Loving God Biblcally

“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?  But you have insulted the poor.  Is it not the rich who are exploiting you?  Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of Him to whom you belong?”

                                                                                                                                                                James 2:5-7

When we focus our attention upon the teaching that James gives us regarding the life that we are called to as people of real faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we are confronted with his convicting teaching on the true nature of faith and unbelief.  James centres that teaching upon a word that we find in the second chapter and the fourth verse.  It is a word translated as distinction, or better as doubt.  It describes an inner conflict between trust and distrust of God.  Such an attitude comes to know what God’s will is yet it distrusts Him, so it goes off in its own way.

When Jonathan Edwards wrote his masterful Religious Affections he began with a clear definition of what real faith looked like.  He put it in these terms, “True faith mostly depends upon having the emotions of God, loving the things He loves.”  As Edwards writes this it seems as if he has these verses in James 2 in mind.  Real faith finds itself loving the things that God loves, and hating those things which He hates.  This means that the believer finds themselves increasingly living in agreement with the Scriptures.  This must be especially true in the area of where we put our affections.  It is hard to see how a Christian can fail to love those things that our God loves in Christ.  It is equally hard to understand how we can love those things that God hates.  This is the essence of sin, in which we find ourselves being unbiblical in our affections.

Jay Adams in his The Christian Counsellor’s Commentary on Hebrews, James, 1 &2 Peter, and Jude calls us to Biblical living with the following advice to counsellors.    

                “Then James did one more thing – without which it would be very difficult to allow matters to stand as they are.  He showed the counselee how he may discern his own motives.  When James quotes Leviticus 19:18, he gives the biblical basis for examining motives.  He points out the biblical standard by which they must examine their motives.  He makes it clear that sin is determined, and one is convicted of sin, by the Bible.  It is utterly essential to make all determinations of sin by comparing the act (word, attitude) with the biblical injunction that relates to it.  You must never allow the counselee to turn to extrabiblical lists that others have drawn up and added to the Scriptural Standard.  This is the essence of pharisaical legalism. He must be warned against it.  In addition, you must deflect his thinking from experience, feeling, tradition or anything else other than explicit biblical teaching.”

                James points us back to the teaching of Scripture in order to define the evidence we rely upon for assurance of faith.  A true believer loves sacrificially in the way that the Word of God calls us to do.  We love those things that God loves.  We determine the reality of our salvation by these Biblical means. There is no other way for us to live but in obedience to the Word of God.  Those who claim to love Jesus must live in obedience to His commandments.

Christ Centred Living

“One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, He was being carefully watched.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Luke 14:1

                As I reflect upon the Gospel of Luke it becomes increasingly clear to me that Luke is writing a carefully researched, well organized Gospel with the intention of convincing his readers that the LORD Jesus Christ is in fact the promised Messiah who has come in fulfillment of the Scriptures.  In the centre of his Gospel, running from Luke 9:51 to 19:46, Luke carefully crafts a travel narrative, the longest in the gospels, in which Jesus leads His disciples on the road to Jerusalem and the cross.  Here we are shown just what real discipleship is all about.  We also see clearly that the LORD Jesus Christ is in control of the whole process.  Along the way we are confronted with powerful descriptions of just what a life of Discipleship is all about.  This is shown us not only as it impacts our personal lives as individuals but also how it shapes the life of the local church.

In looking at the first few verses of the fourteenth chapter of Luke we discover just what true Christian discipleship is all about.  As Jesus carries on His ministry, faithfully leading His disciples to the cross at Jerusalem He is invited to a banquet at a prominent Pharisee’s house.  This is to be a testing time for Jesus, as He is being carefully watched.  It is also however a testing time for the Pharisees.  They have been examined by God and found wanting.  Now their wickedness will be exposed.  It will be exposed however in a way that shows us just what the Christian life is all about.

Here we are shown what it is to develop a Christ centred ministry in our world.  The Kingdom of God is advancing in our world as we, empowered by the Holy Spirit are brought to fully follow Jesus from the heart in a life of Christian service.   This is characterized in the following way.

