Coming To The Lord

“This is the Word of the LORD concerning Israel.  The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, who forms the spirit of man within him, declares: “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling.  Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 12:1-2

                Every year when September rolls around I find myself anticipating with a certain amount of excitement the resumption of all of the tasks which were laid aside of the summer months.  The rest and relaxation of the summer are always welcome and as I grow older desperately needed.  There is a sense however that the restfulness of summer is not to be my natural state.  It is good as the fall comes around to pick up the burdens of my normal workload.  I always find this to be an exciting time of year.  We are beginning Bible Studies, Sunday School, and the full range of Worship Services that are a regular part of the programming at First Baptist Church Brampton.

The rest and reflection of summer always serves to give me an opportunity to reflect on and to define just what is needed in this next year’s service.   To begin again requires that we have a fresh, Biblical perspective that comes from the LORD.  Labour in the flesh is never productive.  What is needed is a labouring in the Spirit of God.  This is the perspective that we find as the twelfth chapter of Zechariah begins to unfold before us.  As the Prophet begins the second burden, or Word from God he does so by first of all making a statement in verse one which introduces the whole final section of his prophesy.  In this verse the LORD identifies Himself as the sovereign, creative, God who has infinite, limitless power to accomplish everything which He speaks about.  This power even extends down to His forming the spirit of man within him.  There is nothing that the Sovereign LORD cannot do.  It is with this perspective that we are called to begin again.

When we turn to the second verse we encounter a word which is not translated in the NIV.  It is the word, “behold”.  We are to stop and observe the thing that God is about to do.  He is about to move powerfully in the whole world to accomplish that purpose that He has been constantly speaking about in every part of His Word.  This word of God is always needed.  Perhaps we need it a little bit more this September as we find ourselves facing all manner of bewildering circumstances in our world.  What are we to think as we live facing such uncertainty?  Zechariah writes that we are to recognise that the Sovereign LORD is still at work accomplishing His gracious purposes in the LORD Jesus Christ.  The outcome is certain, because He is Sovereign.  What at tremendous hope this brings to us.

At the heart of Zechariah’s Prophesy is a call for every one of God’s people to turn to Him in genuine repentance.  The sending of the Messiah into our world was a dividing point.  To encounter Him was to be brought to the point of a decision.  Hanging in the balance was eternity.  Listen to the way Luke describes this point as he writes about the testimony of John the Baptist.

“He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the LORD, make straight paths for Him.  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, and the rough ways smooth.  And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’”” (Luke 3:3-6)

                Luke tells us that the ministry of the LORD Jesus Christ is one which brings us to the point of repentance.  Will we repent and begin to walk humbly with God in Christ who is our only hope of salvation, or will we continue to trust in our own flesh?  Every circumstance in our lives crowds us to the point where we have to deal with the Christ.  How will we respond?

There is only one way to begin again.  This is through coming to God in humble repentance.  Zechariah shows us the way.  Will you turn to the LORD?

He Has Showed You

                “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?  Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rives of oil?  Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 6:6-8

                One of the great benefits of committing ourselves to a program of regular Bible Reading that takes us through the whole of scripture on a regular basis is that bit by bit we find ourselves growing in our understanding of the message of the Word of God.  Even more wonderfully we find that we become increasingly alert to the key questions that Scripture forces us to ask ourselves, and of the Biblical answers that are given to those questions.  I believe that the Bible has at its core an evangelistic purpose.  Its intent is to bring us into a living, saving faith in God’s Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore I am committed to encouraging as many people as I can to read the Bible for themselves.

One such key question and answer which encounter in the Bible is that which we find in Micah 6:6-8 where the Prophet leads us to ask just what kind of sacrifice we can offer in order to make ourselves acceptable to God.  For many of us we assume that we are good people and that God will accept us on that basis.  We assume that until we find ourselves confronted by God’s true holiness.  When we see Him as He is we also see the corruption of our own nature.  Others think that if they can only offer some great sacrifice that that will deal with their sin and make God accept them.  It is to this question that the Prophet Micah brings us.  It is vital to our eternal life that we ask and answer this question.  How can I make myself acceptable to the Holy God?  How great a sacrifice must I offer?

