Play-by-Play Prayer

                      Famous Theologians  

About 1536, JOHN CALVIN - REFORMED CHURCHES:  "All may observe the legitimate order appointed by the church for the
hearing of the word...and public prayer....Lest the public prayers of the Church should be held in contempt, the Lord called the temple
the 'house of prayer' (Isaiah 66:7).  For by this expression he both showed that the duty of prayer is a principal part of his worship....As
God in his word enjoins common prayer, so public temples are the places destined for the performance of them...the command of the
Lord (Matthew 18:20)" (
Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, 8:34; Book III, 20:29 and 20:30).  

About 1721, MATTHEW HENRY - PRESBYTERIAN:  "Our weeping for other people's sins may perhaps set those a weeping for
themselves who otherwise would continue senseless and remorseless...this drew tears from every eye; men, women, and children wept
very sore when he wept thus" (
Commentary, Volume II, Ezra 9).  

1861, 1862, 1868, CHARLES SPURGEON - BAPTIST:  "I think I see the Church as I fear she is now.  There she is upon her knees
with hands clasped; she mutters a few words; her head droops, for she is weary...she is a sleepy Church in prayer....We stand up
sometimes on the public platform and we charge the church of God with growing cold....Have we by our prayers added to her
heat?...Are we ever without the sick and poor?  Are we ever without the afflicted and wavering?  Are we ever without those who are
seeking the conversion of their relatives, the reclaiming of backsliders, or the salvation of the depraved....there should be frequent prayer
meetings....They say that God does not bless the word.  They say, 'Our conversions are not so numerous as they were.' " (
Sermons in
the Metropolitan Pulpit, London
, 1861 pg. 52, 1862 pg. 260, 1868 pg. 129).  

   "Ten minutes!  The guy took ten minutes!  Broke his own record.  Covered everybody in the county, like God needed his list.  Then
went on to preach to God.  My knees were about to buckle.  Quit calling on that guy to lead prayer.  He's nuts!"  

    It is said that Benjamin Franklin, when a child, found the long prayers of his father both before and after meals very tedious.  One
day, after he and his father had stored all the food necessary for the following winter, Benjamin suggested that his father pray over the
whole supply, "once for all.  It would be a vast saving of time."  

    Like it or not, a lot of people feel this way about public prayers.  And perhaps they are right.  Something must be very wrong for so
many people to feel so uncomfortable with public prayer.    

    The book
What Americans Believe:  An Annual Survey of Values and Religious Views in the United States"
revealed that 73% of the American population strongly believes there is a God who watches over them and answers their prayers. [1]  
So what's going on?  

    The same survey discovered that half the population believes each person has the power to determine their own destiny.  We seem
to be involved in some serious ambivalence. [2]  

    Modern society has become a very controlling society, even in the realm of religion.  We have how-to books on every possible area
of life.  We long for perfection, and somehow believe it is within our grasp.  Books abound in how to have the perfect body, how to
have perfect health, how to raise genius children, how to become millionaires, how to have the dream vacation, how to build one's own
house, how to have shining hair, how to find the perfect mate.   

    Religion is no exception.  We see books on how to pray, how to know the mind of God, how to testify to unbelievers, how to
demand Satan leave someone, how to conquer sin, how to memorize the Bible, how to preach sermons no one forgets, how to take a
neighborhood or even a city for Christ and on, and on, and on.   

    Have we made ourselves gods, and therefore only play lip-service to God?  Are we ashamed to admit we need outside help until
there's nothing left we can do?  Do we approach God on things we've tried and failed because now "we can do nothing but pray"?   
     If so, why?  Perhaps it is our deep-down sometimes-unspoken disillusionment with prayer.   

    God, you know I pray sometimes.  But I don't want you to think I'm a wimp.  So I only pray when I'm in a jam I can't
handle.  Besides, if you don't answer it, I know I'll get frustrated and decide you don't really care about me.  I don't want that
to happen.  

                    Problems With Prayer  

    Besides hypocrites, possibly the biggest reason people quit even believing in God is that God did not answer a critical prayer, a
prayer that we knew was good.  After all, did not Jesus say, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find" (Matthew 7:7)  
Indeed, he did. [3]   But look what he's been talking about.  

    He's just spent the previous half hour or more saying we should be the salt and light of the world, we should not commit various sins,
we should give to the needy, and we should "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [necessary material] things will
be given to you as well"(Matthew 6:33).   

    Then he says we should pray about these things.  We should ask God to help us become the salt and light of the world, help us
overcome our sins, help us give to the needy, help us seek first the kingdom of God.  Why?  He goes on to say how narrow the gate is
into heaven.  

    Do we view prayer as a blank check that God gives us?  Do we demand an answer to our prayers even if it creates major problems
for other people?  

    Let us try to view answers to prayer from the other side of eternity, from the top side of heaven.  God provided a way for us to do
that; all we have to do is go to his Word, the Bible.  

    When we say our prayers are not answered, we do not stop to realize that God often has to do a lot of rearranging in people's lives
to get that prayer answered.  For instance, someone praying to be able to marry just the right mate might involve what?  S/he may be
living at the opposite end of the country.  Someone would have to move.  That probably means someone's boss has to see a need to
either lay them off or transfer them.  That's just the beginning, but it gets the idea across.  How amazing God is to juggle all of us so he
can answer our prayers at all!  

    Several years ago a study was made of people who did believe in prayer and did not believe in prayer.  What each person wanted
to achieve was recorded.  A year later, people were identified who either had or had not attained their goals.  The entire process was
explained in the book
Prayer Can Change Your Life.

