Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was a Catholic priest, scholar, theologian, and philosopher. His masterpiece, the Summa Theologia, is considered one of the most influential works in Western thought. Many churches commemorate him on January 28.
The quote above provides timeless guidance for all Christians as we examine our motives in prayer. Do I seek to draw closer to God by allowing Him to lift me higher spiritually, or do I try to bring Him down to my level? Do I ask to know God’s will? Do I seek wisdom and courage from Him to do what He desires? Or, do I decide what I want to do, without considering God’s will, and then ask Him to bless my self-centered choices?
“Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1).
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“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10:3–4; all Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise indicated). “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
3. No matter who our President is, we have a biblical obligation to pray for him. Until further notice, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are on my prayer list. I may not agree with them, but they need the prayers of the faithful. I pray that God will stir their hearts and give them the wisdom to do what is best for the American people. I pray that He will draw them to seek His wisdom and strength.
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Romans 13:1–2).
Remember, Paul wrote this under the direction of the Holy Spirit while the Roman authorities were persecuting and killing Christians. If God expected first-century Christians to submit to Nero Caesar and pray for him, we can do the same for Biden and Harris.
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1–4).
(I wish I was exempt from praying for Biden and Harris, but if they win the election, I have no excuses.)
4. Finally, we must avoid allowing hatred and wickedness to rule our government and society. Both Biden and Trump voters need to hear that.
I have heard many Biden supporters—or, perhaps more accurately, Trump opponents—who accused Donald Trump and his supporters of being “haters.” Yet, many of them speak and write in hateful, nasty tones that make Trump’s Twitter feed sound like an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. At one rally, pop singer Madonna said she had thought of blowing up the White House. Comedienne Kathy Griffin posed for a photograph of her holding a mock severed head of Donald Trump. (You may click on the link to view the picture if you want. I refuse to force my readers to view such garbage.) Those are just two examples. Seriously, people: Where is the hate? If that is not hateful, what is? What is the difference between calling a group of people “deplorables” (Hillary Clinton’s word for Trump voters and other conservatives) and “subhumans” (Hitler’s word for Jews)? Many of the people who criticize Trump’s personality commit the same sins.
Some people voted for Trump because the hatred on the left troubled many conservatives and Christians. We have endured a summer of riots, looting, and violent “protests,” often supported and even encouraged by Democratic mayors, governors, and politicians. Trump’s opponents in the media and the Democratic party use all kinds of hateful language against his supporters. While Trump’s mannerisms may be rough, he has supported religious freedom and traditional Judaeo-Christian values.
Looking at current events, I wonder how long we can continue in a climate of hate. In the 1920s and early 1930s, far-right and far-left political activists protested and rallied throughout Germany. Eventually, one of those sides won: The Nazis gained power; the Communist Party was outlawed, along with every other party; and millions of Jews and others were slaughtered. Do we want to reach that point in our own country? How many emergencies and crises can our nation endure until we slip into tyranny?
We need less hate. We need more love. We need more communication. We need to work together to improve the lives of all Americans. Finally, my fellow Christians, we need to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.
May God have mercy on us and bless and heal our nation.
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I was a young Christian when I attended college in the mid-1980s. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior following my freshman year, in the summer of 1984. During my senior year, 1986–87, a hall-mate in my dorm asked me once, “So, I hear that you’re a born-again Christian? What does that mean? Does that mean you’re not allowed to drink or smoke or have sex?”
I replied, “Actually, I’m allowed to do everything that God allows you to do!” For a few brief seconds, I enjoyed the slightly confused look on his face.
“To be born again means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” I continued, probably quoting John 3:3 while sharing some other details about the Gospel. “Because I have a relationship with Jesus, I want to know His will and do it. He has forgiven my sins and I want to honor Him by trying to be more like Him.”
God’s kingdom extends to all. The greatest difference between Christ’s followers and others is that Christians recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. We are forgiven, and we follow Him.
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent in many churches. The season lasts 40 days, plus Sundays, culminating in Easter. Many Christians will receive ashes in a cross shape on their foreheads, as a reminder that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Those who observe Lent will fast during the 40 days: some may give up a favorite food, beverage, or activity. Catholics and some members of other churches may give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays.
For those who are observing Lent: Do not let it become a season of “Does that mean you’re not allowed….” Let it be a season of renewal in your relationship with Jesus. Yes, give up those cookies, if that’s what you feel God is leading you to do. But, do not stop there. Figure out how you can use this time to enhance your relationship with Christ.
One of the ministries in my church is hosting a series of “Life in the Spirit” seminars during Lent. This made me think: How can I allow the Holy Spirit to more clearly direct me? How can Lent become a time when I become more in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit and less driven by habit or routine? How can I hear more clearly from the Holy Spirit?
This leads me to one of my goals in Lent. I have developed a routine of praying at the computer: I have my online Bible open in one tab, the Book of Common Prayer open in another. It can be easy and convenient to have everything I need right in front of me.
Unfortunately, this convenience can lead to distraction. It is too easy to open another web browser that goes directly to Facebook. My email client will keep popping alerts onto my screen. This Lent, the computer stays in sleep mode during my prayer times. I still have a few “ancient” Bibles from the 20th century, printed on paper with actual covers and binding (OK, one or two have lost their covers!), along with an equally-old copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Neither of these artifacts from the last millennium give email alerts or social media links. This will avoid the temptation to allow my prayers to be distracted by less important things. It is rude to stare at your computer screen when a person in the same room is telling you something important. Could it be just as rude, perhaps, to wander off to Facebook and email while talking to God or, even worse, when He is trying to speak to you?
Lenten fasts and practices should be personally meaningful and relevant. God may be calling you to do something very different from what He is calling others to do. I have shared some advice regarding Lenten fasts here and here.
Ask God: “Is there anything I can try to do differently in Lent? Should I pray differently? Should I spend more time in Bible study? Should I find ways of serving You that might challenge me to step out of my comfort zone?”
Lent, like the rest of the Christian life, is not primarily about what you are allowed to do. It is about who God is in your life. May this be a time when you invite Him to claim a greater role in your life.
“I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first—by deed, the second—by word, the third—by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy” (Diary of St. Mary Faustina Kowalska).
I recently read these sentences in a daily email devotional. St. Mary Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun and mystic, whose diary contains dialogs between the spirit of Jesus Christ and her spirit. The above words are a statement she felt Jesus spoke to her heart. Most of the discourses are about Jesus’ mercy for souls and His call for Sister Faustina to pray for the conversion of sinners. Mercy is the central theme of their conversations.
Perhaps one can substitute other aspects of God’s love here. Where He says “mercy,” you can usually think of God’s love or grace. Here, the Lord calls us to show His mercy and love in three ways: deed, word, and prayer.
Does it seem as though most Christians get this backward? St. Faustina was a woman of prayer, and intercession for souls was her primary calling and ministry. Nevertheless, Jesus says prayer is the third means of showing mercy.
How many of us, though, would put that first? How many would put deeds last? When we encounter someone who is facing trials and hardships, our first instinct is to pray. We are happy to pray for a person who has lost everything he owns or is going through a divorce. We will gladly pray for any person whose life is falling apart.
We may also be willing to show God’s love in words. We will tell the addict that God loves him. We will share the gospel with anybody who has wrecked their lives through sin. We love to share our testimony about how God has provided when we hit rock bottom or how He delivered us from addiction.
Deeds, though, do not come easily. Deeds demand action. Action requires effort. It often involves sacrifice. When a friend has lost all of his possessions, are we willing to sacrifice some of our money or help him buy the basic necessities of life? If a friend is going through a divorce, are we willing to help him or her through the crisis? Are we willing to sit and listen while they talk about their problems—without offering advice or quoting Scripture? Just listen? Just care? Maybe offer to babysit their children so that they can run some errands or just go to a movie?
God’s Word calls us to action:
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, ‘Go in peace. Be warmed and filled;’ yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. Yes, a man will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14-18; all Scripture quotations from the World English Bible).
