Expository Thoughts

Expository Thoughts
Expository Thoughts is a blog dedicated to accurate Bible study, preaching, and teaching

Praying the Scripture: A Case Study

By Randy McKinion

Have you ever listened to someone pray and wondered why you don’t (or can’t) pray as they do? From the first, we must remember that prayer is not rendered ineffective because of its lack of eloquence or theological vocabulary. At the same time, this is an area in which believers will consistently grow, not so they can flatter a crowd, but so that they might pray in concert with God’s will. Although it is probably not a good practice to compare the prayers of other men and women, it seems that a prayer—especially when prayed corporately—can vary in its effectiveness in both asking according to the will of God and reflecting with the body of Christ.

My supposition is simple: Praying Scripture promotes growth and effectiveness in prayer. Granted, Scripture must meet a heart compelled to believe in a God who is sovereign and therefore able to answer prayer. That is, a praying heart must trust in the God who desires to answer the prayers of His children. Such was Jesus’ expectation for His disciples (John 15:7). Yet, Scripture provides inspired vocabulary and theology for prayer that pleases the Lord.

Fortunately, Scripture has provided examples of what this looks like. Not only are we given prayers of God’s children through the text, but we also have an example of the manner and result of a servant of God who prays as a reflection of his meditation upon the word of God. We see this in the text of Daniel 9.

Daniel 9:2 makes an interesting shift in the book. Daniel had previously received revelation through visions and dreams. Here, the text shifts to the interpretation of Scripture. Instead of receiving a new divine vision, Daniel reads, tries to understand Jeremiah 25:1, and prays as a response to this text. The particular verse that mentions the 70 years is Jeremiah 25:11 (see also Jeremiah 29:10), but it is pretty clear based on his prayer that he was reading the whole chapter.

As a result of his understanding the text of Jeremiah, Daniel responded in the following manner: “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Daniel literally “turned his face toward the Lord God,” which is a fitting description of prayer. In prayer, believers turn their face from the world, its allurements, and their preoccupation with themselves to the Lord their God. The focus of their mind turns to God Himself and His will for their lives. Daniel’s manner in prayer revealed a determined, fervent heart; not an in-passing, flippant approach to prayer. He was desperate, and he lingered long before the Lord in order to understand God’s will. This was not simply a quick request before reading Scripture to ask for God’s blessing; this was a prolonged time of fasting and sitting before the Lord in a humble state. We learn much from Daniel’s countenance, but we also learn from the way he approached both the text and his response to it. Though the passages resonates with the rest of the Old Testament, two examples suffice to make our point.

1.      Daniel and Moses

Moreover, as an example for us, Daniel’s prayer demonstrates how he prayed in accordance with the text. For example, he begins his prayer, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Daniel 9:4). Consider the words of Deuteronomy 7:9:

Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.

Now, even if Daniel was not quoting from this text—which I believe he is doing—he is at least echoing the words of God given in the text. As such, there is a resonance between his words and those of the Pentateuch. As such, the implication is important. According to Moses in Deuteronomy 7:9, when God brought His people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and redeemed them from slavery, this should have served as a perpetual example of how God would be faithful to the covenant that He had made with His people. This covenant was the promise that God had made to Abraham that these people would be God’s chosen people. Godhad promised to bless them, to multiply their seed, and to give them the land of Canaan. Thus, Moses and Daniel recognized that God is one who keeps His covenant, that He would keep His lovingkindness (or loyal love). In fact, later in the prayer, Daniel reflects upon the Lord’s work in bringing His people “out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand” (Daniel 9:15).

2.      Daniel and Solomon

Daniel’s prayer continues: “We have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances” (Daniel 9:5). In setting these three phrases together, Daniel’s prayer seems to be bringing together the truths of Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 1:1. When Solomon had finished building the temple and when the ark had been brought in, he prayed a prayer of dedication. Near the end, he acknowledged the sinful tendencies that they as a nation had, and so he made the following request of the Lord in 1 Kings 8:46:

When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near.

This was the exact case, the reason Daniel was in exile to begin with. God had given them over to their enemies because of their continued sin. Solomon continued:

If they take thought in the land where they have been taken captive, and repent and make supplication to You in the land of those who have taken them captive, saying, “We have sinned and have committed iniquity, we have acted wickedly.” (1Kgs 8:47)

These are the same words that Daniel uses to make confession. If God’s people were to find themselves in exile, the proper response was to confess that they had sinned, committed iniquity, and acted wickedly, just as Daniel confessed. He seems to have “taken thought” just as Solomon had prayed later readers would.

What is more, the balance of Daniel’s prayer seems to reflect the rest of Solomon’s as well:

If they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul … and pray to You … then hear their prayer and their supplication [plea for mercy] in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people … and make them objects of compassion before those who have taken them captive, that they may have compassion on them. (1Kgs 8:47–50)

What Solomon had foreseen and prayed about, Daniel was living. He and his people found themselves in exile because of the sins of their fathers. Now the question remained: Would they respond correctly by not following the pattern of their fathers’ reaction? In this prayer, Daniel demonstrates that he was responding correctly, in line with Solomon’s prayer hundreds of years before.


I am pretty certain that good praying is not marked by its use of King James English. I think what sticks out in my mind about such individuals is that their prayers are well versed in Scripture. I think this is the reason that their prayers seem to be an expression of the heart of God. They know Him well, because they have spent time in His Word. This reflects itself in their praying as they view life through His lens, not their own.

For those of us who struggle with this, praying in light of Scripture, I believe, is an important principle for modern believers. If God speaks to us in His word—and He does—and if we desire to pray according to His will—as we should—then we will consistently pray in light of the text. When we read Scripture, in other words, we learn what God’s heart truly loves and what He desires. Therefore, when we pray with the words of Scripture, we are assured that our requests are not self-centered or outside of His will. Our requests will be focused upon Him and His glory and in line with His larger plans. When we read the Bible for our devotions or when reflecting upon Sunday’s sermon, it would be helpful for us to rephrase what we have learned in a prayer. This will help us develop not only a better vocabulary for prayer but also train our hearts to respond to God in a way that pleases Him. In many ways, this is why the book of Psalms has been so well loved by believers. In it we find the writer dealing with the highs and lows of life, and we learn how he responds to those situations with his words. The same is true of Daniel in this passage. His mind was filled with the Word of God. Much of the language he uses in his prayer is not new to him; it is taken from what he was reading in Jeremiah. This prayer may leave you saying, “If I could only pray like Daniel!” Well, the good news is that you can, because he was simply a faithful student of God’s words, and he recognized their continued validity in his life.

So, through these couple example from Daniel’s prayer, the pattern emerges whereby God’s servant reads the text, works diligently to understand that text within the context of Scripture, and responds to the text with requests influenced and governed by God’s words. Following Daniel’s example can ensure that our prayers clearly articulate the will of God, with the full understanding that in our weakness “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Randy McKinion is a regular contribtuor to Expository Thoughts. He is a husband and father of three and Associate Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages at shepherds seminary in Cary, NC.

“He’s in a Better Place” and Other Things Christians Shouldn’t Say

By Paul Lamey

Immediately after he passed away, a nurse came in and made an empty attempt at comfort, “He’s in a better place” she said. As soon as the words were uttered they seemed to bounce around the room with nowhere to comfortably land. For the sake of context, this was spoken to a dear woman, only nanoseconds removed from the loss of her husband and best friend of forty-eight years. Better place? Really? Is it wise to tell a woman who has just lost the closest of human relationships that your husband is better off because he’s no longer here with you? Regardless of intentions and whatever this might mean, I’m convinced that Christians can do better.

