This Is The Day

This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 NKJV)
Here's a verse we all know well; words we have put to song and we sing them to our Creator God. If we were to back up a few verses we would find that the psalmist is referring to the Cornerstone of our faith, and the "day the Lord has made" is the day of our salvation through Christ Jesus.
I believe God honors our appropriating this verse out of context. But how many of us really begin our day with such expectant praise! How might our days be different if, as we begin our day in prayer, that prayer was in gratitude and eager anticipation of what our Father God has planned for us that day?
How might our attitudes blossom and our demeanor be uplifted, if we would focus on one truth – That this may be the very day that your Father in Heaven has determined to be the most wonderful, fulfilling, blessed day of your life – 'A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over'. Why could it not be? Why shouldn't it be so?
I think of how we might greet each day with the anticipation of God's grace, provision, and blessings; of the opportunities He will make available to us today to be His hands and feet; of being the salt and light He has called for us to be. I think of the overwhelming honor of being used by my Father to further His holy kingdom. I think of the wonderfulness of His holy word and how, through that book, we are allowed to know Him and to seek His righteousness. I think of the comfort He allows me, knowing that when I stumble, when I fail He has already forgiven me that failure, that He will pick me up, dust me off, and hold my hand going forward.
We never know what today may bring. It may bring calamity, or malady, distress, or even death. Yes, Jesus warned us that our world is full of trouble and we will often have to endure such, but that trouble is not of God. He would not tell us to rejoice and be glad in the new day He has made only to burden that day with trouble.
What a wonderful sensation it is to know as I lay down my Bible each morning, stand up and walk out into the new day, that I have this sense of empowerment, knowing that I am loved by God, that I am His child and heir to His kingdom. He has formulated a plan for each of my days that I might prosper, have hope and a future; and that He lives within me through His Holy Spirit. Is that not awesome?
I noted above that this may be the day He has set aside as the pinnacle – the highest mountain top you will ever know. How much greater, how much higher might that mountain top be if you began your day in anticipation of such an experience. If we were to begin our day in such holy anticipation, when the blessings do occur, how much greater is our joy! "He really did. He really blessed me over and above anything I imagined!"  "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him". (1 Cor. 2:9 NIV) And now, being in the right frame of mind, we instantly know the source of our blessing and we eagerly give thanks to that Source.

I recall some years ago sharing with friends how abundantly God had blessed me and how, in my prayers of gratitude I would say to God that He had outdone Himself and no blessing could be greater. And sure enough, just as if to say "Oh Yeah, you think that was good – how about this!", and He would bring a new and greater blessing.
And if per chance the day does not bring you to the mountain top, it has still been a day of joyous anticipation as our heart and soul focuses on the goodness and faithfulness of God, rather than the travails of life.

We do serve an awesome and mighty God. Blessed be His Holy Name!!

On Earnest Prayer

The prophet Elijah comes on the scene rather suddenly. We don’t get much of an introduction to Elijah other that he is a Tishbite speaking to Ahab, the evil king of Israel. Reading through 1 Kings we meet a number of the kings in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and then chapter seventeen opens up with Elijah declaring that there will be a famine in the land brought about by his word. Notice the scripture does not say God is declaring the famine, or that He will end it, but that Elijah’s word will be the catalyst for both the end and return of rain in Israel. “Now Elijah . . . said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”  (1 Kings 17:1)

James commented on Elijah’s declaration saying, “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.(James 5:17-18)

James’ point was to elucidate his statement in verse 16 that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. Elijah – even though a common man ‘even as we are’, was able to turn on and off the spigots of heaven by prayer.

I wonder if we forget the power afforded us through Christ. I wonder if we all truly believe that we can appropriate  His miraculous powers.

Jesus said we can.  Speaking to His disciples, He told them to at least believe in the miracles they had seen and that   “. . . anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these. . .” (John 14:12) Note the word anyone. Jesus didn’t limit this power to those disciples. The only condition or provision of our appropriating His miraculous power is “faith in Him”.

