Abanindranath Tagore, Journey’s End, tempera on paper, 1913.
By Jill Carattini
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo, the young hobbit, has been given the burden of bearing the one ring of power. It is a ring that has the potential to put all of Middle Earth under terror and shadow, and the darkness is already spreading. With a fellowship of friends, Frodo determines he must start the long, dark journey to destroy the ring by throwing it into the volcano from which it was forged. It is a journey that will take him on fearful paths through enemy territory and overwhelming temptation to the ends of himself. Seeing the road ahead of him, he laments to Gandalf the Wise that the burden of the ring should have come to him in the first place.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”(1)
A fan of Tolkien’s epic fantasy once wrote the author to say that he preferred to read The Lord of the Rings particularly during the season of Lent. Though I don’t know all this reader had in mind with such a statement, Tolkien’s portrayal of a journey into darkness with the weight of a great burden and a motley fellowship of companions certainly holds similarities to the journey of the church toward the cross. The forty-day period that leads to Easter is both an invitation and a quest for any who would be willing, albeit a difficult one. The deliberate and wearisome journey with Christ to the cross is a crushing burden, even with the jarring recognition that we are not the one carrying it. On the path to Holy Week, the fellowship of the church far and wide is given time to focus in detail on what it means that Jesus came into this world that he might go the fearful way of the Cross. It is time set apart for pilgrimage and preparation, forty days with which we decide what to do with the time that is given us.
In fact, Christian scriptures attach special meaning to the forty-day journey. Considered the number of days marking a devout encounter with God, we find the occurrence of forty-day journeys throughout the stories of the prophets and the people of God. For forty days Noah and his family waited on the arc as God washed away and revived the earth. Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai, where he received the Law of God to share with the Israelites. Later, he spent forty days on the mountain prostrate before the LORD after the sin of the golden calf. Elijah was given food in the wilderness, which gave him strength for the forty-day journey to Horeb, the Mount of God. Jonah reluctantly accepted forty days in Nineveh where the people, heeding his warning, repented before God with fasting, sackcloths, and ashes. For forty days the prophet Ezekiel laid on his right side to symbolize the forty years of Judah’s transgression. And finally, for forty days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. As Mark reports: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
It is with this same Spirit that any are invited to take the forty-day journey into the shadows and difficulties of Lent. In every forty-day (or forty year) journey described in Scripture, the temptations are real, the waiting is difficult, and the call to listen or to look, to obey or deny is wearying. But there is something about the journey itself to which God moves the journeyer. Jesus himself was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, while Moses, Ezekiel, Noah, and even Jonah were each instructed to set out on the journeys that brought them closer to the heart of God, whether they were able to accept it or not.
Similarly today, the forty days that lead to Easter Sunday are not without burden or cost. “The Cross of Lent,” as Augustine referred to it, is one to bear year round, but one we learn to bear all the more intensely along the way to the cross during Lent. Here, the church invites the journeyer to remember that we are dust, that we follow Jesus to his death, that we recollect the acts of God to be near us, and we let go of the things that keep us from holding the Son who saves us. Of course, these are burdens that none will never bear alone. But each day we are given is one we decide what to do with. Jesus has given one option:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”(2)
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1994), 51.
(2) Luke 9:23-24.
I am confident of this: that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
The Bible teaches not only does Jesus save us, but He keeps us in the faith. It teaches God not only gives eternal life, but will preserve us in that life. It is not life until we sin again, it is not life until we feel differently, it is not life until times get tough and our faith grows weak, it is eternal life which will never end. Scripture is filled with the assurance that our salvation is secure.
Many people, however, tend to doubt their salvation. Here are five reasons why:
1. They have a faulty understanding of how they are saved.
If a person thinks he is saved by good works, then it stands to reason he would think his salvation could be lost by bad works. This is the problem with many people today. They feel they can lose their salvation. They say, “If I could earn it, I could lose it. If I could deserve it, I could desert it.” But this is incorrect. The truth of the matter is since we cannot earn it, since it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast, then we did not deserve it in the first place.
This is why a proper theological understanding of salvation is important. God chose to save us, not based on our merits or what we deserved. Rather, He chose to save us in spite of who we are and contrary to what we deserved. Salvation is based on His goodness and grace, not on our merit. When we get a proper understanding of that, when we get a clear picture of how bad our sins are and how great God’s grace is, it will give us a new and deeper appreciation for our salvation.