Now this is not to open a discussion on the nature of heaven. I believe that “heaven is for real,” not because some four year old has an out of body experience and lives to tell about it. Heaven, like hell, is real because the Bible assumes the veracity of both. Christians are often easily duped into throwing out the Bible and taking up second-hand experiences as proof of this and that. We should remember that the Bible is sufficient reason enough to believe that after our earthly existence, our souls will be immediately present with Christ and will await a future resurrection of our bodies in which the ultimate destination (i.e., place) becomes a new heaven a new earth. This I know because the Bible tells me so.

Could this be what that poor nurse was getting at? Was she attempting to emphasize that, “he’s in a better place”?  If so, it would seem that the weight of scripture would be on her side. The great Apostle surely indicates as much, stating that to be absent from the body is “to be at home with the Lord” (emphasis mine, 2 Cor 5:8). Also, we believe in the immortality of the soul so if it’s not here then it has to be somewhere. So if this were her intention she would be theologically correct on a number of points. However, I don’t think this is what she was aiming for.

The problem of the nurse’s hollow comfort is one that is painfully acute with Christians. We want to say something, anything that might bring comfort so we grab for aphorisms that have been handed down to us by our own experiences or from the self-help section at the Christian bookstore. In so doing, we grab the mantle laid down by the likes of Job’s friends. He too had questions about “place” and the afterlife. Poor Job wondered, “Man expires, and where is he?” (Job 14:10). His friend, Eliphaz, chimes in and says that such questions are “useless talk” and then proceeds to wax on about his life experiences.

You see the problem is not with the technicality of the answer from the nurse. On the theological merits, she was correct—he was in a better place. The problem is that the suffering widow was not asking a question. She was grieving, sobbing, and her mind was undoubtedly racing in many directions. The nurse was answering a question, that at least in that instant, no one was asking. In such moments it is imperative that Christians learn the discipline and wisdom of holding our tongues. This is not to say that we take up vows of silence when thrust into these situations but less is more.

The Proverbs speak of the delight of a “timely word” (15:23). If we were to unpack the fullness of what this means then we would see that it is a word that is measured with wisdom, truth, and patient compassion. A timely word can be a word delayed either in a letter, email, or note of sympathy. A timely word may be a conversation over coffee months later when important questions do arise. A timely word may be no word at all, at least in that moment.

I was recently reminded of this from the likes of an atheist no less. In a sad Vanity Fair essay Christopher Hitchens, who is suffering from esophageal cancer, says something that I was unable to forget:

So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.

In the essay, Hitchens was bemoaning the dictum that “whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” This line, probably adapted from Nitzsche who borrowed it from Goethe, rings hollow for Hitchens. It’s nothing more than a “facile maxim.” This led me to wonder, do we Christians have our own mottos that have a ring of truth in the moment yet fail to deliver (“live up to their apparent billing”)? You bet we do, so let us agree to part ways with them and redeem our conversations. This will mean that when we do speak, it will be the truth in love with the goal of helping one another mature in Christ (Eph 4:15).

(Paul Lamey is a husband and father of four. He is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL and the editor-in-chief of Expository Thoughts)

The Hardest Sermon You'll Ever Preach (or hear)

[Editor’s note: Today’s post comes from a good friend of the blog, Rich Ryan. In 1993 Rich joined grace bible church in Midlothian, VA where, since 2004, he now serves as the Pastor-teacher. The following article begins a new discussion on the subject of funerals. This is a topic that is difficult, personal, and always reflects one’s theology for good or for ill. Over the next few posts, we hope to provide some pastoral insight into ministering to those who grieve.]

By Rich Ryan

Nothing can fully prepare you for it. As I reflect over the most challenging sermons I have preached, no difficult text or exegetical conundrum has ever been as difficult as preaching a memorial service for a close family member. Put any family member in that slot, mother, father, brother, sister, wife, or child.

In October of 2006 I got the call that my closest (in age) brother was admitted to the hospital with a brain tumor. After a successful surgery to remove it, we were sucker punched again to find out that this was simply a deposit of a much larger cancer that was in his liver, pancreas and bones. The diagnosis was, “Stage-4, terminal.”

At that moment our family was thrown onto the stage of suffering. To be sure, his immediate family has known exceedingly more pain than any of us have, but as a family, we’ve known joy and grief in ways that are honestly inexpressible. On one hand you are able to rejoice that your brother, who loves the Lord, is going home. It presses you to live and affirm your alien residency. At the same time, like Jesus with Lazarus, you are gripped with the overwhelming grief that sin permeates this world and its effects are real and relentless.

As the weeks unfolded after Tim’s diagnosis I had many excellent talks with my brother. We talked practically about God’s sovereignty in ways I never have before. Honestly friends, “Trust God” can ring hollow in the ears of a person whose entire life has just ground to a halt. All their dreams and aspirations for life with their family have just been cut tragically short. I did a lot of listening, weeping and mourning with him.

One night as I was driving home from his house (about 90 miles away) my wife asked me the question I hoped no one would ask, “Do you think they will ask you to do the funeral?” You see, up to this point in ministry, I had officiated at three funerals. Honestly, they are very difficult for me. I am VERY emotional and I’ve struggled to get through the service when the person was a close friend. How could I possibly do my brother’s funeral? Our answer was a steadfast, “No!”

But in time, God worked in my heart to show me what I would be missing. Hundreds and hundreds of people would be there – my brother was a popular guy. Most of my extended family would be there. Many of his friends and business associates would be there, mourning the tragic events that shortened this father of four’s life to a mere 47 years. Questions would abound – Why him? Why so young? Maybe even, “Why would God allow this?”

After preaching through John I came to realize that God often uses the stages of suffering to make himself known to the unbelieving world. Jesus said it would happen and even prayed that God would do that in John 16 and 17. So as I prayerfully considered my significant failings at emotional services, I realized that this was too great an opportunity to pass up.

Who cares if I blubber my way through parts of it? Who cares if it’s the worst delivery I’ve ever given? What mattered most is that many in this crowd were hopelessly lost in their sin. I had the only answer to cure their hopelessness and I had a captive audience, gripped by the nearness of eternity. I had the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. How could I not tell them the good news? So, by God’s good grace, I took up the mantle and prepared my sermon for my brother’s memorial service.

What makes it the hardest sermon you’ll ever preach is the emotional tug of war that will go on within you. On one hand you’ll know that your brother is in glory, no pain, no cancer, no tears and sleepless nights of agony. You’ll smile and shout, “Hallelujah!” Yet on the other hand you’ll look at the faces of his wife and kids, your mom and dad, your brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and know that no Thanksgiving will ever be the same, no Christmas will ever be the same. There will always be one empty chair and you’ll miss his renditions of the favorite family stories. You’ll miss his laugh and smile so much. You know you’ll see him again soon, but for the moment, the vapor that is this life will seem like an eternity. In the midst of all of that, you’ll have to preach words of hope and comfort to lost and dying souls. This is the paradox of unspeakable joy mixed with profound grief. Possibly, this is a mere hint of what the Apostle means when he reminds the church with a gentle caution, “to not grieve as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 1:13).

