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Christian Life

  1. Can I know I am saved?
  2. How to overcome temptations?
  3. Should we repeat the Lord's Prayer?
  4. How to overcome distractions in Prayer?
  5. Whom to address in Prayer?
  6. Is kneeling a must?
  7. Can we not worship silently?
  8. Is Water Baptism a must?
  9. Should one change his name at Baptism?
  10. What is separation from unbelievers?
  11. Can believers ever have failures?
  12. Can we be sure of God's will?
  13. Does God give us a blueprint for life?
  14. Are New Year decisions really helpful?

1. Can I know I am saved?

Yes, salvation is both a present reality and a future prospect. Apostle John writes, "We KNOW that we have passed from death to life" and "We KNOW that we are of God" (1 Jn 3:14; 5:19).

When you receive Christ and believe on Him you are given the right to become a child of God (Jn 1:12). You are saved (Acts 16:31). Your sins are forgiven and you are washed by the blood of Jesus (Rev 1:5). This assurance is yours by the Holy Spirit. He bears witness with your spirit that you are a child of God (Rom 8:16). For this purpose He primarily employs the written Word of God (Jn 20:31).

There will be certain positive indications when a person is saved. The guilt is gone and there is the joy of Salvation. A new love for God and His Word is born. Prayer becomes a delight. A desire to live holy is manifest. The very outlook on life is changed. Fellowship with the children of God is pleasant. A burden for the salvation of others is usually felt. These things may not manifest to the full measure, but as a newborn child you will start growing in these things.

Salvation actually belongs to three tenses. Salvation past is deliverance from the penalty of sin (Rom 6:23). Salvation present is deliverance from the power of sin (Rom 6:14). And salvation future is deliverance from the very presence of sin (Rev 21:27). Salvation today is not absence of temptations. Therefore don't be alarmed at the increasing measure of temptations. Temptation is not sin, only yielding to temptation is.

The devil is a liar (Jn 8:44). Turn a deaf ear to him. Suppose you fall in a temptation he will immediately whisper that you are no more a child of God (Rom 8:33,34). But remember you don't lose your sonship if you sin. Only the fellowship with God is affected. Confess the sin and be cleansed at once (1 Jn 1:7-9). You are safe and secure in the hands of God. No one can snatch you away (Jn 10:28,29). Rejoice!

2. How to overcome temptations?

Look to Jesus. The answer is in Him. He was tempted like us "in all points" but He overcame (Heb 4:15). "He is able to aid those who are tempted" (Heb 2:18).

On our part we are to first surrender the organs of our body as a living sacrifice on God's altar (Rom 12:1). We are no more ours. We are bought with a price. We belong to God. Make a covenant with your eyes that you will no more look at someone lustfully (Job 31:1). Present your hands to God so it may not touch the forbidden. And your legs not to go where Christ Himself would not go. And so on (Rom 6:13). Remind yourself of this commitment each morning.

The power to say no to sin is yours by the indwelling Christ. You are dead, buried, raised and seated with Christ (Rom 6:3,4; Eph 2:4-6). Meditate on this fact of identification with Christ as often as possible.

To receive a fresh supply of strength to resist temptation Christ has taught us to pray. Our body of flesh and blood is weak. Our desire to overcome temptation becomes effective only when we "watch and pray" (Mt 26:41).

When Christ was tempted He wielded the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, against Satan (Mt 4:4,7,10; Eph 6:17). Be regular in Bible meditation. David hid God's Word in his heart that he might not sin against Him (Psa 119:11). Saturate yourself with the Scriptures. Memorize as many verses as you can. At the hour of temptation the Holy Spirit will bring to your remembrance the right text (Jn 6:14-26).

Don't be a loner. You need the fellowship of God's children. "If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble" (Eccl 4:9-12).

Everytime you overcome temptation the battle will only be intensified. The "roaring lion" will be after you (1 Pet 5:8). But "He who is in you is greater that he who is in the world" (1 Jn 4:4). Take refuge under the blood of Jesus. Depend on His grace. "Sin shall not have dominion over you!" (Rom 6:14).

3. Should we repeat the Lord's Prayer?

Because in certain Churches the members repeat the Lord's Prayer like a parrot without understanding or feeling, the other Churches don't say the Lord's Prayer at all. This is like throwing away the baby with the bath water. Disuse is not the solution for meaningless use. Many Christians shout "Hallelujah" without their heart in it. Should we then stop saying this wonderful heavenly word of praise? Blind reactions will rob us of rich blessings.

The common weakness of all of us is that "we do not know what we should pray for as we ought" (Rom 8:26). Also our prayer life needs lot of unlearning. Many times we pray like the heathen. The Lord's Prayer is a model prayer. It is the first prayer to learn in Christ's school of prayer. Heathenic praying is known for vain repetitions and wrong priorities. Only one out of the seven requests in the Lord's Prayer relates to our bodily needs. How much our prayers will be revolutionized if only they are patterned after the Lord's Prayer! (Mt 6:7-13). New believers and children must be encouraged to memorize the Lord's Prayer which is the most comprehensive prayer of all time.

Luke records that the Lord taught this prayer in response to the request of one of His missionary disciples when they returned from their first tour (Lk 10:1-5, 17; 11:1-4). He had not let them carry money purse or any bag when they went. Therefore He taught them to pray and trust God for their "daily" bread! Yes, the Lord's Prayer is truly a missionary prayer. It begins and ends respectively with the focus and goal of missions. I urge soulwinners to say this prayer meaningfully everyday so they may overcome the temptations to strive for their own fame, build their own empires, do things according to their own whims and fancies, and so on.

Jesus and the apostles often articulated their needs in prayer to God through the very words of the Scripture (Mt 27:46/Psa 22:1; Acts 4:24-26/Psa 2). The Book of Psalms was used as the Book of Prayer and Praise by the Jehovah worshippers. There's nothing like praying or singing the very Scriptures. The Word of God is the will of God. "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us!" (1 Jn 5:14).

The Lord's Prayer is also called the Family Prayer. My wife and I say this prayer in our own family devotions. It instills in us a new confidence as we begin the day with "Our Father who is in Heaven!"

4. How to overcome distractions in Prayer?

Prayer is the underlying power to effectively wield any weapon of the whole armour of God (Eph 6:13-18). Therefore the devil does all that's possible to weaken our knees or divert our mind. Here's how you can defeat his mind-oriented strategy.

Apart from maintaining a spirit of prayer "always" and "without ceasing," choose that hour for prayer when you are really fresh. Prayer involves mind, spirit, soul and all. Jesus often chose the early hours of the day for His secret communion with the Father (Mk 1:35). Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), the pioneer missionary to China, spent several hours in private devotion each morning before the sun rose. When we are physically and mentally exhausted, concentration in prayer is rather difficult.

Prayer means going to the Throne of Grace. We have access to the same by the blood of Christ. A conscious acknowledgement of the power and the merits of the Blood gives us a strong footing against the enemy. Satan trembles when we appropriate the blessings of Christ's blood and make positive confessions (Heb 4:14-16; Rev 12:11).

Our prayers must be wrapped up in praise and thanksgiving. God inhabits the praises of His people (Psa 22:3). When the presence of God becomes more and more real, we get absorbed in the spirit of prayer, and distraction is overcome (Phil 4:6). I have found switching over to praying or praising in tongues with the Spirit's enablement quite helpful, because I thus byepass the mind (1 Cor 14:14).

When there is no focus in prayer, your mind will begin to wander. Be definite and specific about your requests. Keeping a prayer list and praying over the items one by one is effective.

There is no command in the Bible to close our eyes in prayer! Dr. Oswald J. Smith (1889-1986), a great missionary statesman of Canada, used to walk up and down in his prayer closet with his eyes open and praying aloud. He testified that he had walked several miles inside his prayer room! As far as possible one must choose a place where there is least disturbance and noise from the outside world. Jesus has taught us to shut the door of our room before we begin to pray! (Mt 6:6). If you cannot afford to have a room in your house for prayer, choose a corner! In any case, don't forget to disengage the telephone and switch off your mobile!

Prayer is a conversation. I have found praying with an open Bible extremely helpful. Reading and praying and reading and praying... (Dan 9:1-3).

In spite of following all these guidelines, you still may have the problem of distraction in prayer. Yes, prayer is a battle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual powers of the demonic kingdom. The moment you get a distracting thought, arrest it at once. Give no time to meditate it. Keep resisting the devil and he will flee from you (Js 4:7). In-the-Name-of-Jesus is not a phrase to begin or end a prayer. It is our very authority and foundation for prayer (Jn 14:13). Pray with this consciousness throughout.

