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Weekly Word

Entries in Discouragement (4)

Tuesday
Jan092018

When The Godly Are Discouraged II

1 Kings 19:9-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 7, 2018.

When we last left Elijah, he was in an extremely depressed and discouraged state.  He felt like a failure and wanted to die.  Instead of giving Elijah what he wanted, God sends an angel to strengthen Elijah and send him to Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai, in order to meet with the Lord.  Today’s passage opens with Elijah’s arrival at the mountain, and what he finds there is what all of us need to find during the wilderness times of our life.  Yes, Elijah meets with God.  However, he also receives a revelation of just how God operates.  Have you ever felt like God wasn’t doing what He should be doing?  Have your expectations been one thing, but reality is quite another?  It is important to recognize that our human perceptions, of what is happening and how things are going, usually misunderstand God.  All people who want to be righteous in this world will have to face this reality and learn to let go of those thoughts that have caused us to want to quit living for the Lord, or at least quit living.  When we are discouraged, we need to get alone with God and seek Him until He gives us what we need to continue on the path that He has put before us.

God let’s Elijah vent

In verse 9 we see that Elijah has arrived at the mountain.  He goes up on it and finds a cave to shelter in for the night.  This is the same mountain where Moses met with God when Israel was coming out of Egypt.  Some have even speculated that this cave might be the same “cleft in the rock” that Moses hid in as God revealed Himself to him.  Regardless there is a clear parallel going on between the two accounts.  In part one of this passage we saw that God cares about the godly when they are discouraged.  He had sent an angel to minister to Elijah in body, and with instruction of what to do next.  Here we also see that God gives room for Elijah to continue venting his emotions.  Yes, Elijah feels like a failure and wants to quit, but there is more to it than that.

God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?”  We could think of this as a silly question because it appears that the angel is the one who told Elijah to journey to Horeb.  However, the angel found Elijah over 115 miles south of Jezreel in the wilderness of Beersheba under a broom tree praying for God to kill him.  There is no indication in the text anywhere that God sent Elijah there.  Instead, every indication is that he is discouraged and afraid of the threat of Jezebel.  So God’s question is not silly, it is extremely important.  Elijah is not where he is supposed to be.  The prophet of the Lord, who had gone so long trusting the Lord and obeying His every word, now is struggling.  He seems to have run off to Horeb, much like Jonah jumped on the ship, although for very different reasons.  It is important for to stop and allow the Holy Spirit to ask us this question from time to time.  What am I doing here?  Am I where God wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do?  Or, have I become too discouraged and fled away from the work that He has called me to?  Some have abandoned spouses, children.  Some have abandoned churches and fellow believers.  We may even have abandoned the mission that Jesus has given us in our daily life.  In such cases, you need to understand that God confronts Elijah in order to get him back on track.  God cares about Elijah.

However, we don’t have to be in the wrong place doing the wrong things to ask this question.  Even those who are trying to be faithful to God need a reminder from time to time why God has them where they are and what they should be doing.  We get into ruts and run on auto-pilot at times.  This may keep things going, but it can also cause us to lose sight of what God’s call is for us.  May all we do be for God and to His glory.

This question opens the door for Elijah to explain just what is eating him inside.  His complaint to God begins with the contrast between his faithfulness to the God of Israel and the unfaithfulness of the other Israelites.  The children of Israel had abandoned God’s covenant (vs. 10).  This word translated as “forsaken” has the idea of being untied and let to go free.  Israel had made a covenant with God and thus they were obligated or tied to keeping the covenant.  However, most people in Israel in those days had cut off or broken those ties, whether externally or internally.  They had come to a point where they no longer felt obligated to keep the Law of Moses.  Now, for them to abandon the Law that God had given is to abandon God Himself.

Do we understand that at the heart of the Bible is the revelation that the Creator is an abandoned and forsaken being?  God understands the heart of the forsaken and abandoned person because He has been in that position for a very long time.  Jesus Himself represents the perfect picture of the Father, when he is executed in public as an outcast of His people.  In contrast to Israel’s abandonment of God is Elijah’s intentional zeal towards the Lord.  Elijah had bravely and zestfully followed the covenant of God and had stood with the God of Israel during His time of abandonment.  Do we not have such a condition in our nation today?  All across this nation, people are daily abandoning God.  Of course there are many who are being saved and taking a stand with Jesus.  Yet, my emphasis is this question.  Will you stand with God during His time of public abandonment and even public crucifixion?  It is not an easy thing to do and is very discouraging at times.  Indeed, we cannot do it in our flesh and by sheer will power alone.  We need the help of God Himself to enable us by His Spirit.

Elijah points out that they had not only abandoned the covenant, but they had also torn down God’s altars.  They weren’t content to quit worshipping the God of Israel.  They also had to tear down the altars to make it difficult for others to keep worshipping Him.  Altars represent the place where we meet with God and deal with sin, but also enter into intimate fellowship.  Today, we do not build up rocks and sacrifice animals to draw near to God.  However, by faith and through prayer, we approach God, confess our sins, and enter into intimacy with Him.  Don’t follow those who are tearing down the altars in their own life, and making it hard for others.  Be a person who is faithful to have your own altar of prayer before the Lord in your daily life.

Lastly, Elijah points out that they have killed the prophets of God and Elijah was the only one left.  On top of that they were trying to snuff out his life.  Even worse than their sin, they had killed the prophets of God.  All who seek to be righteous in a time when society is headed in the other direction will feel like a person who has been driven into the wilderness of society and then hunted like a fox on the run.  Whether metaphorically or literally, all who seek to follow the Lord will feel like society has released its hounds to seek them out and destroy their lives.  Sometimes these hounds have official titles, like Attorney General, and use the cover of law to hound those who are trying to serve God.  They hound little old ladies who have the audacity to try and run a business in a way that pleases God.  This is a discouraging place to get to.  But don’t forget that God cares about the righteous, especially when they are discouraged.  He has not abandoned you.  As God told Joshua, I will not leave you nor forsake you, so Jesus says to those who will follow Him, “I am with you , even to the end of the age.”  Friend, God knows it is hard.  He even shows us through Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that this discouragement is a necessary part of following Him.  Lay down those fears and anger at His altar and take the nail-scarred hand of Jesus.  Let Him lead you forward.

God reveals Himself to Elijah

It is not that Elijah hasn’t known God.  Rather, he has some misperceptions about God that must be dispelled.   In verses 11-14 we are given a scene where the Lord tells Elijah to come out onto the side of the mountain before the Lord.  The text says that the “Lord passed by.”  As I said earlier there is an intentional parallel between this account and the account of Moses in Exodus 34.  In Exodus 34, Moses actually sees a receding glorious form.  But here, Elijah does not see a form.  Instead he sees all manner of natural forces coincidentally happening one after the other.  In the end Elijah only hears the voice of God, but that is enough.  There is a part of all of us that would demand that God come down from the heavens and show Himself to us all.  We can kick and scream that it isn’t fair that God doesn’t make it more obvious.  However, all throughout the Bible, we see that those who saw the greatest miracles and proofs of the greatness of God often didn’t serve him any better.  They were just as quick as we to get discouraged in the days and weeks after the amazing acts of God.  Woe to the person who needs God to come down out of the heaven because when He does come down, it will most likely be too late to get things right.  But, blessed is the person who doesn’t see and yet believes.  Such a person will find the Lord gracious in his time of need.

This scene teaches us something about God.  Elijah had expected something great to change the fortunes of Israel.  So God sends him a ferocious wind that is breaking rocks off the side of the hill.  Yet, it says God wasn’t in the wind.  Next an earthquake shakes the mountain, and yet, God is not in the earthquake.  Lastly a fire roars up the side of the mountain, and yet again, the Lord is not in the fire.  Now, on one hand it is clear that God is orchestrating these “natural” events.    However, each time Elijah thought, “Surely God will speak now.”  But God was silent in between each powerful event.  Elijah wanted God to keep doing big and great things, and these three signs symbolized what was in Elijah’s heart.  Yet, God wasn’t in those things. 

It seems that Elijah had gone back into the cave, probably in order to survive the natural disasters that kept striking.  Then it came, a still, small voice that Elijah could barely hear.  He goes out on the side of the mountain and there that still, small voice says the exact same thing that God said at first, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”   Elijah will answer in verse 14 exactly as he did back in verse 10.  But something is different now.  God has shown Elijah something that he didn’t see before.  Yes, God can bring down fire from heaven, He can send hurricanes, earthquakes, and great fires.  In fact, the Bible says that in the last days God will send such devastating things to those who dwell on the earth.  And in general, they won’t hear Him in it.  They won’t repent and turn back to God.  You see, if your heart is in the right place, you only need to hear a still, small voice, just a whisper to believe.  You only have to hear of the Son of God hanging on a cross at Mt. Calvary and in that moment a still, small voice is in your mind whispering, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”  Yes, God can do big things.  But people who respond to such big things run out of devotion quick.  But, those who respond to the still, small voice are those who can walk through the fire with Jesus.

God gives Elijah the next tasks

Now that Elijah is listening and has a better understanding that God has His own way of doing things, and it isn’t always a cosmic display of power, God gives him the next mission.  Elijah has travelled over 300 miles to hear God tell Him to go back to where he was and go to work.  However, don’t be discouraged.  Sometimes we have to travel an extra 40 years in the wilderness in order to get our hearts in the right place.  God cares about His servants and works with us in our weakness.  He is willing to travel with us during those times when we are discouraged and have our hands hanging down, or even when we are going away from our place of duty.  May God help us to not run from our place of duty.  But, instead, may we learn to stop and retreat into our prayer closet.  We need not go to a particular place miles and miles away.  We only need to go to a particular being and wait upon Him to give us what we need.

