walking in obedience

What emotions stir up within you when you hear the words obedience, submission, and leadership? For many these words conger up anger, skepticism, disappointment, even rebellion. We live in a culture that bucks against authority, challenges leadership, and grumbles against submission.

Yet can you imagine a world without leadership? Homes without parents leading their children. Businesses without managers overseeing production. Nations without government protecting people. Churches without pastors caring for their flock. It may be delightful for a moment, but in the end it would be chaos.

On the flip-side, leadership can be a lonely responsibility because you have to do hard things, deal with difficult people, and lead by example. A leader has a great responsibility. Leadership is not a position with special perks and privileges. In the words of Scripture, a leader “watches over your soul.” (v.17a)

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.” – Hebrews 13:17-19, ESV

The shepherd terminology in this text is crucial to understanding leadership. The Bible often calls Christians sheep. Sheep are prone to wander. Jesus was known as the Great Shepherd knows all his sheep by name and brings them to himself (John 10:1-18). Jesus even cares to bring the one lost sheep home (Luke 15:1-7).

Pastors and leaders are essentially under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd. They, like Jesus, have the job of watching and protecting their flocks from harm. It is a job they will give an account to God (v.17b). So leaders submit to Jesus as Jesus submits to his Father. By obeying our leaders and submitting to them we are helping them to do their job with joy (v.17c). For a joyful follower makes a joyful leader.

The author of Hebrews gets personal. As a leader himself he asks prayer for a clear mind and honorable life (v.18). He feels the weight of his responsibility. He knows his weaknesses. He is is okay being vulnerable. He wishes he could be on the other end of the letter with the recipients, which shows his shepherd-heartedness (v.19).

It is wonderful when leaders seek the prayer of people they lead. Prayer is a huge ministry to leaders—entrusting them to God. This is the first step of walking in obedience.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • Why are leaders often under a lot of scrutiny and criticism? Why is our culture so anti-authority or submission? What is your response to leadership?
  • Why are leaders necessary for the church? How can you encourage the spiritual leaders in your life? How can you pray for your leaders?
  • How is the term shepherd a fitting term for a leader? How is the term flock a fitting term for the church? How do shepherds watch over your soul?
Advertisements

Before you open your mouth

If you could ask God for anything right now, what would you ask? If you had one prayer to pray, what would you pray? Here is a request for prayer that hit me hard this week,

“Pray for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” – Ephesians 6:19-20

These are not my words. These words are from the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus (6:19-20). He said them following his teaching on spiritual warfare. The apostle gave more time and space to talk about prayer than any other weapon. He gives us three powerful truths to think about before opening your mouth.

Pray for opportunities to proclaim the gospel (Ephesians 6:19a).

Everyday you proclaim many things. You talk about the news or weather, the football match from the night before, how your work or health is going, how you are having trouble with your neighbors, or how the preacher went really long on Sunday at church.

On average women say 20,000 words a day and men 7,000 words a day. That’s a lot of words! No, this is not a message encouraging women to speak less and men to speak more. Rather it is to encourage you to consider the opportunities you have each day to speak. Isn’t it important to pause and pray. Pray that God would give you a good word.

What should we pray? Paul says pray for opportunities to proclaim the good news. In other letters he says to pray for open doors for the good news. Pray for readiness and a response for the hope that is in you.

I’d like to say that before I visit my neighbors house I pray. Or before I chat with a group of men at the market I pray. Or before work with others I pray. Sometimes I neglect to pray.

There is a story in Acts 4:24-31 when Peter and John healed a blind the beggar in Jesus name. It caused a lot of attention and they were invited to speak before the the leaders. After they were released they gathered with believers and told them what happened. They asked them pray. Here is what they prayed,

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” – Acts 4:24-31

It is interesting how the believers start that prayer by appealing to the sovereignty of the Lord. They quote David speaking about how the nations gather together against the Lord, and how Herod and Pontius Pilot conspired against the Lord, but at the end of the day God is in control. When there is resistance to the name of Christ, a recognition of the sovereignty of God and His plan is of utmost importance.

Prayer isn’t passive, it’s active. Prayer is really doing something. Prayer isn’t the least you can do, it’s the most. Prayer is never secondary, it’s always primary. It’s not the last thing you do when there is no other option; it’s the first and best thing to do. If there is no prayer, there is no power. Prayer is trusting God that He can accomplish more when you are on your knees than you can accomplish on your feet.

Prayer warriors with no real grasp of what the gospel is all about, may be spirited, but they are no more useful on the field than a soldier without weapons. That leads us to the second truth before opening your mouth.

Proclaim the Gospel (6:19b).

What is the gospel?  The gospel is good news. There are many things that are good. A house that doesn’t leak when it rains is good. Fried chicken is good. A faithful friend is good. Marriage is good. Healthy children are good.

What is the good news? Before we zero in on what the good news is let’s begin by talking about what the good news is not.

The good news is not about having a good character. Some people think a Christian is someone who don’t drink, smoke or chew or go with girls that do. Yes, it is true Christians are different. Christians aren’t to be like the world. They are to be more like Christ. On the other hand, some Christians only talk about the good they do. They brag about how much they pray, go to church, or even fast. Being good is good, but it is not the good news.

The good news is not talking good about God or religious things. Maybe when talking with friend or stranger you bless them in God’s name. They think you are religious because you have religious talk. That is good, but it ’s not the good news.

The good news is not doing good things for God or people. I work with an organization that does good things everyday to help poor and needy people. Other like-minded organizations fight hard for social issues and justice. Christians all over the world have done good—building hospitals, building wells, and freeing slaves. These are good things, but this is not the gospel.

These are all good things. We should be good people, who say good things and do good things, but that is not the good news. There are a lot of people who do and say good things, but ‘good’ people go to hell too.

The Scripture talks a lot about good news. What is the good news and why is it so good? In order for there to be good news there has to be bad news. Do you want to hear the good news or bad news first? Good. Let’s hear the good news first.

