If God is Sovereign Why Pray?

God rules over everything, He is the ultimate authority in the universe and sovereign over all. The nature of God’s sovereignty has been frequently discussed and debated by Christians for hundreds of years. Some have said God does not always accomplish His will in this world and the fulfillment of His purposes is dependent on the actions of men. For those who believe God limits His interference in the affairs of mankind, there is no tension between prayer and sovereignty. However, others believe God’s will is always being accomplished and He has predetermined all events that will happen. For those who hold this view of God’s sovereignty there exists a real tension between the function of prayer and the will of God. 

The Bible strongly affirms the sovereignty of God. In Ephesians 1:11 we are told that God “accomplisheth all things after the counsel of His own will.”  Isaiah 46:10-11 God says, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” A literal reading of these verses leads to the conclusion that what God has determined to do He will definitely acomplish.  

If God will always do what He plans, what is the role of prayer in history, human lives and the plan of God? Does prayer change the mind of God? Does prayer serve any purpose in accomplishing God’s will or in changing the events of this world? Does God really answer prayer or does He just do what He had always planned on doing in the first place? These are not trivial questions. They cut to the heart of prayer and the believer’s relationship with God. 

The Bible also strongly affirms the effectiveness of prayer. James 5:16 says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” In Matthew 7 Jesus promises that if we ask, God will give what we ask. James 4 says, “You have not because you ask not.” The Bible describes a real connection between praying and receiving. The Old Testament gives examples of men like Moses and Abraham who prayed and changed the mind of God. Without a doubt God answers the prayers of His children. He changes His plans and gives good things in response to the prayers of His people. The Bible teaches that God genuinely answers the prayers of His children and He always accomplish His purposes.

If the only purpose of prayer was to get stuff from God, then any attempt to answer this question would be frustrating and ultimately futile. Prayer is about more than making requests of God. Prayer is a vital part of the believers relationship with his Heavenly Father. Genuine prayer includes praise, confession and thankfulness, as well as asking. God delights in answering the prayer of His children, but God delights even more in having a relationship with them. John 15 makes answered prayer dependent upon a healthy relationship with God. Prayer is all about relationship with God. The incredible privilege of the beleiver is to personally speak to the Sovereign God who rules all things. God graciously promises to answer the prayers of His people. 

In the end there is still some unresolved tension because we are not able to fully understand the Bible’s truths about God. He is in control of all things. He does work all things according to His will and He does answer the prayer of His people. The Bible affirms all these truths, and so Christians joyfully affirm them as well. We pray with faith, patience and hope because it is our privilege to do so, knowing we have a gracious Father who will hear and answer. 

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Did the early church meet in people’s homes?

Recent years have shown a renewed interest in the habits of the apostolic church. Many are asking what the church did in the first decades after Jesus’ resurrection. Much of this interest comes from a desire to answer the always important question of what it means to be a church. One specific question that is being asked is where the early church gathered. Did the early church meet in individual’s homes?

The Bible is not silent about where the church met. Scripture makes specific statements that some churches met in homes. Colossians 4:15 says, “Salute . . . Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” In Romans 16 Paul greets the church meeting in Aquilla and Priscilla’s house. Paul wrote the epistle of Philemon to Philemon and the church in his house. Without a doubt early churches met in homes. 

However, the early church did not meet exclusively in people’s homes. The Bible also makes specific statements that some churches met in public areas and large facilities. Acts 5 tells of the church in Jerusalem gathering in the temple courtyard. In Acts 19 the Ephesian believers are said to have met in the “school of Tyrannus” and continued meeting in this facility for two years. These two examples are sufficient to show that the church meeting place was not restricted to homes or that home meetings were seen as superior to meeting in other locations. The New Testament gives many commands about how the church should gather. The New Testament describes when the church should gather. The New Testament does not give any instructions about where the church should gather.