The task that God gives Elijah is to anoint Hazael as King over Syria and to anoint Jehu as King over Israel.  Clearly God is letting Elijah know that the time for King Ahab’s rule is coming to an end.  Ahab and Jezebel have refused to repent and thus God will remove them in His perfect timing, not Elijah’s.  Lastly God tells Elijah to anoint Elisha as a prophet in his place.  This would have been a very encouraging word to Elijah.  All people who spend the strength of their life laboring in blood, sweat, and tears at the work of the Lord wonder, “Whose gonna take my place when I’m gone?”  Is this the last generation?  Is it all going to end with me?  Has it all been for nothing?  Ultimately, we are to trust the Lord.  He is always faithful to raise up workers in every generation who desire to be faithful to Him in fact let us notice verse 18.

God corrects Elijah’s perception that He is the only one left.  God tells him that He has reserved 7,000 who have not bowed down to the idol of Baal.  The word reserved is connected to the term remnant.  But it emphasizes an action of God.  God had left for Himself 7,000 people in Israel who had not abandoned Him.  Elijah wasn’t alone and his faithful service to the Lord was more encouraging to those 7,000 than he could know.  Throughout history the wicked have devised acts rebellion against God.  The righteous always refuse to join with them in their folly.  Like those who in the end times will refuse to take the mark of the beast, so God’s people of every generation have refused to take on the actions of the rebels.

May we recognize that we do not perceive things as they truly are.  We can only see the outside and that is often masked and pretended.  But God sees the heart.  Even today, He has way  more than 7,000 globally who are refusing to bow their knees to the spirit of this age.  Let us resolve to be just such a remnant that the Lord has reserved for Himself in our generation.

godly discouraged II

Monday
Jan012018

When The Godly Are Discouraged

1 Kings 19:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 31, 2017.

Here we are on the last day of 2017 facing the New Year.  Some of you may be excited and chomping at the bit, but chances are, there are many who are discouraged from what has happened in the past.  This is a normal experience for all human beings.  However, for believers in Jesus there is an added weight upon their shoulders and that is the call of God upon our lives.  Yes, Jesus said his burden in light and I believe that.  However, we must be honest about discouragement if we are going to overcome it. 

So part of my encouragement today is to remind you that, if you are discouraged, you are in good company.  All the godly men and women from every generation have felt this very same discouragement from time to time.  Now I am not saying that discouragement is a good thing, only that it is a normal thing.  Let’s be honest many times we get even more discouraged because we think that we shouldn’t be discouraged at all.  We can build up an inner cycle of despising ourselves, trying harder, being discouraged again, and despising ourselves. 

Today we will look at a time in the life of Elijah, the powerful prophet of God.  Here we will see that he too was discouraged, and even on the heels of a great success.  May God help us to lay our discouragements before Him and receive the strength and courage that we need to rise up and live for Him.

There is resistance to the move of God

Chapter 19 of 1 Kings opens up in the city of Jezreel.  Take time to remind yourselves of what had just happened up on the top of Mt. Carmel with fire coming down from heaven on Elijah’s sacrifice.  When Elijah enters Jezreel, he clearly believes that God is putting down Baal worship in Israel and lifting up the righteous.  Perhaps he even believes King Ahab, who witnessed the powerful display of Yahweh over the top of the impotence of Baal, will finally repent and start serving Yahweh, the God of Israel.  However, this sense of victory does not last long.  Yes, God is doing something in Israel.  He is on the move, but not everyone likes it.

Just as Elijah had been a strong leader towards serving the One, True God of Israel, so Jezebel is a strong leader for evil and worshipping Baal.  In contrast to these two individuals, King Ahab appears to be a weak leader who is like a deer in the headlights, frozen and not sure what to do.  He hadn’t been strong in worshipping Yahweh in his past, which eventually led to an alliance with Sidon and marriage to the daughter of the king of Sidon.  This opened the door to the worship of Baal.  It starts with building a temple for his wife to worship her god, and then little by little she convinces Ahab that Baal is a greater god.  At some point Ahab follows her lead and promotes Baal worship for all Israel, while hunting down and killing the prophets of the God of Israel.  There are always many different leaders in a nation that are vying for one direction or another.  We do not always have such clear contrast between a godly leader that fully leads in God’s directions versus an evil leader that fully leads in Satan’s direction.  That said, we have similar resistance to what God is trying to do in our country.  Like Jezebel, they are not impressed by the Word of God and the power of God that is displayed in His people.  They will continue to resist and fight against what God is trying to do.  Jezebel knows that this is about more than religion and whose god is stronger.  This is about power over a nation and Elijah is messing with her power over Ahab and the rest of Israel.  In the face of clear proof of just who is God, she becomes extremely brazen and seems not to flinch.  More than likely Jezebel is actually an atheist that uses religion as a cover and a means for power.  Even though Baal failed on Mt. Carmel, she doesn’t care.  She is going to use her position to protect her power.  Thus we see her threaten Elijah’s life.

