Christianity 201

January 24, 2022

Carving Out a Place for Prayer into Your Schedule

Today’s first-time writer here is Heather Knowles who lives in the  West Highlands of Scotland. She is a wife, mother, grandmother, and daughter. Her blog is An Unfinished Work of Art (tag line: Otherwise known as a Work in Progress.)

You can be a blessing to the various writers we feature by creating some traffic for their site. There’s two devotionals by Heather today, and you’re encouraged to click the titles for each, which follow, and read them on her page.

Making Time for Prayer

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. – Mark 1:35 NLT

Is it important to make time for prayer?  Well, yes it is, but why?  I’m sure that we have all sat through sermons expounding the benefits of prayer and underlining the fact that Jesus took Himself off to pray on a regular basis, and if He needed to pray, then so do we! But actually going out of our way to make time for it?  Letting prayer “interfere” with our established daily routines?  Let’s take a closer look.  Consider for a moment your relationship with your partner, best friend, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, anyone important in your life.

When two people first fall in love, they become a bit obsessed with each other, spending as much time as possible in each other’s company, ringing up, sending messages, cards, gifts, etc. If a relationship is ‘one-sided’, it’s not going to go very far – it takes two people to build a relationship.  Any relationship can only grow and develop as people spend time in each other’s company, as they get to know each other better and on a deeper level.

And now think about your relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  I don’t know about you, but my relationship with God can only grow, deepen and develop as I spend time with Him – not just a rushed few seconds here and there, when I can ‘fit Him in’ to my day/schedule/diary/routine, but real, quality time.  God has done His part. He speaks to us through His Word, He has given His Son, He has laid down His Life, He has sent His Holy Spirit. Now it’s up to me to do my part to grow my relationship with Him – to spend quality time with Him, to prioritize Him in my day, to listen to His promptings. I know that I am richly blessed to be in such a privileged relationship, where I can come before the throne of God and simply chat to Him.

Jesus took Himself away to pray before and after performing miracles, when He needed peace and quiet, when He needed to hear from His Father, when He wanted to strengthen and consolidate His relationship with God the Father. To grow my relationship with God, to strengthen it and to consolidate it, I need to do likewise, and it is such a wonderful blessing to be free to come to Father God to get to know Him on a deeper, more personal level.


Bonus article:

A Challenge!

Matthew 22:36-39 (NIV):  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ““Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.””

How’s that for a challenge? You’re not following me?

Well, Jesus said that we have to love God totally and completely – that’s the most important thing to do, the first and greatest commandment.  It’s the second one that presents the challenge.

Love your neighbour as yourself. That’s a huge challenge – why?

Because I have to love myself!  In order to love my neighbour, I have to love myself.  I can only love them as I love myself.

So who is my neighbour?  Is it really only the people that live next-door?  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that loving your neighbour means more than loving your immediate circle of family, friends and next-door neighbours.  He taught that loving your neighbour means more than just being kind and considerate to people you meet in your day-to-day life.  He taught that loving your neighbour meant more than just being respectful, generous and tolerant.  He taught that loving your neighbour means searching for the outcast, the rejected, the marginalized, the abused.  It means drawing alongside them, making space for them, listening to them, getting close to them, accepting them as they are, looking for the spark of Christ in them, searching within them for the likeness of God – for He is surely there, as we are all created in His image – and then holding out the hand of love and friendship, being pro-active to right wrongs and to end injustices.

I can only love them as I love myself, and to do that I need to have a God-given perspective of who and what I am because it’s easy to be self-depreciating and to hold myself unforgiven, and to beat myself up over past mistakes, to drag up memories of past sin and feel so very, very unrighteous and unworthy.  But what does God say about who I am, and what I am?  His word tells me that I am:

  • His
  • His beloved
  • His prize
  • His bride
  • Called
  • Chosen
  • The apple of His eye
  • A new creation
  • A temple of His Spirit
  • Forgiven
  • Redeemed
  • Blessed
  • Elect
  • Victorious
  • One in Christ
  • Fearfully and wonderfully made
  • Set free

Thank you Lord for your great love for me, and thank you that you have that same love for everyone I meet, for everyone who has ever and will ever live here on earth.  Help me Lord to have a right self-image, and to see you in others, that I may love myself and my neighbour.  Amen

December 30, 2021

All That God Has in Store for You

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me. LORD, your faithful love endures forever; do not abandon the work of your hands. – Psalm 138:8 CSB

Once again today we have a new writer to introduce to you. Joey Rudder is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and has several novels and novellas awaiting publication. She started an eponymous site, JoeyRudder.com this year, from which today’s devotional was selected, and also writes at Training for Eternity.

If 2021, didn’t bring you everything you had hoped for, and there are still dreams in your heart that lay unfulfilled, this encouragement is for you. Click the header which follows and read it at her site.

When It All Comes Together

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT.

What if all you’ve been working on, all the tiny threads of your life, and the dream God tucked into your heart so long ago are about to intersect and explode into a miraculous move of God?

Perhaps the time is approaching when all the sweat, all the tears, and all of your faithfulness as you kept your eyes fixed on your Heavenly Father as you persevered in your calling is about to come together before your very eyes.

You may not realize all that God has been working on behind the scenes in your life. Maybe you got the tiniest glimpse of it, like spotting a tiny droplet of water dazzling in the sunlight.

But a time is coming when God will lift your eyes from that droplet, revealing this ocean of a plan He’s been working on all along. It’s going to take your breath away and leave you standing in awe.

God’s love for you is like that too. More than you can possibly take in.

Oh, dear soul. This dream God planted in your heart so long ago is far more elaborate, intricate, and magnificent than you can possibly understand.

It’s been a struggle, a battle to get to this point, hasn’t it? The enemy has been pressing in against you, doing all he can to distract and discourage you. Satan has even twisted things, distorting your path, so you thought you were going the wrong way.

But you kept your eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of your faith. You spent time with the Father, seeking His face and His will. And you stilled yourself, pushing the world and all its demands away so you could hear the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart, encouraging you to keep going.

And you kept going.

Others may have ridiculed you, telling you it’s a silly dream or completely unrealistic. Maybe they even got angry with you because you disappointed them by not living up to their expectations.

But you weren’t worried about disappointing them. You’d rather disappoint the entire world than disappoint God. So you pressed on even when doubt crept in too close and you felt unworthy, drab, and withered like a dandelion in a field of colorful wildflowers. You felt out of place, out of sorts, and lost.

But you’ve never really been lost. God has been with you for the entire duration of your journey, hemming you in and drawing you closer. You clung to His hand and kept walking as He led.

And now it’s as if you’re on the threshold of something spectacular. The thrill of something new like a fresh wind is all around you. Something new and yet something so wonderfully familiar.

It’s as if you were born for this very moment in time.

All the hard work, all the tears and sleepless nights. All the dreaming and hoping and praying. None of it has been wasted because you surrendered it all to God.

Your time is coming, precious soul. The beauty of God working in your life and the amazing plan He has for you is so much more than a shimmer of light on a tiny droplet of water – it’s waves and waves illuminated by His love for you, saturating you and reaching those around you.

And what a glorious sight, a beautiful, soul-saturating moment with your God as you dance in the water and then drop to your knees in complete adoration for your Heavenly Father who loves you so much to create such a plan for your life.

The plan you were born to live that brings you and others closer to Almighty God, bringing Him honor and glory.

Take it all in. Breathe. And don’t forget that even this is only a glimpse of all He has for you – He has eternity in His presence waiting for you.

God loves you that much.♥️

December 1, 2021

Sheep in the Presence of the Shepherd

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After a break of a couple years, for the seventh time we’re back with author and pastor Colin Sedgwick at the site, Welcome to Sedgonline, an excellent devotional writer. Click the header which follows to read this (and then explore other things) at its point of origin.

The Voice of Jesus

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep… He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice… Jesus said, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… John 10:2-4, 11, 14

I have a cousin who is a dairy-farmer. His farm is a one-man business, and that can present problems when he needs to take a break for a few days. Certainly, he can get people to stand in for him, but if he does he finds that the milk-yield of the cows is seriously depleted – it’s almost as if they go on strike until he returns.

Which seems strange. Nearly all modern milking, including his, is done by mechanical means, so what difference should it make who actually attaches the equipment to the cows? But apparently it does.

I use the illustration of the farmer and his cows rather than the shepherd and his sheep because… well, I don’t happen to know any sheep-farmers! But if you read John 10 right down to verse 20 you won’t have any problem seeing the connection. Jesus describes himself as both the shepherd of the sheep and the gate by which they go in and out, but if he had chosen to talk about cows and their farmer the same essential truths would emerge.

What’s it all about? Trust, that’s what! And trust is at the heart of all good and healthy relationships, so it’s about that too. Lacking it, the cows don’t give their milk, and the sheep don’t follow.

The idea of sheep and shepherds is strong in the Old Testament to describe the relationship between the king and his people.

Moses is recorded as praying that God would appoint for his people a leader “who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd (Numbers 27:16-17). (Compare that with Matthew 9:36, where the heart of the good shepherd is moved with “compassion” – that is, pity and deep sadness – for the big, swarming crowds “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.)

Go to Ezekiel 34 and you find the prophet condemning false leaders as being like worthless shepherds who are only concerned for themselves. And it’s surely no accident that Israel’s greatest king – David – was, in his youth, a shepherd-boy (1 Samuel 16). In adulthood he simply swapped one type of flock for another…

So it’s a very natural parable that Jesus makes use of. What I find particularly striking about it is that four times in verses1-18 Jesus speaks about the shepherd’s voice.

Once when I was a small boy the head-teacher spoke during the assembly about the beauty of human eyes. To prove his point he told us, “There are many things you probably can’t remember today about your mother. But one thing I’m sure of – if I asked you what colour her eyes are, you would answer straight away.”

And I felt bad! Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t have a clue about the colour of my mother’s eyes. I had simply never noticed. Ah, but the sound of her voice – that was a different matter. Eyes, after all, are just there; but a voice is something you relate to. I would be able to pick that out in a roomful of noisy people.

And so it is with the voice of Jesus, our good shepherd; it is more precious to us than we can say.

But… how exactly do we hear it? Not, after all, with our physical ears. There may be times when in fact we don’t seem to hear it at all, perhaps because we have wandered away from him, or because it is crowded out by the many troubles, distractions and noises of our daily lives. But he is always speaking, even when we are not listening, or when our circumstances are such that we cannot hear.

This is where another memory of my early life comes in: as a child in Sunday School, and even more as a young convert, I was encouraged each day to have a “quiet time” of prayer and Bible-reading. That expression has, I think, fallen out of use over the years – people think it sounds a bit twee.

Well, perhaps. But I still think it has a real value, and I am not at all embarrassed to say that even all these years later I still try to make it my practice, and I’m still happy to recommend it to others.

In fact, the modern popularity of “mindfulness”, for us as Christians, is really just a recognition of our need to “be still, and know that God is God” (Psalm 46:10). To find such a time may be difficult in the busyness of our lives. But it needn’t be lengthy; it need only be sincere and determined. A few minutes with a focused heart and an open Bible can make all the difference.

So… Is it time you set aside a few minutes in your life to be still in the presence of Jesus and to allow him to speak? A few minutes to deepen that relationship I spoke about earlier? Everything good and wholesome springs from that, just as the sheep learns to confidently follow the shepherd and (if you don’t mind me comparing you to a cow) the cow produces rich, foaming, frothy, health-giving milk.

May God bless us all as we learn to listen for the voice of Jesus!

Lord Jesus, please train my ear through scripture and the Holy Spirit so that it becomes attuned to the sound of your voice, and so that I learn the secret of guidance, obedience – and peace. Amen.

November 22, 2021

Prayer: Don’t Do All the Talking

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We are continually grateful to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for blanket permission to occasionally include short excerpts from their books here. Transcription for this one was found at today at Devotions Daily. If you’re looking for a daily book excerpt in your inbox each morning, consider subscribing there.


O.S. Hawkins is a very prolific author of more than 40 books, which have sold more than 1 million copies, including The Joshua Code, The Bible Code, The Nehemiah Code, The Believer’s Code — are you detecting a pattern? — and The Jesus Code, and preaches regularly at Bible conferences, evangelism conferences, and churches across the nation. This excerpt is from his newest, The Prayer Code. See below for a link to the publisher page for this title.

Listen to Him

While He was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” — Matthew 17:5

Many of us share a common fault in our conversations with others. So often, we fail to listen. We are so immersed in preparing to articulate our next brilliant thought that we are prone to not hear what the other person is saying. How many times have we been introduced to someone and as soon as we walk away cannot even remember the person’s name? On the mountain of transfiguration, the Father gives us some good advice. He introduces His Son, affirms His pleasure in Him, and then admonishes us to “listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5 ESV).

One of the things we often forget about prayer is that it is communication with the Lord. And communication is a two-way street. We talk… and, if we are smart, we listen even more than we speak.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked and forgotten elements of prayer is taking the time to listen to Him. He still speaks to us through His Word and by His Spirit. God is essentially saying to us here, “This is My Son; I love Him; I am pleased with Him. Stop talking so much and listen to Him.”

After the resurrection, Jesus showed up on the road to Emmaus to perfectly illustrate this need in all of us to take time in prayer to stop talking and simply “listen to Him.” For three years the disciples had walked with Christ, talked with Him, virtually lived with Him, when suddenly it all came to an abrupt and crashing conclusion: Jesus had been viciously executed and His body tossed in a cold, damp tomb. Then, all the disciples “forsook Him and fled” back to their own abodes (Matthew 26:56).

Two of these followers headed home to Emmaus, a village seven miles west of Jerusalem. As they walked in discouragement toward the sunset that afternoon, they exclaimed to one another,

We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. — Luke 24:21

But they had buried that hope when the body of Jesus was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Dejected and dismayed, they were walking proof that there is never power in the present when there is no hope in the future.

But, then — suddenly — the resurrected “Jesus Himself drew near and went with them,” but they “did not know Him” (Luke 24:15-16). After this incredible encounter “their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:31). And their response?

Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road? — Luke 24:32

Isn’t this one of our most pressing needs today? That is, burning hearts that come from listening to Him along our own Emmaus road.

LISTEN TO HIM AS HE SPEAKS TO US THROUGH HIS SPIRIT

Their hearts were set on fire when “He talked with [them] on the road.” Jesus was doing the talking, and they were doing the listening. Their hearts did not burn when they talked to Him, or when they talked to each other about Him. Their hearts began to burn with a new passion when they stopped talking to Him and to others and started listening to Him, spirit to Spirit.

