Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “prayer

Facing slander – Psalm 27

What’s the source for our confidence?

How do you cope with your fears and anxieties? Some take time out, or use breathing techniques, or face their fears, or imagine the worst, or look at the evidence, or don’t try to be perfect, or visualize a happy place, or talk about it, or have a meal, a walk and a good night’s sleep, or reward themselves. David, the shepherd who became king of Israel, experienced many dangerous situations. What can we learn from the poem that David wrote when he was facing slander (Ps. 27ESV)?

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.

3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.

4 One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in His temple.

5 For He will hide me in His shelter
in the day of trouble;
He will conceal me under the cover of His tent;
He will lift me high upon a rock.

6 And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in His tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 You have said, “See my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
9     Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.

13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

Context and chiastic structure

The context of Psalm 27 is given in Appendix A. The psalm is a prayer for deliverance from David’s enemies, who were liars that wanted to destroy him (v.12). The prayer (v.7-12) is preceded by saying that he relies on God (v.1-6) and is followed by confidence that His prayer will be answered (v.13-14).

According to Terrien (2003) Psalm 27 has a chiastic structure. However, I am not convinced by his subdivision of v.4-9a. Instead, I think that this modified version of the chiasm is more robust.

v.1 The Lord’s deliverance
   v.2 David’s enemies
        v.3 David’s confidence
             v.4-9a The Lord’s presence
        v.9b-11 David’s confidence
   v.12 David’s enemies
v.13-14 The Lord’s goodness

This pattern suggests that the Lord’s presence (as the central thought) is the source of David’s confidence of deliverance over his enemies.

A more detailed chiastic structure has also been proposed.

v.1 No need to fear
   v.2-3 Deliverance from enemies
        v.4 David’s request
             v.5-7 The Lord will lift me high
                     v.8 I will seek your face
             v.9-10 The Lord will take me in
        v.11 David’s request
   v.12-13 Deliverance from enemies
v.13-14 Wait for the Lord.

And a broader chiastic structure has been proposed.

v.1-3 David’s confidence
       v.4-6 David’s search for the Lord
       v.7-12 David’s search for deliverance
v.13-14 David’s confidence

Or,

v.1 Life
    v.2-3 Enemies
            v.4-6 Seek the Lord
            v.7-10 Seek the Lord
    v.11-12 Enemies
v.13-14 Life

So the theme of Psalm 27 is David’s confidence that the Lord will deliver him from his enemies. Although slander is the particular issue he is facing, the psalm could be applied to other difficulties and struggles people face.

Here’s an outline of what David is saying in this poem.

David’s security is in the Lord (v.1-3)

Although he is in a dangerous situation, David is not afraid because He trusts in the Lord of Israel. The Lord had a covenant with Israel and also made a covenant with David. Because of these covenants, the Lord provides David with guidance, deliverance and protection (v.1). He is confident that, no matter what the circumstances, his enemies will not be allowed to destroy him. David is confident because the Lord has rescued him from dangerous situations before (v.2). And because of David’s confidence in the Lord, he is not afraid. This section is a poetic expression of  David’s confidence.

The tabernacle is David’s stronghold (v.4-6)

At this time, God dwelt in the tabernacle (a special tent) in Jerusalem. It was the visible expression of God’s presence. David expresses a desire to live with the Lord in the tabernacle. But he is not speaking of literally dwelling in the tabernacle since only the priests could enter it. He wanted to be near God. His enemies will not be able to reach him because God will protect him. And when he triumphs over them, he will offer sacrifices and praise to the Lord.

David’s prayer for deliverance from his enemies (v.7-12)

After expressing his trust in the Lord, David prays for deliverance from the lies and malicious accusations being made by his enemies. God has helped him before, and now he needs that help again. Even if his parents and friends don’t help him, he trusts that God will protect him. He wants to know how God wants him to live and he wants to obey the Lord. So he wants protection, acceptance, and guidance.

David’s confidence is in the Lord (v.13-14)

David repeats his confidence that God will deliver him from his enemies. Meanwhile, he will rely on the Lord.

So the psalm testifies to the experience of God protecting David from worldly attackers, prays for God to do so again, and urges David to keep expecting God to do that (Goldingay, 2006). The lesson is that there is deliverance from danger (and fear) by trusting in the Lord. David trusts the Lord to help in the storms of life.

How do David’s poetic techniques help people to understand the message of Psalm 27?

The message in Psalm 27 is expressed in poetry rather than in prose. The poetic techniques used in Psalm 27 include, parallelism, repetition, metaphors, word pairs, and other figures of speech (Appendixes B-F).

Synonymous parallelism repeats the message using different words. It provides alternative versions of the message and so makes it easier to understand. Parallelism also makes the message more memorable and so easier to recall. The fact that it was sung would also make it more memorable and so easier to recall.

Repetition is when the message is duplicated, for emphasis. If different words are used, it also makes it easier to understand the message.

A metaphor is where one thing is compared to another by stating they share the same qualities. Metaphors help to clarify the meaning of the message and conjure up images, thoughts and feelings in a reader’s mind. Metaphors can also help the reader to visualise the situation.

So David’s poetic techniques help people to understand the message of Psalm 27 by making the message more memorable and easier to recall, and by clarifying the meaning of the message, and by conjuring up images, thoughts and feelings in a reader’s mind.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a poem (or song) worth? They say that memories last forever. As poems (and songs) can lodge in our memories, maybe a poem (or song) can be worth more than a picture!

The psalms were Israel’s pop (popular) songs. They reflected the history, culture and moods of the nation. These songs became embedded in their minds. I can remember the words of songs sung at least 50 years ago by the Beatles and Elvis Presley. When we hear some words or the tune of a song, we can recall the rest of the song. This shows how poetry in the form of songs can be remembered better than prose.

Lessons for us

But David lived about 3,000 years ago! What can we learn from a poem written so long ago? Despite our technological progress, we still face similar problems to David. Life can be a struggle. And we all face difficulties and injustice.

But there are some differences. We now live under the new covenant that began after Christ’s death and resurrection. And we have the extra revelation given by God through the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament writers. Today God doesn’t dwell in a building, but in the life of each believer. In this way, we can live permanently in God’s presence. Our body is the temple (dwelling place) of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). God has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5).

David’s greatest fear was losing fellowship with God. And sin can come between us and God. But if we confess our sin, our fellowship with the Lord can be restored (1 Jn. 1:9). A victorious life is based on a constant relationship with the Lord. Like David, our greatest desire as Christians should be to seek God’s presence, and to submit to His guidance.

Today we are promised deliverance from our problems and troubles in the afterlife, not necessarily in this life on earth. For example, Paul wasn’t delivered from his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). But like David, we can pray in times of trouble. The Lord is the only reliable support when we face difficulties.

