Does prayer work?

Unquestionably prayer works. No doubt. Absolutely!

Well….most of the time. Maybe sometimes it doesn’t.

I guess it depends on what you’re praying for.

The answer really is: yes, prayer works, but not all the time.

I believe that God hears prayers but decides which ones to pay attention to, which to answer, when to answer and always how to answer.

Many times I have found my prayers answered, but the answer wasn’t what I thought it would be, and it certainly wasn’t when I wanted it.

And many times, the answer is: “No.” Sometimes its, “Not now, maybe later”; sometimes its, “No, not never gonna happen.” And sometimes I just don’t know whether or not I will ever get an answer.

But that is no excuse for not continuing to pray.

Maybe the best thing about prayer is praying without receiving an answer. Why?- because it strengthens our trust and our faith. Sometimes we need to make our faith happen instead of having God verify it. What I mean is simply this: faith is described as believing in something that can’t be proven.  In Hebrews 11:1 faith is described this way:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

That means, to me, that whether or not my prayers are answered, it is the act of praying that demonstrates my faith, and whether or not my prayer is answered, my continuing to pray strengthens my faith.

As silly as that sounds, it is what faith is all about: believing when there is no logical reason to believe.

The world tells us that if you can’t touch, see or smell it, it isn’t really there. The world will believe in prayer if the prayer comes true every time, and you get exactly what you prayed for.

That’s why the world will never believe, because that isn’t how prayer works.

God wants us to be faithful, but what we really are is fickle; if we get three prayers answered in a row, and the fourth isn’t, we stop believing. There’s just no “brand loyalty” left in the world.

In Luke 18:1-8 Yeshua (Jesus) tells the parable about the widow and the unrighteous judge. She pestered and bothered and nudged the judge so much that he finally gave her justice just to be rid of her. Now, God doesn’t answer prayer just to get rid of you, which is a good thing, but He does expect that we continue to ask in the face of rejection.

Why? If He is a loving God and Father who wants only the best for His children, why make us go through that?

The answer: I don’t know! I would guess, from what I read and my personal experience, that God is testing us to make sure we are truly faithful and not just trying to get a free lunch. For all I know, every single prayer I have ever made may be answered in the resurrection. Of course, some of the prayers I have made on earth will not make any sense, or have any value, after I am resurrected, but who knows what that is like?

When I was just beginning to know the Lord, when I wasn’t sure about who Jesus is (at that time I had no idea His real name is Yeshua) and I wasn’t even sure about God, I remembered hearing that if you smile, especially when you are sad, you will feel better. I thought, “Maybe if I pray to God as if I really did believe, it would help me to believe?”

Looking back now, knowing what I know and having experienced what I have experienced, I am amazed that I was so wise. Doing what a faithful person does DOES help make you faithful! When I prayed I felt better, even just thinking that there was a loving, omnipotent, omnipresent Spirit that wanted only the best for me and was listening to me. And the fact that this Spirit was able to do whatever I asked, well- that was just icing on the cake.

Eventually, praying as if He was there became knowing He is there. And praying to Him did result in receiving answers, even though many times I didn’t recognize those answers as being answers. Sometimes the answer to prayer is so well camouflaged we can’t see it until we suddenly take a different view of the past. Then we realize, “Hey- ya know what? That was the rabbit!” (you need to love Bugs Bunny to get that reference.)

So, keep praying, no matter what. Whether or not your prayer is answered, whether or not that answer is “Yes”, “No”, or “Fuggedaboutit!”, just keep praying. Prayer strengthens faith, and faith is how we are saved, so it really doesn’t matter that much if your prayers are answered or not.

The real reward of praying comes from continuing to pray.

Fear of the Lord or Afraid of the Lord?

This coming Shabbat Parashah is the story of Korach. I was preparing my message (our Pastor is on vacation and when he is gone I help by leading the liturgy and delivering the message) and, although I usually keep that message separate from these postings, I really feel that it is important enough (well, I would hope they all are) to share here, as well.

