Christianity 201

January 20, 2023

Models for Prayer

In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. – Romans 8:26 CEB

But whenever you pray, go into your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him – Matthew 6:6-8 NET

Different people have different mental images when shopping for books in the “Prayer” category. For some it means books of prayers; the prayers of our spiritual forebears, the great prayers of the Bible, and occasionally, prayers shared by Christian authors and leaders still living. For others, it means books about prayer; teaching as to the how and when and where of our communication with our heavenly Father.

In my tribe, I was more exposed to the latter. I had great difficulty understanding why someone would want to pray a prayer that was written by someone else. To someone in a more liturgical tradition, it can still be, after many years, still difficult to form their own words and speak to God as one would speak to a friend at the coffee shop.

Today we look at three model prayers. The one which we did have a link for no longer connects to anything, so I can’t speak to the origins of these, but I know when I first found them, they struck me as worthy to share here. Two are simply variations of the model prayer Jesus teaches his disciples.

Becoming Like the One We Worship

This prayer is found in the book by G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, page 311.

Father, we thank you for your Word,
which is sober but not without hope.
Jesus has reformed his true people into his own image
on the basis of his own person, death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit,
and he wants us to trust him and not be idol worshippers.

And so Lord,
cause us to revere you so we resemble you
and are blessed and restored to you,
and not ruined.
Give us eyes to see and ears to hear your truth
and give “us understanding so that we might know him who is true”
and to abide “in him who is true,
in his Son Jesus Christ.
This is the true God and eternal life.”

Give us grace to guard ourselves from idols.
Be with us to this end for your glory.

In Christ’s name,
Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer as You’ve Never Heard It

This appeared in 2010 at Thinking Out Loud. It is a version of what is commonly known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ However this version is one translated from Aramaic, rather than Greek.

Oh Thou, from whom the breath of life comes,
who fills all realms of sound, light and vibration.
May Your light be experienced in my utmost holiest.
Your Heavenly Domain approaches.

Let Your will come true
in the universe
just as on earth.

Give us wisdom for our daily need,
detach the fetters of faults that bind us,
like we let go the guilt of others.

Let us not be lost in superficial things,
but let us be freed from that what keeps us off from our true purpose.

From You comes the all-working will,
the lively strength to act,
the song that beautifies all and renews itself from age to age.

Sealed in trust, faith and truth.
(I confirm with my entire being)

The Sibling’s Prayer

I have no idea how this got its name. It appeared in the early years of my other blog, Thinking Out Loud. It is credited to Dave Aldrich. It is also based on The Lord’s Prayer.

Dear Father,

We, Your children in Jesus, who live throughout the world, who love and revere You and await your perfect Kingdom…

Together we pray that Your will be done here on earth, in all our lives, as it is always fulfilled in Heaven.

We pray for one another, asking You to take care of our needs. We ask You to forgive all that divides us from You and from one other. And to lead us away from the temptation of trying to control our lives or the lives of others.

Keep that enemy of ours from distracting our focus upon You. We depend upon Your strength for we are but weak vessels.

This is Your Kingdom at stake, Your power and glory. Help us to put aside our differences and remember all that You’ve done for us and how much You love us. We love You.

 

January 2, 2023

When it Feels Like God Has Left the Building

This is our fifth time at Before the Cross, but this time around we’re highlighting a different writer, Daniel Barber. You’re encouraged to visit the page where you’ll find teaching videos and articles. Click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared.

Feeling Forsaken

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1a)

It’s a question we as Christians find ourselves asking throughout our lives as we encounter various trials. God feels light-years away from us as yet another year passes of our weighty prayers going unanswered. We pray diligently, believing that at any moment of any day God will finally answer our requests beyond our wildest dreams. We’ll get that cool job with all the benefits, flexible schedules, and laid back bosses we’ve always wanted. The spouse, whose physical characteristics, personality and theology match everything we wrote out on our lists to a tee, will find us and fall madly in love with us overnight. The doctor will tell us every trace of our cancer has completely vanished. But, these things don’t happen. So we wait. We pray, read our bibles, regularly attend church and bible studies, and we wait.

During this period of waiting, we see others receive the very things we’ve been diligently praying for. People we deem as “less deserving” of God’s miraculous grace. Three months after accepting Jesus Christ as their savior, the newest member of our church is engaged, promoted at their job, and singing on the worship team. We know we should be happy for them, but something is holding us back. We think to ourselves “I’ve been in church seeking the Lord for years, doing my best to honor God in all that I do, and the biggest prayers of my life have gone unanswered. Meanwhile, this person comes in off the street and receives everything I’ve ever wanted. How is that fair?”

Bitterness begins to take root in our hearts. The growth is slow at first, but over time we begin to lose faith. God can’t truly love us. He must have something against us. Why else would he cruelly parade others amazing lives in front of our faces, while we face nothing but hardships and deafening silence?

“Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:2)

But then, we begin to see God’s provision. A friend offers to pay for our lunch, not realizing our bank account is down to double digits. We find a new place to live and get the help we need moving, all on a week’s notice. A tornado lands less than a mile away from our workplace and we don’t even realize it until the next day. God is providing for our needs and protecting us from harm. He must love us.

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” (Psalm 22: 3-5)

“God, I know you answer prayers”, we say while down on our knees, “So why have you not answered THIS prayer? The most important prayer of my life?” While some may blame our unanswered prayers on a lack of faith, we know that’s not it. According to Matthew 17:20, all we need is “faith as small as a mustard seed” to move mountains, not because of any inherent power tied to the size of our faith, but because of the omnipotent power and infinite size of our God. Even the most infinitesimal amount of faith is all that God requires to work wonders in our lives. Psalm 135:6 says “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps”, so we know that no matter how much we may want something, if God doesn’t want it, or the timeline in which we want it doesn’t match His, He won’t do it.

This is a particularly hard concept to grasp when what we desire is a good thing. Doesn’t God want us to have spouses with whom we can better serve Him, good jobs in which to provide more for our families and pay better tithes, or an end to our various forms of physical suffering? While we may think we know what God should do and when he should do it, which is usually whenever we want it done, Proverbs 19:21 tells us that “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand”, and no purpose of God’s can be thwarted (Job 42:2).

Sometimes we may receive the good thing we want when we want it because it lines up with God’s timing, but sometimes we may not. We must come to terms with the fact that God’s ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). Who are we to question the one who has commanded the morning since our day began (Job 38:12) or make demands of one who can “send forth lightnings” (Job 38:35)? As highly as we may think of ourselves when the sin of arrogance gets the better of us, we cannot honestly claim to have these abilities or any other of the imaginable and unimaginable abilities of God. Because we are so completely powerless by comparison, why don’t we leave our desires in the mighty hands of the one who is the source of all power?

