What Makes You Prayerful?

Do you ever wonder what the Lord is thinking when you are praying to Him? Sometimes when I pray, I think He must think: “Oh, No! Here he comes again!” I know my prayers often sound like this: “Dear Lord: I, me, my, mine; me, me, me. And Lord, I need, I lack, I desire, I want…me, my, mine; me, me, me. And, Lord, one more thing; I, me, my, mine; me, me, me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

Prayer is the easiest thing to do—but the hardest thing to do consistently well. Sometimes prayer is simply a rapid response to a crisis. Thankfully, our prayers don’t have to be long to be heard. When Peter walked on the water, he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. As he was going down, Peter uttered a three-word prayer: “Lord save me!” (Matthew 14:30). One word of that prayer could not be left out without affecting it. His prayer was short and to the point. And the Lord answered it, saving him from drowning.

One of the best ways to improve your prayer life is to read the prayers of men and women recorded in the Bible. The deep spirituality of our Lord’s prayer in the Upper Room the night of His betrayal, recorded in John 17, is like a graduate level course in how to pray. Hannah’s prayer after dedicating her only son Samuel, to the Lord, is powerful and moving (1 Samuel 1:27—2:10). The prayer of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4-11), confessing, repenting and praising His Lord is inspiring and beneficial, even today. Mary’s prayer after learning she would bear the Messiah (Luke 1:46-55), is so rich and full, it is called her Magnificat, “My soul” from the first words of the verse in Latin. Her prayer of praise includes 15 discernible quotations from the Old Testament.

The apostle Paul’s recorded prayers are great examples of things for which we should pray. His prayers are also striking in what they did not contain. Though Paul’s prison epistles (Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon) were written from a damp prison cell, he never once asked people to pray for his release or comfort. When he did ask for prayer of the Colossians, he wrote: “Praying also for us…that God will open up to us a door for the Word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Col. 4:3-4).

 So, what can we learn about praying from Paul’s prayer? Using his prayer in Colossians 1 as an example, here are some things for which we should pray:

  1. Pray to Know God’s Will, v. 9 “We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

Jesus taught His followers to pray in specifics, not in generalities. He said, “Ask [verbalize it] and it shall be given to you, Seek [act on it] and you will find, Knock [persist in it] and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, emphasis mine).

More than anything else, every believer needs to be “filled with the knowledge of His will.” God has a will for each person. And, every Christian needs to be prayerful about finding and doing His will.

  1. Pray to Walk in God’s Ways, v. 10 “So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects.”

God’s desire for believers is that they walk, or live their lives in a manner worthy of Him. For the Christian, life is not about pleasing yourself but Him who saved you. Life for believers is about conducting their lives in harmony with God’s Word and his will. Paul even wrote, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).  We should seek to “please Him in all respects”…in every way.

  1. Pray to Bear God’s Fruit, v. 10 “Bearing fruit in every good work.”

 The whole purpose of the Christian life is to serve God and bear fruit for Him. Jesus said, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8). In fact, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Fruit is evidenced in three ways: Converts (bringing others to Christ); Conduct (living clean for Him); and Character (manifesting fruit of the Spirit—Gal. 5:22-26). Let us abide in Him to bear fruit to His glory (John 15:4).

  1. Pray to Increase in God’s Knowledge, v. 10 “Increasing in the knowledge of God”

The average Christian has a feeble knowledge of God. Some people only know what they learned as children in Sunday School, and have not grown in knowledge, faith or obedience. We should pray to increase in what we know about God (from His Word) and what we have learned about Him (in our walk).  Let your knowledge of God be a growing database of information and experience.

  1. Pray to Grow in God’s Strength, v. 11 “Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might”

God wants you to grow stronger in your Christian life, and will help you. He is the resource for strength in life. As you live in His will, grow in His Word, are indwelt by His Spirit—you can walk in His strength. God’s prophet Zechariah strengthened Zerubbabel by reminding him: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). AND: This promise still stands!

 

What Makes You Thankful?

Do you remember a time when you were overcome with emotional feelings of thankfulness? Maybe it was stimulated by a near miss, when you could have been injured or killed. Or perhaps you were so flooded by blessings that you just had to stop and look up. It is probably true that the saddest person in the world is an atheist on Thanksgiving Day, because he has no one to whom he can express gratitude.   

