Psalm 119:33-40 – Life Transformed

Psalm 119:33-40 (NIV)

ה He

33 Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.[a]
34 Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
35 Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.[b]
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant,
so that you may be feared.
39 Take away the disgrace I dread,
for your laws are good.
40 How I long for your precepts!
In your righteousness preserve my life.

Lessons

This passage is a prayer for life transformation. 

33. We are incapable of following Scripture on our own effort. God must teach us to follow Him. Today, He does this through Scripture and prayer, through the Holy Spirit.

34. It is not enough just to know Scripture, we must also understand it. God is not interested in our blind obedience, for that is fleeting and not sustainable. We must also understand Scripture. But we are also incapable of understanding Scripture on our own. Only God gives us understanding of His Word. He does this by his grace (“unmerited favor”). And we have to ask Him (humble ourselves and admit our inadequacy) — only then are we able to obey Scripture.

35. Once we learn and understand Scripture, then we must walk daily in the path of Scripture — we have to apply it to our lives. But again — we are incapable of applying Scripture on our own. We must humble ourselves and ask daily for God to direct our path according to His Word. We willingly claim our reliance on Him and it is there — in following Him daily — that we find our peace.

36. Now that God is teaching us daily, giving us understanding, and helping us to apply that understanding to our daily path — then we begin to be transformed.  First, our heart is changed toward wanting to obey Him. We desire to follow and grow in greater dependence on Him and less dependence on ourselves.

37. Then we actually stop pursuing all those “worthless things” and instead, look even deeper into Scripture for how our life will grow and prosper in Christ, thus starting the cycle again: learn-understand-apply-transform. (Warning: “growing and prospering” in Christ does not look the same as “growing and prospering” in the world — this is a whole separate study and post!!!)

38. God is faithful to fulfill all his promises to us when we seek Him. He transforms us so that others will know Him and love Him too.

39. The world may reject us, but God’s Word is good. His goodness is worth infinitely more than any accolades this world may offer.

40. Our life is preserved into eternity when we are transformed by God’s righteousness. Only God is righteous. Therefore, only God can give righteousness.  We cannot earn it or achieve it on our own. Humbling ourselves and admitting our full reliance on Him for our righteousness is the only way our life is transformed now and preserved for eternity.

Applications

33. Am I asking God daily to teach me to follow Scripture?

34. Am I asking God daily to give me understanding so that I can obey it?

35. Am I asking God daily to help me live out my learning and understanding? To walk in the path of Scripture? To apply these lessons and understanding so that I will have peace (“delight”) no matter what my circumstances are?

36. How is my heart being changed? What do I desire? Am I growing in greater dependence on The Lord, or greater dependence on myself?

37. What am I pursuing? Am I pursuing “worthless things” or am I pursuing a life that is growing and prospering in Christ?

38. Do others see God because of how He is transforming me?

39. Am I prepared to face “disgrace” because of following God’s Word? How will I respond?

40. Am I fully relying on God for righteousness or am I still trying to earn it myself?  How is my life being transformed?

Prayer

Dear Jesus, Thank you for giving me your Word and the Holy Spirit to teach me, give me understanding, and help me to live out your Word every day. Please grow me and prosper me in YOU — not in the world. Please transform my life by your righteousness — on my own. I am so inadequate and unworthy on my own. Only you, Jesus, can change my life and give me peace — for now and for eternity. Amen. 

Advertisements

Psalm 119: 25-32 – In Hardship, Trial, or Pain

Psalm 119:25-32 (NIV)

ד Daleth

25 I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.
26 I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
teach me your decrees.
27 Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
28 My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
29 Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me and teach me your law.
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.
31 I hold fast to your statutes, Lord;
do not let me be put to shame.
32 I run in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding.

Lessons

How appropriate that the passage of Psalm 119 on the anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks that occurred on 9/11/01 would be an encouragement for us when we are in times of hardship, trial, or pain.

25. When we are discouraged or in hard times, our reliance should be on Scripture — we must lean into God’s promises.

26. Go to God with your troubles. In prayer, be intentional about telling Him what is going on. Let it be a personal conversation. “Recount your way” to Him. And then look to His Word for His answer — He will teach you from it!  We do not “recount our way” so that He will know it — He already knows!!!  But rather, so that we will be strengthened and encouraged when we see God’s goodness and faithfulness to us.