Many have questioned why Jezebel would send word to Elijah that she was going to kill him within the next 24 hours.  Why not just do it?  Some suggest that she knew that Elijah’s new found popularity would not take his execution lightly.  It could backfire on her.  Perhaps the threat is an attempt to get Elijah to go back into the wilderness, as was his mode of operating so far.  His presence is meddling and will only force the issue.  She knows that if she can get him to leave, then she can start the damage control and spin everything back to her and Baal.  His leaving will also take the confidence out of those who saw the powerful work of Elijah, but don’t really know the God of Israel.  The absence of his strong faith will leave them alone with their weak faith.  This is a possibility and is definitely filled with speculation.  Regardless, Jezebel tells Elijah that she is going to have him killed. 

Now, resistance to what God is doing is not always so drastic.  It can be something as simple as a person being cynical, always putting the motivations of others in the worse possible light, and passive aggressively claiming the problem is all with the other side.  However it appears, resistance to what God is doing is always present in one form or another.  As Christians, it is important that we learn to fight against the very, human nature to be a sheep in the flock following the herd.  Just as shepherd use dogs to herd the sheep, so power players use problems in society to herd the majority towards a particular solution.  Also called the Hegelian dialectic, this tendency to avoid problems by looking for the easy solution, or most accessible solution, is a weakness within the race of humanity.  We must refuse to be a manipulated people by the leaders in our nation (whether liberal or conservative).  This does not mean that we should purposefully embrace “problematic things” in order to thwart the manipulators.  Often, this is part of the manipulation.  Instead of trying to be smarter and “out-fox” our manipulators, we must look to God as the leader from whom we take our cues.

Elijah flees for his life

In verses 3-4, we see that Elijah doesn’t take long to flee Jezreel.  We are told that Elijah flees to Beersheba in the southern border of the Kingdom of Judah.  In fact he leaves his servant in Beersheba and travels a day into the wilderness.  Clearly, Elijah is trying to put as much distance and political opposition in between him and Jezebel.  Here is a link to a map that will help visualize this trek.  Jezreel is in between the Kishon River and the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee.  Beeersheba is labeled and is around 115 miles from Jezreel (depending on his route).  Later he is going to journey to Mt. Horeb (which is another name for Mt. Sinai).  There is a dispute regarding the location of Mt. Sinai.  Some believe it is in the Sinai Peninsula and others believe it is on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula.  Regardless to which is correct, God will tell Elijah to go to Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai, which is another 200 plus miles south of Beersheba either way.

This brings up the question regarding persecution that has been an important one for the godly throughout all of history.  Is it wrong to run from persecution and threats?  We can be quick to say that a truly spiritual person would stand without fear in the face of the wicked.  Yet, the Scriptures reveal an answer that is more complicated than that.  The apostles of Jesus would go from one city to another depending on the resistance and persecution that they received there.  Jesus even told his disciples that if people did not receive them positively, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on.  We see the Apostle Paul sneaking out of a city at night by being let out of the city wall through a window.  Jesus himself purposefully avoided Jerusalem throughout much of his ministry because it “wasn’t his time, yet.”    All of the apostles followed the example of Jesus.  As long as they believed God wanted them to keep spreading the gospel, they ran from persecution.  But when they knew it was God’s will for them to stand and give witness before the wicked, even to the point of death, they bravely stopped running.  Jesus marched into Jerusalem knowing that he would be arrested and crucified.  Yet, this was God’s plan.  Paul sailed from Asia Minor and walked into Jerusalem knowing that he would be arrested taken to Rome and eventually martyred.  Yet, he knew it was God’s will at that point in time.  The key is to recognize that the agenda is not set by man (whether the wicked or the righteous).  The agenda is set by God.  The question cannot be answered by a church official declaring the truth for all the godly at all times.  The question can only be answered by a believer who has taken the time to seek the face of God and hear from Him what He is asking of them.  When God says run, then run.  When God says stand still and see the deliverance of the Lord, then stand still.  But sometimes He says to stand still and lay down your life for me.  So the right question to ask is this, “Is God telling me to run or stand.”  We don’t see in the text any sense that Elijah has prayed about this.   In fact, when he gets to the wilderness south of Beersheba he cries out to God.

