Category Archives: Devotions
H.O.P.E. = HOLDING ON, PRAYING EXPECTANTLY
I listened patiently as he poured out his problems. His work was not going well. Some of his children were sowing their wild oats and he was worried about them. The straw that finally broke his back was that his wife decided to leave him. There he sat, all slumped over in despair. It was the last sentence of his story that alarmed me. He said, “I have nothing to live for; I have lost all hope.” I began to share with him that hope was the one thing he could not afford to lose. He could lose his business, his money, and maybe even his family, and rebound on the court of life if he kept his hope alive.
If hope is so important, what is it? Tertullian said, “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” Hope is holding on when things around you begin to slip away. Hope is praying expectantly when there are seemingly no answers. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan tells of a man whose shop had been burned during the disastrous Chicago fire. He arrived at the ruins the next morning carrying a table. He set the table amid the charred debris and above it placed this optimistic sign: “Everything lost except wife, children, and hope. Business will be resumed as usual tomorrow morning.”
Many men become bitter toward life because of the unfortunate circumstances in which they find themselves. Many quit. Others have taken their own lives. What makes the difference in the outcome? Talent? No! The only difference between those who threw in the towel and quit and those who used their energy to rebuild and keep going, is found in the word hope.
What does hope do for mankind?
Hope shines brightest when the hour is the darkest.
Hope motivates when discouragement comes.
Hope energizes when the body is tired.
Hope sweetness while the bitterness bites.
Hope sings when all melodies are gone.
Hope believes when the evidence is eliminated.
Hope listens for answers when no one is talking.
Hope climbs over obstacles when no one is helping.
Hope endures hardship when no one is caring.
Hope smiles confidently when no one is laughing.
Hope reaches for answers when no one is asking.
Hope presses toward victory when no one is encouraging.
Hope dares to give when no one is sharing.
Hope brings the victory when no one is winning.
There is nothing to do but bury a man when his hopes are gone. Losing hope usually precedes loss of life itself. You don’t need a better environment; you just need more hope. It’s the one thing in your life that you cannot do without!
SOURCE: John C. Maxwell. Think On These Things: A Fresh, New Way To Look At Life. Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1979, pp. 127-128.
The healing of the demon possessed boy (Matt. 17:14–20) at first glance seems to be only one more in a series of miraculous healings recorded by Matthew. What makes this one unique is Jesus’ emphasis on the role of faith. It is true that faith is prominent in the miracles recorded in chapter 9, but in chapter 17 it is the lack of faith that is emphasized by Jesus.
That God is not dependent on human faith for accomplishing His work is clear from the accounts of other miracles recorded by Matthew. The transfiguration of Jesus immediately prior to the healing of the boy is a prime example. It was a spectacular miracle; yet no human faith was involved. This is also true in the feeding of the five thousand (Matt. 14:13–21) and the four thousand (15:32–38). So the first thing we need to learn about faith and the power of God is that He is not dependent on our faith to do His work. God will not be hostage to our lack of faith.
The second thing we need to learn, however, is that God often requires our faith in the carrying out of His purposes. We see this in the healing of the demon possessed boy. Mark, in his account, brings this out sharply in Jesus’ conversation with the boy’s father. The father, in great distress, said to Jesus: “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). He had already experienced the failure of the disciples, so he was not sure if Jesus could help. His faith at this point may be described as no more than an uncertain hope that Jesus could do what the disciples could not do.
Jesus responded to the father: “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes” (v. 23). Biblical faith may be described in different ways depending on the situation. The description of faith in Hebrews 11:1 as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” was appropriate for the Jewish recipients of the letter, who were facing severe opposition and needed to be encouraged as to the certainty of their hope in Christ.
For the father of the boy, faith would mean believing that Jesus could heal his son. We are often like the father. We may face what seems to be an intractable situation, and because we have prayed a long time without an answer, we begin to doubt that God can answer our prayer. But we must believe that with God nothing is impossible.