It is easy to say, “I hope God meets your needs.” We can easily assume we have served God when we see such a person and ask God to meet his needs. However, could it be that God sent this needy person to you in answer to someone else’s prayer? Maybe God does not want you to pray; maybe He wants you to be the answer to another person’s prayer.
This thought hits me whenever I read the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In this parable, Jesus tells us how He will separate the righteous (sheep) from the unrighteous (goats) when He returns. The sheep will be blessed because they fed Jesus, gave Him something to drink, clothed Him, visited Him in prison or when sick, etc. “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me'” (Matthew 25:40).
The goats, on the other hand, did not feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, or visit the sick or imprisoned. Jesus counted this against them. I often wonder: did the goats pray for these people? Jesus does not welcome the sheep into His joy because they prayed, but because they acted. Jesus condemns the goats because they did not act, even if they prayed.
Of course, I am not saying we should not pray. When we pray, we call God’s power into a person’s situation. However, our prayers should be one part of our faith, one element of our walk with Jesus. Our prayers should motivate our action, not replace it.
Many years ago, when I was in seminary, I had several conversations with a retired Baptist minister. In one of our conversations, he offered this word of wisdom: “I refuse to pray any prayer unless I am willing to be the answer to that prayer.”
Do not use prayer as an excuse. Do not use it as a substitute for loving and serving others. When you pray for others, remember to ask, “God, is there anything you want me to do in this situation?”
Act, speak, and pray. This is how we show the love of God to others.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:7–9; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).
as we abide in the vine, we can experience power in our prayers.
Biblical prayer is not the self-centered shopping list recital many Christians think it is. Numerous preachers will quote John 15:7 and tell you that you can demand from God for whatever you wish. After all, He said He would do it for you. He promised! He has to fulfill His promise!
further, though. He answers our prayers so that He may be glorified
and so that we may be much fruit. God does not answer our prayers so
that we can have fancy houses and expensive cars. He does it so that
we can glorify Him, bear fruit, and impart His life to those around
should be our objective. The mature Christian wants to glorify God,
bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and impart the life of Christ to
those around him. The one who abides in Christ is eager to do
evangelism and/or discipleship. Our prayers should be focused on a
few important areas:
Our genuine physical needs: Yes, we should pray for our needs. However, “needs” and “wants” are not the same things. I need food to survive; I do not need to eat at the most expensive restaurants in the New York area seven nights a week. I need a place to live; I do not need a mansion. I need money to survive; currently, that means I need to go to work. Because of my job’s location, a car is the most efficient way for me to get to work. I do not need a Lamborghini. (I may add that, if I lived closer to my job or worked in Manhattan, where I could take a train to work, I would not need that car.) Learn to discern between your needs and wants. Do not be so demanding about your wants.
Our spiritual needs: We should spend more time asking God for wisdom, freedom from sin, the gifts of the Spirit, and so on. We should want God to be glorified in us. We cannot do that on our own. We need His strength, wisdom, and power.
The genuine needs of those around us: Let us pray that God would prove Himself real to those around us as He heals them, meets their needs, and guides them through the difficulties of life.
That God would be glorified throughout the world: How often do you pray for persecuted Christians in other countries? How often do you ask God to intervene with His grace and mercy in international affairs? How often do you ask God to be glorified in federal, state, and local governments?
point of all of this is that the committed Christian will pray
upwardly and outwardly. We pray that God is glorified (upwardly). We
pray that His life and blessings may be imparted to others
(outwardly). Even our prayers for ourselves should answer the
question: What is God doing in
and through your life? How
can He use me to bless others? How can He make me more like His Son,
To abide in Christ is to live a life in consistent connection with Him. We remain close to Him. We seek to be one with Him. Our greatest joy should be found in bringing Him joy, praise, and glory.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20–23).
A Bible teacher, writer, editor, and former pastor, with a B.A. in Psychology and Journalism from Syracuse University (1987) and an M.Div. in Pastoral Counseling from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (1991).