What Ever Happened to Expository Preaching? (Part Two)

By Matt Waymeyer

[See Part One here]

In his book, He Is Not Silent, Al Mohler raises a provocative question: “If you picked an evangelical church at random and attended a Sunday morning service there, how likely is it that you would hear a faithful expository sermon, one that takes its message and its structure from the biblical text?”[i] In most communities the odds would not be very good. As Steven Lawson has suggested, when it comes to solid Bible preaching there is nothing short of a famine in the land.[ii]

In the eyes of many, expository preaching is simply no longer relevant because it fails to connect in any kind of meaningful way with the average person in today’s culture. This criticism, of course, is hardly new. Back in 1928, a prominent liberal Baptist minister named Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote an article for Harper’s Magazine entitled, “What’s the Matter with Preaching?” In the article, Fosdick wrote:

Many preachers indulge habitually in what they call expository sermons. They take a passage from Scripture, and, proceeding on the assumption that the people attending the church that morning are deeply concerned about what the passage means, they spend their half hour or more on historical exposition of the verse or the chapter, ending with some attendant practical applications to the auditors. Could any procedure be more surely predestined to dullness and futility? Who seriously supposes that, as a matter of fact, one in a hundred of the congregation cares (to start with) what Moses, Isaiah, Paul, or John meant in those special verses, or came to church deeply concerned about it. Nobody else who talks to the public so assumes that the vital interests of the people are located in the meaning of words spoken 2000 years ago.[iii]

Fosdick himself died in 1969, but his view of expository preaching lives on. Many still see it as the epitome of dullness and futility. Many still insist that it fails to connect to the vital interests of the average person in the congregation. Many still believe it is doomed to failure because it hasn’t kept up with the evolving needs of contemporary culture.

According to Mohler, this rapid decline of expository preaching has been one of most troubling developments of the last several decades.

Numerous influential voices within evangelicalism are suggesting that the age of the expository sermon is now past. In its place, some contemporary preachers now substitute messages intentionally designed to reach secular or superficial congregations—messages that avoid preaching a biblical text and thus avoid a potentially embarrassing confrontation with biblical truth.[iv]

Various alternatives to expository preaching may indeed connect with the masses and fill the pews, but at what cost? Time will eventually tell.

[i]Mohler, He Is Not Silent, 50.

[ii]Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003).

[iii]Harry Emerson Fosdick, “What Is the Matter with Preaching?” in Mike Graves, ed. What’s the Matter with Preaching Today? (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 9.

[iv]Mohler, He Is Not Silent, 16.

Matt Waymeyer is a regular contributor to Expository Thoughts. He is a husband and father of five and Instructor in Bible Exposition and New Testament at The Master's Seminary in Sun Valley, CA.

What Ever Happened to Expository Preaching?

By Matt Waymeyer

In September of 1982—more than a decade before the rise of the Internet—journalist Allen Neuharth launched a newspaper that would revolutionize the world of print media. What made USA Today so unique is that its approach and design were based on the most thorough market research ever performed on behalf of a newspaper. By surveying readers about their likes and dislikes, Neuharth was able to present the news in a way that catered to the desires of his potential audience.

In his research, Neuharth discovered that people liked lots of color, lots of pictures, and lots of graphics. They wanted short, easy-to-read articles that didn’t continue on a later page. They wanted less international news and more human interest stories. In short, they wanted something that reminded them more of television than a newspaper. So that’s what he gave them. And even though critics began referring to USA Today as “the junk food of journalism,” the end product was an amazing success, at least in terms of circulation.

Unfortunately, many churches today have taken a similar approach to designing their worship services. The trends reveal that people want less doctrine and more drama, less preaching and more props, less declaration and more dialogue. They want short, easy-to-listen-to sermons that don’t get too deep and that don’t focus too much on God and not enough on me. In short, they want something that reminds them of the Sunday morning edition of USA Today. And that’s exactly what they’re given.

In the process, essential elements of biblical worship are often compromised, if not abandoned altogether. One of the most common casualties is the faithful proclamation of the Word of God. For this reason, churches that are committed to the expositional preaching of Scripture are becoming increasingly difficult to find. As David Jackman writes:

For every pulpit won, another seems to be lost, not necessarily to heresy, but to the Bible being relegated from the [driver’s] seat to the passenger seat, where it makes a useful companion, a map to be consulted from time to time, but does not really determine the direction of the car.[i]

One study of 200 evangelical sermons found that neither the content nor the organization of the message arose from a biblical passage in more than half of those sermons. In his book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach, T. David Gordon estimates that of all the sermons he has heard in the past 25 years, less than 10 percent were demonstrably based on a biblical text.[ii] Instead, the content of most sermons was simply asserted, presumably on the authority of the preacher himself. In too many churches the Bible has indeed been relegated to the passenger’s seat.

In contrast, the goal of expository preaching is to get back to the Book—to uphold the authority of Scripture by proclaiming the message of God Himself. The expository preacher has been divinely commissioned to stand before the people and declare with authority: “Thus sayeth the Lord!” He is, in a very real sense, the mouthpiece of Yahweh who has been called to speak forth the utterances of God (1 Pet 4:10). To those who believe that the relevance of expository preaching has long since past, this may seem naïve. But for those who take seriously the biblical mandate to “preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2), it’s the only option worth considering.

The goal of this series is very simple—to clarify the nature of expository preaching and to explain why it is so crucial to the future of the church. This is not a manual on how to prepare a message or preach a sermon, but rather a call to exalt the supremacy of Scripture in the pulpit. Our ultimate desire is not only to strengthen and encourage those who have already committed themselves to the proclamation of God’s Word, but also to challenge those who may have exchanged that proclamation for something else. After all, junk food may be relatively harmless when it comes to reading a newspaper. But not when it comes to feeding the soul.

[i]David Jackman, “What’s So Special About Preaching?” Inaugural EMA Address on Preaching, 2006.

[ii]T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messenger (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing Company, 2009), 18.

Matt Waymeyer is a regular contributor to Expository Thoughts. He is a husband and father of five and Instructor in Bible Exposition and New Testament at The Master's Seminary in Sun Valley, CA.

Did the Old Testament Prophets Know What They Were Saying?

By Matt Waymeyer

When reading Scripture, the tendency of many Christians is to think in terms of what this verse means to me. What the Bible means to a given individual, however, is completely irrelevant, for the true meaning of Scripture is found not in the subjective impression of the contemporary reader but rather in the specific intention of the original author. For this reason, we often speak of “authorial intent” as the goal of Bible interpretation.

But this only raises a further question: exactly whose intent are we seeking to ascertain? The intent of the human author or the intent of the divine author? Or is it possible that there is actually no tangible difference between the two? Herein lies one of the key issues in the field of hermeneutics today—the question of whether the human intention and divine intention of Scripture are one and the same.

A Closer Look at a Difficult Passage

Some interpreters point to 1 Peter 1:10 as evidence of a sharp distinction between of the human and divine intention of OT prophecy. In this passage, the apostle Peter writes:

(10) As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, (11) seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. (12) It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.

According to this view, 1 Peter 1:10-12 teaches that the OT prophets did not understand the meaning of their own prophecies. For this reason, it is said, the human and divine intent of Scripture cannot be regarded as one and the same.

At issue here is perspicuity of the Old Testament. The term “perspicuity” refers to the overall clarity of God’s Word in which the meaning of Scripture was basically clear and comprehensible to its original audience. Some interpreters effectively deny the perspicuity of the Old Testament by insisting that its true meaning could only be understood hundreds of years later in light of the New Testament. This was the conviction of George Eldon Ladd, who insisted that “the New Testament frequently interprets Old Testament prophecies in a way not suggested by the Old Testament context.”

Many who embrace this view refer to this as the sensus plenior of the Old Testament. Sensus plenior means “fuller sense,” and it refers to an additional, deeper meaning of an OT passage which was (a) intended by God, (b) not intended or understood by the human author, (c) not understood by the original audience, and (d) not known to exist until it was discerned and revealed by the NT writer. According to the sensus plenior view, the Holy Spirit embedded a hidden meaning in the OT passage even though the original human author and audience were completely unaware of it, and the NT citations of the OT often bring out this fuller meaning. If 1 Peter 1:10-12 teaches that the OT prophets were unaware of the meaning of their prophecies, it would seem to provide biblical justification for this view.

On the contrary, the ignorance of the OT prophets as described in 1 Peter 1:10-12 has been greatly overstated. As Walt Kaiser observes, 1 Peter 1:10-12 “decisively affirms that the prophets spoke knowingly on five rather precise topics: 1) the Messiah, 2) his sufferings, 3) his glory, 4) the sequence of events (for example, suffering was followed by the Messiah’s glorification), and 5) that the salvation announced in those pre-Christian days was not limited to the prophets’ audiences, but it also included the readers of Peter’s day (v. 12).” In other words, what the prophets unsuccessfully strived to understand was not the meaning of their prophecies but rather the identity of the Messiah and the time of His coming.

To clarify the difference, it is helpful to distinguish between the “sense” and the “referent” of a given word or prophecy. The “sense” of a word is its meaning, the actual concept conveyed by the word itself. In contrast, the “referent” of a word is the specific thing/person/event that the word refers to in a given context. For example, the sense of the word “man” is an adult male, but its referent will vary according to the specific man being identified or referred to in a given context. With this distinction in mind, 1 Peter 1:10-12 does not teach that the OT prophets were curious about—and yet often ignorant of—the meaning of what they wrote, for their careful search was not for the sense of their prophecies but rather for the identity of the referent, as well as the time of His arrival. Ignorance of the referent does not imply ignorance of the sense.

A Surprise Meaning?

To illustrate, consider the following scenario. A man decides to surprise his family with a trip to the beach after work. So he calls his wife from the office and asks her to tell the children that he has a “surprise” for them when he gets home, but he doesn’t tell her what the surprise is. As a messenger to the children, the man’s wife doesn’t possess the full picture of his plans for the future because she doesn’t know the identity of the actual surprise. But when she gathers the children and tells them, “Daddy has a ‘surprise’ for you when he comes home,” she accurately understands the meaning of the message she has delivered on his behalf, and she has delivered the entire message that her husband intended her to deliver.

In this way, her ignorance of the referent of the word “surprise” (a trip to the beach) doesn’t render her ignorant of the sense/meaning of the message she has communicated. Furthermore, her ignorance of the referent of the word “surprise” does not mean that there is a gap between the man’s intention as the ultimate author of the message and her intention as the one who delivered his message. After all, his intended meaning and her intended meaning are one and the same: “Daddy has a surprise for the children when he gets home.” He obviously knows much more about the surprise than she does, but this is indeed the entirety of the message he has chosen to reveal to her—and communicate through her—at least at this point in time.

In the same way, even though the divine author of the OT prophecies understood full well all of the specific referents in those prophecies, the fact that the prophets themselves didn’t necessarily know the identity of these referents does not indicate that they didn’t understand the meaning of their own messages. Nor does it indicate that there were deeper, secondary meanings in their words that went beyond their own intention as the human authors of Scripture (see Acts 2:30). God obviously knew much more about the bigger picture than the prophet, but the prophecy contains the entirety of the message He has chosen to reveal to him—and communicate through him—at least at this particular moment in redemptive history. Additional details (and therefore clarity) would come later, often through a different prophet.

Furthermore, even though the prophets understood the meaning of their prophecies, this does not mean they always understood all of the yet-to-be-revealed events surrounding the fulfillment of their prophecies. A given prophet understood the unique contribution of the piece that he was adding to the puzzle, but not necessarily how his piece fit into the yet-to-be-added-later pieces that would eventually surround his piece and fill out the overall picture. Sometimes this would leave the OT prophet unaware of exactly how and when his prophecy would be fulfilled, but this does not mean he didn’t understand what he was saying. The human and divine intention are one and the same.

Matt Waymeyer is a regular contributor to Expository Thoughts. He is a husband and father of five and Instructor in Bible Exposition and New Testament at the master's seminary in Sun Valley, CA.

Can We Trust the New Testament?

By Matt Waymeyer

Several years ago I was walking in a park and met a man who identified himself as a pantheist. As I shared the Gospel with him, he raised a series of objections, the first of which concerned the reliability of Scripture. “The Bible was going along fine,” he explained, “until King James came along and changed it all. Now we have no idea what the original Bible actually said.”

The man’s objection was obviously more than a bit misinformed, but it does raise a significant question: If we do not possess the original manuscripts of the Bible, if the existing manuscripts do not completely agree with each other, and if there is no absolutely sure method of determining the original reading where these differences exist, then how can we have confidence in the Bible we possess today?

The points of difference between existing manuscripts are known as textual variants, and the process of determining the original wording where variants exist is known as textual criticism. Because this process is at least partly subjective in nature, it is not infallible and therefore we cannot know with absolute certainty what the original manuscripts said in a given place. For this reason, the question is indeed a significant one: Can we really trust the Bible as it has been handed down to us?

This question is especially important for pastors. Not only do we have the responsibility to shepherd those who are struggling with this issue, but we also come to difficult textual variants in the course of our biblical exposition. A few years ago I was preaching through the Gospel of John on Sunday morning and I came to the account of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53. After studying the manuscript evidence, I became convinced that it was not part of the original autographs, so I titled my sermon “Why You Can Trust Your Bible (Even Though This Passage Shouldn’t Be In It).” Not exactly the Sunday you’re hoping for a lot of visitors, but it was a very instructive and helpful time for the congregation.

In that sermon, I took the opportunity to explain not only why I believe John 7:53 was added later, but also three reasons why the differences between New Testament manuscripts should not shake our confidence in the reliability of the biblical text. Those three reasons were (1) the abundance of existing manuscripts, (2) the insignificance of most variants, and (3) the preservation of primary doctrines.

The Abundance of Existing Manuscripts

First, the New Testament is by far the most remarkably preserved text of the ancient world, both in terms of the number of existing manuscripts as well as the temporal proximity between the earliest manuscripts and the original they represent. In fact, as of 1994, there were 5,656 existing manuscripts containing all or part of the Greek New Testament, as well as more than 10,000 manuscripts in Latin and more than 1,000 in other languages, all abundant numbers in comparison with other books of the ancient world. Furthermore, the earliest manuscript of the New Testament is only one generation after the originals were written, and many are within four centuries of the originals.

