This Thing Called Love

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My Musings – Love. Little else is as captivating or inspiring as love. It is, perhaps, one of the most sought after and motivating experiences that anyone can have. As a subject matter it permeates movies, songs, books, television and advertising. Yet it is often misinterpreted, misunderstood, mislabeled and misused. We say that we love this and that we love that. In the process we devalue something that is of such worth that it prompted God to send His Son to die for us.

The depth of that love seems far beyond our ability to fully grasp or adequately comprehend. But Jesus calls us to know it and be filled with it in our love of God (“with all our heart, soul and mind“) and for each other (“as ourselves“). All that is written in the Law and Prophets (the Old Testament) as well as the Gospels and Epistles (the New Testament) “hang on” these two commandments. If that were not sufficient enough to underscore how vitality important love is in the born-again experience, Jesus said that it was the primary and most distinctive characteristic by which all men will know that we are His disciples. It is the litmus test of how well the previous eleven steps of discipleship that we have examined are doing in making changes in our lives and character. For example, what causes us to desire what God desires? How do we know we are becoming more like Christ? What compels us to serve others? Why are we motivated to resist temptation? When we witness to others, what prompts us to do so? What causes us to unite with other believers in a local church? The common denominator, or at least it should be if we are growing as disciples, is love – love for God and for one another.

God calls us to the highest degree (agape) of love. Agape refers to a selfless and unconditional type love. It is the highest of the four types (Eros – sensual; Philia – brotherly; Storge – family; and Agape) of love in the Bible. That is not to say that the other three types do not have their proper place. But unlike these other three types of love, agape has less to do about involuntary desires of love and more about voluntarily desiring to love.

It is a motivation for action that we are free to choose or reject. It is a sacrificial love that willingly suffers inconvenience, discomfort, and even death for the benefit of another without expecting anything in return. How do we know it is the highest degree? Jesus said “as the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you,” and for us to “love each other as I have loved you.” It cannot get any higher than that. Jesus told us how to identify this type of love when He said “greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends.” Then He provided the ultimate proof that He was more than an itinerant preacher of the warm and fuzzy when He laid down His own life on the cross and died for our sins.

This is unmerited love – we do not deserve it. It is love that bore a very high cost – the sacrifice of the Son of God. It is love that is often rejected – not everyone accepts the free gift of salvation. It is love that not always returned – many do not serve Him the way that they should. Of course, relatively few believers will be called upon to literally lay down their lives for Him or for a fellow believer. But there are many ways that we can figuratively lay down our lives (serving Him, obeying Him, caring for those that He cares for, to name just a few). Paul refers to this kind of love as “the most excellent way.

Excellent means something that is of the highest or finest quality.

One might think this is definition enough for the kind of love God calls us to. But Paul affixes a superlative (most) in front of something that is already defined as highest and finest (excellent). Most means greatest in degree. So the love we are called to as Christ’s disciples is one in the greatest degree and of the highest and finest quality. As we look to some of the more challenging people in our lives we can begin to appreciate how great a challenge this might be.

Because the love Jesus refers to is of the highest degree, it is difficult for sinful man to understand it, much less to attain it. But perhaps we can gain a clearer understanding by knowing a few things about it. In what has become known as the love chapter of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), Paul describes this type of love in terms of the positive characteristics it has (what it is) and the negative characteristics it does not have (what it is not). The positive characteristics it has are: patience, kindness, truthfulness, protectiveness, trust, hope, perseverance and trustworthiness. The negative characteristics it does not have are: envy, boastfulness, pride, rudeness, selfishness, anger, bearing grudges and a delighting in evil.

Interestingly, Paul’s discussion about love comes immediately after his discourse on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. In conclusion Paul instructs his readers to “eagerly desire the greater gifts.” He then goes on to show us “the most excellent way” in 1 Corinthians 13.

In doing so he tells us that even extreme giftedness is of little value
if it is not accompanied or motivated by love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love. I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV 1978)). At some point the gifts may fade or disappear, leaving us with only faith, hope and love, of which love is the greatest.

LOVES ME CHARACTERISTICS

Love is patient, love is kind. Love rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8. NIV 1978).

Is Patient –  Endure evil, injury & provocation without thoughts of resentment, indignation or revenge.

Is Kind  – Not only takes advantage of opportunities to be kind, but looks for such opportunities.

Rejoices In Truth – In the truth of God and the Gospel. Rejoices to see loved-one molded by these truths.

Always Protects – Unwilling to expose loved-one’s faults to others. Also translated bears all things, i.e., will put up with much injustice without harboring anger or seeking revenge.

Always Trusts – Believeth all things. Always sees the best in loved-one. Allows for circumstances. Keeps the faith when it is easy to believe the worst.

Always Hopes – Refuse to take failure as final. When trust or belief begins to give way, hope takes over.

Always Perseveres – Not resigned acquiescence, but rather an active positive fortitude. Willing to endure persecution for sake of, or even from loved-one.

Never fails Gifts will cease to exist or be needed. Love will never cease to exist or be needed.

LOVES ME NOT CHARACTERISTICS

Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV 1978)

Does Not Envy – Not grieved at good or prosperity of loved-one, but rather rejoices in it.

Does Not Boast – Windbag. Fair words without regard to the truth, or any intention for good.

Is Not Proud  – Puffed-up, proud of oneself at the expense of another (i.e., pride in yourself obscures feelings for loved-one).

Is Not Rude – Base, vile, disgraceful, dishonorable, indecent.

Is Not Self-Seeking Not seeking own interests to the neglect of loved-one. On the contrary, often neglects own welfare for the sake of loved-one.

Is Not Easily Angered  – Not touchy or eager to take offense. Not angry without just cause. Hard to be angry, eager to be reconciled.

Keeps No Record Of Wrongs – Does not take into account wrongs done. More likely to disbelieve accusations of wrongs about the loved-one. Does not give way to suspicion based upon appearances.

Does Not Delight In Evil – Resist human nature of delighting in the misfortunes of others. Sins of loved-one rather bring grief.

My Advice – We live in a fallen world. Because it is fallen, it is imperfect. Because it is imperfect, our love is also imperfect. There is still a tendency towards harshness, quarreling and jealousy. All of which are signs of an immature love. But we need not lose heart. As we continue to grow as disciples, our love will continue to grow as well – our love of God and of each other. As Christ is reflected in us more and more we will find ourselves giving way to gentleness, peace and kindness. Where we once loved to fight, we will fight to love. Love is the litmus test of how we are growing as disciples. So how are you doing with this thing called love?

 

On Being Salt and Light

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My Musings – God has commissioned us to share the Gospel, so that others may know the way they can inherit eternal life. We should view this as a privilege, for that is what it really is. Not so much a command as it is an opportunity to share the best news anyone could ever hear.

People usually cannot wait to share a piece of good news with others or to introduce new friends to old friends. In the same way, we should be very eager to share the Gospel and to introduce others to the Savior. To play whatever part we can in rescuing them from eternal separation from God. Yet all too often we are hesitant to do so. Perhaps this is because we fear rejection and ridicule. Whatever the reason, we sometimes let our burden over these fears overcome our burden for the lost.

But it is not just failing to speak out when we should that prevents us from being the witnesses that we should be. It is also the way that we live our lives. Our external behavior is not always as consistent as it should be with the internal change that has taken place in us. So, if we dared to speak up to share our faith, would our testimony be credible based upon the evidence of how we live our lives day-to-day? The sad reality is that when we fail to speak out when we should, or when our conduct is inconsistent with our professed faith in Christ, we are actually being a witness – a poor one. This is certainly not the legacy we want to leave with our friends and family.

Apart from the rule of law itself, attorneys have two primary tools at their disposal when presenting their case before a judge or jury. The first tool is the personal testimony of a witness that is offered in support of the case being presented. The second tool is physical evidence that corroborates the case that has been presented. In a court proceeding there is also an adversary, an opposing attorney who will attempt to impugn the integrity and veracity of the witnesses and contradict or call into question the credibility of the evidence.

When it comes to faith in Christ, the Gospel is the case that is being presented. The Holy Spirit is the “attorney” that is presenting (convicting) the case. He uses believers as witnesses to testify about their own personal knowledge and beliefs (this is what I believe and this is why I believe it). He uses the Scriptures as the evidence to support His case (fulfilled prophecy, empty tombs, historical record of contemporaneous eyewitness accounts, etc.). The adversary, of course, is Satan. The individual lost soul is their own judge and jury, and this “courtroom” drama plays out in the conscience of every individual.

As it relates to our roles as personal witnesses, we must be prepared to testify when called to the “stand.” In the meantime, we need to make sure that the lives we are living will be consistent with the truth that we proclaim.

We must not only “talk the talk,” we must “walk the walk.”

The adversary the devil will take every opportunity to show that what we do does not support what we say. At stake is a life sentence – heaven or hell. So, it is very important that we speak up about what we believe and give it added credibility by showing how it has changed our lives. It is not our responsibility to convict or convince. But it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to make sure that our testimony (what we say) and the evidence in our lives (what we do) are working together and are both convincing and convicting

God has many witnesses that he can call to the “stand.” While it is our duty to answer the summons, it is also a privilege. It is a privilege because there are others He could call, but He called us. It is a privilege to be a play part in rescuing the lost from eternal punishment. It is a privilege to show our love for Him by showing love for His lost sheep. It is a privilege to demonstrate our thankfulness for saving us by answering the call to the Great Commission.

The case has already been made. It is recorded in the Bible for all to read and respond to the call. But “how, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14, 15, NIV 1978) God is sending us.

We may be sent across the ocean or merely across the street. But wherever He sends us, we are sent to be a light to the world and as salt to the earth.

These are two images used by Jesus to illustrate our task (commission) that He has called us to. Jesus did not waste words when He was here on earth. He chose them carefully because He understood how important it was for people to grasp the truth. In this case, his chose salt and light.  “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.(Matthew 5:13-14, NIV 1978)

SALT OF THE EARTH

Pray…that God may open a door for [your] message, so that [you] may proclaim the mystery of Christ. Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:3, 5-6, NIV 1978).

A Preservative – Salt is a preservative that prevents or retards decay. So it is with believers. We act as spiritual preservatives in a world that is decaying. While it is not in our power to save others, the positive influence that we have on non-believers should never be underestimated. Our behavior should positively impact the non-believer’s behavior, perhaps slowing the decay and preserving what righteousness remains. Who knows, whether or when the influence may eventually lead someone to the Lord.

Adds Flavor – Salt enhances or adds flavor where there is little or no taste. Christians should add spiritual flavor in a world that is tasteless. We cannot achieve this if we are overbearing in our witness. This only leads to bitterness, much like too much salt can ruin the taste of food it was meant to add flavor to.

Not Obscured – Salt is most noticeable if it is not obscured by other spices. We cannot control whatever distractions come into the lives of those within our sphere of influence, but we should be careful of whatever distractions come into our lives that might obscure our witness. We may be the only contact some non-believers have with the Gospel. If our witness is obscured by our worldliness, we are not helping their chances of entering the Kingdom of God.

Must Be Applied – Salt must leave the saltshaker in order to do its work. As witnesses to the Gospel, we must go out into the world. We cannot spend all of our time within the closed circles of church, small groups and Christian schools. If we are to have an impact on the world, we must go out into it.

No Substitute – While many so-called substitutes line store shelves, there really is no satisfactory substitute for salt. The taste may not be quite right, it may leave an after-taste or it might not work as a preservative. In a similar fashion, there is no satisfactory substitute for witnessing. While many things may point to God (nature, word, conscience, etc…), there is nothing like a life that has been changed to bear-witness. There is nothing like someone who has been there to show the way.

LIGHT OF THE WORLD

A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV 1978).

Gives Light – Sometimes you have to state the obvious. The purpose of light is to give light. It is meant to be seen. It is meant to attract attention in dark places. Christians should be a source of light to a world that otherwise walks in darkness. But the purpose is not just for our light to be seen and to call attention to ourselves, but for the light to allow others to see the redeeming work of Christ in our lives.

Dispels Darkness – When light is introduced where there is darkness, darkness is chased away. Interestingly enough, it does not work the other way around. You cannot introduce darkness where there is light and have the light chased away. Light can be extinguished, but not by darkness. This is the way we should live our lives, as witnesses for the true light. We should be dispelling darkness, not extinguishing our lights.

Contrasts With Darkness – Light is most noticeable the darker it is. In pitch-black darkness, even the faintest light is obvious. So we should not be too quick to dismiss the effectiveness of our witness or the impact that it has on those groping around in the darkness of sin and separation from God.

Do Not Hide – Darkness may not be able to overcome light, but light can be hidden. If hidden it cannot dispel the darkness or serve as a beacon to those lost in the darkness. We must not hide our witness, whether from fear or shame. We have nothing to fear and nothing to be ashamed of. We may be the only light that some ever see.

Noiseless – Light is quiet. It does its work without distracting noise. This does not mean that our witness should be nothing more than something to observe. We can verbally communicate the Gospel and our testimony. But it should be done with gentleness and respect. Not flashy or overbearing. The Gospel needs no added flash and our testimony need not be offensive.

My Advice – No one who is conscientious wants to be known as someone that shirks their responsibility. No caring person wants to withhold what they have to share from those who are in need. Christians who have not merely tasted salvation, who are no longer infants but have allowed the Holy Spirit to begin the process of transforming their lives are to some degree both conscientious and caring. So why is it that some shirk their responsibility to witness and in so doing withhold the good news from those who need it? There may be many reasons – fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, fears of inadequacy, fear of messing it up, fear of failure, fear of physical harm, etc. Unfortunately, not of these fears absolve us of our responsibility of failing to warn. And none of them an valid excuse that our warnings might fail. So we must confront our fears.

We had a lot more fears when we are younger. We also had a lot less ability to cope with our fears when we were younger. But healthy adults, as they grow, as they gain more knowledge and experience, overcome some of their fears and become better able to cope with their other fears. As Christians, it should be the same as it relates to our fears about witnessing. A healthy Christian is a growing Christian. As we grow, our old fears about sharing the Gospel will increasingly give way to a “burning fire, shut up in my bones, I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot.” When we are “full grown” and “fully mature” perhaps we will get to the point where “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” We may not be there yet, but in the meantime there are a lot of things we can try to be (available, willing, clear, natural, believable, consistent, prepared, sensitive, respectful, patient, truthful, faithful, encouraged, seasoned, shining, responsible, eager, humble, precise, uncompromising, loving, gentle). The good thing is that we are not alone. God wants us to be all of these things as well. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives He is working to make them be.

Be Available, Be Willing, Be Clear, Be Natural, Be Believable, Be Consistent, 

Be Prepared, Be Sensitive, Be Respectful, Be Patient, Be Truthful, Be Faithful, 

Be Encouraged, Be Seasoned, Be Shining, Be Responsible, Be Eager, Be Humble, 

Be Precise, Be Uncompromising, Be Loving, Be Gentle.

Be a witness.

 

 

Hold Out, Stand Your Ground

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My Musings – Sin. Our earthly nature. We read the items from Colossians 3:5-9 (sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed – among others) and are outwardly repulsed by them. Yet, because we still have a sin nature (our old self) we are sometimes inwardly attracted to and desire them anyway. More often than we care to admit it, our outward actions become guided by our inward desires. Virtues. We read the items from Colossians 3:12-14 (compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience – among others) and outwardly admire them. Yet, even though we are Christians (our new self) and sin has no real power over us, at times we inwardly find them unattractive and undesirable. More often than we care to admit it, our outward actions are not guided by them. This seems so illogical, but it is a struggle we all face every day. We need to learn how to put off our old self and its earthly desires and to put on our new self and its heavenly desires.

Of course we have all heard the old saying that “it is easier said than done,” which seems to be the case when trying to put down our sin nature. We seem to be powerless to resist. But this is lie from the father of lies (“you will not die”). The truth is, the only power temptation has over us is the power we give to it. Handing over power is a process that begins when our own evil desires (our sin nature), are dragged away and enticed. These desires, once conceived, can give birth to sin, which when they are full-grown lead to death (James 1:14-15). Just like God told Adam and Eve. For them, and for all of their descendants who inherited the sin nature from them, spiritual death became a reality. But it need not be a certainty. God provided the remedy – Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. Those who believe in Him and receive this free gift are born again to experience eternal life.

But this does not stop Satan from trying to “kill” our fellowship with Christ (“Adam, where are you?”) and our witness to others. He tries to do this with more lies. His lies are not always easy to recognize as lies. They can be very subtle and are often packaged to look and sound like the truth. He will attempt to confuse us about God’s truth. He did this in the beginning with Adam and Eve (“did God really say?”). He will also try to distort God’s word by twisting it to suit his purpose. He did this when he tempted Jesus (“it is written.”). But we must remember, saying that a lie is the truth does not make it the truth any more than saying the truth is a lie makes it a lie.

We must also remember that temptation is not sin. It only becomes sin if we give in to the lies, when we submit (give power) to its rules. So, we must ask ourselves who or what we love more – “the basic rules of this world,” or the one who saved us from them? We show our love by which one we obey.

So, how do we keep temptation from becoming sin? Well, another popular saying is “knowledge is power.” So first, we need to know and understand our enemy, because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12, NIV 1978).” This is spiritual warfare, we have a spiritual adversary, but he is not all powerful. Second, we need be aware “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11, NIV 1978).” If we know his devises, tactics and schemes we will be better prepared to do battle. Third, we need to beware, to “be self-controlled and alert,” because, “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8, NIV 1978).” What were Adam and Eve doing at the tree anyway? If we do not want to eat the fruit, we need to stop hanging around the tree. Fourth, we need to arm ourselves for battle. This is not a second amendment right, but a Biblical imperative. We need to “put on the full armor of God; so that when the day of evil comes, [we] may be able to stand [our] ground (Ephesians 6:13, NIV 1978).” Spiritual battles call for spiritual weapons. You should not take a knife to a gunfight. Finally, we need to stand our ground, because if we “resist the devil he will flee from [us] (James 4:7, NIV 1978).”

THE DEVIL’S SCHEMES

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV 1984).  “In order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”  (2 Corinthians 2:11, NIV 1984).

Lies  – “When he [the devil] lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44, NIV 1978).  Be careful! Satan is crafty. He will feed on our secret desires and doubts through scriptural half-truths (like when he tempted Christ – is it not written?) and by calling God’s word into question (like when he tempted Eve – did God really say?).

Accusations – “For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before God day and night has been hurled down.” (Revelation 12:10, NIV 1978).  Satan loves to accuse us to make us wallow in guilt. He will accuse us of our past sins. He will accuse us with respect to the law (but certainly not grace). And he would love for us to give in to the accusations and sin some more, thinking what’s the use anyway, so he can accuse us before God.

Unguarded – “If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.” (Luke 12:39, NIV 1978).  Satan is looking for opportunities where he has the best chance of success, when we are unguarded and unprepared.

Doubt – “He who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6, NIV 1978).  When we doubt we are not firmly established. When we are not firmly established it is hard to stand our ground. We are easily swayed (blown and tossed).

Legalism – “Having a form of Godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5, NIV 1978).  Satan diverts our attention from the message of God’s grace, what He did, to legalistic rules that we “must” keep.

Tradition – “You have a fine way of setting aside the [word] of God in order to observe your own traditions.” (Matthew 7:9, NIV 1978).  Satan hates the Word of God. We have already seen that he desires to deny it with lies, call it into question with doubt, tie it up into legalistic formalism and now set it aside in favor of tradition.

TAKING OUR STAND

Put on the full armor of God; so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground. With the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness feet fitted with readiness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit (the Word).” (Ephesians 6:13, NIV 1978).

Truth – “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32, NIV 1978).  We cannot expect to stand our ground against Satan’s lies if we do not have a firm grasp of the truth. God’s truth will always expose the half-truths and will always provide certainty where questions might otherwise exist.

Righteousness – “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:9, NIV 1978).  We cannot stand our ground against the devil if we attempt to meet his accusations in our own righteousness, our own works. We will always fail. But we have a righteousness in Christ that is apart from the law. For it is by grace through faith in Christ. In that we stand very firm!

Readiness – “Be on guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.” (2 Peter 3:17, NIV 1978).  We must be on guard and we must be prepared, by being aware of how he operates and by staying close to the Father.

Faith – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5, NIV 1978).  The key to combating doubt is to trust in God, especially when we are most tempted to doubt. This is hard to do when we try to rely on our own understanding.

Salvation – “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16, NIV 1978).  The Gospel message, salvation by God’s grace, is powerful because it keeps us focused on the power source.

Word – “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates and judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV 1978).  The Word not only guards our outward actions, it also judges our thoughts and attitudes. It helps us understand sin is more than outward disobedience, it is a matter of the heart.

My Advice – A line of dialogue from the motion picture Apollo 13, and attributed to mission control flight director Gene Krantz, is “failure is not an option.” When it comes to temptation, giving in is an option because we have free will. But it is a choice that we make that is avoidable. To obey is better. There is no the “devil made me do it” excuse that Eve used when she said “the serpent deceived me and I ate (Genesis 3:13).” We cannot blame others like Adam did when he said “the woman you put me here with – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it (Genesis 3:12).” No making excuses. No blaming others. Only confession and repentance can restore the fellowship that we failed to maintain when we chose to sin. Then, our moment (sometimes a season) of unfaithfulness will be met with God’s promise of His faithfulness. Not only will He forgive us, but He will also purify us. He does this because Jesus is at His right side advocating on our behalf. We died to sin. How can we choose to live in it any longer?

Suffering With Christ

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My Musings – Trials and suffering are an inevitable fact of life for the Christian. Just like a newborn baby, it seems like no sooner are we born again than we are being slapped around just to make us to cry. Or so it seems. Certainly, our new adversary the devil will do everything he can to discourage us, keep us from growing and just make us cry. But Satan is not the source of all the “slapping.”

Sometimes God will also permit difficulties in our lives. These may involve some crying too, but that is not their real purpose. God wants us to take that first breath of spiritual air. He wants us to learn to live the new life we have begun in Him. He wants to instruct us, train us, develop us, and yes, sometimes discipline us. To learn to walk in faith, He knows that we will have to take a few spills along the way. Just like our physical parents, He is there to make sure we do not hurt ourselves, to pick us up and to help us along our way. But that is not all.

Just like our physical parents are there to protect us from actual harm from bullies, our heavenly Father is also there to protect us from any real or lasting harm from that ultimate bully, Satan. While God wants us to learn how to stand up for ourselves, He is always there to make sure things do not get out of hand. With the insights that we gain by fixing on eyes on the unseen, perhaps, we can better understand and appreciate why we must encounter so much trials and suffering in our earthly lives. In so doing we will be in a better position to endure “the fellowship of sharing in His suffering,” which are “light and momentary,” by focusing on the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Maybe we will even stop seeing the cloud in every silver-lining.

Trials and suffering should not catch us off guard. Nor should we consider it strange when we do encounter them. For Jesus very clearly told us we would encounter persecution in this world, simply because we were His followers. In fact, He said if we are unwilling to “carry our own crosses” and follow Jesus (“a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief“) we could not be His disciple. These are hard sayings, but we must understand that Jesus not only willingly carried Hs own cross; He was nailed to it and died on it for us in order to give us eternal life. It is the promise (His promise, sealed by His blood) of that eternal life that makes the suffering and trials here on earth bearable. In fact James tells us it should be more than just bearable, we should “consider it pure joy,” while Peter said we should rejoice that we “participate in the sufferings of Christ.” These were not idle words or casual observations by mere spectators of the Christian life. Both men encountered their own persecutions because they were followers of Christ that eventually led them to give their own lives as martyrs rather than abandon their faith in Jesus.

But there is more to suffering than “it’s going to happen so get over it” que sera, sera attitude. Much more. For even when “bad” things happen to Godly people, God (in His own way and in His own time) cause them to work out for good. And in the process we are being made over into the likeness of His Son, “an eternal glory that far outweighs” all our temporal pain and suffering. As stated before, Jesus said that in this world we would have persecution. In His very next breath He added, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Because His Spirit lives in us, we can overcome too.

Trials and suffering are not merely something that we must endure as we look with hope to the “eternal glory” awaiting us in Heaven. For God does not waste any experience that He, in His infinite wisdom, permits in our lives. Some things He will allow, knowing they are necessary for us to become more like His Son, others He will not, knowing that they would be more than we can bear.

So, what should we do as we endure the crosses that we are called to bear for His Kingdom and His glory? We can try to understand why we are experiencing painful trials, although there will be many times when the why is not for us to know at the present time. But even if we cannot fully understand why, there are other things that we just might be able to understand and learn from. For example:

  • How does this experience identify me with Christ?

If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear the name.” (1 Peter 4:16, NIV 1978).

Of course we know that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” When we suffer because we are a Christian, it not only helps others to identify us as a true believer, it helps us identify with Him all the more.

  • How might my response to this experience prove the genuineness of my faith?

These [trials] have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes though refined by fire-may be proved genuine.” (1 Peter 1:7, NIV 1978).

Jesus assured us that in this world His followers would have troubles. So if we never suffer for our faith, then we need to question the authenticity of our faith. How we respond to trials also prove the quality of our convictions.

  • In what ways might this experience be training me for future service?

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11, NIV 1978).

Whether we care to admit it or not, we learn from our difficulties. In fact, the lessons learned in adversity reach down deeper into our souls and are more lasting than the lessons we learn from our good experiences.

  • Can this experience teach me to be more patient with God?

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:10, NIV 1978).

Patience is learned best during the times of our lives that try our patience the most. In contrast, our lack of patience sometimes causes us to undergo difficulties that we might have avoided had we been more patient.

  • How might my perspective need adjustment as I face this experience?

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18, NIV 1978).

Ten thousand years from now, none of the pain or sorrow will be left, or even remembered. But the character that it develops will last on into eternity. This is why an eternal perspective is so important.

  • Has the experience of God’s faithfulness through past trials helping me to persevere through the current trial?

You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:3, NIV 1978).

We need not be joyful about the suffering itself, but we can be joyful about what the suffering is producing in our lives and in our character. Knowing the certainty of this helps us to push on through the difficulties and persevere.

  • What do others see in how I deal with this experience that might be a witness (good or bad) for the Kingdom?

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body.” (2 Corinthians 4:11, NIV 1978).

People are watching us. They see how we respond to trying times. They take note of how our reactions differ from the rest of the world and to what (or to whom) they can attribute it. What we do is often more important than what we say as a testimony.

  • How can this experience make me more spiritually fruitful?

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2, NIV 1978).

The pain of pruning is not without a reason. For it is by cutting away the “dead growth” from our lives that real growth occurs. Growth that nurtures us and develops into spiritual fruit.

  • Is this experience causing me to dive down into despair or soar higher in my faith?

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10, NIV 1978).

We are called to be faithful even in the face of suffering so extreme that death threatens. But it is under these conditions that we learn to be faithful.

  • Through this experience am I relying on God’s faithfulness or worldly “wisdom?

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV 1978).

It is hard for us to conceive of strength coming from suffering. But it is during adversity, when we are too weak and helpless to help ourselves that we learn to rely on God and the strength that He provides and that is sufficient for the circumstances.

  • Is there something in my life God is correcting and for which I need to repent?

Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5, NIV 1978).

In addition to the discipline used to train us, the Lord also disciplines us to bring correction. A parent who really loves a child will not let habitual misbehaving go uncorrected. It really is true that discipline is for our own good.

  • How can I use my experience to help others in similar circumstances?

Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NIV 1978).

We are better able to help others with their burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ (do to others what you would have them do for you) when we have borne our own burdens.

As we consider these questions, perhaps we can move from a why me attitude to a why not use it attitude. In any event, we must learn to trust Him and take Him at His word – what we are enduring is necessary and will somehow work out for the good.

My Advice – I do not know how many times I have read the story of Peter’s attempt to walk on water. But for many years I missed a subtle point. When Peter cried out for Jesus to save him from sinking, Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him. But it was not until they were safe in the boat that the wind died down. So it is with our walk here on earth. There will always be wind and waves. God is teaching us to walk on and through them. There may be times of calm, but they will never cease forever until we reach Heaven, until we are “in the boat.”

Until that time, Jesus is right there (“nothing can separate us from the love of Christ”) to catch us if we are in danger of sinking. He would prefer that we learn to walk in faith, so He continues to allow the wind and waves as each time we are able to take a few more steps before sinking. And as each tribulation subsides we are learning more and more to be conquerors of fear rather than being conquered by fear. You see, trials and suffering are inevitable, but how we respond to them is up to us. How are you responding?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engaged With The Church

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My Musings – While not the only reasons, some believers have forsaken the church because they feel it is full of hypocrites or they believe they can worship at anyplace or anytime. It is true that there is a certain degree of hypocrisy in some who attend church – they pretend to profess, but they do not really believe. The church should not turn these away for they need continued exposure to the truth, so they eventually will believe. True believers, on the other hand cannot be hypocrites. They do not pretend at something that they do not believe. It is just the opposite. They believe, but have trouble living up to what they believe. But let’s be realistic. All true believers profess Christ, but none fully live like Christ.

We must remember that accepting Christ (salvation) is an event that occurs instantaneously. Becoming like Christ, on the other hand, is a process that takes a lifetime as we increasingly yield our lives to Him and allow Him to work in our lives. Some are further along the road than others, which is the very reason we should not forsake the fellowship. We all need the encouragement, accountability and authority that the Church provides. We all need support at one time or another. We can all also return the favor by providing the support that others need at some time or another. But a support group needs a group. It cannot function in isolation and it functions best when all members are present.

Worship and praise can occur in isolation, however. It frequently does and should. But that does not mean that it is the only time we can experience worship and praise. The thing about good experiences is that we usually cannot wait to share them with someone else. That is what makes worshipping and praising God together such a profound experience. We get to share it with others.

God has characterized the Church as a body. Like a body the Church is made up of many members, yet it forms a whole. If one part is missing the whole body suffers. An ear can, to some degree, compensate for the loss of the eyes, but the whole person will suffer nonetheless for the loss of the eyes. So it is with the Church. It functions better as a whole, if all of the members are accounted for and functioning in harmony with the rest of the members.

Besides being a support group, the Church serves as the primary means by which the world is evangelized and once evangelized, they are assimilated into the body and are discipled. Without a doubt Christ is the head of the Church. But the body is what carries out His commission to go, be witnesses, win converts and make disciples. This is a continuous cycle. We go out into the world as witnesses. When converts are won to Christ they are brought into the body where they can be discipled. Eventually, they are able to go out and the cycle begins anew. While this can, and does happen one-on-one without the involvement of the larger body, it works best when the entire body becomes involved.

Of course, as we all know, the universal Church consists of a multitude of local churches. In fact, today each locality has many different churches. But the same concept applies.

Individual Christians within a community should be part of one of the local bodies, rather than trying to fulfill Christ’s commission as an individual agent.

Typically, a new convert is brought into the local Church that the one who won them to the Lord attends. Often this is the person’s parent’s Church. But sometimes people have moved away from family or came to faith in a manner (e.g., evangelistic meeting, radio ministry, personal crisis) where there is no one to introduce them into a local body. Other times Christians who are already a member of a local assembly moves to another community and must find another church to attend. In these cases, the question becomes which one?

Nowadays there are many to choose from. There are many denominations within one community. In larger communities there often is more than one church of the same denomination in the same city. There also are churches with different worship styles. Finally, as our culture has become more and more diverse, and more tolerant of different beliefs and lifestyles, many fellowships have sprung up that do not always hold to the truths of Scripture. They might worship a “supernatural” being or force that is not the God of the universe. Their religious commitment may be legalistic with an emphasis on external observance rather than an internal the change of heart. There may be attitudes of permissiveness, beliefs that are compromised or a quiet profession of the lips without practice in the lives. There may be an undue emphasis on religious conformity with no evidence of spiritual transformation. Or the belief system may be one of convenience and preference, rather than sound in doctrines, that are often inconvenient. So, one must be careful when choosing which church to belong to.

The dictionary defines religion as:

  1. The service and worship of God or the supernatural;
  2. Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance;
  3. A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices;
  4. Scrupulous conformity;
  5. A cause, principle, or system held to with ardor and faith.

Let’s take a look at these five principles of religion and how they might be applied to help identify a church that merely “pretends” to follow truth, versus one that “proclaims” and follows the truth.

CHURCHES THAT PRETEND AT THE TRUTH

The Service And Worship Of God Or The Supernatural

Tolerates the service and worship of other “gods” –Be careful or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.” (Deuteronomy 11:16, NIV 1978)’

Accepts beliefs in alternate paths to God – “I am astonished that you are turning to a different gospel-which is really no gospel at all.” (Galatians 1:6, 7, NIV 1978).

Commitment Or Devotion To Religious Faith Or Observance

Characterized by legalistic commitment – “You have neglected the more important matters of the law- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23, NIV 1978).

Concerned more with external observance – Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’.” (Mark 7:6, NIV 1978).

Institutionalized System Of Religious Attitudes, Beliefs And Practices

Attitude that grace equals permissiveness – “Everything is permissible-but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible-but not everything is constructive.” (1 Corinthians 10:23, NIV 1978).

Beliefs often compromise the Word – See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends upon human tradition and the base principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, NIV 1978).

Does not put religion into practice – “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice.” (Ezekiel 33:31, NIV 1978).

Scrupulous Conformity

Conforms to rules and rituals established by man – “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value.” (Colossians 2:23, NIV 1978).

A Cause, Principle Or System Held With Ardor And Faith

Adopts causes, principles or systems that are convenient – “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3,4, NIV 1978).

CHURCHES THAT PROCLAIM THE TRUTH

The Service And Worship Of God Or The Supernatural

Insists upon service and worship of only true God – “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, NIV 1978).

Acknowledges that Christ is only path to God“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6, NIV 1978).

Commitment Or Devotion To Religious Faith Or Observance

Characterized by spirit of devotion – “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV 1978).

Concerned more with faithful heart – “What does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 10:12, NIV 1978).

Institutionalized System Of Religious Attitudes, Beliefs And Practices

Attitude that grace is evidenced by obedience – “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed.” (James 1:25, NIV 1978).

Beliefs are consistent with the Word – “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9, NIV 1978).

Puts religion into practice – “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22, NIV 1978).

Scrupulous Conformity

Emphasis is on spiritual transformation – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2, NIV 1978).

A Cause, Principle Or System Held With Ardor And Faith

Strives to follow sound doctrine even if inconvenient – “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” (1Corinthians 15:1, 2, NIV 1978).

One definition, two applications that could not be further apart.  Yet Satan would have us believe that the first application is just as valid as the latter.  A more fitting definition of the one true “religion” would be”

  1. The service and worship of the only true God, accessible only by faith in Jesus Christ;
  2. Commitment and devotion that goes beyond external observance to a faith that transforms the heart;
  3. A personal relationship with Christ that develops an attitude of voluntary obedience and beliefs that are true to the Word, and that results in a faith that is practiced;
  4. Spiritual transformation and renewal;
  5. One Gospel, based on grace, accepted by faith and held firmly by the Word.

My Advice – It should be clear that a church is more than bricks and mortar. A building does not make a church. It is the people inside the building that make up the church. In fact some churches exist without a church building. Most, if not all, of the first century churches functioned quite well without a building program. But like a physical church building, the church body is only as solid as its foundation. It might look good on the surface, but underneath there may structural defects. The defect can be so serious that when the winds and rain comes it risks being blown away or falling.

This is why it must be built on a solid foundation (Christ). What does your Church stand on?  Who does it really serve and worship?  What is it committed and devoted to?  What are its attitudes beliefs and practices?  To whom is it conforming and does it result in transformation of the heart?  Is it following the cause of Christ with ardor and faith?

Wisdom From Heaven

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My Musings – All too often we seem to compartmentalize our lives into spiritual matters versus non-spiritual matters or significant issues versus insignificant issues. We seek His will on the spiritual matters but worry and fret over non-spiritual matters. We try to solve the minor issues on our own but go to God on the major ones. We then compound the error of this incorrect orientation by applying worldly wisdom to solving the non-spiritual matters and minor issues while applying heavenly wisdom (at least we hope so) to solving those that are spiritual matters or significant. Instead, we should “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” applying heavenly wisdom as we seek His will on all matters, spiritual and non-spiritual, major and minor.

We are wise once we begin to realize that the wisdom, scholarship and philosophy that the world affords are foolishness in the eyes of God. Leaning on our own understanding, which is frequently based upon these things, can lead us down crooked paths or detour us altogether. But trusting in God and acknowledging that His wisdom and guidance is all we really need, and then actually following it leads us down paths that are straight. All too often we grow impatient waiting on the Lord, yet taking matters into our own hands and relying on worldly wisdom usually wastes time, effort and resources that were not necessary had we remained patient and waited on the Lord. Also, leaning on our own understanding often results in consequences that could have been avoid as well.

With the knowledge and understanding that God provides, we are better able to make correct judgments that enable us to follow the best course of action. But how do we do this? We have already learned many things that are useful for spiritual wisdom and discernment: desiring what God desires, cultivating a Christ-like attitude, being attuned to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, pursuing a life of service that God planned in advance for us to do, developing meaningful and consistent Bible study habits and communicating often with God in prayer. It should come as no surprise that these things are, in a sense, building blocks to developing spiritual wisdom and discernment and is a characteristic of devoted Disciples of Christ. And, there are more building blocks to come, such as being engaged with the church, learning valuable lessons from earthly trials and temptations and being motivated by a Godly love. As we put these disciplines into practice we will come to realize and understand that God’s ways are right and best, and we should walk in them.

Unfortunately, all too often we find that it is easier (or so we think) to rely on our own understanding rather than God’s. We buy into Satan’s deception (began in Eden) believing that the ways of the world are “desirable for gaining wisdom.” When we lean on our own understanding, which is worldly, thinking that we are so wise and learned, spiritual wisdom is hidden from us. We are blinded by our own devises. But when we, in child-like faith and trust, seek answers from above they are revealed to us. Thus, what we believe to be so hard, gaining spiritual wisdom and discernment is actually “child’s play”. It really does not take an Einstein. The truth is that God wants us to make right choices and wise decisions. That being the case, why would He make it hard for us to do so? He does not. In fact, James tells us that “[i]f any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all. (James 1:5).” We actually make it hard for ourselves when we lean on our own understanding and do not acknowledge that His ways are best.

Elsewhere in his epistle, James gives us some additional insights into spiritual wisdom that we would be well served (wise) to pay attention to and learn from. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:13-17, NIV 1978).

In a world where good and evil are in constant conflict, where what is wrong strives to negate what is right and where right is often called wrong and wrong is called right, worldly wisdom and spiritual wisdom are also set in opposition to each other.

Worldly Wisdom Characteristics

If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. There you find disorder and every evil practice.”

Bitter Envy – Resentful desire.  “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30, NIV 1978).

Selfish Ambition – Self-seeking desire to achieve or obtain.  “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10, NIV 1978).

Empty Boasting – Excessive pride over one’s own attainments, abilities or possessions. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2, NIV 1978).

Denial of Truth – Inability or unwillingness to see facts clearly.  “All will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” (2 Thessalonians 1:12, NIV 1978).

Earthly – Values, standards, motives, methods and goals that are worldly.  “For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:16, NIV 1978).

Unspiritual – Animal instincts devoid of Godly instincts.  “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14, NIV 1978).

Devilish – Demonic, marching to devil’s drumbeat, embracing the devil’s values. May appear appealing but in reality it devours.  “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds will somehow be led astray.” (2 Corinthians 11:3, NIV 1978).

Disorder – Confused, perplexed, mixed up.  “God is not a God or disorder but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33, NIV 1978).

Evil Practices – Worthless when measured by God’s standards even though they appear to produce success in the eyes of the world.  “When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11, NIV 1978).

Heavenly Wisdom Characteristics

The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. [Those] who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Pure – Free from contamination. Cleansed of ulterior motives and selfishness.  “The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked, but those of the pure are pleasing to Him.” (Proverbs 15:26, NIV 1978).

Peace-loving – Loves tranquility, harmony and lack of strife. Inner peace, even if no external peace.  “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”  (Romans 8:6, NIV 1978).

Considerate (gentle) – Refusal to demand “letter of the law”, flexible, willing to give up rights, tolerance.  “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4, NIV 1978).

Submissive (reasonable) – Ready to obey, easy to reason with, not rigid, willing to listen, open and teachable.  “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” (Psalm 143:10, NIV 1978).

Full of Mercy and Good Fruit – Concern prompting a compassionate response (attitude resulting in action), not mere feelings or words but practical help.  “We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:10, NIV 1978).

Impartial (unwavering) – Steadfast, faithfulness to principles, capable of sound Biblical decision and standing by it, opposite of double-mindedness.  “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV 1978).

Sincere – Genuine, lacking hypocrisy.  “Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world in the holiness and sincerity that is from God, not according to worldly wisdom.” (2 Corinthians 1:12, NIV 1978).

Peace – Freedom from disquieting thoughts or emotions. Untroubled.  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.” (John 14:27, NIV 1978).

Righteousness – Behavior and conduct that is in agreement with God’s moral standards. Not just right decisions, but righteous decisions.  “This is my prayer: that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless, filled with the fruit of righteousness.” (Philippians 1:9–11, NIV 1978).

My Advice – The choice really is ours. We desire to be wise. We just have a tendency to seek for it in all the wrong places. When we do so, we also have a tendency to make wrong decisions and unwise choices. These usually have consequences. We end up confused, perplexed and mixed up. We second guess our decisions and choices, because we realize that we have settled for what is second best. Actually worthless when compared to God’s standards and what He has to offer us. Even though it might seem that we have made the right choices in the eyes of the world, we find that they do not provide us with the satisfaction and peace of mind that we expected. They prove meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

On the other hand, when we seek for wisdom in the right place, more often than not we will make right decisions and wise choices that are free of undesirable consequences. Our minds are left untroubled and we have peace from God. For we have not just made the right decision or choice, but that we have made the righteous decision or choice.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all.” (James 1:5, NIV 1978).

How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him [Heavenly wisdom]; but if [worldly wisdom] is, follow [it].” (1 Kings 18:21, NIV 1978).

Occasional Prayer, or Pray on All Occasions?

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My Musings – Wise men (and women) still seek Him, even after they have found Him. Because being born again is not the end of seeking. It is merely the beginning. We become children of the Father and have access to Him 24/7. Regrettably, many only seek this access (through prayer) when in times of need. Then we pray in earnest, often wondering why the answers are not immediate. At other times, prayer may be nothing more than something we mumble before meals, or words we recite from memory without thinking before we retire for the evening.

Prayer is, or at least it should be, much more than any of these. It should be a continual state of mind. It should be more than a list of urgent requests or dry recitations. It should be an intimate two-way communication between a loving Father and devoted child. He, the Father, should be more than someone that we take for granted will be there when we need Him and standing by just in case when we do not need Him (or think we do not need Him).

The truth is, we would never dream of imposing upon someone with stature, such as the President of the United States, with urgent personal requests or patronizing platitudes that do little more than burn up oxygen and squander his or her valuable time, even if we did have a personal relationship with them. Yet much too often this is all that our prayer life consists of. We are passionate when the communication is important to us (urgent requests) and passionless when it is not (dry recitations). What kind of relationship is it when it is one-way?

But, how does it become an intimate two-way communication between a loving Father and devoted child? What is it about our relationship with God that can make our prayer life more (or should make it more) than selfish urgent requests (demands) fired off in frantic desperation or lifeless dry recitations rattled off as if they were an obligatory inconvenience (annoyance)? Like most parents, what He really wants from us is our time. He wants to know that we are listening to Him just as much as we want Him to listen to us when we make those urgent requests. Although He does not speak to us audibly, He impresses things on our heart, pricks our conscience, gives us insight into His Word just when we need it and brings other believers alongside us to affirm what He has “said” to us by these other means.

In its most basic form, prayer is an address by God’s people, in a spirit of humility and repentance (when needed), in an effort to seek God’s will. Sometimes it is difficult for us to express in words what is on our hearts. So the Holy Spirit, knowing what we mean, expresses to the Father what we cannot. What allows our prayers access to God’s “ear’ is our relationship with His Son Jesus. Because of His relationship with the Father, He is able to intercede on our behalf. In this world, we typically need someone to make an introduction for us if we want or need to approach a person with stature beyond ours. The person making the introduction for us can do so because we have a relationship with them and they have a relationship with the person of stature. In spiritual terms, we established a relationship with Christ when we accepted Him as our Savior. Before this, we could never dream of approaching God’s throne, nor would we have been able to. Now His eyes are on us and his ears are attentive to us.

Developing an intimate two way communication does not come naturally for everyone. Like those in Jesus’ day we need to be taught how to pray. Jesus’ response was to give an example, which became known as the Lord’s Prayer. It was then and is now a model (not a formula) that can launch us into effective communication with God.

As we continue to grow, (desiring what God desires, developing a Christ-like attitude, allowing the Spirit to lead us, serving Christ as we serve others, being guided by the Word) we move from pure Spiritual milk to solid food. As we do, prayer becomes more and more natural and spontaneous for us. All of these disciplines are working together in perfect harmony to develop and deepen our relationship with the One we are praying to.

As we mentioned, the Lord’s Prayer is not a formula or a recipe. There are, however, some definite characteristics in this model prayer that we can use as an initial guide in how we ought to pray. These characteristics are:

Understand the relationship
Focus on His holiness
Heavenly mindedness
Submission, petition, confession
Forgiveness (of others)
Seek guidance and deliverance
Praise and belief

In the beginning prayer may be uncomfortable for us and our efforts at it may seem awkward. But as already noted we have the Holy Spirit to eloquently interpret what our heart is saying so passionately, but that our thoughts and words are saying so clumsily. In addition, we have the Son to intercede for us. He knows both our hearts and the Father’s and is able to bring the two together.

Understand The Relationship (Our Father in heaven) – He is the parent, we are the child. He loves and cares for us. We need to love and respect Him.  “How great is the love of the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1, NIV 1978).

Focus On His Holiness (Hallowed be Your name) – It is a privilege to be able to “boldly” approach the throne of Him who alone is absolute in His holiness. It is a privilege we should not take lightly or for granted.  “Who can stand in the in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” (1 Samuel 6:20, NIV 1978).

Be Heavenly Minded (Your Kingdom come) – Think about how much more pure, powerful and effective our prayers would be if we started every prayer from a heavenly perspective rather than from a worldly one. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15, NIV 1978).

Submit To God’s Will (Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven) – All too often we come to God in prayer with a pre-determined self-will of what we want, why we want it and when we want it. Is it any wonder that our prayers are sometimes not answered?  “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1 John 5:14, NIV 1978).

Petition God (Give us this day our daily bread) – We often have the “formula” backwards. In our greed we ask for immeasurably more than we need and we get less than we expected or hoped for. Yet when we ask only out of our needs, not out of our wants, we are often surprised at how much more we receive than what we asked for. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” (Galatians 3:20, NIV 1978).

Confess To God (Forgive us our debts) – Unconfessed sin against God and others is a major hindrance to our prayers. We need to search our hearts as we seek God’s.  “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18, NIV 1978).

Forgive Others (As we also have forgiven our debtors) – We really do not have a legitimate right to ask God to grant us what we are so unwilling to grant others.  “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14, 15, NIV 1978).

Seek God’s Guidance (And lead us not into temptation) – All too often we wait until we are tempted to seek God’s deliverance. Many times that is too late. We know what our weaknesses are and we should continually be asking God to help us. He is in a unique position to help, since when He was on earth in the person of His Son, He endured every temptation.  “Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrew 2:18, NIV 1978).

Seek God’s Deliverance (But deliver us from the evil one) – We think that our circumstances are unique, but they are not. We think that we cannot escape, but we can. God will provide the way and the strength for us to be delivered.  “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV 1978).

Give God Praise (For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever) – Prayer is not just about us. In fact, with the proper focus, it should be more about Him. We need to praise and thank Him.  “Praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.” (Daniel 4:37, NIV 1978).

Believe (Amen) – If we truly ask in His name, we will not be asking for anything that is not in accordance with His will. If then it is His will, we can surely believe He will answer. “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:13, NIV 1978).

My Advice – When you ask are you being given? When you seek are you finding? When you knock is the door opened? If not, why not? Did Jesus misrepresent (lie about) God’s response to our prayers? Of course not! To find the answer to these questions, we must look within ourselves. Are we asking, seeking, or knocking with impure or selfish motives? Are we seeking or asking for things that may not be within God’s will? Are we knocking on the wrong door? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then there should be no mystery as to why our prayers are unanswered. If our motives are pure and what we are asking for, seeking or wanting opened is within God’s will, then we can be assured that the timing is just not right. We need to be patient and wait on the Lord.

As we grow in Christ we will find that our motives become purer and less self-centered. We will find that that our faith has become more patient in waiting on God’s. We will find ourselves praying more in line with God’s will. We will find whether the answer to our prayer is, yes, no or not now, we can still boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence that God’s has our best interests in mind.

So how is your prayer life? When you pray are your motives pure? Are your prayers in line with God’s will? Are you patiently waiting on God to answer in His time?