1)      We are to be following Jesus to the cross.  It is a crucified life that we are to be called to.  The Apostle Paul describes this as he writes his joyful letter to the Philippians from prison.

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)

This is the life, under the power of the Holy Spirit that we are called to follow Jesus into.

2)      This life is to be characterized by our compassionate care for one another, and especially for those who are in need.  Jesus heals the man with dropsy, even though it will bring even greater hostility down upon Him.  This needy man would have been considered unclean in his day.  His disease was thought to be a well deserved curse from God.  We Disciples of Christ must be known for the same courageous compassion in our world today.

3)      The Kingdom of God was to be known for its genuine humility.  True disciples always humble themselves.  They rightly understand to reality of their sin and the debt we owe to the mercy of the LORD Jesus Christ.  This humility must spill over into our relationships with one another.

4)      Finally life in the Kingdom of God is always a giving life.  We don’t live for what can be done for us.  We are not self-centred.  We give ourselves in service to others.  Is this the reality of the life you are living?

The Heart of the Message

“Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who makes the storm clouds.  He gives showers of rain to men, and plants of the field to everyone.  The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain.  Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.  My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord Almighty will care for His flock, the house of Judah, and make them like a proud horse in battle.  From Judah will come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 10:1-4

                In these four brief verses we encounter a wonderful call to biblical praying, a judgment upon all praying to idols, and then one of the most powerful of promises of the coming Messiah, His nature, and His ministry to the people of God.  The central message of these verses is the personal presence of the Lord in the lives that we are living.  He Himself will intervene and care for His people.  He will come to them as the fulfillment of a whole host of biblical prophesies.  What His people must do is turn to Him and seek a real communion with their Lord.

In Zechariah 7:5-6 the prophet confronts His people with this penetrating question.  “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for Me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?’”  Zechariah calls us to take a careful look at our motivations for our praying, fasting, and mourning.  Are we looking to get something from God or do we want to know the Lord Himself?  Think about it this way.  When we pray for revival are we praying that we will experience all of the events which surround a revival, including the increases in numbers within the Christian Church?  Do we want the phenomena or do we want to know the Lord?  Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 6:33 that we are to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  It is a matter of our priority.  God calls us to a type of repentance in which our priority is to know and love Him supremely.  Everything else, no matter how necessary, must be secondary to this great purpose of our lives.

It is this that is at the heart of Zechariah’s prophetic message in 10:1-4.  Our calling is to pray biblically, seeking help from God within the context of His covenant promise to us which is centred upon His person.  This is why He tells His people that He is going to come personally to be the Good Shepherd who will care for their needs.  For too long they, and we, have wandered around as sheep without a shepherd, being lost, and latching on to any new fad which promises to make sense of our sin ravaged lives.  We turn to lotteries, and fortune tellers, self help guides, and all kinds of other helps looking for a way out of our lostness.  It all leads us more deeply into hopelessness.  Even more dangerously at times it might seem to meet our needs, only to bring us more powerfully under the judgment of God.

There really is only one way out and that is through the personal knowledge of God.  He will come, Zechariah shouts, in order to redeem us.  We are called to seek Him with all of our hearts.  Is it your desire to know the Lord personally and deeply?

Praying Together For Boldness

“On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.  “Sovereign LORD,” they said, “you made the heaven and earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:  ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The Kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against His anointed one’  Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, who you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, LORD, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the Name of your holy servant Jesus.”  After they had prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 4:23-31

                This is a wonderful passage of Scripture in which we are instructed in the reasons and the methods of godly praying.  Luke brings us to this passage with a lengthy description of a notable miracle, the healing of a man crippled from birth, and the controversy which arose out of it.  It is interesting that here we see that the Church is given a wonderful opportunity to proclaim the Gospel out of the crisis that arose out of the healing of the crippled man.  How often do our open doors for the proclamation of the Gospel come out of a crisis?

There is an opportunity here for the Gospel.  There is also great danger for believers.  They are threatened with harm if they persist in preaching and teaching in the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ.  What are they to do?  What would you or I do in their shoes?  It is here that Luke gives us some wonderful insight into the prayer life of the New Testament Church.  This insight helps us to discern our way forward as we seek to proclaim the Gospel to our generation.

1)      They prayed together in response to the crisis they were facing.  Luke tells us that they “lifted their voices together in prayer to God.”   They did not each come to this prayer meeting to present to God the differing insights that each of them had.  They came to god in agreement in prayer.  It seems as if they began their time together with meditation upon the teaching of Scripture.  They meditated upon God’s Word and obediently allowed it to direct their way forward.

2)      The Scripture that the LORD brought them to was Psalm two which had been understood as Messianic for at least the century before the coming of Jesus Christ.  The New Testament writers in fact go out of their way to apply this particular Psalm to the LORD Jesus Christ.  This Psalm describes clearly the situation in which the Church found itself in and also pointed the way forward for them.

3)      To arrive at unity in our praying together it is vital that we begin with a meditation together upon the Word of God.  Our goal is not to convince others of our particular interpretation of Scripture, but to let God mould us into a fellowship that obediently follows the leading of the Spirit of God.  We are to be reformed by the Word of God.  This is what we see the New Testament Church doing here in Acts 4.

4)      They then prayed asking God to enable them to boldly obey His calling upon them.  Recently I have been reading about the powerful way in which the LORD has been revealing Himself to people in various parts of our world.  Those who have been writing about these powerful movements of God’s Spirit consistently are asking one key question.  What is the Churches responsibility in response to what God is doing?  The answer that they have been coming up with is exactly what we see happening here in Acts 4:23-31.  We are to be a fellowship which is praying in unity for the boldness to testify to the grace that God is pouring out upon this world.  This is always the consequence of meditation together upon what the Spirit of God is revealing to us through God’s Word.

One Day

                “One day Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon.  Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the Temple gate called beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going up to the Temple courts.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him, as did John.  Then peter said, “Look at us!”  So the man gave him his attention, expecting to get something from them.  Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.  In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk.  Then he went with them into the Temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 3:1-8

                What a wonderful passage of Scripture.  Luke has been presenting the account of the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost.  After describing the powerful scene of the events of that day and Peter’s first Christian sermon followed by the conversion of three thousand people, Luke then gives us, in chapter 2:42-47 a description of the routine life of the Church.  He describes how the LORD was working powerfully among His people bring people daily to salvation.  Part of his description focuses upon certain sigh miracles which the Apostles where used to accomplish.  These were miracles which demonstrated that the LORD Jesus Christ was in fact God’s promised Messiah come to redeem for Himself a people.  The miracle was meant to bring people to faith in Christ.  Usually such a miracle pointed to Biblical teaching which was meant to be believed and obeyed.

Luke begins chapter three with a clear connection to this teaching at the end of chapter two.  “One Day,” is the way this chapter begins.  Luke is telling us that this will be an illustration of the type of things that the LORD was doing.  In looking at this miracle we are immediately confronted by several facts about the New Testament Church.

1)      This Church was committed to prayer.  It was the time for prayer at the Temple and Peter and John were on their way up to the House of God to pray with others.  They had come to understand that there was nothing more important than communion with God in Christ.  They knew that God answered prayer in the Name of Jesus and so they availed themselves of every opportunity to pray.  What place does prayer have in your life or Church?

2)      The sign miracle glorified the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ.  This was its purpose.  The LORD dealt with the crippled man’s real need.  He was begging for money.  What he needed was healing.  It was this that the LORD gave to him through the ministry of the Apostles.  The whole event pointed beyond just a restoration to health however because the man’s response I the praise God and to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  Luke makes this clear in the third chapter.  What we are called to be and to do as Christians must always point to that one who can meet the deepest needs of our lives.  We are called to live out a faith that is centred upon the LORD Jesus Christ as the Messiah who delivers us from all that separates us from communion with God.