The good news first starts with God. God is good. He is more than good. He is great. He is holy. He is wise. He is unlike no other. He is powerful. He created the world by his word. He created it good. He created man from the dust and breathed life into his. He created man very good. He cares for his creation. That is really good news. Could you imagine what this life would be like if God wasn’t like God. Not good.

That leads us to the bad news. Yes, there is bad news. When God created man he gave them one rule. One. What was that rule? Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Did man listen? No. What happened? Man did not listen. When God came to the garden. Man hid. Why did he hide? He was ashamed. Can anyone hide from God? No. Who did God call first? Adam. Why Adam? God created Adam first. Adam was made responsible. When asked if he ate the fruit how did Adam respond? He said, “The woman made ma eat it.” Is that true? Yes and No. Yes, Adam ate, BUT he was there when she ate too and he did nothing. Not good. When God asked Eve if she ate the fruit what did she say? She said the serpent made her eat it. Both Adam and Eve took no responsibility for their disobedience. Therefore, they were cursed. They were created eternal beings, but they would now die. All their children and children’s children would inherit their desire to sin. Not good. The bad news is that no one is born good.

Thankfully there is even better news. God did not start over. He didn’t leave his plan or forget man. He did not utterly wipe humans from the face of the earth. Before creation he had a plan to send a redeemer—a Savior. He himself came to earth. Jesus was his name. God with skin on. We celebrated this on Christmas. Jesus lived the only sinless life. He became the only sacrifice for mankind sin.  The really good news is that Jesus saves people born bad.

Why is the gospel so important and good? Without it bad news remains. You remain dead in sin. Yet there is no hope for you. The good news. Do you believe it? Only the gospel has power to make something dead become alive. Those that repent of their sin and believe on Jesus will inherit eternal life.  That is good news! It is the greatest news on earth! Do you believe it? Then will you proclaim it? That brings me to the third and final truth before opening your mouth.

Proclaim the gospel boldly without excuse (6:19-20).

Why did Paul ask for prayer for assurance or courage? Did he fear man. Yes. He was human. Fear is a real thing for everyone. Even apostles.

Did you know there are some Muslims who are coming to faith in Christ? It is truth. It is exciting. Right now there are a small group of men who are reading the Bible from Genesis to Jesus. God is giving them faith to believe. One of those men recently came to faith in Christ two months ago. His name is Mark. He grew up the firstborn son in a strict Muslim family. His teacher at secondary school was a Christian from southern Chad. After class that teacher would read his Bible under a tree. Mark was interested and would ask his teacher what he was reading. His teacher would explain that he was reading the Bible and share many stories. Mark wanted to read more of the Bible so the teacher gave him a copy, but his dad took it and burned it.

A few years later, another believer from a Muslim background was passing through his town. They met by a miracle of God and this believer invited Mark to come learn about the Bible at a workshop. He went. There he began hearing the stories of Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and more. He asked for his own Bible and was eating it up. When he went back to his village his uncle found his Bible and ripped it up. That didn’t stop his interest.

A few months ago, while talking to my colleague and a member of this church he said, “I believe who Jesus says he is.” He repented of his sin and committed to following Jesus. Immediately, he had some fear. He knew if he were to tell his father he would likely be beaten, imprisoned, or disowned. He hid. Yet the Bible and the Spirit of God kept reminding him that the good news is not something to hide. After much prayer he decided to call his father and tell him he had become a Christian. His father did not take it well. He threatened to catch him and put him on house arrest. He threatened to disown his mother and siblings. He treated to cut off his inheritance. Mark risked a lot. Yet his faith is growing. Pray for Mark to be bold. May his example encourage us to be bold.

Paul says, “I am an ambassador in chains.” Why is he in prison? He proclaimed the good news. People don’t like the good news. Yet in prison, Paul has an opportunity. He has a captive audience. He asks for prayer to be bold to share where he is, even in prison.

You are an ambassador of the King of kings, the Commander of the armies of heaven. Speak as His representative with boldness. Do not be ashamed. Remember the cross of Christ is foolishness to those who do not know the gospel. The good news offends people, especially good people who say good things and do good things.

If everyone likes you and likes your message likely you aren’t sharing the good news. Jesus said to his followers. If you follow me you will be persecuted. Expect persecution. It is the way of a Jesus follower.

Have you heard of the Back to Jerusalem Movement? There are Christians in Chinese. Some 100,000,000 Christians. These Christians are praying to send 100,000 Chinese missionaries from China back to Jerusalem. Along the way they are praying to break the walls of Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. Wow! Let’s pray for the Chinese believers. That is bold! May the church be that bold. May I be that bold.

What is your excuse for not being bold? What are you afraid of? What prevents you from sharing the good news? It is good news to you? Do you believe it? Will you begin by praying for an opportunity to share it? Will you pray for your boldness?

Will you pause for a moment, right now, and consider these questions and ask the Spirit of God how you should pray. Then pray. And act.

kneel to appeal

How I wonder, where I wonder
Is a place so far away
A place I wish to stay
And sin never causes sway.

Help me show and don’t say No
To life ever happy
Living without tragedy
And alone designed for me.

Does it exist beyond our bliss
Of reality this afternoon?
My nativity’s evil gloom
And worldly sorrowful tune.

Now is the time to find
Light in darkness’s way.
How beautifully shone today
As knees bend and tongues pray.

The fight is won, glory to the Son
To whom all is given fully
The Sacrifice nailed to a tree
and painfully done for me.

 

Revised from a poem I wrote on October 7, 1999
Source: Philippians 2:1-11

 

how the nearness of God matters

The last part of Philippians 4:5 says, “The Lord is at hand.”  Some take this to mean, Jesus is coming back soon.  While that is true, it also means God is present.  He is near.  It’s when our life is chaotic, when we don’t feel so happy about our circumstances, or when we are tempted to worry it is the nearness of God that matters most.   We know God is near.  Theology tells us God is omnipresent, but how does that matter when I need it most?

