Tag Archives: prayer

The Theistic Fork in the Road

Everyone is on a journey of faith, even atheists.

We all start the faith journey by asking the fundamental question: Does God exist? How we answer this question influences our basic views about living in this world. Those who answer “No” and those who answer “Yes” have different conceptions of reality and different pathways in life. This does not mean that we cannot be kind and tolerant with one another. We can even work together on important issues. But there will be vital differences between the two groups.

Those who answer the fundamental faith question by believing that God does not exist are immediately faced with a second question: How do I live when life has no real meaning? Despite suggestions to the contrary, atheism leads to a philosophical position known as nihilism. Nihilism says that there is no real significance in life. Whatever one accomplishes will eventually be erased and forgotten. Our very universe will someday either tear itself apart from relentless expansion or crush itself in a Big Crunch. There is nobody in eternity to remember anything or anybody for good or ill – supposedly.

For those who follow nihilism to its logical conclusion the ultimate question is this: How should I commit suicide? Why? Because life in this world inevitably brings pain, sometimes intolerable pain. Since the atheist has embraced the (incorrect) notion that life is accidental and meaningless, then the most reasonable thing to do is avoid the pain and choose one’s method of death as soon as possible.

This is extreme, however, and so atheists rightly avoid such nonsense. Instead they often end up adopting some version of the position promoted by a dead philosopher named Nietzsche. This ‘enlightened’ humanistic thinker envisioned a sort of ‘superman’ who knows that life has no real meaning yet lives defiantly, pretending that life is meaningful. Is that honest? It sure doesn’t sound very ‘scientific.’

Penn Jillette, a magician, comedian, musician, (and perhaps several others –‘ian’s) is a well-known atheist. He is assertive about his atheism. He actively promotes his idea that God is myth. He works to convert us all to his way of thinking.

Surprisingly, Jillette recently decided that atheists should pray. He apparently recognizes some kind of personal therapeutic value in prayer and does not believe that atheists should be denied the benefits of prayer.

But how can you pray if there is nobody to address (unless you redefine prayer)? When people pretend to converse with someone, when there is no one, we usually take that as a sign that something is not quite right. . . .

So atheists believe life has no meaning but wish it did and they believe that God isn’t listening but wish he were (or someone?). All this time atheists have accused theists of pretense but it turns out that they are the ones who are pretending, pretending that life has purpose when they supposedly know that it doesn’t and pretending that ‘prayers’ to nobody have value.

Now for those of us who answer the first faith question with “Yes, God does exist,” we also face a second question: “Who is God? What is he like? What is he doing?” (Sounds like a lot of questions but they are related!)

As the atheist spends the rest of life trying to find meaning from meaninglessness, the theist spends life discovering the meaning and purpose that flows from the character and attributes of God. When we learn about God’s character we also learn about his mission and purpose. When we understand God’s mission and purpose we are challenged to join him.

Penn Jillette is right about this: prayer is beneficial. But the benefit of prayer is not some kind of personal therapy. The benefit of prayer is that it provides us with a personal connection to the invisible Living God who made us and who gives us purpose in this life and hope for the life to come.

The Bible is our primary document for answering questions about God. It is God’s word to us about who he is and what he is doing. The Bible helps us discover how we fit into God’s kingdom plan and experience meaning and purpose in life now.

God’s purpose for each of us cannot be taken away even in the midst of suffering and pain, issues that atheists regularly use to justify unbelief. But we need not despair even in the most painful of circumstances because God insures that our struggles are purposeful.

Theistic faith provides an answer for the question of why we instinctively believe that life should have meaning and purpose. God made us with an innate sense that our lives matter – because they do. We need not pretend that life matters, as atheists are forced to do. Believing faith enables us to live with confidence.

So each of us must choose to have faith in an accidental universe which can provide no meaning now and no hope for the future, or faith in a loving God who created us and promises us hope for eternity. I choose God.

Brother Richard Foster

1 Comment

Filed under Religion

The Beginning of Prayer

When did people start to pray?

In Genesis 4:26 we read that people began to call on the name of the LORD (Yahweh) in the days of Adam and Eve’s grandchildren, specifically a grandson named Enosh. People spoke with God before Enosh was born, but conversations with God prior to Enosh were initiated by God: God spoke to Adam in Genesis 3, God spoke to Cain in Genesis 4. In prayer, a man or woman initiates communication with God by calling upon him.

Eve makes a statement in Genesis 4:25 about the blessing of having a son to replace Abel, who was murdered by his brother Cain. But she speaks of God in the third person (“he”). Prayer addresses God directly, in second person (“you”).

