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

Month: December 2009 (Page 1 of 2)

Facing a new year at rest

Psalm 131 is a prayer of a person at rest with God, with his world, with himself.  Not a bad place to begin the new year and decade. 

A person at rest prays with …

A humble heart.

“O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things to great and too marvelous for me.” (v.1)

A hushed soul.

“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (2)

A hopeful resolve.

“O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.” (3)

What a Walk!

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him …” (Colossians 2:6)

We are commanded to “walk” through this life as followers of Christ.  This walk is said to be “in him.”  This little prepositional phrase is actually set before the imperative giving is special emphasis.  The antecedent of the pronoun (“him”) is clearly the loaded statement “Christ Jesus the Lord.”  The preposition “in” probably marks out the sphere in which the believer’s life is to be carried out. 

This simple phrase “in him” is used extensively in this letter to the Colossian believers to set forth dramatic and profound truths.  It was “in him” (lit.; “by him,” ESV) that all things were created (Col. 1:16).  It is “in him” that all things hold together (1:17).  The Father was pleased to have all His divine fullness dwell “in him” (1:19).  Indeed, it is “in him” that “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9)! With the next swipe of his pen the Apostle says it is “in him” that each child of God has “been made complete” (NASB, 2:10).  Satan and all demonic powers have been defeated “in him” (2:15). 

Now consider that we are able and responsible to make our way step by step through this life “in him”! 

What is this journey to which we have been called?  What honor! What responsibility!  What possibilities!

Prayer and Yearning

“. . . they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you.” (2 Corinthians 9:14)

Oswald Chambers said, “The Bible indicates that we overcome the world not by passionlessness . . . but by passion, the passion of an intense and all consuming love for God.”  Do we pray with such passion? Paul speaks of those who “yearn” after others in prayer.  That’s a word we don’t use much anymore, or at least don’t stop to consider deeply when we do.  What would a yearning- spirit sound like in prayer?

The Greek word translated “yearn” is a compound word.  The root describes desire, anxiety, a wish for or to strive after something.  The prefix intensifies the meaning so that the resulting word describes a deep, earnest affection for or longing after someone.

Listen to your prayers.  Tune an ear to what you are able to hear others say to God.  Are we yearning in prayer?  Perhaps first we ought to decide what makes a person yearn at all, and only then how that might become true of our praying.

The word is used to describe Paul’s longing to see the Roman believers, whom he had never met, but about whom he had heard so much (Rom. 1:11).  It describes the believer’s longing for heaven, where we will clothed with our heavenly bodies (2 Cor. 5:2).  It is used of Paul’s desire from prison to be released and again share fellowship with the Philippians who have made such a tangible and sacrificial investment in his welfare (Phil. 1:8).  This is an affection that originates in and comes from Jesus Himself.  It described the desire of Epaphroditus to return to the Philippians who apparently had sent him to check on Paul’s welfare in Rome.  He had become sick—nearly to the point of death—and he longed to let them know he had been touched by the Lord (Phil. 2:26).  It describes the longing of the brand new believers in Thessalonica as they thought about the one (Paul) who had shared the life-changing message of Christ with them and then been run out of town by persecutors (I Thess. 3:6).  It described Paul’s longing to see his son in the faith, Timothy, as he was in prison in Rome and anticipating his own death (2 Tim. 1:4).  It describes the ravenous desire of a newborn baby after his mother’s milk (1 Pet. 2:2) and becomes a metaphor for how all believers should desire the truth of God’s Word.

How can such an intense passion pervade our praying?  Interestingly, several of these passages speak of this yearning in connection with prayer (Rom. 1:10-11; Phil. 1:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:3- 4).  There seem to be three things that energize our prayers to the level of yearning.

The first is the grace we have already received.  Paul told the Philippians, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.  For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1:7- 8).  They’d both experienced the grace of God in the past.  That made them yearn for it more, even for one another, now. 

There is also grace yet to be received.  There is grace to be had now through the truth of God’s Word that should make us yearn for it like a newborn (1 Pet. 2:2).  Ultimately, however it is the promise of heaven’s grace that makes us yearn forward for His grace there (2 Cor. 5:2).

Perhaps the one thing that most infuses our prayers with yearning is the fellowship we share in Christ.  It was the past relationship with the Philippians (who had given sacrificially to Paul) that ignited his yearning prayer for them (Phil. 1:7-8; 4:10ff).  It was Paul’s brief, but powerful connection with the Thessalonians that made them long after him with such profound passion after his departure (1 Thess. 3:6).  It was Paul’s long and intimate relationship with Timothy that made him so desire his fellowship in his final days (2 Tim. 1:2-4).  Here in 2 Corinthians the yearning prayers of the poverty stricken Jewish believers in Judea will go out toward those in Corinth whom they have never met, but who will have sacrificially given to meet their need (2 Cor. 9:13-14). 

