Problems: Opportunities for Growth.

Problems can be opportunities for growth.

And God said to him, “You shall no longer be called Jacob (‘Grabber’), but Israel (‘One who prevails with God’).” (Genesis 35:10, tlb)

God reminded Jacob of his new name, Israel, which meant “one who prevails with God” or “one who struggles with God.” Although Jacob’s life was littered with difficulties and trials, his new name was a tribute to his desire to stay close to God despite life’s disappointments.

Many people believe that Christianity should offer a problem-free life. Consequently, as life gets tough, they draw back disappointed. Instead, they should determine to prevail with God through life’s storms.

Problems and difficulties are painful but inevitable; you might as well see them as opportunities for growth. You can’t prevail with God unless you have troubles to prevail over.


Simple Evangelism

A Peculiar People

Last week, as part of the sermon given by our Pastor at Church, he shared with us an extremely simple evangelistic tool based on John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  (ESV)

He suggested that this could be used in an informal setting such as at a restaurant or over coffee.  Finding something to write on, a paper napkin or whatever, start by drawing a plus sign, or the four points of a compass.  Then, talking through the points of John 3:16, write down the following phrases at each of the four points:

  • God Loves  (N)
  • God Gives,  (S)
  • We Believe  (E)
  • We Live (W)

Of course, you can elaborate on the four points, this is just a bare outline  The beauty is that it is so easy to remember and includes all…

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Why We Pray?

Prayer reflects our dependence on God.

Isaac pleaded with Jehovah to give Rebekah a child, for even after many years of marriage she had no children. Then at last she became pregnant. (Genesis 25:21, tlb)

As Isaac pleaded with God for children, so the Bible encourages us to ask—and even plead—for our most personal and important requests. God wants to grant our requests, but he wants us to ask him. Even then, as Isaac learned, God may decide to withhold his answer for a while in order to (1) deepen our insight into what we really need, (2) broaden our appreciation for his answers, or (3) allow us to mature so we can use his gifts more wisely.

Prayer is far better than complaining to each other.

But, tormented by thirst, they cried out, “Why did you ever take us out of Egypt? Why did you bring us here to die, with our children and cattle too?” (Exodus 17:3, tlb)

Again the people of Israel complained about their problem instead of praying. They had followed God’s leading into the desert, but now were doubting his ability to take care of them. Some problems can be solved by careful thought or by rearranging our priorities. Some can be solved by discussion and good counsel. But some problems can be solved only by prayer. We should make a determined effort to pray when we feel like complaining, because complaining only raises our level of stress. Prayer quiets our thoughts and emotions and prepares us to listen.

Prayer can restore relationship with God.

Then Samson prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord Jehovah, remember me again—please strengthen me one more time, so that I may pay back the Philistines for the loss of at least one of my eyes.” (Judges 16:28, tlb)

In spite of Samson’s past, God still answered his prayer and destroyed the pagan temple and worshipers. God still loved him. He was willing to hear Samson’s prayer of confession and repentance and use him this final time. One of the effects of sin in our life is to keep us from feeling like praying. But perfect moral behavior is not a condition for prayer. Don’t let guilt feelings over sin keep you from your only means of restoration. No matter how long you have been away from God, he is ready to hear from you and restore you to a right relationship. Every situation can be salvaged if you are willing to turn again to him. If God could still work in Samson’s situation, he can certainly make something worthwhile out of yours.

The Art of Prayer

So the other two went on toward Sodom, but the Lord remained with Abraham a while. Then Abraham approached him and said, “Will you kill good and bad alike? Suppose you find fifty godly people there within the city—will you destroy it, and not spare it for their sakes?” (Genesis 18:22-24, tlb)

Prayer is an opportunity to bring our will into line with God’s plan.

Did Abraham change God’s mind? Of course not. The more likely answer is that God changed Abraham’s mind. Abraham knew that God is just and that he punishes sin, but he may have wondered about God’s mercy. Abraham seemed to be probing God’s mind to see how merciful he really was. He left his conversation with God convinced that God was both kind and fair. Our prayers won’t change God’s mind, but they may change ours just as Abraham’s prayer changed his. Prayer helps us better understand the mind of God.

Prayer is an opportunity to demonstrate our trust in God.

Why did God let Abraham question his justice and intercede for a wicked city? Abraham knew that God must punish sin, but he also knew from experience that God is merciful to sinners. God knew there were not ten righteous people in the city, but he was merciful enough to allow Abraham to intercede. He was also merciful enough to help Lot, Abraham’s nephew, get out of Sodom before it was destroyed. God does not take pleasure in destroying the wicked, but he must punish sin. He is both just and merciful. We should be thankful that God’s mercy extends to us.

Mark this well: The Lord has set apart the redeemed for himself. Therefore he will listen to me and answer when I call to him. (Psalm 4:3, tlb)

Prayer is speaking with God.