2. They do not have a biblical understanding of perseverance.
Instead of realizing what God has said and trusting He will be faithful to His Word, many people have based their beliefs on what someone has told them, how they feel, on faulty interpretation, or something other than the revelation in God’s Word. This is the fundamental problem with all doctrinal error, that people have not rightly divided the Word of God and have based their belief on a view which is not biblical.
Many people base their beliefs on experience. They might say something like this: “I knew a person who was a great Christian for many years, but then one day he decided to walk away from the faith and leave God behind. He just laid down his salvation and abandoned God.” Scripture gives insight into such cases: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19). If we are truly saved, we will persevere in our salvation to the end.
3. They are ignorant of God’s promises in His Word.
The level of biblical illiteracy today is astonishing. Many professing Christians know more about their favorite sports teams than they do the doctrines of the faith. It is no wonder why so many of us are so easily led astray by every wind of doctrine which blows across the ecclesiological landscape.
The antidote for this is simple: get grounded and rooted in the Word of God, and learn what it says about who God is. God’s Word tells us He gives eternal life: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life” (1 John 5:12-13).
4. They are out of fellowship with God and do not sense His presence.
There are many Christians today who experience doubts about their salvation for no other reason than they are out of fellowship with God. Our salvation is all about relationship. It is about walking and talking, breathing and being; it is about practicing the presence of God in our lives. But many Christians have allowed sin to remain in their lives, unconfessed and unaddressed. They have grieved the Holy Spirit of God and are no longer sensitive to His presence in their lives, nor are they aware of His movement around them. It is little wonder why people in such a state doubt their salvation.
The solution for this is simple: Get right with God. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).
5. They are not saved and sense they are lost because they really are.
One of the reasons people doubt their salvation is simply because they are not saved. They may have knowledge of the church. They may have knowledge of Scripture. They may have grown up in a Christian home, surrounded by Christian friends and family, but at the end of the day, they cannot say they have ever experienced a transformation of their life, the kind of transformation which only Jesus can bring when He gives a person a new heart and a new mind.
It is to this end that Paul tells the Christians at Corinth: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). The reason many people will go to hell from a church pew is because they never gave themselves a spiritual examination. They never stopped to consider whether or not they were really saved. If you are truly saved, you should know it. God does not want you to be paralyzed by fear or doubts, which are ungrounded or unfounded.
The solution is clear: know what God’s Word says about your salvation. Stand on the truth that it is Jesus who saves you and not anything you have done. Ground yourself in good doctrine. Remember your salvation is a reflection and an extension of God’s character. Let Him show you if there is any sin in your life and stop for a moment to examine yourself spiritually to see if you are truly in the faith: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Franklin Graham, son of the late and revered Rev. Billy Graham, regularly makes headlines for his vocal defense of the Christian faith, but some might not know that the evangelist experienced some faith struggles during his early years.
Despite coming from a famous Christian family, Graham recently told Charlotte Pence Bond, host of Edifi’s “Doubting It” podcast, that he wandered a bit on the faith front during his early years.
“I grew up in a Christian family … my parents lived what they taught, we went to church, went to Sunday school, we had devotions in our home in the morning [and in the evening],” he said. “Just because I grew up in a Christian home, it didn’t make me a Christian.”
Listen to Graham share his powerful spiritual journey on “Doubting It” at the link below
Graham struggled with God’s role in his life. Rather than placing faith at the center, he sought to serve himself.
“I just didn’t want God running my life. I wanted to run my own life. I wanted to have fun. I went to church, because I was expected to,” he said. “As I got older in my teenage years, I was more interested in pleasing myself. I just turned my back on God and tried to serve myself.”
But the more he sought to place himself at the center, the more unhappy he became. Eventually, Graham came around, had a powerful moment of reflection — and was set on course to follow in his father’s incredible footsteps.
“One night, I just got on my knees and I said, ‘God, I’ve sinned against you and I’m sorry,’” he recalled, noting that he asked God to take the pieces of his life and use them. “I still make plenty of mistakes, but when I prayed that prayer it was sincere.”
That moment of authentic faith catapulted Graham to live a life of faith and devotion, with the evangelist noting that he has “never doubted since that God is real” nor has he questioned whether “Jesus Christ is God’s son.”
“There’s power in the Gospel,” he said.
Graham discussed the importance of communicating to young people through powerful stories — an effective vehicle Jesus used in his own ministry.
Through stories, he believes he can make transformational change in hearts and lives.
“I would encourage young people … start every day in the word of God,” he said, going on to herald the necessential nature of prayer. “Prayer allows us to go right into the presence of the king of kings, the Lord of Lords … we can go straight to God.”
George Washington has long been credited with instituting the tradition of concluding the oath of office with the phrase, “So help me God,” at his presidential inauguration in 1789. This profound event has helped shape and influence our nation. Washington’s love for God and country has served as an example for all American history. We have the most unique country in the world. We have the most blessed country in the world. God’s good hand is on it. With the great freedom we have been given, comes great responsibility. People who truly know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour are responsible for what no one else is responsible for in our country. Our religious liberty is a gift from God, not from the state; therefore, we answer to God for this liberty.
Read 1 Timothy 2:1-8 and notice that it is God’s desire that “all men…come unto the knowledge of truth.” Like Timothy, we have been taught certain truths. We know that God is real. We know that heaven and hell are real. We know that there is a certain judgment. We know that Jesus Christ is coming again. We know that evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse. We know that men for money, power, or other reasons may soil their conscience. And we know that when men soil their conscience, it will surely cause their lives to shipwreck. What are we to do with the truth we have been given? How can we use the truth to impact our nation for Christ?
We Are to Speak to God About Our Country
The Bible says in I Timothy 2:1-2, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” All of us would like to live that quiet and peaceable life, but that quiet and peaceable life according to the Word of God does not begin by marching in the streets or protesting in some town square. It begins first of all with speaking to God about our nation.
The ultimate outcome of the struggle in our nation rests in the hands of God. Our first responsibility is to call on God. I want us to stop just for a moment, and ask ourselves, “How many times have we complained without praying? How many times have we griped about something we didn’t like but we didn’t pray about it?” We must speak to God first.
We Are to Speak to Our Country About God
The first thing is speaking to God for our country. The second thing is to speak to our country about God. The Bible says in I Timothy 2:3-6, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” We meet many people who have not come to “the knowledge of the truth.” How will they ever know the Creator God? It is our responsibility in our country to take advantage of every freedom we enjoy, to open our mouths and proclaim with our whole heart that our God is the true God, the Creator God, and all truth proceeds from Him because He is before all things.
Instead of sitting down, twiddling our thumbs, and having debates about every opportunity we do not have, we need to take advantage of every opportunity we do have. We need to begin speaking to our friends, neighbors, and co-workers about God. This is what our country needs.
We Are to Allow God to Speak to Us
and Obey Him
Thirdly, we are to always allow God to speak to us and obey Him. I Timothy 2:7-8 says, “Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Notice the parenthetical phrase in verse seven, “I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not.” This is given to us by the Lord in the Word of God so that the reader better understands the author. When we write something in parentheses, that gives a little more earnestness or clarity.
The Word of God says in Psalm 134:1-2, “Behold, bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, which by night stand in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.” In other words, “God, see into my heart. This is all for the Lord. It is all for His glory. I am coming to God with a clean heart and giving it to Him.”
Our responsibility is to pray for individuals, for leaders, for authorities; to speak to God about our nation; to speak to our nation in humility and boldness about the truth; and to confront them about Christ. Do you know the Lord Jesus as your Saviour? There is only one way to heaven. Do not be fooled and die and go to hell forever. Do not just live on religion. You must know the true God. That is why we are here.
We have the greatest work in this world to do: being His witnesses and His intercessors, and He will enable us for this work if we keep our own hearts right with Him.
In the UK we have entered into another national lockdown. The frustration levels are high, anxiety has gripped millions, and jobs will be lost. In this confusing time we may decide to take control, as we think God and others are taking too long and our prayers are not being answered.
We all have things we’re believing for, situations we want to see changed, and dreams God has placed in our hearts. But sometimes because of difficulties, we try to figure out how it’s all going to happen. Then we try to take control and start to tell God how to do it, when to do it, and where to do it! Scripture tells us that God’s ways are not our ways. They are so much higher and better. So we must continue to trust Him despite the times.
Today, as you move deeper into these uncertain times it’s clear things won’t happen on your timetable, but instead of getting discouraged and down, why don’t you believe that God has something better in store? Just because it doesn’t happen your way, doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. God has a plan. He’s got it all figured out. Don’t limit Him by trying to get it done your way. Instead, tell God, “I trust You. I believe You have my best interests at heart, and even if it doesn’t happen my way, I’m going to stay in faith that You are still in total control.”
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9, NIV)
Let’s Pray Yahweh, thank You for blessing me throughout my life, Today I choose to trust in You despite life’s uncertainties. Father, I cast my cares on You. I give You my plans, dreams and desires for the future. God, I will stay in faith as You work things out on my behalf. I receive Your peace as I wait patiently to see Your plan unfold in my life, in Christ’s Name! Amen.
Throughout the Trump presidency but with increased frequency in the days and weeks following the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, the term “Christian nationalism” has littered newsfeeds, and “Christian nationalist” has become a ubiquitous insult hurled broadly at those on the religious right.
We can’t say Christian nationalism doesn’t exist; it does. But what does it mean? Who are the Christian nationalists? Much like the irony of the racism label, when religious folks fight the Christian nationalist tag, their foes seem to take that resistance as further proof that they are indeed Christian nationalists.
Part of the problem with the label is that it is ill-defined, meaning it’s hard to know what exactly Christian nationalism is, how to identify it, and thus hard to counteract or refute it. This makes it a convenient and effective rhetorical grenade to launch at faithful Christians.
Rachel S. Mikva, writing in USA Today, seems to think Christian nationalists are “Christians who plan to take the country for Jesus,” while Amanda Tyler, writing in Religion News Service, describes the phenomenon as “Christianity wrapped in an American flag.” It’s “a fusion of God and country,” explained Jack Jenkins in the same pages.
The Rev. William E. Swing, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, defines Christian nationalism as “those who believe that God is partial to Christians, that Christians are God’s chosen people in this country. They are convinced that America has always been a Christian nation and always will be.”
While Christian nationalism predates the Trump era — critics hurled the same accusations against George W. Bush for his policies — some authors have fused this idea with the 45th president, saying “the most extreme corners of support for Mr. Trump have become inextricable from some parts of white evangelical power in America,” as Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham wrote in the New York Times.
In The New Republic, Matthew Avery Sutton takes it a step further, claiming that “fear, anger, and anxiety remained as central to the lives of evangelicals as any practices of forgiveness, love, understanding, or compassion,” and that Trump “stoked evangelicals’ terror of state power and brought their deep-seated racism and sexism to the surface.”
Christian Nationalism Defined
David French zooms away from Trump to help articulate a clear explanation, which he takes from Thomas Kidd quoting Matthew McCullough: Christian nationalism is “an understanding of American identity and significance held by Christians wherein the nation is a central actor in the world-historical purposes of the Christian God.” It offers an “exaggerated transcendent meaning to American history” and can “undergird American militarism.”
The first part of French’s analysis is spot-on. He notes that this problematic worldview is ahistoric and anti-biblical, and thus can lead to dangerous applications. So-called Christians who believe their identity as Americans is equal to their religious identity and that their earthly citizenship is central to God’s divine plan and promises do so at the expense of scripture. Patriotism is not the central message of the gospel.
French is also right that “the pervasiveness of Christian nationalism as an academic or theological concept is greatly exaggerated.” Even most patriotic pastors believe Christians must devote themselves to God above nation.
Also, contrary to how corporate media actors have crafted the riot narrative, the number of “religious” people who forced their way into the Capitol on Jan. 6, allegedly taking it over “in Jesus’s name,” was numerically insignificant compared to the number of Christians who rallied peacefully in the capital city that day, concerned for their country and the integrity of our institutions.
Most of French’s subsequent analysis, however — which also wades into anti-American 1619 absurdity and white guilt — is instructive about the myriad ways opponents of Christian Trump supporters (and of Christianity generally) use this label to smear Christ-followers trying to faithfully live out their beliefs. French’s NeverTrumpism taints his analysis of patriotic white Protestants and shines through in his knee-jerk disdain for anything resembling an America-first outlook.
It’s the same sentiments you can find in The New York Times and The New Republic, but unlike most corporate writers spouting off about religion, French, as a Christian himself, has all the right language to effectively smear the faithful believers whose voting records and civic engagement he finds distasteful. In his world, Christians who love their country differently than French loves it run the risk of being tossed into the “Christian nationalist” basket.
When Love Becomes Militant
French rightly notes that an incorrect view of God and his purposes for America can lead to militarism, which he seems to believe is what’s wrong with white, Christian freedom-lovers and Trump voters now. But he fails to note that even a correct love of God and country can lead to aggression.
Of a virtuous love for country — which includes love of home, familiarity, and family — French quotes C.S. Lewis, saying: “Of course patriotism of this kind is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves.”
His argument is self-defeating, however, because it ignores our present reality. What does righteous patriotism become, then, when people are not “let alone” and when their institutions begin to directly attack what they love? Lewis said it right there: It becomes militant.
The pandemic offers a fresh example. Citizens aren’t being “let alone” when they are subjected to sweeping and partisan orders that dictate how they must cover their faces and whom they are permitted to allow inside their own homes. When government authorities qualify worship as nonessential and dangerous, fracturing church bodies into rotating services or relegating them to internet “fellowship,” that surely qualifies as an attack on “what they love.” Therefore even in keeping with so-called pure patriotism, aggression becomes warranted.
This seems to be a popular sentiment among left-wing media and politicos, that Christians ought to be polite, silent, and unconcerned with the affairs of government. Any peep out of them, even when their rights are violated, amounts to extremism and a desire for theocracy.
Oh, you Christians don’t want gender propaganda forced on your kids in schools? You’re a bigot who wants religion written into law. You want Supreme Court justices who value life even in the womb? You’re a hateful theocrat. You think Big Tech and bureaucrats rigged an election that will result in your rights being infringed, so you fly to D.C. with your family and your flags? You’re a Christian nationalist.
The Gospel According To…
The fact is all people have some sort of religious belief to which they passionately cling. As the late novelist David Foster Wallace noted, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
For some people, it’s Black Lives Matter or so-called reproductive rights, and for others it’s climate activism. For some, it’s nationalism parading around as orthodoxy, and for others it’s biblical Christianity.
Each has a certain moral code, a requirement for repentance, some method of worship, and leaders that they follow. BLM disciples hosting struggle sessions and following the teachings of Ibram X. Kendi while they praise the doctrine of “equity” have the same religious fervor as true Christians. Elevating Kamala Harris, the social justice warrior and “equity” preacher, to the vice presidency is evidence that followers of that secular religion want their beliefs written into law as much as Christians want to be free to follow their own.
The laws and policies in our country aren’t neutral; they reflect someone’s “religious” beliefs. When lawless actors set fire to a courthouse or vandalize a national monument in the name of Black Lives Matter or Antifa, it doesn’t differ much from a rioter wielding a cross and a Bible as he storms the Capitol. Both could be considered religious extremists; they just worship different gods — neither one the true God. Violence and tribalism are the natural result of false religions that prize the temporal over the eternal.
It’s here we must realize that when patriotism becomes violent nationalism — when it elevates country to the same status as God and believes America, rather than Christ himself, to be central to God’s plan — there’s nothing “Christian” about it.
True Christians condemn idol worship. They hold fast to what is good. They expect to be persecuted strangers and exiles. They believe vengeance and judgment belong to God alone, not to vigilantes bearing cross necklaces and flags. Rogues who invoked Jesus’s name while smashing windows and barging into the Capitol did so in vain. That isn’t what following Jesus looks like.
Bullied into Apathy
None of this is to say Christians ought to embrace apathy or be pacifists. The anti-religious newsrooms pushing cover stories about so-called Christian nationalism would love nothing more than to shame and bully faithful disciples into sitting down and shutting up.
The Capitol riot was a convenient hook for their narrative, but they don’t just believe the people who showed up in Washington that day were religious extremists. They think all Christians are. It isn’t that they don’t want you in Statuary Hall. It’s that they don’t want you on the school board, in journalism, or on campus. They want to chase you out of churches, out of public office, and even out of political conversations.
Believers, however, know faith without works is dead and that our faith isn’t confined to Sunday morning services. What we believe about God and man and redemption ought to affect every decision we make, including our civic engagement.
If we love God, love our neighbor, and wish to steward our resources and lead our families well, sitting on the sidelines of the political and culture wars is really not an option. Contrary to French’s assessment, it isn’t about making ourselves more culturally comfortable; it’s about being consistent in our beliefs and doing what’s right.
