Christianity 201

May 31, 2019

Keep on Asking Means, Keep Up the Prayer Process

If you grew up in church, this KJV verse from the Sermon on the Mount is quite ingrained:

Matt. 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

However, we’ve all heard sermons where preachers have stressed that this is a continuous imperative.

We previously looked at what that means:

Our pastor used the example of running a race or two versus being in regular training for running races that earn podium positions at the end. The example I’ve always used is a little simpler. Consider these two sentences:

  • “Shut the door.”
  • “Answer the phone.”

The first one is easy. Once you shut the door, it’s shut. Work done. But the second one has an implication that’s deeper; it really means:

  • “Answer the phone if it rings and take a message; and then, if it rings again, answer it and take a message; and then if it rings again, answer it…”

While translators are certainly aware of this, most of the newer ones seem inclined to continue to keep the verse in its more familiar form. But a few venture out to give us more of the sense of the original meaning:

7 “Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (CJB – Complete Jewish Bible)

7 “Be asking, and it will be given to you; be seeking, and you will find; be knocking, and it will be opened to you. (DNLT – Disciples Literal New Testament)

7 Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. (AMP – Amplified Bible; NLT is similar)

7 “Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. (ERV – Everyday Reading Version)

7 Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find. Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you. (The Voice)

The reason for examining this topic today is that I have to confess that over the past 24 hours I’ve been realizing that my whole perspective on this verse has had to do with tenacity in prayer over a specific request. In other words, I’ve always felt the verse is telling us that if you’re in a situation, even if you don’t see the answer, keep bringing it before God.

While I think that’s a perfectly acceptable way of looking at things, I believe the verse offers us even more. I would suggest looking at it:

If you’re consistently in prayer over (a), (b), and (c) and not seeing results, and then situations (d) and (e) arise, don’t let this discourage you from bringing (d) and (e) before God.

In other words, I believe that God is telling us through this text, don’t lose heart and give up on the prayer process over what you see as a lack of past results. I know that’s something that I need to be reminded of. It’s easy to fall into pessimism, or to ask, but with what James 1:6 calls wavering.

Some of us grew up with a plaque in our homes that simply said, Prayer Changes Things, but then as we grew older we heard teaching that as we draw close to God the key thing about being in his presence is that prayer changes us. That is true, 100% of the time.

But I think we also need to have the perspective that God is positive disposed and favorably inclined to intervene in the affairs of his children, if he deems that best. He can and does step into the scene to orchestrate things “in ways thou knowest not.” (Jer. 33:3)

So today’s conclusion is don’t give up praying in whatever situation you find yourself, but also don’t give up on prayer.


More on today’s topic at C201:

April 30, 2019

If You’re Pure, You’re Blameless

NIV.Ps.66.18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened

Today we’re again highlighting a new writer. Maryann doesn’t blog frequently, but the articles I read before posting this were very insightful and very transparent. As always, click the title below to read this at her blog, Searching for Treasures.

Pursuing Purity

I’ve just been thinking today that there are never any regrets for pursuing purity.

This morning, I came across, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord…The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3-4).

How do we get to hear God?

By pursuing purity in our lives.

Reading this verse reminded me of the time years ago when God really convicted me with it. At that time, I saw an image of a child walking on a path with Papa God, holding his hand. It was a leisurely walk down Sawyer Camp Trail next to Crystal Springs Reservoir. And I thought about how that was such a picture of peace. How incredible it would be to walk with God like that! And I recognized that I need to have the innocence of a child to walk with God in that way. How could I hold the hand of the Holy One with unclean hands? If I cherished sin in my heart, then the Lord would not hear me (Ps. 66:18), and I would not hear the Lord. Choosing purity would mean confidence of getting to hear God and confidence that God will hear me. It means having the confidence of a close and intimate relationship with God.

I have been really feeling convicted by this desire this week to seek purity and blamelessness before God, so that nothing would hinder me from hearing his voice and going his way.

Purity, to me, means blamelessness. Blamelessness looks like proactively seeking to follow God’s ways, proactively refraining from doing things that displeases God, proactively seeking to live and act in ways that honor God (e.g. if you know it’s wrong to steal, don’t steal; if you know you should forgive, then seek to forgive; if you’re prone to lusting, make a plan for how you’ll refrain from a “second look”, etc.).

We sometimes tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter if we don’t pursue blamelessness in our lives. God doesn’t see. God doesn’t know. God will forgive me anyway. But it does matter. It impacts our bond with God. He will forgive us, that is certain, but there’s a break in our communion with him all all the while that we are seeking our own way. When we seek HIS way, we have close and intimate relationship with him.

There is also something about seeking blamelessness that results in freedom. If I am doing what is right, I am free. If I’m not speeding down the road, I don’t have to keep looking in the rear-view mirror with anxiety that a cop will get me. My heart doesn’t have to race with nervousness about getting caught. I will get to live in freedom because I’m seeking to do what is right. This is where I want to be.

