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.

Header image based on "how I feel inside" by Tinou Bao, CC By 2.0

Taking Inventory

Have you ever taken inventory? Grocery stores take inventories of their food shelves. Factories take inventories of their stock. In a little twist on the same theme, for those in Alcoholics Anonymous, taking inventory is one of the recovery steps. It’s a self-examination of what’s in their heart, and what’s on their mind.

In Psalm 139, David asks God to take inventory of what is in his heart. He tells him to search the shelves of his heart so that he can test and know the kinds of thoughts that are there. He wants to have a completely transparent and authentic relationship with God.

Most importantly, he wants to know that he is on track to enjoy everlasting life in heaven. Is his heart pointed toward the promised Savior? Are his thoughts focused on God’s grace? Is sin an issue that needs to be dealt with? Have his anxious thoughts been replaced by thoughts of forgiveness and God’s acceptance, of God’s certain love and constant protection?

This is a prayer that every Christian should pray daily. It belongs with every confession of sin. It is a great way to begin reading and studying God’s word. It is a tremendous prayer for before the Lord’s Supper. It is an awesome way to end the day, and ready one’s heart for a peaceful night of rest.

It means that we simply want to have a frank, open, honest, authentic and transparent relationship with our God. And we do not want to hold on to any thoughts or feelings that might block or hold back our relationship to him.

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV).

Prayer: Repeat the words above from Psalm 139.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 8, is Zechariah 5:1 – 8:23, Jude 1:1-25 and Psalm 139:17-24.

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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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The Lord is Near

What’s your perception of God’s proximity to you? Does he seem far away? Does it appear to you that he’s distant and unengaged, uninterested in the heartaches or challenges you’re facing?

Paul says that no matter what our perception might be, there is only one truth. God is actually quite near. He’s much nearer than most of us ever realize. He’s immediately at hand.

God’s being near at hand is important, Paul writes. And there are vitally important blessings and benefits that come along with God being near to us.

  • God’s nearness helps us maintain a joyful attitude at all times — no matter what the outward circumstances might be.
  • God’s nearness allows us to be gentle in the toughest, most provocative situations.
  • God’s nearness enables us to banish anxiety whenever it threatens to destabilize our mind.
  • God’s nearness encourages us to talk to him in prayer, make requests, and say our “thank-you’s” when he helps us.
  • God’s nearness gives us a peace that transcends reason, a peace that safeguards our heart and mind.

Paul concludes with the three most important words of all, “in Christ Jesus.” For us to understand and enjoy God’s nearness, we must have faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus communicates all these blessings — joy, gentleness, prayer and peace — through faith.

Jesus is the Son of God. He is our Lord and Savior. Nothing pleases him more than to grant us peace and joy. Nothing is more wonderful to him than to hear our voices in prayer. Nothing makes him happier than to see us imitate his gentle meekness.

And what makes all this possible is to know, by faith, that Jesus is near at hand.

And he is. Never forget it. Never lose sight of him. Because he’s right here at our side.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7, NIV).

Lord, help me to remember at all times how near at hand you are. And may your nearness be the source of my joy, peace, gentleness and vibrant prayer life.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 3, is Jeremiah 6:1 – 7:29, Philippians 4:2-23 and Proverbs 24:5-14.

Header image based on "Philippians 4:5-7" by Tyler Neyens, CC By 2.0

Busy, Busy, Busy…

We are busy people these days. Whenever we have issues we want to resolve or troubles that we’re facing, we begin actively looking for allies. We busy ourselves with finding the right solution, then we get to work laying out a plan, and finally, we run hard getting that plan implemented.

The problem with all this busy-ness is that we can fall into a habit of seeking solutions and help from everyone but God. We make plans that don’t include consulting his word, or seeking him in prayer. We get busy working a plan that takes us further away from God rather than closer to him.

Why would we do this? All kinds of reasons, really. Sometimes in our ignorance or arrogance, we think we have a clearer view of the situation than God does — and thus, a clearer view of the right path forward. Sometimes we are driven by fear to do things we wouldn’t normally do. We’re scared.

At other times, it’s selfishness and greed. We want what we want when we want it. Right now, if possible. Or a form of selfishness and greed — lust — drives us to chase things that make us feel good, no matter what it costs the other people affected. Often those solutions are very short-sighted, and later, the personal fall-out can be quite serious.

The Israelites were like this. They were busy, busy, busy. They had powerful friends, an active social life. And those friends — well, they were in all the right places. If hard work and great connections always brought success and salvation, they should have been prime candidates.

But instead, they were failing. And they were falling. Their relationship with God was a mess. So God — the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel — says to them through Isaiah the prophet: “Slow down. Stop talking. Quit thinking that the Egyptians are the answer to your problems.”

“Pharaoh is not the one to look to. I am! Turn back to me. Quietly examine your hearts. Rethink your beliefs — and the words and actions that flow from those beliefs. Stop all the activity, find a quiet place to sit down, and meditate on my forgiveness, power, love and faithful help.”

So, what’s your “Egypt”? Who’s your “Pharaoh”? What activity do you need to stop doing for a little while? What plans do you need to set aside for a moment?

And where is that “quiet place” in your home, or in your neighborhood, or somewhere within a few hours travel, where you can just go and think? Take your Bible. Prepare your heart for prayer. It may be time for a little repentance, a little rest, a little quietness and a little trust.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it'” (Isaiah 30:15, NIV).

Lord, stop me from chasing constant activity, busy-ness and human allies. Help me to step aside from the rush, reconnect with you, and repent of my sins. Help me to remember that rest and quietness coupled with repentance and faith are my salvation. Remind me to find time to look to Jesus, listen to him, and be reminded he is the real Solution for all my problems.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, September 12, is Isaiah 29:1 – 30:18, 2 Corinthians 12:11-21 and Psalm 107:1-9.

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