Luverne United Methodist Church
Loving - Listening - Sharing - Serving
Many believers know Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but we should also understand His mission, how He fulfilled it, and what that means to each of us. Christ had a twofold goal in coming to earth: to provide us with a tangible image of who God is, and to die in our place to pay our penalty for sin.
What an incredible plan! The omnipotent, omniscient Lord had existed since eternity past (John 1:1; John 8:58). Yet for a time, He set aside power and strength that were rightfully His, so that He could become like us. Because God-in-human-flesh lived His life before men, we can better understand our heavenly Father (Col. 1:15).
Through Christ’s sacrifice, we are invited into an eternal relationship with God. You see, Scripture teaches that every descendant of Adam is guilty of sin (Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:23), and the punishment is death (Rom. 6:23). The penalty must be paid by the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11). Yet the Father can accept nothing less than a perfect sacrifice (Deut. 17:1). The Savior—who was fully God, fully man, and 100 percent innocent—died a humiliating, excruciating death to pay the debt we couldn’t afford. He is the only one who could lay down His life to save us and bridge the gap between each person and the Father.
There is no possible way for us to earn our salvation. It is an awesome gift that the Father freely offers to each one of us. The only requirement is that we receive Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and follow Him. Have you chosen to accept this amazing blessing from the Father’s hand?
Motivate to Serve
Although Daniel was living as a captive in Babylon, he resolved in his heart not to violate God’s laws. He never wavered from his commitment. What motivated this young man to live out such a pledge?
Devotion to God. Daniel’s deep love for the Lord made him determined not to defile himself with the king’s food and wine. Dedication to God means choosing to be set apart to love, worship, and obey only Him. It amounts to declaring, “Lord, every part of me is Yours. I want what You want.” When we keep Jesus Christ as the focus, our hearts will overflow with thanksgiving, and we will be motivated to stand firm.
Clear direction. If Daniel refused outright to eat the king’s food, he would likely have lost his life. So he and his friends turned to God for direction. The Lord gave them the wisdom they needed to develop an alternate plan—and then also provided them with the courage to ask permission to follow His way. Notice there were no loud demands, no arguments, and no rebellious spirit. Their behavior was marked by trust in God and dependence on Him. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will give us guidance and understanding (John 16:13). When we listen closely to His direction, we will be motivated to act.
Through daily prayer and meditation upon God’s Word, we can keep our eyes centered on Christ, our ears attuned to His voice, and our hearts motivated to obey. We’ll be able to make the same wholehearted commitment Daniel did. So ask yourself, How eager am I to do God’s will?
Why Does God Allow Disasters to Happen?
Every year there is a big story on the news about a terrible storm, earthquake, wildfire, or flood that has claimed many lives. Inevitably, one very difficult question seems to come to mind—why does God let this happen?
After all, shouldn’t God want to keep people safe? Doesn’t He have the power to do so?
Sure, we can understand why bad things happen as a result of people’s choices. And some things in nature, like pollution, are also the result of people’s bad decisions.
However, natural disasters are often called “acts of God” precisely because people don’t have control over them. How do we explain these? Let’s begin by discussing something called natural laws.
Why we need natural laws
What are natural laws and why are they important?
1. Natural laws are those rules of order that govern creation.
Natural laws make cause and effect in the world relatively predictable. For instance, if you drop a bowling ball on your foot, these laws—such as the law of gravity—are the reason you know it will definitely hurt and not feel good. If we did not have these laws, we would not know how nature would react when we choose to act in a certain way. This becomes a foundation for making our everyday decisions. We get out of bed in the morning, put on clothes according to the weather outside, and go about our day normally, all because we are able to predict that our decisions to act in the physical world will result in the way we expect.
2. Natural laws help make right and wrong actions possible.
God desires that people have free will, giving us the ability to choose between right and wrong. Think about this—when someone pulls the trigger of a gun to commit murder, that action is considered bad because that person knows what will happen when the trigger is pulled. Likewise, a person who jumps in front of the bullet commits a good action because he knows that stopping the bullet will result in saving another person’s life. Without these laws, knowing what would happen when someone pulls a trigger or jumps in front of a bullet would be impossible. The world would be in chaos and no one would ultimately be responsible for the consequences of their own actions.
3. Natural disasters are the result of these natural laws.
There is nothing “evil” about a hurricane, flood, or storm. These are just part of the forces that make up the natural order. In fact, they serve very important roles in our environment. For example, tropical storms provide an important source of water for entire regions. We only call them “disasters” when people are in their path.
So, the question is ... why doesn’t God step in and protect people who are facing these natural disasters.
4 reasons God may choose not to intervene
First of all, maybe He does in some instances and we just don’t realize it.
Even so, here are at least four good reasons that God would not just step in and “save” people from natural disasters:
1. God may not want to manipulate natural forces.
This is the primary reason God may not intervene. For God to step in and stop every natural disaster, He would have to manipulate natural forces. If this happens, how could we learn to be cautious of these natural occurrences in the future? Moreover, sometimes moving a flood, redirecting a hurricane, or stopping a wildfire could result in a domino effect in nature that would affect many more people negatively.
2. Some natural disasters are a form of judgment.
Noah’s great flood was not just a natural event; it was also a form of God’s judgment on wicked people (Genesis 6:11-13). Let’s not forget that God is overseeing all the events in His world and He alone sees the big picture.
A word of caution though - we shouldn’t think about natural disasters as always, or even usually, being a judgment from God though. Instead, we ought to simply be aware that God has chosen to use these natural events as a form of judgment at times in His creation.
3. God uses natural disasters to teach us important lessons.
On the whole, people do not like to face the fact that everyone’s life will one day end. Difficult circumstances remind us all that life is fragile and fleeting. When we are reminded that our lives are temporary, we are forced to consider our relationship to eternity, the Lord, and the Gospel. This is part of what Jesus was getting at in Luke 13:1-5. Here, Jesus explains that rather than trying to calculate whether or not a disaster occurs as a result of one’s guilt, the most important question we must ask is whether or not we have repented and followed the Lord.
4. Natural disasters give us an opportunity to serve others.
Disaster relief gives us opportunities to serve one another sacrificially in a way that we might not have had otherwise. It is through serving one another that Jesus teaches Christians how to be more Christ-like. Through serving one another, we find that the Lord brings good things from even difficult circumstances.
How should we respond?
By relying on Jesus’ teaching, we are like the wise man who built his house on the solid rock instead of the sand (Matthew 7:24-27). When the storms come, we find that our faith keeps us grounded in truth. All of these things can be seen in light of the riches of eternity.
John tells us that eventually the old heaven and old earth will pass away as the Kingdom of God is fully realized in a place where there is no suffering, crying, or death (Revelation 21:1-8). For Christians, this means we will be able to live how God always intended. That is, we will find ourselves living in the perfect presence of the Lord, a place without any form of despair and a place therefore void of any form of disaster.
God Is in Control
1 Corinthians 13:12
It is 100 percent true that God is good and that He’s in control. These facts, however, do not prevent bad things from happening. Though it’s within the Lord’s power to give everyone a perfect existence, that wouldn’t be in our best interest. Trials and suffering often drive people to the Father. And for those of us who are already His followers, God uses harsh circumstances to mature our faith and conform us to the image of His Son. To be made perfect and pleasing to our Father is indeed beneficial.
In His omniscience and wisdom, God will allow disaster and evil to touch our lives so we can grow from the experience. Growth, whether in compassion, trust, or knowledge, is good. If we could peek behind the scenes of our life, we’d see the Lord sovereignly working toward His ultimate purpose for us.
Romans 8:28 affirms this: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” On occasion, we see immediate positive results from trials. But other times, we must wait months or years (or until we reach heaven) to fully understand what God was doing in those difficult circumstances.
Suffering and evil are inevitable parts of a fallen world. But we have assurance that God is in control of the universe, including the tiny corner we occupy. When He permits bad things to happen, we can be sure that He will continue to provide comfort and guidance as He shapes us into the people He wants us to be.
Baptism: Identifying With Christ
Christ began his public ministry with baptism. At the time, John the Baptist was calling people to confess their sins and demonstrate repentance through immersion in the river. So why did Jesus, the sinless One, ask to be baptized?
At first, John actually refused, knowing that Jesus Christ was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). But Jesus wasn’t just demonstrating repentance; He was sacrificially identifying with sinful humankind.
As Christians, we’re called to follow His example in all things, becoming more like Him as we grow in our faith. That’s why baptism is so important in following Jesus. As He was willing to identify Himself with us, we publicly identify with Him when we are baptized, which is a symbolic way of declaring, “I have trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and believe that the debt of my sin is fully paid through His sacrificial death on the cross. I believe that as He rose from the dead, I will also be resurrected through Him. I look forward to walking in accordance with the Lord’s will while I’m on the earth and living with Him throughout eternity. Since He loved me enough to identify Himself with me in my sin, I will show my love for Him by following His example right now, and for the rest of my days.”
Baptism demonstrates our connection not only with the Lord but also with our spiritual brothers and sisters—past, present, and future. Joining everyone who’s walked before us in faith, we are saying that we’re members of one body, redeemed and brought to life by the same Lord.
Our Helper - The Holy Spirit
1 Thessalonians 5:16-19
One of the most painful emotions is loneliness. Of course, there are times in life when being alone is unavoidable. But since God has sent His Spirit to live within us, we are never truly on our own. The Holy Spirit—whom Jesus referred to as our “Helper”—is with us and available every second of every day.
Let’s think about ways that the Spirit of God helps us in our prayer life. First, He burdens us to pray. Have you ever felt a strong sense that you needed to spend time with the Lord? Perhaps you weren’t even sure why. That is the Spirit convicting you. He has many reasons for doing this. For instance, He may know that you need strength because of an imminent difficulty. Or He sometimes encourages us to confess sin so that our fellowship with the Father is not hindered.
Second, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. There are times when we do not know how to pray—when sorrow or helplessness overwhelms us to the point that words are impossible to speak, even to the Lord. Thankfully, when all we can do is cry to Jesus, the Spirit will lead on our behalf. He understands the depth of our thoughts, feelings, and needs, and He translates them into effective supplication according to God’s will.
