Fire from Heaven (Part Two)

2 Kings 1:1-18

So King Ahaziah sent a captain with his fifty men to Elijah. When the captain went up to him, he was sitting on top of the hill. He announced, “Man of God, the king declares, ‘Come down!’” Elijah responded to the captain, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men. So the king sent another captain with his fifty men to Elijah. He took in the situation and announced, “Man of God, this is what the king says: ‘Come down immediately!’” Elijah responded, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” So a divine fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men (2 Kings 1:9-12 CSB)

Ahaziah, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, had been severely injured by a fall in his house. We usually assume that our homes are places of safety, but how many have been critically injured there by falling! Ahaziah’s injuries were severe enough to make him wonder if he would survive. While naturally concerned (who wouldn’t be?), he walked further away from the Lord. How much better, to think and act like the psalmist. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees (Psalm 119:71 NIV).

So then, let’s focus on the attitude of the transgressor. It was utter rebellion (1:9,11). Ahaziah should have cried out to the Lord for forgiveness and mercy. While the sinner lives, there is still opportunity for repentance. God delights in mercy, and when he sends a message of judgment, he is giving those who hear an occasion to turn from their evil ways. But the threat of death did not soften Ahaziah’s heart.

Instead, he became more obstinate and struck out against God’s message in the only way he could: by attacking the messenger. “When a true servant of God is sent and delivers a searching word, people seek to evade it by occupying themselves with his personality, his style of delivery, his denominational affiliation—anything secondary as long as it serves to crowd out that which is of supreme moment. Yet when the postman hands them an important business letter they are not concerned about his appearance” (Pink).

The great idols of America are money, greed, and pleasure. The burning question is “Am I having a good time right now?” People expect the same lust for pleasure to be satisfied in church on their terms. Church after church have abandoned the Lord Christ and his gospel and have prostituted themselves to attract the pleasure seeking masses (cf. Jeremiah 2:20-25). Elijah was not concerned about Ahaziah’s approval of the message or whether Ahaziah would want to join his church. Elijah was faithful to God’s word, and we must be faithful today!

How do you react when confronted by the word of God? Too many professing Christians have reacted violently in an emotional sense: “He’s preaching against me!” or “I don’t like what he said; I’m not coming back!”

The result was judgment. As we read in Isaiah 45:9, Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” Does your work say, “He has no hands”? (NIV) The basis of the judgment was written in the Torah (cf. Deuteronomy 6:13-15; 8:19-20; 13:6-11). Who were the recipients of God’s judgment? The first two groups of Ahaziah’s officers and their men (1:10,12) that were rather daring and arrogant when they approached Elijah. The third group demonstrates that death did not have to take them. Elijah’s credentials as God’s prophet had been proved many times. Ahaziah himself was judged by God, though not by fire from heaven (1:16-17). The Lord does not always act the same way, as we have observed many times. Ahaziah’s soldiers met a violent, supernatural end, while God lets the king die of natural causes. Strangely, the wicked king is not summarily executed like his soldiers, but the judge of all the earth does what is right (Genesis 18:25). Many times the underlings of wicked people die more terribly and tragically than their cruel leaders! Let us not assume that we can escape by “passing the buck” to our superiors, because “we acted on their orders”. Everyone is responsible for their own sin. There are many lessons to learn from this incident. We plan to look at them in our next post in this series.

Grace and peace, David

Fire from Heaven (Part One)

2 Kings 1:1-18

Ahaziah had fallen through the latticed window of his upstairs room in Samaria and was injured. So he sent messengers, instructing them, “Go inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I will recover from this injury” (1:2 CSB).

In order to understand this chapter, it is necessary to have a Biblical view of God. To have such a view in the culture of our time is rare, even among those who regularly attend a church that preaches God’s word. Why is this so? The Biblical view of God requires an acceptance of both the goodness and grace of God and the holiness and justice of God, even when we don’t grasp how they can be reconciled. The apostle Paul sums it up well. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off (Romans 11:22 NIV).

