Tag Archives: Prayer

Pray That They Might Follow Jesus Despite the Fray.

According to Dictionary.com the definition of fray is:

 

1. a fight, battle, or skirmish

2. a noisy quarrel or brawl.

 

Today for better or for worse those who are choosing to come to Jesus in America must do so in the midst of a spiritual fray.

 

With heightening societal opposition it is no longer as easy as it once was to stand up and choose to become a follower of Jesus. Currently people, especially young people must run a gauntlet of cultural antagonism toward Christianity in order to come to Christ.

 

 

The celebration of Resurrection Day 2009 is right around the corner and in my life this provokes an opportunity to pray. I am prompted to call out to God for the people who will hear the claims of Christ as they are brought forth in churches throughout our nation this weekend.

 

I see a need for a great harvest for the Kingdom of God and I am praying that people will be able to tune out the din and the fray that the world supplies and come to Jesus in spite of it all.

 

 

Jesus had similar sentiments early in the week before his crucifixion. He was growing mournful over those who were rejecting Him. In John 12:37, we are told… But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him.

 

Jesus had been faithful; He had done the Father’s bidding and fulfilled the Messianic duties God had put before Him. He had performed great miracles and yet the majority of the people were choosing not to believe and a growing resistance was resulting.

 

Later in the same chapter we are given one of the reasons why, Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42-43).

 

 

Many in Israel were choosing not to become followers because they feared losing their reputations among those who were in power. They feared man more than God and they did not want to face the ultimate rejection that belief in Jesus would cost them.

 

 

In verse 44 of chapter twelve we are told, Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.

And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him–the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.

For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life.” John 12:37-49 (NKJV)

 

 

These words in John 12:44-49 are the last comments of Jesus Christ in a public setting before his arrest. From that point on we know from the gospel accounts that He went into hiding. He withdrew to prepare Himself for His impending death.

 

 

The distressing truth was that, in spite of all the clear evidence that was presented to them, the majority of the nation Israel simply would not believe. They had heard the message and seen the miracles, and they still would not confess that Jesus was their Messiah.

 

 

It is a sad reality that when people start to resist the light of Christ, something begins to change within them. And it is even sadder that concerning such people it is eventually true that it becomes almost impossible for them to believe.

 

The Scripture teaches that it is a serious thing to treat God’s truth lightly, because people can miss their opportunity to be saved. Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near.” Quite simply, it is important that people respond when they hear the truth because there is no guarantee that they might ever get a second chance.

 

Amongst the nation Israel at the time of Christ there were those who would not believe, and there were those who would not openly confess Christ even though they had believed. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea belonged to this group of secret followers. They were two examples of individuals who were unable to pay the price of open acknowledgement, but who eventually came out and confessed Jesus.

 

This insight is encouraging as we consider the many around us in this day and age who have heard the message of the gospel and appear to approve but seem reticent to follow Jesus.

 

Could it be that they also want to believe but are being hindered because of their own fear of what man will say or do? Are they being hindered because of the societal voices that are ringing so loudly in their ears?

 

As you pray for the salvation of those who do not know Jesus—among your friends and relatives this season; pray for them wisely.

 

Realize that many people neglect responding to the truth simply because of the fear of man and the possible rejection it will cost them. As you pray for those you love pray specifically that those fears would be shown for what they are and be broken around the lives of your family and friends.

 

It is much better to fear God and go to heaven than to fear men and the rejection of men and go to hell! Jesus did not come to judge; as He points out in this passage–He came to save. But if the sinners will not trust in the Savior, their own choices will spell judgment.

 

 

Through failing to come to Jesus and trusting in the salvation that he offers the sinner who does not believe is actually passing judgment on himself. Jesus never refuses to bring anyone to salvation and eternal life but people often refuse Him and by doing so they choose their own consequences.

 

 Countless people in the U.S. today are like the unbelievers of Israel in the time of Jesus. Because of the freedom of religion we have in the U.S. many have received a clear presentation of Christ and in fact the majority have heard it again and again. Many American citizens are like the inhabitants of Jerusalem so long ago in that they have had the opportunity to see it all and hear it all. And like the unbelievers of Jesus time they are also hearing the threatening and mocking accusations of the current culture sounding off in the background.

 

 

Seekers are being forced to deal with the noise and the spiritual competitive brawl that the societal status quo who oppose Christ provide. In post Christian America people now know that they will have to pay a price in terms of reputation in order to become associated with Christ. Christianity is no longer as popular as it once was and the church has a spotted and soiled status at best.

 

For the first time in decades there are clear and present mounting societal barriers in our country to all those who would seek to call Jesus their own.

 

But Christians can not just sit back and whine and moan. What we must keep in mind is that these barriers are not insurmountable, we must remember that they can be overcome. We are not the first generation seeking to share Christ in a hostile environment but with that said what may be required of us is a commitment to pray. It may take prayer, prayer and more prayer to see our loved one’s successfully birthed into the Kingdom of God.

 

 

I would exhort you to pray with commitment and wisdom for the unbelievers you know. Pray that the unsaved would hear the clarion call of Jesus’ invitation to eternal life rising above all the background societal flack and noise. And pray that those you know who are in the process of being drawn will be like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea who persevered and finally found the courage to cross over to being true disciples–despite the fray.

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Ready for Battle and Dressed to Kill: Ephesians 6:13-20

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The average woman in the U.S today can easily recite some fundamental fashion knowledge. She can probably tell you what colors she looks good in, what styles work for her figure and the foundational must-haves of a wardrobe. Some women might even be able to tell you what it takes to dress for success or how to accessorize effectively. But in today’s world the majority of women are ignorant regarding the most essential fashion basic of all – the spiritual wardrobe – offered to us by God himself. In the sixth chapter of Ephesians, the apostle Paul lays out piece by piece what every successful Christian should be wearing: a set of spiritual armor. Paul draws upon the image of the finest of ancient warriors – the Roman soldier – and dials in a picture of a Christian who would be spiritually “dressed to kill.”

 

13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints – Eph 6:13-18 (NKJV)

 

Paul wrote this passage while he was a prisoner of Rome, chained to a Roman soldier. And although the soldier assigned to him probably was not dressed in full armor Paul knew exactly what that Roman soldier’s war gear entailed. His many imprisonments and multiple excursions in the company of Roman infantrymen had inscribed a mental picture on Paul’s mind. It was not an easily forgotten image and employing the illustration came naturally. Paul refers to our spiritual protection and weaponry as “the whole armor of God.” This simple phrase reinforces two important facts. First, our supernatural set of military hardware comes directly from God. And second, God has provided a complete set of spiritual covering for us, not a partial one. He has given us the “whole” armor of God. The phrase “whole” armor is taken from the word panoplia in the Greek and it pictures a Roman soldier who is fully dressed in his armor from head to toe. Everything the soldier needed to successfully combat his adversary was provided for “Rome’s best.” And God has similarly given us everything we need to successfully combat our opposing spiritual forces. Nothing is lacking. Paul specifically mentions five pieces of spiritual armor and two offensive spiritual weapons that God graciously provides to each Christian soldier so that we can effectively stand against our evil foe.

 

The loin belt or girdle of truth. The Roman soldier wore a loin belt which was also referred to as a girdle. Although it was the least impressive item amongst the soldier’s gear, it was the central piece because it held all the other parts together. The loin belt held the breastplate in place and the shield rested on a clip on one side of the loin belt while on the other side was another clip from which the Roman soldier hung his sword. In the ancient war garment, the girdle about the loins held in place every other part of the uniform. It was an essential. If the girdle was lost, you lost everything. The garments would fly open and the other pieces of weaponry would fall off the soldier and onto the field of battle. This integral piece of armor corresponds in Paul’s spiritual regalia with the belt of truth. Satan is “the father of lies” but the believer whose life is controlled by truth will ultimately defeat him. The loin belt holds the other parts of the armor together, and truth is that integrating force in the life of a Christian. A person who knows the truth and possesses integrity, with a clear conscience, can face the enemy without fear. The belt also held the sword and unless a believer walks in the truth he cannot effectively use the Word of truth. If a believer begins to live a life of hypocrisy – if lies and falsehood begin to permeate the life of a believer – everything begins to fall apart.