So yes, we should pray without ceasing about every need and want in our life, but we should not be anxious about any of them. Through this prayer and supplication, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” will guard our hearts and minds in Jesus (Phillippians 4:7).

When we find ourselves yet again asking God why he has forsaken us, let’s remember He has not and will not ever do so. Jesus is the “friend that sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24) who has numbered the hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7). We may be stuck in the pain of the here and now, but God can see our future, and knows that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Instead of fretting over whatever it is we think we lack, let’s “we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Even when our prayers go unanswered and we begin to doubt God’s love for us, we can rest in the fact our feelings aren’t truth. God’s Word is truth.

December 3, 2022

When God Sifts Your Resources

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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“Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! He may have a great army, but they are merely men. We have the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!” Hezekiah’s words greatly encouraged the people.” – 2 Chronicles 32:7-8 NLT

So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. – Zechariah 4:6 NIV

A year ago we introduced you to Joey Rudder who is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and occasionally shares a devotional blog post, like the one today, at JoeyRudder.com. Click the title below to read this where it first appeared.

A Miraculous Rescue

“The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’ So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. But the Lord said to Gideon, ‘There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there.’ The Lord said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped I WILL SAVE YOU and give the Midianites into your hands.’”

Judges 7:2-4b, 7a NIV, emphasis my own.

God ultimately sifted Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 men, and He brought them victory when it seemed impossible.

Sometimes God will sift your resources, finances, and solutions.

Your bank account gets so low you can’t use your debit card to get gas.

All the treatments the doctors recommended have failed you.

Everything you do to “fix” your situation backfires.

When things get so bad, and victory seems impossible, or when you’re out of answers and resources and nearly out of hope, Almighty God can step in and do what only HE can do – and He will receive ALL the glory.

When the miraculous happens, you can’t credit it to your salary, the medical experts, or your intelligence.

You’ll know the victory is from God and God alone.

Doubt will never tarnish it. The enemy won’t be able to hide it under a pile of lies. And the faithless will be silenced when it happens – even if they try to speak, their words will have no credibility as you bask in the glow of God’s unfailing love and faithful provision.

Of course, God can use the resources He’s provided to rescue you. He can increase your finances and wisdom. He can use doctors to bring about healing. But He jealously longs for you to know it’s HIS doing.

God will not share His glory with another.

Oh, precious soul. If God has sifted your resources and you’re holding onto mere fragments of what you once thought could save you, hit your knees and acknowledge that this is beyond you. Cry out to God, admit that you need Him and His miraculous rescue, and BELIEVE He still performs miracles today.

Because He does. ❤️

 

November 27, 2022

Costly Sacrifice

Ever stood at a doorway with someone who insists you enter first, while you are insisting that they go first? Today’s story is more like two people insisting on paying the tab at a restaurant.

II Samuel 24 (NLT) : 18 That day Gad came to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”

19 So David went up to do what the Lord had commanded him. 20 When Araunah saw the king and his men coming toward him, he came and bowed before the king with his face to the ground. 21 “Why have you come, my lord the king?” Araunah asked.

David replied, “I have come to buy your threshing floor and to build an altar to the Lord there, so that he will stop the plague.”

22 “Take it, my lord the king, and use it as you wish,” Araunah said to David. “Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and you can use the threshing boards and ox yokes for wood to build a fire on the altar. 23 I will give it all to you, Your Majesty, and may the Lord your God accept your sacrifice.”

24 But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.” So David paid him fifty pieces of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen.

25 David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord answered his prayer for the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.

David wants to buy the land where he will erect an altar to atone for his disobedience in doing something God had told him not to do. (The reason God didn’t want him to take a census at that time is the subject for another study, suffice it to say he was disobedient.)  But Araunah is making an overly generous generous gesture to simply give the king the land. But then it really won’t be as much of a sacrifice on David’s part will it? Talk about substitutionary atonement. (No, not really; though we could go in that direction, too; but like other analogies, it doesn’t fit perfectly.) So David pays for the land.

So David voices the well known statement, “for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.” (v. 24b, NASB)

In 2018, we quoted Jentezen Franklin on this passage:

The old Anglo-Saxon word for worship is worth-ship, which is the act of ascribing worth or value to a person or object. What’s the point? It’s this: When it comes to serving God, if it doesn’t cost—it doesn’t count! God knows we can’t all give the same amount. But what He’s asking for isn’t equal giving, but equal sacrifice! The Bible says, Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything (Pr 3:9 NLT). So whether you’re worshiping, serving, or giving, make sure you’re giving God your best.

I like that; “If it doesn’t cost, it doesn’t count.”

Our word worship means worthship. We worship those things/people we ascribe worth to and in doing so we are saying these things/people are important to us. So as we sacrifice to worship, we’re saying that God’s worth it.

In that same article, we quoted the blog of Covenant Life Church of God:

We recognize His worth-ship, His value and we openly worship Him. If He never did another thing for us, He is still worthy of our worship. His whole being is so wonderful and beautiful we can’t help but respond to Him. That is worship, the acknowledgement of who He is, without any reference to ourselves. He is still magnificent without anything personal involved, simply by existing.

The website Truth or Tradition reminded us that

[P]erhaps we do not worship God as we should is that it often takes so much time, and we are already busy. Let’s face it—prayer, reading the Bible, and sharing our faith all take time. Also, sometimes there does not seem to be much return for the effort spent on things we do for God. There are times we pray for our country, yet things seem to go from bad to worse; we read the Bible, but not are not inspired by it; or we go to church, but do not seem to benefit that much from the experience. Ironically, our word “worship” derives from “worth-ship” (Oxford Etymological Dictionary), and sometimes we wonder if “worship” is “worth it.” But it always is.

Part of the process is putting God first.

Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

There is much to be gained from using different translations. For example, take

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… (NIV)

The phrase in question has to do with putting God first, or giving Him first place in our lives.  Modern options include:

  • Set your heart on the kingdom and his goodness(Phillips)
  • Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. (Message)

It’s important that we don’t think of this purely in financial, or worse transactional terms. In an 2014, we quoted Ken Idleman. Here’s his challenge, to us and to himself!

So what are some of the ways we can put God first in our lives that aren’t related to financial giving to our church and ministry organizations?

