Why Pray?

In my discussions with friends and foes, I am asked, “Why do you bother following such depressing news?” My answer is twofold. First, the Lord said:

“…You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” Matthew 16:2–3 English Standard Version

Therefore, I read and study the signs of the times in which we live. And second, I want to understand these times in the same spirit as the Tribe of Issachar,

“…Men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…1 Chronicles 12:32 ESV

With them, I ask, what are we to do? Incidentally, Issachar’s territory incorporated the valley of Megiddo.

As a result of my studies, I’ve concluded, we must pray. The main reason to pray in our circumstances comes from Paul’s remark in his Letter to the Ephesians:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:11–13, ESV

Clearly, no action in our flesh can prevail in this warfare.

Relative to this struggle, Albert Barnes comments on Daniel’s prayers that are recorded in the Book of Daniel, chapter 10. In this chapter, Daniel discovers that the answers to his prayers are the result of angelic warfare. Barnes has some surprising insights into Daniel’s prayer and the answer he receives. He says in regard to verse 13:

…The great truth is, that the answer to prayer is often delayed, not by any indisposition on the part of God to answer it, and not by any purpose not to answer it, and not by the mere intention of trying our faith, but “by the necessary arrangements to bring it about.”

[Prayer] is of such a nature that it cannot be answered at once. It requires time to make important changes; to influence the minds of men; to remove obstacles; to raise up friends; to put in operation agencies that shall secure the thing desired. There is some obstacle to be overcome. There is some plan of evil to be checked and stayed. There is some agency to be used which is not now in existence, and which is to be created.

The opposition of the “prince of Persia” could not be overcome at once, and it was necessary to bring in the agency of a higher power – that of Michael – to effect the change. This could not be done in a moment, a day, or a week, and hence, the long delay of three “full weeks” before Daniel had an assurance that his prayers would be answered.

So, it often happens now. We pray for the conversion of a child; yet there may be obstacles to his conversion, unseen by us, which are to be patiently removed, and perhaps by a foreign influence, before it can be done. Satan may have already secured a control over his heart, which, is to be broken gradually, before the prayer shall be answered.

We pray for the removal of the evils of intemperance, of slavery, of superstition, of idolatry; yet these may be so interlocked with the customs of a country, with the interests of men, and with the laws, that they cannot be at once eradicated except by miracle, and the answer to the prayer seems to be long delayed.

We pray for the universal spread of the gospel of Christ; yet how many obstacles are to be overcome, and how many arrangements made, before this prayer can be fully answered; and how many tears are to be shed, and perils encountered, and lives sacrificed, before the prayer of the church shall be fully answered, and the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.

The duty, then, which is taught, is that of patience, of perseverance, of faith in God, of a firm belief that he is true to all his promises, and that he is a hearer of prayer – though the blessing seems long delayed.

Daniel prayed earnestly for the restoration of his people to their land and received an answer that far surpassed his request. His desire was pure. However, we must check our motives if we are to expect answers. James cautions:

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? James 4:2b–4a, ESV

However, if our motives are in line with His commandments, then, whatever the request might be, John reminds us:

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. 1 John 5:14–15, ESV

Then, like Daniel, we persevere and wait patiently, with trust in God, for the answer to come.

I must leave you with a sermon by Pastor Wang Yi. On December 30th, 2019, Pastor Wang Yi was tried in a secret trial and sentenced to 9 years in prison for the crimes of “inciting to subvert state power” and “illegal business operations.” His sermon is titled, “Persecution is a Test.” Unless you understand Mandarin, please read the subtitles; I think it’s worth the effort.

Persecution is a Test 逼迫是一种测试 – Pastor Wang Yi 王怡牧师, YouTube, Posted January 29, 2019, Preached October 10, 2018, Wang Yi Sermon Clips 王怡牧师讲道短片

Your Fiery Trial

No doubt you’ve suffered “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Perhaps you’ve been insulted, falsely accused, or unjustly condemned when you’ve tried to do good for others? All alive will at some time suffer one or more of these adversities. However, only those saved by God’s grace can grow as a result of them. The Apostle Peter says in his first letter:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Although Peter elsewhere counsels that Paul’s writings are sometimes hard to understand, I find this passage of his difficult as well. Let’s see what John Calvin has to say:

Beloved, think it not strange, or, wonder not. There is a frequent mention made in this Epistle of afflictions; the cause of which we have elsewhere explained. But this difference is to be observed, that when he exhorts the faithful to patience, he sometimes speaks generally of troubles common to man’s life; but here he speaks of wrongs done to the faithful for the name of Christ.

