“When God Doesn’t Hear Your Prayers”

Having a close friend, someone you can talk to about anything, is important. Yet we’ve all been in a situation where those same bonds can become fractured. In these moments it is no longer an easy thing to pick up the phone and connect. Similarly, followers of Christ must recognize that we have a great, merciful God who loves to hear the heart cry of His people but that connection can become fractured at times. What I’m trying to say is, God doesn’t always hear your prayers. Did I get your attention?

            That idea might seem foreign in our day and age. We sometimes have a vision of God being some cosmic grandfather who doesn’t care about our actions but merely “sees the good in us all.” Biblically speaking, nothing could be further from the truth. God cares about who you are and what you do. And sin is such a big deal to God that the only way for Him to appease His holy justice was to send Jesus to be die in the place of His people. Sin is a big deal to God, therefore it needs to be a big deal to us. One way we can come to understand this is through the way the Bible speaks about prayer.

God Only Hears The Prayers of His People
            If I’m out in public with my daughters and I hear one of them call, “Daddy!” I turn immediately and listen. However, if another child calls “Daddy!”, I simply ignore it. Why? My responsibility is for my children. The children of God are those who have come to trust in Christ through faith alone. These are the ones who have been given “the right to become children of God (John 1:12).” These are the ones who hear the voice of their Shepherd and know that they belong to Him (cf. John 10:3).

            Those who do not belong through faith to God’s family remain separated from God because of their sin. The Prophet Isaiah says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” The consequence of this separation is that God does not hear your prayers. Isaiah continues, “and your sins have hidden [God’s] face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2) So when a non-believer tells me they’re praying for a new job, or for healing, I wonder why they think God will listen. This person continues to ignore God in every aspect of life. The prayer that really needs to come from the mouth of unbelievers, and one that I know God hears, is the prayer of a contrite heart who makes a confession of sin and a desperate need for Christ. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).”

God Does Not Always Hear Christian Prayers
            “What do you mean God doesn’t always hear the prayers of Christians?” If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ, God doesn’t just save you from your sins (justification) but He desires that you are continually growing and maturing (sanctification). One way God does this is by teaching that our prayer life will be hindered when we indulge in sin. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened (Psalm 66:18).” Loving my sin more than God is a sure way for me to lose connection with Him.

“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood (Isaiah 1:15).” Dr. John N. Oswalt comments, “Prayer is not a device that allows sinful persons to continue in sin. Rather, it is a way that a repentant worshiper communicates with a gracious God. Prayer is useless without true repentance.” True followers of Christ will hate having a fractured relationship with their God. Therefore, we must recognize this situation in order to confess and turn back to God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).”


God Does Not Hear Selfish Prayers
            Finally, we must keep in mind the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not the Christian version of making a wish. Prayer is first and foremost communing with the God of the Universe. Prayer is aligning our heart and will with God’s. Therefore, God will not hear our selfish prayers. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:3).” Pastor John Skaggs of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church here in Globe comments on this verse, “God is not a Genie in a bottle to summon when you have a wish. God is holy, holy, holy and will be treated as such by his children.” I don’t care what those false teachers on “Christian” television say, God is not going to hear your petty prayers for fancy cars or bigger houses.

Prayer is an amazing gift from God. Being able to communicate with our Creator is simply mind-blowing. So please, pray and pray often. But remember, if you want God to really hear, approach Him in His way: humbly, with a desire to have His will be done. Having direct contact with the God of the universe is the most important connection you could ever have. This is the relationship that we should desire above all.

 Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.     

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Let The People Think!”

I love the theatre. To be clear, I’m not saying that I love a particular room with a stage and seating; no, I love the art of the theatre. I love the stories. I love the power a play can have as an audience is suddenly transported out of their own reality for a moment and placed within the imaginary circumstances provided by the playwright. I love how a well-done production causes audiences to laugh, or cry, or think. For all of these reasons and more, I love the theatre. It saddens me to see the theatre slowly fading from our culture. However, while it lasts, I think the theatre is an important means of illuminating ideas, political or otherwise, in a way that all people can grasp. This has always been a strength of the arts, to act as a mirror of the culture.