Sarah, the wife of Abraham, doubted that God could give them a son in their advanced age, to which God replied, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14). Centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah wavered in his faith when God told him to buy a field in the face of the Chaldeans’ invasion (Jer. 32:6-26). Again God’s response was: “Is anything too hard for me?” (v. 27). To have faith in God, even in the face of unanswered prayer or a seemingly impossible situation, means we continue to believe that He can do what seems impossible to us.
The importance of faith is further emphasized in Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question: “Why could we not cast it out?” (Matt. 17:19). He said it was because of their little faith. We are not told in what way their faith was deficient. We do know that Jesus had previously given them authority over demons to cast them out (Matt. 10:1–8), so why was their faith so weak at this time? Perhaps it was because the demon did not respond immediately to their command, and so they began to doubt the power of Jesus. Or perhaps they presumed that because they had been successful before, they would be at that time. So we see that faith not only involves a firm reliance on Jesus’ power and ability, but also a complete renunciation of any confidence in our own.
Last month we looked briefly at the subject of God’s providence. In Matthew 17 we see an example of it in action, in connection with a mundane event — the paying of the temple tax. Jesus, as the Son of God, was under no obligation to pay the tax. Yet in order to give no offense, He sent Peter to catch a fish in whose mouth was the required shekel. This brief account raises some questions: How did the shekel get into the mouth of the fish? How did Peter just “happen” to catch that fish and not another one nearby? It is possible that Jesus performed a miracle and created the coin out of nothing in the mouth of the fish.
It is more likely, however, that it was a work of providence. Someone “accidentally” dropped a shekel into the sea. A particular fish grabbed it, and it stuck in its mouth. The fish swam to the exact spot where Peter cast his net and the fish was caught. None of these events was miraculous; yet all of them were necessary to accomplish Jesus’ purpose, and Jesus was in control of each one of them. God’s power is as much at work in His providence as in His miracles. So as we struggle with our own faith, or lack of it, in the difficult situations of life, let us believe that God is able, whether through miracles or providence, to care for us.
SOURCE: Jerry Bridges, July 1, 2008 @ http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/faith-and-power-god/
The feeding of the five thousand, recorded in Matthew 14:13–21, is probably the most well known of all of Jesus’ miracles. It is the only one recorded by all four of the gospel writers (see Mark 6:30–44;Luke 9:10–19; John 6:1–14). It is also one that skeptics have most often tried to explain away. A common explanation is that the little boy’s example of generosity in giving his bread and fish to Jesus prompted others to share the food they had brought along, so that there was enough for all.
That this was an amazing miracle is beyond doubt. To use a contemporary expression, it was “over the top.” It is impossible to visualize in our minds what it must have looked like, and the extreme brevity of the account tempts us to fill in the details. But we should refrain from doing so, knowing that the Holy Spirit guided the gospel writers to give us only as much detail as He wanted us to know.
Rather than puzzling over omitted details, we need to ask of any portion of Scripture what it teaches us. Without claiming to have plumbed the depths of this passage, let me draw out one obvious lesson: Jesus controls the physical universe, and He exercises that control for His people.
Scripture teaches us that the Son of God was not only the agent of creation, but that He also upholds the universe and holds it together by the word of His power (Heb. 1:1–3; Col. 1:16–17). That is, He who created the universe in the beginning also sustains and directs it moment by moment on a continual basis. We know, for example, that ordinarily the physical laws of the universe operate in a consistent and predictable manner. The reason they do is because of the consistent will of Christ causing them to do so. They do not operate on their own.
This helps us understand why Jesus could perform miracles; in this case causing five small barley cakes and two small fish to multiply so dramatically that they fed more than five thousand people. Jesus, who created the physical laws and stands outside of them and over them, could, as He purposed, change or countermand any of them. In fact He could, if He so willed, create an entirely new law of multiplication for that specific occasion so that the bread and fish multiplied.
We really don’t know what Jesus did, or what the multiplication process looked like. We only know the results, and we know that the Lord of the universe could, in whatever way He chose, produce those miraculous results. Miracles were no problem for Jesus.