As Micah leads us to wrestle with this question He shows us how to answer it as well.  God has given us the answer.  “He has showed you, O man, what is good.”  It is as if Micah is calling us to task for not knowing the answer because it is contained in the Bible.  God has revealed it to us.  A few references to the Scriptures will suffice to show us what God has revealed.

1)      In Deuteronomy 10:12-13 we read this.  “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all of His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands which I am giving to you today for your own good?”  Moses here goes on to show what the real love and worship of God look like.

2)      At its heart this text, in fact the whole of the Scriptures confronts us with the perfection of God’s Holiness, the depths of our sin, and the fact that there is no sacrifice which we can offer which will ever be great enough to cover our sin, but still we are not hopeless because God is gracious.  In Genesis 22 we read about Abraham and Isaac as they are on their way to offer Isaac as a sacrifice in response to God’s call.  When Isaac asks about their failure to bring along a lamb for sacrifice, Abraham answers with one of the key Old Testament testimonies to faith.  “God Himself will provide the Lamb.”(Genesis 22:8)  Looking centuries ahead this is exactly what God did in giving His Son for our redemption.

3)      In the key Suffering Servant Song in Isaiah 53:4-6 God’s Word makes this even clearer for us.  “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.  We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  Here is the only sacrifice that is adequate to atone for our sin.  God Himself has offered it on behalf of us.  His word then calls us to repent, to turn from our reliance on anything of our own that we could offer for our sin, so that we can embrace the sin offering that God has given.  We are commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ so that we can be saved. (Acts 16:31)

Jesus’ Compassion

“I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long way.”

                                                                                                                                                Mark 8:2-3

One of the advantages of following a consistent plan of study which works through a whole book of Scripture is that it exposes us to the bigger themes that can be traced through whole books or sections of books.  Such is the case with the text which is before us today.  In Mark chapter 8:1-10 we read about the second time that Jesus feeds a massive crowd with a few loaves and fishes.  That this is a second feeding miracle performed by Jesus, rather than a repetition of the same event, is apparent from the discussion which takes place in Mark 8:17-21.  It is part of a larger section in which we see how the Disciples are brought to faith in Christ.  Their hard, unbelieving hearts are being broken up in chapters six through eight.  We read these chapters and we find that our own hardened, unbelieving hearts are being broken up.

Our text is found in a scene in which some four thousand people are attending to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.  What might that three day teaching session have been like?  We can guess that it must have been a wonderful time in which real spiritual needs were being met as we read that the crowd had been with Jesus for three days in a wilderness region without adequate food yet they stayed on listening with rapt attention to the words of life which came from the lips of Jesus.  Mark does not see fit to give us the content of Jesus’ teaching here.  He is intent on showing us the compassion of Jesus as He performs a powerful sign miracle which will break up the stony hearts of His disciples.

There are many things which we could examine here.  We could explore the fact that Jesus was involving His disciples in this work in order to form them into a new Israel, in the wilderness being fed on the Manna from heaven.  Robert Rayburn makes reference to this as he writes.  “That Jesus involves His disciples in these miracles indicates that Jesus is creating a new Israel, having summoned His people out into the wilderness.” (Rayburn: “A Miraculous Sign”)

                We could profitably explore this theme but we will not do so here.  Mark goes deeper exposing us to the character of the Lord Jesus.  We see here His compassion for a lost, and in many ways desperate people.  He sees their need, just as He sees ours.  He responds, using the response to teach His disciples how they must live in this world.  His example guides and motivates His people even today.  Here we see something of the compassion of His Father for us as He meets their needs.  Here we learn to trust Him because we see that He will also meet the real needs He discovers in us.

Jesus’ compassion is on display here.  We begin to see it clearly, and we hear His call to take that compassion out into our world.  It is said that one of the events that resulted in the growth of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle was the response of Spurgeon and many of the members of his Church to a plague.  They compassionately stayed in the city and ministered to the sick and the dying even at great risk to themselves.

The Father of Church History Eusebius tells us a similar story from the third century in which Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria tells of how Christians responded to a terrible outbreak of the plague following a war.  He writes, “Most of our brethren showed love and loyalty in not sparing themselves while helping one another, tending to the sick with no thought of danger and gladly departing this life with them after becoming infected with their disease.”  This was the compassion of Jesus reproduced in His people.  As we read these accounts we can almost hear the voice of our Redeemer saying, “Go and do Thou likewise.”

A Life Worthy of the Gospel

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – on Lord, One faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 4:1-7

                As I sit down to write a reflection on the first few verses of the fourth chapter of Ephesians I find myself wrestling with the richness of the doctrine which is contained here.  With the simple word “therefore” the apostle brings in the glorious things he has just been writing about in the first three chapters of the letter.  Those chapters focus upon the power of the Gospel which has taken us out of this world of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This new kingdom into which we have entered is in fact the Church, or the Body of Christ.  In Christ we have come to know a love that has completely transformed our lives.  On the foundation of this life changing Gospel Paul then calls us to live a life which is worthy, or suitable, or becoming of our calling.  In the rest of this letter we will read about just what such a worthy life is like.  We are told how we are to actively pursue this life as Paul begins to use a series of present participles to move his argument forward.  These participles describe earnest and continual activity of our part in response to the infinite and continuous action of the Spirit of God through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must be submitting our lives to the powerful love of God which is being poured into us by the Holy Spirit.

In verses two and three we encounter these two participles, “to be enduring patiently with one another” and “to be making every effort”.  Both participles call us to constant activity.  Both push us along in a life that is truly Christ-centred.  This is in fact the foundation for our transformed lives.  The Lord Jesus Christ is the One who was crucified and raised for us.  In Him we have life if we pick up our cross and follow Him.

Each us faces a constant challenge to this type of Christ-centred living.  Our flesh does not die easily.  Naturally we live lives which are conformed to the pattern of this world.  Basically this means that we desire to put ourselves first in every situation.  To this Paul calls us to live with “humility, gentleness, enduring patiently with one another.”  We are to actively pursue this patience.  In essence we begin to live out the long suffering sacrificial love that we have received from the Lord.  How has He put up with us?  What has He done for us?  How far is He willing to go in order to redeem us?  It is here that we find ourselves challenged as we see the ways our flesh shrinks back from really following the Lord into this cross centred living.  We are not certain that we can pay the cost of such a life.  In fact we are certain that we cannot.  Before we move on to look at the resources that make us able to live in a way befitting the Gospel we need to look at the other participle in verse three.  Paul says that we are “to make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Again he calls us to constant and earnest pursuit of the unity of the Spirit.    Our ambition is to share together with others in the Body of Christ the common life that we have been called to.  Do we really catch the meaning of what Paul writes here?  Have we confronted its challenge?  Our flesh looks for ways to be self sufficient and separate from one another.  The Gospel calls us to participate in the life of Christ together.

To be sure there are times when we must separate ourselves from those who do not share in this life of Christ.  I question at times whether we do so too easily.  It is in answering this question that we find our flesh being crucified.  It is too easy for us to begin to build our own little self-centred kingdom.  Paul calls us to Christ-centred, Spirit directed following of the one who redeemed us through the Gospel of the cross.  As Paul describes it here in these chapters of Ephesians we find ourselves reflecting on something which is truly glorious because it is of God.

Who Is Jesus?

                ““I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”  “Who are you?” they asked.  “Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 8:24-25

                James T. Dennison Jr. Called my attention to a thought about the Gospel of John in his May 1992 article, The Structure of John’s Gospel The Present State of the Question (www.kerux.com/doc/0701A3.asp).  This was that the centre of John’s Gospel is found in the passage John 8:12 through 12:50 and that it is centred upon the LORD Jesus Christ.  I am with Dennison on the Christ Centred nature of John’s Gospel.  I am still exploring questions about the overall structure of the book.  His thesis is intriguing however and I find myself wanting to explore this question in future months.  For the purposes of this devotional today I want to simply focus on that which John, as an evangelist, makes so abundantly clear here.  He is demonstrating in his Gospel that Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the one who we find in the Scriptures as God with us.  Here in these central chapters in the Gospel John begins to appeal to a wide variety of evidence in order to make his case.  Between chapters six and fifteen John quotes Jesus making a series of seven “I Am” statements which point to Jesus as the fulfillment of the various types of Christ which we find in the Old Testament.  Interspersed among these seven powerful identity statements John also quotes Jesus as using the term “I Am” as a means of identifying Himself as the One whose name means “I Am”, that is God Himself.  In Exodus 3:14 we are given this Name for God, “God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am”.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I Am has sent me to you.””  Jesus makes use of that identification as He seeks to witness to the Pharisees and Scribes in John 8:24.  They will die in their sins unless they believe that I Am.

Jesus is calling these leaders into a state of believing that an astounding truth has been revealed right in their presence.  This truth calls them to a decision.  It is this decision, or point of division that is being confronted in this passage of Scripture.  Eternal forgiveness of sin is at stake.  The only way to receive that forgiveness is by believing that the man Jesus standing before them was in fact the Living God who has revealed Himself first to them through His Word, and now in person.  These leaders, as well as you and I are brought to this point of decision.  The question which John repeats from the lips of the leaders is this, “Who are You?”  This is the question which John forces us to ask Jesus as well.  If eternal life is dependent on Him then we need to know who He is.

Two things are brought to our attention here.  The first is that we are called to believe Him when He tells us that He is I Am.  John points to this fact in the first chapter of his Gospel when he writes concerning John the Baptist that, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him.  He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:7-13)  This is a faith which dramatically reorients every part of our lives.  It centres every part of the life we live upon the LORD Jesus Christ who is God with us, and who has come to redeem us through the cross.

The second thing that John points out to us here is that the answer that we give to this question will dramatically change us.  God has come to us, and given His life as a ransom for us on the cross.  Faith in Jesus as our redeemer gives us the forgiveness of sin.  Faith in Him become as radical and complete commitment to Him.  John calls it a receiving of Him in which we become born again.

The question is do you believe that Jesus is I Am?

Seeking Revival

                “When you pray, say “Father…”

                                                                                                                                                Luke 11:2

                Fred Sanders has written an extremely helpful book explaining the doctrine of the Trinity entitled The Deep Things of God, How the Trinity Changes Everything (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2010).  His book introduces the reader to a wide variety of other helpful material which expanded this readers understanding and appreciation of the place of the Biblical Doctrine in practical Christian living.  I introduce this blog entry with a reference to this book because Sanders concludes his book with a chapter on the impact of the Trinity on the prayer life of the believer.  Over the past several months I have been finding myself increasingly convicted regarding the need for believers to join together in prayer for a renewed outpouring of the Spirit of God in revival.  As I have been praying about this, and seeking to encourage others to join together in prayer for revival something interesting has been happening with me.  It is as if the Lord has enrolled me in School once again.  The course of study is the development of a life of Intercessory Prayer which is fully Biblical.  I have been finding myself thrust into situations where I have been forced to learn what it is to truly pray.

It is here that Fred Sanders has been so helpful because he introduces us to Biblical Triune Praying, which he calls praying with the grain.  I want to whet our appetites for this type of praying with an extended quotation from Sander’s chapter on prayer, pages 211-212.

“It is because of God’s triunity that we have communion with God in prayer.  Once we understand that the Christian life is constituted by the Trinity, we have an opportunity to pray in a way that is consistent with that constitution.  If the Spirit unites us to the Son and reconciles us to the Father, we have an invitation to pray accordingly: to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit.  This is not just the “theologically correct” way to pray but a way of praying that draws real spiritual power from being aliened with reality.  The reality is that Christian prayer is already tacitly Trinitarian, whether we recognize it or not.  Aligning with it means praying with the grain instead of against it.

                Wood has a grain to it.  The long fibers that make up a piece of wood all run in one direction, and a wise woodworker will always find the direction of the grain before starting to work.  He can work along the grain or cut across it, but he avoids planning or sanding against that grain because that is to invite a clash with the directionality built into the piece of wood.  Paper has a gain as well, which is why you can tear straight lines down the page but not across it.  Cat fur has a grain, and if you stroke a cat against that grain, the results are not good for felines or humans.  When you work with the grain of the wood, or the paper, or the cat, things go well.  When you go against the grain, either because you are oblivious to the structural forces involved or because you consider them negligible, things do not go as well.

                The act of prayer has, metaphorically speaking, a grain to it.  Prayer has an underlying structure built into it, complete with a directionality that is worth observing.  This grain is Trinitarian, running from the Spirit through the Son to the Father.  It is a built-in logic of meditation, designed that way by God for reasons deeper than we are likely to fathom.  But we do not need to understand it in order to benefit from its solid structural integrity.  Nor do we need to take special lessons in praying in a properly Trinitarian fashion.  The possibility of praying in a more Trinitarian way is all promise and no threat, all invitation and no danger.  Christian prayer is already thoroughly, pervasively, structurally Trinitarian whether you have been noticing it or not.  The only thing you have to add is your attention, to begin to taking notice of what’s Trinitarian about prayer.”

                What Sanders introduces here is the fact that prayer is an invitation to join with the Father, Son, and Spirit in their communion.  We have help as we seek this because God’s Word tells us that both the Son and The Spirit are interceding for us.  This is the thing I have been learning about prayer for revival.  It is at its heart a seeking to know God as He has revealed Himself to us.  Are we truly seeking to know and love Him?

Intercessory Praying

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a man just like us.  He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

                                                                                                                                                          James 5:16-18

                If you are like me you often find the examples of great Prayer Warriors to be somewhat intimidating. “Historic Pray-ers” are held up an example for us, but they often seem to be people whose commitment to the Lord is beyond that of us ordinary mortals.  Then there are the examples of people of prayer in the Bible and their example is even more intimidating.  People like Moses, or Abraham, David, Daniel, Elijah, the Apostles, or any of the host of New Testament characters seem almost to be from another Planet as they engage in Ministries of Intercession.

In looking carefully at these people of prayer though we make an encouraging discovery.  This is that they, like us, are mere sinful mortals.  James tells us that “Elijah was a man like us.”  What James means by this is that Elijah was a man who was subject to the same frailties and weaknesses as we are.  The reason we find him or others like him so difficult to follow is because we focus our attention upon ourselves rather than the God who hears and answers prayer.  Let’s take a look at what James tells us about Intercessory Prayer in these brief verses.  First, in verse 16 he calls us to intercessory prayer, with the confession of sin, for one another so that we will be healed.  This must be as natural a part of our life together as the Body of Christ as is breathing to our human lives.  There is a presupposition here however.  Intercessory praying requires that we be living in the will of God.  Do we really want the will of God to become increasingly our reality?  The power of prayer is not in the prayer itself it is in the God who we are praying to.  James tells us that the prayer of a righteous person is effective to accomplish its purpose.  James is pointing us to the will of God here.  The righteous person is one who is dependent upon the Lord in every way.  We are sinners redeemed through the merciful grace of Christ.  We are not, nor can we ever be righteous in ourselves.  Here is the precious truth here that James shouts at us.  Neither was Elijah, or Paul, or Peter, or any of the other Biblical people righteous in and of themselves.  None of those great historic people whose biographies we devour were righteous in themselves either.  All of them were sinners like us, subject to the same frailties and weaknesses as we are.

Why then was their intercessory praying so much more effective than ours.  I believe that James is telling us that they had learnt the secret of prayer.  It must be a dependant casting of ourselves upon the purpose of God which is being worked out in Christ.  Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes the righteous life of believers in Romans 12:1-2.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

                When you explore the passages in 1 Kings 17 & 18 regarding Elijah and prayer what is seen clearly is that this was a man who through prayerful meditation was seeking to understand and obey the Will of God.  His prayer of intercession then became conformed to the will of God.  This made the difference for him.  If we join our voices to the Intercessory praying of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, both of whom we are told are interceding for us according to the will of God the Father then our praying will have the same power as theirs, not because of us, but because of them.  Charles Hodge puts it this way in a quotation shared by Kurt Richardson.

“It cannot be supposed that God has subjected Himself in the government of the world, or in the dispensation of His gifts, to the short sighted wisdom of men, by promising, without condition, to do whatever they ask.  No rational man could wish that this was the case.  He then asserted that the condition expressed in 1 John 5:14 is everywhere else implied: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”” (Richardson, Kurt A., The New American Commentary on James, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1997, p. 238)

Fellowship With God

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savoir; my God will hear me.”

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 7:7

 

                The Scriptures have a lot to teach us about what it really means to live in fellowship with God.  The authors of Scripture enjoyed a rich relationship with God.  At times it is described as “crying out to God” or it is seen in the way a person will “draw near to God”.  Sometimes we discover this rich fellowship in the expectant hope and joy which characterized a person’s life.  Here in Micah 7 we discover his rich fellowship with God in the personal lament which he pens describing his distress at the broken state of the sinful society in which he lived.