Philippians 4:1-9 is like the junk drawer of the letter (before you get in a huff let me explain), yet unlike most junk drawers this text is jam packed with treasures.  It’s junk that is valuable gems for your faith (e.g. 7 rapid-fire commands).  There is too much here to talk about today, so I will limit my focus to two commands and the intersection that brings them together which is the nearness of God.  Today we will explore how the nearness of God matters.

SINCE GOD IS NEAR I CAN HAVE REASONABLE JOY (4:1-5)

Paul has deep joy for Philippi.  He planted the church 10 years prior with a slave girl, a jailer and fam, and a business woman named Lydia.  Now there are others.  Paul addresses them all as “brothers” (v.1), not because he couldn’t remember their names, but because they were that close to his heart.  He proves it by using other terms of endearment like: “whom I long for”, (cf. 1:8) “my joy and crown”, (cf. 1:4; 2:16) “my beloved.”   Aren’t those encouraging words to hear?  Don’t you need to hear those words spoken over you?  Or words you should share over one another?  Look around.  Do you think of one another this way?  Is this the kind of affection you desire to have for one another?

Paul then changes his tone in the next two verses because there are two ladies in the church who aren’t being so affectionate with one another and Paul urges them to reconcile and encourages the church to get involved (vs.2-3).  Why would Paul care if everyone is getting along?  The first reason is that a divided church is a terrible witness Christ.  When people see Christians bicker, bark, and backbite, they certainly don’t see the beauty of Jesus’s Body or Jesus as their Head; they see the ugly reality of someone unchanged by the gospel, which is something they see everyday.

The second reason is that togetherness in Christ—a church fixed on Jesus—results in joy.  Paul says, “Rejoice,” and in case you didn’t hear it, “again I say rejoice.” (v. 4).  Joy here is not optional, it’s essential.  I like how Eugene Peterson in The Message puts it, “Celebrate God all day, everyday. I mean revel in him!  Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.”  Isn’t it interesting that this familiar command reserved for coffee cups and kids club songs follows a plea for conflict resolution?  Holding grudges, giving people what they deserve, gossiping about your brothers and sisters, gives a smug sense of satisfaction, but it more so produces relational emptiness, not deep joy.

If you are around Christians you are also around conflict.  Each of us are so different.  We have different personalities, different interests, different spiritual gift, but there are two things we have in common: 1) we are all sinners and, 2) we are all sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus.   Jesus died so that our greatest conflict (between He and us) would be resolved and it makes resolution between our brothers and sisters possible.  Joy is at stake (cf. 2:2).

It sounds so unreasonable, doesn’t it?  To rejoice always doesn’t seem practical or attainable.  How do you rejoice when your child is hurting?  When your marriage is rocky?  When things aren’t going well at all?  You got to remember Paul isn’t commanding the church to just be happy when everything is going well, but to rejoice in the midst of chaos, in those emergency moments, when you get that phone call, when it is most difficult to have joy.  You and I need help with this command, don’t we?

How is joy possible in those moments?  Thank God He tells you and doesn’t leave you hanging.  He says, “Let your reasonableness be known to all.” (v.5a)  Again, joy doesn’t seem so reasonable here, until you know the soil that joy is rooted in.  This joy is not predicated by your circumstances.  It never is.  The ability to have reasonable joy in whatever situation is because “the Lord is at hand.” (v.5b)

Resting in the promise that the “Lord is near.”  gives a future hope.  He is coming.  It’s a sure thing.  As sure as the dawn.  When he comes he will make all that’s wrong in the world right.  No more sorrow.  No suffering.  No conflict.  He will wipe every tear.  He will reconcile creation.  Yet there is also a present hope.  What is more encouraging than knowing the Lord is near to you, even right now? He is with you, always.  That is reasonable.  God is sovereign over your yesterday, today, and tomorrow..  He is loving.  He is good.  When everything in life is hard, nothing is hard for him (Jer. 32:17, 27).  In the moment of chaos, the God of the universe, the God who rescued and saved you, is not Himself powerless at all in that moment, is not at all surprised or shocked by that moment, is not reeling one bit or trying to figure out what to do in that moment.  That’s not what He does.  He’s there.  He knows.  He is with you.  He is in control within the chaos.  That is reason to rejoice.  That’s where reasonable joy is rooted.

May my prayer be like Job, “Though [You] slay me, I will hope in [You].” (13:15) or like Jehoshaphat, “[I] do not know what to do, but [my] eyes are on you.” (2 Chron. 20:12)  Or may my prayer be, “Lord, help me to rejoice in You in this moment.  Help me to be reasonable.  I am not happy with this horrific situation.  However, You are in control.  I trust You.  You love me.  You understand what You’re doing.  I have You.  I am Yours.”

What if you just can’t get along with your brother or sister?  What is the one thing you can get along with together?  The gospel—Jesus!  Learn to love Jesus more than your opinions.  Remember WHO you have in common.  The gospel makes what is irreconcilable reconcilable.  The gospel makes resolving conflict possible.   It makes Jesus and the Body shine.  And creates fertile soil for the roots of deep joy.

Few things are more fatal to your faith than the poisonous idea that joy in Jesus is optional, not essential.  Rejoicing always doesn’t mean there isn’t sorrow.  In fact, Paul says that sorrow and rejoicing can exist simultaneously: “… as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (2 Corinthians 6:10). What Paul means is that sorrowful circumstances will come, and may cut deep, but the undercurrent of joy runs deeper still because he is the source of it and he is a river that never runs dry.

SINCE GOD IS NEAR I HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT (4:6-9)

Paul finishes his thought with something a bit extreme.  He says, “do not be anxious about anything.”  Anything?  Really?  Literally he means no-thing.  Not one thing is to be the cause of your worry.

Worry is the enemy of joy.  If you are filled with joy you are not filled with worry, but if you are filled with worry you are not filled with joy.  It’s that simple.

The questions is, “What do you have to worry about?”  One might say, “A lot.  Let me give you a list: my health and future, my spouse or lack thereof, my kids health and future, my responsibilities, that project due soon, travels, the holidays.”  And the list could go on and on, right?