    "At the University of Redlands we conducted the first controlled experiment satisfying academic conditions in prayer as a specific
therapy or healing agent."  [4]  They used the Rorschach Test, the Szondi Test, the Thematic Apperception Test, Sentence Completion
Test, Word Association Test to set the "before" status of each person.  Religion was never discussed. [5]  

    There were three control groups, each relying exclusively on (1) psychotherapy, (2) random prayer, (3) prayer therapy.  At the end
of the experiment, the psychotherapy group made 65% noticeable improvement in both tests and symptoms.  The random prayer group
made no improvement.  The prayer therapy group had 72% improvement. [6]  Descriptions of participants and how their lives did or
did not change make this book come alive.  

     Well, yes, God, I believe you answer prayers.  But it seems like you answer other people's prayers more, like maybe they
have more faith than I do.

                Unanswered Prayer Answered  

    Look at Abraham.  God promised him a land for his many descendants who would some day make up an entire nation.  What an
illusive dream that was!  Starting in Ur Abraham dragged Sarah and the rest of his family all over the place trying to take hold of his

At age 60, he traveled 600 miles to Haran and stayed 15 years.
At age 75, he traveled 450 miles to Shechem and stayed 2 years.
At age 77, he traveled 20 Bethel and stayed 1 year.
At age 78, he traveled 100 miles to the Negev and stayed 2 years.
At age 80, he traveled 250 miles to Egypt and stayed 2 years.
At age 82, he traveled 250 miles back to the Negev and stayed 1 year.
At age 83, he traveled 75 miles to Bethel and stayed 3 years.
At age 86, he traveled 30 miles to Hebron and stayed 3 years.
At age 89, he traveled 50 miles to Gerar and stayed 1 year.
At age 90, he traveled 90 miles to the Negev and stayed 15 years.
At age 105, he traveled 25 miles to Beersheba and stayed 15 years.
At age 120, he traveled 25 miles to Hebron and stayed 17 years.

Not only that, but the first city Abraham moved to, Haran, was in the wrong country.  When he finally got to Shechem in the right
country, there was a famine in his land of milk and honey (Genesis 12:4-7).  He kept moving farther south, hoping things would be
better, but they never were.  Finally he had no choice but to abandon his promised land, which had been a bleak disappointment so far
anyway, and go to Egypt.   

    He was kicked out of Egypt for lying (Genesis 12:10-20), so reluctantly headed back to his promised land.  In Gerar he was kicked
out also, again for lying (Genesis 20:1-14).  

    All those years Abraham prayed for the son God had promised him.  Didn't his name ~ Abraham ~ mean father of nations?  How
people must have laughed at him.  It wasn't until he had moved eleven times that Abraham finally got his first son, Isaac.   

    All those years he could have been bitter.  He could have quit praying to God at all.  He could have even quit believing in God.  But
he didn't.  Why did God make Abraham wait so long to answer his prayer?  God provided the answer so Abraham didn't have to

   "In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure"
(Genesis 15:16).   

    God was planning to use Abraham's descendants to punish the people who lived in Canaan at that time for their idolatry with terrible
gods that demanded human sacrifices, religious prostitutes - both men and women - and were destructive.  Later God would tell
Abraham's descendants who did conquer the land that if they became like the Amorites, God would cast them out of the land too
(Leviticus 18:28).   

    Sometimes God delays giving us our good answer because some other involved party is not yet ready.  


     Then there were Isaac and Rebecca.  They'd married when Isaac was about 40 (Genesis 25:20), but remained childless for twenty
years.  Twenty long years of praying for a son.  Isn't that too long?  But their wait was worth it, for they had twin boys (25:24-26).  

    Trouble again.  When the twins were about age 40 (Genesis 26:34), they had a terrible argument and Esau threatened to kill Jacob,
his twin brother.  Rebecca told Jacob to live with her brother a thousand miles away in a foreign country and "When your brother is no
longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I'll send word for you to come back from there" (Genesis 27:45).  

    She never sent that word.  Oh, how the parents of these twins must have prayed for their family to be reunited and for the twins to
get along again.  But it just didn't happen.  Jacob stayed gone twenty long years (Genesis 31:38).  Finally he went back to make up with
Esau on his own.  When he did, (Genesis 33:4), Esau took him to see their father Isaac (Genesis 35:27), but not their mother.  

    Rebecca had probably died believing that God had refused to answer her prayer for her sons.  But he did answer her prayer.  It just
wasn't in her lifetime.  The same is true with some of our own prayers.  They're answered after we die.  

    Joseph was Abraham's great grandson and Jacob's son.  When Joseph was 17 years old (Genesis 37:2) he was sold by his brothers
to a caravan headed for Egypt.  There this teenager was sold again to be a forever slave in a foreign country with strange people,
strange language, strange customs.  What kind of sadistic trick was God playing on him?  

    He was bought by the captain of Pharaoh's guard.  He kept a good attitude and his owner was so impressed that he gave him a lot
of responsibility.  But things went from tolerable to terrible.  His owner's wife falsely accused him of trying to rape her, so he was
imprisoned.  There his feet were put in shackles and his neck was put in irons (Psalm 105:17-22).  

    Did he become bitter and turn against God?  No.  He made the best of an extremely bad situation.  Eventually he was trusted so
much that the jailor let Joseph, the prisoner, run things for him (Genesis 39:22).  When Joseph was 28 years old (Genesis 40:1 - 40:1) it
looked liked a personal servant of Pharaoh would be able to get him out of prison, but the servant forgot all about Joseph.  How could
God allow that to happen?  