Though I know I can’t be perfect in my striving to be pure, I don’t want to give up on it before I’ve begun. I know it’s a worthy pursuit, because what I will get out of it is a deep and intimate relationship with God. I’ll get God out of it. And how could I ever regret that?


Secret Sauce Reveal: We discover new writers through a variety of means, but today’s author was discovered on WordPress Reader, using the tag “devotional.” Feel free to explore, but be discerning.

January 8, 2019

Between the Wings of the Cherubim

NIV.Ps.5.7 But I, by your great love,
    can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
    toward your holy temple.


CEB.Ex. 25.10 Have them make an acacia-wood chest. It should be forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high...

…17 Then make a cover of pure gold, forty-five inches long and twenty-seven inches wide. 18 Make two winged heavenly creatures of hammered gold, one for each end of the cover. 19 Put one winged heavenly creature at one end and one winged heavenly creature at the other. Place the winged heavenly creatures at the cover’s two ends. 20 The heavenly creatures should have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. The winged heavenly creatures should face each other toward the cover’s center.

NIV.Ex.25.2 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Often we begin here with some printed thoughts and end with a song. Today’s thoughts began with a song. First, they began with hearing of the passing of an older member of our congregation. When we began attending, Gwen was the pianist. My first contact with her was over a song she played that Sunday as an offertory, Commune With Me. Absolutely beautiful song, and I had to know what it is. She asked me if I played the piano, and I told her I did, never knowing that about a year later I would be the church’s first Director of Music.

As I thought about the song, I delved more deeply into the phrase that forms the title of today’s thoughts, and found a 2006 post at the blog The Voice of David:

“Commune with me” – that’s our communion/fellowship/one-ness with God
“I worship You” – our worship of Him
“I’ll meet You there” – again, speaking of fellowship, but also speaks of our eternal
reward and inheritance in Christ

The term “between the wings of the Cherubim” is taken from God’s promise in the Old Testament that He would meet and talk with the high priest… between the wings of the cherubim (that’s where the blood of the sacrifice was put) in the Holy of Holies, behind the veil, into which the high priest could only enter once a year on the day of atonement. Now we have Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, the end of the Law of commandments in ordinances, whose blood was shed for us so that now, it is only in Christ that we have communion with God, it is only in Christ that we can worship Him, and it is only in Christ that we can finally meet God face to face.

Yet the wonder of all this is that no matter how much I try to explain this in words, my words will never be fully sufficient all that this means – all that it means to be in Christ, to commune with God, worship Him and to meet Him there between the wings of the cherubim. I dare say I am not fully able to comprehend this wonderful idea yet, either. It takes the Holy Spirit who indwells each person who believes in Christ to first implant the Word, then develop it until the Word becomes unto each one of us true revelation.

At the beginning of today’s devotional I quoted from Psalm 5. Bible Study Tools offers commentary on this verse:

With this verse the first part of the Psalm ends. The Psalmist has bent his knee in prayer; he has described before God, as an argument for his deliverance, the character and the fate of the wicked; and now he contrasts this with the condition of the righteous.

But as for me, I will come into thy house. I will not stand at a distance, I will come into thy sanctuary, just as a child comes into his father’s house. But I will not come there by my own merits; no, I have a multitude of sins, and therefore I will come in the multitude of thy mercy. I will approach thee with confidence because of thy immeasurable grace. God’s judgments are all numbered, but his mercies are innumerable; he gives his wrath by weight, but without weight his mercy.

And in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple, — towards the temple of thy holiness. The temple was not built on earth at that time; it was but a tabernacle; but David was wont to turn his eyes spiritually to that temple of God’s holiness where between the wings of the Cherubim Jehovah dwells in light ineffable. Daniel opened his window toward Jerusalem, but we open our hearts toward heaven.  (Emphasis added.)


In memory of Gwen Burgher

 

 

July 17, 2017

Walking with Jesus

NLT Gen 3:8a When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden…

Gen 5:23-24a Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God.

Gen. 6:9b Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.

Sometimes preparation for articles on the other blog result in finding articles that are well suited for use here at C201. That was the case with this piece by Joanna Pierce, writing for the blog of Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Bloomington, Illinois. Each day when we include an article here, we ask you to click through to the original page. To further encourage that, we usually don’t borrow the graphic images the author created for that piece, so your reward is greater when you click through. With this one, we simply had to include their graphic, only to find that it was used on every page of their articles/blog section. It fit this theme so well.

Just a Little Walk with Jesus

There are those perfect days when the sun is shining, the temperature is at a balmy 73° degrees, and the wind is flowing through the atmosphere, providing a cool and pleasant touch to the day. Whether we’re an outdoor or indoor type of person, we all develop an inkling to get outside to enjoy the beautiful weather.

There’s something about taking a stroll down the sidewalk that helps us drink in the day. We can appreciate the warmth of the sun on our skin, the agreeable breeze whisking around our cheeks, and the soft, rhythmic pitter-patter of our footsteps in our ears—an inviting, constant sound in the chaotic melodies of life.

Regardless of if the weather cooperates, it’s still nice to get out and walk! Walking helps us maintain a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally. Wonderful things happen when we walk—our stress is relieved, the release of endorphins makes us emotionally happier, our self-confidence is improved, and we get to enjoy the great outdoors! Even walking with certain people will help improve our mood.

Where we walk, who we walk with, and how we walk, all affect the true benefit of walking. And, while these factors help with our physical life, they also provide spiritual benefits as well.

How does walking help? Just look in the Scriptures!

Genesis tells us about 3 men who walked with the Lord: Adam (3:8), Enoch (5:24), and Noah (6:9). We’re even told that Adam typically walked with God in the cool of the day—he capitalized on the time and temperature of the day to maximize the benefit of walking!

Scripture tells us that these men not only walked physically with the Lord, but they also walked spiritually with the Lord. The word walked is the same Hebrew word in all settings of Scripture in Genesis. Walked literally means to come near and continue with.

Remember when I said where we walk and who we walk with all affect the true benefit of walking? Walking with the devil, or following our own flesh/desires is going to get us into a lot of trouble. I can guarantee this walking isn’t going to have any benefit in our spiritual life. But, when we draw close to God and come near to Him, the benefits are endless.

Coming near to God helps us to develop a close, intimate relationship with Him. Not only will He know us, but we’ll know Him! We’ll cultivate a friendship and love for Him that can’t be found in this world. Enoch walked so closely with God that God took him from this earth (Genesis 5:24). He may have walked right up to heaven with the Lord—we’ll have to wait until Heaven to find out!

When we stay close to someone, they start to rub off on us. We act like they do. When we continue in the presence of God, His Spirit will dwell in our life. That Spirit will help us live a life that’s pleasing to Him; we’ll be able to imitate Christ! Noah was considered perfect in the eyes of the Lord because he walked with Him (Genesis 6:9).

Today, let’s start our daily walks with the Lord. Physical walks may eventually wear out the body, but continued spiritual walking with the Lord will help rejuvenate us for the road ahead. All it takes is just a little walk with Jesus. I promise you’ll quickly see the benefit in your life.


Read more articles at this link

 

 

May 23, 2015

Keep on Asking

If you grew up in church, this KJV verse from the Sermon on the Mount is quite ingrained:

Matt. 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

However, we’ve all heard sermons where preachers have stressed that this is a continuous imperative.

We previously looked at what that means:

Our pastor used the example of running a race or two versus being in regular training for running races that earn podium positions at the end. The example I’ve always used is a little simpler. Consider these two sentences:

  • “Shut the door.”
  • “Answer the phone.”

The first one is easy.  Once you shut the door, it’s shut.  Work done.  But the second one has an implication that’s deeper; it really means:

  • “Answer the phone if it rings and take a message; and then, if it rings again, answer it and take a message; and then if it rings again, answer it…”

While translators are certainly aware of this, most of the newer ones seem inclined to continue to keep the verse in its more familiar form. But a few venture out to give us more of the sense of the original meaning:

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (CJB – Complete Jewish Bible)

“Be asking, and it will be given to you; be seeking, and you will find; be knocking, and it will be opened to you. (DNLT – Disciples Literal New Testament)

Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. (AMP – Amplified Bible; NLT is similar)

“Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. (ERV – Everyday Reading Version)

Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find. Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you. (The Voice)

The reason for examining this topic today is that I have to confess that over the past 24 hours I’ve been realizing that my whole perspective on this verse has had to do with tenacity in prayer over a specific request. In other words, I’ve always felt the verse is telling us that if you’re in a situation, even if you don’t see the answer, keep bringing it before God.

While I think that’s a perfectly acceptable way of looking at things, I believe the verse offers us even more. I would suggest looking at it:

If you’re consistently in prayer over (a), (b), and (c) and not seeing results, and then situations (d) and (e) arise, don’t let this discourage you from bringing (d) and (e) before God.

In other words, I believe that God is telling us through this text, don’t lose heart and give up on the prayer process over what you see as a lack of past results. I know that’s something that I need to be reminded of. It’s easy to fall into pessimism, or to ask, but with what James 1:6 calls wavering.

Some of us grew up with a plaque in our homes that simply said, Prayer Changes Things, but then as we grew older we heard teaching that as we draw close to God the key thing about being in his presence is that prayer changes us. That is true, 100% of the time.

But I think we also need to have the perspective that God is positive disposed and favorably inclined to intervene in the affairs of his children, if he deems that best. He can and does step into the scene to orchestrate things “in ways thou knowest not.” (Jer. 33:3)

So today’s conclusion is don’t give up praying in whatever situation you find yourself, but also don’t give up on prayer.


