Praying with Confidence

What does it mean to pray with confidence?

Does it mean that we pray with the sure knowledge that God will give us whatever we ask for?

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22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.

Mark 11:22-24 (New Living Translation)
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This is a difficult concept– and one I don’t fully understand. But I do believe the following:

  • “Confidence” means: “A trusting, or reliance; an assurance of mind or firm belief in the integrity, stability or veracity of another, or in the truth and reality of a fact.” (from studylight.org) Our trust is not in the power or our own words or in our worth, but in the power of God’s will to act justly, righteously, and in His sovereignty. I cannot ask God to act against His will and have confidence that He will give me what I ask for. Even if I ask for a miracle– like moving the mountain into the sea–I must trust that God will do it because it is part of His plan; not because God must obey my whims.
  • The more I learn of God’s power and love– by seeking Him, following Him, and experiencing His Grace–the more I will ask in confidence and assurance.
  • The more I seek my own will and ignore God’s wisdom, the more I will ask in arrogance and/or doubt.
  • Confidence will change the tone of our prayers from beseeching to believing–instead of asking for an outcome we don’t really expect, we will ask expecting that God already knows the outcome that is best.
  • Confidence doesn’t need immediate results. That mountain may not be moved in an instant. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be picked up and thrown into the sea–perhaps in our lifetime; perhaps in a year; perhaps in a thousand years. We sometimes trust in God’s power and willingness, but we forget to trust His timing.
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We can pray in confidence. In fact, we must learn to pray with confidence! And we can be confident that it will happen!

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3-6 Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.

Philippians 1:3-6 (The Message)
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No Particular Place to Go..

Back in 1964, singer Chuck Berry released a song called “No Particular Place to Go.” It was a catchy tune about a couple driving along on a date and having trouble with a new feature in the car– the safety belt– which ends up ruining their plans for a romantic stroll.

This may seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with prayer or Christian living, but stick with me…

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The writer of Proverbs includes a unique chapter https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+9&version=NIV in which Wisdom and Folly–both women–call out to passersby inviting them to visit. Both say the same thing: “Let all who are simple come to my house.” But Wisdom has built her house, prepared the food and wine, and even sent out servants to help. Folly lounges outside her door, offering “stolen” water and “food eaten in secret–though she has done nothing to prepare for visitors, and so has nothing real to offer.

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Both women call out, both women extend an invitation–the people are not looking for them; they are just passing by. And most of them have “no particular place to go.” And isn’t that the way with us sometimes? We don’t intend to fall into foolish habits, or get caught up in addictions. Nor do we look for wisdom in our fellowship over a meal, or in spending time at someone’s house. We can be very intentional in our actions, but fall victim to our interactions.

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Spending time with people of wisdom– people who will pray with us and for us–is so important. Preparing our hearts for fellowship with others, and for time spent with God is not something we should leave for chance. Just as we take time to “map out” our goals for work or health or finances, we should take care to map out our relationships.

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That doesn’t mean we avoid reaching out to others, and inviting them to enjoy fellowship, or that we must turn down all invitations from others. But we must be careful not to be drawn into folly. Jesus ate with sinners– but He didn’t carouse with them. He spent most of His time with those who wanted to share His love for the Father, and those who wanted to learn wisdom.

Folly never has a “particular place to go.” She wanders aimlessly. She doesn’t see the danger ahead, and she doesn’t look for a better road. Folly drives off recklessly without fastening her safety belt. Folly scrolls through lies and ads and half-truths on the internet. She gets pulled into relationships that are unhealthy and activities that are unproductive. And she wakes up dazed and confused and unfulfilled.

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Wisdom walks in the way of insight– well-marked paths that lead to a clear destination. Wisdom seeks traveling companions who share the same destination. Wisdom pursues the truth, in person and on-line. Wisdom drives defensively and wears a safety belt (and knows how to operate it!) Wisdom seeks shelter that is safe, where she can be well-fed and find rest. She wakes up refreshed and ready to continue the journey.

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The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
 For through wisdom your days will be many,
    and years will be added to your life.
 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
    if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

Proverbs 9:10-12 (NIV)

And You Will Find Rest For Your Souls

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Sometimes, the commands of the Bible are counter-intuitive. In Matthew 11, Jesus tells those who are weary from their labors to come to Him. But He continues by telling them to take on a yoke and learn from Him, to find rest for their souls. This doesn’t seem like a restful offer. The image is of an ox or beast of burden being forced to wear a yoke and do more work. How could that be restful? Jesus finishes the image by saying that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. While that may seem better than a heavy yoke, it still implies work, NOT rest.

There is a lot to unpack in these few verses, but here are some thoughts about rest on this Labor Day:

  1. In order to take on Jesus’ yoke, we must be freed from the yoke we already bear– the very one that has left us weary and “heavy laden.” We can’t throw it off ourselves. We must come to Jesus. And we must understand that Jesus offers rest, not laziness, complacence or inactivity.
  2. Jesus refers to “my yoke” and calls for us to “learn from me”– indicating that whatever work we do, He is our partner and teacher. We are not being asked to work alone or under a weight we cannot bear. This is not an image of a single ox pulling heavy weights, but of a team, sharing the load in companionship.
  3. Jesus doesn’t offer us a permanent vacation from work, but “rest for your souls.” Rest from guilt, worry, grief, anger, loneliness, injustice, and more– when we come to Him and lay down our old burdens to take us His new yoke.
  4. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus isn’t calling us away from work; He IS calling us to meaningful and fruitful work– the kind that brings reward and fulfillment. We don’t need a heavy yoke and a hard taskmaster when we are eager and enthusiastic to see the results of our labors. But we DO need periods of rest. I hope that you enjoy a restful day, and a renewed enthusiasm for the work that lies ahead.
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 My dear brothers and sisters, remain strong in the faith. Don’t let anything move you. Always give yourselves completely to the work of the Lord. Because you belong to the Lord, you know that your work is not worthless.

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIRV)
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Enjoy times of rest and refreshment, knowing that they are a reward for your work. Enjoy times of work, knowing they are not in vain. For while our work here and now can be filled with struggles, stress, and frustration, we know that Jesus came to redeem every aspect of our fallen world– even the work!

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Thank you, Lord, for giving us rest. Rest for our bodies, and rest for our souls. May we find refreshment and renewed strength to stand firm, and to work with enthusiasm, knowing that You not only see what we do, but share in it.

The Ones Jesus Didn’t “Save”

“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)
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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?

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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)

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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.

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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.

Do Be Do Be Do…

I was reading the other day, and thinking about how often we read the Bible with preconceived notions. We sometimes think the Bible is a guide that tells us what to do or not to do. But a good portion of the Bible tells us, not what to do, but how to be. Even the Ten Commandments don’t tell us what to do— rather they tell us what we should NOT do.

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God has given each of us free will, and created us with distinct skills and personalities and sets of circumstances. We will not– indeed we cannot– all do the same things. God doesn’t expect it of us. And He does not expect us to earn our salvation by what we do. What He does expect is that we will do those things that bring us closer to Him and closer to the people we were meant to be. His power will take care of the rest.

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We have a tendency to get caught up in what we (and what others around us) are doing; we tend to judge and compare and criticize. Instead, we should concentrate on who and what we are becoming:

  • We want to learn–but do we want to be teachable?
  • We want to make money– but do we want to be generous?
  • We want to build a reputation– but do we want to be honest and reliable?
  • We want to have friends– do we want to be available?
  • We want a family–do we want to be intimately known and knowable?
  • We want freedom–do we want to be responsible?
  • We want justice– do we want to be just?
  • We want happiness–do we want to be content with what we have?
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Jesus didn’t give His disciples a long “to do” list. He didn’t give them detailed lists of things to do. He gave them “Beatitudes”– “Be” “Attitudes”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3-12
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Of course, much of who we are and who we become depends on what we do. And it is important to do what is right and honorable, just and compassionate. But it’s the “being” that is the goal, not merely the “doing.” God knows we cannot “do” what it takes to be perfectly righteous in our own power. But He will give us the guidance, the strength, and the encouragement to “become” more like Him as we live out the above attitudes.

Avoiding the Heat

We’ve been experiencing a heat wave. The temperatures are high, but the humidity makes it feel even hotter. People are doing whatever they can to avoid the heat– everything from driving around to stay in the air-conditioned car, wearing loose fitting clothes, wearing wide-brimmed hats for extra shade, drinking lots of cold water, or staying indoors with fans. Others have no alternative– they must walk in the heat, work in the heat, or try to find whatever shelter or shade is available, even if it offers only relief from the harshest rays of the sun.

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Today, we are getting rain– blessed relief– cool drops of water and lower temperatures, along with clouds to hide the sun’s piercing rays. Even so, the rain has come with wind and even some flooding and storm damage. So even our “relief” poses some danger. So there is limited relief from the heat, but once the rain front passes, the temperature may rise, and the humidity will once again make the air steamy and oppressive.

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Watching how people work and plan and worry about avoiding the heat of summer reminds me of how we work and plan and worry about avoiding another kind of “heat”– accountability and judgment. Hell is described as a “place of eternal torment”, a “lake of fire,” and a “blazing furnace.” People will do almost anything to avoid such a place. They try to pretend it doesn’t exist; they create “air-conditioned” philosophies and religions that block the reality of judgment and punishment; they worry and work and plot ways to escape their fate.

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Jesus clearly taught that Hell is real, and that it is a place of darkness, suffering, gnashing of teeth, and despair. Someday there will be a “heat wave,” as all those who have rejected God’s offer of forgiveness and His Sovereignty face His judgment and righteous wrath. There will be no rain to bring relief or refreshment; no shade or cooling breeze of grace– only the unbearable oppression of guilt, shame, and self-torment that comes from being outside of God’s loving care.

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There is a way to “avoid the heat” of God’s wrath– He offers complete restoration and eternal life for those who turn from sin and follow Him. Jesus, through His life, ministry, death, and resurrection, made it possible for us to live in God’s presence– His Light, His Glory, and His Love– in joyful eternity. We do not have to worry and work and plot how to “avoid the heat.” We need only put our trust in the one who sends the heat and wind and rain in their seasons, and whose Grace shades us from His wrath.

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Part of this trust is being able to call out to God in our times of “heat”– whether from guilt or oppression–and ask for His blessed relief. Sometimes, we need to call on His Grace and forgiveness. Sometimes, we need to call on His promises– not to remind Him, but to remind ourselves that our “heat” is temporary, and His relief is eternally effective. This week, our “relief” from the heat came in the form of rain storms. We might be tempted to complain about the manner of God’s response to our cries for help in the moment. But we must remember that the storms and the heat waves of this life are temporary– the fires of Hell, and the blessings of Heaven are eternal.

Childlike or Childish?

Last week was the week of our local County Fair. We missed having a Fair last year, so people were pretty excited to go. The exhibits, the rides, the animals, the events and attractions, the food, the games…there was a little something for everyone. I love watching the faces of the children– their wonder and excitement is contagious as they see the various farm animals, or ride the Merry-Go-Round, or discover the joys of Cotton Candy and Elephant Ears.

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I grew up with the County Fair– not just as a visitor, but as a participant. And I am encouraged to see a new generation showing animals, exhibiting craft projects, learning new skills, and having fun. Some of them will return as 4-H parents; some to work as judges or to volunteer at a booth for local churches, clubs or businesses ; some to visit from out of town with their own children and grandchildren. There is something about a County Fair that is simple and pure–something that can inspire childlike wonder, even in adults.

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Childlikeness is something we are called to by Christ. He loved children, and He told His disciples that if they wanted to be part of God’s Kingdom, they would have to become like little children (See Matthew 18:2-4). We are to pray to Our Father, having childlike faith in His good will and His promise to hear us. Childlike faith is not “blind” faith. Children are often frightened by the big animals or loud noises at the Fair. And they tend, (especially small children) to want to hold hands or stay close to those they know. But they also want to see and experience “everything”– because they trust that their parents and the Fair organizers will not put them in jeopardy. A childlike attitude and trust in God brings us the kind of joy and peace we see in children as they discover, rejoice, explore, and enjoy life– especially during Fair week.

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This is not to be confused with childishness. While Jesus encouraged His disciples to have childlike faith, He reminded them that the “children of Israel” had often behaved with childish disobedience and complaining. God is a loving Father. He wants children who follow Him out of love, and who trust Him completely. But He will also lovingly discipline those who have developed a childish rebellious streak. I didn’t see much childishness at this year’s fair, but when I did, it was not exhibited by children, but by those who consider themselves adults. Tantrums, selfish demands, complaining about the weather or the crowds or the noise… While the children at the fair were gracious “winners” and “losers” at the shows, patient and content (for the most part) as they waited for rides or food, some of the adults were grouchy, whine-y, and difficult to please. I’m sure I missed a couple of epic meltdowns by toddlers, and some tears from a few exhibitors, but most of the children were just thrilled to be able to go to the Fair again.

It is easy to recognize and call out childish behavior in others. Obnoxious, foolish, self-centered, unreasonable– those are just some of the adjectives such behavior warrants. A childlike attitude is also easy to recognize– eager, grateful, joyful, hopeful, teachable, honest and open, loving and caring. Oddly, I know several adults who sneer at childlike behavior, even as they exhibit childish behaviors. They brag about their very “adult” approach– cynical, “realistic,” confident, “tough,” clever, independent, and self-sufficient. But they are stressed, angry, bored, distrustful, lonely, and sad. Our loving Father wants so much better for us! Being with childish people is tiring and depressing; being around childlike people is refreshing, joyful, and encouraging!

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I’ve been thinking this week about my own attitude. The County Fair is finished for this year, but each day comes with wonders and struggles, competitions, waiting in lines, and dealing with crowds. Do I face them with an attitude that is childlike or childish? Do I trust God to be with me when I go through new experiences, even if they are a bit daunting? Or do I complain and demand my own way, expecting to “win” every game or competition, dragging myself and others through stress and tears? Father, help me to see Your world through childlike eyes of wonder and gratitude. Help me to see others with the love and joy You alone can inspire.

Armchair Olympians

24 Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. 25 Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown. 26 So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 CSB

I must confess, I haven’t been watching much of the Olympic games currently taking place in Tokyo. Over the years, I’ve spent hours glued to the television, watching the competitions, gobbling up the emotional stories of various athletes and their struggles to qualify and chase their dreams. In fact, I used to get so involved in watching the Olympics, that I would fall behind in my housework, social obligations, and sleep! It can be very inspiring to watch as various athletes from around the world challenge themselves (and their competitors) to go faster, reach farther, and climb higher. And many of the stories and names have stayed with me over the years.

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There is nothing wrong with watching sports, and cheering on those who have worked so hard. And I love the pageantry and good will of the Olympic games, where I find myself cheering for athletes and sports I would never know otherwise–those who have overcome tragedy and incredible obstacles just to participate; those whose achievements have set new standards and inspired others to greater heights. But as Christians, we should consider our OWN level of achievement. Not in a competitive sense, and not in the sense of “earning” God’s salvation or approval, but in the sense of growth and development of self-discipline.

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We admire athletes, not only for their natural abilities, but for their discipline and spirit. They train for years, undergoing rigorous drills, keeping tight schedules, pushing their bodies– often to the point of injury–to get a little more speed or distance or strength. They prepare for the stress of competition and the pressure of expectation. They learn to leave behind the failures and the victories of yesterday as they get ready for tomorrow. We watch them, and we talk about being inspired. But inspired to do what? I have never developed the level of self-discipline to rise every day at 6 a.m. to run or stretch, let alone train for a race or a swimming meet. I briefly flirted with becoming a gymnast after watching Nadia Comaneci score a perfect 10.0 in the Montreal Olympics of 1976, but I quit after only one weekend!

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The Apostle Paul calls us to follow his example and “run the race” as we live for Christ–we are to develop our character and practice spiritual discipline in the same way that an athlete develops her body and practices physical and mental discipline. And our motivation is not a gold medal or a world record that will eventually be broken, but eternal victory over Sin and Death!

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I’m ashamed to say that I have not always followed this example. I’ve been an “armchair Olympian”– content to watch others do the hard work, and enjoy the vicarious feeling of victory when they cross the finish line. I cheer for those Christians who are called to foreign missions–I’ve even traveled on “short term” mission trips– but I don’t always see my everyday life as a “mission.” But that’s exactly what it is. Jesus didn’t watch the disciples heal the sick or preach about the Kingdom of God as He sat on the sidelines. And He certainly didn’t spend time analyzing and dissecting the “performances” of the prophets and patriarchs of old. He didn’t even tell the disciples to analyze His miracles or study His sermons. He simply said, “Follow Me!” “Walk with Me.” Christianity is not passively cultivating a feeling of victory in Jesus. It is living victoriously THROUGH Jesus.

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Our character won’t be changed by sitting on the couch or in an armchair, watching others do the hard training and running their race. Cheering from the sidelines isn’t going to increase our patience, or develop our faith, or make us more Christlike. Listening to Christian Radio or watching sermons on television won’t automatically translate into a life of integrity and peace. Even reading the Bible, or keeping a prayer journal, or writing a blog about spiritual things won’t teach us humility, gentleness, or love for others. We need to make the effort. And we need to seek the wisdom and discipline of the Holy Spirit– our “coach”– as we follow the example of Christ. It starts with small decisions– daily habits–and learning to be consistent. It also takes a willingness to repent and get back on track when we fail. And we will fail in our own efforts!

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We can admire earthly athletes. But we shouldn’t worship them. And we shouldn’t let them become idols that substitute for the kind of work WE need to be doing to learn discipline and faithfulness. I want to reach the finish line, knowing that I’ve run my best race for the King!

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Lord, Lord!

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Matthew 7:21-23
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In just the past three weeks, three of my family members and one of my friends have made the decision to be baptized as a public declaration of their decision to live for Christ. All of them (and the others who were baptized at the same times) were baptized by immersion, signifying that they have, spiritually, died to self, been buried, and are raised with Christ to eternal life. This is not a step to be taken lightly, and I have confidence that all four (and more) of those I know are serious in their passion to follow the Lord.

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When I write about prayer as a pursuit, I hope to convey that prayer is part of a larger pursuit of seeking God. And seeking God must include acknowledging Him as Lord above all– especially self. Jesus warned about people who claim to follow Him in word, but do not obey Him. It is, unfortunately, very easy to “speak Christian-ese”: to sound righteous and reverent when we are around others who claim to believe, but justify behaviors that may or may not stem from selfish motives.

There are obvious examples of hypocrisy in our world, but in His famous “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus warns that many who seem to be doing good deeds, and “talking the talk” will not be part of God’s eternal kingdom. We are not to be seduced into thinking that God will be impressed by charitable giving, memorizing Scripture, or working on the Mission field if we are not willing to repent of our “secret” sins and false attitudes. And it is not for us to point fingers at “other” hypocrites– it is for us to humbly assess whether or not we are truly acting in obedience and submission to our Lord, or satisfying our own selfish desires and hoping for God’s stamp of approval.

Prayer should be a two-way communication. We pray to God, but we also listen for God’s guidance, wisdom, conviction, and encouragement. And we must act in obedience, and confess our disobedience if we want to “keep the slate clean” and keep a close relationship. When we refuse, we are just giving God lip service, and using His name to impress others and deceive ourselves. Others may judge us on appearances, but God sees what is in our heart. And “in that day” (v. 22), He will not let imposters through the gates of Heaven.

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The Good News is that Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging in verse 23. He goes on to say, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock..” (Matthew 7:24) Jesus is our Lord, but also our Savior and our Advocate. When we call on Him AS our true Lord, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9), and His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3a)

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The act of Baptism alone does not have the power to save us. The practice of prayer alone has no saving power. But the pursuit of a relationship with Christ depends on such acts of obedience, humility, and trust. And the other good deeds that come from that relationship will not only help others, but will please God and strengthen that relationship. Instead of hearing, “I never knew you,” we can hear, “well done!” Not because of what we’ve done, but because of the partnership we’ve developed in God’s work.

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May God bless all those who have recently taken the step of Baptism. And may we all continue to pursue that relationship of dying to self, being buried with Him, and rising to new life in Christ!

Shibboleth

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matthew 7:15 KJV)
Behold, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves; be wary and wise as serpents, and be innocent (harmless, guileless, and without falsity) as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:1-6 NKJV)

(All Bible references, including emphases, via biblegateway.com)

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Hucksters, charlatans, con-artists, false prophets– we’ve all seen or heard them. Some are easy to spot; while others seem sincere. They “talk the talk”–they “Praise the Lord,” they pray, they quote scripture. How can we tell if they are “wolves in sheep’s clothing?”

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In the Old Testament book of Judges, two tribal groups had a battle. Afterwards, the victors set up a “test” for soldiers trying to cross the Jordan River. The Ephraimites spoke a dialect that did not contain the “sh” sound. When asked to say the word, Shibboleth, they could not pronounce it correctly, and so were unable to hide their identity as enemy soldiers, even though they looked just like the others waiting to cross.

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There is an old Irish prayer that says, “May those who love us, love us; and those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping.” God doesn’t always “turn their ankles,” but He will give us the wisdom to discern false prophets– If we ask and listen. Even those who “talk the talk” will speak with a worldly “accent” that gives them away. They will fail the test of “Shibboleth.” Their talk will be filled with spiritual-sounding words and phrases, but it will deflect honor away from the only One truly worthy of our worship. Their teaching is described in 2 Timothy as “having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Timothy 3:5 NIV) Beware of teaching that proclaims the power of the Human Spirit over that of God’s Spirit; or speaks of God’s power being demonstrated only in terms of worldly success. They may not “limp,” but they will “lisp.”

When the Gileadites used the “Shibboleth” test, they were looking for a specific mistake in pronunciation to identify their enemies. When we are testing Christian teachers, we should also look for specific “mis-pronouncements.” And just as important, we should look for words that don’t match actions and attitudes. For example, anyone who wants to call themselves a Christian or Christ-follower, but won’t proclaim Jesus Christ– His ministry, life, death, and resurrection– should be suspect. Many people want to proclaim a Jesus who will appeal to the masses– a Jesus who will be your pal, your guru, your cheerleader, or your “life coach,” but NOT your Lord. Others will present Him as a Savior who is distant, whose love is conditional on abject obedience and blind trust. Neither of these are accurate pictures of the biblical Jesus Christ. We must also beware the teachers who present a Jesus whose lifestyle is nothing like the one they practice. None of us is perfect, but we should be living a life that testifies to God’s faithfulness, not our own popularity or power or purse.

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The best way to learn to detect imposters and false teachers is to spend time each day with “the real thing.” When I spend time reading scripture each day, it become easier for me to detect a “lisp” when someone misquotes it or takes it out of context. When I spend time asking God to reveal more of his character, I will learn to spot His character (or absence!) in those around me.

Father, may I have ears to discern Your voice and Your power today. May I be wise as I listen to those who speak of You. And may I not say, do, or write anything that doesn’t reflect Your Truth and Your Glory. Thank You for Your wise counsel, Your examples throughout Scripture and in those who desire to follow You faithfully, and for Your Spirit, who reveals Truth.

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