Archive for August, 2010

August 31, 2010

How do you pray in the pit?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 3, Psalm 39-40

The Pit

Sometimes things seem like they just can’t get any worse.

Although we don’t know what situation led David to write Psalm 40, we know that he is in a “slimy pit.”  He is desperate and helpless, sinking deeper and deeper every time he tries to climb out.

David’s pit reminds me of George Bailey’s Christmas Eve in It’s a Wonderful Life.  At twelve, George lost hearing in one ear when he fell through a frozen pond to rescue his brother.  Years later, when his father unexpectedly died, he put his travel plans on hold to manage his family’s company and gave his college savings to his brother.  When the town slumlord threatened to close down his company after it lost money in a bank run, George and his wife used their honeymoon funds to satisfy the outstanding debts.  Then, when George’s uncle was about to deposit a large sum into the company account, the slumlord inadvertently stole it and then arrogantly refused to make a corporate loan to George.

The Cry

Not only did George and David experience similar pits, they also expressed similar cries.  In desperation, George prayed, “Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, O God.”

Yet, this is where their similarities end.  Within five minutes, when George faced another adversity, he immediately doubted God: “That’s what I get for praying.”  Unlike George, David was a praying man.  He cried to the Lord and then intently and patiently waited on Him: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry” [1].

The Rescue

Even though the Lord seemed distant when David was in the pit, He was near.  Thus, at the proper time, the Lord rescued Him: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” [2].

When you’re crying for help in the pit, how do you wait on God – like George or David?  What does your response evidence about your faith – that you doubt His care for you or that you trust that He will rescue you?

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[1] Psalm 40:1 TNIV  |  [2]  Psalm 40:2-3 TNIV

August 30, 2010

How do feel when God is calling you – peaceful or fearful?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 2, Psalm 38

Calling

Although God called Jeremiah to remain with the remnant in Judah, He also called Ezekiel to go with the exiles to Babylon.  He spoke to Ezekiel in three distinct visions.  The first was given to him when the exiles were camped along one of the Babylonian canals [1].

  • In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God [2]

This was astounding.  Although the Lord was the God of Israel, He came to Ezekiel in Babylon.  In this foreign land ruled by a foreign king, God gave Ezekiel a vision of the Lord enthroned in His heavenly court.

  • Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne … and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man … This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD [3].

Humility

Despite his theological training, Ezekiel was shaken when he met the Lord.  He fell before Him in reverent awe.

  • When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.  He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you” [4]

The prophet Isaiah had a similar reaction when the Lord appeared before him to commission him.

  • Woe to me! … I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty. [5].

Even in the New Testament, when Jesus called the Apostle Peter to follow him, his first response was,

  • Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! [6].

Response

Some Christians will directly correlate their sense of God’s calling with their sense of peace.  Yet, I would argue that Ezekiel, Isaiah and Peter felt anything but the sense of peace that many of us seek.  Instead, they were afraid and humbled, recognizing their unworthiness for such a calling by such a God [7].

What kind of direction do you seek from God?  Is it a safe one that you wanted anyway and now merely request His stamp of approval?  Or do you long for His awesome direction for you, as you fall before His holy throne in great humility?

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[1] Ezekiel 1-3  |  [2]  1:1 TNIV  |  [3] 1:26-28 TNIV  |  [4] 1:28 – 2:1 TNIV  |  [5] Isaiah 6:5 TNIV  |  [6] Luke 5:8 TNIV  |  [7]  Most Biblical figures respond in humility and awe when God calls them, e.g., Moses responded to God’s calling by saying, “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:11 TNIV.

August 27, 2010

What do you regard as precious?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Lamentations 4, Psalm 35

Your Values

What makes you angrier – injustice toward the poor or being pushed around on the subway?  Are you more upset when you read about slavery in our City or about the Yankees’ loss on Wednesday?

Your honest answer will reveal what you value.

God’s Values

God values His kingdom.  In fact, He values it so much that He sent His only Son to die on a cross to advance it.  Thus, He regards the blood of Christ as “precious” since it accomplished salvation for all believers.

  • For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. [1].

Since God values His kingdom, He is angry when it is threatened.

Imprecatory Psalms

Thus, God inspired David to write imprecatory psalms – that is, psalms that invoke curses – to highlight God’s passion for His kingdom and His people.  Yet, even David’s words merely foreshadow the Messiah’s suffering.

  • Contend, LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me … May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay [2]

In fact, Jesus quotes Psalm 35 when he warns His disciples of the world’s faulty value system that would cause them to be rejected without reason.

  • If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first … Those who hate me hate my Father as well.  If I had not done among them the words no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin.  As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.  But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law:  “They hated me without reason” [3].

Your Values and God’s Values

Do you value the things that the Lord values, e.g., His kingdom, or are you more upset when your pride is injured than you are when His name is defamed?  How are your values so radically different from those of the world?

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[1] 1 Peter 1:18-19 TNIV  |  [2]  35:1,4 TNIV  }  [3] John 15:18-25 TNIV, quoting Psalm 35:19

August 26, 2010

What is clogging your prayers?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Lamentations 3, Psalm 34

If the LORD hears the prayers of “the righteous” …

Just like effective praying leads to right living [1], right living leads to effective praying.  Our unrighteous and rebellious lives can clog our prayers.  As David wrote,

  • The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.  The face of the LORD is against those who do evil … The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them … [2].

… then I want to know who “the righteous” are so that I can become one of them …

According to David, “the righteous” are those who speak truth, do good and seek peace.

  • Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.  Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it [3].

According to the Apostle Peter, who cited David’s words as the foundation for our social dealings, “the righteous” are those who are sympathetic, loving, compassionate, humble and forgiving.

  • … be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.  On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing [4].

… and be confident that the LORD will hear my prayers.

David and Peter write these things because they want our prayers to be unhindered.  When our prayers are clogged, God seems distant and fake and, for the Christian who has experienced the sweetness of an unbroken connection with God, such a state is miserable and frightening.  Thus, God wants our prayers to be open because He wants us to “taste and see” that He is good.

There is a way to live that turns His ear and heart towards us.  For example, if we hold a grudge against someone for a wrong done to us and then we go to God and ask Him to forgive us for a totally unrelated wrong done to Him, He will wonder, “I don’t get it.  Do you value forgiveness?  If so, then forgive your friend.  If not, then don’t ask for it.”

What is clogging your prayers?  Is it something that seems totally unrelated to your prayer, e.g., dishonesty in business, deceit in relational dealings?  How can you repent so that the Lord’s ear and heart will be inclined to you?

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[1] Colossians 1:9-12: “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light.”  |  [2] Psalm 34:15-17 TNIV  |  [3] Psalm 34:12-14 TNIV  |  [4] 1 Peter 3:8-9 TNIV

August 25, 2010

Do you hope in statistics or sovereignty?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Lamentations 2, Psalm 33

All of us want something – the unemployed want a job, the barren want a baby, the sick want a cure, the single want a spouse.  Why doesn’t God provide these things?

God is not limited by our plans.

Some of us think that He can’t provide because we’ve messed things up.  Perhaps I’d be married if I had moved to Dallas instead of New York? We question every past decision and wonder how we got on Plan B.

But God is not limited by our plans or purposes.  As David wrote, “The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” [1]

No decision you have made or will make can thwart what God has planned.  He redeems all of our mistaken and bad decisions.  Even our evil purposes are subject to His power and sovereignty [2].

God is not limited by our resources or statistics.

We’re also tempted to think that our resources and statistics limit God.  Can God bring me a man to marry? Statistically, the likelihood is extremely small [3].  Add my other criteria – heterosexual, godly, smart, tall and compatible – and it seems more likely that I’d find a rent-controlled five-bedroom brownstone on Park Avenue.

Yet, our resources or statistics do not limit God.  The same God who raised the dead lives today.  In fact, we must take care to avoid trusting in favorable resources and statistics because they are false and deceptive hopes: “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all his strength it cannot save.” [4]

God gets more glory when He works with depleted resources or abysmal statistics because it highlights His power and majesty. [5]

God is limited only by His own character.

The only thing that limits God is His own character and the voluntary promises that He has made to His people: “But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.” [6]

For what are you longing?  How have your plans, resources or statistics limited your ability to experience God’s power and character in your life?

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[1]  Psalm 33:10-11 TNIV   |  [2]  When Joseph’s brothers threw him in a cistern and then sold him into slavery, they intended to hurt him.  Yet, Joseph rose to become a high-ranking official in the Egyptian government and was in the position to save his family from famine.  When his brothers sheepishly approached him for help, Joseph responded, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20 TNIV).  This, of course, is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ whom the authorities killed for evil purposes but whose death accomplished the salvation for all who would trust in Him.   |  [3] A singles map of the United States of America, Boston.com (30 March 2008), reporting on the National Geographic story that noted, among other things, there are 210,820 more single women than men in New York City metro area.  |  [4] Psalm 33:16-17 TNIV   |  [5]  When Elijah asked Israel, “How long will you waver between two opinions?  If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him,” he challenged the 450 prophets of Baal to a contest.  Both camps took wood and asked for fire from heaven.  The Baal prophets shouted and cut themselves, but their wood was never ignited.  Elijah, on the other hand, soaked his wood three times and then prayed.  The fire consumed everything that surrounded the wood.  In response, the people exclaimed, “The LORD – he is God!  The LORD – he is God!” (1 Kings 18 TNIV).  |  [6] Psalm 33:18-19 NIV

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