Nothing can separate a believer from God’s love (Rom. 8:31-39). This includes any difficulty or problem they face. Through Jesus we can have confidence over our fears. This is a God-centered confidence, and not a self-centered confidence. It teaches us to trust God so that we don’t have to fear.

Today, we can rely on the promise that God is with us in every situation, supporting us through the Holy Spirit. He helps us survive the storms of life and resist wrong responses to them by giving us supernatural power, love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). The Spirit provides the patience and courage we need to keep going and to follow God’s leading in our lives.

The lesson for us is that there is deliverance from danger (and fear) by trusting in the Lord. We can trust the Lord to help in the storms of life. That’s the best source of our confidence.

Appendix A: Place of Psalm 27 in the book of Psalms

Psalms is a book of prayer and praise in the form of poetry. They were Israel’s songs of praise and worship. It has been divided into five books:
– Book 1 (Ps. 1-41)
– Book 2 (42-72)
– Book 3 (73-89)
– Book 4 (90-106)
– Book 5 (107-150)

Psalm 27 is within a group of Psalms that have a chiastic structure (25-33).

Ps. 25 An alphabetic (22 verse) acrostic prayer
  Ps. 26 Prayer for vindication for living a blameless life.
    Ps. 27 Prayer for deliverance from enemies.
      Ps. 28 Prayer for deliverance from enemies.
        Ps. 29 Praise to the Lord for strength and peace in the storms of life.
      Ps. 30 Praise for being healed.
    Ps. 31 Prayer for deliverance from enemies.
  Ps. 32 Celebrates the blessedness of those with confessed sins & forgiveness.
Ps. 33 A 22 verse hymn of praise

Psalm 27 matches Psalm 31 in the following ways:
– The theme of both is an appeal against false accusers.
– His enemies are spreading lies (27:12; 31:18).
– He takes refuge in the shelter of God’s presence (27:5; 31:20).
– He mentions the “goodness” or “good things” of the Lord (37 ;13; 31:19).
– It concludes, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” and “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” (27:14; 31:24).

But this chiastic structure across several psalms is subjective, as another chiastic structure has been proposed for Psalms 18-34.

Psalm 27 continues and fulfils the “I have trusted in the Lord without wavering” theme of the previous psalm (Ps. 26:1). And it shares a devotion to the tabernacle with Psalms 26 and 28.

Appendix B: Parallelism in Psalm 27

Parallelism is a feature of Hebrew poetry where the second line (colon) either repeats the same thought (that is in the first line) in different words (synonymous parallelism), or it has an opposite thought to the first line (contrastive parallelism), or completes the thought in the first line (synthetic parallelism). The pair of lines (bicolon) is called a poetic unit. Sometimes a poetic unit can be longer, say 3 (tricolon) or 4 lines (tetracolon).

For example:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1a)
is synonymous parallelism.
And, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in” (Ps. 27:10)
is contrastive parallelism.

Psalm 27 has the following instances of parallelism:
– Seven pairs of lines in synonymous parallelism (v. 1a, 1b, 2, 3, 7, 8, 13).
– Eight three-line poetic units in synonymous parallelism (v. 4, 5, 6, 9a, 9b, 11, 12, 14).
– One pair of lines in contrastive parallelism (v.10).

The determination of the parallel poetic units is somewhat subjective being dependent on the Bible translation. For example, John Goldingay identified 21 2-line parallel poetic units, one 3-line parallel poetic unit, and one 4-line parallel poetic unit. This was based on his personal translation of Psalm 27. For example the Masoretic text has two tricola in v.11-12, whereas Goldingay has three bicola.

So the dominant structural technique used is synonymous parallelism. This means that most of the thoughts are repeated.

Appendix B: Key words in Psalm 27

The following key words occur in Psalm 27:
– His “enemies” and its synonyms (v.2, 6, 11, 12).
– “The Lord” or “O Lord” (v.1, 4, 6, 7, 11, 13, 14).
– The “tabernacle”, “house of the Lord”, “temple”, shelter”, or “tent (v.4, 5, 6).
– “fear”, with regard to his enemies (v.1, 3).
– “seek”, with regard to the Lord (v.4, 8).

So the key words relate to David not “fearing” his “enemies” because he seeks a relationship with “the Lord” (whose presence was expressed by the “tabernacle”).

Appendix C: Repetition in Psalm 27

The following examples of repetition occur in Psalm 27:
– “whom shall I fear” and “of whom shall I be afraid?” (v.1) and “fear” (v.3).
– “stumble and fall” are synonyms for the enemy’s failure (v.2).
– “seek” (v.4, 8 twice).
– “evil doers”, “adversaries” and “foes” (v.2) are synonyms for his enemies (v.6, 11).
– “sing” and “make melody” are synonyms (v.6).
– “Cast me not off” and “forsake me not” are synonyms (v.9).
– “Wait for the Lord” (v.14 twice).

These words are emphasised in the poem.

Appendix D: Metaphors in Psalm 27

The following examples of metaphors occur in Psalm 27:
– “light” refers to deliverance from fear of his enemies, who were like darkness in David’s life (v.1).
– “salvation” (v.1) refers to deliverance from fear of his enemies.
– “Stronghold” (v.1) refers to a refuge or safe place from his enemies.
– “stumble” (v.2) refers to being unsuccessful.
– “fall” (v.2) refers to being unsuccessful.
– “my heart” and “your heart” (v.3, 8, 14) means one’s innermost being or soul/spirit.
– “army” and “war” may be metaphors for great danger (v.3).
– “beauty of the Lord” refers to the attributes of the Lord.
– “the house of the Lord” (v.4) refers to the tabernacle, God’s earthly throne.
– “His temple” (v.4) refers to the tabernacle.
– “His shelter” (v.5) refers to the tabernacle.
– “His tent” (v.5) refers to the tabernacle.
– “hide me”, “conceal me”, and “lift me high” (v.5) mean to protect by putting him outside the reach of his enemies.
– “look upon” (v. 13) means “experience”.

Appendix E: Other figures of speech in Psalm 27

The following examples of other figures of speech occur in Psalm 27:
– “whom shall I fear?” is a rhetorical question (v.1). The answer is “No-one”.
– “of whom shall I be afraid?” is a rhetorical question (v.1). The answer is “No-one”.
“eat up my flesh” (v.2) compares his enemies to dangerous, hungry predators, like lions.
– “My heart” means “I”, which is a synecdoche.
– “all the days of my life” means as long as I live (v.4).
– “my head shall be lifted up” (v.6) refers to triumph over his enemies.
– “seek my face” (v.8) refers to praying to the Lord.
– “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (v.8) refers to him praying to the Lord.
– “Hide not your face from me” (v.9) means “do not reject me” or “do not forget me”.
– “Turn not your servant away in anger” means not ot deny justice to an innocent man (v.9).
– “my father and my mother have forsaken me”(v.10) could mean total abandonment.
– “The Lord will take me” means that the Lord will accept him as a son (v.10).
– “your way” (v.11) means “how you want me to live”.
– “a level path” (v.11) means to live a life that is pleasing to God in order to be blameless before his accusers.
– “In the land of the living” (v. 13) means during his lifetime. It means that he would survive the attacks of his enemies.
– “wait on the Lord” (v.14) means to rely on the Lord and wait for his answer to the prayer in v.7-12. Like Joshua he would receive divine aid to have victory over his enemies (Dt. 31:7).

Appendix F: Word pairs in Psalm 27

The following word pairs occur in Psalm 27:
– “stumble and fall” (v.2) describe the enemy’s failure.
– “my father and my mother” (v.10) describe his parents or family.

References

Goldingay, J (2006), Psalms, Vol. 1: Psalms 1- 41 (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms).

NET Bible notes.

NIV Study Bible.

Terrien S (2003), The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary (Eerdmans Critical Commentary).

Acknowledgement

This post was inspired by an Assessment Task in Dr Theron Young’s Australian College of Christian Studies course, “Wisdom and Poetry in Israel”.

Written, March 2019


Responding to external problems

What keeps you awake at night? According to the World Economic Forum, the biggest risks facing our world in 2019 are climate change, natural disasters, large-scale conflicts and cyber attacks. And many people struggle with poverty. David wrote many psalms in the Bible and it seems as though he spent many sleepless nights. One of the biggest problems he faced was that king Saul wanted to kill him. During this time period, David lived as a fugitive, seeking refuge in various places and moving around to avoid Saul and his men (1 Sam. 18-30). He feared for his life. Also, the Philistines were a perennial enemy of Israel and David faced them in battles. The best known of these is his victory over Goliath.

25 of the psalms are prayers by David for God’s help against his enemies. But most of these (84%) end up praising God and with an assurance that God has heard his prayer and will answer it (see Appendix). And only 8% have no praise or assurance. For example, in Psalm 54 David prays for deliverance from enemies (Saul’s supporters) who are trying to kill him (v.1-5NIV). The Ziphites betrayed David by revealing his location to Saul (1 Sam. 23:19-20). So David writes:

Save me (from enemies), O God, by your name;
vindicate me by your might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
listen to the words of my mouth.
Arrogant foes are attacking me;
ruthless people are trying to kill me—
people without regard for God.
Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.
Let evil recoil on those who slander me;
in your faithfulness destroy them.

David is in a desperate situation. But he knows that God can help him. So he doesn’t cry out in despair or give up in self-pity. The psalm ends with praise and thanksgiving because he is confident that his prayer has been heard (v. 6-7).

I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you;
I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good.
You have delivered me from all my troubles,
and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.

The promise to praise the Lord is written from the perspective that God has already answered the prayer (David has been delivered from his enemies), even if the actual answer has not yet come. The freewill offering is a voluntary expression of thanksgiving.

We all have external things, circumstances or people that can cause us anxiety and worry. Like work, or education, or family, or relationships, or social media, or peer pressure, or even the weather. How do we respond to such external problems? Let’s be like David and not be ruled by our external circumstances. He was a man of prayer and praise. Then our external circumstances won’t stop us remembering what God has done or stop us praising God.

The psalms were songs the Jews used for corporate worship. Can we block out our external problems from Sunday morning? Today we sang “Here I am to worship”. Are we always here to worship or do these things take us away? Is anything else more important than worshipping God?

Appendix: Psalms by David when he prays for deliverance from enemies

Psalm 3 Deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance when he flees from his son Absalom.
Ends with confidence in God (v.8).

Psalm 5 Morning prayer – for deliverance from enemies
Prays for help from evil enemies.
Ends expecting God’s blessing (v.11-12).

Psalm 7 The cry of the oppressed
A plea for deliverance from a Benjamite who probably supported Saul. And a plea for justice.
Ends in thanksgiving (v.17).

Psalm 12 Protection from the wicked
Prays that the poor and needy will be protected from the wicked.
Ends in assurance (v.7-8).

Psalm 17 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for safety and protection from wicked enemies.
Ends believing he will be vindicated (v.15).

Psalm 18 Praise for deliverance from enemies
Praise after being delivered from Saul and other enemies.
Ends with praise for deliverance (v.46-50).

Psalm 22 Plea for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies and from intense suffering.
Ends with praise for deliverance (v.22-31).

Psalm 27 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Ends with confidence (v.13-14).

Psalm 31 Prayer and praise for deliverance
Prays for deliverance from deep distress because of his enemies.
Ends with praise for deliverance (v.19-24).

Psalm 34 Deliverance
Praise for deliverance from Abimeleck.
Ends with God answering prayers for deliverance (v.15-22).

Psalm 35 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Ends with praise (v.27-28).

Psalm 54 God is my helper
Prays for deliverance from enemies (Saul’s supporters) who are trying to kill him.
Ends with praise and thanksgiving (v. 6-7).

Psalm 55 Cast your cares on the Lord
Prays for deliverance from a betrayer.
Ends with assurance that his prayer has been heard and will be answered (v.22-23).

Psalm 56 God is for me
Prays for deliverance from enemies – when the Philistines seized him at Gath.
Ends in thanksgiving (v,12-13).

Psalm 57 In the shadow of your wings
Prays for deliverance from enemies – when he had fled from Saul into the cave.
Ends with praise (v.7-11).

Psalm 59 The God who goes before us
Prays for deliverance from enemies – when Saul sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.
Ends with praise (v.16-17).

Psalm 60 Prayer for help after suffering defeat
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Ends with confidence in God (v.12).

Psalm 69 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Ends with praise for restoration (v.34-36).

Psalm 70 Prayer for urgent help
Prays for deliverance from those wanting to kill him.
The second last verse has praise for deliverance (v.4).

Psalm 86 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Praises God in the middle of the psalm (v. 8-10).

Psalm 109 Prayer for judgment of enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Ends in praise (v. 30-31).

Psalm 140 Prayer for deliverance from evil doers
Prays for deliverance from evil doers.
Ends with praise due to his confidence in God (v.12-13).

Psalm 141 Prayer for deliverance from evil doers
Prays for deliverance from evil doers.
Has no praise.

Psalm 142 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Has no praise.

Psalm 144 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Praises God in the middle of the psalm (v. 9-10).

84% (21/25) of these psalms end with confidence in God (praise or joy) and assurance that the prayer will be or has been heard.  8% (2/25) expressed such confidence and assurance in the middle of the psalm. The remaining 8% (2/25) lacked any confidence and assurance.