After the rebellion is put down by God, Abiram and Dathan are swallowed by the earth, Korach and the 250 mutineers (in the Chumash they call this “The Great Mutiny”) are burned up alive, and the staffs that were placed in the Tabernacle have shown that Aaron’s is the one God has chosen, the people all cry that they are going to die if they come before the Tabernacle.

We can read in B’midbar (Numbers) 17:12-13:

The Israelites said to Moses, “We will die! We are lost, we are all lost!  Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the Lord will die. Are we all going to die?”

And, in truth, you can’t really blame them for being afraid. After all, Abihu and Nadab offered unauthorized fire before the Tabernacle and they were burned alive, and now these 250 men (not to mention Korach), all of whom were righteous (well, maybe we won’t mention Korach here) and well-respected leaders of their individual tribes, were also burned alive.

Maybe, just maybe, standing in front of the Tabernacle isn’t such a good idea because even those people who were good were killed.

Of course, we can also say that the people weren’t considering the sin these men committed against the Lord as the real cause of their death.

The truth is that any sinner can come before the Lord if he or she comes with a penitent heart and a contrite spirit. David says so in Psalm 51 (verse 17):

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise

The people were afraid of God at Sinai, too, but I believe there was a big difference between how they felt then and what they are feeling now: back then their heart was different. Their fear then was a righteous fear- they felt their unworthiness before the Lord and asked Moses to be their representative because they were so unworthy that if they heard God’s voice again they would die, and this attitude God appreciated (Deuteronomy 5:27-29):

“Go near and hear all that the LORD our God says; then speak to us all that the LORD our God speaks to you, and we will hear and do it.’ “The LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. ‘Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!…”

This verse, which Moses tells the people when preparing to turn them over to Joshua, shows us the remorse and pain God felt from the knowledge that this healthy and righteous fear of Him will turn into the type of fear that will lead His people to resent, rebel and (ultimately) reject Him.

Proper “Fear of the Lord” means to respect His holiness and honor Him by being lovingly obedient. Faithful obedience is what God wants more than sacrifice and more than anything else we could ever give Him. He has created everything- there is nothing we have that He cannot give to Himself, except for our love, faithful obedience and worship. Those things God cannot have unless we give them to Him, and that is what He wants more than anything else.

If we are afraid of God, if our “Fear of the Lord” is not awesome respect for Him but is being afraid of what He might do to us, that serves the enemy of God. That is what Satan wants you to feel- Satan wants you to be afraid of God, because that kind of fear will be a wedge separating you from God’s loving protection and blessings. Then, being alone and unprotected, you will suffer the curses of living in a fallen and cursed world, and you will turn against the Lord and curse Him to His face for all your Tsouris. That is what Revelations 16:10 tells us will happen:

“And the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness, and men began to gnaw their tongues in anguish and curse the God of heaven for their pains and sores; yet they did not repent of their deeds.”

We need to remember that for those who have accepted Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah, there is no more condemnation (Romans 8:1), and we can march boldly up to the throne of God (Hebrews 4:16), unafraid and confident that He will listen to us and that our Intercessor, Yeshua ha Maschiach, is sitting there at His right hand saying to Him, “Father, this one is mine.”

What we need to be afraid of is ourselves. We are the biggest stumbling block to salvation there is: the enemy can’t do anything to us unless we let him, and God will do everything for us, again, if we let Him.  It is our choice, and we are (and will be held) accountable for the choices we make.

Have a healthy “Fear of the Lord”, which will keep you in His Grace, and be afraid only of your own sinfulness and pride, which will separate you from it.

 

Parashah Va-Arya (And He spoke) Exodus 6:2 – 9

Moses had just asked God why He didn’t free the Israelites as He said He would, and God answers that He will. He tells Moses that He is God, He will do what He said he will do, and He lays out the plan for redemption from slavery: God tells Moses what He will do, Moses tells Aaron to tell Pharaoh, and Pharaoh will ignore them.