Theoretically, the older you are—the more thankful you should be. Hindsight tends to clarify your view of life, so the farther you can see in your past, the more you may realize God’s hand of guidance and care, resulting in expressions of gratitude.

Little children are taught to say “Thank You” because it is not a natural reaction. The normal self-centeredness of children tends to make them believe they deserve anything they want and get. It was a banner day in our house when each of our five children finally said, “Thank You,” without being prompted by Pat or me saying, “What do you say?” Genuine appreciation was a characteristic we strongly encouraged in our children.

The things that make you thankful reveal a lot about your heart.

When the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Colossae in Asia Minor, he began, “We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (Colossians 1:3). He began by telling them why he was thankful to God for them. The things for which Paul thanked God are examples that can improve our thanksgiving today. Using Paul’s thankfulness as our example, what things should make us thankful?

1. Be thankful for Faith in Christ”Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 4).   

There is no evidence Paul had ever been to Colossae, but he had spent three years ministering in the city of Ephesus, about 100 miles to the northwest. From Ephesus the gospel went out to the whole province (Acts 19:10). A native of Colossae, Epaphras, had probably heard the gospel and been saved during those days, had returned to Colossae, led others to Christ, baptized them, and started that church. So, Paul said, they had “understood the grace of God in truth” as they “learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant” (Colossians 1:6, 7).  

Though Paul did not know them personally, he was thankful for their faith in Christ. He knew that it was faith in the Lord Jesus that saved them, changed them, and gave them assurance of a home in heaven. Scripture promises: “By grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). The Colossian church members had heard the gospel and had placed their faith in Christ to save them.

 2. Be thankful for Love for Others”and the love which you have for all the saints” (v. 4).

The church members of Colossae sincerely loved all the saints. The word “saint” in Scripture was not meant to describe some highly respected, deceased, godly person with a halo. In the Bible, the word was used of people who had been set apart to God because they had trusted Christ as their Savior. A saint is a believer who is made holy and identified by his or her faith in Christ. Those members in the Colossian church loved saints, believers in Christ in other places.

The Christian life was not just about them, but was about loving Christians in other places who loved and served the same Lord and Savior. Loving other brethren in Christ was evidence of saving faith, “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). Christians are commanded to “Let love of the brethren continue” (Hebrews 13:1).

3. Be thankful for Hope in Heaven… “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (v. 5).

Because the saints in Colossae had placed their faith in Christ Jesus, they were saved, and had real hope beyond this life. For Christians, this life is not the end, but the first phase of a life that lasts forever. Jesus said, “he who hears My word, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

It is amazing that Christians can live here on earth, motivated by the fact that after they die here, they have a life and hope awaiting them in heaven that will never end. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Notice that this hope is “laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:5). When your hope is “laid up” that means, no matter what happens in the present, your future life is secure, out of danger, awaiting you in heaven, God’s home. That is why Paul said, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). We are to live here with our hope there.  

These Christians had hope secure in heaven because they believed what they “previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel” (v. 5). Epaphras had shared the gospel, which was the good news that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, that he had been buried, but rose again the third day, and that anyone, anywhere, who placed his or her faith in Him would be saved (John 3:16).  

So, what makes you thankful? If you have trusted Christ, you can be thankful for your faith in Him, your love for others, and for the hope you have in heaven. If you have not trusted Christ for salvation, you can do so today by repenting of your sins, and trusting Him alone to save you. Then, you will have eternity to thank Him!

WARNING!

A few years ago, Pat and I sponsored eight newly graduated high school seniors on a mission trip to Costa Rica, Central America. The teens had earned the trip by memorizing Scripture and reading books in Discovery, a national youth ministry program. After arriving in San Jose, we spent four days painting, cleaning, repairing and renovating several mission buildings around the capitol city.

Days five through eight were spent sightseeing, zip lining on a rain forest canopy tour, visiting the Arenal Volcano, and taking a hike to a jungle waterfall. The teens worked hard and had earned some time to see the country. So we prepared for an adventure.

Our guides in Costa Rica were John and Kathy Ward. Both were thrill-seeking, fun-loving, hard-working missionary helpers. John was a mountain climbing, whitewater rafting sort-of-a-guy, who was afraid of nothing.