    Finally, when Joseph was 30 years old (Genesis 41:46), Pharaoh personally released him from prison and made him prime minister
of the entire land (Genesis 41:41).  Ten years later when Joseph was about 40 years old (Genesis 41:53-54; 42:3, 8), his brothers came
to Egypt and appeared before him, not recognizing him.  Some time after that when Joseph was 42 (Genesis 45:6) they returned a
second time, and that time he revealed himself to his brothers and actually forgave them (Genesis 45:1).  

    Instead of being bitter, and complaining God never answered his prayers, Joseph said he'd gone through being separated from his
family and enduring slavery and imprisonment "because it was to save lives" (Genesis 45:6).  

    Sometimes God says no to us because he has much bigger plans for us that require us to stay in what we consider a bad situation.  

    Let us look at the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt for some four centuries (Genesis 15:13-16).  Do you think the Israelites
prayed to God to release them?  You bet they did (Exodus 3:7).  But one after another of them died believing God did not answer their

    God did answer their prayers.  But not in the lifetime of most of them.  God saw the big picture that they did not see.  When
Joseph's family first went to Egypt there were only 70 of them (Genesis 46:27).  They were the grandson and great grandchildren of
Abraham.  They were not nearly numerous enough to begin that nation God said would come from Abraham.  Nor were they strong

    Four centuries later, when Moses led them out of Egypt, there were probably three million of them (Exodus 12:37).  Now they were
large enough.  But they had the minds of slaves, all of them having been born into slavery to parents and grandparents of slavery.  They
had to have time to develop self-determining, mature minds.  

    So, God gave them the Ten Commandments and about 600 other commandments also called the Law of Moses.  But they still
needed time to get used to obeying God which they were in the habit of not doing.  In fact, they were such cowards that when God told
them to take their promised land from the Amorites who by now had reached the height of their evil, they wouldn't do it (Numbers

    For forty more years, until a new generation was born and grown, the Israelites wandered, people with no country (Numbers
14:33-34).  It wasn't until then that God answered their prayers and gave them their country, more as punishment to the bad inhabitants
than a reward for how good they were (Deuteronomy 9:5).  But at least they were strong enough now to develop their own nation.  

    Did they complain all those years?  Yes, they did.  In fact, over and over they said God just took them to the desert to kill them, and
that God didn't care anything about them.  They became bitter.  But, even though they no longer believed God would answer their
prayer, and long after they quit hoping, God did answer it.  

    About five hundred years after finally settling in their Promised Land, a great man was born of this nation.  His name was David and
he became their king.  And from David's descendants came Jesus, the Son of God who came to us in the form of a human to save all of
mankind from our sins (Matthew 1).  

    God, remember the old joke, "You'd better watch out what you pray for; you just might get it"?  Well, that's me.  I'm
sometimes afraid you won't answer a prayer, and sometimes afraid you will.  

         Prayers We Wish Hadn't Been Answered  

    Sometimes God does not give us what we want because it would bring us heartache.  We may not see it, and the bad effects may
not even occur during our lifetime.  But God knows.   

    A couple was childless, for the wife had been sterile for a long time.  They prayed and prayed for a son.  Finally God answered their
prayer and they named their baby Samson.  He grew up to become a kind of supreme court judge for the Israelites before they had
kings.  That was an honor (Judges 13).  

    But Samson brought heart ache after heart ache to them.  First he demanded that his parents arrange a marriage to an atheist (Judges
14:2).  But when he was taken advantage of at his wedding reception, he divorced her (Judges 14:20).  Then he started going to
prostitutes (Judges 16:1).   

    Finally he fell in love with another atheist (Judges 16:4).  She in turn betrayed him, and he was imprisoned by the enemy and his eyes
gouged out (Judges 16:21).  He finally died by suicide (Judges 16:30).  They got their desired baby, and also great heartache.  

    Another such instance was when the Israelites decided they wanted to be like the other nations around them and have a king rule
over them rather than a supreme court judge (1 Samuel 8:6-9).  

    They got their way.  But it led to disaster.  At first, the worst the king would do is take their children to be soldiers and servants, and
tax them heavily (1 Samuel 8:11-20).  

    But it only took three generations for their kings to lead them into idol worship (1 Kings 11:9-10), and one more generation for the
country to have a civil war and end up with two separate governments - one in the north and one in the south (1 Kings 11:43 - 12:1).  

    After that they went from bad to worse.  Eventually the northern kingdom, made up of ten-twelfths of them, was taken captive by
the king of Assyria and never released (2 Kings 17:1-23).  

    The southern king did not learn his lesson, however.  And some time later the small remnant of the Israelites were taken captive by
the king of Babylon.  At that time Jerusalem and the great temple were burned to the ground (2 Kings 25:1-21).  

    They had prayed for a king, and God gave them what they thought they wanted.  It led to their ruin.  

    King Hezekiah was one of the last kings of the southern kingdom.  He became ill and was about to die, but turned his face to the
wall and wept bitterly, praying to God to let him live.  He was given fifteen more years (2 Kings 20:1-11).   

    But what happened during those fifteen years?  He made peace with the king of Babylon and showed his emissaries all the treasures
of his palace.  As a result, even though Hezekiah died before it happened, the next king of Babylon returned and conquered Jerusalem,
and Hezekiah's sons were castrated and exiled to Babylon to become servants until their deaths (2 Kings 20:12-18).  

