I am passionate about pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ. To that end, I want to share my journey in learning more about prayer. I am a former teacher and librarian. I love to read, write, share awful puns with friends, and share the joy that comes from trusting my loving Savior.
Earlier this week, my husband and I went fishing. As we were enjoying our time on the lake, and catching a few fish, I was reminded of the old song I learned in Sunday School: “I will make you “fishers of men”…if you follow me.” Jesus said these words to His early followers, who were fishermen by trade (see Matthew 4:19). But what does it mean to be a “fisher of men?”
The primary meaning is that we have a commission– found in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations..” We are to go and “catch” men and women, taking them out of the sinful lifestyles we see around us, and bringing them into the Kingdom of God, much as fishermen take fish out of a lake or sea and bring them into the boat. But what practical implications can we take from the practice of fishing, that might help us as we carry out our spiritual commission?
First we much go where the “fish” are, and actively work to catch them. I can go to the lake, dip my toes in the water, even get into a boat and go sailing, and never catch a fish. The fish will not jump into my boat, or jump out of the water into a net. I must make an effort. I can follow Christ, and go to church every Sunday, participate in many spiritual activities, even pray every day, but if I never interact with lost and hurting people I am unlikely to become a “fisher of men.”
Next, we must recognize that we won’t “catch” all the fish! I know some Christians who become discouraged and depressed if they go out for one day of “evangelizing” and don’t make converts. They give up after one negative or unsuccessful encounter. “I’m not an evangelist.” “I can’t share the gospel– I just don’t have what it takes…” Imagine if fishermen responded that way– “I cast out three times, and never got a fish– I give up!” This is especially discouraging because our Great Commission is not to “convert” everyone; not just to go out and “catch” men and women with a hook or a net, but to make disciples. It is a process, but it comes with risks and no guaranteed “return” on our investment. Some “fish” are not ready to be caught. Some are meant for other fishermen. This should not lead us to be apathetic about lost neighbors or relatives, but it should remind us that we are God’s witnesses, not His SWAT team. Even Jesus didn’t “convert” everyone He met! But He did love them!
Third, and closely related, we must expect resistance. It is not natural for most people to respond immediately to the Good News of the Gospel. After all, it involves admitting our need for salvation, and submitting to the will of God. Fish that are taken from the water will die! And we must “die” to our selves and our selfish nature if we are to become Disciples of Christ.
Finally (and this is a bit of a stretch of the analogy, but bear with me…), we must have the right bait. This is not to say that the Gospel is inadequate or insufficient for the task. Rather, that we are not meant to hit people over the head with only our words– even when they come from Scripture! We do not create disciples by offering a bare hook. People are hungry– hungry for answers; hungry for hope; hungry for peace; and hungry for love. The Gospel lives in US– WE need to offer more than just the words of the Gospel–we need to LIVE the Gospel! To offer only condemnation or smug arrogance makes a mockery of the very Gospel we are supposed to share. Likewise, we do not create disciples by offering a shiny but “fake” gospel of easy answers and “cheap” grace without truth or repentance. It may hook a few desperate or gullible people for a moment, but once again, it is not our mission to merely “hook” people.
David and I enjoy fishing– we enjoy spending time in God’s beautiful nature; we enjoy the quiet and peace; and we enjoy the challenge of finding where the fish are “biting” on a particular morning. And I’m so glad that Jesus gave us such wonderful analogies and word-pictures to help us understand His love for us and His plan for spreading the Good News. Finally, I’m glad that I’ve been taken from the “lake” of sin and given new life by the great “Fisher of Men!” I pray that I can help others find and follow Christ, as well.
“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,”
Ephesians 3:20 (KJV)
What do I expect as I pray? What is the outcome that I hope for? Most of the time, it looks like one of the following:
I expect to praise and worship God; I hope that He will hear my heart of gratitude and worship, and that He will be pleased with my words and actions
I expect Him to act on or through a particular circumstance, such as providing healing or guidance to someone in need
I expect to hear from Him, or to gain wisdom or guidance for myself
I expect that He will honor His promise to forgive my sins when I confess them
I expect to grow closer to God as I speak to Him and wait to hear from Him
But Paul reminds us in the book of Ephesians that God is able, through the power of Christ at work in us (emphasis added), to do much more than anything we can imagine or ask! What does that mean in my pursuit of prayer?
