Reformation Day 2016

dscn0695Romans 11:36

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (ESV)

Today is the 499th anniversary of one of the greatest awakenings or revivals in the history of the church. It is called the “Reformation”, because the people who came under its influence wanted to reform the church to her earliest life, faith, and practices. Like any human event, the Reformation is very complex. We can and should rejoice in the multitudes of men and women who came to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ during those years. Without a doubt, the Reformation changed western civilization, and we still live as heirs to its benefits, spiritual and otherwise.

Yet, while we rejoice, we readily acknowledge that the Reformation was far from perfect. There are many books being published in preparation for the 500th anniversary. The date of the Reformation (1517-1650) is remembered as starting on October 31, 1517, because on that date, a preacher named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. His purpose was not to start a religious revolution or a new church. He wanted other teachers in the church to discuss matters of faith and practice that had affected people in his local church. For this reason, he wrote them in Latin, the religious language of the day. However, others translated them into German and published them. God the Holy Spirit used them to get people thinking about what the Bible actually said about salvation, and the revival began. People read them, thought about them, searched the Scriptures, listened to the Word preached and were saved. This explains why books continue to be written about Luther and the start of the Reformation. It is wise to learn about this period.

However, others books should also be written, since the Reformation impacted all Europe and North America. People were brought to faith in Christ, and many great ideas of true Christianity were proclaimed with great vigor. At the same time, the Reformation did not fulfill its promise, because the Reformation was incomplete. Part of the reason for this was human centered politics that ran counter to the God focus of the Reformation itself. Another reason was the slowness of people to think through and apply the ramifications of the truth. Old ideas die long and lingering deaths. Another reason was that any human is on the scene only a short length of time. One hundred thirty-three years passed from the start to the finish of the Reformation. And the children, grandchildren, of those saved in the beginnings had other issues to deal with as the principles of the Reformation worked out in their lives.

Perhaps another day, I will write more about the Reformation. But today, I want to start by mentioning the great ideas of Reformation theology. (Notice that I did not say “Reformed Theology”, which is related but different.) As men and women returned to the Scriptures in the revival, five key ideas were set forth in Latin. Since we do not speak in that theological tongue, I re-present them in English.

  • According to the Scriptures alone
  • By grace alone
  • Through faith alone
  • In Christ alone
  • To God alone be the glory forever, Amen

We need to recover these Biblical principles in our day, as the good news of Jesus Christ spread around the world. We desire that the truth of God’s grace in the Lord Jesus Christ become increasingly clear, not only in our doctrine, but also in our way of life. As we grasp and apply these concepts, God can produce true and lasting change in us and in the world.

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

The Promise of God’s Presence

img_08952 Chronicles 20:15b-17

In a fast-paced society with ever-broadening technological advances, it is easy to be overcome by the flux. We can crave to hear about something that is “new”. This desire is not a byproduct of the information age, but comes from the human heart in our insatiable desire to know. Luke commented in Acts that this was the condition of the Athenians. Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new (17:21 HCSB). And so, we desire new phrases and ideas, and so disclose our pitiful condition.

However, the Spirit of God repeats redemption themes to build God’s kind of world and life view into us.  In our text from 2 Chronicles, notice how the Spirit repeats words that he had previously used to form God’s story into his people in the past. God’s people need to be renewed and reformed by basic ideas that speak about our relationship with God. Ponder the ideas that the Holy Spirit used.

