Have you ever prayed for something you really believed you needed to have happen and gotten silence from Heaven? I know I have. Have you prayed about something over and over and over again, agonizing on your knees and wanting the Lord to answer in the affirmative but God seemed to say “no”? I know I have.

     One of the toughest things to deal with in the Christian experience is knowing that if God doesn’t answer “yes” to our prayer it is going to be a huge problem. Yet the Lord says “no”.  God often says “no” by His silence. Why would our Lord do that to us?

     Perhaps that prayer was for healing for a loved one who would die without divine intervention. Yet God said “no”. Perhaps it was for relief from physical pain or mental anguish, but God said “no”. Perhaps it was for a financial crisis you were facing or an opportunity to leave a place or a job you needed out of. We had a deadline, we prayed, in faith, for the kingdom, for the glory of God, in Jesus’ name and God said “no”.

     Please don’t think you are unique in having this happen to you. I dare say it has happened to every follower of Jesus Christ at one time or another. But what are we to make of it? Is there any encouragement we can take from a “no” from heaven?

     The apostle Paul was arguably one of the greatest Christians of all time. He was a man who undoubtedly was in touch with the ways and will of God. Yet he got a big “no” from heaven on at least one major request he made. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 where we find the story:

7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

     Paul had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan, that harassed him (Greek “kolaphizo” – to beat with the fist). Though this thorn kept him humble it apparently hindered his ministry greatly as well. I think the term “thorn’ is used because it was painful and it was nagging the apostle.

     We don’t know what this thorn in the flesh was for sure. At the end of the book of Galatians we read that he writes with very large letters with his own hand (Galatians 6:11). This has caused many to say that the thorn in the flesh was an eyesight problem that required Paul to dictate his letters and thus that slowed his productivity for the gospel and frustrated him. The experience on the road to Damascus that temporarily blinded him may also give credence to this view.  

     While we can’t be sure what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was we can be sure of is: Paul made it a serious matter of prayer. Paul prayed, actually pleaded, 3 times for it to be removed and the Lord didn’t grant His request. Rather, somewhere in this conversation with the Lord, Paul heard very distinctly the Lord’s reason for the “no” answer. The Lord said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.  God owes us no explanations, but He gave one to Paul that I am sure applies to all of us.

     In reality, we don’t need our prayer to be answered the way we want it to be answered.  Why? Because when God says “no” He will be sure to supply the we grace to go forward. Though we are weak, His power is perfected in such weakness. We are actually stronger and more effective when we are weak often times because of heaven’s “no”. Paul says he will boast in his weakness because in that weakness the power of Christ rests on him.

     For the last 12 months starting on March 15, 2020 we prayed not once, not twice, not thrice but almost countless times for Almighty God to stomp out Covid19. We’ve prayed for the death toll to albeit. We’ve prayed for the transmission rate to lower. We’ve prayed for things to get back to normal. We’ve prayed on our knees, in our Churches, in the streets, in front of the hospital, in faith, for God’s Glory and in Jesus’ name. And yet…..many prayers got a “no”.

     Our Lord did not leave our prayers unanswered. He has answered many of them the same way He answered the apostle Paul. I’m not sure I was fully listening this past year because I wanted a different answer. I am doing my best to listen now. Yes, Lord Your grace is sufficient. Today His people and His church are not weak but strong because the power of Christ is more evident in us when we are weak than at our strongest moments.

     A few days ago I said to someone “I wonder what Calvary (the church I’m privileged to Pastor) would be like if Covid19 hadn’t hit”. At that moment something amazing occurred to me. I am a better Christian and the Church I Pastor is a better Church, dare I say it, in the midst of this global pandemic because God said “no” to many of my and our churches requests. How can that be? Because “His grace is sufficient for us, for His power is made perfect in our weakness.” Amen!

Blessings,

Pastor Dave Watson

What to do when I hit “the wall” – How do I finish the last eight miles of a pandemic marathon?

“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” – Proverbs 24:10

     “The Wall” is the name runners give the 18 mile mark of the 26.3 mile run we call a marathon. It is called “The Wall” because it is at that point in the race everything a runner has stored up has been used up. Therefore “the wall” is that point of exhaustion where they want to give up. They must however go on. The body screams for the runner to quit and to somehow stop the pain and exhaustion. At this point the athlete is operating not so much on resources and reserves but on sheer guts and will. How he/she handles “The Wall” will determine whether or not they finish the race well or even if they will finish the race at all.

