I’ve been convicted of something in my life recently that I have noticed in others also. It’s the use of the words “I wasn’t able to…”. We sometimes use these words in response to people’s questions about things like our time with God in his Word or calling a certain person back or doing something we said we’d do. I’ve heard myself using these words in conversation because I have found that they work to keep my failures and sins from being exposed or my reputation from being harmed with a slacker-esque impression.
We’re all busy people, so no one is going to question whether I was really unable to fulfill a certain responsibility, right? But when you think about it, “unable” is a pretty serious word to use in this context. Are we really saying that there was no possible way we could have done what we should have done? I am sure that there are times when the use of these words is legit, but much of the time a more accurate response is “I just didn’t get to it” or, if we want to be truly candid, “I didn’t make time for it”.
When I look inside my heart I often see a burning desire to protect my true self from discovery and that’s why I have used these words and others like them. They keep people off my scent. If this is you too, here are two things to remember:
- If you are in Christ, then you stand before God completely forgiven (Romans 8:1). All your sins (including sins of neglect) are washed away, so there is no need to try and justify yourself before others. The opinion of man is not more important than God’s declaration of “Righteous!” because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
- If we are not honest about our sins of neglect, then we are missing out on the help that God brings us through his people. And we are not making it easy for them to receive the blessing of obeying God’s command to “exhort one another everyday… that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
It’s pretty obvious why we should ask people how we can pray for them, right? We are sinful people in a sinful world who believe that God hears our prayers and answers us in his fatherly kindness (Matthew 7:11). We understand that the results of the Fall (in us and around us) make life hard and so we plead with the One who has promised to help so that people will know his heart and experience his mercy in Christ.
But there is a secondary reason for asking people how you can pray for them that I think we should consider. This question helps to cultivate a deeper relationship with the person you are asking, but it can do even more toward that end if you revisit their answer at a later date. What do I mean? I mean to take a person’s prayer request and pray for it, but then make it a point to ask that person about their request in the near future – “I wanted to check and see if there has been any progress with ________________ (fill-in prayer request).”
In doing this, not only are you communicating care by seeking them out again, but also by remembering their request. In a world where so many prayer requests are forgotten and un-prayed, this practice stands out. In that second conversation you will also likely get more information about the request which will provide more fodder for prayer and even further conversation.
Jesus cares deeply about the purity and unity of his Church. That is why he gave us the prescription of loving confrontation to address the sins that stain and divide within each body of believers (Matthew 18:15-17). We are commanded to tell a brother or sister when we see sin in his/her life that is not being dealt with (v. 15). For different reasons, however, we neglect to do this as we should.
One lie we believe when ask ourselves if we should say something about another believer’s faults is, “It doesn’t feel like love to rub someone’s nose in their sin”. We may not say it exactly like that, but we find it a very convenient excuse to believe that it is more loving to just leave things alone.
When you sense your heart moving toward that lie, ask yourself this question: “Was it not loving for God to confront my sin so that I would see my need for a Savior and run to Jesus for rescue?” God gave us the law and Paul says, “… if it had not been for the law I would not have known sin… when the commandment (the law) came, sin came alive and I died” (Romans 7:7, 9). God gave us the law to open our eyes to the reality of sin in our lives and the spiritual death it enslaved us in.
Not only that, but before we came to Christ, God had to make us see ourselves as “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), that is, having absolutely nothing good in us and no means possible of earning his love. Then, and only then, did we flee to Christ for salvation. Would it have been more loving for God to stay silent or even sugar-coat the truth of our sin for us? Of course not! We ran to Christ because God showed us our desperate state without him. We have the beauty and freedom of redemption because God lovingly confronted our wickedness.
Should we not do the same for each other as Christians so that we don’t continue to dishonor our Lord and miss out on the daily joys of his salvation?
A couple of weeks ago I was discussing with my students the command for us to “pray for one another” (James 5:16). Somewhere in the middle of the lesson the question was asked, “Why do our prayer lives tend to be so me-centered?” An answer came from a fourteen year-old young man: “Because we know ourselves the best.”
Although I think there are other components involved, his answer is spot on. What I know about you or other people in my life is only what I’m told, and yes, I can derive things from your non-verbal communication, but those things are more uncertain. I can’t read your mind and I can’t gaze into the depths of your soul, but I can read my mind and gaze into the depths of my soul. Sure, to one degree or another I can suppress self-reflection and self-examination, but if I’m honest with myself, I can become very acquainted with my weaknesses, sins, desires, and motivations. That is one of the reasons I pray for myself more than anyone else, and not only that, but I feel all the emotions that are attached to those things which propel me ever-so-quickly to pray for me.
