Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Purpose of Prayer

Many articles and books have been written concerning prayer, and still the subject can not be exhausted.  The purpose of prayer is also a subject that will elicit a variety of views.  With that in mind, I would like to focus on one story in Isaiah to suggest the twofold purpose of prayer and the need to pray.

 When Hezekiah was the King of Judah, he was facing an insurmountable challenge.  The Assyrian Army was bearing down on him and the people of Judah.  In Isaiah 37, Hezekiah simply prayed, " 17 Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! ...20 Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power."  A simple prayer and a simple request. What the Lord does is what He commonly does, He changes the impossible situation of man into an easy victory.  For Hezekiah, God answered in this way; "36 That night the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. 37 Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land."

The purpose of prayer is twofold: 1.) to be God dependent and 2.) to appeal to the Only One who can change things.  To be clear, it would be foolish to suggest that God has to answer our prayers.  For our prayers not getting answered, are themselves an answer from God, even when we can't figure the why question.  We all are no different than Hezekiah, because living in this world means you are living in an impossible situation.

Prayer and being prayed up each day means that you are trusting in the Lord.  If it's His day, then we have to pray.  There is a reason Paul tells us, "Never stop praying (1 Thessalonians 5:17)."  We pray continually, because dependence on ourselves, is dependence upon nothing.

We also pray, because only the Lord is able to overcome the impossible.  If individuals and churches don't pray, they are sick and depending upon themselves.  They become the ones that Jesus was constantly referring to as people "of little faith."  One day, God will change everything, in fact, that's His business.  We pray to the Only One who can make things right. ""The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible (Matthew 19:25-26).”"

If this is the reality of prayer, then why don't we pray individually and corporately? What kind of statement are we making about ourselves and our churches when we fail to pray?  What are we saying about what we truly believe in?  Nothing is more critical than praying, for when we do so we depend upon the Only One who can overcome the impossible.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Living With Closed Doors

Hebrews 11:13 is an amazing verse, it simply states: "All these great people died in faith. They did not get the things that God promised his people, but they saw them coming far in the future and were glad."  This verse is in reference to many great people of God, who lived difficult lives from Abel to Noah to Abraham.  Here are these great people of faith who, "did not get the things that God had promised his people."  I believe this is in reference to three things: 1.) the promised land, 2.) seeing the numerical increase of family and the establishment of a great nation, and 3.) the promised Messiah.  But, focusing only on #3, all of God's great people listed in the hall of faith did not get this.  Additionally, everyone listed in Hebrews 11 had many doors closed that were never opened.  Moses never entered the promised land during his lifetime and Jeremiah (one of the prophets) preached God's word to people who would not listen. Jeremiah, "the weeping prophet", died while God's people had been taken away to captivity.

How do we live when doors continually shut and never open?  We live the way the "people of faith" lived in Hebrews 11.  Notice, in verse 13, that these individuals, "that did not get the things God promised" were "glad."  How can this be?  How do you live with doors that never open? The rest of Hebrews 11 provides the answer: " They said they were like visitors and strangers on earth. 14 When people say such things, they show they are looking for a country that will be their own. 15 If they had been thinking about the country they had left, they could have gone back. 16 But they were waiting for a better countrya heavenly country. So God is not ashamed to be called their God, because he has prepared a city for them."

It was their focus and perspective in life that got them through the closed doors.  And, it's that same focus and perspective that will get you through the closed doors of life.  When life doesn't make sense, look to the one who gives meaning to the closed doors!  This perspective and focus will get you through any and all situations that life throws at you.  

The Apostle Paul made it clear that our perspective is the key during difficult times of closed doors.  He had a difficulty that he begged the Lord to take care of, but God would not open that door for Paul.  Paul's perspective of his closed door is beautifully seen in 2 Corinthians 12 - "9 But he (the Lord) said to me, “My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me. 10 For this reason I am happy when I have weaknesses, insults, hard times, sufferings, and all kinds of troubles for Christ. Because when I am weak, then I am truly strong."