Micah’s personal lament is a prayer in which this Godly gentleman cries out to the living God for relief from his distress over the sin which seems to characterize so much of the society in which he lived.  This is in many ways a true measure of the real state of our hearts.  Are we moved and distressed by those things which move and distress God?  In the Scriptures we find many of these types of Lament.  Could it be that this is what the Scriptures mean when they make reference to people who began to cry out to God?

In the book of Psalms alone we find these personal cries to God for deliverance. Psalms 5, 13, 22, 31, 55, and 71 are all examples of these personal laments.  In each of these the author cries out to God for deliverance.  As the cry is brought before God it contains within it a confession of sin and a deep awareness that help and hope can only ultimately come from God.  It is He and He alone who can redeem us.  It is He who can create within us that new life which is characterized by the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

The reality that we are led into here is that the only acceptable context for dealing with our distress is one of worship.  Each of these personal cries for help is in reality a song of worship or a statement of faith.  Our faith is most clearly seen in the ways we respond to the distresses of our lives.  In Genesis 47:31b we read that “Israel (Jacob) worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.”  This was as he was nearing the end of his life.  It was a time for worship.  This is the case with Micah’s time of distress.  It is a time for worship.

When we look carefully at Micah’s lament we see his worship in the context of the brokenness of the society in which he lived.  Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in family life.  Members of families were turning on one another in his world, just as they do in ours.  This always causes great anguish of heart.  Many solutions will be put forward to heal the family, but only one will work and that is the intervention of God.  What is needed is real prayer, crying out to God for help.  This was what in fact Micah did, expressing his expectation of the day in which God would intervene, and his hope and trust in God’s gracious intervention.  “As for me” is his cry.  This is always the believer’s cry.  Is it your cry?

Stubborn Unbelief

       “Later Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were eating;  He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.”                                                                                                                                                  Mark 16:14

                Several years ago I became engaged in a study of the Gospel of Mark, one of the things that was impressed upon my mind and heart was that this Gospel defined just what it meant to be real disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Mark does this by constantly painting a picture of how the disciples refused to really commit to Him on account of their hardness of heart, fear, or unbelief.  As Mark keeps pulling the curtain back to expose the real disciples with all of their failures he shows us the reality of their, and our, entrenched unbelief.   This unbelief causes them, and us, for we are really no different from the disciples, to consistently shrink back from following Jesus because of stubborn unbelief.  The whole Gospel makes this point clearly, and the final twelve verses in chapter sixteen reinforce it by constantly coming back to the theme.  No matter how many times the disciples hear the testimony of the resurrection they refuse to believe.  Mark presents the account of the resurrection as a test which the disciples initially fail.  How would you have done if you had been in their place?  They had the witness of Jesus, telling them all that was to come.  Would they believe Him?  They also had the testimony of the Scriptures which Jesus has repeatedly told them that He is fulfilling.  Would they believe this testimony?  Then there is the word of Mary Magdalene, and of two unnamed disciples who met Him on a journey.  Still they did not believe.  What stubborn unbelief we discover here.

How do we fare when we encounter all the testimony of our Lord’s resurrection?   We think that we would believe, but the question we must honestly ask ourselves is this, do we?  So often the entrenched unbelief we see in this text is revealed in our lives, because the causes of their failure exist in our lives as well.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a little study of the book of Habakkuk which he entitled From Fear to Faith in which he outlined our problem.  We live our lives in fear.  We fear death, failure, poverty, ridicule, loss of power, and could we say it insignificance.  All of this reveals that the focus of our lives is firmly upon ourselves.  Even as those who claim the name of Christian we find ourselves living self-centredly.   The consequence is that we never really begin to follow Jesus.

Mark points to at least four things that show this self-centredness in our lives.

1)      Fear is the first one.  We fear the consequences of really following Jesus.  If we really committed ourselves to living by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ what would it cost us?  We are not really certain that we can bear that cost so we shrink back from becoming a disciple.  There is more here however because we not only fear the cost we also fear the narrow road that Jesus will lead us on.  If we really follow Jesus where will He take us?  Mark makes it clear that the disciples are to follow the crucified one wherever He goes.

