Jesus’ parables are mysterious, ambiguous, surprising, and sometimes they raise more questions than answers.
We know from Mark’s gospel that Jesus spoke in parables all the time to the gathered crowd but then explained everything to his inner circle of disciples (Mark 4:33-34).
Once again, in Mark 4:23-25, Jesus implores the people listening to Him to listen well, to press in and to enquire about what He is teaching them.
Jesus is encouraging intentionality, persistence & eagerness in His hearers encouraging them, that the revelation and understanding they will receive is directly proportional to the degree to which they enquire.
If they listen much, listen well, they will receive much, perceive well! Listening intently and persistently is like an investment that guarantees a return in equal proportion to the amount invested.
So many of us live in a world of ease. Our food comes from the supermarket; it is generally not the result of careful preparing of soil, sowing, watering, weeding, harvesting, but rather a simple transaction involving money.
But for a subsistence farmer, Jesus’ words ring true. There is a straightforward relationship between the degree or measure of effort and intentionality invested by the farmer and the result, the joy and fulfilment and nourishment enjoyed as a result.
This is what Jesus is urging those who are around Him listening. God’s kingdom is like this. As a pastor, I meet people who sometimes lament that they don’t know their Bibles as much as Mr X or Mrs Y. They wish for a deeper love for God, a more robust faith, a life-giving prayer life or heart of worship. But so often they are looking for a ‘spiritual supermarket’ where they can transact for it, go and get it.
But Jesus tells us here that His kingdom, growing in revelation, growing in love for God and relationship with God is not a transaction, there is no ‘spiritual supermarket’ but rather the measure you press into God will be the measure you grow in God.
This is not an earth-shattering revelation, it isn’t complicated, but it is profoundly true.
Those who pay close attention to God’s teachings, to His Word (the Bible), those who invest the time to listen to His voice in daily life – they will receive much from God in terms insight and wisdom into the things of God. That is the person who will grow in God and have a life-giving relationship with God, who will know the joy of faith that is robust and prayer that is vital and powerful.
Brothers and sisters, the measure with which we press into Him is the measure by which we will receive from Him.
This is such an encouragement to keep reading our bibles, to keep going to our Father in prayer, to keep meeting for church on Sunday’s and in small groups, to sit under God’s Word together…
I have found this to be true in my life – the more I diligently seek God, seek to know His ways and His will, the more I come alive spiritually. And as a pastor for many years, I have also found this to be true in others over and over again.
Who wouldn’t want a vibrant spiritual life full of spiritual fruit and abundance, joy, peace, hope and fruitfulness?
Everyone wants that surely. Jesus is telling us, press in, keep investing in your relationship with me, the rewards will never disappoint you.
In closing, the incredible encouragement is that Jesus explained everything to His disciples, His inner circle. Many left after these teachings bemused, but His disciples had personal extra-lessons with fuller explanations and Q&A! Brother or sister, if you have believed in Jesus you have Jesus with you always by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit – you are in the inner-circle as it were, you are part of the group Jesus will explain everything to! So be encouraged and keep pressing into Jesus by devoting yourself to His Word and to prayer and fellowship with the saints. Amen.
1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
This Psalm starts with a request that is so relevant to our lives today. God, would you please protect or preserve me! Do this God please because I take refuge in You alone because I have made You my security!
The request reveals some underlying beliefs;
- David believes that God is able to preserve him
- David believes that God knows him personally
- David believes that God is a refuge worthy of trust
- David believes that God rewards & responds to personal faith
What we pray reveals what we believe. Prayer is not some cosmic game of darts or insurance scheme. Prayer is personal; prayer is powerful because God is personal, and God is omnipotent.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
The HCSB translation translates vs2 in the following way; “I said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord; I have nothing good besides You.” David uses Israel’s name for God and appeals to the personal, covenantal relationship God has established as the foundation for his appeal in prayer. He says essentially, ‘Yahweh; You are my LORD! And all the good in my life I attribute to You!’
Yahweh is the source of every good thing in our lives because He is good and because He established a gracious, loving covenant with us who believe in Him.
David declares that there is, in fact, NOTHING GOOD that is in his life that did not come from God. Or said another way, there is no good outside of God.
This declaration takes us back to the original sin. Adam and Eve believed the enemy when He tempted them with the insidious thought that God was not good – tempting them into thinking that there was something good, something better for their lives in disobedience rather than in obedience to God’s spoken word.
Brothers and sisters, there is never any good outside of our God. Sin promised good to Adam and Eve outside of God; sin always promises some good, some fulfilment but Scripture declares here that there is no good outside of God.
Is there any way in which at the moment the enemy is tempting me with something which might feel or look ‘good’ but is, in fact, just you looking for good outside of God and God’s will? See it for what it is, a lie and a trap. Declare today with David that there is no good outside of God and His will for your life.
4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.