27. Come humbly before God, asking for His help to understand the Scriptures. But then, meditate on that understanding — let it sink deep down into your every thought.  Let it transform you in every way.

28. We should expect to be weary and sad at times. There will be hard seasons of life. Our source of strength is Scripture.

29. In times of sorrow, sadness, and trial, we are especially susceptible to sin. By God’s grace, He gives us His Word to protect us and strengthen us. Use it.

30. In these hard seasons, we must choose obedience. But our actions and attitudes begin in our heart, so we must first “set our heart” on Scripture.

31. Cling to Scripture.  Do not let go of it for anything!!!  Picture rock climbing and “clinging” to a hold. You can only cling to one place at a time! CLING to Scripture and nothing else! And then ask God to help you be obedient to it.

32. Be deliberate and determined in your obedience. Do not walk casually in obedience — RUN!!  Our difficult circumstances may continue, but our heart will no longer be weighed down!

Applications

25. When I am discouraged, do I look to Scripture for encouragement? Or somewhere else? What am I leaning on?

26. Do I “recount my ways” to God, looking to His Word for teaching for my life?

27. Am I asking God to help me understand His Word and then letting that understanding sink into every part of my heart, mind, and life so it will transform me?

28. When I am weary from hard times, am I seeking strength, endurance and renewal from Scripture? What does it mean to be spiritually renewed, yet physically and mentally exhausted? What is God teaching me by allowing this for me?

29. In times of trial, am I digging deeper into Scripture — not just for my encouragement and edification, but to keep myself from sin?

30. Have I “set my heart” on God’s Word? Is it possible to “set your heart” on more than one thing at a time?  What do I choose?  Do I choose the way of truth in all seasons of life? What does that look like practically?

31. Am I clinging to God’s Word?! And I admitting my natural weakness and asking God to help me be obedient?

32. Am I walking casually in obedience? Or am I running?! Am I “training” daily in Scripture to become stronger and to build endurance for life’s hard seasons?

Prayer

Oh Lord, how good and kind and gracious you are to have given us your Word. I am sorry for the times that I cling to anything other than your way. Please help me to seek only your Word and to be obedient to it.  Please help me to grow in understanding and application of your ways so that I might run a good race and be an encouragement to others along the way. 

Psalm 119:17-24 – Prayer

Psalm 119:17-24 (NIV)

ג Gimel

17 Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word.
18 Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.
19 I am a stranger on earth;
do not hide your commands from me.
20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times.
21 You rebuke the arrogant, who are accursed,
those who stray from your commands.
22 Remove from me their scorn and contempt,
for I keep your statutes.
23 Though rulers sit together and slander me,
your servant will meditate on your decrees.
24 Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.

Lessons

An exhortation on the tightly woven partnership of Scripture and prayer. In our daily prayer, we ought to ask God to help us:

17. Obey God’s Word. A Prayer of worship that goodness and life come from God, and that only by God’s goodness are we able to obey His Word.

18. Understand God’s Word. A Prayer for help since, apart from God, we are unable to see God’s purpose for us in His Word.

19. Receive His presence in God’s Word. A Prayer for understanding of Scripture so that we would not be alone in this world. God gave us His Word to be our counsel and our companion.

20. Cultivate a desire for God’s Word. As we grow in obedience and in prayer, our desire for Scripture increases. God puts in us a desire for His Word.

21. Intercede for those who reject God’s Word. Walking away from Scripture is rooted in pride — in our fallen hearts that believe we are able to earn righteousness on our own merit. God will ultimately rebuke — turn away — from those who reject his Word. In our love for God and for others, this should break our hearts and fill our prayers. God wishes that none would perish, but that all would be saved. (2 Peter 3:9) May the whole world know Him, know His joy, know His peace. Amen.

22.  Confess how I also ignore God’s Word. There is a distinct connection between keeping God’s Word and being accepted by Him. As we seek to keep God’s Word, the Holy Spirit reveals to us when and where we fall short. Confessing our failings helps us to continue to keep God’s Word.

23. In the midst of persecution, focus on God’s Word. We will be persecuted for being obedient to Scripture. We may be mocked. We may be ostracized. We may be criticized. We may suffer. We may lose relationships. We will go through trials. This is actually a mark of God’s LOVE for us … (Oh, there is so much I could write about this) and God gives us His Word to sustain us. Our rescue, our hope, our endurance is strengthened by keeping our focus on Scripture.