The Bible tells us that Jesus promised that we could transplant trees to the seas (Luke 17:6) and move mountains (Matt. 17:20) by our faith in Him. The ending of 17:20 states “Nothing will be impossible for you.” Again no caveats – no limits – our Lord clearly states NOTHING will be impossible.

So we ask the question – “Why do we suffer the impositions, maladies, and tribulations this world infects us with. Why are our prayers not answered?

Perhaps our prayers are not being answered because we have an unforgiven issue with a neighbor (Matt 5:23-24), or maybe the answer we seek is just not part of God’s ‘perfect’ plan (Romans 8:28; 1 John 5:14). But I believe that so very often it is due to a lack of faith. Each of the promises mentioned above, performing miracles, moving mountains, or transplanting trees to the sea, were all contingent on a level of faith.

Perhaps we ‘lean on our own understanding’, ‘take the broad road and the wide gate’, or we ‘ask with wrong motives’. Would the answer to our petition have glorified God? That is, for me, the litmus test. God uses our tribulations to bring us closer to Himself and thus anything that doesn’t glorify Him is just self-serving and we shouldn’t  expect Him to honor such.

Let each of us seek that level of faith and humility whereby our every thought and action is geared to glorify God. It is then that we will find prayers answered. (Matt. 6:33).

Unanswered Prayer

“I will go back to My place, until they admit their guilt, and they will seek My face: in their misery they will earnestly seek Me.” Hosea 5:15 (NIV)

Hosea was a resident of the northern kingdom. Throughout his prophecy it is evident that Hosea had a tender feeling of compassion for the people of his land. Alternately he warned the people and then pled with them to return to God in repentance. He knew, regardless of how wicked they had been, if they repented of their sins and forsook their wicked ways, God would receive them back in His love.

In Hosea 5:2 (NKJV) the prophet described the Israelites as “the revolters” and himself as “a rebuker.” He saw it as his task to point out Israel’s sin and call them to repentance. But there was a problem. Of the Jews he said, “They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the LORD; but they shall not find Him; He hath withdrawn Himself from them.” Vs 5:6. God does not answer our prayers if we have unconfessed personal sin in our lives. Again and again the Bible affirms this truth “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will.” John 9:31 (see also; Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:1-2).

We should not assume that God will always hear and answer our prayers. There are many things that can impede God’s answer. The greatest hindrance to prayer is personal, unconfessed sin. The Apostle Peter, after listing a variety of attitudes that a righteous person will have, makes this observation: “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” 1 Peter 3:12. Many other things in life block the divine answer to prayer: idolatry (Jeremiah 11:11-14), irreverence for the Bible (Proverbs 28:7-9), family problems (1 Peter 3:1-7), improper motives (James 4:3), prayer without faith (James 1:5-6); but the most certain way to make God unavailable to us when we seek Him is for us to harbor iniquity in our hearts.

If the conditions were met, God would not withdraw Himself from Israel, He would listen to their prayers, and He would answer them. Therefore, God promised, “I will go and return to My place, till they acknowledge their offense and seek My face; in their affliction they will seek Me early” Hosea 5:15 NKJV. The absence of God’s influence in their lives would be affliction enough for the Israelites. God was about to get their attention and He would do so by means of the calamities which Hosea prophesied. But once He got their attention and their repentance for sin was made, they would again arise early in the morning to seek the face of God.

If God appears to have withdrawn Himself from you, perhaps you ought to ask yourself these questions: “Have I treated God well enough for Him to answer my prayers?” (idolatry); “Have I heeded God’s Word well enough for Him to answer my prayers?” (irreverence for the Bible); “Have I treated my family well enough for God to answer my prayers?” (family problems); “Have I examined my motives well enough for God to answer my prayers?” (improper motives); “Have I trusted God well enough for Him to answer my prayers?” (prayer without faith); “Have I confessed personal sin well enough for God to answer my prayers?” (iniquity). When we can answer each of these questions in the affirmative, there is no reason for God to withdraw Himself from us when we seek Him. He has promised always to be near. Having confessed our sin, let us claim that promise today.