By way of comparison, only ten manuscripts of Caesar’s Gallic Wars exist, the earliest dating 900 years after Caesar; only eight manuscripts of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War exist, the earliest dating 1,300 years after Thucydides; only eight manuscripts of Herodotus’ History exist, the earliest dating 1,300 years after Herodotus; and only two manuscripts of Tacitus’ Histories and Annals exist, the earlier one dating 700 years after Tacitus. As W. Edward Glenny notes, “the number and early date of the NT manuscripts give us great confidence that God’s Word has been preserved in these documents.”

The Insignificance of Most Variants

Second, a high percentage of variant readings in the existing manuscripts are relatively insignificant. In fact, of the 40,000 variants that exist, it is estimated that only 1-2% substantially affect the meaning of the text because the other 98% consist of “insignificant matters like spelling, word order, differences in style, or confusion concerning synonyms” (Glenny). Furthermore, as Daniel Wallace notes:

In that two percent, support always exists for what the original said—never is one left with mere conjecture. In other words it is not that 90 percent of the original text exists in the extant Greek manuscripts—rather, 110 percent exists. Textual criticism is not involved in reinventing the original; it is involved in discarding the spurious, in burning the dross to get to the gold.

Therefore, the vast majority of the New Testament is textually certain, and in the vast majority of the cases where variants exist, there is little doubt as to what the original words were.

The Preservation of Primary Doctrines

Third, no major doctrine of the Christian faith is affected in any significant way by a viable textual variant. For this reason, even though one cannot have absolute certainty regarding some of the textual variants, he can have confidence in the overall reliability of the New Testament. However, for those who are still unsettled by the remaining margin of error, D.A. Carson draws a helpful analogy:

In my judgment the degree of uncertainty raised by textual questions is a great deal less than the degree of uncertainty raised by hermeneutical questions. In other words, even when the text is certain there is often an honest difference of opinion among interpreters as to the precise meaning of the passage. Few evangelicals, I would like to think, will claim infallibility for their interpretations of the Scriptures; they are prepared to live with the (relatively) small degree of uncertainty raised by such limitations. The doubt raised by textual uncertainties, I submit, is far, far smaller.

In the end, we simply need to fall back on faith, resting in the confidence that our sovereign God not only inspired the text of Scripture but also providentially oversaw its preservation in such a way that the Bible we possess today is indeed reliable. This may not alleviate the need to do the hard work of textual criticism, but it should alleviate the concern that we cannot trust the New Testament. It is nothing less than the infallible, inerrant Word of God Himself.

Matt Waymeyer is a regular contributor to Expository Thoughts. He is a husband and father of five and Instructor in Bible Exposition and New Testament at the master's seminary in Sun Valley, CA.

"Will You Pray For Me?"

By Paul Lamey

Looking up with tears in his eyes, he could only mumble the words, “Will you pray for me?” He was a fellow pastor in a nearby town that I had agreed to meet for lunch. When he initially called, he indicated that he was straining under the weight of problems in his congregation. To be honest, the problems in his church are not uncommon because sin has a way of finding a home in every flock. Struggling marriages, difficult deacons, wayward children, job losses, deaths, and an occasional “anonymous email” had greatly increased the burdens of ministry for this brother.

The truth is, this story could be repeated thousands of times over. It is safe to assume that the leadership of your church has and will face many unique challenges to their ministry. Will you commit to pray for your leaders? I hope the answer to this question is “yes” but I also know that many struggle with how to pray for church leaders. Scripture is replete with examples and encouragements to pray for those who minister the Word. This is especially pronounced in the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Against the backdrop of this ministry we learn how to pray for ministers of the gospel.  

As Paul concludes the last chapters of his letter to the church at Rome, he says something that we should not easily pass over. In light of surmounting opposition in Judea, Paul petitions the Roman church, “strive together with me in your prayers” (Romans 15:30). In the context we learn that Paul wanted to partner with this church for his missionary journeys but he also knew that they could spiritually refresh his spirits. As he does here, Paul often attached the prayers of the people to the importance of his ministry of the Word (cf. Romans 15:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:1).  There are at least three requests that Paul continually brings to the churches.

1. Pray that the Word is Received

Church leaders are called on to do many things but one thing they must do is teach the Word (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:9). In the course of any given week this takes place over lunch, in counseling, at bedsides, and from pulpits. Pastors are not called to give opinions but to faithfully shepherd the flock of God as heralds of God’s Word (1 Peter 1:1). Notice how Paul calls the church at Ephesus to pray:

“and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:19).

Though Paul’s apostolic ministry is markedly different from that of elders today, the bottom line is the same, “that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly.” Pray that your leaders will speak with boldness, clarity, conviction, and pastoral compassion from God’s Word. Also, that they would dispense this ministry as they “ought to speak.” The temptation to “tickle ears” is great so pastors must be diligent (2 Timothy 2:3). Pray that your church will receive the Word with obedience and joy (1 Thessalonians 1:13; Hebrews 13:17).

2. Pray that the Word is Clear

As already mentioned, ministry is often attended with great difficulty. In Paul’s case it was the constant threat of imprisonment, beatings, shipwreck, and fierce opposition to his preaching. Most people reading this will not have a pastor who has been imprisoned but for many around the world that is not the case. I have met pastors in Russia who have suffered greatly in times past because of their preaching. One does not need to be imprisoned, however, to know that ministers often face agonizing opposition. Through the trials of ministry Paul’s desire was that the Word would not be obscured by such momentary struggles.

“praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:3).

In light of his chains, in the face of intense opposition, he asked the church members at Colossae to pray that the Word would be clear. Pray that your ministers will devote themselves to the Word and dispense it with clarity. Pray that their teaching will unfold the light of God’s Word in such a way that will instruct, exhort, and convict.

3. Pray that the Word is Fruitful

“Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you” (2 Thessalonians 2:1).

Bearing fruit is not necessarily the same as success, at least by any common standard. All pastors want to see fruit in their respective ministries. I’ve never met a pastor who wanted his church to die and become spiritually stagnant. The lasting measure of a fruitful ministry is not measured by how many show up on a given Sunday. Fruitfulness is seen in lives that have been transformed by the message they here (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Pray, as Paul counsels, that the Word of the Lord will spread rapidly and that God will be glorified in the life of your congregation.

So What?

Today, I’m asking you to do something that maybe you have never considered doing. Pray for those who minister the Word to you day in and day out. Pray for their wives, children, holiness, diligence, compassion, and fortitude. Pray that they will labor long in the study of God’s Word so that your life can reap the benefits. Pray that they will speak with a clear passion and love for Christ. Pray that they will not burn out or worse, fall away. One writer says it this way, “Without prayer, the gospel can neither be preached effectively, promulgated faithfully, experienced in the heart, nor be practiced in the life. And for the very simple reason that by leaving prayer out of the catalogue of religious duties, we leave God out, and His work cannot progress without Him.”[1]

I’m asking you on behalf of your pastor, “Will you pray for me?”

[1]Quoted in D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 221.


Paul Lamey is the editor-in-chief of Expository Thoughts. He is a husband and father of four and Pastor of Preaching and Leadership Development at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL.

If God is Sovereign, Why Pray (Part 3)

[Editor's Note: Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here]

By Matt Waymeyer

4. God actually does respond to our prayers.

The fourth reason that believers should pray is that God not only can but actually does change the course of history in response to prayer. Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7). As Wayne Grudem points out, Jesus “makes a clear connection between seeking things from God and receiving them. When we ask, God responds” (systematic theology, 377).

