Crucial Decisions

Right, or left? Go on, or turn back? Take a stand, or give ground?

Sometimes in life we face decisions like this. And it’s not always easy to know the correct answer.

It may be that we feel like we lack the information we need, or the wisdom required, to make such a decision. And sometimes we worry that our emotions are getting in the way of a rational decision (or is it, instead, that our our head is getting in the way of where our heart wants to lead us?).

David was under constant pressure from his rivals and enemies. He was also quite aware of his own sin and how undeserving he was for the position he’d been given as king of Israel.

Many scholars believe that David wrote Psalm 143 in his desolation after he had been driven from Jerusalem by his own son, Absalom. David knew that he had to deal first with his own sins, and then determine how to respond to this crisis in his leadership.

Not an easy decision when your own son is creating the crisis!

When big, crucial decisions loom, the place to go is to your knees. Seek God in prayer. Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer wrote: “A man can say to his God, ‘Behold, take my heart, and lead me according to your will. I surrender myself completely to you.'”

This is what David said to God as he was facing his crucial decision. And this is what we can still by grace say to our Lord, when we face crucial decisions in our own lives.

Jesus, our Savior, makes such prayers possible. But even more, he guarantees that our Father’s ears are wide open to our pleas for forgiveness and guidance.

As David promises us, he will show you the way you should go. He will lead you onto level ground.

Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
    for no one living is righteous before you…

Answer me quickly, Lord;
    my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
    or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
    for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
    lead me on level ground (Psalm 143:1-2, 7-10, NIV).

Prayer: Pray Psalm 143.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 15, is Malachi 1:1 – 2:16, Revelation 6:1-17 and Psalm 143:1-12.

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The Win/Lose Scenario (Or, When I’m Worried About Being A Loser)

What do you do when success for someone else means failure for you? David had to ponder this question a number of times, starting as a boy, when he fought off lions and bears to protect his flock.

This became a refrain in David’s life. Once he was anointed to be the next king of Israel, this roused King Saul’s jealousy, and Saul made numerous attempts on his life. The Philistines didn’t much care for David either. Sometimes his own people — even his own officials — betrayed him and fought against him. Finally, his own child, Absalom, came against him and drove him from his throne.

In each of these situations, there was no intention of creating a win/win scenario. Former friends and family members turned into mortal enemies. And for them to win, David had to lose. So David had to learn how to handle his fears, sustain his hope, stay strong in faith, and be courageous in battle.

If you read the Psalms that were composed during these periods in his life, a pattern begins to emerge in David’s prayers. He would often follow a version of this pattern:

  1. Lord, I see my situation. I am going to be real with you, God. This situation frightens me. It keeps me up at night. It gives me an upset stomach and high blood pressure. I struggle to calm my troubled thoughts, or to get this situation out of my head, or even to think about anything else.
  2. Lord, I see you. I know you are my God. You are my powerful Deliverer. You are my shield from harm. You have promised to be my Savior from sin, my protection in danger, and my hope in death.
  3. Lord, I see your goodness. We have a track record with each other, God. You have always been kind to me, and sheltered me from harm. You gave me strength to slay the lion and the bear when I was still a little boy — with my bare hands! That was not me, Lord. That was you. Remember what you did for me when Goliath came at me? You sent that very first smooth, round stone into Goliath’s forehead. Remember Saul? Or that time with the Philistines, when they were attacking me? Each time, you helped me. You protected me.
  4. Lord, I see your victory. Others may have their plans to see me fail — to see me stumble and fall. But you have victory in store for me. It may be earthly victory, Lord, if that’s your will. Or it may be eternal victory, if that’s your choice for me. One thing I know about you. You love me as your child. You have a special place in your heart for those who have been humbled. And you will see to it that in the end, justice is done. Because I am your child, I will rise victorious and your name will be glorified.

What a great pattern for any of us to follow when we find ourselves in our own win/lose situation. If you find yourself in that set of circumstances right now, can I urge you to find a quiet place, take several deep breaths, close your eyes, maybe even count to ten, and say,

“Lord, I see my situation… Lord, I see you… Lord, I see your goodness… Lord, I see your victory…

…May your name be glorified, Lord!”

“O LORD, I say to you, “You are my God.” Hear, O LORD, my cry for mercy. O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle — do not grant the wicked their desires, O LORD; do not let their plans succeed, or they will become proud… May slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down the violent. I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Surely the righteous will praise your name, and the upright will live in your presence.” (Psalm 140:6-8, 11-13, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 11, is Esther 1:1 – 2:18, Revelation 2:18 – 3:6 and Psalm 140:6-13.

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Grab and Go!

Answer this one question: Who is Jesus, really?

According to the author of the book of Hebrews, he is…

  1. God’s Son
  2. Our great high priest, who represents us before the Father
  3. Our ascended Lord, who from his powerful seat at God’s right hand rules the entire universe for the church’s benefit
  4. Our empathetic Savior, who understands us perfectly because he subjected himself to every temptation we face in our daily lives
  5. Our sinless Substitute, who offers his perfection so that we might claim it as our own righteousness, and be made acceptable in the eyes of a holy God

Since this is who Jesus is, we should let no person and no event diminish our faith in him. Our faith is rightly placed when it is placed on Jesus Christ. By faith, we should fiercely cling to Jesus — like a person being lowered over the edge of a cliff by Bear Grylls clings hold of the climbing rope.

Grab hold tightly. Have no plan to loosen your grip.

And then?

We go freely to God. We approach him with confidence, as a child approaches their loving parent or grandparent. We go to him with boldness. We’re not held back by guilt or shame. We’re not worried that we’re not enough. We don’t turn and run because we’re frightened by his holiness. And we’re not angry and frustrated because we can never seem to measure up.

Jesus has that all covered for us.

So, we go to God in full freedom and with absolute confidence. And we find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

Simple. Grab Jesus and go.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me by your Spirit’s power to grab hold tightly of you. And then, confident of your grace and mercy, guide me to go to the Father’s throne in prayer and make my requests with boldness and confidence.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, November 3, is Ezekiel 1:1 – 3:27, Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10 and Psalm 119:153-160.

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Why We Pray for God’s Enemies

The apostle Paul understood the power of government. Intriguingly, the Roman government of his day was not supportive of Christianity. Not even close!

Nero was in power at the time Paul wrote these words. He would become the instigator of some of the most violent persecution against Christians in all history. Yet, Paul still encouraged believers to pray for those in civil authority, even if they seemed to be God’s enemies.

Why? Because they are the ones who — from a human point of view — could create the conditions that would make the spread of the gospel much easier, or on the other hand, much more difficult.

God’s desire is that all people hear the gospel and be saved. There is only one who can mediate between God and mankind, Paul writes. That’s why spreading the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ — that sole mediator — is of paramount importance to God.

If our witness to Jesus Christ is critical, Paul reasons, then having the right conditions of peace, security, easy travel, fast communication and economic stability are extremely valuable.

We can still pray today for governments and civil authorities around the world. We pray not because we are of any party or political persuasion. We pray not because they are friendly toward God, or supportive of the spread of the gospel. Because they may not be friendly toward or supportive of either of these!

Instead, we pray that those in authority will create the right conditions for the gospel, so that it can be spread to more and more people, and they may know Jesus as “the Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

Sometimes we pray for God’s enemies simply so that God can make more friends.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:1-6, NIV).

Lord, I pray for those in civil authority. I ask that we who are Christians may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. I ask that you will allow me to be a witness to Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Through my witness may many people come to a knowledge of the gospel, to a knowledge of the truth about the ransom your Son paid for all mankind.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 17, is Jeremiah 35:1 – 37:21, 1 Timothy 2:1-15 and Psalm 119:49-56.

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Bold Prayer

If you want to watch someone who was completely unafraid to put audacious requests before God, look no further than King Hezekiah of Judah. He was a master of bold prayer.

With Sennacherib and 185,000 of his best men surrounding the walls of Jerusalem, and ready to decimate Judah’s puny homeland defenses, one would have thought that it was prudent, if not pre-ordained, that Hezekiah would simply surrender and end the siege.

Instead, Hezekiah prayed. Against all odds. Against all reasonable expectations. Against all public opinion. And probably even against his own raging, internal doubts.

He prayed. Boldly.

And he asked God to simply be God. Hezekiah knew that his God reigns over all the kingdoms, all the kings and all the emperors who rule the kings. He was confident that his God is the One who makes and sustains all of creation — whether in heaven above or down here on earth.

His shoulders are broad. He can carry us. Whatever we might need as he guides us along the way, he’ll provide it. That’s the way Hezekiah saw it.

And most of all, Hezekiah was confident that for his children God has open eyes, understanding ears, and an empathetic heart. And since Hezekiah knew full-well that through faith he was God’s child, he was sure that God would affirm that faith by hearing and answering his prayer.

And that’s exactly what God did — in a miraculous and astounding fashion! You’ll want to get the rest of the story for yourself in our reading from 2 Kings for today.

Pray boldly, my friends. You’ll never go wrong by doing so.

“And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: ‘Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see…'” (2 Kings 19:15-16a, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, July 10, is 2 Kings 19:14 – 20:21, Acts 28:1-16 and Psalm 83:1-18.

Jesus, teach me to pray boldly, knowing that through you, I pray as a dear child of my Heavenly Father. Help me to be confident that my Father’s eyes are ever turned toward me and his ears are always tuned in to me.

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Your Will Be Done

David’s own son, Absalom, was rebelling against him. It didn’t look good for David, with his own flesh and blood conspiring to take his throne from him — and then the report came to David that “the hearts of the people are with Absalom.”

All this after David had just shown Absalom an amazing amount of grace and forgiveness! But this is the account of a man who over a long career as King of Israel had learned to seek the Lord’s will in matters.

A thousand years later, Jesus would teach the apostles to pray, “Your will be done,” when addressing their Heavenly Father. But by faith, David knew this was the correct course of action centuries before that.

And how about us, two thousand years after Jesus? Have we learned to pray by faith, “Your will be done,” in the crucible of our own life, when times are tough, when injustice seems to rule, when grace seems to have been wasted?

Do we have the confidence in God that David did? Confidence to say, “If God wants me to make a comeback from this, then I will make a comeback.” Or what about the meekness and humility to say, “If God is not pleased with me, then I am ready. Whatever he thinks is best, that’s what he should do to me.”

Those are words of awesome faith. Those are thoughts that only the Holy Spirit can teach us to think. Hearts like these and courage like this — only Jesus can give that to us.

And that’s the heart I pray to Jesus for you to have — and me to have! It’s the courageous heart to pray daily, “Lord, your will, not mine, be done!”

“Then the king (David) said to Zadok, ‘Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him’” (2 Samuel 15:25-26, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, June 10, is 2 Samuel 15:13 – 16:14, Acts 6:1 – 7:19 and Psalm 71:19-24.

Dear God, grant me the heart and the mind of David. When I am in trouble, treated unjustly, receiving all too little grace in my life, help me to pray with confidence in you, and meekness in regard to myself. Help me always to pray, “Your will be done!”

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How to Pray When Your Hands Are Tied

How should we pray when our hands are tied (or possibly even nailed… to a cross)?

You might remember Jesus’ prayer as he looked down on the crowd gathered around his cross at Golgotha.

“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'” (Luke 23:34, NIV).

Wow! That’s a powerful prayer when your hands are tied and you are looking at the very people who did the tying. Don’t forget, to add insult to injury they had driven nails through those same hands.

In praying for the forgiveness of his crucifiers, Jesus at one and the same time made peace with his circumstances and with the people who created the circumstances.

You may well have people in your life who have tied your hands, and who have added insult to their injury of you. But you too, through a prayer of forgiveness can make peace with your circumstances and with the people who did this to you.

You might also recall the criminal’s prayer. Don’t forget, his hands were tied too.

“Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'” (Luke 23:42, NIV).

Sometimes when there’s nothing more we can do in this life, we need to come back to an eternal focus. That’s what the criminal did. In the end, he put first things first, and remembered his deepest spiritual needs. Then he asked Jesus not for rescue from the crucifixion, but rather for deliverance into Jesus’ eternal kingdom.

I’m reminded of something Augustine once said, “Earthly things are indeed beautiful and fair, though lowly and slight compared to the beauties high and blessed.”

It’s a great reminder we get from this criminal as he prays from a cross. When life goes horribly off the rails and we are in pain — and there seems to be nothing we can do about it — it’s good to keep eternity in view.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, April 26, is Joshua 9:16 – 10:43, Luke 23:26-56 and Proverbs 10:21-30.

Lord Jesus, help me to always stay focused on your forgiveness and the hope of eternal life that you have given me. Help me to forgive others, and even to pray for the forgiveness of those who have hurt and angered me. Most importantly, give me an eternal perspective in my prayer life, and remember me when you come into your kingdom.

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Prayer: The Alternative to Spiritual Stumbling

It must have been something important, because Jesus said it not once, but twice.

He told the disciples to pray, so they would not fall into temptation. Jesus knew what was about to come. And he knew his disciples were already exhausted, and their hearts filled with sorrow.

Talk about a set-up for caving when it comes to temptation! But intriguingly, Jesus does not encourage them — in their exhausted state — to take a nap, or get more rest.

That’s the advice I give myself when I’m tired, and hurting, and can see temptation right around the corner: “You just need more rest.” But Jesus doesn’t say that. Instead, he says, “You just need more prayer.” There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting more rest. But it’s prayer that will keep you from falling.

God finds it extremely hard to resist the humble prayers of his hurting children. He is our Father, so it is in his very nature to protect us when we cry out to him.

“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed… When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation'” (Luke 22:39-41, 45-46, NIV).

Many years later, Paul echoes similar thoughts when he encourages Christians in Ephesus to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10-11, NIV). Paul closes out this section of his letter with the encouragement to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18, NIV).

So, do you mind if I ask you a quick question?

Do you have a time set aside sometime in the morning where you honestly face the temptations of the day ahead, calling them to mind one by one, and then asking God in prayer for his protection, trusting that it is in his very nature to protect you when you cry out to him?

If this is not something you have a habit of doing, let me highly recommend it. Because, just like the disciples, what most of us truly need (alongside some time hearing from God by reading our Bible) is simply more prayer time.

And when it comes to beating back temptation, it’s the very same thing… the word, the sacraments, and prayer. These are powerful, because the God we listen to, and the God who listens to us, is far more powerful than any temptation we might face!

Dear Father, hear my prayers. Listen to my cry for help. Beat back the daily temptations that beset me. Some of them are circumstantial and temporary, Lord — and you know which ones I’m talking about. Others are long-standing temptations that I’ve struggled to conquer for almost my entire life. Above all else, Lord, I ask you: Help me to guard my heart, for everything else flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).

Our Bible reading for Friday, April 24, is Joshua 5:13 – 7:26, Luke 22:39-62 and Psalm 50:16-23.

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What kind of deliverance are you looking for?

Often, we have a singular idea of what being “delivered” means. But how God delivers can happen in more ways than one.

Sometimes God’s deliverance is physical. Daniel was delivered from the jaws of a lion in a lion’s den. The blind man was delivered from his blindness. Peter was delivered from a jail cell. The 5000 were delivered from their hunger.

Sometimes God’s deliverance is emotional. He leaves us in a very difficult and troubling situation, but gives us joy, peace, contentment and courage in that situation. I think of Paul and Silas singing hymns in the middle of the night in a jail cell in the city of Philippi. Or David being hunted down by King Saul, and yet always knowing, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall lack nothing.”

Sometimes his deliverance is spiritual. God allows our physical bodies to remain in trouble, in illness, in injury, in brokenness, or in pain. But he draws us closer in relationship to himself through all of this. Recall Paul praying to have his “thorn in the flesh” removed, and God saying simply, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Sometimes — and for a believer in Jesus, this is the most critical — God’s deliverance is eternal. He allows trouble to take us to the door of death, and then through that door. There he delivers us eternally. Consider Jesus praying for his Father to “take this cup from me” and then saying, “Your will, not mine, be done.” And then he was arrested, put on trial, beaten, mocked and crucified — only to be raised three days later.

Which of these kinds of deliverance are we most likely to ask for?

Whichever it is, the God who delivered his Son for you is the God whom you can trust to choose the right deliverance for you.

“And call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, April 23, is Joshua 3:1 – 5:12, Luke 22:1-38 and Psalm 50:1-15.

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God, I’m On the Same Page (But Can We Go Over Some Details?)

It’s interesting to read the account of the Israelites’ unhappiness with the lack of meat to eat as they wandered in the Desert of Sinai, following their deliverance from Egypt.

One of the things we can learn from this account is that a few complainers can stir up hundreds of thousands of people: The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat!'” (Numbers 11:4, NIV).

We can see that bickering and complaining with God’s chosen leaders — and especially with God himself — never turns out well for anyone: Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled” (Numbers 11:10, NIV).

But most of all, we can learn that the way we approach God matters. It’s one thing to complain and say this to God, “We’re not on the same page with you at all. We want to go back to our old way of life, because we hate the way of life you’ve given us.”

And it’s a completely different thing to pray and say this to God, “We are on the same page with you. We want the life you have for us. Lead us in the direction you want us to go… and if it’s not too much trouble — you being a gracious and merciful God — could we go over some of the details here?”

Think of Abraham’s prayer when God threatened the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham understood God’s reasons for doing so, and so he says, in effect, “Hey God, you are angry. I feel you. However, you are also gracious and merciful. I’m on the same page with you… but could we go over some details?

Then Abraham said, “What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” (Genesis 18:24, NIV).

What if the Israelites, instead of complaining, had instead prayed? And what if they had said something like: “We are so grateful for our freedom. We’re excited about following you into the Promised Land. We’re on the same page with you and we love you. We know you are a merciful and gracious God, and that’s why we want to ask you about a few details. We miss the meat we had in Egypt. Any chance you, powerful as you are, could provide us with a little meat? According to your will, of course!”

I think things might have turned out completely differently if they had. A few verses in Numbers 11 stand out to me. Maybe they do to you too:

“Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’” (Numbers 11:18-20, NIV).

And for us? Well, it’s a great lesson in approaching God. Lead with prayer, instead of complaining or rejecting God’s path for you. It might go something like this: “God I may not be on the same page with you right now. But I want to be. Help me to be. I trust you. I love you. You are powerful and gracious. Could I prevail on your mercy and discuss a few details with you?”

Our Bible reading for Saturday, March 21, is Numbers 11:4 – 13:25, Luke 3:23 – 4:13 and Proverbs 7:21-27.

Lord, help me to be on the same page with you. Thank you for your gracious willingness to go over the details with me.

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