Bible study – a work of prayer!

This is a prayer of the great church father Augustine, which he was accustomed to use after his sermons and lectures. I have updated the version found in NPNF 1,8, p. 683.

We now turn to the Lord God, the Father Almighty, and with pure hearts we offer to him, so far as we can with the little we have, great and sincere thanks.

With all our hearts we pray for his exceeding kindness:
– that of his good pleasure he would condescend to hear our prayers,
– that by his power he would drive out the Enemy from our deeds and thoughts,
– that he would increase our faith, guide our understanding, give us spiritual thoughts, and lead us to his bliss,
through Jesus Christ his Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Gary again: I don’t care how well you know the original languages, or what study method you use, or how many commentaries, and what preaching method – and I affirm them, one and all! – without prayer, there is no authentic Bible study or teaching.

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“Bible study – a work of prayer!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

“How do we know God is at work in us?” Part B [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 3]

Paul has spoken about how he knows that the Thessalonians are genuine Christians: first of all, because they have the fruit of the Spirit. Words, yes, but also attitudes, actions, values that go beyond what we would expect from a human being, apart from Christ.

imagesYou can’t see the Spirit, but you can see what he does. Let’s start with v. 5 and later go to v. 4.

In v. 5 we read about “power, the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”

When Paul speaks of power and the Holy Spirit, he is usually talking of miracles that he performed.

2 Cor 12:12 – I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.

Rom 15:18-19a – I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.

In Macedonia, we assume that there were many miracles, although we have the record of only one, and that was in Philippi, not Thessalonica – the exorcism of the demon from the slave girl.

If there are miracles, Paul is saying, then God is at work. (more…)

The Lord’s Prayer – do we pray it or no?

There are two main approaches to the Lord’s Prayer (LP).

  • The Lord’s Prayer was meant to be prayed verbatim.
  • The Lord’s Prayer was not meant to be prayed verbatim, but rather serves as a model prayer.

Most of the church for 2000 years has opted for the first, while also affirming that it is also a valid application to use it as a pattern; some evangelicals accept only the second. Let’s explore the options:

  1. How not to pray
  2. The intent of the Lord’s Prayer
  3. The use of the Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church

1. How not to pray, according to Matthew 6

The Lord compares his teaching with two very different alternatives. First, he tells his disciples not to pray as “hypocrites” – in this case, he describes Jewish men who wish to be seen by other people (Matt 6:5-6). The problem was not that they stood to pray in the synagogue or Temple (Luke 18:9); that was common practice. Nor that they prayed in public; that too was the norm. The problem was their motivation, to be seen praying with extravagant piety. If they wanted to give the litmus test to their own motivations, they might try praying in private and see if they are still so earnest.

"Don't pray like the pagans do!"

“Don’t pray like the pagans do!”

The second warning has to do with “pagans.” They pray with “many words” and with “babbling.” This clause is poorly interpreted by some. Jesus is not saying, “Don’t pray like they do in the synagogue, because they use set prayers.” Rather he points to pagans who use magical formulas to gain the attention of their gods, like the one shown in the picture. In paganism, the more words the better, and the practitioner would crank out prayer after prayer of nonsense sentences. (more…)

Who dares to command God?

“HEAR OUR PRAYER, O LORD!!!”

Who dares to issue demands to God? Who dares command God to do a miracle? Not I, mister, I know my place: God is my King: he gives orders, I’m supposed to follow them. And God is my Father: when I need something, even a miracle, I ask him for help, sometimes over and over – as the Lord Jesus said was proper, in fact, commendable – and trust him to take care of me. But I won’t be issuing any orders to my King or to my Father any time soon.

Not everyone agrees. On more than one occasion (Matt 12:38 and Luke 11:29; Matt 16:1 and Mark 8:11) the religious leaders insisted: Jesus, show us a sign that proves without a doubt that you are God’s Son! Jesus refused to grant their demand, for they were testing God, coercing God to do a miracle in their presence in order to satisfy their own needs. (more…)

How I have devotions

Part of my traditional New England upbringing was to learn to maintain boundaries between private issues, family matters, and public information. When I asked my parents what they were talking about, at times I heard, “Well, it doesn’t concern you.” Nothing gruff, like “it’s none of your business,” no “you wouldn’t understand.” Just, “if you needed to know, we’d tell you.” It’s the polar opposite to the tell-all autobiography, the Kardashian, Povichian culture in which we daily bathe. That probably explains my reticence about sharing the details of my private devotional life.