Since there is no good outside of God, for anyone to ‘run after’ anything other than Yahweh is futile.
No other ‘gods’ or people or created things can deliver as they promise, can satiate our longings or be the sanctuary and refuge we need.
But note that sin isn’t just the absence of God. No sin is active; sin multiplies sorrow, and sadness! Sin results in multiplied sorrow since the good God had for you is forfeited plus, the path you chose outside of God and His revealed will for your life has no good in it anyway either (vs2). So to choose a lifestyle of sin and compromise only multiplies your sorrow and loss!
As a pastor for nearly 20yrs, I have seen the truth of this verse over and over and over again. Sin multiplies sorrow, don’t believe for a minute that you’ll be the exception.
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
The better way to live is to resolve that God is our portion – He is enough for us. God ‘You hold my future’ the HCSB translation says.
In His sovereignty and His love, God has determined the details of our lives, where we live, the arrangements of our lives (work, family, job, timing…) and contentment with that which God has ordained is good for us!
This Psalm doesn’t bluntly declare that all circumstances we encounter and endure are good or pleasant. Rather it expresses faith (‘inheritance’ is in the future), for when good can’t be seen or isn’t being experienced, God is all we need. More than that, trust is expressed here that God has our good in mind somehow in whatever we are facing in the present.
7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
David knows what it’s like to need counsel in the night, to awake disturbed by worry but then to have God draw alongside us and settle us in our innermost being with His presence. Because God is our God, our everpresent Help in trouble, because God is always at our right hand, we can go back to sleep knowing; “I will not be shaken”!
Our fortitude is not in some stoic stand but founded on the firm foundation that God is with us always.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Exultation! Everything inside of us rejoices, peace comes upon us, because we know God is with us. We will never be abandoned even if we die. For even when we do die, God will resurrect us who have believed in Jesus to new and eternal life in God’s presence forever and ever – joy indescribable.
Thank God that because you have believed in Jesus your eternal future is secure, that even in death you can be secure because you know that death is not a termination but a transition to eternal life with God forever and ever!
Sometimes we feel trapped in situations and powerless to change them like David felt when writing this Psalm (vs 7). In moments like this, it’s hard to know what our next step should be. It can be overwhelming. Perhaps you remember being in a situation like that or you might find yourself feeling like that today.
I cry out to the Lord;
I plead for the Lord’s mercy.
2 I pour out my complaints before him
and tell him all my troubles.
3 When I am overwhelmed,
you alone know the way I should turn.
Like David, telling Jesus how you’re feeling is a step in the right direction. He already knows what’s in your heart and the struggles you’re experiencing, but when we pour out our hearts to him, we are inviting him to walk with us and do it together rather than alone. It’s crucial that we acknowledge him and the fact that he knows what the way forward is. By acknowledging God we are showing him that we trust him. We are also helping ourselves by speaking truth to our troubled hearts.
5 Then I pray to you, O Lord.
I say, “You are my place of refuge.
You are all I really want in life.
Putting Christ at the centre of our lives is the best decision we could make. It’s about coming to a place where we genuinely want his input above any other in our lives. He should be the only thing that we put our hope in and the biggest desire in our life. He is the best thing for us and should be the longing of our hearts.
6 Hear my cry,
for I am very low.
Rescue me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me.
Once we’ve acknowledged him and invited him into our place of need and trouble, we can confidently ask him to help us and rescue us from this place where we feel stuck. He wants us to ask him. He is our Father, and he loves us with unfailing love. He also happens to be the Lord of Heaven’s armies and is powerful and able!
7 Bring me out of prison
so I can thank you.
The godly will crowd around me,
for you are good to me.”
In this Psalm, David asks God to free him from this trapped and powerless place, so that he can thank him. Let’s not forget to thank our Father when he does show us a way forward and lead us out of difficult situations. When we focus on being thankful for what he has done for us, it helps us to see life in a different light.
Lamenting before him and sharing what’s in our hearts is an important thing to do; however, we can become stuck in this mode if we don’t focus our eyes on Jesus and allow him to help us out of that place. If we are intentional about thanking him, our hearts become more focused on the wonders and goodness of knowing Jesus in our lives.
So let’s turn to him, acknowledge him, ask him and be thankful for all the goodness he brings into our lives.
[All references are from the NLT translation]
What are you devoted to in your life? What things are you committed and dedicated to with your time? Is it prayer?
Perhaps your life is devoted to your job; you want to be successful and do your job well. Maybe it’s your family, or your goal is to excel at a specific sport. Though none of these things is wrong, be careful of being more devoted to them than the things that will draw you closer to Jesus.
I think many people pray in times of crisis and need, even those who don’t follow Jesus. That, however, is not being devoted to prayer. Being devoted to something is committing time and energy into it; giving it a place of prominence in your life.