 

The breastplace of righteousness. The second piece of armor that every Roman combatant added to his collection was a magnificent breastplate. The breastplate was constructed of two large sheets of metal. One piece covered the front of the soldier and the other piece covered his back, and the two sheets were attached at the top of the shoulders by large brass rings. Frequently these metal plates were comprised of smaller scale-like pieces of metal that, when joined together, comprised a coating that protected the wearer’s torso from his neck to below his waist. This vital piece of armor covered the most vulnerable parts of the body and in Paul’s analogy the breastplate symbolizes the believer’s righteous life in Christ. Only the righteousness of Christ can enable a Christian to stand before God, but a heart that is well-protected is a heart that is not condemning the believer. It is very difficult to have sin in your life while at the same time trying to fight a spiritual battle. According to Ephesians 4:27, we are not to “give place to the devil.” What this refers to is that sin in the life of a Christian gives Satan a place of occupation; a stronghold to use against his foe. Paul instructed the Ephesians, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception and…Put on your new nature, created to be like Godtruly righteous and holy. Eph 4:22-24 (NLT). Satan’s job description is that of the “accuser of the brethren” but he finds it much more difficult to accuse a believer who is living a godly life; one whose breastplate of righteousness is intact.

 

The shoes of the Gospel. The Roman soldier also wore a third piece of gear – a pair of treacherous looking shoes. These shoes were unlike the sandals worn by civilians which were merely flimsy soles held on by pieces of twine wrapped around the heel and the toe. The shoes that the Roman soldier wore were primarily made of metal. The first piece was called a greave. It was a tube-like piece of brass that wrapped around the soldier’s lower leg, beginning at the top of his knee and extending down past the calf, coming to rest on the top of the foot. The greave almost gave the appearance of boots that were made of brass. In addition, the top side of the foot was also encased in a piece of metal and on the bottom, the Roman soldier’s shoes were affixed with a set of spikes. The Roman soldier wore these shoes with soles that were thickly studded to give him better footing for fighting. Paul makes it clear that if we are going to “stand firm” in battle, our feet will need to be shod with the shoes of the Gospel. Shoes are necessary for standing. They speak of the foundation. In hand-to-hand combat soldiers are taught to make sure their feet are anchored. Romans 5:1 tells us, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” Because we have the peace with God that comes from the knowledge of the Gospel, we know that God is always on our side and we need not fear Satan’s attack. This assurance is the foundation we stand on.

 

The shield of faith. A fourth important piece of protection, a large, oblong shield which measured about four feet by two feet, was carried by every Roman warrior. The shield was shaped like a door and was made of multiple layers of animal hide tightly woven together. The outside rim of the shield was framed in meta and the shield’s size alone provided good coverage. As the soldier held it in front of him, it protected him from spears, arrows, and “fiery darts.” Faith is a defensive weapon which we can take up as a shield to protect us from the fiery darts of the enemy. The actual “fiery darts” were arrows dipped in pitch and set ablaze. In the spiritual realm Satan gives no mercy as he shoots all types of “fiery darts” at the hearts and minds of Christians. These flaming missiles come in many varieties: blazing lies, profane fixations, hateful combustible thoughts, smoldering doubts, burning passions; the list goes on and on. Satan utilizes all their forms and enjoys pelting us with on-going assaults. Failing to quench these “fiery darts” with the shield of our Christian faith can spell disaster. A blazing arrow – a strategic attack on the mind or heart – can cause a fire which can quickly spread and the internal inferno that results has the power to change a vibrant disciple into a charred and ineffective believer. We never know quite when Satan will shoot a well placed dart at us, so we must walk by faith, holding steadfastly to our beliefs, effectively wielding the shield of faith.

 

The helmet of salvation. Every Roman soldier also wore a helmet. This all important piece of armor protected the soldier from receiving a fatal blow to the head. The helmets of the Roman troops were made of brass and ornately adorned with feathers or animal hair. Satan always wants to target the mind. It was the initial way he defeated humanity as he came to deceive Eve and he has used it ever since. The helmet of salvation refers to the mind protected and controlled by God. It is sad that many Christians believe that having a strong mind and intellect for Christ is unimportant. A keen God-controlled intellect plays a vital role in Christian growth, service, and living. The Christian who studies the Bible and learns the meaning of Bible doctrines is not going to be easily led astray. We are to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The Apostle Paul, when he ministered, always made it a priority to teach new converts the truths of the Word of God regarding their salvation in Jesus Christ. He did this because he knew that this “spiritual” helmet would protect them from Satan’s lies. Likewise we all need the helmet supplied by adequate study of the truths of the Gospel; we should not approach life and the spiritual warfare it brings without protection for our minds.

 

Two offensive weapons: the sword of the Spirit and Spirit-led prayer. In addition to their basic armament all ancient warriors were also equipped with at least one offensive weapon – and the weapon of choice in the first century was a sword. Although there were many kinds of swords, the blade that the Roman soldier most often carried was a very heavy broad sword specifically designed for jabbing and killing. Hebrews 4:12 compares the Word of God to a sword that is sharp and able to pierce the inner man just as a material sword pierces the body, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Heb 4:12 (NKJV) A material sword pierces the body, but the Word of God pierces the heart. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, Christ used the sword of the Spirit and defeated the enemy. Three times Jesus said, “It is written” (Luke 4:1-13) in thwarting the enemy’s attacks. Satan also quoted the Word as he tempted Jesus but he did not quote it completely or use it accurately. Satan tries to use the Word of God to confuse us, so it is important that we familiarize ourselves with the Word of God and that we study it regularly and thoroughly. The better you know the Word of God, the easier it will be for you to detect Satan’s lies and reject his offers—it is your sword of the Spirit.

 

Last but not least, the final piece of spiritual armor and our second weapon of offense that is listed in Ephesians 6 is prayer. Paul tells us “pray at all times in the Spirit.” While no part of the armor is given to correspond as a symbol of prayer, prayer is nonetheless an important part of every Christian soldier’s weaponry. And “praying in the Spirit” – as Paul refers to it – is not just turning in your grocery list to God. Praying in the Spirit underlines the fact that you and I recognize our enemy and that we are seeking to lay hold of God to provide the spiritual resources that He knows we need. Paul was reminding them not to forget to ask God to back them up in their attempts at spiritual combat. As soldiers in God’s army we can never afford to be without the cover of the big artillery that God alone can provide.

 

Finally, as we come to the end of Paul’s listing of our spiritual weaponry, it is important to realize that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is not his only NT reference to the need for spiritual readiness and protection. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he also warns those disciples about their need for spiritual armor. He writes, “It is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” Romans 13:11-12 (NKJV). Paul told them, wake up, cast off your sin, and “put on the armor of light.” As believers today we can choose to heed Paul’s cry to arms and put on the armor, or like ostriches we can choose to bury our heads in the sand and deny that there is even a war on. Can you hear the trumpet sounding, calling you to spiritual battle? If you can, be obedient, don’t delay, get up, get off your bed and get dressed. Find that belt and breastplate. Pick up your shield. Put on your helmet and don’t forget your shoes. Grab your sword on your way out and, above all else, don’t forget to pray. You must not remain asleep another minute because the battle is real and you are on the frontlines!

 

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Pray for Our New President

 

Many Christians were inspired by Rick Warren’s inaugural invocation prayer. 

 

Pastor Warren was straight forward in his prayer and was in no way subtle or apologetic about his faith in Jesus Christ. 

 

In the New Testament we are advised by the Apostle Paul to pray for our leaders.

 

Let’s use Rick Warren’s prayer as inspiration for our own prayers offered for our new president and his family.  Here is the text of the prayer as it appears on the Associated Press website. 

 

Let us pray, Almighty God, our father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of you alone.  It all comes from you, it all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory.  History is your story. 

 

The Scripture tells us, Hear, oh Israel, The Lord is Our God: The Lord is one.  And you are the compassionate and merciful one.  And you are loving to everyone you have made. 

Now today we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time.  We celebrate a hinge-point of history with the inauguration of our fist African-American president of the United States.  We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. 

And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in Heaven.  Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity.  Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and everyone of our freely elected leaders. 

Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.  When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us.  When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us.  When we fail to treat our fellow human beings an all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us. 

And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches and civility in out attitudes even when we differ.  Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all. 

May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet.  And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you. 

We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle, and his daughter, Malia and Sasha into your loving care.  I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus, Jesus (hay-SOOS), who taught us to pray,

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, they kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.

For more excerpts of the inauguration and comments from a Christian perspective click on the following link and view the post entitled “A New Era Begins.”
What are your opinions about Rick Warren’s dynamic prayer at the inaugural, please take the time to comment!

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Vision 2009 – A Vision for a Church God Can Grow

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In 2008 according to pollster George Barna it became evident that Christianity’s image is indeed slipping among the younger generation.  In an article entitled A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity” Barna speaks of the book, entitled unChristian, by David Kinnaman, and an accompanying study that revealed startling facts about the under thirty age group. 

 

The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations at the same stage of life.  In fact, the investigation uncovered a steep negative downward spiral in young people’s overall attitude toward Christianity. 

 

A decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a “good impression” of Christianity.

 

To add to these findings it has also come to light that society is being far from subtle in their expression of hostility toward Christianity. Barna’s research shows that Christians are acutely aware of the shift in people’s perceptions of their faith: 91% of the nation’s evangelical Christians believe that “Americans are becoming more and more hostile and negative toward Christianity.”

 

Taking facts like these into consideration it brings a serious tone to the topic of praying for new vision and life for “the Church” in 2009.  We need to be falling on our faces before God and asking for a transformed church that God can grow in the 21st century.  And in my opinion we must pray for breakthroughs in reaching an expanding unchurched generation of young people who are hostile to the Christian faith. 

 

It becomes helpful to think about the characteristics we need to pray to see demonstrated in the Church in order to see it become desirable.  We are not the first Christian generation to face a society that is hostile toward the Christian faith.  But in order to change minds and hearts about “our faith” we must demonstrate a “life of faith” that people will want to try and to be a part of.  Reflect with me on the type of Church that God engineered to reach the world for Christ in the first century.

 

 

A Reflection on the characteristics of a “Church God can grow” from Acts 2:42-47 NKJV.

 

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

 

 

1.         42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

 

It was a learning Church.

It was a fellowshipping Church

It was a praying Church.

 

 

2.         43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.

 

It was a reverent Church full of respect for God and His ways.

It was a Church where God-things happened. 

 

If we expect great things from God and attempt great things for God–more of God’s presence and power is bound to be demonstrated. More of God’s presence among us would occur if we had faith and believed that together—we and God could see supernatural things happen.

 

 

3.         44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

 

It was a sharing Church; these early Christians had an intense feeling of responsibility for each other and were willing to go to great lengths to care for the poor among them.

 

 

4.         46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple,

 

It was a worshipping Church; they never forgot to visit God’s house.

 

Things can happen when we come together. God’s Spirit moves upon his worshipping people.

 

 

5.        and breaking bread from house to house,

           they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,

 

It was a happy Church; gladness was there and they were simple in heart they were easily satisfied and not preoccupied with what they did not have.

 

 

6.         47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

 

It was an attractive Church

filled with people others could not help liking.

 

The phrase having favor with all the people is also translated in other versions as “having the goodwill of all the people.”  In reference to the original language this phrase was written in it is important to realize that there are two Greek words for good. Agathos simply describes a thing as good but kalos (the term used here) means that a thing is not only good but looks good; it has a universal attractiveness about it.

 

Real Christianity is an attractive thing. There are so many people who are good but their goodness is tainted by a streak of hardness or self-righteousness. The early Church was not only ethically good but also visibly good.

 

As we enter the New Year 2009, let’s pray that the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ could once again be in all aspects a church that God can grow.  Pray especially for Crossroads Church of Denver that we could embody the characteristics of the early church identified in Acts 2:42-47.

 

Happy New Year,

Maryellen Stipe

 

Please feel free to add your comments and reflections regarding prayer and new vision for the Church (either the church-at-large or specifically Crossroads Church of Denver) in 2009.

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Finding Your Way Out of Depression

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?

How long will You hide Your face from me?

How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily?

How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;

Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;

Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him”;

Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me. 

Psalms 13:1-6 (NKJV)

 

When believers find themselves in depression it doesn’t help to hold the despair in. The Bible models to us through the examples of the saints of old that when we are down and out the proper strategy is to open up and pour out our hearts to God.  David, that man after God’s own heart, was shameless about discharging his miseries before The Almighty.  In Psalm 13, we find David depressed and on his face before God and in just the first three verses he lists four woe-filled complaints.  Surprisingly, his grievances are not that out of the ordinary.  In fact, his complaints are the common complaints that torture those faced with long term despair.

 

 

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? is David’s first perplexed protest. The cry of David’s soul is that the dry and trial filled season he is enduring has gone on way too long.  His question reveals that his hope for relief has almost completely vanished. David is so emotionally trampled by life’s circumstances that he feels like God has abandoned him. He wonders if the arid season he is in will ever end and his questions for God aren’t ending either.   How long will You hide Your face from me?, he continues.  In Scripture “to seek the face of God” refers to seeking an audience with God and overtly seeking His favor through prayer. God “hiding his face” means He withdraws His presence or His favor.  David feels as if God has totally ignored him and his prayers for a very long time.  He feels rejected and wonders why God has chosen not to answer.

 

How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? is complaint number three and it takes on an air of warning.  In contemporary language the essence of what David is saying is, I’m going to have to take things into my own hands if you don’t help me soon.”  David laments that he has spent every day in the same distressing situation only to be no closer to finding his way out.  He admits to trying to devise his own rescue by counseling himself, yet he realizes the folly of leaning on his own resources.  David is desperate and can’t understand why God has withheld His guidance. 

 

David’s final issue with God is– that on top of everything else–his enemy is triumphing over him.  How long will my enemy be exalted over me?, he quizzes His Father in Heaven.  David was a man well acquainted with war and highly competitive in his nature.  Nothing galled David more than to have God sitting back seemingly ignoring him while his enemy prevailed over him.  He hated being beaten by his enemy and does not hesitate in asking God why he would allow this happen?

 

Many Christians might think that the depressed David must have surely overstepped his bounds with this overflow of inquiry to his M.I.A. God.  Yet Psalm 62:8 commands, Pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us.   Job and Jeremiah are two other saints who boldly risked coming before God with similar interludes of questioning.  Venting true feelings before The Almighty is not off limits.  Bible commentator Warren Wiersbe, however wisely calls for balance in the venting process.   He states: We must not deny our feelings and pretend that everything is going well…but at the same time, we must realize how deceptive our hearts are and that God is greater than our hearts and can still lift us above the emotional storms of life.

 

The Bible urges us to be discerning as we give air to our feelings, we should never forget whose children we are. 1 John 3:20 assures us, For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Many times in Scripture we see believers singing the blues when God has their ultimate redemption right around the corner.  In the story of Joseph for example when Simeon is left behind in Egypt Jacob bemoans that his life is over. The patriarch feels that everything has gone against him when in actuality everything in his crazy family is just about to be worked out. With this and many other biblical stories in mind it is good to remember as we set out to vent our emotions that our emotions are not always completely truthful. While clearing the toxic debris from our hearts is healthy and good and permitted by God we should never believe that just because we feel something, it is true.

 

When struggling Christians are depressed no matter how bad it gets they should continue to pray.  The truth is if we wait and persevere and don’t give up, God will eventually touch us and lift our hearts. The Bible teaches that even if we don’t hear God’s voice we can be assured the Holy Spirit is at work within us. Romans 8:25-26 states, But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.  The Holy Spirit helps us through periods of trial and waiting and helps us to pray in the midst of them.  He communicates our feelings to God when we can’t find the words to describe them. The promises of God to reward those seekers who persevere through the desert are prevalent throughout Scripture.  In the book of Isaiah and then again in Jeremiah for instance God declares, For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground;  Isaiah 44:3, and I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint. “Jer. 31:25 (NIV).

 

One thing is clear as the reader continues through David’s Psalm 13 lament.  After releasing his miseries to God David seems to get better and begins to find a new direction for his pain as he talks to God.  Instead of being accusative and viewing the Lord as being absent and uncaring for example, David now requests that He “consider and answer.” Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; Psalms 13:3, reflects a different more intimate tone on the part of David.  Somewhere in the midst of his pain God has touched him and drawn him closer. 

 

As the Psalm goes on, replacing the total despair that had overtaken the outlook of his soul David somehow finds a burst of hope.  He passionately requests that God enlighten his eyes.  Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death; Psalms 13:3 or as it is also worded Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. Psalms 13:3 (NLT).  This request involves petitioning God for physical and emotional vitality as well as spiritual enlightenment. Here David shows inspired insight into the reality of depression.  Depression is a body, soul and spirit ailment and requires an appropriate all encompassing treatment. The Bible reflects the truth of the physical and emotional components of depression; it is not just a sin issue.  Scripture shows how the spiritual, emotional and physical aspects intertwine. Verses such as Proverbs 17:22 ,A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength reveal the interconnection between all aspects of a human being.  Those suffering with depression should consider the physical components of their malady and pray as David did for restoration. If a sufferer of depression is so weakened that he or she cannot function in daily routines there should be no hesitation in seeking the assistance of one’s personal physician.  The knowledge of modern medicine and nutrition can provide help to the person fighting the physical repercussions of long term despondency.

 

When Christians find themselves in seasons of despair they should “keep the faith” continuing to reach out to God .   Hebrews 11:6 teaches us what the bottom-line of “keeping the faith” really is, But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Heb 11:6 (NKJV).  Those in the grips of depression should cling to the foundation of their faith.  They should continue to believe that God is a loving God who rewards those who diligently seek Him.  As the psalm draws to an end I believe that it is because David has encountered God that he finds the reserves to continue to express his trust in the Lord’s unfailing love.  Psalms 13:5-6 reads, But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me. David begins verse 5 with the word “but” and but is a word that usually introduces a contrast.  David is saying, in contrast to my former grievances…I have trusted and my heart shall rejoice and I will sing.  By the end of this psalm, David in prayer has made some obvious different choices.  His  faith shown byrelying on the Lord’s love and then remembering his mercy, has paved the way for David to rejoice. 

 

When a person is in depression it is good to try to train yourself to remember the mercy of the Lord towards you in the past.  How has God shown his loving-kindness to you at other points in your life?  Remind yourself of those times and praise God for those times and it can begin to have good results.  Paul a man not unfamiliar with depression taught, Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! …Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Phil 4:4-7.  Rejoicing in David’s life led to singing of His goodness, which in turn began to lead David out of the depression giving him patience to wait on the Lord a little longer.  David had the foundation of an intimate relationship with God and a habit of trusting in God’s love and reminding himself of God’s goodness (see Psalm 34).  He knew how important “keeping the faith” was to the equation. I would have lost heart, unless I had believed, that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!  Psalms 27:13-14. 

 

As we come to the close of the psalm David’s circumstances had not changed. Saul was still hunting him down, the wilderness was still the wilderness and his longing for God was still a reality.  In fact we really have no evidence that God had spoken to Him throughout the entire ordeal but I believe in his lament and in the pouring out of his heart to God, God in the process touched him and revealed himself to David. Nothing around him was different and yet David on the inside at least for the time being was changed.  Our conclusion must be that because he poured out his heart before God, because he continued to pray staying close to God and because he kept the faith, he appears to have escaped the pit of his depression.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Call To Give Thanks

 Thanksgiving by definition means to express gratitude towards God. Thanksgiving was central to the Jewish faith and an essential part of worship according to the Old Testament.  It was offered generally by the Jews in response to God’s concrete acts in history but sacrifice and offerings were also to be given continually out of a grateful heart.

 

In the Old Testament it is taught that thanksgiving should never be given grudgingly but always with a generous and willing heart. In Judeo-Christian tradition it is the duty of the faithful to express thankfulness to God for His constant love, care, provision and mercy. The praises of His people were considered the most valuable sacrifice of all, more pleasing to Him than the blood of animals.

 

I will  I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the LORD better       

than   than an ox or bull, which has horns and hooves.  Ps 69:30-31 (NKJV)

 

      The Old Testament Law called for constant and continual thanks to be offered before the Lord.  In the eras of the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple certain Levites were appointed to give continual praise and thanks to God. 

 

He appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the Ark by giving constant praise and thanks to the Lord God of Israel and by asking for his blessings upon his people. (1Chronicles 16:4, tlb)

 

In the New Testament believers are also taught that praise and thanksgiving should be a regular part of our routine

 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1Thes 5:16-18 (NKJV)

 

It is good to make thankfulness a habitual part of our worship of God and to bless Him regularly with the expressive and spontaneous fruit of our lips.

 

It is good to say thank you to the Lord, to sing praises to the God who is above all gods.  Every morning tell him, “Thank you for your kindness,” and every evening rejoice in all his faithfulness.  Sing his praises, accompanied by music from the harp and lute and lyre.  You have done so much for me, O Lord. No wonder I am glad! I sing for joy.  O Lord, what miracles you do! And how deep are your thoughts!  Psalms 92:1-5 (TLB)

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It’s November, let’s turn our hearts toward Thanksgiving

Tomorrow no matter what the outcome of our National election may be the reality is–life will still go on–and it will still be November 2008. 

Regardless of who wins and who loses we will be approximately three weeks off from the celebration of Thanksgiving and it will be a holiday that many of us will desperately need in the aftermath of all the political hoopla. 

In response to my need to get past the “election” and on to normalcy I have written the first in a three part series of special posts for the month of November on the topic of Thanksgiving.  Please give it a read!   

Part 1– F.Y.I.–The History of Thanksgiving

What is Thanksgiving all about?  In approximately three weeks time we will all have a day off of work and celebrate a national holiday called Thanksgiving.  Most families in our nation will hold some type of holiday gathering but the majority will not really spend any of that time doing the activity for which the day is intended.

 

What about you?  How do you spend this contemporary feast day?  Do you know the specifics of the origin of Thanksgiving?

 

During the reign of Elizabeth I, queen of England, a sect of Puritans separated from the new Protestant Church of England and after much persecution took refuge in the Netherlands. They finally determined that the ultimate answer to their search for a peaceful residence for their families was to immigrate to America.  On September 16, 1620, these Separatist “pilgrims” became part of a group numbering 102 men, women, and children who left Plymouth, England, for America on the Mayflower. On November 21, the Mayflower dropped anchor in the sheltered harbor off the site of present-day Provincetown, Massachusetts.

 

It was in this vicinity that the Puritans met up with Squanto, a Patuxet Native American. Squanto was a unique individual who had encountered Europeans as early as 1614 in what is now Massachusetts and had aided the English in their early exploration of the American continent. He learned the English language and served as a ships guide and interpreter for expeditions from Britain.  He had even survived a kidnapping at the hands of rogue Englishmen who had attempted to sell him as a slave.  Upon meeting up with the British Puritans he taught them how to catch eel and grow corn.  He also served as an interpreter for them and it is thought that without Squanto’s help none of the Puritans would have survived their first year in the New World.  

 

As it was the first winter took a demanding toll of life on the Pilgrims and between the time of the landing in November and March of 1621, only 47 colonists survived the diseases they contracted on the ship and the adversity of the new continent.  After the first harvest was completed by the Plymouth colonists in 1621, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer shared by all the colonists and neighboring Native Americans.

 

The same Governor Bradford of Massachusetts made the first “Thanksgiving Proclamation” three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth and declared. 

 

“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes and garden vegetables, and has made the forest to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.  Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th of the year of our Lord 1623 and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock there to listen to ye pastor and render thanks giving to ye Almighty God for all His blessing.”

 

This proclamation instituted what would come to be the first Thanksgiving festival celebrated in the New World.  It was this early celebration of Thanksgiving by the British Puritan founders of our country that began the tradition of a November Thankgiving feast.  These historical events represent the origins of our current national holiday of Thanksgiving.

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