But let me ask that question again, “What do you have to worry about?”  The answer: nothing.  Why?  There is not one square millimeter of creation or one millisecond of time that God is not present or sovereign.  God is near.  God knows not time.  If we worry about the future, may we not forget that the future is a place where God already is.

Paul says that worrying is worthless.  It doesn’t help the problem.  In fact, it adds to it.  Jesus says, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Mt. 6:27).

God has never failed you.  He has never let you down.  He may not have given you everything you wanted or run your life the way you desired.  He may have never taken your advice or considered your wishlist.  He may have felt distant, but he has never abandoned you.  He has never left you.  You have never been without his love and sovereign care.

Worry is what happens when I believe God is not in control and I can’t be.  But it’s so hard not to worry. I know I shouldn’t worry, but I feel anxious plenty of times about plenty of things. Like those moments when I’m traveling by plane and I suddenly realize that there’s nothing beneath me.  I’m thinking, “Whoa, we’re in the sky.” It’s hard not to be anxious.  Or that time you realize.  I am in Chad.  I am really far from “decent” medical help.  That’ll freak you out.  Also, I have three daughters.  Enough said.  Can I just be honest?  It’s hard not to worry about certain things?

Is there a remedy to eradicating worry?  Paul’s answer is also a bit extreme, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (v.6)  Everything?  Really?  Yes.  Everything.  Literally he means, all things.  God wants you to bring all your hurts, pains, worries, fears, and doubts to him.  As we have learned, the Lord is at hand.  He is right there with you in it all.

There are two components to prayer that we learn from Paul that are important for eradicating worry.  The first is supplication.  Supplication is a “Help Me!” prayer.  It fits well with the encouragements Paul has already been teaching on lowliness, humility, and awe of God.  Prayer and worry are sort of the same.  They both rehearse the circumstances and chew it over.  In worry there is no traction.  It spins its wheels.  But praying is worrying at God and handing them over to God.  The second is thanksgiving is to be connected to the first.  Thanksgiving is a “Thank You” to God for his listening ear and loving hand.  Thankfulness is the worry’s kryptonite.  Thanksgiving and worry can’t occupy the same space.  When we come to God with a thankful heart even in the middle of chaos, hurt, or doubts, our worries flee like roaches to light.

And the result is “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (v.7)  This means through prayer the worry I once entertained is now eradicated and replaced by a right understanding and peace that is produced by God and rooted in Christ.

Have you been there?  Yeah, me too.  In the past few weeks, these verses have taken on a freshness I haven’t known since I memorized them as a teenager in Youth Group.   Just last week I had witnessed a horrific situation that revealed worry and fear that had been incubated for years if not generations in my family.  As I prayed about it with some dear friends God not only spoke peace over my life, but he gave me a peace which surpassed all understanding.  Isn’t that often what happens in the hard times?  God is a God of peace.  He has no place with worry, but he loves it when we bring our worries to him with thankful hearts allowing him to Father us.  He knows we are like weak little children, but he is a good strong Father.  He is our peace.

When we live with a lack of worry about the future, even in those tightrope kind of times, we communicate the truth that our God is indeed worthy of our trust—our life.  Worrisome Christians are bad advertisements for the God of all comfort.  But if you have to worry, Paul says worry (or think) on these things, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (v.8)  Aren’t these each powerful combatants to worry?   Where does this kind of thinking lead us?  It leads us to Jesus!  Ultimately, we see these mindsets in Christ.  In other words this text is the action of taking, “every thought (worry) captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) And the result again is that “the God of peace will be with you.” (v.9b)

It is interesting that Paul concludes this section by saying “practice these things.” (v.9a)  This tells me that not worrying or having reasonable joy in all things doesn’t come naturally to us, but only happens by the power of the Spirit, by the the sweat of faith, by prayer, by doing life in community with other believers.  We have to practice this stuff.  This is the stuff of maturing in Christ.  It’s part of growing up in our faith. Reasonable joy in all things and eradicating worry by prayer is a mark of maturity.  That is the kind of man I want to be and I am certain the kid of man, woman or child you want to be too.  And it’s possible because the Lord is near.

 
Reflection: Can you identify what robs you of joy or worries you today? Is there someone you need to get right with? Will you bring “everything”, right now, to God in prayer with thanksgiving?Spend some time alone or with someone praying together.

joy full

A lot about life in North Africa, if you’re not careful, can rob your joy.  The heat.  Heat rash.  Tiredness.  Travels.  Knocks at the gate at 5:00am.  Feeling used for services (ice, car rides, cell phone charging).  Reverse proselytizing.  Language barrier.  Bluntness.  Daily chores.  Sickness.  Lack of communication from the outside world.  Feeling fellowship starved.  Faith parched.

Have you been there?  Maybe you don’t live in Africa, but some joy robbers are universal.  Maybe you could add more to that list.  Maybe your list is more serious.  Stress of parenting.  Strain on marriage.  Conflict with co-workers.  Serious health concerns.  Failure to overcome a sinful habit.  What is your joy robber?  You know what it is?  We often look for joy in all the wrong places.

C.S. Lewis said,

“All that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”  (Mere Christianity)

Just look around.  We are joy junkies.  Lewis continues,

“we know happiness is out there, but like a drunk man, we stumble in the street, knowing we have a home, but we can’t seem to find it.” (Surprised by Joy)

If there is one truth you need to grasp it is this, joy—true joy—is not conditional on circumstance, but centered and anchored in Christ.  Jesus didn’t just come into the world to bring the good news. He is the good news.  He’s good news for your joy.  Joy is not a circumstance it is a Person.  And your joy is at home in Jesus.