  • Do not be afraid or discouraged: This idea points them back to when the Lord was about to lead them into the Promised Land. The task ahead was huge and daunting. How could it be done? For this reason, the Spirit imbedded this idea into their outlook (Deuteronomy 1:21; 3:2, 22; 31:6; Joshua 1:6-9). We need this very much to overcome our paralyzing fears. We need to look at our resources (God and the gospel) more than the obstacles in our way (hatred, idolatry, greed, violence, arrogance and prejudice). If you suppose that your problems are unsolvable, you need to listen to what God says. Don’t be afraid or discouraged! In the darkest situations, God can work for your eternal joy. He can bring sweet out of what is bitter. Remember the story of the waters of Marah (Exodus 15:22-25).
  • The battle is the Lord’s: This idea points them back to David’s great victory over Goliath, when defeat seemed certain (1 Samuel 17:47). Everyone was afraid to act, yet the Lord brought about a great victory through unlikely means. In Bunyan’s masterpiece, The Pilgrim’s Progress, consider Christian’s stay in the church, where they showed him many unusual ways that the Lord had given victory to his people.
  • The Lord will be with you: This idea comes from God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:1). The Lord repeated this concept many times: Isaac (Genesis 26:3), Jacob (Genesis 28:15), Joseph (Genesis 39:2, 21, 23), and to the people about to enter the land (Deuteronomy 2:7; Joshua 1:5). It is repeated to us by the Lord Jesus, in order to encourage us on our mission (Matthew 28:20). The Lord uses it during reassure his servants during the most discouraging times (Acts 18:9-10). Always remember that the Lord is on mission with us. If you’re not certain that God is with you, then listen to the good news. In Jesus Christ, God offers to enter an agreement with you that will change your life. If you will turn from your empty way of life and trust in Christ who died and rose to life, he will change your heart, be your God, give you knowledge of him, which involves eternal life, and forgive your sins (Hebrews 8:10-12). Now is an excellent time to believe in the Lord Jesus and receive these gifts.

Through the prophet, the Spirit of God announced the battle plan (20:16-17a). They needed to believe and obey in order to see God at work. God expects the same from us today. God sent them out. This is a picture of where we need to be to see God at work in the world. Here’s a hint: you usually won’t see him at work in the safety of your home. Jesus has sent you out into the world.

  • March – God had full intelligence of the location of the enemy army. “Here is where to find them; just punch this address in your GPS.” Shortly after this, God would do the same for Elisha (2 Kings 6:8ff).
  • Take positions – Get to the places where they would want to fight; find the best locations that offer a tactical advantage over their army. If you have visited Gettysburg, you have seen the high ground the Union army occupied on Little Round Top.
  • Stand firm and see – Surprise! They would not need to fight. The Lord was going to handle this by himself in some unspecified way. Too often we depend on our own insights, plans, gimmicks, strategies, and abilities. The Lord wants us to trust and obey. Do we know the missional “battle plan” (Matthew 28:18-20)? Then go and make disciples with the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).
  • Do not be afraid or discouraged – Go out to face them tomorrow. Yes, the Lord repeats the core of his message to them! “But that vast army is out there!” Yes, it is, and the way they would see it overcome was to do what the Lord told them. This is also true for us.

What are your deepest fears right now? Take a moment and write them down on paper. Next, look at what you’ve written. Now ask yourself, “Am I ready to trust God with my fears? Will I trust him, even if things do not work out as I’d like? Will I believe that nothing is too hard for the Lord (Genesis 18:14)?” In the presence of God, face your fears and trust in the Lord with all your heart.

Grace and peace, David

A Turning Point

img_4139-edited2 Chronicles 20:14-15a

God made people to be worshipers. We all worship something, whether in a religious format, or the pursuit of created things, or even ourselves, which we usually call pride. If you wonder about the rightness of God commanding us to worship him, I will now simply refer you to John Piper’s book, Desiring God. But now we must see what the Lord does to bring out this desire to worship and praise in Jehoshaphat and his people.

In the account of the life of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, we can see what we all experience: a clash of good and bad desires. Sometimes we can wonder about ourselves and others! Why do we feel such desires for what is evil and destructive? Why do our lives get out of control? How can we change for the glory of God and the good of others? In this chapter, we have seen Jehoshaphat filled with fear. Yet he counteracted his fear with faith, expressed in leading his nation in prayer. But at the end of the prayer, has anything changed? Does God listen to our prayers? Is it meaningful to pray? Many struggle today at this point, and so we need this part of God’s word to encourage us to pray. It is not that we expect the Lord God to do exactly what he did in this account in answer to his prayer. But we need to learn that God does hear our prayer, and he answers in unexpected ways. I doubt that anyone at that time expected to get the answer given in our text.

In the middle of the congregation, the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel (son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite from Asaph’s descendants) and he said, “Listen carefully, all Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat. This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast number, for the battle is not yours, but God’s’” (2 Chronicles 20:14-15 HCSB).

The Spirit of God stepped in to bring radical change to the situation of God’s people. This idea is developed throughout Chronicles. When God tells us stories in his word, the Bible, he wants us to understand ideas about him and the way he relates with his creatures. In Chronicles, the Holy Spirit tells us a few things about his activity, so that we might know its absolute necessity for life and worship.