Everyone faces closed doors of life, some of which may never open. The only way to live with these closed doors is to look to the one (focus) who can fill us with His grace.  Look to what's coming and be glad. Your perspective makes a difference in the closed doors of life. How's your perspective?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Be Faithful When It's Difficult

Moses has always intrigued me, because this great leader went through so much in his life. He was never permitted during his lifetime to enter the promised land.  He lived a holy life to the Lord while being surrounded by people who were constantly grumbling against him and the Lord.  The people were so rebellious, that only two who left Egypt from about a million were able to enter the promised land.

When Moses went to get the ten commandments the first time, God delivered them personally to him on the mountain. Exodus 31:18 - "When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God." When Moses came down he smashed the tablets of stone, because the people were participating in idolatry.  The people that God freed from Egypt were constantly complaining and rebelling. God was so angry with the people, He wanted to wipe them out and start over again with Moses. Moses pleaded with God for the people and the Lord relented. Now, notice how the second stone tablets were acquired.  Deuteronomy 10:1 - "At that time the Lord said to me, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain. Also make a wooden ark."  

Did you see it?  Moses had to carve the tablets out and bring them up the mountain.  It was not hand delivered like the first time. And this time Moses has to go up with the stone tablets. Moses is over 80 years of age.  Why would God require this of Moses?  I believe there are many hard things we are required to do.  I believe God tests us at times to see if we will be faithful.  We are all facing hard situations whether financially, emotionally, in our relationship with others,or in the foggy direction/decisions of our lives.  Are you going to follow the Lord during this difficulty?  Are you going to love the unlovable?  Are you going to go the extra mile, when it's incredibly difficult?  Are you going to keep fervently serving the Lord when you see no way out?  Moses did!  Let's learn from Moses.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Before Real Life Is Brokeness

The psalmist states in 119:136 (NLT), "Rivers of tears gush from my eyes because people disobey your instructions."  I know I'm not perfect and I disobey the Lord's instructions, but what grieves me so much is to see people in a pattern of disobedience, while claiming to know Jesus as their Savior.  I identify with the psalmist as he is saddened in seeing God's own people not fully engaged with the one they call Lord.  I guess what really troubles me is seeing people who claim God still chasing after things of this world that ultimately will not fulfill them.  Anything this world tries to offer as a solution leads only leads to emptiness.

David was called a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22).  In other words, David wanted what God wanted.  David's heart was inclined towards God's heart.  If we are to people like David (people after God's own heart), then we need to be willing to let go.  We need to be willing to let go of self and be consumed with God.  

For the David, as with us, the key to tuning in to God's heart wave is brokenness.  When David realized his sin he was able to connect to God's heart.  David makes this amazing statement in Psalm 51:10, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."  In brokenness God can join us, because we are willing to let go of self for God's holy filling.  This is how we find fulfillment or real life.  When we come to God in brokenness, God is able to lead us as David states in Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Do you want a fulfilled life?  Do you want real life?  It all comes in a proper relationship with God.  Why would you want anything else?  Stop chasing after the world which leads to despair and emptiness.  Be willing to be broken in heart, so that God's filling refreshment will rain down on your soul.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Need to Feed

Everyone who breaths likes to eat.  Our diet has a major influence on our health and what kind of life we live.  I don't know about you, but I notice how certain foods affect my health and ability to get in shape.

American's are in love with food and I'm an American.  One of my favorite restaurants to go to is a buffet. Imagine one half of the buffet restaurant with great looking food like: pizza, steak, chicken, and pasta.  Imagine the other half with terrible food (IMO) like: monkey brain tacos, chicken fried skunk, BBQ possum, and teriyaki snake guts.  Which half would you grab a tray for?  What if the great looking food had a sign in front of it that said, "All food on this side contains poison?"  Would you sample that food or would you eat from the side with the terrible looking food?  If you want to live, you head toward the terrible looking food.