     During the last 11 months we have been going through a spiritual marathon. This pandemic and the isolation and stress associated with it have been a grueling period in our lives. The hills have been steep and the ground treacherous at times. The race is still not over. We still have a way to go. Our souls scream “enough!!!” We want to just quit. We have now hit “the wall”. Anything we had in reserve is gone. Yet, we must go on. We have to finish, and we have to finish well.

     There are many parallels between a physical marathon and a spiritual marathon. There is also a great parallel between “the wall” a runner faces and “the wall” we have now hit in our 11th month of living in a pandemic.  Let me use this parallel  to give us five simple things taken from the marathon race world and Scripture that will help us to get over “the wall”.   

     First, it would be good for us to remember our fundamentals. A marathon runner has a certain muscle memory regarding their form and their movements. When they get tired, they tend to forget those fundamentals. It is those same fundamentals that will go a long way in getting that runner through.

     For Christians there are spiritual truths that have made us strong and that will keep us strong. We can forget those fundamentals when we get fatigued. Colossians 2:6-7 reminds us “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Our relationship with Christ began with us welcoming Christ Jesus the Lord into our lives. He is our Messiah (Our Christ). We should give Him our trust. He is our Savior (Our Jesus). We look to Him for deliverance. He is our King (Our Lord). We give to Him our full allegiance. We should seek to live in these truths, these fundamentals, every day. That what it means to “so walk in Him”

     Secondly, we need to check our breathing habits. Proper breathing is critical for the marathoner especially at “the wall”. For the Christian, our breathing is our prayer life. At “the wall” our prayer life is crucial. To suffering at “the wall” Christians in the first century Peter writes “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Peter is echoing the words of David who reminded us to “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22). I should ask myself regularly “Can my breathing be improved?”.

     Thirdly, we need to maintain good hydration levels. A dehydrated runner does not stand a chance when they hit “the wall”. A spiritually dehydrated Christian faces a similar problem.  As Christians our water source is the Scriptures. Paul speaks of “the washing of the water of the Word” (Ephesians 5:26). The Psalmist asks and answers a simple question. “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word” (Psalm 119:9 NKJV). When I put myself in front of the Scriptures it refreshes and cleanses us. That is something we need every day and several times a day at that. Are we hydrated today?

     Fourthly, we need to run with our herd. A wise runner as he comes upon “the wall” is surrounded by others on his/her team so they can take turns “drafting” off of each other and thus make the race a little bit easier at that point. At “the wall” we are facing right now we need each other more than ever. Running alone right now is not smart. We need each other to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Do not try and gut this pandemic out alone. Run the race surrounded by other Christians. Call them, zoom them, meet them, be with them.

     Fifthly and finally, we need to keep our eyes on the prize. The marathoner envisions themselves standing on that podium and receiving a medal or finishing well and being embraced by his/her teammates. This vision helps them over “the wall”. We need to keep ever before us Jesus and the rewards He will bestow upon us. The author of Hebrews put it this way concerning our race “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).  When we have hit “the wall” we need to regroup and remember who we are running for. We need to keep our eyes on Him.

     So my brothers and sisters we have hit “the wall”. We are eleven months into a pandemic, and we are tired.  Let us 1) Remember our fundaments (Christ Jesus the Lord) 2) Check our breathing (prayer) 3) Stay hydrated (the Word) 4) Run with our herd (God’s people) 5) Keep our eye on the prize (Jesus at the finish line).

      If we endeavor to do these five simple things we will both please the Lord and finish well. Run the race.

Blessings, Pastor Dave Watson

 
 

      So, what are we to make of these prophets and their prophesies?  If they are indeed prophets of the Lord how did they get it wrong? If they are not 100% accurate do they have any credibility at all? Does the gift of prophecy as a spiritual gift even exist today? What do we make of the prophecies of a man life David Wilkerson? These are questions that serious followers of Christ are looking for some guidance on.

     In regard to prophets and prophecies, Bible believing Christians have tended to fall into three camps. There are those who completely reject prophecy as a gift for today. Thus, these prophets are seen as having no credibility and many times are written off as kooks.

     Others have completely embraced the prophets and their prophecies almost uncritically. Their words are taken almost as Gospel and as equivalent to the Scriptures. This group would believe that these are men and women of God and they are in touch with God. Thus, what they say must be accepted and we must be careful what we say against them because the Scripture says “Touch not the LORD’s anointed or His prophets.”

