Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
What God told Abraham to do was beyond human logic and reason. It made no sense to leave a comfortable home and live in a tent. It made no sense that an elderly couple could still have a child. It made no sense to offer that promised child as a sacrifice. Yet in every case, when Abraham did what God said, he found God’s promises to be faithful. We do not please, honor, and obey God by doing what seems right to us, but by obeying what He has spoken.
Alexander MacLaren said, “Disobedience is the root of unbelief. Unbelief is the mother of further disobedience. Faith is voluntary submission within a person’s own power. If faith is not exercised, the true cause lies deeper than all intellectual reasons. It lies in the moral aversion of human will and in the pride of independence. With dreadful reciprocity of influence, the less one trusts, the more he disobeys; the more he disobeys, the less he trusts.”
The goal of pleasing God should be our motivation. To accomplish that, we must walk in faith. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). The world may say that believing the Bible is old fashioned. Even Christians may say walking in faith leads us to extremes. But we can and should always believe what God has spoken and act upon it in obedience.
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.”
David did not find out what he had done was wrong when the prophet Nathan confronted him about his sin. He knew it was wrong before he did it, and afterward he knew that he should repent. Instead David went to great lengths to cover up his sin with Bathsheba, to the extent of arranging the murder of one of his inner circle of warriors on the battlefield at the hands of the enemy. When he married the widow of one of his chief soldiers, David must have thought that his sin was hidden and would stay that way. “And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (2 Samuel 11:27).
Even before his sin was revealed and the consequences announced to him, David was suffering from the result. There were serious physical and spiritual results of his attempt to cover his sin. It was not until he repented that David's relationship with God was restored. And it was not until then that his health began to recover. It should be no surprise to us that sin has effects on our bodies as well as our souls. In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul warned them about the results of approaching communion in an unworthy manner: “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30).
“For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”
The first sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve sank their teeth into the forbidden fruit. The first excuse for sin followed not long after when God confronted Adam about what he had done. Rather than confessing his sin, and acknowledging his responsibility for it, Adam blamed both his wife and God for it. “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12).
And ever since, blame-shifting and rationalization of sin has been used by generation after generation. But until we accept that we alone are responsible, we cannot deal with sin properly. God desires and demands truth when it comes to dealing with sin. The popular catch phrase “The devil made me do it” is not true. He tempts us and tries to lure us into sin, but he does not cause it. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (James 1:14).
If we are blaming the devil or other people or even God for our sin, we are not yet ready to make things right with Him. Only when we point the finger at ourselves instead of someone else can we begin to return to close fellowship with God. The lies that we tell ourselves and others about sin will block that relationship as long as we cling to them.
“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”
Frederick Charrington was a wealthy and successful English businessman, until he turned his back on his family’s empire and walked away. He told the story of walking down a street and seeing a woman outside a pub pleading with a drunken man to come home to his family. She told him that they had no food and begged for help. In the window of the pub was a sign that said, “Drink Charrington Ale.”
“When I saw that sign,” Charrington said, “I was stricken just as surely as Paul on the Damascus Road. Here was the source of my family wealth, and it was producing untold human misery before my own eyes. Then and there I pledged to God that not another penny of that money should come to me.” Charrington gave up millions to become a leader of the temperance movement.
There is a radical change that happens when we come to God for salvation. Some of us who were saved at a young age and grew up in church did not have a large outward change, but all of us had a heart transplant. And it shows up in our lives. When we turn from our sins and commit to following God, we are willing to give up anything that would hinder our walk with Him.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
Many people struggle with the matter of forgiveness. They know that the Word of God commands us to forgive those who have hurt us, but that does not take away the pain of the offense. The more painful what we have experienced is, the harder it is for us to let go of our hurt and let the one who wounded us off the hook.
It is part of human nature to want to get even. We remember those who have injured us in the past, and all too often continue to hold it over their heads. God commands us to forgive others, not because they deserve it, but because He forgave us. Forgiveness is so important to Jesus that He asked the Father to forgive those who crucified Him. “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots” (Luke 23:34).