            Years ago I had the privilege of directing a production of Seussical, a musical retelling of the beloved stories of Dr. Seuss. Although the play is very colorful and energetic, I wanted my actors to find moments of substance that would ground the characters. One particular moment that we discussed was in the musical number “The Biggest Blame Fool”, wherein the majority of the characters are harassing Horton the Elephant because he believes something which no one else does. His large ears allow him to hear the tiny Whos on the dust speck, while the others cannot. The Sour Kangaroo leads the other characters in singing, “Tellin’ lies, makin’ jokes it’s an elephant hoax! Brother, that’s against the law! Breakin’ the peace, creatin’ a fuss! Somebody’s thinkin’ different than us! Biggest blame fool in the Jungle of Nool!”

            Right there on the page, the line jumped out to us. “Somebody’s thinkin’ different than us!” What does this mean for the characters in the story? They feel empowered to treat Horton however they deem right, whether that is to chase him off, incessantly harass him, or even throw him in jail. Thought crimes are just too much for these silly creatures to handle.

            The crazy thing is, however, while this silly musical is intended to entertain children, it gives a lucid look at an important topic in our own day and age. Namely, the popular culture is becoming more and more aggressive toward those whom they see as committing a “thought crime”. In other words, “Believe like us, or else.”                           

            In last week’s article I gave an historical sketch of Isaac Backus and his role in the fight for the separation of church and state in the 1700’s. Though I didn’t give much commentary throughout the article, one of my primary purposes was to highlight the fact that people of all backgrounds should desire that we retain, as a nation and in culture, the vital right of free speech and free thought. While most people seem to affirm this ideal, sometimes the evidence points in other directions.

            Separation of church and state is the basic concept that the state will not mandate a particular church or religious philosophy to be believed by all at the consequence of judicial punishment. Yet, what about the philosophy, dare I say “faith”, of the secular culture? Should that be mandated by the state? Should individuals be punished if they do not bow the knee to the cultural “religion” of the day? Backus wrote, “How can such a union be expected so long as that dearest of all rights, equal liberty of conscience is not allowed?” So while certain groups and individuals will call for the freedom to express their ideas, in the next breath, they call for others to be punished for expressing contradictory ideas.

            “Wait a second,” someone may interject, “haven’t religious people done the same thing as various points in history?” To that I respond, yes! There have been individuals and groups that have done horrendous things to people with contrary ideas in the name of religion. I am ready and willing to admit that. However, just because people of the past did erroneous things does not mean would should continue the habit. Instead, we must be able to work together to ensure that the freedom of conscience remains intact in our culture.

            So while the secular world view gains more and more traction, the question must be posed about the place for people of faith. Will religious believers be allowed to think their own thoughts or should the state curb their ideas? Will Christians be allowed to be Christians in a Biblical and historic sense or will the powers of the culture bring their wrath upon the church?

            These questions become more and more important as we approach another election cycle in which candidates for the office of the President of the United States come forward to vie for your vote. Albert Mohler comments, “The candidates need to be asked if they, as President, would use executive authority through federal departments to force a secular orthodoxy on religious groups, organizations, and businesses. The candidates need to be asked if they will protect the rights of Christian colleges to educate their students and hire their faculty in accordance with the tenets of faith, without being threatened by the state.” In other words, will Christians be allowed to be Christian?

            Forced belief is bad idea for any world view. We must take a strong stance against any form of government coercion regarding belief. This doesn’t mean that people cannot disagree and shouldn’t passionately proclaim their beliefs. It does mean, however, that we have the right to agree or disagree without fear of government punishment. We must fight for the continued right to think!

 Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.      

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Isaac Backus and The Separation of Church and State”

The idea of the separation of church and state has become so common in the minds of contemporary people that it is almost a “given”, an assumption that this principle has always been around. However, a cursory look at history will show that many people had to come forward and fight for this, now treasured, ideal. It was not an atheistic or secular group of people who argued for the separation of church and state, rather, instrumental in its development were early Baptists and Baptist leaders. Baptists were not the only ones who stood for this principles but, as Gilbert Alan Parker explains, “They were among the most vigorous and outspoken champions of the principles governing the separation of church and state.”