Today, at least in the Western world, we seem to see few miracles, and certainly none the scope of the feeding of the five thousand. What we do see, however, are the results of God’s invisible hand of providence. Setting aside the theological definition of providence to keep it simple, we may say that providence is God’s orchestrating all events and circumstances in the universe for His glory and the good of His people (Rom. 8:28).
Scripture teaches us that just as the Son of God was the agent of creation and is its present sustainer, so too is He also the agent of God’s providence. Jesus is in sovereign control, not only of the physical laws of the universe, but of all the events and circumstances in the universe, including those that happen to each of us. If you have food today in your cupboard and refrigerator, that is as much the result of Jesus’ care for you as was the feeding of the five thousand.
Just as the physical laws of the universe ordinarily operate in a consistent and predictable manner, so providence ordinarily operates in a predictable cause and effect relationship. “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Prov. 10:4). That’s cause and effect, and it is generally predictable. But just as Jesus intervened in the physical laws during His time on earth, so He intervenes in normal cause-and-effect relationships. Sometimes from our perspective His intervention is “good” and sometimes it’s “bad.” In either case He is in control “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lam. 3:38).
The good news, however, is that Jesus is not only in control of all the events and circumstances of our lives, He is also compassionate. In the record of the feeding of the five thousand, the text says “He had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matt. 14:14). At the subsequent feeding of the four thousand, Jesus said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat” (Matt. 15:32). Whether it was healing the sick or feeding the multitude, Jesus was moved to act by His compassion. On other occasions throughout the Gospels we see Jesus acting as a result of His compassion. And what He was while on earth, He is today in heaven: a sovereign and compassionate Savior who works all things for His glory and our good.
*SOURCE: June 1st, 2008 @ http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/providence-jesus/
The Effect of Your Life in 1,400 Years
Do you think God has purposes for your life that will be realized in 1,400 years?
I do. Your life and mine.
Yes, the new heavens and the new earth may be here by then. I hope so. If so, there are things that are happening to you now that will have reverberations then for your good.
I say that because Paul says, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). When Paul speaks of “light momentary affliction,” he is referring to all the painful experiences of our lives — the same thing he means by “the sufferings of this present time” in Romans 8:18. All of this present time.
And when he says that these life-long experiences are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory,” he means that there is a correlation between those experiences now and our experiences of glory later. And that correlation is more than sequential, and more than evidence that we are going to glory.
It would be little comfort to Paul if I said the point was: “How I handle my backache and how you handle your beheading are evidence that we are both going to glory.” That’s true. But it’s not the point of the word “preparing” (katergazetai). His beheading will have a different effect on his glory than my backache will on mine. And I’ll be the happier for his reward.
Everything Relates to Everything
But what if, in 1,400 years Christ has not returned? Will your life make a difference in that world? I think so. In God’s governance of the world, everything relates to everything.
Consider this illustration.
When I was in Ethiopia last November, I was told of an Ethiopian missionary who went to Pakistan. He entered a town with a view to evangelizing and planting a church, even though Pakistan is not open to this kind of missionary work.
But when he went before the town leaders and they found out that he was from Ethiopia they said something to the effect: “You may do your work here. We owe you the gift of openness and hospitality, because your people gave asylum to Mohammed’s family 1,400 years ago.”
The Land of Justice
Since then I have tried to track down the history behind this amazing statement. In 2008 there was a symposium about this very tradition. Scholars from Princeton, Cornell, Rutgers, and the National Museum of Ethiopia met to discuss new historical findings.
In Islamic history and tradition, Ethiopia (Abyssinia) is known as the “Haven of the First Migration” of Muslims. During Mohammed’s lifetime (570 – 632) his followers were being persecuted in the surroundings of Mecca by pagan tribes.
Dr. Said Samatar, Professor of African History at Rutgers, explained “King Armah (Negash) and his decision to grant refuge to the family of the Prophet Mohammad, who arrived at Aksum while fleeing from their pagan persecutors.” King Armah was a Christian and had the reputation of treating people generously. Dr. Samatar described how “a Christian King refused bribes and granted sanctuary to the fleeing Muslims in Aksum.”