The pattern set for forgiveness by Jesus proves that it is possible to forgive those who do us wrong. If He was willing to forgive those who were crucifying Him, and is willing to forgive us for the sins that took Him to the cross, on what basis do we imagine a right not to forgive? When we do not forgive others, it damages our relationship with them. But it damages our relationship with God as well, because we are clinging to bitterness rather than forgiving.
“And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”
People are happy for all kinds of reasons, but some of those reasons are better than others. When Jesus sent His followers out empowered to preach and heal, they saw great results. People believed their message regarding the Messiah. Health was restored, and even demons were cast out of those they possessed. Yet while these were truly great victories, Jesus told His disciples that these victories were not the main reason they should rejoice. Instead, He pointed them to their salvation.
Truly we have no greater gift, and it should be our source of joy. Octavius Winslow wrote, “The child of God is, from necessity, a joyful man. His sins are forgiven, his soul is justified, his person is adopted, his trials are blessings, his conflicts are victories, his death is immortality, his future is a Heaven of inconceivable, unthought of, untold, and endless blessedness—with such a God, such a Saviour, and such a hope, is he not, ought he not, to be a joyful man?”
The reality is that every earthly victory is temporary. When we resist Satan today, he comes back tomorrow. When we overcome temptation in one area, another rears its head somewhere else. Spiritual victories must be won over and over day after day. But salvation is forever. It is settled and cannot be lost. So when our rejoicing is in the new birth given to us, we never run out of reasons for joy.
“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”
Though he was brought up in church, when he left home, Joseph Hart turned away from God. He became an ardent opponent of Christianity. At one point he even wrote a pamphlet called The Unreasonableness of Religion. But when he was forty-five, Hart heard George Whitefield preach, and was converted. Joseph Hart spent the rest of his life reaching others with the gospel. Along with his sermons, Hart wrote a number of hymns, including these words:
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and power.
I will arise and go to Jesus;
He will embrace me with His arms;
In the arms of my dear Saviour,
O there are ten thousand charms.
There are people all around us who are trying to address issues of life and eternity and their standing with God in their own efforts. But the gulf between us and God created by sin cannot be spanned with any human act. The only hope of salvation is to accept what Jesus freely offers, coming to Him. Though He has promised not to cast out any who come to Him, so many refuse to respond to His gracious invitation. Instead they try to do good works, get involved in a church, avoid sinning, or follow the Golden Rule. None of these are sufficient for salvation. Only Jesus saves.
“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
2 Corinthians 4:5–7
We live in a world that constantly promotes self-reliance. We are told to believe in ourselves and find strength within ourselves. While that message is appealing, it is contrary to Scripture. God tells us instead to rely fully and completely on Him. God delights in using unlikely tools to accomplish His purposes. “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27). We do not need more of us, but more of Him. It is His power that works in us to accomplish every good and lasting thing we do, not ours. Unless we lean on Him, we will fall.
Henry Frost, who served for many years as the North American director of the China Inland Mission, wrote, “When I first met Mr. Hudson Taylor, in London in 1887, I expected to see a man with a black beard and a full round voice. Instead, I found him a little man, with a blonde beard and a quiet and gentle voice. I immediately concluded that his power was not in his personality, but rather in God. As the years of my acquaintance lengthened out, this conclusion was increasingly confirmed. To the end of his life he won great victories with God and over men; but the secret was always communion with his Father in Heaven.”
“For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.”
Viktor Frankl was a prominent Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist before the Second World War. In 1942 he was deported to a concentration camp in what was then Czechoslovakia before later being sent to the dreaded Auschwitz death camp. Frankl’s wife and all the members of his immediate family except one sister perished in the Holocaust. After the war, Frankl became a noted author and speaker. In his best-known book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Whether we find meaning and purpose and satisfaction in life is not determined by our surroundings. King Solomon had everything imaginable, yet in his backslidden state, he found life to be empty and pointless. And apart from God, that is the best that is available to man. Because of our sinful natures and the effects of the curse on our world, the best of this life is empty and meaningless. But we have a choice. We can stop living “under the sun” and start living for God. We can refuse to allow our circumstances to dictate meaning and purpose in life. We can say with Paul, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13).
“Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.”
The story goes that a preacher traveling through Europe on a train found himself alone in the car with one other young man. As they talked, the boy told the preacher that though he was a Christian, he felt his faith was weak and he struggled to believe and obey God. The preacher took his Bible out and then a small knife from his pocket. He told the young man that he would make the penknife stand up on the Bible, despite the way the train was rocking from side to side. When the young man expressed skepticism, the preacher said, “It’s easy. I’m doing it now.” “But you’re holding it,” the boy protested. “Yes,” said the minister. “Did you ever heard of a knife standing on its end without being help up? And Christ is holding you.”
The devil rejoices each time a Christian attempts to stand against him apart from God’s power. No matter how sincere or dedicated we may be, we are no match for Satan. But in God’s power we cannot be defeated. We must abandon a focus on ourselves and suppress the pride that makes us want to do things on our own. Instead we must rely on God and the promise of His hand to uphold us. He never fails, and He will hold us up.
“If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
Though George Romney rose to fame in England as a portrait artist, his success came at a high price. One of his mentors declared that marriage spoiled an artist, so Romney abandoned his wife and two young children. After years of success, Romney fell out of favor, lost most of his possessions, and began losing his reason. His long-abandoned wife took pity on him and cared for him in his final years. After Romney’s death, Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a poem called “Romney’s Regret.” In it he imagines a conversation with the painter in which a friend says, “Take comfort, you have won the Painter’s fame!” In response to this praise Romney answers: “The best in me that sees the worst in me, And groans to see it, finds no comfort there.”
There is no source of comfort or good in ourselves. The world tells us that we have all that we need within us. That is completely false in terms of our nature. We do not have the ability to do what is right apart from the power of God. Rather than being proud and lifted up, we should find no comfort or joy in any achievement apart from Him. Everything that we do that is good and right and proper and valuable is because of His grace. When we look within at what we really are, we will not be proud, but rather humble and grateful.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
1 Corinthians 13:1–13
The world has little conception of what awaits in eternity. If people did, they would fear Hell and crave Heaven. Our society is filled with misconceptions about the afterlife. In his play King John, Shakespeare wrote of a grieving mother who had been told of her son’s death. The character of Constance says, “When I shall meet him in the court of Heaven I shall not know him: and therefore never, never must I behold my pretty Arthur more.”
But the Bible tells us that we will know far more in Heaven than we do now. Those who have gone before us and those who are precious to us who are believers will be there, and we will recognize them. We will even know people we have only read about in the pages of the Bible or of history. Jesus said, “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).
There is so much for us that is in store, and it is beyond our ability to comprehend or even imagine. “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). No matter our circumstances, we have the knowledge of a wonderful eternity with God.
“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.”
Everything that we see around us is old. Since the creation the natural world has existed, and since the fall of man, it has existed in a cursed state, far less than what God originally made. As we look at the beauty of the creation and realize it is no longer as good as God made it, we begin to realize that the display of power we see is only a taste of what is to come. Every child of God has a wonderful home in Heaven in his or her future.
T. DeWitt Talmage said, “Many people suppose that we shall see Heaven the first day we get there. You cannot see London in two weeks. You cannot see Rome in six weeks. You cannot see Venice in a month. You cannot see the great city of the New Jerusalem in a day. No; it will take all eternity to see Heaven, to count the towers, to examine the trophies, to gaze upon the thrones, to see the hierarchies. Ages on ages roll, and yet, Heaven is new. The streets new! The Temple new! The joy new! The song new!” But God’s power of regeneration and making things new is not confined to Heaven. Each morning we come to Him, His mercies are new.
“I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.”
If you really want to know what makes a person tick, the key is not so much to look as it is to listen. What we have allowed to fill our hearts is best revealed in what we say. Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).