  • The Spirit worked so that people gathered to support David as king (1 Chronicles 12:18).
  • The Spirit gave the plans for the building of the temple (1 Chronicles 28:12).
  • The Spirit spoke to encourage Asa to act against idolatry (2 Chronicles 15:1).
  • The Spirit enabled Zechariah to stand against the wickedness of Joash near the end of his reign (2 Chronicles 24:20).
  • The Spirit came upon Jahaziel to deliver God’s message to the people.

We only know the truth and power of God’s message when the Spirit is working in its delivery. Otherwise, we are like elementary school students hurrying through the Philadelphia Museum of Art, ignorant of the masterpieces on display. Here, the Spirit of the Lord is active in both the message and their response to it. We ought to pray constantly for the work of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

The Word is the basis of radical change, which the Holy Spirit produces.

  • Our contemporary Christian problem resides very much in extremely low opinions of the Word of God. For example, we do not appreciate its power, as displayed in the creation (Genesis 1; cf. Psalm 33:6-11). In a decaying situation, we remain unmoved, unlike Jeremiah, who knew the power of God’s word (Jeremiah 23:29).
  • The Spirit uses the Word to produce deep change in human hearts (Psalm 19:7-11). All true spirituality comes from and agrees with God’s Word.

Have you ever listened to God’s Word? I mean, not just heard it, but do you pay attention to it? Do its ideas grip you, transform you, and motivate you? How is the Spirit presently using the Word to transform you into the likeness of Christ?

Grace and peace, David

Exceeding Great and Precious Promises

img_5166Psalm 12:4-8

Music is an essential part of the worship of the Lord. As we look at the Psalms from time to time, I hope that each of us will not only accept this intellectually, but delight in songs of worship and praise emotionally and experientially. Although we only know the lyrics and not the music of the Psalms, we know from the superscriptions that they were intended to be sung, sometimes by choirs. To illustrate the dramatic involvement we should have when we read the Psalms, picture the cast of a Broadway musical or a great choir singing Psalm Twelve. The psalm opens with the cast or choir singing the opening four verses in a minor key. A certain hopelessness is generated that leaves the audience almost despondent. Who can stop the arrogant, malicious liars? Everything is ominously quiet as the audience ponders their fate.

Then suddenly, a very rich baritone voice breaks the gloom and sings in a major key the words of hope found in verse four. “Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, Now I will arise,” says the Lord; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs” (NASB). The psalm communicates the great truth that our deliverance comes from outside of human capabilities. Rescue comes from the Lord. It takes his powerful word to oppose and to overcome the lies, the malice, the pride of the ungodly. We might look at the situation and mourn, but the living God can speak and produce victory. As in the time of the Exodus, God observed the suffering of people and promised to act (Exodus 2:23-25; 3:7-8; 6:5). Someone might wonder, “Why doesn’t God act immediately?” Remember the plan of God. The time of rescue from Egypt came according the time that the Lord had announced to Abraham (Genesis 15:12-16). According to the same pattern, the time of rescue from the ungodly will come at the Lord’s appointed time. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14 NASB). Until that time we live and wait in hope of the promised victory.

Next, a beautiful soprano voice rejoices in the promises of God. The words of the Lord are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times (Psalm 12:5 NASB). Listen to the voice delighting in the security of what God says. Part of the worship of God should involve remembrance of his promises. Think of the hymn that we know as “How Firm a Foundation”. Originally it was called “Scriptures Promises” and then as “Exceeding Great and Precious Promises” (from 2 Peter 1:2 KJV). Here is the opening stanza:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

We must live in faith on the pure words of God.

The psalm closes with a grand response to God’s precious promise from the whole choir or cast. You, O Lord, will keep them; You will preserve him from this generation forever. The wicked strut about on every side When vileness is exalted among the sons of men (12:7-8 NASB). With hope based on God’s word, his people can expect him to keep and preserve them. Has this changed the situation that induced the cry for help? In one sense, it hasn’t. When the people of this world exalt vileness, they will strut about, boasting that they can do whatever they want. But in another sense it has for God’s people, because they confidently anticipate the change, the new finality of the new creation in new heavens and a new earth. God will eternally keep us in his constant care.

The question is, “Are you willing to live in this firm hope?” We can all want “heaven now”. But our God is working out his plan of good news for all the people groups of the world. Our part is to pray and to spread the good news everywhere. Follower of Christ, you and I share in the assignment to tell others. Let’s pray for specific people to whom we can make known the way of salvation.

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

Help, Lord!

img_1224Psalm 12

Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. They speak falsehood to one another; With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak (12:1-2 NASB).

The human soul can quickly swing from bright hope to dark despair. David, the king and psalmist, knew and felt acutely all the ranges of emotion. We should also, if we are willing to look at all of reality. It is very easy to attempt to insulate ourselves, to attempt to build a shelter that hides pain, suffering, evil schemes, and brutal oppression from our eyes and thoughts. We would rather “live the dream” than experience the nightmare. God made us to enjoy life and glory; therefore, it is good to want what is beautiful, pleasing, and peaceful.

However, the Lord God also made us to live in the world that now is for his honor and praise and the good of other people. This means that we will often encounter what is horrible and ugly. This psalm by David provides us with a godly way to view things as they are and to respond in a manner that brings glory to God.

We are not told when David wrote this psalm for the worship of the people of God. By the way, do we have room in our worship for “the minor key”? Must every song we sing be bright and cheery? Obviously, the Holy Spirit wants the songs we sing to express the full range of our lives. This is part of the way we share our lives with the living God.

So then, David began this song with a cry for help. We don’t know when he wrote this, but his life had numerous occasions when he needed to cry, “Help, Lord!” David knew that his situation was beyond his ability. He needed the all-powerful, sovereign Lord of all to come to his rescue. The simple request, “Help, Lord!” demonstrates wisdom that few understand. When we pray this way, we confess our inability to problem solve, which few want to admit. Aren’t we all ready to dispense generous doses of advice? But when we cry for help, we come as needy and lowly… in humility. It showed his wisdom in another way. He called upon his covenant Lord for help. David claimed a covenant relationship with the living God. It was a cry of faith!

Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. David looked at his world, and he saw a diminishing number of godly people. It clearly seems that we in our nation share David’s condition. How few are godly! How few want to stand up for the true God among a people whose lives are ruled by idols of all kinds. (Remember greed is idolatry. Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry, Colossians 3:5 NLT.) Do we seek out opportunities to pray, to read God’s word, to fellowship with believers, and to spread the good news, to name only a few activities of godly people? And then, there seems to be a falling number of faithful, reliable people. How many make commitments, only to break them when they have new offers to do something else that promises immediate pleasure? We can plan to live godly, but how often do the plans of Christians fail… from not keeping their word. In the world, certainly, we all encounter almost total unreliability.

If you are godly, it is easy to mourn our present circumstances. But please don’t allow your grief to disable you from the first godly response. What is it? We need to cry out, Help, Lord! Pray this prayer, in order that the Lord himself might intervene in our nation.

Grace and peace, David

Jehoshaphat’s Prayer Request

img_16692 Chronicles 20:10-12

The Lord communicates with his people through the Holy Spirit using his word. He opens up the word to us, makes us feel the power of God’s word, and applies it to our minds and hearts, so that our thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and actions are transformed by it. God’s people communicate with him through prayer, praise, and worship. We express our delight in him and share our lives with him. Since we are dependent created beings, part of sharing our lives with God involves making requests of him. We must be clear about this, because some contemporary Christians assert that God gives them messages during prayer. If this wrong idea was true, it would have been recorded on numerous occasions in the Scriptures. Please don’t form your doctrines from wrong ideas that you suppose make you feel good and spice up prayer. Communicating with the living God is all the “spice” that anyone needs!

Many times in the Bible, the Lord God asks and encourages us to ask him. We should never feel reluctant to bring our requests to the throne of grace. To draw back because we sense our sinfulness exchanges grace for pride in our performance. Clearly, Jehoshaphat was not a perfect man, but that did not stop him from presenting his needs and the great need of his people to the Lord. So then, let us listen to Jehoshaphat present an important request.

Jehoshaphat spoke about their problem (20:10-11). Yes, God fully knows our needs. We do not pray to provide information to the One who knows everything. We talk with God, because he has graciously brought us into a covenantal relationship with him, and he wants us to share our lives with him. Consider a couple awaiting the birth of their first child… or grandchild. One might ask the other, “How do you feel about this?” The purpose of the question is not find out some information that he or she is ignorant about. Instead, it is to draw out the experience of the other’s excitement about the coming blessed event. It is to share the wonder of new life with each other. God wants us to make known our thoughts and ideas about our problems. It is what prayer does. Read John 17, the great prayer of Jesus, in which he talked with the Father about his concerns as the cross drew near. Jesus knew that joy would come through the cross (Hebrews 12:2), and so he talked about the glory ahead with his Father.