The plagues come: the river turns to blood, then frogs, next gnats (at this plague the magicians cannot duplicate God’s work), then flies (at this point the land of Goshen is separated and protected whereas everyone else in Egypt is under the plague), next cattle blight, boils (now it’s not just the land and the animals, but the people are afflicted, too) and the last plague in this parashah is the hail that falls as hail from the sky but burns as fire on the ground. This last plague is the worst one yet because so far only animals have died, but now anyone caught in the hail will die. In fact, Moses warns Pharaoh to make sure his people know to protect their property and themselves by staying inside.

What is wonderful about this parashah is that God lays out a plan and works it to perfection. He starts off “Even-Steven” with the magicians, who duplicate the first three miraculous works (rod to snake, Nile to blood, and frogs). I believe this was to make sure everyone was on the same page, to to speak. Then, God upped the ante by creating gnats, which the magicians could not do. Next, he raised the bar with flies that attacked everyone except His people, Israel. Not only did God prove His power to create and destroy, but He also proved His power to save and protect- He attacked the Egyptians and in the very midst of them protected His people. The bar was raised even higher when God attacked the people of Egypt with boils, so badly so that even the magicians (who represented the religion and gods of Egypt) were so stricken they couldn’t even appear in court. The hail took it to a whole new level- now not just the land and the animals were dying, but the people who were caught in the hail died, too.

Except for the Hebrews living in Goshen.

And yet, with all these wondrous miracles, Pharaoh remained unmoved by the power of God.

Many people have a similar problem, which is that they fail to recognize and stand in awe of the miracles God performs, every day. It seems that Pharaoh was looking for reasons to diminish the wonder and awesomeness of God: when the magicians duplicated God’s miracles, Pharaoh brushed Moses and Aaron aside. When the other plagues hit, each time Pharaoh confessed his wrongdoing and conceded to allow the Jews to worship if Moses would only stop the plague. But when the plague stopped, he reneged.

Perhaps one reason he didn’t take these plagues seriously was because he thought that since Moses could turn them on and off, they weren’t so much. They were controllable, they were explainable, so they weren’t really such miraculous things. Maybe?

Today we see miracles everyday, everywhere, yet we don’t acknowledge them as such. Why? Because the new religion of the day, “Science”, can explain how it happens. Human pride and human arrogance makes us believe that if we understand how something works it isn’t a miracle, or even special. Understanding of how God’s miraculous wonders (i.e., life) work lessens God in our sight, and makes us less appreciative and respectful of Him.

There is a story about when the greatest scientists in the world gathered for a meeting to discuss all the advancements in science that have been made. They are talking about how, now that we have been able to map and read the entire human genome, we will soon be able to cure all diseases and infirmities, and how with cloning we will be able to make people in the image we want. They got to the point where they told God He wasn’t needed anymore. God asked them, “Do you think you can make a human being from a lump of clay?” The scientists discussed it and replied, “Yes. We believe we can.” God says, “OK- show me!” and they go out and pick up a large lump of clay. They are about to carry it into their lab when God says, “Oh, you can’t use that- that’s my clay. You have to make your own!”

Just because we can understand how a miracle works doesn’t make it any less of a miracle. For instance, Job 36:26-29 says:

How great is God—beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out. 27 “He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streamsc28 the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind. 29 Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion?

This verse shows that they understood water goes into the sky, is stored as clouds, then falls back to Earth. Even with this basic understanding of the process, the speaker is still in awe of the fact that it is done!  Today we really don’t understand it all that much better. We know about evaporation, water vapor, electromagnetic forces that cause lightning, the thunder is the rushing of wind back into the vacuum caused by the lightening, etc.  We understand it, we can even create it at will, but does that make it any less miraculous? We can understand it, we can re-create it, but we didn’t create it. We didn’t create any of this. Sure, we can create a lightning bolt, but that’s because we saw the original one and figured out how it can be done. But what about the One who created it first? What about the One who thought it first?