Prayer isn’t always easy, sometimes it can feel like hard work, but remember who you get to speak to when you pray. Because of Jesus, we get to enter the throne room of the King of kings and talk to him, who made the universe. The most amazing part is that he loves you and cares for you and wants to hear what’s in your heart. Ponder that for a moment. It is a privilege.
Along with devoting ourselves to prayer, Paul encourages the Colossians to do so with an alert mind and a thankful heart. When I was thinking about this, I realized he is saying that because we have the tendency to become dull and unaware of influences around us and we are naturally selfish.
Reading your Bible and speaking to Jesus, letting him know what’s in your heart, will make you alert and thankful because you’ll be allowing the Holy Spirit to work in your heart. It’s also important to be alert to what’s happening in the world around you and your community so that you aren’t just aware of your own life and needs. So, read the news, and you’ll have many things to pray for, that aren’t self-centred. Paul was wise in saying we should have grateful hearts when we pray because prayer is way more than coming to God with a list of requests, or even demands.
Prayer is about recognizing who He is and being in awe of that; which will produce joy and hope in our hearts. It’s about asking him for what we need and trusting that he knows what’s best for us. It’s about yielding to him and believing that he has a plan for our lives which goes beyond our understanding.
I have found that reading the Psalms has helped me in prayer. It has helped me with what words to use to praise God. God wants to hear everything that’s in your heart; the good the bad and the ugly. He isn’t shocked by your prayers of anger; he knew you were thinking like that before you spoke the words. Be open with him and ask him to change and transform you as you yield yourself to his will.
So, are you devoting yourself to prayer? If you know the answer is no, then take decisive action. Join the church prayer meetings, set time aside to speak to Jesus and get into a habit of talking to him throughout the day. He welcomes you with a big smile and arms wide open.
Paul is urging the Colossians to continue following Jesus. Here is how he suggests they do that. He uses the analogy of plants with roots and buildings on a firm foundation.
Both of those things take time to develop. I recently discovered that I could use the bottom of the celery I buy at the shops to grow another plant. I cut off the leaves and the stalks and then put the end piece in a little water. Over time it grew new leaves out the top and roots out the bottom. I have just planted it in the soil, and now I wait to be able to use it in my kitchen. The point of my story is that it has taken quite some time. The leaves didn’t grow immediately, and the roots took even longer to appear. I have no doubt it will be a few weeks before I can cut off some celery to use in cooking.
Similarly, building something takes time as well. Anybody who has been involved in any building project of any kind knows this to be true. If the process is rushed, essential details will be ignored, and the result will be a building that doesn’t last or one that presents problems over time, like leaking or cracking and unsightly parts to it.
I think Paul chose these analogies on purpose because following Jesus, allowing your roots to grow deep into him and building your life on him takes time. It takes time to read your Bible. There is so much to read and understand, yet as we daily read little bits, the Holy Spirit gently reveals more of himself to us and builds our knowledge and wisdom. It takes time to speak to him. Prayer isn’t always easy, but as we persevere, he rewards us with a sense of his presence and even in his grace answers our prayers.
We are all building our lives daily. The question is on what are we building? Are we trying to gain our sense of security from money, relationships or possessions? God is our rock, our refuge and fortress. He is the only secure thing that will not send our lives crashing down in a heap of rubble if we build on him.
We all have roots reaching out to gain nourishment for our souls. Are you reaching out to Jesus or are you reaching out to the things of this world that will never satisfy the longings of your heart, as Jesus will?
As you are faithful in reading your Bible and pouring out your heart to him, you will grow closer to Jesus, your faith in him will grow, and you will recognize a thankful heart in yourself. It can be disheartening when day after day it feels like you’re plodding through reading your Bible and trying to grow in prayer, but remember how slowly a building is completed and how many days a plant takes to grow to maturity.
One day, after many months of being faithful in following Jesus, you will look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come. So keep going!
To the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote; “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
Later in the same letter, he writes again urging them; “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)
And to the Ephesian believers, Paul wrote that having been filled with the Holy Spirit they were to be those who were; “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20)
Expressing thanks to God is a theme woven throughout the New Testament letters. Whether the writer is thanking God for salvation, encouraging believers in prayer or urging them to stand steadfast under trials – gratitude is the consistent thread and exhortation. These verses bring three things into focus for us believers;
1. Believers in Christ Jesus are to have a thankful predisposition, ‘be thankful’ (Colossians 3:15)
Christ-Followers are called to be characterised by thankfulness. Think about that for a moment, is thankfulness your predisposition, your default setting?
Or if you’re honest, do you find living in a state of thanksgiving a continual struggle?
The challenge in this verse is that the imperative is not conditional on something else being present. The context makes being thankful one of the things Christ-Followers are to ‘put-on’ since we are God’s chosen & beloved children (see vs12).