Scripture is filled with examples of God granting to His people what they have requested in their prayers of petition and intercession. 1 Chronicles 1:10 records the prayer of Jabez in which he said, “Oh that Thou wouldst bless me indeed, and enlarge my border, and that Thy hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldst keep me from harm, that it may not pain me!” In response to Jabez’s prayer, “God granted him what he requested” (v. 10b). In Exodus 32:10, God told Moses of His intentions to destroy the people of Israel because of their idolatry. But Moses interceded on behalf of Israel (Exodus 32:11), and in response to his prayer God relented and did not destroy them (Exodus 32:14). And as James records, God responded to the earnest prayers of Elijah in both initiating and ending a three-and-a-half-year drought (James 5:17; also see Genesis 18:22; Genesis 32:26; Daniel 10:12; Amos 7:1; Acts 4:29; Acts 10:31; and Acts 12:5).

At the same time that we acknowledge that God is sovereign, we must also acknowledge that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16; cf. James 4:2). Neither of these truths can be denied, and neither should be emphasized to detriment of the other. In fact, immediately after answering the question of how to pray in Luke 11:2, Jesus goes on to answer the question of why to pray by giving two reasons—because God rewards diligence in prayer by granting requests (Luke 11:5), and because God delights in giving good gifts to His children (Luke 11:11).

In the words of Richard Pratt, “Prayer is a powerful human effort that can significantly affect not only the lives of individuals but the very course of world history” (pray with your eyes open, 112). This truth, no doubt, should be a powerful motive for the children of God to pray. As Grudem writes:

If we were really convinced that prayer changes the way God acts, and that God does bring about remarkable changes in the world in response to prayer…then we would pray much more than we do. If we pray little, it is probably because we do not really believe that prayer accomplishes much at all (systematic theology, 377).

5. God has ordained prayer as a means by which He accomplishes His eternal purposes.

At this point, some may wonder how it is that Scripture can teach both that God providentially brings all things to pass in conformity with His eternal purpose and that the prayers of men can have a significant affect in the unfolding of world history. The seeming contradiction between these two truths vanishes, however, when one realizes that “the same God who has decreed the end has also decreed that His end shall be reached through His appointed means, and one of these is prayer” (a.w. pink, the sovereignty of god, 167). In other words, God in His infinite wisdom was pleased to ordain prayer to be a means through which He accomplishes His good pleasure in and through His creation. As Pink writes:

God has decreed that certain events shall come to pass, but He has also decreed that these events shall come to pass through the means He has appointed for their accomplishment. God has elected certain ones to be saved, but He has also decreed that these ones shall be saved through the preaching of the Gospel. The Gospel, then, is one of the appointed means for the working out of the eternal counsel of the Lord; and prayer is another. God has decreed the means as well as the end, and among the means is prayer (ibid., 171).

Understanding this relationship between the sovereignty of God and the prayers of men begins with recognizing the comprehensive nature of God’s eternal purpose. Richard Pratt writes:

God’s plan is so comprehensive that it not only includes the final destinies of things but also includes the secondary, creaturely processes that work together to accomplish these ends. For instance, God does not simply ordain light to shine on the earth each day; He also employs the sun, the moon, the stars, and countless other things to accomplish that end. God does not merely determine that someone will recover from a disease; He uses doctors and medicine to accomplish the healing. As the playwright of history, God did not simply write an ending for the book of time. He wrote every word on every page so that all events lead to the grand finale (Pray With Your Eyes Open, 109-10).[1]

In other words, the “all things” which God works out “according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) includes the means that He uses to bring about His ultimate ends. God uses the sun to bring light to the earth, He uses doctors to restore people to health, and He uses prayer to bring about many things He has purposed in eternity past.

When someone wants to cross the street safely, he uses the crosswalk and looks both ways before doing so; when he desires his family members to turn to Christ for salvation, he seeks to proclaim the gospel to them; when he desires to provide for his family, he works hard at his place of employment. And in the same way, when he desires such-and-such to happen, he prays to God to bring it about, recognizing that prayer is one of the means through which God brings about His purposes here on earth.[2]

Several examples in Scripture illustrate that God has ordained prayer as a means to accomplish His eternal plans. Let’s consider three of them. First, when Abraham sojourned in Gerar in Genesis 20:1, he lied and told King Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, at which time Abimelech took Sarah into his harem of wives (v. 2). In response, God closed all the wombs of the household of Abimelech and threatened the king with further judgment if he did not restore Sarah to Abraham (vv. 7, 17). However, at the same time that God warned Abimelech of this judgment, He also told him, “[Abraham] is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live” (v. 7). In other words, God revealed to the king that His plan was for Abraham to pray and intercede for the King so that divine judgment would be withdrawn. Then, in verse 17, God’s preordained plan came to pass: “And Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children.”

A second example is found at the end of the book of Job, where God addressed Job’s friend, Eliphaz the Temanite, saying:

I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly (Job 42:7b-8a; NIV)

Then, as verse 9 reveals, Eliphaz “did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer” (NIV). From this it is clear that God not only ordained that His wrath toward Eliphaz would be turned aside, but He also ordained that the means He would use to accomplish that end would include the intercessory prayer of His servant Job.

A third and final example of God’s ordination of prayer as a means to accomplish His end is found in God’s promise to Israel of future restoration in Jeremiah 29:1. In verse Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord told Israel that He knew the plans that He had for her. In other words, the God who knew the end from the beginning was not unaware of what He had purposed for Israel’s future. He continued by telling Israel that His plans were “for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). What will happen in the future when God’s plan unfolds and He providentially brings it to pass? He continued:

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile” (vv. 12-14).

God will restore His people in response to their prayers, but these prayers—rather than being an intrusion into God’s eternal plan—are actually part of God’s plan. Both the means and the end—the prayers and the restoration—have been ordained by Him and will be brought to pass by Him (cf. Ezekiel 36:37).

Prayers of intercession should not be thought of as attempts to alter the eternal purposes of God. As Pratt writes, “Trying to alter the eternal decrees of God through prayer is like trying to reach the moon on a trampoline; it is impossible. Our petitions cannot interrupt God’s plan for the universe anymore than a trampoline can break the power of earth’s gravity” (pray with your eyes open, 109). Instead, prayer should be understood as “one of the many secondary causes through which God fulfills His plan” (ibid., 110).

It is obvious, then, that you don’t need to deny the sovereignty of God in order to be committed to a life of fervent prayer. For this kind of prayer life begins with an obedient submission to the command of God and the example of Christ; it flows out of the recognition that God is able and willing to respond to the prayers of His children; and it rests in the assurance that God has sovereignly ordained prayer as a means to accomplish His purposes.

            [1] According to D. A. Carson: “If I pray right, God is graciously working out his purposes in me and through me, and the praying, though mine, is simultaneously the fruit of God’s powerful work in me through his Spirit. By this God-appointed means I become an instrument to bring about a God-appointed end. If I do not pray, it is not as if the God-appointed end fails, leaving God somewhat frustrated. Instead, the entire situation has now changed, and my prayerlessness, for which I am entirely responsible, cannot itself escape the reaches of God’s sovereignty, forcing me to conclude that in that case there are other God-appointed ends in view, possibly including judgment on me and on those for whom I should have been interceding” (a call to spiritual reformation: priorities from paul and his prayers, 165).

