Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Faith (page 1 of 2)

Prayer and Faith

“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” (John 4:50b)

We are all in the school of prayer. Anyone who prays is still enrolled and Jesus intends to keep us growing. We have in John 4:46-54 an account that helps me understand one way Jesus continues to school me in prayer. Perhaps you’ll see a reflection of the lessons He is teaching you as well.

Jesus was petitioned by a man to “come down and heal his son” (v.47). The matter was urgent because the son was near death (v.49b). We can plainly see that the man wanted Jesus not merely to heal his son, but to be present physically with the son when He did so (vv.47, 49).

Jesus told the man, “Go; your son will live” (v.50a).

In so responding to the desperate father’s request, Jesus refused part of the man’s request (to come down with him to visit his son) and granted the other part of his request (to heal his son). The one was unnecessary (though the man may not have perceived it as such that at the time); the other was essential. Jesus gave the man that which was essential. But He did so in a way that tested the man’s faith by telling him the essential would be granted (the healing) while the unnecessary (the going) would not.

How did the desperate father respond?

“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke” and proved it when he “went on his way” without Jesus in tow (v.50b).

When I pray and ask Jesus to act, it is likely that my requests, like the father’s, are a mingling of the essential and non-essential. It all likely feels essential to me, but my faith needs refining—as did the father’s. Jesus may separate the wheat from the chaff in my praying by granting me one thing, while denying me another that I have also asked for.

What do I do after Jesus responds to my prayers, granting some and denying others? Do I ask Him to reveal His heart to me in these things? To teach me wisdom? Do I draw nearer to Him in prayer, asking for more understanding? Or do I back away, confused and upset? Or do I, like the father, believe the word of Jesus and prove it by my faith-filled actions?

Our prayers are the footprints that tell the tale of our discipleship, our journey after Jesus as our Master and Teacher. What tale is being told by my praying?

Those Inner Conversations

More than once Moses warned the new generation poised to enter the Promised Land: “Do not say in your heart …” (Deuteronomy 9:4a).

God is concerned over the self-talk of His people. It is what we “say in [our] heart” that is of consequence.

It is worth pointing out the obvious—God knows we talk to ourselves! These inner conversations are of constant occurrence. In fact, they can’t be turned off, only redirected. And that only by the grace of God. We see this warning repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. There are a number of ways to go wrong in talking to yourself.

1) The danger of self-congratulation.Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.” (Deuteronomy 9:4; cf. 8:17)

The Israelites faced a danger from the seductions of the peoples of the land. Of this God constantly warned them (see, for example, the disaster at Peor, Numb. 25:1-9). But the ideas of others, as dangerous as they were, were not the only or even primary danger facing the Israelites. It was the conversations going on within their own hearts that made them especially vulnerable.

It is when we begin talking to ourselves about ourselves and our circumstances that we are in the most danger of going astray.

We all have this kind of self-talk going on within our hearts all the time. We see and experience and try to understand—but are prone to interpret and talk to ourselves in self-affirming ways (“because of my righteousness”). This stream of thought forms a jet stream that powerfully circles planet self, threatening to pull everything else into its flow.

What we fail to see is that God sometimes blesses one (in this case, Israel) because he is disciplining another (here, the Canaanites). We must talk and walk humbly. The reasons “why” our lives are as they are is much bigger than our performance before God.

2) We may err in our inner conversations by self-exaltation. We may not elevate others or our accomplishments over God, but we may elevate our very selves: “Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children’ (Isaiah 47:8). “I am” – that name has already been taken (Exodus 3:14); its Owner says He’s not sharing (Isaiah 42:8).

Self-exaltation was literally the problem of the Edomites. They dwelt in the physically lofty heights of a God-given land. They thought their elevated position made them untouchable. Thus they were warned: “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’” (Obadiah 1:3).

God did with the Edomites what he does with all who exalt themselves within their own hearts: “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51).

3) We go astray when we engage in self-dependence. The self-talk can also lead us stray in the opposite direction: “If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?’” (Deuteronomy 7:17). Instead of elevating ourselves and denigrating others, we may overly exalt them in our eyes—making them even bigger than God. And with God out of the picture all we have left to depend upon is ourselves. That leads to fear, paralysis and despair.

4) We err when we talk ourselves into self-justification. The people of Jeremiah’s day denied their hardships arose from their responsibility: “And if you say in your heart, ‘Why have these things come upon me?’ it is for the greatness of your iniquity that your skirts are lifted up and you suffer violence” (Jeremiah 13:22). Ultimately, denial of responsibility is a denial of hope.

But not all self-talk is bad-talk. The Bible depicts the power of telling yourself the truth.

Take, for example, David as he prays Psalm 62. He begins his prayer so positively and confidently: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation” (v.1).

But, as so often is the case, things get difficult. Our confidence wanes. Our faith wavers. Our prayers change. By the middle of the psalm David is still praying. In fact he is still on the same theme with which he opened, but he has transitioned from talking to God, to coaching himself: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (v.5).

This telling-yourself-the-truth kind of self-talk is the application of faith to a wavering, struggling heart. We talk to ourselves this way because deep down we believe Jesus was right: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31b-32a).

We talk to ourselves as a hold out for Jesus’ rescue, Jesus’ deliverance, Jesus’ promised freedom.