Knowing John’s brash, risk-taking ways, I was caught off-guard by his somber lecture to our group prior to the mile-long jungle hike to La Fortuna Waterfall. With all the sincerity he could muster, John warned of possible dangers we could encounter on the hike, but uppermost he wanted us to watch out for the dangerous Fer De Lance, poisonous pit viper that was common in that area.  

The pit viper, Bothros Asper, better known as the Fer De Lance (Lance Head), is the most dangerous snake in Central and South America. This poisonous snake causes more human deaths than any other American reptile. The average bite from a Fer-de-Lance injects from 105 to 310 milligrams of venom. One single bite from the Fer De Lance contains enough poison to kill 32 people.

So, John had my attention, but I thought he might have been exaggerating just to scare the teens into good behavior. But we had barely started our trek down the jungle trail when one of the guys yelled, “SNAKE!” at the top of his voice. Everybody froze and looked down and around. When we reached the spot, there was a 15 foot circle of teens staring at a 7-foot snake, that was sure enough, a Fer De Lance! As we tried to get everyone away from the snake, who didn’t seem to be bothered by the noisy crowd, I was trying to imagine what I would say to the parents of any of those teens, if that snake bit them. After that close encounter of the poisonous kind, it took twice as long as normal to get to the waterfall and back. Every foot placement on that trail was analyzed before the step was taken.

I am thankful for the warning John gave us that day on the jungle trail in Costa Rica. It may have prevented a loss of life. Warnings are given to save lives and spare damage and pain. They are given for our good, and the wise person will listen to good advice and heed warnings.   

Warnings are warranted when threats abound. So, God’s Word warns us about things that can harm, distract or hinder us.  We need to heed God’s warnings about:

Competing Philosophies

These days Christians are bombarded by conflicting worldviews. A worldview is a particular philosophy of life, or conception of the world. Christians should have a biblical worldview—That is: God created the world and the people in it. It was not a random cosmic accident. The God who created has also spoken, and the Bible is His Word. All people in this created world are accountable to a perfect Creator, and will one day stand before Him. In Jesus, the Creator has provided a perfect Savior for all of mankind, who must be received by faith.

There are human philosophies that compete with this worldview. God’s Word warns us: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:8-10).

Peter warned, You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18).

 Instead of being led astray and confused by false philosophy, intensify your love and devotion to Bible truth, and increase your knowledge of God.

Empty Covetousness

Jesus warned: “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In the United States, we live in a land of plenty, like former generations could only dream of. So, the Lord’s warning about greed applies to us, just as much as to His hearers. Greed causes people to be dissatisfied with what they have—while they strive to possess more and more, exerting their “rights.” Jesus said abundance of possessions does not equal a good life.  

Christ-less Consequences

Much like the prophet Ezekiel, we who know Christ are to be watchmen who warn others of eternal danger. God appointed Ezekiel to be a watchman, “Whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me” (Ezekiel 3:17).

People need the Lord! Like Paul, “We proclaim Him, warning every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). We who know Christ should say as Paul when he preached to the people of Antioch: “Let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).

When poisonous “fiery serpents” came among the children of Israel, God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole so that, “everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live” (Numbers 21:8). This unusual event pictured Jesus, lifted up on a cross, so that, “whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:15). We need to heed the warnings!

The Wonder of the Word

A week of work had gone into the preparation of my Sunday sermon. More than twenty hours of study, research and alliteration that preachers do, had been poured into that message.  Then, in a flash the computer monitor flickered and it was all gone.  The entire sermon disappeared into cyberspace, never to be seen again.  The worst part of this loss was that it occurred early on a Sunday morning as I was putting the finishing touches to it, before preaching it at 11:00.  So, I sat down, for I had stood up when it passed, and wrote out as much as I could remember, while I prayed hard for recall of the rest.  God saw my desperation and blessed with most of what I remembered as I wrote out that sermon.

Written words are so fragile.  In a heartbeat the work of a week, or the accumulation of a lifetime, can be gone. In 47 B.C., Julius Caesar burned his ships in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt, to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. He did not realize it, but the fire quickly spread to the docks, the naval arsenal, then to the great library of Alexandria. In a short while he had destroyed more than 400,000 ancient scrolls of the largest library of its time.