           [2]According to C. Samuel Storms: “Divine sovereignty does not preempt prayer, nor does prayer render God’s choice contingent. The God who is pleased to ordain the salvation of sinners, based solely on his good pleasure, is no less pleased to ordain that he will save them in response to the prayers of others whom he has previously saved via the same means” (“Prayer and Evangelism under God’s Sovereignty,” in still sovereign: contemporary perspectives on election, foreknowledge, and grace, 316).

If God is Sovereign, Why Pray ? (Part 2)

[Editor's Note: Read Part 1 here]

By Matt Waymeyer

2. Jesus modeled a life of prayer.

A second reason believers should offer prayers of intercession is that such prayer was modeled by Jesus who “would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” during His ministry (Luke 5:16). Jesus’ consistent example of fervent prayer to the Father is evident throughout the Gospels. During His ministry in Galilee, Mark records that “in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there” (Mark 1:35). After feeding the five thousand in Bethsaida, Jesus sent the multitudes away and “went up to the mountain by Himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23).

On the night before He chose the twelve disciples, Jesus “went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). Later Luke refers to a time “while Jesus was praying alone” (Luke 9:18), and eight days later Jesus “took along Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28). And who could forget His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:35; Luke 22:41) or the “High Priestly prayer” of John 17:1? And what believer fails to cherish the fact that Jesus lives to intercede even now on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25)?

In offering prayers of intercession, Jesus was not ignoring or denying the sovereignty of His Father. This is obvious from several of Jesus’ prayers, not the least of which include His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:35; Luke 22:41). As Hunter writes:

He knew that by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge he would be put to death by being nailed to the cross (Acts 2:23). He told the incredulous disciples this at least three times…. Yet in Gethsemane, as Mark tells it, he ‘fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him’ (Mark 14:35)” (the god who hears, 51).

In other words, even though Jesus was well aware that His death at Calvary had been preordained by God, He still saw fit to petition His Father that this cup might pass from him.

This same principle can be seen in the words of Jesus to Simon Peter in the Upper Room: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31). With these words, Jesus tells Peter that He interceded and prayed that Peter’s faith would not fade away and come to nothing. But in the very next verse, Jesus refers to the time when Peter would indeed repent of his sin of denying Christ (“once you have turned again” in v. 32b), thereby revealing that He already knew Peter’s faith would not come to an end. This knowledge, however, did not deter Jesus from interceding on Peter’s behalf.[1]

If the followers of Christ are to be imitators of Him and “walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 1:6), we must be characterized by fervent prayers of intercession. Knowing that Jesus prayed as a way of life may not clear up the tension that exists in our minds between the sovereignty of God and the prayers of men, but it should motivate us to imitate the One who clearly saw no disparity between His own prayers and the sovereignty of His Father.

3. God is able to respond to our prayers.

Rather than hindering the prayers of believers, the sovereignty of God ought to motivate them to pray, for “prayer grows from the certainty of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty” (the god who hears, 47). After all, if God does not reign in sovereignty over His creation and is not able to accomplish whatever He desires in and through it, why bother requesting of Him what He is unable to deliver?

To illustrate, if a five-year-old boy repeatedly asks his mother to make it stop raining on a Saturday morning, this may create a precious memory, but in the final analysis the boy’s request is misguided. As much as his mother might like to alter the weather, she simply lacks the ability to do so, and therefore to request this of her makes little sense. But when the children of God come before the throne of grace, they come with the full assurance that their heavenly Father is able to accomplish whatever He is pleased to do, for nothing is too difficult for Him. And this ought to motivate us to pray.

“To be worth praying to,” Hunter writes, “God has first of all got to have the power to do what we ask. Second, he must have sovereignty over creation to do what he wants to do” (the god who hears, 48). For this reason, perhaps the question, “If God is sovereign, why pray?” could be replaced with the question, “If God is not sovereign, why pray?” Believers must come to their God presenting to Him their requests because He has both the authority and the ability to grant what they have requested in their petitions.

[1]In a similar way, Jesus asked the Father to give the Holy Spirit to the disciples (John 14:16a), which He already knew would happen (John 14:16b; 15:26; and 16:8); the apostle Paul expressed his fervent prayer for the salvation of the Jews (Rom. 10:1) shortly after he had written that God “has mercy on whom He desires, and…hardens whom He desires” (Rom. 9:18); and Daniel, who knew that the Jewish captivity was to last 70 years (Dan. 9:2), sought the Lord “by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan. 9:3) just prior to the completion of those 70 years. None of these prayers were muffled by the intercessor’s understanding that God is sovereign.

Matt Waymeyer is a regular contributor to Expository Thoughts. He is a husband and father of five and an Instructor in Bible Exposition and New Testament at the master's seminary in Sun Valley, CA.

If God is Sovereign, Why Pray? (Part 1)

By Matt Waymeyer

The story is told about a small town in the south. For many years, this town had been “dry” in that no alcohol was ever sold or served there. But one day a businessman in the area decided to build a tavern. In response to this new tavern, a group of Christians from a local church became concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. Shortly after the prayer meeting that night, lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground.

In the aftermath of the fire, the owner of the tavern sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible for his loss. But the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible. After his initial review of the case the presiding judge began the trial with an official statement. He said: “No matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear: the tavern owner believes in prayer, and the Christians do not.”

It is very easy to dismiss the power of prayer, isn’t it? It is very easy to drift into thinking that prayer is a nice sentiment, but ultimately a waste of time because it doesn’t really make any difference anyway. For some people, this kind of dismissal arises from unbelief or doubt that God really can answer prayer. For others, however, the question that paralyzes their prayer life is this: If God is sovereign, why pray? In other words, if God will simply do what He wants to anyway, why offer prayers of petition and intercession? Why bother requesting that God do such and such when everything has been ordained by Him beforehand? If prayer consists of pleading with God to change His eternal purposes, isn’t such an undertaking feeble at best and arrogant at worst?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but Scripture is not silent on this issue. My purpose here is to examine the Bible’s teaching on the sovereignty of God and the prayers of man with the goal of answering the question, “If God is sovereign, why pray?” This will be done by briefly defining what it means that God is sovereign and then by offering five answers to the question of why people should pray.

God Is Sovereign

When people make plans, it is not uncommon for those plans to fail or to be thwarted in one way or another. In contrast to His creatures, however, Almighty God always brings about that which He has purposed. In a word, God is sovereign. Among other places in Scripture, this truth can be seen clearly in the words of Isaiah 46:9, where God demonstrated His superiority over the Babylonian idols by declaring:

Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure”; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.

In this passage, God indicates that He both purposes what He desires to happen and then actually brings those purposes to pass. In other words, God providentially brings about in time and history what He has sovereignly ordained in eternity past. As the apostle Paul writes, God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

The truth of God’s sovereignty over His creation is taught throughout Scripture. The psalmist declares, “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psalms 135:6; cf. Psalms 115:3; Daniel 4:35); Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand;” and Proverbs 21:1 states, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” As W. Bingham Hunter writes, “From a biblical perspective, your world-history book should be prefaced with 2 Kings 2:25: ‘Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In the days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass’” (The God Who Hears, 49).

Why Pray?

1. God has commanded us to pray.

The most obvious reason to pray is that God has commanded us to pray. This is evident throughout the Scriptures. Jesus taught His disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:9, introducing the prayer with the words, “Pray, then, in this way” (v. 9). Afterward, He instructed His disciples to be persistent in their prayers (Luke 11:5). In Luke 18:2, Jesus told them a parable “to show that at all times they ought to pray” (Luke 18:1). And upon arriving at the Garden of Gethsemane, He instructed them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40).