The Jews in the desert saw manna come from nowhere, they saw water come from rocks, birds come from far way and land at their feet. Their clothes didn’t wear out and their shoes survived walking in the hot, desert sands and rocks. A million or more people, not to mention many millions of animals- all fed and watered, surviving in the most desolate and unforgiving of environments anywhere in the world. And what did they do? They kvetched, over and over, about having to leave Egypt, where they seem to have forgotten how horrible their lives were.

We think that because we see something every day, or because we understand the process, the creator of those things is not so much. Yeah, you make fire fall from the sky but so can I with a plane and a napalm bomb. So what?

So this: God is the Creator and Controller of all things. What we copy, He created. What we try to understand, He originated. What we think we know how it works, He designed from scratch. What we try to manufacture with scientific tools, He made with a thought.

Don’t be a Pharaoh, be a Job. Remain totally awe-struck and appreciative of the miracles that God does, every day. Look for them- a flower opens in the morning and closes at night; the bees know how to dance and communicate better than the most accurate GPS; the surf knows just how far it can come into the land; the prey animals are born able to run within an hour and the predators take years to learn to hunt. There are miracles all around us, inside us, above and underneath us. There are miracles we have been allowed to understand and there are miracles we will never understand. Yet, they all are still miracles and the One who has created these is still totally awesome and powerful beyond any human understanding.

Don’t take God for granted.

How Do You Use Your Gift?

If we look for verses in the Manual which talk to us about “gifts” we can find a number of them. There is the gift of prophecy, of teaching, the gift of Grace, and many others.

1 Peter 4:10 tells us that the gifts we receive we should use to help each other, and James 1:17 reminds us that every good gift comes from God.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 exhorts us to use our gifts collectively, that no one gift is above any other, but we all are given gifts to be used collectively as in the body, meaning as one group working together to serve the Lord.

Exodus 35:30-35 tells us that Bezalel and Oholiab were given the gift of skills in all types of artistry to allow them to serve God by managing the construction of the Tabernacle.

One thing that I have noticed about gifts, which is the same (to me) as the use and administration of the Ruach Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit) is that prior to Messiah Yeshua fulfilling His role as the final sacrifice for sin, the gifts and spirit were given to people as needed, but then revoked. The Spirit fell on Shimson (Samson) and it fell on Elijah, as well as other prophets and the heroes in the Book of Judges, but that Spirit was lifted up, again, and returned to God. It was a gift that was revocable.

However, after Messiah Yeshua gave up His Spirit, that same spirit was given to all who believe and accept Him as their Messiah as a gift that is irrevocable. God will send the Comforter to all who Believe and ask for it, and it will not come and go anymore: it will dwell within, for as long as we allow it to remain.

That’s right- I said for as long as we allow it to remain. Irrevocable means it won’t be taken back, but we can give it away, or more correctly, we can throw it away. That’s the thing about a gift: once given, it belongs to the one who possesses it, to do with it as they please. In my case, I try to use and listen to the Ruach all the time, but I am still learning and maturing in the Spirit. There are those that have accepted the Spirit but it proves too much for them to handle, so they ignore it or just throw it away, they become apostatized, and even the Bible tells us that once we have known the Ruach, known Messiah and then rejected Him, we have trampled His blood into the dirt (Hebrews 10:26-31.)

To know best how to use your gift, I guess you first need to know what it is. Yes, I believe there may be many who are not really sure what their gift is. We humans are easily led astray, and I do not doubt for a second that there are many who are trying to use what they believe to be their gift, which is really no more than a gift they want to have. As such, they are blinding themselves to their true gift. If you’re thinking you don’t feel quite right about what you think your gift is, talk with other Believers who know you and ask them to tell you, honestly, what they think your gift is. Nothing wrong with getting confirmation from those who have spiritual maturity.

Once you are sure about your gift, use it to please the Lord. The answer to the question, “How should I use my gift?” is given to you: read Colossians 3:17.

God has many gifts to give, and every gift He gives to us is precious and is to be used to honor Him. It’s all about God.

Regarding your gift: find it, know it, develop it and use it to help others in order to honor the Lord.

Remember what Yeshua told us: that which we do the these, even the least of His brethren, we do unto Him.