Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.
Even in a perfect world, Adam and Eve refused to walk in obedience to God and rejected His rule over their lives. Later, the Israelites did not want to be ruled by God, but instead insisted on having an earthly king like the nations around them. Even when Jesus—God in human flesh—came into the world, He was rejected by most people. Jesus told a parable which perfectly sums up man's rejection of Him. “But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). In our day, we see many people continuing that evil tradition of refusing to obey God's laws and commandments.
There is coming a day, however, when that rejection will no longer be the case. The world will be ruled by Jesus in person, not as a humble Lamb, but as a roaring Lion. He will be high and lifted up, and all the people will observe His laws and instructions. Unlike in our day when grace and mercy from God stay His judgment so people have a chance to repent, any disobedience then will be quickly punished. We do not know when that day will come, but we know that it will. In that knowledge, we have confidence to face whatever happens today. There is a battle raging in our world between good and evil, but the ultimate victory has already been won. Though not yet here in person, Jesus is already the Ruler of all.
Every battle we face can be fought in confidence, knowing that Jesus has already won the ultimate victory.
And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
God knows that we are living and walking in a world filled with sin, danger, and temptation. He understands the pressures we face, because Jesus overcame the direct temptation of Satan himself. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). So God always makes a way for us to walk that will lead to holiness and victory. There is never a time when that way is not there—just times when we do not see it.
The temptations that we face no longer have the power to defeat us unless we give them that power. Once we were helpless captives of sin, but salvation changes everything. We see a beautiful picture of this truth in the ancient prophecy of Isaiah. Though he was speaking primarily of the time when Jesus will reign on Earth, the spiritual principle is the same. God makes a way of holiness for those who seek to walk in it. When the desire of our hearts is to please God and live in victory, we will walk in His power and overcome. No temptation is worth abandoning the path of righteous living. No temporary gratification is worth losing the joy that those who walk in close fellowship with God constantly know. He has made a way. Our task is to choose to follow it.
Those who seek to please God and walk in holiness will always find His help to overcome sin.
Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:9-13
Jan Hus, or John Huss, was excommunicated by the Catholic Church and charged with heresy for upholding the authority of Scripture over that of the pope, for his support of John Wycliffe, and for his efforts to translate the Bible into languages people could read. Warned that his position risked his life unless he recanted, Hus wrote, “Even if I should stand before the stake which has been prepared for me, I would never accept the recommendation of the theological faculty.” Despite the promise of safe passage he had received, Hus was arrested at the Council of Constance, and following a one-sided trial was sentenced to be burned at the stake. As he was being led to his execution, Hus said, “In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.”
The powers of this world may be strong, but they cannot stand before the power of God displayed in the lives of His obedient and courageous children. We may not win every battle. We may be persecuted, jailed, or even executed, but we cannot be defeated as long as we do not surrender. The Word of God cannot be put in chains by the power of men. The Spirit of God cannot be contained by walls or doors or shackles. We have no need to fear whatever people may do to oppose us, for it is God who gives us the ultimate victory.
God provides the power to endure and overcome to those who refuse to be silenced in speaking for Him.
And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.
Few places pay more attention to the foundations for buildings than we do in California. The fault lines that run under our state pose a constant threat of earthquakes. It's more a matter of when than if the ground will shake and those foundations will be tested. There is a corollary truth in the Christian life: Our faith will be challenged and tested. Unless it is built upon a strong foundation, it will fall. As Jesus concluded His Sermon on the Mount, He told His listeners that to build a strong foundation for their lives, they must hear and obey what He had taught them.
There are people who know full well what the Bible says. They are highly educated and have studied it for years. Yet all of that knowledge does not provide a foundation for success in life because it is not coupled with obedience. Saying Jesus is in charge of our lives is meaningless unless we treat Him as Lord not in word but in deed. There are challenges and storms heading our way, so we must be ready. We know this is true because Jesus told us they would. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Faith is grounded to withstand the storms—not just by knowing but by doing what the Word of God says.
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together: That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.
Because God created the world and is all-powerful, He is not bound by what is possible in the natural world. If His people are in need, He is able to provide. God parted the Red Sea after sending the plagues to Egypt. He sent manna from Heaven for the Israelites in the wilderness. He poured water out of the rock when Moses struck it with his rod. His power and provision are a reminder to us of who He is—faithful, able, and trustworthy.
The fact that a problem we face cannot be solved by human power does not in any way impact God's ability to solve it. The limits are always on our end. The Israelites received much from God, but they could have received even more if they had truly trusted in Him. “Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:41). God is not offended or annoyed by our requests for His help. He delights to display His love and power in meeting our needs. Being in the wilderness does not mean we will go thirsty as long as we are trusting in God. No desert is too dry to stop His water from flowing.
Faith trusts in God no matter how difficult or even impossible the circumstances may be.
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Sometimes we lose sight of just how much God loves us. The Bible emphasizes this by His name “Father." Of course, a parent/child relationship is a very different relationship than people in the ancient world had with the various gods they worshipped. Those gods were capricious and cruel, intervening in the lives of people to cause trouble and get revenge. God is not like that, but instead is a loving Father to His children. He truly cares for our sadness and difficulties, and when we pray to Him, we can expect an answer. We are not imposing on God when we pray, nor do we have to convince Him of our merit to seek His help. God delights in receiving and answering the prayers of His children.
Missionary Hudson Taylor, when asked if he thought God would really provide for his needs in China, answered, “I am taking my children with me, and I notice that it is not difficult for me to remember that the little ones need breakfast in the morning, dinner at midday, and something before they go to bed at night. Indeed I could not forget it. And I find it impossible to suppose that our heavenly Father is less tender or mindful than I. I do not believe that our heavenly Father will ever forget His children. I am a very poor father, but it is not my habit to forget my children. God is a very, very good Father. It is not His habit to forget His children.”
Our prayers are not an annoyance to God, but rather an opportunity for Him to show His love in action.
All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto the LORD, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, by a statute for ever: it is a covenant of salt for ever before the LORD unto thee and to thy seed with thee. And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel.
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, there were geographic regions assigned to each tribe. They were responsible to drive out the inhabitants and establish control over that area. That land was meant to pass from one generation to the next, as a permanent family possession. The exception to this was the tribe of Levi. Because their lives were to be dedicated to the service of the Lord in the tabernacle and among the people, they did not receive a set piece of land. Instead, their needs would be met by the offerings of the people, and God promised that He would see to providing their inheritance.
This is a beautiful picture of how we are to live as children of God in this world. While there is nothing wrong with owning a house or property and leaving something for those who come after us, that should never be the focus of our lives. As the old song put it, “This world is not my home, I'm just a-passin' through.” We have so much more than this world holds waiting in store for us, and our hearts need to be fixed on Heaven. Our trust is not in our resources, but in God's faithfulness to provide for our needs. Our hope is not on what we have here, but on what we have waiting in eternity. “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
We must never allow our hearts to become fixed on the things of this world, or our service to God will suffer.
Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed. I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me. I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.
All of us sin. We know that we should not, yet too often we give in to temptation and sin. It is what we do next that determines the impact that sin will have on our lives. The natural human tendency, ever since the Garden of Eden is to try to conceal sin, hoping that no one will find out. That never works. Even if we could hide it from everyone else, God still knows. If we insist on covering up our sin and keeping it secret, we are headed for even greater trouble. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
A sad chapter in King David's life illustrates this truth dramatically. He did everything humanly possible to conceal his adultery, even going so far as to arrange to have one of his most trusted men killed in battle. It didn't work. When David refused to repent, God sent Nathan to confront him. David paid dearly for his sin, but even more for his failure to confess it. He details the great physical suffering he endured during the time he was trying to hide his sin. There are always consequences to any sin we commit, but those consequences are made far more severe when we do not quickly confess and forsake that sin. Charles Spurgeon said, “There is mercy for a sinner, but there is no mercy for the man who will not own himself a sinner.”
The more quickly we confess our sin, the quicker our fellowship with God will be restored.
Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.
We live in a world that is filled with trouble and hardship. There are times when we are overwhelmed by the struggles we must face. David knew this feeling well. His path to the throne of Israel was anything but smooth. He was hunted because of the jealousy of Saul; he fled to the Philistines who wanted to kill him; and he had to deal with rebellion from his own son Absalom. In all of those troubles, David knew where to turn for help. He knew that he could find a refuge in God.
There is no threat that we face that is beyond God's ability to protect and deliver us from. There is no danger or difficulty that will pose a challenge to His unlimited power and resources. Our task is to turn to Him for help rather than trying to fix everything ourselves or allowing the trouble to discourage us to the point where we quit. We have no reason to expect that things will never go wrong. We should not be taken off guard when the enemies come. Instead, we should flee to the Lord, knowing that He loves and cares for us. “The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10). Annie Johnson Flint wrote,
God hath not promised
Skies always blue,
All our lives thro';
God hath not promised
Sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow,
Peace without pain.
But God hath promised
Strength for the day,
Rest for the labor,
Light for the way,
Grace for the trials,
Help from above,
God always provides refuge to those who put their trust in Him and seek His face.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He gave Moses the law to govern the way in which they were to live. They did not keep that law because their hearts were not fully following after the Lord. In a very real sense, the sin nature all of us are born with is incapable of consistently walking in God's way. And we see this so clearly through the Israelites. Whether under the judges, the prophets, or the kings, the people of Israel still went astray. The problem was not their surroundings, although they lived in the midst of heathen and godless cultures. The problem was with their hearts which were not fully devoted to God.
No human problem can be fixed from the outside in. The only solution is for the heart to change first, and the behavior will reflect that change. Jesus said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (Matthew 15:19-20). When we trust Christ as our Savior, He gives us a new heart. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). We now have the ability to follow Him from a pure heart of love.
The victorious Christian life is lived from the inside out, not the outside in.
My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations. Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth thy glory.
Everything that we have is temporal. It will one day fade and pass away. No matter how secure something seems to be, all human works are fading. For instance, there are many nations that were listed on maps from one hundred years ago that you would seek in vain today. Of the Fortune 500 list of companies, only sixty (12 percent) made the list in both 1955 and 2016. The other 440, once some of the largest, strongest, best-run and best-capitalized companies in the world—were gone. Mergers, bankruptcies, disruptive new technologies, and market forces drove them out of business. As we grow older we notice the same thing in our bodies. We can no longer do things we once took for granted, and even some things that seem like they should be easy prove taxing.
In a world where everything changes, God does not. He told the prophet Malachi, “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). We can rely on Him no matter what is going on around us. God's eternal nature, what theologians call “immutability,” cannot change. He can always be trusted. People we count on may change, move, or pass away. Mentors we looked up to may abandon us. Businesses we invested in may go bankrupt. But God is always there, and He is always faithful. Everyone needs a solid foundation on which to build their lives. For believers, God is that foundation.
Only a life built on an unshakable foundation can endure the storms of a changing world.
Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.
God gave Ezekiel a series of visions to describe the future of His plan for Israel so that even though they were being held captive in Babylon, far from the Promised Land, they would understand that there was still hope. The prophecy concerning a reborn nation of Israel turning to God in faith and repentance has not yet been fulfilled, but we know that it will because God said that it would.
In the prophetic message Israel received through Ezekiel, we also see a principle that has been proven true over and over. Our God is a God of resurrection and life springing from the dead. Every person who has trusted Christ as Savior has experienced that new birth. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
Our task, having been given new life, is to walk in it rather than spending our lives as if we were still dead. There is no person whose sin is so great that God cannot save them. Just as the grave could not hold Jesus, sin cannot hold the soul who trusts in Him. When God's Spirit comes, life follows. When He speaks, even death cannot close the ears of those who like Lazarus He calls to come out of the grave.
In Jesus Christ life triumphed over death and the grave, and His power gives us the certainty of eternal life with Him.
And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
A group called the Pew Research Center conducts regular surveys of American people on many topics, including religion. One of their studies was published in USA Today which revealed, “78 percent overall say there are 'absolute standards of right and wrong,' but only 29 percent rely on their religion to delineate these standards.” That was almost fifteen years ago. Since then things have gotten much worse as religious involvement and commitment have declined to levels never seen before in this country. Today, fewer people belief in the concept of absolute truth or that some things are always right or wrong. Even more believe they can make that decision for themselves.
It is no surprise that people are eager to accept philosophies and religious doctrine that allow them to determine what is right and wrong. Satan has been successfully selling the lie that we can do that ever since the Garden of Eden. It appeals to our sinful natures to be the determining force in moral issues. But because of those sinful natures, every time we choose for ourselves, we choose wrongly. Even if we wanted to choose rightly and walk rightly, we do not have the power to do so in ourselves. Paul wrote, “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” (Romans 7:18). Thankfully, we have a reliable, infallible source for truth in the Word of God.
You can trust God's Word as the absolute guide for right and wrong on which to make your decisions and choices.
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
1 Thessalonians 5:5-8
It's easy to recognize the darkness of the world around us and allow ourselves to be discouraged. But darkness is not a new experience for God's people. When Paul was ministering during the Roman Empire, there was great wickedness and opposition to the truth. When the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon, they were surrounded by a hostile, idol-worshiping culture. Throughout history we see again and again the impact of sin on our world. The fact that we are in a battle should not make us give in to despair.