3)      The text breathes with faith.  Peter and John are revealed as men who have faith in the power of the LORD Jesus Christ to answer prayer and fulfill His promises.  So too is the crippled man revealed to be a man who comes to faith in Christ.  Are you finding that you are increasingly being called to a life of faith?  For this is a key point in God’s plan for our discipleship.

Paul’s Spiritual Secret

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

                                                                                                                                                Philippians 4:13

At the close of his short letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul makes an astounding claim that comes straight out of his experience of the sanctifying work of the Lord in his life.  All through the letter Paul has been rejoicing in the triumphant way the Lord has been leading him, using every circumstance to advance the cause of the Gospel and to reveal the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ in his life.  He has taken us into the reality that he now puts no confidence in his flesh.  Neither should we trust in our flesh because it stands in the way of our receiving and growing into the righteousness of Christ.  Along the way Paul illustrates the way God has solved a huge problem in Paul’s life.  He has brought Paul to the point where he has learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance.  He has been brought to this point because God has infused into him the strength which comes from the Spirit of God.  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” 

As I wrestle with what Paul writes in Philippians 4 I am brought to the point where I must ask how I can experience the growth that Paul describes here.  He is pointing to the wonderful reality of a life that is lived in trust of the Lord’s provision for him.  He is content because he has that one thing that is really needed in life, which is a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He has come to recognise that the Lord Jesus is completely sufficient for everything.  Therefore he can rest content because he is living in the will of God.

For most of us, and I am presuming for Paul as well it is not an easy process to come to such faith.  Our flesh rebels against the will of God.  We have our own self-centred, fleshly ambitions and desires which are in conflict with the work of the Holy Spirit within us.  What Paul is describing in Philippians four is the culmination of a long process of crucifying the flesh.  Such a process can be painful.  Our flesh dies hard.  It is absolutely crucial that we do indeed die to ourselves so that we can live to Christ.  How then does this take place in us?

It is with this question that I found myself wrestling recently as I was reading a little book entitled Rejoice…..Always by John Gwyn-Thomas (Banner of Truth, 1989).  In this short devotional study of the fourth chapter of Philippians Gwyn-Thomas reflects on the means by which we move into the reality of the contented life Paul describes in these verses.

“I also believe that we fail so often because we do not wrestle with God over our reactions to His will and purpose for us.  We must realize that in the school of faith God is always calling on us to grow – to apply our faith afresh.  It is not enough to say, ‘I am saved, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’, and then grumble like the unregenerate.  That is not the Christian life as we see it in the Bible.  We have got to recognize that there are times in our lives when there is a fundamental clash between what I believe God ought to give me and what God actually does give me, and the two things may be very different.  There has to be a reconciliation, a real bending and breaking of my own will to accept the will of God; there has to be a conflict and the first thing we have to do is recognize that there is a conflict between our wills and the will of God.  Then we must go back to God about this conflict and say to Him, as Job said to Him, ‘I do not understand You.’  What is more, we have to deal with God concerning this conflict.  We must seek for a change of heart, we must seek strength from the Word of God and we must pray about it.  Unless we are seriously concerned about the conflict between our will and God’s will for us, I do not believe that we will ever enter into that peace that Paul knew when he said, ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens [or empowers] me.’” (Pages 111-112)

                All we can say to such wisdom is Amen!

On Account Of Who He Is

“‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.  See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua!  There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription upon it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.  In that day each of you will invite his neighbour to sit under his vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 3:8-10

                In taking a closer look at the third chapter of the Old Testament book of the Prophet Zechariah further treasure is revealed to us.  This chapter, which is right in the middle of the series of night visions that were given to Zechariah, gives us the central, redemptive message of redemption which was revealed to this post-exilic prophet.  Through His Messiah, who is pointed to by the High Priest, God is going to remove the sin of His people in one day.  Looking ahead we know that this prophetic word was fulfilled in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  At Calvary, in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ, God dealt with, and removed all of our sin.  Romans 5:8 the Apostle Paul tells us that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  What great love God has given to us.  We are simply called to receive it.  It has been given to us in Christ simply based upon the unconditional love of God.

