Prayer

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What Can I Do For You?

 

In days gone by you could walk into most shops and be greeted with the words, “What can I do for you?” Not so much nowadays I’m afraid. It is perhaps appropriate for a shop assistant to ask a client this, but what if you believed that God was saying this to you?

God is not a Genie

Perhaps for people in the prosperity cults and sects, this would be just what they expect God to say to them. Although they would not admit this, their religious experience and expectations are built around the underlying assumption that God is a supplier of goods and services to those who demand. Several jokes have God as some sort of divine genie, so here is one more. It is an old joke with an essential message, (if there is one) that we should be careful what we wish for:

A married couple, both in their early sixties are walking along a beach when they spot a Persian lamp that’s been washed up. The man picks it up and gives it a tentative rub and to their amazement, a genie immediately appears and asks, “what can I do for you?” The wife says, “Oh, a gold and diamond necklace please, and, ‘poof’, it appears around her neck. The man thinks a little, says to his wife, “Sorry darling”, then turns to the genie and says, “I would like to be married to a woman thirty years younger than myself.” And behold, in the twinkle of an eye, he is suddenly ninety years old!

The Conservative Approach

Most Christians doubt that God would ever ask what he could do for them. Quite to the contrary, we have all been accustomed to the idea that we should be asking God what we can be doing for him. Surely the lesser should seek to serve the greater? In his inaugural speech, John F Kennedy expressed this idea when he intoned, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Ever since then, church pastors regularly exhort church members to have the same attitude towards their church. So we are programmed to think this way. Of course, this is a good and biblical attitude because surely we are called to be givers and not takers and ones who serve rather than being served. A central concept of Christianity is ‘love’ and love is best expressed in unmerited self-giving.

Biblical Evidence

However, I can immediately recall two instances in scripture where God asked someone what he could do for them. The clearest Old Testament example of this is in 2 Chronicles 1:7-12 where God addresses the young king of Israel as follows:

“Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth.  Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honour, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honour, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”

I have reproduced the whole passage here lest the name-it-and-claim-it boys appropriate this as a proof-text for their materialistic doctrine. In addition, God’s response to Solomon’s request reveals quite a bit concerning how we could approach such an offer. Interestingly, God gave Solomon both wisdom and riches, but only because he chose wisdom to serve his people over the ability to enrich himself. The point, however, is that God actually asked him what he wanted.

The second example is from the New Testament in the Gospel of Mark chapter 10 verse 51. The Lord Jesus (God incarnate) called a blind beggar over and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” It sounds like a strange question because, hey, the man was obviously blind. However, the point again is that God asked him what he could do for him.

An Offensive Idea

For most of us, the idea that God would want to ‘serve’ us is unsettling and subtly offensive. Ever since becoming Christians, we have been taught to serve God and others and although we may struggle to comply we take pride in the fact that we subscribe to this outward life orientation. I suspect that any offence we may feel is probably because serving God gives us a certain meaning to life and status in our Christian community.

Surely God needs us to get things done… doesn’t he?

Well no he doesn’t. If he wanted to he could send an angel to do what he needs done or even just declare it to be done and it would be done. I think that the reason God gives us ministries and missions (things to do on his behalf) is so that we can grow in character and responsibility.

I have long believed that the divine purpose for all of us is that we come to know him, become like Jesus, and help others to do likewise. Serving God and others facilitates this and prepares us for eternity.

Notwithstanding all this, how would YOU respond if you believed that God was saying to you, “My son, my daughter, what can I do for you?”

My Experience

In late 2014 I read a book by the Christian country and western musician Doyle Dykes where he recalls the time when he experienced God asking what he could do for him. As I was reading this, I remembered how many years before God had said the same thing to me. It was at the end of a year and I was seeking some direction from the Lord as to what my goals and plans should be for the year ahead.

I asked, “What do you want me to do for you Lord?” and I remember the surprising reaction I received. It was as though God was chuckling gently and then his words flooded my mind “My son, the question you should be asking is what you would like me to do for you.” It unsettled me and made me wonder if I was hearing from God at all. I didn’t know what to do with this strange offer, so I just wrote it into my journal and left it behind in a flurry of busy planning and doing.

Now the decades have rolled by and I am a 74-year-old retired pastor and unemployed theologian, and it seems that the Lord is asking me this question again. A few days ago, I received a note from my son that read ‘At this stage of your life, Jesus might be asking you “what do you want me to do for you?”’ Once again, I just do not know how to respond, but this time I am pondering on it. This article is part of my attempt to process, but it is also an invitation for you to consider how you would respond.

Obstacles

Two main obstacles confront me. One is my mental programming over so many years that asking to receive for myself is somehow unworthy. However, how many times did Jesus encourage his followers to ask? Many times. “Ask and it will be given you…” (Matthew 7:7), “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Verses 11-12), “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14), and so on. Yes I know there are conditions involved and provisos implied, but, hey, we even have a word for asking God in prayer, Petition.

My second obstacle is that I just do not know what to ask for. If I am going to take the matter seriously and reverently then I need to be convinced of the worth and merit of my request. In any event, God has been very kind and generous to me already and every time we sing the song ‘Goodness of God’ in church my eyes tear up. The chorus part goes: ‘All my life, You have been faithful. All my life, You have been so, so good. With every breath that I am able. Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God’. I have health, sufficient money to live reasonably and to give when I want to, an excellent wife, and two adult children and young granddaughters, all of whom I love and who love me. I am already a blessed man. So, how then should I respond to the question?

It is a Good Question to Answer

Difficult as it may be to respond with anything other than thoughtless superficiality (give me a better, house, car, and smartphone Lord) it is a good question to answer.

It is a good thing to consider what is really important to me, what I value most, and what I am lacking. What would give me the most peace, joy, and satisfaction? What would best please the Lord to hear me ask? Hmmm, all questions I find hard to answer. What about you? How would you answer?

What Can I Do For You? Read More »

Hebrews Session 5  

Session 5 of the Hebrews bible study goes live on YouTube at 12h00 Tuesday 15th March 2022: click on the link/video below to go directly there where you can set a reminder to view it “live” while I am in the room, or watch it later, whatever works for you.

 

 

In this session I deal with two important subjects:
  1. The nature of prayer (why we pray and why we pray the way we do), and
  2. Whether believers can lose their salvation.

If you prefer to listen to the bible study as an audio-only version, just click on the play button below.

Please share this post with those who would benefit, and also subscribe, like and comment on this as well as our podcast channel. 

I hope to see you on Tuesday!

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Darkest Before Dawn

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I have written a long article ready for publication titled ‘The Dark Night of our Nation’s Soul’ which was drawn from Isaiah 59. However, the Holy Spirit has arrested me and directed me to rethink when and if I should publish it. My aim was to focus on the light of Revival as the only viable solution to our nation’s woes. This conviction has not changed, but there is another way I can express it other than bemoaning the darkness. For instance, the next chapter in Isaiah is, of course, chapter 60 and this starts with the gloriously well-known passage:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

and his glory will be seen upon you.

Isaiah 60:1-2 ESV

Context

What is very noticeable about this statement by Isaiah is that the first verse is in the present tense while the rest of the passage is in the future tense. Your light has come… glory has risen upon you… darkness shall cover… glory will be seen.

Chapter 59 presents Israel as living in deep moral and material darkness yet in his next breath the prophet tells them that God’s light has already risen upon them. They are like a man standing in the deepest darkness who is unaware that behind him a light is already shining. He cannot see the light because it is behind him and the shadows before him are very dark. This was Israel’s condition, and it is our current condition.

Before us and around us we see and sense darkness, but perhaps we need to turn around in order to see the light.

The Light Behind Us

In our church service this Sunday, we sang a song with the chorus lines. ‘And all my life you have been faithful. And all my life you have been so, so good…’ As I sang these words, I was praying silently, “It is true Lord. You have been so good and faithful to me. Thank you Jesus”.  Of course, there have been hard parts in my personal history with all the pain, confusion, and sadness that is a part of life. However, when I think back, I can see that God’s goodness, grace and mercy has always shone brightly. (I wrote my personal testimony HERE if you would like to read it) The problem is that sometimes, like these present days, our eyes get blinded by the darkness and cannot see the light behind us. This of course is an illusion, because darkness is just the perceived absence of light and cannot blind us. However, we can’t see too well in the darkness unless we turn around and catch the glimmers of light reflecting off our past realities and our current circumstances.

The Light Around Us

The light of the Lord is a spiritual and not a physical light. It shines from a dimension beyond the perception of the six normal senses. This spiritual light enters our worlds through many windows such as the scriptures, the inner spirit, and fellow disciples of Jesus.

If we stop searching for the light in the scriptures, then we are turning our backs on the light. If we cease seeking for the light within our spirits, then darkness dominates our spiritual vision. In addition, when we sever contact with other spirit-filled believers, then we isolate ourselves from the light that shines through the windows of their souls.

