Together in Prayer

Vertical Prayer with Horizontal Impact

Correctly Handling the Word of Truth (pt. 1)

As we look to Scripture to teach us how to respond and how to pray in crisis, we must be aware of two common pitfalls.

The first of these is taking Scripture out of context – whether out of its immediate context or out of the context of the Bible as a whole. A common example of taking Scripture out of context (often used in crisis-type situations) is the handling of Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” This verse is often quoted as a promise of triumph over circumstances and a guarantee that God will get us out of a specific situation with which we struggle.

In context, the verse is about overcoming – but it’s overcoming of a different sort. The passage is not about changing our circumstances but rather about finding God’s peace (verses 6-7) and contentment in these circumstances. Paul doesn’t confidently proclaim to the Philippians that God will never let him go hungry or be in want. No; he affirms that he has indeed been in want, but has learned how to overcome. Look at verses 12 and 13 together:

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

The verse looks different in context, doesn’t it? Paul’s attitude here is reflected in the lives of many persecuted Christians around the world today. They look to God not in presumption that he is obligated to change their circumstances but rather in faith that he will be with them in their trials. Just as God walked with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace rather than keeping them from the furnace, so he had also walked with Paul through many trials. In fact, he wrote to the Corinthians of some of the trials he had suffered (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). God had often rescued Paul from danger but time and again had chosen to walk with him in suffering rather than to steer him clear of trouble.

So how does this affect the way we pray in crisis? It turns out that “standing on the promises” may not be the most effective way to pray when those promises are taken out of context. We need to be more careful than that in the way we handle Scripture. Most of us probably know people who “named it and claimed it” – only to find that “it” didn’t happen. God is not obligated to fulfill our misunderstandings of his Word.

As we approach the Scriptures in a time of crisis (something we should definitely do!), let’s be careful to correctly handle the word of truth. Scripture comforts us and encourages us – but that’s not its primary purpose. More importantly, Scripture reveals God to us. If we approach the Bible with a lesser goal in mind than knowing God – especially in crisis situations – we’ll find only what we’re looking for and miss many treasures God has for us there. And if we pray according to the limited understanding of the so-called prayer promises, we will be able to see God’s work only in that limited context and may miss the larger things he wants to do in our lives.

About Andrew Wheeler

Andrew has led small groups and prayer groups for over 30 years, dating back to college where he led the prayer ministry of his InterVarsity chapter. He served in the prayer ministry of Willow Creek Community Church for over 20 years, including co-directing the prayer ministry at Willow Creek Crystal Lake. He is the author of Together In Prayer, a guide for leading prayer in a small group setting, and has written numerous articles for Prayer Connect and He is a featured blogger on Pray.Network.