God’s great act of love given to us in Christ is astounding in its impact upon our lives.  It meets us in our brokenness, while we are rejecting Him, and offers us reconciliation, even though we do not deserve it.  No wonder the Lord immediately begins to speak through Zechariah about the celebration which breaks out when such sacrificial love is given and received.  The picture points back to the celebration that took place at the end of the Day of Atonement, when all of the events of the day were winding down people would invite others to join in a great celebration which broke out in response to God’s grace.

Perhaps the best picture of this celebration that we have is the reception we join in after a wedding ceremony.  A marriage Biblically is a picture of the relation between Christ and the Church.  Biblical marriage is an unconditional covenant relationship designed to point us to the love and commitment between Christ and His bride, the Church.  We, the church, are recipients of His love, not because of our worthiness, but simply because of His character as a gracious God.  He loves us based upon who He is.  This is powerfully illustrated for us in a story relayed by the New Tribes Mission on their Facebook page.

“The verbs for a particular African language consistently end in one of three vowels,” Dennis Farthing writes from the NTM Missionary Training Center. He shares a translation story that a missionary recently shared with him.

“Almost every verb ends in i, a, and u. But the word for ‘love’ was only found with i and a. Why no u?” this missionary wondered.

Dennis says the Bible translation team included the most influential leaders in the local community.

In an effort to truly understand the concept of “love” in this African language, the missionary began to question them.

“Could you dvi your wife?”

“Yes,” they answered, “that would mean that the wife had been loved, but the love was gone.”

“Could you dva your wife?”

“Yes,” they responded, “that kind of love depends on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.”

“Could you dvu your wife?”

Everyone in the room laughed.

“Of course not!” they replied. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water and never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would have to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say dvu. It just doesn’t exist.”

The missionary sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God dvu people?”

Dennis writes that there was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of the elderly men of the tribe.

Finally they responded, “Do you know what this would mean? This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, while all that time we rejected His great love. He would be compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

The missionary noted that changing one simple vowel changed the meaning from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you, based on who I am. I love you because of me and not because of you.”

“God encoded the story of His unconditional love right into this African language. For centuries, the little word was there—unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable.”

            Such is the astounding nature of the love that God has given us in Christ.  No wonder we celebrate.

A Book Of Prayer

A BOOK OF PRAYER

                “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in You I take refuge.  I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 57:1

                “Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1945, suggested in a seminal work called Psalms: The Prayer book of the Bible that the way to read the Psalter is by understanding that these Psalms are not, in the first place, our Psalms.  They are first and foremost the Psalms of David, and then the Psalms of Jesus.  While Bonhoeffer’s exegetical ( and theological) work in his tiny volume is minimal, his suggestion offers a fruitful biblical-theological way of resolving this most basic problem of how to read the Psalms, which has dogged the study of the Psalms for at least two hundred years.  It is obvious that whatever the nature of the connection between David and the Psalms, King David casts a long shadow over the collection.  The fact that thirty-seven out of the first forty –one Psalms are marked ‘Of David’ makes that clear.”  (Gary Miller, Calling On the Name of the Lord (New Studies in Biblical Theology)

                With a focus upon the nature of the Book of Psalms as a book of prayer for God’s people, centred upon David as the type of the Messiah Bonhoeffer draws us into a reflection on the promise of God to redeem us Himself through the atoning sacrifice of His Son.  Such a central point must be approached with true Biblical humility.  As I approach it in this way I find myself becoming open to learning some exceedingly precious truths.  These are truths about God’s purposes in this world, about the advent of His Son, about my exceeding sinfulness, about God’s great love for us, and about the tremendous promises He has made to us.