Well, it means more than I can explain in any blog entry, but let me attempt to imagine a few outcomes that go beyond my normal expectations:
Prayer is a matter of choice. It is also a matter of obedience and acknowledgement. No matter how short, or faltering, or disorganized it may be, each prayer proclaims that God is GOD–worthy of praise, able to save and forgive, supremely authoritative over my life and the lives of others, and ever present to listen to every voice that calls out to Him. And it proclaims this both to the physical world (if we’re praying aloud or with others) and to an unseen and metaphysical world inhabited by spiritual beings who also owe God their worship and obedience.
Prayer is a partnership. In some mysterious way, God allows us to participate in His ongoing work– whether it is bringing healing, joining the chorus of angels in songs of praise, praying for God’s hand to move in global and historical affairs, or developing our personal relationship with Him–God chooses to let us “have a voice” in what He does. God is still in charge. Our prayers will not cause Him to go against His own will. But as we pray, we grow to understand God’s heart. We begin to want what He wants, and to ask for His will because it is what we want most. As we see and hear about miracles, we can know that we are “part of the team.”
Prayer changes things–often in ways we cannot ever see or measure. Someone may pray for years to see a relative or neighbor come to Christ– seemingly without success. What they may NOT see is how their testimony, though spurned by the object of their prayers, has brought others to Christ over the years. And each one of THOSE people has the potential to witness to others– including the one who rejected the original efforts! A prayer for healing that seems to go unanswered may inspire someone to commit their life to researching a disease of find a cure so that thousands of others may be spared the suffering you prayed to alleviate. Praying for peace or justice may not have immediate effect. But we cannot know or imagine the cumulative effect of such prayers in bringing lasting peace or more perfect justice to our children or future generations.
Prayer changes people– especially us! If I am praying for someone, my thoughts and actions will follow. I will take a more active interest in those for whom I pray. I will (or should!) reach out with practical efforts and partner with others who share my concerns. I will give, share, encourage, work, and advocate– not just pray and move on unchanged.
Prayer has substance. We imagine prayer to be ethereal and mental or spiritual. But the Apostle John, writing in Revelation 8:3-4, describes the prayers of the believers (saints) as incense. Our prayers have a pleasing odor, and they rise like smoke into the presence of God. There is nothing empty or “fake” about prayers lifted to Almighty God. Our prayer is not just an exercise in wishful thinking or the power of group-think or “positive vibes.”
We serve an amazing, limitless, all-powerful, all-wise God! Our prayers may seem like just words–humble, inadequate, or even unintelligible– but in God’s hands, they are mighty tools, bringing Him glory in ways we can’t even begin to explain or imagine!
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…”
Luke 4:18 (ESV)
Yesterday, we observed a holiday, relatively “new” on the national scale, of “Juneteenth.” Many people across the United States (and elsewhere) still don’t know the meaning behind this day. On the nineteenth of June, 1865, federal soldiers entered the city of Galveston, Texas, with news of the Emancipation Proclamation and the victory of the Union over the Confederate Army in the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation, in which President Abraham Lincoln declared freedom for all slaves throughout the Confederate States, had been signed on January 1, 1863. The war had been over for more than two months. President Lincoln had been assassinated in April. But news of the proclamation had never reached as far as Galveston; nor had news of the defeat of the Confederacy. Far from the ravages of the war, and far from the events of Washington or Richmond, the people of Galveston continued with life as it had been. For two-and-a-half years, people who had been declared free continued to live as slaves. News of their freedom came with shock and joy! Finally, those who were considered free in the eyes of the law KNEW they were free, indeed!
It would take more than 100 years for many of the injustices to be addressed that had grown up around slavery. Many of them are still being contested. But the celebration of the good news of Freedom continues, along with the hope that we will continue to build a better Union for All.
Several centuries before the American Civil War, Jesus stood in the synagogue and read a prophetic passage from the book of Isaiah, in which He declared that He had been anointed to proclaim, among other things, “liberty for the captives.” He wasn’t talking about those who were in physical or institutionalized slavery, but for all of us who are slaves to sin. Unlike the slaves of Galveston, many of us are unaware of our captivity. But like them, we have been declared Free. What good news! Yet, we continue living in ignorance, both of our slavery, and of our potential freedom.
How many of us, even those of us who claim the Salvation of Christ, continue to live as though we are slaves? How many of those around us live as slaves without knowing they can be free? Today is a great day to proclaim the Good News– Jesus Saves! We can walk in Freedom and Newness of Life! Hallelujah! Carry the Good News to those who have not heard. Proclaim Freedom to the captives, and Liberty for those who are oppressed.
Juneteenth is a time of celebration and exhilaration– for those who understand the gift of freedom. God offers us freedom–not from the trials or work of ordinary life– but freedom TO LIVE–abundantly, eternally, and fruitfully! In Christ, life has purpose, promise, hope, and joy. Death and sin and shame have been defeated– the war is over! Freedom is ours!
I hope that today (and every day!)is a day of celebration for all of us who know the Freedom of Life in Christ.
Genesis 22:10-14 Common English Bible (CEB) 10 Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 But the Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from heaven, “Abraham? Abraham?” Abraham said, “I’m here.” 12 The messenger said, “Don’t stretch out your hand against the young man, and don’t do anything to him. I now know that you revere God and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, from me.” 13 Abraham looked up and saw a single ram caught by its horns in the dense underbrush. Abraham went over, took the ram, and offered it as an entirely burned offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham named that place “the Lord sees.” That is the reason people today say, “On this mountain the Lord is seen.”
Where to we look when we’re in trouble or need answers? I worked for many years in libraries– we “looked up” all kinds of answers for people. We looked in dictionaries, thumbed through heavy reference books, and scrolled through many websites. But even though we called it “looking up”, we spent most of our time looking down!
Many people spend hours looking down at phone screens all day, or looking ahead as they drive down the road. Very few of us spend time looking up to see the clouds, the sunset, the towering buildings or trees on the horizon. And we spend too little time “looking up” to see how God is working in, around, or through our circumstances.
Abraham set off with his son, Isaac, to make a sacrifice. He had made provisions– he brought enough food for three days’ journey (and three days back!). He brought wood, and even fire. But God had asked him to “offer” Isaac as a sacrifice, so he took no ram–but he brought a knife. God’s instructions were ambiguous–He did not tell Abraham that he must kill his son, Isaac, only that he was to take him up the mountain and “offer” him.
The writer of the book of Hebrews references this event:
Hebrews 11:17-19 New International Version (NIV) 17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[a]19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. Footnotes: Hebrews 11:18 Gen. 21:12
Abraham had looked up at the mountain; he had “looked up” how many provisions to take along; but at the crucial moment, when he looked up, he finally saw God’s provision. It was never God’s intention that Abraham actually kill his beloved son. It was God’s intention that Abraham (and Isaac) listen and act in faith. And so they did. The ram was already there– waiting for Abraham to look up!
Later, when the Israelites (Abraham’s descendents!) were wandering in the wilderness, they were faced with many trials. God sent pillars of cloud and fire to lead the people as they “looked up” and followed them. When snakes came into the camp, God had Moses make a pole with a brass snake at the top. Anyone suffering from a snake bite could “look up” at the pole and be cured. Jesus referred to this story as an illustration of us own crucifixion–saying that in just the same way, he would be “lifted up.” Those who “look up” in faith to the crucified and resurrected Jesus can be cured of their sin, and given new life! https://www.christianity.com/jesus/is-jesus-god/old-testament-prophecies/jesus-is-like-the-bronze-serpent-moses-lifted-up.html
Let’s “look up” today in faith, knowing that God sees our circumstances; knowing that as we act in obedience, God will provide our every need.
On Monday night, several strong storms moved through our area. There were also severe storms in other places, like Mexico City, and around Manila– high winds, heavy rains, hail, and flash flooding. Our town did not see much damage, but some nearby towns had many trees down and power outages, followed by near record-high heat.
Often when storms come, we question– “Where is God?” Doesn’t He see our suffering? Why does He allow it? We look for evidence of God’s goodness in spite of the storms in our life. We may even look for evidence of God’s goodness in the aftermath of a storm– “Well, it could’ve been worse..” But in the past couple days, I have seen evidence of people finding God IN the storm. At least a couple of friends were watching the storm approach and/or pass by, and they were able to capture a picture showing lightning striking through a rainbow!! Others have pictures of a glorious red sunset. Both pictures remind us of God’s faithfulness and His promises. God never promised that we would never see storms, but His rainbow reminds us that He will have mercy. A red sunset also speaks to sailors and farmers of better weather to come with a new dawn. God is not absent, waiting to speak after the storm is past. He is right there in the middle of the storm for those who are looking.
Another thing I noticed is that several people have become evidence of God’s care in, through, and in the aftermath of the storms. Several people have volunteered to help clean up downed trees, or offered to provide food and water, or even (air-conditioned) shelter for those without power. Many such people have suffered some damage themselves. But their hearts are open to help their neighbors in their time of need.
I don’t recommend that we put ourselves in grave peril to see signs in the raging storms, nor am I trying to shame those who cannot volunteer to help in times of crisis. When storms come, it is wise to take shelter and TRUST that God sees us, knows our greatest needs, and will not leave us without hope. But it is also a great time to look for ways we can both SEE God and SERVE others.
Praying can help us in both ways. We should seek to praise God at all times–even in times of storms and trials. Instead of focusing only on the problems we face, we can be reminded of all the times God has been faithful in the past and remember all the promises He has kept! Instead of focusing on our own losses or pains, we can focus on praying for the needs of others and praying for wisdom in how to be helpful and encouraging. Because God is with us. Always!
The same mighty power that brings the storm is available to withstand it. God IS present IN the storm, just as He is present before and after. Sometimes, we ignore Him during times of ease and comfort. Sometimes we miss His voice in the raging wind and pounding hail. Sometimes, like Jesus’ disciples, we forget that God controls the winds and waves, and we let fear get the better of us for awhile. We wonder if God is “asleep on the job.” (See Mark 4:35-40) But a single word is enough to calm whatever storm is raging around us.
What a powerful God! What an encouraging reminder.
Tomorrow is Flag Day in the United States– a day in which we honor our nation’s flag and all for which it stands. It is an odd holiday in a sense; most countries have a national day of celebration, but not a whole day just to celebrate their flag. We already have an day to celebrate our Independence, and days to honor the sacrifices of soldiers or the dates of famous military victories in our history. Why should we spend a day honoring our flag. Isn’t that arrogant? Isn’t it taking nationalism a bit too far?
Flags and banners are important to us. They are a visual representation of an idea or a series of ideas–“America,” perhaps, but also, “Freedom,” “Loyalty,” “Sacrifice,” “Honor,” “Bravery,” etc. We have national flags, state flags, organizational flags, family crests, even sports team flags and mascots. Flags can be used to rally troupes and inspire citizens, signify commitment to a cause or nationality, show pride or loyalty, and represent ideals held by those in a group. Colors, shapes, stripes, animals or plants, stars, shields, letters or single words– all represent something important or noble to those who see them on a flag or banner. And there is no real point to having a flag if you are never going to display it or let it fly high for all to see.