2. Believers in Christ Jesus are to pray prayers filled with thanksgiving continuously (Colossians 4:2)
If you did a quick ‘prayer-audit’ what would characterise your prayers the most? Are your prayers filled continuously with thanksgiving? Or might they be more characterised by complaints & requests for felt needs to be met or circumstances to change? Biblical prayer is filled with thanksgiving; it’s the way into God’s presence, always being grateful for Jesus and our salvation through our faith in Him. Psalm 100 as a helpful reminder as to how we ought to come to God in prayer.
3. Believers in Christ Jesus are to give thanks always and to give thanks for everything (Ephesians 5:20)
We find it relatively easy to thank God (if we remember to give thanks at all) when something has turned out well, or God has answered something we asked God for. But this passage challenges Christ-Followers to reach another level of thanksgiving entirely. The appeal is to give thanks ‘always’ and ‘for everything’! Those two words make this verse a challenging one.
The context of the passage gives us the key to understanding this verse. The context here is what the life of a Holy Spirit-filled believer will look like. John Stott says the following about Ephesians 5:20;
“The grumbling spirit is not compatible with the Holy Spirit. Grumbling was one of the besetting sins of the people of Israel; they were always ‘murmuring’ against the Lord and against Moses. But the Spirit-filled believer is full not of complaining, but of thanksgiving.” – John Stott
In the coming days of a state of lockdown (in South Africa due to COVID-19) may we be those who filled with the Holy Spirit have a general attitude of thanksgiving and not murmuring.
May our prayers be seasoned with thanksgiving to God because of the enabling power of God’s Spirit, helping us even amid human tragedy on a massive scale – to be still thankful.
One of the main ways God’s Spirit helps us with this is to remind us of our great salvation! We can always thank God the Father for giving us Jesus the ‘indescribable gift’ (2 Corinthians 9:15).
The Holy Spirit also reminds us that Scripture teaches us that regardless of the hardships we endure in this present life, they are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comprehension! (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). And the Holy Spirit fills us with joy and peace so that we may abound in the hope that is eternal and not limited to this short life (Romans 15:13)
- What can you be thankful to God for? Take time to consider this question and begin to express your thanks to God in prayer.
- Ask God to fill you again with the Holy Spirit so that your predisposition will be one of thanksgiving nor murmuring.
- Come to God in prayer starting with thanksgiving and with thanks shot through all your praying.
- Ask God to help you in the coming days that will most likely be incredibly challenging to be still thankful always confident that God is sovereign in all things.
1 Timothy 2 is a fairly controversial book in the bible (as we will see in the days ahead), and yet it starts out with a relatively simple purpose. Paul says that people that have been changed by the gospel should be characterized by prayer and faith in the god who saves. This section flows from verse one, so lets unpack this a little:
Paul starts by saying “First of all, then…” This means that Paul is referring to all that he said in chapter 1, especially the contrast in character between the false teachers and those whose lives have been radically changed by the gospel. We must bare this contrast in mind when reading chapter 2.
“First of all, then, I urge that …” Just as in chapter one, Paul isn’t wasting time or mincing his words. Remember, this is wartime for the believers. The word ‘urge’ is the same Greek word that we find in 1 Tim 1:3 & 5. It is a command of urgency and importance. Furthermore, his use of the phrase “first of all” suggests that, whatever Paul is going to mention next, it is the most fundamental thing that we should focus on.
“First of all, then, I urge that “supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made…” The urgent command, of first importance to those who have put their faith in Jesus, is that they should pray. We must be a people of prayer. We should bend our knees and orientate our hearts to the one who gave us eternal life. Our lives should be characterized by our devotion to prayer. Paul’s purpose in mentioning different types of prayer is to highlight its importance and how often it should be a feature of our lives. At different times, as we are praying for different things or people, we should be praying different types of prayers.
I find this to be incredibly challenging, and I don’t think I am alone here! I think most of us will read about the importance and preeminence that prayer should have in our lives, and we will feel a sense of guilt or condemnation. We will say things like “I should be praying more” or “I should know what to pray for”, and too easily our prayers become about our performance rather than God’s grace. We can start to focus on our words rather than His glory. We forget that prayer is about experiencing the God who inclines His ear, and instead we try to strife and earn our way into the presence of God.
If this is you (which means you are like me!) then don’t miss the effect of prayer on the believer in 1 Timothy 2. Prayer should be an all-encompassing reality for the believer, but as we see in the passage, prayers from believers with a sincere faith will look a certain way. In verse two, we read that as we pray, we will be progressively transformed into quiet, peaceful, godly and dignified lives. In every way! So the cycle is that our prayers affect our lives, and our lives then affect our prayers. Our prayers will become peaceful – not condemning. Our prayers will become dignified – not self-deprecating. Our prayers focus on God and his marvelous grace – not our performance.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Why do you think that prayer is so important to Paul?
- Who does Paul urgently instruct us to pray for?
- What parts of your life might you need to change to be obedient to God’s Word regarding prayer?