            In their advocacy for religious liberty, Baptists took a strong stance against any form of government coercion regarding belief or practice. Scholar Albert W. Wardin writes, “Advocates of this principle maintain that the state would neither control nor subsidize the church, while the church would not seek to control the state.” It is this ideal of freedom that remains a hallmark of Baptist thought. Walter Shurden writes, “Religious freedom means separation of church and state and not accommodation of church and state… Baptists, not only in America, but around the world have been solidly on the side of the separation of church and state.” One of the most indomitable among them being Isaac Backus.

            Backus spent over sixty years of his life and ministry enveloped in the fight for religious freedom. Driven by his desire to allow the Bible alone to be the authority of the church, Backus believed “the union of the two governments [church and state] in the New England colonies must be broken if America is to become a truly Christian land.” Backus believed that the church should be governed by Christ alone and therefore, the church should be free from any governmental regulations. He was fervent in his preaching and writing in which he “articulated a system of religious liberty which was to benefit all denominations.” Freedom to choose and believe according to conscience was a forefront issue for Isaac Backus.

            Born in Connecticut on January 9th, 1724, his life span covered many vital moments in history including the Great Awakening and the American Revolution. Historian Stanley Grenz comments, “[Backus] lived in an age in which ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ were popular and often used words but in which full religious freedom had not yet been granted by the ruling civil-ecclesiastical establishment.” However, Backus would initiate an instrumental work that would begin to shake the old order of things and cause many rise up and take a stand for freedom from all forms of tyranny.

            Backus saw this as a gospel issue. While he did believe that Christian truth was vital for any society, he believed that a state church was detrimental to Christianity. Michael Haykin explains Backus’s belief, “A state church cannot be a true church because it forces people to belong against their wills.” Forced belief is contrary to the Bible’s clear teaching. Backus writes, “Religion must at all times be a matter between God and individuals.”

            In 1773, Backus published his most famous pamphlet “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty” in which he outlines his arguments for equal rights concerning, what Backus referred to as, liberty of conscience. Backus wrote his pamphlet to appeal to the common people, hoping that they would understand and affirm the logical points that he was arguing for.

            Backus begins his pamphlet by clarifying that he is not arguing for an abolishment of government stating, “What a dangerous error, yea, what a root of all evil then must it be, for men to imagine that there is anything in the nature of true government that interferes with true and full liberty!” Rather, Backus claims that submitting to government should not entail an encroachment upon true liberty, especially religious freedom. Scholar Peter Judson Richards points out how Backus was trying to reveal to the individual that liberty has political and spiritual aspects. Richards writes, “The general ignorance of the spiritual underpinnings to liberty caused a slide into mere licentiousness, and a disdain for the God-ordained institution of government.” Again, Backus was not trying to diminish the necessity of government, but to put government in the proper place. Richards continues, “Within this framework, Backus established a fundamental opposition between autonomous individualism and true liberty.”

            Backus then goes on to explain the differences between civil government and ecclesiastical government and how these two spheres must not be conjoined or confounded. History has shown that when these two governments are joined issues arise. Backus writes, “Where they have been confounded together no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued of which the Holy Ghost gave early and plain warnings.”

            Backus closes his pamphlet by appealing to the reason of the reader. He asks them to be consistent in their thinking in order that they may see and understand that what he is asserting is important for every man and woman, regardless of religious affiliation. He puts forth an important question as the nation prepares, in only a few years following the publication of his tract, to declare independence from Britain, “How can such a union be expected so long as that dearest of all rights, equal liberty of conscience is not allowed?” Backus was looking for a true response from the leaders and people of his day. It was his hope that his article would begin a conversation that would bring about the betterment of all involved. In the same way, I hope my brief articles open up conversations that will help our community think and grow as we consider the many important topics that we face today, including liberty of conscience.

 Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“It’s All The Same, Right?”

Sometimes making a choice can be one of the most difficult tasks for a person. Probably the most thorny of these choices is the always troubling question, “What do you want to eat?” I’m sure we’ve all been down this disastrous road a time or two. What’s the problem? Too many choices and too many individual tastes. I’ve been on road trips where we have circled an area five times only to end up in a restaurant that no one is happy with. However, once our stomachs are full and the argument is over, we realize that food is food, and in the end, it’s all really the same, right?

