Spiritual Priorities: God first, spouse second…

Question:  How do you put work #3 and still get ahead? 

Answer:  Sometimes you don’t.  Generally speaking, when we find a way to make sure we are following the Lord first, and loving our families and giving them priority over work, we are both happier, better supported when we need to put in extra hours, and more successful at doing our jobs.  However, there will be times when putting God first and family second will cost us in our job.  If that seems unacceptable to us then we are not fully understanding what God has called us to do.  Our ultimate calling is to fulfill His great commission to the church (Matthew 28:19,20).  If our ultimate goal is to succeed in our jobs, we will find ourselves miserable failures after all.  God knows what we need.  He knows we don’t need to make our work number one.

Question:  It’s hard having my spouse put family second to God now that my spouse is a Christian. 

Answer:  It is sometimes hard to lose what seems to be the old way of doing things where you were number one to your spouse and didn’t have to compete for his or her attention.  Now that he or she is trying to follow the Lord you have to vie for his or her attention and he or she doesn’t always come at your beck and call.  This is not unlike having that first child and suddenly the baby is the focus of all a mother’s attention and energy.  It might be possible that adjustments need to be made so that your spouse is not devoting all his or her time to the Lord in a way that gives short-shrift to the family.  The best thing to do is to sit down and talk about each of your needs and openly discuss how you view the Scriptures addressing the issue of priorities, then working together to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs and fits Scripture.

Question:  If the kingdom of God is all important, why shouldn’t I give up my job and family and live completely for the kingdom? 

Answer:  Because you would be disobeying God’s direct commands (1 Thessalonians 4:11,12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Ephesians 5:22-31).

Here are some exercises for Spiritual Growth…

1. Write down the things you want to accomplish in life.  This list should answer the question, “What do I value the most and the doing of it would leave the most significant impact on the world around me?”

2. Ask someone you trust to look through your list and help you evaluate it in light of Scripture.

3. Using your list, determine what aspects of your life you need to change in order to make the accomplishing of this list your priority.

4. Discuss with the meaningful people in your life how they would enjoy, struggle with or otherwise be impacted by the changes you are considering making.

5. Allow God to shape your thinking and give you conviction as to how to implement this list.

For further reading:

Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald


Hindrances to Spiritual Growth

Question:  What things can keep a new believer from spiritual growth?

Answer:  Just as any living thing needs nurture, new believers need spiritual nurture.  This includes a body of believers who accept and love this person, Biblical instruction that shows a new believer how to live before God and in God’s strength, and appropriate correction when the new believer makes mistakes.  This would be comparable to a new sapling getting shelter, food and pruning.  It needs the proper environment, one of safety, to keep it from experiencing conditions too severe for it’s undeveloped state.  It needs nutrition as building blocks of growth.  And it needs damaged or diseased portions removed so as not to stop healthy growth.  Paul describes his treatment of the new Thessalonian believers as being “gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children,” sharing “not only the gospel of God but our lives as well,” “encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:7,11,12).

The things that can keep a new believer from growth are the absence of such nurture, putting them into positions of responsibility before they are mature enough to handle them, isolation from other believers, and life-controlling issues that do not immediately drop off when they come to faith in Christ.  Jesus describes shallow roots, troubles and persecution, and the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth as hindrances to growth (Matthew 13:18-23).

Should we only ask God for something once?

Question: My husband and I got into a theological discussion last night on prayer. The question was – after you have prayed about something, should you continue to repeatedly pray about the same thing throughout the day, or is just the initial prayer sufficient?

Answer: This is such an excellent question and the Scriptures give seemingly opposing advice.

There is that line of Scriptural teaching that seems to say, “Pray once and no more.” Jesus taught, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7,8). However, the NIV Study Bible note on this says, “They used long lists of the names of their gods in their prayers, hoping that by constantly repeating them they would call on the name of the god that could help them. Jesus is not necessarily condemning all long prayers, but meaningless verbiage in praying.” So this admonition is not necessarily against repeating the same request, either. But we might consider what a friend would feel if after we asked him for something we kept on asking him over and over until he answered. Would he feel we didn’t trust him?

On the other hand, Jesus also gives us the example of the persistent widow in Luke 18. He says that she “kept coming” to the town judge pleading for justice and he kept refusing, but finally gave in for peace of mind. Are we supposed to bother God until he answers? Jesus says, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:7,8). Jesus is saying that we may have to cry out day and night, but that from the Father’s perspective He is not an unwilling judge. Rather, our Father will answer us “quickly.”

Paul says, “Pray continually” (NIV, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). This doesn’t mean, necessarily, that we pray the same request over and over, but that we not give up on prayer as our lifeline with God.

Paul himself prayed three times that God would remove the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8), and God then told him He would not remove it. I think this gives us our pattern for repetition of our requests. We may pray for a specific request continually as long as God doesn’t say no. This means we must be listening to how God is responding to our requests. If He gives us a sense that they are going to be answered, there is no need to continually keep asking. If we get no sense either way, then we keep on asking as a symbol of our faith that He is the only one who can meet our need. If we get the sense that He is not going to grant our request, we also cease asking for it, and learn instead what it is we need to ask for (in Paul’s case, grace and strength to go on with the thorn in his flesh).

Randall Johnson

Does God really want us to pray continuously in all cases?

The Death of Moses, as in Deuteronomy 34:1-12,...

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Question: How do you harmonize what seems to be an open invitation from God to keep asking, seeking, and knocking (Matthew 7:7,8) and to pray continuously (1 Thessalonians 5:17), with His injunction against Moses’ continued asking to be able to go into the promised land (Deuteronomy 3:23-27), and His telling Paul that He would not remove the thorn from his flesh after Paul had asked three times (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)?

Answer: I’m working on the theory that God wants us to keep asking until we are certain he has said yes or no. If he hasn’t said no then we are free to keep asking for what we want and to trust that he is interested in our asking. Of course, once he answers yes, there is no more need to keep asking.

Randall Johnson

What is Purgatory?

Another image of souls being purified by flame...

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Question: What is Purgatory and isn’t it contradictory to the Gospel?

Answer: Purgatory is found in the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a doctrine of the existence of an intermediate state, sometimes confused with Sheol in the Apocrypha (II Maccabees 12:39-45, “Judas…sent …two thousand silver drachmas to Jerusalem for a sin-offering…expecting the fallen to rise again…and …offered an atoning sacrifice to free the dead from their sin.”).

This place is punishment, though temporal. Believers who have died in grace, defined by the Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox as being in ecclesiastical favor and fellowship with the Church, spend a period of being purified to make them perfect before God. Then one is translated to Heaven. Purgatory is a place of suffering. It is a place of undefined extent, but monetary and other gifts to the Church, prayers, and acts of devotion are believed to shorten the stay of a loved one who has died and is now in Purgatory.

This view not only contradicts the Gospel, but also has no Old Testament or New Testament support. Where is the doctrine of grace and forgiveness provided by the only death of the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ? Where is the teaching on final judgment that we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ? There is even a flat contradiction by a passage which the Roman Catholics regard as Scripture in the Apocrypha in Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-4 (“But the souls of the just are in God’s hand, and torment shall not touch them…they are at peace.”).

The true intermediate state is found in II Corinthians 5:1-11. When we die as believers, we are immediately present with the Lord and absent from the body. Our spirits, thus unclothed or naked, are awaiting resurrection when the Lord Jesus Christ returns with His saints at the Rapture of the Church (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). The intermediate state is that temporal state when the soul consciously exists between the death and resurrection of the body. It is a conscious state. Proof: Matthew 22:32; Luke 20:37,38; Luke 23:42,43; II Corinthians 5:6-10; Philippians 1:21-24, and I Thessalonians 5:10.

We are personally in the presence of Jesus Christ in a conscious state. It is a local state of place and condition. We are with Christ (Philippians 21-24 and II Corinthians 5:6-10). We are disembodied, incorporeal, pure spirits (II Corinthians 5:3 and I Thessalonians 4:16,17).

It is a state of perfect holiness, perfectly purified at death (Revelation 21:27, II Corinthians 5:1-8, and I John 3:1-3). We are also in a state of blessing, joy, and bliss. Read Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:21-23; Revelation 6:9-11, and Revelation 13:14.

We are also in a state of progress, being incomplete. This is not our final state. We are in the “naked” stage. Finally, we see that we will be full of activity, work, worship, and service. See Revelation 7:15, Matthew 25:21, and Revelation 4:4,5.

Terry Burnside

Is there a difference between the soul and spirit?

Question: : What is the best way to explain the differences in our soul and spirit? And what happens eternally?

Answer:If you do a study of the use of the words “soul” (Hebrew, nephesh, Greek, psuche) and “spirit” (Hebrew, ruach, Greek, pneuma), I believe you will find that they are used interchangeably as a description of what gives life to the body and bears the aspects of personality in human beings. For example, Mary said in Luke 1:46-47, “My soul maginifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” using the typical Hebrew poetic device of parallelism, where the first phrase is repeated using different but synonymous terms in a second phrase. People who have died and gone to heaven or hell can be called either spirits (Hebrews 12:23; 1 Peter 3:19) or souls (Revelation 6:9; 20:4).

But what then do we do with passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”? It is most likely that Paul is talking about our sanctification in more emphatic terms by adding terms to the description. When Jesus said we were to love God with our hearts, souls and minds, he did not mean that there are three distinct parts to the inner man (leaving out spirits), but that we were to love God with every aspect of our being. Since spirit and soul are two interchangeable ways of speaking about the inner man he includes both here for emphasis.

Hebrews 4:12 is another passage which seems to separate soul and spirit as different entities, saying that the Word of God is able to penetrate “even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Again, if we include heart in this discussion we end up with three inner parts to mankind. But the author of this passage is more likely speaking about how the Word of God exposes the inner workings of our motives located in various aspects, not entities, of our inner being, including even the most inner parts of our joints and marrow, viewed as seats of our emotions and thinking.

From the standpoint of what happens eternally, we know that the soul/spirit separates from the body at death (James 2:26; Philippians 1:21-26) and goes immediately to either Hades (if you do not know Christ) or heaven (if you do know Christ) and remains there until the resurrection of the body (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) when Jesus will bring the souls of those who have died in him to earth to be reunited with perfected bodies. The resurrection, which is the joining of a perfected spirit/soul and perfected body, is one of the most important doctrines in the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15). We are not meant to be disembodied spirits for eternity.

Wayne Grudem’s, Systematic Theology, is an excellent source for this topic and others.

Randall Johnson