Pastor’s Pen

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Passion for Your Petition

The first mention of prayer is found in Genesis 4:26.  “Then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.”  Without exception the topic is covered book by book from Genesis through the Revelation in precept or principle.  Prayer is the one spiritual activity that knows no boundaries.  The young and old, educated or illiterate, rich or poor, all can participate.  It is perhaps the greatest need and the least practiced ingredient in our Christian lives and the corporate church as a whole.

Call the roll of history’s great men and women and all were people of prayer.  Hudson Taylor called it transacting business with God.  Jonathan Edwards spoke of storming heaven with prayer.  Charles Finney said, “Be full of prayer whenever you attempt to preach.”  E. M. Bounds wrote, “We can curtail our praying and not realize the peril until the foundations are gone.  Hurried devotions make weak faith, feeble convictions, and questionable piety.  To be little with God is to do little for God.”  A.C. Dixon said,  “When we depend upon our money, our teaching, our education, our preaching, we get what these can do…but when we depend upon prayer we get what God can do.”  Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “What a man is on his knees is what he is.”  Charles Haddon Spurgeon concluded, “The secret of all ministry success lies at the prevalence at the mercy seat.  We prevail only in private prayer.  The believer, who does not give his strength to prayer, exhibits the height of pride and self-sufficiency.”  Martin Luther prayed and the Reformation came.  John Knox prayed and Scotland trembled.  David Brainerd prayed and the Indians were converted.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon prayed and might revivals broke out.  Hudson Taylor prayed and China Inland Mission was born.  George Muller prayed and over seven million dollars came to feed the hungry orphans.

Dr. John R. Rice wrote the textbook on prayer:  Prayer—Asking and Receiving.  To pray is to simply ask.  Over the years I have taught our Fairview family to pray using the simple acrostic ACTS.  “A” stands for adoration.  Begin each prayer adoring our Heavenly Father.  “C” stands for confession.  “If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear me.” (Psalm 66:18).  “T” stands for thanksgiving.  A thankful heart is a praying heart.  Remember to be grateful and thankful to the One who daily loads us with benefits.  Last but foremost, “S” stands for supplication.  Make your requests to God.  None are too small.  We have not because we ask not.  We all have needs and know of others who have needs.  For many we trust in our credit cards, the bank, or our own abilities.  I admit it is difficult to pray, “Lord, give us our daily bread” when we have a cupboard full of bread.  An affluent society loses its grip on prayer.

All prayer, like any conversational activity, is born out of relationship.  When we read our Bibles, God speaks through His Word to us.  When we pray, it is a time for speaking with God.  A true love relationship desires, even craves, communication.  The more we love our Lord, enjoy His Word, and realize His presence, the more prayer become normal and sought after.  A cold relationship loses any desire to be with or converse with another.  When we do not pray, it is for certain we have become estranged from our God. 

It’s not the arithmetic of our prayers, how many they are;

Nor the rhetoric of our prayers, how eloquent they may be;

Nor the geometry of our prayers, how long they may be;

Nor the music of our prayers, how sweet our voice may be;

Nor the logic of our prayers, how argumentative they may be;

Nor the method of our prayers, how orderly they may be;

Or even the theology of our prayers, how good the doctrine is, that God responds to.  Fervency of spirit is what “avails much.”

A small child playing on the floor will say, “I’m hungry” and keep being occupied with his toys.  A wise mother will ignore him until he leaves everything and comes to her and fervently asks for food at her hand.  When we are in earnest for the bread from Heaven, we will have it.

Much is made about the wording of prayers, the tone of voice, or the rituals accompanying them.  How God must be grieved when He views homiletically correct masterpieces with little or no semblance of heart.  Mechanical meanderings that reveal no separation with true Christianity and world religions that bows to idols of wood or stone or statues of saints.

The humorous poem, “The Prayer of Cyrus Brown” by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911) gives serious food for thought:

“THE PROPER” way for a man to pray,”

Said Deacon Lemuel Keyes,

“And the only proper attitude,

Is down upon his knees.”

“No, I should say the way to pray,”

Said Reverend Doctor Wise,

“Is standing straight, with outstretched arms,

And rapt and upturned eyes.”

Oh no; no, no,” said Elder Slow,

“Such posture is too proud:

A man should pray with eyes fast closed

And head contritely bowed.”

“It seems to me his hands should be

Austerely clasped in front,

With both thumbs pointing toward the ground,”

Said Reverend Doctor Blunt.

“Las’ year I fell in Hodgkin’s well

Head first,” said Cyrus Brown,

“With both my heels a-stickin’ up,

My head a-p’inting down;

“An’ I made a prayer right then an’ there—

Best prayer I ever said,

The prayingest prayer I ever prayed,

A-standing on my head.”

The work of prayer is the privilege of every believer and the key to the storehouse of blessings.  Prayer has divided seas, rolled up flowing waters, made flinty rocks gush into fountains, quenched flames of fire, muzzled lions, disarmed vipers, marshaled the stars against the wicked, stopped the course of the sun, burst open iron gates and jail cells, conquered devils, and commanded legions of angels.   Prayer brought one man from the bottom of the sea and carried another to Heaven in a chariot of fire.  What has prayer not done?