            Looking into the world of religious organizations and belief systems, one may come to a similar conclusion: “It’s all the same, right? I mean, does it really matter what you believe, what your faith is in so long as you have faith?” This kind of thinking is exacerbated when one considers all of the groups in town who claim the title “Christian”. In fact, I was recently having a conversation with a young man who, as the topic moved to spiritual matters, agreed with me but then interjected, “But I look around and see Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, and all sorts of other groups — how do I know which one is right?” This is such an important topic.

            To begin, we must start with the assumption this young man made; namely, that although each of the groups would claim, to varying degrees, the title “Christian”, there must be something which differentiates them. There must be something which makes one “right” and another “wrong”. So while we may try to be “PC” affirming that all groups who self-identify as Christian do so rightly, our instincts tell us otherwise.

            To begin with, we must have a standard about what a Christian is from an objective point of view. You see, words are only as good as their definitions. Somehow we’ve come to believe in our modern culture that words can mean whatever we want them to mean. If this truly is the case, then no words have meaning and all conversation and debate will go nowhere. Fortunately, words do have meaning and this is the case for the term Christian. The standard, then, we use in order to define Christianity must be the Bible. For in the Bible we learn of the Christ, from who Christianity comes. Therefore, if one is going to claim Christianity, we should be able to look at the Bible to discern the validity of the claim.

            However, it may be helpful to start with an illustration. We are currently inundated with coverage of the Democratic debates. Now imagine if a presidential hopeful got up on the stage and began to argue against the basic Democratic position on every topic and to argue instead for the Republican platform. How do you think the others would respond? Perhaps at first they would be confused, but eventually someone might be brave enough to say, “Why are you here? You’re not a Democrat!” The person might respond, “Yes, I am! How dare you say that!” However, in what sense could an individual be a Democrat if they do not hold to any of the foundational beliefs of the party? In truth, they couldn’t. You see, self-identification alone does not mean anything. The question is, “What is the content of your beliefs?” The content comes first and then the label follows.

            Similarly, just because a group or denomination claims a Christian label and perhaps even a Christian heritage, one must look at the content of their beliefs in order to discern how “Christian” they truly are. Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that I personally have a corner on the market of truth. There are areas in which true, Bible-believing Christians disagree, and yet both can still be legitimately considered Christian. The Democratic debates show that there are areas in which Democrats disagree on, while they all remain within the broad Democratic spectrum. However, there would come a place when a Democrat moved so far from that spectrum that they can no longer be consider a true Democrat. This is also true of Christianity. Some have moved so far from historic, Biblical Christianity that there is no way to truly consider them Christian (even while they cling to the term).

            What must be part of the content of the beliefs in order for a group to be considered Christian? Briefly stated, 1) One must believe that Jesus is who He said He was throughout the Gospel records. Jesus was not merely some teacher, guru, great example, or prophet. Jesus is God in the flesh (cf. John 1:1, 14). Jesus clearly recognized He is God (cf. Mark 2:5) and proclaimed Himself to be God (cf. John 8:58).

            2) One must believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God and that it can be trusted as such (2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 1:22-25). How can one be a Christian and yet believe the Bible is suspect? If you believe the Bible needs to be updated to fit current trends, that the Bible is missing “many parts which are plain and most precious,” or that the Bible needs to be corrected by science, then I don’t see how you can legitimately consider yourself to be a Christian.     

            3) One must believe that salvation comes by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone. Even a superficially reading of New Testament books such as Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians would make this point very clear. Yet, so many groups want to add rituals, organizational membership, or other types of “works” to the requirements of salvation. This is not Christianity.

            This is in no way intended to be exhaustive or my final treatment on the topic, but it is a starting place. As I talked with this young man, I encouraged him (as I do all of you readers), not to be sidetracked by names on buildings or organizational identifications. Rather, look to the content of their message. If a group is truly part of Christianity, their message and teaching will make it clear.

              Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com. 

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe