April 30, 2012

Faith that honors God

Last Friday, we met with friends to pray for our families, a twice-monthly event. During our prayer time, my husband read part of a book on prayer by author Ole Hallesby. It was in a chapter about the misuse of prayer, with the first item on the list suggesting that we pray thinking we have to help God answer our prayers.
We could relate to that. We’ve asked God to take care of things then told Him how it should be done. Sometimes we have meddled into the situation thinking that our efforts would “help” God do what we think ought to happen. We have realized that as long as we think we are able to do anything or assume that we know the best way for the prayer to be answered, we are apt to keep praying in that way. Instead, prayer is helplessness. When we come to God in humility and in need, He draws near to us.
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15)
The first part of Hallesby’s book defines prayer as coming helplessly to God. What is helpless about a prayer that tells Him, Almighty and all-knowing God, what to do? He is not my slave and such requests are not made in faith. 

The example in today’s devotional reading is the story of a woman whose daughter was oppressed by a demon. She came to Jesus, but the disciples wanted Him to send her away because they were annoyed by her request. She was not a Jew and Jesus actually told her that He was sent to the Jewish people. But she persisted. She said that even the dogs gets crumbs that fall from the table during a family meal.
Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:28)
Faith is knowing God can answer prayer. It is persistence too, but it is also knowing that even though I don’t deserve His grace and mercy, He is gracious and merciful. Faith never makes an appear based on, “I deserve it” but on the nature and character of God. This is why any prayer that tells God how to answer it falls short. Instead of acknowledging His wisdom and power (and timing), I am saying that I know more than He does and that He needs my help or my instructions. 

This woman knew she had no rights. None of us do. Instead, she appealed to the mercy of Christ regarding her helpless situation. Because she trusted Him and not her own ideas or deservedness, Jesus called her faith “great” and immediately answered her request.

God, our small prayer group acknowledges the many times that we have given You instructions as if we know what needs to be done so our prayers are answered. This dishonors You. Instead, we must simply bring the needs to You and let You do whatever You desire. Faith expressed in helplessness, even desperation honors You. Telling You what to do and how to do it is pride and a slap in Your face.

April 29, 2012

Never Ashamed

When Israel was in captivity in Babylon, they cried out to God saying, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14). They were alone and devastated, without the sense of His presence.

Even today, weary souls can feel like that. In my humanness, I tend to equate the presence of God with joy and pleasant emotions. However, He says that He will never leave me or forsake me. My emotions are not the proof of that; His character and faithfulness make it so. Besides, He is an omnipresent God who loves His people enough to die for us.

Yet there are times when life presents great challenges and I have to remind myself of His promises. He is here with me, whether it seems so or not. This is the value of the written Word of God. Without it, how would I know His mind? How would I know what He says and that what is true when my emotions deny such realities?

This morning’s reading takes me to this verse, particularly the last sentence. God is reminding His people Israel, who were in captivity, of His plans for them and their restoration.
Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame. (Isaiah 49:23)
As I read it, I thought that I really do not care if anyone bows down to me or licks the dust of my feet, but I suppose if I was in bondage, I might. I’m reading The Hiding Place, the story of Corrie ten Boom and her imprisonment during WWII. She may have felt a desire for vindication, or to have these people bow to her, even though much later God granted her the grace to forgive those who held her captive. 

This verse promises no shame for those who wait for God. Yet Corrie and her sister trusted Him and were put to shame, at least for awhile. I’m thinking that the verse is not about shameful circumstances. Christians are not exempt from those. Instead, it is about never being ashamed because of waiting on God. Eventually, He will fulfill His promises and no one who trusts Him will finish their life saying that they are ashamed of their faith. Even in the darkest places a person could be, as Corrie was in the camps during the holocaust, God did not forsake her. She learned that in ways that most of us will never experience. 

Eventually she was vindicated and released, telling her story and blessing millions who have read it. This encourages me as does this verse from Isaiah. God wants me to wait on Him, trust Him. Life can be difficult at times, and I might even experience horrible things, but in the end, I will never be put to shame for trusting God. 

Lord, truly faith is a precious gift. My trials are nothing like those who are put in tiny cement cells simply for calling You their God and naming the name of Jesus Christ. Yet even if that happened, Your promises hold true because You are true. You never leave or forsake Your people. In the end, we are more than conquerors because of the One who loves us.

April 28, 2012

Grace, Knowledge and Glory

Yesterday’s snow storm turned into rain by the time I reached my destination. Driving through deep puddles rather than deep slush made me smile at God. He used this near white-out storm to challenge my faith and courage, then made the challenge almost nothing once I decided to trust Him. 

Today’s reading is also about trusting God. It contains a phrase that I often pray for others, plus a phrase that offers me another challenge.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)
Growing in grace is fundamental to being a Christian. Grace is a blessing from God that is not earned or deserved. It involves seeing and believing in Jesus, then becoming like Him with increasing understanding of who He is and what He does. To grow in grace requires some knowledge of God, so this means grace and knowledge go together. 

Grace depends on knowledge and knowledge depends on grace. They are tied to becoming a Christian in the first place, since both are important to having eternal life. The Bible says we are “saved by grace” and Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) 

I can learn about God by reading the Bible and in that learning, I am blessed because of grace. To grow in grace and knowledge involves reading the Word. However, experiences also teach me about God, otherwise there would be no reason to go outside my study. I could read all day, but in the trials of life I experience for myself the faithfulness of God. I also discover where I need to grow and need to know Him more fully.

The second part of today’s verse says that glory belongs to God both now and to the day of eternity. I can look forward to forever when God’s glory will prevail, but what about now? Do I glorify Him as I should each day of my life and in all the circumstances of life? 

Each day is filled with opportunities to glorify God. People around me create them in their conversations. Can I answer their words with my heart and words pointed Godward? Situations, like snow becoming rain and grass becoming green are opportunities to speak of the wonder of God. Can I speak of Him and glorify Him? Or am I more concerned that I safely get through the storms? 

Lord, each day is filled with the wonder of You. Too often my eyes are on myself and my concerns when I could be thinking and talking about Your goodness, grace and glory. It is a lie to think that forgetting myself will decrease my enjoyment of life. Focusing on You and Your glory is a good thing. You even say that, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). Besides this promise from Your Word, even at this moment my experience bears this out, for as I even think about glorifying You both now and forever, You fill my heart with joy.

April 27, 2012

Today’s Challenge

This morning I look outside with dismay. I’ve an important appointment at 9 a.m. and it is snowing! Wet snow, big flakes, slippery roads. I want to stay home with a cup of hot tea and do something else. 
God challenges my attitude and my fears. He knows that I must go and gives me opportunity to trust Him in the going. How did He know that these verses would be suitable for this snowy day?
He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? (Matthew 25:24–26)
I know, this is not about the challenge of driving when I don’t want to. It is about obedience and using what God has given me to do what He asks me to do. But the attitude of the servant is the same as my attitude — fear of not being able to do a thing, or fear of not being able to do it properly. So instead of giving it my best, I am tempted to procrastinate or not do it at all. 

It is too late to call a taxi. My friends are just as leery of driving in a storm as I am. However, there is a positive in this. I’ve learned that if I start, even with fear and trepidation, and ask the Lord to help and protect me, somehow the hard stuff can be done. Afterwards, it might even look easy and I wondered why I was so hesitant. 

Most of the fear comes from listening to the Liar who says things like, “God really does not want the best for you” or “This is too trivial to even ask for help.” When I say these doubting notions aloud, I see how silly they are. Of course God wants the best for me, and of course, nothing is too small or too difficult for Him. 

Today’s comments on these verses is short. The devotional writer says, “Between the great things we cannot do and the small things we will not do, the danger is that we shall do nothing.”

Lord, You know that I cannot miss this appointment. You also know that every time I resist the difficulties instead of facing them in Your strength, I miss finding out how much You care about everything that happens in my life. It might seem like a small thing to some, but the older I get, the more I resist driving at night or in storms. However, because You love me I will trust You for whatever I need to overcome whatever You place in my path, even wet snow and slippery streets. I will leave early, drive slowly, and trust You with this challenge.

April 26, 2012

I is sorry

Years ago, I wrote about a man who had a small son. When he punished the boy for disobedience, the father always wrapped his arms about him and told him that he loved him. The little boy usually said, “I is sorry.”
One day the father watched the boy play and feeling great affection, he spontaneously gave the child a big hug and said, “I love you.” The boy responded, “I is sorry.”

My article pointed to the love of God and His expression of it in sending His Son to die for us. Whenever I think of His love for me, “I is sorry” ought to be part of my response too. His love and my repentance go together.

Yesterday and this morning I’ve felt overwhelmed by life. I forgot to take my medications on Tuesday night and was reminded again that my heart is weak and failing. Without the meds, it does not beat properly. I then retain fluid and feel crappy. Not only that, we are preparing for a couple of big changes in our lives (more later). Both of them will have wonderful pluses, but I’d been focusing on the minuses. Add to that bad news about a grandchild and a general sense that my life hasn’t amounted to much, and I was having a pity-party.

Before this morning’s devotional reading, I asked the Lord to speak to me. Even though this passage is Samuel talking to the Israelites, Jesus used these words to speak to me and give me a big hug.
The Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. (1 Samuel 12:22–24)
F. Whitfield, the author of today’s reading, says this, “Look back on all the way the Lord your God has led you. Do you not see it dotted with ten thousand blessings in disguise? Call to mind the needed succor sent at the critical moment: the right way chosen for you, instead of the wrong way you had chosen for yourself; the hurtful thing to which your heart so fondly clung, removed out of your path; the breathing-time granted, which your tried and struggling spirit just at the moment needed. Oh, has not Jesus stood at your side when you knew it not? Has not Infinite Love encircled every event with its everlasting arms, and gilded every cloud with its merciful lining? Oh, retrace your steps, and mark His footprint in each one! Thank Him for them all, and learn the needed lesson of leaning more simply on Jesus.”

Oh Jesus, I is sorry.