More on today’s topic at C201:

 

May 1, 2015

Keeping the Passion for Prayer

Today we pay a return visit to Pastor Jesus Figueroa, who was born in Tijuana, Mexico and today pastors a 700 member church in Los Angeles. He begins with a variety of translations, then some devotional thoughts, and then related verses. Each day’s writings are posted in both English and Spanish. I strongly encourage you to read this at his blog, Word for Today, and then take some time to look at other articles. Click the title below to read:

Watch With Me One Hour

Topic: We Must  Not Lose Passion In Prayer

40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour?

Matthew 26:40 (NKJV)

Daily Reading Plan

1 Chronicles 1

Bible Versions:

Matthew 26:40 (NIV) — 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.

Matthew 26:40 (MSG) — 40 When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour?

Thoughts Of Devotion:

Scripture teaches us that it is possible to one lose our passion for prayer. You can get to a place in your spiritual life where you no longer desire to be in communion with the Lord. In this occasion we see how Jesus’ disciples were at a point in their lives where they allowed sleep to steal their prayer time. Jesus had to exhort them. Read what Matthew 26:41 says, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The burning desire in prayer is so important and essential if we are to achieve an intimate communion with the Lord. It’s a very sad situation when sometimes our flesh is weak and we lose the privilege of prayer. Although our spirit is always ready, the battle with our flesh will always be present. It reminds me of what Galatians 5:17 says, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” I wonder, in how many occasions have we allowed our flesh to steal the blessing of prayer through sleep, distractions, and many other things that continually wish to rid us of our spiritual blessings?

It is only when we remain alert and vigilant in prayer that we will see the glory of God! In Luke 9:32, it tells us of another occasion in which they “DID” remain awake, ” But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.” Today the Lord wants us to enjoy His glory, great victories over the temptations that come into our lives, but for this to happen we have to be fervent in our spirit and not let our weak flesh win. Blessings!

Foundational Scriptures:

Matthew 25:5 (NKJV) — But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.

Luke 9:32 (NKJV) — 32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.

John 6:63 (NKJV) — 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

John 6:63 (NKJV) — 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

Galatians 5:17 (NKJV) — 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

Psalm 103:14 (NKJV) — 14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.

November 13, 2014

Are Your Prayers Too Polite?

Today’s post is by Christel Humfrey and appeared at the blog True Woman a few days ago. To read this at source, click the title below and then take some time to look around the rest of the blog.

Is Politeness Killing Your Prayer Life?

Christians in North America are generally polite pray-ers. We tend to pray correct, respectful words that we think God wants to hear. But let’s be honest, many of our prayers are tentative, repetitive, and somewhat boring.

prayer requestsI’m all for politeness with acquaintances. But real relationships require more. If my husband only spoke distant and polite words to me, our relationship would wither and die. I want to hear his struggles, his fears, his anger, and his joys. I want to process with him, not just hear his conclusions. I want him to trust me.

Intimate relationships require authentic feelings. Our innermost thoughts—however wrong or immature—are shared in trust. So why do we keep God at arm’s length? Are we trying to be something we are not? Are we afraid to trouble Him? God is our Father, yet we often treat Him like a distant relative.

Be Authentic in Prayer

Recently, I was reading through Jeremiah, and I was struck by how real his prayers were. He didn’t pretty up his words. He prayed heartfelt words. He brought his complaints to God and pleaded with Him.

“Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jer. 12:1)

“Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” (Jer. 20:18)

“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved” (Jer. 17:4).

What if we prayed what we really felt? Our words would come as no surprise to God, but we may be humbled when our foolish thoughts become words. Sometimes we feel things but can’t really define or understand them until we speak them out loud. So we vent them to friends or shove them down deep not wanting to trouble God with our “little” cares. We make a critical mistake when we don’t bring our troubles immediately to God. Not only does He care, but He also has the power to change things.

Prayer brings us to a vulnerable place. We lay bare our hearts to God in prayer. Our carefully created persona is peeled back until we stand naked and exposed before a holy God. This is an uncomfortable—no, terrifying—thought without Christ’s blood shed on our behalf. There is no pretending with God. He knows our thoughts before we speak them (Ps. 139:4). Every hair on our head is numbered (Matt. 10:30). He knows us. The real us.

But the Christian can approach the Father with boldness (Heb. 4:16, Rom. 5:2). We are beloved children, not distant employees. We don’t need to fear Him because the cross happened. Christ paid the penalty for our sin and clothed us in His own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). So we take an uncomfortable leap of faith, not because we have confidence in ourselves, but because Christ is trustworthy, and God has adopted us as His own.

