The Power of Prayer

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Reading the Word

Matthew 21:20–22 (ESV)

20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Parallel Text: Mark 11:20-26; John 14:12-14

Understanding and Applying the Word

When the disciples saw the fig tree wither, they were amazed. They were not focused on the meaning of Jesus’ sign, but on its power. How could Jesus do this? Jesus answered by telling the disciples if they “have faith and do not doubt” they could tell the mountains to be thrown into the sea and it would be done. In fact, they could ask for anything in prayer and receive it, as long as they had faith.

This is a passage that has been abused and misused by many. Jesus is not telling the disciples that they can hold God hostage to give them whatever they desire as long as they use the correct magic formula (i.e. faith). In the Bible, true faith is not one’s ability to believe in a particular outcome. True faith is the exercise of trust in God, whether the circumstances or outcomes are what is desired or not. So, to exercise faith is to trust in the plans and purposes of God, even in the midst of difficulty. Jesus is not teaching “name it, claim it” theology. John 14:12-14 says that whatever you ask “in my name” will be done. The phrase “in my name” tells us that what we ask for has to be consistent with the plans and purposes of Christ.

Jesus’ words to his disciples are to encourage them. They will have great power and authority of their own and it will be exercised through prayer. The Lord stands behind them and what may seem impossible to them, like throwing a mountain into the sea, will be possible through the power of God working in and through them. This is a truth that the disciples would need to remember in the days ahead as Jesus departs from the world and they are left to bear witness to the world. It is also a message that Jesus’ followers today need to remember as we proclaim the gospel in a world that stands in opposition to Christ. Incredible things can happen through prayer and the power of God working in and through us. Let us pray and let us have faith!

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God Is Just

Luke 181 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 18:1–8 (ESV)

1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Some read this parable and understand it to mean that if we bother God enough by continuing to ask him for something, that he will eventually give us what we want. Is that really what this is saying? Can we wear God down by asking him over and over again? I do not think that is Jesus’ point.

A better way to understand Jesus’ teaching here is to know that Jesus is not saying the judge is like God, but that he is unlike him. This is a parable of contrast. The judge is unrighteous. God is perfectly righteous. So, if an unrighteous judge will eventually do what is right when asked, how much more will the righteous Judge (i.e. God) do what is right – and it will not be necessary to wear him down to get him to do it either! Jesus was teaching us that we can trust in God to be righteous and judge wickedness in the end. We can turn to him in prayer and trust in him each and every day even in the difficult times. The righteous Judge will do what is right.

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Ask, Seek, and Knock

child_praying

Thank you for reading Shaped by the Word. If you did not already know it, this is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not include supplemental material on Sundays, but I do include a Scripture reading for the day. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can continue to follow along each day. We are reading through the life of Jesus Christ in 2019.

Reading the Word

Luke 11:9–13 (ESV)

9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Parallel Text: Matthew 7:7-11

A Pesky Friend at Midnight

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Reading the Word

Luke 11:5–8 (ESV)

5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus told a parable of a person who went to his friend’s home at midnight. The reason he went was to ask for some bread. As you probably imagine, the person inside the home was already in bed, as were the children of the home. What was the result? The man got up and gave his friend what he came for. Why did he do this? Well, Jesus tells us that he did it not because he was his friend, but because of the visitor’s “impudence.” The word has the idea of persistence and urgency. It was not the friendship that was the deciding factor in getting the homeowner out of bed to help this man, but the urgency of the need.

Jesus told this parable as he continued to teach his disciples about prayer. He was not saying that we need to be persistent in our prayers to coerce God into action, but that the urgency of our needs is reflected by persistence and that God knows the urgency of the matters that we bring to him. We can be confident that God hears and answers our prayers and will not ignore us in our time of need. So, continue in persistent prayer to the Father, the one who cares for his children.

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How to Pray

prayer hands

Reading the Word

Luke 11:1–4 (ESV)

1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

Parallel Text: Matthew 6:9-13

Understanding and Applying the Word

Much of Christianity is caught as much as it is taught. The disciples often witnessed Jesus spending time in prayer, so it is no surprise that one of them approached him and asked Jesus to teach the disciples to pray. Jesus’ response is what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Many believers through the years have memorized this model prayer and repeat it often in their own prayer life. However, did Jesus mean for us to simply memorize and repeat his words? I do not think so.

Rather than a prayer to repeat, Jesus gave his disciples a prayer template. He gave them a sample prayer to use an example for their own prayers. Included in the sample (also recorded in Matthew 6:9-13) is praise and reverence for the Father, an acknowledgement of our reliance on God for all things, seeking forgiveness of sins, and seeking God’s protection from future sin. This template is a good reminder to us of the things that should occupy our prayer lives and serve as a corrective for those of us who tend to treat prayer as simply a time to bring our wish lists to God to fulfill. Asking God for things is not necessarily a bad thing, but we should spend a proportionate amount of time praising God for who he is and what he has done as well as dealing with the sin in our lives.