A yearning-spirit of prayer is not, then, something that mysteriously settles upon us.  It is something arrived at intentionally.  If we are to yearn in prayer, it will take a better memory to reflect upon how we have tasted God’s grace, a deeper reflection upon all He has promised we will yet experience, and a more intentional fellowship with the believers to whom God leads us.  Together these elements make up the soil from which the searching shoots of yearning prayer sprout.  Then we will not be able to hold back our prayers and longings toward God and for one another.

What Child is this?

On this Christams day let me invite you to connect the dots between two Scriptures you might be unlikely to otherwise look at in the same sitting. 

The first is an prophecy from the Hebrew (Old Testament) Scriptures:  “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).  The second is Apostolic instruction from the New Testament: “He [Jesus] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). 

Hundreds of years before Mary and Joseph waddled into the town God had already designated the place of Messiah’s birth.  At the request of Herod the Bible scholars were able to put their finger on the spot where Christ would be born (Matt. 2:4-6).

While the place might have been predicable, just exactly what they would find there was not so well understood.  Micah said they would find One whose “goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”  In other words the newborn they would find there would be the timeless, eternal God in human flesh.  The One the visitors were to celebrate was in actual fact the One who knows no beginning or end, He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13).

Though using more theological wording, didn’t the Apostle Paul said the same thing: “He is before all things, and in Him all things Hold together” (Col. 1:17).  The one hugged by Bethlehem’s barn was the Creator who had made not only that place, but all the universe.  Indeed, more than His timelessness is celebrated by Paul: “in Him all things hold together.”  He is, if you will, the “glue” that holds this universe together.  Matter itself cannot cohere without His sustaining ministry.  Were Jesus to fail for a nanosecond to sustain His constant keeping power over this creation, reality as we know it would disintegrate: the laws of nature would no longer be consistent and dependable, logic would cease, up could be down and down could be up, matter itself would explode as atomic particles spin out of their orbits!
 Have you ever wondered: How did Jesus sustain all things while He was just a baby?  Mystery, isn’t it!  While you chew on that, consider this as well: How would the truth of Jesus’ sustaining power of the universe help someone you know today?

It all makes that great Christmas carol so much more wonderful, doesn’t it?  It asks the question that everyone at the scene of Jesus’ birth ought to have been asking.  It asks the question everyone, everywhere in all ages ought to ask: What Child Is This?

          What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
                On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
          Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
               While shepherds watch are keeping?
          This, this is Christ the King,
               Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
          Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
               The Babe, the Son of Mary!
Why not find some quiet place and to give yourself some space for an extended time of worship before the Son of God?  Praise Him for His sustaining grace in our world and in your life.  Then present to Jesus the confusing and chaotic circumstances you face and ask Him to make sense of them.  Then be at rest in your soul.

Monitoring the Inflow

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven … he gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:27, 34b)

Take a moment and go back over these words of God a time or two more.  Slow down.  Breathe deeply.  Purposely pause to ponder. 

The first line was uttered by John the Baptist as his disciples began to panic over people’s sudden preference of Jesus over their master.  They were afraid they were loosing something that had become precious to them.  They couched it as concern for John, but surely part of it was their loss of status as insiders with the most popular preacher around.  John’s humility before Jesus stands in stark contrast.

As these words began to seep into the crevices of my soul these important points floated to the surface of my thoughts:

  • Everything is by grace.  Nothing is mine by right.   
  • God is absolutely sovereign over my life and over what enters it (and what does not enter it).
  • If something enters my life it is by God’s permission and it therefore means something.
  • What comes into my life is controlled by someone outside of me, God Himself.  I am not ultimately in control of the inflow.
  • I must therefore live by faith and dependent upon God’s grace.
  • There is no limit to Jesus’ willingness to give His Spirit to me.  All limitation is from my side.
  • There is therefore no limit outside of myself to what God can do in and through me.
  • My responsibility is not to be a busy “producer,” but a responsible “receiver.”
  • I am accountable to God for the reception and use of those things He gives into my life.

Paul uttered words similar to those of John the Baptist: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).  James did the same: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

John, Paul, and James had each come to the place where they were gladly praying something very much like these lines penned by some anonymous sojourner. 

Lord, I am willing
To receive what You give,
To lack what You withhold,
To relinquish what You take,
To suffer what You inflict,
To be what You require. (quoted by Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace, p.185)

 Are you able to genuinely pray this as well? 

Come on, be honest.  We don’t arrive at such a place quickly or painlessly.  But God both gives and withholds in order that He might bring us to this place of glad, willing, honest surrender and contentment.  

The trail God has you on right now—with all that has come into your life and all that has been withheld from your life—winds its way to this very destination.  Know this.  He is on the trail before you … leading you.  He is on the trail before you … preparing the way for you.  He is on the trail before you … making sure that you are headed toward the place He has prepared for you to dwell.

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