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RIO REVOLUTION CHURCH
Maryville, Tennessee
Truth Seekers Class





"Go ye...."
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PRAYER
Part 1: General Comments

February 5, 2012


INTRODUCTION. Last Sunday, I asked the class what topic should be taught today, and the subject of prayer was requested. Although I am inadequate to discuss this far-reaching subject, I will make a few comments in class to start discussion and, hopefully, to start your thinking about prayer.


EXPLANATION: This lesson series will continue for a few weeks (the number depending upon class discussion) and will be a jumble of ideas. Because this topic is so broad and covers teachings of many generations of Old and New Testament authors, I cannot write smooth-flowing, comprehensive lessons. The lessons will be rough outlines of ideas for us to discuss certain aspects of prayer.

We probably will follow this schedule:
• Part 1: general comments about prayer...
• Part 2: various, more specific commandments for prayer...
• Part 3: some of Jesus' prayers....


WHAT IS PRAYER? In its simplest definition, prayer is merely talking to God. Prayer first and foremost requires faith (belief) in God— a good, caring God, a God who will provide for your needs, and a God you can approach. You may pray to God, because you believe in Him as your Father and believe He will provide what is best for you, His child.

Prayer is simple, but it can have profound effects and touches on many tenets of faith.

Illustration: Imagine that I hold up an envelope this morning. I tell the class that there is a $100 bill inside, and I would like to give this money to someone— just for the asking.

Would you come forward and take the envelope? If not, why?

Someone in the class could benefit from my generosity in giving this money. That person would need to believe certain things and take certain actions, including:
• He/she needs to believe me, that I actually have $100 in the envelope, and it is mine to give away.
• He/she needs to believe that I truly intend to give the money to a person who asks.
• He/she needs to exercise enough faith in my offer to arise, walk to the front of the class, and reach for the envelope.

If you pray to God, you need to exercise similar faith:
• You need to believe Biblical teachings, that God has gifts for you, and they are His to give.
• You need to believe that God truly intends to bless you— because of your faith.
• You need to exercise enough faith in God's offer to pray and gratefully accept any of His blessings.

I will ask twelve questions (and a “bonus question” about the tallit) to begin our discussion of prayer:




Q-1: DOES GOD LOVE YOU? God will give you gifts and bless you, because He loves you. If God hated you, why would He bother to help you in your need?

The Bible is the greatest love story ever written. Its pages repeatedly tell of the love of God for His children. I present just a very few of many Scriptures which tell of the love of God (in His three Persons) for His children:

• (Deuteronomy 23:5b): ... the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you.

• (John 3:16): [Jesus said] "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

• (John 15:9-10, 12-13): [Jesus said] "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. || This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.”

• (John 16:27): [Jesus said] " ... for the Father Himself loves you,....”

• (Romans 8:35, 38-39): Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [Shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? || For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

• (Galatians 5:22-23): But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

• (1 John 4:8b,19): … God is love. || We love Him because He first loved us.

A loving God— a good Father— delights in answering prayer because of His love.




Q-2: DOES GOD PROVIDE FOR YOUR NEEDS? Our ancient forefathers in faith, the Hebrews and Israelites, were passionately protective of God's formal name— His ineffable (unutterable) name.

They used a number of substitute names for God to avoid even the remote possibility of misusing or mispronouncing His Holy Name. (How different it is today, when many persons— including Christians— mutter or curse in the name of God!)

One such substitute name was Yehovah-yireh (Jehovah-jireh), translated to: “Jehovah (God) will see (and will provide).” This belief stemmed from Abraham's obedience to God that he would sacrifice his only covenant son, Isaac, but was, instead, supplied with a sacrificial ram (Genesis 22:8, 12-14): And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." So the two of them went together. || And [the Angel of the LORD] said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only [son], from Me." Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind [him was] a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide [Hebrew: Yehovah yireh, English: Jehovah-jireh, or “The LORD will provide”]; as it is said [to] this day, "In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided."

If you pray to God, you must believe that God will see and provide for your needs. We are taught (Matthew 7:7-11): [Jesus said] “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

In applying this Scripture to your life, I believe you should apply two commonsense principles:

(a) What you ask for (want) may not be what you need. For example, a newly licensed sixteen year-old driver may wish for a Lamborghini sports car. He may pray constantly, earnestly, fervently for this car, which can be driven at a speed exceeding 200 m.p.h. God would know, though, that this young driver cannot handle such an automobile, and would kill himself or others. A loving God would not grant such a request, no matter how much the young man might pray for it.

(b) God may answer your prayer, but it may not be the answer you want to hear. You have heard before that three possible answers exist, when you ask something of God— yes, no, or wait. “Wait” may be the hardest answer of all. Remember that God's timetable is not the same as man's timetable (2 Peter 3:8): But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day [is] as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

As I pointed out in last week's lesson, your present life is merely the door to your eternal life. God may answer prayer by granting an eternal reward in Heaven, rather than a very limited (short-lived) reward on Earth. You should remain patient, always believing in the goodness and fairness of God.




Q-3: DOES GOD HEAR THE PRAYER OF SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE IN HIM? This question may be a form of circular reasoning. If someone does not believe God exists, why would he/ she pray to Him?

The Bible is silent on this question (to my knowledge), but I suspect the answer is: No, God would not hear such a person's prayer unless it is a prayer of salvation. Then, certainly, God would hear this prayer.

Jesus may have hinted at the answer (John 10:27): [Jesus said] “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”




Q-4: WHY WOULD GOD NOT HEAR YOUR PRAYER? In a following lesson, I will answer this question more fully. Jesus was very clear that prayer to God is conditional. That is, God will forgive you in direct proportion to the degree you forgive others. If I interpret Jesus' words correctly, God will not hear your prayer for forgiveness, if you have not first forgiven those who have sinned against you. This condition is hard, but I believe it is Jesus' clear teaching.




Q-5: IS PRAYER A PRIVATE CONVERSATION BETWEEN A BELIEVER AND GOD? THAT IS, SHOULD PRAYERS BE LONG-WINDED AND PAINFULLY ELOQUENT? You have heard them, just as I have. You may have prayed them, just as I have. Some pastors and laypersons believe God surely must be impressed with an eloquent command of the English language. Using their best repertoire of titles and “churchspeak,” many people drone on at great length, with quivering voice and eloquent emotion.

I would neither mock or belittle any person, as he/ she prays, nor would I question any person's motive in praying.

However, Jesus taught that we should pray to God in private, rather than drawing attention to ourselves (Matthew 6:5-6): "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who [is] in the secret [place]; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

Understand what Jesus told you in this passage:

• Hypocrites make a great show of prayer, standing before men and making a spectacle of prayer. They seek the acclaim of men. Their beautiful prayers impress man— but, not God. Such “showboat” persons receive the true reward they seek.

• You should pray in private, without seeking the approval of man. God knows your needs, even before you speak them (Matthew 6:8b, 32b): [Jesus said] “... For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. || ... For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”

• God will hear your secret prayers, and reward you openly in eternity. (Understand that your present life is only the beginning of your eternal life. If you are not rewarded according to your timetable on Earth, believe that God will reward you according to His timetable in Heaven.)

Is it wrong to pray in public (before a group or audience)? I do not believe it is wrong. However, the person offering the prayer should not depend upon this as his/ her only prayer, should be humble in prayer, and should not make a showy production of the prayer. He/ she is a representative of the group in offering prayer to God, and should not become a performer. (Jesus called such people “hypocrites.” One translation of the Greek word for “hypocrite” is “actor.” In first century Greek drama, actors hid their faces behind masks— a smiling mask told the audience the actor was playing a happy role, a frowning mask told the audience the actor was playing a sad role, and so forth. Jesus said we become hypocrites [actors], when our outward appearance, words, and actions belie the true inner self.)

Whether in private or public, we should just talk to our Heavenly Father, as we would speak to our earthly father. My family only had one automobile when I was a teenager. I needed to borrow (frequently) that automobile to date Linda. It was sufficient to ask, simply: “May I use the car Saturday night?” I did not go to my father and dramatically emote: “Oh, exalted father, ruler of this household; may your name be held in greatest esteem among all of your neighbors; may you always be pleased with me, your humble son; thanking you for your goodness in purchasing the family's Chevrolet, I humbly beseech you on bended knee to permit me, your lowly, humble son, to borrow it Saturday night to date the lovely Linda Hunley; ... (and so forth).” If I had asked in this manner, he would have been embarrassed and probably would have walked away, without answering. Then, he would ask my mother if I had been struck recently in the head. In my opinion, you should talk to your Heavenly Father in plain language, respectfully and directly, as you would talk to your earthly father.

God's vocabulary is much greater than your vocabulary. I suggest you should just talk plainly to God, without drama. Some of Jesus' must heartfelt and poignant prayers to God the Father were simple and to the point.

Please see a touching prayer— “The Farmer and the Lord”— performed by the late Jimmy Dean on a Gaither Homecoming program. Dean's rendition is well worth your time, and you will see a magnificent example of talking humbly to the Lord, as though He is your best Friend.




Q-6: WHAT ABOUT VAIN REPETITION? You do it, and so do I. When we hear a well-expressed phrase in a prayer given by someone else, we may mimic it. If you are asked to pray before a meal, you probably will tuck in a sentence, something like: “We thank you for the hands that prepared this meal, and we ask that the food be used for the nourishment of our bodies.”

There is nothing wrong with this sentence. In fact, it is nice to acknowledge those whose labor and skill have provided a good meal. But, certain sentences or phrases become trite “churchspeak,” rather than expressing true thoughts. We are warned against repetitious prayer (Matthew 6:7): [Jesus said] "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen [do]. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”




Q-7: WHAT IS THE ROLE OF JESUS IN PRAYER? For generations, the Jewish High Priest annually entered the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice and seek forgiveness for the sins of the people by sprinkling blood on the Mercy Seat. With the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the New Covenant of God was established. We now have the true Messiah, not the promise of a coming Messiah. We worship through Jesus, not temple rituals (Hebrews 10:4-5): For [it is] not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. Therefore, when [Jesus] came into the world, He said: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.”

Jesus replaced the succession of Jewish High Priests and now serves as our only High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16): Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast [our] confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all [points] tempted as [we are, yet] without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus is seated at the right-hand (the honored seat) of God the Father (Psalm 110:1): A Psalm of David. The LORD [God the Father] said to my Lord [the Messiah], "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool." — AND — (Acts 5:31): Him [Jesus] God has exalted to His right hand [to be] Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. — AND — other Scriptures.

The High Priest Jesus does not minister in a temple because there is no Temple in an eternal Heaven (Revelation 21:22): But I saw no temple in [New Jerusalem, or Heaven], for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

Jesus is your Mediator. (As Mediator, Jesus bridges the gap between you and God the Father, intervening on your behalf, restoring peace between God and you, and pleading your case because of His blood sacrifice on the cross (that is, by invoking God's promises in the New Covenant). See (among other Scriptures):

• (1 Timothy 2:5-6a): For [there is] one God and one Mediator between God and men, [the] Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all,....

• (Hebrews 8:6): But now [Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

• (Hebrews 9:15): And for this reason [Jesus] is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Thus, it seems appropriate for you to pray to God only through your Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ.




The following two sections may seem to be anti-Catholic. If you reach this conclusion, it is certainly not my intention. As Protestants, we have enough planks in our eyes not to worry about anything in the eyes of Catholics (Matthew 7:1-5). However, these questions may arise, whenever prayer is discussed. I wish to make four points, and, then, you come to your own conclusions:
• You have but one life. What you do— or do not do— with your life is what will be judged.
• No person is responsible for the sins of another.
• No person can ask for and obtain forgiveness of the sins of any other person.
• Prayers can be made to God the Father only through the appointed Mediator, Jesus the Christ, and not through any other person, no matter how pious and worthy that person may have been in life.


Q-8: WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE VIRGIN MARY AND “SAINTS” IN PRAYER? From Scriptures in the preceding section, it appears there is but One Mediator— Jesus.

The role of Mary in Catholic prayer is controversial. It is my understanding that Catholics pray to “Jesus, through Mary.”

As much as Mary may be “most blessed among women” (Luke 1:28, etc.) and as much as we may— and should— honor her, I find no Scriptural evidence that she provides any linkage between man and God. (That is, nothing states we should approach God in prayer through Mary.)

As an example, the Ave Maria (“Hail Mary”), a prayer for the intercession of Mary, forms the basis of the Rosary. This prayer states: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen." [my underlining for emphasis]

I believe we cannot ask Mary or Saints to pray for us or that we may pray through Saints. I believe all persons in Paradise (later, Heaven) are/ will be saints— not just the few who have been beatified and canonized to be awarded the title of “Saints” by any church denomination. See the next section.




Q-9: MAY WE PRAY FOR SALVATION OR FORGIVENESS OF SIN FOR DEAD PERSONS? As in the preceding section, this topic is controversial. Catholics offer prayers through saints. If it is acceptable to ask, as did Paul and others, for living persons to pray for each other and if it is believed that dead persons (saints) are alive in the afterlife, why would it be inappropriate to ask saints to approach God on the behalf of any person, dead or living? This question is intertwined with the concept of Purgatory. I find no convincing Scriptural evidence of Purgatory, praying for the dead, or approaching God in prayer except through Jesus, our Mediator.

The desire to pray for the sins of a dead person has not been limited to Catholicism. Protestants have had similar ideas. In the past in parts of Great Britain, some villages employed a “sin-eater” (usually a beggar). This practice was brought to America and was practiced in some parts of Appalachia. Although individual locales may have practiced this ritual a little differently, commonly the sin-eater would be brought to the bedside of a dying person (a sinner). Bread would be placed on the chest of the dying person, and a bowl of ale would be waved over him/ her. The sin-eater would, then, eat the bread and drink the ale, thereby taking the sins of the dying person into himself. This bizarre practice, which is completely contrary to Biblical teachings, has died out (as far as I know).




Q-10: IF GOD DOES NOT GRANT YOUR PRAYER REQUEST, DOES THIS INDICATE HE DOES NOT LOVE YOU? No. Remember, I said earlier that there are three answers from God to a prayer request— yes, no, wait. God will give you the answer that is best for you and is according to His timing. You may request something, but God may have another plan for your life. Accept such answers from God as His gift for you. The best benefit for your life may come in an unexpected answer to prayer. Your answer may not be revealed or awarded to you until your Bema Judgment.

The best answer to this question may come from the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:5b, 7-10): ... yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. || And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The most devout followers of Christ— including Paul and other apostles— suffered and were not spared illness or death. If God's answer to the prayers of His most righteous servants is “no,” why can we not accept “no” from God, when we pray?




Q-11: WHAT IS THE GREATEST PRAYER THAT CAN BE ANSWERED? Although you may pray for a cure of an illness, for being spared death at the moment, for relief from debt, or other dire needs, God makes available to every person an answered prayer which is far greater than a prayer, say, for being cured of cancer. That prayer is for salvation (Romans 10:9): ... if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

If God grants you eternal life in New Jerusalem (Heaven), does it really matter if you are cured of cancer (or any other “thorn in the flesh”) and live a few more months or years before dying? God's gift of salvation is His very best gift for you. This gift is given freely through His grace and the sacrificial death of Jesus. Ensure that you have accepted God's greatest gift. Then, any other gift is merely an unexpected blessing from a gracious God.




Q-12: WHAT DOES “AMEN” MEAN? Probably most prayers end with “Amen.” Our English “amen” comes from Hebrew and Greek words, pronounced: ah-MAYN, which were used in Old Testament and New Testament times of worship. Occurring at the end of a prayer or reading of Scripture, the word may be translated: truly, so be it, so it is, or may it be fulfilled. After prayer or reading Scripture, worshipers who add, “Amen,” signify their agreement with the prayer or Scripture reading. That is, they symbolically make it their prayer before God or their agreement and understanding of the Scripture reading.




Q-13 (BONUS): WHAT IS A TALLIT? A tallit was/ is a prayer shawl. It was a vital piece of clothing for Jews— Jesus wore a tallit— and Jewish, Messianic Jewish, and some Protestant congregations wear the garment even today.

A tallit is a rectangular Jewish shawl, commonly referred to as a “prayer shawl,” fitted with tzitzit (fringes). The plural of tallit is tallitot. In Yiddish, the garment is called a tallis. The only purpose of a tallit is to provide a garment with four corners for the purpose of holding the tzitzit (fringes). God commanded wearing of tzitzit (corner fringes), but not the tallit (shawl). (See Numbers 15:37-41 and Deuteronomy 22:12.)

Scriptures do not specify tying particular types or numbers of knots in the tzitzit. They do not designate a gender difference in usage between men and women. By tradition, men may wear tallits, women may not wear; or, between native Israelite/Hebrew people (may wear) and those assimilated by them, the Gentiles (may not wear). God’s commandment on tzitzit wearing was written for all adult Israelites and those of "the mixed multitude" that exited Egypt with them.

The tallit was a practical, four-cornered garment upon which to attach the tzitzit. (Ancient Jewish clothing was typically a robe, without corners. The tallit provided the four-corners for tzitzit attachment that God commanded to be worn.)

The blue thread or ribbon, the tekeleth, in the tzitzit is interpreted by Christians as a representation of Messiah. Covering the head with the tallit (prayer shawl) can be considered entering a private place to pray— akin to Jesus’ advice to pray in a “prayer closet” (Matthew 6:6).

When the woman with a twelve-year issue of blood sought healing by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment (Matthew 9:20), she undoubtedly touched His tzizit.

Various rituals or regulations about tallit wearing have arisen over the centuries, but these are extra-Biblical (outside Scripture) rules of man, not commandments of God.

Tallits (in proper Hebrew, the plural is: tallitot) are commonly made of wool, cotton, or silk. Strictly observant Jews prefer a tallit made of half-bleached, coarsely woven lamb’s wool. The Torah commands that a tallit must not be made of a mixture of wool and linen. Christians may prefer lamb's wool tallits because Jesus came as our Passover Lamb.

The blue color for the tzitzit thread, the tekeleth, is commanded in Numbers 15:38. Traditionally, tekeleth comes from a shell which washes ashore on the Mediterranean beaches of Israel. About the time of Islam's rise, the Jews stopped finding these shells. A black thread replaced the blue thread. The rabbis explained that the black thread was a sign of mourning that the Second Temple no longer existed. A few years ago, the shells started washing ashore once again. Israel now has its revered blue color, and blue threads are replacing black threads. A few months ago, a “Naked Archeologist” program on the History Channel showed a modern Israeli dyeing a hank of wool in a shellfish extract in the same manner as wool was dyed in Jesus’ time. The wool came out almost colorless at first, but, when exposed to air, turned to a beautiful blue (cerulean blue) color in a matter of seconds. I hope you saw this program. See a videoclip (not associated with “Naked Archeologist”).

The significance of the blue thread is this: Blue traditionally is the color of Messiah. The way for the coming of Messiah is being paved daily. Remember earlier lessons: A flask of the long-lost, irreplaceable anointing oil has been found in a Qumran cave. Remember: “The Messiah” (from Hebrew) or “The Christ” (from Greek) means “The Anointed One (of God).” Jesus must be anointed, when He returns, and now authentic oil is available. The tekeleth— Messiah's blue color— can now be made. The Temple Institute is making all of the altars, furniture, vessels, and garments necessary for the Third Temple. Young men from the Tribe of Levi are being trained for the priesthood. God has provided a genetic marker for Levites, in order that man can identify these men appropriately. And so forth. God the Father is preparing the way for His Son’s return, and that return surely is close at hand.

If a tallit had any color beside white at one time, it contained only black. Now, a tallit may appear in various colors and designs. Messianic Jewish Christians commonly choose blue stripes because of the blue color associated with Messiah.

Rabbinical teachings are that the tallit is not important by itself. The important part is the tzitzit (fringes) on the tallit. Traditionally, the tzitzit contains a combination of knots, which total 613. There were 613 commandments for Jews before Jesus' birth. One knot was tied for each commandment. As a Jew walked, his hand would brush along the tasseled tzitzit as a constant reminder that God’s laws went with him wherever he walked. He was also commanded to wear a phylactery and a tefillin to remind him of God’s laws, especially the Sh’ma Yisrael (“Hear O Israel...” Deuteronomy 6:4). This verse is to Jews what John 3:16 is to Christians.

In class, I will discuss customs which surround the tallit. These man-designated customs, as expected, are sometimes contradictory.

Should you wear a tallit? You are not commanded to do so, but I personally see nothing wrong in wearing a tallit, if you so desire. God looks at who we are, rather than what we wear (1 Samuel 16:7): But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For [the LORD does] not [see] as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."




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