Expect to Be Changed

When we bring our complaints and requests before our heavenly Father, something unexpected happens. We come to Him hoping for a change of circumstances and leave with a new perspective. We are changed by prayer. We see this pattern often in the Psalms. A complaint turns to praise through the course of prayer. If we apply this template to our own prayer lives, we may be surprised by the fruit it bears.

When it’s just you and God in private prayer, why not be brutally honest? You can trust Him with your heart because He cares for you. Authentic prayer deepens communion. It grows assurance and inflames love. Go ahead and jump in the deep end with God. Polite prayer may be more comfortable, but authentic prayer transforms hearts.

Do you feel free to be honest with God in prayer? If you stopped being polite, what would you say to God?

True Woman blog is a ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Written by Christel Humfrey. Used with permission. Copyright © 2008-2012. All Rights Reserved http://www.truewoman.com

November 9, 2013

Practical Christian Living: Walking With God

Walking With God from Sermonview dot com

Last week we shared a short excerpt from David Murray’s excellent book, Jesus on Every Page. Today, I happened to visit David’s blog at HeadHeartHand.org and discovered the piece which follows here. There isn’t a key scripture verse today, you need to look up the references. You are strongly encouraged to read this reprint from an article David did for a Reformed periodical, at source, where it appeared as Walking With God In Everyday Life.

The Bible says that “the Lord was with” Abraham, Joseph, David, and Hezekiah. We’re also told that Enoch and Noah “walked with God.” These are two sides of the one coin, two perspectives on the same experience of God’s special presence with His people.

This was a gracious experience. Humanity had severed itself from God by sin, but God in mercy came down to humanity again to reconcile, to re-establish, to re-connect, and to re-commune. These were all sinners separated from God by sin, and distant from God by nature. Yet God drew near to them, drew them to Himself, and filled them with His own presence. By God’s gift of faith in the coming Messiah, these Old Testament believers experienced forgiveness of their sin and God’s love shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit given to them. The Lord who had been against them was now with them.

This was a spiritual experience. If you looked at Enoch or David you would not have seen another physical figure with them. God was not with them physically. He was with them spiritually. By His indwelling Holy Spirit, God connected and communed with these men. The “withness” was a spiritual “withness.”

This was a personal experience. It wasn’t “the force” that was with them, but a person. It was not some impersonal power but someone with a character, a personality, a will, an ability to communicate, etc. As such, there was a sharing of personal thoughts, feelings, plans, hopes, etc. There was conversation between the Lord and those He was with. We don’t know how much the Old Testament believers understood of God being three persons, but they certainly knew a personal God.

This was a transforming experience. God cannot be with someone without it making a difference in their lives. Enoch and Noah stood out from everyone else in their generation. Heathen kings and officials, like Abimelech and Potiphar, noticed a difference in those that God was with (Gen. 21:22; 26:28; 39:3). God’s presence produced inner qualities of holiness, peace, contentment, and courage. In the Old Testament it was also associated with outward prosperity and success (e.g. Gen. 39:2-3; 1 Sam. 18:14; 2 Kings 18:7).

This was an enjoyable experience. This was not some unwanted and terrifying invasion of these men’s lives. No, this was the God who was their best friend, coming to walk with them through life’s journey. What a wonderful experience, especially when these men were often so otherwise alone in their spiritual pilgrimage!

This was a varied experience. Though God never leaves any believer in whom he has come to live, there are times when he withdraws the sense of His presence, the feeling of his nearness. For example, we’re told that God left Hezekiah to test him (2 Chron. 32:21). That cannot mean  God was with him one day and gone the next. Rather, it means that at this time Hezekiah did not have the conscious sense of God’s presence. God was there, but he was silent and still. Yes, the Spirit could be grieved in the Old Testament too, and such painful times taught these men how much they needed God’s active presence in their lives.

It was an everywhere experience. It was not confined to the Temple or Tabernacle, but God was with His people in building projects, in prison, on the throne, and on the farm. Wherever they went, whatever time of the day, they could enjoy God’s companionship. They could talk to Him, sing to Him, worship Him, enjoy Him wherever, whenever, whatever.

If Old Testament believers experienced this divine “withness,” this divine presence, how much more should we New Testament believers, who see Christ more clearly, who have the fullness of the Spirit’s indwelling, and who have so many other helps in our lives, families, and churches?

Today’s graphic is available as a banner in various sizes from SermonView.com — click the image to see variations. Graphics are also available as slides for preaching series and both traditional Bible imagery and contemporary designs are offered.

August 4, 2013

Prayer as a form of Praise

Today’s devotional is from the website TruthForLife.org, the Bible teaching ministry of Alistair Begg. It’s actually an excerpt from a book the ministry is offering this month, Created to Praise by Derek Prime. You’re encouraged to read this at source, and then click around to explore the rest of the ministry website, including other excerpts from the book.