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Wisdom of Total Abstinence

What is the euphoric love that people seem to have with intoxicating drinks?  Is it because of taste?  If so, why the grimace when downing a shot of their favorite brew?  Is it because of a specific health value?  If so, why is drinking linked to so many major health problems?  Insurance questions always start with, “Do you smoke or consume alcohol?”  Long-term health effects range from heart and liver diseases, brain damage, and a myriad of health problems in between.  Is it possible that alcohol consumption makes a person more alert, productive, and aware of their surroundings?  If so, why is it that a substantial number of automobile crashes, drowning’s, and accidents in general are due to drinking?  Perhaps it is because drinking improves a sense of decency, morality, and character?  If that is true, why should it bother us to know that our child’s teacher, our plane’s pilot, our son’s coach, our surgeon, or our pastor would show up for duty in an inebriated state?  Maybe, just maybe, consuming alcoholic beverages will help us socially and add delight to times with associates and family?  Yet, I have watched the opposite in broken homes, child abuse, domestic violence, and family tragedies.  Although caution concerning alcohol consumption could easily be proven with present day statistics, my thoughts, in this article, will generally revolve around every day observation and common sense.  

As a lad, growing up in west Tennessee, I saw the ravages of alcoholism from my earliest days in high school.  Many of my friends drank.  Lauderdale County was a dry county but Dyer County, to the north, and Tipton County, to the south, sold liquor openly.  Young people then as well as now were able to acquire it.  I tasted whiskey once in my life.  That experience took place in my older brother’s house when his son, my nephew, and I were in our early teens.  My brother was a social drinker and seemed to suffer little or no adverse problems; but his son died an alcoholic at the age of 53 after leaving a trail of heartbreak for everyone he touched in his short life.  I would venture to say that everyone reading these words has someone in his or her life that became or is presently a victim.

Some paths have predictable ends.  The secret to never arriving at the wrong destination is to never take the first step down the wrong road.  The saying, “What we do as parents in moderation, our children will do in excess” is proven true in most cases.  I read that the wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes refused to serve any kind of alcoholic beverages while in the White House.  “I have young sons, “she said, “who have never tasted liquor.  They shall not receive it from my hand or with the sanction that its use in my family would give; their tastes of what might prove their ruin.  What I do for my sons, I must do for the sons of other mothers.”

When I came to Athens in 1973, there were laws restricting the sale of alcohol on Sundays.  Preachers regularly thundered the message of total abstinence from our church pulpits and there were no community grocery stores that stocked it on their shelves.  There were a few roadside taverns, then called beer joints, and any purchase carried outside had to be concealed in a brown bag.  What was true in Athens was in a measure true for most of America.

Many years have passed and today there is no product on the market advertised as extensively as beer, wine, and alcohol.  The breweries parade it before us constantly on T.V., athletic events, and Hollywood productions.  The smoothest, most handsome, and most attractive paint a beautiful picture.  Prancing horses, rugged outdoorsmen, and successful entrepreneurs convince us that we should make their product a part of our lives if we wish to be carefree and enjoy life to the fullest.  As a pastor, for over 50 years, I have seen the last frame on the reel.  Fast-forward to the emergency rooms, the jails, the empty cupboard and the flashing lights on the side of the roads to get the true picture.

So where are the protests against this industry?  Long ago most voices were silenced.  The county, state, and national treasuries get a slice of the pie.  They say, “Just think of the taxes we can collect that can, in the long run, benefit our citizens.”  Without statistical proof in hand, I believe I could prove that upkeep on rehabilitation programs, loss of work time, drug and alcohol federal programs, prisons, and loss of the potential of young lives costs us, as individuals and as a nation, much more than we ever collect in taxes.  Its seems to me personally that most in power not only add their consent but look for additional venues that include community and family gatherings.  We post warning labels on tobacco.  Perhaps a warning label on each bottle should read, “This drink can destroy your health, your home, and your future.”

Recently I listened with interest to an insurance commercial with the catchphrase, “We cover a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing of two.”  After a half a century in the ministry, I am rarely surprised.  I have heard history described as the same things happening over and over to different people.  Solomon declared, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

I have heard the argument that the Bible nowhere teaches total abstinence.  The fact is that the Bible teaches by principle and precept the dangers of strong drink and warns of its effect on society, and individuals.  There are scores of references related to the topic and without exception mark it as problematic.  To be specific, the Bible notes that indulgence in alcohol produces sorrow, trouble, wounds, immorality, sickness and perverse living (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-31; Isaiah 5:11, 22; Habakkuk 2:15; Romans 13:13) to name a small sampling.

Immediately some will discount my warnings as the expected ramblings of an old fundamental, Bible-believing preacher.  I am a total abstainer, not because it is part of my job description or because I think it will make me more holy, but because time after time, I have seen both sides of this coin.  I am not so naïve as to believe we can turn back the clock to a more civil day.  I realize society in general has become more coarse in behavior, language, and forms of entertainment.  What I would love to see is our own Christian community live above the pattern of lifestyle set by others who continually disregard scriptural principles.  Athens, McMinn, and the Bible belt in general are steeped in religion with a church on every corner.  Imagine the impact that could be made if those who profess Christ, attend our churches, and carry a Bible would take that Bible into our homes, workplaces, and daily lives; just a thought from the pen of this pastor.