The Struggles of the Believer (Part Four)

1 John 5:13

I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (CSB).

It is common in our day for those who do not believe to dismiss Christianity with a wave of the hand. We may get dissed many ways. “The Christian faith is no longer relevant. It may have been fine in a simple age, but these are complex times.” Others may say, “The Christian faith is too exclusive. This is the modern world of pluralism. Get with the system.” (By the way, it amazes me how anyone who pretends to claim to believe that all things are relative and all views have the right to be heard will deny that Christians have a right to proclaim what we believe! Postmodern thinking is littered with countless contradictions!) Others may say, “The Christian faith is simply a myth or fairytale. You need to look at the real world.” Perhaps some professing Christians do think and talk that way, but the faith of true Christianity says that though there is a future reward for the righteous, those who follow Christ now share in the benefits of Christ’s salvation. As the old hymn says, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow — blessings all mine with ten thousand besides.”

What we want to see in this series of articles is that it is followers of Christ who actually look fully at the world and its problems. Authentic Christianity has no desire to play pretend games. People face life and death issues! Many suffer through the trauma of abuse and family problems, and hurt for the rest of their lives. Some are victims of violent crimes. All suffer disease, pain, grief and eventually death. Yes, life is very real! Genuine Christianity is willing to face these problems and to present God’s real solutions. Christianity does not ask, “Where do you want to go today?” It asks, “Where must you go today?” In fact, it is the non-Christian who is the escapist. The unbeliever likes to hear pleasant fantasies like “don’t think about death and the afterlife. Go for all the gusto you can get now.” Or, “do you have problems? Just take these drugs (legal or illegal) to escape your pain.” Or, “deny responsibility for your problems. Blame everyone else. Maybe if you hug yourself long enough you will feel better.”

In previous posts we wrote about the struggle that true believers can have with fear. Today, let’s think about a related issue: the struggle of the believer regarding assurance of salvation. One of the great problems that anyone faces who dares to think about death and the afterlife is “How can I know that I will enjoy eternal life?” This is the struggle of faith with a lack of assurance. What should you do if you are not sure that you are saved?

Examine yourself to see if you are really a follower of Christ. There is a place for this, because obviously no one can have assurance of salvation unless they are saved. Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5 NIV)

Some profess to be saved, but they have never been saved, for they have no knowledge of the Biblical gospel. Salvation is never by works (Ephesians 2:8-9) or by participating in religious rituals (Galatians 5:2-5). Salvation only comes when you trust Christ as your Lord and Savior. If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).

Some profess to be saved, but they have never been saved, because there is some vital deficiency in their spiritual experience. They might be deeply religious but they lack the Holy Spirit.

  • Some have never had a true sense of need for Christ. They have no idea why anyone would need to turn from their sin and trust in Jesus Christ. They fail to see the glory of Christ.
  • Some have never become followers of Christ. And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 ESV). Instead, they follow religion or their family traditions or their friends. Christ does not have first place in their thoughts, desires, and choices they make in their lives.
  • Some have never had a change of mind about sin. They do not see it as an offence against God, but as an allowable way of life. They have not repented (had a change of mind or world and life view about God, mankind, Christ, sin, and the way of salvation). Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15 CSB).
  • Some have never trusted in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified and risen again as their only Savior. As Paul and Silas said to the jailer in Philippi, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31 ESV).

All of these need to understand the way of salvation, and then change their minds and trust in Christ! Here is the general way that God works to bring people to salvation. The Holy Spirit of God uses the Holy Scriptures and Christians and/or various events…

  • To confront people with the truth of the gospel or the truth about God and his ways.
  • To convict people of sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come.
  • To change their minds about God, themselves, sin, Christ, and the gospel.
  • To commit themselves to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This involves what we call the “KAT” of true faith: knowledge, assent and trust. During my youth, I did not understand that true faith involved personal trust in the Savior.

So then, dear reader, are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Only if you know him will he give you assurance of salvation.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Ten)

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me (63:7-8).

