Pleasing Prayer: H.C. Question 117

What is the kind of prayer that pleases God and that he listens to?
 
Psalm 145:18-20 – The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.  He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.  The Lord watches over all who love him,  but all the wicked he will destroy.
 
John 4:22-24 – You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
 
Romans 8:26-27 – In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
 
James 1:5 – If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
 
1 John 5:14-15 – This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
 
2 Chronicles 7:14 – if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
 
Psalm 2:11 – Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
 
Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
 
Psalm 62:8 – Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.
 
Isaiah 66:2 – Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord.  “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.
 
Revelation 4 – After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. 
 
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

Daniel 9:17-19 – “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
 
Matthew 7:8 – For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
 
John 14:13-14 – And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
 
John 16:23 – In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
 
Romans 10:13 – for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
 
James 1:6 – But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.


3 John – Hospitality

Read 3 John

We often talk about those who have the gift of hospitality as being those who can put on a good dinner party or those who like to have people over to their house.  Certainly, there is an element of truth to this notion and there are many who are gifted with a welcoming spirit and an open home.  However, Scripture challenges our this notion, pointing out that if hospitality means only welcoming those we know, those we like, and those who believe the same way that we do, it falls short of the true meaning of hospitality.

Here John commends his friend Gaius because of his faithful work and love toward those he does not know.  These people are, apparently, Christians but are strangers to Gaius.  However, Gaius continues on in what he is doing for the sake of the Gospel and receives a commendation from Paul for it.

This is contrasted with the actions of Diotrephes who always wants to be first, the very opposite of hospitality.  John, here, is echoing Jesus’ teachings to His disciples, talking about servant leadership and humility rather than boastful, proud talk.  Such actions are not hospitable and are, in essence, wounding the message of the Gospel.

As is always true, the example that we follow is that of Jesus Christ.  Paul speaks to the humility and hospitality of Jesus in the book of Colossians:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing    by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.



James 1 – New Testament Wisdom

Read James 1

The book of James is sometimes referred to as the “Proverbs of the New Testament.”  James begins his writing by talking about wisdom and faith in the midst of persecution.  Keep in mind what we have learned, that there as a significant amount of persecution taking place in the first century, when the New Testament was written, and James, being in Jerusalem, was witness to much of it.

James’ appeal to wisdom in the midst of this, though, does not veer off the path that we’ve seen throughout the New Testament, but rather embraces many of the themes of it using language that we’ve only rarely seen.  Jesus is referred to as “the wisdom of God,” by Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth, James echoes these words as he appeals to seeking “wisdom” in difficult times.

In the book of Proverbs, one of the key lines is “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Now, “fearing” God doesn’t have anything to do with being afraid, but rather it is a seeking after, or following of God that is the foundation for wisdom.  James picks up on that theme here.  How are we to endure persecution?  By seeking wisdom or, in other words, by following the example of Christ.

He then goes on to cite several examples of this, most of which can be found in Jesus’ teachings as well.  Humility, faith, steadfastness, meekness, and action are all a part of the core of Jesus’ teachings and are all central themes of the New Testament message and encouragement to believers everywhere.

Like the book of Proverbs, which doesn’t mention God directly at all, James doesn’t necessarily lay out the Gospel message in precise detail.  However, the echoes of God’s grace and the message of Christ’s teachings can be found throughout the book of James in practical and applicable ways for our everyday life.



2 Corinthians 12 – Thorn in My Side

Read 2 Corinthians 12

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Have you ever had someone our something that was in your life that continually harassed you and never left you alone?  It’s so incredibly annoying and frustrating and it seems to go on and on making life more and more miserable.  Paul talks about this here, someone who has perhaps been talking behind his back or saying that Paul is somehow “less” of an Apostle than others.  It is possible that this is the person who Paul called to be disciplined in 1 Corinthians.

In any case, Paul’s reaction to this can be a learning experience for us as well. Rather than wallowing in misery over what was surely a rough situation, Paul allowed God to speak through it, realizing that the Spirit was teaching Him not to become conceited.

