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As I sit here watching the State of the Union I am reminded what the Scriptures say concerning this man, our President. It is a hard teaching to take to heart and put into practice. But we Christians should call attention to it, urge it upon our fellow Christians, and give assent to it without any hesitation whatsoever. As a teaching of Scripture it carries the full authority of God. It may not be politically correct or popular in every circle of Americans but popularity and political correctness is not what followers of Christ are called to. We are called to obedience to God above all things, including political convictions and affiliations. Therefore, as I was reminded tonight, please let me remind you what the Scriptures teach about Barack Obama.

The Scriptures tell us Barack Obama has been placed in authority over us by God himself.

  • “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1)

The Scriptures call us to be willingly subject to our President Barack Obama.

  • “My son, fear the Lord and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise” (Proverbs 24:21)
  • “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1)
  • “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient” (Titus 3:1)
  • “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13-14)

The Scriptures command us to wholeheartedly thank God for our President Barack Obama and pray for his good.

  • “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1)

The Scriptures teach us that those who resist President Barack Obama’s rightful authority will be judged by God as resistance to what God has appointed.

  • “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:2)
  • “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13-14)

It is right to pray for, give thanksgiving for, and submit ourselves to those in authority. As Christians this becomes more important the more we may disagree with those who rule over us. There are exceptions when we as Christians are no longer obligated to pray for the wellbeing of our leaders. But that is not our situation as American citizens and we should not use this as an excuse to be disobedient to God who has set President Barack Obama over us.

Father, please have mercy on our country by blessing our President with wise judgments which accord with your Holy Word. Thank you for your grace in placing a government over us to restrain evil and encourage peace.

If you found this post helpful, please let me know by rating it. I also invite your comments. (Due to the nature of this post please refrain from entering political debates in the comments section.) Thank you!

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Here are eight helpful things to remember about prayer by Ichabod Spencer. I am posting them here in a shorter out of context format. Click here to read the entire article.

  • “The first thing I would have you remember is this, that your God commands you to pray. This is your duty. Nothing can excuse you from it. Wicked heart as you may have, God commands you to pray.”
  • “The second thing is, that God connects his promises with these commands. You have no right to separate them. The promise and the command stand together.”
  • “The third thing is, that when you do thus separate them, saying the promises are not for such wicked hearts as yours, and therefore refuse to pray, you are not taking God’s way, but your own. You are teaching him, instead of suffering him to teach you. Your duty is to take his way. His thoughts are not your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8)”
  • “The fourth thing, therefore, is – you are never to despair. Despair never yet made a human being any better; it has made many a devil worse. Hope in God, by believing what he says. You need not have any hope in yourself; but you may have hope in God, and you may pray in hope. Never despair.”
  • “The fifth thing is, that your wicked heart, instead of being a reason why you should not pray, is the very reason why you should pray most earnestly. It is the strongest of all reasons. Pray just because you have a wicked heart. Such a heart needs God’s help.
  • “The sixth thing is, that a great many persons have thought, and felt, and talked about prayer just as you do; and afterwards have found out that they were mistaken, have prayed, and have become true and happy Christians.” “Remember this: others just like you have found out their error. You may find out yours.”
  • “The seventh thing is, [that thinking your heart is too wicked to pray]… is a temptation of the devil, it is a falsehood, a deception, a lie designed to keep you in sin and misery. Not that you think your heart worse than it is; but that you do not think God so gracious and merciful as he is, to hear the prayers of even such a heart. ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ (James 4:7)”
  • “The eighth thing is, that this idea of yours, about not praying with such a [wicked] heart, is just an idea of self-righteousness. You are ‘going about to establish a righteousness of your own, and have not submitted yourself to the righteousness of God. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness.’ (Romans10:3-4) You wish to pray with such a good heart, that God will hear you on that account. This is pride, wicked, foolish pride, a spirit of self-righteousness, self-justification, and self-reliance. It is this which keeps you from prayer.”

Three days ago I posted a “sketch” (from A Pastor’s Sketches) by a man who’s writing has greatly influenced my own theology. Today I am posting this second sketch which Spencer evidently intended to be read in conjunction with the previous one.