24. Take counsel from God’s Word. God has given us Scripture to counsel us so we will know Him and know His way for us (and His way for us is rooted in his goodness and His love for us). As we grow in Him, obedience is not a burden; it is a delight!

Applications

17. Am I praying daily that, by His goodness, God would enable me to obey His Word?

18. Am I praying daily that God would enable me to see and understand His Word?

19. Am I praying daily that God would give me His presence through His Word?

20. Am I praying daily for an increasing desire for His Word?

21. Am I praying daily for those who reject God’s Word?

22. Am I praying daily a confession of how I turn away from Scripture?

23. Am I praying daily for the ability to focus on God’s Word in the midst of trials and persecution?

Psalm 119:9-16 – Scripture

Psalm 119:9-16 (NIV)

ב Beth

9 How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

Lessons

9. The Psalmist asks a question – how do I keep my way pure? And then he immediately answers himself (I’m almost expecting a “DUH!” here): by living according to your Word. The rest of the passage tells us how to do that.

10. Seek God in the Scriptures. Use his Word as a way to KNOW him. Don’t go halfway. But ask for help. You can’t know God on your own. He must help you to seek Him.

11. Memorize Scriptures. Hide it in your heart. Take it with you so that when you are tempted to stray from God’s way, it is with you.

12. Learn Scripture. Don’t just read it, study it. Break it down. Find the lessons. Apply it to your life.

13. Share Scripture. Don’t be selfish and keep it to yourself. Tell others what you are learning, how you are knowing God, and how He is changing your life..

14. Rejoice in Scripture! This is God’s Word … to YOU!  Love it! Take joy that God loves you so much he would send us all we need and hold nothing back!

15. Meditate on Scripture. Let it sink deep into your every thought. Consider God’s ways — in every way — instead of yours.

16. Take delight in Scripture. Do it DAILY. Do not neglect Scripture. A plant that is neglected will wither and die. Just like a plant, we need to be “fed, watered, and exposed to the ‘son’ DAILY in order to grow, flourish and produce fruit. If we neglect these regular disciplines even for just a short time, our spiritual health will wither and fade and cease to grow.

Applications

9. How am I living according to God’s Word?

10. How am I seeking God? Partially or with ALL my heart? Am I asking God to help me to do that well every day?

11. Am I memorizing Scripture? Am I hiding it in my heart? Am then, am I listening when Scripture comes to me?

12. Am I learning Scripture? Am I really studying it and seeking to learn from it? Am I applying those lessons? (Not just intellectually … but really living them out?)

13.  Am I sharing Scripture with others?

14. Do I REJOICE in Scripture?

15. Do I let Scripture permeate my every thought and meditate on it throughout the day?

16. Am I taking such delight in Scripture that I do it daily? When I neglect Scripture, why? (Go back to verse 10).

Prayer

Lord, please help me to live according to your Word. Help me to seek, memorize, learn, share, rejoice, meditate and delight in Scripture. 

 

Psalm 119:1-8 – Obedience

Psalm 119:1-8 (NIV)

א Aleph

1 Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
2 Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
3 they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
4 You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
6 Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
8 I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Lessons

  1. No one but Jesus is able to be blameless or walk perfectly according to the laws of the Lord. Therefore, the laws of the Lord are meant to show us our “blame” — our inadequacies. Scripture shows us our need for Jesus. When we have Jesus, God sees him when he sees us, and therefore, on Judgement Day, we too will be found blameless, and be blessed.
  2. We become more like Jesus (we are “blessed”) when we obey (actions) and desire him (seek with our heart). Both actions and attitude matter. We must have both. Both are active, not passive. To seek something is to look tirelessly for it.
  3. God gives us the roadmap of his ways in Scripture. His way is not hidden. He shows us his ways we are to follow.
  4. Our obedience must be full. We cannot pick and choose. We cannot partially obey.
  5. We need to desire to be obedient and pray and ask for his help to be obedient.
  6. When we compare ourselves to Scripture (and only to Scripture), we should be convicted of where we fall short.
  7. As we learn more of Scripture, we learn to worship. We cannot worship God apart from following Scripture.
  8. Obeying Scripture requires a decision and commitment … and it requires prayer.