This fact makes the preservation of our Bible an amazing truth. God’s Word has survived floods, fires, riots, book burnings, persecutions and catastrophes. The Bible has been inerrantly preserved through three and a half millennia. Isaiah revealed this great promise around 700 B.C., “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8). It stood then. It stands now. It will stand forever!

Archeological finds constantly reinforce the truth of Isaiah’s words. One of the greatest discoveries of recent history occurred in 1947 among eleven caves by Wadi Qumran, that came to be called, the Dead Sea Scrolls. During the Roman army’s advance in the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70), the Essene community hid thousands of ancient scrolls and manuscripts among the caves of Qumran. These caves were 1300 feet below sea level, on the western shores of the Dead Sea. Because of the extremely arid conditions, darkness and low humidity, the caves became the perfect environment for storing velum (animal skin) and papyrus scrolls.

The scrolls of Qumran were hand copied between 250 BC and AD 68. Archaeologists have discovered 972 manuscripts and over 15,000 fragments. Included with some non-biblical books, are scrolls and fragments of thirty-eight of the thirty-nine Old Testament books.  The only Old Testament book not discovered in Qumran is Esther. Among the scrolls and fragments, scholars found 19 copies of the book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy and 30 copies of the Psalms.

Another amazing fact is that there are only minimal variations in the manuscript texts compared to the Bible versions we have today. One Isaiah scroll, almost intact, is 1,000 years older than any existing manuscript, but when translated, reads almost identically to the book of Isaiah in our Bibles today. They are incredibly accurate, even after 1,000 years of hand copying.  This verifies the accuracy of Bible manuscripts that were handed down over centuries and millennia of time. It is more remarkable when you consider the scrolls were hidden in Qumran almost two thousand years ago.

These archaeological facts make the words of Scripture about itself ring ever more true.  The psalmist wrote, “Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89), and “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psalm 119:160).  Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18), and “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).  The Apostle Peter wrote, “But the Word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25).

This Word that is eternal, inspired and inerrant is alive, active, and able to reach within the thoughts and intents of your heart and mind if you will read it.  Listen to this description of what God’s Word can do: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

God’s Word is also applicable. Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). God’s Word does not reach its full purpose and power to impact life until its truths are applied to the human heart. This Word of God can make you “adequate” and “equipped for every good work.”  If you will read and study the Bible, it can equip you for all the good works He calls you to do.   

As you open your Bible to hear from God, stop a moment to reflect on how precious it is.  Ask God to speak to your heart through its words. Will you also pray for those who still do not have a Bible in their native tongue?  Pray for dedicated Christian linguists who are translating Scripture into the heart language of these people.  Then, pray also for those who cannot own Bibles of their own, or who are persecuted for doing so.  They, as well as we, need to enjoy the wonder of the Word.

Words Matter

Missouri statehouse lawmakers learned the hard way that words matter. “World Magazine” reported that the Missouri state legislature decided to ban Styrofoam coolers from their rivers. Inexpensive white foam coolers are easily broken, and when discarded, cause unsightly river litter. So they passed a law to ban polypropylene.  What they meant to ban was polystyrene. Because the deliberative body almost used the right word, their law resulted in banning Tupperware and plastic containers instead of ice chests. So, for now, if you float a river in Missouri, you can bring cold cuts and cokes in your cheap Styrofoam cooler, but will be breaking the law if you bring a Tupperware container of lunch meat. Words matter.

Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. Words contain and convey tremendous power, both for good and for harm.  For each word on the 720 pages of Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” 1,880 people died during World War II.  Words matter.

To some people, words matter only if they get them what they want. Dishonest politicians use words to make extensive promises to woo voters, but often conveniently forget them after the election. Slick salesmen may use words to get you to buy something you don’t want that leaves you with buyers remorse. However, Jesus said, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36, 37). Imagine—people will be justified or condemned—based on their words! 

Solomon wrote, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18). Some words cut and slice, leaving carnage in their wake. Harmful words cut deeply; sometimes they are remembered for a lifetime, altering the thinking and direction of those whom they slice. Other words, spoken with grace, compassion and love, can bring healing to a hurting soul. Mere words may fortify people with boldness and courage. Sometimes simple, caring words bring comfort that encourages the downcast surveying his losses. The saving gospel of Christ can be communicated in words. Not only do words matter—they have great potential.

