Timothy Paul Jones recently recounted his daughter’s battle with COVID-19 at The Gospel Coalition. It’s a wonderfully written piece about trusting God when things seem out of control and confusing. It’s about trusting God when we may want to control life ourselves. I recommend reading the entire thing, but one section struck me as clarifying an often confused (or abused) part of prayer.
And so, we prayed for Hannah’s healing, and such prayers are good and right. Many nights as Hannah lay in the hospital, I repeated the words that Jairus the synagogue leader spoke to Jesus: “My little daughter is dying. Please come and lay your hands on her” (Mark 5:23). But I also prayed these prayers “in Jesus’s name.” These words are not a mere tagline we add to upgrade our petitions to first class or to increase the likelihood that God will do exactly what we ask. To pray in the name of Jesus is to surrender our requests to a plan that’s greater than our own. When I pray “in Jesus’s name,” I am asking God to do whatever will point most clearly to the glory and majesty of Jesus, even if that answer brings suffering and pain.
I’ll admit, when I first read his emphasis on praying in Jesus’ name, it raised a caution flag in my mind. You see, in many circles, the idea of praying something “in Jesus’ name” is seen as a magic token that obligates God to do whatever we ask. Akin to casting out the Devil “in Jesus’ name,” these people seem to believe that the power comes from a simple statement, rather than the one to whom that statement points.
Thankfully, Jones further explains praying something in Jesus’ name, and it gets to the heart of why we are told to pray in Jesus’ name. It’s not a magic spell that makes God do what we ask, but a desire that our prayers would align with God’s will. It’s recognizing that we are bringing our requests to God and asking that He would work things according to His plan, not our desires.
So often, like Jones says, we can see praying in Jesus name as, “upgrading our petitions to first class or increasing the likelihood that God will do exactly what we ask.” Or, we can swing the other direction and tack it on at the end of a prayer as a habit, rather than actually petitioning to the Creator of the universe. We would all do well to consider the true reason for our praying in Jesus’ name, and recognize what we are asking for when we do so. We should take seriously what we are doing and know that we should always seek to align our will with God’s, rather than trying to hold an obligation over His head by saying the right words in our prayers. There, in seeking His will rather than our own, we will find the true and right answer to our prayers.
A quote from my former pastor, John Swanson who passed into glory seven years ago.
My dear friends, God loves you and so he is constantly placing you in seemingly impossible situations. He is continually confronting you with your wickedness and your inability to change. He is confronting you with your powerlessness to provide for yourself and care for yourself so that you will discover that you need a Savior. Now he lifts up before your eyes this great Savior, Jesus Christ, who lived as a slave of men, who was despised, who was rejected but who is now raised from the dead and sits at God’s right hand waiting that final day. He offers himself to you as a Savior.
He can do for you what you cannot do for yourself. He can change your heart. He can deliver you from wrath. He can provide all you need to make it safely to heaven. Just as Pharaoh and his advisors could find no other man who was as wise and discerning as Joseph, upon whom the Spirit of God rests, so there is no other Savior than Jesus Christ. He is the only man whom God has appointed as your Savior. All other Saviors are false Saviors. TV will not deliver you from the wrath to come. Your investments will not deliver you from the wrath to come. Your own goodness will not deliver you. Allah will not deliver you. Sex will not deliver you. Good grades and a good job will be of no avail. New clothes, a new car, a new husband will not rescue you.
Your greatest problem is your sin. The greatest danger you face is the just anger of God against your sin. Your greatest need is a Savior from your sin. Christ alone is that Savior. Abandon all other hopes and flee to him. Give yourself to him and he will preserve your life when the wrath comes.
If Abortion Kills a Child, There Can Be No Exceptions
“I’m not ok with abortion. I’m pro-life all the way. But, I think there should be an exception for rape and incest.”
If you’ve spent any time following the abortion debate, you’ve likely heard someone express that sentiment. You may have even said that yourself. But, when taken to its logical conclusion, this argument is irrational and, I would argue, more pro-choice than pro-life.
In an emotionally-charged debate, like the one around abortion, it’s not surprising to find people using emotion to make their decisions and form their opinion. Emotionally, it feels wrong that a woman who was raped or the victim of incest should have to carry and give birth to a baby. And, yes, emotionally, it’s got to be hard to say that to the face of a woman dealing with that very situation.
We can argue all day long about the emotions of the issue.
“The baby was forced on her, so she shouldn’t be forced to give birth.” “The baby will be a reminder of the trauma in her life in the future.”
Or, the emotions on the other side.
“The people whose mothers were raped and chose to give birth to them make a compelling argument for why they should be allowed to live.”
“The mothers who were raped and chose to have the baby calling it the ‘best decision they ever made’ also make a good point.”
Those are interesting and thought-provoking arguments from both sides, but at the end of the day, we cannot allow emotion to rule when deciding the fate of the unborn.
If a person is against abortion because it is the taking of an innocent human life, there is no logical way to have any exception. If the baby is a person created in the image of God from the moment of conception (which they are), then the route to that conception has no bearing on the right to life for that child. Just because the child was conceived in horrific circumstances doesn’t justify murder of the child.
True, these situations are heart-wrenching and life-altering for the mothers involved, which is why the church must rally around these mothers and provide them the support they need. We need to be helpful before, during, and after the baby’s birth and do so in humble love. Christians cannot be seen to only be pro-life until the baby is born, and then walk away and say, “You’re on your own. We’ve done our part.” The support must continue.
To truly be pro-life though, means in every circumstance, in every case, through every emotion, we are for preserving the life of the child. Anything less is misguided emotion more fitting of the pro-choice movement.
The ministry of the church thus did not appeal to my flesh as an immature young man. Though a young believer, I sometimes found myself more interested in sports and the social scene than the church’s offerings. This was precisely because the church was not worldly. The church seemed boring in comparison. The church was boring in comparison, at least in natural terms.
How tragic it would have been for me if my church was exciting in a secular way. I do not exaggerate when I say that I very likely would not have trusted Christ as my Savior in such an environment. If the church was worldly, in other words, I would have liked the worldly parts and not the spiritual parts.
The defense of the “seeker-sensitive church” has long been that we need to appeal to non-Christians to get them to come into church, then we can preach the gospel. The argument is that if there’s nothing to attract them to church, they’ll never get interested and we won’t have the chance to “have them ask Jesus into their heart.”
Strachan does a brilliant job in putting his finger on the problem at the root of this thinking. If we make the church look just like the world, we may attract people, but it won’t be for the right reason. They will be interested in everything but the reason they should be there. We’ll miss the opportunity to preach the gospel to them and devalue the true mission of the church in one fell swoop.
Having come from such a church, I have seen this danger first hand. Looking back at my former church and what they have done since my leaving, I see it has gone even deeper in the “attractional” philosophy. It saddens me to see photos of their “worship services” with more production value than most concerts. To believe that this is necessary to bring people in misses the point of the gospel and church as a whole.
Church is not supposed to just look like a sanitized version of the world. It is supposed to be set apart. It is supposed to be different. It is supposed to cause the world to ask about the joy within us (I feel like I’ve heard that somewhere). Every effort to make the church look like the world in an effort to draw people in is simply a bait-and-switch scheme that does a disservice to the church, the non-believer, and Christ himself.
As has been said, what you win them with you win them to. Sadly, for many churches, this is spotlights and smoke machines, rather than the risen Christ.