The COVID-19 lockdown has been a brutal thing in so many ways and has isolated each of us in into our own small corners. Do you remember that children’s song from Sunday-school days about our small corners? ‘Jesus bids us shine, with a clear, pure light. Like a little candle burning in the night. In this world of darkness, so we must shine, you in your small corner, and I in mine’. Well, to benefit by the light that we each bear, we need to connect, and this is one of the reasons that the gatherings of the church are so important. If I had not been at the church service on Sunday I would not have sung of God’s faithful goodness towards me, I would not have heard others testifying to this, and I would most likely not have seen the light around me.

‘For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.’ (2 Corinthians 4:6) 
The Light Before Us

There are two ways in which the light is before us, past and a future tense. Isaiah probably had no idea that he was not only encouraging Israel, but also prophesying the coming of the Messiah. Speaking of Jesus Christ, the Apostle John wrote that ‘in him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.‘ (John 1:4-5) Jesus is the light of the world, both 2000 years ago when he walked on Earth, and now. Every person who is born again of the Spirit is a light bearer and a member of what Paul described as the Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1:12); we are fellow sons and daughters of the Light (1 Thessalonians 5:5).

In another sense, the light is still before us on the timeline of the ages. In Revelation 21:23 John uses the analogy of a city to describe Heaven, and writes that it ‘does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp’. However, the same book of Revelation hints strongly at a foretaste of the light of heaven in a last and greatest spiritual revival.

However, we only have to read the bible and consider church history to see that God sends the light of revival in the darkest times. Our present time is very dark – (and not just from load-shedding) both in South Africa and the world at large, and so should we not expect God to send revival?

Jesus Revival

In the yet to be published article I referred to earlier, I gave revival as the only truly foreseeable positive scenario for the future of South Africa. However, we cannot generate true revival no matter how much we declare it, structure for it, or pretend that it is already here. Revival is a sovereign act of God, preceded only by prayer. A few years ago I wrote a series on Revival and you can read it by following the links listed HERE or you can purchase the book in its entirety it from Amazon HERE. I urge you to do this because our need for revival is critical and urgent and we need to be asking God to send it ASAP!

Light Upon Light Upon Light

So, within our current darkness, we have past, present, and future light. We have the light of Jesus who was and is the very light of the world; we have the light of our remembrance of the light of the Lord in our own lives; we have the light of fellow light-bearers all around us, and we have the great light of future revival and ultimate heaven. This is why Paul can write:

‘For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.

This is why it is said:

“Wake up, O sleeper,

Rise from the dead,

And Christ will shine on you.”‘

Ephesians 5:8-14

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TruthTalks: The Power of Prayer

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At the start of last week’s post, Dr Christopher Peppler says: “However, as you read further, you will realise that I do not believe that prayer has any innate power at all”.

Intrigued? Read the original post HERE, or listen to the TruthTalks topic on it below.

Please like, support, follow, subscribe, and do what you can to get this podcast audio post to as many people as possible. We are counting on you to help us spread the word.

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The Power of Prayer

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I have chosen to call this article ‘The Power of Prayer’ because this is such a popular expression among evangelical Christians.

However, as you read further, you will realise that I do not believe that prayer has any innate power at all.

I have written on this subject before and you can find a fairly recent article HERE where I deal briefly with two major causes of prayerlessness in the church. In this article, I want to set out more comprehensively why I believe that there is no inherent power in prayer and the implications for using the expression ‘the power of prayer’.

Mass Prayer Meetings and Prayer Email/WhatsApp Campaigns

Seldom a quarter goes by without someone organising some or other form of mass prayer campaign. Yesterday a group of passionate Christians in the USA were calling on all believers everywhere to pray in unity that President Trump would prevail in the face of a declared Democratic election victory. Here in South Africa, we have had several mass prayer meetings or campaigns to pray for rain, the political condition of our nation, or farm murders. I am in favour of prayer gatherings of any size, but perhaps for reasons not shared by the organisers of these events.

The question is this: ‘Why are these events or campaigns organised and why do we participate in them?’

Sometimes the appeal is to fill a sports stadium and at other times it is for us all to pray simultaneously and in unity where we are. Whatever the causes and methodology, the principles and motivation are similar. However, do we believe that more people praying will equate to more effective results? If we do believe this then what are the implications? Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • God will be obliged or even compelled to act if enough people pray;
  • God will be more inclined to answer our prayers if a lot of people agree together;
  • The act of praying releases spiritual energy (power) which in itself changes reality.

Most people I know would reject the first option, ponder on the second, and secretly believe the third. Not you? So why then do you send out emails, WhatsApp messages and the like to ask people to pray when a loved one is desperately sick, injured, or perhaps jobless? Perhaps you have never done this or even forwarded a prayer campaign chain letter, but I know of a lot of folks who have.