The Savior loves you intimately—enough to die in your place and send a Helper to reside within you. What a privilege to have God’s Spirit dwelling in your heart. Do you recognize His power and love throughout your day? He longs to comfort, enable, and guide you each and every moment.
On any given day, we may encounter frustrating people and situations. We may feel like lashing out, but God wants us to stay calm and be patient with everyone (1 Thess. 5:14). And in fact, there are a number of reasons we should develop patience:
Our Calling. Though once alienated from the Lord, we have been made part of His family through Jesus’ shed blood. As God’s children, we’re called to live a life worthy of Him—one that is characterized by humility, gentleness, and patience (Eph. 4:1-3).
Biblical Teaching. Scripture tells us to be tolerant of one another, bearing each other’s burdens and responding with kindness (Gal. 6:1-2).
Jesus’ Example. The Lord demonstrated patience toward Peter’s impetuous actions, the crowd’s demands, and the leaders’ false accusations. We are to cultivate an attitude of patience and love towards others.
Healthy Relationships. Our impatience can hurt others and close off dialogue. Responding calmly gives room for the other person to confess wrongdoing, explain an attitude, and make changes.
God’s Approval. The apostle Paul wrote that we are to be joyful in hope and patient in affliction (Rom. 12:12). When we quietly endure our suffering, we find favor with the Lord (1 Pet. 2:20).
The Holy Spirit is conforming us to Christ’s image. As we cooperate with Him, He will develop in us the ability to persevere—without becoming agitated—when waiting or provoked. A calm demeanor in times of delay or adversity can be a powerful witness to the transforming work of God.
Weathering the Storms
When life gets hard, we tend to get upset and wonder how soon the difficulty will end. But God wants us to focus on Him in times of trouble. As we do, we will discover that He is doing important spiritual work during these “storms.”
Beliefs. The Bible contains what we need to know about our life in Christ. When circumstances are beyond our control, what we really believe will surface. The depth of our faith in God’s character and promises will become evident, as will any doubts or uncertainties we may have. For example, Joseph revealed strong belief when he acknowledged that God intended his hardships for his good (Gen. 50:20). There will be times when we don’t succeed—like Peter, whose fear led to denying Christ (John 18:25-27)—but we should think of trials as opportunities to grow and deepen our faith.
Transformation. As God’s children, we are to live our lives in a way that displays Christ’s character. But we are more like jewels in the rough, aren’t we? The heavenly Father can use the storms of life to transform us into His Son’s image.
Comfort. This blessing is not only for us but also for others. Our Father comforts us in our sufferings and asks that we share what we have received with other people (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Difficult times can come from our own mistakes, the schemes of the enemy, or the hurtful actions of others. They can even be ordained by God. Regardless of the source, our Father works in them to benefit us and to bless others. What testimony about Him can you give to a hurting world?
God’s Purpose in Difficult Times
If we could design an ideal life, most of us would skip over times of hardship. But Scripture teaches us that God has a purpose in the storms of life.
Cleansing. When problems press in on us, ungodly attitudes and habits tend to surface in our lives. Impatient behavior, a quick temper, or reliance on something or someone other than the Lord may become apparent. In a crisis, the bad habits we previously ignored can show up in ways that are too obvious to overlook. The Holy Spirit will use tough times to smooth away our rough edges and produce the fruit of the Spirit in us. (See Gal. 5:22-23.)
Companionship. When life is good, we may spend less time with the Lord and start taking our relationship with Him for granted. We may even drift off His chosen path. Crises help us see our need for Him as well as our inability to help ourselves. Hard times bring us to our knees in prayer and drive us to seek opportunities for His companionship.
Our heavenly Father’s desire is for us to develop Christlike character and grow in intimacy with Him. He wants us to experience the richness of His love and wholeheartedly show Him devotion. He will use trials and difficulties to accomplish His good purposes for us.
Life brings trouble to us from many sources. But the common thread in all trials is the Lord’s desire and ability to use them for our good and His glory. Through these experiences, we can let go of ungodly traits and experience sweet communion as we walk in intimacy with Him.
Pursuing God through His Son Jesus is to be our highest aim. It requires an attitude of wholeheartedness, diligence, persistence, confidence, and humility. To seek Him, what actions can we take?
First, we need to study the Scriptures. A structured, ongoing examination of them will cause our faith to grow and provide what we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). Next, we must maintain an active prayer life. Prayer is conversation with God—it includes both speaking and listening. Third, we are to meditate, which involves prayerful consideration of what we read in the Word. This means digesting a passage of Scripture verse by verse and asking the Lord questions about what it means. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will gain understanding of its application to life. This process helps us absorb His truths so we can live by them.
As we assimilate scriptural principles, we gain wisdom. It becomes easier to identify where the Lord is at work and to evaluate our circumstances in light of His character and plan. We will also recognize when we are to act. As we listen to messages based on God’s Word, we will grow in the Lord. Listening includes a desire to hear, a willingness to act, and a determination not to be distracted. Lastly, we should observe how God is working in others’ lives, which will be an encouragement to us as well.
God promises to reward our seeking. Sometimes we will be blessed with greater understanding, at other times with inexplicable joy. Best of all, seeking always leads to finding Him (Jer. 29:13).
Nobody likes criticism. It’s often unsolicited and rarely fun. Many times, we reject our critic’s words because of the harsh spirit in which they are spoken.
Yet God can take even a wrong attitude, bad timing, or harsh tone of voice and still tell us something we need to hear. That’s why we are wise to pay attention when someone critiques us. Invited or not, criticism forces us to examine ourselves and take notice of weak areas. This helps us discover who we really are and avoid unnecessary mistakes. If we fail to listen, our potential for mental, emotional, and spiritual growth is limited.
While not all opinions are valid, it’s important to respond well and evaluate criticism correctly. First, do not immediately reject the comment, blame the person, or defend yourself. Instead, consider what was said and ask God if He’s trying to tell you something. Then, thank the person for his interest in your growth, and explain that you’ll reflect on his observation. If he was sincere, he’ll be appreciative, but if his intentions were negative, this will disarm him. Next, evaluate the criticism and determine what exactly is under scrutiny—your beliefs, your character, your behavior, or God? Finally, view this as an opportunity for growth, and, if necessary, apologize to the person you’ve offended.
Jesus died on the cross for our sake, so we as believers are certain of His approval. When we remember this, the disapproval of others will take on less significance and cause less hurt. Then, as we learn to respond correctly, we will be blessed to find ourselves growing.
Wait for the Lord
Right timing is critical in a believer’s walk with the Lord. However, trusting His timing in important decisions, uncertain direction, or pressing needs is extremely difficult when everything within us cries, “Do something!” Because we want action, waiting for God seems so passive.
To wait for the Lord means to pause for instruction while remaining in the present circumstance. It is a purposeful, expectant focus on God—a choice to be actively still and quiet in our hearts, listening for His voice and watching for His intervention. The wait is not for events to work out as we want, but rather for God’s will to be done.
The Lord’s voice often comes to us through His Word which is the Creator’s instruction manual for our lives. How often has a bible verse jumped out at you as you were reading the bible? The guidance you sought was right there, almost as if it had my your written on it. To hear from God in this way, quiet meditation is essential.
At times, God will change a situation to redirect us, or He will motivate another person to give advice and guidance. However, always remember that any voice offering us direction must align with the Lord’s will as revealed in His Word; otherwise, it is not from Him.
The first step in waiting for the Lord is submission to His choice of how and when He will act. What are you hoping God will do? Are you seeking Him, or are you seeking only the thing you want from Him? Because He alone knows what is best for you, let go and trust that His decision will be the best path.
Easy to Say, Difficult to Do
God’s commands sometimes defy human logic. Take, for example, the command to rejoice in persecution. It doesn’t make sense until we realize the effect of praise—it keeps us focused upon the Lord and the good things that He can bring out of hardship.
The apostle Paul faced greater abuse and suffering than most of us ever will. He was beaten, put on trial, and imprisoned, yet he looked beyond those difficulties to what the Lord was accomplishing through his life. That is, though he didn’t rejoice that he was a captive, he was able to celebrate the great ministry he had among his prison guards.
If we believe God is in control and keeps His promises, then we must trust in the principle of Romans 5:3-5. This passage assures us that our hardships have a purpose. Specifically, they develop our endurance, strengthen our character, and solidify our hope. Two immediate blessings of suffering are the deepening of our faith and the preparation for greater service to the kingdom. We’re able to rejoice because we are maturing believers whom God can use for His purposes.
The Lord will bring good from our persecution, just as He did for Paul. But if we allow doubt to cloud our faith, we won’t be able to rejoice in what He is doing in and through our lives. And if we can’t rejoice, we are in danger of giving up before God’s good work can be completed. Rejoicing keeps us focused upon the Lord and His purpose so that we may see our trial through to the end and receive our reward.
The Good Life
We all know of people who suffer from deteriorating health, financial reverses, and other troubles. How are we to process such situations in light of what the Scriptures teach about the Lord’s goodness and the expression of His benevolence towards us?
First, God’s character is perfect, and everything He does is right. (See Deut. 32:4.) He is “compassionate and gracious ... and abounding in lovingkindness” (Ps. 103:8). By His very nature, God is good. Second, our heavenly Father expresses His goodness based on His purpose of conforming us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). From the Lord’s perspective, everything that fits into His plan is beneficial for us.
The greatest demonstration of our Father’s goodness is seen in His Son’s life and death. Jesus left His heavenly home, took on the form of man, suffered, and died in our place so we might be forgiven (Phil. 2:6-8). Because of what our Savior endured, we who have trusted in Him are adopted into God’s family, and heaven is our eternal home.
At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, the disciples could not see anything beneficial in it. They knew only great sorrow. But we understand that God gave His own Son so that He might accomplish our salvation (Rom. 8:32).
Our definition of the good life would probably include material success, good health, and the absence of trouble—things that make us happy right now. But God has an eternal perspective, and He always works to fulfill His long-term plan for us. We can trust in His goodness, even in dark times.
Growing in Faith
Our Heavenly Father desires that we grow spiritually from infancy to maturity. Let’s look at practices necessary for living a life in Christ.