The apostle Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 1:17); he instructed the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6); he charged the Colossians, “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4:2); he wrote to the Ephesians, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf…” (Ephesians 6:18); and he urged Timothy “that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (1 Timothy 1:1).

The point is clear: God has commanded us to pray, and our response to this command must first and foremost be one of obedience. Even if we never reach a clear understanding of the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the prayers of man, the fact that God has commanded it should be enough to move us to pray. When God promised Abraham a son through whom he would become a great nation (Genesis 21:12) but then commanded him to sacrifice that very son (Genesis 22:2), Abraham bowed the knee of submission before His Creator and “by faith” simply obeyed what was commanded of Him (Genesis 22:3; Hebrews 11:17). The believer who asks the question “Why pray?” must follow his example and do the same.

Matt Waymeyer is a regular contributor to Expository Thoughts. He is a husband and father of five and an Instructor in Bible Exposition and New Testament at the master's seminary in Sun Valley, CA.

Interview: I would have never chosen Christianity

By Paul Lamey

The following is an impromptu interview I conducted with . . . well . . . myself. Enjoy!

Interviewer: Well I see you have joined the team at Christianity.com with your little blog called Expository Thoughts. Where did that name come from?

Paul: We are excited to be partnering with Christianity.com  and biblestudytools.com to syndicate our writing, the resources here are amazing. The name Expository Thoughts comes from one of my heroes, J. C. Ryle. He was a powerful writer, pastor, and preacher within the Church of England in the 2nd half of the 19th Century. His commentaries on the gospels were called Expository Thoughts. He was the first bishop of Liverpool (where the Beatles came from) and Ryle had little tolerance for what we might call “pretend Christianity.” Ryle’s book Holiness (along with numerous others) made a lasting impression on my Christian development.  Everyone should read at least one Ryle book in their lifetime.

Interviewer: You refer to “we” at Expository Thoughts. Do you always refer to yourself this way or are there others involved?

Paul: One of my seminary professors would refer to himself using the editorial “we” which was always a hoot but actually, in my case, others are involved. Two old friends of mine will join me here at Expository Thoughts and share the writing responsibilities: Randy McKinion and Matt Waymeyer.

Interviewer: Tell us about Randy, is he from Scotland?

Paul: I suspect there is some Scottish heritage in there somewhere; he actually grew up in Mobile, Alabama (my hometown), which is where we met many years ago. He played college baseball and began studying as an engineer before the Lord redirected his plans. Randy’s love for Scripture lead him to pursue studies at The Master’s Seminary (M.Div) and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Ph.D). He is an insightful Old Testament theologian, teaching OT and biblical languages at Shepherds Theological Seminary (Cary, NC). He is also an elder at Redeemer Community Church in Fuquay-Varina, NC, which is a recent church plant (2008). It’s not all academics for Randy, he is married to April and they have two boys and a little girl.

Interviewer: So what about Matthew Waymeyer? Clearly he’s not Scottish.

Paul: Matt is a committed cheese-head and follower of all things Green Bay Packers (Favre who?). He is from Wisconsin, has been all over and recently joined the faculty at The Master’s Seminary. Matt is one of the most careful and precise thinkers I know. He is a diligent writer and has published two books so far and I look for many more before he checks out. I met Matt at The Master’s Seminary where he received his M.Div, Th.M, and is now working on his Th.D. He is married to Julie and they have five children.

Interviewer: Why these guys?

Paul: It’s simple to me. I want to read someone that thinks like a pastor, writes with theological precision, and ties his own shoes. These guys know how to think and write but they also love the church. They are committed churchmen who believe that the best theologians need to be ministering in congregations not cloistered away in academia.

Interviewer: And you?

Paul: I’m an absolute nobody who shouldn’t be alive. When I really stop to think about my life, I can only shake my head and praise God for His wonderful grace. I studied at The Master’s Seminary (M.Div; D.Min) and I’ve been a pastor at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL since 2002. I’m deeply blessed by my wife Julie and four extremely crazy children.

Interviewer: Anything else?

Paul: Here’s something I’ve been thinking about. Here we are—Christians, writing on a website called “Christianity.com” and all following Christ in our various pursuits. It is tempting for us to think that this life is something that we have designed and created for ourselves. The skeptic might say that our Christianity is nothing more than wish fulfillment. The truth is, I would have never created this for myself. The human bent is too selfish to pursue a God who calls us to love Him more than anything and to love others with like passion. I would have never chosen Christianity. One theologian states this well:

"The biblical God is nothing like what we would create. The kind of god humans are tempted to create is a servile genie, ready to fulfill our consumerist whims and to stay out of sight (until emergency hits). But the God of Scripture is the lion of Judah. untamable, not safe. Demanding, not accommodating. He is hardly what we would create. Surely the God we proclaim is anything but a human concoction" (David Clark, To Know and Love God, 218).

A New Beginning

[Posted by Paul Lamey, pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL.]

That wonderful poet, Robert Frost once said, “Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.” When I first started blogging seven years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. At first it was a place to park random thoughts and quotes that I mined from my various reading interests. Over time, it became something more. The great thing about blogging was that anyone could do it and the bad thing about blogging was that anyone could do it. Almost overnight, everyone who had a blog and opinion swarmed like mosquitoes on the bayou. Democracy is great for the Internet age but it doesn’t always promote edification. More than a few times, I found this out the hard way.

I thought to myself “Why not get serious and start something different?” So in 2005 I started a blog called Expository Thoughts. I invited a few friends to join me and over time our readers expanded beyond preacher-types like me to Christians all over the world. When all of this started, Google was trading at just over $300 a share, a quirky thing called Facebook was relegated to the campus at Harvard, and “tweeting” was what birds would do in the morning.  Those were dark days.

As social networking has expanded so have the reading habits of on-line Christians. I don't have hard science to back this up but through random observation, it seems that people do not read blogs like they did in those dark old days. There may be many reasons for this, which may include fancy concepts like Balkanization, but I think it’s more straightforward than that. People know what they like. Folks who want to keep a pulse on the happenings of evangelicals know that Justin Taylor is the guy. Others who want to read thoughtful Christian commentary on just about anything know that Tim Challies will not disappoint.  

So what is Expository Thoughts? I will more formally introduce my fellow writers and myself in future posts but let me leave you with two thoughts.

1.     Good Christian writing matters. Our goal is to engage our readers with the truths of Scripture. We want
to challenge, exhort, and build-up the body of Christ through thought provoking writing that cannot be relegated
to 140 characters on Twitter. Writing is the activity that David McCullough calls, “painting with words.” I hope we
can paint many pictures here that will stand in the hallways of your thinking for many years to come.

2.     There is meaning in the Text. We believe that God has spoken clearly in His Word and that He wants us
to read it, study it, memorize it, and live it. A Christian writer who muddles the meaning of the text of Scripture
is not worth reading. I pray that believers will be edified as they study God’s Word with us and think about all
that God is doing in the world for His glory.

I am pleased to announce our new partnership with Christianity.com and BibleStudyTools.com as the new home of Expository Thoughts.  I pray that you will join us every week for good discussion, thought provoking commentary, and serious study of God’s Word. Be sure to bookmark this page and stay tuned for more.