“Mohammad didn’t forget the generosity of the Negash,” he said, “and in the sayings (hadith) of the Prophet that have been recorded and passed on for generations, it is noted that ‘Abyssinia [Ethiopia] is a land of justice in which no one is oppressed.’”
Therefore, for many Muslims even today, 1,400 years later, “Ethiopia is synonymous with freedom from persecution and emancipation from fear.”
Consider Your Impact
Do you think that the Christians of Abysinnia, 1,400 years ago thought that what they were doing would have an effect for the glory of Christ and the good of the world fourteen centuries later, when a Pakistani mayor opened his city to a Christian Ethiopian missionary?
Therefore, I conclude that what we do in obedience to Christ in this life is never wasted. Our acts are like pebbles dropped in the pond of history. No matter how small our pebble, God rules the ripples. And he causes the design on the face of the waters to be exactly what he wills.
Your pebbles count. Drop them with daily faithfulness, and leave the ripples to God.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.
ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER
By Dane Ortlund
Our words to one another about one another not only describe reality. They also create reality.
“You idiot!” does not simply assess what is objectively true to the speaker. It also produces, in the one spoken to, death and darkness. Not only do our words reveal what is true of us, they also generate reality for another. Specifically, our words are either death-bringing or life-giving. Either depleting or nourishing, draining or filling.
The gospel is a message of life, of nourishing, of filling. Because of Christ’s work in our behalf, we are set free from sin, adopted into God’s family, welcomed in. The “word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13) is a word that gives life. And the great privilege we have when we gather with other believers—other obnoxious believers, other theologically imprecise believers, other spiritually sleepy believers, other frustrating believers, other sinning believers—is of passing on horizontally a taste of what we’ve been given vertically. Amid all my sin and messiness, in Jesus, God has given me a word of welcome, a word of love—“the word of life” (Phil. 2:16; 1 John 1:1). Loved with this word of grace, I love others with words of grace.
After all, when Paul says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up,” what is the “therefore” referring to? What is fueling such encouragement? One of the greatest exultations in all the New Testament about the hope of the gospel: “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thess. 5:9–10).
Having been shown life through the word of the gospel, we give life through the words we use.
That’s easier said than done. All day long, words are flowing out of us. Passing another and saying hello in the hallway at work, chatting over lunch, greeting our spouse at the end of the day, tucking a child in with a good night story, speaking with a salesperson at Best Buy, talking on the phone while driving. We also use words without employing the larynx: emails, tweets, Facebook comments, handwritten notes stuck on the fridge. Even in this article I am using words: Are they bringing life?
In the hurricane of words that make up any given day, how do we walk in wisdom such that our words inject sanity, calm, and life rather than destruction? In two ways.
First, by saying nothing.
One major way we give life to others with our words is by not using any. It feels awkward to sit with someone depressed or overwhelmed with life and to say nothing. But what comes out of our mouth as medicine can, in fact, sicken rather than strengthen another’s heart (Prov. 23:8). A sufferer, when the pain is raw, needs warm presence, not fixing words. Paul said, “Weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15), not “provide theological answers to those who weep.” That Romans 8:28 comes before Romans 12:15 in the canon does not mean it should in our counseling and friendships.
Second, by saying something.
All our words tumble out impelled by one of two motives. I am using words either for myself or for you. All my speech is either fueled by self (no matter how smiling it is) or by love (no matter how painful it is).
The question, then, is why do you speak the words you do? Why do you speak the way you do? What is the aroma of your words? Are you spraying bullets, forgetting God has set down the gun rightly aimed at you? Do you speak to others the way you wish to be spoken to? What kind of speech has given you life as you consider meaningful relationships in your past? Do you ever—ever—look another human being in the face and say to them the following words: “May I tell you something I admire about you?” (It is one of the great secrets to Christian community that speaking a word of grace to another builds up you as much as the other.)
In your short life, you have a million tiny opportunities, including a hundred today, to inject a small but potent dose of life and light into another. As you consider doing this, you will immediately find a good reason presenting itself that seems to clearly mitigate your impulse to build another up. Some weakness, some corresponding fault, will arise in your mind, cancelling out your reason to encourage that person. Indeed, with some people in our lives, we honestly have difficulty finding anything encouraging to say.