“And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred fourscore and five thousand; and when they arose early in the morning behold, they were all dead corpses.” 2 Kings 19:35 NKJV. King Hezekiah was in a jam. Although he had trusted God, and did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, nonetheless his Assyrian armies were at his door.
Sennacherib had sent three of his lieutenants to Jerusalem with a great host of Assyrian soldiers. Rab-shakeh, the spokesman for this terrible trio, taunted the Israelites, ridiculing their faith in God. He stood before the wall of Jerusalem shouting obscenities to the Jews and counseling them, “Let not Hezekiah deceive you. . . Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD. . . hearken not to Hezekiah. . . . Make an agreement with me” 2 Kings 18:29-31. When the king heard that the Assyrians were outside the city walls, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. Here Isaiah, the prophet, encouraged Hezekiah that God had the situation well in control. Soon Hezekiah received a letter from the king of Assyria demanding that he surrender the city.

What Hezekiah did next is characteristic of a man of faith. Hezekiah prayed unto the Lord God, and in his prayer we can see the elements of all righteous prayer.

His prayer was instinctively spontaneous (verse 14). When Hezekiah received the threatening letter, he immediately spread it before the Lord. There was no thought of calling a committee or seeking the advice of others; Hezekiah knew what to do, as did Elisha (2 Kings 4:33) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:4) in similar situations.

His prayer was praisefully reverent (verse 15). He addressed God as, “O LORD God of Israel which dwellest between the cherubims, Thou art the God, even Thou alone.” The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9) indicates the same kind of reverence.

His prayer was intimately personal (verse 16). After he addressed God in a reverent fashion, Hezekiah said, “LORD, bow down Thine ear and hear.” He had recognized God as sovereign; now he addresses Him as friend.

His prayer was respectfully informative (verses 17-18). Hezekiah did not demand of God what should be done. He was reminding himself in prayer of what God had promised. When we inform God of our situation in prayer, it is not because He is unaware of how desperate we are; we do it so we are aware of how desperate we are.

His prayer was purposefully direct (verse 19a). The time had come to get down to business. He pointedly made his request known unto the Lord. “O LORD our God, I beseech thee, save Thou us out of his hand.” Hezekiah did not mince words; he was direct and forthright in his request to God.

His prayer was properly motivated (verse 19b). Hezekiah prayed for deliverance from the Assyrians, “that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD God, even Thou only.” Anything that happens to God’s people reflects on God’s purpose.

Our prayers ought to be motivated so that the world sees the grace of God in our deliverance from desperate situations.

His prayer was powerfully effective and 2 Kings 19:35-36 shows the powerful effect of the righteous man’s prayer: “And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.” Early the next morning Hezekiah and the Jews found their enemy routed and 185,000 dead soldiers. God had performed what He promised.

Prayer is the power that gets a hold of God. Each of us would be wise to study carefully Hezekiah’s prayer and see how these seven characteristics of his prayer can be applied to our prayer lives. Let’s be like Hezekiah and believe that “…the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16.

We all are aware of the power of prayer. The focus of our prayers should always be that his answers will be to His glory, not to ours.

Talking to God

Most Christian believers would say their first line of communications with God is through prayer.  The fact that many of our prayers may not be vocal places no restriction on the premise of talking to God.  Many times a day we silently look heavenward and thank Him for an unexpected blessing, for answer to prayer, or to beg His forgiveness for a sinful slip of the eye, or thought, or tongue.