While Christ is up there in Heaven by the right hand of the Father to pray for us, we have the Holy Spirit within us helping us and interceding for us (Rom 8:26,34). We are to be sincere and persistent and God will take care of the rest. Pray when you feel like praying; pray when you don't feel like praying; pray until you feel like praying!

5. Whom to address in Prayer?

We must address the Father in Heaven. That's what Jesus Himself taught: "Pray to your Father"... "In this manner pray: Our Father in Heaven!" (Mt 6:6,9).

During the days of Jesus on earth, the disciples straightaway asked Him whatever they wanted. But pointing to the new dispensation which Pentecost would usher in, Jesus said, "In that day you will ask Me nothing... whatever you ask the Father in My Name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My Name" (Jn 16:23,24).

Even though Jesus is the One who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, He has directed us to ask "the Father" for this gift (Lk 11:13).

The early Christians prayed "to" the Father (Acts 4:24-30). The apostolic teaching is clear: "THROUGH Jesus we have access BY one Spirit TO the Father" (Eph 2:18). Paul writes thus of his own prayer practice: "I bow my knees TO the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 3:14).

God Almighty is our Eternal Father. Christ Jesus is our Elder Brother. The Holy Spirit is our Executive Helper (Heb 2:10-12; Jn 16:17). We pray "to" the Father, "thro" the Son, "by" the power of the Spirit. The trinitarian Godhead is best understood in the context of prayer.

Our prayers are addressed to the Father who is in Heaven. They are advocated by the Son who is seated at His right hand. They are assisted by the Holy Spirit who is right here on the earth in us (Heb 7:25; Rom 8:26,34). What a picture! What a privilege!

Does it mean we cannot pray "to" Jesus? No. There are prayers in the Bible addressed to Him (Acts 7:59; Rev 22:20). But these are more an exception than a rule. The clear teaching in the Scriptures is to pray "to" the Father "through" Jesus. Let us not hesitate to shed down our traditions, though cherished long, to become more and more scriptural.

Can we praise Jesus? Of course yes. We should. But the ultimate worship is to the Father. Read Jn 4:23; Eph 3:21; 5:20; Col 1:3,12. Even when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord, it is "to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:11).

Here's the final stage: "When all things are subject to Jesus, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all" (1 Cor 15:28).

6. Is kneeling a must?

When we pray, God looks at our hearts rather than the physical postures we assume (Mt 15:7-9). But both in the Old Testament and the New we find physical postures as expressions of inner attitude. Of all the postures, kneeling in prayer is the commonest because it is a gesture of reverence and obedience.

King Solomon offered his historic prayer of dedication of the Temple on his knees. Though he was a monarch, he did not hesitate to kneel down in the presence of all the people (1 Ki 8:54; 2 Chr 6:13). Ezra confessed the sins of God's people in the kneeling posture (Ezr 9:5; 10:1). Daniel was the Chief Administrator in Babylon but he never abandoned his childhood habit of kneeling in prayer. In fact he did it three times daily (Dan 6:10).

Our Lord Jesus was habituated to kneel in prayer. Even while agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane, "He knelt down and prayed" (Lk 22:41). The disciples sat down and slept! It is difficult to fall asleep when we kneel straight! The pew cushion is a meaningless invention. When folks came to Jesus for help and healing, they knelt down before Him (Mt 17:14; Mk 1:40). Stephen died on knees praying (Acts 7:60). Peter offered the resurrection prayer for Dorcas on knees (Acts 9:40). Kneeling was a favourite posture for Paul also. Even in the seashore he knelt down and prayed (Acts 20:36; 21:5). To the Ephesian Church he wrote, "I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 3:14).

We have a sure word of prophecy that every knee shall bow before our Lord (Rom 14:11; Phil 2:10). It is wrong to spiritualize this passage. If we spiritualize the words "every knee shall bow," what about the words "every tongue shall confess?" Let's also not dismiss the habit of kneeling as merely cultural.

In the renewal of worship everywhere, we are repeatedly told by the song leaders to lift up our hands in praise. It is good and scriptural. But let us not forget that the most famous worship Psalm calls us: "Let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker" (Psa 95:6). This will bring back the reverential fear that's sadly missing in many praise gatherings. "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling" (Psa 2:11).

Back to our knees!

7. Can we not worship silently?

Having been reared in high Anglican tradition, this was my question whenever I saw a group shouting in worship. But the experience of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit and a study of the worship passages in the Scriptures convinced me that raising our voices in praise and worship is perfectly normal.

"The Lord was not in the wind... the Lord was not in the earthquake... the Lord was not in the fire... and after the fire a still small voice!" (1 Ki 19:11-13). This is the passage usually quoted against shouting. But then how do we explain the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost with a rushing mighty wind and tongues of fire? (Acts 2:2,3). And later on the shaking of the place where the disciples were praying? (Acts 4:31).

Psalm 46 says, "Be still and know that I am God" (v10). But the very next Psalm, 47, says, "Shout to God with the voice of triumph!" (v1). Yes there's a time to be silent and a time to shout! (Eccl 3:7b).

The organised religion will not be comfortable with shouting in worship. On the Palm Sunday when the whole multitude of disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice, some of the Pharisees urged Jesus to rebuke His disciples. What an answer Jesus gave! "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out!" (Lk 19:37,40). Note the word "immediately!" Had He not come from Heaven where silence was rare? (Rev 8:1).

The Book of Psalms was the songbook of the people of Israel. It repeatedly calls people to sing aloud and make a joyful shout (66:1; 81:1). It states, "Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!" (89:15). Let's not dispense with it saying that this way of worship belonged only to the old dispensation. The inauguration of the new dispensation was marked by joyful sound. What a noisy day Pentecost was! (Acts 2:1-6).

When Solomon was crowned, the earth almost split with the joyful sound of people (1 Ki 1:39,40). Are we not crowning in worship the One greater than Solomon?

Both silence and shouting are expressions of our emotions. Each has its place. Those who are naturally expressive find it easy to lift up their voices in praise. People of the other type will hesitate a lot. But many of the second type have testified of the release when they got filled with the Holy Spirit. One should not condemn but encourage the other.

Pentecostals should worship with non-Pentecostals wherever possible and vice versa. This will keep the feet of Pentecostals on level ground, and help the non-Pentecostals soar high with wings! Learning to worship God both ways is maturity. Also we will be saved from empty shout and dead silence!

8. Is Water Baptism a must?

Yes. The Bible says so!

Water Baptism is not an invention of a man or a Church. God the Father instituted it (Jn 1:33). God the Son commanded it (Mt 28:19). God's servants inspired by God the Holy Spirit instructed the believers to be baptised (Acts 2:38). The early Church consistently practised it (Acts 2:41; 8:12; 9:18; 10:47; etc).

The only person who never needed to be baptised was Jesus. He had no sin to repent of or to be cleansed from. Even John the Baptist tried to prevent Him. But Jesus said it was to "fulfil all righteousness" (Mt 3:15). And when He came out of water the Father testified, "In You I am pleased" (Lk 3:22). Baptism is thus an act of obedience.

Spiritual experiences, however rich they may be, are no substitute for water baptism. Cornelius the godly military official had his prayers answered and alms approved. He was even baptised with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. But apostle Peter "ordered" that he must be baptised in water (Acts 10:1,2,45,46,48).

Baptism is an outward expression of an inward experience. It is a testimony to our death, burial and resurrection with the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 6:3-6). It is not to be thought of as a mere ceremony. It is "the answer of a good conscience towards God" (1 Pet 3:21).

One should be baptised immediately after believing on Christ as his personal Saviour. The three thousand Jews who received Christ on the Day of Pentecost were baptised the same day (Acts 2:41). The Philippian jailor was baptised the same night when he believed on Christ (Acts 16:33). After Paul's encounter with Christ on the Road to Damascus, when Ananias met him, he asked Paul, "Why delay? Get up and be baptized and have your sins washed away." Delayed obedience amounts to disobedience.

No baptism before personal conversion is valid. Where is burial before death? After a nominal Christian or a non-Christian repents to the "One Father" and accepts the "One Lord," he must obey in the "One Baptism" as a testimony to his "One Faith" (Eph 4:5).

9. Should one change his name at Baptism?

When people are converted from non-Christian background, the question arises at water baptism whether their original names should be changed. In India, especially among Hindus, most names are associated with deities. Therefore some ministers of the Gospel insist a name change for the baptismal candidates. Is it a must?

Many Biblical names make statements about character (1 Sam 25:25; Acts 4:36). The name given was often determined by some circumstance at the time of birth (Gen 29:32-35); sometimes the name expressed a hope or a prophecy (Isa 8:1-4; Hos 1:4). Patriarchal times saw names as indicators of character, function, or destiny. Soon names began to be given more hopefully than discriminatingly, until finally we are not sure whether the name tells us anything about the nature. (The New International Dictionary of the Bible)

We Indian Christians often think that all Indian names are Hindu, and all Western names are Christian. To us Western names appear superior to Indian. "Blackstone" in English sounds to us better than the same name in an Indian vernacular. "Murugan" is the Tamil name of a Hindu deity, but it just means "Beautiful!" We will not accept this name, whereas we will name our son as "Apollo" and our daughter as "Diana." Both these are actually names of Greek deities! (Acts 19:27,28). "Apollos" means a "destroyer" and it is the name of a youthful god of music. One of the apostles had this name and he didn't change it! (Acts 19:1; 1 Cor 1:12).

Those who insist on changing names quote Exodus 23:13 and Joshua 23:7 where we are commanded not to make "mention" of the names of other gods. This simply means that we should steer clear of idolatry. If we take the above commandment literally, how can we read so many passages of the Bible where the names like Ashtaroth and Baal are repeatedly mentioned? And how can we call or address people with such names? You can't even pronounce the names of the President and the Prime Minister of India! The Bible unhesitantly uses the Babylonian heathenic names given to the three Hebrew young men (Dan 1:7; 3:2&28). The apostles did not change the name of the first gentile convert (Cornelius) or that of the first European convert (Lydia).

We commonly say that Saul became Paul. This is strictly not correct. He already had both these names given by his parents. "Saul" is a Hebrew name, common in Jewish background, meaning "asked of God." "Paul" is a Roman name of the Hellenistic background, meaning "small." A Roman citizen usually had three names (Acts 22:27,28). The apostle was continued to be called as Saul even after his baptism, Spirit-filling and call to ministry (Acts 9:22,26; 13:1). But from Acts 13:9, he was called Paul, perhaps because he was then entering the Gentile phase of his ministry. This was not a name change.

It may be advisable to drop community names like Nadar, Pillai, Mudaliar, Iyer and Achary. Otherwise change of names causes unnecessary problems in society and government records, especially in rural and tribal areas. Non-Christian parents feel that they are disrespected when the names lovingly given by them to their sons and daughters are changed when the latter believe on Christ. This may lead to unnecessary alienation and antagonism. The furtherance of the Gospel is hindered.

If the candidates themselves strongly request a name change, we can comply with. Even here, we must help them choose names in the local vernacular and cultural style. No need to search for names in Hebrew or Greek. What is promised under the New Covenant is only a new "heart" and a new "spirit" (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:25-28). But if we wait, we all will be given a new "name" in New Jerusalem! (Rev 3:12).

10. What is separation from unbelievers?

Separation is a fundamental Christian doctrine that runs through the Bible from the beginning to the end. God not only "created" light but He also "separated" it from darkness. This is recorded on the very first page of the Bible (Gen 1:4). The very first Chapter of the longest book in the Bible mentions the necessity of separation from "the ungodly... sinners... and the scornful" (Psa 1:1). The inaugural sermon on the Birthday of the Church called the listeners to "be saved from this crooked generation" (Acts 2:40). The last page of the Bible differentiates between the indwellers and the outsiders of the Heavenly City (Rev 22:14,15). There is therefore no argument against the call for separation. The problem however is in the outworking of it in practice. As in the other issues, Christians go to extremes in this matter also, causing confusion to the younger generation. How does God expect us to relate to the ungodly?

By virtue of creation, all men and women, godly or ungodly, belong to God the Creator. He loves them all equally and grants them "sunshine and shower" without any partiality (Mt 5:45). As God's "offspring" the entire humanity "lives, moves and has its being in Him." He is not far from any man or woman (Acts 17:27,28). Without understanding this truth the religionists of Jesus' day were practising exclusivism. But when He freely moved with the irreligious and sinful people He was nicknamed as a "friend of sinners" (Lk 7:34). He had no problem partying with "sinners" in their dinners and celebrations (Mt 9:10-12). We too must maintain normal social relationship with people. True spirituality is not anti-sociality. We should only be cautious lest we learn the corrupt and evil ways of the world.

Born-again youngsters must not despise their parents if they have not yet become believers. There must be no reservation in marital relationship with an unbelieving spouse (1 Pet 3:1,2). Christians must cooperate wholeheartedly with their non-Christian colleagues as long as no moral principle is violated. Obedience to non-Christian bosses must be hearty (1 Pet 2:18). But one must think twice before entering into a business partnership with an unbeliever. However, more often than we think, non-Christians are smarter than Christians in industry and commerce. Jesus Himself acknowledged, "The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light" (Lk 16:8b). Therefore as long as there is no succumbing to fraudulent means, corrupt practices and tax-evasion, there's nothing wrong in having unbelievers as business partners.

Some youth ministers, especially those who work in colleges and universities, lead young believing students into seclusion in the name of separation. These boys and girls then stop going to the common reading rooms, sports fields, games, variety entertainments, etc. This paints a negative picture before non-Christians about Christian discipleship. Making friendship is the first step in campus and neighbourhood evangelism. It is usually from the circle of friendship we bring people into the sphere of Christian fellowship. Fishers of men must be friends of men. Sin must be hated but not the sinner.

When I got converted as a college student at the age of sixteen (1962), I did not leave my old friends. I still loved them and met with them. I made clear to them my new commitment and change of life. They would not use filthy language or crack vulgar jokes in my presence any longer. An isolated and insulated Church will not influence and impact the society. Besides being strong in worship, the early Church had "favour with all the people." That was the secret of their daily growth (Acts 2:47).

No local Church is of 100% believers or 100% unbelievers. It's always a mixture, but the percentage varies! In the strict sense, worship of the Lord's Name and fellowship around the Lord's Table are meaningful only if all the participants and partakers are born-again folks (2 Tim 2:22b; 1 Cor 10:16.17). One can perhaps restrict breadbreaking to believers, but who can restrain un-believers from joining worship? (1 Cor 14:24,25). All the baptized may not be grains; so also all those not baptized are tares. Acute differentiation is difficult (Mt 13:24-30). Let's therefore avoid hairsplitting but become a caring community.

Here are some of the favourite texts of separationists—

  • "Friendship with the world is enmity with God" (Js 4:4). This refers to "lust... murder... covetousness... fight... (sinful) pleasures" (vv 1-3).
  • "Come out from among them and be separate" (2 Cor 6:17). This is a call for a clean break-away from idolatry (v 16).
  • "Evil company corrupts good habits" (1 Cor 15:33). This is a warning against materialism and rationalism which denies resurrection (v 32).

Christ's prayer to the Father for us sums it all: "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one" (Jn 17:15).

11. Can believers ever have failures?

"Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ" (2 Cor 2:14).
"In all (these) things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Rom 8:37).

A casual reading of texts like these would make an average Christian believe that he would never have any failure in his life. Though it is not the will of God that His children live in defeat, He does allow failures in their lives for their own good. The biographies and autobiographies of God's men and women sketched in the Scriptures prove substantially that no one escaped the "discipline of failure." Abraham the father of all those who believe, Peter the prominent leader among the twelve apostles, Paul the foremost teacher of Church truths, and name anyone for that matter, all had their share of failures. In my personal life and ministry victories have been too many and failures too few. But I can honestly testify that in my 50 years of walk with God (AD 2013) I have learnt more from my failures than from victories. An analysis gives me atleast five reasons why God allows failures in our lives—

To make us humbler

"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov 16:18). It is natural for us to be puffed up with pride when everything goes alright and successful with us. The grace of God is opposed to the pride of man (1 Pet 5:5b). God is too gracious to withhold His grace from us. If failure is the only way to make us bend and walk humbly before Him, He hesitates not to permit it in our lives. It's better to fail and rise again than to forfeit the grace of God.

To make us wiser

When our lives are free from any kind of defeat or failure, we tend to ascribe our successfulness to our brilliance and wisdom in doing things. The Bible asks, "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him" (Prov 26:12). And it admonishes us, "Do not be wise in your own opinion" (Rom 12:16). Failures and defeats lead us to review our course and make us know that what we know is far less than what we know not.

To make us kinder

God severely deals with those who are hard on others but lenient towards themselves. The Scripture admonishes, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted" (Gal 6:1). It was in a sense the failure of Peter which qualified him to minister to his brothers (Lk 22:32). The Almighty is the God of all "comfort" and the Father of "mercies." He treats us gently in our trials and tribulations. When we taste His kindness we know how to treat our fellow-strugglers (2 Cor 1:3,4). Jesus "sympathizes" with our weaknesses compassionately because He Himself was tempted like us in everything (Heb 4:15).

To make us holier

"Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again" (Prov 24:16a). Being a righteous man, he analyses everytime why he fell and avoids the causes. This way he becomes more and more righteous in practical living. Genuine and godly sorrow produces in us "earnestness... eagerness... indignation... alarm... longing... concern... and readiness" to see ourselves purified (2 Cor 7:10,11). Lessons we learn from failures help us stay vigilant against the enemy's attacks.

To make us interdependent

We never realize that we cannot do it alone but we need each other until we fail miserably. No member in the Body of Christ is self-sufficient. Every member needs the support of others (Eph 4:15,16). Jesus sought the company of His disciples in the hour of trial. But Peter boasted that he would follow Jesus even if all would forsake Him. We know who went thro' the trial and testing triumphantly.

Friend, let not any failure in life lead you to condemnation (Rom 8:1). Failure is not final. Failure can become a weight or it can give you wings. In the words of Henry Ford, "Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently!"

12. Can we be sure of God's will?

While talking about the will of God, we must understand two aspects: One is the general will of God and the other the specific will of God. The former is basic and it is the same for all of us, but the latter is different for each individual. Sanctification, Praise, Doing good for evil, etc., relate to the first aspect (1 Thess 4:3; 5:18; 1 Pet 2:15). When we are consistent and faithful in fulfilling this aspect, we will be able to understand and undertake God's specific will.

There are usually four means by which we can ascertain God's specific will—

First, the teaching of the Scriptures. The Word of God is the final authority in all matters of life and conduct. Once a course of action cannot be fully endorsed by the Scriptures, there's no further consideration or appeal.

Next, we have the inner voice of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Spirit leaves impressions on our hearts and minds. He is the Divine Helper to lead us.

Thirdly, we refer to godly counsel. Mature believers and leaders can guide us with their knowledge, experience and gifts.

Finally, we consider the circumstantial evidence. Generally this serves as a confirmation because it is God who orders situations in our life. We are drawn in the palm of His hands. When these four things are aligned, we can safely proceed. The inner peace over the matter is further evidence.

But there are times when in spite of taking all these steps we still may not be sure of God's will. There could be several reasons—

  1. God sees that we are not mentally, spiritually or physically ready yet to execute His will should He reveal it to us. Jesus once told His disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now!" (Jn 16:12). We must go on spending more time in reading and meditation, and doing actively things about which we are quite clear.

  2. In our lives there may be certain areas of disobedience to the Scriptural principles. When it is more of obedience that we need, God does not give more light. He would have us search ourselves and set matters right. "To him who orders his conduct right I will show the salvation of God," says the Almighty (Psa 50:23b). When the valleys are filled, mountains lowered, crooked places straightened and rough ways smoothened, we can see the way of God clearly (Lk 3:4-6).

  3. God leaves an element of uncertainty to strengthen our faith. That's what makes Christian life exciting. He doesn't give us a blueprint for life, but only a compass. (Ref. Question No. 13). We are to step out in faith. As we proceed, if we deviate to the right or the left, we will hear His voice from behind, "This is the way, walk in it!" (Isa 30:21). Faith goes forward not knowing where it's going (Heb 11:8).

13. Does God give us a blueprint for life?

The restoration of the operation of the gifts of revelation, namely Prophesying, Word of Wisdom and Word of Knowledge, has refreshingly reassured us that God does speak today. But one of the misuses of these gifts is evident when preachers who claim to have these gifts promise believers a blueprint for their lives. Though such a promise may be exciting, it is definitely not in line with the teaching of theBible.

God does not give us a blueprint but a map and a compass. If there's a blueprint there's no room for choices. We will be simply dictated by the details of the blueprint rather than directed by the Spirit of the Lord. Life will become dimensionless. It's the element of uncertainty that adds excitement to life and strengthens faith. Of Abraham, the father of those who believe, it is said, "He went out, not knowing where he was going" (Heb 11:8). This is walking by faith. We don't need to know "what" the future holds for us. It's enough if we are assured "who" holds the future for us.

When Paul at the hour of his conversion asked God, "Lord, what do You want me to do?," he was not given a blueprint for the rest of his life. Rather, God answered him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:6). This must have been very humbling for an intellect like Paul. But this best illustrates how God leads us by one step at a time. John Henry Newman (1801-1890)sang,

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom;
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on;
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene;
One step enough for me.

Getting influenced by the so-called "prophetic blueprints" from preachers is highly risky and it may ruin your life completely. Don't go from preacher to preacher asking for predictions. Direct and simple leading of the Holy Spirit is the birthright of every child of God (Rom 8:14). There's a fourfold discipline which guarantees God's direction for your life—

  1. Be regular in daily prayer and Bible meditation. Prayer tunes us up to the mind of God. The Bible is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psa 119:105).

  2. Be active in your work. "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might" (Eccl 9:10a). God does not waste His guidance on lazy people.

  3. Be enthusiastic in serving God. Those who serve God wholeheartedly do not normally miss His will. A commitment to do maximum for the Kingdom of God delights His heart.

  4. Be joyful in the company of God's people. Learning from one another gives you fresh insights. It keeps your heart from getting hardened (Eph 5:17,19; Heb 3:13).

People go for blueprints because they are afraid of making mistakes. No child learns walking without falling. Trying to be cocksure about everything actually paralyses us. Keeping the general Biblical principles in mind, walk according to whatever light you have. If you deviate, God will correct you by a voice "from behind" (Is 30:21). Even if you make a mistake, you don't need to be unnerved. We learn from mistakes. When our heart is steadfast towards God, He will turn everything into good. God did not tell the apostles in the first instance itself to go to Macedonia. When they went to Asia the Holy Spirit forbade them to preach there. They tried to go to Bithynia and they were stopped by the Spirit there also. It was at Bithynia, the Lord gave them a call to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10).

God does allow periods of darkness in our lives. We must simply trust in Him and stay put (Isa 50:10). "Bread of adversity and water of affliction" must not scare us (Isa 30:20). Running here and there will get us nowhere (vv15,16,18). Alongwith David we can sing, "God is my strength and power; He makes my way perfect" (2 Sam 22:33).

We understand the ways of God better and better only when we grow and mature. No father will tell a child what only an adult can understand. Jesus did not tell everything to His disciples in their three year training period. He once said to them, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (Jn 16:12). It is against God's own wisdom and kindness if He gives us a complete picture of our future at the beginning or any stage of our walk with Him.

14. Are New Year decisions really helpful?

There is hardly anyone who has not made New Year or Birthday or Anniversary decisions anytime in his life. But almost everyone regrets that he has not been able to keep them up. In course of time we conclude that it is not worth making resolutions at all. Little do we realise that such a conclusion is to our disadvantage and it stunts spiritual growth.

"It is God who works in you (us) both to will and to act according to His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). Therefore in the strict sense none of the desires of God's children for making resolutions is self-generated. The guiding hand of the Father is there behind them. Good resolutions help positive growth. Resolutions are like goals. They motivate us to go higher and deeper. In this context Apostle Paul testified, "One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:13,14). Decisions help us focus on the aim sharply and avoid distractions.

We are bothered by the fact that we are unable to keep up most of our resolutions. The accompanying guilt discourages us from attempting again. But we must remember that no failure is final for God's children. "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he falls, he shall not be utterly cast down" (Psa 37:23,24). Even repeated failures must not stop us from trying again. "Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again" (Prov 24:16).

Resolutions must not be overambitious. They must be realistic. For example, if you had been by and large prayerless, don't straightaway decide that you would spend atleast two full hours each day in solid prayer. Rather, begin with fifteen or thirty minutes. After steadying up at that level, increase the duration step by step. Great things have small beginnings (Zech 4:10). "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed!" (Mt 13:31).

Don't make too many resolutions at a time either. Instead of taking twelve decisions at the beginning of a year, you can take one at the beginning of each month. Christian life is a walk, not a jump! It's climbing up steps, not going in a lift! It's true we can soar on wings like eagles when we wait on the Lord. But eagles don't reach lofty heights instantly. (Isa 40:31). A good principle of growth in Christian life is that lengthening must be proportionate to strengthening (Isa 54:2).

You can share your resolutions with your closest prayer partner or your spouse. Such accountability is beneficial. But there's no need to make personal resolutions public. This would bring unhealthy pressure on you. Resolutions are not vows. They are simply your personal and voluntary steps to improve your walk with God and before men. Tell God the desires of your heart and trust Him for His enablement (Psa 37:5). Do your best and leave the rest in His hand. "It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy" (Rom 9:16).

At the end of the year, review your performance and treat yourself with a good dinner or a new dress for your accomplishment (Eccl 9:7,8). "The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops" (2 Tim 2:6).

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