Only Believe…What, Exactly?

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Only Believe…What, Exactly?

James R. Aist

But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be made well.”

Jesus told Jairus to not fear, only believe, that his daughter would be healed (Luke 8:49-50). Here, Jesus made it clear exactly what Jairus was to believe; namely, that God would heal his daughter. Not just that He could heal her or that He was just willing to heal her, but that He would actually heal her. In struggling to understand what a “prayer of faith” (James 5:16) looks like, I have found that there are three successive steps in our journey toward believing God fully for a miracle: 1) believing that God can do it; 2) believing that God is willing to do it; and 3) believing that God will do it. Having done that, the rest is up to God.

The first step should be relatively easy, for those of us who really believe that the Word of God is true. The Bible tells us that God created the entire universe in all of its vastness and complexity, and that He sustains it with His almighty power (Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 11:3). It goes on to say that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37) and that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are replete with accounts of miraculous works done by God. Moreover, there are countless testimonies by reliable witnesses of miracles that God is doing in our generation. So, we can rest assured, based on the biblical witness and contemporary witnesses, that God is able to work the miracle that we need Him to work for us. We believe that God can do it.

The second step may be more problematic, however; is God willing to do it? This question gets to the heart of God’s attitude, purpose and desire for mankind, His heart toward us. We can see a man with leprosy struggling with this issue: “A leper came to Him, pleading with Him and kneeling before Him, saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, extended His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I will. Be clean” (Mark 1:40-41). In fact, the New Testament has no record of Jesus refusing a miracle for anyone coming to Him believing He could do it.  And, the Bible clearly teaches that God’s attitude and desire toward us is to enable us to prosper (Deuteronomy 29:9; Psalm 1:3; Philippians 4:10). But, there are at least two well-known biblical accounts of God being unwilling to grant a prayer request: one is Jesus’s request for His Father to let the cup of suffering pass from Him (Matthew 26:39), and the other is Paul’s request for God to remove the tormenting messenger of Satan from him (2 Corinthians 12:7). God was surely grieved to see His Son and His servant suffering like this, but He had a reason for their suffering that far outweighed the gravity of their suffering: Jesus would save from hell all who would believe in Him (John 3:16-17), and Paul would be kept from becoming swell-headed by the torment inflicted by the messenger of Satan (2 Corinthians 12:7). God was able, but He was not willing, and for a good reason.

This brings us to the third step which is, for many, the most difficult, and, it is often the most complicated. Will God always do what He can do and is willing to do? The answer, I believe, is “No”, and I will tell you why I believe that. The following encounter with God occurred during the first week after I returned home from burying my 20-year-old daughter, Liesel, who had been struck and killed by a car (Click HERE). I was so stunned and emotionally numb from the events of that “week from hell” that I couldn’t even go to work. I just sat around in my recliner all day trying to process what had just happened. Now, I had never asked God why He had allowed anything bad that happened in my life, but this bad thing seemed too awful to cope with. So, one day as I sat in my recliner rehearsing the details of the past week, I began to wonder why God had not healed Liesel instead of calling her home. I was about to ask God “Why?” when suddenly the Holy Spirit stopped me from saying it. Then, God spoke into my mind saying, “You don’t need to know why, because you know Me well enough to know that I had a good reason.” To this day, I can only speculate as to why God did not heal my daughter. Jesus knew, and Paul learned, why God said no, but I was told to just trust that God had a good reason for telling me “No.” In all three of these situations, I believe that, in some way and at some level, God wanted to say yes, but at the same time He wanted even more to say “No”, for a good, a greater, reason.

That brings us now to the conclusion of the matter. I believe that we should always bring our cares, our concerns and our needs to God in prayer (1 Peter 5:7; Hebrews 4:16). And, I believe that we should always pray with the conviction that He can do it, that he is willing to do it, and that He will actually do it. Anything less, I believe, is an offense to the nature and the heart of God, an offense to who He is in relation to us. That way, God is always honored by the manner in which we present our request. And, if God says “No”, then we can rest assured He had a good reason for doing so, even if we never find out what the reason was. In truth, God does not owe us an explanation, regardless of how badly we want our answer to our “Why?” If we pray expecting God to hear our request and expecting that He will actually respond to it, then, I believe, we can expect the best possible outcome, whether or not it is the outcome we had in mind. The Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). And remember, God always has a good reason; our God is a good, good God (Luke 18:19)!