  1. I am really trying to discipline my mind to start the day with some kind of prayer; asking God to use my day for His glory. If my thoughts are getting sidetracked, I just quickly get out of bed and do a re-start so I can try the thought focus again.
  2. I am endeavoring to make the devotional website I read each day the first internet page that is opened in my computer.
  3. I am trying to begin my day at work by asking God to use my workplace to reach my community. This isn’t easy. The first thing I have to do when I walk in is shut off the alarm system, and sometimes the message light is flashing on the phone system.
  4. I am trying to be more intentional about the emails I write and things I post on Twitter. That’s hard because I am already a bit of a Bible-nerd, so with a faith quotient that’s already high, I have to separate things that are about Church life or ‘religion’ in general from things that are about Jesus. I have a long way to go on this one.
  5. I am trying to put God’s kingdom agenda in the words I write and the words I speak so that the wisdom I offer is not earthly wisdom, but are filled with truth, hope, and encouragement.

I Chronicles 21:24 (parallel passage)

But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

November 22, 2022

Your Idle Conversation Might Actually Be Prayer

112413We live in a world where everything we say has the potential to be recorded and analyzed by others. Since September 11th, 2001, technology is being employed which tracks both your online and verbal communication. Phone calls which use certain key words trigger further attention. We love the benefits of that technology offers, but we often forget the loss of freedom the constant monitoring creates.

For the Christ-follower, this isn’t a big deal for two reasons. First, hopefully the content of our speech is good, honest, pure and praiseworthy. Second, since we’ve always believed in a God who is omniscient and omnipresent, as we have equally believed in a future judgment where every idle word will be brought into account, we’re aware of the possibility that Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!” (Luke 12:3 NLT)

Still, it was arresting over the weekend to hear someone on Christian radio speak of “God listening in to our conversations.” The host of the talk show I was tuned into was equally surprised. The phrase is taken from Jeremiah 8:6 (NLT). Here is the full context:

4 “Jeremiah, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord says:

“‘When people fall down, don’t they get up again?
When they discover they’re on the wrong road, don’t they turn back?
5 Then why do these people stay on their self-destructive path?
Why do the people of Jerusalem refuse to turn back?
They cling tightly to their lies
and will not turn around.
6 I listen to their conversations
and don’t hear a word of truth.
Is anyone sorry for doing wrong?
Does anyone say, “What a terrible thing I have done”?
No! All are running down the path of sin
as swiftly as a horse galloping into battle!
7 Even the stork that flies across the sky
knows the time of her migration,
as do the turtledove, the swallow, and the crane.
They all return at the proper time each year.
But not my people!
They do not know the Lord’s laws.

8 “‘How can you say, “We are wise because we have the word of the Lord,”
when your teachers have twisted it by writing lies?
9 These wise teachers will fall
into the trap of their own foolishness,
for they have rejected the word of the Lord.
Are they so wise after all?

The idea of God listening, in and of itself, is not a concern. When we pray, we want to think that God not only hears our prayers, but is positively disposed and favorable inclined to respond. But God listening in on our conversations? Why does that seem inappropriate, as though the person in the restaurant booth next to us is locked in on everything we’re saying?

The broader context here is Israel turning its back on God; a recurring theme among the prophets both major and minor. (We have to be careful that no one reading this tries to turn this passage — or thinks I am turning it — into something derived from a secondary or tertiary emphasis.)

The NLT is alone in using the word conversations in this verse, however. But try to remove the sense of God ‘eavesdropping’ or ‘listening in,’ on all we say, and you diminish both God’s all-knowingness (his omniscience) and his desire to commune with us and have us desire to commune with him.

The radio show guest went on to say that since God hears every word we speak, there is a sense in which every word of concern for a particular individual or situation, is in itself a form of prayer. I’ve heard this before; in fact, a long time ago, after a long time in which I was discussing a concern with a friend, he suggested that it would be good if we were to take some time to pray about it. Without thinking, I said, “I think we just did.” In the sense that God was with us and hearing our focused thoughts toward whatever it was we were discussing all those years ago, we were indeed bringing it before the throne of grace. (I think we ended with a brief, “God you’ve heard our thoughts on this and you know the need; please accept our prayer.”)

The problem is that in our security-conscious world, we look at ‘listening in’ as invasive, or even creepy, or an affront to perceived rights of privacy. But if the high-tech monitoring of our online or verbal thoughts is for our good, we have to believe that a God who is taking the time to monitor those same communications is doing so for our good as well.

That God is listening should temper the words we speak and act as a governor on our broader behavior as well. Equally however, it means we don’t necessarily have to stop to pray, bow our heads, fold our hands, and start out, “Heavenly, Father.” Those intentional prayer postures are good, but God has been listening to everything you’ve said up to that point.

After a discussion with friends on some more contentious subject, an interesting wrap up might be to say, “Well, God; you’ve been here all the time and listened to all of this; show us what your will is on this tough issue. Amen!”

November 14, 2022

Bible Teaching on Chronic Pain

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we played the search engine game so you don’t have to. Here’s what we found on the first three pages of results.

From the website Faith and Health Connection a look at Psalm 38 from the NLT with key words emphasized:

1 O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance……

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
facing constant pain.  

The writers there also note that verse 3 and verse 5 attributes the suffering to sin; noting that:

[S]ometimes the pain can be caused because a person is in internal conflict with God and/or with them self because they have sinned or are living in intentional sin. This internal conflict can cause tension in the muscles and other body tissues. This soft tissue tension can sometimes compress the tissue or bone against nearby nerves and can result in pain. Sometimes chronic pain… [I]f the pain is rooted in the inner conflict or guilt that stems from sin, the treatment or pill may well not cure the pain.

From the website Beyond Today:

It is easy to assume that if one seeks to live by God’s will and loves Him, God will always relieve that one’s physical suffering. Yet, there you (or those you know and love) are—still bound by pain, disease or disability. Does the lack of physical relief mean that there is something wrong spiritually?

I would like to take you on a brief survey of the Psalms of the Bible to challenge that assumption. Many of us regularly read the Psalms for comfort and encouragement, but I wonder how many have noticed that several of these beloved songs, speak about people of faith who suffer from chronic illnesses.

Before looking into Psalms, let’s lay a little groundwork with two references from the second letter to the Corinthian Christians. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, the apostle Paul assures his readers that they—these are Christians, remember—have the opportunity to experience spiritual comfort from God when they endure troubles. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Therein lies a concept that is foreign to many: Christians can have enduring and chronic troubles…

The writer then goes into a detailed look at quite a number of Psalms. This is an excellent article.