Like physical foods, we have the option to consume spiritual foods. There are only two kinds that exist, food from the world or food from God.  Many times the world's food looks good, but in the end it leads to death.  Solomon said (Proverbs 14:12), "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death."  Solomon gives a perfect diagnosis of what the spiritual food of the world is like.  The world's food may look good, but it's a killer. On the other hand, God offers the true food for healthy living.  Jesus said (John 6:35), "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."  The food of God is life sustaining. 

One of the saddest realities of the church is to see so many individuals who are still feeding upon the world's food.  We need more Believers who are self-feeders. In other words, we need more Believers who individually feed on God's Word.  Here are some suggestions for you if you would like to be a better self feeder: 1.) Make time every day to read at least one chapter of the Bible, 2.)  Jot down questions and make notes to meditate on in your daily reading, 3.)  Pick a Bible reading plan and stick to it (suggested plans), and 4.) pray that God would speak to your heart through the reading of His Word.

What we spiritually feed on makes an eternal difference in our life.  Our spiritual food will guide how we live our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Everyone has a need to feed, the question is, "What side of the buffet line are you on?"

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Weight means Wait

My wife and her friend are leading a ladies study and the first lesson dealt with one of Mary and Martha's encounter with Jesus.

   Luke 10 -  38 While Jesus and his followers were traveling, Jesus went into a town. A woman named Martha let Jesus stay at her house. 39 Martha had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him teach. 40 But Martha was busy with all the work to be done. She went in and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me.”
  41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. 42 Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

The better thing that Jesus was talking about was the fact that Mary was willing to wait upon the Lord.  If you notice, Martha was worried and upset about many things.  These things she was worried and upset about had to do with her focus.  Her focus was not on the Lord, but upon the world.  Do you find yourself worried and upset about many things? I bet you do.

One of the most obvious and truthful words of Jesus was when He said, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33).  Can you identify with Jesus on this one?  I have never met a person who is either not going through trouble presently or has not been through trouble in the past.  Let's face it, if you are breathing, your going to have troubles in this life.  Life comes with a lot of weight and burdens.  So, what are we to do?

Everyone has only two options.  You can either wait on God or you can wait on yourself (try to do it on your own).  It's either Jesus way or the world's way. Here's how Jesus finished up the rest of John 16:33 - "I told you these things so that you can have peace in me. Be brave! I have defeated the world."  Do you want peace?  It is found in waiting upon the Lord.  Again Jesus said, "Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives. The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.  " (Matthew 11:28-29).  Do you want rest?  Rest for life's burdens is found in waiting upon the Lord.

The world offers nothing but despair and darkness for all of life's troubles.  What option seems best to you?  When the weight of the world is on your back it makes a difference in what you wait on!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In Gear

The other day while riding my bike, my legs didn't feel right.  I couldn't get into any kind of rhythm. I started to worry I would never get in shape again.  I kept going over in my head what I needed to do differently, like change my diet and exercise more.  I finally accepted the fact that I'm getting older and getting in shape just takes a while.

While I was thinking all these thoughts of discouragement, I looked down at my three front sprockets and noticed the chain was not on the middle sprocket.  The middle sprocket is the one I primarily use.  When I switched back to the middle sprocket it made all the difference in the world. Suddenly, I felt like I was in shape again. I was able to ride the final 8 miles home feeling like a new man.

I started thinking about the importance of being in the right gear with God.  It's like a radio station, there is only one right number.  If the station is not correct, you have only static and if you are not in the right gear, you labor in vain.

The great commandment states to, '" Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second command is this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There are no commands more important than these"' (Mark 12:29-31).  To do this is to be in the right gear.  Moses after all the heartache of leading rebellious and complaining people, ultimately had this to say to God, "If I have truly pleased you, show me your plans so that I may know you and continue to please you" (Exodus 33:13).  What Moses wanted more than anything was to know God - that's being in gear.  

What gear you're in makes a difference in how you go forward.  If you are in the wrong gear (gear of the world), you will only be making life more difficult for yourself.  There is only one gear that leads to fulfillment (John 10:10) and that is found in a love relationship with Jesus.