Proponents of house churches sometimes imply and sometimes state that the house church is better because it has less formal structure than a more traditional church. The New Testament shows a development and increase in the organization of the church, but there is nothing to indicate that the basic formal structures of the modern church were not in existence during the apostolic era. The New Testament discusses a number of formal structures in the church. These include a known membership, a select group of deacons, lists of widows, the giving and distribution of gifts, a known and understood body of doctrine, the appointment of special ministers to act on behalf of the church, the ability of the congregation to welcome and remove people from the church, a clearly defined pastorate, men specially appointed as pastors, an accepted body of doctrine and vigorous defense against false doctrines.

The early churches met in homes. These early house churches were not a gathering of the family on Sunday morning. Nor were they an informal gathering of neighbors to discuss the Bible. From the very beginning every church was an official gathering of believers who held to orthodox doctrine, who had a defined membership, who appointed officers to oversee their affairs, who were submitted to pastoral authority and who made binding decisions for themselves. The location of meeting does not define a church. The gathering of believers with the active intention of fulfilling all the responsibilities given by Jesus to His church is what makes a group of people a church.

Can the dead speak to the living?

“The dead are still with us and death is just an illusion. The dead try to connect with us every day. To receive guidance and comfort from them, we only have to be open and aware of the signs they send us.” Mystics and mediums promise they can help people hear from the dearly departed. Many people wonder if the dead really can speak to them. Many claim to have had contact with a deceased relative. Whether it be a touch of the wind on their cheek or a vision of a loved one, they believe they have had personal contact with a spirit. While these experiences offer a sense of comfort, are they real? What does the Bible say about speaking to the dead?

Most importantly, Scripture strongly condemns attempts to get instruction, input or guidance from the dead. Deuteronomy 18:11-12 says, “There shall not be found among you anyone who . . . practices divination or a sorcerer or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.” This is not just a command for the Israelites that no longer applies today. All throughout the Bible witches and mediums were closely connected with idolatry. The New Testament condemns all forms of witchcraft and sorcery, which includes necromancy, mysticism and divination. If it were possible for the dead to speak to the living, the living are prohibitted to seek guidance from them.

The dead cannot speak to the living. The Bible describes the dead as no longer able to speak to the living. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “The dead know nothing.” and Ecclesiastes 9:10 says there is no knowledge or wisdom in the grave. Psalm 115:17 calls the grave a place of silence. These verses teach that the dead have no more voice upon this world.

But what about King Saul? Didn’t he speak to the spirit of the prophet Samuel? In 1 Samuel 28 King Saul visits a witch to seek guidance from the deceased prophet. The witch of Endor was genuinely surprised when Samuel appeared. Her surprise hints that she did not actually expect the spirit of a dead man come at her call. This incident is the only one of its kind in the Bible. None should read the description of Saul’s sin as permission to seek guidance from the dead. Saul’s visit to the witch of Endor is specifically mentioned as one of the reasons for his death in battle against the Philistines. Samuel’s appearance to the witch of Endor was a unique event that God allowed to happen for His own purposes. The dead do not possess any ability in themselves to speak to the living.

Everything the Bible teaches about the spirits of the dead shows that we should not expect to hear from them. The Word of God gives clear and strong condemnnation against seeking to contact the dead. These supposed contacts may offer a measure of comfort to some, they are fleeting and ultimately unnecessary. Wer have no need to seek input from the dead. The Bible gives all the comfort, instruction and guidance that anyone needs.

If God is real, why do terrible things happen to innocent people?

One of the great problems many people struggle to address is the presence of terrible evil in the world. Why does God allow tragedies to happen to innocent people? Why do so many evil people go unpunished through life? Why do little children in Africa starve while pedophiles die at a comfortable old age?