Wise and godly speech have several things in common:

First, wise words require care and wisdom. We should be selective of words and careful in speech. Proverbs 17:27 and 28 say, “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has an excellent spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” The psalmist David wrote “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). Proverbs 13:3 teaches, “The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; the one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Words should be guarded so they will build up and not tear down people around us. Think before you speak, so your words will not harm. “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Prov. 15:28). 

Second, wise words are truthful, not false or exaggerated. “A trustworthy witness will not lie, but a false witness utters lies” (Prov. 14:5).  Always tell the truth.  You don’t have to tell all you know, but what you do say should be truthful. When words matter to us, they can become a blessing to others. Kind words are a creative force that builds up what is good and showers blessings on hearers.

Third, wise words are powerful. James compared the power of the tongue to the rudder of a great ship. He wrote, “Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.  See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” (James 3:4-5). Amazingly—hasty, critical or hurtful words spoken years before can be recalled and still render pain to the recipient. Harsh words may be forgiven, but they are not often forgotten.

Fourth, wise words are always considerate. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly” (Prov. 15:1, 2). Simple words have the power to soothe hurts or stir up anger. A wise person considers the consequences of his words before they escape his mouth.

Finally, wise words are timely. Words spoken at the right moment are priceless.  “How delightful is a timely word!” (Prov. 14:23). Imagine these beautiful pictures of the positive effects of words: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear. Like the cold of snow in the tie of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him, for he refreshes the soul of his masters” (Prov. 25:11-13).  

Let’s determine to speak carefully, truthfully and wisely, so Christ will be glorified and His kingdom extended! Good words are extremely valuable and very economical. Words matter.  Choose yours wisely!

Keys to a Healthy Heart

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More than ever before, people are interested in the condition of their hearts. Everyone wants a healthy heart. But there is another heart that is even more important. You also need a healthy spiritual heart—that core of your innermost spiritual being.

Solomon wrote, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Scripture reveals the heart is the source of the emotions, intellect and will. It is the seat of the total personality—the source of all human actions.

This truth—that the heart is the wellspring, the source, the driving force or purpose of your life—is worth deep consideration. It should make us think seriously about what we allow our eyes to watch, our ears to hear, our thoughts to dwell and our hands to do. Things to which we devote our minds, thoughts and imaginations are what we become.

The goal of every Christian should be “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God…taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). God wants you not to pollute the wellspring of your life. Do not give yourself to the vain things in this world.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Treasures are highly prized. People set their hearts on what they treasure, so make sure you value the eternal and not merely the temporal. Seek to live your life with a biblically based value system.

What the Bible says about heart health is revealing: Scripture warns us to avoid a double heart: “They speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and with a double heart they speak” (Psalm 12:2); not to harden our hearts: “Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:8); not to sin by having a proud heart: “Haughty eyes and a proud heart and the lamp of the wicked, is sin” (Proverbs 21:4); to avoid an unbelieving heart: “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12); and to confess sin and ask God for a clean heart: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). We should follow the example of David who cried out,  “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts” (Psalm 139:23).

We have a tendency to excuse our sinful actions, yet criticize others who fail. What we need to realize is that God looks at our hearts. Know that “every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2). God sees, not only the outside—the deeds we do, but the inside—the heart motives we have, and He weighs or evaluates them.

Another reason to guard your heart is that whatever is in your heart will eventually be exposed. Jesus said, “For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush” (Luke 6:44). He then explained, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (verse 45). Jesus meant that whatever you plant in your heart—will bear fruit in your life.

We live in an evil world. Following God’s command—“Do not love the world nor the things in the world” John summarized its content: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 5:15, 16). The pollution of sin is all around. Temptations abound, so be careful to protect your heart from contamination, which could ruin your life and destroy your testimony. Guard your heart, “for from it flow the springs of life.” 

So, how can you improve your heart health?

One way is to fortify your heart by faithfully spending time in God’s house, hearing God’s Word and singing praise with God’s people. The Coronavirus Pandemic has hindered the gathering of God’s people, but when we can, we should not forsake “our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

Another way to strengthen your heart is by carving out a special time every day to spend with God, reading His Word, praying to Him and interceding for others. This daily “quiet time” will fortify your heart for the day ahead. For greatest effect, read and heed God’s Word consistently, methodically and prayerfully. Experience what the Psalmist did: “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).

A third way to a healthy heart is spiritual exercise: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily exercise is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8). Put into practice what you know is good and right.

SO—Obey what Scripture says—Love what God values—and  do what Jesus would do, and you will be blessed with a healthy heart!

Satisfaction

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It is hard to believe Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones are still around and able to sing.  It may be surprising, but I was a fan of their music in the late 60’s. In 1965 Jagger and Keith Richards wrote a popular song that epitomizes what I want to write about. They wrote and sang, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”

Sadly, the theme of that song is the life-story of many people. Some spend their whole lives seeking an unattainable state of satisfaction. They bounce from one pursuit to another, thinking—If I only have this, it will make me happy. Others move from one spouse to another, one job to another, one church to another—seeking what they can never find. Most often, when they gain the new object of their desires, it does not result in fulfillment. Frequently they experience a new emptiness, and the vain quest begins again. The illusive dream is just that for most people—a fantasy that fails to satisfy.

In the middle of the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, philosopher and physicist, explained the only solution to such fruitless searches. He wrote: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing—but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” People are born with a black hole of emptiness in their soul that only God can fill. Neither human relationship nor earthly gain; neither fame nor fortune, can fill the inward void that Jesus does. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), He indicated there was no other access to God, truth and life, but by Him.

Centuries before Pascal, King David shared the true key to filling your heart’s desire when he wrote:  “Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it” (Psalm 37:3-5). God’s people are urged to trust in the Lord, delight in Him and commit their ways to Him. When a person finds their delight in the omnipotent God, He will satisfy the deepest longings of their heart.

It is interesting to me that it is not often the great, extravagant or expensive things that bring joy in life, but most often the simple, normal, daily things that do. Loving relationships with family, church and friends are worth more than gold; the still small voice of God in your heart as you quietly read His Word; a striking sunset or a pleasant breeze on a crisp fall day; special family celebrations like holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, cookouts, ball games or recitals; a porch swing with a morning cup of coffee and your spouse; all these events bring a joy to the heart that money cannot buy.

God has blessed my wife, Pat, and me with five beautiful children—three sons and two daughters. During their formative years we enjoyed doing things and taking trips as a family. Since our children have grown up, when they all come home, it isn’t long before they reminisce, with one of them saying, “Hey, do you remember when we…” followed by some adventure we had. Listening to their discussion is always funny and delightful. The amazing thing to me is that the memories they treasure and discuss, rarely involve traveling to expensive places doing costly things. Most often they laugh together and remember things like, eating baloney sandwiches in a city park; hiking through the woods; picking up rocks (many of which still litter our house and yard); making s’mores; push-starting our VW Bus when the starter often quit; riding bike trails, and eating popcorn Friday nights, while watching movies on our old VCR. What the memories have in common are togetherness, transparency, and love for life and one another.

In reality, only God can bring the satisfaction for which we long, but cannot achieve. The earlier we learn that truth, the richer our lives will become. Though elusive here, it will be realized when believers in Christ spend eternity with and around the object of their desires. At the end of Revelation, John “saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). He also heard a voice from the throne saying, ”Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them” (verse 3). In those future days, humanity will have come full circle. The perfect state in Eden where God walked and talked with man in sweet fellowship, later shattered by the entrance of sin, will be restored forever, through our redemption in Jesus Christ. Then, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (verses 4 and 5).

This is God’s eternal answer to the pain of emptiness in life; to filling that black hole in your soul. So, if the chorus of your life is singing, “I can’t get no satisfaction,” you need to quit looking to people, places and things, and look to Christ for your fulfillment.  If you have life experiences that reflect this, I would love to hear about them. Write me at LarryEClements@gmail.com. In the meantime please don’t “Paint It Black!” (another Stones’ song!  Isn’t that terrible? Sorry!)

Doers of the Word

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“Do you hear me?”  My mother must have asked me that question a thousand times as I was growing up. Looking back on it, I realize it was a rhetorical question. She really did not want me to answer, because before I could say a word, she started repeating what she said, that she thought I didn’t hear. All she wanted was obedience. She wanted me to do what she had just said. I know now, my problem was not poor hearing, but negligent listening.