It seems natural to think that Adam or Eve or their son Seth (Enosh’s dad) prayed before their grandson Enosh and his generation were born. If they did, the Bible does not tell us. Instead, the Bible emphasizes Enosh and his generation. Enosh’s uncles, Cain and Abel, worshiped God in Genesis 4, but whatever Cain did was unacceptable to God and whatever Abel did died with him when he was murdered by his brother.

So we have no direct Scriptural evidence for prayer before Genesis 4:26. But in Genesis 4:26 we learn that Enosh and his generation began calling on the name of Yahweh at that time. In Genesis 4:26 something new begins.

“Calling on the name” is surely a reference to prayer. Enosh and his generation may have also sacrificed to God, as did Cain and Abel, but that is not mentioned. The emphasis is on prayer.

Many generations after Enosh, Jesus visited the Temple in Jerusalem. He was outraged by the distractions which the religious leaders had introduced in order to make financial transactions in God’s house. In an unexpected expression of righteous indignation, Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers and drives out the animals with a makeshift whip. He accuses them of turning God’s house into a den of thieves.

Then Jesus makes a fascinating assertion. He insists that his Father’s house is to be a house of prayer. Think of all the activities which Jesus could legitimately mention: praise, sacrifice, teaching, preaching, giving, fellowship, healing, but the only thing he mentions is prayer. Why?

Prayer is at the heart of biblical faith. The soul of spirituality in Scripture is the communion of God with the saints, his people. Humanity is created to know God and to enjoy him and his blessings.

After Adam and Eve sinned and broke the close relationship between humanity and God there was something vital missing in every person, something crying out for completion. Prayer is the heart’s cry for the One who is absent until forgiveness and restoration is affected and a new connection is made with the Maker.

In the larger context of Genesis 4-5 this verse at the end of chapter 4 highlights the contrast between the line of Seth (which includes Enosh) and the line of Cain (who killed his brother, Abel).

Cain’s descendants go to work developing the bountiful natural resources provided by God in order to build an impressive civilization. (I am especially fascinated with Jubal, the first to make and play musical instruments, or perhaps the first to develop music significantly enough to be considered the ‘father’ of all musicians.)

The creative use of nature is in no way sinful in itself. God filled this world with resources and he blessed humanity with the curiosity, creativity, intelligence and energy to discover and develop, to fashion and create. But the line of Cain in early Genesis is distinguished in this instance mostly by an omission, and what is lacking in Cain’s descendants is any effort to call upon the name of the Lord.

Seth’s line, on the other hand, has a desire to seek communion with God through prayer. And so, early in human history the division between believer and unbeliever surfaces (a continuation of the break between Cain and Abel). This is a division which will be seen in Noah vs. the antediluvian world, in Abraham vs. the Canaanites, Israel vs. the nations, the remnant of Israel vs. unfaithful Israel, and finally in the Jewish-Gentile church vs. those who reject Christ.

From Enosh to Jesus to now, the great feature that distinguishes the people of God is prayer, not just haphazard flirtations with prayer, but a heart that is hungry for the presence of God and refuses to give up seeking the Lord until he is found.

Unbelievers pray, but they are not known for their prayer.

God’s people should be seen by the world as a people of prayer.

Brother Richard

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

If God Already Knows Then Why Pray?

Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13). First, he warns them not to use prayer as an opportunity to impress people. Instead, followers of Jesus are to pray to please God.

Jesus tells his disciples not to babble on and on like the pagan unbelievers in the first century. They apparently thought that their many words would guarantee them a hearing.

Now this is not necessarily a warning about long prayers. Some prayers recorded in Scripture are lengthy. Jesus is warning us not to use prayer as a battering ram to break down the doors of heaven.

God has already opened the door to his presence through his grace. Jesus died to pay the price of our admission and he is risen in order to bring us into the presence of God.

We need not coerce or manipulate God in prayer. After all, as Jesus goes on to say, our Father in heaven already knows what we need before we ask!

But if God already knows our needs and he already wants to bless us, then why pray? Instead of answering that question directly, Jesus goes on to give an example, a model prayer, often called the Lord’s Prayer.

He begins by telling us to address God as “our Father who is in heaven.” Consider the tension and balance in this statement. “Father” is a term of familiarity, addressing God as one who is close and personal. “In heaven” is a term of transcendence, a reminder that God is the Maker of heaven and earth and that he is high and exalted. Jesus invites us to draw near and know the majestic King of the cosmos!