There comes a time when we need to stop trying to perform, stop offering our petitions, even cease our praise for a moment, and simply be still and listen to His still small voice speaking to our spirits, and heed the admonition of our heavenly Father to “listen to Him.”

LISTEN TO HIM AS HE SPEAKS TO US THROUGH HIS SCRIPTURE

The Bible remains a sealed book until God’s Spirit opens its truth to us. We may gain a head knowledge of Him through the Bible, but we will never be able to understand a heart knowledge, a spiritual discernment, until, like the disciples, He talks to us along the road and opens the Scriptures to us (Luke 24:32). And we do the listening.

Jesus “expounded” to them in all the Scriptures the things that concerned Himself (Luke 24:27). The word expound connotes the thought of translating something out of a foreign language. The Bible is really a foreign language to those who do not believe.

Beginning at Moses… He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

From the Pentateuch to the Prophets Jesus preached Jesus.

From Moses to Malachi He revealed how the entire Jewish Bible speaks of Him. As He spoke to them, a shadow of the cross fell over the Jewish Bible. He was that ram at Abraham’s altar in Genesis. He was the Passover lamb in Exodus, whose spilled blood meant freedom from slavery and deliverance from death… and still does. He was that scarlet thread out Rahab’s window in Joshua. And the good shepherd of whom David spoke in the Psalms? Jesus was that shepherd. As the disciples listened, they understood that Jesus was the suffering servant spoken so eloquently about by Isaiah. And He was the fourth man in the midst of the fiery furnace in Daniel. No wonder their hearts began to burn within them. He was doing the talking… and they were doing the listening.

The disciples’ immediate response was noteworthy. They “rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem” to exclaim to all the others,

The Lord is risen indeed! — Luke 24:33-34

Their glowing hearts turned into going hearts. With beating, burning hearts they scurried back to Jerusalem, around the corners, down the narrow alleys, up Mount Zion, to find the others and share the good news. And they shared it not with an emaciated question mark, but with a bold exclamation mark: “He is alive!”

One of these Emmaus followers was named Cleopas. His companion is left unnamed. I like to think this is so in order for you and me to find ourselves in his or her place as we walk on our own road today. Perhaps you are reading these words with your own hopes dashed and your own dreams smashed.

Stop.

Look.

Listen to Jesus’ Spirit through His Scriptures.

He is still speaking. And if you listen, you just might walk away with your own heart burning within you.

“Listen to Him.”

CODE WORD: CELL PHONE

Today, when your phone rings and you answer and begin listening, let it remind you that prayer is a two-way conversation also. Stop doing all the talking; listen to Him!


Excerpted with permission from The Prayer Code by  O. S. Hawkins, ©2021 Dr. O. S. Hawkins.

Read more about the book from Thomas Nelson.

To sign up for Devotions Daily, click this link. (But don’t leave C201, we love you, too!)

 

November 14, 2021

How Much Fruit are You Producing?

Today’s search to highlight new (to us) devotional authors took us to Following Jesus Today, and the writing of David W. Palmer, who with his wife Rosanna are involved in itinerant ministry in Melbourne, Australia. As winter makes it way into the northern hemisphere, Australia sounds like the ideal place, but even more so when you consider that they were previously involved with something called Surfcity Christian Church, as in “Surf City, here we come.” (Coveting is still a sin, right?)

Clicking the header which follows will take you direct to their page, rather than reading here. If you live an area like we do where there’s a chance of snow in tonight’s forecast, perhaps some of the warmth will flow through your internet cable.

The Living Word Produces the Fruit Father Seeks

(John 15:4 NKJV) “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

In John 15, Jesus is addressing his apprentices on the night he was denied, betrayed, and arrested. While he had this final opportunity, he was imparting to them truths and values of ultimate importance.

In this chapter, the Master begins with a parable about a grapevine, a vinedresser, and branches. Our wonderful Lord is emphasizing the need to remain in him and to be fruitful. So far, he has mentioned removal of fruitless branches and pruning of the fruitful ones. Today, we are looking at him urging all of his devoted followers to remain in him:

(John 15:3–4 NLT) “You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. (4) Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

Yesterday, we saw that Jesus alerted all of us who are “in” him to focus on bearing copious fruit. The consequences of being in him—drawing on his life and nutrition—but not producing any fruit, is catastrophic:

(John 15:2 NLT) He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

Even the branches of Jesus that do produce fruit, he prunes and cleans so they can increase their yield. Clearly, Father wants us to produce copious supernatural fruit for his kingdom. To emphasize this, Jesus earlier gave some focused parables:

(Luke 13:6–9 NLT) Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’  “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer.  If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’” (See also: Mat. 25:14–30)

In John 15, Jesus is addressing those who are “in me.” And because he is fully aware of Father’s desire for fruitfulness from the branches of his ministry, he urges us to “remain” in him:

(John 15:4 NLT) “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

Only as we continue in close connectedness with Jesus, the living word, will we be able to be productive at the level Father wants. Being connected without fruit is serious enough, but if we pull away from him—severing ourselves from his life-giving living words altogether—we are bringing disaster on ourselves:

(John 15:5–6 NLT) “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.”

Without the water of life flowing into us from Jesus continually, we will soon wither. Jesus explained that sadly, the only possible outcome for isolated, withered branches is to be “gathered” and “burned.” That does not sound like a joy-filled eternity. So, let’s remain well and truly connected to Jesus, his words, and his life.

Jesus continued this impartation session to his apprentices by assuring them of a particular stream of approved fruitfulness if they continue to “abide” in him:

(John 15:7 NKJV) “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

Here, Jesus specified the fruit that comes from successful prayer and faith. To double the emphasis of what we need to do to produce the type and quantity of fruit Father seeks, our Lord said both to abide in him and have his words abiding in us. He is the living word, so for us to abide in him, we need constantly to be in the word. To have his word abiding in us, we need to know it, understand it, believe it, and do it. Then, as his word comes to life in us, it is literally Jesus himself living in and through us. If he does, then he can continue his fruitful ministry here on earth.

Through the apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit put it like this:

(Galatians 2:20 NKJV) “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

The fruit of prayer and faith is supernatural. When we experience God’s supernatural work—which demonstrates his goodness, love, and majesty—we know we cannot take the credit for it; we give him the glory. When others see it, they too—given the right explanation—give him glory. Thus, the fruit of answered prayer and successful faith will glorify our heavenly Father:

(John 15:8 NKJV) “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

By saying, “You will be my disciples,” Jesus is saying that they would be doing things his way. In other words, he was showing them how he operated; this was exactly the way he had operated throughout his ministry on earth. He remained connected closely to his Father, drawing life from him through hearing, believing, receiving, obeying, and releasing Father’s words. As a result, God’s supernatural intervention was witnessed by all who encountered him: people received healing, saw miracles, heard the truth in love, understood mysteries, and felt God’s compassion and acceptance. Hence, God was glorified.

Today, let’s heed Jesus’s urgent plea to abide in him continually, and to have his word living in us. Then, along with this single-minded focus, we need humbly to accept his pruning while we live in abandoned obedience. This is the way to avoid withering, removal, and burning. This is the way to yield much fruit—fruit that remains, including the fruit of answered prayer and actualized decrees in Jesus’s name.


Second Helping: Abiding in Christ is a necessity to bearing fruit, but another part of the process, alluded to above, is the pruning process. (Sometimes as Christians, we don’t want to hear about that one!) The author of the above piece actually covered that two days before in a piece entitled Yield to the Father’s Pruning for a Fabulous Upgrade (click to link).