For most of us, it is easy to hear, but hard to listen—effortless to talk, but difficult to act. James summed it up best: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). True enough, most who only hear the Word of God, think they have done their duty, even when they do not follow through and obey it. But pleasing God is in the doing, not the hearing.

James went on to illustrate the neglectful hearer, saying: “if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (verses 23 and 24). The careless man looks into a mirror and forgets what he sees, whereas the earnest man looks into the Word of God, and acts upon what he sees. He is a “doer” of the word, not merely a hearer.

God wants us to be “doers” because anyone can talk about pleasing God in his life, but it requires faith to obey Scripture—that is—to really do it. A lot of talk about Scripture and discussion of the Bible occurs every Sunday morning in churches all across the land. In various kinds of classes saints sit and discuss the meaning of Scripture, sometimes in great depth—But how much does it actually touch and change their lives for Christ? Unless they become “doers” of the Word—their knowledge makes little difference. In fact, James wrote that if people hear but do not do the word of God, they “delude themselves.” They falsely think they are pleasing God, when actually, they are not.

Self-deception is a genuine threat to an obedient Christian life. Some talk a good game, but never get on the field. You cannot obey by only hearing and talking. “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty.” (Proverbs 14:23). Someone described a football game as twenty-two people on a field badly in need of rest—being watched by seventy-thousand people in the stands badly in need of exercise. For some of us, Christianity is a spectator sport, but Jesus calls us to be active participants. We must get into the game and get involved in the action, doing our part, willingly paying the price because the stakes are so high.

It is amazing how often the disciples, and we, overlook the Lord’s plain commands to obey Him. Once, talking to His disciples, Jesus said, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Luke 11:28). Most would be happy just to hear, but that is never enough. On another occasion, Jesus directly confronted His followers by asking, “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). There is great promise in obedience, for Jesus said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:17). And, even in the Great Commission, Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20). His churches are not commanded to merely teach disciples, but to teach them to OBSERVE what He commanded.

In January 1933, during the midst of the Great Depression, a lady found this poem pasted to the wall of an old farm house. She was so impressed by its truth she made hand copies for each of her seven children.  This powerful principle of life is still true today. It was called: Someday!

There’s a loving letter I mean to send, There’s a visit I mean to pay;

There’s a careless habit I hope to mend, When I get the time, someday.

I will carry flowers to the sick and sad; I will seek for those who stray;

You may trace my steps by the hearts made glad, When I get the time, someday.

There’s a dusty Bible I mean to read; There’s an hour I’ll keep to pray;

And I’ll turn each dream to a golden deed, When I get the time, someday.

So we have thought and so we have said, Yet, how sad it is to relate—

That, busy with less important things; We waited until too late—

We never will get the time, dear friend, To be kind along life’s way,

Unless thoughtfully and prayerfully, We make the most of today!

To do God’s will, we must actually DO something! It is never enough to hear; not enough to talk or think; not enough to wish and hope—we must do His will and work in our lives! To do His will calls for prayer, action, commitment, diligence and faithfulness. Make it your goal to both HEAR and DO the will of God in your life!

I wonder if God is not raising His voice to us, as my mom did years ago when she asked, “Do you hear me?” Hear Him, and do His will, while you have opportunity…beginning today!

 

Dangers of a Dull Knife

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My dad told me something I thought was strange. He saw me sawing on a nylon rope with my pocketknife, and said, “You know, a dull knife will cut you.” That made no sense at the time, but a while later I learned he was right. While trying to force that dull blade through a piece of wood, the blade slipped and jabbed my hand.

So, why is a dull knife dangerous?  Because it requires more pressure to cut, which increases the likelihood that the knife will slip with great force behind it, cutting or stabbing whatever it crosses.

Not only will a dull knife cut you—another paradox—only something hard, like stone or steel, can make it sharp. The knife blade is sharpened by friction on a piece of stone or steel.  The pressure and abrasion of the stone on the blade sharpens the knife.

God used this fact to teach the principle: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). So, what can we learn? Three things:

First, people around you will exert influence for better or worse—they can make you sharp or dull.

“He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20).  Your friends affect you. Your companions influence your attitude, behavior, language, and values. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.