His prayer is in verse 4 and several things stick out.  He has had enough and asks God to take his life.  Yes, he could have died by staying in Jezreel, but clearly he would rather die at the hands of a merciful God than at the hands of wicked Jezebel.  Secondly, he reasons that he is no better than his fathers,  that is a failure.  Just as the fathers of Israel had failed to stop the country falling into Baal worship under wicked leadership, Elijah feels like a failure too.  He went into Jezreel thinking that the tide was turning and Israel would turn back to Yahweh.  But Jezebel’s threat awakened him to the reality that it wasn’t going to happen, at least as long as Ahab and her were on the throne.

On one hand we can see that this is not one of his famous prayers of faith.  In fact, God is going to deny his request.  On the other hand, have you ever felt this way?  “God I want to die because I am such a failure!”  Maybe it wasn’t that drastic.  Maybe it was simply, “I quit because I am such a failure.”  It is not up to us when we die or when we should quit.  In fact it is not up to us whether we are a failure or not.  Elijah feels like a failure because he failed to turn Israel back to Yahweh.  But that is his expectation and definition.  The real question is what is God’s expectation and definition.  Now there are times when we think we have failed because it is difficult and not going in the direction we hope.  However, there are times when we truly have failed.  In either case, God hears our prayer and will not abandon us, even if they are prayers that lack great faith. 

Elijah has fled the situation, but at least he is doing the right thing.  He is fleeing man in order to seek God.  A retreat can be good if we use it to refocus ourselves on God and seek His will.  It can be good if we regroup our thoughts and let God give us the courage to go back into the fray with His directions.  It is not how perfect our prayers our, but whether or not our heart looks to man (others or ourselves) or to God.

God still cares

In verses 5-8 the scene shows us that God cares about Elijah.  He doesn’t treat Elijah like He is a Marine drill sergeant.  Instead, God first sends an angel to minister to Elijah’s physical needs.  Though the passage doesn’t specify that this is an angel (messenger) from heaven, it seems the most logical explanation of what the writer intends.  Twice an angel wakes Elijah up out of a stress-induced sleep and makes him eat bread and drink water.  There is also an emotional side to this care as well.  In times of great stress and discouragement, we tend to isolate ourselves and pull away from others.  However, we still need physical care and touch in those times.  Discouraged people are horrible at taking care of themselves, which adds to their stress.  God sees Elijah’s condition and sends an angel to minister to him.  You are not alone.  God sees your situation.  Here, eat some bread and drink some water.  The angel tells him that he has a long journey ahead of him (apparently to Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai).  We don’t have to have a heavenly angel, though a part of us may desire that.  As fellow believers, we need to be listening to God enough that we can hear Him telling us to be such an angel (human messenger in this case) for one another.  We can be so focused on our own problems that we don’t see those in our life that God wants to use us to encourage.  Great encouragement can be found in looking beyond your own problems and seeing the problems of others.  In the end, discouraged people need to know that God still cares for them, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The angel says something very powerful in verse 7.  He says, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”  Now there is a literal level in which it is true that going 200 miles to Mt. Horeb without food would be too great a journey for anyone.  In fact even the two meals themselves are not enough in the natural.  Yet, the journey to Horeb is also a metaphor for the call of God on Elijah’s life to be a prophet of the Lord in Israel.  When God puts a call on our life, He always calls us to something that is too great for us (alone or in our flesh).  The journey is always too great for us.  Our flesh is always excited about the call of God at the beginning.  Alright God, let’s do this, we say.  But eventually, down the road, our flesh will grow weary and we will be tempted to complain, rebel, or simply give up in to discouragement.  This will happen whether is something small like being a faithful spouse and raising a family, or something as great as being a prophet to a nation, or a political leader. 

The key in this passage is that God has a particular provision for Elijah.  The angel gives Elijah important information, go to Mt. Horeb.  The angel also gives him bread and water.  All of these things are themselves part of the metaphor of the journey.  If we attempt it on our own and with our own natural provisions (information=wisdom and bread/water=strength), we will always find ourselves in such a moment as Elijah does.  In fact, I think even knowing this is the case cannot spare us.  We are just too practiced in leaning on our natural abilities and provisions to do the will of God.  All godly people will experience such moments and generally at multiple times throughout your life.  It is a necessary growing pain in which we learn to let go of dependence on what we can do and to lean into dependence upon what God is doing.  God has made provision for us and we must depend upon it.  That provision comes in the Truth/Information of God’s Word in the Bible.  But, it also comes to us through spiritual bread and water that God supplies.  Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:13-14, “Whoever drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  The water of Jesus is the Truth about God and what He is doing.  To us it feels like He is slacking or even nonexistent at times.  But, the truth is that God loves us very much and has moved heaven and earth to make it possible for us to be with Him.  Like refreshing water to a thirsty man, this truth sets us free from the manipulations of the world and the manipulations of our own fleshly desires.  Jesus also said a couple of chapters later in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  Drinking the water of Christ and eating the bread of life is the same thing.  It is a day by day, moment by moment, believing Jesus, trusting him.  When we are discouraged, we are tempted to give up hope and faith.  But, if we will cry out to God, He will give us provision for our journey.  We can do all things…through Christ who strengthens us (spiritually).