Nevertheless, I’ve been learning that to teach others to pray is one must provide an example. Much of what I know about prayer has been by listening to older believers as they approach God (this teaching method is sometimes called mimesis). So, if I blog or teach, I’m not just to communicate “doctrine” but also demonstrate prayer. (more…)

The just shall live BY FATE?

I occasionally visit an English-language church in San José, attended by African-Caribbean believers. For me, their English is harder to understand than most Spanish.

A few months ago, a lady behind me was leading us in prayer, and for a heart-stopping 15 seconds I thought she said that we Christians “live according to Fate.” What in the world…? Then I realized that with her accent the “th” sound comes out as “t” – ah, that’s better, she said that we live according to faith. Phew. One the truth, the other not, and just one letter separating them.

Two philosophies vie for our attention. One is Fatalism, the belief in Fate: qué será, será, whatever will be, will be.

The 3 Fates from Greek myth

And so, for example, a girl asks, Will this boy like me? and her friend answers, “Well, I believe that if it’s meant to be, then it’ll happen.” Into this category of Fate we can also throw other odds and ends: astrology, Mayan Calendars, Nostradamus. But some Christians view the world that way: “If it’s God’s will, it’ll happen, if it’s not, it won’t, so relax, what will be, will be.” Listen, I believe in the Sovereign God, but we sometimes act as if “God’s Will” is binding on God himself. “God cannot act contrary to his will,” to be sure; but that doesn’t mean that his will is a straitjacket.[1] Part of this error is the idea that prayer does not change things, but only changes the attitude of the pray-er to accept what would have happened anyway. More about prayer later (more…)

Look before you leap; pray before you preach

Once upon a time, Paul told the new believers in Thessalonica: “So, for this reason we give thanks to God without fail: because when you received the proclaimed word from us, that is, the word of God, you received it, not as a human message, but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess 2:13).[1]

With these words, Paul communicates that behind the apostles’ success was that they prayed. And in fact, later on he asks them, “pray for us, brothers and sisters, that the word of the Lord might run well and be glorified by its hearers, just as it was with you” (2 Thess 3:1).[2] The successful sharing of the word is prayerful. Paul did not write books on “Proven Methods for Successful Evangelism.” Pastors did not travel to Corinth and lay down bags of denarii to see his PowerPoints on “The Seven Irrefutable Principles of Preaching.” Although it can be proven that he used methods, the heart of the matter for Paul is that neither strategy nor methodology can bring down the power of God from heaven. (more…)

Have they Discovered the Lost Prayer Diary of Elijah?

The following is a scholarly address, which I seem to remember giving many years ago before the International Association of Scholars, Theologians, Philosophers and other Professional Thinking Persons (AFL-CIO).

Thank you for your invitation to address this scholarly assembly. Webster’s defines “scholarly” as “Of, relating to, or characteristic of scholars or scholarship”; but later on it gives a couple of other definitions,including #3 “depressingly and numbingly monotonous, dull, or wordy.” That seems to land us just about where we need to be. My lecture today concerns a recently discovered manuscript from around the Dead Sea that has by chance fallen into my hands, the so-called Prayer Diary of Elijah.

This discovery could shed new light on James 5: “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.”

Yet some scholars have doubts as to the new manuscript’s veracity (more…)

How to Teach your Church to Pray: Don’t tell them, show them!

The Twelve learned to pray by asking, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1 NIV). For that they received the Lord’s Prayer, which functions as Jesus intended, whether used as a model or prayed verbatim. In general the North American church fails to teach its people to pray. For some evangelicals the training begins and ends with, “Forget about formal prayers you may have learned. Prayer is talking to God, so just talk to him like you would talk to another person.”

This boggles the mind, when one considers that it is difficult to pray regularly; that it is difficult to pray well, that is, following biblical priorities; that it is difficult to pray with persistence. (more…)

God’s Will and Paul’s Missionary Plans, or, How did Paul know where he was supposed to go?

Let us say then that a Christian believes that God is calling him or her to the mission field. One of the most pressing questions, always, is: I know I’m going…but where do I go? How can I be sure when the whole needy world lies before me? The church does not have the privilege to shrug its shoulders and leave this a mystery, not when we have the New Testament to guide us. When I say the New Testament, I do not mean that we may select out one verse of Scripture, such as the vision of the Macedonian man in Acts 16:9-10, and use that as the one and only word on the topic. In fact the New Testament does not provide a formula, but nevertheless it shows us a range of godly ways in which a missionary should make decisions.

The question: How did Paul, as a Spirit-filled missionary, know where to go? When he was at a crossroads, how did he know to turn to the right or to the left? How did he know hit was time to leave and when it was time to stay longer? (more…)