Notice that what Jehoshaphat said is based on his prior worship of the Lord. He expected God to help, because he had given them the land (cf. 20:7, 11). Helping them would be consistent with his gracious gift. God can judge his enemies, because he is all-powerful and no one can successfully oppose him (20:6, 12). They, however, are weak and in desperate need.

Jehoshaphat asked God to judge the enemy and to rescue them (20:12). Here is a request that must be read with an understanding of salvation history. At that time, God’s people were a physical nation that God had promised to protect, if they obeyed him. As we have said before, God does not promise his new covenant people physical protection, but his presence with his suffering people, as they serve God and others self-sacrificially. See how Jehoshaphat threw himself humbly and completely on God’s mercy (20:12b). And in the clash of fear and faith, while his fear assaulted him, his faith looked up to the Lord for rescue!

Have you ever asked God to rescue you? Do you know why you need to be rescued? Let’s think about this. Because Christ has died for sinners and has risen that whoever believes in him may be right with God, we encourage you to ask the Lord Jesus to rescue you today. This is an eternal rescue that meets your greatest need, which is to right with God. If you trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, God will declare you right with him. Read Romans 3:21-4:5.

Grace and peace, David

Enriching Your Prayers

img_16752 Chronicles 20:6-12

If we will all be very honest for a few moments, we must all admit that at times our prayer life can seem lifeless, very routine and predictable. When I was in college, five thousand people would repeat the Lord’s prayer together in chapel services, and it was a great struggle to have it retain meaning, because it seemed that many were interested in how quickly they could push through the required recitation. We are instructed to give thanks at meals (1 Timothy 4:4-5), and if we do what we ought, we can easily fall into a meaningless habit, unless we concentrate on what we are doing. And I could multiply examples.

This makes the prayers we read in the Bible precious to us. As God tells his story, he graciously includes accounts of the conversations that his people have had with him. Their prayers written in the word provide hope concerning how we may talk with the true and living God in our life situation. Let’s look at Jehoshaphat’s prayer.

  • Jehoshaphat declared God’s rule (20:6). There are four key ways that YHWH (Yahweh, the Lord) is described in the Old Testament Scriptures: he is Creator, Ruler, Judge, and Savior. Notice how three of these are prominent in this prayer. He worshiped God for his sovereign authority and power to exercise that authority. He knew he was in the presence of the Boss. We focus on God’s rule, because it is the one of the core elements of prayer. Why would you worship a God who lacked power and authority to make changes in the world? God claims that he has both in his word. Listen to his voice and respond in worship.
  • Jehoshaphat claimed a covenant relationship with God (20:7). “This God is our God.” He boldly reached out on the basis of past grace. God had given the land to Abraham, God’s friend (cf. Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). So then, he appealed to the Lord about a gift given to his friend. We ought to claim our covenant relationship with God when we pray. In Christ, we have the relationship with God set forth in the new covenant (Hebrews 8:10c). So then, this ought to influence our conversations with the Lord. Consider how the apostle Paul prayed. “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3). However, you can only really pray this way when you have a saving relationship with God in Christ. How can you have this? First, have a change of mind about sin in the way you live. What does this mean? Turn from a life of rejecting God’s right to rule your life. Turn from a refusal to love God with all that you are. Turn from rebelling against what God tells you to do. Second, believe in Jesus. Rely on Jesus Christ and his death on the cross as the only way you can have forgiveness of sin and a righteous standing before God. Perhaps you know you need to be saved. Right now is an excellent time.
  • Jehoshaphat set forth their covenant worship (20:8-9). Later in Jeremiah’s time, this idea was to be abused, since sinners tend to abuse everything! But Jehoshaphat used it, not for a sense of false security, but as an evidence of their repentance. He pointed back to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 6:14-42; 7:12-22). He appealed to the progress of redemptive history. About ninety years before, Solomon had prayed similar words at the temple dedication, while praising God for keeping his covenant to David. Now Jehoshaphat built his request upon what God had done. At this point we must recognize that we interact with God in Christ and his better covenant. We need to apply what we find in this passage, using new covenant realities. In Christ, his people, the church, are his temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), because of the finished work of our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. We should remember that accomplishment of redemption every day. So then, in this new covenant age, we don’t regard any earthly building as special, because in Christ, we are God’s building, in which he lives by his Spirit. And also all our repentance and faith is based on the finished work of Lord Jesus, God’s Anointed One.