The website GotQuestions.org (which we use frequently here) has several articles which address questions surrounding pain and suffering. In this article they state:

The word “pain” or some form of it appears over 70 times in Scripture. The word’s first usage explains the origin of pain in childbirth: “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you’” (Genesis 3:16, NASB). The context here is that Adam and Eve had sinned and the pain of childbirth is one of the consequences of sin. Because of sin, the whole earth was cursed, and death entered in as a result (Romans 5:12). So, it may be concluded that pain is one of the many results of the original sin.

…[M]edically we know that pain is a gift. Without it we would not know when we needed medical attention. In fact, the absence of pain is one of the problems associated with leprosy. Children would never learn that touching a hot stove is a bad idea, nor would we be alerted to a dangerous medical condition without the pain associated with it. Spiritually speaking, one of the benefits of pain is expressed by James: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). According to James, when we endure painful trials, we can take joy in knowing that God is at work in us to produce endurance and Christ-like character. This applies to mental, emotional, and spiritual pain as well as to physical pain.

… Consider what Paul said: “And He has said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul was speaking of a “thorn in his flesh” that was troubling him. We don’t know what it was, but it seemed to have been painful for Paul. He recognized that God’s grace was being given to him so he could endure…

It’s not fair to lift too much content from GotQuestions.org and you really need to visit their website to read all of the article above, and especially the one below, in full. If this subject touches you at a point of need right now, I really want to encourage you to read all of the article excerpted below. Click to read this article in full.

…When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He gained renown for healing the crippled and the chronically ill (Matthew 4:23). He sometimes went out of His way to alleviate the chronic pain of an individual, revealing His compassion for the suffering (Luke 13:10–12; Matthew 9:20–22). Jesus said that He did nothing of His own accord, but only what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19; 14:10), so from this we learn that the Father also has great compassion on those who suffer and can heal them.

But pain relief was not Jesus’ main mission; nor is it the Father’s. Sometimes chronic pain is the result of sin or foolishness. Sometimes it is merely the fallout from living in mortal, imperfect bodies in a fallen, broken world. Whatever the case, our suffering is not wasted. God has a purpose in it. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him about a man born blind, Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1–7). He then healed the man, but only after the man had suffered from blindness his whole life up to that point. So Jesus’ attention to the chronically ill shows us that God knows about our chronic pain and cares that we suffer. However, for reasons known only to Him, He often allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves…

The website Vibrant Christian Living links to 19 different verses about experiencing joy in the middle of pain. Perhaps some of these apply in a more general sense, and some didn’t resonate with me on this particular subject, but I appreciated their intent, which is that on our journey with Christ we would be able to possess an underlying, abiding joy. Their version of choice is the New Living Translation:

Romans.5.3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

John.16.33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Col.1.11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy

1Peter.4.12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.

With a little imagination, you can figure out why I chose this topic today. Your prayers are appreciated!


Worship music video: Yesterday, I posted for the first time in several months at our flagship blog, Thinking Out Loud. I was writing about a worship song which has impressed me (and others) and it really fits today’s theme as well. Because the song is 8 minutes long, the article is called A Worship Song I Can’t Edit.

November 9, 2022

When Prayer Moves the Heart of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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It’s nearly a year, but we’re very grateful to HarperCollins Christian Products for their special permission to carry book excerpts from Thomas Nelson and Zondervan authors.

Matthew 6:11

  • Give us today our bread for the day (Weymouth)
  • Give us today the food we need (NLT)
  • Give us this day our bread sufficient for sustenance (Smith’s Literal)
  • Give us this day the bread for our support (Anderson New Testament)

Today’s author has appeared here once previously. Tyler Staton was a pastor in New York City for many years before moving one coast to another where he became the lead pastor of Bridgetown Church in Portland, which was founded by John Mark Comer. He is the National Director of 24-7 Prayer Movement which makes it even better that his new book is Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools: An Invitation to the Wonder and Mystery of Prayer (Zondervan). (See links below.)

Daily Bread (chapter excerpt)

In Exodus 32, we get a glimpse into Moses’s prayer life. To set the stage, God is very unhappy with the Israelites, and his anger is well-founded. After freeing them from slavery, parting the Red Sea, feeding them with bread from the sky, and quenching their thirst with water from a rock, they’ve begun to worship another god. God voices his anger, and in response, Moses prays, essentially calling God back to his own character:

Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.” (Exodus 32:12-13)

Moses is holding God to his word. He’s reminding God who God is: “by your own self.” He’s not just pleading with God to give him what he wants. It’s more like he’s reminding God what God really wants.

And check out God’s response: “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” Wait, what? Moses confronted God . . . and won? Yeah. Something like that.

The word relented is the translation of the Hebrew word naham, which can also be translated as “changed his mind” or even “repented.” God nahamed. God changed his mind. God repented. Really? That’s really what it says.

This doesn’t mean God was caught in sin and went to confession. Naham doesn’t mean God was in the wrong. It means God was moved emotionally. Moses’s prayer moved the Creator of the universe on an emotional level. That’s what the Bible teaches.

Aristotle famously called God the “unmoved mover.” The God Moses prayed to is more like the “moved mover.” He’s moving heaven and earth, but he’s also movable. He hears us. He actually listens and actually cares. He responds. This idea of God may seem pretty radical, but that’s only because many of us have a concept of God formed more by Aristotle than by Moses.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton of mystery here. There are so many unanswered questions. Sure, that’s how it happened with Moses, but what about Malachi? He heard God say, “I the LORD do not change.” But then there’s Hosea, to whom God said, “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” How can both of these revelations of God be equally true? Because God is a relational being to know, not a formula to master.

When it comes to any relational being, we’re gonna have to get comfortable with mystery. We will never know anyone so thoroughly that there’s no mystery left. I will know and love my wife for the rest of my life, and I’ll never reach the end of her. I’ll never eliminate the mystery in my most intimate relationship.<

Of course, it would be dangerous to form an entire theology out of this one Moses prayer, but there is a definite biblical pattern supported by this passage: God responds to his own character. That’s his nature. John Mark Comer concludes, “God is more of a friend than a formula.”


Excerpted with permission from pp125-6 in Praying Like Monks Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton ©2022 Tyler Staton. (link is to book’s page at zondervan.com)

Previously by Tyler Staton here at C201: Searching for Enough excerpt

Teaching at Bridgetown Church based on the book.

For an overall look at the book, Click here for my review.

Bible translations used in our introduction were from BibleHub.com (click ‘additional translations’ after search results)

October 24, 2022

Prayer: Erring on the Side of Audacious Expectations

John 14 : 14 (NIV)  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 16 : 23 (NIV) In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

John 16: 24 (NIV) Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16: 23-24 (The Message) “This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!

It can be hard to find the balance. On the continuum between, at one end, half-hearted prayer that is more doubt than faith, and the other end, believing that as your day began God was like a genie ready to grant you your daily three wishes.

We are commanded to go to God with our needs — our prayer petitions — and leave them before him. But what are our expectations of what happens next?

There are many people who believe that God’s intervention in the affairs of humankind are an extreme rarity, if he intervenes at all. The world is simply what it is, and that is the answer to the question, “If God… why all the suffering in the world?” We live in a fallen world where there is bound to pain and sorrow; flood, fire and famine; doom, defeat and despair. (That wasn’t a cheery sentence; but it was rather alliterative.)

There are other people who believe that God certainly hears our prayer requests and that this is the end in itself: That God wants to be in communication (or fellowship) with us. This is the idea that just as a father behaves towards his children, God wants us to tell us when and where it hurts. He wants each situation to bring us back to him. He wants us to come to him when we are ‘burdened and heavy-laden.’ But it’s about keeping the channel of communication open, ‘without ceasing.’

Still others believe that while God’s intervention is rarity, miracles do exist; they just don’t happen every day. We’re talking about genuine miracles here, not things contrived for the glare of the television lights or the crowd in the arena. So God is indeed a miracle working God, it’s not (as with the first group) a complete rarity, but just don’t get your hopes up.

Further up the ‘hope’ ladder are those who would say, ‘God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to give us what we ask.’ Why this doesn’t happen may be related to the complexities of other situations we can’t see, or a lesson that we need to learn before the answer comes. But absent those factors, God’s default position would be to give us what we come to him asking. I wrote about that this time last year:

A former pastor of ours used the phrase, “God is positively disposed and favorably inclined” to hear and answer our prayers. Many are praying right now for the world to be set right (or as N.T. Wright phrases it, “set to rights.”) It might appear that God is not answering. I believe that’s why we’re told to be tenacious about our praying. Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. (Matthew 7:7 even spells out the acronym ASK!) But it doesn’t say that if we ask enough times we’ll get a ‘yes.’  Even as many are praying, we would appear to be living in what a songwriter called, “the mystery of unanswered prayer.”

And there are those who believe that God is constantly orchestrating more details in the lives of his people than anything we can possibly imagine; that there are constantly situations where God is even giving us ‘answers to requests we haven’t made;’ or that life consists of many seen and unseen coincidences, defined as, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.”  This view ranges — depending on the person — from the dramatic holding on to the hope of healing even when doctors say the situation is incurable; to the trivial belief of some that God is truly willing to intervene in life on Planet Earth so that you will get a parking space next to the big box store entrance.

…Parking spaces notwithstanding, I fall into the latter camp. I have to pray believing that my prayer is not only keeping the lines of communication open, not only making a difference in me, but making a difference also in the situation. Regardless of statistical odds or past prayer performance, I have to go to him with an ultimate faith that he is willing and able to execute deliverance from whatever situation is pressing in. This is the faith of children; what it means to ‘come as a child,’ and it’s a faith that is not double-minded, but believes without doubt (See James 1:8 and 1:6 and Mark 11:23) and without wrong motivation (see James 4:3).

(Deliverance might be a better way of defining the situation. If you are praying for money for a specific need you are praying for a deliverance from poverty with respect to that financial issue!)

…The greatest danger I see is in not asking at all. Not coming to God to bear our souls and cry out for help or mercy because the petitions we brought before him last month were not answered in the affirmative. I believe God will respect our tenacity in prayer; our willingness to go to him even in the absence (so far) of the answers we sought before.

He longs to see faith that is lived out in a concrete assurance of things not apparent (Hebrews 11:1).

Right now, we hear a lot about deconstruction or to say it slightly different, people deconstructing their faith. I think some of this has to do with is termed “the mystery of unanswered prayer.” (We wrote about that here in this 2020 devotional.)

Some of this may have to do with the ‘big one’ that God didn’t answer. Maybe the request was indeed to audacious, or our motives were wrong, or God clearly had another plan and granting the request would have been to our peril.

But I also think we need to consider what our general expectations are when we pray. Where do we fit in with respect to the above five categories of what we think God can do, is doing, or will do?

September 16, 2022

Taking the Bypass Around the Valley of the Shadow

Lately when I’m on YouTube or watching television, I’ve been more aware of references to the Interstate Highway system in the United States. Many of these pass directly through the downtown sections of major cities, and since many drivers will prefer to avoid the congestion, there are also ‘bypass’ routes, sometimes called ‘spurs.’ So with I-75 there might be a I-275, or I-475 offered to you as you approach a metropolitan area. Basically, these help you avoid the pain.

Which brings us to today’s devotional…

NLT II Tim 3: 12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

It was one of those big outdoor festivals in the late ’70s. The speaker was an up-and-coming youth evangelist, and for the purpose of making a point that day he was deliberately misquoting scripture:

“Yes, and some who endeavor to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 

Some?

No, it doesn’t say that. And people started yelling up what it does say from the crowd: “All, all, it says ‘all.’”

We got the message. Or did we?

Years later, I had to be somewhere, but I had a few minutes in the car, and I immediately fell into a familiar pattern, “Lord, I pray for the people suffering under religious oppression right now that you would deliver — “

And then I stopped.

Deliver them? That’s the typical North American or Western European response. Get me the heck out of here.

But when you talk to people who have dealt with religious persecution that can mean torture, imprisonment or death, they never ask that we pray for deliverance, but that God would give them the grace to endure it and the presence of His Holy Spirit in the middle of it.

Psalm 23 talks about going through tough circumstances:

MSG Ps. 23: 4a Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.

Our interpretation is often

“Even though I walk around the valley of the shadow of death…” 

To which the crowd should yell out, “Through, through, it says ‘go through.’

How you feel about such things will affect how you pray. I posted some of these thoughts nearly a decade ago, and at the time the title was, “Pray For Them, Yes; But Pray What Specifically?”

We want to pray for the persecuted. We want to pray for the suffering. But do we have a theology of persecution? Have we ever examined ourselves to see what is our personal theology of suffering?

For the record, if I am dealing with physical, mental or emotional suffering, probably every part of me will cry out for you to please pray that I will see relief from it. But should you pray that for me if God is teaching me something through it? Or should you pray that I experience God’s presence in the middle of it and learn the lesson he is teaching me?

That would be a difficult question. Especially if I’m asking you to pray for healing and you say, “Lord, I pray that our brother will learn the lessons you’re teaching him through this illness.” Huh? That isn’t what I asked you.

With persecution it’s more difficult. We want to see the end of political and social regimes that block justice and oppress people. We want them to see relief from it. We want it to end.

On the flip side, we also want to avoid questioning God’s presence in the middle of suffering and persecution; the line of reasoning that asks, ‘Where was God when __________ was happening?’

While you’re pondering that, let’s throw one more spice into the soup.

What about your theology of end times or what’s called eschatology? If you believe in a rapture doctrine, is it consistent with scripture to believe that the church will be removed from the suffering association with the period called ‘the tribulation,’ or is it more consistent to believe that the church will be faced with enduring it?

I’m not saying one way or another right now, I’m just saying that if we begin to understand a theology of suffering and a theology of persecution then we may want to think about our theology of tribulation.


We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.
– 2 Cor. 4: 8-11 NLT

 

September 13, 2022

Trumpeting vs. Illuminating

“You must understand that God has not sent his Son into the world to pass sentence upon it, but to save it—through him. Any man who believes in him is not judged at all. It is the one who will not believe who stands already condemned, because he will not believe in the character of God’s only Son. This is the judgment—that light has entered the world and men have preferred darkness to light because their deeds are evil. Anybody who does wrong hates the light and keeps away from it, for fear his deeds may be exposed. But anybody who is living by the truth will come to the light to make it plain that all he has done has been done through God.”  John 3: 17-21; J. B. Phillips translation.

The Bible makes a strong case that we’re not to “trumpet” our good works in order to get credit, or draw attention to ourselves. Nor, we are instructed, should we make a spectacle out of prayer, or giving. We are to approach God, and do acts of service with a humble spirit. We’re to take the back seat, though we might be asked to come forward.

But this passage, particularly vs. 21 “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light,” following on the heels of the popular John 3:16 text, tells us that we won’t stay hidden in the darkness such as those who do wrong (evil), but rather we will come into the light, because we are naturally drawn to be people of the light.

  • NASB: But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
  • NCV: But those who follow the true way come to the light, and it shows that the things they do were done through God
  • The Message: But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.

One verse that comes to my mind in this context is in Acts 26 where Paul is speaking before Agrippa and Festus:

26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.

I deliberate chose the KJV for this one because I love the phrasing, “this thing was not done in a corner.”  But most of the translations — even the modern ones — keep this phrasing, with The Message rendering, “You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes.” Just as ‘cream rises to the surface,’ so will the works of God be evident, even in an unbelieving world.

Here’s how the NLT and Amplified Bible render Matthew 5:15-16

NLT 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

AMP 16 Let your light so shine before men that they may see your moral excellence and your praiseworthy, noble, and good deeds and recognize and honor and praise and glorify your Father Who is in heaven.

I can’t help but also think of the tension in 1 Peter 2:12 here as well. The world may on the one hand criticize and condemn us, but then on the other hand, they recognize the good that the presence of Spirit-filled Christians are doing in the world.

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (NLT)

Therefore:

  • We dwell in the light, not darkness
  • We reflect (or you could say, carry) The Light of God
  • We shine like light and are the light of the world

September 7, 2022

Pay Attention to Small Sins

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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In 2011 and in 2012 we sourced material here from a book that I have in my library, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro. Recently, a writer I was checking out online referred to commonprayer.net and since it had been awhile, I thought I would share the reading scheduled for today with people who may have joined us in the past 10 years. There is no fixed link for this set of prayers, so the link in the title below also takes you to the site. As you read/pray, consider the interconnectedness of the words which follow.

Daily Prayers for September 7

O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you

as the day rises to meet the sun.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Come, let us sing to the Lord : let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.

Song “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah”

Humble us in your presence, Lord : that we may delight in abundance of peace.

Psalm 37:11-14 (NRSVUE)

11 But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

12 The wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that their day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to kill those who walk uprightly;

In a little while the wicked shall be no more : you shall search out their place, but they will not be there.

But the lowly shall possess the land : they will delight in abundance of peace.

The wicked plot against the righteous : and gnash at them with their teeth.

The Lord laughs at the wicked : because he sees that their day will come.

Humble us in your presence, Lord : that we may delight in abundance of peace.

CEB.Esther.7.1. When the king and Haman came in for the banquet with Queen Esther, the king said to her, “This is the second day we’ve met for wine. What is your wish, Queen Esther? I’ll give it to you. And what do you want? I’ll do anything—even give you half the kingdom.”

Queen Esther answered, “If I please the king, and if the king wishes, give me my life—that’s my wish—and the lives of my people too. That’s my desire. We have been sold—I and my people—to be wiped out, killed, and destroyed. If we simply had been sold as male and female slaves, I would have said nothing. But no enemy can compensate the king for this kind of damage.”

King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is this person, and where is he? Who would dare do such a thing?”

Esther replied, “A man who hates, an enemy—this wicked Haman!” Haman was overcome with terror in the presence of the king and queen. Furious, the king got up and left the banquet for the palace garden. But Haman stood up to beg Queen Esther for his life. He saw clearly that the king’s mood meant a bad end for him.

The king returned from the palace garden to the banquet room just as Haman was kneeling on the couch where Esther was reclining. “Will you even molest the queen while I am in the house?” the king said. The words had barely left the king’s mouth before covering Haman’s face with dread.[a]

Harbona, one of the eunuchs serving the king, said, “Sir, look! There’s the stake that Haman made for Mordecai, the man who spoke up and did something good for the king. It’s standing at Haman’s house—seventy-five feet high.”

“Impale him on it!” the king ordered. 10 So they impaled Haman on the very pole that he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger went away.


NIV.Matthew5.38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Humble us in your presence, Lord : that we may delight in abundance of peace.

Mechthild of Magdeburg, a thirteenth-century mystic, wrote, “What hinders spiritual – people most of all from complete perfection is that they pay so little attention to small sins. I tell you in truth: when I hold back a smile which would harm no one, or have a sourness in my heart which I tell to no one, or feel some impatience with my own pain, then my soul becomes so dark and my heart so cold that I must weep greatly and lament pitiably and yearn greatly and humbly confess all my lack of virtue.”

Prayers for Others

Our Father

Thank you, Lord, that no sin is too small to bring the conviction of heart that may lead us to repentance and more faithful living. Convict us of our smallest sins so we might learn to delight in your ways. Amen.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;

may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;

may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;

may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.