    Hezekiah had prayed not to die, and God gave him what he asked for.  But it spelled disaster for his own family and for his nation.  
When we pray, we must be careful to tell God that we are willing to accept his will and not our own.  

    Remember the other joke about prayer, God?  You know, the one about being careful we don't pray for patience?  That's me.  
Sometimes I'm not sure I'm willing to pay the price to end up getting what I say I want.  

                       Bad to Good People  

     Another frustration people have in condemning God are the unanswered prayers that did not ever lead to anything good.  Take for
example all the innocent Israelite babies God allowed to be killed by the Egyptians (Exodus 1:22) and by King Herod fifteen centuries
later in Bethlehem when Jesus was born (Matthew 2:16).  

    But we are nearsighted.  Oh, yes, it brought unbearable grief to the families left behind.  But what about the babies?   

     Jesus said, people who "become like little children" will enter the kingdom of heaven....their angels in heaven always see the face of
my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:3 & 10).  A little while later he said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for
the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 18:14).  

    When those babies passed from this world, they immediately were taken by their angels to the arms of God.  King David, whose
own baby boy died, said in 2 Samuel 12:23, "Can I bring him back again?  I will go to him, but he will not return to me."  What a
reunion that must have been when all those broken-hearted parents reached heaven and were able to hold their baby, this time forever.  

    Well, what about Moses?  The Bible said that Moses was the meekest man in the world (Numbers 12:3) and the greatest prophet to
ever live, "whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10).  In fact, when God considered destroying the entire Israelite
nation, Moses prayed that God would send him to hell in their place (Exodus 32:33).  What greatness!  

    Yet, after spending 40 years of his life leading the ungrateful and rebellious Israelites, God would not allow Moses to enter the
Promised Land.  Why?  Because Moses struck a rock to get water from it instead of speaking to it, and then took the credit for it
(Numbers 20:8-12).  How could God just use Moses for so long like that and then discard him?  

    Yes, Moses died shortly after this event.  But where did he go after this?  He went to heaven.  He was old and got to rest.  How do
we know for sure he went to heaven?  Because fifteen centuries later, Moses appeared from heaven to Jesus and talked to Jesus shortly
before Jesus' own death (Matthew 17:3).  By the way, guess where he was when he appeared to Jesus?  In the Promised Land
(Matthew 16:21).  

    What about Job's grown children?  They were all killed in an apparent cyclone (Job 1:18-19).  Their father was "blameless and
upright" (Job 1:1), and even offered sacrifices on his children's behalf every morning (Job 1:5).  

    They lived some thousand years before Moses and his laws - probably about 2500 BC.  During that early period of mankind, the
father of each household took responsibility for leading his family to follow God.  God had not yet established any kind of organized
religion as such.  

    But Romans 1:19-20 and 2:14-15 explains that "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and
divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made....Indeed, when Gentiles [non-Jews], who do not
have the law [of Moses], do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law,
since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness."  

    So, although it caused great grief to Job, his children were now in heaven and probably having the time of their life in that heavenly
place where there are no tears, no death, no mourning, no crying, and no pain (Revelation 21:4).  

    Well, what about the wife of the great prophet Ezekiel?  She died just so God could prove a point.  Isn't God a crass user, a bully?  
Let us look at what happened.   

    "[God said] 'with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes.  Yet do not lament or weep or shed any
tears.  Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead.  Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover the lower part
of your face or eat the customary food of mourners.'  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died.  The
next morning I did as I had been commanded' " (Ezekiel 24:16-18).  

    But what else was going on at that time?  Ezekiel had been taken captive from the Promised Land by the Babylonians in today's
Iraq, and was now in his 30th year of captivity.  God had said the Jews who had been taken to Babylon would be there 70 years, long
enough for a new generation to be born and grow up who did not worship idols.   

    It was Ezekiel's job to tell the people why they were being punished by this captivity.  He quoted God as telling the Jews, "You
adulterous wife!  You prefer strangers [idols] to your own husband [the only true God]....Therefore, you prostitute, hear the word of the
Lord!  This is what the Sovereign Lord says:  Because you poured out your wealth and exposed your nakedness in your promiscuity
with your lovers, and because of all your detestable idols, and because you gave them your children's blood, therefore I am going to
gather all your lovers [idolatrous nations], with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated.  I will gather them
against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your nakedness"(Ezekiel 16:32-37).  

    God needed for Ezekiel to understand God's own pain of being forsaken by his chosen ones, the Israelites, so they could worship
idols.  Further, God wanted Ezekiel to understand God's own pain of not showing remorse for their removal from their Promised Land
(a kind of death).  Oh, God cried for his people when they were taken captives, but he cried in private.   

    Now Ezekiel was able to feel what God was feeling for his "bride-wife," the Israelites.  How many times Ezekiel must have secretly
gone to his wife's grave site to weep in private, and wish his wife could rise up out of that grave and return to him.  God was going
through the same feelings.  He wanted to bring his "bride-wife" back from the living death they were existing in Babylon.   

     In Ezekiel 37 God gave his prophet a vision whereby he saw just that happen.  Ezekiel saw a valley full of bones dried white by the
sun.  The bones came back together, then tendons and flesh were added, and finally skin covered them.  Then God breathed into them
his breath and they came back to life.   

     Can you imagine Ezekiel rushing to the others in exile excitedly and saying, "God's not going to leave us here in this living death!  
Some day he's going to take us back to our Promised Land.  We will live again!"  