CONTINUING TO PRAY

by Ichabod Spencer

Having noticed from the pulpit, for several Sabbaths, the very fixed attention of a young friend to all that I uttered in my sermons, I called upon her at her residence. She had been a gay girl; and her social disposition, the pleasantness of her manners, her taste, and the almost unequalled kindness of her heart, while they made her a favourite everywhere, exposed her, as I thought, to be drawn into temptations to volatility and the vanities of the world. As I spoke to her of religion, her eyes filled with tears, and she frankly told me, that, for several weeks, she had been thinking very much upon that subject, and had been “very unhappy” in finding herself “so far from God, – just as you described in your sermon,” said she “’without God and without hope.’ That sermon told me my heart, and I have had no peace since. I am astonished at my sinfulness, and I am more astonished at my stupidity and hardness of heart.” I conversed with her, and counseled her, as well as I could, and we kneeled together in prayer.

After this I saw her three or four times within the space of a fortnight. She studied the way of salvation most assiduously, and, as I thought, with a most docile disposition; and she prayed for pardon, and for the aid of the Holy Spirit, with most intense earnestness. “I do want to love my heavenly Father,” said she; “I do pray for the Holy Spirit to show my poor heart the way to the Saviour.”

Calling upon her a few days after, I found that her appearance was very much altered. She was less frank than I had ever found her before; and though not less solemn, perhaps, it was a different sort of solemnity. She appeared to be more downcast than ever, though not so much agitated; not affected to tears, but having now the appearance of fixed, pensive thought. The impression came over my mind, that she had been led to yield up the world, and that the peculiarity which I noticed in her manner and conversation was the mute humility of a brokenhearted penitent, now musing over the world she had sacrificed, more than rejoicing over the Christ she had found. But after a little further interrogation, I found it was not that: she was as far from peace as ever.

But I could not understand her. Her heart did not seem to me the same as formerly. She had no tears to shed now; her manner was cold, and unlike herself; her words were measured and few; her misery, which seemed deeper than before, had put on an aspect almost of sullenness.

“I am entirely discouraged! I never shall be a Christian! My heart is so wicked, that it is wrong for me to pray at all, and for the last three days I have not tried! I have given up all hope of ever being saved!” She thanked me for my kindness and good intentions; but gave me to understand, that she did not wish to have the subject of religion urged upon her attention any more.

I encouraged her to persevere in her attempts to gain salvation. Especially I enjoined upon her the duty of prayer, and said to her almost precisely the same things which I had said before to another friend, and which are recorded in the sketch preceding this, as eight things to be remembered.

As I was speaking to her in the way of encouragement, her look appeared to alter, her bosom heaved, she burst into tears, and sobbed aloud. Referring to this some weeks afterwards, she said to me, “When you encouraged me so kindly, that day, my whole heart melted; I would have done anything you told me. I thought, if God is so kind, I must love him, – I will love him. She promised to resume prayer again. She kept her promise. And about a week after that, light broke in upon her darkness; she was one of the most bright and joyous creatures, and, I am sure, one of the most lively ones, that ever consecrated to God the dew of her youth. She has continued to be so. Her days are all sunshine. Her heart is all happiness, and humility, and love. “My dear pastor,” said she to me, when I asked what particular truths or means it was that led her to Christ, “I never should have found my Saviour, if you had not encouraged me so kindly, and led me back to prayer. Prayer is everything, – for God answers it.”

The young persons (mentioned in this, and in the preceding sketch) were very much alike in conviction, in despondency, in temptation – they had the same means, the same ministry – the same truths were urged upon them in that same manner. Surely God is the hearer of prayer. If that other young woman could have been “led back to prayer,” as this happy one expressed it, who can doubt that she would have been happy too, in “the kindness of her youth, and the love of her espousals?” If this page ever meets her eye may it lead her back to prayer.

