When Fools Pray

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The other day we examined this verse from the view of apologetics. In that article, we learned how Christ provided a model for us to follow when unbelievers confront us about our faith. We learned how to not answer a fool according to his folly and how to answer a fool according to his folly without falling into the trap of becoming like the fool and validating the fool’s “wisdom. While I hope this article was helpful to many, this only examined the verse from an anthropocentric point of view (i.e., man-to-man).

But what can this verse teach us about prayer? How does this verse relate to the man-to-God interaction? At first, one might think that this verse has nothing to do with prayer. After all, it never overtly mentions prayer or praying, nor is there anything within the original language that would suggest it addresses prayer either. However, I believe that it can provide an insight into that central aspect of one’s relationship with God, especially when tragedy strikes.

Let’s be honest: When Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, Stephen Paddock shot up a Las Vegas concert, or when personal tragedy unexpectedly slammed into your own life, how many of us either thought (or heard from others), “Where is God? And what is He doing?” How many people said things like, “Why would a good God allow such terrible things to occur?”

Such questions are not unusual to ask in the wake of disaster or tragedy, but such questions explain why the above verses are needed to understand prayer. For when we approach God in prayer, He is the wise person and we are the fools. (1 Cor. 1:25)

I know this sounds harsh but it’s the truth.

If you don’t believe me, look at Psalm 14:1-3, which begins, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who do good.” At first, one could read this, wipe the sweat from his brow, and say, “Whew! Glad that’s not me. I’m not an atheist.”

But then it goes on to compare this type of fool with mankind in general, saying: “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Ps. 14:2-3)

The conclusion of God is the same about all of us. Atheist or not, we are all fools, for none of us seek after God. None of us do good. Not even one.

Thus, when we approach God in prayer, there must be an expectation that our imperious, insincere, and individualistic nature will express more foolishness through our questions of and accusations against God than we could ever intend or imagine.

The question, for example, of “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people” is fraught with foolishness. 1) It establishes a scenario that accuses God of bad, one might even say “indefensible,” behavior 2) It implies that God’s goodness is invalidated because He permitted something tragic to occur 3) It assumes that a good god would only permit good things to occur to his subjects and 4) It asserts that there is such a thing as “good people.”

But when we go to God in prayer with such questions, the answer that we receive will most likely come in two forms.

First, God expresses His goodness and His wisdom by not answering us according to our folly. If He were to engage our foolish question directly, He would be silently agreeing with all of the aforementioned premises and would be trapped within the boundaries that the question defines. But since the logical conclusion of the question comes to either “God is good but arbitrary and absent” or “God is not good,” He cannot answer us according to our folly.  Instead, He must challenge our foolishness by redefining our thinking. Therefore, God’s answer to such a prayer would most likely begin with a question of His own. This was a favorite tactic of Jesus’ and it often helped expose the foolish heart of His accusers as well as their feelings and motivations for asking the question in the first place.

Such is the nature of all of God’s questions. Even a simple one, such as “O you of little faith, Why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31) forces the hearer to examine himself and the hand that holds the hammer. In answering God’s questions we begin to see the chasm of holiness and wisdom that separates God and us. In this way, He maintains His character without being drawn into an argument whose boundaries and definitions have been set by a fool.

Second, once we begin to see where He’s going with this, God will answer us according to our folly, so that we do not look wise in our eyes. God’s desire is to bring us to repentance. To give us eternal life and salvation in Jesus Christ. It is not just to shame us or to make us look stupid. Therefore, He will take the argument we have set up and show us why the argument we have set up is false.

For example, in the above question “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” there are several foolish things within the question itself that can help disprove it.

1) It assumes an objective moral law, which all people can agree upon, as the basis for its definition of good and bad, but if this is true there must be an objective moral lawgiver who made us humans capable of understanding this standard and applying it to our lives. Such a lawgiver (being objective and moral) would be incapable of being bad 2) Within the context of this objective moral law, the questioner’s belief that it is unjust if good people do not receive only good things and if bad people do not receive only bad things is exposed 3) But if the premise behind #2 is true, yet bad things happen to everyone, then wouldn’t the conclusion be that none of us are good? 4) Consequently, if none of us humans are good, then do we not deserve to have bad things happen to us? 5) And if #4 is true, then have we not asked the wrong question to begin with? Should not the question be “why does God allow good things to happen to bad people?” 6) Finally, if God is the One permitting good things to happen to bad people, then do not all the pleasures and joys and blessings one has enjoyed in life only validate God’s goodness? 7) And does not this expression of His goodness in these small things beg the question, “How far does God’s goodness extend to us bad people?”

In such an examination of the foolishness within the question we posited, we begin to discover that God’s goodness extends much farther and much further than any of us can imagine.

Indeed, it is for this reason, I believe, that the apostle Paul once wrote “the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” (Rom. 2:4, NKJV).

For God’s goodness goes beyond the supply of material blessings and it extends past the boundaries of providing us with relationships that satisfy our need for love and belonging. God’s goodness not only intervenes throughout our life history to prevent suffering, His goodness also steps into human history to become bad in our place so that we might become good and finally receive the rewards of a good person (namely, salvation and eternal life with Him, see 2 Cor. 5:21).

We must be humble, therefore, when we approach God in prayer. Otherwise we run the risk of asking unintelligible, angry, or unanswerable questions. In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis once spoke on this very thing when he said:

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.

This is why, I believe, Jesus taught us to pray in such a way that reduces foolishness and orients us wholly on God. Maybe you know it. It goes like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. (Matt. 6:9-13)

Follow this model and you will find a heart emptied of foolishness. One that is not accusing or offended at God, but one that is pursuing Him in wisdom and worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, both now and for all eternity. Amen.

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To Answer Fools

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These verses at first glance appear to be a contradiction in command. How, exactly, are you supposed to not answer a fool according to his folly and answer a fool according to his folly at the same time? For God to instruct us to such action seems like a cruel joke at best and an impossibility at worst.

So, when a Christian encounters someone using a solid biblical doctrine, such as God is love, to justify a well-known unbiblical behavior, such as drunkenness, homosexuality, or adultery, how is the Christian to respond? We run the risk of either becoming like the fool or validating his foolishness and making him appear wise in his own eyes. Either way, we lose.

Fortunately, Christ provided us with an example of how to follow these verses and avoid falling into either trap. Continue reading

The Glory of God and Kings

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At first glance, this verse seems a little odd. God conceals and man searches things out? It sounds like a cosmic Easter Egg hunt where man is continually searching for the colorfully decorated, yet hidden truths of God, while the Father watches on in amused pleasure.

But this is not the purpose of this verse at all. It is not purporting a deistic “hide and seek” relationship with God. Rather, it is reminding us of how the relationship ought to be, how far we have strayed from that design, and is calling us back to living in proper subjection to the Father.

The arrangement of God concealing and man searching puts things in its proper order. The concealing of things establishes a thirst and a curiosity and a hope that would have never existed in man. For if one sees, he will not have need of hope, and if one understands, he will have no joy in discovery. It is no secret that the value of an object or of a truth is always equal to the rarity of, the desire for, and the accessibility to that thing. For instance, gold is valued because it is rare, highly desired, and not accessible to all. But if gold was commonplace, if it was not rare, it would lose its value for it would be easily accessible and lightly desired. Similarly, if gold remained rare, but no one viewed it as desirable or useful, then the value of gold would diminish tremendously. But when an object is both rare and highly desired, the only way to establish it as having supreme value above all other similar objects is to conceal it. Thus, God and His Truth and all the mystery that surrounds them are established as that which is to be concealed in order to set Himself apart from all other gods, worldviews, and glories as supremely valuable.

Such an arrangement brings God glory. He does not want to remain inaccessible to man forever. To do so would diminish His value and His glory. Rather, He wants to be found. But if He did not conceal Himself or His Truth, the person who received Him would not properly respond to this gift. But when He is concealed and a person discovers the kingdom of God like a treasure buried in a field, then in his joy he will go and sell all of His possessions so that he can buy that field and retain that priceless treasure forever. It is this response, the one of insurmountable joy coupled with the inestimable denial of all you once held as valuable, that gives God glory. In this way, we see that the concealment is not only to elevate the worth of God in our eyes but is also to elevate our joy and appreciation for what has now become our own.

Similarly, “the glory of kings is to search things out.” Kings, in Old Testament days, were God’s representatives to the nation of Israel, just as we Christians are Christ’s ambassadors to this world. If those who represent God will not seek out the concealed things of God, then they will be unable to share the value of God to others. But if they pursue God and His eternally unfolding mysteries, they not only benefit but also the people under their charge. Although the joy these people will express for having received the gift of God and His salvation will first glorify God, the kings’ glory comes in the giving to his people of that which is rare, desired, and was once inaccessible to many.