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE.)

God and Liesel

God and Liesel

James R. Aist

I will give thanks to You, O Lord, with my whole heart;
I will declare all Your marvelous works.
(Psalm 9:1)

The purpose of my writing this article is to give glory to God for “great things He has done” (1 Chronicles 17:19). It is an article about how God was at work in the life of my younger daughter, Liesel, as I know it. It is incomplete, of course, because I can only relate what I know of it first-hand. If you take the time to read it through, you will find that God was at work and revealed Himself in amazing ways to save her, and, in the end, to welcome her home to be with Him forever. I believe that you will find a blessing or two in it for yourself.

Liesel was a beautiful, musically talented, athletic, sweet and endearing little girl with a special sense of humor. I called her my “Lee-Lee Bell.” She had already professed her faith in Jesus at an early age, before she was 10 years old: in a Sunday School class, she told the teacher that she had accepted Jesus. Then, when Liesel was 10 years old, I had the precious opportunity to lead her in a prayer to receive Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Here’s what happened. Near the end of a sermon at church on a Sunday morning, Liesel leaned over and asked me, “When did you make your decision for Jesus?” I replied “When I was 8 years old.” “Is it too late for me to do it?” she asked. I replied, “No, you can do it any time before you die. Do you want to do it now?” After further discussion, we agreed that I would help her do it at home, after church. So, after we had lunch, I asked her if now was a good time, and she said it was. So, that’s when we prayed, and Liesel confirmed, by her profession of faith in Jesus, what God had been doing! And she said, “This is the biggest day of my life!” Unfortunately, in the ensuing years, as Liesel passed through her teens, she became unsure of her faith in Jesus. But, like the one sheep that had gone astray (Luke 15:3-6), Liesel belonged to Jesus, and God was not done with her.

The following encounter that I had with God is not only pertinent, but essential, to the rest of the story. I was attending the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International Men’s Advance at Lake George in upstate New York. One day when they were immersion baptizing in the lake, I stepped forward to be immersed by Pastor Don Yarborough. We had never met, and he knew nothing about me. As I approached him in the water, he just stared at me straight in the eye with a blank look, and kept staring. I thought to myself, “That’s strange; he doesn’t seem to even see me coming.” Finally, as I drew near to him, he reached out his hand to me, we shook hands and I introduced myself. Then he said that something very unusual had just happened; it had happened only once before in his ~20 years of baptizing people. He said that as I was approaching him in the water, he received a prophecy for me, in the form of several Bible passages from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. They all had to do with the head of the household being saved and all of his family with him. He then proceeded to share with me all five of those Bible verses. When he had finished with that, he gave me the interpretation of the message: God wants me to stand on and hold fast to these promises, which he is confirming to me and my children. Wow! Through this prophecy, God had just told me that all of my children will be saved! Needless to say, I was a “happy camper” the rest of that afternoon. But, I didn’t say anything to any of my children about this glorious promise at the time.

In August of 1996, Liesel had just turned 19, and it was time for her annual visit with me in Ithaca, NY, from her home in Norman, OK. As was my custom, I brought up the matter of her current position regarding her faith in Jesus, and we talked about that for a while. It was clear that she had a good understanding of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ was all about, but she said that she didn’t want to profess faith in Jesus again unless she was absolutely sure of it. I was OK with that. Now, I had not yet said anything to Liesel about God’s promise to save all of my children. Nevertheless, she looked at me and somehow knew to ask this amazing question: “Daddy, have you ever received any indication from God as to whether or not I will someday become a Christian?” Well, this question blew my mind. I was so overwhelmed by it that, for a few seconds, I was unable to respond. How did she even know to ask me such a thing at that time? I had to conclude that God must have given her that question, and so I haltingly, but eagerly, proceeded to tell her about God’s promise to save all of my children. When I finished, Liesel was visibly pleased and very encouraged by this good news. God had revealed in miraculous ways that He was going to finish the good work that He had begun in Liesel when she was a young child! That was one of the most amazing days of my life.