Applications

  1. How is this passage today showing me my need for Jesus?
  2. Am I being obedient to Scripture? Am I seeking God? Do I desire Him? How? What’s the evidence? What does it “look like” (practically) for me to seek God?
  3. Am I following God’s way? Where am I not?
  4. Where am I only being obedient half-way? (Or not at all?) What do I need to fully surrender to HIS way?
  5. Do I pray and ask for help to be obedient? Do I desire to be obedient?
  6. What plumb line of righteousness other than Scripture am I tempted to compare myself to? Am I looking to Scripture to convict and correct?
  7. When I find my worship lacking, do I look to Scripture?
  8. Have I made a commitment to obey Scripture and ask God to help me to keep it? Am I trying to be obedient on my own strength?

Key Thoughts Today

  • Obey Him
  • Seek Him
  • Hear Him (Scripture)
  • Worship Him
  • Pray to Him

Prayer

Lord, help me to seek you with my whole heart and to desire to be obedient to your Word. Please help me to look only to Scripture for conviction and correction. Where I am weak, you are strong. Please help me — moment by moment — to obey your word and walk in your ways.

My Spiritual Pet Peeve: “We are so blessed.”

One of my big spiritual pet peeves right now is when Christians say things like: “We just had such a great beach vacation. We are so blessed.”

No. You are fortunate. You should be thankful. You should acknowledge what a great vacation you had and what a luxury it is to have such an experience. You should be GRATEFUL.

But for something to be true, its inverse must also be true.

And by proclaiming your beach vacation a “blessing” what you’re saying is “My good circumstances are evidence of God’s blessing on my life.”

The inverse of which would be, “My difficult circumstances are evidence of God withholding his blessing … or of God’s curse on my life.”

And for a follower of Jesus, this has no scriptural truth whatsoever.

In fact, THIS is what God considers worthy of His “blessing” –

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

Matthew 5:1-12 (NLT)

So, when you are relating something positive that’s happened or going on, please don’t Christianize it by calling it a “blessing.” Instead, say something like, “We just had such a great beach vacation. We are really thankful for that time together!”

And, when you are claiming God’s blessing, or you are asking for God’s blessing, understand that the process of being “blessed” is going to be a whole life’s journey that includes:

  • realizing our utter need for Him
  • mourning
  • being humbled and learning humility
  • hungering and thirsting for justice
  • being merciful
  • having a pure heart
  • working for peace
  • being persecuted
  • being mocked
  • being lied about and having evil things said about you

In short, to ask for and expect to receive God’s blessing is to surrender YOUR life and YOUR heart and YOUR will to Him to be made more and more like that of Jesus, who fully embodied each of those things.

And, why in the world would someone want that?

Because, I expect God’s true blessing is more abundantly beautiful and wonderful than any “good circumstances” I could possibly imagine or ask for here on earth, for God promises “a great reward awaits you in heaven.”

And Mary Responded …

Given the recent calendar page turn into Advent, I’ve been pondering Mary lately and what she must have been thinking as she faced an eternity-changing event in her life.

Consider Mary’s circumstances: She was a young girl (likely between the ages of 12-14), “ready” for marriage and betrothed to a man from her tiny village of Nazareth.

Betrothal in ancient Israel was much more significant than our modern (and Gentile) version of “engagement” and included a 9-12 month waiting period where the couple was legally married, but had not yet consummated the marriage.  If the bride became pregnant by another man or was found to not be a virgin during this period of “sanctification”, then she could be divorced or stoned to death.  If she was allowed to live, then most certainly, she and her family would be socially and spiritually outcast.

So, it is under these legal, social and spiritual circumstances that the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her that she will become divinely pregnant and will give birth to the long-awaited Messiah (Luke 1:26-38).  Surely, Mary knew full well the dangers and heartache that awaited her.  Had it been me, I’m certain I would have wondered: “Could this really be for my good?”

But, in fact, that’s not how Mary responded.  Instead, Scripture records Mary’s response in a passage known as The Magnificat and I think there are some lessons for us in it:

46 Mary responded,
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Luke 1:46-55, NLT

First, the text tells us Mary’s “soul praises” and her “spirit rejoices”. From this, and because Gabriel told Mary the Spirit of the Lord would come to her, we know Mary was fully united with the Holy Spirit and thus, it is by the Holy Spirit that she is able to praise God in the midst of such difficult circumstances.

Second, Mary calls herself the Lord’s “servant”.  She was fully submitted to God as her Lord. You may have heard the phrase, “You can’t say ‘No, Lord'”, meaning that God is either Lord of your life and you are submitted to His leading, or He is not. There is no in-between.