However, the glory of God in concealment is not for our benefit only. As the scripture tells us, such concealing is also for God. “It is the glory of God to conceal things.” As the supreme God and the supremely valuable One in all the universe, He alone holds the authority to reveal or to conceal. Both actions bring glory to God.

In revelation, God chooses to bridge the gap between Himself and man and provides man access to the character, will, words, emotions, and person of God. Such vulnerability allows a man to see God for who He truly is, instead of making “educated guesses” from the workings of a depraved mind. Plus, this vulnerability permits him to have the opportunity to reconnect with God in the pure and holy way God originally designed and desired for man to relate Him. For this reason, we are told, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” (Mt. 7:7) So, in revelation, God gets the glory by being sought and found.

Whereas revelation includes mysteries that can be understood, concealing does not. In concealing, God chooses to hide parts of Himself to maintain and emphasize His separateness from man. The mysteries unique to concealing are those things that are unique to God alone. They include, but are not limited to, God’s majesty and dignity, glory and splendor, His sovereignty, wisdom, and unfathomable knowledge of creation. (Job 38 – 42). His grace. His love. His predestined plan from the foundations of the earth. Such are the things that force a man to his knees and compel him to proclaim, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 41:4-5)

If God were to reveal all things to man, man would mistakenly assume that he was relating with an equal. Such a belief would only repeat the fault of original sin whereby man presumed to be like God and set himself in opposition to God through the assumption of the knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, God conceals some things from man to protect us from both His wrath and the folly of our depraved minds. He conceals things so that we may always live in a proper relationship to Him, knowing that He is infinitely holy and sovereign and good and wise, and we are not.

To challenge the concealed things of God does not glorify God nor does it engender praise. Such behavior only rebels against Him and demands an answer where none is permitted to man. Thus we are reminded “who has known the mind of the LORD, or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:34). But when God conceals these things from man, He surrenders nothing of His uniqueness. All things remain from Him and through Him and to Him (Rom. 11:36), calling man out of his ostentatious existence and back into the original design where man is subjected under God, “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). And where the heart of man may continuously proclaim “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Php. 4:20).

Thus we can say with Solomon: It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.

Neuroscience and Jesus


This is my dog, Hobbes. And he barks.

A lot.

A car goes by. My dog barks. A neighbor walks past our house. My dog barks. The mailman drives past. My dog (cliché that he is) barks. And heaven help the little Girl Scout who rings the doorbell. The only threat she poses is to my wallet, and I am convinced that if dogs could understand the joy of chocolate, Hobbes would stand on his hind legs, put on a pair of reading glasses, and write her a check himself for a truckload of Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties.

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Sitting on the Stool

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“There are two spiritual activities which are to be unceasingly part of a believer’s life, two great pillars that hold up the believer in the matter of daily living.  One is the study of the Word of God.  Two, prayer.”

— John MacArthur

I’m not one to usually criticize John MacArthur, who some would argue is the best exegetical preacher alive today, but when I was listening to his sermon “The Paternity of Prayer” on my way to work the other day, the above quote popped out at me.

Immediately, I thought: Wait a minute. What about service?

I do not disagree that study and prayer are two essential aspects of the Christian life, but if we forget or minimize the necessity of service, we fail to put legs to what our study and praying have revealed. This is why I have often thought of Christianity like a three-legged stool that must continually be in balance, where one leg is study, one is prayer, and one is service.

You cannot neglect one or two of these legs without toppling over. For instance, a person that is great at study but does not pray, he only has head knowledge and can get filled up with the arrogance of much learning. Or if he has a passion for prayer so as to see great miracles occur but does not study or serve, he will not produce anything meaningful. This is why Solomon warns us:

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecc. 12:12-14)

And it is why Paul says:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2)

In both situations, Solomon and Paul emphasize that the most important thing is not knowledge or faith by itself, but it is adding both of these things to what you do. As Paul later wrote in Galatians 5:6: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (NIV)

Service, then, is a necessary leg of the Christian existence. If it was not, James would not have argued that it is our deeds that prove our faith (Ja. 2:17-18) Jesus would not have said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn. 13:35) And the disciples in Acts would not have delegated the work of distributing food to the widows to seven godly men so that The 12 would not neglect “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” (Acts 6:1-4)

I understand that it is safer to remain in one’s study, surrounded by books and excavating truths never before understood. I respect that it feels more comfortable, and at times it feels more spiritual, to pray for a person or a situation, rather than get involved. But God calls us out of our safe places and asks us to leave our comfort zones. This is why Jesus tells us “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Because we are to be a going people. We are to be an engaging people. We are revolutionaries who are on a mission to change the culture of our homes, communities, and nations. We are a people who are to serve “by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11)

We are not to be cowardly or sluggish or foolish. Those are mistakes the anxious. We are not to be arrogant, doubting, or disbelieving. Those are the mistakes of the inactive. We are to be doing, going, and serving. Giving our bodies up as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), which is “your spiritual worship” (or, “your rational service“).

Neglect not this third leg of Christianity. It is where you get to see the truth you’ve studied in action, and where you witness your prayers become weapons of warfare. It is where you are allowed to join the holy, sovereign, creating God in the redemptive work He is doing. To reject such an honor is disrespectful. To refuse such a privilege is unthinkable. No man is remembered who does not add service to his study and prayer.

Quick Thoughts: Wisdom and Understanding

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Then he saw it and declared it;
    he established it, and searched it out. And he said to man,

‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
    and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:27-28)

God saw and declared wisdom. He established it and searched it out. He knows its depths. No part is a mystery to Him. But to help Man in his limitations understand, God reduces it totwo instructions: 1) the fear of the LORD and 2) turn away from evil.

But if the truth is that “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10), how then do we turn from evil? The answer is provided in Matthew 7:11, which says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

In this verse we learn:

  1. We are all evil.
  2. Evil people can do good things, even  in the midst of their depravity. In other words, depravity may exclude a person from saving himself but it does not exclude one from doing good acts. The conscience is still intact and able to choose between right and wrong. We are like the schizophrenic whose condition does not preclude him from hearing real (or right) voices, but it also doesn’t dampen the unreal (or wrong) voices that influence their decisions.  Evil can be compelling, but it can also be turned away from.
  3. Turning away from evil is a discipline one must continually practice in order to understand or have discernment. Just as repeatedly turning towards evil breeds more evil and corruption of mind (Romans 1) so turning away from evil removes the scales and increases the ability to do more good deeds (1 Cor. 9:25-27)
  4. Turning from evil provides discernment but it does not remove the stain evil has left on us. The more we turn from evil, the more we realize how hopeless our condition is without God. Self-improvement through continual washing never wholly absolves us of the need to bathe again. We can never be whole or perfect without God.
  5. That is why the fear of the LORD is wisdom. We must fear God, both in trepidation and respect, to approach Him in boldness and to ask Him to do what we cannot accomplish, i.e. to cleanse our soul and lead us into the deepest depths of wisdom that only the pure can travel.

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Quick Thoughts: God is One

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Dt. 6:4 – The LORD our God, the LORD is one

Isa 45:7 – I form the light and create darkness,
    I bring prosperity and create disaster;
    I, the Lord, do all these things.

1st Jn 4:8 – “God is love.” We hear this quoted all the time. Sometimes from a person who is trying to justify their behavior to us and sometimes from ourselves. But is God only love? Is He not also Creator, Provider, Sustainer, Judge,Redeemer, Forgiver, Covenant maker, Faithful, the Truth, the Way, the Life, etc?  When we talk about God, when we use the term “the LORD” or “God” do we not reference ALL of who He is? True, God is Love, but God is more than that.  Don’t get hung up on only one characteristic of God to the exclusion of the others. Otherwise, you will not only have an inaccurate view of God but you will also expect God to behave according to your definition of who He is, instead of you adjusting yourself to the reality of His person. Remember, God is one. He is the God who creates both prosperity and disaster (Isa 45:7). He is not separate from the sufferings we endure. Indeed, His love does not prohibit Him from understanding or from creating our calamity. He is sovereign and in control of it all. To some people, this seems like a cosmic sadist is at work, while others would argue that it is unloving to “create calamity.” But is it? A loving parent will often allow natural consequences to reveal truths to their child which promote growth or wisdom or they will implement logical consequences to teach a child. Similarly, God in His providential wisdom does not absolve us from suffering. He uses it in perfect symmetry with His other characteristics so that no part of Himself is separate from another. God is ONE. We cannot worship only the aspects of God that we like or that appeal to our sensibilities. We must worship all of the oneness of God in order to understand Him as the God that is in control of it all.