What should this reality compel us to do when it comes to us, the family of God, praying for each other? If one of the reasons we pray for ourselves most is because we know ourselves best, then, very practically, we should more diligently seek to know our brothers and sisters in Christ. The more we know about them, the more we will have to pray about for them. And I don’t know about you, but when I have information about a person that is needy of prayer, it is hard to ignore, like God has it set up camp in my heart and mind until I pray for that person.
Further proof that I need to seek to know people more in order to pray for them more, is the simple fact that next to myself the people I pray for the most are the people I know the most. What does this say? Not only will such a practice lead us to pray for the body more, but it will also cultivate a stronger community of faith in our local churches as the bonds of relationship are tightened.
In his little-known book, 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know, J.I. Packer asks the question, What hinders fellowship? His answer? At least, four things:
- Self-Sufficiency – There can be no fellowship where individuals do not see that they depend on each other for spiritual help.
- Formality – Some see their involvement in correct procedures in public worship… as the whole of Christian fellowship, and shrink from anything more intimate.
- Bitterness – In true fellowship, where the goal is to make the other person greater for God, there is a proper place for criticism, but it will be constructive not destructive… Where bitterness motivates, however, criticism will be made in an arrogant, unbridled way that negates fellowship rather than furthers it.
- Elitism – The superior attitude that produces cliques based on exclusiveness. When “super-keen” groups hive off on their own into associations in which minor peculiarities of belief, or the magnetic attraction of a leader, function as the bond, pride lives and fellowship dies.
On Sunday evenings I’m teaching our students a series called One Another: Why Gospel Community Means So Much More than Just Getting Along. Each week I am teaching on a different “one-another” commandment we find in Scripture – what it entails, how we can put it to work in our lives, and where to find the motivation to obey it. This past week we explored the church’s need to share with one another.
Hebrews 13:16 tells us, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Due to the fact that I was speaking to students, and students are usually broke, we had a discussion about being creative in sharing with the body of Christ when you don’t have a lot of cash. I’m not one who thinks Christian students are somehow exempt from giving to their local church family from the money they do have, but I also understand that there are things that students possess in greater quantity that they can give more amply. So I asked the group what they could give beyond their finances. They came back with some great answers like free time, manual labor, baby-sitting for free, and the knowledge they are getting from their education.
In giving them the charge to be creative in their sharing, I thought of a man who recently told me about an idea he’s working on. This man, unlike me, is particularly knowledgeable about tools and their correct usage. As a guy who owns many tools he wants to come together with other guys who own tools and create a tool library. Each man is asked to turn in a list of the tools he would be willing to lend to other men in the church and a comprehensive list is created, complete with each tool’s location and the contact info of the lender. Once the list is complete and the word gets out, the men in the church know to call the tool librarian who will point them to the right individual with the right tool.
We should all contribute our money, but for those of us who don’t have as much green as others, generosity does not have to end when the budget is maxed out. Spend some serious time thinking of a creative way to share with your brothers and sisters in the church. Why? Because through Jesus the Father has “qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” and he lovingly disciplines you so that you “may share his holiness” (Colossians 1:12 and Hebrews 12:10).
I think much of what drives us in this life is a desire for comfort. Naturally, we don’t like pain, stress, pressure, and the like, so we go looking for rest. This, in and of itself, is not a problem. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel comfort, but like everything else, the problem arises when we find comfort in the wrong places. Comfort should not be sought in our pet sins, but in the Lord.
The Lord, however, gives us comfort through a variety of legitimate means. As I was reading the Bible this morning, I was struck by what God used to comfort the apostle Paul and what it says about Paul that he actually saw this as comfort. In 2 Corinthians, Paul makes it clear that he and Timothy are experiencing affliction and distress in ministry (1:8-11), so I would expect that what they would see as comfort would be for the suffering to stop completely. But in 7:6-7 Paul tells us what actually brought them comfort: “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you.”
You may have to read that last part more slowly, but what Paul is saying is that the arrival of Titus gave them comfort, but beyond that, they were comforted by the fact that Titus had been comforted by the Corinthian church (the people he is writing to) in his visit with them just previous to meeting up with Paul and Timothy. The fact that Titus had been comforted by the Corinthians comforted Paul because it meant that they were in a place of spiritual health (v. 9 tells us that they had repented of sin). Paul’s heart was so wrapped up in the spiritual welfare of the local churches he was serving that the news of them acting out biblical Christianity for the benefit of his friend was uplifting to him.
The reason why this was striking to me is because I want my heart to feel the same comfort as Paul’s when I hear the news that my church is acting out biblical Christianity for the good of others. I want to so love them and invest in their lives for the glory of God that my heart is immediately uplifted upon hearing even the smallest report of their obedience to the Lord. This desire, however, should not be only for pastors and people in full-time ministry, but for everyone in the church. We are the body of Christ, together united with him through his death and resurrection. Therefore, let us pray that our hearts will be “knit together in love” (Colossians 2:2), so that what we experience as comfort in our trials is the news that others are growing in holiness.
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