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

Witness, Endurance, and Suffering

The United States of America may be losing its freedoms faster than we expected. What should those who profess Christ as Lord and Savior do?

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. – Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

G. K. Beale, in his introduction to his book, Revelation – A Shorter Commentary, tells us several important things for the times ahead. He says,

John’s readers live in a worldly culture which makes sin seem normal and righteousness appear strange.

The focus of the revelation John received from God is how the church is to conduct itself in the midst of an ungodly world.

Believers are faced with the choice of lining [up] their lives and conduct…with one perspective or the other, and their eternal destiny depends on that choice.

Believers are always facing the threat of compromise in one form or another. They must submit to the message as John has brought it, or face God’s judgment.

As such, the message of the letter is of relevance and value to all believers of all ages, which is why the vision was given to John.

Our way of witness to and suffering for the gospel parallels that of our Lord. Beale explains this truth this way,

The analogy of a chess game is also appropriate. The sacrificial move of Christ at the cross puts the devil in checkmate (deals him a mortal wound); the devil continues to play the game of rebellion, but his defeat is assured.

This is an important theme of John’s vision, which seeks to assure believers going through difficult circumstances that God is with them and will faithfully bring them through to final victory.

The church is identified also with Christ as a priest and now exercises its role as priests by maintaining a faithful witness to the world and willingness to suffer for Christ. It defeats the strategies of the enemy even while suffering apparent defeat, yet still ruling in a kingdom (as Christ did on the cross).

Beale also explains how he understands the book. He says,

In Rev. 1:1, John deliberately uses the language of “signify” from Dan. 2:45 portray that what God has been showing him is likewise symbolic. Most of the things that are about to unfold are not to be taken literally (lions, lambs, beasts, women, etc.), but each refers symbolically to another reality or set of realities….The reader is to expect that the main means of divine revelation in this book is symbolic.

Beale says of his approach to the book of Revelation,

We believe the Redemptive – Historical Idealist view is substantially correct but must be modified in light of the fact that parts of Revelation do definitely refer to future end – time events concerning the return of Christ, His final defeat of the enemy, and the establishment of His heavenly kingdom.

There is great comfort to be had from the book of Revelation. In fact, the book itself says,

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. Revelation 1:3 (English Standard Version)

Another thing to do is to learn from the experience of our brothers and sisters in China’s house churches. Hannah Nation and S. E. Wang’s Grace to the City: Studies in the Gospel from China is a good place to start.

Reading Pastor Wang Yi’s essay titled, “Wang Yi’s 14 Decisions: In the Face of Persecution, What Will I Do?,” posted two months before he was arrested by authorities for preaching the gospel, and other posts on that blog are yet another way to benefit from our brothers’ and sisters’ experience.

In times like these, I go back to this,

O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy.

Habakkuk 3:2 (English Standard Version)

Whether we “Build Back Better” or “Keep America Great,” God is sovereign and will lead His people through the trials ahead. Our duty is to witness openly and not compromise with the world in the face of suffering.

If Xi Jinping does not repent he will perish! – Pastor Wang Yi, September 10, 2018, YouTube, Wang Yi Sermon Clips