Second, to make a knife sharp requires abrasive resistance, pressure, friction, and even a little heat.  So it is with you. To knock off your rough, dull edges, rendering you sharp and useful requires friends who are honest, loving and truthful. Like “iron on iron,” you need people who will expose your hypocrisy, correct your poor habits, confront your laziness and challenge your thinking. It may not be comfortable getting sharpened, but the results are worth it.

Third, just as friends can sharpen you, others may dull you, rendering you less effective.  Some companions will soil your testimony and tempt you to do the wrong thing.  These are ones you need to avoid like the plague. “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). For these reasons every believer needs to be active in a local church. We are changed for the better by regular exposure to godly mentors.

A dull knife will cut you but a sharp one can bless you. Surround yourself with people who improve you, so you can in turn sharpen others.

 

Shelter in the Time of Storm

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There is comfort in the chorus of Ira Sankey’s old song: “O, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land, A weary land, a weary land; O, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land, A Shelter in the time of Storm.” We seem to be in a weary land in the middle of a storm.

Both of my parents went through the Great Depression. Experts believe that ten-year depression (1929—39) was brought on by the crash of the stock market and extreme drought with dust storms through the southern plains. It was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world. Though the Great Depression was serious, neither of my parents seemed to be harmed by it.

Depressions, turmoil and despair come to everyone periodically. They come because we live in a sin-broken world. This is not heaven, so not everything will come up roses. But, for believers in Christ, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good” (Romans 8:28)—that is, the product in the end will be good—though the process in the meanwhile may be messy. It is possible to “know” that everything will work together for your good, without understanding how it will. We can “know” this by faith—by trusting God’s promise—even if we can’t understand God’s process.

Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “Even when we cannot trace God’s hand, we can trust God’s heart.” God’s heart is for us, and will guarantee that everything—the good, the bad, and the ugly—will work together for our good. So: even if you cannot “trace His hand,” you can “trust His heart” because He does all things for your good and His glory.

The 107th Psalm was written just for times like these. The Psalm traverses four cycles highlighting Our Problem—Our Prayer—Our Provision—and Our Praise. Amazingly—3,000 years later—We still follow this four-part pattern.

The Psalm begins with a call for people to offer thankful praise to God. It reads, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy” (Psalm 107:1-2). Praise and thanksgiving are the right responses from the hearts of all who realize that God is good and forever loving. So, what can we learn?

Our Problem: “There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains, Because they had rebelled against the words of God and spurned the counsel of the Most High…they stumbled and there was none to help” (Psalm 107:10-12).

Without apology God’s Word states that we are sinners. Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). To be sure, some are better practitioners of sin than others, but we all fall under the condemnation of sin. Sin brings consequences—“For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Even the best of us are still sinners. Our problem originates with sin, in ourselves and in the world system.

Our Prayer: “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble” (Psalm 107:13).

Knowing we are sinners should move us to cry out to God in prayer. When in a helpless, hopeless condition, the natural thing is to call out for help. The only one who can truly help us is God Himself, and the good news is that He is waiting to hear from us!

Prayer is important—and so is our motive. Once Jesus contrasted two men who prayed. One said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people…” while the second man, “was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ (Luke 18:10, 13). Jesus, who could see their hearts, said, “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (verse 14).

Our Provision: “He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and broke their bands apart” (Psalm 107: 13-14).

God does not always give us what we ask in prayer, but He will always give us what we need. And He knows our needs better than we. God’s provisions are always adequate. Following three denied requests for God to remove an impediment; Paul learned that God’s grace was sufficient, and that His power was displayed through Paul’s weakness. Understanding this, Paul testified, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Our Praise: “Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! For He has shattered gates of bronze and cut bars of iron asunder” (Psalm 107:15-16).

The most natural, biblical, powerful response to God’s answer to prayer is praise! Psalm 107 describes difficult, even desperate times we will face. But the solution focuses on the action to be taken—“Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble.” When we do that, the wonderful result can be realized: “He delivered them out of their distresses” (Psalm 107:6).

If you are in despair, don’t stay silent! Cry out to God. He hears and waits to restore your hope. Though God doesn’t always take us out of hard situations, He promises to be with us through them. What a comforting presence we have in the Lord! Call on Him, trust in Him, follow Him in your life, and you will be blessed!