The setting of the chapter is two years after the death of the wicked king Ahab. He tried to escape the doom prophesied for him by Elijah, but while in battle, someone shot an arrow at random, but God directed its flight, and it struck Ahab between the joints of his armor, and he bled to death. Then dogs licked up his blood just as Elijah had prophesied. Now Ahab’s wicked son Ahaziah ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel. He walked in the ways of his evil parents.

Think for a moment of the power of sin over the human heart. You might assume that Ahaziah would have learned from the death of his father, which happened just as God had said. But no, something more than a terrible judgment is needed to change a sinner’s heart. Ahaziah dares God to carry out judgment on him. When he falls and seriously injures himself, he brazenly sends messengers to the false god Baal-Zebub to find out if he will recover. Will Ahaziah succeed in mocking God?

All that happens in this chapter is a demonstration of the kindness and severity of God. The Lord was kind toward Elijah and protected him, but acted severely against all who provoked him to anger. In this chapter, we must not blame Elijah for what happened. He was no more able in himself to bring down fire from heaven than you and I are. Instead, let us think of something else. The living God demands that his people honor him as the only true God.

The issue at stake was the honor of the God of the covenant (1:3, 6, 16). Remember the demand of the law covenant. Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Israel, listen to the statutes and ordinances I am proclaiming as you hear them today. Learn and follow them carefully. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. He did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with all of us who are alive here today. The Lord spoke to you face to face from the fire on the mountain. At that time I was standing between the Lord and you to report the word of the Lord to you, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain. And he said: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides me (Deuteronomy 5:1-7 CSB). The living God spoke plainly to his people, Israel. Notice three matters about this word.

  • Human responsibility was clearly stressed.
  • The God of the covenant was clearly identified.
  • A transgression was clearly prohibited.

Though the law covenant has been fulfilled and set aside, this command is still in force today. We’ll consider this in another post.

The first commandment of the law covenant was clearly transgressed (1:1). This was not an isolated incident in Ahaziah’s life (cf. 1 Kings 22:51-53). Ahaziah did not learn from the mistakes of others. His act was similar to what Saul had done when he consulted the medium at Endor (cf. 1 Samuel 28). What happens to Ahaziah and his men is an example of the consequences of daring to challenge the true and living God.

Grace and peace, David

The Sinner Found Out (Part Two)

1 Kings 21:17-29

Still, there was no one like Ahab, who devoted himself to do what was evil in the Lord’s sight, because his wife Jezebel incited him. He committed the most detestable acts by following idols as the Amorites had, whom the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites (1 Kings 21:25-26 CSB).

God indicted Ahab as guilty for Naboth’s death and the seizure of his inheritance. Why did the Lord proceed against Ahab, besides the murder and the greed, which were worthy of death under the law covenant? Let’s examine the Lord’s view of Ahab’s sins.

  • Ahab had provoked God to anger; this is the key (cf. Psalm 51:4). The most important part of life is one’s relationship with the living God. Have you wronged him? Have you offended him?
  • Ahab had caused Israel to sin. No person lives to himself. We all affect the lives of other people, whether by neglect or by inducing them to sin. One person’s sin can affect a whole church (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6). We should ask, why is this important in our lives? Our lack of zeal can have a chilling, a dampening effect on the rest of the church. Do we have a warm love for the Lord?

The Holy Spirit, provides an assessment of Ahab’s character (21:25-26). First, he sold himself to do evil. Ahab put a price tag on himself. “Available for sin; make an offer.” He was glad to go wherever any sin led him to go. Second, he accepted encouragement to sin. He may still have had the crown on his head, but he had abdicated in his spiritual responsibility as Israel’s leader and as the head of his home. Third, he behaved in the most vile manner. Idolatry was usually accompanied by sexual immorality.