It should, however, make us serious about our walk and our preparation for spiritual warfare. We need to be on guard, watching alertly for the attacks of the enemy. We need to be armored up, ready for the battle before it starts. Soldiers who are caught off guard and are scrambling to prepare while the enemy is already attacking are unlikely to be victorious. But those who are alert and ready are much better able to respond. We should not be surprised when we face attacks.
We must also remember that it is God's strength that overcomes the enemy and God's light that triumphs over the darkness. We are not fighting in our own ability and power. Martin Luther said it well in the great hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is our God": “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing." We have been given spiritual armor and weapons, but it is God who makes them effective tools of victory.
A Christian who is awake, armored, and depending on Christ has every reason to expect spiritual victory.
Now it came to pass on a certain day, that he went into a ship with his disciples: and he said unto them, Let us go over unto the other side of the lake. And they launched forth. But as they sailed he fell asleep: and there came down a storm of wind on the lake; and they were filled with water, and were in jeopardy. And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm.
While Jesus and the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee in a boat, Jesus slept. He was apparently extremely exhausted, because as He slept, a storm arose that threatened the lives of all on board the ship, yet He did not awake. The danger was real. The wind was blowing water into the ship, and they were at risk of sinking or capsizing. In terror, the disciples awoke Jesus. He rebuked the wind, and the storm ceased at His command. Once they were safe, Jesus rebuked them for their unbelief. “And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him” (Luke 8:25).
By this point, the disciples had seen repeated displays of the power of Jesus. He was able to command demons and diseases. They had even seen Him raise the dead back to life. Yet when the storm came, the fact that Jesus was with them was not enough to keep them from fear. Because they were focused on the storm rather than His power, and because they could not see Him at work, they doubted He would do what He said. Yet the Lord had told them they were going to the other side, and as I once heard someone say, “If the Lord says, 'Go over' you're not going to go under—no matter what.” There are times when we do not see Him at work when there are storms in our lives. In those moments it is critical that we not forget His power and His promises.
God is always faithful to His promises whether we can see or understand what He is doing or not.
And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king's, saying, Go, enquire of the LORD for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do after all that is written in this book.
2 Chronicles 34:19-21
Josiah was one of the few kings of Judah who loved and followed God and cared about doing what God said. Yet because of the spiritual decline that Israel had endured, the commandments given by Moses had been forgotten. It was only when Josiah ordered the priests to repair the Temple which had been neglected that a copy of the law was found. The discovery produced an immediate response from the king. He recognized that God was serious about what He commanded, and the people had not obeyed His Word. His repentance spread to the people, and for a time the nation turned back to God.
If we do not take what God has said seriously, realizing that He indeed means everything He said, we will be like the Israelites of Josiah's day. They still paid lip service to Jehovah, but they were fixated on other things that had become their true center of worship. The world is filled with things we are tempted to worship. In our Western world, these things are not usually carved statues or golden calves, but they are idols nonetheless. It is easy for us to look at the world around us and see their need for repentance, but repentance must start with Christians. Only when we are serious about God's Word and putting Him first will revival come.
The passage of time and changes in the world do not change the fact that God still means everything He said.
Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause. Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.
Many people struggle with decisions regarding God's will. All of us face choices, questions, and decisions in our daily lives. If our hearts are right, we want to do what God wants us to do instead of insisting on having things our own way. One of the most crucial aspects of doing God's will is being submissive to His direction. Many times the things that are most appealing to us are not the right things. We need to instead look for God's path and be sensitive to His warnings that we are heading in the wrong direction. Oswald Chambers said, “You decide things in perfect delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong He will always check; when He checks, stop at once.”
When Balak, the king of Moab tried to get Balaam to come and curse the Israelites, God told Balaam in no uncertain terms not to go. Yet when Balak offered even greater wealth and honor, Balaam refused to accept God's answer and even after encountering an angel blocking his path, went ahead. He did not curse the Israelites, but he did advise the heathen king on how to dilute their worship of God. Balaam died among the enemies of God's people because he would not heed God's warnings. “And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword” (Numbers 31:8).
We can only walk in God's will as we are surrendered to walking in God's ways.
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-4
Though Henry Ostrum was born in Canada, he spent much of his life and ministry in the United States. He worked for some years with Moody Bible Institute, and was a noted evangelist. Ostrum was also a prolific hymn writer, and many of his songs focused on the return of the Lord, including “Is it the Crowning Day?”
Jesus may come today,
Glad day, glad day!
And I would see my Friend;
Dangers and troubles would end
If Jesus should come today.
Glad day, glad day!
Is it the crowning day?
I’ll live for today, nor anxious be;
Jesus, my Lord I soon shall see;
Glad day, glad day!
Is it the crowning day?
Every day should be lived with a real sense that the Lord may return at any moment. When we do so, it adds a real sense of urgency to our service for Him. We simply do not know whether the opportunities He has given us today will ever be repeated in the future. In truth, we do not even know there will be a future in this life at all. Each day many Christians who looked for the Lord's return see Him in Heaven instead. We must use today because it is the only day we have, and because we do not want to be ashamed when we see Jesus. “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14).
Knowing we could see Jesus before this day ends should inspire us to use it to the fullest for His service and glory.
And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.
In the agricultural society of Israel, a prolonged period without rain or with too much cold or hot weather was not just an inconvenience. It was a lethal threat because it meant that there would not be enough food for the people to eat. This was the judgment God sent on the people during the reign of the wicked king Ahab in the days of Elijah. Once it stopped raining, people were desperate for something to eat.
But there is another kind of famine—the one God described to Amos. This famine is far more serious than a physical famine. It is a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. God told His people in Deuteronomy 8:3, "...man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live." (Jesus quoted these words in Matthew 4:4 when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness.) If physical famine is severe, and it is, spiritual famine is even more severe.
All around the world, there are people who do not have access to God's Word and some who have never even heard the name of Jesus. Here in the United States, many are led astray by false teachers who purport to be teaching God's Word but are in reality leading people away from Jesus Christ as the only Savior. And even Christians who know Christ may as well live in a famine of God's Word because they do not regularly consume it—either through personal study or hearing it expounded through preaching.
While an absence of food would be quickly noticed, most people are not aware of the spiritual famine they are in. Perhaps you remember the fake fruit that used to adorn kitchen tables. They looked (sort of) like real food, but if you tried to eat them, your hunger would not be satisfied. Only the truth will satisfy hungry hearts.
A lack of food may weaken the body, but a lack of truth destroys the soul.
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
Prayer was not a new concept in Jesus' day. God's people had been praying for centuries. Yet much of that prayer had become simply the rote repetition of words and phrases that had been learned without any connection to the heart. Jesus condemned those who prayed in this fashion. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6:7). Prayer to Jesus was a vital communication to His Father in Heaven. He continued to pray throughout His ministry, and He taught this way of praying.
