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Prayer According to God’s Will: 1689 Confession Study (Chapter 22)

September 15, 2016 1 comment

The 1689 Baptist Confession exposition series is currently in chapter 22 – the chapter on worship and its elements.  Two paragraphs here address the specifics of prayer – both corporate and private – and thus the 1689 study includes a mini-series on the elements of prayer.  (Now I am caught up to the latest available message in the series; this will continue with future lessons as they become available on Sermon Audio.)  A few thoughts here, regarding the issue of ‘praying according to God’s will,’ from this lesson (March 13, 2016) — three common errors, or points of misunderstanding, regarding interpretation of 1 John 5:14:

  • The “Room Service” view interprets 1 John 5:14 with over-emphasis on the ‘ask.’ Asking is what matters, and therefore to ask about anything is in itself according to God’s will.

A well-known scripture example that refutes this error, is the apostle Paul’s request (three times) for God to remove the thorn in his flesh; the answer was no.  Another incident I recall here, brought up in Tom Chantry’s recent Deuteronomy series: Moses’ pleading with God to be allowed to go into the promised land—that too was not allowed, and was not according to God’s will.

  • The “name it and claim it” view, one we’re familiar with from all the false teaching on Christian television, takes the scriptural reference that “if two or more people agree” and concludes that therefore, if at least two people agree to pray about something, God will do it.

R. C. Sproul has referred to this idea as, God as our “celestial bellhop,” at our beck-and-call for anything we want. As Sproul observed (quote available at this blog link):

We are reminded of statements like “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7); “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19); and “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22). Shorthand summaries like these have provoked bizarre theories of prayer where people have violently isolated these passages from everything else Jesus and the Bible say about prayer. Distortions also abound when we approach these aphorisms simplistically. Consider the earlier statement about any two people agreeing. It would not be difficult to find two Christians who agree that ridding the world of cancer or wars would be a good idea. Their prayer in this matter would not automatically accomplish their desire. The Word of God indicates that wars, poverty, and disease will be present at the time of Christ’s return. To expect their absolute elimination before the appointed time is to grasp prematurely the future promises of God.

The third idea is not so much error, but partly true combined with a misunderstanding regarding God’s decretive versus perceptive wills.  The “Submissive but unsure” doubtful view, submits to God’s will, but remains uncertain as to whether the request being made is according to God’s will.  Here we consider God’s two wills: 1) His decretive will regarding everything that happens, everything that will occur; and 2) His perceptive will, that which is revealed throughout scripture as God’s precepts, God’s moral law, how we should live as Christians.  When we pray for things regarding our future – things not specifically revealed in God’s word – we submit the request to God and His will, with that uncertainty as to what the answer will be.  But when we pray for things that pertain to God’s perceptive will, we know that He will answer. Prayers for greater patience and endurance, for more peace, and other Christian “fruits of the spirit” ARE according to God’s will, prayers that we can have confidence that God will answer.  Indeed it is so, as Hodgins related, that often we can look back at a particular situation and realize, that yes, in this situation, this time I was more patient, this time my temper didn’t flare up – continuing answers to prayers that are according to God’s will.

Finding God’s Will, and Other Insights from Jonah

May 12, 2011 Leave a comment

In my continuing studies through the minor prophets, I recently listened to S. Lewis Johnson’s 5-part Jonah series.  Of all the minor prophets, of course, none is so well known as the story of Jonah — though as SLJ admitted, as a young person he couldn’t remember if it was the fish that swallowed Jonah, or Jonah that swallowed the fish!

Again, S. Lewis Johnson’s exposition of Jonah does not disappoint, and he points out several great scripture-treasures in this little book.

In Jonah chapter 1 comes the doctrine of Satanic providence, the whole notion of how we determine God’s will for our lives.  Providence, as played out in actual events or even in the drawing of lots or other random events, is supposed to show God’s will.  After all, Jonah had all the right circumstances going for him: he was able to go down to the coast, he had the necessary money for fare to Tarshish, the ship was available, etc.  Since it was so easy to do, and the circumstances all worked out so well, surely — Jonah could have reasoned — this was in God’s will.  Another great example from scripture:  1 Samuel 26:8, David and Abishai in Saul’s camp, and the Lord had put everyone in the camp to sleep.  Abishai reasoned that this was God’s will, that now is the time for David to kill Saul and gain the kingdom.

In today’s society, some Christians think of finding God’s will by opening up the Bible and randomly sticking their finger on a page — and that verse that the person “lands on” will somehow provide direction.  (I read of this very type of thing in Brother Andrew’s story from his early Christian years.)  Johnson here observed that sometimes God will accommodate us when we do such things, but it’s clearly not the right way to learn God’s will.

Regarding Jonah’s attitude itself, many ideas have been suggested, including that he was prejudiced against the Gentiles, that he only wanted God’s blessings for the Jews and not for others.  Johnson suggests yet another idea:  Jonah loved his country more than he loved God.  He understood the covenant relationship of Israel to God, and knew that Israel was in apostasy and thus under threat of judgment.  Very likely he was even aware of the prophecies that had been made, as by others of the minor prophets, that Assyria would be the instrument used to bring judgment upon Israel.  Therefore, if Nineveh turned to the Lord, such would be a rebuke to Jonah’s nation and would seal their doom.  We are not told any of this explicitly, but certainly in Jonah 4:2 Jonah says “when I was yet in my country.”

Another theme that comes out is Jonah’s runs, showing us a prophet who caused more problems for God than the many Ninevites did — and God’s incredible patience with us and our waywardness:

  •     In chapter 1, Jonah runs away from God
  •     In chapter 2, Jonah runs back to God
  •     In chapter 3, Jonah runs with God
  •     In chapter 4, Jonah runs ahead of God

The book of Jonah also shows several “prepared” things, and the word occurs four times in this book (Jonah 1:17, and Jonah 4:6-8).  (Note: in the ESV edition, which I read from, the word is “appointed.”)  The prepared things include a great fish, a gourd, a worm, and a “scorching east wind.”  Yet going beyond all the actions and things in the basic story, we can see a 5th “prepared thing” in the prophet Jonah himself.  Through the very fact that Jonah later penned the story of his experiences, Jonah shows himself to now be a “humbled and spirited saint.”  Finally, the book of Jonah is Jonah’s confession of how God settled Jonah’s quarrel with Him.