In the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) the bride tells that her lover has brought her to a house of feasting, and that “his banner over me is love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4) The Song is an allegory that can be seen as Christ and His Church. Christ also has a banner–and it is Love–not the romantic love of the Song, but everlasting and limitless love! His Love rallies us, unites us, inspires us, and leads us. When we look for a symbol of who Christ is (and what the Church should be) we use a flag of white with a cross symbol in red on a blue (or sometimes purple) background for the corner. The white represents Christ’s purity, and the pure white robes that will be given to His saints. The blue/purple represents Christ’s majesty and authority. The red of the cross is a reminder of the blood He shed on Calvary’s cross.
Banners and flags are important. But we don’t need a flag or banner to represent Christ’s love– WE are to be His banner for the world. The world should be able to look at us and see a reflection of the limitless and unconditional Love of Christ in the way we speak and interact with others, and the way we live our lives.
Today (and tomorrow) when we happen to see a flag, let us remember that we are Christ’s ambassadors– we do more than just absorb God’s love– we are to reflect it, and be living symbols of God’s great love for the World. We should be visible testimonies that God’s love is all-important, and available to all! May that be more than just a prayer– may it be our earnest pursuit every day.
When do you pray each day? Do you have a time set aside in the morning and/or evening? Do you say grace at meal time? Do you stop during the day to pray for a certain period of time? Do you wait for “the right moment?” Do you miss precious time spent in prayer?
Most of us have a “regular” prayer time– even if it’s just a short burst of prayer in the morning or tucked into the period just after Bible study, or even a quick “Thank you” at meal times. But, for some reason, it often feels like we’re praying on “borrowed” time– time when we are planning to do other things, but a situation or feeling overwhelms us and causes us to pause for “unexpected” prayer.
Sometimes, we feel awkward, stopping to pray in the middle of some other activity; sometimes it feels forced or rushed somehow. Yet we are encouraged to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and to be “constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
We can be grateful for the privilege to coming to God in prayer– anytime, anywhere, for any reason! Imagine if we only had one opportunity every day to “catch up” with God. Imagine if we actually had to “borrow” time to be in His presence. What a wonderful gift– the omnipresence of God. What a marvelous comfort to be able to pause and know that God is always listening and always available.
In one sense, however, we are praying on “borrowed” time. Our lifetime is a gift. And our Spirit is eternal. But our physical earthly life is finite. Our ability to call on God is immediate and ever-present. But our ability to live in peace and harmony with Him depends on our acknowledgement of His Sovereignty and acceptance of His Salvation and Reconciliation. God is gracious and loving– every moment we are alive we have the opportunity to seek His face. But for those who choose to ignore or reject His invitation, there will be a moment that is “too late.” There will be no borrowing, begging, or buying another opportunity.
Today–right now!– is a perfect time to accept, claim, celebrate, and utilize the precious gift of God’s loving presence, and His desire to share all that is on our hearts and minds. Even on “borrowed” time!
8 In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign Lord came on me there. 2 I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. 3 He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. 4 And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain. 5 Then he said to me, “Son of man, look toward the north.” So I looked, and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy. 6 And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” 7 Then he brought me to the entrance to the court. I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall. 8 He said to me, “Son of man, now dig into the wall.” So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there.9 And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here.” 10 So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and unclean animals and all the idols of Israel. 11 In front of them stood seventy elders of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising. 12 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land.’” 13 Again, he said, “You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.” 14 Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord, and I saw women sitting there, mourning the god Tammuz. 15 He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this.” 16 He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east. 17 He said to me, “Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the people of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually arouse my anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose! 18 Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them.”
Ezekiel 8 (NIV) via biblegateway.com
We make a big fuss in our culture about privacy. What I do in my own home, with my own life, in my own time, is private. And, for many of us, our privacy is sacred. We rage and fight and panic about who may be invading our privacy– listening in or watching us when we least expect it.
I must admit, I don’t like the idea of anyone spying on me or listening in on my private moments. I especially don’t like the thought of someone manipulating or using my private words, images, or ideas without my knowledge or consent.