• The Lord desires that we obey Him. Some of His teachings are easy to follow, while others are difficult. Choosing our own way might feel good at first, but the end result is always regret. On the other hand, every act of obedience builds faith.
• God teaches us to depend upon Him. In fact, He sometimes calls us to action in areas that seem humanly impossible. For instance, to forgive an atrocious act may feel beyond our ability. But when we cannot achieve what He requires, we rely on His strength to enable us.
• Our Father wants us to wait upon Him. We, on the other hand, want everything to happen according to our preferences and timetable. So there’s a temptation to manipulate circumstances, which typically makes a mess. The Lord’s way is best, and He desires for us to trust and be patient.
• Scripture teaches us to confess sin, repent, and learn from missteps. God doesn’t expect perfection, but He does want to see a healthy response to shortcomings.
The Lord longs for His children to have abundant, meaningful lives. For this reason, He sent His Holy Spirit to indwell, equip, and empower believers to reach their God-given potential. We can choose to cooperate with this plan or to live independently of His best.
Handling Difficult Circumstances
The apostle Paul understood how to handle tough circumstances. Even while confined in a prison cell, he kept his eyes on Christ and trusted firmly in the Savior. Therefore, despite being in chains, he was able to celebrate the Lord’s work in his life. In fact, the epistle he wrote from jail to the Philippians was filled with rejoicing and praise (Philippians 1:18; Philippians 2:18; Philippians 3:1).
Focusing on Christ is neither a natural reaction nor an easy one. Our instinct is to dwell on the situation at hand, searching for solutions or stewing over the pain and difficulty. As a result, troubles look insurmountable and overwhelm us with a sense of failure.
However, fear and defeat can’t live long in a heart that trusts the Lord. I’m not saying you will forget what you’re going through, but you can choose to dwell on His provision and care instead. He is the Deliverer (2 Corinthians 1:10). He is the Healer (Jeremiah 17:14). And He is the Guide (Proverbs 3:6). The believer who lays claim to divine promises discovers that God pushes back negative emotions. In their place, hope, confidence, and contentment take up residence (Philippians 4:11). You aren’t going to be happy about any difficult situation, but you can be satisfied that God is in control and up to something good in the midst of trouble.
The Lord’s principles and promises don’t change, no matter how severe or painful the situation is. Focus on Christ instead of the circumstances—God will comfort your heart and bring you safely through the trial. Then you will be ready to answer Paul’s call to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4).
The Need for Salvation
Followers of Christ know the importance of being saved, but the world sees no need for rescue. Let’s think about some key truths regarding man’s need for salvation.
Those who don’t have a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus are:
Spiritually dead. Many people don’t realize that there are three kinds of death—physical, eternal, and spiritual. Eternal death comes at the end of the age, when all those who have refused Jesus as Savior are cast away from God permanently (Matthew 25:41). Spiritual death occurred in the Garden of Eden. Disobedience severed Adam and Eve’s intimate connection to God and caused all of their descendants to be spiritually detached from Him (Romans 5:12). We’re born as “dead” people in need of new life.
Living a life of sin. Our nature is to rebel against God, and that’s called sin. Over and over, we choose what pleases us, not Him. We’re enslaved to sin (John 8:34), and any effort to free ourselves from its power is in vain. We need someone to rescue us.
Under divine wrath. Because of our disobedience, we are under God’s judgment, awaiting punishment. All efforts to earn His approval and escape our sentence are insufficient. Sinful man has nothing acceptable to offer holy God. Our only hope of escape is for someone else to take our penalty.
The good news is that the Lord has provided a way for all to pass from spiritual death to life, from the bondage of sin into freedom, and from condemnation to intimacy with Him. Jesus Christ alone is the way (John 14:6), and He meets our every need.
Communion With God
God created men and women to be in relationship with Him. The type of communion Adam and Eve first enjoyed with Him was meant for us as well. But when sin entered the world, everything changed. God’s intended intimate relationship with mankind was broken, and it has been passed down through the generations in that damaged condition.
But as we know, that’s not the end of the story. Jesus came to die in our place, bringing forgiveness for our sins and restoring our relationship with the Father. Through faith in Christ, we are adopted into God’s family and belong to Him forever—just as He originally planned. He has provided us with everything we need to experience intimacy with Him.
So what happens if, following salvation, new believers never go deeper? Some may drift away from their initial zeal for the Lord, failing to make Bible reading or church attendance a regular occurrence. Perhaps others try to focus on the Lord but allow earthly matters to distract them. Over time, some Christians settle for what’s comfortable and familiar. Sadly, they will miss out on the deep contentment God wanted to provide. Yet those who make Jesus the priority of their life will have a deepening relationship with Him, which transcends any earthly one.
Communion with God made King David “fully satisfied as with the richest of foods” (Psalms 63:5 NIV). And Paul viewed his own accomplishments as nothing in comparison with “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8). Draw near to God, and experience the blessings of knowing Him.
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
When God looked at the world He’d made, He declared it good. Genesis 1:27 summarizes the crowning achievement of His creative work: “God created man in His own image . . . male and female He created them.” Psalm 139 reminds us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The Lord has given each of His children great potential for service in His kingdom. However, some of us have serious doubts that this is true. When we compare ourselves to other people, we notice the things we lack. At other times, we repeatedly criticize ourselves for mistakes we’ve made. How can we have awesome potential when we see so many ways in which we fall short? Consider these biblical examples:
Moses appeared to have many advantages while he was growing up in Pharaoh’s household. Then he killed an Egyptian and fled the country. No longer did he seem a likely candidate to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. But God looked beyond what Moses had done and saw who he could become.
Paul, prior to salvation, had vehemently persecuted those who believed in Jesus. Yet through God’s mercy, the apostle became a mighty evangelist and author of nearly a third of the New Testament.
Peter was a simple fisherman who denied—not once but three times—that he knew Jesus. Still, the Lord chose him to become the leader of the Jerusalem church.
Our Father sees beyond our human frailties to the potential we have in Christ. Because we were made in God’s image and His Spirit dwells in us, we have a greater capacity for spiritual transformation and service than we could imagine. Seek to become the person God has equipped you to be.
When Faith Wavers
One of the main obstacles to effective prayer is lack of trust. If we believe God is who He says He is and will do what He has promised, why do so many of us habitually waver in our prayers? Instead of exercising bold faith, we come to the Lord “hoping” He will hear us and answer our requests, but we’re just not sure He will. With this kind of thinking, we cannot expect to receive anything from Him.
One reason we are so prone to doubt is that we fail to see God at work in our circumstances. We asked, and nothing happened. But the Lord is not some cosmic bellhop who jumps in response to our requests. He sees past, present, and future and knows the right time for every answer. His invisible hand is already at work on our behalf—arranging situations to accomplish His will, opening hearts, and preparing us to receive what He wants to give.
Another cause for uncertainty is ignorance. If we don’t know God’s ways, we will be disappointed in His response. All too often our prayers are accompanied by expectations of how He will work. When He fails to intervene according to our anticipated method, we start to doubt. But placing our faith in the Lord and trusting in His good and perfect ways gives us stability as we wait for His answer.
To overcome doubts, spend time in the Word to learn God’s principles and ways. Then you’ll begin to grasp what He wants to achieve in your life and how He goes about it. Examine your past from a biblical perspective—faith will grow as you see the unexpected ways He’s answered your prayers.
The Importance of Friendship
2 Timothy 4:9-22
Independence is a prized attribute in our culture, but biblically, it isn’t a worthy aspiration. Nowhere in Scripture will you find the erroneous quote, “God helps those who help themselves.” The very fact that the Lord formed the church—a community of believers—should tell us that He did not create people for self-sufficiency or isolation.
When we place faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells us so we can have a fulfilling relationship with the Lord and satisfying friendships with one another. In God’s design, a close, committed biblical friendship between two believers serves to build both toward Christlikeness. Over and over in Scripture, we find evidence of God’s followers relying upon a close friend or confidante for support. Paul, in particular, spoke freely and often of his dependence upon dear companions and encouraged others to form intimate partnerships as well (2 Timothy 2:22).
It’s interesting to me that our modern culture seems to be headed in the opposite direction. The farther we drift from God, the more pervasive our self-sufficient attitude becomes. Neighbors treat each other with suspicion instead of congeniality, and that mindset has even invaded the church. We’re hesitant to give to others, which in turn makes us reluctant to receive.
Scripture tells us to love one another, bear our brothers’ burdens, and confess our sins to fellow believers (John 13:34; Galatians 6:2; James 5:16). In other words, we’re to give ourselves away to others and receive from them in return. That’s how church members can encourage one another to Christlikeness.
God Allows Trials
1 Peter 1:3-9
Some people have the wrong idea about the Christian life. Once they become believers, they expect smooth sailing. Yet Jesus made it clear that troubles are inevitable for God’s children. His own life was no exception: He endured false accusations, rejection by His own people, and betrayal by a close friend—to name just a few.
As His followers, we can expect difficulty. The cause of tribulation differs with each circumstance. Some problems arise from the fallen nature of the world, while others result from satanic warfare. And we can cause our own heartache from ignorance, sin, and poor decisions. There’s also another possibility—sometimes God Himself brings trials. While this last option is difficult to accept during a painful time, the Lord never brings hardship unless He has a beautiful purpose. And He gives strength to endure.
Remember, God allows struggles—whatever their source—for our benefit. Perhaps they are to purify and grow us for greater service. Maybe He has in mind to test our endurance and devotion to Christ, thereby strengthening our trust. Or He might be revealing His sustaining power. This side of heaven, we may never know the cause of each challenge. But we can trust God’s ability to deliver and mature us.
What trials are you facing? Jesus understands your pain, and He longs to be the One you cling to through good times and bad. You can choose to look elsewhere for comfort, or you can use your hardship as a source of growth. No matter how painful the trial seems, don’t waste the opportunity.
God Never Fails
God is the only One who never disappoints. From the beginning of time, His Word has remained true. Every prophecy is a promise that has been or will be fulfilled.
