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”).
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.
The apostle Peter writes to hurting and persecuted Christian believers, who have been “scattered” from their homes and familiar surroundings, and tells them to cast all their anxieties on God knowing that God cares for them (1 Peter 5:7). This is not some puff piece, or academic lecture, or thoughtless encouragement. Peter is communicating to real people, in real pain, and giving them real comfort. God cares about you!
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me“ (Psalm 23:4). We too often talk about God, without talking to God. We can give mental assent to certain Bible teaching – Jesus is Lord, Jesus is a Shepherd, Jesus is awesome – but not say to Jesus, “Rule my life as my Lord, be my Shepherd, help me to walk in awe of you!”
“Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you“ (2 Thessalonians 3:1). In this single verse Paul reminds of the importance of two of the chief things God has given us to do in the world: prayer and proclaiming God’s Word, both for the glory of God. Pray! Pray for us as ministers of the gospel; but even your prayers for us are ultimately prayers for the advancement of the Word of God.
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30). The phrase Jesus uses here on the cross expressed a business transaction completed: “paid in full.” At the heart of trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation is the confidence that nothing else needs to be added to the price he paid, in his death, for our salvation. Do you live in the reality of a fully-paid salvation each day?
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.
Forgive us our sins (Luke 11:4). (We are continuing in our brief series of meditations on the Lord’s Prayer.) Jesus teaches us to pray daily (see previous post) for the forgiveness of our sins, assuming (as we ought to) that we have strayed from the mark each day. Sins are sins — they are not merely mistakes, flaws, personality, or “my truth versus your truth.” And every sin is against God ultimately, and so must be dealt with before God (Psalm 51:4)
Give us each day our daily bread (Luke 11:3). (We continue today in our brief series on the Lord’s Prayer.) The opening requests that Jesus models for us are about God — so like God they are majestic, huge, and inspiring. A lesson Jesus clearly means for us to learn in this prayer is that God comes first, and only when God is first does everything else matter or fall into place. However, the following pleas that Jesus himself places in our mouth are about us — and like us they are daily, mundane, unspectacular.
Your kingdom come (Luke 11:2). In my last post I began a series of brief meditations on the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer begins with the request for God’s name to be hallowed, followed immediately with the prayer for his kingdom to come. When we ask for God’s kingdom to come, we are reminded that not only is God’s name and glory to come first — but also God’s desires, his will, his purposes, and his authority.
When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2). It is doubtless true that the Lord’s Prayer is routinely abused around the globe every day, mouthed by people who neither think about its meaning, nor would mean it even if they did. This is why Martin Luther referred to the Lord’s Prayer as “the greatest martyr on earth.” It is, as it were, butchered by thoughtless, soulless prayer on a daily basis. However, the other extreme, into which many evangelicals today have fallen (and it’s just as bad) is this: we have largely neglected it!
A friend who has recently been reading through David Brainerd’s biography shared with me a stirring passage from Brainerd’s journal. What motivated this man — who spent years in sacrifice and service of the gospel, and eventually died an early death for the spread of it — to continue laboring in the face of excruciating pain and disappointment? The overarching, undergirding concern “that God might be known to be God in the whole earth” and that “God have the glory forever.”
Paul, in the middle of a praise-hymn to God in Christ, makes the astounding claim that He is “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,” because of the power that is working in Christian believers (Ephesians 3:20). God is able! He is able to do what we ask; he is able to do more than we think; he is able to do above all that we can ask or think. And this doesn’t just mean that God is capable of answering more prayers than we are asking; it also means he is answering
“[We have] boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). Access to the holy God who created us is the most precious commodity in the universe. So precious, in fact, that no person can afford it, can purchase it with any amount of money or sacrifice or even personal godliness. This is the lesson we are meant learn from the Old Testament sacrificial system of worship. The innermost room (the “holiest”) of the temple was where God’s presence was experienced in a special way. Yet the writer of Hebrews reminds us that there is only
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.