 

August 30, 2022

Jesus’ Earthly Ministry Worked in Concert with The Father

NIV-John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Over a decade ago, I was reading this verse in several different translations and I started thinking of the things that Jesus did do in his earthly ministry here, and what that means in the context of “what he sees his Father doing.”

I’ve always thought of Jesus acting on his own while here on earth in terms of the times he seems to act swiftly and quickly and decisively. And I don’t want to take away from the idea that Jesus possessed all the omniscience and omnipotence of God the Father. But in the trinitarian mystery of the Godhead, there might be a greater complexity at work. It would mean that:

  • When Jesus says to the paralytic, “Rise, take up your bed and walk;” he sees his Father touching and healing the man and helping him to his feet;
  • When Jesus says to the storm, “Peace! Be still!” he sees God the Father already working to calm the wind, stop the rain, and push the clouds away;
  • When Jesus blesses the loaves and the fish, he sees God in heaven making a creative miracle happen so that the the fraction and division of the food causes it to multiply.

The cooperative nature of Christ’s earthly ministry with what God the Father is doing is easy to miss; especially when the gospel narratives don’t mention that aspect of each story.

Gary W. Burge in the NIV Application Commentary for the Gospel of John writes this on page 177 concerning this verse:

The central motif is the relation of a father and son as it would be viewed in this culture through the trade or skill the son was learning.  We can think of Jesus growing up with Joseph in the carpentry shop, obediently learning skills and later imitating them… His activity is never independent or self-initiated but always dependent, deriving its purpose from the father’s will.

In this model we have to remember there is no reciprocal relationship. The father initiates, sends, commands, commissions, grants; the Son responds, obeys, performs his father’s will, receives authority. Moreover, the Son does not simply draw inspiration from the Father, but imitates Him tirelessly.

Matthew Henry writes:

It was the copy of that great original; it was Christ’s faithfulness, as it was Moses’s, that he did all according to the pattern shown him in the mount. This is expressed in the present tense, what he sees the Father do, for the same reason that, when he was here upon earth, it was said, He is in heaven (John 3:13), and is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18); as he was even then by his divine nature present in heaven, so the things done in heaven were present to his knowledge. What the Father did in his counsels, the Son had ever in his view, and still he had his eye upon it, as David in spirit spoke of him, I have set the Lord always before me

J. B. Phillips translates this verse and the one which follows:

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. What the Son does is always modelled on what the Father does, for the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does himself, Yes, and he will show him even greater things than these to fill you with wonder.

What is the application of this passage?

Certainly when we come to God, it’s possible for us to visualize two things:

  • What God is already doing
  • What God is about to do

Not every prayer request is answered, and certainly many are not answered right away, but it can stretch our faith to consider that Jesus did not initiate so much as he harmonized with God the Father already at work. Through the imagination we can see the Father working.

August 24, 2022

Self-Control: The Elusive Character Trait

Today we have another new writer to introduce.  Drew Koch was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and created the blog-site Truth & Discernment to share enlightenment and encouragement while engaging with people about God’s Word. Remember, clicking article titles like the one below not only lets you read things here where we located them, but you bless the authors with some internet traffic!

A Rare, But Essential Quality

How rare it is today to see self-control on display. It is a discipline that very few ever capture, and more and more it seems as though it’s not even a trait that people aspire to pursue.

However, for those of us who truly yearn to live a life of holiness, self-control is essential. In 1 Peter 1:14, the apostle tells us that we must live as God’s obedient children. We’re commanded not to “slip back into our old ways of living just to satisfy our own desires.” Peter then says, “You didn’t know any better then.”

But Peter then tells us in the next two verses what we must do now that we’re in Christ. “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

To further drive home the importance of the characteristic of self-control, Paul gives us contrasting ways to live in the letter to the Galatians. One way leads to a life of righteousness and the other ends in spiritual darkness.

Several qualities (idolatry, jealousy, drunkenness, envy, lustful pleasures, etc.) are attributed to following the desires of our sinful nature. Other traits (love, joy, patience, kindness, and self-control) are called the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Paul then closes Chapter 5 of Galatians with these beautiful words, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24-25)

What phenomenal counsel from Paul. Rather than permitting your sinful nature to take hold of you, allow the Holy Spirit to guide you toward a life of self-control.


Big decision need big prayers. Here’s a bonus devotional for you from Andrew. Click the title below to read this at Truth & Discernment.

What is God Moving You to Do?

My wife and I recently moved. Not just to a new neighborhood or even a new town, but an entirely different state. While my wife has moved more times than she’d care to count, I’m now over 400 miles removed from everything I’ve ever known.

Now, this wasn’t some haphazard, thoughtless decision. I’ve never been that adventurous. No, this was a calculated, well-thought out plan that both my wife and I put in place some time ago.

But one thing that we did prior to making this change was pray together. I’m not talking about a simple, one-time occasion. This was an intentional act that both she and I participated in on a nightly basis.

We both decided that such a big decision required God’s leading. Were it not for us leaning hard into our faith, I’m not sure I’d be sitting in a small-town coffee shop right now, reminiscing on what brought us here.

There are countless examples throughout Scripture of Jesus rewarding the faith of those He met or admonishing his disciples to have faith. One example that comes to mind is in Matthew’s gospel. After his disciples were unable to heal a demon-possessed boy, his father begged Jesus to cast out the evil spirit.

Jesus scolded the crowd for their unbelief and then counseled the apostles who privately asked Jesus why they were unable to cast out the demon saying, “…Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”  (Matthew 17:20-21 NIV)

How often we want to do everything on our own, am I right? We are so proud and we want so badly to take the credit. But what I’ve found is that when we are able to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God, having faith that He knows what we need, we are then able to experience the fullness of His love.

I know I haven’t yet reached the point when I’ve given up all control to Him. No matter how much I may want to, that old nature continues to creep back in. But when I am prayerful and able to put my faith in Him, only then am I able to experience the true joy of everything God offers.

August 16, 2022

Elisabeth Elliot Quotations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Be patient. Is God not fast enough? Are His answers too tough? A quick sympathy from a friend may suggest that you simply drop out, be good to yourself, get away from it all. Someone else will be sure to say, “You need counsel.” Are you sure? One hour at the foot of the Cross may obviate the necessity of professional counseling (no such thing existed until the twentieth century – what did folks do before then?). – Elisabeth Elliot

It’s been awhile since we presented something in our quotations series and with the news that a previously unpublished manuscript by the late Elisabeth Elliot had been discovered (publishing in September by Dayspring) it seemed to be a good prompting to hear some of what she had to say in her various writings. For those who don’t know, she was the wife of Jim Elliot who was one of five men martyred in South America by the Auca tribe, which is one of the most significant missionary stories in Evangelical Christianity.