I think of other ways we speak to God though that are not how He wants to hear from us.  Many people are very adept at discerning the veracity of what we say simply by observing our facial expression or ‘body language’, especially those who know us well.  You are asked how you’re doing and you reply “Good”, or “Great”, or “I’m doing fine”, but your slumped shoulders or averted eyes tell a different story. How much more can God know what is on our mind and in our hearts as we go about our day.

What lies does He see in us as we stand in His house singing “How Great Thou Are” or “Majesty” and sneak a sinful look at the young lady in the next row.  What lies do we tell Him about our love for our neighbor when we are intolerant of them, when we are judgmental or impatient with them?  What lies do we tell God about our obedience to Him when our self-centered, self-aggrandizing actions say otherwise?  And ultimately how much do we lie to God when we tell Him we trust Him and surrender all to Him, and yet when troubles come our way we fret and worry how we are going to deal with them.

In a previous issue of the Witness I wrote on how our mind sometimes begins to wander when we are in prayer and that I think often it is Satan’s attempt to interrupt our communion with God, but not always.  Sometimes I believe God butts in to our mundane incantations to deliver a thought or direction He wants us to explore.  I know have been directed to a particular verse of scripture or vein of thought many times.  I used to wonder “where’d that come from?” I have no doubts now; I believe that through His Holy Spirit, He speaks to me.  He has directed the theme and content of this offering so often when I am in prayer that I could not, would not launch this weekly sailing without knowing that He is at the helm.  Am I claiming that what I generate here each week are ‘the words of God’? Surely not!  But I am convinced that these writings are inspired by Him. I believe that the ‘Weekly Witness’ has not only been sustained these last five years and that the readership continues to grow, is testimony (at least in my mind) of His blessings on it.

Another obvious way that God talks to us is through our Pastors and Bible study leaders. Additionally I think that occasionally He uses a most unexpected source to speak to us. We see a charitable need and respond; God is saying to us, “Tend my flock, feed my sheep”.  When we reach out to a non-believer, is God not using us to talk to that person?  When a Christian brother or sister reveals a sinful thought or characteristic in us, is God’s Holy Spirit not talking to us through them?  As parents, is God not speaking through us to our children?  We must never believe for one moment that we are the source of enlightenment – the Light comes only from our Lord and we are but a mirror to reflect that Light.

Finally God speaks to us most voluminously and completely through His Holy Word.  When you don’t get that inspired revelation while you are in prayer, when you are not moved by the hymn selection or the pastor’s sermon, open the Book. Through His Word God will scream at you how much He loves you, how many ways He shows his love for you, and how much He wants to have you a part of His Kingdom, that He forgives you for all that baggage you refuse to surrender, and that all you have to do is accept Him.  Nothing else.  Nothing.

John Owen, a 16th century puritan wrote, “Friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits; and these, the more free and less occasioned by urgent business…” I think he meant that our visits to the Lord should be frequent, not waiting for the calamities and trials we find ourselves in.  Most mornings my first communion with God are of this vein. . .uncluttered with intercessory pleadings. . .just, “Good morning Father, Thank you for a new day, thank you for the knowledge of your presence here with me”.

I would guess, (I certainly couldn’t know), that God enjoys communicating with us through prayer over the other means I have listed here.  When you think about it sincere prayer is our ultimate way of demonstrating our faith.  Whether standing, sitting, or on your knees, with arms reaching up, there you are pouring your heart out to an unseen and unseeable entity which you have chosen to believe is all the Bible says He is.  That is an act of faith beyond any act of service; I believe, beyond repentance. You may have never heard His voice, you have never seen Him, yet you know that you know that you know that He is not only real but that He is mindful of you, He provides for you, and He love you so much that He sent His beautiful Son to redeem you to Him.  Hebrews 11:1 states this state so succinctly; “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

May God abundantly bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others.

How Can You Love Me? (A Prayer)

This prayer is not intended to address everyone, but I hope that as you read through it you will find something you may need to talk to Father God about.  Perhaps you can use this as a springboard to tell God of your amazement of His mercy and grace considering. . .

