CHAPTER 1: FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLES
To get a better understanding of how to pray the right way, let's look at how Democratic countries like the United States create and implement its laws.
In a federal Democratic system such as in the US, the government is divided into 3 equal branches: the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches. The executive branch is responsible for implementing the country's laws and managing its affairs in accordance with its laws. The judiciary branch is responsible for interpreting the country's laws, especially when it comes to settling disputes. The legislative branch is the one responsible for creating laws of the country.
The legislature is typically divided into 2 parts. The lower house, or Congress, is composed of locally elected officials. Congressmen and congresswomen represent constituents from their local districts, such as cities or municipalities, in Congress to create new laws and regulations. Senators, on the other hand, are officials elected by constituents of a much greater area. Hence, the reference to it as the upper house. In the United States and other federal governments in the world, senators are voted by their state constituents. In other Democratic forms of government such as the Philippines, senators are voted on a national level.
For a new law to be passed, it must be ratified by both the upper and the lower house. The final step in the process is the president of the country, signing it into law but one very important characteristic determines whether a bill proposed in Congress or at the Senate is qualified for ratification as a law: it must be constitutional.
For a proposed bill or law to be considered constitutional, it must not violate a country's constitution. You can think of it as the law of all laws because it will determine whether a proposed bill or law can be passed or ratified. For example, if the constitution gives a country’s citizens their right to own guns for self-defense, Congress and the Senate cannot pass laws prohibiting qualified individuals from owning such weapons. Or the constitution prohibits foreign ownership of businesses in specific industries, meaning the legislative branch may not ratify proposed bills that allow foreign individuals and companies to buy into or set up businesses in the country.
Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with being a Christian in general or praying in particular? Well, The Bible is our constitution. As such, it is the way by which we can determine whether prayer or other matters of faith and conduct is God's will or not. In the same way, you will be able to identify false teachers and prophets according to how their teachings line up with what the word of God actually says.
Now that you understand the importance of the Bible when it
omes to learning God's will in our lives, it's time to understand how to read it.
Identify the Specific Genre
The Bible, literally translated, means a collection of books. That is why if you actually read it, you will find a myriad number of sections or books. From Genesis to Revelation, each book in the Bible conveys different types of messages for its readers.
The books in the Bible consist of different genres. These include:
which specific Bible verses come from? It will determine, to a great extent, what information is being relayed to the reader. Take, for example, Judas hanging himself after betraying Jesus. In Matthew 27:1-5, The Bible says that this disciple who betrayed Jesus felt so much remorse about what he did to the point that he decided to commit suicide.
• Narrative or Historical
• Wisdom Literature
Why is it important to understand what genre the book from?It will determine, to a great extent, what information is being relayed to the reader. Take, for example, Judas hanging himself after betraying Jesus. In Matthew 27:1-5, The Bible says that this disciple who betrayed Jesus felt so much remorse about what he did to the point that he decided to commit suicide.
A person who is not familiar with the genres of the book of Matthew, i.e., narrative and gospel, may think or get the idea that to make up for one's "major" sins, he or she needs to take her own life – just like what Judas did. But if that person knows that this is a narrative or historical account, we just meant to tell a story rather than provide instructions for Christian living, he or she would not make that fatal
This includes books of the Bible or sections of books
that simply tell the story of what happened. Exodus is an
expansive, epic narrative. Ruth focuses on the story of one
family. Acts tell the spectacular events of the first
generation of Christians, as they were led and inspired by
the Holy Spirit. The narrative tells us what happened,
according to the purposes of the author. Sometimes there
are spiritual lessons from events, and sometimes we are
just gaining the context of the history of God's people.
This is all of Psalms and sections of other books. The
power of poetry comes through the use of vivid figurative
language ("As the deer pants for streams of water, so my
soul pants for you, my God." Ps. 42:1.) Also, ideas are
repeated, sometimes with the same words, other times
with synonyms (synonymous parallelism). The Psalms and
other poetic sections of the Bible communicate ideas, but
they especially express emotion. They show life in its fullness.
Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes are collections of wise sayings meant to shape their readers' moral and ethical lives. They cover many practical topics. The book of James in the New Testament, in many ways, is like Proverbs in the Old Testament.
The four major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) and the 12 minor prophets (Hosea through Malachi) are God's words to his covenant people, warning and bolstering them during periods of pronounced spiritual and national danger. They are mostly oracles, later written down. We gain spiritual lessons from them about God's disposition (e.g., disappointed, indignant, sorrowful, tender, caring) and the condition of the people addressed (e.g., frightened, disobedient, humbled, arrogant). We must read Old Testament prophetic books as God's challenge to the original audiences, and then we apply the lessons to our day.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are similar to narrative or biography genres, but they are more than these. The Gospels are proclamation. The people who wrote them were true believers relating first-hand accounts about the life and teachings of Jesus. And so we read the genre of Gospel as faith documents, announcing a world-changing event centered in the person of Jesus. (The teachings of Jesus we know as parables are their own genre. These unique stories communicate lessons embedded in extended similes and metaphors.)
The letters of the New Testament were communications to specific individuals or groups for specific and varied purposes. The apostle Paul meant Romans to be an overarching description of Christian faith, whereas 1 Corinthians was occasioned by problems, including a list of questions they had for Paul ("now concerning the matters you wrote about," 1 Cor. 7:1), and the letters to Timothy were to encourage and guide a younger church leader in a challenging spot. Epistles are "occasioned" texts, and so we need to get at the circumstances that led to them being written.
The book of Revelation and parts of the book of Daniel
are revelations. Like other prophecies, they proclaim
urgent messages to their original audiences, in particular,
warning and comfort. To a greater degree than other
prophetic books, they employ much symbolic language,
which can be understood by studying preceding similar
expressions in Scripture.
A popular saying goes like this: when you take the "text" out of context, you're left with a "con." The same principle can be applied to Bible verses. If we take them out of their context, we will fail to understand what it's really trying to say.
One of the most misinterpreted Bible verses, one that is also used by many false prophets and teachers to deceive their flock, Is Matthew 6:33. You may not be familiar with the book, chapter, and verse, but I'm sure you are familiar with what it says: But seek first God's Kingdom and all of these things will be added unto you.
Maybe you're thinking, this verse is so clear; how can it be taken out of context? Well, many Christians take this verse alone and interpret it to mean that if I worship and believe in God, then I will be able to receive everything I want. After all, didn't it say that if I put Him first, all of these things will be added to me? It said "all," didn't it?
If you do a little analysis of this verse, you will see that such an interpretation is actually illogical. How? The verse specifically said to put God first. But if we obey him because our ultimate goal is to get all the stuff we want from him, does that really mean we're putting him first? Just think about it - this particular interpretation of the verse is counterproductive.
Singling out Bible verses and taking them out of context to build theological teachings around them is one of the biggest reasons quiet more and more people are abandoning Christianity in particular and organized religion in general. They come to the Lord with excitement and passion in the beginning, only to be greatly disappointed and dismayed when things turn out very differently from what they were taught in church.
When people take Bible verses out of context, they are not really following God's word. That is why, more than just making it a habit to read the Bible, we must learn the basics of proper Bible study.
Now that we have established the importance of interpreting Bible verses in their proper context, what does it mean to do so? Fortunately, doing this isn't rocket science.
The quickest way to get the proper context of a Bible verse is to read its preceding and succeeding sentences or paragraphs. The precedents establish the context, and the succeeding ones help reinforce it. Again, let's look at Matthew 6:33 as an example.
"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
Now, let's take a look at the preceding and succeeding sentences – starting from Matthew 6:25 and ending in verse 34 NIV) – to understand what Yeshua Jesus Christ was really rd trying to communicate to his audience here:
"25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life[e]?
28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and
tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Now, is the message of Yeshua much clearer and specific? When you read the entire section, it becomes very obvious that
what Jesus Christ was actually trying to say to his followers back then was to not worry about their lives, specifically about meeting their needs. And in particular, he was saying that the best way to live a worry-free life is to remember that when we prioritize obeying God above all else, he will make sure all our needs will be met. And he emphasizes this by using birds and flowers as examples, as well as pointing out to his audiences that as people, they are more important than the former.
Can you now see how it's impossible to interpret verse 33 as a message or instruction on how to get the things you want? Unfortunately, I have seen lots of cringe-worthy social media posts of many Christians using this verse to justify their materialism and greed. Worse, there are many high-profile and very popular preachers who are peddling erroneous theology for their material gain.
In most cases, looking at preceding and succeeding sentences is enough to get a clear context of specific Bible verses. But when we encounter those that are harder to understand, we can instead read the entire chapter to get a bird's-eye view and better understanding. And if there is enough time, it will even be better to read the entire book.
There are other ways to get the proper context of what the Bible is trying to say in specific verses, but it's best to leave them for more advanced Bible studies. For purposes of being able to understand what God's word says about praying based on what Jesus said, identifying a book's genre and knowing how to put rd Bible verses in proper contexts should be enough.