When we follow Jesus template we are constantly reminded of God’s greatness and our dependence on him. We are reminded of the grace God shows to us each and every day and we are reminded that our relationship with the Father is only made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that makes forgiveness possible. Spend time in prayer and use Jesus’ prayer as a guide as you speak to the Father.

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Help My Unbelief!

Mark 924 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Matthew 17:14–20 (ESV)

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Parallel Texts: Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43

Understanding and Applying the Word

Today, we read of Jesus healing a demon-possessed boy. The boy’s father went to Jesus because his son’s symptoms were very violent and because Jesus’ disciples were unable to drive out the demon.

The accounts written in Matthew and in Mark seem to give different reasons for why the disciples were not able to effectively handle the demon. In Matthew, Jesus says the problem was the disciples had “little faith” and that if they had the faith of a mustard seed they would be able to move mountains. In Mark, Jesus tells the disciples that the only way to drive out a demon of this nature is through prayer. So, which is it? Why are there seemingly different reasons given by Jesus?

At first glance, Matthew and Mark may seem to be at odds, but when we better understand them both, we see that they are, in fact, in agreement. In Matthew, we must understand that Jesus is not speaking about the disciples ability to muster a certain quantity of faith. Consider the words from David Turner in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Matthew and Mark:

The issue is not the intensity or amount of faith but the degree to which that faith perceives its object. The power of faith is in the person in whom it is placed. Jesus’ disciples were unable to heal the epileptic boy because they had taken their eyes off of Jesus and looked at the obstacles, just as Peter did during the storm when he began to sink (14:31). Faith is not believing in faith but in the heavenly Father.

When we consider this understanding with Jesus’ comment on prayer in Mark 9:29, we see how the two accounts compliment each other. The disciples’ faith had failed because their eyes were not on Jesus and this is evidenced by their lack of prayer and trust in God.

Prayer tells us a great deal about our faith. Are we trusting in ourselves and our own strength and abilities or are we trusting in God and his plans and purposes? How does your prayer life reflect where your faith truly lies?

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Knock Knock

KNOCK

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading. If you would like to follow along each day as we read through the life of Jesus Christ in 2019, please be sure to subscribe to this page or to our Facebook page. Thanks for reading!

Reading the Word

Matthew 7:7–11 (ESV)

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Parallel Text: Luke 11:9-13

Do Not Pray Like Hypocrites

Matthew 66 [widescreen]

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. On Sundays, I do not publish supplemental material, but do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can follow along each day. We are currently working chronologically through the life of Christ from the four Gospels. Thanks for reading!

Reading the Word

Matthew 6:5–6 (ESV)

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Time Alone

Bible Study Woman

Reading the Word

Luke 4:42–44 (ESV)

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

Parallel Text: Mark 1:35-39

Understanding and Applying the Word

With the word of Jesus’ ability to heal and perform miracles spreading, the people have been flooding to him and bringing those who are in need of healing. Even in the midst of the people’s needs, Jesus is sure to care for his own needs as well. We are told that he withdrew to a desolate place. Mark’s account tells us that the reason was to spend time in prayer.

It can be easy to pour everything you have into serving and helping others. However, there is also a very real need to take care of your own needs, which include spiritual needs. Jesus took time to himself to spend in prayer with the Father. We need to learn from his example and make time to spend in private devotion and prayer of our own, so that we can continue to find the nourishment we need, which will enable us to serve others in an even greater way.

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When No One Else Cares

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Reading the Word

Psalm 142:1–7 (ESV)

1 With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
2 I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.

3 When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way!
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.

5 I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
6 Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me!
7 Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
for you will deal bountifully with me.

Understanding and Applying the Word

The historical background of this psalm is when David was hiding in the cave of Adullam to escape the hands of Saul (1 Samuel 21:1). We get a sense of David’s emotions as he writes of feeling alone (v. 4) and trapped as in a prison (v. 7).

The attacks of others can cause us great suffering, both physically and emotionally. We get a sense of that in David’s words. However, we can follow David’s lead in turning to the Lord in those times of despair. David knew that God heard his pleas and he found great comfort in knowing that he was not alone, but that God was with him. And even in the midst of his trouble, David saw that the hand of God was generous and good (v. 7). May we find comfort in the Lord’s presence and have the eyes to see his overflowing grace in our lives.

**Want to read the Bible every day? Be sure to subscribe to this page and follow along! We are currently reading through the Book of Psalms. In 2019, we will focus on the Life of Christ for our daily readings.