These kinds of questions are not contrary to the Bible. Scripture asks and answers them. In Psalm 73 the Psalmist wrestled with why the wicked prospered. He said, “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no (pains) in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.” The Psalmist was tempted to think serving the Lord to be a waste of time, but he says, “then understood I their end.” The problem of evil cannot be answered without considering the future of wicked people. The prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the innocent is very brief. This does not mean suffering is insignificant. This means the wicked will never get away with their wickedness. The time of evil is going to come to end. The time of judgment is coming. No one ever gets away with anything. The murderer who dies in his sleep at an old age does not get off the hook. He will be judged by God and will pay the full penalty of his heinous sins. God’s justice never fails. Every sin will be fully punished.

But why do evil things happen in the first place? Evil happens because man rebelled against God. Man sank so deeply and so thoroughly into sin that only 1,500 years after the first sin, God wiped the Earth clean with a huge flood. Noah’s flood shows the severity of the problem of sin, and also points to the problem of God’s judgment.

The holiness of God is not limited to hatred of the really bad sins like murder and rape. God hates all sin. Murder is no more deserving of judgment than lying. If God were to remove evil from the world today, all evil would have to be removed. Gossips and rapists, angry men and genocidal maniacs, drunkards and murderers, all will be judged. Which is also the reason God has not yet removed evil from the world.

Why doesn’t God just punish sin now? What is He waiting for? The answer given repeatedly in the Bible is that God will punish sin, but not yet. God delays judgment so some will have the chance to repent. When God judged the world in the flood, the waters did not just destroy the most violent. The flood took away all but the 8 on the ark. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah did not spare those who were not as bad as the rest. God’s judgment will be upon all evil.

Most people do not actually want God to remove all evil from the world. They want Him to remove the really bad sorts of evils, but leave us with the evils we are comfortable with. Sin is not a minor a problem, like a sprained finger. Sin is a cancer that corrupts all creation. The terrible things that happen remind us that sin, all sin, is a horrible curse afflicting the world. God is not overlooking any sin. He will punish all.

If God is really against polygamy why does Deuteronomy 21 allow it?

“If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn.” (Deuteronomy 21:15-16) This verse raises a major question. If God is really against polygamy then why does the law of Moses allow it?

Adding to the argument for polygamy some of the great men of the Old Testament were polygamists. Abraham, Jacob, Caleb, David, and Solomon were Godly men who practiced polygamy. The Bible records no rebuke of these men for their polygamy. Are we to interpret the Bible’s lack of specific condemnation to be approval of polygamy? Is the Biblical definition of marriage not as fixed as modern defenders of marriage would have us believe?

The most compelling evidence that God intended marriage to be between only one man and one woman is found in the words of Jesus. When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, His answer was based upon the original created design of one man and one woman. Jesus considers the marriage of Adam and Eve as the prototype and the standard for all other marriages.

If the words of Jesus teach that God is against polygamy, then what is going on in Deuteronomy 21? The law of Moses contained different types of laws. Some governed temple worship, sacrifices and ceremonial uncleanness. Other laws were civil laws which instructed the the Israelites how to live as a nation. These laws dealt with murder, false accusation, disease, slaves, conquests, poverty and other issues that all governments have to address. The only marriage related laws address suspected adultery, divorce and inheritance in a polygamous family, except for the command of Deuteronomy 17:17. God forbade kings to multiply wives. Thus, David and Solomon were in clear violation of God’s command regarding marriage.

The law of Deuteronomy 21 gives commands regarding polygamy to ethically address one problem that would arise when a man was married to more than one woman. Polygamy was part of the culture. Those with power and wealth would often have multiple wives. A man would likely leave his inheritance to the son of his favored wife instead of to the eldest son of his household. This law was intended to protect against favoritism in the inheritance.

Though the Bible does record instances of Godly men being polygamists, the majority were not. Noah, Moses, Joshua, Isaac, Joseph and many other great names of the Old Testament were unmarried or married to only one wife. In short, polygamy may have been permitted, but it was never the standard for marriage.

Why did God not just forbid polygamy outright? Why not punish the polygamist and invalidate all polygamous marriages? We can only speculate on why God did not give more clear prohibitions against polygamy, but the ancient attitudes towards women would have made punishing polygamy incredibly hard on the wives. A woman who had been married and divorced was shamed. She would have faced destitution and scorn. It was better for her to remain in the marriage, protected and cared for, than to be cast out to her shame and poverty.

At times the Old Testament law gave instructions regarding things that God did not approve of. Jesus told the Pharisees that God allowed divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts. God disapproves of divorce, but gave instructions in the law of Moses to guide it. Polygamy is much the same. God created marriage to be between one man and one woman, but He gave a law concerning inheritance in a polygamous family to protect the rights of the children.

Are the New Testament commands optional?

Some Christians appear to have the idea that the New Testament commands are not that important. This author has been told by professing Christians that since obeying the New Testament commands is not necessary for salvation then believers today do not have to obey them. Are the New Testament commands binding on Christians? In other words, are they actual commands to be obeyed or just Divine recommendations?

The New Testament writers viewed the commands they communicated to be binding on Christians. Significant consequences were to be administered to those who did not obey the New Testament commands. Jesus Himself commanded that disobedient Christian’s were to be put out of the church. The Thessalonian church was told to remove those who did not obey the commands of 2 Thessalonians. The Apostle Paul said some members of the church in Corinth were sick and some had died because of their disobedience to God’s commands. In the second and third chaptes of the book of Revelation are strong warnings to several churches. Jesus threatened significant judgment on those churches and Christians who disobeyed Him.

More important than the consequences of disobedience is the confession made by obedience. 1 John says, “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in Him.” Obedience to the commands of God is one of the evidences of genuine salvation. Those who profess salvation but refuse to obey God are frauds. They are not saved. To brush aside the commands of God is to show an incredible disregard for God, His Word and His will. Ignoring God’s commands shows a lack of genuine love for God. Jesus said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsover I command you.”

To disregard God’s commands because they play no role in salvation is to misunderstand the purpose of the commands. No command was ever given to save men. The Old Testament law was not given to the Israelites as a means of salvation. The Old Testament law was always a teacher to point the sinner to his need of a Savior. Salvation always has been and always will be received through faith in Jesus. However, it does not follow that obedience is unimportant.

God’s commands are given for the good of His children. The commands keep the Christian from sin and teach them how to live pleasing to Him. The New Testament commands work to make the believer more like Jesus. Obedience to the commands of God shows that the believer considers God’s will to be supreme, His words to be law and He to be the ruler of life. By obeying the commands of God the Christian shows that God is truly most important. Obedience is not necessary to salvation, but it is essential to growth, testimony and the glory of God.

What is the best way to begin reading the Bible?

The New Year is right around the corner and people are thinking about their resolutions to start off the year on the right foot. Many Christians will resolve to read their Bibles more faithfully. Those who have tried reading the Bible in a year know that the task is difficult, and unfortunately, often a failure. As you look at the Bible and consider reading it this year, is there a better way to begin that will help keep the reader on track?

The best way to begin and continue reading the Bible is to start with the right understanding of the importance of the Word of God. The Bible is the only record of God’s communication to mankind. Scripture is God’s words written down and kept for the benefit of every person. The Bible brings sinners to saving faith. The Bible teaches men what God expects of them. The Bible tells God’s purpose for creation. The Bible declares God’s commands to mankind. The Bible unfolds the plan God has for humanity. The Bible reveals who God is and what God is like. A knowledge of the Bible is essential to answered prayer. The Bible is challenging to read at times, but it is always essential if the child of God is going to have a close relationship with God. Read the Bible because you cannot do without it.

Before you begin reading, pray for God to help you comprehend what you are reading. The Bible is a supernatural and spiritual book that can only be rightly understood when the Holy Spirit opens the understanding.

Before you read, have the right expectations of the Bible. Do not expect the Bible to be like a magazine, newspaper or novel. The Bible is a collection of various books that contain history, Jewish poetry, parables, prophecies, commands and personal letters. The Bible contains types of literature that are unfamiliar and, at times, difficult. Scripture deals with difficult subjects that will not be easily understood. Expect to face some challenges along the way.

Plan to read the Bible the same way you would eat an elephant, one bite at a time. The book of Genesis is fascinating, but many people would struggle to spend the three hours necessary to read all of Genesis in one sitting. Read the Bible in bites small enough for you to handle. Find a reading program that is doable for you and it will be a great help to remaining faithful. Though it seems to be a massive book filled with strange ideas, the average reader can read the entire Bible in about seventy hours. By spending one hour and twenty minutes every week, you can read the entire Bible in a year. Spend fifteen minutes a day reading Scripture and you can read through the whole Bible in one year.

Determine ahead of time not to let a missed day or two keep you from continuing. Many drop out of their reading plan because they get behind. Often those who have the goal to read the Bible in a specific period of time get frustrated and quit when they miss a few days. Instead of trying to reach a deadline, commit to reading every day. If you miss a day, read the next day and just keep plugging away.

Most importantly, reading the Bible is very important, but you cannot just read it. Read to know your God better. Read to have your life changed. The Bible is the authoritative decree of the God of the universe. He gave you the Bible so you would know Him. He gave the Bible to tell you what He expects of you. Submit yourself to the instructions of the Bible and let its rules guide the way you live.

Many tools and resources are available to help you read through the Bible at any pace you desire. Smartphone apps like You Version offer daily Bible reading plans and a wide range of downloadable plans are available here.

Is God a Megalomaniac?

In a recent Everlasting Truths radio broadcast one of the pastor’s commented, “God is not ultimately for us, He is ultimately for Himself.” By that he meant God’s work in this world is to bring glory to Himself. Some see this and believe God must be a maniac who is psychotically bent on having everyone worship Him and on doing that which makes Himself looks better. Does the Bible teach that God is doing everything for His own glory? If it does, does that mean God is a self-centered jerk?

The Bible does teach that God is working in this world to bring glory to Himself. Revelation 4:11 says, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Jesus told his disciples, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” In Isaiah 48:11 God tells the Jews why He would rescue them from captivity and judgment, “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? And I will not give my glory unto another.” God is working in the world for His own glory.

Since this is a Biblical idea, does it mean that God is a self-centered maniac? If a person acts this way he is considered to have a mental disorder. Brad Pitt could not accept God’s call to worship Him alone. He said, “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.” Michael Prowse, a writer for a London newspaper said, “We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect God would surely have no character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?”

Statements like these suppose God’s desire for the exaltation of His own glory is a personality flaw that brings injury to others. When a maniac rules a nation for his own aggrandizement, it always bring suffering and ruin on that nation. Only when the unfortunate citizens of that land are freed from his tyranny is there a measure of good brought to them. Is this true of God? Does His rule result in our misery? Is our rebellion the only means to bring joy to mankind?

When God created humanity He designed men to know Him, to walk with Him and to love Him. The Bible gives a glimpse of the paradise that existed while man walked with God and obeyed Him fully. When man rebelled paradise was lost. Misery, death, sorrow and pain filled the world. When God calls men to worship Him He is calling them to return to the place we abandoned to venture into the desolation of sin. He is calling humanity to leave the things which bring condemnation and wrath upon the world to return to Him who gives goodness and joy. When God demands men worship Him it is for His glory and for our good. These two things cannot be separated: what exalts God is good for mankind.

God does not demand our worship as if he needed his ego soothed or his self-esteem bolstered. God does not need anything from man. Paul says in Acts 17, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:24-25, 28) God does not need our worship for His own sake. He commands our worship because it is due Him and it is good for us. God is ultimately concerned with Himself because He is infinitely concerned for us.