Perhaps the greatest of these foretellings were the ones that told of the Messiah, and throughout the ages, believers longed for His coming. Prophets spoke about the Anointed One (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Isa. 7:14; Isa. 9:6; Dan. 9:25 NIV; Micah 5:2). Although there was no further prophecy on the subject during the four centuries leading up to Christ’s birth, when the time was right, Jesus came to reconcile mankind to the Father.
Surely, people must have questioned whether the Savior would ever come. After all, 400 years is a long time to wait without any word. But, as history proves, God never falls short on His promises. He is trustworthy, even when His timetable differs from what we hoped.
Knowing this, we can read Scripture’s assurances with expectation. For instance, if we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior and choose to follow Him, the Bible promises our salvation. We can rest assured that we are forgiven and redeemed. What’s more, nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38-39), and we can trust that He will provide everything we need to accomplish His purpose in our lives.
These are but a few foundational promises; the Word contains many more. Consider God’s faithfulness throughout the Bible and in your own life, and realize that He will be steadfast in the future as well. By living obediently, you can have full confidence that He will do all He has promised.
God Is Faithful
2 Timothy 2:11-13
All of us experience times when our circumstances seem unbearable, prayers appear to go unanswered, and the Lord feels distant. When that happens, we may wonder if He is the same as we once believed Him to be. During such times of helplessness, faith falters for some people yet grows stronger for others. What causes these opposite responses to suffering?
The key is simply one’s understanding of and trust in God’s faithfulness. This term means that the Lord never changes—He always does what is right, remains true to His promises, and is 100 percent reliable. In other words, we can trust our almighty God, regardless of our situation or attitude.
Our understanding of God relates to this concept. Do we trust Him enough to obey, even when obedience seems foolish? Are we so confident He hears and answers prayer that we consistently bring requests before His throne, even when we don’t see an immediate response? Are we daily sacrificing our selfish desires and patterns of living because we believe His promise of eternity, joy, and peace? An answer of “no” may indicate a deficient understanding of God’s character. That’s why reading the Bible is so important—through Scripture’s countless illustrations of our Father’s attributes, we learn who He is and increasingly trust Him.
Thankfully, God’s faithfulness does not depend on our circumstances, our feelings, or even our own faithfulness. He is true to His Word and true to Himself. How would your life look different if you had complete confidence that God was trustworthy and unchanging?
The Source of Our Adversity
When experiencing hardship, we usually wonder why God allows painful situations to come our way. In our minds, this just doesn’t fit with His role as our loving heavenly Father. We also struggle to reconcile our suffering with the realization that an omnipotent God could have prevented it. To understand what’s going on, we must consider the possible sources of adversity.
• A Fallen World. When sin entered the world, suffering came with it. God could have protected us from these harmful effects by making us like puppets who couldn’t choose sin, but that would mean we’d also be unable to choose to love Him, since love, by its very nature, is voluntary.
• Our Own Doing. Sometimes we get ourselves into trouble with foolish or sinful choices. If the Lord stepped in and rescued us from every negative consequence, we’d never grow into mature believers.
• Satanic Attack. The devil is our enemy. To hinder anything God wants to do in and through believers, Satan will never cease to harass us. His goal is to destroy our lives and our testimonies, thereby making us weak and useless for the Lord’s purposes.
• God’s Sovereignty. Ultimately, the Lord is in charge of all adversity that comes our way. To deny His involvement contradicts His power and sovereignty over creation.
For us to accept that God allows—or even sends—affliction, we must see adversity from His perspective. Is your focus on the pain of your experience or on God and His faithfulness? As believers, we’re assured that no adversity comes our way unless He can use it for our benefit and His good purposes.
Helping Those In Need
In Matthew 22:39, Jesus tells us the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. The best way to demonstrate care for relatives, friends, neighbors, and church family is to follow the Lord’s example and bear their burdens. Not only did the Savior take our sin debt upon Himself at Calvary; He also shared in the hurts of those who sought His comfort: blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11), and those who were demon-oppressed (Matt. 4:24). Jesus doesn’t discriminate with regard to whose burdens He will carry.
We are often tempted to be selective in choosing which acquaintances to help. According to Jesus’ example, we cannot bear someone else’s burdens based upon whether that person has lived up to some standard we have set. There are people who will never dress like us, hold opinions similar to ours, or share our interests. But those same people might be hurting and in need of somebody to help carry their difficulties. A genuine expression of godly love can transform the life of a person weighed down by struggles.
Even when we understand that lifting the weight of someone else’s load fulfills the law of Christ, Christians are frequently tempted to pass such responsibility to a pastor or Sunday school teacher. But the Lord intends something different for the lives of His children. Our unique experiences equip us to help in ways that the pastor or teacher—who have different experiences—cannot. Ask God how you can begin to help bear the burden of neighbors who are hurting.
In our ever-changing world, families move, friendships drift, allegiances shift, and technology advances by quantum leaps. If we seek security in people, possessions, or positions, we’re doomed to be disappointed.
Yet we all need somewhere to turn during the storms of life. The one true anchor for our soul is Jesus Christ, who Scripture assures us will not change. To find comfort in Him, we must learn who He is, what He does, and how He works. Today we will explore a few details about His life and character.
John 1:1 reveals that Jesus was Deity from the beginning. Fully God and fully man, He was born of a virgin, lived 33 years on Earth, was crucified despite His innocence, and rose after three days. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—the Christ, the Son of the Living God (John 14:6; Matthew 16:16-17). Our Lord fulfilled countless prophesies in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 53. Like us, Jesus has feelings—He wept for hurting people and felt angry when people misused the temple. Most importantly, His resurrection defeated death, and He still lives today.
God’s character never varies. Of course, as situations change, He acts accordingly. But the merciful, loving, compassionate, and holy Jesus we know in Scripture is the same Messiah we can cling to today.
Where do you turn in trying times? Difficult circumstances are inevitable. Prepare yourself for them by learning who Jesus is—He’s the only true shelter and rock that will not change. What a wonderful Savior!
Be Not Discouraged
Discouragement can rob peace, joy, and contentment. But I have great news if you feel disheartened: You need not be stuck!
We’ve all known people who appeared to be in impossible situations. Later, however, they were in a terrific place, either in terms of their circumstances or their emotions. The reason? They never gave up. Instead of sulking in self-pity, they chose to believe God and step out in faith. In that way, they did not remain entrenched in an emotional pit.
Nehemiah is a good example. He had every reason to feel defeated, because his people were in trouble. After receiving news that the city wall had been destroyed, this man of God acknowledged profound disappointment and grieved. Yet doing so was risky, because sadness in the presence of royalty was punishable by death.
Though pain flooded his soul, Nehemiah didn’t allow himself to stay in that low place. Instead, he cried out to God for direction. And the Lord answered with amazing power, prompting the king to notice his servant’s sad countenance and then to ask what he could do to help. This miracle led to the rebuilding of the wall and the redemption of God’s people.
The Lord can take an impossible situation—no matter what it is—and move in ways mightier than you can imagine. Do you live in eager expectation of what the Lord will do? Or have you chosen to linger in the depths of despair? Like Nehemiah, turn your disappointment into a petition for God’s help. He can restore your hope and prevent negative emotions from gaining a stranglehold on your life.
God's Written Word
The Bible is the most amazing book ever written. God used human beings to record His thoughts and words in writing so that others could know Him (2 Peter 1:20-21). The One who spoke the universe into existence still speaks just as powerfully through the pages of the Bible that you hold in your hands.
At the moment of salvation, believers receive the Holy Spirit, and the lines of communication with the Lord are established. Then, whenever the Scriptures are read, children of God can hear His voice, and the Spirit enables them to understand and put into practice what they have heard.
The Bible is not just a good book with comforting verses but is effective, always accomplishing the purpose for which God sends it (Isaiah 55:10-11). Scripture is active and alive and “performs its work in [those] who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The Word of God has the power to change our lives if we will believe Him and do what He says.
God uses Scripture to transform us from the inside out. His Word has the quality of a sword that cuts through our hearts and judges thoughts and intentions, delivering light to the darkness hiding in our souls. This Book tells us not only who God is, but also who we are.
Sometimes life’s concerns can deafen our “spiritual ears.” Before reading Scripture, ask God to help you hear and understand what He’s saying. As you believe and obey, your spiritual hearing will become more acute, and your time in the Word will be an intimate conversation with the Lord.
The Struggle With Temptation
1 Corinthians 10:13
No matter what specific form temptation takes in our lives, the enemy uses a fairly standard process to get us off track. And it is as effective as ever.
First, we begin to think about the object of our desire. We play with it in our mind, imagining how we would feel if it were ours. Isn’t it interesting that no matter how many blessings God has showered upon us, we always seem to focus on the one thing we do not have! We must ask ourselves, Could the enemy be trying to redirect my focus?
Remember, Satan wants to alienate us from the Lord. If he can get us to take our eyes off God and instead fix our attention on what we feel we’re lacking, then he can lead us to temptation.
Next, the thought builds until it finally gives way to full-blown desire. This intense longing is the culmination of our imaginings. We’re no longer content simply to enjoy the object in our mind; now, we must actually have it.
Finally, the desire leads to a choice. Here is where we make the decision, Will I give in to this sin, or will I lay it down and submit to the Lord’s will for my life?
Through the Holy Spirit’s power, we have the ability to walk away at any point in the process of temptation. We are never helpless to defuse the situation, no matter how much momentum has built up.
Do you ever feel as if you are powerless to stop a growing temptation in your life? Understanding the nature of this progressive process can help you to stand firm against the enemy’s tactics.
What Is Temptation?
Everybody experiences temptation. No matter how spiritual you are or how long you’ve followed Christ, you have been tempted. Sometimes this experience seems like a faint whisper, and other times it’s an unbearable shout in your mind. Regardless of how it sounds, you know just what temptation feels like. But if someone asked, could you define the term?
Temptation is simply an enticement to take a God-given desire beyond God-given boundaries. Many people reject this idea, refusing to believe that guilt-instilling allurements could be even remotely related to the Lord. But think about it: In what ways are you most often tempted? In the area of material possessions? Intimacy? Companionship? Food? These are all things that God not only created but also uses to bless His people. The problem comes when we—who still carry around the old “programming” of our flesh nature—take those drives beyond the healthy limits that God has set for our lives.