But there is a danger in our quest for privacy– we are inclined to believe that anything we do in private CANNOT ever be discovered; that we are safe to do whatever we please, regardless of the consequences. The internet has made this idea even more dangerous–we can be private and anonymous behind the screen. We can say things we know we shouldn’t; we can view things we would be ashamed to acknowledge watching; we can explore fantasies, mask our inadequacies, pretend to be who and what we are not; all behind the “safety” of the screen.
And this is nothing new. In Ezekiel’s day, the moral, legal, political, and religious leaders of the day thought they were “safe” to indulge in idol worship behind closed doors. But more than that, they believed that God would never see as they practiced divination, witchcraft, ritual prostitution, violent orgies, even child sacrifice! They had built hidden rooms where they practiced vile rites and indulged in the very behaviors they taught others to avoid. Worse, they condemned and vilified others when they “got caught” doing the same things they practiced with impunity. And when prophets came to them with warnings–the very words of God– they had them ruined, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.
In the eighth chapter of Ezekiel, God shows his prophet a vision. He allows Ezekiel to “go behind closed doors” and see the priests and leaders at their worst–over and over again–secret rituals, detestable practices, flagrant disobedience, arrogant rebellion…And all of this was happening as the nations of Israel and Judah had collapsed, and many thousands had died from war, disease, and starvation. People had been sent into exile– defeated, starving, enslaved. Yet their leaders were keeping up an image of righteousness and proud endurance, instead of turning to God for help and hope.
God was very clear–Jerusalem WOULD be captured and destroyed. Babylon WOULD take God’s people captive and send most of them to the sword or to exile. Defiance and pride– especially relying on the great victories of the past– would not save them. Rebellion and violence would not hold back God’s judgment.
The same is true today. It is easy to write about praying and walking closely with God–I’m hidden behind a screen. I can sound righteous and Godly for a few minutes three times a week. And it is easy to point fingers and call out the bad behavior of others behind the anonymity of a computer screen. We need to speak up, speak out, and defend the cause of those who are oppressed, abused, enslaved, and silenced. But we also need to beware that we are not crying, “Shame on you!” from a locked closet, while waving banners or buying merchandise supporting the abusers.
And God sees all of it. What we may find shocking and reprehensible, God has already seen through to its conclusion! God WILL bring judgment and punishment for those who shed blood and bring violence and injustice. But God also sees what I do in the watches of the night; when I’m alone with my thoughts; when I’m not on my guard against what I view on Facebook or YouTube. God knows what celebrity gossip I crave, or what I’m “watching” on eBay. He knows if I am ignoring or justifying evil happening all around me. He watches over my shoulder when I’m reading that new novel, or I’m driving down the road (hopefully not at the same time!), or when I’m wallowing in self-pity or jealousy or anger.
When I read about Ezekiel weeping over the behavior of Israel’s leaders, I am convicted. How often do I weep and seek God’s mercy over the behavior of our leaders–all of them, and not just the ones I voted for? Or do I just fume and post about how awful “they” are (whoever “they” my be) and how “they” need to be punished? How often do I ignore my own bad behavior? I may not have a “hidden room” filled with detestable images and idols, but God is still watching how I react to challenging times. He knows if I am obeying His voice or merely pretending to follow Him while leaning on my own understanding or my own image of self-righteousness. He knows if I have made money, politics, status, safety, health, or even “religion” into idols, hoping that one or more of them will carry me through tough times. He knows if I am condemning others for their bad behavior, while hiding or justifying my own.
I want everyone to see me when I am noble and righteous–but I need to see myself as He sees me every day–His much-loved, and ever-needy, child.
Father, may I be quick to remember that You ALWAYS see me– and that You ALWAYS want me to see You as well. Help me to see You in the middle of challenging times. Help me to see You when I interact with others. Help me to obey You in the private moments when no one else is watching.
“For God so loved the World, that He gave His only Begotten Son, that Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting Life.”
John 3:16 (KJV)
This is probably the most well-known verse in the Christian Bible. It has given hope to millions, as it explains that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ allows anyone to find forgiveness, faith, and new/eternal life. But what about those who don’t believe; those loved ones (and others) who die without the hope of salvation? Doesn’t God care about them? Why does he let them die without hope? Why do they go to eternal suffering, instead of being forgiven?
I can’t give a complete answer to those questions…I don’t comprehend the entirety of God’s plan or His mind. But I do know this– God understands our heartbreak and our grief over our unsaved loved ones. After all, Jesus spent three years preaching and announcing the Gospel, yet He was betrayed by one of His closest friends. Jesus– God in the Flesh; Emmanuel; the Perfect Son of God–didn’t “save” everyone He knew. We have the wonderful story of the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus– what about others who didn’t “see the light?” There may have been hundreds, even thousands who heard Jesus preach; who watched Him hanging on the Cross; who heard the rumors that He had risen, only to reject His message–what about them? Jesus had met them. Maybe He had healed them, or eaten at their house, or studied with them at the Temple when they were younger. Some may have been His brothers, or cousins, or mentors and teachers.
On the night before He was crucified, Jesus was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was in anguish about what He would have to face, but some of His anguish and grief had to be in knowing that, while His death and resurrection would save so many, there were still others who would choose to turn away and reject the Life and Hope and Peace that He suffered to bring.
Even during His ministry, Jesus didn’t heal everyone who was diseased or lame or blind. He even made reference at one point to the kinds of disasters that often leave us questioning God’s mercy:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)
Jesus could have “saved” those Galileans from having their sacrifices desecrated; He could have provided a miracle to save those who were killed by the tower that fell in Siloam. And just as we grieve today for the senseless loss of life in places like Afghanistan and Haiti, or New York City on 9/11/2001, Jesus felt the loss of innocent strangers. Just as we plead with friends and loved ones to repent and seek God’s face, Jesus preached the need for all people to confess and seek forgiveness.
Jesus could have forced Judas to turn from his plan to betray the Master. He had the authority to cast out demons and demand that angels come to honor, protect, or comfort Him. He has the authority to make every knee bow down and every tongue confess that He is the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. And someday, He will! But Jesus won’t save people against their will– even those close to him. He doesn’t compel grudging obedience, or demand abject servitude. There are some who choose to serve Him in that way, but that is not His desire. Instead, He compels us with His mercy. We choose to love Him because He first Loved us– sacrificially, unreservedly, without limits or conditions. (See 1 John 4:19)
Jesus patiently spoke to Nicodemus in the dead of night. He chased Saul down on the road to Damascus and gave him three days of blindness to reconsider the direction of his life. He called His disciples and asked them to Follow Him– even Judas. He invited Himself to the house of Zacchaeus. He spoke with compassion to those who were broken, and outcast, and lost. And just like Judas, they had to make choices– some of His friends and followers abandoned Him when He needed them most. Some of them stumbled. But they HAD followed Jesus. They had learned from Him, and they came back and persevered.
Being loved by God comes without conditions and without reservations. Being “saved” by Christ’s atoning blood comes with a price–not just the price He paid on the cross, but the price of our repentance and acceptance of His Lordship, and yes, even the mysteries of His Grace.
As Jesus hung on the Cross, He was positioned between two convicts who were justly condemned. Both were sinners; both were paying the penalty for their crimes. One cried out to a dying Savior, and was saved. The other mocked and cursed. Jesus had the power to save him. He did not desire that the other man should suffer. But the other man chose to reject who Jesus was, and so rejected all the mercy and power He could have shown.
Jesus died to save “whosoever” would believe. He did not die to save “howsoever.” We may not fully understand why He chose to offer Salvation in this way, but we believe it to our everlasting joy, or reject it to our everlasting anguish.
I’ve been reading in the Psalms lately, and one that has really spoken to me this week has been Psalm 3
Psalm 3English Standard Version (ESV)
Save Me, O My God
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
3 O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; 2 many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah[a]
3 But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. 4 I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. 6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
7 Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
8 Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people! Selah
Psalm 3:2The meaning of the Hebrew word Selah, used frequently in the Psalms, is uncertain. It may be a musical or liturgical direction
Everyone has foes– no matter how hard we try to get along with everyone or do right by everyone. And if those foes are people who should be or used to be close to you, it hurts deeper and more profoundly. King David’s own son tried to take the throne and have him murdered. David, who had slain Goliath, feigned madness to escape from his own father-in-law’s murderous plots, and united a kingdom, still fled in terror from his arrogant and foolish son. Even when God rescued him from this foe, David wept and mourned for his rebellious son– to the point of discouraging the very men who had come to his aid!
But, as David did so well and so often, in the midst of his trouble, he turned first to the Lord who ruled his heart. I love the names he gives God in this Psalm—You (Thou), O Lord are a Shield about me, My Glory, and the Lifter of My Head (v. 3– emphasis mine).
David’s God is powerful, majestic, awesome– but He is not distant or unfeeling. Thou (used in the King James and other older English translations) is a term unfamiliar to many modern speakers of English, but it is the familiar form of the second person singular. Many other languages still use this form. It connotes an intimate relationship, such as a family member or beloved friend. David knew his God better than he knew his own son. He loved God whole-heartedly, devotedly, and without reservation.
Lord recognizes God’s position of authority and omnipotence. As close as David was to God, he never lost the awe and wonder of God’s holiness, His majesty, His power, and His wisdom. God raised David from shepherd boy to king. David wasn’t perfect in his obedience, but he was quick repent of his failures, and quick to give God the credit for his successes.
A Shield— God fights alongside David, protecting him, not patronizing him or removing him from the struggle. God doesn’t remove us from our battles; but neither does He leave us alone and unprotected, waiting on the sidelines for us to be slaughtered.* Yesterday, I felt clobbered by circumstances. I felt crushed and battered emotionally, and I wanted a couch, far from the noise of battle. But God knows that no one wins a battle from the couch; no one grows stronger, learns to persevere, builds character, or gains compassion from a couch. God didn’t take me out of the battle, but He was (and continues to be) a shield, protecting me from the real arrows of the enemy– despair, rage, isolation, arrogance, self-destruction–I still feel the force of the blows, and sometimes, I get wounded, but I’m still in the fight, and He’s there with me. *(One caveat– God is a shield to those who trust in Him. He does not promise that we won’t be hurt, won’t fail sometimes, or won’t face death because of our faith. However, He promises a comforter and counselor–the Holy Spirit. There are many who lead so-called “charmed” lives– lives untouched by trials or spiritual battles…Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is the same thing as being “shielded”– shields are meant for battle– charms are meant to bring luck)
My Glory— I get chills trying to wrap myself around that thought. That God, the almighty, the all-glorious light of a million galaxies worth of stars, would notice me– let alone that He would number the hairs on my head, provide for my needs, heed my call for help, and fight alongside me–would create me in His image, so that I am an exact reflection of even the teeniest part of His Glory…that He invites me to know Him in all His Glory after all my failures, and broken promises, and shortcomings, and bad moods, and thoughtless words and actions, my bad hair days and dandruff days and runny nose days, and other inglorious ugliness that I cannot hide… But the best of all, I think is the last…
The Lifter of My Head–What a picture of God’s compassion! Think of picking up a newborn baby; how carefully we lift up and support that tiny head– how longingly we cup and shield that fragile face. That’s our God! Imagine on the battlefield, a soldier, wounded, parched, having his head lifted gently by a comrade who comes to tend to his wounds and share a drink of water. Or the prodigal son, who cannot meet his father’s eyes, but finds his chin gently tilted to meet undeserved but merciful smile of his loving Dad. God lifts our head so that we can see beyond the battle; beyond the pain; beyond the grief, and gaze at the Glory only He can share.
If you don’t know this God–He is only a prayer away. If you feel distant from God– call out and ask Him to lift up your head. If you are struggling (as I have been lately), let this be a reminder to seek God by all His glorious names— He will reveal Himself to you for who He is as you call out to Him.