The Lord God pronounced judgment on Ahab. Think of its nature. It was complete (cf. 21:21-23). It would fall on Ahab himself and his children. Why the children? Read the second command of the law covenant (cf. Exodus 20:4-6). And it would also fall upon Jezebel. The judgment also was terrible (21:19b, 23-24). We should ask, “Why is this important in our lives? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31 NIV).

The judgment was just. The Lord had exactly and completely observed all that Ahab had done. Nothing was hidden from the all-knowing God (21:19a; cf. Jeremiah 23:24.) Why is this important in our lives? God will judge the world with justice (cf. Acts 17:31). Ahab received justice from God, life for life, as God had commanded from the time of the Flood and in the law covenant (21:19b; cf. Leviticus 24:17-20; Deuteronomy 19:21).

Yet it was lessened in severity due to Ahab’s outward repentance. God is merciful, and mingles mercy with judgment so that we may know that if we do repent, we will receive mercy. But Ahab did not really change in the inward person of his heart. He had an outward show, but lacked an internal change of mind. He still hated God’s prophets (cf. 22:8). An outward show of repentance is no proof of a genuine change of mind. In order to be right with God, you must repent and believe the gospel.

What is your relationship with the living God? Have you turned from your sin to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation? If God is merciful toward wicked Ahab, how much more so to a repentant believer.

Grace and peace, David

The Sinner Found Out (Part One)

1 Kings 21:17-29

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Get up and go to meet King Ahab of Israel, who is in Samaria. He’s in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you murdered and also taken possession?’ Then tell him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where the dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, the dogs will also lick up your blood!’” (21:17-19 CSB)

In the heart of sinful humanity, there lives a delusion that God does not notice the sins of people, or that if he does, he is unable or unconcerned to do anything about it. In contrast with this way of thinking, the word of God says that the Lord will surely bring every person to an accounting for his or her sin (cf. Romans 2:5-11).

In previous posts, we saw how Ahab was filled with jealous greed for Naboth’s vineyard. His wife Jezebel thought up and carried out an evil scheme to get the vineyard for Ahab. After she had Naboth and his sons murdered, Ahab boldly went and took possession of the vineyard with all his military leaders behind him. Will Ahab and Jezebel get away with their sin? Does God care when we sin? Is he able to do anything about it?

God sent the prophet Elijah as a messenger of judgment. Notice that the Lord knew where Ahab would be before the event, and he sent his servant to meet the wicked king there. Consider the basis for Elijah’s message. He acted in obedience to God’s command (21:17, 19). Our final authority is God’s word, in which we may read what the Lord tells us what he wants us to do and what he forbids us to do.

Here are two matters we must clearly understand. First, we dare not have anything else but the Scriptures as our authority. He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’” (Mark 7:6-7 NIV). To rest on human opinions or reasoning is perilous to one’s soul. Second, we do not need anything else. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:3-4 NIV).

Will the Bible tell you how to use the apps on your cellphone? (To some, that is one of life’s great mysteries.) No, because that is not an issue of life or godliness. But it will provide you with guidelines for how you ought to use your cellphone in a godly manner. See Ephesians 4:17-5:16.

How was the message received? Ahab, like anyone else who is ungodly, did not receive God’s messenger with favor. Oh, there may be a restrained civility, but there remains a deep, inner opposition to the word of God and to those who proclaim it. When unsaved people hear a message of judgment, or something else in the Bible that they do not like, they may let you know how much they dislike it, and you for telling them about it.

The message clarified. Ahab said to Elijah, “So, my enemy, you’ve found me, have you?” He replied, “I have found you because you devoted yourself to do what is evil in the Lord’s sight” (21:20 CSB). We should make clear what our purpose in telling God’s message is. We have no personal dislike for the people. All people are made in the image of God, and should therefore be treated with respect. But we are opposed to their sin, and we must warn them of the outcome of continuing in sin.