For example, He created sex for enjoyment within a marriage relationship. However, when this divinely approved desire is corrupted by physical intimacy outside of marriage, then what the Creator designed for His purposes becomes a source of guilt and shame. That is not what God intended.
One of the enemy’s top strategies is to distort a God-given drive for his own vile purposes. You can short-circuit such an attack: Remind yourself where this urge came from in the first place, and then ask God for the strength to use such drives for His glory, as He intended.
The Role of Our Conscience
1 Timothy 1:18-19
The Lord gives every person a conscience, which is like a radar system meant to send warnings when a behavior or decision might be harmful. This makes it possible for people to distinguish between what is morally right and morally wrong, especially as it applies to their own life. We ignore the conscience at our own peril.
In a believer, the conscience is a tool of the Holy Spirit; He programs it with principles from God’s Word and sharpens it to respond quickly. Even so, our radar’s sole purpose is to send a signal. What happens next is up to us. Either we ignore the warning, or we stop to hear what the Spirit has to say about the situation. The Holy Spirit reveals God’s will or reminds us of His principles so we can make a wise decision about the warning bell ringing in our conscience.
Paul’s letter to Timothy mentions people who’d rejected God’s leadership and guidance in their lives—they had paid no attention to the alarm of their conscience (1 Tim. 1:19), and the result was shipwrecked faith. When something appears on the radar that speaks of disobedience to God, we have to reject that action. Otherwise, the detection device becomes impaired and won’t work right. If we keep ignoring the alarm, it will eventually go silent.
We all know people who have “run aground” in life. A shipwrecked faith is inevitable when believers ignore their conscience and rationalize or defend disobedience. It’s far better to turn yourself over to the great captain of your soul, Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit will guide you correctly.
Hear God's Voice
1 Samuel 3:1-21
The story of Samuel and how he learned to recognize God’s voice provides an important lesson for all believers. The Bible tells us that in Samuel's day, communication from the Lord—by word or vision—was rare (1 Samuel 3:1). At the same time, we are informed in verse 12 that God had been saying a lot to the priest Eli about his family and their evil conduct. It appears, however, that there had been very little listening.
Fortunately, young Samuel put an end to all that. At first he, too, was unable to recognize God's voice. Even though he was immersed in religious activity, the Bible tells us that the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him (1 Samuel 3:7). When God first spoke to Samuel, the boy had to appeal to his religious superiors before he could understand what was going on.
What this suggests is that when we think we hear God's voice, we shouldn’t hesitate to discuss it with our spiritual leaders or other mature Christians. Prayer and wise consultation of this sort can help recognize who really is speaking. The devil seeks to imitate the voice of God, so we must carefully discern the source of the message.
Once we hear from God and get our bearings spiritually, we must not shrink from testifying to what we heard. At first Samuel was fearful about sharing the message with Eli, but he finally did so. And remember, we should never ask God to speak if we are not prepared to act on the message we hear.
The Bible Teaches Us How to Pray
God wants His children to ask for what’s on their hearts, because He delights to give. Even more, He wants to fellowship with us. What joy can be ours every time we meet our heavenly Father through prayer!
The privilege of supplication rests on our relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. Only those who are part of God’s family can claim Him as their Father (John 1:12) and avail themselves of His pledge to answer prayer. He makes no such commitment to unbelievers. The single exception is the sinner who asks for forgiveness and receives Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. As promised, his or her prayer is always answered with salvation (Rom. 10:9).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses three verbs to describe prayer: ask, seek, and knock. Notice the progression in intensity from a request to a search and then to further action. Prayer is more than giving God requests. It involves seeking His will to guide our entreaties. It means “knocking on doors” by exploring different solutions and obtaining godly counsel to help determine the Lord’s will. Jesus pledged that we will receive, we will find, and God will open the door for us. We have His assurance that God will respond and what He does is good.
Prayer is simple, yet at times we find it hard to practice. We try different methods but often feel dissatisfied and wonder if our prayers are having any effect. Ask the Lord to teach you more about biblical praying. Put into practice what you learn, and wait in assurance for His answers!
God has prepared work He wants us to do, and our delays in carrying out His plan constitute disobedience. That makes habitual procrastination a serious problem.
Praying, tithing, and daily Bible reading aren’t the only things Christians can put off. We can also delay:
Serving in the church. We volunteer to serve, but when the call comes, we say no. If asked, we might reply it is the length of the commitment that doesn’t suit us. At other times we say the position itself is not a good fit. In both cases, if we examine our feelings, we will find we are dodging what we do not like or feel inadequate to do.
Sharing our faith. We can get very anxious about how to express ourselves, what reaction we’ll get, and whether we’ll be able to give adequate answers. When insecurity threatens us, we often choose inactivity over obedience.
Surrendering our will to the Lord’s. Just thinking about giving God control in certain areas makes many of us feel fearful. So we cling to our way and avoid His. True submission says, “Lord, I am willing to do whatever You want in this situation. I will obey Your Word.”
After a while, because of our procrastinating ways, our spiritual growth is inhibited. Then our usefulness to God and our sense of joy in Him diminish.
The Lord has asked us to be His ambassadors, who represent Him to a hurting world according to His plan and timetable (2 Cor. 5:20). Therefore, procrastination has no place in the life of a believer. Which areas of your life does this bring to mind?
The Cost of Prayerlessness
Have you ever considered the fact that each one of us pays a price when we allow our prayer life to fall by the wayside? When there is such a lapse, we usually don’t stop to think about what a toll it will take.
When we fail to make prayer a priority in our life—essentially forfeiting our time alone with the Father—we will begin to feel an emptiness in our heart, accompanied by a strange sense of unrest and uneasiness. In contrast, when our prayer life is active, the weight of these burdens will be lifted from our shoulders by the mighty hand of God.
With this in mind, why would anyone choose to cease praying? The sad truth is that many of us have become so accustomed to weariness and hardship that we feel lost or uncomfortable without it. Yet if we continue to nurture this style of living, we will begin to rely upon ourselves instead of upon the Lord, thereby becoming vulnerable and at risk of disaster.
To avoid these difficulties, then, the clear solution is to place high priority upon our fellowship and communication with the Lord. After all, we must be in contact with our heavenly Father in order to hear His voice and to understand and follow His will for our life.
If you have allowed distance to come between you and your heavenly Father, confess this to Him today. 1 John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us.” When you renew your prayer life—the most important part of your Christian walk—you will once again be able to experience God’s best.
Does God Hear Prayers?
Scripture makes it clear that our heavenly Father hears and answers prayer. Yet, though we pray for the Lord to act right away, we’ve all known times when we’ve had to wait. What are some reasons for the delay?
The Father sees when our attention is misdirected. Our relationship with Him should have priority over any earthly matter (Mark 12:30), yet minds and prayers can become so fixed upon a need that our gaze shifts away from God. Then He may delay answering until we refocus on Him. In other situations, He waits because the timing isn’t right for granting our request. Perhaps certain events must happen first, or people’s thinking needs to be changed.
There are also seasons when the Lord wants to stretch and grow our faith. One of the ways He accomplishes that is by having us watch for His response. In these times of waiting, the Holy Spirit will work to mature us and bring forth righteous fruit (Gal. 5:22-23).
Other reasons are a wrong motive for our request (James 4:3) and the practice of habitual sin. We all fall short when it comes to God’s standard of holiness, but some of us persist in a lifestyle of disobedience. The Lord may delay His answer so He can prompt us to confess our sin and turn back to Him.
Waiting on the Lord isn’t easy—faith and trust are needed (Heb. 11:1). If His answer is delayed, check that your focus is on Him, your motive for asking is God-honoring, and you aren’t practicing habitual sin. Then believe that His response will be for your good and His glory.
Overwhelmed by Frustration?
During seasons of frustration, a natural reaction is to blame circumstances or individuals. When we find ourselves hindered from achieving our goals, discontent may be triggered by external forces, even though the root cause often is internal. Then we sometimes make changes—such as quitting a job, ending a friendship, or moving away—in an attempt to spare ourselves further dissatisfaction. But that’s not how to find genuine peace. When frustrated, we must determine the cause. Discontent has three internal roots:
One is the inability to accept ourselves as God created us. The talents, personality, and physical attributes we’ve been given may not be what we desire, but they are exactly what we need to follow God’s will for our life. Dwelling on what we lack or what we’d change distracts us from serving Him.
A second root is a reluctance to deal with our past. We may have painful memories or recall mistakes that brought us heartache. Only when we admit their impact and confront any resulting emotional or psychological issues can we move on in peace.
The final source of frustration is a refusal to deal with behaviors or attitudes that are outside the Lord’s will. Holding on to an ungodly spirit or a bad habit will often lead to the useless practice of repeatedly trying to justify ourselves to our heavenly Father and those around us.
The human solution for frustration—changing our external situations—will fail every single time. The only way to truly uproot our frustration is by relying on God for the strength to grapple with its source.
Prayers For Orlando
Jesus weeps, and so do we. We mourn for the loss of lives in Orlando as we do whenever senseless tragedy strikes a blow. We pray for the friends and family of all the victims and all who are affected in every way. We pray for the healing and recovery of all those who are wounded. We pray for the city of Orlando, the state of Florida, for the United States, and our world asking for the Holy Spirit to “plead our case with unexpressed groans.”
As a part of the renunciation of sin in our baptismal vows, United Methodists “accept the freedom and power God gives [us] to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”
Sunday’s horrific event is being called the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Such mass shootings can only be named as evil and God calls us to resist them and the conditions, both spiritual and temporal, that make them possible.
We also pray for the eradication of hate. Hate is a product of evil. Sadly, hate is instantly available to us — all we have to do is activate the membership each of us have in the sinfulness of the human condition. Hate is an evil that must be resisted in every form it presents itself. The news reports that this shooting was well planned in its timing, target, and execution. This time the target was an LGBT nightclub. Christ, have mercy.
All Christians unite against hate and violent actions toward any group. We are unified in our witness of love, care, mercy and healing as we exercise the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil and to work to mend this broken and hurting world. (By Justin Coleman, Ministry Matters)
The apostle Paul told his jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). That Philippian man and his household had saving faith—they accepted the invitation and joined God’s family.
Saving faith has three elements: knowledge, conviction, and trust. Today, let’s look at the knowledge component. To believe in Jesus as our Savior, we need to know who He is, what He accomplished, and why it was necessary.
Who is Jesus? He is deity—God the Son. At the request of God the Father, Jesus set aside His divine rights, took on human form, and dwelled on earth (Phil. 2:6-7).
What did He accomplish? Jesus lived a perfect life, which qualified Him to be our substitute: He stood in our place and bore God’s judgment for our sins. His death on the cross made a way for us to be forgiven and experience peace with God.
Why did He have to die? We could not save ourselves, since our “good deeds” are all marred by our sin nature. When we accept Christ’s atoning work, we go from being God’s enemy to becoming a member of His family.
Knowledge without conviction and trust does not bring salvation. Even the demons understood that Jesus was the Son of God (Luke 4:41). Do you believe what you know to be true?
The Power of Unified Prayer
2 Chronicles 20:14-30
When trouble loomed, the first thing Jehoshaphat did was to turn his attention to God and proclaim a fast throughout the nation of Judah (2 Chron. 20:3). People came from all around to support their king in prayer (2 Chron. 20:13).
Sometimes we’re too proud to ask others to join us in praying. Jehoshaphat was a king, yet he wasn’t so self-sufficient that he wouldn’t admit his army paled in comparison to the three forces united against him. He recognized his limitations and sought divine intervention. Though Jehoshaphat reigned over his subjects, he nevertheless called on them for prayerful support.
One of the wisest things we can do in the midst of difficulty is to engage the assistance of someone who knows how to talk to God. The body of Christ depends upon cooperation. When the people of Judah began to pray, God provided a solution through a trusted prophet. Jehoshaphat was humble enough to listen and wise enough to follow His directives (2 Chron. 20:14-17). As a result, the people were saved. The advancing armies turned against each other and destroyed themselves completely. Without shooting a single arrow or drawing a sword, Judah’s forces triumphed without suffering a single casualty. Because their humble king listened, they were able to witness the Lord’s remarkable victory (2 Chron. 20:22-30).
We have to attune our ears to God’s voice in order to hear Him. Sometimes He speaks through people we would not choose to follow, and He often says things that we’re not expecting to hear. But He will provide us with solutions to our problems if we are willing to listen to Him.
SERVING GOD WITH A SOFT HEART
What most people know about Jonah is that he was swallowed by a big fish while trying to run from God. In the creature’s belly, he committed to following the Lord’s will. So when Jonah was called a second time to preach repentance in Nineveh, he obeyed.
After the prophet obeyed, there was an unexpected turn of events. He crossed the city, warning the people of divine wrath—and they responded by turning away from wickedness. The Ninevites’ response should have made Jonah ecstatic. Instead, he grieved over their repentance and God’s mercy on them, as Nineveh and Israel were longtime enemies. In fact, he angrily told the Lord he had fled to Tarshish to avoid this very scenario of penitence and forgiveness.
Jonah was displeased because his heart was as hard as when he had run to Tarshish. Trapped inside the fish, he changed his mind about following the Lord’s command. He expressed willingness to do whatever God wanted him to do, but in his heart, he still desired the Ninevites’ destruction. Jonah’s bitterness and reluctance showed through in spite of his righteous actions.
God is not fooled by good behavior that springs from a hard heart. Obeying Him with an unwilling spirit may achieve His purpose, but we lose the joy of our reward. Perhaps the Lord has called you to serve Him in a way that is personally challenging. As you commit to following His will, pray also for a soft heart. You will find peace and blessing in doing the work if you follow Him without hesitation.
At the moment of salvation, a person becomes a brand-new creation and is set apart for God’s purposes (2 Cor. 5:17). The heavenly Father has a specific plan for the life of every believer (Eph. 2:10), and He provides each of His children with whatever is needed to accomplish that plan (2 Pet. 1:3).
Consider the life of Samson. At the time of his birth, Israel was under Philistine rule. In that wicked culture, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). God ordained that Samson be set apart for His service—he was the one who would “begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (Judg. 13:5). To prepare Samson for this important mission, the Lord gave him godly parents, an upbringing uncontaminated by the culture, and incredible human strength. Samson was greatly blessed as he matured, and he became judge over Israel, with the authority to carry out the Lord’s will.
Samson was equipped with everything he needed to fulfill the Lord’s purpose. However, he had a weakness—lust—which he chose to indulge, and it eventually led to his downfall. As a result, he ended up a prisoner and was no longer in a position to fulfill his God-given purpose.
Our spiritual equipping includes the ability to resist giving in to our weaknesses. But we must be willing to turn away from temptation and follow the Lord. Samson had enormous potential to do good on behalf of God, and so do we. But he chose sin and suffered the consequences. Which will you choose today—turning to God for help or indulging your weakness?
In His grace, God freely gives salvation to those who believe His Son Jesus died on the cross for their sins. We cannot earn this gift, nor do we deserve it. Our Father does notice our good works, though, and He promises to reward us accordingly.
Genuine service occurs when we cooperate as the Lord works through us for His glory and honor. True ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels.
Revelation 22:12 encourages us, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” Whether large or small, service done in Jesus’ name will be blessed. We must be careful, though, that our actions are for Christ’s glory and not our own. If our motives are self-serving, the only benefit we receive is the praise (if any) that we hear from people in this life. And we know that man’s approval is not satisfying or lasting.
While some rewards will be given in heaven, other blessings can be experienced here on earth. For example, we know great joy when God blesses others through us. And there is deep satisfaction in realizing that we are pleasing Christ. In addition, there’s a profound sense of fulfillment when we lead a person to Jesus and teach him or her how to walk by faith.
Serving others is both a great benefit and responsibility for Christians. We should prayerfully consider our motives to make sure that our goal is to glorify Christ. Only then will we receive God’s full blessings—rewards given not just in eternity but here on earth as well.
In today’s Scripture passage, a father brings his demon-possessed son to the Lord. Nothing is more important to this father than to see his boy healed, and he believes that Jesus has the power to do it.
When he finally reaches Jesus, however, the father experiences a slight hesitation in his faith. We can detect it in the way he words his request: “If You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9:22, emphasis added). Jesus, sensing the man’s subtle doubts, replies, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23).
At once the father realizes the disparity between his words and his actions, and he cries out, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). What an odd statement! What are we to think—does this man have faith or not?
Yet when we look closer, we realize that this father is crying out in complete, unashamed honesty to the Lord. He knows that there is no point in attempting to “puff up” his faith before Jesus. Instead, he humbly admits that while he does in fact believe in Jesus’ saving power, some things—such as parental concern for his son—can still interfere with his faith in God.
Scripture says that the Lord is sovereign over all things (Ps. 103:19). Do you believe He has the power to change your life? Do you allow outside influences to affect your trust in Jesus Christ? If so, be honest with God about your fluctuating faith, but always remember that His power does not ebb and flow along with our confidence in Him. Regardless of how we feel, God is always in control.
God has ways of shaking the world when He is up to something big. For example, He literally caused the ground to quake when Jesus died on the cross and also after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit emboldened Christ’s followers to spread the gospel (Matt. 27:51; Acts 4:31). There was nothing coincidental about the seismic activity that accompanied those two events. They were none-too-subtle messages from God: Pay attention because important things are happening!
Today, the ground may not physically move, but the Lord is certainly doing some shaking. Political alliances, financial systems, and ethical standards are all being allowed to wobble. We are seeing the flimsiness and decay of structures upon which we’ve based our national pride and hope. Even personal lives are not immune to shock waves. Families are in crisis, and many marriages are buckling. Sadly, people have too often built lives on the weak cornerstones of their human wisdom, goodness, and ingenuity. But there is only one secure foundation: Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11).
God always has a purpose for allowing upheaval in His ordered creation. Among other things, He is shaking the church out of apathy and self-focus, reminding us not to trust in the temporary structures of this world. Rather, we are to rest upon the firm foundation of God’s steadfast love and salvation.
As the Lord’s ambassadors on earth—and the only ones standing on firm ground—we have a responsibility to offer real hope to those whose foundation is unstable. No job, government, or even religion can give a person long-term security. A relationship with Christ is the only lasting refuge.
2 Timothy 1:6-7
What do you do when you’ve lost your enthusiasm for ministry? Perhaps difficult circumstances have led to discouragement or frustration. Or maybe you just keep going, but the Holy Spirit seems absent and no fruit is visible. In today’s reading, Paul tells Timothy to “kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6), but how is that accomplished? Over the years, God has taught me what to do whenever I sense that my flame is beginning to flicker.
Refill. Ministry is exciting when we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, but everyone springs a leak now and then. Get on your knees before the Lord and ask Him to refill your heart. Examine your life, repent of any sins, and submit to His leadership in every area of your life.
Refocus. Nothing dims the flame like fixing your eyes on the problem. Whenever we focus on obstacles, they grow larger. But when we shift our eyes to Christ, He becomes bigger than any problem we face.
Reject. When we’re down, the devil whispers lies into our minds: You can’t do this. No one appreciates you. Why not call it quits? We need to recognize all discouraging thoughts as coming from him—and not let them take root.
Retreat. Turn off the phone, electronics, and entertainment, and get away with the Lord to rekindle your intimate relationship with Him.
After going through all these steps, you will be able to return to ministry with new enthusiasm and commitment. Hard circumstances may remain, but you’ll be equipped to handle them because the Spirit’s flame is burning brightly within you. Rely on Him, and He will empower you for service.
Esther 2:1-8; Esther 2:17
The story of Esther is filled with romance, adventure, and danger. Her ordinary Jewish life suddenly became remarkable when she found herself crowned Queen of Persia. We clearly see the Lord’s sovereign hand at work as He called her to fulfill a very important role in His plan for the Jews. But can you imagine how upset, confused, and uncertain Esther must have felt as the details were unfolding?
We may feel the same perplexity as we live each day without knowing the future. Sometimes it is easier to see God’s calling in someone else’s life than in our own. His plans and purposes are working out in perfect progression, but from an earthly perspective, the developments may seem chaotic and bewildering.