The Questionable Power of Prayer

We have heard the expression ‘the power of prayer’ so often, and from so many sources, that it is hard not to accept it as being true. However, does the bible teach that prayer releases or initiates spiritual power? Did Jesus teach this or model this? If the answers are ‘no’ and ‘no’ then on what basis do so many Christians believe it?

The bible as a whole, the witness of the early church, and the teaching and example of the Lord Jesus all present prayer as communion with God – no more and no less. God has infinite power and he does sometimes use his power to change reality in response to the prayers of his people. God has power but prayer in itself does not. When we pray, we express our dependence on God, ask him to act on our behalf, or petition and intercede for others. God is powerful and through prayer, we communicate with the all-powerful God.

The Heart of the Misconception

At the heart of the misconception that prayer has power, is the human heart. By ‘heart’ I mean self, ego, emotion.

We choose to believe that prayer has power because then we feel powerful when we pray.

We do the business. We achieve the goal. We are the important factors in the equation and God is just an approving spectator to our triumph. Sometimes we believe in the power of prayer because we are desperate and feel helpless. What can I do? Perhaps I can pray with others and then I won’t feel so helplessly out of control.

Whatever the motivation, the idea is just wrong! We speak to God and he may respond in several ways. He might answer, he might do what we have asked of him, or he may empower us by his Spirit to make the difference we are expecting him to make.

The Biblical Basis for Prayer

Throughout the scriptures, prayer is presented as communion with God. I use the word ‘communion’ because prayer is not always verbal and sometimes also includes worship of some kind. Consider just the following texts:

  • 2 Chronicles 7:14-15 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.
  • Jeremiah 29:12 “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you”.
  • Matthew 6:6 “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father…”
  • John 17:1 ‘After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you”.
  • Acts 4:23-24 ‘On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said…’

In all of these examples, those who pray are believers and the one prayed to is Almighty God. There is one instance, however, that some people use to teach that prayer, in itself, has power. James 5:16, in the NIV, includes the words: ‘The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.

The Exception that is No Exception at All

To rightly understand James 5:16 we only need to place it into its proper context, which is ‘forgiveness of sin’. The Amplified Bible translates verses 15 and 16 as: ‘Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working]’. The source of the available power is God, not the act of praying.

Some teachers also use the previous verse in James 5 to validate the intrinsic power of prayer: “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up…” The translation ‘make the sick person well’ used by the NIV is a little misleading because the Greek word more accurately translates as ‘save’ and not ‘heal’ or ‘make well’. This is why the HCSB translates this verse as ‘The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up”.

However, irrespective of the various translations, the key phrase is ‘the Lord will raise him up’ – not the prayer, not the one praying, but the Lord God. 

Corporate Prayer

If God is the recipient of our prayers and it is he who can, and often does, respond with power, then why do we gather together to pray? I have written about this HERE, but the following are a few reasons why corporate (group) prayer  is important:

  • We join together with one heart, mind, and purpose. We express our concerns and present our requests to God as a people and not just as individuals.
  • We sometimes find fuller expression as a group than we could individually because we can agree with and add onto other peoples prayers.
  • We are encouraged by being together and knowing that others share our concerns.
  • Together we constitute a spiritual temple and often the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst is powerful and almost tangible. In this environment of God’s glory, we can often receive from him words and anointing that we may not if alone in prayer.

Now For Some Final Questions

Yes, I know I am as full of questions as a four-year-old, but indulge me one last time. If you believe what I have written here (and hopefully you have prayerfully tested it against the scriptures) then are you in future going to (1) desist from loosely using the term ‘the power of prayer’? (2) cease attempting to ‘use’ prayer as some form of spiritual warfare weapon? (3) direct your prayers to God alone and depend on him for a suitable response? And (4) participate in group prayers, prayer campaigns, prayer chains and the like for all the right and none of the wrong reasons?

Why this Matter is so Important

When we place ourselves, individually or corporately, as the source of power and prayer as the means of achieving powerful results, then we sin.

Self-centredness and self-reliance have from Genesis 3 onwards been the prime sin. To be even blunter, it is the sin of idolatry, self-idolatry. When we believe that our prayers generate or release power then we relegate God to an indirect sponsor at best or a redundant bystander at worst. Furthermore, when we speak, teach, and model the ‘power of prayer’ we communicate error and encourage self-idolatry.

Please test what I have written against the scriptures and specifically against what Jesus taught and modelled. Set aside the books, videos, and audios by pastor so-and-so or dr what-what and go straight to the source of truth – Jesus and the written Word of God.

Oh, and I would be happy to interact with you via email if you would like to do this.

The Power of Prayer Read More »

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.