The fifth vital experience of those who believe in the living God is the experience of trust. It is the starting point and the zenith of the other experiences, only to start them again. Apart from it, we cannot meditate, be satisfied, praise, or glorify God. Trust in the Lord is essential to our walk with God. He calls us to do tasks that cannot be done apart from faith. Belief in our sovereign God enables us to act bravely, going into truly scary places to seek the lost. It helps us to encourage those failing in health as they walk with the Lord into the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). It reenergizes us in the mundane and even utterly boring tasks in which it may be our lot to glorify the Lord. It helps us sense the strength of Christ as we stoop to serve the lowly and neglected. It clarifies our vision when we realize that we will have to go through difficult and thankless events, that if everyone is honest, all will confess they dislike experiencing, in order to build up the body of Christ. When we know the glory of the living God, the spiritual response is to rest in his love and concern for us, in all the above mentioned.

David certainly knew that God was his help. This caused him to do something. He sang! Those who know that God is their helper may have such sweet joy and confidence that we sing even in desert places while pursued by our enemies.

The psalmist David provides a beautiful picture, one probably learned from his great grandparents. Boaz said to Ruth, “May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge (Ruth 2:12 CSB).  And as is written in another place, The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1 CSB). David had found a beautiful place of safety in the desert. He rested, more, he relaxed under the shadow of God’s wings. He was like a little chick that the mother hen protects with her wings. Let his enemies come! They will never be able to pass the wings of omnipotence that protect him!

Next, David changed the imagery slightly. He declared his intense, personal trust in the Lord. His soul was clinging to God, as a little child might cling to the legs of her mother or to the neck of his father when in a frightening situation. Here is a blessed picture. The living God, ruler of the universe, allows us to cling to him! Here is amazing love! A sinner clings to the Holy One! Ah yes, we may draw near to God. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8a NASB).

Not only is the preceding true, but David said we can be more confident. It is also true that God’s right hand, the hand of power, upholds his dearly loved people. What security this provides! The Almighty Lord wills to carry his people in his strong right hand. We can rest in this place of safety; a fortress of sovereign strength protects us. This reminds me of a chorus that I learned as a young child. “Safe am I; safe am I, in the hollow of his hand.”

Believer, the Spirit of God reassures us by these word-pictures that God wants us to be confident in him, to move forward in his strength. When I take walks with my little granddaughter, I often sing to her, “My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow… Strength for today is mine always, and all that I need for tomorrow! My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.” And as I follow, I learn as his disciple that he upholds me in his right hand. Trust is a vital experience.

Grace and peace, David

Drying Brooks and the Ways of God (Part One)

1 Kings 17:2-7

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Leave here, turn eastward, and hide at the Wadi Cherith where it enters the Jordan” (17:2-3 CSB).

God had set the stage for a dramatic encounter. Elijah the prophet had announced a terrible judgment. There would be no rain or dew on the land until he said so. What great works would God have him do next to testify to the reality of the living God? You and I would probably have had Elijah do a number of awesome miracles, or at least set out upon a preaching tour in order to warn Israel to turn back to the Lord. But that was not the Lord’s method. He wanted his prophet in another place, a place that shows that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). But in the strange place to which God sent him, Elijah was able to learn to depend upon the Lord . May we learn that same lesson in the places we are.

The text (17:2-7) is easily studied by a four part outline, which also shows us a valuable sequence in the life of faith. Here we find God’s command, God’s promise, our response, and a test. We will think about the first of these in this article.

God gave Elijah a command (17:2-3). The timing of this command was unusual. We can think that we ought to be busy for the Lord when he wants us to rest, think, and pray. And the reverse can be true also! Remember that the Lord took Philip from a great revival in Samaria to find one man from Africa.

The command came when he was active for God. We usually discover God’s will when we are busy doing his will. Abraham’s servant discovered that God was leading him when he was already doing what he was told (Genesis 24:27). If you are young, as you think about what you should do with your life, begin by obeying what the Lord has already told you to do. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 2 Timothy 2:19-22.

Service for God involves consistent obedience to God. He did the first step properly; would he do the second? Saul was inconsistent in obedience. He attacked the Amalekites as ordered, but did not destroy them (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

God included two purposes in this command.

The Lord taught his prophet. This would try Elijah’s humility and submission to God’s will. Many men are tempted to pride and self-will when they are filled with success. Elijah had to remember that God was the “boss” and that he was the servant. It would also perfect his reliance upon God. How does God teach his people to live by faith? He does not teach it as much in the lecture hall as in the laboratory of life. Elijah was put in a lonely place where he could learn:

  • That God was able to supply his needs. Elijah was not commanded to plant a garden but to wait for ravens beside a brook. The Lord was teaching him total dependence on God alone.
  • That God was able to be his friendly companion. Elijah was probably alone with God for at least one year. Elijah had much time to meditate and pray. Think of John Bunyan in prison. He was there for twelve years, while his family suffered terribly! Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. But God did great things through Bunyan because of those years in prison.

As we meditate on this text, we ought to be disturbed. (It’s good when God’s word disturbs you.) The Spirit of the Lord can speak through this text like this, “My child, what if that was you by the brook Kerith? Are you so living for me that you could live by faith beside that brook alone with me? Am I enough for you?” Are you willing to ask yourself those questions?

Learning humility and reliance were important lessons for Elijah to learn. Together they helped prepare him for the contest on the mountain. God usually uses the events of life to teach us to live by faith.

At the same time as the Lord taught Elijah, he judged the people of Israel. The judgment of drought was temporal, but the absence of the prophet was spiritual: It was a loss of spiritual rain (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11). The greatest famine that can come on a nation is a famine for the word of God. Look, the days are coming—this is the declaration of the Lord God—when I will send a famine through the land: not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and roam from north to east seeking the word of the Lord, but they will not find it (Amos 8:11-12 CSB; cf. Psalm 74:1-9; 2 Corinthians 4:1).

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Eighteen (Part Three)

Psalm 18:4-6

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears (NIV).

Next, David sang about the desperate situation from which the Lord had rescued him. We don’t know the tune to which these words were sung, but a minor key would have been a good choice. In this broken world there are many times that we will be melancholy and downcast. This is unpleasant. David was not ashamed to write about the dark times of his experience. He wanted his people to face cold, gloomy reality.

This is very unlike some of the songs I learned in Sunday School in my childhood. Here is a one: “I’m in right, out right, up right, down right, happy all the time. I’m in right, out right, up right, down right, happy all the time. Since Jesus Christ came in and cleansed my heart from sin, I’m in right, out right, up right, down right, happy all the time.” I assume that the teachers wanted Sunday School to be a warm, welcoming place. And after World War II, the Korean War, and during the Cold War, they themselves probably wanted to escape from the horrors of life. However, the song did not present an accurate view of life or what the Lord promised his people in their walk with him. The point is not to fill the hearts of children with terror, but it is to say what is accurate.

Accuracy about life and God’s ability to deliver fill this psalm. David started the song on a positive note. Then, in the verses quoted above, he described the reason God’s might was needed to rescue. In the English of the NIV, depressing “D” words pile up to make his point: death… destruction… distress. The word translated grave is the Hebrew Sheol, the invisible realm of the dead, from which only the Lord can deliver. David piled up words to announce that he was totally dependent on God, apart from his mighty power, he was certain to die. Until we understand our desperate need, we will not cry out to the Lord to save. David wanted people to feel how bad his case was. Unless the living God had intervened, he was dead.

In this apparently hopeless situation, David did what people who believe in God do. He prayed. Notice again the personal relationship he claimed with God: I cried to my God for help. Because he knew God, he brought his requests to God. He knew that God heard him. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. God has compassion on us in our trials. He may not answer the way we want or expect, but he does act as we pray. David wrote to give God’s people words and ideas for us when we cry out to the Lord. He wanted them to know that in the bleakest times, God hears and cares and helps his people. Don’t give way to despair. God might well have closed one way for you. But he who will not lead you one way will lead you another, as you trust in him. 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).

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Thirteen)

To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen (Romans 16:27 NIV).

God is wise. God has infinite ability and skill to do what is best for the glory of his name and the good of his people. “Knowledge and wisdom, though often confounded by careless thinkers, are different. Wisdom always has respect to action… Our knowledge and moral principles have much influence in directing our conduct, and that man is considered wise, whose knowledge and moral principles direct his conduct well. Wisdom is therefore regarded as consisting in the selection of the best end of action, and the adoption of the best means for the accomplishment of this end. God is infinitely wise, because he selects the best possible end of action. What the end Jehovah has in view in all his works, we cannot claim to comprehend” (Dagg, pp. 86-87).

God only is wise (Romans 16:27), and his wisdom is profound (Job 9:4), since his wisdom has no limits. We cannot take all things into view at once (or at all!), but he can. That is why wisdom belongs to God (Job 12:3). This is difficult for us to comprehend. We see others make unwise and destructive plans and choices and even, perhaps grudgingly admit, that we also have the same failures. This hinders us from acknowledging God’s wisdom.

However, God makes known his wisdom to us in the scriptures. In wisdom, God made the universe (Psalm 104:24; Proverbs 3:19; Jeremiah 10:12). God works out his purposes of displaying the glory of his wisdom (Ephesians 3:10). If he works to bring disaster on the wicked, such works proceed from his wisdom (Isaiah 31:2). In his sovereign rule over all nations, his wisdom guides all his choices (Daniel 2:20). In salvation, the Lord works through his wisdom to save his chosen people (1 Corinthians 1:21, 24, 2:7; Ephesians 1:7-8). We need to remember the great word of the doxology in Romans 11:36. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (NIV). Everything is under the direction of the all-wise, holy, and sovereign Lord of the universe. When there are matters beyond our understanding, we can trust his wisdom. If we lack wisdom, we should ask God (James 1:5), since he is all-wise. When we comprehend something of his wisdom, we ought to bow in worship him as wise (Revelation 7:12).

In all the events and turns of our lives, we must trust the infinite wisdom of God (Romans 11:33). When we lack comfort or suffer, he has a wise reason (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). If our body fails, we can be assured that he has something better in store for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). If we lack worldly riches, God may be keeping us from a trap (1 Timothy 6:9). If we lose our dearest in life, he remains worthy of our faith (Job 13:15)! God’s wisdom provides a basis for peaceful rest when our world seems to be going crazy.

How can we acquire wisdom? We must reverently fear God (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33) and receive his word (Psalm 119:97-100), but above all, wisdom is found in the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:2-3)!

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Ten)

I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he (Deuteronomy 32:3-4 NIV).

God is trustworthy. God is truthful or incapable of deceiving (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Whatever God says must be accurate and true, and so his word is truth (Psalm 12:6; Isaiah 45:19; John 17:17), just as he is truth (Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16; John 7:28; 8:26; 14:6, 17; 17:3; 1 John 5:20; Revelation 3:7) and his ways are true (Revelation 15:3).

God’s veracity or trustworthiness is “an attribute of his nature, which, like his power, exists, and makes him what he is, even though there be no outward relation to it. By virtue of it, he is the source of all truth, not moral only, but even mathematical” (Boyce, Abstract of Theology, pp. 98-99). In other words, truth exists in the universe, because the Creator is the God who is true in all his actions and revelations. In this way, God’s truthfulness becomes the foundation of human confidence in knowledge, “whether by intuition, observation or reason” (Boyce, p. 99). For this reason, we have a foundation for human rationality.

“The truth of God is a great pillar for our faith. Were not he a God of truth, how could we believe in him? Our faith were fancy; but he is truth itself, and not a word which he has spoken shall fall to the ground” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 101). Since God is true, his words “are the index of reality: they show us things as they really are, and as they will be for us in the future according to whether we heed God’s words to us or not” (Packer, p. 102). Therefore, we are wise when we seek the true God to guide and teach us (Psalm 43:3; 86:11).

Closely related to God’s trustworthiness is his faithfulness. God is dependable and can be trusted to perform what he has promised. God is faithful in his character (Exodus 34:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 36:5; 86:15; 146:6; Isaiah 49:7; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 10:23), actions (Psalm 33:4; 91:4; 138:8; Lamentations 3:22-23; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3), and words (2 Samuel 7:28; 2 Chronicles 6:15; 2 Corinthians 1:18-20).

“In all His relations with His people God is faithful. He may be safely relied upon. No one ever yet really trusted Him in vain. We find this precious truth expressed almost everywhere in the Scriptures, for His people need to know that faithfulness is an essential part of the Divine character. This is the basis of our confidence in Him. But it is one thing to accept the faithfulness of God as a Divine truth, it is quite another to act upon it. God has given us many ‘exceeding great and precious promises,’ but are we really counting on His fulfillment of them? Are we actually expecting Him to do for us all that He has said?” (Pink, Attributes of God, p. 60)

God’s faithfulness demands certain responses on our part. We should praise God for his faithfulness (Psalm 92:1-2; Isaiah 25:1), commit ourselves to his care (1 Peter 4:19), and seek forgiveness from his grace (1 John 1:9).

Grace and peace, David

Providence Explained (Part One)

Genesis 45:4-15

We are unusual creatures. God has blessed us with rational minds, but we do not use them as we ought. On the one hand, we are content to know very little of what we ought to know. On the other hand, we want to know very much about what is not our business to know. If something bad happens, we demand a full explanation. “I want to know the reason for this!” But if something good happens, who cares to find out the reason? We must also work with inadequate source material. We have experienced numerous events, but we do not know God’s reasons for the events. Even Biblical characters had to live with the mystery of providence. Some of them knew what God was doing. However, they had difficulty understanding why God acted in a particular way; for example, Habakkuk. We must also recognize that even the experience of talking with the Lord did not guarantee an explanation for Abraham or Job.

In this passage, we have at least a partial explanation for the suffering that the members of Jacob’s family went through. Even here, however, there is no account of why God chose to act in this way. There are still areas that God reserves to himself. It is not our business to pry into them. To get on many websites, you need to know the password. If you don’t have it, the information is none of your business.

Let’s begin by viewing God’s good purpose (45:4-7). The explanation was given within a context of love (45:4).

Joseph invited his brothers to draw near. The tenderness of love seeks fellowship. This is the way God approaches his people. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16 NIV). Come near to God and he will come near to you (James 4:8a NIV).

Joseph provided reassurance of his identity. This was a clear sign that he really knew them. He pressed the point home that he was their brother. “He did not intend this as an accusation because he immediately continued by telling them that they should not be distressed or angry with themselves for what they had done to him” [Aalders, Commentary on Genesis).

Joseph’s explanation emphasized God’s will and activity. And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance (45:5-7 NIV).

Having seen their repentance, he persuaded them not to punish themselves about their sin (45:5).

Joseph is a good example of a generous spirit. Though we should not excuse our own sins, we should seek to comfort the repentant with gentle words. He told them that God had sent him to Egypt and why he had sent him.

Someone might ask, “Hadn’t his brothers sold him as a slave?” Yes, but Joseph did not look at second causes. Instead, he honored God in all that has happened. The attitude of worship dominated his life. He told them what would surely happen in the near future. For years God had worked toward this time, and there was still more of this particular plan to unfold. God’s arm has a long reach.

Dear readers, let us all humble ourselves by calmly resting in the knowledge that right now the Lord God is working out his plan of salvation for the salvation of many around the world. We all are part of his good purpose. Who knows, the turmoil in your life might work out for the salvation of many? The great slogan in Philadelphia Sixers’ basketball has been “Trust the Process.” Let us trust God’s process.

Grace and peace, David

A Principle of Trust

Isaiah 31:1

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord (NIV).

We all are dependent. Self-sufficiency is a myth clung to by those who have failed to think deeply about life. We all receive help from others in many ways. Crises can unmask live-shaking experiences of this reality, but our need for trust is constant. For a common example (for those over fifty!), I just received a message to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy. I trust that the pharmacist puts the correct medication in the bottle. I also trust the prescribing physician, the drug manufacturer, etc.

More pressing needs, like severe illnesses and terrorism, compel people to exercise faith, to pray. Or perhaps they do. Our text teaches that people seek other solutions besides trust in the Lord. Israel, God’s old covenant people, serves as a teaching example for us in the new covenant age (cf. Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:5, 11). Isaiah spoke to Israel’s desperate situation. Strong nations encircled them, and they had an obvious need for protection from attacks and conquest by foreign powers. Need was not their problem or ours. God knows what we need. (See Matthew six.) It was what to do about the need. This brings us to a principle of faith.

  • We need to avoid attractive, plausible alternatives. In Israel’s situation, the substitute for trust in God was to go down to Egypt for help. What made the alternative appealing was the power they could see, rather than the greater power that was invisible. Horses, chariots, and horsemen could be seen. Today, people depend on military might, on wealth and prosperity, on people of skill, and on the latest technology. Part of our difficulty is that we get caught up in the latest and greatest. For example, “Don’t give me an iPhone 4; it’s not even functional. I have an iPhone 7, but there’s so much it can’t do. I need the next version soon!” We long for what we can see with more power. We spiral down and away from God.
  • We ought to understand God’s judgment on those who go down to Egypt for help. The Spirit of the Lord gave a terse verdict on those who put their trust in other things: Woe. It was a course of action that was doomed, that the Sovereign Lord would ensure was doomed. The Spirit wanted them to see the “poison” label and shun the alternative. To seek other help besides the Lord invites God’s judgment and ruin into our lives. What might look like a good solution becomes the portal to deeper and more destructive consequences.
  • We should act in the way of God’s wisdom: look to the Holy One of Israel and seek help from the Lord. What is the point? From many passages in the Bible, it is clear that we are to use human means, since they are all gifts from God. So, this verse is not teaching some sort of passivity in which we do nothing. Instead, the Lord wants us to seek him first and to rely on him in the use of proper means. Yes, go to the doctor, take your medicine, and get proper rest and exercise. But first, depend on the living God for your health and other needs. We are to actively trust: seek help from the Lord.

The question is, “Will we trust in the Lord first in our next predicament?” God wants us to desire him first and above all. This is an important principle of trusting God.

Grace and peace, David

Exploring Matthew 10

And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 10:7 ESV).

In the Gospel of Matthew, we encounter five great discourses or teaching sections of Jesus. Each of these contains essential lessons from the Teacher to his learners (disciples). The first, third and last in the list below bear the names usually attached to them:

  • The Sermon on the Mount (5-7)
  • The Instructions for Mission (10)
  • The Kingdom Parables (13)
  • The Community of the King (18-20)
  • The Olivet Discourse (24-25)

If you want an easier list to remember, think: life (5-7), mission (10), kingdom (13), community (18-20), and outlook (24-25). Starting with your thumb, visualize a word written on each fingerprint and memorize the list. Now to chapter ten itself.

Matthew 10 is linked to the end of the previous chapter (9:35-38). In it we observe Jesus involved in the work the Father gave him to do and his prayer request for laborers for the harvest. Matthew 10:1-4 reveals a partial answer to that request. From his learners, Jesus chose twelve to form a special group in which they are also called apostles (“sent ones” – this is the only time that Matthew uses the term). These twelve disciples are listed in pairs, which is suggestive for the way others would be sent out to minister (cf. Luke 10:1).

