Together in Prayer

Vertical Prayer with Horizontal Impact

Correctly Handling the Word of Truth (pt. 2)

Besides taking verses of Scripture out of their immediate context, we also sometimes take passages out of the wider context of Scripture and misinterpret God’s intent in a given situation.  We’re especially vulnerable to this tendency when we’re in the midst of a trial. We tend to look for a Scripture that shows God intervening in a crisis in the way we want Him to intervene for us; then we take that one instance as “proof” that God would always act that way and so, naturally, will act that way for us.

Consider the many stories of healing in the Gospels.  Much of the time, Jesus required no more than that a person come to him in faith and ask for healing.  And even that faith did not always have to be rock-solid, unwavering belief (see Jesus’ healing of a demon-possessed boy in Mark 9, and feel the weight of the father’s exclamation, “I do believe; help me in my unbelief!”).

But other times, Jesus acted differently.  When told that his close friend Lazarus was sick, he waited for Lazarus to die before performing a miracle even larger than healing would have been (John 11).  He healed the blind man at Bethsaida in stages, not all at once (Mark 8:22-26).  One time before healing a paralytic, he first dealt with the man’s need for forgiveness (Mark 2:1-12).  Another time, he warned a paralytic he had healed to stop sinning (John 5:1-14), though this was not his normal follow-up to healing.  One time he warned two blind men to tell no one about receiving their sight (Matthew 9:27-30) and another time, he commanded a demoniac he had healed to go home to his family and tell them what had happened (Mark 5:1-20).

God rescued Paul from prison (Acts 16:16-40) but didn’t remove his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).  He allowed Stephen to be martyred by stoning (Acts 7) but rescued Paul and Barnabas from the same fate in Iconium (Acts 14:1-7); another time he allowed Paul to be stoned but miraculously saved his life (Acts 14:19-20).

The point is this:  If we look only at one passage of Scripture, one time that God rescued someone in crisis, and if we draw the conclusion that he will always do the same for us, we are likely to be disappointed.  As Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart point out in their excellent book, “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth,” narrative in the Bible is just that – a record of how God has acted.  It is not necessarily normative – it doesn’t imply that God will always act the same way (or that we should necessarily act the way a character in Scripture did).

Our God is sovereign…

As we pray through our trials, then, we need to keep the balance of Scripture in mind.  Our God is sovereign – he is free to act or refrain, to protect or to withhold protection, to heal or to hold back.  He may answer immediately, or he may wait for a time. We worship God not in order to get Him to act in a certain way; we worship Him because He is worthy of our worship.

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.