In his parable on the importance of persistence in prayer, Jesus described a judge who had no regard for either God or man. Shockingly, this corrupt and uncaring man is the representative for God in the story. Jesus' point was not to say that God is unwilling to hear our prayers as a dishonest judge would be. It was to create a comparison—if even a corrupt earthly leader could be influenced by continuing supplication, a loving God would be even more quick to respond when His children cried out to Him.
The alternative to persistence in our praying is that we become discouraged and give up. We faint rather than continuing. While there are times when God answers prayer immediately, we must not allow a delay to make us give up on prayer. God loves us and wants the best for us, and prayer is the means by which He provides for our needs.
We are always to pray—not just all the time, but persistently until the answer comes.
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
2 Thessalonians 1:3-5
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow before the massive golden idol Nebuchadnezzar had built, the furious king commanded that they be thrown into an overheated furnace. The flames killed the guards who threw them in, but the fire had no effect on the three faithful Hebrews. As the Lord appeared to them in the midst of the furnace, the pagan king was astonished. The Bible does not tell us how they reacted, but I am sure that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in no hurry to leave the furnace. The God they loved and served and obeyed even in the face of death was present with them when the flames were hottest.
The most common reaction when we face hardship and tribulation is to seek to get it over with as quickly as possible. The flames are not fun to endure. Yet God calls us to be faithful and patient in times of suffering, and He promises to be there with us. The source of strength and hope for those moments is the knowledge that God never forsakes us. Whether He delivers us as He did the three Hebrew children or brings us into His presence through death as He did with Stephen and so many others, He is always there. We do not need to fear that He will leave us. And we must not allow ourselves to feel that our suffering is because He does not care. It is when we are patient in hard times that we see some of God's greatest works in our lives.
The God who allows fires to refine our faith that it might reflect His glory promises to remain with us in the furnace.
And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee. And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.
1 Samuel 1:12-15
The greatest heartbreak of Hannah's life was that she had no children. She believed in the power of God and His ability to end her barrenness, and so she prayed with fervor and intensity. The old priest Eli, who had little spiritual discernment, thought that she was drunk; but it was just the impassioned pleading of a burdened and broken heart. God heard Hannah's prayer, and after she brought Samuel to serve in the Tabernacle as she had promised, God gave her five more children.
If we are casual and careless in our praying, we are not likely to see God do great things in our lives. It is easy for prayer to become a ritual, something that we do with very little thought or feeling. Instead prayer should be vital, passionate communication with God. We do not pray only to bring him our physical needs, but also to express the burdens of our soul. David wrote, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psalm 62:8). When we pray with fervor, we are willing to lay aside our sins and weights, seeking God because that matters more than anything else. There are victories that are never won, lives that are never changed, and blessings that are never claimed, not because we did not wish for them, but because we did not seriously seek God's favor and blessing in prayer.
Effective prayer is not a casual level conversation with God but a heart-felt cry for His help.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Our faith should impact every part of our lives, and it should be obvious to those who know us that we are followers of Jesus Christ. However the core of our faith is not what we do in public, but what we do when we are alone. Before our influence and impact on others can be what it should be, our personal and private relationship with God must be what it should be. Rather than seeking the praise and attention of others, we should be seeking to please God. We are not prepared to be effective representatives of Jesus Christ before the world until we are right with Him where no one else sees.
David knew well the importance of the time he spent with God in private. He wrote, “But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him. Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah” (Psalm 4:3-4). If we are right with God in our hearts, we will not find it difficult to do right for God in the sight of others. Our goal is not to lead people to think that we are worthy of praise, and our spiritual activity should never be aimed at gaining the attention of others. Our goal is show that God is good and worthy of following, so that people gain a good impression of Him from the way we live before them.
Our relationship with God is more a matter of what we do in private than what we do in public.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
Prayer is a conversation we have with God, and the way in which we pray reveals a great deal about the condition of our hearts. When our prayers contain things that indicate how great we are, how much better than others we are, and (though we would never say it out loud) how lucky God is to have us, it shows that our inward attitude is not right. Effective obedient prayer only comes from a heart that knows how desperately reliant on God it is. The British evangelist Roy Hession wrote, “We have all become so used to condemning the proud self-righteous attitude of the Pharisee in [this] parable that we can hardly believe that the picture of him there is meant to apply to us—which only shows how much like him we really are.”
There is no place for pride in any of our lives. No matter how long and faithfully we have served God, no matter how much we may have accomplished for Him, it is His power that does the work, not our own abilities and talent. When we begin to think of ourselves as better than others and not still in need of God's grace, we are on the path to destruction. God did not respond to the boastful prayer of the proud Pharisee, and He will not hear us unless we come to Him in humility.
Effective prayer must spring from a humble heart that acknowledges its complete dependence on God.
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
When the time came for the captivity of Israel to end and the people to return to the land, God touched the heart of a heathen king to make it happen. Cyrus ruled the mightiest empire in the world and had control over much of what today we know as the Middle East. He even gave the Jewish people who committed to return and rebuild the Temple the items that had been looted from it by Nebuchadnezzar at the start of the period of captivity. There was no particular human reason that Cyrus should have done that, as it did not increase the power or stability of his empire. Yet when God determines to do something, He is able to arrange whatever human powers are necessary so that it happens. “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
We live in an increasingly heathen and hostile world, and we are seeing governments take steps to limit religious freedom and to promote perversion. This problem is real, but it is not a problem we can fix by going on protest marches or voting. As Christians we have a responsibility to be good citizens of our country, and to be involved in the process by which decisions are made. But the ultimate power—the power no human ruler or government can resist—is the power of God. When we face issues, our first response should be to seek His face.
The ultimate solution to the problems of a heathen culture is for God's power to change the hearts of the people.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
The choices and decisions that we make in this life are dictated by what we value most. No one willingly gives something that is worth more to them and exchanges it for something they value less. For our choices to be right, our values must be right. Al Smith wrote:
With eternity’s values in view, Lord,
With eternity’s values in view;
May I do each day’s work for Jesus
With eternity’s values in view.
This world is not all there is. The things of this world, no matter how stable or lasting they seem, are temporary. The things of this world are not as important as the things of the next. That means that our lives must be lived with an eye not just on what is before us, but on what is coming next. There are many things that compete for our time and attention, and it is crucial that we allow the things that matter most to weigh more heavily as we make those choices.
Abraham left behind a prosperous life in the city of Ur and spent the rest of his life living in a tent. He never found in this life the eternal city, but he certainly did in the next. When we are seeking God and His Kingdom, we will not find the hold of the things of the world so strong. We will instead value what He values. Jesus asked, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
If we want our lives to count, we must invest them in things that are eternal rather than temporal.
