Saturday, February 28, 2015

Out of Our Depth

"O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."  (Jeremiah 10:23)

We like to say things like, "No one else knows what is best for me," or, "I have to do my own thing in my own way." This may sound brave and bold, and may be true to the extent that allowing others to standardize our lives in their own mold is both insipid and cowardly; but this verse says you and I are not the best candidates to map out our own lives either. As Jeremiah puts it, we just don't have it in us. Oh, we can pencil in some long-range plans for the future; but the real planning should be handled by an Expert.

In the first place, we're all wired with certain prejudices and pre-conceived ideas that may or may not be helpful. Then, we have only the capability of seeing what is before our eyes, while God has the benefit of a true birds-eye view. "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye" (Psalm 32:8). What fools we would be not to take advantage of the all-seeing, all-knowing God, who knows not only the end from the beginning, but, even more importantly, the end and beginning of us.

Not only that, when you and I feel the sole responsibility for our welfare and decisions rests with us, we’re tempted to use any means available—biblical or otherwise—to chart a course that gets us where we think we need to be. King Saul, who lost his kingdom because he tried to bring about the will of God in the wrong way, is a prime example of such an individual (1 Sam. 15). Any professing Christian who tries to set the course of his or her life without the expertise of the Only One able to see around the next bend, is always working under the handicap of shortsightedness, at best, and risking the blessing of God, at worst.

David says in Psalm 37:23, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD…" I am fully aware that God's purpose for our lives will ultimately be fulfilled; but I do believe we can make it unnecessarily circuitous and bumbling. Case in point: the children of Israel in the wilderness. And Paul had the promise of God that his heart’s desire to preach in Rome would be fulfilled (Acts 19:21; 23:11); but I’m not sure God meant for him to arrive there in chains.

It's good (important, in fact) to set goals in life, but we will only be sure we have reached our potential, spiritually speaking, when those goals are ones that God has set for us. Listen to the apostle James' thoughts on our so-called Day Planners: "Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain...For that we ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that" (James 4:13,15). We not only need God to set our goals but to guide our paths. He’s not only interested in where we’re going, but also the steps we take to get there. Life is too important to entrust the planning to rank amateurs like you and me. We're simply out of our depths.

O, I dare not walk alone; I would stumble on my own,
O, my Lord, lead me on through the night.
Hold my hand; don’t let me stray,
Mark the path and show the way,
To my home in that City of Light.

         Show me the way, the way home;
         Show me the way lest I roam.
         Savior, won’t you walk before me,
         For the night is dark and stormy;
         Show me the way, the way home.
                                                               John W. Peterson

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Root of Doubt

“And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” (Luke 7:23)

Doubt comes as shadowy, illusive thoughts fluttering around in our minds that escape when we let our self-righteous guard down. When that happens, we are suddenly shocked, especially when Satan whispers, “Is that the way a Christian thinks?” But to doubt is human, even among so-called great humans. After all, if the man Jesus referred to as having no equal when it came to greatness, was a doubter (v. 28), why should you or I be surprised to find doubt alive and well in our own lives of faith? This is not to say that it should be allowed to thrive and flourish, however, and finding its root would seem to be a good place to start.

You would have thought that Jesus’ failure to work any miracles would have given John the Baptist reason to doubt His credentials; but, on the contrary, it was after he heard of His successes that John sent his disciples to Jesus with the question, “Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” (v. 19). The pivotal words in this story to me, however, is this seemingly irrelevant beatitude spoken by Jesus: “[B]lessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” The root of his problem, He seems to be saying, is that John was offended. While Jesus was working miracles for others, John was languishing in prison. While their pleas for deliverance were being answered, his were seemingly being ignored.

And John’s problem is our problem. God’s omniscient power is never more real to us than when it is working on our behalf and especially in response to our requests. And, by contrast, His power—and yes, His love—are never less obvious to us than when we seem to be falling behind others in answered prayers. The fact that whole ministries are built on testimonies of great answers to prayer, only serves to feed this distorted view of God’s love.

The idea that answered prayer is an indication of acceptance by God, and vice versa, is laid to rest, however, when we remember Jesus in Gethsemane. His cry of “Why hast thou forsaken” was not directed to a Father who did not love Him. You may argue that in that case, the will of God was the overriding factor. And I will counter by asking if that should not be the overriding factor in our case, too.

It is possible to doubt not only the love of God, but His reliability, as well. And if we do, it will not be because He is untrue, but because we think He has been unfair. Doubt is more individual than intellectual. At least, that is what I take away from this story of John the Baptist—and my own experience. This beatitude of Jesus should be taken as seriously as His others. I never want to take offense with God for His dealing in my life and doubt His love for me. I want to be one of the blessed ones.

Faith is not belief without proof but trust without reservations. – Alister McGrath

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The House David Loved

“Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.” Psalm 26:8

         If anyone could worship God in nature, it was King David, who spent so much time there as a young shepherd boy, and who has passed down to us, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the glory of God’s creation. One has only to read his Psalms, and especially the first six verses of the nineteenth, to know his appreciation for the God of creation. Yet for this lover of nature, this was not enough. It was enough to see and appreciate God’s handiwork, but not enough to truly know and worship Him. For this, David went to the house of God. It was home (“habitation”) to him; and he loved it. Why?

         “For one thing,” says David, “That’s where I grow, spiritually.” “I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever” (Psl. 52:8). “Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.” (Psl. 92:13). And after nearly sixty-three years of Christian life, I have to agree with him. I was led to a saving knowledge of Christ as a child, in a Sunday School classroom; nurtured in biblical truth weekly under a godly, Bible-believing pastor; and I caught my first glimpse of the man of God I would one day marry, in a revival meeting. In the intervening years, a great part of my growth in grace has come through the ministry of a Spirit-anointed preacher of the Gospel, behind a pulpit. Perhaps that’s why I can identify with verse fourteen of Psalm ninety-two: “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.” You think?

         Something else, David experienced sweet fellowship with fellow believers, in the house of God. Yes, one of them betrayed him, but he still says of such times, “We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company” (Psl. 55:14). Whatever hurt he experienced from one relationship was not enough to make him forsake the house of God. The camaraderie between the saints of God goes way beyond shared interests to shared Blood (1 John 1:7). I like to say, “We’re ‘Blood kin!’” The encouragement, sympathy, admonition, and validation we get from our brothers and sisters in Christ cannot be found standing alone under a starry sky, gazing into the heavens. And, like David, we need it.

         I have by no means exhausted David’s thoughts on this subject, nor my own, but I think I’ve let you know where my heart lies. I’m like David; I’d rather be a greeter at our church than a hostess at a five-star restaurant (Psl. 84:10)! I love my church home. It’s an hour away; and when I’m unable to attend, I sometimes slip into one close by…just to hear the Word proclaimed and to be with God’s people…my people. It’s a picture of the Church in Glory, and one day soon, I’ll “move my membership” there. You see, I love the house of the Lord…wherever it is.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Psl. 23:6

Note: The picture above is the church in which I was saved. It was taken the year it was built, 1949

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Three Guidelines in Prayer

“When ye pray…” Luke 11:2

         I have come to the conclusion, we read about prayer much more than we pray. I say this, acknowledging that I myself am reading yet another book on prayer. You see, I’m not saying we should read fewer books on prayer; I’m saying we should be praying more. (Let it never be said, I only talk about other people’s shortcomings.) There are some blessed, potentially life-changing books written on the subject, and I’m thankful for every one that I’ve read, and the ones I have yet to read. Believing our Christian life will never rise any higher than our prayer life, if I may, I’d like to offer three simple, biblical adjectives for prayer I think might help us.

Constant Prayer
“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thess. 5:17

         This command may sound overwhelming if you only see prayer as a head-bowed, hand-folded, closet activity. I venture to say we all utilize one or all of these from time to time; but this verse (and others like it) make it clear, the line of communication between us and God, through His Son, should always be open and active. This is the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:1; 2 Cor. 13:14). It is God-consciousness and conversation that may never reach the lips but will transcend all human communication, and it is the most natural vestibule to worship.

Instant Prayer
“…instant in prayer.” Rom. 12:12

         I see this as different from praying without ceasing. It’s not praying every instant, but making prayer your instant response to the calamities of life. When there is a need, when there is sin, or sudden fear, our first thought should be to go to God in prayer for help, forgiveness, and peace. So often, our first source of comfort is a friend or loved one; our first response to sin in our own life or others is to try to track its source in order to “understand” it; and our first “cure” for restlessness or anxiety is a change of surroundings or people. Instead, all the irritations and adversities of life should make us spring immediately into prayer. Only there will we know what, if anything, should be our next move. a
Fervent Prayer
“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:16

         Fervency denotes passionate intensity. In fact, the original meaning was “boiling.” Honesty and sincerity should characterize all prayer; otherwise you’re wasting your time and God’s. But some prayer can and must go beyond this to red-hot fervency in order to be “effectual.” It must be Spirit-wrought and Spirit defined. For some, it may be praying all night or more; for others, it may involve fasting or some other deprivation. Still others may be like Hannah, whose prayer was so passionate and intense that it was misunderstood (1 Sam. 1). The thing is, it’s between you and God, and if no one else cares, He is conscious of your agony and the travail of your tears.

         Constant in prayer, instant in prayer, and fervent in prayer; I long for all three of these to characterize my life of prayer. If you’re like me, you’re lacking in one or more of them. Prayer should be as natural to a child of God as breathing. It’s simple…until you try to define it. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be explained to be experienced. Just do it.