“Hallowed be your Name; your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus teaches us to focus our prayers first on God and his agenda.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” After magnifying God’s person and affirming his agenda, we turn to our own need. This brings us back to our earlier question: Why pray and tell God what he already knows?

Our prayers are not intended to inform God about our needs. Instead, our prayers are expressions of acknowledgment that God is the only real source of all that we truly need, not just spiritual needs, but physical needs as well.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus is talking about more than borrowing money. He uses “debt” as a symbol for wrongdoing, sin, transgression. As our body needs bread, our soul needs forgiveness, both forgiveness received and forgiveness given. And God both forgives us and enables us to forgive others.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.” God will test us in order to strengthen us. Satan tempts us in order to destroy us. This part of the model prayer is an acknowledgment that we are incapable of spiritual victory apart from God’s power in our lives.

So, Jesus teaches us to affirm and agree with God’s agenda, to acknowledge God as our provider for physical as well as spiritual needs, and to acknowledge God as our protector, our only hope for triumph against the forces of evil in this world.

Prayer aligns us with God’s agenda and directs us toward his provision and empowering. Any other agenda is doomed to failure. Any other provision is an illusion.

“For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen!”

May God’s Spirit inspire us to speak often with our Lord in prayer,

Brother Richard Foster

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Following Jesus Leads Where?

Jesus said, “Follow me!” When we do, where will he lead us?

Jesus’ custom was to attend worship on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). When we follow Jesus, we will have the same custom. We will gather with fellow believers on the Lord’s Day for worship: to sing God’s praises, to hear God’s Word, to give God offerings, and to fellowship with God’s people.

Once, when Jesus attended worship in his hometown, they asked him to read the Scripture and give a sermon. His message upset them. They were so enraged that they dragged him out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:17-30).

Some folks complain about how poorly they are treated at church. Jesus attended with people who wanted to kill him! When we follow Jesus, we will have the habit of worshiping with others on a regular basis, despite the shortcomings of some who attend.

Jesus also had a habit of withdrawing to lonely places in order to pray (Luke 5:16). When we follow Jesus, we will be a people of frequent intentional prayer.

When Jesus slipped away for prayer, large crowds came looking for him. They wanted to hear him speak and to be healed by him (Luke 5:15). They were interested in what he could do for them.

Things are no different today. We are tempted to see prayer as wasted time, or at least as a low priority. After all, we have so much to do! It’s easy to push prayer into the background.

Jesus was busy, too, but he put prayer at the top of his list. When we follow Jesus, we will take prayer seriously.

Jesus appointed his followers and sent them out (Luke 10:1). Their task was to prepare others to meet Jesus. When we follow Jesus, he will send us out to tell others about him, too.

Jesus told his followers that he was sending them out like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3). He knows how difficult this task can be. But Jesus also said that there is an abundant harvest waiting for those who go before him (Luke 10:2).

Harvest is a time of great joy and celebration. In fact, harvest is used in the Bible to picture the end of this age. For those who have worked in the Lord’s field, the Day of Judgment will be one of rejoicing and enjoying the fruit of their labor.

This reminds us of the greatest place that we will go when we follow Jesus. After his resurrection, Jesus led his followers to the vicinity of Bethany. While blessing them, he was taken up to heaven (Luke 24:50-51).

Jesus promised his followers that he was going ahead of them to prepare a place. He promised to come back and take them, and us, to be with him (John 14:2-3). When we follow Jesus, we have a marvelous destination: heaven.

As followers of Jesus, we attend church regularly, we intentionally and frequently spend time in prayer, we tell others about Jesus, and we look forward to the day when our Lord will return to take us home.

May we be faithful to follow our Lord Jesus in all things,

Brother Richard

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Fight The Good Fight (Audio)

Click here to start the audio: Fight the Good Fight

Fight with me in prayer! This is an excellent message about fighting in prayer, learning to pray, and the power of prayer. From Ephesians 6:10-13.

Leave a comment and tell us what you thought.

Dr. Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Fight With Me!

Fight with me in prayer. That is what the Apostle Paul asked the church in Rome to do (Romans 15:30). It may seem strange to think of prayer as a battle, but the Bible assures us that Christians are caught in a firefight, and without prayer we will fall.

In Ephesians 6 we learn that our enemies in this age are not flesh and blood but spiritual: Satan and his evil troops. Our real battle is not political, economic or cultural. Our battle is spiritual.