Take your time to read these slowly. I’ve tried to group similar themes together. There’s not a particular scripture emphasis today, but we’ll be back to that format tomorrow.  Also, again be reminded each paragraph below is a distinct quotation which had its own context.


God is God. Because he is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what he is up to.

To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss.

All our problems are theological ones, William Temple said. All of them have to do with our relationship to God and his to us, and this is precisely why it makes sense to come to God with them.

The principles of gain through loss, of joy through sorrow, of getting by giving, of fulfillment by laying down, of life out of death is what the Bible teaches, and the people who have believed it enough to live it out in simple, humble, day-by-day practice are people who have found the gain, the joy, the getting, the fulfillment, the life.

Faith need never ask, ‘But what good did this do me?’ Faith already knows that everything that happens fits into a pattern for good to those who love God. An inconvenience is always, whether we see it or not, a blessed inconvenience. We may rest in the promise that God is fitting together a good many more things than are any of our business. We need never see what good it did, or how a given trouble accomplishes anything. It is peace to leave it all with Him, asking only that He do with me anything He wants, anywhere, anytime, that God may be glorified.

The Word of God I think of as a straight edge, which shows up our own crookedness. We can’t really tell how crooked our thinking is until we line it up with the straight edge of Scripture.

The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived – not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the next corner. It is today for which we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.

The disciplined Christian will be very careful what sort of counsel he seeks from others. Counsel that contradicts the written Word is ungodly counsel. Blessed is the man that walks not in that.

I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.

“Is discipline the same as punishment?” a young woman asked me. She was troubled by the idea of God wanting to “get even.” I gave her 1 Corinthians 11:32 (NEB) “When…we do fall under the Lord’s judgment, He is disciplining us, to save us from being condemned with the rest of the world.” God’s “punishment” of His children is never retribution, but rather correction. We know that we are indeed His beloved sons, sharing in the discipline that all sons share – for a high purpose, namely that we may some day share in His holiness, “attain life.”

Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts.

Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.

In space, astronauts experience the misery of having no reference point, no force that draws them to the center. Where there is no “moral gravity” – that is, no force that draws us to the center – there is spiritual weightlessness. We float on feelings that will carry us where we were never meant to go; we bubble with emotional experiences that we often take for spiritual ones; and we are puffed up with pride. Instead of seriousness, there is foolishness. Instead of gravity, flippancy. Sentimentality takes the place of theology. Our reference point will never serve to keep our feet on solid rock. Our reference point, until we answer God’s call, is merely ourselves. We cannot possibly tell which end is up.

It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than to complain about what is not given. One or the other becomes a habit of life.

God has promised to supply all our needs. What we don’t have now, we don’t need now.

Do you often feel like parched ground, unable to produce anything worthwhile? I do. When I am in need of refreshment, it isn’t easy to think of the needs of others. But I have found that if, instead of praying for my own comfort and satisfaction, I ask the Lord to enable me to give to others, an amazing thing often happens – I find my own needs wonderfully met. Refreshment comes in ways I would never have thought of, both for others, and then, incidentally, for myself.

For one who has made thanksgiving the habit of his life, the morning prayer will be, ‘Lord, what will you give me today to offer back to you?’

George MacDonald said, ‘If you knew what God knows about death you would clap your listless hands’, but instead I find old people in North America just buying this whole youth obsession. I think growing older is a wonderful privilege. I want to learn to glorify God in every stage of my life.

Heaven is not here, it’s there. If we were given all we wanted here, our hearts would settle for this world rather than the next. God is forever luring us up and away from this one, wooing us to Himself and His still invisible Kingdom, where we will certainly find what we so keenly long for.

 

 


Sources: Quotefancy, Viral Believer, A-Z Quotes (prayer), A-Z Quotes (uncategorized), Grace Quotes, Quote Ambition; see also Good Reads, and Inspiring Quotes. Image: Quotesgram.

August 11, 2022

Rationalizing The Case for a Miracle

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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In both Matthew 8 and Luke 7 there are parallel accounts about Jesus healing the servant of a centurion, that is to say a Roman centurion. Despite the frustration the followers of Jesus are experiencing as a result of the Roman occupation, in Luke’s account, they don’t hesitate to advocate on behalf of the petitioner.

And that’s where it gets weird.

They don’t feel the request is worthy of consideration because (a) there is an urgent need and (b) Jesus has the power to perform the miracle needed; but rather they make a case, a rationalization for why Jesus should do this.

NIV.Luke.7.3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

Peterson translates that quotation as, He deserves this. He loves our people. He even built our meeting place.” Did the centurion clear the necessary permits to get the project through to completion? Or did he, in a more literal sense, underwrite the construction costs himself? If the latter is the case, was he from Rome himself or was he a Jew who had attached himself to the military — the way Matthew, a Jew, had attached himself to the Roman department of internal revenue – and then risen through the ranks?

(That last one is just something I threw in at the last minute. You’re free to borrow it!)

Either way, there is an argument being made here on the basis of merit. Most English translations of verse 4 have it that the centurion either deserves or is worthy of having his petition granted.

Strangely, Jesus doesn’t say, ‘That’s not the way it works.’

NLT.Luke.7.6 So Jesus went with them. But just before they arrived at the house, the officer sent some friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”

Matthew’s account repeats the statement,

NIV.Matt.8.8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Both accounts quote the centurion making the opposite claim to those who would try to argue on his behalf; make the case for granting the healing request. He says “I am not worthy…” “I don’t deserve…”

Interesting.

Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves, and he pressed mud into the eyes of the blind man, and he noticed the touch of a woman with internal hemorrhaging, but the centurion argues that Jesus can complete the healing act by remote control.

How complete the centurion’s theology was is not known to us, but we know that God simply spoke the worlds into existence, so to just “say the word” is all that is needed here.

And the servant is healed. And the gospel writers describe Jesus as showing genuine amazement.

NLT.Luke.7.9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to the crowd that was following him, he said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” 10 And when the officer’s friends returned to his house, they found the slave completely healed.

NIV.Matt.8.10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith…” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

The servant is healed not because of any case argued by anyone on the centurion’s behalf but because of the centurion’s faith.

 

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