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Understanding the Microbiome: How Gut Health Affects Your Health, Weight Loss, and Mood
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What does it mean to ask anything according to the will of God in 1 John 5:14? Some clarifications about prayer and the right approach to have so that our prayers may be answered

"And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him." (1 John 5:14-15)

One important result of the believer's assurance of eternal life is that he can have confidence and boldness in relation to God. In particular this applies to the situation of making requests to God in prayer. John has already told his readers: "Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him" (1 John 3:21-22). Now he repeats this assurance. God will hear us in respect of anything we ask of him. To "hear" means to hear favorably; God will answer our prayers. Yet it is common Christian experience that such prayers are not always answered. Even Jesus himself knew the experience of pouring out his soul to God in order that he might not have to drink the cup of suffering, but he had to accept that what he wished might not be God's will and so to pray: "Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36). So too the Christian must offer his prayers according to the will of God. We do not always know what is God's will for us or for the people we pray for; but we have the joyful assurance that whatever is God's will for us will be done. At the same time, we are warned against the offering of prayers which we know will not be according to God's will; prayers for sinful or selfish motives, however much we may attempt to disguise them, are excluded.
But, if prayer is to be made according to God's will, why pray at all? Surely his will is going to be accomplished, whether or not we pray for it to be done? To speak in such terms is to assume that God's will must be understood in a static kind of way, as if God has made a detailed plan beforehand of all that is going to happen-including the fact that we are going to pray in a particular way and at a particular time. But while the Bible does speak of God's plan and purpose for the world, to speak in such deterministic terms is inconsistent with the freedom which the Bible itself assigns to God's children, and it wreaks havoc upon the biblical idea of the personal relationship which exists between God and his children. The point is rather that the believer must seek to submit his will to God's: "Your will be done" (Matthew 6:10). It is as we freely yield ourselves to God that he is able to accomplish his will through us and our prayers. In a very real sense, therefore, the accomplishment of God's will in the world does depend on our prayers. Through prayer we make ourselves instruments of God's will, and at the same time, in a manner that lies beyond human comprehension, he is able to act powerfully to answer our prayers. When we learn to want what God wants, we have the joy of receiving his answer to our petitions.

How to share the gospel with atheists

Last week I sat next to James on a flight from St. Louis to Denver. As we talked the subject turned to spirituality and religion. I confessed that I was a preacher and he confessed he was an atheist. What unfolded on the rest of the flight was a deep, thought-provocative, laughter-laced gospel conversation.
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of engaging many atheists like James in various settings. I’ve discovered five helpful tips when sharing the gospel with someone who claims to not believe in God.

1. Don’t be shocked and do ask tons of questions:

Some atheists like to shock Christians with the fact that they don’t believe in God. This brand of atheist pulls the pin on the “there is no God” grenade and drops it in the middle of the conversation, expecting Christians to run for cover.
Don’t be phased. As a matter of fact start asking questions about their atheism. Find out what they mean by atheism (some are agnostics but call themselves atheists). Ask questions about their background.
And remember that, as you ask questions, your goal is not to trap them but to understand them. Find out areas where you agree. Just like Paul found common ground with the athenians when he discovered an altar “to the unknown God” we can find common ground in a mutual rejection of legalistic religion, a passion for science and reason and, usually, an overall positive view of the historic Jesus.
Although James spoke somewhat negatively of religion he spoke well of Jesus. While he didn’t view Jesus as the Son of God he did perceive him as an enlightened soul. At the minimum that was something I could build on in making my own case for Christ.

2. Listen deeply for the real “why”:

Often atheists have a reason (other than “reason“) for becoming atheists. Listen for it. Sometimes it’s anger over losing a loved one or because they were hurt by the church in some way. Sometimes there other reasons, like the fact that they are afraid of the truth, because if they embraced the truth, they would be submitted to God, and would not be free as they were before; so they prefer to embrace a lie which makes them freer. Whatever the reason, there’s always a “why” behind the lie they are embracing.
In John 4 Jesus masterfully attacked the why behind the lie that the woman at the well was embracing. She was not an atheist but a hedonist who thought that satisfaction could be found if she finally found the right husband. But Jesus offers her living water to satisfy her deepest needs and, finally, her thirst was fully quenched.
James shared with me about his upbringing in England and his regular attendance at The Church of England. He told me about how his wife had left him and how he could only see his kids every other weekend. James shared how he reads at least a book a week and how he loses himself in novels.
As he shared I couldn’t quite nail why he was an atheist but I could sense that he was a lonely man. My heart went out to him and I think he could sense my sympathy.

3. Connect relationally:

Atheists are real people with real feelings. They laugh, cry, talk and connect like anyone else. I think that too many times Christians treat atheists as objects and not people.
James and I joked together as we sparred each other. I listened to him and he listened to me. Bottom line is that I like James. He is an interesting guy with an interesting story.
We should heed Paul’s reminder to Timothy about how to deal with those who disagree with us theologically,
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

4. They do believe in God:

There are no people who totally rejects the existence of God. Sure, there are many who claim that God’s existence is lie but they really do believe there’s a God.
Why? Because Scripture makes it clear in that there are no real atheists:
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools." (Romans 1:18-22)
They may try to suppress their belief in God but, sooner or later in the discussion, atheists say something like, “well if God is so good then why does he allow…” This is the point in the conversation where they have “forgotten” their atheism and revealed some of their challenges with, not the reality of God, but the nature of God.
When you assume that an atheist does really believe in the existence of God it gives you the freedom not to have to prove God’s existence but to share God’s story. You can be sure that, the gospel is churning in the soul of the atheist.

5. Frame the gospel as a love story (that just happens to be true):

When I shared the gospel with James I wasn’t trying to prove God’s existence, I was simply sharing the story of God’s love. I said something like, “James, at the core of Christianity is a love story. Jesus put it this way, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but has everlasting life." (John 3:16)
I could tell that James was intrigued by this view. He listened respectfully and asked thoughtful questions.
Yes, I dipped into some apologetics at this point (C.S. Lewis’ Lord, lunatic or liar argument, teleological argument, etc.) but only after I had framed the gospel as a love story. In the words of my friend Bill Jack, too many times too many Christians use apologetics as a sledge hammer instead of a crowbar to pry open closed minds. As a result the conversation turns argumentative instead of respectful.
James and I had a respectful conversation where I heard him and he heard the good news of Jesus. My job is not to lead him to Jesus but to “set forth the truth plainly” and let the Spirit of God continues his work.
James didn’t say the sinner’s prayer when the plane pulled up to the gate after landing. But I believe that somewhere between Denver and St. Louis the Spirit of God nudged him closer to Jesus. It is my prayer that, in God’s perfect time, he will cross the line of faith and receive Jesus as his Savior.

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