     A third response is the “I don’t know” approach. This, “I hope they are right but maybe they are wrong — but I don’t know so I’m going to freak out a bit” methodology probably is not that helpful. Certainly, there must be a more reasoned perspective.

     The bad news is that these prophets and their prophecies have made evangelical Christianity look a little foolish in the world’s eyes. Foolish looking not because of the preaching of the cross which would be what should be expected. Rather, foolish because it is obvious God is not speaking to our leaders the way they say He is.

     The good news is that the Bible addresses this matter in the simplest of terms. It addresses the issue of prophecy still existing. It provides guidance regarding what a prophet is and what a prophet is not in our world today. It also provides a framework for dealing with prophets and prophecies within the life of the Church.

     The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, deals with almost all of this in one short section of Scripture found at the end of the letter to the Thessalonians.  The Apostle’s words give us some straightforward guidance. He writes in 1Thessalonians 5:19-22.

19 Do not quench the Spirit.

20 Do not despise prophecies,

21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.

22 Abstain from every form of evil.

A few words of explanation and application are in order.

Quenching the Spirit means “to extinguish a flame.” We should not be those who simply pour cold water on something someone claims is Spirit-led just because we don’t like it. That is forbidden here.

    Despising prophecy means “to look down on” or “to ridicule.” We should not reject out of hand a message someone claims to be from God just because it doesn’t jive with our thinking. This command allows that prophets and prophecy exist today. What is a prophet? A prophet is someone who declares the revelation of God. Please note that this is more forth-telling than it is foretelling.   

    “Testing all things” means that we “examine or take out for a test drive” the claims. We should not accept prophecy uncritically. If  we are commanded to test prophecies this means that today’s prophets don’t speak infallibly. They don’t have the same accuracy and authority as the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Apostles who are the Christians’ equivalent of Old Testament Prophets. I like to say, with no offense intended, that they are little p’s not big P’s.     

Our testing should involve a very simple formula. It should involve:

  1. What we know about God — our God sense; Does this prophecy sound like God?  Does it square with His character?  Does it reflect what He has done in the past? Does it line up with His promises?
  2. What we know about the Scriptures — our Bible sense; Does this prophecy square with what God has already revealed in His Word?  Does it come in conflict with clear Bible teaching?  Does it violate Scriptural mandates?
  3. What we know about the person — our people sense; Is the prophet and thus his or her prophecies credible? Are they people known for their integrity or could they have a different motive here that could make what they say suspect?
  4. What we know about what’s going on in the world — our common sense. Rarely are we asked by God to throw out all reason. God gave us minds to use to come to logical conclusions.

    “Holding fast what is good,” means that I “make my own that which passes the test, and believe it.” We should not throw away the proverbial baby with the bath water. We must eat the meat and spit out the bones. Please note that a prophecy may only be partially true as in the case of Agabus in Acts 21:10ff.

     “Abstaining from all forms of evil” almost assuredly means to distance oneself from questionable prophets and their prophesies. When we entertain them we legitimize them not just in our own eyes but in the eyes of others. That is not something we want to be doing.

   With these verses in mind, what do we do with prophets and their prophecies?  We can’t dismiss them.  We can’t mock them or ignore them. What we can do is test them, throwing anything out that fails the test and believing and acting on what is found to be trustworthy based on our knowledge of Scripture; our knowledge of God, what we know about the speaker, and what we know about current world events. In other words, we should take seriously that which passes the test.

     Today’s prophets are not like the Old Testament Prophets who spoke “Thus says the LORD.” The best they can say, unless they are quoting the Scriptures, is “Thus says the Lord I think.” If anything, they are like those of whom Paul says, “for we know in part and we prophecy in part” and “we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:9 & 12).  In 1 Corinthians 14:29 we read, “let two or three prophets speak and let the others judge.” This again points the need for the Church to police the prophets and their prophecies.

     Because prophecy today is at best “in part” and at best, “we see in a glass dimly,” it is necessary that what is prophesied be judged — to be sifted through. Therefore, we must follow through with the Biblical principles Paul has outlined in evaluating prophets and the prophecies that come our way. If we do so we will strike the balance outlined in Scripture, not miss what God is truly saying to us and at the same time maintain our credibility and sanity.

Blessings, Pastor Dave Watson