And some of the chief of the fathers, when they came to the house of the LORD which is at Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God to set it up in his place: They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work threescore and one thousand drams of gold, and five thousand pound of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments. So the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.
Our natural tendency is to measure gifts by their size or the amount that they cost. In 1997 when Ted Turner pledged to give a billion dollars to the United Nations, it was one of the largest donations in history. It gained international attention, as people focused on how much the media mogul had promised to give away. Over the next seventeen years, Turner made donations into a special foundation created for the purpose, until he had paid the entire one billion dollars. It was a large gift, but it was one he was financially able to make without causing him to sacrifice. His remaining resources were more than enough to allow him to continue to live his same comfortable lifestyle after he had given the large gift.
God does not measure our gifts by their size. He looks instead at what we were able to do to measure what we have given. Those who give “after their ability” are never looked down on by God, even if what they are able to do is very small in the eyes of the world. The work of God is designed to function on the resources provided by the people of God. When Ezra returned to Jerusalem to lead the rebuilding of the Temple, he did not ask the heathen king for the necessary funds. Instead he asked God's people to use what they had so that the work could be completed.
Every time we do what we are able to do, large or small, God is honored and pleased.
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
1 Timothy 1:12-15
The evangelist D. L. Moody told of a man from Scotland who before his conversion was a notorious sinner. After he was saved, he began sharing his testimony, and many others were saved as a result. One night when this Scotsman was to speak near his home, someone sent a letter to the platform that contained a list of sins he had committed. Rather than allowing it to shame him into silence, he took it as an opportunity to present the gospel effectively. The man took the list to the pulpit with him and read each one aloud. When he was finished, he said, “I am guilty of all these things that were done in this very city.” He then proceeded to preach on the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ which is available to forgive and change the worst of sinners.
None of us were mostly okay people who only needed a little bit of grace and salvation. All of us were completely and hopelessly lost. The human efforts of the best person who ever lived did not come close to meeting the absolute perfection of a holy God. We must never forget that we were sinners, headed for an eternity apart from God in Hell before He saved us. Whether we were saved at a young age before being out in the world, or saved after a lifetime of sin, it was all God's grace being applied that changed our destiny. Our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, and He can and will save anyone who believes.
Never lose sight of the grace of God that paid the cost of all of our sins on the cross.
And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan! O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt thou do unto thy great name? And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?
Prayer is a vital part of the Christian life. It is a command and a privilege for us to talk to our Father in Heaven. The Bible is filled with directives reminding us to be faithful in praying. Yet there are also times when prayer is not the most appropriate response. It is said that D. L. Moody was once in a prayer meeting where a group of wealthy businessmen were asking God for help in retiring a debt of several hundred dollars the church was carrying. Moody said, “I don't think you should bother God with praying when He has already given you the means to meet the need.”
Prayer can never be allowed to substitute for doing what is in our power. When the Israelites were defeated by the tiny city of Ai after a complete victory over the mighty city of Jericho, Joshua was distressed. But when he went before the Lord in prayer, God commanded him to get up and go deal with the sin that had led to the defeat. Any time we know what God wants us to do, the time for praying for guidance has passed. It is time for action. There is still a need for prayer for wisdom and strength and courage to do what God asks us to do, but there is no need to ask for direction.
Prayer is never a substitute for action when God has made the way clear.
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
Thomas Carlyle, known as the “Sage of Chelsea,” was one of the leading lights of England's literary community in the 1800s. A prolific historian, novelist and essayist, Carlyle was renowned for his way with words. To make his work time more productive, Carlyle had a special soundproof room built in his London home so that he would not be disturbed by the noise of the town. His efforts proved ineffective against the crowing of a neighbor's rooster. Hearing Carlyle's complaint his neighbor protested that the rooster only crowed two or three times a day. Carlyle was not mollified and responded, “If you only knew what I suffer waiting for that cock to crow!”
There are plenty of things that are real problems with which we have to deal. We certainly do not need to cripple ourselves with worry about things that have not yet and may not ever happen. As God's children, we are never abandoned or left on our own. He knows every need we have before we are even aware of it, and He has already planned the solution to our problems before they arise. It is a slander against His love for us to worry. He does not promise us that nothing will ever go wrong, or that things will always turn out the way we would like them to. He does promise to never leave us nor forsake us. He does promise to meet our needs.
If our hearts and minds are filled with worry, we do not love and trust God as we should.
Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause. Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked. And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous. Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
God gave the Israelites a number of rules to follow that governed how they treated each other. He also gave them several commandments for how they were to treat outsiders. In those days it was common for strangers from another land to be taken advantage of, cheated, robbed or even killed. Yet the Israelites were told to be fair and gracious in their dealings with strangers. God did not want His people to forget what it had been like in Egypt before He brought them out of captivity. If they lost sight of how they themselves had suffered and what it felt like to be in bondage, they would be tempted to take advantage of others, rather than treating them with grace and mercy.
We too have been released from bondage—a bondage far more severe than physical enslavement—the bondage of sin. God does not want us to forget that we were once lost. Instead He calls us to reach out to the world with hope found in the message of the gospel. We should do so with intensity and compassion. Charles Spurgeon said, “Love your fellowmen, and cry about them if you cannot bring them to Christ. If you cannot save them, you can weep over them. If you cannot give them a drop of cold water in hell, you can give them your heart’s tears while they are still in this body.” No matter how long we have been saved we must not forget that we too were once lost and needed someone to show us the way to salvation.
Gratitude for our own salvation should motivate us to reach out to others with the hope of the gospel.
When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.
It is easy to look at the world around us and feel outnumbered. There is certainly no shortage of people attacking the things we believe and hold dear. There are plenty of false teachers declaring things God has not said, and many of them have huge followings. There are threats and lawsuits against those who try to live out their faith in the world. Yet despite the fact that there are a host of enemies, we do not need to be fearful or downcast. We have the Lord on our side, and as Paul asked, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
Though there were 850 false prophets on Mt. Carmel and Elijah stood alone, he was not outnumbered. The gathered people listened for hours as the false prophets called on Baal without any answer. Elijah prayed a brief prayer and fire came down from Heaven. Elijah did not allow the fact that there were many false prophets or that they were supported by Ahab and Jezebel and the political establishment of Israel deter him from standing courageously for the truth. God is still in control of our world and no matter how strong evil may seem, we have nothing to fear.
No human opponent can overcome the power God is ready and willing to deploy on behalf of His children.
And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink.
