The text on this page is from the preface of Take Every Passage to Prayer, Volume 2 - The Gospels.
© 2022 by Charles Wagner.
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the third child and the only son of my Christian parents. My family worshipped at an independent evangelical church where I became familiar with Sunday school and vacation Bible school. I spent my high school years at a reputable private Christian day school. I earned a bachelor’s degree from a Christian college in Massachusetts in 1983.
By the age of 46, I had seen seven counselors and received prescriptions from three psychiatrists to combat my depression. I was committed into the hospital for a weekend in April 2004 after mental health professionals had become alarmed by my persistent talk of committing suicide.
“I am a failure!”
My career had become a study in underachievement. When my first wife filed for divorce, I understood I had failed in relationships as well. My life was not worth living.
In early August of 2007, I received word that a close friend of mine had died of a drug overdose. She had helped me navigate the emotions of the end of my first marriage. The coroner’s statement of the cause of her death revealed the depth of my naiveté. I now understood why my friend had often asked me to rush cash down to her late in the evening.
Her sudden death and my new awareness of my lack of sophistication drove me to my knees.
“God, please rescue me! Please change me! Please make me a new man! I hate my life!”
God brought into my life an extraordinary Christian counselor who met with me every week for over four years. She was kind, compassionate, and patient. She persevered reading hundreds of pages of a journal about my life, an exercise in reading that exhausted her. Hour after hour and week after week of her warm and gentle heart gave me the encouragement to stop hiding my teary eyes under my baseball cap in her office.
Though I had grown up in the church, I had never understood God’s love for me. My counselor used the tools of compassion and grace to show me that God loved me. Her tools were far more effective than mere words.
There was another woman God used to show me His love. My mother's faith grew when she turned to God for comfort after my father passed away in 2000. She prayed for me continuously. Unfamiliar with the technology of email, she would send me letters in the mail with Bible verses she had transcribed with her hand. She reminded me faithfully that God is good even when times are bad.
The love of these two women, given to me in my darkest hours, gave me hope that God was eager to hear from me. I began to pray every opportunity I had. I prayer journaled, sharing with God my complex thoughts and feelings. It was a process that opened my eyes to how I had been deceiving myself for years.
God guided me to a deeper understanding of life as He called me into an intense study of the Bible. I eagerly studied Genesis through Revelation, a process I repeated for several years in a row. It was through this process that I began to understand the core message of Scripture.
Genesis chapter three records the core temptation of the human heart.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (New International Version, Genesis 3:4-5)
God knows what is good and what is evil because He has defined them. We didn't like that He was telling us what we could and could not do. We wanted to define right and wrong for ourselves, an act of rebellion. God alone has the right to define morality and ethics. When we decide to do that for ourselves, we are thinking of ourselves as god.
Jesus Christ understood that His sacrifice was to address this human pride. Consider the prayer that He taught us to pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (New International Version, Matthew 6:9-13)
In this passage, Jesus Christ is teaching us to pray in reverse of Genesis chapter three. We confess to God that He is God, and we are not. We worship God’s name because He is God, and we are not. We admit He has a heavenly kingdom because He is God, and we are not. We admit He executes His divine purposes in heaven and on earth because He is God, and we are not. We admit He provides for us because He is God, and we are not. We admit we need forgiveness because He is God, and we are not. We admit that we are weak, and we need God to rescue us from evil, because He is God and we are not. The prayer Jesus taught each of us to pray is a shout to God saying: “You are God, and I am not!”
First, I experienced the love of God in my life. Second, He encouraged me to spend time with Him in prayer and the study of His Word. Third, I understood my own rebellion from God. My life wasn’t a mess because God had let me down and didn’t love me. My life was a mess because I did things my way. Fourth, I understood Jesus Christ died on the cross for my rebellion from God. He took on Himself the wrath of God that I deserved. Fifth, a spirit of gratefulness and thanksgiving washed over me.
Thank you, God! Thank you!
When we are thankful for the work of Jesus Christ in our lives, our love for Him grows. We become motivated to do what is right because we want to please the Father and the Son and put smiles on their faces. Christianity will not thrive in our lives because we follow a set of rules or traditions. Christianity will thrive in our lives when we are incredibly grateful for the love that God has showed to us through His Son.
I know that many people do not like explanations for things that are too simplistic. However, after what I’ve been through in life and what lessons God has taught me, I believe I have found the key to understanding the mysteries of life and human behavior.
We are rebels from God. We desire to make our own decisions in life. We decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. We set our own goals, ignoring any interest God may have in what we do in life. We don’t ask God for wisdom. We don’t ask God for His help. We don’t ask God to give us the things that we need. We don’t ask God to protect us from harm. We don’t think to thank God for all the good things we have received in life (though we sure love to complain). We want to be our own gods.
God is all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, immutable, all-wise, sovereign, holy, the creator of love, the inventor of compassion, the architect of mercy, and the designer of generosity. We, on the other hand, are weak, ignorant, finite, variable, foolish, dependent, common, hateful, unkind, unmerciful, and self-centered. However, we put ourselves on the throne of our lives. We know better than God what is best for us. We manage our lives better than He can. We doubt God. We blame Him for the things we do. We don’t think He will come through for us, but we believe we can save ourselves. We are insane, foolish, outright rebellious, or all the above.
Our rebellion from God is the key to our lack of faith, the brokenness in our lives, and the problems in our community, in our nation, and in international relations. Our rebellion from God explains the human longing to create an all-powerful government that we foolishly believe can define morality for us, provide for us, and protect us as a God-substitute.
Our rebellion from God is also the key to the dysfunction in our relationships.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (New International Version, Galatians 5:22-23)
When we surrender our lives to God (living our lives as though He is God and we are not), the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts and minds. Our character will change. We will become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. Imagine the impact such character traits will have on our marriage, our family relationships, and our friendships. Imagine the impact such character traits will have in our congregation, at our workplace, and in our local community.
After the loss of my friend in Texas to a sudden drug overdose, I developed a passion for people in our communities who are feeling despair and hopelessness. What could I do for them? How can I give them hope? I had never thought this way before.
In 2012 and 2013, my son Chad and I traveled to various places in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Ohio, and the District of Columbia. We volunteered planting trees, serving a meal to families of children fighting cancer, delivering Christmas gifts to cancer victims, serving meals in homeless shelters, and delivering used furniture to families struggling with poverty. We were scheduled to visit charities in every state in the country until God altered our focus. Our story was covered on WBOY in West Virginia and Fox 19 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The story of a father and son wanting to volunteer around the country made news. I made a connection with a prison and addiction recovery ministry in Bensalem, PA and participated frequently in the worship service with inmates inside the largest adult prison in Philadelphia, PA.
As I began to work with more and more people, a new spiritual gift was revealed. God had given me the gift of prayer. I began to write prayers for people and send them by email or text. I sent prayers to family, friends, pastors of churches, and business associates. However, I wanted to do more. I began to pray with people in person and on the phone. After a while, people began to ask me to pray for them and a new ministry unfolded.
Can you see the change God can make in your heart? Look what He did in my life. Seventeen years ago, I was looking to end my life by driving my car into a tree. God can change you and heal your relationships and the secret to these changes is to surrender your heart to the God of all compassion, mercy, and love.
My story is one of millions. There are believers across our nation whose lives have been transformed by Jesus Christ. They have testimonies of personal encounters with the incredible and wonderful love of God.
I searched over 2,300 church websites, convinced I would find such testimonies. Shockingly, I did not find one church website that featured a testimony on the home page. Less than 3% of churches published an online testimony. The testimonies were tucked away on a remote page on each website, like a torn paper in a cobweb filled box in a closet basement. Jesus Christ deserves better than this. People in our communities who are searching the Internet for hope deserve better than this. It became my life mission to encourage believers to share their testimonies with their neighbors who need the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Why aren’t believers more excited to share their testimonies? Is it simply they haven’t been asked? That is true for many of the faithful. Let’s ask them. However, it is possible other believers have something else going on. Is it possible that some believers in Jesus Christ continue to struggle with their rebellious nature and aren’t excited to share their testimony?
Certainly. Paul writes in Romans:
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (New International Version, Romans 7:18-19)
Believers continue to struggle with their rebellious hearts. I know this is true for me. Many friends would call me a man of prayer. However, I cry out to God with a spirit of confession and repentance many afternoons or evenings when I’ve managed to go all day without coming before Him in sincere prayer. I recognize my stubborn rebellious human nature in the mirror that I will be battling until I die, and it is so frustrating.
It is for this reason that I believe I was inspired in the fall of 2016 to write both volumes of Take Every Thought to Prayer. The books call believers, like me, to confess their rebellion from God and to surrender their hearts to His authority. My mission will fall on deaf ears if my brothers and sisters in Christ don’t have a heart for sharing their testimony. It is my prayer that the two books will help those who don’t know how to approach their loving Father with a spirit of confession, repentance, and surrender.
After thirteen years of divorce, grief, loneliness, financial crisis, a severe back injury, and God’s seeming silence to my cries for relief, my prayers were finally answered in 2016. I had reconnected with Karen the year before. She was my dear friend from college who I hadn’t communicated with in thirty-one years. We spoke for over 1,300 hours on the phone, including six hours and fifty-six minutes one day. We enjoyed letters that were written back in 1984 that I had tucked away in a box for several decades. We married in August and I moved to her home near the ocean in Cape Ann Massachusetts. It was in our scenic home village on cool autumn nights, with the buoy in the ocean clanging nearby, that I was inspired to write the two volumes of Take Every Thought to Prayer.
I am forever grateful to God for giving me a wife who asks nothing else of me than for me to be the spiritual leader of our home. In God’s providential design, her desire for me was exactly what I needed to move from recovery into ministry. I joined the leadership team of the men’s ministry of the PCA church that Karen and I began to attend immediately after I moved into her home. Through my relationship with this church, I began to lead a small group Bible study each Sunday night. I was also asked to lead a discipleship group, to mentor believers in Bangladesh, and to assist my former pastor as he took on a new role in the Kingdom of God recruiting global missionaries.
I volunteered for eighteen months with Straight Ahead, a juvenile detention ministry in New England. Every Monday night I went behind the walls of the Northeast Regional Youth Service Center in Middleton, MA with staff and other volunteers of the ministry. It was a rewarding time as I saw God transforming the lives of young men who had committed serious crimes.
I resigned from the ministry in 2018 when God called me to focus my attention on ministering to my in-laws during a crisis they were experiencing. Hours upon hours of offering Biblical counseling to various family members led to my being invited to work for the family’s electroplating business in the Boston area. I was asked to address a variety of concerns in the business. While the nature of my work was rewarding, I treasured even more how God enriched my life as I built relationships with the 50+ employees, many from diverse cultures that I learned to greet in their native languages.
As delightful as my work in the business was, the priority of my soul was to work full-time in the building of the Kingdom of God. I wanted my work to encourage believers to share their testimony and the gospel with their neighbors. I wanted to encourage churches to strengthen their commitment to local outreach ministry.
It was my initial mission to educate believers on how they can share their testimonies in their communities. I developed a web application to serve that purpose. I purchased the domain name www.72stories.com for that application. However, it became apparent that the resistance believers have to sharing their testimony publicly was so great that the prospects for the web application were poor. I had to make a correction.
In the summer of 2018, I believe God inspired me with the idea for a new use for the domain www.72stories.com. I would create a pretend community called West Hunter USA that had thousands of fictitious, but yet realistic, characters that ministry teams from churches and Christian schools would interact with, practicing local outreach ministry. I was encouraged by the feedback I received from trusted advisors, including my former pastor who suggested God could use the application in exciting ways in many churches and seminaries. I worked on this application off and on for over four years as I continued to work in the electroplating business and as I worked on my next book.
Speaking of my next book, the more I shared my faith with others, the more I realized how many people simply have no clue what the Bible says. People shared with me that even when they tried to read the Bible, it made no sense to them. I also listened to people who shared interpretations of passages from scripture that I knew were not Biblical. What could I share with others that could help them to understand scripture? Inspired by the writing of my first book, Take Every Thought to Prayer, I decided to write this book, Take Every Passage to Prayer. The book would contain a prayer for each passage in the Old and New Testaments.
I can truthfully state that my initial aspirations for Take Every Passage to Prayer were quite pedestrian. I wanted to have a far deeper knowledge of the Bible so that I could more effectively share the gospel with others and to mentor them. I also wanted to give friends and family members a resource to help them better understand the word of God. After learning from the publishing of my first book that the odds of writing a best-seller were not good, I was content that Take Every Passage to Prayer would be a tool I could hand out to people as I discipled them. However, a trusted mentor friend read selections from my first draft of the book and strongly encouraged me to finish the book and to get it out into the market.
In the first draft of this book, I wrote prayers for each chapter in Nehemiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, and Daniel, as well as random chapters in other Old Testament books. I also wrote prayers for each chapter of James and Revelations. It was at that point that I decided to separate the Old Testament (Volume 1) from the New Testament (Volume 2) and that I would complete the prayers for the New Testament first. However, as I wrote Volume 2, it became quickly evident that the depth of the content in the four gospels required me to further deconstruct Take Every Passage to Prayer into a third volume. Therefore, the writing about Matthew through John would be Volume 2 and Acts through Revelation would become Volume 3.
Intensive writing of Volume 2 began in late 2020 and was completed in early 2022. Lord willing, I will complete and release Volume 3 (Acts through Revelation) before the close of 2022. I will then conclude the three volume series by writing and publishing Volume 1 (Old Testament) before the end of 2024.