Being humble is an important lesson to be certain.  I think, however, Christians take things like this too far.  We focus on being humble, even making idols out of it.  God teaches Paul something deeper about humility, though, that is important for us too: His power in the midst of it.

Boasting about our humility doesn’t make much sense; it is the very opposite of what it means to be humble.  However, in our weakness, God’s strength is shown in ways we probably never thought imaginable.  Really, this is the point of humility, not to show how humble we are, but rather how great God is.

This seems to have been Paul’s point all along.  While the church in Corinth is questioning him based on human strengths, Paul continues to point them not to himself or what he has endured, but to the power of God and the message of the Gospel.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

I wonder what would happen if our churches, rather than boasting in the strength of their programming,looked to and relied on the power of Christ…

I wonder what would happen if our churches, rather than boasting in the number of people they have in their seats on Sunday, looked to and relied on the power of Christ…

I wonder what would happen if our churches, rather than catering to the vocal few that have the most money, looked to and relied on the power of Christ…



Acts 9 – Saul (aka: Paul)

Read Acts 9

The conversion of Saul, more commonly known in the New Testament as Paul, is arguably the 5th most significant event of the New Testament.  Behind the Birth, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, Paul’s coming to know Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior has profound repercussions throughout the whole of Christianity.  He is credited with authoring nearly half of the New Testament, all of the books following Acts from Romans through Philemon.  Much of what He wrote also has become the basis for our Theologies and Doctrines in the Church throughout history.

Yet Paul, despite all the depth of relationship that He has with God in Jesus Christ, and with all of the revelation, He receives through the Holy Spirit, remains profoundly humble, truly living into the example the Christ teaches: “He who would be great must be your servant.”  Never once do we see Him lording over others his encounter with Christ, his understanding of the Gospel, or his influence over the church.  Instead, he faithfully preaches the Gospel, plants churches throughout the Roman empire, and lovingly corresponds with them working to help them deepen their faith and understand their identity in Jesus Christ.

As we get to know Paul better over the course of the book of Acts, and later in his own writings, we get the sense that he has a deep understanding of Christ’s work and its meaning.  Maybe it is because of the revelation he receives from God and/or the application of Old Testament Scriptures that he knew well.  But one thing strikes me: never once does he claim to be “ahead” of anyone.  In fact, in the midst of his work, he consistently “counts it all for nothing” for the sake of the Gospel.  This is an example we should follow.



Luke 20 – Religious Authority

Read Luke 20

The moment Jesus’ authority is questioned shows up in both Matthew and Mark, and in all three circumstances, after putting them in their place, He speaks a warning about the religious leaders.  They may hold a high place in society, but, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

Jesus’ comment at the end of his warning is telling, for those of us in places of authority, we will be judged “more severely.”  I’ve often wondered what this really means and what it looks like in today’s culture.

It is pretty clear throughout Scripture that those God calls to be leaders, those with knowledge and wisdom, are held to a higher standard.  Jesus shows us how we are to live into this through the model of humble service to one another and sharing God’s love and the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven to all He encountered.  When Jesus sends out the seventy-two and the twelve, He commands them and gives them authority in this way.

I wonder what Jesus would have to say about the leaders of our day.  Some go around touting their status as “reverend,” all the while stirring up trouble, division, and dissension in the name of religious rites, demanding perfection from some while excusing the sins of others.  Others find the use of vulgar speech and emotionally manipulative tactics to be the way to more power.  Sadly, almost every leader that we see in the news or seeking an office does less of the humble serving and much more of the “devouring” that Jesus mentions.

Leaders that say that we need to “help” and “serve” without showing it with their actions (or their pockets) should probably heed Jesus warning here.  Like the parables, when much is given, much is expected.