In a timely moment, just after teaching on the promise of sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus says to his disciples “you will see me no longer” and “I am going to the Father.” (16:16-18)  It might seem like Jesus threw them a curve ball, if you did not know the context.  Jesus was leaving and didn’t say when he was coming back.  He wasn’t going to the Seven-Eleven to pick up a Slurpee and coming back in a jiffy.  He was going and no man knew the hour he’d return.  Nonetheless, it was a puzzling and polarizing moment.  These guys left their jobs to follow Jesus.  Talk about a joy robbing moment.  Knowing they had questions (seeing it on their faces), Jesus cuts straight to the heart (vs.19-20).

Promise: Jesus turns sorrow to joy (v.20-21)

Jesus was moments away from the cross (v.20).  While the cross could be viewed as the world’s greatest joy crushing moment it was indeed the world’s greatest joy crowning moment.  The disciples would weep but the world would throw a party.  Every play on the field makes someone happy, whether the home team or the enemy.  Yet the cross is where Jesus fought for your joy.  The cross is where the Man of Sorrows purchased your joy.  You don’t find true joy at the cross, it finds you.  So rich and powerful is the joy of Christ that it cuts through any sorrow and pain.

Survey 100 people on what thing in life causes the most pain and the number one answer on the board (particularly for the ladies) will be childbirth.  Men would might add kidney stones for consolation.  I wouldn’t know how either feels.  However, survey the Scriptures and I see that the world’s greatest pain or sorrow is walking through pain and sorrow without Christ.  That hurts.  That kills.  Yet on the flip side walking through sorrow, pain, heartache, disappointment, failed expectations with Christ—though it doesn’t erase the feeling of sorrow—can cause one to forget it.

Jesus agrees with the ladies.  He illustrates (v.21).  A woman in labor has excruciating pain for “a little while”, but the moment she hears her baby cry and that warm life is brought to her side, she quickly forgets her labor pain.  That is one of the world’s greatest paradoxes.  Likewise, it is the a spiritual paradox that sorrow can turn to joy no matter the circumstance.

What pain or sorrow are you walking through right now?  The promise: it will only be for “a little while.”  It will pass.  It will change.  There will be a day when we have no more questions about how much longer you will have to endure.  Sorrow will turn to joy.

Promise: No one can rob joy from you (v.22)

There are a myriad of things that can rob your joy.  Yet the truth is that joy—centered and anchored in Christ—no man, no power, no circumstance can rob from you.

No man can’t rob what he can’t touch.  The joy of Jesus untouchable.  No man can take what is given to you by God.  His joy is forever.  No string attached.  No circumstance thwarting.  Your joy is safest and most secure in Christ.  Promise.

Even in the darkest night, when the thief comes to steal your last ounce of joy, the anchor seems to be losing it’s grip, and your center is tempted to drift.  Jesus say, “My child, I have already fought for your joy.  I have won.  The thief albeit strong is no match for me.  Come rest in me.  Come draw near.  You are safe with me.  I haven’t left you alone.  I am always with you.  My Spirit is with you.”

Principle to Apply: Ask Jesus to make your joy full (vs.23-24)

When Jesus died fellowship with him was removed, but “a little while” later he resurrected and fellowship with him was restored.  Jesus’ greatest desire for you is that you would enjoy him forever.  That you would draw near to Christ now.  That you would call upon his name so that your “joy may be full.”  Get this, you have full license to come before Jesus anytime with your request and the result will be joy overflowing the riverbanks.  Prayer is our pathway to joy in Jesus.  Prayerlessness leads to joylessness.

When you come to Jesus he promises full joy.  Even in Chad, he can fill your joy.  There is a lot about Chad that can renew or refresh your joy:  You see front line answers to prayer.  You experience astounding provisions.  You experience unknown protection.  You have the privilege of telling lost people (swimming in pain and sorrow) about the good news.  And all the while, Jesus is with you, always.

The great Christian paradox is that joy is possible in the midst of un-joyful circumstance because joy is not conditional on circumstance, but centered and anchored in Christ.  Your joy is most at home in Jesus.  Come home, today.  To the place of inescapable and inexpressible joy.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24–25)

What about Christ brings you joy?  
How does Jesus make your joy full?  What do you need to ask in Jesus name today?

a reluctant prayer

Have there been prayers you’ve been reluctant to pray because you don’t know exactly how God will answer?

I know I have.  Today, I share a prayer from a ol’ prof of mine from college.  In the past year he has lost his best friend and soul mate.  In many ways he’s living out the answers to his prayer with a fitting title.  Before reading the prayer, it may help to have the back story from the author himself,

Was looking for a mailing envelope this morning to send a copy of Donna’s death certificate as part of what I hope is the last annuity transfer. Every time I do something like this, as I have said before, it is like erasing her a little at a time. Her name comes off the annuity, and now it’s just my name. All by itself. Looks very wrong, somehow, for it’s always been “Ed and Donna Chesley.” Simply “Ed Chesley” looks to be incomplete–and lonely. At any rate, in the course of looking for that envelope, I ended up looking through some of Donna’s teaching files. These files contained outlines and other material she used in speaking engagements and ladies’ group devotions. Shed quite a few tears, but I was impressed all over again at her spiritual wisdom and insight, presented clearly and simply. She used Chris and myself in one or two of them. She loved to teach kids and share with ladies but never felt she could do a good job or had anything of substance to offer. In that, she was very wrong. Donna was indeed a Proverbs 31 wife and a great servant of Her Lord. I was proud of her then; I am doubly proud now as I read through these notes. I also found in her files a prayer I had written years ago. It is not dated, but according to the material with which it was filed, I wrote it in 1995 or 1996. She must have used it in at least one of her speaking opportunities. Given my present circumstance, I thought I might be bold enough to share this with you. File it under the category “God may take you at your word.”

A Reluctant Prayer

Lord, I want you to be my Lord.

I want you to have all that I think is mine, but what, in fact, belongs to You.

If you need to break my heart by taking whatever I love but should not . . . then break it.

If you need to turn that at which I think I should succeed into failure . . . then make me a failure.

If you need to frustrate me by withholding the one thing I want most in this life . . . then disappoint me. But please forgive my bitter tears!