People applaud those who warn others to get out of burning buildings. We require smoke detectors, fire alarms, exit signs, panic hardware on doors, and emergency lights. Most people will agree, though perhaps some grudgingly, “If it saves lives, it’s a good law.” But let a Christian tell someone how they may avoid eternal fire, and the world goes crazy. Why is this important in our lives? As followers of Jesus Christ, our mission is to speak out for the glory of God and the good of people.

Grace and peace, David

Naboth’s Vineyard (Part Three)

1 Kings 21:1-16

Jezebel. Her name invokes thoughts of wickedness, and she earned the reputation. She was passionate for the worship of false gods and goddesses and opposed to the true and living God and his prophets. She loved power and was not reluctant to conceive evil schemes and then carry them out. In our text, we see a clear example of what happened to anyone who stood in her way of self-gratification.

How did Jezebel devise to eliminate Naboth and seize his vineyard with the appearance of legality (21:5-10)? Her method was as follows:

  • She fed Ahab’s wounded pride (21:7). She sweetly told him to act like a king in the same breath as assuring him that his dear wife would do what she could to get him the property. With the king in her hands, she could do what she wanted with impunity.
  • She assumed a religious posture (21:9). She arranged for a fast led by the prominent men of the city. Her instructions were disguised with zeal for the Lord’s name. Let us not be gullible and assume that everyone who appears to be religious and wears the name “Christian” is really a believer. Many evil plots have been carried out in the name of Christ and “true religion”.
  • She commanded false witness (Exodus 20:16) and murder (Exodus 20:13). So much for her zeal for the glory of God and his law covenant with Israel. Jezebel showed nothing but contempt for God and his law.

Her scheme when carried out brought others deeper into sin with her (21:11-14). Notice how far the people of the northern kingdom of Israel had descended. Jezebel did not think that they would hesitate to carry out her order, and they didn’t! And they were the respectable men of the community!

They also murdered Naboth’s sons (see 2 Kings 9:26). When we once step over God’s boundary lines, we quickly become experts in transgression. One sin leads to another to “secure” (so we think) our evil desires. Don’t play with sin. You reach down to pet a lap dog and find that a dragon is eating you alive.

Her scheme was completed (21:15-16). Who would dare oppose Ahab’s claim to the property? The pile of rocks over Naboth’s body would tend to chill anyone’s zeal for truth. Ahab acted like he had won a great victory, for he went in a grand march of triumph with his military leaders behind him (cf. 2 Kings 9:25-26).

Obedience to God never insures an easy life (21:13). Listen to the words of Hebrews 11:35b-38. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (ESV). Do not begin to think that your neighbors, your family, and your friends will be overwhelmed by your Christian profession. It took a miracle of grace to change your heart, and it will take a miracle of grace to change their hearts, too. The world will mark you down as a fool if you obey God (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:9-13). Do you want to follow Christ? Count the cost!

God does not always punish the wicked immediately for their acts of rebellion against him. Since God is eternal, he does not need to settle all accounts today. He can wait. The sinner’s doom may be more or less delayed, as in Ahab’s case. But God will finally bring justice. When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless until I entered God’s sanctuary. Then I understood their destiny. Indeed, you put them in slippery places; you make them fall into ruin. How suddenly they become a desolation! They come to an end, swept away by terrors. Like one waking from a dream, Lord, when arising, you will despise their image (Psalm 73:16-20 CSB). May we who love the Lord and people completely avoid the evil paths of Ahab and Jezebel.

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Seven)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

Seeking God testifies that our joy is found outside of ourselves. We seek something when we realize that we do not have sufficient resources in us. A thirsty person will get up and look for a glass of cold water. A hungry person will raid the refrigerator, because he or she knows that food is to be found there. In the same way our hearts reach out for God when we are convinced that he has what we need spiritually and eternally. This kind of conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit within us. For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with full assurance (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 CSB; cf. John 15:26; Romans 8:15).