Mark 12 – The Greatest Gift

Read Mark 12

Sermons on giving and tithing are probably the most difficult sermons to preach and to hear.  I think that, at least on some level, they seem somewhat self-serving coming from the pastor and that can often get in the way of how we listen and hear the Spirit moving in that time.  Jesus takes on this subject, though, without hesitation, and does not flinch at pointing out the truth in giving: it too is a matter of the heart.

Watching all of the people giving their offerings, Jesus reflects on what He sees.  Many people giving large sums of money.  Their offerings would have made loud noises as coins were placed into the containers.  Many would have known what they were doing and the large amounts that they were giving.

Yet I am reminded of what Jesus says in Matthew 6, talking about our posture when we seek to be obedient to God through fasting, praying, and giving.  In each subject, those who do things publically, drawing attention to themselves “receive their reward in full.”  Perhaps, Jesus is thinking about Psalm 51, that the truer sacrifice is that of the heart.

Jesus points out the widow’s offering to His disciples, one given in humility, with no fanfare or self-promotion.  She gives all she has; truly the greatest gift anyone can give.

I wonder if there is any relationship here between the gift that this widow gave and that which Jesus was about to give?  His gift, that of His own life, came in a form not expected by the religious leaders and yet it was the greatest gift of all.  John writes, referencing Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this: that he/she lay down their life for a friend.”  Maybe, more important than tithing, is self-sacrificially loving our neighbor?



Matthew 26 – Put Your Sword Away

Read Matthew 26

There is so much that could be covered in today’s chapter.  Matthew puts much of the “passion narrative” together into chapters 26 and 27 which makes drawing out specific themes somewhat difficult.  However, the thing that strikes me the most here is the way that Jesus approaches what is about to take place.

It is clear that there is some apprehension; Jesus struggles with the “cup” He is to bear.  However, He is never unwilling and He never resists.  Indeed, this whole chapter is marked by Jesus’ willingness for the task set before Him.  Hebrew 12 says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  The Joy?!?  For me, that seems unfathomable.

This is another example of how the Kingdom of Heaven looks; not the suffering, but the willful setting aside of one’s self for the sake of others.  Jesus has said many times that the one who will be great in God’s Kingdom is the one who humbles him/herself and takes on the role of a servant.  In the Gospel of John Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

God’s Kingdom will not come about through the forceful conquest of military or weapons.  It will not come through advanced technology nor will it come from protesting loudly against culture.  The Kingdom of Heaven is revealed in the humble acts of those who love and serve their neighbor, their family, and their friends.

I wonder what the Church would look like if we focused in on living out God’s love in this way.  I wonder if the marginalization that the church experiences right now would fade if we lived and loved as Christ did.



Day 270: Micah 5-7; What Does the Lord Desire?

In one verse, Micah summarizes pretty much the point of the entire message of all the prophets:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

This is indeed what the Lord is calling the people back to.  Idle repentance, veiled holiness, and pretend religiosity is nothing to the Lord.  Actions without inner change are worthless.  God does not want their sacrifices or offerings, He does not desire festivals or celebrations.  God desires those who walk along the path that He has set out for them, the path of justice and mercy, in a humble and contrite manner.

What is at the core of this statement?  The fact that this is exactly what the people of Israel were not doing.  In fact, as we read in Micah and other prophets, the people of Israel were acting unjustly towards all, especially those who were poor, downtrodden, and could not defend themselves.  The original call of God to His people was both to love Him with all of their heart, soul, and mind, but also to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  This idea was in contrast to that which the world seeks, motivated by self-interest and the desire to promote the self at the expense of others, particularly the poor.  This is not how God created the world and God wanted to show the world through Israel the right way to be in relationship with others, and the mercy that He shows to all those who are downtrodden.