November 7, 2021

Praying for What We’ve Already Been Given

The decade from 2007 to 2016 was a golden age for Christian blogs. One of ones we visited three times year, and linked to many times at Thinking Out Loud was Parking Space 23. Today we went back for a visit and found that they were still active until this spring when this piece by Jason Vaughn appeared. Click the link below to read directly.

Pray for What We Own Already

Paul’s first prayer in Ephesians really intrigues me. Compare what he prays for with commonly heard prayer requests. When I say, how can I pray for you, what do we often respond with? We mention issues, situations, or desired outcomes. This isn’t wrong. To clarify please do not feel guilty for asking for specific issues you want others to pray for. Instead, I propose some additional content to be added to our prayers on behalf of your church family, family, coworkers, and ourselves. Paul’s prayer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, allows us a glimpse into the apostle’s concern.

As Paul writes to the church, he thanks the Lord for this congregation and records how he prays. He says,

ESV.Eph.1.15 “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

The testimony of the church leads him to give thanks. This is a church exhibiting faith in Christ and love for one another. These two attributes only exist through the work of the Holy Spirit, so thanking our Lord proves appropriate and gives Him the honor He is due. But then he reveals how he constantly prays, “that [our Lord] would give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him . . . the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (1:17-18). Emphatically Paul asks God for the church to understand the revelation our Lord gives to us. He wants believers to know God. He wants God to grant us understanding of Him.

It is not enough for Paul that we be empowered to just live rightfully, but that we think rightfully too. (Paul doesn’t pit these against each other, ever. Instead he sees them as a married couple holding hands walking together). But what is it we should know? He lists three facts he wants us to understand: 1. To know the hope of His calling 2. the riches of the glory of His inheritance and 3. His surpassing greatness of His power brought about in Christ! (His resurrection, ascension and sovereignty, and headship over the church).

The familiar reader of Ephesians will note Paul addressed the first two points in 1:3-14. Herein lies a key observation. Paul wants the church to know and understand what we already have in Christ. The opening paragraph explains what we have in Christ, “every spiritual blessing.” (1:3) He does not hope we gain these truths nor do these truths only exist if we know or understand them. Instead, whether we understand them or not, if you are a believer, these truth do exist! It’s like buying a used car and you made this choice because of make, model, engine, and reliability, then as you drive the car you start to discover all the cool features, secret cup holders, bluetooth, and other neat features. You already owned them, but you did not know you owned them. This is exactly what Paul prays for. He wants us to understand what is true about us in Christ! It is lamentable to think about how many people have passed away on earth to only discover in the presence of God what he or she really had in Christ. Paul wants us to know this today!

When he says, “You will know the hope of his calling” he really means, He wants us to know and understand what we have in Christ. “The hope of his calling” was already explained in 1:3-14 and should draw us back to remember that amazing introductory paragraph. What is the hope our calling we have in Christ? It can be summarized simply — that we are “in Christ!” But Paul mentions six blessings regarding what it means to be in Christ. These are “the hope of our calling” and the “spiritual blessings” every believer has — not earned!

  1. “That we would be holy and blameless before Him” (1:4) For every believer this is a relief! We know we are sinful, not holy, and cannot save myself. I know that God’s requirement for his children is that I would be holy as He is holy. But unfortunately I cannot do anything to earn or obtain that holiness. But enter God who chose us, His children, to be holy and blameless before the world was even founded!
  2. “Adopted as sons in Jesus Christ” (1:5) Not only have I been made holy, but God adopts me into His family. Believers are children of God, enjoying every promise from God, especially those found in the New Covenant: forgiveness, indwelling Holy Spirit, justified, to know God personally, the hope of the resurrection, and a seat at the banquet table with our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. “In Him we have redemption” (1:7) God redeemed us, not based on our work, but based on Christ and His work on the cross where God is both just and the justifier. No longer are my sins remembered against me, instead God forgives us. Why? Again, not because we have something that God needs, but rather, “according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us!” (1:7-8). This is humbling, and rightfully so! Hopefully it causes us to give thanks to Him for his mercy and grace!
  4. “He made known to us the mystery of His will” (1:9). This is the right time for our Lord. We know the mystery the prophets looked into, but didn’t know what time Christ would be revealed. Well now, Christ has been revealed and we know the mystery of His will. We live in a great season where Christ has come in the flesh, died, buried, resurrected, and ascended to glory. We no longer have to ask, “When is the Messiah coming.” Instead we already know, He’s come (and will come back again). We walk with a confidence existing only because Christ has conquered death on the cross.
  5. “We were made an inheritance” (1:11). Looking at two sides of the coin. On one side, we are adopted as children. On the other side God made us His inheritance. The covenant keeping Lord made us New Covenant children. We are His chosen ones. We are precious to Him as any good father would be to His children. It’s this truth that allows us to confidently say, “God loves me!”
  6. “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (1:13). Every believer, each of his children, His inheritance has indwelling him or her, the Holy Spirit. This is a New Covenant promise true for everyone who believes (1:13). The true God, Holy Spirit, indwells us guaranteeing our place in God’s presence around the banquet table!

Every one of these truths is fully true whether we understand them or not. But Paul, with a pastor’s heart wants the church to understand each of these truths. Why? Because there is hope in them! Life can be difficult. Our trials can lead to despondency, despair, and all sorts of difficult emotions. But to live every day understanding these truths are not only true when we have good days, but bad days too, helps us praise and thank our Lord, joining Paul who opens Ephesians with “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Nothing in this world compares to what I have in Christ. Remembering this spurs us on to honor, thank, and love others regardless of the context, trials, and hardships we deal with daily.

This hope should serve at the core of our thinking and therefore living. As we seek to love our church family, spouse, kids, and everyone God puts around us, we desire each person to know this same hope. Join Paul’s prayer and make sure you add this content to your prayers on behalf of yourself and others. God wants us to know His gifts given to us through Christ.

.

October 31, 2021

Forever Amen

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Matt.6.9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one

For eight weeks, Ruth Wilkinson shared a worship teaching segment on Sunday mornings based in the Lord’s Prayer. This was week nine, and she knew for some people the series wouldn’t be complete without thinking about the phrase with which we commonly end when reciting the prayer.

In the NIV (above), it’s a footnote:

some late manuscripts: for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

The version in Luke 11 is even shorter. The phrase doesn’t occur in some earlier manuscripts, but in one of the earliest writings we have, the Didache, which we discussed here a few days ago, it does appear. The website Got Questions says the phrase “should not be discarded lightly” as there are “data points” on both sides of the discussion.

We looked at the first part, in a 2014 post entitled, For Thine is the Kingdom, and more recently in 2020, Clarke Dixon studied the phrase in a post titled, For Thine is the Kingdom, where he reminded us of this related scripture:

Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 NRSV (emphasis added)

Ruth shared that part with the congregation the week prior. Today she continued considering the phrase “forever and ever, Amen.”

Forever

Some of the prayer is for this lifetime. It speaks of having “daily bread” needs met, of forgiveness and forgiving, and of God’s leading in our lives.

Some of the prayer is about things beyond this life: God’s Kingdom, His holiness, His will (plans and purposes), His majesty and power, and His glory.