In the discovery of these tremendous facts we are brought to see clearly the real nature of prayer.  Prayer is not just the bringing of my wish list to God for Him to take care of for me.  It is calling on God to meet the need which is at the heart of real life.  Jesus says, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, and all these needs will be taken care of as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

                The question is, have I truly understood and committed myself to the purposes of God in this world?  Am I only paying lip service to these things?  This is absolutely crucial for me.  These questions are at the heart of what it means to be a person who really prays.

I believe that this is something which the whole Bible and the Book of Psalms in particular, are meaning to teach me.  This is the crucial study which we are called to engage in.  Psalm 57:1 speaks about taking refuge in the Lord until the disaster is past.  Living in this world with its violent history will cause us to focus upon our current disaster.  How are we to respond?

The Psalmist cries out in just such a time as this that we are to take refuge in the Lord and in Him alone.  Submission to Him and to His covenant purpose is at the heart of all true praying. We must come to Him in the way He has provided.  This is through the cross of Christ.  This is the place where we find all of God’s promises to us fulfilled.  The place of atonement is the only ground on which prayer is heard and answered.

Prayer and the Kingdom of God

“When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God and to them were given seven trumpets.  Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.  The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.  Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”

                                                                                                                                                                Revelation 8:1-5

                As the visions in the book of Revelation unfold we are introduced to a profound mystery.  What John “sees” repeatedly calls him to prayer.  What the Sovereign God does seems to come about in response to the prayers of the saints.  In fact it seems as if nothing happens without the praying of God’s people.   George Beasley Murray writes in his commentary entitled The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Mich., Eerdmans, 1981, page 151).

“The significance of this picture can hardly be overestimated.  No one was more aware than John of the limitations to what individual men and women can do to change the course of history and to bring in the kingdom of heaven, particularly in the face of the cosmic forces against them and the transcendent character of the kingdom itself (none of us can raise the dead).  But we can pray to Him who has almighty power, and it would seem that God has willed that the prayer of His people should be part of the process by which the kingdom comes.  The interaction between the sovereignty of God and the prayers of the saints is part of the ultimate mystery of existence.  Faith is called on to take both seriously.”

                We face the mystery of life as weak and broken people.  We are sinners, desperately needing redemption in Christ.  This weakness, when acknowledged, opens us up to become recipients of the power of God which was at work in the cross and resurrection of Christ.  This power is not our own, it is God’s power at work in us through Christ crucified.  It must be asked for in faith.  Beasley Murray calls us to recognise our weakness, and then to come to God in humble prayer asking for God’s power to be at work in us.

Jacques Ellul puts it even more strongly in his Prayer and the Modern Man (New York: Seabury Press, 1970, page 167).

“The Christian who prays acts more effectively and more decisively on society than the person who is politically involved, with all of the sincerity of faith put into the involvement.  It is not a matter of seeing them in opposition to one another, but of inverting our instinctive, cultural hierarchy of values.”

                Each of these scholars are in their own way calling the Church to sincere, committed, prayer as the means by which society will be transformed.  Our belief must be that prayer is one of our primary tools that we use in the advancement of God’s kingdom.  It not something that we tack on to the end of our meetings, and our days, after all the important work is done.  It is our calling.  The Apostles in Acts 6:4 declare that they will give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.  The mystery contained in the whole of Scripture is that God has willed this.  How often, in His Word, do we see God acting in response to His people crying out to Him?

If we want to see our friends and neighbours come to Christ, our Church growing deep in the Word of God, our cities, nations, and world transformed by God’s grace then we must pray.  We must ask for God to create in us a desire for prayer.  We must also ask that He teach us how to really pray.  We have much to learn here.  James confronts us on our prayerlessness when he writes, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasure.” (James 4:2b-3)  Here there is a call to prayer as well as a promise of sanctification that will take place as we pray.

John introduces us to the mystery.  God’s kingdom unfolds on the knees of His people.  Make no mistake, He is firmly, and sovereignly in control of all things.  He has willed that we prayerfully advance His work.  I know that for me this is a call that must be seriously embraced.  How about for you?