     Also God did not leave Ezekiel hopeless concerning his wife either.  Ezekiel was a priest, which meant he belonged to the tribe of
Levi (Ezekiel 1:3).  Revelation 7:7 tells us that all the saved from the tribe of Levi are in heaven.  That means Ezekiel's wife was now in
heaven.  Did Ezekiel miss her?  Terribly.  Did he mourn for her?  Yes, in private.  Did he gain a new understanding of God and his deep
love for his people who had betrayed him?  Indeed he did.  Did Ezekiel ever get to see his wife again?  Oh, yes.  For all the saved from
the tribe of Levi are in heaven.  What a reunion theirs must have been.

   What about Stephen who was such a dedicated Christian in the New Testament that he was executed by stoning rather than
renounce the fact that Jesus was the Son of God?  How could a good God allow such to happen to him?  

    Once more we look on the other side of eternity.  Our lives on earth are but a drop in the sea compared with eternity in our final
destination.  When the early church selected its first deacons, although they were all outstanding men of faith, Stephen was singled out as
"a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5).  1 Corinthians 12:7-10 lists various gifts of the Holy Spirit, and faith is listed just
prior to healing as a special gift.  

    We have all known people who find faith so easy and, no matter what they go through, their faith never seems to waiver.  I wish I
were one of them.  They inspire us.  Stephen was the very first Christian martyr.  When, at his court hearing, the verdict of guilt was
being decided for declaring Jesus was actually God, Stephen cried out, "Look!  I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the
right hand of God!"  

    He died a few minutes later by their hand.  Hebrews 11:35-38 says of such martyrs that they were "tortured and refused to be
released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  
They were stoned, they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword....

    Polycarp, a student of the Apostle John was burned at the stake probably 70 years later.  In the events leading up to this he was
taken into a stadium.  "When the magistrate pressed him hard and said, 'Swear the oath and I will release you; revile the Christ,'
Polycarp said, 'Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He has done me no wrong.  How then can I blaspheme my King
who saved me?'  

    "....Whereupon the proconsul said, 'I have wild beasts here and I will throw you to them, except you repent.'  But he said, 'Call for
them....'  Then he said to him again, 'I will cause you to be consumed by fire, if you despise the wild beasts, unless you repent.'  But
Polycarp said, 'You threaten that fire which burns for a season and after a little while is quenched: for you are ignorant of the fire of the
future judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly.  But why delay?  Come, and do what you will!'  

    "....Forthwith then the instruments that were prepared for the pile were placed about him; and as they were going likewise to nail him
to the stake, he said, 'Leave me as I am; for he that has granted me to endure the fire will grant me also to remain at the pile

    "....looking up to heaven [Polycarp] said, 'O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through
whom we have received the knowledge of you, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous,
who live in your presence; I bless you for you have granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion among the number of
martyrs in the cup of Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit.  

   "....I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you through the eternal and heavenly high priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom
with him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now and for the ages to come.  Amen' " [7]  

    Indeed, Romans 8:31-39 encourages us thusly:  "If God is for us, who can be against us....Who shall separate us from the love of
Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:  'For your sake we face
death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'  No, in all these things we are
through him who loved us.  

    "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither
height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!"  

    While we're at it, we may as well think about, "If God is so good, why does he allow bad?  For instance, how could he possibly
stand by and let them torture and kill his own son?"  It is because of their love for us.   

    Everyone in the whole world sins (Romans 3:23).  The Old Testament is not much fun to read.  It covers some four thousand years
of people trying every way possible to attain perfection and heaven for themselves.  They tried it through their wits, through their
physical strength, through their intelligence, through their emotions.  They tried through having the Law of Moses and through creating
their own laws to be perfect.  They tried creating gods that would save them.  They tried denying all gods and Jehovah God and even
calling themselves god.  Instead of attaining salvation, they got themselves into wars, built strong nations and then lost them, and built
great indestructible temples that were then destroyed.  

    Nothing worked for man's ever-present and ever-threatening disease of sin.  And the "wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).  Man
needed a vaccine.  A vaccine can only come from someone who experiences a disease but does not die.  With the antibodies now in
their blood, they can provide a vaccine so others who are weaker will live through the disease.  

    So God sent a part of himself, his Son, to live on earth in the form of a man and be faced with the same disease of sin.  Jesus was,
therefore, tempted every way that we are, but he never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).  But he was crucified as though he were a sinner.  God
then, in a way we do not understand, took all the sins of mankind - yours and mind - and injected them into Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).  
Then Jesus bled for us and died.  He paid the price.  Satan could no longer accuse (Revelation 12:10) the world of sin because Jesus
paid the price of death for us (1 Corinthians 6:20).  

    Then Jesus came back to life!  The disease of sin could not keep this God-Man dead.  Now Jesus was ready with the serum that
came from his blood.  All mankind had to do was believe all this really happened, and then imitate Jesus' death, burial and resurrection
(Romans 5:20-21; 6:3-8).  

    Don't you see that if Jesus had not died, he could not have proven his power over death?  He could not have proven to us that when
Christians die, we too will be brought back to life?   

    But, you may say, "If God is so good and powerful, why does he allow bad to exist at all?"  It is like up and down.  For up to exist,
there has to be the possibility of a down.  Otherwise up wouldn't be up.  It wouldn't be anywhere.  And like light and darkness.  For
light to exist, there has to be the possibility of a darkness.  Otherwise light wouldn't be light.  It wouldn't be anything significant.  And so
for good to exist there has to be the possibility of bad.  Otherwise good wouldn't be good.  It wouldn't be anything.  

    There is a church song called "Victory in Jesus."  How can we have victory in Jesus unless we have something to be victorious
over?  Satan can cause people to get sick, but God can heal them.  Satan can cause people to die, but God can bring them back to life.  
God can cause people to sin and go to hell, but God can forgive them so that they end up in heaven instead.  

    God's glory is most obvious and powerful and wonderful when Satan tries and fails.  

    You're right, God.  I got angry at you when my little brother died in that car-bike accident, and when my grandmother
suffered so long with cancer, and when I lost that good job, and....  I've had trouble dealing with those times when I thought
you let me down.

                Prayer and the Spirit World  

    Another amazing thing about prayer is that it influences what is going on in the spirit world - the world of angels and demons.  
Ephesians 6:12 explains, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of
this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."  

    We are to wear the armor of God which is truth, righteous living, readiness to face anything, peace, faith, salvation, the word of
God.  And with all that, we are to pray "on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests" (Ephesians 6:18).  

    To understand how our prayers influence the spirit world, let us go back to the book of Daniel.  In chapter 10, Daniel fasted and
prayed for three weeks - 21 days (10:3).  Three days later on the 24th day Gabriel appeared (see 8:16, 9:21).   

    He said that God had heard Daniel's prayer from the very first day (10:12).  But Gabriel was busy fighting the prince (angel) of the
Persian kingdom for 21 days (three weeks) and couldn't come.  So Michael, one of God's chief princes (angel), helped him.  Now, with
Michael holding off the prince (angel) of Persia, Gabriel could come explain what Daniel wanted to know about a previous vision.  

    First, we learn that God uses his angels to answer our prayers, and although God can be everywhere at once, God's angels cannot.  
So, sometimes we have to wait because larger, more critical things are occurring.  However, no one is unimportant, and God does send
an angel to help.  

    Also, there seems to be some inference that Daniel's prayers were giving strength to God's angels so that Michael was able to come
and help Gabriel.  Daniel prayed 21 days, and that is how long it took for Gabriel to break free and come to Daniel.  How amazing if
this is true.  

    There is another way that Christians help angels.  This is why the world was created.  It is explained in Ephesians 3:9-11:  

QUANDARY:                         "To make plain to everyone the administration of THIS MYSTERY, which for ages past was
kept                                                          hidden in God, who created all things.  

EXPLAINER:                         ....His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known  

QUESTIONER:                      ....to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms  

MEANS:                                 ....according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."  

    "Rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms"  ~ good and bad angels of God and Satan ~ do not understand something; it is a
mystery to them.  An examination of the word "mystery" in the Bible reveals that the mystery is complete forgiveness.  The church is
here to prove God does forgive, and it was made possible by Jesus and his death.  

    So, we see there is a definite interaction between the spirit world and our world.  The link is prayer and salvation.  

    God, that's heavy.  I wish I understood all about angels, and the fight between good and bad, but it's too hard.  Maybe you
communicate with me on a higher level, like the language of angels.  Maybe that's what I've been missing.  

                 The Language of Prayer  

    There are some people who say the tongues of men and of angels referred to in 1 Corinthians 13:1 is unintelligible gibberish.  To find
out for sure, all we have to do is find out in what language angels speak.   

    Genesis 16:7-12 and 21:14-18 says an angel spoke to Hagar.  Genesis 16:3 said she was Egyptian.  Therefore, the angel spoke

    Genesis 19:10-21 says two angels spoke to Lot's family.  Genesis 11:31 says Lot was Chaldean.  Therefore, the angel spoke

    Judges 13:2-17 says an angel spoke to Samson's parents.  Judges 13:1-2 says they were Israelites.  Therefore, the angel spoke
Israeli (

    2 Kings 1:3-4 says an angel spoke to Elijah.  It also says he was a Tishbite which was part of Israel.  Therefore, the angel spoke
Israeli (

    Daniel 8:16-25 and 9:21-27 says an angel spoke to Daniel.  Daniel 1:1-4 says Daniel was from Jerusalem of Israel, but now in
Babylon everyone spoke in Aramaic.  Therefore, the angel spoke in either Israeli (Hebrew) or

    Luke 1:8-20 says an angel spoke to Zechariah, John the Baptist's father.  Luke 1:5 says Zechariah was a priest of the
Israelites/Jews.  However, many now spoke in Greek; this account was written in Greek.  Therefore, the angel spoke Israeli (Hebrew)

    Luke 1:28-38 says an angel spoke to Mary.  Luke 3:24f, Mary's genealogy, says she was an Israelite.  Therefore, the angel spoke
Israeli (Hebrew) or

    Luke 2:8-12 says angels spoke to shepherds.  Luke 2:4 says these shepherds were from Bethlehem in Israel.  Therefore, the angels
spoke Israeli (Hebrew) or

    Matthew 28:1-9 says an angel spoke to Mary Magdalene & others.  Mary was from the city of Magdala in Israel.  Therefore,
the angel spoke Israeli (Hebrew) or

    Acts 10:1-8 says an angel spoke to Cornelius.  Acts 10:1 says he was Roman.  Therefore, the angel spoke

    Acts 12:5-10 says an angel spoke to Peter.  John 1:44 says Peter was from a city in Galilee, Palestine/Israel.  Therefore, the angel
spoke Israeli (Hebrew) or

    Revelation 5:2, etc., etc. says an angel spoke to John.  Matthew 4:18-21 says John was from a city in Galilee, Palestine/Israel.  
Therefore, the angel spoke Israeli (Hebrew) or

    All of this is to demonstrate that at no time did the person angels spoke to say they did not understand.  They conversed at ease in
each person's native language.  Therefore, the language of angels is the language of whoever they are speaking to.  They are
multi-lingual.  They never spoke in gibberish.  