This section is especially important for leaders to consider and apply to their lives. Leaders can be so easily shaped by the performance culture that is all around us – rather than be transformed by the humbling habit of regular prayer. If leaders do not regularly bend their knees in private, they should not open their mouths in public.
‘I love You, O LORD, my strength’ (vs1)
What a relief, what joy to be able to declare that God is our strength! What a relief to not have to try to be strong, to not have to seek to hold it all together. Yahweh is our strength, and for that, we love Him (vs1)
Yahweh is our strength in that He is our rock, our strong, immovable foundation, Yahweh is our fortress the strong tower into which we can run and find refuge in times of danger. Yahweh is also a shield defending us from the attacks of the enemy (vs2).
Yahweh is my strength because He is the one I can call on and call out to for help (vs3) when desperate situations or challenges greater than my strength present themselves (vs4-5).
Yahweh is my strength because when I cry to Him, He hears and recognises my voice from His holy temple (vs6). And so my cries are not in vain.
Yahweh rips open the heavens to respond to my cries for help; He rides the wind and thunders on my behalf (vs7-19)!
And why does Yahweh act in such a way?
“He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (vs19)
What astounding words. That the God of angel armies, the LORD most high, the Alpha and Omega delights in me! God takes pleasure in me in us.
I know myself. I know my limitations, my failings, my weakness and my sin, and yet You delight in me. Psalm 18:19 helps us to understand Hebrews 12:2 which explains the motivation in Jesus’ heart as He looked upon the cross;
Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Psalm 18 depicts Jahweh his strength saving him from his temporal earthly enemies. But the great enemy and the greater eternal salvation for you and for me who have believed in Jesus is that we are saved eternally from our enemies of sin, shame, satan & death because of Jesus.
Why did Jahweh do this? Because He delighted in me, in us. Scripture is clear that it was God’s love for us that caused the Father to send the Son (John 3:16) so that He could have the joy of having us in heaven with Him forever and ever (Revelation 21:3).
LORD, thank you for choosing to love me, despite me, for loving me enough to send Jesus to make a way to cleanse me from my sin so that I would be in close relationship with you forever.
And if You did this massive thing in saving me, I am sure that there is nothing in this life, nothing on this earth that you will not rescue me from (Romans 8:32).
‘I love You, O LORD, my strength!’ (Psalm 18:1)
Paul prayed for the Thessalonian believers; he prayed that God would enable them to live a life that would be worthy of the call of God on their lives, worthy of the Gospel.
He prayed that God would give them the power that they would need to accomplish all the good works God had planned for them to do (Ephesians 2:10), good deeds that would be prompted by their faith in God (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
Paul knew that these believers needed;
- God’s enabling power to live holy lives worthy of God
- God’s enabling power to live purposefully fulfilling the call of God on their lives
And so he prayed continually for them so that the name of Jesus would be glorified in the way that they lived their lives.
Amazingly, God has connected our lives and His glory! What this means is that how we live our lives whether we waste our lives on self-centred trivialities or focus on weighty eternal things matters.
And because our lived-out response to the Gospel matters, Paul continually prays for these believers that they would live out a response that would glorify God.
Because Paul prays continually for them, he prays that they would live out a response to the Gospel that is worthy of the Gospel. Because he prays this way, we know therefore that it is quite possible for our lives not to be worthy of the call we have received.
So, what would such a life look like in a believer?
- God and God’s glory not being at the centre but rather self-centredness & worldly thinking dominating their thoughts.
- A lack of a pattern of daily worship and devotion to God (prayer, God’s word, listening to the Holy Spirit)
- God’s church and God’s purposes not being at the centre of their lives, their rhythms and decisions
- Compromise and sin
Paul kept on praying for these new believers in Thessalonica because he didn’t want their lives to look like this list above. He was diligent, even urgent in praying for them no doubt because it was a real threat that they could potentially drift away into lukewarmness and compromise and so he contended for them in prayer.
Having accepted Jesus as our Saviour, we know that we will enter into eternal life with Jesus because we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
However, what is not guaranteed is how we will live out our response to the Gospel! Hence Paul’s continual prayers for these believers.
Brothers and sisters, it is not guaranteed whether or not we will live a life worthy of the call we have received. What is needed is intentionality, devotion, continually choosing to make Jesus the centre of our lives, our thinking, our priorities & decisions. What is required is a continual reliance on and obedience to the Holy Spirit so that our lives will glorify God and fulfil His plans for us.
And then, when our lives do glorify God, somehow this passage says that we will be honoured together with Jesus in some way (see vs12).
“All of this is made possible because of the grace of our God and LORD, Jesus Christ.” (Vs12 in NLT)
May we, may I live lives worthy of You Jesus! Fill me, fill us with your enabling power, help me, help us Holy Spirit to listen and obey You always so that You would be glorified and we would be honoured to along with You. Amen.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
A two-word verse followed by a three-word verse followed by a slightly longer one. Such short verses with such challenge!