Sometimes people blame other people or their circumstances for what fills their mouths, but that is not the source of the problem. David was at one of the worst points in his life when he wrote Psalm 34, but that did not stop him from praising God. He could not point to good things that were happening right then. He was running for his life, pretending to be crazy to keep from being killed. In earthly terms David was at his lowest point. Yet in his time of great distress, David praised God.
The reason for David’s praise was not in his circumstances, but in his heart. He loved God supremely. He was able to bless the Lord in good times and bad times, because he loved God and he knew God loved him.
“Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses. And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.”
Though we are not given the human author of Psalm 107, many Bible students believe it was Ezra. They believe this was a song of praise to God when the Jewish people returned from Babylon to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Though seventy years had passed since the Israelites had been taken captive, God had remained faithful to His people, and when the prophesied period reached its end, He moved the hearts of heathen kings to act in fulfillment of His promise.
God is faithful by His nature, and in every situation, we can fulfill the command to praise Him and give thanks for His goodness to us. It was A. W. Tozer who said, “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.” There are always plenty of reasons for gratitude, no matter how bad things seem to be. An ungrateful Christian is a selfish, world-focused Christian. Rather than rejoicing in all that He has received, he complains because God has not given him enough.
The reality is that God owes us nothing at all, and everything we receive is a good gift of His grace. If we remember this simple truth, it will radically transform the way we act and react. It will change our ingratitude into the persistent praise that God’s goodness deserves. We receive His goodness on a daily basis, and we must never lose sight of the source and the reason for our blessings.
“And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
1 Corinthians 9:20–22
When Thomas Guthrie was a young pastor in Edinburgh, Scotland, he became greatly burdened for the large number of children forced to live on the streets. In the 1800s there were no government programs to help address the need. So Guthrie established a “Ragged School” to reach the young boys and girls and teach them. From 8:00 in the morning until 7:00 at night the children received a basic education and Bible instruction along with food and clothing. The school and others like it touched the lives of thousands. Guthrie later wrote, “I have the satisfaction when I lay my head upon my pillow of always finding one part of it soft, and that is that God has made me an instrument in his hands by saving many a poor creature from a life of misery and crime.”
It is not enough just to observe the needs of the people we see and meet. To live as Jesus did, to live as He commands, and to make an impact for eternity, we must care enough to do something about it. Paul was willing to make enormous sacrifices, giving up things to which he had a right for the sake of reaching other people. His passion for sharing the gospel cost him a great deal, but Paul thought it was worth it.
“But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.”
Dr. H. A. Ironside related a story from a pastor who was sitting in his office, working to prepare a sermon. He heard the door creak, but didn’t look up until he heard a cry of pain. He found that his young daughter had caught her fingers in the door. He called for her mother to quickly come and look after her. After her mother freed her and asked how bad it was, the child replied, “It hurts, but the worst is that Daddy didn’t even say ‘Oh!’” Ironside concluded, “How we like someone who says, ‘Oh!’ someone who sighs for us, weeps with us, feels with us in our troubles; and you remember what is said of our Lord, ‘In all their affliction he was afflicted.’”
Our world is more connected today than ever before, yet despite all the technology at our fingertips, many people still face a prevailing sense of loneliness and isolation. They wonder if anyone cares about their hurts or their hearts. Most of us have felt that way at one time or another. In truth, Christians should be known by our care and concern for each other. We should have that source of comfort. But whether or not we find human comfort, we are also called to be a source of comfort. “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:1–3
If a job were advertised that required long hours, regular serious sacrifice, and the risk of great danger, there would probably still be some people who would respond to take on the challenge. However if the ad pointed out that there was no pay associated with the job, the number of responses would drop to zero. No one is interested in spending their lives in a way that is completely without result or recompense. Though some are willing to work for things other than money, everyone wants to profit from their labor in some way.
When it comes to our service to God, although He commands our obedience, He also offers rewards to those who faithfully serve Him. Yet it is possible for us to do all of the right things—to make great sacrifices, accomplish great victories, and demonstrate significant human achievement—and yet receive nothing in return. John wrote, “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8).