Remember the Contagious Christian program? I do. And I’m sure many others do as well and even currently use it in their churches. It was the first curriculum in which I was exposed to and taught to use something called the “sinner’s prayer.” This prayer was designed to help lead others to Christ by providing the evangelist with an outline of what a desirous convert to the Christian faith should pray. It usually goes something like this, “Dear Father, please forgive me for my sins. I am sorry that I have sinned and I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and ask you to come into my heart and be the Lord of my life. Thank you for saving me. Amen.” Now there is nothing wrong with the sinner’s prayer or even with using the sinner’s prayer. I myself repeated the sinner’s prayer when I began to follow the Lord and have had others repeat it after me. But, I have not used the sinner’s prayer for several years now. And here is why:

First, the sinner’s prayer causes people to trust in themselves and not in Christ. What I mean is, there are moments in every Christian’s life when they ask themselves, “Am I really a Christian?” Unfortunately, too many people have thought to themselves, “Yes, I have prayed the prayer, I am a Christian.” But in that crucial moment they are trusting they are alright with God because they have prayed a prayer. This is a self-centered trust opposite of the Gospel. They believe that a prayer has made them a Christian when only Christ makes someone a Christian. I believe in times of doubt that it is better for a Christian to not have an available crutch in the sinner’s prayer on which to rest their trust but instead be forced to rely solely on Christ for the assurance of their salvation.

Second, it allows many individuals to falsely believe that they are a Christian. Many individuals sincerely believe they are a Christian and even claim to be a Christian but when they are pressed for an explanation of what makes them a Christian are unaware of such basic tenants as Jesus Christ died on a cross in their place for their sins. Often the reason for this is that they were encouraged to “say the prayer” at which time they repeated a few words and were assured they were a Christian. The sinful human heart is then all too happy to play along, insidiously whispering “you are okay” while hiding its rebellion against God even from its owner.

Third, it hinders evangelism. This is because people, who believe they are okay with God, because they prayed a prayer, often use this as the first line of defense in brushing off any future evangelistic inquiries. They say, “Don’t worry about me. I’ve prayed the prayer.” The sinner’s prayer then becomes the means by which unbelievers avoid the Gospel and rebuff casual inquires which may have borne fruit. The sinner’s prayer becomes a roadblock to evangelism and the evangelist must first undo the sinner’s prayer before effective communication of the Gospel can occur.

Fourth, it shortchanges the work of the Holy Spirit. This is because the sinner’s prayer is often treated as the goal of any evangelistic encounter. The idea is to show a person their need for salvation, present the Gospel message, and offer the sinner’s prayer as the way to be saved. But the Holy Spirit does not work on our timetable. Often He works through our words to convict the hearer’s heart of sinfulness. Then when the hearer feels their sin, we prematurely speak peace to their troubled conscience by having them pray the sinner’s prayer before the Holy Spirit was pleased to work a deep and abiding conviction of sin and need for a Savior. The sting of the Spirit’s conviction is blunted by the prayer and the unconverted individual is comforted just enough to allow themselves to think about other things. At times the most loving thing an evangelist can do is not to comfort their hearer.

Fifth, it becomes the criterion by which we discern the genuineness of a person’s faith. We are led to believe a person is a Christian because they prayed a prayer with evident sincerity. But repeating words out of a tract does not make a person a Christian. Christ makes a person a Christian through faith. But the sinner’s prayer, because of its wide usage becomes the unofficial acid test of whether or not someone is a Christian. This becomes dangerous when an unbeliever, who is thought to be a believer, is placed in a position of leadership in a worship service, a youth group, a Sunday school class, or even a pastorate. They will be the person making decisions for the church and the church will suffer for it. But some may ask, “Is it even our role to judge someone else’s faith? That sounds awfully un-Christ like!” To this it should be demonstrated that Paul himself gives us the criteria by which we are to judge who is genuinely born of God when he tell us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5)

Sixth, it causes Christians to be inarticulate when sharing their faith. Anyone can say “repeat after me…” without any serious reflection on the message of the Scriptures. Without the formulaic sinner’s prayer it may become more difficult to lead an individual to Christ but it also summons greater reflection on the part of the evangelist who is forced to ponder, own, and clearly articulate the call of the Gospel for themselves.

Seventh, we don’t need it! This is not a great argument against the sinner’s prayer, after all, there are a million things we use every day that we do not truly need. But this seventh reason is simply to point out that the majority of Christians who have ever come to faith in Christ have never even heard of a “sinner’s prayer.” It is only a recent invention in Christian history. When is the last time you heard any of the early Church fathers, Reformers, writers of Scripture, or Jesus himself recommend the use of a prepackaged sinner’s prayer? You have not because the sinner’s prayer simply did not exist. Yet generations of believers before now have had no problem sharing their faith without a prepackaged prayer. We are not dependent on it, and in my opinion should be free from it as the dominant way to think about evangelism.

I say there is a better way to call people to place their faith in Christ. What do you say?

Today I came across a short autobiographical blurb of a man whom I had once greatly admired. In reading it I was struck by the pridefulness of the statements describing the successfulness of this man’s ministry. The whole time I wanted to vomit because I could see myself in this man’s statements. It was as if I was reading my thoughts, the thoughts I might not write or say out-loud but that I would certainly think to myself on a day when God’s kindness in ministry had been especially evident. I could feel my repulsive pride next to the beautiful humility of Christ and thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit made my heart desire holiness today. Because of that I am posting a prayer which I found helpful today in acknowledging my pride before God. I hope someone else finds it helpful as well.

HUMILIATION

Sovereign Lord,

When clouds of darkness, atheism, and unbelief come to me,

I see thy purpose of love

in withdrawing the Spirit that I might prize him more,

in chastening me for my confidence in past successes, that my wound of secret godlessness might be cured.

Help me to humble myself before thee

by seeing the vanity of honour

as a conceit of men’s minds,

as standing between me and thee;

by seeing that thy will must alone be done,

as much in denying as in giving spiritual enjoyments;

by seeing that my heart is nothing but evil,

mind, mouth, life void of thee;

by seeing that sin and Satan are allowed power in me

that I might know my sin,

be humbled

and gain strength thereby;

by seeing that unbelief shuts thee from me,

so that I sense not they majesty, power, mercy, or love.

Then possess me, for thou only art good and worthy.

Thou does not play in convincing me of sin,

Satan did not play in tempting me to it,

I do not play when I sink in deep mire,

for sin is no game, no toy, no bauble;

Let me never forget that the heinousness of sin lies

not so much in the nature of the sin committed,

as in the greatness of the Person sinned against.

When I am afraid of evils to come, comfort me,

by showing me

that in myself I am a dying, condemned wretch,

but that in Christ I am reconciled, made alive, and satisfied;

that I am feeble and unable to do any good,

but that in him I can do all things;

that what I now have in Christ is mine in part,

but shortly I shall have it perfectly in heaven.

Ichabod Spencer was an American pastor who was exceptionally gifted at exposing and addressing spiritual problems. It was his habit to visit every member of his congregation and keep “sketches” of their conversations. He then, at the request of his congregation, published two volumes of these conversations, available today under the title, A Pastor’s Sketches. These true conversations are one of the finest examples of pastoral care and exceedingly beneficial to Christians and unbelievers alike. I have often discovered my own sin or help in witnessing to others in these pages. Here is a slightly updated excerpt of his sketches:

CEASING TO PRAY

by Ichabod Spencer

At the earnest solicitation of a friend, very dear to me, who had herself just come to a happy tranquility of mind, I sought an interview with her sister – an accomplished young woman, of about seventeen years of age. I found that the attention of my new acquaintance had been directed to religion some few months previous to this; but though her mind was still very tenderly affected, yet she had ceased to pray. She appeared very discouraged and very miserable.

“I have given up trying to seek God,” she said; “it does me no good. I would give anything to be a Christian; but I never shall be!”

“You ought not to say that, my child,” said I. “You do not know that. I know you may be a Christian if you will; for God has never said, ‘Seek ye my face in vain.’”

“Well, sir, it seems to me that I can never be a Christian. I have that feeling; it comes over me every time I think about religion.”

“And is that the reason why you have ceased to pray?”

“Yes, sir. My prayers will do me no good!”

“How do you know they will do you no good?”

“Because I don’t pray with a right heart.”

“And do you expect to get a right heart without prayer?”

“I don’t expect to get a right heart at all, sir.”

“Well, if you could get a right heart, would you get it without prayer?”

“I suppose not. But all my prayer is only an abomination in the sight of God!”

“Does not God command you to pray, to seek him by prayer; to seek his aid and favour?”

“Yes, sir; I know he does.”

“Then is it not a greater abomination in his sight when you neglect prayer, than when you pray as well as you can?”

“Perhaps it may be,” said she, sadly, “I don’t know; but ‘If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.’” (Psalm 66:18)

“Then you had better not ‘cherish iniquity in your heart.’ You ought to ‘cease to do evil,’ and ‘learn to do good.’” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

I then took up her Bible, which was lying upon the table, and read and explained to her Proverbs 2:1-5, Isaiah 4:1-10, and Jeremiah 29:12-13. Then I appealed to her, –

“It is not plain that God required you to pray? and is it not just as plain that he connects encouragements and promises with that requirement?”

“Yes, sir, I suppose it is.”

“Then, will you obey him?”

“I would, sir,” said she, “if I had any heart to pray;” and she burst into tears.

“Do you want to have a heart to pray?”

“Oh, sir, I do wish I had one!”

“Then, cannot you ask God to give you such a heart? Cannot you go to Christ, and give up your heart to him, and beg him to accept you, since he loves to save sinners; and trust him to put a right spirit within you, as he has promised to do?”

In this way I reasoned with her out of the Scriptures for a long time. It appeared to me that she was deeply sensible of her sins. She was evidently very miserable. She longed to be a Christian. But she was prevented from every attempt to seek the Lord, by the discouraging idea that her prayers would be useless, and were an offence to God. I had to expectation that she would gain any blessing without prayer, and, therefore, I requested her to listen to me, as calmly as she could, for she had become much agitated, while I should mention to her some things which I wanted her to remember. She tried to repress her emotions; and drying her years, lifted her face from her handkerchief, –

“I will hear you, sir, very willingly; but you don’t know what a wicked heart I have.”

I proceeded, –

“The first thing I would have you remember is this, that your God commands you to pray. This is your duty. Nothing can excuse you from it. Wicked heart as you may have, God commands you to pray.

“The second thing is, that God connects his promises with these commands. You have no right to separate them. The promise and the command stand together.

“The third thing is, that when you do thus separate them, saying the promises are not for such wicked hearts as yours, and therefore refuse to pray, you are not taking God’s way, but your own. You are teaching him, instead of suffering him to teach you. Your duty is to take his way. His thoughts are not your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8)

“The fourth thing, therefore, is – you are never to despair. Despair never yet made a human being any better; it has made many a devil worse. Hope in God, by believing what he says. You need not have any hope in yourself; but you may have hope in God, and you may pray in hope. Never despair.

“The fifth thing is, that your wicked heart, instead of being a reason why you should not pray, is the very reason why you should pray most earnestly. It is the strongest of all reasons. Pray just because you have a wicked heart. Such a heart needs God’s help.

“The sixth thing is, that a great many persons have thought, and felt, and talked about prayer just as you do; and afterwards have found out that they were mistaken, have prayed, and have become true and happy Christians. I could name to you, this moment, at least a dozen, whom I have known and have talked to just as I do now to you. They have been persuaded to pray, and they are now happy in hope. If you will go with me, I will introduce you to some of them, and they will tell you their own story. Remember this: others just like you have found out their error. You may find out yours.

“The seventh thing is, that your impression about prayer is a temptation of the devil, it is a falsehood, a deception, a lie designed to keep you in sin a misery. Not that you think your heart worse than it is; but that you do not think God so gracious and merciful as he is, to hear the prayers of even such a heart. ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ (James 4:7)

“The eighth thing is, that this idea of yours, about not praying with such a heart, is just an idea of self-righteousness. You are ‘going about to establish a righteousness of your own, and have not submitted yourself to the righteousness of God. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness.’ (Romans10:3-4) You wish to pray with such a good heart, that God will hear you on that account. This is pride, wicked, foolish pride, a spirit of self-righteousness, self-justification, and self-reliance. It is this which keeps you from prayer.

“ Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir, I think I do.”

“And are not all these things true?”

“I don’t know but they are, sir.”

“Then will you pray? Will you begin now, today?”

“Yes, sir, I will try.”

For a time she faithfully kept her promise. Several times after this I conversed with her, and thought she did not appear to me to become more unhappy, yet she did appear to me to become more truly convicted. Her conscience seemed to be more awakened. Her mind seemed to be more influenced by the principles of truth, and I fondly expected that she would soon find “peace in  believing.” (Romans 15:13) But she did not. She yielded to the old temptation. She neglected prayer; and, in a few weeks, divine truths ceased to affect her!

I strove to bring her back to her closet duty, but in vain! Years have passed, – she is still without hope!

The related sketch “Continuing to Pray” can be found here.

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