Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). I was thinking this past week about cases where a person who has been a professed believer, maybe even a well-known Christian leader, falls into public sin or even apostasy, walking away from the Christian faith. Sadly, there have been many such cases in the news lately.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me! (Psalm 139:1) Notice two things from this brief statement. First, it recognizes the fact that God knows us, is intimately acquainted with us. Second, it is a prayer. It is a prayer from the psalmist, talking to God, and recognizing God’s ever-presence with him. This is the essence of walking with God.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20) When we open the door of communication with Jesus, Jesus himself describes this event as being like dinner with a dear friend. Do you come to your dinner table with a to-do list of things to cover in conversation? Are you nervous or hurried when you sit down to have dinner in your home with a dear friend?
Imagine you are about to move to a new area. Not just a new location, but a whole new part of the world—surrounded by a new culture and new faces, and without any familiar friends or contacts. Besides the personal, emotional challenges of such a move there would obviously be some significant spiritual challenges to anticipate. Whatever spiritual habits you have in place will be changed or challenged; the fellow Christians by whom you’ve been encouraged and to whom you’ve been accountable won’t be nearby to help you.
We sometimes make the mistake of thinking we must choose between knowledge and passion; but in fact the two feed each other, especially in relation to Jesus (2 Peter 3:11-18). The more we learn about Jesus, the more we will love and trust him; on the other hand, it is impossible to genuinely love or truly trust someone you don’t even know (Matthew 11:28-29; Romans 10:14). This is why knowledge is so important. And this is why every Christian should be a dedicated, life-time learner. A heart cannot be renewed by knowledge that the head never took in.
It is important to recognize that the Christian life can be a series of ups and downs, confidence and doubts. However, the faith that God gives us in Jesus Christ is (praise God!) not based on our feelings or even on our faithfulness. Neither is God’s love toward us. This is important to remember, because discouragement is one of the most effective tools in Satan’s bag of tricks. In times, however, when I find myself (or at least feel to be) spiritually cold, it helps when I get back to the basics Lombardi-style (“Gentleman, this is a football”).
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). Paul’s exhortation to be regularly testing the sincerity and purity of your own faith is not given in order to make you doubt your salvation every other day. Faith in Christ is exactly that: faith in Jesus’ finished work, not in our own faithfulness. However, we are to be regularly doing the hard work of honest self-appraisal.
Lead us not into temptation (Luke 11:4). (Today’s is the last in a brief series of meditations on the Lord’s Prayer.) James says no one can say God has tempted him; this request, then, is for God to keep us from situations where we might fall. It is a recognition of the dangerous, bait-riddled, sin-inducing nature of this world. If love of money doesn’t get us, perhaps the temptation to fit in with the crowd will.
God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). There are countless emotional obstacles that keep us from freely praying to God each day, and moment by moment. But there is one overriding reason, Paul says, for you to fight through and go to God in prayer: the Holy Spirit himself is the one beckoning you, drawing you into God’s presence. I was struck recently, in reaching this passage, by the fact that each of these nouns refers back to the Spirit.
David Brainerd observed, “The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best.” The answer to the question “Does prayer make a difference?” is definitely, “Yes!”. But let’s consider how and why the Bible teaches us that prayer matters so much.
Paul in Ephesians 1:23 describes the church as the body of Christ. And in Ephesians 2:20 Paul goes on to explain that Jesus Christ himself is the cornerstone of the church. As if this were not enough, Paul further insists in Ephesians 3:10 that the manifold wisdom of God is being made known, through the church, to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places. In 1 Timothy 3:15 the church is said to be “a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
Sometimes it is said regarding a friendship or romance that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” But when it comes to our interaction with God’s Word, it is more accurate to say that “absence makes the heart grow cold.” If we are not regularly exposing ourselves to the Word of God, we tend to lose our appreciation for its value and power. And as our appreciation for the Word of God grows weak, so does our appreciation for God himself.
Paul briefly exhorts in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 for believers to “Pray without ceasing.” Yet some of us might ask the question: “Why?” Why pray without ceasing? That seems a tall order for busy people who have many life obligations on their plate already. But consider the biblical inducements to prayer by asking yourself a few clarifying and self-examining questions:
Here’s a brief meditation I wrote down from Psalm 119, a great text for Bible reading. You might find it encouraging as you continue looking for wonderful things in God’s law this year: “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me (Psalm 101:3). There is, according to God’s Word, a kind of healthy hatred — a hatred for sin and its ravaging effects. As I was contemplating this reality recently, I thought of at least four ways in which a healthy hatred for sin should evidence itself in the sanctified life: