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

Holy Desires (Part Four)

2 Timothy 2:22

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (NIV).

Every adult ought to take children into toy stores and candy stores. After hearing that statement you’re probably thinking that Pastor David is out of his mind! But having helped raise three children, I’ve thought it through, and I still think it’s a good idea, if the parents are self-controlled and in control of their children. Why? I think we can learn a lot about ourselves by watching children in toy and candy stores. We ought to learn something about our hearts when we hear them say, “I want this and this and this,” which is basically everything in the store!

God has given us the good gift of desires, but since the human heart has been twisted by sin, human desires do not naturally seek what is holy and good. This is true even of those who follow Christ. Those who have been saved by grace feel two competing sets of desires. For example, consider the words of a song written by Eric Grover. In the first verse he writes:

In my heart there is a stirring
One that did not start with me
A love to worship my Creator
To show His love for all to see

But in the second he brings out what is also in our hearts:

In my heart there is a treason
One that poisons all my love
Take my heart and consecrate it
Wash it in Your cleansing blood

While we are on this earth, our hearts will struggle with the pull between these two desires—one to glorify God and the other to walk away from God and live like he doesn’t exist.

In previous articles, we considered the desire that we should have for the law of the Lord, the Holy Scriptures. Now, let’s think of another holy desire—the desire for a godly way of life.

In the words from 2 Timothy, the Lord urges us to flee from the evil desires of youth. What is meant by these words?

This is the only time that this word occurs in the New Testament Scriptures, so we cannot determine its meaning by seeing its usage in other passages. However, since the word is used in a negative sense, we can safely conclude that there are various spiritually immature attitudes and cravings to avoid. We can learn what they are by examining other passages where spiritual immaturity is presented (1 Corinthians 1-3; Ephesians 4:15-16; Hebrews 5:11-14; 2 Peter 1:4-9). To summarize:

  • A spiritually immature person evaluates things based on worldly standards—eloquence, strength, influence, human wisdom and selfish ambition.
  • A spiritually immature person is easily moved from one set of ideas to another; he or she likes to hear something new (cf. Acts 17:21).
  • A spiritually immature person has trouble distinguishing good from evil. This comes from a lack of experience with God and his ways.
  • A spiritually immature person is not spiritually productive.

What areas of spiritual immaturity do you see in your life? We all have some. All of us need to ask the Lord for grace to examine ourselves according to the Scriptures. Perhaps you are struggling with a delight in human wisdom or selfish ambition (pride and jealousy). Ask God to show you.

Grace and peace, David

Joseph and Temptation (Part One)

Genesis 39:6-10

The sports world is filled with stories of a young and rising team against an older team, skilled and experienced in the sport. Often the storyline is that the younger team does not stand a chance against the veteran champions. This story is like that for it matches a young godly man against a strong temptation that has conquered many.

The Bible speaks plainly about sexual immorality. The amount of material in the Scriptures on the subject witnesses to mankind’s fatal attraction to this sin. The Lord has recorded such incidents as this one from Joseph’s life as warnings to us all. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:11-13 ESV).

Let us begin with some general observations (39:6-7).

  • The blessing of good looks can be a source of temptation. By his sovereign will, God has chosen to bless certain people with physical attractiveness. A few are even very good looking (Genesis 24:16; 2 Samuel 11:2). God made you how you are (Exodus 4:11). But in this world of sin, even the good gifts of God can become a source of temptation, either to yourself or others. Many beautiful women have found themselves to be objects of lust rather than love. Don’t blame the Lord for the good gift. The temptation is not in the gift, but in sin’s misuse of it. If sin can misuse even the holy law of God, it can also misuse the gift of beauty (Romans 7:10-13).
  • Temptation does not appear suddenly in every course of events. Sometimes we can unpack our bags and settle in before it raises its ugly head (39:7). Temptation can be like a cat, watching its prey for the optimal moment to pounce. Beware of being lulled into a false sense of security. A change of venue does not mean that sin has disappeared. Some have changed jobs because they “could not handle the pressure.” Yet the circumstances of the new job allowed them to walk farther away from the Lord.
  • Marital infidelity isn’t new (39:7). Some foolish people think that sexual immorality is proof of being modern and liberated. There is nothing new or liberating in adultery. This incident happened over 3700 years ago, and there was sexual immorality before this. It comes out of the human heart (Mark 7:21). God’s word always requires that sexual desires may only be fulfilled within the bond of marriage. There are no exceptions for anyone at anytime.
  • God does not necessarily spare his children from severe spiritual trials. Jesus Christ his Son had to endure temptation (Matthew 4:1). We are wise to pray to be kept from temptation. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13 CSB). Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41 CSB).

Joseph found himself in a very dangerous, nearly deadly situation, due to the lusts of another person. Temptation to sin can come in a variety of ways and situations. We don’t have to go looking for it. For this reason, we must be prepared. Fill your heart with godly, heavenly desires, and rely on the help of the Holy Spirit.

Grace and peace, David

If You Didn’t Do This on Sunday

Psalm 104:1

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty (ESV).

It’s Tuesday. It’s a perfect time to ask about your worship experience this previous Sunday in your local church. How was it? I am not asking about the performance of your worship leaders and musicians, your pastor or other speaker, or whether you enjoyed yourself. This is a question about your worship of the true and living God. Did you meet with God in his living temple, the people of God (2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:4-5)? Did you humble yourself before him, as you sang his praises? Did you sing or only listen to others sing? Did you bow in worship as God’s word was read and proclaimed? Or did you merely act like you were listening, while your mind was somewhere else? Did you worship?

One of the purposes of gathering with our brothers and sisters in Christ is to worship. Perhaps last Sunday you all met to serve or to go fishing for people (Mark 1:17). Those are also purposes of a church, and we need to invest time together in them. However, usually when we gather, we ought to worship, and this can be done wherever we meet. But the questions remains. Did you worship last Sunday in your gathering?

A thoughtful look at our text above displays what ought to be happening.

  • We are to bless the Lord. Worship is about him and for him (cf. Romans 11:36). It’s not about you or me. It’s about the Lord. We gather to lift him up in our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions. It is a time of personal interaction, the people of God meeting with him to express his overwhelming significance and goodness.
  • It involves the core of our beings. Bless the Lord, O my soul! We should worship God from the inner person of our hearts. A proper heart engagement will show up in the face and the words. I have seen people very excited and involved at family gatherings, parties, and sporting events. They participate from their souls. It clearly is of importance to them. Why does the typical worshiper look detached or bored or even comatose? We must bring our souls to worship. Listen carefully. In worship, we are in the presence of the Almighty God through Christ by the Spirit. If that doesn’t stir you, nothing will.
  • Worship is a personal action. O Lord my God. Sharon and I have a little granddaughter, only seven weeks old. When we hold her and talk with her and kiss her, it is not the same as gazing at a reference book. We do not seek mere information, but personal contact with her. We love to see her smile. We should want to make the Lord smile by pleasing him.
  • Worship exalts the Lord. You are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty. We say this, because we have a sense of his reality. We gain this as by faith we listen to God’s revelation of himself in his word, and the Spirit opens his greatness to our hearts. For example, if the word is telling about Hagar’s reception of mercy when she was sent away by Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 21), you respond with joy in your heart that the Lord cares and watches over the weak, even when others don’t care. If it speaks of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, you rejoice like his disciples did on that day. You praise the Lord.

If you didn’t worship on Sunday, you can on Tuesday… and every other day of the week. But please, stir up your soul to worship when you gather with the Lord’s people this coming Sunday. Do not sit there like a cold lump of clay. Your Lord deserves much better from you. He wants your heart. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37 ESV).

Grace and peace, David

Sharing Your Life with God

IMG_0064 (2)Psalm 17:3-5

You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress. With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent. My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped (ESV).

One of the basics about the Christian life is that we have fellowship with God; we share our lives with God. Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3c ESV). The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14 ESV). We know this, yet I think that we don’t do well in actually sharing our lives with the Lord. Perhaps part of the problem is that we don’t know how. Yes, we we’ve been taught how to have devotions, how to pray, how to read the Bible, how to participate in a public worship service, how to witness, and perhaps how to meditate and how to listen to a sermon. I am not for a moment downplaying the importance of such skills. I would only say that praying, reading, and so on should not be mechanical or ritualistic. But that is not the concern of this article.

Let’s think on a larger level than the particulars. Let’s think about sharing our life, because a passion for one area can easily “eat up” the others. For this, we need a model or example. The Spirit has given us one in David, the man after God’s heart. Our text has several ideas about sharing one’s life with God.

  • David knew that God was directly involved with him. He did not live like God was far off. He knew that the Lord visited him by night. As Paul said, “God is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27 ESV). God is near, close to us, so that we can share our lives with him. God tests us; this might sound scary, until you remember that God is your Father and loves you. The testing is for your benefit.
  • David knew the importance of the heart, the inner person. This takes us off the stage of attempting to impress God by what we do. He knows our motives and attitudes and emotions. David, like the writer of Hebrews knew that he stood naked before God. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13 ESV). To share life with God, we must want this openness. You can’t share, if you’re trying to hide or avoid.
  • David desired to live godly. God is the Holy One, and to share our lives with him, we must purpose to live in conformity with who God is. Our words come from our hearts (Matthew 12:34), and so David sought comprehensive godliness. To share one’s life with God does not simply happen. It requires godly desires that we put into practice. These come from our union with Christ by the Spirit’s help. God wants us to want his way of life.
  • David realized that he needed instruction from God’s word. He listened to the word of your lips and his steps held fast to your paths. Notice the personal awareness: the repeated your. As he listened to the word and meditated on it, he made choices to live for God. To say it another way, God was his personal coach or mentor. There is a freeness of exchange between a coach and his athlete. For example, “Here is the correct form you need to make a layup.” A wise athlete will seek feedback from his coach about his or her progress in achieving that form.
  • David kept focused on the Lord. He avoided some ways, and held fast to others. The writer of Hebrews urges us to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). To share life with God, we must, so to speak, stay close to where he is and avoid where he isn’t. A basketball team is told to put on a full court press. Each player must know where the coach wants them to be and what to do in various contingencies. “You’re responsible for that area of the court.” The players must keep their heads in the game. We can’t share our lives with God if we “check out”. God is “on the court” with us, and we discuss with him how his story is opening up in our lives.

One more thing: David wasn’t talking theory. This was his life. He shared life with God among other people who had no desire to do so. He made the daily choices necessary to be with God and to interact with him about his life. Do we?

Grace and peace, David

Tough Training

img_4396Proverbs 23:12

Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge (NIV).

The Proverbs are wisdom literature; they provide us with God’s ideas and viewpoints about life in this world. The purpose is that we may gain skill for godly living. They are necessary to equip us for every good work (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-170. I encourage everyone to read Proverbs. Sharon and I use Proverbs in mentoring couples about their marriage and family. I suggest that you read the introduction to Proverbs in a good study Bible (for example, ESV Study Bible, NIV Zondervan Study Bible) before you do an in depth reading. This will help you avoid errors in interpretation. (Probably someday I should write an article about Study Bibles. They can be useful, or useless, and some can be harmful. If you have questions, please contact me.)

Many beneficial activities are not easy. Saving money requires a plan, discipline, and self-denial. Getting or staying in physical condition requires a plan, discipline, and self-denial. So does a walk with the Lord. He calls us to follow him in the path of godliness. Certainly, the plan includes an understanding of your identity in Christ, the work of the Spirit of God, and active dependence on our Lord and Savior. To grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18) also requires discipline and self-denial.

The above proverb provides us with counsel about discipline for growth. It follows a form of many proverbs where the second part restates the first with variation to deepen our understanding. Here it does it by way of contrast between in inner (“heart”) and outer (“ears”) of our being. What can we gain from this?

  • Becoming wise is not easy. We must apply our hearts to instruction. Remember that sinful actions come from the heart (Mark 7:21-23). For this reason, we must take charge of our hearts. To do this we need the help of the Holy Spirit, whose fruit is self-control (Galatians 5:23). The sin in our hearts will crave foolishness, so we must put foolish desires to death and direct our inner persons toward godly wisdom. This can feel like part of you is dying; for example, your lust for laziness or to gossip about others. Go ahead; by the Spirit put it to death (Romans 8:13).
  • We need instruction to become wise. We need what is called a “teachable spirit” or attitude. This involves humility, because we have to admit to ourselves and to others that we need instruction. As the Proverbs make clear, pride is not the path of wisdom. The Lord has given us teachers in the church, so that we might do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). And teachers need to receive instruction. Before I can teach, I must receive instruction from the Word and from other godly teachers.
  • The development of wisdom necessitates our whole being. We must apply our ears to words of knowledge. Those who desire to be wise will devote substantial parts of their time to listening to the truth, whether by reading it, by listening to it taught, or by discussing it with believing friends. Growth in wisdom involves sharing your life with other followers of the Lord.

I repeat: This is not an easy process. But it is very beneficial. By way of testimony, I enjoy hearing what the Spirit is teaching others from the Word for their lives. It encourages me; yes, it challenges me to live godly in Christ Jesus. It is good to walk out from a group of brothers and sisters and to be able to say, “My ears and my heart were instructed today by those who love the Lord and me!” May you know this experience!

Grace and peace, David

Up and Down

dscn37922 Chronicles 20:26-37

One day I took Shelby, our old cockapoo, to the vet. During the visit the doctor and his assistant asked me about my sermon title for the week. I replied, “It’s ‘Up and Down’.” And the vet quipped, what is that about—the economy?” And I responded in jest, “No, it’s about the stock market.” Actually, this article is about neither, for which I am glad. Nor is the intent to provide a segue to talk about the negativity in our culture. For example, why don’t we say, “Down and up”? We naturally say, “Up and down,” concluding with the negative. I will leave the topic for those so disposed to ponder such esoteric matters. Instead, the title simply reflects what happened near the end of Jehoshaphat’s reign as king of Judah. By God’s grace, some positive events occurred, but by yielding to wrong desires in their hearts, some negative outcomes happened.

The blessing of the Lord acknowledged and extended (20:26-30). The people responded in praise (20:26-28).

  • They gathered to praise: a deliberate, planned praise. Some wrongly suppose that real praise must be spontaneous. It can be, but the Lord also delights in praise that flows from in planning, rehearsals and artistic compositions. It is good to plan special events of praise, such as a Thanksgiving Praise Service, in which everyone is encouraged to stand and tell others what the Lord has done for them.
  • They gathered to praise: an intense time of praise. Imagine giving yourself over to praise the Lord for a whole day! There could be times of singing, reading praise psalms together, and sharing about how the Lord has kept you and blessed you. Where does praise like this come from? It comes from the heart, because out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). They knew that the Lord had given them cause to rejoice (20:27). The reality of salvation from their enemies sparked this desire for praise. It is that same reality that ignites true praise in the people of God today.

How does this happen for us? It flows out from hearts thrilled by redeeming, cross-centered love, resurrection hope, and ascension joy. It happens as the Spirit of God takes what is true of the Lord Jesus Christ and makes it real, very real in our souls.

The Lord gave them peace (20:29-30). The message about the Lord’s victory produced fear in the unbelieving nations around them. God rules in the hearts of people. As he defeated the armies by a panic, so here he kept Judah in peace by producing great fear in the hearts of the ungodly. From Jehoshaphat’s perspective, the peace came as a gift from God. Every enemy is defeated, and they could rest. How we long for such days! Most of my life has been filled with two tragic wars: the Cold War and the War against Terrorism, in addition to Korea, Vietnam, the two Gulf Wars, and endless conflicts and civil wars around the world. How quickly that brief period of peace after the Cold War passed. Yet that is the character of the last days: wars and rumors of wars. Jehoshaphat and his people had a special blessing from God.

So then, we ought to praise the Lord for greatest peace, which is peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). But do you have peace with God? Or do you feel a deep unrest in your soul, wondering if God is really on your side? You may have peace by believing in Jesus who died and rose again, in order that people might be right with God.

Sadly, there were false steps at the end (20:31-37). One was the incomplete reformation of religion (20:31-34). Jehoshaphat lived rightly in many ways. He sought the Lord, kept himself from idols, and tried to lead his people into total commitment to the Lord God. However, he could not accomplish two things. He failed to remove the high places, where sacrifices had been offered prior to the building of the temple. This led the people from the purity of worship that God demanded. You see, we may not worship God as we choose. The old covenant people were required to worship in Jerusalem at the temple with the sacrifices that God required. We who are God’s new covenant people must only worship God through Jesus Christ, our better temple, perfect priest and spotless sacrifice. Christ and the gospel are the focus of our ongoing relationship with God, and not a place nor a system of rituals. Today, the Reformation is still incomplete. Far too many who call themselves Christians still focus on their own “high places”, instead of the reality of Christ. Far too many seek God through ritualistic forms, instead of according to the Scriptures alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone—to God alone be the glory! Let us pursue an ongoing reformation of faith and practice.

The real problem was that the people did not have a heart for God. The law could not give this. It only comes by grace, as the Spirit takes the Word and breathes life into people, so that they have a change of mind and believe in Jesus. Has this happened to you?

Almost unbelievably, Jehoshaphat made another alliance with the ungodly (20:35-37). You almost want to cry out as you read these final verses about Jehoshaphat, “No, he could not have done this! Didn’t he learn his lesson when he allied himself with Ahab?” Clearly, he had not learned. Does Jehoshaphat remind you of anyone you know very, very well… I mean yourself? Why are we so stubborn? Why don’t we learn? It is because we still have sin in us, and we fail to put it to death and to walk in faith, following Jesus Christ as Lord. We ought to live better, since we have the finished Bible and the indwelling Holy Spirit and the fellowship of other true believers. But too often we don’t. Jehoshaphat’s example is written for our instruction. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 NIV).

So, what happened? The Lord sent another prophet who announced the Lord’s discipline on Jehoshaphat. His grand fleet would be destroyed by the Lord. And all his dreams of more wealth through trade disappeared! Why did he act so wrongly? This is a place where the Spirit doesn’t give us all the answers. He wants us to think. Instead of wondering why he failed, use this text as a springboard to think through the reasons that you fail.

What can we learn about such matters as persevering faith, submission to the Lord and his word, contentment with what God has supplied, and staying on mission? Look at that list and think about weaknesses on your life. Circle one of them. On your own, reread this entire account about Jehoshaphat and ask the Spirit to teach you what you need from your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

The Desire to Worship and Praise

dscn35162 Chronicles 20:18-19

Then Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord to worship Him. Then the Levites from the sons of the Kohathites and the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel shouting with a loud voice. (HCSB)

In our previous articles about clashing desires from the life of Jehoshaphat, we saw the Lord God answer Jehoshaphat’s prayer for help when confronted by a serious problem. God answered by the Holy Spirit coming upon a man in the crowd to give God’s message to the king and his people. God acts in our lives by the Spirit and the Word. By the Word, the Lord told them how he would rescue them. By the Spirit, the Lord enabled them to believe and act on the Word.

What we want to think about next is that the combination of the Spirit and the Word is the spring from which the desire to worship and praise flows. Before the people heard the word by the Spirit, they were filled with fear. A vast army was coming to destroy them! They should have been afraid! But they did the right thing when afraid. When I am afraid, I will trust in You (Psalm 56:3 HCSB). The people sought the Lord in their fears, and he promised to help them. And so, convinced of God’s promise, they began to worship. You must realize that at the time they started to worship, the vast army was still out there and headed their way! Their worship began because of their faith in the promise of God. Now may the God of hope also give us grace to listen to his message to us.

Jehoshaphat led the people in worship. In general, when we see people worshiping the Lord in the Scriptures, it is out of a posture of humility before him. People kneel or bow down or fall prostrate before the Lord of glory. This posture recognizes the Creator’s greatness, holiness, power and authority by those created by him. The Lord had taught them his significance and worthiness by many acts of power throughout their history. They responded to this word based on redemption themes with confession of his greatness.

For this reason, Jehoshaphat and all the people of Judah gathered bowed down before the Lord. Now, what are you really thinking at this point? “Oh, isn’t this a charming story about people of long ago? People used to do such things, you know. But aren’t we sophisticated, affluent people rather above such actions. Primitive people in third world nations might bow down, but us? You can’t be serious!” What do we know in our experience about humbling ourselves before the Lord? When was the last time you were on your knees before him? Has there ever been such a time? Let me encourage you to get down on your knees when you pray in family worship. Sharon and I do.

The Levites led in praise. In general, when we read of people praising the Lord in the Scriptures, they praise with a posture of exaltation and celebration before him. People stand, lift up their hands, lift up their voices, and exalt the Lord’s glory. It is the recognition of the Savior by those saved by the Savior’s love, compassion, goodness, and redeeming works. The Lord had promised to rescue them and to be with them. They responded by lifting up his name with a very loud voice.

For this reason, Levites of two different groups led the people in celebration of promised deliverance. Now, what are you really thinking at this point? “Oh, isn’t this a charming story about people of long ago? People used to do such things, you know. But aren’t we sophisticated, affluent people rather above such actions. Primitive people in third world nations or ‘wild Pentecostals’ might praise the Lord with a very loud voice, but us? You can’t be serious!”

What do we know in our experience about celebrating before the Lord? When was the last time you lifted your hands before him? Has there ever been such a time? Let’s clear our hearts of excuses. I think our real difficulty is whether or not we actually believe that the Lord is God. David, what are you saying? Well, I happened to watch parts of a couple baseball games this week, and I saw people doing worship and praise, similar to the way the people of Judah did in this story. The fans would get bent over with worry when their team was losing or in danger of losing, but when their team was winning or had won, they broke out into exuberant praise. It was very impressive, but it was only for a baseball team made up of mere humans. Yes, people in very sophisticated worldly cultures get very involved physically… when they want to, and we won’t even mention how people all over the world get very physically involved in whatever kind of “football” they’re watching.

Let us think about honoring God. I think there are times we must humble ourselves before the Lord, overcome by his greatness. And I think there are other times we must stand and lift up our hands in praise, overcome by his goodness. At this point, I want to clarify what I am saying. Yes, I am talking about what we do with our bodies, our outer persons. But also, and in a deeper way, I am talking about what we do with our hearts, our inner persons. Do you humble your heart before the Lord? Do you exalt in your heart to the Lord? Are you responding appropriately to the truth about the Lord our God?

Let’s go deeper. Is there a clash of desires in your heart to respond to God like he shows you in the Bible as opposed to responding to God in your own self-pleasing way? Are you telling yourself, “I must seem sophisticated, I must be reserved and dignified, I must not appear zealous or enthusiastic?” Or are you telling yourself, “I must worship and praise God according to the way he reveals himself in his Holy Word?”

Grace and peace, David

Restore Truthfulness

dscn0099Psalm 12:3-4

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, The tongue that speaks great things; Who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” (NASB)

In our previous article on Psalm 12, we heard the Psalmist David’s cry to the Lord because of the steep decline of godly people in his land. Notice that the focus is on people and not merely the actions of people. Godliness and ungodliness, truthfulness and lying are not mystical characteristics floating around in society. All these manifest themselves in the thoughts, ideas, attitudes and actions of people. True Christianity does not dwell in the realm of abstract concepts. It looks at people and desires to see people change. It also knows that only the Spirit of God can produce real, spiritual change in the hearts and lives of people. Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NASB).

In verses three and four, David prayed that the Lord would act against those were evil communicators. We hear such people speak evil constantly. David mentioned “empty talk, smooth talk, and double talk” in verse two (Kidner, Psalms 1-72), and in verse three, flatterers again. Lies, slander, malice, and oppressive pride abound among our people. How often have we heard of verbal abuse or been targets of the same? Our political process is poisoned by those who sin with their tongues. They speak “great things” in their minds, but it is only great evil flowing out of corrupt hearts. Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart (Matthew 12:34 HCSB).

The Psalmist’s request might make us shudder. He prayed that the Lord would cut off all flattering lips. This is a prayer, not for grace, but for judgment. David, who lived under the law covenant, prayed according to the penalty of that covenant for those who broke it. We can easily adopt that same attitude. However, we must remember that our time is the day of grace. Look, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2 HCSB). If people do not repent, God will cut them off, but we ought to pray that he will pour out his grace and mercy on the people of our land. Abusive, malicious, lying words are destroying our people.

Verse four exposes the root of their problem: It is their pride. They assume that no one rules over them. They imagine that they can achieve their goals by their words, and that they can say what they please without consequences. We all can fall into this trap. We imagine that we can say and do what we want, and if we should run into problems because of what we’ve done, we will be able to talk ourselves out of it. How many marriages have been ruined by this twisted idea! How many people oppress their coworkers with cruel or arrogant talk, confident that they have the right to injure others! But the Lord knows, and he will act in his time. Let us pray that he acts in grace before it is his time for judgment.

What people say matters to the Lord. This includes you and me. While we may become upset and angry over the abusive, malicious language around us, let us not add to it. Lord, please help us to speak words of love, kindness, and peace. Begin to restore truthfulness by changing the words we say.

Grace and peace, David