Once more we remember the gospel. God did not allow our own faults to mitigate His word of gospel life to us. We have given Him every reason to withhold that precious word from us. Instead He lavishes us with assurances of undeserved love. We come alive. We breathe again.
John Owen wrote that God “loves life into us.” Will you love life into another?
*SOURCE: July 1st, 2013 @ http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/encourage-another/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Dane Ortlund serves as Bible publishing director at Crossway Books in Wheaton, Illinois. He is the author of Defiant Grace: The Surprising Message and Mission of Jesus.
My favorite weekly meeting is Wednesday at 6 a.m. at Perkins Restaurant.
There I recently had one of those jump-off-the-page-of-your-Bible experiences. Call me dumb, but I had never processed the fact that three times in Paul’s famous “contentment passage” in Philippians 4 – which I have quoted anecdotally dozens of times – the Apostle specifically uses the word “learned” (in Philippians 4:9 and 11, 12 ).
The men’s prayer breakfast is not a big one, as prayer breakfasts go. But it is a faithful one, an intimate one. Men from our church gather like clockwork each week for the sole purpose of lifting our hearts together before the Throne of Grace. We make 3-4 specific prayer requests for the week, and then lift one another’s burdens to the Lord in prayer before a hearty breakfast. Our prayers are far ranging, kingdom focused prayers for the advance of God’s reign in this world. It is not a place where we sit on our hands, but where we take the Kingdom by storm.
But recently God has landed the prayer breakfast guys in the school of contentment. He has simply overwhelmed us with his presence and blessings and pressed us to “come back” to a place of joy and satisfaction — of thanksgiving! In my analysis, the Lord has been teaching us a contentment that can be described as intense pleasure in who Jesus is, and what he has done/is doing/will do for his people. We have been discovering something of the end that Paul has in mind when he calls to learn contentment. Three observations about how God leads us into biblical contentment.
First, he has called each one of us to action. Contentment is not passivity. Each of the men at prayer breakfast wear various hats: in the church, as the head their families, and in their professional labors. Men must sometimes leave early because of pressing matters on their plate. We aspire to be like the Apostle Paul, who was engaged in the work to which he was called. What he believed was visible in his lifestyle and he called those to whom he ministered to “learn by practice” what they had seen Paul practice.
Second, God has called each of us to flexibility. In a variety of ways each of us has had unexpected developments in our lives recently. It has really pushed us to understand better what Paul meant in Phil. 4:11 that “whatever situation” is a place where God will minister his grace by prompting me to trust in his wisdom and rest in his provision. The guys have discussed in recent weeks the places of apparent chaos and of disappointment. The wonder of Paul’s Calvinistic convictions is that he could never step outside of God’s personal and transformative gaze. Whether in Tarsus, Jerusalem, or the far flung wilderness of Asia Minor Paul knew that because God was God, therefore Paul could never step off his grid. His heavenly Father was intent on teaching him the positive aspects of the Tenth Commandment every day and in every — at a very personal level!
Finally, God has called us to be fixated on Christ. Paul no doubt had specific episodes from his ministry in mind when he said “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:12). As he pushed forward in his itinerant ministry year after year things didn’t always go as planned. Colleagues abandoned him. Logistics did not work out. Travel plans were stymied. And yet through it all the Apostle’s faith shone through: “all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
It has been such an intense pleasure to explore this theme of contentment with the guys over our waffles and eggs recently. Through different circumstances and at different times he has brought each of us to that place of peaceful contentment. We are simply overwhelmed at the blessings the Lord has poured out into our lives. It doesn’t usually mean we stay there. But we are learning, learning, learning that instead of grasping and fighting for what we desire, we can rest contentedly in God’s absolute sovereignty. Instead of fixating on something material, or urgent, or created, we can reorient our fixation upon Jesus Christ. Then we can quietly do what we can in God’s kingdom, and leave the results up to him.
Soli Deo gloria.