In vs16, it’s the ‘always’ that ramps up the challenge factor! Who would have a problem with rejoicing in good things? Our problem is rejoicing in all things, in those hard situations and or rejoicing still when things have not gone the way we would like them to go.
And yet this is God’s will for us, so it is possible to do. But how can it be possible to rejoice always or in all circumstances?
I believe that this is possible for the Christ Follower when we consider Jesus, who He is, and what He has done for us. We can always thank God for Jesus, for loving us when we were unlovely when we were His enemies.
No matter what is happening in our lives, if we have put our faith in Jesus, we have been forgiven of our sin, set free from the wrath of God’s righteous judgement and have been granted eternal life with God. We have been given the privilege of being called the children of God! As believers we know that whatever we might be facing is going to be swallowed up by the glory to come for us; “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
So, we can always rejoice. I am not saying this is easy to do, but it is God’s will for us, according to vs18. And so it is possible, and it is for our very best.
Pray without ceasing (vs17). One more word than the previous verse and yet no less challenging. Praying without ceasing is the opposite of living a worldly life, living life as though God doesn’t exist.
To pray in this way is to practice God’s presence amid your everyday life. To pray in this way is to master the art of always being in two places at once. Being wherever you find yourself at any given moment and being with God, aware of His presence in that place or situation.
How amazing it would be to be in continual conversation with God, accessing His Help and wisdom, knowing His love, affirmation & His guidance! This is not some onerous command; this is an invitation to live a life on a whole new level.
Lastly, ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (vs18) is not an instruction to give thanks for all circumstances. Rather, it is to be aware of God in everything and to be mindful of what you can thank your Father for. Growing in gratitude cultivates a heart of worship and breathes life-giving perspective into all of life.
These were not easy times amongst the people of God. Moses was leading a generation destined to wander the desert until they all died. They were now paving the way for their children to inherit what was supposed to have been theirs.
It’s not easy leading 1-1.5million people in a desert on the best of days! But leading a generation that you know will die and will not fulfil any of their dreams can not have been easy.
Then crisis hits. The Wilderness of Zin had no water in it. This very real crisis precipitates a fresh round of complaints and the people quarrel with Moses and grumble! (vs3-5)
Moses is caught between a real crisis, a monumental problem and a discontented people who’s unbelief had blinded them to the magnificence of their God.
So, Moses and Aaron take the situation and the people’s complaint to God (vs6) falling down in His presence. What a great response!
God in His faithfulness responds to their prayer, and God intervenes – “the glory of the Lord appeared” (vs6). God then spoke to them (vs7) and provided a miraculous solution to their need; (vs8) “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water”.
Moses and Aaron do some of what God told them to do. They gather the congregation, but Moses then goes rogue and doesn’t obey God specifically!
When they gather before him, he scolds them in his anger and frustration that has probably built up over the past year since he started leading them; “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (vs10)
His unprocessed hurt and frustration boils over and spills out in a moment in a very public way. More than this, Moses did not do what God told him when he struck the rock twice (vs11) rather than speak to it like God had instructed him (see vs8).
We don’t have the time to unpack the reasons that caused Moses to do this thoroughly. However, what we do know is that once before, about a year prior God had provided water from a similar rock and on that day God told Moses to strike the rock once (see Exodus 17:5).
Regardless of Moses, God in his love for the people solves the very real crisis and provides for the people – so water gushes out of the rock abundantly (vs11) so that the original crisis is solved, but a new personal crisis for Moses has just begun.
God was angry with Moses and said;
Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (vs12)
It seems to me that Moses’ anger at the people blinded him. It caused him not to trust God when God had told him to “tell the rock” to provide its water? God was displeased with the way Moses had not honoured Him before the people, and so that day, Moses lost something. That day Moses missed the Promised Land.
Crises have a way of revealing what’s really in our hearts. People are a little like oranges. When the pressures of life put their squeeze on us, eventually what’s inside comes out.
Undealt with emotions that have subsided with time from our consciousness but have not been dealt with through prayers of lament and forgiveness are a time-bomb waiting to be triggered.
Crises will come; it’s only a matter of time. And when we are faced with crises, God wants us to come to Him in prayer. But when we do, let’s commit to then do what He tells us to do. Not to do more, not less, but to do now what He tells us to do.
Numbers 13-14 are a sombre moment in the story of the Bible. A moment that the book of Hebrews reflects on over and over again, warning believers in Jesus to not be like these Israelites.
Israel’s unbelief and grumbling against God, so provoked God that eventually, God said; “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:11-12)
In His righteous anger, God declared that He would blot out His people and start again.
However, fortunately, God’s people had a leader who knew how to pray! And because He prayed, God relented. God didn’t wipe out the whole nation in an instant. Instead, God punished the 10 spies who brought a false report and then also punished the generation that didn’t believe – so that they never entered into their inheritance.
