“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus did not just teach about prayer…He prayed! I talked to a young man once about praying. He told me, “I tried it once and it doesn’t work.” It seemed his idea of prayer was putting money in a broken vending machine and waiting for candy that didn’t drop. Unfortunately, manmade religions reinforce the idea that prayer is simply a way of trying to get something from God. “If you just try hard enough, God might reward you.” Jesus taught us that prayer is living in relationship with God. If we have given our hearts to Jesus our Lord, we have the great honor of living in fellowship with Him all our days. But there’s a catch. It won’t be easy. The world around us is a hostile environment when it comes to prayer and knowing God. A case in point: our government even outlaws prayer in schools. This “anti-attitude” toward prayer requires us to walk against the winds of culture. But it’s worth it! From studying the life of Jesus, you discover prayer was both His habit and lifestyle. As children of God, we need to persevere when it comes to developing the habit of prayer. If we’re not careful, we can easily allow our schedule to fill up to the place where prayer seems irrelevant…becoming only a last-minute gasp to God when we’re in trouble. My encouragement to you today is to give yourself a chance to know God through a consistent, habitual prayer life. Set aside a time of the day when you’re not tired from the daily demands (morning works well for most people). Start with something realistic. Maybe you sit in God’s presence alone for an uninterrupted 10 to 15 minutes. You can grow from there, but you need to at least get started. Guard your time with God! Push yourself to do this even when your emotions don’t cooperate. If you stay with this, a beautiful godly habit develops where prayer becomes natural and personal. Remember, the greatest thing about prayer is getting to know and become like Jesus! Give yourself a chance.
So, I’m reading the amazing Book of Job again. As you remember, after Job’s grievous calamities, three of his friends came to offer him comfort. In chapters 3 through 31 we read the back-and-forth dialogue between Job and these friends. They all show astounding wisdom and make great claims about God, life and the human condition. All of what is recorded in Job is Scripture and inspired by God. The words were faithfully and truthfully written and copied. As I read Job, however, I am a little “guarded” in my heart. Even though we have the words of Job and his friends divinely preserved, this doesn’t mean their perception and insights were right. Take Eliphaz for example. Here is what he said to Job: “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it” (Job 4:7-8). As I read this, I thought to myself, This is true as a general observation. Eliphaz reminds Job (and us) of the truth of the innocent not perishing as those who do evil, and those who do evil reaping trouble. However, what happens in life does not always fit neatly into this observation. Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense in the moment. A quick look at history, as well as considering the suffering of persecuted Christians in the world right now, shows us that God’s people sometimes pay a great price for their faith. And it seems that those who do evil sometimes prosper greatly in their endeavors. Eliphaz was right in his general observation but wrong in his application of this to Job. When he said, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it” (verse 8), he misapplies this truth to Job. In other words, he assumed that Job was evil because of his trials and tests. Let’s take this to heart and be careful. God’s Word is true, but let’s rely on the Holy Spirit and God’s wisdom to apply His truth to particular situations. Sometimes, it’s better to pray for someone and use our words sparingly than to pretend we know everything that is going on. Don’t be one of those who is right…but wrong.
I just finished reading the Book of 2 Chronicles which shows us the ending of the era of the kings of Israel. The books of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible reveal the highlights (and many “lowlights”) of the reigns of the kings of the Hebrew people in Judah and Israel. The northern kingdom, Israel, was taken into captivity by the Assyrians. God allowed this because the Israelites abandoned the Lord and His Word. Instead of learning from this, the southern kingdom, Judah, fell into the same pit. As I was reading about the various kings leading Judah (before they fell to the Babylonians), I felt like I was watching a “ping pong” match. Judah bounced from a bad king to a good king…and back to a bad king. The majority of the people expressed no moral backbone and caved in to however the king lived. Manasseh is a case in point. His father, Hezekiah, served the Lord for most of his reign. Manasseh came to the throne at the tender age of 12 and reigned 55 years. The Bible says, “Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel. The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon” (2 Chronicles 33:9-11). What a sad commentary! God’s people did more evil than the ungodly nations before them! What is true of a nation, is also true of individuals. My “take aways” from reading about the kings of Israel and Judah are these: (1) Keep a tender heart and be willing to listen to the Lord; (2) We spare ourselves so much pain and sorrow if we live God’s way and reject evil and sin; (3) Leaders are imperfect. We need to pray for them, but we cannot let them replace the Lord; (4) We all reap what we sow. I am glad the Lord gave us the stories about the kings. They are both an inspiration and a warning to me as I continue my journey. By the grace of God, I set my heart on the one called “the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!” How about you?
Resurrection Sunday has come and gone…or has it? Our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus is not some kind of “conclusion” to the life of Christ. For the disciples who followed Jesus, the Resurrection was just the beginning of their new life. Jesus clearly instructed them to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit and to live as witnesses to the truth that “He is Lord.” So, what does this mean for us? As Christians, we find our identity in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our life “parallels” the life of Christ. Just as He lived by the power of the Spirit, so, we are to depend on the Holy Spirit. Just as He endured sufferings by God’s power, so, we persevere. Just as He was received into glory, so, one day we will enter His glorious kingdom…never to depart. The Apostle Paul described this identification with Christ in the Book of Philippians: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (3:10-12). For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus was not a past event. He yearned to know Christ today in the “power” of His resurrection. Easter Sunday, then, is a celebration of the life we have in Christ. This life continues each day because we live “in Christ.” There will be days when life seems hard, and we must struggle through. Paul describes these times as “the fellowship of his sufferings” which are also part of living resurrected lives in a sinful, fallen world. Take heart. The resurrection of Jesus assures us that all power and authority are in Jesus (Matthew 28:18). We walk each day in His resurrection power…until we take our last step into His everlasting kingdom! Because He lives, we shall live also!
It wasn’t easy for the disciples to consider Jesus leaving them. After spending so much time with Jesus, the disciples just didn’t want to hear about Him leaving and going to the Father. This message went in one ear and out the other. However, the plan of God was not for Jesus to stay on earth forever in His human body. After completing His mission on earth, He needed to go to the Father in order to send the Holy Spirit. The “hard thing” Jesus did resulted in the blessing of God’s presence being available for all believers! Here is how Jesus described this blessing (which followed hard choices): “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:25-27). Also, it wasn’t easy for Jesus to die on the cross. His death was the hardest thing He would ever face. Even the thought of crucifixion engulfed the strongest of men with crippling fear. On top of this, Jesus faced the challenge of becoming sin for us and being temporarily “alienated” from the Father’s presence. The only way He accomplished this was because of His great love for us! He knew the benefits and blessing that would flow out of His willingness to do the “hard thing.” As believers in Jesus, we follow Christ in every way. His life shows us that death must come before resurrection. Many will not submit to Jesus because it is a “hard thing” to die to control and “lordship” of one’s life. Sadly, these same people will never know the joy and fellowship of the resurrected Christ. Even after we have received Christ into our lives, the Lord tests us, seeing if we are willing to take up our cross and do the “hard thing”…whatever that might be. May we receive the grace of Jesus to do what is right—even though it is sometimes very difficult. This is the way of the cross…followed by the Resurrection!