The evangelist D. L. Moody told of a girl who had been brought up in a good Christian home in Scotland but had gone far away from God. Deep in sin she reached the point where she contemplated suicide, but thought she should go and see her family home before taking her life. She arrived in the middle of the night, quietly lifted the latch on the gate and went up to the door. Shocked to find it standing open she feared that something had happened. She called out and her mother answered, “Maggie, it is many a long day since you went away, but always the prayer has been in my heart, `Lord, send her home.' And I said, `Whether she come by night or day, I want her to see an open door and know she is welcome.'” The girl turned back to the Lord that night.
The love of a Christian mother has been the guiding influence on many a child who came to faith because of what she taught. In our society, motherhood has been denigrated and mocked. Young women are encouraged to focus only on themselves and their interests and are made to believe that having and rearing godly children is belittling. In reality, raising children for God is a high calling. Even as the Bible describes the birth of Moses, it emphasizes the faith of his mother.
When mothers do not love their children as they should, it is a sign of a decaying society. When mothers do love and teach their children as they should, they change their future. The power of a loving, godly mother cannot be overstated. In 1865 William Wallace wrote: “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
When Walter Orthmann was still a teenager, he had to leave school to get a job to help support his family. He was hired as a shipping assistant for a textile company in his native Brazil. He was moved to the sales side of the organization, and eventually became a sales manager. That was in in 1938. He never stopped working. In January of 2022, Orthmann, who is now 100 years old, was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for having worked for the same company for eighty-four years, longer than anyone else they could find. In an interview Orthamnn said, “Tomorrow will be another day in which I will wake up, get up, exercise and go to work. You need to get busy with the present, not the past or the future. Here and now is what counts.”
Not everyone has great talents. Not everyone has incredible gifts. But everyone can be faithful. Each one of us can do whatever task God sets before us. Sometimes He places us in situations where what we do is very visible to others. Sometimes He places us in situations where it seems like no one is even aware of what we are doing. Whatever our situation or circumstance, we can and must be faithful. Our purpose in working is not to bring glory and attention to ourselves, but to glorify God. He is always faithful. And to please Him and reflect well on Him, we must be as well. Faithfulness is not optional. Paul reminds us of this truth: “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). God never fails to see our work, and He never fails to reward faithfulness.
People can do much to discourage or hinder us, but no one can make us stop being faithful except us.
Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.
For most of his short life Robert Louis Stevenson suffered serious physical ailments. He moved again and again, seeking a climate that would help, but nothing took away the problems. So Stevenson decided to work anyway. In a letter to a friend he said, “I have written in bed, and written out of it, written in hemorrhages, written in sickness, written torn by coughing, written when my head swam for weakness.” Though he was right handed, Stevenson wrote much of A Child's Garden of Verses with his left hand after a stroke. When he could no longer write at all, he dictated some of his best-known works. When he got to where he could not speak, he used sign language to convey his thoughts to his daughter-in-law who wrote them down. He could easily have just given up, but he refused to stop because things were hard.
Paul lauded the church at Philippi because they stood with him in the work no matter what. When others churches did not support the missionary work, they did. When Paul was left in Thessalonica without resources, they stepped up, and not just once. There is a great deal that can be accomplished by those who simply keep on doing what is right no matter what. Very few things that are worthwhile and meaningful can be accomplished without overcoming obstacles. If we quit the first time things go wrong, we will not make progress. But if we are “once and again” Christians, like the believers in Philippi, we can be part of something that will produce eternal results. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “The test of your character is what it takes to stop you.”
Those who quit when things get hard will never know the joy and reward of perseverance.
We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out. For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them.
Many of us grew up reading biographies of great Christians of the past and hearing about revivals that transformed communities and even entire nations. We have the stories from Scripture of how God worked in ways that are impossible to explain apart from His power. It is important that we never forget He is on our side. The same God who parted the Red Sea, destroyed the walls of Jericho, and gave a young shepherd victory over a giant is our God. If we lose sight of the fact that He can defeat any enemy, we will lose heart, like the Israelites who refused to enter the Promised Land after the bad report of the ten spies Moses sent, and fail to do what we can and should for Him.
In truth, we should not be content to just read about and hear about what God has done in the past. Instead, we should be confidently moving ahead, trusting His power and promises. Rather than being discouraged and dismayed by opposition and adversaries, we should expect God to respond when we seek His help. “Ye shall not fear them: for the LORD your God he shall fight for you” (Deuteronomy 3:22). Sometimes we give up and accept defeat without even making an effort because it seems like it will be too late. But as hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take.” We have God on our side, and we should expect to see victories in our lives.
God has not changed, and those who walk in faith can still see Him do great things.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,
Paul was dedicated to serving God, but that did not mean God gave him a smooth and painless life. His letter to the Colossian Christians was written from a prison cell in Rome where he was awaiting trial. There were many excuses Paul could have used to justify giving up, but instead he persevered. Paul understood that he was where he was “by the will of God.” He knew that God had a purpose and a plan for his life, and he was willing to pay the price to fulfill his calling. He understood that even when human help deserted him, God never would.
George Müller said, “I need not despair because the living God is my partner. I do not have sufficient wisdom to meet these difficulties, but He is able to direct me. I can pour out my heart to God and ask Him to guide and direct me and to supply me with wisdom. Then I have to believe that He will do so. I can go with good courage to my business and expect help from Him in the next difficulty that may come before me.”
We are not to aimlessly wander through this life. If God did not have something for us to do, He would not leave us here. It is our responsibility to follow God's leading and do whatever He places before us. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). There are people we can reach with the gospel, people we can encourage, people we can disciple better than anyone else could. Our job is to do God's work, and keep doing God's work for as long as we live. The Roman government could lock Paul in jail, but they could not stop him from continuing to work for God.
God always knows where we are and what we should do, and we can trust His plan for our lives.
That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
Anyone who has purchased and financed a home knows about the down payment required as part of the process of getting the loan for the property. Requiring the buyer to put something of value into the deal increases the likelihood that the payments will actually be made. Once we have put something of our own into anything, it becomes much less likely that we will just walk away. Because we are invested in it, we are committed to seeing it through to the end.
God's promise of eternal life does not need any backup to be certain and true, for He never lies or breaks a promise. But to increase our faith and remind us that He will never leave or forsake us, we receive the Holy Spirit as a down payment on what is yet to come. That inheritance promised to us is beyond our ability to comprehend. Isaiah wrote, “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him” (Isaiah 64:4).
God does not want us to live crippled by uncertainty and doubt about the future. We are just as secure today as we would be if we were already with Him in Heaven. There is no doubt or question about the destiny of those who have trusted Jesus as Savior. We have great things in store for us, and we should be confidently looking to the day when we will see the Lord. He has given us all we need to be secure.
We have both God's unbreakable promise and His indwelling Holy Spirit to give us confidence in the future.
