Strength in God

Psalm 25:1-2a: To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.

This psalm begins with David crying out to God by acknowledging God’s greatness and his absolute trust and faith in the creator of this universe. In this 25th Psalm, David prays for God to show His mercy, His faithfulness, His love, and His grace. David was in the midst of suffering because of sins that he had committed and the resulting attacks on his character by his enemies.

I lift up my own soul to God today, because I know that I need God in order to make it through this day. My trust is not in the rulers or the things of this world, but rather in God and God alone. So today, I lift up my soul to God.

Psalm 25:4-6: Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

I also cry out to God today, asking Him to guide me down the paths that will teach me God’s truth and His ways. The world that we live in wants and desperately tries to lead us down many wrong paths. The paths are wide and they look like attractive options. We are mislead and we think that we can take shortcuts and things will work out just fine in the end.

David asks for God to show him the path and the true way. He knows that these detours will only lead to deception and destruction. David desires to know God’s ways and he knows that God’s path is the right path to take. It’s often a difficult path to choose, but it is the only path that leads to salvation and eternal life.

Psalm 25:8-10: Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.

David is praying a prayer of pardon, he readily acknowledges his sins before God. David has confidence, as should we, in God’s loving and upright ways. If we will only acknowledge our sins, God will forgive and will teach us a better way to live our lives, in obedience and faithfulness to God. God is faithful and loving to those who keep his commandments.

Psalm 25: 20-21: Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.

We can never be as good and upright as God is but we can pray for God to guide us to become people of integrity and moral uprightness. This world that we live in is fallen and it is corrupt. It seems that society today has very low morals and many people are living a life that relies more upon self instead of God. Many today are focused on seeking fame and fortune, instead of God. The things of this world are temporary, they will not last. God is eternal and His word will stand forever.

Today I seek God and I seek His mighty and powerful strength. I realize that I cannot do life on my own, I need God on a daily basis to guide me down the right paths and to teach me His ways of truth. Continue to remain focused on God and not the things of this world.

Psalm 27: 1: The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?

 

What do you want?

Matthew 20: 29-34: As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

I have read this story about Jesus restoring the sight of these two blind men many times without realizing a key point in the text. Jesus asks them what it is they want.

Jesus is leaving Jericho and as usual a large crowd was following him. The presence of blind or crippled beggars were a common sight outside the gates of a city. As Jesus gets closer to them they begin to shout even louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Matthew tells us that the crowd rebukes them and tells them to be quiet. And what did the two blind beggars do? They began to shout even louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

Now they have the attention of Jesus. The Lord stops and what does he do? He asks them a question. Why did Jesus, who obviously knew that these men were blind, ask them what they wanted him to do for them? They are blind, Jesus! They want to see! So why did Jesus ask them a question instead of just going ahead and healing them?

Jesus wanted to make sure that these two men knew what they wanted. God obviously knows our requests before we even ask them. But I believe that God also wants us to verbalize what it is that we are asking for. Jesus knew what these men needed but he wanted them to ask so that they could receive. Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

If God answered all of our prayers immediately, it would simply make God our own personal prayer genie. He would exist only to answer our prayers, whatever they may be. It is through persistent prayer that we learn to trust in God and strengthen our faith. When prayers are answered, after years of praying, it is nothing short of a miracle from God. It becomes clear and certain that God answered our prayer.

There is a prayer that I have been praying for over five years now and it has yet to be answered. So I ask myself, what do I want? Do I believe that my will is God’s will and this prayer will eventually be answered? Or, do I give up and quit praying, thinking that God just isn’t going to answer this prayer?  Personally, I refuse to give up, because the next time that I pray this prayer just might be the time that God has chosen to answer this certain prayer of mine.

The Apostle Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Paul reminds us to pray continually or persistently, for this is God’s will for each of us in Christ Jesus. So I will continue to persistently pray this prayer, which is also, I believe, God’s will for me in Christ Jesus. The answer to my prayer might come next week, after 7 years, or even 10 years. It is also possible that God may answer my prayer in a completely different way.

When God does answer my prayer, I will know without a doubt, that the answer to my prayer was nothing short of a miracle. So I will continue to prayer persistently and give thanks to God in all circumstances as God continues to strengthen my faith.

 

Listening for God’s Voice

Psalm 40:11: Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me.

Psalm 56:4: In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

Psalm 86:11: Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

Isaiah 12:2: Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.

Matthew 14:27: But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Hebrews 13:6: So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

This world that we live in is filled with lots of background noise. There are many voices that compete for our attention. It’s very easy to get tuned in to the message that this world wants us to hear.  The “prince of this world” is Satan and he will do everything in his power to get us to turn our attention away from God and get lost in the desires of this world. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

In our scripture readings today, we are given promises that God is present with us and he can deliver us from the desires of this world and from the “god of this age.” We are called to have the faith that calls us to step out of the boat, take the hand of Jesus and take a leap of faith. We are called to have a faith that can take down the “giants” in our lives. Turn to God through His word and through daily prayer. And you will find the faith and courage to take on the “giants” that are present in your life. God is much bigger and more powerful than any of the “giants” that you may be facing. Remember the words of Jesus from Matthew 14:27: “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”

Casting Crowns recorded a song that delivers this message in a powerful way. I encourage you to take a few minutes and listen to the words of their song, “Voice of Truth.” I believe that it will renew your faith and also give you a bolder faith, a kind of faith that can move mountains.

 

God is Enough

Psalm 73:25-26: Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73 is a psalm that I would encourage you to read in its entirety. It is the psalm of Asaph, a worship leader. Asaph is going through a testing of his faith. He has let his sights become focused on the wicked and their prosperity. He looks outward at their lives and cannot understand why they do not seem to have any struggles. He observes that they are carefree yet their wealth increases. Asaph goes on to say that the wicked are “free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills” (Ps. 73:5). Asaph is wrestling with the question that we all ask at times: Why does the wicked seem to prosper?

In the first twelve verses of this psalm, Asaph is caught up in his own jealousy towards the wicked who seem to prosper greatly. He looks outward and doesn’t like what he sees. Then in verses 13-15, he begins to look inward at himself. Asaph writes that although he has kept his heart pure and has led an innocent life, it has all been in vain. He writes: “All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning” (Ps. 73:14).

Then finally, in verses 16-28, Asaph begins to look upward and he gains the right perspective. Asaph says that he could not begin to understand this age old question until he entered the “sanctuary of God.” It was in the temple that his faith was renewed and he once again was able to understand God’s ways. He begins to realize that those who are unrighteous and lead a seemingly carefree life, will have judgment come upon them quickly. God has placed them on slippery ground and in God’s time, the wicked will have to answer for their wrongdoings.

Asaph also remembered something that was very crucial to his faith. He was able to see that the righteous will be rewarded with a future in glory. In heaven, we will be near to God, and will live with Him for an eternity. Asaph slowly began to realize that he must not focus or worry about why it is that the wicked seem to prosper.  His acknowledges that his focus must be on God and His promise to those who try to do what’s right.

In one of my favorite verses of scripture, Asaph says: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25). God is enough, God is my portion, I am content with God. God guides us and he watches over us and one day he will take us home and reward us with a future in glory. For now, God is our “refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).

God is enough, God is all that I need! Amen!

 

 

Running From God

Jonah 1: 1-3: The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Jonah 3: 1-3a: Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.

Jonah 4: 1-4: But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  But the Lord replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”

In chapter one of the book of Jonah, God tells Jonah to “go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” God speaks the first word in this story and he is calling on Jonah to travel over 500 miles from his home to preach repentance to the Ninevites. The people of Nineveh were apparently engaging in plotting evil against the Lord, cruelty and plundering in war, prostitution and witchcraft.[1] This would have been a difficult assignment for an experienced missionary. But that’s how God works, He uses those of us that are weak so that His glory will be demonstrated.

Jonah however, runs away from the Lord. He gets on a ship headed in the opposite direction and makes plans to run away from God’s calling on his life. Jonah must have thought if he could run far away, that God would not pursue him. As we read the rest of the story, we know that was not the case. You can run, but God can and will pursue.

Psalm 139: 7-12 speaks to God’s presence in our lives and in this world:

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

 

You know the next part of this story; God sends a raging storm, Jonah is thrown overboard and is swallowed by a giant fish. Jonah prays to God (out of distress) in chapter 2 and when Jonah repents of his sin, God commands the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land. Jonah then receives a second calling from God to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. This time Jonah goes and the people respond to the Word of God and they repent. God acknowledges their repentance and decides not to destroy them.

Now this seems like a good place for this story to end, doesn’t it? Jonah has obeyed God and about 120,000 citizens of Nineveh (Jonah 4:11), have repented and changed their lifestyle. Jonah could have grown overconfident after such a powerful alter call and taken all of the credit for himself. Instead, we find that Jonah is greatly displeased and he actually becomes angry. Yes, angry! Jonah tells God that he was afraid something like this would happen if he went on this mission trip. Jonah didn’t want God to show His compassion, grace, and love to the people of Nineveh, he wanted them to suffer. Instead of God being in control, Jonah wanted to be in control.

That’s what is so great about God, we can run but He will still pursue us. We think that we can hide from God, but we can’t. And the neat thing is that, even after we have tried to run away from God and take control of our own life, God can and still wants to use us to do His kingdom work. There is hope for all of us in that God can use each of us despite our weaknesses and imperfections.

Jonah was angry, he was angry that God would choose to be compassionate, gracious and loving to people that Jonah himself despised. God had shown that same kind of mercy and compassion to Jonah, but Jonah was not willing to be so kind to the Ninevites. I am thankful that I serve a God who is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

Help each of us God, to not be angry or vengeful, and to be willing to go where you send us.

 

 

 



[1] Zondervan NIV Study Bible, p. 1390

Answered Prayer

Psalm 32:8: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.

Proverbs 3: 5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Isaiah 48:17: This is what the LORD says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.

Isaiah 58:11: And the LORD will guide you always.

 

As I near the end of this busy day off, I wanted to take the time to put into words what God has done in my life today. I began the day by taking a few minutes to write some thoughts in my prayer journal. This is a very new idea for me – to actually keep track of the things that I am praying about. This came about through a class on prayer and spiritual development that I am taking this semester. I truly believe that the prayer journal is helping me to understand how God is working out the details of His story into different areas of my life.

I would normally be very reluctant to publish what I write in my prayer journal, but I believe that this one time will be an exception. This is what I wrote this morning before 7am: “God I am praying for wisdom to discern your Word. I am also praying for confirmation about what you are calling me to do. Should I give more attention to my devotional blog? Do you have a place for me to preach? Please God, just give me some confirmation today about your will for my life. What do you want me to do?”

This afternoon, shortly after 4pm, I went into an old email account that I don’t use on a regular basis. I noticed an email from a name that sounded familiar. When I opened the email, I realized that it was from a member of a small church outside of town, where I preached five or six times back in 2007 and 2008. The church member wrote that their pastor had resigned and she was looking to fill the pulpit for the month of November. She wanted to know if I would be interested in preaching any during November.

WOW! I believe that God gave me a direct answer to my prayer from this morning. I had begun the morning – doubting – the plans that God had for me. However, by the end of the day, God had made it clear to me that He is still calling me; it’s just on his own timetable, not mine. I don’t want this to sound like all of my prayers are answered, because many of them are not. And the prayers that are usually not answered are those where I want God to do my will instead of His will. Isaiah reminds us what God has to say about that: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”

On many other occasions, I have prayed to God about a specific church or ministry that I wanted to be involved in. God said “no” to all of those prayers. Today I just asked God to give me one opportunity to preach somewhere, anywhere, as confirmation that He still had plans for me. And God answered my prayer. I believe that God answered this prayer because my will was now connected to, or in line, with His will.

I am going to finish out my day with one of the most beautiful praise songs ever. The song is called, Ten Thousand Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman and I can’t get this song out of my head!

God’s Blessings to each of you!

The Storms of Life

Mark 4:35-41: Jesus Calms the Storm

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

It’s no secret that the disciples struggled with their faith in Jesus as the Son of God. They believed, but the world that they lived in sent many storms their way that caused their faith to waver from time to time. Jesus, through miracles like this calming of the storm, sought to increase the disciples faith in Jesus, as the divine Son of God. The disciples, like many of us, struggled in their faith and they seemed to allow the many storms of life to influence their faith.

Almost every day, I meet someone who allows the various storms of life, to carry them further away from the arms of a loving and caring God. We let this  world that we live in, influence us and we sometimes lose sight of the peace and refuge that God so freely offers.  I am not suggesting that we won’t face troubles and trials in our lives, because we will. As a Christian however, we have direct access to God, our creator, redeemer, and sustainer to help us through many challenging times. We were created to seek God instead of the things of this world.

There are many of you today who are going through some type of storm in your life. That storm may be brewing in your place of work. I recently read, that more and more people are giving up vacation days, because they fear that time off could cost them their job. What is the ultimate cost of spending more time at work? Is there less time for family, fewer quiet moments with God?

Finding work is another storm that many people are trying to navigate. I am aware of people that have not worked in over a year. They are struggling to find a way to support their family and keep their home and their dignity. Like the disciples, their faith tends to waver as the storms of life threaten to overwhelm them. They drift farther away from the arms of a loving and caring God.

I know people that are facing storms in their family life. Relationships are crumbling and there is increased hostility between family members. Bills are piling up and this tends to cause stress and anger levels to intensify also. Family life, which should be a dwelling of safe haven and encouragement, becomes a place of anger and distrust. Where is God in the life of the family? Have you allowed the storms of life to push God further and further away from your family?

The disciples saw Jesus up close and yet their faith needed to be increased. They saw Jesus perform many miracles and healings but their faith needed to be strengthened. They were first hand witnesses to Jesus calming this furious storm and yet they were still afraid and they questioned just who Jesus was. It seemed that their faith needed to be strengthened over and over again.

Christ was there with the disciples in the midst of this storm that came up suddenly on the Sea of Galilee. Christ is also present with us as we navigate the many storms of life that come our way. As believers, we are taught to remember that Christ is available for us today, to guide us through the dark moments of life into a place of safety and rest. Remember to call upon the name of Jesus when the storms of life threaten to overwhelm you. The Son of God is available and is waiting for us to call upon him so that He can guide us from the darkness into the light.

Jesus speaks to us today as he did to his disciples over two thousand years ago: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”