Having a ‘forever’ perspective reminds me that

►Faith isn’t just rose coloured glasses wear to get through the day; rather it’s more like prescription glasses help me see better.

►Faith isn’t just a template to make the complicated world seem simpler; rather it’s a perspective accept the complications and find my path through them.

►Faith isn’t a crutch help us limp through; rather, healing lets me stand firm, run toward, walk without fainting alongside those in need

Faith makes difference starting now, continuing forever.

Eternity has implications for my everyday: what I say, do, spend money and time on, how I treat people around me, how I interact with the world of which I’m a part.

Faith is therefore a response to what I see in Jesus, how I follow his example and live out his teachings.

Amen

The final word we recite is also a name give to Jesus.

NRSV.Rev.3.14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation…

The more common use of Amen occurs in our worship as affirmation of something just stated, confirming that “this is truth” or “this will be.” We say it here for the prayers about this life and the things that are prayers beyond this life.

Amen.


Here is a very short look at the prayer which Ruth shared 10 years earlier while serving at a different church. Check out, Before You Say, “Our Father.”

October 30, 2021

When the World is Less Than Perfect

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
 After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.” Hosea 6: 1-2

 

A friend wrote:

Do you think there was a back up plan? Considering free will and all – what if apostle Paul had stayed Saul? If you say that God knows the future and didn’t need a back up plan, then it follows that he always knows the future and would pick good for us. It’s hard to believe that this current state of affairs is the best possible scenario at this point in time. I’m curious to hear you’re thinking about this.

Here is my answer. Let me know how well you think I did, or if I left something important out.


First of all, what if you’re not a Christian? How do you explain such things? In philosophy, the view is called Determinism, the opposite of which is Libertarian free will. (Not to be confused with political libertianism.) That’s described in this video, or this Wikipedia article. Again, remember these aren’t Christian sources.

Okay, we got that out of the way.

In many respects, determinism might be a better explanation for the way the world is right now than blaming God’s presence (but inaction) in the mess the world is in in 2021. If you subscribe to the believe that the sovereignty of God implies that he is controlling everything, that is completely different from saying that God is in control. He is definitely in control. He is the place where the buck stops, so to speak. But is he tweaking and fine-tuning every single aspect of human life? This is why for me, I’m more comfortable dealing with a more open theology, though Ruth and I disagree as to how far that extends, plus open theology faces the extra burden of getting into the more thorny subject of how much does God choose to know about the future, apart from any action or inaction on His part.

Our world has been messed up by Covid. It’s a worldwide situation. But we or our parents also had to deal with Spanish Flu, World War I, World War II, etc. In some ways, this is better.

But your question isn’t “Why isn’t God doing something?” but is more like “Why doesn’t God do something about this, when he so clearly directly intervened in the life of Saul/Paul, knocking him off his high horse, as it were?” It would appear that God does jump into the picture (of which the incarnation is the greatest example) at some times and not so much at other times. We trust God’s will, but we pray for sick people to get well. We know that disease takes people, and often the natural course of events appears to lead to an impending worsening of the physical condition, but we ask God to do something special, and in fact, we do hear stories of recovery (healing) which seems to confound medical experts.

In Psalm 31:15, David says, “I trust you…my times are in your hands;” but that only comes after asking, “Turn your ear to listen to me; rescue me quickly. Be my rock of protection, a fortress where I will be safe.” (vs. 2 NLT)  He acknowledges God’s authority over the whole world, but asks for special intervention.

So is Saul/Paul an exception? Especially when the world seems to be such a broken place? I read your question out loud to Ruth last night, and she started saying some things that I asked her to write out.

My view is that most of life and history is based in free will, with some clear exceptions like John the Baptist and Samuel – people who are tapped by God at or before birth to do what God has for them to do. Paul may have been one of those. But if he had dug in his heels and said no to God, He would have worked through someone else. Maybe a bunch of people would each have taken on part of what Paul accomplished. Interesting thing to think about, but Paul would have been the only loser, long term.

The phrase “He would have worked through someone else.” That’s the exact message of the Book of Esther. Her uncle is confident that God is going to deliver the Jewish people, but perhaps a bit more fuzzy as to the how. He tells her,  In fact, if you don’t speak up at this very important time, relief and rescue will appear for the Jews from another place, but you and your family will die. But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.” (4:14 CEB)

In other words, the larger, big-picture, master-story-arc plans and purposes of God are not going to be thwarted. He has ways we can’t imagine, and his route to get there is often one we didn’t consider.  He tells Jeremiah, Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (33:3) In other words, God specializes in outside-the-box solutions.  Speaking through Isaiah he says,
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.” (55: 8-9, The Message)

Which brings us back to one sentence in your question, “It’s hard to believe that this current state of affairs is the best possible scenario at this point in time.” Yes. Agreed. It’s hard for us to imagine. But in light of the aforementioned world wars and previous plagues, perhaps we’re actually getting off easy. The political polarization in the U.S. and elsewhere? We need to remember that many, many Christians in Germany actively supported Hitler and his political platform. It does serve as a foreshadowing of what Jesus warned about in Matthew, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and will provide great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (24:24, NASB)

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.” I wrote about that in this article.

The best scenario? I’ll let Ruth describe that:

The best possible scenario would have been if Adam and Eve would have stayed where they were put, but they didn’t. So God is working us toward the restoration of that – the happy ending :-) The best scenario for humanity in a broken world is a life following Jesus, filled with the Spirit, and doing what we can to build that Kingdom.

In other words, if these are the realities of our present circumstances, what are we going to do with what we’ve been handed? I think we need to, in the words of Richard Niebuhr, “accept the things we cannot change, change the things we can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.” We need to work out our backup plan, when life is less than perfect.

October 29, 2021

Prayers to Jesus, Our Peace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6b

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

We are continually grateful to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for blanket permission to occasionally include short excerpts from their books here. Transcription for this one was found at today at Devotions Daily. If you’re looking for a daily book excerpt in your inbox each morning, consider subscribing there.

We’ve mentioned author Sarah Young here twice before, but never featured her writing. In her most popular book, Jesus Calling she writes in the first person as though God is speaking to us. In her newest book, Jesus Listens from which today’s readings are gathered, she takes the opposite point of view and writes words of us speaking to Him.  More information about the book appears at the bottom of the reading.

Linked scriptures below take you to BibleGateway.com.

Majestic Jesus, Prince of Peace

Majestic Jesus,

I come joyfully into Your Presence, my Prince of Peace. I love to hear You whispering the words You spoke to Your fearful disciples:

Peace be with you.

I rejoice that Your Peace is always with me because You are my constant Companion. When I keep my focus on You, I can experience both Your Presence and Your Peace. You are worthy of all my worship — for You are King of kings, Lord of lords, and Prince of Peace.

I need Your Peace each moment in order to accomplish Your purposes in my life. I confess that sometimes I’m tempted to take shortcuts — to reach my goals as quickly as possible. But I’m learning that if the shortcuts involve turning away from Your peaceful Presence, I must choose the longer route.

Lord, please help me to keep walking with You along the path of Peace — enjoying the journey in Your Presence.

In Your worthy Name, Amen

Isaiah 9:6; John 20:19; Psalm 25:4 NKJV; Luke 1:79


Prince of Peace,

I come to You, feeling weary and burdened. I want to spend time resting in Your Presence. I need Your Peace continually, just as I need You each moment.