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with being noticed. People do all kinds of things to attract attention, hoping to “go viral” and reach a widespread audience. This hunger for notoriety and attention can easily infect our lives as well. God's work is not done for the praise and approval of men. It must be done for Him alone. God never misses what we do for Him. Each of the letters to the seven churches that Jesus gave the Apostle John to write from Him (Revelation 2–3) begins with God pointing out that He knew exactly what they were doing. “I know thy works” should be a source of encouragement to us, especially if we are in a situation where it seems like no one notices or recognizes what we are doing. As long as God knows, nothing else should matter. Pride seeks the limelight, but humility seeks the approval of God. Pride promotes self, but humility promotes fruitfulness.
Jane Taylor wrote in her poem called “The Violet”:
Down in a green and shady bed,
A modest violet grew,
Its stalk was bent, it hung its head,
As if to hide from view.
And yet it was a lovely flower,
Its colours bright and fair;
It might have graced a rosy bower,
Instead of hiding there,
Yet there it was content to bloom,
In modest tints arrayed;
And there diffused its sweet perfume,
Within the silent shade.
Then let me to the valley go,
This pretty flower to see;
That I may also learn to grow
In sweet humility.
Our desire should never be to bring attention to ourselves, but rather to bring glory to God.
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We live in a world where peace is hard to come by. Whether it is war between nations, conflict between individuals, or unrest within our own hearts, there is much trouble and little peace. It is not surprising that medications to change people's mood and attitude sell so well. Nor is it surprising that many people turn to things like alcohol or illicit drugs to try to cover up the turmoil in their hearts. When the angels announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds the message was “peace on earth” but that peace can never come apart from an acceptance of the Savior. The peace of God only rests in the hearts and minds of the children of God.
There are all sorts of substitutes being offered for real peace, but none of them can work. This is not unique to our day. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah encountered this problem thousands of years ago. There were people proclaiming peace without it being real. “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). The figure of speech the ancient prophet used is that these false declarations and pronouncements of peace are like putting a bandaid on a broken arm. It just doesn't help.
Yet God does not want His children to live in fear and uncertainty. He offers us His peace, not as a temporary or fleeting condition, but a way of life. “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11). This kind of peace comes as we walk in the Spirit, knowing that peace is a fruit of His presence and control, and as we trust God regardless of circumstances.
Our peace is not dependent on our circumstances, but on our standing with Christ.
For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.
1 Corinthians 15:9-11
Paul never lost sight of the cost that had been paid for his salvation. He knew that he was saved freely by grace through faith alone, but he also knew that grace came at a great cost to Christ. So Paul was determined to make sure he availed himself of the grace God had given him, and he invested his life in sharing the gospel with others. Even when Paul faced false accusations, was put in prison, was beaten, and even was stoned and left for dead, he refused to be deterred. He wanted his life to count for God, and he determined that he would not turn back.
The only way to have a life that counts for eternity is to make sure the days count for eternity. Each day we are given is an irreplaceable treasure filled with opportunities we may well never have again. Adoniram Judson said, “A life once spent is irrevocable. The same may be said of each day. When it is once past, it is gone forever. All the marks which we put upon it, it will exhibit forever. How shall we then wish to see each day marked with usefulness! It is too late to mend the days that are past. The future is in our power. Let us, then, each morning, resolve to send the day into eternity in such a garb as we shall wish it to wear forever. And at night let us reflect that one more day is irrevocably gone, indelibly marked.”
Each day we have the choice to live for God by availing ourselves of the matchless grace He has bestowed on us.
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:7-9
God never needs our help to accomplish His purposes, but we need His. And unless we humble ourselves before Him, we will be unable to receive the grace we need from Him to grow in Him and to serve Him. God's work simply cannot be accomplished with human power. We must have what only He can supply. The only way to get that help is to put away pride and rely on God's grace and goodness. James wrote, “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6).
When Gideon summoned an army at God's direction and the people assembled, they were outnumbered more than four to one by the Midianites. God said there were too many, so after two rounds of dismissing soldiers, Gideon was outnumbered 450 to one. There would be no question of the source of the victory. It was all God and nothing else. The size of our burdens, our problems, our opponents and our obstacles is irrelevant in light of the power of God.
That power however only comes to those who are willing to admit that they are weak and seek God's grace to supply what they need. When we view our inability as an opportunity to see God's ability on display, we are in line to see wonderful things. The world around us preaches a gospel of self-reliance and glorifies those who do things on their own. God honors and helps those who are completely reliant on Him, showing His strength when they are weak.
God has bountiful grace for those who humbly come to Him and seek His help for the battles they face.
Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
2 Peter 3:17-18
Whether someone has been saved for seven minutes or seven decades, there is never a point at which spiritual growth should come to an end. There is no such thing—on this side of Heaven—as completion in the process of becoming more like Jesus. There is always more to learn, more room to grow, and more holiness to cultivate. In fact, the more we have grown in grace, the more we recognize our need to continue to do so. J. C. Ryle wrote, “If there is any point on which God’s holiest saints agree it is this: that they see more, and know more, and feel more, and do more, and repent more, and believe more, as they get on in spiritual life, and in proportion to the closeness of their walk with God.”
Church attendance, Bible reading, meditation, and prayer are not just for new believers. They are a vital part of continuing to grow in grace no matter how long we have been saved. This is vital because the alternative to growth is not stability at a certain level of spiritual attainment. Instead if we stop growing, we will begin going backward. No one stands still in the Christian life. We need to do the work to keep growing. It is not going to happen by accident. No one drifts into Christ-likeness. It requires persistent and consistent effort. Peter wrote, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5). A Christian who is satisfied with his spiritual development is headed for trouble. It should be the great desire of our heart to continue to become more and more like Jesus.
The health of our spiritual lives is determined by whether we are moving closer to Christ or away from Him.
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,
Though Paul had never been to the city of Colosse or met the Christians there, they were a regular object of his prayers. He knew that in order for them to live out their faith in a heathen world, they needed prayer. They needed to pray themselves, but it was also important for them to know that others were praying for them as well. The Christian life is not meant to be lived in isolation but in fellowship and in prayer. Dr. A. C. Dixon said, “When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we reply upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do; and so on. Nor am I disposed to undervalue any of these things in their proper place. But when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.”
The Lord has graciously provided prayer to us as the means to have our needs met and to be strengthened in our faith. Prayer is a vital part of the Christian walk. However we are not just meant to pray for ourselves and our own needs alone. We should be regularly and consistently praying for others. Paul reminds us, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philippians 2:4). Our hearts should be filled with love and compassion for those around us. We should pray for other Christians who are struggling with sickness, temptation, financial burdens, and a need for God's guidance and direction. We should pray for the lost around us, that they will hear and respond to the message of salvation. We should pray for our family members and for our fellow church members to be strengthened and encouraged.