I encourage you to let go of the expectations of what you think should or is going to happen.  Simply be faithful to do what God has given you to do.  Be a faithful spouse, not because it is becoming everything you dream.  Be a faithful parent, not because your kids are perfect.  Rather, do it because God has called you to do it and will reward you for your faithfulness.  Trust Him and see what marvels He will do that you had no clue were in His plan.

Godly Discouraged

Thursday
Jun182015

Praying Without Losing Heart

June 14, 2015-Luke 18:1-8

After warning about the Kingdom of God and the judgment that will initiate it, Jesus then speaks to his disciples about prayer.  Perhaps the logical connection is the reality that living in a world that is coming under the judgment of God is not easy.  Even in “easy times” the disciples of Jesus should pray in asking for wisdom and care, and giving thanks to God for His blessings.  However, difficult times would lead to an even greater need for prayer.  We will see today that prayer is an expression of our faith in God.

We Ought To Pray

Jesus establishes our need to pray by using a parable of a woman in need.  Normally a parable is explained by Jesus after the fact.  However here, Luke precedes the parable with a clear statement of what it teaches.  The first aspect of this statement is that prayer is something we “ought” to do.  There is a part of any follower of Christ that knows they “ought” to pray.  In fact, for new believers, praying can feel strange and be something that they neglect to do.  Typically a feeling of guilt will accompany this as we know we should be doing it.  It is also possible for those who have been believers for a long time to let a habit of prayer slip into neglect.  We can let the busyness of life and distractions take the place of prayer.  Yet, the oughtness of prayer is more than a duty or command. 

The woman in the prayer has an adversary who has done an injustice towards her.  She is also without the power to rectify this situation herself.  She is a woman and widowed, and both things would make it difficult for her to confront her adversary.  Thus it is necessary for her to turn to the courts for justice.  It is in a similar vein that the disciples of Jesus ought to pray.  We too have an adversary that is far greater than us.  The devil is a real being who works night and day to destroy our faith in Christ.  Injustice is one of his main tool to turn our hearts away from Jesus.  We ought to pray because we can’t fix things on our own.  We need God’s help.  1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  We are in a darkened world that is under the sway of the devil.  We are also surrounded by temptations on every hand.  Lastly, we are filled with fleshly desires that make us an easy target.  We are not enough for every situation in and of ourselves.  We need the help of our Lord and should ask for it in prayer.

It is also important to see that the end we desire calls for prayer.  If we desire to participate in the Kingdom of God then it is necessary that we pray.  Prayer is the means by which we wrestle with God over our situation in life.  Without prayer our faith will quickly perish under the barrage of questions and doubts.

Lastly we ought to pray because it is only right and proper that we do so.  As children of God we should call upon our Heavenly Father for wisdom, aid, and benefit.  To not call upon Him and rely upon Him is not just independence.  It is a rejection.  Just picture a young toddler who will not allow a parent to help and stubbornly insists on doing everything themselves.  How about a young teenager?  Even as adults we need others to help us in life.  Thus it becomes a sin to have a loving Father and yet reject Him at every hand.  In the parable the woman approaches a judge who couldn’t care any less about her.  Yet, she still approaches him.  What a contrast to our Father in heaven.

We Ought To Pray Always

Luke adds the word “always” to this spiritual truth.  In the parable we are told that the woman troubles the judge.  He doesn’t want to help her, but she keeps bothering him, or dare we say nagging.  The word translated “always” could also be translated, “at all times.”  She has a particular problem that she wants fixed.  But because the judge isn’t doing anything about it, she continues to badger him for help.  Now the judge in the story is not helping because he doesn’t care about her.  But God does care about us.  We might think this means God will answer us immediately.  However, prayer is not about us telling God what we want and Him doing it in a knee-jerk reaction.  Prayer is not just a request.  It is a relationship.  Thus the believer will find themselves continually coming back to God for particular things and for the never ending parade of new things to pray for.  Prayer is not something we can “finish.”  It is a daily conversation with God regarding our life and His hand in it.  In life we will receive many injustices and situations that are worthy of much prayer.  Thus we should persist in our prayers instead of quickly giving up.  God loves us and cares for us.  Yet, He is wiser than we are.  Prayer helps us to understand God’s plan in our lives.