So, Liesel returned to Norman, and several months went by with just the usual “visits” by phone and e-mail; she did not reveal to me whether or not she had accepted Jesus (again). The only evidence I had at that point that God would save Liesel was His promise that He would save all of my children. Liesel was now 20 years old, and it was late April of 1997. That’s when I got a phone call from the hospital in Norman with the shocking news that Liesel had been struck by a car while walking across an intersection. She was in critical condition with little hope of surviving severe head injuries. She was in a coma, and we were told to get to the hospital as soon as possible. So, we flew to Norman fearing for her life and not having any tangible evidence that Liesel was, in fact, saved. That was the first day of what I refer to as the “week from hell.”

I will spare you the details of her death, but that week I lost my “Lee-Lee Bell.” However, I do want to share with you a spiritual experience I had in the hospital as she was dying. The first three days when we arrived at the hospital, we would go immediately into her room and pray for either her full recovery or no recovery; I could not even imagine how we could cope with her living year after year as, in effect, a vegetable. But the fourth day, something happened to me that I had not experienced before and have not experienced since: we entered her room as usual, and I immediately tried to pray for her as before, but I could not. I kept trying to pray, but something prevented me from even beginning to pray. So, I asked my wife, Janet, to come in and pray for me to be released from whatever was hindering me from praying, to no avail; I still was unable to pray this time. At first, I was confused and perplexed by this strange experience, but before long it dawned on me that, perhaps, the Holy Spirit would not let me pray for Liesel’s recovery this time because her spirit had departed her body since I last prayed. Her mother, Sheila, remarked that she also sensed that Liesel’s spirit was no longer present. That’s when I knew that I had received God’s answer to my prayers for recovery, a very final and heartbreaking “No.”

Next, I will share with you three independent testimonies that week that assured me that God did, indeed, save Liesel. The first of these three testimonies was shared with me in the hospital by her Christian co-worker, Rocky, who used to talk with her privately during work breaks and witnessed to her frequently about Jesus. Rocky told us that, not more than a couple of days before her accident, Liesel had confided in him that she does believe in Jesus. That was a very encouraging testimony, indeed! But, God did not leave it at that. At God’s direction, I testified at the funeral of Liesel’s faith in Jesus, based in part on Rocky’s account. Then, as we were driving to the cemetery after the funeral service, Liesel’s boy friend, Joe, who was riding in the seat behind me, spoke up and told me that, after hearing about Rocky’s testimony, he wanted to tell me that a friend of his (not Rocky) had told him 2-3 weeks earlier that Liesel said she believes in Jesus. Moreover, Joe had just found a letter that Liesel had recently written to Jesus asking Him to help her with a problem. (She would not pray for help to a God that she did not believe in!) Upon hearing that, I was ecstatic and knew full well that when Liesel died, she was believing in Jesus; I now had three independent and credible witnesses to that effect! God not only kept His promise to save Liesel, but He also provided me tangible evidences of it. To God be the glory for demonstrating that He was at work making good on His promise to save my children, by saving Liesel!

But, hang on, there are two glorious and powerful sequels to this story. The first sequel occurred during the first week after our return to Ithaca after burying my daughter. I was so stunned and emotionally numb from the events of the “week from hell” that I couldn’t even go to work. I just sat around in my recliner all day trying to process what had just happened. Now, I had never asked God why He had allowed anything bad that happened in my life, but this bad thing seemed too awful to cope with. So, one day as I sat in my recliner rehearsing the details of the past week, I began to wonder why God had not healed Liesel instead of calling her home. I was about to ask God “Why?” when suddenly the Holy Spirit stopped me from saying it. Then, God said to me, “You don’t need to know why, because you know Me well enough to know that I had a good reason.” I was astonished. On the one hand, I was pleased that God had brought me far enough with Him that I didn’t really need to know why. But on the other hand, I still wanted to know. I had a sense that God might reveal this to me as time went on, but so far, I have not heard a clear word from God about it. I can only rejoice in the knowledge that God called Liesel home when she was professing her faith in Jesus. And, that’s good enough for me!