Praying for others must be a vital part of our regular practice of prayer.
Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
There is no part of our lives in which God does not deserve our best. We are not to just work hard when the boss is watching or be diligent about the tasks that are most seen by others. We are to give every assignment, whether large or small, the very best that we can. No matter who signs the paycheck, we are ultimately working for the Lord. A Christian on a factory assembly line, at an office desk, or in a CEO's chair works for the Lord just as surely as a pastor does.
Every part of our life matters. This is true seven days a week, no matter what we happen to be doing. Dr. Bob Jones said, “For a Christian, life is not divided into the secular and the sacred. To him all ground is holy ground, every bush a burning bush, every place a temple of worship.” If we work with purpose and diligence, with the right attitude in our hearts, we will not have to worry about pleasing the boss. Work that is suitable for inspection by God Himself will always pass a human test.
Even in difficult circumstances we see people in the Bible who worked unto the Lord. Joseph was sold as a slave by his brothers and then put in prison by a false accusation. He still was diligent in his tasks. Daniel was captured and taken to Babylon where everything about his life changed. Yet his enemies were unable to find fault with his work, no matter how hard they looked.
The work that we do and the way we do it reflects on the Lord, whether for good or ill.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Peter 1:3-5
There is an amazing example of the importance of hope in the story of Abraham. He received a promise from God, and even though many years passed before it was fulfilled, even to the point where it was physically impossible, Abraham still had hope. “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be” (Romans 4:18). If Abraham had not held firmly to hope, he would no doubt have given up and failed to see God's promise fulfilled. Our hope does not depend on our circumstances, our resources, our strength, or our wisdom. Our hope is in the faithful God who keeps every promise He has made.
We need our hope to be strong, because the world around us is constantly trying to drag us down. If we lose hope, we will find ourselves, like the character Christian in Pilgrim's Progress, trapped in the dungeons of Giant Despair. Because our hope is not in ourselves but in the grace and power of God, we do not have to be prisoners of circumstances. When our situation seems hopeless, we can rest in the certainty that God never fails. When others lose hope, we can remain steadfast, confident that God will do exactly what He says. In the trials of this life and in preparation for the next, we can have complete trust that we will receive what has been promised. Even when it seems like all hope is lost, it never truly is for those who are putting their faith in God.
No situation we face is ever truly hopeless as long as God is involved.
For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;
There are many trials and tribulations as we go through life in a fallen world. Sin destroys and corrupts the perfection and beauty that God made. Yet we are not left without hope for the future. Those of us who know the Lord know that a day is coming when we will enter His presence and experience the joy of perfect fellowship with Him. We must never lose sight of that future. If we allow our hearts to be filled with what is here, we will not long for Heaven as we should. Dr. John R. Rice said, “We ought to sing songs about Heaven, long after its beauties, rejoice because of the certainty that one glad day we shall be there. We ought to welcome the call that may come for us at any moment. We ought truly to be homesick for Heaven and willing to stay here on earth only that we may do the will of Christ and bless others in His name and work.”
The goal of this life is not to accumulate money, possessions, or prestige. Indeed while there is nothing inherently wrong with wealth, there is something wrong with our hearts when we love wealth. There are some people whose dependence on and love of financial resources prevent them from obeying God. When the rich young ruler asked Jesus how he could have eternal life, Jesus highlighted his real problem. “Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me, And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich” (Luke 18:22). There are Christians who struggle with the same issue. Their longing for the things of this world robs them of the joy and hope of the promise of Heaven.
The hope of Heaven cannot be lost unless we foolishly trade it for the love of this present world.
He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
The Western Underground Orchid is one of the rarest plants in the world. It only grows in a handful of places in Australia. As the name suggests, this particular orchid takes root, grows, and blooms completely underground. Instead of sunlight, the plant is fed by drawing nutrients from fungus. Even the blossoms of the orchid stay underground and out of sight. There are only about fifty of these plants known to exist. All over the world there are climates that will only grow certain kinds of plants. Some thrive in wet conditions and others in deserts. Seeds sown in the wrong location and climate will not produce healthy plants.
In contrast, the good seed of the gospel sown by compassionate and burdened Christians brings a harvest wherever it is sown. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6). Not everyone responds to the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, but as we are faithful to share the good news with others, some people will prove to be good ground and themselves grow into productive and fruitful Christians. Our job is not to try to figure out what kind of soil someone's heart may be, but to sow the seeds everywhere we can.
Much has changed since the time Jesus walked the earth. Technology has given us tools to reach around the world in seconds rather than months of travel. Yet the sinful nature of man and his need for the gospel has not changed. Neither has the gospel itself changed. It does not need to be updated, but to be proclaimed.
Seed can only produce a fruitful harvest when it is sown. So share the gospel with everyone you can.
And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
Archaeologists have found traces of soap dating at least as far back as 2800 BC. In the ruins of ancient Babylon, they found descriptions of the process that was used for mixing fats and ashes together to form a cleansing agent. The chemical reaction would create a product that would remove dirt. Most of us today take soap for granted, just picking some up at the store without giving much thought to how it is made. But the process of making it by hand was a lengthy one and required days to cure. In the days before factories and mass production, people put forth that amount of effort because of the importance of good hygiene and cleanliness.
God has given us a powerful “soap” for our spiritual lives in His Word. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9). The world is filled with uncleanness and sin. We are constantly facing temptations and when we fail to overcome them, we must come back to God and be cleaned again. The tool by which God brings conviction and cleansing is the Bible. We must be using it to fill our hearts and minds to overcome the filth of the world. After He washed the disciples' feet at the Last Supper, Jesus told them, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3).
God demands spiritual cleanness from His children, and His Word is the tool that produces it.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
In one of their many attempts to trap Jesus and force Him to either violate Roman law or the law of Moses so they would have grounds to discredit Him, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus and accused her of having committed adultery. Under Jewish law, that was a capital offense to be punished by stoning. Yet the Romans did not allow the Jews to execute people without their permission. If Jesus said to let the woman go free and obeyed the Romans, He would be going against God's law. If He said to stone the woman, He would be breaking the laws of the Romans.
Jesus pointed out that they were not following the law themselves. “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). To guard against people making false accusations against others, the law required those who testified against the accused to carry out the penalty of execution. If they had truly cared about the law, they would not have been using it against Jesus. Once Jesus had made their hypocrisy clear, they walked away in shame.
Jesus then dealt with the woman: "Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:10–11). Jesus' perfectly-balanced response highlights the fact that there can be no real grace apart from the truth, and truth is harsh and condemning if it is spoken without grace. The two must go together.
Giving up either grace or truth will produce an unbalanced life. We must maintain both.