When things are going smoothly in my life, it’s easy to forget how dependent on You I really am. Then, when I encounter bumps in the road, I tend to become anxious and upset. Eventually, this revives my awareness of my need for You, and I return to You — seeking Your Peace. I’m thankful that You give me this glorious gift, but it’s hard for me to receive it until I calm down. How much better it would be to stay close to You at all times!

Please help me remember that You, my Prince, are Mighty God! All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to You. Whenever I’m experiencing hard times, I can come to You and tell You my troubles. But I need to come humbly, acknowledging how great and wise You are. Rather than shaking my fist at You or insisting that You do things my way, I can pray these wonderful words of David:

I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hands.

In Your majestic Name, Jesus, Amen

Isaiah 9:6 AMPC; Matthew 11:28; Matthew 28:18; Psalm 31:14-15


Jesus, my Peace,

Help me to live close to You, remembering that You are my resting place. Since You — my Prince of Peace — are both with and within me, I can dwell in this peaceful haven with You.

I long to be able to stay calm in the midst of stressful situations, centering myself in You. We can deal with my problems together, You and I, so there’s no need for me to panic when things seem out of control. But I confess that the more difficult my circumstances, the more likely I am to anxiously shift into high gear — forgetting Your steadfast Presence that strengthens me.

As soon as I realize I’ve wandered from Your Presence, I need to return to You immediately. Whispering Your Name reconnects me with You and calms me down. Sometimes I get discouraged because I seem to wander away from You so frequently. However, I’m striving to form a new habit, and I know this takes time and persistent effort. Thank You for showing me that the rewards of this strenuous training are well worth all the effort. I’m finding that the more I return to You — my resting place — the more peaceful and joyful my life becomes.

In Your wonderful Name, Amen

Isaiah 9:6; Philippians 4:13 NKJV; Proverbs 18:10; Matthew 11:28 NASB

Ccopyright © 2021 Sarah Young. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. For more information about the book, click this link.

October 8, 2021

Filling our Lives with Good

A year ago we introduced you to Michael Wilson who writes at Jesus Quotes and God Thoughts. Clicking the header which follows will take you there to read this, and then take some extra time to explore other articles.

Do We Want to See Good Days?

I must embrace life. I want to see my days fill up with good stuff.

God’s goal for us is to be honest. So, here is what I must do. I must say nothing evil or hurtful. Oh, the times I have said something and at once wished I could take it back. The better way is to not say evil and hurtful things.

I must cultivate discipline in my speech. I must be uplifting and encouraging. Then my days will fill with good.

For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Master [Lord] are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Master [Lord] is against those who do evil.
English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Peter 3:10–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Peter quoted these statements from Psalm 34:12–15, so it would be profitable for you to read the entire psalm. It describes what God means by “good days.”

  • They are not necessarily days free from problems, for the psalmist wrote about fears, troubles, afflictions, and even a broken heart.
  • A “good day” for the believer who “loves life” is not one in which he is pampered and sheltered, but one in which he experiences God’s help and blessing because of life’s problems and trials.
  • It is a day in which he magnifies the Master Jesus, experiences answers to prayer, tastes the goodness of God, and senses the nearness of God.

We must deliberately decide to love life. This is an act of the will: “He who wills to love life.” It is an attitude of faith that sees the best in every situation. It is the opposite of the pessimistic attitude expressed in Ecclesiastes 2:17: “Therefore I hated life … for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

  • We can decide to endure life and make it a burden, escape life as though we were running from a battle or enjoy life because we know God is in control.
  • Peter was not suggesting unrealistic psychological gymnastics that refused to face facts.
  • Rather, he was urging his readers to take a positive approach to life and by faith make the most of every situation.

We must control our tongues. Many of the problems of life are caused by the wrong words, spoken in the wrong spirit. Every disciple of Jesus should read James 3 regularly and pray Psalm 141:3 daily. How well Peter knew the sad consequences of hasty speech! There is no place for lies in the life of a saint.

We must do good and hate evil. We need both the positive and the negative. The Old English word “eschew” means more than just “avoid.” It means “to avoid something because you despise and loathe it.” It is not enough for us to avoid sin because sin is wrong; we ought to shun it because we hate it.

We must look for and pursue peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).

  • If we go out and seek trouble, we will find it; but if we seek peace, we can find it as well. This does not mean “peace at any price,” because righteousness must always be the basis for peace.
  • It simply means that a disciple of Jesus exercises moderation as he relates to people and does not create problems because he wants to have his own way.
  • “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). Sometimes it is not possible! We are also admonished to work hard to achieve peace. It does not come automatically.

“But what if our enemies take advantage of us?” a persecuted disciple of Jesus might ask. “We may be seeking peace, but they are seeking war!” Peter gave them the assurance that God’s eyes are on His people and His ears open to their prayers. Peter learned that lesson when he tried to walk on the water without looking to Jesus. We must trust God to protect and provide, for He alone can defeat our enemies.

The next time you think you are having a “bad day,” and you hate life, read Psalm 34 and you may discover you are really having a “good day” to the glory of God!

August 27, 2021

Personal Liturgies for Life Events

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Unlike some devotional websites, we’re not here to sell books, but I wanted to make you aware of the resource from which we’re drawing today’s thoughts. Every Moment Holy, Volume 1 by Douglas Kaine McKelvey is described as,

…a book of liturgies for the ordinary events of daily life–liturgies such as “A Liturgy for Feasting with Friends” or “A Liturgy for Laundering” or “A Liturgy for the First Hearthfire of the Season.” These are ways of reminding us that our lives are shot through with sacred purpose even when, especially when, we are too busy or too caught up in our busyness to notice. Includes over 100 liturgies for daily life…

A second volume has been recently published. These are words to focus our thoughts in the middle of times and places where we may feel that faith simply doesn’t apply. Not true. God is “a present help in times of trouble;” in all manner of situations we may encounter.

Here’s a sample:

A Liturgy For Those Flooded By Too Much Information

In a world so wired and interconnected,

Our anxious hearts are pummeled by an endless barrage of troubling news. We are daily aware of more grief, O Lord, than we can rightly consider, of more suffering and scandal than we can respond to, of more hostility, hatred, horror, and injustice than we can engage with compassion.

But you, O Jesus, are not disquieted by such news of cruelty and terror and war. You are neither anxious nor overwhelmed. You carried the full weight of the suffering of a broken world when you hung upon the cross, and you carry is still.

When the cacophony of universal distress unsettles us, remind us that we are but small and finite creatures, never designed to carry the vast abstractions of great burdens, for our arms are too short and our strength is too small.

Justice and mercy, healing and redemption, are your great labours.

And yes, it is your good pleasure to accomplish such works through your people, but you have never asked any one of us to undertake more than your grace will enable us to fulfill.

Guard us then from shutting down our empathy or walling off our hearts because of the glut of unactionable misery that floods our awareness. You have many children in many places around the globe. Move each of our hearts to compassionately respond to those needs that intersect our actual lives, that in all places your body might be actively addressing the pain and brokenness of this world, each of us liberated and empowered by your Spirit to fulfill the small part of your redemptive work assigned to us.

Give us discernment
in the face of troubling news reports.

Give us discernment
to know when to pray, when to speak out,
when to act, and when to simply shut off
our screens and our devices,
and to sit quietly
in your presence,

casting the burdens of this world
upon the strong shoulders
of the one who
alone
is able to bear them up.

Amen.


■ See a complete list of the contents and learn more at this link.