Posted, January 2019

Also see: Responding to personal problems
Prayer and praise in times of trouble


Responding to personal problems

chemotherapy 3 400pxMy parents in-law are going through tough times with weakness because of chemotherapy and confusion because of dementia. We can all experience such internal problems, which can be physical or mental. After all, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (Jn. 16:33NIV).

Twelve of the psalms are prayers for God’s help for illness or depression (See Appendix; Ps 6, 13, 16, 30, 38, 41, 42, 43, 71, 88, 102, 116). In these lament psalms the psalmist brings their problems to God. But most of them (83%) end with praise to God. For example, Psalm 13 describes David’s suffering:

1How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts [he was depressed]
and day after day have sorrow in my heart [soul, spirit]?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes [restore me], or I will sleep in death [he feared death],
and my enemy [perhaps Saul] will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

He feels as though God is distant, that God has forgotten him, and that God is inactive in not punishing evil. And he suffered the constant humiliation of being on the losing side. But it ends with David’s joy as he anticipates God’s love and deliverance:

5But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for He has been good to me.

He is confident in God’s protection because of his past experience that God has been good to him. He feels assured that the prayer will be or has been heard.

How do we respond to personal problems? Let’s be like David and not be ruled by our personal circumstances. He was a man of prayer and praise who remembered God’s love and God’s deliverance. When we look to God to help us see beyond our troubles, they won’t dominate our perspective. Then our personal  circumstances won’t stop us remembering what God has done or stop us praising God. And our feelings won’t stop us remembering what God has done or stop us praising God. So let’s remember God’s love and God’s salvation in all situations.

The Jews had to travel to Jerusalem three times a year for corporate praise and worship (Ex. 23:14-17; Dt. 16:16-17). We don’t have to travel that far, but the pattern set for corporate praise and worship in the New Testament for the Christian church is weekly. Let’s attend church regularly so we can offer praise and worship to God together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And don’t stay away because of our feelings or personal problems. It’s only through God that we can see these in proper perspective.

Appendix: Twelve Psalms on God’s help for illness or depression

Psalm 6 Double trouble – Illness and enemies
By David.
David was weak and in agony due to illness. He prays for deliverance.
Ends with confidence that his prayer has been heard (v.8-10).

Psalm 13 How long will I suffer?
By David.
David was depressed. He prays for deliverance.
Because he anticipated deliverance, he finishes with an expression of confidence that he will be delivered (v.5-6).

Psalm 16 Trust in God when facing death
By David.
David continues to trust God when facing death.
Finishes with joy (v.9-11).

Psalm 30 A song of healing
By David.
A song for the dedication of the temple. David prays and praises for healing.
Finishes with praise (v.11-12).
“You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
    that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. (v.11-12)

Psalm 38 Prayer for deliverance from illness and enemies
By David.
David prays for deliverance from serious illness. Has no positive statements.

Psalm 41 Prayer for deliverance from illness
By David.
David prays for deliverance from illness.
Finishes with a doxology (v.13).

Psalm 42 Prayer and praise for the downcast
By the Sons of Korah.
Prays for deliverance from depression.
Ends in praise (v.11b).

Psalm 43 Prayer and praise for the downcast
Author unknown.
Prays for deliverance from depression.
Ends in praise (v.5b).

Psalm 71 Prayer for help in old age
Author unknown.
Prayer for help in old age.
Ends in praise v.22-24).

Psalm 88 Prayer for deliverance from constant suffering
By Ethan
Prayer for deliverance from constant suffering, near death. “Lord, you are the one who saves me” is the only positive statement (v.1).

Psalm 102 The prayer of one dying in the prime of life
Author afflicted and weak.
The prayer of one dying in the prime of life.
Gives reasons to praise the Lord (v. 25-27).

Psalm 116 Praise for deliverance from death
Author unknown.
Prayer for deliverance from death.
Ends in praise (v.12-19).

83% (10/12) of these psalms end with confidence in God (praise or joy) and assurance that the prayer will be or has been heard. The remaining 17% (2/12) lacked any such confidence and assurance.

Written, January 2019

Also see: Responding to external problems
Prayer and praise in times of trouble


How to find God’s will

man on roof 3 400pxHave you heard the story about a man trapped on the top of his house during a flood? The water is swiftly rising. As this man sits on his roof, fearful of being swept away by the current, he cries out to God, “Please deliver me”.

A few moments later, a farmer friend arrives with his boat. “Hey, want a ride to safety?” he asks. “No”, replies the man on top of his house. “God is going to deliver me.”

An hour later, the water is up to the gutters. A voluntary rescue person comes by on his yellow raft. “Hey, I’m here to help get you off there and on to safety,” he yells. But the man on top of his house refuses to go. “God is going to deliver me.”

Another hour passes and now the water is halfway up the roof. The man is now on top of his chimney, nervously looking down at certain death and destruction. Fortunately, a Red Cross volunteer comes along in a canoe and offers him a ride to safety. But the man refuses. “No, God is going to deliver me.”

A couple of hours pass by and the water sweeps over the top of his house and he is carried away by the current and drowns. When he gets to heaven, he meets Jesus and says, “I thought you were going to deliver me”. Jesus replies, “I sent a boat, an inflatable raft, and a canoe; but you refused each one”. Don’t be like this man!

In the previous post we saw why it is important to know God’s will. Now we will look at how we can find God’s will for us. How does God guide us? We will see that God has given us several ways to find his plan, purpose and will for us.

First, we need to be aware of the conditions for finding God’s will.

Conditions for finding God’s will

Desire

Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own” (Jn. 7:17NLT). If we want to find God’s will, we must be willing to do it even before we know what it is. So, there must be a desire and a willingness to follow God’s guidance. If we are walking closely with the Lord and truly desiring His will for our lives, God will place His desires in our hearts. The key is wanting God’s will, not our own. A godly person’s desires are in line with what God wants them to do (Ps. 37:4, 23, 31).

Faith

Solomon answered the question, “How can I know God’s will in my life?” with a proverb, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6NIV). This means to trust in the Lord and not in ourselves. So we are to believe that God will reveal His will to us. And be willing to submit to Him in every area of life.

James says, “when you ask (for wisdom), you must believe and not doubt” (Jas. 1:6). We must believe that God cares for us and not doubt His goodness and power.

Daily fellowship with the Lord

Romans 12:1-2 has three keys for knowing God’s will. And they all rely on daily fellowship with the Lord. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1-2).

The first key is commitment.

a) Commitment. Like the life of a sacrificial animal was offered to God, God wants us to be totally committed to Him. We are to place our lives before God as an offering. It’s to be an exclusive relationship, like marriage. Our goal is to please God (2 Cor. 5:14-15). And give up our will so we can follow God’s plan for us.

The second key is a renewed mind.

b) A renewed mind. Our thinking is to be according to a biblical worldview. Godly thinking. Paul had the mind of Christ and didn’t think about people from a worldly point of view (1 Cor. 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:16). It’s like marriage. Because they spend so much time together, a husband and wife get to know each other’s mind and ways. Daily prayer and mediation on Scripture can help us to learn God’s mind and ways.

Are spiritual factors included in our decision making? Do we have the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom in mind? Do we desire what He desires?

The third key is a godly lifestyle.

c) A godly lifestyle. Not following the pattern of the sinful world. This comes from a godly mind directing obedience to Scripture. What controls our lives? Outside influences or inner convictions? Do we live as if this world is all that there is? Have we lost the eternal point of view on our lives? Are we always thinking about ourselves and disregarding the things of God? These come from the world system, which hates God (Jn. 15:9-19).

The final condition for finding God’s will is confession and repentance of sin.

Confession and repentance of sin

Unconfessed sin keeps us from closeness to God. We are to deal with sin by confessing it and repenting (turning back to follow God). “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

If we have disobeyed God in some matter, let’s turn to Him in repentance now, before it is too late. Like Jonah, we may be able to come back into the mainstream of God’s plan for our lives.

Times of uncertainty are used by God to sift our motives too. When unsure of God’s will, we should examine ourselves to see whether we have fulfilled the prerequisites for His guidance.

Before you get a driving licence in Australia there are some pre-requisites. You need to pass:
– The driver knowledge test.
– The Hazard Perception Test.
– 120 hours of driving, including 20 hours of night driving.
– The driving practical test.
Likewise, we have seen that there are some pre-requisites for finding God’s will.

Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today.

The Holy Spirit

God guided Israel in the wilderness by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, but that method ceased when they entered Canaan. In Acts there are a few examples of God using angels and visions to guide people, but these are rare. In this post we will look at the normal means of guidance.

Finding God’s will was easier in Old Testament (OT) times because God used external ways to indicate it. The Holy Spirit now lives in a believer as a Guide, and He replaces all the external means of guidance that existed in the OT. Jesus told the disciples, “He (the Holy Spirit) will guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13). They wrote this down and we now have it in the New Testament (NT).

Early in His ministry, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Lk. 4:1). Jesus and the Apostles were led by the Spirit because they were said to be full of the Holy Spirit. And Christians are commanded to be full of the Spirit (Eph. 5:17).

The Holy Spirit urges us inwardly either to take or not to take a certain course of action. Normally, this is the result of much time spent in prayer, and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed course of action. We can work through decisions with the wisdom God gives us through the Spirit. We can distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit by the growing peace He gives to our minds, as we pray over the matter (Rom. 8:6; Col. 3:15). And the Holy Spirit will never lead us contrary to the teaching of the Bible.

Athletes and sporting teams have coaches to prepare them to perform at their peak. Mal Meninga coaches the Australian Rugby League team, Bert Van Marwijk has just started to coach the Australian Soccer team and Darren Lehmann has just resigned from coaching the Australian Cricket team. Fortunately, we have a coach who doesn’t retire, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit also guides us through the following external means. The chief external means by which God guides His people today is the Bible.

Scripture

Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The authors of the Bible were given the words to use by the Holy Spirit. Through it believers can be equipped for life, including leaning about God’s plan, purpose and will.

John Piper says there are three stages of finding God’s will.
– Using our renewed minds to understand and apply what God commands in the Scripture.
– The application of the Scriptures to new situations in life that are not addressed in the Bible.
– The development of godly character. Most of our thoughts, attitudes, and actions are spontaneous.
They are just spill-over from what’s inside.

ScriptureWhen we look at the commands in the Bible we need to realize who they were written for. This is summarized in a schematic diagram where time increases from left to right. Christianity started on the day of Pentecost after Jesus, died, rose back to life and ascended back to heaven. So the commands in Acts to Revelation (after the day of Pentecost) were written to Christians. This means that they usually can be applied directly to us. The OT was written to Jews who lived under the laws of Moses (the Old Covenant). So these commands don’t apply directly to us. For example, they were required to offer animal sacrifices. Instead these laws need to be interpreted though the NT. Some are repeated in the NT, like 9 of the 10 commandments. And others are not repeated in the NT, like the command to keep the Sabbath day and the commands to offer animal sacrifices. So be careful when applying the OT to today. It has many good principles and provides the background to Christianity, but it wasn’t written to us. Jesus lived under the laws of Moses and the gospels include the teachings of His to Jews. But much of His teaching carries over into Christianity (where it relates to the new covenant). The gospels were written to give Christians an account of the life of Jesus.

When interpreting a passage of the Bible we need to take the text and the context into account. Questions about the text include:
– Who was it written to?
– What did it mean to them?
– What’s changed since then? Are we living under a different covenant?
And questions about the context include:
– What happened before and afterwards?
– What is the situation?
Context is king because it reduces the possible meanings of a text to its most probable meaning.

For example, “By his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5;1 Pt. 2:24) could refer to either physical or spiritual healing. The context in Isaiah is “our transgressions”, “our iniquities”, “each of us has turned to our own way”, and “the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6). And the context in 1 Peter is “our sins”, and “die to sins and live for righteousness”. There is no mention in either passage of illness or injury. So, in these verses “healed” means forgiveness of their sins (spiritual healing), not physical healing.

The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not worth following today.

Biblical commands to Christians are clear to follow. They are God’s revealed will for us. Are we faithfully seeking Him on a daily basis through Bible study and prayer? Are we active in ministry at a Bible-believing church? Are we sharing our faith? Are we doing our best to live apart from sin? Are we faithful to our spouse? Are we seeking satisfaction in Christ instead of the world?

Biblical models are examples to follow. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Models are also clear to follow.

But what about topics not mentioned in the Bible? First, we can ask does it contradict the Bible? Nothing can be the will of God that is contrary to the Word of God. Although the Bible doesn’t give specific answers to many problems we face, it does give us general principles. We can apply these principles to the issues we face day by day. Spiritual wisdom is the practical application of the Bible to everyday situations.

Paul urged the Ephesians to “understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 5:17). We understand the will of the Lord by reflective thinking on how principles of Scripture apply to our circumstances. We find the general will of God in the Bible; we find the specific will for an individual believer through the application of principles of the Bible. We do not find this will through experiences, visions, or coincidences. We find His will through the correct use of our understanding.

Tattoo 6 400pxFor example, what about a debatable matter like tattoos? This is a secondary matter that is not essential to the Christian faith. And Christians may have different opinions and convictions about it. Some biblical principles we can consider are: God’s honor, the welfare of others (like acting in love, acceptance, harmony, don’t quarrel, don’t judge, don’t stumble a weaker believer, and don’t hinder spiritual growth), and order in the church. Also, what is the motive behind the tattoo?

On rare occasions, God may confirm His guidance to us through some specific passage in our daily Bible reading. But care is needed for we are often likely to read into a passage what is not there. God may lead us through a verse taken out of context, but this is the exception rather than the rule. God may confirm His guidance through a passage in our daily Bible-reading. But this should never be made the sole basis for guidance in any matter.

Ikea 3 400pxHave you ever bought some furniture from Ikea? It comes as a flat-pack and the components need to be assembled before they can be used. It’s best to follow the instructions. Otherwise, you might have to go back to the beginning in order to assemble the components in the correct order. The Bible is like God’s instruction manual for living our lives.

Prayer is another external means of guidance.

Prayer

Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-7). Prayer is the way to alleviate worry and experience God’s peace. God wants to know about our requests. There is peace in knowing that God is sovereign and loving.

James 1:5 says we don’t have wisdom because we don’t ask for it—so prayer is critical in seeking and living the will of God. He can use answered prayer to guide us through life.

Did you know that there is an Ikea flat-pack furniture assembly service for difficult projects? And what if we could phone up and get help with difficult Ikea projects? Prayer is like that – we get to speak with the author of the instructions.

Circumstances and opportunities are other external means of guidance.

Circumstances and opportunities

God is sovereign. He is in charge of this world. And the events that He allows are all part of His sovereign will. Nothing happens by chance. What happens to us is part of God’s sovereign will. He can control our circumstances and thereby indicate His will. God may use events in our life to point us in a certain direction. God can use circumstances either to confirm the guidance we have received or to prevent our taking a wrong step.

There are a number of cases of circumstantial guidance in the book of Acts. God used persecution to scatter the church from Jerusalem to spread the gospel (Acts 8:1). During Paul’s first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas moved from one place to another when they had to flee from persecution. And after Paul was arrested, he was given opportunities to preach in Jerusalem to the crowd and to the Sanhedrin. At his trial, he preached to the governor and the king. And when he was taken as a prisoner to Rome, he preached to the sailors, to people at Malta and to people at Rome (Acts 21-28).

God may prevent us from going into paths He has not chosen for us by putting us on a sick bed or by making us miss a train, an appointment or an interview. Disappointments can be His appointments for us, if we live under His Lordship. When we do not obtain something we greatly longed for and prayed for, we can be sure that God has something better in store for us.

God may also lead us contrary to circumstances. So circumstances are not always an indication of God’s will. They must be considered only in conjunction with the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and His witness through the Bible.

Is it right to ask God to indicate His will by a sign? After the advent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there is not a single recorded case in the NT of believers seeking to find God’s will through a sign. This seems to indicate that it is no longer God’s normal method of guidance. It served a purpose in OT times, when the Holy Spirit did not indwell people – but not now. Don’t ask God for a miracle as a sign, and don’t ask God for something so common that it is not really a sign at all. And don’t ask God for a verse as a sign. It’s probably best to not ask God to indicate His will by a sign at all.

God also works through open doors and opportunities. To steer a ship or vehicle, it needs to be moving. If we are active in responding to the opportunities before us, God will direct us.

The advice of godly believers is another external means of guidance.

The advice of godly believers

Christians are urged to encourage each other in the local church (Heb. 10:24-25). Wisdom is available from others with more experience in the Christian life. It’s good to have a mentor or a spiritual counselor or a small group who can provide guidance and support.

However, there are two extremes to avoid. One is to be completely independent of the advice of godly people. The other is to be so completely dependent on their advice as to accept it without question as God’s will for us.

There are some occasions when we should pay attention to the advice of godly people, and some occasions when we may have to go against the advice of those same people, and yet other occasions when we do not have to consult anyone at all. In any case whether we accept or reject or do not seek the advice of others, the ultimate decision must always be our own, for we are personally answerable to God for our decisions.

Daily guidance

Building house 5 400pxHow do you build a house? One brick at a time. Or one part at a time. How do we build a life? One decision at a time. There is an old saying, “Sow a thought and you reap an act; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny”. The decisions we make about God’s plan purpose and will for us shape our lives.

God may sometimes show us His will only just before we have to make a decision, and may keep us waiting a long time prior to that. In any case, He will show us only the next step at each stage. He leads us step by step because He wants us to depend on Him day by day, and to walk by faith and not by sight. For example, the Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day” (Acts 17:11). When He shows us only one step at a time, we are compelled to depend on Him. Moreover, if God showed us the whole future, it is quite likely that we would not want to obey Him fully. And so, He shows us just one step at a time and gradually makes us willing to fulfil all His will. To find God’s will for our life, therefore, all we need to do at any time is to take the next step that God shows us. As we do so, we will find God’s plan unfolding gradually. He does not expect us to find out the details of His plan before we get there.

In the smaller details of daily life, guidance is not necessarily a question of making a conscious decision. It is a matter of walking in the Spirit. A right relationship with the Lord will lead to right action.

God’s will is not static. It is dynamic! It is not always an issue of choosing A or B. In fact, many times you can choose from A to Z, and any of them will be OK. It’s our choice. Why would God give us a brain and not expect us to use it? He lets us make choices, and he gives us second chances.

Summary

We have seen that there are seven conditions for finding God’s will, plan or purpose for us. These are desire, faith, daily fellowship with the Lord, commitment, a renewed mind, a godly lifestyle, and confession and repentance of sin.

Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today. The Holy Spirit also uses Scripture, prayer, circumstances and the advice of godly believers. So God has given us several ways to find his plan, purpose and will for us. Let’s use these so that we will know, understand and follow His will for our lives.

Written, April 2018

Also see: Why is it important to know God’s will
Understanding the Bible


Three good habits

The Marshmallow Test 2 400pxIn the marshmallow test a researcher places a marshmallow in front of a pre-schooler and tells them that if they can wait about 15 minutes before eating it, they will get a second marshmallow. The choice is: one treat right now or two treats later. It demonstrates the power of habit and willpower (or self-control).

Our habits affect or control our lives. A habit is something we do regularly and that tends to occur subconsciously. It involves our attitudes, behaviors, characteristics and customs. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form. But it is possible to form new habits through the repetition of new actions in small steps (that take no more than 5 minutes). And It takes at least 60 consecutive days to establish a habit.

God lists three habits in the Bible that go together like the layers in a sandwich.

The sandwich

When he wrote a letter to encourage the Christians at Thessalonica who were enduring persecution, Paul said, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-18NIV). This is comprised of three commands: to be joyful, to be prayerful and to be thankful. It would have been easier if the Bible said, “Rejoice sometimes, pray occasionally, and give thanks when you feel like it”. Instead the standard is higher than that: always, continually, and in all circumstances.

These three commands cover our past, present and future. We rejoice in the present, pray for the future and give thanks for the past. Paul repeated them to Christians in Rome, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).

The first command is to rejoice always.

Be joyful

“Rejoice always” means to be cheerful or joyful all the time, not just sometimes. This includes good and adverse circumstances. Paul was joyful when he heard about their ongoing faith in the Lord (1 Th. 3:9). But the Christians at Thessalonica were to rejoice although they were being persecuted (Acts 17:5-9; 1 Th. 2:14). And Paul and Silas sang joyfully in prison (Acts 16:25).

When we face difficulties, we have a choice: either we can focus on our trials and lapse into self-pity. Or we can set our minds on the things above, where Christ is at the right hand of God, and rejoice. Paul also said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). So to rejoice always means that we must make this deliberate choice to focus on the Lord and the inheritance that we have in Him, not on our difficult circumstances.

Joy is different to happiness. Joy is an inner attitude whereas happiness is an emotional response to good circumstances. Because it works from the inside out, joy does not depend on our circumstances. God and Jesus are the source and subject of our joy. Biblical joy comes from who God and Jesus are and what they do. And we know that God is in control of the circumstances. As joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit, it’s a consequence of a godly life (Gal. 5:22-23). It depends on our relationship with God.

So there is some truth in the Monty Python comedy song “Always look on the bright side of life”. For a Christian, there is always a bright side of life. And that’s eternal life.

The second command is to pray continually.

Be prayful

“Pray continually” means to pray at regular times and to be persistent in prayer. Our prayers should be frequent and persistent. It includes always being willing and ready to pray as the need arises. This indicates one’s dependence on God.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy continually prayed for them and Paul asked them to pray for him and his companions (1 Th. 1:2; 5:25). Likewise, we need to pray for one another.

Our communication with family and friends is hindered if our cell phone is switched off or the battery is flat. Likewise, our communication with God is hindered if we don’t pray continually.

The third command is to give thanks in all circumstances.

Be thankful

“Give thanks in all circumstances” means to give thanks in all circumstances because “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28). Note that it is “in” the circumstance, not “for” the circumstance. If we gave thanks “for” everything that would mean that we give thanks for Satan and his plan for the world!

Instead we thank God  no matter what happens, as long as we don’t excuse sin. Whatever comes in our lives comes in by the will of God. Like joy, our thankfulness depends on our relationship in Christ rather than on the circumstances of life.

Paul also said, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).

Paul usually includes thanksgiving at the beginning of his letters. In this case, Paul thanked God continually because they accepted the message that he brought from God (1 Th. 1:2; 3:9).

Thanksgiving is the time of year when North Americans spend time with family and friends and reflect on all that they are grateful for. But God wants us to be thankful every day of the year.

Each of these three commands are God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.

In Christ Jesus

“God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” means that that God wants His people to be joyful, prayerful and thankful. In these areas of life we can know God’s will without a doubt. This part of God’s will is also especially revealed by the example of Christ Jesus. But we can only obey them if we are “in Christ Jesus”. Christians are in union with Christ because they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Paul told them that as Christians they are collectively and individually “in Christ” (1 Th. 1:1; 2:14; 4:16). And their hope was “in our Lord Jesus Christ” – they were waiting for His return (1 Th. 1:3).

Lessons for us

It’s God’s will for His followers to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. God wants us to do these three things regularly. Every day of our life. Jesus taught about them. And He modelled them in His daily life. Let’s imitate Him in being joyful, prayerful and thankful.

Written, March 2018


How to be a godly leader

Danger 3 cropped 400pxThe first aid method in Australia is described as DRSABCD which stands for Danger, Response, Send (for help). Airway, Breathing, Compression (CPR) and Defibrillator. It describes the sequence of assistance given to a person suffering a sudden illness or injury. The first thing to do is to ensure that the area is safe for yourself, others and the patient. Make sure you don’t put yourself in danger when going to the assistance of another person. We need to protect ourself from danger, so we can help the patient. This principle also applies to Christian (or church) leadership. Leaders need to cultivate and protect their spiritual lives, so they can lead others.

Watch yourself

In the context of false teachers, Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28NIV). They were to be mindful of their own spiritual condition. Unless they were living in fellowship with the Lord, they could not expect to be spiritual guides in the church. For example, their minds must be fixed firmly on Jesus Christ (Heb. 12:1-3).

And Paul told Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers (from false teachings) (1 Tim. 4:16). Timothy had to have his own spiritual life in order before he could help others who were being influenced by false teaches. He was to be a godly example to others as he preached and taught from the Bible (1 Tim. 4:7, 12-13). An example of such godly behavior is Paul’s self-control (1 Cor. 10:24-27).

Leaders go ahead of their followers. When I am leading people on a hike in a National Park, I have walked the route before and I walk first to ensure our safety. This may mean clearing obstacles from the path or choosing the best route or warning of hazards. It would be risky to lead from the rear, because it would mean that others would face any dangers before the leader! Clearly, leaders should lead and others should follow.

Prayer and Bible reading

A biblical example of godly leadership is the twelve apostles who led the early church in Jerusalem by overseeing the spiritual teaching and the care of the needy (Acts 6:1-6). When the care of the needy became more onerous, they delegated it to seven men, so the leaders could concentrate on “prayer and the ministry of the word (Bible)” (Acts 6:4). Their core activities were to be prayer and teaching God’s Word. They were to be men of prayer and God’s Word, just like Jesus was a man of prayer and God’s Word. And they were to put God’s Word into practice in their daily lives.

The scout’s motto is to “Be prepared”. This means being ready to deal with the events of life. Similarly, godly leaders can be prepared for spiritual growth by regular prayer and Bible reading.

And there is a minimum daily requirement of vitamins to ensure good health. Similarly, the minimum requirement for godly leadership is a daily prayer calendar (list), a daily Bible reading (like Our Daily Bread), and a weekly Bible study (like exegesis or explanation of a Bible passage).

This is an example for Christian (or church) leaders to follow today as well. The leaders (or elders) set the spiritual tone of a church or group. They need to have their lives in order by being people of prayer and God’s Word. These are core aspects of our spiritual life. That’s where they receive power and guidance. They must faithfully participate in daily prayer and Bible reading. These are the basic resources for shepherding people by feeding, correcting, encouraging and counselling them. And the Bible is the final authority for decision making.

Lessons for us

There are many types of leaders today. Some are good, and some have deficiencies. Let’s use the key resources which God has given us (prayer and His message in the Bible) to be godly leaders. Godly leaders pray regularly. And godly leaders read the Bible regularly.

A godly leader is worth following.

Appendix

These core characteristics are necessary, but not sufficient for godly leadership. The other desirable characteristics for godly leadership are given in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. These relate to a person’s temperament, interpersonal relationships, reputation, spiritual life, family life, and personal habits.

Written, February 2018


Islamic prayer

islamic-prayer-400pxPrayer is a major part of Islamic life. The call to prayer is broadcast five times daily from mosques. But how do they pray and what do they say? To minimize bias, the following content has been mainly drawn from Islamic websites.

Prayer times

Muslims are required to pray formally five times a day, as follows:

  1. Dawn.
  2. About mid-day: when the sun is highest in the sky.
  3. About mid-afternoon: when the shadow of an object is the same length as the object itself, plus the shadow length at the mid-day prayer time.
  4. Sunset.
  5. Nightfall: when the sun’s light is gone from the western sky.

Since these times are based on the position of the sun in the sky, the prayer times change slightly from day to day. At each of these times there is a “Call to prayer” to remind people of the need to pray. The prayer should be offered before the next call to prayer.

Besides this formal prayer, Muslims can offer voluntary prayers before or after the obligatory prayers as well as at other times.

Call to prayer

Historically, the mosque minaret was used as a tall platform from which to call Muslims to prayer and to announce the central tenant of the Islamic faith to non-believers. Today, however, the call to prayer is typically recited into a microphone and transmitted through loudspeakers installed on the minaret. This allows the call to prayer to be heard at great distances without climbing the minaret.

The call of the announcer is considered an art form, reflected in the melodious chanting of the call to prayer. However, some people don’t think it’s melodious! In Turkey, there is an annual competition to find the country’s best announcer.

Here’s a translation into English of the Arabic “Call to prayer”.

Allah (God) is the greatest, Allah is the greatest
Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest
I testify that there is no God but Allah
I testify that there is no God but Allah
I testify that Muhammad is God’s Prophet
I testify that Muhammad is God’s Prophet
Come to prayer, Come to prayer
Come to salvation, Come to salvation
Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest,
There is no God but Allah

Another line is often added to the first prayer of the morning (dawn):
Prayer is better than sleep
Prayer is better than sleep

How to pray

Muslims can pray together at a mosque or elsewhere alone. It’s compulsory for men to attend the Friday afternoon prayer in a congregation. Most prayers will take between 5-10 minutes. This can be influenced a lot by which chapters you choose to recite from the Quran. So formal prayer can take about 25-50 minutes per day. Here’s how Muslims pray formally to Allah.

In this ritual, the words are set in Arabic (no matter what the person’s native tongue) and there is a series of set movements that go with the words of the prayer. Each movement is always preceded by the phrase “God is Most Great”. All Muslims are to pray these prayers in Arabic, even if they don’t understand the language; the Arabic words have been translated into English below.

Muslims must be ritually clean before they pray and pray in a ritually clean location. They make sure of this by ritual washing of the parts of the body that are generally exposed to dirt and grime – mosques have washing facilities for this.

The prayer generally follows this sequence.

  1. Standing facing Mecca, raise hands up to your ears and say “Allah is Most Great”.
    Standing with hands folded over chest, say
    “O Allah, how perfect You are and praise be to You. Blessed is Your name, and exalted is Your majesty. There is no god but You”.
    “I seek shelter in Allah from the rejected Satan”.
    “In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the most Merciful”.
  2. Standing with hands folded over chest, recite the first chapter of the Quran (if this is the second cycle of the prayer, recite another short portion of the Quran):
    In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee (alone) we worship and Thee (alone) we ask for help. Show us the straight path. The path of those whom Thou hast favored; Not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray” (1:1-1:7)
    Then recite any other verses of the Quran that you would like. For example,
    Say: He is Allah, the One! Allah is He on Whom all depend. He begetteth not, nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him” (112:1-112:4).
  3. Raise hands up, saying:
    “Allah is Most Great”
    Bow with hands on knees, saying.
    “Glory be to my Lord, the Almighty
    Glory be to my Lord, the Almighty
    Glory be to my Lord, the Almighty”
  4. Rise to standing while reciting “Allah hears those who call upon Him;
    Our Lord, praise be to You”
  5. Raise hands up, saying “Allah is Most Great”. Prostrate on the ground, reciting
    “Glory be to my Lord, the Most High
    Glory be to my Lord, the Most High
    Glory be to my Lord, the Most High”
  6. Rise to a sitting position, saying “Allah is Most Great”.
    “O my Lord, forgive me, have mercy on me, fulfill my needs, raise me, provide for me, guide me, and protect me from sickness”.
    Say, “Allah is Most Great”.
  7. Prostrate again in the same manner, saying:
    “Glory be to my Lord, the Most High
    Glory be to my Lord, the Most High
    Glory be to my Lord, the Most High”.
  8. Rise to a standing position, saying “Allah is Most Great”.
  9. This concludes one cycle (or unit) of prayer. Begin again from Step 2 for the second cycle. Each prayer is 2-4 cycles: 2 at dawn, 4 at noon, 4 at mid-afternoon, 3 at sunset, and 4 at nightfall.
  10. After two cycles and the last cycle, remain sitting after the prostrations and say,
    “Salutations to Allah and prayers and good deeds. Peace be upon you, O Prophet (Muhammad), and the mercy of Allah and his blessings. Peace be on us and on the righteous servants of Allah. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah. And I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His messenger”.
    Then repeat the declaration of faith, raising the forefinger of the right hand, to act as a witness.
  11. If the prayer is to be longer than these two cycles, stand up and begin again to complete the prayer, sitting again after all cycles have been completed.
  12. When the last cycle has been completed, say.
    “O Allah, let Your Peace come upon Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, as you have brought peace to Abraham and his family. Truly, You are Praiseworthy and Glorious. Allah, bless Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, as you have blessed Abraham and his family. Truly, You are Praiseworthy and Glorious”.
    Finally, Muslims ask for forgiveness and mercy, and ask God to bless them and their children until the Day of Judgement:
    “O Allah! I seek refuge in You from the torment of the Hellfire, from the torment of the grave, from the trials and afflictions of life and death, and from the deception of the False-Christ. O my Lord! Grant me and my parents forgiveness, and bestow Your mercy upon them, just as they brought me up when I was small”.
  13. Turn to the right (toward the angel recording your good deeds) and say, “Peace be upon you and Allah’s blessings”.
  14. Turn to the left (toward the angel recording your wrongful deeds) and repeat the greeting. This concludes the formal prayer.

Summary

We have seen that a Muslim is to be involved in formal prayer for about 25-50 minutes each day. And these prayers are spread across five periods of the day. Each prayer has a set sequence of body movements and Arabic words. The “call to prayer” includes a summary of the Islamic faith – that Allah is the only God and that Mohammad is His prophet.

Muslims pray this formal prayer 35 times per week, 150 times per month and 1,825 times per year. As prayer is only one of the five main practices of Islam, this shows that it takes dedication to be a practicing Muslim.

Written, December 2016

Also see: Basic Islam
Monolingual Islam
Testing Islam