We see the phrase, “praying at all times” in Ephesians 6:18.  This is right at the end of the passage about putting on the armor of God.  It is then that we are told to pray.  “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for the saints.”  Thus prayer is part of the work of the soldier of God.  We are in a battle against spiritual forces.  We must be armored up and we must be praying at all times and in all ways.  At all times is not just about persistence in prayer, but it is also about the many different things we encounter in life.  Everything that we encounter in life will call for some kind of prayer.  Some things will call for praises and thanksgiving.  Others may call for confession and repentance.  We will often have need to petition God on our own behalf and on behalf of others.  Everything we encounter should be bathed in prayer and petition of some sort.  When our life falls short of this we begin to affect our discipleship in Christ.

Now the woman’s persistence and “always” bothering the judge gets her what she wants.  We cannot say that such persistence will always work with God.  However, such persistence will help us to grow and become more like Christ, as well as help us to receive things from God that we would not have received without asking.

We Ought To Pray Without Losing Heart

There were many things that could have made the widow lose heart.  Now the word “to lose heart” is defined as follows: to be utterly spiritless, to be wearied out, exhausted.  This woman is coming before a judge who does not fear God and thus is not concerned about justice.  Neither does he care about the woman to give her help.  These things alone could cause her to lose heart and give up.  Even if she had enough strength to ask several times, she could have wearied out too quickly.  It is important that we do not become exhausted in our prayers with God.  Too many people get offended or tell themselves that it doesn’t work and they quit praying.  Don’t do this.  Often God is simply testing our faith to see if we really do believe that He loves us and will help us in life.  There are also some things that He has purposed to only give in answer to persistent, faithful prayer.  So the next time you are tempted to give up on prayer, you might ask yourself just who has a vested interest in you ceasing your prayers.

Persistence in prayer is ultimately about faith in God, which is why Jesus ends with a question about whether or not he will find faith when he returns.  Jesus tells us that God has a speedy judgment planned to avenge the righteous of all the injustices they have experienced.  This speedy judgment is clearly linked to the coming of the son of man, aka Jesus.  Jesus is coming back to give a judgment on behalf of the saints.  However, how many believing people will he find when he returns?  I don’t think Jesus asks this to imply he won’t find any.  But, rather, it seems to function more as a personal challenge to those who hear it.  Will he find faith, in me?  This question has a tendency to give life to those who are weary and stir up the faith of those who are spiritually fainting.  Thus persistence in prayer not only comes from faith, but it also strengthens our faith as well.  The enemy is daily working to chip away at our ability to trust the way of the master, Jesus.  As we lose faith in Jesus, we will let down in prayer and that prayerlessness will precipitate defeat in our life.  Don’t let the enemy steal the victory that God has reserved for you.  Keep your eyes on Jesus and daily approach him in prayer for the needs and praises of that day.

Praying Without Losing Heart mp3

Tuesday
Mar252014

The True Jesus: Of Faith and Doubt

In today’s passage, Luke 7:19-23, we get our last glimpse of John the Baptist before Herod Antipas has him executed.  John the Baptist represents the ultimate, faithful prophet.  He is a picture of great faithfulness to the Lord.  Yet, whether it is Elijah in the wilderness or John the Baptist in prison, we see that they were only men doing their best to do the right thing in trying situations.  They had to battle with doubts just like you and me.

It is an error to think that those who are faithful never have doubts, or that those who are courageous never have fears.  So if you have fears and doubts, take heart today.  It doesn’t mean you can’t exercise great faith and courage.  In fact, it is the presence of fears and doubts that makes faith and courage remarkable.

The Circumstances of John

Back in Luke 3:20 we were told that Herod had imprisoned John.  So let’s look at the background to this.  The day to day history of the Herods is equal to any soap opera today.  Herod the Great, who ruled when Jesus was born, died a few years later while he was still a toddler.  Rome then divided the kingdom among Herod’s sons.  Two of them were Herod Antipas and Herod Philip.  Herod Antipas ruled over the area on the east side of the Jordan and around the Sea of Galilee.  Over the course of time, Herod Antipas fell in love with Philips wife, Herodias.  She wanted him as well.  So, Antipas divorced his wife and married Herodias.  On top of all of this Herodias is actually their niece.  This gives you an insight into the lack of morals within these royal families.  John the Baptist had publically rebuked Herod Antipas for these actions.  It was then that he had John imprisoned, reasoning that John had a lot of followers and they might be inclined to revolt.

However, Herod was afraid to kill him because he saw John as a righteous prophet.  Furthermore, he would have John brought out of prison before him, from time to time, because he liked to listen to John’s preaching.  However, Antipas liked his preaching more like someone likes a song.  It sounds lovely, but he is not going to change his life because of it.  He was a man ruled by passions and filled with many conflicting emotions.  It is in this environment that we read John sending two of his disciples to Jesus.