If you need to take all the time I have and give it to others . . . then take my time.

If what you need is my foolishness rather than the wisdom of which I am so proud . . . then make me a fool.

If you want in my life the thing I fear most . . . then frighten me. But please hold my hand!

If you know that I need trouble in my life more than comfort . . . then trouble me.

If you want my attention, then take those things that so easily distract me . . . and replace them with Yourself.

Lord, I do not ask for these things because I am noble . . . Oh, no! I will not insult you by saying how much I want these things. You know me better than that–better than anyone, for You know my heart. You know how reluctantly I pray this prayer.

But I know that what you want for me is best . . .so help me to trust you, please!

All I ask is that none of your faithful ones be shamed by me and that you give me the sustaining grace to accept whatever You give or take.

Thank You, Lord, for Your good and perfect intentions toward me.

Amen.

–eac

Used with permission from the author. Image source.

How should I pray?

door-knocker-1

“Jesus was praying.” That’s how Luke 11:1 begins. Honestly I’ve read that many times, but this time it floored me, “The Creator and Rescuer of the world is on His knees praying to God, His Father.” Isn’t that amazing? Notice, Luke doesn’t say how Jesus prayed, how long, where, or what He was praying, it simply says, “Jesus was praying in a certain place.”

Prayer is a discipline that most Christians feel they fall short, me included. You and I are not naturally born prayers. It’s a learned skill. So if I had a question for Jesus, it would be similar to the one His disciple asks, “Lord, can You teach us how to pray?” How does Jesus respond? Does He say, “That’s a silly question. You’ve been with me this long and you don’t know?” No. Does He organize a weekend prayer seminar? No. Jesus’ School of Prayer is ‘show and tell’.

PRAY LIKE JESUS (11:2-4)

Jesus’ prayer here is known as the Lord’s Prayer. It’s quite common. I memorized it during my catechism classes growing up in the Catholic Church. However, you will notice, Luke’s prayer is a lot shorter than Matthew’s prayer. I suppose since Luke wrote his gospel after Matthew, he thought his friend did a fantastic job and just summarizes some of main points of Jesus‘ prayer.

I am not going to spend a lot of time looking at Jesus’ prayer, but I want you to see how He elevates God. Also, I want you to see how He teaches His disciples how to pray. Jesus answers His disciple, “When you pray, say…” (v.2a)

  • “Our Father…” (v.2b), God is Father. The word “Father” here is not formal, it’s intimate. Jesus, like a little child address His loving Father as “Abba” or “Daddy.” It’s the first time this view of God is introduced and Jesus approves and encourages it.
  • “hallowed is Your name” (v.2c), Our Father is holy. God is a magnificent Daddy. He is completely different and glorious compared to everything in the universe. His name is above every name!
  • “Your kingdom come” (v.2d), Our Father is King. Not only is He my Daddy, He is King. He’s the King of kings. My heart’s cry is to be with Him in His kingdom, a place of forever justice, love, and mercy. He offers you room in His palace. His kingdom will never crumble. Our Daddy is King!
  • “Give us each day our daily bread” (v.3), Our Father is generous. Our Daddy cares perfectly for His children. God is not stingy or greedy. He provides everything we need.
  • “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (v.4a), Our Father forgives sin. God justly deals with sin, but He willingly forgives those who come to Him. He forgives spiritual debts because Jesus paid the debt with His blood.
  • “And lead us not into temptation” (v.4b), Our Father leads well. If we hold God’s hand and listen well, He direct us away from dangerous traps of the enemy. We can trust our Daddy (cf. James 1:13).

If you learn to pray like Jesus, your prayers will be intensively Father-focused. Does this align with your perspective on prayer? What aspects of Jesus’ example prayer do you most utilize or neglect?

PRAY LIKE THE SHAMELESS NEIGHBOR (11:5-8)

To illustrate how to pray, Jesus shares two parables and two principles. His first parable fits the eastern context where honor and shame are still very present aspects of culture (vs.5-8). In Jesus day, people would travel, usually on foot, sometimes on the back of an animal. After a long journey, there wasn’t a Motel 6 to keep a light on. There wasn’t texting or telephones to give your friend a heads-up. There wasn’t even a Denny’s to buy a ‘Moon’s Over My Hammy’ at 2:00am. Yet there was an obligation to honor guests hospitality and help neighbors in a pinch. If not, it could bring shame upon you and your house.

I am challenged by this parable, especially since I am on the brink of entering this kind of culture. I am not very neighborly. I can put on a good face, but I’m frustrated by spontaneous interruptions without appointments. I like to hit the hay early, so if someone came to my door at midnight asking for a loaf of bread I would be pretty perturbed. My response might be, “You need some bread? Ok.” (Thinking: “Dude, you just woke up my girls. Couldn’t you have gone to Seven-Eleven?”) “Here you go, enjoy.” (Thinking: “This 4th of July, I am going to buy lots of bottle rockets.”) I suppose this shows my heart. Agh, I am that guy! That ugly neighbor. I am so unlike God, but I want to be! That’s why this challenges me.

What would you do? How would you respond? Of course, you would open the door because you want to know why this guy is so persistent. Isn’t that Jesus’ point? His point is about the shameless neighbor who’s thinking, “Yeah, it’s late, but I’m going to stand here and knock on the door until I get myself a few loaves of bread.” He’s persistent because  he knows eventually his request will be answered. Why? Because ultimately you do care—even though he’s frustrating—you will meet his need. Likewise, Jesus is saying, even if you’re not the most pleasant child of God, even if we’re not having the best intentions or motives, God is loving, gracious, and kind. You can come to Him, day or night, 24/7, because He’s never asleep and He’s never tired and He’s never weary. He’s not unable or incapable or inconvenienced as a normal neighbor would be. You can talk to God anytime about anything and God hears and answers your prayer.

If you pray like the shameless neighbor, your prayers will be persistent and your persistence will prevail (vs.9-10). Jesus says that prayer is about three things: asking, seeking, and knocking. In the Greek, each of those three words are in the present tense, which carries the idea of “keep on” asking, seeking, and knocking. Keep on communicating with God. That’s prayer.

Asking means coming to God in faith and saying, “Dad, I really want…, I need…, please teach me…” Now, some of you are planners, who say, “I don’t need God. I need a plan.” Others of you panic. You don’t make a plan or talk to God, you just freak out. Don’t just make a plan, don’t just panic. Go to the Father and ask. What are you asking God, right now? What haven’t you asked Him?

Seeking means doing something about asking. It’s not enough to say, “Well, I prayed about it, now I’m going to sit here and do nothing.” Often, you pray about things you should be doing anyways. You got to get up and go do something. You got to seek, you got to serve, you got to pursue answers to your request. And if that doesn’t work and it still hasn’t been answered, you just keep banging on the door. You keep knocking. God’s answer will always be: yes, no, or hold on just a moment.

Friday, I heard my daughter Justus asking for me, “Hey, Dad? Dad? Dad? Mom, where’s dad? Where’s dad? What’s dad doing?” She was asking for me. She couldn’t find me. So she started seeking me. I heard her voice. I heard the pitter-patter of her feet on the floor. She looked in every room. She was very persistent, very committed to finding me. “Hey, dad? Where are you?” She came to the very last room in the house that she hadn’t checked, the bathroom. And she came, asking, seeking, knocking. “Dad, are you in there?” She found me. My answer, “I be with you in a moment, baby girl.”

This is the idea Jesus is trying to convey to His disciples. God’s your dad! Ask for Him. Seek Him. Knock on the door. Keep on doing it. Tell Him what you want or need. Bring it all to Him. Bring your Dad your needs, not your greeds. He adores you. He’s not gonna treat you like a stranger. So if you want to understand prayer, look at dads and children.

PRAY LIKE A CHILD WHO TRUST HIS DADDY (11:11-12)

Jesus’ second story is quite interesting (vs.11-12). It’s about a son who comes up to his dad, “Hey, Dad, can we have fish for dinner?” “Sorry, son all out of fish. How about a snake?” That’s weird! “Okay, dad, how about eggs?” “Nope. Have a scorpion.” I don’t know about you, but this dad really weirds me out. He must be off his meds or smoking something strange!

The story is ridiculous and humorous for a reason. Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” (v.13a) If you go to your dad, even if he’s a bad dad, and ask for a good thing, he won’t give you a bad thing. Children, do not use this verse as leverage against your dads, we already know we are evil and sinful. We are not perfect, yet we know the Father who is. In fact, this week, I enjoyed one of the sweetest times of prayer with three dad’s. Each of them were praying for their children and pleading with God that the way they father would resemble the way God fathers them. God is a Father. Even if you are not 100% convinced He is good, when you ask God for something do not fear what He will give. Trust that God is a good Father. He isn’t evil. He is not the father of lies (cf. John 8:44). God our Father is good and He give good gifts.

In Luke 11:1, a disciple asks Jesus, “Can you teach us how to pray?” Jesus gives the clincher in Luke 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” You see, everything that Jesus has done, His sinless life, His righteousness, His substitutionary death, His resurrection, all of that is given to you, brought to you, applied to you by whom? The Holy Spirit. So apart from the Holy Spirit, all the gifts that the Father has to give are received by the Holy Spirit. This is something Jesus’ disciples would get later (cf. Acts 2).

If you pray like a child who trusts his daddy, God’s goodness gets glory and you get the greatest gift. Jesus says the greatest gift of all is the Holy Spirit. That’s huge! This is the big idea of Luke 11:1–13 on how to pray: Jesus says, you pray by asking, seeking, and knocking. Trusting that your Father is a good, holy, generous, forgiving, King. And if you do this, your prayers will be Father-focused, persistent and prevailing, in the power of the Holy Spirit. So what are you waiting for? Let’s pray!

Father God, you are a good Father. Lord Jesus, you’re a good Savior. Holy Spirit, you’re the greatest gift. Please fill me. Please teach me to worship You forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Why does God delay an answer to prayer?

man-praying

Thomas Watson, a Puritan pastor from over 350 years ago, asked in his book, Body of Divinity (pp. 399–400), “Why does God delay an answer to prayer?” In other words, why would God ever keep us asking and seeking and knocking when he could respond sooner? (cf. Luke 11:9-10) He gives four answers :

  1. Because He loves to hear the voice of prayer. “You let the musician play a great while before you throw him down money, because you love to hear this music.”
  2. That He may humble us. We may too easily assume we merit some ready answer, or that He is at our beck and call like a butler, not as sovereign Lord and loving Father.
  3. Because He sees we are not yet fit or ready for the mercy we seek. It may be He has things to put in place—in us or in our church or in the world. There are a million pieces to the puzzle. Some things go first to make a place for the others.
  4. Finally, that the mercy we pray for may be the more prized, and may be sweeter when it comes.

the God who hears

Does God hear when I call on Him in prayer? If I don’t get an answer is God just hard of hearing? Somewhere we’ve acquired an illusion that God as a toothy grinned grandfatherly figure straining to hear through his old-fashion ear horn. This leaves us with an idol-god who is finite and rather creepy when you think about it.

Take a quick glance at Scripture and it will debunk any myth of a God who is decrepit or hard of hearing. Surely He is kind, slow to anger, full of all-consuming joy, spoils His children with indefeasible grace and generosity. But He does not have a cane or have need of hearing aides.

God hears.

Do you realize how important it is that God hears? The God of the universe hears the prayers of all His children (Ps. 65:2; 4:3; Jeremiah 29:12). The gods made with the hands of man cannot hear,[1] but human hands do not make God. He made man. And He made man with a mouth that are able to speak. With the psalmist, use your mouth to joyfully sing, “I love the Lord for He hears my voice” (Ps. 116:1)

Jesus after He raised Lazarus from the dead prayed and thanked God, “I knew that You always hear me” (John 11:41-42). Jesus prayed knowing that He was praying to His Father who listened.