As long we remain on this Earth, Christians will be assailed as bigots and nationalists. This evergreen dynamic of Christians being not “of the world,” but striving to be faithful while they’re “in it,” is way bigger than Jan. 6, Donald Trump, David French, or America. Don’t confuse true believers who rightly fight for both faith and freedom as Christian nationalists. They’re just Christians.
Kylee Zempel is an assistant editor at The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @kyleezempel.Photo Pikist
The gift of speech is a marvelous blessing, if it is used to the glory of God. Prayer is certainly a high and holy privilege. As God’s children, we can come freely and boldly to His throne and share with Him our needs! The mature Christian is prayerful in the troubles of life. Instead of complaining about his situation, he talks to God about it, and God hears and answers his prayers. Perhaps one of the greatest weaknesses in the average church today is in the area of prayer. The reason for this weakness may be traced to insensitivity. James encourages us to pray by describing four situations in which God answers prayer:
As God’s people go through life, they often must endure difficult circumstances that are not the result of sin or the chastening of God. Suffering should elicit prayer. The greatest assistance any believer can offer another is faithful prayer. Prayer is clear evidence of care. Prayer is the “hotline” to the One who can provide for any need no matter how complex or impossible it may seem. To share in prayer, a believer must have sensitivity to someone’s needs, engage in diligent supplication for those needs, and recognize the significance of those needs.
What should we do when we find ourselves in such trying circumstances? We must not grumble and criticize those who are having an easier time of it; nor should we blame the Lord. We should pray, asking God for the wisdom we need to understand the situation and use it to His glory. Prayer can remove affliction, if that is God’s will, but prayer can also give us the grace we need to endure troubles and use them to accomplish God’s perfect will (Read: Turning Trials into Triumphs).
A great deal of misunderstanding has resulted from these verses. Some teach that full physical health is always just a prayer away, but James was not giving a blanket formula for healing the sick in these verses.
The heart of the problem lies in just what James meant when he referred to the “sick.” What did he mean? He was not referring to physical illness, but rather weak faith. James wrote to those who had grown weary, who had become weak both morally and spiritually in the midst of suffering. These are the ones who “should call” for the help of “the elders of the church.”
The church leaders were instructed to encourage the timid and help the weak. The “prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well [restore him from discouragement and spiritual defeat] and the Lord will raise him up.” That the restoration is spiritual, not physical, is further clarified by the assurance, “if he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”
Many physically ill Christians have called on elders to pray for them and to anoint them with oil, but a sizable percentage of them have remained sick. This fact suggests the passage may have been mistakenly understood as physical restoration rather than spiritual restoration. Those who claim God heals every case, and it is not His will for His children to be sick are denying both Scripture and experience. But where we have the inner conviction from the Word and the Spirit that it is God’s will to heal, then we can pray “the prayer of faith” and expect God to work (Read: My Testimony).
The conclusion is clear: “therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.” A mutual concern for one another is the way to combat discouragement and downfall. The cure is in personal confession and prayerful concern. The healing is not bodily healing, but healing of the soul.
When wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel led Israel away from the Lord and into the worship of Baal, God punished the nation by holding back the rain they needed (1 Kings 17–18). For three and one half years the earth was dry and unable to produce the crops so necessary for life.
Then Elijah challenged the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel. All day long the priests cried out to their god, but no answer came. Elijah prayed once and fire came from heaven to consume the sacrifice. He had proven Jehovah is the true God.
But the nation still needed rain. Elijah went to the top of Mt. Carmel and fell down before the Lord in prayer. “He prayed earnestly [persistently].” He continued to pray for rain until his servant reported “a cloud the size of a man’s hand.” There was a great rain and the nation was saved.
Too many times, we fail to get what God promises because we stop praying. It is true we are not heard “for our much praying” (Matt. 6:7); but there is a difference between vain repetitions and true believing persistence in prayer.
Elijah prayed for his nation and God answered his prayer. We need to pray for our nation today, that God will bring conviction and revival, and “showers of blessing” will come to the land.
These verses deal with our ministry to a fellow believer who wanders from the truth and gets into sin. Those who have lost their way are the “sick ones” in the church family.
To wander suggests a gradual moving away from the will of God. The Old Testament term for this is “backsliding.” Sad to say, we see this tragedy occurring in our churches regularly. Sometimes a brother is “overtaken in a fault” (Gal. 6:1); but usually the sin is the result of slow, gradual spiritual decline.
Believers have a responsibility to fellow-believers who stray. The wandering one needs to be turned back to the Lord and brought back to the fold. A wandering believer cannot move ahead again on the path toward spiritual maturity until he or she is restored. James urges fellow-believers to get in their way, head them off, and turn them back. The rescue action is of great significance!
Many of us must admit when we see a Christian straying, we have a tendency to excuse ourselves from responsibility by saying, “It’s none of my business.” Or we think our responsibility begins and ends with praying for the backslidden. But James instructs us to lovingly confront them with their straying and tenderly call them back to the Lord.
If we are going to help a wandering brother or sister, we must have an attitude of love, for “love will cover over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). This does not mean love “sweeps the dirt under the carpet.” Where there is love, there must also be truth (“speaking the truth in love,” says Paul in Eph. 4:15); and where there is truth, there is honest confession of sin and cleansing from God. Love not only helps the offender to face his sins and deal with them, but love also assures the offender that those sins, once forgiven, are remembered no more.
* This brings us to the end our series in James. I hope and pray you have enjoyed and benefitted from this study as much as I have.
Problems in marriage are inevitable. Even chronic. And so, at times, is unhappiness. There are three key ways to handle an unhappy marriage.
After studying 645 couples where one spouse rated their marriage as unhappy, a research study from a team of family scholars found that two-thirds of the couples who chose to stick it out together reported a significantly happier marriage five years later.
So what makes the difference if you choose not to divorce?
The marriages that got happier fell into three broad approaches: the marital work ethic, the marital endurance ethic and the personal happiness epic.
In the marital work ethic, spouses actively work to solve problems, change behavior or improve communication. When the problem is solved, the marriage gets happier. Strategies for improving marriages range from arranging dates or other ways to spend more time together, to enlisting the help and advice of relatives or in-laws, consulting clergy or secular counselors, or even threatening divorce and consulting divorce attorneys.
In the marital endurance ethic, by contrast, spouses don’t solve problems with concerted action on the part of either spouse. Stated another way, you don’t “work” on an unhappy marriage; instead, you endure it. “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other” because with the passage of time, things get better. Job situations improve, children get older or better, or chronic ongoing problems get put into new perspective.
Finally, in the personal happiness epic, marriage problems don’t seem to change that much. Instead, you find alternative ways to improve your own happiness and build a good and happy life despite a mediocre marriage. This often contains elements of both the marital work ethic and the marital endurance ethic approaches as well.
Marriage as a Shared Story
Creating a happy marriage depends on more than just your interactions with your spouse; it also depends on how you view marriage in general.
Marriage is not just the sum of the personal interactions that you find either satisfying or distressing. Marriage is a social status and a shared ideal—a story you have about your own life, your family, your spouse and your love.
The attitudes and values that people and societies have about marriage and divorce affect how satisfying people find being married. In communities where marriage is highly valued, husbands and wives get more from marriage than they would in a community where marriage is seen as a merely private matter.
People who are deeply committed to marriage as a lifelong vow have happier marriages not only because of what they do in their relationships, but because of what they think about being married in general. Read that sentence again.
Stated another way: The happiness you get from any role in life—being a parent, holding a job, being married—depends in part on how satisfying you find the day-to-day interactions and tasks. But it also depends on whether you see the role itself as important and valuable.
In general, we have many goals for our own marriages, and those of others: We want marriage to last, we want children to enjoy living with their own two married parents, we want these marriages to be happy, and we don’t want unhappily married people trapped in miserable lives.
Over the past 40 years, these goals have seemed to be in conflict: If we discourage divorce we create lasting marriages at the high cost of individual misery—almost certainly for adults and often for the children. We need to find ways how to handle conflict.
Based on the findings of this study, this conventional wisdom is untrue.
Does divorce typically make unhappily married people happier than staying married? No.
Does a firm commitment to staying married, even though unhappy, typically condemn adults to lifelong misery? No.
So, is divorce always wrong and staying married always right? The answer’s not so simple.
Both divorce and marriage initiate complex chains of events whose outcomes cannot be predicted with certainty at the outset.
But know this…marriages are not happy or unhappy—spouses are.
And with the passage of time, the feelings of people about their marriages can and do change.
A bad marriage and a good marriage is not always a fixed opposite, but the same marriage at two different points in time (or in the eyes of two different spouses).
Divorce may make an unhappy spouse happier, but there is no guarantee (and much doubt) that it will.
