Silence and Patience
How long will you attack a man? – Psalm 62:3
There are wicked people who make a hobby of attacking others. They go about shooting verbal darts of false accusations. Physical assault is bad enough. Verbal attack is worse. These attacks stem from jealousy or pride. These attackers consider themselves to be superior to others. Why else would they rain accusations on anyone, finding fault every now and then? They feel threatened by the very presence of their victim.
The psalmist indeed was in a high position and his opponents worked incessantly to cast him down from there (v4). None of these attacks were frontal ones. They blessed with their mouth, greeting him every day with a smile. But they cursed inwardly once they got behind his back. The psalmist was tired of this hidden offensive from those who delighted in lies. In his private prayer, he thought aloud, How long will you attack a man? Won’t you ever get tired of this sport?
God had placed the psalmist in His School of Patience. There wasn’t any quick answer to his prayers. Yet, he was careful to counter lies with silence. Truly my soul silently waits for God. From Him comes my salvation (v1). Silent waiting exercises spiritual muscles of faith. Only those whose faith is mature and deep enough to trust God during the long, dark nights of life can hang on peacefully. The psalmist is quick to reaffirm his resolve to depend on God alone to restore his honor. Whenever he felt that his faith was about to give way he told himself, My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved.
The Lord Jesus too countered false accusations with a godly silence and patience. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth (Isaiah 53:7a). Wait patiently on God. His help is never too far away. At the right time He will silence your accusers who love to torment you. He will save you and restore your glory in a way that brings glory to His Name.
He’s praying ...
Arise and go to … Saul of Tarsus … for behold, he is praying. – Acts 9:11
Heaven’s machinery will swing into action for you when you persist in prayer. Your prayers are not in vain. A time will come when God will acknowledge you before people and order them to act for you on His behalf.
There’s a sense of urgency in the words of the Lord Jesus. He commanded his servant Ananias to arise and go to Saul who lived in the house of Judas. Why? For three days, Saul had been praying for the restoration of his sight. He prayed for further instructions from the Lord. He neither ate nor drank. Although he was grateful for the glorious encounter he had with the risen Lord Jesus he had no clue as to why he was blinded. Neither did he know God’s plans for his life.
Saul didn’t have any friends among Christians in Damascus. Those Christians however knew him as their persecutor. Even before he arrived there to arrest them, they had got the wind of it! The one who came to arrest Christians was now in the Lord’s custody—blind, hungry and confined.
Will I be blind forever? Is this God’s punishment for me who raged against His people? Will any Christian accept me as a brother? How will they now know that I’ve had a change of heart? Who will vouch for my conversion? Saul must have felt lost and helpless. He was in a very awkward situation. But instead of sinking into despair, he prayed incessantly for healing and guidance.
Saul’s prayer moved the Lord Jesus to act on his behalf. Not only did the Lord order Ananias to go to Saul, but He also helped Ananias overcome his own negative bias. The Lord spoke for a man who couldn’t speak for himself! He commended him and portrayed him as a chosen vessel. Go … for behold, he is praying.
You might think that your prayers are lost. You are unable to see the Lord’s intervention on your behalf. Even while you remain in the dark, the Lord is deploying His men and His methods. He will deliver you from your prison. Your darkness will give way to light. He can alter public opinion in your favor. Besides, he will acknowledge your private moments of devotion before those who matter. … for behold, he is praying. He will reveal His high plans about your life to others so that they will view you in a new light. Do not give up. God is at work on your behalf to accomplish His purposes.
What I do have I give you
Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you.” – Acts 3:6
Most Christians are painfully aware of all that they do not have. It’s easy to focus on one’s lack and to complain about it. How many are aware of what they already have? It takes a discerning heart to recognize gifts God has bestowed upon us. Blessed indeed is a Christian who knows what he possesses. He will not be perturbed by an awareness of what he doesn’t have.
Lack of silver and gold bothers many disciples of Christ. Influenced by the values of the ‘enlightened’ world around us, we are tempted to consider wealth as the fuel that drives the engines of the world. Sometimes, we foolishly measure a person’s worth in terms of the wealth they possesses! This folly has unfortunately clouded the vision of many Christians. Their confidence takes a hit. Their ministry gets paralyzed due to lack of funds because they are convinced that nothing can be done without money.
Peter knew otherwise. He didn’t consider bankruptcy as a perfect excuse to hang up his boots. He didn’t wait for funds to trickle in. Neither did he appeal for funds. He knew that the kingdom of God is not driven by silver and gold. Lack of money is neither a disqualification nor a disadvantage in Christian ministry.
Peter and John knew that they were rich because of the immense Gift that God had given them. They knew that their Lord Jesus Christ was exalted far above every other name. They were commissioned as ambassadors of Jesus Christ to proclaim forgiveness of sins, to heal the sick, cast out demons, and to raise the dead. They knew the power that was available to them through the Name of Jesus Christ. They were indeed rich and privileged. What I do have I give to you. Is it any wonder that Peter was eager to give what he knew he had? He must have felt he was a debtor to the whole world. He couldn’t afford to keep his riches to himself.
Dear Christian, are you aware of the Treasure you possess? When was the last time you offered His saving power to someone in need?
The Lord Is Good
The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. – Nahum 1:7
God is good! This slogan is commonplace in our churches. We shout it out aloud. Yet, Nahum’s comforting statement about the goodness of God should serve as an eye-opener for Christians and skeptics. This brilliant gem of a promise sits on the dark velvet canvas of God’s fiery wrath. In a nutshell, Nahum claims that the goodness of God is illustrated by His sure judgments upon the wicked who oppress God’s people!
We live in an age that is characterized by a general ignorance about God, mostly due to one’s unwillingness to submit to scriptural assertions about the nature of God. There are Christians too who are uncomfortable with the thought of an “angry God” who wrecks vengeance upon His enemies. They consider merciful love and fierce justice as qualities that are mutually exclusive. They wonder how a merciful and good God can ever be someone whose wrath is poured out like fire (v6)? Today’s worshipers would rather believe in a God who is a product of their imagination—a “nice” God who never gets angry or sends anyone to hell!
Nahum’s prophecy was a warning directed at Nineveh, the capital of cruel Assyria. The Assyrians were guilty before God because they chose to be God’s enemies and to plot against Him (v2, 8, 9). They oppressed God’s people and took pride in their idolatry (v14). God’s people were afflicted and brought low.
Yahweh decreed that he would exterminate His enemies (v8). He comforted His people saying, Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. And I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart (v12b, 13). God assured His people who took refuge in Him that the “trouble” called Assyria “will not rise up a second time” (v9). In his prophetic vision, Nahum foresaw the destruction of Nineveh. He envisioned a messenger who would glide over the hills, bringing glad tidings of Assyria’s defeat. Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! (v15a). Of course, peace to one is death to another. With such an assurance, Nahum exhorted the nation of Judah to celebrate. Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off.
Isn’t Yahweh a good God to those who take refuge in Him? He hasn’t changed a bit over these centuries. The need for a refuge implies the existence of an enemy, an oppressor. God will consume all oppressors in his wrath and prove His goodness toward His people.
Cheer up, dearly beloved. Your afflictions won’t last forever. The Lord is good to you!
… the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. – Exodus 14:13
Nothing short of a decisive breakthrough can save us from certain dehumanizing circumstances in life. Yet, there are times when this breakthrough seems to be forever elusive. Just when you think you have secured your peace, you see it being snatched from your hands. How long can anyone endure repeated failure or disappointment?
The nation of Hebrew slaves fleeing under the leadership of Moses was extremely glad that God had delivered them from Egypt after several attempts to gain freedom had failed. Their joy evaporated when they saw Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit to recapture them. They feared that they would be taken back as slaves. They panicked. They complained to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”
Needless to say, this people needed freedom once and for all. Moses’ words were in stark contrast to their words of disappointment, disbelief and a fear of certain death. The Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. They only had to stand firm and be silent, casting away their fear and doubts. They had to take their eyes off their ‘problem’ to be able to see the salvation of the LORD which He would accomplish for them.
Indeed, God’s salvation brings total relief and deliverance from our bondage to sin and Satan. We who claim to have been set free from these are hounded by other persistent and tormenting ills. Instead of questioning God’s ability to save us thoroughly; instead of voicing our fears and doubts, let us shut up and step aside to let Him fight for us. Fear not! The deliverance and peace you seek will not elude you forever. The Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.
Afflicted for your comfort
If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; … – 2 Cor 1:6
The apostle Paul, a minister of the gospel, counted it a privilege to endure a share of the sufferings of Christ—sufferings that came as a result of his bold proclamation of the gospel. In his most personal epistle of all, the apostle to the Gentiles presents a long list of hardships he endured to take the gospel to new frontiers. Paul and his companions were ‘so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.’ They encountered deadly peril and felt as if they had been sentenced to death! Add to that a regular supply of insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities and you get a fair picture of what apostolic ministry looked like in those days (12: 10).
The abundance of afflictions did not destroy Paul or his companions. Instead, it made them rich in divine comfort. In all humility, they trusted God for their safety and derived consolation from the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. Paul claimed that he was thus able to comfort those who were in any affliction. Blessed are those who discover this divine purpose behind the afflictions they endure. The delightful prospect of becoming a comforter to any distraught person will enable them to endure any affliction cheerfully.
It is certainly unfair to compare our mild afflictions to the ones that the apostles endured for the sake of the gospel. The afflictions that most Christians of today endure are not due to their faith in Christ or due to their commitment to proclaim the gospel. Yet, we cite Paul’s claims with impunity while referring to our tooth aches and financial losses. This is not to say that God’s comfort is unavailable to us when we lose a dear one or when we suffer from a painful disease. However, these certainly are not the afflictions of Christ that Paul was referring to. The abundant comfort that the apostles enjoyed through Christ is certainly reserved for those who share in the afflictions of Christ. ‘For as we share abundantly in Christ‘s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too’ (v5).
On what account are you suffering? Is it for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ? Then you too, like Paul, will soon be able to say that your afflictions were for someone’s comfort and salvation. We are not called just to dispense comfort but to be agents of the Kingdom of God, to lead people to comfort and salvation.
The steadfast love of the LORD
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases … – Lamentations 3:21-22
Hope sustains us. We hope for a better tomorrow even though we are neck deep in misery. Hope that’s based on wishful thinking will disappoint us. On the other hand, if our hope is based on the unchanging nature of our LORD God, even the darkest of our nights will not blind us.
The prophet Jeremiah recalled the steadfast love of the LORD in the mist of a national tragedy that ravished his nation. The tragedy was anything but natural. He knew that Judah’s defeat and the resultant exile came as fulfillment of his prophecies. The LORD did what He purposed (2:17). Like an enemy, the LORD swallowed up Israel and sent Judah into captivity. The Lord trampled Judah and crushed her young men. Jeremiah mourned for the dead whose bodies were strewn around the city. He cried when he saw destitute and starving infants faint on the streets. Starving women resorted to eating children of their tender care.
Even though he prophesied about a coming destruction, Jeremiah was overwhelmed by its terrifying magnitude. He was so overcome with grief that he wrote down his lamentations to facilitate a resolution. Having seen the LORD’s fierce anger (2:5) that was displayed without pity (2:17) Jeremiah felt that God had driven him into darkness without any light (3:2). That’s an existence without any hope! His list of complaints about God grew longer by the day: surely against me He turns his hand (v3); He has besieged me … with bitterness and tribulation (v5); He shuts out my prayer (v8); He is a bear lying in wait for me (v10); He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver (v13); He has filled me with bitterness (v15); … so I say, My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD (v18).
In such a hopeless situation, Jeremiah resolutely reminded himself of Yahweh’s steadfast love. Light dawned in Jeremiah’s darkness when he remembered that God’s mercies are renewed every morning. His love is never exhausted. Therefore, God is never devoid of mercy even when He executes punishment. Jeremiah complaints gave way to praise and worship. God’s unchanging character elicited praise from Jeremiah’s lips: Great is thy faithfulness (v23).
If you feel that God has punished you and that God is angry with you, take courage! Tap into God’s mercies and wait quietly for His salvation (v26). Humble yourself, put your mouth in the dust and endure the yoke that God has placed on you. Let those who insult you continue their mission; show your cheek to the one who strikes you (v27-30). For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love (v31-32).
A small cloud ...
There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea! – 1 Kings 19:44
Imagine the rapturous joy of sailors who sight land or a lighthouse after spending several days and nights on board a tempest-tossed ship. The joy of a Christian who sees the first evidence of answered prayer after several months or years of patient waiting on the Lord is similar if not greater than any such joy.
God commanded the prophet Elijah to present himself before his arch-rival, King Ahab of Israel. Elijah had cursed the land of Israel with a severe drought; it had not rained in Israel for three-and-half years since then. How could the ‘absconding’ prophet appear before an enraged King? God gave Elijah a promise: “Go … I will send rain.” Trusting in the Lord, he went to the King, and later, won a decisive battle for God on Mt. Carmel. The true God manifested himself before an apostate nation by sending fire from heaven. Yet, the drought was still on. Even when there was no sign of rain, Elijah exercised his faith in God’s promise by confessing to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.”
When Ahab departed to enjoy a late lunch, God’s man Elijah went up to the top of Carmel. He did not wish to leave anything to chance. There was no room for complacency. Elijah knew that everything that God did with respect to His people was in answer to prayer. Even a divine promise might remain unfulfilled if God’s people don’t humble themselves and plead for it’s fulfillment!
Elijah’s faith in God is illustrated by his persistent prayer. After praying for rain, he sent his servant to see whether there was any sign of rain in the sky. Elijah expected God to answer his prayer. When his servant returned saying, “There’s nothing,” Elijah decided to pray again before sending his servant to look for clouds. He did this seven times. This is an amazing demonstration of the twin dimensions of faith in God—assurance and patience. His assurance in God’s faithfulness made him look out for an answer after each of his seven prayers. On the other hand, patience made Elijah persist in prayer until he saw an answer from God! Elijah’s humility too is noteworthy, as is evident from his posture in prayer. He bowed down and his face was between his knees. He didn’t command God to act. He didn’t command the sky to give rain. He just petitioned God on behalf of his nation.
After his seventh prayer, Elijah’s servant came back with a positive answer. “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!” Elijah wasn’t disturbed by the size of the cloud as much as his servant was. A cloud, however small it appeared, was a miracle that God wrought in that cloudless sky. Elijah rose up to leave. He was emboldened to warn Ahab of a mighty downpour. Just as Elijah confessed, the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was heavy rain.
Men and women of faith pray. They pray, expecting an answer from God, in all humility. They persist in prayer until God answers. And, of course, they know when to rise from prayer to celebrate God’s faithfulness.
Do you have a similar experience to share with God’s people for the glory of God?
Our Inner Hurts
God has made me forget all my hardship … – Genesis 41:51
Painful memories are best forgotten. But the trouble with these festering wounds in our minds is that they don’t necessarily fade with time. Every recollection of a hurt or injustice or violation inflicts a pain as bad or worse than the original pain. We need a healing touch from God who alone knows how to deal with each one of us in a unique way.
Joseph lost his mother in his childhood. His father was careful to give him a double measure of love. That, however, paved the way for sibling rivalry. His elder brothers hated him. They hated him all the more because of his dreams. Some of them wanted to kill him.
Eventually, they sold him off to a nomadic tribe that was headed to Egypt. This young victim of deceit and trafficking was soon to discover that his pains had only begun. He was sold off as a slave to an Egyptian priest. Although he gained the favor of his mater, his youthful charm worked against him. He had to fend off advances from his master’s amorous wife. She leveled false charges on him and had him sent to a dungeon. That probably was the lowest level to which Joseph could have descended in that ancient world. He was an alien slave, imprisoned on serious charges of misbehavior. He felt abandoned by everyone as he did time as a prisoner of the most powerful man on earth, the Pharaoh. If it had not been for God’s faithfulness and care, Joseph would have become a mental wreck.
We know how God exalted Joseph to be the prime minister of Egypt. God gave him a woman of noble birth as his wife. God exalted Joseph because Joseph endured all hurts and injustices without trying to fight his case. He trusted God to vindicate him. And when God gave them a son, he named him Manasseh, which means God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house. This reveals the magnitude of pain that Joseph endured during his childhood and youth.
Some time later, as Providence would have it, Joseph’s brothers appeared before him to buy grain! In a flash, all his long-forgotten hurts and pain came back to life! Since he wasn’t recognized by his own brothers and because he had immense power and authority, he could have taken full revenge on them. But he never went beyond teasing them.
When God heals your inner hurts, He will give you the grace to forgive those who hurt you and acted wickedly against you. This is because He is the righteous judge who knows every secret. He lifts up one and casts down another. He will vindicate you and exalt you in the presence of your enemies. His justice will comfort you and cause you to forget all your hardships. Will you trust God to work such a miracle in your life?
The God to whom I belong
… there stood before me angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship. – Acts 27:23
Is there a more blessed assurance than knowing that one belongs to God? Come what may, a man or woman who knows that he/she belongs to God can remain confident even in the midst of a storm!
The apostle Paul declared that he belonged to the God whom he served (or worshiped). Sailors and fellow prisoners on board that Italy-bound Alexandrian grain ship might have had this question in their minds. Paul, if you belong to God and if you worship Him, why are you in this mess? Why is our ship lost in a storm? And why are you a prisoner?
It was true that Paul was in a very bad situation. He had ignored the Holy Spirit's repeated warnings about the possibility of an arrest in Jerusalem. That's how he walked right into a trap, got arrested, and became a prisoner. He was held for two years in a jail in Caesarea on flimsy charges. And now, he was being escorted to Rome because he had appealed to Caesar to escape a Jewish plot on his life. To make matters worse, the ship that they sailed in was caught in a terrible tempest. The men on board were so troubled that they went without food for days. Paul stood up among them to cheer them up! He told them how the God to whom he belonged sent an angel to assure him that he would indeed make it to Rome to stand before Caesar. He conveyed God's message to them that none of them would die in that storm. Paul the prisoner suddenly stood tall among them as Paul the prophet!
While conveying this message, Paul prefaced it with an accusation: "Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete …" But when God sent an angel to Paul, he did not accuse him or even to say, "You should have listened to me and not have gone to Jerusalem." How gracious of our God!
No matter how much we err in our judgments or choices, God will never abandon us if we truly are His. He will be with us even in the midst of the storms that we invited into our lives due to our mistaken choices. Probably you've spent a lot of time regretting about certain choices you made. Certain decisions or choices cannot be undone. You've got to live with it! God is in the midst of your storms to help you reach a safe haven. You are His own. Worship Him!
What matters is that we belong to the living God and that we worship or serve Him. He is our Master, Owner and Employer.
From this day forward …
… from this day forward I will bless you. – Haggai 2.19b
Who doesn't want to hear this from God? Everyone who goes through a 'dark night of the soul' wishes to hear that his/her season of failure and sorrows has come to an end. The past is past. Behold, from this day forward, I will bless you.
The Jews who returned from a long exile in Babylon had set out to build their Temple to offer worship to God. They put first things first. However, due to various reasons, they couldn't make progress beyond the laying a foundation for the new structure. Soon, the Jews got entangled in their own projects. They built paneled houses for themselves and settled down to live life as usual. Eighteen years went by before God sent Haggai and Zechariah to reprimand them about their lackadaisical attitude towards the Temple that was lying in ruins.
The neglect of worship and spiritual things brought ruin to those Jews. They sowed much but harvested little. They ate and drank but were never satisfied. They wore clothes but did not feel warm. They earned a lot; but there was nothing to show! (1.6) When Haggai pointed out their poor economic condition and linked it with their neglect of the Temple of God, the people repented. God was very pleased to see His people turn around to gather timber and stone for the Temple. From that very day – the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month of the second year of King Darius, three months after Haggai first spoke up, God began to bless them.
The God whom we serve has the power to touch us where it hurts. But when we pay attention, he lifts His heavy hand from us and begins to bless us. It is not for us to say who is under God's discipline and who is under God's favor unless we receive a word from God regarding the matter. But it is our duty to introspect, during hard times, to see whether God is trying to get our attention. Who knows? God might smile at you when you turn to obey Him and say, "From this day forward, I will bless you!"
Your Prayers Have Been Heard
Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard … – Luke 1:13
God’s timetable is not necessarily congruent with our schedule, expectations and presuppositions. God is in heaven and he does what pleases Him. He answers our prayers. But he responds to our requests in his own time and in his own special ways!
The old man Zechariah was shocked to see an angel in the Temple of God where he ministered. He was struck with disbelief when the angel told him that God was pleased to answer his prayer for a son. Zechariah must have wondered: But that was a long ago. I don’t even remember my prayers for a son. Did it take God all these decades to respond to my prayers? And why now? Don’t you see that I am an old man? My wife too is long past the age of childbearing. Now, let me talk sense. If you indeed are from God, give me a sign before I buy your suggestion.
If God should send an angel to an aged childless couple in our times to say: “Do not be afraid. Your prayers for a child has been answered,” how do you think they will respond? I think they'll say: “Sorry. We are not interested in having a baby in our old age. We’ve grown accustomed to being childless. We are old and weak. We don’t think it’s wise to have a baby now. God will have to respect our personal freedom of choice in this matter.”
Here’s another situation. What if God should send an angel to an elderly Christian man and tell him, “Do not afraid. Your wife will bear you a son and you shall name him John?” I can imagine the man’s response. ‘What? You want us have another child in our old age? We completed our family forty years ago. I am sorry. I am not willing to entertain this option. Period.”
God’s message to Zechariah was both a promise and a command. Zechariah doubted God’s promise and demanded a sign. God indeed gave him a sign! But we should appreciate Zechariah’s willingness to obey God. He went home to his wife. Without uttering a word, he managed to convince his wife about having a baby. And the elderly couple acted on God's word. What was the result? A man whom Jesus would later call the greatest among those born of women was ushered into this world.
Have you given God the ultimate control over every area of your life? When you pray, do you expect God to answer on your terms or are you willing to accept His terms?
Prayers and alms
Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter. – Acts 10:4-5
The gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s greatest message for humanity. The gospel originated with God and is validated by His power. He has set a narrow gate before us. Only those who choose to enter through this narrow gate will see life eternal. God will never set His gospel aside to make concessions for individuals however pious or charitable they may have been.
Cornelius was a pious man. It was unusual for a Roman soldier to be rich in piety and good works. So remarkable was his devotion to God and to his fellow beings that God sent an angel to acknowledge his prayers and alms. Notice the balance between prayers and charity in Cornelius’ life. Some are so pious that they are of no earthly use to anyone. Others are so caught up with charitable works that they see no value in “useless” prayer or spiritual disciplines. Cornelius excelled in both. That is remarkable indeed.
Why did God send an angel to Cornelius? Was it just to commend him? Certainly not. God wanted Cornelius to send for Peter, the apostle, who was in Joppa. God wanted Cornelius to listen and respond to the gospel in obedience. That was the only way for Cornelius to ascend to God’s presence! Just because his prayers and alms reached God’s presence, he could never be admitted into heaven on account of those valuable deeds. That's because our good deeds do not displace our sinful deeds.
Some Christians often wonder whether God will ever send great men and women to hell “just because they weren’t born-again Christians.” Such Christians should read Acts 10. The Bible does not offer one gospel for vile people and another for saintly people. All are sinners and worthy of hell. And that includes Cornelius and everyone else who has earned a big name through charitable works. If God could have taken Cornelius to heaven without him having to listen to, believe and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, He would have done it. But there’s no other way. If there was any other way, God would have spared His Son.
Cornelius had to know Jesus through the preaching of the gospel. Cornelius and his household had to repent of their sins and become disciples of Jesus Christ after accepting water baptism. God has ordained this apparently "foolish" procedure for people to secure their eternity. That’s why the Church proclaims that people should believe in Jesus, repent of their sins and be baptised.
It’s one thing for our prayers and alms to reach God. It’s altogether another ball game when it comes to sending the pious alms-giver to heaven!
Blessed are you ...
Blessed are you among women … – Luke 1:42
God will go an extra mile for those who trust in Him. He will take care of our fears and anxieties. There are just a few things that worry us at any time. But God sees the end from the beginning. He has a way of dealing with our problems long before we even become aware of those problems.
Think of a thirteen-year-old unmarried girl who discovers that she’s pregnant. How will she break the news to her Mother or Aunt? Suppose she says to her Mother, “You see, more than a month ago, I had a vision of an angel who told me that God will give me a baby without the help of any man. I think I am pregnant.” What do you think her mother or relative will tell her? “Who do you think you’re fooling? How dare you tell me stories about angels after messing up with a man? Tell me! Who’s this wicked man who did this to you?” Is there a way out for this teenager? How can she ever convince anyone that she did not have any physical relationship with any man?
God had indeed sent his angel Gabriel to Mary to announce the arrival of the Messiah through her. When 13-year-old Mary submitted to God’s will she said to Gabriel, “Behold, I am the Lord’s maidservant” she did not think of the social, religious, or moral quicksand she was stepping into. If word should reached the ears of Jewish rabbis and leaders, they would bury her waist-deep in the ground and stone her to death!
God has a way of taking care of such difficult situations. Gabriel had mentioned to Mary about her relative Elizabeth who was expecting a baby in her old age. That sounded just as incredible as her own story! That’s why she went to visit with Elizabeth. All along the way to Judea, Mary must have worried about the best way to break the ice about her pregnancy. When Mary reached Elizabeth’s house, she did not have to utter a word. As soon as Elizabeth saw Mary, the baby in the former’s womb leaped with joy. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and, in a supernatural way, recognized that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah! Only God can work in such marvelous ways. Mary was elated when Elizabeth exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women …” Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Mary praised God and prophesied.
Do you fear that people will misunderstand you and brand you as an agent of the devil even though you are living in the center of God’s will? Do you feel that there’s not one person on earth who understands you? Do not fear. The God who called you is with you and He works round the clock to accomplish His purposes. He can lead you from dishonor to honor, and from shame to glory in no time.
Failure is not final
Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom? – Psalm 60:9
God’s people are not insulated from failures. They might fail; but their failure is neither final nor fatal. Failure opens the door of our heart to humility, introspection, prayer, resolve and a resounding victory. For those who will not give up, failure is the secret ingredient that makes success all the more desirable and sweeter.
David’s forces had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Edom. This unexpected defeat was so traumatic on Israel’s collective psyche that David described it in terms of an earthquake that tore apart his land (v2). How could this happen unless God had permitted it? David saw this defeat as an act of God. There was some sin in Israel that had provoked God. God broke Israel’s defenses in His anger. Therefore, David sang, “You have made your people see hard things; you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger” (v3). But David turned to God for deliverance and success. Israel desired that the very hand that injured them should shield them and give them victory. Even after a bitter defeat, David acknowledged that God had set up a banner for those who fear Him so that they might escape the enemy’s bow (v4).
Israel did not quit. Her armies prepared to attack Edom once again. This decision was not based on a false sense of national pride or on foolhardy decisions of some General. It was based on God’s promise.
“God has spoken in his holiness:
‘With exultation I will divide up Shechem …
Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet; Judah is my scepter.
Moab is my washbasin; upon Edom I cast my shoe …” (v6-7).
God reigns above all nations. National boundaries came by no accident (v6). He lifts up one nation while casting down another. Even so, God’s choice of His people as his own helmet and scepter was reassuring (v7). A defeat was painful. But it had not annulled God’s choice and election of His people. Who would lead Israel’s armies to the fortified city of Edom a second time? Had not God rejected them? Certainly not! Reassured by this fact, David concluded his psalm with great confidence: “With God we shall do valiantly” (v12).
Dearly beloved, God purchased you by the precious blood of His Son Jesus Christ. You are His own. You are God’s Israel through Christ. You are God’s instrument for manifesting His Kingdom and rule in your spheres of influence. Hurt as you are after one or successive failures, do not give up. Ask yourself, “Who will lead me to the fortified city?” Human help is useless (v11). If it is God who leads you, it doesn’t matter whether your objective appears to be formidable or insurmountable. Trust in the Lord and move forward! Victory is yours for the glory of God.
The Divine Mover and Shaker
The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race … – Ecclesiastes 9:11
There are some who have an urge to compete and win. As long as they continue to win and get results, they may be tempted to think that it’s their strength, intelligence or skill that landed them success.
The wise preacher in the Scriptures tells us clearly that the fastest runner need not always win a race. Similarly, “the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle.” This is not just about a sport or a physical activity. This applies to other arenas of life as well. The Preacher continues:
“The wise are often poor, and
the skillful are not necessarily wealthy.
And those who are educated
don’t always lead successful lives.”
How does the wise Preacher explain this? In terms of “time and chance!” I don’t think the Bible is referring to chance the way common people refer to “luck.” The New Living Translation renders it like this: “It is all decided by chance, by being at the right place at the right time.” And who brings the right people to the right place at the right time? None other than the God of the Bible.
If you’re a successful person, don’t be too judgmental about those who can’t make the mark. You know that you did not succeed in life because you were the smartest or the strongest. The God who helped you can help others too.
When you encounter failure, don’t be disheartened thinking you failed because you didn’t have the best of resources and skills. Trust in the Lord, the divine mover and shaker. He can bring you to the right place at the right time.
Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in his days. – 1 Kings 21:29
Have you ever been tormented by the fear that God will never forgive your grievous sins? There are people who think that they are beyond redemption and that God will never forgive or forget their heinous misdeeds. As a result, they toil under guilt.
If you’re familiar with the Bible, you’ll know that King Ahab and his wife Jezebel were two of the most wicked people who lived in ancient Israel. Their misdeeds shook heaven and earth. God was quick to take note of their murderous oppression. Hours after the slaughter of righteous Naboth, God sent prophet Elijah to Ahab to indict, convict and sentence the royal couple. The message conveyed to Ahab stands out as one of the most severe of divine sentences: “… dogs shall lick your blood. … The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel” (v19b, 23). This sentence would extend to “whoever belonged to Ahab.”
Ahab could have defied God and His prophet. Or, Ahab could have resigned to his fate and said, “It is after all God’s judgment. Who can change His will?” But the wicked king appeared to have surprised everyone by seeking God’s mercy. After Elijah had left him, King Ahab tore his clothes in grief and put on sackcloth as a symbol of self-abasement. He fasted and went about mourning!
When God saw these expressions of humility, repentance and remorse, He alerted Elijah: “See how Ahab has humbled before Me?” Contrary to what most people imagine about Him, God is not a distant God who stays remote and uninterested in the affairs of people. He watches over each and every detail of our life. It's encouraging to note God’s instant response to Ahab’s repentance. God relented and deferred the expression of his wrath. Elijah was sent once again to Ahab to convey God’s reprieve: Ahab would not have to see the calamity that would overtake his country during his lifetime.
If God took notice of the positive response of a wicked king and issued due concessions in His judgment, will He not take notice of our repentance and tears? When you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his atoning work on the cross of Calvary, won’t God cleanse you from every sin? He surely will relent and forgive. He will amend His ruling in your favor. You are not beyond the reach of His loving kindness and tender mercies.
When my heart is faint
From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. – Psalm 61.2
There are moments when even the strongest and mightiest people on earth are overcome by fear. Their knees buckle; their heads reel under pressure. Fear of an enemy who is mighty and menacing can deflate anyone! In such situations, do we fight or flee? What if we get petrified, frozen, incapable of any action?
When King David had to face an enemy who was mightier than him, he stood his ground and prayed! He confessed to God that his heart was faint. Indeed, he feared for his life. He felt that he was pushed to the end of the earth from where he would be pushed further out into the land of the dead. Therefore he cried out to God for help and refuge.
God was his “strong tower against the enemy” (v3). He wanted God to intervene and save his life. The king of Israel cried out to the King of kings: “Prolong the life of the king” (v6). In his distress, he even made vows before God (v5). David wasn’t looking for temporary shelter or protection. He wished to remain in God’s shelter forever. “Let me abide in your tent forever” (v4).
Look up! Cry out to God!
Don’t you see the Rock that is higher than you? God will extend His hand and pluck you out of harm’s way. He will defend you from those who seek your harm. He will plant your feet on a firm rock. That Rock is none other than Jesus Christ, our Savior. His salvation is comprehensive. He saves us from our sins; he also preserves our life so that we may dwell in God’s presence forever.
Bigger than any problem
It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors. – 1 Kings 19:4b
What might a soldier do when he’s sure he will be captured, tortured and killed? What if he knows that his side is defeated and that he is the only soldier left standing? When one sees nothing but death ahead of him, he might opt for an honorable death. He might turn his gun on himself to avoid the indignity of dying at the hands of the enemy.
When the wicked queen Jezebel issued a death warrant against him, Elijah knew that his end was near. He was the only prophet of Yahweh in Israel. He thought his lone campaign for Yahweh had failed. Blinded by fear and sorrow, he could see nothing but defeat and death. Now the choice was not between life and death or between victory and defeat. The only “visible” choice was between an honorable death and a dishonorable death. A worthy exit was all that Elijah desired. He didn’t wish to die at Jezebel’s hands. Neither did he wish to kill himself. The only “solution” was to ask God to take away his life. Elijah went far away from civilization into a desert, sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” And then, he fell asleep.
God’s response to Elijah’s hopeless situation is marvelous indeed. He let the tired prophet sleep well. He arranged for “room service” and angelic assistance. After eating the heavenly cake “baked on hot stones” and drinking a jar of water, Elijah went back to sleep. God sent the famished prophet a second super-charged meal. The man was so strengthened that he walked forty days and nights to the mountain of God without refueling on the way!
Although a tired man needs good food and rest more than he needs a sermon, restoration and repair comes from God’s Word. Elijah wasn’t delivered from his fears or feelings of hopelessness until he heard God speak through the “sound of sheer silence.” That’s when God opened his eyes to see the options of life and victorious ministry. He was ordered to go and anoint a king over Aram and a king over Israel and prophetic successor Elisha. And if that couldn’t take away his fear, God showed him that the battle was far from over. God bared his sword and said, "Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill.” And what about Elijah’s fears that he alone was left for Yahweh? God had a solution for that too. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal …
If you are a servant of God, remember that you’re always on the winning side. Defeat is not an option. Even when you think you’re alone, you are a majority. God might use you to replace even kings who stand in God’s way! “God is bigger than any problem that you can or cannot see!”
The Great Shepherd
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. – Psalm 32.8
When our paths fork and we wonder which way we should take, our Maker who knows the end from the beginning is by our side to help us. The Living God of the Bible, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has given us this precious promise. He will instruct, teach and guide us through life’s complex maze.
Each of God’s children is entitled to divine guidance. I will instruct you … I will guide you. This privilege to hear God’s voice is not the sole preserve of a few. It’s a blessed promise to all whose transgression is forgiven (v1). Then why doesn’t God speak to me? you may ask. He has always been speaking to you. His voice was drowned in the din. Take time off your busy schedule to hear His still, small voice. God speaks to anyone who cares to wait on Him.
Life is full of surprises. There are twists and turns everywhere. God has given you the freedom to choose your own way. He never will force His ways on anyone or violate anyone’s personal freedom. When you choose your way, you might end up on the wrong path. You might inflict yourself with many sorrows (v10). All such trouble can be avoided if you consult God at the right time and avail His wisdom. He’s more than willing to take you along safer paths.
Those who never stop to listen and follow God’s instructions are compared to a mule or a horse that has to be harnessed with bit and bridle to keep them out of trouble. God knows that such people have to be brought to dire straits before they will even pay attention to what He has to say. He doesn’t seem to be fond of that procedure. Therefore, God commands us: “Do not be like the horse or the mule.” How long should he push and pull you before you’ll stop kicking the goads?
Calm down. Pay attention to God’s voice. If you’ve sinned, God will forgive you on account of Jesus, His Son. He’ll restore you and guide you. You’ll be His sheep and He’ll be your shepherd. He will surround you with His steadfast love (v10b) You’ll soon be able to rejoice in the Lord and shout for joy!
A Straight Path
Some wandered in trackless desert … He led them by a straight road to a city where they could live. – Psalm 117.4,7
The God of the Bible is so intimately and personally involved in the affairs of His people’s lives that He hears each of their prayers for help and delivers them. The psalmist reminds us that It is the duty of all who are thus delivered to offer thanksgiving and praise to this exalted divine Guide, Redeemer and Deliverer.
Often we seek God when we are at the end of the rope. We see God as the last resort after we fail in every attempt at saving ourselves. At times, we are like the “some” who got lost in a trackless wasteland. They were clueless regarding their destination or the path to their city (v4). Their “souls fainted within them.” That’s when they thought of seeking God. “Then they cried out to God in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress” (v6). Indeed, God heard their cries and delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way until they reached a safe city. Indeed God delivered them from their troubles. God would have gladly helped them if they had chosen to seek his help earlier.
Are you lost in one of life's deserts not knowing where you’re heading? Call out to God early. Trust in the goodness of God. He has no pleasure seeing you lost and drained of all energy. He is good and his steadfast love endures forever. He sees your life (and everyone’s) from His divine perspective. Even when you do not see a way out of your situation, He sees a straight road to your destination from where are you right now.
After He leads us to safety, we become a part of the large company of the redeemed who sing His praises day and night. The Lord redeems us not only from sin but also from every trouble we get into in our long and arduous pilgrimage.
“O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those He redeemed from trouble …”
God is not unjust
God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints. – Hebrews 6:10
It is not uncommon for God’s people to forget God’s divine attributes of steadfast love and faithfulness when they go through life's difficulties. Whenever we overlook God’s goodness, we tend to become bitter towards God. We may not utter it for fear of violating propriety. But somewhere deep in our hearts, we have a complaint against God: “Does God care for me? Does God remember my sacrifices?”
The Hebrew recipients of the epistle were rich in their work and love for Christ. They endured a hard struggle to remain in Christ because they were subjected to abuse and persecution. When fellow Jews plundered their possessions, they endured it cheerfully. That was a long time before they received this epistle of encouragement. The church had grown tired and weary, often falling in sin. They needed a little reminder about God’s sense of fairness as their love for Christ had grown cold.
We don’t have to remind God about the tokens of our love towards Him. It’s all recorded in the Divine log book. Our intercession for the saints, every drop of tear that we shed in prayer, each kind word spoken to cheer someone up , even a glass of water that we offered to someone—these and more are always before God’s eyes. He doesn’t forget our sacrificial gifts or the time we spent gladly to help others, often at the expense of our own work or family. God knows how we persist in good works even when our loved ones discouraged us.
You might protest, “I did not expect a reward for any of my kind gestures. It was out of a genuine concern and love and a sense of obligation that I did all these.” God doesn’t question your motive. Just as you excelled in good works in your sincerity, God has to be true to His divine nature. God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed. At a time when you feel let down by people, it is good to know that God hasn’t let you down. He remembers. His royal generosity will find you when you need it the most.
O how abundant is your goodness that you have laid up for those who fear you … in the sight of everyone! – Psalm 31:19
Suppose for a moment that your bicycle was stolen. You go about your town searching for your bike. After several hours, you are ready to give up and turn back home. That’s when you see a police station. You walk in to file a complaint.
The officer-in-charge rises to welcome you and says, “Please come in, sir. We were expecting you.” You are taken aback. “How do you know me?” you ask. “We’ve received orders to fly you to the capital. You’ve been handpicked by Parliament to be next President of this country. There’s a chopper waiting for you. We need to hurry. The whole country is waiting to witness your inauguration. This way, your Excellency!”
How’s that for a surprise? A young Israelite named Saul came to know that he was chosen by God to be the first king of Israel when he walked into prophet Samuel’s house. Saul just wanted an oracle from the prophet about his father’s lost donkeys. He must have been surprised to see that Samuel had made elaborate arrangements to welcome him. And to think that God arranged for the loss of Saul’s donkeys to get him out of his limited turf and to bring him to Samuel’s house! Who says that God doesn’t have a sense of humor?
Saul was aware of his humble origin when God chose him. He belonged to the least of Israel’s tribes. He did not belong to a noble family. He had no experience whatsoever in a leadership position. The only factor in his favor was his height. He was taller than anyone in Israel. Yet, God chose him. God filled him with His Holy Spirit and equipped him from within to think and act like a king. If God chooses to exalt a man or a woman, there’s nothing that can stop Him.
Have you ever experienced any divine leading in your life that brought you to a blessing God had prepared for you? If not, get ready to see God’s miraculous ways. Your current occupation or level of training will not be a limiting factor that prevents you from inheriting God’s blessings. Refrain from self-abasement and self-pity. God can spring a surprise on you!
By many or by a few
Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving whether by many or by few. – 1 Samuel 14:6
There was a time, in ancient Israel, when their leader, king Saul, was rejected by God for his disobedience. The Philistines were at war with Israel but Israel did not have blacksmiths to sharpen their weapons. So they stooped low by going to their enemy country to get these sharpened at a high price. Jonathan, being a man of a different spirit than his father Saul, decided to go secretly to the enemy camp with his armor-bearer. He probably considered it odd to ask his enemies for help during war.
Jonathan knew that God would be on the side of those who trust in Him. “The Lord delights in those who fear him,who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:10, 11). He knew that the Lord would act on their behalf even if they were just two men. After all, the numerous soldiers in the enemy camp were ungodly Philistines. God fights and saves by many or by a few.
God certainly was pleased with Jonathan. God honored him by giving him not just a good victory over the enemy, but a miraculous one. God sent panic into the enemy camp making it easy for Israel to pursue and defeat them. “It was a panic sent by God” (v15). “… it is not by sword or spear that the lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s.” 1 Samuel 17:47.
We encounter similar perplexing situations in our life. Lack of resources, incapability, and weakness can leave us with feelings of helplessness. God requires only one thing from us and that is our complete trust in Him. He is the powerful God who is able to do that which seems impossible. We can hand over our desperate situation into God’s hand and rest assured that he will turn that very despair into refreshing season of joy.
God will split the Red Sea wide open for us when we’re incapable of building a bridge. This same God who paved a dry path through the Red Sea and the River Jordan for His people says, “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
God Keeps His Promises
Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word … – Luke 2:29
Our Lord is a faithful God. He keeps His promises. Never once did He have to apologize to anyone regarding a promise that was not kept. We may think that God takes a long time to fulfil His promises. But He is always on time and never too late.
Simeon, a resident of Jerusalem, was old and advanced in years. He had only one reason to live. That was to see the fulfilment of a promise God had given him. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (v26).
What would Simeon have thought? We do not know. The promise was a blessing indeed because all Israelites longed to see the day of the Messiah. What if the promised Christ took ages to come? What if Simeon got too old and senile by the time the Messiah was born? As the years rolled by, as the length of time became increasingly burdensome for his body, he must have wished that he had never been given such a promise. Death is a welcome relief to many who grow old and weak. Simeon was no exception. “How long, O Lord?” That could have been Simeon’s refrain.
One day, the Holy Spirit prompted Simeon to go to the Temple. Truly, no one gets too old to be led by the Spirit. Simeon obeyed the voice of the Spirit. Thus came the end to a long and painful wait. The old man was able to identify baby Jesus as the Lord’s Messiah even when the priests in the Temple were blind to this glorious fact. The first words spoken by Simeon as he held the baby were: ”Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word.” The poor man must have cherished a desire to die over the years! God wasn’t too late in fulfilling His promise though. The One who gave Simeon such a promise was also careful to give him the strength he needed to walk about unaided.
If your wait to see the fulfilment of God’s promises appears to be too long, take courage. God will not abandon you. He will give you everything you need to sustain you till the day of fulfilment and celebration. Do not despair of life. Thank God for each day He gives you. Length of days is a blessing. Move in His Spirit and glorify the Unchanging and Faithful God.
With God, we’re a majority
Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them. – 2 Kings 6:16
A persistent awareness of the privileges we enjoy as children of God or as servants of Jesus Christ is the secret of enduring peace even in the midst of raging conflicts. A person blessed with such an awareness remains unperturbed and confident. He will be bold enough to exercise his prophetic ministry which might pitch him against the powers that be.
Gehazi, prophet Elisha’s servant, was half asleep as he went out early morning. When he saw the Syrian army on the hillsides surrounding their city, he got a rude shock. He knew that the Syrians were after Elisha. “Alas, master, what shall we do?” he cried out. His master answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The servant saw nothing until his master prayed, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” When the Lord opened his eyes, he saw that they were surrounded by an angelic host complete with chariots and horses of fire!
The occupational hazards of being a prophet are way too many. As a prophet exercises his divine mandate to speak out the truth, kings and generals might rise up against him. Even those within the fold of God’s people might wish to eliminate him. But God doesn’t expose his servants to such risks without first offering them a divine shield of protection. If God chooses to manifest His glory in a spectacular way, He’ll go to any extent to display His might on behalf of his chosen ones.
Are you a prophet of the Lord? Are you under attack as a result of what the Lord did or spoke through you? Those who rise up against you do not know that they are indeed rising up against the Lord of hosts. This is no more your battle. The battle belongs to the Lord. God will rise up to defend you. Do not count the number of people who might stand against you. Those who are with you outnumber those against you. When you stand with God, you are a majority!
Why are you in despair?
… they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’ – Psalm 42:10
Who can describe the agony of a godly Christian who has to deal with defeat and despair after having testified to the greatness of His God to his friends? The very ones who heard him describe the praises of his God will question him: “Now, where is your God? If your God can’t help you, how do you think he’s going to be of any help to us?” Listening to such barbed words is as painful and traumatic as the shattering of one’s bones (v10).
One of the first causalities of such a humiliation is one’s relationship with God and His people. It can lead to a withdrawal from fellowship and worship. Isolated from everyone, he now can only say that he “used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with the voice of joy and thanksgiving” (v4). Such joyful times of fellowship and worship becomes a thing of the past. There’s no end to his tears as he nurses his pain.
What’s the way out? If you can identify with the psalmist’s pain, you need to turn to God in prayer. Tell Him how you feel. Be honest. “O my God, my soul is in despair within me” (v6). I will say to God my rock, “Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (v9).
When you turn to God, you will realize that He hasn’t changed a bit. He is still your “Rock” (v9). Your desire for God will increase and you’ll say with the psalmist, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?” Yes, it’s time to end your isolation from God and His people!
Finally, this fresh revelation of God and a renewed fellowship with Him will give you hope. Instead of waiting for someone else’s encouragement, you’ll begin to tell yourself: “Cheer up!” That’s what the psalmist said to himself: “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God for I will yet praise Him.” The psalmist then tried to visualize how God would vindicate him and how that would propel him to the sacred assembly where he’d once again be able to praise and glorify.
God will not abandon his faithful servants. He uses temporary setbacks and failures to cleanse us and to strength our faith in His goodness. Don’t let setbacks or insults injure you. If you’ve stood for God, it’s God’s business to vindicate your testimony about Him. The wicked will not be found after a “storm” but God will cause you to survive and succeed.
Do not fear … the very hairs of your head are all numbered. – Matthew 10:26, 30
Fear can paralyze disciples of Jesus Christ into a sinful state of inaction. The greatest of fears is the fear of injury or death. The Lord Jesus Christ did all he could to cast out fear from the minds of his disciples. And then, he commanded them, “Do not fear.”
Every Christian has a sacred duty to obey the Lord Jesus. Jesus commanded every one of his followers to bear witness to His name and to proclaim the arrival of God’s kingdom. Proclamation is a public act that requires a certain degree of boldness. It might attract the wrath of the enemies of the gospel. Christian preachers may thus end up in police stations and courts. Such arrests and legal proceedings are not to be seen as unfortunate incidents. Instead, as Jesus anticipated, the arrest and trial of his servants were to serve as “a testimony to them (the rulers) and to the Gentiles” (v18). Those who might get arraigned are commanded not to worry about what they will say or how they will answer charges leveled against them. This is God’s way of ensuring that His Spirit gets a chance to take over and speak through his witnesses to the rulers and judges of this world.
And if that wasn’t assuring enough, Jesus commanded his disciples, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul” (v28). For if we fear men who can do us temporary harm, we might fall foul of the One who “is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.” The fear of the God should dispel all fear of men. The fear of God is balanced by the love of God. God is mindful about his servants that He has numbered every hair on the heads of his bold witnesses. Without the express knowledge of God, no one will be able to harm or injure anyone of them.
What will Jesus say about his disciples who refrain from all proclamation out of fear of prosecution or persecution? The command of the Lord of lords is greater than any earthly command that attempts to gag us. The Lord deserves our respect and obedience. Do not fear. Step out in faith with God’s people and boldly proclaim the gospel. The very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Your heritage: Divine Protection
No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgement you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD. – Isaiah 54:17
Unlike earthly masters, the Heavenly Master is mindful and zealous of His servants. He has promised to defend them from all perceived threats and to vindicate them. Welcome to the new age of glory ushered in by Jesus Christ!
The promise cited above, found in often-neglected Hebrew scrolls, is not to be dismissed as an irrelevant piece of text or a misinterpreted verse. When the Holy Spirit predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow, prophets who wrote down those oracles searched earnestly to identify the Messiah and His times (1 Peter 1:11). Peter’s description of these predictions aptly describe the fifty-third and fifty-fourth chapters of Isaiah. The former describes the sufferings of Christ and the latter, the glories to follow. The promises described in Isaiah 54 are for the Church—the body of true believers who are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
That glorious chapter concludes with a promise of divine protection and vindication for God’s servants. Even though we are God’s children, the whole world does not see us in that light. We do have enemies who fashion new weapons against us even as we go around proclaiming the glories of God’s kingdom. Those enemies are to be found within and without the apparent church. God keeps watch over us and He looks out for potential threats. He is active and awake to neutralize all weapons and accusations. This leaves us free to concentrate on the task at hand, namely, to share God’s love with everyone including those who place us on their hit list.
Are you bothered about potential threats from real or imaginary sources? Fear no more! Leave surveillance and security tasks to your Heavenly Father. Are you troubled by false accusations and smear campaigns against you or your work? Fret no more. Let the Supreme Judge take up your case. He will vindicate you in His own royal way. He is the LORD of hosts. Praise be to the God who has opened such glories for us in Christ.
Your heritage: Growth Unlimited
Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not … – Isaiah 54:2
The Church of Jesus Christ is a body destined to grow until she has her influence all over the globe. This does not come as a result of a carefully charted out human strategy. It is the direct result of God’s active involvement in building His Church. Let His servants not think small. Let us not limit God’s purposes or cloud it with personal goals and ambitions.
The barren and desolate woman mentioned in Isaiah 54:1 represents the heavenly New Jerusalem consisting of Christian disciples of Jewish and Gentile origin (Galatians 4:25-27). The children of this once desolate woman who felt forsaken by God for a brief moment (v7) will be more numerous than those of the married woman (the old Jerusalem and Judaism). Therefore, the LORD commanded this barren woman to shout for joy and to celebrate.
As the number of children in this New Jerusalem increases, she will have to enlarge and extend her tent to the far corners of the earth until her descendants possess nations and resettle desolate cities. What a promise of growth! What an assurance of victory and glory! The days of old Jerusalem with limited geographical boundaries for God’s people are a thing of the past. Jesus Christ, with his death and resurrection and glorification (Isaiah 53) has ushered in the glories of Isaiah 54.
If you are a member of this global church, the New Jerusalem, you ought to celebrate God’s purposes. In His mercy, he chose to include us among His chosen people. This is no time to fear defeat or disgrace (v4). For the LORD God of hosts, the Redeemer par excellence, is the Divine Husband of New Jerusalem (v5). Shout for joy and worship the Lord. He has accomplished great things. His victory is a reality today and not just a dream for the future.
If you are co-worker with God, let God’s purposes for the global Church be your purposes too. Your vision for the Church should not be any smaller than God’s global and heavenly vision for the Church. Do not settle for petty personal gains or pecuniary benefits. Let not your choices and priorities stand in the way of God’s grand overarching plans. After all, God hasn’t promised to build your kingdom or your organization. His promises of growth and expansion pertains to His global Church. As long as you are on His side and are working towards His goals, you will be aided by the heavenly trade winds.
God’s church is not an exclusive club. He wants the nations to enter her portals. Throw open the doors of your heart and of your church. Let go of any restrictive or parochial mindset. Gear up for growth!
Your heritage: Glorious Prosperity
All your sons shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the prosperity of your sons. – Isaiah 54:13
The world looks at Christians and at the Church of Jesus Christ in a condescending manner. It’s as if the Church is living at the world’s mercy, occupying much needed space, and wasting resources on frivolous unearthly pursuits. In the eyes of God, however, the Church is glorious and resplendent.
A couple of millennia ago, Israelites looked down upon the rest of the world as pagans who did not deserve God’s mercy. When Jesus Christ arrived, He revealed God’s glorious purposes for the entire world. God saved us – believing Gentiles – along with believing Jews to form one glorious body. God looks at the Church with love and exclaims, “In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you … my steadfast love shall not depart from you” (v8, 10).
And then the LORD declares the glories of His global church: “O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones.” (v11-12). These verses should remind us of the heavenly city New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation that was shown to descend from heaven to earth. It’s twelve foundations and twelve pearly gates are named after the twelve apostles of Christ.
It’s a pity that the world cannot see the Church as a glorious entity! Indeed the world cannot see it. That does not mean that the glory of the Church – that refers to the glory of each member – is an imaginary thing such as the “Emperor’s new clothes.” Many a times, church members too can’t perceive it. We need to “go home” to be with the Lord to see the full glory that God shares with us. But during our earthly pilgrimage, these blessings are evident in more than one ways. The Lord says, “All your sons shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the prosperity of your sons.” What more can we ask for? These blessings are to be experienced here and now. Prosperity is also rendered as “well-being” and “peace” in variant versions.
As an individual or as a group of Christian disciples, whatever be your material or earthly circumstance, you have a right to experience godly peace. This peace is not the absence of conflict or adversity. On the other hand, it is God’s shalom that reigns in our hearts in the midst of all that we endure on earth for Christ’s sake.
Loads of blessings
When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up? – Mark 8:19
At times, we who follow Jesus Christ need a little help from the Master to remember and understand the wonderful miracles He does in our lives. We get easily unsettled and worried about the smallest of our needs even after experiencing God’s wonderful provisions and miraculous interventions.
Jesus and his disciples were sailing across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Some time before that, they had witnessed a miracle performed by Jesus. He had fed a large crowd of four thousand men with just seven loaves of bread. And yet, when Jesus mentioned the “leaven of Pharisees,” his disciples could not understand him. They displayed their ignorance and lack of faith by discussing among themselves a pressing need they faced. They – thirteen men – had ran out of food! That’s when Jesus asked them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? … When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?”
When five thousand men, their wives and children ate their fill and were satisfied, each one sure did not eat a basket full of bread and fish. When broken bits of bread and fish were gathered together, there were twelve baskets full of food—one basket full for each apostle. Each apostle got much more than what each man in the crowd was given.
When four thousand men and their kin ate their fill on another occasion, seven baskets full of bread were gathered by the apostles. When Jesus provided for the hungry world, He made sure that his apostles who served tirelessly were not left out. He provided for them too, in good measure. Having seen their Master’s loving care and concern toward them, they should not have worried about being left high and dry without money or bread.
Dear child of God, are you worried about a pressing need? The lack of anything should not cause the slightest disturbance in your mind. Bring your pressing needs to the Master and leave it at his feet. Take a moment to remind yourself about God’s loving and miraculous provisions in the past. Thank Him for His miracles and provision. He sure will provide in good measure. And if you are His servant who tireless serves Him, He has made special provisions for you—a few “baskets full” of blessings. God can always spring a pleasant surprise on you!
A Procession of Miracles
If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us – a land which flows with milk and honey. – Number 14:8
When we are neck deep in a certain trouble, we tend to think that a deliverance from it is the only thing we need in life. However, once we’ve obtained the much desired relief, we discover that we have landed in a much larger problem! Ever been in such a situation? What was your reaction?
The nation of Israelites were slaves in Egypt for over four centuries. They cried out to the God of Abraham incessantly and He sent them a deliverer in Moses. His arrival multiplied their woes. Their desire to get out of Egypt intensified. After much prayer, tears and woes, God set His people free. The slave nation marched out of Egypt with great faith in God. What a historic moment that was! The desire of generations found fruition in their days and they bore the weight of history as they fled Egypt. As they set out, none of them had the time to think about problems they would face during their journey. Without any thought about the duration of their journey or about supplies like food, water and clothing, they set off on foot to a land “flowing with milk and honey!”
When they reached the shores of the Red Sea, and when they saw Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit, they must have thought that they had jumped from a frying pan into the fire! They were terrified. They turned against Moses and spoke harsh words of unbelief. In an instant they forgot the miracle they had experienced during Passover night. They failed to trust in God and to encourage themselves.
Was the Red Sea their final obstacle or trouble? Certainly not! There was a series of trials waiting for them in their desert path. Thirst, hunger, hardships, obstinate enemy nations, giants, false prophets, deceptive allies, fortified cities – life for the pilgrim tribes was an obstacle race. Each time they encountered a problem, they acted as if they had never known a loving and caring God until then. None except Joshua and Caleb had faith or gratitude towards God. Only these two could confess, “The God who delivered us and took care of us thus far will help us in this trouble that we face.”
Are you facing an insurmountable problem after embarking on a way that God opened for you? The God who helped you yesterday is with you today. Never doubt His power or goodness! This is certainly not going to be the last problem you’re going to face. To match the procession of troubles in your life, God will unveil a procession of miraculous provisions and deliverance.
He is able more than able
To accomplish what concerns me today
He is able more than able
To handle anything that comes my way
He is able more than able
To do much more than I could ever dream
He is able more than able
To make me what he want me to be
- Rory Noland, © 1989 Maranatha Praise Inc.
At the Fount of Eternal Life
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. – John 6:68
Majority of people in the world are blind to God’s works and are deaf to His words. Yet, it has pleased God to reveal His truth concerning Jesus Christ and everlasting life to a minority that is despised and dismissed by today’s ‘cultured’ mockers of religion. How fortunate are those who have obtained divine mercy to see and experience the fountain of eternal life—Jesus Christ!
In the gospels, Jesus’ disciples often appear to be dull witted. They could not grasp the import of Jesus’ parables or deeper teachings. Yet, In John 6, the Twelve are portrayed as a privileged minority whose inner eyes got illuminated by a flash of heavenly revelation. Even though Jesus repeatedly claimed that He was the “bread of life,” and that He would give eternal life to those whom the Father drew towards Him, his Jewish followers couldn’t make sense of it.
When the offended and confused crowd melted away, Jesus turned to his disciples and gave them leave to desert him. For once, Peter apparently did the right thing at the right time. He spoke up for the Twelve: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter may not have understood what Jesus meant when He offered His flesh and blood as the remedy for death. But he certainly observed Jesus’ heartfelt offer of eternal life and resurrection to those who believed in Him. Jesus mentioned ‘eternal life’ more than half-a-dozen times in that discourse. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life” (v47-48).
Jesus’ offer of everlasting life pointed to the future. He promised his followers: “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. … I will raise him up at the last day” (cf. 5:37, 40). But what of the present? Is Jesus’ message relevant for today apart from giving us an assurance about life beyond death’s portals? Yes, indeed. Faith in Jesus and an assurance of resurrection/everlasting life prepares us for life in the here and now. When we are ready to meet death, we are indeed ready to live.
When you are at the Fountain of everlasting life, you are totally satisfied and at peace with yourself. You are no longer like a doomed wanderer in a desert in search of water. This must be what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” The unbelieving mob came to the Fountain of Life and left without taking a drink. Peter and the rest of the Twelve experienced the perfect rest. They did not wish to wander in search of another fountain. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Have you known Jesus as the Giver of Everlasting Life? If not, trust Him now. Have you, after knowing Him, slipped away from Him in search of broken and empty wells? Do not waste another moment. Return to the Cross where He offered his flesh and blood to purchase life eternal for you. Derive your nourishment from the blessed Lamb of God. Find your rest in Him.
Be patient, my brethren!
As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. – James 5:10
The righteous God of the Bible has not abandoned or forgotten the poor who are being ground or crushed between the millstones of oppression. The LORD has indeed placed the rich, haughty oppressors on a long leash. But indeed, they are still on His leash. It’s only a matter of time before He decides to pull the rug from under their feet.
The Hebrew Christians to whom James wrote his epistle knew what it meant to be targeted by the deviant rich of those days. Very often, the poor were dragged into courts of law. As if that weren’t sufficient a harassment, they had to work without pay. They were pushed to their limits like the peasants of Russia or France were, in the days before the Revolution.
James did not give them a clarion call for revolt or revolution. Instead, he urged them twice to be patient (v7, 8).
What was the basis for such an exhortation? James believed that the Lord Jesus Christ’s second coming was “at hand.” The Judge, James assured his readers, was at the door! Of course, James wasn’t fleecing his readers. He meant what he said.
James also encouraged his readers to consider the sufferings of prophets who spoke in God’s name. We know that it’s impossible to raise our voices for God, for truth and justice, without paying a price for it. Elijah, Job, Jeremiah, Daniel, John the Baptist, Jesus, … the list goes on. With teary eyes, they exposed the sins of the high and mighty. They spoke for God and God spoke through them. That did not stop those in authority from preying on them. They were threatened, imprisoned, and even beheaded. In the midst of their sufferings, some wavered at times. But they held on. They became examples of patient endurance.
If you are in a similar situation as a result of your fulfilling a prophetic calling, be patient like the prophets of old. God is never far from you. Our reward in heaven is great! One day, amidst the cheers of multitudes of angels and the redeemed, God will honour you!
The furnace of blazing fire
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter.’ – Daniel 3:16 NAB
This matter – referred to in the above verse – was indeed a grave matter! The three young Jewish men in Babylon faced the wrath of an obstinate king. King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to cast them into a fiery furnace if they wouldn’t bow down before a great golden image he had set up. It had been reported to him that these young administrators of Babylon wouldn’t serve the king’s idols. They were given one final chance to save themselves from the giant furnace. These servants of Yahweh spurned the king’s cruel mercies. They refused to negotiate with the king or to defend themselves. In effect, they were saying, ‘Go ahead, throw us into your furnace. We will neither resist your decree nor will we defend ourselves.’
The resignation with which Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego faced their king’s wrath did not arise from fatalism or folly. They had not committed themselves to the whims of an earthly emperor. Instead, they had cast themselves into the hands of the living God who was able to save them. They did not for a second doubt God’s ability to deliver them from the king’s hand. The only factor that would decide their fate was God’s supreme will. If God wished to save them, He would. Even if He did not choose to save them, they knew that it was worthwhile to die serving the God of heaven and earth than to live as idolaters. Thus, they were resigned to God’s will. Deep rooted faith can lead to a deliberate choice of inaction – a refusal to defend oneself.
The faith and confidence of these men honored God. The full might of Heaven rallied to rescue the three who were thrown in to a fire that was heated seven-fold to match the king’s fury. The fire consumed the soldiers who obeyed the king’s edict; but it set free the servants of the living God. They were found walking unbound in the blaze with a fourth One who looked like the Son of God! That divine revelation and rescue led the greatest emperor on earth to worship the living God and to protect all His servants:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God” (v28).
The fire that we might encounter today may not be a literal one. When faced with people who threaten to throw us into the fires of false accusations and malicious slander, will we choose to defend ourselves? Or, will we resign to God’s sovereign will? If we trust in the living God, he will bring us out of such fires. Even our hair will not be singed; there will not be even the smell of fire on us (v27). The hottest of men’s fires will bring out the rich glories of our God who saves those who take refuge in Him.
God alone is sovereign!
… until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind … – Daniel 6:37
God has a message for all rulers of ‘sovereign’ states and provinces. He wants everyone to know that He – the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – is the only true Sovereign Ruler. Only His dominion is eternal and only He is truly free to do what pleases Him. Every human kingdom or state enjoys limited sovereignty derived from the God-given sovereignty of each citizen; each individual in turn is under God’s supremely sovereign rule.
Nebuchadnezzar – one of the mightiest and most glorious of all kings – had to learn this lesson the hard way. His statement, “I … was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace” is quite an understatement of his splendor (v4). One day, God showed him a dream that made him fearful and anxious. God’s servant, prophet Daniel, alone could interpret the dream. It was a warning from God. After stating the dream and its meaning, Daniel ventured to advice the king! He exhorted Nebuchadnezzar to “break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.” (v27)
A year later, the dreadful dream and its message couldn’t be farther from the king’s mind. The proud monarch surveyed his glorious capital from the terrace of his palace. He couldn’t resist admiring himself: “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (v30) Before he could finish his sentence, God’s judgment struck him. He was driven away from civilization. He dwelt with animals, eating grass, drenched by dew and exposed to the elements. Seven long years later, his reason returned to him (v36a). That’s when he understood God’s absolute dominion over every human kingdom. He praised the God of heaven!
The people of the world might think that human kingdoms and republics are supremely sovereign. Rulers and their cronies might presume that they can do whatever evil that’s within their power. Few dare to question a state – even if the latter boasts of promoting liberty and transparency. The arrogant deeds of human governments and rulers cannot be justified by claims of ‘sovereignty.’ The limited ‘sovereignty’ of human governments are subject to the absolute sovereignty of the Almighty God. God is eternal and all-powerful. No one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ (v35)
What does this Sovereign God delight in? As Nebuchadnezzar confessed, God is able to humble those who walk in pride. (v37) Those who are perched on ivory towers of pride cannot expect a promotion. They can only move in one direction–downward! On the positive side, the Most High God gives power and authority to whom He wishes. He sets the lowliest of men over kingdoms (v17). The lowly among us can rejoice in their humble estate even as others despise them.
We also need modern prophets who are full of the Holy Spirit. Like Daniel, they should boldly declare God’s counsel to rulers. Daniel, the statesman who worshiped the Almighty God, had no reason to fear. He felt secure in his knowledge that it was God who elevated him from being a prisoner of war to be the chief among administrators of Babylon.
Bearing The Lord’s Yoke
For the Lord will not reject forever. – Lamentations 3:31
No night is forever. Every season of darkness and suffering, regardless of its terror and bitterness, will come to an end. The hope of a joyful daybreak can help us endure any pain.
When Jeremiah and his people were defeated and taken captive after a catastrophic war, he was so traumatized that he wished his head were waters and his eyes, a fountain of tears so that he could weep night and day for the slain among his people. But as he meditated on God’s goodness and sovereign power, he understood that nothing would ever come to pass in his life without God’s knowledge. He therefore concluded that it was God who had laid a yoke upon him. The best thing he could do was to bear it and wait silently for the salvation of the LORD (3:26-28).
When one is caught in the vice grip of an oppressor, the best thing they can do is to silently endure the torment. Any attempt to break free might only tighten one’s bonds. Such times of distress are singularly useful because they reveal our helplessness. Besides, we become aware that God alone can deliver us. What better thing can we do than to wait silently for Yahweh? The LORD will not reject forever.
Those who temporarily celebrate their triumph over us might inflict us with pain. At times, we have to give our cheek to the smiter and drink deep from the cup of reproach (v30). At other times, we may have to endure solitary confinement, with our mouth in the dust (v28, 29). Who can endure such extreme experiences of sorrow, humiliation and pain without first seeing God’s invisible hand in the glove of our personal stories? If God has laid this yoke upon us, He will bring an end to it. The LORD will not reject forever. For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion according to His abundant loving kindness. (v31, 32)
Dear child of God, hang on! The Lord’s deliverance is at hand. In the mean time, do not waste your sorrows. “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the LORD. Let us lift up our heart and hands toward God in heaven.” (v40, 41). In due time, the goodness and salvation of our LORD will dawn upon us.
The Desire to Depart
But I am hard pressed … having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better. – Philippians 1:23
Life is a wonderful gift from God. Death, however, is far more attractive to born-again Christians because it ushers them into life eternal, to the presence of God. If we focus our spiritual sight on eternity and visualize the delights of our Promised Land, our faint hearts will expand with joy and anticipation. None can fault a Christian who yearns to cross over to Paradise.
Every second of the apostle Paul’s earthly pilgrimage was characterized by a longing to be in Christ’s presence. A Roman executioner’s blade or murderous plots of Jewish opponents of the Gospel or even deadly storms at sea–none of these could terrorize Paul. Death was nothing more than a journey, a journey ‘to be with Christ.’ When he wrote his most personal of all epistles to the Corinthians, he couldn’t hide his eagerness to reach the shores of heaven. He said he’d rather ‘be absent from the body’ and ‘be at home with the Lord.’ (2 Cor. 5:8b)
Paul’s eagerness to get to heaven had a profound effect on the way he lived on earth. He made it a point to please the Lord at all times (2 Cor. 5:9). This was because Paul knew that he would soon have to give an account of his life to Christ. Paul further explains how he went about pleasing the Lord in his day-to-day life: As an ambassador of Christ, he sought to persuade men to turn from their sins to Christ (2 Cor. 5:11, 20). Thus, Paul’s longing to go to Heaven and to be with Christ wasn’t a selfish desire or mere escapism.
This desire to depart and be with Christ put Paul on the forefronts of Christian proclamation. He gave himself fully into preaching and teaching without any fear of persecution, imprisonment, diseases, hardships, agony and exposure. His health suffered in this process (2 Cor. 4:16); still, he pressed ahead because all those light afflictions were bound to increase the glory that he would inherit in eternity (2 Cor. 4:17).
When was the last time you indulged in a little day-dreaming about heaven? Do you have a burning desire to ‘depart and be with Christ?’ Are you persuading others to join you in this great pilgrimage?
‘Put My Tears In Your Bottle’
I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. – Psalm 6:6
There are times when we suffer privately. Some of our burdens cannot be shared with any soul without the risk of being misunderstood or condemned. Others may at most notice our sighs. But in private, we shed tears. That’s when we must look up to God, the Father of all comforts.
There are a few psalms that record the sufferings of David and the sons of Korah who wept bitterly before God. David was driven to tears by the oppression he suffered from his enemies. “My eye has wasted away with grief; it has become old because of all my adversaries.” (6:7). This pain was made worse by some illness (6:2). When the Philistines captured him, David managed to escape by feigning madness. But he was under constant surveillance (56:6). His feared for his life (v3, 6, 11). In his petition before God, David hoped that God would keep an account of all the tears he shed during his prayers. “You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?” (56:8) The sons of Korah faced ridicule from mockers who denied God. They too recount how their tears became their “food day and night.” (42:3).
These tearful petitions were recorded in the Scriptures so that we may know how we ought to pray during our times of distress. Apart from giving us words to express our sorrows before God, they remind us to seek forgiveness from God for all our transgressions (39:8, 11). It is interesting to note that these psalmists did not rule out the possibility of divine discipline upon their lives when they suffered illnesses or oppression at other peoples’ hands (6:1). Their attitude towards their oppressors too were subject to God’s guidance and will. Instead of taking revenge on their enemies, these men of God sought divine remedies for their situation in prayer. “Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call; This I know, that God is for me” (56:9).
Let’s pour out our hearts before God and tell Him all our sorrows. He will comfort us and deliver us from all who trouble us. If not, He will change us and strengthen us to face any circumstance in life.
When God Honors A Man …
What is to be done for the man whom the king desires to honor? – Esther 6:6a
When God resolves to honor a person, no one can stand in His way. He might move heaven and earth to save just one of His servants. This Sovereign King of heaven and earth will amaze us with the beauty of His plans and the clinical precision of His operations in human history.
God’s poetic justice and reversal of fortunes are probably best illustrated in the way He exalted Mordecai, a God-fearing Jew who sat at the gate of the King of Persia. Mordecai would bow only before His God. This set him at odds with prime minister Haman, who chalked out an evil plan to exterminate not just Mordecai but all Jews in Persia. After erecting a gallows in his backyard to execute Mordecai, he rose early in the morning to seek the King’s approval.
Little did he realize that the God of Israel was at work that night. How could God rest when the life of his faithful servant was at risk? God caused the King of Persia to sit up through the night and read the records of his empire. A little known favor that Mordecai did to save the King’s life caught the King’s attention. He wished to reward this obscure Jew. It was dawn by then.
The King heard Haman’s footsteps in the court. “Who’s in the court?” the King asked. When he learned that it was Haman, the king must have thought, ‘None can advise me in this matter better than Haman.’ When asked, “What is to be done for the man whom the king desires to honor?” Haman thought, “Whom would the king desire to honor more than me?” God caught Haman in his own conceit. Haman prescribed for Mordecai a royal bonanza without realizing that he was suggesting a way for the elevation of his arch rival! Even the king wouldn’t have known that he was being an instrument in God’s hands for the vindication of a humble Jew. Think of it! God used the proud fancy of an enemy to honor a faithful worshiper.
It wasn’t long before the king discovered Haman’s evil plans. Haman was executed on the gallows that he erected for Mordecai. Mordecai replaced Haman as the prime minister of Persia.
What will God do to honor his faithful servants? On the canvas of human history, God’s brush strokes span several decades and generations. His watchful eyes see every person’s deeds. He is careful to reward those who are loyal to Him. In the process, whether by depriving a king of his sleep or by using an enemy’s wicked mind, He will honor all those whom He wishes to honor.
Do Not Fear, Only Believe
Do not fear, only believe. – Mark 5:36b
Fear and unbelief can be quite contagious. When we are surrounded by skeptics who take pride in their rational and pragmatic ways, the temptation to conform to their ‘reasonable’ unbelief is difficult to resist. Our circumstances too might offer sufficient grounds for fear, unbelief and anxiety. Jesus’ words – “Do not fear, only believe” – will be all the more relevant to us in such situations.
Most Jews of Jesus’ time dismissed him as a miracle-working attention-seeker. Some honored him as a Rabbi, a teacher. They flocked to him to witness his miracles. Many of them sought Jesus’ intervention in their life-situations such as sickness or demon-possession. Jairus, a prominent leader of a Galilean synagogue approached Jesus with this request, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” (Mark 5:23). Jesus went with Jairus.
While they were walking to Jairus’ house, a few men met them with this terrible news, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” No teacher or healer whom they had known had ever brought anyone back from the dead. Therefore, it was quite ‘reasonable’ for them to assume that Jesus couldn’t help them anymore. Before Jairus could be swept away by the ignorance and unbelief of his friends; even before he could get overwhelmed by a sense of irrecoverable loss, Jesus intervened to rescue his faith. He said, “Do not fear, only believe.” Faith honors God; and God, in turn, attempts to sustain our faith. When we are tempted to boast of our faith in God, we might as well remember God’s unseen hands that sustain our faith!
Have we prescribed limits to Jesus’ ability? Do we reckon our difficulties as impossible cases beyond God’s redeeming arm? Do we refrain from “troubling” Jesus with our insoluble problems? Have we scaled down our prayers to suit our limited faith? If so, Jesus wishes to bolster our faith in Him. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. He hasn’t stopped working miracles and He is interested in the lives of all who seek His face. “Do not fear, only believe.”
A Secluded Place
In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. – Luke 1:35.
The value of a Christian’s solitary devotion can never be over-estimated. The best moments of our life are often the quite moments we spend with God, away from crowds and limelight.
During his years of public ministry, Jesus was very busy. Hundreds of people flocked to Him to listen to His teachings and to witness His miracles. It was with great difficulty that Jesus and His disciples found time out for themselves. And yet, He never turned away the crowds; neither did he hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign outside his room—if ever he had the luxury of a personal room, that is! In spite of leading such a selfless life, Jesus found more time for private devotions and prayer than any of us.
In the midst of a busy Galilean outreach, one morning, Jesus woke up early. It was the first day of the week after a busy Sabbath. His disciples were still asleep. He ‘left the house’ and ‘went away to a secluded place’ so that he could spend time in prayer. When Peter and his companions woke up, they searched for Jesus. When they found Him, Peter said, “Everyone is looking for you.” (v37) Wasn’t that supposed to be good news? After having seen all the miracles He had performed the previous day, the people wanted more!
Jesus, however, replied, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” (v38) Jesus’ agenda for each day wasn’t determined by popular demand or by the counsel of His loyal disciples. He wasn’t running a show business! His life and work were always in tune with His Father’s business. He lived one day at a time, according to His Father’s instructions. His strong sense of purpose – ‘for that is what I came for’ – was a result of His communion with the One who sent Him. Therefore, He could accomplish all that He was sent for.
Our lives are short. Yet, God gives us enough time to accomplish all that He wants us to accomplish. We can succeed in life if we avoid the clutter and stay on course. That’s possible only when we fine-tune ourselves everyday in accordance with God’s purposes.
This private exercise will not only benefit us individually but also transform the life of a Christian community. Tozer wrote,
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and a higher life.”
Let’s Walk the Talk!
I was ashamed to request from the king … So we fasted and sought our God … and He listened to our entreaty. – Ezra 8:22-23
We serve a God who answers our prayers–especially the prayers of those who are careful to honor God. This is such a comforting thought during our times of distress when we cannot turn to anyone else for help. When we face a need as a result of our witness to the Lord, we can always look to God for help!
Ezra was a Jewish leader who led some of his people back to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon. In those days, it wasn’t wise to travel long distances on foot, carrying huge quantities of silver and gold. Ezra could have requested the Persian king Artaxerxes for an armed escort. Yet, he did not because he ‘was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect’ them from enemies on the way (8:22).
Why was Ezra ashamed to seek the king’s help and protection? Ezra had testified to the king about the greatness and goodness of his God: ‘The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.’ (8:22b) Seeking the king’s protection would undermine his testimony about God’s active involvement in their life. Ezra wanted to ‘walk the talk.’
Ezra gathered his people to seek God’s protection. They fasted and prayed. Their fasting was more about guarding God’s reputation than about their security or other needs. They were sure that God had ‘listened’ to their petition. During their long and arduous journey, ‘the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way.’ (8:31)
Do we testify about the greatness of our God? Are we sensitive to what outsiders might think about our God? When we testify about God’s saving power, He is willing to demonstrate that power in our lives. Similarly, when we testify about God’s wisdom, provision, healing and faithfulness, we must live in accordance with our confession. And then, when we humble ourselves to seek God’s intervention in our lives, He will answer our prayers and glorify His name through us.
A ‘Senseless’ Savior’s Love
He has lost his senses. – Mark 3:21
The crowds who gathered around Jesus were amazed at the miracles that he performed. They marveled at His authority over sickness, over demons and even death. Yet, there were a few who observed His lifestyle and concluded that He had “lost his senses.” Why would anyone say that about Jesus?
Mark’s portrait of Jesus’ public ministry will help us see why skeptics thought Jesus was senseless. In Mark 2:1, we read that Jesus returned to his house in Capernaum after several days of ministry elsewhere. Yes, Jesus indeed had a house in that Galilean town where he had chosen to “settle” down! (Matt 4:13). Jesus’ home was no retreat away from the crowds. When people came to know that He was home, they came to Him. Indeed so many had gathered there to listen to His teachings. That’s when four men carried a paralytic to Jesus’ home. We know what they did to get the sick man to Jesus. They removed the roof above Him. Luke says that they removed the ‘tiles’ (v, 19). And then, they “dug an opening” that was big enough for a horizontal “stretcher” to be lowered! Think of it! Jesus could have healed the man without any of this trouble or loss. Instead, he let four men dig a massive opening in the roof of His house so that He could honor their faith! (2:5) Mark does not tell us how Jesus got his roof fixed. That was immaterial as far as the Savior and His mission were concerned. Bringing forgiveness and healing to a paralytic was more important to Jesus than maintaining a roof over his head.
In the following chapter, we read of Jesus’ return to his home after a busy time of ministry (3:20). Jesus had just chosen twelve apostles; they too were with Him. As usual, the crowds gathered at His home “to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal.” When Jesus’ relatives heard of this, they declared that Jesus had “lost his senses.” The scribes from Jerusalem pitched in and said that Jesus was “possessed by Beelzebul.” Finally, Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived at Jesus’ home. The place was so crowded that they had to stand outside and send word to summon Him! Probably they intended to take the “black sheep” of the family to Nazareth to rehabilitate Him.
If Jesus lived and served in the present day, would our reaction to his selfless lifestyle be any different from that of His mother and brothers? How do we describe people who do not care about the integrity of their house or are too busy to rest or even to have food?
Jesus’ lifestyle superseded our categories of sanity, productivity and discipline. Ask the paralytic who was lowered through Jesus’ roof. Ask the demoniacs and other sick people who were delivered by an over-worked Jesus. They will praise Him for His love and sacrifice. For the multitudes that thronged around Him seeking His mercies, He wasn’t senseless. He was the embodiment of divine love. He was their all-powerful Savior. Ask the Twelve who shared His authority and ministry. To them, Jesus was their role model for service and leadership.
If you crave for Jesus’ healing touch or for a divine intervention in your life, know that Jesus will move heaven and earth to reach out and deliver you. You are more important to Him than any other thing. If, while on earth, He did not care to have his lunch on time or did not complain when His roof was dug up, Jesus will go to any length to answer your cry.
The Lord Will Repay Each Man
The LORD will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness … may He deliver me from all distress. – 1 Samuel 26:23a, 24b
Life isn’t fair, after all.’ This is a common refrain on the lips of people who put up with injustices and disadvantages in day-to-day living. The Bible, however, teaches us that we should look beneath the apparent unfairness we encounter daily in order to see God’s justice and righteousness. Ultimately, the LORD’s righteousness will prevail. This should lead us from despair and grumbling to praise and worship.
Before David became the most loved king of ancient Israel, he had to go through a torturous phase in his life. He was anointed the king of Israel in his early youth. Yet, Saul remained on the throne and did everything in his power to eliminate David. David and his men were hunted down by Saul’s armies. Twice, David got a chance to kill Saul. Still, out of his reverence for God, David spared Saul’s life. He did not do this to please Saul or to gain the king’s favor. King Saul had sold himself to evil; he had gone beyond the point of repentance. The little remorse that Saul felt each time David spared his life was short lived.
David did what was right in God’s eyes because he knew that only God could save his life from a wicked king. David trusted in God’s righteousness and strove to keep his life blameless. Therefore, he declared to Saul, ‘The LORD will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness.’ That was David’s consolation. It was also a warning to Saul! We know how God later intervened in the history of ancient Israel to eliminate Saul and to bless David with an everlasting dynasty.
The God of the Bible is never far away from us. He is actively involved in human affairs. He keeps a record of every man’s actions and words so that He can repay each person. Those who do evil and think that they can get away with it are grossly mistaken. They are up against a vigilant Judge who is eternal and all-powerful, visiting the iniquity of fathers upon their children’s children. No ruler is too high to escape God’s watchful eyes. No oppressor is mighty enough to resist God’s wrath.
On the other hand, those who eagerly crave for God’s justice will indeed receive it. Those who silently persist in doing good – however much obscure they might be – can be assured of God’s just reward in due season. God is faithful to fulfill His promises to His servants and to their generations.
Reach Out In Faith
Daughter, your faith has made you well … – Mark 5:34
The young woman Mark describes in chapter 5 suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years. Her suffering was not just due to her disease. The physicians whom she sought out for a cure exploited her. Mark says that this anonymous woman “had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had.” Monetary loss was one part of the problem. Unscrupulous doctors might have molested or ridiculed her. Did any of them help her? No. Her condition got worse, and after twelve years of ‘treatment,’ she became a pauper.
Worse still, her condition kept her in a perpetual state of ceremonial impurity. Her ritual pollution was contagious. She couldn’t touch anyone or anything without contaminating them. This is why she decided to approach Jesus secretly. She did not wish to touch Jesus and thereby make him ritually unclean. She thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” The crowds that milled around Jesus posed a challenge but she was determined to get her miracle.
This woman of faith found her way to Jesus and touched his cloak. The fact that she made her way through that crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment shows her determination and her strong faith in Jesus’ ability to heal her. No wonder she was healed instantly. The press of the multitudes inconvenienced Jesus. But the woman who touched Him by faith drew miraculous ‘power’ from Him and was healed.
After receiving her miracle, she wanted a quiet exit without getting noticed by anyone. But that was not to be. When Jesus sensed that healing power had flowed out of him, he turned around and asked, “Who touched Me?” Jesus was persistent in identifying the person who had ‘touched’ him. By making the woman’s healing public, He not only wanted her strong faith to be recognized but also wished to put an end to her social isolation. The woman knew that she couldn’t slip away. She came to Jesus, ‘fearing and trembling,’ and told Him the ‘whole truth.’ Jesus’ affectionately praised her faith, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
Whatever be your disease or its severity, God’s healing power is available to you through Jesus Christ. If you will reach out and touch him now by faith, you will be healed. Your firm belief that Jesus is able and willing to heal you is key to your miracle. God has no favorites. What he did for others, he’ll do for you.
A Cry From A Cave
Give heed to my cry, for I am brought very low … – Psalm 142:6a
A cursory reading of a few psalms might make us think that those who fear the LORD will always be successful, healthy, prosperous and secure. Indeed, God had promised victory and bliss, ultimately, to all who follow Him. That does not mean that God’s people will not suffer temporarily in life. Therefore, a number of psalms reflect the struggles of God’s people.
God’s people in all places and in all times have endured great hardships, persecutions, sickness and poverty. In all their troubles, they had one sure recourse. From the depths of their troubles, they sought the help of LORD Almighty. Prayer – heartfelt cries for help – was their lifeline. Faith, the assurance that God would hear their petitions and deliver them from their troubles, was the anchor of their troubled souls. One of God’s great soldiers, David, prayed his way out of the all terrible misfortunes that struck him. His prayers (psalms) are now in our hands so that we can use them during our days of trouble.
David was hiding in a cave when he prayed this prayer. He was imprisoned by his circumstances (v7). “There is no escape for me,” he lamented. His enemies forced him to lead the life of a fugitive, in deserts and in mountains. They were “too strong for him” (v6). He felt that no one cared for him and that he was reduced to the dust. He couldn’t be broken, humbled or humiliated any further. He was “brought very low” (v6). Although the LORD had promised him the throne of Israel, he was nowhere near civilization to think about it.
Yet, David considered the LORD his refuge and his “portion in the land of the living.” (v5) Indeed, he had lots of complaints and petitions. He poured it all out before the only One who cared for Him (v1, 2). He lifted up his voice and cried out aloud before God (v1). He sought liberty so that he might give thanks to God in the company of the righteous (v7). He closed his prayer with the assurance that God would deal bountifully with him.
After having received great promises from God, are you going through a similar wilderness experience? Are you in a ‘cave,’ imprisoned by the oppression of carnal foes? If you think you have been brought very low, remember that God, who is most exalted, is with you in your lowly state. He knows your path, even the hidden traps that people have laid out for you (v3). He has kept you alive till now. That’s for a purpose. He will bring you out of your ‘cave’ and set you in the midst of his people. With songs of rejoicing, you will exalt Him!
St. Paul: “I was appointed”
I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. – 2 Timothy 1:11
One of the secrets of apostle Paul’s success in life and ministry was a keen sense of a divine “appointment.” He knew the One who appointed him. He knew the purpose of that commission. He was willing to pay a great price to fulfill that commission. And, further, he knew the rewards of this great commission.
Paul knew that it was none other than God who had appointed him as “an apostle [special messenger] of Jesus Christ” (v1). He wasn’t part of the Twelve who were chosen to follow the Lord Jesus during His public ministry. And he wouldn’t qualify to be a part of the Twelve at a later date because Paul hadn’t been with Jesus from the beginning (Acts 1:21, 22). Yet Paul knew that God had appointed him as an apostle. To those who might have despised him as a late entrant into the company of apostles, Paul would later say that God had set him apart from his mother’s womb (Gal 1:15).
Some Christians hailed church leaders in Jerusalem as “super apostles;” that did not bother Paul (2 Cor 11:5 NIV). When God called Paul “through His grace,” he did not think it was worthwhile to report to “those who were apostles before” him (Gal 1:15-17). When an appointment comes from God, all other men, however great they might be, are merely “flesh and blood” (Gal. 1:16). When you know that it is God who appointed you, you do not need “godfathers” in the high places!
Paul knew that he was appointed for the sake of the gospel – “the gospel, for which I was appointed …” (v10b, 11a). He wasn’t called to proclaim his own greatness or the glories of any other person or nation. The only message he had to proclaim was the good news of Jesus Christ. Apart from this heavenly gospel about Jesus Christ, there isn’t any good news on this planet. In Christ we have “the promise of life” (1:1). It was the Lord Jesus “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the [proclamation of the] gospel” (2Tim. 1:10). In the absence of any magic potion on earth that can give us immortality, the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ is the greatest news of all times. No wonder, Paul proclaimed the gospel at every given opportunity as if it were his last chance! His greatest charge to Timothy was: “Preach the word!” (2:2)
Finally, Paul knew the exact nature of his job. He was appointed as “a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” (1:11). The express duty of a “preacher” – a herald – is to proclaim the message entrusted with him. A herald, in ancient times, stood in a public place to declare a king’s edict. A sense of urgency and authority is conveyed through such proclamation. Both the mode of communication and the medium are integral to any meaningful communication. When a building is on fire, no one initiates a whisper campaign. Someone just shouts, “Fire!” The method God chose for the dissemination of the gospel was nothing short of “public proclamation.” Paul conformed to God’s methods and faithfully proclaimed the gospel (Titus 1:3; 2Tim. 4:17).
Do you know that God has called you to proclaim the gospel? The day you decided to be a follower of Christ, God had appointed you to His service. This divine appointment is of much greater value and importance than any lucrative appointment the world can offer you. You cannot delegate or transfer this appointment to someone else. It’s our privilege to take delight in God’s appointment and to fulfill it faithfully.
St. Paul: “I suffer … but I am not ashamed”
For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed. – 2 Timothy 1:12
The apostle Paul knew that it was God Almighty who had appointed him as a preacher of the gospel. As he went about fulfilling his calling as a herald of the gospel, he realized that he had to pay a great price by suffering for the gospel.
“For this reason I also suffer these things …” Paul was more than willing to suffer for the gospel because of (a) the greatness of the One who called him, and (b) the greatness of the message that was entrusted to him.
What are the “these things” Paul suffered? The apostle was serving time in a Roman prison when he wrote his final epistle to Timothy. Worse still, as was the custom in those days, prisoners were kept in chains (1:16). In a dark, damp cell, Paul must have suffered from cold (4:13). He must have missed the company of his close friends; only Luke was with him (4:11). He was upset because all of his friends had deserted him at his “first defense” (4:16). The apostle had suffered much more during his long missionary career. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, he did talk about it at length. (2Cor 11:23-27)
“For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed.” During Paul’s days, a number of Christians might have been ashamed of the gospel. They might even have been tempted to distance themselves from ‘fanatic’ Paul and other Christian prisoners. Probably, this was why Paul exhorted young Timothy not to “be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for Christ” (1:8).
How could Paul endure chains on his hands and feet? After being humiliated and treated as a common criminal, how could he say, “… I am not ashamed?”
a. Paul knew that he was a prisoner for the sake of Jesus Christ. He was “His prisoner” (1:8). To the Ephesians, he wrote, “I am in chains now for preaching this message as God’s ambassador” (6:20). He was no common criminal!
b. Paul believed that his imprisonment was God’s way of giving him special opportunities to witness to kings and judges! Paul converted each trial into an evangelistic campaign! (Col 4:3) Therefore, he asked churches to pray for him so that he might testify boldly.
c. Paul believed that his sufferings would “produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever!” (2 Cor 4:17). Now, who wouldn’t want greater glory in heaven?
d. Instead of seeking an escape from suffering, Paul wished to suffer as much as Christ suffered for His church (Col. 1:24). Fellowship in Christ’s sufferings was the secret to sharing the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:20). “For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:11-12).
e. Paul believed that suffering for Christ’s sake was not optional; it was part of the package. “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (3:12).
What a privilege it is to stand up for Jesus Christ and His gospel! Besides, there’s a great reward! Those who seek the approval of the world might escape hardship. But the ‘godly’ will stand up and step aside to identify themselves with Christ and his suffering servants. Next time you see someone proclaim the gospel, will you stand with him/her and share in the sufferings of Christ? Or, will you, being ashamed of the gospel, distance yourself from Christ’s evangelists?
Remember, suffering for Christ is not optional. When was the last time you proclaimed the gospel and suffered a little reproach for Christ?
“Go home to your people …”
Go home to your people … – Mark 5:19 NAS
We always associate the words, “Come, follow Me!” with Jesus’ call to Christian discipleship. Most of the men who received that call left everything behind and followed Jesus. However, in this rare case, of the man who was delivered from a mob of evil spirits, Jesus commanded him to “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” And without a word of protest, the man obeyed Jesus. As a result, people living in the Ten Towns (Decapolis) region heard about Jesus and they were amazed. Regardless of the nature of the task assigned, obedience to Christ is central to Christian discipleship.
How could Jesus have sent the man as a “missionary” (a man sent on a mission) soon after his encounter with Christ? He could hardly have known Christ in the few minutes that he spent with his Savior! In modern times, we insist that a person be sent off as an evangelist after a considerable time of study and preparation. In some traditions, anyone who wishes to speak for Christ has to be scrutinized, approved and ordained. And those who are sent off on a mission need to be sponsored by a sending agency or church.
Contrary to all this ‘popular wisdom,’ Jesus sent a novice on a mission. His only ‘qualification’ for the task was an experience of deliverance from the Lord Jesus and a willingness to talk about it. Through such an obedient disciple, Jesus got his task accomplished – without a mission budget or a sponsor! We, however, with all our training and mobilization, are not succeeding in making most of today’s disciples testify for Jesus! All we succeed in, mostly, is at growing a passive, overfed, over-trained and overgrown body of ‘believers.’
“Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you.” That’s all that is needed for people to get introduced to Jesus! When millions around us haven’t even heard the Name, this simple sharing is significant. We who claim to have known Jesus have experiences to talk about. Jesus forgave our sins; He healed our sicknesses; He filled us with His Holy Spirit. The list goes on. The Master wants us to talk about these things to people whom me meet in the marketplace, in our schools, hospitals and workshops. When people start ‘gossiping’ about what Christ has done for them, our land will know about Christ and be attracted towards Him.
Lord, if you will …
Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. – Matthew 8:2
The Lord Jesus found great faith in people who were not ordinarily expected to believe in a Jewish messiah. People who did not have much contact with Jesus had greater faith in Him than those who constantly walked with Him! We see several such examples of great faith in chapters 8 and 9 of the Gospel of Matthew.
After Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount, he came down from the mountain. Matthew notes that a great crowd followed him. That’s when a leper found courage to approach Jesus and to kneel before Him. Lepers were considered ceremonially unclean by the Jews of those days. All lepers had to dwell outside a city or town, far from human habitation. If ever they chose to come into a village or town, they had to warn other people of their uncleanness by shouting, “Unclean, unclean!”
The leper who knelt before Jesus was desperate to get healing and to get back to a normal life. Why else would he risk being the object of public wrath by approaching Jesus and the crowds? His prayer too teaches us some important lessons. First, he did not doubt Jesus’ ability to cleanse him. That’s why he said, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” When we compare this man’s prayer with that of an unbelieving father whom Jesus met when he descended from the Mount of Transfiguration, we’ll get the point. That father told Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22) Unlike the leper, this father wasn’t sure whether Jesus could do anything at all!
Second, although he had great faith in Jesus, the leper acknowledged the supremacy of Jesus’ will in the matter. Therefore, he was willing to subject his request to Jesus’ sovereign will. If Jesus so desired, he would be healed; if not, he wouldn’t be healed. Submission to God’s will – as we pray for healing – is not a sign of unbelief.
By kneeling before Jesus and by making his request known, he was asking for Jesus’ mercy. And that’s what he got! Jesus was moved by his faith and humility. Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper and said, “It’s my will; be clean.” That very instant, the man was cleansed. There was no trace of leprosy in his body!
The leper’s prayer is a model for all who seek a divine intervention in their lives. May we never doubt God’s ability to perform a miracle. Instead, let’s declare our faith even as we submit to God’s will. Whether God chooses to answer our prayer or not, He still remains God Almighty. Unanswered prayers must never shake our confidence in His goodness or power. He is God and He does what is good in His eyes. All we can do is to seek His mercy and favor. And when He smiles at us and stretches out His hand, we’ll receive answers to our prayers.
Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. – Matthew 8:4 NAU
Here’s another instance of Jesus finding great faith in a person who was apparently ‘far’ from the commonwealth of Israel. In his attempt to spur the Jews to believe in their Messiah and to show them how God’s salvation wouldn’t be limited to just one ethnic group, Matthew carefully documents this incident involving a Gentile—a Roman centurion.
When Jesus entered his hometown, Capernaum, a centurion approached Him with a rather strange request, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” Why should, after all, an army official bother to get help for a slave unless he cared for human lives? Jesus honored his request and said, “I will come and heal him.” What more could a Jewish rabbi offer than a personal visit to the house of a Gentile army officer who served an occupying force? Even after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Peter thought he was performing an extraordinary act of obedience to God by visiting Cornelius’ house (Acts 10:28).
The centurion, however, said, “Lord, I am not worthy …” This man’s humility and his recognition of Jesus’ greatness is admirable. He did not consider himself worthy to have the ‘Jewish’ Messiah in his house. But he went a step further and declared his faith in the Messiah’s ability to transcend space. There was no need for Jesus to go all the way to his house—“… just say a word, and my servant will be healed.” He went on to illustrate his point by citing an example from his own professional life. He believed that Jesus had authority over every disease just as an army officer had authority over his subordinates. One word from Jesus! That’s all it takes to heal his servant’s paralysis.
Jesus marveled at the faith of this man. “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.” And then He declared a “mystery” that was hidden from all until then: The Gentiles will be admitted to God’s family; Jews who reject the Messiah will be excluded from that commonwealth. “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v10, 11). Praise God for His inclusive Kingdom that welcomes all who believe in the Messiah! The early church had great difficulty stomaching this notion of “one table” for Jewish and Gentile Christians. And today’s churches find it difficult to believe that Jews who reject the Messiah are out of God’s kingdom.
Jesus then said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment. It’s interesting to see that God’s action on our behalf matches our belief —‘as you have believed.’ Is it any wonder that we don’t receive much from God? When we limit God in our thinking, we limit his power in our lives. But, on the other hand, if we believe what He says about Himself, and have the boldness to act upon that faith, God will surely honor our faith.
He ‘carried away our diseases’
He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases. – Matthew 8:17
During His Galilean outreach, Jesus healed “all who were ill” and cast out evil spirits “with a word” (v16). Those whom he touched (v15) and those who touched him (9:21) were healed. Matthew, the evangelist, explains these wonderful events as a fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: ‘This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.”’
This prediction is found in the fourth verse in chapter fifty three of Isaiah. In most modern translations of the Bible, this verse gives us the impression that the Messiah took away our “griefs” (sic) and “sorrows.” Although St. Matthew cited this verse in his gospel to include “infirmities” and “diseases,” many modern translators (except the New Revised Standard Version and Young’s Literal Translation) are reluctant to render the literal meaning of those words. This is quite interesting!
Why would anyone wish to hide the literal meaning, which is supported by Matthew’s Gospel, although the verse brings the hope of healing to the sick among us? This is a deliberate suppression of truth by people who do not wish to ‘taint’ the message of the cross with a promise of physical healing. They say that the Messiah’s sufferings were just for our “transgressions” and “iniquities.” Even a plain statement such as verse five – “by his wounds we are healed” (NIV) – is misinterpreted to mean “spiritual healing.” Thankfully, St. Matthew’s use of Isaiah 53:4 in the context of healing blows the lid off this conspiracy.
So, what is the good news that the crucified Messiah brings to us? Jesus has “borne our infirmities!” He has “carried our diseases!” And, “by His stripes we are healed.” (The word “stripes” certainly is a reference to the passion of Christ.) Significantly, He was “wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities!” The sufferings of Jesus during His passion was for our healing and for our forgiveness.
Jesus’ sufferings, obviously, do not prevent sickness. (Does His atoning death prevent anyone from sinning?). The New Testament encourages Christians to pray for the sick, after confessing each other’s sins (James 5). That itself suggests that Christians will fall sick like anyone else. However, those who are sick and are in pain need to know that Jesus bore their infirmities and diseases with a purpose. We should encourage the sick to seek forgiveness and healing. Praying for the sick, expecting healing, does not violate the sovereignty of God because the very act of prayer affirms God’s sovereignty. Prayer is not a command. It’s a plea. When we pray, we pray in humility, submitting to God’s will.
If you do not doubt the efficacy of Jesus’ death to bring you forgiveness of sins, you should not doubt the efficacy of Jesus’ sufferings (prior to and during crucifixion) to bring us healing. Just as He took away your sins, He has “carried away our diseases.” Just as we claim forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus, we can claim healing through the stripes of Jesus. Even though the woman who touched Jesus’ garment to get deliverance from her hemorrhage did not understand the theology of her actions, she did the right thing. She believed that God could heal her and that God would heal her. She reached out in faith and claimed her healing. Will you reach out in faith?
Mercy, Not Sacrifice
But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice …’ – Matthew 9:13
The religious folks of Jesus’ time were quite judgmental. They often judged Jesus’ motives and actions based on their mistaken notions of spirituality. Thus, they accused Jesus of breaking God’s laws even though He was blameless in God’s sight. In our zeal for God, we too may fall into this trap. We may presumptuously find fault with those who are innocent in God’s eyes.
Jews of the strict sect called Pharisees saw Jesus and His disciples dine with a bunch of ‘sinners’ and ‘tax collectors.’ Those ‘tax collectors’ were Jews who greedily collaborated with Rome to oppress their own people. The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” (Matt 9:11; Luke 5:30) In other words, “We are patriotic Jews who wait for our Messiah who will redeem us from these Romans. And here comes one who claims to be the Messiah; he eats with the collaborators! Do you still want us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah?”
Once, Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. When some Pharisees saw this, they were upset. They said, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath” (Matthew 12:2). They were more concerned about some strict interpretation of a law than about the well-being of those hungry disciples. Jesus showed these self-appointed judges that He knew the Scriptures better than they did. He cited apt examples from the Old Testament to show how God’s people apparently violated Sabbath laws and were still not guilty before God. For example, a priest could circumcise a child on a Sabbath day and still be blameless (John 7:23).
More significantly, Jesus asked those conceited men to “go and learn” what God meant when He said, “I desire mercy/compassion, and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). The Hebrew word chesed may be rendered as mercy, compassion and loving kindness. Sacrifices were costly; yet God did not wish to see such meticulous observance of the ritualistic law if a devotee did not exhibit tenderhearted mercy–one of God’s defining characteristics. Understanding God’s Word in context is a remedy for pride and presumptuous behavior.
Victims of misplaced judgments can breathe easy because they are innocent in God’s eyes. They may not measure up to a certain human standard of behavior. They may be castigated and isolated by well-meaning ‘godly’ people. Jesus will speak up for them just as He defended His disciples, saying, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent” (Matthew 7:7). When the kindness shown by some is nothing but cruelty, God’s loving kindness is better than life and it endures forever.
Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you. – Joshua 3:5
The people of Israel were not new to miracles. They had seen miracles everyday during their sojourn through a desert to their Promised Land. At the end of forty years, they were on the verge of stepping into the land of Canaan. There was just one more obstacle in their way—the river Jordan.
The LORD gave His people detailed instructions on how to cross the river. There was no need to build a bridge. The LORD would go ahead of them and part the river. As a visible symbol of His presence, Levite priests would carry the ark of the covenant into the river. This miracle was to assure the new generation of Israelites that Joshua was indeed God’s chosen man to lead them. Besides, the younger generation had to know that the God of their fathers was the only living God, unlike the many gods of the Canaanites.
One of the instructions given to those Israelites was, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” Indeed, they obeyed God and consecrated themselves to serve their God with a whole heart.
This reminds us that we need to separate ourselves wholly for God. We need to cleanse ourselves from all sin and reserve ourselves for God’s service. God is not pleased with our half-hearted devotion. He cannot share us with the ‘idols’ that occupy our lives. Total dedication and undivided devotion are the marks of a consecrated life. When we, the living ‘temples’ of God are thus sanctified, He will dwell in us, walk with us and ahead of us to work wonders. “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
A Call To Return
He has torn us, but He will heal us. – Hosea 6:1
One of the saddest stories that will ever be told is the story of a beloved who got mauled and torn apart by her lover. The beloved in this case is the nation of Israel that proceeded from one man, Abraham, who was handpicked from all of humanity to serve the living God. Her Lover, of course, is God Almighty who entered into a solemn covenant with a nation that wasn’t impressive in strength or other merits.
Israel was never steady in her relationship with her Maker. She would draw near to God in the days of her adversity and wander away after new distractions at every given opportunity. Like an unfaithful wife who squandered the gifts of her husband on dozens of paramours, Israel took her blessings of grain, fruit and wine to idols on every hilltop altar.
Occasional punishments brought Israel back to God. She pleaded for mercy and forgiveness. And her Husband was quick to forgive and forget her transgressions. This time, however, she had gone too far. Therefore, God, as He had proclaimed earlier through various prophets, tore Israel apart. The tribes in the northern kingdom were banished from her inheritance.
Yet, there was hope during the declaration of punishment; there was a chance to return. Those who wished to return to God could always ‘bring words’ to God in repentance and confession. “Come, let us return to the LORD.” Yet this time, God expected more than just a ‘regular’ repentance. He knew that Israel’s loyalty towards Him was “like a morning cloud and like the dew which goes away early.” Her repentance wouldn’t last long. Therefore, God expected a true and lasting repentance from His covenant people.
The result of such a wholehearted return to God is healing and restoration. “For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.” There is no pit deep enough to take us out of God’s reach. There is no devastation that He cannot set right and renew. With God, there is always hope. He is the God of new beginnings. Come, let us return to the LORD.
The Lord Our Refuge
You shame the counsel of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge. – Psalm 14:6
There has indeed been a marked increase in the number of atheists in the world. More and more people declare that “there is no God” with increasing confidence. Their influence is seen all over the world and they dominate every sphere of human activity.
The psalmist, however, suspects the motives of these professions of doubt and disbelief. He knows that anyone who seeks to throw God out of the picture is driven by evil intent. If the ultimate Law Giver and Judge “doesn’t exist,” then there is no way to tell right from wrong; there is no need to fear the consequences of one’s actions; there won’t be a judgment or eternal punishment for sin; men and women, under the delusion of disbelief, can do whatever they want and get away with it. Rejection of all notions of the Divine can lead us to such anarchy and evil.
No wonder the psalmist declared, “The fool [morally bankrupt person] has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good” (v1). Moral corruption is the fruit of voluntary disbelief in God. The psalmist also notes that such ‘fools’ do not pray; they do not seek God’s help. These wicked people are characterized by their disdain for God’s people. This leads them to oppress the faithful (v4) and to ridicule their simple faith (v6).
God is not a silent spectator to all this commotion. “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God” (v2). He comes down to give company to the poor and oppressed “generation of the righteous.” When the hopes of His people are crushed God is their refuge. A literal rendering of verse 6 tells us that the wicked cause the righteous “to stink”—such is the extent of their ridicule and intrigue. “… but the LORD is their refuge.”
The shrill propaganda of the unbelieving crowd might for some time drive God’s people to a corner. But if the elect are faithful in upholding God’s Word and the gospel of Jesus Christ, they will not be put to shame. Salvation for the righteous will proceed from heavenly Zion.
YAH, our God, is our Salvation!
Blessed be the Lord day after day, he carries us along, God our Saviour. This God of ours is a God who saves; from Lord Yahweh comes escape from death. – Psalm 68:19-20 NJB
The God of Israel is a God who saves His people. He swings into action in order to deliver His chosen ones from their enemies even from death. There is no power in the universe that can resist or escape Yahweh, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as He stretches His arm to save.
Psalm 68, a psalm of King David, begins with this prayer: “Let God arise, let his enemies scatter, let his opponents flee before him.” God indeed has enemies. Yet, He also has a group of upright people (v3) who call upon His name for deliverance from the enemies of God. David’s psalm reminds us of Moses’ ancient prayer. Each time prophet Moses and Israel broke camp to resume their journey to the Promised Land, he prayed, “Rise, Yahweh, may your enemies be scattered and those who hate you flee at your approach!” (Numbers x:35). Although the Almighty doesn’t recline or rise in a physical sense, this is a cry for God’s help in frail human language.
Yahweh who “comes” to the rescue of His people is also the One who offers his continual Presence among His children—in His sanctuary (v17); among His people (v18); in the congregations of His people (v26); and in His Temple (v29). This mighty warrior God who dispels his enemies like smoke (v2), cares for the orphans, widows and the destitute (v5, 6). He “leads out prisoners out into prosperity” (v6). And even if He has to “smash the head of his enemies,” (v21), he will deliver his beloved from death (v20). God is our Saviour! This God of ours is a God who saves! His people have enough reasons now to sing (v4, 32), to rejoice (v3) , to lead processions with musical instruments (v25); to “bless the LORD” (v26); and to acknowledge the power of God (v34).
Rejoice in Yahweh, our God, our very present Help. God hears your cry for help. He’ll come to you in all His majesty and power. He will dwell with you and in you—for you are His sanctuary. Let your cries now be turned into shouts of victory and songs of praise. Your tears of terror will turn to tears of joy. This psalm rightfully ends with this exclamation: “Awesome is God in his sanctuary. He, the God of Israel, gives strength and power to his people. Blessed be God.”
Yahweh is close to the brokenhearted
Yahweh is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18 NLT
While traversing the dark valleys of our life, when feelings of loneliness, fear, rejection or despondency overpower us, there is no greater comfort for the righteous than this promise of imminent divine presence. Our earth-bound rational minds might refuse to believe the profound truth in this verse; but those who have tasted Yahweh goodness (v8) will embrace this promise in faith and savour the sweetness of God’s presence. The long nights of our pilgrimage no longer should frighten us or render us hopeless. We enjoy the undivided attention of our Saviour who walks closer to us than ever.
Why should the heartbroken feel confused or guilty? Who can believe the condemnation of those who say that sorrow is the portion of those whom God has rejected? Was David, the psalmist, under divine chastisement? Indeed, he was ‘poor‘ (v6); he was overpowered by fear (v4) and numerous troubles (v6, 17); he was heartbroken and ‘crushed‘ in his spirit; Israel’s psalmist often had to cry out to the Lord (v6). Godliness and adversity are not mutually exclusive. The life of the righteous is not free from tears or loud cries. He may be surrounded by enemies and troubles. Yes, “many are the afflictions of the righteous” (v19).
Out of a godly fear of God, David resisted the temptation to misuse his tongue! (v13) The fear of the Lord delivered him from other fears. He could testify that Yahweh answered his cries and “set me free from all my fears” (v6). He was also eager to inspire others to fear the Lord: “Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the LORD.” (v11) In the midst of terror and adversity, he had experienced divine protection and providence. Hence the testimony – “the angel of the LORD guards all who fear him;” and “Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will never lack any good thing.” (v7, 10)
What if you haven’t seen the Lord’s deliverance or provision yet? You can rest assured that God is closest to the brokenhearted. God hovers over you and surrounds you with his unfailing mercies. Enjoy His presence! Converse with Him; pour out your heart before God. Thank Him in advance for all the goodness He has kept in store for you. Pick up pearls of divine revelation from your melancholic depths as you walk with God. You will soon be able to share these treasures with the world for the glory of God.
He raises the poor out of the dust
He raises the poor out of the dust. – Psalm 113:7
The most exalted Yahweh is “high above the nations; his glory is higher than the heavens” (v4). Yet, He is mindful of the most despised and needy among his creatures. “He raises the poor out of the dust and lifts the needy from the garbage pile in order to seat them with nobles—with the nobles of His people.” A reminder of this divine condescension is bound to stir up worship in the hearts of the godly. No wonder the Psalmist invites God’s people to worship this ‘humble’ God who “stoops to look down at heaven and earth!” (v6).
Who can be as lowly as the poor among us? Man was created to be co-regents with God on earth, to be stewards of God’s wealth. When he is incapacitated by poverty, man is brought lower than the beasts of the field. To make matters worse, the lofty-minded nobility of this world grind the faces of the poor in the dust.
It is no secret that the God of the Bible – the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – has a special place in His heart for the poor and the needy. The Hebrew Scriptures have numerous examples of God’s concern for the underprivileged and marginalised sections of society. God’s laws given to Israel made it mandatory for His people to liberally share resources with the poor. The New Testament too places a premium on “remembering the poor” (Galatians 2:10). In fact, one of the litmus tests of genuine Christian spirituality is a pro-active concern for those who cannot escape the clutches of poverty (James 1:27) God’s concern for the poor goes beyond our occasional tossing of a coin to a beggar. Not only will He meet the needs of the poor but He also exalt them from the garbage pile to the rarefied strata of nobility.
Many Christians might delight in the possibility of such divinely mediated social and economic upward mobility. It is interesting to see how the Psalmist includes another kind of “upward mobility” in this psalm alongside the other more popular blessings—“He gives the childless woman a household, making her the joyful mother of children.” Besides offering comfort to those struggling to conceive and bear children, this passage challenges popular misconceptions regarding motherhood. In an age when many do not consider children a blessing; when women are seldom portrayed as ‘joyful mothers;’ when motherhood is seen as a necessary evil or a burdensome option that ought to be shunned or postponed, we should allow God’s word to recalibrate our value systems.
Hallelujah! The psalm begins and ends with a call to praise the eternal God, Yahweh. Let’s worship the most exalted One who cares about the least among us.
Yahweh Will Bless Us
Yahweh … will bless us; … we will bless Yahweh. – Psalm 115:12a, 18a
Servants of Yahweh, the Living God, can at all times remain assured of His care and blessings because they choose to be loyal to Him even when they are surrounded by innumerable ‘gods’ of all hues.
Yahweh’s people who live in pluralistic or secular societies might be subjected to more scrutiny and ridicule than their brethren who live in homogenous faith communities. They might also face uncomfortable questions from friends of other faiths. Certain people who might have heard their proclamations about Yahweh, the Living God, and the risen Savior Jesus Christ, might walk up to them in times of illness, misfortune or failure, asking: “Where now is your God?” (cf v2) Christians who keep their faith under wraps will not face such awkward moments; nor will they be able to testify about God’s glory.
How can Christians answer such barbed questions? What can they say in defence of their God for whom they had raised a banner? They might remain speechless for a while. At times such as these, they look up to Yahweh, “their help and their shield (v9). They are truly convinced that their “God is in the heavens, and he does as he wishes” (v3). Yahweh, indeed, is the only God who reigns in heaven; He does not know of any other ‘god.’ In His sovereign power, He indeed can do as he wishes. Not so the ‘gods’ of the earth (v4-8).
If Yahweh chooses to rescue, vindicate and honor His people who unashamedly lift up His name before their neighbours, He does it not for the sake of His children, but for the sake of His holy name. Israel knew this very well. For Yahweh had told them, “I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.” (Isaiah 42:8) When our God has a name, why then do our English Bibles refer to Him by a generic “LORD?” Today’s multi-religious scenario should encourage us to use the divine Name while referring to the God of the Bible.
Even when Yahweh’s people had backslidden from the faith they once professed, He refrained from wiping them off the face of the earth lest His name should be profaned among the nations.
“For the sake of My name I delay My wrath, and for My praise I restrain it for you, in order not to cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48.9-11)
No wonder the psalmist prayed, “Not to us, O Yahweh, but to you goes all the glory for your unfailing love and faithfulness.”
In the midst of adversity, we who serve the living God can count on Him to save us because He is zealous about His glory. He will not let His name to be tarnished among the heathen. Not only will He rescue us, he will also bless us. It’s a privilege to serve/fear Yahweh.
All you who fear Yahweh, trust Yahweh! He is your helper; he is your shield.
Yahweh remembers us, and he will surely bless us. He will bless the people of Israel and the family of Aaron, the priests.
He will bless those who fear Yahweh, both great and small. (v11-13)
The only way we can express our gratitude to this loving, caring and eternal Yahweh is by praising His name. “The dead cannot sing praises to Yahweh” (v17). Those living on earth ought to praise and worship the living God! “We can praise Yahweh both now and forever! Hallelujah! (v18).
Obedience to God
I will keep Your statutes … – Psalm 119:8
The longest chapter in the Bible - Psalm 119 - extols the value of the holy Scriptures. It is not a detached, subjective description of God’s Law. Instead, the psalmist, out of his personal experience, waxes eloquent about the sweetness of the inspired Word. The key theme that stands out in the first stanza of this acrostic psalm, in verses 1-8, is the psalmist’s resolution and eagerness to obey God. Besides, he describes the blessed state of all who walk according to God’s statutes.
i. Happy are people of integrity, who follow the law of the LORD. ii. Happy are those who obey his decrees and search for him with all their hearts. iii. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths. iv. You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully. v. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your principles! vi. Then I will not be disgraced when I compare my life with your commands. vii. When I learn your righteous laws, I will thank you by living as I should! viii. I will obey your principles. Please don’t give up on me!
The goal of all Bible study must be careful obedience to God. If obedience to God is not the primary purpose of our study, we are no better than the devil. The devil knows the Scriptures better than most of us; he even trembles before God! Yet, his ‘knowledge’ does not produce the fruit of obedience.
It is sometimes distressing to observe how much time and effort Christians expend in the study of the Bible so that they can find excuses for not obeying certain portions of God’s Word! Such Christians unwittingly follow H. D. Thoreau’s view: “Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.” The psalmist’s attitude to God’s Word is diametrically opposed to tendencies to rebel. Besides, the words of Jesus stand in stark contrast to popular teachings that discount the necessity of continuous and persistent obedience to Jesus’ Word. Jesus said to the Jews who believed in Him, “You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-23 NLT).
True liberty can only be found in slavery to God and to His Word. Christian life is a life of slavery to God and to Jesus Christ. Contrary to what many Christians might think, God did not set us free from sin so that we might float around in absolute freedom! If God indeed set us free from our sinful past and from slavery to sinful tendencies (the flesh), it was so that we would in turn voluntarily yield ourselves to a life of slavery (obedience) to God. This is expressed so well in the writings of St Paul who said, “But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life” (Romans 6:22; emphasis added). “The things that lead to holiness” are by no means occurrences of chance. They are deliberate results of a consecrated life. It is these “things that lead to holiness” that “result in eternal life.” Paul couldn’t have stated more clearly the need for sustained obedience and holiness in this pilgrimage called Christian’s life.
“God is God. Because he is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what he is up to.” — Elisabeth Elliot
A Godly Nation’s Prayer For Shalom
O God, give your judgment to the king … that the mountains may yield their bounty [shalom] for the people … – Psalm 72:1, 3
God is the Source of every nation’s prosperity [Hebrew, shalom]. The key to this prosperity lies in a ruler’s or a government’s commitment to deliver God’s justice to the poorest in the land. Psalm 72 reminds us that it is the duty of every citizen to pray for rulers and bless them so that they might in turn usher in true peace and prosperity.
This psalm, written by David, was scripted to be used by God’s people as a prayer for Israel’s king. The primary petition was that God would give Israel’s king a divine sense of judgment or wisdom so that the king might “govern your people with justice, your oppressed with right judgment.” Every ruler needs the prayer support of God’s people to fulfill his sacred duty of rescuing the weakest in his domain from injustice and oppression. The rich and the powerful or a vociferous majority will always cry for attention. However, a righteous ruler should keep his ears close to the ground to hear the whimper of the oppressed, the voiceless and the insignificant minority. His mandate is to “save the poor and crush the oppressor” (v4) because “precious” is a poor man’s “blood in his sight.”(v14).
