read several books written for men to address the issue of sexual purity. I have found these books useful to varying degrees. The solutions that authors suggest to deal with this issue - which, as far as I know, is common to all men - vary greatly. Some books forbid men to engage in even a single look at an attractive woman to whom a man is not married. Some books teach a process of “bouncing” the eyes whereby men learn to avert their gaze from any feminine beauty other than the one to whom they are married. Some teach what is little more than the repetition of mantras - a Bible verse a man can repeat when he sees an attractive woman. Hedges, by Jerry Jenkins, does not fit any of those categories.

May 29, 2005

Having read almost fifty books so far this year which were predominantly theological in content, I found myself craving some mindless fiction for a Saturday afternoon. Following a brief trip to the local Christian bookstore I came away with Three by Ted Dekker. I remembered reading a positive review of this title shortly after it released and thought I would give it a try, despite knowing nothing about the author or the story.

May 28, 2005

And now for something completely different.

A couple of months ago I was approached by a potential client and asked if I could develop a site for him. This person leads a Sunday school class and wanted a site where he could post his daily reflections on the Scriptures. The catch? Well, it’s not really a catch, but what made this interesting is that his reflections are written in the form of limericks. And so I present to you, Bible Bus Limericks.

To give you an example of what he does, here is today’s limerick, entitled “HOSPITALITY SWEET.”

Wealthy lady, ‘bit long in the tooth,
Though hos-pit-able, had no male youth.
Gave E-li-sha a room.
Gained the fruit of the womb.
Had a son, as did Bo-az and Ruth.

Each limerick is accompanied by notations, Scripture verses (I ended up installing the entire KJV Bible at the site) and discussion. There is also a place to leave comments and people can subscribe to the regular updates, via email or RSS.

“Limericks are like verbal cartoons. People scan the headlines and then head for the cartoons. The ‘best read’ item on the editorial page is the cartoon. All cartoons have a funny twist. One can scan it in 10 seconds. It’s the ultimate ‘sound-bite’. These Limericks are Bible Bytes.”

The “Bus Driver,” the gentleman who writes these limericks, is 80 years old. “As the Bus Driver, aka The Bible Bard, is now 80 and has a little more time on his hands than when he and Mrs. B. were raising 9 kids, it should only take about 8 more years to complete the tour thru Revelation. Then, God willing, the Bard will start over and fill in any potholes he has missed.”

I can hardly think of a better way to spend retirement than to lead Bible studies and to give people a daily gift from the Word, even if it is in the form of a limerick! And if you think you can’t learn from a limerick, think again. In creating and designing this site, I learned quite a few little nuggets of truth from these poems (generally historical rather than theological, but important nonetheless).

There were a few struggles with the coding of the site, but on the whole I am well-pleased with the result. More importantly, the client loves it. My buddy Darren, who is an extraordinarily talented artist, designed that amazing banner for me.

This is why I enjoy web design. I never know what the next project is going to be…

Speaking of which, if you are in the market for a web site, drop me a line. I am, as usual, seeking new work at this time.

May 27, 2005

Last Friday I encouraged people to post a list of book that currently resided on their desks. Strangely enough, that request turned into something of a meme and ended up being posted on sites through out the blogosphere. It was very odd. I labored all week to write about about putting God in a box, and all people wanted to talk about was the books on their desks! I don’t understand you guys…

But I digress.

This week I thought it might be fun to list the one (or two or three) book on your shelf that is least-likely to ever be read. That’s right…what is the one book (or two, or three) on your shelf that you are never, EVER going to read? Of course it may also be interesting to know why that book is on your shelf in the first place.

And just to spice things up a little, if you have never visited McRorie’s site, you need to give this guy a listen. He’s a one-man band perpetually stuck in the 80’s (and a kilt) who has a particularly bad web site. But he can play! And in case you’re at work now, be warned that within a couple of seconds on clicking that link you’ll be listening to some really loud covers of some really loud songs. But if you’re at work you probably shouldn’t be wasting your time at my site anyways. Shame on you!

And by way of update, I still haven’t seen the new Star Wars. Nor do I feel any compulsion to see it. I am sure this makes me unique among bloggers.

May 27, 2005

There are many companies today that allow anyone with a few thousand dollars (sometimes less) to publish a book. There are few requirements other than a manuscript and money. This is a mixed blessing. On one hand it allows people to publish books who arouse little interest in the handful of major publishers. On the other hand, it allows books to be printed that are sloppily-written, or at times, clearly not deserving of being printed.

The Passion of Job by Dr. Richard Spillman is published by Xulon Press, just such a company that caters to the Christian market. In fact, Xulon publicizes the claim (without substantiation) that it is the world’s largest Christian publisher. This book is not the type that would gain interest from a major publisher, yet is well-worth reading. Unfortunately, it succumbs to the stylistic sloppiness self-publishing is known for.