Esther’s story is an encouragement to trust in God’s will and purpose for our life. Every believer in Christ has a calling from the Lord. He doesn’t save us and then leave us to fend for ourselves; instead, He continually guides each of His children in the work He has planned for his or her life.
God’s calling includes not only what we do but also who we are. Each experience in life is a tool that the Lord uses to shape and equip us to become the person He wants each one to be—with regard to character as well as conduct.
Begin looking for the Lord’s hand in your life. He is working out His plan, sometimes silently and softly, sometimes with jarring disruptions. But He is always there, directing and moving. Never imagine yourself to be insignificant in His eyes. You’re so highly esteemed that almighty God has designed a unique calling just for you.
God is love. His nature requires that He care for His creation unconditionally. This means that no matter what people do, think, or say—even if they reject Him—the Lord will not stop loving them.
After reading that last sentence, there are many people who are going to think of a dozen reasons why they are an exception. So let's be clear: God loves each and every one of us, and the only thing preventing us from experiencing that love is our own response. We will believe either our feelings or the truth of Scripture.
Paul points out that God is on the side of the believer. (See Rom. 8:31.) He gave up His Son Jesus Christ to death so that we could be purified and enter into a relationship with Him. Jesus’ sacrifice itself is proof of God’s love, but there are many additional expressions of His care for us. The Lord has a purpose and plan for every person’s life. Through His sovereign control, He works every situation—good and bad—to our benefit (Rom. 8:28). He is a loving Father who not only is interested in what happens to us but also is actively involved in our daily life.
Some people read and intellectually believe every word of the Bible but still feel unloved because they judge themselves unworthy. Their doubt acts like a dam, keeping the flow of God’s care from their hearts. The barrier will hold as long as the person believes he or she must deserve His love. But no sinner deserves pure love. God knows that and freely gives His love to us anyway. It is our choice whether to accept it.
The Bible tells us that God’s will is good, acceptable, and perfect in every way (Rom. 12:2). To live life at its spiritual best, we need to discover His plans and desires for us, and then we must walk in them every day. And yet certain hindrances can prevent our discerning His intentions for us.
Self-will. We are our own biggest obstacle. We’re born into this world with a fallen nature that likes to have its own way and be its own master. To follow God’s plan, we need to surrender our rights to Him and embrace His ways. We must choose every day to let Him rule over our thought life, emotions, families, work, and decisions. Surrendering to God means victory; clinging to our own ideas brings defeat. (See 1 Cor. 15:57.)
Ignorance of God’s principles. We are easily tripped up when we do not know what is important to the Lord and what we should avoid. Our minds can be changed from worldly to godly only with a steady application of Scripture. Without the light of biblical guidance, we will wander away from God’s plan (Ps. 119:105).
Influence of others. People have lots of opinions about what we ought to do and how God would want us to behave. Unless we are extremely careful, we will act to satisfy them. In fact, we might find ourselves out of God’s will because we put others ahead of the Lord.
If we abandon ourselves to God’s care, then “self” will be subdued, a hunger for His Word will grow, and we will live to please Him, not others. Have you given the “throne of your life” to Him?
Discovering God’s will is an ongoing adventure with rewards along the way. His Word is our map for the journey, and the Holy Spirit is our guide, who provides “road signs” as we travel.
Circumstances. God may use situations—even negative ones—to communicate with us (Phil. 1:12). To discern the meaning of a situation, we must relate biblical principles to our circumstances. God never contradicts His Word, and His will always upholds it.
Counsel. God may direct us through counsel from other believers (Prov. 1:5). To assess what they are saying, ask yourself, Do they honor the Lord in their attitudes and choices? Are their decisions based on scriptural truth? Do they offer biblical principles to help me find God’s will, or just their own opinion?
Conscience. Once our “inner alarm system” has been programmed according to scriptural foundations, we can use it as a resource to determine God’s plan for our life (1 Tim. 1:19).
Common Sense. When decisions need to be made quickly, the Spirit helps us think through which choices will honor God (James 1:5-6).
Compulsion. Sometimes God gives us compelling desires to see certain things happen. If we see no contradiction with Scripture and our inner feelings remain strong over time, we should move ahead (Ps. 33:4 NIV; 1 Cor. 9:16).
Contentment. God gives peace when we accept His choices for us (Isa. 26:3).
With your instruction book in hand, are you watching for the “road signs” that God places in your path? The heavenly Father does not want you to miss His perfect will for your life.
1 Corinthians 15:9-11
The apostle Paul had a certain mindset that Christians are wise to emulate (1 Cor. 11:1). In him, we recognize an attitude of:
Humility. Pride cannot hide in the heart of a believer who understands divine mercy. Paul spread the gospel because he believed the grace that was sufficient to save a sinner like him was adequate for anyone.
Indebtedness. The apostle never lost sight of how far the Father’s grace had brought him. Paul frequently reminded followers of his role in persecuting the church (1 Tim. 1:13), and his gratitude for salvation from that former life never waned. The book of Acts records the almost constant turmoil and heartache of his travels, and yet he continued to praise the Lord for the privilege of serving.
Dependence. To describe the source of his strength, Paul used these words: “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). He knew what it was like to depend upon one’s own goodness and work to be religious—and he wanted no part of it. Paul desired more of Jesus Christ and none of himself (Phil. 3:8).
Conviction. At the end of his life, Paul was as confident as ever that God was real, in charge, and worthy of all honor, glory, and praise (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Do you see these attitudes in yourself? If not, borrow a page from the apostle Paul’s “playbook.” Praise the Lord for all that He has done for you, and then get busy working—in His strength—for His kingdom. Do not allow His grace to be poured out on your life in vain (1 Cor. 15:10).
Our culture is an “instant” society. Because of inventions like the computer and the microwave, we’re used to quick results. A fast pace isn’t necessarily bad, but we should guard against becoming so set on immediate fulfillment that we can’t wait for God’s timing.
This problem existed long before the computer age. In Genesis 15:4-5, God revealed to Abraham that though he and his wife Sarah were too old to have children, a great nation would come from him. Abraham believed God but eventually decided to handle matters on his own. He took Sarah’s servant Hagar as his wife so that she could bear the promised son. (See Gen. 16.)
Abraham probably rationalized his decision, figuring that God wanted him to have a son—and since it seemed impossible any other way, surely this must be what the Lord wanted him to do! But it wasn’t. Abraham had to deal with the consequences of his actions, including jealousy and resentment between Sarah and Hagar. These problems in turn created further difficulties, both in the short term and throughout history.
God was faithful, though—14 years later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Yet the consequences of Abraham’s decision to step out of God’s plan remain with us. The two boys became the fathers of nations that are still in conflict.
Like Abraham, we might believe God’s promises but prefer immediate results. Or we may just want things to be done our way. Instead, ask the Father to lead you. Then wait for Him. His way may not be what you think you want, but it is always best.
Scripture says that God loves us, and the cross proves it. Sadly, though, this is only an intellectual truth for many believers, rather than an experiential one. The problem is not with the Lord, but with the individual’s capacity to sense His care.
One hindrance may be the tendency to measure divine love by life’s circumstances. When the heavenly Father allows tragedies and pain, some consider Him uncaring. The age-old question then becomes very personal: “How could a loving God allow me or those I care about to suffer?” We’ll never fully understand His ways, but we can know that His compassion and concern are bigger than the suffering of the whole world, and in the fullness of time, He will make all things right.
A sense of personal unworthiness can also obstruct the acceptance of God’s love. Focusing on past sins and moral failures or comparing yourself with others will lead to guilt and hopelessness. Satan specializes in promoting these self-condemning thoughts and feelings in the heart. The Lord never says, “Straighten up, and then I’ll care about you.” Remember that divine love is based on God’s character, not on our performance.
Unbelief is the root of all barriers to experiencing God’s love. When we deny His interest and concern for us, we doubt the truth of Scripture.
The Lord wants each of us to experience His great love in a personal and intimate way. Don’t let the enemy’s lies or life’s hardships steal the enjoyment and security of this great blessing. When doubts arise, rely on the truth of God’s Word. He loves you. Believe it, and eventually you will feel it.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Most likely, you do not enjoy your areas of weakness. Most of us tend to be problem solvers; often when we identify a deficiency in our life, we stop at nothing to correct the issue.
Our drive to be the best—or, at the very least, “normal”—generally leads us headlong down the path of self-sufficiency. After all, doesn’t the Lord want us to solve the problems we encounter?
While it is true that through God, dramatic changes can occur in the lives of His children, we ourselves must not take credit for the power to change. Our own strength is weak and faulty. John 15:5 says “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” The strength of God is limitless. (See Phil. 4:13.) Paul captures this image perfectly in 2 Corinthians 4:7, when he says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.”
We can trust this statement because of the apostle Paul’s credentials in adversity: He had been imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, and persecuted. Moreover, he struggled continually with a personal ailment, which he referred to as his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7).
The Lord used these things in Paul’s life to keep him centered on divine power, not his own. Pride puts us in opposition to God. What weaknesses are present in your life that the Father may be using to keep your eyes on Him? Praise God today for those things that bring you into complete dependence upon Him alone.
When people speak about their wants, they often cite today’s passage with zeal despite having little genuine understanding. We love the idea that the Father will give us the desires of our heart. Unfortunately, when we focus only on receiving good things, we miss the psalm’s context, which is a divine promise with human obligations.
God’s greatest interest is not to indulge us, but rather to give us more of Himself. Self-indulgent prayers overlook the first requirement for the promise’s fulfillment: delighting in the Lord. We are to take pleasure in time spent communing with Him and serving Him. As we read God’s Word and pray, we’ll experience His work in our life, and our faith in Him will deepen.
Over time, our growing trust in God means that we begin to appropriate His ways of thinking. Then committing to His plan—the second requirement—remolds our heart’s desires until they look like His own preferences for our life. Even so, sometimes what God provides may appear very different from what we requested. But when He hears our shortsighted appeals, He answers based on His infinite knowledge and His great love for us. Instead of giving us what we think we want, He bestows the perfect answer to our prayer.
God derives enjoyment from granting our requests, but His greatest joy is hearing us express an earnest desire to know Him better. The by-product of delighting in God and committing to His way is receiving our heart’s wishes. Our primary reward is a relationship with the loving God who offers to share Himself with humanity.
Loneliness can be a lifelong challenge or a short-term event. The length of the experience is often determined by how we deal with it. Turning to the Lord can help us find our way through the dark cloud of isolation.
Admit lonely feelings. Being a Christian doesn’t disqualify us from sometimes having a sense of seclusion. In fact, many of David’s psalms speak of his longing for companionship. When we express our feelings to the Father and cry out for His touch, He will answer (Ps. 91:15). I often tell God that I need Him to wrap His arms around me. His response is just as real as if a human being walked in and hugged me.
Develop godly relationships. We should pray for friends who will point us toward the Lord whether we are in good times or bad. These are the loved ones who see our faults and like us anyway. For example, one of my dear friends oftentimes jokes about me, “He was never meant to be understood—just loved.”
Be anchored in Scripture. When we cling to the Word during a lonely time, we will end up with a richer understanding of the Lord. Before I preached my first sermon, my mother gave me Joshua 1:9 as an anchor verse. She knew it would help me remember to be strong and courageous because God is with me always. That is still the verse I turn to when I need comfort.
Occasionally we all will walk through the fog of loneliness. But God is the Light guiding us out again. If you are struggling with feelings of isolation, cry out to Him for help.
A lot of negative emotions accompany hardship: frustration, despair, fear, and doubt. People ruled by these feelings will often make poor choices. This is why it is recommended that you decide now to respond to troubled times the way the psalmist did: with a heart of praise. Even in the darkest hours, worshipping God fills the heart with joy and the mind with peace. A believer who is filled in this way can wisely keep a commitment to obey the Lord no matter what.
Worshipping the Lord enlarges our vision. By doing so, we begin to see how He is at work in the world, perhaps in ways and places we’ve never noticed before. More particularly, we see what God is doing in our situation and detect areas where He requires obedience from us.
Our human tendency is to plot a course through a situation toward the easiest solution. But believers who strike out on their own do not mature in their faith. Moreover, they miss out on the blessings of following the Lord’s plan. Stopping to praise can keep us from taking the easy way out and direct us to the right path—namely, the way of God’s will. Taking a step forward in faith can be frightening. However, we can confidently take a risk, knowing our omniscient, omnipotent God has His children’s best interest in mind (Isa. 64:4; Jer. 29:11).
It’s hard to despair while honoring the Lord for His love and strength. We can dispel doubt by recalling His past faithfulness to us—and ease frustration by committing our future plans to Him. Praise is not the obvious reaction to hardship, but it is the wisest response.
2 Timothy 1:3-5
The most precious thing we can pass down to our children is our faith—the confident conviction that God is who He says He is and will do all He has promised. Timothy’s strong relationship with Christ didn’t materialize out of thin air; it grew because his mother and grandmother were godly examples.
Here are ways we, too, can hand down a rich legacy to the next generation:
Teach practical biblical principles. Kids need to know God’s views on matters such as material wealth (Ps. 24:1), the way to meet needs (Phil. 4:19), and direction in life (Prov. 3:5-6).
Model character through lifestyle. How we live—whether with transparency, peace, and perseverance, or with fear, anxiety, and self-reliance—loudly communicates what we believe about our heavenly Father.
Serve God by serving others. Actions show our faith is real (James 2:26). If we want children not to develop a self-centered perspective, servanthood is key.
Intercede for them. Kids won’t forget hearing us pray regularly for them.
Communicate love to them. Young people need to know we love them the way that God loves us—unconditionally rather than based on what they do or don’t do. Spoken words of love breathe life into their heart. And as we affirm them for trusting God, they see that we value their spiritual growth.
As parents, we must be intentional about leading and inspiring our sons and daughters to follow Jesus Christ. But even people without children of their own can leave a legacy. The example to follow is Paul: Though neither married nor a natural parent, he was a spiritual father to many. (See 1 Cor. 4:14-16.)
1 Corinthians 12:18-26
When we talk about Christians serving the church with their God-given talents and gifts, people oftentimes think too small, perhaps picturing the choir singer or the Sunday school teacher. But if they themselves aren’t naturally adept at singing or teaching, they give up.
It’s time that we stop thinking in terms of a “Sunday only” establishment. The church is not simply a place or a time; it is a body of believers, each one uniquely gifted by God to guide, help, challenge, and support the rest. In fact, most service to the Lord doesn’t take place inside the church building. It happens out in the world, where we do all the things that Scripture commands.
The majority of believers aren’t in a position to influence a lot of people. When we act or speak, only those closest to us notice, but a chain reaction ripples outward to affect an entire community. Paul’s metaphor of body parts working together harmoniously is a helpful description of how one small action can have a widespread impact. Consider the way tensing your toes will keep your foot stable and thereby steady your whole body. In the same way, a gentle rebuke, a listening ear, or a loving deed benefits the church by strengthening one brother or sister, who then supports another.
We are on this earth to serve the kingdom of God and His church. And we do that by ministering to each other in small ways that steady the whole body as we give extra support to one member. In talking about such service, challenge yourself to find a need that God can meet through you.
2 Chronicles 20:1-25
Faced with His nation’s certain demise, King Jehoshaphat responded with worship. Read his prayer in today’s passage, and you may find it difficult to separate the petition from the praise. Going deeper than familiar expressions like “hallelujah” and “praise the Lord,” he celebrates God’s personhood and extols His virtues.
Furthermore, the king led the people in glorifying God for their past redemption. As they focused on the Lord (instead of the incoming armies), the Israelites recalled anew how their heavenly Father had intervened, sometimes dramatically. This was exactly what God had told them to do—to instruct their children about His ways so they could daily honor Him. (See Deut. 6:7.) Doing so builds courage and strengthens faith.
The people’s praise paved the way for their complete and total dependence upon the Lord. The odds of the small Israelite army beating the united force of three enemies were slim. However, in their worshipful state of mind, the people could admit their weakness and await divine intervention. God gave them an outrageous solution to the problem: to do nothing. Even so, Israel was spiritually prepared to go against human reason and obey His commands. God loves it when we throw ourselves upon His mercy, because then His power can be released in its fullness.
God is also willing to lead you to victory in troubled times. The Israelites’ story is recorded in His Word so that all believers may apply its principles to their life. Bend your heart and mind toward the Lord, and He will enlarge your vision of who He is and what He can do on your behalf.
I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for prosperity and God gave me brawn and brains to work.
I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome.
I asked for patience and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.
I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help.
I asked for favors and God gave me opportunities.
I asked for everything so I could enjoy life.
Instead, He gave me life so I could enjoy everything.
I received nothing I wanted, I received everything I needed.
"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
The Lord has made us a special people in order that we may fulfill a special purpose. Isaiah 43:21 says, “The people whom I formed for Myself will declare My praise.” An integral part of worshipping the Lord is proclaiming His greatness.
To praise our Father is to applaud Him for who He is and what He has done in our life. This involves the release of our emotions, which frees us to express our unrestrained adoration for the Lord. When someone loves another person, the most natural response is to speak highly about the cherished one. In the same way, those who love Christ find that praise for Him comes easily to their lips.
Praising the Lord is good for us. In our self-centered society, people are primarily interested in getting their own needs met. Sadly, this same attitude has infiltrated some churches. But the Lord doesn’t want us to come to church concerned only about ourselves. Praise lifts our eyes to Jesus Christ and fills our hearts with the contentment that eludes us when we focus exclusively on our own needs and problems.
Praise and worship are usually associated with church services, but they should characterize us wherever we are. Some of the most intimate and precious experiences of worship can happen when we’re alone with the Father.
If you find that your praise lacks vitality, tell the Lord you want to learn to extol Him with your whole heart. The focus of worship is the key. Remember how God has cared for you, and look for daily evidence of His hand on your life. Then tell Him how great He is.
In adventure movies, we often see people trapped and helpless, frantically looking for a way to escape. Real life can sometimes feel that way for us, and as we begin to look for a way out, our prayers become filled with requests for rescue—physical healing, changed circumstances, additional provision.
Did you ever consider that even more important than physical rescue is spiritual liberation? (See Eph. 6:12.) First and foremost, Jesus Christ delivered you from the power and penalty of sin. As your living Savior, He also knows your continued helplessness in the face of sinful habits, uncontrolled emotions, and ungodly thoughts. He wants to free you from these sins. So seek out His offer of spiritual rescue every day—whether or not a physical crisis looms over you.
Follow the example of the psalmist, who cried out to God for deliverance. Psalm 50:15 says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” Start by admitting your helplessness to the Lord and to yourself. Confess any fears, unbelief, or self-reliance that you might detect in your life. Surrender all further attempts at change that are done apart from the heavenly Father. Then turn your gaze toward Him. Think about His relationship with you, who He is, and what He desires. Let the Holy Spirit fill your spirit with the truth of God’s Word. Meditate on it. Commit yourself to following His way. Then trust God, and wait on Him to change you from the inside out. A day will arrive when the helpless feeling will leave to be replaced by the joy of being free. When it does, give God the glory.
Doubt is destructive. It fills us with uncertainty, makes us indecisive, and affects our ability to connect with God and receive His wisdom. We know doubt is at work when we struggle to believe the following truths:
God loves us all the time. Most of us accept the Lord’s deep affection for us when we are “good,” but how about when we’re disobedient? His love for us does not fluctuate with our behavior. We can be certain of this because “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). That’s amazing grace—God loving us while we rebelled against Him.
God has a plan to forgive us for our disobedience. We know the Father promises to forgive us when we confess our sins, but we often have trouble believing we are forgiven. We must not use feelings to determine truth. God’s Word is true, and it says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). That is a description of complete forgiveness.
God has called us to serve Him. Our Father often invites us to join Him in His work—teaching a Sunday school class, helping a family in need, taking a leadership role, or speaking words about Jesus to another person. The presence of doubt might cause us, like Moses, to make excuses for why we cannot obey (Ex. 4:10). But God promises He has equipped us with everything we need to do the work He has chosen for us (Eph. 2:10).
The opposite of doubt is faith. Which best describes your state of mind?