Going along with this was the Lord’s desire to love mercy.  For many this goes along with the idea of acting justly, but in many ways it is completely different.  From a strictly justice standpoint, debtors that are indebted to someone should have to pay them back and when the loan is called, the debt collector is justified in taking a person’s belongings to satisfy the balance of the loan.  But to do this heartlessly, without understanding is not what God has in mind either.  In fact, the Law is full of examples of when loans are to be forgiven, slaves are to be set free, and land is to be returned to its original owner, no matter what the circumstances are.  This is what true mercy is… this is the way God has called us to live… and it is in response to the way that He has shown mercy on His people as well.  Whether it is freeing them from bondage in Egypt or dying for their sins on the cross, God has shown us mercy upon mercy, grace upon grace.  There is really no two ways about it.  We are to be merciful in the same way that we have been shown mercy.

Neither of these have any traction without a true posture of humility that comes with following God and walking with Him.  The true purpose of the people of Israel was not in the actions of justice or mercy that they took, but in the posture in which they took them.  As the Psalmist writes,

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

Actions can be empty.  Anyone can fake niceness or happiness when they want to.  God desires something much deeper from His people: their heart.  Micah uses the word and in this verse as well… like the commercials about ‘and‘ and ‘or’ say, “and is better.”  All of these are what the Lord desires of us…

To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.



Day 83: 1 Samuel 18-20; Friendship and Rivalry

Today’s reading is a narrative of contrasts: love and hate, trust and mistrust, friendship and rivalry.  It is also another microcosm of the results of following the covenant, the Law of God, and what happens to those that do and to those that don’t.  As you reflect on the reading for today, I would encourage you to think of a couple things:

  1. What is Saul’s perspective?
  2. What is Jonathan’s perspective?
  3. What is David’s perspective?
  4. Where is God and how is God at work in each of these people?

Saul has shown his lack of faith in God and his unwillingness to follow the Law.  We have read just recently that God regretted making Saul king and rejected him and his family as rulers of Israel.  The result?  Saul is afflicted by an evil spirit, and horrible anger management issues, and has resorted to brute force and fear to get his way.

Jonathan has shown his faith in God, but is the unfortunate victim of familial relations.  Though he believes in the Lord and follows God, his family has been rejected by God for the royal line of Israel.  Yet, in spite of this, Jonathan still shows his faith in God and his loyalty toward his friendship with David.  We read that both Saul and Jonathan saw that God was with David, and Jonathan all but switches his loyalties to David’s camp.  No matter what his father says, he loves David and seeks to protect his friendship with him.  Jonathan is a living example of the commandment of Leviticus 19, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  He consistently puts his life on the line for David, a boy of a small family who has no real cultural or social rite hanging out with the son of the king.  I think Jonathan understanding a couple of things:  David is the anointed one of God and David is a man of Israel, a chosen child of God just like himself.  Before God we are all of the same stature, and there really is no difference between classes or any other social construct in God’s eyes.

David has been anointed by God to be king of Israel.  Technically he has the rite to raise a coup and kill the current king.  This has happened often in the history of the world, yet David doesn’t even take advantage of the influence that he is gaining or the success that the Lord is giving him.  He still plays the lyre for king Saul, even in the midst of Saul fury toward him, and still leads the military faithfully under the command of Saul.  We don’t see David lording it over Saul that he is better.  In fact, he even goes above and beyond Saul’s request for a “bride price,” killing philistines in the name of king Saul.  David also maintains his friendship with Jonathan, despite all that Jonathan’s father is doing against him.  He honors Jonathan for the position that he is in and doesn’t use him to exploit Saul.  Neither does he exploit the daughter of Saul, his wife.  David does what is right in the eyes of the Lord and is blessed and protected for it.

So where is God here?  I think it is obvious that we can say God is with David and Jonathan.  But, as we have always recognized, God is continuing to be faithful to the Covenant relationship that He has made with Israel.  Though Israel’s king is unfaithful, God is still faithful in providing for the people of Israel.  As we saw in the book of Ruth, despite what was going on around them, when people are faithful, God’s blessings abound.  David is considered “a man after God’s own heart,” and in his grace, humility, loyalty, and love he demonstrates exactly why he has been given that title.  And God continues in His faithfulness to David, and to us, in all things, at all times, and in all places.