When we keep this up God’s blessings of freedom become increasingly real in our lives. Perhaps we even come to the place, as Isaiah predicted the people of Israel would, where we have to start talking to ourselves about the compounding, stockpiling grace He is pouring into our lives: “The children of your bereavement will yet say in your ears: ‘The place is too narrow for me; make room for me to dwell in.’ Then you will say in your heart: ‘Who has borne me these? I was bereaved and barren, exiled and put away, but who has brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; from where have these come?’” (Isaiah 49:20).

Don’t stop talking to yourself. Just start telling yourself the truth. And then keep it up. Those with ears to hear might hear the sound of heaven’s applause. Those with eyes to see might detect life, freedom and grace standing just off in the distance, rising with a smile on their faces as the conversation begins.

Strength and Courage

Four times in Joshua chapter one Joshua is told, “Be strong and courageous” (1:6, 7, 9, 18). This follows up on his being told this twice previously (Deut. 31:7, 23). Joshua was given this command directly by God Himself (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:6, 7), by Moses (Deut. 31:7), and by the people he was to lead (Josh. 1:18). Not only was the leader, Joshua, given this command, the people themselves were as well (Deut. 31:6). Both leader and people are commanded by God to “Be strong and courageous.” This command would continue to be echoed down through his leadership of these people (Josh. 10:25) and at critical times in the life of the nation after them (1 Chron. 22:13; 28:20; 2 Chron. 32:7).

This same command comes down us today and with the same weight of divine demand behind it. What does it mean for us to “Be strong and courageous”?

On the face of it the command “Be strong” is not only not encouraging, but almost a mocking, taunting, demeaning imperative. What is required of us is more than is within us. The challenges that stand before us are bigger than what we can gather up from within ourselves. In the face of challenges so daunting and a personal condition so depraved, the command to “Be strong” is not only futile, but mean-spirited … unless, of course the command is accompanied by a promise. And in this case, that is exactly what we have. Accompanying this command is the thrice-given promise of God’s abiding presence (Joshua 1:5, 9, 17).

Thus, to live out the command to “Be strong” is to live out of an alien power. We must come into the experience of something more than what we can reach down and do with additional effort.

In New Testament terms this means living in the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s personal presence and power. We are not left the option of assessing our options and choosing our way based upon what is within us or what we are able to do by the power of redoubled efforts. We are to “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10). If we rely upon our own ingenuity, our own wisdom, our own strength, we will achieve only what is humanly possible. But if we truly come into a fresh experience of the infilling of God’s Spirit, there won’t be enough time to tell the stories of what He will do through us.

Similarly, to be commanded “Be … courageous” is, without divine enablement, a mocking of our naturally fearful state. By itself it amounts to little more than whistling in the dark. But with the promise of His presence and the provision of His Holy Spirit, being courageous is simply living out an alien purpose. No longer are we able to make our choices out of fear, comfort or passivity. Timidity, discomfort and a shrinking spirit must give way—not to something from within ourselves, not from some dredged up daring, but from the knowledge that we have been given a divine task and resourced with divine presence and power … and so we simply step forward, confronting fear, comfort, passivity, timidity and that shrinking spirit and simply do what God calls us to do.

We are “strong and courageous” as we intentionally view our lives (and the circumstances and people and relationship that fill them) as under a purpose that is not dredged up from within us, but which is laid down upon us from above … and when we choose to live for that purpose (rather than our own desires/wishes/whims) by the strength of God’s indwelling presence within us.

So hear it from God. Hear it from me. Hear it from one another. Hear it again and again and again, until it becomes the drumbeat by which you march through life: “Be strong and courageous”!

Which is it?

Of late I have been memorizing and praying back to God the great prayer of Habakkuk 3:17-19. But during much of that time I’ve also had in my Bible a 3×5 card upon which I wrote, some time ago, the text of Genesis 32:26b. Recently, as I was praying back the former to God, I happened upon the card in my Bible. In an instant, seeing them side by side, I realized the contrast between the faith of Jacob and that of Habakkuk.

“I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26b). These are, of course, Jacob’s words while wrestling with “the angel” through the night. He says, “I’m not letting go of you, Lord, until you bless me.”

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments” (Habakkuk 3:17-19). This is the prophet’s prayer of faith as he surrendered to God’s sovereignty over the nations and over his own life. This is Habakkuk saying, “I will not let you go even if you don’t bless me.”

See them side by side:

  • I will not let you go unless you bless me.
  • I will not let you go even if you don’t bless me.

So which one is it?

Or, is it both?

Yes, both.

For the blessing for which Jacob holds out is God’s own presence with him. And that of which Habakkuk will not let go, no matter his earthly state of blessedness, is the presence of God with him.

Bless me or bless me not, you, O Lord, are the one essential. You are the one thing I cannot live without. Amen.

that T in the road

bumbling through life

Quite

Unaware

I encounter a

T in the road

What to make of this T?

An impasse? The end of my road?

A signal I should QUIT?

Or does the T signal, not a Termination, but a Transition?

As I consider my options something Emerges, standing between me and that fateful T

Exaltation of the King who rules my journey

Examination of my heart as part of my journey

Exploration of the King’s leading for the next stage of the journey

In fact, I discover the E is not just one thing, but many things

Yet it is not Everything

No, that is the Exclusive domain of my King

Him alone in that place between me and the T

Embracing Him as my Everything Transforms my journey

opening new options as I stand there before that great T in my road

there, with Him the T no longer demands I QUIT, but invites me to become QUIET

for, says my King, “in Quietness and in Trust is your strength” for this journey

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