But in the midst of all of this, God also made a promise that wicked generation’s children – they would inherit the Promised Land.
So how did it come to pass that God relented, changing His mind by not instantly wiping out this generation? Moses prayed, and in his prayer, we can learn some things that we can imitate in our prayers;
- Moses Prayed for God to the Glorified: Moses prayed that God would protect the glory of His name, His glory. Moses urged God not to destroy His people because if He did, that would be misunderstood or derided, by the onlooking nations (Numbers 14:13-16). Moses called on God to act for the sake of the fame of His name.
- Moses Prayed based on who God is: As Moses prays, he recalls the encounter he had with God. When God revealed Himself by passing before him speaking the words that Moses now quotes in his prayer (see Exodus 34:6-7). God is the one who is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, who forgives sin yet remains just and righteous as the judge of the earth.
- Moses Prayed appealing to the Immutability of God: When Moses prayed; “As You have promised”(vs17) he was appealing to the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God. Moses knew that He could stand on the promises of God since God could not lie and would not change. And then in vs19 when Moses asks God to pardon His people, He asks God to merely continue being gracious to the people of Israel just as He had been consistently from their deliverance from Egypt to the present. Moses’ prayer is founded on the confidence of who God is, how God has acted in the past and in that God can not change (God is immutable).
- Moses Prayed that God would Forgive: On the back of these prayers for God’s name to be glorified, these prayers that appeal to the nature of who God is & how God has acted in the past Moses then makes his appeal and asks God to be gracious and merciful, Moses asks God to pardon His people (vs19).
And because Moses prayed, God changed His mind. Our Father God loves it when we pray when we come to Him, confident in the relationship that we have with Him through faith in Jesus. God loves it when we pray asking with confidence because of what we know about Him, WHO He is and HOW He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture and through our very own encounters of Him.
Why not use this structure that Moses prayed with to help form some of your prayers?
- How can you pray for God to be glorified in this situation?
- How does WHO God is, connect with this need/prayer?
- How does God being immutable help you pray with confidence now?
- Bring your request to God on the basis of these three things.
I love the sense of realism in James. In vs2-4 James challenged and urged us to consider trials “all joy” because we know that the testing of our faith would produce good things in us like steadfastness and growth in godliness.
James knows that the sound advice he has just given is challenging and so in vs5 he encourages the reader to pray to God for wisdom. Such a prayer is humility on display and humility is a vital attitude to hold on to for the Christ Follower.
I like to begin prayer with the simple acknowledgement that my very act of praying is declaring something both to myself and to God – that I need God. After all, if I did not need God, if I had it all covered myself, then I would not be praying. Prayer and humility go hand in hand, and God is drawn to humility (James 4:6) while prayerlessness, on the other hand, is a warning sign of residual pride.
The humble praying person ought to simultaneously have a robust confidence James declares because God is the giving God. God’s nature is to give, and so James states with certainty that God will respond gleefully to any request by you or me for wisdom.
God won’t scold us for hassling Him by asking, God won’t begrudgingly give us as little as possible of the wisdom we need. No, we can pray with confidence because we know that God is the generous giving God and we as His children can, therefore, ask for wisdom in any and every situation with confidence knowing God will provide us with what we need.
Similarly, Jesus promised He would give His disciples the very words and wisdom at the moment we need them (Luke 21:12-15). You and I can have confidence knowing that when we cry out in prayer, God is ever present and eager to answer our humble prayer.
So pray, because you’re realistic about your limitations. Pray because you’re humble, but pray with confidence knowing whom you’re praying to!
Don’t pray hoping God will answer, but pray because you know whom you’re praying to. Your Father who is in heaven, the One who loves you with an everlasting incredible love (1 John 3:1).
If you think about it, this is quite an introduction we have to the blind man who cries out to Jesus in Mark 10. As Jesus is leaving Jericho with a large crowd and His disciples in toe, Jesus encounters a man who is introduced in Mark’s gospel as; ‘Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus’ (vs46).
A little digging reveals that this is not a flattering introduction at all. This man’s name means ‘son of the unclean or foul one’! What’s the story behind that name? Now this extended family was seemingly not into uplifting names as Bartimaeus’ dad’s name means ‘foul or impure’. And if that’s not enough Mark’s gospel records that this man who is son of ‘the unclean one’ is also tagged as a blind beggar! He is disabled in his body, and due presumably to his condition he is one who makes a living by begging from others.
How terrible to have names such as these, tags such as these attached to a person’s identity! How damaging must that have been to him, how degrading, to feel like all you can do is to sit on the side of the road and call out to people you hear walking past, asking daily for their mercy and alms.
What’s your name? Do you have a derogatory name or nick name, or a name that tells a sad story that has somehow become your story?
Well for this man, that day recorded for us in Mark 10 is going to be no ordinary day. That day Jesus the son of God was going to pass by Bartimaeus. He couldn’t see Jesus but he could hear the commotion, and when Bartimaeus was told who it was passing him by Bartimaeus began to cry out; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)
We know from Jesus’ own assessment (see vs52) that this cry of Bartimaeus was a cry of faith in Jesus. Faith is “believing God”, and Bartimaeus believed that Jesus in that moment was worth risking calling out to. There were crowds with Jesus, self-important scribes and Pharisees. According to those around Jesus, Bartimaeus did not warrant Jesus’ attention, he was not worthy of bothering Jesus. But Bartimaeus believed that it was worth pushing through the opinions of others, if it meant he could get Jesus’ attention. And so Bartimaeus reaches out to Jesus, believing that Jesus can transform his situation and believing that Jesus maybe saw him differently to all the others who could not get past his name, his upbringing, his disability or his way of scrapping a living…
Sometimes we have to overcome obstacles in our heads to get to really encounter Jesus. When you are in a meeting and you feel like you want to respond for prayer during the worship or after the preached word, you face something milder but similar to what Bartimaeus faced. “What will other people say or think?” or “I am embarrassed, and I don’t want anyone looking at me.” And so often it is possible to feel Jesus’ presence in the room in the moment and to feel like you want to encounter Jesus but you hold back for fear of others and what they will say.
But not Bartimaeus! Those people who were trying to shut him down and keep him quiet only served to make him louder, insistent and more urgent; “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48) And because Bartimaeus pushed through, Bartimaeus stopped the Son of God, got Jesus’ attention (vs49) and had Jesus ask him; “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs51)
Bartimaeus was healed because he did not allow the thoughts of others to dissuade him. Bartimaeus was more interested in encountering Jesus than bothered about caring what other people thought of him.
Resolve today to be like Bartimaeus, to press through the thoughts of others or even just your perception of the thoughts of others – don’t let anything stop you from encountering Jesus, calling out to Him, for He loves to stop for those who seek Him out like Bartimaeus did. And next time you have an opportunity to be prayed for – take it, take it with both hands, encounter Jesus and have your life transformed like Bartimaeus did.
With the World Cup Soccer 2018 reaching fever pitch level on the excitement scale for many around the world, when I read this passage and read the word ‘devoted’, I am reminded of all those soccer fans colourfully arrayed in their teams colours. Faces painted, hats on, scarves, socks, shirts, tattoos even themed underwear!!!
In moments like this words like devotion, passion are on display in technicolour. In our passage today, Luke uses the Greek word that is translated into English as ‘devoted’. The underlying word means to be earnest towards something, to persevere in something, to be constantly diligent in something, or to continue to adhere closely to something (like with teaching or instruction).
The converts from Peter’s first Gospel message joined the 120 disciples and together they formed the first church on the planet. A church, a new community of faith that had previously not existed, people that did not know each other or even have much in common instantly became a family that together devoted themselves to some things.
- The apostle’s teaching (which is the Scriptures now for us)
- Breaking Bread (Communion)
- Corporate Prayer
Now, we know what a devoted Brazilian, English, French…. soccer fan looks like, they are hard to miss really. So what would a church community that’s DEVOTED to these things look like? And, who doesn’t want to be part of a church like that?
Which reminds me of something Nicky Gumbel said;
“Stop looking for a perfect church. It does not exist. Join an imperfect church and serve in everyday you can to make it nearer to perfection”.
This church we have in Acts 2 is radically wonderful! But don’t go looking for one, rather make the church you’re in like one, because you’re there and because you get it…
These brand new believers kept on meeting (vs44) with one another in the big meetings, all together in the temple and then also meeting in homes (small groups) (vs46), they ate meals together (vs46), they had their view of personal finance transformed by their faith.
So much so, that these devoted Christ followers ensured that no one amongst the family of faith had any need because they provided for another through sacrificial giving to the church by liquidating assets and investments to provide in abundance (vs45) for God’s church.
This was a worshipping (vs47), glad, supernatural (vs43) community who were also in awe and reverence of God (vs43). A church where reverence, wonder and amazement is dead will also have worship that is dead. That’s because wonder, reverence and ‘strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship’. – John Piper
So, let’s believe God for churches like this saturating our cities and towns just like this church started to impact Jerusalem with its devotion as the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (vs47).
- Pray that you would be freshly filled with the Holy Spirit like these believers were.
- Pray that you would be full of awe, wonder, thanks and praise
- And pray that you would be devoted to Scripture, Fellowship, Communion & Corporate Prayer like they were
- Pray that your whole life would be transformed by the Gospel including your finances, your view of your time, resources, relationships…
- Pray asking God to ‘do it again’, to cause churches like this one in Acts 2 to fill your city!
- Don’t look for a church like this one, make one!
- Live the change you desire!
- Be devoted!