“Because I have listened definitely to one thing from God, it does not follow that I will listen to everything He says. The way in which I show God that I neither love nor respect Him is by the obtuseness of my heart and mind towards what He says. If I love my friend, I intuitively detect what he wants, and Jesus says, “Ye are My friends.” Have I disobeyed some command of my Lord’s this week? If I had realized that it was a command of Jesus, I would not consciously have disobeyed it; but most of us show such disrespect to God that we do not even hear what He says, He might never have spoken.”[2] – Oswald Chambers

God hears more than words.

He knows the motivation behind my words. He sees my words straight through to my heart. He knows what I really want. Now God does meet wants, even needs. He demonstrates over and over His sensitive ears to the cry of the orphan and widow (Exodus 22:23); the plea of the poor (Exodus 22:27); the cry of the needy (Ps. 69:33). However, God does just give me whatever I want whenever I want it. Thankfully.

God has selective hearing.

God is not a passive dad that tunes out His children for no good reason. He hears the prayer of the righteous God-fearer,[3] and often He ignores the cries of the unrighteous sinner.[4] It is not that God is insensitive to the cries of sinners; it’s that sinners are not sensitive towards listening and obeying God. Their judgment is God replicating the treatment they are giving Him.

God has spoken many words, 774,746 to be exact.[5] Start by listening closely to those words. As Jesus said, to each of the believers in the seven churches of Turkey, “He who has ears let him hear.” (cf. Revelation 3-4)

My daughter Justus is 2-years old. She has good ears. Still she has a natural inclination to ignore the authority God has put over her like Charlie Brown listened to his teacher at school. For the most part, she hears the words of her parent’s say and eagerly listens. I want to have eager ears toward my authority, God, like my daughter.

A child’s attitude is “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.” (cf. 1 Samuel 3:10) If you have not cultivated this devotion of hearing, you can only hear God’s voice at certain times; at other times you are taken up with things—things which you say you must do, and you become deaf to Him, you are not living the life of a child. Have you heard God’s voice today, moreover, have you listened to God’s voice today?


[1] Cf. 1 Kings 18:26-27; Psalm 115:6; 135:17; Isaiah 46:7

[2] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest : Selections for the Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1993).

[3] Cf. Prov. 15:29; Psalm 34:15; 145:19; John 9:31

[4] Cf. Isaiah 59:1-2; cf. Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 1:15; Jeremiah 11:11,14; Ezekiel 8:18; Amos 5:23; John 9:31

[5] This number is a guesstimation taking an average among English Bible translations.

thumb licks [4.9.11]

Parenting: how eternity shapes the mundane.

Not so fast. The sometimes slow and steady process of sanctification.

The importance of writing letters.

Praying past our preferred outcomes.

Forget Kevlar, use liquid armor. This stuff is sweet!

15 grammar goofs that make you look silly.

Love is… (for you married folk)

Lottery is a suicidal craze.

Funny comments to the mega millions winner.

Dirt. Not your ordinary music video.

thumb licks [1.27.11]

5 Ways Wives Can Encourage Their Husbands.

An Open Letter to Christian Wives with Unbelieving Husbands.

20 Things a Husband Could Say to Defuse an Argument with His Wife.

Don’t Know How To Act When Someone Corrects You? Your Worries Are Over!

How to Honor your wife. Treating your woman like a queen.

Parenting Wisdom 101. Straight from Proverbs.

What Does God Want From Me? Some Important Thoughts For Children.

Why pray? Learning from the lips of Jesus.

Tom Hanks and Toddlers & Tiara’s:

a prayer for missions

God of truth and love; Father Son and Holy Spirit,

Hear our prayer for those who do not know You.

We ask that they may come to a saving knowledge of the truth

and that Your Name may be praised among all peoples of the world.

Sustain, inspire and enlighten Your servants who bring them the Gospel.

Bring fresh vigor to wavering faith; sustain our faith when it is still fragile.

Continually renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church;

raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world

Make us witnesses to Your goodness; full of love, strength and faith –

for Your glory and the salvation of the entire world.

[HT]

thumb licks [harvest edition]

Hacked! And you thought your email was secure!?

Sent into the Harvest: Halloween on Mission. Be on mission this Halloween.

7 Reasons Why Halloween Judgment Houses Miss the Mark. I always thought they were corny.

Strangest Ways to Travel. I totally want one.

Give us the Peculiar Grace of a Peculiar People. A prayer from Spurgeon.

Religious Nerds. Too funny not to be true.

Is this the future of punctuation? Hey, I use these.

No, Justin is not the unibomber, he's a bugger catcher!

thumb licks [10.13.11]

A sample prayer plan. For those of you who like to have it really spelled out.

Forgiveness is a ridiculous thing. A smart lessons from The Tale of Despereaux.

Sin is cosmic Treason. Startling truth from R.C. Sproul.

Managing social media before it manages you. Addicted to facebook, twitter, or google+?

Honor your missionaries. I am bit biased towards this post.

Holding translators responsible. Wycliff’s stance on contextualization.

Want to Live forever?

Adoniram Judson’s prayer for you

O God, have mercy on the churches in the United States…continue and perpetuate the heavenly revivals of religion which they have begun to enjoy; and may the time soon come when no church shall dare to sit under the Sabbath and sanctuary privileges without having one of their number to represent them on heathen ground.

Have mercy on the theological seminaries, and hasten the time when one half of all who yearly enter the ministry shall be taken by Thine Holy Spirit, and driven into the wilderness, feeling a sweet necessity laid upon them, and the precious love of Christ and the souls constraining them.

Hear, O Lord, all the prayers which are this day presented in all the monthly concerts throughout the habitable globe, and hasten the millennial glory, for which we are all longing, and praying, and laboring…Come, O our Bridegroom; come, Lord Jesus!

– Adoniram Judson, quoted in J.D. Greear’s Breaking the Islam Code: Understanding the Soul Questions of Every Muslim, page 141