“Mighty and merciful God, good morning Father.  You honor me Father by allowing me to bring my burdens to you.  I am unworthy of such honor; nonetheless I am thankful and grateful.

The agony you have put on my heart Father, through your Holy Spirit is almost unendurable.  I see myself in the mirror of Your Son, my Lord Jesus, and I can only lament as your prophet Isaiah did when he beheld Your glory, “I am undone.  I know I am a sinful man living among the sinful.”

You are Mighty God.  You are Magnificent, Magnanimous, Faithful, and Forgiving.  You are Wise and Wonderful.  You are my Creator, the only Creator and your creation is wonderful.  You are Perfect and Pure and Just.  You are my Rock, my Fortress, and Strong Tower.  You are my King; You are the Great I AM.  How is it that you would love me so?

You have knit me together in the womb, made me to the size and shape and specifications you needed me to be to do your perfect will.  You gave me talents and wisdom and intellect to fulfill that perfect will.  Yet I have failed you, failed your Son Jesus, and failed the Holy Spirit who now indwells me and who teaches and leads me.

How is it that you love me so much that you would have your Son leave His throne, set aside His scepter, and abdicate His glory, to become as I am, a man; a human just like me, though innocent, sinless, and pure?  We did not love Him.  We hated how He exposed our sin, so we murdered Him.  Tell me Father, why do you love me so?  Who am I that you would sacrifice your Perfect Son?

I know myself Father, not as well as You know me, but nonetheless I know what a reprobate I am, and how unworthy I am of Your sacrifice, your love, your mercy, and forgiveness.

You bless me with a wife, a Godly woman who loves me, honors me, and respects me, and gives me children.  Even so, in my sin I still lust for others of your creation, dishonoring her, breaking her heart, and corrupting the sacred marriage you ordained.  Even while I sin, still you love me.

You provide food in abundance, and in my gluttony I take more than my share and waste as much as I eat, while so many others of your children in the world starve for lack of any food; people that I know you love equally as you love me.

You created in me talents and abilities to work, and your Holy Word tells me I should work, and that my work should be as if it were for You, and that if I do not work I should not eat.  Yet I am lazy, doing only that work that I must to survive and often only half-heartedly and without conviction or integrity.  The work I do, I tell myself is by my own abilities, giving You no credit.  I steal from my employer by doing less than what he expects and what he compensates me for.  And in my greed I steal from you Lord by not returning to you the pittance you ask of me by not tithing to your church.  Why do you still love me?

You surround me with opportunities to minister in Your Name, however I am too full of myself.  My pride is my greatest evil.  I think myself a better person than the homeless, the sick, and the dying, and my unbelieving brother.  I am intolerant, impatient, and angry with my brother.  I judge him, criticize, and condemn him.  I spread gossip and lies about him, that I might make myself more important or socially acceptable (mostly in my own eyes).  I do not love my brother as You do and have commanded me to, and yet You have loved me still.

Father, You have provided all my needs and much of my wants.  Yet I am envious of my brother’s possessions, his abilities, or his appearance, and I covet his wife and his station in life.  I stand amazed at your tolerance and your love for me.

I see through Your Son Jesus and your Holy Word how sinful I am Father.  For me to ask for forgiveness again would be to discount the forgiveness of Calvary.  I am forgiven.  Thank You Father.  I know that nothing I can say or do will make me worthy of Your love, and equally, I know nothing I say or do will separate me from Your love through Christ Jesus.  I stand naked and helpless before your throne.  Without You I can do nothing.

You are an amazing and awesome God; You are the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.  You are Great and Glorious, and I do love you.  My prayer, my petition is that You keep me on your potter’s wheel.  Mold me to what you would have me be.  As You promised through your prophet Ezekiel, “… give me a new heart and put a new spirit in me; …remove from me my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh.”  Help me Father, by Your Holy Spirit, to be more trusting of you and obedient and faithful to you.  AMEN