The timely dispensation of justice to the poor has a divinely ordained connection with the prosperity of any country—“that the mountains may yield their bounty for the people, and the hills great abundance.” The Hebrew word shalom is rightly rendered as bounty (NAB) or prosperity (HCSB). Shalom is the Hebrew concept of total well being of all people, all creatures and the Earth. Shalom, or total environmental nirvana, will not come about through mere planning, innovation and austerity. It is God’s gift to the land of a ruler who is in tune with the justice agenda of the King of the Universe. In the words of Marvin E. Tate, “When the king gives the life of God’s justice to the people, then the blessings of fertile land and far-reaching power follow.”
The second part of the prayer requests God to grant long life to the king (v5); the final petition is for the extension of the king’s domain. Although this psalm is not commonly regarded as a Messianic psalm, there are messianic overtones in it. How else do we understand the prayer that Israel’s king should “endure, like the moon, through all generations” (v5) or that his dominion should extend to “the ends of the earth?” (v8; cf Psalm 2:8). This prayer for greater dominion is based on the nation’s observation that their king “rescues the poor when they cry out” and shows “pity to the needy and the poor” (v12-13).
If Psalm 72 has messianic overtones, Israel’s prayer - “may all kings bow before him [the king], all nations serve him” - might be understood in term’s of the Messiah’s worldwide mission. It is particularly encouraging to note that “desert nomads [too] will bow before [the king]; his enemies will fall before him in the dust.” (v9 NLT) No one – not even his enemies in Arabia – can withstand the Messiah’s march to global dominion. “May all the earth be filled with the LORD’s glory.” (v19). This should be the prayer of God’s people today.
Do we pray for our rulers and kings? Or, do we just sit back and criticize them? Our rulers deserve to be “prayed for without cease, [and] blessed day by day.” (v15). God will answer our prayers and usher in His glory and shalom.
“First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4 NAB.
The Beginning of Wisdom
The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge. – Proverbs 1:7a
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Yahweh. – Proverbs 9:10
The current Christian understanding of the terms ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’ are quite different from the way these words were understood by the writers of the Hebrew Bible. The meaning of these words have indeed evolved over the centuries. However, in order to understand God’s message in the Scriptures, we have to go back to the biblical understanding of these terms.
While we tend to drive a wedge between “wisdom” and “knowledge,” counting one superior to the other, the author of Proverbs uses these terms interchangeably. While modern man understands “knowledge” as an intellectual attribute, the Bible considers both “knowledge” and “wisdom” as a moral quality.
Biblical “wisdom” or “knowledge” is experiential knowledge of God. “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Yahweh, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9:10). Wisdom is the knowledge of God and His commandments (The Torah or God’s Word) and the ability to translate that knowledge into appropriate action. Wisdom manifests itself through a life of humility and obedience to God. Therefore, real education that makes us wise in God’s sight happens between the covers of the Bible and in one’s daily walk with God. Filling our minds with tidbits of “information” is no substitute for studying and obeying God’s eternal Word.
The fundamental factor that drives us towards a life of obedience to God – and away from sin – is “fear of God.” It is a reverential attitude that appreciates God’s justice, power and love. The God of love is also the God of justice and holiness. He cannot and will not tolerate sin. The God of Israel delights to see a healthy “fear of God” in His people. When Israel was terrified at the sights and sounds that marked Yahweh’s appearance on Mt. Sinai, God said, “Would that they might always be of such a mind, to fear me and to keep all my commandments! Then they and their descendants would prosper forever.” (Deuteronomy v.29) It is unfortunate that many Christians do not even consider the “fear of God” as a necessary component of a healthy spirituality. Over-familiarity with matters related to spirituality, combined with pride, has ushered in a spirit of rebellion and indifference to God’s righteous requirements.
Indeed, the primary motivation to obey God should stem from our love to God. If we should ever grow cold in our love towards God, the safety net called the “fear of God” should provide enough motivation to keep us from ungodliness and unrighteous behavior.
“All who fear Yahweh will hate evil.” (Proverbs 8:13 NLT)
“Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear Yahweh and turn your back on evil.” (Proverbs 3:7 NLT)
The realization that God monitors and weighs our actions (Proverbs v:21) and that He is capable of chastising us should provide a necessary counterbalance to our inclination to sin against Him. The absence of such a healthy reverential fear wrecked the lives of many who professed to love God. King Solomon realized these things a bit too late. He began his life with the “fear of God.” Later, he let curiosity lead him in ungodly directions. However, towards the end of his life, in Ecclesiastes, he apparently realized that “knowledge” without its moorings in the “fear of God” is useless.
“Here is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of every person. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NLT)
Jesus will build His Church
“I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” – Matthew 16:18 NLT
Jesus’ revelation about His Church to His twelve disciples is a constant source of strength and encouragement to Christians of all times. This first reference to the “church” in the New Testament, though brief, declares Jesus’ intention to build His church and to take His battle of saving souls to the very gates of hell.
The “Church” in this verse does not refer to a Christian denomination; nor is it a building or a sacred place of worship. “Church” refers to the group of people who responded to the call of the gospel. They heard the gospel, believed in Jesus, repented of their sins and accepted water baptism. They come together to learn Jesus’ teachings, to worship God and to fellowship with each other. This dynamic, organic body of “believers” are on a mission to lead more people to Jesus Christ.
This “Church” does not belong to any one man or group of people. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ. He purchased all His followers with His own blood so that we might belong to Him. Our allegiance is not towards a man or to a certain group of people. If anyone lays claim to a part of the Church and calls it “his own,” he brings schisms into the body of Christ and demands a loyalty that should belong only to Christ.
Jesus has a plan for His Church; He sets the agenda and goals. To Him belongs the Church’s mission and vision statements! We, as Christians, are not called to invent objectives, goals and vision statements for the Church; instead, we are called to subscribe to the mission of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ mission for the church is to make disciples of all nations. Every local church, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, should conform to the universal standards laid out for the Church by Christ and His apostles.
It is comforting and encouraging to know that Jesus will build His church. Jesus is the head of this universal or catholic body. From Him comes sustenance and life for everyone in His body. He decides where each “organ” of the body should be placed. He gives supernatural graces (spiritual gifts) to each member of this body according to His will and pleasure. By operating His gifts through each member, He causes them to grow in character, maturity and love.
Jesus is the Supreme Commander who leads His church from the front. The church marches ahead, shining the light of the gospel into the hearts of those trapped in sin. The powers of hell cannot resist such advances. The devil and all his minions might do all they can to prevent a sinner from turning to Christ. They may even unleash all their devices against the Church. However, there is no power in the Universe that can extinguish the Church of Jesus Christ. The Founder of the Church is none other than the One who defeated death through his own death.
"How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word.” – Psalm 119:9
Purity must be one of the most important concerns of Christians, young and old. Christians who boast of being part of a better covenant than that which prevailed before the coming of Christ should at least share the Jewish psalmist’s desire for purity and holiness. Young men and women are thought to be buffeted by the storms within their minds and bodies - storms that threaten to drown them in an ocean of impurity and sin. The elderly are no less susceptible to temptations. Those who master the art of living a holy life at a young age will certainly have a strong foundation for the years ahead.
The question, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” is not left unanswered. Without any hesitation, the psalmist shares with his readers a time-tested recipe for holy living: “By keeping Your word.” Deliberate, resolute obedience to God’s word is the secret of leading a pure life.
Young Christians might throw their hands up in desperation and ask, “How can I keep God’s Word? I don’t know what God requires of me and I do not have the strength to obey God.” The second stanza of this beautiful acrostic Hebrew poem attempts to answer these questions that our young people ask. There are no shortcuts, however. These are the things that the psalmist practised to cultivate a pure life:
a. Study God’s Word prayerfully. “Lord, may You be praised; teach me Your statutes.” (v12) Ask God to help you understand His Word as you read it regularly and systematically. There’s more to the study of the holy Scriptures than there is to all the other disciplines. Unless God illumines our minds, we will fail to understand His Word.
b. Memorize important passages in Scripture and treasure these in your heart. “I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.” (v11)
c. Keep thinking about what you read throughout the day and even while you are on your bed. “I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways.” (v15)
d. Talk about what you learned from the Scriptures to your family, friends and colleagues. Make it a habit to recite the verses you memorized. Share God’s word with friends who haven’t heard about God or about Jesus. “With my lips I proclaim all the judgments from Your mouth.” (v13)
e. Value God’s Word as much or even more than you value all other stuff that is precious to you. Bring your emotions to God’s Word. Delight in it and find ways to celebrate the precious lessons you learn. “I rejoice in the way revealed by Your decrees as much as in all riches. …I will delight in Your statutes (v14, 16a)
f. Resolve not to forget God’s Word; do all you can to keep it fresh and alive in your mind. Read the Bible as many times you can every year. Read it or listen to it as often as you can every day. “I will not forget Your word.” (v16b)
g. Pray for divine assistance in holy living. “I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from Your commands.” (v10) The purpose of all the above actions is to make sure that we obey God’s Word. Obedience is impossible without God’s help. Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you do not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
In conclusion, prayerful engagement with the Scriptures is God’s recipe for a pure life.
A Sacrifice Acceptable to God
“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” – Psalm 51:17 RSV
The God of the Bible will not be carried away by external religious observances, routine rituals and even costly sacrifices. He seeks something that lies much deeper in a worshiper - a heart that is broken, crushed and contrite as it remembers its shortcomings and sins.
As people with sinful affinities, we tend to ignore our sins. We may seek to justify our ways and attitudes. A contrite heart is diametrically opposed to the proud, self-sufficient disposition of a sinful heart. A person with a contrite spirit will, in all humility, acknowledge the gravity of his sins before God. He is overcome by sorrow because of the realization that his actions have broken the heart of God.
For a season, every new Christian remembers the price that Jesus Christ paid on the cross to buy him forgiveness and eternal life. He appreciates the mercy that God showered on him while he was lost in sin. This vision of the cross rules the forecourt of his mind and he is led to worship God out of gratitude and love. The cross of Christ and the description of Christ’s sacrifice dominates his songs, worship and prayers.
Sadly, after a while, we tend to forget how grievous our sins were. Even when we draw closer to God in worship, we fail to revive the memory of our sinful past and the wonderful grace God showered on us. Thus, instead of continuing to maintain an attitude that’s becoming of a forgiven sinner, our hearts become callous, proud and ungrateful. Even in such a state, we get used to going through the motions of church life. We might continue to observe all our external actions of spirituality. In the place of humility and a broken, contrite spirit, we’ll feel happy about ourselves and all that we do for God. Our songs, prayers and meditations become more about what makes us happy. Our acts of service, sacrifice and ministry thus become detestable in the eyes of God.
One of the marks of a proud church is the talk about ‘religious rights’ - the rights of men, women, clergy or even of those engaged in acts detestable in God’s sight. Some clamor for ‘equal rights’ in ministry while others fight for the right to sin! We forget that it was God’s unmerited favor that admitted us into the Church. How true are David Wilkerson’s words! “The church used to confess its sin, now it confesses its right.”
In a Christian’s life, however ‘mature’ he might think he is, there should never be a time when he thinks he has outgrown the need to remind himself that he is a forgiven sinner who once broke God’s heart and incurred a heavy cost upon heaven for his redemption.
“Being a Christian means being broken and contrite. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you get beyond this in this life. It marks the life of God’s happy children till they die. We are broken and contrite all the way home—unless sin gets the proud upper hand.” – John Piper
The easiest way to return to a state of brokenness is to draw near to God and confess one’s sins, seeking forgiveness and grace. Let God’s light shine on your heart. In the light of His holiness, you will be able to see layers of accumulated sin. The more we confess, the more of our sins He’ll reveal. There’s no better way to brokenness than to see ourselves the way God sees us. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
The Potter and the clay
“As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” – Jeremiah 18:6b
Yahweh, the living God, is sovereign and almighty. Our lives are in His hands, like clay in a potter’s hands. Depending on our day-to-day response to God, He will exercise his authority and power over us to determine our future.
When God had to teach his people Israel that His plans for them were dependent on their response to Him, he used a wonderful imagery. God sent His prophet Jeremiah to a potter’s house: “Go down to the shop where clay pots and jars are made. I will speak to you while you are there.”(v2) Jeremiah found the potter working at his wheel. “But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so the potter squashed the jar into a lump of clay and started again.” (v4)
A potter has complete authority over the destiny of a lump of clay in his hands. Similarly, God has the final say regarding the destiny of an individual, family or nation. “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” (v6) This was the first lesson that God taught Jeremiah.
The potter-clay imagery has a problem. A lump of clay cannot rebel against the potter; and the potter’s decisions are not dependent on the ‘moral choices’ of the lump of clay! On the other hand, God’s people can rebel against God and go off course. Depending on the moral and spiritual choices the “People of the Covenant” makes, God is determined to make changes to His people’s destiny.
“If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will build up and plant a certain nation or kingdom, making it strong and great, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless that nation as I had said I would.” (v7-10)
Does God change His mind so frequently and suddenly? Why would He not remain faithful to his promises even when His people desert Him? Are not His promises - at least a few of them - unconditional?
Yes, God is faithful. However, we should understand that His ways are much more comprehensive than ours. His covenants and promises always include provisions that deal with our compliance and non-compliance to His will. God doesn’t “switch” from Plan A to Plan B or from a promise of blessing to a threat of punishment. What appears to us as two mutually opposing plans are indeed components of His grand plan. If we walk in His ways, we inherit the promises and blessings that are a part of His plan. If we walk away from Him in stubborn rebellion, we inherit another component of His plan! No nation or individual should take God’s favor for granted.
It is unfortunate that this graphic lesson was wasted on Israel. Prophet Jeremiah’s message was rejected by his people. They said, “Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, following our own evil desires.” (v12). The calamity that struck that nation is well known.
In spite of the negative outcome of this lesson, we can take hold of the brighter side of this passage. If we are on a sinful path, and if God has determined evil against us, it is never too late to turn to God and submit to His authority. A fresh start, a glorious future! That’s what God, the Master Potter, offers us today.
Because I’m in the Potter’s House,
I should never be discouraged.
Even when the clay’s distorted—
I must heed his words that encourage.
He is the mighty Potter,
And He’s molding me each day;
Making a beautiful vessel—
From what was spoiled clay.
- Maureen Lefanue (Extract from The Potter’s House)
God remembers your sacrifices
“God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name.” – Hebrews 6:10.
It is natural for Christians to wonder at times whether all their hard work and sacrifice for the sake of God’s Kingdom were in vain. When we are tired, expended, unappreciated and sidelined, we may not be able to see things in God’s perspective. The apparent darkness around us might blind us to the significance God has attached to our lives and ministry.
The Hebrew Christians, to whom the epistle of Hebrews was written, had a long track record of ministering to the needs of the saints sacrificially (11:10). They visited Christians who were in prison; they suffered ignominies and atrocities at the hands of the enemies of the gospel who plundered their possessions (10:34).
Yet, they became so weary of their spiritual life. They allowed themselves to be weighed down by sin (12:1). Although they were on life’s race course, their hands hung down and their knees were feeble (12:12) They had given up their struggle against sin (12:3). They were on the verge of falling away from Christ even though they had received rich blessings from God (11:4-8). Some of them were even neglecting their regular fellowship meetings (10:25).
While attempting to revive this tired church, the writer of the epistle tried to remind them of God’s faithfulness.
“God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name.” God was keeping track of all their sacrifices! It wasn’t just God; a whole host of heavenly witnesses were waiting to see them finish their race well (12:1).
We grow tired and weary when we think all our efforts are going unnoticed by people and even by God. People may or may not pay attention to our toil, let alone appreciate us for it. God remembers everything! The realization that God is indeed watching all our hard work and sacrifice is quite refreshing and liberating. Instead of waiting for recognition from people around us, we can now do everything for “the Audience of One” – the One who watches over us and keeps a record of everything that matters. He will never let us down. For whatever we do for God in secret, He will reward us openly.
First of all, encourage!
“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance” – Revelation 2:2a NASB
There is no one more righteous and just than our Lord Jesus Christ. Although nothing is hidden from his blazing eyes and even when He sees us just as we are, He is always fair in His assessment of our strengths and weaknesses. Unlike humans, Jesus sees the good and the bad. He downplays neither our accomplishments nor our sins.
In the messages to the seven churches in Asia, the Lord Jesus’ primary aim was to correct erring churches. Yet, the messages are not an exercise in fault finding and sheep bashing. He condemned individual and corporate sins in the strongest possible ways. Yet, we know that these churches were not crushed by His stinging rebukes.
The secret of this ministry of restoration lies in Jesus’ approach to correction. Each of His messages to the churches began with glowing appreciation for their accomplishments. For instance, His message to the church in Ephesus begins thus:
I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. (2:2,3)
After reading this, who wouldn’t feel encouraged? It is such a comfort to know that Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, took notice of the Ephesian Christians’ toil and perseverance. After this, when Jesus says, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (v. 4), I am sure the Ephesians were more than willing to be corrected by their caring, all-knowing, encouraging Master.
How do we try to correct our fellow brethren, children, students, or even colleagues? Do we couch our rebukes or critiques in layers of encouragement and affirmation, like Jesus did? In our zeal to correct others, have we forgotten to take notice of all the great things they have been doing? Did you encourage anyone today? If you haven’t, save your criticisms, rebukes and corrections for another day. First, deposit loads of complements and encouragements in the “savings account” of your relationships before you try to withdraw from it. It might take up to ten positive comments to offset one negative comment.
“I can live for two months on a good compliment.” – Mark Twain
Under The Mighty Hand of God
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you …” – 1 Peter 5:6
True exaltation comes from God and at God’s perfect time. The best thing we can do until then is to humble ourselves ‘under the mighty hand of God.’ The worst thing we may do, in this context, is to exalt ourselves as if God wasn’t mindful of us. The Bible has numerous examples of men and women who waited on God for the fulfillment of divine promises. It also reminds us of people who tried to ‘help’ God by taking matters in their own hands.
When we think of a man whom God exalted supernaturally, the story of Joseph comes to our mind. He paid a heavy price for sharing with his elder brothers dreams about his exaltation. Those dreams were not products of his imagination or vanity. God had revealed to him His plans for Joseph’s future. A day would come when Joseph’s brothers and parents would bow before him. That was inconceivable by any stretch of imagination, especially in an ancient West Asian society. Besides, his father Jacob took offence at the dream’s suggestion that the Patriarch would have to bow before one of his youngest sons.
After he was sold off to Egypt, Joseph had to silently endure injustice when he was falsely accused of molesting Potipher’s wife. Without a free trial, he was imprisoned in a special prison where Pharaoh’s prisoners were kept. There was no end in sight. Joseph’s dark days in Pharaoh’s dungeon extended to several years. What kept Joseph’s hopes alive during those dark years? Joseph held on to his God-given dreams. He knew that the God of his Fathers who had given him those hopes was able and faithful to fulfill those dreams.
Did God give you a dream? Are you now wondering whether there will ever be a fulfillment for those dreams? If the dream is from God, be patient and wait on God. Do not try to exalt yourself or to vindicate yourself. When you humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, you can cast all your anxieties on Him. In quiet trust and patience is your strength. Remember, the ‘hand of God’ under which you stay hidden for a while is indeed mighty—in fact, almighty!
Rightly dividing the Word
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV
One of the most important and indispensable elements of church life is the ministry of God’s Word. God’s Word – the Bible – is spiritual nourishment for a Christian’s soul and an agent of healing for his body. No amount of prayer, worship or music can compensate for the lack of robust preaching and teaching.
Therefore, ministers who can divide the word of truth rightly are foundational to any local church. The training and deployment of such ministers should therefore be the prime concern of any church leader. No one is born as a perfect teacher or preacher. Any one who thinks that he is called of God to lead a church should work hard – be diligent – at attaining excellence in this ministry.
The gold standard for all Bible teaching is not of terrestrial origin. God decides who preaches His Word rightly. Despite popular notions that there is no right way to interpret or teach the Scriptures, God is looking for ministers who will rightly divide the word of truth. To such men, who exercise great care and effort in this heavenly ministry, God grants His seal of approval. No human ordination can be a substitute for God’s seal of approval. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God …”
Those who fail to work hard at the proper study and ministry of God’s Word will have reasons to be ashamed of themselves when God examines their work. This explains why St. Paul exhorted Timothy to be a a worker who does not need to be ashamed. Those whose works are compared to wood, hay and straw will be shocked to see their work getting consumed by God’s fiery test. What appears to be praiseworthy and popular among people may get rejected by God. On the other hand, Christians whose works are relatively small and inglorious but precious like gold, silver and precious stones, will have reason to rejoice in that Day of reckoning. (cf 1 Corinthians 3:12-15)
Do you work hard at presenting yourself as a workman approved to God? Or, are you feeding those under your care with borrowed, stale food? Do you stand for the truth or do you dilute it with the world’s wisdom and cheap humor? If you are called of God to lead and feed God’s people, do not seek to please any man; do not seek to conform to any man-made creed. Instead, submit to God and to His Word of truth; seek His approval.
Winning God’s approval can set you at odds with several people. Christians will try in vain to fit you in one of their denominational straightjackets. Once they fail to so, they will cast you out. Often, ministers who are approved by God are not found among the exalted pantheon of bishops and professional clergy. They may be on the fringes of Christianity, bearing witness to God’s truth while suffering rejection and persecution from false ministers.
‘Our Father in Heaven …’
Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven … – Matthew 6:9 NASB
When Jesus’ disciples requested Him to teach them how to pray, Jesus cautioned them against hypocritical and vain practices. He then instructed them, “Pray, then, in this way.” In Jesus, we have the best teacher; who can teach humanity to pray to God better than the One who came from God?
Jesus did not discourage prayer. He did not say, “God knows your needs and He will supply your needs even if you do not pray.” The God of the Bible has ordained prayer for mankind. Prayer doesn’t demean us. It is only fitting for weak and needy creatures like us to be on our knees, presenting our petitions before a loving and caring Creator. Prayer is also a sacred privilege. Unlike the difficult prospect of approaching earthly rulers, we can approach the King of the Universe with our supplications at any time of the day or night.
True prayer is a spiritually demanding exercise. Although we are spiritual beings who are fascinated by anything supernatural or mystical, we are not naturally inclined to pray to the Living God. We would rather be engaged in any other religious activity than pray. We need to obey Jesus’ command “Pray, then, in this way”.
“Our Father in Heaven” – Jesus introduced Yahweh, the God of Abraham, as the Father in heaven. The Jewish readers of Matthew, not to mention the disciples themselves, would certainly have noticed this term of endearment used to address the most exalted God. For them, the holy Yahweh – the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac – was too distant to be called Abba. Jesus’ mission was not just to reveal God as His loving Father but also to make way, through His cross, for the adoption of sinful humanity into God’s family. Jesus’ disciples were well on their way to call this awesome God Abba. After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene, “Go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” (John 20:17) The greatest privilege on earth is to be called the children of God and to address God as our Abba.
“Our Father in Heaven” – If the God of heaven and earth is a Father, he is not the Father of just one person or of one select group of Christians. Each Christian who prays to this God, addressing Him as our Heavenly Father, is reminded of the unity of the larger family of God. If we pray to this Father, we should make sure that we are in good terms with other children of His family.
The phrase “Our Father in Heaven” also reminds us about the importance of corporate prayer. Solitary prayer, as important as it may be, should not be at the cost of corporate prayer. Corporate prayer may be more sustainable for many, given our inclination to give in to the weakness of our flesh.
Besides, some of us use the first person pronoun in prayer even when we lead a group in prayer. It is good to remind ourselves that the expressions “Our Father in Heaven” and “in Jesus’ name we pray” are as holy as “My Father in Heaven” and “in Jesus’ name I pray.”
Did you pray to your Heavenly Father today?
Hallowed be Your Name
Hallowed be Your name. – Matthew 6:9b NASB
Jesus taught His disciples to pray for the sanctification of God’s holy Name, for the arrival of God’s Kingdom and for the fulfillment of God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. These divine priorities should be our priorities too. Therefore, before pouring out a list of more mundane petitions before God, we should seek those things that are on top of God’s agenda for humanity.
God is holy and set apart from His creation. Therefore, His name has to be revered, praised and held in high esteem by all people everywhere. He does everything according to the pleasure of His good will and for the praise of His glory (Ephesians i.6). He has chosen us in Christ and set us apart as a holy nation of royal priests so that ‘you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light’ (1 Peter 2:9b)
When God is esteemed, His Word too will be highly esteemed and obeyed. This will usher in true blessings. The prosperity of a nation that despises the living God is just an illusion. Therefore, whether we realize it or not, the exaltation and sanctification of God’s Name is our primary need.
A large number of people in today’s world do not know the name of Yahweh, the living God, or that of His Son Jesus Christ. Instead of worshiping the Maker of heaven and earth, they tend to act on their assumption that the Creator may be compared to His creatures. Despite its appeal to the masses, such comparisons are an abomination in God’s sight. The God of the Bible does not make any concession in this matter: ‘I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.’ (Isaiah 42:8) Yahweh wants everyone to know Him; there is no room in heaven for a rival ‘god.’ When we pray that God’s name be hallowed, we pray that all mankind will come to know the living God and His Son Jesus Christ so that they will inherit eternal life. (cf John 17:3)
God is zealous about His name and will not tolerate blasphemy, disrespect or the misuse of His name. The third commandment orders us to refrain from using God’s name in vain. Even among those nations that were cradled in a ‘Christian culture,’ and were exposed to the teachings of the Bible, the name of God is widely despised and used in vain. When we pray that God’s Name will be hallowed, we pray that God will cause these nations to fear His name and to desist from blasphemy.
Some of God’s people dishonor Him through their sinful lives and despicable conduct, especially among those who do not worship Yahweh or follow Jesus. In the days of the Old Covenant, ethnic Israel was guilty of such behavior. Therefore, it was written, ‘The Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ (Romans 2:24) When King David stole a Hittite soldier’s wife by getting him killed in a battle, prophet Nathan was most concerned about what heathen nations might have thought about the God of Israel.
God chastises His children who bring dishonor to His name. God tends to vindicates Himself before the world. He will not be seen as someone who tolerates sin in the lives of His people. Prophet Nathan announced that the child born out of the adulterous union between David and Bathsheba was to die ‘because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme.’ (2 Samuel 12:14) Similarly, a shipload of ungodly men learned to fear Yahweh and worship Him when they saw how angry Yahweh had been with Jonah, a disobedient prophet. The prophet’s disobedience landed them in a terrible storm. When they threw Jonah overboard, the sea became still instantaneously. The sailors gave glorified Yahweh.
How do we wish to see God hallow His Name through our lives? Will we glorify His Name by our upright life? Will we proclaim His wondrous works among the nations? Or, will we force God to glorify His name in our lives through his righteous judgments? Let us consider our ways before we pray, ‘Hallowed be Your Name’
Thy Kingdom come!
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus made it amply clear that our prayers must reflect divine priorities instead of being dominated by our selfish agenda or even by our apparently legitimate needs. Prayer for the sanctification of God’s name, the arrival of God’s Kingdom and the fulfilment of God’s will on earth, therefore, are top priorities in the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer is not just a mechanism to get things from God; it is a divinely appointed vehicle for the advancement of God’s purposes on the earth. The wonder of God’s government that incorporates mere mortals in its processes!
Jesus taught about the ‘Kingdom of God.’ It was not an entirely new concept to his Jewish audience. For centuries, Jews looked forward to the arrival of a Messiah, a King in the line of David, who would restore Israel’s glorious Kingdom. The kingdom that they anticipated is described in glowing terms in the Prophets.
Despite their eager expectation, most Jews failed to recognise Yeshua as their Messiah. Jesus came to His people without the fanfare and fireworks that people imagined would mark the arrival of a long awaited King. His Kingdom wasn’t an earthly political entity; instead, it was heavenly and spiritual in nature. He offered no resistance to Roman occupying forces; nor did he incite his followers to rebel against any ruler.
John the Baptist and Jesus announced the imminent arrival of this heavenly Kingdom. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matthew 3:2) They did not say that the kingdom would arrive several centuries later. The urgency of their message was evident in their teachings and actions. The English usage ‘till kingdoms come’ does violence to the teaching of Jesus that the kingdom of God was at hand.
Besides, the arrival of the Kingdom would be both a joyous occasion for the righteous and a terrible day of judgment for those who reject their Messiah. This was why the Jews were commanded to repent.
Following Jesus’ teaching, the disciples eagerly looked forward to the coming of God’s Kingdom and prayed for its arrival. Letters to the early church reveal how Christians of the first century prepared themselves for the arrival of the Day of the Lord. They hoped that the old order of worship, including sacrifices and the Temple – that which were already ‘obsolete and aging’ – would soon ‘disappear.’ (Hebrew 8:13)
Did God answer the apostles’ prayer? Or was the announced imminent arrival of the Kingdom a false alarm? Did such a Day arrive when the old order of worship was wiped out and judgment meted out to those who rejected the Messiah?
Thy Will Be Done
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10b
Prayer is not a means to twist God’s hand or to impose one’s views on God. A person who prays must submit to God’s will in all matters. We have the freedom to petition God on any matter. However, our attitude should be that of submission to God’s supreme will.
God’s perfect will operates in heaven. (Yes, Jesus taught about a literal heaven.) We can have heaven on earth if God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
The mother of James and John approached Jesus with a special request. After all, she was Jesus’ aunt. She wanted her boys to be seated at either side of the Messiah Yeshua’s throne. Jesus asked the brothers whether they were willing to drink His cup of sufferings. They were more than willing to fulfill any difficult requirement to get plum posts in the kingdom of God. Jesus, however, said to them, ‘You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.’ (Matthew 20:23) No amount of prayer can change certain things that God has determined in His wisdom.
One of the most beautiful prayers in the New Testament is that of a leper. ‘And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”‘ (Matthew 8:2) The man, although a social outcast, had great faith. He knew that Jesus was able to heal him of his ‘incurable’ condition. The only factor that would decide whether he should be healed was the Will of the Healer. Unlike many Christians who assume that healing is always the ‘will of God’ concerning everyone, this leper subjected his petition to Jesus’ will. Such submission is not a sign of unbelief or lack of conviction.
The Lord Jesus too submitted to the Father’s will at all times. This was most evident in the Garden of Gethsemane. When faced with a difficult decision regarding the suffering he was to endure, he prayed, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’ (Luke 22:42)
St. Paul prayed that Christians in Colosse ‘may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.’ (Colossians 1:9) This should be our prayer too. May our prayers be according to God’s will and for the fulfilment of God’s will.
Our daily bread
Give us this day our daily bread. – Matthew 6:11 NKJV
The Lord Jesus taught his disciples to pray for their needs, especially for basic needs such as food. The Master did not include anything fancy here—just plain bread, the staff of life. This is not an indictment of those who eat a variety of wholesome and delicious food. However, it certainly reminds us of the essential simplicity that Christian discipleship demands from us. We should eat to live instead of living to eat.
The prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” may not at first make sense to people who have stocked up enough food for many days or have money to buy food for many years. While affluent Christians today recite the Lord’s prayer as a matter of habit or religious obligation, there are probably millions of their brethren who sincerely pray that God will miraculously provide their next meal.
Regardless of what we may think about the necessity of this prayer, the rich and the poor should pray for their daily bread. This will remind everyone that God our Father - not our jobs or businesses or supermarket shelves - is the true Source of all our blessings. God, in his loving care, created the food web for humans and for all creatures. He alone controls a host of cosmic, global and local factors that determine and facilitate food production.
The words “day” and “daily” remind us of the need to live our lives day by day. We need to take every new day as it dawns and live focussed on the present. Modern technology makes us believe that we live week by week or, worse still, as a never ending continuum of work, rest and more work. God never makes a mistake. If we conciosly live day by day, we will learn to appreciate God’ fundamental unit of time for us.
We are asked to pray for today’s needs instead of worrying about tomorrow’s breakfast. This is not contrary to other Scriptures that teach us the value of planning and saving for our future. Those who have will save a little for the morrow. But what about someone who doesn’t have anything? He will be tempted to worry about tomorrow. This prayer is a reminder to the poorest of our brethren that God will provide for their daily needs. Instead of worrying about tomorrow, they can sleep well. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Jesus said,
Therefore I say to you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they? (Matthew 6:25-26)
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (Matthew 6:31)
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)
The apostle Paul too taught the Philippian Christians - a poor church- the need to pray for material needs. “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.” (Philippians 4:7)
Finally, the prayer for daily bread reminds us of the corporate nature of the Church. We don’t pray for “my daily bread;” we pray for “our daily bread.” As we approach the heavenly Father with the needs of all His children, we may even discover that we are the answer to the prayers of our brethren. When our brethren in Christ suffer today a lack of essential things, how can we, with stuffed pockets, pray this prayer on their behalf without the willingness to share our resources?
Forgive our debts
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. – Matthew 6:12
Just as we need food for physical sustenance, we need God’s forgiveness on a daily basis. God’s forgiveness is freely available to us because Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the whole world.
The word used here to describe sins is debts. We are debtors before God. At the same time, there are several who are debtors to us. A debtor in this context is “one who owes God penalty or whom God can demand punishment as something due.” When applied to people, a debtor can be “one who has not yet made amends to whom he has injured.”
If God were to hold each human being guilty until each of us paid the penalty for our sins, who will ever be able to stand before God? The penalty for committing sins is eternal death. No human can serve time in God’s prison for eternity and then come back as a “free man.” The only way out of this difficult situation is to obtain forgiveness of sins. However, God’s justice demands that sin be punished. Without punishing sin, God cannot forgive anyone’s sins. This is why He sent Jesus, His Son, as our Saviour. Jesus died in our place to pay for our sins. Therefore, God is able to forgive the sins of anyone who accepts Jesus’ death as his own death.
Although Jesus paid in full to purchase forgiveness of sins for the whole world, people’s sins are not automatically forgiven. Each one has to confess his sins to God and beg God for forgiveness. What about those who have been forgiven? What if they sin again? The Lord’s prayer reminds us that we need forgiveness on a daily basis. Just as we pray for our “daily bread,” we need to pray daily for forgiveness for the sins we commit everyday.
The only condition for getting God’s forgiveness is that we forgive those who have sinned against us. When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Then, he went on to tell a parable of a servant who was imprisoned by his master for not extending forgiveness to those indebted to him even after getting his own debt canceled. Then Jesus said, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:35)
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This prayer is a double-edged sword. If we do not forgive those who have sinned against us, this prayer would mean, ‘Do not forgive us our debts, as we have not forgiven our debtors.’
The phrase “our debts” should remind us of the need for corporate confession of sins. Although we need to confess personal sins individually to God, we need to be aware of sins that we commit as a family, community or nation. We may not be directly involved in those sins; yet, we indirectly benefit from the sinful practices or injustices perpetrated by our governments or leaders. Just as Daniel confessed his nation’s sins to God, we may have to seek God’s forgiveness for our nation’s or community’s corporate sins of commission and omission.
Do Not Lead Us Into Testing
And do not lead us into testing, but deliver us from the evil one. – Matthew 6:13a.
Jesus taught his disciples to prepare for and escape trials through prayer. The purpose of this prayer is to seek protection from potentially trying situations and from the evil one who might work to turn testing situations to his advantage.
Although some versions of the English Bible render this verse as “And do not lead us into temptation,” some prefer the word “testing.” The purpose of temptation is to entice someone into sin. Testing, on the other hand, is a difficult situation that tests one’s faith and loyalty towards God. The former is aimed at taking a person away from God while the latter is to strengthen one’s faith. It is difficult to conceive of a holy God who entices his people to commit sin. “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” (James 1:13) Therefore, many prefer to read this petition as “Do not lead us into testing.”
It is interesting to note that Jesus’ lesson on prayer includes a reference to God’s arch enemy. Many Christians believe that the devil is nothing more than a figment of people’s imagination or a remnant of ancient folklore. Jesus affirmed the existence of this evil being, the old serpent, who tempted Adam and Eve. Jesus also cast out the devil’s minions - demons - from many people. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us how real and dangerous the devil is. We shouldn’t fear the evil one; nor should we underestimate his wicked schemes. Even though the testing of our precious faith is from God, the evil one (the devil) can take advantage of these situations to tempt us. Our Father in heaven can deliver us from the evil one. “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.” (2 Peter 2:9)
Not only does God keep his praying saints out of temptations, He also makes sure that we will never face a temptation that is beyond our strength. The apostle Paul reminded Corinthian Christians of God’s faithfulness while encouraging them to be cautious. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor 10:12-13)
With this prayer, Jesus teaches us the importance of taking responsibility for our lives. We should not sit back and blame the devil for all our ills. We should not make excuses for our foolish and sinful reactions to trying situations. When God offers us His help to escape trials and the schemes of the evil one, we need to pray. Our cautious attitude and prayerful preparation will deprive the devil of the element of surprise. A praying Christian is ready to face any situation in life.
Sin shall not rule
Sin shall not have dominion over you. – Romans 6:14a NKJV
This declaration is one of the greatest promises in the New Testament for Christians. Every Christian who participated in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ through water baptism is free from the power of sin.
This verse may appear to be a command, causing some Christians to worry how they might prevent sin from having dominion over them. The New American Bible is unique in rendering this verse as: “Sin is not to have any power over you ….” However, such a rendering does not fit the context. This is a joyous declaration of a Christian’s independence from the lordship of sin.
Everyone – Jew or Gentile – is a sinner and is incapable of resisting sin indefinitely. Social, legal and religious barriers might prevent sin in many situations. In the absence of these barriers, every human being is capable of committing the worst of sins. This human tendency to break God’s laws is not merely the result of a lack of will power or personal refinement or education. It is a symptom of our enslavement to the principle of sin that operates within us. Jesus said to the Jews who argued with Him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34)
The only remedy for the dominion of sin is death. When a person dies, he is set free from every principle that operates within his body. But how can we experience liberty from sin while yet on earth?
The sixth chapter of St Paul’s epistle to Romans answers that question. A sinner who repents of his sins and believes in Jesus Christ is offered water baptism. This immersion in water is not just a symbol. Something significant happens when a repentant, believing sinner is immersed and brought back up from water according to Jesus’ command.
The apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans chapter 6. We died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised as he was. Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. (Romans 6:4-7)
The death of Jesus becomes the sinner’s death. The resurrection of Jesus becomes the sinner’s resurrection. Thus, a sinner is set free from the dominion and lordship of sin. He need not commit even a single sin. He has every right to say “No” to the enticing voice of sinful desires. Unless a baptized believer wilfully or through ignorance obeys the voice of sin, sin cannot rule over his life. This is the basis of St. Paul’s teaching on victorious Christian living.
Contrast this New Testament assurance against the uncertainty and struggle endured by our friends who do everything within their power to defeat sin. Pilgrimages, painful penances, monetary sacrifice, animal (or even human) sacrifices, affliction of wounds on one’s own body, enforced celibacy, long years of solitude and silence … the list goes on. People go to great lengths to cast off the chains of sin (or, what they call ‘evil desires’) from their lives.
Thanks be to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who purchased our redemption through the Cross! Through participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have forgiveness, liberty and eternal life. “Sin shall not have dominion over you.”
Are we teachable?
An attitude of learning is vital to spiritual life and growth. David the Psalmist prayed that God would teach him His ways. His repeated requests seeking instruction for God reveals David’s willingness to learn from God. This also shows us his humility.
Show me Your ways, O LORD;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day. v.5
The humble He teaches His way. v.9
Who is the man that fears the LORD?
Him shall He teach in the way He chooses. v.12
The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him,
And He will show them His covenant.
— Psalm 25:4, 5, 9, 12,14
In no other chapter in the Bible, with the exception of Psalm 119, do we find as many petitions seeking God’s revelation and teaching.
God can directly teach us His Word through His Spirit. He can also use His people to teach us His ways as long as we are willing to test every such lesson against God’s eternal Word. There are several things that are unclear to us. If only we would pray like David! The day we stop learning from God and His people, we stop growing in Him.
A lack of willingness to learn new lessons in God’s ways reflects our attitude of pride. We might think that we have arrived. We may deceive ourselves by thinking that God has already taught us everything there is to learn. If we approach God and His people with this sense of ‘fulness,’ God cannot teach us anything new. Mary’s song reminds us of the misfortune of those who consider themselves rich: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” Luke 1:53
What did the God teach you today?
The God who tries us
For you, O God have tested us; … yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. – Psalm 66:10-12
Our God is a faithful and merciful God. He never leaves any loose end while scripting the story of our life. If He leads us into the valleys of life, He will surely bring us to His hilltops from where we’ll shout with the psalmist, “Come and hear … and I will tell what he has done for my soul” (v16). If God hadn’t charted David’s course through terrible valleys, would he ever have appreciated the mountain peaks to which God led him?
David wasn’t as elated when he was in God’s crucible. God let him go through a fiery furnace so that he could be purified as silver is tried. God brought David and his men into a net and then laid a crushing burden on their backs. God let people ride over their heads! Nothing can be worse than that. Any punishment that comes directly from God is a million times lighter than the ones that are delivered through the agency of other people. It pains the most when God uses our loved ones as His rod of correction! It could be from a spouse, a son or a daughter, father or mother, or from in-laws. And then, there are unworthy people who suddenly rise above your head only to despise you and to grind your face on the ground. One can only hold one’s breath and endure in silence in such situations.
In David’s case, it was his son Absalom who rose up against him. Shemei, a disgruntled citizen, cursed King David as he fled from his palace. No wonder David described his experience as comparable to going “through fire and through water” (v12). If David and his men had been defeated and killed in the fierce Judean battleground, he wouldn’t have been able to invite his people to praise God saying, “Come and see the works of God …” (v5). Right when his enemies thought that he was eliminated, David came back to power and lived to talk about it. God led him out of his dire straits into a place of abundance.
God does everything for His glory. If he tests you with fire, he does it so that you will praise Him once He brings you out of it to a place of abundance. If God lets people ride over your head, it is so that you’ll have a tender heart to all who are downcast. Instead of harboring bitterness in your heart against individuals who rode roughshod over you, thank God for them. God will deal with them in due time. But his primary interest is mellowing and shaping you, His child.
God’s plans triumph over human wickedness
We saw how distressed he [Joseph] was when he cried to us for mercy … – Genesis 42:21
The height of human cruelty! Ten men who lacked even the faintest touch of human kindness hated one of their youngest brothers to such a degree that they could not endure the very sight of him. They were sons of a father but of different mothers. Yet, sibling rivalry got the better of them. They ganged up against the young lad, Joseph, when he came a long way from home to enquire about their welfare. Little did he know that his older brothers were bloodthirsty wolves. They plotted to kill Joseph when they saw him walking towards them. Due to God’s providential intervention, the oldest among them convinced his brothers to desist from bloodshed. So they tied up Joseph and threw him into an empty well. And they sat down to eat a meal! How could they?
Yes, how could they have a meal in peace while their younger brother kept crying out for mercy? They felt compelled to get rid of the nuisance. Of course, they came up with humane excuses to justify their decision to sell him off instead of killing him — “after all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” They sold him for twenty pieces of silver to traders on their way to Egypt. Indeed, the kindness of these brothers was crueler than the cruelest deeds of others.
How could any good come of out of these acts of crime? A boy who hardly got to know his mother’s love became a victim of jealousy and sibling rivalry, of human trafficking and slave trade. He was plucked from the comforts of his father’s household and thrown into the lowest strata of a cosmopolitan city. A bruised orphan, handsome as he was, was on a slave trader’s block, up for sale to the highest bidder. If we were to go through half of what Joseph endured, we would cry out in protest, “God, where are you? Do you even care about me?”
We should note that, as Joseph went through this torturous route to Egypt, God was in complete control of his life. God was working out His plan to keep Jacob’s family alive. God can achieve His purposes even through the darkest deeds of wicked people. Jacob’s cruel sons never knew that they were sending Joseph off to Egypt as a forerunner who would keep them alive during famine. In no way do we condone torture, illegal confinement, human trafficking or slave trade. Even as we fight against these evils, let us be assured that God is on His throne. He is capable of turning the tables on the wicked so that they are brought to the book just as Joseph’s brothers were made to confront their sin.
Many centuries later, a psalmist wrote thus, in Psalm 105.16-17,
And He called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
This matter-of-fact reporting – He sent a man before them – does not mention anything about the travails Joseph went through. This should put our day-to-day struggles and suffering in perspective. God sees the big picture. In His scheme of things, on a canvas as big as the universe, our lives are nothing more than a stroke of His brush. This is not to say that our lives aren’t significant. We play a significant part in God’s design. But our significance should be seen in the light of the greater things God is doing in history. This will not only give us a sober judgment about our importance but will also help us see how momentary and fleeting our sorrows and troubles are.
God sees things differently
Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? – 2 Corinthians 10:7
As human beings, we are prone to judge others according to their outward appearance. Even at the first glance, we study the outward appearance of people. We measure others on the basis of their beauty, the color of their skin, their height, language, accent, clothes, and other accessories on their person.
The first Christians in Corinth were no different. Members of that church admired St. Paul because he had brought the Gospel to Corinth. It was through his preaching that they came to know Jesus Christ. Later, when they came across other apostles – Peter and Apollos – many of them revised their opinion about Paul. They judged Paul on the basis of external factors. This caused Paul the apostle a lot of pain because he was, in a way, their spiritual ‘father.’
What did the Corinthians say about Paul?
Paul wasn’t among the original apostles of Christ; Peter was.
While the ‘super apostles’ ministered in Jerusalem and Judea, Paul kept traveling in Asia and other provinces – far away from the ‘happening places’ – preaching the gospel to people of strange languages and cultures.
Paul’s physical presence was so weak; he might have been short enough to fit in a basket. No wonder he was called ‘Paul’ – meaning ‘little.’
Paul couldn’t talk as impressively as Apollos did. Some preferred Peter and Apollos to Paul.
Although Paul’s letters appeared to be weighty, his speech did not make many Corinthians think he was as wise as other Christian leaders. Some even questioned whether his teachings had any divine sanction.
These judgments were all based on outward appearances. Paul, therefore, had to chide the Corinthian church. He felt it was proper to defend himself, his calling as an apostle, and the honor of his God-given ministry. After all, why should some Christians be allowed to think that apostleship was their monopoly? Why should they look down upon a late entrant whom Christ was using in a different way in a new arena of Christian mission.
Observe Paul’s defense in these lines:
▹ ‘For his letters,’ they say, ‘are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.’ (2 Cor 10:10 NLT)
▹ “But I don’t think I am inferior to these ‘super apostles.’” (11:5)
▹ ‘I may not be a trained speaker, but I know what I am talking about.’ (11:6)
▹ ‘… for I am not at all inferior to these ‘super apostles,’ even though I am nothing at all.’ (12:11)
▹ ‘I will give you all the proof you want that Christ speaks through me.’ (13:3)
Notice how Paul mentioned twice in this epistle that he was not at all inferior to some leaders whom the Corinthians considered as ‘super apostles.’ Paul’s courage and confidence in God’s call upon his life kept him strong. He wasn’t discouraged by the wayward assessment of some of his own friends.
We are reminded of what Yahweh said to prophet Samuel when he went to Jesse’s house to anoint a new king of Israel. Samuel thought that the eldest and tallest of the sons of Jesse was God’s choice for Israel. That’s when God said, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16:7)
Are we guilty of judging fellow Christians and ministers on the basis of external factors? Just because some do things differently and use unconventional methods, how can we ‘disapprove’ of their ministry? Are not our judgments way below the standards of God’s righteous assessment of His servants?
What is despised now may turn out to be far greater and significant in the years to come. Regardless of what the early Corinthian Christians thought of Paul’s stature, he stands tall in Christian history as one of the greatest apostles of Christ. Let’s try to learn God’s ways and look at other people through His eyes.
‘Church’ isn’t a show!
… our own assembling together … encouraging one another. – Hebrews 10:25
For Christians of the first century, ‘church’ wasn’t a place or a weekly show. They considered Church – ekklesia – as a group of sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and called out from the sinful world. They assembled together day after day, in small groups, in any convenient place such as the homes of Christians. Their meeting place was of no special significance; what happened during those meetings was of great significance.
A shared meal was a common feature of their meetings; the New Testament refers to these meals as ‘breaking of bread.’ The main purpose of their meeting was to learn God’s Word, to pray and worship, to share their resources, and to encourage each other. (Acts 2:42-47) The public reading of Scripture, exhortation, the study of doctrine and intercessory prayer were vital to their assembly (1 Timothy 2:1; 4:13). The exercise of spiritual gifts ensured that the Holy Spirit was in total control over the ministry of the church. The Spirit’s distribution of charismatic gifts to every Christian and the freedom to operate these gifts prevented the centralization of ‘ministry’ in the hands of a few ‘ordained’ elite.
Mutual encouragement was especially important because many Christians faced persecution. Besides, there was the ever present danger of sin, bitterness or disunity. The writer of Hebrews wanted every Christian to watch over his fellow believer: ‘Look after each other so that none of you will miss out on the special favor of God. Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison. Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau.’ (Hebrews 12:15-16) To ‘look after each other,’ they had to know each other well. Each one had to keep his fingers on the spiritual pulse of his spiritual friend.
Do our assemblies serve these spiritual purposes? To most Christians of today, Church is a place where Christians flock together on Sundays for their well-rehearsed worship shows within a stipulated time. Churches advertise their ‘services’ by highlighting their location, ample parking space, great music, technical and architectural wizardry. More often than not, people who need spiritual servicing, restoration, encouragement and restoration sit through a music show and a talk show. They do not get what they really need; they have no opportunity to exercise their spiritual ministry and give others what they need.
There certainly has to be a better way of ‘doing church.’ Let’s do ‘simple’ church like the early Christians – meeting in small groups in any convenient place to build each other up and to win more disciples.
Worship That Leads to Holiness
O Yahweh, You have searched me and known me … – Psalm 139.1
Christian worship must be grounded in one’s personal knowledge of God just as it should be on the basis of our redemption in Jesus Christ. How can we ascribe glory to God in a fitting manner if we do not know His attributes and nature? Worship can become very superficial if we focus only on what God has done for us; a grateful heart must also be aware of who God is. Songs that are rooted in Scripture help us to reflect upon the nature of God as we worship Him. Sadly, many songs that are used today’s worship services, instead of enriching our worship, are frivolous at best. This is why we need to use Psalms and Scripture-based songs in our worship.
King David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, knew his God, Yahweh, in a deep way. In Psalm 139, he is full of awe and adoration towards Yahweh. A careful examination of the psalm shows us how deep David’s understanding was concerning his God’s nature and character.
i. The omniscient God: ‘Such knowledge is too wonderful for me’ (v6). David was overwhelmed by God’s ability to know everything about him – his actions, his words and even his thoughts.
ii. The omnipresent God: ‘Where can I flee from Your presence?’ (v7) David knew that God was everywhere. There was no way he could escape God’s presence. Awareness of God’s abiding Presence was a source of comfort for David; it wasn’t a source of torment.
iii. The omnipotent God: ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works.’ (v14) David knew that God was very much involved in his formation in his mother’s womb. Such a God who creates new life, not to mention the entire cosmos, must be all powerful.
iv. The omnibenevolent God: ‘How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!’ (v17) Such an awesome God is full of goodness towards His creatures. He is careful about every detail in our lives. Even before we realize our needs, He makes provision for those needs.
v. The holy God: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart … and see if there is any wicked way in me.’ (v23-24). David had no problems reconciling God’s goodness and holiness. Even though Yahweh is a loving and good God, He cannot tolerate wickedness. Therefore, even as David prayed for God’s just punishment upon the wicked, he wanted God to cleanse His own life.
True knowledge of God will lead to a true understanding of our own sinfulness. Thus, worship based on a sound understanding and revelation of God’s nature will always lead to holiness and spiritual renewal. We will be led to self-examination and confession of our sins. That’s the need of the hour. Many church services begin with a boring question, ‘How many of us are happy this morning?’ Happiness is not a Christian virtue; it isn’t sinful to be sad. While preparing to worship God, we need to hear this instead, ‘How many of us want to be holy?’
The Gospel of the Glory of God
The law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and unruly … and if there be any other thing contrary to the sound doctrine; according to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God … committed to my trust. – 1 Timothy 1:11 (ASV)
The good news of Jesus Christ is about redeeming man from his sinfulness so that the glory of the blessed God may be revealed through him. Every Christian, therefore, has to depart from sin and maintain a conduct that is according to the gospel. God’s moral standard for mankind has always remained the same. In Old Testament times, the Ten Commandments spelled out our moral obligations. In New Testament times, those very moral obligations are referred to as ‘the sound doctrine’ that is in line with the gospel. This is a common ground between the law of Moses and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When the apostle Paul asked Timothy to stay at Ephesus, he required the young church leader to order some men to stop teaching ‘a different doctrine.’ This variant doctrine was not merely a different teaching; it was accompanied by a sinful life. The apostle condemned those sins. He enumerated certain sins in a way that reminds us of the Ten Commandments. The particular set of sins that are listed here and their order are no mere coincidences.
‘The law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane [third and fourth commandments], for those who kill their fathers or mothers [fifth commandment], for murderers [sixth commandment] and immoral men and homosexuals [seventh commandment] and kidnappers [eighth commandment] and liars and perjurers [ninth commandment], and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching …’ (1 Timothy 1:9-10 NASB)
The so-called ‘teachers of the Law’ who presumed to teach fellow Ephesian Christians even after erring in doctrine and in life had to be silenced. The integrity of the gospel was at stake. Paul’s command to Timothy was urgent.
We have similar teachers in today’s world as well. Instead of accepting God’s standard of holiness, they condone the very sins mentioned in the above list. They pitch the ‘gospel of grace’ against some perceived legalism of the Old Testament without realizing that both Mosaic Law and the Gospel seek to uphold God’s moral code.
Just as it was apostle Paul’s duty to uphold the ‘gospel of the glory of the blessed God,’ it is up to us to safeguard that which is committed to our trust. Accuracy regarding the content of the gospel must be matched by the outcome of the gospel in our daily lives. Do our lives reflect the glory of God?
Hallelujah! Praise Yahweh, O my soul!
Hallelujah! Praise Yahweh, O my soul! … How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in Yahweh his God. – Psalm 146:1, 5.
Praise and trust. These are two appropriate human responses towards an eternal, almighty and omnibenevolent God who is eager to help anyone who seeks His help.
The psalmist declares that he will praise Yahweh all the days of his life (v2). He is also determined to trust in Yahweh instead of trusting in any human benefactor. He, and all who sing this psalm, admonish fellow worshipers: ‘Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.’ (v3-4)
Why should we praise Yahweh and trust in Him alone? The ten verses in this psalm give us a number of reasons to do so:
- Yahweh is the almighty Creator who made the heavens, the earth and the sea and all life in it. (v6)
- Yahweh is faithful; He keeps His word. (v6)
- Yahweh is a righteous Judge who comes to the rescue of the oppressed; to feed the hungry and free hostages or prisoners. (v7)
- Yahweh is compassionate enough to give sight to the blind; and to encourage the downcast among his people. (v8)
- Yahweh is not a distant God who keeps away from day-to-day affairs of the earth. He is the imminent Protector of foreigners who may be at the mercy of natives; of defenseless orphans and helpless widows. (v9)
- Yahweh is determined to bring his righteous judgments upon the wicked (v9)
- Yahweh is Sovereign – there’s no one above this King; He rules forever! (v10)
This psalm offers a lesson to all who write ‘worship’ songs: If you wish to lead people to the higher planes of sublime worship, let your songs be about God and His attributes and less about other things. The attributes of God mentioned in this psalm will surely elicit praise from the lips of all who use it in worship.
If we have such a powerful and good God, why wouldn’t we praise Him? ‘I will praise Yahweh while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.’ (v2) If we have such a loving and helpful God, why would we trust in people? ‘How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in Yahweh his God.’
‘I will defend this city’
Then Hezekiah took the letter … and spread it out before Yahweh. – 2 Kings 19:14
What would you do if a powerful enemy lays siege to your house, shouts expletives at you and your people, threatens you and mocks your God?
King Hezekiah of Judah faced a similar situation in 701 BC. The king of Assyria had destroyed forty six fortified cities of Judah. He imposed a heavy tribute on Judah. Still unsatisfied, he sent his general and troops against Jerusalem; they laid siege to the city. Day after day, the military leader sought to shake the faith of Hezekiah’s men in Yahweh. He wanted the city dwellers to lose all hope of divine intervention and deliverance. ‘ Do not let Hezekiah deceive you … nor let Hezekiah make you trust in Yahweh.’ (18:29-30).
King Hezekiah was true to Yahweh. He sent messengers to prophet Isaiah and sought God’s guidance. His faith was strengthened by Yahweh’s promise of miraculous deliverance. The Assyrian general’s taunts then touched a new low; he compared Yahweh with the helpless ‘gods’ of the nations he had captured: ‘Did the gods of those nations which my fathers destroyed deliver them?’ He sent messengers to King Hezekiah. Hezekiah read the message. Instead of being browbeaten, Hezekiah took the matter to King of Kings. He went up to the Temple of Yahweh and ‘spread it out’ before his God. Who other than Yahweh, Israel’s God, should answer an insult directed at Him? The matter then became sub judice in God’s court. Hezekiah did not have to go after Isaiah the prophet to know what God thought about his prayer. Instead, God sent Isaiah to the king with this message, ‘I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.’
Yahweh, the God the Bible, is able to defend His name. When we take matters to Him, He will save us for His own name’s sake. And when He acts, He does wonderful things. God sent an angel into the Assyrian camp. The angel killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. As for the King of Assyria, he was killed by his own son in Nineveh. Of all the wondrous things that he boasted about in his annals, the King of Assyria mentioned his siege of Jerusalem but not its capture.
A Hotline to Heaven
Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. – Matthew 18:19
Apart from teaching his disciples to pray and granting them a hotline to heaven via prayer, Jesus assured them that their prayers would be answered. What better promise could Jesus offer to a group of unschooled men who were supposed to continue Jesus’ ministry on earth after his departure?
The twelve ordinary disciples, of all men, stood at the head of a new Israel just as the Twelve Patriarchs gave rise to ethnic Israel: ‘Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ (19:28) They also were given power to excommunicate unrepentant and recalcitrant members of the church – ‘Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ (18:18) All of these grand privileges would work only if they remained ‘online’ with heaven through prayer.
As Christians, we too enjoy the same privileges as the Twelve with regard to prayer. However, we need to meet one condition that accompanies the promise: ‘if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done …’ This ‘agreement’ is much than a superficial agreement about a given ‘prayer point.’ It is a deeper unity among those who pray –a unity founded on mutual forgiveness and love. Even at the cost of excommunicating a sinful and unrepentant member, the unity of the church has to be maintained.
This privilege of approaching the God who dwells in unapproachable light at any time or at any given place is one of the greatest privileges that we His children enjoy on earth. Do we love God enough to spend time with Him? Or, do we just approach Him during our times of trouble and need? Do we love Him for who He is and for what He has done for us or do we love just the goodies that we get from Him? Do we pray just for our little needs or do we pray about those things that are closest to the heart of God?
Let’s draw near to the throne of grace that we might enjoy the Presence of the Almighty Father. Of course, it is good to know that He will answer our united prayers concerning anything that we ask.
Seeking and Obeying God’s Specific Will
Pray to the Lord for us … that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go … – Jeremiah 42:2
After Jerusalem fell to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586 BC, a group of men - “from the least to the greatest” - approached prophet Jeremiah to learn God’s specific will concerning their immediate future. They appeared to be genuinely devoted to God. They pleaded with Jeremiah to enquire of God on their behalf so that they could know “the way we should go.” They could either stay in their own land amidst the ruins of their kingdom, move on to Babylon or flee to Egypt. They even wished to summon God as a witness to vouch for their commitment to obey His will, “whether it is good or bad.” (42:5, 6)
God was merciful enough to speak to these men. He wanted this “remnant of Judah” to remain in their own land. He also warned them against migrating to Egypt. If we were present there, we would have expected this group of people to be grateful to God for giving them such clear directions. They should have been grateful to prophet Jeremiah for praying for them and waiting upon God for ten days until He spoke.
However, the “insolent” men under the leadership of Azariah questioned Jeremiah’s integrity. They refused to submit to God’s will. They moved to Tahpanhes in Egypt (43:7). They would have thought that that was the end of the matter. God thought otherwise. He will never be mocked. God sent His prophet after them to Tahpanhes to pronounce His judgment on them (ch 44). God wanted to prove to them “whose word will stand, mine or theirs.” (44:28)
It is indeed a good practice to seek God’s will before we take a major decision in our lives. It is sad to note that most Christians do not consider it necessary to consult God before making important decisions in their life. God loves to guide us. We must expect to hear His voice and to receive His guidance.
However, it is one thing to seek God’s will and to express a desire to follow it unconditionally. Obedience to God’s will, although imperative and necessary, is not easy—especially when we realise that it runs contrary to our wishes and expectations. Those who are unaware of God’s will are probably better off than those who seek God’s will, hear His voice, and then rebel against God’s specific guidance.
God is interested in guiding us everyday. We can refer to Him as our Shepherd and Lord just as long as we seek and obey His will in our life. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27, 28) When was the last time you consulted the Lord Jesus to know His specific will for a particular situation in your life?
You’ll be King; I’ll be next to you!
David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home. – 1 Sam 23:18
It takes courage to hold on to one’s convictions. It takes even more courage and faith to act according to those convictions. Prince Jonathan had taken a stand for righteousness but he did not have the wisdom or courage to act on his convictions.
Jonathan initially found it difficult to believe that his father, King Saul, was bent on murdering his friend David. When he discovered that his father was determined to kill David, he was bold enough to voice his support for David. Jonathan asked the king, “Why should David be put to death? What has he done?” Angered by his son’s defiance, King Saul hurled a spear at Jonathan to pin him to the wall; but he managed to escape. Jonathan met David secretly and asked him to flee for his life. Deep down in his heart, Jonathan knew that David would be the next king of Israel. To his credit, Jonathan loved David even though he knew that David’s exaltation would be at the cost of his own dream of becoming Israel’s second king. He was only glad to step aside for David’s sake. His only prayer was that David wouldn’t kill Saul’s descendants. Therefore, Jonathan reminded David of the perpetual covenant of peace between David’s and Jonathan’s descendants. And David “rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.” (20:42b)
A similar incident took place after King Saul started a campaign to kill David. The king massacred a priest and his entire family just because the priest had inadvertently helped the fugitive David who was on the run for his life. Saul pursued David to the city of Keilah. David managed to get information about Saul’s move and fled to the wilderness of Ziph.
Jonathan went to the wilderness to meet with David at Horesh. This was indeed a deliberate display of support. Jonathan encouraged David and “strengthened his hand in God” (23:16). Jonathan said to David, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.” And the two made a covenant before the Lord (23:17, 18). “David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.” (v18b)
If Jonathan knew that David would become “king over Israel” and if indeed he hoped to be his prime minister or second-in-command, he should have openly defected to David’s side. Why did Jonathan go back to the city to live with his wicked father whose days were numbered? Why did he not consider it worthwhile to leave his comfort zone? Indeed, life in any wilderness is extremely difficult. David hid in caves and crevices. He depended on the generosity of friends and strangers for his daily sustenance. But those days of hardship and privation enabled him to depend on God for safety. That implicit trust and the cries of his heart formed the core of the Jewish Hymn Book – the Psalms.
Every decision that we take might have eternal consequences. If only Jonathan had opted to stay with David, he would not have perished on Mount Gilboa fighting a losing battle alongside his disobedient, diabolic father! The Scriptures would have counted Jonathan in league with Moses who, through faith, “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” (Hebrews 11:24, 25). Jonathan died on a battlefield. Instead of ending up in God’s Hall of Fame, Jonathan’s lifeless body got pinned up a Philistine wall of shame along with those of his father and two brothers.
As Christians, we may have to make difficult choices in order to stay true to Christ and to be in fellowship with His people. That might mean separation from our loved ones who violently oppose the truth. That might bring about isolation, disinheritance and hardships. There is, however, an eternal reward for those who choose the narrow path.
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:11-13
‘Anarchy’ under God’s rule
… they have rejected Me as their king. – 1 Samuel 8:7b
One of the biggest mistakes that Israel committed as a nation was to ask for a king. When they looked around, they saw that the nations around them were ruled by kings. Israel had no king or royal family! They didn’t want to continue in that state of ‘anarchy.’ Their elders told prophet Samuel, “Appoint a king to lead us.”
Little did they know that they already had a king. God was their king. God chose random men and women, whom they called ‘judges,’ and appointed them to lead Israel. There was no guarantee that a judge’s son or daughter would become the next judge. Out of nowhere, so it seemed, God would select a person and appoint him/her as the next judge. Israel did not have a royal city or palace. God ruled over them from heaven.
The elders of Israel might have felt that God’s government was too intangible, invisible and unpredictable. They weren’t even aware that God was their king! Through their myopic eyes, they could see nothing more than a state of anarchy. They became like their forefathers who got worried after Moses had ‘disappeared’ into Mount Sinai. They wanted a visible ‘god’ to lead them. “Come let us make gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses … we don’t know what has happened to him,” they had demanded.
When Samuel prayed about his people’s demand for a king, God said, “ … they have rejected me as their king.” (1 Samuel 8:7b). In spite of that, God let Israel have a king. But He was quite displeased with Israel’s failure to recognize Him as king and their desire to conform to the pattern of the nations around them. Many centuries later, after Israel had suffered the consequences of their choice, God said, “I gave you a king in my anger.” (Hosea 13:11)
This incident teaches the church of Jesus Christ an important lesson or two. Many Christians are scared of being under God’s intangible government. We are reluctant to let God’s Spirit rule over our churches. We would rather have full control over our programs and schedules than let God dictate terms to us. Our meetings follow a dead, preprogrammed order; we are not open to the possibility of God upsetting our agenda, our timetables and our appointments. We cannot tolerate a moment of silence or uncertainty in our meetings. Everything has to be planned down to the smallest detail. We need to know that we are in control.
Even in the case of church government, we would rather have the world’s pattern of organization and leadership than be a living body under God’s rule. We assume that God places His seal of approval over our decisions just because we start and end our deliberations with a customary word of prayer. We appoint pastors and leaders. We decide the nature and extent of “our ministries.” What has God to do with any of these?
Those ignorant of the Holy Spirit’s work often revile His ways. They complain about the apparent ‘disorder’ and rthey idicule anyone who mentions the “leading” of the Holy Spirit. They mistake resignation to God’s leading as nothing more than an excuse for arbitrariness and chaos. They mock any Spirit-led church meeting or movement – “This is surely a group of drunk men and women who are led by evil spirits.” Yet, it is through the Holy Spirit that God raised up judges in Israel. The same Spirit empowered and governed the early church in worship, everyday discipleship and mission. The Acts of the Apostles, we are told, and rightly so, should be named the Acts of the Holy Spirit. If the early church could thrive under God’s rule without any human organization, strategic planning, celebrity leaders, church buildings, budgets and tax benefits, what makes us think they were fools? Why did we choose to be like the nations around us?
It takes great faith to let go of our desire to stay in control and let the invisible God take over and rule us in His sovereign ways. God is not a tame house cat; He is like a lion. He is the only true King. As far as the church is concerned, ‘anarchy’ under God’s rule is better than any neat ‘order’ under a human government.
Obedience perfects worship
And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah … And David was angry … And David was afraid … – 1 Chronicles 13:10, 11, 12
Will God’s wrath break out against a worshiper in the midst of a lively praise and worship session?
That’s exactly what happened during a procession led by King David and his men. David and “all Israel” were transporting Yahweh’s ark on a new cart built for that purpose. The entire nation rejoiced in God’s presence. They sang with “all their might,” accompanied by skilled musicians.
“And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah [one of the cart drivers] put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God.”
David was angry! That was his initial reaction when he saw that God had struck one of his men dead.
Why did God “break out” against Uzzah just because he touched the holy ark? After all, Uzzah’s intentions were good. If he had not reached out to steady the ark, it would have fallen to the ground. But there lies the problem. They were not supposed to carry Yahweh’s ark on a cart!
There was a clear instruction in the Book of the Law that prohibited all contact with the holy ark (Exodus 25:14). Men appointed to carry the ark were to use special poles to lift the ark. They were to carry the ark on their shoulders—not any cart, old or new! David and his men had not consulted the Book of the Law before setting out to honor God. It is noteworthy that these rules did not apply to the Philistines who mishandled the ark. They were never given instructions regarding the ark. Israel, on the other hand, had received clear instructions.
To David’s credit, he quickly understood that he had violated God’s laws. But he went to the other extreme. He was then afraid of bringing the ark to his city.
That’s why David let the ark be kept in the house of Obed-edom. “And the ark of God remained with the household of Obed-edom in his house three months. And the Lord blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that he had.” (v14)
A grand display of one’s adoration towards God is no substitute for obedience. God will not overlook disobedience just because the people who disobey Him are are worshipping him “with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.” (v8) If God has revealed his will to us through His Word, it is our responsibility to find out His requirements and to obey Him.
Loyalty to God
The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you. – 2 Chronicles 15:2
King Asa of Judea, unlike his predecessors, started off well and did what was “good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God.” (14:2) Under his leadership, his domain had peace for ten years. When his kingdom was threatened by Zerah the Ethiopian, Asa trusted in Yahweh. He had cried out to God, “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God …” (14:11) Indeed Yahweh heard his prayer and helped him defeat the Ethiopians.
After he returned victorious to Jerusalem, God sent prophet Azariah to Asa with this message: “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” This encouraged Asa to further cleanse the land of all idols (15:8). He went to the extent of deposing the “queen mother” because she had made a “detestable image for Asherah.” (15:16)
However, in the thirty-sixth year of his reign, he failed to trust in Yahweh when he was faced with a military situation. He relied on his “silver and gold” to outwit his enemy (16:3); he sought to bribe his enemy’s ally. He did not seek God’s help. Therefore, God sent prophet Hanani to Asa. He rebuked him for not trusting in Him during that crisis. It was Hanani who said, “For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His.” (16:9 HCSB)
Instead of repenting of his sin, King Asa imprisoned prophet Hanani. He became a tyrant who “inflicted cruelties" upon some of his people. (16:10) During the last two years of his life, Asa suffered from a disease in his feet. It was good time to seek the LORD his God and repent of all his sins. “Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.”
God’s love toward us is unconditional. However, in his love, he has given us conditional promises so that we may continually seek Him. God might help us directly or through various people, including physicians. But He wants us to seek Him first and foremost.
God wants His people to be faithful to Him all the days of their life. If we hold on to God through all of life’s difficulties, He will show Himself strong on our behalf. If we depart from God or stop trusting in Him, all the glorious victories of the past will come to nothing.
God’s Global Mission
Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on that day and become My people. – Zechariah 2:11
The God of the Bible is no respector of persons. He does not show partiality. He loves people of all nations and desires that everyone should be saved. No people group can rightfully claim exclusive rights to God or special favours from Him.
The people of the Old Covenant, namely, the Israelites, failed to understand the magnanimity of Yahweh’s heart. God had indeed chosen their ancestor Abraham out of all the peoples of his day in order to raise a godly nation. That wasn’t an end in itself. God’s purpose was to bless “all the families on earth” through Abraham. (Genesis 12:3) Forgetting this global scope of God’s mission, ethnic Jews behaved as if God had placed them on a special pedestal for their own advantage.
God had to rebuke Israel on several occasions. Prophet Jonah’s reluctance to go to Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, on a special mission to lead them to repentance is well known. God rebuked prophet Jonah and taught him how much he cared for the 120,000 Ninevites. On another occassion, God had to tell arrogant Israelites that they were no more special in His sight than the Philistines or Ethiopians they loved to hate! (Amos 9:7; Numbers 12:1)
The last thing the Jews wished to hear was about the elevation of Gentiles to the position of “God’s people.” But that’s what God spoke through Zechariah: “Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on that day and become My people.” This was indeed a prediction about God’s global mission through Jesus Christ. From the beginning God had intended to save people from all nations. He did not keep this a secret. The Jews were blind to this truth. Jesus said to some Jews who had rejected him, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
Christians too can make the same mistake as the Jews. They might forget that God saved them and made them His people in order to lead many others to salvation. We can get too comfortable in our little worlds that we forget God’s purpose for our lives. Or, we might become too selfish and keep the gospel within our national or ethnic boundaries. May we never forget the fact God took the kingdom of God out of unfaithful Israel’s hands to give it to us, expecting us to yield fruits for Him (Matthew 21:43). This is the day of salvation. Let’s proclaim it to all nations.
Strive To Enter God’s Rest
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest … – Hebrews 4:11
Israel’s exodus and sojourn through a desert to the Promised Land was probably the most powerful analogy God created in human history to teach us valuable lessons about salvation.
God initiated a grand plan of deliverance for Israel. It wasn’t Moses’ idea. Their salvation from Egyptian slavery did not depend on their good works but on God’s mercy. All who believed God’s word, obeyed His instructions regarding the Passover. The shed blood of Passover lambs secured their release. Thus, they began their unusual journey to a Promised Land. However, most of them perished in the desert. After being ‘saved’ from Egypt, they did not make it to their destination because they did not continue in faith and obedience.
As Christians, we know that we were delivered from slavery to sin and the devil through Jesus’ death on our behalf. However, we must never forget that we, like Israel, are passing through life’s desert. Our salvation will be complete only when God takes us into our heavenly abode. Until then, we must undertake our pilgrimage with utmost care.
Israel did not enter God’s “rest” under Joshua’s leadership. The land of Canaan was just a shadow of God’s heavenly Kingdom.. This was why David warned Israel, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Ps 95:7) If Israel had entered the true Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership, why would David talk of another “rest” several centuries later? “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9)
The author of Hebrews picked up that theme and warned us: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” (Hebrews 4:1)
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. (3:12)
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (3:13). For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (3:14).
Setting out from the devil’s kingdom is important. That deliverance comes free of cost through faith in Christ. It is vital to continue in that faith throughout our Christian Pilgrimage, producing the fruit of obedience. Faith without works is dead. Let’s hold on to our original faith till the end lest we perish in this desert.
Looking out for our brethren
Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Hebrews 3:13
Christian life is not a solitary pilgrimage where each Christian should be mindful of just his or her own salvation. We are responsible for the spiritual well-being of other members of the body of Christ. This duty to watch out for the safety of other Christians is not just the job of a few who are appointed to pastoral or leadership roles.
The New Testament warns us to keep away from sin. Christians, although they were set free from the power and penalty of sin, can get entangled in sin. Worse still, they can be so deceived by the pleasures of sin that their hearts get hardened and resistant to calls to repentance. They might hide behind a fortress made of several excuses and justifications. Christians who wilfully get entrenched in sin are not shielded from the consequence of sin. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). That was Paul’s warning to Christians who had been set free from sin but would not proceed to become slaves of God! (6:22)
The Hebrew church was weighed down by sin. They had long ago forsaken all serious attempts to resist temptations and sin. In their struggle against sin, they had “not yet resisted to the point of shedding [their] blood” (7:4). The writer of Hebrews, therefore, exhorted them to lay aside every weight and “sin which clings so closely” so that they could finish their race successfully (12:1).
These Hebrew Christians were exhorted to get their Christian life in order. They were to encourage one another to attend their church meetings (10:25). Most of all, they had to “exhort one another every day as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Like soldiers on sentry duty, each Christian in that church was to ensure:
“that no one fails to obtain the grace of God” [Although God’s grace is free, backsliding Christians who persist in their sins will fail to obtain it! How much clearer can Scripture be?]
“that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
“that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau …” (12:15, 16).
In addition, they were to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (10:24). That must have required a lot of creative thinking and action!
We can either keep watch over our brothers and sisters in accordance with the law of Christ or try in vain to excuse our apathy by asking, “Am I the keeper of my brother?”
The Lord Will Reward You
“You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” – Luke 14:14
Jesus assured his disciples about the glorious life they would enjoy beyond the grave. He affirmed the Pharisaic belief in resurrection. In fact He claimed to be the resurrection and life. Our faith in the Lord Jesus and his promise of eternal life should shape our behaviour during our earthly life.
A Christian who looks forward to participating in the coming age should remember that our life’s accounts are not settled on earth before we die. That final settling of accounts happens in the hereafter when God examines our earthly life. Those who are unaware of this principle might complain that God did not reward them for all their hard work, generosity and sacrifice. Or, while evaluating the lives of other Christians who died in poverty, suffering and relative obscurity, we might be tempted to think that those men and women lacked God’s favour. Such godly people poured out their lives for many without receiving anything in return either from God or man. But after they die, when God examines their life’s records, He will reward them richly with eternal treasures.
Notice the catch in Jesus’ teaching regarding rewards: Heaven will reward a person only if he or she hasn’t been rewarded or repaid on earth for their good work! In Jesus’ words:
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. Luke 6:35
There are thousands of Christians who are not compensated adequately for their time, skills, or contributions. Their efforts go unnoticed. No one might remember to even thank them. Over time, they might grow weary and secretly nurse a grudge against God or the Church or their employers. Worse still, they might vocalise their complaints against the apparent injustice meted out to them.
We need to constantly remind ourselves of our heavenly destination and Jesus’ promises about eternal rewards. There are people who won’t repay us while there are some others who are unable to compensate us. Let us rejoice when people, including enemies, won’t repay a debt or return a favour. There is a reward in heaven for us. Similarly, let’s look forward to doing good to those who cannot repay us. Our reward will be great in heaven.
The Lord Will Rescue You
Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains! – Matthew 24:16
God rescued Noah and his family from the flood He sent to destroy the whole world. In answer to Abraham’s prayers, God rescued Lot before raining fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. “This shows that the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their sufferings and to punish evil people while they wait for the day of judgment.” (2 Peter 2:9 CEV)
When the Lord Jesus taught His disciples about the imminent outpouring of “wrath against [Jewish] people,” (Luke 21:23) He made a provision for the deliverance of Christians in Judea. Jesus had predicted that there would be “great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen” (Matthew 24:21).
Jesus commanded his disciples to flee to the hills of Judea the moment they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies (Matt 24:16, Mk 13:14, Lk 21:21). Luke interprets the “abomination that causes desolation” mentioned in Matthew and Mark as “armies.” The presence of pagan soldiers around Jerusalem was the clear sign Jerusalem would be destroyed without delay (Luke 21:20). Jesus’ command to flee was contrary to popular wisdom. People usually left their fields and ran into a fortified city whenever they saw an army approaching. Jesus asked them to do just the opposite.
“Let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.” (Luke 21:21b, 22).
Besides, Jesus had said,
“those in Judea must flee to the mountains! A man on the housetop must not come down to get things out of his house. And a man in the field must not go back to get his clothes. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.” (Matthew 24:16-20)
When a column of the Roman army marched into Jerusalem in 66 AD, under the leadership of Cestius, they came into the city, turned around, and marched out without causing any harm. Josephus, the Jewish historian wrote that Cestius retired from the city, without any reason in the world. To this day, historians wonder why Cestius turned away. However, William Whiston (1737), the translator, noted in a footnote that had Josephus been a Christian he would have recognized that Cestius’ march into Jerusalem and his quick retreat was a sign provided by Jesus to Christians in Judea so that they could flee into the mountains.
Christians in Jerusalem who remembered Jesus’ warning in Luke 21:20 recognized the abomination that causes desolation in their city. When the army marched out, they seized the opportunity and fled to the east. Jesus had opened up a way, as if, through the mountains for the rescue of his church. Eusebius, a church father who lived in the fourth century wrote,
“For when the city was about to be captured and sacked by the Romans, all the disciples were warned beforehand by an angel to remove from the city, doomed as it was to utter destruction. On migrating from it they settled at Pella, the town already indicated, across the Jordan. It is said to belong to Decapolis (Eusebius, de Mens. et Pond., 15).
Let us pray that the Lord will preserve His people as forces of destruction threaten to annihilate Christianity from certain regions of the earth. Let us also be careful to show mercy and hospitality to those who are forced to migrate to safer regions. “The Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their sufferings.”
Respond to God’s Love
“I have loved you,” says the Lord. – Malachi 1:2
Failure to recognise God’s love towards us is one of our cardinal sins. This fundamental flaw leads us to question God’s love. Once we lose sight of God’s love towards us, we will fail to respond to Him in love. The greatest of all commandments is that we love the Lord our God with all our being. How can we obey this command if we fail to realise that God’s love towards us is limitless?
The serpent, in the Garden of Eden, used this weapon against Eve when he tempted her. He tried to convince Eve that God did not have their best interest in mind when He prohibited them from eating the fruit of a tree. The serpent’s questions were aimed at sowing seeds of doubt in Eve’s mind: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” The serpent then contradicted God’s word, portraying the Creator as a liar: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5) Once the serpent convinced Eve that God wasn’t their well-wisher as much as he was, he had won half the battle.
Several centuries later, God spoke to his people, “I have loved you.” The Jews of that time responded, “How have you loved us?” Obviously, the “people of God” were bitter against God. They probably blamed God for all their misfortunes. There are innumerable people in today’s world who question God’s goodness and love. They have “evidence” to prove that God isn’t good. They cite their personal sufferings and all the evil that’s present in the world. How can a loving God permit all this suffering? Either He isn’t a God of love or He doesn’t exist, they say. Christians are not immune from this tendency. Once we have a diminished view of God’s love for us, we will be unable to love God, ourselves or our neighbours. Without drinking deep at the eternal Fountain of love, how can we love anyone?
In His love, God pursued his people. He explained to them how much He loved their forefather Jacob over his twin brother Esau. Even before they were born, God chose Jacob as the one who would found a holy nation. God wanted the Jews to take a good look at their cousins, the Edomites: “I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” (1:3) Edom, Esau’s descendants, would be known as “the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.” (1:4) Perhaps that’s all it takes to convince us of God’s favour upon us –a good look at our extended family or community. Though we are not called to rejoice over someone else’s calamity, we can truly be grateful to God for His kindness towards us.
Beyond all earthly blessings, God shows us His love through His Son Jesus Christ. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans v.8) “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Will suffering make us bitter towards God? Will extreme sorrow or hardship make us question God’s love? Will we ever raise our fist to God’s face in anger? The apostle Paul experienced hunger, thirst, beatings, imprisonment, stoning, shipwreck and exposure for the sake of the gospel. In the end, instead of questioning God’s love, he was convinced that nothing – absolutely nothing – could make him doubt God’s love towards him. That assurance is what makes us more than conquerors even when we are neck deep in adversity.
“For your [Christ’s] sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:36-39)
Where is My honor?
Where is my honor? … Where is the respect due to me? – Malachi 1:6
The people of Israel thought they had done everything they could to honor God. After their return from Babylonian exile, they built a temple, appointed priests and resumed daily sacrifices. They were zealous for their God. Their leaders forced people to abandon their “foreign” wives because they thought these women could turn their hearts from the living God. They built a wall around their holy city Jerusalem so that it wouldn’t fall again to invading armies.
And yet, God was offended because His people did not honor Him. Judah called God their master. “If I am your master, where is my respect?” God asked. They called God their Father. “If I am your father, where is my honor?” Although they honored God with their lips, they failed to honor Him with their actions. Contrary to the laws given to them, they sacrificed animals that were blind, lame or sick. Sacrifices became a convenient way to earn some religious brownie points and at the same time get rid of animals they didn’t wish to keep! God took offence at that. “Try offering them to your governor! Will he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the LORD. Israel didn’t have kings then. The Jews were still under a Persian king who had appointed a viceroy in their land. How could they offer to Yahweh, the King of the universe, something they wouldn’t dare to offer to a governor of a small province? This is why God hoped that someone sensible would “close the temple doors” to put an end to that hypocrisy.
What will God say to us after observing our religious “services” and our personal lives? Will He take delight in us or will He order us to stop our ‘spiritual’ show business? Our songs, prayers, sermons – all rehearsed to perfection for television – can offend and enrage the King of kings if, from our hearts, we do not truly honor Him. In the midst of “praise and worship,” we might insult the King if we aren’t obedient to His word or if we don’t give Him our best.
In our personal life, do we give God the best of our time, effort and resources? Do we despise God by offering Him what’s left over from all our selfish pursuits? Let’s give God our best! Let’s honor God with our deeds. “I am a great King,” says the Lord of hosts, “and my name will be feared among the nations.” Malachi 1:14b
Why do we follow Christ?
If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. – 1 Corinthians 15:19
Christians are often at a loss for words when their friends or strangers asked them, “What will I get if I convert to your religion?” Obviously, such “seekers of truth” dream of a financial reward, a plush job, a house or even the possibility of migrating to an affluent country. Nevertheless, it’s easy to overlook the error of people whose sole interest is earthly prosperity. Their view of the Christian faith, shaped by their own religion or worldview, is skewed or limited.
As Christians, we know that our Lord Jesus Christ insisted that those who follow him should carry their cross daily, being willing to lay down their lives for the Master’s cause. He wants Christians today to fix their eyes on eternal life and on a heavenly reward rather than on transient earthly prosperity. But what do we tell our born-again Christian brothers and sisters whose primary, and often only, motivation to follow the Lord Jesus Christ is a temporal breakthrough here and a breakthrough there? Their mind is pre-occupied with earthly concerns. Jesus portrayed this anxiety as thorns and thistles that choke the spiritual life of a Christian preventing him from achieving the goal of fruitfulness, namely, obedience.
Some Christians are unashamed in their pursuit of creature comforts. The kingdom of heaven is far removed from their thoughts. Never satisfied with what they have, their eyes and hearts are trained in greed. Contentment does not find a place on their ever-lengthening shopping list. Gluttony and consumerism are accepted as national pastimes (See Titus 1.12). Concerning such Christians, the Apostle Paul rightly said, “their god is their belly … their mind is set on earthly things.”
To make matters worse, many Christian churches and ministers stoop to pander to the interests of these earthly-minded Christians. The truncated gospel they preach is a mantra of “success” measured purely in terms of money, possessions, fame, and influence. Their spirituality too is deformed as a set of exercises to achieve selfish goals.
The resurrection of Christ is integral to the gospel. It should help us focus our minds on eternity. It should dictate our choices, our actions, our prayers, and our priorities lest we should pervert our spiritual exercises to achieve temporal goals that are purely earthbound. “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.”
The Wall of Fire
I will be to her a wall of fire all around … – Zechariah 2:5
The Lord God is our ultimate Protector. If God doesn’t protect a nation or city, none of our high security protocols or weaponry will be of any use. Rightly did wise Solomon sing, “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)
Cities in the Ancient Near East were small villages that had high stone walls and strong gates. A “city without walls” served as a perfect metaphor to describe a defenseless person: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (Proverbs 25:28) Whenever they sensed a threat of invasion, inhabitants of a city would leave their fields and flee to their walled city. “The name of the LORD” was therefore compared to a “strong tower” to which the righteous ran and sought refuge. (Proverbs 18:10)
After Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylonian forces, God promised His people that He would multiply them and their livestock. They would be too numerous to be enclosed within the walls of a “city.” The extent of the new Jerusalem would be so large that it would be impossible to build a wall around it. In fact, “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it. (2:4) How then would this city be protected? The Lord promised to be “a wall of fire” around the city! If anyone would dare to “touch” Jerusalem, he would be touching “the apple” of God’s eye! (2:8) That would certainly invite a fitting response from God.
God’s protection is certainly available to any individual, household, city or nation that seeks His help. When we are confounded by the designs of those who employ terror, it is high time we admit our helplessness and take refuge in the Rock of our salvation. It may be fashionable to rely on oneself and to keep God out of a nation’s public space. The futility of our high-tech weapons and our security measures have been exposed time and again. We can always talk about building higher walls and longer fences to control immigration or to stave off an invasion. None of that’s going to work. Now is the time to seek God’s help. Return to the Living God who is the foundation of your life and civilization. He is the only “Firewall” that will protect us from those who seek to devour and destroy.
God knows you!
How do you know me? – John 1:48
If a stranger should tell you one of your secrets, you will certainly be taken aback. You might ask him, “How do you know me?” We don’t expect people to read our minds or have a superhuman knowledge about our inner life—our thoughts, motives or feelings.
When Nathanael met Jesus for the first time, without any prior introduction, Jesus said to him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael was surprised that a total stranger knew about his private devotion to God. He asked Jesus, “How do you know me?”
The Gospel of John reveals Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of each and every human being. John testified: “he knew all people … he knew what was in man.” (2:24-25) Jesus used his supernatural knowledge to help people know that He was the Messiah, the Son of God. When Jesus revealed even more secrets of his life, Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Nathanael was certain that only God could know the secrets of his heart. If Jesus knew those secrets, He must certainly be the Son of God.
Jesus led a Samaritan woman, and through her the entire population of Sychar, to believe that He was the Messiah by revealing the woman’s hidden past to her. She went to town and proclaimed, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” If Jesus used his supernatural gift as a tool of evangelism, why doesn’t His church use the gift of prophecy to replicate the same results? “If all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (1 Cor 14:24-25)
Similarly, Jesus knew the sinful past of the invalid man who spent thirty-eight years beside the Pool of Bethesda. After Jesus had healed him, He warned the man, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” Clearly, the man had to spent decades as an invalid due to his sin. According to Jesus, sin can be the underlying cause of certain chronic illnesses! But sin is not the cause of every illness or misfortune (9:3).
It is comforting to know that Jesus knows us through and through. We don’t have to strive to impress him; he knows our love for Him. He sees even the smallest sacrifices we make for His name’s sake. Even if the whole world should misunderstand us, Jesus will always understand us and stand by us. At the same time, our sins too are exposed before His fiery gaze. The closer we go towards Him, the more thoroughly will He purify us.
The God of the living
He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live before him. – Luke 20:38 NET
Death is a cruel reality that separates us from our loved ones. Once someone dies, it appears as if he or she is gone forever. However, the Lord Jesus taught that as far as God is concerned no one is ‘dead.’ All humans beings are ‘alive’ before God’s eyes—whether they are ‘alive’ on earth or ‘alive’ somewhere else.
Jesus was replying to a question about resurrection. The Sadducees who did not believe in the hereafter or the resurrection had asked Him a trick question. They believed only in the writings of Moses. Therefore, they cited Moses’ law about levirate marriages and asked Jesus how people in the coming age would sort out issues of marriage and relationships.
Jesus, in his answer, affirmed the hereafter. He affirmed the immortality of the soul. People don’t just cease to exist after ‘death.’ Some people will be found ‘worthy’ to participate in the coming age, that is, the resurrection of the dead. Jesus gave us a unique preview of that age. Those who are worthy of that age will no longer ‘die’ because they will be ‘equal’ to the angels. These sons of the resurrection do not marry.
Since the Sadducees did not accept books such as Daniel that spoke explicitly about resurrection (12:13), Jesus took them to Moses’ books: “But even Moses revealed that the dead are raised ….” Now, that must have taken the Sadducees by surprise. They had never seen a verse in the Torah that spoke of resurrection! Jesus knew the exact passage. It was the passage about the burning bush where Moses referred to Yahweh as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Yes, of course, they had read that passage several times. But it never occurred to them that God was not the God of the dead but of the living!
Did it ever occur to you that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been raised from the dead? They are alive before God. Jesus said so! How else could Jesus have said, “But even Moses revealed that the dead are raised?” How else can God be called the ‘God of the living’ based on His title: the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob?
Those who trust in Jesus and follow His ways can look forward to a resurrection. Death is not the end; it is only the beginning of a new level of existence. Our loved ones who died in Christ are alive before God. Although at the time of death we’ll leave behind our loved ones on earth for a season, our loved ones who went ahead of us will welcome us to our real home. Most importantly, we’ll be forever with God and with Jesus our Saviour!
Put your sword back into its place!
Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. – Matthew 26:52
No one has ever spoken like the Lord Jesus. His teachings are revolutionary in nature. They are forever relevant today as in the days of old. The verse cited above is one such unique and path-breaking teaching. Jesus said to the chief of his apostles that bearing arms would not only be ineffective in one’s fight against evil but also that the decision to bear arms was equivalent to signing one’s death warrant. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
Christians who are in favour of taking up arms for self-defense sweep this cardinal teaching under the rug. They are fond of Jesus’ earlier instruction to his disciples: “And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” (Luke 22:36) The disciples replied, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And Jesus said, “It is enough.” Were two swords sufficient for the protection of twelve men? No! It is obvious that Jesus had asked his disciples to be armed so that a scripture might be fulfilled: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12) It is disappointing to see several Christians, by choosing to be armed, readily take up the tag of “transgressors” even though there remains no unfulfilled prophecy regarding them to that effect!
The Lord Jesus, through his non-violent and non-retaliatory approach towards wicked men who arrested him, set an example for all Christians. “For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly.” (I Peter 1:21-23)
Through His command to Peter – “Put your sword back into its place” – Jesus inaugurated the Messianic age characterized by peace and justice. One of the characteristics of the Messianic age is disarmament that leads to progress: “They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” (Micah 4:3) Indeed there will be a day when “nations will not use weapons against other nations, and they will no longer train for war.” That revolution of world peace should begin at the level of the individual. When individual Christians choose to disarm themselves - in more ways than one - and make themselves vulnerable as Christ was before his tormentors, they will sow the seeds of world peace. Christ did not end up a loser. Neither will we, if we follow His example via Dolorossa. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.
O Kings, be wise!
He who sits in the heavens laughs. – Psalm 2:4
It is not very often that we run into a verse such as this in the Bible. God laughs! Surely, this shouldn’t surprise us. He who gave us the ability to laugh should be able to laugh. Yes, some will indeed object: Was not the Psalmist using anthropomorphic language when he described God has someone who “sits” and “laughs?” God is indeed spirit and there is no need for Him to “sit” down or rest. The message, however, is clear. God is “enthroned” in heaven. He is the Most High God. Yet, there are people who do not understand God’s sovereign power and will. Their rebellious actions make God laugh; the Lord holds them in derision.
The psalmist, King David (cf. Acts 4:25 ff), had written this psalm for the coronation of his son Solomon. While David was on his deathbed, people of distant lands that he had conquered plotted to rebel against Jerusalem. They said, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (v3) They were unaware that God had provided a worthy successor to David in Solomon. Therefore, their rebellion turned out to be against Yahweh and His anointed one (the ‘messiah,’ v2).
The coronation of Solomon and the rebellion of the ‘nations’ were mere shadows of a greater reality that was to be unveiled a few centuries later. God had promised David that He would raise up one of his descendants to rule over Israel forever. God fulfilled this promise in Jesus after His resurrection. The apostles celebrated and proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection. It was not its value as another miracle that sustained this proclamation; it was their realization that the resurrection was just a precursor to a greater and glorious event - the coronation of Jesus as the “Anointed” King, Messiah/Christ. (See Acts 2:36 and 13:32-33)
The Jewish authorities of those days had beaten Peter and John and commanded them not to proclaim Jesus. The apostles came together to seek God’s help. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, they quoted Psalm 2 when they petitioned God against the Jewish authorities who had risen against Jesus, the Lord’s Messiah (Acts 4:24-31). The apostles prayed: “And now, Lord, pay attention to their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your message with great courage, while you extend your hand to heal, and to bring about miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
This prayer was a bold confession of their belief that Jesus Christ, the rightful heir to David’s throne, was enthroned in heaven as the eternal King of kings. As Christ’s apostles, Peter and his companions knew that God had promised this Messiah “the ends of the earth” as His possession (Psalm 2:8). The Messiah would rule the nations with “a rod of iron.” In that case, no ruler or nation can prevent the growth of the Messiah’s global kingdom. As Peter and his friends cried out to God, the place where they had gathered shook! It was God’s way of affirming their faith in His promises regarding Messiah’s global kingdom.
As followers of this victorious Christ, we too can take comfort from the fact that God laughs at anyone who sets himself up against the Messiah’s mission. We can boldly call upon nations and their rulers to remind them to submit to Christ and His gospel.
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
All my Fountains are in Thee!
All my fountains are in Thee! – Psalm 87:7
The sons of Korah, who were reputed singers and poets in ancient Israel, were careful to acknowledge God as the Source of all their inspiration and talent. “The singers as well as those who play the instruments say, ‘All my springs (or fountains) are in You.’”
Those engaged in any form of creative activity admit that there are times when they experience a free flow of creativity. At other times they face a breakdown which is known by various names such as the ‘writer’s block,’ a ‘mental block,’ or an ‘emotional barrier.’ Speakers run out of ideas. Preachers exhaust all their sermon resources. Prophets feel that the heavens have suddenly become opaque. Composers may lack the inspiration to come up with something original. Scientists, investigators, teachers, governors, judges and even farmers run into dry spells that confound them.
The sons of Korah found the secret of unending inspiration. They discovered in Yahweh an inexhaustible treasure house of energy, inspiration and vitality in the context of worship. They loved spending time in God’s presence and rejoiced in God’s holy city. The more they adored the Creator, the more they were charged with supernatural creativity which they employed in God’s service. Their music and dance were devoted to the King of kings. Gratefully they sang, “My fountains are in you!”
Whatever be our occupation, we too can plug-in to God’s immeasurable wisdom and power if we devote our endeavors to God’s glory and praise. The secret of success does not lie within us. It’s in surrendering ourselves before God and acknowledging Him as the ultimate Source of all that we’ll ever need. Then we too can sing, “My fountains are in you!”
Citizens of a Heavenly Zion
This one was born there. – Psalm 87:6
The sons of Korah sang about the city of Zion that was situated among the holy mountains of Jerusalem. This royal city was special because the God of Israel had founded it. It was the LORD’s city. There is no place on earth that can be considered the omnipotent God’s dwelling place. Yet, Zion was special because God had decided to invest his name there (Deuteronomy 12:11).
What is even more interesting is the glorious future of the city. In verse three, the psalmist says, “Glorious things are spoken of you.” Although it might appear that this is just a reference to people’s praise and admiration, it could refer to all the prophetic oracles that were uttered concerning the city’s future. There will be many, the psalmist says, who will boast about having been born in that special city.
There was indeed a time when this holy city bore the brunt of God’s judgment. It was utterly ruined. God had predicted the restoration of this holy city. Not all such predictions, however, are about the physical restoration of earthly Jerusalem. For example, the prophet Isaiah sang this oracle:
How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains the feet of a messenger who announces peace, a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!
This clearly is a prediction of the arrival of the Messiah, the deliverance He would offer to Zion, and about His disciples who would then spread the gospel. (Cf. Romans 10:15).
Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
Look! Your king is coming to you: he is legitimate and victorious,
humble and riding on a donkey –
on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey.” (Zech. 9:9)
This prediction was fulfilled in Jesus who entered Jerusalem as a triumphant king. Yet, this King did not restore the fortunes of earthly Jerusalem.
According to the Jews, this “king” appeared to be a total failure. He did not restore David’s kingdom. Instead, he met with a ghastly end on a Roman cross. Why then do Christians consider Jesus to be their Messiah and King? What did he accomplish? Indeed, Jesus set Israel free from her sin - the root cause of her political and spiritual slavery. He rose again from the dead and ascended to heaven, to be seated at the right-hand of God.
Jews who refused to believe in Jesus continued to remain in slavery. They failed to understand that the earthly Jerusalem was just a shadow of the heavenly reality that was to be unveiled in Christ. The apostle Paul stated this in his epistle to the Galatian church,
“Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:25-26).
Christians who are redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ are citizens of heavenly Zion. They need not assemble on a holy hill to worship God. When they gather anywhere on earth, they remind themselves that they “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering …” (Hebrews 10:22). Like the patriarch Abraham, all believers look “forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Their hopes are not pinned on any piece of earthly real estate.
What a privilege it is to be “born anew” in Christ into this heavenly Zion! We are “children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13) When “the LORD writes in the census book of the nations,” He will certainly take note of the children of heavenly Zion. Of them, He will say, “This one was born there.”
God will open a way for you!
Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. – Exodus 14:15
Ancient Israelites were a nation of slaves who longed for freedom for four centuries. Finally, one night, they were released unconditionally. They fled from their slave masters in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. God guided them along an unusual route to the East instead of letting them take the highway to Palestine.
This nation’s joy did not last very long. They soon reached the shores of the Red Sea. It wasn’t possible for 600,000 men, their women, children, and animals to cross the Red Sea! Tall mountains stood on either side. And worst of all, they couldn’t turn back and return to Egypt! It was as if their worst fears had come true. To their horror they saw a huge cloud of dust rising from the desert behind them. The Egyptian army was out to recapture them. They were trapped.
Many of them turned against Moses, their leader. “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Didn’t we ask you to leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians?” they asked. Thus they murmured against God and against Moses. They betrayed a deep-seated unbelief. Many of them did not believe in the first place that it was God who had saved them. That’s why they doubted God’s ability to lead them all the way to the Promised Land. Moses didn’t know what to do. He probably wished that the earth would swallow him alive. He might have wished he could just disappear!
Are you in a similar situation today? You feel unable to take a step forward. You feel like running away but you are hemmed it on every side.
When Moses had nowhere to go – when he had no one to turn to – he turned to GOD. He threw himself prostrate before God. God answered him. “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.”
What? Go forward? Yes, you heard it right, Moses. God said: “As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.” I do not know what went through Moses’ mind at that instant. He must have been amazed at God’s ways. God said that He was about to create a way through the Red Sea! And that way would not only take Israel across the Red Sea; it would also annihilate the persistent Egyptian army.
God’s wisdom and salvation are beyond our wildest imaginations. When we walk under God’s guidance, we may reach situations like the one Israel faced by the Red Sea. We may face a Red Sea ahead of us and mighty mountains on either side. We need to remember that each obstacle in God’s way is a stepping stone to the next level of our Christian life.
Dear friend, don’t you ever lose heart. God’s way is right in front of you. Look ahead! See right through your obstacles and mountains. The God who called you out will see you through. Your life will not go waste. Your efforts will not go down the drain. You don’t have to quit or flee. Stay right where you are. Be bold. God has called you. The evidence of His call on your life is ever before your eyes. Step forth in faith and watch the Red Sea part for you, for the glory of God.
Reach out in faith:
Receive your miracle
You will see it happen, but …. – 2 Kings 7:2
Today, if someone should prophesy that a global financial slowdown will be resolved within 24 hours, who will believe such a prophet or his words? Prophet Elisha sounded weird when he predicted an end to several-months-old famine in the besieged city of Samaria. ‘Then Elisha said, “Listen to the word of the LORD; thus says the LORD, ‘Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour will be sold for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.”’
Samaria was under siege. The armies of Ben-hadad, king of Aram, had cut off food supply to the capital city of Israel. The famine grew so bad that “a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and a fourth of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver” (6:25). Women struck deals with their friends to secretly kill and eat their children! The King of Israel was so enraged when he heard of such gruesome incidents in his domain that he wished to kill the prophet Elisha. Elisha had earlier prevented the King from annihilating the Aramean army.
When the king sent a messenger to summon Elisha, the prophet received this astounding word from the LORD. God revealed his intention to end the famine in Samaria in 24 hours. The captain of the guard upon whom the King leaned could not believe his ears. He did a quick calculation and said, “That couldn’t happen even if the LORD opened the windows of heaven!” To that statement of unbelief, Elisha replied, “You will see it happen, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!” How true were those words! The royal guard indeed saw the miraculous provision of food but he was killed in the resultant stampede.
Did God ever give you a mind-blowing promise? Did you ever brush aside such oracles because of your unbelief and foolishness? Repent and turn to God and plead for His mercies. Pray that God will fulfill His promises in your life. Reach out in faith and receive God’s bountiful offer. Let God worry about His supply lines – whether to open “windows” in heaven or “doors” on earth. Simple, unquestioning faith honors God and God will honor those who trust in Him.
Will you be among those who believe God’s Word and His prophets or will you be among who get trampled under the weight of God’s faithful promises?
The Great Fisher of Men
Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. – Luke 5:4
Peter, the expert fisherman, had toiled all night. Strangely enough, Peter was unable to catch even a single fish that night from the Sea of Galilee. Early next morning, he was washing his net. His family must have been wondering, “When will the old man bring home the bacon?” That morning, Jesus stepped into Peter’s vacant boat and used it as a platform to address a large crowd that had gathered on the seashore. After Jesus had stopped teaching, he urged Peter to “launch out into the deep and let down [his] nets for a catch.”
Peter had but a brief introduction to this Rabbi who preached from his boat. While washing his net, he must have paid attention to Jesus words. Therefore, Peter responded: “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”
Peter must have noticed that this Rabbi was no ordinary man. Why else would he let a preacher teach him where to look for fish? Peter’s humility to take orders from Jesus gave him success that morning as a fisherman.
Jesus too was successful. He caught Peter in his ‘net.’ Peter was blessed with a divine revelation about the divinity of the Man who knew every fish in the sea. Jesus kept each fish in the Sea of Galilee out of Peter’s net for a whole night! He came to the seashore where Peter sat with an empty boat and dirty nets. He deliberately chose to use Peter’s boat to address the crowd. And when He ordered Peter to cast his net into the deep, Jesus knew the capacity of his net and his boat. Therefore, when Peter obeyed Jesus, He ordered the right number of fish into Peter’s net – just enough to fill his boat and yet to keep it afloat. After experiencing this great miracle Peter turned his back on his prize catch and became a follower of Jesus, to become a ‘fisher of men.’
It’s interesting to note that Jesus “catches” people using the great nets of His Kingdom by meeting them at their point of need. If you have returned empty-handed today, pause for a moment and listen to the Master’s voice. He is concerned about your temporal needs. He will instruct you to cast your “net” at the right spot at the right time and thus meet your needs.
The grand overarching theme of our lives should not be about our livelihood or about how God enabled us to succeed in our business or career or studies. When you seek God’s help in your difficult situations, you must be prepared to receive a fresh revelation about Jesus Christ. If He opens your eyes, you will see that the story of your failure and how God met your need is nothing more than a small portion of His large canvas – the Kingdom of God.
Will you take Jesus’ bait today and let Him make you a fisher of men?
Overcoming Feelings of Inadequacies
Even though I am untrained in speech …. – 2 Corinthians 9:6
Have you ever felt you inadequate or ill-equipped for the task that God has called you to? Did you ever give up a vocation just because you did not have a special talent or intrinsic ability to perform well in that field? Have you ever used excuses such as “I don’t have the skills for public speaking” to escape your duty to proclaim Christ?
The apostle Paul, in his most personal of all epistles, confessed that his critics were right. He was indeed untrained in oratory and he lacked the charismatic personality of leaders such as Apollos. Apollos’ fans in Corinth admired Paul’s letters but they despised his physical presence. If Paul had not made such a confession, who in our times would have guessed that Paul lacked such training or ability?
When we read Luke’s account of the early church, we get the impression that Paul was a great preacher. In all his missionary journeys, Paul was eager to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to any crowd at any hour or at any place. Even though Barnabas was much senior to Paul in terms of his experience in the faith, Paul was regarded as the “chief speaker” in the team.
How did a man who was untrained in oratory skills become a firebrand preacher, at least by Luke’s account? If Corinthian Christians could not respect Paul’s presence or his speeches, what could the residents of various cities in the Roman empire have thought about him? They may not have been very impressed. Paul himself may not have been very impressed by his oratory. Yet, he preached Christ and redeemed every opportunity. What mattered to him was not the art of oration but the urgency of communicating the most important message on earth. He was like a man shouting “Fire!” Who has the time to think of grammar or idiom when he warns occupants of a building on fire?
The good thing about Paul was that he knew his limitations. Yet, he did not use those as excuses – like Moses did – to escape from his God-given responsibility of proclaiming the gospel. When critics in the church despised him on account of his weaknesses, he did not succumb to self-pity. Neither did he yield to depression or isolation, thinking, “I’ll never preach again.” Instead, he took courage at the abilities God had given him. “Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge.” He wasn’t going to let some Corinthians to walk all over him. He went on to give a list of his God-given abilities and spiritual experiences including visions and transport to the third heaven.
Dear Christian, do not allow negative criticism to overwhelm you. Use your weaknesses as stepping stones to greater achievements in Christ. What He can do through you in spite of your weaknesses is far greater than what you imagine. In the end, when you stand before the throne of God, God will honor you. While many who were trained and talented do nothing for God, you are letting God do great things through your weak areas.
You Are Precious in God's Sight
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
How do you know what you are really worth? Do you often wonder why any man or woman or even God should care about you? It’s easy to fall prey to self-pity and sorrow when people look down on you just because you lack any or all of the so-called gold coins of success – wealth, beauty, education, power, influence, and an enviable lineage.
It is true that the world in general values those who are wealthy, intelligent and beautiful. Those who derive their sense of worth from other people will seek appreciation and recognition from everyone based on these parameters. In addition, if they possess the “right” genes and are geographically privileged by being in the “right” country, they get a further head start in life.
Looking at these “privileged” lot, you might feel that you are not worth anything at all because you hail from a not-so-popular country. Your parents and lineage are not worth mentioning. Advertisers will never seek you out because you do not have the right figure or the right shade of skin color. You do not have an impressive resumé and there’s no achievement that you can showcase. Your loved ones do not esteem you. Or worse still, you loathe yourself and are tired of a life of pretense. Guilt and shame overpower you daily. And you find it difficult to believe God loves you.
Pause for a moment and look at the Cross on which the Son of God died to save you from everlasting destruction. Even if you were the only sinner on earth, God would still have sent His sinless Messiah to die in your place at your hands! That’s how much He values you. That’s how badly He wanted to save you and give you eternal life. God loves you just as you are. God counted you more precious than His own Son that He decided to subject the Son to such suffering and death to redeem your soul from hell. The Cross should forever settle your questions regarding your self-worth.
Do not believe the world’s lies any more. Instead, believe God’s word. Hold your head high because you are precious in God’s sight. In the same vein, extend God’s love to those around you and help them to see how much God values and loves them.
How blessed is the one who trusts in God!
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God. – Psalm 146:5
In many Oriental countries, the lands of the Biblical events included, “connections” are very important. Friendship with the right people in high places is seen as lifelines that can pull one out of deep trouble or can fetch a benefit or two. People count on their influential friends who have connections in their capital city or in high offices. Power brokers make a living out of the influence they wield. How about the majority of people who do not have any influence or money to buy influence?
Time and again, the Bible makes it very clear that it is useless to trust in people. “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish” (v3, 4). Powerful men and women are mere “mortals.” They are like bubbles that appear on water. These powerful people need to know their frailty. In addition, those who curry their favor need to understand how foolish they are in placing their trust in mortals.
The LORD God is the only One who endures and He alone can save us from our troubles. This almighty God is described as the God “who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them” (v6). Is anyone greater than Him? Is he dependable? Of course, He “keeps faith forever” (v6b). Who are the ones the Lord is interested in? He “executes justice for the oppressed,” gives food to the hungry, raises up those who are bowed down; He protects migrants who are strangers in alien lands, He supports the fatherless [those who don’t have a defender] and the widows [those who do not have a breadwinner in the family]. God loves the righteous but He scuttles the plans of the wicked.
When you are in trouble or in need, who do you turn to for help? Resist the temptation to run to a man or woman whom you think will save you. God loves those who consistently trust in Him. Trust in the Lord and join the company of the blessed. “How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Yahweh his God.”
No trial beyond your ability
God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13
How many times have you said, “God, this is more than what I can bear”?
The God of the Bible says that He will never burden anyone with a trial that is beyond their capacity to endure. Your capacity to bear pain, hardship, temptations and rejection is much more than what you had estimated. The sheer magnitude of what you are going through indicates the sheer magnitude of your God-given capacity to suffer and to endure.
The second part of the promise is about a “way of escape.” Whenever a person is tempted or tested, God provides a way of escape, so that “you will be able to endure it.” Therefore, each time you feel stretched or tested, look for the “escape” route that God provides in His mercy instead of focusing on the trouble at hand. It is distressing to see that even God’s people mistake suicide for an “escape” route from their troubles. Suicide does not provide a solution for any trouble or trial. The “way of escape” that God provides will help you to remain victorious in the land of the living.
If you’re facing constant temptations that could lead you to sin, remember that it is not a sin to experience temptation. You can flee temptations by moving away from the source of temptation or circumstances that foster sin. If you are glad that you are tempted and if you linger long enough, you will miss God’s “way of escape” and will fall into sin. The Lord who taught his disciples to pray “Lead us not into temptation” does not want you to entertain temptation.
Remember, God is faithful. Will you be faithful to Him?
Jesus will never be too late
And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them …. – Matthew 14:25
Why should twelve men – many of them seasoned fishermen – be afraid of sailing across a lake that’s just 12 km wide at it’s widest part? If it’s the “Sea” of Galilee, they should be afraid because this tiny sea, which is in fact the lowest fresh water lake in the world, witnesses quite a few bad storms.
When Jesus sent his Twelve in a boat to Gennesaret after a busy day, the disciples were probably looking forward to having a time of relaxation. The wind was however contrary. The boat was battered by waves for several hours in the night. They were rocked and tossed by waves from every side. It wasn’t like a scary roller coaster ride that people enjoy these days with an assurance of safety. The disciples were in real danger. In that long, dark night, these valiant men feared for their lives. They tried their best to stay afloat. How intensely they must have longed for the presence of Jesus! If He had been with them, He would have stilled the storm. He had done that once before.
Little did they know that their Master was interceding for them all night. He had not abandoned them to perish. Although he was physically away from His disciples, His eyes were constantly on them. He decided to wait till the last watch of the night when there remained just an hour or two for day break. Then, after having tested His men thoroughly, Jesus decided to join them. He wasn’t too late. He was on time. He chose to walk on the billowing waves – the very waves that threatened to bury them alive.
If you are going through a stormy phase of your life, and if you feel that God has abandoned you, take courage. God’s attention is on you like never before. He hasn’t abandoned you. He chooses to intervene at the right time for His own glory. He’ll never be too late. He will demonstrate His power over the very troubles that seek to devour you. And when you see Him in His glory, like Peter, you will dare to walk on those waves in Jesus’ Name. Never give up! Jesus is on His way to rescue and restore you!
The Hand that bruises and binds up
He bruises, but He binds up. – Job 5:18
Any discipline is painful. Yet, those who are chastened by God can find consolation in the fact that they are never abandoned by God. Instead, they are objects of His special mercy and care. They are “patients” under God’s “Intensive Care.”
Sometimes, when humans discipline those under their care, what is done in the name of discipline might go awfully wrong. God’s discipline, on the other hand, though equally painful, is backed by his wisdom and love. He does not act in an arbitrary fashion just to vent His fury. He does not intend to destroy us. Instead, God corrects and restores us in love. The Hand that bruises is the hand that binds us up. Those corrected by God will be in much better shape after the whole exercise is over. No wonder Job exclaimed, “Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects” (v. 17).
Job had no inkling regarding the wild turn of events that upset his life. A wealthy, pious man given to comfort, Job had rejoiced in God’s special care and provision. His flocks and herds multiplied. His ten children lived carefree lives. Yet, within a few days, He lost everything—wealth, children, servants, and health. One of the princes of Ancient Near East was reduced to a sick pauper. He sat in ashes and scratched his itchy skin with potsherds. His wife advised him to “curse God and die.” His friends accused him of committing graves sins that merited God’s wrath. Only Heaven knew the real reason behind Job’s sufferings.
When Job was tested by God, he never let go of his faith in God’s goodness. So deep was his confidence in God’s righteousness and mercy that he believed that the God who wounded him would surely bind up his bruises. And what if God did not heal or restore him? Job believed that he would see God in the hereafter. His faith in God surpassed the powers of disease and death.
Job’s faith was not in vain. The Hand that bruised him bound up his wounds. When Job passed his test, God restored his health. God gave him back a double measure of wealth. He had ten more children and lived long to see their welfare.
If you feel that God is pulverizing someone you know, do not be quick to pass a judgement as if God has abandoned that person. On the other hand, if you feel that God is disciplining you or testing you, do not give up! God never leaves a loose end in His stories. Wait for His finishing touch on your life’s canvas. He bruises, but He binds up.
Gladness, Peace and Confidence
You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound. – Psalm 4:7
The psalmist who penned the fourth Psalm was a righteous man whose delight was in the Lord and in Him alone. When his neighbors and detractors rejoiced over their bumper wheat harvest and had plenty of new wine to lubricate their celebrations, David probably went to bed that night on an empty stomach. David had to stomach the reproach of his enemies who scoffed at his misfortune. “Will anyone show mercy to David?” they asked. They trampled upon his honor and relied on deception (v2). However, David was certain about a few things.
First, he knew that God had not abandoned him. Whatever his circumstances were, David knew that he was right with God and that God had “set apart the righteous” for Himself (v3). The world might say that there is no difference between the righteous and the wicked; between the overcoming saint and the indulgent sinner. That’s not the case. God knows everyone and everything. He rewards everyone according to the cleanness of their hands.
Second, David knew that God would still answer his prayers. “The LORD hears when I call to Him.” The righteous never give up. They never lose sight of hope. They hope for the best and pray to God that He will accomplish His divine will for their life. From the depth of his misfortunes, David consistently prayed his way out to deliverance and success. What do you do when you down in the dumps? Do you pray your way out or do you dig in to new depths of depression?
Third, David experienced a God-given joy that far exceeded the happiness of his enemies who had lots of grain and new wine. “You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound.” Most people’s joy is tied up with the abundance of their possessions or the success of their ventures. When they encounter failure in agriculture, business, academics, or in their investments, their hearts sink. The brightness of their countenance depends on their bank balance or the cash in their purses or the earthly achievements of their children. How blessed is it to enjoy lasting gladness—gladness that is not dependent on one’s circumstances!
Finally, David was assured of God’s protection that night. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety” (v8). This peace can be enjoyed by anyone who, like David, will resolve to use even their times of rest for meditating on God’s word. “Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still” (v4). David had such a resolve. Such a holy practice is aided by one’s personal purity. Therefore, David admonished others to “tremble” and refrain from sin.
God was the secret of David’s peace, his gladness, and his confidence. How about you?
When the going gets tough …
The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish. – Psalm 1:3b, 4a
Today’s “wise” people might claim that they have abolished distinctions between right and wrong. Everything is right in their eyes. They might proclaim that it is offensive to classify people using black and white categories, such as “righteous” or “wicked.” Everyone is good and is entitled to success and happiness, we are told. If things go wrong with someone, they do not see any need for introspection. This is because they do not believe that a person’s attitude towards God can have any significant effect on their fortunes.
The first Psalm offers a different perspective. David sang about the blessed state of the righteous and the misery of the wicked. He knew of no other category such as the “fairly-religious” or the “not-so-wicked.” This binary is biblical: every soul on earth is either righteous or wicked in God’s sight. Although such a sharp distinction can be a scary one, David was quite sure that he belonged to the camp of the righteous.
The Bible is categorical: no person can become righteous by doing good. This is because our good deeds do not erase our sins or bad deeds. In order to become righteous, God has to give us a fresh start in life by forgiving our sins. This new start is available to all who trust in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins. All who reject God’s way of salvation in Jesus Christ continue in wallow in sin and misery.
Once God declares us righteous, we need to live in accordance with God’s demands. This too is done by God’s help and not by our strength. The righteous person is therefore a disciple of Christ who resolutely departs from evil in order to do what is right in the sight of God. He is aided in this effort by his persistent contemplation of God’s word day and night. The righteous person’s diligence and self-discipline might seem to be foolish in the eyes of the world. He may be branded as a religious, intolerant, fanatic. His spiritual disciplines may be trashed by the wicked and by those who pretend to be righteous as spiritual excesses. The righteous man’s humiliation will not last long. There’s a God in Heaven who monitors each person’s life to reward him according to the works of his hands and the intentions of his heart. A season of testing is all it takes to reveal who’s who. While the righteous will flourish like a tree planted by the waters, the wicked will be blown away as chaff in the wind.
It indeed pays to be righteous, God-fearing, and self-disciplined. Even if no one notices your piety, there’s a God who sees everything. He will reward you openly if you are faithful to Him. When the going gets tough, the righteous keeps going!