On the other hand, when God seeks us, he is not seeking to supply some deficiency in himself, because he is fully satisfied. And human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need (Acts 17:25 NLT; cf. Psalm 50:7-15; Romans 11:36;). Instead, God seeks us (Luke 19:10) in order to meet our need. God, wanting to share the immensity of his love, reaches out to us that we may drink at his fountain and be utterly satisfied. So he tells us that all his fullness is to be found in Christ and that he gives this fullness to us in Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority (Colossians 2:9-10 NIV). So then, we should realize that our Father in heaven really wants us to approach him in faith and through Christ by the Holy Spirit draw all that we need to satisfy our thirsty souls (John 4:10-14; 6:34-35; 7:37-39; 10:9-10; 16:24; Philippians 3:1).

Believers must be seekers. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob (Psalm 24:6 ESV). In heaven we will possess all things fully, and God will live with us in a way that is the completion of our present experience (Revelation 21:3-5). But now we are caught in the tension or pull between what we have by grace in Christ and what we still long for—to live directly in God’s presence.

By the presence of God, the Scriptures mean something richer than the omnipresence of God. Truly God is everywhere (Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Amos 9:2-5; Acts 17:26-28), and he is fully present and active in the fullness of his divine power. But by the presence of God, the Bible means God being with his people to bless and help and encourage and make his love known to us. We have this presence through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. As J.I. Packer points out in Keep in Step with the Spirit (p. 49), the Holy Spirit makes known to us the presence of Christ with us so that three events keep happening:

  • Personal fellowship with Jesus – the Lord draws near to us to share our lives with us. God is not a passive spectator but an active participant in our struggles.
  • Personal transformation of character into Jesus’ likeness – the Lord works in us to make us more and more like him, and we produce the fruit of the Spirit.
  • The Spirit-given certainty of being loved, redeemed and adopted through Christ into the Father’s family – the Lord lets us know that we belong to him and that he will never turn his back on us.

Let us draw near to God. He offers much to his children who rely on him. He promises himself, the awesome God over all!

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Six)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

What are some situations in which God calls us to seek his face?

  • We must seek him in the day of trouble. Call on me in a day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15 CSB).
  • We must seek him when we can find no light. Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God (Isaiah 50:10 NIV).
  • We must seek him when we lack contentment. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV).
  • We must seek him in the perplexity of life’s decisions. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6 CSB).
  • We must seek him when our sins are like scarlet. “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV).
  • We must seek him during suffering. So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good (1 Peter 4:19 NIV).
  • We must seek him when everyone deserts us. At my first defense, no one stood by me, but everyone deserted me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that I might fully preach the word and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth (2 Timothy 4:16-17 CSB).
  • We must seek him at the time of death. The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever! Amen (2 Timothy 4:18 CSB).

“Therefore let us learn by the example of this blessed man, that when he had but a hint from God, ‘Seek ye my face,’ he answers, ‘Thy face, Lord, will I seek’” (Sibbes, p. 123). Just a hint from our Father in heaven equals a loving, royal welcome to his dearly loved children. Faith will see God’s light in the darkest room; it senses the feeblest light sneaking through some crack in the wall. It is like the servants of Ben-Hadad, who seized upon a hint of favor from Ahab (cf. 1 Kings 20:29-34). In a similar way, when we communicate with the Lord, we may remind him of his promises to us.

What did the psalmist do? Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope (Psalm 119:49 ESV). How did Nehemiah use this principle when he was distressed about the condition of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:8-9)?

When we talk with the Lord in this way, we are communicating “on the same wavelength” with God. In whatever ways the Lord speaks to us through the Scriptures, we should allow the truth of his word work in our hearts and respond appropriately to him. By this I mean, if we read of his love for us, we should tell him of our love for him. When we hear of his joy in his people, we should rejoice in the Lord. As he tells us who he is, we ought to be willing to disclose who we are to him. If our hearts are moved with the way he commits himself, should not we express our commitment to him? When he tells us to find comfort in his strength, we ought to draw near to him and rest in his almighty power.

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Five)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

So then, we should through faith obey God’s command to seek his face. God’s pattern for our behavior is always to follow his will, trusting him to supply what is need to walk in the way he directs us to walk in.

Now, it’s your turn. Answer the following questions after reading both passages to learn more about seeking the Lord through faith according to his word. What promise did the Lord give to Joshua prior to the conquest of the Promised Land (Joshua 1:1-9)? How is this promise like the one given to the church (Matthew 28:18-20)?

“So though David said, ‘I will seek thy face,’ yet there was a spiritual virtue that enabled him. God must find us before we can seek him. He must not only give the command to seek his face, but together with the command, there goes a work of the Spirit to the children of God, that enableth them to seek him” (Sibbes, Works, Vol. 6, p. 119).

Consider Christ’s commands to the paralyzed man (Mark 2:11-12) and to Lazarus (John 11:43-44). Christ commanded both what they were unable to perform, but with the commands came to them with the ability to obey. We might wonder how weak creatures could seek the face of the Almighty, Eternal God, who is beyond our comprehension. But with the call to draw near to God comes the power of the Holy Spirit to approach the Father through the Son.

What kind of obedience through faith should we give to the command to seek God’s face?

  • We should give an immediate obedience . To seek fellowship with our Father is not something that we should put off. Don’t be like the child who calls, “I’m coming dad,” while he or she continues to play with the toys.
  • We should give a cheerful obedience. For example, Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7 CSB). God is always to be approached joyfully. Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:2 ESV). This was the kind of attitude that Isaiah had when he heard God’s call (Isaiah 6:8). It was the kind of response that the apostles manifested after they experienced the pain they would suffer from obedience (Acts 5:41-42). “God would have things in the church done by such people” (Sibbes, p. 120).
  • We should obey sincerely; that is, we should be seeking God himself and not merely benefits from him. God sees through all hypocrisy. Though he wants to supply our needs and commands us to pray accordingly, the Lord first wants us to fellowship with him. Let us not mix these things up in our attitudes. It is far too easy for all our communication with the Lord to degenerate into sessions in which we only ask for stuff! Would you like to talk with a child who had that kind of attitude?
  • We should seek God perpetually. Resolve on seeking him now; determine to keep on seeking him daily. Our lives are made up of far too many false starts. We fizzle out like a sparkler that a child plays with. Think of something that you really like to do. How do you persevere in doing that action? You seize every opportunity! Seek God in that manner.
  • Our obedience must conform to the command. We only conform when we seek God’s face, regardless of our circumstances. Above all else God wants us to be devoted to seeking him, though we may not see how we will find him.

So then, we seek God successfully when we seek him in Jesus Christ through faith, and as James wrote, this faith produces actions consistent with who God is. “There is no good received by religion if we be not earnest for it. Religion is not a matter to be dallied in” (Sibbes, Works, Vol. 6, p. 304).

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Four)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

Let us look more closely at this. God speaks to us and we may speak to him, but how we speak to God flows from our heart’s direction: “My heart says….” As our minds think about the truthfulness and preciousness of God’s word to us, and our emotions join in with proper corresponding attitudes, then our wills issue correct orders to our whole being. These responses will vary according to the various parts of the word of God to us. For example, reading Psalm 8 should produce a different response than reading Psalm 51.  Reading Lamentations 2 should stir something different in us than when we read Romans 8. This will occur if our whole heart is directing our response to God. If we find the same responses to varied passages, we have a fairly strong reason to believe that they are canned responses, like the “canned laughter” in TV sitcoms. Or perhaps we are just being highly selective listeners. An example is the programmed responses to established rituals from various churches, including from those churches that claim to lack ritual.

What should be happening is that the whole heart should listen attentively, and then the mind, emotions and will should jointly frame an appropriate response, as we see that happened to David in the rest of this verse. But to use another example first, think of Psalm 34:8. Here we hear a call to Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him (NIV). What can you learn about framing an appropriate response to the Lord from this verse?