August 5, 2021

Many, Many, Many Words

When I’m looking for articles to use here, I have to confess I do look for a certain length of each piece of writing. I don’t want to shortchange readers, and when I find something that’s only one- or two-hundred words, I usually dismiss it, no matter how insightful it might be. This isn’t Twitter, and I’m not composing memes here. I want to know that the writers put some effort into it.

I will admit that’s an incredibly superficial criterion.

There are people whose 200 word posts are formed out of the crucible of a life situation unimaginable to some of us. There’s a lot more to a devotional blog post than the words actually typed on a keyboard.

But I also want to give my readers good value for their money, even if Christianity 201 is always free!

A verse which came to mind was Matthew 6:7b

“…do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words…”
 (NIV)

God clearly isn’t interested in quantity.

(That brings us to 173 words so far… see the problem of being absorbed with numbers, data, stats?)

Contextually, Matthew 6:7 is about prayer, not the crafting of sermons, homilies, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc. The first part, verse 7a reads,

“And when you pray…”

But I do see a general principle here. We don’t have to be wordy when we talk to God (especially falling into the repeated use of the word ‘just’ or the phrase ‘Father God,’ as if we might forget who we’re speaking to, or he might stop listening), so why should we be verbose when we speak about God?

You’ve heard people say, “God doesn’t want your ability he needs your availability.” To that we could add, God doesn’t want you eloquency. (For the record, that’s not an actual word, but it fits the pattern. The word is eloquence.)

The English Standard Version uses the phrase, “heaping up empty phrases.”

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

We do that. Especially in the Evangelical church where extemporaneous prayers are the norm, and more concise, crafted prayers are often looked down on, though that stereotype is changing, as many Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics are seeing the value of manuscripted prayers and classical prayers from previous centuries. (Again, for the record, there’s no such word as manuscripted, but hey, I was on a roll.)

Back in 2014, we quoted author Christopher Smith on this,

When he warns in the Sermon on the Mount against “heaping up empty phrases,” he’s specifically saying that we shouldn’t expect God to hear us and grant our requests based on how many words we’ve said—that is, how much time and energy we’ve put into saying long and repetitive prayers.  This is really a form of “works,” of trying to earn something from God by our own efforts.  Jesus directs us instead towards grace:  “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  What we receive from God in prayer is an expression of His love and goodness towards us, not our efforts.

Again, remembering that the context is prayer, I still think Smith has hit the nail on the head when it comes to a possible wider context, namely that any attempt to try to meet a minimum number of words, or preach for a preset number of minutes, or have our book contain a certain number of pages is just allowing us to fall into a works category; of believing our standing our acceptance before God is going to based on the length of our dissertation or sermon or book, instead of the depth.

At the end of the day, perhaps the wisest thing, the best thing, the most fruitful thing, and the most God-honoring thing you can do today might be to create a 20-words-or-less meme and post it on social media; rather than believe that God is impressed with your verbosity. (Surprise, that one actually is a word!)

Furthermore, your eloquence may not compare to those who don’t have the gift of public speaking, or those for whom English is a second language.

In Luke 18, we see that a six-word prayer by a tax collector leaves its speaker “justified before God” and not the Pharisee who majored in public speaking. Again, the context is prayer, but I see a wider context.

NIV.Luke.18.10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”


For those who do write, preach, teach, podcast, etc., here’s a 2017 article from our sister blog on learning to be concise: The Essential Art of Concision. (Yes, that one’s an actual word also!)

July 4, 2021

Prayer Scripture Medley

With our U.S. readers pre-occupied today with their big national holiday, I thought we’d keep today’s devotional shorter.

If you’re open to it, sometimes people who have left us can still speak to us. Before you panic as to what that means, let me explain. Although it’s been 18 years since my father died, I often find his words speaking to me through notes left in various books and notebooks. When my son asked if I had a copy of Practice of the Presence of God, I found a two-in one edition containing With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray, with these scripture references tucked inside, which probably are verses on which Murray based his text.

Today I share them with you.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
 – Luke 11:1 NIV

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
 – John 4:23,24 NLT

But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
– Matthew 6:6 CSB

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
 – Matthew 6:9 ESV

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
– Matthew 7:7,8 NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
– James 4:3 NLT

Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
– Matthew 7:9-11 NKJV

Give us day by day our daily bread.
– Luke 11:13 KJV

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
– Mark 10:51 NLT

Jesus replied to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, everything you pray and ask for —believe that you have received it and it will be yours.
-Mark 11:24 CSB

Next to each verse some key words were highlighted. I want to share these as a separate list, extrapolating a little from the notes:

  1. Ask God to help teach you to pray
  2. Pray in spirit and in truth
  3. Don’t make your prayers a public spectacle, pray in secret and let God provide the answer in public
  4. Pray to God as a father and use the principles from what we call The Lord’s Prayer as a guide
  5. You only get what you’ve asked for. If you don’t ask you don’t receive.
  6. God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to give you good gifts.
  7. At the absolute minimum, pray daily and ask God to meet daily needs; don’t take that provision for granted.
  8. Check your motives. Ask with right intentions.
  9. Prayer should be definite. Make your requests specific where possible.
  10. Pray with faith anticipating an answer.

This is based on my father’s notes. I believe that Murray has twelve major points or lessons and I encourage you to read the book, is available everywhere and doesn’t take long to read.

 

June 30, 2021

Prayer: Have You Reached the Stage of Saying “What’s the Point?”

Today we have two alternative articles for you, but this one, while perhaps seeming elementary to some of you, is a good review and as we reach the end of the month and the halfway point in the year; I sense someone needs to read this.

The U.K. blog author, who we’re featuring for the first time, simply goes by “The Godly Lady” and the blog has the title, Christian Lady After God’s Own Heart. Click the header below to read at source, and then explore!

What’s the use of praying?

Ever found yourself in a place where you feel angry, annoyed, frustrated, downhearted, and feel a little bitter towards God? Well I have, and I’m sure that several other Christians have also felt this way too. It’s not abnormal to express emotions of annoyance over why God let a specific circumstance, pan out the way it did. My encouragement to you today is that you’re not alone in your feelings of frustration, although our experiences are different we all encounter pain, joy, and happiness in our lives.

So what’s the use in praying or striving to live a life of righteousness? If God has already determined my future, and there’s no changing what has been predetermined, why bother to pray, and pursue holiness? I can confirm that I’ve asked myself these questions, and God has recently brought two major points to my attention.

First point being an analogy. I know that my parents would do whatever they can to help me live a great and fulfilling life, and I’m also aware that if I desire something within their means to obtain, they will not hesitate to give me that thing. Now just because I know my parents will help support me doesn’t mean that I should stop speaking with them altogether, because they’ve done their job as my earthly guardians. What my parents desire most, is to have a deep, loving, and meaningful relationship with me. And we all know that a key ingredient to maintaining a good relationship is GOOD COMMUNICATION.

Now even if an answer to prayer seems delayed, it doesn’t mean that we should stop praying to God, because God desires intimacy with us, and wants us to pour out our hearts to Him. He desires for us to speak with Him! We mustn’t forget that prayer is a form of communication. Be honest and real with God, and pour out all your complaints before Him. God cares about everything that bothers your mind, no matter how small or big your concerns may be, God cares! So what’s the use in praying? It’s about building a better relationship with God, and enhancing our level of closeness with Him.

Psalm 27:8 ~ My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Psalm 55:22 ~ “Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”

Secondly one should not do good (pursue to live righteously) in order to get from God, or to be seen by others. Remember God freely gives to us, not based upon our works or performance, but simply because that’s part of His loving nature! We should pursue to live godly lives, and mustn’t give up on doing good, purely because of our love for The Lord. The great act of love which God showed us through His death on Calvary, should motivate us to love Him through our actions, because He first loved us!

Galatians 6:9 ~ “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

So let us not give up on praying, and let’s not throw in the towel because of challenging circumstances. And let us not forget that when the going gets tough, we should strive to use it as an opportunity to build a better relationship with God!

Luke 18:1 ~ “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.”


Bonus items for today:

Today we have two suggested articles. These are opinion pieces, not Bible studies, but ones we would carry here if the format were different.

The first is by Michael Frost and just published today, If Jesus Planted a Church, What Would it Look Like? Highly recommended.

The other is by Chris Tiegreen and deals with the online disputes often carried out in the name of doctrinal purity; Disagreement or Heresy?

Both of these are respected Christian authors. Enjoy.

June 29, 2021

Unanswered Prayer for Healing and God’s Sovereignty

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Romans 11:33

Our daily search for good devotional studies takes us back to previously featured writers, and others who, as with today’s piece, we are discovering for the first time. Author and speaker Reagan K. Reynolds lives in North Carolina (USA) has been blogging at her eponymous site since April, 2015. As always, support these writers by reading their work at the source webpages; just click the header which follows.

Wrestling with The Sovereignty of God in Delayed Healing

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

Romans 8:26-29

She sobbed into the phone, “It’s just so confusing. Does God heal people or not? Jesus healed everyone who asked him, so where is the healing I’m asking for?”

My heart ached for my friend, as she has found herself in a whirlwind of despair while also riding a fast train of newly devoted faith in Jesus.

“I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, and I just want to know how this all works.”

The issue of healing is confusing in the Bible Belt where main streets in every small town are dotted with Bible thumpers and prosperity preachers arguing about the rights and wrongs of healing faith. I know, I grew up here. I grew up confused.

As we talked, I prayed for wisdom. I’ve personally experienced very miraculous healing. I’ve also experienced long seasons of deep suffering. In some ways, I am still waiting on the Father. I sometimes catch myself observing that although Jesus has conquered sin and death, all things continue to die around me.

As I prayed I kept thinking about the Garden of Eden. Maybe you know the story, but maybe you don’t.

God creates a beautiful garden and then He places the first humans in that garden. We call those humans Adam and Eve. The Lord places two trees in the middle of the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil He deems off-limits––it is His one rule. He commands Adam (and Eve through Adam) not to eat of that tree with a warning that by doing so they will die. But a cunning serpent suggests to Eve that God is a liar and that if they eat from the fruit of the forbidden tree they will not die, but will be like God knowing both good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Eve disobeys God and takes the first step towards trusting her own understanding of what is good and what is evil by claiming the forbidden knowledge as her own. Adam also joins her and their eyes are opened to their nakedness. They feel shame for the first time. The Lord clothes them, curses them, and sends them out into the wilderness with a promise that the longer narrative would not end in tragedy.

Before they eat of the fruit, Adam and Eve live deferring to the God of Creation. When eating the fruit, they follow their own understanding of what is right and permissible for them. As a result, death and suffering enter the human story. The next generations recorded in the Old Testament prove that very real result of sin with a gradual, but drastic, decline in the life span of humanity.

And then another story from scripture came to my mind.

Job is a man who, although righteous before God, is allowed to endure great great suffering for a long time––great, great suffering. In his cries to the Lord he advocates for himself based on his righteousness (read: his faith) in the Lord.  He is desperate to understand why he is being forced to endure great despair. His friends suggest all sorts of things, including that he might be suffering as a result of sin––but he’s not. When God finally responds to Job’s myriad of questions and pleas and laments, He says, “Who is this who questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them,” and then He goes on to end in the most epic rap battle of all time showing Job a panoramic view of how great and mighty and sovereign He is. Summary: He is the Lord. Who are we to question His wisdom, even in our suffering?

In remembering this history, it occurs to me that the knowledge of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ belongs to the Lord, whether we have access to it or not. Living with Jesus as Lord means we follow His example and defer to the Father. The knowledge of what we should do and how the Lord should respond to us is His to determine completely––after all, He is infinitely greater in wisdom than our finite beings (Rom. 11:33).

Jesus understands this firsthand. He pleads, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). He goes forward and endures the greatest suffering known to man to free us from our sins. The perfect Son of Man responds in obedience and endures His unrighteous suffering, but we––in our weakness––sometimes demand results, and if not results––an explanation, in exchange for our allegiance.

God is not formulaic. God is not transactional. He is relational. And He is beholden to no one.

Yes, not even to you––dearly loved Christian.

Does your skin crawl a little bit and your soul get defensive when you read that? Does something inside you proclaim it is your right to know and determine what the ‘good’ outcome to your suffering should be?

When we demand a formulaic approach to miraculous healing, it’s as if we are holding the bitten forbidden fruit demanding the God of the Universe conform to our understanding of the knowledge He first forbade.

I gently and humbly suggest that if our faith is shaken when God doesn’t respond the way we think He ought to, then perhaps we’ve sized God to our own limited definition of ‘good’ and that perhaps in doing so, we are missing out on the larger blessings––the epic wins––as a result.

“Where is my healing?” is a permissible question to ask the Lord, He can handle all of our questions. But it just might not be the best one. I think the question I am hearing from the cry of the heart of my suffering friend (and so many others) is

“Can I trust Him in my suffering?”

One sure way I know to offer comfort to a believer is to remind them who the God of the Bible is…

He is sovereign. (Colossians 1:16-17)
He is good. (Mark 10:18)
He is righteous. (Psalm 11:7)
He is loving. (1 John 4:19)
He is merciful. (Deuteronomy 4:31_
He is miraculous. (Acts 3:16)
He is present. (Zephaniah 3:17)
He is active. (Romans 8:38-39)
He is powerful. (Job 26:14)
He is gentle. (Matthew 11:29)
He is humble. (Philippians 2:8)
He is a restorer. (Acts 3:21)
He is trustworthy. (Psalm 9:10)
He moves towards the broken. (Psalm 34:18)
He is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-3)
He sees you. (Genesis 16:13)

He is the perfect embodiment of ‘love’ (1 John 4:7-8). He is the very definition of ‘good’ (Psalm 100:5). He created those words and ordained their original meaning (John 1:3).

Knowing what we know about our God, can we defer to Him in all the other unknowns?

My limited view values this life too much. My ego sometimes demands immediate relief from my suffering. But His view stretches beyond the scope of time, eternity, life, and death––and He holds for my life and His glory the perfect plan. And, yes, although everything in this life does die, (who can deny this?) I know that the God of all Creation has promised a new life with no suffering in the end (Revelation 21:1-4). And if you are living under the loving mercy of our mighty Savior, Jesus, then this knowledge is for you as well.

Friend, asking the Lord for healing is in no way undermined by our submission to His sovereignty in all things. We fear an all-powerful God who is out for our ultimate good. He has given a spirit that intercedes for us according to the will of God. Be encouraged that, even when it’s so very hard and none of it makes sense, we have a God that works all things together for our good (Romans 8:26-29)

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