2)      Hardness of heart is second.  The disciples refuse to follow because they don’t really want to.  They are more comfortable holding on to their sin.  They have grown accustomed to it.  So have we.   Sin and all of the broken behaviours it has brought into our lives has become a comfortable old friend.  When Jesus convicts us of it we react almost as if He has attacked a beloved member of our family.  To follow Jesus requires of these disciples, and of us, that we die to our sin.  We must put it to death within us.

3)      The third is unbelief.  The disciples have not come to trust, and listen to, the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ through His word.  They have not come to the point where they see in the Word of God a personal, life transforming word that changes everything about them.  How often do you or I read the Word of God in a way that allows us to hold it at a distance?  We read it but we don’t let it speak to us.

4)      The fourth one points to the missionary calling that is at the heart of what it means for us to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.  At its heart this calling is for us to follow Christ crucified into all those places He is going.  The choice of the place is no longer our own, it is His.  Mark along which Paul uses a term that focuses our attention upon the fact that Jesus goes out into our world as the crucified one.  That is the one who bears the curse of God, but who has triumphed over that curse and the death that attends it.  He is the Lamb who was slain but who is alive.  He meets sinners in their misery, and redeems them because He has born their curse.  He meets us in all our brokenness and redeems us because He has born our curse.  Then He begins to walk away from us, looking over His shoulder He calls out for us to follow Him, and He goes right up to the weary, the broken, the vile, and the needy, and He gives them grace, all the while inviting us to come along with Him into these places of need.  Mark makes it clear that the disciple were not sure they wanted to go there with Him.  That is where real life is found however.

What changed for these disciples was what Luke tells us about the giving of the Spirit of God on the day of Pentecost.  Immediately the disciples began to follow courageously.  They became people of faith at that moment, so too will we be transformed by this gracious promise of God.

A Call To Secret Prayer

In recent weeks we have been reminded that we live in an increasingly dangerous world.  There are all kinds of reasons for us to become nervous.  We have conflict between nations, terrorism, riots, the treat financial instability, moral failures as well as the seemingly routine day to day bad news that inundates us.  We look ahead and think that things must get better someday.  However someday never seems to come.  For some the solution to our troubles seems to be to turn to God in Prayer and so we find ourselves organizing and attending great prayer rallies.  These can be wonderful things, but somehow we find ourselves thinking that something more is needed.  When we hear a call to prayer and find ourselves moved to participate we must make sure that we really do pray.  What is needed is secret and real prayer.  We are called to seek the face of God in genuine repentance.  I believe that it was this that W.C. Burns was writing about in his journal entry regarding the day of solemn fasting on March 1, 1840. (In God’s Polished Arrow: W.C. Burns Revival Preacher, by Dr. Michael McMullen, Christian Focus Publications, 2000)

“We had this day a solemn fast, kept by many I have no doubt very strictly, as far as the duty of abstinence is concerned.  We met at two o’clock P.M. and I spoke upon the exercises appropriate for this day:

1)       Self examination in order to the discovery of sin, of the heart and nature as well as of the tongue and life, by the law and the Spirit of Jehovah.

2)       Humbling the soul before God under sins discovered.

3)       Confession of sin, full and particular, free and filial.

4)       Penitent turning from all sin.

5)       Entering into the covenant of grace by the receiving of Emmanuel and the surrender of the soul to Him and to God through Him.

6)       Special prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon this city, and the other places united with us in this fast, the great end designed in its appointment.  There was great solemnity.”

The beginning of any great movement of prayer must always be found in individuals who genuinely begin to seek God for themselves.  This always requires heartfelt Gospel repentance.  Leonard Griffith once asked an assembly of believers who had gathered to consider some great cause whether “they really meant it”.  When we endeavour to share the love of Christ in a city such as ours, or in a world such as we find ourselves living we must always begin by asking ourselves whether we really mean it.  Are we serious about the love of God?  This means that we must personally examine ourselves to see whether we have received that Gospel love, and then, are we truly living in it.  For this is the starting point.  We must join with others to really pray for God’s blessing in revival.  This is a vital thing.  Before we join with others we must find ourselves on our knees in secret prayer.  This is the way forward.