Worship 5Praise is prayer. When I lift up my heart to God to praise Him, I talk to Him and commune with Him. Prayer is not all asking. As Thomas Watson, the seventeenth-century Puritan, quaintly put it, “Many have tears in their eyes, and complaints in their mouth, but few have harps in their hand, blessing and glorifying God. Let us honor God this way. Praise is the quit-rent we pay to God: while God renews our lease, we must renew our rent.”

Prayer itself is praise

To pray to God is to praise Him. In prayer – even when I am not specifically praising God by spending time thinking about one of His attributes – I am acknowledging God as the One who is supremely worthy of my trust, and uniquely powerful to help me.

Let’s imagine that I contract a serious illness. My own doctor declares himself unable to advise or help, but recommends specialists who may be able to assist. After much enquiry and searching, I hear of a leading specialist in the relevant field of medicine and immediately I place myself in his hands. Now, without my uttering any compliments to him, my action constitutes praise of the doctor concerned. My trust in him indicates my assessment of his competence and worth.

Or imagine that I want to go to a concert one evening. I peruse the advertisements and there are a number of concerts from which to choose. I discover, however, that a celebrated violinist is playing, and in choosing to go to his concert rather than the others, I give him a form of unspoken praise.

True prayer is in itself part of our praise of God. We go to Him in a way we go to no one else. He is able to help us as no one else can. His ability surpasses that of all whom we know. Furthermore, in prayer we submit ourselves to God’s will – we pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) as the foundation of all our other prayers. By our acknowledgement that God’s will is best, we praise God indirectly for His infinite and perfect wisdom.

I remember a father sharing with me, with considerable joy, how his daughter, in her middle twenties, had come into his study one evening and poured out to him her distress over a personal relationship which had gone wrong. His pleasure was not, of course, in his daughter’s distress, but in the fact that she felt so assured of his love and concern that she could unburden herself freely and find relief through his understanding. Without saying a word about him, she was nevertheless praising him as a father – she was acknowledging what a good father she knew him to be. When we pour out our hearts to God in prayer, in a way we can do with no one else, we are praising God, we are telling Him what an incomparably good Father we know He is.

Derek Prime

Read another excerpt from the book at this link.  Derek is also the author of
On Being a Pastor and Directions for Christian Living. The new book, Created to Praise is published by Christian Focus Publications

June 7, 2013

Prayer: An Orthodox Perspective

Although many of the featured writers here at C201 are Evangelical, we try to include a variety of voices. Today’s post is somewhat lengthy, but it allows us to listen in on an Orthodox discussion about prayer, and particularly the invoking of the names of saints, either generally or by name in their prayer patterns.This is from the blog Glory to God for All Things by Fr. Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox Priest under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America. He serves as the Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. You may click the title to read at source and/or leave a comment or question there.

Prayers and the One God of All

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!

So runs a common exclamation in Orthodox services of prayer. And so begins another offense for those who wonder why the Orthodox “don’t pray directly to God”…or “why do you pray to the saints”…or, worst of all, how do we dare to say, “Most Holy Theotokos (Birth-giver of God), save us!” For “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1Timothy 2:5)… and “surely only God can save us!”

These are common questions in the modern world – both from Protestants as well as from the general public. Many members of the Orthodox Church ask the same questions – they, too, are products of a culture that has great difficulty with such things. What is the great difficulty? I believe the problem can be found in a misunderstanding of who God is as well as what it means for us to be in union with Him.

To a degree, questions about prayer and saints reminds me of a common question I’ve heard from children (and some concerned adults): “Which member of the Trinity should we pray to?” When I have responded by trying to ascertain what the nature of the problem was, I have discovered that some are concerned that if they talk to Jesus, exclusively, they will offend the Father and the Holy Spirit. But if they talk exclusively to the Father, it feels less intimate than it does when they speak to Jesus. And they have no idea what to say to the Holy Spirit. So, the question becomes, “Should we just talk to all of them, or if I just say, ‘God’ can they figure it out?” And so the conversation goes.

It is perhaps the case that most of my readers will have wondered the same thing at some point in their Christian lives. For many, the Trinity is not so much a theological problem as a matter of spiritual etiquette. But the problem reveals a great deal – Christians may say they believe in the Trinity – but are largely clueless or simply confused about what it means. Is there an etiquette of prayer?

Of course, an etiquette of prayer presumes that we actually know what prayer is. I have always had difficulty in small groups of people. I can speak to thousands without difficulty (with a good sound system). Speaking to thousands is quite similar to speaking to one. But in a group of say, six, I am at a loss. To whom do you speak? Whose face doyou look at when you’re speaking? And on and on the questions go. For a man who was nurtured in the old Southern culture of the US, being “polite” is ranked among the commandments.

Speaking to God is not speaking to a group – for though God is Triune or Trinity, He is One. To speak to God is to speak to God. There is a typical manner in which most formal prayers are written in Orthodoxy – addressed to the Father, closing with a glorification of the three persons of the Trinity. But this only describes the most common form. Prayers are also written that are addressed to Christ and a few are addressed to the Holy Spirit (“O Heavenly King,” comes to mind). I should add that when Orthodox prayers begin with the general address, “O God,” it is speaking to the Father – something that generally becomes clear during the body of the prayer.

But this is etiquette and not the meaning of prayer. Prayer is active communion with God. Plain and simple – it is nothing else. When we pray we are uniting ourselves to God in thought, word and deed. We yield ourselves to Him and unite our will to His will, our life to His life. Because it is communion, and not just a conversation, it is reciprocal: God unites Himself to us. He yields Himself to us. He unites our will to His. He unites His life to our life.

Thus St. Paul says:

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ (Gal 4:6).

And,

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs– heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Rom 8:15-17).

St. Paul’s references to the cry of “Abba, Father,” most likely have in mind the “Lord’s Prayer,” the “Our Father,” as it is known in most languages. The prayer in many languages (both Hebrew and Greek) begins with the word “Father” (rather than “Our”). Thus it would be the prayer known as the “Abba.”

But St. Paul’s discursus makes clear the nature of our prayers and their essence. Prayer is active communion with God – it indeed is such active communion that he describes it as the Spirit speaking with the voice of the Son to the Father. Prayer is the life of the Triune God on our lips. This is true whether we are saying, “Abba, Father,” or whether we are saying, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” It is also true if we are saying, “O God, heal my daughter!” It is still true if we are saying, “O God, why did my child die?” Many such expressions of the heart can be found throughout the Psalms. They are the voice of God in the heart of the Psalmist written to teach us to pray. If the Psalms can say it, so can we!

Prayer is active communion with God regardless of the words we use. Very often people worry themselves about the content of a prayer. They think, “I cannot possibly say that!” Some become superstitious and think that if they say the wrong thing in the wrong way, bad things will happen. These are understandable thoughts, but they are simply the reflection of our own neuroses (some of them taught us by our own religious culture). Prayer is active communion with God and whatever you think, say or don’t say, it is you, yourself that is being united to God. If you think it, believe it, fear it, wish it, whatever, it is you, and you are God’s. God is not offended with us and our prayers.

The content of our hearts is simply an illustration of the content of our lives at any given time. If I am filled with fear, it’s no good pretending that I am not. God isn’t impressed with my ability to pretend things that are not true. Over the decades of my life as a believer, I have said some very terrible things to God. But there have been some very terrible things in my life. Christ God became man and united Himself even to our sins –  (“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” 2Co 5:21). Thus Christ has taken on Himself my anger and my cursing, my doubts and my questions, my rebellion and the secret sins of my life that fill me with self-loathing. All of this He has made His own and nailed it to the Cross that I might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Prayer is active communion with God and this is our salvation. We are saved through union with Christ. Every sacrament, or mystery of the Church, has as its purpose our union with God. In Baptism we are united to Christ’s death and resurrection. In marriage a man and a woman are united and become one flesh in Christ for their salvation. In the Holy Eucharist, whosoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has Christ’s eternal life in them. And so it goes. Everything is about communion with God and communion with God is the content of our salvation:

God has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the economy of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him (Eph 1:9-10).

This communion (gathered together in one) is salvation – again, pure and simple. This is our paradise, our peace, our resurrection, our hope, our triumph over death and hell, the forgiveness of our sins and our eternal life.

So, why do we pray, “Through the prayers of our holy fathers…”?

The most straightforward answer is that “this is what communion sounds like on the lips of the Church.” We can also say that “through the prayers of our holy fathers…” is the content of the word “our,” in the “Our Father.” For those who wonder why we invoke the saints when we pray, we do so because we were not taught to pray as individuals (except in the admonition to pray in secret). But the content of our prayer, in the words of Christ, always include others. Our Father…our daily bread…our debts. I have known of some who objected to the Lord’s prayer because we ask God to forgive our debts, arguing that they have no idea what others might have done or whether they are sorry, etc.  Such thoughts betray a misunderstanding of God and of the nature of our salvation.

“No one is saved alone…” the fathers have said…”but if we fall, we fall alone.” Whoever would ask God to forgive his own private sins, but not intercede for others’ forgiveness, will find that he remains unforgiven – not from his own sins – but unforgiven for the sins of others. Because the nature of communion as salvation – is that we cannot be saved alone. Salvation is communion, and communion requires the other. God is Other, but so is everyone and everything. To seek to unite myself to God apart from all of creation is to wish the destruction of everyone and everything.