And now, here’s the second sequel. Roughly two months after the “week from hell”, I received a letter from the mother of one of Liesel’s friends in Norman. She had been praying for the salvation of Liesel and her circle of friends for some years and was delighted to hear of Liesel’s salvation during my testimony at the funeral. But, she wanted me to know what happened as a result of my testimony about Liesel’s faith in Christ. Several of Liesel’s circle of friends had also gotten saved. Another repented and returned to church, becoming a Sunday School teacher. And, in his class, a separated married couple was reconciled. And that’s all in just a few months. Wow! I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to hear of this good news. It gave me a sense that at least Liesel’s sudden and tragic death had led to everlasting blessings for a number of her friends. Now, brace yourself for what came next. As I was basking in this truly amazing good news, God asked me a simple question: “If you had known that Liesel’s death would lead to the salvation of some of her friends, would you have been willing to give her up, so that the others would be saved?” Well, this question caught me up short. Lying about it was not an option, but the truth was painfully convicting: “No, I would not have been willing to give Liesel up for the others!” I replied sadly. Then God said, “Well, that’s exactly what I did for you, isn’t it?” (Please pause and let that sink in.) I have never felt more grateful to Jesus for paying the price for my sins than I did at that moment.

With time, I began to focus less on the loss of my daughter and more on the unspeakable blessing it was that she was with me for 20 years. And I am comforted to know for sure that when the time comes for me to go home to be with Jesus, I will find Liesel there to greet me (Matthew 10:32). That will be a glorious reunion, a time of celebration with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:7-9).

(To read more of my articles with biblical themes, click HERE)

 

 

The Mechanics of Prayer

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The Mechanics of Prayer

James R. Aist

“Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” – (Matthew 6:10)

In the model for prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples, Jesus said “…your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” That is a powerful prayer that all born-again Christians can agree on. Won’t it be wonderful when that prayer is fully manifested on the earth, when Jesus comes and removes all wickedness and all evildoers? But, what are we to do in the “here and now”? Is there some way that we can call down the will and the power of God to deal with our needs and troubles in this fallen world until Jesus comes again? The answer, of course, is yes, we can pray. Many true and helpful things have been said and written about prayer, but, out of all that, what I want us to focus on for a few moments is the mechanism of prayer, or, how prayer works. And there are some very clear prerequisites for effectual prayer given in the Bible.

The most overarching prerequisite for effectual prayer is righteousness. James declared that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much” (James 5:16). And John strongly confirms this point: “We know that God does not listen to sinners. But if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31). So, be diligent to obey the will of God, especially to accept God’s invitation to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. That brings us to the second prerequisite for effectual prayer.

Concerning God, John wrote, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). For our prayers to be effective, we must pray according to God’s will, which He will reveal to us if we are listening. We really wouldn’t want it any other way, would we? To pray effectively, then, we must pray with the heart and the mindset of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed. “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Next, let’s consider some things Jesus had to say about effectual prayer.

In Matthew 18:19-20, Jesus said this to His disciples “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three are assembled in My name, there I am in their midst.” Thus, praying with at least one “prayer partner” is the third prerequisite for effectual prayer.

Now, let’s turn to something Jesus said to His disciples that speaks more directly and instructively about the mechanics of prayer per se. He said, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). When one reads this verse in the immediate context of Matthew 17-19, it becomes obvious that in verse 18, Jesus is giving us an insight into how prayer works: we continue the process by praying to God in heaven (binding and loosing on earth) according to His revealed word to us; then God answers from heaven (binding and loosing in heaven) and accomplishes on earth what we prayed for. Moreover, we see this same insight concerning binding and loosing on earth identified as “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew 16:19, where Jesus says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus’ use here (Matthew 16:19) of the exact same phraseology that He uses in Matthew 18:17-19 identifies this binding and loosing on earth as relating specifically to prayer.

What, then, are “the keys of the kingdom of heaven”? They are not hand tools (keys) by which the gates of heaven are locked and unlocked, as some have imagined. Rather, in view of Jesus words referenced above, the keys of the kingdom of heaven are best understood to be insights into to the mechanism by which God’s will is to be accomplished on earth. Put another way, this is how we can get the will and the power of God applied to our earthly needs. So, taken together, these verses indicate that, in order for us to have God’s power applied to our needs on earth through prayer, we should 1) discern the will of God as He reveals it to us, 2) enlist at least one other believer to agree with us in prayer, and 3) pray according to God’s will. Then God in heaven will do on earth, for us, whatever we asked. And this, according to Jesus, is how the will of God will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” The critical – and, perhaps, most insightful – aspects of all of this for our present consideration is that God initiates the process by revealing His will to us, and He has given it to us to then respond with prayer so that His will is done on earth as it is in heaven (cf. Matthew 6:10)! Pastor Adrian Rogers put it this way: “True prayer must be mandated by heaven. I’m convinced that the only prayer that gets to heaven is the prayer that starts in heaven. We close the circuit when we pray in faith in the name of Jesus.”