Third, even though her social, legal and even physical well being were threatened (or could have been), Mary proclaims that God has done great things for her.  Mary is fully confident in God’s sovereignty, even though she is facing difficult circumstances and can’t see the future for how they will turn out.

Fourth, in vv 51-55, Mary reflects on God’s character revealed throughout Israel’s history. In so doing, Mary leans on her version of “Scripture” for encouragement — and she is fully believing God is faithful to keep his promises.

From these lessons, we can ask the same questions of our ourselves:

  1. Am I fully united with the Holy Spirit? Is there anything hindering my relationship with the Lord this Advent? An attitude to confess? A habit to quit? A sin to turn away from? A relationship to reconcile?
  2. Am I fully surrendered to God’s leading?  Is God truly Lord over my life?  Am I willing  to praise God with my mouth, but not willing to accept His teaching and direction when it’s different from what I want?
  3. Am I fully confident in God’s sovereignty — regardless of my current circumstances — even though I can’t see the future?
  4. Do I fully believe God is faithful to keep his promises?  Am I regularly leaning into Scripture for evidence and encouragement of God’s character and promises?

I love the verb that opens this passage in the NLT, “Mary responded” (emphasis mine). Many translations use the phrase, “And Mary said …”.  But this verb “responded” suggests to me that Mary did not just preach herself a sermon and keep the knowledge in her head. No. Mary responded in her mind, in her spirit, and with her actions.  She purposed in her heart to believe God, trust in Him and live out her faith accordingly.

How are you responding to God this Advent season?

Thanksgiving Meditation

2013 has been a hard year for our family. We’ve experienced a health crisis, job loss, total depletion of all our savings, crisis with our adopted son and his (hopefully temporary) departure from our family, and now, a relocation away from our family, friends, and church family.

And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever had a Thanksgiving when I’ve had more for which to be thankful.

This is the Scripture I am keeping close:

Lamentations 3:17-25 (NLT)

17 Peace has been stripped away,
and I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 I cry out, “My splendor is gone!
Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”
19 The thought of my suffering and homelessness
is bitter beyond words.[a]
20 I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
21 Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
25 The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him.
 (Emphasis mine)

God is good. Great is His faithfulness.

I don’t do “New Year’s Resolutions” per se, but I do like to spend time each January 1 reflecting on the highlights and challenges of the previous year and then writing down a “vision” for the next year. I try to “check in” with my list several times throughout the year to see how I’m doing.

I re-read my “Vision for 2013” the other night and I was really struck by something.  There were 11 things on my list.  Things like: Finish my Masters Degree, Pay off Debt, Write Regularly on my Blog, Read a Certain Number of Books, etc.  These were all goals I set because I saw them as good and worthy pursuits to expand my mind, my learning, my career, my family, and my service.

Guess how many of my 11 goals I am on track to complete this year?  One. Only one goal has God allowed me to remain on track to accomplish.

Which one?

Read the Bible all the way through in 1 year.

Though I’ve done a lot of Bible study over the years, I had not read the entire thing cover to cover, ever, let alone in one year.  So, I decided on January 1, 2013 I wanted this to be the year that would happen.  And I’m on track to meet that goal by January 2014.

Why? Of all those “good” goals I set, why would this be the one thing that God would provide me the means, motivation, and opportunity to complete? Because He knew it would be the one thing that would not only sustain me in 2013, but cause me to grow.

It has been a hard year for our family.  I concede that I will not be sorry to see 2013 go. But God is good and He has cared so gently for our family in this season.  He has shown me (again) this year that He knows everything we will face and that — each and every day, because of His great love and mercy and faithfulness — He will equip us with everything we need to accomplish all that is set before us.

And so, I say again: Thanks be to God. Great is His faithfulness.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tis the Season to Receive

Tis the season to receive. 

Wait. What? No, we are nearing Christmas. This is the season to share love, peace, hope, and joy generously with others. It’s the season to lavish the gift of giving on those around us.

But, what if, friend, you have nothing to give? How does one pour water from an empty cup? That’s a sad picture, isn’t it?

Yet, this is often how we walk through our days, attempting to pour out peace and joy from the empty cups of our hearts and wondering why it is so difficult to share the love of Christ with those around us.  