I Am He

“Even to your old age and grey hairs I Am He, I Am He who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will carry you.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 46:4

                What a wonderful text of Scripture containing one of the most precious of promises for every human being.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached upon this text in a sermon preserved in the second volume of Spurgeon’s Sermons (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 2011, p. 361-379).  The sermon entitled “The God of the Aged” develops the theme of this text in Isaiah 46 by looking at the text’s doctrine and application to believers who are advancing in age.  To me this is becoming a doctrine which grows sweeter with age.  It has now been 41 years since I first gave my life to Christ.  In the beginning years of my walk with Christ my faith was strong but untested.  Now it has been tempered in the testing fires of life and has as a result become more precious.  As Spurgeon focus our attention on the doctrine in this text his desire is for us to focus upon God’s faithfulness to His covenant promise to us in love.  He is unchanging and therefore remains faithful in the carrying out of His unchanging purpose to redeem us through the cross of Christ.  There is more here however.  When we take a careful look at this text some other doctrines leap out at us.

1)      As Spurgeon stated our God is unchangingly faithful to His promise to love us sacrificially.  For Him to become unfaithful would be to deny His very nature.  Isaiah cries out “I Am He!”  God’s Name, His very nature tells us that He will be faithful because He is the eternal, covenant keeping God.  He will not become ill, or weary, or uninterested in the promise He has made to us.  This is true over the whole span of our lives.  It is also true over all of the years since the LORD Jesus Christ was crucified.  In fact it is true over all of the years of recorded history.

2)      The doctrine of humanity is found here as well.  We are described as those in old age with grey hair.  There was a time when we were youths.  All of the future was before us.  We revelled in our strength and energy, feeling that nothing was impossible for us.  The years have passed and the toxic consequences of sin have borne their fruit in our lives.  With each passing day we find ourselves feeling that our best days are behind us.  Here is a wonderful learning opportunity for us however.  The LORD is preparing us for eternity.  We may be weakening but we are also discovering that He is unchanged.  As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)  He is trustworthy to continue to lead us in the same way He did when He first called us to faith.

3)      This is a promise of great scope and comfort for all who put their trust in Christ.  For the youth just beginning to follow Jesus it is a promise that the ending of their lives they will find that He is still faithfully with them.  For the middle aged who are just beginning to see the weakening of their physical bodies it is a promise that He who called you is still faithfully working out that same calling today.  For the aged who feel that they can no longer serve the LORD with the vitality they once had it is a promise that His grace is still sufficient for their every need.  It has always been about grace.  It has never been about our own personal strength.

4)      For each of us, no matter what our age it is another promise as well.  This is that He is mighty to save us today.  Many have reflected upon the necessity of evangelising the young.  It is then that they can most easily be brought to Christ we think.  The reality is that the work of evangelism is an impossible work at any age if we are depending upon our flesh to accomplish it.  It is not our work, it is the LORD’s.  Nothing is impossible for Him.  He can save the youth and how we rejoice when a youth comes to put their faith in Christ.  He can also save the elderly.  It brings even greater joy to us when an aged man or woman comes to faith in Christ.  About twenty years ago an eighty eight year old man surprised his young Pastor with a simple question.  “Can you baptize an old man?”  It seems that after a lifetime of living as an unbeliever this man had come to understand the Gospel and had given his life to Christ.  He then said to his Pastor “I have been living for myself all these years.  Now I want to live the rest of my life for Him.  I must bear witness to my faith in Christ because I have children and grandchildren who must come to know that it is necessary at any age for a person to begin to follow Christ.”  About a year later an eighty year old woman with a heart condition moved into a home near our Church, she began to attend services and gave her life to Christ.  One Sunday she showed up at the Church Service with a doctor’s note stating that her health was sufficiently good for her to be baptized by total immersion.  She had done her homework so that she could bear testimony to her new found faith before family and friends.  As each of these senior saints was baptized there was not a dry eye in the Church such was our joy in what the LORD had done.  The lesson that we learned on those days was that our faithful God has the power to save anyone at any age who comes to the LORD Jesus Christ in faith.