Read and think carefully on Ephesians 1-3 or Colossians 1-2. Drink in what the Spirit has written for your delight in Jesus. Feel the vibrancy of the Lord of Glory in Colossians; admire the beauty of his accomplished work in Ephesians. For example, consider each phrase in Ephesians 1-3 as a masterpiece of redeeming love. But do all this in the Spirit: “Holy Spirit, touch my eyes that I may see the wonders of salvation!”

Grace and peace, David

And So Jehoshaphat Prayed

img_40182 Chronicles 20:5-13

We must never forget that every believer in Christ’s new assembly, the church, is a learner. Everyone who follows Jesus follows after him, striving to know his glory and how to please and serve him. Because of his surpassing worth and redeeming love at the cross, we humble ourselves before him. We call out, “Lord Jesus, what will you have me to do?” As we take this very seriously, neither teacher nor hearer will be arrogant or careless. Everyone will say, “This word from the Lord is for me, in order that I might be transformed by the renewing of my mind.” As I see it, one of our great needs is to be transformed in regard to prayer. In the clash of fear and faith, this is most important, and I am not exaggerating for effect.

In our series “When Desires Clash” we have focused on the life of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Every person, including followers of Jesus, experiences a conflict between desires for good and desires for evil. The desires for evil come from the sin that is within us, as well as from the world around us. A person who is not a Christian, though ruled by sin, may have desires for good because of what we call God’s common grace, the work of God’s commands on their consciences, and the salt and light effects of believers. The Christian has desires for good not only from those sources, but also from being a new person in Christ, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the reading of the Word, and the fellowship of believers. What we read of in this section is a clash of fear and faith, in Jehoshaphat and his people. After a short time of relative calm, everyone is in fear for their lives, their families, and their possessions. So they gathered to pray. But how did Jehoshaphat lead them in prayer in this critical hour?

The situation was unpromising for worship and prayer, especially for a people who had wandered from the living God. If they knew of the curses of the law covenant for disobedience, their outlook would be bleak (Deuteronomy 28:25-26; etc.) So what should you a person at such a time? You run toward the Lord, not away from him. This is what David learned after his great sin in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. It is what every godly person learns, because you learn how surpassingly merciful the Lord is! Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16 ESV).  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8 ESV). And so Jehoshaphat prayed.

Jehoshaphat started with worship (20:6-9). We all have much to learn at this point. If we claim to have a Christian world and life view, it ought to transform our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions, especially in the way we pray. Don’t you agree? When we pray, we should not be merely following some set formula or pattern. Any ritualistic or legalistic person can do that. Therefore, I am not simply saying, “Let’s begin with adoration,” as in the well-known “ACTS” prayer pattern. I point to a basic change about our view of God and us. Our culture overemphasizes the individual human at the expense of God and other people. Let’s become counter-cultural and treat God like he is God! We all need to approach in an attitude of worship, being influenced by the truth of who the Lord God is. So then, what can we learn?

Jehoshaphat lifted up God’s majestic greatness (20:6).

  • He knew he was praying to the Lord, the I AM, the living God, and spoke in conformity with the truth of who the Lord is. Do we speak to God like he is Almighty God? Or do we speak to him like he is a clerk in the grocery store? “Uh hello, could you help me get this?” We need to slow down, to think about whom we are conversing with, and to talk like we’re talking to the Creator and Ruler of all. Using a set form of prayer will not help at all at this point. The change must come from the attitude of our hearts, which flows from what we really think about God.
  • He took the truth of the Lord to heart and acknowledged that he is God of heaven (Deuteronomy 4:39). He was not speaking to some mere tribal god, but to the God over all. Read on your own a picture from heaven about the Lord’s glory (Revelation 4:2-11).

Here is a suggestion, if you feel you need help. Put some of the opening words of prayers from the Bible on 3×5 cards, and use them to develop a change in how you begin conversing with the Lord of heaven and earth. This verse (2 Chronicles 20:6) is one to start with. Look in the Psalms and Revelation also.

Grace and peace, David