But, friends, when we do not first take time to receive from The Lord through scripture, prayer, and worship, then we walk into our day empty handed, with nothing to extend to those we love except whatever we can muster from our own strength. I don’t know about you, but when I do this, I usually run out of my own love, peace, joy, and hope by about 8:30 in the morning. 

Instead, God tells us to first receive from Him, so that we can be emptied as we love Him by serving others…and then we return to Him to be filled again. We see this played out repeatedly in Scripture. Here are just three examples:

  • God first blessed Abram so that Abram would be a blessing to others.
  • The Old Testament prophets first received the Word of The Lord and then gave out the Word of The Lord.  Isaiah writes, “Then The Lord said to me” and then Isaiah obediently gave out the word of The Lord to Israel. Jeremiah writes, “The Lord gave me this message …” And then Jeremiah obediently gave out the word of The Lord to the people.  Ezekiel writes, “A message came to me from The Lord” and, in turn, Ezekiel obediently gave that message to the people saying, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says…”. 
  • Jesus’ own disciples spent three years walking, living, and learning with Jesus before He sent them out on their own to share the Good News and build His church.

So, as you seek opportunities to share the love, joy, hope and peace of Christ in this season of giving, take time to first receive from Him:

  • Read your Bible: It is God’s own Word to you and it is free for the taking.
  • Pray: Thank God for His love for you and His never-ending supply of peace and ask Him to equip you with joy and hope for your day.
  • Worship The Lord with music that exalts His name and tells of His goodness. (Hint: much of your Christmas playlist might do this!!)

Be blessed to be a blessing. Hear from The Lord and then obediently give out His Word. Walk with, live with, and listen to The Lord and you will have all you need to pour out His Good News on all those you encounter. 

Tis the season.

Resources

There are many wonderful resources to encourage your daily Bible study, prayer, and worship. Here are just a few I recommend:

When God Says “No”

When was the last time you prayed for something and God’s answer was “no”?

  • Have you prayed for healing for a dear friend with cancer and instead, she passes away leaving her young children and husband to grieve in this world?
  • Have you prayed for a job in a season of unemployment and instead joblessness persists as you watch your savings account dwindle?
  • Have you prayed for a baby — just one baby — and instead, remain childless?
  • Have you prayed for a spouse and instead, remain single and alone, heartbroken for someone to share your joys and sorrows?

When we receive this response to our fervent prayers, I think sometimes we try to mentally soften the blow to our disappointed hearts by receiving this answer more as a “not now” or “not yet”. We might even consider our prayer, “unanswered”. (Although, for the record, I don’t think this idea of “unanswered” prayer is scriptural for God says, “Call to me and I will answer you” (Jeremiah 33:3).) It may take longer than we wish to receive or understand God’s answer, but the truth is, the Bible is full of examples when God’s answer to a just, verdant, and even good prayer request was … “No.”

  • Moses wanted to go into the Promised Land. But God told him ‘no’ and instead raised up Joshua to lead the Israelites into the promised land. (Deut. 3:23-27)
  • David wanted to build the Temple. But God told him no and instead used his son Solomon to build it and in so doing, bring peace to Israel (1 Chronicles 22:7-10)
  • Mary and Martha wanted Jesus to heal their brother Lazarus when he was sick. Jesus answered no and instead raised Lazarus from the dead. (John 11)
  • Jesus himself asked that the cup of suffering be taken from him as he prayed just prior to his crucifixion. God said no, but instead sent angel to strengthen him to complete the work set before him. (Luke 22:42-44)

In each of these situations, the “no” God gave was because He had a greater plan yet to be revealed.

I have been praying for months about two things (and by “things”, I don’t mean material things, I mean “circumstances”). Two good things that I believed would provide our family greater stability, more time together, and an increased opportunity to serve Him by serving in our community. I was not asking God for wealth or stuff. I was not asking God for popularity or prestige. I was not asking God for status or success. I was asking Him to make provision for us by allowing two particular good circumstances to come to pass, if it was His best for us.

But His answer was … “No.”

It is a hard thing to (sincerely) pray, “Thy will be done” and then accept the outcome when His will isn’t that for which we hoped. But we do so because if what we want isn’t God’s best for us, then … do we really want it? I don’t.

God has not yet revealed His greater plan for us. It has been hard — even painful — to accept and understand these circumstances, but because it is His nature to say “no” when His plans are greater than ours, I know He will.

In the meantime, I continue to abide in these truths: “Trust in The Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5).