March 31, 2014

Waiting and renewal . . .

Sunday is often called a day of rest, but it isn’t always restful. I had a part in the worship service that I could not do in my own strength, a part in the lives of friends during fellowship brunch, a part in the life of an unsaved friend in the early afternoon, and a part in the life of my brother later in the day. In all of these, I needed God’s grace and all of them involved a sacrifice of some part of me. By the end of the day, I was tired but didn’t realize it was spiritual fatigue, the kind that comes after trusting the Lord for His grace to do what He asks.

The Bible promises that God will renew the strength of those who wait on Him. This need for renewal is not satisfied by a nap, or by watching television, reading, eating, or relying on other people, yet I foolishly tried those things. They were of no help.

This morning I felt even more tired and God gave me Psalm 16. As I read it, I realized that I was guilty of a form of idolatry. Instead of waiting on the Lord, I relied on empty solutions, and as the psalmist says, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.”

Instead, he adds this example and how God blessed him in what he did: 

Their (the other gods) drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:4–11)

Bad habits are hard to break; good habits are hard to form. Add age, demanding to-do lists, and more than a bit of stubbornness that says, “I can do this myself” and I stare at my slowness to learn and wonder how long it will take me to consistently remember what I know and apply it consistently to my life. Then I have to remember this slowness and frustration should not be shocking . . .  after all, it is part of the reason I need a Savior.

Instead of running out of steam like Elijah did after obeying God (1 Kings 18-19), I can see today what I should have done yesterday. Instead of refueling on fumes, I needed a fresh shot of time spent with Jesus. Here is the example of the psalmist . . .

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High . . . Be gracious to me, O Lord! See my affliction . . . you who lift me up from the gates of death, that I may recount all your praises, that in the gates of the daughter of Zion I may rejoice in your salvation. (Psalm 9:1–14)

In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word . . . Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law . . . I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. (Psalm 119:14-16, 18, 162)

Reading the Word of God and prayer is vital before obeying Him, but it is also vital to help avoid the crash after doing what He asks. As Philippians 4:4 says, I need to “Rejoice in the Lord always” and wait on Him for everything.

March 30, 2014

Communion moments . . .

John Wallace advises that whenever my mind has nothing to fix itself on, drop my heart in prayer and use those moments to commune with God.

I don’t know what others do with those moments of nothing particular to think about. I know my imagination can wander, or I can worry, or allow negative thoughts. Wallace gives sound advice and those who follow it can have hearts that are “moving shrines” where God is continually worshiped and loved. Further, there is a sense of being at home with God and therefore never alone.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Psalm 62:5–7)

Each year, I select a theme verse. The one that has made the biggest impact on me is Psalm 27:8, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’” In seeking the face of God, my heart reaches for Him and wins a lovely sense of His presence. Yes, I know He is always with me, yet these are occasions when I’m much more aware, much more in communion with Him.

The NT author of Hebrews gives similar advice as Wallace. He says to think about all that have been faithful witnesses to the glory of God and to be “looking to Jesus” . . .  

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1–3)

This focus has an effect, for human beings tend to become more like what we look at, what we focus on. While this fact can be distressing as young people imitate their idols, it is even humorous to see couples begin to look alike. In the early church, the people knew the disciples “had been with Jesus” no doubt because their faces reflected His.

Oh the wonder that Jesus lives in me. I “have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) because “God said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ and has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6–7)

Today is Sunday, corporate worship. As Christians come together to seek the face of God, how blessed of Him to give me these thoughts at the beginning of this day.

March 29, 2014

Delighting in God

There are some things that cannot be done simultaneously. One example is loving God and being selfish. The psalmist put it this way: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

Some think this means God will give you whatever you want, but it actually means that when God is my joy, then my heart’s desires come from Him, not from my sinful self. This has much to do with prayer, because if I delight in Him I’m more apt to pray from my heart’s desires, and what He has put in my heart is acceptable to Him. (Proverbs 15:8)

Delighting in God affects my emotions. It is a joy-filled thing. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” (1 Peter 1:8)

Today’s devotional reading tells of a man who determined to go to bed thinking about his love for Jesus, for he knew that our sub-conscious minds never sleep. Rather than worrying about problems or thinking about work, talking to God with a focus on his love for Him set him free from those toss-and-turn nights. He told of waking up each morning with the same words running through his mind.

The psalmist seems to have discovered the same thing . . .

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:1–8)

Prayer is taking the joys and burdens of our hearts to God, but it is also simply delighting in Him, loving Him, enjoying His eternal presence. Some interpret the Song of Solomon as more than a love story between a man and a woman, but also a description of the relationship God is building with us, a relationship of loving intimacy . . .  

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2:10–13)

Like any other love story, this one develops through ‘quality time’ spent together, by listening to what He says and by expressing my love for Him. I’m finding that the more I talk with God, the more I want to talk with God. Communication with Him, even as I am asleep, is a delightful part of knowing Him.

March 28, 2014

God answers prayer, even if He says NO

Last week’s assignments included a post to a student discussion board in which we were to answer one of two imaginary problems. I submitted my answer, fully expecting the marking professor to give it a critique. At the same time, I was feeling discouraged about life in general and asked God to encourage me. This week, two classmates sent emails about my post. Both were blessed by it, and one said he was going to “steal, repackage, and recycle” it in his own ministry.

For those who think prayer is “wishful thinking” or auto-suggestion, I say, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry” and “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:15-17)
(Before going farther on the topic of prayer, being righteous is first forensic. I can claim it because of God’s grace; He imputed the righteousness of Jesus Christ on me. Because He died for my sin, was buried, and rose again, God declares His people justified, righteous. It isn’t about anything we earn or deserve; salvation is first a gift from God even as He afterwards works in us to conform us to that imputed righteousness. This is totally astonishing and a blessing I do not deserve.)
Answered prayer is another undeserved blessing. My Father hears me like a daddy hears his little one. He shows me how to pray, and shows me that it is His delight to take care of my needs, even the need to be encouraged.

Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25–30)

Jesus invites me to bring to Him the burdens of life. He hears and answers. Sometimes He says wait. Sometimes He says no if my request is not His will or will not be a good thing. Sometimes He says yes, even yes, yes, in the most resounding way. But whatever He says, key to answered prayer is accepting His answers.

As His crucifixion drew near, Jesus prayed asking “if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” He was in great distress for He was about to bear the wrath of His Father against the sin of the world, all of it, sin by every person, and sin for all time. I know what I feel like when I sin. I cannot imagine the weight of sin that Jesus anticipated.

No wonder He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” No wonder He was disappointed that the disciples slept instead of supporting Him with their prayers. No wonder that He prayed this request several times. Yet in the end, they slept and He, sweating drops of blood, willingly faced the answer alone. (Matthew 26:36–46)

The Bible says I have never shed blood resisting sin like Jesus did. My problems and discouragements are not worthy to be compared to His. My on-and-off loyalty to the Father is a joke alongside the life of the Son. He was willing to hear God say no.

With that, His three-time request was answered, but not like anyone would expect or want. How could the will of God be suffering and death for the only righteous person who ever lived? But it was. To the cry of Jesus, His only begotten Son, the Father did say NO, it is not my will to deliver You . . .  

It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10)

Sometimes God does not seem to answer my prayers. Of course, I’m looking for a yes, not a wait or a no, but I am encouraged that God knows more than I do about the situation I’m in, even the circumstances of every child of His, any person on my prayer list. If He remains silent, I’m glad that He can use all things for good and that even the setbacks of life will fit into His plans. After all, out of the “unanswered” prayer of Jesus came salvation for humanity — for all who believe, even for me.

March 27, 2014

Prayer needs reality and objectivity

Not too long ago, I was sharing how a prayer had been answered and how much I valued the reality of prayer. Someone said, “Oh, you probably just do it yourself.”

Some think prayer is a spiritual exercise, a psychological shot in the arm like auto-suggestion, but that is not what God says. Meeting with Him puts me in touch with reality. What could be more real than God’s perspective, or more objective than what the Creator says about His creatures?

If I were talking to the air or to myself, then my words would be from within me, my ideas. However, God has shown me the ugly stuff that comes from within. He says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.” (Colossians 3:5–9)

Prayer must have a different content and motivation than that old self. In fact, prayer’s main rule is to ask according to the will of God — and doing it myself is definitely not God’s will.

The best way to learn what and how to pray about comes from the Bible. It is God’s revelation of His will and clearly shows the difference between what He does and what I think I can do without Him.

In reading God’s Word, I can sense the mind of God. As a Christian, God even tells me, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) Because my old mind is polluted, He is transforming it. Acceptable prayer never comes out by looking within or “doing it myself.” Instead, the Word of God says . . .

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1–4)

Besides putting off the old self, I’m to “put on” the new life Jesus gives. This includes attitudes like humility, meekness, and patience. I’m also to let the peace of Christ rule my heart and “let the word of Christ dwell in (me) richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in (my) heart to God.” (Colossians 3:12–16)

For all this, the Word of God is indispensible. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16) for it is the only way to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

I need God’s perspective when I approach Him in prayer. His Word offers me objective truth, even His very thoughts. He urges me beyond any form of “do it myself” — in how I live and even how I pray.

Through His Word and through talking it back to Him, prayer becomes an amazing connection with reality. In prayer, I am not doing anything but expressing total reliance on the God that can do “exceedingly abundantly above all I can ask or even imagine!”


March 26, 2014

Prayer changes things . . . and me

A friend told us that before she became a Christian, she knew the people who were Christians because they had shiny faces. Those glowing believers were in good company . . .

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. (Exodus 34:29)

The posters say “Prayer Changes Things.” The Bible and our lives are filled with examples. This morning’s illustration is the conversion of Paul. God encountered him in blinding light, literally, and he was led to a house. In the meantime, God also gave instruction to a man named Ananias to go and minister to this newly saved but newly blinded man. “So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized . . .” (Acts 9:17–18)

A prayerful touch restored Saul/Paul’s sight, but Christians know that prayer also changes the one who is praying. Here are two of hundreds of examples from Scripture . . .

Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. (Psalm 33:20–21)

The psalmist waiting on God and was not only helped but made glad. I can say amen to that, for almost always the biggest impact prayer has on me is to restore my trust and fill me with joy.

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:1–2)

Waiting on God also produces a serene spirit. It shows in the faces of those who pray, like it did on the face of Moses. Last Sunday, we sat at brunch with some friends and noticed that all four of them simply shone. Their conversation also made obvious that they had spent time with the Lord and verified the glow on their faces.

But there is more. Spending time with God helps me get His perspective on life, and therefore changes the way that I think. It can move my mind to eternal values, and put the things of earth in their proper place . . .

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1–4)

As an artist, I try to keep superior examples of art on my walls, even on the desktop of my computer. This sets before me a high standard. Being with Jesus does the same thing. He puts His perfection before me. The world can bombard me with its distractions and temptations, but time focused on Jesus and with Him can keep my heart and mind on loftier things. Prayer is hiding in the fortress of the Lord, safe from those thoughts and allurements that could pull me down, rob me of joy, and take the shine off my face.