The remainder of the chapter develops the concept of mission in three ways:

  • The short-term mission of the Twelve (10:5-15) — The instructions to the twelve disciples are part of the narrative. In God’s plan, Jesus had work for them to do to extend the impact of Jesus’ earthly ministry. While some matters clearly for the Twelve on their first “mission trip” (like their restricted location and ability to perform miracles), there are general principles that apply to missional living for all disciples. We are to serve people in their need, trust God for provision, and look for a “person of peace” and extend a local ministry from that person. Notice that even on this short-term trip, there was the possibility of opposition (10:14-15).
  • The long-term mission to the whole world (10:16-23) — Developing the idea of opposition, Jesus wants us to be aware of several matters: He knows the dangerous situation that he sends us into; he tells us that danger will come because of our relationship to him and the witness we give for him; he provides the Spirit as our Helper; and tells us to persevere for him in spite of persecution, even from our own families.
  • The response of disciples to the world’s opposition (10:24-42) — First, the Lord knows our hearts and talks to us about fear. The idea is to replace fear with trust in the Father’s care (10:26-33). Second, he counsels us about his agenda. He does not intend to bring peace but a sword, and so we should not think that something has gone wrong. We must maintain a proper Christ-focus at all times (10:34-39). Third, the response of people to us depends on their response to Christ. He will reward those who care for his followers (10:40-42).

Hopefully, this will give you an overview as you explore this chapter. Read it many times, because it presents attitudes that we need as we join Christ on his mission. Take many notes. Hide this passage in your heart. How can we expect to follow Christ faithfully in this world unless we know his will?

Grace and peace, David

Prayer One of a Struggler (Part Two)

Psalm 25:1-3

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous (ESV).

David felt the pull toward expecting disgrace. It is unclear when he wrote this psalm, but he had many such times before and after he became king. In this first prayer, his chief concern was about his enemies beating him, with the result of his utter disgrace. What do you do when your team is four runs down in the bottom of the ninth and you seem sure to lose? The Almighty God sits on your bench.

David refuses to admit defeat; he joins the good fight of faith. He actively trusts in God. He lifts up his soul to his covenant Lord. To lift up one’s soul is to direct it to seek something (cf. Psalm 24:4); here it speaks of setting your whole heart on God as the chief good you seek (cf. Psalm 16:2). He longs for God. In the midst of the uproar, David was self-controlled. When boats are out on the Great Lakes and the small craft warnings are raised, wise captains put about and head toward harbor. It is wise to seek the all-sufficient God in trouble.

Very often, your soul might feel like it cannot rise to God. It is like it has lost its wings. The sorrow or melancholy mood or temptation or anger can lead you into the trap of assuming there is no way out. In such horrible seasons, don’t give up on prayer, but exert all your faith to lift up your soul to God. God our Father wants us to draw near to him (James 4:8).

During the struggle, David refreshes his soul by telling the truth about God and his interaction with people. He relies on two truths that deal with the ultimate outcome of life. Short-term results might give the wrong impression, but in the end two facts will be clear.

  • No one whose hope is in God will ever be put to shame. The Lord has committed himself to our final triumph. He will demonstrate through your life the omnipotence of his grace and mercy. The present sneers and mockery of those against you will be silenced by the acclamation of the Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
  • Everyone who is treacherous will be put to shame. David knew the bitterness of betrayal by his father-in-law, his close friend, and his son. He experienced the cheers and the jeers of the crowds. In all human experience, there is a time for love and a time for hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8). We cannot escape this. But God assures his people that judgment will come on the ungodly.

It seems everyone has enemies who seek their ruin. We may pray that their wicked schemes do not come to fruition. “Confuse them, defeat them, O Lord.” Yet do not lift your soul up to hatred. Turn it to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44). Pray for protection, and trust God to vindicate you.

Grace and peace, David