But what happens when we don’t know God’s will in a particular matter of concern to us? Do we just refrain from praying altogether? Or, has God made provision for us to pray effectively anyway? Yes, He has. Paul states in, Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Here, Paul explains that, when we don’t know how to pray as we ought about a matter, the Holy Spirit (in us) intercedes for us with groanings. Jesus, who searches the heart (Revelation 2:23), knows what the Holy Spirit is groaning about concerning the matter, and He intercedes for us (Romans 8:34), conveying our concern to the Father, according to the Father’s will. So then, when we don’t know for sure what the Father’s will is in a matter, we should pray anyway, knowing that the Holy Spirit and Jesus will partner to convey to the Father a request from us that is in accordance with God’s will.

To summarize briefly, God first reveals His will to us. In response, we pray to God for help, according to His will. From heaven, God hears and responds to our request, unleashing His power on earth on our behalf. In this way we cooperate with God in accomplishing His will on earth. We have the very “keys of the kingdom of heaven” in our hands, and it is up to us to follow through with prayer, as Jesus taught us to do. God never leaves us to fend for ourselves, but is “… our refuge and strength, a well-proven help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). So, let’s be sure to do our part in this process; that is, listen, and then pray believing.

Recommended reading:

Nee, Watchman. 1995. The Prayer Ministry of the Church. Living Stream Ministry, Anaheim, CA. pp. 35-37.

(To read more of my articles on biblical topics, click HERE)

“Lead Us Not Into Temptation”

The Temptation of Christ, 1854“Lead Us Not Into Temptation”

James R. Aist

Introduction

Have you ever wondered why Jesus would include the phrase “lead us not into temptation” in His instruction to His disciples concerning prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13? The New International Version reads “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” It struck me as odd that Jesus would say such a thing. At first glance it appears as though Jesus was implying that God the Father tempts people to sin, because, after all, our prayers are to be directed to the Father (John 16:23-24). But, does God really tempt people to sin; and if He does not, then what could Jesus possibly be referring to here? Let’s have a closer look.

Does God the Father Tempt Us to Sin?

James addresses this question directly and unequivocally: “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” (James 1:13-14). This passage makes it clear that Jesus could not have meant to imply that God the Father tempts people to sin when He said “lead us not into temptation.” What, then, could Jesus have been referring to?

The Temptation of Jesus

Perhaps the answer lies in the details of an earlier run-in that Jesus himself had with the Devil. Here’s the way Matthew describes how this came about: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1). Here we see that the Holy Spirit did, in fact, lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, but did He actually do the tempting? No, He did not; the Scripture says that it was the devil who did the tempting; the Holy Spirit only arranged the meeting. If you read on in Matthew 4, you will see that the temptations that the devil used against Jesus were powerful and, potentially, very enticing. Moreover, to trick Jesus into complying, they were bathed in Scripture, making it appear as though it would be within the will of the Father for him to accept the devil’s offers. We can only imagine how difficult it may have been for the human side of Jesus to withstand such temptations. In retrospect, it could have been a terrifying experience for Jesus.

Jesus Was Concerned for His Disciples

What I am suggesting is that the reason Jesus instructed His disciples to pray “lead us not into temptation” was that He, himself, was so severely traumatized by these vicious attacks of the devil that He wanted his followers to be spared the kind and intensity of trial that God the Father, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, had put him through, and that He was concerned that they might not fare as well as He did if they were tested like that. This suggestion seems to be all the more likely when one compares the wording in the two relevant passages: “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted” and “lead us not into temptation.” It makes sense to me that Jesus instructed his disciples to pray “lead us not into temptation” because He didn’t want his disciples to go through what He went through. What do you think?

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)