The Questions of John

Most likely John was held in prison up to a year.  So it is understandable that he began to question his understanding about who Jesus was.  John’s questions are twofold.  Is Jesus the Messiah?  Or, is he just another forerunner like John?  Now John had already publically testified on numerous occasions that Jesus was the Messiah, the coming one.  However, he now wonders if perhaps he was mistaken.  In the moment when Jesus was being baptized it was very clear to John who he was.  But, given time in a prison he began to lose his clarity.

We might also point out that John doubts Jesus, not God’s promise to send a Messiah.  Just like the disciples were confounded by what Jesus did and allowed to happen, so John is perplexed.  Surely Jesus would have taken his place as king of Israel by now.  This central issue of who Jesus is has continued to be the main thing to this very day.  However, it does require a foundational belief that God has made promises that He will keep.  To a world that believes in a creator we must convince them that Jesus is the Son of God sent to perform salvation.  But to a world that doesn’t believe in any supernatural Creator, we must convince them that such a God exists.  Jesus is the key to this.

Part of the problem here is that John most likely didn’t foresee ending up in prison.  Remember that while John is in prison Jesus is teaching that He came to set the captives free. It is here that we see the importance of the spiritual message behind what Jesus was saying.  If Jesus meant he came to empty the prisons of the Herods then he failed miserably.  Clearly Jesus was speaking spiritually.  Faith is always tried when the physical situation seems more important to us than the spiritual.  John is in the furnace.

In these moments discouragement sets in.  Physical pains and difficulties over a long period of time wear us down and deflate our courage.  Of course, John doesn’t ultimately lose faith.  But his faith was severely tried.  When he had doubts he sought answers from Jesus and this is exactly what we must do in our times of doubt.  It is difficult to be under a cloud of discouragement.  It would be easy to condemn those who are discouraged for not having enough faith.  I would challenge you that discouragement is part of the process of purifying faith.  It is a necessary opponent that we must battle.  Instead of condemning discouragement, we need to be like Barnabas was.  Saul who was a new Christian was not trusted by most of the Christians.  In this discouraging time Barnabas came along side of him and promoted him to the brothers.  Love encourages people to turn to the Truth.  And that is exactly what John the Baptist did.  He sought an answer from Jesus.

The Answer Of Jesus

As John’s disciples arrive with the questions, they witness a scene in which Jesus is healing and preaching.  At some point when there is a break they are able to ask their question.

Jesus first says, “Go tell John all the things you have seen and heard.”   The blind were seeing, the lame walking, lepers cleansed, deaf hearing, and the dead raised.  Notice that in each of these a deficiency is met with the sufficiency of Jesus.  In fact all of these are pictures of spiritual problems.  We can be spiritually blind, lame, blighted with a deteriorating disease, deaf, and even dead.  Jesus is the answer to them all.  This is exactly what the Messiah was supposed to do.

At the end of this part he also says to tell John that the Gospel is preached to the poor.  The Gospel is the good news that they can have a part in the Kingdom of God through Jesus.  In light of the way John describes the earlier healings we could say that the poor receive the riches of heaven, Jesus himself.  This is intended to reach the heart of John the Baptist.  In his heart he knew that the Jews had mangled the Truth of God and instead of healing the hurting were making things worse.  Jesus was changing all of that.  Just like the Scriptures said that the Messiah would.

Lastly, Jesus adds a powerful statement, “Blessed are those who do not stumble because of me.”  Now remember this is intended to be an encouragement to John and to us.  He is reminding John of the stumbling stone of Isaiah 8 and 28.  In one place Isaiah says that God is going to take a stone that the builders reject and make it the capstone.  Notice the builders stumble in their analysis of God’s Rock.  In the other place we are told specifically that the Messiah would be a stumbling stone.  “He will be a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken.” Isaiah 8:14-15.  Paul notes this in Romans 9 when he says that many in Israel stumbled over the Messiah because they sought righteousness by their own works of the Law, rather than throwing themselves by faith upon the mercy of God.  They trusted themselves over God.

Do you have doubts and fears?  Then hear the Truth about Jesus.  All the physical miracles He did point to spiritual issues that only He can heal.  Take hope in the reality of those things that Jesus has done.  He will do what God has said He will.  Don’t lose faith.  Remember that God is concerned about those who are ground down in this life and offers the riches of heaven to all who will respond.  You are a part of that group.  Don’t give up.  Lastly, you will be blessed if you don’t stumble over Jesus.  Many people today stumble over Jesus.  They do so by either totally rejecting him, or remaking him into an image that they can be comfortable with.  Both lead to destruction and cannot help.  Save yourself from this wicked generation, believe on the Lord Jesus, and be saved from the coming judgment.  And, like John, even if you are to lose your head for your faith in Jesus continue to go to Him for the answers you need to continue in faith.  Faithful to the end.

Faith and Doubt audio