And first, indeed, he reminded them that they ought not to have deemed it strange as for a thing sudden and unexpected; by which he intimates, that they ought by a long mediation to have been previously prepared to bear the cross. For whosoever has resolved to fight under Christ’s banner, will not be dismayed when persecution happens, but, as one accustomed to it, will patiently bear it. [In order] that we may then be in a prepared state of mind when the waves of persecutions roll over us, we ought in due time to habituate ourselves to such an event by meditating continually on the cross.

Moreover, he proves that the cross is useful to us by two arguments, — that God thus tries our faith, — and that we become thus partakers with Christ. Then, in the first place, let us remember that the trial of our faith is most necessary, and that we ought thus willingly to obey God who provides for our salvation. However, the chief consolation is to be derived from a fellowship with Christ.

Hence Peter not only forbids us to think it strange, when he sets this before us, but also bids us to rejoice. It is, indeed, a cause of joy, when God tries our faith by persecution; but the other joy far surpasses it, that is, when the Son of God allots to us the same course of life with himself, that he might lead us with himself to a blessed participation of heavenly glory.

For we must bear in mind this truth, that we have the dying of Christ in our flesh, that his life may be manifested in us. The wicked also do indeed bear many afflictions; but as they are separated from Christ, they apprehend nothing but God’s wrath and curse: thus it comes that sorrow and dread overwhelm them.

Hence, then, is the whole consolation of the godly, that they are associates with Christ, that hereafter they may be partakers of his glory; for we are always to bear in mind this transition from the cross to the resurrection. But as this world is like a labyrinth, in which no end of evils appears, Peter refers to the future revelation of Christ’s glory, as though he had said, that the day of its revelation is not to be overlooked, but ought to be expected.

But he mentions a twofold joy, one which we now enjoy in hope, and the other the full fruition of which the coming of Christ shall bring to us; for the first is mingled with grief and sorrow, the second is connected with exultation. For it is not suitable in the midst of afflictions to think of joy, which can free us from all trouble; but the consolations of God moderate evils, so that we can rejoice at the same time.

One might object that suffering for righteousness sake in the hope of future joy is nothing more than “pie in the sky when we die.” But it is so much more. This kind of suffering shows we are His possession, and if we are His, this world has no hold on us. This momentary light affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Steel Mill Run-off

Run-off from a Steel Mill Open Hearth Furnace, Republic Steel Corp., Youngstown, Ohio, November 1941, A work of the U.S. federal government, in the public domain

The Sower

The first 23 verses of the Book of Matthew, chapter 13, record the Lord Jesus’s parable of the sower, His reasoning behind speaking in parables, and His explanation of the sower parable. This is His explanation:

“Hear then the parable of the sower:

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Matthew 13:18-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin comments on the parable as a whole:

…He only intended to warn us, that, in many persons, the seed of life is lost on account of various defects, in consequence of which it is either destroyed immediately, or it withers, or it gradually degenerates.

That we may derive the greater advantage from this warning, we ought to bear in mind, that he makes no mention of despisers who openly reject the word of God, but describes those only in whom there is some appearance of docility.

But if the greater part of such men perishes, what shall become of the rest of the world, by whom the doctrine of salvation is openly rejected?

And relative to the good soil:

But he that received the seed into a good soil… None are compared by Christ to a good and fertile soil, but those in whom the word of God not only strikes its roots deep and solid, but overcomes every obstacle that would prevent it from yielding fruit.

Is it objected that it is impossible to find anyone who is pure and free from thorns? It is easy to reply, that Christ does not now speak of the perfection of faith, but only points out those in whom the word of God yields fruit. Though the produce may not be great, yet everyone who does not fall off from the sincere worship of God is reckoned a good and fertile soil

Hence too we learn that we have no right to despise those who occupy a lower degree of excellence; for the master of the house himself, though he gives to one the preference above another on account of more abundant produce, yet bestows the general designation, good, even on inferior soils…

Therefore, please:

…Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21 (ESV)

The Sower - Tissot

The Sower, 1886 – 1894, James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, PD-Art-US