God expects us to apply the word and direct our whole being to seek him. This is necessary when the word of God exposes our true character to us. As we learn from the Bible our sinfulness, we may become discouraged from seeking the face of the Holy God. But it is at such points that we must by faith act upon the Scriptures and believe that God will receive us for Christ’s sake (cf. Hebrews 10:19-22). For example, what application and direction should we receive from Romans 15:7? What should we receive from Isaiah 40:28-31?

We must grasp that God truly wants us to seek him. Using the word of God with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we are to venture on God’s call to the soul and by faith approach the Lord. God speaks to us through the Scriptures in order that we might fellowship with him. The way is already established in Christ; now we may simply by faith draw near to God.

However, too many use the word improperly. We allow other matters to distract us. For example, when we hear the word preached or taught, we care more for the way the message is presented than for the content of the message. What are some mistakes people make when they listen to the Scriptures?

  • They desire to hear ideas cleverly presented.
  • They wish to increase speculations about doubtful matters.
  • They are eager to hear what agrees with their church tradition.
  • They like easy answers that ignores life’s complexities.
  • They want to hear moving stories.
  • They want to receive memorable phrases.
  • They like to hear what will make them feel good rather than change.

What direction does Christ give us? Listen to two challenges from the Lord Jesus. And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and more will be added to you. For whoever has, more will be given to him, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:24-25 CSB, my emphasis). Therefore take care how you listen. For whoever has, more will be given to him; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him (Luke 8:18 CSB, my emphasis). Both the what and the how of our listening matter.

Thinking of how we hear, a lack of concern about our sin and a failure to repent will interfere with seeking God. Christ tells us that those who are poor in spirit, and who mourn (over sin) will be blessed by God (Matthew 5:3-4). But the Lord promises nothing to those who are unrepentant and refuse to listen to the word of God (Deuteronomy 29:19-20; Psalm 66:18; Proverbs 28:9). These truths also must be applied to our hearts!

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Three)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

Our response to the Lord’s invitation starts from the heart—our inner person, the seat of personality. It starts from our mind, emotions and will responding jointly to God’s gracious call. God wants our hearts above all. Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life (Proverbs 4:23 NET). But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over (Romans 6:17 CSB). Though outward obedience to God is good, it means nothing unless the heart is also seeking God. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’” (Matthew 15:7-9 NIV). Here are some characteristics of true spirituality, as we seek God from the heart. It is:

  • Focused on Christ
  • Rooted in redeeming grace
  • Flowing out to love to God and people
  • Living by faith
  • Expressing joy and hope
  • Growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord

We cannot explore these matters now. But we must also understand that true spirituality comes from the heart. It is not something that happens because of external pressure. Some people are “fine” spiritually as long as someone else is applying pressure on them. Friendship can have many positive benefits. There is a proper place for this in true spirituality. See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:12-13 NIV). And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25 CSB). However, there is something terribly wrong if the motivating power to seek God is outside one’s heart rather than inside it. Such a religion would show the lack of a new heart and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who motivates us according to Christ and the gospel. So then, our response starts from the heart, not as the efficient cause, which is Christ, but as the place where seeking God begins. God speaks to our heart and our hearts reply to him.

The response communicates with God: My heart says to you…. “David saw God in all his commandments” (Sibbes). He did not bring God’s communication down to the level of bare “book talk”. Instead, he saw the word as it truly is, as God speaking to us now in written form. The Scripture often declares, This is what the Lord says…. In other words we must lay hold of God’s continuing communication with us through the words, and this means that we must respond to God personally when we hear his voice in the Scriptures. “God and Father, you are speaking to me, and I would speak with you.” So then, we should take the opportunity the Bible presents to us when we read it to respond to God’s communication to us by communicating with him, the living God! This is what some mean by praying the Scriptures back to the Lord. Read a passage, and then use it as the framework of your communication to God.

Grace and peace, David