Though we may deceive others, God always sees our hearts. He not only knows what we do, but why we do it. And to be acceptable in His sight and produce profit to our account, it must have the right motives. Without the proper love, even the greatest and most overwhelming human achievements produce nothing of lasting value or profit.
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,”
1 Peter 1:18–20
Peter wrote his two letters to Christians who were facing serious threats. The local authorities had targeted the early church in Jerusalem for opposition, but as Christianity spread further and further, the Roman Empire stepped in and raised the persecution to a new level. Those who first read the words of Peter’s epistle needed a great deal of hope and encouragement. To provide that help, Peter reminds us of the price that was paid for our salvation. The world might tell Christians, both then and now, that they are of no value, but God says differently, and that is reflected in the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for us.
We are infinitely valuable to God. Though He cares about all of His creation, even the smallest parts, He is focused on His children in a deep and meaningful way. Jesus said, “But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). The devil tempts us to equate the hard times we experience with a lack of care and love on God’s part. But that is never true. And when we are tempted to forget, we need to remind ourselves of the love that took Jesus to the cross to pay the enormous price for our salvation. Thomas Watson wrote, “It cost more to redeem us than to create us. In creation there was but ‘speaking the word.’ In redeeming us, there was ‘shedding the blood.’”
“I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works. I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High. When mine enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence. For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right. Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever.”
Scripture repeatedly commands us to praise God and give thanks to Him for all that He has done for us. It is only right and fitting that we do so as recipients of His outpoured grace. But in addition to reaping the blessings of obedience, there are “side effects” to being grateful. Dr. Giacomo Bono of Cal State University conducted a survey of seven hundred young people. A number of questions were asked to assess their attitudes and emotional state. The more grateful the teens in the study were, the better off they were. In fact, the study found that the most grateful were 15 percent more likely to have a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives and 15 percent less likely to report symptoms of being depressed.
There is a reason behind everything God has commanded us to do. He is the Creator, and He knows what will bring Him the most glory and us the most happiness in life. God does not issue His commands to deprive us of good things, but to protect us from bad ones, and we violate those commands to our own detriment. “Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). Ever since the Garden of Eden mankind has been looking for ways to throw off the yoke of God's commands. And ever since the Garden of Eden, we have been paying the price.
“And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”
The members of the early church were effective in their witness. Thousands came to faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour in just a few days. This result did not sit well with the Jewish religious leaders, and they immediately began persecuting the church. When Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin after healing the lame man at the Temple, the leaders strictly instructed them to stop preaching about Jesus. Peter and John refused. And the church’s first response when Peter and John returned to the other believers was for them to join together and pray.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer languishes in many churches, power in intercession is by no means a common attainment, and meetings for prayer are, as a rule, thinly attended, and not much thought of. Sin abounds, empty profession is common, hypocrisy is plentiful, and the life of God in the soul is but little esteemed. When there is a degeneracy of public manners, you may be sure that there has also occurred a serious decline of secret devotion.”
No law or authority can prevent us from praying, yet too often we fail to pray. We are not compelled to abandon this most necessary resource, but we allow other things to fill our lives. Both in public at church and in private at home, we must be people of prayer. The power that the early church had was found on their knees. That power is still available to us today, and it only comes as we follow their example.
“All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “There is no rest for the weary.” But in reality, it is often weariness that drives us to find true spiritual rest in Christ. Those who labor, those who are tired, and those who are struggling will come to Jesus; while those who think they have no need for Him will spurn the rest He offers. After Jesus healed the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, the religious leaders tried to stone Him for breaking their traditions regarding the sabbath day. After clearly laying out His obedience to God and His right to do good for people on the day of rest, Jesus said, “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40).
Those who are convinced that they have everything together see no reason to seek rest from the Lord. They prefer to wear their own yoke and labor in their own strength, hoping to earn their own way to Heaven, rather than coming to Christ. Even those of us who have already trusted Christ as our Saviour can fall into this trap. We can get so focused on doing good things that we forget the source of our strength for everything that we do is in God. We cannot step away from Him and expect to receive His rest and strength for His work. “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).