In order to stand against the spiritual forces of evil in this age we must be diligent in using all the spiritual equipment which God has provided. Like a well-armed soldier, followers of Jesus can face the enemy with confidence, knowing that victory is assured.

The Apostle Paul was incarcerated and being guarded by a Roman soldier as he wrote about spiritual warfare to the believers in Ephesus. His description of God’s full armor is a great way to think about the spiritual weapons that God has given his people.

The belt of truth enables us to stand against Satan’s lies. The breastplate of righteousness makes us impervious to the accusations made against us by the Devil. Feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace keep us from being frozen by fear of our Enemy.

The shield of faith protects us from the deadly temptations that are fired at us in order to destroy us. The helmet of salvation gives us confidence to pursue heaven in a world that is trying desperately to ignore the danger of hell.

The sword of God’s Spirit is the word of God. The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. No weapon can withstand God’s word.

When Jesus was tempted by Satan he wielded the sword of the Spirit, applying Scripture in order to push the Enemy back in defeat. The Bible gives us great power in our battle against the evil forces in this world.

After instructing his readers to adorn the full armor of God, the apostle directed them to pray with passion and perseverance. The battle is won in prayer. Prayer enables us to stand in the mighty power of God, which is greater than any enemy we might face.

Jesus fought the good fight of faith on the cross at Calvary and displayed astounding power by walking away from his tomb in triumph. But first he prayed with great passion and perseverance in Gethsemane. His sweat was like blood dropping to the ground, yet he prayed on. When his prayer was finished the victory was assured.

Paul finished his instruction in Ephesians 6 by asking for prayer that he would proclaim the gospel with boldness. Despite being chained to a Roman soldier like a common criminal, he realized that his true identity was ambassador for Christ.

We, too, are called to be ambassadors for Christ. Let’s fight together in prayer. Pray for God’s people. No weapon forged against us will prevail.

May we stand strong for Christ in his power and for his glory,

Brother Richard Foster

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

If My People

Why did God visit Abraham on his way to Sodom and Gomorrah? He said that he would go down and see if things were as wicked as it seemed in Sodom. But the God of heaven and earth has no need to “go down and see” in order to know the state of Sodom or any city.

On his way to Sodom, God stopped by the home of Abraham. Abraham looked up and three men stood near his tent in the heat of the day. According to the customs of his day, Abraham was quick to offer gracious hospitality for the men. They accepted his offer of a restful meal.

During the after-dinner talk, Abraham realized that he was not entertaining normal visitors. In some mysterious way, God’s very presence had come to call. And God decided to share his mission with Abraham. He was apparently on a fact-finding trip that would determine the fate of a city and its citizens.

Abraham could have kept quiet and let the Lord go on. After all, what business was it of his? So long as God did not bother Abraham and his household, what good would it do to get involved anyway? God knows what he is doing. Let him go to it.

Or Abraham could have offered his opinion. After all, he lived just a few miles away from the city. He could have told God that what he heard about Sodom was right. It definitely was a desperately wicked city. Abraham could have told God that he would not blame him for sweeping the place away in judgment.

But what Abraham did was simply astounding. He appealed to God for mercy. He asked that God spare the wicked citizens of Sodom. God agreed with Abraham that if just ten righteous people could be found in the city then he would spare everyone. Abraham interceded with God for a corrupt, violent, and immoral people.

True, Abraham’s nephew, Lot, lived in the city. His intercession could have been for selfish reasons. But he did not ask God to save only his kinfolk. He pleaded for God to show mercy on the entire population of Sodom. Abraham appealed to God for undeserved favor.

Abraham’s example of intercession with God is timely for us. By almost every measure imaginable the cities around us are declining rapidly. The most important measure, of course, is spiritual. And the spiritual condition of America is deplorable. We are driving hard and fast toward a truly desperate situation.

We could easily feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and choose to simply protect our own. We could rightly be angry about the horrible circumstances and just agree that God should wipe out the wicked. But Abraham, the man of faith, offers us a better response: we should intercede with God for America, appealing for his great grace.

America needs godly people to cry out to the Lord for mercy. God our Savior is gracious. He told Abraham that for just ten righteous people he would spare the desperately sinful city of Sodom. Unfortunately for Sodom, not even ten righteous people were left in the place.

We must cry out to God for his grace and mercy before the righteous dwindle away to nothing and it is too late for our communities and neighborhoods. The Lord has promised that when his people, those called by his name, humble themselves and pray, that he will hear and forgive and heal the land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

May we be found faithful,

Brother Richard

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion