Thursday, March 31, 2016

Solutions for a critical spirit



One of my Christian friends is greatly interested in politics. When he is filled with God’s Spirit, he prays for political leaders and issues. When he is not, he complains bitterly about everything that is wrong in the political realm. He becomes almost paranoid, suspecting conspiracies and treason of everyone in civil leadership.

When he does this, my usual response is annoyance. I sometimes criticize his attitude. Today’s devotional reading reminds me of a better way to respond.

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. (1 John 5:16)

When I turn around and criticize someone with a critical spirit, then I am a spiritual hypocrite. When I see someone failing, I must not turn that discernment into a poke at them, but let it move me to intercession on their behalf. As Chambers says, discernment does not happen because I have an acute mind; it comes from the Spirit of God. If I don’t pay attention to the true source of discernment, I become a “criticizing center” who has forgotten what God says: I am to take it to God and He will give life. Otherwise, I am playing the hypocrite and spending time and energy trying to get others right before God without being right with God myself.

While this is a mild rebuke (I already know better), God wants me to remember where this burden of discernment concerning other souls comes from. He reveals such things so I will bring them before Him, not being critical also, but seeking the mind of Christ. As He reveals He thinks about the issue, He adjusts my heart so I can intercede as God desires, not criticize as I desire.

Intercession is not about bringing God up to speed with what is on my mind. It is about yielding to Him so that He can convey His mind to me. When I know how He thinks and pray accordingly, He will give life to that for which I pray.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

When viewed from an eternal perspective, the concerns that I sense are always burdens from the heart of God. That being true, my view of that burden must be the same as His also. I need to be right with God, in tune with His will, abiding in Christ. Then not only can I pray in His will, but I can be certain He will respond to that prayer.

Today, I must pray for two things: that my friend is filled with God’s Spirit so that he is praying and not critical and bitter, and also for those things that burden his heart — realizing that his discernment is a revelations from the Lord who is prompting both of us to pray that His will is done.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Intercession



“All we can do is pray.”

I’ve said it, so have many other Christians. Yet we would agree that this is a disgraceful attitude, as if prayer is the last resort when it ought to be our constant way of life.

Prayer is many things; a conversation with God like conversations with others, sometimes an expression of love, a telling of events, a pleading for change, a request for help. One of the most challenging variations of prayer is that of intercession. In fact, the word is rare in the Bible, and those who pray that way seem as rare.

Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. (Isaiah 59:15–16)

No one to intercede. Chambers says the reason for no intercession is that we are “merely sentimentally interested” in prayer. I’m not sure about that, but I do agree when he says worship and intercession must go together because intercession means seeking the mind of Christ in my praying, coming to Him without any notion or opinion of how I think He should answer my prayers.

Prayer is laying hold of God, being in contact with His mind about the ones for whom I pray. That requires a deep and holy relationship with God. I cannot be insistent or dogmatic. I cannot think that I know what should be done. I must surrender entirely, in total trust. That is worship.

Worship presses me to abandon thoughts that my request is impossible, but it also presses me to abandon all of my own schemes of how He should answer. When I say, “Thy will be done” I must mean it with all my heart, and I cannot mean it unless I stop bringing a shopping list, and stop telling Him what to do. I have to believe that He hears, He knows, and He will answer. I cannot do that apart from an attitude of worship.

Chambers calls intercession ‘work’ and I agree. While I want a joyful conversation with God, intercession can leave me exhausted and emptied. This is because the intercession undertaken and exemplified by Jesus Christ involves talking with God, but it comes with a cost.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)

When intercessors pray, we do not physically die for sinners, yet there is an abandoning of our own desires and a pouring out of our souls. We bear the weight of sin in the sense of it has driven us to this lonely kind of prayer.

Not only that, intercession is never finished. While sinners are saved through the power (and mystery) of prayer, the Prince of prayer reveals that this is a lifetime work . . .

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

Yet intercession is also a blessing. Getting to the heart of God about how I should pray is ‘getting to the heart of God’ — and what could be more blessed than that? Further, the Spirit of God is right with me, acting as my interpreter so that my intercession is translated into the will of God before it reaches His throne.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26–27)

When God looks out on the world and sees the mess it is in, may He find many who are willing to intercede, to pray with a sense of awe in God, fully believing that He hears and answers and will do what is right.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Seeing Jesus



One summer day I was outside tending to my rock garden. A neighbor two doors away was leaving for work and called out, “Your garden is beautiful.” Spontaneously, I responded by lifting my hand to the sky acknowledging God as the reason for the garden. She was delighted and I was surprised.

While the Bible speaks of Jesus’ return as an actual second coming, there are times when He drops in on me and I don’t expect Him. That episode was one of those times and His presence made praise very natural, the normal thing to do. I’ve had other unexpected visits, mostly full of wonder and delight, and a few laden with sorrow. Whatever the situation, He made Himself known to me, catching me by surprise.

You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:40)

The Bible says I’m to be ready for Jesus’ return, but Chambers says I must also be ready for those surprise visits. If I get too absorbed in what I am doing and He drops by, can I turn from my preoccupation and face Him?

It is not easy to be totally absorbed in the intense reality of the presence of the Lord. He never leaves me or forsakes me, yet at times His closeness seems so vivid that I can almost touch Him. To want that chases away all other preoccupations. The expectation and anticipation of seeing His face gives my heart an attitude of wonder like no other. This is not a ‘religious’ moment, but a spiritually reality. He is here; I need to open my eyes to Him.

Chambers adds the warning: if I am always on the lookout for Jesus, I will also be avoiding the pull of this age. My heart will be set on what Christ wants. I will be thinking as He thinks, talking as He leads. Other people might consider me a dreamer. But I’m to not pay heed to even the finest of people if they hinder my sight of Jesus Christ. The upside is that in the trials of life, and even in the ordinary days, I will be ready, and I will see Him.

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Family Update: Bob’s doctor phoned him today leaving a message that said “urgent.” That sounded like bad news, but we were in for a surprise. Before Christmas, Bob’s white blood count was over 140 (normal is 4-8). It had been rising steadily for the past few years since he was diagnosed with CLL, a form of leukemia. By now he should have other symptoms, particularly with that high count, but he has had none. Then he had that bout with flu and pneumonia that nearly took his life in January. CLL is an immune system disease, so it was part of the reason he was so sick. However, he bounced back extremely well other than his WBC was about the same in February, just over 140.

This afternoon, he returned his doctor’s phone call. The excited voice on the other end told him that the blood test he had last week came back with a white cell count of 76.5 and, “What have you been doing?” Bob said no changes, no new meds, nothing different from before.

We are still totally amazed. What else can we say but, “Praise God . . . and thank You!”

Monday, March 28, 2016

Faith vs. reason



The deeper and stronger my prayer life, the greater the attacks of that liar, Satan, to tip me over and stop me from praying. Yet I know that God is sovereign. In the story of Job, clearly the devil could only do what God allowed, and God allowed Job’s trials to prove that faith in Him was not based on ‘the good life.’ Job’s trial tested and proved that the faith the Lord gives His people is powerful and will stand firm no matter what happens.

At the time, Job did not understand the ‘what and why’ of his torment. He lost his family and possessions and his friends insisted he must have sinned or all that would not be happening to him. Job insisted his innocence, not in a general ‘I have never sinned’ declaration, but by insisting that he knew he was not being chastened for any particular sin. Still they accused him. If Job made any mistake, it was that he questioned God’s actions. In his mind, obedience and a faithful life were supposed to result in blessing, not the horrors that happened to him.

I understand this man’s questions. If I am doing as the Lord asks me, why then does He allow that old Liar to come at me? The NT says that if I yield to God, then I can resist the devil and he will flee from me. Obviously I need to remember that God does not promise that the Liar will never come at me in the first place.

But sometimes the ‘yielding to God’ part is tough. The stabbing jabs of the Devil are always deeply troublesome, but the guidance of God can also throw me into a head spin. I’m not alone. Jesus was told that His friend Lazarus was ill, but He didn’t immediately rush to his side . . .

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” (John 11:7–8)

This action made no sense to the disciples. They finally agreed to go, but thought they were on a suicide mission. Sometimes, when God calls for a course of action, I feel the same way; it doesn’t make sense.

Chambers understands also, but he points out how dangerous to say that Jesus is mistaken. How can I think that obeying God is wrong, or that doing something that seems wrong to me will dishonor the Lord? I might want to ‘protect’ His reputation, but what do I know compared to God?

God’s commands come to me with quiet persistence. If I start weighing the pros and cons, and begin to doubt and debate Him, this is not of God. It is my rationale trying to decide if He is right. Yet that makes no sense. I would not cut from the Bible the words I don’t like, so why would I obey only the commands that make sense?

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17) so “Do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5)

Faith means stepping out in obedience even when I cannot see why or understand the purpose. When Satan tempts me and the issues are strong in that I cannot see the outcome, I dare not try to make sense of it by my intelligence. God’s ways are higher than mine, and faith is not always intelligent understanding. It is a deliberate commitment and choice to trust and obey a perfect Person who does not make mistakes.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Come up higher



Near the end of his life, the Apostle John was exiled to Patmos. There God gave him a mind-boggling revelation of Jesus Christ. He writes of it, beginning with God’s instructions concerning seven churches. Then God calls this man to something amazing . . .

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. (Revelation 4:1–2)

The book of Revelation is an interpretation puzzle, but instead of trying to explain what was going on in the rest of Revelation, Chambers offers an application to spiritual life. He discusses how God reveals truth to His people by calling us to ‘come up higher.’

I’ve been frustrated by people who, no matter how well I did, continually lifted the standard. I could never satisfy them. Yet God does the same thing; His standard continually jumps above where I am, but with one difference. While I was still a sinner, He loved and accepted me. Then, as I make effort to live up to what I know of Him, He continually says — ‘Friend, come up here, come up higher.’

Chambers points out that the devil uses a similar strategy by also bidding me to elevate myself, but there is a difference from his tactics and God’s plan. The devil wants me to try harder, to work at improving myself, and to do whatever I do for personal goals and self glory. He encourages a “spiritual acrobatic performance” in which I take center stage and the Lord is left out of things.

When God calls me higher, He is drawing me closer to Himself. In that great Light of who He is, I see myself and my sin more clearly, but I also am given a greater glimpse of His amazing grace. He shows me that I am loved unconditionally, that I do not have to ‘perform’ only be who I am without pressure or pride.

God says, “Come up here” and expects obedience, yet growth in grace is not my doing. He just wants me in that higher place where He can give insight into my identity in Christ, and to what He is doing in my life so I will more deeply resemble His Son.

Do very many people think about the events of life as part of their education about God or themselves? Some ask ‘why’ yet do many delve farther into the truth? Do many hear the Lord bidding them to “Come up here and I will show you?”

I can only speak of my own deafness and resistance, but also have finally understood that life is not just about living with a fatalistic notion that trials or comforts happen to everyone without any reason for them. God is sovereign and all that happens to me has a purpose attached. Life is not random. God is in the details and He wants me to ‘come up higher’ and see more of those details with Him.

Too much reflection on my spiritual condition can become self-centered naval-gazing, yet I don’t want to sail merrily along without knowing the value of life’s experiences. I want to hear the voice of God and understand His purpose for as much as He will show me. I want to become more like Jesus, to answer His call to a more elevated life. That means paying attention. Is He going to hide from me what He is doing and leave me where I am? Or am I hearing and following His call to come up higher?