    You mean, God, that you hear me no matter how much I stutter and struggle?  You understand even when I don't
understand my problem or what the answer could possibly be?  I just can't ascend to where you are.  Could you lean a little
lower for me?    

             Where the Rubber Meets the Road  

    Praying in private is not complex.  But it is more so in public where the leader tries to represent what the others want to be praying.  
But how is this possible?  

    Several years ago I went through a period when I wrote notes to the prayers that were being offered in church.  (God, forgive me
for peeking.)  This is what a typical prayer covered:  The sick of OUR number, OUR weak members, OUR leaders, OUR worship,
OUR blessings.  Another typical one was for worship, love, Jesus, serving, everyday life, next week, travelers, sermon, sins, members'
lives, parents, children, wonders of the world.  

    A prayer by a former missionary covered the delights of Christianity, open-hearted people, congregation, backsliders, unchurched,
the general public, our feeble human efforts, missionaries, World Bible School, prayer, glory of God.  

    Someone from another country prayed for congregational love, being a light in the community, families, the sick, worship, the word,
our sins, God's spirit.  

    All these are good in their own way.  But very seldom did they get specific.  How are we going to know if our prayers are answered
if we don't get specific?  

    How specific are our prayers?  Do we pray for "all those it is our duty to pray for the world over"?  Our public prayers are a mirror
of our private prayers.   If our prayers are general, then our private Christian life has not become very specific and likely will not.  If we
are drifting through our Christian life, our public prayers will too.  And as our prayers drift, so do the hearers we are supposed to be
leading; they will drift from thought to thought on things that have nothing to do with the prayer.  

    On the other end of the scale, if we have a busy Christian life in private, we need not include everything in our public prayers.  If
everyone did that, we'd be praying for hours on end.  The hours-on-end prayers are for private discussions with God, and they are

    But what about public prayers?  What should God's people pray for when they are together?   

    In the 1960s I attended a congregation in California, that learned to get specific.  I think it started on New Years Eve when the
congregation decided to pray the new year in.  It seems we began praying about ten o'clock.  "Ten o'clock?  You prayed for two
hours?" you might be thinking.  "What a bunch of fanatics.  Did you roll on the floor too?"  Actually we prayed longer than that.  

    Someone stood up front with a blackboard.  People stood who had prayer requests.  When recognized, they explained the situation
and who they wished to be prayed for.  The person in charge wrote the name and the situation in a couple of words.  When the
blackboard was full, he called on someone to lead a prayer for those people.  Then those were erased and we continued around the
auditorium with people standing and explaining their prayer requests.  

    There were all kinds of prayers regarding sickness, finances, relationships, travel, jobs, souls, thanksgiving and praise.  

    If we were worldly, we would have said something magical happened that night.  But as Christians, it was something spiritual and
holy and wonderful.  We got into each others hearts.  No more masks.  Gradually people began standing and sharing their own personal
burdens, things the rest of us never guessed.  They began confessing a particular type of sin they needed help with.  They cried softly
and we cried with them.  

    But prayers were not just requests.  Some were thanking God for answers to prayer.  Some were thanking God for sending his son
to us in our desperation and sin.   Some were thanking God for the numerous things we take for granted.  How do we think of what we
take for granted?  Think of people living in a country that is in famine, or war torn, or run by atheists.  Think of people who are blind,
deaf, mute, lame.  

    Some prayers were praising God.  Isn't praising kind of like thanking?  Actually praising centers around someone's traits.  What are
God's traits?  He is love.  He is life.  He is justice.  He is mercy.  He is patience.  He is might.  He is power.  He is light.  God is so large
the universe cannot contain him.  God is so small he can hide within our heart.  When Satan causes illness, he heals.  When Satan causes
sin, he forgives.  When Satan causes death, he brings back to life.   

    It was hard to break up that night.  For the first time many of us had allowed others into our lives and hearts, exposing the raw and
so-easily-wounded part of us.  Our masks came down.   

     That's what happens with prayer.  The most successful marriage counselor I ever knew was a minister who has now gone to live
with his Lord in heaven.  Other ministers within a hundred-mile radius or more would call him after they had tried everything they knew
to keep a marriage together.  A day or two before the court date, the divorcing couple would consent to see this minister with the magic

    But once again, it wasn't magic.  It was God's power that can only be tapped in prayer.  The minister did not ask them about their
marriages and why they were so bad.  Instead he told them one thing.  He told them to pray together.  Then he left them alone in his
apartment all night so they could have the night to pray together.  He had about a ninety-percent success rate.  Actually, of course, it
was God who had such a phenomenal success rate.  

    So what happened to the congregation that prayed in the new year?  The following week one of the elders got up before the
congregation and said he'd counted something like seven answers to prayer since that night.  He got up the following week and said,
"I've counted 29 answers to our prayers since that night."  The next week he counted 43 (or whatever the actual number was).    

  Members started writing their prayer requests down and turning them in.  Someone in the office wrote the prayer requests on a large
sheet for distribution.  Members began praying for these lists in private.  Wednesday night got so it began earning the name we used to
call it decades ago - "prayer meeting night."  