Part of the language of communion that the Church has developed over the centuries (and quite early I might add), is the language that is described as “prayer to the saints.” There are many ways to do this wrongly (just as there are many ways to pray to God wrongly). Just as God is not rightly conceived as a “supreme personal being” (this is a caricature of the One God), so it is not right to conceive of our prayers to the saints as getting powerful friends to intercede on our behalf because God likes them more than he does me. I was the younger of two sons for most of my childhood. My older brother would urge me, “You go ask Dad! He’ll listen to you.” My father was indeed a tender-hearted man and was very generous to my young intercessions. But God is nothing like this, nor do such examples have anything to do with prayer.

In a culture that has become deeply individualistic, the view of what it is to be human is profoundly flawed. Our relationships to others have been reduced to moral obligations (etiquette) and contracts. St. Paul’s teaching that in the Church  “if one member suffers, all the members suffer…or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice…” (1Co 12:26), is absurd in a world of individuals. There is no communion of individuals and can be none (it is contrary to the notion of the individual). This same culture thinks of God as individual (a Supremely powerful being). If it is incorrect to say this of human beings, it is heresy to say it of God. God is a communion of Persons – One God – Three Persons.

“Prayer to the saints” is, of course, misunderstood by some. Prayer to God is misunderstood by most. Learning that prayer is active communion with God is a great step forward for everyone. To say, “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us,” is to embrace the communion that is our life. It is the voice of creation being united in the One God who draws all to Himself.

August 11, 2012

Distancing Ourselves from God

(NIV) Gen 3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”


CEB I Peter 5:8 Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Today we feature the writing of a longtime friend, Jeff Snow. Jeff is now in his 12th year with Youth For Christ in Canada, and prior to that worked as a youth pastor with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

This week, I decided to re-read for the third time The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis’ 150-page masterpiece of fictional correspondence between a senior and junior devil concerning their efforts to tempt one young man and secure his place with them in hell.

 The book is fascinating in that it explores issues of good and evil, faith, sin and temptation, from the point of view of the devil.  God is referred to as the Enemy.  The point of the book is that by better understanding the devil’s schemes in trying to destroy humanity, we can be more aware and less apt to fall for them. 

 In letter #12, Lewis points out one of the most effective strategies the devil has to ruin a life.  It has nothing to do with a great moral failure.  It’s not about that one dreadful choice that ruins a life, though that is tragic.  The devil’s most effective strategy against most of us is to get us caught up living from one day to the next without thinking about God or realizing how far away from God we’ve drifted, how far away we’ve gone from who we were created to be.

 The senior devil writes, “The only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy.  It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and into the Nothing.  Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.  Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (pgs. 64-65)

 Here’s the question.  How many of us have just settled into a rut in life so deep that we figure that this is all there is, that there is no deeper meaning or purpose?  A rut so deep that we don’t think about the big picture anymore, don’t think about God like we once did.  We’re not terrible people.  We obey the laws and don’t hurt anyone.  It just feels like we’ve slipped away from the Light and into “the Nothing.” 

 Lewis’ perceptive quote placed upon the devil’s lips tells us that this is a dangerous place to be.  It’s not where God created us to be.  We are not meant to be separated from God.  We are meant to be His.  And, as one of Lewis’ devils says in a moment of clarity, “when they (humans) are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”

 There is more to life than this.  Step off the gradual, gentle slope for a minute, and ask God to show you who you were really created you to be.  Who you really are!  And as you do, if you sense some unhappy, panicked voices in the background, just ignore them, and let them keep busy writing their letters to each other, while you step away from Nothing and towards the Light.

November 5, 2010

God as He Wants Us to Know Him

I found this quotation from Baxter Kruger today on a blog called Richard Rantz, while I was researching something else; where it appeared under the title, Fear in the Eye of the Beholder…

Perception

How much erroneous theology has been birthed out of misreading into what happened in the Garden of Eden when Adam chose to disobey?

I want to share some thoughts here from a brother, Baxter Kruger, on what I am asking.
I would love to hear any thoughts you might care to share here on this matter.

Rich

“Reconciliation began when the Father saw that His children could not see His heart, the Son realized that we could not receive his Father’s love, and the Spirit saw the joy of fellowship with the Father vanish from our lives. Reconciliation is about the Father sending His own Son into our darkness. It is about the Son identifying with us, seeing our good, feeling our fear, experiencing our brokenness. Reconciliation is about the Spirit bridging the horrible gap between the Father’s heart and our blindness, as Jesus embraced it in his own being. It is the suffering of the triune God, righting the doomed ship of our fallen minds, until we know the Father with Jesus in the fellowship of the Spirit.

Reconciliation is the Father’s forgiveness determined to become flesh, determined to incarnate itself into our fallen existence in order to undo our alienation. It is the relationship, the fellowship and communion of the Father, Son, and Spirit stepping into our blindness and mythology, into the cesspool of our trauma and wounds, so that human perception can be thoroughly converted and the Father’s love can be truly known and experienced. The purpose, the aim, the object of reconciliation is not to change God, but to bring us into communion with the Father, so that we could know Him and His lavish heart and live life in the freedom of His embrace.”