The godly are those who are faithful and devoted to God. David knew that God would hear him when he called and would answer him. We too can be confident that God listens to our prayers and answers when we call on him. Sometimes we think that God will not hear us because we have fallen short of his high standards for holy living. But if we have trusted Christ for salvation, God has forgiven us, and he will listen to us. When you feel as though your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling, remember that as a believer, you have been set apart by God—and he loves you. He hears and answers, although his answers may not be what you expect. Look at your problems in the light of God’s power instead of looking at God in the shadow of your problems.

So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need. (Hebrews 4:16, tlb)

Prayer is an awesome privilege.

Prayer is our approach to God, and we are to come boldly. Some Christians approach God meekly with heads hung low, afraid to ask him to meet their needs. Others pray flippantly, giving little thought to what they say. Come with reverence because he is your King. But also come with bold assurance because he is your Friend and Counselor.



Jesus prayed that His disciples would experience unity modeled on the unity Jesus experienced with the Father (John 17:11, 21-23). Such unity verifies Jesus’ God-sent mission and the Father’s love for the world. Jesus’ prayer for unity was realized in the life of the earliest church.

The first believers were together in one place; they shared their possessions and were of one heart and soul (Acts 2:1, 43; 4:32). As in the Old Testament, sin threatened the God-ordained unity.

The selfishness of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), the prejudice of those who neglected the Greek-speaking widows (6:1), the rigidness of those who demanded that Gentiles become Jews before becoming disciples (15:1)—all threatened the unity of the church. In every circumstance, however, the Holy Spirit led the church in working out creative solutions that challenged the church to go beyond dissension to ministry (Acts 6:2-7; 15:6-35).

Paul spoke repeatedly of believers as “one body in Christ” which transcends varieties of giftedness (Rom. 12:5-8; 1 Cor. 12:13, 27-30) and human labels (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14-15; 3:6).

For Paul, the unity of the church reflects the unity of the Godhead: one God (1 Cor. 12:6); one Lord (Rom. 10:12; 1 Cor. 12:5; Eph. 4:5); and one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4, 11; also Acts 11:17).

Christian unity has various aspects: the shared experience of Christ as Lord and confession of Christ in baptism (Eph. 4:5, 13); the shared sense of mission (“one mind,” Phil. 2:2); the shared concern for one another (1 Cor. 12:25; “same love,” Phil. 2:2; 1 Pet. 3:8); and the shared experience of suffering for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor. 1:6; Phil. 1:29-30; 1 Thess. 2:14; 1 Pet. 5:9).

The Occult

Scripture condemns such occult practices as spiritism, divination, and astrology, Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:9-12.

The Bible warns against the occult, describing it as an unseen world of wicked spirits called “hairy ones,” Lev. 17:7, Heb.; “destroyers,” Deut. 32:17; Heb.; and demons throughout the NT, wrongly translated “devils.”

An innumerable horde of these unclean bodiless spirits seek to possess or control men and animals, Mark 5:1-13. They are the evil seducing spirits of the last days who deceive men into holding doctrines of demons, 1 Tim. 4:1.

They believe and tremble, Jas. 2:19, recognizing Christ as the Son of God who will eventually cast them into torment, Matt. 8:29.

Possessing superhuman knowledge, they are able to speak the truth as well as lies, 2 Chr. 18:21; Acts 16:17, 18.

They can be overcome only by the power of Christ, Matt. 10:8.

Satan rules the world of the occult, Matt. 12:24-28, through a hierarchy of principalities and powers, Dan. 10:12, 13, 20; Eph. 6:12.

Sacrifices and gifts offered to idols are actually offered to demons, Deut. 32:17; 1 Cor. 10:19-21. Just before the return of Christ,

Satan will direct demons to gather all nations together for the battle of Armageddon, Rev. 16:13-16.

The devil and his occult forces will be imprisoned by Christ after He returns, Isa. 24:21-23; Rev. 20:1-3.

Prayer: Fellowship with God

He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” LUKE 11:2-4

God made us and has redeemed us for fellowship with himself, and that is what prayer is. God speaks to us in and through the contents of the Bible, which the Holy Spirit opens up and applies to us and enables us to understand. We then speak to God about himself, and ourselves, and people in his world, shaping what we say as response to what he has said. This unique form of two-way conversation continues as long as life lasts.

The Bible teaches and exemplifies prayer as a fourfold activity, to be performed by God’s people individually both in private (Matt. 6:5-8) and in company with each other (Acts 1:14; 4:24). Adoration and praise are to be expressed; contrite confession of sin is to be made and forgiveness sought; thanks for benefits received are to be offered; and petitions and supplications for ourselves and others are to be voiced.

The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4) embodies adoration, petition, and confession; the Psalter consists of models of all four elements of prayer.