    And each week that elder would get up and say, "This past week we had 12 more answers to prayer," or whatever the number was
for the week.  We began to understand prayer.  We began to see that prayer had to be specific in order for us to see when it had been
answered.  Once we knew that, we could thank and praise God more.   

    This was a large congregation of many hundreds, and they took whatever time was necessary to have a long session of prayer.  
However, this may not be conducive to your congregation.  In that case, divide up into smaller groups in classrooms or even in various
corners of the auditorium.  Dividing up by men and women is a little more conducive to closeness since men will say things among other
men they wouldn't with women around, and visa versa.  Allow those with prayer requests time to explain their request.  They are
pouring out their heart.  They have learned to trust.  

    Yes, prayer is done with trust.  Not only trust in God, but also trust in each other.  Things discussed in prayer time should never be
discussed outside of that group.  If the person with the prayer request wants others to know, they will tell them themselves.  If anyone
wishes to tell anyone else, the person making the request must give their permission; otherwise it is tabu.  

                       Not Enough Time  

    Some may be saying their congregation does not have time for so much praying.  It would add another half hour to their worship
period.  Friends, we all know Christians are to pray for each other daily.  The early church did.  How did they know about each other's
needs?  They saw each other every day (Acts 2:46)!   

    Although we have innumerable time-saving gadgets that we should have much more time than the Christians of the first-century, we
keep adding more and more activities to our lives.  As a result, we have ended up with less time for each other.  

    For most Christians, we are lucky to see each other once a week.  So if we are to pray for each other, and to know just what to
pray for, we're going to have to take the time to do it in our public worship.  Either that, or not at all.  

    Congregations who have begun entertainment type worship rely on small groups to provide the intimacy for the lonely.  But, once
again, with the time-poor situation of society, how many miss those groups?  And how many need it more than those who attend?  

    Why is it we have to have two songs, a prayer, three more songs, a scripture reading, another two or three songs, another prayer,
another couple of songs?   

    Young people in Cuba were interviewed about any religion they might have in their lives in 1998 when the pope went there for a
visit.  Surprisingly, many of those young people who grew up without God began flocking to church.  Why?  

    One young man, age 30, said, "I needed a change in my life."  Another said, "My life was so turbulent with too much drinking, too
many parties." [8]  Too many parties?  You mean partying at church as part of the worship isn't what they're looking for?  

    It is a proven fact that on any random Sunday, half the members will not be at church. [9]  Why?  Probably because they do not feel
attending is doing them any good.  How do you feel after you have attended a worship service?  Do you feel any more loved than you
did?  Do you have any more love for the others than you did?   

    People are feeling empty even in church.  Or perhaps especially in church.  Of all places, they come hoping the church can help fill
their emptiness.  Solomon said God has "set eternity in the hearts of men" (Ecclesiastes 3:11).   

    People's personal concerns are too vital to substitute with a perpetual party atmosphere in church worship.  

    Entire bookstores are being dedicated to "spiritualism."  These are "new-age" bookstores wherein books on all the religions of
mankind are available.  Anything to feel spiritual.  People are so empty.  They meditate by themselves trying to find the god within them,
or to find an elusive perfection.  It gnaws at everyone including you and I.  It is an emptiness only God can fill.   

    In one of the last speeches Moses made before his death, he said, "What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the
way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?" (Deuteronomy 4:7).  

    Friend, when we meet for our times of worship, let us take time to touch God.  Really touch him.  And in the process, touch each
other with eternity.  

               Second Century Church Accounts  

    Justin Martyr, about 150 AD, said in Apology I, 67:  "The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long
as time permits.  Then when the reader ceases, the president in a discourse admonished and urges the imitation of these good things.  
Next we all rise together and send up prayers."  [10]  

    Tertullian, about 170 AD, said in
Apology xxxix:1-5): "We are a body with a common feeling of religion, a unity of discipline, and a
covenant of hope.  We meet together in an assembly and congregation so that praying to God we may win him over by the strength of
our prayers.  This kind of force is pleasing to God.  We pray also for emperors, for their servants and those in authority, for the order of
the world, for peaceful circumstances, for the delay of the end." [11]  

    Clement of Alexandria, about 190 AD, said in
Miscellanies VI.xiv.113.3:  "Always giving thanks in all things to God through
righteous hearing and divine reading, true inquiry, holy oblation, blessed prayer, praising, hymning, blessing, singing, such a soul is never
separated from God at any time."  [12]


[1].  Barna, George, What Americans Believe, Regal Books, Calif., 1991, pg. 207  

[2].  Barna, p. 213  

[3]   Matthew 7:7

[4].  Parker, Dr. William and Elaine St. Johns, Prayer Can Change Your Life, Prentice-Hall, N.J., 1968, pg. xv.  

[5].  Parker, pg. 20-21  

[6].  Parker, pg. 34  

[7].  Lightfoot, J. B., Editor, The Apostolic Fathers, "The Letter of the Smyrnaeans on the Martyrdom of S. Polycarp," v. 9-14, Baker
Book House, Grand Rapids, 1965, pg. 112-114  

[8].  The Windsor Star, "Cuban Youth Renewing Their Ties to the Church," by Anita Snow, January 10, 1998, Windsor, Ontario,

[9].  Barna, pg. 234  

[10].  Ferguson, Everett, Early Christian Speak:  Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries, Sweet Publishing, Austin, 1971, pg. 81  

[11].  Ferguson, p. 82  

[12].  Ibid.