Marriage is no panacea, but neither is divorce.
To sum all this up: People and marriages are going to be happier in communities with a strong commitment to marital permanence. While some marriages are so destructive that divorce or separation maybe an outcome, marriages are more likely to be both happy and stable when marriage is highly valued.
Surround yourself with other married couples who value marriage as well.
Stick it out through the tough times.
And live life together with others.
It makes the ride so much more enjoyable along the way.
“The Lord your God, He is God in Heaven above, and in earth beneath. (Joshua 2:11).
This is the fourth post of “Woman of Faith” The last posts is based on the book of Esther, Sarah and The Canaanite Woman. This evening I chose Rahab. Many of my friends through email asked me to write about Rahab and also my lovely blog friend Julie encourage me to do this. I hope the readers will enjoy reading this post.
Rahab was known by her profession. She was not an ostracized moral leper, someone to be tolerated, but not honored. Even the men who might darken her doorstep at night would turn away from her during the day.
Rahab started as a prostitute, but learned about God. This changed her. She risked her known way of life to help the spies and start a new life with the Israelites. This is an example of how God can bless a changed heart. Rahab was in the lineage of Jesus.
Interestingly, Rahab was an Old Testament harlot who was mentioned in the New Testament for her faith. That’s right! She was mentioned right up there with Abraham, Noah, Joseph, even Moses. In Hebrews 11, often referred to as the Faith’s Hall of Fame, references are made to all of these famous Biblical figures and many more, including Rahab the harlot. “By faith,” Hebrews 11:31 reads, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient”
One day Joshua sent two spies to observe the city of Jericho. Then they sought refuge in the Rahab’s home largely because strange men entering the home of a prostitute would not generate very much attention and suspiciously.
The king of Jericho, however, received reports that the two spies had arrived in Jericho under cover of darkness. “Behold,” he was told, “men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country.” (Joshua 2:3) He immediately dispatched his soldiers to search the Rahab’s home. But Rahab hid the two spies on her roof and told the king’s men that the two men had left the city before its gates were shut for the night.
What is the reason for Rahab saved the two spies? This is all about Rahab’s faith. Rahab dare to do it because he had heard how the magnitude of God’s power. Rahab believed even though he did not see the power of God when splitting the Red Sea and how God’s presence enabled the Israelites to keep on gaining victory after victory in war as written in the Joshua 2:8-11.
Rahab and her family were spared death because of her act of courage. More importantly, the reason she is so esteemed by in the New Testament comes from what she said to the two spies. “The Lord your God,” she told the two spies, “He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:11) In spite of the gods that Rahab and her fellow citizens worshipped, Rahab knew and professed that the Israelites’ God was the real and true. She proved her faith by her works. Rahab’s faith is not empty, much less dead. James says that faith without deeds is like a body without a spirit, which means dead (James 2:26).
What can we learn from Rahab? Rahab did not know what happened next, but he believes, have faith in God because he had heard how the magnitude of God’s power even though she did not see directly but indirectly with her bravely she already shows her faith and accompanied with deeds.
The message here is that although faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, and real faith must have works. In other words, our faith is not and cannot be viewed as some private treasure that only we can enjoy. It must be shown for others to realize that it, too, is the real and true.
My dear lovely readers allow our faith to show up in the lives of others through service to our church and community. The Gospel can only be advanced by the expressions of love we show in the ways we serve others. There is simply no better way to win the lost for Christ. Amen.
Are you awake? Or, are you still asleep as a Christian? If you know the value of time, you will be up-to-date on what’s required to reach your goals. We have learnt to keep time, predict outcomes from an earthly standpoint.
Can we discern the signs of the times?
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? (Matthew 16:1-3)
As believers, we need to stay awake and be found actively doing God’s will. Sadly, many Christians are found wasting their life away in worldliness and even picking on other Christians.
3 Qualities of Those Who Are Awake
Walking In Righteousness: (1 Corinthians 15:34) a lifestyle of victory over sin as a loving child found in obedience to the Heavenly Father. A believer who hungers and thirsts for the righteousness of God. Consistently growing in the knowledge of Christ.
Knows The World Is Evil: (Ephesians 5:14-16) living a life with a burden for the lost, redeeming the time by walking wisely and staying the course.
Ready For The Rapture: (Romans13:11) keeps themselves sanctified and ready, encouraging others for the coming of the Lord.